Saturday, January 16, 2016

Make the Next 20 Years Great

That's what I wrote on the eve of the new year, as I faced the desolate yet winter-beautiful landscape of western Montana.

That statement was a reflection on my reflection of the past 10 years. I was recognizing this as a start of a new chapter.

I wasn't thinking of all the bad things that will happen in the next 20 years:
  • Loss of all or most of the remaining family members in the generation preceding mine
  • Potential health issues as I and friends and remaining family members head down the back side
  • And most definitely, the loss of all 3 of these dogs. Waaaaaaahhhhhh.

What I was thinking about was the looming horizon of my professional career, that time when corporate America will see me as too old to play. For better or worse, I do define myself in a big way by my work. It is who I am and what I do for most of my waking hours. I'm good at it and derive satisfaction from it. It's the thing I do best, so why wouldn't I say that I define myself by it. (Wow, one could write a whole post on that topic - hadn't thought of it that way before. It's the thing I do best. Defining myself by anything else would leave me disappointed.)

So when I say "make the next 20 years great", I mean that it's time to get deliberate about things. For the past 50 years, I've let my hard work and many successes and occasional failures determine the next logical step. That could prove to be risky if I continue to play it that way. So starting with my job change last month, of the 2 jobs I was offered, I took the lower paying job with the longer commute, because it would broaden my professional skills in the accounting field.

Do I have one more job change left in me? Maybe. And waiting 10 or more years to try to make it would probably be too late, depending on my value and the job market and economy at the time. So that's job 1 - realizing the potential that this new job offers to set me up for the next one.

Do I only have one more move in me? Where do I want to live for the rest of my life and what do I need to do now to set up for it. All I know is I want it to be warmer. So this is job 2, and it is linked with job 1. 

It also involves what I want to do with the house I'm in now. It's way too big for me, but it's where I am now and if you want to live in Utah, you gotta play the game. It's got good potential to be a rental, so keep that in mind as I move through this next phase. I want to do more with the yard and a few interior improvements. Get a handyman and keep up on the maintenance. Other than that, keep the yard improvements modest and save for the dream house that I want to build in the next place I move to. Hold off on the hot tub for now. Save the money. Keep working on the design that's already half formed in my head.

Keep the dream of personal financial advising alive - not the way I did it in 2006-2008, but the way I want to do it. Household financial management, bill paying, Mommy Math. Even tutoring kids, something I loved doing when I was younger. "Retirement" to me will simply be a transition from making the big bucks working for the man, to making the little bucks working for me, and probably doing more volunteer work again.

Keep the balance. While dealing with old age issues of parents, dogs, self, keep the other stuff going too. Agility with the dogs - what a great sport for growing old - physical, mental and social. Other things I enjoy: photography, making puzzles, writing this silly blog, keeping in touch with friends from all my past lives. Make time for those things.

Keep the body healthy. Find the right combination of gym, yoga, etc. Get the right frequency. I'll never be a 7 day a week fitness fanatic. 2-3 days is good enough for me and better than nothing. Continue to improve my boring diet by adding variety, but don't deny myself the good things - chocolate, a glass of wine while puttering in the kitchen.

Get a cat! They are so cool. I loved my cats back when I was a new pet owner. Then I got my dogs and that was even better. But a cat would be fun again now if things settle down. A cat and a dog that are best buddies - a long time dream as material for my photography hobby.

Travel and time off. Plan something, other than agility trips, quarterly. A winter retreat with my special girl Star. St. George this year probably since I can't take more time off to go further. In the accounting field, Dec-Feb is busy (I'm not in tax, it doesn't extend into April). So late Feb/Mar, that would be my Q1 break. Q2 - a birthday trip. Q3 - escape Utah during explosive July and go to upper upper Idaho as long as the family is still there. Get a little towable bedroom to have my own familiar space on my fair weather trips and agility weekends. Q4 - a fall trip to take pictures and enjoy the last of the good weather. Explore those places that I might want to live later.

That's my recipe for a good life. Now go make it happen!

Oh yeah, and enjoy the sunrise every morning on my new commute . . .

2015 The Year in Review

A friend asked me last month if I'd written my annual letter yet. Frankly, with all the recent nonsense, I hadn't even thought about it. But knowing I had a fan out their waiting inspired me to think about it and get it done. In a way, I write these for myself, and that's why they get so long. But I've gotten in the habit of sharing them, as so many of us do with social media these days, and I'm thrilled that others read with interest and care to follow my life's continued adventures. My favorite part, though, is when you write back and I get to hear a little about what you are up to. So here we go - 2015 The Year in Review. And let's get the icky stuff outta the way real quick:

Professional stuff

The PTS from a lousy Oracle implementation continued, as I worked 80 hours a week for 6 months. It wasn't so painful at first because I was working for 2 awesome bosses who appreciated my hard work. Unfortunately, they were taken away from me and people who did not respect me, for some bizarre reason, were put in their places. Still, things were ok, until about half way through the year, when the announcement came that the extended downturn in the mining industry was now predicted to last another couple years. [skipping all the garbage that happened over the next few months blah blah blah blah blah] my job was terminated on December 1.

I had seen the train barreling down the track at me for about 3 months, but the one-way contract I signed when they relocated me to SLC wasn't up for 5 more months, so my hands were a bit shackled with those golden handcuffs. Hedging my bets, I did start applying for jobs in November, and quickly got to the final round for 2 excellent positions by Thanksgiving. However, the following week, I found out that they went with the other candidate in both cases. That was also the week I was officially relinquished of my doodies at my day job. So one could say I lost three jobs that week! (One could also say that the universe had better plans in mind, the first of which being I could now hit the road to spend the holidays with family.)

I took a couple days to mourn the fact that losing the company cafeteria meant that I would now have to prepare three meals a day for myself, and then got down to business. Over the next 3 days, I applied for 10 jobs. Having spent November fine-tuning my resume and developing my process, I was quickly rewarded by invitations to 5 interviews - 50% hit rate. Within a week, I had 2 job offers, both for higher level jobs than I had applied for. This was all a huge relief, as I had hit the pavement with loads of trepidation. You see, my fledgling accounting career had been stalled more than a year before, when the company had chosen to draw instead on the skills from my prior career - software, management, working with folks from India.

Again the universe was looking out for me, and delivered me to a CFO who hired me for the breadth of my experience and my potential, instead of my narrow accounting skills, as less enlightened management types would do. He said, "We need someone like you" - the best words I had heard all year, and he put me into his new Financial Analyst position, something I have not done, but was definitely a great fit for my analytical brain that just wanted to play with numbers all day and take a break from coordinating off-shore colleagues (who are really, really wonderful people that I can definitely call friends after the two years we worked together, even though in the end they got my job after all).

I started my new job the next day, so I could get a few days in before taking a week off for the holidays. The company manufactures institutional chairs and tables (for churches and convention centers, hotels, restaurants, etc) and also has a foot in the medical industry (high end institutional wheel chairs). I'll let you look at my LinkedIn profile if you are curious about the company. It's a mid-size company, which means that I will get to be involved in everything, instead of the huge company I just left where my focus was very narrow. I'm working long hours again starting, but learning a lot and enjoying being respected again by people who are grateful for my hard work.

Home Improvement

Despite the fact that my job was getting iffy just as I had found a contractor who had time to do my yard improvement projects, I pushed ahead, since it had taken some effort to find someone, but mostly because I was tired of being the eyesore of the neighborhood. Hardscaping was employed to reduce the stress of inherited weed patches, and a spiffy new shed was added just for fun.

I also took on a fun little project - building furniture. Someone else had done all the dangerous work - cutting the boards to size. I just had to assemble. But it is something I enjoy doing and I was pleased with the result.


Now let's shift quickly to my favorite topic - my 3 clowns.


Xander started the year confined to a crate after TPLO surgery on his knee to repair his torn ACL. He had never even gotten to start competing and really hadn't trained much for agility, due to the 2014 fun (2 moves and 2 much work). 7 months after his surgery, having carefully rehabilitated his leg with physical therapy and hydrotherapy, I let him start jumping low jumps so we could work on our handling and team work. I had set a goal of Jumpers debut at the Labor Day trial. He had other ideas in mind - even though we blocked off the A-frame so he couldn't get up on it, he pushed around and through all the barricades and started practicing it again. Since he wasn't doing half-bad at his contacts, I decided at the last minute to register him in Standard as well, so we could have more course time together. I'm not sorry at all - things were kinda messy, but it was a good trade-off to get the real life trial exposure.

His very first JWW run was a brilliant Q. Even though our Q rate has been dreadfully low since, each new trial has brought many good things. And there's the rub and the frustration with the sport - my competitive edge gets frustrated with the one or two things that go wrong, and make it hard to celebrate the 15 things he/we do well! Darn it all. But in retrospect, his first 3 months of competition, after very, very limited training time spread out over 2 years, were really fantastic. His enthusiasm for the sport is so inspiring, and his speed - wow! He is developing his own little fan club. I hope I can live up to his potential! (And that the weather and my new job cooperate and still leave me some weekend time for training.) (2 weeks later as I prepare to publish, I can report the weather is NOT cooperating. We're in a pattern of snowing on Thursday night just when a warm couple days would have melted what the dogs hadn't trampled and dirt would have been revealed.)


Here's one way I describe my dogs - when I go to visit my family once or twice a year, I have to take Sunny because they all love him. I have to take Xander because he needs me. And I have to take Star because I need her. She's just my special girl. She is frustrating in agility because she doesn't have much drive, but once she gets her nose out of the ground and starts running, everyone always says she looks like she's having fun. But to me it feels like she could take it or leave it - that her favorite part of a trial is when I take her out of her crate and sit on the grass with her and just hang out. She finally got to Masters level in AKC JWW and STD in 2015, and I might just be satisfied with that. I haven't trained her much since we reached that level in July, since that was when I started putting all the focus on Xander, and as a result we haven't had a very good Q rate since then, although she's only really missed her weaves every time and her a-frame every other time. So the looming question is how much time will I put into her training now, and how much money do I want to continue to spend to keep competing with her. Stay tuned as we will probably end up going back and forth on that a few times this year. I guess I'll take it month by month. When I can get down to the ground in my yard again and start drilling her weaves, things might change.


I suppose my blind boy is a senior citizen now. He could be around 10. He is everybody's favorite. So easy going, always happy, not a care in the world, and fearless even in new places. When we arrived in Idaho for Christmas and he heard my brother's voice, he ran straight towards him, and I didn't see much of him for the next 4 days. My aunt took him out twice a day on walks, and I just fed him. He didn't even sleep with me the last 2 nights. But when it was time to start packing the car, I knew he was still my boy - he stuck real close then, and loaded up as early as he could with the others, just to be sure he wouldn't get left behind.


February - Santa Fe

I suppose the highlight of my year, if there was one, was all the fun trips I got to take. I used up a year and a half of vacation time in 9 months. The first trip was the most anticipated. As I was working those 80 hour weeks, I was looking forward to hitting the road with my special girlie, just she and me, taking a retreat somewhere a little bit warmer. I chose Santa Fe. We didn't do a whole lot - just a little exploring, a couple massages, and a few hikes. The goal for the trip was: no cooking, no alarm clocks, no meetings. It was successful on those counts. We made it down there in one long day, but divided the return trip into 2 days to see the sights. Hiking in Ghost Ranch and taking lots of pictures was the highlight of that day, plus a night in Durango at a really nice dog friendly hotel right on the river, with a patio room that opened up onto the river walk. I would love to make that my retreat destination another year.

April - Sonoma County

Well, if ya gotta turn 50 somewhere, Sonoma County is a nice place to do it. It was a quick in and out trip, with a lot of driving as I flew into Sacramento, spent a night in Nevada City with good friends and their day old litter of poodle puppies, then zipped across the valley to spend the rest of the weekend on my best friend's ranch in Petaluma. Dinner at the coast one night, lunch at a winery the next day, home by dinner the next day, something crazy like that. I haven't been back much since 2008, but that is really the place that feels like home to me, of all the dozen places that I have lived in the past 50 years. The oak studded hills that attracted me so much on 2 trips earlier in my life, never imagining that I would end up living there, are now what call to me on my rare trips back. And I do miss the ocean being so close.

July - Bonners Ferry

After my first July living in Utah, I decided that I would not stay in Utah for July ever again. Fireworks are legal and insane, not just for the week before and after our nation's Independence Day, but also a week before and after the local celebration of Pioneer Days on July 24th. With people pushing the limits on both ends, it becomes about a 6 week long explosion, with many evenings feeling like I live in a war zone. From my comfy chair, I can see a half a dozen major firework shows between those out my back window and those out my front window reflecting off the back windows. And those are just families at their homes, not city shows. The retirement planner in me just cringes to think of all the money that gets literally blown up during those 6 weeks. Fortunately the dogs are not too stressed by it - it bugs me more than them. 

I'm not able to leave for the whole month, but I did get away for about 10 days, taking all dogs and heading up to visit my family in upper, upper Idaho. To add to the excitement, we had a mini family reunion, with 2 aunts and an uncle, and their 2 dogs. 5 dogs in a mountain cabin - everyone was very well behaved and they were all invited back, 4 making the return trip for Christmas. While spending time with family was good, and seeing friends in Spokane for a mock baby dog trial was fun, and seeing friends in Montana for catching up and lots of laughing was good for the soul, I also relish the driving. This time I drove around the top of Lake Ponderay for the first time. I felt like I entered a time warp, stopping so many times to take pictures - around every corner was another dramatic panorama - the lakes, the rivers, the mountains - ah! Sorry, P&J, late for happy hour again.

October - Yosemite

No dogs got to come on this trip, and it was another whirlwind tour, another feast for the senses and the camera. I headed south from SLC and saw St. George for the first time - that's a favorite get-away destination for the locals so I was curious what all the fuss was about. It is beautiful red rock country, and warmer than northern Utah. Cruising on through there, I arrived in Las Vegas and spent a lovely evening catching up with another old friend. Hitting the road again the next morning, I spent most of the day driving through Death Valley - up and down and up and down - from below sea level to the tops of mountains - but that was just the beginning. After hitting 395, I still had to get past Mammoth and into Yosemite and out the other side to meet my Twin, who was attending a photography workshop for the weekend and invited me to share the hotel room and do my own thing all day long. The scenery the whole way from Death Valley and the next day in the park, and the next day driving back east through the park again was orgasmic. Something to stop and take a picture of around every next corner. It was still late summer, early fall out in the rest of the west, but in the Sierras winter was arriving - it was the first winter snow that weekend. To cap off that day, we drove around June Lake to take in some fall color, and then hit Bodie at the last hour of daylight, because it's just something I have to do every 10 years or so. After a short night in Bridgeport, and a long day across Nevada, I was safely home again, and done traveling for the year.

Or so I thought. . .

December - Bonners Ferry

As I felt the end of my employment looming, I told my mother that if I got laid off, I'd come for the holidays. And that, my friends, must be why I didn't get those first 2 jobs - so that I could honor my commitment to spend Christmas up north. So once again, load up all 3 dogs, and connect with my aunt and uncle driving from San Diego and covering many of the same miles. I felt like I was driving for 2, or 7, as I shepherded all of us safely 800 miles each way, through the cold wilderness of Utah, Idaho, Montana and Idaho (funny shaped state). Waking up to 14 below in Idaho Falls the last morning was the low point of the trip, temperature wise. Delivering everyone safely was the high point. I was pretty sure once we reached our northern destination that the San Diegans were going to park the car and not leave again until spring, but they strapped wire cages on their shoes and hit the road with me to head back down south.


2016 is a milestone year in a couple ways that come to mind. It will be 10 years since I jumped off the cliff - leaving my 20 year career/family at EEsof/Agilent/HP to pursue a second career (personal financial advising), which ultimately turned into a third career (corporate accounting). I certainly did not anticipate that it would take 10 years to feel like I had finally gotten back professionally to where I left off 10 years ago, but then I didn't anticipate such a complete world-wide financial melt-down a couple years into it which drastically changed the landscape.

I write a lot when I'm driving, scribbles on a stack of notepads that I sometimes can't even read later. But driving on potentially icy roads, I can't do that. When I got back from my holiday trip last week, I had only written one deep thought - "make the next 20 years great". I guess I'm feeling that this is the beginning of "the next stage". There are lots of things to consider that have my mind spinning now - I'm sure you'll get to read all about them in the next few years.

So, what will 2016 be like? 

More agility, and growing enjoyment of local agility friends. I've fallen in with a few different groups, and am even getting a little off-course social life out of it. I was also elected to the position of treasurer for Salty Dogz Agility Club of Utah. Between that and my day job, I'll have my fill of numbers. And I'm still the Medical Intake Coordinator for Safe Harbor Lab Rescue, since 2010, so I get a little more spreadsheet action there as I do my weekly report on the medical status of approximately 30 dogs in the program at any given time.

Dogs - just hope they stay healthy. But if we do tear another ACL, we at least know the routine and won't wait as long to get the surgery this time. And if we do earn a few more titles - icing on the cake. We'll be out there having fun, with or without those Qs, trying to focus on all the good stuff in each run, and having a party at the end of each run so my dogs know that I love running with them.

Travel - definitely not as much as last year. CA will hopefully come to UT this year, and I'll plan for my Idaho trip to escape July. Other than that, the work schedule might only allow for a long agility weekend here and there. 

Home Improvement - This one has my head spinning right now. I really don't want to live in a 6 bedroom house (thanks Utah for leaving me few other options for having a nice sized yard). I have some more yard projects I'd like to do this year, and the landscaper is coming next week to help with formalize some of my ideas and give me something to dream about during those Thursday night snowstorms and weekends indoors.

I apologize for not taking the time to insert some of my favorite photos. I post those frequently on Facebook, so if you are a FB person and we are not connected, please find me there.

So, dear friends, especially those who I don't follow on Facebook, if you've made it all the way through here to the end, thanks for reading, and please return to the email that delivered this to you and let me know how things are in your world.

And, of course, be well and happy in 2016.