Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Monday

And better than that (which isn't hard since Monday is my least favorite day), happy first day of Summer. I do ever love this season. May you all enjoy all it has to offer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Extree, Extree, get 'em while they're hot!

First I want to thank all of you who joined us in the happy dance. It really is a weight off our shoulders and such an accomplishment for us to pay such a huge amount in such a small time. Even though it had its share of turmoil and left a few lasting scars (some too personal for a blog), it brings with it a sense of joy and relief. So thank you all. And please, the offer is still open if anyone wants to know how we did it or how you can.

In the midst of that good news, there's another something I'm pretty excited about as well... my book is done.

Some of you are doing the head back, "Saaaaay Whaaaaaat?" look right now. Yes, I wrote a book. It's in the Historical Fiction genre, which means the setting of the story including dates and times and places are historically accurate, but the storyline and usually the characters are fictional. Since I'm a history buff it was a blast to do all the studying and research, and it was fun being creative too. I'm not sure how I never heard of this genre until a few years ago, but it may be my new favorite style.

After I finished writing it I spent almost eight months doing copy edits, re-writes, and story changes. None of which were as intense as what Elizabeth has talked about in her publishing journey, but they were still pretty mind-numbing at times. After most of those were done, she helped me get hooked up with a place to get the book published. And here I am.

I'm not sure what my hopes are for it (outside of the NYTimes bestseller list), but I have decided to put it out there for people to read. Before I stick some copies on Amazon, I'd like to offer it to all of you for a cheaper price. As the author I get free shipping, so if you live anywhere close to me I can get it to you without all the increased costs. The cost is $14 a book. It's always weird talking to friends about money, but that's life I guess. So if you want one just let me know and we'll work out getting it to you.

Pretty cool, huh? It sure is exciting holding something in your hands that is all yours. I'm pretty happy about the whole thing. If you want one just let me know. You can also email me at elliottpipe at g mail dot com. No pressure here; just wanted to offer it to anyone interested.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The good news post

In sharing this post, it's important for you as the reader to know that there is the very real issue of me (and Ell) swallowing some embarrassing humble pie on the way to the good news. But in that embarrassment there is growth and the just-as-real possibility that our pain can be encouragement to you. And that's why I want to share it.

Ell and I were married in 1997 and within the first month of marriage we found ourselves in a financial situation we were unfamiliar with. Before I continue I must say I am greatly distressed there isn't more emphasis placed on financial counseling given by older adults to young couples. There is no way to prepare oneself for what it means to co-habitate with a lover, and that is no more apparent than in the area of finances. As is usual with most couples, no one sat us down and told us what to expect. That might sound like a slam on our parents, but I earnestly feel that type of counsel shouldn't come from parents. Kids see the mistakes and errors parents make (and try to hide), and because of that most young adults would have a hard time respecting (or even taking) a parent's advice. Even if they loved and honored their parents, in the back of their minds they also know their shortcomings and that presents an invisible hurdle hard to clear.

That said...
When Ell and I entered into our marriage I had just started a new job. While it wasn't much compared to the world's standards, it was more than twice the money I'd ever made before. Ell had also been moved from her counter job at a busy restaurant to the position of waitress which meant she had thirty to sixty dollars in her pocket at the end of every night. All of that meant we had more money than we knew what to do with. Where's the problem, right? The problem lay in the fact that we were young folks without direction.

In a few short years we bought and sold our first house, purchased another one, purchased a brand new car amongst many used ones (and a motorcycle), bought a pricey purebred dog, took trip after expensive trip, and threw more parties than I can remember. We were living the life.

During that time we were playing the credit card game. When we got married I had one credit card and its balance held only Ell's engagement ring. After we bought our second house and car, our credit scores soared and with those amazing scores we were sent credit card after credit card and boy did we use them. When a balance would get too high on one, I'd transfer it to another card with a low intro rate, and then start all over again. I think you can see where this is headed.

In the year 2000, I decided to go into the financial field. Unfortunately that meant a drastic drop in my income until I got to where I needed to be. The credit cards that we'd been using for fun now became our lifeline. We paid bills with cash advance checks. All the gas we put in our cars and the food in our fridge were on credit. It even got so bad we started paying our credit card payments with other credit cards.

As the year 2004 drew to a close, we were spending $400-$600 more per month than we were making. To make it worse, we had ten credit cards maxed out with a total balance of close to $90,000. Yes, $90,000. Scary wouldn't come close to our emotions at that point in our marriage.

Since it was obvious what we were doing wasn't working, we sat down with an older adult couple and humbly asked for advice. In my mind I was hoping they'd give me money, but instead they offered something much better..... sound financial advice and a prayer for our future. For the sake of time and privacy I won't go into what their advice was, but I will say they weren't easy on us. The advice was to-the-point and forced us to be honest about our habits and our lifestyle. We left their house, went home, and started working on a plan. We had to make some tough decisions, but by mid-2005 we had set our plan in motion. (I want to mention I'm not a fan of bankruptcy and I'm proud to say we didn't go down that road.)

Well that was five years ago. I would like to announce that as of this month, our plan will see its end. YAY! As of the end of June, all of our credit cards will be paid off. Done. Zero balance. Closed. With interest and service charges we ended up spending over $100,000, but we did it. Please join us as we do our happy dance!

While being stupid and spending outside our income doesn't make us financial experts, the fact that we successfully dug ourselves out of that nightmare means we did something very few others can say they've completed. And I wouldn't be returning the favor if I didn't offer the same thing that couple so generously gave to us: the gift of good advice. While I have no desire to know anyone's private financial affairs, if you have questions about how we did what we did, I would love to answer them. (Not on the blog, of course.) If you want advice and are willing to be painfully honest, I'd love to help. Just ask.

I hope this post came off as happy as I'm feeling about our finances. What a relief it is to know that all our hard work has finally paid off. One more time with the happy dance! And there's your good news post.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Stuff I need to share

I know I promised the good news post, but I have to tell you about a couple other things. I promise the other post by this weekend at the latest.

I traveled to Columbus this past weekend to see my Dad. I got there on Saturday around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. My Dad was doing much better mentally and physically than even a few days previous which I was glad to see. We spent the next half hour or so catching up and just talking. It was great to be with him one-on-one. I love my family, but a son needs to be with his Dad every once in awhile without all the other noise.

After that first half hour, something happened though. I started to notice these random lapses in his language and expressions and actions. They happened here and there, mixed into periods of complete normality; sometimes very severe and painful to watch. It was as if my otherwise-normal Dad turned into a psychopath. By 3 o'clock I wanted to leave. As much as I love my Dad and miss him, I didn't want to be there anymore. It almost made me cry to mentally admit it to myself.

At some point, a nurse came in with his mid-afternoon medications. He questioned the pills in the alternate-Dad persona and the nurse explained what they were. (It was obvious this wasn't their first like conversation. But she remained patient.) One of the pills, she explained to him, was Methadone. I could feel my mouth drop open. What a horrible medication. So horrible, I thought for sure it had been outlawed. (Google methadone clinics if you want the ugly truth.) Of course he was getting it for something he needed, but I couldn't have been more shocked and saddened.

And then it hit me. My Mom ---my wonderfully patient Mom, the woman who everyday was being forced to watch her husband get worse and worse, the woman who now went home alone every night without the person she's shared the last thirty eight years with--- is a superwoman. I was sick and tired of Dad's not-normal actions within a couple hours but she's been dealing with it for months and months and was not backing away. What a hero. She may not see it, and may not even agree because she knows what her inner-thoughts are, but it's true. At that moment, my revelation made me love and respect her more than I ever have in my entire life. I love that woman so much.

Now knowing it was the medication causing him to sometimes turn whacko, and with a new found respect for what my Mom was going through, I righted my brain and spent the next nine hours with the man I love more than any other man in this world. And not one second did I want to leave. It was such an awesome visit. I went back the next day and spent another four hours with him before I had to head for home. It was so good to spend time with my Dad and I wanted to share my experience with you.

The second thing I wanted to tell you folks about, is me and my health. Last Month I made a commitment to myself to do something about my weight. For so many years, I lived in a world of denial that I wasn't fat all the while joking about being fat as a defense mechanism against the issue I didn't want to deal with. It didn't help that ten years ago I went from a very physical workplace to sitting for a living. Add to that demanding workloads (some taken on by me not necessarily the job) that made me work through most lunches. So when I would get home I was starving from a sometimes ten or eleven hour fast. While not always an unhealthy eater, when I got home I would crash in front of the TV and eat without ceasing. Sometimes my eating gorges would last three or four hours. It's almost disgusting to admit. What happened from all this was one hundred pounds added to my already overweight frame.

The first thing that needed to change was my brain. I'd seen so many people get sick and die premature from diabetes II ---the kind you give yourself--- and I refused to be a statistic. I also realized my weight was blocking me from enjoying life. I usually passed on playing sports with my friends because I knew I couldn't participate for more than a few minutes. I missed out on trips that would involve physical activity. And I don't think I need to tell you what putting a hundred pound gut between you and your mate does to your relationship. (On more than just the physical side.) I declined invitations, missed appointments, and as shameful as it is to admit, lied to my closest friends so I didn't have to be embarrassed by my limitations. I needed to make a change.

I've talked about changing for seven or eight years. I had plans and books and bold statements. But none of them ever happened. Much the same way many people yo-yo diet, I was yo-yo planning. One plan blended into another plan that just blended into another plan. Not a single one of them ever seeing action.

I'm not sure what it was that made me take action after ten years. Maybe it was my friend Angela being honest about her journey, maybe it was my Dad's health, maybe it was Ell's honest admission of her feelings, maybe it was my Grandma's voice from years ago letting me know I was, "...packing on the weight." Or maybe it was just me being tired of not being in control of my own life. Whatever it was, I made the decision and now I'm changing my life.

How, you ask? I found a gym to join where I can go 24 hours a day. I've been working out six days a week giving myself a day's rest to recover. I also bought a Biggest Loser book and am using the 30 day meal plan to eat sensibly. I've always been against weird diets, and still think they do more harm than good, so this was a good choice because it teaches how to make sensible choices in all meal and snack choices. Even with my still-present health issues and my still-present job demands, I'm doing great. I basically made a decision to stop letting outside influences like those stop me from taking back control of my life. I have plans and goals and I refuse to let anything stop me from achieving them.

So there you go. I'm not sure I can relay how difficult sharing my weight problems with you was to admit. I know that putting that out there opens me up to people giving me the up & down when they see me, looking for results. I also know it opens me up to the judgement that comes with those looks. Knowing both of those things, I offer a freebie to all. Please ask me how things are going when you see me. Please ask me for numbers. Please ask whatever you want. I am taking back control of my body and my life and I welcome your thoughts if you feel like sharing them.

Hopefully that was all worth reading. If not, thanks for reading anyway. :) Stay tuned for the good news post.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The sky's a little clearer now

So it's quite obvious I was dealing with some depression the other night. Sorry if my post made any of you uncomfortable, it wasn't my intention. I do thank those of you who forwarded on good thoughts. If you didn't get a chance to read the comments, check out the one from my Mom. She shared a good life lesson.

So now that my brain is working a little more clearly, I'm working on the happy/inspiring post for sometime this weekend. Stay tuned. It'll be worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

It's a s%#t storm right now

Did you ever have one of those points in your life where there are just too many emotions to straighten them all out at the same time? And not just mad or sad emotions, even though those are very present, but ecstatic emotions of joy and happiness as well. Add to those two extremes, mediocre feelings of relief and calmness, and you have Sam right now.

I was going to sit down tonight and write an eloquent, even inspiring, post about an exciting thing that I just found out will soon be happening to me and Ell. I was going to follow it up later this week with some more great news. And on top of that I've turned a mental corner in regards to my weight and I finally feel like I'm in enough control to admit I'm working on it.

But as I sat down on the couch to write, the pain in my joints I thought was all gone --the pain I'd been trying to ignore and pretend wasn't coming back-- flared up in my ankles and knees. But even adding my health issue to the fact that my Dad's health is still heavy on my heart, neither of those hold a candle to another personal issue I'm wrestling with.

With all of that on my mind I just couldn't bring myself to write a happy post. It's almost like I'd be lying to anyone reading my happiness because of all the sadness otherwise overtaking my emotions. My happiness wouldn't be completely real. I literally sat for almost two hours trying to sort out my brain and write the first word. It never appeared until I came to the realization I couldn't write the post I'd sat down to write.

I'm not looking for comments. Really. I just needed to share my heart and my head. There are things in my life that should be bringing me so much happiness, but they are fighting with sadness and anger that are just as strong. It's like I'm spinning around and around and can't stop myself. As my friend told me a couple weeks ago, "Life sure is a shit-storm sometimes, isn't it?!" It sure is.