I just want to brag a bit

We’re about as ready to have a baby as we can be. We’ve actually been preparing in earnest for a few years now, beginning with buying this house and then trading the truck in for a minivan. There were some major renovations that came with the house, such as repairing termite damage to the floor joists and girders, the wall studs and ceiling beams in the front room, some foundation damage from a tree root… and then we had to get a new roof last summer. Oh, and two summers ago I replaced all the power outlets with ones that have covers built-in so kids can’t stick things into them. But this summer has been really baby-inspired.

  • Because the nursery is typically 8-10 degrees colder in the winter, we tore off some drywall with the intent of adding insulation to the exterior wall. It turns out that the wall was insulated, but the termite damage had left a gap between the floor and the wall that went straight into the crawlspace. So we insulated and blocked that up.
  • Put up ceiling fans in the nursery and guest bedroom.
  • We also did some other constructiony things like replacing a rotting wall on the shed, painting the shed, replacing a column on our front porch, and lots and lots of thinning flower bulbs and spreading mulch.
  • April has done a ton of reorganization, cleaning, and furniture assembling (crib, bassinet, shelves, etc.).
  • While exploring the crawlspace to make sure there weren’t any other gaps between the floor and the wall, I found that the ductwork was super damp. The condensation had caused rust, which then led to some small holes in the ductwork. These have now been patched and the ductwork insulated.
  • We had a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to help reduce humidity further and prevent insects from burrowing up into the crawlspace.
  • The vapor barrier (sheets of plastic spread across the ground and up the walls of the crawlspace and the piers supporting the house, then sealed with tape and tacked to the walls) made it evident that pipes were leaking. Turns out our entire plumbing system was close to failing, so we had it replaced. The galvanized steel pipes were so full of rust, and metal chunks were flaking off because of the rust. Now we have pex everywhere.
  • Hopefully, the pex will help prevent our pipes from freezing like they have the last two winters. I’ll also be blocking up our foundation vents properly this winter.
  • After all the construction, we had the ductwork professionally cleaned.
  • Our thermostat went out, but I was able to get it replaced under warranty. This came with an extra room sensor, so we now have a remote thermostat sensor in the nursery. We also have a video baby monitor with three cameras that we can put in different places or travel with.
  • Rugs have been shaken and cleaned, floors have been swept, everything has been washed, etc.
  • April has begun preparing freezer meals so that we have around 2 weeks of food that we can just pop into the instant pot or oven without having to do much prep or thinking.
  • We acquired a deep freeze so we have room for freezer meals, etc.
  • After all the construction, we had the house fully treated (crawlspace, attic, inside, outside) for all manner of insects, but mostly spiders.
  • We’re going to a birthing class on Monday nights that has been tremendously helpful and eye-opening. Tomorrow night, we have a hospital tour. Next week, we’ll install the car seat.
  • Our friends and family have been so generous and we now have enough baby clothes for probably the first year and a half, as well as plenty of cloth diapers.

So much of this was possible because of April’s parents, and between the support of our family and our network of friends (which, again, kudos to April… she does such a good job of making sure we stay connected to people despite my inclination to never leave the house or talk to anybody), we feel ready. We feel secure and supported. We know that we have people to catch us and help us. And we’ve learned so much from everyone.

I want to celebrate this. We did good. I can’t wait to meet our baby. We’re about 4-7 weeks away!

Jesus Christ y’all, the new album from Florence + The Machine is so good

I think it’s just speaking my language, and I want to tell you all about it, but I also want you to discover it by listening to it twice and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The beginning of the album is broken-hearted, and it progresses through hope and on to happiness. And the final song begins a capella with the lines:

And it’s hard to write about being happy
‘Cause all that I get
I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject

And there would be no grand choirs to sing
No chorus could come in
About two people sitting doing nothing

And then I go back to the top of the album and begin again, and I hear:

You were broken-hearted and the world was, too
And I was beginning to lose my grip
And I always held it loosely
But this time I admit
I felt it really start to slip

And choir singing in the street
And I will come to you
To watch the television screen
In your hotel room

I love albums that tell a story, where every song is related, and listening to the album altogether is the best way to hear it.

Florence + The Machine isn’t Christian, but I love her spiritual songs.

Sometimes I think it’s gettin’ better
And then it gets much worse
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Though I know I should know better
Well, I can make this work
Is it just part of the process?
Well, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, it hurts

You need a big god
Big enough to hold your love
You need a big god
Big enough to fill you up

Shower your affection, let it rain on me
And pull down the mountain, drag your cities to the sea, yeah
Shower your affection, let it rain on me
Don’t leave me on this white cliff
Let it slide down to the, slide down to the sea
Slide down to the, slide down to the sea

Listen to it on Google Play Music: https://play.google.com/music/m/Bigmsii2zedk5egwpbb2wkrsroa?t=High_As_Hope_-_Florence__The_Machine

Stepping onto the deck at night

The USA seems to be in a bad place. What we’re doing to immigrant families and their children is horrifying. I’m concerned about the trade wars that Trump is getting us into. I’m pretty well convinced that Trump has colluded with Russia to subvert our democracy, and I think the GOP is complicit and is shirking their duty to uphold the constitution and hold the President accountable.

But each evening, I step out onto the deck with Willow before bed, and I stand in the soft humidity and look up at the stars while crickets converse, and I enjoy the relative quiet. And I think, maybe it’s all terrible, but right now, here in Missouri, maybe it’s OK? Maybe…

I’m not convinced by that “maybe.” I’m still disconcerted. But I can halfway pretend. My conscience won’t let me go entirely, but I can take some solace in the night and lie to myself for just a moment about global warning, and the rising prominence of Xi Jinping, and our president’s abuse of our allies and our citizens.

I wish I could be convinced by the night sky. I wish I could accept the peace of a still, humid evening in the Ozarks and believe that the rest of the world was like this. But we know it’s not. We know that all is not well, and that our leaders are making it worse.

It’s hard to leave the deck. Even a half a morsel of peace is a relief. I wish that I could make everything better so it didn’t feel like such a lie.

I’m not defined by my past

I met a man at church who told me about a motorcycle accident, fractured kneecaps, a fractured elbow, and a broken neck. He was homeless, and these injuries inhibited him from working.

I think he told me these things because they are a core part of his identity.

I have been hurt terribly in the past. And I had a traumatic childhood. I have lately been wrestling with deciding whether or not to write that story. This potential memoir would help communicate my childhood to my own children and maybe help them understand why I have the priorities I have and why I believe what I do.

But the more I think about it, the less certain I am that I should write this. It has been over 16 years since I converted to Christianity. I do not feel near to the person I was 16 years ago. My identity is rooted in who I am today, not who I was back then.

And I often ask myself, “Does this story really need told?” Will it actually help people? I’m not so sure it would.

Heading to San Francisco for a couple of days

I’m still continually surprised by the life I lead. It’s so awesome, and I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve this beautiful house, or April, or our friends, or my awesome job, etc. etc.

God is good. April and I sat in the front room yesterday morning and just looked out the window at the birds for a while, enjoying the peace and each other’s company, and I want to hold onto that memory forever.

I’m heading to SF to spend a day with our CEO, the head of products (my boss), and the head of product marketing to talk about Adaptavist Learn and plan our next steps.

In other news, I’m down to 200 even.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 200.6

For those keeping score, my weight loss has slowed down; that’s only 3 pounds in the last 2 weeks. Now that I’m normal weight, I keep eating non-keto stuff 1-2 times a week, which breaks keto and slows my weight loss. But I feel tons better already, and I still anticipate hitting my goal weight this spring. If I wasn’t going to SF today, I suspect I’d be at 199 by Wednesday. As it is, I’ll probably eat Chinese food and other stuff that will spike me back up and it’ll be another 1-2 weeks.

Oh, one last thing I want to write down so I remember it: last week I volunteered at Campbell Elementary for a STEAM night (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). Kids came and there were 5 rooms with different activities, plus free food for them and their families. Campbell doesn’t have a PTA, so a few area churches have pitched in to fill the role that parents might at other schools.

I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I was surprised by how nice the teachers were. I guess you have to be pretty nice to survive as an elementary school teacher, but for some reason, my mental image of a teacher is: exhausted, burned out, cynical, bitter. I wonder where that comes from? It certainly wasn’t evident at Campell. I didn’t really do much (signed people in at the front door), but I was happy to contribute and I hope I get another opportunity to volunteer there in the future.

Edit: Oh, also, for future-me, this is the week you got a Helix mattress and it’s going pretty OK. It’s comfy but still kind of smells weird. I think we made the right choice getting it.

Reflection on 2017

This year was terrible and disheartening in regards to politics. I spent a good chunk of 2017 disillusioned and unmoored from society. The US presidential election communicated to me that I am what the majority voted against (educated, liberal, wants to provide healthcare and education to people). That’s still there, though the depression from it has lessened.

I also spent the year doing a job I love, and making real progress in several areas of my life. So let’s talk about the good things, and what I can look forward to in 2018.

Jump to the tl;dr if you don’t have time to read all this, which is totally understandable.

Finances

Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant
Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant

Our largest expense this year was paying off my student loans. We’ll never have to do that again. That’s paid for and done. Over. Gone.

  • 23%: Student loan payoff
  • 21%: Tithe to the church
  • 20%: Home mortgage payment
  • 11%: Retirement investment
  • 3%: AT&T? Really? Well, they are our home internet, and we had our mobile phones through them until we switched to Project Fi, so I guess that’s believable… sheesh
  • 3%: Modern Springfield provides furniture delivery from IKEA. I had them delivering for both our home and Adaptavist’s downtown office, so that one isn’t surprising
  • 17%: Everything else

I’m mostly happy about the student loans being gone. I wonder what this chart will look like next year.

It didn’t feel like we had much money this year, despite having a higher income than we’ve ever had. That’s because we had debt I wanted to pay off, and I wanted to start saving for retirement. Every month, any extra cash we’ve had has been thrown at credit cards or medical debt. While we haven’t been able to save hardly anything in terms of cash in an account, our net worth is doing pretty alright.

Graph of net worth by month in 2017
Graph of net worth by month in 2017

Mint hasn’t updated yet, but I paid off our credit cards yesterday, so that little bit of red in December will be gone by January. I’m also going to cancel our Citibank / American Airlines credit card and replace it with an Amazon Prime credit card. No more annual fee, and we’ll get cash back towards all the stuff we get on Amazon.

So 2017 is quite the success story for us from the financial perspective. I started working full-time in January 2007, so almost 11 years ago, and have been very focused on paying off debt, investing in retirement, building up savings, and improving our net worth. This is a stark contrast from my last year working at the university; I joined Adaptavist in October 2014.

Graph of net worth by month in 2014
Graph of net worth by month in 2014

So yeah, less debt, more savings. Nice.

Next up in 2018, we’re replacing our dishwasher! But we’ve decided that, whenever we have large expenses like that, we’re going to save up more than we need. I’m not sure how much more… saving up two times more is unrealistic for large expenses. For instance, in 2019 or 2020 I’d like to replace our fence, and that’ll be $10,000, so saving up $20,000 before we do it is quite a stretch. But I don’t want to save up cash to do something, then spend 100% of our savings as soon as we hit the goal.

I don’t think we’ll reach the point of a proper emergency fund in 2018 (three months of expenses in a savings account), but we’re going to use the credit card a LOT less and try to only spend money that we have.

I’m also going to get a new gaming computer in 2018! Savings for that begins in January and continues through December. Since I’ll be building my own, I’ll likely start doing that before December, but it’ll take until near the end of the year to save up enough. I’m going to get a new desk at home as well; I have enjoyed my standing desk at the office so much that I want to get one at home.

We might also insulate some pipes and a wall in our home. That would be a big project, though probably not terribly expensive… just lots of effort and mess. One of our pipes has frozen two winters in a row, and I can feel condensation build-up on the wall where the pipe is at, which suggests it’s just a bare pipe running through a poorly insulated outer wall right now.

Church and Faith

I didn’t do much in 2017 related to the Church. That is to say, my amount of service went down. I was visiting prisoners for a while, but a new warden reduced the number of visitation days during the week and I couldn’t make it during the remaining days, so I stopped doing that. I’m not preaching at Vineyard anymore because I couldn’t do it frequently enough to practice and get good. It was frustrating to be criticized on my sermons but only get to preach 1-2 times a year, such that I couldn’t really improve. And I’ve been praying with people less too. Every Sunday morning, when people go up for prayer, I ask God if I should pray with them, and 99% of the time He says no. He has someone else to pray with them, or in some cases, He has told me to just worship and be in His presence.

I think it has been restful and healing for me, in a sense. 2017 has been an opportunity to reflect and just… rest. It’s like when you’re feeling under the weather, not terrible just low energy, and you lie in bed all day. You don’t do anything drastic like go to a doctor and get a prescription, or sweat out a fever or some other strenuous sign of healing. You just rest for a while, and then you feel better.

2018 will likely be more of the same. During Advent, I was reflecting on joy and how much I have struggled with the concept of joy for years. Advent was one of those times I was regularly invited to preach, and preaching about something I hadn’t experienced much of was a challenge. My youth didn’t provide many opportunities for joy or hope. To be honest, my approach to hope was less a positive expectation and more a desperate bloody-mindedness. I didn’t wait for a better life to be given to me, I took it.

(As an aside, and because blogs are actually terrible ways to communicate nuance and a comprehensive message, I’m not saying that what I have in this life is by my own works and will. Everything I have, God gave to me. It is by His grace alone that I live. But I also believe that faith without works is dead, and that God wants us to partner with Him, which is to say that we have to be open to opportunities and we have to trust in God and pursue those opportunities if we’re going to succeed.)

2017 was hard in many respects. Politically, it feels like our country is going backwards. April and I experienced miscarriage, and the message during Advent I heard about waiting left me weeping; I’ve been waiting to have kids for 22 years now, and working towards that goal, and it’s hard. Ending every month with no cash in the bank is hard, even though I know it’s because we’re paying off debt and saving up for retirement.

But I also feel like I have come to understand joy and contentment better this year. I am truly hopeful, not just determined and motivated. I am content. I have trusted God in years past, but I feel like I moved to a new level of trust this year. The hard things aren’t as hard as they would have been a few years ago because I have confidence that God is in our corner. He hasn’t changed, I have. And the more I learn about that, the greater my joy because I can see how He has sheltered and provided for me, both materially and emotionally.

2018 will likely be continuing to grow in that area. I don’t think I’m “there” yet, but I think I’m getting there. I look forward to seeing where “there” is and what God calls me to next.

I will be starting one new service thing, which is doing some volunteer work at Campbell Elementary school as part of our church. I don’t know what that’ll look like quite yet, but I hope to start in January/February.

Work

Adaptavist continues to be awesome. I’m still Head of Learning and Development, but in December my group was moved out of Operations and over to Products. My business model better aligns with Products, which has more of an investment focus: you build the thing, then sell the thing, whereas in Operations/Services, you have to get the business then hire the people to deliver the work. Adaptavist Learn is a product, and we’re going to be better able to invest in it as a product now. So that’s pretty exciting.

From left to right: Krista Parker, Ryan Spilken, Matthew Stublefield, Neil Penny, Renee Brown
Adaptavist Learning & Development – December 2017

My current team is traveling to Springfield the second week of January so we can experiment with a new method of course development and try to write an entire course in one week. Then, two new people are joining my team later in January, which is huge. We haven’t hired anyone into L&D since March 2017. I’m hoping we’ll actually hire a couple more people sometime between February and March 2018.

In 2018, I’m looking forward to completing the foundational set of features for Learn, rounding out our course library so we have everything covered that I originally set out to cover, and making some huge improvements to our product documentation.

Health

I have already written extensively about my new dedication to the Keto diet. I surprised my dad recently when I told him that this isn’t just a temporary change to lose weight, but a lifestyle change. I’m in this for the long-haul.

A helpful quote I read recently: what matters isn’t what you eat between Christmas and New Years, but what you eat between New Years and Christmas. I definitely cheated some over Christmas… the first couple of days were OK and I was able to resist, but my mother-in-law’s biscuits and my father-in-law’s chocolate chip cookies were just too much. I couldn’t handle it. And then, when we came home, I had some french fries from Chik-Fil-A, followed by Chinese food for dinner.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 220

Still the same weight I was pre-Christmas, and I’m down 3 pounds since my last blog post after London (18 days ago). Not bad.

I have some additional health goals for January, and the rest of 2018, but I don’t want to write about them. Instead, I’m just going to do them. I’ll tell you all about them later.

Looking forward to 2018

Three years ago, in October 2014, I joined Adaptavist.

Two years ago, in December of 2015, I finished my master’s degree. I still can’t believe I did a master’s. I literally marvel at that on a weekly basis.

Last year, in 2016, I concluded one of my most successful projects at Adaptavist, and then was named Head of Learning and Development.

And in 2017, I paid off debt, began saving for retirement, rested and healed spiritually and emotionally, and finally began losing weight and getting physically healthier.

2018 looks to be better still. We’ll save up some money, make some improvements to our home, get healthier, and be joyful. I expect great things from 2018. Have a happy New Year, everyone.