Monday, October 29, 2012

I Have Approved This Message

Do politicians really approve their messages?

This morning my husband was trying to get our dog, softball 2011 032Franny, to stand up so he could apply some healing salve.  She hates it.  I am the persuader.  I barked at her to stand and stay and then added, “I am Diana, your master, and I approve this message.”  Kinder and gentler doesn’t cut it when the dog is a stubborn mix of Chow and something else. 

But what about us, the voters?  Do politicians expect us to perform like stubborn dogs.  What if the candidate started his commercial or speech by respecting his opponent?  What if he said:  “I have studied the career of X and find him to be a man of integrity and wisdom.  However, I disagree with his platform and think I can do a better job under the present condition.  This is how I would change things:   .  .  .

Now that's a commercial I would pay attention to.  That’s one that would make me stand up and consider voting for a candidate.  Hello out there, politicians.  Anyone listening? 


Monday, October 22, 2012

On Writing: Castle to Home to Musical Notation

I read writing books; they flow through my consciousness dropping flotsam and jetsam.  Here is the substance of one pile from this week’s accumulation.

Novels are castles with many doors.  Any door will lead256Le_Chateau_(5969305362) us inside.  Once inside, we make a home for our readers, a home where the reader is comfortable enough to throw off her coat and snuggle into the overstuffed chair by the fireplace.  In the heat of the flames she pushes off a shoe, letting it plop onto the braided rug; then loosens the laces on the other one.  Twisting and turning, squiggling and squirming, she positions herself sideways in the chair, her back resting against one arm, her legs over the other.  The flames bathe her in orange light as she relaxes and waits for the other shoe to drop. 

No, the visitor is not the novel, but her experience is.  Harmonic frequencies in music cause a reaction, a sympathetic vibration in anything tuned to that frequency.  Our reader vibrates to the tune of our writing when we provide sufficient detail to bring her into a harmonic frequency. 

And that’s it for today’s mixed metaphors on writing. 


Castle picture By besopha (Le Chateau  Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 19, 2012

Vacation Home Investing—Part 4 Renovation Continues

The final secret of renovation. Unplanned construction will ruin your budget. What the inspector didn’t inspect rose up to bite me. One rainy spring morning, I drove onto the driveway, opened the gate, and discovered sinkholes in the gravel drive.  The drive goes over a creek and there were now deep sink holes down to the creek below.  Huge, dark, and deep sink holes.  Sink holes wide enough for a person to drop through into the black void below.  What could I do?  Panic set in.  I examined the holes. If I was careful, maybe I could drive the car across and miss DSCN0031the holes. I put my foot next to one. It held. I looked down and my mind envisioned a black hole sucking in anything that touched its edge. But I could see the creek next to the drive and knew it was only about 6 feet down. This was not a celestial vortex, merely a sink hole.

I contemplated backing my car and making a run for it. I’ve seen high speed chases in the movies where the  car jumps over a large obstacle in the road. Surely with sufficient momentum I could jump the holes. Then  reality surfaced.  I thought about what was even more likely to happen to me. Insufficient momentum would256Car_on_jump_Top_Gear_mini_winter_olympics leave my car stuck 67 miles from home. I could just see the wrecker pulling my car out with broken tie rod ends or some other major problem. And even if I did somehow make it across the creek, would I be trapped on the other side? Would my car get stuck on the way out when I was tired with night approaching? And what would my husband say? I was afraid he would say that the whole thing had been a mistake. So I left my car at the end of the drive and, in multiple trips, carried my paint cans, lamps, and tools  on foot up to the cabin for my day’s work.

When I left that day, I stopped at Shelley’s Nursery, a local nursery and landscape business and asked if they could repair the culvert damage. They could and would but they couldn’t get to it until mid summer when the creek would be down to a manageable level.  The estimate was for more than any single item or job I had planned but there was was nothing else I could do. I put my bathroom contractor on hold, put large deliveries on hold, and I tore things apart and ripped out carpet and painted and installed a security system and took care of all of the small things I could while I waited for summer and the dry season. I carried lamps and tables up the hill and carried trash back down. At least I had one working toilet and one working sink in two different bathrooms in addition to a refrigerator and microwave.

It was late July before the culvert was repaired and September before my contractor could get in and finish. I finally told my husband about the culvert the first time he saw the place in November. “How much did it cost?” he asked. “You don’t want to know,” I said. And he said nothing in response so I knew he really did not want to know.  That was the standard for all our renovation conversations. I would tell him about some problem and he would ask, “how much did it cost?” I would say, “you don’t want to know.” And there it would end.

Again, in September I experienced  “first picked bad contractor” rule all over again. My personal warning is that when I start “helping” the contractor by telling him things he ought to already know, I have picked a bad one. I have one other indicator. When the contractor tells me he doesn’t like what he’s doing, I know there is a problem. This one told me he did not like working indoors as he connected the pipes under the bathroom sink.

If I had more sense, I would have fired that contractor right away.  But somehow compassion (if that’s what it was) won out and I let him continue even after I discovered that he couldn’t figure out how to attach a drain pipe, didn’t know that bathroom electrical circuits aren’t rated for enough amps to run power tools, couldn’t correctly identify hot and cold water lines, didn’t know how to control drywall dust, failed to answer phone calls, and then failed to return one day, never to be seen again or heard from again.

I learned.  I learned that the best way to remove drywall dust is a rented carpet cleaner and plain water.  I learned not to use that contractor again.  I learned to find a different contractor by referral.  I learned and learned and learned.

My second contractor was competent albeit a little forgetful. But’s that’s OK because he laid the floor properly, fixed my electrical problems, and told me he wouldn’t do something I asked because it was unsafe and would lead to long-term problems. He was clean, competent and told me more than I needed to know. This is a contactor I can trust. And because he lives in the neighborhood, he tells me things about the area that I would not have learned otherwise. I expect to be able to provide him with many projects over the years to come.

Did you think I was finished with renovations when the floors were in and everything worked? I don’t think renovations ever cease! The word renovation means renew. So from the basics to make the cabin habitable to those less basic things which make it comfortable, they all bring newness to it. I try to make it better than new. One year the floors, this year the deck, range and dishwasher, another year the roof, and who knows what might be in store for the future!  (Well, I have had so much interest in renting my vacation house, I’m trying to buy another one, but who knew lake property would be so expensive!  Any investors out there?)

This is my last installment.  You can see the finished result on my Woods Hollow Cabin’s website.





Red car picture By Colrowe (Own work) [<a href="">CC-BY-SA-3.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vacation Home Investing—Part 3 Renovations Begin

I purchased a FNMA foreclosure which needed some work, but I had a plan. Everyone tells you to leave an extra 10-20% for contingencies, but I decided I would just over-estimate my expenses and that would cover contingencies. I’ll let you in on the first two of three secrets:  you ABSOLUTELY need to allocate for contingencies because they will happen and the first contractor is always the worst.  (Note:  all pictures of my cabin are “before pictures.)

You already know I research everything.  Even with all my research, the first contractor I choose is invariably the least competent one. It doesn’t matter how many or how good the references are, or how long they have256Charpentier_médiéval been in business, or how great their website is.  For me, the first is the worst.  Suffice it to say that I started out by hiring a probably wonderful builder, but a bad building inspector. I knew it when he showed up with no ladder or tools and was not dressed to crawl into the crawl space. He told me a least one thing I didn’t know, so I counted it as a successful experience at the time. I wasn’t worried because I was already in contract, so no matter what the inspector found, I would move forward.

My husband was worried about my security and  friends of ours near Laurelville had been visited by gateburglars until they installed a gate, so my first step was to install a farm gate at the road. I found the gate at a local store and they gave me the name of someone who could install it, but that person never returned my calls (contractor #1). I found another contractor and he successfully installed it. 

A gate needs a lock and my search for the toughest lockc0bc661f-9f70-4ba6-b088-7e14d86320c7 led me to one with a strange sounding name.  New York Fahgettaboudit.  This is a lock used to secure motorcycles and bicycles in New York City, so it would be fine for my country gate.  It uses a type of lock technology that makes it virtually impossible to pick or fabricate a duplicate key.  These locks are known as rotating disk locks and when the key is inserted and turned, disks, like tumblers in a safe lock, rotate to the desired position.

With the gate in place and locked, it was time to start working on the inside.  Everything had been painted009 horrible colors (pink, bright blue) and all other surfaces were pink wallboard patterned with tiny flowers.  The kitchen countertop was white and stained.  I primered everything and painted the walls in forest shades and painted the counter in wheat. (Note: this was a paint-and-dash situation—counter paint smells horrid). 

Now, I don’t normally purchase paint like others do.  I purchase mis-tints at greatly reduced prices ($5 to $10), then mix them to get my desired shade, not always with the best results.  I painted the two largest rooms twice, just to get the correct color—one that was pleasant to look at.  And when I ran out of my special mix in the middle of painting a room, I discovered how hard it is to match my mixes.  When I mix paints, I mix glosses and flats and semi-glosses and different paint brands.  When you have paint matched at the store, they ask you what brand it is.  Different brands have different characteristics.  I created a challenge for the paint department with my custom mixes.  It took them several tries and they never did get the exact color, but it was close enough.  I am not a good painter and it took about a year to finish the last bit of wall.   

After I’d paint a room I would start ripping out the005 carpet.  This is smart because you can use the carpet as a drop cloth.  Unfortunately for the floors, ripping out carpet was quicker than painting on the first two rooms, so I decided to rip first and paint later.  Unfortunate because when we painted, we spilled an entire tray of primer on the bare subfloor in the main room which I had wanted to stain.  (I say we, because I had acquired a younger, stronger, helper.)  Oh, well, Plan B. 

Who installs carpet and then builds walls over it? In one room, that is how the carpet was secured:  with staples and tack strips and held down by the wall.    The carpets were cheap and ugly and I had no intention of using carpet anywhere.  I used a linoleum cutter to rip the carpet and pad to manageable sizes, lengths that would fit in my Honda Civic.  How did we get it out from underneath the walls?  Brute force.   You can still see the shoe prints where we braced against the wall to pull it out.  After the tugging and pulling, I used a pry bar to pull up the nails, staples, and tack strips, and a scissors to trim the yarn that held onto the wall base.  It took weeks of work days to remove all the carpet.  For a number of months, I worked with rolled up carpet in a queue, waiting to be driven home and trashed, because I could fit only one or two rolls at a time in my car.

My gate installation contractor was ready to start on the bathrooms.  He would be replacing subfloor, 013installing a shower, and replacing two vanities.  I  had hoped to use a prefabricated shower from Lowes, but the salesman pointed out to me that it would not fit through the doorway.  So I bought shower walls and base and fixtures, a refrigerator, and  bathroom vanities and sinks, all of which Lowes delivered for my contractor’s use. 

Stay tuned for the next installment where I discuss my second secret and how I worked around the disaster that lay ahead.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vacation Home Investing: Part 2 The Purchase


The first step to owning a vacation home starts with research.  Research to see what’s available.  Research223px-Ohio_counties_map to find more or less desirable areas.  Decide what you can spend and where you will spend it.  Research, research, research.  I love research; it lets me learn new things and explore ideas and alternatives. I spent about 3 years doing research for this cabin, research that ultimately led me to refine my search.  I researched the state of Ohio using aerial maps and driving here and there, and ultimately restricted my search to areas in southern Ohio because there are many more public lands to enjoy.

I looked for something small, within 1 hour 30 minutes to Columbus, priced at $50,000 or less (we did not want to incur debt), hilly wooded acreage, close to a lake for swimming, easy access to major highways, proximity to grocery and other amenities of a city, and close to hiking trails and lakes. I looked in Hocking, Athens, Vinton, Fairfield, Ross, Pike, and Highland counties. I frequently searched online at Trulia, Zillow, FNMA, HUD, and others. I checked out sheriff’s sale lists and individual local realtor sites and auction sites like Williams & Williams, Bid4Assets, and

My husband and I physically viewed some properties ranging from a too small cabin on too little land too far away to a half-underground cabin with a huge commercial light mounted next to the front door, bars on the doors and windows, and lots of mold inside.  We saw land that was too far away and too expensive and land that was in a good location but with poor roads, neighbors, and utilities. My dream continually returned me to the website of a one-room streamside cabin where I imagined myself writing and reading and lounging by the side of the stream, but that cabin was overpriced, far away, with no utilities.  I finally listened to my practical side and turned away from that one. 

I often despaired.  When I did find well-priced land with utilities and buildings, they were useless buildings that would need to be removed (a Quonset hut and a leaky, tiny distressed and damaged mobile home complete with a wheel base).  We visited one cabin where the toilet drained through a hole in the floor and then into an open hole in the ground and the “spring” was a muddy hole dug next to a creek.  I watched a couple of online auctions and wondered at people who paid top dollar for properties needing extensive structural repair.  

I had included raw land in my search and considered the idea of building later because land is more affordable ($1,000 –$3,000 an acre).  But building new is almost always more expensive than purchasing previously built.  So, I found myself narrowing my search once again, now to include only properties that already had a building. 

In addition to the house, water and septic are vitally important.  Water wells are hit and miss in hilly areas. Even though there is sufficient rain, much of the rainfall runs off the hills into streams and rivers and very little soaks into the ground. Unlike the 30-foot well at my Columbus house where the ground is flat and permeable, wells in hilly areas are at least 100 feet deep or deeper and frequently yield poor water quality and weak flow.  The hilly terrain also causes a problem for septic systems.  The soil in these areas tends to be impermeable clay and rock,  so it may be difficult to get a septic system approved. I wanted someone else to have already dealt with the septic and water for anything I purchased.  

I finally found what I was looking for or close to it. And while I couldn’t find everything on my list, I did find wooded hilly acreage, a building the right size, in my price range, with septic and water,  close to the Buckeye Trail, across from state forest land, close to a major highway and city amenities.  This was a Fannie Mae financed house which gave me some comfort because FNMA has standards for houses which it finances.  (Note: most FNMA and other government foreclosures do not have much land with them.  In fact, I have been looking recently and have found most of them to be less than one acre.)

I did not know how greatly Fannie Mae’s foreclosure process differed from other foreclosures and differed from purchasing from any other seller, but I soon learned.  FNMA requires all houses to go to bid and these bids must be submitted to FNMA by FNMA approved realtors.  You cannot submit a bid to FNMA unless you show the realtor proof of your ability to pay the amount bid, such as bank statements or a pre-approved loan.  These are blind bids; you do know know how much the other potential buyers are bidding.  I decided to bid full price.  The realtor suggested I could go lower, but did tell me there were other parties bidding.  A full price offer was a reasonable amount to pay, so I submitted the bid and expected a response within 24 hours as is normal in other transactions.

I discovered that FNMA looks at each bid submitted each day or over a period of days and chooses the one that will give FNMA the greater net proceeds.  In most real estate purchase transactions the purchaser makes an offer that is a contract.  Not with FNMA.  It was several days before I received word that FNMA had accepted my bid, but I did not receive FNMA’s contract until much later.  Before I even saw it I had the realtor fax it to my attorney for his quick review.  Most residential real estate purchase contracts are a page or two.  My attorney called me after receiving the contract and that’s when I found out FNMA’s contract contained thirteen pages.   My attorney was pressed for time, so he addressed his concerns with me, and I addressed mine with him as I drove to Chillicothe to give the realtor my deposit and submit the contract. 

I felt almost sure about this purchase, but it was a sufficiently large expenditure to drain our savings, my husband was not completely happy about it, and I wanted to be as absolutely sure as I could that this was a right thing to do.  FNMA, being a large government agency, does not negotiate changes to their contract.  You can find that information online.  They never make changes or accept changes made by buyers.  Nevertheless, parts of the contract made me uncomfortable so I made changes before I submitted the contract to FNMA. 

I wanted to do what God wanted me to do with this transaction, but I do not believe putting God in a situation where it seems like I am forcing him to act.  After all, who can control God?  It is presumptive to even think about trying to force his hand.  But this one time, I asked God to let FNMA do what they always do and not accept my changes if He wanted me to back off from the cabin.  I told Him that if FNMA rejected the contract, I would not move forward and that would be the end of it.  Final.  Finito.  And that should have been the end of it because government agencies loathe change.  And it wasn’t like mine was the only bid; I found out later that the next closest bid was only $100 less than mine.

It took days for a response from FNMA.  Days when I wrestled with what the loss of a dream would mean.  Days when I felt alternately calm then sad at the loss I was sure to experience.   And yet it felt good.  It felt right.  I have often jumped into situations which may not have been the best choice.  I have friends who believe that some of my decisions have been totally wrong.  I have trouble deciding who to listen to.  Voices from good and wise friends can give opposing advice.  Even God doesn’t usually tell me what is right.  There are clear principals and guidelines found in the Bible, but they may not cover every situation.  Sometimes the Spirit nudges me in a certain direction.  But usually I make a decision with no clear guidance, only a desperate prayer that what I am doing is right. 

How do you decide who to marry?  I tease my husband by telling him that I married the “bad boy.”  Sure, you have your list and you have your feelings, but what if the person who matches your list and shares your feelings says no?  How do you decide what car to buy?  You have a list and you have a price, but what if the car that matches your list and price turns out to be a lemon?  How about your house?  Which is most important:  location, style, fixtures, price?  And when you finally do choose, is it really the right one?

This brings up the subject of cognitive dissonance.  It’s a psychological based marketing term but what it means is that when you make a decision to acquire something costly and actually do spend (money, time, effort) to possess it, you then have feelings of doubt that you did the right thing.  We all have those feelings when we make a large purchase and auto companies, electronics companies and other high-ticket manufacturers do not spend their advertising dollars merely to sell us their product.  No!  Watch a commercial for the brand you own.  Does it make you feel better about purchasing it?  Of course it does.  The advertisers market to you before the sale and diminish cognitive dissonance after the sale, so we will feel good about the product we have purchased.  Think about that the next time you see a television or YouTube commercial or see an ad on the web or in a publication.  We also try to diminish our own cognitive dissonance by extolling the virtues of our purchase. 

Enough of this digression.  I’m sure you are wondering what happened to the FNMA contract and my  changes. 

I’ll tell you in the next installment. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vacation Home Investing Part 1

Why buy a vacation home?  Why buy a cabin in the 256De_geldwisselaar_en_zijn_vrouwwoods?  This is a question many people ask.  Isn’t it safer to put your money in CD’s, stocks, and annuities?  Or even to keep it in a sock under the bed or hide it in a hole in the ground?

These are all good questions and maybe my story will provide you with some answers.  Note:  Half the time my husband thinks I’m crazy for spending every bit I earn and then some.  (Note to self:  Am I crazy because I think other people think I’m crazy, or just paranoid?)I’m not always good at articulating all my reasons and I’m not sure  my response will be complete, but here goes!

I have always felt compelled to give to poor people.  By this I mean people who are unable to earn a living wage.  However, I have little personal income and some years ago my husband--who rarely tells me “no”—put a halt to my plan to give away an extra 5-10% each year until I reached a 90% donation rate with our income.  So I dropped back to 10-15% and looked for other ways to contribute. 

Studies have shown that 80% of funds spent in a community directly benefit the people in that community.  The amount that I spend on a vacation home for utilities, appliances, contractors, furnishings, security system, and everything else directly benefits Chillicothe and Waverly and Ross and Pike counties and the people who live there. 

Think about it.  When you pay money to a retailer, some of what you pay goes to taxes which benefit the city/village and county, some to employ people who now can spend money at retailers which benefits the city/village, the county, and more people.  And when you pay money to a local contractor, they usually spend it in the area in which they live.  So when I pay the plumbers and other contractors, I know where that money will likely stay:  in Pike and Ross counties.  I am funding businesses that fund other businesses and the owners and employees are the ones that benefit.

There’s another reason I wanted a vacation home.  For a several years we vacationed at a state park cabin.  I enjoyed the scenery, the trails, the lake, but the bed was very uncomfortable and the second bedroom had only for bunk beds.  The first two years we slept on the floor on an air mattress because the bed was so uncomfortable.  With the light from the sidewalk shining in, the roar of car engines, the bang of car doors closing, and people walking and talking outside our door as they passed the cabin, it was difficult to sleep which is one of my primary goals for a vacation.

The final year we stayed at the state park, we took the mattress off the bed and leaned it against the bedroom wall.  We used our air mattress on the bed.  That year, the people in the next cabin—its deck was directly across from our bedroom window—carried their radio outside and sang along to country music, loudly and out of tune as we tried to sleep.  In the evenings before bedtime, I would gaze at the walls of the cabin and dream of repainting and adding artwork.  A cabin we owned would have two full bedrooms with the same mattresses we use at home, no cars pulling in, no one walking by at night, no one singing out of tune.  We would be able to sleep. 

Finally, I don’t like to pay taxes.  We are in a low tax bracket but I would would still prefer to send as little money as possible to our wasteful out-of-control government.  Or to put it another way, I would rather fund people than institutions.  I asked an accountant how I could lessen our taxes.  The only practical solutions were to purchase a building and move my business there or start another business.  I did not want a building for my business and one business takes most of my time; another business was out of the question. 

But what about a vacation rental?  I love real estate and I could have a vacation place to enjoy for a couple of weeks each year and rent it in the interim.  That’s a business that would provide a personal benefit and still give me a tax deduction. 

How has it worked out, you ask?  The first couple years were difficult and costly, but we did get a small tax refund for the first time in years.  I have never enjoyed organizing or bookkeeping, and the cabin has increased those duties.  But it’s also a joy.  I am there almost weekly to work, but the greenery and quiet are a welcome break from my other life.  In addition, most of our pre-vacation planning is gone.  We don’t have to plan ahead for a one or two day vacation and even if we take an entire week, there’s very little planning involved. 

Should you buy a vacation rental second home?  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you more to help you make that decision.


Picture by Marinus van Reymerswale (circa 1490/1495–1546?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Pay Fewer Taxes

 There has been a lot of talk during every election in recent times about people who don’t pay taxes.  We 256px-Victor_Dubreuil_-_'Money_to_Burn',_oil_on_canvas,_1893know the very poor don’t and rightfully so.  But is it right that the wealthy pay little or no federal income tax?  Please take note from the start that I am not an accountant and the examples I am giving are very basic.  Please rely on an accountant for any advice before you start investing.

I knew nothing about this subject until I had some money of my own to invest.  I decided that it was safest to split the investment into high risk and low risk.  The low risk funds were put into Certificates of Deposit; the high risk into mutual funds (stocks).  I did this for a few years.  Then I started thinking.  Could I invest in something other than CD’s and mutual funds?  Something that would be more interesting, something that would bring in income and reduce taxes, something fun?

It wasn’t until I decided to invest in real estate for my own pleasure that I began to understand how investing in something that creates jobs and wealth for others also leads to fewer taxes for myself.  I’m going to let you in on what I have learned.

It takes a significant amount of money to invest in real estate.  Banks are reluctant to make loans to investors and having your own funds is better because you will not become financially over-extended.  After I paid off the mortgage on my own home I was able to save for investment.

My first real estate investment was vacation property.  I will tell you more about that process in the posts that follow.  I wanted to purchase the property for cash.  My maximum was $40-50,000.  Do you know what you can get for that amount?  Almost nothing.  You need plenty of available cash to make the most of real estate investment.

I did find something for that amount and borrowed money on a credit card to fix it up.  Of the $40,000 I paid for the property, I can deduct 1/28 of the cost attributable to the house (not that land) every year for 28 years.  Advertising, repair and replacement costs, utilities, real estate taxes, and other expenses are deductible in the year they occur.  You can find lists of what is deductible on the web.  (Note: I have a tax rate of 10%, so only 10% of this is directly deductible.  If I was in a higher tax bracket (i.e. had lots and lots of money) then I would be able to directly deduct a higher percentage).

Where does the money go that I am not paying in taxes?  To local repair people, local stores, local utility companies, and the county treasurer.  I am supporting businesses which employ local residents.  I am supporting the local government and libraries and other things to which my tax dollars go. 

If I could purchase a rental house for $500,000 (I can’t—I don’t have that much money) and assuming the house itself was valued at $480,000, then my 1/28 deduction each year would be a cool $17, 483.  Not to mention costs for repair and replacement, utilities, taxes, etc.  Are you starting to see that the more you invest, the higher the tax deduction and the greater the investment in the community?  Want to know more about my vacation property experience?  Stay tuned.  More posts will follow.

Monday, October 8, 2012

When to Speak Up & When To Shut Up: A Review


When I was offered the opportunity to review a book

When to Speak Up and When To Shut Up
titled When to Speak Up & When To Shut Up: Principles for Conversations You Won’t Regret by Dr. Michael D. Sedler I was in a rush to read the book. You see, I have always had trouble making conversation, partly because I’m an introvert, and partly because I was not encouraged to converse when I was young. Unlike the characters in a Jane Austen novel who carry on intelligent conversation at every opportunity, I usually didn’t know what to say. When I did have something to say I didn’t know how to fit it into conversation. Here was the book that would save my life. It would give me that one word trigger that when I heard it I would know it was time to share my thoughts. The back cover copy confirmed my decision.

However I was deceived by both the title and the back cover copy. This book is not about conversation, per se. It deals with when and how to confront others, the attitudes and posture we should carry and the ways in which we can frame our words. It is filled with personal anecdotes, stories from the author’s counseling career, and examples from the Bible. It attempts to help us confront common problems and since I have two friends whose marriage is in trouble I was hopeful. Here is an example:

Busy spouses forget to be accessible. One spouse, usually the wife (sorry, guys, but it is the truth), becomes discouraged, feeling isolated and alone. She does not sense that her husband wants to communicate on the same level she does. She asks a question and wants a dialogue on the scale of War and Peace. Instead she gets the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Lassie, Come Home.

Soon, walls are built between husband and wife.  p. 47-48

This book contains common-sense practical ideas for furthering communication with people you need to confront: people in authority, your children, your spouse, and your friends. It tells you how to confront appropriately, showing you how to examine your motives, including the motives behind questions you may ask. The author covers the areas of remaining silent to deceive, rationalizing our own behavior, surviving peer pressure, and avoiding and resolving anger, and presents impediments to Godly silence: fear, intimidation, and pride.

When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up is written in a stilted, wordy manner and despite the author’s personal anecdotes, I found it tedious to read. From the writing style to the paper stock and typeface, it gave the appearance of being self-published without editorial input. If not for my obligation to read the book for this review, I would have put it down after the first chapter.  Fortunately it contained only 156 pages.  If you are interested in a quick overview of how to confront others, this book might be helpful. But if you want to learn the art of conversation, this is not the book for you.


I received this book free from Chosen Books a division of Baker Publishing Group  through its book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Fire, Fire, Fire!

I have had fire on my mind for the past couple of days.  First, I came upon 320Brugger_Salemer_Klosterbranda photograph of a burned out house and tried to imagine what damage had been done.  Next, I saw an episode of a TV show about an arsonist.  Finally, our pastor preached on love and mentioned fire.

Maybe I have a little bit of the arsonist inside me:  the love of watching fire burn.  There’s something mesmerizing in watching the ever-changing fire in a fireplace or fire pit, a scene composed of wood, coals, embers, fire and smoke, and heat—a heat that can warm cold feet or burn them—in a scene that constantly changes, that’s never static, and, although controlled, still holds an element of danger. 

Fire is a thing of beauty, a force of destruction, and a practical means to cook food.  Yet, there is another sort of fire:  the fire that comes from YHWH, God.  The fire that barred the way back into the Garden, the fire that startled Moses, the fire that consumed sacrifice, the fire inside those who believed at Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Fire is flamed by wind.  I can blow on embers to get them to flame and ignite dry leaves or paper.  The word “spirit” in Hebrew is also wind. 

The Holy Wind of God fans his fire into flames.  Without that Holy Wind, the fire will go out.  Fires have a tendency to go out if deprived of airflow and fuel.  After God’s fire consumed the animal sacrifice laid on the altar, He commanded the priests to keep the fire burning.  The priests were responsible for providing wood to fuel the fire.  God provided the wind, the Spirit. 

Today, we no longer sacrifice animals.  We ourselves are both the sacrifice and the priests.  God provides the fire . . . and the wind of the Holy Spirit.  We must provide the fuel.  What is your fuel?  Mine is reading the Bible, spending quiet time with God, and thinking/writing about what I hear, see, and feel.

Go into the woods and light a campfire.  Or kindle your wood-burner.  Now observe.  Remember the fire God has planted in you and ask him to fan the flames then do what you need to add fuel.  Watch the fire glow more brightly.  I used to ask God to make my face like Moses’, so full of glow that others would see it and ask.  I was missing the point.  The fire is already glowing, I merely need to add fuel.  Next time you see a fire, even a gas flame, think about God and the fire he has placed in you.  Then add fuel and watch it glow.






The image above  is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.  This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Should Government Help Grow Business or Get Out of the Way?


That seemed to be the substance of the Presidential Debate.  And that is a good question which I will try to answer in a round-about way.

I have been in several churches in my life.  They have 256Wall_House2ranged in governing philosophy from putting walls around activities that lead to harm to a strategy of giving us information and allowing us to make the decision. In other words from Puritan to . . . well whatever is the opposite.

The church I am in right now falls in the latter category.  The leaders and pastors are there to enable the congregation in doing the work of ministry.  How it works out is not setting out a list of rules or avoidances, but learning to listen to God as he speaks through scripture, through others, and through His Spirit. 

This is both an easier and more difficult way to live.  If I am given rules, I don’t have to think, don’t have to worry, don’t have to wrestle.  I need only obey.  Without rules, I have to think and wrestle with decisions which is better for me.

So how does that relate to government?  Like the church I am in, it works better if it enables the citizens to function freely .  .  . by getting out of the way.  Government does some things well: provides defense and security, maintains communication and roads, and carries on relationships with other governments.  But running a business is something that a government cannot do well.  Government functions best when it is inefficient.  Businesses must be efficient.  Inefficiency is good for government and bad for business.  Our founders knew that when they created an inefficient Tri-cameral body:  Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.  When government moves slowly, it moves best.

Business is different.  Business must have a leader, a decision-maker who can make business decisions on the fly.  Businesses have to take risks.  Business cannot function like a government or it will fail.  Government cannot run a profitable business—it can’t seem to run itself without incurring massive debt.  And an unprofitable debt-ridden business is no business at all. 

Government can help grow business best when it stays out of the way and lets business people run businesses. 



Wall image By Wenkbrauwalbatros (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons