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Monday, July 31, 2017

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due...To Yourself.

What a month. To say that the last month has gone smoothly would be to lie and to say it was difficult would be an understatement.  But, thanks to my own smarts and efforts, we have made it through the roughest patch on the way to a happy life. And no, that's not ego. That's honesty, let me tell. And then you decision.  

To really tell the story I have to back up a couple months to when I was working as an accountant at an oil and gas contract accounting company.  It was a new company to this industry and, aside from the archaic system that they were using for the job, their management was completely untrained and unprepared. As the company moved to a deadline that I knew they were not going to reach, I had to look out for my own professional career.  So, knowing that their untrained and irresponsible management would blame those under them for the failures of this transition, I knew I had to exit.

Of course, this put a financial strain on the family, and, even though I was driving Uber and working at what I could work while I was applying for new jobs, it caused the strain of financial being underemployed. 

Finally, I got an offer.  However, that job was not going to start for a month. But, I planned it out, gave my notice to my apartment complex (30 days)  We were going to pay the rent at the beginning of the month, travel down to where I was going to be working in the middle of the month, get a place, and then transition over to it.  It all would have went very smooth, and that's when the difficulty began. 

First, we got to the beginning of the month and on my bill was 4 months worth of rent due on the first of the month.  They had charged me the full move out fee, prior to us having actually moved out, even contacting the apartment complex resulted in no answers.  I knew that we did not have the money for that kind of fee, so I had to make the only fiscally possible choice of taking that rent check money and using it for hotels, down in the new location until we find our new place to move.  But, choosing to do that meant moving some stuff into storage and taking some stuff with us and living out of a suitcase on very little money, since there was no paycheck until a few weeks after I begin that job. However, I found an amazing place with a great move in special. Then, I started attending my job working at my job and got approved for the new location; but, they said there was an old apartment bill unpaid on my credit report from 5 years prior. I knew nothing about this bill, but I contacted the collection agency about it who proclaimed that this bill had never been paid.  Well, I contacted the apartment complex about it, but, their only contact at the apartment complex was an email address for the accounting office who took a while to respond to emails.  I needed to get into my new apartment, so I paid the fee out of my limited amount of money to the collection company.

Within a week of having been approved for my new apartment, I get an email back from the accounting office at the old apartment office. As it turns out, that bill had been paid in 2012.  I contacted the collection company about that. They said that they won't accept the email from the apartment complex and needed to hear it from them themselves.  So, I contact the apartment complex to have their accounting office send a message to the collections company.  However, even upon hearing from the apartment complex that the bill that they were collecting already been paid, they refused to refund the money to me.... yes, I have contacted the state attorney general about this fraud. The apartment complex did eventually agree to refund their money, but not until next month and so that money is not useful.

On to the next challenge. Near this time I had a charge suddenly appear in my bank account for U-Haul after we had already paid our bill. Upon looking at the details of the bill, I saw that, after we paid the bill, they charged me for an extra day, more equipment, and a late fee for not having paid the extra charge.  This...also...took many phone calls and weeks, but I did at least get THIS refunded.  

Then, the new apartment complex that had said, "don't worry about the pet fees....we can put them off till the next month or longer" were suddenly like..."Well, there is the 30 dollar fee for our discount off your deposit that we are giving you, and we will need 200 of the pet deposit, now....after we were already moved in so, of course, we kinda have to do it.

So, to make up for this we decided to get a car tag loan to help in the moving costs of this very strained month.  I asked my work if I could get a few hours off to take care of that, and the manager said..."why don't you take 4 hours for it" I agreed.  What she failed to share is that it would be UNPAID leave, so when I got my first check it was 100 dollars less than normal.

However, one thing did come through for us.  When we were in Tulsa, we got on food stamps to go along with Uber.  I just assumed that because I had moved to another state, we could not use them.  However, in desperation, I gave it a shot and called them to ask.  They informed me that, in fact, I COULD use them in the new state, until I could get setup in that state.  Finally, some good news.

And, here is what inspired this post.  Upon telling my co-workers about my financial struggles for weeks and hearing about the food stamps, one of my co-workers says, "That's great.  I like hearing things like that, because I believe there is someone up in the sky that takes care of us."  

Now, I am sure she meant it in a positive way, but I couldn't help but note that in weeks of having told my co workers about my struggles, none of them had offered me a single dime.  However, they certainly had criticism of the manner in which I solved the problems.  When I mentioned the car loan, I was informed that those places were outlawed in many places and were not a great idea.  AGAIN, I note that not one of them said, "Do you need a few hundred dollars"...even as in the same day the one that had criticized the title loan bragged to another co worker, "I always carry a few hundred dollars in my pocket...just in case."

And, people wonder why I have a problem with conservatives.  I mean...they are not being intentionally mean...just intentionally careless...not caring for others by choice to enhance themselves.  It is not just true for my office but has been a ringing truth among Conservative Christians in almost every place I have found them.  Indeed, conservatives EXPLICITLY are engaged in elections to CUT food stamps and the very means that I had just fed my children, while I have YET to see a single Evangelical church with a food pantry for the poor in it.  They condemn Planned Parenthood, but none of them have funds for single mothers.  But, hey, at least I got food stamps by the grace of GOD, so I guess that means God works for the department of human services, which would make the church opposed to the work of God.

I kid, of course, because God DIDN'T help me this month.  Yes, I said that ... God didn't help me.  I know that it has become the default thing to say..."well, praise God" or "I am blessed" or such.  However, I look at facts, and the FACT is that God's people on earth gave me not one dime of support in all my months of struggle, and the ones that DID help me are the very programs the Religious Right want to end.  No one walked up to me and said, God told me to give you this, and there were no unwarrented funds that appeared in my bank account.  No, every dime I had this month I earned by work...and the reason it lasted was because I was wise in spending it and budgeted effectively to last.

Look at your own life, and ask the question...honestly.  The good in your life, what is the literal source of that good.  Honor those people that fit that bill, as they are a great treasure in your life.  Similarly, don't blame the devil for every evil but ask the question...WHO was it that took my money, cut me off in traffic, disrespected you, used you, or harmed you and make sure THEY, not the devil, gets the blame for that.  Only, when we look at the source of good and evil in our lives can  we make decisions of who to trust and surround ourselves with toward a better tomorrow.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Speak Up for Your Happiness

I shaved my beard, tonight.  Funny way to start a blog on speaking up, but you will see the point in a minute.  But, first, a little background.

I grew up in a little backwoods town in Southeast Oklahoma.  To say that I didn't fit in that well would be an understatement, but who fully does.  However, I knew I wasn't like your average boy.  Yes.  I did like to explore and got hurt enough times to definitely qualify, but I was just not into the same things that other boys were into.  I avoided the football games on the lunchtime playground.  I didn't like to wrestle or any form of violence.  So, it didn't help when my dad was always trying to get me to go hunting with him or help him build buildings.  I am pretty sure that all of that was meant to make me be like him.  However, I didn't let that difference define me.  I just found places that I could fit in NEAR what they wanted.  So, for example, by my senior year I was the bookkeeper in basketball or baseball, and I was the sports photographer for the yearbook.  I excelled in my studies and got a lot of awards in many subjects, and that caused my critics to pretty much leave me alone...especially if they wanted good stats for their plays or good pictures or such.  However, I found myself being happy with taking a good shot or making friends and school achievements.

Indeed, achievements made it pretty easy for me to distract myself from being different than most guys, all along the way, and ....because I was very friendly and supportive, I had a lot of friends that liked to have me as a friend.  Even as I was at work and starting a family, there was always those that I could relate to....and a lot of time they were women.  No, I am not saying I am gay..stay with me, though.  If you thought that was what I was about to say, this post is for you.

I joined the military and served with honors, along the way.  However, I must say that being around a bunch of guys that talked about their trucks and football and shooting and using women only made me feel very different, again, and I was back in that school in my mind or with my father in the woods hunting.  Then, as I was leaving the military, my ADHD daughter was having issues with her schooling, and they were isolating her.  My ex (we were married then) wasn't about to give up her management job, so I took the initiative of homeschooling her.  And, it provided me with years of self exploration.  As I schooled her, I also did everything that went along with it at the home, and I wrote freelance and read books and had LOTS of time to think and along the way, I learned that I LIKED myself, as I was, even if others around me were still determined to make me fit their mental mold.

But, I was still confused, and here is where we hit the meat of this blog post and how it relates to both society and recent news from the President and the military.  I knew I wasn't like most men, and I felt pressure to just force myself to be like them.  However, I chose to start loving MYSELF for who I was.  It wasn't a clear path, and I didn't have anyone with which to discuss all of this so I questioned things like my sexuality...I felt that if I wasn't like the majority of guys then I must be gay...only I wasn't sexually attracted to men, only women, which made me all the more confused.

Now, I will pause my story to ask you to participate.  In your lives, do you know people that might fit this struggle?  Do you know others (or perhaps yourself) that do not like doing the things that the stereotype of that sex does?  Do you know tomboy girls that hate wearing dresses, or do you know guys that would rather go to an artistic event or go to a coffeehouse or walk in the park over going to a football game and who never say anything when you talk about who will win the next major fight that will be on tv?  That is called...GENDER, and it doesn't mean sexual attraction.  And, most people don't understand the difference, so when...for example...the President commands that all men who are not like the other man or women that are not like the other women should be expelled from the miliary, it only reveals their ignorance.

So, I resume my story.  As I learned to love myself and make myself happy, I found those that resonated with that person and those that wanted to change me.  I chose to cut off those that didn't support me and surround myself with those that do, and in the process of that surrounding, I met my wife...who GOT me and loved me for who I was.  We connect BECAUSE I am not a man's man...if I was, she wouldn't like it, and if she wanted me to be different, I wouldn't like her.

But, every now an then, I still fall back into the temptation of thinking she would like that kind of man, so I do things like grow a beard or act more directing and being the "hard working man" figure that I am told in the media that she must like...and in so doing becoming less of the man that she fell in love with and less of the man I had learned to love, myself.  But, eventually, one of us will start a conversation that leads to open discussion about how we feel (we both like these conversations to help us work it out mentally), and we go...oh, right...duh, and we make shaving a beard.

So, I know it is hard to not be influenced by the world around you, but I would recommend that you take the time to keep yourself centered in remembering what YOU LIKE about being you and what you do not like....and then communicate that to others, around you.  Only then, will you be able to filter out those who really like YOU for YOU and give them enough feedback to know what you really like.  Only then, will you be able to find true happiness.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Patriotic Freedom

I served in the military for 6 years in the Army National Guard, and then I served for 2 years in the active duty Army. In that time, I earned the Army Achievement medal , two battalion coins, and soldier the month for my battalion which was a self propelled artillery unit. 

There are a variety of reasons for why someone joins the military. Some join it, because they want money for college. Some join it, because they have nowhere else to go. Some join it, honestly, because they want to kill somebody. So, there are noble intentions and selfish intentions and noble people and selfish people in the military just as in every area of society.

For myself, I joined for deep convictions of American ideals, not for any specific president or any specific war. Specifically, I believe in defending freedom, both at home and abroad. Many people, in fact, not only join the military but fought in wars for that exact reason. Many of our leaders have lost the sight of that today, and if you ask them why it was that we fought a war in Korea or Vietnam, they would have a hard time answering you short of responding in a very crusader, we win every victory and take over the world mentality. The fact is that we fought those wars, because we believed that people should be free, it's why we have the statue of liberty...It's why we have songs of patriotism singing about keeping our country free and spreading freedom to all the rest of the world...which is what the crown on the statue of liberty represents. And, then came the mishmash of current wars. Some of these wars were indeed fought for the freedom of those that were suffering oppression.  We went into countries where aggressive brutal dictators were oppressing people, and we liberated them from their oppressor.

What bothers me... And I think bothers many Americans today... Is that the current wars fought by this president are less about spreading freedom from oppression and more about oppression and hatred of entire groups for how they freely choose to be different from America.

But this war on differences is not simply being waged outside of our borders but within as well. It is being waged by those praising freedom but taking it from their neighbor every time they differ from them in religion, politics or even how they choose to love.

So to the conservatives that scream that liberals are unpatriotic, I want to say as a veteran that we are loyal and patriotic to the very things you are fighting for.  I invite you to stand for what our what our fathers died for ...Freedom. To do otherwise to me seems very unpatriotic.

America is getting Scrooged.

Every year, as we get near Christmas on multiple channels and many times, is the classic a Christmas Carol.   The story has been bit different ways from perspectives.  The ghosts of Christmas past present and future took on different formats and acted in different ways.

However, central to the character of Scrooge in the story is someone who was all about business and the bottom line and dollars, and that's why he was making a man with an injured son and depressed family work on Christmas day.

I feel that America is getting royally screwed right now in the health care debate. You have one party that is all about the dollars and the bottom line and what they can afford (they specifically); and they explicitly are saying they don't want to pay for things that they themselves are not going to use.  They are saying they don't want to pay for women's health care, for example, if they are a man. They are saying that they don't want to pay for the health care of those who can't afford the benefits, which is kind of the point of giving at all.

In fact, that is kind of the point of health care coverage and insurance, in that no one is paying the full cost of their medical bills.  They are unable to afford them, and they are receiving help from other people. But, in this debate, we have an entire party that is saying they don't want to give their money to someone else who needs care, which is a cold and heartless thing to say and reminds me very much of Scrooge..

What makes matters worse? Is that the party that is doing this is proclaiming themselves to be "God's party."  Yes, God.. The one who fed the 5000 that was hungry and healed the sick has suddenly got in the business of being a banker saying we can't afford to help you please go away, so we can have a tax cut to build our new building.... It's gonna be HUGE.

Of course, that's not God, and this is not God's party. It's greed and selfishness and hate and the things that God himself warned us about.

It's time to call Congress and the President and remind them that a nation that has a soul must first have a heart.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

If You See Something, Say Something

I remember when I worked in Boston for a year that all along the subway and train stations was plastered the phrase "If you see something, say something." It was meant as a means to stop terrorists from terrorism in our midst.

Well, today, that is more important than ever but for catching terrorists from within our own industries and politics.  We have developed a system of homegrown bullies that feel it is their divine right and Destiny to gather to themselves by denying from others.

The fact is that there is a limited supply of money.  It is literally not possible to become richer than average without forcing others below average.  That is just basic math.  But, right now, we have an entire political party that is ADVERTISING their RICHES as the american dream and elected a President that is supposed to be qualified to manage the country, because he was able to overcharge and under cut his customers from what it actually cost him in order to make a huge profit on the backs of others.  And, the religious right says... Praise God.  Pass the collection plate for our new building.

It is time for this financial terrorism to stop and for those wronged to ... Say something. 

Speak up.  If you have been short changed, say it.  If someone is being unethical, report it.  If someone is being unfair, require them to have to publicly defend themselves.  Only those doing wrong ask for secrecy, and roaches love darkness.  It is time to shine more lights on abusers to the benefit of all.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Good Foundation is Everything

Some people look at the here and now...what do they have right now or not have right now.   However, I am here to tell you that doing such is self deception and destructive.  It's similar to how I say that actions always beat words.  If the words are true, you will see it in their actions; but, if you do not see the actions the words are all the more malicious.  Well, having a good day or a bad day is FICTION, when it comes to determining if something is good or bad.  It is more important to look at not only the history of those actions but where they are leading.

Recall the Wizard of Oz.  In the story, it was very important that Dorothy stayed on the yellow brick road to get to the castle.  Aside from the fact that the entire Wizard of Oz story was written as political satire on the vanity of following a "road" made of GOLD and expecting that to fix everything in their life (spoiler it didn' was a false hope given by the one that ran oz), the story does say one thing that is important... where you ARE is not as important as where you are GOING.  Where does that road take you or not take you.  If you are taking a golden road that is based in a false hope, you will end up as deceived as Dorothy, so it is important to determine if the road that you are on takes you where you want to go.

And, that is the other side to it...where do YOU want to go....YOU...not someone else.  There are far too many out there chasing the dreams of of others and making others happy.  Then, years down their road, they stop and say, "How the hell did I end up HERE...I don't even LIKE it, here."  That is because no one else is responsible for how you respond or where you go, and they know much less than you what it is that you desire.  If you don't stand up and speak your desire and say NO, sometimes, you will find yourself in servitude to others happiness and filled with regret of your own.

I have said to my wife, several times, and to others that I don't KNOW where I am going in my life.  Indeed, how CAN you know all the steps that are ahead of you.  And, knowing all of that would take all the fun out of life.  As Jack Sparrow said in Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides...

"Better to not know which moment may be your last. Every morsel of your entire being alive to the infinite mystery of it all."

Exactly.  It is an adventure what lies ahead.  However, you CAN and SHOULD take note if the path you are on CAN lead you to happiness or just misery.  If you are in a miserable job or relationship, and since people don't change and management doesn't change at the top of companies but rarely, to sit in misery and expect happiness would be fulfilling the definition of insanity to repeat the same process and expect different results.  However, if you can look around you and see the POTENTIAL for serendipity (happy surprises or happy accidents as the movie says), well...THAT is LIFE.

So, take an honest stock of where you are and the natural progression of events and make your life decisions based NOT on what you see today but what you expect, tomorrow....and THAT is the key to a happy tomorrow.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Forward to Respect

The last few months have capped off my exit from a very selfish and destructive area... Tulsa, ok.

Now, I hear you saying that i should not judge an entire city, and i get it... I dislike people that do that, too... Like conservatives that judge those in California or New York.  Yet, all I can base my judgement on is my own experience.  So, let's talk about that experience, working backwards, of Tulsa and Oklahoma.

Today, I had to spend hours on the phone calling Uhaul, because after I used their truck two weeks ago for 4 hours and paid on the spot for it, i got another charge, today, for the additional costs of having the truck for 2 DAYS and paying late... Neither of which were true.  Yet, upon being informed of this...NO ONE wanted to take the responsibility of refunding the money.

The reason for having to use their truck in the first place is the next point... Leaving my Broken Arrow apartments, the Heights of Battlecreek.  To say this complex messes up some things is to give them undue credit.  The fact is things were always messed up.  In the time I lived there the gates were broken more than they were working, which was true of the washing machine at the complex, also.

But, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  They took 2 separate summers to come out 15 times each summer to "fix" the a/c and that would only stay fixed for a few weeks.  During Christmas day, last year, they put stickers on cars throughout the complex threatening to tow cars that had low tires.  However, we renewed our lease in January, which included a rent discount for renewal.  Yet, I noticed i was paying more.  So, I began inquiring and being told they were right.  So, I asked for a detail of my charges (they never sent receipts) and confirmed a few months into my renewed lease that we were being overcharged.

But, we stayed on there, till I got a job offer in Texas and gave them a 30 day notice.  Upon getting the notice, the apartments sent me a document with two choices... Either pay back your rent concession and 3 months rent or keep paying for the apartment till they got it rented out.  I chose the second option.  Yet... 1 week later and still within the month notice (we had not reached move out date) we were charged 4000 dollars.  Of course we could not afford that and had to rush out (thus the uhaul), leaving many of our things behind.  The apartments response..... Why did you leave?  I don't know... The 4k dollar bill? 

But, that lack of taking personal responsibility for screwing you is, unfortunately, common in Oklahoma, whether it be a uhaul or an apartments complex or a job where the managers take no time to learn the duties of the employees under them and assume no responsibility to train them but push all the blame for anything not done down on the least experienced people to handle advanced tasks affecting millions of dollars.  My time in Tulsa was working for two such companies... IBM and Sutherland Global Services.

But, my experiences are not limited to those.  Indeed, I also...

...had my sister that lived there break into my house and cart up my things to her house without asking me.  When I asked for my things and an apology, I got my things and a note that said "have a nice life"

...I had the preacher that was going to perform my wedding go onto my page on Facebook the week before my wedding on my birthday to post that he hoped i find Christ, even though I had told him days before that I not only was a believer but had a Bible degree.

...yet, that kind of careless response was not new to me from Oklahoma churches.  A few years ago, my daughter was in the hospital for pneumonia for a week.  I texted the church where i served as a greeter for a year... Lifechurch... To explain my daughter was in the hospital and that i would have to miss some services.  Yet, at no time did anyone visit that hospital, and upon my return, no one even brought it up in the volunteer circle prayer meeting.  But, that doesn't shock me that much, now looking back, because most Oklahoma mega churches are only going there for their own ego and concerts... The concept that they would have to actually CARE for the hurting would be a real downer for their mood.

But... Thank God we did get away from that place, and just a few weeks in Texas has already shown me people that are interested in your life and my new apartments were offering to SAVE me money, rather than see what they could take.

I find myself saying, "Oh yeah... This is what normal is like," and I look forward to very happy days, ahead.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Path Forward to Happiness May Take a Few Dirt Roads

The Bible says..

"wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Matt 7:13-14

....and that is the subject of this post.  Namely, that the path that leads to life will often not follow the well beaten paths taken by the masses but will follow the narrow dirt road few have taken.

This is a reality that I am well familiar with, and I have followed many an unpopular path over my days, from the choice to divorce a non empathetic user to cutting off my spoiled oldest daughter to teach her responsibility to, recently, walking away from a steady paycheck in an accounting job that was working for an unstable company with poor management...BEFORE I had another job lined up and moving my family across state lines to another job, before I had an apartment lined up or a financial cushion to absorb it.

However, one think I am very good at doing is planning, long term, and that requires a focus NOT on how you feel at the moment but looking ahead at how you would feel in a future time and planning backwards.  A result of this is that sometimes, you may ... for example... walk away from immediate financial stability, when you see that the job will lead to financial instability and employment history black marks for having stayed where you were.  Also, it makes it easier to be sleeping on an air mattress in a new apartment with most of your stuff a state away, if you can look around you and see all the framework in place for a VERY happy future, long term.

I like to do fitness, and anyone that has exercised understands this concept, because exercise is hard and may hurt in the short term.  However, it is an activity that leads, naturally, to a better you.  The same is true for any choice to step away from immediate stability, if it is a stability that does not lead to happiness.  You will lose that stability in the shot term, but it is ONLY from that risk and venture that you create the vacume for better choices to follow.

As has been the case for all of my choices to step away from negativity, you will find few supportive from the crowd of others that, themselves, choose stability over happiness, as well as a little jealousy.  But, then, you are not living your life for them, and they do not have to live your days following their advice.  The only one responsible for you is you.

So, step out from the crowd and take the path that leads to life, no matter how obscure and original it may be.  It is an adventure that will leave you with stories to inspire others on the journey, and adventure is the point of life.

Dress Lily

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