Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas lights

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. In addition to celebrating the birth of Jesus, I enjoy getting together with family and friends, the food, the carols. But most of all, I enjoy the Christmas lights.

I like how houses look when they are tastefully covered in lights, with additional lights covering the trees and bushes and perhaps a display or two in the yard. For the yard displays I like a general theme: a Nativity scene, the Peanuts gang, or Santa and his elves.

When my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were in high school and college, we put up the Christmas lights at my parent's house. My mom and sister weren't fond of heights, and my dad wasn't as spry (and our older brother didn't live at home), so putting the lights up was our job.

Mom also had a Nativity scene in the front yard, plastic and lit from the inside. We had Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus (of course), the shepherds and various animals. But in a nice mixing of genres that always made me chuckle, we also had Santa on the roof overlooking the scene.

At my house every Christmas I put up lights on the roof and in the tree in my front yard. Sometimes I've had some in the bushes and around the garage, depending on if I can get all the light strands working. And in the future I hope to add more lights, and I want to have a nicely lit Nativity scene in the front yard: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and various animals. And in honor of my mom I might even have Santa standing amongst the shepherds.

He was a saint, after all.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My Undefeated Season Pitching Little League

I wish I could play little league now. I'd be way better than before. - Mitch Hedberg

Growing up as a twin people would ask us if we ever pretended to be the other one or went on dates for the other one or any other twin-related pranks. And for the most part, the answer was no, especially with dating. It wasn't always easy to get a date in the first place, so neither one of us was going to pass up the opportunity to actually go on the date.

But there are some exceptions. In Jr. High band we once switched instruments as an April Fools joke. Neither one of us could play the other's band instrument very well, but sadly, the band director never caught on. Perhaps we weren't that good on our own band instrument either.

And then there was little league baseball. One year when we were around 11 or 12, I was one of the pitchers for our little league team. I wasn't great, but I could get the ball over the plate most of the time, which is pretty good by little league standards. And unlike the little league pitchers today, I wasn't damaging my arm by trying to throw sliders and off-speed pitches, primarily because I didn't know how.

We had two games per week, and pitchers were only allowed to pitch one game a week per little league rules, so Ron and I alternated games. However, Ron had control issues ... with his pitching ... so almost the entire season I pretended to be him on his pitching days. We didn't switch jerseys, and I never said, "I'm Ron." I just went to the mound and pitched.

No one ever caught on as far as we knew, although one opposing coach asked me before the game, "Didn't you pitch earlier this week?" So, Ron pitched that one game, but I pitched the other 15. I believe I finished the season with 10 wins, 4 losses, and 1 no decision.

Of course, since "Ron" pitched half of the games, I could say I was 8-0.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outlaw Bike Tour 100

A couple of months ago my friend Wayne asked me if I wanted to ride in the Outlaw Bike Tour 100, taking place on Oct. 9th. The Outlaw is a non-competitive bike ride that takes place in Williamson County with several routes available ranging from 10 to 100 miles. Since the ride was taking place a couple of days after my birthday I wanted to challenge myself, and I talked Wayne into trying the 100 mile route.

I hadn't ridden 100 miles in one day since 1997, when I last rode the MS150, and Wayne had never ridden more than 30 miles in one day, so we had our work cut out for us. We both trained as much as we could with our jobs and other responsibilities. And then, the day of the ride was upon us.

We started promptly at 8am with our group (the 100 milers) starting first. The weather was a brisk 57 degrees, but the skies were clear and the winds were light. We had to make the second checkpoint by 10am to continue on the 100 mile route, so we skipped the first checkpoint. We had no intentions of skipping any after that. Or so we thought.

After the second checkpoint, only the 100 milers were still on our route. All the other routes had turned off to make their smaller loops back to the finish line. Most of the other cyclists in our group were setting a much faster pace than us, so the next few legs were pretty quiet. It seemed like forever, but we eventually made it to the next checkpoint.

Surprisingly, we were at the fourth checkpoint. At some point between checkpoints 2 and 4 we missed a turn and bypassed the third checkpoint. Luckily, the course came back to the road we were on, and we didn't have to turn around. Also, we ended up shaving 5 miles off the total for the route. Accidentally, of course.

The road got hillier after checkpoint 4. Wayne's legs started cramping around mile 40, and he struggled to make it to checkpoint 5 (around mile 50). We took a long break at checkpoint 5. Then we headed out for checkpoint 6.

The course got even tougher. There were several big hills (by our novice standards), and some of the roads were very rough. Our pace slowed quite a bit, but we eventually made it to checkpoint 6 (mile 64). Wayne decided he was done for the day, having ridden a little more than double his personal best. He took a support vehicle back to the finish line, where he was going to wait for me to finish if I could. After resting and hydrating, I headed back out.

The next four miles were still tough, but after that the road leveled off until checkpoint 7 (around mile 73). I took a short break and got back on the road. The road got a little hillier (not as bad as earlier), and around mile 80 my legs started to cramp. My pace slowed, but I eventually made it to final checkpoint at mile 83.

I took a very long break. One of the volunteer motorcycle riders mentioned that there were only 10 people left on the course after me. So I wasn't last. I eventually got back on the road for the last 12 miles. The last leg had some rolling hills, but since my legs were cramping they seemed mountainous to me.

Finally, I made it to the finish line at 4:17pm. The parking lot was mostly empty, but the few remaining volunteers were nice enough to cheer. I had been on the course for 8 hours and 17 minutes, with 7 hours and 2 minutes of actual riding time. And I had ridden 95.49 miles. A big congratulations to all the riders, and a hearty thank you to all the volunteers.

So who wants to ride next year?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catholic church is hard on the feet

Growing up, I attended a Protestant church, so I didn't have a lot of experience with Catholic services. And by that, I mean I had no experience. When I was in college I had a girlfriend who was Catholic so I attended my first Christmas mass with her and her family.

For those of us who don't attend Catholic church, the services can seem daunting. There's a lot of ritual and congregational responses and standing and kneeling and sitting and more standing and more kneeling and on and on. I'm sure there's a pattern to it and eventually you get the hang of it, but it's confusing at first.

And then there's the kneeler.

For those parts of the services that require kneeling, most (or perhaps all) Catholic churches have kneelers, padded platforms to place your knees on. The particular church I attended had them attached to the bottom of the pew in front of you, and when it was a "kneeling time" you flipped the kneeler down. And when kneeling time was over, you flipped it back up so that it was out of the way.

An excellent idea. Or so it would seem.

As a Catholic mass rookie, I was unprepared for kneeling time so I had my legs stretched out in front of me. When the kneeler was flipped down, one of its feet ended up on top of my foot, which went unnoticed until everyone on my pew placed their knees on the kneeler, crushing my foot.

With that much weight on the kneeler I was unable to pull my foot out. I didn't want to cause a scene, so I bit my tongue (figuratively) and attempted to maintain my balance with one leg with the foot trapped under the kneeler and the other leg with the knee slightly hovering over the kneeler so that I wouldn't add to the weight pressing down on my foot. I don't know if the pain caused me to embellish this in my memory, but it seemed to me that this kneeling section of the service lasted for several hours, which is amazing considering the mass only lasted an hour.

Eventually, that kneeling portion of the service ended, and the kneeler was flipped back up. For the remainder of the service, my feet were safely tucked under my own pew. Hopefully, this story will prevent anyone else from making the same mistake I did.

As if that were possible.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Oh, he's my favorite

Several years ago my incredibly handsome twin brother and his wife adopted their first daughter Shayla. She was the first niece (or nephew) in the family, and I wanted to make sure she adored her Uncle Don. Any time I visited or talked to her on the phone I always started the conversation with, "Hey Shayla, it's your favorite Uncle Don." Some might call it brainwashing; I prefer to call it targeted marketing.

Several months later, Shayla was playing with one of her older cousins Lindsay. Lindsay was helping her learn family members' names by asking where they were.

Lindsay would ask, "Where's your daddy?"

Shayla would answer, "He's at work."

"Where's your mommy?"

"She's at home."

She went through several members, and then she got to me. Lindsay asked, "Where's your Uncle Don?"

And Shayla responded, "Oh, he's my favorite!"

I guess "targeted marketing" does work.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Boo: 1995-2010

My cat Boo hasn't been feeling well the past few weeks. He had stopped eating his dry food a few months ago and would only eat wet food, and he was constantly hungry. Despite eating multiple times per day, he was still losing weight. I took him to the vet, and he was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. He started taking medicine twice a day (well, I had to give it to him), and his weight was improving. However, he still didn't seem like himself, and earlier this afternoon he passed away.

Boo wasn't supposed to be my cat. Fifteen years ago, my girlfriend at that time thought her cat needed a playmate. So she went to the shelter and found Boo. She picked him up, and he crawled inside her jacket to snuggle.

Or so she thought. It turned out he was named Boo for a reason. His previous owners had beat him, so he was terrified of everyone and everything. For the first two weeks we couldn't get him to come out from under the furniture. It took two years before I heard him purr for the first time. For whatever reason Boo liked me so when that girlfriend and I broke up Boo came with me.

Boo enjoyed being the only pet for a while, and he later tolerated those pesky dogs I brought home. Boo was fine with any other pet as long as they left him alone, which ruled out puppies and kittens. He was fine once they got older and stopped bothering him.

Boo and I had our share of adventures, like the time he tried to kill me (see Unexplained Injuries) or the time I had a brilliant idea (see That time I tried to give my cat a bath). The house will be much quieter without him.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I wonder if I can use the pool

I was contacted today by an ex-girlfriend from long ago. We dated for several years, owned a house together (with a pool), but it just didn't work out in the end. It was an amicable split, and the house was the only thing we owned together, so we filed all the legal paperwork to get me off the mortgage. Or so we thought.

Recently, she was trying to get a small business loan (I assume using the house as collateral), and the bank sent her paperwork that her husband needed to sign.

My name was on the form.

We were never married.

And she has a husband.

According to the bank the paperwork we filed ten years ago wasn't legal in the state of Texas. And that's a problem since that's the state where we actually live. And apparently our lawyer at the time was an idiot.

So, she's working with the bank to get the proper paperwork for us to sign. Until then, I wonder if I can use the pool.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Hey, buddy. The light is green.

In addition to my brilliant idea to put paintball cannons on all cars (see The Mother of Invention), I believe all cars should come equipped with car phones, and I mean the old school phones that are permanently installed in the car. Also, each person's license plate number should be the phone number of their car phone.

Imagine a world where you could call the car in front of you and politely let them know that the light is green or perhaps remind them of the actual speed limit. Or you might call the person in front of you to tell them you find him or her attractive. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, I can also imagine a world where people call other drivers to vent their road rage at them, so there's a wrinkle or two to iron out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I got a rock

I got a rock. - Charlie Brown

Earlier this week, my church had a basketball and cheerleading summer camp for 1st-5th grade boys and girls. There were 155 kids who attended, supported by 67 adult and student volunteers. Their roles ranged from organizers to coaches to recreation leaders to arts and crafts teachers to bible study teachers to cooks for the lunches.

I was one of those 67 volunteers, serving as a basketball coach for eleven 1st and 2nd grade boys. My job, along with my assistant coach, was to run through an hour of basketball drills in the morning, take the kids to bible study, take the kids to lunch, run through another hour of basketball drills in the afternoon, take the kids to arts and crafts, take the kids to their recreation activity, and then finish up with the kids scrimmaging the other team of 1st and 2nd grade boys. Every day, I went home exhausted (mentally and physically) and sore.

I would guess that almost all of the kids had a good time, although I'm sure a few of the kids attended because it was their parents' idea. One kid in my group was sometimes difficult to motivate, preferring to sit and watch the basketball drills rather than participate. So, my assistant coach and I tried to come up with drills that were a little more fun for all the kids and their various skill levels.

Sometimes we succeeded and sometimes we didn't, but near the end of the final day that kid gave me a gift as a thank you. He gave me a rock. Now, I know it was one he got from the parking lot, but he thought it looked cool and it was special to him. And he gave it to me.

We don't always know if we're having an impact on those around us, and sometimes we never will.

But sometimes, someone gives us a rock.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It is finished

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." - John 19:30a

The past week I went to my hometown for the final service of the First Presbyterian Church of Iowa Park, Texas. The church was organized in 1890 with eleven charter members. In 1921, the first part of the current facility was built with additions in 1930 and 1953. Renovations were done in 1949 and the late 1970s until 1980. In 2010, with a dwindling membership who didn't have the energy or health to continue the work of the church, the decision was made to close the church.

My family were already members of the church when my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were born. We were baptized there when we were babies. In our youth we sang in the youth choir, performed in the nativity play, and helped with the remodeling of the church (well, we hit a few nails with a hammer). As we got older we sang in the adult choir, performed in youth plays (see Holly Day's Inn), and hid the Easter eggs for the younger kids.

When we were kids, Ron and I didn't get to sit next to each other during church, mostly because we talked to each other during the service. A lot. At least one of our parents sat between us, and one of us was unlucky enough to have a parent on either side. It was unlucky because neither mom nor dad could carry a tune, but they loved to belt out the hymns, and the kid with mom and dad on either side had to listen to an out-of-tune singer in each ear.

The final service was performed was performed by Rev. Tom Wisdom. Ret. USAF Chaplain Frank Hamilton, Rev. Betty Meadows, Executive Presbyter Richard Schempp (pictured L-R) and Commissioned Lay Pastor Mr. Steve Barnes (not pictured). Rev. Meadows was my favorite pastor growing up. She was there when I was in high school and college, leaving in 1990. She came back almost eleven years ago for my mom's funeral service (see A belated eulogy), but this was her first time back since then.

After the service, a catered lunch was served, people visited, and stories were shared. A few hours later, when everything was cleaned up, the lights were turned off and the doors locked one final time.

And with that, it was finished.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Disappearing Date

Over the years I've been on a lot of dates. Some were good, some were bad, some continued on to be future girlfriends, and some ended right after that first date (or perhaps during it), and some ... well, some just spent the entire evening crying in the bathroom.

Back in my late teens I had a friend who I'll call Jennifer. One day she called and asked me for a favor. She had a friend (who I'll call Susan) who needed a date to one of their high school dances. Susan had planned on going with her boyfriend, but he had recently broken up with her and was taking someone else. Susan wanted to show him that she was "so over him" by showing up with her own date, and Jennifer suggested me.

So I agreed, knowing that my role was just to be a filler, and to possibly make her ex-boyfriend jealous. Because nothing makes an ex-boyfriend more jealous than when you show up with a nerdy honor student.

That evening I picked Susan up at Jennifer's house, introduced myself ("Hi, I'm your date."), and took her to the dance. Most of her friends were also friends with her ex-boyfriend, so we sat at a table with some friends I knew at the dance. A few minutes after we sat down, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. And other than an occasional glimpse in passing, that was the last I saw of my date.

I found out later from Jennifer that Susan had seen her ex-boyfriend with his date, and she was so upset she went to the bathroom to cry. I guess she wasn't "so over him" after all. I couldn't really go console her in the ladies bathroom, so I stayed at the table, visited with my friends, and danced with other girls I knew.

My friends asked where my date was, and periodically I would see her walking in the crowd to find Jennifer so that they could go back the bathroom and talk. I would say, "Ooo, there she is, walking toward the bathroom again!"

After a couple of hours, I asked Jennifer if she would take Susan home since it didn't seem like she was ever coming out of the bathroom. And then I went home.

It wasn't necessarily a bad date, for me anyway. I've had worse. And it's certainly not the only time one of my dates ended with somebody crying in the bathroom.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You're welcome to my opinion

There are certain topics I don't usually discuss with people, like politics (as noted in Getting People to Vote). Sometimes it's because I don't have enough information to have an opinion on a particular topic, sometimes it's because I don't have any passion for a particular topic (a nice way of saying I don't care about that topic).

And sometimes it's because the other person doesn't really care about my opinion. Some people are more concerned with convincing you that their opinion is the correct one. Not only are they welcome to their opinion, but you're welcome to it as well. Opinions aren't facts, but they are certain that they are right. And you could be right if you'd just agree with them.

Politics is one area where that frequently occurs. Since we have two major parties it's very easy for your party to be right, and the other party to be wrong. Take a polarizing topic, like health care reform or the war in Iraq, and it's very easy to make them black-and-white issues. And that's a shame because those issues (and most others) are far more complex than that.

For example, how would one rate President Bush as a president. (I don't have an opinion on President Obama yet, since he's only been on the job for a year.) To answer that question with a simple black-and-white response would be to simply say "he sucked" or "he was the greatest thing since sliced bread".

But it's not that simple. Now, I think President Bush is a good man who tried to do a good job, but I don't think he had the skills to be a good president, and I don't consider that an insult. Most people who know me know that I have an extremely high opinion of myself, and I don't think I have the skills either. Personally, I think his biggest problem was surrounding himself with some terrible, terrible people.

And that's where the polarizing groups would try to convince me that I was "wrong." One side would argue that not only was he a great man, he was the greatest president in the history of presidents, while the other side would argue that not only was he a terrible president, he was also a spawn of the devil. And neither extreme group would welcome any disagreement to their opinion. They are right, you are wrong. It's just not worth the effort to discuss it with those types of people.

Of course, all of the above is my opinion. But you're welcome to it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

There's no skipping in basketball

I was having a bad week this past week. There were some personal and work issues bothering me, but mostly the boys basketball team I coach was frustrating me. I was trying to be patient (and failing), but their lack of attention and focus in practice was getting to me. Win or lose, I just want them to learn and get better as the season goes along. At this point, we don't have a set offense in place. We just want them to get in position, space the floor and maybe set some screens for each other.

There's a boy on my team who is younger than everyone else. He's the only one who hasn't started 1st grade yet, and he's also one of the smallest. He sometimes forgets who he's supposed to be guarding on defense, and he will probably lead the team in the number of times falling down for no apparent reason.

At our game today, we coaches were telling the boys to setup and space the floor, mostly to deaf ears. But one time, that young boy got in his position and set a screen for his teammate with the ball, which allowed the teammate to dribble past his defender and score.

As he was heading back on defense, I yelled, "Nice screen!" He smiled big, turned and waved to his dad (who was also congratulating him), and skipped happily to the defensive end. He then went on to set several more screens while he was on the floor.

For that brief moment he got it. That is why teacher's teach and parent's parent. And that's why I coach: that one perfect moment when you finally reach a child.

Ok, I could have done without the skipping.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Security question

For a few of my friends I do web pages and some computer support. My friend Laura in Florida is an event planner, and I helped a little with her website (http://hollidayplanit.com/). Last week she started having issues with her e-mails not reaching their destination, and after she was unable to get a resolution with the domain provider support she called in her IT Manager. The Big Gun. Awesome Don.

When I was finally able to get through on the phone, I was connected with someone with a very strong Indian accent whose name was "Tracy." In order to prove it was OK for me to access the account, Tracy asked me the security question: Laura's mother's maiden name. My response: Uh, her mother has been married 12 times, so I have no idea what her maiden name is.

I'm betting that's the first time they've ever had that response.

So, after validating my credentials with another method, we finally escalated the issue to the group who should have been fixing it in the first place. I called Laura and updated her on the issue. And I asked her the answer to the security question in case I have to call back any time soon. :)

Epilogue: Here's a story I wrote back in 2003 about her mom back when she'd only been married 11 times: There's always hope.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I certainly admired his honesty

A couple of years ago, I "retired" after 16 seasons of coaching a boys soccer team. However, this winter I returned to the coaching ranks. I am currently coaching a 1st and 2nd grade boys basketball team in my church's Upward basketball league. Unlike soccer, basketball is a sport I actually played growing up.

There's a player or two on each team with some basketball experience, but for most of the kids it's their first time playing basketball. The first few practices have been spent going over the basics: dribbling, defense, rebounding and the general rules of the game. In the future I hope to teach them offensive spacing, setting picks and switching on defense. Who knows, by the end of the season we might even learn an offensive play or two.

The games themselves are very structured. Each 18 minute half is divided into 6 minute segments. At the start of each segment, the players in the game are lined up based on skill level, and each one guards the player on the other team with the similar skill level. They play a basic man-on-man defense with no double-teaming or pressing. The substitutions are set up so that no player ever sits out more than one 6 minute segment in a row.

We just had our second game, and the boys are improving. There's still a lot of traveling and double-dribbling, and they sometimes forget who they're guarding on defense, but they're having fun. During halftime we were going over some things to work on in the second half. One player had missed the first game, so this was his very first game ever. He interrupted my pep talk to tell me, "Coach. This is my first game, and I have NO idea what I'm doing!"

I certainly admired his honesty.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Make a joyful noise!

Singing is much too enjoyable to only be done by those who are good at it. - Molly Ivins

I sing in my church choir. I sing not because I'm good at it, but because I enjoy it. I have a kind voice: the kind that should be singing quieter. The Bible tells us many times to make a joyful noise or to sing His praises; nowhere does it say we have to be in tune.

I never sang in my school choir, and I've never had any formal training. I can read music because of my years in the school band (playing the tuba, because I was just so cool), but I can't look at a note and sing the pitch I should be singing. I don't have perfect pitch, or even reasonably-close pitch. I don't harmonize, and I have no training in music theory. In fact, I didn't know what part I would sing until my first rehearsal. My range is limited, my voice is shaky, and my pitch is questionable.

But I like to sing. Put me next to someone who is singing the correct pitch, and I do my best to match it. I try not to sing too loud except when the song really moves me, and then I make no guarantees. I keep rehearsals lively with my sarcastic and slightly disruptive comments. I perform to the best of my abilities with all the talent that I have.

I make a joyful noise.