Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Urban Survival

I hate Big Cities. I don’t like the numbers of people, I don’t like the traffic, I don’t like the built-uppedness of it all (yes, when words don’t work, make them up), and I don’t like the expense. It’s not my normal habitat, so I immediately feel on guard.

So, naturally, I got sent to a Big City for work.

Lessons I have learned:

1) Don’t plan to use credit cards in taxis. They grumble, won’t do it willingly, and may try to take advantage of you (processing fee, don’t you know).
2) Don’t eat in the hotel. Get there early enough to walk or drive around a bit, to see what else is available.
3) Take the pro-offered local food if recommended by locals. Today I had something I never had before, and it was quite yummy.
4) Always signal the bus. They don’t stop if you don’t.
5) Use the gym and pool if they have it. It makes you feel better.
6) Always miss your wife and family and tell them so.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I'm on the eve of a journey cross country tonight, struggling.

1) I realized, in reading my year through the bible reading this morning, that one of my cherished goals is gone - and I never knew it. I was the one deluding myself. I disqualified myself years ago, and never realized it - or never wanted to realize it. There is a role and a place for me to play, but the one I had imagined is not it.

2) I am struggling with my job. It has become terribly difficult to wake up to go in to work in the morning. The commute is bad enough, but the feeling of emptiness, of doing that which has no eternal value (perhaps little temporal value?) is wearing on me. I continually try to hold in front of me that I am doing the right thing - but is the whole sum of one's career to be suffered through, rather than enjoyed?

What does it mean? I don't know. My career field is the same no matter what company I am at - which should tell me something. But what else to do? I collect quotes about following one's dreams, of working hard - but they never discuss the realities of life. Accomplishing goals do not occur in a vacuum; one has to surrender something to get something, and one does not always know up front if the trade is worth it.

But being this way cannot be right either.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I had one of those wake up calls today, the kind God gives where He says "It's not enough to meet the appearance of obedience; you must be obedient."

I am insatiably curious about my work environment in terms of finance, senior management decisions, etc. - I suppose you could tie this to my general distrust of senior management (at every company I have worked at prior to this one, senior management has treated the employees poorly through bad decisions, company failures, and feathering their own nests). I try to keep my ear to the ground, looking at things publicly available, just trying to get a feel of what is going on.

So this afternoon, I found an interesting document, printed it out, and planned to take it home when I left to read. I'm 3o minutes into my commute, go to find it, and suddenly realized that I can't find it. I call mathair (mom, our admin), who goes and looks and finds it sitting in the work room by the pretzels I had stuffed myself with before I left. The rest of the drive I am tortured with "who saw it, did they connect me with it, will I get in trouble."

And then, in another one of those moments, God spoke to me through His word:

"Unless the Lord builds the house, they laboreth in vain that build it; unless the Lord keep the city, the watchment waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He giveth unto His beloved sleep." (Psalm 127 1-2)

Whom do I trust in? Myself ("Can you make hair of your head black or white?") With all my scheming and "Need to Know", am I truly trusting in God's hand, or in my own maneuvering to get my way? Am I being a good employee, or am I edging towards the line of delving into things I shouldn't?"

If I were to suffer consequences, and they are not because of any Christian witness I might have, I have failed to be a good witness and there is no benefit (1 Peter 2:20, 4:15). How does that benefit the glory of God?

Is Christ really the Lord of my Life? Do I truly trust Him in everything (Romans 8: 28-29)?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fear and Action

I had a fabuluous coffee this weekend with HWMNBN and spoke with Bogha Frois as well. The thoughts and news, in sync with my own thoughts, are pushing me to action:
- In 2003, when Gold was at $200, I distinctly rememer having a conversation in which I felt that gold was an asset, and should start buying some. I didn't - gold is now at $665 an ounce.

- In 2004, when we purchased our house, I was tagged by the nagging sense that we shouldn't do it for financial reasons (although I really do like my house and am not sorry on that account). I balked - and now we are on the edge.

- In 2005, rather than stick to my guns and get out of a business when I thought it wasn't working, I stayed in due to pride. The result: financial chaos costing around $100,000.

The point is, I see what to do, and fail to trust in my judgement.

And here we are again. I fear that the business for which I work, in the next 9-12 months, is in for some serious changes (by one estimate, my industry has indicated they will lay off 43,000 over two years). Part of me screams to prepare as much as I can, part of me says "Don't be silly."

Based on my past ignoring of choices, can I afford to do it again?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Feeling Fey

Reading the news of Countrywide's annoucement today (HT combined with Amgen's annoucement of layoffs (HT, I kind of get that goose walking over my grave feeling (fey, the old Gaels would call it). Countrywide is one of the largest mortgage companies, and certainly Amgen is a giant in the industry I am in. When problems start appearing here, it becomes a little worrisome.

When does a system, a civlization, a way of life, realize that it is on the way out. Was Rome in 409 cognizant of the fact? Constantinople in 1452? Europe in March 1914? Antebellum South in March 1861? The day before it happens, do they truly believe it will happen?

In John Christopher's book No Blade of Grass (A fabulous end of civilization novel from a British point a view) the two protagonists, having information few else have, that the end is imminent, are having a conversation in a pub:

" John let his gaze travel again beyond the open door of the inn. On the green on the other side of the road, a group of village boys were playing cricket. Their voices seemed to carry to the listener on shafts of sunlight.
'We're probably both being a bit alarmist' he said. 'It's a long cry from the news that Phase 5 is ou t and about to a prospect of a potatoe diet or famine and cannibalism. From the time the scientist really got to work on it, it only took three months to develop 717.'
'Yes,' Roger said, 'that's something that worries me too. Every government in the world is going to be comforting itself tonight with the same reassuring thoughts. The scientists have never failed us yet. We shall never really believe they will until they do.'
'When a thing has never failed before, it's not a bad presumption that it won't fail now.'
'No,' Roger said, 'I suppose not' He lifted his nearly empty glass. 'Look thy last on all things lovely every hour. A world without beer? Unimaginable. Drink up and let's have another.'"

Would those on the other side of civlization changing events be able to truly say that they knew the day it happened? Will we?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Marketing Skunks

Have you ever reached the point of great frustration, where you so badly want something to move forward, impatient that it will not?

I am slowly becoming like He Who Must Not Be Named (HWMNBN) at work. Many people remember him - he'd been there five + years, through some terrible times, had held things together on a string and a prayer for a place that had not really recognized him.

Near the end, it became apparent that HWMNBN had been there a bit too long - one of those things that can happen, and one wishes not to happen. He'd become cynical about the ability to move forward, known for his (correct) frustration at knowing how things were to be done, but being ignored, in some cases becoming confrontational to the point that it politically hurt him. He left, eventually, moving on to a place more in tune with him.

And now, it's me and it can't happen soon enough.

But the thing that kills is impatience, that need for immediate gratification that overcomes the need for patient, consistent effort. If I think too much, more and more I am reaching towards becoming frustrated because things don't seem to be changing - at least not quickly enough, and at least not in my favor.

Like marketing skunks: trying to sell something that looks and smells unappealing as some it is not.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Time Management

I am a miserable time manager. I have more often than not been a poor manager of time - oh, for short periods of time I can motivate myself, but for long periods, I'm miserable.

And yet, time keeps slipping away.

Time to make a new commitment - to be a time miser. An interesting quote from Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IDEA: "Time is your most important asset. Split your life into 10 minute units, and sacriifce as few as possible to meaningless activity."

Or Musashai, the Kensai of Japan, who said in Go Rin No Sho (A Book of Five Rings) "Do nothing that is useless."

This, of course, presumes goals, a second thing I have trouble setting, although I have been working harder on them.

My commitment to the blog: This week, to the greatest extent possible, I will divide my day in 10 minute increments. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Loving the Unlovable

I was confronted with a question today from Bogha-frois: how do you interact with someone who is essentially hostile to you and refuses to do what you ask them to?

I pondered a while, then suggested that when confronted by the individuals in question, you simply respond "I love you".

That's the great thing about giving advice - you so seldom have to take your own.

Is that how I respond? With love? In most instances, no. To my neighbor - literally my next door neighbor, as we move by and around each other in a sort of an agreed bubble of individualism? To the relatives whom I love, but don't really like sometimes - even when they try to engage me? To those at my work, when they challenge me or make my work difficult, let alone when they try to be "helpful"?

"But I say to you love love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you, that you may sons of your Father in heavean; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethern only, what more do you do than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." - Matthew 5: 43-48

Do I love like this?

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Blues

I woke up this morning and had the blues - that indefinable feeling of depression, of sadness, of something wrong that you can't define. It was overcast and foggy, to be sure, but the weather wasn't enough.

And then I realized midway through the day I was remembering.

Two years ago, I didn't have a job, and at that moment, didn't have a thought of where I was going to get a job. Yes, I had faith in God that He would supply a job, but no idea of where it would come from. When I look back now, this was about the time the realization that the business had failed really set in.

Things are much better now - there is light at the end of the tunnel finally, after another year of slowly sorting out the rubble of our financial and physical lives - and there is much to be thankful for.

But it's a good reminder none the less, to remember where I was, and where the grace and provision of God met me.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Harvesting Grain

The second (and final) part of my harvest occurred today of the two kinds of wheat.

An interesting day to do it: the wind blew a great deal, which tended to mess up my use of the fan to blow the chaff. I actually did the threshing 2 weeks ago, so I only had to use the breeze or fan to remove the chaff from the grain (I thought).

The Kemmer Wheat (also known as Polish wheat) was problemated. The grain got caught in the in the chaff, so it wasn't a clean blow. I lost more than I had intended as I poured between two buckets, let the airflow remove the chaff - in some cases, I blocked the wind, in others, the wind actually blew counter to the fan.

The durum wheat did much better - smaller heads, or perhaps I figured out how to do it.

For final removal, this year instead of trying to piece through the grains for remaining chaff, I washed the whole lot. I did in a bottom half of a Tupperware combination (top half is a colander), using a smaller strainer to catch the overflow for any potential wheat. This method worked pretty well, as most of the chaff floated up. Finally, I put them on cooking sheets and placed them in the sun for final drying. I would guess at least 2 quarts of the Kemmer wheat, and perhaps a gallon of the Durum. Not a lot, I know, but my durum harvest is double last year.

I think I'll only plant the Durum this winter (along with rye, barley, and perhaps oats). The Kemmer wheat, while beautiful to look at, was easily knocked over by the wind and was the more difficult of the two to thresh.

I just really enjoy growing grain. I had no idea that it could be so pleasant and rewarding, and a great use of garden space in the winter.

A peaceful morning

This morning, showered, shaved, and Bible reading done, I sat for a moment with Laurel after she woke up. She drank her juice, then quietly played with a cell phone as I sat there in the silence, reading short meditations and enjoying the time together - time we seemingly so seldom have.

Life is good. God is good.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Thoughts on the Pumphouse Spring

Focus on serving God, not what man would have you do.
Fear Him, Honor Him, Obey His Word.
Demonstrate His excellencies to an unbelieving world
that fools itself as to its relevance and its satisfaction:
Hollow shells with the essential core gone out.

Lift Him up, demonstrate His goodness,
Be satisfied with Him.
Glorify Him that hath made the universe:

He spoke, and it was.

Cast aside all that is not of Him,
That He might have all of you.

Who is like the Lord our God?
Who is like Him in Majesty and Strength?

How majestic , O Lord, is Thy name in all the earth!

- Written 16 July 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Happy Failure Day II

Yesterday was the Second Annual Failure Day.

It was a tough week for it - a Government Agency Audit, a client audit, long traffic hours and just general busyness. No sooner had I made plans for the future then they got smashed by the reality of life.

I mentioned my complaint to Bogha-frois on one of our afternoon commute converstations. Her response - "You have to keep trying, to have some goal to work for, because it will give you the feeling of accomplishment" was true enough.

The challenge comes when your exhausted, late, don't feel like doing anything, and don't feel like it will make a difference.

But I have to take the good with the bad - if nothing else, these last two years have been slowly edging me towards taking more reponsibility, of being a leader - even if done so kicking and screaming. They have also forced me to really evaluate my priorities and my goals - not having infinite amounts of time and money will do that for you (Now I need to find the focus and will to do them).

So Happy Failure Day! Go out and contemplate all that has not worked out in your life, and then think of all that has gone right, and then be thankful.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Feeling Thankful

I had another one of those "There but for the grace of God go I" moments. Johnson and Johnson announced yesterday that they were shedding 3-4% of their workforce, including about 600 people at their ALZA headquarters in Mountain View. Another 200 would get reassigned.

I worked at ALZA. I probably know some of those people.

One of the things that is really good about my industry (biopharmaceuticals) is that I have been able to succeed far beyond what a typical political science major could do (in that way, it is similar to high tech in the mid nineties). One of the bad things is that more and more (or has it always been this way?), it seems like these things happen (Perhaps another post for another day is the nature of the biopharmaceutical business. Only now are we reaching a timeframe where we have 20-30 years of an industry. What is the average company life? What is the average product life? Is it sustainable?)

The two things it impresses on me is 1) Continue to be thankful that I have been blessed with a job to support my family; and 2) One needs to seek ways to be able to weather such storms and control one's financial and work life.

There are people affected at ALZA who are truly suprised by this, had no idea, and today are wondering how they will make it.

I've been there. It won't happen again.