On 2018

I often do an end-of-the-year blog post in which I reflect on the year that was. These are often very long, and this year I thought about breaking my reflection into multiple blog posts, one per topic area, to make it all a bit easier to digest.

But truth-be-told, I don’t want to. When I was a teenager, or in my early 20s, I blogged incessantly and shared everything with everyone. These days, I just have no interest. If you, the person reading this, and I are close, then you already know everything. If you’re reading this and don’t know, then we’re not close.

And unfortunately, that’s been one of the major challenges with 2018: the number of people I’m close with continues to dwindle. If I’m going to invest my energy sharing thoughts and feelings with someone, I would like that time to contribute towards building a friendship with someone. Blogging doesn’t do that.

I’m not ready to close this down yet. 2019 may bring some interesting things that I’ll want to blog about. But having a purely personal blog is of less and less interest to me.

What can I say about 2018? My job is awesome, my wife and son are awesome, and God is awesome. And I am growing some friendships through our church, which is great. I’m going to try and make some new friends in 2019; if I want to be close with more people, then I need to meet more new people.

I spent 2018 with some great books. I spent time well caring for my wife and now my son. I invested further in our home. I worked hard and continued to build a fantastic team at Adaptavist. I lost 50 pounds of fat. I don’t think I could have spent 2018 much better than I did. It has been a good year.

I think 2019 will be better.

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.

What To Do Next

It’s 2016, which means the annual retrospective has presented itself. I didn’t want it, and it wouldn’t respect my wishes.

2015 was good. I worked at Adaptavist all year and enjoyed it. April and I bought a new house and eventually sold our old one. We traded the truck in for a minivan. I graduated with a master’s degree.

So what should I do next? I know there are a couple of certifications I want to get, and I’m thinking about joining a prison ministry. I’ve got a troublesome client at work who has put us in a situation with no clear path out, and I don’t know what to do there. Our church population continues to dwindle and I’m frustrated with the “strategy” team and the lack of strategizing, or anything, that we do. After a couple of leaks, it has become clear that our house needs a new roof. And a tree needs cut down in our yard. The van needs some work. Taxes need paid. It all takes money, and it takes more in the short-term than we have.

Yesterday I went walking through the nearby cemetery and I thought, “It’s 2016. So what should I do this year to make things better? What can I do differently?”

Nothing. There’s nothing magical about a new year. It doesn’t wipe the slate clean, and it’s not a new beginning. Every day is an opportunity to take another step.

I was reminded of the end of the recent Captain Marvel run.

thenextrightthing

That’s what I’m going to do. Every day. Every moment. I’m going to strive to focus on the next right thing, and I’ll do it.

Preparing for Winter Break 2013

Since I haven’t blogged much this year, it seemed appropriate to me to write a bit of a catch-up post. I’ve also been planning on writing Christmas Letters to send to people, but here we are on the last day of work before Winter Break, and just five days from Christmas, and it seems increasingly unlikely that I will do so.

Continue reading

Funding Arrowhead

The doorbell rang for what seemed like the sixth time in the last few days. Our neighbourhood has been beset by peddlers of APX security systems, who want to give us their security system and put a sign in the yard to advertise it, but the whole thing is an annoying waste of time. We continue to turn them down and I was prepared to do it again.

Rather than a creepy salesguy in a dark blue shirt, I was faced with a short teenage boy with a fine collection of pimples and a lawn mower at rest behind him on the sidewalk.

“I’m a Boy Scout and I’m mowing lawns to raise money for summer camp. I was wondering if I could mow your lawn?” he asked.

I’m always taken aback by things like these, and since I’ve been faced with them so rarely, I have no default response at the ready. I heartily approve of doing work for recompense, rather than begging, and I don’t mind buying candy or popcorn or even magazine subscriptions to help someone out. What’s more, I used to be a Boy Scout myself, and lawn mowing is a fantastic way to raise money compared to many of the alternatives. I wish I’d thought of it when I was younger.

Nevertheless, I hesitated because 1) I was worried about our newly planted trees, still so tiny and fragile, and 2) I felt a bit bad asking him to mow the entire yard, front and back. In addition, I had planned to mow it myself tomorrow night.

But the kid only asked $15 for the yard (I charged at least $20 when I was his age), and it’s not like I wanted to mow the yard tomorrow, so after pointing out the trees three times I agreed. I didn’t tell him about the back.

He did it all and I wrote him a check for $20. Wishing him good luck, I started to close the door as he jogged down the path from our door, back to the sidewalk, but I caught myself and ducked back outside.

“Are you going to Arrowhead?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied with a grin.

“Have a good time!” I said, smiling equally though I wasn’t quite sure why.

I hope he has a great time, and I really like that he’s out earning his way, but Arrowhead holds few fond memories for me. I like camping alright, I suppose, and I did well at the different tests/badges/whatever-they’re-called. But I was homesick, and the heat has never agreed with me, and I really appreciate a proper lavatory. I can’t recall if I just went the once or if I camped there multiple summers, or if perhaps I visited multiple camps. All I know is that the summer trip was something to approach with apprehension, and at best it was a chance to get out of the house and away for a while.

My Boy Scout troop wasn’t one of friends, but rather was founded (as so many structures of young boys are) on one-ups-man-ship and Might Makes Right. For most, that’s the closest to friendship that boys can get, but it didn’t satisfy me and I certainly wasn’t happy. I quit the Boy Scouts at high school (I think it was right before my freshman year, though I don’t recall) and never regretted it.

Someday I hope to find a good troop for my son and to join the Boy Scouts again as a scout leader, but I want the experience to be better for him than it was for me. Likewise, I want to communicate to my son that if he wants out, he’s out, no problem. What’s important is that he’s enjoying himself and getting something out of the experience. Sticking with it because you’re afraid you’ll disappoint your elders, or because you have nothing better to do, simply isn’t worthwhile.

As for the lawn-mowing kid, I just hope his troop is better than mine. It’d be hard to be worse, and I can’t imagine someone putting so much effort into attending camp if they didn’t enjoy it. His work has retroactively brought a bit of shine to my memories of Arrowhead. If it wasn’t good for me, I can at least be glad that it is good for someone else.

First Christmas Tree

When I was very young, decorating for Christmas was a big family event. My mom and dad and I would get all the decorations out and have something for every room in the house. There were bows and ribbons, wreathes and ornaments and stockings. It was crazy, but we had a ton of stuff, so decorating took the better part of a day.

But as my parent’s relationship began to decline, my dad decided not to join in the decorating anymore. My mom and I would soldier on, hanging lights and ribbons and ornaments while he sat in the recliner, occasionally commenting or, more often, seeming to ignore the proceedings.

Then, growing discouraged over the years, my mom stopped decorating as well. Even after my parents got divorced, I had to haul all of the decorations in (around half a dozen of those giant Rubbermaid containers; probably more than half a dozen, actually) and put them up myself. In retrospect, I wonder why I never flat-out refused–I guess that obeying parents was pretty well ingrained in me–but I hated doing it. It was so much work, and I didn’t even care anymore. It felt like we were trying to dress up an ugly scar, cover it with incense and tinsel to make all the rest of the anger and bitterness go away.

And of course, it didn’t work. So for over a decade, I’ve rather disliked Christmas and everything it came to represent. More work, more commercialism, more fighting over my affection, more guilt trips and frustration. Throughout most of college, I spent Christmas alone, or near enough. Maybe a day or two with each of my parents for the first few years. Then I met April.

I was still pretty Bah Humbug last year, not really wanting to decorate and not appreciating much her attempts to do so. I really didn’t like my apartment much, and we were really poor. But this year, now that we have our own house and can afford some of these things… I’ve been really excited. I have really enjoyed buying the decorations and putting them up, and I like having them. It’s been wonderful.

Today we got our first tree together, and we opted to go with a real tree rather than a fake one. It didn’t really have anything to do with my family having always had a fake tree… actually, our plan was to have it on the front porch. But when we got to the tree place, it was really windy outside and it occurred to us that a tree on the front porch, as cool as that would be, would probably blow over a lot and cause all kinds of problems. So now it’s in our living room.

This isn’t our first Christmas together (actually, it’s our third!), but it feels almost like a new beginning. It’s the beginning of the holidays becoming a pleasant and positive time again. It’s the beginning of those memories finally healing some. It’s the beginning of a wonderful Christmas.