Office View

I was sitting down with my coffee this morning, reading through my RSS feeds. This is a normal morning routine for me, and one of my favorites feeds caught my eye, as usual: Offscreen magazine does a “desktop” series where they feature five inspiring workspaces each week.  They find some amazing, and usually minimal workspaces, many of them with amazing views.  You can check out the series here.  The first workspace picture for today, had a long skinny desk up against a large window with a fantastic view into the woods.  I found myself longing for a view like that.  Then I realized: I already have it.  My primary job is a stay at home dad, where I often go hiking with my son during the day.  Essentially at that point, my office has fantastic views and I get to share them with my son (and sometimes my daughters if they are not in school).  For my secondary job as a web designer / developer… I’d still like to have  a fantastic office someday.  It’s funny though, if I end up with a great view into the woods, I’ll likely be longing to go hiking with my family!

The Sparrow “ding”

Sometimes small details can really make a difference in our ability to be present and focus on what is in front of us.  When it comes to working on anything related to a computer, my ability to focus is, well, almost scary.  The world could be coming to an end, and I might not know it if I am in the middle of building a web site.  However, when I am playing with my kids, or doing some chores around the house…  I can be focused at times, but certain things will throw me off.  The biggest one:  the classic “ding” sound from Sparrow letting me know I have a new email.

In theory, I like having an audible notification that I have a new email.  However, when I am eating dinner or reading a book with one of my kids and that little “ding” goes off, it’s all I can do to keep from checking.  All of a sudden, my email has a tyrannical hold on my thought process.  The sound sits in my head until I check the darn thing.  Our family computer sits in our great room, where we spend most of our time.  If I am home, I’ll likely hear the sound.  Of coure, I usually end up checking it to make sure it isn’t anything important.  Thing is, I rarely have an important email of such magnitude that I would need to check it out right away.  Almost never, really.

I am not sure why I let this go on so long.  Such a simple thing… I turned off the sound notification on Sparrow the other day.  It makes a huge difference.  I still check my email quite often.  But now, I wait until after dinner, or after I am done reading or playing with my kids.   I love it… I changed one little setting on my email client and my ability to be present is better.  Not perfect by any stretch, but better.


This past weekend, I raced in the Iceman Cometh mountain bike race.  It is a 29 mile race that starts in Kalkaska, MI and ends near Traverse City.  This year it was appropriately named, as we had fresh snow on the ground at the beginning of the race and encountered flurries along the way as well.  The course was muddy and slick in spots, and sandy in others.  This is my second year racing the Iceman, and it was much harder this year than last.

I was pretty disappointed in my time.  I finished in 3:03:35, where as last year I finished in 2:42:51.  I actually felt stronger and in better shape this year.  Some of the difference is attributable to the conditions and adjustments made to the course because of logging.  It definitely didn’t ride as fast as last year, and it felt like it was a little longer.  I also had a bad seeding, which put me behind a lot of riders who were out there for the first time.  There were several locations on the single-track where we came to a dead stand still, and others where the pace slowed to a crawl.  There was a lot of grumbling out there, some of it mine.  It is frustrating to train for a race and have traffic jams really slow you down and kill your momentum.

Despite the frustrations, it was still a blast.  I was fortunate enough not to have any flats, broken chains, etc., and I made it through without injury as well.   I am amazed at how many bikes you see broken down on the side of the trail, and my wife had to give a few injured riders a lift to the finish.  It has to be a huge bummer to train for and travel to a race and not be able to finish due to breakdown or injury.

There is something awesome about being out there with 4700 other riders on a cold, snowy, November day.  This year, my family was able to come out to the race as well.  They were there cheering me on at the midpoint, which was a huge boost to my morale.  Overall it was a fantastic day.   I hope they fix the seeding issues, but either way, I am looking forward to next year!

Change the Momentum

A little before summer, I set a goal to bike 1500 miles for 2012.  The goal is for the  whole year, but most of the mileage needs to happen in the summer when my wife is home from work and I have the opportunity to ride almost daily.

I started off the summer well, getting up to 150 miles pretty quickly.  Then the weather got nice, and my focus shifted to a few projects I had been planning around the house.  And just like that, I got into a bad rut.  As each day went by that I wasn’t making any progress, I felt less and less like biking.  I lost my momentum.

And then it hit me… The goal really isn’t about the miles, it’s about biking as much as possible.  I set a goal because I love to ride and it also keeps me fit.  I was paying more attention to my progress than I was to riding.  The only thing that was going to change my momentum, though, was to get my butt out there and ride… which is what I did this week.

If I’ve learned anything from the fist six months of the embrace / refrain project, it’s that momentum can be a pretty big deal.  Whether it’s with solitude, exercise, eating well, or whatever;  positive momentum can make everything easier.  Negative momentum does just the opposite, and can even make you want to quit.  The thing is… it often just takes a few small steps or a shift in mindset to change your momentum.  Your progress might not change overnight, but once you get that positive momentum, it will come in time.   You just have to get out there and ride!




A Vacation Mindset

Once we get set up and settled in, I really love camping with the family.  There are opportunities to go on countless adventures with the kids, and also moments when you just get to sit, relax, and enjoy the breeze.  I often wonder why I struggle at home to really relax in that way.  I have a nice back yard with great deck and everything I need to find moments to take a deep breath and just enjoy life.  Yet I don’t often do just that.  In part, that is why vacations are a great thing.  You get to go and find the space to just be in the present moment and enjoy time together away from it all.  When I am able to strip away the normal distractions and busy-ness of life, I am much more able to live in each and every moment, not always looking forward to or waiting impatiently for what is next.

Except…. I don’t need vacation to live that way.  Of course it helps to physically get away, but I want to be able to grab ahold of that vacation mindset right in the middle of normal, everyday life.  This, of course, is a skill.  It takes practice to live in the present moment, and not let all of the potential anxieties of life keep you from being present with the people right in front of you.  Hmmm.  That could potentially be my next embrace:  To practice being present in the moment.  There may be no tangible way to measure it, but it seems like a good practice nonetheless.


Ingenuity:  the quality of being cleverly inventive or resourceful.

Awhile back, I was heading to the hardware store and forgot that my friend Dan was parked in our driveway.  I was talking or paying attention to the kids… well, I’m not sure what the heck I was doing.   Whatever it was, I backed into the side of his car.  There where some nice scratches, but the main damage was a broken driver-side mirror.  Once the “I’m an idiot” shot of adrenaline wore off, we started trying to figure out how we were going to solve this little problem.  The car was older, so the scratches were not a huge deal, we just needed to fix the mirror.  I figured I was going to find a used mirror and just replace it, but we also needed something to get us by until that point.  We thought about using some duct tape and some super glue… but there was no way it would hold for more than a day or so.  We investigated the possibility of some sort of bracket, but there was nothing that seemed like it would work.  We were sunk for a few minutes.

And then… there was moment of ingenuity.  It almost bordered on genius.  Dan suggested that we use zip ties.  About a half hour later, that mirror was almost as snug as before I backed into Dan’s car.  So much so… that we never even replaced the mirror (Dan’s car died a few months later).

A moment of ingenuity took a somewhat unfortunate incident, and turned into a highlight and a great memory.


Revisiting our Budget

We have always lived on a budget for the most part, but any time we would try to sit down and figure out the nuts and bolts of each month, it just wouldn’t work.  The main reason it didn’t work: every month is different!  In the winter,  gas bills are around $100, while in the summer they are closer to $30.  Some months you need to buy gifts, others you don’t.  In the summer we do more home improvement.  December has Christmas.  Our annual garbage bill is due in October.  Like I said…. every month is noticeably different.  We tried to figure out averages and budget that way, but it just never seemed to line up or give us a real handle on how to plan for our upcoming expenses.  So instead, we just watched our spending as closely as possible and hoped that it would work out.

Luckily for us, it mostly worked out.  However, we just never felt like we had a good handle on how it worked and where our money was going.   So last December, I started  searching around for a good app to help us out.  I checked all the major finance apps and even a few “just budget” apps.  None of them seemed flexible enough to fit the bill.  That’s when I found YNAB.   YNAB stands for You Need A Budget.  It’s pretty much a full financial app (for Windows or Mac) that revolves around a well thought out methodology of budgeting.

And guess what?  It worked.  I downloaded the trial version.  (The trial has full functionality but only lasts for 35 days or something like that.)  At first, I was skeptical.  It takes a little work to get going.  It doesn’t sync with banks, so I put everything in manually (this turned out to be a benefit, as we are just more aware of our spending habits).   I decided to go all in, and really use the program for the full trial to see how it would work.  I attended a few of their live online classes (really helpful stuff) and watched a few online videos.  20 days later, I purchased the full app and have never looked back.

I could go into the methodology and features, but if your interested in all that you can go check out the website.  Ultimately, the reason it works for us?  It treats every month separately.  Each month we budget our money.  This allows your budget to be flexible where you need to be, and to plan for the bigger upcoming expenses (YNAB calls these rainy days).

YNAB takes a little work but it has really helped us get a handle on our finances.  The biggest thing for us, is that we no longer wonder if things are going to work out and we have more freedom to spend money when and where we need to.  This is what a budget should do!

If you think you need to start budgeting, or you like the idea of budgeting but haven’t been very successful at it… I suggest you give YNAB a try.