Author Archives: ericjgruber

Pondering next moves

I went for a long hike in Weston Bend State Park to clear my head. It was a good decision, and helped quite a bit.

To say that I haven’t been feeling myself lately would be a bit of an understatement.

I have these moments where everything is fine, and then something will come across me and I get a little teary eyed thinking about my mother’s death. I hear that isn’t uncommon, and it’s certainly not unexpected.

There are times where I want to call mom, but then realize that’s something I can’t do anymore. Mom would use Facebook as a way to keep track of me (and definitely watch for pictures of the kids), and I would often post things thinking of her in mind. I find those thoughts still go through my head when I post to social media, which I find disconcerting. I’m still thinking about “Will she see this?” when clearly, she won’t.

I keep thinking of questions I want to ask her. It’s funny how these questions show up now, instead of when she was alive and I had the opportunities to get the answers. There’s probably a term for that.

Things feel a little better than they did a week ago, and far better than two weeks ago. My first week back to work was pretty rough. The first few days was a blur and chock full of emotions. The people I work with have been fantastic, and are giving me grace while I work through emotions while at work. I am blessed and honored to have their support.

I’ve been spending time trying to process what to do next. If I were talking to others in the same situation, I would tell them to take time, mourn, don’t make any big moves. I half follow that advice, and am thinking of my options. I have been thinking more of permanence. What are my financial plans for the future? When do we buy a house and start setting down deeper roots? How involved should I be with my extracurricular activities versus spending the maximum time I can with my family? Should I get busy executing my plans for my side work or should I just veg out?

At one point I said to my wife, “When do I get my fire back?” I spent most of this year charging hard, and now I feel only a flicker. I’m sure it’ll come back, but clearly it’s going to take some time to get there. I surmise that first I’ll have to get through the holidays, and all the sorrow that will come with it. My mom loved the Christmas season, and at this moment I can’t even imagine what this year will be like without her.

Right now, I’m mostly focused on short-term thinking. I’ve been spending more quality time with the kids. Last weekend I had moments of good times with each of my children, and although tiring it was the right move.

One of the positive things that have come out of this event is it has driven me to get a few things done off my lingering todo list. I have this long list on my phone of things I have noted to get done, and I’m starting to work on them. I seem to have more of a sense of urgency now to get things done. The trick is making sure they are things that are actually worth doing rather than simply doing busywork.

I think the next thing I need to do is to find time (and a sitter) for a date night with Amy. It’s been awhile since we had some time to ourselves, and it seems more necessary than ever that we go out on the down and think about something other than death and sadness. We need a little happiness soon, if only for an evening.

Time is the fire in which we burn, and I want to be more intentional of the flames I stoke from now on.

A new normal

Getting adjusted to life after my mom’s death has been nothing short of a monumental challenge.

I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to do this life thing now. I find it hard to concentrate at work. Sometimes I feel like I just want to do nothing. When I do nothing, I feel like I should be doing something.

I feel very lost.

I think about a lot of things related to her death. My mom took a fall at the beginning of September, and I’ll forever believe that started the events that led to her demise. I take the elevator at work now when I can. That’s silly, I know. But I can’t help but think about it. In case you didn’t know, falls are the number one cause of injury or death among older Americans. I don’t think I’m old, but I imagine her falling down the stairs, and I remember the pain and suffering that escalated after that day. I will never know for sure what happened, but that doesn’t stop my mind from coming with with all sorts of scenarios.

It all seems so unfair. She worked all her life and didn’t get to enjoy a retirement. When she was in the hospital in mid-September, I floated the idea to her: “Have you given any thought to retirement?” She loved her work, and I am unsure if she would have retired anytime soon had she lived. Her main concern was having health insurance. She had insurance through her employer, but was afraid that if she couldn’t work, she wouldn’t have coverage. She was worried about that while she lay in that hospital bed, and said to me, “I couldn’t retire until I turn 65 when I would be eligible for Medicare.” Her 65th birthday would have been Dec. 11.

Why is healthcare tied to your employer? Why does it cost so much? How come other countries have this more figured out than we do?

Healthcare in this country is a joke.

I would have loved for her to have retired, get healthier, and then she and dad could have came and visited more. They could have spent time with their grandkids, enjoyed their company, and lived out their days comfortably. But that didn’t happen. Isn’t that something? Most of us think that we are working toward a time when we can kick back and enjoy our lives a little more. But that day may never come.

My thoughts are with my dad. He built his world around her. The house they lived in, with a few exceptions, was built around her. From the countertops she wanted, the color of the walls, the bed they slept in, to the decorations she loved to put up for holidays, he was committed to shaping a life around her. I remember when she went to school in Colorado to work toward becoming a nurse practitioner, he was a bit of a mess. He missed her presence deeply. On the day she returned home, he had a big “Welcome home Linda” (or something like that, I don’t remember the exact wording) sign attached to the side of the house for her (and everyone else in the neighborhood) to see.

He acts like a curmudgeon sometimes, but he’s also a teddy bear.

And now, all of that is gone, ripped away. I’m angry about that. I don’t want it to be true. I’ve wanted to call her this week but it is not to be. I just want to chat, but I can’t.

This is the new normal, and it’s unjust and unfair. I hate it.

For my mother

My mother, Linda Jane Gruber, died Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. She was 64 years old.

It’s interesting how we all know that death is coming for us, yet we’re never quite prepared for it. It’s 3:20 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14 as I write this, and I’ve spent the last three hours processing, crying, mourning, remembering. I feel like there is something I should be doing, and yet, I’m completely helpless until the sun rises.

I have spent decent amounts of my life writing, and have never been one to shy away from the emotional. So while this sting is still fresh, I want to get something down. Honestly, it’s the only thing I feel like I can do at this very moment.

Mom was pretty sick in September. She had some issues that started around Labor Day, which ended up sending her to the hospital shortly after. Thanks to some generous time provided by my employer, I was able to go down and spend time with her, and tend to some things while I was there to help ease my parents’ burden while she was recovering. That ended up being very precious time, indeed.

My wife, Amy, and I have cried a lot since I got the call. Late night calls are not typically not good, and I knew when my dad called me that this was it. I could feel it before I unlocked the phone and said, “Hello?”

The thing that is foremost in our minds now is how awful Sunday morning is going to be. My three children are sound asleep right now, unaware of the news we will have to give to them when they wake up. I am thankful they got to bed before they got this news, if only to enjoy one more night of pain-free sleep. My kids love all their grandparents immensely. This will be a very painful time.

I am so fortunate. My mom was an excellent mother. She was always loving, and was an incredible giver. I am so thankful for technology that allowed us to video conference Oct. 9 on my oldest daughter’s birthday. She seemed like she was doing better. A week ago she texted me to ask “Are you watching the Chiefs?” (She obviously was, as was I.) On Tuesday, we had a FaceTime call. She and my dad sang “Happy Birthday” to my daughter, Ember, for her 12th birthday. We talked on Thursday afternoon. She texted on Friday to say her recent tests were looking very good. “All normal,” she said.

And on Saturday, she was gone.

I feel like I have much more to say, and yet, this feels like all I can muster for the time being. My heart is pounding. My head is tired. My soul is anxious that I have to tell my children that their grandmother is dead.

Please, I beg of you: put away your past disagreements. Bury you past hurt. I had a great relationship with my mother, and even still, I have regret. I should have called her on Saturday. Did I tell her I loved her the last time we talked? Did I turn out to be the man she hoped I would become?

My heart is completely broken.

Alone, together

It is interesting to have children of varying ages under our care. My oldest daughter is 11, my youngest daughter is 9, and my son, the “baby,” will turn 4 next month.

There was a time when my daughters were inseparable. We have such sweet pictures of them playing together, laughing, having a great time. One favorite picture of my daughters has them asleep in one bed, one with an arm straggled across the other, sound asleep. It’s a lovely memory, and I’m happy we have it captured in digital preservation.

Of course, as they have gotten older, they have grown apart. The oldest daughter is expanding her social circle and learning to grow in a complicated world. The youngest daughter has ADHD, and her interactions with others can bring challenges with family and friends alike, and we’re constantly testing different strategies to help raise her in a manner where she can get along peacefully. The problem with a disorder like ADHD is that, unlike the afflicted who have a physical representation of an illness — crutches, wheelchairs, or obvious physical impairments — the lack of physical reminders can make it easy to forget that she has challenges that others simply do not face.

There’s a lot of tension between my two daughters. On the flip side, my son is still a ball of cuteness. He’s playful, he’s sweet, and even his tantrums can be funny to watch. Sure, he can be a handful at times, but most of his faults can be glossed over for a time because, like I mentioned before, he’s still the baby.

The more I observe the different dynamics between my children, the more I can’t help but think about the troubling adults of this world. We seem to be losing civility and the ability to embrace our differences at every angle. Venture online, and just about every comment section on any public forum devolves in a short amount of time to name calling and dismissiveness.

It appears to me that social media seems to be at the heart of all of this. We’ve grown apart physically as a people, and when the majority of discussion ends up happening online, it’s amazing how that feeds into a downward spiral of negativity. I’ve heard this called digital courage, where someone feels brave enough to engage in name calling and vitriol that ultimately leads to the disintegration of relationships. There are things we would never say to someone else face to face, but take it online, the outcome is different. We disagree, we fight for a few paragraphs, and poof — I guess we won’t be friends anymore. See you later, jerk.

But man, my latest photo looks like a million bucks. I’ve got eight likes already.

This isn’t limited to online interactions. There are family members and past acquaintances I haven’t talked to in years. I have tried to extend an olive branch, but when nothing is reciprocated, what can I do? In turn, I end up more bitter than before, and the wounds create a thicker scar. Nothing is resolved, and no healing ever comes.

I am easily as at much fault as anyone. I have online connections who are also within a reasonable geographical distance from me, but I’ve done nothing to attempt to get together and have in-person dialogue with most of them. In turn, I feel more isolated than ever before.

This isn’t how I thought adulthood would be. I envisioned I would have a group of regulars that I would interact with. Our families would get together and share dinners at each others’ homes. Our children would get to know their children. I would always have someone to go see a concert with. My wife would always have a close confidant to hang out with for a ladies’ night.

But, that’s not how this is all working out. And honestly, I’m not sure how to fix it.

Please don’t read this as some kind of sad pity party or anything like that. I live a happy life, and I’m excited for what the future holds. I just find it truly amazing how lonely and isolationist adulthood can be, even when you’re often surrounded by so many people. Perhaps the really sad thing about this is, I know for certain that I’m not alone in my thoughts on this.

I suppose what I long for, what truly aches at my core, is this sense of a loss of community. We’ve lost it in our neighborhoods, our friends, our families, and especially in the last frontier, online.

Maybe someday we’ll figure out how to live together and truly bond with others. But for now it seems we’ve learned to master how to live surrounded, but alone.

Mission accomplished

When I started the year I had but one goal: to pay off all our debt in 2018. As of Friday, June 15, 2018, that goal has been met.

I haven’t written much in this space this year because I’ve been very busy working on that goal. Instead, I’ve been journaling about our debt free journey at babystepper.com.

There’s a good chance I’ll return to writing more here in the coming months, but for now it’s time for a little breather before I get back on the horse. I still have more to say on the BabyStepper site, if you’re interested in reading more about this amazing journey we’ve been on the last 21 months.

Here’s to a great rest of the year!

In review: 2017

Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored. – Earl Nightingale

A post shared by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on In a way, I find this year’s end-of-year review difficult to write.

I know of people who did not have a good year. Many were pretty wrapped up in the 2016 presidential election, and when the outcome didn’t go the way they hoped, they were despondent. Even those I know who supported the winner spent most of the year griping about the side that lost. It was a very troubling year, to say the least.

However, that’s not how my year turned out. In fact, I dare say I had one of the best years yet since I started writing these year-end reviews six years ago. I will get into the why later in this post, but to start, here’s a look at how my goals for 2017 panned out.

As in 2016, I had four goals.

  • Pay down $10,000 in student loan debt by Dec. 31, 2017. We got close, but didn’t hit this goal. We managed to pay down a little more than $8,000 in student loan debt (our final debt). We sidetracked ourselves because I got a wild hair when the summer rolled around and convinced the wife to take the family on a road trip through Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and back through Kansas to home in Missouri. That cut into our progress. However, it was worth every penny. I hadn’t been on a “real” vacation with the family in a long time, and never with all three of my children. The trip was a highlight of the year, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
  • Create a passive/semi-passive income stream by Sept 1, 2017. I completely failed at this one. A co-worker and I began work on a technical book series, which ultimately got sidetracked by a completely insane year at our day jobs. I know, I know, had we really wanted to make it happen, we would have. But, it didn’t happen, so the onus is on us (or in this case, me).
  • Hit my goal weight by June 1,2017. In retrospect, I didn’t define this goal very well. I basically said I wanted to be “25 lbs. lighter than I am now” when I wrote that post, but that wasn’t really a firm goal. I didn’t even start making an honest effort to attempt achieving this goal until April 1. The way my body holds onto excess pounds, I should have known better. I did spend a decent amount of my summer exercising and eating very well, and results were visible. Sadly, as winter set in, I have resumed my self-defeating ways (as I tend to do this time of year).
  • Have a regular date night with Amy by February, 2017. This is the one I am most proud of. My wife, Amy, and I went out by ourselves for an honest-to-goodness date night almost every month in 2017. The only month we missed was in July when we took our vacation. A couple of months, we even went out twice because we had childcare to do so. Having a regular date night turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all year.

I failed at 75 percent of my goals, and yet I had a fantastic year. I mention this to friends often, but I highly encourage anyone who is working through adversity to read the book, “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. That book helped shape my outlook on life when things aren’t going the way I want them to go.

The attitude espoused in the book is one of keeping your head up when the struggles are heavy. It’s that attitude that helped me see the world much differently in 2016, when many people I know felt their world was falling apart.

I will make no apologies for the wonderful year I had. I have embraced every moment of it.

But my annual post would be negligent with no set goals for the coming year. In a rare turn of events, I have but one goal for the new year.

Goal

  • Pay off our final debt by Dec. 31, 2018.

This has been a long road for us, one filled with setbacks usually of our own doing. It has been a dream of mine to be free of the last of our debt.

Debt has been a source of contention in our house for a long time. It caused problems in our marriage. It is that thing that sits in the back of my mind when we make every financial decision. People have told us we “worship money” because we want to get out of debt. Others have told us the financial steps we are taking are foolish or wrong.

I do not care what anything thinks about what we are doing. This isn’t a goal for 2018; it’s a reality that just hasn’t been fulfilled yet. We are getting out of debt next year.

To make this work, we will sacrifice. It will require understanding from friends and family. It will require acceptance, because there is no room for anything else. We are getting out of debt, and we will stop at nothing to get there in 2018.

I have even given 2018 a slogan: The Year of No.

We are going to say “no” to every paid thing we’ve enjoyed since we started this journey. There may be extra sidework to be done to achieve this goal. Are we going out to eat? No. Are we going to the movies? No. Are we doing anything to take funds away from what leads us to our goal? Big. Fat. No.

One of my favorite characters from the TV show The Walking Dead is Michonne. I see myself like her character. She walks through an apocalyptic world with a fire in her eyes, carrying nothing but a katana (samurai sword), slaying every obstacle that comes between her and freedom. This is how we will spend 2018. We will fight, and claw, and scratch, and finally be free of this weight that needs to finally die.

Because the thing is, if you want to get out of debt, you cannot do it lackadaisical. You must hate it. It must become an enemy. You must have that fire in your eyes. You must be prepared to stay “no” to the biggest enemy you have in the process: yourself.

I’m very excited for 2018. To be honest, I would love to complete this goal by our anniversary on July 26, 2018. This will be our 15th wedding anniversary, and I can think of no greater gift to give my wife than to say, “We are free. We are finally free.”

I’m not sure the math works to get us to that date, but we are sure going to try. Even if we fail to hit that date, I  promise we will be debt-free by Dec. 31, 2018.

Here’s to “The Year of No.” It’s only an obstacle, and the obstacle is the way.

One year later: moving

It was one year ago today I moved my family from Lawrence, KS to Kansas City, MO.

If I am completely honest, I spent the first six months feeling like I was living in exile. I was born in Kansas, and had lived there most of my life. I lived in Lawrence for 16 years before the move last year. It was both easy to do because of my daily commute, and incredibly difficult.

The hard part was in the beginning. I was afraid we made the wrong decision. We didn’t know anyone. The kids had no friends, and my wife was in completely new surroundings. Nothing was familiar. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Nothing much changed for me except going from a 50-minute commute down to 15 minutes. I still worked with the same people, I know my way around the city pretty well, and I blend into new environments with ease. I thrive on change and unfamiliarity, and my wanderlust had been in overdrive for awhile before we left.

Most of my family seemed a little in shock at first. Little by little, we started exploring our new surroundings. We’ve found new favorite places. We met new people. We learned how “these people” (Kansas Citians) are, culturally. We probed, we absorbed, and we adapted.

I can’t pinpoint an exact time when I realized things were going to be OK, and that there was no looking back, but I can remember some events. It was little things, really. Like when my wife said, “I got to the store without using my phone!” It was when my daughters found new friends in the neighborhood. It was pictures of my son playing in a stream during homeschool outings.

It was when I saw smiles. Smiles were a good indicator that things were going OK. Smiles put me at ease.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he perceived I had some animosity for Lawrence and/or Kansas. I played it off a little, stating my position. I made some justifications. And then, I thought about that statement for the rest of the day.

He’s right; I have given off that vibe. I realize now my feelings since moving were a little misguided. It’s classic “Who Moved My Cheese?” and I got sucked right up in it. You see, I didn’t want to move. I love Lawrence, and it was a fantastic home. I got married there, and my three children were born there. My current career path was born there. In many ways, I truly became a man there.

I just wasn’t meant to stay there, and it’s taken me some time to reconcile that. I believe I have.

Sometimes when we’re coming back to our place after a family outing, my son (currently two years old) will begin to notice familiar surroundings. I am not sure what he sees. Is it the trees? Is it the street signs? I have no idea.

But when those items come into focus to his little eyes, and the mood hits him just right, he will perk up and exclaim, “It’s home!”

It sure is.

Wrap-up: June 2017

The year is half over, and here’s my June 2017 wrap-up:

  • To start the month off, I shaved my beard off completely clean. Thus, I revealed to the world my baby face, and was asked by a couple of people to never do it again.
  • June 8 was my birthday. I turned 41. Honestly, just another day in my book although we took the kids to Worlds of Fun (season passes are great) and I had a funnel cake. I felt sick awardwards, but it was so worth it.
  • I “ran” over the distance of a 5k after work one Friday. My work happens to be located at a small airport, and the distance around the tarmac is a little over a 5k. It was hot, brutal, and quite the challenge. I should note my “run” is more of a jog/walk/jog/walk until I get it done. I took a nap afterwards. I was beat.
  • The girls and I went to a daddy-daughter dance at a nearby community center. I always wanted to do that when I lived in Lawrence but never did. I’m glad I finally made the time.
  • Date night with the woman was watching Wonder Woman at the theatre. It was a good night, and a great movie.
  • With some of my birthday cash, I purchased a mic stand and a pop filter for some possible podcasting and/or screencasting experiments. We’ll see how that goes.
  • Decided to go ahead and join the gym I was trialing. It’s a nice gym that suits my needs. Although, my weight loss has totally flattened. That’s expected, even if it’s difficult to keep pushing so hard when there’s no weight losses at the moment. Still, I am getting stronger and I feel very good. I have found that it’s important to keep exercise in my life or I just don’t function well in all the other aspects. Now I just need to keep it up and not falter like I typically do when I plateau.
  • Lastly, one of my kids was baptized. It’s interesting to see how children treat faith and spirituality versus adults. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from the younger generation; maybe adults could learn to treat others with more dignity and respect even if we don’t share the same beliefs.

Author’s note: The May and June wrap-ups were written in July because life was crazy the last few months; now to get back on schedule!

Wrap up: May 2017

May was an active month. Here’s the wrap-up:

  • Transitioned my youngest from a crib to a toddler bed. It might not sound like much, but knowing that you’ll never be in this phase again as a dad is a little sad.
  • Went on a camping trip with some friends from Lawrence at Clinton Lake in Douglas County, Kansas. We had a great time; we’ll do it again in the fall.
  • Had not one, but two date nights with the wife in May. One of them was our regularly planned monthly date, but then my parents took all the kids for the weekend a week later. We hadn’t been away from the children together for three years before that night. We went to Worlds of Fun and rode a bunch of big-kid rides.
  • Started a 30-day trial at a local gym. Since I’m on a health kick (again) this year, I wanted to start throwing resistance training into the mix. It’s been a long time (more than a year), and getting back to a routine wasn’t easy by a long shot. Since starting on April 1, I am down 16 lbs. and feeling better than I have in a long time.

On to June!

Wrap-up: April 2017

OK, back in business. April was a great month.

This month, I made no announcement and spoke of no great plans. And, it worked out very well.

The wrap-up:

  • Another month, another date night. We opted to eat a clean meal at Protein House,  and then took an evening stroll in the open-area shopping mall of Zona Rosa.
  • I attended DrupalCon 2017 in Baltimore, MD. It was a great conference, and I even got to see the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. 
  • Probably the most all-consuming part of my month was that my wife and I did the Whole30 for a third time. It was particularly challenging since I traveled while doing it, but we made it. The effort was worth it: At the end of the month I was down 11.6 lbs. and lost 3.5 percent of body fat. I’m very pleased with these results.
  • Finally, I took – and failed – the Drupal 8 Developer Certification exam. On a scale of 100, I have a .5 as far as experience developing in Drupal 8, so I wasn’t surprised (or heartbroken) to bomb it. However, I’m about to move to a full-time Drupal 8 project which will give me the experience I need. Those Drupal tests aren’t something you can simply study for: experience is key for being able to pass.

So, great month! I’m already pushing forward on my activities for May, which will be documented here in due time.