How do you eat an elephant?

Well, Mrs. Brows and I finally succeeded in refinancing our home.  It was a perilous endeavor, but we finally made it happen.

One of our biggest challenges was getting enough LTV to meet the lender’s guidelines.  While we were not underwater, basically our eyeballs were the only thing above water, and apparently they prefer your nose and/or mouth to be above the water… so we figured it out and life went on.

(Except for the fact that we were lied to – to the tune of $400 – and cheated – to the tune of $750 – but I’ll leave that rant for another time – suffice it to say, scratch Wells Fargo off your  list of preferred lenders.)

This post, however, is about that new balance – that beautiful new balance – that stands between us and owning our home.

One of the motivators for refinancing was to lower our rate and payment such that we could contribute more principal toward the mortgage.  Our payment went down about 25%, and the plan is to keep paying the same amount (actually slightly more) and apply the overage to principal, thus paying off our house faster.  The calculation is that our current 30 year loan could be paid off in 16 years at that rate.

But here’s my problem – 16 years sounds like a very long time!  I mean, WEJr will be driving by then!!!

I know all you parentals with teenagers driving will look at me and laugh – thinking to yourself, “Yes, that time sure does fly by!”  And I agree, it probably does.  But it still seems like a very long time to be paying off four walls and a roof.

Which leads me to the title of this post – that old adage, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

Well, here’s my problem, I don’t like small bites.  I don’t want to take 30 years to eat this elephant.  I want to take huge bites.  Even though it will hurt going down and maybe cause some esophageal tearing, it sure will feel better to see that number go down but a nice CHUNK, not a small bite.

I have the same problem with savings.  I like to see the numbers going up fast, by large chunks rather than going up incrementally by small bites.  It’s just my personality.

What do you think?  Am I just crazy?  Should I just relax, “set it and forget it”*, and let the good times roll?

* Gosh I love Ron Popeil!

Working (Wo)Man

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook shared an article from The Guardian, citing a speech given by former Prime Minister Blair’s wife.  Well, rather than me telling you what I think the article says, you can read it for yourself first.

Audrey and I discuss this topic often, and she added an interesting article/interview she recently heard, written by a woman having her own awakening on her career.  In short, Mrs Slaughter realized, after struggling with a high-power governmental job and a son struggling through adolescence, that women actually can’t “have it all” – at least not all at once.

But, here’s the part she and everyone else seems to be missing: it should be the same for men!  We also can’t have it all, all at once!

My problem with the Blair article isn’t that she’s calling out stay-at-home-moms, though the writer tries to paint it that way.  If you look more closely at the quotes, she’s decrying a certain type of woman who simply marries for money and wants to be taken care of.  The portrait of the woman she paints is a dependent, snotty brat who just lives off the coattails of someone else’s success.  This woman’s shortcoming isn’t that she’s not working – but it’s that she’s not contributing.  What if this article had been written about the growing number of men who marry for money?  Gender dynamics are changing in this country – and the XBox playing, couch sitting, directionless demographic of men is growing while the highly educated, highly motivated demographic of women is also growing.  Had this article been written about men charting a similar life-course (ignoring education and career while all the time planning on marrying for money), the reaction would be – in a word – outrage.

Back to the Slaughter article, though.  Slaughter seems to come to the same conclusion  Audrey and I came to long ago – that we weren’t willing to put our career above our family.  Many women make that decision – and as a result of that decision end up putting their careers on hold to be a stay at home mom.  But in our case, we both agreed that neither of us should to put career above family!  The question we asked ourselves was, could both of us chart a career path that would allow both to work and both to contribute in the home?  It’s our little experiment, and so far (knock on wood) it seems to be working out.  We realized we might have to get off the ‘fast track’ to leadership and responsibility in our jobs in order to keep the right balance that would allow us both to work and have plenty of time with our son.  We also realize that it might change as our family changes or either of our careers change.  But for now – thanks to great employers and managers who are taking a greater interest in work-life balance – we feel like we’ve been successful.

What the women’s movement has done – evidenced in the Slaughter article – was to adopt the “man’s world” philosophy of “advance your career at any cost.”  Still today – in most households – especially one-earner households – it is generally accepted that the man’s career can/must advance at all cost to the family, whether that means moving more often, more business travel away from the family, more time in the office, or more outside pressure and stress being brought into the home. My assertion is that this “advance your career at any cost” philosophy is dangerous for both men and women.

I stumbled across a quote more than a year ago when Aud and I were going through the decision making process about what we should do with her career – whether it needed to be put on hold with WEJr’s birth, or whether there were other options that would work for our family.  This quote, from someone I deeply admire in our Church, opened my eyes.  This decision wasn’t really all about her, as I had originally thought.  I actually had a huge responsibility – as the man:

“I don’t think women [alone] need to think about children – I think fathers and mothers need to think about children… What seemed to be the talk [during the women’s movement of the 1960’s] was ‘How do I get out of the home?’ — ‘How does a woman get out of the home?’  Or maybe even out of marriage — or out of whatever… I think that model should have been turned 180 degrees and it should have been, ‘What do we do to guarantee that men stay in the home or than men contribute in the home?’  I’m all for shared workload.  We can wash dishes together and we can do the laundry together and we can pay the bills together and we can figure out what the income tax is together, but it seems to me that to just think of ways to get away from family, and away from home, was exactly, diametrically, opposite to the model we should have been pursuing.  And that is: In such times, how do you keep fighting to say in the home – including the husband – that he does not just blissfully walk out the door and take his little briefcase and go off and never have another thought all day or all week or all month about the greatest responsibility that he has and that is to be a husband and a father and a grandfather?  …  I think that all the forces that spin us centrifugally away from the home, we have to fight that, and have those forces reversed as best we can, and have that circle coming back into the home for men and for women.”

– Jeffrey Holland
from the MormonChannel podcast “Conversations” on 12/6/2010


Make, Master, Matter

With Audrey out of town this weekend, I decided to be super lazy and watch a lot of TV.  A lot.  I got home at 7 tonight and just turned the tube off at 11:30pm… about 2 hours after I told myself I was going to.

But here’s the scary thing; it wasn’t a completely mind-numbing vegetation session!

First, I caught a few minutes of Shark Tank – a show the entrepreneur in me used to enjoy more often, but which became a little to predictable as reality TV.  However, in the few minutes I tuned in, I saw a very sincere, well-meaning man watch his business idea go down in flames because he was so committed to the idea of manufacturing his product in America, that he missed the bigger picture.

His product isn’t employing anyone – not even himself.  He can make the product for $250 in the US, but can only sell it for about $300.  If he could make it overseas for $100 or even $150, he’d have a business — and probably a successful one at that!  (It was an impressive product)  Instead, clinging to his dogma, he was content to watch his dream (and probably unknowingly, his opportunity to truly make a difference in his small community) go down the drain.

Toward the end, one of the sharks told him that, in business, “first you make it, then you master it, then you can matter.” This phrase really struck a chord with me.

It’s not that small businesses don’t or can’t matter, or that I don’t think things should be made in the USA. It’s that a business that doesn’t yet even exist as a profitable venture can’t make any impact at all (except for a negative one). I think this guy has to get his dream off the ground – make it work – and then he will have the financial freedom to make it matter the way he wants.

Then I turned on The Descendants, the fairly recent George Clooney movie.  

I have to watch movies like this when Audrey is gone. This one had way more F-words than she’d take, and it’s one of those that leaves you just a little off balance, even though it mostly goes just the way you think it will.

It was really good, and I can see why it was nominated for writing awards during this last awards season.  It’s well-written, and leaves you with that distinct taste in your mouth afterward — the hallmark of a fine movie.  

My economic themed evening continued: In this movie, we see a man who is sitting on a massive fortune, and yet believes “your children should have just enough so they can do something, but not so much that they will do nothing.”  In the end, he makes the decision we are all hoping he would make – to keep the land and try to find a way to save it from ruthless development.  This isn’t the most important part of the film, but it is one that provided a fair amount of underlying dramatic tension throughout, as we watch the main plot points of his comatose wife and teenage daughters go through their girations.

Lastly, I saw the 60 Minutes interview with Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.  

I just have to say that Elon Musk inspires me.  There aren’t many billionaires in the world you cheer for, but Musk somehow earns that honor with a boy-like determination to do huge things.  While most of us would have enjoyed the PayPal fortune by cruising around the world on a huge yacht, Musk has spent much of it trying to redefine industries in which he is most unwelcome; the auto industry and the aerospace industry. In spite of the opposition, Musk is proving that nimble startups can outmatch the big companies with big pockets and years of experience. He became the first private enterprise to launch, orbit, and retrieve a vehicle, and more recently became the first non-government to fly to (and send cargo to) the ISS.

In the last year, I’ve yet to hear anyone rave about their Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf – and yet the Tesla Roadster drivers continue to gush about the experience of driving their all-electric cars, and Tesla’s Lexus competitor the “Model S” has a line of people waiting who’ve practically paid for a car that is not yet being built.  And yet, when really considered in context – the achievement of mobilizing an electric car (as daunting as that has been) pales in comparison to the complex task of putting rockets, payloads, and – eventually – people into space.

You have to really see Elon Musk in an interview to understand what I mean, though.  He is personable, humble, and fascinated with what he is doing.  Yet he doesn’t shy away when asked what he responds to critics who say it can’t be done.  His matter-of-fact reply: “We’ve already done it.”  Then, moments later, when asked what he thinks of his childhood heros Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan testifying before congress against commercialized space flight, he literally tears up and says, “I wish they would come vist and see the hardware that we’re doing here.”

You have to hand it to someone who can be a human and an entrepreneur; someone who can make it, master it, and then really matter.

Because I want it, I should have it.

It’s not every day that I throw a new post into the “Life Philosophies” category of this blog (OK, I know it’s rare that I post anything on this blog anymore), but I wanted to share a quick tidbit I’ve been working on for a while now…

It is common to hear rhetoric in church about “the world”.  It’s usually about how the “world is going downhill”, which is often followed up with stories about the erosion of morality as a sad sign of growing godlessness among the nation/world at large.  I don’t fault my fellow churchgoers for going down this rhetorical path.  It’s a well beaten one and trodden often by church leadership as well.  (So goes the Mormon echo chamber.)

I think it’s true that some very ugly behaviors, previously accepted as wrong by society, have become more acceptable over time.  So – it’s not an error of fact to say the “world” at large is headed in a more morally relativistic, morally lackadaisical direction.

However, I started to be bothered by this “world going to hell in a handbasket” ideology because I felt it had reach a sad level of cliché.  It seems like, more and more, it becomes the launching point into which we delve into any topic.

“This world is so evil, let’s talk about being a good father.”

“Well, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so let’s talk about food storage.”

“The world is such a terrible place to live, let’s talk about the NFL draft and just say we had a lesson.”

No – there’s more to this “world is a terrible place” stuff.  I mean, I live in the world for most of 7 days a week, and I have to say it’s not that terrible of a place – at least in my local sphere of interaction.  I see great people at work, great people at home, and great people at church who are – for the most part – trying to do what’s right for their careers, families, and themselves.  I doubt there are many who get up in the morning, put their pants on one leg at a time, and head out the door with a list of traditional moral codes to break that day.

So, dissecting this a little more I came to the conclusion that it’s no so much about the “world” as a whole.  After all, the world is just made up of a bunch of individuals, right?  So why are we – individually – making some common decisions that, when examined together, can be judged as “bad” for society at large?

After giving it some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this closely relates to another of my basic life philosophies – that we all do what we want.  As an extension of that thought, please consider the following:  If I want it, it can’t be wrong – or bad – because I want it, and I should have everything I want.  How can something I want be bad for me?  Because I want it, I should have it.

That, to me, is the driving force – the gasoline on the fire – behind the moral degradation we see in the world at large.  As individuals let slip their individual moral code, it breaks down the last barriers between the internal want for – whatever – and frees the individual to wholeheartedly seek that which they want.

Since I believe that there are moral rights and wrong (or more accurately, I think I believe in moral ‘betters’ and ‘worsers’), my conclusion is that the “world is going downhill” philosophy is an error of perspective, not an error of judgement.  If you, instead, consider the “because I want it, I should have it” mentality – it becomes much more self-indicting.  It puts the onus back on one’s self to reconsider their value judgments – and reconsider whether the pursuit of their wants is contributing to what is good and right in “the world” or to what is wrong with “the world.”  Asking this question invites a person to apply their own moral code to themselves rather than to the nameless, faceless “world” of others.

We can even extend it to explain human behavior outside of moral jugement.  This philosophy is even more evident in financial transactions.  We have become a society of greed (hello financial collapse of 2008!) and consumerism because of this same drive toward want.

In a smaller example, if I really want the iPad 3 to the point that I will stop at nothing to get it.  I may go to harmful lengths to get it.  To take it to the superlative, let’s say I sell a kidney to procure the funding to get it.  Now, there’s nothing morally wrong with selling a kidney (as far as the moral codes with which I am familiar), but I think we can all agree this would be a terrible decision.  But I want it that badly, and that’s the issue here.  The extent you will go to satisfy a want – can cause problems for both you and the ones you love.



Circular Breathing

Two weeks ago, we held Stake Conference at church.  For those not of my particular religious persuasion, that is a twice-annual, joint meeting of area congregations.  In our “Stake” there are 15 congregations, organized by geography, which makes us a relatively large Stake (about 5500 church members).  Due to our largesse, we decided we would try webcasting our meeting over the Internet to two other chapels in the Stake, enabling the entire Stake to meet at once and greatly reducing the need for travel for those who live in the eastern congregations and the organizational pain associated with holding multiple sessions of conference in one day.

Due to my calling as the “Stake Technology Specialist” – the job was mine to do the webcast.  But webcasting isn’t what this blog post is about.  For those who’ve been following Facebook (or me in real life), you’re probably sick of me talking about the webcasting thing.  Understandable.  No, this post is about a group of people I got to know while webcasting – and a gift they possess that I didn’t really understand until now; the Spanish language translators.  This group of people simul-translated the meeting, as it was occurring in English, into Spanish.

While people thought I was impressive for being able to technologically offer both languages, I was more impressed with their ability to actually do the translating.  Since I know Portuguese (and can understand a good deal of slowly-spoken, church-related Spanish) I spent a good portion of the meeting listening to the Spanish side of the webcast rather than the English side.  I was incredibly impressed with these people’s ability to do this great service for the Spanish-speaking people of our Stake.

As I was considering the incredible talent they must have to hear a new sentence in English at the same time the speak the last sentence in Spanish, I remembered a skill I learned in my band days called “circular breathing”.  Circular breathers are an impressive set of musicians who can sustain a note with the wind trapped in their mouth while they breathe through their nose and refill their lungs.  It’s a pretty special skill that is quite difficult to do with finesse.

Kenny-G holds the Guiness Book of World Recrods for the longest note ever held using circular breathing: 45 minutes, 47 seconds holding an E flat on a saxaphone

This was the exact skill these translators have.  They seem to be able to hear in one language, process it in their brain, and repeat it in Spanish – all in real time!  I can’t imagine how they do it, and with such incredible fidelity.  Even obscure poetry and cultural anachronisms they seemed to translate with ease.

I wish I knew their names or was able to take a picture of them in action (I was a little preoccupied with my own video production responsibilities), but I suppose – like most service in the church – they continue to be largely unnoticed, except in the recesses of my little blog.


Santorum Scares Me

So, with my only 45 minutes of free time today, I watched Meet the Press and was left speechless after the Rick Santorum interview. I really can’t believe that the GOP seems to be turning to that clown.  I don’t know what made me feel that way today more than before.  The talking points were largely the same, but he sounded more confident and determined than ever.

Maybe it’s this string of southern primaries and caucuses? Or maybe it’s the fact that one only has to drive through the state of Kansas, observing the hyper religious pro-life signs all over the sides of the roads, to realize that, yes, there is a religious-right in the Republican party who really thinks Mitt’s religion is so untenable they’d vote for a washed up Senator who couldn’t post a win in his own district or a deluded old Speaker who seems to be marauding the countryside looking for a second shot in the post-neocon era, despite what any numbers seem to say.

And that same religious right would go so far as to make this election about social issues – when the winning strategy was clearly to make this about economics.

Look, I think Mitt is a clown in his own way as well, but much less of a clown than those two. I even consider Ron Paul less of a clown than Santorum and Gingrich.

But here’s my real question when it comes to this whole process: When is the Republican party going to stop shooting itself in the foot and start making President Obama run for reelection?  The longer this draws out, the more rope the challengers are giving the President to hang them with, and the more President Obama goes laughing to the bank.

It’s a well-known fact that independents and moderates in a few critical states (which BTW, Santorum is terribly weak in) are the only way to win in the fall.  The GOP needs to realize that they aren’t getting that vote with Santorum; the guy who has completely alienated that demographic AND the women voters as well.

Right now, I see very little chance for a GOP win in the fall.  People are talking about how the GOP convention will be a “reset” for the nominee, but I don’t think so.  I think in Romney you have a base that will be less motivated to turn out, and in Santorum or Gingrich you will have a critical group of voters completely turned off from them as a Presidential candidate.

…Just my humble opinion…


Since WEJr’s first birthday last week, it seems like our toy collection has rapidly expanded.  We got him toys, both sets of grandparents got him toys, and a couple of friends also contributed to the growing pile of stuff.  It’s quite cute, because he is now old enough to actually entertain himself with toys for a short period of time.  Mostly, he just carries them around, chews on them, or otherwise misuses or abuses them.  When he plays with them correctly (in the way they were designed), it’s completely by accident.  It’s so fun to watch him figure them out, and even have preferences for certain toys.  Before, it was always us trying to entertain him or distract him, but now it’s him doing it to himself.  Who knew he’d become a real-live person?!?!

With the newfound collection of toys, though, I’ve come to a new depth of understanding about the toy world.  Originally, I was holding the line at “no toys with batteries”, though I’ve now completely lost that fight.  I now understand there are really a lot of other types of toys parents should fear and dread just as equally as battery-powered toys:

Toys that have batteries:  The frustration here isn’t just that you have to replace the batteries, it’s that the time span where the batteries work and the child wants to play with the toy never totally coincide unless it’s the day the child receives the toy.  Beyond that the batteries are always dead at the worst time.  If you’re lucky, the toy will have some inherent value without the battery operated feature, but this is rarely the case.  Prepare for tears and sadness when the toy does not function.

Toys that are in pieces or sets:  With these toys, the minute the plastic wrap is removed, the toy falls apart into a million lose-able pieces.  The joy of toy is for the kid to put the toy together in various configurations, but the frustration of the toy is for the parent to keep those pieces out from under sofas, coffee tables, and in the same room.  Invariably, the parent ends up putting the puzzle together, putting the legos back in the bin, or putting all the other pieces away, just in time for the kid to come and dump them out all over again.

Toys that make noise:  These are the toys parents regret having the most.  Whenever the child figures out the noise-making capability, there will come a day when all you will hear – over and over – is that same noise.  You will hear it everywhere you go.  It will haunt you even when you are away from the toy and the child.  You will start to hear/speak in voices of the toys until, one day, you are driven so mad that you freak out and take a sledge hammer to the toy (my approach) or quietly throw the toy away (Aud’s approach).

Vintage toys:  Who doesn’t love the vintage, simple toys; blocks, trains, balls, bats, etc.  These are definitely my favorite toys because of their nostalgia and because of their hipness (I’m real hip).  WEJr is at the point, though, where his enjoyment of vintage toys is limited to chewing on them until the vintage, antiqued paint chips off into his mouth and teeth – which leads me to wonder if they were safely/non-toxically made…

As you can see, there is no perfect toy.  All toys are meant to make a parent’s life miserable.  But, they are extraordinarily necessary to keep your kid sufficiently distracted from your more expensive, adult toys that they seem to gravitate toward naturally.


The Vomit Archives

Editor’s note: there are no pictures in this post.  You’re welcome.

Yes, I should be working right now.  It’s monday at 10am – my usual start time for the week – but after 3 days off of work with the world’s nastiest stomach flu/virus, I’m not particularly feeling excited about wading into the pile of email I’ve missed.  Instead, I will regale you with tales from this first episode of the entire family being really sick (with something really gross) all at the same time.

It all started on Monday night.  Eli really struggled to go to bed like he should.  The previous night, we had just discussed how we needed to hold our line on putting him in bed and letting him fall asleep, so as the ‘mean dad’ I got to be the one on Monday to go in every 2/3/5/10 minutes to calm him, wrap him up again, and lay him back down.  It’d been a strange evening anyway.  Eli fell asleep quickly after hitting his head earlier that night, so his sleep schedule was all off anyway.

He finally went back to sleep at midnight, and I went to bed.  Two hours later he started howling again, so I tapped Audrey – “your turn.”  She went in there and the next thing I know, she’s waking me up saying she thinks Eli has a concussion because he’s got a nosebleed, has soaked his entire bed with vomit, and won’t stop vomiting.

Having had a few concussions of her own, I trusted that Audrey knows what she’s talking about – and well, if a kid won’t stop vomiting, there must be something wrong, right?  So we jump in the car and head to the ER at 2am.  Thankfully, it was dead and we got right in.

Here’s where we probably went wrong – we fell right into a doctor’s biggest pet peeve: spending more time describing what we thought was wrong with our kid rather than just focusing on the symptoms and letting them make the diagnosis.  They ended up doing a CT scan to make sure his head was OK, even though they had pretty much ruled out a concussion in their minds (because he never passed out, he had no visible bruising or swelling, and his nosebleed ended up being a cut in his nose – not from the sinuses).  CT came back clear.  They gave him a little pill to help him with nausea and sent us all home at 5am.

We stayed home to recuperate on Tuesday from being up all night worrying, and to help Eli stabilize – still a bit nervous that we didn’t know quite what we were dealing with.

Wednesday we went back to work, but as soon as I got home, I was feeling nauseous.  A few hours later, I emptied what felt like the contents of my entire body into the toilet.  Audrey followed about 6 hours later.  Yuk.  Unless the concussion was contagious, it was clearly something else and something communicable.  Lovely.

We spent Thurs, Fri, Sat, and Sun convalescing, having no appetite and ingesting nothing but saltines and powerade. A little toast with apple butter helped break the monotony, but we tried not to be too adventurous.  We were able to hold things down, but Eli threw up 3 more times during the week, usually at night right before bed.  Saturday, he decided to throw up all over me 20 minutes before I was supposed to be at the church activity playing with the band for the Valentines Dance.  Yuk!

It’s strange being a parent and dealing with your own kid’s throw up, though.  You know its true love when you are actually relieved when your kid throws up on you rather than on the couch or carpet.  It’s a lot easier to put yourself in the shower.  I just need to find a better way of saying it than saying “KEEP THE THROW UP ON MOMMY, BIG BOY!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve been sick like this.  Usually, I’m more prone to colds and coughs rather than stomach problems, and it’s been a long time since I’ve not felt like I could eat for so many days in a row.  You sure do miss those small pleasures – eating whatever you want whenever you want it, and not fearing that it might just come right back out again.

On the upside, I did lose 7 lbs in 5 days, and I’m back on track for the weight loss goal that Audrey set for us back in November.  Woo hoo!  Now, I’m just one more stomach flu away from my ideal weight!