Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Was An Interesting Year

My entire adult life (which I calculate to have begun sometime around the age of 24 or so), I have lived on payroll. From Star Song Records, to EMI Music, to The Safe Side Company, always working hard to build and create, yet leaning on the safety of a twice monthly predictable payout. There were times the last few years of the corporate game where a bigger payday was possible. Annual performance bonuses, possible company sales that might provide a big pay day. But still the safety net was there.

2007 is different. It has been one of the scariest years of my life.

Waking up each day, getting the work at hand done, seeing various checks of various amounts arrive intermittently as the weeks and months went by, and all the time keeping an eye out for emerging opportunities and new businesses to start and develop.

We made it through. Actually making more than the year before. Not sure how that happened, but I think the federal government will be pleased- as they are taking a bigger chunk of MY money than ever before.

And what do I get for it? Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Huckabee telling me to vote for them so they can take more.

Happy new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Doing The Math

A week ago today I wrote about the crèche (for most guys- insert the words barn/stable type structure used in nativity scenes) I made for Michelle. It has since garnered much praise from those that see it.

One of the things most everyone has said is that I should consider making these to sell for extra income. The encouragement seems genuine and it has convinced me that the two I’ve made are of good enough design and quality to sell retail.

Though the words are kind, and very encouraging, there is one big problem with this idea. There is little money in it.

I did some research and found that quality crèche’s like the one made by Willow Tree run about $90. Knowing gift and specialty retailers typically get between 40 and 50 points margin on the retail price (margin is the difference between what the retail paid for an item, and what they sell it for), that means retailers are paying somewhere between $45 and $54 wholesale for these crèches.

So, that’s the market I would have to compete in. Knowing that my crèches would not fetch the same premium as a well-known designer like Willow Tree (mine would probably retail for around $60 and retailers would probably require 50 points margin), and that any future crèches I would make would not be made out of the free wood I found at the dump, and that the milk-based paint I use is not cheap, and that it takes me about 6 hours to make one, there really is no money in this for me.

Assuming the wood and paint is $3, that would leave me about $27 in gross profit after my cost for materials. And at 6 hours work, that comes to a whopping $4.50. The federal minimum wage is $5.45. I suppose I could file a grievance against myself, but then I would price my crèches out of the market if I had to pay $35.70 in parts and labor to only get $30 wholesale per unit.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Temporary Insanity

How do I know I was temporarily insane yesterday? I went shopping in the real world.

I appreciate the plight of retail clerks. I was one. Though my career in that field was relatively short (I did a 2 year stint at Sears as a shoe salesman and then a couple years managing a women’s shoe store), I understand the pressure they are under. It’s no fun dealing with rude customers, long hours, weekend work, low pay, and much more.

Once in a while, though, I run into folks that work retail that really should be in the stock room packing and unpacking boxes instead of interfacing with customers.

Yesterday I ran into 5 of them in two different stores…within 20 minutes.

Last week I bought the new version of the Blackberry Curve. It was a pleasant experience as I actually had the full attention of the salesman, I knew my user name and password for my existing account (speeding up the transfer process), and the phone is awesome.

Yesterday I decided to pick up some gel cases for the phone and a memory card to hold all the music, video and photos I want to carry around with me (the ones that wont fit into my 16gig iTouch). A bit gadgeterialy excessive, but then again…I am compelled by some inner force I can’t control.

I stopped by an AT&T (formerly Cingular) store and was greeted with the offensive stink of some sort of combination of pizza, Shane’s Rib Shack ribs and, I think, curry. Two AT&T sales reps sat at their desks with customers finalizing deals with each of them for new phones. One of them acknowledged my arrival and said “We’ll be right with you.”

Ok. No problem. I went right over to the accessories, picked up a case of gels, grabbed a 2gig card and stood patiently near the sales desks. After 15 minutes of listening to both reps SLOWLY go through the sales process and each chit-chat about what they got for Christmas, what movies were they going to see this weekend, and that Chad was gong to have a big New Years party at his house and that Alisa was not invited, and so much, much more…I realized that there was probably another 10-15 minutes of waiting in my immediate future. I set the cheap case of gels on the counter, laid next to it the memory card, and walked out of the store.

I decided to go to the “big’ AT&T (formerly Cingular) store in Cool Springs, knowing they both had more staff to help, AND, didn’t allow that staff to eat stinky rotten lunch food on the sales floor. As soon as I walked in I was approached and greeted by a lovely lady who asked if she could help me.

“Absolutely” I said, and proceeded to tell her what I needed. She walked me over to the phone case section, pulled out exactly what I needed, headed over to memory cards and pulled the 2gig card for me as well. I noticed there was a 4gig card next to it and pointed and smiled like a little kid and said “mmm…I want that one!”

“I’m sorry sir, your particular model of Blackberry is only designed at this time to manage a maximum 2gig memory card.” So, I have a reason to get the newer phone in a few months it seems.

She handed the two items to me, walked me to the sales counter and said “they can check you out here- have a happy new year!” Wow, so kind and helpful. It ended there.

I stood in front of the counter with 4 people behind it. Person #1 on my far left was talking on his cell phone. Person #2 in front of me was on her stool sideways talking to person #3 who was engaged on his computer. Person #4 was intently working on his computer as well. I waited patiently. No one acknowledged I was standing there. A minute went by. Then 2, and finally 3. I was checking my Blackberry that was eagerly awaiting to try on it’s new gel case.

A bit after the 3 minute mark, when none of the 4 even looked up at me, I kinda lost it. I put my Blackberry down, along side the gel cases and memory card, and did something a bit wacky. I jumped 3 big jumping jacks, waving my hands wildly, and said, too loudly, “Hello! I’m here!”

The store went quiet (there were probably 7 or 8 customers in the store, and about as many staff). The 4 sales people snapped to attention to see what crazy person was making all the noise and they all locked eyes on me for the first time. “Thank you! I said- I was beginning to think you guys couldn’t see me.” I said this with a pleasant smile on my face and in a joking manner so as to let them know I wasn’t as crazy as they must think. Kind of like, wow, isn’t it funny I just did that? Person #2 said, as she then turned to get busy on her computer, “we’ll be right with you sir.” The other 3 went back to whatever they were doing.

The friendly greeter came over with a smile and said “I’m sorry- hey guys, could someone check this customer out, he’s just buying accessories.” Person # 2 said “we’ll be right with him.” My kind protector, the greeter lady, walked away.

I stood there for another minute with no end in sight and then addressed the four once more in a much more quiet and gentle voice, saying “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to walk out of here right now with this stuff without paying. If you would like me to pay, just let me know before I leave.”

Just then greeter lady returned with the manager and he asked person #4 to please take care of me right now. He did. As I left greeter girl apologized and explained they were really busy.

Reconfirmed for me that I need to do and buy EVERYTHING online that I can.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wii For Christmas- Play

With the 7 hours of set-up done, the fun began. I wouldn’t say Wii’ve been playing it non-stop…but once Wii get on it, its hard to get off.

Tons of games came with the system Santa delivered, and already the suggestion has been made by more than one child that family board game night be replaced with Wii night.

Wii’re having a blast. Gotta go.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wii For Christmas- Work

A Wii was the big gift from Santa Claus this Christmas for our whole family. Wii are a bit late to the party- seems the system was a big hit earlier in 2007, and Michelle and I only played it once prior when we were at a friends house for a party, but we loved it.

We were glad Santa had delivered this gift instead of what a few other folks we know went through. My brother-in-law got up EARLY the day after Thanksgiving to get to Wal-mart at 5AM to buy one, only to arrive and find them sold out.

Several other folks I knew couldn’t land one, and on a couple occasions in the last several weeks when I stopped in stores to scope one out (and the prices) there were none to be found. I overheard store clerks tell customers there were no more in Nashville. I found a website that updated hourly on Wii availability around the country- both in stores and online. I looked for a day or two and couldn’t find any.

Then somehow Santa scored one and presto- the whole system and tons of extra’s was sitting in front of the tree Tuesday morning. But the fun was far off.

I knew I couldn’t just plug and play. The mess of wires and components hiding behind our entertainment system couldn’t possibly digest one more piece of electronic equipment. It was time for major surgery.

I keep a box of electronic gear and wires in storage, and pulled it out for the trip up two floors to the family room. I knew I would need some combination of various plugs and wires so brought the whole gaggle of junk upstairs. I started the project at about 10AM the day after Christmas and by noon there was close to a dozen pieces of electronics, miles of wires and a giant TV rolled out and in the middle of the family room. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the control center of Jack Bauer’s CTU headquarters.

The work went on and on. I tried to optimize the space, find the best placement for various gear taking into consideration the distance to power outlets and length of power cords, stacking components that made sense together (i.e. satellite receiver and amp, etc), and the best way to logically move through all the options when the family was trying to enjoy the family room (satellite TV, DVD, VHS, CD, Xbox, Wii, TV guardian, Karaoke, phone, etc). By about 5PM I was finished and clean-up began. What an exhausting process... and Wii hadn't even played it yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Daddy, Can We Be Home Schooled?

Last night as I put the two little ones to bed (A & R) and proceeded to start the nightly ritual of back scratching, R said “Daddy, can we please be homeschooled?”

Michelle and I have talked about this idea several times over the last many years and just don’t see ourselves as the homeschooling type. We admire those that can do it, and know several people that do it quite well. We’re just not one of them.

I asked R why she wanted to be homeschooled and she said that it was real nice not having to get up early and go to school the last several days of Christmas break.

She then paused a second and added “plus, school is about the only bad thing in my life and I’d like to get rid of it.”

If only things we didn’t want to do were that easy to end.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas- Day

Good news for all peoples! Christ is born in Bethlehem!

A wonderful morning with my wife and kids, a relaxing afternoon, and a huge Christmas dinner with extended family.

What could be better? I’ll tell you. My sister Carla volunteered to cook and host the annual family gathering at her house this year- the first year in… I don’t know how many… that Michelle didn’t have to rush around like a crazy person starting at 9AM Christmas morning to get a meal for 15+ people ready by 4PM in the afternoon.

A very restful and peaceful day, followed by a 30min drive to my sister’s that allowed us to just show up, eat and drink, and then leave.

Wow. I hope she does it again next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas- Eve

As I worshipped during our church’s Christmas eve service 7PM, with an invited friend on one side of me, and my wife and four kids on the other, the full weight of the words we were singing pounded down on my heart.

A momentous thing happened that first day of Jesus’s life in the flesh. A plan, who knows how long in the making, had gone fully into effect. The Lamb, the only sacrifice fully acceptable to God in order to appease His need for justice and order in the universe was born.

Romans 6 through 11 in “The Message”:

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

Merry CHRISTmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Project Crèche Complete!

I did it. Finally.

A bit more than a year ago I promised Michelle I would use my budding skills as a woodsmith (is that a word? Woodworker sounds wrong) to make a Crèche for her Willow Tree nativity set. She had seen the official version in catalogs and stores for $60-70 and it just seemed to much to her to pay that for about $3 worth of wood and paint.

I said I would, and so a week ago I started on the project. I had found some great planks of wood at the dump a couple months ago and threw them into my truck thinking I could probably make something out of them for my garage/work area. Perhaps a new work bench or some extra scrap wood for something or other I might someday build (or then again, might never).

I had set a reminder in my Outlook last December and sure enough it popped up and reminded me of this commitment. I headed to my work area and found the old picture of the Willow Tree Crèche from a catalog and eye-balled it for a few minutes. I found the measurements from a listing online and started cutting and sanding away. I only used the rough dimensions (length and width of the base), and did the rest purely by eye. It turned out just a bit better than planned.

I designed it differently than the retail version- the back of the Crèche is connected with two dowel rods that allow the back to pull off the base and lie flat for easy packing when we store all our Christmas decorations.

I used a butternut yellow milk-based paint for all the surfaces, and then hand-rubbed black glossy effects paint over the yellow to create a wonderful old barn wood grey color (thanks to the helpful people at the local WoodCraft store for the paint tip!).

Michelle is pleased. And so am I for remembering to follow through on my promise.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Yesterday was day two of a new agreement between me and my friend Gary. We are to meet each day, Monday through Friday, at around 6:15AM-ish.

I get there early, about 6AM, and he arrives late about 6:30AM.

The meeting place is a YMCA roughly half-way between our homes, some 30 miles apart. The goal is to spend some time on the treadmill and then do a bit of strength training each day.

Our casual agreement is meant to keep each other accountable and work on getting into shape again. His commitment is deeper as he is also just signed up to lose weight in order to benefit a charity.

Mine is purely selfish. I would like to fit into a few more pants that I own. My charity of choice for this venture is the "DigitalRich Long Lost Clothes" trust.

The pain has begun. And will likely continue full force for about a month until I get back into the swing of things.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Observing People

Traveling alone is absolute me time. There is a quiet that is hard to explain. In the midst of blaring pilot announcement, screeching jet engines and jarring slams to the shoulder as passengers visit the porta-potty for a bio-break, it is still somehow peaceful.

Granted, I think my new fancy iPod is helping a little, along with my noise reducing headphones. Ok, actually they're helping a bunch.

I am free to observe other travelers, but I can't hear what they're saying while listening to some old George Harrison as my soundtrack for the night.

I saw some interesting folks. A man that was in a wheel chair and boarded last with help from others to get in his aisle seat... Followed of course by the woman who was late to board that had the window seat next to him. She had to climb up over him, slipped, and fell chest first into his face. I think I've seen that once or twice in the movies.

I watched a man spill mustard on his suit eating an Aunt Annie's hot dog pretzel (but for the grace of God go I). My favorite was the husband and wife getting progressively more pissed each time their flight to Newark was delayed (three times while I was sitting in the gate area in Cincinnati). They we're kind of yelling at each other (I think) and giving each other glaring evil eyes. At one point I snickered a bit too loudly and they glanced at me. I sort of tried to cover up the laugh by emitting some sort of low frequency humming rap-type drummish sound to go along with the music from my iPod while starting to nod my head.

I don't think it worked. The woman kept tossing sideways looks at me.

It was a pretty fun night considering.