Seedlings in seed starter kit

Getting the Garden Started for Spring, Late

Ah, the month of April. It comes in fits and starts – cruelly tempting you with hot warm days full of sunshine, and then punishing your optimism by swinging violently back into winter. This past weekend we had a much needed injection of sunshine and heat, getting up to 80F and just as quickly this Monday we dropped 50F and had sleet and snow, continuing on into today.

But while we did have the nice weather, we took advantage. We spent lots of time outside with our son, walking around the neighborhood, chasing him around the yard. And while he and his pregnant mother napped, I took the time to get the vegetable garden ready.

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Amazon Warehouse in Spain

Paid to Quit

I happened to run into an article on CNN Money about a little nugget they read in a letter from Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. Amazon is announcing publicly that they have a program where they actually pay warehouse employees to quit. Well, sort of.

The plan actually is one that stems from a company Amazon acquired long ago: Zappos. In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, they are an online shoe retailer. And I recall reading years back that they actually had this same “benefit”. They would periodically offer employees a contract to quit for a small bonus. Looks like Amazon has taken that policy and extended it to it’s warehouse employees as well. The thinking is that it helps eliminate people who aren’t really motivated to work anymore. The offer starts at $2000 and is made after a year with the company. Then each year they offer you again bumping it up another $1,000, until a max offer amount of $5,000.

The idea sounds neat to me, and it certainly would make employees take a moment to pause each year and re-evaluate if the job is really worth it. The question becomes how beneficial it is to the employer (Amazon) to make these offers. Presumably they’ve done some studies in-house to confirm that a replacement worker who is more motivated is worth the buyout amount to the previous employee who became demotivated?

The idea isn’t too far-fetched when compared to the traditional buy-outs that companies have offered senior employees to help get rid of their salaries and replace them with younger, cheaper labor. The only wrinkle here is that the motivation for these buyouts presumably isn’t to replace these workers with younger, cheaper versions – but to replace them with fresher, more enthused employees.

Monopoly board

Monopoly House Rules

Not sure if anyone else caught the news last week: Hasbro is calling for submission of house rules that people typically institute when they play. In their press release they list a number of pretty common house rules that people play by – though I have to admit I’ve never played with most of those rules.

My family used to play board games during the summer months when we had a rainy day. I always loved Monopoly the most. I’m not really sure why, but I did tend to win it the most. (OK, I admit it – that’s exactly why I liked it the most). Who knows, maybe it was a good predictor of my turning into a landlord later in life?

When we learned to play we never read the instructions. We played on a set that had the remains of at least three old sets: plenty of cash with the same denomination having multiple shades (they tweaked the colors over time), duplicates of pieces and a handful of them missing, and a ton of houses and hotels. So it’s safe to say, we pretty much never played by the real rules. With our amped up bank holdings and property supply we tended to get into some long epic battles. We also never played by the rule to auction off properties not bought when landed upon. We could play Monopoly over the course of an entire rainy weekend and still not be done. For the record, I typically chose the cannon or shoe. We lost the top hat and race car, and sadly the cannon is no longer a standard piece.

Out of that list, we tried out the “See the Sights” rule where players must do a lap of the board once before buying – but that rules never stuck.  But our house rules tended to consist of Free Parking, Fast Cash and the Frozen Assets Rule. That taxes and fees collect int he middle of the board and get redeemed when landing on free parking; and that jailed players couldn’t collect rent, respectively.

Slate has an interesting take on the plans to move some house rules to become actual rules for Monopoly. They cite an economist who argues the freer money supply encouraged by many rules better mimics the real world economy and leads to a less conservative playing approach. If that’s the case, he would have loved our cash-a-palooza version cobbled together from multiple sets worth of money.

Any of you guys have your own odd take on the Monopoly rules?

20_dollar_bill

Payday Loans… From Your Local Post Office?

There’s a world of poverty out there surrounding us and most people in the middle class never run into it. I didn’t even know it existed until my 20′s when I saw the signs driving through the poorer sections of the city: Payday Loans. Rent to Own. Pawn Shops. Cash 4 Gold. We see it all the time now. When the recession hit, it seemed like every other commercial was for some company claiming to pay top dollar for your gold jewelry. Continue reading

Baby at ~8 weeks

Expecting

My son is now just shy of 15 months old. Two years ago, when my wife and I learned that she was pregnant, I was flooded by a number of emotions. We had both decided to try and we each wanted a family – but I can remember very clearly that the largest emotion I felt was stress. I didn’t need a monitor to tell me – I knew my blood pressure was through the roof. I took lots of walks to try and clear my head. It was obvious, and I couldn’t hide it from my wife. How do you fix a head filled with angst and anxiety about the unknown that lies ahead?

We had talked at length about having a baby – starting a family. I wanted it more than anything. In fact, that’s why my first marriage ended, after my ex-wife decided post-wedding that she no longer had any intentions to start a family. So why the heck was I so stressed?

Well, looking back, I can say it was just a monumentally scary thing to me. I would be responsible for another life, forever. Over time that stress level faded some and as we reached his birth the day-to-day, minute-to-minute business of taking care of him made those larger fears disappear. I was too busy changing diapers and trying to calm my little banshee to worry much about if I’d do a good job raising a good, self-sufficient man. I tend to worry and plan for the long-term, but the immediacy of the short-term crowded out those concerns.

And, even a year back I would have laughed hard when asked by family members if we intended to have another. Let’s face it – having a baby is like jumping into the deep end without ever learning to swim first. For months we were drowning in a sea of screams, burps and vomits. Our little man had a temper from the day he was born. It took him a while to adjust to life on the outside. I can admit he drove his parents to tears more than a few times.

And then we endured the fits and starts towards sleep. We expected the three hour shifts of feeding, changing and sleeping as a newborn. What we didn’t expect was the broken sleep to continue for quite so long. My wife and I traded off shifts, weary soldiers passing in the night. He’d suddenly sleep long stretches, sometimes even for 8 straight hours! Taunting us into thinking we’d made it through. And the next day he’d wake up every hour. He went through a period where he lost his pacifier every 15 minutes and wasn’t able to find or replace it himself. Those were some long nights.

At seven months, the skies cleared and suddenly he was happy, healthy and sleeping well. Our son, who had driven us to tears was suddenly the happiest, cutest, most adorable little boy we had ever seen. His temper turned out to be a small part of his strong passionate streak – he can get angry, certainly, but much more often he’s happy. Incredibly, adorably happy. Coming from two parents who aren stoic, it is amazing to see how he is just full of smiles and joy. And it’s contagious.

When he gets excited over a new toy he runs in place doing his “happy feet”. When he sees anyone he recognizes, or even any stranger who smiles at him? He flashes a gigantic smile, his round cheeks jutting out behind his pacifier. He chases our cats around, giggling at them and playing peek-a-boo through the pet door down to the basement. He has the most adorable, infectious laugh – and he loves me to wrestle with him and chase him around and tickle him. I cannot get enough of that laugh, it can wash away the stresses and problems of a thousand years’ worries. He is the love of our lives.

So, it is with tremendous happiness that my wife and I are announcing that we’re expecting another baby later this year. No long walks, no high blood pressure this time. I have my little man to chase and tickle to remind me that there’s no reason to worry. It may be difficult and it may take some time. But it will all be worth it and more.