Tuesday, December 25, 2012

To the Ungrateful

Is it just because people have easy access to complain in 140 characters or is it the disgusting sense of entitlement and consumerism we breed in America?

I'm talking about all of these Tweets complaining about getting the black iPad instead of the white one and how people are going to kill themselves if they don't get the iPhone S4 for Christmas. What is this?

This comedian ( re-Tweets these complaints every year and I was just looking through them and just can't fathom how these teenagers to early 20 year-olds can complain.

I tried to think back at Christmas past, just to gut check myself. Did I ever complain? Maybe that one year when I got the LEGO set that was missing more than half its pieces, but that's because I loved it so much, I was disappointed that I couldn't play with it.

Sallie and I were talking about this and we really were lucky. Even though neither of our families were well off, neither of us could think of a single Christmas or birthday where we were disappointed. We were happy to not only get gifts, but get things we were really excited about.

I guess what I'm saying is the internet makes me not like people sometimes. Today, when I thought I'd be reading Tweets about spending time with families, having great food, and general joy, instead I'm reading how Kaila Simpson is pissed she got an iPad mini instead of Justin Beiber tickets.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

 Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Death Scares the Hell Out of Me

I think we're all a little scared of death. Even those that seem so sure of what happens after death, have at least some fear of the unknown.

I know its a morbid thing to be thinking of in the middle of an otherwise overcast Thursday, but media keeps making me think of it.

I put my Zune on random earlier this week, and My Chemical Romance's "The Black Parade" came on. I really wanted to listen to the whole album after hearing the song, so I went for it. It's a rock opera that tells the story of a cancer patient who dies in the first song, and him dealing with the afterlife and reflecting on his life through the rest of the album.

This song and music video specifically sum up the concept of the opera. The singer said this is based off his belief that whenever you die, death greets you in whatever way you would want it. In this case, the dying man has fond memories of a parade his father took him to as a child.

Then, I was watching Scrubs, and this tear-jerker of an episode came on.

JD and Turk both become attached to a guy who is dying and doesn't have any family left. His last request is a beer, which the two bring him, and they sit there reminiscing and talking deep.

I think its a well written dialogue. Patient is panicking knowing there's very little time left for him. Doctors, who have to deal with death everyday, explain it medically and then try to explain what they think spiritually.

It's just interesting to see someone on the brink of death having to quickly come to terms with what they actually believe. Most of us flounder through life with vague ideas of what we hope and think, but until the gun is to your head, you aren't really forced to decide.

Funerals, accidents, and other's deaths give us a small taste of our mortality. But that is the only time in life, while perfectly healthy, we are reminded that we are temporary creatures on earth.

I guess the best we can do on Earth is try not to regret much. Make sure you do those things you really care about. And as another episode of Scrubs reminds us, just go lay in the grass and do nothing sometimes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Positions in Human Resources

I've had a lot of friends interviewing for new positions lately, and not long ago I did as well.

There's something I realized, I think Human Resources might be part of the Illuminati.

Hear me out.

1. Anytime I've interviewed with someone in HR, they don't seem to listen.

"So, do you have project management experience?"
"Well, no, but I've worked closely with project teams. Here's a few projects I've worked on..."
"So, you don't have any project manager experience?"
"No, but I've worked with them and this is an entry level job. This would be the way for me to get in."
"OK, preferably we would have someone with project management experience."

Everyone I talk to has had a similar HR interview like this. I've even had friends not get past the HR interview for the position they are already doing.

At first, I thought maybe this was ineptness on the HR side, but I actually think its an evil plot to kick our souls with their dirty boots, until we no longer want to rise up against them and take the world back.

2. Ever seen an HR position posted? No? Me either.

I've never seen an UFO, but they might exist. I've never seen a HR position posted, but I know they exist. Do they hire inside their creepy mason like headquarters? Is there a ritual involving hot wax, goat blood, and magical spells said in Latin?

They obviously get hired somehow.

3. Their job is to help the human element of a company, all while taking the side of the company. You ever take your company to court and you happened to have asked advice from human resources, you bet your butt they'll use what you said against you.

4. These people are never in the building with you. In fact, they aren't in any building. They are always faceless people with weird names (Brienna) that work 100% remotely.

So in conclusion, HR = the Illuminati. They are only there to keep us down while they keep a strangle hold on the world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two Days of Holiday Deals are Enough

OK, so we're Americans. We love consuming. Black Friday is the embodiment of that. It's a day the stores put everything on extreme sale, and thousands of Americans, filled with turkey, violently shop against each other.

A little background according to Wikipedia. The term Black Friday in the current context, was used by employees of retailers in 1969 to describe the traffic jams, and general mayhem that happened on the two busiest shopping days of the year, which happened the two days after Thanksgiving. Essentially, it was a day the average employee mourned, like a funeral.

There was a moment, when some tried to put a positive spin on it, calling it Big Friday, but ultimately the "Black" stuck. And from what I can tell, every year, has somehow upped the ante on being more ridiculous.

Then, around 2005, marketing departments decided that Black Friday just wasn't enough. What about online retailers? There was already a noticeable trend of sales being up for online retailers the Monday after Black Friday. So why don't we make it an event?

So, using their marketing heads, Cyber Monday was born.

So we had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and to a lesser extent, Black Saturday. Three days marked on calendars to consume. These are holidays onto themselves, where instead of celebrating Christian saints, we raise Tickle-Me-Elmo above our heads, and offer the sacrifice of blood and dollars just to get our hands on it.

Are three days good enough? Most would say yes, some would say no.

Walmart, Sears, Toys R Us, K-Mart, and Target decided this year that Black Friday would start right after Thanksgiving dinner. 8 and 9 pm on Thursday, these stores will open to the greedy masses. A day meant to be spent with family, eating great food, being thankful, could now potentially see people standing in line for a $89 Nintendo Wii, eating a turkey leg, bathed in the glow of the Walmart sign.

But, that's not all. Online retailers decided that they were going to take the rest of the week. Just this morning, I woke up with an email from Amazon and NewEgg highlighting their 7 days of deals to countdown to Cyber Monday.

That would be like preparing to get a physical by having a doctor touch your naughty parts for the seven days before the physical. Does anyone else not see how insane this is?

I'm fine with having a day or two of deals. I really am. I like to sit on my big comfy chair Saturday morning, coffee in hand, laptop in the other, and read about the mom who headbutted a father over the latest Justin Bieber perfume.

But can we have our holiday back? Can we just enjoy being with family and having a day or two off of work?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Outsourcing Conundrum

I've been struggling with outsourcing over the past few years. I work in an industry where its very easy to outsource much of your technical support staff.

We see it with many of the major US players: Boeing, Microsoft, Apple, Mastercard, General Motors, etc.

Currently, I work with peers in India, the Philippines, and China. Many of my buddies lost their jobs over the past few years because of the outsourcing. I somehow survived.

There also appears to be a distinct lack of upward mobility within the company, and many believe its caused by jobs going over seas combined with many of the vets that were getting paid boom salaries, not wanting to leave their positions to go elsewhere because the pay isn't as much.

In the back of my mind, I know that at any moment, I can be replaced by someone overseas. Yes, they might not be as efficient as I am or as personable to our American clients, but they can hire two of them for less than the cost of me. But it still doesn't seem right.

As one of my users said, "Its just god damn un-American." I agree.

I understand why. The demand to show your stockholders you made profit quarter after quarter, even though the industry might not have grown, and that you somehow cut costs will keep people investing in your company.

I think it causing a larger rift in class warfare. The guy getting laid off isn't thinking about keeping a business going, he's thinking about how the rich CEO and people with enough disposable income to play the stock market, are doing just fine with their record profits.

He's thinking about the stereotype of the person that took his job and how evil they are and how they are ruining the world economy.

However, a new variable has been added. All of a sudden I'm working directly with some people overseas. They are no longer this sweat shop worker keeping things running while I'm asleep. These are people with names and personalities. I like these people.

And really, its not their fault. They want to live the American dream. The problem is, in this digital age, we've found a way to export the American dream to other countries.

It's not Alvin's fault that my company hired him to do work. He's just trying to earn a living. If it wasn't him, it would've been one of the other millions of people looking for work overseas.

So, I guess I'm trying to not blame the people taking the jobs. I'm trying to shift my anger and disappointment toward the companies that do it.

In a way, I guess I should blame Capitalism.

As a side note, some reports suggest that outsourcing is now coming the other way. India is actually shipping jobs to the US.  So maybe this 20 year trend is finally coming to an end.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ghosts of High-School

I took a four day weekend this week. Originally it was to celebrate the start of the hockey season and burn some PTO I had, but since hockey isn't happening, I made new plans and they happened to be a huge blast of Dan circa 1999-2003.

Thursday night, Sallie, Lacy, and I went to see the Smashing Pumpkins. It was Billy Corgan complete with his "Zero" shirt, surrounded by bored students who couldn't afford to see the Cardinals game and thousands of people my age dressed in their best flannel and black t-shirts. The Smashing Pumpkins are one of those bands I've skipped too many times, we had to go to this show and it was great.

Friday I spent the day out in St. Charles after dropping Sallie off at work. I met a buddy of mine I hadn't seen since I left for Mizzou for Cecil Whittakers pizza buffet, a past time of high-school as well. We spent the entire afternoon searching used game stores for Sega Genesis and Playstation 1 games, talking about Smashing Pumpkins, and pizza. I swear, for a moment, I thought I was 17 again.

Then yesterday, I thought I was done with the high-school-ness of my weekend, but we went to the wedding of one of Sallie's families close friends. I knew some of these people too, they road the same bus as me for a few years. Well, the weren't the only ones I knew from high-school.

I was seated next to a guy that wrestled one of my buddies in high-school. I somehow knew the best man, but I couldn't figure out what group of friends of ours overlapped and I ran into my first girlfriend and her new husband. The last time I saw Rebecca was at a Target in St. Charles in 2002. I just couldn't believe I was standing there, face to face with my entire summer of 2001, and having a conversation with her.

It was a crazy weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Saving Money and Feeling All Manly

I told you a few months back how Sallie and I were going into survival mode until a few bills cleared up. Well, I think we've done a fine job.

For bills, we've managed to cut things down quite a bit.

  • Netflix: Went from 1 DVD to just streaming - saved $8 a month.
  • Electricity: We didn't put in a second AC window unit this year and kept the AC about 6 degrees warmer than last year. In total, we saved about $70 a month all summer even with Ameren increasing prices this year.
  • Cell Phones: We switched to Virgin mobile since they use Sprint's network anyway. Saving $70 a month.
On top of those we got aggressive and swapped some things around.
  • Paid off both our medical bills. Total a month, $200.
  • Paid off the loan we took out before Sallie went into surgery. Total per month, $260.
  • Shifted around some credit card balances to one with 0% interest. 
So total, we have 5 less payments a month and are paying about $600 less a month.

On top of that, we both have had second jobs.

Sallie's continued doing her track club newsletter which brings in a nice chunk of change once a quarter.

I've been working with my buddy Allen on gutting houses, being all manly and stuff.

I've quickly learned that I'm not one that learns from reading books or watching videos on how to do things. I need to be shown, usually just once, and once I know what I'm doing, I'm golden.

Since owning a house, I've felt inept at how little of home repair I know how to do, but I'm finding out its only because I've never had a reason to fix anything.

I've had to do a little bit of everything on these old houses. I've installed light fixtures and ceiling fans, painted, cut trim, installed flooring, ripped out carpet, and worked a little with plumbing.

I got to use a nail gun that loaded nails like clips and was hooked up to a 4 foot tall air compressor. I seriously felt muscles and chest hair grow as I shot each nail.

There was one house that a good 50 years of furniture was shoved in the basement and we had to clean out. We quickly learned this was a spider nest. Allen and I wandered the basement, one of us holding a flashlight, the other a blow torch, and we had to kill spiders like we were in Aliens or something.

We found an old 1940s style radio in the house that still sort of worked. Allen took it home to see what he could do with it.

Basically, what I'm saying is, we didn't do anything really this summer, but it was worth it. We're finally in a place where we might be able to make progress on debt for the first time in three years and we learned a few things along the way.

Monday, October 1, 2012


I went over to a buddies house on Saturday and brewed for a solid 8 hours. I've had some questions as to the process and such, so I figured I'd post with pictures. This guy has much more and better equipment than me, so in two weeks, I plan on posting my brewing process.

So we just brewed a generic ale with almost no-bitter taste (IBUs) because we're testing what 5 different yeasts do to the same brew.

1. We used 9 lbs of 2 row grain, which is sort of the basic basis for most beers. This is my buddy grinding it... shortly thereafter he robbed a train.

2. While that was getting ground, we heated water up to a proper mashing temperature. Basically, you submerge your grain in water around 160-165 degrees to pull all the sugars and enzymes out of it. So you take this set up, and slowly pull water from the cooler. After it runs through the grains it turns a darker, smokey color. We then dump the water from the picture back into the cooler and run it through a few times until the smokey water looks clear. 

3. Now we heat up enough water for our total brew, in this case about 8 gallons  and put it in a sparge cooler. It's a similar process to the mashing, but this time we are running hot water over the grain bed slowly, trying to keep the grain bed loose, and then emptying it into our brew kettle. You have to make sure the water level stays high enough, otherwise the grain will compact and you won't get as much sugar out of the grains as you need.

4. At this point, we take what's called wort (This is unfermented, unhopped beer) outside and throw it on a sweet propane burner. We got it up to temp, threw some hops in, boiled for 60 minutes. 

5. After that, we cooled the wort down to 70 degrees, put the beer into 5 small fermentors and pitched our vials of yeast. By now, there should be CO2 leaving through the airlocks and in about 3 weeks it'll be ready for bottling. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting Equilibrium Back

Sallie and I just have not had normal schedules for most the summer. With Lacy and Rob being in town, working second jobs, working crazy schedules at those jobs, and Matt being in town this week, we just haven't had a normal.

Sometimes that abnormal is more abnormal, like this weekend for instance.

Matt came into town on business and Wilco happened to be playing in Columbia at the same time. We all decided against our better judgement to take the Sunday drive to Columbia for Rock n' Roll.

I actually volunteered to drive everyone back since I didn't work until 11:30. Of course, my new job wants me to start my new shift after I already volunteered. Oh well, I'll soldier through.

Well, flash forward to the weekend of the show.

Matt needs a ride from the airport.

I made plans with friends I had to blow off a bunch in recent months.

Lacy leaves town, we volunteered to take care of the cats. 

So while I do host duties to my buddies, Sallie runs out to Lambert. She gets back, works her second job for a bit, I send my buddies home.

We all head out to O'fallon to spend the night. I mow the lawn in the dark because their lawn mower is as complicated as firing a rocket into space. We all hang out and eventually pass out.

Wake up semi-early. We have to play the "one shower, four people" game to get everyone clean. We get on the road too late for Mcdonald's breakfast, but too early to really want anything heavy to eat. We grab what we can from DQ, drive the 95 minutes to Columbia, and settle in at Flatbranch for lunch and beers.

Wilco gets on, we rock out for a solid 4 hours, and by the end of the show, my back and leg are just wrecked. I drive home for everyone. We have to take our buddy back to O'fallon so he can get his car, then take Matt to his hotel room, and finally get home around 1:45 am. After a quick shower, I finally hit the pillow at about 2:15.

Alarm goes off at 8:30 am. I have to be signed in by 9. I don't feel human.

Not only is my schedule all out of whack, but my body is incredibly sore, and after eating travel food for a few days, my stomach hurt.

Basically, its like a body hangover I'm still feeling on Tuesday. I still haven't quite got back to myself. I don't know if its getting used to the new schedule, the four hours of training I'm doing a day, or a combination of everything.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Old Writing

On and off for the past year I've been trying to transfer all my old lyrics, stories, and poems in digital form. Today, I was working quite a long time on transcribing and I found myself knee deep in high school writings.

It makes me feel great I've come such a long way since then. I see the potential, but seriously, I was a depressed teenager. 

Pretty much every poem is an emo-kid story about someone not liking me or me being alone with terrible rhyme schemes and sometimes set to skater punk guitar chords. I'd say somewhere around 50% of the poems contain some form of the line, "And a tear rolls down my cheek." Its something I probably wouldn't have noticed without reading all the poems back to back. 

I wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the stomach, really give me a reason to cry.

Then, I had to date some of the poems by what stuff I doodled in the margin. Like this shining example below.

It was a poem about love and growing up. Which means it was after high-school because everything in high-school was about heartbreak and being too young. 

This was a doodle of a girl I liked at community college and we briefly dated, that means, this poem was from the fall of 2003-Spring of 2004. However, I didn't have a class with her in 2004, so Fall of 2003 it is. 

Anyway, its a weird trip down memory lane. I can remember the moment I was inspired to write some of it, I can pinpoint the event that caused me to write some of it, and sometimes I surprise myself with a line or two I still think were very strong. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The New Job

So after several frustrating months of being really unhappy in my position, I finally was offered another job and accepted it.

I'll be writing the technical documents, fixes, and procedures for the guys on the phone. I'll still have to take some calls myself, from what I've been told, that's because the business channel didn't think we needed to have a knowledge management team and the only way to protect those positions was to take calls. But I'll be taking 20 hours or less of calls a week.

So in true technical documentation form, I will provide a bulleted list of what is better.

  • I got to choose my shift. Instead of having a late shift where I can never hang out or do anything, I'm going to be working 9-5:30.
  • Some flex time. Can't do this all the time, but if I get caught late a few nights or have something important to do, there's some flex time available.
  • A little bit of a raise. This was a lateral move with potential to move up, but my boss still came through and got me a raise.
  • I only have to use one request off calendar. I know this sounds like nothing, but because the help desk is so phone oriented, I had to request off on the help desk calendar, the HR calendar, and if the day wasn't open for me to ask off, I would need to log into a third app and get on a waiting list. At the end of the year, all three of those systems had to add up to the same amount of PTO, otherwise, I would get audited. 
  • This is a team I wanted to join when I was first hired on at AG Edwards. There haven't been any openings through all the various corporate takeovers. So in a way, I'm where I wanted to be.

I needed to get out of my old position. I was stuck in a situation where I was resolving issues higher level and higher paid people are, but there was no room for me to move up.

Plus, the team I was working with was poisonous. There were a lot of people that were butt hurt when Wachovia bought AG Edwards and Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, and lives as they knew them where scrambled. There were a lot of people that were demoted during this, held back, and laid off. So there was just a lot of negativity I had to deal with, not only from co-workers, but from my customers all the time. It was making my life seem really bleak and dark at times.

So I'm jumping right into the new position starting Monday, and I hope its everything I wanted it to be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


It's weird to think that an event so momentous as September 11th, 2001 will one day just be an event in a history book.

Already, on Facebook and on the news, I'm seeing maybe only half the amount of posts I saw a few years ago. More and more, that event is getting locked into history.

Soon, there will be high-school kids that weren't even alive when it happened looking at the pictures of the burning towers in a history book, if they even get to the "modern" era of history. (I rarely got past World War 2 in American history classes)

I recently watched the entire series of a show called "Rescue Me," which is about a FDNY firehouse dealing with a post 911 world. Several of the main characters were at Ground Zero and lost a bunch of their buddies and its about them dealing with the guilt of surviving and the sadness of losing so many guys they cared about.

As the seasons went on and the show got further away from 2001, the fire fighters had to deal with a public that was quickly forgetting how many people gave their lives being firefighters and police officers. More new recruits come in, wide eyed with thoughts of glory and heroism in their minds, but the vets know there was no glory. The only heroes are the ones that died that day. Everyone else is a broken husk waiting for the fire to take them.

I don't have anything to really say beyond that. I just thought its going to seem really strange the further we get away from this how it'll seem like less of a life changing experience and more of an event.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Heart is Pumping

So when I was in for my yearly leg exam a few weeks ago, the nurse took my blood pressure and immediately said, "Whoa, are you nervous?"

Turns out, my blood pressure is a little high. I've known this for a bit. For the past year or two, I'm around 140/80. Depending on what doctor I talk to, this is either the higher end of normal or pre-hypertension.

I'm going to try to change this early. There's heart disease in my family and I'd like to not go from a bad ticker.

I've already dropped about 20 lbs since Christmas and regularly exercise 5 times a week. So, I'm headed in the right direction. However, blood pressure has remained the same.

I don't consume large amounts of sodium on a regular basis, but I do love Mexican food, I do eat out sometimes, and basically anywhere you buy food out is most likely going to contain a billion parts of sodium. So, if I'm going to eat out, I'm going to research the menu beforehand, find something with lower sodium.

I also don't drink often or a lot. 2 drinks a day (24 oz of beer, 10 oz of wine, or 4 oz of liquor) can actually decrease blood pressure. I typically only drink Fridays and Saturdays and usually only a few drinks.

And I definitely don't smoke.

So I feel like I'm doing everything right, but I still feel like I'm not making any progress.

Now, there are two things that probably contribute the most to my high blood pressure, caffeine and stress.

It's a vicious cycle.  The stress wears me out and the caffeine perks me back up.

So caffeine intake, that I can control. Starting today, I'm drinking about half the amount of coffee as I normally do. This weekend I'm switching to tea. I'm going to try to boost my energy naturally. Maybe have a protein shake in the morning. If its not too warm out, I'm going to take a walk in the morning.

Stress is something I can sort of help but not really. Stress is a thick fog that hangs around my life. I'm not sure if other people deal with the same level and control it better or if I really do have a more stressful life. Money, my job, the house, the current economy, and hell, even my friends sometimes all feel as though they are pushing on my chest and make it hard to breath.

Since I can't control the stress coming at me, I'm going to try to control how I deal with it. Instead of immediately reacting in anger and getting pissed about things, I'm going to attempt to take a deep breath and figure out why its stressing me out. See if there's a way to make it less stressful.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cut Me Open Again

Went to the doctor for my year checkup on my leg.

He was impressed with how well the nerve has healed and how powerful my foot is, but then I told him I still can't run.

He started popping my knee out of place and back in and testing everything and he says he can feel that its still loose. He then pulled up my old MRI and we started looking at it. Looks like my PCL hasn't healed as much as the doctor want it to.

During the original surgery, he couldn't reattach the PCL for a few reasons.Be biggest of those, he literally couldn't reattach it with the hardware I got on my bone. Also, if he tried to fix all the ligaments at the same time, I wouldn't have been able to bend my knee as far as quickly. It would've tightened up too much. He said it would be possible I would never have a full range of motion again.

So, for now, I'm going to keep working out and see if I can build the muscle and make it a little better, but the doctor said if I ever want to be able to run again and be somewhat of a functioning person, something will have to be done.

Right now, he's trying to get me a PCL brace donated. He said a lot of people can just wear this brace when they want to run or do high impact aerobics and are fine, but I'm not even 30 yet. I won't want to have to wear a brace the rest of my life.

So, I go back in February and that's when we're seriously going to have to start talking about me going under the knife again. I'd get all the hardware removed from my leg and the PCL reattached. He said the PCL is a bit harder to do physical therapy on, but what I've already been through, I'm sure its not going to be as bad.

As a side effect to whatever he did on Thursday, I've been getting these weird hot flashes in my knee. They happen every few hours and you can feel the heat through my skin. Not sure what that means.

Monday, August 6, 2012

White Noise

I've been thinking about meditation a lot lately. How to really meditate, disconnect ourselves from the world for a few moments while our brain regroups.

There's a "cool down" on one of the Yoga videos I've been doing lately and as much as it pains me to admit it, the end of this video is the closest I've gotten to turning everything off in a long time. Bob Harper leads the video and he cools his voice down after the intense workout. You just sort of roll your head back and forth and stretch. There's a distinct pattern to it where without even meaning you, your head shuts itself off.

It's amazing to me how much white noise we invite into our lives. Whether that white noise comes from booze and drugs or technology or over booking our lives, there's just too much noise to just enjoy things.

I've been trying to think of the last time I was really able to disconnect. And sadly, I think it was 2003.

I was starting to panic about where to go to college. I had already been late applying to schools so that I would be accepted and ready to go the moment I graduated high school. So my crisis hit fever pitch when all of my friends left and I was still in St. Charles, going to community college.

As a background to my mind set at this time, I felt like everything was forcing me to accept life instead of live it. I had started losing my desire to do something special and had accepted that I would get a 9-5 office job, come home to my house in the suburbs, probably take the dog for a walk, have dinner with the wife and two kids, and then watch TV until I went to bed. To me the suburbs were, and still are to some extent, a death sentence for dreams.

Back to 2003, I was thinking about going to Truman or SEMO because friends of mine went there. I visited both places, liked the campus enough, and since I was already thinking about pursuing a degree in English, there wasn't a top college to go for these studies that I could afford. It didn't really matter where I went, as long as they had a decent English department with Creative Writing as an emphasis.

There was one night when I was driving my car along the Upper Bottom Road. It was probably 10 pm. My car didn't have a CD player or a working tape deck, so I was relegated to the radio, which has been in a sad state of affairs for at least 20 years now. I had turned off the radio, was driving along this road that didn't have many street lights, there were no other cars around, and I started noticing the frogs. I'd heard stories about how many frogs would get ran over on this road, but I'd never heard them before.

I slowed down a little because I just wanted to be in this moment. I looked among the moonlight and found a small parking lot for the Katy trail for me to pull off on. I just sat there for a moment and took a deep breath and I realized why I had been hesitant to send off my application to SEMO and Truman. To me, those schools represented the suburbs. They were calculated, safe bets. I would be going to school with large amounts of people from St. Charles or O'Fallon or Lee Summit. It would be like I never left on an adventure.

I was overcome with this assurance that I hadn't had in years. I knew that I had to go to Mizzou, that was going to be the strange planet, the uphill battle that I needed, so that I could be healthy in my mind and heart again. I would go to this place where there was an international community. Where liberal and conservative ideals collided into each other. Where even if a friend of mine went to the school, the chance of me running into that person were so small, I was assured to meet new people.

And that was the last time I remember turning my brain off and reflecting. Ever since then, even when I'm walking through the quiet streets blanketed in snow after dark, I can't seem to turn off my MP3 player, and just take in everything around me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fantastic Birthday

I took off of work Friday because basically everything awesome was happening that day already. We decided to turn it into an impromptu birthday bash.

So Sal and I started the morning with a kickass, giant breakfast: bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. BAM! Breakfast in my stomach.

As soon as my belly was properly full, we headed out to see "The Dark Knight Rises."

So I screwed up. This is really the only dumb part of the day. Thought I bought tickets online to see the movie at a theater downtown, but as we arrived and saw there were no show times for when I bought tickets, we quickly realized I bought tickets for the wrong theater. So we paid $4 to park in the lot at the wrong theater. Had to jump in the car and rush a few miles to the Central West End to see it.

My anger at having to pay $4 for no reason quickly melted away as I sat in the theater chair while an organist played the Adam West Batman theme.

The movie was awesome. Go see it. It's long, so make sure you go to a comfy theater. All I'm going to say is that its better than Batman Begins, not as good as The Dark Knight, tons of nods to the comics and previous movies.

So after the film was over, we drove back downtown near where the theater I thought I bought tickets for was, and went to the Schlafly tap room.

For the next four hours, we just hung out. I wanted to keep things informal, because I've found in recent years, when you try to plan things out, everything falls apart. People came and went, people bought me beers, we ate pretzels and beer cheese, and had a ton of laughs.

When I had a proper birthday buzz going, we walked down to Soldier's Memorial to see a free Offspring concert. They rocked the hell out. Played a nice set of old and new and sounded as solid as their albums.

I was screaming every song at the top of my lungs and dancing around. Then I looked to the left and saw the most awesome toddler in the history of the world. Perched on his dad's shoulders and air drumming his heart out, we locked eyes, and both reached for the greatest high five at the same time. The moment was capture in the picture above and that more or less sums up the entire day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Prescription to Happiness

America loves our pharmaceuticals. Magic pills that instantly give us better living conditions, help us lose weight, perform sexually when we're past the age we probably should, and knock us out at night.

The thing I don't understand is literally thousands of years worth of humans were able to get by without a prescription to Prozac or Xanax or Viagra. Did they just deal with life? Were they too busy surviving to worry if they were going to be able to fall asleep at night?

Sure, there are American's that do benefit from Adderall, but for every one person that does truly need it, there are at least three college kids going to their doctor armed with the Wikipedia page of symptoms of ADD to get a prescription. I know this from the all night study sessions.

Go to a psychiatrist and spend a few sessions saying how anxious you are, and its not hard to find someone that will give you Xanax. You start feeling better, and the psychiatrist feels like they've made progress. Combine that with an anti-depressant and you should be the happiest person in the country. (A Harvard study shows a 400% increase in anti-depressant use between 1994 and 2008.)

Ambien is the one that baffles me the most. Sallie was prescribed some after her surgery and it was the first time I had heard of the drug. That makes sense, she was given  few weeks worth of pills because she was in pain from surgery. It helped her sleep. 

However, I know many people that have a prescription only because they say they can't sleep. I'd never taken an Ambien and just sort of assumed it made you feel tired. Well, when I went in for surgery, I had 3 separate doctors say they really didn't like to prescribe Ambien. All of them said that the potential risk was incredibly high compared to the small benefit of an almost dreamless night of sleep. They told me I could lose hours of my life, not know if I'm asleep or awake, and generally get myself in trouble in this zombie state.

When 3 doctors are hesitant to prescribe a small dosage of the drug for a 215 lb male, there's probably enough reason to take a second look at the drug. 

I guess I'm a little biased. I'm not one that goes to the doctor unless I really need to. I don't get sick. And I don't have crippling depression or anxiety. At the same time though, I see the pill abuse all around me. It's just a way to be bombed out of your mind in a socially acceptable way for a lot of people. It's only going to get worse, America is addicted to these pills, and as long as their prescription is refilled, they will continue to be a cash flow for these pharmaceutical companies.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Birthday Lists for Dan and featuring Sallie!

It's that time of year again, where I pretend that I'm not quickly approaching 30, and post another birthday list, hoping that you all will once again humor my childishness. This year, Sallie has asked me to go ahead and post her's on here too. So at the bottom, you'll find that girl's list.

So, we usually like fun things for our birthdays, but with the recent lack of cash flow, we are going to ask for a few practical gifts.

  • Home Depot gift cards: I have a home project list as long as Moby Dick.
  • Kohl's/Macy's gift cards: We are still using college towels and they are smelling like 8 years of shared bathrooms. 

Dan's List

Brewing Stuff

Gift Cards!!!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Degree in Regret

I wouldn't say I regret going to college, but lately I've been measuring the benefits compared to what I would rather be doing right now. Thus far, the benefits have won every pro/con list, but they've been winning by a smaller margin.

Obviously I developed higher level problem solving skills, formed opinions based on a much larger world view that suburbia provided me, met my wife and most of my current friends, and have memories that would've never been formed elsewhere. I don't regret going to university because it got me out of a dark place, I felt stuck in St. Charles.

But there have been signs all around me lately that make me wonder if it was worth it.

One of my uncle Mike's former band mates found me about two weeks ago. He's been able to make a living as a musician and successful tattoo artist for decades now. I think about how much energy I expel working for a corporation and by the time I clock out at night, how I'm too tired to think. The creative part of my brain is flexed so little nowadays that when I do make it a point to sit down and write, it becomes harder.

I studied literature and creative writing, an endeavor many scoff at. It's not a degree that makes you money. I think about all these great writers I studied, writers that were able to go to university and hone their crafts, but still were able to travel, live life working small jobs here and there, while focusing on writing. Their debt was so little, that often they were able to pay it off within a few years.

You wonder why there hasn't been a great American novel in decades? It's because the people that used to write those novels are so buried in debt, they put down the pen and paper for database work. In our ADD world, blogs are about the only thing writers have time for.

It's not necessarily the money. I've been asked why I didn't go into something like engineering, business, mathematics, or science where the jobs are. Its because I have no passion for those subjects. I would hate myself if I phoned it in for a paycheck. I work with Financial Advisers that make millions of dollars, but they're mostly unhappy pricks that work 70 hours a week, trading digital currency and gambling on the next hot company.

I think the thing that has affected me the most was when I was sitting down next to Lacy's dad yesterday. He told me how pissed he is that he worked at a place he didn't like for so long, to build up all of this financial stability, that he doesn't even get to use now.

He's got regret in his eyes and not enough time to do anything about it. I don't want to end up that way.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Red Thumb

When people are great at growing plants, its said they have a green thumb. I had to turn to the color wheel to find out what color thumb I have, and its apparently red, because I kill everything.

Sallie and I spent a good 5 hours outside last weekend getting our garden going, and thus far, its looking a bit pathetic.

We planted three flowering shrubs of some sort in our front yard to make the house look a little better. Two of the three are now wilted and the flowers have completely disappeared. The third one, the one that was doing the best, is looking like its two brothers did a few days ago.

We bought a tomato plant from the farmers market since we've had 0 luck growing them from seed. It looked really happy for the first few days, then we moved it to a larger pot, and bam, that night something digs in there and I find the little tomato plant laying outside the pot on the ground. Looked like some sick crime scene.

I ran outside still in my boxers and held the little tomato plant in my hands and screamed, "Whyyyyyyy?" to the heavens. I tried to replant that guy and gave him a little support. He's looking only a little better than he did on the ground, but he's still wilted and can't hold his own weight up.

On the flip side of that, I can't kill plants I want dead. We have all these trees and bushes along the fence line and under the concrete bench in our back yard that I've chopped to pieces, exposed the roots, dug out, and they keep coming back. It'll go from mangled root to three foot tall tree in two weeks.

So if you ever want someone to kill the plants you love, and help weeds grow, call me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Award

Sallie and I spent a brief and hectic time in Chicago. We got in the day before the ceremony and went to the aquarium and two breweries. It was fun, but certainly didn't feel like we had enough time. I would've wanted to meet up with more friends than we did. So maybe next time.

The day of the ceremony we basically checked in, had free lunch, walked around for an hour, came back, took a nap, woke up.

The ceremony took place on the 7th floor grand ballroom. Immediately when we left the elevator we were corralled toward a long line. We didn't really understand why, we could see the bar and food only 15 feet from the elevator, but some lady pushed us to this long line. Sallie went and asked her what it was for, and she said, "So you can walk the red carpet."

We thought maybe she was joking and this was some sort of registration line. Nope, it was a red carpet, lined on both sides with some of the high executives in Wells Fargo. They clapped as we slowly made our way down the carpet where we had our picture taken.

We then went into the ballroom to our assigned tables. The food was absolutely baller. It was mashed potatoes, green beans, asparagus salad, steak, and Tilapia. Then for dinner, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate cheese cake, a chocolate straw, and creme brulee.

The worst part was the walking across stage. We had to wait for 350 people to have their name read, so we could walk across the stage and shake some hands. I feel like that part could've been streamlined. We weren't even handed our awards on stage.

Here's the award I got from Wells Fargo for being a Top Performer. It's pretty nice. A gold coin encased in glass and a really nice certificate.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Best Man Speech

This is weird, but I have a tendency to think of what my best man speech would be for every wedding I go to. You know, just in case the best is taken out by ninjas at the last moment, and someone needs to step up and take care of the duties. Here's what I probably would've said about Ryan and Erin.

*Clink clink clink* Everyone, please calm down. I've got something to say.

Erin, I'm just now getting to know you, but the good news is, you're stuck now. There's a test where we find out if a significant other will survive in our family.

First, you have to be deemed worthy enough to be invited to Christmas Eve at grandma Dobyns. Once you've been deemed worthy of this rite of passage, you have to come to the event where you'll be dealing with a dozen screaming children, a dozen taco bean dip eating frenzied adults, the buffet line, and presents.

Erin was able to come to Christmas Eve and not only kept a smile on her face, but interacted with people. She was able to get bean dip onto a chip, and escape without any bite marks on her hand. We escaped to the basement, and she fit in with the secret barrel chair lunch club.

She then survived the scariest part of the Dobyns' Christmas, present time. Wrapping paper is thrown in the air as feral children rip open anything that is wrapped and nearby. And then, the symbol that you check out, Grandma Dobyns ceremonially hands you a gift, accepting your application to our family. Erin, I knew you would be fine.

But let me tell you about Ryan and the type of guy he is. As most of our childhood stories, it involves us in a near death situation. I'm sure you've seen the pictures, Ryan used to be a bit heavier than he is now. (Jerk is now the best looking and most fit person in the family)

So every year, Ryan, Jake, and I would work at the Bottle Show in Westport. We'd pick up McDonalds for all the vendors and take our tip money and wander Westport Plaza. One of the best forms of entertainment was riding the 13 floor glass elevator up to the top floor and back down.

Well, this time, both Ryan and Jake thought it would be hilarious to jump up and down in the elevator.  Both my cousins being heavy at this time, started jumping up and down, the elevator shaking. We made it to the 11th floor when all of a sudden the lights flickered and the elevator came to a screeching halt.

Obviously, being only 12 and thinking you're about to die, your rational mind doesn't work. I never once thought that the emergency brakes engaged and the machine was just making sure that everything was ok. How we each reacted says a lot about who we are.

Jake immediately just started stringing curse words together. "What the f***? What the f*** do we do?"

I immediately started saying, "I hate you fat a*****. I hate you both. You're going to get me killed."

And while Jake and I hysterically cursed, Ryan's instinct was to tell us he loves us, and tried to hug us. Jake pushed him away and then the elevator started back up. It reminded me a lot of the scene from Almost Famous where the plane hits turbulence.

We didn't talk much after that. We just rode the elevator back down to the first floor, tried not to make eye contact with each other, and I don't know if this story has been told since then. But Erin, I wanted to let you know, that if you ever find yourself on an elevator that might come tumbling to its destruction, Ryan will try to hug you, instead of freaking out.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Survival Mode

Sallie and I are going to go into survival mode over the next few months.

I'm sure most of you have heard by now, but the transmission on our Accord was going out. That on top of the other things we needed fixed (timing belt, normal belts, AC, side view mirror, OBD connectors) we were looking at about $4500-5000 in repairs to maybe get our car running for a few more years. Plus, we just dumped about $900 in there to get it to pass inspection. It was time to move on. (On a side note, we found out that our car was a total at one point, but the title was wiped by a salvage yard, so we wouldn't have been able to sell it anyway.)

So we had to get a new car. That on top of student loans, medical bills, and normal bill stuff our pocket books are going to be hit hard for the next few months. But I'm trying to stay positive.

Instead of looking at this like, "wow, we're broke" I'm seeing it as an opportunity to simplify and get back to things I used to love doing.

So I've been looking at my life objectively over the past few days and figuring out ways to cut back on spending.

The obvious one is not to go out to eat every weekend. Sallie and I really enjoy trying new restaurants and having a glass of wine, but that obviously can add up quickly with two people eating.

So I have a bunch of beer I've brewed sitting in the basement. That'll save some money there. But we're also going to get the garden going again with easy to grow veggies that we eat often. We still have some seeds from last year for lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers. (Which never grow) I'm going to start making more bread instead of buying it. And instead of buying chicken, beef, and lunch meat every week, we'll just pick one or the other, and start eating things like tuna and PB&J.

Basically, we're going to get as "do it yourself" as possible. This weekend, I'm making pizza dough and sauce from scratch, and for about $10, we'll have 6 mini-pizzas that'll last us several meals.

We're also going to keep the AC off for as long as possible, and when we do turn it on, we'll keep it at like 78 degrees instead of the 75 we had it at last year.

Then there are easy things, making sure lights are turned off, unplugging things that aren't being used, take shorter and less showers, go outside and walk around the park instead of watching TV, etc. All practical things that we've taking for granted since graduating.

Then extra stuff we had is getting cancelled. Netflix is going to stream only, Xbox live isn't getting renewed, Sallie's Birchbox and magazine subscriptions are all getting cancelled. They were nice, but an un-needed expense.

I'm also going to use this to get back to free activities. I used to walk around the neighborhood picking up trash and listening to podcasts, which I haven't done in about a year. I'm going to start writing again. And I'm going to attempt to hook up with that brewer and maybe help out in the brewery.

So staying positive, deep breath, let's do it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dreaming of Money

We all do this. I know we do. Because when the Mega-millions was happening, everyone had these fever dreams of what they'd do with the money.

For Sallie and I, we paid off all our debt. Paid off all our families debt. Gave the most amount of money we could give as a gift to all of our immediate family members each year so they wouldn't be taxed.

What we did with the rest of our money was sort of a split decision. We love St. Louis. We take great offense when people say its dangerous or that we're somehow sub-par to other cities. (Chicago, I'm looking at your residents.) St. Louis is a great f-ing city.

So one of our plans was to start buying some houses that are for sale or vacant in neighborhoods surrounding us. We'd pay to have them fixed up, get some landscaping done, and then sell them to respectable families for a cheaper price. This would help out families that might be in need, would move more people to the city, which then starts increasing the rest of the neighborhood. The city starts spending more money fixing up sidewalks and  extra emergency response workers would get hired on, the schools would start getting better, and after a few decades, the suburbs are back in the city.

We'd also buy up one of the warehouses around us, renovate it, open a restaurant/micro-brewery. We'd be terrible business for ourselves, because I would feature all St. Louis beers at our bar. That's right, I'd bring the competition right into the building with us. Schlafly, Civil Life, 4 Hands, Square One, hell, maybe even AB.

The other scenario has us moving to Denver or maybe somewhere in the north west. We'd get part time jobs, hit the mountains every weekend, travel to Europe, and basically do what we wanted. With that much money, we'd be set the rest of our lives.

I do this even on a smaller scale. There's a job I've applied for that would pay me a fairly significant more amount. I've not even had my first interview for it yet, but in my mind I'm thinking, it'll be "X amount more a month." First month, we can fix the leaking pipe and pay off X amount of medical debt. Second month, we could get that tree in our backyard chopped down and pay off X amount of our personal loan.

It's weird that we all do this, but it does seem to take some daily stress away just picture your life with this extra money laying around. It brings a weird smile to your face even though you know there's almost 0% of a chance that it'll happen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Being Crippled

I think the hardest thing about my injury is having to deal with people treating me like a cripple. I'm only a temporary cripple, so I can't imagine someone that is bound to a wheelchair and having to deal with other people treating you differently.

For instance, anytime I trip or stumble now, Sallie freaks out. I get the "Are you ok? Be careful. What can I do?" I know she's just worried about me, and a trip put me in this situation in the first place, but after awhile, you just get tired of feeling fragile. I snapped at Sal this weekend for doing that, and felt terrible for it.

Also, I have the same conversation 700 times a day if I go into the office. Everyone that walks by my desk stops and has the, "How's the leg doing?" conversation.

You can tell it wears on me too. In the morning, you might get an explanation, or I might tell you how many times a week I'm going to the gym. By the end of the day, they usually get a gruffled, "getting there" and then I pretend to be busy on my computer.

I know there's not really anything I can do and people are just concerned about me, but it's been wearing on my lately. I'm trying to not let it affect me, but I've found myself getting more and more bitter about the whole situation. When I look at all the money I've had to pay, all the time wasted, all the progress I made on my lawn completely regressed to when we moved into the house, I just get angry.

I'm having a hard time figuring out the why.

And then I feel terrible because I know people personally that are worse off than I am and they are able to put on a bright face.

I think for now on, I'm going to take a deep breath, and realize that I will be fine by summer's end and there are some people that will deal with their body issues for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Karma of our World

I don't necessarily believe in karma in the sense that, if I do good things, good things will happen to me. It don't feel its a payoff system. I feel its a collapse of your life sort of system.

I almost look like it like a video game. There's this line, every good deed and bad deed, decision, and action either drive you above the line in the positive, or below the line in the negative. If you're above this line, you know. People tend to smile when talking to you. You seem to have friends. Every now and then, if you look in the light just right, you might see a halo around your head.

If you look at the world in general, we're treading that line pretty closely, probably ending up on negative side more often than not. Most of the evil in the world, we have little control over. If two countries start a war with each other, or an African dictator kills thousands of civilians, or someone flies a plane into a tower, we don't have the resources to fix this. But there are things on a smaller scale we can do.

There's just lazy things that could help so much. Like this weekend, I went to the grocery store, and in three separate parking spots there were carts sitting in the middle of spot. Just because some lazy bum didn't feel like pushing a cart 50 feet to the cart return, other people have to park father away.

Or when I see people throwing their trash out their car window. You're telling me that you couldn't just keep that cup in your car for another 15 minutes and then throw it away when you get home?

Or in our dumpster right now is 4 cases of Budweiser bottles when there's a recycling bin only 25 feet away. How are people so lazy?

And there's so many people that curse or judge each other. I hear it all the time. In the line at the grocery store, "so and so is such a fat ass. What a bitch!" Hell, half those magazines on the rack print similar things about celebrities.

These, are things we can at least cancel out.

In the cart example, I gathered the carts and pushed them into the store with me. Barely took any effort on my part. I was walking past the parking spots anyway.

Or to balance out idiots not recycling out of laziness, every few weekends, I put on some gloves and walk around the neighborhood picking up trash. Once a year, there's actually an organized event where a bunch of people in South City wake up at 8 am and walk around picking up trash in the neighborhood for a few hours.

Since you can't control what other people gossip, balance it out by complimenting someone. Just a simple compliment about how someone looks or what a good job they did can really make someone's day.

This has just been grinding on me lately. It's most likely because I'm able to get out in the world fairly easily again. I spent six months secluded from the rest of the planet and I forgot how terrible a place it can be sometimes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why I'm Awesome

So yesterday, I had to go into the office.

No wait, let me back it up to Monday. I get an email inviting me to be a part of a focus group with one of the big wigs within technology. Didn't really think anything of this. My supervisor often has me go to these sorts of meetings and report back to him. So I accept.

Ok, so flash forward to Thursday. I'm in the office, realizing I'm the only one in that day. Figured everyone's schedule got messed up from the short February month. So it didn't surprise me.

I go into the conference room at 2 pm and sit down. I start chatting with one of the escalation supervisors since I hadn't seen in him in a while. More and more people start coming in but I don't really pay attention.

Then they connect the conference call. I look around and realize its me, 4 direct supervisors, their supervisor, the supervisor of our request center team, and on the phone is a bunch of much higher ups.

I look at the escalation supervisor and say, "Why they hell am I in here? I feel like I don't belong." Everyone has a good laugh.

So the call starts and they start blabbing on about how as a company we've been doing really well and we've overcome all these obstacles, synergy, and all these other buzz words. I'm glad I took a 5 Hour Energy at this point cause otherwise I would've passed out.

So then, the conference phone cuts out, and we hear "If you would like to unmute your line, press the pound key. To stay muted, do nothing. If you would like to know more shortcuts press 0." And when the message ends, I hear my name, and a few other names, and then some cheering. I still have no context for why people are cheering on the phone.

Meanwhile, everyone in the room with me is shaking their heads or laughing hysterically. Eventually, our head supervisor Russ turns to my direct supervisor (also named Russ) and says, "Just give him the darn packet."

So I'm handed a thick packet of information and start looking through it. Slowly its dawning on me that I just got a huge honor.

I was selected as a "Technology and Operations Group 2012 Top Performer." I'm one of 12 people selected out of about 1,000 under my tech umbrella. Only 3% in all of technology (about 9,000 people) within Wells Fargo were selected.

Not only do I get to put this on my resume, but Wells is flying Sallie and me to Chicago May 10-11th, getting us a swank hotel on the Magnificent Mile and feeding us, throwing a party for us, and probably boozing us. Everything is paid for. I also will be getting some sort of medal and certificate showing how awesome I am.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Can Drive!

Went to the doc again today. He and the new guy were very happy with my progress. They did all sorts of bends and manipulations on my leg and gave the thumbs up.

I was given a different leg brace, one that mostly just keeps my knee protected. So now, I went from giant, bulky, nasty-brace, to new suave, space-age, knee brace.

I don't have to go back to the doctor until August 16th, which is one day before the year anniversary of this whole debacle.

I even got to see Dr. AwesomeBeard on the way out.

So great visit. (That is until I get what promises to be a several hundred dollar bill for this new knee brace)

And tonight, I drove for the first time since August. Sallie was beyond happy. She already has plans where I can drive her everywhere. I'm still not ready for the big time. Going to stick to back streets and short distances.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Broken Leg Club

I've been out in public a little more lately, and since it's been unseasonably warm, sporting my leg brace in shorts for all to see, and I've realized how many people screw up their leg.

First, I notice people in the same brace as me. I can tell if they are new to it, if they've had it on for a few months. I can honestly say, I've never noticed anything with this brace before. And its not just a few, I run into someone every other week.

Second, people see this as an invitation to talk to me. I'm approached all the time with people regaling their tales of jacking their leg up.

Earlier this week, walking home from the post office, an old lady stopped me to tell me about her arthritis and how the doctor wants to replace her knee. She finished with, "You take care of yourself and are active your whole life and it doesn't mean anything." Sort of grim, but I've learned, always accept wisdom from your elders. Then she gave me a "God bless you" and off she went.

A few weeks ago, Sallie and I went for a walk, and this bad ass, tattooed latino approaches us. I'm thinking, "crap, I can't run if we're about to get attacked." He looks at my knee, (I think he spots my weakness) and is like, "Oh dog, what'd you do to your knee?" We have a little conversation and I find out he broke his ankle and was in a brace for 6 months. I tell him I've been in mine for almost 7, and he says, "Hey man, good luck with that. Hope you get better soon."

It's this weird club where me, an old lady, and a young biker looking guy all can share our tales of woe. Something most the population will never experience. A small battle, that although we weren't standing next to each other during, we understand the pain and the memories.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Just Ask...

I don't know what's changed in me recently, but I've been going about problems in a much different way.

One of my big character faults is freaking out about an issue, specifically a financial one, before taking a step back and thinking about it.

I read an article yesterday (and of course I can't find it now) about how something like 40% of Americans are one financial trauma away from losing their "stability." Basically, people are so strapped for money right now that if someone's transmission in their car blew out today, they are in serious danger of losing their house.

That is sort of how my brain has always felt. I've been in a situation where I'm living paycheck to paycheck since I started working. Usually scrapping by so much, that when I do find myself with a little cash, I buy myself something, just to release some of the pressure. (That's not really the best way to save money, I know.)

As long as nothing bad happens, I'm fine. I'm paying down debts and making progress. But then, say hypothetically, someone were to break their leg, require multiple surgeries, while being out of work for several weeks. I panic. I get really angry and frustrated because its out of my hands and all the progress I made is now gone.

It doesn't necessarily have to even be at that level. If I buy something on eBay for $30 and the seller disappears, I flip out. I'm not really sure why I am this way, but I've been trying not to freak out and it's been working.

For example, I sold a hardback book on eBay for $3. EBay only allows you to charge up to $4 for shipping on media. (Books, DVDs, games) To ship this book First Class (which is what my eBay profile says I'll ship it as) was going to cost $12.50. Even parcel post was going to be $8. So as you could see, I was in a pickle. I would either get negative feedback and possibly a suspension on eBay or I could lose money on the deal.

Usually I would panic and go ahead and send it, cursing myself on the way home. This time, I took the package back, and just emailed the guy and asked if I could ship it media mail. He didn't quite understand me at first and thought I was ripping him off, but after I explained what that meant, he was fine with me shipping it at a slower pace.

Second example was TurboTax. We did our taxes yesterday and since Sallie has an independent contracting job, TurboTax automatically signed us up for their "Home and Business" version which is $80. But since Sallie made so little at that job last year, we didn't actually have to claim anything.

So we went through and I wasn't paying attention (because I had been working on taxes for the past two hours) and confirmed the $80 cost and sent our return.

I realized that we didn't need that version and would've been able to just use the $40 version of TurboTax. I started looking around on the site and found that it said, "No refunds for the online version."

Again, normally I would be pissed, throw some things, yell at the cats, and just take the loss. I was feeling calm about the situation though, and spent 45 minutes in a chat with support and ended up getting money refunded.

So I guess moral of this story is when confronted with a problem, take a deep breath, and just ask for a solution. You might not always get one, and when you don't, you have my full permission to be angry, but when you do get one, you really feel like you won.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Car Update

So, the car drama continues, but we've made some progress. I just want to point out here that we still feel like no one is a straight shooter. I understand mechanics have a trade most of us normal people don't know and they need to make money. However, as with any trade or service, there should be some amount of honesty expected by the consumer.

I do not feel like Sallie and I have gotten much honesty here.

So, to recap, the first place we brought it to for safety and emissions wanted us to pay this:

- Swaybar is busted - $110 - A legit fix
- Side view mirror has a crack - $80 or go to a glass place and get a new one cut
- Battery - $120 - This was laughable. I can get a battery for $70 and put it in within 10 minutes.
- Failed emissions because they couldn't hook the computer up to the OBD connection - $300 just to fix the connector. That's not to pass emissions, just to fix the connector so they could run emissions.

We took the car to Nick. He was unable to fix the sway bar because it was rusted, but the OBD connection, he fixed with a piece of tape. That's right, a piece of tape. It's not perfect and he has a little bit of work to do still, but he saved us $300.

We took the car to a second emissions place, they said we failed because the check engine light was on and it was a manufacturer's code. So we had to take the car to... duh DUH DUHHHHHHN.... the dealership.

Dealerships are notoriously the shadiest of all mechanics. Unless you have a full warranty, they will probably screw you.

They turn the check engine light off and tell us to drive around for a few days and see if it comes back on. They didn't know if anything was actually wrong with it, but they charged us $75 to get the light turned off.

We bought a sway bar kit when we thought Nick could fix it, and thank God, the mechanics used our part. They said it wouldn't be under warranty, but it saved us $60 on the part alone. (First place wanted to charge $75 for the part, we bought it for $12.99 at O'Reiley's Autoparts.)

They then said they couldn't pass us for safety inspection because, and I quote, "the ball joints on the suspension are starting to show signs of wear." So first off, the ball joints are starting to show signs of wear. They aren't showing wear, they aren't worn, they are starting to show signs of wear. This car is 12 years old, the entire car is starting to show signs of wear, but it still drives.

Second, the other place didn't notice this on our inspection.

Third, they want $524 to fix this and said it will take about 3 hours.

Sallie takes the car from the dealership and drives it to the place we got our original inspection. Passes without issue. They even overlook the side view mirror this time.

So, we have now saved about $964.

The unfortunate thing is, the Check Engine light came back on today. Which means we have to take it back to the dealership so they can start troubleshooting our emissions system. Yesterday, they said the might require them driving it around for 3-4 hours.

So Sallie might have to use more of her PTO and who knows what's wrong with this. Could be as simple as a worn out hose or something not being as tight, or it could be a crack somewhere in the system.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Best Saturday EVER

Yesterday truly was one of those days of marvel. The definition of what a weekend should be. We shed any responsibility for the day and just had fun.

Let me give you the run down starting with when I woke up.

8:00 a.m. - Got the coffee pot going, a nice Chilean blend, smooth, but rightfully filled with caffeine. The pot brewed and filled the house with its spiced luster while I brushed my teeth.

8:05 a.m. - I settled into the large comfy chair, opened up The Punisher #5, and sipped coffee while I read about Frank Castle killing a group of mobsters.

8:40 a.m. - Minor annoyance, I didn't bring enough comic books downstairs. I went to the office and grabbed a few Batman comics, and returned to the chair, where I soon had a cat in my lap, and one on either arm rest.

9:00 a.m. - Refill on my coffee. I realize that I'm living the definition of man-child right now. I put the comics down and move to video games. Against everything I've learned in my past, I put in Call of Duty, where every 12-14 year old that got an Xbox for Christmas screams racists slurs and calls me a cheater. I do however, have a very good session and end up winning 5/7 matches. Sallie wakes up at some point during this. She talks me into getting into the shower so we can go to the Schalfly Cabin Fever, a beer tasting festival.

11:33 a.m. - We leave the house and go to Schlafly. We're handed our sampling glasses, and start drinking the beer. We briefly fun into the guy who invented the Schlafly Wheat IPA. I thank him for his contribution of great beer to the world and he humbly nods and thanks me for the recognition.

Basically, Cabin Fever is a four hour long festival with 32 beers (you get to drink 18, 2 oz samples) where you wander around, make friends with strangers, have great beer, and stand by barrel fires.

At some point we're handed pretzles on necklaces. This is pretty much the greatest idea ever.

Sallie and I end up drinking the Pumpkin Ale, Southern hemisphere IPA, Pilsner, Coffee Stout (X2), Scotch Ale (X2), Smoked Porter, Singel, Quadrupel, American Pale Ale, Christmas Ale, Grand Crew, Black IPA, Blackberry Mead, Biere de Garde, American IPA, Irish Extra Stout, Barley Wine, Strawberry Cocoa Porter, and Chocolate Milk Stout.

If you bothered to count that, it's more than 18 beers. People stopped marking our punch cards after 7-8 beers. To sober up, Sallie and I ate dinner at Schlafly

We then headed downtown for the Blues game where our boys in Blue took out the Buffalo Sabers in a 4-2 win.

I sleep like a baby last night. The only fear I had as I went to bed was that I would not be able to re-create the greatness of Saturday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Car Trouble, Know What I'm saying?

I rarely hear people talk about cars in a positive light. Even my brother, a gear head, is always cursing his latest pet project as it drops him further and further into debt.

Sure, we can get around more easily. The car allows us to travel to different cities, see all the sites, not have to sit next to disgusting strangers on a bus. The suburbs are even designed around the idea that you will have a car to get from point A to B. There's no way you could walk around in the burbs and do most of your errands.

I'd kill to just have a nice subway/light rail system that could get me to anywhere. Unfortunately, the closest Metrolink stop is 4 miles from my house, and even then, it doesn't go far enough to St. Charles for it to matter most the time. That was my favorite part of Britain, there was always a public transportation answer to anywhere we needed to go.

Then there's the dreaded plate renewal. The time where everyone curses at their cars the most. It's a time where the godless find God and pray that their car is going to pass. It requires you to see mechanics (who I don't trust) and go to the DMV. (Who no one likes)

Sallie and I are going through that right now.

So we thought we'd be proactive and take the car to a place two weeks ago that could do both the inspection and emissions. We left it with them for a good hour and a half and when we returned, they had a laundry list of things they wanted us to fix. I stared at the grease covered man that refused to make eye contact with me as he read down the list.

- Swaybar is busted - $110 - A legit fix
- Side view mirror has a crack - $80 or go to a glass place and get a new one cut
- Battery - $120 - This was laughable. I can get a battery for $70 and put it in within 10 minutes.
- Failed emissions because they couldn't hook the computer up to the OBD connection - $300 just to fix the connector. That's not to pass emissions, just to fix the connector so they could run emissions.

I don't like Dane Cook, but he was pretty spot on here.

We felt like we were getting screwed.

So, I called Nick. He said he probably can fix the sway bar and OBD connection, and if we got a mirror cut, he could fix that.

So we waited a week for when Nick was off next, went and bought a sway bar from O'Reillys, and drove out to St. Chuck. Nick couldn't fix the sway bar because it was rusted, but he did save us $300 when he found out that the OBD connection was fine, just needed to be reseated.

Went to an emissions place in St. Chuck and they were able to get a reading this time, but they failed us because the check engine light is on and its a manufacturer's code, so they can't do anything to fix it.

So we're already out about $75, haven't actually gotten anything accomplished or fixed and now we have to go to the dealership to get this code read.

Sallie is taking another day off work to do this. We've decided at this point, we've wasted too much time. We're going to pay whatever ransom they hold our car at, get it fixed, and get new tags.

Usually, I think people are too dumb to take care of themselves, but this is one of the few times where I think there needs to be much less government. In this situation, a quick safety inspection and updated insurance should get your plates renewed. Emissions, personal property tax receipts, this running around to no less than 3 different places is ridiculous. The brief time I lived in Columbia, where you don't need emissions test, was fantastic. Everything was taken care of in two places, and we were done.