Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Spring is in the air

I saw this bossoming tree on the way in to work this morning and thought I would share it with you. Isn't it beautiful? My camera phone made it look like an impressionist painting. Interesting. Have a good day!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's time for the big reveal.

It's the moment we've all been waiting for... my new business site is up and running at www.easychurchsites.com. It's up and running in the way that people "break ground" but still have to build a building. Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad. I do need to polish up a few things though.

Just in case you aren't aware, I am starting a web site design business for churches and non-profits. The idea is to design simple, yet attractive sites that are easily updated, which makes it affordable for churches and non-profits. I've already designed a site which you an see here.

My business's official name is Olive Grove Design. I also bought the domain name www.olivegrovedesign.com, which by tomorrow should forward to easychurchsites.com. Eventually I will develop a web site for olivegrovedesign.com that is geared more for commercial clients.


Friday, March 16, 2007

"It's all about surprises."

It all started out with my brother taking me out to my birthday dinner. It was a surprise where we were going, and he did a great job of deflecting my questions. We pulled up to a non-descript little building, a place you would almost miss if you didn't know where to look, where I read a sign at the street: "Nicola's." It was a Lebanese restaurant, which was great because I had been craving falafel (though we called it Tameya in Egypt) and it was perfect. It turned out my mom was waiting when we got there. My dad was supposed to be there too, but couldn't make it because he was sick and just wasn't in any shape to get out and about. Sorry Dad. Wish you could have been there. There were belly dancers!!!

After dinner Darren invited me over to his place to play a little Halo 2. We like to link our X-Boxes together and play using two TVs so we have no idea what the other is doing. It makes for some great game-play with plenty of surprises.

Then, right about midnight, when my eyes were nearly bugging out of my head, I told him that it was time to take me home since I had to work the next day. He told me that wasn't happening and showed me a bag that had been packed for me. He said I wasn't going home, in fact, I was getting on a plane the next morning for a surprise trip. Someone had made special arrangements for me. He added that I had already been cleared from going to work. I pressed him for more details. Where was I going? He didn't budge.

We got up he next morning and went to the airport. We got to the drop-off lane before he told me that my girlfriend Teri had bought me a plane ticket to Chicago, where I was going to hang out with her over my birthday.

A short flight and a shuttle ride later, I was standing in front of a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicagoland where Teri drove up in her silver Honda. It was really great to see her. It had been over a month! I gave her a big hug and she told me there were more surprises in store for my birthday.

On the way to her new condo, I spied frozen pools of ice outside office buildings. It was the first time I had seen a frozen body of water of any kind. In recent days it had been very cold, but I apparently brought the warm weather with me. It was in the sixties! During my trip it got into the seventies, but plunged back to the 20's after I returned to Atlanta. I just lucked out I suppose.

Teri's condo looks great. She's done a great job of framing all that great swag from Egypt she got. I haven't framed so much as a scrap of papyrus, so she's doing really well in that department. Her two cats are great. Ollie has calmed down a bit, but Andrew, the new one, is spastic! Great to play with.

On Tuesday, the next part of my birthday surprise began. We got on a commuter train and headed for Chicago and before too long I found myself in front of one of my favorite places: The Art Institute of Chicago. We saw an exhibit about a Frenchman named Vollard who was an art dealer in the late 1800's and early 1900's. He sold all kinds of art made by famous names such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, and Gauguin. I thought it was particularly interesting that the museum had assembled a collection of paintings of Vollard himself, painted by all these famous artists, presumably to persuade him to sell their work. It was great to see this same man painted over and over in the different styles that these artists were known for. Picasso's was the best in my opinion.

On our way back to the train station, we witnessed a group in a city square who had set up a kind of demonstration. A woman was reading names over a loudspeaker. It turned out they were the names of Iraqi civilians who had perished throughout the war. There were hundreds, if not thousands of shoes spread across the square, representing civilian lives lost. Some were arranged as labyrinthine paths and others were simply lined up. In the center was a large cylindrical display with large smiling faces on the outside, but horrified grieving faces on the inside.

One name on the display caught my eye: Sami Mikhael Amin Al Shammas. From my time in Egypt, I could tell it wasn't a Muslim name. It was a Christian name. Sure enough; I read his bio and he was Catholic. He perished on April 7th, 2003 when a cluster bomb detonated outside his home. It really brought home the point that there are a lot of innocent people whose lives are being ruined by the war. Our media goads us into thinking in black and white terms here in America. They speak of Muslim extremists, but rarely, if ever mention the Christians, much less the responsible, peace-loving Muslims that just want to live their lives. There's a lot of gray areas that many Americans don't consider. It's easy to generalize an entire area of the world, an entire people as being evil, but it takes brave people to point out the difficult truth that it just ain't so.

Anyway, time to get off my soap box.

We got back on the train and returned to Teri's suburb and went straight to her church where she taught a class on Africa. Several of her church members brought dishes of food from Zimbabwe. It was all great! Then we played drums and sang African hymns.

Later that night Teri and I watched Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the following morning we watched "Jesus Camp." These two movies were very thought provoking and deserve their own journal entry, so I'll save it for another time.

I enjoyed my time in your neighborhood Teri. Thank you!

Office Work Jubilation - or - How I Get Excited by Menial Work

I am so proud of myself. Today I figured out how to send the church bulletin from the office computer to the copier so that the pages print in printer spreads, and are double-sided.

The first sheet has pages 8 and 1 on the front and 2 and 7 on the back, while the second sheet has pages 6 and 3 on the front and 4 and 5 on the back. When the two sheets print, all I have to do is fold them in half and one bulletin is done. As you flip through the bulletin, you now read the pages in order from 1 (on the front cover) to 8 (the back cover). I printed and folded 75 bulletins in just 40 minutes! Awesome!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trek Fish

My buddy Greg sent me this "Trek Fish". The theme continues. I don't know if the guy I saw had this one on the back of his truck, but I certainly think it is amusing!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Variation on a Theme

I was driving down Highway 78 on my way home from church today when I saw the back of a Bronco-style truck covered with something. I laughed when I saw it was completely covered with every conceivable variation of the Christian fish (ichthus) symbol. You know those clever little "Darwin" versions of the fish with feet? Yeah, he had that one and many other great spoofs. Some looked like sharks. The picture isn't great since I took it with my cell phone, but it will give you the idea. Click on it to enlarge.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Just get through about the first half of the video where the guy speaks technical gibberish, then watch the magic.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Afghan Families

My church is involved in a program called Six Star Refugee Partnership, which helps refugees from various countries settle and transition into life in America. For several years my friend Curt has been offering his expertise with computers to refurbish used computers, assemble them in refugee homes and teach some basic computer skills. This ministry he provides is essential to the transition of these families into our high-tech (and often overwhelming) culture.

Today I accompanied Curt to the homes of two Afghan families a family from Burundi. He thought my knowledge of computers might also be of help to these families. As it turned out I didn't do much, but I think it was more important that I just meet these families.

First we went to one of the Afghan homes and assembled a computer Curt had refurbished. I watched as Curt installed software and set up dial-up internet service. While we waited for some software to download I struck up a conversation with the patriarch. I've never really been good at starting conversations. I can only thank my time in Egypt for this new-found life skill.

I asked what he did for a living and what his life in Afghanistan was like. He worked as a journalist for a television station in Kabul, but fled when the Taliban came into power. He and his family lived in Moscow where he worked as a shoe salesman. It was a decade before they finally immigrated to America.

In keeping with the middle-eastern hospitality I experienced in Egypt, the father offered some coffee and tea. He sent one of his sons to fetch some drinks after I told him I would love some coffee. His son returned with the drinks and a large platter of almonds, pistachios and golden raisins.

His boys were obviously bright children. One is in the ninth grade; the younger in the third. They both hovered around the computer with wide eyes, eager to try out their new internet connection. The little one pulled up a Russian web site with games on it. In reference to the computer, the little guy asked me, "Is it fast or slow?" He clearly already has some experience with the machines.

Later we went to another Six Star home where a family from Burundi (Burundians?) lives. Curt needed to update some software on their computer, which was pretty much a one-person job, so I just watched some TV with the kids. They were home alone since their parents were out working. The teenage daughter gave me a running narrative of what was going on in the movie, trying to catch me up to speed. In her beautiful, thick African accent she told me that the coach of the high school was an alien that was turning the students and teachers into space-zombies. A real world-class American movie, let me tell you. I was so saddened that THIS was the American culture they were being exposed to.

But that was nothing compared to what was on the TV at the second Afghan home. Curt settled into updating the family's computer as I watched Scary Movie 4 (pretty much the ass-end of American film) with a teenage boy and his little siblings, which, at a guess, were between seven and ten years old. The movie is really good at spoofing recent scary films, but also had some very vulgar scenes. I hated to think that this was the impression these new residents were getting of Americans. What was worse, their father joined us for the last ten minutes of the movie and didn't flinch at even the most outrageous moments.

The only thing I was thankful for out of all of this was that these people live in America with Americans. Hopefully they get a better, positive sense of what it means to be American from the people they interact with on a daily basis. I remember watching similar American TV shows and movies in Egypt and kept thinking about how there was no context for Egyptians. At least the Afghanis have that advantage.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Oh, Stumble Upon, how I love thee.

Baby Steps

I am making progress towards getting my company going. I filed paperwork with the Secretary of State of Georgia through my accountant and paid for a legal ad to run in the local newspaper. So that's rolling right along.

In the mean time I have taken a temporary part time job at my church to earn a little extra cash. I am working as the office secretary while they are searching for a new one. Hopefully my expertise in graphic design will help get some things done there.