Unintended Consequences

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a business owner about the salary and bonus structure at his company. Like many companies, this owner paid out bonuses at the end of each year. I asked him if he’d considered paying them out twice a year or during the summer months.

The owner said the end-of-year bonus schedule began as a necessity but had become more of a tradition. Wondering out loud, I told him that I assumed he chose the end-of-year because it encourages employees to stay put through year’s end.

bears

And with that, we both came to the same conclusion: Should the bonus schedule reward employees who grind it out through the end of the year, take the bonus and then run? It was an unintended consequence of the schedule he hadn’t considered.

This experience reminded me of another business decision that had unintended consequences.

I worked for a company years ago which allowed employees to spend an average of $75 a day on food. This was not a per diem. If we spent $50 on food, that’s all we could expense. But as long as we kept the average at $75 or less we could eat cheap for a couple of days and then go out for a nice dinner the night before we flew home. This allowed for a level of meal flexibility especially when we stayed in expensive cities with great restaurants like New York or Chicago.

But management didn’t like approving these expensive meals even when we spent far less on some days. So they decided to cap meal reimbursement at $75 a day. No more averaging out to $75. Like before, we could only expense what we spent each day.

Can you predict what happened next?

After the policy change, employees who had casually tracked their meal expenses now went to great lengths to ensure they spent their full $75/day. The new policy made us feel the company no longer trusted us, and many decided to stick it to the man.

During this time, I approved expense reports for about 40 technicians who supported conferences around the world. They often lived out of suitcases, worked long hours and appreciated a nice meal at the completion of an event after living on room service for days.  A few techs complained about the policy, but there was nothing I could do about it.

A few weeks later, expense reports began to trickle in. I was interested to see if the policy would change behavior. Over the first month, the average meal cost per day increased from about $49 a day to nearly $65 or a 30% increase. Subsequent months saw the average inch closer to $68 a day.

I laughed at one expense report that came across my desk. One technician had managed to spend exactly $75 on the day he flew out of Seattle and the day he returned. A closer inspection of his expense report showed that he had purchased $75 (about 5 pounds) worth of cinnamon bears at the airport on his day of departure and another $75 worth the day he returned.

The policy stated that any food was expensable so he was within the rules. I approved his expense report and asked him to bring me a few cinnamon bears.

I can’t imagine this is what management had in mind when they changed the meal policy.

Expense reports with creative meal planning became the norm rather than the exception in years past. I signed expense reports that included pounds of Gobstoppers, Swedish Fish and Whoppers. I also signed reports with $50 worth of food from McDonalds and Taco Bell.

But the only time I recall getting a call from corporate was when one technician tried to expense a couple of bags of Starbucks coffee beans. I considered it food, but someone higher up did not agree.

 

Saying Goodbye to my Mom

I rolled over in bed, grabbed my phone and made my way through a dozen messages that had arrived earlier that morning.

None of the messages were very long, but it was clear something was wrong. Each one was a puzzle piece that taken individually didn’t make a lot of sense.

Mom wasn’t feeling well. 
My dad was taking her to the hospital. 
Should the kids gather at the hospital? 
My dad needs help. 

I leaned over to see if Kim was awake. She wasn’t and I decided to let her sleep. I sat back in bed and thought about my mom. We’d driven up the week before to celebrate her birthday. She was frail but alert. Her spirits were high as they always are when she’s around her children and grandchildren.

Maybe 20 minutes had passed, and I decided to wake Kim. “My mom isn’t doing well. I don’t know what to do.” As I contemplated making the 5-hour trip from St. George to North Ogden, a message from my sister arrived:

“Mom is gone.”

It seems fitting to hear of my mom’s passing by text message. I’ve lived a state or two away from my parents and siblings for the past 20+ years, and I’m accustomed to hearing news about the family via text, email, and phone.

I stayed in bed for another hour trying to make sense of the fact that I will not see my mother again. She lived 69 years which is about 30 years longer than doctors figured she’d live once they diagnosed her with Lupus and a host of other ailments. The Prednisone that gave her energy to raise five children made her bones weak. I would have needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all her medications. Of course, each promised to fix a condition, but at the cost of nasty side-effects.

As I’ve reached middle age, I’ve accepted that family relationships are complicated, sometimes messy, but usually worth the effort. The relationship with my mom was no different. But most of the challenges we’ve had over the years have faded leaving mostly good memories firmly in my mind.

As I wrote her obituary, I reflected on the many times my mom was there to provide advice or encouragement. But mostly my mom was present. She didn’t work outside the home so she was able to attend hundreds of my baseball, basketball and football games. I recall playing a spring baseball game in Bear River in near-freezing temperatures. When I came up to bat, I turned around to see my mom sitting on the aluminum benches behind home plate wrapped in a wool blanket. She was the lone fan in the stands on that frigid day.

When I’d return home from dates, I’d find my mom kicking back on the couch reading the Ensign or her Book of Mormon that had seen better days. She’d ask how my evening went, and we’d talk well into the morning. She was always there without being a helicopter parent. My dad bought her a Kindle a few years ago, and we’d send her books on occasion, and then discuss them during visits to her home. My oldest son inherited her Kindle this past week. Before I reset it, I noticed she’d made it 86% through the last book (Educated) we sent her before she passed away.

I inherited a love of listening to music from my mom. When I broke my arm in 7th grade, she was going through a Neil Diamond phase, and I quickly learned every lyric to the Jazz Singer soundtrack. She didn’t like a lot of the music I listened to in high school, especially groups like Ratt, Motley Crue, and Whitesnake. But I did get her into George Winston and attended one of his piano concerts at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake with her while I was attending the University of Utah.

The morning after we’d celebrated her birthday, we had breakfast with my mom and dad before heading back to St. George. As the hostess seated the 9 of us around a table near the back of the Black Bear Diner, my kids scrambled to sit closest to their grandma and grandpa. Kim and I sat at the opposite end of the table. During breakfast, I wondered why I’d let the kids take the seats closest to my parents.

I’ve thought back to that breakfast many times over the past month. That was the last day I’d see my mom, but I didn’t know it at the time. Why didn’t I take a seat down at the end of the table next to her? Later that morning, I’d say goodbye to her while she sat in a wheelchair at her home. I leaned down and put my arm around her. She kissed my cheek like she has for many years.

This evening, I put some books on my son’s Kindle he inherited from my mom. He loves to read Harry Potter and the Fablehaven series. I noticed the black canvas cover on his Kindle was well-worn and asked if he’d like me to order a new one.

His answer let me know I’d made the right decision at breakfast: “Nope. This one smells like grandma and will remind me of her each time I read.”

Goodbye, mom. I love you.

We’ve Been Here Before

It might feel like America is going down a path with a president for the first time. But we’ve been here before.

Nixon

Trump has given courage to those whose base views had been resigned to the back porch or weekend poker game. The racism and sexism were always there. And then Trump came along called women fat pigs. He called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. He brags about sexually assaulting women he finds attractive. He’s a walking cesspool of every deviant personality trait one man could possess.

Trump is the asshat who claimed Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a fraud. Trump doesn’t believe the rules apply to him, and he’s taken that philosophy with him into the White House and filled the swamp with friends and family who share his despicable views. Watch Jeff Sessions quote the bible as a defense for separating children from their parents at our border to see how far we’ve fallen.

I grew up believing America was the greatest country in the world. That notion was shattered about six months into my mission to Germany. It was there I realized America didn’t have a monopoly on greatness.

Now is a good time to revisit All the President’s Men. Nixon was a miserable man, but he faked it much better than Trump. We didn’t fully understand how racist Nixon was till the Watergate tapes were released. Trump’s tweets are in full view for those who care.

We’ve been here before.

Nixon left a black mark on the presidency and the country. Before Trump is done, he’s going to make Nixon look like Mother Theresa.

We survived Nixon.

We will survive Trump.

Turning Point

Many years ago, I purchased a step counter. It wasn’t much bigger than a postage stamp, and it hung from my shorts. I’d try not to check it all the time, but doing so was addicting. At least at first. Eventually, I dreaded checking it on days I didn’t move around much. Eventually, the washing machine put me (and the counter) out of its misery.

I thought back to that step counter as I began my walk today. I retired the counter, but have used various apps on my iPhone to track my fitness or lack thereof. Even when I walked or biked for miles or hit 10K steps in a day, I seldom felt joy. Sure, I hit a number, but that number held little value to me.

lava

Unlike this massive hill of lava.

See, the lava fields sitting just outside Snow Canyon are about 1.5 miles from my home just off a trail I like to take. When I don’t feel like walking, I tell myself I can at least make it to the lava. If I don’t feel like going further, I can turn around, and I will still have put in 3 miles.

I know 3 miles is nothing for most people. But right now, 3 miles feels like a lot to my body. Sometimes I turn around here and head home. And yet, I still feel like I accomplished something on those days. Making it to the lava feels good.

If I decide my body can go further, I remain on the trail and walk through the lava fields. Doing so nearly doubles the distance of my walk, but it feels further with several hills to traverse.

When I try this in the summer in 100-degree heat, I make sure to carry enough water, but today’s 50-degree overcast skies made for the perfect conditions to walk a little further.

The lava doesn’t count my steps, but it does something much more important.

The Logitech G602 Gaming Mouse

Computer mice are one of those items I’m never quite satisfied with. Since I found my dream keyboard in the Corsair K95, I’ve been searching for a replacement for my 3-year old Logitech Marathon Mouse.

The Marathon Mouse had two major features going for it: the battery lasted up to 3 years and the mouse fit my hand well. The battery lived up to its claims, but the buttons felt cheap from the start. But lately, it was giving me a problem when I tried to copy and paste sentences and paragraphs in Microsoft Word. I tried replacing the batteries, but that didn’t solve the issue. Eventually, I realized the right mouse button would work for awhile and then stick. It was incredibly frustrating.

logitech-g602

I decided to head over to Best Buy and try out a handful of mice. The ideal situation would be to test a number of different models at home and keep the best one. But that wasn’t possible, so I narrowed my choice down to three mice that I could test at the store. During my search, I found that most gaming mice were corded rather than wireless. There was no way I was going back to a cord which limited my choices even further.

I ended up purchasing a gaming mouse even though I don’t do a lot of gaming. The Logitech G602 feels like a substantial upgrade in craftsmanship and materials compared to the Marathon. The scroll wheel has a wonderful feel to it and the right/left click feels solid if a bit louder than I’m used to. Some reviewers at Amazon knocked its 2500 DPI, but that is plenty for most people, even gamers. It’s larger than the Marathon but not so large that my hand tires after hours of use.

The Logitech G602 costs a bit more than the Marathon, but not much. The Logitech Gaming software allows you to customize any of the buttons. But I don’t really care about doing a lot of customizing. I merely want a solid, everyday mouse that gives me decent battery life, a solid feel, and responsive movement. So far, it checks all those boxes and then some.

Is Truth Optional?

A number of events over the past couple of weeks has me contemplating the importance of truth. Specifically, how important is truth when it comes to storytelling, history or religion.

Augustine-Quote

A few weeks ago, Kim and I attended an event where Carol Lynn Pearson discussed her book, Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. I haven’t read the book but was interested in the topic because polygamy was one of the first major issues I had with my church.

I knew Brigham Young married a lot of women, but I was shocked when the church admitted that Joseph Smith married at least 30 women, some as young as 14 and about 10 who were already married.

The bigger question I’ve considered is this: Is it worth investing my time and resources in a church that plays so loose with the truth?

I wish the LDS church had come clean with all the unsavory parts of their history before the internet came along and forced their hand. Put it all out there. And then allow each person to decide if it’s worth the investment the church asks of them.

One of my frustrations since leaving the church is that some friends and family assume I was looking for any reason to leave the church. They assume I lost my testimony or could not resist that Starbucks iced mocha.

But I didn’t lose anything. I gained knowledge and can speak to the history of the church in much greater detail than I could as a young missionary. I was willing to go wherever the truth took me, even if that meant out of the church. I didn’t select my desired destination and then search only for evidence that supported my decision.

That’s what I’d like my friends and family to understand. Truth matters more than feelings. Every member of every religion feels their church is the true one. Good feelings can come from reading a book, watching a movie or listening to music. How some religions tell their followers that feelings substantiate truth is absurd to me.

Especially when you say you are the only church on earth that has all the truth.

Be willing to demand the truth. And let it take you wherever it leads. In the long run you’ll be better for it.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

A good friend from high school sent me this poem. I love it.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Night Rides

It’s been four years.

That’s how long I’ve lived in St. George. And I’m still not used to the heat. I can handle temps up to 100. But last week it hit 115.

I can’t do that.

Which means I spend days inside searching for spots around the house in front of an AC vent or directly below a ceiling fan.

I pull out my iPhone to check Dark Sky at least a dozen times each day. Maybe tomorrow’s weather will bring cooler temps or rain showers, the kind where steam rises from the pavement.

When the sun goes down, the kids beg me to take them for a ride. It doesn’t matter where we go. They just want to get out of the house. So do I.

So I pack them into the Odyssey and off we go with no destination in mind.

And the kids begin to talk. I hear stories I otherwise wouldn’t at home. I hear stories that make me laugh and some that drop my jaw. Most have passed the statute of limitations leaving me to smile and wonder where the hell I was when that happened.

Last night we discussed how we go about making decisions. Specifically, how does one know if an action is good or bad? The kids had a lot of opinions on the subject.

“I guess I just know.”
“You and mom tell us.”
“It didn’t feel right so I stopped.”

And my favorite:

“If I know I can’t get away with it, I don’t do it.”

Nothing is off-limits on these night rides. No subject too taboo. I want the van to be a place they can bring up any topic, even ones that make parents cringe. I believe all parents desire to create a safe place where their kids can approach them about any topic.

Our place just happens to be a van driving around southern Utah under the moonlight.

 

 

 

Trust

Two weeks ago, we drove to the Las Vegas airport with our 15–year old daughter. We went inside and escorted her to security. We made sure she made her way through security before leaving.

Our daughter was on her way to Dallas to visit her boyfriend.

Were we worried she’d be safe?

What if she made unwise decisions?

What if she didn’t have fun?

I thought about these and other concerns parents have about their children. My spouse and I spoke about them together and with our daughter. We confirmed the details of her trip and knew she’d be taken care of while in Dallas so we decided she was mature enough to make the trip.

Above all else, it comes down to this: We trust our daughter.

She makes wise decisions regarding her free time, her schooling, and her friends. She has a track record of making wise decisions. That could change, and I’m sure she’ll have ups and downs. But we are trying to raise our children to make most of their own decisions.

I grew up in a church where many decisions were already made for me. It’s easy to offload a good chunk of parenting to the church without giving it much thought. I believe my parents assumed the church would teach me about a number of important topics ranging from alcohol to sex.

My parents and the church were in total agreement so whatever I was told at church was an extension of their rules. My spouse and I are not raising our kids in a church which means we need to have these conversations with our kids instead of assuming it’s happening elsewhere.

I am certain that we will make mistakes. We were both raised in an orthodox religion so it’s been both a challenge and relief to learn as we go. I believe that our children will be better off in the end.

As for the trip to Dallas? Our daughter returned home safe and sound. The only problem? She’s ready to go again!

Raising Children Outside of Mormonism

One thing I’ve noticed since stepping away from religion is how many choices I allowed it to make on my behalf. One quote I heard while I was a teenager: “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” In other words, you’re free to make your own choices, but the leader of the church has already decided what you should do…so choose wisely. I didn’t need to spend a lot of time figuring things out on my own because God’s prophet had already told me what to think and how to act.

For most of my life, I believed that prophets were directly called by God. I believed they spoke with God and were given important advice for them to pass along to his followers on earth. This advice would find its way into talks given each week at church, manuals from which lessons were taught as well as magazines and videos published and produced by the church.

There are few topics which prophets and other church leaders haven’t covered such as what activities are appropriate on the Sabbath, why Coke was OK but coffee was evil, and how many earrings are appropriate for women (one pair) to wear. And as a parent, it was easy to default to church policies instead of discussing it to see if it made sense for our family. That recently changed when the topic of dating came up in our home.

Mormons are taught at an early age that 16 is the proper age at which boys and girls can begin dating. So when our oldest daughter, who is 15, mentioned that she was going to be asked to the high school prom, Kim and I had a decision to make. If we were still attending church, the debate would be over.

Instead, something really cool happened. Kim and I discussed how we felt about our daughter attending the prom. We gathered more details about her date, her transportation to the dance, and the post-dance activities. We talked openly about the evening with our daughter. In the end, we didn’t see a problem with her going to the prom before she turned 16 and gave her permission to do so.

This is just one example of how things have changed over the past couple of years. I don’t blame the church or its leaders because they are trying to be helpful and provide general guidance to their followers. I don’t plan to throw away everything I learned as a Mormon. I still feel that dating in groups at young ages is wise, even if I don’t believe there’s anything magical or sacred about the age 16.

But Kim and I know our daughter better than any prophet or church leader, and we are in the best position to advise and guide her through her teenage years. This experience has made me reconsider a number of topics on which the church takes a particularly harsh and vocal stance. One of those issues is the church’s stance on homosexuality. I was taught it was a choice and an abomination before God, and I’m happy our children won’t grow up hearing such harmful language in church.

The good news is that our nation is growing more accepting of groups who have been historically marginalized. We’ve got a long way to go, but I like what I’m seeing in our youth who hear about the church’s stance on some social issues and wonder what all the fuss is about. Of course, everyone regardless of their sexual orientation should have the same rights as everyone else. Of course, women should have as many opportunities to serve in leadership positions as men do. And no, God didn’t place a curse of black skin on a group he deemed unrighteous no matter how many prophets claim such nonsense or how many times the curse is mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

These and other social issues are non-issues to most of the kids I meet. They strive to be accepting and loving and inclusive. Maybe one day the church will be just as progressive. But it’s too little, too late for our family. We’ve found happiness working through a number of difficult and complex issues together. Topics we thought were settled by the church are back on the table and open for discussion. It’s interesting that leaving the church has brought our family closer together.