Commemorating my health

A few years ago, we had a load of mulch brought to our yard by All About Trees. It was around 7-8 cubic yards and I struggled to spread it to the flower beds. I could do 5-8 wheelbarrow loads in a session and I’d be wiped out. Filling the wheelbarrow was hard. Pushing it was hard. Dumping and spreading mulch was hard. I could handle 20-30 minutes at a time and then have to be done doing anything for the rest of the day.

Last month, we had 7 cubic yards of mulch delivered by McMullen and I’ve been shifting a lot of it. Some evenings, I’d do it between 7 and 8 pm and be done, but that was after a long day. On a weekend, I’d shift 20+ barrows in a day and continue being active. On Monday of this week, I:

  • Finished distributing the mulch (around 12 wheelbarrow loads I think).
  • Painted our metal outdoor furniture.
  • Spread grass seed and watered it.
  • (Mostly) finished deep-cleaning our house because we’re moving the cats outside because Isaac is allergic to them.

All told, it was around 7 hours of work after two days of doing a lot of other work. I was hitting my 10,000 steps by 10 or 11 am each day of the long (Memorial Day) weekend.

And then today, I had a stressful morning and decided to take a break to row. I haven’t rowed in weeks because I’ve been so busy with other stuff, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to resume the Pete Plan where I left off. But I rowed 7000 meters in 31 minutes with my heart rate in zone 5 for the majority of the time. I rocked it.

My weight has been up since Willow got really sick. Food is my comfort in the midst of stress, and I’m up around 15 lbs. right now and have been for months. I don’t like how I look and I’ve been wearing larger, looser shirts because I’m insecure about the extra couple of inches I have right now. But I think I’m more fit than I’ve ever been. I’ve got stamina and strength that I didn’t have years ago when I weighed more. And I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m pulling out of this period and will be able to start getting my weight and eating back under control again.

When meeting with my counselor last week, she advised that I focus on gratitude and start writing about it. This was in regards to some people we were talking about, but I’ve also been thinking about it in regards to my body. Rather than eat to feel better, maybe I could think about how I’m grateful for my body and what I can do, and focus on how I want to feel physically and what I want to be capable of doing in the future.

This morning was pretty stressful, and I was very tempted to go to the bakery. If it hadn’t been raining, I would have walked there and gotten coffee and a scone. But since it was raining and I didn’t want to go outside, it made me pause and think, and I decided to exercise instead. I need to start doing that more. I hope continuing to try and focus on gratitude will help me make that decision more frequently.

My dog Willow has died

Willow was a good dog. We adopted her from the Humane Society in 2011 at the age of 4. I had been wanting a dog for years, but I was working ridiculous hours at the university and taking night classes. It wouldn’t be fair to have a dog stuck at home when I was on-campus for 10-12 hours a day.

She joined our family the day after I graduated with my BA.

Her name had been Tarheel, and it seemed to me like she hadn’t been well-socialized with other dogs. She was small for a Labrador Retriever, and I suspected she had been kept in a run because, when let loose in our backyard, she would just run back and forth in a straight line.

But she bonded with me immediately. She was my constant companion, rarely even tolerating being in a different room from me. I spent months working with her and other dogs, and she got better and better. She lived to love me and to make me happy, and I never felt like I quite deserved it.

She had two nicknames:

  1. Widdershins, because for the longest time she would spin in circles whenever excited for dinner, or excited about anything else, but would only spin counterclockwise. Willow Widdershins Stublefield.
  2. Triangle-Ears because her ears would perk up whenever she thought food or anything else interesting was available.

She didn’t mind the cats at all. Eventually, they came to tolerate her.

She was definitely my dog. She liked everyone, but I was the one she followed and obeyed. For the last 6 and a half years, I have been working from home and she has been my co-worker every day, on the sofa in my office right next to me. For 10 years, she has slept on the floor next to the bed, right beside me.

I was hers and she was mine. But she liked April too.

She generally pretended like our kids didn’t exist. If they were between me and her, she would go right through or over them if we weren’t careful.

She lived 13.5 years. On the way home from the vet, who diagnosed her with kidney disease, I checked online and learned that labs typically live 10-12 years. In dog years, I think that means she was 94.

I think we gave her a good life. I know she made my life better.

I cried so hard at the vet. I knew when we adopted her that this day would come. I’ve been prepared to mourn her since that first day. But it was still hard, so very hard, and I wept on the floor in the vet’s office while holding her.

I’m crying now.

I’m going to be expecting to see her come around a corner in our house for days, maybe weeks. I keep expecting to feel her nudge my hand or put a paw on my leg.

She was such a good dog.

I’ll miss you Willow. I love you. Thank you for being my friend.

My Uncle Dave has died and I have some complex feelings about it

My Uncle Dave lived in Arkansas, and when I was young (starting in 4th or 5th grade, probably… maybe 6th, I don’t recall), we began visiting his family almost every weekend. By junior high, I would also spend a week or two at their house in the summer without my parents there. I spent a lot of time at their home, hiking through their woods, swimming in their pool, eating their food, playing video games with my cousin Neil, teasing and getting teased by my cousin Charelle, and just being a part of their family.

Uncle Dave was an alcoholic and a drug user. I’m pretty sure he was abusive towards Neil. At least, that would explain the anger issues that Neil had that prompted him to try and murder me most weekends when we visited.

I never experienced peer pressure from my schoolmates. Dave was the first to try and make me drink beer, and once when I continued to refuse he just poured his can over my head while cursing and yelling at me.

One summer, my cousin Neil and I accidentally lit a field on fire with some bottle rockets. It was state land, and we were terrified that we would be arrested and our lives were over. Dave called the fire department and covered for us. We didn’t get in trouble at all. Neil bought me a sports drink at the corner shop (which was actually a mile or two away at the end of a dirt road) and we were allies for a day.

After my parents got divorced (I was around 12 years old and in 6th or 7th grade), I never heard again from my dad’s side of the family. I haven’t seen Dave, his (now ex-)wife, or my cousins since before my parents got divorced. I did get Charelle’s phone number so I could invite her to our wedding in 2008 because she was always kind to me, but she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t be there, and that was the last we spoke.

I don’t entirely know how I feel about Dave dying. It was inevitable, really. My dad said he had a heart attack, but I know he was still abusing drugs so that likely shortened his life.

He wasn’t a bad uncle to me, all things considered. He taught me how to split firewood and how to skin a deer. How to dispose of the guts of deer and turkey. How to fish, how to clean them, and how to smoke salmon and trout. One of our main sources of meat, when I was growing up, was hunting on his land.

I can’t miss him because I haven’t had a relationship with him for almost 25 years at this point. But my inability to fully parse my feelings is what indicates that my feelings are complex. I have so few ties to my childhood and to my past, and one more is gone I suppose. But it has actually been gone for a long time. Really, I can’t be certain how much of a relationship was ever there.

For a few minutes, I considered attending the memorial. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how I would react to seeing my cousin Neil again who inflicted so much torment and pain on me that I nearly committed suicide the night before having to visit my uncle and his family for yet another weekend. At this point, I think I have enough distance and enough of the Holy Spirit that I can extend grace even if I’m still working on full forgiveness. As for my uncle, it’s not like the death of a stranger. I knew him, and he played a large role in my childhood. Not an altogether positive one, but there are worse stories than mine, and so I don’t feel like I can be too upset about it all.

He is gone. He wasn’t all bad. I hope that others will be better, and I know that I will be. Dave is one of my inspirations for fatherhood and for being a good husband because he modeled what one oughtn’t do. I do believe that he loved, but I also know that he was broken and drug-addled.

Goodbye, Uncle Dave.

Why you (probably) shouldn’t pay off your mortgage early

Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a CFP, fiduciary, CPA, or lawyer. I cannot be held liable for any investment or financial management decisions you make based on my blog rambling.

For me, a mortgage comes with a heavy emotional weight. When I was young, my family went through bankruptcy and we were afraid that we’d lose our house. I remember my mom talking about it a lot, and I was pretty scared of what bankruptcy was going to lead to for us. We were going to be living in our car? But no, my mom was worried we’d lose the car too. What then?!

That’s neither here nor there. Suffice it to say, when we bought our first house, I wanted to pay it off ASAP. The best we could do then was an extra $100/month, which on a 30-year mortgage typically reduces your payoff schedule by 11 years! So we’d pay it off in 19 years instead of 30.

When we sold that house 6 years later and bought our new one, I was… what, 29? Almost 30. And I was looking at our 30-year mortgage and thinking we could pay it off by the time I was 40. Score!

But I was also starting to learn more about personal finance around that time. And over the next 2-3 years, I would start budgeting better and investing more to build our retirement savings. It became increasingly clear to me that paying off our 3.875% mortgage didn’t make much sense when I could put that same money into the stock market for an inflation-adjusted return of 7% compounded over the next 20 years. (And if we just look at the last few years, I’ve been getting more like 15% per annum.)

Then coronavirus came and interest rates fell through the floor. In 2020, we refinanced our house and took cash out of our equity for home improvement projects. We switched from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year, our monthly payment went up by ~$400, our interest rate dropped to 2.875%, and our total savings on interest will be over $25,000 compared to the 30-year, even with the increased debt from the cash-out refi. We’ll also pay off our mortgage several years sooner than we’d originally anticipated.

I just checked and we could throw everything “extra” at the mortgage and pay it off in 4.5 years. By extra, I mean reducing retirement investments and not going on vacation ever and maintaining a gazelle-like focus on paying off the mortgage. For the sake of clarity, our mortgage balance is currently $142,998.96.

Given the short time-frame, you should use 10% in a compound interest calculator to compare against investing in indexes. 4-5 years is a bit short for averaging index returns, but this is all hypothetical, so let’s not worry about it. Investing everything that we might throw at the mortgage in 5 years only returns $139,196. That’s $3,802 less than paying off the mortgage. So it makes more sense to pay off the mortgage, right? Nope.

Two reasons:

  1. The money put into the mortgage is illiquid. If we have an emergency or need cash for some reason, I can pull contributions from the Roth IRA with no penalty, or even take a loan from our 401k. With the money tied up in the mortgage, I might be able to get a HELOC or another cash-out refinance, but there’s no guarantee of that.
  2. While my end-balance when investing might be at, or even below, $139k, that money will continue being compounded past year 5. If I pay off the mortgage, then my cash flow has increased beginning in year 5 or 6, which means I can put more money into investing… but I’ve lost 5 years of tax-advantaged 401k and IRA contributions, and then 15+ more years of those contributions compounding. That’s a HUGE impact long-term.

You can’t just compare mortgage pay-off vs. investment return during the same time frame. Instead, you have to look at the long-term impact.

And for us, we can split the difference. We refinanced to a 15-year loan, so we’ll pay it off faster than our original 19-year plan. And we lowered our interest rate.

We can’t invest as much as we would if our mortgage was paid off right now, but by investing during these next 5 years while paying on the mortgage, and over the total 15-year period… This is very back-of-the-napkin made-up math at this point, but I’d put the end result of “slowly” paying off the mortgage over 15 years while investing for our retirement at:

  • Mortgage is paid off
  • $663,406 in investment accounts

Alternatively, we could pay off the mortgage in 5 years, then start investing. After 15 years, we’d be at:

  • Mortgage is paid off
  • $477,496 in investment accounts

Those 5 years of investing while paying off the mortgage more slowly (over 15 years total) make a significant difference in our investment balance.

You can see this comparison easily yourself by going to https://www.investor.gov/financial-tools-calculators/calculators/compound-interest-calculator and put in the amount you can invest for retirement right now for the duration of your mortgage (15, 30, 20, whatever). 7% is a good estimated rate of return over longer timeframes because indexes tend to average 10%, less 3% average inflation rate. The number you’ll get is present value, not future value.

Then, run it again but add your mortgage payment (just the mortgage, not taxes + insurance) to the monthly contribution amount and change the length of time. For me, my first calculation is 15 years, and the second is 10.

So, generally speaking, no, you shouldn’t prioritize paying off your mortgage. I would add, though, that is only true if your interest rate is below ~5%. And if it’s not, you should see if you can refinance and lower your rate. We used RocketMortgage and it was a great experience.

It has taken me a couple of years to set aside my emotions on this. It was really hard for me. But a lot of fiddling with undebt.it and YNAB and spreadsheets and my mortgage lender’s amortization calculators helped me see that paying off the mortgage early is purely an emotional decision and not a good financial one. There’s almost no situation in which paying off the mortgage early makes sense for us. I’d wager that it doesn’t make good financial sense for most people.

If we somehow hit our first FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) goal (3.25% SWR with $50,000/year) before our mortgage is paid off, then I may reduce investments and pay off the mortgage a bit sooner just to lock FI status in, since I can’t RE with a mortgage payment. Even then, I would recognize that paying off the mortgage is more of an emotional than a financial decision.

And that’s OK. The most important thing is that you’re able to sleep at night. I can now, but I used to really stress about this stuff. If your mortgage keeps you up, then pay it off sooner. But know that long-term it’s going to cost you a lot.

2020 Reflections

At the beginning of 2020, or the end of 2019, I decided that my blog going forward would be written to my future self. And I’ve had a tradition, maintained pretty regularly over the last decade, of writing a year in review. Some years, it’s comprehensive and I write about my job, our church, our finances, my education, our family, etc. Some years, it’s brief.

2020 contained so much, and yet this blog will be quite brief. We did indeed have a lot happen in 2020, and for us, much of it was pretty good. Financially, we’ve made wise choices and are doing well. Isaac was born. I achieved some big goals at work and am optimistic that 2021 will be a really great year for me and my teams at Adaptavist. Our church is thriving despite us not meeting in person since March 2020. April and I read through the Bible last year, and are doing it again in 2021, and we both feel like our relationships with God have grown. Biden won the election and Trump may finally be held accountable for his crimes.

But I can’t bring myself to take an hour or two looking back over 2020 and writing. I want to look forward. I have a baby to snuggle with and a toddler to play with. I want to finish building our new playground this morning. We should take a walk to the coffee shop to get more beans. I’ve got another few chapters of Job to listen to today. I want to take this weekend to let my brain rest, and then Monday I dive into a new task at work that I’m excited about and I think will be really good for my teams.

The Lord is our God, The Lord is one. I pray that 2021 surprises us with goodness.

Graduated from Vision Therapy

I wanted to record here that I have finished vision therapy.

A few years ago, an optometrist observed that my left eye had a problem: it turned off. He was flipping the lenses and asking “better or worse?” and each time I said there was no change. My left eye wasn’t transmitting anything to my brain. Or rather, my brain had turned my left eye off.

He said it was because my old prescription was way off for my left eye, and that once we fixed the prescription, it should work itself out and be fine.

2-3 years later, it wasn’t fine. It was getting a bit worse. So I asked my optometrist what could be done and he recommended that I talk with a vision therapist. I gave them a call in the spring of 2018 and chatted over the phone enough to learn that:

  1. Going in for an assessment would cost me a couple hundred bucks.
  2. Once the assessment was done, I’d immediately need to start therapy, otherwise they’d just have to do a new assessment later.
  3. Therapy was expensive and I could expect it to cost $3-6000 depending on how long I had to go.

I couldn’t swing that in 2018, so I started saving, and then setup an FSA at work, and went in for an assessment in the spring of 2020.

My left eye was diagnosed with intermittent exotropia, which means it drifted to the left, but only sometimes. And that drift was happening because my brain was turning it off. I began doing therapy at the optometrist for an hour a week, and I was supposed to do it at home 3-4 times a week. I did alright at the beginning, but quickly my home therapy dwindled until I was doing almost nothing for the last few months. I would blame it on the new baby, except I wasn’t doing much home therapy before Isaac came along.

Despite my lack of work at home, my vision continued to improve. I had exercises and tests and did all kinds of things to improve my muscle control of my eyes, my focusing system, and my ability to process input from both eyes at the same time. That last was surprisingly difficult and exhausting at first.

Each set of therapy sessions was 12 weeks long followed by an assessment, and yesterday I had my third assessment (if you include that first one). After 27 weeks total, I graduated from vision therapy with a clean bill of health. I exceeded all of the tests they had, went as far as their machines can assess, and am doing great!

My left eye will still drift on occasion, but it never turns off, and I can both tell when it’s drifting and I can move it back into alignment. I can consciously keep it solid and forward 100% of the time now.

They recommended I still do one of my therapy exercises 1-2 times a week to maintain my processing, and I have appointments in 1, 3, and 6 months to check in and make sure there is no regression. But I doubt there will be given the huge improvements I have experienced in the last few months despite little at-home effort. So much of the therapy was learning the feel of my eye muscles and how to control them, and now that I have that, I don’t think I’ll lose it. The doctor echoed that and said that the vast majority of people never need to return for more therapy.

So I’m excited to be better, but I’m also a little sad. I started vision therapy after the pandemic got bad, and meeting with the three women at Vision Clinic who conducted my therapy every week has been one of my only social outings and connections. I spent over half of 2020 seeing them every week, and now it’s over except for the follow-up check-ins.

In response to the 2020 US Election: The Word of the Lord

Wednesday morning around 4:30 am, I began to pray. I think Biden was technically ahead in the popular vote at the time, but over 65 million people had cast votes for Trump. One comment on Reddit summed up my feelings perfectly: my heart is broken.

Donald Trump is demonstrably evil. He created a policy to separate children from their parents and put them into concentration camps. He undermined our education system. His actions contributed to the death of over 230,000 Americans and counting. It seems likely that he has raped multiple women and gotten away with it. He has denigrated our military, our veterans, our teachers, our healthcare workers, the fourth estate, and pretty much everyone but himself. He abandoned our allies in the Middle East and left them to be slaughtered. He has demonstrated a level of sexism and racism that has made us numb to it. He ordered a physical attack on a church for a photo op. He encourages and aligns with white supremacists. He is a fascist who has sided with evil leaders in other countries while spurning both our allies and US intelligence agencies.

And as of this writing, we know that over 70 million Americans voted for him.

Heartbroken and confused, I began to pray. God, I asked, why is this happening? Is the USA under the sway of a fallen angel, one of those powers and principalities against which we must pray? Have you ordained the fall of the USA? Or is this just human sin and evil made manifest? The stories in the Old Testament give us lots of examples of what happens to a nation that has a sinful leader who is not following God. The wages of sin is death.

I prayed and I listened for God’s still, small voice. And what I heard was:

Seek first the kingdom of God. I, the Lord your God, will provide for and watch over you. Serve the Lord by leading your family and serving them. Serve the Lord by serving in your community and helping people. Take up your cross daily and remain faithful.

It doesn’t matter who wins, God says. Whether it’s Trump or Biden, you must serve me, and serve your family, and serve your neighbors. Whether it’s Trump or Biden, remain in me and I will be faithful to you.

There is work for me to do no matter who is president. Biden getting elected doesn’t absolve me of my responsibilities. I don’t get to stop advocating for good and leave it to the Democrats. It doesn’t make my work easier or my yoke lighter. Only the Lord can do that.

I am glad that Biden won the election, but this has given me a new perspective. I’m probably going to follow politics and news and other things a bit less. I’ll continue donating money to causes and organizations I believe in, and voting for good and against evil, but I need to spend less energy thinking and worrying about national and international politics.

I need to spend more time in the Word, more time praying for our leaders, and more time learning from God how I can best serve my family and my community.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Focus and visualization

I learned something interesting about myself in vision therapy this week.

I haven’t written about vision therapy here, so for those of you who don’t know, my left eye is intermittent exotropic. That means that sometimes, but not all the time, it drifts to the outside. And when this happens, my left eye turns off–I don’t see anything from it. This isn’t a problem with my eye, but with my brain. My brain is stopping using my eye, so it turns off and drifts, and this impacts my binocular vision, often without me realizing it. I don’t know that it’s turned off and I’m just seeing from my right eye. When my left eye is partially working, I have double vision.

I have been in therapy for it now for around 14 weeks, with another 20 weeks or so to go hopefully. One thing I learned a couple of months ago is that I don’t trust my vision as much as my other senses. Because I have had this problem since I was a kid, I have learned to compensate for it. Hearing and touch are my two primary means of compensating, and that’s evident in a few different ways. For example, I learned to play violin more by listening than by reading music, and I learned to touch-type rather than ever looking at the keyboard.

But this week taught me something new. We did an exercise where there were two pieces of paper, one on the wall and a smaller duplicate in my hands. The paper had coordinates around the edge using letters and numbers like the game Battleship. The therapist would call out a coordinate and I had to find the letter and say it. She’d call out a second coordinate and I had to look to the other piece of paper (wall or hand) and say it. I then had to remember all these letters as she went, and at the end say the word that was spelled.

There are a few different things addressed with this exercise. It’s making me focus near and far, back and forth. It’s requiring me to first find coordinates then to trace a line (horizontally and vertically) to find the letter. And it’s requiring me to put the word together. She encouraged me to visualize the letters and then visualize what they were spelling.

I really struggled with that last goal. Instead, I memorized the letters as I went because that’s how I was taught to spell. I memorized word spelling, and if there was a word I struggled with, I wrote it hundreds of times until I had it down. I am generally good at remembering spelling now for many words.

In this case, it made the exercise much harder because I naturally try to remember the letters and put them together, but I couldn’t differentiate between the letters and the coordinates. I memorized all of them. But because they were mixed together (two coordinates, then letter, then two coordinates, then letter, etc.), it made it more challenging to get the word. And as the words got longer, it became really hard. We stopped at six letters, by which point “flower” became “glewer” because I had substituted some coordinate letters for the word letters.

Visualization was hard in this context. What’s interesting to me about this is that I am able to visualize very well in other contexts. I read a lot, and when I read a good book, I became imaginatively immersed in it. I fully see the setting, the characters, and what’s happening as if I am there or as if I’m watching it on an IMAX screen. Also notable is that I read pretty fast, but without skimming (or skipping): I’m getting the words, but I’m diving into the scene. When I really get into the flow, I’m not even necessarily noting the individual words, but rather the scene that they’re constructing: I’m putting the sentences and paragraphs together.

This dovetails with another exercise I am doing: reading with a red/green bar screen on my Kindle and red/green glasses. I keep the green lens over my left eye, and as a result, the green bars are very hard to see through while the red are mostly transparent. This will help me develop binocular vision where both eyes are active at the same time, and my brain will learn to receive input from both eyes simultaneously and process it.

What ends up happening is that I’m focusing really hard on individual words and reading quite a bit more slowly, and the green bars continue to be pretty dark. It’s almost impossible for me to get into the scene. If I close my right eye, though, the green bars practically disappear, similar to how the red bars are all the time.

I began to wonder this morning if the problem is that I’m naturally too focused on the individual words. That is to say, maybe I’m focusing too much on those individual letters and words instead of widening my focus and seeing the whole page at the same time.

This is another thing I have been learning through vision therapy, and which my last assessment demonstrated I am improving on: widening my perspective. I have learned to compensate for my lazy eye by forcing myself to focus really hard on one point. When that happens, only one of my eyes is typically active, which is not ideal. I need to learn how to use both of my eyes, see both the point in space I’m looking at while also being aware of everything around, ahead of, and behind that point, and see the point clearly. I think this is easy for many people, but it’s quite challenging for me.

There is a psychological aspect to this therapy in addition to the physical. I am having to learn to trust my vision at least as much as I trust my other senses, which is surprisingly hard for me. My vision hasn’t been reliable almost my entire life. It’s like asking me to trust a person who hasn’t been reliable, and that’s hard. And this concept of widening my perspective so I can see the whole instead of a single point also seems to have some psychological aspects to it.

I was working hard this morning with the bar screen to not try and read the words for now, but just to keep both eyes active, keep them looking at the overall screen, and try to get both the red and green bars to be transparent. I didn’t get there, and it kind of made me nauseous. What’s happening is my left eye is turning on and off rapidly, and while I don’t perceive much change in my vision while that happens, it shifts focus and distance perception very slightly and very quickly. Think of it like putting on 3D glasses and having the 3D screen do a strobe effect of turning the 3D effects on and off, but probably a bit less dramatic because my brain is struggling to process it.

Which is really the crux of the matter: my brain is getting overwhelmed with the processing. Like any muscle, I can develop and improve this. It has been done before, and I will do it also. But like most exercise, it is hard and takes time.

I have already showed a lot of improvement. In many areas, I went from outside the desired norms to having normal vision and function, so that’s pretty cool. My drawing is a bit better. I noticed a few weeks ago when we were at a park that I’m better able to watch Simon and also appreciate everything around us–I’m seeing the foreground and background of the point at which I’m looking more than I was before.

But I’m also reflecting on what this says about me as a person beyond what’s going on with my vision. The way I absorb letters to construct words, and the way I put together words into a sentence, and the way I combine words and sentences into meaning… I feel like that hints at something about how I perceive and interact with the world. It likely says something about how I approach my work.

I don’t yet know exactly what it says. This light bulb just started to come on and I wanted to write it down so I could reflect more on it later. But I sense that there’s more to this, and I think understanding it will help me improve both my physical vision and my mental and imaginative vision.

Deliberately starting a new chapter

I have been looking forward to October 1 for a while now.

Our second child is due in 5 weeks. That’s crazy exciting, and I want to be ready for it. We’re also about 5 weeks away from the election. That’s exciting in a whole different way.

October 1 is my date this year to make some changes as we prepare for the big changes ahead.

Keto

To ensure I have enough energy for a toddler plus a newborn plus helping my wife out, I am going back onto a keto diet. This will also help me hit my second goal weight, which I’ve been putting off pursuing for a while. Rice and ice cream are so good! But a few months of keto will get me to where I want to be.

  • Starting weight: 198.8 lbs.
  • Current weight: 198.8 lbs.
  • Goal weight: 170 lbs.

For those of you who recall my last keto diet, I dropped from 240 lbs. to 190 lbs. I’ve been at 195 +/- 4 since then (around 1.5 years now, I think).

I expect to do this through the end of January, though if I hit my goal weight earlier, and if our sleep schedule is getting back to normal, I may end it early.

Social Media

With the election approaching, social media is more stressful than ever. We’re planning to vote absentee in-person tomorrow, and I plan to avoid Facebook and Reddit at least through the election and probably until after our baby is born.

I want to be focused on positive things and reserve my energy for my family. If you need to reach me, you can email, text, or call.

As an alternative to Facebook and Reddit, I’ve been reading a lot more. I carry my Kindle around and I’ve been checking out ebooks from the Library. I think this makes me a happier person, and it’s helping balance out other stressful areas of my life.

Outdoor Improvements

I also want to record here that we’re making a bit of progress on our outdoor work. Not that I have done anything, but I had a landscape company out today to look at things and start working on estimates, and I have an estimate (but not a bid, yet) for the patio roof. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can have the patio and other hardscaping done by February. We might be able to build the playground before then.

I suspect the patio roof would then be in April or May.

Work

And last but not least, a quick update on work since that was the top subject of my last blog post.

I got pretty down early last week. I’m struggling with burn-out. There’s a lot of pushing a boulder up a hill and trying to balance too many spinning plates, if I can mix my visual metaphors.

So last week I went for a walk and really confronted my challenges, and I asked myself, “What would it look like for things to be better? What do you need to have happen for that?”

I had some ideas, and I started pursuing them. And just a week and a half later, I’m feeling quite a bit better. I can’t express how great it is to work for a company that is generally supportive and invests in its employees. When I say, “To get from here to there, we need to do X,” often the response is, “OK, let’s do it.” I’m not told to just figure it out without X.

For my British colleagues, I don’t think they understand how rare that support is. At many American companies, if I said I was getting burnt out and we need to do X, the take-away would be that I can’t do my job so they probably ought to not promote me ever and potentially sideline or fire me. Adaptavist has a vision and pursues long-term gain. That’s why we succeed.

A long overdue, and subsequently brief(ish), update post

My last post was in June, and I haven’t written about the pandemic or anything else really going on in my life these days. Future-me might want to be reminded of some things, so here goes.

Work

I have 8 jobs, Bob. 8!

Right now, my focus is split between:

  1. Head of Education (developing and managing strategy for the Adaptavist product portfolio)
  2. Product manager for Learn for Jira
  3. Support person for Learn for Jira
  4. Lead for the Adaptavist Learn content team
  5. Education team personnel manager (5 direct reports and 5 indirect reports)
  6. Documentation toolsmith (managing the configuration and tooling for Adaptavist product documentation)
  7. Product manager for the Adaptavist Library
  8. Support for the Adaptavist Library

As part of all this, I also handle releases for L4J, work with marketing, meet with every other product manager monthly 1-on-1, work with managers in other teams at Adaptavist, and do a few other things.

Suffice it to say, progress in any one area is pretty slow. Thankfully, we’re getting some more people onto the teams and that will help a lot.

My goal is to have less of my time on the day-to-day, sprint-to-sprint work, and more time focused on 12-18 month strategy and quarterly goals for the 4 teams I work with.

The Library was only added to my portfolio about 4 weeks ago. I am very conscious of the fact that I only have about 2 months before our baby is due to get things solid before I disappear for two months.

I maintain my sanity by trying to stick to only 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. There is an unlimited amount of work for me to do, but I’ll get nothing done if I’m exhausted and burnt out. It’s pretty hard to keep my head above water as it is, and there are some weeks where I fail even if I mostly stick to my 40-hour limit.

But if I can play with Simon for an hour before work, and take off at 5 to have dinner with him and play and put him to bed at 7, then everything else is OK.

Church

We haven’t met in-person since March. In the last 5 months, Simon has gone from falling asleep in my arms during the church service (which is being streamed online) to needing to run and jump and wrestle and eat and then go down for a nap during the church service.

Suffice it to say, I don’t really attend the online church service anymore.

Without in-person church, even over Zoom, I’m actually finding my weekends to be more restful.

April and I have been doing an online Bible study this year. We have a set of chapters for each day (I listen to them, while April prefers to read them), and then a daily podcast. I regularly fall far behind, but I eventually get caught up.

This is my fourth time going through the Bible and I am engaging with it very differently than before. In the past, I would describe my reading of the Bible as more academic. I studied it, and it was interesting, but I didn’t emotionally connect with much of it. Perhaps because I’m listening to it instead of reading, it’s having more of an impact on me. The book of Jeremiah has been heartbreaking.

The podcast is fantastic. April and I are going to subscribe to the Patreon next month to start supporting them because we get so much value out of it.

Right now, listening to that podcast and the Bible app are my church. But they obviously don’t meet the community purposes of the church. I’ve got a pretty big lack of community right now, but I’m not feeling poorly because of that. Turns out, pandemics are less rough on those of us on the far end of introversion.

Pandemic-times

For the first few weeks of quarantining, back in March, I had a lot of anxiety and some depression. After 3 weeks, it became more normal. These days, it’s not usually a big deal at all. But I still struggle with wanting to see people normally, and having to be hyper-aware of (and asking about) other people’s travels and interactions and quarantines.

I’m OK being around (but physically distant) people who are following similar precautions to us. But if I know they’re not being cautious or I don’t know them… here in August, I’ve reached the point of avoiding altogether. Masks are great, and we wear them, but they mostly prevent you from spreading. If other people aren’t following mask best practices, then we’re not protected from them, and that’s no good.

I reckon we have a few more months until a vaccine and anti-virals are out, and then we can move on and return to normal socialness. For now, with a baby due in ~2 months, I’m going to be even more isolated than I have been the last few months.

We’ve been having our groceries delivered, getting take-out once a week, have a plethora of hand sanitizer bottles, several cloth masks each, and are trying to do our best to maintain distance from people.

There are a couple of people I play games with online occasionally. I talk with Jennie on the phone once every month or so. And that’s pretty much it for me.

I’m doing alright, but it sure would be nice to get together with some people and have a beer and talk about stuff without having to sit outside and 6+ feet away from each other.

Volunteering

I joined a professional organization as part of the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield named Club Blue. I actually became the Secretary, and ran a vision/mission workshop, and then wrote the vision and mission statements based on the outcome of that workshop:

Mission

Developing community leaders to serve as ambassadors for the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield.

Vision

We envision an inclusive community of businesses and professionals with inspiring empathy who share a desire to listen, serve, and mentor so that Springfield can better meet the needs of the kids who need us most.

So Club Blue has been a growing part of my community outside of church, and that has been kind of nice. For years, I feel like I have met so many people who only plan to live in Springfield “for another 5 years or so.” I don’t know why it’s always “around 5 years,” but that is often the case.

It’s nice to meet people who are committed to being in Springfield and improving it. And it’s doubly nice that we share the same value and vision for how to make Springfield better: by investing in our young people.

Kids

Simon is 23 months old. Almost 2 years!

And his baby brother will be here in 2 months, give or take.

Every day is awesome. I miss Simon after he goes to bed. I’m a bit sad when I have to work instead of getting to play with him. We have a lot of fun together and I’m just such a fan of him.

I have become one of those people whose pictures on Facebook are mostly of their kid.

I just ordered a Nugget.

Being Simon’s dad is great. I know having a second kid will change this dynamic, but I’m reasonably confident it’s just going to make things even better and it’s so wonderful.

House

A couple of years ago, before Simon was born, we finished the last major renovations needed on our house to make it solid. These were things that aren’t visible but which improve the house dramatically.

At long last, we’re going to start improving things that are visible and make our lives better, but which are less foundational like plumbing or a roof.

Simon loves to be outside, but our yard isn’t really nice for April and me right now. Our plans include tearing out the deck and having a larger covered deck put in, landscaping the flowerbeds with stone (instead of wood mulch) and native plants, adding 1-2 more rain gardens, building a playground for the kids (with rubber mulch below), some stone paths in the backyard, building some garden boxes, and planting a couple of apple trees.

We’ll have seating, and a dining table, and a new grill (turns out, the griddle was a huge mistake and I regret it), and more shade, and it’ll be lovely.

We’re also replacing our 6 ft. privacy fence with a 4 ft. picket fence. After 5+ months of quarantine, we’d like to be more connected to our neighbors, not less.

I want to get a couple of signs. I think this idea is hilarious and April disagrees.

  • For the front of the house, a sign by the door that says, “The Stublefield’s”
  • For the fence by the double gate, a sign that says, “The Stublefields”

Get it? Because the gardens and trees and playground are all part of the Stublefields… fields, eh? get it? get it?!

I love the subtlety of it. April wants “The Stuble Fields” on the fence. She may end up winning this one, but we’ll see.

Finances

To fund the outdoor renovations, I refinanced our house and took cash out of our equity. Turns out our house is worth $40,000 more than when we bought it, and we had paid off a chunk in the last 5 years. Not saying we got anywhere near that amount out, and what we did get in cash isn’t enough to complete all the projects I want to do, but refinancing helped a lot.

It also switched us from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year, decreased our interest rate, and we’re setup to pay off our mortgage 2 years sooner than we were going to with about $25,000 less in total interest paid. So that’s pretty cool.

I would recommend Rocket Mortgage if you’re looking to refinance.

Thanks to YNAB, we’re doing better financially than we ever have before. In the last year, our net worth is up 117% and I think YNAB has played a huge role in that.

Thanks to this Reddit post, I have opened a 529 account for Simon.

Thanks to the magic of investing and compound interest, Simon already has about 5x in college savings than I had when I started college. We’re getting about $1.30 added to every $1 we put in (or to put that another way, we’re getting a multiplier of 2.3x on our investments–by way of example, $100 turns into $230).

I’m working towards retiring early. I don’t know if I’ll actually want to retire, but right now I’m shooting to have enough invested and saved that I could retire around the age of 46, and definitely could by 50. The age of 50 is really what I’m shooting for. By then, kid number 2 will be 15 and Simon will be 17, our house will be paid off (probably for a few years by then), and I’ll have been at Adaptavist for 19 years (which, of course, something might change between now and then… but I certainly wouldn’t mind still being at Adaptavist!).

It’ll be interesting for future-me to read back over this and see if I hit those goals.

Philosophy

Coming out of my Bible studies this year, and having lots of time to reflect, I’ve been ruminating on “the end justifies the means.”

To make a long story short, I increasingly disagree with that statement. When I was younger, I was very utilitarian. These days, I’m leaning much more towards “the means must be justified and just, but I also recognize that humans are terrible at being just or recognizing the difference between unjust and just.”

I’m also trending more towards pacifism. Again, this is a big change from my youth.

I won’t go into more detail here because this blog post is supposed to be concise. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to sit with some beers and talk about my thoughts with some people. Maybe next year.