Monday, March 23, 2015

What do you Eat?

About a decade ago I was having an argument with someone over the merits of exercise. One of the biggest benefits, I claimed, was weight loss. The individual disagreed with me saying that diet and nutrition were much more important than exercise. At the time, I noticed quick results from basically any exercise I did (I was about 20 years old), and my anecdotal evidence was irrefutable. To me. Fuck, almost every argument I entered back then I was irrefutable. I was so much smarter the younger I was. 

Anyway, fast forward a few years or more and my perspective has shifted quite a bit. I still believe in the merits of exercise. But I do not see the direct causation to weight loss as much as I do with diet. In fact, there have been many times in the past decade where I would exercise pretty hard and actually gain weight. Some of it muscle, sure, but mostly fat. I would finish exercising and order a steak and cheese sandwich with a coke and some fries. Then perhaps down some ice cream for dessert. I was ravished. 

Even as I trained intensely for 2.5 consecutive years competing in triathlons, I didn't lose as much weight as I would've thought (though I did drop about 25 pounds). I was training 15 hours a week, easy but my calorie intake must've approached 4000 per day. Serious. And while I was starting to pay more attention to nutrition, it would be wrong to say I was feeding my body the proper ingredients to recover from the intense sessions. I often used tough workouts as a justification for ordering 2/3 servings of dessert or an extra-large instead of a medium portion. 

Anyway, as I mentioned, I still thinking exercise is essential for health and general happiness. The benefits are innumerable and I don't want that to be the focus of this post. Suffice to say, exercise everyday if you can. For at least 30-45 minutes, more if possible. 

More important to our health, is what we put into our bodies not our output. 

What does a typical day look like for you? From start to finish do you track precisely what you eat? Do you keep track of calories? Fat? Protein? Vitamins/Minerals? Please post in the comment section as I am very curious how you guys have the endurance to read all these fucking words without passing out. So what are you grubbing on? 

For me, I'm not a big fan of breakfast. I do rely on coffee to get my mornings started. I always use some half and half to tame the taste a bit, but other than that I start with a banana, a donut, or a cookie. Typically some variation of the three. I like some sweet to start my day. I realize this is NOT what most people do, nor is it what doctors/nutritionists recommend, but I do not exercise first thing in the morning so I have nothing to replenish and am truly not very hungry when I wake up. 

Lunch I also keep pretty light. Each day during the week I eat exactly the same thing. I'm a creature of habit. I eat a spinach salad with carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I add croutons and salad dressing. I usually drink a soda with it and also some light salt potato chips. This is definitely not a hearty salad whatsover, it probably only contains like 3-400 calories. But it is healthy, makes me feel light, and prepares me for my afternoon workout. 

Sometimes I will buy a snack midday if I'm unusually hungry, but usually that's all I need to eat until about 6-7PM. 

That is where the fun begins. 

I used to eat out many times a week. Not necessarily at sit-down restaurants, but fast casual places like Chipotle, Potbelly's, Noodle's and Co. and the like. The past 4 months, I sat down and examined my finances and recognized how much $$ I was spending each week on this stuff. Wow. Holy shit. I can't believe it now in hindsight. I was eating like I was a millionaire. 

We cooked seldomly, mostly on the weekends. 

Thankfully, I had an epiphany that was largely attributable to money and not nutrition but it was helpful nevertheless. Ash and I started cooking most days during the week. Vegetarian food. We often eat Mexican dishes like Tacos/Taco Salad. Or Chili. Sometimes she makes a vegetable tofu stirfry. Last week we had baked potatoes and salad. The week before I had 3-4 days of BLT's. Ash doesn't like to keep meat in the house (ethical reasons), but she made me some real bacon because I am fearful of Fakin (fake bacon). This weekend when I asked her to run it back, she politefully declined so we went with Tortas and rice instead. Anyway, we've been eating great lately for dinners. 

We always load up on vegetables and get our protein through beans, spinach, tofu, cheese, or some other alternative. I still eat meat when we dine out but we have cut back on that considerably. 

We both have big sweet tooths which is really our downfall. We love our dessert. Sometimes we make cookies or brownies. Rice Krispie treats or pie. Sometimes we buy ice cream or make S'mores. MMMMMMM. Ya, so I consume a good amount of this before bed. 

That is my crime. I own it. I should cut back, but I don't. I probably will be forced to because I notice my metabolism slows each year and I really don't want to gain the weight. Every year it becomes harder to lose weight and maintain your fitness so I need some better habits here. 

Aside from that, I'm not a big snacker. Ashley used to be but she's better about it now. I used to think grazing is the way to go, but I do enjoy a good meal (especially dinner). 

Another pitfall I haven't remedied is eating a healthful snack after exercise. I don't understand the science behind this but I have read many articles touting the benefits of replenishing your body after a tough workout. Does anyone have any science/wisdom they would like to share about this? And what snacks you prefer? 

Anyway, let me know your thoughts on food. I've been researching GMO's and Ash and I do not eat organic fruits or vegetables. My sister is a zealot about it and many others are as well but I am cost conscious, and do not truly believe that the anti-GMO crowd is benevolent as they claim. Just my two cents and my opinion isn't rigid, I'm still open to more research on the issue. 

One last tidbit is that I drink beer but probably only 3-4 per week. Often less. I enjoy a beer with certain foods, but generally a Pepsi quenches my thirst just as well. Beer is maybe more fun and healthy but unless it's a cider it doesn't satisfy my sweet tooth. 

Okay, with that, let me know your thoughts. Judge my diet too if you like, it is far from perfect. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Updates

I tested the triathlon bike for the first time in over 6 months today. I had some major anxiety about it because the tires are tubular and I didn't think they'd hold air after the long gap since their last pump. Also, the roads were very wet due to all the melting snow/ice...but off I went after a bit of pouting and moping. It was our first high 40 low 50s day in what seems like a year.

I meandered from Ballston area down to Hains Point via Rosslyn and took the Mt. Vernon trail that mirrors Roosevelt Island. Unfortunately, the National Park Service or Arlington County or whoever the fuck is responsible for plowing the trail did not. So I had to walk the bike for 1/2 mile because my tires are as smooth as a cue ball. This was fucking annoying because I hadn't even started my ride yet and a bunch of Citibikes came rolling through laughing at the 'roadie' walking his bike over a couple centimeters of ice.

I thought the aggravation was over until I tried to clip into my pedals and realized that the ice and snow had compacted into my cleat and froze, preventing me from snapping in. This really pissed me off as you can imagine so I had to find a stick and try to dislodge the gunk..what a mess. Eventually, after additional pouting and moping, I made it over the Memorial Bridge without raping any small children and headed to Hains Point. Or, fat kid camp.

I call if fat kid camp because Hains Point is pancake flat and it's where fatboys like me can really get some speed up. Especially with the time-trial bike. No hills to slow us down. Anyway, the bike held up perfectly and my body...mostly the same. I was crushing the first 3-4 loops. Kinda got tired thereafter but it was fun. Right about the start of the 5th loop some dude I used to ride with on the Saturday morning rides came up beside me. He is a very strong rider and leads the group most Saturdays. He was 6 weeks removed from a broken arm and was already back at it. Tough motherfucker. Roadies are the toughest people, not always the nicest, but definitely the toughest.

Anyway, we stayed together for about 2 loops before he called it quits and I did another one for fun and headed back via Georgetown. Good times. I'm not as fast as I was, but it still feels good to get the legs a pump.

This week is pretty busy. I won a scholarship to attend a prestigious conference at my alma mater, American University. It's the Intercultural Management Institute and it's a jam-packed itinerary with many important private and public officials attending. I have to take my earned leave in order to attend because my agency did not sanction the event which was truly disappointing. I am such a labor rights advocate it's not even funny. I could see myself leading the Teamsters someday, I honestly could. What's happened to labor, representation, and whistleblowing in this country is disgraceful.

If you like I will post more about this topic in the future b/c it's been a passion of mine the past few years and has often pitted me against management. But the world needs advocates for labor rights (good article in our local City Paper this week about it) and I am happy to fill the void. Jimmy Fucking Hoffa I am. Hell, in Wall Street we call these people 'activist investors'!

So that conference normally costs like $400 but I'm going for free which is awesome. That's Thursday/Friday. As a scholarship recipient I will be recognized and am compelled to participate in social media events afterward. Hopefully my hearing aids work!

Wednesday night we have a The Washington Center alumni event. It's a networking and alumni engagement event somewhere in the city. This, if you remember, is the program where Ash and I met many moons ago in 2006. It's also where I worked for two years 2008/9-2010. Should be a good time.

I have also applied for a fellowship at the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill. I completed two interviews, but have yet to hear back...was very optimistic initially but I am losing hope as the days pass. Would be an amazing opportunity to consider if selected.

Other than that, things have been pretty easy here. Leroy is starting to grey in his chin the last month. I can't help but fixate on it. I've been losing my hair since 18 so perhaps I am sensitive to this sorta thing but it's very troubling. Ash says I should stop dwelling on it but I can't help it. The pup is growing old I suppose. I told him we're gonna have to trade him in for a younger version if he keeps it up. Or I'll just use a magic marker. We all know that shit is impossible to remove.

Ash and I are excited about St. Maarten. We have basically postponed our proposed France trip due to the uncertainty surrounding our careers and the other travel plans we have. We have a few weddings to attend and a few domestic trips as well as I have a potential 2 week trip later in the year to Peru if all goes well. I hope to still sneak something in the summer if possible.

The election for Board of Directorship begins this week at my credit union. Remember I am listed first on the ballot so vote for me!

I'm still researching GMOs and food. Please share any opinions you guys have and I can write a post about what I've learned thus far in my quest for impartial information. I'm feeling much more comfortable in personal finance so I believe I am going to start teaching myself all I can about Real Estate, followed by business plans and MBA. the goal will be to read all the necessary books and authors so that I can get the MBA without stepping inside a classroom. Good stuff.

Any plans for spring? Please share any updates I'm always curious what my readers are up to as well as recommendations for posts.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

R.I.P. Nelson

One of the nice things the federal government does, is employ physically and mentally disabled individuals. I sort of have mixed feelings on the matter for a few reasons. First, should these people really have to work? Ash and I discussed this the other day and while we know it brings meaning to their lives, it also is probably unnecessary. These folks have trouble with very simple tasks and sometimes their presence elicits fear (of theft/assault) or they're incompetence is so stark that the simple tasks don't even get finished. I don't know. I believe we should subsidize these folks' regardless, but I'm just not sold that working full-time jobs is the appropriate way to handle it.

Anyway, I believe I've dabbled in this subject before in this blog describing how I became close with a couple janitors over the years. The first was a drug addict who stole money from his colleagues and eventually stopped coming to work altogether. We were told he was fired and then myself and a coworker raised holy hell to get him reinstated only to realize that he wasn't fired but arrested on a drug offense.

Obviously, we were sad. He's a kind man wherever he is. And I wish him the best. We had some wonderful talks over the years.

After his departure, his colleague was promoted to run the 'crew'. Nelson was his name. Nelson was always quite jealous of the relationship I cultivated with his predecessor and as soon as he was top dog he tried to replicate what was previously established.

And he did good. Nelson had very thick white hair which he wore in a crew cut. He often wore a beard that was fairly well-kempt and big circle frame glasses.

Nelson and I grew close over the past couple years. He came to me with business ideas about how he was going to get rich. His first venture was to put motors on bicycles and then market them in the DC area. A helluva task. He learned how to install various motors from a friend of a friend who charged him an exorbitant rate to build a test model that he would test and tinker with.

Nelson showed me pictures of this and his bike worked pretty well for himself. Until it didn't. He started having problems only a few weeks afterward and the dude who taught him was nowhere to be found. Eventually he sold the bike at a big loss and moved on to his second idea...fixing iphones.

He learned how to repair the phones through YouTube videos. He created business cards and told me that he was working with another individual to get a steady stream of phones so he'd always have business.

During this time, Nelson also told me of his plans to marry his Filipino girlfriend. He met her online (seemed very much like a mail-order bride type thing). He said they chatted daily on Skype and that the woman was in her late 40s and had a teenage daughter. His plan was to move to be with her. Always 6 months down the road. 6 months would pass and he'd say it was happening in another 6 months. Then another, and another. The women in my office would mostly scoff at this plan. Either thinking he was making up the whole thing entirely or that it was one of the foolish ideas on the planet.

Internally I mostly agreed. But externally I was very very torn. Nelson was a friend of mine. Was it my responsibility to warn him about this? He seemed so giddy and proud each time he spoke of her. Who was I to squash his dreams - elusive or not? I wavered for months and I decided that this may be the one thing that keeps this 'slow' individual going. Why not just let him have it and if anything, be happy for him. I tried not to encourage him in any way but I did express my interest in any updates he would offer.

A couple months ago he said that she had passed away. He came to work very depressed and shared the news. I was stunned. He said her Skype account was down and he received a message (not sure how) that she was deceased. Wow, I was really shook and sad for him.

A week later he said that she was not dead and somehow deactivated her account and the plans were still on. He would be in the Philippines by summer. This was also fucking shocking as you can imagine. But I grew to expect the unexpected with him. It was part of what made my friendship with Nelson unique. And he really did love sharing his life with me.

At one point one of my coworkers had to lecture Nelson that he was proving to be a distraction and that our conversations would have to be cut to a minimum. He was very hurt by this, and I was not really in a position to refute her claims (A: she was my supervisor and B: she actually said it was hard to concentrate). It took him a little while to get over it and sometimes we went out in the hallway to have quick chats instead.

Anyway, last Thursday I got terrible news. Nelson passed away. One of his coworkers went to his apartment to check on him after he missed work a few days (very unusual for him).

And I'm just really shook by it. In a sense, I feel like I knew more about this man than anyone else. As far as I know he doesn't really have any family and even fewer friends. I have reached out to his boss to get more information regarding services/funeral/etc... But I lost a friend.

I don't know exactly why I'm sharing this story except that maybe it's cathartic for me. I feel like he was the kind of guy who never had a shot. His life was destined to be hard. More than hard. And I really wish he would've made it out to the Philippines, even if it was a pipe dream and would've blown up in his face. At least he would've pursued his dream and done what he wanted to.

There isn't much more I can say except that I will truly miss him. Honest to God I will never empty another trash again without thinking of my friend. And I know that's a fucking bizarre thing to write but it is the truth. Rest in peace my friend. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Enough" by Jack Bogle - Book Review

I have a tendency to not finish books. I will typically read anywhere from the first half to 3/4 of the way through before closing shop and calling it quits. It's a very strange trait, one that has followed me through great novels and powerful non-fictions alike. If you went through my bookshelf at home, you'd find quite a few bookmarks jutting their heads out just waiting for a second chance. I tried to diagnose the problem years ago. I considered ideas like I suffered from a fear of commitment, inability to see things through, or unwilling to find out how things end for fear it will disappoint or somehow adversely impact me. They're probably all true to varying degrees.

Thankfully, while the dude who reserved the book for 2/14 probably unhappily found out, I did read "Enough" from start to finish and returned it after our latest bout of snowpocalypse this morning to the Arlington Central Library. Two days late. Maybe he's a reader, in which case...my apologies brochacho.

Mr. Bogle is a wise old dude, a man who cares more about the process than the bottom line. Not that he ignores the latter as he is want to point out at various times throughout the book. It seems some of Jack's biggest critics are his Wall Street cohorts who focus exclusively on calibrating the exorbitant fees that enable their lofty lifestyles and making money often at the expense of their own clients or the companies they're scalping.

It's not a bad business to be in. They win whether you make money or not.

Bogle's book is a refreshing take on the financial services industry, an uncommon perspective in the days of hyper immediacy, quarterly (seems like monthly) reports, activist investors, and the barrage of trading activity that encompasses the fastest growing network in America, CNBC (which I watch often).

His philosophy is old-school simple. Keep the overhead low. Protect your clients' money as if it were your own. Treat your employees with respect and reward them for good performance. Adhere to the values of integrity, stewardship, and seek mutually beneficial solutions for the betterment of all society. Don't lose sight of the long-term vision of prosperity that lasts, instead of flaming out after your 15 minutes elapses.

Bogle is dismayed by the greed and lack of integrity exhibited by most financial services employees. He is also discouraged by those who seek short-term profits without caring about the underlying business that enables the transaction. He seems to prefer a simpler way toward navigating the investment maze. Buy impressive companies (or ETFs, Mutual Funds, etc.) that are quality and remain invested and loyal for the long haul.

Bogle founded Vanguard (the mutual fund behemoth) which is now worth something like over a trillion $. That's something like $,$$$,$$$,$$$,$$$. That's a lot of dough. Instead of flaunting his wealth, he donates half his money to various charities each year. He does not believe it's appropriate to live lavishly (relatively I presume). He is much more interested in legacy, leaving a lasting imprint that improves the plight of many. A laudable goal you might say.

I found pieces of the book a bit self-congratulatory although that's to be expected for a man who's accomplished as much as him. He is also quite righteous (and religious) in his resolve that his manner of doing things is supreme. That is also fairly predictable, and didn't detract from the message nearly as much as it could.

As a contrarian, it is my nature to be skeptical of most claims...even those coming from a man whose values are impeccable. We all know that lower fees are better for the consumer, and buying and holding index funds or a collection of quality companies with a long-term horizon has proven the most efficacious way to invest. Yet few of us practice those simple steps, especially those (like me, who believe we can use our wits to outsmart the market...typically we fail).

One concern I had while reading was, "Well, if everyone is doing something...it's probably not the way things should be done." What I mean is that Bogle's message really is quite simple (and that doesn't make it any less accurate or brilliant), but if we all started heeding his advice, what would the market look like? For example, we need 'shorts' to keep the share price in check and to keep companies fairly valued. We need traders (some may argue high-frequency ones) to bridge the gap between the bid and the ask. We need people to sell shares, so that we can buy their shares.

Clearly, this is not a problem in the current market. We live in an age of hedge funds and capital firms that invest on our behalf. Whereas people used to hold stock for years or even for decades, now the average hold time is less than a year. In my heyday of trading about 8 months ago I once held for less than 90 seconds. Hard to believe, right?

Ironically, it was when I stopped 'trading' and started 'investing' in what I though were quality companies when I started drastically under-performing the market. Trading was time consuming and stressful. It seems so much easier to dollar-cost average buy and hold as Bogle suggests. Perhaps I just encountered some bad luck but I started trading again this month and have remained liquid and made decent profits. Frustrating I do say.

There is no perfect answer here, but for 99% of folks (including me) we should be diligently investing in index funds for our future and our children's future. And if you are, like me, enticed by the market swings and the feeling of risk and gambling, perhaps buy into some ETFs that allow for more liquidity than traditional mutual funds.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Bogle's book. He is driven and obsessed with providing a service that he truly believes is a benefit to all of society. He is as humble as they come in the financial world and he quotes quite a few others who know what it means to have 'enough'. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Caring What Other People Think

So where were we? The conversation with my brother, right?

For his 24th birthday I took him skiing for a couple days at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. Aside from going 35 miles too far south (we were in the midst of talking!) and having to back track, we had an amazing trip. It snowed hard the night we arrived which meant for the epic freshy's the next morning. Was a blast.

On our return trip, I wanted to demonstrate my brotherly love by giving his some words of advice. He has a tendency to wallow a bit and dwell on the negative. Moreover, he carries an attitude of "I don't give a shit."

Many people claim they "Don't give a shit" but very few actually practice what they preach. I happen to be one of the few who actually Do. Not. Give. A. Shit.

Let me explain.

I do care what a select few people think of me. My wife. My immediate family. My dog. But other than that, I truly could not care less. I do not seek approval or validation from anyone. It's a futile task, one I want no part of.

My brother on the other hand, portrays himself as this badass. He's rough around the edges (exterior), but on the inside (internally) he's a real pussy. haha, I'm teasing. He is a softy though, and that's a good thing. He really wants people's respect and admiration. A challenging endeavor wouldn't ya say?

For example, when he was working a typical, mundane, staight-outta-college shitty job a year ago at a storage facility, he had my Mom promise that she would lie to his friends and his friends' parents about his occupation. He wanted them to know he was thriving and selling insurance (?!?!). I don't know...but that's what he wanted her to say.

I would say it's pretty fucked up to A) have our Mom lie and B) to put on a false front. If he was working at a storage facility, so what? Is that beneath him? Wasn't that the truth? Why is there shame in that? **a problem for a different day**

Anyway, the attitude that my bro expresses is fine. It's actually very fucking normal. Nothing is more common than people giving a shit what others think of them. What is problematic about it, is twofold.

1) If you are one of the individuals in the world who do care, then show it. What I mean is that he is transparently inconsistent with his outward attitude and his inward feelings. They should mesh. It's absolutely perfectly okay to care what people think, but  he should make sure that he shows that he cares. And when things aren't going the way he plans (when he's struggling to earn the respect/admiration he seeks), don't scoff that he don't give a shit. He. Do. Give. A. Shit.

2) The second is more of a rule for all of you out there who are worried what ol' ConArtist (and everyone else) thinks about ya. **And to that I think you're pretty amazing and you have great taste for reading this blog, so let's leave it at that!** We have absolutely no control over it. We can never control someone else's perception. That bares repeating. We can never control someone else's perception. Even when we try each and everyday to do our best and do things for other people, we can walk away and people will think what they will.

If you are unsuccessful then maybe people will think you're lazy. Or fat. Or both. Or stupid. If you're very rich or successful and have a beautiful house with a Tesla in the garage then you are arrogant, materialistic, and people will resent your success. If you work hard on your body and it shows, people will think you're narcissistic, a meatball, or dumb as rocks. You get the idea.

Of course, this isn't 100% true. We definitely think highly of some people for a multitude of reasons. And yet even for these (markedly few) decent folks who hold tender opinions that aren't filled with judgement and criticisms, my point is the same...we cannot control what they think. They think those amazing things because they're probably just non-judgmental, decent people. And I commend those fuckers, I really do because they are gems.

So my reaction to this revelation has always been not to give a shit in the first place. It's liberating in practice. The stress I used to put on myself to comport myself a certain way so that people would like me, respect me, envy me, is completely unimportant now. It's barely even subconscious. Sometimes when I'm out with the wife I have to make sure I'm toning down my obnoxious side a bit because the 'liberating feeling' can get a bit much!

I don't have to prove myself to anyone but my wife and dog. And they accept me for being the dumbass that I am so there ya have it!

Anyway, you may counter with, "Well, just because we cannot control others' perception does not mean that we should be flippant and disregard their feelings toward us or that we shouldn't try." And I would agree wholeheartedly. We should treat people with courtesy, respect, kindness all that good stuff.  But not because we want them to like us, but because it's just the right thing to do. It's the way we would want to be treated, isn't it?

The irony is, it is my opinion that people will like you more when you stop caring than when you do. Sometimes people can sense someone who is trying too hard. Either putting on a front, or being over-the-top and it comes off a tad inauthentic (or in my brother's case, intentionally inauthentic 'insurance salesman'). Better to just be yourself and let the chips fall where they may.

Anyway, we had a pretty long discussion about this subject...suppose it was more of a monologue for part of the return journey and he seemed fairly receptive to the idea.

I wasn't trying to convert him to live like me. And honest to god, I wasn't just trying to point out the errors of his ways. I personally find that it doesn't work for me, and I see a lifelong bout of frustration and futility when others vent to me but that is just the way I perceive it. My way is not supreme. It just works for me.

He reiterated that he does indeed care and that he may do better in his everyday relationships if he actually expressed the inward feelings that he has. Show that you care and maybe people will feel it and take note. Anyway, this doesn't really relate to the "Enough" book by Jack Bogle (of which I am nearly finished), but I did find it to be a fun conversation.

What do you think? Do you care what others think of you? Why or why not? Is it frustrating? If you don't care, what made you stop? 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What is Enough?

I have been scouring through some books and articles about stoicism recently. I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a book by Marcus Aurelius called, "Meditations." The method of translation has it read like a stream of consciousness of tidbits of wisdom and lessons from various individuals and reflections on life from the esteemed Roman Emperor. It's good shit. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. 

While I was there I searched for a book by John (Jack) Bogle, the founder of Vanguard (the mutual fund behemoth). A few weeks ago, I read something related to why he cares so much about keeping fees and costs to a minimum...the answer to that, is because he believes the investor should keep most of the growth and earnings resulting from the principle, not the institutions. To which a normal person would likely reply, "Big fucking deal. That seems pretty obvious." And I agree. But Bogle and his wealthy cohorts do not stand to benefit from a reduced fee structure so I found this notable and a bit magnanimous considering all the pricks and prawns involved in Wall Street who want your dinero. 

Anway, Jack's book is titled, "Enough" followed by a bunch of other words, but the essence is just that...enough. It's not a title of exasperation, but related to a mentality - specifically greed. What is enough? When do we know we've hit that point? How much money is enough? 

Ahhhhh, now the wheels are turning, eh? 

The most miserable I've ever been is when I've been totally fixated on making money. We all think about money multiple times a day, but it was the period when I was thinking about it every time in between too where I was truly depressed. Because no matter how much I was making or planning on making, it's never enough. And for me, it was not very much in the first place. 

Most of us are no different. Each time we get a raise/promotion we increase our lifestyle to keep pace so we're never really getting ahead, we're just keeping pace with faster fish. Instead of driving a Toyota we're now driving the Lexus. Instead of 1500 square feet we now want 3000. Instead of HD TV we want 4k. This is a defeating mentality as we can see. 

At a certain point, we must relent and be content with what we have, or we will always be disappointed by the relativity of money and material pleasures and the unlimited amount that we can potentially get our hands on. 

Of course this mentality can be transferred to other things as well. Triathlon for example. When am I fast enough? When I ran 8 minute miles? 7? 6? Same can be said for collecting stamps or reading books or what have you.  

Do we ever reach enough? On the other hand, is our insatiability actually a positive? I would say to a certain extent, it is indeed. What's the alternative, never seek to improve? Set your sights low and be complacent? 

Ahhhh, we reach that illustrious grey area I always talk about. That middle area is the sweet spot that ultimate satisfaction resides. 

Part of it begins with being grateful and appreciative for all that we do have. This should be our priority more than attaining that which we lack. It's difficult to enjoy the moment when we're busy day-dreaming about the future. There's also a distinction to be made between complacency and contentment. We can be content and still seek to improve. I would recommend this approach. There's another part of this that I think is related that I will write about in Part II the next couple days. It has to do with a conversation I had with my brother on the way back from our ski trip to West Virginia - a smashing success by the way. 

Let me know if this piques your interest at all and any preliminary thoughts you'd like to share...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Going Skiing Happy MLK Jr. Weekend

Hitting the slopes this weekend in West Virginia with my brother for his  24th birthday. Ah..to be young again!

My first time skiing the East Coast. I'll be at Snowshoe Mountain. Can't wait.

Have a wonderful MLK weekend. I used to make it a point to volunteer every MLK day. I stopped a few years back...I don't know why. But I do think if there is a public figure in American history worth admiring it's MLK Jr. I remember listening to his 15 greatest speeches on my way to work a few years back (I think I posted about it). I remember I was in the newspaper holding an umbrella for an elderly black lady in La Mesa, CA when I was 21 years old on a rainy day where the mayor was speaking. I remember working in a food bank with my Aunt Diane in Sun City one year. I remember driving to Fort Lewis College in Durango with my Pops and giving an impromptu speech at a seminar because I just felt the need to say something to a group of fucking strangers. I remember hosting my war protest in San Diego one year with my girlfriend.

Lots of great memories. I'm hopeful that you take some time out of your day to remember a man worth remembering.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Master's Degree

Happy New Year for the few who've stuck around! I flew New Year's Eve to Orlando from D.C. to visit my Mom who is renting a beach shack in Fort Pierce. Flights to Orlando were quite a bit cheaper than West Palm Beach (about half hour closer), and her friend from nursing school Patty just bought a house 5 minutes from the airport in Orlando. Patty and her husband Dave (coincidentally a financial planner) have three boys, one of whom, Brian, is my age and he recently got engaged. Brian and his fiance' flew in about an hour before Ash and I did and we all hung out at their magnificent abode. It was a 5 bedroom 5 bath palace - each couple (my folks, Patty and Dave, Brian and his fiance' and Ash and I) each had our own private suite. It was so nice that we decided to stay New Year's night as well. After swimming at the country club first of course.

It was pretty luxurious.

On the 2nd, we drove down to Fort Pierce which is a poor town inland, but is quirky and a bit nicer on the intercoastal. My Mom found a spectacular location not a half block from the A1A which separates the beach from the homes. We had a great visit. It was ridiculously hot for the first week of January (80 degrees and humid!) but we managed to squeeze in a few runs. Ash and I also had our first foray into Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Ash was much, much better than I. I was like a sail. We chose a breezy day and I had a real tough time making any progress against the wind.

It was fun. Even though she made fun of me.

We drove up to Vero Beach to check it out and visiting an incredible outdoor market on the inland part of Fort Pierce. We also drank some suds at the illustrious Pietro's which was a fun experience.

Then we hopped on a plane scratching our mosquito bites and whining about the humidity and returned to DC where it snowed 3 inches that night. Typically OPM cancels work for us feds, but unfortunately we were not so lucky. Oh well.

I do have some good news. My Master's is now complete, the university accepted my thesis. Maybe they just wanted to get rid of me after 4 years. Can't blame 'em. Point is now it is done and I have to figure out what the fuck I want to do with my life...still thinking....still thinking....

Ash I've been researching opportunities at other federal agencies as well as looking into Richmond and parts of North Carolina. Ash has also been applying to some vacancies just to see if anything sticks.

We booked yet another vacation for our 1-year anniversary in April. Hard to believe that is coming up soon! We're going to St. Maarten in the Caribbean. It was exponentially cheaper than Columbia (our other choice). Plus we're trying to save money for our July trip to Paris (and to watch the tour). Sounds like we're spending a lot of money doesn't it?

Truth is we have reigned in our expenses dramatically, going as far as eating out 75% less than before, cutting cable, parking, and cutting corners wherever we can. I'd prefer to spend our money on trips and experiences than underwhelming meals or fancier cars.

With that I promise to be back soon with some reflections on life. I am still in pretty decent shape and I plan to return to triathlon world this season. I will likely do 3-4 races, mostly Sprints, maybe an Olympic or an in-between distance if I can find one.

How is your New Year going??? And don't forget to review the ads!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Vote For Me

Pretty shocking coming from me, right?

I suppose an update is in order to describe my current endeavors...

I am running for a Board of Director position at the credit union I bank at. I am trying to find an entertaining way to give back and volunteer while simultaneously learning and challenging myself. It's easy to donate money, but learning a new craft and assisting other members (myself included) sounds pretty fascinating.

I have immersed myself in the literature of personal finance to the point where I'm considering studying to become a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) or Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). I'd be most interested in becoming a fiduciary. However, my background is practically zilch. So this has entirely been a personal study over the past 18 months, and I can say I have learned A TON, but I still have A TON more to learn. Each night I spend hours reading, researching, and commenting. I have a book on Financial Reports sitting next to me as I type. So that should be fun. It's an elected position that is non-partisan and unpaid.

I'm still working the same position so not much to report in that regard except to say that I have a new boss and we're working on getting our ducks in a row. He is quite particular about the way he wants the final product but I think we've been on solid footing the past few weeks compared with the first few.

Ash and I are still exercising. We're both running a decent amount and lifting. We plan on doing a few sprint or Olympic triathlons next season. Nothing too major, but definitely would like to compete in a few...if I could find a way to get to the pool.

We have some travel plans coming up...Ash and I are going to Florida for New Years. This preserves our streak of 6 consecutive years of visiting a different state for New Years. So far it's been Colorado, D.C. (a state dammit), New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and now Florida. Not too shabby.

After that Dylan and I are going skiing for a few days (MLK weekend) in West Virginia. This will be my first foray in East Coast skiing!

Then for our anniversary in April, Ash and I plan on taking a trip to the Caribbean or possibly Central America or even Oregon/San Francisco. We plan to lock down a trip in the next few weeks. After that in July we're going to France! So stoked for that trip. We will go to Paris and the south of France (obviously). I want to watch at least one day of Le Tour! So I plan on carrying an American Flag (the only time) and running up the Alps to cheer on Tyler V G or the other American studs racing.

Would also love to do a biking trip later in the year in Bali or somewhere for a week...that's last on the list. In between we have some domestic trips planned (probably for triathlons).

We are still exploring a move to either Richmond, North Carolina or South Carolina. Keeping our eyes peeled for job prospects. If I became a CFP I would work for myself so that would help the situation some.

With that, I think that's it...anything else you'd like to know? Anyone have any good resolutions? What are your XMAS/New Years plans. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful holiday season. I'll post again shortly. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Direct Action

The protests over Garner, Brown, Martin, and other blacks murdered by police are really starting to have an impact. At least here in D.C. Ash and I were traveling to my previous employer's alumni Holiday Party and traffic came to an absolute stop. D.C. traffic is already pretty miserable and we were pretty late which pissed me off quite a bit. Apparently some of the protests were blocking the entire street. 

Why the street, I ask? 

I've seen other 'die-ins' in our area and while I find them creative, I mostly find them inconvenient and lacking any clear, coherent purpose or message. What are these folks mad at? Who is their outrage directed toward? Why are they impeding travel and/or bystanders? Aren't we the victims of police action anyway? 

First, I am a proponent of the 'movement' so to speak. The amount of power, respect, and authority we bestow these costumed robots is ridiculous. It's disgraceful. Police (ab)use their power on a daily basis. Blacks are an easy target. The liberal bastion, New York City was the place that instituted stop-and-frisk. If you aren't outraged by police, then you probably don't live in a big city. 

I find the lack of goals and message to be troubling. Our criminal justice system is in absolute disarray. We pay our public defender's a third less than our prosecutor's. There's vacancies galore throughout jurisdictions across the country causing severe backlogs of cases and appeals. That means victims of the system are presently stuck in jail waiting for their cases to be tried (for those already incarcerated). 

What's fascinating is that what prompted this 'movement' is the lackluster decisions in grand juries. Grand juries have a duty to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to go forward with a trial. It's that simple. From the outsider's perspective, there seems to be ample evidence not only to have the trial, but to convict the cops in these instances. But the grand juries say no go. 

Surprisingly, grand juries are actually a pretty well thought out democratic institution. With all the wanton power given to judges and prosecutors in this nation, grand juries provide an outlet for public participation that is vastly under-served. The power in this case is in the hands of the jury made up of a pool of folks from the local jurisdiction.

What's interesting is the conflict of interest that's occurring. For example, the prosecution (responsible for putting forth the evidence to the grand jury) often work with police in many other cases. You can see why they would be less inclined when it's the police on the opposite side for once. After all, it's a fraternity between prosecutors and cops to convict the public in most instances. If a cop is a defendant, how can we trust the prosecutor to conduct an honest, and thorough presentation of the evidence (and furthermore to recommend a charge)? We can't. They're partial. Friendships have a tendency to do that to people. 

Perhaps some reworking of the grand jury system is in order. 

What's more important is to channel some of this outrage in less obstructive ways. By disrupting traffic (whether vehicles or pedestrians) the movement may detract supporters instead of recruiting them. If I were in charge of this movement I would be meeting with the black heads of the police force and call for a walk out. Every black police officer should organize a 'die-in' or walkout. Branch out to athletes perhaps and ask them for support. Some have already obliged by issuing public statements or wearing t-shirts supporting the cause. Good, we need more. Maybe it will take a refusal to play by all black athletes. Let's have these meetings with the player's associations and the most respected black athletes. Granted, I see how this can be disruptive to the public who want to see them play but it is perhaps less obtrusive than what's currently happening and likely more poignant. 

Perhaps black actors (and whites and others) will refuse to work or boycott an awards ceremony or wear duct-tapes over their mouths in support. Maybe a petition will circulate on The White House's webpage to organize town-halls across the nation to end the police brutality. 

I'm just throwing out ideas on the top of my head. The truth is, this 'movement' is important as vague and amorphous as it is. It needs to channel this support in ways that do not antagonize the public but encourage and facilitate broad alliances. We are all victims here, not just blacks, although they often bear the brunt of much of the targeting in our country. 

I am upset too. I am outraged too. I hope that I am able to work together in a way that maximizes impact, and that can use this serious moment as a catalyst for serious change. With the amount of anger out there today, anything is possible. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Oil

Well gas prices are down quite a bit these days, eh? Most of us are pretty stoked about this because we won't be paying as much at the pump so some Saudi Prince can bathe in gold. 

I am not as pleased. 

Primarily because I am heavily invested in oil at the moment. A significant percentage of my stock portfolio is in various oil companies. Exploration companies, refining, producers, distributors, etc. All of them have come under pressure as nationally gasoline prices have dropped about a buck from just a few months ago. 

The reason for this is actually quite simple. The United States has become a formidable player in the crude oil supply market. With the expansion of fracking and domestic pumping, many many companies are now cashing in the Permian Basin in the southwest to the Bakken Shale in North Dakota (among many other places). The US is also barred from exporting this oil. 

Simultaneously, we're experiencing a bit of a global deflation, or at the very least a contraction of growth. Especially in the BRIC countries that have expanded at an astounding rate the past few years. At the same time, Libya, Saudi Arabia and a host of other countries are refusing to cut production. 

So we've got a 'glut' of oil and not enough demand. Oil is literally sitting on the sidelines waiting for a buyer. 

We find ourselves picking our poison here to some degree. If you are an environmentalist, or if you care about the environment, you are likely against the exploitation and continued extraction of oil, especially domestically. It's one thing to drill in some far away land or sea, and quite another on our lovely mountain tops in our towns. No matter what method of extracting oil, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Irrespective of where it's produced, (albeit there may be dramatic effects such as earthquakes attributable to fracking) there will be environmental consequences. 

With the prolific rise of domestic oil (so much for an anti-oil President) there have been thousands of new jobs for all these companies looking to take advantage of the boom. Each company has a different method of achieving a barrel of crude, and that cost of production is extremely important. If a barrel costs $70 to produce, they need a market of $71 to turn a profit. With increasing pressure, many of these domestic companies are getting squeezed and are laying off workers. 

Thus far however, most of the domestic companies are not blinking. It's a standoff between themselves and OPEC and other oil producers and no one is willing to turn down the spigot. OPEC meets this month on the 27th to discuss the market and all ears will be listening to their comments on production. As of now, the price war rages and most consumers are benefiting. 

If OPEC decides to keep production levels stagnant, it will cause evermore pressure on the domestic drillers. This is bad for American jobs, and also the self-sufficiency that America may be searching for. Would America prefer to be at the mercy of Middle Eastern Muslim nations? Where is that money being siphoned (besides the extreme opulence we see in the news)? Is it going to terroristic groups that then combat American troops? Potentially. It's difficult to track, although I imagine Jeremy Scahill has something to say about it. 

In short, we live in an interesting time. Some of the global economies are starting to stall. America is actually in an excellent position (exiting QE) with their domestic production, improving labor market and stock market hitting all-time highs day after day. Consumers with more money to spend will enjoy this winter holiday and will likely be traveling more because of it. 

Maybe it's a good time to look into getting that Tesla.... 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thoughts from My Dog

It's weird. His obsession. Well, it seems like an obsession. And of all things, really.

I mean don't get me wrong, I'm big into certain things. Get me around my early morning treat and I perk up like Kate Upton walked in the room. When it gets to be close to noon and my stomach is growling, I can get pretty damn focused on one thing and one thing only. Lunch. Lunch. Lunch. Lunch. Mmmmmmmm.

Anyway, shit is a weird thing for him to be so concerned about. I mean, it's so important to him that he actually stops to pick it up most times. Literally walking out of his way to do so. Can you imagine? He even has a special wrapping paper he uses to pick it up. Strange, right?

Sometimes when we're walking in the park at nights, he lets me roam free for awhile. These times are nice so I can get the fuck away from him and remind him his obsession is abnormal by shitting on the steep side of the hill about 40 meters off the trail. Crazy what it's come to. He's all into 'teaching' me things about 'wait', 'sit', 'stay', but here's one back, 'lay off my shit, bro.'

It's weird, the lady person is just as fixated on it as he is. It's like they've got some fetish thing they both share.

Another weird thing is when he asks me if I'm hungry. Uh, yeah dude, I am. After all it's fucking lunch time. I mean not to talk too much shit about him because overall he's a decent chap, but he ain't exactly Mark Zuckerburg, know what I mean? Each day he comes home and asks "Is that you in there?" "How do I know if that's you?"

Yeah....A good answer is, probably because he was the last person to leave and my ass has been laying on his recliner drooling for the past 3 hours. Nothing chaaaanged dude. Surprised he doesn't do the same thing to his refrigerator. "Is that my refrigerator in there?" "How do I know if that's my refrigerator in there?" Ugh. It's frustrating. Kinda funny I guess, but also makes me feel like I'm doing a public service for living with a retard.

But back to food. Of course I'm hungry. It's lunch. Isn't everyone? Kinda wish he'd just leave it out for me to get it myself but I guess he's a control freak. I mean...remember the shit obsession I told you about earlier? So yeah, and while I'm busy devouring that delicious kibble he's busy fixing himself that nasty green stuff...vegetables? Spinach. Haha wow. Gross. I mean I love food. I really really really love food. But spinach! For fucks sake that's like the one thing I won't eat. And he eats it. Every. Day. Every Day.

Haha what a space cadet!

Anyway, in all honesty I love the guy and I'm gonna go lick his feet for awhile but I'm glad I got to share some of my thoughts. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Half Marathon for Ash

Ash is in the midst of training for her second half marathon, and today, she completed a full 13 miles. Impressive, huh? She's been aggressively training the past 6-9 months now and is in great endurance shape though she is still not exactly in PR running shape. Her race is in two weeks in Richmond, VA. We will be driving down the night before and I will be spectating for once.

Kind of an odd recurrence for me as of late. It used to be that all the races were mine and that our traveling weekends revolved around my triathlon schedule. Instead, even though I remain in decent overall shape, I have refused to run 'for fun'. Meaning my ego gets in the way each time I want to register for a race. "If I'm not in PR shape, why race?" is the question I always fall back to. And after a year of non-racing that attitude is getting tired. "Because it's fun. Because it's usually for a good cause. And because it's not always about being at your best but getting out there and doing it anyway," says the good wife to me today.

She has a point. As hard as it is for me to accept it, the one reason holding me back is also exaggerated as my peers likely could give a fuck one way or another. I used to consider myself a threat to the reigning incumbents at triathlons, a force to be reckoned with. But now, if I were to compete I would not podium. I would still do alright. But I wouldn't be 'competitive'. At least not by my standards.

I do miss racing though. I miss the energy and nerves pre-race. I miss the excitement. I miss the goal. I even miss the structured training sometimes. I think that's why it's likely that I will start getting in solid triathlon shape again this winter. Perhaps it's back to racing...the decision is mainly whether or not I'm gonna kick ass and take names or whether I'm comfortable just doing my best on my 'everyman's training' that I've grown accustomed to this past year and some change.

I still bike a small amount. And I run much more than most people, probably averaging 25 miles per week. I weigh about 20-25 pounds more though as I have gotten a lot of muscle mass back. And that will really limit me if I choose to compete hard again. I was at my best when I was a skinny-mini at 165. Not 190.

Although I'm arrogant enough to think I can still podium on a flat race.

Anyway, now it's about supporting Ash and it is somewhat of a nice change and alternative vantage point. I am now in her shoes and this is actually the second time (her prior race was a few months back). She is also planning (assuming she rocks the Richmond half) on registering for the National Half Marathon in March.

I hope she does. She's a badass and she's inspiring me these days. Who woulda thought.

I have a feeling that I'm longing for another goal and triathlon may again be my solution. I believe I can get into 2:10 Olympic tri shape by next season if I choose to. Or maybe I'll be content to be around 2:15 with less rigorous training. It appears Ash herself is bit by the tri bug and she will be competing in some races next season as well.

In any case, I am proud of my wife for running 13 miles today and not complaining once afterward! She's a notorious whiner and now she can handle this stuff no sweat. Well...a lot of sweat, but if anyone can appreciate the hard work of entering a sport with no background whatsoever and putting in the long hours each day to train...it's me. We have great respect for one another and I can't wait to cheer her on in two weeks. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apparently the Constitution Changed

Politics is pretty disgraceful. I suppose I could just end there. But let me illustrate that point a bit with a recent headline that drew my gaze.

To paraphrase, it said something like, "Obama now says 14h Amendment shows support for gay marriage". To many people that may be a revelatory headline that solidifies their faith in the democratic stalwart. Not to me.

The President is a notable expert of the constitution. I think the term is Constitutional Scholar in fact. That is actually his claim to fame pre-United States Senate. He taught law at the University of Chicago law school. Constiutional Law specifically. Before that he studied at Harvard! And, let me remind you, the US constitution isn't actually very lengthy. This isn't the Bible...or a Jonathan Franzen novel.

To summarize, the US President taught the very best lawyers in the nation - Constitutional Law - years before he became President.

Think of how insulting it is for him to be labeled as an expert now given his newfound sentiment. Not just for him but for all of us. The Constitution. Has. Not. Changed. At all. It has been as stagnant as the White House on 16th Street. This was a man ostensibly who was an expert at this relatively small document. An important one to be sure, but still a concise document with some amendments post-facto. And he was responsible for educating some of the brightest people in the world. Excuse my redundancy but are you not as outraged about this as I am? This would be like the Pope coming out (not in that way!) declaring, "Well, Jesus really did rise from the dead it looks like."

I am a huge skeptic. I question everything. Absolutely everything. I believe in almost nothing. Not in religion. Not in sports teams. Not in my alma mater. Not in politicians or parties. You get the point. But there lends a certain aura of credibility to some experts (even I am willing to admit this!), and we would hope that the combination of Constitutional Law and the President and Harvard and University of Chicago and US Senate, etc... would help create a pedigree of someone who can tell when examining a small document whether or not it says that people should be treated equally....whew! It's shameful to read articles like the one I saw!

Take for example when someone is a dentist. Not just a dentist, but the preeminent dentist for the richest people in the world. It'd be a little disconcerting to learn that he didn't believe in brushing your teeth. OR if he came out and said, "Turns out brushing your teeth really can help prevent tooth decay."
Would't you say, "FUUUCCCCKKKK DUDE. I coulda told you that!" That's what I would say at least.

Think about all these people we 'trust' as experts. Dentists, car mechanics, politicians, accountants, financial advisors, lawyers. As my Pops always said, the law of averages states that 50% of them graduated in the bottom half of their class. I always laughed at that because if you graduate in the lower 20% of Yale Law School, you're probably still doing pretty damn good and should still command a certain amount of respect in your field. You could hire that lady from the bottom of Yale Law and she would get you out of that jaywalking charge you're facing. Or murder, or what have you.

Point is, that we take for granted these 'experts' all the time. I do as well, obviously because by and large we don't have a choice. We know when we eat Taco Bell that our food has a greater likelihood of making us sick. One of the reasons, being the employees may sabotage or negligently undercook something. But when you go to that Brazilian Steakhouse where you're paying $100 a plate, you should know that you're in more 'qualified' hands. Right?

So we should all be a little bit repulsed by the constant 'evolution' of Obama or any other politician for that matter. It's insulting to our intelligence and our critical faculties. Apparently we've all been bamboozled because the only thing that's changed is his opinion of something that is unchanged. That's anything but progressive. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pics - At Long Last

I believe somewhere along the line I promised some pictures so y'all can see my handsome face a little bit.

Well here are some from the trip to Cali - San Luis Obispo...great city. Most of my free time goes into my thesis writing lately so bear with me and please don't stop checking for more. I will try and keep the posts coming.

Me and the Broski
 Hearst Castle...Or should I say Gatsby's house.
 My Mom and Dylan. 
 The fam getting drunk. 
 The married man Zach (middle) and our second-cousin Matt who owns a dog-walking business. 
 My sister and I. 
 Teaching my bro how to rack em up. 
 Pops getting down with his bad self. Only a couple months post knee replacement. 
 My siblings w/ Ash. 
 Pops chilling on the beach. 
 Chair dancing! Zach is a big guy (6'3' maybe 230). Clearly I'm struggling on my end!
 My Uncle Mike, my Aunt Diane, and Pops. 
 Mother-Son Dance. My Aunt Diane has 8 children. He's the youngest boy (37). 
 The lovely couple. Was in a barn at Santa Margarita Ranch. Sweltering. 105 degrees during the ceremony!
 Rocking the thundercats belt buckle. Usually I wear a tie but he asked us not to. Oh Cali peeps. 
 Beautiful pic. The chuppah and groomsmen. 
 Trying our best to stay cool w/ my Aunt and Uncle. 
 Ashley and I rose. We were the first ones. We kept waiting to be asked to rise, but when no one prompted she said, "Dammit get up Conor". So I did. So did everyone else immediately after. 
 First pic post wedding. With Zach's folks.
 My cousin Danny (middle). He's 6'7'. With his two daughters and wife. Alongside his brother Chris.
 My Pops and his sister (my Aunt). She was Miss Senior Arizona like 10 years ago! 
 Chris, my sister and Pops. 
 'Nuff said. 
 The bridesmaids. 4 of which are Zach's sisters (my cousins). And the lovely bride and her maid of honor.
 All the kids together. Rifka in front. Rochelle to our right. Meghan to her left (was in a horrific bike accident just two months before). Danny in the back corner with Zach. Jose (my Aunt's oldest) is the other big dude with the facial hair behind the bride. 
 There's Elle. My Aunt's oldest daughter in front rocking the shades.With Rochelle, Danny, Jose, Meghan, and Rifka. Well half Rifka. 
 Me, Ash, and Pops. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Updates

Of course the night I sit down to post, HBO has an Edward Norton marathon on starting with my favourite: Fight Club. Isn't that how the Brits would spell it? Favourite? I've always liked how they do that. Labour. Be good to your neighbour. Especially if they're coloured.

Anyway, as I glance up to watch Jared Leto get pummeled like Ray Rice's wife (I need to pick on a different race I'm thinking from now on) I wanted to catch you up on everything.

First, Ash got LASIK. She'd been wanting it since before the wedding and although it cost us upwards of 5 grand...well...what's the point of having money in the bank if you ain't gonna spend it? Seriously, I want to know? I'm somewhat obsessive recently with making more money but wealth for wealths sake is pointless. Always save some (a lot) for a rainy day, but accumulation of unspent money just to watch it sit is damn right un-American I say! Doesn't stimulate the economy nor does it satisfy your consumer predilections. So I say go out there and spend some dollar bills. You'll feel better after.

Na, you'll probably just feel guilty. So don't. Although my theory is always make more not spend less...

Speaking of, I'm currently in an unexpected battle with my employer in my attempt to make more money. My boss and supervisor both recommend me for a promotion but an HR rep is thwarting the process as best as she can. Why? No idea. I have never met the person and she is presently making my life much more frustrating than it needs to be. I had to rewrite the position description of my job in order to classify for more pay, and even that didn't appease her. So I am exploring/exhausting all final options before I go all Tyler Durden on the agency. That was a joke.

We traveled to two weddings back to back. Please remind me to post some pictures in the comments and I will post some if you would like to see. The first was in Santa Maragarita Ranch which is just outside of San Luis Obispo. I had been there once before as a high school basketball player but never since. Awesome. Fucking Awesome. We immediately drove to the beach as soon as we flew in. Water was cold but I saw some seals swimming and figured sharks can't be too far off and you can never miss an opportunity to potentially get bit. Luckily for me I managed to stave off becoming a meal for the day and I soaked up the rays. We didn't have sunblock or towels or even a change of clothes. I like it sometimes that way. It's raw, pure, in-the-moment enjoyment. We get so caught up in preparation sometimes we lose sight of what's right in front of us. The waves, the smell of saltwater, the babes in bikinis and the soft sand strewn with seaweed.

The wedding was my cousin's. He is one of 8! It's my Pops' sister's kid. He is the youngest boy (age 37) and works as a screenwriter and actor/producer in Hollywood. She's an actress. Was a wonderful wedding inside of a barn on a ranch. Was fantastic to catch up with the entire fam. You'll definitely want to see some pics of that. We drove to Hearst castle during our stay which is straight out of Gatsby. Spectacular place I highly recommend visiting if ever in the area. I ran each day I was out there actually putting in 23 miles in 4 days which ain't bad.

The next weekend (last weekend) we drove up to Philadelphia. Another wonderful place. We left late Friday night and walked around downtown for an hour or so. It was cold! Our first taste of fall which is far and away my favorite season. The wedding was quite different juxtaposed to the previous weekend as this was a black tie only formal occasion. Most of the guests were doctors and lawyers. We were probably the poorest folks present! I sat next to an interesting kid who is finishing his PhD in Philosophy from Vanderbilt. His girlfriend is in Cornell Law School, eastern european descent. Very attractive.

Ash and I danced and chatted away with the rapacious vampire squids of the world who delight while the peasants down the same street beg on street corners for quarters. Sometimes feel like I'm trapped in Woody Allen's brain...so difficult to enjoy things with so much poverty around! What a wretched thing to think.

The wedding was great, they had a 9 member band and more food than you can imagine including a flambe station and tens of delectable appetizers. The next day we went to heaven on earth which is Reading Terminal Market. If you like food and you've never been you need to take the hajj. It's the mecca of food. An absolute must stop every time if you're in Philly. We did squeeze in one long run in Fairmount Park as well on a gorgeous morning.

Life here has been busy. Mostly b/c of the travel but also b/c I turned 29 (fuck...wow) last week and we've been celebrating and traveling. I need to get focused on my thesis before it's too late so hopefully writing tonight will light the kindle.

Baby bro is hanging in there. We hang out a couple times a week typically. I'm still kicking his ass in tennis but he is improving each time. Hope to post some pics so you remember what this handsome face looks like very soon. Til then. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Going Going Back Back to Cali

Pretty busy these days! Working on my thesis, working on a promotion at work, and traveling a ton!

California tomorrow morning early (San Luis Obispo) for 4 days, followed by Philadelphia next weekend. Both for weddings.

Promise to post more in the next few weeks. Lots to discuss in the world.

Hope you all waved your fucking flags today like obedient people. :). I did.

Til then. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

US Open Tennis


Watching Federer
 
When I played high school and college tennis, I was a bit of a hothead. I used to pump my chest and primal yell after points in some dramatic gesticular way to intimidate and/or distract my opponent. I conscientiously employed this as a strategy to win. Often, it worked. There were times that my opponent would complain to his coach or a line judge, but technically I wasn't breaking any rules and would often supress my gusto for a few games while I was being scrutinized only to revert back to my 'normal operative' state as soon as the glaring eyes left.
 
I wasn't a big pouter. I didn't throw my racket. In fact, I have never broken a racket (of which I am quite proud). I suppose the reason for my shouting was in order to compensate for my skill inadequacies I found it crafty to utilize any other tools at my disposal.
 
I also have an insane amount of testosterone pumping through my veins. Probably double what the average man has and there's actually some family genetic testing to vouch for that.
 
My answer was always, "You think I'm rough on the court...wait til you see me behind the wheel."
 
(Shaking my head) That is something that sorely needs reshaping, but that's another story.
 
We are what and who we are, are we not? As much as we try (and probably should) attempt to silence our obnoxious or unflattering qualities, they shine on. And the debate brews, should we censor ourselves or are we being inauthentic in so doing?
 
Either way, I've always admired Roger's inexpressive playing demeanor. Contrasted with Djokovic (the entertainer) or Nadal (the warrior) our favorite Swissman (Ashley's favorite player too) is unreadable. He would be one hell of a poker player. The most fun is to watch him perform without the score. Very hard to tell who's winning except for the fact that he seems to dominate most of the points.
 
Last night was a special treat. Although Federer appeared shaky at times, he did not for an instant allow his opponent to seize on it. He plowed on without neither applauding himself for his winners, nor hanging his head over unforced errors. The Swiss train runs on time, never early nor late. Never making excuses nor boasting.
 
In life in general, I channel this mentality and it serves me quite well. Ashley too. Things are never that amazing, but they're never that awful either. We are always somewhere in the middle. To some degree we may miss out on the euphoric highs, but we also don't experience the despondent lows. Relatively of course.
 
What I do find interesting on a sociological standpoint is how much awe and respect I have for Federer. Certainly it's because he's a magnificent tennis player and his lifetime achievements speak for themselves, but it is deeper than that. My reverance for him is such a stark contrast to how I used to play and feel while on the court. It's a version of the grass is greener on the other side.
 
Perhaps Federer wishes he had the vivacity of Nadal?
 
What do you think?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson

Many of you know my history as a pacifist. I was a member (founder in some cases) of war protests for most of my late teen's and early 20's. I was dedicated too. Twice a week for an hour and a half. Around age 24 I stopped. Mostly because I moved to D.C. and protests here are quotidian and much larger than they were in Phoenix and San Diego or Colorado. Here, there's a protest every week by some politico, or some organization or another over some cause that we all should give a shit about. Like the environment. AIDS. Civil rights. Gay marriage. War.

I suppose it's the inverse of what I faced before I left. Before departing for DC I would often be the only one standing on the street corners. People were so unaccustomed to seeing a protestor that they'd appear confused or amused by my presence. It was typically a pleasant experience because of the attention I received. In Washington, we're so conditioned to seeing solicitors and/or protestors that we overlook them and simply walk right past most of the time. Myself included. Sigh. Loses its luster so to speak. 

In the household I live in now with my wife (and dog) we are very anti-authority, anti-cop, and anti-military. So in essence, not much has changed haha. What has changed, or waned more accurately, is our brio for discussing it or expressing our discontent. We do a nice job of commiserating over the daily political shitstorms on our dog walks at night. But that's generally the full extent. It's a play of solidarity and a salute to those who still do fight the good fight day in and day out (which my wife does to be fair). But life has a funny way of getting in the way and distracting you just enough to diminish your hope for revolution or change. 

I'd prefer to just eavesdrop and occassionaly chime in on one of the many brilliant minds I follow on Twitter and call it a night. Maybe watch a documentary or read a book. But for the most part I have become a casualty of society. I'm not complaining. At least, I don't think I am. 

I maintain a high quality lifestyle. I have a great little family and a nice ol' job and basically lead a fairly hedonistic life. In fact, that hedonism is itself a rejection of the Protestant-ethic our country was founded on. Suppose that's arguable, but in my acquiescence there remains some fire and nihilism. If that makes sense. 

Sort of (as always) taking a circuitous route to get to the point which is...you guessed it...Ferguson! 

My wife and I are both fairly heartened by the media coverage and disobedience we are seeing. The fight. The tweets. It seems that the hoi polloi are waking up a bit to what is a fairly mundane conversation in our household. People in authority (ab)use their power. The behavior of the cops and national guard is not surprising. At least it shouldn't be. They are trained in a certain method that is mechanical which intentionally separates the humanity that (hypothetically at least) unites us. It's a black/white world and that can be literal for some. 

That is not to say that all cops are bad people. Like most of us, they're just doing their job the best way they know how. They just picked a despicable line of work. And by executing the orders they're given they are often confined to react in a certain manner that forces them to bully/coerce/intimidate/murder etc.. A boxer is forced to punch. A dancer is forced to dance. And cops are forced to 'police'. 

Police are loved and feared because they control the weaponry and hold all the power. We are powerless in front of them and we know it. That's why these sustained protests and brazen defiance is so magnificent to watch. We're both sitting at home cheering, (hoping no more citizens get murdered). Some of them are fools and some are brave but they all seem to be outraged at the militarization of our nation and the reckless use of power and weaponry against others. 

It definitely brings back some nostalgia of college-era self and it feels pretty satisfying. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Scalping on the Weekends

Yesterday my brother and I drove up to Baltimore for the day. I looked into getting Orioles tickets online but couldn't find too many in our area. No worries. I've scalped many a ticket in my day and figured we could wait until the 2nd or 3rd inning and get great seats on the cheap.

Typically this is a simple and effective plan.

However, the weather was particularly nice and maybe the Cardinals have some marquee players, but for whatever reason the game was sold out. This makes a scalpers paradise. Except this time, they had the leverage, not the buyer.

After checking out the inner harbor (always a great place to stroll), we walked to Camden Yards and started negotiating. Haggling is a common process in Asia, Africa, and other regions of the world but highly uncommon in the U.S. Since Dylan and I travel frequently, we're used to bargaining on the cheap for products we want and know when to bite and when to be patient.

After spending 10-15 minutes seeing what the price tags were and weighing our options, we began the negotiation. We didn't want to spend more than 20-25 per ticket. Dylan wasn't overly keen on going to the game to begin with, but I do enjoy the experience of being a part of the action.

We turned down a couple of hustler's that were asking too much for nose bleed seats. No can do. They waved us off as cheap fucks but I knew we could get a better deal.

A few minutes later we came across a heavy-set dude who was perfect prey. We could tell he was exhausted and wanted to go home. This became even more apparent when he said, "Guys, I'm just tired and want to go home." What can I say, I can read 'em.

So we asked to see the goods. He had two face-value seats for 18 each and he wanted 40 for both. I said that's over face value and he said he had to pay a credit card fee. I rolled my eyes and dismissed that comment. Been there. Heard that. I was pretty persistent about getting both tickets for 20 bucks. The seats were terrible. It's basically just paying to get through the doors.

He walked off a few times in a huff, but his bluff was called because he had no other buyers. He finally relented begrudgingly and handed over the tickets for 20 bucks. Solid.

Dylan suggested we should re-scalp them. Great idea. He didn't even want to go to the game anyway.

So I started waving the tickets around (we're about to start the 3rd inning mind you) and had no luck initially. After 5 minutes we laughed and walked across the street to enter Camden. But one final glance back I spotted two fellas who were negotiating with a different scalper and shouted that I had better seats. I didn't. But they didn't know that.

Sure enough one guy come barreling over to see the goods. I told him I have two I'd sell at face value. 18 each. 35 for both. Apparently my math sucks.

Guy shrugs. Looks at Dylan and says, "Will you accept 30?"

I wasn't but Dylan nodded and I said okay and we scalped a 50% profit in about 6 minutes.

It was just a unique, interesting experience. Really great memory. I suppose my scalping (day-trading) is now translating into alternative venues! Crazy shit.

Dylan had never been to Bubba Gump shrimp so we walked over there, grabbed some beers and watched the game. Was really fun. The waitresses loved us and gave us free drinks and we played trivia. We then enjoyed the buskers and walked around this crazy convention (like ComicCon) that was there. Awesome time.

Friday we're heading down to Greenville, South Carolina. We'll spend two nights there, followed by one in Charlotte, NC. Very excited.