Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why We're Moving to Portland

Fifteen years ago, in the summer of 2000, Rob and Rachel had just graduated from George Fox University in Newberg, OR with idealistic dreams of changing the world. We had completed our degrees in International Business & Economics and were ready to start careers in “something international” (as I used to say). Shortly after graduation, Rob’s first job was as the China program director for International Family Services, a large international adoption agency and relief and development organization. And Rachel: she walked into the Portland headquarters of Mercy Corps for an informational meet & greet. At that point in time, Mercy Corps was a large $129M Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with 1,400 staff members worldwide that distributed food, shelter, health care, and job training in the world’s most challenging places. They went where no one else would go.
Rachel asked her Mercy Corps escort: “How do I get a job here?” And the Mercy Corps response, in my colloquial tone, went something like this:
“Silly 21-year old idealistic girl! Everyone wants to work here. We turn down Harvard resumes every day!” [long dramatic pause … I’m sure there was a long pause] “Look, okay. Theoretically if you really wanted to work here you need to do two things: #1 Go Abroad. Live overseas in a humanitarian aid capacity. If you can survive a couple of years overseas, our recruiters will take your resume more seriously. And #2 Learn a Trade. We don’t hire idealistic people, we hire professionals to fill specific roles. IT, accounting, project management. When you get those two things down, come back and we’ll see what we can do.”
As a specific result of this conversation, later that very same month Rachel and I filled out our Peace Corps applications. Now life, of course, is much more complex: we drove to Seattle to meet with the regional Peace Corps recruiter who explained to us that if we weren’t married, there was virtually no chance that we’d be in the same hemisphere together. So about a year later, in September 2001, we got married and re-applied. Take that! In fact we drove back to Seattle, met with the very same Peace Corps recruiter, and slammed our marriage certificate on his desk. He rolled his eyes (I can’t recall specifically but I’m sure he did this), congratulated us on our perseverance, and sent us on our way oversees. In May of 2002 we began our 2+ years of service in Romania. That’s another story. Two years is a long time and a lot happened in Romania. But here are the key points as they relate to the rest of the story:
Point #1: Rachel, who had settled on “accounting” as her trade to develop, began researching graduate schools for accounting, so that she could be eligible to sit for her CPA. These grad schools require prerequisites, so…
Point #2: Rachel took two correspondence prerequisite courses in finance and calculus from US universities to become eligible for grad schools. She also needed to take the GMAT, so…
Point #3: Rachel studied for, and dominated the GMAT. She actually traveled to Bucharest and took the test. She really dominated the GMAT, I am still to this day very impressed.
Point #4: Even before our COS (close of service) in Romania, Rachel had been accepted to all three grad schools she applied to, and we settled on The University of Texas at Austin: the #1 accounting program in the country.
Not to discount myself, in parallel to all of this I (Rob) am plotting a new course that will pivot me from a career path in international econ to a new path in corporate America (not sure what happened to me in Romania!). So I too am taking correspondence courses and GRE/GMAT tests in Romania. Eventually I too get into my dream school at Rice University, earn an MBA in finance, and eventually land my dream job in corporate finance at Starbucks. But anyway…
Life is complex and meandering, just like this story. Rachel thrives in the UT Austin accounting program, earning not just great grades and an internship and full-time job offer with Deloitte, but also by developing deep and lasting friendships with her colleagues. I supported Rachel financially by working once again as China Program Director, remotely from a small apartment in Austin, Texas. In return, Rachel agrees to move with me to Houston, even though she preferred to move back home to Portland, so that I can complete my two year MBA at Rice. Rachel studies for and passes her 4 CPA exams the very first time while in Houston.
After my grad school we move for my job from Houston to Seattle-Tacoma. Even though Rachel prefers to be in Portland, she agrees to move for my job. I quickly landed my dream job at Starbucks and Rachel begins a new career at Russell Investments.
Eight years pass. We have developed deep roots. I’ve grown tremendously as a corporate finance professional at Starbucks, and Rachel has developed into progressively more and more complex roles at Russell. We’ve become parents to two boys who only know life in Tacoma. We get planted into our community in the North End of Tacoma. We are members of the PTA, we have incredibly close friendships, a church, social lives, a community. Life is really, really good. We truly love where we are in life. We see ourselves growing forever in Seattle-Tacoma. End of story, right!?
And then, life gets in the way.
That’s how I remember Star Trek 2 anyway

We are perfectly content in Tacoma. But on occasion we put our feelers out there to see what incredibly insane career opportunities are out there. On a lark Rachel sees that Mercy Corps has a Corporate Controller role open, and she applies. I am not surprised when they contact her for a phone screen. She is, after all, qualified and brilliant. I am not, therefore, surprised when she has her first phone interview. (Although now I am starting to get a little nervous).
A few days later, her phone interview was a success and she is asked to meet the CFO and the team in Portland, and now I’m starting to panic. “I love my life! I love my job. I love my kid’s elementary school and being walking distance to Metropolitan Market!”
A week later, her interview with the team and with the CFO goes great, and they are asking when she can start. I am not too gracefully freaking out internally and externally. I am beginning the Five Stages of Grief. But as I am processing, I am logically sensing that this opportunity is the one opportunity, out of thousands, that would actually convince us to uproot ourselves from “the good life” and move back home to Portland. With time and lots of prayer, I eventually become supportive, and then actually excited for this opportunity.
In the fifteen years since she visited Mercy Corps, it is now over 2x larger, with over $300M in annual revenue and over 4,000 staff around the world helping the most disenfranchised people in the world’s toughest places. In coming full circle after 15 years, this isn’t just some feel-good idealistic job that Rachel is taking, it’s the one role that would cause us to do what we’re doing. It’s a promotion of responsibility and a recognition of the 15 years of methodical development that she has invested to get her to this point.
And as we are beginning to bifurcate ourselves from our lives in Seattle-Tacoma, the Lord keeps opening door after door: we find a beautiful new place to live in Lake Oswego, OR. We find a couple of potential preschools for Greyson, we find the great school for Jude and begin to transfer. And importantly with Starbucks, they are being very supportive. All of these separate aspects of a stressful move come instantly into focus and settle into place.
Starbucks is letting me work remotely in Portland starting mid-August, and is allowing me to stay on through the end of the fiscal year, and perhaps a bit longer as needed by both parties. This gives me the time to focus on the family and not on finding a new job. Everyone I’ve spoken with at Starbucks is excited, sad and understanding that this is a difficult move given all that we’ve been through together (yes, it’s like a relationship!). I’m leaving my dream job so that Rachel can have her dream job.
I tell this meandering story for two reasons. #1: Because I want you to understand the methodical 15+ years-worth of steps Rachel and I have taken together to get us specifically to this place in time that sees us moving to Portland, and #2: Because I want you to understand that we don’t take the decision to move away from our life in Seattle-Tacoma lightly. It was a gut-wrenching decision. Despite that this was the right opportunity for us, we still struggled to accept it. At times we second guessed ourselves and had to reassure one another that this was the right decision. We had to take a step back and look at the arc that was set into motion 15 years ago, and to say “this feels like the right thing to do.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Letter 2004

A blast from the past... Trying to find all of our Christmas letters from prior years. I've found about 5 of them. I know there are about 6-7 more out there and I'm still searching. This one is from 2004.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Friday, August 01, 2014

Price vs Volume Calculation

Entering this here so that I don't forget. I seem to use this often these days!


Volume effect = (new volume – old volume) x original price
Price effect = (new price – old price) x new volume


Courtesy of http://blog.treadwellmedia.com/archives/13

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Frozen is the best movie of all time

Maybe it's party talking, or the fact that my kids and Rachel are out of town at the moment, but I am feeling very nostalgic about the movie Frozen. When your kids or family is away, the "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" song suddenly becomes a sad and lonely melancholy melody.

A week or so ago the four of us got in the car to rent Frozen from the local Redbox. The first Redbox we visited was out. We went to 4 more Redboxes around Tacoma, then Safeway and then the local video store, but they were all out! So we rented on Amazon. The whole family instantly loved it. Including Jude, who originally thought he was going to hate it. The next day Jude and I went to Best Buy and bought the DVD. We all watched it again that night. Then the next morning. Then a couple more times. Then again this past weekend!

At the same time we've also been listening to the Soundtrack on Spotify dozens and dozens of times. Greyson knows most of the words. Jude keeps replaying "Let It Go," over and over again. It's the cutest whole-family bonding movie we've ever experienced!

As I was doing some research into Frozen, the story became so much more fascinating: That it took Disney decades to bring it to fruition. That the the songwriting team that developed such memorable melodies was actually a young husband and wife couple. That a young composer (Cristophe Beck) wrote such a beautiful sweeping score. And that a young mom (Jennifer Lee) made a mid-career switch to storytelling and became the award-winning director. And who knew Kristen Bell could sing!

I love that our whole family loves this movie. Maybe it's that I'm all by myself this evening but thinking about what a great time our family has together watching Frozen makes me really miss them...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Note to Self: Don't Forget to Add These Stories

The allure of Facebook and Twitter is that it makes posting microscopic updates simple. It makes us lazy humans. No more thoughtful (longwinded) blog posts... so as the months progress I need to remind myself to update this blog for the following stories:

1) The cost of buying 1/2 a pig and 1/4 cow from a local farm. There isn't a lot of good information on what you get for your money, and knowing this, I specifically maintained pictures and weights of the boxes of final meat vs the originally quoted weight. Plus "before" and "after" prices to provide a good point of reference between buying your own cow vs purchasing piecemeal at the local supermarket.

2) Rachel's 35th birthday party in which a dozen or so of our awesome Tacoma friends celebrated her with food and music. The no-contest highlight of the evening was at the local music venue when the band asked for all ladies with birthdays to come on stage (nice coincidence). Rachel walked on stage with well over a hundred loud and boisterous Tacoma Gen X'ers looking on, and proceeded to back-up sing Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me. I have pictures! Not because I want to embarrass Rachel. Quite the opposite. I want to celebrate her beauty and youth and sense of fun for future generations. Rachel is not just a super mom and finance / accounting / project manager / process improvement super star nerd brainiac, but she is also a dancing and singing and partying queen!

3) Greyson's 2nd visit to the ER for yet another head wound. Can you believe it!? That boy has a target on his head. Actually this is a good story because we learned from our mistakes the first time we went to the ER and paid something like $1500 out of pocket. This time we went to Urgent Care which was (a) faster, (b) less stressful, and (c) $200 or $300 total out of pocket.

4) Christmas? Not sure if any good stories this past Christmas. I seem to recall it was nice and calm. Oh, actually, the cool story of this past Christmas is this: We stayed at our home in Tacoma. A concious decision on my part not to head down to Oregon when we were down there for Thanksgiving and we were about to go down there for New Years. So Christmas morning was very nice and pleasant. But once the gifts were unwrapped, Christmas suddenly got very boring. Very boring. What do you do!? Well, at around 1:00pm, I suddenly told Rachel, "hey, let's go down to Portland. If we leave in the next 45 minutes we can still have dinner with your family." So I booked a cheap hotel and we loaded the kids up and were gone 45 minutes later. I love being spontaneous and I appreciate Rachel's flexibility and spirit of adventure.

5) Nanny tax spreadsheet. I created a super handy nanny tax payroll tracker that also includes the amounts to include in your quarterly 941 schedules and year-end W2. It is a super awesome one-page spreadsheet for the "do-it-yourself" household employer. In fact, if it takes me a while to update this story with more information and you happen to land on this blog randomly in the meantime and you'd like a copy of this, then just send me an e-mail and I'll e-mail you this spreadsheet directly.

6) Others?.....

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bread and Christmas

Oh Christmas breads. I love thee. Stollen. Panettone. Babka. Marzipan filling. Without you Christmas would be much less tasty. Other things I love about Christmas: vin fiert (Romanian for "hot wine" - or "Mulled Wine" as we would call it in America). Wood fires. Random community holiday events. Random church holiday events. Santa. The excitement of seeing Christmas through the eyes of my three-year old and five-year old boys. But European-style Christmas breads. For me personally you can't really enjoy the holidays unless you have a couple wonderful Christmas breads.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rachel's 2013 Convoy of Hope

I am very proud of Rachel. Six months ago she was asked to participate on the 20-person planning committee as the asst treasurer for the Convoy of Hope's Tacoma event. Off and on for six months she's been meeting and planning with a local team of volunteers after work hours. Well today the Convoy of Hope event seems to have been a nearly complete success. 1000 volunteers and 7000 people took over Mt Tahoma high school in S Tacoma. Participants received free groceries, school supplies, lunch, shoes, family pictures, haircuts, music events, medical and dental check-ups, kids fun area... Probably a lot more too. I happened to stop by and was in sheer amazement at the scope of this event. There were police managing traffic. It was a big deal. It is clear the community need was very great and much appreciated. I'm proud of Rachel and her scrappy team for helping to plan and execute such an enormous community event. I love you, Rachel!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Iced Coffee

My (Rob's) current favorite drink of choice is iced coffee, followed closely by drip coffee. Both with cream. Sugar is optional. There are a lot of friends and acquaintances who assume because I work for SBUX that I must drink 20 free caramel white chocolate mochas every day. I admit I did something like this at first. That phase lasted for a month or two, then graduated to simply coffee.

I think this is the sort of casual anecdote that is best served on Twitter or Facebook. But I suppose I was feeling a bit verbose.

Friday, July 19, 2013

ER Visit: Cash vs Insurance (or "An Illustration of US Healthcare Cost Madness")

Following up from a prior blog post (Greyson's head wound ER visit). The following illustration shows the difficult, almost roulette-like choices you have to make during a stressful health crisis. Choices without data, without information, without prices.

If you find yourself at the Emergency Room and you are deciding whether or not to hand over your insurance card, or whether to spin the wheel and hope paying in cash costs less, consider the following metrics:
  • Issue: Toddler gets a cut in his forehead. To make it sound worse, let's call it a 2-inch head laceration.
  • Treatment: 2 minute application of super-glue to laceration + otter pop.
  • Total full price: Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, WA charged $1,988 for the "facility" charge plus $142 for the "ER visit" plus $315 for something called "Superficial wound fac professional fee" for a grand total of $2,445.
  • Payment Decision: You know, or you think, or you hope that you're correct that you read somewhere long ago that nobody pays full price. Door # 1: Do you use your high-deductible ($5K deductible) Blue Cross health insurance knowing that they won't pay anything, but also knowing (or hoping) that you would likely (hopefully) benefit from their implicit "hospital/insurance company negotiated hand-shake discount"? Door # 2: Do you spin the roulette wheel and just say to the doctor treating your child and the administrator with the guffawed look on her face that "I'm not giving you my insurance card. Just bill me after the service is performed and hope that I pay up."
So what do you do? First of all, you should not have gone to the ER in the first place. That was your first mistake. Never go to the ER ever ever ever. But since you are already here, you do the logical thing and hand over your insurance card. You go down the insurance path. So how did it all turn out? See below:
  • Total Patient Cost with Insurance: $2,445 full price - $871 "Blue Cross Members Discount" = $1,574. Ouch! Should have told your toddler to stop whining and walk it off.
  • Total Patient Cost without Insurance: $2,445 full price * 60% (aka, 40% Mary Bridge's standard "we take pity on uninsured freeloading bastards of society" cash discount) = $1,467. Congratulations! Despite paying almost $1,500 for a simple cut wound, you can take a trifle of solace in your assiduity and risk-taking which saved you $107. Of course, you would not know that you saved $107 because you never opened up Door # 1 because transparent pricing was never available to you. So you still probably feel like you were taken advantage of.
I think the key takeaway here is that in the bizarro world of healthcare costs, you really have no idea what you are getting into. You can be as smart as a whip. You can pre-plan and call your insurance company to see what your benefits include. You can do everything humanly possible, but you cannot tear the veil of secrecy between the healthcare provider, insurance company and patient.

If we had price transparency in healthcare the way we have nutritional value labels on cereal, we could probably reduce our healthcare consumption in half.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

One Hundred and Sixty One

What is the largest fathomable number in the universe? According to Jude it's 161. As in, "Dad how fast can a dragster go? Can it go 161 miles per hour?" Or "Aww, we're never going to get there. It's like 161 miles away." Or "I want 161 bouncy houses."

For the littler Greyson, the biggest possible number is 61. As in, "Mom I see 61 cows," and "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle 61 bells all the way!"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Recollections For My Dad: A Modern Renaissance Man

Happy Father’s Day 2013 to my dad. I am so proud of him. He lives in Texas and I live in Washington so we don’t see each other more than 1 or 2 times a year. We really miss each other. If I could live in the same city as my dad then I would be perfectly content. We would do all sorts of crazy things and he would teach his grandsons life skills that someone growing up in the 60s learned. He is a Renaissance Man of many many skills and qualities. He is literally (not figuratively) a CEO, a pastor, a writer, a scholar, a carpenter, a world traveler, an ambassador, and a deeply devoted husband of 30+ years and father to 10 children. I sometimes say that I grew up in a “Cosby Family” situation where the parents and the kids all love each other deeply. No major drama, just the manifestation of the idealistic Rockwellian American Family.

Below are some recollections of my dad from my childhood. This is not comprehensive. It’s a living list and I hope to update it from time to time:
  • I remember my dad’s 30th birthday. It was at Camp Tillicum. Now that I am something like 35 or 36 (I literally can’t remember), the fact that I remember my dad’s 30th birthday is pretty impressive. He was just a little kid back then!
  • I remember as kids going to parks with my dad.
  • He was a professional trumpet player for a bit. He would tell me fun stories of his glory days in his 20s when he could hit a triple E. He would recall a song played at Azusa Pacific University with a choir. The choir began “And the trumpets all sound! …” and dad responded with some fun high notes. I can sing the tune in my head courtesy of his story.
  • I remember as kids my dad putting out the tarp and camping under the stars in the Redwood forest.
  • I remember going deep sea fishing a few times off the California coast.
  • I remember as kids when our house caught on fire in Oregon City. I was 4 years old. When my mom and my sisters returned to see the house in an enormous fireball. I ran across the street, towards the inferno. The firemen and police assumed I was running to the house to sacrifice myself to save a toy or some such nonsense. I remember thinking how dumb their perception of me was. I was simply running across the street because that’s where dad was standing.
  • I remember as a kid driving home one day when my dad was so beside himself with frustration at my sister Jennifer’s pre-teen dramatics. He warned her, “you stop or I’ll stop this car and lick you!” When Jen kept it up he stopped the car and literally licked her. Not in the figurative “hitting” sense. Literally licked her cheek. Kelleigh was stunned. Jen was sooo grossed out that she stopped her histrionics and the rest of the car ride home was light and jovial. Problem solved! I’ll never forget that.
  • I remember in high school when my dad and I performed Christmas carols in front of the church for Christmas Eve service. Just a trumpet and a sax.
  • I remember in junior high my dad stepped up and coached my little league team because no one else was going to do it.
  • I remember my dad sending me post cards and letters every day when he took a 30-day trip to Nigeria. I think I was 9 or 10 years old. They were my connection to my dad when he was 5000 miles away. To this day those are some of the very very few personal mementos I’ve kept for 20+ years.
  • I remember my dad co-writing a manual for how to start a church from scratch. “The Phone’s For You.” Probably wouldn’t fly in today’s cell phone and privacy-conscious society, but cutting edge in its time. And I remember he didn’t get any credit for it, but his family knew and was very impressed.
  • I remember my dad, as a pastor and itinerant pastor, giving the same “Ordinary People” message dozens upon dozens of times. And each time he sang “God uses ordinary people just like you and me…” And each time his ethos and credibility totally worked on the audience.
  • I remember buying him an Eddie Bauer watch for father’s day one year. And there’s a funny story about that on my blog.
  • I remember how adventurous he was, despite having no money in our early days, he and my mom always took us camping and on road trips. Grand Canyon, Glacier, Florida, Idaho… My dad could drive almost 24 hours straight just to avoid staying at a motel. And then in his 40s and 50s he discovered Priceline and suddenly he consistently stopped his cross country trips at 4pm each day just so he could enjoy an evening swim at a cheap hotel. Enjoying life, one evening at a time!
  • I remember my dad being incredibly, incredibly entrepreneurial. He was a pastor, a teacher, a trumpet player, I think he was a bus driver (or maybe that was Grandpa?), he started a carpet business, he started churches (lots of them! How many, dad?), he started an international adoption agency, he sold sound systems to churches, he bought and repaired and sold dozens of houses. I’m sure I’m forgetting many interesting other ventures.
  • In my estimation my dad has always been indefatigable. He never runs out of energy. Sometimes to his kids annoyance: “Why can’t we just sit here and watch TV?” Dad: “No, get off your lazy butts and let’s go on the lake!”
  • My dad, who to his own admission was an extremely average student with self-described poor literary skills, later developed into an extraordinary writer. He recently wrote about my sister Angela’s adoption in “A Stormy Night in Bucharest.” Available on his company’s website: http://ifservices.org/about-us-2/
  • Speaking of his years managing an international adoption agency, I am amazed and impressed by his harrowing tales of travel to Eastern Europe, Asia and Central America. As a leader in the adoption and non-profit industries, his many hundreds of international trips have often led to some boarder and immigration confusion as to whether or not he was a diplomat or spy.
  • I remember getting food poisoning with dad in Guangzhou, China in 1999 at either the hole-in-the-wall kitchen where we ate poisonous snake and dog for lunch, or at the beautiful dinner buffet at the White Swan Hotel that evening. Either way… what a night. No fun for anyone. But a great story thereafter.
  • I remember back in around 1985 when my dad – about 32 years old … younger than I am today – and the rest of the family is packed into our nasty 1983 Chevrolet station wagon. We called it the tuna boat. And for some reason it was during the one year when the paint was stripped off and it was covered in ugly grey primer paint. Not sure the story here, but suffice to say we were very poor and it was the 80s. So here we are in “classy” Southern California. A big family in a beater tuna boat with Oregon license plates. I was in the little tiny seat in the back that faces the opposite direction (like the Brian Regan skit minute 1:40). Some teenager on a BMX hits our car with his fist. My dad yells out “You Jerk!” And the ballsy teenager peddles back to the car and yells at my dad something like, “Take your family back to Oregon,” and my dad grabs his arm and says something like, “If you don’t go away right now I’ll break your arm.” And boy do I remember the look of fear in that young man’s eyes. I was proud of my dad and that perpetuated the “my dad can beat up your dad” childhood banter.
  • Dad is an “extroverted introvert.” He is a pastor, a church leader, a board member, a speaker, he is comfortable talking in front of thousands of people, he is a social networker, he loves to bring people together and nurture relationships. And yet he loves to relax and recharge in the evenings to prepare him for another day of being a World Changer.
There is so much more about my dad than could possibly be captured here. He loves his family and would do anything for them. If he were Walter Bishop he would create a machine to travel to a parallel universe if it meant showing them that he loved them.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!