Friday, June 30, 2006

Summer is Over

June 30th means one thing, July is here. Usually in July I stop detailing cars because even at 8am it is too hot. July usually means we wrap up vacations as we will do the 2nd-9th as we travel to St. Louis to visit family for no particular reason. Sunday we will stay with BillyV and his family at the lake. Monday a short drive will take us to my wife's family. On July 4th we plan on watching fireworks downtown St. Louis near Kiener plaza. The Arch provides a picturesque backdrop. Not sure about Wed-Thur other than one of those days will be reserved for bowling. Friday night my wife and I will stay in a bed and breakfast to celebrate 11 years. Saturday morning we will canoe down the Meramec River, the only river north of the equator that travels north. We will return for the final weeks of summer on July 9th. I am sure I will take a few professional development classes the last week of July and my wife reports to school July 31st with an August 7th kid start date.

Right now it is hot, it doesn't rain, and we are under watering restrictions. Today happens to be my day for watering!

I just read an email from our district communication person and I get a $3,700 pay raise for next year along with my wife bringing in a teacher salary too! Time to get out of debt and time to start tithing to the church consistently AND joyfully!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Prison Trip Review

Last Saturday we went about 2 hours Southeast of Dallas to a transfer prison called the Gurney Unit. It houses 2100 male inmates and maximum stay time for anyone is 2 years. The ministry men basically go not knowing anything about the prison they are playing in and this trip was no different. We turned off the major highway in Corsicana, Texas and drove east about 50 miles. There was not much to look at other than a few houses and countryside. I guess they don't build prisons in highly populated tourist areas.

My first apprehension came when we finally entered the inmate area. I wasn't worried about inmates, but the fact that we were walking down the middle of a painted area that separated passing inmates. As a free person I didn't want to offend those who couldn't walk in the area. When I asked the Sergeant she said, "You're not a inmate so you get to walk down the middle." We continued our walk to the gym and walked by lines of inmates, 2 by 2, going from one place to another. All inmates were in white jumpsuits.

We got to the gym and there were about 70 men waiting for us, most sitting on the metal collapsable chairs. I would say the break down was about 90% black, 5% non-white or hispanic, and %5 white. We have no idea what they are in for, but since they were handpicked from 2100, I would assume they were non-violent offenders. A good majority of the men had tatoos and most were wearing government issued boots. We walked past the men and put our bags on the otherside of the gym. Sort of a separation between them and us, or white jerseys and red/black.

Most of the inmates were very nice, hospitable, and appreciative of our being there. As I said earlier, they complained about my reffing less than my own friends. I guess they play all the time without refs so anything our men dished out would have been minor. I did have one inmate who wasn't playing come up to me after one game and apologize for saying rude things to me. I said no problem and told him I didn't hear him anyway.

It was good for me to be around men that God created to worship HIM, although these men had made bad choices. Not once was I afraid for my own safety and really feel my interactions were probably more positive than if I played at an all day tournament at a YMCA. The inmates really did have positive attitudes.

We did eat a prison lunch: low grade balogna, cheese, choice of bread, greens, squash, beans, and some type of macaroni salad. The tea was good although the sweetener came in a bottle that could have doubled as an eye solution bottle.

Advice: get outside your comfort zone and see how others live. This was extreme, but it helped me to appreciate what a good friend is going through and it makes me appreciate all that I do have.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Calling Fouls on Convicts

I agreed to go on this ministry trip. I ended up as the LONE ref on one of the 1/2 courts. The game was 3 on 3 and WHEN a person was called for a foul the other team got to shoot 2 shots AND keep the ball. I guess this is designed to reduce agressive play. We also played multiple 12 minute games with a running clock. I put on the stripes and found my whistle. Then it hit me, I am going to be calling fouls on behind bars criminals. In all honesty I wasn't intimidated and felt that I called the games with confidence, whether good or bad.

What I found out about calling pick up prison games:

+ It wasn't easy. The first few games were easier to call since the players were more fresh and less aggressive. I also think that as our players began to fatique the play became a little more sloppy. This was evident after we had our balogna, greens, squash and beans lunch.
+ I did get a few complaints about not calling fouls from both sides. Actually of the 9 guys from the ministry team I took the most verbal abuse from the only 2 guys I knew. Only one other ministry person complained a few times. I only had one convict seriously complain about not getting foul calls. It was to the point I stopped the game and reassured him I was doing the best I could by myself. Ironically I later had this guy call games with me and he rarely called fouls either. Having him ref took some pressure off me and was probably the best thing I did all day.
+ I think by not calling a tight game early it did allow for a little more aggressive play later in the day.
+ A few players definitely played clean ball while others just played more out of control.

This was the first time in about 8 trips that the SportsReach Ministry team lost the overall number of games. Could blame it on me and my poor officiating. Although I one point I yelled, "I can't put the ball in for you!" Plus, one of our guys, CB, was 1 for 8 from the free throw line.... a al SHAQ!

It was a good experience. Most of the convicts were playing in government issued boots. One guy's socks were poking out the holes in his shoes. Only a few guys were wearing the prison issued tennis shoes which we were told are marked in case they ever escaped.

We also found out that is was only the 2nd time in a year that the indoor gym was used. Normally these guys are out in the hot sun playing ball WITHOUT a referee on the blazing pavement. I'm sure that game is a lot more physical than the ones I witnessed.

End result of the trip is that a few guys accepted Christ, a few rededicated their lives, a few asked for bible study material, the guys received a few real leather balls to play with, and I got to see that convicts are real people too.... and they complained a lot less than the freeworld guys.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prison Guard

When we arrived at the prison one lady went through our bags thoroughly while our host chatted with us. I was worried that my spare BVD undies might make a guest appearance, but they didn't. Once we were okay'd we were escorted by a real happy lady who was as nice as many of my Bed N Breakfast hosts. I was really impressed with her hospitality. She was very informative offering information only if we asked. I know in some situations people tend to offer way too much information, but this lady didn't.

I'm not sure if she was just a regular guard or if she was a Sargeant. I really think she was the latter. She had shared that she started in 1984 and had been there ever since. She appeared really well accepted by the inmates too. When we were leaving for the day all I could say was, "Thanks for your awesome hospitality."

This lady left a positive impression on me about prison workers. I would think that it would be easy to be calloused having to be in charge of criminals day in and day out for more than 20 years. I know how calloused I am after working with 10 years olds for just ONE year.

Tomorrow's post: Calling Fouls on Convicts

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In Prison

Saturday I went with SportsReach Ministries to a State Pen. in Southeast Texas. This ministry group plays pick up games of basketball with inmates. We had 19 guys total. A good friend, CB, has been asking me to participate for about a year and I finally agreed, but said I would referee instead of playing. We left early and arrived at the Gurney Transfer Unit about 9 am. It was truly an experience. My knowledge and experience of the prison system is from watching documentaries on cable. This particular unit was more of a hold over area for inmates awaiting final sentences or placement in Texas. We were told the longest anyone could be kept was 2 years. Some people are there as short as a few weeks.

I feel like I went for various reasons: 1) I was asked by a brother in Christ 2) it was a ministry opportunity 3) I was curious about prisons 4) A really good friend of mine is serving time and I could possibly witness what he is going through.

Since it was Saturday there were about 10+ cars being searched at the initial gate. Our 4 vehicles got to bypass the search, but each of us had to show our drivers license before proceeding. We then met a lady Sargeant we escorted us each step of the way. She was a super host and it seems she is well liked and respected by the inmates.

Today I am only going to share a few general things. I was only briefed on a few dos and don'ts. We only took our bags of sports items and a driver's license. No money, phones, etc. We were to only use first names and were not to give the inmates anything. The inmates were all dressed in whites and did not have any identifying numbers. Of the 60 who were allowed the privelege of playing about 50 were black with the other 10 being split between white men and hispanic. This unit houses up to 2100 men.

I was there on the inside, shaking hands, calling fouls and sweating amongst America's, or should I say, Texas' outcasts.

I'll blog about general observations and experiences this next week.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Down and Out

I took my turn with a stomach virus after all of my family struggled through it this past week. LAST Thursday my wife and daughter went thru the vomitting and diarhea episodes. Friday when my wife called to confirm my son's 2 year doctor check up they almost cancelled his appointment because the office was going through the same bouts of illness. They kept his appointment and Saturday he ended up with the vomitting symptoms. By Sunday he was okay and we took him to church even though they have a "policy" that he is supposed to stay home since he had been vomitting within the last 24 hours. Pretty hard to stay home when both my wife and I have 8:30 am teaching commitments.

Then came Tuesday morning. My stomach was awful rocky and it didn't help that I absorbed some buttered popcorn at the movies Monday night(Nacho Libre-pretty good guy movie). Most of my time Tuesday and Wednesday was spent laying still on the couch. My problem is that I don't throw up. I did experience nauseating feelings, but when the uncontrolled urged to throw up would hit I would sneeze twice. Then I would be okay for a while. Nice alternative to throwing up. My wife and I concluded that instead of the 24 hour virus that my family had I actually kept it twice as long since I couldn't throw up.

The only things I had yesterday would have been a snow cone and a vanilla shake. This morning I actually ate a pumpkin muffin and tonight I braved a plain chicken burrito from Chipotle topped off with an ice cream cone from DQ.

What a blessing it is to actually be able to pass gas without worrying about sharting. Hopefully I am back to normal now: mowing, working out, detailing cars.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Gym

Last Thursday we joined the gym and actually used it for the first time Friday. On Friday my wife and I got familiar with the circuit machines doing a set or 2 on different machines just trying to find the ones we are comfortable with. Late Friday night I could feel my body tightening up a bit. Saturday morning I was sore. I had not worked out in a while and even though we went light on Friday I am still sore on Sunday. We did go back Saturday for an hour of cardio and I sampled the sauna and 104 degree whirlpool.

One thing we need to do as a family is buy decent work out clothes. My wife borrowed a pair of my nylon shorts only to show me that the side was ripped. A few minutes later she found that there was a hole in the front crotch. Fortunately I brought a second pair for me to change into so she got lucky.

The cool thing about this is that the $60 a month is well spent. My kids love the daycare play room and I get some recreational companionship. It is rare that my wife and I can even carry on a conversation without being interrupted by the kids. On top of every thing WE should improve our physical conditioning.

First goal is to lose weight. Second goal is to change my mindset to being healthy therefore making better eating choices. The last thing would be to look better as my body tones up a bit.

We are extremely happy with this gym and really look forward to going about every day this summer.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

To Van or NOT to Van

We are no more than 4 months away from having to purchase our next vehicle because our 2003 Jeep Liberty lease will be up in November. We are visiting uncharted territory because we have owned our 2000 Neon for 5 1/2 years and the Liberty for 3 1/2. Rare especially since we had 10 cars the first 6 years of our marriage.

We think we would like a 7 passenger vehicle for those times that grandma and grandpa come to town, but that limits our choices on affordability. The obvious vehicle that would meet our needs is a mini-van. You can find a 6 cylinder Dodge mini-van for about $16,000 pretty well equipped. About a $7,000 savings. Kelly Blue Book rates the Honda Odessy as the best value taking into consideration overall costs in 5 years, but it would take about $10,000 more to buy that vehicle.

We could also forget about the 7 passenger thing since it really comes into play 2-3 times a year and buy something more economical. We are drawn to the new Dodge Caliber which is replacing the Neon. It would sell for about $15,000 for a basic one. Then I think only $1,000 more for a van with lots more equipment and practicality.

We are not in a hurry because both our vehicles are running just fine and we have 3,500 miles still to put on the Jeep. We could also buy a Jeep Wrangler and have a "fun" vehicle to drive around. Remember, I do have Jeep in my blood. I sold them and have owned 4 different Jeeps.

Help, the clock is ticking.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Joining the Gym

My wife and I are wanting to join a local gym and have most likely settled on LA Fitness which happens to be the closest to our house. It comes highly recommended from friends at church and a couple guys I work with. I dropped in for a visit yesterday to take the tour with my "sales guide." It is a new building and seems like it is exactly what we need. Membership costs would be $60 a month plus tax for both myself and my wife. One HUGE positive is that the membership includes childcare for when I visit to work out.

The membership cost per month is favorable compared to LIFETIME Fitness, but the only reserve I have is that they want first and last month's fees, PLUS the initial membership fees of $189.00 making the total due at signing a little over $300.

Has anyone joined a gym lately? Is any of this initial cost negotiable? Please let me know ASAP since we are going back up Thursday as a family to check this place out.

Time to get into shape. NO EXCUSES!

Monday, June 12, 2006


Raise your hand if you like to take naps.

I usually am too busy to take naps normally, but with school out I do have a little extra time on my hands. I did take a bit of a nap on Saturday as the kids napped and the wife shopped. And when we got home about 2pm on Sunday after church and lunch I stretched out on the bed with the TV on in the background. The wife took up her half of the bed and I think some TLC program was on so I dozed off. Problem was she would woke me up and was giving me a hard time for wanting to take a nap. What else am I going to be doing other than wasting my brain cells watching mindless TV? I was a little short on sleep since I stayed out 'til 3am Friday night playing cards. Then at 7:30am Saturday morning my son was demanding attention. After I was clearly awake my wife throws in a "leave daddy alone......."

The thing is my wife gets frustrated if I want to go to bed early or if I try to take a nap. I don't know why, she just does. I've got all summer off so napping is a luxury and a right.

What is your opinion of an occasional nap?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Flies and More Flies

Our back door was open often today as my wife grilled burgers and we also had our neighbor's 2 kids over on our baby sitting/date night exchange. I think 2 flies came in each time the door opened. On my top 10 most passionate list is my distaste for flies. I HATE THEM. I'm not sure if they spit or poop each time they land, all I know is I think they are disgusting. Flies=MAGGOTS. I will waste up to 20 minutes chasing one fly around with the swatter, and what an invention. I am impressed at my brother's ability to catch flies with his hands. I would say he is 99% successful when he attempts to catch a fly that has landed. My favorite part is when he shakes them up and them slams them on the ground causing them some serious headaches. In our younger days he would pull the wings off or tie a thread on their leg and treat them like a kite. I prefer just smashing them. That said, my main job for the night is to get the vacuum cleaner out and clean the areas below the windows. I think I am up to over 20 kills. "That's right Iceman, I am dangerous."

I would get one of those fly strips, but to me that seems so backwoods hoosier.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Free Child Care

My wife came up with a great idea for FREE child care, Vacation Bible School....aka VBS. Most Baptist churches and many other churches have a week long program for neighborhood kids. Ours is June 26-30, 9am-12noon. We figured we could find a different church each week to take our soon to be 5 year old who is finally going thru her terrible two's. If we were fortunate enough we could find a morning program at one church and an evening 5-9pm program at another church. Just pull up, drop her off, go and enjoy some peaceful time with our 2 year old and go back to pick her up 3 hours later. I really do wonder how many people do use the church for free child care. I know when I taught elementary kids back in St. Louis most of them were dropped off on Sundays by there non-church going parents; nine to noon childcare.

Any other ideas because she is driving us crazy!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Self-Serve Butter

Went to see The Da Vinci Code last night for FREE*. I went to the brand new Cinemark theatre nearby my house. Having helped open a Sony Loews theatre in 1997 I was anxious to see our closest new theatre so I took my *Pepsi cash free movie ticket and avoided paying the $7.75 ticket price. I also used an in the mail coupon to get a FREE small popcorn. Before you laugh understand that I was able to upgrade to the large popcorn by paying the difference. All told my night at the movies complete with a large drink and large popcorn only cost me $5.25. I could have paid $15.75.

When I ordered my popcorn I asked for the "butter flavor" to be layered. The young man scooped some popcorn into the bag and walked to the end of the counter and pumped some yellow liquid(partially hydrogenated soybean oil) onto the popcorn. He came back and filled the bag with popcorn. He informed me I could top off the popcorn with oil on my own, self-serve butter topping dispensers.

I do like the idea of controlling how much butter flavor I put on my popcorn, but this makes it difficult to layer the flavor. With salt I am able to put some in a courtesy cup for later dispensing. It would be awkward to carry a cup full of butter flavoring into the theatre. Lucky for me last night I was the only one in line since it was 10:30 pm. On a busy night I guess I would have needed to leave the movie to spritz up the second level of popcorn. I could time it with my need to use the restroom since I do order the 44 ounce drink.

Nice theatre, great service, good popcorn, decent movie.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Power of Prayer

The night before I left on my 9 day St. Louis trip the wife of a friend of mine called and left a message concerning her husband. Even though it was late I called back. She informed me that my friend was diagnosed with the milder form of luekemia. I got back Monday night and called him to see how he was doing. He sounded great and informed me he was still in the hospital. Another friend of mine went with me to visit him yesterday and my friend looked great for having received one round of chemo and also being locked up in the hospital for 2 weeks.

My friend is a Christian who shared that he had a renewed spirit 2 years ago when his daughter was baptized and it was obvious many people were already praying for him. I would credit his positive attitude and side effect free first round of chemo treatment to prayer. Prayer and a positive attitude goes a long way.

I share all of this in hopes that you too will pray for my 35 year old friend, husband and father of 2. Even if it is a quick prayer right now or if you put him on a regular prayer list. His chances of survival are good, but every prayer will help.

Pray specifically for his health and that he doesn't waste energy worrying about his everyday duties. Pray that his wife remains strong and positive. Pray that his children are understanding. Pray that he makes new friends in his month long hospital stay. Pray that he finds a bone marrow donor and that the transplant is successful. Pray that he is surrounded by plenty of friends.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

46 Years Together

Sunday while in St. Louis I put together a little birthday party at an entertainment center for my 2 year old. Only had 8 kids total and it seemed like a good party. When the party was over my kids rode home with family on the other side so I was with my mom and dad. When we were getting out of the car my mom and dad mentioned that if they had stayed together Sunday would have been their 46th anniversary. I kind of looked at them and thought they don't look as old as some of those people who have their 50th anniversary picture in the paper. Maybe they would in 4 years. Then again I'm starting to feel as if I am looking 40ish my self.

46 years ago would they have still gotten married if they knew they would divorce after 23 years? Would they still have kids knowing the 2 products they have right now? Have the 46 years been worth it since they are friends again and they do things together. THEY DO NOT DATE! They are on friendly terms and it is nice being able to bring my family in from out of state and not have to visit grandpa and then visit grandma. We do the one stop visit for the most part and everyone comes to visit us.

I am back in Texas after a 9 day trip and I slept until 9am sort of. I did stay in bed until after 9am.

Friday, June 02, 2006


One thing I've noticed about being in St. Louis besides the fact that there are a lot less SUVs is that all of the highways seem to have those portable message signs. I have noticed that they cause confusion and traffic and are probably more harmful than helpful. I'm the guy who wants to know the statistics like, "accidents caused by signs." People are being asked to slow down, take their eyes off of the road, read, then avoid all of the brake lights ahead of them. Many times the messages are totally irrelevant.

Some of the messages I've read this week:

Air Quality Orange, drive less.
Air Quality Green, breathe easy.
Construction Zone next 8 miles, travel time 9 minutes.
PS bridge construction 6/5-6/9, avoid area.

There have been others, but people are slowing down and taking their eyes off the road to read stupid messages. Add using a cell phone, smoking a cigarette, drinking a cold beer, yelling at kids not in a car seat, playing with the radio, etc.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Manual Labor

I worked for my brother today. That meant waking up before 7am and arriving for work by 8am. I was filling in for one of the 3 employees who took a 3 day vacation. I was weed eating and mowing before 8:15. Took me about 2 hours in total. For those of you who know me mowing is no big task. I practically consider it one of my hobbies. I definitely got a work out as I tested out my sweat glands. It is really humid here in Missouri. I also helped clean a few cars also. I got to leave at 2:30 so it wasn't a full 8 hour day of hard labor.

The humbling thing is the worker that I filled in for has been with this company for about 23 years and he is making about $10 an hour, without benefits. Walmart is advertising night stockers for $10.50.

My brother doesn't mind paying me because it means that I'll have spending cash for bowling, drinks and dinner later in the day.

I got tomorrow off!