Where Were You? Remembering September 11th

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since terrorists attacked America on September 11, 2001. But at the same time, the after effects of those events continue to be felt today, making it hard to remember what life was like before those terror attacks shook the world.

Like Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, or the Challenger incident, the terrorist attacks of September 11th are one of those tragic historic events that leave an indelible mark on our collective history. You will always remember where you were and what you were doing when you first witnessed this tragic event. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Where Were You? Remembering September 11, 2001

My story isn’t remarkable – like millions of people, I was nothing more than a bystander, watching as events unfolded half a world away. But even though I wasn’t directly involved with these events and even though ten years have passed, the terror attacks continue to stir up deep feelings inside me. America – and the rest of the world – has been changed forever by these events.

I was a little over two years into my enlistment in the USAF, where I served as an aircraft mechanic. I was living in the dormitories at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, just over an hour’s drive northeast of London.  At the time I was working the midnight shift and I had been asleep for several hours when I heard a pounding at my door.

I answered the door and I saw an unhappy First Sergeant standing in front of me. An unhappy First Sergeant can mean many things, but I figured it was just some random dorm inspection. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“You have a car in the parking lot?”

“Yeah, what’s…” He cut me off.

“Move it. We’re in ThreatCon Delta.”

“What!?” The look on his face told me this wasn’t some random exercise. This was the real deal.

“Turn on the news. A plane flew into a building in New York. They say it’s terrorists. The base is shutting down – move your car and stand by for further instructions.”

Holy shit. Terrorists were attacking America.

September 11th World Trade Center Memorial

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

At that point you don’t know what to think or do. And there wasn’t anything I could do, really. So I moved my car. (Security measures during ThreatCon Delta prohibit vehicles within a certain distance of buildings on base).

Once I was back in my room I camped in front of the news; like millions of other Americans and people throughout the world, this was the only way to find out what was happening. I watched the news in an endless loop. First with sound, then in silence. Sometimes words just get in the way, and this was one of those times.

I made phone calls. I double checked my gear – I was ready to go if needed. I watched the news again and again. I wrote letters, not knowing if or when I would mail them. (I later did, but not until we were sent down range about a month later).

September 11th Pentagon Memorial

The Pentagon Memorial, Washington D.C.

Then sometime in the wee hours of the night, I was done. The reality of the situation was too much. I turned off the TV and sat in silence. I lit a candle and turned of the lights. But my mind wouldn’t stop racing. A line had been crossed and everything was different.

Flight 93 Memorial Plaza, Pennsylvania

Flight 93 Memorial Plaza, Pennsylvania

How do you handle war? How do you prepare?

The answer is – you can’t. You do your job every day and you train. You live life the best you can everyday and leave the rest to God.

It’s been ten years now. And I will never forget that day or the weeks, months, and years which followed. I will always remember.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Always Remember.

Photo credits:

  • Twin Towers Memorial: dennoit.
  • Pentagon Memorial: Fristle.
  • Flight 93 Memorial: National Park Service.

This essay was originally published on my military benefits website, TheMilitaryWallet.com on Sept. 11, 2011.

Ryan Guina’s Current Professional Interests

Welcome to my online home! I am a full time writer and internet marketer. My primary business involves running several websites, but I also do freelance writing and internet marketing consulting – both on a limited basis.

The following links are some of websites he has founded or for which I write. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other online locations.

Websites founded by Ryan:

Ryan has also regularly contributed to the following publications:

Connect with Ryan:

Posted in Me

Remembering Tony Gwynn

The baseball world lost one of the game’s greats today. Tony Gwynn passed away from cancer at age 54. I saw him play several times and was lucky enough to meet him once.

Tony Gwynn Hall of Fame Plaque

My buddy Jerry Shoemake and I used to go to Houston Astros games to get autographs when we were in high school (back in the Astrodome days!). We were hanging out at the visitors dugout and Tony Gwynn walked over from shagging flies in the outfield. He took my card from me and started signing it. He wrote the letter “T,” then looked up at me and noticed I was wearing an Astros hat.

He looked me in the eye and asked me, “Are you an Astros fan?”

I looked right back at him and said, “Tony, I’m a baseball fan.”

Tony laughed and said, “All right, I can appreciate that.” He wrote the letter “o” then stopped, looked at me and said, “But you didn’t answer my question. Are you an Astros fan?”

By this time, there was a large crowd gathering around. This had to be 1997 or 1998, and Tony Gwynn was already a first-ballot Hall of Famer by that time. People were pushing, elbowing, calling Tony’s name, and thrusting cards, balls, and bats in his direction. He never acknowledged them. He simply watched me and waited for my answer.

It was time to play ball. I smiled back and said, “I’m a Tony Gwynn fan!”

He laughed at that and wrote the letter, “n.” And then repeated his previous statement, “but you still didn’t tell me if you’re an Astros fan.”

This time I just said “yes, they’re the home team, so I root for them. But I love the game and following certain players.” He laughed and wrote the letter, “y.”

This went on for each letter of his name. We talked a bit, he signed a letter of his name, we talked some more. I honestly don’t remember much else of the conversation. I guess I was a bit star struck. I do remember that it took a good 3-5 minutes for him to sign my card. And I don’t believe he signed any others after our discourse (much to the chagrin of my buddy Jerry, who was patiently standing right beside me the entire time, and to the disappointment of the 30 other not-so-patient people clamoring for his attention).

Tony Gwynn has a beautiful signature. I’ve always liked it. But my signed Tony Gwynn card is the ugliest one I’ve ever seen. It’s squiggly, disjointed, and quite honestly, looks like a poor attempt at a forgery. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

(The card is shown below. If you look closely, you can see where the letters start and stop).

Tony Gwynn Autograph - 1993 Upper Deck

I always admired Tony Gwynn for how he played the game. He was fun to watch. He always hustled and he always had a smile. And his reputation was impeccable both on and off the diamond. He was a legend of the game, and by all accounts, just as well-respected by his family and peers. He was a class act and will be missed. RIP, Tony Gwynn.

More on Tony Gwynn’s Career:

Photo credits:

  • Hall of Fame Plaque – Baseball HoF
  • Tony Gwynn Autographed Baseball Card – Personal Collection

The Music Will Go On… Thoughts on Military Bands and Budget Cuts

The military has a variety of special duty assignments and jobs which fall under the radar. Some of them are assignments many service members aren’t even aware of. I had the pleasure of serving in one such duty assignment while I was in the USAF.

In 2002 I toured with a group called Tops In Blue, which is an Air Force entertainment group that travels around the world putting on performances for military members and their communities. During our tour, we performed over 140 times at over 120 locations in 20+ countries and 30+ states – all in the span of about a year. It was, to put it mildly, the opportunity and experience of a lifetime.

I served as the lighting director during my tour with TIB. I had the pleasure of serving with 25 other Airmen, all of whom I consider to be good friends to this day. I have remained in touch with most of the people I toured with, and it’s fun to see how they are doing in their lives.

Some of them have gone on to retire from the service, others, including myself, have separated to pursue other goals. And some of them are still serving in the USAF, Reserves, or ANG. Most are still pursuing their love and passion for music.

It was with pleasure that my wife and I got to see our good friend, SSgt. Angie Johnson still pursuing her dreams on NBC’s The Voice. My wife and I both served with Angie and have followed her music through the years. At the time, Angie was still serving in the Missouri Air National Guard, with the band, Sidewinder, part of the 571st Air Force Band, 131st Bomb Wing, Air National Guard.

Angie’s journey to getting chosen to perform on The Voice is an interesting one. She transferred to the ANG band after separating from active duty, and during that time, she sang and recorded music in and around Nashville. She was even getting close to giving up her dream of making it big in the music industry and moving on with life when something unexpected happened – an audience member shot a video of Sidewinder performing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” from a deployed location. That video, shot on a cell phone, and uploaded to YouTube, has been viewed over 2.7 million times at the time of this publication.

The Power of a Story

The YouTube video going viral brought Angie and Sidewinder a lot of attention. From there, the press caught on, and Angie and the Sidewinder band became instant hits, with guest spots on Entertainment Tonight, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and several others.

Staff Sgt. Brian Owens, a male vocalist from Sidewinder, was invited to perform “God Bless America” at the first game of the World Series.

Angie was invited to perform the National Anthem at a Seattle Seahawks game when the Seahawks had their Military Appreciation Day. The door was opened, and the members of Sidewinder didn’t look back.

The Voice Came Calling

Angie was invited to try out for The Voice, and she was selected to perform on team Cee Lo. I had never watched the show before, but I became an instant fan – and not just because of Angie. There are a lot of talented performers on the show, and it’s very entertaining. Angie held her own alongside some of the best unsigned musical talents in the US. She has the ability to perform on stage with anyone.

Angie made all of us proud and she has brought a lot of positive attention to the military at a time when a lot of the media is focused on the negative. I can’t stress how proud I am of Angie and her bandmates, and I wish all of them the best as they go forward.

Air National Guard Bands Facing Budget Cuts

Unfortunately, they may soon be going in separate directions. Budget cuts are taking their toll, and 6 ANG bands, including Sidewinder, will get the ax by 2013.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of troop drawdowns and budget cuts. One fan set up an online petition to keep the bands going but it didn’t gain enough signatures to be elevated. Even if it had, it may not have been enough.

The military bands, in all branches of the military, perform a special service for troops. I recall seeing the bands and other MWR shows perform while I was deployed in Qatar and Afghanistan, and recall the effect the performances had on me.

I also remember the experience of being a member of Tops In Blue as we traveled and performed throughout the Middle Eastern region, including performing in a bombed out building in Afghanistan less than a year after September 11th.

Troops were perched on armored personnel carriers, on top of flatbed trailers, or sitting on pallets of military equipment. The breaks between the songs were filled with the sound of distant mortars and machine gun fire. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time we closed the show with “God Bless the USA.” Even the full bird Colonel standing next to me didn’t try to hide his tears.

There is a reason these bands and other military groups exist – and it is for the morale of our troops who are stationed in places most performers don’t want to go. I understand the bean counters in Washington see these bands as an easy way to cut funds, but I doubt most of them have been to places where they are really needed.

The Music Will Go On…

I know the members of Sidewinder and the 5 other bands which are being disbanded will continue to perform music. It’s part of who they are, and I wish them all the best in pursuit of their personal and professional goals.

There are also other military bands and performance groups which will continue to visit the deployed locations and serve as morale boosters for the troops. I just hope this cut doesn’t lead to another cut, which leads to another cut until the bands are gone. Military bands are a tradition, and they should be preserved.

Best of luck to Angie, Sidewinder, and all the military bands out there. Thanks for being such an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of troops, and millions of others across America and around the world!

This article was originally published on my military site, TheMilitaryWallet.com, on March 6, 2012.

What Happened to Patrick? A Few Thoughts About Blogging Anonymously

Note: this article was originally published in 2010, three years after I started writing anonymously at my personal finance site, CashMoneyLife.com. The article has since been moved to this site.

I have a confession to make. For the past three years, I have been blogging under the name Patrick, which is my middle name. My real name is Ryan Guina. Why am I sharing this? There are several reasons actually, but the main reason is transparency. I want daily readers and anyone else to know that there is a real person at the other side of this computer, not just a “guy named Patrick.” In the interest of transparency, I will share why I chose to use a pseudonym, why I am “outing” myself, what it means for readers, and my thoughts on being anonymous on the internet.

Why I Chose to be Anonymous

Ryan Guina HeadshotWhen I first started blogging I had little knowledge of internet communities. I used the internet for news, e-mail, and online banking. The idea of creating a website about personal finance and using my real identity made me think people would be able to find out more about my financial situation and possibly make me a target for identity theft.

There were also several prominent personal finance bloggers who maintained anonymity when I started blogging, which made the decision easier (see Nickel, FMF, AFM, MBH, and others). In the end, I decided to use my middle name because I thought it was more approachable than using initials, and it was easier for me to identify with.

Anonymity and Blogging in the Workplace

The deciding factor to use a pseudonym came when I read the paperwork I had recently signed at my (then) new job; it was a non-compete agreement that included provisions for company ownership/compensation for creating anything technology related while an employee for their firm.

The fine print led me to believe that I would be fine as long as I didn’t use company equipment, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I was new to the corporate world after a tour in the USAF and I didn’t want there to be any conflicts of interest or give them any reason to come after me. (note: I haven’t worked for that company for over two years and they have since been acquired by another company). If you are considering something similar, talk to your ethics department about any potential conflicts of interest.

Why I am Now Using My Real Name

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is mostly about transparency. I want people to know that they aren’t receiving articles and correspondence from an anonymous writer. There are other reasons as well – including branding, correspondence, and business.

I have been building a “brand” under a single name, which doesn’t do me much good if a reporter wants to use my story or if a publication wants me to write for them. It is much better, in the long run, to build my online identity under the name Ryan Guina than it is to continue using my middle name.

Using my full name also makes it easier to deal with advertisers and other people I work with who need to know my real name for business reasons. Signing e-mails and receiving mail and checks under both names gets confusing and is less efficient than it needs to be.

Should You Use Your Real Name Online?

Now to address this topic on a broad level. Using my middle name online when I started blogging made sense for me at the time. But I wish I had used my real name from day one. Using my full name would have been easier for correspondence and could have led to more personal and professional opportunities. This has been an important lesson for me. But what works for me may not work for you. There are dozens of examples of anonymous bloggers who decided to use their full name, others who were outed by someone with good investigative skills, and others who have chosen to remain anonymous. There are even some bloggers who have gone through multiple identities.

Pros and Cons of Blogging Under a Pseudonym

There are many reasons people prefer to remain anonymous. Sometimes it is to keep their day job (many people have been fired for blogging), other times it’s for privacy, and some people find that it opens more doors to them. Here is an example of the latter reason from a staff writer on CopyBlogger: Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants. And, no, it’s not what you are thinking.

On the flip side, some people find that using their real name opens doors to further opportunities. A great example of this is Kerry Taylor from SquawkFox, who received a book deal based on the quality of the writing on her blog. You can read her story here.

Using Your Real Name Online is a Personal Decision

I know many people who are in a similar situation as myself, some of whom will ultimately use their real name and others who will continue to be anonymous for the foreseeable future. I can only speak from my personal experience and reference a couple of other people who wished they would have used their real name at the onset.

However, there is a strong reason to remain anonymous. People have been fired or lost relationships due to their online activities, including blogging, publicly speaking out against their company, sharing information that should have remained private, or other reasons.

In the end, how you choose to represent yourself can have far-reaching implications. For me, I choose to represent myself by my full given name. I feel that this is the best decision for both now and in the future.

This was originally published Mar 1, 2010 on my personal finance site, CashMoneyLife.com.

Let it Breathe

One of the most difficult things for me to learn about running a business was when to back off and let things go. As any blogger or webmaster can tell you, watching traffic stats or other metrics can be addicting. You want to know how much traffic is coming to your website, where it is coming from, where it is going, etc.

The same thing can apply to your finances, business, career, or anything else which you are passionate about – especially when you are excited – such as when you are just beginning your journey or you reach a new milestone.

This is especially true about parenting. As the father of a newborn girl, I want to be there for every moment. I want to see her when she rolls over, sits up, crawls, speaks, walks, etc.

But then you realize your child is going to grow up regardless of what you do, and will even thrive if you just give her the space she needs to discover things on her own. So while that may mean less peaking in on her during nap time to make sure she is still breathing, it also means the new milestones come as a surprise, and thus, are more special.

A business, or your career, or your finances, or anything else dear to you is the same way. You need to pay attention and nurture it, but you don’t need to miss the forest for the trees. Instead of getting caught up in the minute to minute or hour to hour trends, take a step back and take a 30 thousand foot view.

What is the daily trend? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?

Failure happens. It is natural to be disappointed when it takes longer to pay of your credit cards than you thought it would, or if you miss a promotion at work, or you fall short on any other goal. But failure is an opportunity to grow and learn, and sometimes that is more valuable in the long run.

Success and growth take time, and the goal is to see a positive trend as time goes by. That means making plans and following them, and making adjustments when major events dictate changes need to be made. And 99% of the time, slow and steady will win out.

So the next time you get impatient by a perceived lack of progress, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Sometimes you are making more progress than you think you are. Sometimes you just need to let it breathe.

Originally published Dec 23, 2009 on my personal finance website, CashMoneyLife.com.

How Much is Your Time Worth? – The Story of the Riding Lawnmower

Yesterday I wrote an article about outsourcing tasks for my small business and one of the commenters mentioned that the same principles can apply to your personal life. I agree 100%. I recently wrote an article about whether or not changing your own oil was worth the savings. My time is more valuable to me than the few dollars I would save by doing it myself.

Other commenters mentioned outsourcing yard work, car maintenance, home repair, taxes, or other tasks. Many of these tasks can be accomplished by the average person, so long as he is willing to invest a little time and energy into learning how to do the task. But sometimes the time it would take to learn a new task is more valuable than spending the money to hire someone who already has the skills. Or in the case of the story below, time can be more valuable than the cost to purchase a tool to make life easier.

The story of the riding lawnmower

My friend and I were talking at work the other day about his elderly neighbor who is moving into a town home where his yard work is part of the association fees. His neighbor offered to sell him his gently used riding lawnmower for a reasonable price. But my friend wasn’t sure if he really needed a riding lawnmower.

Our conversation went something like this:

Coworker: “I’m just not sure if I need a riding lawnmower. I’ve used a push mower for years, my mower is still in good condition, and the exercise is good for me.”

Me: “How long does it take you to mow your yard?”

Coworker: “About an hour and a half.”

Me: “And you mow your yard, what, every 3 or 4 days?”

Coworker: “Yeah. Sometimes more often in the spring.”

Me: “So from April to October you spend 3-plus hours per week pushing a mower… 12-plus hours per month, and 84-plus hours per season.”

Coworker: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Me: “You do realize that a riding lawnmower can give you back 2 full days of your life every year. Not two weekend afternoons, but two around-the-clock 24 hour days.”

Coworker: Silence.

The next day my coworker told me it took him half an hour to mow his lawn with his gently used riding lawnmower. And he had an extra hour to play outside with his children.

How Much is Your Time Worth?

Originally published Jun 11, 2009 on my personal finance website, CashMoneyLife.com.

The Greatest Generation is Missing a Member

I received a phone call yesterday while I was driving home from work. The news was not unexpected, but nevertheless, it was not easy to hear. My Grandfather, a member of the group of Americans Tom Brokaw dubbed The Greatest Generation, passed away.

Brokaw defines “the greatest generation” as American citizens who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America. My Grandfather exemplified everything that generation stood for. He served in the greatest war our world has ever witnessed, he was a business owner, he was a farmer, he was a husband and father. In short, he was like millions of other Americans from his generation.

My Grandfather grew up in Evanston, IL during the Great Depression. By all accounts he was poor, but probably no poorer than most people in those times. During the onset of WWII he enlisted in the Navy. He proudly served as a crew chief maintaining fighter aircraft on the USS Nehenta Bay, an aircraft carrier that served in the Pacific.

Though he was never one to talk much about his time in the service, I managed to coax a few stories out of him (though not until after I myself had joined the military). He shared a few stories of the strafing runs their aircraft went on and how one of his pilots never returned to the aircraft carrier.

He also told of surviving a kamikaze attack during the final months of the Pacific Campaign. The resulting attack damaged the USS Nehenta Bay and scuttled two of the USS Nehenta Bay’s sister ships.

But mostly, he talked about the things all military veterans talk about – the card games, pranks, practical jokes, camaraderie, and the pride that comes from serving your country. He never questioned serving and never asked “why?” or “what if?” It was a job that he and millions of others of his generation were called to.

After the war my Grandfather settled in California. He was a mechanic by trade and eventually owned and operated a service station – back when the people at gas stations pumped your gas, topped off your fluids, washed your windows, filled your tires with air and served you an 8 oz. Coke in a glass bottle – all for about a buck. His service station was also a repair shop and he worked on cars, motorbikes, and small engines. My father worked there for a short time while he was attending college.

Several years later my grandfather sold the service station and bought a working farm where he and my Grandmother raised chickens, rabbits, and Appaloosas, a breed of horse known for their spotted coloring. I vividly remember gathering fresh eggs for breakfast when I was a kid. Their farm also featured an orchard with a multitude of fruit bearing trees – apple, cherry, plum, walnut, pomegranate and fig.

Last fall my wife and I took a Mediterranean cruise for our honeymoon. On one of our excursions we stopped for lunch in a Medieval town in the Luberon villages of the Aix-en-Provence region of France. The town was perched on a small hill overlooking grape vineyards. After our lunch my wife and I took a stroll through the cobbled streets and at one point I had a fleeting moment of deja vu. I couldn’t place the memory and a few moments later it struck again. A sweet scent took me away and I looked up and saw a fig tree. The smell of fresh figs combined with the weather and the scenery brought back wonderful childhood memories – stories that I was able to share with my wife.

I was almost 7 when my family relocated from California to Alabama for my Dad’s job. I saw less of my Grandparents from that point, but they always remained in our lives. Shortly after we moved to Alabama my Grandparents sold the farm and moved to a smaller home that was situated by a small private lake in the middle of gold country – far away from the big cities and the bright lights.

My grandfather had a small, 2 person sailboat and a couple canoes. He gardened and fished and tinkered in his shop all day. I have fond memories of visiting my Grandparents and spending the summer with my brothers rowing across the lake and fishing and raising the kind of trouble that boys are known to do when left alone. Some nights we camped out under the stars. You’ll never again seen so many stars as you will see camping under the naked sky in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The Milky Way sweeps across the sky and shooting stars add an exclamation point to the end of your day. Those summers lasted forever – but were never long enough.

As time went by, so did my Grandfather’s strength. The house by the lake became too much for him to take care of, so he and my Grandmother relocated once again to a smaller home that required less upkeep. He gardened, volunteered with the local Sheriff’s office, and remained active in the community.

For my Grandfather’s 80th birthday, my Grandmother surprised him with a birthday party and a special gift. I flew out to California and escorted him to Washington, DC, where we met up with my brother, a US Marine, and my cousin, a Soldier in the US Army – the three grandchildren veterans of the War on Terror. Together, the four of us represented all four branches of the US Military.

During our trip to DC we visited the newly opened WWII Memorial. We also took in parts of the Smithsonian, the Mall, and saw the White House. At age 80 my Grandfather was still a trooper and kept pace with his 3 grandchildren, even though his body was slowed by the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Though the trip only lasted a few days, I know it had a profound affect on him and was a memory he looked upon fondly. It is also one I will remember the rest of my life.

My Grandfather was not a perfect man, but he was a good man. He loved and was loved in return. He was a Son, and a Husband. He was a Father and a Grandfather. He was a Sailor and a Mechanic, a Farmer and a Business owner. He was an American and a member of the Greatest Generation. My grandfather passed away yesterday at age 84. And I will miss him.

Originally published Oct 22, 2008 on my personal finance website, CashMoneyLife.com.

My Wife and I Went on a Hot Air Balloon Ride

I surprised my wife two weeks ago with our first hot air balloon ride; a surprise two years in the making.

I promised her I would take her on a hot air balloon ride for her wedding present. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that right after our wedding because she had military obligations that took her to the Middle East for a few months. What a way to spend a honeymoon!

Actually, we celebrated our honeymoon last fall – a year after we were married. We were very busy last year and couldn’t seem to find the time to schedule a hot air balloon ride.

The hot air balloon ride was put off multiple times until it was seemingly forgotten. At least, that’s how I wanted it to seem.

Our second wedding anniversary was last month, and I thought the best way to surprise my wife was to give her the wedding present I hadn’t yet been able to give her.

So I did, and believe it or not, I was able to keep it a secret, even though we had to postpone the balloon ride twice due to bad weather.

It was well worth it because we were blessed with a perfect summer evening for our balloon ride. The temperature was in the low 70’s and there was not a cloud in the sky. There was a slight breeze – around 6 mph – which took us on a gentle path through the sky. In short, it was a perfect experience.

Here is a picture we took on our flight (we took off with another balloon):

Hot Air Balloon Over Dayton, Oh

How to book a hot air balloon ride

Evaluate your options. I started my search online, and found several local hot air balloon companies. I also looked at purchasing a hot air balloon ride ticket via Soaring Adventures, a ticket broker for a variety of air adventures, including hot air balloon rides, glider rides, skydiving, and more. Soaring Adventures offers great deals and a money back guarantee, but in the end, I decided not to go with them.

I needed to book our tickets relatively quickly, and Soaring Adventures doesn’t book the flights – they only sell the tickets in the form of a gift certificate. They mail you the gift certificate with a list of participating members, but unfortunately, they wouldn’t send me a list of participating members before buying the ticket. Even though buying a ticket through soaring Adventures would have saved me about $70, I felt more comfortable being able to speak with the hot air balloon pilot, arrange the dates and locations, and discuss anything else that came to mind before I purchased any tickets.

I called around to several hot air balloon companies in our local area, and the one that impressed me the most was Bella Balloons. The first person I talked to was Mike Gliatti, who is a part owner of Bella Balloons. We hit it off right away. I felt comfortable with Mike and his crew, and that is extremely important to me.

Safety first. During my first phone call with Mike, he discussed safety as being the most important factor of a hot air balloon ride, and we even had to cancel 2 flights before we were able to make our flight. I would much rather a pilot cancel a flight than take a chance with high winds or other risks!

The trip is about you. Mike and his team were also very flexible in making sure our hot air balloon experience was everything we wanted it to be. Bella Balloons is located in Lebanon, OH, and they provide hot air balloon rides throughout the Cincinnati and Dayton area.

Mike and his crew were more than willing to meet us in a convenient location, which saved us a lot of driving. They also offered to do any special requests if we had any (we didn’t).

After the flight, Mike and his crew presented us with a flight certificate and we had a champagne toast to celebrate (we were able to keep the champagne glasses with the Bella Balloons logo – good advertising, and a neat souvenir!).

Here are some photos my wife and I took during our hot air balloon adventure.

filling the balloon with hot air

filling the balloon with hot air

Floating over the Miami Valley in Ohio.

Floating over the Miami Valley in Ohio.

Floating in a hot air balloon in the Dayton area.

Floating in a hot air balloon in the Dayton area.

Another photo of the hot air balloon in the Dayton area.

Another photo of the hot air balloon in the Dayton area.

This last photo is after we landed in a field. The owners were in the field as we flew over and our pilot asked them for permission to touch down. They invited us down and helped us pack up. It was a lot of fun to meet them!

Notice how tall the balloon is – it’s about 7 stories tall, and we couldn’t even fit the entire balloon in the picture!

Hot air balloon after landing

Notice how tall the balloon is!

If you get the opportunity, I recommend taking a hot air balloon ride.

They are a lot of fun, and it is a very peaceful and relaxing experience.

If you are planning a balloon ride and you live in the Miami Valley area of Ohio, I highly recommend contacting Bella Balloons. They went out of their way to ensure our balloon ride was a beautiful experience.

From start to finish, it was a relaxing adventure and one that I would enjoy repeating. I can’t thank Mike and his crew enough for the awesome experience they gave us. Thanks, guys! 🙂

All photos copyright Ryan Guina.

This article was originally published on Sept. 22, 2008, on my website CashMoneyLife.com.

The Playground Economy

I collected everything when I was a kid. Along with my huge baseball card collection, I also collected stamps, coins, rocks, arrowheads, Garbage Pail Kids, and just about anything else I could get my hands on. For me, collecting things was a part of growing up.

I look back on it now, and I wonder if I collected things as a kid because I equated items with wealth. To a kid, however, wealth is relative. In fact, there is an entire underground economy run by strictly by kids. Instead of trading equities on Wall Street, kids run their own black markets in playgrounds and backyards across America – and probably throughout much of the world as well.

The playground economy

The Playground Economy

The Playground Economy

Here is an example: Little Johnny is playing in the woods and finds a rock with a strip of quartz through it. The next day Johnny brings his “crystal” to school, and as soon as he starts showing it off, other kids decide they want one too. Not only does Johnny score a few popularity points, that crystal gains value.

Maybe Johnny can trade his crystal to another kid for a baseball card. Then Johnny decides he values something else more than his new baseball card. If he is good, Johnny can trade that baseball card for a sack of marbles, or maybe a book of stickers. Several trades later, Johnny has turned the little crystal he found in the woods into two shiny quarters, which he will then use to buy a can of soda. But somehow, nobody would have ever traded a can of soda for the rock crystal. Go figure.

I remember making similar trades while growing up. The trick is to find what other people value and give them what they want. The other thing to remember is that the rarer an item is (or to young boys the more disgusting it is), the more valuable it is. To a kid growing up in deer hunting country, a deer antler is fairly common. But to a boy who grew up in the suburbs or in the city, a deer antler is as rare as gold. But, no matter where a boy grows up, a genuine snake skin or rattlesnake tail is the holy grail of the playground economy. You just don’t trade those unless you are receiving serious value in return!

The playground economy is important. It teaches young people (relative) value and it teaches them to have an entrepreneurial spirit. These experiences will later serve those same kids when they take their first high school jobs, then go off to college, and finally go out into the real world and start working a full-time job. Those who really embrace the concept may start their own businesses, or join a firm where they trade equities. Eventually, they may be the head of a private equity firm or CEO of a giant corporation.

Today, I know the value of a dollar. I also know that something is only worth what someone will pay for it. I owe some of that knowledge to my early success as a day trader in the playground economy. That’s right, I admit it. I was a part of the playground economy. And I bet a lot of the people reading this were too. 🙂

photo credit: Nick Manning, via stock.xchng.

Originally published Oct 8, 2007 on my personal finance website, CashMoneyLife.com.