Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Self Made - Molded Clay

Wednesday Breakfast discussion with the  Armstrong guys can stimulate many different ideas.  Today we discussed the "prisons of ..... poverty, culture, spiritual emptiness, ......   And how does the individual "break out of these prisons"?   I think there are a number of necessary ingredients - the individual desire, mentors, a system that can deliver to hope, and connecting to your purpose in life. 

It is dangerous to believe that we are self made - we have earned everything we have.  The word self is appropriate to this because it is the root of selfishness.  Instead we are a product of everything around us and supporting us - the mentors and heros we have (or had), the help of others, the environment we are given (country, government, and community),  family and friends, economic safety nets, ......

We are all just lumps of clay spinning on the wheel of life.  And the invisible hands of God influence others to touch us, mentor us, and mold us is what we ultimately become.

It takes others to break out of the traditional mold.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Savers and Spenders

A.M. (one of my SVP Cincinnati Partners) and I were discussing the financial situation at Civic Garden Center (where Susan is now working part time as the C.F.O.).  A.M. said, "You know, there are Savers and Spenders in this world".... Susan is obviously a Saver".  He of course said this as a compliment since he too is a saver.  He added, "I'd rather be in my 50's doing this than ...... (and he mentioned a few spenders)". 

I then added my insight (well actually it is R.M.'s) when the Three College Musketeers were discussing philosophies of life and R.M. said "Money provides freedom of choices".  Consequently when you save today (sacrificing the present spending choice) you are "buying freedom of choice" in the future. 

This is one of the emotional battles that everyone must deal with.  There is no correct answer - only your own personal answer.  Savers like to criticize Spenders and visa versa.  It is happening now in the U.S. Government politics of raising the debt ceiling. 

The real answer lies in the Return on Investment.  Spending today (and this also applies to Giving) if done with proper return provides the start of a compounded benefit that continues forever.  Saving today is only better when the rate of return can exceed the compounded benefit accruing from the result of the spending action (or the future spend of the saver is for a better cause).

I could SPEND alot more time blogging about this - but I will SAVE you the pain.  :) 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy with Hobby

"Wealth and leisure, the combination which the world deems the source of happiness, in reality, brings but little joy, unless the activities of the mind, body and spirit are continually engaged in riding a hobby.....A man with a hobby is too busy to be unhappy and has no time for ennui or the blues."  Henry Earl Montgomery March 1914.

 I remember Grandpa Wells asking me what hobbies I had.  He followed up (knowing I was showing symptoms of workaholic tendencies) with the statement.  "Without a hobby, when you retire you will begin to die."  I like Henry Earl Montgomery's comment about activities of the mind, body and spirit.  The hobby or hobbies that exercise all three is important.  In fact adding a new hobby as you age can be very engaging. 

I have my own list to consider:
(1) Collecting
(2) Geneology (or for me just meaningful projects like pictures, etc.)
(3) Giving (SVP Cincinnati)
(4) Gardening/Landscaping (a new candidate this year)
(5) Investing (does that really count?)
(6) Blogging/Journaling
(7) Technology Tinkering (just tried to re-install Myst)
(8) Puzzles, Gaming, Bridge
(9) Tennis (recently added last year)

What distinguishes a hobby from just an activity came to mind as I constructed the list.  I think the hobby has a goal or continuous objective.  Afterall the pursuit of happiness should never end.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Evening of Pops

A cool crisp evening on the lawn of Riverbend listening to Idina Menzel and the Cincinnati Pops.  Susan has planned several Cincinnati events for the family to enjoy this summer.  So we packed a picnic and our blankets and enjoyed the music last night.

Lawn tickets were $25 per adult with children free (compliments of Toyota).  Add in the concessions and the evening easily exceeded $100.  The cost of entertainment for a family during a recession was evident by the attendance.  Even Idina thanked the audience for their support and graciously mentioned the hard times while offering the lawn participants the chance to fill in the empty pavilion seats. 

The last time we were at Riverbend was with Mom and Dad when we all saw Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance (one of Jenna's favorite childhood videos). 

It was a memorable evening - good weather, good food, good company and good music.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sleeping In

It's a great feeling to "sleep in" for the morning occasionally.  Now that I am on a 5:35am schedule of feeding and walking the puppies the ability to sleep in is a luxury.  Susan gave me that opportunity this morning.  But even with an extra 3 hours of semi sleep state, I will appear 3 hours ahead of Jenna, Paul and Ellen. 

Sleep is an interesting subject.  There are some who can feel fine with only 5 1/2 hours per day (mine is about 6 1/2 with the aid of coffee). It changes over time from infant to elder.  It is as important to be "at peace" while sleeping as maintaining a positive stressless attitude while awake.  A restless state is unhealthy and dangerous.

I remember Uncle Maurice (Retired Major in the Airforce) stating during Desert Storm that one of the war strategies was to bomb continuously for 30 days.  That constant restlessness of the enemy with the sound, vibrations, smell, and fear in the air would "break" them down completely. 

So the 25-33% of our life spent sleeping is just as important as the other 75%. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Customer Service Speed

What industries do you think of when you think of lethargic, slow, and inefficient processes and less than adequate customer service?  Government, Utilities, Legal System, Healthcare, Education  -  do you see a trend?  Regulation, Paperwork, Redundancy, Monopoly, Large, Hugh Customer Base, Slow to Change, .... the list goes on. 

Today I thought I had gotten the benefit of deregulation in Utilities.  After careful analysis, I determined I should switch my electric supplier from Duke Retail Energy to the Community aggregator Dominion Energy Solutions.  I determined the best time to do this was the months of June, July, Aug, and Sept. when Duke's rate increased for summer airconditioning.  So on May 25th (two days after my May meter read), I called to switch.  Unfortunately I forgot the rule above - that Utilities have inefficient processes. 

Now I discovered (too late after I got my June bill) it takes one to two billing cycles to make the switch.  The oppportunity cost of not calling 3 days earlier is $118.  UGH!!

In today's technology with instant updates and electronic financial transactions, it is ridiculous to hear someone say it takes 30-60 days to switch an account.  Deregulation - YES;  Efficient Customer Service Speed - NO

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Heaven Board Entry #1

It has been a year with no progress on the Heaven Board.  Several weeks ago after a light rain a rainbow appeared in the forest area behind our house.  This is after I had just planted a wild flower garden, spent countless days and weekends grooming the forest area, constructed the puppies doghouse/kennel area, and walked the puppies there each morning at 5:37am (including Saturdays and Sundays).  Paul snapped the picture quickly from the family room view.  I was a skeptic that the beauty of this memory could be captured properly.

I was wrong - and it becomes the first entry pasted on my Heaven Board.

Installed Base

I was describing my woes about "moving in" to this new HP Presario CQ56-115DX.  Yesterday I swapped out 2 Gig of memory for 8 Gig ($77).  G.B. (one of my SVP Cincinnati Partners) said:  "The reason God could create the universe in six days ---- is he didn't have an installed base!  For you non I.T. folks out there that means he was able to start from scratch.

I've already spent 12+ hours just getting old programs downloaded, HP bios & drivers etc updated, IE 9.0 upgraded etc. etc.  As I left the computer unattended, Jenna modified my screen theme (desk and shelves) and set up my logon icon (a dog).  So today is the first day of operating on the new computer.  Change is tough.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Giving Numbers

Today I attended the briefing of the Giving USA 2011 report (  Naturally, I get excited seeing any numbers and especially a pie chart and yearly trend graphs (nominal and inflation adjusted). 

The highlights are there are 1,280,739 non profits (501(c)3 entities); 63 million volunteers and that doesn't include churches.  The total giving in the USA in 2010 was $290.89 Billion which is a 3.8% increase over last years number and finally an increase after two dismal years of decline (2009 was -6.5%).  When you add bequests and family foundations (with the owner still alive) 87% of all that money was given by individuals!  And if you subtract the $100.63 Billion given to religious organizations (probably all from individuals) then $111.14 Billion was given by individuals (1.9% of their disposable income) to those 1.3 million non-profits plus international causes

Now this is where the statistician in me kicks in - For 2010 the population in the USA was 308.745,538 and the number of households was 112,611,029 (that's 2.6 people per household).  So the average American household gives $986.93 to non-religious charities.  WOW - that seems like a low number given that the median household income for 2009 was $50,221. 

So what was my take-away from all these giving numbers.  The USA gives alot - but we have the capacity to give even more!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Computer

On Thursday June 16th my new Compaq (HP) Presario CQ56-115DX arrived after over 12 weeks of waiting!  I filed my claim for the Nvidia GPU Litigation on-line Jan. 25, 2011, received my approval letter  March 4, 2011 and sent my old computer  on March 8, 2011.  So from March 8 to June 16 I was without my primary computer!  This was unacceptable.  I called twice and wrote two letters - got no response - it was like pushing at a brick wall.  I think the Claims administrator company - Rosenthal and Company now owned by Kurtzman Carsons Consultants LLC should be sued for lack of performance.

So am I happy with the new computer?   It's a mixed bag.  It has no camera (my old one had a camera); I went from a 32 bit processor to 64 bit;  An extra 90 gig of Hard Drive;  A different processor (2.3ghz single core vs my old 1.6ghz dual core); I now have a 15.6" LED screen (1366x768) vs my old 14.1" (1200x800);  But no Bluetooth; No Firewire or extra card slot; Same amount of RAM - 2gig.  Windows 7 vs Vista.

It took all day Friday to begin to configure the new computer and naturally moving to a 64bit created a problem with some old legacy programs.  Part of the problem was solved with some freeware DosBox that emulates the old DOS environment.  I needed to create a virtual XP environment for my old eschwab program - but that requires an $89 upgrade to Windows 7 Professional.  And I still  haven't decided whether to buy Windows Office 2010 or stay in dinasour land with Windows Office 2002 or 2007.

It is both frustrating and in some cases a fun problem to solve - how to get old stuff to work on the new computer.  You can see why Microsoft is successful - just stop supporting the old and force people to buy the new.  I can see why the general consumer just "punts" and has started buying Apple.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Half Empty or Half Full

I can't determine if I am overall an optimist or pessimist - so I call myself a realist.  Let's say Univ. of Michigan started checking your individual sentiment of how optimistic or pessimistic you are on a given day/week or month.  What would your graph look like - and would you overall be an optimist or pessimist?  I guess it depends on the area of interest - economics, health, spiritual, relationships etc.

Susan just read "America's Bubble Economy" and the sequel "Aftershock" - both gloom and doom books that would delight a pessimist.  I protected myself by only reading the latest one - "Aftershock".  The "recency effect" (which is you over weigh in belief what you recently read) has created a degree of pessimism in me lately.  One thing I learned from my Mom and Dad was the power of positive thinking.

So even though I have read "Aftershock" and "Chicken Little" - I can pull myself out the pessimism death spiral to equilibrium and then attempt to re-engage my realism self.

By the way - a good economist will look historically at the measures to determine the relative change and not the absolute specific measure of today.  So for the interested economists below is the MCSI chart of consumer sentiment:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fireflies at Dusk

Last night Ellen asked if I would sit and watch her catch fireflies in our back yard.  Ingredients:  A jar, dusk, and a cool summer evening.  One could say it was a glimpse of heaven seeing the flickering lights across the forest with my daughter enjoying the evening activity. 

After a jar full, Ellen announced the darkness had created increasing difficulty in the catch.  So she announced the release while we sat drinking our lemonade.  Out came the candles to impede the mosquitoes and create our  own flicker as we watched the firefly dance fade into complete darkness.

Friday, June 10, 2011


In "Max on Life" by Max Lucado he answers questions and provides insight into many spiritual issues.  On question 21 about patience he states: "Impatience is selfishness with time.  We don't like to waste it".  But like the things we have in life - those things are not ours -  they are all Gods. Time is the same -- It's God's time (see blog 01/18/10 Time is Money)  not ours.

I think gardening teaches patience.  I planted wild flowers May 21 and have diligently been watering.  The green sprouts are there but no flower. I keep asking where are my flowers.  If I water more will they grow faster?  If I fertilize more will they grow faster? How can I speed up the process?

In a world of instant speed for our desires (fast food; eye glasses in an hour; iphone internet access; 24 hour news; air travel; electronic transactions; and yes gardening) we want results - NOW!

Some things just can't be sped up - birth; trust; friendship; love; .......  you add to the list.
As Max concludes: "Thankfully, God is patient while you find patience"

"Love is patient"  (1 Cor. 13:4).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mound Ball Winner

Yesterday I was the lucky recipient of a Reds ticket for the Business Man's Special from J.Y. (and probably influenced by B.E.) and the folks at the Freestore/Foodbank.  The donated suite was a great place to watch the game with 95 degree sunshine.

Several years ago in the same suite J.Y. introduced me to the game of Mound Ball.  Each half inning a dollar is placed into the cup (by all participants) and the cup is rotated each half inning to one of the participants.  If the final out ball is thrown upon the dirt of the pitchers mound -the holder of the cup for that half inning wins the proceeds.  Otherwise a new contribution (ante up) is placed in the cup and passed to a next participant in line.

What fun - the technicalities are endless; the arguments are enjoyable  and it can make a boring game (or a game where one team has already blown it out) interesting.

What we discovered this year is that nearly all the balls were held by the player making the last  out and given to a lucky fan near the player as he walked to the dug out.   And since technically that  was the third out ball, we ignored the new ball thrown by the umpire to the mound awaiting the opposing pitcher's warmup. Bad choice of rules since by the ninth inning there was no winner.

But we drew straws for the final win.  Conditions were that the winner doubles the proceeds and donates it to the Freestore/Foodbank. 

I won this year!  So did Freestore/Foodbank with my $200 contribution.   And what about the Reds?  They lost 4 to 1 to the Chicago Cubs.    Thanks to J.Y. for the enjoyable afternoon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Lazy Philanthropist

The other day I was talking with L.S. about the book I just picked up at the Library - "Give Smart - Philanthropy that gets Results" by Thomas J. Tierney and Joe L. Fleishman  (I loved Fleishman's other book on "Foundations - The Great American Secret".  As L.S. was mentioning his latest social enterprise idea, I said that he was clearly not a "Lazy Philanthropist".

I confess to being a Lazy Philanthropist prior to my work with SVP Cincinnati.  I would write checks to organizations ( I call that Checkbook Philanthropy) without any real knowledge of the organization and how the funds were being spent.  Only later did I discover the site that allows you to research any non-profit and see their 990 tax form. That is the first step in curing the Lazy Philanthropist of his sloth habit.

It is similar to to being a lazy investor.  Like buying GE stock based on it's reputation in the marketplace versus doing fundamental research on the company to determine it's future earnings flow.

Next step after research - get engaged in the non-profit.  Monitor your investment.  Make sure you Give Smart.  That is what SVP Cincinnati is all about.  In fact, I'm not proud - I would like to "steal" the book's by line for our own -    "SVP Cincinnati,  Philanthropy that gets Results"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Home, Head or Heart

The June/July Madeira News has "Words to the Wise......" from the Madeira Senior Commission.  "Never make your home a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head.  You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things.  That way it will go with you wherever you journey" -  Tad Williams

I would change the quote slightly - saying make your home your heart and fill it with love - all types of love; relationships, learning, God, memories, etc.  and let it overflow.

There are many songs using the "Home is Where the Heart is":

Peter Paul and Mary
Elvis Presley
Lady Antebellum

I like Elvis and the Chorus:

Home is where the heart is
And my heart is anywhere you are
Anywhere you are is home

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cats Rule

This weekend marked the graduation of the dogs to the garage and outside with the invisible fence.  Boy are they happy!  Racing around the yard - it is fun to see them play tag and hide and go seek (no longer constrained by those leashes).  After months of "grooming the forest" the invisible fence has extended their play area by another half acre - so much of the fun was running in the woods.

When I went to get their collars adjusted to the invisible fence at Wags Park (a dog park), I saw several dogs swimming in the man made play pond.  I told Ellen we should sign up just so Bella and Fitch could learn early to swim and enjoy the water (Nellie our last dog was always afraid to jump in the pool at our old house).  When I mentioned this to the Vet, he had a better solution - just buy one of those small wading pools and let the dogs go wild!  Great idea - so I'm in the market for a small pool for them to frolic in.

Once Susan got home there was a sigh of relief as the dog pens had exited our mud room.  Tonight the cats emerged in the family room - the calmest I have seen them in two months.  It just proves that Cat rule the household.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gardening Exercise

Now that I have lost 10 pounds (after the one month sickness that knocked me out), I decided to keep it off and find consistent exercise.  The puppies have helped with their walks,invisible fence training, and clearing the forest for their additional running room.  Now I have taken over the watering task that Susan typically performed each year on the new plantings and sod.

Dad seemed to always get his exercise and stay in shape with his vegetable garden.  I haven't yet graduated to vegetable gardening but I did attempt a wild flower 400 sq ft patch in the woods.  Since Susan has not executed on getting the landscaper to plant my requested fruit trees, I may even try planting the trees myself!  This will be the year to determine if I have inherited Dad's green thumb. But even if that fails - I should at least keep the weight off and get that benefit.  Maybe, I will even get the note from the doctor and see if I can reduce my insurance premium (see blog Jan. 6, 2010  Pound of Flesh).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Last Day of School

Ellen was all smiles this morning as I dropped her off at school - after all she had no backpack, and the day was scheduled for fun and a field trip.   It is the change in routine that I think makes everyone happy.  I think this day is as exciting as the first day of school - when the summer routine changes also.  Like a vacation, it "shakes up" the normal activities.

I remember summers  fondly growing up. Whether it was tennis lessons, vacation bible school, or just playing basketball, ping pong and summer board games with friends, summer was a time to mentally relax.  There were still responsibilities - the business of mowing lawns and house chores.  But filling each day was flexible decision process.

Some have advocated a year long schedule of school since the tradition of summers off was due to the rural farming schedule.  As I reflect on the excitement of a changing schedule, I think maintaining the "last day of school" is a good tradition.