The season is changing. We get to watch it happen a little bit at a time when we go to Bridle Trails, a wonderful benefit of consistently going to the same place every week.

Last week, we noticed the first pussy willows and carefully petted them. We also saw our first flowers — it reminded me that I want to get a plant identification book to bring along occasionally.

We keenly anticipate the arrival of trillium flowers, as there’s a trail in the park called the Trillium Trail. Benji seems to be under the impression that we will only see trillium on that trail and nowhere else. I hope he’s in for a surprise!

The Geopolitics/Diplomacy Game

I think I’ve mentioned that countries have replaced planets (mostly, for now) as Benji’s area of interest. This is slightly more interesting to us, too, because after three years of planets we had started scraping be l the bottom of the barrel as far as planet books for kids go. There are lots, it’s true, but we also read lots.

Anyway, we’re on to countries of the world! Benji has spent hours poring over our old have of Take-Off, which hails from my childhood, and consequently he’s learned Europe with West Germany and Yugoslavia, etc. He invents different games about countries, like having one in each continent marked that we have to guess.

Well, last night he came up with a new game: the geopolitics/disputed border game. In this game, he and Ian are two countries that are fighting about a border. They want things like access to imaginary rivers or to the real stairs. I’m the UN, and I come in and offer various possible compromises until I come up with one they both agree on. Borders are represented with pillows laid on the floor.

It’s a decently fun game, even for adults, but we had a hard time not laughing at the fact that we were playing it at all. What kid plays geopolitics and diplomacy?! … But it’s much better than some of the fairly boring planet games, so I’ll take it.

Dollars and Sense: Book Review and Response

Ian got this book from the library after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. Long after, actually, given the wait time on new library books… Anyway, he read it and what he told me about it convinced me to read it, too.

I like to think we make reasonably good financial choices. We try to save some, after all, and we love within our means, not gathering a lot of debt.

What this book did was open a window into how we–all of us–think about money wrong almost all the time. The book explored the behavioral psychology of financial decisions, spending most of the time covering the pitfalls we all make.

According to the book, these are the main ways we think about money wrong:

  • Relativity: We think of how much we’re “saving” when buying stuff on sale, when we’re actually still spending money. If you were going to buy the thing anyway at full price, then great, you did actually save. On the other hand, if you only bought the thing because it was on sale, then you’re still out that cost. But we compare the same price with the nominal original price, and in so doing are tricked into thinking it’s a deal. Really, the “original” price is irrelevant: only the sale price matters. Takeaway: Don’t look at sale vs. original; instead, only look at the current price and think in terms of it costing you that much.
  • Mental accounting: We tend to sort money into categories like entertainment, living expenses, etc. When it seems like there’s extra money in one bucket, we tend to spend more because it’s “extra.” Actually, there are no buckets: it’s all just your money, and spending it is spending it. Takeaway: Mental accounting can be helpful when it keeps you from over-spending, but watch out when it feels like you can spend extra. There’s only one bucket: your money.
  • Pain of paying: We feel actual pain when we pay for stuff, moreso when we pay with cash than a credit card, and much more than paying online with something like Amazon one-click. This actually helps us choose not to spend. The easier and more painless it is, the more likely we are to spend without thinking. Takeaway: It’s not a bad thing to have some pain when spending. It helps keep us in check. Don’t always make it easy to spend.
  • Anchoring: We are influenced into thinking of the price of an item by seeing other numbers, even miners that have nothing to do with the item. So if you see a car listed at an MSRP of $30,000, you start thinking that’s what it’s worth. If you get it for $27,000, you then think you’ve gotten a great deal. But you could see the same vehicle listed for $20,000 and you’d think the vehicle would be worth less. Takeaway: Seeing an initial price makes us base other pricing and expectations on that… even random numbers!
  • Endowment effect and loss aversion: We start to feel a sense of ownership for things, even for things we don’t yet own. Once you start feeling like you own a thing, that makes it harder to give things up — or harder to not buy them.
  • Fairness and effort: We’re working to pay more if it seems like someone worked hard on something. Conversely, we expect to pay less if something seems easy (even if it’s not) or takes a short amount of time. For example, when a locksmith comes and opens the locked door for you in 30 seconds, then charges you $200, that doesn’t seem fair. But we don’t take into account the expertise required to do a job quickly and efficiently or all the time it takes to attain that expertise.
    Self-control: How easily we give in to concerns about money in the present rather than prioritizing future self. For example, you can defer your annual bonus to your 401k, out it can be deposited into your checking account. Since it’s a bonus, you didn’t count on it, and it makes sense to save it for the future. But it’s hard to see the value to your future self, while spending the money in a new TV will definitely make your present self happy… For a while.
  • Overemphasizing money: How hard it is to compare price of a product with actual value/how much it actually makes your life better. Money is so abstract, and our global economy so complicated, it’s really difficult to say how much value something provides. For example, I’ve been looking at buying an $80 computer mouse for work. I’ve gotten to try borrowing one for a while and I really like it… But is it really worth $80?
  • Pay for experiences. To answer the question above, perhaps; some things may be worth paying more for, if they make the an experience more enjoyable for you. For example, going to a fancy restaurant and having the sommelier describe the wine may help deepen your enjoyment of the drink. Paying more for that kind of language and rituals can bring greater value, as can paying ahead and then anticipating the experience. expectations, such as planning and issuing for a vacation ahead.

After reading this, I really have been thinking about choices differently.

For example, the book talks about setting yourself up so you can’t make bad money choices. It cites the efficacy of taking retirement savings out of a salary before you ever see the money, so it feels like it was never there and you just live on the smaller amount.

I’m that vein, the bonus deferral example I mentioned earlier is real. I deferred 100% of my bonus without knowing what it was but knowing that, while we didn’t need it to live right now, we very well might appreciate that extra in 30 years.

… Then I learned what my bonus was and I thought, “Dang! I could have done some amazing upgrades to my bike with that!” But it was already gone into my retirement savings. I guess I feel glad about that, in an intellectual way, but I still kind of wish I’d gotten the bike parts, too.

I know that I’ll be thinking about and mindful of these mental traps for a long time. I definitely recommend this book for insight on how you–we all–think about money, and how to use those thought processes to our advantage rather than our detriment.

Long Road

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. -Phil 4:8

It’s felt like a long and difficult month, with extra-big failures, sickness, snow, work stress, relationship anxieties, and more. It’s been easy to keep repeating this litany of misfortunes to myself, affirming my misery. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m having a hard time sleeping and body image issues keep coming up, always signs I’m feeling anxious and out of control.

What combats this downward spiral? Filling my mind with “things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Actively focusing on and being thankful for those things. Not dwelling on the bad, but finding the good.

In that spirit, I’m thankful for:

  • My job. I get to have a job! And it’s one I love, that suits me to a T, and that I excel at. It takes the help of a lot of people–Ian, our parents, our friend who watches B during the week–and I’m also thankful for all those people who make my going to work possible. And, despite tight and constant deadlines, this is the first time I’ve really felt the pressure as anxiety over achieving my deadlines…and the only time I’ve made a serious mistake. I hope to keep that to a minimum!
  • Our family’s health. Sure, we get viruses, but we don’t have any ongoing health problems. Our immune systems work. We all can expect to get up and have a normal day most days without interference from physical infirmity. That’s a huge thing to be thankful for that I know I take for granted all too often.
  • The weather. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the Seattle area is one of the most beautiful places to live, bar none. I mean, granted, I haven’t been everywhere else, but I know what we’ve got here. We’ve got mountains and oceans, some of the only temperate rain forest in the world, and it’s green year-round on this side of the mountains. And our “unseasonably cold” weather the last 10 days is warmer than the high temperature in many parts of the country.
  • Friends and family. I’m so thankful I get to spend most Saturdays with Dad doing fun and challenging rides that he spends a lot of time organizing each week. It’s so great having someone I know will help push me, but who won’t abandon me when I’m slower. We look out for each other. And then there’s our other ride buddies, guys who show up consistently to Dad’s rides, some of whom we’ve known for years, and who have become my good friends. I’m thankful for those relationships, especially when it brought me Mike Cohen, who’s been my commute buddy from Seattle to back home since I started at my job downtown. I’m thankful for those relationships and that time spent, even as they’re changing.

There. In every circumstance I’ve been telling myself things are terrible, there’s something to be thankful for.

But then there’s also this, which my coworker and I made for future use (what? doing paper and glue craft projects at work isn’t work?! I say it’s “building morale,” so there). I’m sure we won’t ever need to use it. As I always like to say, “We never make big misteaks.”

Fortunately/Unfortunately: Work Edition

The last few weeks have been tough. It really started around the my epic PII fail, followed by Benji’s having a fever for six days and the attendant canceling of his much-anticipated California trip. This necessitated my taking some extra time off work, and the timing proved unfortunate: I had a release this Thursday, the 22nd, and quite a lot of documentation to write for that. The result was that I worked from home on Monday, which was a holiday (although I also got in a delightfully sunny bike ride, too), and followed that start off with three days of super long workdays.

Meanwhile, I’m very thankful that Benji got much better, because this week was also midwinter break. Since he got better, both grandmas split the week up, for which we were most grateful. On Wednesday, my Uncle Gerard flew up from San Francisco and he’s spent the last few days hanging out with Mom and Benji while I worked.

Boy did I work: Wednesday I got in at 6:20 and left a little before 6:00, a much longer day than usual. Thursday… we’ll get to it.

Uncle Gerard commented that he hadn’t seen snow falling from the sky for at least seven or eight years, but he got to see it twice in the four days he was here. Wednesday night it snowed a tiny bit and then froze. It was just enough precipitation to ice everything over. That’s where our fortunately/unfortunately starts.

  • Unfortunately, it snowed Wednesday night and overnight the temperatures got into the low 20s, guaranteeing that everything froze solid.
  • Fortunately, snow is pretty, and there wasn’t that much of it.
  • Unfortunately, I can’t ride to the bus when ice coats the entire road.
  • Fortunately, Ian and Benji were able to drop me off at the bus on Thursday morning.
  • Unfortunately, I forgot my bike lights and my work badge.
  • Fortunately, I remembered my wallet and ORCA card and my lunch.
  • Unfortunately, forgetting my badge meant I also couldn’t get into the usual secure bike parking; and to access my office, you have to swipe a card on the elevator, so I couldn’t go directly to my office.
  • Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with a coworker who was already in the office, and he agreed to meet me in the lobby and do the elevator card-swiping for me.
  • Unfortunately, when I got to my office, a security guard stopped me in the lobby and said I couldn’t take my bike in the main elevators because it was for business people not bikes.
  • Fortunately, he said I could take the freight elevator.
  • Unfortunately, I didn’t know where that was, and when he described it, it was clearly going to take a lot of extra time.
  • Also unfortunately, when I got down there, I was feeling so overwhelmed after everything that when the security guard in the loading dock asked “Do you do this regularly?” I yelled at him, “NO *&^!!@#^&&^%%##@, I DON’T!” –and then proceeded to explain, not at all calmly, about forgetting my badge.
  • Fortunately, the security guard was really kind and calm, and told me where to go from there and wrote me a pass to ride the elevator.
  • Unfortunately, between me and the elevator was a door that was held closed with all the suction of the entire Columbia Center–I couldn’t open it while holding my bike.
  • Fortunately, another guy came along and opened the door for me. Also fortunately, the freight elevator was waiting and there was a guy inside (!) whose whole job it was to punch in what floor you’re going to and then write down what company you work for on a pad of paper.
  • Unfortunately I had an infinite amount of work to get through before the afternoon and I was still feeling extremely unsettled and had a hard time getting down to work.
  • Fortunately, I eventually got through all the stuff I had to finish, although it took all day.
  • Unfortunately, that meant that we started our deploy later in the day than we wanted, and building took a long time because of all the changes. The result was that we weren’t able to start actually checking live pages until very late in the afternoon.
  • Also unfortunately, I had a little over 70 pages to check. This isn’t just a quick skim for many of them to look for minor things like updating a screenshot. This time I deployed a lot of entirely new pages, which involves comprehensively checking every link to make sure each one really goes to the right place.
  • And, most unfortunately, due to some things I don’t want to get into right now, I have to do everything twice. Literally. We are maintaining two different Help Centers right now, and that means every bit of work I do in one has to be done in the other, and then I have to check extra-carefully to make sure they both match. That means my 70 pages to check was actually 140 pages.
  • Fortunately, the manager of the e-Learning group was hanging around to check some video stuff, and while he waited, he helped check some of my links. It was super helpful and he caught a number of places I’d made minor formatting mistakes, so hooray!
  • Also fortunately, my work buys dinner for everyone who has to hang around late for the release. I got tofu pad Thai, which was delicious. I love Thai food.
  • Unfortunately, by the time I finished, it was 6:40 pm and the last 311 bus comes at 6:45.
  • Fortunately, my bike was parked next to my cube, so I grabbed it and zipped downstairs (in the regular elevator) and out the lobby to the street ASAP.
  • Unfortunately, when I got to the bus stop, there was no bus.
  • Fortunately, I checked the bus app and found the bus was scheduled to arrive right then. I looked up and there was a 311! I jumped on it in a flurry.
  • Unfortunately, the bus turned down a different way from the 311, and I realized it was a 312X. I hadn’t noticed the last wrong digit.
  • Fortunately, the 312X goes to Bothell, and I had my bike, so I figured I’d just ride the couple miles back home. It was pretty cold, but the streets in Seattle were clear and dry, so I figured the ice and snow would be gone.
  • Unfortunately, this particular 312X ends in Kenmore, not Bothell, several miles farther from home than I was expecting.
  • Fortunately, I had my bike and I knew how to get home. And fortunately I had my helmet equipped with a headlight and small taillight, so I could see and (somewhat) be seen.
  • Unfortunately, the way home involved the bike path, which was shady and cold all day, meaning it had long patches of ice and snow that I had to slowly and cautiously creep across. It took me 22 minutes to ride just under 5 miles, including having to get off and slip my way on foot across some unavoidable and wide patches of ice.
  • Fortunately, I got home safely (albeit miserably), just a little before 8:00 pm and immediately went to bed. Benji was spending the night at Mom and Dad’s house, for which I was deeply thankful.

And, most of all, fortunately I’d already cleared working from home with my boss. So I got to work from home on Friday, and I still put in 10 hours of work, mostly fixing minor defects and then checking them.

I’m looking forward to a new week.

Viral Activities

No, I’m not talking about the next activity everyone’s going to be doing on the internet; I’m talking about literally what you do when when you’re five and a half and you have a fever over 102 for six days. You:

  • Watch at least three hours of videos or movies a day.
  • Eat rainbow Jell-O, popsicles, “Awesome sauce,” and donuts.
    Sick: Rainbow Jell-O
  • Fight taking ibuprofen, then perk up when it works.
  • Cuddle with Daddy.Sick: Snuggle with Daddy
  • Sleep.

When you feel a little better, you:

  • Build a bird’s nest out of a beanbag chair, pillows, and blankets.
    Less Sick: Bird's Nest
  • Color with chalk because it’s not raining.
    Less Sick: Sidewalk Chalk
  • Command Daddy to freehand a map of Europe for you on the blackboard.
    Less Sick: Map of Europe
  • Create your own bus schedules.
    Less Sick: Bus Schedule 1Less Sick: Bus Schedule 2

When you’re Mommy, while Daddy draws Europe and Benji creates a bus schedule, you draw flags (another interest that has coincided with his increasing interest in geography). This includes my favorite, the Rainbow Unicorn flag. Cuz what country wouldn’t want a rainbow unicorn on their flag? Only monsters.
Rainbow Unicorn Flag
Lastly, when you’re the parents of a five and a half-year-old who just had a high fever for the last six days, you wash your hands until they’re dry and raw, and you pray devoutly that your immune system can stave off whatever the kid had. Because no way do you want to spend the next week in bed binge-watching Netflix when there’s work to be done.

Disappointment and Worry

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Through petitions and praises, turn worry into prayer, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything working together for good, will come in and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it up, friends, I’d say you’d do best by filling your minds and meditate upon things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, and gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… –Philippians 4:6-8

Over the last few weeks I’ve been memorizing these verses, so if some of the words are slightly off, that’s why. There’s some more that I haven’t yet memorized, but the part I have memorized has been valuable to keep meditating on, given the last couple weeks.

So you know I had a good solid fail at work last Friday. I’ve gotten over it, mostly, except for a lingering feeling of inadequacy and misery, a feeling I know from prior experience will go away with time. We were really looking forward to this week, though, and here’s what we had planned:

Monday and Tuesday were normal. Then, on Wednesday, Mom would pick Benji up from school early and the two of them would fly to California for a five-day trip visiting my Nana and sister and brother-in-law. I can’t even describe how eagerly Ian and I anticipated this reprieve. Whole days of caring only for ourselves! Time to spend together! Time to spend alone!

I also looked forward to getting to work at 6:20 those extra days to get a lot accomplished towards the upcoming release, which is next Thursday, the 22nd. Because of some factors outside my control, I’ve had less time than usual at work to get my release documentation written, and I really looked forward to the extra time… and to not worrying about what time I left work.

Normally I’m constantly torn between trying to eke as much time at home with Benji as I can, and, on the other hand, equally eking out as much time at work as I can so I can get my tasks done. The same is true every time I go out for a ride: balancing the time at home with Benji vs. riding time. I really eagerly anticipated having this pressure taken away for even just a few days.

Then on Monday Benji came down with a high fever–101 under his armpit. I ended up meeting Ian and Benji at the ER, but we didn’t end up staying to be seen. Instead, we headed home to just wait and see what happened.

What happened was, so far, two more days of relentless fever and lethargy. All Benji wants to do is lay on the couch; if the ibuprofen is working, he’ll watch a video; if it’s wearing off, he just wants to lay quietly and be left alone. Just having someone nearby is enough.

It walks like the flu, it quacks like the flu; I think it’s the flu. I didn’t get him a flu shot this year because I was at work and I kept forgetting. Now I’m kind of regretting that, even though I know the flu shot is only minimally effective this year. Regardless, now we’re in the middle of it, and we have to ride this bronco until it throws us.

Benji is miserable, and I feel very sorry for him. I know that feeling very well, and I’m so sorry he has to go through it. He’s hanging in there, though, and subsisting primarily on the “awesome sauce” apple sauce he got for Valentine’s Day from one of the teachers (delivered to us by the generous Nana delivery service).

But what this means is that instead of getting extra time on our own, we’ve instead taken away from even the usual amount of time. Instead of bonus time, we’ve…what’s the opposite of bonus? We’ve got minus time, I guess. Because so far Ian’s taken one day off work to stay with Benji, and I’ve taken one day off work to stay with Benji, and now Ian’s taking a second day off today… and what do you think are the odds that I’ll be taking Friday off?

Remember that release I have looming in a week? And all that writing I need to do to be ready for it? Take away two work days from my prep time, and I’m really starting to feel the pressure.

Plus, what do you think the odds are that Ian and I will both be able to remain healthy and flu-free after caring for Benji this week? And when would we start getting sick? That’s right: middle of next week, right about the time of my release.

  • If Ian gets sick, I’ll have to pick up the slack, and that means I can’t be at work on release night until 7:00 or 8:00 pm.
  • If I get sick, I know from having the flu before that I’ll be wiped out for a solid seven to 10 days, with a much longer time to full recovery. There goes not only my release, but also all the hard work I’ve put in biking for the last year as I recovered from pneumonia last December.

It’s pretty hard to displace worry with Christ at the center of my life right now, I’m not gonna lie.