Last week, I returned home from a fabulous vacation with my wife in Paris and London. But prior to meeting her in Paris for our European adventure, I had the pleasure of working for 2 weeks in a far off land called Armenia.
At work, I’m a Software Engineer for a company called AtTask. We produce a web based Project Management Software and have remote Software Development, Quality Assurance and Customer Support teams in Armenia that work almost exactly opposite our time in Orem, Utah.
Armenia is on the other side of the world from the US, right next to Turkey and Iran
We employ more than 20 people right now in our downtown Yerevan office building. Having a team that works while the other team sleeps means that we should be able to get about twice as much work done in a day. But, It doesn’t always happen that way. The problem isn’t that we don’t have talented, educated, and brilliant people. The challenge is that many team members have never met or even spoken with their coworkers on the opposite side of the planet. Communication is limited to mainly email exchanges, instant messages, and the very rare voice or video conference.
So, with that in mind, my objective in coming to Armenia was primarily to meet each member of the team in Yerevan and build a relationship. That way, back in the United States, I will know who I’m working with, and will be more inclined to communicate and work more effectively with my new friends 7000 miles away.
The Opera House in Yerevan
Flying to Armenia from Salt Lake City is a pretty brutal trip. It takes about 24 hours to get from one place to the other, that’s flight and airport waiting time combined. This is the best case scenario, because it assumes you have a good flight plan, and that none of your legs are delayed or cancelled. Lucky for me, my flight path to Armenia was flawless and I arrived only an hour or so later than planned. Un-lucky for me, my luggage didn’t enjoy the same luxury. I had the pleasure of doing some forced clothes shopping in a foreign country with stores that had sizes that made me wish I had stuck to that diet and exercise regimen I planned for myself a few months back. But, thankfully, I had some very helpful Armenian coworkers that helped me find something to wear while I waited 182 hours for my luggage to arrive.
Some AtTaskers in the Armenia Office
I knew pretty much nothing about Armenia before arriving. So, let me fill you in on some of my discoveries during my stay.
First of all, the people are extremely nice. I’m not sure if all Armenians are nice, because I mostly interacted with our employees there. I assume all Armenians can’t possibly be as spectacular as the people in our office, so I’ll go a head and say that we have the best people working for us there. A trip to Armenia wouldn’t have been half as good without being with the friendly, happy people I met in our office. They showed me around the city, took me sightseeing, guided me to all the best restaurants, and even hosted an authentic Armenian style Barbecue for us.
I captured this video while at a concert in the downtown Yerevan.
Most Armenians speak both Armenian and Russian, and most have a basic understanding of English and can speak it to some degree. The majority of people in our office spoke english quite well, and we had very little difficulty communicating. Work starts at 10am and ends around 7 or 8pm, with hours occasionally extending later if there is a morning meeting scheduled in the United States. 8 PM on a Monday in Armenia is 9 AM of the same Monday in Utah.
Armenia has a plethora of interesting art pieces to look at. This one is Fernando Botero's "Roman Warrior".
Downtown Yerevan is pretty nice, with most modern luxuries available to you. There are many elegant buildings with pleasant architecture in the city center. As you leave the center of the city, you can find older, more run down buildings. Many that are not well maintained and are not easy on the eyes. I noticed a lot of construction sites, some that seemed to be under construction for a very long time, and some that looked abandoned.
Traffic lights and stop signs seem to be a suggestion in Armenia. Most people go when they feel like going, and turn when they feel like turning. This goes for both pedestrians and cars. I think my heart skipped a beat more than a few times when we walked right out in front of oncoming traffic to cross the street on our way to lunch. But, it’s normal in Armenia. Cars stopped, or drove around us, and everybody made it to their destinations. The variety of vehicles is also worth noting. Roads are full of old Soviet Russia cars, White Nivas (Russian, 4×4 Off-road vehicles), and a plethora of luxury sports cars from BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagon. You have to look hard to find a Honda, Toyota or Ford on the streets there.
A soviet car. These are a dime a dozen in Armenia.
I liked most of the food I tried in Armenia. Most meals consisted of deliciously Barbecued Pork, Beef, Chicken or Lamb and Lavash, a thin tortilla-like bread baked in a hole in the ground. A true Armenian can’t resist a good piece of cheese with a fist full of “greens” wrapped in lavash and a tall glass of Tahn — a sour, watered-down yogurt drink (eww). Many restaurants serve a wide variety of cuts of meat, including parts we don’t normally eat in America — like brain, tongue, heart, and lungs. I tried heart and lungs. There’s a first…and a last for everything. You can always find Coca Cola at a restaurant, but fountain drinks are rare. Typically a bottle or can of soda is brought to you at meal time. People don’t drink from the can or bottle, instead soda is poured into an empty glass without ice. I enjoyed tasting the variety of sodas not available in the US. They have an assortment of tasty carbonated “lemonades”, my favorite was Pear. Often during your meal, at dinnertime especially, there is live music played while you eat. Wooden recorder-like instruments are frequently played at this time. Musicians fill their cheeks with air while playing so they can play without stopping, kinda like bagpipes.
Mount Ararat towers above Armenia and is often used as a symbol for the country. However, currently the mountain is actually part of Turkey. Mount Ararat is where ancient legend says Noah’s Ark came to rest after the flood. But no artifacts were preserved from that time that can prove such a story. Armenia is a Christian country, and has an abundance of historic religious sites dating back to 300 AD and earlier.
Most public areas in the city are not air conditioned. It seems that locals are accustomed to the warm humid climate, both outdoors and in. For instance, our office has an air conditioning unit in each room, but they were almost always turned off. Since I’m used to being refrigerated at all times back home, I insisted that the conference room where I worked most of the time was nicely cooled. But while working in other rooms, if I turned on the AC, it was only a matter of minutes before someone else would switch it to OFF.
The Garni Temple, one of the many religious sites Armenia has to offer.
One cool thing about Armenia is that it’s much easier to become a millionaire there. Their currency is the Armenian Dram (AMD) and in order to become a dram-millionaire, just save a little more than $2700 US dollars. OK, Ok, I know it’s not the same… but it’s still kinda cool. Actually, the US dollar does go quite a bit further there. My spending was mostly on food, but nice restaurant meals were often $5 to $10 and a 1 liter Coke light was under a buck.
Going to Armenia was awesome, and I’m glad I had the chance. It was my frist experience in another country and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good to get to know the people there, and I like knowing that AtTask is making a difference in people’s lives there. I look forward to working more with the Armenia team, and hope to get an opportunity to return soon.
In case you didn’t get the memo let me fill you in: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Period. Seriously, I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s true.
If you’re trying to change your body, you probably want one of two things. You want to lose weight and drop body fat, or you want to gain weight and build muscle. What’s interesting is that despite the end goal, most people in both groups are frustrated because they aren’t getting the results they want. If I ask them what they’re doing to get results they typically tell me all about what they’re doing at the GYM and how intensely they are working out. They don’t usually volunteer any info about what they eat, but I always ask. The typical response is, “Oh, uh I haven’t really changed my eating. But I’m hittin’ the GYM hard!”
Just today I was talking to two friends at lunch and one of them wanted to lose weight the other wanted to gain. Both said they had been working out but hadn’t modified their eating habits. The funny part is this: neither of them were getting any results! In fact the friend wanting to lose weight was gaining, and the friend trying to gain weight was losing!
Here’s the thing. If you want to gain muscle or lose fat, you have to lift heavy things. You have to put in some intense resistance training workouts that will tear your muscle fibers. Your body doesn’t build muscle at the GYM, it destroys it. After your workout and while you are sleeping your body will repair itself. During this repair process your body will either build muscle or burn fat. Now, here’s the secret. If you want your body to repair the muscles and make them bigger, you need to consume a surplus of calories to fuel that process. Your body needs the extra energy to build muscle tissue! If you want to burn fat, you need a calorie deficit. You have to make sure that you haven’t consumed enough calories for your body to build muscle. Instead, your body will repair the muscle extracting the energy it needs to do so from your fat stores! Don’t worry, if you’re lifting heavy during your workouts you will increase in strength regardless of how many calories you consume. With this information in mind, it’s easy to see why my friends were not getting the results they wanted. Since they hadn’t modified their eating habits appropriately, the skinny one wasn’t eating enough to build muscle and was thus losing fat! And the heavy one was consuming too many calories and was actually gaining muscle!
Let’s make it absolutely clear:
If you want to lose fat:
Exercise consistently with a combination of weight training and cardio
Maintain a modest calorie deficit and eat healthy foods
If you want to gain muscle:
Consistently lift progressively heavier weights
Maintain a calorie surplus and eat healthy foods
You’ll notice that the primary difference between the two objectives is having a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit. But you’ll also notice that both objectives require the consumption of “healthy foods” and that also implies reduced consumption of “unhealthy foods”. A surplus or deficit is the most important part, but your selection of food can play a big part in your body’s ability to function properly. Try to avoid sugar, fried or processed foods, refined grains, fatty meats and fast food. These foods aren’t good for you and they have a high caloric density. Instead, eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. These options have lower caloric density; You can eat more of them and feel full longer. Allow me to share some of my favorite healthy foods with you. It’s proper nutrition and foods like these that helped me advance in my fitness goals and lose more than 80 lbs of fat.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When you get out of bed go straight to the kitchen and get some food. Your body has been fasting all night long and it needs some go-power! I like to start the day off right with some egg whites as my source of protein. Since it’s a hassle to crack eggs and extract the yolk but leave the whites, I am a big fan of All Whites. As the name implies, it’s 100% egg whites and nothing else. At first the though of eating fried egg whites didn’t sit well with me, I grew up having scrambled eggs my whole life and just couldn’t fathom skipping the yolk. But times have changed and I really love my whites in the morning.
Since breakfast is such an essential meal of the day, why not make it great? I look forward to making breakfast every morning, especially when I have Simply Potatoes to go with my egg whites. When I started eating healthy I thought I’d never be able to eat hashbrowns again. That’s because the hash browns you get at a restaurant are either deep fried or smothered in butter. Frozen hashbrowns from the grocery store often have other additives that make them less healthy for you too. That’s where Simply Potatoes come in. They’re nothing but pure delicious fresh potatoes, an excellent starchy carbohydrate. These shredded taters have never been frozen and are ready and waiting for your PAM sprayed skillet.
Cream of Rice
Boy with all these breakfast foods, you’d think I eat nothing but breakfast for every meal! Most people have heard of Cream of Wheat and Oatmeal, but few have tried Cream of Rice. All three breakfast cereals are great for you and are an excellent substitute for those sugar-coated coma inducing fruity O’s in your pantry. The reason I love Cream of Rice is because it’s gluten free. Going gluten free is a great idea for anybody and I highly recommend it. More and more people are discovering that they are gluten sensitive every day. If you’re sensitive to gluten you may be intolerant or you might even have Celiac Disease. I’m one of the lucky ones to be blessed with the latter. Whether you’re gluten sensitive or not, give Cream of Rice a try, it’s a good clean carb that will keep your digestive track running like a finely tuned swiss watch.
Finally, a non-breakfast food! This one’s for all of you chips and dip addicts out there. Hummus is a dip or spread made from cooked , pureed chickpeas and blended with olive oil, lemon juice and an assortment of spices. You can use it as a condiment to spice up your sandwiches and wraps, or just eat it like you would any other chip or veggie dip. I prefer it on rice crackers. Hummus contains no saturated fat or cholesterol and is high in protein and fiber. I’ve tried several different brands of Hummus and I must confess that not all brands are equal. The brand I know and love is Tribe. My favorite flavors are 40 Spices, Roasted Red Pepper, and Roasted Garlic. Go ahead give it a try, you’re going to love it.
Oranges are high in fiber and they taste like manna from heaven. They will satisfy your sweet tooth, take away your hunger, and provide essential nutrients to your body. I love orange juice just as much as the next guy, but unfortunately when you juice a fruit you lose the most important part: fiber. Eating an actual fruit is head and shoulders above drinking it’s juice. If you measure your fruit servings by the glass, you might want to reconsider. It’s about as healthy as as a tall glass of Kool-Aid; the nutrition content is about the same. Whenever possible, buy fruits and veggies from your local farmers market. They taste much better, have more nutrients, and are often lower priced!
Tilapia is a great fish for anyone who doesn’t love fish. It’s mild and versatile, and very low in fat. It’s a great source of lean protein and it tastes great, plus it’s affordable and easy to cook. I buy Tilapia at my local Costco. Each boneless loin is frozen and individually wrapped for freshness and convenience. I cook them in the oven on a baking sheet with some Lemon Pepper sprinkled on top.
Protein is an essential part of a good nutrition program. Your body needs it to rebuild itself and stay healthy. Protein powders and pre-made shakes are really convenient because, let’s face it, you can’t always have ready to eat Tilapia and Chicken breast on hand at all times. I’ve tried a lot of protein shakes in my day and I’m here to tell ya, it’s either a hit or a miss when it comes to a great shake. A good protein shake has to taste good, and it must sit well with your digestive system. Too many products leave you feeling bloated a few hours after consumption. I like Premier Protein shakes because they are pre-made. I don’t have to mess with any powders and I never have to deal with a dirty shaker bottle. It’s the ultimate in convenience. These shakes are packed with 30 grams of protein and are only 160 calories. The taste is chocolatey smooth and I feel great for hours after drinking them. You can find these shakes at Costco and surprise surprise, they’re the cheapest ones there.
Last but not least is Quinoa (Pronounced Keen-Wah). Quinoa is actually more like a leafy green vegetable than a grain, but you wouldn’t guess it. When cooked, it has a light, fluffy texture and a mild, slightly nutty flavor. It cooks just like rice but is fluffier and better for you. Unlike most grains, quinoa is high in protein and it contains all the essential amino acids. It’s high in fiber and gluten free. A cup of quinoa has more calories than a cup of Brown Rice, but it also has more protein and it tastes better too. It doesn’t hurt to switch things up every once in a while. Next time you plan to have rice for dinner give quinoa a try instead, you won’t regret it.
A couple weeks ago I attended the Young Entrepreneur Founders Organization (YEFO) Summit event at BYU. At the event I was able to meet fellow entrepreneurs and exchange ideas of what works and what doesn’t. The peak of the conference was when Rick Alden the founder of Skullcandy spoke to us.
To Win Big, Be Willing To Lose Big
Business = problem solving. Scalable Business = Problem solving for lots of customers. That’s Rick Alden’s formula for business success.
He started Skullcandy because he was annoyed with how hard it was to listen to music and accept cell phone calls while on the slopes. A dongle that connected a single pair of headphones to both devices was the product that put Skullcandy in business. Previous to Skullcandy Rick started and sold several businesses and was able to pay off his home. Living mortgage free felt great, but Rick is an entrepreneur at heart. When the new business needed more cash to get going, Rick refinanced his home to fund it. He told his wife that it was risky business and they could go broke. Worst case, they could go bankrupt and be reduced to living in a small apartment with their 4 children. His wife Holly said, “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.” In 2008 Skullcandy had a yearly revenue of $85.5 million, and 2009 looks to be more than double that.
Know Your Customer
During his speech, Rick emphasized that if you want to be successful you must know your customer. Know who they are, what they like to do, where they like to go, and what they want to be. He says the best way to do that is to be the best version of your own customer. Rick is an active snow and skate enthusiast and the Skullcandy headquarters even has a half pipe built right in. I’d say it makes sense that his primary target audience is the snow/skate/hip hop community. How better to know what your audience wants then to be a part of your audience?! Rick showed this video about a real life product called the Wunder Boner to illustrate his point.
Aside from this video being embarrassingly comical, the Wunder Boner actually looks like a decent product. The obvious problem here is the name and branding of the product. If I remember right, I think the product was initially launched in Australia where it saw moderate success. However, when the product launched in America, attention was not paid to the new audience. Had the creators of Wunder Boner understood American consumers, they would have known to change the name and branding of the product. It just goes to show, you might have a good product, but if your brand is off, you may not find the success you’re looking for.
Brand Is Everything
Rick emphasized that the #1 job of a CEO is to be the “cultural filter” for the company. According to him, a company’s brand is everything. I couldn’t agree more. It’s important to build a brand with your audience. Each of us as individuals has an identity or a brand, and it’s the same for a company. When someone buys your product they buy your brand. In the beginning, Skullcandy had more difficulty selling headphones because it did not have an identifiable, trusted public identity. To consumers it was just another (cool looking) headphone. As time went on sales increased as a skater/hip hop image was marketed for the company. Eventually Skaters & Snow Boarders accepted Skullcandy as a a product that helped express who they were. They felt understood by Skullcandy, and with it’s products they could better express themselves. People wanted to have Skullcandy headphones because of what it said about them. That’s good branding. Once you have established a brand like that, selling your product becomes much easier. With proper branding, the biggest problem you’ll be faced with is manufacturing enough product to meet demand. Think for a minute about several brands you accept. What does it say about you if you own an Apple product, a Google phone or a BMW? Behold the power of branding.
It Pays to Be Lucky
It seems to me that most wildly successful entrepreneurs credit luck for much of their success. Rick is no different. He mentioned how lucky it was that products like the iPod were released during the same time that his products were launched. Rick said there are just too many things he could have never predicted that went right.
Since we were at BYU for the conference it’s understandable that just as he attributed much of his success to luck, someone raised their hand to comment. “Don’t you think it was really a blessing rather than just luck?” the audience member interrupted. Rick responded with something like, “Well maybe so, but to be honest, I just don’t think God cares whether I sell another pair of headphones. I think He might have better things to do. But I do feel blessed to have had these successes and I do think God cares that I support my family.”
During the Christmas holiday Shalauna and I went Snow Tubing at Gorgoza Park in Park City. Shalauna actually gave me some sleds for Christmas but since climbing up massive snowy hills with icicles growing out our noses was something we wanted to delay a bit, we opted for a lift-served, lighted tubing hill. We met up with our friends Joe and Jamie late in the afternoon just as the sun was going down.
If you’ve been tubing at Soldier Hollow before, you’ll love Gorgoza Park. The price is a little steep, but it’s worth going at least once during the winter. Gorgoza park has three beginner and four advanced lanes with three lifts to serve them. When we got there it was FREEZING cold, so we opted to maximize our fun time and went straight to the advanced lanes.
I like riding the lift up almost as much as I like the ride down. I’m a sucker for pleasant slow rides in between intense rip-roaring ones. Once we selected our tubes we climbed aboard just before they were attached to a pull rope. For the next 15 minutes or so we got to enjoy some good scenery, conversation and jokes as we slid to the top.
Once at the top we selected our preferred tubing lane. That night it was so cold that the snow was frozen solid in many areas so we were not allowed to link together during the run. Instead, we each went separately. I brought my new Flip UltraHD and created a little video for you to watch. If the first half bores you feel free to skip ahead, but be sure not to miss the end to find out just how fast we went down the icy hill.
I track my income and spending through mint.com (the best FREE online personal finance tool). At Mint I can view trends of where my money goes month after month. Recently I pulled up a pie chart of my spending by merchant for the year. The chart displayed the top 10 merchants I’ve given money to for 2009. My mortgage came in at #1, but the next three in line were pretty interesting.
A not so uncommon sighting at Walmart
Walmart came in at number 3. Yeah I know, I just dropped a couple notches in your book, but let’s be honest, Walmart is close, convenient and they sell stuff for cheap. Besides, even though you don’t want to admit it, you know you shop there just as much as I do.
Coming in at number 2 is Costco! Where else can you justify buying 36 chocolate bars, 6 bags of jerky, a month supply of creme puffs and a whole tree of oranges? Actually, you know what’s really great about Walmart and Costco? The customer is always right, and you can return anything you buy for pretty much any reason or no reason at all. That’s a pretty good insurance policy against buyers remorse if you ask me.
And coming in at number 1? You guessed it, Amazon.com! Now, I promise I don’t work for Amazon, but it might start to sound like it by the end of this blog post. I simply love buying stuff from Amazon. When I’m at the store considering a product that isn’t produce, meat or dairy, I often put off the purchase so I can buy it online at Amazon.com. Sometimes I’ll even use Amazon’s nifty iPhone app to take a photo of the product i want. Within a few minutes of taking the photo, I’ll receive a response displaying the product I photographed or one similar to it and the price I can buy it for online. If the price is right, I can order the product right there on my phone.
Here are the top 3 reasons I’m addicted to Amazon.com, and why you will be too!
Number 1 : Save Time & Money
As I wrote about previously, I don’t view ads or clip coupons. I have better things to do than aggressively price shop. But when I started my addiction to Amazon, the skeptic in me just had to see how the prices stacked up. I have discovered that, in most instances, buying a product at Amazon.com is cheaper than the competition. Plain and simple, Amazon sells it for less. Go ahead and do some price comparisons of your own. I’m sure that some of you coupon cutters will find better deals, but in general you just can’t argue that Amazon doesn’t have low prices. And in my book, I’d rather get consistently low prices on everything I buy (and get on with my life), rather than guarantee the lowest price on everything I buy but spend half of my life hunting down the next best deal.
Don’t forget that when you buy from Amazon, you don’t have to drive anywhere. You place an order and it arrives at your door in a few days. There’s no driving anywhere so you’ll save gas money and driving time . Plus all you go-green, earth loving, stop climate change enthusiasts can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you’re doing your part to save the planet by reducing your carbon footprint. Think of the good we could do for mother earth if everyone did the majority of their shopping online. How’s that for a solution Al Gore? As for me, sure I like saving the planet. But mostly I’m just lazy and I’d rather things be delivered to me than fetch them myself.
Another serious savings you enjoy when purchasing from Amazon.com is that you don’t pay sales tax. Everybody knows I love paying taxes just as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s nice to have a break. In Utah, sales tax is 6.75%. That means for every $100 I spend at places like Walmart and Costco, I pay an additional $6.75 to the man. But when I buy the same product from Amazon.com, i can keep the $6.75 in my wallet. If I spend $1,000 on ‘stuff’ from Amazon throughout the year instead of buying it locally, I save almost $70. The savings add up.
Number 2 : It’s Convenient
Amazon is convenient. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never purchased anything at Walmart or Costco in my underpants. Yes I know what you’re thinking, you’ve seen plenty of people at Walmart that appear to be shopping in their pajamas or even underwear. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m going to go a head and count it as a perk that when shopping online I DON’T have to stand next to someone in a full body unwashed sweat suit at the checkout line. At Amazon everyone is welcome, and you don’t have to care what other shoppers are doing. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.
Even though I’m part of the NOW generation, I’m perfectly fine ordering something online and receiving it in 2 days. What matters to me is that I receive it. I don’t mind waiting. What I also like is that my stuff hasn’t been manhandled by other shoppers before I buy it. Everything I order has been sitting nicely, untouched, in a clean warehouse waiting to be shipped to me.
Number 3 : Free Shipping
Say what?! Did I say free shipping? Yes. Yes I did. Now, I have to admit, when I first started purchasing stuff online, it was few and far between. I just hated the idea of paying to have something shipped to me. It felt like I was being taxed twice, once for uncle sam, and once for being stupid enough to have something shipped to me when I could pick it up without the shipping cost at the local Walmart. Well, I’d say that Amazon has done a pretty good job resolving both of these concerns for me. I’ve already pointed out that I don’t pay taxes on my orders, but I also don’t pay shipping!
Here’s the deal, Amazon has this sweet gig called the Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Prime gives you free two-day shipping on all orders of any purchase price. Yep, you can order anything and have it shipped to you in two days without considering shipping costs. This concept frees up the online consumer to place orders at any time and for any thing. No need to wait until you have a “big” order to ship. Just order it now, forget the shipping.
Now, here’s the catch. Amazon Prime is $79 per year. So if you sign up and place 2 orders for the year, it’s probably not worth it for you. But if you place 12 or more orders during the course of the year it’s totally worth it. I remember when I bought my 50″ plasma screen from Amazon. It was the lowest price I could find anywhere, plus I paid no sales tax, and shipping was FREE. Had I opted to pay the shipping on my 100+ pound TV, it would have been a pretty penny. But with Amazon Prime it doesn’t matter the size, weight or quantity of what you order. It’s shipped to your door in 2 days for the price of membership.
But wait, there’s more! When you are an Amazon Prime member, you can invite household members to share your membership. So if you sign up for prime and invite your parents and siblings to share the membership with you, everybody gets the same benefits of the membership. That way if you wanted to, you could split the cost of the $79 membership amongst your family members to reduce the price of shipping even further. It doesn’t get any better than this!
I recently had my home appraised in order to refinance it. Shalauna and I spent hours getting the house ready for show. We mopped the floors, vacuumed the carpets, cleaned the bathrooms, organized the closets… we really polished things up. My house is generally neat and clean, but for the appraisal we wanted it to be extra nice.
When the appraiser came, she toured the house and took note of how clean it was. She commented on the nice subtleties of the home. She pointed out the red accent wall in the living room, the premium hardwood shutters in the windows, and the protective epoxy flooring in the garage. Overall the appraisal went very well and we are hoping for the highest value possible.
During the appraisal process I began to question where my home got it’s value. Where does the value come from? When I bought my home I got to choose some of it’s features. I chose the carpet, tile and paint colors. My selections were implemented by the builder and his contractors. The Architect contributed by engineering the structure and design of the home, the construction workers contributed labor and know how, the builder contributed his wisdom and ability to manage people. The materials used to construct my home have value, but it wasn’t until the builder and his contractors combined their efforts to build a home with those materials that they became worth anything significant. As we can see, ultimately the value of my home (and everybody else’s) came from people.
YOU ARE THE ASSET
After I bought my home I became the steward over it and at that point the value of my home became dependent upon me. If I neglect the home and fail to keep it properly maintained, it’s value will drop. If I actively work to keep the house clean (and bat free) and constantly try to improve it, the value will maintain or increase with good market conditions. During the home appraisal the appraiser informed us that it was refreshing to walk through my home since it was nice, clean and well maintained. She said that there are many homes that are messy and gross that she has to walk through. The cleanliness of a home may not affect the value of a home in the short term, but in the long run it certainly does.
Shalauna and I Painted the Garage with our good friend Mike, it’s amazing how much nicer a garage feels with some white paint on the walls!
Banks understand that the person behind a home makes a big difference. A bank is interested in protecting itself and ensuring that it does not make a bad investment. That’s why they make you jump through so many hoops when you apply for a loan to buy a home. They require proof of a reliable income, they want to see how much money you have on hand, they look at your credit history and current credit score, they want to know about any debts you may have and that’s only the beginning! Then they have you sign a contact that is 5 bazillion pages long. They do all these things to ensure that you are a worthwhile asset. They are seeking a person who can become a good steward over a home. This is the person they can trust to lend money to.
PEOPLE ARE THE VALUE BEHIND EVERYTHING
People don’t just give value to homes, they give value to everything. Every valuable object we own got it’s value from a person. When I buy an iPod I might pay $400. That $400 gets me an iPod device to keep. But ultimately there are people behind the iPod that gave it that $400 value. It is the value of those people and their talents and skills that made me want to exchange $400 for the device. Sometimes we get carried away thinking ‘things’ have value. We want more and more ‘things’. But ultimately, it is people who have value. Any ‘thing’ got it’s value from a person. Devices don’t have bank accounts with dollars in them; people do. Objects don’t own homes; people do. Those people are the assets.
YOUR JOB ISN’T AN ASSET, YOU ARE
Your employer sees you as an asset (even if you don’t). When you interviewed with them, they evaluated what value you could bring to them. When they offered you a job they agreed to exchange a certain amount of money for your time. When you took a job with them they acquired you as an asset and in exchange volunteered to give you X dollars every two weeks for 80 hours of your time.
I have some friends that are scared to death during this economic downturn that they could lose their job. No doubt, during difficult times, we should be grateful for an income. My question is this: What is there to fear if you are a good asset? I work as a Software Engineer for an outstanding company. If (heaven forbid) I lost my job for some reason, it certainly would sting. It would be a challenge to determine what to do next. But ultimately I’d know that I am a valuable asset with the ability to use my talents to create things of value. I am certain that in the event of a job loss, I’d be able to either find a new job of equal or greater salary or work independently or as a business owner to create value for others. That way I’d be able to continue to live prosperously and generate an income.
SHARPEN THE SAW
The 7th habit in Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Sharpen the Saw”. He relates it to an analogy of a woodcutter who saws for several days straight. The woodcutter is less and less productive since the saw becomes more and more dull. Without sharpening the saw, the woodcutter will not be able to continue to be a valuable asset and cut wood effectively. We can apply this idea to our lives. If we sharpen our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual saws then we can become better assets in life. When we have a sharp saw, we can feel confident that our homes will maintain or increase in value. When we have a sharp saw, we don’t need to fear a layoff because we can continue to ‘cut wood’ under any circumstance.
I’m glad my home appraisal experience led me to reflect and remember that people are the real assets. At the end of the day, we should each take an appraisal of the most important asset: ourselves. What is our personal worth and what kind of value do we bring to others? Regardless the answer to that question, we can always sharpen our saw and improve ourselves every day.
I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t wait around for a deal before I purchase something. If I decide I want something, most of the time it’s not because there was a sweet deal or coupon offered for the item, it’s because I want the item. Plain and simple, I don’t buy things because they are a great price, I buy them because I want them. Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely like a good price and I don’t always withstand all sales. For example, just this past weekend I discovered by word of mouth that Buy Low was offering Chex cereal for just $0.98 a box. I love Chex cereal! It’s great for breakfast and I’ve never had a “Chex Mix” that I didn’t like (may I suggest Muddy Buddies). Anyway, when I discovered this sweet price for Chex I went to Buy Low and purchased 28 Boxes. Yep, 28 Boxes for just under $28. I guess I’ll be eating Chex and egg whites for breakfast for a very, very long time.
Even though I bought the Chex on sale, I didn’t buy the product just because of the price. If Buy Low was having a Cheerios sale for $0.25 a box, you wouldn’t see me with a cart full of them. I wouldn’t even buy one. I don’t like Cheerios and I don’t want them, so no matter the price I just don’t want to buy them. Do you ever find yourself throwing away expired products in your house because you had too much of it and just didn’t use it? Chances are it’s because you didn’t even really want the product in the first place, it was just an impulse buy based on a sale. Next time ask yourself, “Do I really want this? Do I buy this even when it’s not on sale?” If you can answer yes to those questions, then I’d say it’s a safe bet to walk away with…. 28 boxes.
The truth is, I rarely buy based on a sale because I often have no clue there is one. I don’t look at ads online or in print and I avoid being subject to commercials in radio and television. I’ve completely ‘tuned out’ as much advertising as possible from my life. I’ve put myself on an Ad-Consumption diet. If I’m watching my favorite TV show and have to break for 20 minutes of the hour for lame commercials, I get frustrated and turn it off. I’m there to watch the show, not see a bazillion ads! Most people are paying for a cable or satellite subscription ($60-$100 a month) but they STILL have to watch ads for half of the viewing time?! Are you kidding me?! You can’t even go to a movie without seeing commercials and ads before the show. Nothing feels better than knowing that the $8.50 I spent on a movie ticket isn’t enough to block 20 mins of pre-show advertising.
Here are a few tips to blocking ads from your life:
There are a few ways to block ads during your internet browsing experience. If you’re still using Internet Explorer, now is the time to quit. Install Firefox. It’s a much better browser and offers faster and more secure browsing. Another thing it offers is Add-Ons. Add-Ons are little extensions to the browser that you can install that offer new or better functionality. Once you’ve installed firefox install the Adblock Plus Add-on. That’s it! Install firefox and the adblock plus add-on and any web site you visit will have the ads hidden. This will make your browsing experience more pleasant because you wont’ have annoying flashing banner ads to pester you anymore. In addition to that, web pages will load faster because you no longer have to download the ad graphics! Hooray!
Blocking ads on TV is a little more technical. The easiest way to do this is to get a DVR box from your cable or satellite provider. This device will let you record your favorite shows ahead of time so you can watch them later. Get into the habit of watching all your shows AFTER they have aired. This way you can hit the fast forward button to skip right through those commercials. This solution is easy, but it does cost some cash.
Another option is to watch shows online. Most major networks have recent episodes available on their web site for viewing online. You can also find many shows at hulu.com. This method won’t eliminate ads, but it certainly reduces them. You’ll only be subject to one ad every 10 minutes or so instead of a handful like on regular television.
Lastly, if you’re really tech savvy you could do what i do and use an AppleTV or PlayStation 3 to watch all your TV shows. I’ve set up my desktop computer (a mac mini) to automatically download tv shows for me after they air. Later when I have time, I watch them on my big screen as they stream over the network to my AppleTV or PS3. This method eliminates all commercials for me, because the shows I download already have them edited out completely. No need to fast forward!
This one is easy. When you get ads in the mail, throw them away. Don’t even look at them first. Just toss them. With all this “Going Green” commotion, I’m surprised paper newspapers and ads are still distributed. And, why do I keep getting phone books delivered to my door? I throw those away too.
If you subscribe to magazines, you’ll just have to deal with the ads. But most of the content in magazines can be found online, and with the previously mentioned adblock solution, you can finally escape!
It’s time to ditch the radio and start listening to an iPod. Put only the music you like on your iPod and listen to it at random if you like. This way you won’t have any annoying commercials to interrupt your favorite songs, and you’ll finally be freed from lame radio DJs.
I have several talk radio programs I listen to on a regular basis too. It is so annoying to be interrupted every few minutes for a slew of ads. The programs I listen to have subscriptions I signed up for to listen to them via podcast. I think it was like $30 for the year to get a podcast subscription. That is a price I’ll gladly pay to get content I enjoy without the commercials! And, it saves time too! An hour long radio program is shaved down to a half hour of actual content when it’s commercial free. That means half the time you’re listening to the radio, you’re listening to those blasted ads! Ugh, no thanks! You can also browse the iTunes podcast directory for a plethora of free podcasts to listen to.
Well that’s it folks, I hope you enjoy your new ad-free lifestyle! Maybe it will save you some money since you won’t be spending cash on useless crap just because it’s on sale. Or maybe it will just give you some extra time during your day to do something besides consider a new product or service at a new low low price.
Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
Isn’t that the truth? We’ve all been pulled in many different directions wanting to please everyone all at the same time, haven’t we? No doubt, it’s the right thing to be compassionate and love others. Without that, it’s a lonely sad life. But sometimes we want to please others so much that we neglect ourselves.
When asked which is the greatest command, Jesus Christ declared, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He then revealed the second greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
We’ve all heard these words a thousand times. We need to Love God and Love our Neighbor. Got it. So, as good loving people, we set ourselves on a mission to please everyone, after all it is a commandment, right? But sometimes, in our quest to serve and love others, we become so focused on that task that we lose focus on ourselves. We neglect what’s important to us. We neglect to do things for ourselves. We credit doing things for ourselves as being selfish.
One of my favorite TV shows is The Biggest Loser. Maybe I like it so much because I can relate to the contestants very well. If I’m not making a conscious effort to watch what I eat and get myself to the gym every day I start packing on the LBs. It’s a fact of life, and unfortunately it took me 27 years to learn it. Anyway, on Biggest Loser, Bob and Jillian have to constantly remind contestants that they are worth it. They spend time getting into the minds and hearts of the people they work with. Most of the time people ballooned to the weight they came on the show with because, for one reason or another, they have neglected to care about themselves. Some people put their kids first, some put their careers first, some put church service first. But nearly every contestant puts something before himself. As a result, when they come on the ranch, they are not the person they want to be.
But it IS selfish to put ourselves first isn’t it? Remember the first two commandments? Love God, love your neighbor. Well, let’s look at it again: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” See that? We are to love others as we love ourselves! So we are to love God, love ourselves, then love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is a very important detail that is often overlooked. Without the proper time investment in yourself you cannot become what you want to be. If you don’t love yourself you can never really love others. And without a good love investment in yourself, you will likely not survive long enough to show too much love anyway!
Finally, I wanted to include a poem I recently heard on the Dr. Laura program that relates to this topic. It’s by Barbara Basser:
When Angela was very young,
Age two to three or so,
Her mother and her father
Taught her never to say NO.
They taught her that she must agree
With everything they said,
And if she didn’t, she was spanked
And sent upstairs to bed.
So Angela grew up to be
A most agreeable child
She was never angry
And she was never wild
She always shared, she always cared,
She never picked a fight,
And no matter what her parents said,
She thought that they were right.
Angela the Angel did very well in school
And, as you might imagine, she followed every rule
Her teachers said she was so well-bred,
So quiet and so good,
But how Angela felt inside
They nevery understood.
Angela had lots of friends
Who liked her for her smile
They knew she was the kind of gal
Who’d go the extra mile
And even when she had a cold,
And really needed rest,
When someone asked her if she’d help
She always answered Yes.
When Angela was thirty-three, she was a lawyer’s wife.
She had a home and family, and a nice suburban life.
She had a little girl of four
And a little boy of nine,
And if someone asked her how she felt
She always answered “Fine”
But one cold night near Christmastime
When her family was in bed
She lay awake as awful thoughts went spinning through her head
She didn’t know why, and she didn’t know how,
But she wanted her life to end
So she begged Whoever put her here
To take her back again.
And then she heard, from deep inside,
A voice that was soft and low
It only said a single word,
And the word it said was NO
From that moment on, Angela knew
Exactly what she had to do.
Her life depended on that word,
so this is what her loved ones heard:
NO, I just don’t want to
NO, I don’t agree
NO, that’s yours to handle
NO, that’s wrong for me
NO, I wanted something else
NO, that hurt a lot!
NO, I’m tired, and NO, I’m busy, and NO, I’d rather not!
Well, her family found it shocking,
Her friends reacted with surprise
But Angela was different, you could see it in her eyes
For they’ve held no meek submission
Since that night three years ago
When Angela the Angel got permission to say NO.
Today Angela’s a person first, then a mother and a wife.
She knows where she begins and ends,
She has a separate life.
She has talents and ambitions,
She has feelings, needs and goals.
She has money in the bank and an opinion at the polls.
And to her boy and girl she says,
“It’s nice when we agree
But if you can’t say NO, you’ll never grow
To be all you’re meant to be.
Because I know I’m sometimes wrong,
And because I love you so,
You’ll always be my Angels
Even when you tell me “NO”
This year Shalauna and I got season passes to Seven Peaks for the summer. I got a discount through work, so we figured what the heck, might as well commit to some FUN!
We had a blast and it was great for us because we were able to go a number of times right after work. Two hours of water slides, lazy river, wave pool and hot tubs is just the right amount after an 8 hour work day. It was perfect too because just as we arrived at about 6, people were leaving for the day. That means (1) the park is less busy and we can go on more slides and (2) we were able to get a free tube rental every time just by asking someone that was leaving if we could have their tube! Booyah! Oh and our little secret: we were able to avoid the $5 parking fee by riding the scooter there and sneaking into the parking lot! hehe.
I live in a town home where the garage entry is in the back of the house. Just above the garage are some spaces intentionally left between the brick to act as a vent to the attic. Last week while I was pulling into my garage one night at about 6:30pm I noticed what appeared at first to be black smoke coming from the vent! I stopped halfway into the garage to take a closer look. What I thought was smoke at first was actually a dozen or so bats jumping from the vent openings and taking off in flight!
After calling a few places I decided TNT Pest Control (Check out the web site, it’s amazing) could help me out. They attach a device to the vent that would permit the bats to escape but not re-enter. After 3 weeks they remove the device and cover the holes inside the attic to keep the bats out permanently. I wasn’t interested in worrying about the bats for another 3 weeks, but nevertheless was ready to shell out $400 for this service.
Then Mark, my mom’s fiance, prodded me to do it myself with his help. He insisted it would be easy AND even fun! Since I’m afraid of spiders, you can imagine that having a personal bat encounter was not at the top of my bucket list. But Mark persuaded me to man up to the task.
We waited for the bats to leave one night (we estimate there were 500 to 1000 bats in there) and then entered the attic from the garage entry. We expected to see bat crap in the whole attic, but there was none. In fact, not a single bat had been in the attic. The bats were roosting in the tiny space between the attic wall and the brick exterior of the house. The vent in the bricks did not actually vent the attic at all!
I’d like to take most of the credit, but I mostly watched as Mark did all the dirty work. In order to make sure the bats did not return, we had to make sure they could not re-enter. So we cut a hole in the wall where the vent was and then glued a metal mesh screen over the entryway. We did all this hoping the bats wouldn’t return in the middle of the process. Lucky for us the bats didn’t return. Lucky for me they didn’t ever return.