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June 2015

The Best Laid Plans........

The wheels have fallen of our lives in the last few months...

In late February my wife was informed that she would not be returning next year to her job teaching English at a local Christian School. This news, when shared with other teachers, her current students, and her former students brought disbelief and many tears. The reasons were trumped-up and cockamamy--the kind of ridiculousness an administrator manufactures when he or she doesn't like a faculty member and wants to replace them for no good reason. While this news didn't change her approach to the rest of the school year (she finished well and strong), the news has changed and will continue to change our lives.

The church I serve in Maryland is a small church with great financial difficulties. From the beginning of this year, we have been shorted the agreed upon amount of salary so many times, I've lost count. But, I do know the amount has been in the low thousands of dollars. God has been very gracious to us in all this in that I've had "pen money" to fill in the gaps so that my family doesn't notice the shortages. But, the church's financial situation means that they are doing all they can (and it isn't sufficient) to support me and my family. My wife's job is what has allowed us to remain here, and that's been the case for one, simple reason--all our medical coverage came through her teaching job. Our church simply isn't capable of filling that gap for us and supplying me, my wife, and my two daughters with health insurance.

My wife not returning to school next year immediately meant (and means) several things for us. One thing is that I cannot continue to serve as pastor at my present church. As I said above, the only thing that was allowing me to do so is that my wife was teaching English as this school, making a decent salary (under $30,000), and receiving health benefits. At the news of her not going back, I immediately began searching for another job so that I could provide for my family. I have applied to teach Bible in Christian Schools, I have applied to teach Instrumental Music in Christian Schools, and my wife has applied to teach English in other Christian schools. We have applied to schools together and we have applied to schools separately. We have applied to schools in Maryland, Indiana, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia, to name a few. Though we've made it deep into the interview process at several schools, so far neither of us has been hired.

Applying to teach at a Christian schools is often tedious and time consuming. Initially, some schools ask only for resumes, some ask for full applications. The schools that like your resumes later request applications. Many of the applications I have sent in have been 20 pages because Christian schools ask you to write about specific questions. So, each application can be like a term-paper--and I've filled out, probably, fifteen or so applications since February.

Another challenge for us is that there are no teaching positions in our geographical area. So, every application made to schools in the various locations mentioned above requires research into cost of living, cost of moving, etc. Since there is nothing close to us, we are planning that we'll have to sell our house and move. At this point, we don't know where we'll be moving to, but we're pretty sure that we'll have to move soon. So... the life we were trying to build here for us and our girls will have to be scrapped. The day is fast approaching when I will have to take any job with benefits, whether it be teacher, pastor, or janitor--and janitor is looking to be the most likely option.

The question might be asked: "Why don't you do pens full time?" My friends who have gone full-time working on pens all have one thing in common: A nest egg. We don't have a nest egg of any kind. A few years ago, when our church began having financial issues, we decided to take less money from our church so that the church could keep going. We hoped the church would grow and the downward financial trend would be reversed. It hasn't happened. In retrospect, that may not have been the best decision, but it's the decision that was made and we have to live with it. We've been living on the financial razor's edge for the past three years and, as a result, we don't have much savings to lean on, much less money to buy pen stock to resell, etc. So, our only option with working on pens is to keep it a part-time, side business.

We are doing everything we can do to make sure that we don't wind-up "living in a van down by the river." While continuing to work our full-time jobs, my wife and I have been looking for different jobs--which is a full-time job in itself. In the midst of all this I have had very little time to do pen work. I am rarely in the pen shop during regular business hours. Most of the work I can do is in the overnight hours, and this greatly hampers my ability to return messages.

So, yes, I have dropped the ball. It is extremely frustrating to me that I have and am continuing to let people down because I haven't been able to work on their pens or maintain open communication lines in a timely manner. I must offer my deepest apologies to those of you who have been affected by the goings on in my life outside of the pen world. Certainly, you shouldn't be affected by our struggles, and you'd be right not to care about how those struggles affect you, the pen client. But, though we can offer no excuses, the time has come to give the reasons for the very long wait to have a pen or a message returned.

We can tell you, though, that we're looking forward to the day when all the job upheaval is behind us and we can return to serving our clients in a proper manner. For those of you who pray, your prayers would be greatly appreciated.



January 2015

The Challenges We've Faced And How We're Changing To Meet Them

2014 was a challenging year for Tim Girdler Pens. Life and business have both been overwhelming at times and while the reasons may not matter to our clients, I would like to describe our challenges and describe the steps we've taken to overcome them.

Somewhere in the middle of 2014--around late April or early May--the volume of pens coming into our shop got to be pretty unmanageable. For many, this is a "good" problem to have. For us, however, the volume of pens revealed that we needed a much better way to keep track of pens coming into our shop. We were using Word documents to write out information, entering the same information some five or six times. Additionally, Word didn't allow us to track pens by when they arrived, etc. So, our repair queue became a jumbled mess.

To overcome this issue, we've invested in a program called FileMaker Pro. FileMaker Pro allows us to enter information in a spreadsheet format and that information populates several different documents for us. So, at this point, it is much easier to track when a pen came into our shop and where it is in the repair queue.

Secondly, our email communication hasn't always been the most reliable. Several issues have presented themselves: 1.) Email does not always reach us through our primary email address; and 2.) Email can be read on my iPhone and can later be missed in our email program.

To overcome the first issue, we've established an alternate email address through gmail. That alternate address is now listed on our Contact page. The second issue will be overcome by me turning off the pen email in my iPhone. Now, I'll have a dedicated time-period each work day to answer emails at my computer, reducing the chance of emails going unanswered.

Third, answering and returning phone calls has been very challenging. While it is never easy to put a pen down to answer the phone, there are other things we can do to make sure phone messages are returned. Until recently, my shop phone was forwarded to my cell phone--one of three numbers that ring-through to my cell phone.

Now, the shop phone will not forward to my cell phone (unless I'm at a pen show) and, as with the email, I'll have a time each day dedicated to checking phone messages and returning phone calls.

Lastly, we've been very inaccurate in our prediction of turn-around time. As it is stated on other areas of my website, I cannot do pen work on a full-time basis. I am a full-time Christian minister and much of my time throughout the week is taken up in preparing for our Sunday or Wednesday meetings. Also, when a crisis presents itself in the life of our church, what time I thought I had quickly disappears.

To overcome this challenge, we are going to set a regular number of pens per week that we can work on. At this point, I think it is safe to say that I can work three days per week and in that time I can work on none pens. So, we'll estimate our queue according to that plan. Also, we are going to publish our queue on our webpage. The reasoning behind this is so that you can see how long it will be until your pens hit the workbench. Don't worry, we won't post anything that will identify you--we value your privacy as much as you do. In our communication with you, we'll tell you how to read the queue page and track your pens through the process.

It is our sincerest hope that these corrections will help our business better serve your pen needs.



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