Thursday, June 30, 2011

Venezuela Days 3, 4, and 5

First, let me appologize forw the lapse posting. The internet connection at the hotel has gotten overwhelmed a few times in the last few days.

Secondly, rest assured I am taking a plethora of pictures but due to the slowness of the internet connection, I will not be able to post them until I get back home.

Monday morning we made a trip to the Venezuelan version of our blue or orange big box home building supply, In Venezuela it is called EPA and the logo is a giant creepy looking scorpion. We purchased so many supplies that we filled a Ford Ranger past the roofline.

Much like the big boxes in the states, they did not have everything we needed, so after lunch with the boys at Project Jonas' farm, we drove into downtown to the electrical supply store. Despite having a translator along to assist, I had a difficult time getting anyone to understand what a inch and a half male adaptor was. I resorted to pointing to pieces on display. I finally spotted a listing on the end of a shelf a determined in Venezuela they are called "macho adaptor".

By the time we got back to the farm it was around 3pm, so I focused on some small projects. I replaced a light fixture in the kitchen, replaced numerous burned out light bulbs, managed to get a couple ceiling fans back to working, installed blank plates over some open electrical boxes with live wires, installed two new lights in a couple bathrooms, and a GFI outlet in one bathroom.

After returning to the hotel, we grabbed showers, headed to dinner, had a brief team meeting, and collapsed into bed.

Tueday morning the alarm seemed to go off to early. We drug ourselves out of bed, brushed our teeth with bottled water and headed down to breakfast. The hotel served eggs, plantains, black beans and cut up hot dogs. It was very delicious.

We had a list of additional items needed so we made another trip to Epa and to the electrical supply house then onto the farm. Others on our team were working on digging a ditch for installing a drain field, while others were renovating two bathrooms, and still others were rebuilding closets in the boys rooms.

We began running 200ft of PVC conduit with pullboxes and pulling wiring for a pump or in spanish El Bombo. The pump is pretty important as the city water supply to the farm is only on two hours a day. So the fill huge tanks constructed under a huge rear terrace and then rely on the pump to supply water pressure to fill toilets and run showers. This had been down due to electrical issues for quite sometime.

We reached a stopping point on this work around 4pm, so we went to check on another one of our groups working on constructing an 8 by 10 concrete block enclosure for garbage. They had dug the footers and constructed forms for pouring the concrete slab. When we walked up, they were in the process of mixing concrete on the ground. I had mixed concrete in wheel barrows numerous times working with my Dad growing up, but this was amazing. I grabbed a shovel and began helping mix.
Before long I could not lift a shovel of concrete. More of our team walked up and relieved those of us tiring. After a few hours the whole 8 by 10 slab was poured and looked pretty darn good for hand mixed concrete.
I was very impressed how the boys joined us in all the work we were doing and worked really hard.

We piled into the vans for the hotel where we scrubbed dirt and concrete off our bodies in the showers before dinner. Then another brief meeting and once again we collapsed into our beds totally exhausted.

Wednesday started with a brief trip for souvenir shopping. The market area reminded me of a flea market in the states. We spent an hour or so wondering thru the shops picking up a few items for the folks at home and then made another trip to Epa for supplies.

We arrived at the farm just in time for lunch with was once again amazing local cuisine. I got an interpreter to help me communicate with a couple local volunteers who had been working with me on running the new wiring for the pump. They had just finished connecting it and it worked. Prior to this, the boys had to fill toilet tanks with buckets of water. But now, they once again had water pressure to properly operate toilets.

I checked in on the group redoing the bathrooms and installed a couple blank plates over some wall boxes and packed away my electrical pouch.

We then went down to assist the group working on the trenching job. They had completed the trench and had gravel laid in, so I grabbed the drainage pipe, a saw, and some PVC glue and began assembling the drainage pipe. As we completed a section, some of the group followed behind us and filled with gravel. By the time we were finished we were covered in mud to our knees and completely exhausted.

We hosed off best we could and loaded up for the hotel. After consuming all the hot water at the hotel taking showers, we dressed and headed to the lobby. We were divided into small groups and sent off to have dinner in homes of church members.

Fortunately for us, a spanish teacher in our group accompanied Allison and I. We went to the home of a local couple who were wonderful hosts. The wife had prepared a delicious traditional meal complete with salad and hand made dressing, Carne Asada and rice, and plantains. We all cleaned our plates. She then suprised us with passion fruit dessert and to top it all off she made Venezuelan coffee which was the best coffee I have ever tasted. We enjoyed several hours visiting with their family before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Venezuela - Day 2

We awoke at 7:30am Sunday and headed to breakfast and had a buffet of scrambled eggs, fried plantains, chopped hot dogs, what looked like really small biscuits. The food was enjoyable and filling. We met for a brief meeting with our team and I gave a devotion and shared with the group a brief description on my life story which was met was gasps. I still get weepy when I recount the struggles I have been through over the years and how God has steadily provided and guided me through it all.

We attended the morning worship service with a Church in Barquisimeto that has partnered with Northpoint Ministries in Alpharetta, Georgia. I was amazed to hear that since they had adapted to what our church campuses have been doing that they have went from around 1,000 people attending their Sunday services to over 6,000 a Sunday. We took a tour of their children's ministries which were packed to the gills with children who were laughing and playing and had huge smiles on their faces. We set in on their 12pm worship service that was all in Spanish. But the worship music was awesome despite the fact I could not understand a single word. The minister delivered a message that was on rescuing the love of your life/marriage and the 2,000 in attendance at this service seemed to be right in-tune with the message.

We were then shuttled to the food court in a downtown shopping mall where I was able to find a KFC and enjoy some fried chicken for comfort food. What is Sunday without fried chicken right?

We left the mall and headed to the farm that hosts "Project Jonas" where we met with the boys who are currently residents at the home and the staff. We found the boys to be loving and likeable and shared dinner with them. I had a chance to make a quick tour of the facilities and make two pages of notes on items that need attention of electrical nature. There is a lot that needs to be addressed and I will need to assemble a shopping list for electrical supplies.

Time to get some rest, we have a good bit of work to start on tomorrow.


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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Venezuela Day 1

Up before the sun. I'm so not this early of a morning person. Dash Transport arrived at 4:10am and we headed out in the darkness to the airport. Much of the trip follows the same route of my daily commute. Funny there isn't as much traffic on Saturday morning as on a weekday. I honestly think there is traffic all hours day and night on weekedays.

We meet up with the rest of our 17 member team for our day of air flight at the airport and fly to Miami then on to Caracas, Venezudeal and then finally to Barquisimeto. I am already tired just thinking about it.

I have packed books for reading, chips, nuts, and jerkey to stave off hunger with extras in my checked bag. In the event of emergency, your seat can act as a floatation device and my backpack can feed you for a week.

Weather guessers are predicting rain. I won't be outside again until 8pm so, ok.

9.29am landed in Miami, found a restaraunt across from the gate that serves pancakes. i'm in like flynn. the waitress saw our shirts and she told us that she was from Venezuela. So we got to tell her where we were going and what we will be doing. Halfway thru breakfast an airline employee walked in and came to our table. He said he saw our shirts walking by and he was from Barquisimeto. He was keenly interested in our trip and what we were going to be doing. He was quite encouraging and a wealth of tips.

When I finished stuffing my face like I might not ever see food again, we rejoined our group at the gate for our flight to Caracass, Venezuela. One of the guys in our group, Kyle, strung up his hammock between a rwo of chairs and a handrail. It was the talk of the gate area. As all the seating was occupied, I set on the floor and while mkaing conversation with our team, a small boy maybe 2 years old rolled a nerf football our direction. I retrieved it from under the seats for him and gave it back to him. He stopped and stared into my eyes for like 30 seconds and then broke into a huge smile. For the next 15 minutes, he would toss the ball my direction. It appeared I had made a friend.

Our flight departed Miami at 11:45am and much to my suprise, American Airlines fed us a hot meal for lunch. The last time I had a meal on an American flight, it was in the 1990s and it was their Bistro bag which tasted like tire rubber. The lunch the served on this trip was quite enjoyable, my hat is off to them.

We landed in Caracass around 3:45pm and was I in for a suprise. The mountains that frame the airport are breath taking. The airport itself is definately different compared to anything I have experienced in the past. It was like an American Flea Market and a regional airport combined. We spend 5 hours in the aiport before catching our final flight into Barquisimeto. We had dinner at the airport the team had an assortment of Arepas some were only cheese filled, some were chicken filled, some were filled with shredded beef. An Arepa is a corn flour tortilla that is puffy and soft unlike the tortilla that you would get in a burrito. The flavor is kind of bland and needs hot sauce in my opinion. There was also a couple bacon pizzas purchased and I have to give it to the Venezuelans, they can do a great number on pizza.

When our flight boarded for Barquisimeto, they did not board by sections like airlines in the U.S. It was just bascially, doors open, loaded 'em up. We arrived in Barquisimeto around 8:30pm, and we were beat. The airport in Barquisimeto reminded me a great deal of the aiport in Albany, Georgia. We were met by an excited and welcoming group from the church who had something I have never seen, 15 passenger KIA vans. They made quick work of loading up the mountain of luggage we had brought and scurried us on to the hotel. The ride was incredible. The roads from the airport to the hotel were 30 miles of twisting two-lanes in each direction. The drivers change lanes multiple times and at times seem like they are practicing for road racing or formula drift. We arrived at a gated and guarded hotel around 9pm and quickly dove into the bed. I am pretty sure I was asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I Ride?

Its been a long several weeks at work. We have had construction going on in our offices and my team has been busy relocating folks to temporary office space on Thursdays and Fridays and then moving them back to their reconstructed office space on Mondays. This has involved a lot of crawling under desks, moving computers, relocating phone circuits, moving heavy printers, and the like. It has been four weeks of this process, and we have quickly arrived at a point where we do not want to hear the words office and move in the same paragraph let alone the same sentence.

This past weekend was the final phase of the four phase project. But to make the weekend a little more exciting, headquarters also scheduled a phone system replacement/upgrade on Friday as well. So after two days of relocating staff, we then spent Friday night at the office performing a cut over of the office phone circuit and from the old phone switch to the new one as well as swapping out all of the phone sets with new models, testing and verifying functionality.

Fortunately, the phone system work went off without a hitch even though we could not place phones in 14 offices because they were getting painted and re-carpeted and another 10 offices because access was blocked by cubicle furniture parts stacked out of the way for the office construction. We had estimated wrapping up the work at 10pm Friday night, but we were completed by 8pm. So, I was soon headed to the motorcycle parking in the bowels of the building ready for a couple days away from the job.

When I rolled out of the tunnel onto the city street, I quickly realized it had rained maybe an hour earlier and the unbearable heat had been broken by the rain and the temperature was around 74F as opposed to the 94F I had ridden home in all week.

As I began my 42 miles commute home, I could feel myself relax and my shoulders and neck began to lose the stiffness I had felt when I walked out. The cool wind in my face felt invigorating. The longer I rode the better I felt. As I gently weaved my way thru the Friday night traffic I remembered why I enjoy riding motorcycles and why I chose to ride to work. Its not because the bike gets more than twice the fuel mileage that my pickup gets. Its because of how much I enjoy riding a motorcycle. How free and alive I feel as I am rolling through the gears and watching things fly by in my peripheral vision. The smell of the fresh rain evaporating off the roadway, the sounds of everything you pass, the gazes of the people in the cages you pass that seem to be wishing they were on a motorcycle all add to it.

When I walked out of the office door and punched the elevator, I felt worn out like an old leather baseball glove, like I had been rode hard and put up wet. But after an hours ride on Rosie, I rolled into the garage at home feeling refreshed, relaxed, and alive.

I am truly blessed to be able to ride as much as I do and I am grateful.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Daring Mighty Things

Image Source: TruTV

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt

Are you stymied by the fear of failure? Is there a dream that has been knocking around in the back of your head to venture out and attempt something, but you have never took that first step? I want to encourage you to strongly consider pursuing whatever that dream may be. We were not designed with mediocrity in mind.

Never took a motorcycle ride that was more than 3 or 4 hours on a Saturday? Always wanted to go to Sturgis? Time is a wasting. One of the most enjoyable rides I have ever taken was an 8 hour ride to Tampa/St. Pete for work a couple years back. Yes, it was a long time in the saddle, but boy that ocean sure looked good and the salt air smelled wonderful when I arrived.

Ever thought there was a calling on your life for a certain occupation or mission? A couple of weeks ago I caught up with a friend that I did not had a chance to visit with in almost a year. We quickly got catching each other up on what was going on in our lives. I knew that he, his wife, and daughter had all gone on short term mission trips to Africa, so I knew he would be excited to hear that Allison and I were going to Venezuela. When I told him, I was right. He was quite excited, but he surprised me, too. He and his wife both felt a call to serve there full time and have been making plans to quit their jobs and become full time missionaries. Talk about daring mighty things!

We are here a very short time and there is no guarantees how long we will live or that we will die in our old age in our sleep. So, I suggest living life to its fullest. Dare mighty things!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

An Overheard Conversation

Last night, after the sun had started setting and the temperature dropped below 95F, Allison and I took Sadie and Kramer (our dogs) out for an evening walk. At one point, we were walking down a long sidewalk that leads to the neighborhood swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts. Across the street on the other sidewalk were three girls who looked to be about 7th or 8th graders wearing bikinis headed towards the pool. A boy around their age was approaching them. As he got closer, he said, "Hey, where are y'all going?" I thought it a dumb question if one considered the three were bikini clad and their direction of travel was in direction intersection with the community pool. One of the girls responded, "Were going to the pool." In my head, I inserted "Duh Huh". The boy then replied, "Cool, can I come?" The girl responded, "Sure!" He then said, "OK, let me go get my swimsuit." And started off towards his house when one of the girls called out, "Bring two more penises!"

Allison and I stopped dead in our tracks. She asked me if she had really heard what she thought she heard. I confirmed the conversation. She then asked if I thought they looked too young to be in High School. I confirmed they looked to be Middle Schoolers at best. We resumed walking the dogs and after a few minutes of quiet reflection, mentally digesting what we had just observed, our conversation picked up on this generation versus ours.

During training for the volunteer position I am beginning, I have learned a lot about how early kids have begun experimenting with sex, drugs, alcohol, and a gamut of other things in life. I have begun to understand how badly today's kids need positive role models. TV and movies certainly are not providing them. Their peers are not providing them. So, I guess it is up to us.

It is high time for a change in our priorities. It is not all about us. How can we make a difference? What can we do for one that we would like to do for all? What can we do this week to have a positive influence on today's kids?


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Seasons of Life

As I get older, I have come to understand the concept of the seasons of life. Some interests or passions from earlier years seem to fade and new interests take their  place. As I think of what consumed my thoughts and time 25 years ago, I am amazed that I am no longer even casually interested in those things. Those chapters of my life are closed and I move on to new motivations.

Through the 1980s, I was consumed with auto racing. My  brother began drag racing and i enjoyed helping him with the car. I followed  NASCAR with a passion. I went to truck and tractor pulls and monster truck competitions. I began working as a volunteer crew member on a dirt track stock car team. That led me to building, owning, and driving my own dirt track car. I then spent 10 years racing stock cars and dreaming of breaking into NASCAR as a driver.

At one point when I had put racing on hold to start up my own computer consulting business, my first crew chief moved to North Carolina and landed a job with a small NASCAR Winston Cup team. Through hard work and increasing skills, he worked his way up the career ladder. Today he has a good paying job with a major NASCAR team building race cars.

One night in 2001, around 1am driving 4 hours home from a race, I began to evaluate how much money, time, and effort I had poured into racing and what I had gotten out of it. That night in the quiet darkness of I-75,  I decided I was done. When I arrived home, I hung my driving suit in the closet, sold my HANS device, helmet, and driving shoes on EBAY and never looked back. Purchasing a motorcycle and beginning to ride a good bit seemed to adequately replace the enjoyment I had when driving a race car without the endless hours each week to maintain a race car.

About 9 months after retiring from racing, I got an offer to write for a racing news website - I thought it would be a good way to keep myself connected to the sport and improve my writing skills. So I began submitting a weekly article and began to interact with readers who either strongly agreed with my opinions on racing or strongly disagreed. The emails after publication each week were quite interesting at times.

In 2007, I left Speedway to write for, where I have been writing ever since. Over the years, I have enjoyed attending NASCAR races with race team guest credentials providing me access to the garage and pit road and providing good background for my weekly articles. Over the last two years, I enjoyed media credentials which provided me access to the garage, pit road, media center, and the press box. So when I was working race weekends, I had access to all of the driver press availability sessions, etc.

Needless to say, I have enjoyed the last 10 years as a racing journalist, but I could feel it coming to an end. After all of the years of wanting to either be at the track for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, or sitting in front of the TV for the live broadcasts of those three events each weekend, I suddenly felt the interest draining. Suddenly, it became a task to sit down Sunday night and write a 500 word article on the happenings of the week in racing. I finally realized, I was really done with racing, not only as a driver or crew member, but even as a writer.

So, I submitted my final article this weekend. Something about it seemed like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. New interests are calling. Another chapter has closed and another one is opening.

In July, I will begin volunteering as a small group leader with Transit, the middle school program at Browns Bridge Community Church. I am looking forward to mentoring a group of 6th grade boys and hope I can be a positive influence in their lives. This fall, Allison and I will begin serving as small group leaders for a couples small group as well. And, as I have mentioned previously on this blog, we are headed to Venezuela this Summer on a short term mission trip.

Change once was something I met with fear and trepidation. Now, I am embracing it.