Author Archives: ericjgruber

In training

Almost every day at lunch I walk with a co-worker (or two). These walks always lead to interesting conversations. Sometimes we talk about what we’re working on, and sometimes it’s about life in general. Recently the discussion has been about health and motivation.

We were discussing goals, and about how I wanted to get into better shape this year, but I don’t quite have the spark to get things going. Today my friend suggested I need something specific to work toward, like a race.

I realized he was right, and we decided on a run. On April 1, I will participate in a 5k. Training officially starts now.

My friend and I are taking two different approaches to training, which I’ll write more about later (once I solidify exactly how I’ll be training). But the main thing is this: I have a very specific end date when my training needs to be completed, and I need to get started yesterday.

I’m very excited by this. Given the name of the race, you could say I’m very eggcited. I couldn’t resist the pun.

Let the training begin!

Kids can be so rock and roll sometimes

Today I received a text from my wife that read “I need to talk to you. I don’t know how to handle something that just happened.”

“Oh dear,” I thought. “This can’t be good.”

I went to a quiet place to call and was told the news. One of my daughters (those who know my family can probably guess which one) received some Valentine’s Day candy from her grandparents, and had eaten all of her stash. Still craving chocolate, she went into the kitchen and got a handful of chocolate chips to enjoy. She was stopped by her mother, who told her that no, she couldn’t have those chips because she had eaten all her candy.

Without missing a beat, dear daughter licked her other hand and placed the chocolate chips into her saliva-coated palm, all while staring at my wife with a look of “Oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?”

She didn’t get to finish those chocolate chips, and she received some other punishment as well for her defiance. But I have to admit when I heard this story, I laughed hysterically and uncontrollably. My gut reaction? I was impressed with her audacity.

Man, that was pretty rock and roll.

Not that I encourage such types of behavior, of course.

Wrap-up: January 2017

January has turned out to be a nice productive month for me. It was so good, I’m excited to see what happens as the year progresses.

The wrap-up:

Apple activity rings

Overall, an excellent month even if most of the activity came toward the latter half of it. Now to see what can happen in February!

Kansas City

Kansas City skyline at dusk

Kansas City has some amazing views.

When I was growing up, going to Kansas City was a Big Deal™.

I was raised in a small town in southeast Kansas called Baxter Springs. With a population of around 5,000 then, it was a typical small town. I did a lot of my early exploring in the city on my bicycle. If you had a car (and a driver’s license), you would cruise the main street on the weekends. “Dragging main” entailed driving up and down and then back again until you got tired of doing it. I’m not even sure kids do that anymore.

I remember coming to Kansas City for my senior trip, where the high school seniors came up and stayed in a hotel. We went to a Royals game and did … what else, I can’t remember. I do remember a couple of my fellow classmates getting high/drunk (called Roba-dosing) by drinking a large amount of Robitussin cough syrup. Sadly, the trip did not end well for me. I had fun, but while at the Royals game people were asking this one girl to borrow some sunscreen, not realizing we were actually applying sun tan accelerator instead. I turned my Irish-blood legs beat red; for days I could only sleep on my back.

Good times.

In July of 2015, I said goodbye to Lawrence, Kansas, my home of 16 years. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I had been commuting to Kansas City since the end of 2012, and commuting 50 minutes each way was sucking the life out of my soul.

It has turned out to be an excellent decision. I love the pulse of a big city. There are ebbs and flows of activity, not unlike the rise and fall of an ocean tide. The mornings and evenings are blissfully quiet, but the daytime activity in the downtown area where I work brings great satisfaction to me. I love seeing the different types of people, the large buildings as they reflect the sun’s magnificent rays, and the culture of art and style that weaves through the city.

I am certainly a long way from my small Kansas hometown.

When we lived in Lawrence, coming to Kansas City for the day was still quite an event. I live on the Missouri side, in an area called the Northland, and I’m around 20 minutes from anything I would want to do. As I drive to work each morning, my first automotive hurdle is to crest the top of a hill. When I pass over, I can see downtown Kansas City’s skyscrapers looking like mountains in the distance. As I draw near, my eyes tend to fixate on these wonderful buildings. Kansas City has a lot of character, and I love almost everything I see (even the parts that need some love and attention).

There once was some artwork in the gallery at my work that said, “I love KC well so far.”

I think that sums it up perfectly.

Kansas City and art go well together.

A photo posted by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on

Playing

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the amount of artwork my kids produce. Its everywhere; its constant.

And yet, I’m jealous how they’re able to spend their time creating. Sometimes we so busy serving others — through work, adulting, or whatever — we forget to just play.

Creation over consumption.

Social media is a cancer

Almost every day I go for a walk with a co-worker or two, and the last week we were talking about the things in our life that vie for our attention.

We got on the topic of social media, and after the recent election, I decided I can’t take any more of it. I have to take a break.

There are many tools available to help curate the stream of consciousness coming from friends, strangers, and family, but none of them seem to be strong enough for me. The world is messed up; I realize this. But I don’t want to spend hours fighting the demons of information trying to get into my head. I have reached a point in my life where I am making great strides in personal development. I’m being challenged, in a really good way, in my career. I’m making an honest effort to be a better family man. I’m working on my debt. I’m working on my life.

But social media seems to take away from all of that. I have found myself guilty of phubbing (a new term I recently learned), and I feel awful. Someone will be trying to engage me in conversation, and yet I pick up my phone out of habit and start swiping away. I do it to my wife, my friends, my kids, you name it. I am disgusted with myself by this.

It’s time for a fast. I have no idea how long this will last, but I’m giving it an honest try. I went 40 days last year without facebook, but I went so far as to delete facebook, twitter, and instagram apps on my phone this time. I’ve changed my /etc/hosts file to point those domains to nowhere (in geek speak, I’ve made it so my computer doesn’t know what to do with those web addresses should I accidentally type them in the browser bar).

I already feel lighter. Even tonight, I’ve worked on a side project and written this post, which is more than I can say for many other nights.

I hope to produce more writings on the blog, more projects getting completed, and more personal projects making their way to the light of day. Meaningless consumption doesn’t stop at physical items, and frankly, I have had enough of it.

I hope RSS is still a thing …

 

In review: 2016

The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on. — President Barack Obama

It’s my fifth annual year in review! I can’t believe I’ve done this for five years, but here I am. It’s been quite a year for me and my family, and I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for awhile.

In last year’s year in review, I wrote about how I suspected one of the reasons I wasn’t hitting goals was because they weren’t really well-defined:

I have learned that the reason why I don’t accomplish my goals, in part, is because they’re not really goals. A goal has a fixed moment in time you want to achieve something by, and I haven’t been doing that. These year-end reviews have mostly been good ideas instead of hard goals.

Thus, I gave myself some hard deadlines to what I wanted to accomplish. I put them in my favorite task manager, and then started the year ready to go.

I had four goals, with defined timelines for each:

  • Finish my house projects by May 1. It took a little longer than anticipated, but I considered the house projects completed on July 4. This was the last of the things I needed to get done for us to sell our house. Our house in Lawrence went under contract after six days on the market. We closed and moved to Kansas City on July 23.
  • Have an awesome birthday by June 8. Although it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped (a big soirée with a surprise party and surrounded by tons of friends), it ended up being a birthday full of reflection. Turning 40 turned out to be a pretty good thing.
  • Reclaim my time by March 1. It took moving closer to work to make this a reality, which I considered done by Aug. 10. After having commuted more than 90 minutes every day, my commute time has been shortened to about 40 minutes daily. This has had a huge impact on my mental health, and my relationship with my wife and kids.
  • Take a vacation by Aug. 1. I missed this by a couple of weeks, but for good reason. On Aug. 1 I went from being a contractor to a regular, full-time employee at the place I’ve been working since March 18, 2015. With it came some incredible benefits, and paid vacation time. I took the week of Aug. 10 off, and my family explored tons of Kansas City we’ve not seen before. It was a wonderful, relaxing vacation.

In other news …

  • Amy (the wife) and I completed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, during which we paid off $5,037 in debt.
  • We purchased grown up life insurance. Should anything happen to either of us, each other, or our kids, will be WELL taken care of.

I consider 2016 to have been a fantastic year. It was a smashing success. But it really seems that setting a date to achieve a goal was really key to helping me get things moving in the right direction.

Goals

So here I am; goals for 2017:

  • Pay down $10,000 in student loan debt by Dec. 31, 2017. This is going to require some vigilance, and some side hustles on my part. I’m encouraged by the amount of money we paid off during Financial Peace University, but some of that came from the sale of the house (although not as much as I would have liked). But I’ve got some extra streams of income coming in aside from my regular job, so I think we can make this goal. There is, however, going to be a lot of the kids hearing “it’s not in the budget” for awhile, however.
  • Create a passive/semi-passive income stream by Sept 1, 2017. We’re pretty good at cutting out unnecessary spending, but that will only go so far in obtaining financial goals. I’ve been learning about passive income this year, and I’d like to set a goal to have some extra income coming in by this date to help us pay off our student loans and meet the above goal. Since I’m currently making zero dollars from passive income currently, literally anything extra would be considered a success. I’ll shoot for a goal of $100 per month extra, however.
  • Hit my goal weight by June 1,2017. I go through these healthy/unhealthy phases and I’m quite tired of it. I’ve leaned on the old I’m commuting long distances and that’s why I’m unhealthy for a few years, but with my commute being much shorter that’s really not a valid excuse anymore. I really haven’t felt “healthy” since July 2013 when my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I’m not ready to give specifics on my current health situation just yet, but let’s just say that by June 1, I want to be 25 lbs. lighter than I am now.
  • Have a regular date night with Amy by February, 2017. My wife has given up a lot in exchange for a life we have chosen to pursue that matches our values. We are homeschooling our children for a variety of reasons, and since she has the teaching degree it’s putting it to good use. She takes care of the homefront, and I bring home the bacon (mmmm, bacon). But that carries its own set of burdens. In essence, she’s always at work. Working parents get to get out of the house and away from the youngins, but the spouse at home isn’t afforded as many mental breaks. So my goal is to find a sitter, and by sometime in February, have regular, monthly date nights with the Mrs.

So there you have it. What a year. I’m so blessed to be where I am today, and I hope and pray for as good of a year in 2017 as we had in 2016.

I hope the same for you.

Civility

Last night I joined some other developers for dinner, and is common these days at one point the discussion turned to politics.

Now, it wasn’t a very deep talk. It was mostly talk of uncertainty with the regime change, and how the election season was especially nasty this time around.

But at some point in the discussion, one of my fellow developers appeared fairly agitated. Being the diplomat I attempt to be, I tried to steer the conversation to something more positive, but that was a tough sell. The discussion finally turned a corner, but it was a little uncomfortable for a bit.

I have a done a good job surrounding myself with people who have a variety of views on a multitude of issues. I’ve had my fair share of ribbing for my very complicated views, but I dish it out, too.

But I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I yelled at someone because he disagreed with my politics. We talk, we disagree. No big deal. Our lives are bigger than politics, and our relationships are certainly more valuable than incessant bickering.

And so, dear readers, I want to encourage you to treat others with respect when you engage in your ideas. Otherwise it’s going to be a very long four years if we can’t engage in civil discussion.

Even if you all are wrong.

Goodbye, Lawrence

Goodbye Obamaville

It’s things like this that make Lawrence special in its own, odd way. From the story: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/2015/may/11/a-prominent-goodbye-sign-from-defunct-pa/

It has taken me awhile to write this post, but I’m really glad I waited until I was fully ready.

Of course, it’s not like there was a time limit on this sort of thing. But when you live in a place for as long as I lived in Lawrence, KS, it feels like I owe her a goodbye letter.

What a ride. I moved away from the only area I had known as home from the southeast Kansas area to Lawrence. in March 2000. I was working as a reporter for a small-town newspaper in nearby Eudora, which had a familiar feel to where I grew up, but Lawrence was a whole new experience for me.

Streets were unfamiliar. I got lost a lot. I didn’t understand this whole thing about the Phog. Why is there a guy standing on a corner of Mass. Street with a sign that said “Honk for Hemp?” Who is this dude that walks around town with the black beret flashing everyone the peace sign? What about that guy who pushes a cart around downtown with a mannequin?

There were strange things in Lawrence, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. That first year was rough. I didn’t know anyone, and I mostly stayed in my studio apartment — which cost twice as much as the same type of apartment back home — watching movies I’ve never heard of from Liberty Hall. Not only could you rent movies from there, you could go see a movie on the big screen and grab a beer while you did.

But with KU having the appeal that it does, I soon learned that some guys from back home were going to be renting a house together. My lease was ending, and I was asked if I wanted to live with them. My life took another turn after that. I bonded with these three excellent men. We had amazing discussions about music, philosophy, religion, politics, and women. We played music together. We sharpened each other. It was fantastic. Lawrence’s culture helped foster an environment where four men could come together and grow in such a spectacular way.

And then I met the woman who would become my wife. She has since has told me it was a longtime dream of hers to move to Lawrence. A former military brat, she lived in Manhattan, KS. for her high school and undergraduate college years, but made the move to Lawrence to pursue her graduate degree.

She got the degree, and I got the girl. Eventually I got a job working for the City of Lawrence. Up to that point, I was driving elsewhere for my work, but it was that job that made me really feel like I was turning into a townie. I loved that job. I loved living and working in Lawrence. I put my heart into it, because Lawrence had my heart. We had a kid. A few years later, we had another. We bought a house. And then we added one more kid for kicks.

I really thought I was going to live in Lawrence forever.

But around 2012, things started to shift. A friend invited me to come apply for an open position and work with him at the City of Olathe, but it took me awhile before I could muster the guts to do it. Could I really leave working in town? But the opportunity to work with a group of people who were doing some more advanced work than I was doing alone was too good to pass up. I got the job, and went back to commuting.

It was the beginning of the end of my life in Lawrence.

I ended up moving from that job after a few years, and left the public sector. I began to see a bigger picture: there was much more opportunity for better wages, more things for the family to do, and less expensive housing if I was willing to move away from Lawrence. I felt a pull to Kansas City, but the decision didn’t come easy. We would have to sell our house, and move the family to a totally unknown area. I wasn’t sure I could leave, but I wasn’t sure I could continue to stay. I tried to find a job where I could work from home and stay in Lawrence, but nothing panned out for me.

We put our house on the market. It was under contract in six days. And on July 23, 2016, we left Lawrence for a new life in Kansas City, MO.

Leaving wasn’t easy. But I’ve had some time to really think about it, and it was the right decision. Lawrence’s housing market is overpriced. The job market is depressed job market (unless you want to get into food service, hope you like Mexican food!), and there doesn’t appear to be a vision for where the city will go in the coming years. Add to the mix that the city is in a state where the leadership is driving the state finances into the ground, and the prospect of the city becoming anything more than it already is doesn’t seem good.

That said, there are things I really miss about Lawrence. We left many friends behind. I miss my familiar haunts — places like Amici Italian Market and Deli, and Munchers Bakery — and the many wonderful parks we would take the kids to play at. I loved the group of bright minds at Lawrence Coders, a group of developers who live in or around Lawrence. Their insight helped shape my career.

If I think about it too much, I get a little angry. Why didn’t the city I love so much take its amazing potential and turn into something magnificent? The disparity between wages in Lawrence versus Kansas City is obscene. And according to the number of cars I saw on the interstate with Douglas County tags, many others had figured out that there was better money to be made elsewhere.

But, the move wasn’t just about money. At least, not fully.

Shortly after we got married, my wife took a job for the Lawrence newspaper throwing these ad-filled newspapers to everyone who wasn’t a subscriber to the actual newspaper (it was really just analog spamming), and in exchange we would get a discount on our cable/internet bill.

I helped her do the work, and we got assigned to a fairly nice part of the city on the west side. I noticed something about the houses we threw those paper to: there was often no one at home. There we were, spamming people at 6 or 7 p.m. at night, and these big beautiful houses had no one at home. I finally figured out why: they were off somewhere working to pay for the house they had in Lawrence, but weren’t home to enjoy it. That experience made me realize we weren’t going to be one of those people, and when the time came to make a decision, we chose moving over a life of commuting.

You cannot save time. Time is a resource that is spent whether you like it or not. But you can make choices to spend less time doing the things you hate and more time doing what you love. I wanted more time with my family, so the move was essential. I wasn’t going to throw almost two hours away every weekday to commuting anymore. I was done.

I loved Lawrence. It’s a city that taught me so much about myself, about how it’s OK to be different, about how to really love your community, and about how to stand up for what matters in a way that has dignity.

In the months since we’ve left, I’ve had moments where I find myself missing certain things here and there. I realize this is a good thing. It’s the sweet pain of love.

And so, Lawrence, goodbye. I really enjoyed my time with you. You will always have a special place in my heart.

A photo posted by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on

Forty lessons learned by 40

ericjgruber40

Today is my fortieth birthday.

This is going to sound strange, but I love turning 40. First off, I love that black (my favorite color) is the theme for turning 40. Secondly, I love the wisdom that is starting to come with age. I’ve got these white whiskers in my red beard, and I love it. I embrace my aged look. I like to think of it as patina. 

I truly believe I’m embarking on the most exciting decade of my life.

As is common with this age, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the lessons I have learned over the years. Let’s just get into it. 

  1. Celebrating birthdays is kind of silly. We should really be celebrating my parents who brought me into this world, kept me alive, and raised me in a safe and loving environment. 
  2. I haven’t had a greater thrill in my life than seeing each of my children being born. If I could bottle up the emotions that accompany watching that experience, I’d be a wealthy man.
  3. It is far cheaper to buy an expensive item with quality, than to buy several cheaper items of poor quality.
  4. Once when I was a kid I asked my dad what makes a curse word a curse word. He told me it was the connotation that society places upon a word that makes it a curse word. I reject that idea. I think a four letter word is trivial compared to telling someone they are worthless.
  5. Don’t air your dirty laundry online.
  6. Learning to play guitar is forever cool.
  7. Never wear pleated pants.
  8. Student loans are evil.
  9. If you’re too comfortable, that’s probably a bad sign unless you’re on vacation. Don’t get too comfortable.
  10. Fear can be an incredible motivator for self improvement. Embrace it and use it to your advantage. We must move in the direction of our fear.
  11. Don’t worry about what other people might think about you. They’re not living your life; they don’t know what you are going through at this moment.
  12. I have never gone wrong dressing nicely for an interview.
  13. Visiting other cities, other states, and other countries taught me to appreciate the life I have at home so much more.
  14. If something, or someone, seems too good to be true, it’s a very strong possibility that is exactly the case.
  15. Never use your children as a weapon.
  16. Don’t love things, because you are only a natural disaster away from losing it all. Then you will find out what really matters, and it isn’t your possessions.
  17. If you don’t have at least one vice, I don’t trust you.
  18. There are things I’ve said and done, all the way back to my childhood when I didn’t really know better, that I still feel awful about saying and doing. The tongue is a sharp sword, and the mind an incredible snare that can remind you of your worst transgressions.
  19. Beating yourself up about the past has no value. Move on, grow, try to not make the same mistakes in the future.
  20. There are people who come into your life who are toxic. Get away from them; they are poison to the soul. Some will come disguised as co-workers, some as friends, some as family. Get rid of them.
  21. There are people who come into your life who will change your life for the good. Some of them are teachers, some of them are co-workers, some of them are friends or roommates or family. These people are nectar to your soul, and you’ll miss them always when they’re not a regular part of your life.
  22. Time off is essential.
  23. The best things in life aren’t on a computer screen.
  24. If you write a book, the mileage you’ll get out of that will amaze you.
  25. Always tip 20 percent unless the service warrants less.
  26. Consume less and create more. The world needs your creations.
  27. If you come up with an idea of something you want to try and someone tells you “that’s a terrible idea,” them screw it and try anyway. Best case scenario is your idea is successful. Worst case scenario is your idea goes no where but I bet you will learn a lot from the experience.
  28. Experience is an excellent teacher. This can be a hard pill to swallow.
  29. Your spouse is your mate; don’t turn her into an adversary.
  30. You are going to figure out that you are wrong about some things. When you are given the choice between embracing the truth and “sticking to your guns,” don’t be an idiot.
  31. Don’t get too wrapped up in politics. No, really. 
  32. The best way to handle a compliment is with, “thank you.”
  33. The best response to someone who has lost a loved one is “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  34. Never auto schedule posts to social media.
  35. Yes, riding a motorcycle is as dangerous and as fun as it looks.
  36. With a few exceptions, there are no bad decisions. Rather, there are decisions and then you need to figure out how to deal with the outcome.
  37. You have to work really hard to be a true failure.
  38. Date nights are important. Don’t neglect them. They pay off dividends.
  39. Figure out what you want, and go after it. Beware of the things that will try and stop you. 
  40. Don’t put things off. Nike’s “Just do it” isn’t only a marketing phrase but rather, a philosophy.