Thursday, June 30, 2011

20 Pounds Lost!

Despite beginning my four week stay living in a dorm, I've now lost over twenty pounds. Because I'm working at this summer camp, I attended my first Weight Watchers' meeting without Stacey. The funny thing is we were both texting each other during our respective WW meetings -- she in Carrollton and me in Denton.

One of the things I've found myself doing is making the process a game. I strive to maximize my point usage, including snacks. I've not been afraid to use every point I'm allocated for the day, but I continue to work on making smart choices. This has meant adapting my snack habits.  I realized today, when I shared in the meeting about what has been working for me, that one of the problems with weight loss is that very few "experts," including doctors, give specific practical advice. I have found that the WW meetings do.

One specific practice that I believe has significantly helped in my weight loss is taking a look at my food choices and replacing some with healthier alternatives. For example, my morning ritual used to include two Pop Tarts with my morning espresso. I've loved Pop Tarts as far back as I can remember. The point totals for Pop Tarts (translate that into calories or added pounds) is the equivalent to a large breakfast.  To make matters even worse, I often ate two more Pop Tarts with my afternoon coffee. Now I have discovered VitaTops as a healthy replacement. Essentially these are muffin tops. Eating these reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine's old boss has opened a muffin shop. To make it a complete breakfast, I also have a bowl of oatmeal and add three slices of lean center cut bacon for protein. If I want to go low on points, I can eat the Vita Top and then make a one egg English muffin with Canadian bacon and some Laughing Cow cheese. Stacey currently makes those for me before she leaves for work and then I warm them up in the toaster oven.

More recently at lunch, I have stopped using mayonnaise with my turkey sandwiches and replaced it with spicy mustard. I could use a low calorie mayo, but even that costs a point or two. My view is that I would rather spend that point on something more substantive than a teaspoon of spread. It's this perspective that has made WW intuitively work for me. I liken it to being on a cash only budget. When you are out of cash, you can't spend any more. Like that cash budget, you can also set aside points and splurge when you want to. I can plan to have a Pop Tart or even pizza if I like.

One of the interesting observations I have discovered about weight loss is that you can see the change on the scale but you don't necessarily see the change in the mirror. Not because you haven't gotten smaller, but because you see yourself everyday. One other way of tracking success is measuring inches. I have not done that. Instead, I have "measured" the weight loss in the clothing I can now wear. Yesterday I wore a pair of shorts that have not fit me in nearly three years.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 27, 2011

Top Ten Things Thankful for While at Summer Camp

I am one of the many high school teachers who works during his so-called summer vacation to earn a little bit extra. I'm fortunate to be one of the debate coaches able to work at a debate summer camp. Every year about this time, I spend four weeks living in a dorm with over 200 hundred high school students. I am the Assistant Director of Residential life, or better known as the Dorm Dad.

While earning the extra money is great, the four months can be trying. I am accustomed to sleeping in a plush king size bed. Here I sleep on a twin bed without a box spring which takes some adjustment. Then there's the dorm food. (I've long bypassed this by bringing food for breakfast and lunch). The hours are crazy and it's nearly impossible to maintain any semblance of a healthy sleep schedule because we alternate office and on call hours.

Last night, I was thinking -- despite some of the relative hardships -- there are a few things for which I am thankful. Here is my Top 10 List of things I am thankful for during summer camp:

10. Taco Cabana - This fast food Mexican restaurant has one of the best nutritional guides for a fast food joint  and it has some healthy choices at affordable prices. I particularly like their build-your-own taco bowls. 
9. Better Oats - This is a nifty way to eat oatmeal daily. The packaging pouch also acts as a measuring cup for water. A pouch of water added to the contents in a paper bowl, nuked for 2 minutes and I have a hearty and healthy bowl of oatmeal.
8. Poncho Liner - I don't know what it is, but even as warm as the dorms get, I can't sleep without some sort of cover. The US Army poncho liner I received when I went through boot camp in 1984 still serves me well. This is the best piece of equipment I was ever issued in the Army. It is light weight and keeps you warm enough during fall, but it's light enough not to heat you up during the summer.
7. APOGEE WiFi - The wifi in the dorms has been nothing short of excellent. Even when the students return from lab and you know they are all doing research, the speed remains fast. This has enabled me to continue to blog, track foods on Weight Watchers, surf and watch online videos.
6. Handbrake - This freeware software allowed me to rip DVD's of movies and TV series like Seinfeld and Friends we own. While there is some debate about whether or not this fair use under the law, my personal opinion is that a person should be able to convert DVD's he purchased into a more mobile format. Being able to "handbrake" those movies onto my hard drive saved me from having to lug all those DVD's to camp and risk losing them in the process.
5. Netflix - While I am at camp, I really do cut the cord. The last thing I want to do is lug around something as big as a TV. Netflix, especially the iPad/iPhone app, has allowed me to watch movies and TV shows (I'm stuck on Scrubs right now) while I am eating a meal or when I am winding down at night (or early morning).
4. iPad - This will be my first year at the camp with our iPad. The biggest advantage I've gained from having it with me is that I can leave my laptop in my room when I have duty. I can use the iPad to check mail, review roster lists on Dropbox or read a book while I have office duty. I also use it to watch Netflix when I am going to bed.
3. King of Fans - Over the years I have worked at this summer camp, my biggest complaint has been the temperature in the rooms. Admittedly I like it cold so I am setting myself up for disappointment, especially when temps can hit 100 n the Texas summer. This year, I brought my super velocity King of Fans and I am very comfortable.
2. Close to Home - Now we can't take advantage of this all the time, but I do like the close proximity to home. It's about a 25 minute drive between the camp and our house. This means, Stacey can come and have dinner with me at least one night a week. It also means if I have forgotten to bring something she can bring it to me more easily. Recently, Denton opened its train system. I am tempted to try taking the train home once while I am here.
1. Gmail Video Chat - The one thing that helps keep me sane is the ability to video chat with Stacey every night before she goes to bed. It makes it seem like I am not really away from home. I also like the fact that I can see and "talk" to my puppies: Calvin and Hobbes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night...

The new Green Lantern movie opens today at theaters across the land. The story is about a test pilot, Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, who encounters a dying alien who gives him a magical ring. Accepting ring, enjoins him to an intergalactic group of super beings. The movie is based in part on the Emerald Dawn story arc.

The early reviews are not good. The consistent theme of the write ups is that the movie spends too much time filling in the back story of the character. Others say the special effects are solid.

I must admit I have a bias against DC, being a Marvel-Man myself. Nevertheless, it seems DC can't hit a winner with any of its comic based movies that do not have Dark Knight in the title.

Stacey and I are fans of Ryan Reynolds so we will probably catch it later in the summer. If you want to watch an under-rated movie starring Ryan Reynolds, catch Chaos Theory available to stream on Netflix.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Food for the Soul

Blessed Pope John XXIII
During an RCIA session I was teaching on the Eucharist, I commented that my mother told me when I was a boy, "you are what you eat." I was trying to make the point that partaking in frequent Communion is a good thing, that by receiving the body and blood of our Lord, we can't help but become more like Him. In the middle of that talk, I had this thought: if I am what I eat, does that make me a potato? You see, I've never met a potato dish I didn't like.

I had an epiphany during our parish lenten mission. The speaker, Father Thomas McDermott, O.P., closed out one of the sessions by challenging us to pray about the one thing that was getting in the way of our spiritual growth. I was immediately hit with the thought that my weight has inhibited my ability to do more in the service of God and my fellow man. This was my biggest obstacle to getting closer to Christ.

So this realization has added a spiritual spin to my weight loss journey. I have now included prayer in asking for help in my weight loss.  I know losing weight will not come without difficulty, but those challenges will be opportunities to offer it up

I have searched for a patron saint for the weight challenged; there is none. I have two thoughts on potential patrons for those of us who are overweight: St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Pope John XXIII. There is some debate about whether or not St Thomas was obese, but there is no question that Pope John XXIII was. I have chosen him to intercede for me in my fight to get fit. I even have a picture of him as my wallpaper on my phone.

I now have a higher purpose for losing weight -- not to look good, but to be healthier so I can serve our Lord better. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Day's of Summer: Title 1, Physicals and Outlines

My cluttered desk and laptop.
Today will mark the first day of summer break that didn't involve me having to work.  Monday was supposed to be my first day, but I had to attend a Title 1 training.  Yesterday, I had to finish an essay for the IPT Masters program to which I have applied.

So how do I get to spend my first day off? I am going to get poked and prodded for Part 2 of my annual physical exam. I don't know why I do this to myself every year.  I have about two weeks between the time school ends for the summer and when the debate institute I work at begins.  For those two weeks, I try to cram in all the doctor visits I have put off.  I sprinkle in a few honey-do's and the two weeks are done.

I hope to spend the last half of the day outlining part of the story for the book I am finishing this summer.  I might even spend some time developing some character back stories to help them come alive for me. Both of these will be new approaches for me as I normally just sit down and start writing. 

Stacey will tell you the worst part of my writing process is that I can labor over a sentence or even a word choice for hours.  In all my years of writing for school, work or pleasure, I have never started with an outline.  In fact, when I was required to turn in an outline in school, I would write the paper and then fabricate an outline to go with it.  I also don't do too much rewriting (in the traditional sense) because I spend a great deal of time editing as I go. This slows me down.

This summer I am going to scrap my old way of writing and try a few new things.  First, I am going to try using some minor outlining in my process.  Secondly, I am going to set a daily goal word count (2,500/day) and not worry about editing until later.

I figure the old ways have not led to a complete novel so change is in order.  Wasn't it Einstein who said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting new results is insanity?  

Monday, June 06, 2011

Summer Book Project

So the results are in from the poll I posted on this blog to help me decide which book project to finish this summer.  The winner is...(drum roll)...Lights Out!

While I have no intention of placing a page limit on the book, I do believe it must be at least 400 pages long. This means I will have to write an average of 2,500-3,000 words a day for the time I have available to write full-time this summer.

My hope is to make this book project interactive.  I will post excerpts from the book as I go along and I may even post difficulties with character development or plot sequences. We'll see.

Friday, June 03, 2011

How I Overcame a Challenging Week for Weight Loss

In the past week, I have had to attend a retirement dinner, a post graduation brunch, an anniversary dinner and a post-graduation dinner.  With the exception of the anniversary dinner I did not have much control over any of the menus. Despite all the available fattening fried foods, I was able to stay on track every single one of those days.  Here's how I did it:

The Retirement Dinner
The challenge started when I realized we were having the retirement party at Mattito's, a local Tex-Mex restaurant that has some pretty tasty food. I had originally thought we were going to have a fajita bar and that I could simply get some of the grilled chicken with guacamole and veggies. I learned the day before we were having various appetizers, things like chimichangas, quesadillas, flautas and lots of chile con queso. I voiced my concerns to Rozana, one of my colleagues who had organized the event. She has been an avid supporter of my recent weight loss. She told me not to worry because she would call the manager and get me a special plate. So the night of the retirement party I managed to resist the queso (it wasn't easy because it looked so good). Rozana reminded the manager and out they came with a plate of grilled veggies and a grilled chicken breast. I added some guacamole and one cerveza with the meal and I still managed to stay under my budgeted points for the day. The key was the willingness to voice my concern and having an advocate to work out the details. Thanks Ro!

The Post-Graduation Faculty Brunch
I am in charge of organizing the faculty brunch after our school's graduation ceremony. Three years ago, with Mr. Palagonia's arrival as our new principal, we began having these faculty brunches at the Original Pancake House on Lemmon. The biggest challenge with planning to eat here was a lack of nutritional guide on their web site. (Note: I think will write a future post on some of the better restaurant's that post their nutritional guides on their web sites) Nevertheless, I knew they carried both egg whites and egg beaters as substitutes for all their dishes. Since we had to wait a bit before we were seated, I looked over the menu and determined I could substitute egg beaters for the eggs and still eat the migas without the cheese. Instead of ordering the regular pancakes, I ordered a small stack of buckwheat pancakes with sugar-free syrup. 

The Anniversary Dinner
I wrote in a previous post about the wonderful experience Stacey and I had celebrating our anniversary at Texas de Brazil. While the post may have suggested that we threw out point counting for the meal, we did not. For starters we both saved our "weekly points" for the special occasion. Secondly, we both ate low point meals prior to the dinner. Finally, I calculated the points for the cuts of meat I knew I would want to eat. I placed myself on a mental limit and when I hit that limit I turned the tab over to red and called it a night. I also chose to not eat dessert but instead enjoyed a bit more meat for the same amount of points.

The Post-Graduation Dinner
This Tuesday our youngest son Alec graduated from Calvary Christian Academy. We decided to celebrate his graduation tonight. We all gathered at our oldest son, Kevin's house. He and his wife Kate were wonderful hosts. The biggest key to success was communicating with Kevin in advance and asking if he could make his famous tacos with turkey or low fat ground beef. He opted for the 93/7 ground beef which got us in the ball park. Kate, having achieved her goal weight thru Weight Watchers last year, helped us by buying other WW friendly items like 2% Mexican cheese. Combined with these healthier choices, we made sure to also portion out reasonable servings and not create Dagwood tacos.

I am no expert and I have a long way to go to reaching my goal weight. I can only share the few things that have helped make this work for me. (My mantra has been if I can do this anyone can) First, when eating out, don't be afraid to ask for healthier substitutes. Secondly, plan ahead by budgeting points, checking menus and when possible look at nutrition guides. Finally, get friends and family to join in helping you. You might be pleasantly surprised at how willing they are.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Musings on Another School Year in the Books

Each year I teach seems to end faster than the one before. Tomorrow will be the last day for the students, which is effectively the last day of school even though I have one teacher work day and staff development ahead of me. 2010-2011 was a crazy year. 

Two weeks after my wrist surgery.
I began the school year by missing the first two days of in service training because Stacey had to have emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. The following month we had three of our ten cluster teachers (including me) have to undergo some form of wrist surgery. Mine was due to "Mommy thumb" from picking up Hobbes. We've lived with the threat of budget cuts, pay cuts and layoffs all year. This dominoed into losing experienced teachers who took incentives to retire. After seeing budgets 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 we still don't know for sure what will happen next year. One thing we do know -- we will have a new superintendent.  Dr. Hinojosa has taken another job in Georgia.

Opal broke her wrist in a fall at school.
The debate season started in earnest the first week of school. The debaters showed up ready to work (well most of them) and we enjoyed early and consistent success throughout the year. 

This year marked a major transition for the team in more than one. First, everyone on the circuit including me expected this to be a rebuilding year.  We had lost several outstanding seniors to graduation, including two that had qualified to the TOC: The Tournament of Champions. 

Ivan Garcia & Rolando Velasquez with last minute preparation.
One other area in which we were transitioning was the use of tubs. Below students are preparing for an early tournament with their debate tubs. Within a few weeks we went paperless and the policy debater began debating by retrieving their evidence from laptops. This helped in saving the cost of printing and the room on vans.

Katia Ramirez with her plate from UNT.
While we were rebuilding we had a solid crop of freshmen novices join the team this year. We had eight novice LD Debaters and four novice CX debaters. We students from each group earn trophies early on. While I try not to emphasize winning with the beginners, I can't help but be proud of the "baby debaters" when they get their first trophies. It's probably one of the most enjoyable parts of being a debate coach.

Last year, I got thrown back into teaching our Sophomore Law class. I was against it at first. In the end, I had a blast working with them on their independent research and it helped me get know several of the non-debate students. One of the groups stood out for their creative projects and just plain being fun to work with. This year as juniors all of them were assigned shadowships at the County Courthouse so I rarely got to see them.  This did not keep them from surprising me on my birthday with a homemade cake.

The debate season can be long and tedious. The long weekends are becoming more difficult for me to recover from and the tournament food is one of the reasons I am doing Weight Watchers now. 

Nevertheless, the season was a good one. Our students were in elimination rounds in every local tournament we attended. I lost count of the number of trophies they won. We had more students earn TFA state qualification points than in any other year.  This group included three freshmen.

Finally, in a year when we were supposed to be rebuilding, the CX team of Garcia-Velasquez (pictured at top) made it to the elimination rounds at TFA State. We had never had a team or debater do that before. In fact, no one from our district had ever done it. 
The War Room: getting ready for TFA State.

Sadly, we had to conclude the year on a bit of a downer. Steve Goodall, who has been a teacher at our school since I was senior, retired. He waited to make the announcement until the last week of regular classes. Goodall and I have never agreed on anything political, but I have always enjoyed the bantering back and forth. Often in the first few years I taught, he and I would engage in a mini debate about a current event and draw in the freshmen. Goodall grew from being my former teacher, to a colleague and eventually a friend.  He will be missed.

I am looking forward to the two weeks I will have off before I head to the Mean Green Debate Workshops. I have a lot of reading planned along with some writing (like tightening of this blog).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blogathon 2011: My After Action Report

Today marks the end of the 31-day Blogathon 2011. I made it! If you had told me a month ago that I would manage to successfully write and post daily for a month, I would not have believe it possible.

I thought I would devote this last day of the Blogathon reflecting on some of the things I learned from my experience.

My Reflections
  • The blogosphere is full of good writers and all that I met are encouraging and willing to help newbies.
  • I have to be more focused in choosing the content on which I choose to write; potpourri is best suited for the bathroom not blogging.
  • I need to do a better job of checking for typos and other errors. I gave my wife access (to late in this pursuit) to the blog so she could edit. She's a pro at it.
  • I discovered working between 9PM and 11PM tend to be my most productive times for writing. That being said, the work can sometimes be a bit rough.  It makes me think I should plan to write one day out. In other words, write the night before and post later the next day after Stacey gets to review it.
  • My top posts, based on views, during the Blogathon were personal stories about relationships
  • The simple act of writing everyday is a step in the right direction. I intend to make daily writing part of my routine
  • I had fun and I look forward to participating next year with a revamped and more focused blog.
Thanks to Michelle Rafter for organizing this

Monday, May 30, 2011

Theme Post: Wordle

Wordle create using

In Memory of a Fallen Soldier and Friend

On November 6, 2006, Lt. Col. Eric Kruger was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Baghdad. Kruger had only been in Iraq for a few days as he and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division were relieving the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Also killed in the same explosion were Lt. Col. Paul J. Finken and Staff Sergeant Joseph A. Gage. Kruger and Finken are two of the highest ranking officers to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Eric Kruger was my friend. We met on the campus of Southern Methodist University sometime in 1985. I was one of two students in the newly created Army ROTC program on the campus of SMU. Actually we were a satellite of the University of Texas at Arlington program. At the time Kruger was a cadet in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of North Texas. When you are two of only a handful of guys wearing military uniforms on the campus you notice each other. One day Kruger and I struck a conversation about the new Army ROTC program. Eventually, Kruger transferred over to the Army program. 

One of the things I remember most about Kruger was his great sense of humor. While we were never in the same military education classes, we were both members of the UTA Insurgency Team, a group that would get together on weekends and practice infantry tactics. One weekend, the upper-classman in charge kept barking his order to attention by improperly saying "position of attention," and it also sounded like he was saying "tin can." Finally, Kruger had enough of this and the next time the cadet called out "position of a tin can," Kruger dropped into a squatting position and extended his arms out making a circle in front of his body. Asked what he was doing, he replied he was in the position of a tin can. All of us in ranks busted out laughing.

Kruger was also my fraternity brother. We were part of the same Pi Kappa Alpha pledge class. We were a small group and Kruger emerged as our leader. We all grew together during our time as pledges. We grew even closer as brothers. Whether it was putting on Shrimp Fest to benefit the Big Brothers or bowling for our only intramural championship, Kruger was there. My fondest memory is all of us going to Pancho's on Wednesday nights for dinner. Kruger called it Rauchos but he sure could pack away the food.  Later, Kruger would become the Pledge Master of a future class of pledges. His care for those pledges gave us all glimpse of how well he would take care of his troops.

Kruger and I lost touch with each other after we graduated from SMU. I somehow knew he would make Army his life. During his twenty years in the Army, he served in Korea, Bahrain, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Among the many accommodations he received, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. At his memorial, his unit commander Colonel Jeffrey Bannister, called Kruger a leader who was "naturally gifted with people, and could make soldiers and civilians alike feel welcome and at ease." That says it all.

Lt. Col. Kruger is survived by his wife Sara and four children. A memorial fund was established for the support of his children. Donations may be made to: The Memorial Fund for Children of LTC Eric Kruger, 4850 Langdale Way, Colorado Springs, CO 80906

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restaurant Review: Texas de Brazil

Tonight, Stacey and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by dining at one of our favorite restaurants - Texas de Brazil. The following is a review of the restaurant and a "how to" approach to dining at a Brazilian churrascaria.

The Ambiance
As you enter the restaurant you pass an outdoor statue-torch with a vibrant flame flowing out of it. You enter the waiting area to leather seats and are greeted by an attractive, presumably Brazilian, hostess. You are then seated by one of the managers in a dimly, but adequately, lit dining room. Immediately you see the gauchos walking about with skewers of meat. Below is a photo of one the gauchos holding the signature special - picanha.

The Dining Experience
Texas de Brazil is more than style it has substantial substance. They boast no less than fourteen different types of meat. All of which the gauchos bring to your table on a sword-like skewer. Additionally, they have a well stocked salad bar ranging from grilled mushrooms to sushi and other specialty items. They also have an extensive wine list ranging in price from very affordable to what I would call "once in a lifetime" wines. You are waited on by a team of wait staff including the gauchos. All the beef is generally cooked over flames to a medium rare. The chicken and pork are cooked through, but not dry.

How to Eat at a Churrascaria
A churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse, like Texas de Brazil is essentially an all you can eat dining experience. My first piece of advice is to eat a normal breakfast and lunch. Do not think that you will starve yourself all day and be able to consume more meat. It doesn't work.

The table will have a circular tab, red on one side and green on the other. This is your signal to the gauchos that yes (green) you want more meat or no (red) you are taking a break.
Pace yourself. This is a marathon and not a race. On your first visit you should try at least one of everything to get a feel for it. You definitely have to have at least three slices of the picanha. This cut of meat has a salty, garlicy flavor that just melts in your mouth. I liked it so much I passed on dessert to have one more serving.

Don't over indulge on the salad bar. Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan ( to which I have to ask why you chose to go in the first place) do NOT load up on the salad bar. This is all about the meat! Be the carnivore you were meant to be.
At some point you are going to be overwhelmed by the offers for more meat. Don't give in. Instead, simply turn the tab over to red and pace yourself. You will not insult the gaucho if you say no. If you find a meat you like more than the others tell the wait staff and they will alert the gauchos to take care of you. Tonight our waitress alerted the picanha gaucho that I was wanting more and he even came by when my tab was red.

Our Experience
We had a great time. We paired our meal with a Peter Lehman 2008 Shiraz. We also had the garlic mashed potatoes and fried bananas. Needless to say tonight was not a night to count points. I ended the night with a Fuente made Hemingway Short Story paired with a tumbler of Pyrat rum while enjoying the late Spring breeze while on my deck while Calvin and Hobbes played.

I have to conclude by pointing out that this dinner experience was made possible by the Christmas gift card given to us by my brother and sister-in-law, Thor and Cindy. To them a hearty thanks!

To you, happy dining!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Looking for a Friend and Found a Soul Mate

My all-time favorite picture of Stacey.
(She's going to kill me when she sees Ihave posted this.)
Today is my wedding anniversary. Actually it's one of two. We had previously been married by the JP on August 24, 1999. May 28th marks the day Stacey and I were married in the Roman Catholic Church and she was fully received into the Church, thus also marking the anniversary of her First Communion and Confirmation.

I thought I would commemorate this day by writing about how we met.

The Back Story and Schindler's List
I am notorious for telling long stories, but this one is not complete without a brief (I promise to keep it short) back story. Back in 1994 I was still working as stock broker and living in Las Colinas, a sizable development in Irving, Texas where many corporations house their headquarters. It's also home to the Byron Nelson Classic which is taking place this weekend. One evening I got the whim to go by myself to see Schindler's List.  As I was leaving the theater - wiping tears from my face and hoping none of my buddies were there to see me - I ran into two friends (Peter and Yvette) I had worked with while I was still in law school. They convinced me to stay and watch another movie (Reality Bites) with them and catch up afterwards.

The Set Up and the Mavericks
Peter and Yvette, who I had introduced to each other, had been married for a few years now and lived in a condo near me. We rekindled our friendship and I began calling Peter on a regular basis with the hope of eventually pitching him on a stock pick or two. I never got to pitch him on the stock because I was too busy flirting with his secretary, Stacey, on the phone. Mind you we had never met. but she convinced Peter to use the firm's Mavericks' tickets to invite me to a game to join them.

The Introduction and the Shoes
I met the three of them at Peter and Yvette's place. Upon meeting Stacey in person I complimented her on her shoes. I thought I was being nice. Little did I know that Stacey interpreted this as an indicator I was gay. In fact, she told her best friend at work the next day that she had a great time but wasn't sure I was playing for the right team. Stacey loves telling this part of the story to all her friends and always gets a laugh.

The Wrap Up
This is how we met. We've been together ever since. We've endured some tough times over the years, but our relationship has deepened since we married sacramentally. We've shared some tears, but mostly we have shared a ton of laughs. Stacey has always balanced me. She has helped me learn to laugh at myself a little more and not take life so seriously all the time. When I met her, I told her I wasn't looking for a relationship, I just wanted to be friends.  I got that friend and more.  I got a soul mate.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What is in a name?

Tonight I am preparing for our school's graduation in the morning. I am the Voice - I call out the names of all the graduates as they receive their diplomas. I take this job very seriously because I know how important it is for their family to hear their student's name called, loud, clear and properly.

I don't pretend to know all of the students. I am lucky if I know half of them. A couple days ago - at the rehearsal- I asked the students to write their names phonetically beneath the printed label if they had a strange spelling or pronunciation. 

As I review the note cards, I am reminded of all the unusual names I have come across. I am not talking about names in foreign languages. No, I am talking about taking the names of products or just plain making up names. In years past, I have called out names of students named after hotel chains, luxury cars,  and even alcoholic drinks. Even celebrities are getting in on the act.  One couple naming their daughter after a fruit or was it the maker of iPods.

What happened to naming children after relatives or biblical names? In biblical times, a name meant something.  We read about significant events marked by God giving someone a new name (Abraham and later Paul). A name stood for something. It had meaning.  What do the names of today say about our society, about us? The only answer I can come up with is that we are obsessed with individuality and consumerism. It's reflected in the names.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Comic Book Movies Dominate the Summer

This summer appears to be packed with movies adopted from comic books. The year has already seen the release of The Green Hornet, Thor and Priest.  I didn't get a chance to see TGH, but I do hope to rent the DVD.  I was pleasantly surprised by Thor. Although, I must admit I went into with no expectations because I have never cared much for the character in the comic books. I have no interest in seeing Priest in any format.

I count six more "comic" movies opening this summer. We preview one of them today.  We will preview the remaining five in the weeks to follow.

For most students, school ends the first week in June.  That weekend also begins the summer movie blitz.

X-Men: First Class (June 3rd)
X-Men: First Class opens the summer season on June 3rd. This film apparently tells the early story of Xavier and Magneto before their feud began. Additionally, the movie, produced by X-Men veteran director, Bryan Singer, will focus on the development of the X-Men team based on the 1963 Uncanny X-Men series and X-Men First Class (2006). If the trailer is any indication this one is going to be worth seeing on opening weekend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Second Chances

Today I got to see first hand that second chances can pay off. After a morning filled with our annual Awards Assembly, I was ready to get back to my room. This time of the year, my room becomes a senior hang out because they are done with classes and are waiting to go to their internships. 

I noticed one of the seniors I hadn't seen in a while. She was one of the rare students who comes to our school as a transfer sophomore. I had interviewed her for admission. She had attempted to attend our school as a freshman but wasn't accepted.  Instead of giving up, she worked diligently at her home high school and reapplied. I was impressed with her determination. Her grades and test scores were not stellar and I was concerned she might struggle under the pressure of the rigorous academics.  Nevertheless, I thought she deserved a second chance. She's done fine. Not brilliant, but she made the top quartile of her class. 

I asked her where she was planning on going to college. She said she wasn't sure (that's a red flag this late in the year), but thought she'd wind up at Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio. They had offered her a generous financial aid package but she still wasn't sure. I had to ask.  "What's holding you back? What are your other choices?" Her answer - "Columbia, but I am scared."  I thought to myself certainly she means Columbia College not the university in New York.

Careful not to offend her, I asked, "the one in New York?"  Without a trace of agitation she responded, "yes, Mr. G." As our conversation progressed, I learned she had done very well on the SAT. After all she had accomplished since arriving at our school she was still scared. She was afraid she wasn't up to the task.  We talked through the concerns. She's going to Columbia. This girl who had not even been admitted to our school on her first try, got a second chance and made the most of it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Desk and Four Other Unique Places Where I've Written

[Note: I am writing this post as the storms continue to strike our neighborhood.  Earlier the sirens wailed and apparently strong winds and hail were in the area. It's Spring Time in Texas.]

Today, participants in the Blogathon 2011 have been asked to blog on their five favorite places to write. As with previous themes, I am tweaking this a bit. I have chosen to write about unusual and not so unusual places I have written some of my most significant work.

The SAT Testing Site
I can't remember the exact high school, but I believe it was Skyline High School. While I was waiting for the administrative instructions for the SAT I got an idea for a short story. This is the first and only time an entire story just popped into my head. I rushed through the SAT so I could get home and write out my thoughts. That story, The Silent Master, was published in a small anthology of short stories written by high school students.  Edie Brickell was also included in the anthology.

The Foxhole
In January of 1991, I was serving on active duty at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to complete my officer basic course training. I was training as an engineer officer in the United States Army. Engineers spend a significant amount of time in the field. During one long training stretch, I was sitting in a foxhole, bored out of my gourd. Often we said in the Army, we hurry up so we can wait.  I was doing some serious waiting. In addition to picking up the bad habit of dipping snuff, I decided I could do some writing. I had a small Army note pad in my BDU's and I began writing letters to my girl back in Georgia. Somewhere along the way, I began incorporating a zombie story, Letters from the Dead.  Unfortunately, I lost all of those letters over the years, but the story has stayed with me. 

The Deck
When Stacey and I moved into the home we live in now, one of the things we liked about it was the deck and hot tub in the back yard. A few summers back I was completing my thesis paper for my Masters in Education. I set up a chair and used one of the benches as my desk. I began a morning ritual (it gets hot very early) of getting in some writing, while also smoking a Hemingway Short Story with my morning coffee. By the end of the summer, I had completed my work on Evaluating Magnet School Application Process for Racial and Gender Bias and smoked a box of my favorite cigars.

The Desk
Within the past year or so, I moved my writing to a desk in our bedroom. I wish I could say there was a profound reason for doing this. The truth is it was dictated by our new dogs, Calvin and Hobbes. We decided when we got them as puppies that they would not sleep with us in bed like our previous dog, Homer had done his entire life. Since the dogs go to bed at 9PM every night, I had to find a place to work that wasn't going to wake them.  So I cleared off the desk in the bedroom. This move has also permitted me to write when Stacey goes to bed. My participation in the Blogathon has taken place almost entirely at this desk. This experience has motivated me to jump start other writing projects. I suspect the majority of them will be at this desk.
Eucharistic Adoration Chapel for CRHP retreat.
The Chapel
I am a catechist at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. In addition to teaching a number of adult formation sessions, I have written several articles and posts on Catholic topics. Often when I am preparing to teach, I will spend some time in our Chapel, praying and studying. There is nothing unusual about either of those, however, one week I was in a jam and I needed to catch up on some of the writing for one of the sessions. I was worried people would think I was surfing the web or being disrespectful if I sat down with my laptop. It just so happened I was reading George Weigel's biography on Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope.  In it, Weigel describes Pope John Paul II writing on a typewriter while in his chapel. I figured that was my sign that it would be ok to sit in the chapel and work on my laptop too. I now use my iPad regularly to pray, read and write in preparation for my teaching and writing for my church. I don't have to worry about lugging a bag into the chapel and I don't think it's as distracting to others.

Where do you like to write?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Counting Points DOES Help Lose Weight

I have now successfully completed my third week of Weight Watchers (Plus Points) for Men. I have lost 13.4 pounds since I began, averaging a 4.5 pound loss per week. For me the most significant measure of my success so far was the ability to wear a Cubavera I had not been able to wear in nearly a year.

The biggest tool in my fat fight has been the Weight Watchers iPhone App. I don't like carrying around a bunch of workbooks or calorie counters. I am not going to sugar coat it; I eat out more than I should. Nevertheless, I have managed to lose weight each week. I have been able to do it because I've counted the points especially with the help of this handy dandy app.

In a nut a shell, I think the point counting system works because it forces you to make choices. A few days ago a fellow teacher had a box of dark chocolate squares on her desk. I thought out loud, "dark chocolate is supposed to be healthier for you." I picked up the box and calculated the points.  7 Points! 7 Points for a little square of chocolate.  I put it back, explaining if I was going to use 7 points, I was going to make sure they were "worth it." A man at tonight's meeting talked about substituting a steak (7 points) for a high point custom salad (32 points). Being able to make an informed choice, even if I decide to eat the chocolate, is empowering. I get to make the choice and instantly see the impact it has on my allotment of points.

You get the best out of the free app if you are a registered subscriber to the WW eTools. Here's a brief overview of the app.  

Home Screen
The home welcomes you by letting you know how many points you have left for the day and in your "weekly" points. The home screen also has a number of thumb nail images of recommended meals with their PointPlus values. You can swipe over these to browse and see if you want to use one for a meal.

The Menu tab appears at the bottom of the phone and pulls up the Menu Page which is the main menu of trackers and calculators. Like other iPhone apps you can swipe across the screen to get to the next page which contains all of the extra features.

The main page contains mobile versions of the PointsPlus Tracker, PointsPlus Calculator and Weight Tracker. Whatever you input on the mobile version will synch with your eTools on the Weight Watchers website. You can use the PointsPlus Tracker to immediately input foods as you eat them. You can even find a calculations for several popular restaurants. The PointsPlus Calculator helps you figure out how many points a particular food is.

Whether you choose to use the mobile app or not, counting the points works. I can not overstate the empowerment it gives you. As you log points, you are aware that you are beginning to make the right decisions to get yourself back to a healthy state.

Happy counting!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Inexpensive Alternatives to Summer Camp

Summer break is rapidly approaching!  While the financial pundits insist that the economy is getting better, you know that things are still tight. The kids are going to be home for Summer and you can't afford to send them camp or day care.  What do you do?

If you are a stay at home mom or dad, here are some affordable alternatives to Summer Camp:

Local Museums
Start by identifying free and discounted days held during the summer.  For example the Dallas Museum of Art has free first Tuesday admission.  Often, corporate sponsors will offer coupons for special exhibits. I am not just talking about the big museums. Hunt out small private museums too. One summer I took our youngest son to a local airport museum and at the Texas Rangers ballpark (unfortunately it has closed). Most museums have interactive exhibits for the children.

Local Libraries
Most local libraries have all sorts of activities going on for children throughout the year.  For starters, if your children don't have library cards, I would make that a week one activity.  In addition to getting the card, you can invest time showing your child how to use the library computers and how to find books. In addition to being a source for borrowing books and other media, the library conducts various activities.  These range from arts and crafts to story telling.  I recommend visiting the library calendar of upcoming events and then schedule the ones you and your child will enjoy.

Dollar Movies
One day out of the week we designated as dollar movie day.  Some theaters even designate a half price show. Often you will find a group from a day care attending these.  Personally, I would avoid them and fork out the additional money. This is also a great way to catch up on a movie you missed when it was first released.  If you want to get creative or educational, you can do a tie to a library book. This may seem like it's obvious, but check the listings before you go.  Most will carry a few kid friendly shows.  Our local dollar theatre currently has four shows that are kid friendly.

When it Rains
One summer, I had all sorts of outdoor activities planned for Alec. Unfortunately, we experienced the rainiest June ever. We had to get creative. The two favorite activities we did were arts and crafts and indoor miniature golf.  For the arts and crafts we went to Hobby Lobby and picked up large bags of inexpensive plastic beads.  Those coupled with a few other supplies (yarn, etc) and a library book of crafts led to hours of fun.  The indoor putt putt course was the all time favorite. Alec is graduating high school this year and he still talks about it. We set up a nine hole course throughout the house.  We used plastic cups as the holes.  We marked the start of the each hole with masking tape (it wouldn't hurt the carpet). We used Pringles cans for some of the obstacles.  We used whatever we could find around the house to "trick up" the course.  I created score cards and we pre-determined the par for each hole.  I wasn't an avid golfer so I had to buy two putters and balls at Goodwill.

This of course is not an exhaustive list. It's a start. I hope you get the idea. Be creative.  One idea I didn't address is exploring your own city.  I am surprised at the number of people in Dallas who have never been to the 6th Floor museum.  There really is no limit to what you can do.  The important thing is to get the kids involved.  One year, Alec and I made "camp t-shirts."  Have fun with it and don't forget to drink lots of water!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rewards of Teaching Part 2

Velasquez brothers. (Photo provided by Velasquez Family)
Earlier in the week, I wrote a post about the Rewards of Teaching. I indicated it was rare that we get to see the fruits of our labor.  Here is one of those examples.

As I drove thru the morning fog wondering why I had registered the debate team for an exhibition tournament this weekend, my iPhone vibrated with the signal I had received an email.  When I came to the light (yes, I was trying to be a responsible driver) I stopped and read the email. A friend from St. Catherine's had emailed me to tell me she had read an article about me in the Dallas Morning News. I haven't bought a physical newspaper in years. Today, along with the fruit I purchased to snack healthily, I bought a copy of the paper.

Below is the brief note written by one of my students, Rolando Velasquez.  He has previously published an article entitled Making the Case for Debate.  It's been a good week for Rolando.  Monday, he learned he had been named National Hispanic Recognition Program winner.

I couldn't post a full link to the article because DMN has a new payment model they have implemented that has made most of their content only viewable to subscribers.
Don Gonzalez is the debate coach at our school. He is a star teacher who has inspired many kids to continue their debate careers after high school. I have had the privilege of being in his class for two years, and he has taught us great things — including leadership skills, economic skills and the ability to speak in front of people. While we learn debate in our class, we also learn life skills that will benefit us for years to come. Preparing for the real world is the benefit of his class, and every day I am there, I know I will learn a valuable skill.

- Rolando Velasquez, Junior, Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet --
Dallas Morning News, May 21, 2011, Seven Things that Work in Our Pubic Schools, 21A.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Taste Addison

The city of Addison is hosting its annual Taste Addison this weekend. The three days consist of family fun, music and lots of great food.  Over sixty of the local restaurants will have booths around the Addison Circle selling affordable samples of their foods. Additionally, the festival has midway rides and games for kids of all ages. The main stage, sponsored by Dos Equis XX Cerveza, features several musical acts throughout the day. The featured national act is Third Eye Blind, performing Saturday night.

Admission is $5 before 5pm and $15 after.  Parking is plentiful if you are willing to walk a bit.  Several of the local hotels have packages that include free tickets and parking for the event. Stacey and I have purchased a hotel package in the past and we think it's the way to go if you truly want to make a night of it. It gives you the freedom to enjoy the food and drink without worrying about being too tired to drive home.  This also permits you to have a place during the day to recharge and shower before the evening events.

Based on the weather report, Saturday looks like the day to go.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CDC Advice for Zombie Apocalypse

It was only a matter of time. I've been vindicated. The CDC has announced it's emergency response and preparedness for the Zombie Apocalypse. Ok, so it was a tongue and cheek effort to bring attention to emergency preparation in case of a natural disaster or health outbreak. The CDC does provide some helpful advice about what one should keep in their emergency kit. No one ever thinks it can happen to them until it does.  I applaud the CDC for taking this creative approach to informing the public especially as those of us in Tornado Country prepare for tornado season.

Of course, they did hedge their bets by not completely denying the possibility of the zombie apocalypse. They have reason to hedge.  Recently, a group of scientists found fungi that transformed ants into zombie ants.

They're coming Clarice!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poll: Finish Writing the Book!?!

I relaunched this blog a few months ago with the idea I would focus on my writing craft.  The aim was to drum up some freelancing gigs and perhaps get to work on finishing one of my book projects.

I've got three unfinished books I have been writing on and off for a few years (I am too embarrassed to admit how long) now.  I am counting on the increased traffic prompted by the Blogathon to solicit some input on which of the three I should set out to finish by the summer.  Below, I will set out the working titles and a brief summary of the book.  I am asking for you to vote on the one you think I should work on finishing now.

Adventures in Orguland
This started as a bed time story I told my little brother Matthew. The story follows the adventures of twelve children who have been drawn into the secret world of Orguland where they must help its residents fight off the evil witch Rodama. The witch has recently turned most of the children into crickets and set her Tyrannosaurus Turkey to eat them. Each of the children is led by a guide called the Gribber who must help them learn to use their special ability. 

Letters from the Dead
This story began as a joke when I was writing letters back and forth with my girl friend when I was serving in the Army.  The story is told through a series of (electronic) letters sent by a man serving in a special Army Unit - Z Force - and his pregnant wife who he has left behind in New Dallas under the protected environment.  The main character, Captain Mike Hernandez leads a special unit sent to eradicate zombies in the outskirts of the city and to find a lost Z-Force unit led by Captain Moons.  Hernandez and his team discover that there are humans still living in the Outer Zone and that there may be something worse than the zombies to deal with.

Lights Out! 
I got this idea from my brother Tony.  When he was little boy he somehow got the idea in his head that when a street light went out someone died. The story is primarily about Tony Salinas, a recent Harvard law school graduate who has landed a job in one of Dallas' top law firms. The partners have assigned him to research a key procedural issue in a case in which the firm represents a lead smelting plant accused of causing all sorts of health issues in Tony's old neighborhood. Based on Tony's research, the firm is able to have the class action lawsuit dismissed. As Tony and the team of attorney's are leaving the courthouse, an old curandera grabs his arm and curses at him and yells, paga la luz! (lights out!) Tony's meteorite rise in the law firm is about to be short circuited as he begins to discover that he is prematurely aging.

Which book should I finish?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rewards of Teaching

One of the running jokes between me and one of my fellow teachers is that I am on ump-teenth year of my five year plan. When I first started teaching, I claimed I was only going to teach for five years. I certainly did not think I would be teaching long enough to see my students not only graduate from college, but graduate and law school.

This time of the year is generally my favorite of the school year. Not because I can count the days on my two hands before the summer break, but because of all the college kids come home. Often (some more than others) they will poke their heads into my room to see how Mr. G. is doing and to catch me up on their lives. 

For me, this is the payoff.  It makes the long nights at debate tournaments, weekends away from home, dealing with high school dramas, etc. worth it. They say in professional baseball that the biggest jump is from AAA to the majors. I think one of the biggest jumps in personal maturity takes place between a student's senior year in high school and the end of their first year of college. You actually start to see the students developing into young adults.

Today, I spent a good part of my day visiting with one of my all-time favorite students, Aushianna Nadri. She graduated from Austin College this past Sunday and will be going to law school next fall. I am not surprised to hear she made her law school choice based on wanting to help those less fortunate. Aush always seemed to have a way about caring for others. I remember a few years back when she made "debate goodie bags" for all the LD debaters as they were getting ready for the new season. She was a good kid and now has grown to be a great adult. Our society needs more like her.

We don't always get to see the rewards of teaching. Every once and a while we get a glimpse. Whether it's working side by side with a former student who is now your colleague (and keeps me going) or the one who just got elected to a local school board. With all the uncertainty surrounding school funding in Texas and the US, it was good to see some of the fruits of our work. It was affirming to see our work is meaningful.

Monday, May 16, 2011

10 Pounds Lost!

Weigh in number two and the results are in - I have already lost 10 pounds!  This just  in my first two complete weeks of following the Weight Watchers Points Plus system for men. I haven't done anything dramatic. I still haven't started a regular work out program.

These are few of the things I can pinpoint that have worked:

1. Keep Track of What I Eat
I am religiously counting what I eat. If I am not entirely sure of the points, I either don't eat it or I average up on the possible points.

2. Eat Half Portions
Stacey and I started WW together right in the middle of finals. Neither of us has had the time to cook at home so we have eaten out quite a bit.  The difference has been, I do not feel compelled to eat the entire serving. Instead, I will half it and eat the leftovers for lunch.

3. Make Smarter Choices
Just the other night, I had Dickey's Barbecue. Instead of eating the sausage, I opted for the turkey and chicken. Keeping to the "half-strat" I set aside half of the meat to make a fideo dish with it later.

4. Be Bold at Restaurants 
Early last week, I met a friend for dinner at a local asian fusion spot. I ordered one of the dinner specials when I noticed it came with an egg roll, which I knew was a no-no. I asked the waitress to substitute it with egg drop soup instead.  No problem. I'm also not a big fan of salads. Tonight my choices at dinner were a high point Caesar salad or cole slaw. It wasn't on the menu, but I asked for a fruit bowl. When the waitress said they had none, I asked nicely if she could ask the bartender for some strawberries and pineapple that they use with drinks. They threw in a few orange slices and I had a fruit bowl.

Today was supposed to be the blog exchange on the Blogathon.  My intended partner and I were not able to coordinate for today. Instead, I encourage you to check out Hey, Eddie! for another man's successful take on his Weight Watcher experience.

He's the dude that makes the rainbows and lollipops statement:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Half Birthday Tradition

I began celebrating half birthdays when my youngest brother, Matthew, was around 8 or 9 years old. He was bummed out that his February birthday was too close to Christmas. So I made a deal with him to celebrate his half birthday in August. I don't recall it being too extravagant; I think I gave him a card and a small toy.

Since I got married and had my own family, I continued the tradition in our household. Again, we tried to keep it simple by giving each other a 1/2 Birthday card (normally hand made or on the computer) and a simple gift in the neighborhood of $25-$50, often a gift card. We love gift cards because you can hold onto them until a sale rolls around at your favorite store and then they become the gifts that keep giving.

We like celebrations.  We've celebrated the anniversary of our baptism days and even the feast days of our patron saints.

Today happens to be my 1/2 Birthday.  I came home from Mass and had a small gift bag waiting for me.  In it, courtesy of our "homerdogs," Calvin and Hobbes, was my favorite cologne (Happy for Men).  

Think about adding 1/2 Birthday celebrations to your family.  It can be a lot of fun, especially when your loved is surprised.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad