There are taxes, and then there are taxes

I’m rich!

Well, sort of.

I guess I should say I’m richer than I thought I was.

Or I will be, someday.

Yesterday I was doing some retirement planning (yeah, I know… another crazy Saturday morning). In a conversation at dinner with some friends on Friday night, I realized I’d mis-calculated some of the taxes in my long-term plan. As I considered how to efficiently “draw down” from my investments to fund my retirement, I’d been calculating the taxes at standard federal income tax rates. But in a flash of insight, I remembered that withdrawals from stock positions are actually taxed at the capital gains rate. Moreover, it’s only the gains that are taxed– not the bulk of the investments (they were already taxed before I invested them).

I pulled up my spreadsheet and updated a few formulas, then sat back and looked at the numbers. Things are much better than I thought they would be. Before, retirement felt a little bit like skating on some questionable ice, and now I’m relieved that it shouldn’t be quite like that. Of course we’ll end up adjusting things as we go, but it’s nice to know I’ll have a little bit more money than I thought I would.

Yeah, the adventures of financial planning, right?

Adulting

One of the many great things about being an adult is the opportunity to make a fresh batch of chocolate-chip cookies.

Whenever you want!

So yeah, that’s what I did tonight.

Statistics

From strictly a statistical viewpoint, this is technically correct…

… but, really, Fox News?

Air travel sucks

Yesterday I booked a flight on United Airlines. Later in the day I received an email that outlined all of the services and perks I wouldn’t be getting with my ticket.

“You have a carry-on? Nope. You want to sit with your family or friends? Too bad.” I can’t decide if it’s funny or tragic that air travel is so terrible these days that the airlines have to send emails specifically to point out how terrible it is…

RIP lion’s mane

Zaque’s been growing out his hair for the better part of the year, and he finally decided it was time to give it a trim. He called himself a “mushroom head”, although I felt more like he had a lion’s mane:

After ten minutes with the trimmer, things looked much better.

I’ll miss that crazy head of hair, but I admit it does look a lot better now…

Song lyrics

Hey Pandora, I don’t remember the words to the song “Rapture” by IIO. Can you remind me?

Password generator

I get so tired of passwords. I understand their importance, and given all the crazy online attacks these days, I figure I need to be more diligent in managing my passwords.

For a few years, I’ve been using a custom password generator I wrote; it creates passwords like this:

8d3ansBLyqe_L3vg
hs$umU49ktXdn3c@
Aj8*o3_c8rC%gxNA
9pWC44CL$LoNYZzz

While those are generally considered “strong” passwords, they’re impossible to remember (of course every web site and account has its own). And if I’m logging into an account from another computer or my phone or tablet, I have to look up the password and slowly type it in. Ugh.

So, in the spirit of Randall Munroe’s famous XKCD comic…

… I decided to update my password generator to chain together a bunch of English words. Maybe that’ll make these passwords a little easier to remember, and certainly easier to type. My new tool gives me stuff like:

navel.fish.loser
decor.seep.bloke
stand.beet.whoop
moose.flue.choke
pair.blue.hydro

After adding in a number and a special character or two, I have an easy way to generate passwords for web sites. We’ll see if this ends up being any easier…

The latest game

During our visit to Utah last weekend, I asked my nephew (who’s a big board gamer) what the best board game of all time is. Without hesitation, he said “Terra Mystica”. He explained that it’s pretty complicated, but once you learn to play, it’s fantastic. When we came home, I burned a couple of Amazon gift cards to buy it, and Zaque and I gave it a whirl this afternoon.

Complicated? Uhh, yeah…

The box weighed several pounds, and it took us fifteen minutes just to set up the board. Then we spent about an hour reading the rules.

Due to a Dungeons and Dragons engagement, Zaque couldn’t stay for the end of the game, but we’ll wrap it up tomorrow. So far I can say it’s interesting, and indeed, once we learn how to play I suspect it’ll be a pretty good challenge. But the verdict is still out whether it’s the best board game of all time…

That’s… lunch?

Today Laralee sat down across the table from me with her lunch.

It consisted of a hard-boiled egg (barely visible against the napkin) and a smoothie of unknown composition. I think it had banana in it, but like most of the smoothies she makes, the rest of it could be pretty much anything, including things like spinach. Yeek!

That hair

Zaque hasn’t had a haircut in about six months now, and it’s still going strong. Unlike any of the rest of us, his hair is really curly when it gets long.

I’m not sure how much longer his hair is going to get (I don’t think he knows, either) but it’s fun to see. He tells us he does it so he doesn’t attract too many ladies, but I’m pretty sure he secretly loves the attention he gets from those same ladies. They think it’s cool.

Ascend

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to Washington for a “trial run” of Thom’s new business. He and Katie have created a company called Ascend Leadership, with a unique approach to teaching and training up-and-coming leaders. There are a gazillion companies who provide management training to CEO’s, middle managers, team leads, and so on. Most of them use traditional teaching methods like meeting at a local hotel conference room and paging through dry Powerpoint presentations. While I’m sure there’s some value to that, and perhaps middle managers feel very comfortable with a nice Powerpoint in front of them, Ascend takes participants out into the wilderness for an intensive multi-day experience. Their target is specifically “emerging leaders”, who are people identified by their peers (or managers) and about to step into a management role for the first time. It’s been a few decades since I was in that situation, but looking back I think it would’ve been a tremendous help if I’d received some kind of training. I was literally just told one day that I’d be leading my team at work, and was expected to somehow know exactly how to do that.

Because Ascend is just getting started, Thom decided to host a “pilot program” where he invited a few friends to go through the program as if they were participating as emerging leaders. It was a great move, giving him an opportunity to test things he’d been thinking about and receive feedback about whether the approach was useful and valuable. So, I flew into Seattle and hopped into his car with a few strangers. We drove out to the wilderness, hiked up to our campground, and started the program.

We camped beside a small but pretty lake.

Each day included many “sessions”, where we talked about different aspects of leadership. Thom did an incredible job facilitating the discussion, making sure we were covering the material he’d prepared while leaving the group a lot of latitude in where we took the conversation. It was especially cool to be sitting outside, up in the mountains, without the distractions of emails to answer or phone calls to take.

Honestly, one of the best parts of the experience for me was meeting these three other amazing guys. One is Thom’s wife’s brother Ry, which means he’s my sister-in-law’s brother (my brother-in-law-in-law?).

William is a longtime friend of Thom’s from REI.

And Michael just met Thom a few months before but was intrigued by his business idea.

These guys were fantastic. From the first moment we met and rode for a few hours in Thom’s car, to the time we said our goodbyes five days later, I felt like our conversations flowed easily, and we had a ton of stuff to talk about. Since we were isolated in the backcountry together for several days, we were able to get to know each other really well. Some of our conversations were deeply personal, and I think it really added to the experience. I learned a lot from them.

You’ll notice all of us were wearing long sleeves in those photos; in fact, we spent most of our time bundled up in several layers including fleece and down parkas. It was cold! I don’t think the temperature topped the mid-50’s, and it was often cloudy, so we all joked about how unseasonably cold it was for early September. But we were all experienced backpackers and had the right gear, so despite some complaints we were fine.

Other than the cold, the weather was great and I managed to capture a nice sunset:

I also tried my hand at some night photography, but had limited success. It’s surprisingly difficult to capture stars well.

In the end, I really like Thom’s idea of doing this in the wilderness, not only because it’s a place where the usual distractions of work don’t interfere, but because there’s something healthy and refreshing about being outside. Give me a vista of trees and lakes and mountains and fluffy clouds in a blue sky, and I’m a happy guy.

I’m excited to see what happens with Ascend, and honored to have met some great new friends.

Kameraspielen 9/22

From this weekend’s trip to Utah…


Dawn, South Jordan UT


Wildflowers, Echo Canyon UT

Deep thought

Saying “I’m sorry” is the same as saying “I apologize”.

Except at a funeral.

Trophies

With a day off work, I wanted to climb a Fourteener, but the weather isn’t cooperating– it’s drizzling and snowing in the mountains today. So I’m at home, thinking of how to spend my time. Laralee’s been outpacing me on our quest to de-clutter, and I figured this would be an opportunity to get rid of some things.

I started by scanning a bunch of old yearbooks, learning in the process that it’s surprisingly difficult to disassemble a bound book and scan the pages. It turned up some crazy pictures from high school and junior high, and I had a good chuckle at several of them.

Then I turned my attention to my box of trophies. Yep, I still have a ribbon for a story I wrote when I was 8, and the trophy from my one and only year of swim team…

I suppose it’s sort of apropos that the guy’s arm is broken off; that year I broke my collarbone and couldn’t actually participate in a single swim meet. But at the end of the season, everyone got a trophy, including the kid in an arm sling who didn’t swim.

There were a handful of trophies and medals from my high school days on the speech and debate team. Oratory, Lincoln-Douglas debate, humorous interpretation (my signature event), and so on. I’d forgotten about my acting awards as well. During my senior year I not only won the Best Actor award, but the coveted Imagination and Knowledge award.

Apparently in high school I was pretty good at science and math, because I had a whole pile of medals for various state- and national-level competitions. Here’s one for language arts, two for mathematics, and six for the Science Olympiad– including first place in the nation (I didn’t miss any questions on the test). Pretty cool!

I guess when you get to college, you don’t get medals and plaques any more, because the only one I found was this plaque from the university for my four years (technically five) of involvement in all aspects of Residential Life. Those were some of the best times at college: I learned a ton and met lifelong friends.

So now what? Well, in the spirit of clearing out our house, all of these are heading to the trash. On the one hand, it’s kind of sad to toss them out, but on the other, they’ve been sitting in a cardboard box gathering dust and cobwebs for a few decades now. It’s not like they’ll suddenly find a spot on our bookshelves. Imagine people coming to visit and admiring the ribbon from my fourth-place finish in the junior high Turkey Trot back in 1985!

Busted

Before the start of the school year, Zaque and his friend Miles conspired to swap their student ID photos. When they went in for photo day, they each claimed to be the other, with the end result that Zaque’s student ID had Miles’ picture on it. It was pretty funny, and of course they were both pleased as punch at their cleverness.

Apparently today it all came crashing down.

Zaque was pulled from class to visit with the vice principal, who explained this was a serious security violation, and not funny at all, and so on. He has to turn in his “fake” ID on Monday and get a revised one with the proper photo.

Hopefully this isn’t the start of a life of crime…

Yin and yang

Last night, as La and I were working in the kitchen…

[Laralee’s making a smoothie using all organic fruits and probably bone broth]
[I’m making a batch of cupcakes because I’m in the mood for a cupcake]

Laralee: This pretty much sums up our attitudes toward food, doesn’t it?
Me: Yep. That’s why our marriage works.

Summer league

Well, summer is officially over. The kids are back in school, and the summer ultimate league concluded today with the annual tournament.

My team didn’t do so well this season– we won two games. There were quite a few beginners, and although we had a good time together, we were overpowered by more experienced teams. In the end, though, I think everyone had fun, which is the most important thing. (Although if I’m being honest, winning is also fun.)

Of course before every game, and after each halftime, we all huddle together to talk strategy and then break up with a cheer of some kind. For reasons I don’t fully understand, in the latter half of the season we started doing a cheer that went like this:

1) Everyone yell “SPORTS!”
2) Everyone throw their hand up while jumping and spinning around.

Here it is in action:

Then there’s the D Trophy, which is an important part of every game because whoever made the most defensive plays “wins” the D Board. Once again, I had Kyle on my team and he crafted a 3D-printed D Trophy with our team name on the bottom. At the tournament, the player with the most D’s takes home the trophy as a keepsake. Well, Julie and I tied with four plays apiece today, so we shared the trophy.

(In the end, I let her take it home because she was jokingly upset she didn’t win it a couple of seasons ago.)

So, all in all, it was another fun summer season– my eighteenth year in the GRU league. Thanks, guys!

Ahh, English

This is for you, Mom! Check out all the different ways “ough” is pronounced in a single sentence:

Though I coughed roughly and hiccoughed throughout the lecture, I still thought I could plough through the rest of it.

Seminary rebooted

It’s that time of year again: school is starting, and that means I’m entering my fourth year of seminary. I love this calling, and teaching these great teenagers.

What I don’t love is the chime of my alarm at 5:15 each morning…

… But I was up and going today to start the year. Looking forward to 165 days with these yahoos.

Gen Con

Last week I went to Gen Con. Yeah, it’s a board game convention… apparently the largest one in the world. I’d believe it, after seeing tens of thousands of people gathering in Indianapolis to spend five days playing board (and video) games. I never would’ve thought of going to something like it– in fact, it was my first “con”– but Aron and Derek went last year and thought it would be fun if the Magnificent Seven could reunite there. As it turned out, Bech and Mat couldn’t make it, but five of the seven did. Aron, Derek, Morgan, Dirk, and I all had a great time together. We hadn’t spent more than a few hours as a group in probably twenty years, so it was good to hang out and reconnect. Oh, and we played some games.

Dominion is my favorite board/card game, so I introduced Aron to it on the first day. Morgan and Derek learned it the second day. And Dirk picked it up the third. Although all of them liked it, no one took to it quite like Dirk. He absolutely fell in love with Dominion. On Saturday he and I played for eight hours straight as we tested several different expansion versions. Then on Sunday we spent another four hours at it. Afterward he bought the game in the vendors’ hall, took it home, and that night introduced his family to it. According to him, he “converted” them just as I’d converted him. Yay!

Of course it led to a few jokes, which I immortalized into some memes.

The games filled the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium, as well as the mammoth Indiana Convention Center and surrounding hotels. Here’s a shot of the stadium, showing hundreds of games in session.

Apparently nearly anything can be turned into a board game, if you have the vision. Yes, even a bad 80’s movie starring Kurt Russell.

Some of the games featuring “miniatures” were quite impressive. There was fantasy stuff, medieval castles, World War I and World War II scenarios, Star Wars battles, and on and on. Although I’m not into that sort of gaming, I could tell some people really were. I mean, look at how much fun these guys are having. It’s fun, guys, right? RIGHT?

Just about everyone who plays board games these days has played Settlers of Catan. It’s widely regarded as the seminal game that started a revival. So not surprisingly, there were all kinds of t-shirts honoring the grandfather of today’s board games.

(Of course, if you don’t play Catan, you won’t get any of those jokes…)

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend and a ton of fun to hang out with my best friends from 30 years ago.