Category Archives: General Thoughts

Finding the Joy in 2019

Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.
Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.

This won’t be a long, navel-gazing post about all the wisdom I’ve gathered over the past year. Rather, a quick list of things that stuck out to me. And honestly, it’ll probably largely be from the past couple months, because a year is a long time to remember. And I didn’t take notes. 🙂

  • Happiness is a funny thing. I realized this year that, for me at least, happiness isn’t the result of things done well. Rather, happiness tends to cause things to go well. If I focus first on being happy, content, and having fun — those things like work, family, and hobbies tend to be more successful. And how does one focus on being happy? Oddly enough, choosing to be happy.
  • Facebook isn’t a good source for news. But (un?)fortunately it’s a really good place to find out about people in your life. If you want to see who a person really is, look at what they post/share/like. Or don’t, because it’s often more heartbreaking than anything.
  • Proxmox is awesome. Sorry in advance to my non-nerdy friends, but Proxmox is a virtualization platform, and I’m sad to say I haven’t used it before this year. I’ve been so very foolish to wait. It’s incredible. Hopefully you’ll hear more about it from me in 2020, because holy cat biscuits am I a fan.
  • eBay is a great place to buy servers. If you can deal with last-generation hardware, buying use/reconditioned servers on eBay is so affordable, it feels criminal. Granted buying used equipment forces you to focus on redundancy and backups in case of failure — but shouldn’t you be focusing on those things anyway?!?!?
  • Losing weight is HARD. And it’s even harder for women than men. I lost over 50 pounds this year, and although I gained back 11-ish over the holidays, the past 6 months have been a big first step in a lifestyle change. I’m in my mid-40s now, and I need to eat far less, and exercise far more often than I did in decades past. I want to get really old someday, and keeping my body healthy and strong is an important part of that goal.
  • Point of view is critical. I’m a pretty sickly guy. From bad lungs, to bad kidneys, to heart concerns in my 20s — there’s a lot wrong with me. (Seriously, that’s just a tiny fraction of my issues, I don’t want to depress anyone with the entire list, especially myself!) I try daily to focus on how healthy I am in spite of all the things working against me. I’m not sickly, I’m impossible to kill!
  • Learning is awesome. Yeah, I know, I’m a trainer by profession so this sounds like a marketing tactic, but I mean for myself as much as anyone else. I absolutely love learning. This year alone I:
    • Built a hydroponic system in my basement
    • Learned this decade’s nuances with video and live-streaming
    • Installed lighting systems of multiple brands/kinds/styles all over my house and office
    • Learned a bit of a new programming language (python)
    • Read over a book a week
    • Left the country (this is a big deal for me, it’s a phobia)
    • Fixed a refrigerator
    • Installed a dishwasher
    • Bought/used/learned/installed/played_with more technology and gadgets than anyone has a right to
    • Finally pinned a tweet (sorry it took so long, Jake!)

I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me health-wise, work-wise, etc. — but I know that if I approach it purposely filled with joy first, it will be far better than if I try to create happiness by doing things. If I learned anything from 2019, it’s that joy is a choice. A decision. And it puts all the other things in place, regardless of what those things might be. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s make it awesome together. 🙂

The Powers Family Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt

Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most consistent one we have. Since we’ve started livestreaming the shenanigans every December 24th, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about how we do it.

This is the answer, in the form of recommendations if you want to do your own version.

Make it easy to set up, or it won’t be a tradition, it’ll be a single fun memory.

Donna and I don’t usually prepare weeks or even days in advance. Some years, we’ve created clues on the fly, while the girls are doing the hunt. We want it to be a tradition, not a burden. We used to have a tradition of making a Christmas Star together every year. But it turns out that can be difficult to do, and the tradition fizzled. We’ve NEVER missed a year with our scavenger hunt, because we never let it become a burden. It’s truly not about how clever your clues are, or how many people are involved. It’s about doing silly things together, and even the lamest years have been a ton of fun.

Remember WHY you’re doing it.

Our goal has always been for our girls to have fun with each other. We’re not trying to stump them. There aren’t teams competing. They aren’t competing against each other. They’re just having fun working together. The final clue/solution is always something we can do together as a family afterward. Some years it’s a video game. Some years it’s a board game. Some years it’s a movie. It’s impossible to “lose” at the scavenger hunt, and if a clue is too challenging, we’ll totally help and give more clues, because it’s not about challenging the girls. It’s about the girls having fun TOGETHER.

Include everyone.

This isn’t something we have to remind our girls of anymore. They know it’s about everyone having fun, so they go out of their way to include each other and anyone else that might be with them that year. But at the beginning, or especially if your group is varied in age — make a point to include everyone. Something too hard for little Johnny? Let him hold the video camera while Suzy climbs the fence, etc, etc.

Consider your participants’ ages.

Our girls are fairly close in age. When they were young, the scavenger hunt was an indoor event. When they got older, they’d have to go into the yard or on the Internet. (See a clue from 2010: https://youtu.be/KfCDJv7ZXds ) Some years there are friend and/or relatives that go with the girls, and we make sure to consider their ages and abilities while designing the clues.

Now? The girls are all adults, and clues will take them around town and even to other towns. They’ll drive a half hour one way to get a picture with a street sign. And they’ll laugh together the WHOLE time. It’s seriously magical, and allowing friends, etc, join in has never been a problem. We play the scavenger hunt fast and loose, and that means it’s very flexible and age inclusive.

Consider video streaming publicly or privately.

Now that video streaming technology is possible with mobile devices, it has made the entire experience more fun and inclusive. Perhaps you’ve seen the livestream. It’s silly, it’s fun, and holding the phone/camera is something someone can do. If you don’t want to livestream, consider facetime.

How we actually do it now:

We take full advantage of technology. The girls have a phone livestreaming the whole time, for our enjoyment at home (Donna and I stay home). The actual clue/solution goes something like this:

  1. We text them a clue. “I’m downtown, but my phone died, and I’m not wearing a watch. How will I know what time it is?!??!”
  2. They figure out what we’re hinting at, and pile into a car together and drive (safely!) downtown. They get to the clock on main street, and take a photo of themselves in front of the clock.
  3. They text the photo to our family group text, and if they’re correct, they get sent the next clue.
  4. If they happen to go to the waterfront and get a photo in front of THAT clock, we’ll respond with something like, “when I’m downtown, I can’t see that clock…” — and they’ll figure out what we actually meant, and drive to the clock downtown and try again.
  5. Or, we’ll decide their solution was better than what we meant anyway, and pretend we meant the clock by the waterfront after all, and send them the next clue. 🙂

Sometimes, we’ll think ahead enough to have some jigsaw puzzles, which we put into an envelope and send with them. In which case, one of the clues they’ll receive via text is, “Open Envelope #2” — then they’ll follow the instructions inside the envelope.

Some of the clues involve them doing things like, “Open envelope #3, and use the $15 inside to buy hot cocoa from the bookstore, and get a stranger to take your photo” — then they send the photo to us to get the next clue.

We usually make them do some (slightly) embarrassing things, like going into a store and having one (or more) of them sing a Christmas Carol out loud while recording. They send the video to us, and we send the next clue/challenge.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, there’s usually a “build a snowman” challenge, which they need to accomplish and then take a photo and send it to us.

We’ll call a family/friend and make sure they’re home, then have a clue that has them go to XXX’s house and sing them “we wish you a Merry Christmas” while recording it, and we have the person give them the next clue (which we tell them when we call them, sometimes in advance, sometimes just before sending the clue, because we don’t prepare well, LOL)

End with some group fun.

Every “Just Dance” video game we own was the result of a scavenger hunt. We’ve had the last clue lead to a bowling alley (I think… maybe not, perhaps that will be this year’s prize), we’ve ended with video games, DVDs, etc, etc.

My biggest advice is to keep it simple. My girls rarely remember the clues or even the prizes at the end. They remember the fun they had doing silly, simple things together. They remember singing together in the car at the top of their lungs between clues. They remember anticipating the scavenger hunt. They tell their friends how awesome the tradition is, even if when they explain it, it doesn’t sound amazing. It’s far more about doing silly things together than the silly things themselves. 🙂

Good luck, and I hope your version is as much fun for your family as ours is for us!!!

Today, I Broke My Brain

Some days suck. Today, for instance.

I don’t talk much about mental illness. Not because of any stigma against it, or because I’m ashamed of having and handling mental illness, but rather because I just don’t have much to say on the issue. My car accident (see link above) sparked some serious brain issues for me, including anxiety, depression, OCD, and some symptoms that I’m not even sure what to call.

Today is a bad day.

I don’t have many bad days anymore. I’ve been on a medication for over a decade that works well to keep my brain in check. I’ve lived through enough rough times, that I can look back and see patterns, and know I’m not actually going crazy, and that this too will pass. That doesn’t make today better, really, but it does give me hope that tomorrow will be.

Today, I went grocery shopping with Donna. The store was busy. And really, that was it. My brain broke. For me, that means I was overwhelmed, for no really good reason. It manifests for me in a pretty predictable fashion:

  • I look scared and bewildered.
  • I can’t discern when people are talking to me over the din of background noise.
  • I stutter. (That’s really the one that gives it away to my loved ones. I can fake ’em out a bit usually, but stuttering is hard to hide)
  • I get confused easily. This is mainly due to the background noise thing.
  • I get VERY frustrated with myself, my stupid brain, my inability to be an effective family member, and my inability to pull myself out of it.
  • My hands shake.
  • I get odd facial twitches.
  • The worst part is, inside my head, I’m perfectly fine. I can think, I can reason — but it’s like I’m trying to function with 1,000 people screaming directions at me, and a layer of cotton between me and life.

I’ll be fine tomorrow. Really I will. And my family is incredibly supportive. They aren’t frustrated with me. They might be frustrated FOR me, but that’s different altogether. (It’s also not pity, for which I’m grateful) Unfortunately, Sunday night is our young adult ministry, and it means we’re feeding 20-30 college-aged people, along with coordinating music and discussion. I won’t be any help, which means Donna will have to do twice the amount of work. And THAT is the most frustrating part. Being a burden. (If Donna reads this, she’ll insist I’m not a burden, and I get it, she’s not upset with me. But really, it’s a burden we share, but a burden nonetheless)

ANYWAY, I post lots of silly photos. I share funny anecdotes. I smile a lot on the Internet. In my attempt to be as real as possible, I figured it only fair to share that sometimes I have bad days too. And that’s OK. Just think good thoughts at my wife. She totally deserves it today.

An Open Letter to the Singers in My Life

This letter is a response to my eldest daughter mentioning that she doesn’t post videos of herself singing, because she doesn’t want to post them just to get “likes” and puff herself up. She’s worried about posting them for the wrong reason, and doesn’t want to be “that” person. While I respect that…

Dear Singers I Love,

You know how sometimes you’re having a bad day, or life is just stepping on your face so hard it feels like you’re under water? I live with singers, and I know that when life kicks you in the head like that, you sing. You sing hard. There’s something magical about music, in that you can dump your pain, fear, heartache, and worries into it. That’s true of any art (in my opinion), but music is particular in its ability to rinse away those feelings. If you’re a singer, you know what I mean.

Here’s the rub: We don’t all have that singing ability. I don’t say that out of jealousy (much, lol), but rather to enlighten you. When you sing, your music not only washes away that pent up pain in your life, but it actually has a similar effect on others who hear it. Really. The more you put your soul into music, the more that music has pointy, jagged edges that rub off the painful crusty bits on the rest of us, which we can’t seem to expel on our own. We just don’t have that same magic.

You know how people tell you that you have a gift, and you should share it with others? I know that sounds like polite banter, or kind words to compliment your skill. I assure you, it’s quite literal. Your ability to make magical, soul-cleansing music is a gift. It’s a gift that others not only appreciate, but desperately need. When you share your music, you’re sharing that gift.

Certainly, there’s an ego-swelling potential when you share your music, and when people give you “likes” and praise. But please know that dealing with that difficult line between joy and arrogance is a burden I think you should consider suffering. When those of us without your gift give you “likes” and praise, it’s more than just complimenting your skill. It’s complimenting and appreciating your sharing. That gift you have benefits others in an oddly similar way that it benefits you.

I’m sorry that it often takes such pain to create such beauty. I’m embarrassed to ask you to share your coping mechanism with the rest of us. But please, when I tell you that you have a gift and you should share it with others — it’s so much more than asking for you to share your pleasant voice. I’m asking you to share your ability to cleanse souls.

Outsmarting the Smart Fridge

Scotch tape and creativity...

Our fancy new “Space Fridge” has some amazing features. It will auto-fill a glass, based on sensor readings so it knows how much water to add. It has a fancy LCD touchscreen that allows you to configure its features. Heck, it even warns you if you leave the door ajar by playing an annoying tune until you shut it.

It also requires a $50 water filter with a special RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tag that has the sole purpose of forcing you to replace the filter after 6 months. It’s crazy. You can buy a pack of 2 filters that will fit the fridge for $16, but without the RFID tag, they won’t work, and your fridge will refuse to dispense water. Mind you, the ONLY difference is the RFID tag, the cheap filter itself is perfectly fine.

That really annoyed me, and so I pondered what to do. For the past year, I’ve left the “expired” filter in the fridge and constantly press “override” to get another perfectly-filtered fill from the expired $50 filter. That is extremely frustrating, and occasionally the fridge absolutely refuses to dispense water unless you replace the filter. I didn’t want to put the “bypass” device in, because I really dislike drinking chlorinated water. But that made me think… Why does the bypass device work?

See, the GE fridge includes a plastic non-filter thing that screws into the filter slot, and allows the fridge to dispense unfiltered water and ice. But why does that work, yet the cheap non-RFID filters don’t? It turns out there’s a tiny little RFID tag hidden under a sticker on the bypass device, which puts the fridge into “unfiltered” mode. The only difference, apart from being unfiltered, is the tiny little graphic on the screen shaming you into buying another $50 filter.

You probably see where I’m going with this. I tore the plastic bypass device apart, took out the RFID tag, and taped it to the inside of the fridge where the sensor is. (That’s what the red arrow is pointing to at the top) Now I can use the cheap filters, and replace them when they stop working well. How do I know they need to be replaced without the RFID system telling me? Well, because the water starts flowing more slowly. Then I pop out one $8 filter, and put in a new one. The fridge still thinks it’s in bypass mode, and I no longer want to smash it with a hammer.

Oh, and that “Unfiltered Water” reminder? It just makes me smile every time I see it. Because it turns out I’m smarter than our smart fridge after all. 🙂