Category Archives: General

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.

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.

Two books for vacation reading

The holidays are almost here, and you may find yourself with a little time to crack open a book. Here are a couple of suggestions that are both quick reads, but packed with excellent philosophy.

QBQ: The Question Behind the Question

Author’s website

Overview: This is a book about personal accountability both in work and in life. QBQ is one of my favorite books because it pings at your brain to always be thinking about the struggles you face daily. “Is there something I can do to make this better? What role can I play that can benefit a greater purpose? How can I own problem and turn it into a solution?” 

Warning: This book may give you a low tolerance for people who whine too much.

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

Author’s website

Overview: This is a fascinating book about the merits of stoicism. “How can I face adversity (without complaining) and see it as a benefit? What kind of person welcomes struggle?”  History is littered with examples of people who embraced stoicism and ran with it to change their lives and the world. Based much on the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the author invites you to look at the obstacles in your life and see them for tremendous opportunities to reach another level in your own personal development.

Please let me know if you end up reading any of them. I would love to know what you think.

Author’s note: I originally published on an internal blog for work, but I also wanted to share here also.

Maybe it’s time to get off your high horse

Author’s note: This was originally posted on Medium. I have adjusted the timestamp on this post to reflect when it was published on that platform. Since this is the home of my writing, I’ve decided to permanently move it here.

Recently I attended a new Meetup group focused on a budding new web framework.

This particular framework is interesting, and shows lots of promise. It piqued my interest enough that I shifted my schedule around to drive an hour to join others interested in this new technology and introduce myself. Before the meeting started, I mingled with others who asked the inevitable question: “So what do you do?”

The answer has been the same for some time now: I work in municipal government, and mainly with Drupal.

As the meeting progressed, I got to see some examples of the new framework, how it’s being used by the group’s members, and got to thinking about how I might use it for my own projects. One of the presenters showed a content management system he had built, which had a handy feature: in-place editing.

“To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming.”

– English proverb

I was impressed at this framework’s particular implementation of in-place editing, and commented that Drupal has something similar but its implementation feels a little bloated, and certainly not as fast as the one I was seeing in this presentation.

“That’s because Drupal sucks,” the presenter said.

Now, I would certainly agree that there are things in Drupal that are easier to do with other tools. I would agree that this in-place editing feature seemed better than Drupal’s. I would agree that Drupal has entered interesting times where developers in the ranks are a little divided aboutwhere things are going.

But as I drove home, I couldn’t help to think to myself, “Maybe you should get off your high horse.”

Tell me if you’ve heard this before

Here’s a list of things that suck (allegedly).

Apple sucks. Microsoft sucks. Java sucks. Ruby sucks. Python sucks. Rails sucks. PHP sucks. JavaScript sucks. WordPress sucks. Starbucks sucks. Dunkin’ Donuts sucks. Chevy sucks. Ford sucks.

The list goes on and on and on and …

So here’s the deal: what works for me, might not be the best for you, whatever it is. And the great thing is, THAT’S OK. Governments, news organizations, and educational institutions have adopted Drupal, by and large, because it works for them. Ford owners buy their vehicles because it works for them. Dunkin’ Donuts drinkers (myself included) enjoy their coffee because it works for them.

So, to just flippantly say something sucks just because it doesn’t work for you is a wee bit immature.

I won’t be so bold as to say I’ve never said that something sucks. I will say, thankfully, that as I mature I’m finding it’s a big world filled with lots of opportunity, and I need to find what works for me and roll with it. And for that matter, you should do likewise.

Words have incredible power.

If I had a different mindset, I could certainly see myself thinking, “I don’t think I’ll go back to that group,” seeing as the first time I visited the thing that puts food on my table and clothes on my family’s backs was flippantly disregarded. But, I’m a big boy. I can take a lot of what you throw at me. But someone else might not be as resilient.

But that brings me to my final point.

Learn the fine art of thinking before speaking

We have a saying around the office: “I can’t fix ‘it sucks.'”

Criticism is fine, as long as it is useful. But criticizing for criticism’s sake? I don’t see the value in it. Perhaps before we speak, we should take Jason Fried’s advice and give it five minutes.

If you want to critique, offer ways things could be better. It could provide a fantastic opportunity to learn something for all parties involved. Through dialogue, rather than complaining, you might just gain insight that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Does that mean I don’t think there’s a time and place for disdain or disagreement? Oh my, not at all. But critiquing without discovery isn’t fruitful, and could end up doing more harm than you thought.

And frankly, that sucks.

In KC: Austin Kleon and The Minimalists

Wednesday turned out to be author night in Kansas City.

I’m not sure how I missed it until Wednesday morning, but I found out Austin Kleon (as he puts it, he’s an author who draws) was speaking at the Middle of the Map Fest. I jetted down to OfficePort and enjoyed hearing him speak. I’ve read two of his books — Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work — and if you consider yourself a creative type, I highly recommend them.

It was great seeing him talk (and draw) live. By the time I discovered Kleon, it was past the point he had come to Kansas City to speak at TEDx. I’d say this made up for it.

austin-kleon

Austin Kleon speaks at Middle of the Map Fest at OfficePort in downtown Kansas City. Man, I take a crappy picture.

Admittedly, Kleon wasn’t my first pick for the evening. For months I’ve had arrangements to hear The Minimalists speak, and I wasn’t disappointed last night. After listening to Kleon, I bolted north of the river to a nice little event space called Black on Burlington to check these guys out.

The Minimalists are two best friends: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Together with their vagabonding friend Colin Wright, they spoke about their journey to minimalism, how the audience could get there, and what to expect from the journey.

I’ve followed their writing on their blog for awhile now off and on. The message of the minimalist philosophy is appealing. Imagine what your life would look like if you had less things in your life. Would you have more experiences? Better relationships? More personal satisfaction with life? Would your mind be more free with less?

I like to joke that I struggle with what I call sentimental attachment disorder. There are these things from my past that hold great sentimental value to me, but I haven’t let go of them. Their artifacts of the past, mementos of a live already played out,  yet I hold onto them. Why?

One of the oft-repeated messages of the night was this: When you go to purchase something, ask yourself: “Will this thing add value to my life?” If the answer is no, then don’t buy it. It’s because we don’t say “no” enough, we get all this crap. What happens when we cut out the stuff? Will we be willing to live with what remains?

I had the pleasure of speaking with all three of the aforementioned men after the show. I was chatting a bit before I got in line and ended up being dead last. They insisted on greeting me with a hug (as they did everyone else) and I obliged. It was … nice. Excellent, really. We talked. I talked. And actually, it seemed as though they listened. They were not simply waiting for their turn to speak. I’m guilty of that. How about you?

Their message was convincing, enough so that I think I’ll try their 21-day challenge. And I’ve already started asking myself the question quite a few times, just today: Will this thing add value to my life?

To close the night, Millburn gave a little thought to take with us. I’ve illustrated it below.

the-minimalists

The Minimalists and Colin Wright speaking at Black on Burlington in Kansas City.

Standby

This is a post from Terminal B of Kansas City International Airport (MCI).

The thrill of flying is gone. Man, this used to be an exciting experience for me. But after today, I’m not sure I’ll ever fly again.

I get to the airport one hour and 15 minutes before departure. I was flying on Southwest, so I get into the terminal and proceed to the long line at the first Southwest ticketing area. I got into the slow-moving line at one hour before departure time, and calmly waited until it was my turn to get my ticket.

But wait! I didn’t get a ticket. I got a piece of paper that would allow me to get a ticket.

Um, OK.

So I make my way to the security theatre where a whopping staff of two TSA agents were checking IDs. This was a nightmare. It was moving so slowly because there were about a hundred people in line. At this point, I start to get worried.

And then it was time for the buckets.

You know, where you take off your shoes, take your laptop out, take off your belt and then go through the x-ray scanner. Of course, I opted out of the x-ray for a patdown. Lovely.

And then, finally. I made it to Gate 43. The woman looked at my worthless piece of paper and said “Oh, you’ll need to go to the ticket desk.”

So I did. They looked it over.

“Oh, you’ll need to go to the other ticket desk.”

Oh no. So I did. I can see the plane. I’m right there. I’m staring at it. My co-worker going to the same conference as me is texting me from inside. I completely interrupt the ticket person to see if I can get on the plane.

“Oh, sorry. It’s too late to board that plane.”

Crushed.

And so, I’m on standby. Stuck. I feel like I let down my employer. If I would have gotten here two and a half hours earlier, if I would have been a total jerk and shoved my way through the line, I would be on that plane.

But I didn’t. I was in line for an hour. And now, I’m just angry and I never want to fly again.

Interstate

In an effort to experiment with commuting, I decided to take a new route to work.

Typically I drive on the commuting corridor known as K10, but today I went on the interstate to see how it measured up. It ended up being equal time, so nothing really gained there (in fact, it cost me a toll, too).

Shortly after I got onto the interstate, I noticed a car to my left out of the corner of my eye. We were neck-and-neck for a few seconds, and so I sped up. We were crossing over a bridge, and the jockeying for position made me a little nervous – probably because of my http://www.ericjgruber.com/blog/2013/01/spinning/ driving recently.

So, I accelerated. Then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. The car was there, but movement caught my attention. It was friends of mine waving to say hello. I looked over and smiled. “Well, hello!” I said, and gave a wave back.

In taking a different route, I end up seeing people I know, out of the blue. If they were regular commuters or something, that wouldn’t be a big coincidence. But I happen to know they’re “off,” this week because of a death in the family, so running into them in this manner took me my surprise.

Isn’t it odd how things like that happen? I find those types of coincidental meetings occur with enough frequency that it feels like it must be more than chance. It makes me wonder if there has ever been a study done or a well thought out explanation, vis-a-vis the six degrees phenomon.

It certainly seems that it’s more than just coincidence. Or is it?

Spinning

Thursday night was a rainy one, preceded by a rainy day.

As I got onto an exit ramp to get on the main highway that takes me home, I lost control of my vehicle. I started spinning, and my the only thought that went through my head was “You’ll be OK. You’ll have to ride it out.”

And so I did.

In retrospect its hard to say how many revolutions I endured. At first I thought it was only one, but thinking about it later made me believe it might have been twice. I can’t say for sure; it happened so fast but seemed to last forever.

My little Corolla came to a halt and I noticed all the dashboard lights were on and the engine had died. I wanted to just sit there, a little shocked and a little thrilled. But them I noticed another car coming down the on-ramp. I feared a collision or that it might also lose control, but it slowed to a stop.

My trance wore off, I started the car and continued my ride home, albeit more slowly.

And then I called my wife. I told her about the spin and explained I’d be home a little late.

“I’m going to stop in De Soto and fill up to add more weight to the car,” I said. “And I might need to change my underwear.”

No gifts, please.

Do you remember what it was like as a kid when your birthday rolled around?

My mom would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and she’d make it herself. She would buy cake tins for Soundwave (Transformers), R2-D2, and a few others I can’t remember. Friends would come over, games would be played, cake and homemade ice cream would be eaten.

What an experience. Summer birthdays are awesome.

Of course, I’d also get gifts. I remember when I got … well … no, I don’t. I had toys, I played with toys, and I had lots of fun playing with toys.

But I’ve reached a point in my life that I don’t want for gifts (much). I don’t want more things in the house, but less. The exact opposite is true for experiences, however. As a busy parent in the Great Recession, there aren’t as many opportunities as I’d like right now for life experiences. Be it time, or money, those types of things are harder to come by these days.

Given the choice, I’d take an experience (or a surprise; I love enigmatic events) of any kind over any tangible gift every time. Let the kids have the gifts.

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-six years old. No need to say the obligatory words.

And no gifts, please.