Friday, January 29, 2010

What Career Security Means to Me

Earlier this week I started a long term post series to cover the topic of Career Security. Today I would like to explore my definition of Career Security in more detail. The definition I previously used (which I expect to refine over time) is:
You have career security if you feel that should you lose your job you will be able to secure a similar or better one within a reasonable amount of time, without loss of income and without unreasonable personal discomfort.
Let me me discuss each of these four elements in more detail:

Similar or Better Job - obviously, this is a matter of personal judgement and opinion. I am not satisfied with a job that simply pays the bills. I want to do something that allows me to use what I consider my skills and talents. For example, while some would consider there to be a minor difference between business development and sales, I would not be happy if I could only land a sales position in the event I lost my business development job. Many people love salesbut I am not one of them, and therefore being able to get such a position would not address my needs for career security. For others, such similarity between the two roles would satisfy the conditions for career security.

Reasonable Amount of Time - time is a critical factor in career security. Most of us would be unwilling and, more importantly, would be economically unable, to wait five years to land our dream job. The amount of time one must spend job hunting varies greatly between industries, between position types, and of course tends to increase with the seniority of the position which you are trying to land. Obviously, the economic environment at the time of your job search is also a critical factor in the amount of time you must spend to land a job. You only have career security if you can land another job that meets your criteria within the time you can afford to spend searching.

Without Loss of Income - at the end of the day, we all work to get paid. Being able to trade your job for one that pays you less would not be adequate from a career security perspective. Having career security means that if you happen to lose your job you can reasonably expect to move "sideways" or "up" in the next position you line up. Being forced to take a demotion due to job loss means that you do not have career security.

Without Unreasonable Personal Discomfort - once again, a subjective judgment call. For me, having career security means that if I lost my job, I could find another one in Northern California. Yes, I am sure I could find a job somewhere in the world, but I don't want to relocate my family. For others moving to a different state or continent is no big deal, but being required to constantly travel on business in not acceptable. Your own criteria for unreasonable personal discomfort may vary. Having career security means that you can easily find another position that suits your personal requirements.

In my next post on the topic of career security, I will examine the various reasons that job security in the US has virtually disappeared. These can provide important clues about one can achieve career security. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't Listen to Me. I Don't Listen to Me.

Earlier this week I spoke with a friend and happened to mention that I think we are due for a substantial correction in the stock market. I am one of those who was expecting a fairly strong economic recovery to take hold, but over the last month or two I have been less optimistic. For one thing, I think that the stock market rally is overdone. For another, I feel that things are getting somewhat shakier, but I can't quite place my finger on the reason for this. It feels like there is another shoe out there somewhere and it may be getting ready to drop. Sovereign debt default somewhere in the world (Greece? Iceland?); an overheated Chinese economy cooling down? Continued weakness in the US housing sector? Or is it simply the fact that the stock market bounced up too sharply and too high over the past 10 months? I have no idea. I just know that I don't feel all that well about the prospects for the economy in the short term.

I previously shared these concerns with my friend, but to my surprise he seems to have acted on my doubts. He told me that after he recently lost his job, he rolled his 401K into an IRA but is holding the money in a money market fund, waiting for whatever pull-back in the stock market to occur before putting it back to work.

I was aghast. "Are you insane?" I asked him. Why would he listen to me? I don't listen to me. Yes, I talk about my feelings regarding the economy. I speculate about investment strategies and about the state of the stock market, but I never follow my own advice. My money is invested in index funds, precisely because I don't trust my own judgment and hunches enough to put my money where my mouth is. In fact, if he were to listen to me about anything it should be about the following statement: you can't beat the market, and market timing is a particularly bad form of guessing. The investment strategy that I follow is a simple one: small, regular purchases into index funds that cover my desired asset allocation.

After our talk, my friend decided to divide the money in his newly rolled out IRA into 12 equal parts, and to move one part per month into his chosen asset allocation. Now that's a smarter decision. Seriously people, I am not qualified to give investment advice. Almost no one is.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Job Security is Gone. Now What?

Most of us will agree that these days job security is no more. Between lay-offs and outsourcing, foreign competition and the decline of the labor unions, the typical American worker can no longer assume that his or her job will be there next year or even tomorrow. Sure, there are still small pockets of job security that exist in the economy. If you are a tenured professor, your job is safe. If you're a member of the military, you are can probably count on that paycheck to keep rolling in every month. However, for the vast majority of us, job security is no more. This doesn't mean that we are all doomed, but it does mean that we need to change our tactics to ensure that our livelihood is protected even if our jobs are not. We should strive to replace job security with career security.

I have previously written about the topic of career security, and in recent months I have been doing a lot of thinking about the subject (most recently prompted by this post from Frugal Zeitgeist). I have decided to take on a new blog project, and begin a periodic series of posts exploring the various aspects of this sizable, and important topic. I would like to start this series by explaining what I mean by the term "career security" and discuss how this concept is different from job security.

Job security is a fairly narrow concept. Having job security means that you are protected from being laid-off or fired. If broadened a bit, the concept also includes safety from demotion, re-assignment, a changing of work rules, reduction in pay, benefits and working conditions.

Anyone who has been a part of the work force in recent years knows that all of these different elements of job security have come under increasing pressure. The trend has escalated since the economic meltdown began in 2008. Layoffs are the most visible and aggressive form of loss of job security, but employees everywhere have also seen their benefits stagnate or outright reduced. Companies have eliminated 401K contribution matching (e.g. my wife's new company); have reduced medical benefits (e.g. my own company); have cut salaries across the board (e.g. my previous company) and have eliminated raises and bonuses (e.g again my own company). While some may complain that companies are taking advantage of employees, I am not going to make that statement here. I think that in many cases - although not all of them - companies are being forced into taking the steps that they are taking. In a future post I will go into detail about some of the market forces that are forcing companies into attacking job security.

Career security is a much broader term. In using the term Career Security, I am asking a simple question: given that your current job is not secure, do you feel comfortable that if you lose your job you will be able to secure a similar or better position within a reasonable amount of time and to do so without loss of income or unreasonable personal discomfort. If you answered "yes" to the above, then you have career security. If you answered "no" to some or to all of these points, then this series of posts is for you.

In a post which I will publish later this week, I will explore in more detail the four elements that I underlined above. Stay tuned.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Smart Shopping for Auto Insurance

Unlike what many people seem to think, the purpose of auto insurance is not to reimburse your expenses next time you ding your car pulling out of a parking spot or get into a minor fender bender. The purpose of all insurance - car insurance included - is to shield you from the worst of catastrophic financial damages in the event that something goes horribly wrong.

Here is a tragic but appropriate example to illustrate this point. About three years ago one of my colleagues at work had a terrible accident while trying to drive his car across an intersection while the light changed from yellow to red. He escaped with some minor injuries but the elderly driver of the other car was not as lucky. He was severely injured, hospitalized for a long time and eventually died of his injuries. A horrible story no doubt. My colleague was understandably distraught over the incident. As if the emotional and physical toll of the accident were not enough, my colleague also had to deal with the legal and financial consequences of his mistake.

In most cases the real financial costs associated with such major accidents are not the property damage - unless you completely destroy a Lamborghini the costs of buying new cars are relatively manageable. The real costs are the medical and financial losses potentially incurred by anyone injured in the accident. These can mount into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes even more, more than enough to bankrupt the average family.

All this leads me to the main point of this post. If you accept the proposition that the purpose of insurance is to shield you from large, catastrophic costs, the correct strategy in buying car insurance is to go with those policies that offer you high coverage limits. Of course such policies can be expensive, and a way to mitigate these costs is to accept higher deductibles which will reduce your coverage in the event of minor accidents which you can afford to handle without reimbursement from your insurance company.

If, like me, you dislike shopping for car insurance and have been using the same car insurance company for a long time (in my case it's AAA), you may want to do some shopping before you next renew your policy. If you are looking for a place to start, you can take a look at this list of car insurance companies. Safe driving to you!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Ways to Reduce Your Cable Bill

Almost two years ago I wrote a post advising my readers who wanted to reduce their cable TV bills to call their cable company, ask for the disconnection department and threaten to disconnect their service if their bills were not reduced. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to use the same strategy again. Still works. I got our cable bill reduced by $30 per month for 12 months. Not bad for a 5 minute call.

But there is more interesting news. My brother-in-law recently drew my attention to the high cost of renting a DVR from the Comcast. We were paying $16 per month for the device. When I spoke to the customer service agent at Comcast I also discovered that we were paying $5 per month for our cable modem, all for a total equipment rental charge of $21 per month... that's a lot of money.

This inspired me to make a move I have been thinking about for a long time. I ditched the Comcast DVR in favor of a top of the line TiVo HD XL. While the TiVo cost us $389 (there are much cheaper TiVo models available on Amazon), on an ongoing basis the service is cheaper. The TiVo service costs $10 per month when paid annually, and the cable card needed to connect the TiVo to cable service costs $1.7 per month. At the end of the day, our cost is reduced by $4 per month compared to what we were paying for the Comcast DVR. To be honest, savings of $4 month would ordinarily not be sufficient incentive for me to take action, but I have had my eye on a TiVo for a long time. The reasons:

1. Much bigger disk - our TiVo can store 150 hours of HD recordings with its build-in drive, and the disk can be expanded using an external drive. This compared to the miserly 15 hours our Comcast DVR could store.

2. Access to Netflix Streaming - I am a big fan of streaming Netflix movies on my computer and have been thinking about a way to get that content to the TV for a long time. TiVo makes that connection for you. Hello Netflix on demand.

3. Transfer Content to your Computer - we have one TV in the house. While Alpaca watches her shows on the TV (Idol, Survivor... urgh...), I can now watch mine on the computer at the same time. Whatever is recorded by the DVD can be instantaneously viewed on the computer.

4. Stream music, home videos and picture to the TV - as easy as pie. One exception, the TiVo can't read Apple's music file format, so no luck with my iTunes bought music. As always, there is some barrier put up by some company (with Apple always a prime candidate for evil).

Alas, there is also one draw back, and it's big. If you use TiVo you lose access to Comcast's own free OnDemand content, and there is a lot of good, free content there. I asked both TiVo and Comcast representatives about this problem and they told me this would never be fixed and that the problem was the navigation system for TiVo could not be used with Comcast content. A complete crock if I ever heard one.

Still the content on Netflix is superior and the Comcast content and the other advantages offered by TiVo make the switch worth the sacrifice.

One more thing, I also got rid of our Comcast Cable Modem and bought my own on Amazon for $80. With a monthly reduction of $5 per on my Comcast bill, this transaction has a break-even time horizon of 16 months. Good enough, I guess.

Did I previously mention my gadget addiction?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alpaca's 401K - More Developments

Two days ago I wrote a post about Alpaca's new 401K plan and about how we chose the ROTH 401K option for her. A comment by one of my anonymous readers changed my mind. He directed me to this post by the Finance Buff, which is extremely informative and well written. I thought that most of the arguments offered against ROTH 401K, while valid, did not apply to Alpaca and I. However, one specific argument hit right home: AMT...

The darn stealth tax. I didn't think about that when we looked at the ROTH 401K option. In 2008 we were caught by its nasty snare. In 2009 I think we will narrowly escape its grasp since Alpaca was unemployed for much of the year and worked as a part time contractor for much of the rest. However, if both Alpaca and I remain employed this year (keep those fingers crossed, people), AMT is pretty much assured. We have 3 kids, make a decent living and live in California - a high tax state. These are all crimes and misdemeanors that justify a fat fine under the American tax code. Damn it. I knew I should have opened an investment bank or mortgage company. That way we could have been getting all that taxpayer money instead of being actual... taxpayers...

Anyway, no more ROTH 401K. This morning Alpaca switched her contributions to a traditional 401K. This anonymous reader probably saved us a nice chunk of change. Thank you, anonymous. Watch the skies for that Bat Signal, in case we need you again! I guess writing this blog has some value after all... :-)

In other (good) news, Alpaca received notice today that her 401K plan was changing its fund line-up, and will from now on include an international index fund (FSIIX) with an impressively low expense ratio of 0.2%. Consequently, Alpaca will dump her previous international fund choice (allocated at 10%), reduce her Total Market Index contribution from 70% to 50% of her allocation, and will allocate 30% of her contributions to the new international index fund. This will bring Alpaca's 401K contributions more or less inline with our overall portfolio asset allocation.

Next week my own Fidelity 401K representative will be visiting our office, and I intend to make a vocal case for the inclusion of the same international index fund in our own plan.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

New Job, New 401K & Benefits

My readers know that after several months of searching for a job in a horrible job market, Alpaca has recently landed a new job. With a new job, comes a new 401K and other benefits. Here's a quick run down:

401K - like my own company's 401K, Alpaca's company uses Fidelity to run their 401K plan. One of the benefits of this is that Fidelity is one of a few providers out there that is Quicken friendly, something which I appreciate very much. The plan offers no matching - is it just me or are employers completely walking away from the whole matching thing? And it offers only a small number of investment options, most of which are dismal. The only good option, as in my own plan, is a low cost total market index fund. No other index options whatsoever. Because of this severe lack of desirable options, 70% of Alpaca's retirement savings will go into that index fund, with the rest split evenly between mediocre and expensive international, bond and real-estate funds. Readers take-heart, I will make the necessary adjustments to the rest of our portfolio to ensure that our asset allocation remain appropriate.

The biggest benefit in Alpaca's new 401K plan is that it offers a ROTH 401K option, which is the option that Alpaca and I chose for her. Our adjusted gross income is too high to allow us to invest in a ROTH-IRA, but through the stupidity of the government a ROTH 401K has no income limits.

Can someone explain to me why it is that the government is only choosing to give certain tax benefits to employees whose employers choose to offer a ROTH 401K option? Why should this option not be available to me just because my employer has crappy benefits?

ESPP - Alpaca's new company is publicly traded and offers an employee stock purchase plan. Alpaca signed up for this free money at the maximum amount permitted by her company, which is 10% of salary. As I previously wrote in this blog, we treat ESPP as a short term savings plan with excellent guaranteed results. We sell the stock immediately after it is purchased (once every 6 months) and pocket the minimum 15% guaranteed return.

Flex Accounts Galore - childcare flex accounts, medical flex accounts, we signed up for both at the maximum level. Once again, my gripe with the government remains. Why would the government give a tax advantage only to those employees whose employers offer flex accounts?

Generally speaking decent benefits. Regardless, it's great that Alpaca has a well paying job and even better that so far things seem to be going well for her in her new position. It's all about happiness at the end of the day.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Thoughts of Airline Security

My family and I were in Costa Rica during the failed Christmas Day terrorist bombing attempt on the Delta flight. When I heard that no one was killed or injured, my next thought was "Oh my god. They're gonna start searching our underwear now." Yes, I was seriously contemplating this. In fact, I wrote about explosive underwear on this very blog back in April 2007... No, I'm not a fortune teller or a seer of the future, it was just a matter of time, I guess.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attempt I read all sorts of insane reports online. Supposedly the TSA was not allowing blankets on flights anymore (good luck finding those on any US carrier even before the attack); the TSA was not allowing people to read books or listen to iPods on flights; entertainment systems were being switched off on international flights and no one was permitted out of their seats in the last hour of the flight. All insane measures and absolutely believable since the TSA is involved. I don't know if any of these actually happened, but when my family was headed to the airport for our flight back home, we were expecting the worst.

Amazingly, we experienced none of that particular brand of idiocy. Did we completely avoid stupidity? Absolutely not. Our 3 small sons (and of course Alpaca and I) were patted down. Our four year old twins and 7 year old son were amused by this. I was not. We were also only allowed to take one carry on bag each - compared to a carry on and "personal item" which was previously permitted. That measure makes sense, since everyone knows that explosives are always placed in the second carry on bag. Bold and insightful move TSA! Over all though, it seems like we avoided the worst of government blind panic and reflex responses designed to lull the masses into a perception that their government is actually doing something.

My real problem is that the government (and in this case the TSA) is always insisting on learning the wrong lesson for some reason. I am not one of those who engages in 20:20 hindsight and analysis of how the terrorist should have been caught given all the information that the government had. It's always easy to see things in retrospect. My problem is that rather than trying to do things that would be effective, the government is doing things that it thinks look good or is just doing things for the sake of doing something.

Here's one thing that is guaranteed to work: profiling. Enough with political correctness. We know who the vast majority of terrorists and would be terrorists are: they are overwhelmingly male, between the ages of 18 and 35 and Muslim. You might not like it, but this is reality. Yes, there is a minority of terrorists that don't fall into this category, but if you want your security measures to be more effective, you need to focus them on where the threat is most likely to come from, not on 4 year old boys or 75 year old grandmothers.

Profiling, or call it focused measures, are used in every walk of life. Doctors give people vaccines and recommend preventative action based on patient risk factors. Military commanders concentrate their forces on the areas where military threats are likely to come from. Businesses focus their marketing dollars on those segments of the population who are most likely to buy their product. The government's security measures? In the interest of political correctness we insist on wasting our scarce resources on searching 4 year old boys and making sure no one brings hand cream on a flight.

Can we have some sanity in this process please?

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Retail Silliness

After our triumphant return from our Costa Rica vacation, it's time to edit all those pictures and HD video I took using my tiny new Flip MinoHD Camcorder. Unfortunately, our new computer did not come with editing software, and I am looking for something a bit more sophisticated than the free software you can find everywhere on the web. I have been using Adobe Photoshop (for pictures) and Adobe Premiere for video for years, so I decided to try the new versions of the software before going for a purchase.

I downloaded the trial versions of both software pieces from Adobe, played around with them for a couple of days last weekend, made sure that the video editing and DVD burning worked the way I needed them too, and decided that all was well. It was time to make a purchase.

Since I already had the trial versions of both software pieces on my computer, what could be simpler than unlocking them, i.e. turning the software from the time limited trial version to the full thing using a software key. A quick hop onto the Adobe website gave me the answer I was looking for. A bundle of Photoshop and Premier would cost me $119 after a $30 mail-in rebate. Sounds fair enough, right? Just to be sure, I went online to check the price for the same bundle on Amazon. Guess what?An Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements 8 bundle on Amazon cost me only $89 after the same mail-in rebate...

Strange, no? Adobe has already got me to download their software. The cost to them of letting me unlock the software is essentially zero. Every cent I pay would go directly to them, since I was proposing to buy online and directly from Adobe. When I buy the same bundle on Amazon, Adobe is getting a lower price for their software - since Amazon also has to profit from the transaction. On top of this, shipping is included in the Amazon price, where no shipping charges exist for Adobe. Insane, no? Rather than take a higher profit margin, Adobe is forcing me to buy from Amazon. Forget this nonsense about cutting out the middle-man. In this case the middle-man (i.e. Amazon), appears to be the good guy...

To make things even more appetizing from my perspective, I made my purchase on Amazon through my Squidoo page - meaning that I will get an additional couple of percentage points in cash back on my purchases. Actually, this Squidoo business is probably worth a separate post.

What could explain Adobe's seemingly illogical pricing strategy? I am not ruling out simple stupidity, but I am guessing that channel conflict is the issue. The manufacturer - i.e. Adobe - does not want to undercut its distribution channel - i.e. Amazon, for fear of losing it's "shelf space" with a large retailer. Just goes to show you, in retail you can't take common sense pricing for granted. Don't assume that just because you are buying from the manufacturer you are paying the best possible price.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

My Gadget Addiction

I am addicted to gadgets. It's time to admit it. They fill my life and I love it. You have about as much chance of spotting me without my iPhone as you have of spotting a sensible individual on Capitol Hill. Let's take our recent vacation to Costa Rica as a case in point:

First, there is the all important GPS. Never leave home without one. Yes, I am directionally challenged, and being directionally challenged in a foreign country without a GPS is an excellent way to get into trouble. Even in the US I never travel to a foreign city without making sure that I am satellite navigation ready. The day is fast approaching when I will purchase this functionality for my iPhone, and then there will be one fewer little box in my bag of tricks.

Second, but by no means less important is the iPhone. This little machine has served me phenomenally well on this trip, as it does everywhere else. I bought a $24.95 copy of a Spanish-English dictionary for iPhone as well as a 99 cent copy of Spanish for dummies. These were constantly open, and while I didn't truly need to use Spanish - since practically everyone we met in Costa Rica speaks some English - what's the point of traveling to a new country if you are not going to make an effort to learn and experience the local culture? Language is a key part of that.

But the iPhone is so much more than a glorified dictionary. It was my video game machine at night after the kids and Alpaca collapsed from exhaustion. It was also my connection to news and work e-mail (hey, I can't just not check email for 2 weeks), wherever WiFi was available. It was available everywhere. Also, did I mention that this marvelous device can make phone calls?

Next is my latest acquisition: a Flip MinoHD Camcorder. This world wonder takes 2 hours of high definition video and is literally small enough to fit in my jeans pocket. I was constantly using that thing and the video quality, sound and color are all excellent. I do have three complaints though: because this machine is so tiny, every movement of your hand shows up as a jerk in the video. You really have to be mindful of holding the camera steady. Battery life is far from spectacular, but I did charge up the camera every day and I was never close to running out of juice. Finally, the zoom on the camera is pretty pathetic. Overall though, as excellent purchase.

Next comes the iPod. But wait. Why would I carry both an iPhone and an iPod, you ask. Here we go. That's where the trouble with gadgets starts. They are just not made to play nice with each other. I have an FM transmitter for my iPod that I use to connect it to the car stereo. This same connector connects to the iPhone but then a screen comes up telling me that the accessory is not compatible with the phone... early on I tried to find some FM adapters for the iPhone but was never able to find one that actually worked. All I got was very noisy links full of static. So, an iPod and an iPhone it is.

I cannot neglect to mention our Digital SLR from Cannon. As gadgets go, this one is pretty ancient. Had it for probably five years or more. It's a 6 mega pixel jalopy for crying out loud. This one is definitely approaching the end of it's life and a new Digital SLR is in our future.

Last but not least is my trusty ol' ThinkPad laptop. It goes wherever I go. On this trip I was really not planning on doing any real work, but I carried it just in case. The ThinkPad was relegated to the undignified role of charging up my various gadgets from iPhone to Flip, and to acting as my data back-up and extra disk space. Our videos and pictures all got moved to the computer every day.

As you can probably tell, I love gadgets. Yes, I spend some money on gadgets, but to be honest, technology is just not that expensive these days. What can I tell you, gadgets make me happy.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Thoughts & Impressions on Vacationing in Costa Rica

Wow. That was an awesome vacation. Costa Rica is wonderful. I highly recommend it.

Here are a few things I thought about, learned and saw during this journey:

1. Majesty - Erupting volcanoes are astonishingly beautiful and awe inspiring.

2. Kids - Three kids cooped up in a 4x4 traveling on gravel roads can be entertained for hours by telling them: "Level 1: let's see who's the first to spot a yellow flower." Repeat as necessary, increasing the level number and suggesting they look for ever less likely items. If all else fails, give the kids your iPhone and let them play monopoly on it...

3. GPS - a GPS will sometimes take you through a very narrow, steep and muddy road in which your 4x4 starts to slide, even though a perfectly good road exists that will take you to your destination faster and with considerably less stress. Trust me on this. Nevertheless, GPS devices are a god send. You get to a new country and you're not stressed about getting lost.

4. Ants - 4 year old kids can be hysterically frightened of ants once one of them gets an ant bite. On a related note, the sound made by a 4 year old screaming hysterically at the sight of an ant somewhere on the ground can clear out your sinuses and cure minor infections.

5. Rain - hiking in the rain is not as bad as you might think. Especially if it warm.

6. Blessings - I have traveled the world extensively and while abject poverty seems much lower in Costa Rica than in other places I have visited (e.g. Bolivia & Brazil), many people in the country live in crumbling shacks and in what seem to me like unfortunate conditions. I will try to remember that next time I bitch about a rough day at the office. Who am I kidding? Humans are incapable of living in a constant state of gratefulness. It might even be unhealthy.

7. Breaks - I love my work, but I really needed this break. I didn't even know it. There is much to be said for completely switching the gears in your head every once in a while and just relaxing. I think it might work even better without kids in the background, but what are you gonna do?

8. Crappy Roads - Next time I run into a pot hole on 101 (which is pretty much next time I drive it), I'll try to remember some of the potholes and some of the roads we drove in Costa Rica.

9. Disposition - I have nothing but good things to say about the people of Costa Rica. Everyone we met was positive, helpful and seemed... happy. People did their best to understand my horribly mangled Spanish. To be honest, most people actually speak some level of English, so some of my teeth are still intact.

10. Money - traveling with a family of 5 is definitely not a cheap trick. During the 10 days of our trip we spent more money than I spent traveling the world on my own with a backpack for 6 months. But, what is money good for unless you spend it to create memories?At the final tally, the memories are all that matter...

A Happy 2010 all!

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