While Family Sleeps, Increase Your Skills and Abilities

night-owlChances are very likely that if you are reading this, you are not doing so right after midnight.  If you look at the time stamp of this posting though, you will notice that, in fact, it was posted right after midnight.

That strange time frame is not by accident.  I intentionally try to get postings like this done while my family is asleep and doesn’t care what I’m doing.  That’s no slight on my family, but they primarily want me to care about them while I’m with them.  And deservedly so.  However, many major things for my family and for myself would never get done if I didn’t make the best use of the inconvenient times of the day.

For example, my entire household is asleep by 8:30pm central.  In most places, that’s still considered early, and it is considered early for me too.  So when the family sleeps, I get to work.

  • Business school homework and assignments
  • Church projects that can be done from home
  • Literature of the non-fiction , uplifting variety
  • Family budgeting and long-range planning
  • Catching back up with missed emails and calls
  • Decluttering, reorganizing, and doing laundry
  • Laughing aloud with friends on social media
  • Heroically rocking our toddler back to sleep
  • The list goes on, and on, and on, and on

While it may seem a bit overwhelming, I’ve naturally become more effective at the above activities simply because I perform them regularly.  As the old adage goes, “we become what we practice.”

So that’s my story.  What are some tasks that you would like to become better at or more intentional about?

Leave a reply in the comments section, and please hit subscribe.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or AL.com.

Debunking daylight savings time myths

Well, it is that time of year again.  Daylight Savings Time (DST) starts this Sunday morning and along with it starts the hysteria of DST myths.

For people who are easily frustrated by nonsensical behaviors, this is a particularly tough time of year.  However, with a little bit of myth-busting, this time of year can be a very refreshing change of pace.  Let’s review the following to see just how little effect DST has on the environment around us.

 “Makes the Days Are Longer”

This is wrong, wrong, and wrong.  In both connotations of the word “days,” this is an incorrect statement.  Firstly, a day is always 24 hours no matter how you slice it.  Secondly, daylight hours in our region flex from minimum of 10 hours at winter solstice to a maximum of 14 hours at summer solstice.  This is dependent on position relative to the North Pole not on whether the clocks are set a certain way.

“Makes Bedtime Shorter”

This has less to do with the time change and more to do with the fact that you just simply more active in the warmer months than the colder months.  For instance, going to the movies is much more popular in the warm months than the colder months.  Going to the movies takes up time that you would normally be at home sleeping.  So blame the movie theater not your clock.

“Makes More Difficult to Wake Up”

Well, if you’re getting less sleep in the summer, then likewise, it will be more difficult to wake up when you need to wake up.

“Makes People Crazy”

Again, people are not sleeping due to lifestyle decisions not the clock.

Those are just a few of the oft quoted wives’ tales that spread like wildfire this time of year.  Hopefully, this list gives you enough info to extinguish that wildfire in your life for good.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter or AL.com.

Sunrise by Alex Indigo (Flickr)

Choose Your Coworkers Wisely

Coworkers can be a blessing, or they can be a curse.   Nothing is more crucial than having the right mix of people around you to make your day more productive and more fulfilling.  But how do you make sure your coworkers are a blessing and not a curse?

Well, if you’re going to spend over 50 percent of your waking day at a workplace, you really want to vet your potential coworkers as much as possible before you start working with them.  Once you accept a job offer or a department transfer, you’re often stuck with your decision for an extended period of time.

So talk to potential workers, scan online reviews, read about the company culture, and ask your potential boss as many questions as possible.  If you do all of those things and still have a warm and fuzzy feeling, then you should feel pretty comfortable about signing the dotted line on a job offer.

From there, all you can do is pray and hope for the best.

This post was previously written by Ben on LinkedIn.

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Baxter


Delayed Gratification is not Set in Stone

More often than not, delayed gratification is viewed as a four-letter word that means permanent denial of happiness.  That’s not a healthy definition or an accurate definition as delayed gratification is actually a temporary experience.  If it lasts forever, then it’s not delayed gratification.  That being said, it’s not hard to see why delayed gratification or healthy discipline gets a bad rap.

Hebrews 12:11

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

There are multiple applications for this verse: financial discipline, sexual discipline, athletic discipline, educational discipline, and etc.  If we want to be successful in any area of our lives, it will require some level of discipline.  There’s no way around it.

Fortunately, it becomes easier to live out Hebrews 12:11 if we don’t put all of our focus on the first sentence of the verse.  We get so caught up in the pain of discipline that we overlook the harvest of righteousness and peace.  Simply correcting that shortsightedness will change our lives forever.

Follow @Ben_Baxter on Twitter. Or find him on AL.com and TouchdownAlabama.net.

Delayed Gratification

Love-Robinson, Most Famous Black Doctor of All-Time?

I know it’s a stretch.  But is it possible that in just a few short days, Malachi Love-Robinson has become the most famous black doctor of all-time?

Right now, there are only a few famous black doctors.  One of them is Republican presidential hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson.  However, since he’s retired and doesn’t wear lab coats anymore, I think he should be disqualified from this discussion.

There is also west coast music mogul, Dr. Dre.  He’s been known to “go in the lab” quite often, but there’s no evidence that he meant a medical lab.  Also, his lack of a lab coat just doesn’t cut it.

This leaves herbal therapist, Doctor Malachi Love-Robinson.  While he is youthful, he makes up for this by being completely unapologetic.  Can you blame him? He’s more motivated to make an income than most adults, and yet, we want to shut his business down.

Live on, Malachi! Viva la, Malachi!

Follow @Ben_Baxter on Twitter. Or find him on AL.com and TouchdownAlabama.net.

Fake Doctor

Driving While _____ in the South

A few months ago, I was on a radio show expressing how I felt that my hometown, Dothan, had always had less racial tension that other cities in the South.  But with all the stories that keep coming out about racial tension (especially with police), it made me think of inappropriate behavior that has happened to me just in the city of Dothan.  Here are my stories.  What about yours?


My first story occurs near dusk as I was driving home from work at a local electric generating plant. As I was nearing my apartment, I was unexpectedly pulled over by a police officer that had been lingering behind me since I started my commute.

As the police officer approached, I became very nervous. At this time, I had no idea what I was being pulled over for, but I knew something fishy was in the air.

When the officer arrived to my front door, I rolled down my windows as the officer began to say, “I’m going to need you…”

Before he could finish his statement, he sees my company badge and interjects himself with, “Oh, I didn’t know you worked for the power plant. I had been following you for several miles, and I just wanted to make sure you were OK.”

I sheepishly responded, “Yes, I’m OK.”

The officer then left my car and returned to his police vehicle. Meanwhile, I’m panicking and wondering why this police officer actually pulled me over. Did he pull me over to plant drugs in my car? I’ll never truly know, but I know he wasn’t really checking to see if I was okay.

My second story also occurs near dusk as I was driving from my apartment to shop at the nearby supermarket. Before I could get a block away from my apartment complex though, I was pulled over by another police officer.

Again, once the officer arrived at my driver side door, I rolled down my windows. This time, the officer’s words were not interrupted.

He says with a thunderous voice, “I’m going to need you to get out of your car.”

Because I didn’t want to get physically abused by this police officer, I did what he asked and got out of the car. The officer then proceeds with further statements and questioning.

He states, “I’m going to need to frisk you, and I’m going to need to search your car for drugs.”

If you can imagine, I was very puzzled, but I still cooperated.

As his frisk and search finished, the officer responded, “I just wanted you to know your left tail light was out. Go get that fixed.”

That was the only explanation that he gave. As one might guess, the whole bogus ordeal made me very angry.

The above anecdotes shouldn’t paint the whole picture, but they are signs that we have a systemic problem with inappropriate police behavior—even in supposed progressive cities like Dothan.

Follow @Ben_Baxter on Twitter. Or find him on AL.com and TouchdownAlabama.net.

Getting Tax ‘Refund’ No Reason to Quit Work, Buy New Car

Look.  I get it.  Eight out of 10 filers nationwide received a refund during last year’s tax season.  In the state of Alabama specifically, refund-eligible filers received $2,821.  That’s more money than most of us have at any given time, but it is not enough money to start making rash decisions with.  Unfortunately, this wisdom is not as widely known as it should be, and the absence of this virtue leads to the following common tax-season blunders.

Quitting a Job

Believe it or not, this happens a lot.  This is surprising too since 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings and 21 percent have no savings.  But as mind-boggling as that is, workers quit in droves during tax season.  And many of these same workers aren’t immediately looking for a replacement job.

I’m not sure why many of us believe we can truly survive on $2,821 long-term.  The math just doesn’t add up.  Try as one might, one can probably only live on $2,821 for about 2 or 3 months.  And that’s only if one’s expenses are extremely low.   So word of advice on this: don’t quit your job.

Buying a New Car

If we are just buying a cheap used car to get you back and forth to work, this would be fine.  However, most of us who do this already have a decent commuter car; we just want a newer car with a monthly payment.  That’s a sign of lack of contentment and will keep us broke forever.  Let’s put a stop to this bad habit once and for all.

Follow @Ben_Baxter on Twitter.  Or find him on AL.com and TouchdownAlabama.net.


Resist Urge to Panic about the Stock Market

Please sit down.  Take a deep breath and look at the accompanying chart.

Standard and Poors Jan 1950 - Dec 2015

Standard and Poors Jan 1950 – Dec 2015


If you are even remotely good at reading a graph, you know this represents the stock market.  More specifically, it is a graph of the S&P 500—the gold standard for measuring the health of the stock market and the economy as a whole.

Look at the chart closely. What do you see? If you are being honest with yourself, you see that the stock market as a whole has a long-term track record of positive growth.  As a result, if your personal investment portfolio is diversified enough, it will also mirror the positive growth of the stock market.

If your personal investment portfolio is not diversified (i.e. all of your eggs are in one basket), then you are probably asking for trouble.  Get a great advisor and make a change today.

Ben Baxter is editor for Baxter & Friends.  Follow him on Twitter @Ben_Baxter

Stop Blaming Churches for Your Financial Problems

With each passing day, another pastor (usually a mega-church pastor) gets vilified in the media.  Most of the time, it’s because the pastor in question is being ridiculed for showing signs of having too much wealth.  Since wealth is often misconstrued for salary, the smoking gun almost always points back to pastors making too high of a salary.  This negative sentiment rings true on a national stage and eventually makes its way down to the local level.  The hater-ation runs deep.

Unfortunately, this mud-slinging is unwarranted because pastors in general are not hoodwinking the public or robbing from the poor.  In fact, for the amount of talent and skill pastors have, they are living pretty meagerly and sometimes near the poverty line.  But let’s not take my word for it, let’s look at the research.


Rick Wikerson, Jr – Celebrity Pastor

According to the Barna Group, 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance while only 2% of protestant churches have more than 1000 adults in attendance.  In addition, according to Leadership Network’s 2014 Large Church Salary Report, per capita giving goes down as church size goes up.  I will get more into that later.

Within this same Leadership Network report, it is measured that for mega-churches (churches with attendances from 1,000 to over 30,000), senior pastor salaries tend to represent only 3.4% of a total church budget.  For example, if a church’s total budget is $2 million, then the senior pastor makes $68,000.  That salary may seem pedestrian at first, but when you consider that the average pastor works 50 hours per week and 35% of pastors work more than 60 hours per week, that salary is paltry.  In fact, many pastors regularly sell items on eBay and Craigslist to make ends meet.

Let’s go back to congregational giving though.  Remember how the media likes to paint a picture that poor people are being robbed to prop up silver-spooned pastors? Well, that’s a load of hogwash.  Look at these figures on giving:

  • American Christians give 1.5 – 3.1% to their church and other charitable organizations. That number has dropped more than a percentage point in the past 10 years.
  • 4 out of 10 church attendees give nothing to their local church.
  • Only 1 out of 10 regular church attendees give a consistent percentage of their income to their local church.
  • Currently only 4% of church-attending Christians tithe (give 10% of their income) to local church.

In summary of those statistics, we can’t get robbed if we are essentially keeping all of our income. So let’s stop perpetrating this robbery myth.  That’s just a smoke-screen to cover up the fact that many of us feel bad for not giving a cheerful amount.

Why can’t we give a cheerful amount? Mostly because we don’t read our Bibles very often.  Even a brief analysis of scripture would show us that financial matters are spelled out pretty bluntly.  If we adhere to scripture, we will financially be better off.

Pastors know this.  They read their Bibles daily like it is recommended.  Supernaturally and practically, pastors gain wealth even if they have horrible salaries because they live below their means and then some.  And in doing so, they can financially help all of the haters who think pastors are their enemies.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Baxter

Blockbuster Now Means ‘Billion’ and That Should Scare You

It’s that time of the year again! The Fall football is at its midpoint, every man worth his salt is squeezing the last few uses out of his grill, and the action-packed, special-effects heavy films have disappeared from your local cinema once again. The summer of 2015 has come and gone with the box office franchise titans of The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World each crossing the coveted billion-dollar threshold. When a film makes over a billion dollars at the box office, it looks great to studios, fans love it, and it solidifies the film in the pantheon of great, successful movies.

Unfortunately everything is not as it seems when looking at the billion dollar club, which may ultimately lead to a bursting of the box office bubble. The lack of creativity in blockbuster films is ultimately going to hurt the industry as it creates more and more brain-dead fans with each passing summer. The massive box office hauls don’t reflect an impending crisis, but a close examination of the box office records on website boxofficemojo.com, illustrate that a troubling trend has started to emerge.

The first takeaway that could either mean boom or bust for Hollywood and movie fans is that currently only twenty-three movies have broken the coveted $1 billion mark and most were released in the 21st century, with the exception of Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997) and Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999). Secondly, only three of the films are non-sequels:  Titanic, Frozen, and Alice in Wonderland (2010); illustrating a growing trend in Hollywood to go with what you know, rather than betting big on original content. And lastly, the top 2 films, which are the only ones to ever gross over 2 billion dollars, have both been directed by James Cameron, Avatar ($2.7 billion) and Titanic ($2.1 billion).

Furious 7 kicked the year off with a bang grossing over a billion dollars worldwide before the summer movie season even began, as fans flocked to theaters eager to see how the series would handle the real life death of its star, Paul Walker. The summer season was predictable, however 2015 might be shaping up to be the biggest year for Hollywood as it is on track to beat the records set in 2012, which saw an incredible four movies break the 1 billion dollar mark. Believe it or not, there could be a total of seven, yes SEVEN, films that break the 1 billion dollar mark this year. Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World and Minions, yes Minions, have already grossed over a billion dollars internationally and there are still three films left that could also gross over a billion dollars: Spectre, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  

The trailers for Bond 24, Spectre, look as sharp and stylish as Skyfall, and anything less than a repeat of the success of Skyfall would be a disappointment. Skyfall is the only film in the Bond franchise to break a billion and also won Adele an Academy Award for Best Song. With its director and team of writers returning, Spectre is all but guaranteed to continue the success of its highly entertaining predecessor, even if Sam Smith’s recently released theme song is a bit of a letdown. But who can top Adele?

The Hunger Games Franchise has gone the Harry Potter and Twilight route and split its final book into two films with the finale being released in November.  With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 being the last film in the series, it could potentially have a larger turnout and even greater returns at the box office, than the previous three films in the franchise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 made $1.3 billion and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 made $829 million, both of which had the highest gross of any film in their respective franchises. Studios realize it’s in their best interest to make as much money as possible when releasing the final film in an adapted series, and whatever adaptations are coming down the Hollywood pipeline, you can expect the trend to continue.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you would already know that the ticket pre-sale for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is already breaking records and crashing websites, with all this hype James Cameron might want to share some elbow room in the even more exclusive 2 billion-dollar club. Yes, I’m calling it now and saying that I believe Star Wars: Episode 7 will ultimately bring in over $2 billion at the global box office. The hype this movie has received from three trailers is utterly astounding. Star Wars purists know that Episodes 1-3 were ill-conceived excess, and with a solid cast that brings back almost everyone from Episodes 4-6 and directed by fanboy favorite JJ Abrams, the force will be strong with this release.

With all of the hype and press around the box office results, the problems with the movie industry are still there, and chief among them is the sequel machine that has gripped Hollywood by the balls, throat.  Every film I’ve mentioned of potentially hitting the billion dollar mark in the remaining months of this year is a sequel, and not just any old sequel either. Although Bond is a behemoth of a franchise unto itself, this year’s movie will mark the 24th film in the franchise and it’s expected to break a billion. Furious 7, the seventh film in the Fast & Furious franchise, took its seventh try to hit that coveted mark. The Avengers: Age of Ultron was both a sequel and a continuation of a greater franchise. Disney even has plans to turn Star Wars into a franchise on steroids, with three more planned Star Wars sequels, a spinoff AND a theme park addition. Sequel fatigue is bound to set in and the outlook for the future is bleak. The last film with an original idea to hit the billion dollar mark was James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009, and even Cameron is working on three, potentially four more sequels to Avatar.

This new trend of striving for the billion-dollar mark is pure Hollywood greed at its finest. No longer is debuting at number 1 the big prize, nor remaining number 1 for several weeks, the ultimate goal is to cross the beloved 1 billion dollar threshold and many studio heads are clamoring for another Avatar or Titanic. The blame can be placed on both big Hollywood studios and summer movie fans. It’s a cyclical process of the beast feeding itself and will only stop with a series of massive flops on the level of Disney’s dismal John Carter.

Disney’s John Carter is the stuff of legends that is still talked about in Hollywood as a cautionary tale of excess and what happens when big bucks are bet on a new franchise that ultimately flops. 2012’s John Carter cost Disney $263.7 million to make and only grossed $284 million globally. A budget of a quarter of a billion dollars and you can see that Disney was swinging for the fences. The film’s colossal failure ultimately cost Disney chairman Rich Ross his job. Disney naturally did what any great business does after a great financial loss, they turned right around and did it again in 2013 with The Lone Ranger. The creative force behind the billion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise made The Lone Ranger with a budget of $225 million and the film only earned $260 million globally. Two films that cost Disney almost a half a billion dollars to produce, only earned $56 million…combined.

Disney is perhaps the only company with pockets deep enough to sustain the practice of spending large amounts of money on films and ultimately having them fail. Their purchase of Marvel Studios in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion each shows that they’re willing to take huge risks and stock their stables full of franchises that all but guarantee the company to have a huge return on their investment. But at what cost?

The Lone Ranger and John Carter were supposed to kick off franchises, but ultimately disappointed critics and fans alike. With ticket prices rising on a yearly basis, films that are supposed to be fun, family fare, end up being disappointing and costly to the studios and moviegoers alike. The root of the problem can be traced back to money and the need for the ever more lucrative sequel to a sequel.

Sequel fatigue will set in sooner than we think, and it won’t be because the summer movies are no longer entertaining and full of Michael Bay-esque explosions, but because fans will ultimately tire of seeing the same characters on the screen every summer. Let’s face it, the last truly big summer blockbuster without a sequel would have to be 2010’s Inception and before that we’d have to go back to 1996’s Independence Day, which also has a remake in the works. Neither of those films hit the billion dollar mark and they did what great summer flicks are supposed to: create dialogue among viewers and entertain not just in that moment, but also for years to come. Nearly 20 years later and Independence Day is still a heck of a ride and is one Will Smith’s best performances. Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day is the Gettysburg Address for action movies.

Great movies, summer blockbusters included, should have repeat watchability 5, 10, 20 years after their release. Avatar came out in 2009 and holds the top spot in global gross, but when was the last time anyone watched Avatar? Even its Academy Award Best Picture Nomination is mocked and the film hasn’t been out for 10 years. The same could be said one day for the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is about to enter Phase 3. Will movie fans honestly want to watch Chris Evans as Captain America in 15 years, or care to see Thor: The Dark World, in 25 years once the movie is on its third or fourth reboot?

Perhaps the only silver lining that can derail the Hollywood greed machine is tentatively scheduled to arrive in theatres in 2017, Avatar 2. It was reported by the late composer and frequent James Cameron collaborator, James Horner, that James Cameron has enough material for 4 more Avatar sequels that he is trying to squeeze into three. What happens if Avatar 2 or 3 is a colossal flop, will that change the commercial culture of Hollywood? Highly unlikely as studios will adjust and cut budgets by a few tens of millions of dollars for a year or two and will be back to their grotesque budgets just in time for Michael Bay’s Bad Boys 6 or Transformers 17.

There has to be a change, but the only change that comes in Hollywood is a two-word phrase that is both beloved and feared, something different. Inception, District 9, World War Z, were films that were loved and were wildly different from the norm, and yet only Inception is the only one that makes the Box Office Top 100 of all-time list. The greatest films don’t always come with big budgets and even larger box office returns, and year after year we have at least one gem that everyone simply loves. Who DIDN’T see Guardians of the Galaxy last year and didn’t think “WOW, that was fun!” Though Guardians is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it had all of the elements of what a great summer blockbuster should be: fun, energetic, funny, and wild ride from start to finish. The only hope we have of not being taken hostage by the billion dollar juggernauts every summer is when creative directors like: Christopher Nolan, Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Guillermo del Toro, Spike Jonze (Her and Where the Wild Things Are), Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights and There Will be Blood), Quentin Tarantino and others put out films that speak to the human soul, entertain, and are just pure fun without all the fluff.

The creative minds in Hollywood as well as the fans will have to change. Hollywood will have to go back to its roots and cherish the spectacle and wonder of film and filmmaking.  Only independent filmmakers seem to cherish the art form or filmmaking and the beauty in telling a story for the large screen.  Even if the industry itself doesn’t change on its own it can still be forced to change. You and I have the power of the purse. If movies with original stories and characters that aren’t left open for a sequel start becoming the summer blockbusters, Hollywood would quickly follow suit to keep up with the change in consumer preference. But who am I to judge, I purchased two tickets for the first showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens the moment Fandango sent me an email saying the tickets were available in my area. There are some billion-dollar, franchise sequels you just can’t resist.