Monday, August 31, 2009

Financial Literacy

In a USA Today story published today, Sandra Block questions financial return on investing in a college education during a recession. Citing one student who graduated from college and then lost her job, she paints a picture of the now-graduate who is struggling to pay back her student loans.

To this day, I have yet to see the complete value of my education, she says.

Of course she hasn't see the full return on her investment! She has been out for four years. In this pellet-from-the-feeder-bar, instant-gratification world, folks forget that investing takes time; even more time in an economic downturn.

Block continues with:

For years, an article of faith in this country has been that college is the
gateway to a better life. So deeply held is this belief that many students, such as Horn, borrow tens of thousands of dollars to attend prestigious public or private universities. But as the worst recession since World War II trudges into its 21st month, many graduates are discovering that the college payoff could be a long time coming — if it comes at all.

I will agree that it may be true that a college degree may not pay off. But, if you coast through college and you coast through life, then yes, you may not see a return. But facts (which can be stubborn things) show that college graduates earn more over time. Folks like me (and my brothers and parents) would argue rather convincingly that you don't need an Ivy League education to be successful. I wouldn't consider myself wealthy (I have Google ads on my blog for cryin' out loud!), but my degree from Ohio State has served me quite well throughout the years. There is a classic scene from Good Will Hunting:

See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don't do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.
But there is something to be said for a degree. To quote my brother, Greg, "The only thing a bachelor's degree proves is that you can earn a bachelor's degree." And that proves you have work ethic, can prioritize and have basic time management skills.

We need to teach our high school kids about how to figure out a return on investment. And, that if you want to get ahead in life; you have to invest - mainly in yourself and in an education. Good education doesn't have to be expensive. But you need to get it. In a great piece in the Wall Street Journal set for publication tomorrow, William McGurn show that you don't need a four-year degree, but you do need to learn a skill. How do I add value? What can I do that can't be outsourced?

I have 12 years to teach my two young ones to ask those questions and then hope they figure out how to answer them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Crack Cocaine of Primetime Television

In case you haven't heard (which I am sure you haven't), the 'CW' network is resuscitating the long-dead TV show, Melrose Place. Yes, that's right ... Melrose Place. To warn you, there is nothing redeeming about this show. Or, at least there wasn't 15 years ago. There were mysterious brain tumors, torrid love triangles, haunting addictions ... you know, the typical stuff you would find packed into one not-so-quiet apartment complex at 4616 Melrose Place. It had some innate qualities like Heather Locklear, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Marcia Cross (of Desperate Housewives fame).

The original ran from 1992-1999 and I finally kicked the habit when Fox cancelled the show and I went cold turkey. Now, with the crack cocaine of television coming back on the air, I fear that I will get the shakes if I don't at least try it. On the other hand, if I watch just one episode, I could be hooked again. I hope that doesn't happen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Football Season is Almost Here!

One week from today, Ohio State (and many others) will suit up for the 2009-2010 College Football Season. Mason has kicked things off with a delightful picture of a football player.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Season 4

Mason is entering his fourth season of ZYSA (Zionsville Youth Soccer Association). Dad is sitting out as coach this season so I am left to the sidelines as another dad takes his shot at corralling 5-year-olds. As I watch the practice of kindergartners, it seems there is much less of the wandering (that you see with the four-year-olds). Unfortunately, that is not replaced with any real practice; just more grabassery (errrr...., horseplay).

Regardless, Mason returns to the nest tired. And, that is what is all about.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The New Chair

It is official. I am the Chair of the Dads Club of the Stonegate Elementary School Parent/Teacher Organization. What does that mean, you ask? Not a lot, I suppose. But I am looking forward to contributing in any way I can. The Dads Club (I haven't figured out whether or not there is an apostrophe in 'Dads' yet; and, if there is, where it goes ... Dads? Dad's? Dads'? Sounds like its time for my first executive decision!) is responsbile for two events each year. The first, which takes place in early October, is a pancake breakfast. The second is a bowling event.

I feel that I am already behind on the pancake breakfast planning. Although, in my defense, I have already secured an appearance by Miss Indiana. I haven't really scoped out the rest of it yet. I am not sure how many eggs I will need, nor the cups of milk it will take to make a yet undetermined number of pancakes.

Regardless, the goal is to raise money for the school. I am open to suggestions on how to raise more cash. We begin at 9 am on October 3rd. Gotta go!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grandma and Granda's Visit

On a cool, lazy Sunday, we met Grandma and Grandpa Huber downtown Indy for lunch. They were in town for a wedding and we were in town because we live here. They treated us to a wonderful lunch at Weber Grill (hmmm .... pretzel rolls) and we strolled around the mall where Mason discovered that the wish fountains are a great source of revenue. As usual, Grandma spoiled the kids. The fruits of her labor are evidenced below. Grandma made Mallory's status as a princess official.

Mason became a fabulous magician with his new set of magic tricks.

It was great to catch up. We are looking forward to seeing them both in a couple of weeks!

Friday, August 21, 2009


I will miss the day that Mason doesn't want to give me a hug when I drop him off at school. My fear is that day will come soon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mason's New Game

Mason has taken to chess. The apple has firmly come to rest at the base of the tree. He saw the game two days ago during his first day of school. He didn't know what it was, but he knew he wanted to play. This morning, he asked to go to school early so he could play chess.

Yesterday, I pulled most of the Rubbermaid tubs off the shelves in the garage searching for my chess set. I finally found it. The chess set is at least 17 years old as the board was a memento from the U.S. High School Chess Championships held in Lexington, Kentucky in 1992.

My brother Greg and I played chess daily in High School. We were closet chess dorks. Well maybe not the closet or chess part. But we loved it. We were playing chess when the news reporter announced the ground invasion during the first Gulf War. We played constantly. Eventually, we sought others to play (I bet we played at least a thousand games against each other). Somehow we discovered that the other schools in our conference (the mighty Greater Miami Conference) all had chess teams. In the fall of my junior year, we approached the administration with a budget request of $200 (I think). Just enough to purchase five chess sets and five chess clocks. They responded that if we found a sponsor (errrr, coach) then we had a deal. Mr. Brackenridge (now a Dr. apparently), offered to do it. We had now idea what response we would get. It turns out there were four other guys that liked chess as much as we did (not bad out of 1,700 students).

So, off we went. It turns out we were pretty good. We went 11-0-1 in our first year and were the GMC Champions. My senior year we were 12-0. The real irony revolves around the GMC all-sports trophy that is awarded to the school in the conference that has the best overall record across all sports. Sycamore had never one it before my junior year. Partly because of the chess team, and because of how well we did, Sycamore was awarded the trophy. Dorks of the world unite!

All of us on the team had a good sense of humor about the whole thing and I don't remember any harrassment from the other students. We maintained a low profile, did our thing and had fun.

I hope Mason develops a love for the game as well. Now I just have to teach him how the pieces move.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Day of Kindergarten!

We survived. Whew. Mason survived ... and thrived.

Up at at 'em early in the morning (live every other morning), we dressed and ate breakfast at the table. Then, off to school!

Mason is enrolled in the before and after-school care so we took him to the cafeteria where an small army of providers were there to receive him (Mrs. Linda, Mrs. Becki, Mr. Trevor, Mrs. Najimas, and Miss Haley). Mr. Trevor was playing chess with a student which caught the eye of Mason (and his old man ... with him being a closet chess player, and all). Mason, also like his old man, loves to compete and got in line to play chess. I don't think he has ever seen a chess game before but it had all of the requirements; 1) it is a game 2) uhhh ... nope. That's it. Just one requirement, I suppose.

Off we went to leave Mason to his journey. At home, he was famished. Conquering four pieces of pizza, he came back for a big piece of '1st Day of Kindergarten' cake.

Only 2,159 days of class until he graduates. Gotta go. I have to check the balance of his 529 ...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Realization

Mason has finally realized he is going to Kindergarten tomorrow; or at least it has finally sunken in. He has been up and down since bedtime and has shed a few tears. Wish us all luck tomorrow as we take our first steps ....

More detail and photos tomorrow from Mason's big day!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Vick: At a Crossroads

Michael Vick, the disgraced, former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, will get a fresh start with the Philadelphia Eagles this coming NFL season. Recast from Hero to Villain after a trial that exposed his horrific involvement with a dog-fighting ring, Vick spent 18 months in prison before being released this year. Once the highest-paid player in the NFL, he filed for bankruptcy while incarcerated.

Vick is being given a second chance; one I think he deserves. He made some terrible, sad mistakes. He has paid for it financially and with a prison sentence. Now that he is out, he is saying all of the right things. Vick has the support of some powerful people in and around the NFL; notably former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy. Dungy has been advising Vick and Vick could have not chosen a better mentor for his counsel.

Now he must keep on the straight and narrow. When the Eagles travel to New York, the Giants fans will hurl epithets at him. Knowing the Eagles fans, if they start losing (and it appears to be Vick's fault, they will turn on him, as well). I am confident the 'fans' will bring stuffed animals to the games depicting terrible animal abuse in order to get under his skin. He had better make that skin thick.

Mike, keep your chin up. What you did was awful. You are blessed with a second chance. You have the opportunity to show young people everywhere that people can make mistakes, accept punishment and come away a better, stronger person. It's time to suit up. Take full advantage of this challenge.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Welcome to Stonegate

This evening was the first step in Mason's long journey through America's educational system. Stonegate Elementary, a cathedral symbolizing a community that understands priorities, is nestled away in a small neighborhood off State Route 334.

We met with his teacher, Mrs. Rent, and got a sneak peak at where he would be spending his time; learning, exploring new concepts and growing/maturing in ways we can't yet imagine.

His room is a mix of the traditional and new. His small desk and chair are surrounded by technology that many of my college lecture halls didn't have. It is outfitted with three computer work stations and an overhead projector (no, not the light box you are thinking of. A computer projector mounted to the ceiling).

It hit home that our litttle baby boy that we brought home from the hospital not six years ago is beginning his matriculation. We are sure that mommy and daddy have more jitters than our young man-cub. Mason starts on Monday. Wish us (errrr .... him) luck.

Then ...

Now ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Existing 'Public Option'

During a speech today, President Obama unwittingly made a case against his health care (er, health insurance) reform AND the U.S. Postal Service.

This comment hit home for I am one of 'those' that wants to privatize the post office. At one time, it made sense to have a U.S. Postal Service. But, not any more. Lax accounting, a bloated staff (the 3rd largest employer in the U.S. behind the Dept. of Defense and Wal-Mart), and a monopoly on 1st class mail make the USPS non-competitive.

Stamp prices have risen with inflation every year since 1970. Imagine if the cost of a phone call had risen that much or, heaven forbid, gasoline. New technology, sorting equipment and more efficient route planning should have taken costs out of the system. In fact, I am sure it has. Then that money is poured back into the labor pool. One estimate puts U.S. Postal Service wages at between 20-25% higher than comparable private sector wages.

Of course, it helps when you are exempt from paying taxes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Social Security Time Bomb

Fortune Magazine's Allan Sloan has a great article about Social Security and how it is ripe for the next, big bailout. You can read it here.

My favorite quote from the article is this:
"The trust fund has no financial significance," says David Walker, former head of the General Accountability Office and now president of the Peterson Foundation, which advocates fiscal responsibility. "If you did [bookkeeping like] that in the private sector, you'd go to jail."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

August Birthdays Galore

Tis the season for birthdays. In the extended Huber Family, my father celebrates his birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!) and my nephew Maxwell celebrated his yesterday. Locally, Mason's best friend, Lucas, celebrated along with the daughter of my close friend Alan (whom you read about giving me advice about changing my oil).

Both had parties to which we were invited.

That could only mean one thing ... cake overload for Mason.

Mason and I ventured out this mid-morning leaving Noel and Mallory to relax. We headed east to Carmel; home of the American roundabout (Incidentally, there is a joke about why Carmel has so many roundabouts. They install them because everyone in Carmel thinks they have the right of way. No offense, Carmelites!). Lucas' party was highlighted by the Silly Safaris, a local company that specializes in bringing exotic animals to your home for parties. They do a great job of interacting with the children and entertaining the adults, as well.

Below is Critter Colleen, one of the hosts of the Silly Safari. As you can see, the kids are thrilled to be so close to a real alligator!

Sadly, Lucas and Mason are parting company this week as they head off to different kindergardens. They were best buds in Jr. K at Abacus.

After running an errand for Mommy, we were off to Fishers for more partying and more cake! It was a more subdued affair at Alan's house as there were far fewer 5-year-0lds running around. Mason searched for super bouncy balls in the back yard while I caught up with some folks I hadn't seen in a while; Jamal, and his wife Brandi, Heather, Gabby, and her husband Patrick were all there to help young Alexa celebrate her first year of life.

The cupcakes were equally delicious at this party! Mason shrugged off the cupcakes at this party. It probably had something to do with the cupcake, Heath bar, six Starburst and the gum he consumed at Lucas' party (ahh, those were the days). He did, however, enter the picture drawing contest that Amy, Alexa's mom, hosted. I think all of the children who entered ended up winning.

We ended up back at home around four. I discovered that Noel spent the day relaxing my cleaning the shower, re-arranging the kids' play room and cleaning all of the countertops (we have differring definitions of relaxing).

Thanks to the McManus and Rickels families for wonderful hospitality!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Bold Prediction

Write this down. In 50 years, history will rate George W. Bush as a better (and by better I mean, more effective) President that Barack Obama. In 2009, that sounds ludicrous. Our current president broad popular support even though his policies are losing traction. George W. Bush, on the other hand, was trashed in the media in the waning years of his presidency. He could do no right. The Democrats had seized congress and he was a truly lame duck his last two years in office.

Bush 41 had his issues. He wasn't articulate. He could be easily portrayed as a frat boy who was 'stupid'. He was truly a war-time president; standing watch over the worst attack on America and Freedom in 50+ years. His focus on the Global War on Terror (which is now a bad word, according to the White House) gave his political opponents a weapon with which to bludgeon him at every turn. The reports of casualties grew stale and the secrets of the spy trade began to emerge to a population that had grown weary of harsh tactics and stern language. Meanwhile, the economy (which had been set up for failure for years) began coming apart at the seams. The two things that folks bank on to end a recession (housing starts and automobiles) were the very reason for it. But with George Bush, I always felt he was telling the truth. He wasn't a calculator like Clinton. He said what he thought and it hurt him politically. He did what he thought was best for the country and it hurt him politically.

This latest president seems to still be on the campaign trail. For as eloquent of a speaker that he is, he has never articulated (in detail) his heath care plan. Like everything else, it seems to be George Bush's fault. Eventually, the American people will see that President Obama has some culpability in this, as well. I think that will be sometime in early November 2012. Historians will catch up with that assessment some time later.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Green Shoots

This past weekend, the Hong Kong House (or, as the kids call it, the 'Hunka Hunka House') to much fanfare. It is located in the Marketplace at Anson, which is a fancy name for a strip mall that is half full in a master planned community that decided to open just as the real estate market entered terminal velocity. Regardless, the Marketplace is showing signs of life and the Hong Kong House is the latest birth.

Saturday evening, they hosted a Grand Opening celebration which included two Whitestown police officers (Not sure why they were there. I asked one if they were expecting an unruly crowd. He couldn't tell if I was serious or not.), the Boone County Economic Development Council Chair, a Whitestown Councilwoman, the owners, the Zionsville Jazz band (Lady Gaga was booked), and a troupe that showcased a lion dance. And, of course, a few drops of rain.

The owner spoke and got choked up when talking about all of the hard work that went into building out the space. He thanked his family who he probably hadn't seen much of in the last 60 days, or so. After the speeches and the dancing lions, they opened the restaurant for a tasting but we arrived at the confluence of a long line and the children's bed time so we called it a night.

We did go back the next day and order some take out to help our local small businesses. They were suffering from the same challenges that every restaurant has on its first day, but the food was good. We'll give them a while to get their processes down and we will be back.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why America is So Great

Today, Matt Drudge posted a trio of Youtube clips showing Americans teaching their elected officials what it means to raise the ire of the American Public.

Sen. Arlen Specter/Kathleen Sebelius

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Rep. Tim Bishop

This voice that we have is somewhat unique in our world. I think that most take for granted the freedoms and the rights we have as Americans. Our founding fathers were certainly on to something when the crafted our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

An old joke puts it all in perspective.

An American and an old Soviet are comparing their rights.

American: In America, I can stand outside the White House and criticize the President of the United States all day long.
Soviet: So? I can stand outside the Kremlin and criticize the President of the United States, too.

John F. Kennedy:
Without debate, without criticism, no administration or country can succeed - and no republic can survive.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Oil Change

I finally did it. Some 34 years in the making ... I finally changed the oil in my car.

It all started on Friday when I was running an errand. The oil light in my car came on. If I remember one thing my father told me about cars is that it is NOT good when the oil light comes on in your car. So I pulled back into work and parked it. I pulled the dipstick out and there was not a drop of oil on it; not good at all.

My good friend Alan (Big Al, as I call him) drove me up to AutoZone to get some more oil. There was a special for five quarts of oil and filter for $12. Sweet. When I got back to work, I make the (il)logical conclusion that if there was no oil on the dipstick, well, then the car must have no oil in it at all (of course!). So, I proceeded to pour a full 4.5 quarts of oil in my engine. Turns out that is too much. In fact, approximately 2.5 quarts too much. I called Herb, our maintenance guy, who helped me out.

Alan and I got to talking. Could I change my own oil? "I do it all the time," Alan said. Well then, I must do it also! No more $45 bucks at the dealership. No, sir. Saturday morning, I took my happy little butt down to Wal-Mart (where they have the cheapest everything, including synthetic oil) and got some (you guessed it) synthetic oil and a filter. I already had a filter from Friday's escapade but I was worried that I didn't pick out the right one. I used Wal-mart's handy computer to help me select the right one and off I went.

Noel had to be sold on the whole idea of Doug changing the oil on anything other than the lawnmower. After 24 hours of cajoling, I as jacking up the car.

Challenge #1. Where is the drain plug on the oil pan? You would think it would be on the bottom. Oh no, it's not on the bottom. It faces the rear of the car.
Challenge #2. How do I get it off? Not one of my metric sockets fit the darn thing. It's a Volkswagen for crying out loud. To make matters worse, my set only goes up to 17mm.
Phone call #1 to Alan. Do you know the socket size? In my defense, Alan used to own a VW Jetta, it wasn't like I expected him to know the correct socket for every make/model out there. He recommended a standard socket. At that point, I realized I have a whole slew of standards sockets on my workbench. Turns out it's a 3/4 inch.
Challenge #3. Once I caught all of the oil in my oil basin (the one I use to drain the oil out of my lawnmower), I had to get the oil filter off. No small task, mind you. I am not sure what kind of arm strength the dude at the VW dealership has, but his name must be Hanz or Franz. Phonecall #2 to Alan. It took lots of pulling, grunting and grip(p)ing to get it off. And, once I broke the seal, oil spilled out all over it making it nearly impossible to grip.

From there it was smooth sailing. The new filter I bought (a Fram) has a rubberized coating on the bottom that makes it easy to grip (you go, Fram!). That was easy to put on. One funnel and four quarts later, my Jetta was back in action. All in 50 minutes. I hope to cut that time in half during the next go around. We'll see in about 5,000 miles.