Friday, April 29, 2011

There Was Baseball

My friend Kameron is in a band called Minus Six. My favorite song of theirs is called, "Good Days" because of the following verse:

I sure hope sometime we'll reminisce
And we'll laugh and we'll talk
And remember way back when
When we would sit back and never worry bout a thing
We just prayed that that grass came up thick and green
So we could lay down at night and wish on the stars up above us
That's what we liked to do when we were young
And now all we want to do is you-know-what
I guess that's part; I guess that's part of growing up


I couldn't find the song on Youtube, but I recommend you spend the $.99 on i-Tunes and check it out. What I like about that lyric is the playful "all we want to do is you-know-what." It's not often people lament the fact they are now you-know-whating. The song also talks about baseball and the Fourth of July and all those memories from childhood we like so much.
Cover Art to Minus Six's "Hidden Deep in the Green." Buy this album. Kameron's wife is pregnant. He needs money.
The song reminds me of part of my recent adventure to sunny Los Angeles. To me, the highlight of our trip was a Dodgers game. I know a lot of people think they hate baseball, but I think there is something ingrained in our Americana that appreciates live baseball. There is really nothing like it. There's just something about sitting outside on a warm afternoon or night and watching a game unravel. The hot dogs, the diet soda beverages, and, in my case, the excessive spending on t-shirts.

After the game, there were to be fireworks. We knew the fireworks were coming, and we spent most of the game pretending to be excited for them. When the game ended and people were leaving, we'd ask people with faux enthusiasm, "Why aren't you staring for fireworks?" We were jaded, but really, they're just fireworks...

Yippee...woo hoo!
....or so we thought. Prior to them turning off the lights, they opened up the gates and let people walk out onto the field. The field! A real baseball field! Where real baseball players play real baseball!

Dan: Sorry ladies, he's married. He's just teasing you with his "I'm sexy" look.
Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the unexpected surprise of being on the field, but the six of us started to act like giddy, carefree children.

Jeff: Giving one last tip of the cap to the fans after a stellar performance.
We kicked off our flip-flops and squished the grass between our toes. We jumped up and down. If memory serves, we even put our arms around each other and swayed back and forth for a bit.

Steve: I don't know what he's going for here. Seduction? Indifference? Foolish?
For that moment, we weren't jaded adults. Our jobs didn't matter. It was just fireworks, loud music, and friends.

Jesus, I mean Jon: The most jaded guy I know...just as giddy as the rest of us.
That something about baseball I alluded to...I think it's because the simplicity of the game brings us back to our childhood. Like the Minus Six song, baseball helps us remember way back when we would sit back and never worry about a thing.

Joe: Stand up Joe. That's bad posture. You'll hurt your neck.
Before responsibilities, before pressure, before fertility struggles and mortgage payments, there was baseball. And there still is.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TOMS

They arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, and I've been smitten ever since.  Yes, they're my TOMS.


If you haven't heard of TOMS, they're a super-fantastic (whoah cheerleader!) company that matches shoe purchases with shoe donations, one-for-one. Pretty rockin', right?  I think so. 

In Covey language, we call that a win-win.  I win because I get these cute, lightweight, super comfortable shoes.  And some child in the country of Argentina, Armenia, Burundi, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Hondorus, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Niger, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, or Zambia wins because they get a pair as well.

(Worldliness test: Did you recognize all of those as countries?  I will admit, there were a couple I hadn't heard of before. Dang you, Iowa naivety.)

I love mine so much and I don't even need a pair of shoes.  I can't imagine how excited a child receiving their first-ever pair of kicks would be to get some TOMS.  I mean, I hope the kid who got my donation got a pair made with really cute funky fabric.  Can I request that?

Dear TOMS,

Please give my donation of 1 pair of shoes to a child in need.  Also, can you make sure her shoes are made with extra cuteness and the fun fabric? I'd appreciate that.

Sincerely, Kelsey
Okay, maybe not so much.  Also, I think I would about die of heart-spilleth-over if  I was ever involved in a shoe drop.  You know, go to the country with the company and drop off some shoes to some kids.  My eyes would probably be swollen shut from all of the beautiful happy tears I'd shed.  Maybe I should get going on  my second letter....

Dear TOMS,

I just bought my first pair of TOMS, but I really like what you do.  Can I come along to deliver  my one pair donation myself?  Your job is cool. So is mine, I'm a teacher and I have a summer vacation.What I'm getting at is that perhaps you could schedule one of your shoe drops over the summer and I could go?  I'd appreciate that.

Sincerely, Kelsey

                                                               Lovin' my TOMS!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You crack me up.

Author's Note: I'm sorry about the way this post is written, I couldn't resist.  I really couldn't. I tried to write it like a normal human being, but it wasn't possible.  Please proceed with heavy eye-rolling. 

Maybe it's been the eggs-traordinary suggestive nature of Easter marketing, but we've been eating an egg-ceptional amount of eggs in our house lately.  I kind of forgot that I like hard boiled eggs, and I'm not egg-sactly sure Jay had ever eaten one in his life.  Either way, they're egg-streamly yummy.

Egg-cellent. 
What's handy about eggs is that I can boil them in advance, and I'm egg-static that we can use them in a lunch or a breakfast really easily.  Now that's egg-citing. Or, if that's too egg-stravagant for your taste, you can just pop them in your mouth...

Jay was egg-splosively angry this day...

I've been egg-sperimenting with lunches lately and my lunch of choice has become a hard boiled egg, diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and some honey mustard in a salad. 

Delish. It egg-ceeds my egg-spectations.



Do you have any egg-samples of how you're using eggs in your kitchen? Or how your ridiculous wife can't resist a silly play on words?  You are welcome to share either! 

As for me, That's all yolks. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

And We're Back: A Budgeting Tale (Part One)

After a brief break from blogging, we're back. We're sorry to leave you hanging like that. Before I get into the meat of my blog, a few schedule updates and housekeeping notes:

1) During the summer I will only be taking one class, and it will be on Wednesday nights. This should help the consistency of the blogs seeing as I'll be able to start sharing in the blogload again.

2) We've decided to change "Thorough Thursdays" to "Things We Love Thursdays." We decided the Monday and Thursday blogs were starting to become the same week after week. And by the same, we mean both days were becoming quite dull. This change allows us to talk about projects and/or distribute business/life advice on Mondays and recommend fun stuff we like on Thursdays.

3) It should be noted: in roughly one hour from this moment in time, I will be completely caught up on laundry...that means every single towel, white, and colored article will be washed...for the first time since the fourth grade!

And now...the blog. What should I write about? What is the most entertaining thing I can discuss? Budgeting. Yep, budgeting. Don't worry, I'm not going to go into detail about how Kelsey and I budget. That will come next week (or maybe the week after depending on how far I get tonight). Tonight I want to tell Part One of when I realized I couldn't buy whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Essentially, I want to tell Part One of when I realized it was time to grow up.

Budgeting is actually fresh on my mind at the moment since I'm reading a book by the very intelligent Dave Ramsey my father-in-law gave to me. For those unfamiliar, Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who has helped countless people get out of debt. While I'm not in debt, I do like to read about how millionaires became millionaires. Click on the picture of the book to go to Amazon and buy a copy. I honestly think if you're struggling with money, Dave Ramsey could change your life:

I don't have a story as engrossing as Dave's. He was a millionaire in his twenties, lost his fortune, went bankrupt, and then worked himself back out of debt into a millionaire again.

What I do have is a simple story that made me realize adulthood arrived. One Saturday in October shortly after my 26th birthday, I went to start my car. It would not start. I swore at it. It still did not start. I got out of the car and kicked the tire. Still, nothing. I'd tried everything. I asked around and someone who knew about such things told me it sounded like I needed a new alternator. I then Googled alternator. I still was not sure what an alternator did, but I knew having one replaced costed around $500.

The problem? I didn't have $500 of disposable income. I'd just purchased an engagement ring the month before. After a year of living at home, I now had bills again (roughly $1100 a month). Two months prior to my car dying, I took a pay cut to start at John Deere. When I read "$500" my stomach dropped. I wanted to cry. I started to think of all the stupid purchases I'd recently made. Two weeks before that I'd ordered $400 worth of DVDs on Amazon to fulfill a collection that mattered to no one but me. I'd bought an Xbox and three games the previous August. I bought a Wii and two games the month before that. These purchases coincided with several wasted dollars on fast food and pizza.
It might be healthy, but damn if it's not expensive.
The bottom line: I wasn't using my savings account to save. I was using my savings account as a checking account. I needed to make a change, and I needed to make it fast. I'd soon be married, and I'd soon have "real" expenses: mortgages, landscaping, furniture, yuck.

I decided to limit what I could spend on "fun" expenses. I gave myself $100 every fifteen days to spend on restaurants, videogames, movies, bars, anything. I took out the cash every paycheck and if it ran out, that was it. I was out. I couldn't get more. Thems the rules.

I also started to seriously evaluate my bills. I had a $90 cell phone bill for a phone I used once or twice a week. I had a Mediacom bill of $80 that covered Internet, cable, and phone for my apartment. I paid $60 for a parking spot each month. My apartment shared a brick wall with the out of doors, so my heating and air conditioning bill was nearly $250 every month. All that combined was $480 for bills on top of my $650 rent.
These women are very concerned about Bills, Bills, Bills. Also, one of them is Beyonce. I bet the other three wish they were Beyonce instead of being whoever they are.
 Around this time I was spending pretty much all of my time at Kelsey's house. After work, I'd usually stop by my apartment to change clothes and get my mail. Then I'd spend time with Kelsey and Dottie until they went to bed. Afterwards, I'd drive to my apartment and read until I fell asleep. I rarely turned on the TV. I was never at my apartment during the times I'd need to pay for a parking spot. Basically, I was wasting a lot of money on stuff I thought I needed but never actually used.

I quickly cut all the unnecessary apartment expenses. I stopped air conditioning and heating the place during the day. I'd use blankets in the winter and wear tightie whities in the summer. I'd survive.

By combining the bill cutting and the hard budgeting, I was able to start watching my bank account grow each month instead of break even. Sure, I had to defend my innocence when friends and family started to call me "cheap," but it was worth it. I started to feel more secure in my finances, and I got used to living like a near hobo. I could have lived that way forever, but fate intervened.
Kelsey did not want to a be hobo.
When Kelsey and I got married the following July, she didn't take too kindly to becoming a hobette. She didn't understand why a couple with two incomes couldn't occasionally enjoy a treat here and there. I started to think about it, and I didn't understand it either. But that is a story for another Monday. Next week I'll explain the system Kelsey and I created together after a few months of marriage...it's a system we still use today.

As for my car, I lucked out. The alternator was fine. I simply needed a new car battery (cars have batteries! who knew?) and a new something or other that connects a car battery to a car. But the scare changed me. I can still feel the drop in my stomach and the fear in my chest. I didn't want to feel that way again, and thanks to some planning and some adjusting, I haven't.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vacation from Blogging

Hey folks,

We'll be back to this blog business soon.  Things have been busy, and neither of us has felt totally inspired to write anything in the past week.  But we've vowed to be back soon, as we wouldn't want to let all 11 of you down.   I can't imagine how your lives are even continuing not knowing every excruciating detail about ours.  :)

See you soon, promise.

Kels and Jay

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Junk That is Everywhere

I don't consider myself a pack-rat or a hoarder, but for some reason stuff just seems to pile up in our house. Our unfinished area of the basement, which was clean just last year, is overflowing with a spare table, a giant "boob tube" HDTV (the first ever made I think--it weights 900 pounds), decorations from every holiday, and various exercise items. How does this happen? If there is an empty drawer in this house, Kelsey and I will fill it. Then we'll forget we filled it. Then we'll assume we had a reason to fill it, so we'll keep it filled.

Next Friday I don't work (what a Good Friday...har dee har har), so I'm hoping to tackle either the garage (because the shelves I installed last summer are now overflowing with unorganized everythings) or the unfinished basement. At some point, I want to go room by room and purge the drawers of things we don't need. For instance, do I need over 100 t-shirts when I'm pretty sure I wear a rotation of six or seven of them? Do I need to keep my old cell phone, of which I don't even have the charger, in my nightstand drawer?

This does lend the question though: What do we do with all our junk? We had a garage sale last year, but we don't really have any big ticket items that would bring in buyers. It's just a lot of stained, faded clothing. Do I dare bring tens of hundreds of bags to Goodwill and risk the forced volunteers working the unload dock glaring at me?

What do you all do when clutter overload is starting to take over the house?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Tale of Embarrassment

I had a professor in college who said he had calcium deposits in his brain. About once a year, usually in February, the calcium deposits started to move in such a manner that he would freeze, mid-sentence, for ten to fifteen seconds. Then he'd resume his sentence and have no idea he paused through ten to fifteen seconds of his life.

The opposite of that happened to me tonight. I had reverse calcium deposits I think. It was "final presentation" night in my marketing class. I knew the content of my team's presentation inside and out. I could have told you my material without any slides or notes. I was rehearsed. Everything was going to go just fine thank you very much.

There were six of us in our group. We started to present. Tom started. Good job Tom. Then Bill. Next was Larry. Who of course transitioned to Matt. He handed off to Greg. Next it was my turn! I nailed my slides. I gave a demo of a website we created. I explained in such good detail that even a child born with a Skittle brain (mmm...Skittle brain) would understand why they needed to buy Italian sausage.

Once I finished my last slide, trouble brewed. I'd rehearsed my material, but I never considered what I'd say when I needed to transition back to Tom for our wrap-up. One would think I'd say something like, "And here's Tom, with our wrap-up." But no. Oh no. Sweet Lord do I wish I said that. As the transition approached I got inexplicably nervous. Then a cell phone went off. The ring tone was the Mario song from the underground worlds. As soon as I heard duh duh duh duh duh duh, my brain broke. The reverse calcium deposits shifted around, and I could not shut up.

I finished the material on my slide without a problem, but then I said, "And here's Tom to present our geographic transition plans and our results and our, evidently I can't walk and talk at the same time, and our um, um, um." Only it was one million times worse than that. It's the first time I've ever been in front of group and felt that rattled. Normally my ego carries me through without a problem. I think the fact I started the presentation very tired combined with the distracting Mario theme song that made me think of last week in LA when my friends and I decided we were going to beat Mario 3 whilst drunk in order to save my brother-in-law's life (long story...suffice it to say Joe lived and all is well in Koopa Kingdom), doubly combined with the fact I couldn't think of a relatively easy transition on the fly caused me to look like an idiot.

After the presentation, I immediately made a joke about it. No one in the class seemed to notice my word vomit that much. My group said it was more hilarious than anything. But still, I don't expect that from myself, so I felt like an idiot.

There is probably a metaphor in here somewhere about making sure you are prepared for everything--including life's transitions--but I'm not going to make it. Sometimes a funny story is just a funny story, and it need not be bogged down with subtext.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Grad School Fuel

Since I lashed out towards Travelocity last night, I thought I'd focus on a good business tonight. As mentioned countless times on this blog, I'm currently in grad school. This requires that two nights a week I drive an hour out of town for class. Sometimes I have time between work and class to exercise. Other times I have to leave straight from work for class. Either way, I don't have time to come home and cook a prepared, healthy meal for my drive to school.

Enter Wild Basil Foods.

Specific details about the company can be found at their website linked above. The company offers a line of all natural snacks.

I first heard about Wild Basil Foods last year when Kelsey attended one of our neighborhood's "girls' night" events. Laura, the founder of Wild Basil Foods, brought some food samples to the party. Kelsey came home from the party and mentioned the food she'd tried and told me I'd like them. At the time, I was eating the occasional "power bar" for a meal. I didn't like resorting to a power bar because God knows what's in them. They literally tasted like chalk.
Chalk gives you power. That's why teachers are so great.
Truthfully, I meant to check out the website right away but completely forgot. Then I ran into Laura at our neighborhood Christmas party and asked her more questions about the snacks. Transition to a few weeks later when Kelsey and I went gluten-free right as I was about to start grad school, and I needed something fast, with no gluten, I could eat on the way to, from, and during school.

To that end, Wild Basil Foods has been a godsend. They offer several different bars. I've tried the five gluten free bars. All of them were good, but I'm particularly fond of the Lemon and the Super Chocolate.

I know most of Wild Basil's products are technically snacks and not meals, but when accompanied with fruit and/or almonds, they make a satisfying meal. At any rate, I think I'll be happier with myself than all the people who stop and pick up McDonalds on the way to every class!

If you're interested in trying some natural snacks (they'd be great for road trips), try Wild Basil Foods.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Not to Run a Business

If you follow me on Twitter, you are well aware that I was in Los Angeles for the last few days babysitting Suri Cruise. While I had no problem getting to LA, I was worried I would never be able to make it back. I'm going to walk you through a time-line of interactions with Travelocity that outlines how you, or anyone, shouldn't run a business. If you want to skip the time-line and scroll to the end, (marked in bold below), here's a quick executive summary: Travelocity dun' almost ruined my trip.

Sometime last fall: Joe (my bro-in-law) and I purchased tickets on Travelocity for a trip to LA. We planned to depart from Des Moines on March 30th and return to Des Moines on April 3rd. On both the departure and arrival flights we'd be making a connection in Denver.

Monday, March 21st: I received an email and a call from Travelocity notifying me that there had been a change to my itinerary. What happened? My departure flight had been moved up a half hour. A fairly minor change. I bring this up only because they called me for this seemingly insignificant detail and nothing else during the next week.

Tuesday, March 22nd: I received an email from Travelocity once again letting me know my flight had changed and to call them with any questions. 

Thursday, March 24th: I received another email from Travelocity letting me know I no longer had a return flight scheduled and to please call them right away. I called them on my way home from class. I did not get past the beautiful hold jingle for the entire 60 minute drive home. I hung up and decided to try again the next day. 

Friday, March 25th: I called Travelocity and was told that on April 3rd, Joe and I were going to be stranded in Denver because our Denver to Des Moines had been canceled. Here was our exchange:

"Um, no. I'm sure there are plenty of ways to get me from LA to Des Moines on April 3rd."

"Oh but your flight from LA to Denver is still good so there is no reason to change that one."

"Yes. There is plenty of reason to change that one. I don't care if I fly through Denver. I have no affinity for that airport. I'll make five connections if I need to--just get me home."

"But sir, you are still booked for LA to Denver. Are you telling me you don't want this flight?"

"I'm looking on the Internet right now. I'm looking at your website right now. There is an earlier flight out of LA to Denver that allows me to catch a different flight to Des Moines. Can you change the flight?"

"Oh. That's a good idea. Yes."

So Travelocity Agent One changes my ticket. She told me I would receive confirmation in 4 to 6 hours. I was on the phone for 57 minutes and hung up happy, thinking it was resolved.

Sunday, March 27th: I realized I did not have confirmation yet. I checked my information on Travelocity and saw that I was now booked for a departure flight leaving Denver at 11:00am FOR Los Angeles. I would then have a 96 hour lay-over in LA before boarding a fictional plane heading towards Des Moines. Huh? I emailed Travelocity and told them my information was wrong, and that I needed updated ticket information. I received an email that night with the information for my bizarro flight. I emailed them back and said, "Please read what you are sending me." They said, "We can't fix this over email. Please call us!"

Monday, March 28th: I called Travelocity and spoke with Travelocity Agent Two for 63 minutes. They told me what they told me six days prior: everything's okay. You'll get your new information in four to six hours. I didn't have the information after class, so I called them again. Travelocity Agent Three told me I'd have confirmation in four to six hours. I was on hold for forty-five minutes before I heard this.

Tuesday, March 29th: Still no confirmation. I was angry. I was only scheduled to work a half day that day, and I had to spent 82 minutes on the phone with Travelocity. I called them, and Travelocity Agent Four told me that, "Oh. Those flights are full. You won't be able to return until April 4th." I told them that was completely unacceptable. That I'd been on the phone for over four hours with them for the last week and have been given three guarantees my flight was okay. I told the guy I knew he wasn't the one I'd talked to, but I'm not hanging up the phone until I had an updated itinerary in my hand. The guy started to say there was nothing he could do. I made it clear to him there was something he could do. I was on hold forever, but I got my itinerary.

Wednesday, March 30th: Joe and I fly to LA.

Saturday, April 2nd: On the way to an LA Kings hockey game, I tried to check in to our flight by my phone via United's website. The website wouldn't let me check in. It said my ticket wasn't confirmed. I called United and after being on hold for over 20 minutes, I was told I needed to call Travelocity as Travelocity needed to send United updated ticket information. Oh Good!

I called Travelocity and explained the situation. Travelocity Agent Number Five told me that they would send me confirmation in four to six hours. I politely said goodbye to my friends as they went into the hockey game. I then stood outside and talked to the Travelocity guy for over ninety minutes. I missed the first two periods of the hockey game. At one point I was told he'd send me my confirmation in 24 hours for a flight that left LA in 12 hours. He kept telling me he'd call me back. I told him I wasn't going anywhere. I finally got the confirmation and was able to check-in.

Sunday, April 3rd: Joe and I arrive to the airport to find out he doesn't have a seat assigned and might not be able to fly. He was. But still, one more wrinkle.

The End: Look, this was a very long story. I probably didn't need to go into daily detail. I bring it up for the following reason though: Travelocity really screwed up. I understand flights get canceled. It happens all the time. But to continuously tell me everything was okay when everything was clearly not okay was inexcusable. I have no vested interest in any of the online travel agencies. Before this trip I could have cared less about using Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, etc. But Travelocity made me care about who I won't use...them. They lied. They gave false assurance. Worst of all, I don't think they took any notes in my file because I had to continuously tell a different human being my story every time I called.

I'll write Travelocity a letter. I'm sure I'll get some nominal travel voucher or something like that, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that I spent over a week worrying about something I shouldn't have had to worry about. Then I missed two periods of a hockey game I was supposed to watch with my friends. I can't be bought off. I'll remember that Travelocity, due to whatever system quirks and issues they had, caused me to miss an experience on my vacation. They can throw all the guarantees and traveling gnomes at me they want, the bottom line is still customer service, and they dropped the ball.

In an era where consumers can switch companies instantly, businesses can't afford to lose customers.  They need to make sure they have robust customer service processes. I don't care if I'm calling India for customer service, but at least give me a way to talk to the same representative every time. I don't want to talk to Hank one day and Mark the next. Customer service should be personal. People should be able to talk to the same person. Also, don't just have the phone go straight to a, "thank you for your service" message. Have it ring a few times. Have someone answer the phone and say, "Thank you for call, can you please hold?" That automatically makes me think you care. Having me call in and right away hear an obnoxious jingle that repeats every fifteen seconds does not make me think you care. When the music ends after twenty minutes, and all I hear is the same voice saying, "Your call is important to us," back to back non-stop for ten minutes...you don't care AND you have crappy automated phone software. It's not that hard to differentiate yourself with customer service these days. In a world of canned, scripted corporate, "thank yous" and "hello sirs," there is room for a company to show genuine concern. Travelocity had the opportunity and failed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Triple the Trouble...

Everyone knows how much our family loves dogs.  Since moving to Cedar Falls, Dottie has had a lot of playtime with her friends Maggie (my mom's dog) and Millie (Jay's mom's dog).  She has done really well adjusting to having two friends around to play with quite frequently, and seems really sad when there isn't another dog around. 

So in an attempt to grow our little family bigger.....

Meet our new....

Puppies!!!!

Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney!!!

Yah, I know you think we're crazy.  But I think this will be a great addition to our family!  We are so blessed!!!

















APRIL FOOLS! :)