Monday, February 28, 2011

From the Arcade to MMORPGs

When we were young, my brother and I would go up to the Princeton store where they had a few arcade games in the back. Back then, I loved playing Pacman and Galaga. We sank tons of quarters in those games. One day they brought in Tron. Tron Arcade Game Oh it was on! That was the coolest game! By the way you youngsters, these games were always a quarter. We never payed more than that per game.

When I got a little older, Gauntlet Arcade Game my good friends, Frank and Dale, and I went to the arcade in the Town East mall in Mesquite, TX. Back then the mall was a great place to play. They had all kinds of games. Some of our favorites were Xenophobe, Golden Axe, Double Dragon, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Toobin, Donkey Kong, Gauntlet (the game that could never be beat because there was no ending), racing games, tank games... I could be here all day listing them all. Man, we had tons of fun.

Dale had a computer and we would go to his house after school on days we had band performances and such in the evening. It was much more gas for me to drive all the way home and come back on those days. Dale's parents were great. They would feed us (usually Tombstone pizza and cokes) and take us all over. His Mom was a good cook too. I enjoyed many meals though I probably offended her by putting ketchup on everything :) They would put up with me staying up late at night when I spent the night. They never once got on to me or Dale though sometimes we deserved it. Sometimes we would swim in his pool or play outside but more than not we played on his computer. And when I say we, I mean me :) He was able to play when I wasn't there :) We played lots of TRS-80 (trash 80) computer games. Bards Tale TRS-80 Game Ultima, Bard's Tale (my favorite), Final Fantasy, Star Flight, Star Fleet, Bruce Lee, and many others. He had a video game console but I don't remember which one. We rarely played with it though. We also played Dungeons and Dragons at his house with many friends. We always had a great time. I don't know why I never asked my Mom for a computer but I never did. I guess I figured it was too expensive. It wasn't. That is how I was though. I rarely asked for anything big like that. My Mom always knew what to get me though. One of my favorite toys was an electronic chess game. I used to play that all the time. I had it for many years and none of the 32 pieces went missing.

After I got into computer science, I got my own computer to program on. I bought games for it and created my own games. My friend Frank got Dale and I into Starcraft and Diablo. These games were the smoothest games ever made in my opinion. We had a lot of fun playing those together. It is a lot of fun to play Dungeons and Dragons with friends and it can never be replaced by computer games but its a great fix for when you can't play with friends. Ultima Online When Ultima Online came out, Dale, Frank, and I were all over it. You build up your character and learn to mine ore, gather herbs and wood, make armor with the ore, arrows with the wood, etc. Of all the games I have played, this one has always been my favorite. It paved the way for all the others. I say it paved the way for the others. What I mean is graphically it paved the way. There were many MMORPGs via Telnet that gave Ultima Online the idea for their game. Telnet games were great when the speed of your connection was 14400 baud. Remember the modems? hehe probably some people out there now that don't even know what a modem is.

Now I have two computers and three laptops. I'm a computer-holic. Of course the laptops are for my children and wife. I have a PC and my wife has a PC. When my wife and I first got together, World of Warcraft Game I bought World of Warcraft. There was another game out called Elfquest that I never played. I will not compare the two. I played WOW because Frank was playing it and i wanted to adventure with him. My wife, Amy, had seen people play games like this before but never really got into them. I began playing and she watched. She couldn't stand it. She took the game from me, made her a character and I would move her around while she fought and interacted with everything. We bought another copy of the game so we could both play. We had such a good time doing that. If you ever get into these kinds of games, try to find a friend you can play with and only play your characters when you are both able to. Play a different character when you are unable to play together. Its a lot of fun leveling your characters together. We don't play anymore these days though we might go back some day. I play Lord of the Rings Online sometimes but I am seldom on there anymore either.

Good times... good times.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Band Years

My Grandfather, who I call Pipa, is a great musician. He never became famous or anything but he could play about any song he heard. He owns an accordion and a piano. That accordion was very heavy to me as a young child so I never was able to put it on and have him teach me to play it. I always wanted to though.

Pipa pushed Mom into playing the saxophone but she could never get it to make a sound. In Princeton, when I was in the sixth grade, Mom discovered they were teaching music. She asked me if I would like to learn to play a musical instrument. I wasn't sure so she said, sign up and tell them you want to play the Alto Saxophone. The first few days were interesting but I saw no instrument. After that we were given the mouth parts of our instruments to blow into. I learned how to use a ligature to hold the reed to the mouth piece and how to hold my mouth to make a sound come out of it. After that, we learned how to put it all together. We played our first song a few days later, "Mary Had a Little Lamb". I had no problem making sound come out of that horn. I decided I liked making music and would keep playing. My parents and grandparents were very excited about it.

When we moved from Princeton and started school in Blue Ridge, there was no band class. I began playing sports. I tried out for the football team. Keep in mind, I am a little scrawny kid; nothing but skin and bones. The coach puts me in at slot back or some such thing. He wants me to run the football up the middle. I do this and get tackled and somehow I land on the ball and it knocks the breath out of me. This happened twice and I was very frustrated. Had he put me at wide receiver, he would have had a much better player. I guess he already had those slots filled. Anyway, I didn't like football much, at least not at school. I loved playing it with my family. The season changed and I was able to try out for basketball. I have always been dexterous and the coach was very impressed with my ball handling skills. He was also impressed with my defense skills. I could steal the ball by waiting for my opponent to dribble and slap the ball toward me. I remember one game I was hitting my baskets and scored the most points. Our team won the championship that year and I forgot about music.

When we moved to Lake Tawakoni and I went to Rains ISD, I found that there was a band. I also found out that I could not play basketball and music at the same time. I was frustrated, and I'm not sure how, but I was able to play basketball and music one year. I found myself liking band more though and never played school sports again.

As a freshman, we had a great concert/jazz teacher. We played Lionel Richie's "Hello" among others. As a sophomore, I believe we got a new teacher. He liked military style and we played march songs. He put us all out on parking lot and drilled into us marching techniques and gave us our route on the field while we played our marching music.

Around the end of my sophomore year, I started looking around me at the beautiful young women in the band. I have always been very shy but something in me changed and I started interacting and having fun with them. Our entire band was full of beautiful young women. They were great musicians too. Beth, Carrin, Toni, Jean Ann, and Shana played flute, Michelle played flute and piccolo, Laura and Lauren played alto saxophone (Laura was first chair, I was second, Laura also played oboe), Jennifer, Teresa, and Delia played clarinet, Lana played tenor saxophone, Tracy played bass clarinet next to my friend Frank. I'm pretty sure I left some out and I apologize to those I did.

I dated two of the girls in the band for very short periods. One I had a big crush on but I was so shy that she eventually lost interest. We had a band lock-in one time and there were all kinds of things to do. I had this girl all to myself on a racket ball court and was in the right position and the right moment but I was so afraid to kiss her. I still kick myself over that. The other girl flirted with me all the time and I was clueless. Jean Ann decided to take matters into her own hands and try to set the girl and I up. So we dated but I was just too shy/afraid to ever kiss. One day, while out with friends and while dating the girl who was not there, I was flirted with by a girl who would become my high school sweet heart. Right before the night ended, a light bulb came on and I noticed she had been flirting with me the whole night. So I started flirting back and before you know it we were kissing. I broke up with the band girl after that and dated Angela who was in the drill team from then on. We had a great drill team that performed with the band as well. I believe we all did real well in band competitions but I can't remember what awards we received. I just remember great times with my friends making music, dancing in the stands, and goofing off in the band hall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Growing Up on the Farm

My Grandparents were very good people. I'm not sure how much of the family has stayed with them throughout the years but there have been several family members and their children that needed a place to stay. They took it all in stride and from my vantage point as a grandchild, I never once heard them complain. It had to be hard on them though. One of the families was mine of course. I come from a broken family. My Mom was married twice. I have two half brothers and one sister. There would have been a second half sister but she died in the womb. I also have two step brothers and a step sister on my Dad's side. I'm not exactly sure how many times we have returned to live with my grandparents but I have very fond memories of the farm in Blue Ridge, TX.

Before I was born, my grandparents had two daughters and a son on a normal schedule to have kids. I say that because when my Mom was pregnant with my brother, Ricky (I call him brother, never half brother), my grandparents were pregnant too. The two babies were born less than a year apart. My grandparents had a boy and named him Kyle. After Mom had her baby she named him Ricky.

When Mom left Ricky's Dad, he chose to live with my Mom while his brother Richie decided to stay with his Dad. I do not have contact with Richie though I would like to. Ricky was in and out of my life during my childhood. Sometimes he would live with our grandparents and sometimes he would live with us. This is mostly due to the fact that his playmate and Uncle Kyle grew up with our grandparents. They played baseball together, double-dated together, and got into trouble together.

My grandparents' house was a good size. It was a one story, three bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and single bath home. The master bedroom was big enough for about three beds and still had room for chest of drawers and other miscellaneous furniture. There was a covered back porch where the washer and dryer were kept and a covered front porch. Behind the house there was a storm cellar, garden, and barn. There were also several broken down classic automobiles. Wish I had them all now. To the right, left, and back of the house was a total of 60 acres that my Grandfather (I call him Pipa) farmed. He had the traditional old tractor with the old plows. At one time he owned cattle and pigs. I used to love to go and feed the pigs. There was one large pig and it would make the grunt/snort sound. I don't know if any of you remember me making that noise but I can mimic that pig to this day :) Anyway, to the left of the house was a large, and during my time, old pear tree. Far to the left of that there was a pond. I'm sure at one time it was a vibrant pond but during my time it held stagnant water.

As I said earlier, families would come and stay with my grandparents. At one point there were three families living under the same roof: my grandparents and their youngest son Kyle, my Mom's family consisting of Ricky, Nikki (my sister), and me, and my Mom's sister Beverly and her son Kevin. Kevin was the same age as my sister but him, Nikki and I were like Kyle and Ricky. Nikki didn't have a chance. She grew up a tomboy. She was surrounded by boys. I don't even remember the living arrangements but it was packed. Did I mention only one bathroom? I have to tell you though, we were very efficient. I was young so I don't remember any troubles but I'm sure the adults had a hard time with it all. To us kids it was as good as a theme park. We rarely played indoors. We had bikes and lots of land to explore. We had a basketball goal we played on all the time and we played football. We even went snipe hunting once. I never did find one and somehow I ended up all alone :)

There is a reason there is a storm cellar behind the house. Blue Ridge tends to get pretty bad weather. Anytime it got stormy the adults were watching the clouds. If it started looking real bad, into the cellar we would go. There were many types of bees on the farm, dirt dobbers, yellow jackets, and bumble bees. The bumble bees would hang out in the barn and the yellow jackets would hang around on whatever ledge they could find around the house. The yellow jackets would also make their nests in the fruit trees we had around the house and the large pear tree. Did I mention I fear bees more than anything in this world? I hate bees.

To get to the house, there was a rock lane from the main road. The lane was over 100 yards long. We would ride our bikes up and down that lane pretending we were in sport cars or just to get away from the adults. We were threatened within inches of our lives not to ride on the road. Yea that's right, we did it anyway. We didn't do it that much though. My Mom put the fear of God into us about getting run over if we got on the road. So it was more like, I'm touching the road, nah nah nah-nah-nah.

There was also a garden to the right of the house in addition to the back. Pipa grew green onions, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, and my favorite okra. When it came time to pick the vegetables, I would go straight to the okra. I loved to eat it right off the stalk.

There was a tree in the front yard we would climb in and have a great time jumping out of. I guess we played so much in it that there were never any bees in it. We would swing from branches like monkeys and we knew every place in that tree we could climb up or jump out of without fearing falling and hurting ourselves.

It wasn't always peaches and cream though. If you pushed my Grandmother, we called her Grandmomma, she would get waspish and you knew you were in trouble. If you really went too far she would get Pipa after us. He would have us run and get him a switch (stick) that you would bring back to him and he would lightly hit you (of course to us, it felt much harder). We didn't get that very often though we probably should have gotten it much more than we did :)

The large pear tree produced a lot of pears over the years. It was a great tree until it was struck by lightning. We had to cut it down afterward. It was a sad day because it was one of the farm's icons. It was a real eyesore after it was gone. After many years the house started deteriorating and my Uncle Doug (my grandparents oldest son but youngest of the girls) built them a new home to the left of the old house. The old house and basketball goal were tore down. It was necessary but we all hated to see it happen. A few years later my poor Grandmother got pancreatic cancer and there was nothing that could be done but ease her pain. It was a very sad time. She was everyone's Mom. I consider my Grandparents my parents as much as my real parents. We were in their lives so much that you couldn't help but feel that. So when we lost her it was hard on all of us.

Pipa still lives but stays in a veteran's home. Fourteen acres of the land has been sold outside of the family. Forty-six acres still exist, 23 with my Mom and 23 with my Great-Aunt Viva, Pipa's sister. If I had the money and know-how, I would buy it all and continue farming it. I would plant gardens, keep cattle and pigs, and plow and seed the land. It is currently rented out by other farmers except for the 14 acres we no longer own.

Ok, I have come to the end and its too sad. I don't want to leave it like this. Unfortunately this is the current state of the farm and family. I visited Pipa not too long ago with my Mom. He looks great and is still sharp as a tack. He always knows who I am. He forgets my kid's names but that is natural at his age. He loves to hear me play the piano for him but I get a lot of enjoyment having him play the piano for me. He knows so many songs and plays both treble and bass cleft parts. He plays the old songs and I wish I had his knowledge of them. He taught me how to play checkers. He is a very good player and I feel like I got his strategical mind. I play chess much better than checkers but I am not too shabby at checkers either. We are a gaming family. We played a domino game called 42. I was taught to play when I was about fourteen or so. Its a game for four players (two teams) where you try to get the highest bid and make enough points to cover your bid. As a kid it was very enjoyable to be included to play with the adults. Grandmomma taught me to play Chinese Checkers. She was very good at that game.

The Growin Up... posts cover my entire childhood though there is much left out as a couple of people have commented in facebook. I plan on writing about everyone but in different arenas. Mostly it will be band and school memories. I will touch on family as well. It is really good to get all of this down in writing. Especially the traveling post. My Mom helped me remember where all we traveled to and what we did at each location. Thanks Mom!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Growing Up in Lake Tawakoni, TX

When I was in the seventh grade, I changed schools from Blue Ridge, TX to Emory, TX after moving to Lake Tawakoni, TX (east side). My brother decided to attend school in Lone Oak, TX as we were in the middle of the county lines (Rains/Hunt). My sister attended school in Emory with me. She was in a grade below me and we have always been peas in a pod. We have always had great attitudes and were well liked in school. It wasn't long before friends came to our door asking us to play. We would go out and play while our parents were at work over the summer. We were supposed to stay in the house but what Momma don't know... :) We would go with our friends to a place called Kenny's Landing. It was near a boat ramp that led to the lake. There was a dock that we would jump off of and frolic in the water. We had fun summers doing that. My Mom came home early one day and we were out with our friends. We got in big trouble that day. It didn't deter us though. We would be doing the same thing the next day.

My brother is two years older than me and he and I would go down the road across someone's property to get to a beach to fish for anything we could catch. We usually caught catfish but sometimes we would hit a school of bass. We had a great time swimming out there as well. I can't compete with my brother when it comes to fishing. He should probably have his own show because he's that good :) He and I go fishing occasionally at Broken Bow in Oklahoma. He taught me to trout fish. That is a lot of fun. You actually don't have to sit around waiting for something to bite. You just keep throwing this fly out over the water hoping a fish will jump. If nothing happens, you aren't bored to tears because your mind is busy planning the next throw.

In school, I was in the band and played the Alto Saxophone. I made several friends in the band. I found out that one of my friends, a drum player named Adam, lived in my neighborhood. I went to his house and he had an Intellivision video game. We would play that for a while and then go ride bikes all around the neighborhood. It was a very hilly neighborhood and our legs would be burning and we would be exhausted. We didn't care, we kept going. One time in band class, Adam started playing Tom Sawyer by Rush on a keyboard. We all gathered around trying to learn it!

Speaking of Tom Sawyer, there was another friend in the band that lived close to me but not in my neighborhood. He lived in my Granny's neighborhood. His name is Johnny and last I heard he was in a band. His son is in a band called Persecution and they rock all over the place. Johnny and his son are drummers. Anyway, I went to Johnny's house one time and he was like check this out. He cranked up Tom Sawyer by Rush and played his drum set perfectly to the music. I had never listened to a drummer play a full drum kit, let alone a difficult song as that. It was really awesome!

Johnny, Adam, and the rest of the percussion players put together a really cool cadence that the band marched to while going to and from performances. We had a really cool band at Rains ISD.

I have two more friends that I hung out with at school that I want to mention. Kevin played the Trombone and David played the tuba. We had a lot of good times in the stands jamming at football games. We had a party at Kevin's house one time. Caught the field behind his house on fire. Its a wonder no one has 3rd degree burns after all the things we have done. One time we were partying at my friend Dale's (more on him below) house and we were playing in an abandoned building on his property. Dale pulled out some WD-40 and a lighter. Kevin came around the corner and Dale lit the lighter and sprayed the WD-40 at the flame which blew a steady stream of flames into Kevin's face. Its funny now but it singed his eyebrows and long wild hair. Oh man he was pissed :) I still nearly fall on the floor laughing about that when I think about it. We were chaotic! I have kept up with David through the years but not as much as I would like. Last I saw Kevin was our 20 year class reunion. I sure miss him.

On my first couple of days at Rains ISD, I was introduced to my two best friends. We clicked instantly, nothing tore us apart, and we always had each other's backs. All of us were in the band. Dale played the Xylophone/Keyboard and Frank played the Bass Clarinet. There is too much for me to say about these two friends in this post but this is where they belong. I grew up in Lake Tawakoni with these two from the end of seventh grade until we graduated in 1989. Our friendship has lasted all these years even though we all have our own families and everyone is real busy. We stay in touch, visit each other, and help each other out when we can.

I am glad that my family ended up in Lake Tawakoni, TX or I would have missed out on a great many friends and lots of good times.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Growing Up All Over

I grew up in many cities around the southern part of the United States. My Dad was a welder and my family followed him to the many places he worked. When I was real young, we lived in Melissa, TX where we rented a cozy house. In the back in a shed held tackle boxes full of lures and other fishing items. I was about three at the time and I picked up a lure and played with it. It wasn't long before the lure came alive and started poking my hands. I started screaming and my Mom came out and tried to get its hooks out of me but was not having any luck. She took me to the back porch and prayed while I kept crying. She touched it and the lure fell to the ground. To this day she says that was a miracle. I still have scars from that lure.

Big Wheel
I owned a Big Wheel that I would ride up and down the lane, using the break to slide sideways. I loved that toy. One time while I was riding it, some blue jays started attacking me! I rode as fast as I could to the house screaming the whole way! The birds did not like the noise that the Big Wheel made. I went in the house, got my Dad's shot gun and blew them away! Just kidding, I was 3!

The first place we moved to was Franklin, AR where we rented a house in Cherokee Village. I do not remember much of that place. While traveling there I asked my Dad where we were going and he replied, "Kalamazoo". I liked that name but it never matched where we actually ended up :)

The next place we moved to was Tacoa, GA around Christmas. We went up the smoky mountains, got some cool moccasin boots. My Mom's favorite gem was turquoise and she bought my Dad a bolo tie with a turquoise center piece. We didn't stay long and after Christmas moved again.

The next place we moved to was Iowa where it was snowy and cold. I asked my Dad where we were going and he replied, "Kalamazoo". We bought snow suits that wrapped us from head to toe in warmth. We played out in the snow where I learned that playing with snow is not good for bare hands :) My Mom bought my Dad a real pretty blue stoned ring that had a star centered on it

blue stoned ring
One day my Mom and her friend were shopping and my sister and I were with them. I wandered away from them at some point in a department store and started crying. A woman came up to me and asked what my Mom's name was and I said while crying M-Mo-Mommy. So they called her by "Mommy" over the intercom. She came running and I never ended up wandering away from her again :)

The next place we moved to was Kansas where we lived in a three story house near a pond. It had a well with a pump we got our water from. We would use it to water the geese we owned and, of course, for drinking. I caught my first fish out of the pond with a green fishing pole. I threw out my line and a fish immediately jumped out of the water and took the bait. I freaked out, I was probably around four or five. I had my brother help me pull it in. The house was tall and one time my brother noticed a very large bee nest and one of us (he says me and I say him) disturbed it. Bees were everywhere. We ran inside and believe it or not the bees were trying to get in through light switches and electrical outlets in the house! My Mom called an exterminator and we waited for them to arrive. I believe this is the reason I have a great fear of bees to this day. I started pre-school and got involved in t-ball. One time I was headed out of the house to play with my Tonka Dump truck. My Dad asked me where I was going. I replied, "Kalabazoo, where else?" I would put my hands on the sides of the tonka truck, bent over and start running pushing it along. At one point the truck stopped and right in front of me was a snake! I left my truck where it was to fend for itself and ran to the house. I told my parents and my Dad went out to determine what kind of snake it was and grabbed a stick. He used it to move the snake out of the yard but would not kill it. He said it was a good snake (grass snake).

Around the first grade we ended up in Irving, TX where we stayed with my Dad's Mom, Granny. My Dad's sister lived in a mobile home across from Granny's house. There was a large field across from it that had large metal telephone poles holding power lines. I got my first bicycle, a BMX, and learned to ride it. Freedom! It seemed to me I rode it all over the town but I probably didn't get very far from the house. My brother usually rode with me. One time we played baseball as a family out in the field and I was playing catcher while my Mom was at bat. My brother pitched the ball and my Mom swung the bat. It connected... with my nose. There was blood everywhere. Poor Mom, she still cringes thinking about that day. She got me all fixed up though. My nose was not broke and I healed quickly. For Christmas one year, we got a puppy. We named it Blue. It was a blue heeler. We had that dog for many years.

Around the second grade during the summer we moved to Blue Ridge where we stayed with my Mom's Mom and Dad, Grandmomma and Pipa. We stayed there while we looked for a house out in the country. We found a house outside of Princeton, TX. It was on nearly four acres of land and had lots of room for three children. It was perfect, the best house I lived in as a kid. We lived in Princeton for five years. During our time there, I attended third to sixth grade and learned to play the alto saxaphone. In the back yard we had a shed and the sidewalk went all around our house and up to that shed. My sister and I rode roller skates all along that cement path all the time. One day I was skating and noticed a caterpillar and was making sure I didn't run it over as I passed it by. My sister did not know about it though and ran over it. I got real upset and cried about it. My Dad built us a basketball goal out on the lots to the left of the house. When it was done, it measured twelve feet tall. We didn't care, we played basketball all the time. In the very back of our land, we had a fence where we kept a horse named Charlie. I don't think I ever did get to ride that horse but I pet it all the time. I also shot my first gun out there. My brother had me shoot a 4-10 at a wasp nest. I didn't hold the gun just right and it kicked back into my mouth and hurt real bad. The bees evidentially were shaken by the blast because my brother was trying to get me on my feet and away from there. The place to the right of our house had a pond that we were allowed to fish on. My brother and I went out there one day and he was trying to hook turtles. He finally hooked one but when it got to the bank, we noticed it was a snake! We ran while my brother pulled it behind him still hooked to the fishing pole. Once we got it to our yard, we got a shovel after it and killed it. We laugh about that day all the time. In front of our house a good distance was the main road and under that road was a creek. We would go play under there all the time. There were centipedes and all kinds of bugs there. We also did a good deal of crawdad fishing there. One day I was coming back from there and crossed into the front yard between our bushes when I felt several needles sink into my ankles. I screamed and kicked off my shoes and ran to the house. I had been attacked by yellow jackets! Have I mentioned that I hate bees :P One morning while waiting for the bus, our dog went out into the road when the bus was pulling up with its yellow blinking lights on. A truck sped up to make it by the bus before the red lights started blinking and ran over the dog right in front of us. It was a sad day. Another time, my brother and I were playing with cowboy and Indian figures when another of our dogs was run over. My brother really liked that dog and cried for a long time. We still had our blue heeler, Blue though. That was my favorite dog. Before we sold and moved from the house in Princeton, we ended up giving the dog to a farmer that could use it to herd cattle. I still miss that dog and that house.

We moved to Alamogordo, NM during one school year at Princeton, TX. I don't remember how long we stayed but lived in a trailer park. From there we visited White Sands and played in the dunes out there. Its a great time if you ever get out that way. We walked in the forest and mountains, enjoyed apple cider, and my Mom decided we needed cod liver oil as part of our diet. I mean to tell you she tried to disguise the actual oil in our food and drink trying to get us to eat it. Don't ever try to eat it like that. It is the worst tasting stuff you will ever put in your mouth. We had a great time out there though.

We moved back to Blue Ridge and lived with my Mom's parents after selling the Princeton home. I attended sixth and seventh grade in Blue Ridge and the basketball team I was on won the championship my seventh grade year. I will talk more about the Blue Ridge farm in a separate post. We moved to Lake Tawakoni at the end of my seventh grade year where I began school at Rains ISD in Emory, TX. This is where I would grow up for the rest of my adolescent life before joining the Air Force.

As you can see I have lived in many places and adapted easily to each new place. I love to travel and I will post more about my travels as an adult soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lying for Rock-N-Roll

My Dad is a big Country fan. As a teenager there is at least one thing you will rebel on. Mine was music. Before I was a teenager, I knew a lot of country music artists such as George Strait, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, etc. I still like those artists to this day... don't tell anyone I said that though. When I rebelled, I stopped listening to country and started listening to Heavy Metal. I bought lots of cassettes, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Poison, etc. I was a very mild teenager. I never asked for much. Just a few books and money for music. I would sit on my back porch in "my" rocking chair with my cassette player, headphones, and a good book. There was nothing better than that... well except for going out with my friends.

When I was a Sophomore or Junior, my friend asked me if I wanted to go to a Bon Jovi / Cinderella concert. I told him I doubted I would be allowed to go but would really like to. To help myself get to go to this concert, something I really wanted to do, I lied to my Mom and told her I was going to a George Strait concert. My Mom thought about it and even asked my Dad what he thought. In the end I was allowed to go. If my Mom would have asked around about that concert, I would have been busted :)

I told my friend and we started planning it all out. I believe four of us went to the "Slippery When Wet" Bon Jovi concert. I had never been to a concert and this one blew me away. They put on a great show and at one point, John Bon Jovi flew out over the crowd and came real close to where we were.

After the concert was over, we started home. Traffic was bad and I guess my friend's car did not like the idling. It began to overheat. We parked near a place that had a water hose outside and waited for the car to cool down before taking off the radiator cap. When we were able to take the cap off, my friend started pouring in the water from the water hose. We noticed right away that the water coming out of the hose was not cold. It didn't help matters. My friend called his parents, who called my parents to let them know we were stuck in Dallas. His Dad came and saved us. When I got home it was around 5 am I think. It was a school night and I was made to go to school without sleep. My Dad did not allow day sleeping. I put on my concert shirt and went to school. It seems my friends' parents didn't want them sleeping either. We met in the band hall and let everyone know about our adventure. It was a great night and my parents were none the wiser about the concert being a Rock concert. Besides suffering from lack of sleep, it was a great school day.

We went to more concerts after that and I believe I even told the truth about which concerts I was going to. I'm not sure if my Dad knows about it though so shhhh. :) We went to Whitesnake/Great White, Def Leppard/Tesla, and David Lee Roth/Poison. At the DLR concert, someone threw a knife at Dave while he was in the boxing ring. He dodged it and the guy was escorted out of the arena by the police. Good times... good times.

Here are some nostalgic album covers / rock band pictures:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zoom Zoom Equals Tickets

I believe that if I had been brought up in a racing family, I would probably would have made a really good race car driver :)

I love to drive and have many hours behind the wheel of a car. I used to drive from Altus, OK to Lake Tawakoni, TX all the time. Any time off from the Air Force was spent traveling home and I had the kind of job in the Air Force where you worked four twelve hour shifts and got four days off. I really should have stayed in and retired. Anyway, I digress. The following are some of my driving experiences.

I got my first car my Junior year of high school. It was a 1976 Mercury Cougar.

I don't think it had a first gear. It had no pickup when the gas pedal was pushed to the floor but could easily go 110 once up to speed :) I know this because one day I was driving behind a friend and decided to pass him on a two lane road down 276 from Emory to Lake Tawakoni. He sped up, of course, so it took about a mile to do it but I finally got around him. My friends gave me a bumper sticker that said, "Don't honk, I'm pedaling as fast as I can".

I had a friend in the Air Force that was shipped to the Gulf and he owned a Pontiac Fiero.

I am not sure of the year but he bought it new from 1990 to 1994. The picture shown here looks very similar except his was black. He didn't want it sitting around for months so he let me drive it while he was away. I'm pretty responsible but I don't think I would let anyone borrow my car. I did my duty though and drove the car, probably much more than he thought I would. I drove that car to my friend's house between Sulphur Springs, TX and Emory, TX. His place was out on back roads. We went out to meet with some girls on a rainy, cold night. The road I drove on was under construction in some parts. The bridges were being worked on. There were wood slats on the bridge and only one car could cross it at a time. For some stupid reason, I stopped the car to take off from a dead stop. As soon as I let out on the clutch the car starts spinning. I let off the gas, pushing the clutch back in and start fighting the steering wheel to keep the car from going off the edge of the bridge (it had no railing). When the car came to a complete stop, we had spun 360 degrees on that single lane bridge. I expected to get punched right away by my friend in the seat opposite me. Still not sure why I never received the blow. I apologized for scaring him and began driving more sanely. I never took chances in my Air Force friend's car after that experience. I was very lucky. I could have easily screwed up and ended in the ravine below the bridge.

I now have a 2008 Mustang V6. I love this car. I have actually started following the speed limit signs but I still speed from time to time. I get a ticket about once a year. I'm lucky it isn't more than that though. My wife beats me every time I get a ticket. I'm still waiting for her to get her first ticket. I doubt she will ever get a ticket but if she does *laughs evilly* ;)

Here are reasons the above experiences should never be repeated:

  • Fast cars do not stop quickly. It is not that uncommon for people and animals to be crossing the road. If you ever hit anyone while speeding excessively, you will most likely go to prison for man slaughter. At the least you will have to live with it for the rest of your life. Though animals are not as precious as people, the owners believe they are. Not only that but your car is going to get damaged pretty bad.
  • Speeding twenty miles over the speed limit could get your license taken away for a long time, jail time, and a large fine.
  • Tickets are very expensive even if you take defensive driving to get them off your record.
  • Though you might have quick reflexes, others on the road may not. They may not see you speeding up on them and cut you off. If you are going to speed make sure you have an out by looking around you and seeing where you can divert your course.

Enjoy your car but do so safely and lawfully. Though I have talked only of speeding, driving slow is also dangerous. If you are on a multi-lane highway and you are driving slower than the flow of traffic around you, move over to the right so the faster traffic can go around you. It frustrates drivers when they are stuck going a speed that is too slow. This leads to bad decisions and though you think these decisions are the fault of the ones behind you, it is equally your fault for holding up the flow of traffic. So, please get out of the way.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Runaway Booger!

My allergies have always been bad for as long as I can remember. The kind of allergies where blowing your nose only helps for a second and then more needs to be blown out. It makes for a very sore nose and plenty of embarrassment as a child. One time I was traveling somewhere, I was very young, I laid my head down on my Mom's leg to sleep while we were riding in a car to our destination. When we arrived at our destination, a nice pile of snot was pooled on my Mom's jeans at her knee.

But, my most embarrassing moment occurred when I was in the sixth grade. The students were seated around one long row of tables. Kids on both sides sitting in chairs. As it happens, a girl I had a crush on was sitting across from me. My nose starts itching off and I'm scratching it and scratching it. It just will not stop itching. Finally this bright green booger falls out of my nose while I am scratching it. I see it and immediately try to sweep it off the table. I look up to see if anyone noticed and I see the girl I have a crush on noticed. Guess what she did? I'm thinking she is going to go eeewwwwww gross and the whole class is going to make fun of me. Instead of that though, she starts laughing. My face is red but I laugh too and a horrible experience became an unpleasant and only slightly embarrassing experience. I lucked out that day :)

I went to an allergy specialist when I was around 28 or so. They stuck me with a lot of needles in the skin to find out what all I was allergic to. The only things I can remember them telling me I as allergic to are mold and beans. There were many other things. I was given a shot two times a week. This was to go on for five years. I decided right quick that it was just better to suffer through the allergies than go through that torment.

If you have allergies like this or worse, I highly suggest taking an allergy pill like xyzal, which I think is generic now, once a day. On those real bad days like I am having now, spray your nose with an anti histamine. It stops the constant need to blow your nose. This was my wife's idea. She works for doctors and seems to know how to cure my ailments. I fight her though. I hate taking medicine. I would rather suffer than take anything. She don't care, she says "better living through chemistry" and shoves the pill down my throat :)

I have to say, it is so much better only having to deal with allergies around the March and April time frame than dealing with it all year round.

Friday, February 18, 2011

To The Air Force and Beyond!

Before I graduated high school, I had gone on trips to college campuses, taken the SAT and ACT. I was never an exceptional student. I was average. I did not receive any scholarships and didn't think I could afford college. My high school counselor asked me if I would be interested in joining the armed forces. I thought about it and the first branch that came to mind was the Air Force.

I knew my Grandfather had served in the Air Force during World War II and decided I would go talk to a recruiter. My Mom and I went to Greenville, TX to the Air Force recruitment office. The officer there told me all about the Air Force and it seemed like a good place to start. I signed up and would enlist a month after my high school graduation not giving college a second thought.

The enlistment date was finally here and I said goodbye to my family and rode the Greyhound bus out of Greenville, TX to Dallas, TX. I unloaded and walked into the Dallas MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) where they poked, prodded, and vaccinated me. After a night's rest, I was sent to the airport where I flew to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. It's all a blur but for five weeks I learned to be a soldier of the Air Force.

Before graduating, we were put into a room where we would decide where we would like to be stationed and what career we wanted to pursue. I really wanted a computer programming job but they had me take a test with nothing but geometric shapes which I must have failed miserably :) I'm not sure they wanted me to be a programmer. So I decided on a Command and Control Specialist. I was also given the opportunity to give $100 a month of my small paycheck for a year for the G.I. Bill. I had never heard of it and almost decided I didn't need it. Luckily the instructors highly advised doing it so I went ahead and took it. If you ever join the armed services, make sure you get the G.I. Bill. Back then you gave $1200 over a year and you would get enough money for a four year degree to use for college.

After graduating from basic training, I attended tech school where I learned how to be a Command and Control Specialist. I got my orders to go to Iceland. I was young and didn't want to be that far away from my family (not to mention I hate being cold) so I traded with a guy for Altus Air Force Base, OK where I served for the rest of my term. Oh how I wish I would have kept Iceland :P

After getting out of the Air Force, I utilized my G.I. Bill package and went to college where I learned to be a fine computer scientist.

Lessons learned through my career in the Air Force:

  • Find out what career you want to pursue before joining the armed services. Study it so that any test they throw at you, you will pass.
  • If you are a guy, shave your head before you get to basic training!
  • Spend the money for the G.I. Bill!
  • Travel the world if they want to take you there. Don't settle for a stateside term.
  • Look into taking college courses while enlisted. Don't wait to get out and then go to college. You get a good portion of the tuition paid for while you are enlisted.
  • If you enjoy the armed services, go the whole nine yards and retire. Great benefits!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Joy Ride

My cousin and I spent the night with a friend when I was about eleven. We camped out talking the night away not really doing anything interesting. The next morning we got up and close to our campsite there was a horse fenced in on someone else's property. I decided it might be fun to pet the horse and maybe ride it around. So I go up to the horse and pet it (I love horses). Then I actually jump on the back of the horse (unsaddled of course) and it takes off running. I hang on for my life pulling on the mane and holding onto the horse's neck. I look up and notice we are riding toward some trees and through the trees I see a house. I start to panic trying to figure out how to get off this running horse without killing myself. Right before the horse clears the woods and enters the yard in back of the house, I jump off. I land, miraculously, in soft mud and don't get hurt. I pick myself up and start running back to camp. I tell the guys about it and we all get a good laugh about it.

Never get on a horse you are unfamiliar with. I was very lucky. It could have started bucking and I could have been seriously injured. I could have broken my neck jumping off of it. I have to say it was exhilarating but totally not worth it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Twas the Night Before Valentine's Day

I went grocery shopping last night with my wife. Actually we had forgotten to get my daughter her valentine's cards for school. We walk in and there are flowers and stuffed animals all over the place. You can see all these guys walking around with flowers and cards, getting their loved ones something for the special day.

I couldn't help but laugh inwardly. Why would you wait until the night before to get that special gift? Here are some rules that will make your loved one happy on those special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays, valentine's day, and Christmas:

  • Don't wait until the last minute!
  • If your loved one works in an office with a lot of other people, send flowers! It tells them and the other people that he/she is loved by you. Your loved one is not looking at other people getting flowers thinking, I could do better than who I have. Yea you don't want that :)
  • Listen to your loved ones. Pick up on little hints they pass along for those special occasions.
  • If you don't pick up on any hints, flowers are good (unless they say no flowers), jewelry is better, and believe it or not, a poem or love letter is acceptable when finances are low. If you do a combination of the above, you are golden!

Always show your loved ones how much you love them. There is no excuse, so don't even try getting out of it. It is also good to surprise your loved ones with gifts during the year for no apparent reason.

If you follow these rules, you will be rewarded!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Losing Weight Without A Diet

I joined the Air Force after graduating high school in 1989. When I went in, I was five feet 11 inches tall and weighed 119 pounds. I was a skinny sucker. My Mom really knew portion control well. She had three children in the house, Dad, and her. She never cooked enough for us to overeat. We rarely went out to eat. We ate like kings though. She is a great cook.

I know what you are thinking. All boys love their Moms and you are just prejudiced. I can't deny that but in my opinion she is the best (clears throat... her and my wife Amy are the best cooks ever!) I joke there, but Amy truly is a great cook as well.

I get to basic training and you eat a lot differently. Let's just say the food is a lot different from Mom's. It was tasty but certainly was missing the love :) We would go through the chow hall line to get served whatever they cooked that day. You didn't think you got to choose what you ate did you? Then you would go sit down and hope the drill sergeant was not around while you ate (usually wasn't). If you ate too long, he would definitely show up. Yeah, I started eating real fast, and until a couple of months ago I never stopped. Eating fast is the first step to the dark side. Luckily the exercise routine of basic training counteracted the dark side; that and I had a really high metabolism at that time. When I got out of basic training my weight was around 120. No, I didn't gain much.

As the years went by my weight increased normally. I guess by 1994, when my term was up, I weighed around 140 pounds but still had a slim figure. After the Air Force and while I was in college, I didn't eat very well at all. Always eating out, either fast food or nice restaurants. My metabolism was still pretty high, so I didn't gain a lot. After college, I was nearly 30 years old. I want it to be known that by age 30 your body starts to break down. Its still strong but is more prone to accidents. One day on the basketball court, exercising to counteract the pot belly I had acquired over the years of fast food, I was guarding this guy and cut back sharply to keep him from going around me. My knee gave way and I ended up on the floor. I got back up and walked around on it but after visiting the doctor, I found out I had a torn ACL. From that point on, my weight went up from lack of exercise. I guess I was up to about 175. A couple of years passed and I was up to 185. I decided I better do something and began riding my bike, fighting through the pain of the knee since I didn't get it operated on. (If you ever have an accident at a young age like that, get it fixed immediately.)

About six months ago, my wife was selected to pilot in a program offered by Baylor (her employer)to get healthy. You might have heard of it. Its called Naturally Slim and we highly advise looking into the program if you are currently on a diet.

12 Primary Principles of Naturally Slim

  1. Eat only at Level #3
  2. Eat what you want the most first
  3. Eat only one food at a time
  4. Chew slowly
  5. Take a 5 minute break
  6. Stop eating when comfortable
  7. Eat protein with each meal
  8. Drink 60+ oz. of H2Orange
  9. Avoid sugar
  10. Eat complex carbohydrates & protein with each meal
  11. Use Hunger Savers
  12. Eat what you truly want to eat
Diets do not work and this is the first thing you learn on the Naturally Slim program. If diets worked then 65% of the American population would not be categorized as over-weight or obese. This program teaches you how you are supposed to eat. Basically its how my Mom used to cook for our family. Smaller portions, fresh foods, less sugar. I am going to hit the highlights of this program but I highly advise joining it. There is so much more knowledge there than you will get here.

You only eat when you are truly hungry. You will find that your "truly hungry" time will not always match up with normal lunch/dinner times. This is normal and a bit of a challenge. If you get to a truly hungry stage and don't have time to eat, then eat a small hunger saver - note that you should take no less than 10 minutes to do so. A small hunger saver can include 14 peanuts (if you are not allergic) or 2 peanut butter crackers. There are others you can have but you will have to check the Naturally Slim website for more ideas. This will tide you over until lunch/dinner time. Do not eat cereal in the morning and stay away from milk. Milk has a lot of sugar in it.

Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. A can of pop typically has 40 grams of sugar. That's 10 teaspoons of sugar! Can you imagine piling that much sugar in a glass, adding water, and drinking it? You already do and then some. You know you don't drink the can of pop, its not enough! You want more, so you get the 16oz bottle or larger. This gives you a good idea why diabetes is so prevalent in our society. Its not just soda though. Everything you eat has sugar. When you go to the store next time, look at the labels of the foods you buy and you will be shocked at how much sugar you take in a day. The first step of this program is to remove your addiction to sugar. You must stay away from obvious sugars for three weeks. To help you stop, you should eat high quality (100% whole grain) breads such as pumpernickel, sour dough, rye, etc. It is a hard three weeks but you can do it as many people on this way of life have.

You can eat anything you want! That's right, anything at all excluding the first three weeks of sugar. After the three weeks, you don't go hog wild. You should only have four grams of candy sugar every three days and only at a meal time when you have eaten at least 4-6 ounces of lean protein. What we do is buy dark chocolate and split it up based on how much sugar is in a serving so that we only get four grams. Remember this is only after the first three weeks are over! And did I mention you can eat anything you want?! It sounds crazy but you will soon learn why.

We all eat too fast. We don't give our brains time to catch up and tell us we are full. You should take 30 minutes to eat a meal. Set a timer - eat for 10 minutes, break for 5 to assess how hungry you still are, and then eat for at least 10 more minutes. Trust me that's a long time and it will be hard to adjust to. To take 30 minutes, you must chew your food extremely slow until it is mush. To learn portion control, you should eat your favorite food first. Then move to your next favorite food. Eventually this will teach you portion control because you will find yourself full before you get to the rest of your meal. There is no going back to a food once you stop eating it and you must eat only one food at a time. Our brains are primitive where this is concerned. Again - remember you will eat for ten minutes, then take a five minute break, and then continue eating until you are comfortably full. For our five minute break, we play hangman passing the turn to someone else each night. You must get a good amount of protein so make sure you save room for it.

To keep your blood sugar normal during the day, you will drink a mixture of orange juice and water called H2Orange. The orange juice must be the not from concentrate kind such as Tropicana or Florida's Natural. The mixture is one part orange juice to seven parts of water. You should drink close to 64 oz. a day. We mix it in water bottles that we take with us everywhere we go. We also add Crystal Light to it to make it flavorful. You should drink 20 ounces of this when you first get up so you can determine if you are truly hungry or just thirsty. Many people mistake thirst for hunger. Some people only eat once a day but most eat twice a day. I myself, eat two times a day. I drink the H2Orange mixture in the morning because you are really just thirsty in the morning. You are not hungry. I get truly hungry around 11:30 am. I usually take a lunch prepared by my wife of real yummy food and leave the office to eat. At night, we usually eat when everyone is truly hungry, eating a hunger saver (snack) if you get hungry before everyone is hungry.

That's really all there is to it. Its very easy and you can eat anything you want. Now the results of following this way of life. I went from 185 lbs to 150 lbs in 20 weeks where I maintain that. I will not divulge my wife's weight - as we all know, you NEVER ask a woman what she weighs.....but I will say this, in the same 20 week period she lost 50 pounds and has lost a total of 60 pounds now at week 26. Eventually you will reach a point that you will just maintain your weight. That's the beauty of this way of life. You eat like this for the rest of your life and you never get fat again. So as you lose weight, throw out your large clothes (give away or garage sell them). You will never get back in them. If you notice your clothes getting tight, just cut back on how much you are eating. That's how true thins do it!

Again, go to Naturally Slim to learn a lot more than you will get here. It is a great program and Marcia Upson is a great teacher! I have no stock in her company. I am just a very pleased customer!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Driving Under the Influence... Not Good!

I have been in two wrecks with each of my two best friends. Each time the wreck involved driving under the influence... no, not us... the other driver.

The first wreck occurred on a morning when my friend, Dale, and I were headed to pick up our friend, Frank, to head to band practice. Dale and I were waiting to make a left turn when I hear him yell, "Hold on!" I look behind us and see a car smash into us. We get out to make sure the driver was ok to find out that it is a girl who is headed to the same band practice we were headed to. When we walked up to the car we could smell the marijuana smoke. She was fine. We were in a sturdy 1964 and a half Mustang so Dale ended up with just bumper damage. The girl's car's grill was smashed pretty good even though she was probably able to get the car down under 20 mph before she hit. She was driving a VW Fox. No one was hurt and we each went on to practice not bothering with police reports or insurance papers. We went and picked up Frank and told him what happened and got a good laugh out of it.

The second wreck was a lot more serious and scary as hell. My friend Frank and I decided we would go dancing in downtown Dallas one night. We had a great time dancing with the ladies at the club and walked outside of the club and noticed it was raining. We started home in Frank's Plymouth Acclaim and we were traveling on I-30 East toward Sulphur Springs from Dallas. There was construction along the right lane of the road and there were only two lanes. Before we got to the construction, we attempted to pass a semi who sped up to keep us from getting in front of him. (By the way, if this happens to you, slow down and get behind the stupid ass.) We made it in front of the semi but had to run over one of the orange cones on the road and ended up with a flat tire. Meanwhile, this lunatic truck driver rode our ass until we could get off the road. We get out and replace the flat tire with the spare donut tire. Frank drives 45 mph through the construction, planning on doing that the rest of the way home. There is a line of traffic behind us, frustrated at having to drive so slow. After getting through the construction, we pull over so everyone can go around. Frank notices in the rear view (I find this out later) that a car is approaching pretty fast.

Drink. Drive. Go to Jail.
I don't remember what he said but I started to turn around as the car hits us and I find myself thrown back into the seat. The car starts spinning while the force of the hit moves us forward much faster than we were going. We continue to spin out of control through the median, onto the service road and then into the ditch on the other side. We just missed a telephone pole before we came to a stop. I touch myself to see if I am really still alive then look over at Frank. He looked fine. We get out of the car and I am furious. Frank goes over to the other car which is smoking. He was actually being nice to the guy trying to get him out of his car, worried that it might explode. The driver was four sheets to the wind drunk and had a bloody face. Someone stopped and came over to see if we were all right. They called the emergency personnel who showed up a little later. Frank did not want to go to the hospital and stayed with his car. I was taken to the hospital in the same ambulance as the other driver. I was still furious at this guy but kept my mouth shut. Later, I find out that this guy was going over 100 mph when he hit us. His blood alcohol level was very high obviously.

I don't think Frank or I ever laughed about this experience. We do relive it every once in a while and get furious.

Don't expect sympathy if you drink and drive and injure/kill someone or yourself. You will get none. Don't even come up to me and let me know you drove drunk. You will not get a pleasant response. I'm not a violent person but I might just snap over something like that. Even now my blood pressure is up thinking about this.

I love to see the signs that say drive under the influence, go to jail. In my opinion, they should really say - go to prison. Seriously, don't drive under the influence people. It will only lead to heartache and bad times.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fire!! Fire!! Fire!! Shhhhh!!

My cousin and I when we were young decided it would be fun to take a cigarette lighter to a field of dry grass. We would light the grass and then stomp it out. We had a great time doing that for a good while. See, playing with fire is not dangerous :)

Of the two of us, my cousin is the youngest. Who do you think lets the fire get away from them? You guessed it. Me! I lit some grass and let it burn a little bit and then started stomping it out but I couldn't get it to go out! It spread over the dry grass faster than either of us could stomp. We did the only thing we could... we ran!! We ran up to our grandparent's house worried so much we were crying. We never told anyone, just acted like we were playing together. When our parents and grandparents noticed the smoke, they came outside and wondered if anyone was watching the fire. My cousin and I just stayed quiet.

Luckily there were no structures, just the field of grass. That could have been much worse. My cousin and I could have been trapped in the middle of the fire unable to get out, our clothes could have caught on fire, and we could have started choking on the smoke and died right there. Let me just say... when your parents tell you not to play with fire.... don't do it! One more thing... if you see a fire raging out of control, let someone know! Don't be like us and not tell anyone :P

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dental Checkups Are Truly Needed

When I was younger, I brushed my teeth but did not floss or anything like that. Just toothbrush on teeth. I think I saw a dentist maybe two or three times during my childhood. After I graduated and joined the Air Force, I went to a dentist more frequently (once a year). After my four years of service, in 1994, I never went back to a dentist. I don't like going and got it in my stubborn head that I didn't need one. From that point until the end of 2010 I never saw a dentist. I brushed my teeth good and felt I just didn't need a dentist. Well in 2010, my gums started bugging me. My wife asked me how long it had been since I had been to a dentist. It took me a while to answer that question... not enough fingers and toes :P

She set me up an appointment and after a quick examination, was told I had Periodontal Disease. I was shocked... disease?? You mean to tell me there is no cure except to really crack down on flossing, brushing, rinsing fifty times a day (slight exaggeration)?? Anyway, after two hours of the dentist scraping, drilling, and laser cleaning my teeth, I had a fresh start. A fresh start where I must religiously clean my teeth to get my gums healthy. I got to tell you, it's a real pain. It takes five minutes to floss, brush with a sonic toothbrush, and rinse your teeth. I used to brush my teeth in like two minutes thinking I was doing a wonderful job. Clearly brushing is not enough. Some of you are laughing, saying duhhh. This post is not for you :) This post is for someone as stubborn as me that hasn't been to a dentist in years. Get yourself to a dentist and keep going for the rest of your life. You can thank me later when the dentist tells you, you made it just in time before the disease kicked in. Then floss, brush, and rinse to keep yourself healthy and there will be much less drilling, scraping, and laser cleaning to do.

To really drill this point home (no pun intended), after the two hours of cleaning and after the numbness wore off, I was sensitive to hot and cold for three or four weeks. I'm talking grinding, sharp, stop you in your tracks pain! Instead of going to the dentist once a year like everyone should do, I must go every three months. As you can tell, you don't get out of anything not going to the dentist for years. It will get you in the end and you will match and then surpass all the time you missed. Take it from someone with experience, you do not want to go through this!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The US Deficit and ByeByeDebt

In my previous post, "From Rags to Riches", I mentioned the deficit and how the government could benefit by using a 403b plan. The current deficit, as far as I can find, is $1.3 trillion. Here is a shock as to how large that number is. It takes one million, $1 million payments to pay that off if interest were not a factor. If the government were able to save $1 million a month and used that as a way to pay off the debt that has accumulated, it would take over 83,000 years. Now, if the government could save $1 billion a month, that would be a much more attainable goal. It would still take 83 years but that is way better than 83,000 years :)

I'm not sure if the government has the ability to save $1 billion a month but if so, they should seriously start saving. I would love to help set up a budget for the government. One that I had complete control over. It's difficult to know how to do it without seeing where all the money is being spent and how much money is coming in. Clearly there is more money going out than there is coming in though. As I mentioned in my previous blog, if you owe more than you make then serious sacrifices have to be made to correct the problem. No one can live on credit, not even the government. Surely it's not so difficult that we as a country cannot create a budget and stick to it so that not even the change in hands between democrat/independent/republican parties could change it?

Recent elections talk about working together but that seems to be all talk. Each WANT different things. Each change of hands strips the other's progress and we, as a country, get no where financially. What needs to happen is for someone like me that doesn't care one way or the other which programs get cut to come in and create a budget that cannot be tampered with by either party. I would cut all things out that were not NEEDED. We would only have the programs the country NEEDED to keep us safe and healthy. The budget would be set up and followed religiously for 80-90 years (until we were completely out of debt). After the debt was gone, we could set up a new budget for getting things wanted by either party but the money spent doing that would not go outside our income EVER. In fact, $1 billion a month would be part of the budget and set aside as savings. Then the government would have the ability to help those hit by unforeseen circumstances like hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

Maybe this is just a pipe dream but I believe we, as a country, could make it happen. It just takes discipline. If you are interested in where it began, take a look at this:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

From Rags to Riches

When I was young, a wise man, an experienced person if you will, told me the secret to accumulating one million dollars.

As a kid, you think there is no way I could accumulate that much money. The number is just too big to grasp. The wise man said, save five dollars a month or whatever you can put back. He even went through the math showing me how it accumulated. It started making sense but as a kid, you want to spend your money on things like toys and having fun. There is something to that as well. Kids should have fun and learn to spend/save money for the things in life they want. As I look back on the experience, I think to myself, he wasn't talking about putting back all the money I make in a month from mowing yards, doing chores for my parents, etc. He was just saying put back a portion of the money. Say you started saving five dollars every month as a ten year old kid. Here is what you would have accumulated by the age of 18: $5 * 12 months * 8 years = $480. You're thinking that's not a million dollars :) The wise man also told me to put the money in a savings account that gives a percentage of money back each month. One that you keep adding money to and not taking any out. That is how you get your million. It takes much longer and much more than five dollars a month to make a million but I bet its less than you think. The problem is making enough money to do it.

There is a complex formula for this but let's say you get 1.09% every month on the money you have deposited in the savings account. The amount after 8 years at five dollars would be roughly $854. Doesn't seem like much huh? With the same interest rate and time, if you added $1000 each month, the amount would be roughly $170,841. That means for 8 years (96 months) you saved $96,000 and the interest you accumulated was $74,841. Now here is how you make your million. It takes 20 years at close to $1000 a month. You invest around $240,000 over 20 years and you get a little over one million dollars :)

I told you it takes much more time and money to get your million but I bet you are surprised that it can be done in 20 years. If you have disciplined parents and they did that from the time you were born until you were 20, you would be set. Then you do the same thing for your next twenty years of life and you may not even have to work. If you divide a million by 20 years, you can pay yourself $50,000 each year. Subtract $12,000 that you will put back into savings. You would have $38,000 a year to live on. That is a good sum of money to live off of for not working at all.

Now the bad news. You have to pay your taxes on the interest you make. Banks typically only insure up to a quarter of a million dollars. Parents typically are in debt up to their ears paying off college loans and credit cards maxed out from being young and stupid... its the American way. As a young person reading this blog, you can change your family's future debt by not following your parent's way of life in pursuit of the American dream.

There are many budget programs out there. I highly advise getting one, creating a budget and sticking to it. I have a budget program I wrote in the Java programming language.

I wrote it because I was chasing the American dream and the start-up company I worked for laid off most of their employees and eventually went bankrupt. I was out of a job for three months. The budget program shows your income on one side and your debt on the other. By clicking a report button it shows the difference in what you make versus what you owe each month. On the debt side don't forget to include groceries, gas, entertainment, car maintenance, etc. Once you know the difference, you can plan to start paying money into a savings account each month. If you find that you owe more than you make, remove things you don't need such as mobile phones, satellite tv, etc. What?? Phone?? Tv?? Are you crazy?? I will admit that sounds crazy but you have to do something to get yourself out of debt and sacrifices must be made.

Teachers have a 403b savings plan similar to a 401k but much more interesting. With the 403b plan, you save a percentage of your paycheck each month and hopefully your employer matches what you put back. Then the plan allows you to borrow from the accumulated amount. You pay yourself back monthly into that account. So let's say you borrowed from the account to pay off a maxed out credit card. No not so you can start charging on the card again. You cancel the credit card afterward! The money you borrowed from your account is removed and the credit card goes away. You start paying yourself back, say $100 a month. That amount plus your normal 403b accumulation starts going into your account. When you pay yourself back in full, its like you never borrowed any money to pay off that card. The drawback of this plan is that you can only borrow a couple times a year. Other than that it is an excellent plan. I wish the government would use that plan to pay off the deficit.

I wrote a program that imitated this plan but excluded the payback and how many times I could borrow from my account. My idea was to get rid of each debt, each monthly payment. Let's say you have three credit cards, each of which you pay $100 a month to. That's $300 a month out of your pocket. So what you do is save a certain amount of money each month while you continue to pay on the credit cards. The program I wrote would calculate how many months it would take to pay off each debt. Each time you pay off a debt, you get to use the monthly payment you were making to the credit card (debt) to add to the amount you save each month. So, if you set yourself up to pay $100 to savings each month, then once you paid off the first credit card, you would be able to start saving $200 each month. Then after you pay off the second debt, you can add the next $100. You are now saving $300 a month! I naturally named this program ByeByeDebt. It is written in the C# programming language. Once you get the small credit cards knocked out, then you can start working on the large loans including college, car, house, etc. And after each payoff, you just add the amount you were paying to what you save each month. If you remain very disciplined and stick to the plan without adding more debt, (something I myself have been unable to do), you could pay off a $120,000 house in five or six years.