Month: July 2008

Scum Rises to the Top

If you live in the country or at least drive through it from time to time, you’ve probably noticed more than a few ponds that are covered in algae. This is caused by an imbalance in the ecosystem and/or a lack of water flow and drainage of the pond. What you can’t see from a distance though is that this scum resides not just at the surface but exists well below the surface as well. Many businesses are like these kind of ponds. When there is scum at the top there is often scum farther down the corporate ladder as well.

A few years ago I had to deal with a boss that was sleazy and incompetent all at the same time. The only thing that he excelled at was trying to advance his own career and he did so by stepping on anyone that he perceived to be a threat to that. Under his year and a half reign of terror many employees complained to HR about him including myself. None of those employees got a favorable response from HR and most ended up quitting or being fired. This boss tried for most of that year and half to get me to quit or to contrive a reason to fire me. In the aftermath of all of this I came away with two conclusions: 1. The company has more money invested in managers than they do associates and will protect the managers as much as possible and 2. This guy was filling a certain quota for the company and they were never going to touch him.

It’s always fascinated me how the completely unqualified end up in positions of power whether it be in business, religion, or political circles. Every four years the politicians and the media present us with two choices for president that nobody really wants but either one is really the only choice because the masses don’t explore other options beyond what the television tells them to think about.

There are other kinds of ponds though. Those that aren’t full of scum that have a healthy eco-system where the fish are happy and healthy. I want to be a happy fish. I don’t currently work in a scum filled environment and neither was my most recent job either. But I’ve seen how quickly the eco-system of the job world can become imbalanced with idiots who rise to the top by sucking up to other idiots.

So today think of your life as a fish in a pond. Is your pond healthy in all aspects or is there a lot of scum at work, home, or church? What can you do to make the pond healthy again? Remember in a real pond the elements that make it unhealthy do need to be there, there just isn’t the proper amount of them. Think about it.

The American Boy’s Handy Book

Ever since I can remember my mom would take all of us to a library book sale every summer. We would buy piles of books for excellent prices and spend hours of our summer evenings reading them. As the years have gone by, my love for going to book sales has not diminished. In fact I now try to make it to three local ones each summer. The prices have gone up some in recent years but are still far better than paying retail.

Every once in a while I find a real treasure amongst the thousands of books stacked in rows on tables. This year has been no exception to that either. I stumbled across a book entitled The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel Beard. Originally published in the late 1800s it is full of how to projects that are entertaining and educational and despite the title, girls can enjoy it just as easily. Beard was hugely influential in the founding of the boy scouts in later years and you can see much of that work originated in this book. Projects include kite making, snow forts, various boats to build, many inventive methods of fishing, knot tying and much more. Beard was concerned that as times were changing, boys were spending less time in nature and he wrote this book to try and bring boys back to nature. If he thought kids were abandoning nature in the late 1800s the poor fellow would probably have a stroke if he saw how kids spend their time these days.

I just love reading books like these because even though many of the projects in the book are geared towards entertainment value, there is always an educational element. Kids who can successfully build some of the projects in this book will have a large advantage over other children when it comes to being self-sufficient.

I was lucky and managed to find a copy of The American Boy’s Handy Book at a book sale for only fifty cents. You might not be able to find it that cheap but it’s not much more expensive on Amazon.

The Measure of Success

A couple years ago I was in an independent rock band. There were 4 of us in the band, I played guitar and sang, there was another vocalist/guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. I had always liked bands that had two members that would sing lead but in our case, we each sang about half the songs and I felt like it took away from your live show having it split evenly. Neither one of us was going to stop singing though and in my case my voice couldn’t handle anything more. I would sing six or seven songs in a show and my voice would be shot. My throat would be raw by the last song and then the crowd would want an encore of their favorite song, Plutonium Girl. It was a great feeling having people chant the name of the song to hear it again, but I also knew that there was a good chance I might not be able to make it through the whole thing. Sometimes my throat would ache for days afterwards.

Well eventually the band fell apart and I struck out on my own. I liked the idea of being solo so that I could do things as I wanted to but I had this nagging fear about whether or not my voice was up to the challenge of carrying a show by myself. About a year after the band split up I had my first solo gig. I had spent most of that year working on writing and recording songs. The date was drawing close and I was more than a little worried. During the months leading up to the show I had been to see the doctor about my problem. They tested me for all sorts of allergies which yielded nothing and then finally sent me to a specialist. The specialist noticed a slight weakness in one of my vocal cords which was causing the other cord to have to work extra hard. So after years of wondering what my problem was, I finally had an answer. Now I just needed to know how to solve it. They sent me to speech therapist who worked with me on using my voice properly to cause less strain.

Finally the date of the show arrived. It was at a venue that my band had played at a couple years previous and I liked playing there so I was excited. I had 14 songs on my setlist. Certainly not a marathon for normal singers but I wasn’t a normal singer. It was about double the amount of songs I had ever done in a show. The opening act was a female pop/folk singer that was pretty good and she played for about 30 minutes and then it was my turn.

I hadn’t played a show in over a year and I had never played a show by myself. I was nervous and it showed. I made several mistakes and rushed a lot of the songs. Overall it was one of the worst performances I had ever done. A close second would be the last show that my band played. But you know what? My voice held. I sang every song and afterwards my throat felt fine and the next day it still felt fine.

I may have made a lot of mistakes, been completely nervous, and didn’t even sell one cd but I was able to sing the entire show. Before going into the show I felt like if after all my rehearsing and the speech therapy if I still couldn’t perform, then I was probably gonna have to give up on the idea of ever being a solo artist. But I did it! You don’t always get the chance to measure success by having everything work out perfectly. Sometimes you need to consider something a success even if only one aspect of it comes together as it’s meant to. I had one critical question heading into that night: Can I actually do this? The answer was clear, that yes I can. Mistakes and nervousness can be corrected by more practice and experience. For me the measure of success was my voice and it came through superbly.

The Impracticality of SUVs

I recently decided to do a little research study. While driving my little 4 cylinder car to work each day I began to keep count of the number of SUVs I passed that had only the driver in them and no one else. The results were more staggering than I imagined they would be when I started. But before I give you the results I should describe my criteria for the study:

1.The only vehicles counted were SUVs (obviously)
2.If I couldn’t clearly see if there was anyone else in the vehicle then I didn’t count it either way.

So what were the results? A ridiculous 92% of SUVs that I saw on the road had only one occupant, the driver. Most of the other 8% only had one passenger, which is still an impractical use of an SUV. All but a couple of them were late model SUVs without a speck of dirt on them and most of them were on the interstate. You never know there might be a pile of rocks you might need to drive over on the interstate!

I’m sure the statistics mentioned in the last paragraph are enough to boil the blood of the environmentalists out there but this article isn’t about the environmental impact of these over sized vehicles. What I think is crazy is how impractical they are and how rarely SUVs actually get used for things that they are meant for. I’m sure a few of the people that I observed probably were on their way to pick up their kids from somewhere, or their car was in the shop, or they were wealthy enough to not care about being practical. Sure a 4 wheel drive vehicle can be great in the snow, but it’s July and in the 90s today. Someone could just as easily buy an inexpensive used SUV and a used car and leave the SUV sit at home during the summer months if they really need to have one for weather related problems in the winter. They would probably still be saving themselves a good amount of money over that brand new gas guzzler they drive every day.

The really sad thing is that some of the people driving these $20-30,000 buses probably can’t afford them at all and will be making payments on them for years to come. Americans are all about buying things that we can’t afford just to have the appearance of wealth. Vanities such as that will only land you in the poor house my friends.

Burning Bridges are Hard to Cross

Last year at this time it seemed like conflict was all around me and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was burning more bridges than I was building with no end in site. From friends to close relatives, relationships were breaking down everywhere .Various people had offended or wronged me in various ways and I wasn’t taking any of it lying down. After a few months of such incidents there was need to patch things up. It wasn’t fun but it had to happen. Family is family and you will always have them, so you might as well get a long with them. Good friends are hard to find and even the best ones will upset you from time time time

In the business world whether you are self-employed or fighting your way through the rat race., you never know what bridges you might need again in the future. People that you can’t stand today, might be your best client a couple years from now… or they might be your boss. Or perhaps just a coworker and that working relationship will be a lot smoother without a volatile history between you and the other person.

I would never suggest that you allow yourself to be walked all over for the sake of preserving a failed relationship. On the contrary, you need to stand up for yourself but do so in the proper time and place. A series of offenses may be a sign of a good time to bail out of a relationship but before you set that bridge on fire maybe you should try a different approach. Sometimes it’s better to just go around the bridge or use a different bridge rather than burning the offending one.

For example many people find themselves in relationships whether it be friends, coworkers or family members where you feel the need to share with the other person things that are going on in your life. That person then uses that information in a way that hurts you. You’re upset, can’t understand why they would do such a thing, and a month later you repeat the entire cycle because you are family and families don’t treat each other that way…wrong. This kind of thing is seen most often in a parent-child relationship that is dysfunctional, especially when the child has been an adult for some time. You could go at the offender guns blazing tell em how it is in an attempt to finally make them understand what a jerk they are or you could simply stop the cycle yourself. Don’t share the kind of information with them that they consistently use against you. I’m not saying lie to people, I’m simply saying don’t volunteer information that isn’t necessary. A lot of times when I’ve seen this situation play out it is often with volunteered information that was never even asked for. Simply stop talking or at least discipline yourself enough to stop and think before you share whatever it is you think you need to share with the frequent offender.

The fact is that even if you think you want someone out of your life and you don’t care how badly you burn that bridge, you truly don’t know what tomorrow holds. You don’t know what your situation might be and who you may need to rely on for help. So unless it is a matter of your personal well being being threatened or that of others, then it’s usually best to leave the bridge intact. You don’t need to worry about crossing it right now, but if you don’t burn it to the ground at least you know you’ll have the opportunity to use it in the future should the need arise.


In general I’m pretty content with my life. I have a great family, a place to live, hobbies I enjoy, and a job that helps me support all of those things. But my life is far from perfect, as are pretty much everyone else’s lives. I find that I never seem to have the time to get things done around the house. I never seem to have money for anything. There’s very little free time for my creative pursuits. I could go on and complain about a lot of things, but life isn’t about grumbling and complaining.

But I admit that internally I find myself sometimes thinking thoughts like: this isn’t what I want to be doing with my life, I work so much harder than that person but for less money, life seems so easy for them, I’m meant for more than this, etc. I think that it is important to not be complacent about our lot in life but at the same time being content with what you’ve been given is important too.

One thing that I think is really important that people don’t think about is that if you want your life to change then you need to change your life. All of your decisions in your life have brought you to where you are at today. Things won’t improve until you change your habits. From how you use your time to how you use your money. I could choose to save my money and stick to a strict budget or I could go out to eat at a decent restaurant to feel “normal” and pretend that I can afford the over priced food that I’m eating.

Your dreams won’t accomplish themselves for you. No one is going to write your novel, paint your painting, or build your spaceship. Remember, be content with your life but don’t be complacent about using your time wisely.

To quote the band Switchfoot, “This is your life, are you who you want to be?” I should quote my wife as well. The other day we were discussing these kind of quality of life issues and she simply told me, “I think you need to start with being content with what you have.” Wives are full of wisdom sometimes.

Make U-Turns as Necessary

I recently wrote an article titled Seeing Your Goals Through to Completion. It was about sticking with something when the going gets tough. It was about not quitting part way through. Well today I was thinking about the flip side of that idea. And that is to quit what you’re doing and head the other direction. In politics this is often referred to as a flip flop whenever a candidate changes their position on something. But for real people like you and I (and by real I mean people in touch with reality), these u-turns often have nothing to do with flip flopping. Nope sometimes it’s just a change of heart or a change in priorities.

I firmly believe in striving to see something through to completion but sometimes that’s just not the right choice. It would be pretty devastating to pursue something for years only to look back and realize that it was a lot of wasted effort on an idea that was flawed from the start.

This same idea can apply to spiritual beliefs as well. I once heard someone say, “If what you believe isn’t true, would you want to know?” The idea here is that people often build their lives around religious structures and dogmas passed down to them by their parents but if the individual is one that is actually in pursuit of a relationship with God then eventually they will start to dig deeper to go beyond what they’ve always been taught to really make their beliefs there own. What they find on that journey can shatter their entire perception of what they thought the world was.

More at a personal level, I still often struggle with knowing when to turn and run and when to stay the course. If discerning what path to take ever gets easier it certainly hasn’t for me yet. Over the past several years I have erred on both sides of this issue: I’ve stuck with some things too long and killed other ideas that had true merit. It’s not often easy to be completely sure what path will lead you to success and which to failure. Trust your instincts, rely on trusted friends for advice, seek wisdom beyond your circle of friends and yourself, and hope for the best. Make u-turns with your life as necessary and enjoy the ride in spite of the occasional bumps and pot holes.

The Japanese Beetle Trap

Last year I made a short video titled The Japanese Beetle Trap, in which I modified an ordinary japanese beetle trap to allow it to capture an exponentially larger amount of beetles. The results were amusing, disgusting, and informative. Well beetle season is almost upon us again so I thought it would be a good time to share the video on here. It’s the first and only video I’ve ever done and the quality is pretty poor but people seem to like it so far.

I’ve been thinking about making a higher quality trap that could hold far more than this one did but I don’t know if I’ll get the time before the beetles really show up. I have been itching to do more videos though so who knows.

A Day of Rest

My regular readers know that I always post on a Monday – Wednesday – Friday schedule but unfortunately starting my new job yesterday kind of kept that from happening. So I apologize to anyone who came here yesterday looking for a new article. I don’t anticipate this to be a regular thing. Anyway, on with today’s article…

This past weekend I had to rediscover the old Biblical principle of a day of rest. I tend to plan so much to do on my days off that it feels like I never actually do have a day off. Well last week despite all of my to do list planning, I did absolutely nothing on Thursday. For most of the day it felt great to just relax and spend time with my family for once as opposed to constantly feeling like I had to be getting something done. Sure those thoughts tried to creep in a couple times but I didn’t let it happen. I found myself worrying that because of my day of rest that I wouldn’t get the things accomplished that I needed to in my remaining days off between jobs but something really cool happened. I got up on Friday ready to get work done. I felt refreshed and happy and I couldn’t remember waking up like that anytime recently.

In the end I actually didn’t get everything done that I wanted to during my 4 days off but that was more weather related than anything. I did get to spend a lot of time with family though. We played several games of Pirates, went to a carnival, and spent time with various family members. And then I started my new job yesterday. I have to say it was retail as usual but at the same time slightly overwhelming because I have never worked with pet products before and if you never have worked for a pet retailer you can’t truly appreciate the extensive variety of products that are available for every kind of pet. Once I actually know the job though, I anticipate that my stress level will be much less than at my previous two jobs.

So don’t be afraid of taking a day of rest. If you are like me and forgot the value of them, force yourself to relearn this ancient concept. I know it’s a struggle but put more home related tasks on to the days that you are already working a full day at your job. You’re tired anyway you might as well be more tired. Then when your day off comes you can just soak in all that relaxing goodness.