Sunday, September 26, 2010

Financial Tip: Ask To Have The Fee Waived

File this under the "You Never Know What You'll Get Until You Ask" department:

Recently I forgot to pay off my credit card on time. Doh! Although we faithfully pay off our credit card every month occasionally we don't get it in on time. This time the result was an $80 interest charge. I was 4 days too late.

Credit card companies make money off of you not just by the interest, but by the percentage of the amount the vendor who sells you something has to pay. So even if you've never paid any late fees or had any interest charged to you they still want to retain you as a customer. If you get charged some interest, just do what I did and call them. Try asking these three things:

1. Ask them if they have received your late payment. When they say "yes" you get points with them.
2. Ask them if the late payment will affect your credit score. Most likely it will not (unless you have not paid them for several months) - feel free to express you relief from this concern.
3. Ask them politely "Is there any way you can waive the interest fees?" Most companies will check your past history for a few months or a year and if you've been a faithful customer will most likely take it off. If they provide you with any backtalk or tell you what you want is impossible try this "Are you sure? I've been a loyal customer of your company for ____ years." Some companies train their telephone staff to say no once, but if the customer insists will eventually back down.

So there you go, a little way to save yourself some money. Just ask!

P.S. If you are in the habit of not paying off your credit card account every month you are most likely paying a high interest rate. Often all it takes is a little phone call to the company letting them know that you'd like the rate reduced (and hinting that you may switch credit companies if something can't be done) and your rate will drop from double digits to something much smaller!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just Do It

Did you know that obesity is contagious? It's true. Hang around a lot of overweight people and the environment (the obese people) will have an impact on you. On the other hand, if you hang around people who are healthy and are making healthy changes then chances are you will be influenced to become healthy yourself. In the last month it seems that many of the people I know or who I read their blogs have been doing some great work to get healthier. Lots are feeling better, losing weight, and improving how they feel about themselves. This caused me to look at myself the other day and go, "Hmmmmm . . ."

I'm not terribly overweight but I am terribly out of shape. I have the stamina of a near dead sloth. Counselling is a great workout for the mind - but it's terrible for one's body. Basically I sit around a lot and it's taken it's toll on me.

Being in an environment where so many people are making changes to their health has put social influence on me to think about changes. So for the last week I've started running. Not far (or fast) mind you, but it's something. And I'm surprised but I'm actually enjoying it - and I miss it if I can't. My first goal was to do my little run without feeling chest pains! Today I achieved it for the first time. Here's a great video I saw the other day on Neatorama about someone who also decided to make a change. I hope it inspires you today:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How Important Is It?

Our small group has an interesting format. Mostly we just talk about our lives - sharing them with each other and praying about them. We like to joke that we are the small group about nothing - no Bible studies, no books to read, just fellowship pure and simple. Recently we decided to add one more small component: The Question Of The Day(TM). The Question is something that I come up with, some kind of intellectual or emotional question about God, life with Him, or how we ought to live as Christ followers. Eventually the discussion comes down to how it impacts our lives.

Last week my question was this: "How important is being authentic to following Christ?" I defined being authentic as being real - being open and honest with yourself and others. We had an interesting discussion. There is no commandment to be real with other people . . . but, isn't not being real a form of deception (or lieing)? And how can you grow as a person if you aren't letting someone (or some people) know what you are truly thinking, feeling, experiencing, and wanting? Some people were honest about how the idea of being authentic made them feel - kind of scared actually. We agreed that you don't have to be fully transparent with everyone you meet (that would be quite exhausting) but definitely it's helpful to be real with someone.

How can we grow if we don't show people our true selves? If we don't allow someone into our inner world, they can't speak God's love, grace, and wisdom into it. Worse, we let all the bad thinking (thinking that needs desperately to be challenged) to just keep going around and around in our heads, unhindered. Here's a question: How authentic, how real are you with people? If you've been hurt in the past, are shy, or feel like you shouldn't need to tell people about your inner life then I'm guessing this idea is not pleasant. But how can we grow without it?

Personally I believe we all have a secret addiction to wearing masks, masks so that we don't have to show anyone what we feel we really are. I know I do it sometimes. I don't usually want people to know that I have fears, that I doubt myself, and that I do things that are contrary to my desires and ideals. Yet don't we tire of the masks? It's often scary to put them down, yet when we do we usually find a soul-renewing relief in it. After all, it takes a lot of energy to wear our masks (and the twisted thinking that comes with them). My challenge: Look at yourself. There's probably at least one thing that you wish you could talk about honestly with someone. Why not take a risk and share it with someone you think is safe? With your spouse, a friend, a family member, a counselor, a pastor. The more you share of yourself with safe people the easier it will get and the more authentic you will become. Good luck!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Review: Never Cry Wolf

Book Review: Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

It's hard not to love this book. It's set in 1948 where the author - a young hotshot biologist (and writer) joined the Dominion Wildlife Service and after enduring a several bureaucratic mishaps, was assigned to study a population of wolves in the subarctic highlands of southern Canada. Those wolves and their kin, the government biologists believed, had decimated the once huge population of large mammals in the region, so that, as one worried official put it, "more and more of our fellow citizens are coming back from more and more hunts with less and less deer." Mowat located the wolves, followed them, learned their ways, and in a way became part of the pack.

Along the way he had many adventures and not a few strange experiments such as himself eating only field mice (which he kindly includes a recipe for) after he noticed that's what the wolves did for a season. After some observation of the humans and wolves in the area he concluded that human hunters, and not wolves, were the real cause of the caribou's decline. His conclusion, he writes, was not well received in Ottawa and Winnipeg. "I received no reply," he writes, "unless the fact that the Provincial Government raised the bounty on wolves to twenty dollars some weeks afterwards could be considered a reply."

What can you say about this Canadian classic that hasn't already been said? Never Cry Wolf is the book that Mowat started out writing to make fun of government bureaucracy and instead it became a book that made fun of himself - and dryly came to the defense of what was then a much maligned animal. The popularity of Never Cry Wolf with it's pro-predator message painted such a different side of wolves then was portrayed by elsewhere that he single handedly changed the course of lupine policy in the north. This worthy book is short, humorous, fun, and has a conscience (without being at all preachy). It is truly a piece of Canadiana that you simply must read. I give it 4.5 ninja stars out of 5.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Times, They Are A Changing

I would consider myself an avid reader. Today for instance, it felt like Christmas as I unpacked my latest order from Amazon. Ah, the look and smell of new and unopened books - tis a beautiful thing! Reading is not only about the words written but is tactile and sensuous experience to me. It is like going to the movies - sure I can rent the same movie for $1.50 at Shell and watch from my couch but it's not the same experience as going to the theater. The experience is the thing.

I read in July that for the first time ever at Amazon, digital downloads of books (books designed to be viewed on an e-reader like the Kindle or the iPad) surpassed hardcover sales. News that downloaded kindle books has overtaken its hardcover brethren hit me like a kick in the teeth. According to the press release, 143 Kindle books have been sold for every 100 hardcovers in the past three months. Wow, consider me shocked.

I admit that I had watched the emergence of e-readers with bemused snobbery. I can understand that for a few people, reading a book from a screen might be appealing, but certainly not for the mainstream. How could the majority of people prefer digital to real books? Impossible!

Well, the impossible has come true. Within a year or two many expect that digital book sales in the U.S. will eclipse softcover and hardcover sales combined. Thus, the most popular medium for the printed word for over 500 years (the printed page) is about to become . . . a relic. Libraries will change as we know them. How we read will change. Everything will change. People such as myself with our book collections will be looked on as quaint and hopefully interesting. Alas! I usually embrace new technology but the eventual supplanting of printed books by digital books saddens me deeply. Yet already I feel my resolve weakening! After all, it would be kind of nice to carry my whole book collection with me all the time. And it would save them from cutting down trees. Maybe I wouldn't miss the feel of turning pages too much. Sigh. I can actually forsee myself getting a Kindle (or an iPad). It's only a matter of time . . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Segway meets Tank

You just knew someone had to think of trying this, but the actual result is quite impressive:

With a 200 cc engine and a top speed of 30mph I hope someone somewhere buys some of these and starts renting them out to wannabe daredevils such as myself to play around on . . .

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You?

Today I spent a bit of time reflecting on 9-11 as it was the 9 year anniversary since that terrible day. I've heard older people say that they can remember where they were when JFK was shot, or when the moon landing happened. For my generation it will definitely be 9-11. So here's my question: Where were you?

I was living in Mennville, MB at the time youth pastoring and camp directing. That morning Jobina had gone to work at the local school as an EA and I was sitting at home waiting for my friend Grant to come over. Grant and I were planning to do some mountain biking in the illustrious Howardville Pits which were a 5 minute ride from my house (ah, I miss those trails). For some reason I turned on the TV and was shocked to see a large tower smoking. I listened incredulously as the announcer talked about a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers and then was even more shocked when the other plane hit (I saw it in real time). I remember feeling a great consternation and confusion. Was this the end of the world, some kind of sign of the end times? I found my general sense of "feeling safe" shaken as the world began to react in fear. When Grant arrived we watched for an hour and then to help calm our nerves . . . we went biking. Singletrack is almost always therapeutic.

When I think about it now I feel kind of sheepish to have felt the fear I did but I'm honest enough to admit it. Doubt creeps in pretty quickly when you are confronted with the unknown. May God bless those who lost family and friends in the attacks.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: Robin Hood - King of Sherwood

Book Review: Robin Hood - King of Sherwood by J.A. Watson

A friend of mine lent me this book. I've read lots of Robin Hood interpretations over my lifetime (Stephen Lawhead's Raven Trilogy is quite good) so I was bit curious on this take from an unknown author. I'll be brief with this one. It has a kind of "pulp fiction" feel to it but it started out slow. Real slow. I would say even that it was boring for the first few chapters. A lesser man may have succumbed and put it down but I persevered as I get stubborn about such things (I've only not completed 3 or 4 books that I've started - War and Peace was one of them). Eventually though as the plot evened out and a little suspense built up (as well as some romantic tension between Robin and Marion) I found myself engaged. I was glad I slogged through those first few chapters. I'd rate the book (a quick read) 3.4 ninja stars out of 5.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Money Tree

I found this interesting . . . and thought provoking. It reminded me of how people usually respond when I tell them that there are investments that make 25% a year (or how almost anyone who owns a home can own another one) - they just can't believe it. It takes an open person, someone not constricted to the ideas of what "should" or "can't be" to take advantage of the opportunities around them. And then after they see them . . . to take advantage of them. Great little experiment!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Devil's Yard Sale

I read this story by Don Mondell recently in a newsletter. It's worth repeating and sending to your loved ones:

One day, the Devil laid out his gleaming, razor-edged tools upon a worn and ancient wooden table. He announced a "fire" sale and carefully marked the price upon each tool:

ANGER: $100, RESENTMENT: $400, HATRED: $600, etc.

Each tool sold almost as quickly as it was placed upon the table. Toward the end of the day, a crooked old man in tattered rags approached. The man eyed the tools that remained, but was taken by a certain tool at the end of the table. The tool resembled the two long and bowed fangs of a viper. Its chrome-like pointy tusks caught the sun and sent flashes of blinding light everywhere. With one hand, the old man blocked his eyes from the glare and with the other, he reached for the tool. As he grabbed hold, the tool's steely, needle tips nearly pierced his hand. This seemed to please the old man. He snatched up the tool and held it to his chest. With a glint in his eye, the man asked the Devil, “How much for this one?” “I’m sorry, that tool isn’t for sale,” the Devil replied. Without hesitation, the man said, “But I’ll pay double. I know how valuable it is.”

The Devil narrowed his eyes and hissed, “Sir, I’ve told you, that tool is not for sale, nor will I ever sell it. It is the most useful tool I own and without it, I wouldn't be half as effective in my work. With that tool alone, I can accomplish my every task. Now good day, sir.” Dejected, the man looked once more at the shiny tool, then slowly placed it on the table. With almost a whisper, he said to the Devil, "If I can't buy it, would you, at least tell me its name?" A slow and wicked grin grew across the Devil's face. "Of course, old man, its name is... Discouragement."

Robert South said, “Defeat should never be a source of discouragement but rather a fresh stimulus”. Discouragement is not the absence of adequacy, but rather the absence of courage. Hence “disCOURAGEment”. Don’t quit. You can do it. It’s always darkest just before the dawn, you know. Hang tough. Discipline yourself to keep your eyes on your goal and know this: The difference between dismal failure and magnificent success is the ability to keep on and not become discouraged.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FaceBook A Big Hit With Narcissists, People With Low Self Esteem

What do you think, is this true?

Facebook a big hit with narcissists and people with low self-esteem: study

I must admit, I did enjoy reading the highlights of this to my wife!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Deep Question For My Son

So I was swinging beside my 8 year old boy at a park today when I thought I would impulsively ask him a deep question. I'm continually amazed at his insightful responses. Today I tried a personal one. I turned to him casually and said "Riker, what do you want from me?"

He looked at me thoughtfully and then started thinking out loud. "Well . . . I guess it depends how you mean it." He was looking for clarification but I decided not to give him any. "That's true, " I said in that vague, counselor way that doesn't mean anything but invites more.

"I guess the biggest thing is your love," he said after a a moment or two of silence. I thought that was cool and it reminded me again how important it is to show your kids that you love them. Love is the most basic of all our needs and we tend to wither when we don't receive it. Then he gave me another answer. "Also, I want you to teach me things." Hmmm . . . interesting. Just the other day I was talking with a friend about how, even as adults, we crave to learn from our Dads. We want to learn from them, to be handed down important knowledge. "So what kind of things I asked?"

"I'd like you to help me with my homework. Sometimes I have lots to do and Mommy is too busy. And you usually are there but don't help. I'd like your help more." Ouch! That kind of hurt. I'm gone alot in the evenings since that is the time that most of my clients are available. I don't remember being home and having him ask me for assistance before but maybe he has. He is now. I mentally commit myself to being more available to help with that stuff. "I'd also like you to teach me how to survive in the outdoors." I liked this one more. Can I teach him this? Perhaps - I think I could help him survive for a few days at least! I have always felt a desire to pass on my love and knowledge (as little as it is) of outdoor things to Riker and he seems to instinctively want that very thing as well. Very cool.

I liked Riker's answers, he was open and honest about what he thought, felt, and wanted. If you ever feel things are getting a bit too shallow in your relationship with someone then try something different. Why not humbly ask them that simple question "What do you want from me?" More often then not you'll be amazed at the answers and the connection this particular conversation can foster.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: And No Birds Sang

Book Review: And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat

During my summer my father-in-law let me borrow some Farley Mowat books. And No Birds Sang immediately got my attention. First, because it was a book on war by a well known author, secondly because when you think of Farley Mowat you don't think war - you think "Never Cry Wolf" and environmentalist, and thirdly because when I flipped to the first page I found myself immediately engrossed after only reading one paragraph. Ever have that happen to you, you pick up a book and after reading a few sentences you just know that you must read it?

It is rare to have a book on a man's war experience make you laugh alot but this one of the surprises I had in store. Farley Mowat is in my opinion one of the greatest Canadian authors. This book chronicles him desperately trying to get into the Canadian forces and impatiently awaiting his time to get to war. He seems to capture the optimism and excitement about engaging the enemy that was present during that time. I laughed out loud at some of his stories of his hijinks in the infantry (how he was not court martialed is beyond me) and thought that perhaps the story would remain a comedy throughout. But soon after he describes the invasion of Europe the book begins to get more serious, more dark. For a long time he manages to outwit his fear but when it finally catches up to him, the results are not funny at all. They are downright terrifying.

Subtly and indirectly, Mowat invites you to think about war. As you follow his change of mood, you find your own mood about it changing and being challenged as well. If I was to try and describe this book in one sentence I'd say something like "a humorous and coarse piece of poetry about one naturalist's coming of age against a backdrop of brutal war." Somehow, physically and psychologically, Mowat survived the war and lived to tell about it. His courage to tell his story is just as admirable as was his courage to fight in it. I rate this book 4.5 ninja stars out of 5 and I'd read it again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Watch This!

In one of my counselling sessions recently a clients mentioned that they went camping and because they didn't have their phone they didn't know what time it was. This made me think; how many people use their cell phones as their watches? It also made me wonder; how many people actually wear watches anymore? Perhaps most people have stopped using them and I just didn't notice. I used to wear one all the time but after my last one broke I didn't fix it or replace it. Now I look at wall clocks and occasionally at my phone. I wonder if maybe watches as a technology are obsolete -fading into the history of clothing items that have outlived their usefullness (or have been replaced by new technology)

So here's my question: Do you wear a watch or do you use your phone to find out what time it is? Or perhaps somethings else?