Monday, December 22, 2008

Family time

Earlier this afternoon I found myself saying, "I do not have a stud in my butt!" and that can only mean one thing. Yes, my sister put me to work hanging shelves, curtain rods and various other things and my little nephew found the stud sensor all sorts of fun (and, yes, we made all the jokes that you have to make while using a stud sensor.). And, oh yeah, that means that I'm in Atlanta for Christmas. Tomorrow I think I get to help put together chairs and a table. Guess I'm earning my keep this trip (not that I mind. I enjoy home repair and improvement.).

My rental car is from Alamo this trip. Hotwire failed me in finding a reasonable price, so I gave Priceline's "make an offer" feature a try. And ended up saving almost $6 a day. So, score! Alamo has a "pick your own car" feature where the shuttle bus drops you off in front of a group of cars that in your class and lets you pick whatever you want. That makes a lot of sense to me. Much less work for them than having to assign people specific cars. And it's a "perk" because the customer gets to pick what they want. I had about six cars to choose from in the "economy/compact" section (why yes, I am cheap). I started off looking at a little Toyota Yaris, but decided I wanted four doors. Next I thought about a Kia Spectra. Those are fun (although kinda cheap feeling) vehicles. But that one smelled like smoke. Next up was a red Dodge something...I don't remember the name. I wasn't thrilled with it, but it was brand new, had four doors and an aux input to the radio (a requirement if I'm picking my rental car. All of the cars I sized up had that. Apparently it's pretty much standard now. I bought my car too early.) So I put my duffle in the back and was going to get in the car when I realized that a new car had showed up in the group. And it looked oddly familiar. Although it was dark grey, it reminded me a lot of my car. And, sure enough, it was a Pontiac Vibe (which is essentially the same car as my Toyota Matrix). Score! I really enjoy my Matrix and since I wasn't really excited about any of my other car options, I chose the Vibe. The feel is a little different than my Matrix. I think that's mostly because it's an automatic with all wheel drive rather than my manual transmission, front wheel drive Matrix. The interior layout is also different. I like the Matrix better. But, the Vibe has one distinct advantage over my Matrix....satellite radio. I think, based on looking at Alamo's web, I got a free upgrade. The Vibe is classified as a midsize car (who knew) and I know satellite radio generally costs more in anything smaller than a full size rental. But, the guy at the gate let me out without any problems and my receipt shows that I owe $0.00 (going through Priceline or Hotwire, you pay when you make the reservation), so I think I'm good. Yeah! Fun car to drive for the week.

Mom and Dad get in tomorrow and I'm hanging out with some friends from school and their new little daughter (about seven weeks old...I think) tomorrow for dinner. Should be fun. Now I just have to wait for everyone (or at least everyone little) to go to bed so that I can unpack my duffle bag and unearth the presents that I wrapped up in my socks and t-shirts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shuttle and surgery and shopping...oh my!

I got to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour this afternoon!
Enroute from California to Florida, the 747/Space Shuttle combination aircraft landed on the runway which Lockheed shares with the joint reserve base (or whatever it's currently called.  Everyone who's been in Fort Worth for a while pretty much calls it Carswell) this afternoon.  Word got around cubeville and it was like an aerospace geek convention in the parking lot to watch it land.  Once again, the binoculars that I keep in my desk for just such an occasion came in very handy.

I've seen the Shuttle in the air, on its way to land at Edwards before and I've seen it on the ground already atop the 747 (also at Edwards), but this is the first time I had seen the 747 and shuttle in flight.  It's an impressive sight to see.  747s are big airplanes, and the Shuttle's a generously sized bird herself.  To see the two of them together almost lumbering through the air as they came in for a landing (note to self, look up the landing speed for that configuration) was very cool.  Definitely the high point of my day...possibly my week.  Although we've got our work Christmas luncheon at Texas de Brazil (Brazilian steak house = carnivore paradise) tomorrow, so I'll have to reevaluate after that.

In other news, I'm going to have to have knee surgery...Maybe that's not quite right.  I've decided to have knee surgery.  As my orthopedist put it, there comes a time when you have to stop beating your head against the wall and decide whether you want to live with the pain or do something more invasive.  Since everything else that we've tried (change in activities/rest, oral drugs, physical therapy, drugs directly into my knee) has failed to completely alleviate the condition, he's convinced that we've come to that time.  We still don't know with 100% certainty what's going on inside my knee.  And that bothers me a little.  But, apparently MRIs only show about 85% of the bad stuff that goes on in knees (this was news to me).  So there's a good chance that it's still something fairly simple.  My orthopedist is convinced that it's one of three things: meniscus tear (his favorite), cartilage wear/issue or something about a fold in the knee sack that's rubbing on something that's possibly cartilage (that one has a big, two word name that has a couple of p's in it.  I didn't write it down and don't remember more than that.).  Fortunately all three are repairable with the same type of arthroscopic surgery.

Tuesday 6 January is the big day.  If all goes well, there's a good chance I will walk out of the surgery and be relatively pain free by the end of the week.  With some physical therapy, I should be running before Ground Hog Day and ready to jump and twist and turn by Valentine's.

This afternoon, after I got off the phone with my orthopedist and we set the day, I sent an email to a couple of my friends from my church who are a part of the mercy committee.  That's the group that handles, among other things, dealing with short term and chronic needs in our church family.  In less than an hour I had a reply back saying that my transportation and first day or three after surgery care needs were all taken care of and that meals would be coordinated. (Yeah, I'm gonna get great, home cooked meals delivered directly to my door out of this as well some quality time with my couch.  The only bad is that I have to get my knee cut up some...from the inside.  I'm going to have to figure out if the good doesn't outweigh the bad.)  I know I say it often, but not often enough: My church rocks!  These people, my family who I'm not related to, are amazing.  Knowing that all of this stuff will be taken care of has really made it so much easier and less stressful to confront this whole surgery situation.  God has truly blessed me in this way.

And on the Christmas shopping front, I think I'm almost done.  Woo-Hoo!  Now I just have to figure out how to get everything to Atlanta.  I need to figure out if it's more cost effective to pay to check a second bag (I'm going to need to check at least one) or to ship bulky toys and other things.  Apparently I got too many good deals at brick and mortar stores this year and didn't do near enough on-line shopping.

Oh and I also gave Vizini's "worthless, friendless, unemployed in Green Land" (starts about 5:10) speech to a computer today.  I was trying to run something on a machine that's supposed to be this smoking fast, quad processor thing that we can remotely connect to and run big batch jobs on.  But it was being painfully slow in getting things set-up.  My coworker (and former cubemate and fellow sci-fi geek) recognized the quote and commented that I watch way too many movies.  I counter that I actually watch very few movies, I just watch the good ones many, many times and quote from those.  I think most people don't realize how few movies I do quote from (mainly Princess Bride, Hunt for Red October and Serenity with some Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Lost in Space and a few other tv show quotes thrown in for good measure).  The thing is, I tend to pick the more obscure quotes, so people think I'm actually quoting more sources than I really am.  Either that, or people don't realize that I'm quoting something and think that I come up with these things on my own (rarely the case).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend with the family I'm not related to

I decided not to go to Atlanta to be with my family this Thanksgiving.  I visited my sister and her family in late October, so it wasn't a big deal to skip seeing them for the holiday.  Mom and Dad were in Atlanta and that was the main reason I had thought about going.  But the idea of traveling at the same time as the rest of the country and right after the fall retreat with the high school kids made the idea a lot less attractive to me.  Then Mom said that it was okay if they didn't see me until Christmas and, well, my mind was made up.  So, instead of spending the long weekend with the family I'm related to, I spent it with the one that I'm not.  And it's been a great time.

Wednesday evening was Thanksgiving service at church.  I love when my church does evening services.  We only do them a couple of times a year (Maundy Thursday, Thanksgiving, Lessons and Carols before Christmas, Christmas Eve and a handful of other all church events that usually include a meal and more of a devotion rather than a full service) and each time they're great.  Most of the evening services are very laid back, relaxed times.  Not that our Sunday morning services are terribly formal, but the evening events are just smaller, more intimate, more comfortable.  In a very real way, it's family time.  Wednesday evening was definitely that.  And it was a lot of fun and a neat time.  Most of our college students were home and it's always great to see them and have a chance to catch up with how their semester is going.

Thursday I watched Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade...they weren't showing the Detroit parade but I did get to see the Georgia Tech marching band twice (thanks to different stations being at different spots on the parade route).  It wasn't quite the same.  The Smurf balloon isn't near as cool as Chilly Willy (the big penguin balloon that escaped one year due to wet ground and high winds the night before Thanksgiving.  He was found floating in the Detroit river, fished out, repaired and made the honorary grand marshal the next year.)  But it was still cool to hear The Ramblin' Wreck on my television as I put together my caramel apple pie.  I had dinner with the Olson family (from my church) including some of their extended family and a couple of other people who were without family they're related to, as has become my tradition over the past few years.  Having been made an honorary Olson a while back, I figure it's only fitting to spend at least one holiday with them each year.  I was seated at the "geek table" (there was also a "history" table and one for the "general audience") with Eric, Alexis and Peter (all non-honorary Olsons) and one of Alexis' professors from when he was an undergrad at UT-Arlington (he's now a PhD student in math at A&M.).   After dinner we sang some hymns and shared what we were thankful for.  Again, a very laid back and comfortable event with people I consider to be family.  The group broke up sometime around nap/football time and I headed home for some quality time on the couch (which is always my cats' favorite time of any weekend.)

Friday, after taking advantage of some Black Friday deals (Half Priced books had a good sale.  Target was a little crazy.  I shouldn't have bothered to even stop at Best Buy for the three minutes that I did.), I got ready to have friends over to play some games.  Mostly, it was a chance to get together with friends who are family, drink Kool Aid and play Settlers of Catan.  The Olsons kids, almost half of the Sneeds, and two other friends from church showed up and a good time was had by all.  Although, it would have been nice to have another Settlers game since only six can play at a time and no one was really interested in playing much of anything else.  But that was okay.  Again, it was a nice, laid back, comfortable way to spend some time with more of my family that I'm not related to.

Saturday I was mostly on my own, although I did see a few friends at the gym and chatted with some others over IM.

Today was church of course.  Attendance was a little lighter than usual and, for some reason, everyone seemed to clear out more quickly than usual.  Then, this evening, we had our Advent celebration.  It's another of my church's evening events.  This one includes advent crafts, dinner and a devotional time.  As with everything else this weekend, it was a lot of fun and a great, laid back, comfortable time to be with family.  I got to chat with some friends, helped prepare the food and clean things up, helped make a wreath that will be given to our friends at the nursing home when the youth go there in two weeks to sing and visit, made silly faces at little kids (and some big kids) and just had a great time. 

I wasn't able to spend the weekend with my family family, but that didn't mean I was anywhere near alone.  The people who are in my life, especially those who are a part of my church family, are just as important (or almost) to me as my family that I'm related to.  They're the people who I live my day-to-day life with.  They're the people who, just like my family that I'm related to, will always be there for me.  They keep an eye on me and no matter what will be there for me whenever I need anything (and sometimes even before I realize I need something).  And I'm there for them.  Sometimes, when I wonder if I should move closer to my sister and her family, especially when I'm feeling kinda disconnected from the lives of my nephews, I remember that even though I'm not a blood relative of anyone that's in my church, we're no less family members.  When I think about the possibility of having to move for my job (a fairly slim possibility at this point) the idea of leaving my church is the hardest part.  It's not that I don't have family here in Fort Worth.  I just define my family a little bit differently than most people.  And, ya know, that's just fine with me.

So, yeah, I spent Thanksgiving with my family.  And it was a great time...and cheaper and a lot more relaxing than having to brave air travel.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where's the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!

So, the "storm of the century" (which is what you would have thought hurricane Ike was going to be if you paid any attention to the local or regional media) turned out to be pretty mild here in DFW.  Things aren't great on the coast, and I don't mean to diminish any of the troubles that folks down there are having (or will have, once they can get home), but all we got was some wind and rain.  We've had worse of both in the not terribly distant past and we definitely didn't get the two days of torrential downpours and gale force winds that were being predicted earlier this week.  And, on the "dealing with it" front, that's good.  But, on the "weather nerd" front, it's kinda a let down.  Ah well.  For those readers outside of the metroplex (Hi Mom!), we're fine.  No flooding, no downed trees, no roofs blown off, no evil sounding neighbor ladies being swept up into the twister while still riding their bikes.  I don't think the cats even lost any sleep over it.

I also realized that I'm still not certain what the Texas response to imminent weather disaster is supposed to be.  I mean, growing up back in Michigan, everyone knew that when a massive snow storm was predicted, you went to the grocery store and bought bread and milk.  Even if you didn't need bread and milk, that's just what you bought.  It was expected, maybe even required.  But down here in Texas, there hasn't seemed to be a run on bread and milk.  In fact, in the stores this afternoon, there was plenty of both.  Maybe I was supposed to buy beer and, I don't know, whatever goes good with beer.  Being a non-drinker I'm uncertain.  But, just in case things change, I've got plenty of milk on hand.  (Mostly due to a sale/coupon from Albertsons.)

Other news, my trip to the physical therapist earlier this week was a little discouraging.  The PT did all the things that PTs do (poked, prodded, moved around, had me walk about, hooked a little electrode thing up to some muscles and had me use them while measuring the strength...turns out my right (not hurting) leg is not quite as strong as the left (one that hurts).  I find that odd.  PT didn't seem to.  I mentioned it.  He didn't answer.  Maybe I should have asked again.).  And he determined that he doesn't know why my knee hurts any more than anyone else does.  His current thought is that I'm built a little odd (no surprise there) and I walk a little funny (again, not surprising) and that due to activities and accumulated stress my knee hurts.  He said that my legs kinda go out a little rather than straight down, but that's not uncommon in women (cause we've got wider hips than guys).  He said that I have a tendency towards pronation when I walk (walking more on the insides of my feet) but that's not uncommon in people who have low arches/flat feet (which I do).  And he said he doesn't have a good explanation for why my knee is hurting now and not before now.  At least he's honest in that part.  He gave me some exercises to do, told me to do them two to three times a day and come back and see him in two weeks.  He also recommended new athletic shoes (easy to do, I swapped to a pair that I had in my closet that better meets his recommendations), not walking around without shoes on (which is killing me when I'm at home.  I rarely have shoes on at home.) and not to sit cross legged (hard when I'm in a meeting or otherwise sitting not at a table or desk but I'm surviving).  Basically, he wants me to do everything to minimize stress on my knee.  Although I'm still okay to do "anything that doesn't hurt" at the gym, so that's a plus.

So, the good is that I don't have to go in multiple times a week.  That's helps with the budget (I so did not put enough in my healthcare spending account this year) as well as the time.  But it's frustrating that I still don't have a good answer for why my knee hurts nor a good course of treatment that's sure to fix things.  I showed my exercises to two of my trainer friends at the gym (who know what's been going on).  Neither were terribly impressed.  Part of the reason is due to me already doing more challenging, similar activities/movements on a regular basis.  But, as Robin (one of the trainers) reminded me, not everyone works out to the same level that I do and most medical professionals believe that patients aren't entirely truthful about their exercise habits.  Most people can't stand on one foot (especially their non-dominant foot) for minutes at a time (3 minutes is easy for me.  More than that and I get bored.  I can even do it with my eyes closed as long as I don't get distracted.)  And one of my exercises is to stand on one foot for 20 seconds.  So I've ended up creating a sorta hybrid (Frankeinstein?) exercise regimen based on what my PT gave me to do, input from the trainers at the gym and what makes sense to me.  The result is that things in my knee seem to be getting slightly better.  I still can't jump on my left leg without pain.  I haven't tried running, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't go well.  There are still specific points on my knee where I press and they hurt.  But, going up and down stairs is less irritating/painful.  I was squatting to look at bottom shelves at Half Price Books earlier today and noticed that that was easier than before.  So, while I'm not all there yet and I'm not certain these exercises are going to take me all the way there, at least I'm making positive progress.  We'll see how things go in the next week or so and see what the PT says on my next visit.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Iowa Trip Mercy Moment

A number of people have commented on or asked me about/for the text of the Mercy Moment/report from the Iowa trip that I gave in church last week. I figured I would post it here.

"This is not the way it's supposed to be"
Those words were spoken from this pulpit by Dustin Salter in his sermon titled "A New Heaven and a New Earth" on March 3, 2002. Those were the words that I heard two weeks ago as I listened to that sermon on my iPod while driving one of the vans towards Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And those were the words that continued to echo through my head all week long as we worked and talked with the people of the area. "This is not the way it's supposed to be". People aren't supposed to have water and sewage up to the ceiling of the first story of their homes. People aren't supposed to have to watch as strangers carry their waterlogged, smelly, ruined personal belongings out of their home of 35 years and deposit them unceremoniously on the rapidly growing trash pile on their front lawn. Two weeks ago in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we saw numerous reminders of how this world isn't supposed to be. But that's not all we saw because that's not all there is and that's not all there is ever going to be.

One day, some day, God will create the New Heavens and the New Earth and as described in Revelation 21, "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." One day, some day, rivers won't overflow their banks, causing millions of dollars worth of damage and upending thousands of lives. One day, some day things will be the way that they are supposed to be.

But that day is not here yet and Dustin addressed that in his sermon as well. He said that until that glorious day comes, the job of Christians is to work, in whatever small ways we're able, to restore the world to the way it is supposed to be. And that's why we went to Iowa. The homes that we cleaned out, the floors that we ripped up, the siding that we tore off the houses was all in preparation for the houses or at least the land to be restored or repurposed into somewhere that could, once again, be lived in or used by the people of the community. The work that we did helped to prepare those areas to be back to closer to the way that they are supposed to be. And, just as importantly, the time that we spent talking, praying and sharing meals with the people of the area gave some measure of comfort and hope and offered the reminder that this isn't the way that it's supposed to be and it's not the way that it's going to be. We shared God's gospel in word and in deed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa two weeks ago. In a small way, the team that went, those who helped out with the preparations and all who prayed for this trip helped to restore that area to closer to the way that it is supposed to be.

In other news, I have my physical therapy assessment/first session for my knee tomorrow afternoon. I'm looking forward to at least the results of the therapy. I've had quite enough of my knee hurting, not being able to run and such. I know it's still going to take some time to get back up to full strength and movement, but hopefully this is another step in that direction.

Also, this evening at church, we had our small group kick-off family supper, hymn sing and old fashioned barn raising (okay, not that last part but that's the running joke with the youth). It was a great night. Really, great. One of those evenings where there was no where else I would have wanted to be. It just felt like home, like family. It's kinda hard to describe. I've been gone a reasonable amount this summer, but I didn't really think I had felt like I was disconnected or anything, but tonight, it just felt like there was this thing missing from part of my life and this was it. It wasn't a really big thing. A potluck dinner and a time of singing. But as I seem to tell the high school kids every time I teach, it's often not the big things that make the difference. A lot of the time, it's the little things that make the biggest impact, mean the most to people. And that was tonight. I've been so blessed to be a part of this amazing church family.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not torn, folded, spindled or mutilated

So, update on the knee.
I had my MRI on Monday evening.  It took longer than I expected.  About 20-25 minutes total.  I guess I'm used to x-rays which are quick and medical shows on tv which don't have time to show that long of a, if they show the patient in the MRI at all you just know that something bad is going to happen.  And the MRI machine wasn't the tube type thing like you always see.  Instead it was more of, well, imagine a giant hamburger with a section cut out of the burger in the middle so that there was a hole lengthwise (if you can go lengthwise in a circular object...more people will understand that than if I said "laterally").  So, there's this big circular thing on top and a big circular thing on the bottom and there's sides to it.  I got to lay down on a sliding table thing, stuff put around my knee so that it didn't move and then the very nice technician moved the table (and therefore me) so that my knee was right about in the middle of the hamburger shaped machine.  She put on some not terribly interesting music (which we both agreed was good.  I have a tendency to "dance" to music if I have nothing better to do.  Note the quotes, it's more of random movements that may or may not correlate to the beat.  But since I wasn't supposed to move that would have been bad.) and we were off.  I didn't ask how long the procedure took, so I was thankful that the tech came over the speaker at one point to reassure me that I was doing great and let me know I only had about 15 more minutes to go.  I was kinda paranoid about moving and a bit nervous about the whole thing and the weird sounds the machine was making, but I managed to keep myself calm (lots of deep breaths), not fall asleep (I was worried that I would move) and a bit later I walked out with six large films of various bits of the inside of my knee.

I did some googling to see what a torn meniscus looks like on an MRI and after extensive training (about five minutes) and long study (another five minutes) of the MRIs I came to the conclusion that I was pretty sure I could figure out which way was up and which parts were bones.  In the way of figuring out if I had a torn meniscus or anything else, yeah, I had nothing.

Fast forward to Thursday afternoon and I'm back at the orthopedists office.  I really like this guy and his staff a lot.  Even when they're horrendously busy they're incredibly friendly and efficient.  If you're in the Fort Worth area and need an orthopedist (and they take your insurance) I highly recommend Dr. Boothby and the staff of Southwest Orthopedics.  Anyway, They got me into the room, I worked on my Sunday school lesson for a few minutes and then the doc came in.  He looked at my MRI films and explained what was going on.  Basically, my meniscus isn't torn.  Neither is my ACL nor the other CL (MCL?).  He said there was a bit of degeneration of the meniscus but that's not uncommon.  I also have a bit of swelling (not surprising.  Spending a week mucking out and gutting houses with a bum knee will do that.) and a minor bit of misalignment of my kneecap (which I learned from the tv show Bones is called the patella.).  But, the good news is that there's no call to do any sort of surgery.  The bad news is that he's not sure exactly why my knee is hurting.

He offered the "don't do anything stupid for a month or so and then come back and see me if it doesn't get better" (not his words) course of treatment first.  I countered with "this has been going on for a while and that hasn't worked" (not my exact words).  He counter offered with anti-inflammatory meds and physical therapy (PT) and the deal was done.  So, I've got a higher dose of the meds my primary care doc gave me before sending me to the orthopedist and, once the lady who does the precertification thingie with my insurance company gets back from her extra long Labor Day weekend (darn holiday weekend) on Tuesday, I'll be scheduled for my PT evaluation and a total of 12 sessions of PT.  And we'll see.  Hopefully the exercises that my PT has me do will strengthen everything up and that in combination with the pain meds and me not doing anything stupid (that wasn't part of the final deal but I figured that it was  kinda implied) and I'll be good to go by Halloween or so.  If not, I guess we'll try something else.

Bottom line, I don't have to have surgery, but my knee still hurts.  I call it a draw at this point.

In other news, I get to teach Sunday school to my high school kids this Sunday and speak during the "mercy moment" at church.  Sunday school is on mercy ministries and the mercy moment is about the Iowa trip.  If any of my high schoolers are reading this (and got this far), bummer that you have to hear me twice but there will be candy or donuts or something in Sunday school and I promise no role playing or other "alternative learning methods" activities.  I'm not even planning on breaking you guys up into groups and answering questions or anything.  If anyone else wants to sit in on the class, you're welcome to.  Theoretically it should be interesting.

And there's lots to blog about the Iowa trip but I just haven't made the time.  Hopefully I'll do that this weekend.  Ah sweet three day weekend followed by a three day work week and an even sweeter three day weekend (it's sweeter because the stores will be less crowded because not everyone else has a three day weekend.  Plus, it follows a three day week.  It's hard to beat that.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Off in a blazing cloud of dust!

A former youth pastor used to utter the line "And we're off in a blazing cloud of dust" regularly when we were driving somewhere.  He had an interesting way with words, something that I've always admired in a person and enjoyed.  And, since I rarely think of humorous/interesting things to say on my own, I've incorporated this into my regular speech.  Although I've come to the conclusion that most other people do similar things, they just quote more mainstream/well known sources than I do.  Just another reason I'm proud to call myself "no one's definition of normal".

So, I'm off to Iowa tomorrow morning.  I think I'm finally getting excited about the trip again.  I was all gung-ho about it when the opportunity first came up and then I got distracted with life and work and my knee issues (mostly my knee issues.  I hate being broken, hence the reason I ignored my knee issues for so long.  Now I just want to get it fixed.).  But tonight, I'm mostly packed up (just need to fuss with the gear in my backpack a bit more), have the house and cats more or less ready for me to be gone and aside from being a little sleepy due to getting up early to take advantage of a thing the city was doing where you trade your old, polluting gas lawn mower in for a coupon for a greatly discounted electric rechargeable, green (really, it's a pastel-neon green), environmentally friendly and 75% quieter but with a tiny (14 inch) deck lawn mower and still needing to shower tonight (so that I don't have to in the morning.  My ride shows up at 5:30am.  Wheels up at 0600.) I'm feeling really good and starting to get excited about it.  It's going to be an interesting trip.  This is the first time we've done any sort of "disaster response/relief" work like this.  I figure that the schedule and the work won't be much different than doing a mission trip except that we'll be more on our own than we are when we do the trips with MTW (and there's full-time missionaries already on the ground there).  But, no worries.  I've done 17 short-term mission trips and a bunch of weekend to week-long trips with youth.  And on this trip we can drink the water!  I'm guessing that, as long as my knee doesn't give me problems, I'll be golden (God willing, if you're the praying type I would greatly appreciate your prayers for all aspects of the trip, but mostly for my physical safety with emphasis on my knee).  But we've got a handful of people on this trip who haven't done any trips like this before.  We've also got at least four who have done some sort of long-term missions work in countries where you probably can't drink the water and more who've done a bunch of short-term trips, but I'm slightly more concerned about the newbies.  There's so much that people could stress over and that doesn't help anyone.  And then there's the age differences.  We've got a couple of junior high kids up through retired adults.  And we're all jumbled together in a van for 13 (or more) hours on either end of the trip.  Just imagining the conversations over the preferences for auditory entertainment...the mind boggles.  It's gonna be an interesting week.

Other random things.
Bones - one of the television shows that I enjoy is coming out with a soundtrack.  Yeah!  I've always enjoyed soundtracks and in recent years I've discovered that tv shows sometimes put out soundtracks as well.  I've found it's a great way to discover new music, often by new and/or indie musicians.  And from there you can follow the rabbit trail down the long tail and who knows where you'll come out.  For me, it ends up in the darker corners of my iPod where you'll find Sprung Monkey, Four Star Mary, Common Rotation and a variety of other bands with odd names (I still think Starbuck and her Special Destiny would be a great band name).  So, yeah, I'm excited and will be purchasing.

Juno - The movie, not the city in Alaska.  I finally saw it.  Good stuff.  Sweet and fun and heartbreaking and all sorts of funny and awkward and stuff.  Allison Janey channeled CJ Craig a couple of times (man do I miss The West Wing...back when Aaron Sorkin was writing it), Jason Bateman grew up to be a fun actor to watch (apparently that happened back during Arrested Development but I just couldn't get into that show....not sure why.  Possibly for the same reason that, no matter how hard I try, I just can't get into The Office.).  And Ellen "Juno" Page was spot on (and played Kitty Pride in X3.  I knew I had seen her before I just couldn't remember where.).  I'm glad that I bought the movie, it's certainly one I will be revisiting...and quite possibly a soundtrack I'll be purchasing.  Cause, ya know, I like soundtracks.

The wife of the guy who writes the web comic Sheldon writes for How I Met Your Mother.  I don't know why I find this so entertaining/interesting.  I don't watch the show.  I've only read the web comic for about a year or so (yet another bit of media that I found while following a Whedon related rabbit hole).  Maybe it's my kinda recent interest in how television shows are written (mostly fueled by the wonderful blog by Jane Espenson, a writer for Buffy, Firefly, Battlestar and other cool stuff, where I've learned more than I ever thought I was interested in about how television scripts are written as well as learned to think more about language and how that makes jokes funny or, yeah, the other thing.)

Okay and now I'm just killing time until my iPod is done syncing.  It's looking like it might take a bit longer than I expected, so I think it's shower time.  By the time I'm dry and fresh smelling once again it should be done.

Probably no internet access while I'm gone so look for an update after a week or so when I get home.

This made me smile

If I could, I would live in a pair of cargo pants and a t-shirt so this comic made me smile.  And it's especially fitting since I'm getting ready to head to Iowa where I will be spending the week wearing cargo pants and shorts.  Yeah!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fun at the orthopedists

I had my appointment with the orthopedist this afternoon.  Everything went smoothly and I was impressed with the efficiency of the staff.  I was in the exam room within five minutes of my appointment time (they had me arrive 30 minutes prior to that so that I could fill out all of the new patient paperwork).  Seph (pronounced similar to Seth but almost like if you have a lisp), the physicians assistant came in after just a few minutes, got my history, poked and prodded my knee some and said that they needed to get some x-rays.  After somewhere between five and ten more minutes, Dr Boothby came in, asked some more questions, poked and prodded my knee a bit more and said that he figured that it was probably a tear in my meniscus (the cartilage that sits at the top of your bottom leg bone and acts as a shock absorber).  He got out his knee model and explained this to me and said that there wasn't any need for x-rays because they wouldn't be able to show what he needed to see.  So the next step is to get an MRI.  The staff said that I should be able to get that early next week.  Then I go back to Dr Boothby a day or two later and we figure out where to go from there.

The good news is that if it is a torn meniscus, Dr Boothby says that they can fix me and get me back to 100%.  He seemed pretty certain that this would be the case.  So that's a plus.  From doing some research and reading, it sounds like there is the possibility of non-surgical options for dealing with a torn meniscus.  However, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.  There's some interesting stuff on Wikipedia about torn meniscuses (menisci?)

While I'm not thrilled with the idea of having to have knee surgery, the fact that this is something that seems to have become routine and the optimism of my doctor gives me confidence that it won't be a huge deal.  I'm sure it won't be fun, but I know that I'll be well taken care of.  I'm pretty sure that Mom will want to come down.  Even if she doesn't, I know my church will take very good care of me and make sure that I have all the help I need.  The staff and my friends at the gym will be there to help me get back in shape physically.  And my group at work is always very accommodating.  All of that gives me tremendous peace of mind.  It's amazing how well God has and continues to provide so much for me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I should really be headed towards beddy-bye about now

So I should be headed to bed but instead I'm blogging.  Ah well.

Knee update:  My doctor still thinks it's an inflamed ligament.  I'm not 100% certain.  But I new to this whole knee problems issue.  She gave me a prescription for some NSAIs (non-steroidal anti-inflamatories) which are, according to a couple of different web sites (I'm not certain I could function without Google anymore) are usually used to treat arthritis and referred me to an orthopedist.  Well, she gave me a list of three to choose from.  After a quick search (again with the Google love) I picked the one who specializes in sports medicine, went to Columbia and did his residency at Henry Ford Hospital.  The Henry Ford connection sealed it for me since the Henry Ford Health Systems provided my medical care from the time I was very young through my college graduation (when I wasn't using the Georgia Tech health center...they weren't great but the price was right and you could get 800mg Ibuprofen for just about anything).  I've had good luck picking doctors with some sort of local connection or a name that sounds like someone I know (even though I know I don't actually know the person).  We'll see how it goes.  Oh yeah an the other miracle is that I've got an appointment for Friday.  I didn't figure I'd be able to get in anywhere that quickly so yeah for specialists with short wait times for appointments.

Iowa preparations are coming along well.  One the to-do list for this weekend is "buy rubber boots".  I was hoping to find tall galoshes somewhere, as I find regular rubber boots (I prefer the British term "Wellingtons" but no one but my British coworkers know what I'm talking about when I say that) very uncomfortable.  But I haven't been able to find any in stores around here and, at this point, it's getting too late to do web shopping.  What we need is a good Farm and Fleet store.  Alas, those haven't made it nearly far south enough.  So, I'm probably going to end up with a pair of Wellingtons.  My current thought is to see if I can find a pair that I can slide a good pair of insoles or, ideally, the bottom half of an old pair of running shoes (I happen to have an old pair of running shoes in my closet.  I was keeping them for yard work shoes, but my current yard work shoes are holding up surprisingly well.  The fact that it hasn't rained much this year and, therefore, I haven't had to mow much probably is the main contributor to that.).  Oh and if I'm going to get stuck with the standard black Wellies (because the frog and Lightning MacQueen ones at Target don't come in big people sizes) I'm also going to pick up some paint markers and decorate them.  Not only will that make me smile but I'll also be able to instantly pick mine out from everyone elses.

At work my documentation tasks seem to finally be coming to a close.  For those who haven't asked me about work recently, I've been doing database documentation pretty much all year.  Sometimes this is interesting.  I learned to write macros in Power Point (not near as easy as it sounds.  The macro recorder is mostly useless.).  But mostly it's more than a little dull.  On the upside though, I've gotten through a lot of podcasts, listened to a lot of music and become even more convinced that the iPod is one of the most amazing inventions of the recent past.  I'm to the point where there are many many other things I would give up before giving up my iPod (and my computer and an internet connection to update the podcasts).

Other random thought:
What actually happens if you bounce wonderflonium?  I know Jed (or was it Zack? one of the brothers Whedon that wasn't Joss) said in an interview that no one's done it because you just don't bounce the wonderflonium.  But, still, I do wonder.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you haven't seen Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog and, if you're over the age of 16 (or so) you really should.  If you're younger than that, you should ask your parents first and, if they say yes, you really should see it.  (I'd give it a PG-13 rating for some adult subject matter and a mildly disturbing ending.  Nothing you wouldn't see on prime time network television, so my -13 rating is possibly a little harsh (The Dark Knight is PG-13 and it's much more disturbing than Dr. Horrible) but I know there are people shorter than me who may read this blog so, yeah, ask your parents first.).  But, yeah, what happens if you do bounce the wonderflonium.

Oh my goodness, look at my arm.  Time for bed.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Help! My web browser is talking to me! And some other stuff from a Saturday morning.

No, I'm really not going least my cats hear it too.
For some reason, my web browser (Safari 3.1.2 - still using OSX/Tiger operating system) is talking to me.  I found the "speech" tab under Safari/services but the options to either start or stop talking are both greyed out.  It's not a huge deal as long as I keep the sound off, but if I'm trying to watch or listen to something, it's very annoying.  Anyone know how to fix this?

In other news, my knee is still bothering me.  I think it's time to head back to the doctor next week.  Very frustrating especially with just two weeks to go until Iowa.

This cool video came across my rss feed this morning.  A group of young women doing an acappella version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" complete with the guitar solo and drum beats.  Pretty amazing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In which I plan to spend even more vacation time

Just got confirmation from my group leader that I can take another four days of vacation time this summer. 17-23 August I'm headed to Iowa as part of a disaster response team with my church. We'll be doing whatever's asked of us. That will most likely be clean and mucking out homes that were flooded. And, if we're very, very lucky, we'll get to power wash thing. I like to power wash things. I know, I have a problem. I'm thinking about getting help for it, but not until after Iowa.

Now I just have to finish letting my knee heal (inflammed tendon) and then get back into "mission trip" shape. All in three and a half weeks. Yep, gonna need prayer for that one (as well as all parts of the Iowa trip).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Yet another way my life is different than other people's

This afternoon at work I overheard a couple of performance guys discussing the relative merits of roller coaster, particularly the accelerations (lateral and longitudinal) and the methods of achieving said accelerations at the start of each ride. And I understood the conversation and almost went and joined in.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Few better places to be

I'm currently laying on my bed, surfing the web and working on the India slideshows, with my two cats curled up sleeping next to me. There's few ways I would rather spend my Sunday afternoon. And I think my cats would agree.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

India 2008 - Recap

I've been meaning to post something like this since I got home from India but just haven't had the time. What follows is basically an email to a friend, but it does a good job of summing up the trip and it's going to be a while before I get the time to write anything more or different, so this will have to do at least for now. You can find some pictures here. Theoretically I'll post more of my own in the near future.

So, yeah, the trip. I'm still processing a lot of it. It was good and hard and challenging in a lot of different ways. The biggest thing for me seemed to be that there was just so much that was different. Or, maybe it was that a lot of things were kinda familiar but just different enough to make the difference. When we were in Bangalore, many people spoke English and almost all of the advertisements on the street were in English, but there was just so much that was so different and that made things a little disorienting. Another way to look at it was the food, especially the bananas. We ate a lot of bananas (they're one food that, as long as the skin is intact are safe for weak stomached Americans to eat). We ate a lot of different varieties of bananas. They all tasted kinda like the bananas that we get at Kroger down the street, but they were a little big different. The bread, the peanut butter, the cookies, cereal; pretty much anything prepackaged and most of the fruit tasted mostly like what we expected but a little different. And after a handful of days like that, the longing for something familiar, which I guess could be called succumbing to culture shock or something like that, becomes pretty strong. This is where time with the team just hanging out, the granola bars and Peter Pan peanut butter and books that we brought with us became really, really important. I think every member of the team went through this at one point or another. I hit it pretty early due to getting sick almost immediately upon landing in Bangalore (I must have picked up something on one of the flights over). But I got some antibiotics that Gail had brought with her and after about a day I was feeling better and was able to eat reasonably well after another day. And, really, if I was going to get sick, that was probably the best time. No one felt good that first day just due to the jet lag, sleep deprivation and travel shock. And it wasn't enough to keep me from doing anything other than eating dinner that first night (I opted for an early shower and bedtime).

But the people we met and the things that we got to do were amazing. The street children's drop-in center, Grace house, is an island of hope in a pretty barren landscape for the street kids of downtown Bangalore. Just the fact that these kids who have nothing and, really, are nothing in the society, can go and get food and clothing, be loved, have a chance to be kids, learn and play and experience a taste of what life really should be is amazing and offers such an amazing picture of the gospel. But it was also heartbreaking. Milton, who runs Grace House along with his wife Jebba, talked about how one of the boys had come a long way, how he had worked on his life, rejecting the drugs and the pressures of the street and the friends he has out there. Having to avoid the police at the train station because not only will they run the kids off but they will do so with brutality, beating them with clubs and sticks. We saw some of these security officers and the sticks that they carry are for real. This is a kid who can be no older than about 12. He's been coming to the center for a couple of years. Kids that age shouldn't have to be "working on their life". They should be running around and climbing trees and having their worst worry be a spelling test or whether Suzy likes him or something. The realities that these kids deal with was hard to confront. To hear the kids pray for their friends who weren't coming to Grace House was also difficult. But, again, it reminded me that we're all a lot like these kids in God's eyes. We've got nothing but a messed up life and then God calls us to himself, adopts us into his family on no merit of our own. It seems to good to be true and yet it is.

Throughout the trip, although more so when we were on the coast, the realities of Hinduism were very apparent. People worship gods which are not gods. They spend time praying to idols, things made by human hands. They offer food and drink to statues and sometimes animals they revere as holy. And it all just seems to silly and worthless and yet it's what these people put their trust in. They hope that if they're good enough they will be reborn at a higher level, eventually coming back as a cow which apparently is one step away from becoming on with The Supreme Being. This worldview does make people very friendly and open, but it's also really sad to see how lost they are. And, really, some of it is just kinda silly, at least from my way of thinking. The idea that cows are revered as as close to a deity as you can get on this earth is almost laughable to me. My dad's family is all dairy farmers and I grew up spending time on my uncle's farm in the summers. The idea that those cows are holy beings seems just silly. We got to go through a Hindu snake temple in Nagercoil one morning when it was raining and we couldn't work. That was kinda anticlimactic. The temple was obviously organized to accommodate a lot of worshippers coming through to do whatever it is that they do at the main shrine area. Basically, it's set-up like a line area of a ride at a Disney theme park complete with some line switchbacks and metal railings with chains. It reminded me a lot of the line area for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland only the real temple wasn't near as cool. At the main shrine area you looked down a little tunnel/short hallway and there was a small area with lots of gold, lit by candle/torch light. There was at least one person back there doing something, possibly chanting, seemingly offering something to something. It was hard to tell and we didn't linger long. We didn't see any snakes. We think they may have been in a temple annex area but it was hard to tell. And we had to leave our shoes outside when we went in. It's odd enough walking around a place like that but doing it in bare feet makes it all the more different. Although we had spent an afternoon without shoes and socks that Sunday when we visited an historic palace not far from where we were staying. That was another interesting experience that definitely would never have happened in the US.

We also got a bit of information about the Catholic church in the area and how they have adopted some of the Hindu customs, trying to make the faith more approachable to people (mostly people practicing some superstitions that are common among Hindus). That wasn't as difficult for me to stomach as it was for some others of the team. Yeah, it's not a good idea, but if you go back to the roots some practices of most Christians (Christmas trees, eggs and bunnies at Easter) have their roots in pagan practices as well. Not great, but it happens. And, in some senses, helped me identify with these people who seem so different from me as well as challenged me to question some of the things that I do (not that I'm going to stop eating chocolate bunnies or anything, but you get the idea). We also visited an ancient church which tradition says (according to the Indian Orthodox church) was built by the apostle Thomas. Our guide, a young man studying to be an Orthodox priest, told us several theories about the church. One being that it was built by Thomas and his followers (that's what he believed) another that it was built by Phoenician Christians who had heard the gospel from Thomas and had moved into the area (there's questions about whether Thomas actually made it to India or not). The church was, again according to tradition, built in 67AD. The priest talked about how the site was very holy and how many miracles had been witnessed there, some attributed to a small cross carved in relief on one wall (possibly by Thomas' own hands according to tradition. There was lots of talk of things that were "according to tradition" which I think is akin to saying "legend says".). The cross was also apparently very important in confirming that the building really was a church rather than a Hindu temple. At one point the building had fallen into disrepair and there was a dispute about whether it was a Hindu temple or a Christian church. The church shares many architectural features with Hindu temples, but the cross on the wall confirmed the buildings origins as a church. And, of course, we had to take our shoes off to enter the building. I don't know if we were in a place where the apostle Thomas actually worshipped God or whether we were just in a really old church. But, in any event, it was pretty neat to see and to remember how God has been working around the world of thousands and thousands of years.

As for the actual work, hanging out with the kids at Grace House was fun. There were two boys there when we were there, Manju and Ramish. They're both fun kids, full of energy and a bit timid at first but they opened up fairly quickly. The team split in half with half going to Grace House one day while the other half toured around Bangalore, visiting the train and bus station where the street children tend to congregate, eating at McDonalds (so nice to have a familiar meal, even if it was just a little bit different than at home) and dealing with collecting the luggage that didn't make it to Bangalore quite when we did. Then, the next day, the teams swapped. At Grace House we read through and then acted out a story from the Bible (Jesus heals the leper and Jesus calms the storm), prayed with and for and spent a lot of time playing with the kids. That was a really neat time and we all wished we could have spent more time doing that.

Down on the coast, our work involved helping to build small, brick and and concrete houses. The houses are 200 square feet along the foundation, smaller once you get the walls built. They're smaller than my master bedroom inside and about 50% larger than the cubicle I sit in (a standard two man cube that houses four peons or two people with the full set of furniture). To think that a family of three or four, maybe more if multiple generations are living together, live in that amount of space is sometimes difficult to contemplate. But, the weather is fairly mild and much of life is lived on the streets or in the common areas of the village. And, it's basic shelter and no smaller than what the people are currently living in. The houses we were building replaced woven reed shacks that the villagers were living in, sometimes right next to the site of their new house. These are the same type of houses that were completely swept away by the Tsunami in December 2004. It's hard to imagine that in the span of just a few minutes these people lost everything. The villagers were almost without exception fishermen (or wives and families of fishermen). Which meant that each evening the men went out into the sea, through the very choppy surf, dodging many big rocks along the coast, in these little boats, some no bigger than a large canoe. They spent the night fishing and then brought their catch in to be auctioned each morning. They cleaned and repaired their nets (just like in the disciples in the Bible), spent the afternoon relaxing or playing cards, slept and went out to do it again. While we were building the homes, the home owners were sometimes nearby, keeping track of what was going on, offering "suggestions" (as far as we could tell. They spoke Tamil, the local dialect. And that's nothing close to English. Occasionally some on our team would default to Spanish when English didn't work. That didn't make anything any better but I found it humorous.). Apparently fishermen view themselves above brick layers and house builders so they won't help with the building process. But they will definitely point out when things aren't to their liking or express their desire for a larger house or a different style "window" or least we think that's what they were talking about. Again, it was often hard to tell unless someone translated.)

We spent a lot of time moving bricks around (small red bricks like are used here only less dense, more likely to crack and very, very dry. We all brought home a lot of brick dust.). It seems that the bricks were never where we needed them and that each wall of the house required more bricks than we knew actually existed in India. We helped lay foundations, build walls, pour roofs and everything in between. Most of the crews who were working building the houses were very open to letting us help, very patient when we screwed up (who knew bricks had a top and a bottom?), were complimentary when we finally got things right (some bits are harder than they look) and overall were a great pleasure to work with. We learned that sometimes you have to pump water because that water that comes from the "city" isn't on all the time. And we also learned that not everyone had a full understanding of fluid dynamics (sometimes it doesn't help to pump faster. Water's incompressible anyway you pump it so there's a limit to how fast the water is going to come out of the pump. It might look like it's coming out faster if it has greater pressure, but those molecules are only going to move so fast through that pipe. We also learned that when you can only speak a few sentences in each other's language, communicating the basics of fluid dynamics is very complicated.) We learned that shovels don't look the same the world over. The ones we used were more like hoes with the blade bent over. Works really well for mixing concrete or breaking up dirt, less so for shoveling anything. Using one of these shovels was an acquired skill and required different muscles. We drank coconut milk straight out of coconuts, became the local tourist attraction (at least Emma and Lauren, a 19 year old from Pennsylvania who joined our team for the trip, did, especially to the college age boys who found us during our final day of work. Emma nicknamed them "creepy lurkers"), got to play with the kids of the village and talk and pray with some of the women. We put on a program for children one evening where we acted out more Bible stories and sang lots of songs (Sherry's experience with Good News Club came in very handy here). Some of the people of the village and a few of the workers attended that as well, which was neat to see and good to know that they heard at least a simple presentation of the gospel in their own language. I also remembered that as much as I enjoy a few days of manual labor, I live in a point and click world at home and, for the most part, I enjoy that. I don't mind the physical activity. In fact, I like that for the most part. But the monotony of building houses like that would get to me after a while. I like the mental challenge that my work brings better than the physical challenge of building houses.

There's much more to tell. We saw a couple of the main courses for our meals alive just a few hours before eating them. We all got our full of curry at different times during the trip and then ate a lot of peanut butter. We had issues just about every time we went to the airport. We experienced traffic that can only be described as chaotic and an exercise in strengthening our prayer life. We smelled things we wished we hadn't and saw things we wished we could have looked at for longer. We learned that smiles and waves transcend language barriers. We got a better understanding of cricket (although the nuances are still far beyond our grasp). We got to know each other better and came to care about people who are so different and yet so like ourselves. And, yeah, so much more.

It was a good trip in so many different ways. I'm glad to be home but also hope to go back sometime in the future.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

India 2008 - All systems go!

Tomorrow right after church the India 2008 mission trip begin.  We won't actually be "feet on the ground" until 5:30 am Tuesday morning (local time, that's 7pm Monday evening for those of you in the US Central Time Zone.  It still takes a while to get halfway around the world.) and, by that time we will have been on four different flights and, hopefully, had a chance to buy some Belgian chocolate (we connect through Brussels and Newark and Bombay/Mumbai.  But it's the Brussels connection that I'm most excited about.)  We'll also probably all be pretty beat.  But that's the price of modern air travel and we're planning on putting in a full day (prayers for good rest on the flights, endurance and quick a quick recovery from jet lag for all members of the team would be greatly appreciated).  Theoretically keeping busy on Tuesday should help to get us adjusted to the time.  That's worked for me in the past when I've had to completely upend my schedule.  We'll see how it works this time.  I'm confident that it won't hurt any.

In recent days, people have asked me if I'm ready to go.  My response has almost always been "not yet".  And, that was true.  It wasn't until tonight that I was fully packed (okay, I'm not completely packed yet.  I still need to let a few podcasts finish downloading, put the finishing touches on some playlists and then resync my iPod before adding that to my pack.).  And I definitely didn't have my life ready for me to be gone from it for two weeks until this evening.  Living alone means that you have to take care of your own bills, make sure that the cats are set-up for someone to come in and care for them, do some minor picking up around the house, mow the lawn, make sure the chores are pretty much done, etc all before you can leave.  Otherwise, you come home to a mess that you're in no shape to deal with.  Fortunately, I've had a lot of practice doing all of this and the house is still in pretty good shape from my pre-RYM cleanup.  So no worries in the physical preparations front.

The bigger thing is whether I'm mentally ready for India 2008.  I'm not certain.  It still hasn't really "hit me" that I'm going to India tomorrow.  Part of it probably is that I've been talking about and thinking about this trip for almost a year now (some people may know that, most of the time, the mission trips for each year are preliminarily decided on by Steve and I at an after dinner conversation late in the week during the current year.  For the rest of you, if you've got opinions about where we should go, get your ideas in early!).  I've been planning for the trip for the past six or so months.  And I've done so much travel that packing up and going somewhere isn't as big a deal for me as it is for many other people.  India is a bit farther than I usually go and I know the culture is going to be much different than most of my regular trips (Texas sometimes feels like a whole different country than the rest of the planet, but it's pretty similar to most other places in a lot of ways), but, really, in a lot of ways, it's another short term mission trip (number 17 for me), another plane ride, another time to spend some concentrated time serving God with a group of His people.  I say that I'm excited about this trip.  And in some ways I am.  But, in others, I've got a bit of a blasé attitude.  It's not quite "been there, done that", but it's kinda close.  And that doesn't mean that I'm not looking forward to it.  I'm just not feeling that it's going to "The BESTEST BEST THING EVER that will TOTALLY CHANGE MY LIFE FOREVER!!!".  Maybe it will.  God can do that and that would rock.  But, more likely, that won't happen.  And I'm good with that.  I'm ready to be flexible and try to be patient and be open to whatever God has to teach me and show me in the upcoming two weeks.  And hopefully my team and I will come back in one piece (well, 9 pieces, but you get the idea), having suffered no ill effects (food or water borne diseases, physical accidents, being chewed on by sacred cows, running out of M&Ms with four days left to go on the trip, etc).  But, if we don't, we'll deal.  God's still in control, no matter what happens.

Semper Gumby!*

I'll post more when I get home.

*Semper Gumby = Always Flexible.  It's a motto we brought back from a mission trip to Fairmont, West Virginia a number of years ago.  One of the team coordinators there is a former Marine.  It's very fitting and it has served us well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

For Lauren

Couple of issues left over from RYM.

2. Brendan Fraser was definitely not in Dead Poets Society.

RYM Recovery - India Prep - Day 1

Some people take a "gap year" between high school graduation and college to take a break from school, reflect on who they are and where they want to go with their lives and, well, for whatever reason.  Me, I'm taking a "gap week" between my two summer vacation adventures this year.  And today was the first day of that week.

Last Sunday, right after worship, I drove one of two 12 passenger vans out of the church parking lot, headed north west and, about 14 hours later arrived in Boulder, Colorado*.  We were graciously hosted by Lauren's family (our former youth intern who is now an RUF intern at Ole Miss).  Monday we spent the morning sleeping in to recover from the late arrival, learned that the Bates boys had been born, hung around in Boulder and then drove up to the YMCA of the Rockies camp outside of Estes Park.  This camp has become one of my favorite places on earth.  The camp is surrounded on a couple of sides by Rocky Mountain National Park (the camp has been there longer than the park).  It's an amazing facility with everything you'd need for a camp (comfy dorms, good food served in a well organized dining hall, an auditorium for large group worship, fields to play in, sports courts and free equipment loan, putt-putt, stables for horseback riding, a herd of mule deer that regularly wander through) and from camp you can walk into the national park.  I know that spending a week with 270 high school kids and their ATPs**, but for me, it's always one of the best weeks of my year.  And this year was no exception.  We had 14 kids and 4 ATPs this trip.  Throughout the week at camp we attended seminars taught by amazing men (and one woman), enjoyed large group worship each evening, won a volleyball tournament, did a lot of hiking, some people went mountain biking and/or rock climbing, killed various video game animals, enjoyed early morning runs/walks, met new friends, caught up with old friends and just generally enjoyed playing in the Big Green Room*** enjoying God's creation.  

It was a challenging week in a lot of ways.  It was a different group of kids this year and that presented some different situations.  I took the seminar for those involved in youth ministry, which was a lot of about ministry philosophy and other great things.  But I did miss the teaching from the other seminars.  My physical conditioning was very good, but I shouldn't have slacked off on the intervals as part of my cardio training.  I really dislike intervals (who doesn't), so I let myself slack off.  And, while I wasn't limited from doing anything, I did feel it during the uphill portions of all of the hikes (or even just walking to the dining hall the first few days).  But, we had very few altitude issues.  I managed to stay well hydrated the whole week.  We had no van issues or any major injuries.  And, as I've said more than once, it was an amazing week.

Friday I had a "Best Day Ever" as Mike would say.
I got up for my usual early morning walk (which provides exercise as well as some alone time during which I can talk with God and get myself ready for the day as well as experience the quiet beauty of the camp), enjoyed breakfast with many of our crew and attended the last session of the seminar for youth ministry that I had been going to all week.  After picking up my lunch, I headed over to where our group that was going rock climbing was going to be leaving from.  I had signed up to climb earlier in the week but due to cold weather and snow (yes, in the second week of June), the trip was cancelled.  I had hoped to go up with our kids and hang out, take pictures and just enjoy the time.  Due to some kids deciding not to go and those who did not being very comfortable belaying (taking someone else's life in their own hands quite literally), I ended up belaying while the kids climbed and rappelled.   I would have enjoyed the chance to get up close and personal with the rock, but I had no problem working the ropes.  Some college rappelling experience made me an "expert belayer" in the eyes of our guides and the kids seemed to feel very secure with me helping them out from the ground.  It was really neat to be able to encourage the kids and to help Mary (who was also one of my roommates for the week) be the only person to make it to the top of the rock all week.  Go Mary!  I also enjoyed talking with the guides, chatting with the kids, especially on the hike down the mountain and the view from the climbing site.

After returning from climbing, a few of the girls and I hiked up to Bible Point.  It was about a mile hike (and about another 3/4th of a mile from our cabin to the trail head) to the top of a hill (it would be a mountain in Texas) that overlooked the camp on one side and a beautiful valley on the other.  It was a bit more intense than we originally though it would be and, especially those who had been climbing earlier in the day were winded by the time we made it to the top, but it was so very much worth the effort.  The view was amazing and we still made it back to camp in time to shower before our dinner BBQ cookout.  Dinner was wonderful pork and chicken BBQ with most of the fixings (although ice cream instead of cobbler, which was almost as good) and, as per our tradition, the ATPs gave up walking places at camp at this point in the trip.  We ran into town to get gas for the vans and came back from large group worship which included a fun slideshow with pictures from the week, our senior pastor doing his "laugh routine" (which is hilarious.  Plus, it's amazing for the kids to see the guy who preaches the word every Sunday morning being silly and goofy and demonstrating various types of laughs.  Apparently he also used mostly Far Side cartoons for his illustrations while teaching the world and life view seminar.), a great message from our main speaker that wrapped up the teaching on the incarnation and encouraged us to go out and enjoy God's beautiful creation and wonderful singing.  Small group was a good time of sharing for our girls and everyone was all packed up before turning in for the night.  That last part was especially important as we pulled out just after 5am the next morning to start what would turn into a 15.5 hour van ride home.  The drive is always a bit brutal, but it is so very much worth the effort.  And, once again, it was one of the best weeks of my year.

Now I'm home and trying to get caught up on life and chores while also trying to take the time to process everything from the week.  It's so easy for me to slip into the routines and stuff of daily life back home and to not take the time to really meditate on the things that I've learned on trips like these.  That's going to be especially hard to do this year as one week from today I leave for my two week mission trip to India.  I've designated today as "recovery day".  While I won't get a nap in, I've got my bags unpacked, laundry done, mail dealt with, many chores finished up and I shouldn't have any problems being ready for the week.  About the only thing I won't get done today is wade through all of my backlogged emails (on my personal account, I don't want to think about dealing with my work emails.  That's what tomorrow morning is for.).  Tomorrow I'll start my final preparations for India as well as resume my normal work week schedule (and this is a long week, no off-Friday to look forward to.  That helps in terms of needing to use less vacation time, but doesn't make for fun work weeks.).  

Here's some pictures.

Some of the kids playing in the snow in Rocky Mountain National Park on Tuesday during our drive along Trail Ridge Road.

The yearly ATP picture at the highest spot above the visitor's center on Trail Ridge Road.  Left to right is Lauren, me, Brian and Travis.
Cub Lake, an intermediate destination during our seven mile hike on Thursday.  Those who remember stories from previous RYMs will be proud to hear that we finally found the official Cub Lake Trailhead this time.
Me on the hike Thursday, just above Cub Lake.
The girls who hiked to Bible Point with me.  Left to right is Mary, Lauren, Hulda and Whitney.  All but Lauren were my roommates for the week.  We had a lot of fun rooming together and I was most impressed with their efforts to keep the room clean and mostly organized during the week.

*Which we learned is correctly pronounced with a short "a", like in "rad".
**ATPs are Adult Type People.  We're old enough and responsible enough for parents to trust us with the care of their kids for week, but we're not so mature as to be above starting a marshmallow fight, incessantly teasing someone about an embarrassing mountain biking incident, getting overly excited about winning "the alphabet game" on an excessively long car ride or, well, a lot of other things that "real adults" just don't do.
***You know, the one with the sky blue colored ceiling that, in Colorado, has less air in the air.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

In which I ramble about things that I've been meaning to blog about

So, it's been like 37/58ths of forever since I've updated this blog (actually, based on the fact that I just watched episode 4 of this season of BSG, or ep 7 if you count Razor as the first two episodes, and the last time I blogged was right after I watched the season opener, or episode 3 depending on which numbering system you're using, it's been about a month), I thought I would post something.  I should really be in bed right now, and I'm not entirely certain why I'm typing and not sleeping, but oh well.  If this rambles, you've been warned.

Right now, I'm about a quarter of an inch away from collapse.  It's been a long day at the end of a long week at the end of a busy couple of weeks.  Today was mission trip fundraiser garage sale day.  I was up at church from about 6:45am* until about 5.  After that, aside from doing laundry, showering and eating, I mowed the lawn and ran a couple of errands.  So, yeah, I'm beat.  But the sale went well, despite the chilly weather in the morning.  Don't know full numbers, but over $3500.  And, based on the stuff that we had and what sold and when and at what percentage of the price at which it was marked, is a pretty good number.  It's more than I was expecting.  I think we'll be down a bit from last year, but we made a good bit of money and it will significantly help a lot of us with our fundraising for the mission trips.  I worked 20 hours over the course of this week.  I don't know what that will translate into in terms of dollars, but it will be significant.  Going into the sale, about 40% of the cost of my trip had been raised.  After today, that number will be higher.  Whoo-hoo!  And I managed to spend only $12 and came home with significantly less stuff than I took, which is always the goal.

Other interesting stuff this week:  I went to see The Music Man up at Temple Christian school last night.  Ian, one of my kids, is in it playing a character who's name I can't remember right now but might be Marcellas (I think that's at least close.  He's the ex-con man who lives in River City before Prof. Hill shows up).  It was a good show and I always enjoy the chance to see my kids in stuff like that.

I got to have dinner with Mike, Bobby and Naomi and the Zinks; friends from school and church on Thursday evening.  The affiliations overlap in some weird ways, but it all works out and, as always, it was a very enjoyable evening.  Plus, it's hard to go wrong at Mellow Mushroom pizza.

Wednesday morning I got to fly a real airplane with wings and a propeller and everything.  This was a part of a class that I was taking at work.  The course if taught by the US Navy Test Pilot School out of Pax River, Maryland.  They've brought the instructors down to Fort Worth a number of times which has allowed more Lockheed engineers to go through it.  It's an introduction to aircraft handling qualities with an emphasis on how the different aircraft modes of motion (you know, things like the Dutch Roll and Phugoid modes**) are tested and evaluated during flight test.  The first week of the course was academics and a bit of time in the simulator.  The second week allowed each student to plan a flight, go through a brief, fly the flight with the instructor pilot, write a daily report and have that report critiqued.  The flight, of course, was the highlight of the whole experience.  It was about 90 minutes long and took place in a Bonanza 33C aircraft which is a four seat, propeller driven aircraft that is acrobatic rated.  We didn't fly any acrobatic maneuvers.  That just provided an extra margin of safety in case any of the students got a little aggressive on the controls.  With the exception of take-off and landing, each student flew the plan for a majority of the flight.  This was my first time to ever have the controls of an aircraft and I will say that it was pretty cool.  I still have no desire to obtain a private pilot's license (which makes my mom happy), but I can easily see why others do.  I also reinforced the fact that I just don't pull g's well.  Women are supposed to be able to, on average, pull more g's than men.  I don't quite understand why, probably due to having stronger lower body muscles overall.  But, that doesn't hold true for me.  We hit 2.25g on a pull-up and I decided I had enough.  I wanted to make sure my breakfast stayed where it was and that I was able to enjoy the rest of the flight.  I also had a bit of trouble with the landing.  It was a very windy day and between the natural tendencies of the aircraft, the extra movement due to the winds and the fact that it was pretty warm, I was very, very happy when we got on the ground.  I managed not to revisit my oatmeal, but it was touchy for a bit there.  And, overall, it was a very cool experience.

And, if I have any hope of staying awake through church tomorrow, let alone waking up from my Sunday afternoon nap in time for small group, I really need to go to bed.  'Night.

*An hour when very few people should even be awake on a weekend.
**No, I didn't make those up.  Look them up on Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Picking my chin up out of my lap

I just got done watching the Battlestar Galactica season 4 opener on Hulu and, yeah, wow!  I won't spoil it for anyone, cause I'm still not sure what I would say other than, yeah, wow!  I didn't realize how much I had missed this show.  And the fact that I can watch it less than 24 hours after it airs and for free makes me even more happy.*  About the only bad thing I can say** is that having to wait another week to see the next episode isn't going to be fun.  There is something to be said for waiting for the DVD release. 

*I watched the first about season and a half on DVD.  After that I got the episodes a few days after they aired thanks to a coworker with a DVR and a VCR.
**Okay, very minor spoiler alert, you've been warned.
The whole "no one believes Kara" thing and her continually complaining/whining about it is going to get old and fast.  I know it's realistic and all that.  But I get the point.  The amazing battle sequences and the acting from all of the principals more than made up for it.  Why does this show not have more awards and higher ratings?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventures in cooking for the masses - Postscript

My first shot at being in charge of cooking for a large group of people seemed to go well.  I'm neigh on exhausted, so no in-depth commentary this evening (What!?!  Rue's not going to write a thesis on her day/weekend/experience?  Who are you and what have you done with our Rue?).  I don't have a final count, but I think we had somewhere upwards of 200 people.  Thanks to both Steve and I padding the number a little bit as well as me just downright getting the amounts wrong in a couple of cases, we had more than enough food.  Everything went pretty smoothly.  The chicken was all adequately cooked.  A lot of people said they enjoyed it.  I had a great team helping me out on every front.  Couldn't have done it without them, especially the girls (and Jacob) who helped out with chopping more onions, peppers and olives than most of us had ever seen in one sitting before.  Now, I think, I'm going to go clean out my backpack, make sure that I'm ready for the morrow and collapse for about 8 hours before the work week starts anew.
This last week was Ff150*.   This upcoming week is church committee budget week.  Fortunately, it's an off-Friday.

*Which should probably be relabeled as Ff200ish.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Adventures in cooking for the masses

A while back, at a mission trip team meeting, we were talking about the upcoming fundraisers, primarily our big variety show, silent auction, dinner that is one of two big fundraisers the mission teams do each year.  Leadership positions were described, people volunteered and, near the end, I heard my voice say, "Steve, I'll cook dinner".  Normally I let others take the big leadership roles.  With these roles comes extra work but also extra financial incentives.  For this particular fundraisers, those in leadership roles get a double share of the profits made.  In past years raising funds hasn't been an issue for me due to either the generosity of my friends and family in responding to my support letters or the fact that my trip has been paid for by the missions committee because I was one of the trip leaders.  This year, due to my lack of trip leader status and the fact that my team is going to India for two weeks and that costs a substantial amount more than any other trip I've done in the past, I thought it might be a good idea to volunteer for a fundraiser leadership role.  No one else had volunteered to cook.  I've helped out in the kitchen a number of times in the past for these types of things.  I figured it shouldn't be that hard.

Some time and much planning later and we're finally into what I'm calling fajita week.  Much of my free time this week will be spent finalizing and implementing my master plan to lead a team that will cook a fajita dinner for roughly 150 people this coming Sunday.  My master plan might also be morphing into a plan to take over all of Metropolis...I'll keep you updated on that one.  The thing is, I'm really not that stressed about it.  Either I'm kidding myself that it really isn't going to be terribly difficult or I've got a really good master plan....or maybe some of both.  I'm even confident enough about the whole thing that I'm going camping with friends Friday night and all day Saturday.  I'm guessing that's not going to be the wisest decision that I've made of late.  But I don't get many chances for camping and the date was set by someone else and based on circumstances beyond my control.  So, I'm going camping.  Then I'm going to come home and lead a team to cook the largest meal I've ever been in charge of cooking the next day.  There is a reasonable chance that this will all become a massive fiasco that will become an interesting and slightly embarrassing story as well as a morality tale in the years to come.  Fortunately, this is a church event and we're big believers in grace (and getting people to pay ahead of time for the meal).  But, I guess that also means that there's a fairly reasonable chance that this will all be a roaring success...and it will take me four years and possibly some protesting on my part before I'm not in charge of big meals at church.  But, that's okay.  I like to help out.  And, if I'm good at something, I don't mind using my talents...especially if I can help train my replacements  (yes, I'm looking at you Elizabeth, Kathryn and Rachel).

If you happen to be the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers for me and the whole dinner situation between now and next Sunday evening.  I can do all the planning in the world, but without God enabling that plan to actually work, I'm toast...or burned rice, sticky tortillas and undercooked chicken in this case. Thanks.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's kinda like a mission trip. Also, other things I need to stop doing.

Sometime around 9:30 yesterday morning a squirrel wandered into a transformer switch of some sort at a power substation in south or possibly southwest Fort Worth and shorted out the whole system.  Power was restored about an hour later, but apparently electricity quit flowing to some of the city's water pumps and that caused a decrease in the water pressure which led to the possibility of contaminants seeping into the water supply.  There was no further mention of what happened to the squirrel.  Since it takes 18 hours to complete a test of the water system, and that test must be done at a variety of locations, an odd shaped area of southwest Fort Worth was under a water boil order.  Basically, that means that the water that comes out of your tap just might kill you or at least make you wish it had (I've been the victim of water related illness before.  Trust me when I tell you that, at times, death seems preferable.).  So, before you drink it or use it in cooking or making ice cubes, you have to bring it to a rolling boil for at least two minutes.  From what I've read, you actually just have to get it to a rolling boil.  But, since people don't always agree on what a rolling boil is, I think the two minute rule is there just to make sure that everyone's bases are covered.  As I've said, water illness issues aren't fun.
I first learned about all of this while I was at the gym yesterday.  As with most fitness centers, my gym has televisions in the cardiovascular fitness area (where you walk, run, ride a bike, climb stairs, row or whatever it is you do on an elliptical machine but never actually go anywhere).  And, so that the people listening to Sports Center don't have to sort out the play-by-play sound from Oprah's current conversation with the doctor that tells you to eat your vegetables (or whatever), the audio is broadcast to unused FM radio stations.  This works out great for the most part.  That is, unless your iPod doesn't have an FM tuner and the local news broadcast is only giving specifics about the water boil issue by talking about it, rather than by showing some sort of graph or chart or specific instructions in clear to read text on the screen.  I ended up spending a little over an hour riding, ellipticalling, rowing and finally walking while waiting for some sort of explanation about how long we were going to have to boil our water for.  They did have an almost helpful map that outlined the area under the order and I was pretty sure that my house was included but the gym was not (which meant I could use the drinking fountains, something I was very grateful for at the end of my workout).
Upon my arrival home, the internet was the first to give me the specifics of the issue.  Apparently it was old news by this time as neither the radio nor the television news were covering it.  To be fair, the networks were on to national news by the time I turned it on and, if they mentioned the squirrel related water boil order for this small area of the city in which I live, I didn't catch it.  The effect on me boiled down to (pun intended) the need to treat the water like it was more or less lethal if consumed until further notice.  To some, this would be disconcerting.  To me, it meant slipping back into mission trip mode.  That required writing lots of post-it notes to myself to make sure I didn't drink the water, put the lid on the toilet seat down (my cats drink out of the toilet) and breaking out the hand sanitizer.   No worries.  The water in my water bottles in the fridge got me through until I could boil up some water and things were fine.

Well, things were mostly fine.  There was another, nonwater related issue I was dealing with.  If you were paying attention above, you would noticed that I said I was at the gym, doing cardio stuff for a little over an hour.  And that's correct.  What you might know, if you know me, is that when I go to the gym, I work hard.  This has become almost a requirement for me, especially in the last couple of years and since I spend 10ish hours a day in front of a computer.  I have to make up for all that sitting somehow.  So I rode and ellipticaled and rowed and walked hard and fast for that hour.  Normally, this isn't a big deal.  I'm in good enough shape that I can handle this...most of the time.  What I hadn't factored in was that I didn't have the greatest dinner on Thursday evening (tuna with A1 sauce, garlic and green beans.  It's a whole lot better than it sounds) and I had skipped the snacks that are a part of my normally well balanced work day nutrition routine in favor of sausage rolls, bagels and very good chocolate cake (to celebrate coworkers' new reserved parking spot, newly conceived child and birthday respectively).  So, while my eating hadn't been horrible, it certainly hadn't been great.  And, again, most of the time, that works out okay for me.  I can do most of my activities at the gym with little impact except the possibility of being ready to gnaw off my own arm before I get home.  Except that, for some reason, somewhere between doing 45 minutes of intense cardio and doing an hour (or a little bit more) of fairly intense cardio, there's a tripwire in my body.  If I don't prepare to do the hour (mostly by eating better.  Even swapping my normal turkey sandwich for a peanut butter and honey one will make the difference) I feel horrible afterwards.  And that's the kicker.  I'm fine while I'm working out.  If I had the time, I would quite happily workout even longer. (Yes, I've become a gym rat.  In some ways this is great.  In other ways I find it oddly disturbing.  Fortunately, it's disturbing in a way that's great for my overall health, so I've learned to live with it).  It's on the drive home, after my body has had a chance to wind down and do whatever it does with sugar stores and other things I should probably learn more about that I start to crash.  The thing is, it normally starts just with me being hungry.  So I grab something quick to munch before I shower.  Last night it was a couple of leftover cookies.  That was a bad idea.  It seems to me that feeding myself foods ladened with refined sugar is probably about the worst thing I can do to myself in times like this.  But, I did it anyway.  And by the time I was done figuring out about the squirrel induced water of death and got done with my shower (no worries.  Remember to keep your mouth closed and sanitize your hands after you get done.  Just like in Mexico.) I was starting to feel it.  And I knew it was going to be a long night.  I had a good dinner and drank a lot of non-lethal water while boiling up some more.  I went out to run some errands, chatted about the squirrel death water and the fact that it was leap day with the ladies at the buy counter of Half-Price Books and chuckled while overhearing a conversation between a girl and her father in Target.  They were in the kitchen gadgets section and the girl was commenting on the cool new animal shaped gadgets they have, exclaiming over a toucan something or other.  Her father asked, without missing a beat, "Do they have a three-can?".  If I hadn't been fading incredibly fast at that point, I would have laughed out loud.  By the time I got home, a little before nine, I was exhausted.  I looked at the cats (who still seemed confused by the toilet seat situation and dismayed that I hadn't sat on the couch and petted them recently...but they're always dismayed about my lack of time on the couch).  So I had some fruit, more water of the boiled and now safe to drink variety and went to bed.  I woke up this morning a bit sluggish and hungry.  And that's about how I've stayed all day.  I really gotta start planning my workouts and my eating habits a little bit better, cause this just isn't a lot of fun.  But, on the plus side, I did feel okay spending about 90 minutes on the couch this afternoon (which made the cats moderately happy) finishing the book that I've been reading.
Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris is part memoir of Mr. Harris' ten years spent playing in multiple Jeopardy games and tournaments, part memory self-help book, part love story and a whole lot of fun.  I highly recommend it...unless you're Mom in which case you should hold off on enjoying it at least until after Mother's Day...or whenever we get together in May.  I'm just saying.  Oh, and about noon today the city decided that the water really isn't lethal and we can quit boiling it and resume drinking it out of the taps.  I'm off to go clean up all the various post-it notes that are scattered around my bathrooms and kitchen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The British came, they saw, they sang Led Zeppelin?

The Beatles singing Stairway to Heaven.
There's either something vaguely cool, utterly hilarious or marginally scary about this.  I'm not completely certain which.

As seen on the blog of Ken Levine