Monday, July 27, 2009

"I'm a loser baby..."

"so why don't you kill me." Yes one of my favorite songs back in the day "Loser" by Beck
(If you've never heard it or haven't heard it in a while take a minute to listen by clicking on the link above before reading on)

That song was kind of a mantra for my life during the mid-90's. I was proud to think of myself as a loser, and desired to be seen as one. I guess you could say I was driven toward loser-dom. It's funny to think back to the philosophy of my youth and to see how my mindset on life has evolved.
"I'm a driver, I'm a winner; things are gonna change I can feel it"

Over the years I have eliminated I'm a loser out of my vocabulary, I have replaced it with words of encouragement and affirmation. I have set out to undo the self-esteem battering that I brought upon myself. I have found that change is a slow but steady process. I would make amazing progress and yet one set back, one failure, or even one really stupid move; could put me back to singing...
"Soy un perdedor - I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me? "

Since January of 2009, I have lost 20 pounds. Now everyday that number changes, today it's 18 pounds, but I know two weeks from now it may be 22 pounds. I did not use a fancy diet, I just examined my eating and lifestyle habits and made some small but feasible changes. I have added in a minimum of 3 workouts a week and have been known to reach 6 a week. I've replaced soft drinks with water, replaced deli meat sandwiches for salads and tuna, and almost completely avoid fast food. I have not radically changed my life or my diet, but I have made changes that I know I can stick with for the long haul. If I make a mistake or have a bad weekend, I know I can get right back on track and feel better for it.
"get crazy with the cheese whiz"

So now once again I consider myself a loser baby and I'm proud of it. I know that I can lose any bad habits, negative mindsets, generational curses, or depressing influences in my life. When it comes to change, God will open the door suddenly and purpose for us to do the work gradually over an extended period of time. Sudden change is not always lasting change.
"Know what I'm sayin?"

So take it from me:

"You can't write if you can't relate"

Until next time...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My ex-Exxon

I believe in life there are certain business that need to be your "regulars". Places that you have a relationship with, places that you trust without a doubt. I go to the same hairstylist, I have a regular doctor that I see, I go to the same church every weekend, I use the same plumber, heat and air company, and electrician when a need arises. There is a certain security in knowing and trusting a select few businesses that we trust to perform services, and we frequent on a regular basis.

Another big one for me, that I did not list previously, is my auto repair shop. After moving to Asheville for years I used a repair shop located in Leicester, recommended by a good friend. I really liked him and he was always fair priced and most of all I trusted him. The only issue I had with this shop was the inconvenience of getting rides back and forth when I needed to drop off my vehicle. Over a year ago I decided to change to a shop within walking distance of my house, again from a recommendation of a good friend and neighbor. This new repair shop is called North Asheville Exxon and is located on Merrimon Avenue opposite Stein Mart, and just before Ingles. Over the course of the last year I have taken all of our vehicles to the Exxon for all of our service needs. I saw they stayed busy, seemed very nice and knowledgeable, and of course the location was very convenient. With all these factors in play I never once doubted their trustworthiness, I never double checked the price of a part, or ever called for a second opinion.

On Tuesday while parked in the Lowe's parking lot my work van decided it was not going to crank, no matter how badly I wanted it to. I had to have it towed in for service, and of course without hesitation I told the driver to take it to my repair shop – North Asheville Exxon. I got a call from Paul at N.A. Exxon and he explained it was my fuel pump and that the gas tank would have to be removed to replace it and it would be between $700 and $750 to repair. That just about took my breath away, I don't think I have ever paid that much for any vehicle repair, ever. Something inside of me said this is not right you need to check this out. I called around and found that it was only $525.00 at other places. I called N.A. Exxon and explained that I had found it cheaper and said if you can meet halfway I will leave it at your shop but if not I have to go somewhere else for service. He said I should take it elsewhere because he could not come down on his price. This was a major inconvenience, because I had to have it towed to the other repair shop which cost me $60.00 more. The tow truck driver called me from N.A. Exxon and said they needed to run my credit card for the diagnostics fee, so I once again took for granted they were trustworthy and gave them the number over the phone for the $39.05 charge.

Biltmore Lake Automotive (828)670-6522 was the repair shop that I decided to have the van towed to. Biltmore Lake Auto called me on Wednesday to tell me the van was ready, and they had a question for me. They asked me if I had put gas in the van at N.A. Exxon or if I had asked Exxon to. I replied "No, of course not, there was plenty of gas in the van, I just filled up the day before". They said stapled to my diagnostics receipt was also receipt for 2.5 gallons of gas that was also charged to my credit card. Now I know I had never asked or authorized N.A. Exxon to put gas in the van, and I wondered out loud why they would have done that. Scott from Biltmore Lake Auto told me he knew exactly why they did it. He explained that it makes it extremely difficult for them to remove the tank and it was almost twice as much work. Exxon had filled the tank so full the gas was all the way up the tube to the gas cap, and they had done it on purpose to spite me and Biltmore Lake Auto. If the tank had been empty it would have been the easiest to remove, however even being 2.5 gallons less it would have been so much more manageable.

I was amazed at how selfish, inconsiderate, and even childish North Asheville Exxon acted toward a long time customer. I am now disgusted to think I have even given them one cent of my hard earned money in the past, but I am happy to now know their true heart towards their customers. I have now seen that they don't care about any of their customers, only their money and they will rip you off and stab you in the back at the drop of a hat. I was speaking to my neighbor tonight about my experience, and he shared with me that he just recently stopped using N. A. Exxon because of multiple excessive charges where the same problem kept re-appearing. He said that when he took his truck to a different shop the problem was fixed the first time and for a much more reasonable price too. He said he will never go there again, and is telling everyone he knows to avoid that shop. I hope that this blog will help to spread the word, and that unethical businesses like North Asheville Exxon will change their business practices or falter, and the more ethical business that care for each and every customer, like Biltmore Lake Automotive, will prosper and grow.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Things you should know when traveling across the pond.

I have now been across the pond to the UK five times, and I have learned many valuable things. I decided to compile a list of a few of these; that it may help you understand some of the differences in our cultures and my wife when she speaks. I hope you enjoy these and please comment and add more.

When someone asks you to put something in your boot don't take your shoe off; it means your trunk.

If someone asks if you have just lost 50 pounds that is not a compliment of your weight, check your pockets.

If you’re told to go right round the round-about, DO NOT go around it to the right.

A chocolate biscuit is not as odd as it sounds.

The Brits are not as entertained with the saying “skip to the loo” as I am.

The London Bridge is not the bridge you think it is. The large, grand one in all the pictures is the Tower Bridge.

Leicester is pronounced like Lester.

Stinking fags are not what you think, they are cigarettes.

Crisps are chips, chips are fries, and a fry up is breakfast.

If you get a bacon burger expect it will look like ham on top of a burger.

The lift will get you to the correct floor in the car park.

The water closet is not actually in a closet.

There are no restrooms or bathrooms; you will need to ask for the toilets.

You don't rent anything you hire it. If it’s a residence then you let it.

An apartment is a flat, a condo is a terrace (3 or more attached homes), a duplex is a semi detached house (2 homes attached together), and a single family house is a detached house.

A yard is a garden and a garden is a vegetable patch.

The projects are council housing.

The cooker is the stove, and the hoover is the vacuum cleaner.

To ask for ice is odd.

If you ask for water it will be tap or a glass bottle of mineral water.

You never wait in line; you will wait in the queue or queue up.

To check off is to tick off but instead of getting ticked off you go mad.

In the US if you get mad your pisst; in the UK if your pisst you have drank too much.

To make fun of is to take the mick (or mickey) out of.

To park up is to park, to ring up is to call, to knock up is to awake by knocking.

Bucks are quids and cents are pence.

“What's up, man” is the same as “You alrite mate”

You walk on the pavement, not a sidewalk.

An interstate is a motorway and a motorcycle is a motorbike.

A cop is a bobby and police officer is police constable.

Trash is rubbish, a trash can is a rubbish bin or dust bin, and a garbage man is a dust bin man.

Austin Powers is not as funny to the English and shag is not a type of dance.

Soccer is football, and no one cares about American football.

Baseball is like rounders, and cricket is just weird.

Tea is always hot, and iced tea is non-existent.

Passing gas is breaking wind, and dog poop is dog foul.

A diaper is a nappy, and a band-aid is a plaster.

Your butt is your bum and your Mom is your Mum. (No correlation intended)

A couch is a sofa, the TV is the telly, a pocketbook is a handbag, and a shopping bag is a carrier bag.

A cross walk is a zebra crossing, yes but pronounced zeb-ra.

In England the cars are small and the parking spaces are even smaller.

Gas is petrol; and your hood is your bonnet.

You can blow your nose with toilet roll to get rid of the bogies and you can clean the counters with kitchen roll.

The longer I sit here the more I think of. Don't get me started on the differences in the foods...

Please leave any you can think of in the comments.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tea with the Kings and Queens of England

Whilst down south for the wedding we decided to travel around a bit. We
stopped by Hampton Court, a palace built by Henry VIII, and learned the history of Henry and all his unfortunate wives. His palace is over 500 years old and is full of history and is alive with stories of once was. When he originally built it he was so confident, after defeating France, of England's security that it was the first Royal castle built with no moat and little defenses. Since Henry VIII, the palace has housed many of the other Royals, including Queen Anne.
You may know her from the Queen Anne chairs that she made so famous. We had a nice stroll through the majestic gardens and thought about a nap under one of the incredibly unique trees, but settled for a clotted cream ice cream instead.

We left Hampton and headed over to Windsor for tea (dinner). It was so
wild to be driving through this quaint little town along the high street with nice shops, then to all of a sudden pass this massive castle towering over head.

As we parked and walked up to Windsor Castle we noticed a very rare sight, the Royal flag flying at full mast. The flag is flown only when Queen Elizabeth is presently in the castle. Windsor is one of the several residences that is still in use, it is a bit of a get away from Buckingham Palace in London. Interestingly enough the guards in front of Windsor Castle had not been informed of our tea with the Queen. I was disappointed because I had downloaded some great Hillsong music for her new ipod (courtesy of Obama). Of course that unfortunate incident did not stop us, we still managed to have tea at a nice Greek restaurant in Windsor, one block from the castle.

Whilst we had a wonderful time down south the only queen I managed to
have tea with was my amazing wife. I know I came out better in the end
and would not trade that for anything... Ruth is enjoying the Hillsong tunes
as well! ;-)

Until next time...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan King

We traveled down to the south of England to Guildford for Jon King and Sophia Crocombe's wedding. It was a wonderful wedding and a perfect day for all the festivities that followed. On Friday Ruth threw a Bridal and Lingerie shower for Sophia and invited about 15 ladies. It was a wonderful event, and all who attended had so much fun. The men meanwhile were busy picking up suit hire and a helium tank. Later that afternoon we all went to the church for the rehearsal and later to the reception venue to get an idea of what decorating needed to be done.

The wedding party all met at the Crocombe's house for dinner, deserts, and mingling that same evening. First thing on the morning of the wedding David, Margaret, Ruth, and I were up and off to the reception venue to blow up all the balloons, and to decorate the space. The band was there as well to get all of their equipment set up and do sound checks. Jon and his mates formed this band years ago and have basically grown up together and been connected for a
number of years. The wedding day was quite a rushed day, as soon as we finished the decorations we had to boogie back to the lodge to get dressed and back for the 2:00 wedding.

The wedding was a wonderful mix of British tradition with a bit more of a modern flair. We congregated in the front of the church for pictures immediately following the service. Pimm's and finger foods were served to all the waiting guests. There are typically 3 parts to a British wedding; the service, the reception and meal, and the “evening do”. Following the pictures we headed to the reception for the speeches and the meal. After the reception everyone goes
outside and mingles for a bit as some of the tables are moved to make room for
the dancing at the “evening do”. Jon and Sophia had set up a Facebook group to take requests ahead of time for the band to play. The band was fantastic, really kept the evening hopping late into the night, they even called Jon on stage at
one point to play a song with them. Can you guess... yes, “Johnny be good”.
Ah... how much fun it was.

So Jon and Sophia King got their grand send off as husband and wife, to a Greek island (the honeymoon location was kept a secret from Sophia).We now have the proper security clearances to discolse the general location. We all got cleared up, back to the lodge, and in bed around 2-ish in the morning. All and all it was a hectic, but glorious day for all involved. Be sure to stay tuned for more adventures in the south of England in the upcoming blogs.

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Lake District

On Tuesday morning the David and Margaret King took us up to the Lake District, aka "The Lakes" England's largest National Park. It is located in the north of England, a several hour drive north from Southport where we are staying. The King's are avid hikers and have hiked some daunting mountains and braved some pretty extreme conditions in the last few years. They wanted to take us for what they consider a mild hike up Helm Crag, sometimes known as "The Lion and The Lamb" nicknamed for a rock formation at the top that appears to be a lion holding a lamb. We climbed over all 1,300 feet and then descended that same distance back to the bottom. Helm Crag is located in the town of Grasmere in the Lakes. Grasmere is a quaint little old world village, where you literally feel like you stepped back in time.

After walking through the town you eventually reach the foot of the mountain where it's all up from there. There are no steady slopes or slowly rising trails, it's a straight up rocky path that at times is like climbing stairs. The views are incredible no matter where you are along the trail, because there are very few trees to obscure
your view and mostly grass covered mountains. At times it gives the illusion of rolling hills rather than the steep mountain walls that climb high into the sky.

As we reached the crest of Helm Crag we found a relatively flat and wide summit ridge with 2
significant rock formations. One know as "The
Howitzer" sits on the northwest side of the summit and the other previously discussed is
"The Lion and The Lamb" located on the Southeast side looking out over Grasmere.

Standing atop "The Lion and The Lamb" with the strong wind in your face felt quite majestic over looking now a mere speck of a town. What a magnificent day to hike, lots of sun but at times slightly overcast just to keep you from boiling, because there are no trees to protect you from the sun. The way back down was no picnic either, it was tough on the ole' knees and your footing had to be secure or you would end up on yr' bum.

As the grand reward for the completion of our journey, David and Margaret so graciously treated us to a cream tea at a quaint little spot in Grasmere. For all the non-Brits; a cream tea includes a scone with butter, jam, and cream to spread on top with a cup of tea. Yummy how delicious, a nice time to sit and reflect on the recently completed yet still arduous journey up and down Helm Crag, that still loomed high over head.

As we will be traveling for the next week for Jon and Sophia's wedding I will be blogging, but you may not be reading until I can get to an Internet connection. Stay tuned for the next posting!

Until next time...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Southport, England

We have been staying in Southport with Ruth's Mum and Dad, David and Margaret King, it's been lovely catching up with them. Yesterday morning we got up and went out for a half hour run, trying to burn off some of the lovely British food we've had since arriving. One thing I have found quite difficult is to remember to look to the right first before crossing an intersection. A lesson learned the hard way and rather quickly if you're not careful! I have been careful and mostly lucky, so no major accidents only a few horns and hand gestures that I'm sure mean "Welcome to England". I've been getting around well, I've brushed up a lot on my English so people seem to understand what I am saying to them much better. The Rosetta Stone program is paying off, but by far the most helpful has been watching the Austin Powers movie marathons. 8-)

We went into town to meet up with a friend of Ruth's from University, Emma. We met up in Starbucks for a bit of catching up. Jon asked me the other day, does it feel different being in England? I told him "Yes it constantly feels different, I never forget and think I'm in America again". The only exception is when I walk in to a Starbucks and it feels, looks, and smells exactly the same as in America, until the baritsta says “You alright mate” or “You want CREAM in your coffee?” then I snap back into reality. I have been busy introducing the Brits in Starbucks to an Iced Americano, four shots over a cup of ice. They all seem to respond the same way... You want what? Sometimes I feel like the Secretary of State with all this international diplomacy, but its worth it because I feel coffee will eventually bring the world together in perfect harmony. Until then, cuppa tea anyone?

Stay tuned for more from “The Hutchins European Vacation.”

Until next time...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nottingham, England

We spent the day Saturday walking around Nottingham town centre. What a "fab" town, it is
now my favorite town in England I've been to thus far. It's not a huge town but has a really vibrant town centre with nice high streets (streets lined with shops.) On Saturday the town
was "absolutely heaving," the streets were packed with people, street vendors, and a large vegetable market. The streets were full of the sounds of people bustling about with the wonderful smells of freshly cooked food floating through the air.

Nottingham is a neat mix of old and new, it has old buildings that appear to be from very
different time periods. Yet sandwiched between
two very old buildings is a very modern Tesco's (large chain grocery store) with an all glass front. Nottingham has trolley tracks throughout the town centre, and you quite expect to see an old trolley working the streets of this old town when this sleek modern tram quietly slips right by.

Jon and Sophia so kindly took us to visit the legendary Sherwood Forest. The forest once covered most of the Nottingshire area, but due to the development of over 500 acres the landmarks are now located spread across the county. We decided to go and visit the Major Oak. The Major Oak was portrayed as the very tree that Robin Hood and the Merrie Men used as their meeting spot. The Oak has been taken great care of since early 1900's as an ancient tree and a landmark. It is a very old oak at approximately
1200 years old and has had a lot of help over the years with cables and metal supports to extend it life as long as possible. After arriving at the Oak's location we read that Robin Hood is believed to have walked those woods in the 1190's and therefore the Major Oak would have only been 300 years at that time. There is a bit of uncertainty as to if it is the true oak. Anyway, we were there that have the picture to prove it.

Stay tuned more good stuff to come.

Until next time...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome to London, England

    Welcome to the doug blog (the UK edition) We are traveling to England for (Ruth's brother) Jon's wedding. I will be blogging periodically through out the trip about our journey and adventures abroad. We will start with our travel day, and I really hope you will enjoy reading and check back often.

    The word of the day... Delay! 

    A delay in the Charlotte airport and another delay sitting on the tarmac in Newark made for a rather late arrival in to London. We planned to take a coach three and a half hours up to Nottingham to meet Ruth's brother Jon. Due to the delays we were running really close to missing the coach we were meant to take. Realizing there would be a two and a half hour wait until the next coach departed for Nottingham, our sense of urgency increased. What a sight to see us legging it through the Heathrow airport equipped with 3 large suitcases, 2 medium sized carry-ons, 2 personal shoulder bags, and a handbag. We arrived at the coach station and jumped in line with 5 minutes until departure. I grabbed us each a sandwich and water whilst Ruth bought the tickets. We literally ran out to the platform, with our luggage now more conveniently on trolleys, waving our tickets at the coach driver who began to back out. He gave us a quick glance as to say sorry, and Ruth immediately abandoned her trolley to plead our case using her waving arm gestures to no avail. As she abandoned her trolley it rolled toward the curb piled high with our luggage. I let go of my trolley to save hers but was a split second too late, as hers toppled over off of the curb spilling the luggage into the parking space, and then mine abruptly followed suite. What a sight, what a scene, what a grand entrance! Watch out England the Hutchins are back!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The end of an era

It was a beautiful sunny day on June 12th of 1999 as I walked on the McKinney-Salinas Honda's car lot. I, 26 years young strolled through the rows of shiny new cars, my heart about to leap from my chest as I thought I may take one of these home with me. The salesman helped me as we meticulously checked each one out and narrowing down the large inventory to a handful.

I had previously owned a Chevy Astro van, that I had bought solely for work and after leaving that job it had become my main source of transportation for years. It was a cargo van (nothing in the back) so I carpeted the floor and walls with purple carpet, put a couch in the back, lined the roof with black lights, installed sub woofers that would rattle your brains loose from your head, lowered it to the ground, and tinted the windows solid black. Back in the day that was a sweet ride, and that earned me the privilege to always be the driver where ever we went. "Well we could drive three cars... or Doug could drive." Yes you would be amazed at how many people could fit in that van, I know I was.

One of my biggest or should we say smallest objectives, was to get a small car. I wanted something where four could ride, but not comfortably and I wanted a four cylinder so it would force me to drive slower. So I was naturally drawn to the Honda Civic, I narrowed it down to this beautiful green one. At that point in time there were very few cars on the road that same color, boy did that change fast. The salesman opened the door and I sat down, aah she was beautiful. The smell was enchanting the dash and knobs were so clean and neat looking, the seats and floor mats were spotless. The salesman handed me the keys and I cranked her up to go for a test drive, as I looked down at the odometer it read 000004. and I smiled.

I bought that little green Honda that day, and have been driving it ever since. When the Honda was purchased I was an avid cigarette smoker, I made a vow with myself and the car that I would never smoke in her, and I have not. It was not easy, but that will power is what I believe ultimately led to my ability to quit several years later. I lived in Gastonia at the time and drove to Charlotte everyday for work, so we spent quite a bit of time together each day. When I eventually got transferred to Asheville I commuted several weekends, and then I loaded her to the gills and moved up here permanently.

My Honda has seen me through some major life changes, we used to stay out all night on Saturday nights, now were in early on Saturday nights for church on Sundays. She was there when I brought my dog Manna home for the first time, and since that time her passenger window has forever been slobbery. Over two and a half years ago I turned the Honda over to my wife to drive whilst I drove the work vehicles. I'm sure the Honda appreciated that move because my wife drives her easier, and smells better than I do.

I took a look at my Honda today and the odometer reads 132500. a far cry from 1999. One hundred and thirty-two thousand miles together, and it seems nothing short of a million. I have always been easy on the mileage because most of the time I have had a second car or work vehicle. The paint is beginning to fade on the windshield wipers, and few small dings here and there, the carpet is beginning to show some wear, but don't get me wrong she looks great for her age. My wife and I cleaned her out last night and I will drive her through the car wash for the last time on Friday. As of tomorrow she is sold, and will have a new owner. Ruth and I have had to tighten things up recently, and this was not a decision either one of us wanted to make. We know that God is taking us through a season where we are trimming all the fat, and making tough decisions and sacrifices that will ultimately help us to build the incredible future He has promised us.

With all that said it will still be a sad day tomorrow as I watch a stranger drive off with my beloved Honda Civic. Sigh. What keeps me going is the dream of the day we get to walk on to the Apple Tree Honda's car lot and test drive our next car the CRV. Then begins a new era (that will most likely have children in it.) Sigh.

Until next time...

Monday, February 23, 2009

I can see clearly now...

So the other night I walk outside, sit in the grass, lean back and gaze out into the starry night sky. My eyes scan from left to right squinting to see the stars. After a while my eyes fix upon the constellation Orion's Belt. Orion's Belt is one of the more prominent constellations with it's three very bright stars straight in a row. I don't typically do much star gazing at my house in Asheville, due to the fact that I'm so close to downtown and all the streetlights in my neighborhood. When we are in Nicaragua, however we spend a lot of time staring into the vast wonderful sky and think where did all those stars come from? In Nicaragua at certain times of the year and on very clear nights you can even see the Milky Way band as it stretches across from horizon to horizon. It will take your breath away, to see so clearly all the stars that are always there, but we can't always see them the same way here.

It made me think about my life and how when situations are upon us they are not always as clear and easy to see. When your in Nicaragua life seems so much more clear, it has so much more meaning. It seems as though all the worries, and the dailies are a million miles away. Strange I know, because your surrounded by poverty, suffering, illness, and starvation. That all helps you to forget the turmoil in your own existence, to find a peace in your heart and place in your prayers for people who live in unimaginable situations. You look around and see an old man walking down the street with a load of sticks across his back, and you think about the three hundred dollar unexpected repair bill for your car doesn't seen so outrageous anymore. As you drive past kids filling in potholes in the road, barely big enough to hold the shovel, begging for spare change and you think the fact that you can't send your kids to private school may not be the end of the world. Maybe you have just lost your job, and you look around at all the men that are out of work and there is no where to apply, and you think well at least I have unemployment compensation. Yes everything seems to to be clearer and more in focus when your a million miles away.

You fall back into life, and at first when someone is rude to you or someone is complaining like their the only person in the world, you think to yourself "they have no idea how good they have it, their are so many people with real problems in this world." Days pass, weeks pass, life happens, things go well and things go really bad. Your back on the seesaw of life, your in the dailies again; my friend just lost his job, I just lost an account, the dog is sick and need to go to the vet, and Bob and Sue are having marital problems. What are you to do now? You go outside you sit in the grass, lean back, and stare off into the sky and everything doesn't seem so clear anymore, you can't seem to see what's out there as well. You look across the street and Joe's new car is in his driveway, someone you know is having an addition built on, and the plumber next door is slammed with business. With no reassurance in sight you look back to the sky and squint as you scan the heavens, and then your eyes catch a glimpse of three bright stars in a row. It's Orion's Belt, although not as clear as it once was, but it's still there.

I know someone is possibly sitting in a chair in Los Cedros staring up at the same Orion's Belt that I am at that moment, and feeling such a relief, and such a peace about life. I know that our God is so big and our existence is so small in comparison that we can see the same snapshot of the heavens. You can fly hundreds of miles away, even thousands of miles and if you look up Orion's Belt will be there waiting for you, just as our God is. Sometime they both may be clearer than others, but even behind the thickest cloud cover they are always there. Praise God!

Until next time...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The death of a Depot

For as long as I can remember I have shopped at Home Depot. I have always been drawn into it's orange clad walls, a home improvement euphoria. I don't remember if it was this love for Home Depot that I found my favorite color being orange, or if I was originally drawn to home improvement giant due to my favorite color. Which came first the chicken or the egg? There were times when a certain product or situation would dictate that I must grace a Lowe's instead. The whole experience felt so foreign, I could not seem to figure out where things were, even though I was very familiar with Home Depot. The tools were all an odd Kobalt blue color, even though everything I know tells me that tools are meant to be orange. Even the checkout process was weird, on the credit card screen where at Home Depot the accept box is located at Lowe's is where the cancel button is. So you can imagine how many times out of habit I canceled my transaction, only to find myself going through the process again more slowly and paying closer attention. Yes In those days I never liked going to Lowe's for any reason and I felt more at Home in the Depot.

When I started my business, Blue Toolbelt ( a little over 2 years ago, I found myself in a perfect storm. Most of my customers were on Tunnel Road, I had no inventory of parts on hand requiring multiple trips to the store each day, and rapidly rising gas prices forced me to shop at Lowe's; due to it's location on a daily basis.
Soon it felt more normal to shop there, I began to learn what brand names they carried and where things were located through out the store. I actually became such a regular there that many of the employees knew me and would smile and wave as they saw me. Some would comment I see you here everyday, and I would usually reply "yes this is my third trip here today." It soon became that when situations would arise that would require me to shop at Home Depot, that I began to feel that out of place feeling that have previously existed in Lowe's. I know it's all in what you get used to will give you that reassuring and comfortable feeling.

I have said all this to say that over the past year or so I have heard how Home Depot is losing footing in the home improvement warehouse market, that it's sales are down by much larger margins than that of Lowe's. I know it's all because of the mass amounts of finances that I have transferred over from one store to the other that has made all the difference, Yea right! I did however wonder what had made the difference. because I had loved Home Depot and had been so loyal for so many years. I thought even though the location had been all the difference for me, it would have been just the opposite for a lot of people. Being that I don't shop there on a regular basis anymore I really have no idea what has caused the obvious demise of this once untouchable giant.

In the last two or three months circumstances has put me in Home Depot on a more regular basis than before. I have noticed some very disturbing changes. During my most recent trips, I have noticed what seems like double the employees, with many of them standing in the center isle, greeting you with "can I help you find something?" That is not normally a bad thing except when it happens 3 times while I'm only trying to get to the isle where the drill bit is that I need. As soon as I walk up to the drill bit rack I breath a sigh of relief that I have survived the gauntlet of over anxious employees and just as my eyes begin to browse for the bit I need, I hear"Sir, what bit can I help you find today!" It actually took me longer to tell him what bit I needed and what I was using it for then it would have for me to just grab it myself. Just the other day, the Beir paint rep for Home Depot personally submitted an order for me to pick up almost $600.00 worth of paint for a big job I had. He told me it would be ready to pick it up on Monday morning. I spent an hour and a half on Monday gonig back and forth to the customer service desk, the paint department, and making numerous phone calls trying to locate my order. It was eventually found and of course had not been started, and to make it worse the did not even have enough of the needed base colors to produce only half of my order, which forced me return the next day to pick up the rest. While I was waiting for my order to be mixed by employees that were obviously disoriented to the paint department, and with no one clearly leading the operation, I decided to walk around and take my eyes off of what was clearly a chaotic situation. While I was leisurely strolling with no real clear need for anything but only to kill some time, I was forced back to the paint department by neurotic employees, which seemed to me to be getting a bonus for saying "what can I help you find today!" I could go on with at least two or three more stories of horrible service, I have personally received recently.

I find it interesting that Home Depot has decided to focus on an obnoxious campaign to improve their image, but in my opinion they are missing the mark completely. I feel like their customer service is going down the drain while they superficially try to appear helpful put way more staff out on the floor to intentionally irritate you. Lowe's on the other hand seems to me to be helpful when you need them and quick to react when you need them, and all around seem to have it together better. It is quite a sad sight to see how pitiful Home Depot has become after having such a grand status in my world just a few years prior. I'm not saying Home Depot is headed for bankruptcy, but i guess if it keeps heading in the same direction there is always that possibility. This is only my observations in one Home Depot store so it does not hold merit for all their stores.

Until next time...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentime's Day

Valentime's Day, yep that's what I called it when I was younger. I did however eventually learn that it was called Valentine's Day instead. I believe that was what 2 years ago... :-)
My wife and I were discussing on Friday night how this would be our first Saturday Valentines' Day, since we have been dating or married. In the beginning of your marriage everything is a first, a first Christmas, a first New Years' eve, well you get the point. After two years when you run out of first's you start reaching, so this was our first official Valentine's Day that fell on a Saturday.
I know your thinking "what the heck," but stay with me on this one. So in the past we have awaken on Valentine's Day to "Happy Valentine's Day hon, see ya after work" and rush off to our busy days ahead. This was different though, I woke up next to my beautiful wife in no hurry to be anywhere. We made breakfast together in our robes, and sat to eat while talking and laughing together. We spent the day together, exchanged our cards and gifts and just had a brilliant time. My wife surprised me with a menu for the Valentine's meal she had planned for dinner. IT WAS AMAZING!
She thought of everything, even down to the desert of homemade chocolate covered strawberries, that we fed each other during a movie we watched that evening while snuggled on the couch. I know TMI, TMI! Hey men, I'm just sharing some ideas here we have to help each other out.

You know I think back today and reflect on that wonderful day, and I think I did have it right when I was younger. On Saturday I experienced a Valentime's Day, because it is about the time isn't it? (That sounds like a AVL commercial) It's quite a different day to not have to rush off to work, and you can celebrate your spouse, and praise God for putting you two together forever.

Until next time...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The plan is not always the plan

Well I'm sorry in advance as I don't have any La Chureca stories for you. I had arrangements to go there today and even checked in with my ride at 9:00 to be sure we were on. "No Problem, just let me know when your ready to go." Shortly after I see him leaving the property, I ask around and I'm told yeah he left and won't be back until late. Humm. That's how we roll in Nicaragua!

I'm not short on stories so here are a couple. When we returned from Monte Limar on Tuesday, we were told at dinner that two of the teenage boys were caught going through our stuff by one of the cleaning ladies. Apparently they have had some trouble with teams missing stuff and they had not figured out if it were some of the boys or the cleaning staff. So the cleaning staff
fearing for their jobs noticed a boy sweeping our porch. Humm... here's your sign. She walked in on
another boy in our room going through our bags. These are two fairly new boys to the orphanage and when they come in as teens it is hard to break their past tendancies. Luckily I had asked to lock up my laptop and several things of value before we left, and nothing but candy seems to have been missing. The house parent brought
them to us and made them apologize, which in its
self was a painful experiance to watch. We told them that we loved them and that we would most likely give them anything they asked for. We all hugged them and thanked them for the apology. Their punishment was to machette a field today (one of the hottest days) from 8 am to 5 pm with a lunch break. Ayi yi yi! Boys will be boys, but when they are they need to be shown it was wrong. I believe they will think twice before doing that again. These Nicaraguan teens are being raised in ways that gives them an oportunity to break the vicious cycles that continualy curse their generations. A big change starts small, and eventually will make a huge impact.

The other story I will try to shorten a bit due to the length of my ramblings so far, but don't count on that. Once again while we were relaxing by the ocean, a small field fire sparked up at Los Cedros (were had been staying) with the extreme dryness and the severe wind it became a raging field fire in no time. It just so happened that all the field hands had gone home and and all the men were at the beach for the night. The women in the infant orphanage sprung into action. The first thing they did was call the Fire Department, of course the Fire Dept first makes them agree to pay their gas money if they respond!!?? There is something to that mother protection mode, even if the children are not theirs, that makes women supernatural. Andrea, a woman missionary and two or three Nicaraguan nannies pulled small garden hoses while waitng on the Fire Dept. until the fire got too wide for that to work any more. Then to my surprise Andrea began to push down the unburnt field hay with her feet to create a sort of a fire line around the area while the other ladies beat it with palm branches they cut from a tree. The ladies worked that fire for 2 hours before the first truck arived and took control. The FD put the fire out and was paid for their gas money and left. A short time later the ladies noticed a glow out where the fire was and sprung into action again. This time they were able to put it out with out calling the FD again. Ayi yi yi!
This morning one of the Nica ladies who helped with the fire gave all the ladies involved a free peticure (which normally costs $1. US), because all of their toe nails got ruinied during the event. She does feet and nails on the side and works at Los Cedros 6 days a week. The girls got spoiled today because of their herosism, they loved it and deserved it!

Well we fly out in the morning, however I will still be blogging and some will be about this trip. So thank you all SO much for all the support and encouragement and stay tuned for all the latest goodness I like to call the doug blog.

Until next time...

                                                                                                       Roxanne from Los Brasiles


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Getting back into the swing of things

We came back to Los Cedros today from the Monte Limar resort. It's been a rough two days, but someone had to do it. I appreciate you guys bearing with me as I took two evenings off. I quite missed this time of the evening when I stop to reflect on the day, the week, and the mission. I want to say thank you for all of you who have been reading my blog, commenting on it, telling my wife, and sending emails saying how much you enjoy it. It has really encouraged me to continue blogging after the trip is over. I have had a desire to blog for several years and just never thought that anyone would care what I had to say. During my fasting and prayer this January, one of the things that God showed me was this opportunity to break into putting my thoughts into words. When I come to Nica. each year I feel like I'm going to explode with emotions and thoughts that I have no way to get out.

God showed me many years ago that He was going to use me to preach his word. It was prophesied over me years later that I would be teaching people and the prophesy was that I would be teaching very softly and calmly, while people would listen intently to the teaching. Don't get me wrong I'm not trying to say that I'm teaching anyone anything right now, but I am feeling that this is a beginning of me learning to convert what God is implanting into me in words that will bless others. After blogging a few nights I realized that I was speaking to a good number of people in a soft and calm way. Humm... Most every night I have sat down after everyone has gone to bed and listen to worship music while thinking I have no idea what I'm going to blog about tonight, and then an hour later I would look back and think where did that come from? Every morning I wake up and I feel the most relieved and energized that I ever have in all my trips here before.

I also feel that this has been a great experience for all those who have sewn into our trips and those who are covering us in prayer. From what I am hearing is that the doug blog has given you some insight into our trip and you feel like your a big part of our day to day experiences. Please forward the link to anyone who would like it or to those who would not like it too!

I know I did not get into much about the trip tonight, but tune in tomorrow and It should be good. While the guys are working here at Los Cedros, I'm gonna catch a ride down to La Chureca (the Managua dump that thousands of families live in) and meet with a friend who has an amazing ministry there running a school located inside the dump called Colegio Cristiano La Esperanza. I will possibly get some video for you to see, but I know I'll have some good stuff to blog about after that.

Until next time...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A good day

It was a good day. We went to church this morning with the teenage boys from the orphanage. We almost doubled the size of their church, which I think was pretty exciting for them. After church we took them out to Crater Lake for lunch.

Crater Lake is a dormant volcano that has filled completely with water. It has a small resort nestled along one of the banks that we like to get lunch at enjoy the views.

The boy's love to go to Crater Lake and we are the only team that takes them there.

We had fajitas, Coca-Cola regular, and Flan Caramela for desert. After lunch we rode into Managua to the open air market and did some quick souvenir shopping.

Whilst there
we saw a
creepy clown that would shine your shoes!??!

I got a scraped ice with caramel milk drink that was out of this world. then of course we all bought some trinkets to commemorate our trip.

On the way back to Los Cedros (where we stay) we saw a most disturbing sight. It is times like these you have to pray for people because they just don't have common sense. See the pictures below of the motorcycle or family car as it were.

WOW! What a disturbing sight to see this whole family on the motorcycle with only the Dad protected by a helmet. Ayi yi yi, bienvenidos a Nicaragua (welcome to Nicaragua!)

As we were leaving Managua it is always a majestic sight to see the active Mombotombo volcano towering over the city, it puts it all into perspective of how tiny we are compared to God and his creations. Mombotombo Nicaragua's largest volcano has not erupted since 1609 but constantly puffs a cloud of smoke so that Managua will respect that it could at any moment.

All and all it has been a good day.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If you build it they will come.

I still think back to when we first stepped on to that overgrown, litter filled, and apparently neglected land and thought this is the land we are meant to buy? We claimed it, we raised money through the church, and we bought it for
Sandy Carter. We have sewn hundreds of man hours and tens of thousands of dollars into this grown up wasteland long forgotten by the residents of this impoverished area. One day a group of "Gringos" roll up and start cleaning and grooming this land, burning the trash, and prepping the land. All the Los Braslies children started curiously popping in to see what the strange group was doing.

We returned the next year and started to build a wall around the property. This is the first time we had ever met the Nicaraguan 100 pound blocks, our relationship with these blocks diminished within a few days. Today we all still have a sinking feeling in our stomachs when we see a truck load of those blocks drive by. We built a massive wall enclosing the property for security reasons.

The next trip, two years ago we built the feeding kitchen complete with concrete pad and roof for feeding. That was the last trip Brad Pope was able to go on before he got too sick. We miss you Brad, get well soon we are praying for you! Brad has served in the parking lot for years at The Rock and went on almost every Nica. trip, he is our block laying master.

As we were preparing to leave the property today for the last time on this trip. (Sigh) I started to reflect on the first time I stepped on to the property. I walked around the property and I dragged my hand along the wall as I remembered the blood, sweat, and tears. I walked to the back of the property I picked up some dirt and let it sift through my hand as remembered it was so overgrown and littered you could not see to the back as clearly. I stopped at the 20 foot deep septic hole the worker was laying block in and thought about how hard that dirt was and how a young boy and his father that lives in Los Brasiles were paid to dig a large portion of that by CIM and how that must have blessed that family.
I walked up to the house still in progress and touched the outside walls and walked inside and sat on the cool tile floor and leaned against the wall and thought, soon this house will be breathing life and spreading God's word. I closed my eyes and heard laughter, heard the words of the bible being read, I pictured hands being laid on children's heads as word of life were spoken over them, and I felt God's presence. I got up walked into the kitchen I slid my fingers along the stainless steel sink and I walked to the serving window and pictured flinging the metal doors open wide and calling out "Ven niƱos que es hora de comer!"
(Come children it is time to eat!) As I stepped out into the feeding area, I saw children flowing in through the gate with a bowl and cup in their hands, and I sat at the bench and watched as the children slowly chewed each bite while savoring the flavor. I just sat gazing into this beautiful and surreal vision as I heard "Hey Doug, vamos were leaving get in the van." 
Ayi yi yi!

What an amazing process to be involved in to see this property transformed by the love and compassion of people from a different country and culture to give there time, talents, and finances to make a difference in the lives of people that most have never met. I say may God bless you all, the builders, the sowers, and the intercessors you are all in your own way touching the lives of so many and will be for years to come.

Until next time...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Start, end and begin again.

Well we finished the pad today and the plan is to leave enough finances behind to keep construction going to hopefully finish the roof that will cover the new pad. I will be happy to not have to mix anymore concretas (concrete) for a while. I have eaten enough concretas dust for a lifetime. I am, although very grateful that we had the mixer to use because the first day it was not at the job site and we had to mix by hand. As they say in Nicaragua "ay yi yi"
(Yes, I'm pretty sure that is not spelled right.)

This is a picture of us mixing a batch by hand the first day. Praise the Lord for a mixer!
So now were finished with the pad we will work tomorrow on layering the ground into almost a stair like fashion to level out some of the contour of the land. Tomorrow is our last day at Los Brasiles, and it is for me one of the hardest days. I have such a heart tie to some of the children there and it rips me apart to know I won't be seeing them again for a year. I leave with tears welling up every time.

We arrived this year to find the familia that lived next door to the job had moved to Leon. I have pictures of these kids and have seen them grow up for the last 6 years. WOW! What a blow to see a for sell sign on their casa (house.)

              Denesaye, Noelia, and Luis had me wrapped around their little fingers. Every year I would go over to their house and talk to their madre and one year to their Padre. I had made them a photo album one year and put all the photos I had of them in it from over the years. I put some pictures of me, my wife, and Manna in there and every year I would bring the newest one and let them update it. We would laugh and remember the fun time we had the year before. Oh how I look forward to that every year, and how sad I was to find they are now gone and there is very little chance of ever seeing them again.

I always think the end of something is just the beginning of something else. As a matter of fact, I have bonded quite closely with La Abuela and her familia. If you have not read the blog before this one go back and check it out it's entitled "La Abuela." Not that any person or family can replace another, but God has created us with big hearts so that we can squeeze a lot of people in there. Each one can have their own special place in your heart if you can open it up, and allow your brain to archive the memories. Sometimes I believe we hold on to resentment or just hurt and say "Ill never open my heart again to get hurt like that." I value the time I had with Denesaye, Noelia, and Luis and does it hurt that their gone? Yes! Big time, but I know I did all that I could in the time God gave me. I hope and pray they will never forget me, as I won't them.

So tomorrow ends the Los Brasiles project for this trip, and it begins the next stage of the trip Sunday church and shopping. We will spend a night at Monte Limar the beach resort on Monday night relax and then back to Los Cedros (where we are sleeping while here) to do some much needed maintenance on the residence buildings and walkways. As always one ending is just the beginning of another adventure.

This just happens to be the end of this blog, but never fear there will be a new one tomorrow. So until next time...