Why we went broke

We like to try to point the finger at the current and previous President for the financial troubles our economy is in. But the reality is that the ball started rolling on this debacle decades ago. Here’s an interesting opinion piece on exactly when this started. I tend to agree with the author…
We weren’t always a nation of big debts and low savings: in the 1970s Americans saved almost 10 percent of their income, slightly more than in the 1960s. It was only after the Reagan deregulation that thrift gradually disappeared from the American way of life, culminating in the near-zero savings rate that prevailed on the eve of the great crisis. Household debt was only 60 percent of income when Reagan took office, about the same as it was during the Kennedy administration. By 2007 it was up to 119 percent.
Read the rest here, and maybe we won’t repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Guarding the Stuff

For most of this month we’ve been holding our collective breath. We were asked to consider going on a two week missions trip to Jamaica in August — and the suggestion came with the offer of two free weeks of babysitting while we were gone. It was an offer too good to refuse. The only catch was that the team was already formed, and to get in late was going to cost just shy of $4000. That’s a lot of money to spend on a trip to Jamaica.
To be honest, we had no clue if this was something God wanted us to do. In our experience, “coincidence” usually turns out to be God guiding, and there were a lot of neat coincidences along the way. So we were completely ready to scrimp and save and come up with the money to make it happen. We had $3000 left from our amazing income tax season, and we cut all our discretionary budgets for the month of June to see what we could pull together per month — $280.
So we could have got there, but it would have left no margin for any unplanned financial costs later in the year. For example, our hot tub cover is nearly destroyed. We’d have to seal up the hot tub in the fall, since a new cover is $500. I’d have to stop going to the back specialist, because we’re running out of health coverage for the year. The kids would have to make it through the summer with last year’s summer clothes…
It would have been do-able, but it would have been tough. Then yesterday we got some news about cut-backs at work that brought into focus just how unstable the economy is right now. And we realised the risk was just too high this year.
So we had $280 cash saved up, and we don’t need all $3000 of that tax money, so last night we got to be high rollers. There was a fundraiser at church for the trip, and with it clear that we wouldn’t be going, we had money to burn. The event was a dinner and auction, with a number of cool things to be won, and team members auctioning off various services that they would perform. We bid on almost everything — sometimes just to raise the price, and sometimes to win. Over the course of the evening, we racked up a reasonable bill, with all of it going to the team.
It was competitive and fun and funny. After the auction, people in the church we hadn’t met yet came up and introduced themselves to us — asking things like “what is it you do for a living?” Apparently thinking we were a mysterious young rich couple who’d come in just to throw money around… when in actual fact, we’d skipped our date nights, Starbucks runs and home improvement spending all month, and could think of nothing better to do with that cash than give it to missions — especially given that this is a first missions trip for most of the team members.
And we did get some good things out of the deal: dog training (no, we don’t have a dog, but we think the trainer is pretty great), babysitting, a night’s stay in a Jacuzzi Suite at a classy hotel, even two students willing to do a day of manual labour (eg: helping us finish our garden.) We did not win the flight and free hotel stay in Hawaii — had they auctioned that off first, we might have had a chance — but it went to a good couple, who have probably earned it. Over all, it was the most fun we’ve ever had spending money, and we’re glad we got to do it.
We’ve had the sense, since we moved back home to Canada, that this is to be a period of rest and equipping for us. A time to do things like find a family doctor, make regular trips to a dentist, finish paying off our debts, build some equity in a home and get the retirement savings fund going — y’know, normal adult things that we just hadn’t gotten around to with all the moving around we’ve done since we got hitched. That doesn’t mean we’re not up for short term missions trips — I already signed us up for the next one. But I think this year we’re not quite ready. We have a good little house here and a great church community, but there’s a little bit more investing — socially and financially — that we need to do yet before this is really home.
So, our prayers and our best wishes and whatever other support we can offer go out to the Jamaica team. We wish we were going with you, but we’ll stay home and guard the stuff this time. There’s a lot to be said about the value of missions, but stewardship and relationships and making sure our family is provided for are important too — in this season of life, maybe they’re even more important for us right now.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Starbucks. I haven’t had a Chai Tea Latte in a month, and I have a craving…

Do/Say Ratio

When building a team for a project, one of my old bosses used to refer to potential team members by their “do/say ratio” — meaning (in case its not obvious) that the reliability and usefulness of an employee could be determined by this measure. If someone has a poor do/say ratio, it means they don’t often do what they say they will.
I would like to think that I have a high do/say ratio — because people who don’t are one of my pet peeves. I would like to think that if you ask me to do something, and I say yes, then its going to happen — and it’ll happen roughly when I say it will. I may fall short of that mark, but I hope that if someone were keeping score, it would be apparent that I do what I say I will most of the time.
I’ve noted, however, that some people don’t share this value in common with me. That more and more frequently a committment isn’t a firm thing, or reliable in any way. That signing up for an activity or group doesn not necessarily indicate a willingness to make it there. That volunteering for a task does not necessarily mean the task will get done. That full grown adults seem to think “yes” and “no” are malleable words — ones that take a different meaning depending on the day they were said and the time between the making of the committment and the fulfillment of it.
The Bible has very clear instruction on this. Matthew 5:37 says “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
I think, whether you’re a Christian or not, this seems like a good principle to base your life on. And I sure wish more people out there would do so. And if I don’t? Feel free to call me on that…

Hands

I think I must be having a delayed reaction to events of today, because I’m laying in bed and I can’t for the life of me fall asleep. I’m hoping that maybe writing it down will help me process it and go to sleep.
Abi could have died today.
That statement is full of such hyperbole that its almost nonsensical. Any one of us are in danger of “almost dying” at any number of points during the day. Every time you load your kids into a the car, you run the risk of having them die in a car accident. So I don’t mean to add to the meaninglessness of the phrase. But, I guess it applies.
She choked on a piece of cauliflower.
And not like, “cough, cough something went down the wrong tube.” I heard a quelched yelp and turned around and her mouth was wide open and her face was turning dark red and she was trying desperately to cough.
Fortunately the situation is nothing I haven’t dealt with before — when I was like 10 — so I threw off the tray of her high chair, scooped her up, crouched down with her over my knee, swiping my finger down her throat across her airway as I did. I tried a couple smacks on the back, listening for breath before trying the heimlich maneuver. None of that worked, so I pushed her against my knee, starting at her tummy in an upward motion toward her ribs. I did that twice and she started puking — her meal from earlier that day. It seemed like if food was coming up, that was a good sign, so I stopped the heimlich and just let her vomit. Finally a snot-soaked little hunk of cauliflower came out, with some velocity, and I knew that was the culprit.
I couldn’t guess at the total duration. Time wasn’t moving normally for me. Maybe 25-40 seconds. Maybe longer. We wiped her face, and she cried for a bit, and then she was fine.
We were at some friend’s house for the afternoon, so at the time I think I was more worried about the puke on their floor. For some reason, it never for a second occured to me that it wouldn’t work — that we wouldn’t get the cauliflower out. I don’t think it even occured to me the rest of the day. I think we’ve always known that our kid’s lives are in God’s hands. And I wonder what people do without that peace. No wonder there’s so much fear in the world, when things that happen just seem like random, meaningless events.
I’m tempted to think, what if I wasn’t there? What if I’d been in the other room and no one heard her choking? But the reality — the absolute Truth of the situation — is that if it weren’t in God’s plan for our little girl to choke to death at that moment, then God would have reached down from heaven and pulled that cauliflower out of her throat Himself. For all we know, He’s done it before.
Its not that its not scary. Holding my little girl over my leg, hearing her gasp for breath, seeing the look of sheer panic and terror on her face… man, that was scary. And its good that I knew what to do. But I’m only her earthly father. I can’t be there at every moment, in every situation protecting her — I’m not even supposed to be. But her heavenly Father is. And just like, as parents, we’re ok with Ben and Abi tripping over their feet and falling on their face a few times while they learn to walk, God is going to let Ben and Abi face tough stuff, and even fall on their face, while they learn to be who He made them to be. And He’s going to teach Nic and I just as much as them through that. But even when He lets us go through those things, He’s there to make sure we come out of it OK — either here on this earth, or at Home with Him.
There’s an incredible peace in knowing that through the scary stuff, and the painful stuff, and even the happy stuff, my kids, just like their parents, are held and guided by the loving and infallible hand of God. One who loves us more than we can imagine or fathom.
All that said… I don’t think Abi will be eating any more cauliflower until she has a few more teeth. She’s only got the 4, so I guess the odds weren’t in her favor to begin with…
For I know whom we have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard that which we’ve commited to Him for that day. – 2 Timothy 1:12

The System Is Down

We’re dealing with some problems with both our website host and our Internet provider, so things aren’t working exactly the way they should. Hopefully it’ll all be sorted out by next week.
Until then, you can follow our lives on our Twitter page — ha ha ha, just kidding… I’m not that desperate for attention :-p

And you may ask yourself: well… how did I get this beautiful house?

Garden Phase 2
Nic, her parent’s and her sister worked hard on Phase 2 of the backyard garden yesterday. I begged out due to continuing back problems, and instead was the chef/waiter/babysitter for the day. They got the second two boxes done, so the bulk of the heavy work is finished. The stairs need to be done, and there’s some decorative bits that need to be completed yet this summer. Nonetheless, we have enough space for Nic to begin planting vegetables in earnest.
The month of May really seems to be dragging — especially when there’s so much to look forward to once its done! My parent’s are home from Asia, Nic’s sister is getting married, and some good friends are having their first baby…
Chad and Jen were our first “couple” friends. Being the youngest of our social circle to have a serious, marriage-likely relationship, it was a real blessing in our college years to befriend Chad and Jen who were mature and level-headed, but constantly fun to be around. We shared in common many of the challenges of a young relationship, back in the day, and we’re incredibly excited for them to become parents, so we can share this with them too.
Jen has decided to blog the arrival of their newest family member, whom they have promised will not be named the same as one of our children. If you know Chad and Jen and want to follow along, I don’t think they’d mind if you checked out their site here.
Aside from that, there isn’t much blog-worthy to report. We’re practicing our patience, and learning to rest in God and what He’s blessed us with, until June hits and life gets a little more exciting…

When Green Isn't, and Star Trek Isn't

So I’ve been sick for the past couple days — hit me on the weekend, had me lying fevered in a puddle of cold sweat all day Sunday. I did manage to load up on Advil by Sunday evening, and donning a winter hat and blanket, shuffle zombie-like into a movie theater to spread my virus see the new Star Trek movie.
I wanted to post this earlier, but apparently my web host is a little sick today too.
Star Trek will be a subject of this entry, but not until I’ve offered up a little rant for the less nerdy readers — the subject of which being grocery bags.
I know not if this is a Canada-wide, Ontario-wide, or more localized phenomenon, but as of last week or so, the grocery stores we use are no longer employing Plastic Grocery Bags. You are forced to bring your own bags, or purchase canvas bags made of recyclable and recycled material.
This purports to be a “green” move, to help our environment, etc… which, usually, I’m all for. I’m not an environmentalist nut, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am in favor good stewardship of our natural resources. However, this particular move is little more than an ineffectual PR and money-grubbing stunt, that will have no impact on the environment whatsoever. Consider with me:
Have you ever known anyone, anywhere under any circumstances to throw out empty Plastic Grocery Bags? They have to be the most “re-used” containers ever invented. The most common use, once you’ve brought your groceries home, is as garbage bags. In fact, garbage pails have been designed around the used Plastic Grocery Bag. And not just garbage pails either — diaper disposal systems have been designed to re-use these bags. Bags with holes in them can be used to organize plastic recyclable materials, since the bags themselves melt down much faster than the other plastics. And when all other uses fail, they make great packing material.
The Plastic Grocery Bag is already possibly the most recycled device that exists. And with grocery stores taking them away, guess what the proposed alternative is? That’s right, they now sell boxes of similar bags which you can buy. So they’re not really helping the situation at all — instead of providing a cheap (for them, free for the consumer) bag that can immediately be recycled for at least a second use upon being brought home, they’re now selling a bag for only one use.
The only thing that this does is put more money in their pockets. It does nothing for the environment. People will still need garbage bags. Now they just have to fork out more money for what used to be free. This is stupid.
OK, speaking of stupid, the new Star Trek was definitely not.
Yes, as a loyal Original Series fan, there were a few things I’d quibble with that can’t be answered by the changed time line (eg: why does it take an earlier generation of Enterprise only 3 hours to travel from Earth to Vulcan, while the Enterprise used 10+ years later needs 4 days to get there? Details, people!) And the jury is still out on some of the cast they’ve selected. The story was also a little bit heavy on the action, and low on the cerebral content we love ‘Trek for. But…
It was fun, the chemistry between the characters showed real promise, and it was very respectful of the source material. I loved Spock’s role in the movie, and that Bones sounded pretty much exactly like Bones should. Scotty was a little over the top, but I’d like to think James Doohan might have played it that way if he’d been cut loose back in the 60s — he certainly got more fun in his old age. And Kirk was… honestly, only a little bit recognizable, but it still sorta worked.
Importantly, it was also accessible. You don’t have to be a huge Trek nerd — or even a sci-fi fan — to enjoy it. Star Trek has typically had good character driven stories, and this one added a very action/adventure feel to it. It was (mostly) faithful to the canon, without requiring you to have ever watched Star Trek before.
It should be noted that I was nearly comatose while watching it, so my review might not be the one to go on, but reviews web-wide are mostly positive. Even old school Trekkies seemed to enjoy it. I’ll be happy to go to a second viewing where I’m confident that what I’m watching is not an elaborate, fever-induced hallucination. And I’ll be quite happy if they make another movie in the same vein.
In conclusion, “green” moves that do nothing except take green from my wallet are evil; Star Trek reboots, however, are good.

Kinds of Back Pain

I’ve now discovered three unique kinds of back pain (so far!) Being able to identify them is useful, as the kind of pain indicates the kind of treatment you can do at home to pretend you’re actually relieving it…
Note: I am not a doctor. Or a yogi. Or a massage therapist. This is just what I’ve learned...
Muscle Pain
This is no different than muscle pain in your arms or legs if you work-out hard, or pull something playing a sport. Its just that its in your back, so it feels like your entire body is suffering.
I’d describe muscle pain as a sort of throbbing. Its by far the lowest on the back-pain scale — so suck it up!
A fun variation on this is muscle spasms, where you’ll suddenly feel like you’re frozen for a second or two, or someone has quickly jabbed you with a cold knife. This may recur for awhile, but you’ll make it through the day.
Treatment: Stretching. Hot tub or just a hot bath. Alternate hot and cold for spasms. Take Advil.
Bruised Joints
I found out recently that its entirely possible to bruise your back — even without an impact. Over-extending yourself, especially if you have disc problems, can cause the joints to rub together and bruise. This pain is constant, worse than muscle pain, and it feels more piercing. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to last too long — provided you’re careful. Avoid stretching much until the pain subsides.
Treatment: Cold pack to dull the pain. Advil.
Disc Rupture/Slippage
By far the worst kind of pain I’ve found yet. When it initially hits it comes on suddenly and severely like a sword stabbed deep into your back. On more than one occasion its dropped me, face-first, on the floor instantly. Following the slip or rupture, you’re in for days, or even weeks, of gradually subsiding, but severe pain.
Sometimes its possible to feel a slip coming on in advance. Like cracking your knuckle, you feel your back kind of pop out of place. If this happens (and you haven’t been floored yet) stop what you’re doing — for the next 3 days. Don’t lift anything (or anyone) and don’t try to live your normal life. Just rest your back, and resume gentle stretches once a day when you’re ready. Don’t sit for too long. Do NOT treat with heat! Avoid Advil or any other painkiller if you can — it will only mask the warning signals your back is giving you.
Treatment: If you do slip/rupture a disc, your only hope is lying flat on your back, and taking the minimum pain killers necessary. There is no escaping the punishment, and no medical work-around. You’re done — probably for at least a week. Anything you think you can do, other than lying in bed, will only lengthen your suffering.
Muscle pain can be prevented with strengthening exercises and stretching. Ensuring you have good posture throughout the day will do wonders. A hot tub, or a massage therapist can help you when you’re feeling tense. Similarly, bruising can be avoided by maintaining a healthy spine shape through stretches and posture — and avoiding over-exertion.
A slipped disc, however, will recur. If it happens once, it’ll happen again, and each time it happens the disc gets weaker and is more prone to slipping/rupturing. If this happens to you, even once, get help. Don’t soldier through. Don’t blame it on bad genes. Get your spine looked at — your body will begin adapting to the deformation in ways that are not necessarily healthy in the long term, and will only lead to more misery the next time your spouse wants to dig a vegetable garden!

Backyard Vegetable Garden – Phase 1

Someone once made fun of me for breaking everything I do into phases. I do this because it makes it easier to actually finish something.
For example, I was certain that building a vegetable garden in our backyard would take most of the summer. Other people, however, thought they could do the whole thing in a day. By around 2pm, my way of thinking had prevailed, and we determined that a “phase 1” consisting of one out of the three boxes was a sizable enough goal for the day.
And one we did manage to accomplish. And by “we” I mean both those of us in charge, and those of us just trying to follow instructions. Nicole and her dad were the former, because they have their own thinking-out-loud language, that only they can decipher, that goes something like this:
Well we can’t put the post on the post, because that post there isn’t a long enough post for the post, so we’re going to cut this post and put it in here. OK?
Nicole’s mom and I just waited until one of them told us where to dig.
Nonetheless, we managed to accomplish our (new, more reasonable) goal and we have 1/3rd of a large vegetable garden ready for planting this week. I’m posting some before and after pictures here, but understand that this is only after phase 1 — it will look a lot different when we get through phase 3… some time this summer!
Before
Before
After
After
Box 1
Box #1 Close-up
More pictures should be appearing on the sidebar eventually…

New Printer Incites Samsung Fanboy Rant…

We have an inkjet multi-function printer, that we figure is nearly 5 years old. Its an HP, and although their quality has declined recently, we have been happy with it. Its been limping along on its last legs for a couple years now, and yesterday it ran out of ink.
We also have a Samsung laser printer that I use in my home office. We paid $90 for it, and it pounded out pages for nearly a year before it ran out of toner.
The combined cost to replace the toner, and the black and color ink tanks in our two printers was going to be $169. So instead, we bought a new printer.
Samsung SCX-4828The new one cost us $199, and its amazing. Its a laser multi-function center, and although we didn’t spring for the color version, it does practically everything else. It prints double-sided, it scans and faxes over-the-network, so it doesn’t even have to be attached to a computer to be useful. Its a full-page flatbed copier, and it even has an auto-feeder for scanning or copying multiple pages.
Toner replacements are about $80, and it has a toner-save feature, so we expect to get nearly a year out of this cartridge before we have to replace it.
Some of the functions we won’t use very often (fax) but working from home, it sure is nice to have them available.
But the best part is, because its network attached, it doesn’t have to be anywhere near my desk — or our bedroom. Nicole can print out her Google Maps and coupon findings without having to hover around behind me while I’m coding. And I can scan my expense report receipts without running to the bedroom and risking waking the kids during nap time. I couldn’t be more delighted.
Incidentally, its a Samsung. This is our 7th major Samsung purchase (our TV, washer, dryer, fridge, etc… have all been Samsung) and we’ve been very impressed with the quality, feature set and price of each device.