Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another New Toy

Yesterday it was adding the playlist function, today it's a new toy for my photographs. In case you don't know, I LOVE photography. At home I've printed, mounted, and framed some of my work. But I've never had anything to use to better present images on my computer or on the web...until now.

Today in the mail I received Essentials for Adobe Photoshop Elements. I was mostly interested in the Frame It! feature although the software does have three other tools. The Frame It! tool is a condensed version of Photo Frame 3.1. A bit too condensed if you ask me but I couldn't justify spending the extra $100 or so to get it. The software has a variety of frames and borders. Disapointingly, it only offers one matte. Anyhow, enough of my reveiw. Here are a few things I threw together to try it out. I began by framing my title picture on my blog's header. (If you're using a blog reader, click over to check it out.) Lily was a mostly cooperative subject today for the pictures below. Hope you enjoy them.
A quick glance while playing with her toys in the living room
Absolutely exhausted, Lily couldn't keep her eyes open during lunch
Enjoying her Kissy Bear

Friday, September 28, 2007

New Blog Addition

It's hard to miss unless your speakers are off or if you read this through a blog reader. I added the playlist feature I saw on other blogs. I picked some songs that have stood out to me lately or over the years. I'm sure I'll change up the songs but here's why I chose the songs I selected:
  • Bethany Dillon - The Kingdom I just love her voice. As I tend to listen to the sound of the music/voice before letting lyrics sink in, I have yet to absorb the message. I can't believe she's 18! We're going to see her open for Steven Curtis Chapman next month. Can't wait!
  • MercyMe - Bring the Rain This song impacted me deeply back in May when I was confronted with some health issues. Powerful song.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman - When Love Takes You In I still cry when I listen to this. He wrote this after they adopted their first of three children from China. This song and his story is how God impacted Julianne and me and why we have Lily today.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman - All Things New I love the sound and the message. God does make all things new!
  • Casting Crowns - Voice of Truth I've just recently been getting into them. I didn't know which song to choose of theirs. This is one of many I could have picked.
  • Chris Tomlin - Holy is the Lord This is someone else I've only recently been listening to more. Julianne sang this song in church a few weeks back. Realizing we didn't have the CD, I ran out and got it. He has incredible praise and worship music.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman(yes, again) - I Will Be Here This is our song. It was sung to us by my father-in-law on our wedding day. Julianne had a book made for me using my photographs from Descanso Gardens with the lyrics of this song printed throughout. Probably the most special gift I've ever received.
Very few of you actually post comments but I have to ask what you think. Do you like the auto start feature? Did is scare the heck out of you and wake your dog? Would you rather push the start button yourself? And of course if you stay and listen for a while, let me know what you think of the songs. Those of you that have known me from way back are probably scanning up and down the list questioning, "Where's the Led Zeppelin?!" :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is God Trying to Tell Me Something?

Leadership. A role to which I never thought I'd aspire. Not because I'm not able. Rather, I had no desire. I'm a team player. I love collaboration. I prefer being one of the many instead of the one. The more I put off the position of leader, the more I get placed into it. This has to be a God thing. More and more throughout recent years, I've been placed in positions of leadership in both my professional, and my spiritual endeavors. I'm not power hungry. I don't crave the spotlight. The more I study leadership though, the more I see that the qualities which I possess are some of the same qualities of an effective leader. Darn it!

The end of last and most of this week, the principal of my school has been out of town on a personal matter. Her absence placed our assistant principal into the principal role. This meant our AP could not attend to discipline issues. This is where I went kicking and screaming into the role gladly stepped in. I think I'll save for a separate post the issues in which I was confronted. But for now I'll say that the frequency and nature of the discipline issues here (public school or perhaps kids today in general) is alarming. Not realizing I was being observed, I was later complimented on the manner in which I handled the perpetrators children. These past few days have been quite the learning experience. And as reflective as I've been, I'm seeing areas in which I can improve.

It's also no wonder that we are currently studying leadership in my men's group. We are going through The Book on Leadership by John MacArthur. We are only just beginning, but I'm anxious to see how this study continues to transform me. It's exciting and encouraging to see how God used the resistant leader within scripture. Job and Moses come quickly to mind. Not only did God use them to accomplish His plan, but He did a work on their heart at the same time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Confessions of a Coffee Snob

I admit it, I’m a snob. I've tried not to be. Yet I stand before you a self confirmed coffee snob. How bad am I you might wonder? Every morning at work, there is a fresh pot of coffee made just down the hall from me in my principal’s office. In a new school, the proper thing to do would be to graciously accept this offer, which I've tried. I really did. But Folgers? And then they even had a Kona blend. A blend? I’m sorry. I tried, but I just couldn't. Pretty bad, huh? It gets worse. I can't drink from a styrofoam cup. Why ruin a perfectly good cup of coffee by putting it in sytrofoam? Yuck. I'm even particular about which mug I use. No one or two finger mugs, please. And it's not enough that it's a three or four finger mug; it must also have the right balance. (Keep in mind that the balance changes when it's full.) Here are two of my favorites. The blue one is just perfect. The Bush/Cheney one is fun because I'm the lone conservative in a world of liberal educators! And to top it off, I LOVE our coffee maker (thanks Mom): a Cuisinart Grind & Brew with a thermal carafe. I have it set so that as I walk in from the gym each morning, a fresh pot is waiting. A perfect way to start the day. I just realized that by admitting this none of you that know me will ever offer me coffee again. :(

It’s my father-in-law’s fault (pictured at right). He created this in me. I always enjoyed coffee but he taught me to love it. I can't blame him for the snob part though. Following his death, I inherited his coffee roaster and started buying green coffee online.

I remember when he introduced me to the fine art of roasting coffee beans. He proudly escorted his brother-in-law, Claude, and me outside to give us our first roasting lesson in his mother’s garage. He was still roasting beans with a hot air popcorn popper at the time. More exciting than the lesson itself was his joy in what he was doing; in his sharing this with us. It’s a vivid memory I hold of a wonderful man, and a wonderful time. It obviously had an impact on Claude too as he is a fellow roaster today!

I also have to confess, the snob that I am, I’m not a purist. Try as I have, I cannot drink my coffee black. I must have my Coffee-mate and Splenda. I am so addicted to drinking my coffee that way, I rarely order coffee at restaurants unless I bring my stash bag with me. My mother even keeps a small container of Coffee-mate and packets of Splenda because of my compulsion. I still can’t believe I had gone three months without coffee when first confronted with my health scare because I was avoiding the Coffee-mate. That was definitely the hardest part of my restricted meal plan. Since my condition has greatly improved, I've allowed coffee back in. And it has been wonderful. :)

Just in case I've stimulated any interest in roasting here, are my two favorite sites. You'll find everything you need to get started. The Coffee Project has a great online video section with roasting demos, coffee history, and production. Coffee Bean Corral has a great coffee matrix to use to compare different types of coffee.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Awfully Wonderful

So I started riding again. I brought my ancient bike in the shop to have it tuned up. I replaced accessories which have been misplaced over the years. How could I lose one glove? Where could I have put that pump? What can I expect having not ridden in almost six years. My gosh, has it really been that long?

I brought the bike home and gave it a bath. It's still in incredible shape. Perhaps the low mileage has something to do with it. My 1989 Trek 7000, a mountain bike set up for road riding, was clean and ready to go. So off I went. I've completed two rides so far, a 30 minute and 45 minute ride, both rather light. Everything felt awkward. Nothing felt smooth. My cadence was off, my legs were weak, my breathing was off, my shifting required retraining, and a plethora of other things. Any onlooker would call it an awful ride. But, It. Was. Wonderful! I thoroughly and completely loved being back on my bike. My second ride was a simple eight miles. I only have to build up to another 92 to prepare for my century in March! "Piece a cake, piece a cake." (As stated by Billy Crystal in Forget Paris)

My official training, based on Marla Streb's Century Training Program, will begin in early November. So I have until then to plug fun miles and get comfortable on the bike again. Eventually I'll need to do some group rides to get used to riding in a pack. Those around me in March will be glad I do this prior to the event. I found out the hard way what its like to knock over a fellow rider. (He actually left this incident out of his post. Maybe he forgot? Maybe because it happened while training instead of "the ride"? Maybe grace?)

Finally, please encourage me to NOT listen to those that are telling me that I need a road bike as opposed to my road-ready mountain bike for the century. I went looking yesterday. When did bikes get so expensive? I think the bike I did the San Francisco to Los Angeles ride on cost around $200. Sure it was almost 20 years ago, but still. The bike I was looking at yesterday (which is considered a mid-range bike) was $1499. WHAT??? Julianne suggested that I get a sponsor. She said maybe Subway will sponsor me if I say I've been eating their sandwiches as part of my weight loss program. Not a bad idea. Cause there's no way I can justify spending that kind of money. Not when I have a bike. Maybe I'll start saving. Now there's an idea.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One Life

The question is often asked, "What difference does one life make?" It is typically an introspective question asked about oneself. We all have our George Bailey moments. But I'm not doing that here. Right now I'm thinking about Lily. We still often hear what a wonderful thing we've done for Lily: giving her a home, a family, safety, love, etc. All true. And then there's what she's done for us: Given us the chance to be parents, to greater experience the grace of God, to add to our family, to bring more joy than we ever imagined, etc. Those are all to be expected. But to see how this whole experience, how this one little life has affected those around us is all too incredible to witness.

Having the opportunity to travel to China with our mother's was both a blessing and a joy. And especially now that Lily is adjusting, it's such a joy to see her interact with them and to see how excited they get to be with her.

My sister is just on top of the world every time she sees Lily. She lights up at the sight of her. Another true blessing. And my aunt, oh my gosh, I don't think I've ever seen her so happy as when she gets to be with Lily.

And so many more. We've had the chance to spend time with other family members and many, many friends since we've been back from China, several of whom began weeping at the first sight of Lily. (I won't name names to spare embarrassment.)

So what difference can one life make? I look forward to a lifetime of continuing to see that question answered.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Two Months of Lily Grace

If you follow Julianne's blog also, I know this topic is redundant. And you might see some of the same pictures. But how can I sit and let this pass without saying something? Two months since someone I can't even recall placed Lily into the arms of my wife. TWO MONTHS??? The nearly three year wait for her is completely out of mind now. It seems as if Lily has been part of our lives forever. We can't imagine life without her now. She has so transformed our lives, it is almost indescribable. But isn't that what I'm attempting to do here? All of you long time parents know what I'm talking about and are smiling at what I'm now saying; perhaps recalling a glimpse of when you first experienced what I'm trying to talk about. As she grows, and learns something new each day, she continues to mold me. How God is using this child to transform me (and I admit I have a LONG way to go) is beyond comprehension.
In case any of you missed the video on Julianne's blog of the moment we got Lily (7-9-07), here is another chance to see it.

Enjoy the many faces of Lily.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Change of Plan

As an educator, part of my job is to inspire. To motivate. To challenge. For many students, I have been successful. At least I hope so. I recently received word that one of my former students has been accepted to attend a leadership conference in Washington D.C. this coming spring. Moments such as these make a teacher proud. Getting students to push themselves and apply themselves can be a great challenge. Especially students that lack confidence. I try to put my students at ease to at least try. "The worst that can happen is that you're wrong," I'd tell them. The classroom environment I attempt to establish is one in which everyone feels safe to make mistakes without fear of how others will respond.

I'm such a hypocrite. "The worst that can happen is that you're wrong" has always been a fear for me. Fear of failure has caused me to not pursue dreams/goals in the past. It's also why I had rarely put to writing my goals and plans. Having them stare back at me not achieved would plague me. I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that made me reflect on this quite a bit. Not attempting something I didn't believe I could accomplish in the past has been much easier than making the attempt and failing. That's the attitude that kept me out of shape for so many years at a time.

I know...look at all the successful people that failed many times before achieving tremendous success. That argument never worked for me. But I use it all the time to motivate others. Go figure. Now that I'm finding success in personal goals, I'm better able to continue to reflect and examine myself. And I think I'm not fearing failure quite as much.

For example, I recently decided to train for a marathon. It was a quick, but not a haphazard decision. I researched, consulted my physician, read articles, purchased a book and gear, etc. Having only gone running twice now, I am able to see that completing a full marathon by March 08' is most unlikely. The pressure on my hips, legs, and feet is just too much for my current physical condition. So I'm shifting my goals. Previously I stated that two things I've always wanted to do was run a marathon and ride a century. I'm putting the century first. And it just so happens, I found one that takes place in March 08' as well. Cycling, while physically demanding, exerts far less stress on the body than running.

In the past, giving up a goal, especially after putting it in writing, would have seemed like a failure to me. But now I'm more than comfortable with my decision. Cycling has always been my first love as far as personal exercise is concerned. I'm very excited about getting back on the bike after so many years.

A big "thank you" to my wife for her support in this. Having lost her father five years ago while he was bicycling does not make this easy for her. Thank you, Sweetie!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Who's Out There?

I'm kinda curious here. When I enter new posts I see my hit counter increasing. Since it's over 500 now, it can't be all from my return visits here! Outside of the two or three regulars that post comments, I don't know who's out there. So I'm wondering who's reading. I don't know if you are blog hoppers that happen across my page from time to time or if I have more than a handful of regular readers. How many, I'm wondering, of you know me in person, outside of the blogging community? I'm mostly writing to unload what's in my head as well as to document/journal so I'm not necessarily coveting comments. (Ok, maybe a little.) But I must say that I have enjoyed reading the comments I've received as well as reading the blogs of those who visit. So I promise to not make this a regular request, but if you wouldn't mind leaving a comment on this post telling me who's out there, I'd appreciate it. First name only is fine. And if you have a blog, let me (and my two or three other readers) know. Thanks :)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Preliminary Training: Day 2; The Hallucination

Today's run was going to be put on hold until tomorrow, possibly Monday. During the week I had been called to fill in on a doubles game. Shortly after accepting the offer, the game unfortunately got canceled. I have not played tennis in months so I was disappointed. I did receive a counter-offer to go surfing instead. I have ALWAYS wanted to learn to surf but I don't feel ready to try that. Not yet at least. I told him to keep asking because I WILL say yes one of these days. Anyhow, that lead to today's run.

I couldn't have worked out that hard. I increased my pace to running three minutes, walking two intermittently for half an hour. I'm writing this within minutes of returning home, before the pain sets in, so I can say it was still hard-yet not unbearable. But I couldn't have worked out that hard. Hard enough to hallucinate?

Since the gate to the local high school track has been locked on Saturday mornings I have been running east to west and back upon a gravel lined trail along the wash. With the wash to the north of the trail, there are views into residential backyards to the south. Many birds reside in and around the wash. If having two bird feeders qualifies me as a bird lover, then so I am. I know nothing about them other than they have feathers, wings, and can fly (most at least). Other than that, I can tell you, "There's a pretty bird." So on my return, running west with the sun in my eyes (hoping that's a good enough excuse) I saw it up ahead sitting on the trail. There sitting peacefully was a beautiful red/orange breasted, black beaked bird. A robin? Finch? I have no idea but you get an idea of the size. Huffing, puffing, and stomping closer, I was perplexed yet pleased that this beautiful bird had not panicked and flown away. As I approached and passed what I had ascribed as the handiwork of God, I had to laugh (inside my head because I was too busy huffing and puffing). What I saw was not a bird. Was not a squirrel. Was not even a living creature. Nor was it once living. So what was it? Take a look below.