Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy 2018!

I've waited all month for December to come to an end. 

I am optimistic about 2018

I have a feeling that I will continue to be challenged. 

But I will have hope, persevere, conquer, and succeed...

Friday, December 29, 2017

I Need MY (C)an (P)ass (A)ttitude

Here's a topic I've not broached in a long time. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

I've been asked many times in my life if I worked for my certification. Although I've sat for one part (there are four parts to complete the entire exam) a long time ago, the plain honest truth is that I never found the need for it. So I never made it a priority.

While I was in public accounting, I never thought I'd be a Partner (or reach a management level that required it) and would never have to sign off on other people's tax returns. In private, I wasn't required to have the designation. Yes, it was something employers looked for, but I still obtained work without it. And there are plenty of people in my line of work without it.

And, I'm a terrible test taker. I've never been good at testing situations. I prefer and perform better in practical application situations where I don't have to memorize things, and I can look back at my reference material. I get anxious; I don't like to be rushed. And I second guess myself all the time.


I am now in a situation in my unemployment where it is painfully difficult to obtain work without my CPA certification. Everyone has been asking me. And sometimes it seems like the employers (even recruiters) are hesitant to hire someone without it. My experience is no longer enough to substantiate my employment. I'm sure they think there are better candidates out there who have both the work under their belt along with the credentials.

It makes me angry with myself. But it also makes me angry at the industry for upholding standards that don't really make a difference. There are CPAs out there that don't have half the drive, diligence, know-how, experience, or intelligence that I might have. But this is part of the game. This is a differentiator. Having a CPA is a standard setting accolade.

At the end of the day, I have to get it.

And so I'm on this road again. I am preparing my mind to study as hard as I can. I've ordered my study materials. I'm creating a schedule to incorporate time for the CPA. This time it has to be different. The outcome needs to be in my favor. I can't have another setback in my career and unemployment. With age and experience, I hope that this go around is more fruitful than my novice years.

Wish me luck. Help me stay positive. Pray for my success.

Thank you.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

I HATE Roller Coasters

And willingly, I've ridden one everyday of this year. Not a real one like at Six Flags or somewhere like that. But just the roller coaster that is life. No other year in all of my life has been more up and down than this year, 2017.

The first half of the year I was on a high like no other I've ever felt in my life. It's been the pinnacle of my existence so far. I was abroad. I was experiencing different countries, cultures, food, drink, environments, and people. I was living a dream without a care for the "real" life of work, salaries, mortgages, or debt. At times it was surreal. I was liberated. I was free to do as I pleased for those days and weeks away.

And the 2nd half of the year was as if I was in a hot air balloon and someone had shot an arrow into the nylon fabric piercing the material causing a slow release of hot air that was previously keeping me afloat. And I was in a long, slow descent towards the rocky bottom of the a canyon where I'd be swept into the current of a winding river and taken along a combination of rapids and lulls with no end in sight.

Both halves allowed me to feel in ways that I've never felt before - extreme happiness / excitement and the dark doldrums.

I have yet to have my phoenix-like resurrection from the depths of unemployment, but I'm trying to work my way out. I'm trying to stay positive and look forward to the brighter days ahead. There are sure to be more twists and turns to this wild ride, but I hope I can overcome the fears, trials, and tribulations to have a meteoric rise from this Grand Canyon to the summit of my Mount Everest.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sometimes, Frustration Can Get The Best Of Me

It's not easy to stay positive when you've been job hunting for 7 months. It's not easy to accept that you've been unemployed for over a year. But I knew what I signed up for. I knew what was at the end of the road when I started on the path least traveled. That doesn't change the feelings, mostly of frustration, that come from being unable to provide for myself or others around me. And every day that passes is another day removed from the beginning.

I've been busy lately with family health concerns, doctors appointments, and other very important tasks that don’t directly affect me. And it will continue to be this way for a while.

But outside of that, I've tried to keep myself busy. I made a daily routine to pass the time. I make myself a healthy breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and proceed to job hunt first thing in the morning. If I'm lucky, I send in some applications. Then I catch up on the news through my Google News feed and other social media outlets. If I'm feeling creative, I write a blog post. I cook a protein-filled lunch and take my daily medication and vitamins. Around mid-afternoon, after I've given some time for my food to digest while reading a book, I walk 1.2miles to the gym to workout for an hour and walk home afterward. And the rest of the afternoon / evening all just depends on how tired I am from the exercise. Most nights I watch a little tv or read online or read a book. My days are predictable.

But doing something over and over again expecting different results - isn't that the definition of insanity? Little by little, I'm probably getting a little crazier each day. I need mental stimulation; I need the challenges of the workplace; I need human interaction. I should probably find some diversity in my daily life for now. But I refuse to spend any kind of money.

I would say that I've been patient, doing things in order and waiting for the right opportunities. I've been applying here and there and also touching base with recruiters. But this time of year is just tough. Many positions are put on hold for the new year to give employers time to reorganize and re-budget. It's typical for companies to stave off the spending in the 4th quarter of any given year. I know this. And I try to convince myself that come January all the employers will come around to reaching out to me at the same time. I can only hope for karma and to be overwhelmed with job suitors so that I can have my pick.

If you're reading this, hope for me too. I can use all the positive vibes I can get. I'll be sure to keep you in my hopes and dreams as well. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

OPINION: Virtual Legal Bribery On The Horizon

So it's finally happened. Last week the FCC repealed the Obama administration implementation of net neutrality rules.

"Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content." - Wikipedia

Under the new rules, ISPs:

  • May block access content, apps, or services.
  • Could impair or degrade (slow down) sites, services or apps
  • May favor certain Internet traffic over other

ISPs will also be permitted to throttle up or down services, content, and apps for financial consideration.

Let virtual legal bribery commence! Unreal!

Soon we'll be hearing from various service providers about premiums we're going to have to pay to view particular websites or get higher speed internet or prevent these companies from throttling. We'll be seeing tiered service plans. It will be like the caste system of the internet.

I have no belief in the idea that this repeal will spur competition or expand / upgrade networks and access. I also can't see how major telecom / communication / broadband providers would not make sweeping change in favor of making more money. Capitalism and price gouging are the centerpiece of this major move.

An equally large issue is the idea that this repeal will impede free speech, or at least potentially impact it. If service providers have control using pricing mechanisms on particular websites and ability to access, then isn't this a violation of the 1st Amendment? What would stop a company from blocking an opinion website that is in stark contrast to their viewpoints? What would prevent an internet service provider with a historically political bias from charging more to view sites where politically charged movements begin on the internet?

Similar to tax reform, only the wealthy will benefit. The rich keep getting richer, while the middle and lower classes suffer the most.

When Harry Met... Jesse & Carolyn - A Look Back At Our Time In New Zealand

Around this time last year, we were just beginning our time in New Zealand. Most of it was spent on the South Island, but we did take a few days to get a feel for the North Island. Besides the quad we rented on Easter Island, this was the first time on our round-the-world trip that we rented a car. And it was also the first time that I'd have to drive for an extended period of time on the opposite side of the road (for us Americans that is).

When I think back about Auckland, I recall the diversity all around. Like any other city, there was a certain hustle and bustle about the streets, although nothing like NYC or other metropolitan areas. It was less crowded but city nonetheless. I remember being able to walk anywhere from our home away from home for a few nights at the Kiwi International Hotel. However, there wasn't anything that stood out or was unique about Auckland. Come to think of it, although it was early in our 6 months, this was the 2nd time (the 1st being Santiago, Chile) that we felt like visiting cities wasn't as interesting as getting away from them.

Cities are a comfort. They make you feel safe and have the ability to reach things quickly to prepare for the off-the-beaten path jaunts. For us, they were landing and lily pads - airports to fly into and out of. Cities were / are our gateways.

Waiheke Island was a wine lovers paradise. The public transportation was perfect for shuttling around wine sampling tourists and locals alike. Food, drink, and beach were all within footsteps of each other, making for a wonderful day-trip from the city life of Auckland.

But Rotorua was where we relaxed the most on the North Island. The hidden hot springs were the highlight after the nearly 4 hour (but visibly beautiful) drive South from Auckland. Each one we visited was unique in location and atmosphere. Some were easy to get to, but others required keen sense of hearing to follow the faint sound of small waterfalls. It felt great to be in touch with nature at its finest. The warmth provided by the Earth was like a hug from a loved one. And the beauty of the surroundings was calming. I wish I could find a place like this in America that wasn't commercialized. The fact that the natural hot springs were free and ungoverned was the best part.

After winding our way around Auckland, Waiheke Island, and Rotorua. We jumped the puddle and landed in Queenstown. It was from here we started our driving tour of the South Island. We nearly circumnavigated the island if not for the last leg which we took the TranzAlpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch.

If there's anything I can say about the South Island it's that it is the epitome of the great outdoors. Mountains, trails, fjords, rivers, lakes, trees, shrubs, and wildlife are all in harmony here. And people here have the utmost respect for it all. Driving around it's hard to do anything but marvel at the tranquility of everything around you. Every town was a sleepy town, or so it seemed because people seemed minimalist and cared more about not disturbing the peace than collecting tangible objects.

It was in Greymouth that we met one of the most interesting and amazing people from our entire trip. His name was Harry. He was the proprietor of the hostel we were staying in called Noah's Ark Backpackers. Harry moved to New Zealand from Germany out of fear from the disaster at Chernobyl in the former USSR (now Ukraine). He wanted to get as far away from the toxic problems of Eastern Europe as possible. When he asked a travel agent what was the furthest place he could go, the travel agent offered up New Zealand and off he went.

Harry shared his life stories with us over a few beers. The pursuit of happiness was the common thread he weaved. Whether he failed on succeeded, he did as he pleased. He was amazing in that he was a professional of some sort (I thought engineer) but he was also a pilot who rode a motorcycle on the Autobahn during his yearly trips to Germany who drove a Mercedes around Greymouth and is now a hostel owner. Harry played his guitar at the reception desk in the mornings during breakfast time and smoked a cigarette on the back porch of the hostel while engaging with his transient residents. He was a man of dreams, but more importantly, he made them come true.

We shared our story with him, our ideas and goals. And all he could tell us was that we should try whatever came to mind. Harry was inspiring. We kept a lot of the things he shared with us close to our hearts and in our minds throughout the travels. It even became like a reference for us. If we ever encountered a decision to do or not do something, we would ask ourselves, "what would Harry do?" And more often than not, we were doing it.

We'll never forget Harry and the impact he's had on our lives since we met him. We hope he's doing well and continuing to live an exciting life.

Monday, December 18, 2017

All I Want For Christmas Is My Dignity Back

We are 7 days away from Christmas!

What I want cannot be gifted to me by one person but by a small collective of subjective, and sometimes objective, decision-makers.

Let's see what Santa can do for me.

Sending my letter tonight!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

That's One Small Step Climate Change, and One Giant Leap For ME And Our HOA

It's a small step in the right direction, but every little bit counts.

Today I was informed by a board member of the Home Owners Association (HOA) that the board voted to have a new dumpster situated in our complex to recycle plastics!  To be accurate, they will be replacing the cardboard dumpster with a cardboard/plastics dumpster, presumably with a divider to segregate the two recyclables.

I'm pleased to hear this because I requested that this initiative be taken back in September. It took a couple of follow-up emails, but I'm glad that we're moving forward on the issue of recycling and doing our part to save the environment.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Is There A Way To Encourage Healthy Eating (and Living)? - The Shock Of A Lifetime

Is there a way to flip the pricing / cost of healthy and non-healthy food to make the good stuff cheaper and the bad stuff more expensive so that we can eat healthier without worrying about cost?

It's a matter of supply and demand, I know. But will we ever get to the point where the demand for healthy, organic foods is greater than the demand for over-salted or high sugar content processed foods? Or will the supply for good-for-you food ever surpass the supply of off-the-shelf, ready-to-eat packaged goods? 

I have no idea really, but I'd hope that something drastic happens in my lifetime.

Here's an example of something that bothers the heck out of me.


Amazon Fresh has 1 pound of regular strawberries for $3.99, while they carry organic strawberries for $5.99. You have to pay a $2 premium to eat better quality food.

I think it would take an enormous one-time shock to the systems (financial / economic / agricultural, etc.) for anything to change.

There has to be a way. So what if, for example, organic fruits and vegetables were produced in mass and the price could be driven as low as other non-organic fruits and vegetables? Then in theory, the demand for organics could potentially be what non-organics are currently. At the onset, obviously, the supply wouldn't be enough to feed the masses. But after a potential spike in cost until farmers could supply the demand, prices would come back down to affordable, reasonable levels. 

Or what if farmers just stopped producing non-organic fruits and vegetables all together? What if everything was organic? Again, it would be a temporary shock but the end result would be what I'm looking for. Mass produced, organic fruits and vegetables at inorganic prices.

Regular bagels
Whole Wheat bagels
Stepping away from the organic / inorganic conversation, how about just making a decision between healthier options of the same product? Let's take breakfast for example.

Bagels. If you're from the Northeast, you know this is a staple breakfast item. Whether you buy it from your local bagel store, a street vendor, or your local grocery it rarely disappoints.

For a 6-count package of Thomas' plain bagels on Amazon, you would need to pay $3.49. Add some Philadelphia Cream Cheese, a regular 8oz tub, and that's another $2.99. All together, that's $6.48. But if you so happened to be in a healthier mood and wanted to trim some fat and eat whole grains, your option would likely be for Thomas' 100% Whole Wheat bagels and the 1/3 less fat version of cream cheese. A 6-count would be $4.94 and the 8oz tub is an additional $4.39. The total comes to a staggering $9.33. That's a premium of $2.85 to eat a marginally healthier meal (see the nutrition labels). 

Regular cream cheese
1/3 less fat
What about McDonalds? Let's take a look at 2 sandwiches that they offer and compare the relative healthiness and cost. The All-American Double Cheeseburger versus the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich. We all know that chicken is leaner; grilling is better than frying; white meat is better than red meat. The chicken sandwich sits on McDonald's menu at a price of $4.39, while the double cheeseburger is a value-meal at a measly $1.69! 

And take a look at these nutrition facts. Clearly the Artisan Grilled Chicken is a better choice for health purposes. But of course, it's at a premium. 

Artisan Grilled Chicken Nutrition Facts

Double Cheeseburger Nutrition Facts

Alternatives to regular, unhealthy food are the key to a healthy living. But healthy options are, unfortunately, more expensive in the marketplace. When good food becomes the primary sustenance, the cost relationship should flip. 

Sadly, I find this predicament true of not just the food industry but also the energy industry (alternative / renewable energy > fossil fuel). There are plenty of other situations, industries, and products where the current "alternatives" are better for people and the environment but are more expensive than regular products. Clearly, we need change. 

If we really wanted to encourage healthy eating, we'd find a way to make it cheaper and require less cost-benefit thought. Good food should be a no-brainer. But how can we make alternatives the primaries? 

Maybe like the heart attack that jolts a man to changing his poor eating and healthcare habits from bad to good, a sudden shock to our financial, economic, and agricultural systems is all we need to drive a healthier lifestyle going forward. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

6 Months Abroad: A Look Back At The Beginning

One year ago today, we were one week into our 6 month sabbatical and tour of the world. We had already been in Santiago, Chile for a few days and toured the seaside towns of Vińa del Mar and Valparaíso. Next would be a few starry nights in the Atacama Desert, the driest and one of the most picturesque deserts in the world.

I remember that the Spanish I learned in high school was in full use, navigating the streets, purchasing meals, and speaking with locals. It was the first real challenge I had. Speaking a language not native to you is hard. Making mistakes in the conjugations was common, but the locals appreciated my efforts and corrected me if/when necessary. The funny thing is that with a little bit to drink, the words seemed to roll off my tongue much quicker and more fluid.

Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso were great for colorful scenery, beautiful and friendly people, and food. The fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood was so delicious. I suppose I could say that about many places in our travels, but this being the first of many countries on our tour grants it the memory.

It was here that we made our first friends at the hostel we stayed. Xímena was the front desk attendant at Che Lagarto. She is originally from Argentina and became our first interviewee of "women abroad." Carolyn was starting to record brief interviews with women all over the world in an attempt to capture diversity, beauty, and uniqueness of women we would meet along the way.

The desert was harsh. The dryness of the landscape and it's elevation translated to quicker bodily dehydration. We had to consciously drink plenty of liquids to make sure we weren't baked from the sun or parched by the altitude.

My favorite experience in the Atacama Desert was taking the star-gazing tour with Space. We drove out to the middle of the desert at midnight only guided by the light of the moon and stars. And we were able to use the variety of telescopes setup to peer into space. Viewing nebula, constellations, the moon, and other distant stars was awesome in the nighttime sky. It was surreal.

So was walking over the sand dunes or lounging in the salt water lakes that made you as buoyant as a lifesaver or walking through a geyser field. Our activities and experiences just one week into our trip were already amazing.

I suppose over the next few days, I'm going to try to write about memories from our travels abroad that I haven't previously documented. It will be a nice look back at the amazing journey we took. A lot of what I write will be kind of anecdotal and not necessarily flow like a story, but they will be blips of memories that come to mind when I think of each of these places.

I hope you continue to join me as I recount a time that was so memorable, enlightening, and personally gratifying.

Can't Crack The Habit

My knuckles are becoming more and more uncrackable. My neck is sore and also uncrackable. My back constantly needs stretching and may crack occasionally but feels right often. I need to stop cracking my jaw or else I fear I’ll have a hard time chewing in the future. My body is deteriorating and I need to do better to prevent any further long-lasting damage. I’m slowly torturing myself. If I had only listened to people who advised against the cracking or knuckles and other body parts, I may not be in so much discomfort today. I promise to not allow my child(ren) to take up this ugly habit. It’s so hard to break.

If only I could crack this habit as easily as my knuckles...

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

ANALYSIS: My Tax Reform Impact

Just for the sake of comparison, to see what the potential impact would be to our personal Federal tax returns, I did a quick analysis of the major points from tax reform against my 2016 filing (married filing jointly).

The issues with direct impact to our tax returns are:
  • Repeal of the State & Local (SALT) Deduction
  • Property Tax Deduction Limit at $10K
  • Mortgage Interest Deduction - capped at property values of $500k
  • Repeal of Personal Exemptions
  • Doubling of Standard Deduction
With tax reform, when it comes to reducing our Adjusted Gross Income, we have the option of choosing the new Standard Deduction in the range of $24k or Itemizing. If we itemize, we are losing out on nearly $25k in deductions compared to what we could be getting with the current tax law. This is mostly related to the loss of the SALT deduction and the removal of Personal Exemptions. So previously where we most certainly would have itemized, we are now on the cusp of choosing the Standard Deduction over the Itemized Deduction. It's close.

This brings us to our taxable income. The change in the tax brackets put another wrench into the computation. Where we previously would have been in the 28% bracket, we could potentially be in either the 24% or 25% bracket, depending on whose rate passes (between House or Senate) or some agreed upon number. So the reduction in tax rate is helpful. What will really determine the end result is what the tax table will determine as the subtraction factor.

What do I mean? If you make over $100k, there is a multiplier and then a subtraction. So for example, if you make $100k (married filing jointly), your tax is $21,037 [($100,000 x 28%) - $6,963]. The subtraction factor is the $6,963.

If there are no changes to the subtraction factor, then our resulting tax liability could be in the ballpark of what the liability is previous to tax reform. If they make some changes to this subtraction factor, then there could be potential for greater or lesser tax due. So the impact of tax reform to my personal tax return could be minimal FOR NOW, but annoying all the same. There is plenty of potential future impact, especially in the purchase of a new home (mortgage interest, property tax) or even just borrowing against my equity, not to mention the tuition expenses that I'll have later in life for my children (potentially non-deductible now - but my hope is for tax reform again in the future to reverse this if it pushes through now).

For many others, it could be a bigger headache and a much bigger impact.

Take heed! This is only for the Federal income tax portion of the tax puzzle. We have yet to see how the states react to any Federal tax reform. If they conform to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) or not will determine impact to our SALT liabilities. Remember, the Federal government could potentially take away from each State's own revenue. This could potentially be another detriment or benefit depending on which way each local government responds to the changes.

If you haven't already read up on it, I suggest you do. And I also advise speaking to your Tax Accountant and/or Financial Adviser to discuss your impact. Here's a few articles to read in the meantime:

- OPINION: Tax Cuts And Jobs Act - Detrimental to the Middle Class
How your tax bracket could change under Trump's tax plan, in two charts

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Boxed Organics - Box #5 & #6: The Final 2 Boxes for the Season

So I didn't get to post about the previous box from November 21 because I actually didn't get to eat anything from it. I was able to leave it for my mother-in-law and brother-in-law to consume as my wife and I were out of town for Thanksgiving and my brother's wedding in Texas.

That week's box included:

  • Purple Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Green Cabbage
  • Yellow Onions
  • Romanesco
  • Winesap Apples
  • Nittany Apples
  • Organic large brown eggs
The thing I was most surprised to see was the Romanesco. And I'm very curious to know what it tastes like. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to catch-up with my brother-in-law to find out how her prepared it or what the flavor was. I hope he at least roasted the Brussel sprouts. 

The final box of the season came today. 

This week's box included:
  • Leeks
  • Red Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Carrots 
  • Butternut Squash
  • Gold Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes on the vine
  • Salad spring mix
  • Staymen Apples
  • Organic large brown eggs

I'm looking forward to cooking with the Leeks. I'm not quite sure what to make of it besides maybe a leek and potato soup. I'll have to look up some recipes and see what piques my interest. 

I haven't yet renewed my subscription for the winter session with Boxed Organics but there is a good chance that I will. I think I just want to analyze whether or not it was worth it first. For $38 per box, I get a variety of organic, community sourced fruits and vegetables; I am doing my part in reducing the carbon footprint. If I could guesstimate the actual cost of the food, it's probably less than 2/3 the total. The balance would be my carbon offset and premium for organic food and sustaining the organization. I suppose that's not so bad. 

What do you think? 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Happy Spouse, Happy House

It's not easy finding the right words for a Best Man speech, but here was my attempt for my brother's wedding this past Friday. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Good evening everyone. My name is Jesse. I am the best man and brother of the groom. To be clear, I’m his actual blood related brother; we share the same parents. I just wanted to clarify in case you thought we’re frat brothers. I know there are some here tonight. And some people think we look alike. But I don’t see it.

Anyway, we know many of you have traveled from near and far to celebrate the bride and groom, and on behalf of the happy couple we’re thankful you are all here today.

For those of you who were at my wedding, you know that my brother thinks that I’m pretty good at thinking on the fly or making an impromptu speech. For those of you who weren’t there, you’ll be amused to know that Dave conveniently misplaced my vows somewhere, so I had to really draw on my memory to find words similar to what I’d previously written more eloquently.

I thought about doing this speech on the fly too, but then decided against it because I wanted to share some insights that I thought would be helpful.

Now that I’ve been married for nearly 3 years, I’m going to offer you both 3 pieces of advice / insight.
  1. Communication is a 2-way street. Learn to look both ways, proceed with caution, and signal when you decide to take a turn. Listening is equally as important, so don’t tune out the honking horn behind you or the wailing sirens approaching you.
  2. You’re going to fight; it’s inevitable. But learn how to apologize when you’re wrong (and sometimes even when you’re not wrong), and look at things from the other person’s perspective to appreciate his/her reasoning.
  3. Enjoy each other. Marriage is hard work, but find time to laugh, have fun, and be intimate. Your hard work together deserves some rest and relaxation. 
Dave – Most of the time, you don’t heed my advice. And I still don’t mind giving it to you. But try to keep these in mind. Melissa – take this as my first of many insight offerings.

You may wonder why I didn’t offer the typical “happy wife, happy life” saying as a piece of advice. It’s because I believe in a more equally familial mantra that goes like this, “Happy Spouse, Happy House!”

May you both share many years of life together of happiness and joy.