Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Rules

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to write about "The Rules" of life. What are the rules, mores, or ethics of life, do we all have to follow them in the same way, are they applied equally to everyone... all great questions. I believe in following certain rules myself, and I believe certain laws do apply equally to all, but I realize that not all rules are followed or applied equally. For instance, the guys who drove drunk, did drugs, raced cars, and made doughnuts in parking lots were more likely to catch a break from the police in my hometown than I was because those officers said things like, "Hey, take it easy. I used to be crazy like you when I was this age, so I'll let you off with a warning this time." I got read the riot act, even on occasions when I wasn't guilty (as found by the judge). We also had what is commonly referred to as a "hanging judge" who loved to throw the book at underage miscreants, but his own children got their tickets fixed and their accidents were never written up. That is, until a neighboring DA decided to prosecute one son who nearly killed himself in an accident involving drugs and alcohol (no one else was found with the car, but it was a single car incident). I have read numerous reports on trucking companies that are repeatedly written up for violations on the road that are never evaluated by a DOT inspector in their office, but my company has been audited five times in eight years, even though every audit has shown we remove any violators from our company.

So what rules should we live by? I think we should all be decent to our fellow man, and work to do good in the world. I believe we should all provide for our own well being and try to help those who cannot help themselves (my definition of "those who cannot help themselves" differs greatly from that of the welfare department, though). I believe we should have laws that maintain order and protect life, and we should prosecute those who violate those laws. I believe laws that are unenforceable or are simply for show should not be passed or should be repealed. I believe that individuals should be taxed at a reasonable level (my definition of reasonable also does not agree with the government's) to provide for the various administrators of justice (police, judges, etc.), legislators (though their compensation should be re-evaluated), and national defense (military). I do not believe corporations should pay income taxes because those taxes only serve to raise prices, lower wages, and reduce the opportunities for employment. I believe market forces govern most interactions between buyers and sellers, but governments have a habit of altering the natural mechanics of those forces to create false opportunities or damage otherwise good opportunities for two parties to agree on a price. I do think some government regulation has a purpose when it comes to product standards, but it has gone far beyond what is necessary in most cases. I can accept that those who mete out justice are imperfect and therefore apply it imperfectly, though I prefer they keep the unfairness as far away from me as possible. I do believe that doing more good in the world than bad (and doing as little bad as possible) will come back to someone in the end. That end just might not be the end of the day, year, or even lifetime. I would rather have a "balance owed" than a "balance due" in my "goodness account" at the end of everything. I do, after all, believe in a divine justice that is perfect and which will be properly meted out when the time comes. That is enough for me to continue striving towards a better me.

I am sure my response to this Hump Day has been overly simplified thus far. I would like to write something deeper. I'm just not up to it as I head off on vacation, and since this is a very busy time for me anyway.

-- Robert

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


My wife tagged me with this post. I doubt Todd will have time to respond any time soon, since Ellie and I are heading to his wedding this weekend (congratulations, bro, you're marrying a lovely woman). So, if there's not much on this blog after tomorrow, at least my/our readers (all four of you) will understand why there's not much here.

Best meal: My graduation meal from high school and undergraduate comes to mind, but it made me feel terrible despite how great it was, so I'm going with the Melting Pot, the time I took my wife for her birthday. It was romantic, succulent, delicious, filling, enjoyable, and it didn't make me ill in the least. Another great meal was one we had on our first honeymoon, where I finally got my wife to love seafood by taking her to one of the best places in Panama City, FL.

Best hobbies: I enjoy travel immensely, and would love to make it more of a hobby. Reading is a very enjoyable hobby, writing is as well (as shown by this blog). Photography is a lot of fun. I enjoy collecting things (among them: medieval weapons, coins, tshirts, hats, and keychains). I rarely have time or funds for any of these right now.

Best vacation: I really enjoyed visiting Israel, Egypt, and Jordan with my childhood minister (a Yale graduate), his minister brother-in-law (a Harvard graduate), and my parents. Seeing so much history, especially history tied so strongly to my faith, truly opened my eyes. I was also in great shape for the vacation, so I felt really great the whole time. I would love to take this trip again with my wife and kids some day. That, or Australia and New Zealand, or Italy, or Ireland (did I mention I love travel?).

Best vacation without kids: My honeymoon, mentioned as my wife's favorite without kids, definitely fits the bill. We flew into Boston, saw some history and enjoyed the seafood, then took a train to NYC where we saw Phantom of the Opera and Stomp! We also took in the sites there before driving to Hershey, where we enjoyed the greatest amusement park I've ever been to. Then we drove the next day to Washington, DC, where we took in the Smithsonians, some of the monuments, and Pirates of the Caribbean (which remains one of our favorite movies and soundtracks). We took a train from there to Williamsburg, VA, which is a great place for history buffs and a nice place just to relax. We then flew back to Atlanta to conclude our honeymoon with a great reception buffet with friends. Great times. I do like the nickname planes, trains, and automobiles for that great trip.

Best job I ever had: While working for myself in a job has been great, I really loved my assistantship at UGA during grad school. I got to start two Toastmasters Clubs while working with the Institute for Leadership Advancement which had some of the most impressive young people I've ever met in it.

Best thing to buy if money wasn't an issue: I would probably love to buy an island with plenty of good soil, good weather, little chance of hurricanes, and a nice living arrangement that harnesses some local power source to allow my home to have modern accouterments. That would be if it was literally not an issue at all.

Best age growing up: The year I turned eighteen was pretty great. I had an awesome prom date, got a big scholarship to my childhood favorite school, graduated top of my class, self-published a novella, had some great dates with a girl, enjoyed my first road trip without family, went to the Olympics in my hometown with friends... life was great. (I hated the college, but let's not bring that part into it)

Best toys when I was a kid: No question, Playmobil were my favorite toys growing up. I got to paint them as pirates, soldiers, royalty... whatever I wanted. Then they started making them that way, and they were just as cool. I look forward to giving those to my kids when they're old enough to enjoy them.

Best date before I was married: No, I won't list my prom (even if my wife listed hers). I won't even list the weekend we first met in person. No, I'll list the date we went on where we decided to officially date. We walked around Temple Square with another couple (also married now, though they weren't dating then either), had a generally lovely day... just good times. We had some great dates other than that (and the weekend we first met was truly wonderful), and we've had wonderful ones since marrying, but that one still wins for me.

-- Robert

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tax Law

The tax law in the state of Georgia required that I file by mail this year to get a small credit related to a business I own. I believe that credit amounts to roughly $25 for me. Because of the paper filing, though, I will not receive my refund from the state until late May, despite having mailed it during the first week of March. My brother-in-law, who files in Virginia, got his refund from Georgia a week after he e-filed his return. I have written a letter of grievance to one of the legislators I know well, and I will probably share similar letters with two or three more. I have a real problem with a law that gives an advantage to an out-of-state taxpayer in receiving his refund over an in-state taxpayer. I also have a problem with a law that requires paper filing knowing they have every intention of taking two and a half months to actually return funds. I would probably not care, but I was expecting to pay a lot of taxes last year when I paid a large estimate in the first quarter, only to later realize I would not have to (because of changes to my business). So the state has had my money for over thirteen months now, but I will only get some interest back if they decide they have taken more time than they consider reasonable to return the money.

It is time to pass the FairTax, and to enact similar legislation in the states. It is ridiculous that a bureaucracy has taken this much control over our lives and our money, and that we simply stand by and let it happen. I agree with Lee Iacocca, who recently wrote in his book Where Have All the Leaders Gone about his concern for the lack of leadership in this nation with regard to numerous pressing issues, including energy, health care, taxes, and industry. I have not yet had the chance to read his book, but the excerpt I read hit home for me. Too many have chosen to maintain the status quo instead of leading the charge to make needed changes. Our our tax system is broken, as is our governmental policy on welfare and minimum wage, and without major reformations the economy could suffer catastrophic losses. It has already taken major hits, and policies demanding the creation of false economies to establish some new way of polluting - some would say of creating energy - are driving inflation at a mind boggling pace. The time for action is now. Really it was yesterday, but we must not stand by. I am tired of pretending I am satisfied with the state of things as they are. My business is being crushed. My paycheck is being bled dry more rapidly than ever. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired of the state of the world. I know I am not the only one who is fed up.

-- Robert

Friday, April 25, 2008

Parental Pride

Last night, I felt like I might've done a good job teaching my son, but I realize it was really him teaching me something. My daughter, sweet as she is 99% of the time, was in the midst of a fit. She did not want to leave my parents' house, but really it was just her being really tired and needing to get to bed. When she gets that tired, she has a tendency to pitch a monster fit, and lately I've been working hard to combat them in a more communicative way instead of previous methods. Unfortunately, walking down the street in a double stroller is not as conducive as strapping her into a car seat and telling her when she's done screaming and calm I will be ready to listen to her. In the stroller, she has a victim, namely her little brother. if I had been more thoughtful to him, I would have strapped her in the front so she could not kick him, but I was trying to keep her from jumping out and running back inside in the hopes of getting grandma to help her. But, because I was thoughtless, my poor son got kicked in the back several times before I could stop her feet. I did get her to stop, but only after he was sad and perhaps a little scared. Still, I got them both home with no injuries, and I put her straight into bed once she stopped screaming. I had no plans to sit with her or give her anything to drink at that point because she had been so mean to her brother.

My son had other plans, though. I tried to give him a bottle, but he kept saying "no no." I asked if he wanted milk and he said "yep" as he does when he's ready for one, but he shook his head when I offered it to him. Finally after several attempts to understand I asked, "Do you want to give sister her milk?" and he nodded and said "Yep." So I poured some into her sippy cup and handed it to him and he ran in to his sister to give it to her. Here is a little boy who has been kicked in the back and had to endure a screaming fit, and yet his concern was to take care of his big sister when he knew she needed comfort. That is love. That is compassion. That is forgiveness. What a beautiful example my son showed me last night. If only I could, if we all could be so kind to those who have wronged us. I hope and pray he keeps that kind heart. I know this world has a habit of beating down people like him, but he's a tough kid. Maybe, just maybe, he'll endure the trials and show the world. Here's hoping.

-- Robert

P.S.: For the record, he did take his own bottle after his sister got something to drink. I used his example to teach her, too, about how wonderful a brother she has and how much she should appreciate what he did for her. She thanked him with a hug, a "thank you", and a "sorry, baby brother."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where Do I Go From Here

In reading this post, I felt a need to write about a subject near and dear to me. Because my mother did it for a about a decade, I have enjoyed helping young people choose careers, and then choose courses of study to get them there. So often they do it in reverse "I want to study political science, and then I'll go into politics." I encourage them to look at people who hold the job they most want and see if their planned degree fits. Very few politicians have a degree in political science - except those lawyers who got it to get into law school. Instead the political science majors are those who run errands for the elected officials. Those who actually hold the office generally got there from some other career first, and rightly so. By bringing other life experience into the political realm, they know better how to shape the law to fit the real world.

Others want to walk out of college into their dream job. "I want to make commercials, so I'm getting a marketing degree." The marketing degree will help in the long-run, but most marketing jobs follow a stint in sales or some other area. I had a great friend from high school who refused to take a sales job after college because she wanted to go straight into marketing. She just couldn't understand why none of them would hire her without experience. Several temp jobs later, she finally got a job at a public relations firm doing something akin to what she wanted.

Most often, though, I find young people just don't know what they want to do. They're interested in a subject, so they study that, or they simply have no idea what they want, so they go to college to "find" themselves. Six years, three majors, and many dollars later, they have found their calling in life, or Mom and Dad are calling on them to do so. For those who truly have no idea, or simply haven't thought about it, I encourage them to take an interest survey, which are usually offered at their high school (I've list a couple at the bottom of this post that I found in a quick search). One young lady I was talking to last summer about what accounting involves got very interested. Then she took one of the surveys and saw "actuary" on the list of possible careers. After researching it, she fell in love with it (please reserve judgment, some people really do love statistics), and now she's headed to college with a clear goal in mind.

The main reason it worries me to when a student doesn't have a clear picture of where they want to go is because there are plenty of people on a college campus who will try to put a picture there. As one friend told me about his wife's English degree, he felt certain that the profressor who convinced her to get it had probably been given a charge by his dean to get more people into the major the day or week before he talked to her. Profressors can influence an open mind, advisors can suggest courses to a wayward spirit, and in the end, a lot of tuition money can be spent in the process of following someone else's idea of what to do.

In my case, I went to college with a clear idea of what I wanted, and I signed up to talk to an advisor to get suggestions on how to schedule all the courses I wanted so I could complete three sequences in my management degree. He was so baffled by a first quarter freshman actually coming to see him that he actually asked "Why are you here?" It was so uncommon for people in his program to know what they wanted, he did not know how to handle me. So, I transferred (for that and many other reasons) to a program I felt would help me accomplish my goal to work in the field of finance. I changed majors to accounting, knowing it would give me a good background for business regardless of what career I wanted. My first term there, my advisor told me to take a certain class, despite my not having the pre-requisite courses. Every term after that our discussion started with, "Well, you'll need to take this course over, since you didn't have the pre-req's for the course." I quickly explained each time that she needed to fix that because it was on her advice that I took it. To her credit, she always did, but she never remembered it until I reminded her. I had a specific set of courses I had to complete to get out of school on my schedule - two more years - so I sat down and wrote out a complete two year schedule of what courses I should take to make sure I completed them in order. Each term I went to my advisor, I took my list with me and she expressed her concern about how heavy a load I had planned, but then she signed off on it so I could register. The last term there, I went to her because the last management class I had on my list was being taught by someone who expected a huge project and a massive paper coordinated with twenty other students. I wanted to know an alternative, and she told me I didn't have to take the class since they had broadened the allowance of courses to fulfill that requirement in my program. Since I had already taken enough of the alternative courses to meet the requirement, I could take an elective (quite a novelty for me, since I had not really chosen more than two courses on my own since arriving there) in whatever area of business I wanted. I registered but I'm not sure what I chose, though, because she met me in the hall a couple of hours later and casually informed me "Oh, I was confused. The graduation requirements I mentioned were for the people graduating next year. You still have to take that class." Again, I let her know that it was time to find a solution because the class had already filled up and I could not get in to take it now. She was rattled, but she rallied to come up with the idea of taking it independent study. I finished the class in six weeks instead of fifteen, giving me a much more leisurely semester to finish school instead of sweating over the project in the first class I registered for.

The lesson I took away from my college experience is that even the best laid plans can be thwarted by an ignorant advisor. My best friend had a similar story to mine, despite him being in a completely different college at the same university, so I know it is not an uncommon one. The difference between us and so many others is that we stood up for ourselves. Many young people are too compliant to realize they should, or too ignorant to realize they can. So I advise anyone heading to college to have a plan. Plans can change - mine certainly did and does - but having one at all can at least focus effort and achieve greater results.

I advise anyone in life to have some sort of a plan for what they want. A lot of people will happily tell them what to do, and they might find themselves in a job they hate one day wondering what happened. It's no wonder to me that so many people seem miserable in this country. Meeting someone with a clear idea of their goals and a plan to achieve them, though, can be intoxicating. So often driven people exude charisma, perhaps because it is so rare to find someone who knows what they want. Wouldn't it be nice to be one of those individuals, instead of being impressed by them?

Here's the list of surveys I found:

I am sure there are others, and I can't vouch for these, since I haven't taken them. I do think taking them can be helpful, though, especially for anyone unsure of a career path.

-- Robert

Editor's Note: I could not figure out a good place to work in this suggestion, which is to do what my Dad claims he did. He read a poster in the science building that said "Careers with a Future" and Accounting was listed first, so that's what he changed his major to (from English). Now a dozen accountants are in our family, but he was the first. Sometimes choosing a new path can lead a whole family to a better and brighter future.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Honesty Is the Best Policy, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to talk about truth, honesty, and lying. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of honesty, but I truly have always sought to be honest in my life. I have seen how honesty in difficult circumstances can avoid future problems. For this topic, I will tell one such story as an example of how refusing to be dishonest paid off for someone close to me.

A young engineer, early in her career, was given an assignment. She was told to write a report regarding deficiencies in the company, but her boss instructed her to blame all of the problems on the parent company. She knew that plenty of the problems were in her local office and she was torn. Should she write the report as instructed, or should she write what was accurate? Being a female engineer, she already felt like somewhat of an outsider, and between that and being new, it was easy to feel pressure to follow her orders. She then asked advice of her father, and he told her what he would do.

"Write the truth. If you lie now, you're stuck lying for the rest of your time there, and it can follow you even after that. If something goes wrong because they follow your report, they'll blame it on you. If they want you to lie on another report, they can hold this one over your head because you lied the first time. The worst thing they can do to you for being honest is fire you, and they can't afford to fire you for refusing to lie."

She listened, and she followed his advice. Her boss was not pleased, but as her father had assured her, they did not fire her. She has now been with that company through at least one buyout, perhaps two, and they have paid for her to get a masters degree in her field, worked with her through the birth of her two children, and promoted her through the ranks along the way. She has a good name and reputation for hard work and honesty. There's no telling what might have happened if she had lied instead.

I have often looked on that story with a great deal of admiration. I knew it was not an easy choice to ignore a demand to lie, and yet she stood by her ethics. My business is built on honest, ethical practices, and we have a great reputation because of it. I do not believe that businesses have to be deceitful or underhanded to succeed, nor do I believe that of individuals. Some of the most successful men and women I know have gotten where they are because of their keen sense of right and wrong, not in spite of it. So, as I said at the start of my post, I truly believe in honesty, and I strive to encourage my children and my employees to live by that same modus operandi. I would rather pay the price for my mistakes by admitting to them than to have to learn how to lie just to hope to avoid them for a while.

-- Robert

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Today, I thought about an aspect of my life. I was watching a program about high school students that followed them through four years, and I noticed how often they said as seniors that they were looking forward to something ahead, to being done, to moving on. I realized how much I have done that myself. Whenever I came close to the end of something, I began looking toward the next phase of my life. In high school, I ignored too many of the chances to see friends at the end of school because I was heading off on a trip overseas for two weeks. When I left my first college, I quit trying to succeed and just did my best to pass so I could get to the summer job I had worked so hard to line up. When I was graduating from college, I spent a lot of time looking ahead towards my new life in the working world and didn't try to see my friends much, instead choosing to pack up and head off with my family for a simple lunch. When I was headed back to grad school, I moved up two weeks early just so I could get away from where I was to transition to where I was headed. At the end of grad school, I was planning a wedding, a cross-country move, and I was focused on finishing and going instead of being in the moment.

So often, I have missed the moment for the sake of whatever was next. Perhaps that is why I found myself so disconnected with some of my old classmates I had felt were friends, because I had already disengaged from my relationships with them before leaving school. Did they sense it? Did it even matter to most of them? Am I an outsider in my own life story, never more than a role player in someone else's? Am I so concerned with the future to never take pleasure in where I am now?

So many questions crossed my mind, all just from seeing a silly television show. And yet, those questions resonate in my mind. I do need to appreciate my life in the moment more. I do need to quit trying to get "there" as fast as possible, since "there" will forever be the carrot dangled before me. I need to stop and smell the roses. I probably need to start with my own family. I have a wonderful wife and children, and our lives are flying by. Have I missed some chance to bond with them because of my need to move forward? I hope not, but I cannot say. I just hope and pray I do better to find those moments and enjoy them from now on. I just have to take my foot off the gas a little more.

-- Robert

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wanted: New Business

Loads needed, preferably high dollars and high dollars per mile. Straight loads accepted. Large volume lanes very desirable. Fuel surcharge based on Department of Energy averages also desirable. Long-term relationship upon successful execution of early loads preferred. Those who have high incidences of claims related to overage, shortage, and damage need not apply. Offering excellent company, great credit history, quality drivers to haul freight. Call us. Please. No, seriously, call us. Do we sound desperate? Good. What more can anyone want? Call.

Editor's Note: I rewrote the above post, which originally looked like this one below. I was inspired to change it to a want ad by this post. Thanks for the idea, Melissa.

The goose is cooked. No, I don't mean we're necessarily done at my office, but when I checked and saw we got literally nothing from the bid (though we still have a chance at something Wednesday, and if people turn down things), that's how it felt for a moment. Here's hoping it's a long way from over, but this bid process was dissatisfying, to say the least. Can't really say anything more about it.

-- Robert

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This weekend I attended my UGA MBA reunion in Athens, one of my favorite places to visit. Driving into town, I very quickly saw changes, even though it was just a few years ago I left. Large buildings have come up in places where only residences or small retailers had been. New parking decks are everywhere. The campus was beautiful, though. I really enjoyed just getting to be back there.

My classmates have aged a little, but not much in most cases. Several are married now (like me), and several of those have kids (like me) since we left each other. Everyone seemed to be fairly successful and happy (a couple might prefer to be doing other things, but seemed satisfied with where they are in life). I was really proud my class won the award for most returnees (both sheer numbers and percentage), and all but two of the people who came belonged to my eleven month group that went all through the same program I did (the other two were two-year students I only got to know in the fall). We also had the two people who travelled the farthest to return, one of my German classmates and my Portuguese classmate. It was really great to see them, partly because I needed to remember the voice I had so much fun mimicking (my Portuguese friend). I once immitated him for over an hour. If I could only speak the language, look like I was from there, and... well, okay, so the accent's not really of much use. But it was fun to do. The rest of the group came primarily from Atlanta and Nashville or Knoxville. My Israeli classmate came down from Raleigh. We were a very multicultural group, and we all got along quite well, I think. Hopefully I'll see more of them in the coming years, since now so many of them have come to Atlanta and live close to each other. I had thought they were still spread to the four winds, but I learned otherwise this weekend. In the end, it was a great trip.

I also enjoyed getting to hear about all the changes to the program itself. One of my former profressors in accounting is now the Associate Dean of Academic Programs, so I got to talk to him quite a while about what I think about the business school, and he helped me appreciate some of the reasons certain people left that I hated to see gone. The new Dean of the college is hoping to raise our national (and international) ranking in all areas and overall, and he's hoping to hire a lot of new professors in the next few years to help that goal. I am excited to see what comes. I think my former professor was fairly impressed that I remembered where he went to school for all his degrees, but they were easy to remember because they were all basically rivals of schools I'd grown up following. I wished him well in his new position. I have now known the last three men in his position from my studies, so I feel more connected to the school than I ever have before.

-- Robert

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

So no, I don't old an old clock that makes that noise. If I did, I am sure I would've destroyed it ages ago. I can't stand that sound, especially at a time like this one. The bid that has been pushed back, and back, and back... now we re-read the notice to understand that the awards will "begin" April 18, but that (like so many ads that offer "up to 60% or more savings") means nothing in the end. So we wait. And wait. Meanwhile my partner had plans for this weekend for over a month, so he's out of pocket (and calling me), my wife is out of town, and I'm heading to a reunion of MBA classmates myself as soon as my daughter gets out of preschool and we grab a quick bite. So I can almost feel the second-hand of a clock ticking on top of my head today, as nothing happens and everything waits. And waits.

Maybe Santa will only come when we're not hitting F5 over and over, staring at the screen and willing it to change. Or maybe I was right before, and this is Narnia in the time of the White Witch. Most likely, I'm being overly melodramatic, and in a month none of this waiting will mean anything. Tonight it might not even mean anything, as I catch up with friends I've only gotten to share emails and phone calls with but haven't seen in five years. I enjoyed basically all of my MBA classmates, so it should be fun regardless who shows up. Then next weekend we're taking a quick trip to Orlando, and the middle of that next week we head to Cah-lee-FOR-NEE-YUH (I think that's how the Governator says it, anyway). Good times are ahead.

-- Robert

Thursday, April 17, 2008

107 Things About Me

As promised on one blog, I am a non-conformist, and therefore I preferred not to write "100 things about me" for my 100th post, but instead "107 things about me" since my birthday is 10/7. Oops, that has to be part one.

  1. My birthday is 10/7

  2. I have always considered seven my favorite number

  3. And my lucky number

  4. But I also like tens

  5. Especially since my son was born on 10/10

  6. My family has a weird habit of being born around holidays:

  7. My daughter was born 7/5 - day after Independence Day

  8. My son's fell a day after Columbus Day

  9. My niece was born on D Day, 6/6

  10. While we're at it, my wife and I were married 7/25, a day after Pioneer Day

  11. My Mom was married 7/11 a day before her birthday, 7/12

  12. She and her twin brother were born on their sister's birthday

  13. This post is supposed to be about me, though, huh?

  14. I am 5'10"

  15. I always said growing up I wanted to be 5'10" or 6' because 5'11" men have a complex (ask one some time, and they'll explain they are 5'11" AND some fraction that reaches towards 6' because they know any six-footer will call them a liar if they claim to be 6')

  16. I had horrible eyesight from a very young age

  17. I used to have 20/400 vission in one eye, 20/250 in the other

  18. and horrible astigmatism in both

  19. I got LASIK in 2000

  20. I sat up seeing at least 20/15 in both eyes

  21. I could read 20/12 (the lowest reading they had on the chart) the next day

  22. I read so much over the next several years, I think it strained my eyes a bit

  23. So I wear glasses now to read my computer at work

  24. And to drive at night

  25. And because I need them that much of the day, I just wear them all the time now

  26. But I can still see 20/25, eight years later

  27. I have been going bald since I was fourteen

  28. When I was twelve I was mistaken for eighteen (story is too long to share here)

  29. When I was sixteen I was mistaken for thirty-five (again, another classic too long to share)

  30. At eighteen I was mistaken for my best friend's father and pegged for forty

  31. In college, most of my friends admitted to me later that they wondered why the professor was sitting in the middle of the class when they first saw me

  32. I was first called a Little Old Man at ten, but I am still not "little" or "old"

  33. I think I have actually de-matured since having kids, since I am more light-hearted now

  34. Everyone says my children look like me

  35. Actually they say my daughter looks like me

  36. And her brother looks like her

  37. But I think my son definitely favors my wife's nephews

  38. On my side, I have two nieces

  39. On my wife's side, we have twenty-three

  40. I love all my in-laws, and I get along great with them

  41. Even my sister's husband

  42. He and I work together

  43. We actually get along better now that we work together

  44. We co-own a family business

  45. We are middle men in the trucking business

  46. We bought our first three trucks last year

  47. Our timing was either great, or really bad

  48. We're not sure which it is yet

  49. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia

  50. I majored in Accounting

  51. I was probably the tenth person in my Dad's family to major in it

  52. He was the first, and he claims it was because he saw a flyer that said "Careers with a future" and accounting was listed first

  53. I got my degree so I could understand how to run a business and track its finances

  54. I went back for my MBA, which I explained in this post last week

  55. I focused my MBA in small business, finance, and consulting

  56. My five-year reunion for that program is this weekend

  57. While I was at UGA the second time, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which I also explained in the post on 54

  58. I met my wife in 2001

  59. We met in person in 2002

  60. We married in 2003

  61. We had our first child in 2004

  62. We had our second child in 2006

  63. I love my family very much, and I am very lucky to have them in my life

  64. I am the youngest of three myself

  65. My brother died twenty-two years ago

  66. My surviving sister lives in Virginia

  67. I live in my birth state, Georgia, and live about a quarter mile from my two parents

  68. I am thankful for the close relationship they have with my children

  69. I do not live in my hometown, though, but instead live six miles from my father's hometown

  70. He moved here to start this business for a childhood friend who needed a job

  71. I probably would not pick this place to live if not for my business and family connections

  72. But I have come to enjoy the slower pace most of the time

  73. My wife and I do visit Atlanta and Orlando (each about four hours away) fairly regularly to get a change of pace

  74. We mainly go to those cities for the temples in them, though

  75. We were sealed in the Idaho Falls Temple in 2004

  76. I moved across the country twice since I married

  77. I was born in '77

  78. Which is another reason I love sevens so much

  79. My best friend helped me move to Idaho

  80. Then he came to my wedding in Southern Utah

  81. He was my best man

  82. In a few weeks, he's getting married in California

  83. And I get the privilege of being his best man

  84. He's my co-blogger on here, if anyone is wondering

  85. We met on a football field seventeen years ago

  86. We were on the same team

  87. We then were on Academic team together through four years of high school

  88. We never did much winning with either team

  89. We had a lot of fun with both, though

  90. I went to Georgia Tech first, but when I transferred to UGA, we became roommates

  91. We've been like brothers for a long time

  92. He lives in Arizona now, though

  93. So we only see each other once or twice a year

  94. It may seem to that I digressed a lot from talking about me in this list

  95. But I had to include Todd, since he's my co-blogger

  96. I wrote and self-published a novella in high school

  97. I wrote and self-published my first 100 poems my second year of college

  98. The novella stunk badly, and only a few of the poems were terribly good

  99. I do know one of them has been used to propose marriage at least twice (neither time by me)

  100. My proposal would be in the top ten of "worst proposals ever"

  101. It would probably be prominently featured of my wife and I ever did write a book about our courtship, though

  102. I'd like to develop some of the characters from a short story collection I wrote at the end of college into a novel or even a series

  103. I haven't written anything long or complex in about seven years, though.

  104. I have a medieval and oriental weapons collection, the beginnings of which I inherited from my brother (it stays at my mother's house by her request).

  105. I love to read a large variety of books.

  106. Most people would probably consider me a nerd, geek, or dork (including my wife).

  107. Anyone still reading at this point probably agrees with that sentiment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Earth Day, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks for our thoughts on Earth Day. I remember the first time I saw an "Earth Day" celebration. I was in Washington, DC, and there were people giving away things and selling things promoting the use of marijuana-made paper. Somehow, it made me wonder about whether the "green" movement was an extension of the hippy movement of "free love and rock and roll." The people giving away the information certainly would have looked right at home at Woodstock.

I am not, by nature, a person who intentionally pollutes. I don't throw trash out of the window of my car or into storm drains as I walk along. I don't smoke. I even do my best not to run water unnecessarily when I brush my teeth. I do flush more than once quite regularly, but trust me, that's for the best. I try not to waste paper. I do as much e-billing as I can without making my wife uncomfortable. I even read e-books sometimes. It is rare that I print something off a computer to read it, in fact.

All that said, I am not a big recycler. For one, it is not well supported in this area. I have also read a great deal on how inefficient recycling is compared to new production. I am not opposed to recycling. I used to save newspapers and magazines for months to recycle as a child. I just don't have that available to me anymore, and I rarely take newspapers or magazines that I don't want to keep now. I prefer to reduce my consumption of items as opposed to recycling what I have used. I gladly buy recycled items when I find them to be good quality, but I don't find them very often in general. I am also not someone who drives a tiny car to save gas mileage. For one, I tell my wife "I don't want to feel like I am putting my car on when I get in it." That's how cars like a Miata make me feel. For another, I prefer safety over mileage any day, and the two don't seem to regularly coincide. I am a safe driver, so I am not paranoid that I will cause a lot of accidents, but there are a lot of unsafe drivers out there who just might slam into me at any given moment.

I have encouraged truck drivers I work with to research the use of cooking oils in their trucks to save money on fuel. Unfortunately, it's not a practical alternative for the economy to expect more than a small number of drivers to use those sorts of fuels. Ethanol takes so much gasoline to actually produce (I have heard estimates of 2/3 to more than one gallon of gasoline used per gallon of ethanol produce) that it is not really a marketable, usable alternative. We need a lot more research into legitimate fuel alternatives instead of pumping subsidies and marketing dollars into phony ones. I am fascinated by the idea of hydrogen powered cars, cars that run on heavy water, nuclear energy use, and other solutions that might actually be cleaner and renewable long term. I love the research going into solar energy, but it seems to still be a long way from being a real alternative for most users.

All in all, when it comes to the environment, I am probably more of a user than a conserver. I think a lot of people have misguided perceptions about the need to save plants and animals. For instance, there are more trees in the United States today than there were in 1900. A huge number more. When someone protects a habitat of a wild animal that may or may not actually live in a forest, they are doing harm to the loggers who work in that area. I say that as a person who is not terribly fond of log trucks. I just prefer to protect human beings and their welfare over animals and plants. I would also be a lot happier of the people doing the protecting did so where they live. Too many city dwellers like to tell the rural parts of the country what needs to be conserved while they drive their hybrids on busy streets surrounded by skyscrapers. Why don't they demand their apartment building be torn down to transplant a forest? It's so much easier to tell someone else to do what they are unwilling to do.

Could we do a better job of working with the environment instead of simply using it? Probably. Mostly, though, I think we have a fairly arrogant perspective when it comes to our impact on the planet. The planet has gone through many cycles climatically and ecologically, and it has "harmed" itself in many ways that humans cannot even imagine emulating or recreating. More air pollution comes out of a single volcanic eruption than the entire effect of humans in history. No, I tend to thing we're along for the ride a lot more than we'd ever want to admit or accept.

What would I like to see in the future? Tall buildings that are covered with solar panels that can supply most of their energy (if not the energy of the surrounding smaller buildings as well). More use of nuclear power plants. Improved public transportation in large cities. Automobiles powered by renewable fuels with healthier emissions. What a bright new day, right? So long as we get there in logical fashion. The way green laws are heading, we may all become more green simply because people are forced to quit driving altogether and grow their own food. Present legislation on green laws is driving rampant inflation with no logical reasoning behind these laws. The apparent hope is to inflate the economy so much that expensive fuel alternatives suddenly become reasonable. So much ignorance pervades this line of thinking that I cannot begin to explain it. Thankfully, the economy is a fairly resilient system, and so is the environment. Maybe by the time we actually figure out how to accomplish some of what we dream of, both of them will be functioning in a way to help each other.

-- Robert

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

To anyone reading this post, my apologies if it offends your sensibilities. I came up with it and my wife and I played off the idea last week when we were in a very weird and wacky mood. Hopefully everyone can get a laugh out of it.


A couple is finishing a meal and heading for the door when the wife says to the husband, "Now don't forget to save it for the car," with a knowing look. The husband stops as he is leaving the tip to stare at her in confusion.

*change of scene*

"So, I swear my wife keeps telling me to save it for the car lately. And it's like she wants me to eat the foods that she used to hate for me to eat. What gives?" the husband asks his male friend.

"Oh, didnt you know about the special features with your new Saturn?" the friend asks. The husband shakes his head. "Oh, well, your car comes equipped with a flatulence filter that funnels to your engine. I'm surprised you haven't noticed how much you're saving at the pump."

"Well, I have been getting better gas mileage, but I really didn't know."

"Well, with GM's new patented technology, you'll really be getting more bang for your funk."

The friends share a laugh as the screen shifts to a shot of the car's bumper, showing the Saturn Uranus. "Come check out the Saturn that is powered by your anus."

*end commercial*

Mercury could use the same name and the joke works just as well. It would all be a matter of who got to market faster. But honestly, if the carmakers could ever master THAT sort of alternative fueling system, things might really start to turn around. Every new car would come with a $100 gift certificate to Taco Bell or something. They would just have to figure out a way to make emissions smell pleasant. Perhaps putting Febreeze into the motor somewhere would help.

Forgive me for the potty humor. I just thought that with tomorrow's Hump Day Hmm being about Earth Day, the satire for an "alternative fuel" might be appreciated.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Every Man

I have been fascinated by this political season. I must say I have never seen one like it. Eight years ago, Al Gore fought for everyone. Four years ago, John Kerry agreed with everyone. This year, though, we have someone who wants to be every man. Barack Obama fits among Muslims. He fits with Christians. He fits with the wealthy. He fits with the poor. He fits with blacks. He fits with whites. He makes people believe he is exactly what they want in a president, because he is exactly like them.

He wants change. I am glad to give him change, so long as he leaves me my folding money. He believes in hope. Hope is great, so long as it is a hope for a better tomorrow, not just a tomorrow that is not today. I see no clear vision from him, and I think that is largely intentional. It is much easier to use vague generalities and eloquent sound bites to inspire people to vote then it is to say something real and inspire people to act.

As for his wife, she wants people to "share their pie." She believes that those who have a big piece of the pie are not giving enough - though I don't quite understand what "enough" really means. Is what she and her husband give "enough"? If so, then most wealthy people should be asking for refunds, since the Obamas give a fairly small percentage of their income to charity, while many millionaires (such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) give many millions to help those less fortunate. No, what I see from the Obamas is a lot of rhetoric designed to encourage the "bitter Americans" out there to vote for Barack so they can have their way with the country.

Fortunately, I am sure of two things: 1) Obama will not be president, but in the absolutely unlikely event that he is, 2) I am very confident he has no chance to accomplish much in the office. Right now I am fascinated to watch the Democratic Party tear itself to pieces. If Hillary wasn't around, Barack's rendition of Bill Clinton 2.0 might well have gotten him the presidency. Without him around, she might be sworn in a few months from now. Instead, I get to watch this fascinating race. Am I pleased with the likely outcome, President John McCain? Not particularly. But again, as a student of politics, I am amazed at how many things have come out this race.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Santa Missed...

So yesterday morning, I woke up early despite going to bed late, hoping at both ends of the evening to see the bid response. Then around 9:00 AM EDT, I get an ever-so-casual email and note posted on the site: awards postponed. Imagine going to a huge blockbuster that's been advertised for a year, settling in with popcorn, candy, and a soda only to be told "Sorry, we'll open next week." Perhaps I am overdramatizing, but waiting for the third week past the original date feels like waiting for Christmas to come. Maybe I should watch The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to imagine Santa coming after a hundred years of winter.

Okay, melodrama over. Weekend begins. We actually had a lovely evening, my family and I, wandering around the new Costco in a nearby town. They certainly have some nice things, and some good deals, but mostly it was good just to get to let the kids look at some neat things. I would love to get them the airplane teeter-totter that can handle up to 600 pounds and seven kids. All for just $200. I could see that being a lot of fun for them, especially when friends come over. In any event, all we bought were a few things we actually needed and one set of DVD's I saw that my wife has sought for years (I knew she had and pointed it out). Then we grabbed a cheap dinner on the way out and went home. As I explained to her on the way to the car, the day ended far better than it started out. Maybe Santa didn't miss after all. I realized that life goes on and I am truly a fortunate man to have such a great family. What more could I ever want?

-- Robert

Friday, April 11, 2008

Guess Who We Ran Into

This post and this one both inspired me to write a list of interesting "coincidences" that have happened to my wife and me since we've married.

The Couple
We had moved to where we live now a few months before, and I was getting reacquainted with life here. One older gentleman had a habit of inviting me to a dinner on Monday night that I no longer attended, and my Dad (who happened to be there) said "Leave him alone, [name deleted], he's a Mormon now."

The man very calmly said, "That's okay [name deleted] here is a Mormon." as he gestured to an older gentleman standing with us. The man affirmed that he was, in fact, a Mormon who no longer attended because of his wife. I had never known anything about his affiliation with the church, but I noticed he shared a last name with one of the men in our branch. I asked the man I knew if they were related, to which he replied, "He's my mother's youngest brother."

I said, "Doesn't that make him your uncle?" thinking it was odd that he didn't just say that. He nodded, but explained that the man had become somewhat estranged from their family because he had left the church. I told him what the man had said about him still thinking of himself as a Mormon.

My friend said, "You should share that story with the couple over there. They're here from Utah to visit him." He pointed at a couple I had noticed and even spoken with. We went over to talk to them, and ended up talking to them for over an hour that afternoon. In the course of the conversation, we discovered that their oldest daughter knew my wife's oldest sister because they had served a mission together in Thailand. The couple had even been to my sister-in-law's house at some point, and their daughter kept contact with her.

This meeting all happened about two days after my wife had been wondering aloud "I just don't think like I fit in here. I don't feel any connection to home."

The Friend
The first person I really got to know in the church after I joined (that I had not known bef0re) was the leader of the men's group in my branch. He and I were similar ages, but he was finishing his undergraduate about the time I was finishing my MBA. He and I had some mutual admiration for each other, and I consider him a friend. The strange thing about him, though, is that I have run into him in four different places without any plan or even knowledge he would be there. The first time I saw him, I had just moved back to where I now live after living out west for nine months. He was sitting in my local church for a broadcast, and he was hanging out with three other men I had met at the same time I met him. I could understand them being there because they were from my town, but his family lived in Athens (where I went to college) after having moved all over the place, and the closest they'd ever lived to here was an hour away. It turned out that he was visiting another friend a town over and happened to come over to see the three guys I mentioned before. The weirdest part of him being where I was: he worked four hours to the south in Tampa.

The second time I saw him, he was at a conference of all our area churches, in the town he'd once lived, but again, he had no reason (I knew of) to be there. As it turned out, he was dating a girl whose grandfather was from the area, and he happened to be down visiting him with her. He'd changed jobs, moving him three hours to the north of where we met this time.

The third time I saw him, I just happened to be in Atlanta visiting friends and decided to make a quick trip over to the Atlanta Temple. I was leaving as he was coming in, but there he was again. This time he was there for the wedding of a relative or friend, so I could at least understand his presence. It's a natural place to run into someone, and he did live in the city.

The fourth time, though, has to be the most interesting and bizarre of them all. Last Thanksgiving, my wife and I were returning from the mountains north of Atlanta and decided we wanted to go to church that day. We had previously thought we had no chance to find a church to attend anywhere in the area and given up, but as we started home I thought "surely some church in Atlanta has a service we could attend." My wife started looking online with my laptop, and we found one right by the temple, which was less than a mile out of route for us. As we came inside a few minutes before the service started, a door opened, and out walked my friend. We caught up again, and I believe he had changed jobs a third time, so he was getting a new apartment. He started to introduce us to his new roommate, but there was actually no need for him to do so, because my wife knew him! The roommate had run cross country with my wife's older sister, but his family moved away to Washington state for his senior year in the hopes of landing him a scholarship in the sport. So here's my friend I randomly meet all over the place, and he's moving in with a guy from my wife's hometown who didn't even have family there anymore. Again, my wife felt a greater connection to being where we are that day, and I felt a greater sense of how small the world is.

There are more to share, but for now I'll conclude. I have found each of these peculiar "coincidences" amazing. I had no reason to expect them, and they seemed to happen at random, but I just know better.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Order in the Chaos

I started writing this post in response to this post and realized I needed an entry on my own blog today. The two posts may not be linked in anyone else's mind but my own, but I still like to give credit when I am inspired to think of something.

One novel, which was part of a series, that I really enjoyed when it came to the perspective of interconnectivity was Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card (it is the concluding novel in the Ender's Game series, the first of which happens to be the book I recommended to my wife when we first met, for anyone who read yesterday's post). In the book, he describes how there are points of energy, or spirits, or some other term he used which escapes me at the moment, but some of those points of energy live outside the universe, and then choose to live within it. Each point of is somewhat like the nucleus of an atom, and those atoms that choose to form into a molecule decide to work together, and those molecules might agree to form a cell, and those cells might decide to be part of a body controlled by one agreed upon center point of energy - which, again, might be the "soul" of that body.

It provided an entirely new paradigm to consider questions like "what is life" or "how does it all work together?". The whole explanation was a fascinating discourse on the interconnectivity of matter, worlds, life, and all the rest. When I consider the absolute complexity of something as simple as a single celled organism, I can see some of what Card is describing. Without those materials within the cell "agreeing" to work together, the cell would not function properly (which science would call cancer or some other malady). Perhaps cancer cells have simply decided they no longer want to play along, or they want to do things differently. Whatever the case, it makes for an intriguing metaphysical discussion. What controls the "me" that makes my body do what I want (or at least try to do what I want)? What overarching structure controls the world in which I live? The solar system, the galaxy, the universe... everything? What is the ordering mechanism that makes sense of the chaos? I obviously believe in such an ordering power, because I am a person of faith and my particular faith gives me a great deal of wonderful explanation to satisfy those questions for me.

All the same, my simple mind gets overwhelmed when I consider that there are greater forces at work just within my own body that I don't completely understand, let alone control. "Something" makes it all work (or not work), and that something is not necessarily me. I long for the day when I understand more fully how it all works. And no, I don't expect to read about it in a scientific journal. I think science has a long way to go to catch up with anything approaching real understanding. Science fascinates me, though, and I do not consider it as something I fear or am against. I think science is how thinking people approach problems to better understand them and attempt to find solutions. Science is a method more than an answer, in other words. I simply don't look to science as the only method of finding answers to my questions.

Hopefully this post makes sense to more than just me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Coincidence, I Think Not, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to "Consider these questions: does the universe (God) prescribe an order? do things happen sometimes too coincidentally to be coincidental? is there a design? how is it that sometimes things come to us, just when we need them most?"

I tend to fall in the category of those who believe things happen for a reason, or that coincidence is just a fancy word for things are meant to happen a certain way. One of the best stories I know about happy coincidences happens to be a big part of my own, so like last week, I could not write on this topic without telling this story.

When I had been out of college about two years and a half years, I felt a prompting to return to school for my MBA. I did not think such a prompting came from myself because I was still feeling somewhat burnt out after flying through my undergraduate in three years between two schools. So, being a spiritual person, I prayed about the feeling. I also picked up a GMAT preparation book with practice software. I studied for a few weeks, and finally I signedup to take it. I prayed the night before, "Lord, if you want me to go back to school, help my mind be clear so I might do my best and be able to get in." I did not ask to receive the answers to the test or for the Lord to take it for me, but simply to do my best.

The next day, I drove an hour away to take the test. The whole time I was taking it, I did not feel like I was doing very well, except on the writing portion. I came very close to cancelling the scores instead of sending them, but I decided to let the answer to my prayer go out, regardless of the score. When I first saw it, I thought it was just an example, so sure I was that it could not be my score. It was mine, though, and my answer was clear. I had scored in the 99th percentile overall, which guaranteed I could get paid to go back to graduate school at the school of my choice, my alma mater, the University of Georgia. I wanted to go back to UGA to give my best, since I felt like the two years I'd spent there before were far from it. I had hated my first school so much that I was a shell of my former self as I simply did my best to graduate. Getting a second chance was important to me. I was on a true spiritual high.

Around the time I was feeling my faith so strongly, I met my wife. I have played many hours of games on Yahoo, and I have had many wonderful conversations with interesting people. I have even made a few friends there, though I've lost touch with most of them. So I had no expectation whatsoever that I would find my wife playing pool on Yahoo. I am sure she would say the same. Yet, I was so excited to tell anyone about what I was feeling, that it naturally came up in conversation with this lovely young woman. She was headed to get her bachelors after an associates, so we were in similar places in life - both in transition. I learned through our conversation that she was also a person who listened to spiritual promptings when it came to making life decisions, and she had changed her major from criminal justice to music because of such a prompting. She had completed many extra hours of coursework to still graduate on time with honors in her new area, so it was not a simple choice she had made. We both understood how faith can sometimes compel us to do very difficult things.

We spent several hours talking that first night, finding many common interests. I suggested a book to her that I had just read a short time before. The next day when we chatted again, she told me it was very good. That was her way of letting me know she had gone to the library and read it. I was duly impressed. We continued our conversation over several days, her home for Christmas and me preparing myself to leave the working world and head back to school. I asked her if, when she returned to school, I might call her. She agreed, as long as her roommates were okay with it. They screened me - after five minutes I was okay, but they enjoyed talking to me so much that itwas an hour before she got on the phone. We had a lovely chat - several, in fact, over the next few weeks. Then one day I said, "The Olympics are coming to Salt Lake, and I would like to see what the city looks like, since I'm from another recent Olympic city. Can I see you?" Her school was near there, some 2,600 miles from my home. Again, she agreed, so long as I didn't mind her roommates coming along. So, when I don't feel like explaining I met my wife online, I tell people where we met in person: a bowling alley. We had a wonderful time, and, after a weekend enjoying each other's company, we agreed not to speak to each other anymore.

I know, that part of the story usually throws people off, but that's what happened. We did not share a common faith, at least not completely, and we both had too much respect for each other to expect the other to change. We also knew our beliefs were too strong to simply be ignored. After all, it was our faith that first brought us together. So, we went our separate ways, only emailing occasionally.

Summer came, and I started my thirteen month program in Athens. She had moved to Washington to be with her brother where she had more opportunity to find work while she waited to attend Idaho State in the fall. I was sitting through several classes of refresher courses designed to remind those who had been out of school a while how to handle statistics and finance. Many of my classmates began chatting to stay awake during the lectures on the bell curve. Then one day, my friend was online from her brother's home. Naturally, I struck up a conversation. She tried to discourage me, but I pressed on, letting her know I was not missing anything by talking to her, too. She was home alone, her nieces and nephews gone to various camps or jobs, and her shift was not for a while yet. We had a lovely chat, and she agreed to let me chat with her again.

This time our conversations took a rather different turn very often. I had, because of the way we parted, studied her religion quite a bit. I naturally love to learn, and comparative religion is certainly a subject I find interesting. Unfortunately, much of what I found tended to be what I would now call anti-Mormon. She was, after all, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church. I shared some of what I learned, and I found her to be extremely knowledgeable about her religion, as well as the counterpoints I was expressing. Time and again, I found she understood the criticisms of her church very well, and I was left wondering why someone would so readily accept something so foreign to me.

Our conversations on faith continued even as she went back to school. She was in a place where she knew no one, and most of her roommates were not terribly friendly to her. I offered to call her, just so she could hear the voice of a friend on the line. She was thankful and agreed to let me call. We talked many night, but we both respected each others' busy schedules. We were trying to get degrees. I made a lot of friends, and I was really enjoying my whole experience. The environment I found myself in opened my eyes to new experiences more than anything I had ever been around before. I was a long way from the simple life of the day-to-day working world that was so often the same thing over and over.

Here I must digress a moment to share several encounters that an outside observer might easily suggest happened by, well, coincidence. My MBA class all went through a ropes course together. The goal was to help us bond, and I would say we did. We went in two groups of twenty. During the course, I met two people who would play an interesting role in the rest of my year. There were two guides who were there to insure our safety and help us enjoy our experience to the utmost. One of them was loud, did most of the talking, and made it clear he was the person in charge. I doubt I could pick him out of a lineup if the rest of the people in it where twice his size. The other guy, though, said very little, but his natural warmth and interest came across in his actions and his attitude. I saw him several times on campus and enjoyed conversations with him. The other person I met and got to know that day was a classmate who had previously seemed very unapproachable to me. She was so different that day that I felt comfortable striking up a conversation with her. I realized her demeanor in class had a lot to do with her commuting two hours each day for class, which lasted eight hours a day. She was thoroughly worn out. I suggested she move to campus, and she said she had been unable to find a place she liked. I told her about how much I loved my apartment complex and told her I'd gladly give her a reference if she was worried. She took my suggestion and within a week she was ready to move in. We had formed the beginnings of a great friendship.

My classmate is definitely someone I give a lot of credit when it comes to my wife. One day we were discussing life, just taking a break from the fast-paced course load, and we ended up talking about people we admired. I told her about "this girl I met online".

She said, "Robert, you love this girl!" I shook my head, but she pressed on.

I said, "Well, it will never happen, so there's no point in worrying about that anyway."

She looked me square in the eye and said, "If you're trying to tell me it's because you live far apart, I'm not listening." She was, after all, telling me about her dear friend in Germany, and she was a Bulgarian living in the United States. "If that is the only reason, then that is silly."

I let her know that there was more, but she wasn't seeing it. Finally I explained, "Well, she and I go to different churches. We don't believe the same things." Again, my friend thought I was being stupid. She grew up under the Iron Curtain, almost completely unfamiliar with religion. Why then should such a silly thing as church stop something as important as true love. I was unable to adequately explain it to her, which left me feeling inadequate when it came to explaining it to myself. As I said, I give my friend a lot of credit when it comes to why I married my wife.

So, here I was, in a place so full of newness and change, talking to a girl across the country about a religion I had only encountered briefly in my past. The first girl I dated was a Mormon, and I had always thought, If I could just find a girl like her who wasn't a Mormon, I would be very lucky. I would say I came close. That first girl is still a good friend of ours, and she is better friends with my wife than with me now. I have digressed. But then, this entire story seems like a very digressive affair whenever I tell it. So many little details, chance encounters, and intriguing elements come to light in the telling. Hopefully it explains why I have so little appreciation for the word "coincidence."

Our conversations continued, sometimes growing heated. We could tell there was a mutual attraction, but we both tried to look past it. I encouraged her to live her life and date people, and she did the same for me. We both wanted happiness for each other, and we could not see past this obstacle between us. We definitely had a lot of mutual admiration beyond our attraction. We were friends, true friends. The chance at love just seemed like a dream. I was forced to consider a lot of things, though, before I could stomach giving up that hope, that chance I had found my someone special. So I spent a lot of time praying again. I was in a Sunday School class at the church I was attending in Athens that had chosen to discuss the topic of marriage, of all things. I asked the teacher, one of my professors, a lot of questions on the subject, and I studied out those questions for myself in the scriptures. I kept finding so many answers that made more sense in my wife's belief system than they did in my own.

And then another coincidence came up. I was working on a business plan, and the only similar business my team could find in the whole United States happened to be in Kearns, UT, just south of Salt Lake. My wife was again home for Christmas break, but I knew she would be heading back to Idaho soon. I suggested that I plan my trip to Utah to meet her again. She did not like the idea, thinking I was making up an excuse to see her, but eventually she agreed to see me. I also added one other thing to our visit: I wanted her to bring me a copy of the Book of Mormon. I had previously refused to read it over and over, so she knew this was a major concession for me. She agreed to bring it, and we met at a mall across from the Salt Lake Temple.

We spent the afternoon touring Temple Square, hanging out with two other couples (both of whom are married now), and generally having a lovely time. The attraction we had been kindling was clear, even to those around us. When the afternoon ended, we were reluctant to separate. She brought out the book, telling me of her fear that giving it to me might make me hate her. I was troubled by the sentiment, and I realized how stridently I had argued against her beliefs. I took the book back to my hotel and started reading the passages she recommended, and then began at the beginning.

I immediately recognized it as gospel. I had spent the last several years studying the Bible, teaching Sunday school and two Bible study groups. I was more familiar with how it felt to read gospel than I was when I first dated a Mormon. I knew I had another difficult decision to make. I prayed, sometimes for hours. I walked through the woods by my apartment and prayed in that quiet place. I prayed as I drove to and from the airport as I flew to other businesses like the one we were planning to start - my team only found them after my trip to Utah. Then I had a powerful answer to my prayers, and I called my wife. I made it clear that I was ready to join her church. She wanted me to immediately call the missionaries, who would give me the discussions that each new member goes through. I let her know that I could ask my classmate who had graduated from BYU. She pressed, but I assured her I would not change my mind. That classmate, who was never on the classroom chats as a rule, happened to be on one that day. I asked him to find the missionaries for me, and he did. When I explained to them what my plans were, they were surprised, since very few people call the missionaries who already plan to join. When I told them where I lived, they said, "I think we might know the place."

They did, because it turned out that a pair of sister missionaries lived downstairs (another coincidence). I went to church that first Sunday, expecting not to know anyone (my classmate went to a different branch of the church in the area, but I wanted to attend with fellow students who might not be so much older and wiser than me). As I walked in, I immediately saw the young man from the ropes course (I hadn't forgotten him). His wife taught the Sunday School class I attended. I also saw a guy I had watched football games with repeatedly, and then another who I remembered from a chance encounter at the grocery store. Then I met three young men from the town I had just moved away from. I went expecting not to know anyone, and instead I found a place where I felt more at home than almost anywhere else on campus.

My wife and I have now been married nearly five years. Last month marked five years since I joined, in fact. In those five years, I have moved across the country twice, I have gotten married, had two children, bought into my family business, bought my first home, and enjoyed several other special landmarks in my spiritual and worldly life. It has certainly not been easy, but I have felt truly blessed.

It might be easy to look at all the things that led up to me going back to school, having the encouragement of friends to follow my heart, meeting several Mormons along the way, and eventually joining my current church as mere coincidence. I prefer to look at it as I do, a series of preparatory events in a long line of other events that helped me step outside of my normal path and consider something new, but also something that was right for me. I am absolutely glad I made the choice I did, and I am glad to have experienced it all. Was it all coincidence? I think not.

-- Robert

Editor's note: My wife read this story and said "But you haven't proven they aren't just coincidences." Perhaps I haven't, but I did not write the story as proof. I wrote it to demonstrate a series of coincidences that I see as more than, well, coincidence. My apologies to anyone looking for "proof."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Calling All Refunds

I am, by nature, an early tax return filer. I like to file early so I can recover the money Uncle Same borrowed (stole) from me without paying any interest (though he's all too happy to get interest and penalties should I miss a dollar or two on my payments). This year, because of a particular "benefit" on my return, I could not e-file. Instead, I had to paper file my state return. Because of paper filing, my return has still not appeared on the lovely online system or in the automated phone system. The Internet page is happy to report the "Department of Revenue currently has no record of a return being posted for the entered Social Security Number." Reading that, I became concerned and dialed the listed 800 number to reach the automated attendant. That electronically recorded voice was happy to report that while no return was on file, I needed to allow "at least four weeks for a return to appear in the system." I pressed one to speak to a representative, and was told in extremely rapid recorded English I could call GOODLUCKHEARINGTHISNUMBERSINCEITALKSOFAST if all agents are busy, or I could check the convenient online system for my return. I literally never realized the first five times I called that they were saying a phone number to call, but each time the recording ends with them immediately hanging up (no, it does not let me know that all agents are, in fact, busy). Well, today I finally talked to a person after listening to yet another message and waiting on hold with dead silence on the line for over ten minutes. That person explained that the four weeks is actually seven or more, and they're just particularly behind on processing returns. No real apologies (sure, he might have said the words "I apologize" but somewhat like a cashier says "paper or plastic" or McDonald's employees ask if I want fries with that). I explained that my refund was not a small amount of money, but I had only filed by paper because of Georgia law, so perhaps my refund could be located and sped up. No, nothing could be done. Have a nice day. Ah, smell the bureaucracy.

Fortunately, I enjoy having a great relationship with several important legislators. I will be seeing them soon at the district and state party conventions. I have written a letter to one who has a lot of influence in Atlanta, so hopefully something might be done. Here's hoping.

-- Robert

Success as a Parent, However Small in Measure

Sunday night, after enjoying Elder Ballard's talk saluting mothers and listening to two of my wife's sisters discuss how they would tackle our problem with my son's sleeping habits, I took it upon myself to do something. My wife needs more rest. She needs to take better care of herself. So I decided to help my son begin to learn to sleep through the night without coming to find his mother repeatedly.

Monday morning, I wanted to take a picture but decided not to risk waking him, but I felt something akin to success. My son was asleep in his own room. We had kept our daughter out of it because his chief habit in the past when he has not gotten our attention has been to rouse his sister by hitting her until she wakes up. This morning, though, he found comfort by sleeping in the recliner so often used to rock him to sleep. He did not wake his mother in the night, though, which meant I had succeeded. Monday night and Tuesday morning will show how much success I have had, and how much luck. My son knows that we love him, but we need to stop letting his schedule dictate our lack of one


Note to anyone reading this: I did not add the z's for effect. As I was writing this blog entry in the hopes of keeping myself awake, I feel asleep and strangely my finger landed on the z. I thought it was too funny to delete in blog post about handling sleep issues.

-- Robert

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wonderful Conference Talks

This past weekend, our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held its semi-annual General Conference, a four-part broadcast totalling eight hours over two days. Each session is filled with informative, spiritual, loving talks from the general authorities of our church. The closest comparison I can give those who wonder about conference is to imagine being able to sit and listen at the feet of Moses, Elijah, Peter, or Paul. To have the chance to listen to a prophet or an apostle is powerful, and I am thankful for it. The rest of this post is a list of audio links to the talks I enjoyed most from these sessions. I like to listen to them several times so I can have time to absorb the information.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a wonderful explanation on building and bearing a testimony. He makes it clear that there are multiple types of knowledge, and he explains how one can know the truth of something without having seen it first hand.

Elder Richard G. Scott expressed compassion for abuse victims and explained how the atonement affects them. The story he shares of a victim seeking healing for her abuser struck me particularly strongly.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the new prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, and his individual ministry within his broader ministry. He also discussed his kinship with the pioneering nature of Latter-day Saints, despite having grown up in Germany. I especially enjoy President Uchtdorf's talk about a few degrees making a big difference in the path of life, and I will post a link to that talk when it becomes available.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about the idea of an open gospel, or of the Heavens being opened. In simpler terms, he explains the church's belief in continuing revelation and personal revelation from a Biblical perspective.

Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a great tribute to mothers. I loved it and was glad my wife had the chance to hear it since we divided the duties of watching our children. I hope she listens to it regularly over the next few months.

President Boyd K. Packer explained the organization of the twelve apostles and the first presidency, the top governing body of our church. I appreciated it because a friend of mine pointed out how much he appreciated the explanation from its Biblical perspective.

Elder David A. Bednar discussed the difference between simply praying and engaging in prayer. I appreciated his explanation because it made it clear that prayer followed by action has true power, while prayer followed with expectation might often feel hollow.

There certainly were other talks I enjoyed. I am still working through them, but this list certainly comprises many of those that struck me as I first heard them. I welcome anyone wanting to understand my faith a little better to listen to these great men. Feel free to comment here, or email me questions, if that is preferred.

-- Robert

Busy Week Ahead

This week we should finally get the bid in on the new business. A lot of business we generally expect to get started around this time is getting warmed up. We're adjusting to the retirement of an employee. We're moving our office around a lot, which means getting the phone company to move our phones around. In short, what we call "the season" appears to be upon us. I spent all day today busy from the moment I walked in until I left. I love this time of year because a lot more of my time is spent productively instead of finding ways to stay busy.

I hope to have several blog posts this week, even with the busy schedule at work. I already have my Hump Day Hmm written, since the topic was posted today. I hope to write two more posts tomorrow, just so that post will be my official 100th post. I could not ask for a better way to signify my 100th than the story I wrote for Wednesday. It may be long, but I hope it is an enjoyable read. I certainly enjoyed writing it, and enjoyed living it even more.

-- Robert

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cutting My Own Path

As I am listening to a talk about pioneering, I hear the theme of making my own path ringing out to me. The speaker, a German pilot, knows a lot about directionality, and he has given two speeches this weekend about the importance of what direction we take. Yesterday he told a story about a sightseeing flight of over 260 people that left New Zealand to fly over Antarctica. Because of an error in the flight computer of two degrees before the flight even took off, the pilots were twenty-eight miles off course when they reached the southern continent and, as they dropped from a cloud bank, they were unaware that they were flying directly towards a snow-covered volcano. The mountainside blended with the clouds so fully, they did not realize what had happened until it was too late and everyone on board died. The story is that following the wrong path, even in a small way, can lead to destruction very quickly. The story today, though, is about following the path of pioneers who have cut a path in the right way, and cutting our own path as pioneers who leave behind our past and go in a new way that is right for us, regardless of what those around us think.

Lately I have felt that sort of pioneering spirit. As I have written about changing some of our financial plans in the hopes of becoming more independent, I have felt like a pioneer in a world so focused on "buy now, pay later" and "0% financing available". I have also felt like a pioneer in other parts of my life as I have done things very different from the rest of my family and the friends I knew in my youth. I have certainly not done everything right as I have walked in these new ways, but I hope to continually work towards a better, more fulfilling, and more perfect path. I hope to be a man my children, friends, and neighbors can respect and be proud to know. No measure of wealth, acclaim, or power would be worth more to me, though sometimes those elements come to those who follow a more righteous path. I would welcome them, if they came in the way I hope, because I would have come by them honestly, and hopefully would be a good steward over what I have. If they do not come, though, I will not look upon my life as a failure, so long as I continue to move in the new and proper way I am referring to. I would count myself a success if I manage to follow such a path, and I would be even more proud if I gave anyone the inspiration to follow behind me. Here's hoping I manage.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

End of an Era

Today marked the end of an era. A man who worked for my company for twelve years in two different capacities retired. He helped it through the aftermath of September 11, helped it through the retirement of the first employee of the company, and helped it grow to new heights. He changed a lot of how we operated, and he gave us new hope for the future.

We will survive him, though. We survived, as I said, the loss of a lot of business from September 11th. We survived the retirement of our first employee. We have survived many other threats to our existence, and we are stronger for what we learned in the process. While he may be missed in the moment, tomorrow is a new day.

We have already changed over his phones. We may change our office layout to better utilize our space, since we had given some measure of deference to him in how we presently use it. We will make use of our remaining talents, and our business will not suffer at all.

In fact, it will thrive. We are expecting wonderful new opportunities any day. We have several contingency plans already in place to handle his retirement. Most of all, we will no longer have to wonder about when he will go, because now he has.

I started to write more on this subject, because not everything about his tenure here has been positive. Instead, though, I prefer to leave it just like I have, with the positive remembered and the negative ignored. I am sorry to see the end of this era, but I am glad to see the brighter day on the horizon. So long to the past, hello future.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Atonement, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm invites us to discuss atonement. I have a lot of feelings on this subject, especially because the word itself holds special meaning to my faith. Easter Sunday I gave a talk based largely on this article, which gives a wonderful explanation of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I avoid writing about my faith on this blog for my own reasons, but I could not write about the subject of atonement without acknowledging how much it affects my life.

When I consider the power of the atonement of Christ, the most selfless act in all of human history, I am ashamed of how unlikely it is that something even remotely similar might happen in the life of the average person today. Most people are outraged at the idea of having to pay for someone else's mistakes. Courts are filled with case after case of disputes between two or more parties who disagree on who should pay for some damage, some dispute, or some grievance. Yet here is a man without sin, who made no mistakes in his life, committed no wrong, who chooses to accept a horrifying, terrible punishment at the hands of an illegal tribunal in the dark of night and then a torturous death the next day. Documentaries get made about men serving on death row who were incorrectly found guilty and sentenced to death. Jesus was found guilty of crimes he did not commit and he freely carried his own instrument of death to his execution.

I draw a broader comparison on the atonement when I consider broken relationships. So often marriages, friendships, or even families are torn apart because one party committed some "unforgivable sin." "She cheated on me with my best friend." "He stole my idea and made millions off of it." "They didn't invite me to their party." "He told Dad what I said about him." or one of my favorites, "He wouldn't buy me my own Coke at the movie theater." How easily we find error in others and forever lose trust in them, or perhaps even in all people. But again, Christ showed a better way. He sought out the less fortunate, the down trodden of society, the sinful, and he lifted them up. Even those who openly abused his friendship and love received nothing but respect from him. He taught people how to bring themselves out of problems, instead of looking for ways to find fault. I know in my life, I have pushed away friends who I felt asked too much of me, and certainly those who did me wrong more than once. Granted, I am (I think) a very forgiving person who lets my friends get away with a lot of mistreatment, but I still have a habit of removing people from my life who do me wrong. While I don't think Christ expects me to suffer repeated mistreatments at the hands of abusers, I also know that he did just that without complaint.

I know I am a long way from being as good a person as Christ. I know I make plenty of mistakes in life, especially with regard to those closest to me. I am just glad that I have such a positive role model to look up to, and to enjoy a relationship with. I am most glad that Christ did atone for my sins, and I do my best to follow his teachings as I reach out to the world around me, sharing love, kindness, and teaching. If only we could all follow his ways.

-- Robert