Monday, February 25, 2008

What path do we take?

They say water takes the path of least resistance. Evidence of that is seen when rivers cuts valleys through solid rock, streams that meander through cow pastures, and flood waters that settle in the lowest areas of land. As I thought about that well-proven saying over the weekend, my mind was taken to how we view paths in this present day.

Where Ell and I live there is still about six inches of snow on the ground. As we prepared for the Jamaican Party, I noticed there was only one path in the snow between our driveway and the house. That path led from where we parked our cars and then straight to our back door. As I tried to figure out where people would be parking, I quickly noticed most of the people wouldn't be able to see that one path. So, both so our guests wouldn't have to walk through calf-deep snow and so Ell wouldn't have a wet kitchen floor, I started stepping out a path from the other side of the driveway towards the back door.

As I tramped down the cold, wet snow I looked around to see what other paths we'd made in the snow around our home. There were only two; one to the garden and a well-worn one from the porch to the woodpile. The first we used to dump our compost which would eventually help us feed ourselves, and the latter was used everyday to keep us warm and alive in the harshness of the winter season. Both were made out of true necessity, but neither were paths that might exist at anyone else's home. Interesting thought, huh?

Later that evening during the party, I wandered into a conversation between my friend's Mike and Grant. The topic at hand was the calling of God and Grant posed the question, "Do we all have a path laid out for us?" As I pondered his question my mind went to the paths in my yard. Does each of us have our own paths of necessity that are not the paths even our neighbor's share? And then as if Grant was reading my mind, he asked, "How do we figure out [where to tramp out] our paths if we don't even know where we're going?"

I wish I could say I had some profound answers to my friend's questions, but I did not. I was standing there wondering the same things. Our paths in the snow were the results of Ell and I wanting to spend as little time as we had to in the wintry conditions; the least resistance as it were. We hadn't made the paths to make any kind of impact on anyone else's lives; we simply went the easiest way. But when it comes to following life paths, I'm not sure the easiest way or the shortest distance is always the right approach.

What came out of that conversation was a basic question: Did God still [in 2008] call people to specific paths and if so where is the biblical and physical proof of that positive answer? Do we all have a path laid out for us by our creator? Do we all really have the capacity to know our goals and in return work towards them? We were beginning to doubt there were positive answers to those questions because so many people seem to be searching without any focus or calling or path to follow (or pursue.)

(On a side note, one problem in having a discussion about God's calling is there are brazen people who insinuate folks that are lost aren't truly searching or worse yet, not really Christians. And people wonder why non-Christians call Christians judgmental. If you have it figured out, share your experience with others, and don't ridicule them.)

So what do you think? Does God still "call" people? Do we all have our own paths and we just need to tramp them out in the coldness of the world? Do you think talents and natural skills are ways God gives us clues to where we should be heading? Or do you have another theory? The forum is open...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The community of the pipe

As many of you know, I am a pipe smoker. And today I am joining pipe smokers around the world in recognizing International Pipe-Smoking Day. This is not a joke nor is it something I share just for something to write about. In the age of knowledge pertaining to the health risks associated with cigarettes and the disgusting ingredients within them, coupled with the ignorance of the general public in regards to the differences between cigarettes and other tobacco products, pipe smoking is all too often lumped into the same category of distaste. But the differences are oh so very real and oh so very vast. And that is the reason for this day. Let me share some of the views the organizers have set forth.
  • We envision a worldwide communion of pipe-smokers that is bound together by a shared love for pipe-smoking, mutual respect, and goodwill.
  • We envision a society that respects the informed choice and adult use of smoking tobacco.
  • We envision a world where governments act in good faith and integrity, and have the political will and personal courage to express their values appropriately through legislative means.
  • This means that as a group we are united and strong in our beliefs, have understanding, patience, wisdom, enjoy the philosophical aspect of pipe-smoking, and seek to promote pipe-smoking as part of a lifestyle that can be thoroughly enjoyable to adults through the responsible use of tobacco.

I look forward to this evening when I can sit down and relax, forgetting the worries and hustle of my ordinary day, and enjoy a couple bowls of good tobacco. And I'm looking forward to knowing that I won't be alone in that quest for relaxation and contemplation as I'll be joined by men and women around the world in joint harmony as we light our pipes together in unison.

It has been said that those who smoke a pipe live longer on average than non pipe-smokers. Whether or not that is true, and I truly do not wish to debate it, I can surely attest to the calming and centeredness I experience when my breathing becomes rhythmic and determined, when the room fills with pleasant aromas of cavendish and perique and burley, and when I am afforded the opportunity to think and examine life in it's fullest; things only smoking a pipe can allow in combination.

Pipe-smoking has a long and historic tradition shared by men (and yes, women) ranging from honorable Presidents to normal farmers. It is not judgmental and it requires no registration card. It welcomes all who come to it and give it the time and respect it deserves. And so this 30-something American will sit down tonight with a bowl of Irish Oak in my Grabow, followed by Frog Morton in my Danish Soren Freehand, and ending the evening with Blue Diamond in my beloved Peterson bulldog; all the while knowing that tens of thousands of others from all age groups and countries and races will be doing the very same thing as I. What a tranquil time it will be.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I'm sitting in the Encore Cafe sipping on a pleasant aroma-filled cup of tea. It's Monday morning and the last of the bank holidays for a few months, and I'm enjoying my day off. For those of you wondering, yes the Encore has finally opened. And as such if I want to see my wife I have to come here to make it happen. The cafe opened Thursday and she put in 44 hours the first three days. She added that on top of already putting in 25 hours here and going to school all week including spending 7 hours at the hospital for clinicals on Friday. I tell ya, that girl is crazy.

Today's not going to be all fun and games for me though. The Jamaican party is Saturday and with Ell in school full time and working 60+ hours a week here at the Cafe, I'm trying to shoulder an extra piece of the party-planning load. She'll still end up doing most of the work, but I'm going to do my best to make it as easy on her as I can. Don't go patting me on the back though, I haven't proven I can do it yet. ;-)

I'd also like to take this space to extend an invite to the 11th annual Jamaican Party to all within eye-sight. It starts at 6:30 on Saturday and the only thing you need to bring is yourself. (But you better come dressed up or we'll do it for you. And that hasn't looked too pretty in years past!) By the way, if you didn't get an invite, one of two things happened: Either I didn't have your address or I didn't want you to come. You decide which one fits you.

I'm off to scan my blogroll. Hope everyone has a great week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fast money---Lost Money

I have a rant of sorts: Income Tax Refund Advance Loans and the cards that go with them. Some definition for those of you unclear with what I'm talking about. For a few years now, income tax preparer companies have been offering immediate, same day tax refunds by paying you your stated refund out of their own bank accounts. In return for access to this immediate cash, they charge you a fee for the service. This year, they have gone beyond issuing cashiers checks and have included an option to place the refund onto a Debit Card issued by Visa or Mastercard.

Now that the issue has been defined, here are my problems... First, is it really so necessary to have your money immediately that you are willing to give away part of it? And second, if you choose to put the money on a card, you're throwing money away.

The argument I hear most often for people wanting their refund money NOW is that they don't want the IRS to make interest off their money. If it were true the IRS made money off my money (which isn't entirely accurate, but that would be a long post) I could strongly support that argument. But why pay someone else for it? The fees these companies charge range by how difficult your return is to prepare and how much your refund ends up being. In some cases the fee can be as high as 33% of the total refund. Yikes. Do I really want to pay a third of my money to someone else just so the gov't can't hold onto my few extra pennies? Even if you're sticking it to the man, you're still losing out on your own cash. Kinda sounds like tripping over dimes to pick up nickles.

The thing that makes the least sense is sticking the refund onto one of the Debit cards; my second problem. I have a few points to make here, first being cost of use. Sure, the cards provide convenience in that you only have to carry a card not a check or cash. But at what cost? Did you know that if you want to get a large chunk of the money, for instance by way of a cash advance at a bank, that you're charged a $10 fee? Or did you know that if you call to check the balance (or just to ask a question to a person) more than one time, you're charged a $1 fee? Or what about the fact that if you use it at an ATM more than 4 times you're charged a $3 fee every time after that? All of these fees are off the balance so the consumer never sees them on transaction slips or receipts. Quite the scam if you didn't know, huh? But the companies are saved from litigation because they stick all the info into the 16-page (no lie) disclosure packet of fine print. Sneaky devils.

Second point here is the fact that you most likely will never use the whole refund amount when you put it on a card. According to Visa gift card statistics, 99% of all cards sold have a remaining balance. Do you know where that balance goes? In the case of refund cards, if not used in twelve months the money goes back to the company that issued it. So, pick a number you think people leave on their cards because they just can't be bothered with it. Two bucks? Six maybe? Eight or nine? Whatever number you picked, multiply it by the 2.5 million H&R Block customers getting cards this year. That figure you came up with is the free money they just made by you not using your entire balance.

Third point in my second problem is pure and simple privacy. I'd rather keep the purchases I make with my refund money private and not placed onto Visa/MasterCard’s database they use to solicit sales and telemarketing. I'm not spouting off about Big Brother, but use your brains people. Your business is your business.

My final comments are on the case of practicality. I can't argue with someone who needs their money right now for car repairs, or a medical emergency, or whatever else they feel is so urgent they can't wait for the money. But I would recommend spending a few hours working on a budget so your expenses aren't so tight. In addition, if your taxes aren't uber-complicated, spend some time on IRS.GOV and enter them electronically. By doing so, in addition to having the money direct deposited, you can have your money within 7-14 days. And guess what, you didn't have to pay someone else a ridiculously-high fee to get it quickly.

Just some thoughts. I'm off to think about doing my taxes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

At the Bank

The other day God gave me a little gift in my search for more time at this new branch; he killed the network for a day. Seriously. He used some AT&T guys to cut the wrong wires and cause our computers to go down, but it was God's gift directly to me. The branch had no email, no internet, and no banking network connection. That means I couldn't transfer to any other departments or do anyone else's job. It also meant none of the other branches or departments outside of ours were down. So that stack of papers I had that couldn't get done? Yeah, they're all gone now! I had almost an entire day to myself to do MY work. A real problem for the branch turned out to be a huge blessing for me.

On that day I also had time to write down a few of the crazy things I've seen here at this new branch. And since you all love them so much, here you go...

-Someone in my office did a loan for a guy named William Williams III. That's right, they liked the name William so much they used it twice, and then multiplied that by three. Oh, and this young guy's wife is pregnant with number IV. No kidding.

-I was on the teller line last week and I asked a lady how she wanted her change of 200 dollars back.
She said, "I want it all in sixties."
To which I said, "Do you mean twenties?"
To which she replied, "No, sixties. They spend easier."
To which I said, "There's no such thing as sixties, did you mean fifties?"
To which she replied, "No, I mean sixties. I know they make them because I get them here all the time."
To which I wanted to yell out, "Alright, who's been handing out the fake sixty dollar bills." But I refrained. Instead I said nicely, "Ma'am, are you sure you were given a sixty, 6-0, bill, here in this branch?"
To which she answered, now very embarassed, "Oh dear, I'm so sorry. I meant hundreds. I'm sorry honey."
To which I responded by lying, "Not to worry, it happens all the time. Have a nice day."

-A drunk guy came in the other day and asked me if we sold panties. All I could of think of was how lucky his lady-friend is going to feel on Valentine's day when she gets her drunk-purchased panties from the bank.

Hope you enjoyed these. I know I did.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The minutes just keep rolling

To all the people concerned about me due to my lack of posting, I'm still here. Thank you for your concern, even if some of it was less than sincere. :-)

The lack of time thing at work is killing me. I literally have no spare minutes to put together. I may have one minute here or one minute there, but never enough to get any major task done. This post is proof of that. This is the seventh sentence and it has taken me five hours and twenty five minutes to write it. (In fact, that last sentence took three sessions and over an hour. No lie.)

I end up with a pile of papers and files on my desk at the end of every day and I have no time to get them all done before the departments I need to call have gone home for the day. So I slam in as much work as I can every morning before the bank opens but I never quite get it all done. I suppose I could stay a couple hours late every night to do the stuff that doesn't require other-office assistance so I could do the stuff that does in the mornings, but that could be every day and I'd never get further ahead. Plus, something about putting in a 10-11 hour day and then having to drive an hour home doesn't appeal to me. Not to say I haven't done it, or that I would be opposed to it if that was my job. But that's just it, my job is supposed to fit neatly into the hours of 8 to 5; you know, banking hours. ;-) But I'm doing so many other jobs all the while still needing to complete my own job......... I think you get the picture.

Sorry to sound like I'm whining. It's all I seem to be doing lately when it comes to this job. I still haven't looked into any other positions anywhere. I need to do that or I guess I don't have any right to complain. I do have a big old rant about another topic bottled up inside me screaming to get out. Maybe I'll try to do that tomorrow night. I now have to go to a meeting that is going to eat up more of my valuable office time. Oh well.