Friday, April 27, 2012

Earning my Mancard

Many men have fond memories of growing up helping their dad build a shed, or fix the plumbing, or possibly working on the family car together.  I was never of much help with such projects, not due to an inherent inability to work with my hands, but more because dad didn't demand it and those things didn't really hold my interest.   I learned to change the oil in my car, but that's about the extent of the skills I acquired in 17 years at home.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that I find projects that require handyman skills to be daunting, even if they are simple to do.  At my last home I had a set of blinds in the bedroom that hung crooked for weeks (dare I say months?) after one of the screws holding them in was pulled out of the drywall.  I asked several friends for help, and even offered to pay one guy to install some new blinds, but no takers.  Finally my friend Jenny kindly pulled the blinds down, and I was able to overcome my inertia and install new blinds (thanks Jenny!).

When I bought a somewhat damaged foreclosure as an investment property, I got the opportunity to punch a few holes in my man-card, although I left many tasks in the more capable hands of an excellent Jack of all trades (his name literally is Jack).  I did caulk the bathtubs, removed wallpaper, did some drywall repair, fixed a gate, and a lot of painting.  In the end I was feeling considerably better about my man skills.

This week I got to take another baby step towards manliness by installing a couple of ceiling fans by myself.  I've had the opportunity to help a couple of friends as they installed fans in my homes, but this was the first time I did the procedure solo.  In all fairness the existing light fixtures already had the bracing for installing a fan, so it was fairly simple, but it still made me feel a bit more competent.  Although it was a bit disconcerting when I threw all the circuits in the garage and the dryer in the room next to the bedroom with bare wires I was about to find myself grasping was still chugging along.  Apparently it's normal for a dryer to be on a separate circuit in a box on the outside of the home.  Mental note made for future reference.

The best part of the ceiling fans is not the fact that I feel more competent at home improvement, however, or even the gentle breeze they create while whirring overhead, although those are both nice benefits.  The part I'm enjoying most is the extra light they cast.  I'm not sure who at D.R. Horton ok'ed the crappy light fixtures that came standard in my home, but I'm glad to be rid of them.  It's nice to be able to read in my office without squinting at a dark page.  That will come in especially handy when I'm reading "Man-up!  10 things every guy should be able to do for himself".

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Charitable Contribution

I learned a long time ago that when a Colonel asks you if you would like to "volunteer", saying no isn't really an option.  So when I was asked a few weeks ago to spend a couple of work days downtown combing through non-profit entities' applications to be included in this fall's Combined Federal Contribution (CFC) campaign, I agreed to do it, despite the fact that I feel the military wastes hundreds of man-hours supporting the CFC, when we could simply make an announcement about the campaign kickoff and provide a web site for people to view the charitable causes and sign up to donate if they see fit.

As it turns out, the day and a half I spent looking over and approving packages was a much needed break from my regular job.  It was fairly straightforward, they provided coffee and danishes, and I got to enjoy a walk downtown during lunch.  Although I have no desire to live downtown, I could see the allure that one of my friends feels for living in such places, and San Antonio has a very pleasant urban atmosphere, I must say.   Although I was tempted to go home and relax after we wrapped up early on the second day, I really couldn't do so and keep my integrity intact, so I headed back to work where my stress level immediately returned to the higher position I am sadly growing accustomed to living with.

Of course the whole point of the exercise was to approve or deny applicants' entry into the CFC.  We were instructed in what to look for, which included the Federal statement of tax exempt status, properly annotated tax returns with accompanying audit, etc.  One thing we did not do is approve or deny based on the charity's costs.  I made the mistake at looking over the costs incurred vs services rendered of one non-profit, a foundation for Tourette's.  According to their tax statement, they brought in a little over $200k in contributions, making them a fairly small organization.  They paid under $60k to provide services, mostly in the form of a camp for kids with the syndrome.  Meanwhile, they have two board members pulling in a total salary of $100K, which isn't exorbitant by any means, but that means half of their donations go towards paying the salary of these two board members.

A look over the financials of a larger organization didn't lift my spirits any.  Total revenue of just over $8 million, with $2.5 million to pay for general administrative and advertising costs.  That's 30% of your donation going to cover overhead.  I guess you can't expect those guys who call you during supper to seek your contribution to accost you for free.

I suppose I have to face the fact that I am extremely frugal, and just because I would run a non-profit to wring maximum utility out of each dollar given, with minimal overhead costs, doesn't mean that the rest of the world works that way.  It gives me some solace to know that these organizations are overall doing great things, and most are filled with volunteers dedicated to meeting the needs of others, often with no compensation.  And now that I've done my part, I can get back to doing my actual job, where I will probably be honored with an atta-boy from my leadership for my volunteerism, even though it kept me from doing my duties for the better part of two days.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When the Wrong Way Feels so Right

In days of old, cars were fairly equally divided between those with the gas cap on the right, and those with it on the left.  As time went by, however, car manufacturers figured out that many drivers prefer to have access to their gas tank on the driver's side, because it's more convenient than trying to cajole your wife into filling the tank just because the opening is on her side.  Or something along those lines.

In response to this evolution of cars, gas stations have moved from having all cars feed through in one direction, with cars parked on the side of the pumps that correspond to their cars' design, to allowing cars to pull up in either direction, so that all pumps are fully utilized.  Apparently military bases didn't get the memo.

At my last base, as well as my current one, they insist on having arrows directing the cars to pull up in one direction only.  If there's one thing worse than sitting in line to fill up your car with gas, it's sitting in line while several pumps sit unused.  Ok, there's probably several things that are worse, such as sitting in line waiting to fill up a Suburban, or sitting in line with a broken radio that you can't switch channels or turn off and a radio station glitch causes the song "Macarena" to be played over and over again, but you get the point.

So today I broke the rules and pulled my car around into one of the unused pumps on the left.  And I must say I felt no guilt at all.  Although I do feel a bit guilty about getting Macarena stuck in your head (make sure you do the dance moves with it).  Sorry!