Thankful #23: My Church Small Group

Today I am thankful for my church small group.

Our small group meets every other Friday night and is led by Gary and Phyllis, two wonderful people who attend our church. Their house is just past the church when coming from our house.

Lately, there’s been a “Road Closed” sign just beyond the church entrance. Jonathan saw it the other night and started to panic. “How will we get to church?” he shouted.

“It’s okay,” I said. “The road is closed past the church.”

He was silent for a moment. “BUT WHAT ABOUT FRIDAY NIGHT?” he yelled, assuming that it would be impossible to get to Gary’s house.

“There’s another way to get to Gary’s,” I told him. “It’ll be okay.”

That says a lot about Gary and Phyllis, I think. So many kids would be bored and put off by a church small group. After all, while we do have some time to hang out and goof off, we also spend a lot of time praying and doing Bible study. But that doesn’t bother Jonathan, because he adores Gary and Phyllis.

In fact, a few months ago, when Jen and Grace were at the state Technology Students’ Association conference, and Jonathan and I were alone for a few days, Gary came over and picked up Jonathan to take him out for some gluten free pizza, followed by a viewing of Star Wars at Gary’s house. Which gave me a free evening in my own home, something that doesn’t happen very much at all.

But that’s the kind of guy Gary is. And that’s just one reason I enjoy my church small group so much: because it’s full of people who love each other and help other and go the extra mile for each other.

I thankful for my church small group.

Thankful #22: Tuckahoe Acres

Today I am thankful for Tuckahoe Acres.

I wrote about Ocean City, but another place we like to visit is my parents’ trailer in Tuckahoe Acres, a campground in Dagsboro, Delaware.

They got the trailer in 2009, and we’ve been down a half dozen or so times since then. It’s just a few steps from the trailer to the bay, so my kids love it. After a few minutes in the car, we’re at the Bethany Beach Boardwalk, which, while not as grandiose as its name implies, is still a fun place to spend a few hours. It’s also close to Fenwick Island, so we can get to the beach in just a few minutes, and with a but more driving we can get to Ocean City, Maryland, or the outlet stores in Rehoboth.

Not to mention, it’s near a Grotto Pizza, and they have really good gluten-free pizza for my family.

The campground itself is great, too: there’s a general store, and a pool, and a playground, and a tremendous sense of community.

I love to go down and watch my dad helping out his seasonal neighbors. Everybody there gets along and seems to love sharing with and helping each other.

But he best part is getting to spend time with my parents. After all, since they bought the trailer, I don’t get to see them during the warm months very often anymore!

I am thankful for Tuckahoe Acres.

Thankful #21: Ocean City, New Jersey

Today I am thankful for Ocean City, New Jersey.

This might seem like something odd for someone from central Pennsylvania to be thankful for, but Ocean City, New Jersey, is one of my favorite places on earth.

Jen’s aunt and uncle have a rental property there, on third street, just a few doors down from the boardwalk. They graciously allow us to stay there for a long weekend each year after the rental season ends.

And that is a great time to be there. There are no crowds, but almost everything is still open. We can walk the boardwalk and hang out on the sand without fighting throngs of people, or we can rent a surrey and not worry about plowing over people. In fact, Grace and I decided that the whole town should be car-less, and just use surreys. That would be really cool.

Anyway, over the past few years I’ve fallen more in love with the island, as I’ve discovered the pleasures of running on the boardwalk. My runs at home are hilly and windy and pretty tough, so running a nice long flat stretch with a full view of the Atlantic Ocean is fantastic.

But each year, it gets harder leave. I’m convinced that I want to move there, but I guess I need to figure out how to afford it first. Until then, I thoroughly enjoy our annual visits. They recharge me when I need it the most.

I am thankful for Ocean City, New Jersey.

Thankful #20: Real Studio

Today I am thankful for Real Studio.

Every now and then, I come across a product or technology that not only makes my life better, but it changes the direction of my career.

Real Studio, for those who don’t know, is a cross-platform development environment. I started using it when it was still called REALbasic, back around 2002 or so. I had been trying to get into computer programming for years before that, but it never really “took” with me. One day my friend (and boss at the time) Dave came into my office and said, “Have you thought about REALbasic?”

Dave and I were trying to come up with ideas for our own business, and one of those ideas was custom software. We began with FileMaker Pro, but we quickly hit the limits of what we could do with it. So I tried REALbasic, and it was like the heavens opened. Suddenly I could write my own software, and it was easy.

At that point, my career started to change. I had been doing mostly tech support, along with a bit of database work and some web design, up to that point. After diving into REALbasic, I started spending more and more time building custom applications, at work and at home.

I became very involved in the REALbasic community, which is a friendly and supportive bunch. I attended Real World, the developer conference for REALbasic programmers, five times. I even presented at the conference for three years in a row. Somehow I ended up as original board member of the Association of REALbasic Professionals (although I had to step before their public launch because of family issues).

At work, I developed Kodiak, a student information system that I built from the ground up to do attendance, discipline, grades, transcripts, report cards, assessment tracking, progress monitoring, and state reporting. Kodiak was retired in 2009, but I learned an amazing amount building it. I even built a parent portal using a different programming language: PHP, which is what I use every day in my job now.

At home, I wrote some shareware programs that mostly revolved around blogging. I never made much money from them, but I learned a lot, and I earned enough to buy a new computer (granted, it was a piece of junk white box from Tiger Direct, but still).

Learning REALbasic, later renamed Real Studio, gave me the confidence I needed to learn other programming languages. It literally changed the course of my career and my life.

Maybe I should write a book about it….

I am thankful for Real Studio.

Thankful #19: My Career

Today I am thankful for my career.

Not just my current job, for which I am thankful, but the whole arc of my career.

I started working in technology in 1992, when I was attending college with the hopes of being an English teacher. Somehow I ended up doing some clerical work for a local software developer who also did some hardware reselling and support.

One day they were short staffed, and they needed someone to visit a customer site. So they said, “Hey Brad, do you think you could install this tape backup drive for a client?”

I responded with the five words that have gotten me in more trouble than any other words in my life: “How hard can that be?”

That started me down the road.

It took me a while to let go of teaching, though. But I eventually found a way to combine my educational background with my vocational experience when I took a job as a computer lab aide at Hans Herr Elementary School in Lampeter Strasburg. That job paid very poorly, but it was the best job I ever had. I would actually wake up on weekdays excited about going to work. I loved working with the kids, and I even got to spend a couple hours a day outside being the Recess Guy. That was so much fun.

But we all have to grow up and soon I took a full time “grown up” job in the tech department of the Eastern Lancaster County School District. That lasted five weeks, until Etown came calling and offered me more money and more responsbility.

Twelve more years passed at Etown before my current boss called me and asked me to apply for my current job at Manheim Township.

It’s been a fun ride, and I never would have predicted where I’d end up. And who knows? Maybe the ride isn’t over yet.

I am thankful for my career.

Thankful #18: Facebook

Today I am thankful for Facebook.

Sounds silly, I know, but there’s something you need to know about me: I hate, hate, hate talking on the phone. Not at work – I mean it’s part of my job – but for idle chit chat and just catching up, I’d much rather type than talk. Heck, even most of my communication with my wife is via iMessage and iChat.

So Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch better with so many people, because the phone is no longer the only way to stay in touch. Yeah, there was email, but I find that most people I know don’t check their email very often (this is exceedingly strange to me; I check my email dozens if not hundreds of times per day).

And it’s been great catching up with people I haven’t seen since high school or even earlier. It’s funny to think about the things that we all argued about and drew lines about back then, and not we’re all pushing 40 and just trying to make it through each day.

Throw in event management, photo sharing, and group pages, and you have a great platform to share from.

I am thankful for Facebook.

Thankful #17: Apple

Today I am thankful for Apple.

This is another one that I hope doesn’t sound too superficial or crass, but I really am thankful for Apple and their products.

Apple’s devices have transformed my life and career. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be working in my current field if it weren’t for Apple.

My first Mac, a Mac Classic purchased in 1991, convinced me that computers were in my future.

My first iPod, and I don’t remember the model, allowed me to experience new levels of freedom while listening to my music.

My first iPhone, a 3GS purchased in 2009, helped me lose weight and get into shape, among so many other things.

My iPad, the original model purchased in 2010, has changed the way I think about user interfaces and web design.

My current iPhone, a 4S I bought in the spring, has allowed me to capture so many moments in pictures and in video (as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you).

I am thankful for Apple.

Thankful #16: Running

Today I am thankful for running.

A few years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would now be a recreational runner. The thought was, frankly, absurd. I was always the guy who joked that “I only run when someone’s chasing me!”

Which, I now realize, isn’t all that funny.

While I initially started running, specifically with the Couch to 5K program, to lose weight, I quickly became addicted. The “runner’s high” is most definitely a real thing, and something I love to experience.

I can’t explain it, but there’s nothing like the way you feel after running miles and miles and miles, doing things you never thought your body could do.

Up until now, my longest run has been 14 miles, just slightly longer than the two half marathons I’ve run. I was hoping to run a full marathon in 2012, before I turn 40, but I just didn’t have the time to invest in training.

Maybe next year.

I am thankful for running.

Thankful #15: The Juan Catorce Band

Today I am thankful for The Juan Catorce Band.

This is a project I started with my wife and our friend Shawn Vago just under a year ago. Actually, that’s not true. It really started in the summer of 2011, with the three of us as well as our friend Matt Wheeler.

I was asked to lead worship at Clipper Stadium that August, so I put together a temporary worship band, consisting of Jen on bass, Shawn on drums, Matt on acoustic guitar, and me on electric guitar. The speaker that night was Don Piper, and the event was sponsored by a group of Baptist churches. At least one of the churches in attendance was primarily Spanish-speaking, so they provided an interpreter.

Now, I love the Spanish language. I took five years of it and could listen to it all day. As a result. I enjoyed the interpreter almost as much as the main speaker. The highlight for me was when Piper referred to the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John and the interpreter said, “Juan Catorce.”

I leaned over to my wife and said, “If I ever start another band, it will be called The Juan Catorce Band.”

And I was right. A few months later Jen and Shawn and I started playing with a focus on worship music, although it eventually grew to encompass my original songs as well.

Shameless plug: we’re playing at the Community Room in Lancaster this Friday at 7PM if you want to hear us. 🙂

I am thankful for The Juan Catorce Band.

Thankful #14: Superficial Charm

Today I am thankful for Superficial Charm.

Superficial Charm is the name of a band I started in 2008.

We’ve gone through many iterations and variations and lineup changes, but one thing has remained the same: it’s a lot of fun.

We’re currently a three piece, consisting of my friend Tom on bass, my friend Jerry on drums, and me on guitar. Although I originally started Superficial Charm with the goal of having a place to perform some of my original songs, we’ve since evolved into a cover band. Typical covers include songs by bands such INXS, U2, Green Day, Weezer, and even The Bangles and Talking Heads.

Our rehearsals are, for me at least, much more than a chance to work on some music. It’s therapy for me, a chance to blow off some steam and just forget about life for a couple hours.

And we do need to schedule some shows, so if you happen to need the third greatest cover band in Lancaster County, hit me up.

I am thankful for Superficial Charm.