Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Reflections as 2011 comes to a close

Wow! Did you think I had been totally absent for the past 4 months? I am not surprised. It seems like after the Mission Trip I took down south for Katrina Relief work, and the Chciago Comic Con, I just dropped off the face of the publishing world.

But alas, it is just that with life being so busy, and with so much of my free time being taken up with my training for my upcoming Half Marathon race at Disney World next Saturday, I have only had time to post on my Healthy Living/Running blog. I am afraid this poor blog has paid the price. For this, I truly apologize. I will aim to do better in 2012.

But to keep things in perspective, I really have done pretty well as far as blogging in 2011. In fact, as I look back upon 2011, I think the year has been pretty positive and I have done pretty well on the resolutions I published here at the beginning of the year. So here is my final review of my resolutions.

Lose another 75 pounds

This has been a great year health-wise for me. I lost a total of 55 pounds in 2011, bringing my total weight loss since beginning my journey to 112. In the past two months, my weight has stablized due in part because of gaining more muscle mass while losing fat. I determine this because while my weight is staying the same, i am still losing inches off my waist, hips, and arms. So it is all good. I did not reach my 75 pound goal but I consider 55 a significant achievement and will place this in the "win" column!

Make exercise part of the regular routine

On this score, I have to say "Boo-yaa!" Since the beginning of 2011, I have been walking, running, biking, strength training, and swimming. I have allocated from 3-4 days each week to these activities and to great effect. I took up running in April, and since then I have run over 730 miles, run in 13 different races, logged over 150 'foot' hours, and burned over 108,000 calories in the process. I have over 188 exercise sessions in my logbook for this year! My first week in 2012 will include my first Half Marathon race so I have no intention of slowing down! Yet another resolution in the "win" column!

Post a blog each week

When I posted this resolution, I only had one blog. Now I have two! In 2010, I posted nothing on my blog. In 2011, I have made 25 posts to this blog and 72 postings to my Healthy Living blog. That's a total of 97 posts for 2011 which is far more than one posting per week! Score another in the "win" column!

Improve my spiritual discipline

This is an area where I feel I can always improve. I was very active in the first part of 2011 with my Cursillo Reunion Group, meeting with the group or another Cursillista on a weekly basis. I participated in a Christian Journey study group at church which met monthly to discuss and support one another on our journey towards a better understanding of what God is calling us to do.

In the Fall, I started teaching the high school Christian Formation class at church on Sunday mornings. This has been really rewarding for me, and hopefully the youth who have been attending feel the same. I want to do more with the kids next year, adding activities and other events outside of Sunday morning. And I spent more time this year studying the Bible, and working with the youth of our Diocese on retreats, mission trips, and other church-based activities.

To conclude 2011:

This has been a fun year! Getting more healthy, losing weight, gaining strength and endurance, learning how to 'run' and doing these races (race reports are on my Healthy Living blog), and doing a lot of things with my Youth Ministry work. I also was able to attend the Chicago Comic-Con, the Episcopal Youth Event, and had fun with new techie gadgetry. And let's not forget having the awesome opportunity to play a cameo role -- in full Klingon costume and makeup -- in this year's production of "A Klingon Christmas Carol"!

In the next post, I will share with you my thoughts about goals for 2012!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Geeking out at the Chicago Comic Con!

Well, I just returned from my third Chicago Comic Con at the Convention Center in Rosemont, IL (just outside Chicago). As usual, big crowds, lots of vendor booths selling all kinds of collectibles, comics, swords and props, action figures, and a decent list of celebrities offering autographs, photo opportunities, and if you're lucky a decent conversation. (One of these days, I am going to get to the San Diego Comic Con)

The Convention started on Thursday, August 11 and ended today (Sunday). My son Ryan and I got 4-day passes so we could take our time and see everything. We even got my wife Christi to come with us on Saturday (I threw in a one-night stay at the Hyatt next door as a bonus). This is her first Comic Con (I got her to go with me to the Las Vegas Star Trek Con last summer -- another 'first' for her).

The Con this year seemed a little smaller in some respects than last year. I think that is partly because last year, there was a large Star Trek (and to some extent Star Wars) presence here and that really brought out the crowds. But don't get me wrong, there were still thousands of people there, especially on Saturday. Plenty of people dressed up in costumes, plenty of collectors looking for great deals on merchandise, and plenty of people looking for their favorite celebrities at booths and panels.

This year the big draws were Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lloyd, and most of the cast from Buffy (James Marsters, Charisma Carpenter, Julie Benz, Nicholas Brendon). Other celebs that I saw were Vivica Fox (Independence Day), Tia Carrera (Relic Hunter), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Louis Gossett Jr (Officer and a Gentleman/Iron Eagle), Mimi Rogers (Austin Powers), Gil Gerard & Erin Gray (Buck Rogers), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Ray Park (Darth Maul), and Pam Grier (Foxy Brown/Smallville).

The floor was pretty filled with vendors and displays, and I think the Artist Alley was the largest I have seen over the past three years. Comics were the majority of vendor booths present, but there were a lot of action figures (mostly Marvel and DC stuff) and weaponry and the like. There was a tattoo artist this year (I met his girlfriend while waiting for photo op tickets). I thought that was interesting.

Star Trek Represented

This year, there are only a few notable Trek celebs in attendance: Patrick Stewart (who had to back out of last year's Con at the last minute), LeVar Burton, and Daniel Stewart. On Friday, Ryan and I stood in line to get a photograph with LeVar Burton who played our favorite engineer Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then on Saturday, I had the opportunity to get LeVar to sign that photograph and to speak with him for a few minutes.

Then about an hour later, I attended his Q&A Panel and live-tweeted the event. You can check out all those tweets at @rpeete on He was very genuine and funny. Did you know that the VISOR was screwed onto his head? Yep! Two screws on either side! He said after about 45 minutes, he always ended up with a headache, and seeing out of that thing was difficult.

There was also a running joke throughout his panel with people asking him to dance, because of a comment made an hour earlier during Patrick Stewart's panel when Sir Patrick said LeVar had some killer dance moves and that everyone should ask him about it. Well LeVar elected not to demonstrate any "moves" and pretty much said that he had his ways of reeking vengeance on Patrick and I quote "Patrick's bald head will be MINE"

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Patrick Stewart panel. The main ballroom for his panel filled up before the line got to the doors. They would not let me in. What!!? Don't they know WHO I AM? Guess not! Hmmph!

StarGate SGU

Another highlight for me this year was meeting Alaina Huffman, who played Lt. Tamara Johansen the medic on the show. She was the only person from Stargate at the Con this year. Ryan and I took a photograph with her on Friday afternoon and then spent quite a while talking with her at her booth later that day. She was very personable, spoke equally to both me and Ryan, and shared her good news: she is pregnant with her fourth child! She is expecting a son (I thought she looked pregnant at the photo-op but knew better than to say anything). Her youngest is a boy and he is very excited to be getting a baby brother as his two other siblings are older girls.

Among other things, Alaina and I talked about the cancellation of SGU and she was candid about feeling "bummed" by the initial negativity by Stargate fans regarding the show. And even though there were many who liked it, she thought that perhaps that negative minority was a lot more vocal than those who quietly enjoyed watching the show. We agreed that SciFi shows with a balance of tech/SFX, action, and character development/story are the best. It was a shame that SGU did not get the chance to realize its full potential.

When I asked her what she is working on nowadays, she mentioned that she is the main baddie in the upcoming Alphas TV show this Monday on SyFy. She said it was a lot of fun to do, so I encourage everyone who reads this before Monday evening, August 15th, to check it out.

Other Celebrity Panels

Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Patrick Stewart, and Christopher Lloyd were the big draws for the Q&A panels and were assigned the Large Ballroom A. Bruce was hilarious albeit most of his humor is definitely for adult ears, which was a little distracting since I was sitting next to a bunch of kids ages 8-13. He was definitely different. He was actually giving out dollar bills to people who had gotten tattoos of Evil Dead and other shows he was connected with via a little fashion show he held up on stage. Towards the end of his panel, he had a woman come up and talk with him and then asked her boyfriend to come up and join them. Then the boyfriend proposed to her on stage. It was pretty coo that Bruce and the guy had set this up.

I only got to hear the last 15 minutes of Felicia Day's panel but she was awesome! Very engaging with the audience and answered questions very openly. She was quick to point out that she is NOT going to be in the next Avengers movie (evidently Josh had made some passing comment about it).


You may not have heard of Valerie Lapomme and her video blog (VLog) called the "Sexy Nerd Girl" but I do subscribe to her YouTube channel and find her pretty entertaining and funny. She is a self-avowed sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming fangirl who loves Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Nintendo games, and pretty much anything geeky. Her vlog posts are usually 2-3 minutes and altogether wacky (and sometimes a bit on the adult humor side).

I noticed Valerie's booth on Friday and tried to set up a time to interview her for Treks in SciFi (a weekly podcast and web online community that I love). But that girt was busy! She was all over the Con doing her own interviews! In fact, I saw her interviewing the guys at the Extreme FX booth and got off a quick photo. Her booth was giving out small posters, business cards, and other free stuff. And they were holding a raffle for a Sexy Nerd Girl T-shirt (which you can buy from her web site).

So, I met her staffers at the booth as I visited it probably 6 times between Friday and Saturday and each time, Valerie wasn't there. I told them all about Treks in SciFi and they were pretty excited to know that we all love her Vlog! They told me that Val was entered into the Comic Con Costume Contest on Saturday night but Steph said she didn't win. So we decided to give it one more try on Sunday morning.

Success! I finally got to see Valerie on Sunday morning! The first thing I noticed is that she is taller than me. Looks like she might be 6'1" compared to my 5'10" stature. But the smile gave her away. She is pretty friendly and wanted to know a bit more about the Treks in SciFi crew. So I explained that we were going on our 6-year anniversary, and since many of us are followers of her vlog, I wanted to know if she would record a little greeting for the podcast. She readily agreed!

So we discussed it a bit more and her camera crew rolled the tape! We made a short little clip for the podcast which they promised to send to me for inclusion in the Treks in SciFi Anniversary special this fall. Awesomeness!

One cool thing was that as we talked, they asked how I watch her Vlog. I told her that I used my iPad most of the time to view it. Well, Valerie had never seen her show from an iPad. So I brought my iPad 2 out and we watched her latest post on it right on the convention floor. That was pretty sweet and she was pretty pleased with how it looked.

So I will keep you in the loop when the video is finally available (I wonder if she will use any of the footage on her channel). And if you are a SciFi fan and you aren't listening to the Treks in SciFi podcast, then you should go over to iTunes right now and subscribe. It is awesome! And the online community is a great place to hang out. Look for me there!


Well, I have to admit that this year I did not buy as many collectible items as I have in the past. I did, however, pick up three large prints from Lightspeed. Two were Babylon 5 prints -- one of all the ships in the show autographed by all the Captains and the other was a nice print that included all the primary cast members in the series. These were for Ryan, who I have turned into a major B5 fan.

For myself, I found a very nice print of Kirk, Spock, and Kahn that is autographed by both Shatner and Nimoy. Unfortunately, Ricardo Montalban passed away about a week before this was created so it does not have his signature. But even still, it is an awesome print that depicts one of my favorite Trek movies -- The Wrath of Kahn.

Other than that, we got some miscellaneous stuff: t-shirts, Star Wars Lego guys that Ryan didn't have, and an awesome Star Fury model to put together. I also found some cool mock-up ID badges and parking passes so I now have a Hogwarts Parking Pass on my car.

I saw an awesome Captain America shield for sale at $500. I was sorely tempted but in the end, decided to walk away from it. But that shield might be in my collectible future if I see it again next year!


Well, I guess that is about it for my Comic Con report. Ryan and I had an amazing time there this year, and staying overnight at the Hyatt was a nice little getaway bonus for the family.

I missed not having my "Treks in SciFi" buddy Rico Dostie there with us this year (but hey, maybe he can come out here in the Fall for the Trek Con). By the way, this will be the last Convention for Leonard Nimoy (I heard that from his agent who also manages LightSpeed. Nimoy was at the Vegas TrekCon this weekend and it was his last Creation Entertainment Con)

Until next time, "Live Long and Prosper"!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I made it! 102.2 pounds are GONE!

I just had to post a quick note about my weigh in at Weight Watchers this morning. I walked in at 7AM for my regular WW meeting and I was guardedly excited. I was pretty sure that I had lost weight during the week and that I would cross the 100lb milestone.

And I was correct! I lost 2.8lbs this week, bringing my total weight loss (since May 2010) to 102.2 pounds!! I cannot tell you how excited I was as I sat through the meeting! At the very end of the meeting, the leader turned to me asn asked me to tell everyone how much I had lost. Everyone was very supportive and happy for me. And then the leader gave me a signed certificate! (I didn't know they did that!)

This has been a long journey, one that I am still walking (literally and figuratively). WHile I still have 58 more pounds to lose, I can take a moment to enjoy how far I have come. I think I need to do some kind of celebratory thing but I haven't come up with any good ideas yet. So if you have thoughts, post them here or email me. :)

And I will say this: you can achieve anything if you want it bad enough. I really want this! I want to be lighter and healthier and to feel better about myself. It took me years to get to the point where I 'wanted it bad enough' to do something. But I encourage everyone to take the plunge and live a little healthier. You will not regret it!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 Resolutions -- A Progress Report

Well, it has been eight months since I first posted my goals for 2011 (I hate the word 'resolutions'). So I thought this would be a good time to post my progress on those goals as a way of making myself accountable to you for how things are going.

Lose another 75 pounds

Since the beginning of 2011, I have lost a total of 47.5 pounds, and if I continue with this pace, I will be on track to reach the goal of 75 by the end of the year. In fact, as of this posting I have lost over 102 pounds since May 2010 (when I first started my weight loss journey).

I am very pleased and excited about this achievement! It feels great to be so much lighter! Just this year I have gone from a size 3XL to XL in my shirt size and have donated a ton of clothes because they are TOO BIG for me now!

Make exercise part of the regular routine

This goal has truly been accomplished! I have been working out at LifeTime Fitness since the beginning of January and at this point, exercise is now a major part of my weekly life. I work out a minimum of three days each week for at least an hour each time. I do both strength training and cardio workouts each week.

In March, I added running to my exercise regimen. I have run in four 5K races thus far and each time, my finishing time has improved significantly. I have a 10K race scheduled in 10 days, and I have five more races scheduled for the remainder of the calendar year, including one 15K race in November. In January 2012, I will be running my first Half Marathon at Disney World!! It is safe to say that running has become a new and enduring part of my life and I really love it!

Post a blog entry each week

By the 'letter' of the goal, I have met this goal. But that is not to say I have been lax in my blogging for 2011. I am happy to say that I have posted more entries this year (21) than I did in 2009 (and I posted nothing back in 2010). And I have been doing some podcasting this year as well which has been fun.

I created a new blog this year around Easter to chronicle my health and fitness (and running) journey and have posted 31 entries there already! You can follow it online here.

So for total posting activity, I feel good about being much more intentional about my online communications.

Improve my spiritual discipline

The major focus of this year has been more intentional prayer. Feeling the need to be closer to God has been more prevalent this year for some reason. So talking to God while on my runs, or commuting, or while preparing for my monthly adult study gathering has been awesome. I really felt connected during the last Happening retreat weekend and the recent Mission Trip to Mississippi.

I still need to do some more 'study' and reading of The Word. As I continue to prepare for my high school Christian Formation class (I am teaching it this fall), I look forward to being more immersed in Scripture as I work to bring His Word to the youth in my church.


There you have it. I feel very good about this year and the accomplishments I have made thus far. There is still a lot of work ahead of me, but with perseverance, God's help, and the support of all my friends and family, I am confident that I can keep this momentum going and continue moving forward.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mission Trip -- Reflections

It has been about 19 hours since we arrived in Union Station yesterday morning, ending a 8.5-day Mission Trip to help those still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which hit the Gulf Coast six years ago.

Since coming home, I have taken time to rest, to run, see two movies with my family, and post photos on my FaceBook page. I have also spent some time thinking about the trip and how it has affected me personally.

Our last Friday in Mississippi started with clean-up. Let's just say that when 64 people are occupying a facility for 7 days, lots of trash is generated, not to mention the state of bathrooms! So everyone spent time cleaning all the sleeping and bathroom areas, leaving them cleaner than they were when we first arrived. I was very proud of the youth who really stepped up to the task. Then we walked the property, picking up any trash that they could find. Lakeshore Baptist showed us such hospitality; it is only fitting that we demonstrate our appreciation by leaving them with a clean facility for the next crew who comes.

We loaded up the minivans and cargo vans (I got the job of loading the cargo vans), and made our first stop: the Super Walmart (and a gas station). Everyone had the chance to pick up a few snacks for the train ride and then head for the New Orleans train station. The van trip was filled with laughter, music, and a certain excitement about heading 'home'.

We boarded the train around 12:30pm and found out that we did not have enough seats in our train car (even though that meant we had more legroom). So four adults had to sit in the adjoining car. The good news was that our train car was right next to the Lounge and Dining car! I think we had youth playing and hanging out in the Lounge Car for the entire 19-hour trip. It was truly the 'party train'.

We arrived at Union Station on time which was nice. And it did not take nearly as long as in years past to get our checked baggage. And with that, the Mission Trip was over (well, after we took Sue Cromer home, that is).

This morning, I was thinking about everything I experienced during the past week and trying to put it into words. So many people have forgotten about the Gulf Coast. FEMA and the government have left. It seems that the average person thinks everything has been rebuilt, or, that those still suffering are somehow to blame for their plight.

After talking with the pastor of Lakeshore, members of St. George Episcopal Church in New Orleans, and the staffers at Habitat for Humanity, several messages come across loud and clear.
  • Katrina was huge! It is almost impossible to imagine the severity of its impact
  • Churches and support groups can make a major difference in LA and MS
  • Volunteers bring a sense of Hope and Connection to the communities they serve
  • The Spirit of God is at work in the Gulf Coast, healing and keeping Love and Hope alive in the hearts of those who live there
The work our mission team did out there was amazing. Working on four different Habitat houses, ripping out defective sheetrock from an occupied home, clearing out debris and wood from properties that could not be salvaged, and providing support to the congregation at Lakeshore as they offer goods and services to their community.

Jesus calls us to respond to those in need. In Matt 25:31-40, Jesus tells us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and welcome the stranger. 5 years ago, the youth and adults of the Diocese of Chicago have committed themselves to respond to the statement "What Would Jesus Do" with actions rather than words.

I am thankful that our young people have such passion for fulfilling God's commandment to Love One Another, and to bring their gifts of time and talent to the Gulf Coast. With God's help, we will continue to make a difference.

Praise Him!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mission Trip Day 4 - Wrapping up the Work

(Point of clarification: The days 1-4 in my blog titles refer to the actual work days on the trip. The length of the mission trip is actually eight days, going from Friday, July 30th to August 6th.)

As I wake up on Thursday morning, I am excited to return to the Habitat work sites for one more productive day. But I am also sad because I know this will be our last day working with Ryan, Chris, Tom, Steve, and Katie from the Habitat crew on the four houses we have been focusing on this week. Habitat for Humanity has such an amazing mission and ministry to communities across the globe (they are actually called Habitat International) and it has been an honor working with them in support of those affected by the Katrina disaster.

I have to admit that it was a bit harder to get out of bed this morning. I am definitely beginning to feel the effects of the extreme heat and humidity. When you have to work and live in it for 10 hours each day, it can just drain your energy level because of how hard the body works to keep itself cool.

Today, we worked with Chris to continue building a porch for the side of one the houses. We completed the foundation for the porch, dug out the footings, laid down the support beams. and poured in the concrete to set. Then we finally put up the permanent railings for the porch. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to build the stairs leading down from the porch -- that will be the job of another crew.

We also put up all the railings for the large front porch of that same house - they place where were have been eating lunch all week. After three coats of white paint, they look marvelous! We also did touch-up painting on the exterior of the house were a previous crew had missed spots.

We also had teams working on two other houses today. In one house, we put up window frames on almost all the windows of the house. In the second, we did all the work to hang doors in all the rooms of the house.

Let me say right now, that our Van Group was the best! In fact, both Van Groups at Habitat were just awesome and it was a real pleasure getting to know them and working alongside each of them. I especially want to recognize my Van Group: Andrew, Gina, Russ, Ellen, Matt. and Shelley. We were a great team and we really enjoyed one another's company on this trip. I could not have asked for a more awesome team!

Our workday ended at 3pm. And while we were sad that we couldn't come back for one more day, we were all very pleased with what we were able to accomplish in these four days. We were working in the same neighborhood as our mission trip here in 2010, and were so satisfied to see that the three houses we worked on during that trip are complete and occupied by families! How awesome is that!!?

We ended Thursday with a trip to Sonic for Sonic Blasts, chocolate malts, and similar yummy things. After which, we all went to the Beach in Lakeshore for some well deserved play time! It was kind of different to swim in a lake that felt like bath water (it was really warm water).

Dinner was next on the agenda, followed by a final worship gathering where we got to listen to the pastor of the Lakeshore Baptist Church speak to us about how Katrina affected the lives of those living in Lakeshore (no one's homes survived) and to the church itself (nothing but its steeple survived).

He shared with us how our presence, service, and ministry is a consistent source of comfort and hope for everyone who lives in this area. Even six years after Katrina hit, there is so much yet to do to rebuild communities and lives. And how awesome it is to see God's providence realized in the actions of Christians from all over the world who take the time to come to Mississippi and New Orleans to offer help and support.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mission Trip Day 3 - More Fun in the Sun!

Hot child in the City! Remember that song by Nick Gilder? Well I definitely felt like the 'hot child' this week! Today was another seriously hot work day. Temps in the upper 90s and a heat index of 118. Habitat for Humanity has a policy that they do not allow volunteers to work too long in weather where the Heat Index is above 114 so today was a few hours shorter than usual. But having said that, we were still on the work site from 8:30am to 3pm today.

We got a lot accomplished today. We completed the construction of two sheds. finished installing the window frames in one house and had begun doing so one a second, we finished painting the railings for a porch, and started work on building a side porch to allow people to exit the house from the kitchen area.

We also got to do some organizing the the Habitat warehouse not too far from the job site. The place was a good size and filled with cabinetry for about five different homes. We had to get all the cabinetry organized into groups so that it will be easier for them to load and transport the stuff after it has all been 'clear coated'.

Then we loaded a large truck with tons of scrap sheet metal left over from their housing development work. They were going to take all that stuff to a place that recycles metal and get some money for it, which they can then turn around and spend on more materials. Pretty cool!

The other 9 work teams worked on demolition of a house which had been built with substandard sheet rock from China. There is a big lawsuit going on how between the USA and China over these materials which had been sold to large stores like Lowes and 84 Lumber, etc. This poor family has to gut their house to remove all this stuff and then have the house pretty much rebuild with the right kind of materials. Such a shame because the house is really nice. The family, which has a little girl, is so nice. In fact, they came to our Eucharist service this evening to express their gratitude for our help.

I have to say that I am really tired today. After a very busy day at the work site, and the oppressive heat, my van group had kitchen duty for dinner. So after we showered and got a few minutes of rest, we went down to the hot kitchen and prepared dinner for the whole team of 63 people. It was pretty tasty! Chicken Tenders and/or Baked Chicken Breast, with a salad bar, and a fully decked out Baked Potato Bar, plus drinks and Oreo cookies for dessert. We also had selections for vegetarians, diabetics, and those on a low-fat diet. We covered all the bases! By the time we were done, I felt like I needed another shower!

Then at 7:30pm, we had a nice Eucharist celebration, complete with engaging music, an engaging sermon from Deacon Lee, and fun fellowship. At first, we were going to have the service on the beach, but the weather did not cooperate -- it started raining -- so we decided to have it at the worship space here at LakeShore.

I was so tired! I am pleased to be able to go back to the dorm and finally lay down (well, after I post this blog). A little Advil for my aching back and I should be good as new for tomorrow!

Tomorrow will be a full day with some fun at the end. Once we all finish our work, most of us will go to the beach for some swimming time! Others will take a tour of Bay St. Louis and Waveland to show the effects and rebuilding efforts since Katrina struck. Then after dinner, it will be time to start packing and getting ready to head back to Chicagoland on Friday.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mission Trip Day 2 - Sheds, Windows, and Demolition!

Today was just plain HOT! It was 97 degrees with 60% humidity with a heat index of 118!!! Oh. My. Gosh! The only mitigating factor was that there was a good breeze and the really hot part of the day was after our lunch break.

I started the day with a 4 mile run at 5:30am. It was only 78 degrees at that time even though the humidity was about 68%. I ran about half the run with Sue Cromer -- it is always nice to have a friend to run with. Then I got cleaned up, ate breakfast, and got prepped for the van drive to Habitat at 8:30am.

Work started immediately. We broke into the same four groups: two building sheds, one doing interior work on windows, closets, etc., and the fourth group doing painting. We really worked hard today. By lunch time, one shed was about 90% complete, the other was about 60% complete. The painting was done and drying, and the interior windows were all in place.

Work after lunch was more grueling only because it really heated up. We started taking 20 minute breaks with water/Gatorade in the shade to manage it and stay in good shape. After talking with the leader of the Willow Creek team, we agreed that cutting the workday short at 3pm was the best plan to keep the teams safe.

There was a new team of Americorps volunteers there today. They will be working with Habitat for the next two months. They continued to work after we left the work site. We, on the other hand, left and made a pit stop at the local Sonic for smoothies, malts, and Sonic Blasts. Yummy! I think we deserved that treat with all the hard work and determination we demonstrated today.

We came home just in time to miss the daily rainstorm -- this time at 5PM. We had a tasty pulled pork dinner, and spent time at the Worship Kwanset Hut singing songs and reading Compline together. Then the van drivers and youth leaders met to discuss plans for the next two days. Looks like we might be having Eucharist tomorrow night on the beach! And on Thursday, we might be going swimming! Nice! :)

Tomorrow, my van group is responsible for dinner. We are going to be cooking roasted chickens, baked potatoes, chicken tenders, and serving salad. Sounds good, right?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Goin on a Mission Trip!

On Friday evening, I joined with a group of 64 high schoolers, college students, and adults on an adventure in service. The group came from parishes across the Diocese of Chicago to gather in support of those who are still impacted by Hurricane Katrina six years ago. We are headed to Lakeshore, Mississippi to help build affordable housing for victims of the hurricane. We are fulfilling Jesus' call to help others -- to answer the question: What would Jesus do?


We all boarded an Amtrak train (we were large enough to get our own complete train car) and left the station around 7:15pm. Our trip will carry us to New Orleans where we will rent 11 minivans and 2 cargo vans and drive to Mississippi, where we will stay at the Lakeshore Baptist Church's facilities. They host groups year-round who wish to volunteer to help the community rebuild.

The train ride was loads of fun! The kids we're totally pumped to be going on this adventure as were the adults!. There were games to be played, songs to be sung, snacks to be consumed! By midnight, I was tired. But I found that sleeping on a train in the seat is not all that comfortable.


So I can't say that I got a good night's sleep but I did get in a few good hours of rest. The morning and afternoon were pretty relaxed as we began to settle the logistics of the van drive to Mississippi, etc.

We arrived in New Orleans at 3:30pm (a nice 20 hour train ride) and rented our vans. Of course, I ended up with the one that had all the cool tech gadgets (I did not even pick the van I wanted, it just worked out that way) so that was a bonus. We divided everyone into their 'van groups' and started the 1 hour drive to Lakeshore. Did you know that NASA has a rocket testing center in Mississippi? We passed right by it! Too bad we don't have the time to check it out...

Once we got settled into the housing at Lakeshore, we went to Los Tres Amigos mexican restaurant for dinner. Very tasty! Then after we got back, a friend and I went on a nice walk to map out a running route for the next morning. We mapped out a 2.5 mile route and then went to bed.


First thing Saturday morning, about 10 youth and adults went for a run before the rest of the group woke up. 2.5 miles is a little short but still a nice run and a nice sunrise!

Then we drove back to New Orleans to attend church services at St. George Episcopal Church. Beautiful parish! They fed us breakfast and lunch, and we were treated to an amazing presentation on the Katrina disaster (a man-made disaster) by one of their parishioners. I will post some video of that up on YouTube when I return home.

Then we took the streetcar to the French Quarter and spent the next six hours walking around the shops and musical entertainment in New Orleans' famous marketplace! It was hot but really fun. We concluded our day with dinner at Bourbon Vieux (yes, it is on Bourbon Street). The food was okay but the time spent together was great! Then we drove back to Lakeshore to prepare for our first full day of our work.


We ate breakfast and arrived at our work site with Habitat for Humanity at 9am. My van group and a second van group were assigned to Habitat -- 14 people. When we arrived, we met another mission trip group there. And guess what? They were from Willow Creek!! So it was a Chicagoland team working today and throughout the week! How cool is that!?

Today we worked on four different houses, building window frames, building out closets, building outdoor sheds, painting, and prepping for the installation of doors. We also prepped the lot for a new house whose foundation was just poured last week. We might get to do some framing for that house this week!

It was 95 degrees and 91% humidity all day today. We worked to keep ourselves hydrated and protected with sunscreen. Three of our team had to go back to Lakeshore due to the heat, but everyone did well and no one had any lingering health issues today. The workday ended at 4pm and we all went back to shower, chill, and have a tasty dinner of taco salad and brownies!

My can group got KP duty tonight ao after cleaning the dining hall and kitchen, we got to join in the evening reflection time, followed by Compline and lots of singing. Then it was free time until lights out at 10L30pm. As I write this, the kids are all singing loudly outside, having a fun time. As for me, I am tired after a long day. So I am going to get some sleep and hopefully go on a 5 mile run early in the morning before Day 2 of our mission adventure!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Episcopal Youth Event 2011!

Every three years, the Episcopal Church hosts the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE). This youth conference is attended by youth from across the United States as well as many international churches who belong to the Episcopal Church (Taiwan, Haiti, Virgin Islands, Navajoland, Paris, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Honduras, among others). This usually means that between 1100-1500 youth and their adult leaders come together to work on leadership development, program and curriculum, mission opportunities, and experience amazing worship and engaging fellowship.

This year, the conference was held in Bethel University in Minneapolis, MN on June 22-26. And after the formal conference concluded, there was an additional 3-day mission trip opportunity for those who wished to participate. And during the conference itself, many attendees helped to build an energy self-sustaining house for a family in the city. It was designed with solar panels to generate more energy than was consumed by the homeowner. We worked with Habitat for Humanity on this project. What an awesome ministry to be a part of.

For me, it was such a treat, and something I had been waiting for since the last "EYE" back in 2008. It is a chance to reconnect with youth and adults involved in youth ministry from all over the place. The chance to see friends from other dioceses that I only get to see every couple of years is just priceless. And you learn so much from just talking and sharing stories and ideas! The workshops were numerous and I attended many of them. I particularly enjoyed the workshops on game leadership and 'dorky dancing' (yeah, it sounds funny but it was an awesome workshop on movement and engaging youth in fun activities that build community). These kinds of events really recharge my batteries for mission and remind me why I love Youth Ministry and the Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of Chicago brought a group of 11 to the conference this year, along with several others who were there serving in staff roles for the event. The Bishop of Chicago, the Rt. Reverend Jeffrey Lee was also with us -- how cool is that!! But more than anything, I love the young people that came on this trip. They are fun, smart, crazy, faith-filled, and amazing! And, we were lucky enough to pick up youth from the Diocese of Milwaukee on our way so the bus was full of cool people!

We got there on Wednesday the 22nd, just in time for dinner. Our first 'adventure' was at 2AM on Thursday, when the fire alarm in our building/dorm went off. We did not know it at the time, but a tree had fallen outside the building and hit an external gas line. Some kids smelled gas and the staff immediately went into action, getting everyone out of the building and alterting the fire department/police. The end result was that no one was hurt and after 1.5 bours, we were allowed to return to our beds and try to get some sleep. Sleep was fleeting; so Thursday was tough since I hadn't gotten enough sleep, AND, I ran 2.5 miles in the early morning before breakfast. (The campus at Bethel is beautiful; with running paths through green grass, tall trees, and besides a lake. It was a nice run. In fact, I ran another 3.5 miles on Saturday just because it was such a relaxing location.)

Our opening Worship on Thursday morning was celebrated by our Presiding Bishop. the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. Her sermon was inspiring and her presence among us just electrified the entire community. The cool thing about our worship together was that all the services were fantastic! The music was awesome! What a music team! And the speakers were all great, especially Rodger Nishioka who spoke on Friday and really energized the faithful!

On Saturday, we enjoyed an outdoor cookout for dinner, followed by the Episcopal Olympics. I have to admit that by Saturday evening, I was really tired so I opted to take a little nap while everyone else jumped into the games. I wanted to be awake for the closing liturgy that night. And it did not disappoint. Wow!! I have a bunch of video from the worship services which I will work on getting published on my YouTube channel and FaceBook when I can find a good chunk of editing time. I also have around 600 photos to weed through so I can put together a nice photo album on FaceBook for everyone to enjoy.

The bus ride home was fun but a bit subdued. Everyone was tired and little sad that we were leaving all the friends that we had made during the conference. Most of the youth were staying and working at our Diocesan Summer Camp so that was something they were looking forward to (the bus was taking us to the Camp).

EYE was exciting, exhausting, energizing, and enriching! I cannot WAIT for EYE 2014!! No date or location have been announced yet but I plan on being there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saving hundreds of dollars -- using an iPad 2!

A good friend of mine, through the judicious use of his iPad 2, pretty much paid for the device last week. I thought his story was so cool that I want to share it with you.

My friend Ron needed some repairs made to his vehicle, after having it towed to the dealership when it wouldn't start that morning. After waiting for the mechanic to complete his diagnostics and assessment, he was informed that the estimate for all materials & labor came to $1750.00. Whew!!

So Ron used his 3G iPad to take a photograph of the written estimate. Then he used the White Pages app to locate several other repair shops in the area. Using that information, he sent the estimate as a FAX (using the email-to-FAX service) to those shops, requesting they respond with a more competitive estimate of the work required.

Within 20 minutes, Ron had received quotes from two other locations via his iPad that were $500-600 cheaper than the dealership. Ron showed them to the service manager saying, "Over the years, I have done all my business with you but your estimate is just too high. I hope you can make an accommodation given these quotes I have so that I can continue bringing my vehicle here for service."

It took about 15 minutes for the service manager to come back to Ron with an adjusted estimate that came in at $1100 -- beating the lowest quote from the other shops.

It just goes to show how having a highly functional and versatile tablet device like the iPad can make a difference in your everyday lives. And the $600 savings? Well, I think Ron is treating himself to a few new tech gadgets, of course!

Could this have been done with a laptop? Certainly! But in the time it takes just to boot up a laptop, get the webcam ready, and google the repairs shops, the iPad would have already completed those tasks (and you'd be playing Angry Birds while waiting for the responses).

You can't beat having a portable, powerful, and magical device like the iPad at the ready. It's all that, and has the potential to be even more given the vast number of apps available and the creativity of the one who wields it!

I am an iPad wielder. Ron is an iPad wielder. Do YOU have what it takes? :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts to catch up on

Bet you thought I had dropped off the blogosphere, eh? Yeah, well it has been exactly a month since my last post on this blog, but a lot of stuff has been going on in my life which has been keeping me so busy that I kinda let the blog dangle for a bit. But now I am back!

So what have I been up to? Well, I will attempt to recount some of the more interestings things and leave the rest on the editing floor.

Ryan made Honor Roll! Yep! Ryan was on the Honor Roll for the Fall Semester at his middle school. I was bursting with pride at his achievement. He worked very hard this school year and it really paid off for him. Last month, he asked me to go with him to the school's Honor Roll Breakfast for family. We enjoyed a nice pancake breakfast together and I got to watch him get his certificate. It was a special day for him (and for me too)!

Getting Fit! Starting this year, I decided to start working out -- walking, strength training, etc. In March, I added running to my list of activities. I am finding that I really enjoy running. First on the treadmill and now outdoors. I even ran (well actually ran some, walked some) my first 5K in April! I think I am hooked! In fact, I am running another 5K this Sunday, May 22. I feel good, and it adds to my overall goal of living a more healthy, active lifestype. I even set up a second blog just to chronicle my journey down this path: In fact, I have been posting to it more often than I have here this past month. (Oops!) Check it out!

A few Hospitalizations Not me, but in my family. Ryan had to go into Children's Hospital for a week in early May to address some gastronomical issues. He was a real trooper and got through the experience alright. He was discharged on Mother's Day, which was awesome because it made that day even more special for my wife Christi. He is back to his old bouncy self now!

Unfortunately, Christi ended up in the hospital exactly a week after Mother's Day. Go figure! She is still being treated and I ask your prayers as we work through this difficult time. She is improving but it is still unclear as to what the doctors are going to do and when she might be coming home.

Entertainment So in the midst of all of these things, we have tried to find ways to have a little fun! In April, Christi and I went to see a good friend (and Ryan's Godfather) in the musical "Guys and Dolls". A really fun show. And Tony, the lead male role, was fantastic! In May, we all went to see a CYT Production of "Godspell" which was very well done as well! It was nice seeing so many friends from CYT there and watch the young performers! Brought back good memories of Laura when she performed with the group.

We also saw quite a few movies over the last month: Fast Five (Cars!), Thor 3D (Awesome!), Rio (Fun!), Source Code (Great!), The Conspirator (Intriguing!), Battle: Los Angeles, and The Adjustment Bureau. Yeah, we like to see movies as a family or on 'date nights'. We are looking forward to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 4, The Hangover Part II, X-Men: First Class, Captain America, Super 8, Harry Potter, Green Lantern, and The Tree of Life.

Graduations! I have lots of great young adults who have graduated this year so far that I want to send a 'shout out' to: Corey Noe, Amanda Ossler, and Kylie Noe. Congratulations to you all! And there are more coming in June as well -- Abbey Kolarczyk, Kirsten Noe, Carol Koelling, Bryan Jones, Matt Andrews, and so many others! It is always a joy to watch kids from your youth programs grow up into amazing adults!


Well, I think those are the major events in the past month. Stay tuned for what's coming up in June. The biggie? The Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Minnesota!! I am going and it is going to be phenomenal!!! And I will totally be blogging about that right here!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Baptism Episcopal-style

I listened to my friend Rick Moyer's podcast this week called "Take Him With You". He is doing a multi-part segment called "Spiritual Bootcamp" where he explains the key tenants of the Christian Faith. The podcast is focused towards the unchurched where he shares his faith and discusses Spirituality in a non-threatening, non-preachy, and non 'religious' way.

This week he was talking about Baptism. He explained some of the origins of Baptism, where it is referred to in the Bible, and drilled down to the essentials of its importance. He talked a bit about Episcopalians in the podcast and suggested that I send in an audio comment explaining Baptism in the Episcopal Church. So I did! Below is what I sent him (note: I am no theologian so hopefully I did not misrepresent anything):
Holy Baptism was instituted by Jesus after His resurrection, when He appeared to His disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). He went on to say “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Another important Scripture verse that addresses Baptism is in John 3:5 where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” All of these actions by Jesus are why we see Holy Baptism as a Sacrament within the Church, just like the Eucharist or Holy Communion. In fact, these are the two major Sacraments in the Episcopal Church. (There are five other Sacraments).

We believe that one is only baptized once as a Christian. It does not matter which faith tradition baptized you. Once you are part of the Body of Christ, there is no further need to ‘redo’ that membership. For those who wish to formally join the Episcopal Church from another tradition, we ‘receive’ them into the church as opposed to baptizing them.

We baptize people of all ages when they request it. It is true that it is our tradition to baptize babies into the Body of Christ. This is done so that they can share in the New Covenant, in membership in the Body of Christ, and receive redemption by God (the whole original sin concept). During the service, promises are made on their behalf by their parents and sponsors (godparents), who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.

Then later, as you stated, when youth are old enough to make their own faith affirmation, there is a separate process called Confirmation, where they profess their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior in front of the church and usually a Bishop.

During a Baptism, the person being baptized states their faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they renounce Evil and the Devil, and they commit themselves to following God’s will. Then, using water, the person is either immersed or sprinkled three times, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus instructed in Matthew. Then the person is anointed with Holy Oil marking them as God’s child forever. And then we pray for the newly baptized.

It is a very powerful service, and the community witnessing baptism is encouraged to recommit themselves as it reminds us all of our responsibilities as Christians in this world.

I wanted to share with you part of the prayers that are said towards the beginning of the service. I think they are pretty cool and explain why water is such an important symbol in Christianity as a whole.
“We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Anyway, I hope I wasn’t too wordy here. I hope this provides a little clarity around how the more mainline Christian denominations like the Episcopal Church view Holy Baptism. Thanks for allowing me to share this.
I wish all of you a meaningful Holy Week and a joyous Easter as we celebrate the Resurrection and New Life in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moving forward with my weight loss goals

It all started last May when I decided to lose all the weight that I have been slowly gaining over the past five years. I was tired of looking at myself in photographs on Facebook because they made me feel like I needed to purchase a bigger digital display just to see the entire photo!

I met with a Registered Dietician several times, talking about my eating habits, what I like and did not like to eat, and what I needed to change. Then he and I worked out a strategy and a plan for what I should be eating for good nutrition, how to count my daily nutritional consumption (and what those numbers should be), and what is considered an appropriate 'portion' by normal (not American) standards.

I also decided to go back to what works; I went back to Weight Watchers. This time, I went to their 'At Work' program where the weekly meetings take place at your office and your support group are people with whom you work. It was the most convenient solution I could think of.

From May to December, I lost 50 pounds! Just by eating more intelligently, making better food and portion choices, and pretty much giving up fast food and sodas (drinking mostly water, iced tea, and an occasional Coke Zero).

Starting this year, I started working out at a local fitness center. I do both cardio (treadmill & biking) and strength training workouts and go at least five times a week. It is really making a difference in my endurance, strength, and my self image too. This week, I started a new program called Team Weight Loss which is a cardio program focused on weight loss and nutrition with a group of like-minded people. It is a challenge but it is kinda fun and the people are nice.

I am expecting good things from all this work! To date, I have lost almost 75 pounds. Very exciting progress, right? I am about halfway to my goal so I have to keep things interesting so I can stay motivated.

Then I joined their 90-day Challenge, where you weigh in at the start and then are weighed again at the end. There are prizes for the biggest 'losers'. But the two big cool things with this are 1) there are two 5K races I get to walk/run, and 2) twice each week I get to do any of their classes for free. I plan to take advantage of that deal!

In fact, I am doing a total of three 5K races. Two with the Challenge (in April and July), and a third sponsored by Weight Watchers in May. Hopefully I will survive -- I have never done a real 5K before. Hopefully, fast walking 5K on the Treadmill for several months has prepped me for this...

My bottom line goal is to lose another 75 pounds by this time next year and then to keep the weight off. I am going to be a lean, mean, fighting machine!

It is going to be hard work but it is so worth it! Pray for me! :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cool Apps for Ministry

There are several iPhone/iPad applications that I have used in support of my work as a Youth Ministry work. Since I have published articles about other apps that I like/use on my iPad, I thought I would share a few of my ministry-related apps as well so that others might benefit from their use.

BibleReader (by Olive Tree)
There are a lot of bibles available for iDevices. Olive Tree has been around for a very long time offering electronic bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, and study guides. I prefer this 'reader application' which is Free. The reader supports note taking, bookmarks, text searching, side-by-side viewing, complete font color/size controls, and display options. It also has integration with the EverNote web site/application for storing your notes for external uses.

Costs are incurred depending upon which resources you wish to download -- some bibles are free while others are still copyrighted. The good thing about this app and the company is that they offer lots of content, various translations including Hebrew and Greek.

iBCP $4.99
For Episcopalians, you can now have the complete Book of Common Prayer on your iDevice. Complete with the ability to bookmark sections, adjust font sizes, and cut-n-paste.

Lectionary for iPad $.99
This is a great resource for the standard or revised Common Lectionary for most Christian denominations, containing the complete three-year lectionary as well as the Daily Office. You can adjust the font size and background colors for ease reading.

Hymnal EH $6.99
There are a full collection of 'Hymnal apps' contains the top 250 hymns from the Hymnal -- music and lyrics -- and includes an organ recording of each hymn so you could play it as accompaniment. There are individual apps for Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian denominations as well as a 'general hymnal'.

Gospel Harmony $.99
Three of the four Gospels in the Bible are called the Synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Most of the stories and events in Jesus' life are found in all three of these Gospels. The Gospel of John also contains some of those same events but told from a different perspective. This app will show you the events and stories of Jesus' life as they appear in each Gospel "side-by-side" so you can read and experience them the way each writer recorded it.

Catholic Calendar
This is a Free app that will display the complete church calendar from the past through the year 2300. You can search by date or keyword, making it easy to find out when Easter falls or when a particular feast or Saint's Day is scheduled.

iPause $1.99
Need to relax and center yourself but cannot find a nearby Labyrinth? Then this is your app! Labyrinths have been used as an instrument for meditation and prayer for millennia. Now you can find that peace from the convenience of your iDevice.

Leading Ideas
This is a Methodist resource but is applicable to any parish ministry. It includes articles published by various authors, pastors, ministry leaders on a wide range of topics pertinent to church life and practice. It is a good resource for suggestions and ideas that might spark some creative solutions for your ministry.

Other apps
The following two applications are not specifically related to ministry but they are helpful 'support tools':

This is a free web service that offers online storage, management, and sharing of notes, email, audio recordings, and photos which can be accessed from any web browser or mobile device including iDevices, Android, Windows Mobile, and other smartphones. There are apps for each of these devices as well as an app designed for Macintosh and Windows computers.

In addition to being a great way to take notes during meetings and such (where the app keeps a local copy as well as storing it online), it is also able to share your content with others via email. And, if you are using the BibleReader app I mentioned earlier, all your notes entered within that app are synchronized with your EverNote account.

This is another free web service that offers 'cloud storage' of any kind of file you may wish to access from anywhere you have Internet access. Because the iPhone/iPad does not support USB/flash drives, the easiest way to 'carry your files around' is to place them on 'the cloud' in a secured space. It is a great way to store and share PDFs, Word and Excel documents, Presentations, photographs, etc. Many apps on mobile devices like the iPad support the ability to open and save documents to Box.Net.

This service also allows you to designate others to be able to access specific folders/files if you choose, giving them either View or Edit privileges.

Well, there ya go! Obviously, there are tons of websites that provide content and resources for your ministries, and most of those are accessible using your Safari web browser (or a browser like Perfect Browser).

If you know of other awesome/helpful apps for ministry leaders, please post a comment below. I love learning about new resources!

Note: I have not been approached by any of these companies to promote their products and I am not being compensated in anyway. Just wanted to be clear on that point.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More iPad 2 stuff -- Check out the "Just Because" Podcast!

So there I was, March 11th, in 40+ degree weather, waiting in a line with 400 other people for the new iPad 2. Luckily, I was around 60th in line so I was assured of getting what I wanted -- a 64gb 3G White iPad. Two and half hours later, I had two iPads in a white Apple bag and driving home to get them set up for me and my wife.

It has been two weeks and I have not been disappointed. The new iPad is fast, lightweight, and cool. Even my wife, who was not really sure she would use an iPad, is now using it regularly and enjoying the mobility and power that it offers.

So of course, I am willing to extol the praises of the latest Apple device to anyone who shows an interest. Well, the hosts of the podcast "Just Because" asked me if I would join them to discuss all things "iPad 2" on their show. Being the gentleman that I am, I had to accept! :)

The podcast should be online by March 27th. We discuss all the reasons for getting an iPad, what apps are helpful, and how the device can help you get work done as well as be entertained. You can go to their web site to listen/download the podcast, or, you can download/subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or your favorite pod catcher application.

In a previous post, I outlined what is new/different with the iPad 2. I also posted an article on iPad Killer Apps. So I invite you to read those articles if you are interested in learning more. I won't write all the stuff we talked about because it would be more entertaining and interesting if you just listened to the show.

However, I thought it might be helpful for me to outline all the applications that I have on my iPad right now so that you might have a list to work from. I am going to keep this just a 'list' rather than long explanations of what they all do. (There are so many web sites out there about iPad apps that I figure you can find all those details on your own.)

Not all of these apps might be useful to you but hopefully there are a few 'diamonds in the rough' that will elicit an 'oh sweet!' response.

Applications I use


FaceBook - FaceBook's Social Networking client
Skype - Audio & Video Conferencing
FaceTime - Apple's Video Conferencing service
Osfoora HD - Twitter Client
Friendly for FaceBook - 3rd party FaceBook client
IM+ - Multi-platform Instant Messenger (AOL, MSN, Google, etc)
HeyTell - Push-to-Talk Messenger (remember Nextel?)

News and Publications

CNN - Cable Network News (text, audio, and video)
NPR - National Public Radio Audio & Articles
WGNTV - Articles & Video
PBS - Video
USA Today - Digital Newspaper
The Daily - Digital Newspaper, Video, Photos
AP Mobile - Text articles from the Associated Press
People - Digital versions of People Magazine
Zinio - Digital Magazine aggregator
TED - Business related video presentations
Mashable - Online Tech news publisher
Flipboard - News/Twitter/FaceBook aggregator
Pulse - News/Twitter/FaceBook aggregator
Twit TV - Tech news broadcaster in audio and video
Kindle - Amazon Kindle Book Reader
Instapaper - Solution for 'saving' web pages for offline reading

Office and Business

Office2 HD - Editor for Microsoft Word and Excel documents
QuickOffice - Editor for MS Word, Excel, & Powerpoint docs
Numbers - Apple's spreadsheet application (reads Excel docs)
Keynote - Apple's presentation application (reads Powerpoint)
PocketCloud - Remote Desktop client for RDS, VNC, & VMWare
WebEx - To participate in online WebEx presentations
GoToMeeting - To participate in online presentations
WhitePages - White and Yellow page search/reverse searching
PDFReader Pro - Excellent PDF Reader
ToDo - Appigo Task Manager with online sync feature
Evernote - Online & Local Notetaking application
MaxJournal - Daily journaling app with security
BlogPress/WordPress - Blog Management and Publication
Perfect Browser - Browser alternative with browser emulation
FTP On The Go - FTP Protocol for file transfer

Cloud Storage

Box.Net - Free and Premium online storage
DropBox - Free online storage
GoogleDocs - Free online storage for Google users
MobileMe - this will likely be a free service in the near future


Weather Channel - Excellent for weather info w/maps & video
FlightTrack - flight information & real-time tracking, airport info
Kayak - Airline, Hotel search and booking tool
Google Earth - App to view any location on the globe
GPS Drive HD - Verbal turn-by-turn driving directions
Beat the Traffic - Traffic information for local streets & highways
HopStop - local Bus and Train schedules
Goby - search for events, restaurants etc


Dictionary - Dictionary, Thesaurus, etc
Wikipanion - Wiki search client
Epicurious - thousands of recipes
Ancestry - client for to research family tree info
Star Walk - amazing star gazing tool
Epocrates - Physician Desk Reference information for medications

eCommerce and Finance

Groupon - online coupons and deals for local businesses
Living Social - online coupons and deals for local businesses
Amazon - excellent online store application
Best Buy - buy whatever Best Buy sells online
eBay - Nice eBay client for searching and bidding on items
Apple Store - If Apple sells it, you can buy it with this
CraigsPro - Craigs List client
Mint - Quicken's free financial management tool
Paypal - Manage your Paypal accounts


Audible - audiobook manager and storefront
Fandango - movie information, trailers, and ticket purchasing
IMDB - all things TV and Movie related, nice implementation
ABC - view the TV shows being displayed on
Hulu Plus - view videos from Hulu (subscription service)
VEVO - Music Video player
VLC - Can play many video formats including Flash videos
LiveStream - onilne streaming video service
UStream - online streaming video service, allows broadcasting - viewer for many 'old school' TV programs
iMovie - edit and author movies
DC Comics - Comic book purchase and viewer
PluggedIn - movie reviewing service by Focus on the Family
NetFlix - watch NetFlix on demand videos (with an account)

Music and Audio

Pocket Tunes - listen to radio broadcasts worldwide
SiriusXM - listen to live broadcasting if you have this service
Digi Drums - play the digital drums
Piano DX - play the piano
GarageBand - fantastic music authoring tool
Djay - mix, tempo match, and scratch as a live DJ


Photo Transfer App - copy photos/video bet computer & iDevices
Photogene - photo editing software


Angry Birds
Solitaire City - multiple version of Solitaire
Jeopardy - Jeopardy (single player or network)
Wheel HD - Wheel of Fortune (single player or network)
Cut the Rope
Doodlehang - Hangman game
Pinball HD
fritz - nice chess game
NFS Shift - cool interactive racing game

Accessories of interest

There are many options that Apple and other vendors offer to extend the capabilities of the iPad. Here are a few ot them:

Apple Smart Cover - provides protection for the display screen and will automatically turn the iPad 2 off when it covers the screen. it also converts in a stand for horizontal viewing or for slight elevation for easy typing.

Bluetooth devices - there are several external keyboards, mice, speakers, and headsets which will connect to the iPad via Bluetooth wireless technology.

Cases - starting April there will be a bunch of new cases released for the new iPad which will support the new cameras, offer built-in bluetooth keyboards, etc. Cases are very individualistic so pick one that will work for you, fit your use of the device, and of course match your favorite color and fabric preferences.

Digital AV Adapter - this will allow you to connect the iPad to an HDMI device for full 1080P display of movies and other content. It will also provide 5.1 surround sound audio output.

Component Video cable - for those without HDMI devices, you can connect the iPad via the RGB Component cable.

Composite Video cable - this is the most basic method for connecting an iPad to a TV or other display device. It is not HD but the display will be crisp enough.

VGA Adapter - this is what you need if you plan on using the iPad for business presentations via an LCD Projector. Very nice to have!

Camera Connection Kit - for photographers who want to connect their digital SLR camera to the iPad, this is the device for you. It will allow you to view, copy, and delete photos from your camera (or SD card) as long as they are stored in a folder named 'DCIM'.

If you are looking for a fully functional and magical tablet that can really free your mind and increase your productivity as a reasonable price, then I encourage you to consider the new iPad 2.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Prayer -- God's "Wireless"

Prayer and Music are two ways that I communicate with God. Finding ways to stay in contact with the Holy is important. It gives me a way to share my joys and concerns; it helps me feel close to the Creator; and it helps me create a space where the Creator can speak to me.

So how does it work? Well, I think it works differently for each person. Some people are very verbal, others are very movement oriented, while others are very visual. I think personal Prayer is just that -- personal -- and you have to find the approach that puts you in touch with the Holy Spirit living within your heart and the Creator.

How do you start?

There are as many ways to pray as there are ways to communicate. One might even call prayer "God's own Wireless Network" that connects all humanity to Him. Hmmm, does that mean "4G" could mean "For God"?

I have a friend in a "Christian Journey" discussion group who shared that his prayer life is anchored by the phrase "Thank You, Lord". He has experienced some tough situations in his life and has come to a profound sense of gratitude for the life he has been given, and the gifts that each new day brings. He wakes up giving thanks, he gives thanks throughout the day, and at the end of the day, he gives thanks again.

Another friend shared that for her, music plays a huge role in her connectedness with God. Singing hymns and listening to Christian music open a window into her soul and lets God's Love shine in. Singing the words of those songs is a prayer offering for her.

Tolstoy has a great story about prayer. It is about a Bishop who meets with three Hermits isolated on a small island. He asks them how they pray and they responded by raising their faces to the sky and saying "Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us." The Bishop, determined to teach them the right way to pray, spent all day teaching the three old men The Lord's Prayer. I won't tell you the ending, but suffice to say that the Bishop realized that the three old men were already praying the 'right way' -- the way that was meaningful to them.

For me, I just start talking. Many times, I pray out loud, especially during my long commute to/from work. There is something concrete and 'real' when I speak my thoughts to God. I feel like I am making commitments, taking my sharing seriously, putting feelings and thoughts 'out there' for Him to fully digest. And music is huge for me -- whether I am singing or listening -- I feel like I am in the midst of 'holy space' between me and my Lord.

Some examples of Prayer

There is no formula to praying. You just say what is on your heart. But like lyrics to a song, there are many sources of prayers that can help you form the thoughts you wish to express. There are several prayers that are meaningful to me, for various reasons. I will share a few of them here.

Prayer of Humble Access (humility before God)
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

The Doxology (praising)
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (focusing on my mission)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Serenity Prayer (to help me cope with life)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.


So take some time during this Lenten season, to take time for prayer. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to be a bit more thoughtful and contemplative. Maybe you can start off each morning with the following prayer called The Morning Resolve:

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Find your special way of connecting with The Holy One and strike up a conversation. God is like the switchboard operator who is always on the other end of the line, just waiting for you to pick up the phone on the other end. He is patient; he never hangs up.

And His Wireless Network never drops a call.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The iPad 2 -- so what's the big deal!?

So there I was, sitting at a table with some friends beside me and several other friends on a Skype conference call.  Why? Because we were all excited about the latest Apple announcement: the new iPad 2 is coming!  On March 11th! And you better get your chairs, blankets (here in Chicago at least), and snackage ready to stand in line (at 5PM no less)!

So why should I consider such a crazy thing!  I already have -- and LOVE -- my 3G iPad.  It does so much stuff I sold my NetBook and rarely have to use my personal laptop for my computing needs.  So is it worth it to go through all the inconvenience to have the new iPad in my twitchy little fingers on March 11th?  Do I just order it online using my existing iPad and let them deliver it (free shipping) several days later?

I mean, "What's the Big Deal?"

Those of you who know me personally are probably already saying, "Dude, you know you want it so just go ahead and get it."  In fact, one of my friends responded by saying "Do it! You're only young once!"  (I am 50 years old, LOL).

So I guess since I am apparently very young still, I might be taking my friend Ken's advice.  Not to mention that my wife would love to have my 1st generation iPad.  But why would I want to make another technology investment (i.e. lay out the cash) for this thing?

I use my iPad for a lot of work activities.  When I say 'work', I mean not only my full-time IT job, but all the work I do with youth ministry, theater tech, blogging, and just the regular stuff we all do daily (finances, communications, office automation, etc.).  It gets LOTS of use and I push it to the limit.  And of course, I use it to unwind after doing all that work stuff -- music, videos, streaming video, news, online shopping, games, photography, and keeping track of my family tree.  It even helps me with my Klingon Language training (no snickering in the back row!).

So why the iPad 2?  Because I can do all of that stuff faster and hopefully more efficently.  I can also do more things that today are either not possible or require jumping through multiple hoops to accomplish. And the lighter weight and thinner form factor will delay my eventual carpal tunnel problems.  (And yes, because it is cool!)

Here are some of the features that I see are most beneficial to me (your mileage may vary):
  1. The faster A5 Chip.  I cannot stress how important having a faster processor is.  Having a dual-core CPU will allow me to use some of the newer features of the iPad that require more muscle.  And it will make my current tasks flow much faster.  I hate delays in app execution and I anticipate this will be signficantly reduced.  Fast = Good!
  2. Ligher and Thinner.  The new iPad will be 15% lighter and about 33% thinner than its predecessor.  In fact, it will be thinner than the iPhone 4.  While this will mean I have to buy a new case (the wife inherits my current cool cases), the ability to handle the device for longer periods without fatigue or awkwardness will be an advantage.  I carry the iPad around practically everywhere I go so this is important to me.
  3. Front and Rear Cameras.  I utilize online conferencing frequently to communicate with friends, family, as well as church workers, my youth group, and so many others.  Having the ability to conduct two-way video conferencing via Skype (and now FaceTime) will be huge for me.  I will no longer have to use my laptop for those calls, making me more flexible regarding when/where I can collaborate with others.  The 5 megapixel HD rear camera will be nice for photography, and now I can take the shot and edit it (avoiding my current process of taking the picture with the iPhone and then transferring it over to the iPad for better viewing and editing).
  4. Faster Graphics.  This will make video and gaming applications run more smoothly and with greater rendered detail.  While gaming is not a primary use, it will be nice!
  5. Gryoscope.  This addition to the hardware will make the iPad respond better to orientation changes and to gaming behavior.  It will also work along with the accelerometer for more accurate precision and sensitivity for those apps as well as location-based services/applications.
  6. 65,000 iPad-specific Apps:  This is a big thing for making the choice for going for the iPad rather than another tablet device.  No tablet is worth much if the apps that meet your various needs do not exist.  And in my opinion, iOS is the best mobile/tablet operating system currently on the market.  (Android is cool, but it ain't iOS yet.)
I won't lie:  I really want a white iPad this time too.  So I appreciate having the choice.  And while you will be able to also choose between a 3G model using AT&T or Verizon, I will probably take the AT&T version because it supports the ability for 3G use in countries outside the USA.  And the AT&T data network is faster than Verizon's -- as long as the network is available.  I am a bit disappointed that the iPad 2 does not support 4G.

So I guess I am going to have to deal with the lines at 5PM on the 11th (or figure out some other ingenious method for getting my iPad 2 on Friday).

Or, maybe I will calm my 'instant gratification' urges and just buy it online (and lay in the fetal position in the bedroom until the UPS guy shows up).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Living out your Passion

I have been a Youth Leader in parishes for over 20 years and have served as a Youth Minister in my current Diocese for at least 10 of those years. Working with middle and high school youth is my passion and a calling to which I have tried to be faithful throughout my life. It is fulfilling and heartwarming in a way that I cannot even begin to explain. But when I am in the midst of it, my soul rejoices and I know I am doing what God wants for my life.

In the 1970s, I was encouraged to be active in my church by my mother: participating in youth group events, serving at the Altar, working at the church's Well Child Clinic on Saturdays, and attending youth rallies. As a Junior, I served on a 'Program Group on Youth" in my Diocese as a Youth Deanery Representative, where we planned all the diocesan-level youth events (retreats, summer programs, dances) and coordinated youth participation during the annual Diocesan Convention in Los Angeles. I was also doing Basic Catechism for youth at a Los Angeles Juvenile Detention facility.

It was an exciting, amazing time for me. I was filled with a sense of God's presence and was developing a strong personal relationship with my Savior. I was also struggling with discernment over what my purpose and future would look like. I discussed feelings about pursuing ordination with my priest and friends but I wasn't sure how that would fit in with my other interests and skills (like computer science, foreign languages, photography, music, etc.). But it was clear even as a high schooler, that my faith would always play a major role in my life and that God had a plan for me -- even if I did not really understand what it was yet.

And I am still on that faith journey. I have served in many capacities over the years, working as a youth leader in various Christian churches/denominations, serving in soup kitchens, being a camp counselor at a Christian Camp, and serving on any number of commissions and committees at both local and diocesan levels. But the one consistent thread in my life has been working with young people of all ages, hopefully helping them to experience God in a meaningful way.

This past weekend, I just spent last Friday through Sunday serving on a ministry team for a high school youth retreat called Happening whose theme was "Joy" (Isaiah 12:3). The leader of a Happening is a high school student (usually a senior) we call the 'rector'. The 'rector' builds a team made up of an 'observing rector', two adult mentors, two spiritual directors (priests/deacons), and a staff of other high school students and adults serving in various capacities necessary to make the retreat a success. I served as one of the mentors.

The retreat gathered over 50 youth and adults together to take a journey of discovery, looking for Christ and how He works in our lives. We remove the 'masks' we usually wear during the day to reveal the beauty of our true selves -- the 'self' that Jesus knows and loves. We took time to Embrace the Joy of Smiling.

Experiencing God in a real, tangible way is a powerful thing. This weekend was fabulous and I got to share it with youth who are gifted, joyful, and amazing. It was truly a blessed event for everyone there and concluded with a worship service celebrated by one of our Bishops. My heart was soaring!

I share all of this just to say that for each of us, God has a plan for our lives. That plan will be revealed through prayer, listening, and discernment -- usually through the witness and insights from friends, family, and others that God puts in your path. And when you find your call, your passion, you have to go for it! You have to respond. I found mine. You can find yours.

Go Live your Passion!