2016: Bad for Celebs, Pretty Darn Good for Gutmans

I’m not a big fan of the year-end holiday letter, mostly because I don’t care if your cat had a bladder infection in August. But the busier we all are, the less opportunity we have to connect in real life — and frankly when you have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook it’s easy to miss big life events. It turns out we’ve had some pretty big life events in the past few months alone, so in the spirit of connecting I figured I’d write a quick blog post to share the biggies.

There’s no question 2016 will go down as one of the worst years in memory for celebrities, who died at an alarming rate. The NYT ran a list of 2016 celebrity deaths earlier this week and it was scary (RIP Fyvush Finkel). And of course, 2016 will always be remembered as the year the lunatics took over the asylum that is the American government. Yet, for some reason, 2016 has been a pretty good year for my immediate family. We’ve had some big career events, some big life events, and one third of us moved across the country for a big adventure. Here are some highlights:

  • Leslie passed her Certified Financial Planner license exam last month after what seemed like a lifetime of studying. Big kudos to my amazing life partner!
  • I took a lateral move at the American Heart Association in June in order to better position myself for the future, and that move was rewarded this week with a promotion to a Foundation Relations Adviser role. The position is on our national Mission Advancement team based in Dallas, and I’ll be focused fully on building relationships and writing grant proposals to support the AHA’s mission. My territory will include foundations across the organization’s western region that makes up 16 states. I had my three year anniversary with the AHA this month and can say with all certainty that deciding to work in the nonprofit sector was the best career decision of my life.
  • Also this week I landed the largest single foundation gift of my short nonprofit career, a $75,000 grant to provide CPR training kits to high schools in rural Arizona. I hope this is the first of many partnerships I will develop to help improve the cardiac care of Americans across the western U.S.

    madison-place

    Madison Place at Greer Manor

  • This morning we found out that the offer we made on a townhouse has been accepted. My financial adviser (AKA brilliant wife) made it clear recently that given the financial climate and our desire to actually retire one day, we needed to get off the sidelines after nearly five years of renting. We have had a blast in downtown Phoenix in our luxury apartment in the sky, and while we like downtown we didn’t want to buy here. Our new townhouse is located in a great neighborhood (16th St. and Missouri) that is a nice mix of urban and suburban appeal, and it’s only 1.2 miles from Leslie’s office and zero miles from my office (yep, I will continue to work from home in my new role). So, we’ll be moving to the “Biltmore” area in February. If you live in Central Phoenix I look forward to seeing you soon at Luci’s Healthy Marketplace or Duck and Decanter – both walking distance to our new home!
  • 2016 has been a bittersweet year for us in terms of our amazing son Connor. In May he informed us that college was not his cup of tea and that he was dropping out of ASU after one year (this coming as we received a letter from ASU that he’d made the dean’s list). On top of this news, he also informed us that he was moving to New York to follow his dreams (and his amazing girlfriend Clare, who was accepted at the New School in Manhattan). After a few months of going back and forth to the Big Apple, he will be leaving us permanently next week (that’s the bitter part). The sweet part is that he has a great apartment in Brooklyn, he’s making a living as a freelance web developer, and this week, thanks in part to some dual enrollment credits from high school, he’ll be completing his associate’s degree from Rio Salado College. In January he’s enrolling in an innovative Nanodegree program through Udacity that will ultimately lead to him learning even more advanced web development skills. Whether he continues as a freelancer or decides to join a company, after the program he’ll be well positioned to earn a great living in this very competitive field. I am ridiculously proud of him for chasing his own dreams and doing it own way.

There’s more, but these are the big ones. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

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Why I Loved a 736 Page Novel About Trees

barkskinsI love novels that span generations and tell stories of families, dysfunctional and otherwise. Some of my all-time favorite books are epic tales of families told over hundreds of years, like Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Jess Walters’ “Beautiful Ruins,” and  Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex.” It should come as no surprise then that I was eager to read “Barkskins,” Annie Proulx’s saga of two 17th century immigrants to New France and the generations they spawned over the course of the following 300 plus years. Yep, I was worked up about a 736 page story about loggers!

It’s probably worth noting that Annie Proulx is one of the world’s best writers and the esteemed author of my favorite novel — “The Shipping News.” So I was certainly predisposed to enjoy “Barkskins”, despite its density. And truthfully, “Barkskins” is not for everyone. Some of the reader reviews I read on the Interwebs suggested the book was incredibly boring and long-winded and many readers put it down (or threw it away) after the first few chapters. Others, however, raved about the story of Rene Sel and Charles Duquet and their descendants. I couldn’t put it down.

It’s pretty easy for my family to know when I’m enjoying a book — whenever they look over at me lounging on the sofa, my head will be buried in my tablet. This was definitely the case with “Barkskins,” which I devoured over the course of a week or so. I originally borrowed it from the library’s digital collection, but after a week I went ahead and purchased it so I could take my time and fold into the story with no concern about it expiring. Plus, $14.99 is a small price to pay for a novel that will stay with me for so long.

“Barkskins” is brilliant on several levels. First, Proulx is such a gorgeous writer her words flow like a river through a forest (see what I did there?). The story itself though is what makes this novel so absorbing. Proulx uses the history of the Sel family and the Duquet family to show the dichotomy of fortune in the new world. Both families are tied to the great forests of the American-Canadian northeast, but while one builds a tremendous fortune from logging the other suffers through generations of poverty and misery at the hands of the very same trees. At the same time, “Barkskins” is a story about the new world itself, how it literally grew out of the trees and how the growth of the new world used and displaced the vast forests. And Proulx gives us yet another layer of intrigue in the stories of how the Europeans came to the new world and ruthlessly savaged its native peoples for generations (and in many ways still does today).

Yet while we follow the stories of the Sels and the Duquets, we also learn the true value of the forests. The novel has an environmental message at its heart, one that Proulx builds toward as the novel progresses. The reader comes to understand the great power of the forest, to build houses and cities, to build countries, to build (and destroy families) but perhaps at the cost of the health of the very same land and perhaps the entire planet. Proulx thankfully doesn’t preach about our destruction of the forest, but she does lead us to the conclusion that we are at a crossroads. I for one am very pessimistic about the future of the planet, especially given the state of world politics, but Proulx leaves us with a glimpse of a path toward environmental salvation. There are ways to repopulate the forests, but it’s definitely more difficult to rebuild what was so easy to tear down.

Annie Proulx most definitely has a place among my favorite authors, and “Barkskins” is a majestic narrative that may go down as her opus (she is 80 years old after all so this may be her last novel). For me it had everything — it spanned centuries, had rich and memorable characters, and it had a message of the impermanence of life that resonated tremendously with me.

Completely by coincidence, the next book in my queue is “The Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey. I didn’t plan to read back-to-back stories about trees, but I’ll take it as a sign that I need to step up my environmental activism.