Monday, February 28, 2011

Charlie's Victory [Book Review]

Over the Christmas holiday my mom let me borrow Charlie's Victory to read. I explained to her that I rarely read actual paper books (preferring audiobooks), but would give this one a try. So, I made it about 20 pages thought it sounded interesting and wanted to read more. Then, like what normally happens I kept forgetting to pick it up and read it. I did manage to listen to one audiobook and make some significant progress on another audiobook... Anyways, this last weekend on the coast provided the perfect setting to really get into the book. While Jessi puzzled, I read.

In short, the book was amazing. I pretty much cried through the first half of the book and smiled/rejoiced the second half of the book. I probably re-read a quarter of it out loud because Jessi kept wanting to know what was affecting me so emotionally. I thought I was going to read a story about disease, but it turned out to be a story about love, hope and faith.

Charlie's Victory is an autobiography written by Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer (husband & wife) with Gregg Lewis. Charlie was an amazing athlete in Hawaii - voted athlete of the decade! He also had an outstanding college football career with Michigan State. Then, he landed a job as a football coach of Los Gatos High School (my alma mater). He and Lucy, his high school sweet heart, lived in California with two kids. They were very much in love and living the American Dream.

Right around that time Charlie was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease, also affect is Stephen Hawking). He was given about a year to live as his body slowly, but surely, stopped functioning. Charlie and Lucy share their reaction and describe what it's like deal with someone slowly losing control of his body. Surprisingly, they kept a humorous attitude the entire time. It's probably these situations that brought me to tears the most. Typically, either Charlie or Lucy would be at their wits end because something horrible/embarrassing happened. Then someone else would step in, do something funny and relieve the situation. Here's an example Lucy shares:

   "Since Charlie now required so many of my daytime hours, I usually went in to do my office work late in the evenings when Carri and Kale could stay home with their dad. One night at the office I wearily trudged to the office Xerox machine to copy a number of important legal documents from several of my current real estate files; then I was going home to bed. But when I returned and went to set the tall stack of folders on a clear corner of my desk, the top files began to slide. Instinctively I grabbed at them, only to miss and send the entire pile sailing off the desk and across the floor.
   I took a long look at the mess and closed my eyes. I didn't know whether to scream in frustration or simply sag to the floor amidst the jumble of papers and cry myself to sleep.
   At that moment, my friend Barbara, who was also working late and had been behind me at the copy machine walked into the office to check out the commotion. She saw all those real estate documents strewn on the floor. She also must have seen the exhaustion and defeat on my face. Because she instinctively made the most insane, inspired show of empathy and support: she flung her own stack of files high in the air and then laughed along with me as we watched her blizzard of paper flutter to the floor on top of mine. Friends."

I was in constant awe of how, even though they got hit over and over and over again with trials, their can-do attitude persisted. I think fundamentally, they asked different types of questions than "normal" people. When Charlie wanted to keep coaching despite not being able to stand up any more they would ask, "How can I coach?" Instead of "Can I coach?" This assumption: "I'm going to coach" made a world of a difference.

Charlie ended up living many, many more years: Even after they wrote this book, Charlie (with Lucy's help) continued as an assistant coach even when I played. Lucy and his love proved to be an inspiration to the world. Near the end of their story, they talk more and more about their faith and how God sustains them. It's amazing! I HIGHLY recommend this book. It's hard to fully capture the amazing-ness of their story, so I'm going to let YouTube help me out. Unfortunately, the creator of the videos doesn't want them embedded so you'll have to visit them yourself. Here are the two video links which should open in a new tab for you:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Harley Davidson Puzzle Completed!

Last weekend we spent a night on the coast. It was extremely relaxing. One of the activities we (well, Jessi) did was puzzle. Jessi had previously spent a couple minutes here and there working on the puzzle. On our trip she was able to dedicate a few hours and made a ton of progress. She made so much in fact that she was able to finish the puzzle this week.

This puzzle was given to her by my dad for Christmas. She found the tanks pretty easy to complete given their distinct colors, whereas the chrome and seats all kind of looked the same.

What also made the puzzle fun was the new puzzling surface she got for Christmas: It's a large piece of felt fabric and a plastic cylinder about 3" in diameter and the length of the fabric. What that means is Jessi could easily roll up her puzzle and move it - to the living room, the back room, or on a trip to the coast. When it's unrolled, all the pieces are right where you left them. Pretty cool. It allows her more flexibility and opportunities to puzzle. She's even starting to talk about trying to take a puzzle with us on our next camping trip.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Resting On The Rock Weekend Stay

At Christmas Jessi gave me a present of a one night stay at a bed and breakfast and we decided to "spend" it this weekend at the coast. Jessi found a nice little bed and breakfast just South of Newport in Seal Rock call Resting on the Rock. It's run by an older couple with one sunset room and a suite. You can see the ocean from their place and easily walk down to the beach.

We arrived Friday evening and had dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant. Jessi's grandma gave us some money for Christmas and so we took the opportunity to have a nice meal. We tried a bunch of different types of sushi since Jessi recently discovered she actually likes it. I guess, when she was a kid she had tried it and hated it - never to try it again. Then, while visiting her family in Colorado last summer they convinced her to try it again and she loved it! She wasn't ready to try eel, but maybe some day...

Once we were fully stuffed, we went back to our suite. Jessi worked on her puzzle (another Christmas present) while I read an excellent book. I'll share more about my book later.

The next morning we woke up late (well... late for me, perfect for Jessi) and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast cooked by our hosts. We ate sliced fruit with whipped cream, banana muffins and a cheese/hashbrown/bacon bake. For drinks we both had water and apple juice. In addition, Jessi tried a couple teas and I had hot cocoa. It was an amazing meal! While eating we talked with our hosts and learned more about their life. They are very strong Christians and enjoy people visiting their house. The suite we stayed in was a recent update which they did all by themselves. Their business doesn't fully support them, but helps pay the property taxes, plus (and probably more importantly) it gives them something to do.

After we ate, we spent some more time puzzeling and reading. Around noon we headed out and watched a glass blowing class and grabbed some salt water taffy from downtown Newport. The glass blowing always looks like fun (and perhaps a good experience gift for Jessi in the future). It's cool how whole process is very precise, yet also very forgiving, and it always seems to turn out pretty. As for the taffy, it's becoming a tradition that any time we head to the coast we have to pick some up. Jessi only gets 3 flavors: Cinnamon, licorice, and peppermint. I on the other hand, like to grab 2-3 pieces of all sorts of different flavors. Then invariably, Jessi wants to try some of my flavors. It works.

To cap off the day, we headed up to Salem to join some friends at a hot chocolate party. The hot chocolate was amazing and the games were fun.

It was a fantastic mini get-away. We were able to unplug and just relax. I was very pleased with the gift.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt Test Videos!

Earlier I shared about earning my blue belt in jiu jitsu. You can read about it here.

Now I have video to go along with it. I put together two:

The first is a longer video which actually shows a lot of how the test went. I also explain what's going on during each part. Check it out:

The second is a trailer using iMovie. It's a new feature in iMovie '11, and I can't but play around with it. The movie's pretty dramatic. Check it out:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Switching Banks: Good-Bye Chase, Hello Wells Fargo

This last month I officially migrated over to Wells Fargo for most of my banking needs with Jessi. You see, back in December I got a nice letter from Chase explaining to me that my free checking accounts would no longer be free. Well, technically if I did some very specific things (like keep high balances, or make large direct deposits) I could waive the fee. However, Chase managed to set the bar so high that 2 of my 3 accounts would be charged $10/month . Here's the one that really got me: One of the requirements was a direct deposit of at least $500. Since I get paid bi-monthly, I had two direct deposits of $300 each. Bummer.

So, Jessi and I took the opportunity to re-evaluate our situation. Before now, our accounts were pretty much separate. We decided this time to mostly merge our accounts together. Here's the set-up we wanted (it's the Dave Ramsey envelop method using the Automatic Millionaire process):

  • 1 Checking account that all deposits go into. All automatic monthly payments also came from here. We also set up automatic transfers to all the other accounts.
  • 1 Checking account for charitable donations.
  • 2 Checking accounts for living expenses (gas, food, shopping). One for Jessi, one for me.
  • A bunch of savings accounts for later spending (emergency fund, travel, car maintenance, etc)
Every single account is a shared account, but I never spend from Jessi's living expenses account, and she doesn't spend from mine. This makes everything really simple to track, and with we're able to see everything all together at once.

So, with this in mind we set out to find possible solutions. Some of the ones I was hoping would work were ING and BankSimple, but they actually pride themselves on aggregating everything together which is the opposite of what I wanted. Furthermore, because of our business, we needed to easily be able to deposit checks and cash. We also looked at classic large banks and local credit unions.

In the end, we ended up going with Wells Fargo. Here's why:
  • They let us set up the checking accounts the way we wanted - for free
  • Jessi was already banking there which meant only I had to move everything
  • There's a branch right next to us, plus there are branches all over the nation
  • Jessi's mom actually works for Wells Fargo in Colorado, so we're supporting her family.
We also kept all those savings accounts I mentioned with ING. We never need that money right away since it's planned spending and we earn more interest than what Wells Fargo offers.

Me being the web-a-holic that I am, have already spent plenty of time on their site customizing my account views, setting alerts and just surfing around to see what they offer. Wells Fargo isn't the most technologically advanced bank (I'm going to miss depositing checks with my phone), but it's passable.

So that's what we're doing. It's nothing glamorous or brilliant, but it works for what we're trying to accomplish. The biggest change is really combing our income into one large bucket. I'm sure there'll be some learning along the way, but I ultimately think it's a positive change. At the very least, it'll help it feel like it's "our money" instead of mine and Jessi's.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Furry February Kick-Off

I know, I know, I'm a little late to the party, but I'm finally here. I'm officially starting to grow out my beard for the month of February as a run-up to Mustache March. Then I should be rocking a pretty sweet stache right away.

Jessi isn't a huge fan of this time of year, but I can't disappoint my fans: Co-workers in Boise love to see a hairy face (which they'll see in a couple weeks). Co-workers in Corvallis love it too. The high school students at our church absolutely love the stache (It's prefect for our Mexico Mission Trip). Guys in jiu jitsu claim it makes me more intimidating. Even my pastor said it was an inspiration for him.

Yeah... my stache is pretty popular.

Sorry Jessi.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt!

James, Rylan (Black Belt), David, Amber (Instructor), Mike (Instructor)

One of my 2011 goals was to earn my blue belt in jiu jitsu. I'm proud to announce I accomplished this goal on Saturday.

About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine, David, and I started training in jiu jitsu with the Oregon Pound at Cheldelin Middle School in Corvallis. We went twice a week with the goal of it helping us get in shape. In order to achieve a blue belt, we had to take at least 120 classes and be able to competently do all 88 blue belt moves. Furthermore, we must be tested by a black belt. Since our black belt, Rylan, lives in Hawaii, we had to wait until this weekend when he came out to put on a seminar.

So we knew that we were in it for a while.

Leading up to the test David and I kicked it into high gear: In January, we trained four days a week with our class. We stayed after to review what we learned. Plus, we trained with our instructor on Sundays at his personal gym. Needless to say, we made sure we could do all our moves perfectly.

As a result, the test was a lot of fun!

We started off in a circle showing Rylan each move in super-slow motion. That way he could see we understood the technical pieces of each move. Then we rolled at about 80% with our partner. The goal to once again show him we know how to apply each of our moves. "Slow rolls" are probably my favorite thing to do. It's often very fluid with many transitions, but you don't get physically tired because you're focusing more on doing the move perfectly.

Slowing rolling with my partner Morgan

Then we were paired up with a higher belt to roll with. Rylan said, "It's so you know what it feels like to be an upper belt". I prefer to think of it as making sure we stay humble - we still can learn more. The person I rolled with was extremely good (obviously). I didn't keep an exact count, but I was submitted at least 7 times - two of which were the exact same way right after each other! We got done and David asked me how many times I was submitted. I told him at least 7 and he said, "Oh, good. Now I don't feel so bad. I was submitted at least that many times too."

David slow rolling with his partner Bo

After we passed, Rylan put our new blue belts on and choked us using our own white belts. He also encouraged us to continue improving and reaching for new levels. Fun fact: he actually started out in our gym as a student at OSU.

Getting choked with my white belt

So now we continue training, though at the 2-times a week rate. It'll take 100 classes before we even get our first stripe. After 4 stripes, we'll be able to test for our purple belts. Given the rate we go at, it'll be 5 years before we're ready for that next step. For now, I'll enjoy being a colored belt and beating up on new white belts.

Newly minted blue belts!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Jiu Jitsu Rolling

I was unable to participate in jiu jitsu yesterday and so took the opportunity to capture some video of David rolling. I know lots of you ask me what it is we say we do there, and here's the answer. As you'll see, we're in a middle school wrestling gym (which by the way, hasn't had a wrestling program for the last 20 years) and have anywhere from 15-35 people showing up. It kind of has that rough and tough feel to it - Jessi calls it a fight club.

We're not quite at the level where we're doing flying arm-bars, but I think we'd do OK in a bar fight. The person David is rolling against is the person I'll be partnered up with when we do our blue belt testing.

Here's the video:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

January Update - Get Prepared

January had one theme with three activities for me: Jiu Jitsu training, working for HP, and studying for my property management license all revolved around getting prepared.

Jiu Jitsu
In preparing for our blue belt test, David and I have been training pretty hard. We've been going to class 3 nights a week, working out Saturday mornings, and putting in some personal time with our instructor on Sundays. We've been making great progress and should be ready for our test on February 5th.

Jessi has started running more in preparation for the half-marathon we'll be running in April. She's also been great about letting me train so much - I asked her to only encourage me to keep going and she's done a wonderful job of it.

Working for HP
January is the quiet before the storm at HP. February is when HP does all of it's long-term planning, which gets crazy. So I've been spending time improving my Excel tools and perfecting methodologies. That way when we get requests for 3 scenarios within a couple hours, it won't be a mad rush to get them done. The goal is flip the 80/20 rule. Normally I spend 80% of my data creating views and only 20% of my time actually looking at, and thinking about, the data. My hope (and we'll see how it goes), it to tip the process in favor of doing more actual analysis instead of data creation.

Jessi has also been working at her school and really enjoying it. She tries to remember at least one goofy thing one of her students does so she can share it with me - it's pretty hilarious.

Property Management Class
In order to manage other people's properties you have to be licensed. To be licensed you have to pass a test. Before you can take the test, you have to complete at least 60 hours worth of approved course work (and pay money for each step). So... Jessi and I are in the middle of completing our course work - I'm so thankful it's an online self-paced class. We're about a third of the way done. There are 30 sections, which take 2-4 hours each. It's amazing how hard it is to find them time when you work all day and train in jiu jitsu 5 days a week.

Jessi and I have been getting into great conversations over what we're learning. We go from talking about setting up client trust accounts to talking about what is, and is not, discrimination.

So, it's been a lot of preparing and working hard. Still, we do manage to find time to see fun things. Speaking of, here's another great How It Should Have Ended Video: Top Gun