Wednesday, November 26, 2008


"We are pleased to advice(sic) you that you are one of the winners in the second category of Sweepstake and Lottery Draw held on October 1st, 2008...."

Wow, really, I won $450,000? And the money to pay the taxes is coming to me from an elementary school in Florida? Gee, that's amazing. Lemme guess, this is how ING plans to use the funds from the bailout to stimulate the economy, right? Right???

Okay, so I had a good laugh about the crazy letter and enclosed check I received in the mail today. I thought it made for funny blog fodder. Hopefully no one receives such a letter and takes it seriously.

Hope everyone out there has a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last night we had some friends over for the evening. We showed them around the house and along the way came across a picture of my family when I was a little boy. I think it's cute how much my children resemble me at that age (though I still swear my son looks like my wife's nephews). It was also a reminder of an anniversary as I looked at my brother's picture.

Tomorrow is the twenty-second anniversary of his death. My vivid memories of that day have faded into a few choice moments, but we still remember him at this time of year, much like the eldest brother in Zanna's Gift. I think that is why Thanksgiving is almost more special to my family that Christmas, because we remember how fortunate we are to have the chance to be together. Much like the wives who married in to the Pullman family, my wife has been able to appreciate how much my brother's life and death changed the relationship my family shares irrevocably. Because of some special experiences she has shared with me, I know she understands the bond my brother and I share. I have often thought of him as my guardian angel, and I know he has helped me get to where I am in more ways than one.

So in this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to my brother. I still miss him, but differently now, because I would love to know him as a grown man. I would love to hear his thoughts on the world today, on literature, and so many other things. For now I can make do with his pictures and his words, and the knowledge that we'll get to share our thoughts again some day.

-- Robert

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Christmas Sweater

Since Glenn Beck is coming to the area tomorrow, I wanted to read The Christmas Sweater and possibly get him to sign it. I have never felt compelled to do that for an author before, though I am sure I would love it if Orson Scott Card or Jeffrey Archer was in the area. Still, Glenn Beck wrote what he described as a very personal story that sounded like it held some special insight into life, and I wanted to see what he meant.

I loved it, though not as much as Zanna's Gift. It was harder to read - probably because of the greater focus on grief and angst. But I could still identify with exactly how the main character felt. The guilt over things said to or about a loved one just before they die can weigh on a person, especially a young person. The night my brother died, when someone wondered why he was late, I joked, "Maybe he's dead." Those words haunted me for years. In high school, the last time I saw a good friend, one of us said, "See you later." and somehow I just knew it wasn't to be. He flipped his car the first day he got his license, a week or so later.

I can completely connect with the anguish the young boy in the story felt. I know such guilt can tear a person apart. It nearly did that to me, until I finally faced my own "storm" (read the book). I have never regretted "walking through" and seeing how much better life is on the other side.

So yes, I would recommend this wonderful book. It just might not go down easy for the first 230 pages or so (the story itself is around 250). Still the message rings solid and true, and it deserves to be heard. It needs to be heard. So many need to hear it.

-- Robert

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zanna's Gift

Over the weekend in Orlando, my wife and I each picked up several new novels. We love to read, and there are some bookstores there that carry things not available in our area. I saw two Christmas stories by authors I respect, and I decided to pick them up. I like the spirit of Christmas, not the materialism.

Last night, thinking a little reading would put me right to sleep, I started reading Zanna's Gift by Orson Scott Card (though it says "Orson Scott Card writing as Scott Richards"). I could not put it down. Perhaps it was how close to home it felt, and the time of year, but I found myself weeping at times. I wanted to kiss each of my kids and my wife when I was done.

The story centers on the Pullman family and starts around the time of the Great Depression. Their eldest son died in his sleep without any warning, and the whole family took it hard because he was such a wonderful son and brother. Their youngest child, Zanna, struggled with it because her brother had been the only person who could understand her special drawings. The rest of the story swirls around how much Zanna's final drawing for her brother shaped all the family's future Christmases.

A week from today, it will have been twenty-two years since my brother died. He was on his way to meet us for Thanksgiving after taking some midterms at college. He was only eighteen, and had planned a brilliant future as a science fiction writer. His passion for that genre led him to study engineering at Georgia Tech, and that led me to become an avid Tech fan for many years. His life-path, much like Zanna's drawing, shaped much of my family's future, especially mine and my sister's.

My sister followed him to Tech first. She had spent many years following him through classes, as he was just two years older. I wondered later if following him to Tech had simply been the most logical course for her at the time. She finished, even receiving the same degree, and became an engineer. I thought for a time I would do the same.

I wanted to go to Tech because it was such a wonderful school. I just realized somewhere in high school that engineering was not for me. I did not struggle in science or math, but I simply didn't have a great love for seeing how things worked the way most engineers I know seem to. I took apart a few toys as a kid, but mostly I was just happy to leave them put together and play with them. I learned enough about opening a computer to put in parts, but I never felt the desire to build one.

No, I was not an engineer. I hated the idea of being computer programmer, too, even though I had a gift for it. I loved math, and my high school coach desperately wanted me to follow in his footsteps and study that there. Math was something I loved in simplicity and at a basic level because I was good at it. I knew that studying the upper levels of it would likely change me - perhaps drive me to obsess about it like so many in that field. So I could not bring myself to major in math, either. Instead, having developed an interest in investing and financial planning, I decided to pursue a business degree. I still held some glimmer of hope that I could go to Tech, though, because I accepted their generous President's Scholarship to pursue my studies there.

I probably realized my mistake the first day on campus. I was given the wrong combination to my mailbox, and I wondered if it was a sign. At orientation, they gave their standard line "One in three of you won't be here at graduation, so if you look left and look right, one of them won't be here. If they're here, it'll be you." To my left was an empty seat, and to my right was a friend I knew was born for the place, so I quipped "I guess it's me!" Maybe it took me a few weeks to realize how true that joke would become. I finally admitted it somewhere in the middle of my second quarter. I did not belong at Tech. I probably could have found a place there, if anything about it had given me a reason to want to. But no, I fought for the money I was promised because of a computer error that never got fixed. I sat through classes that spent more time focusing on keeping the athletes on the fields and courts than on educating me about business. And I got asked every single day by someone, "Why are you here?" In the end, my answer varied between "I ask myself that every day" and "Don't worry, I won't be soon."

Following my brother had been wrong for me. I was not him, and like the eldest brother in Zanna's Gift learned, I could never be him. I had at least realized I did not want to follow in his exact path by then, but some part of me probably subconsciously wanted to fulfill his dream. I wrote a book in high school, then a book of poetry and another of short stories in college. I even went as far as finding a self-publisher to help me release my work in major book stores. Something stopped me, though, and I let that dream fade with time. Still, I thank my brother for providing me with such a great example to strive for throughout my education. That is probably why Zanna's Gift touched me so deeply. The death of one so special has a profound influence on the lives it touches. It need not be a sad one, either, but instead one that helps each of us cherish those who remain a little more. I know my brother's death did that for me and for my family. I hope it continues to do so for years to come, just as it did for the Pullmans.

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things Learned In Difficult Circumstances

This weekend, we had a somewhat unpleasant Saturday. I could beat my chest and complain about it, but I really see no need. Instead I'd rather look at the bright side of it, so I thought I would write down some things I observed (most of them were things I already knew, but further confirmation is always nice).

1) We have a wonderful son. He was patient about the fact that we were not doing things to entertain him, and he was very pleasant about everything we did that day. The worst he got was a little too wild in the late evening while waiting in a boring triage area.

2) My wife and I work well together. When we tried a few things to cover our window, neither of us got impatient with the other while we tried our ideas. We just kept suggesting new things until one worked.

3) Scotch-brand packaging tape actually works very nicely as a "replacement window". It stood up to 80+-mph winds. That is to say, it didn't rip off despite the speeds I was driving.

4) Material things really aren't that important to me. I really haven't been angry or bothered by the loss of our GPS. I might have been more bothered if they had taken the camera, simply because it contains special memories (more than just being a material thing). It might have been annoying had they taken the DVD player because it makes rides with my son a lot easier, but again, not because of its material status. Things, after all, can be replaced or repaired.

-- Robert

P.S.: For anyone confused, I refer you to my wife's blog, the entry from Saturday night, for information on what happened Saturday.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Temple Trip

I am looking forward to this weekend at the temple very much. I haven't managed to make it into the temple despite having been very close to about seven of them in the last several months. We just never managed it on our trip out west, and our one weekend to go last month got swamped by other things. My last visit was in Los Angeles while at the AOM Conference.

People ask me, "Why do y'all [you guys] go to the temple so often?" That or they ask, "So your church makes you go to the temple every month?" Obviously there is a different tone to the second question, but sometimes the asker basically means the same thing. Recently, though, I was asked by someone who really wanted to know. I told her what I try to convey to anyone who asks, but most simply ignore me.

We go to the temple because, to us, there is no place on Earth where we can feel closer to our Heavenly Father. Inside, we are away from the world with all its distractions, and we can simply focus on a relationship that is so special, yet so often neglected (on our parts). The temple is a beautiful, peaceful place, but more important is that it is a sacred place, set apart from the world to give those who wish to a chance to commune with the Lord. Suggesting someone makes me go is like saying someone makes me eat a favorite food, or that someone makes me read a good book. I simply have never seen it as an order, but instead as a blessing coming from simply choosing to be in one of my favorite places on Earth.

Nobody has to make me breathe for me to want to do it, and nobody has to make me want to be nearer to God. I want to be, and I would love to be there all the time. Unfortunately, we are commanded that we cannot expect to be there always. When Jesus and his disciples were on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples wanted to stay there forever, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the place and the moment. Christ told them they could not remain. He commanded them that they might return to be with the people and share their testimonies that others might know of the gospel message. So in short, if there is a commandment, it is to go forth and be out among the people of the world. Simply put, we're told NOT to stay at the temple all the time. We just go back as often as we can to renew that closeness, and perhaps to recharge a bit. Why wouldn't we want to do take that opportunity?

-- Robert

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thankful to Be An American

I knew very little about Proposition 8 in California. I had no idea it was on the ballot until just before the election. I certainly never heard that my church was heavily involved. Members certainly were, from what I've since learned, but the Church itself does not appear to have broken any laws involving support of political actions. Because of a blog I read from time to time, I heard about this article (and part 2) written by a policeman faced with the aftermath of the amendment's passage.

This post is not really about the Proposition 8, though. One line in his article struck me in particular, "[S]ince when do we as Americans stand by – no matter what our religion – while access to a place of worship is forced to close down because of aggressive outside influences?" He is referring to the decision of those in charge of the Los Angeles Temple to close for the day.

My wife and I were already going to the temple this weekend. We had pushed back a trip last week to this week so we could spend time with friends, but we finalized our plans before I read this article. Now, though, I am going with a deeper appreciation for the opportunity to enter the Lord's house. I hope others feel the same way and make an extra effort to go, as a show of appreciation for the special blessing it is to have such a chance. Not only does that blessing come from the Lord having established these beautiful buildings across the globe, but it also comes from living in a country where I am free to worship as I choose.

I will pray before I go, and while I am there, for the safety of all concerned - members of the church, innocent bystanders, and even the protesters - and for the hope that peace can be found again. After all, we live in a nation that has shown many times that we can settle our internal differences peaceably. I hope that civility can be restored, and that no further violence will occur.

I hope this incident gets members of the Church to attend the temple more regularly. I hope it encourages more people to realize the need to protect the rights of voting, free speech, and religion. Most of all, I hope this incident encourages all of us to appreciate our ability to worship in our chosen way in this country.

-- Robert

P.S.: After finishing this post, my wife shared this link with me to show that the Church did take a stand on Prop. 8. Still, no laws were broken in that act. Also, there apparently was a letter sent out to be read, In the spirit of full disclosure, I include it here, though I had no knowledge of such a letter when I wrote this post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beauty in the World

Tonight, as I returning from an evening meeting at the church, I got out of my car and looked up. There above me was an amazing moon, bright and beautiful. Clouds were so thick around it I almost felt I could reach and cup them in my hand as I might bubbles in a bathtub. Truly, it was a sight to behold. Images like that are why I ever bought a high quality camera. One day, maybe I'll get lucky and be able to actually manage taking a picture of such an amazing event.

I do think, though, that I was touched by the moment. The meeting I had just left was so filled with the Spirit, I am still feeling a bit of a glow from it. I listened to amazing men teach us principles, and I felt strengthened. Our little branch of the church here has been struggling for a while to maintain its attendance let alone grow. Here lately, though, we have felt a turn take place. Almost like a new moon signals a new time has come. Perhaps that was why the moon struck me so powerfully tonight. Whatever the case, I am thankful for such experiences, and I do my best to write them down when I am still in the midst of them. I hope I have captured this one tonight.

-- Robert

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quality Time

This weekend, our family had a lot of quality time. We had the place to ourselves, and we had playdates with a couple of friends, so we spent the morning helping the kids clean their rooms. We also did a ton of laundry (washed and put away), and threw away those things that tend to accumulate when children forget what a garbage can looks like. All in all, it was a great day. I especially loved it, though, because the kids actually enjoyed doing it after a while. We gave them an incentive - for every block of time spent cleaning, they got a block of fun time. After an hour's worth of cleaning, their room was done and the living room was much better. So we spent the rest of the morning playing with them before going to the park with friends.

In short, we had a great weekend (nevermind the sick day I spent in bed yesterday - I'm ignoring that because Saturday was so wonderful). This weekend we're planning an overnight trip to Orlando, but after that we'll probably try to do that sort of thing most Saturdays we're home. It's a good way for the kids to appreciate the need of it more, and it's fun time to spend as a family. It also helps our small place seem more livable - which will come in handy next year when it's not much bigger and we're there for several years. In those days, we'll have to learn a lot of cheap ways to entertain ourselves again - like going to parks, playing at home, and free entertainment on campus. I'm sure we'll manage. Saturday was just a great example of how.

-- Robert

Friday, November 7, 2008

Signs of the Times

Okay, this post has nothing to do with prophecies being fulfilled. I just thought it was a catchy title.Hopefully it will be apparent why.

In 1996, Todd and I took a government class. The teacher offered extra credit for working on a political campaign, but he assigned everyone to Republican candidates because the Democrats did not have an opponent in their primary for Clinton. We were both assigned to the Dole campaign, and because of my background of having worked on several campaigns before, I became the point man for the group. That was how I got the job of putting out one hundred signs all over the county.

We first went to the people who had actually requested them and put them in yards. We didn't always take the time to verify the person actually wanted it. After all, we were on a mission.

Once we had been to those homes, we still had dozens of signs to put up. We started at major intersections. Then we went to not-so-major intersections. Finally I ran across two lanes of the busiest street in town (which in the Atlanta area is not a simple task) to nail one in to the grassy median. Todd nearly fell over he was laughing so hard at that one. Still, I enjoyed seeing that sign over the next year (even after the November loss) still standing. No one else was brave enough to go pull it out apparently.

That was one of the most fun times he and I had together in high school. Our clandestine mission was the hit of the class, and we loved imagining where else we might've planted one. Almost every time we put one up we acted like we were going to be arrested and thrown in jail for the night. That probably helped the comedy level.

That was why, when a friend of mine asked me to put out signs the night before the election this year for him, I gladly agreed. I went with another buddy who was helping, and we drove to six polling places all over the county.

The signs now don't require a huge hammer or precise aim (a bad swing meant a cracked post more often than not), just a firm push on the wiry frames. That makes it all the easier to quickly place dozens of signs in a community overnight. This time was just as much fun.

So even though the candidates I helped lost those elections, I will remember them fondly. The memories of camaraderie and friendship, of time spent in a common cause, those will stay with me through the years. That is why I still keep coming back to the game of politics. And hopefully the huge turnout in this election will mean more will come back in the future. Maybe we can all work together, as Americans, to achieve the goal of a better tomorrow.

One yard sign at a time.

-- Robert

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cleaning House

Around this time every year, I spend some time evaluating past due items from drivers to determine whether or not we ever expect to receive payment. The list always reads like High Fidelity - a long line of bad relationships and falling outs. Some drivers had loads go bad and just disappeared. Others got advances from our customers without telling us. Some swore they would repay small loans and never did.

Always, the long unpaid balances are the result of someone failing to make good on a promise. Unfortunately, no press is interested in these cases. No government bailout is coming. No, instead companies like mine are simply forced to absorb such costs of dishonesty as a cost of doing business. Courts (and lawyers) are rarely if ever interested in helping recover these losses. After all, most of the bad debts result from a lack of funds no the part of the borrower. It's microlending gone all wrong. But again, if the government continually teaches people "don't worry, we'll fix it" then why should anyone care about accountability anymore?

I'm not angry, for the record. I'm not even sad. I'm just used to it. That's probably the saddest thing about it. No one should ever have to get used to being taken advantage of or left holding the bill. One joke around here is "I've eaten a lot of food I've never even seen" meaning we have paid for a lot of products that were disposed of.

I take heart in one thing, though. These problems are still the exception. The vast majority of advances are repaid. Loads are hauled and we pay the driver, then get paid ourselves. Short payments are the exception. So I still have hope, and I still have faith in the general honesty of people. After all, I have never laid eyes on the majority of my customers, yet we have a sound relationship of trust based largely on the spoken and written word. The words of people. Individuals. That still means something. So I can live with a few writeoffs.

-- Robert

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Post-Election Day Motivation

Last night was a historic night for the country, but one could easily say that every election is historic. Today we wake up to an America that seems refreshed and perhaps relieved that this arduous journey toward a new Presidential administration is over. There are many things to be fearful of this morning, including the uncertainty of a new direction in government, an economy whose strength seems compromised irrevocably, men and women in harm’s way half across the world and perhaps more frightening, a feeling of cynicism over the ideals that divide Americans never being bridged.

Perhaps five years in state government and twenty-five more being raised in a household full of bureaucrats has left me skeptical, but I reject cynicism at this important time. In my experience, and probably yours, I find that politicians and self-proclaimed leaders come and go. Political parties even rise and fall and the ideals that they supposedly represent will shift with the winds of popular opinion. Campaigns can rile emotions and raise hopes…promises are made and most left unfulfilled. Change is hoped for and springs forth from the lips of candidates and pundits alike. But no President, no leader, no Congress nor any political body can make change. Change happens with us. Only the citizen, the sometimes forgotten, ever-downtrodden remnant of what is good and hopeful in a Republic is the instrument of change.

Change doesn’t occur when inspirational speeches are given or candidates smile toward lifeless cameras. Change occurs when we wake up and choose that today we are going to do better than we did previously. Whatever our role on this earth, change occurs when we decide that we have the ability to improve our own actions before we improve anyone else’s. Casting a ballot is an important and sacred right, but casting a ballot will not feed anyone. Nor will casting a ballot help men and women of all backgrounds and all economic statuses find better opportunities for their families. Casting a ballot only is an expression of support. It must be followed by real meaningful action that supports. When we support one another, when we trust in our heads and hearts to overcome problems, we find that our vote is not the most powerful part of our being as citizens. In fact, our vote pales in comparison to our compassion, our willingness to sacrifice and do what is right. When we put ahead what is right for our community before we focus on what is right for us, we can accomplish good that shines on all.

Today some will celebrate and others might find themselves frustrated and disappointed. Whomever you chose to vote for in whatever political contest, remember this…There are people suffering today. There are people hurting. There are people who do not share our hope, only our fear. There are people whose governments have abandoned them, and whose loved ones find themselves helpless to protect and nurture them. If we fail to help those individuals both within and outside our own borders, what good can we say we’ve done? When we place again our ambitions on a pedestal and our hopes in a locked closet, there will come a day when there is no sunrise for this world, only darkness.

Today take that step, and make that choice. Only those that decide to do better, to do good, to make the extra effort will provide change enough to lead us from our despair. There will always be challenges, and there will always be fear, but it is not words that cast out darkness. Only the firmness of an outstretched hand and the purity of work—those tiny measures of hope in action that renew our spirits and send us forward into the future with heads held high.

A Better Way to Work Together

This post is inspired by Natasha's post on why socialist government policies make sense to her. She compares a socialist system of government to living what our church calls the Law of Consecration. In simple terms, the Law of Consecration calls on everyone in a community to pool their resources and only take back what is needed to live. At present, the General Authorities of our church who are called to full-time service consecrate their wealth and receive back a simple stipend to live on, but the church at large is not expressly living this idea.

I have a problem thinking of tax dollars to the government in the same way as the law of consecration because the government does a lot to 1) waste that money on bureacracy the while the Church does not (no one in the church is paid out of church funds), 2) use that money to fight against things I believe in (keeping religion out of public life and keeping abortion legal, for example), and 3) inflate the costs of things by those taxes thereby harming the poor they are supposedly trying to help (corporate taxes represent inflation, as do other taxes charged on goods and services in a way).

So no, I don't agree with the comparison. I would have no problem whatsoever living with the Law of Consecration with church leaders administering the funds. I have worked in a branch presidency and know how carefully funds are given out, and I have visited and loved Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake. I do not begrudge one dime I have given to the Church to support those programs, even if they might help people on drugs.

One other problem: yes, teach a man to fish. Government policies in this country for decades made it harder for people on welfare if they got a job by reducing the welfare allotment by more than the job made up. That is teaching a man to hold out his hand, and to break his fishing rod (to use the analogy). Imagine how much more effectively welfare funds could be used if those on it were put into a system like the Law of Consecration - some funds would go to caretakers who watched the children (and that could be a rotating responsibility so the rest could be accomplished), some would go to offer training on job skills, and some would go to provide necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. Again, I look to how the Church manages these ideas and I definitely see an improvement over the government system.

Here's an idea along the lines of another post I wrote about health care: the government could remove all tax-related costs from goods and services paid for out of welfare or social security funds. A doctor would not pay taxes on health care provided. A store selling groceries would be able to make a small profit above the actual cost of the products and pay no sales or income tax on those items purchased. The Church (as a comparison) produces as many goods as possible and takes no profit on their sale to people so funds are not being expended on taxes (Many people in the Church donate their time and thereby reduce the money spent helping the poor - but that is an aside). Only goods that cannot be produced less expensively are purchased to help out the poor.

So reviewing: I do not agree that a socialist government compares at all to the Law of Consecration, at leas not favorably. It could, and I would be interested in seeing such a thing happen. I am not opposed to helping those less fortunate than myself. I love to help people through difficult times. I do believe, though, that the Church (and the teachings of the gospel) calls upon people to help themselves whenever possible, and those who have enough to help those who simply cannot help themselves or who need some help in difficult circumstances. There are wonderful blessings that come from helping others. I just do not agree that the government is the best conduit for accomplishing that goal.

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tomorrow is Another Day

This election, barring a change, every single person I voted for has lost but one, and that one was my least favorite candidate to elect.

My hope is this election will wake up the Republican Party and help it realize it desperately needs to return to its true conservative roots.

Congratulations to all those who wanted to see the first president of non-white persuasion elected. Now we can finally quit talking about it.

I really can't write much more. McCain was never my candidate of choice. He was my default. I will be spending a lot of time praying for the country in the next few weeks, months, and years. I did point out to my wife it'll be nice that the benefits Obama plans to give will actually help us because we'll be living in abject poverty for his entire term. So we've got that going for us.

Good night, America. Tomorrow is another day.

-- Robert

Monday, November 3, 2008

Waiting Made Easier

There are still months between now and the eventual decisions of the various schools where I applied to pursue my doctorate. In the meantime, waiting makes time seem to crawl.

Today, though, I got a reminder of the fascinating world I wish to join. The Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management sent out an email notifying me of their new website. On the site I see links explaining the division and its goals, links to research, links for Ph.D. students (which will be even more valuable next year and beyond), ideas about teaching, and other resources.

Thanks to my wonderful professor suggesting I go to the conference in Anaheim, I have this continuing stream of information from the Academy that has helped me begin to know what my future might be like. I have received copies of the various journals being published, emails about the online archives, and communications from the leadership about the conference next year. It helps me know about the community I hope to be a part of in the future.

I'm just glad to have a reminder that I'm not in a waking dream. I really have sent off my applications. I really am going to go back. It's thrilling and terrifying in the same moment. Most of all, I'm looking forward to see where it takes me. I know my family would love to know the specifics of "where" soon, too.