Standing Alone With the One You Love

from Jeremy

Sometimes in life we find ourselves having the option of joining the crowd or standing alone. This can be based on a political cause, a research interest, or even a company dinner. When this happens, the choice we make reflects how comfortable we are with what the crowd is doing, with our position, and most of all, with ourselves or those we’re with. This week Jan and I had the opportunity to join a crowd or stand (sit) alone. Let me tell you how we made up our mind, and how good it felt for both of us to do so. 

On Thursday night my company held a recognition dinner at a very nice local restaurant for our area staff. It was a wonderful event for which they had spent a lot of money and given sincere thought. The evening started with a cocktail hour followed by the dinner portion. Jan and I enjoyed talking to a few folks at the cocktail hour before we left the venue to put my backpack in the trunk of our car. On the way out of the restaurant we put our coats on a couple of seats at one of the tables where the dinner was set up to take place in a few minutes. We then left the restaurant, walked to the car, and dropped off my backpack. Upon returning to the restaurant, we were a little surprised to see all of the guests seated, but none at our table. We had chosen a table at the end of the room, so I could have my back to a wall, rather than to the open floor. 

When we reentered the room, everyone looked at us. We proceeded to take our place at our completely vacant table, staring out at the whole room. Jan joked to me how it was as if this was a wedding party, and we were the honored guests. We laughed that we would be sitting alone for the evening, and how awesome it was since we don’t get a lot of date nights, so my company provided one for us, cost free. 

Throughout the evening people from other tables would come up to us, offering to make space at their tables so we could join. We politely thanked them before laughing at how it was our date night, and this was really cool. What was even better is all the tables with full seats had to split sides. Jan and I, on the other hand, got to have sides all to ourselves. We came away from this meal with a snack for our kids when we got home (if they were still up), and with lots of food left over for the following day. We would not have had that bonus had we sat with everyone else. 

It was fun to sit at the table with Jan, looking out on these crowded coworkers. We were able to talk about our plans for the next week, the summer, and longer term. We addressed some outstanding questions of travel, child care, and even reminisced about some fun past events. I did not mind at all about missing out on small-talk with coworkers when I could have deep, and fun talk with my lovely wife. 

When the head of the part of the organization I work for came up to us to offer the one empty seat at his table, we joked about our date night, and how instead, he could just hire us a violin to drown out the noise from the rest of the room. He loved it, and noted how he wished he could do the same. 

Through our evening of conversation both Jan and I did mention the fact that, had we been alone, we would have joined another table. Sitting there, by ourselves was fine, if we were together. Having to do so, alone, would have been much harder, especially when single seats were available. We did not feel rude since we were a couple. It would have been rather rude to just sit there alone during the event. We were both good with that. 

In the end, we were confident with who we are, with what we wanted, and with how our willingness to stand out would look to the rest of the people in our dinner party. Jan and I were true to ourselves, having a great time on my company’s dime.  

Do you ever find yourself standing out, whether by intent or simply circumstance? If so, how do you handle it? Would you handle it differently if were alone versus with the one person in the world with whom you feel most comfortable? What is a time you decided to keep standing out, standing up, standing alone, when the rest of the world thought you weird, or maybe even envied you?   


Surgery Morning

from Jeremy

One of the key components of being Comfy is the ability to be comfortable in normally very uncomfortable situations. For me, one of the most uncomfortable potential situations is the morning of an operation. In my case, it’s the fusion of L4-L5 to join with the already fused L5-S1. Having a family has heightened the potential for discomfort going into surgery, but I’ve set up a system I believe helps me maintain comfort in the face of a major event to my body. 

First, even though I can’t eat, I love making my family breakfast. Therefore, today, I made them a special kind of Cinnimon Pancake. It was a big hit with everyone. The making of food helps me focus on something creative. Satisfying my family one more time before I go under the knife helps me feel like I’m contributing, even when I’m not quite up to par. I loved it. They loved it. Who doesn’t love Cinimmon? 

Second, I started the day with my morning ritual, learned from Tony Robbins. It’s my 10 minutes of me, and on days like today, it really helps. This morning’s ten minutes consisted of: 

  • Expressions of gratitude for Joshua, Joy and Jan 

  • Requests for every experience to be greeted as a blessing for me, Jan, Joshua, Joy, our families, and the world. 

  • Envisioning myself, my family, and my life in one year 

It’s a simple ritual, and I can do it from bed, or in a chair as Tony Robbins recommends, but the key is doing it every day, and sincrerly expressing, requesting, and envisioning. 

Following that, I spent some time internalizing my thoughts about the events of the day. I thought through the operation, envisioning it in my mind. I let the sense of the operation; the fact I will be put to sleep, cut open, pieces of my spine removed, and other pieces fused together flow through my body, particularly to my spine. I wanted to share the day’s expectations with all of my body, specifically those parts most likely to experience disruption.  

My mind is ready. My body is ready. Now my family.    

Finally, I answered questions. Lots of questions, in fact. Joshua was full of wonderfully thoughtful questions this morning. 

  • When will you be back? 

  • Will you stay in a hotel? 

  • When will you get to eat? 

  • When can I see you? 

  • Who will take care of you? 

  • When will you be back? 

  • How are you going to get home? 

  • Can I see you? 

  • When will you feel better? 

  • When will you be back? 

I answered each and every one lovingly. I doubt I settled his mind, as how could I settle the mind of a 5-year-old facing his first family surgery? Yet, I did offer him comfort as I was comfortable with what we were talking about. Seeing that comfort in me allowed him to feel a little better about what is going on. 

I gave such big hugs to Joshua and Joy as they left for school this morning. Oh, those felt so good! 

Finally, and for me, most importantly, I have someone I love escorting me today. Jan will be by my side as I go into pre-op. She’ll be there as they put me under. And, she’ll be there when I wake. Knowing this loving person is there for me instills confidence within me. Confidence it would be much harder to muster without her by my side. 

When I do my morning ritual tomorrow I’ll express such gratitude for my awesome family, for those who helped make my body work again, and for a world in which I can be lucky enough to be blessed with these expressions of love. 

How do you make yourself feel ok about pending traumatic events? 

May some of my practices help you as you face anything the world offers. May you consider everything the world offers as a blessing, helping you move closer to peace. 



Pointing the way to adoption travel, and a lifetime of cheap travel

from Jeremy

About two years ago, my wife and I came to a fateful decision: We decided to adopt a child to grow our family beyond our awesome son. The process included lots of paperwork, doctors’ appointments, meetings with social workers, and waiting. The time waiting, though, turned out to be a blessing in one respect. It allowed me to learn about using points and miles to reduce the cost of the expected international trip. I’ll go into detail below, but to put the bottom line up-front, we spent around $3,150 for approximately $43,500 worth of travel. This is how we did it.

In June 2015 I came across Travel Miles 101, a site dedicated to teaching folks how to use credit cards to earn miles and points for reduced cost travel. There are many sites out there with information on this topic, but Travel Miles 101 offered a free course on how to do it, so I took the course. Over the next few months I began implementing their teachings, and started down the path to greatly reduced travel costs. At first I took it slow, signing up for just one credit card, meeting the spending requirement for their offered bonus through normal monthly spending, then signing up for a new one. Eventually, I learned enough to go full-bore, applying for up to 8 credit cards at a time, manufacturing spending using gift cards and money orders, and racking up the miles/points. Since I started the process we earned more than 3 million miles/points (today is December 2016), so in about 1.5 years.

We were told the trip to China would cost us approximately $15,000 total flying economy and staying in regular hotel rooms, including in-country travel and lodging. I thought we could do better. This is what we got instead:

·        One-way on American Airlines to Shanghai for three ($16.42 – plus 105,000 AA miles [which cost me $69 to manufacture spend]). Total actual cost to me = $85.42 (to purchase these tickets it would have been $1,515 each based on American’s website, for presumed cost of = $4,545). I did try to get Business Class seats for this flight, but was locked out since our travel date notification was too close to the trip for me to book them far in advance, even by pleading for adoption support to the airline for the 8 available B-class seats on our flight over the phone. Had I been able to acquire business class tickets, I would have gotten a great discount of 210,000 miles (total cost for manufactured spending of $138) for a trip priced at $6,720 per person, or $20,160 for three. This value varies by day depending on what American thinks they can get for the tickets. I’ll tell you, though, 20 hours of flying time made me really really wish I had been able to get these B-Class seats!!!

*(Also, side note on this leg of the trip. This flight included a layover in Dallas/Ft. Worth of more than two hours. The family and I passed this time in the American Express Centurion Lounge, to which we gained free access because of the AmEx Business Platinum Card).

·        One-night lodging at the Intercontinental Shanghai Pudong – Free! With the use of only 30,000 IHG points. Total cost for IHG points was $34.50, plus I still had 40,000 IHG points left from the bonus. (Note, using the IHG points for this stay also earned me an additional 3,580 IHG points for future use. Also, signing up for this card earned me Elite status at IHG, which then led to getting a room upgrade from a basic room to a Suite with 1.5 bathrooms, and a living room separate from the bedroom. Great for travelling with kids! This is a $198 value.)

·        One-way on China Southern Airlines from Shanghai to Nanning for three ($18.00 - plus 37,500 Delta Skymiles.) Total cost for these miles was $34.50, leaving 12,500 balance from the bonus for future use. So, total cost for this flight was: $52.50. Actual cost on the airline for the flight would have been $710.54 (per China Sothern’s site).

·        Marriott Hotel stay in Nanning for 6 nights = $873.56, for a deluxe room, upgraded to an Executive Superior Suite (due to Gold status derived from the American Express Business Platinum Card). This room would have cost us $1492.48 per the Marriott site. Through the status upgrade, we also received executive lounge access, free high-speed internet, and free breakfast for the whole family (Actually for 2, but kids share well!)

*Note – we had booked an AirBnB for this stay at a cost of $378, but the apartment was not what was promised on the site. Since we had miles and status, getting a room at the Marriott was simple. I would have used miles for the whole stay, but we are saving them for another trip, so I did not want to spend them on this in-expensive Marriott property. Key lesson here, though, is sometimes AirBnB can save money, but it’s a lottery on getting what you expect. I lost the AirBnB fee ($40) when I cancelled the reservation, but the remainder just went right back into paying for the Marriott stay.

·        Flight from Nanning to Guangzhou for 4. (Due to the timing of our notification for travelling, I could not book the one flight at the time I needed to make this trip with points. Had I been able to do so, it would have been $24.00 and 50,000 Delta SkyMiles. Total cost to earn those points being $69 [although some of these points would have overlapped with the bonus used from Shanghai to Nanning]. Instead, we paid $425 through our adoption agency travel folks. Not ideal, but given the time constraints, we had no choice. Timing is key on getting the flights you want. Adoption timing is difficult to coordinate with airline availability.)

·        AirBnB in Guangzhou - $568 for 6 nights. Turns out, again, AirBnB did not pan out as we had expected. The apartment was without heat in most rooms, and the external window in the kitchen could not close, leaving most of the apartment too cold. Therefore, yet again, we scrambled for a hotel after spending one night in a less-than-ideal apartment. Our guide set us up in The Garden Hotel, which is very popular with adoption families. The additional cost for this place was $890, which was only partially made up for by a $126 reimbursement from AirBnB. Yes, we ended up losing money on this one because we lost $442 on the AirBnB. Grrr! I’m done with AirBnB in China. The Garden Hotel has a living-room, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and even gave us a small backpack with some stuffed animals and other things for our adopted daughter. It’s a beautiful hotel next to lots of amenities. We’re quite happy here, wishing we had just listened to our adoption agency person who suggested we book it in the first place. To save around $400 I ended up losing an extra $400. Live and learn.

And, for the coup de grace:

·        Four one-way First Class seats on United Airlines from Guangzhou to Washington Dulles by way of Beijing ($125.04 – plus 320,000 United Airlines Miles.) Cost of obtaining the miles = $138.00. Total actual cost to me is $263.04. The rest were earned through organic spending on various Chase Ultimate Rewards Miles cards. This leg of the trip will be the most taxing considering our new daughter is still adjusting to us, we’re all very tired, and it’s a 19-hour experience. I was so happy I could get these tickets on United. This is the first time anyone in the family will have flown First Class. There are 8 seats in the cabin, of which we are occupying 4 of them. I feel a little bad for the other First Class passengers, but at the same time, hopefully my family will be most comfortable coming home. The cost of these tickets on is $8,836 each, for a total of $35,344 had I purchased them with cash. This value varies by day, depending on what United thinks they can get for the tickets.

Finally, to add it all up.

Leg of Trip          Travel Miles Cost in $         Real World Cost in $          Savings in $

DC - Shanghai        $85.42                                $4,545                                $4,459.58

Hotel in Shanghai  $34.50                                $198                                    $163.50

Shanghai to Nanning   $52.50                          $710.54                               $658.04

Hotel in Nanning    $953.73                              $1,492.00                            $538.27

Flight to Guangzhou   $425                             $425                                    $0.00

Lodging in Guangzhou   $1,332                       $890                                   ($442.00)

Flight Guangzhou

to Washington           $263.04                         $35,344                              $35,080.96

Total                           $3,146.19                        $43,604.54                         $40,458.35

Travel is not free. Yet, we discounted our trip by more than 92%. That’s pretty good. I won’t even bother considering the discount had we used miles for the flight from DC to Shanghai (American Open Your Seats!!!) or points for the Marriott stay in Nanning.

All-in-all, we saved approximately $12,000 from what the adoption agency quoted us, and more than $40,000 from paying out of pocket for the same travel experience. Here are my lessons learned:

·        A little bit of planning for travel can save you a lot of money.

·        Book foreign travel rewards seats as early as possible. Had I known our exact travel dates a month earlier I could have gotten those American B-class seats, as they were open at that time.

·        Be very discerning about AirBnB. It’s a great service, and we’ve had some positive experiences there, but sometimes it’s a crapshoot. Probably not yet family friendly reliable yet in China.

·        Miles redemption value goes way up when you go for Business or First Class, versus Economy, so may be worth considering those if you have the miles available.

·        Patience with travel planning pays off.

·        I’m totally unprepared to be a parent for two kids!