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Monday, September 15, 2014

Tolkien's King Theoden And Every Believer's Dream

King Theoden of Rohan,
an artist's depiction.
Sorry, but this blog is going to be completely self-indulgent.

I just finished watching my way through Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (the extended versions, of course, because how else could one watch them?) and when I got to King Theoden's death scene in The Return of the King, like always, I cried. Call me a nerd. Call me a softy. I don't care. Theoden's death is one of the most compelling and poignant death scenes put on film in a long time, partly because his character has such a dramatic and satisfying arch.

King Theoden is easily my favorite character—in the movies and the books—and he isn't even a central character. He is pivotal in the ultimate victory of good over evil, but there's still more happening with King Theoden than meets the eye.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let me paint a brief picture for you of King Theoden and why he is everything you should strive to be.

The seventeenth King of Rohan, Theoden was slowly deceived by his chief advisor Grima (or Wormtongue, as most others called him) into serving the evil wizard Saruman. By the time we meet Theoden in book two, The Two Towers, he is a shriveled old man, a puppet of Grima, and an unfortunate servant of Saruman. The story hinges on Theoden successfully shaking off the chains that Grima had placed around his soul and leading his people to war against the evil wizard.

"Dark have been my dreams of late," Theoden says when he finally awakens from Grima's spells.

I think most people shrug off the importance of Theoden's role in the story because he doesn't start off as a very interesting character. When we first meet him, he's not heroic. He's not handsome or chivalrous. He's a man who has been duped into working for the enemy. He's indifferent. A prisoner. Certainly, not the most inspiring hero.

But I think, of all the people in Tolkien's tale, Theoden is the one who most accurately represents humanity. There isn't a person alive who has never been deceived. Theoden is everyone who has ever been caught in the bondage of drugs, sex, pornography, greed, gluttony, or countless other moral crimes. Theoden's struggle is representative of the one we all endure—the struggle for salvation. He is—more literally than any of the other characters—us.

In the final book, The Return of the King, Theoden fully redeems himself by mustering his soldiers to fight for the kingdom of Gondor and the very survival of the human race. Vastly outnumbered and facing certain death he charges headlong into battle on the Pelennor Fields before the human city of Minis Tirith.

Tolkien's description of Theoden in battle is radically different from the hollow shell he started out as:

"Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a king of old."

King Theoden in Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King"

In the fight Theoden is eventually defeated by the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king is slain by Theoden's niece, Eowyn, who rode into battle in secret and against her uncle's wishes.

In the book Theoden is later found on the battlefield, broken and clinging to life, by his nephew, Eomer. Theoden passes his kingship onto his nephew and dies, saying, "I go to my fathers, and even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed."

Isn't that the hope we all should have, to get to the end of our lives and stand redeemed from all of our mistakes? Isn't it the joy of all believers to pass into the presence of our Heavenly Father and, in His mighty company, no longer feel disgraced for our sins?

King Theoden is a shining example of the redemptive journey we all need to take. There will be dark days. Foolishness will mire much of our character. We will face deception, trials of many kinds, hopelessness, blindness, and the dishonor of countless mistakes, but in the end, thanks to the work of Christ, we know that one day we will stand in Heaven unencumbered by our shame.

And, as Gandalf would say, "That is an encouraging thought."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Budgeting Myths That Are Probably Ruining Your Life

Budgeting myths that are probably ruining your life
Belief shapes behavior. If you believe Star Wars is superior to Star Trek you'll probably enjoy finding opportunities to slam Trek fans. If you believe eating chocolate is good for you, you'll probably get fat. If you believe that budgeting isn't necessary you'll probably go broke.

And if you are struggling with managing your money it might be because you're believing lies about the budgeting process. If you follow our blog at all you know that Dani and I budget regularly—if for no other reason than the fact that it works!—and we want you to be a budget-head too. It can be really hard to get started, but not because budgeting is actually hard—trust me, it's not—but because many people buy into some of the myths that turn the budget into a bad guy.

If you're smart—and we believe you are—then you can learn to let go of these myths, excuses, and misunderstandings, and start building the wealth you've always wanted to have.

Budgeting Myth #1

I don't have time to budget.

Sure, budgeting takes some time, but there's a difference between not having the time and not having the motivation, which is most likely the case, wouldn't you agree? Getting a budget up and running might take a few hours, but after that all it takes is a few minutes a week.

Want to know how much time Dani and I spend on our budget? About one hour a month. We keep track of our receipts and expenses, which takes a few seconds here and there, and at the end of the month we get together to compare our expenses to our budget, make adjustments, and plan for next month, but in total it probably doesn't take more than one hour.

Managing your money needs to be a higher priority since it is one of the largest contributing factors to the quality of your life. We have lots of posts to help you create a budget. Click here.

Budgeting Myth #2

I'm not good at math.

Oh, be quiet. Nobody is as bad at math as me. I loathe math. I jumped for joy when I finally graduated high school for the simple fact that I never had to open another math book again. There simply aren't enough synonyms for the word "detest" to describe how much I hate math.

And yet I budget.

Seriously, budgeting isn't rocket science. You've got your monthly income. You've got your monthly expenses. Those two numbers need to equal zero. Wham. Bam. There's your budget. You're welcome :-)

And thanks to budgeting software, you don't have to be good at math, you simply have to be able to follow instructions. Many of these programs are free and can be safely downloaded without fear of viruses or spyware from CNET's download.com. If you know how to use spreadsheet software, you can even make your own budget. Or, if you're like me and Dani, you can use paper and a plain, old-fashioned number 2 pencil.

Not doing a budget because you don't like math is a really lame excuse. Dave Ramsey has some really simple budgeting forms to help get you started.

Budgeting Myth #3

I keep track of budgeting in my head.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure you do. And that's why you never bounce a check, never find yourself overspending, and are sitting on a mountain of liquid cash. If you can seriously do a zero-based budget in your head every single month we’ll just assume you are the most brilliant person on the planet. Could you please help our government make a budget?

A budget in your head isn’t a budget. It’s just a vague-idea-of-what-I-spend deal-ish thing. To work, a budget needs to be written down so you can physically keep track of your assets. Moreover, if you're married and doing a budget in your head, how does that help your spouse? Guys, I'm talking at you! (And some ladies). You need to keep your spouse involved in the financial decision making.

Budgeting Myth #4

I don't need to budget because I keep track of everything I spend.

Great! That's budgeting. Sorta. Well, it's a start, but it's not a budget. If you're only keeping track of spending than you're only keeping track of the past. What about the future? The point of having a budget is to look ahead and plan for the coming month, year, and lifetime. You need to make plans for the money you haven't spent yet. Look forward AND back, not just one or the other.

Budgeting Myth #5

I want to be free to buy the things I want.

Cool. So do I. And that's why I budget. That doesn't mean I impulsively purchase every single thing I see, it means I've developed enough self-control to know where I want my money to go. If you like buying movies—like I do—budget for it. If you like getting coffee every morning—plan ahead. Need a new car? A camera? Need some landscaping done? Make. A. Budget! If you've got a budget for these things you will always have the money set aside for them, because a budget, over time, can build a cushion that provides increased purchasing power.

Read that again: increased purchasing power. Ooooh, I like the sounds of that!

The more of these myths—and others—you believe the more your actions will be defined by them. Don't let your future get bogged down under the weight of so many lies.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Getting Back To Basics When Life Throws You Off Course

Getting Back To Basics When Life Throws You Off Course
We were so busy in the month of August that I didn't even have time to realize that our days in what once was our "forever home" were numbered. Then one day I got home from work and was half-way out of my car when it dawned on me, "This is our last night in our house."

Dani and I have decided to move in with my Grandmother for the time being as we continue our attempts to sell our house. By doing so we hope to save on some heating costs this winter while giving Grandma some much-needed helping hands around her home.

With this change in our living arrangements our financial situation has changed some too. It will likely change again once the house sells and we're out from under the burden of homeownership, and it will change again in a year or so when we find a new house... or apartment... or something.

All of this means we need to take a "back to basics" approach to our budget, which, when you think about it, isn't a bad thing to do every now and then anyway.

Since leading Financial Peace University, Dani and I have kept in touch with some of the people who attended. Some are doing well. Others have backslidden. One lady approached me last week and said, "I hope you're not planning another FPU reunion because my husband and I have made no progress with our finances at all!"

People in that kind of a situation think I'm going to be mad at them or disappointed, but there's no way I can fault them for their mistakes when I make plenty of my own. The more important thing is no matter how many times our financial mistakes trip us up that we dust ourselves off and get back up. Sometimes that may involve a budget "Reset," especially if you haven't been keeping track of your income and expenses.

We live in a society of perfectionism, where one mistake by a political leader or celebrity earns them a lifetime of public shunning, unforgiveness, and hatred. Anyone remember actor Mel Gibson's drunken anti semitic outrage back in 2006? Of course you do. Because despite his numerous attempts to publicly apologize for the incident and seek forgiveness from the jewish community, Gibson is still far more hated in America today than he is loved. Why? Because we found out he wasn't as cool and collected and heroic as the characters he portrays in film? Because we found out that he's a real human being with real problems?

Our culture, while admittedly imperfect, demands perfection. The moment someone doesn't live up to our expectations we diminish them.

Instinctively we apply this type of thinking to ourselves far too often. When we're faced with a project we can't complete perfectly, we quit. When stuck in a marriage that doesn't reach our standards, we divorce. When we're unable to follow a financial plan, we ignore it.

We know we're imperfect.

We say we're not striving for perfection.

Yet we fault ourselves, and others, when perfection is not obtained.

I don't know about you, but the word "absurd" comes to mind.

Perfectionism isn't really about being meticulous and perfect anyway. Essentially, it's about fear. We fear failure. We fear making mistakes. We fear disappointing others. Which is why people act so ashamed when they admit to me that their falling short on their financial budget.

Look, it's no surprise to me that you've fallen short. What would surprise me is if you said the budget is working great, that you've never screwed up, that you follow it to a T, you love it, because at that point I would just assume you're lying!

Maybe it's time to get back to some basics. Don't let the latest mistake keep you down. Revisit that budget, find out where you went wrong, and get back on track. Cut the fat. Mind the frivolous spending. Start putting money into savings again. Don't give up just because you've messed up.

Dani and I are going to be making lots of changes to our budget in the months ahead because our financial plan, as we laid it out years ago, has not become what we wanted it to be. Some of that's because of mistakes. Some of it's just plain the result of life interjecting the proverbial monkey wrenches. But all of that doesn't matter as long as we don't throw in the towel.

So, bear with us as we continue to figure it all out. And, while you're at it, pick up that budget, dust it off, and dive back in!

Keep pinchin' :-)

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Whirlwind Of Weddings - Photos, Photos, Photos!

It was one of the first weddings that I ever photographed. This man came up to me at the reception, somewhat drunk, and asked me why I was a wedding photographer. His attitude reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld in the episode "The Big Salad" when he found out that the girl he was dating had previously dated Newman, his slimy archenemy.

Jerry confronted the woman and said in shocked disgust, "You went out ... with Newman?"

She answered, "Just a few times."

Then Jerry, with an unadulterated look of revolution on his face, asked, "Why?!"

Jerry Seinfeld asks, "Why?"
"Why?!"

But back to the drunk guy.

He had once been a wedding photographer and absolutely hated it, he told me, which explained why he was so stunned that anyone could actually enjoy it. Honestly, at the time, I wasn't sure if I enjoyed wedding photography or not. It was still a new venture for me, and, plus, it made me extra money, so, why not?

Today I would have to say my attitude toward wedding photography has only grown increasingly enthusiastic. I love it! And I had the privilege this past August to shoot a wide variety of weddings that, as always, offered a plethora of people, places, and photographs. From honky tonk crowds to Hampton Beach to classy clients from New York. It's been a whirlwind of weddings!

This blog post is a celebration of all the happy couples I was able to get to know, and a glimpse of the many, many wonderful photographs I had the opportunity to shoot!

Click any of the photos to enlarge.


Rhiannon and Anthony

I loved the honky-tonk vibe at this wedding, the wild times at the reception, and the juxtaposition of beautiful girls and beautiful dresses against 4X4 trucks at the county fair grounds. Did I mention the bride did her first ever keg stand? This was a crowd that wasn't afraid to have fun, which is the sort of crowd that keeps me on my toes.


Cady and Garrett

This was a very traditional wedding with some of the most friendly people I've ever worked with. Since the bride and groom had never kissed, their family and friends did everything they could to make sure the young couple did plenty of smooching at the reception for everyone else's amusement. The result? Hours of hilarity!


Rebecca and Jason

I don't think I've ever been surrounded by so many classy-looking people who weren't afraid to act really silly. This was a very upscale wedding at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, NH, but the groom had a terrific sense of humor which unleashed a whole load of goofiness in many of the guests. And did I mention the most heart-meltingly adorable flower girl EVER?!


Abigail and Chad

There are two types of brides—those who give me little direction and just want me to snap pictures at will, and those who come prepared with long lists of very specific photographs for me to capture. Abigail is the latter, a bride with very specific tastes! She knew exactly what she wanted and came prepared with props, photographic examples, and a large time slot for post-ceremony photos, which made my job a breeze!


Beth and Peter

I've done several weddings for middle-aged couples and they're always unique. Such couples approach the whole wedding from a very different point of view than the younger ones. Young couples tend to focus more on details and aesthetics while making sure they have a perfect wedding day. More mature people usually focus on family, friends, and comfort in a more relaxed atmosphere. It's always a nice change of pace.


Olivia and Chad

I won't lie, this one was my favorite! But, I'm biased, because the groom was my cousin. Still, it takes the cake because I've always wanted to do a beach wedding, and, fortunately for everyone involved, we had beautiful weather for it! Chad and Olivia had also never kissed, and so the anticipation leading up to the big moment was evident on both of their faces. They were a very affectionate couple with obvious passion and love, which makes for nothing but amazing photographs!


Know anybody who is getting married? I work all throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. Message me, or visit my website, www.isleofturmak.com.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Strawberries and Finances Have In Common

What Strawberries And Finances Have In Common
Remember those lovely little strawberry plants that I thought I had killed in my fridge? (You can catch up here in case you missed it).

Well, I'm happy to report that not only are they thriving in their new garden home—in fact, they're basically the only thing thriving in my garden—but they are also delicious! Take a look at those beautiful red rubies. I get to pick about this much almost every day.

If you ever consider growing strawberries consider planting everbearing ones. While you typically don't get a harvest of strawberries the first year you plant them, with everbearing plants you do. Why? Because after you pluck off all the first flowers that arrive—this helps the plant focus on growing—the everbearing plants continue to flower and produce strawberries. For someone that likes to be rewarded for their hard work right away, this is the way to go!

As I was picking strawberries the other day, my thoughts turned to our finances.

I know. Radical subject change. But bear with me here.

You might be thinking it's too late to start on your journey to financial freedom. Living debt free or creating a retirement plan may seem so impossible that it's not worth striving for, BUT THAT'S NOT TRUE! It's never to late!

Just like my strawberries that lived in the fridge for three weeks and nearly froze to death, you can still see fruit from your hard work even if you're only just beginning. Some of your hard work may pay off right away, like my everbearing strawberries. You may pay off a credit card or a small loan. It may not be much, but it's a start.

You should've seen the first strawberries I picked. They were so tiny they looked like chokeberries. My husband chuckled at them. But it was only the beginning! The strawberries we're seeing now are big and bright and delicious!

Creating a good financial base and climbing out of debt takes time, and it's never too late to start. So don't believe the lie that you missed the train. Hop on board and decide today that you want to live differently. Create a budget. Maybe check out a Financial Peace University class and start working your way to your financial goals.

Otherwise, if you sit in the fridge any longer, you probably will freeze.

Keep pinchin' :-)

Where Did August Go???

We know, we know! You haven't heard much from the Penny Pinchers recently. Remember that post about Dog Days of Working? Well, if you're curious, that should explain our absence. We do hope to get back into the swing of things here, maybe not quite as regularly as we once were, but at least two or three days a week.

In the meantime here are some photos to show what we have been up to!


We spent Labor Day Weekend down in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, for Jake's cousin's wedding. Jake was the photographer and Dani got to help by videotaping. We had a great time and it was a beautiful day to be at the beach!

Hampton Beach Wedding

Dani finished her first fitness Challenge Group and has plans to begin another one on September 22. If you would like to know more about it or are interested in joining you can use the Contact Us link at the top of the page or email Dani directly at daniordanielle@yahoo.com. She will get back to you!

Pick Your Fitness Challenge Group

While down at Hampton Beach Dani convinced Jake to do a photoshoot with her :-) It was tons of fun! 

Running on Hampton Beach

That pretty much sums up our month!

Keep pinchin' ;-)

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Will You Choose To Be Generous Today?

How will you choose to be generous today?
In the wake of the death of superstar comedian Robin Williams has come a wave of stories regarding an aspect of his life that few knew anything about—how "crazily generous" he was. Williams had a deep appreciation for our armed forces, his colleagues, and for people in general, which he demonstrated through immense giving of material things and his time.

After actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a fall from a horse on May 27, 1995, Williams arrived at his hospital room dressed as a doctor and announced that he was there to do a proctological exam.

"For the first time since the accident, I laughed," Reeve later wrote in his autobiography, Still Me.

Williams supported scholarships at The Juilliard School in New York City, actively raised money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and also supported the San Francisco Zoo, which named a monkey after him in June—which was, appropriately, a howler monkey. In California, where he lived, Williams was a friend of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and would cheer competitors on at the finish line of the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. He was expected this weekend at a race in Northern California.

"What I think a lot of people don't know, and you're starting to hear all these stories come out now, is how crazily generous he was," said late-night talk show host and comedian Conan O'Brien on his show earlier this week. "He was so generous."

"And not just in a material way, but with his time," added O'Brien's co-host Andy Richter. "He spent so much time entertaining the troops, which I didn't really know about which means he didn't really talk about it. He didn't do it for publicity."

Williams hung himself on Monday, August 11, at the age of 63 after a decades long battle with depression and substance abuse. His plethora of movies made millions laugh. His charitable work brought hope to countless others. Despite the horrific tragedy of his death, the legacy of generosity he left behind should touch us no less.

Robin Williams is probably the first actor to die who I was really familiar with. I mean, in just the last few years we've lost wonderful actors like Heath Ledger, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, and Michael Clarke Duncan, but their stars had risen to fame fairly recently; I knew who they were, but they hadn't made the impact on my life that Williams did. Robin Williams has been a staple performer ever since I was a little kid. He—along with Bill Cosby—was probably the first comedian to ever make me laugh. His voice work in Aladdin and FernGully, his on-screen charism in Hook, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jumanji, all played a small part, I think, in the development of my own sense of humor and family values.

His passing makes me sad.

In looking at all the ways Robin Williams helped others, I find myself contemplating one question: how am I going to be generous? Generosity is not just about helping others. For Christians, especially, it's a necessity of obedience.

"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" —Acts 20:35

How am I going to be obedient to the will of my Lord by helping others and caring for widows and orphans?

Though Dani and I do what we can with our time and resources, it's the dream of both of us to one day give much more once we're out of debt. We have a passion for adoption, and we deeply love our church, which are two things we'd love to give more to. Some day we want to have a home that can be the epicenter of the lives of our friends and family, a place for pastors and missionaries to come and rest and have fun, and a place to host friends who need some R&R.

What about you? In what ways do you dream of being generous once you're debt free?