Missing Dad

As this Father’s Day approaches, I’ve found myself thinking more about my Dad.  He was in his fifties when I was born, so we didn’t have the close relationship of most.  I don’t ever remember playing football or tossing a baseball with him.

He was a quiet man, except when something didn’t work right.  He had served on a submarine in the Navy.  That experience endowed him with words that could make my Mom madder than a wet cat.  “Jack” she would scream after hearing a sixty-second barrage of harsh language.  He’d look, and say, “what”?  The salty language would just come out automatically.  He didn’t even realize it.

Mother was a devoted Christian and a faithful member of the Church of Christ.  Her Dad was an Elder who lived within rock throwing distance of our house.  Dad didn’t go to church.  He did at one time, but got angry over an incident involving a preacher and something about the Lord’s Supper.  The details remain a mystery to me and I’m not sure why I never asked.  I guess I figured Dad wouldn’t say anything about it and Mom was just too embarrassed.  He would listen to gospel music every Sunday morning.  I think now that he probably missed attending.  I did see Dad in church one time at Easter, when I was little.  Then, never again.  It must have brought back too many memories.

Again, Dad was mostly quiet about things.  He didn’t say much in a conversational way.  Course, it was probably because Mom did all the talking.  They were opposite in most regards.  I easily figured out neither were happy with the other, even at my young age.  They fought a lot, not loud fighting, but the quiet kind.  They wouldn’t speak to each other for days, and then suddenly everything would be back to normal.  He probably learned, like most married men, it’s best to be quiet!

Money was always tight.  Dad didn’t make that much as a meat cutter and Mom tended to impulse buy at times.  She controlled the checkbook, and for some reason, couldn’t keep the balance correct.  I remember meals of cornbread and milk.  We had a lot of pinto beans and discounted meat that Dad would get at work.  We never went hungry, so Dad was a good provider.

He had tons of integrity.  I saw Dad cry once. My sister’s boyfriend was arrested by the Sheriff for theft.  No one in our family had ever had trouble with law enforcement.   Dad took that hard, but moved past it.

He smoked two packs of Cool cigarettes for most of his life.  Finally, he decided to quit smoking somewhere around my high school years.  Five years later, he was diagnosed with emphysema and began a slow suffocating death.  It is a cruel disease because it slowly takes your breath away over a period of years.

Dad fought it admirably, but death finally came to the quiet man who was devoted to his family.   Being much older now, I respect him more now than I ever did while I was young.  I know he went through hard times with difficult people.  He probably had much to tell me, but I was too busy to ask or listen.  Most of us take our parents for granted.  All you can think about, being young, is fledging the nest and starting out on your own.  After that, most never look back.

This Father’s Day, if your dad is still around, appreciate it.  Maybe you’d like to ask him something that will bother you twenty years from now, when he’s gone.  It’ll bother you, not because you don’t have the answer, but maybe because you didn’t ask the question.

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I Like my U-verse

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and since it’s really cold outside, so here you go.  I thought I’d give my opinion on my U-verse service from AT&T.  I worked on U-verse repairs almost every day before I retired, but was never able to sample it as a customer.  Obviously, being a customer of a product makes anyone who works on it, even more knowledgeable.

For all you nerds out there, I’m on a thirty-two meg profile.  My maximum is fifty-six meg downstream and about eleven meg upstream.  My quality tests were perfect and I have no reason to believe they have changed.  We only have two televisions, both on a new cat5 wire.  The installer was going to make one wireless, but I talked him out of it.  That turned out to be a good decision, which I’ll explain later.

I haven’t had any major problems and the quality is pretty awesome.  With that said, I have experienced a complete freeze and had to reboot a set top box.  I have noticed pixilation a few times but nothing that would amount to a major issue.  Digital television has it’s pros and cons just like everything else.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve worked on customer’s lines who have experienced those same small problems and found there was nothing broken to repair.   They just loved reporting imperfection.  The Charter digital service we used at our former residence(there wasn’t U-verse at that location) had the same kind of issues at times.  Again, I still thought it was okay.  The big difference between the two was the Internet speed.  In the morning Charter was smoking at twenty-eight meg per second, but at night, I was lucky to get six meg.  The good thing about U-verse Internet is that it doesn’t bog down in the evenings.  It’s the same speed all day long.

U-verse has a great channel line-up.  You can go online and check those lists out for yourself.  The guide is unmatched as far as I’ve seen.  I wrote about it many blogs ago and you can read it by clicking on this link.  Like other companies, there are too many home shopping channels.  I wish they could all be grouped together and or be blocked out entirely.  Those of you who are addicted to them know their location anyway.  A simple solution is just to create a favorites menu and use it.  I did, but I usually forget about it.

The only real problem I found was location specific.  The location of the wireless router wouldn’t allow me to have service in the back of the house.  One of those things I’ve also had customer complaints on.  I downloaded an app on my phone which worked like a wireless meter.  I was able to walk around the house and measure the wireless signal strength.  I discovered that once I left the room where the router was, the strength dropped off quickly.  So much so, that by the time I took a tablet to the last bedroom, there was no service at all.

My solution to the problem was a simple one.  I unplugged the second set top box, which was located more in the center of the house, and plugged in a network switch.  I plugged the set top box back in and rebooted it.  It came up fine and TV service worked great.  I plugged another router into a spare port and set my tablet and a couple of other devices to connect to it.  Problem solved.  I have read that routers with a real antenna have a better range and that seemed to be the case here.  Had the installer used a wireless box here, my solution wouldn’t have worked without the installation of a wire back to the U-verse router.

I do have one other complaint and it’s a local one as well.  When I told one of my new neighbors that I was getting U-verse installed, he said I shouldn’t do it.  He said that U-verse only gives local channels in the Birmingham, Alabama market.  During a recent tornado, people felt that the Cullman area didn’t get the emergency coverage they needed.   Cullman weather is covered out of the Huntsville National Weather Service.  I took his warning seriously and installed a digital antenna outside so I could receive all the Huntsville channels for weather emergencies.  I’ve noticed already that Huntsville does tend to have better local coverage and the weather forecasts are much more accurate. We even shop more in Huntsville than Birmingham so I’m not sure how this problem could be corrected.  It could be a government requirement, I’m not sure.

I’ll also mention we have U-verse telephone service as well.  It works fine, we just don’t use it much.  Since we’re only allowed two hundred minutes per month, everyone just uses a cell phone.  Telemarketers and wrong numbers tend to wear it out, calling at all hours anyway.  I’ve had to block a few and threaten a couple of others to stop calling.  The “do not call” list just doesn’t work anymore.  I even had one to “spoof” my number when they called.  That is a problem with VOIP lines.  The phone rang and when I looked at the caller-id, it startled me.  I was calling myself.  That one got blocked as well.

Overall, I’ll have to say that U-verse is a great product.  If you qualify for the service where you live, you might give it a try.

After abandoning my Apple TV,  I purchased another video streaming product that I’ll tell you about next time.  I will say that I’m extremely pleased with the quality and content.  Need a hint… starts with a “R” and ends with a “4′.

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Storm Shelter Installation

Living in Cullman, Alabama, we are reminded of the 2011 tornado outbreak  every time we drive through downtown.  Much of it has been rebuilt, but there are several properties which are still vacant.  Cement slabs are a harsh reminder of the destruction that a tornado can wreak in a matter of moments.  Odds are always in your favor that you won’t be hit by a tornado.  Most people have only seen them on television, but do you want to take that chance?   Unpredictability combined with being unprepared, is a crisis waiting to happen.  It could even be life ending!

My wife and I decided we would better our chances of survival, just in case the unthinkable happened.  We studied storm shelters online and narrowed our choices down to two companies, Alabama Safe Shelter of Cullman and Valley Storm Shelter in Huntsville.  We decided to buy a “walk-in” unit because I’ve seen too many “in-ground” shelters which had problems with water.   Granted, the newer buried shelters claim to be waterproof and probably are.  I just didn’t want to take the chance of water issues ten years down the road.

The shelter from Valley was a steel enclosure that bolted to a cement garage floor.  It was also advertised as a “safe-room” since it was bulletproof.  This one was actually our first choice.  We drove to their local showroom in Huntsville and the salesman was on the phone, so we waited.  The more I compared the two, the Cullman cement shelter was a better fit for us.  One, we didn’t loose any garage floor space.  But more important that that, was the number of persons each was able to hold.  The steel shelter we had chosen could hold eight persons, but the cement shelter held fifteen.  The price for each was about the same.  If our entire family were present, including grandchildren, we would need the larger one, or stand on each others head!  I’ve never been a fan of “women and children first” decisions, when everyone could be saved with a little planning.

I called Dewayne Shaddix at Alabama Safe Shelter and asked if he could come by and make a site survey.  He agreed, since we were local.  I since learned that they serve a wide area in the Southeast so that isn’t always possible.  He came by later that week and I showed him my three site possibilities.  All were okay for the installation.  He suggested that I remove some pines that were in the way.  We signed a contract and made a downpayment.  It was just that easy.  I spent a couple of days removing some additional trees and called to say we were ready.

Due to letting the sunshine dry the area a little more, he waited a few days before sending out his installation crew.  They arrived on Monday morning, ready to get it done.  The shelter came in two pieces, each weighing 10,000 pounds.

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Josh, started digging out the shelter’s final resting place.  Our land slopes upward behind the house, so we thought it would be a pretty easy install.  The average install time is about four hours.

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The dig went pretty well.  The dirt was piled up on both sides so that it’s restoration would be easier.

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Next came the installation of the concrete shelter.  That part didn’t go quite as planned.  The total weight of the shelter and vehicle is 28,000 pounds.  As soon as the truck pulled off the concrete driveway, the wheels started spinning from the damp soil.  It was lunch time anyway, so the crew took off to purchase some plywood for a temporary road.

They returned with five sheets for the truck to backup on.  It’s rear wheels need to be about 10′ from the final spot of the shelter.  The plan worked great as you can see in the following pictures.

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Next, the door is installed and the dirt put back against the shelter.

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The crew finished but it’s still a work in progress for me.  I’m adding a rock retaining wall and a french drain to pull any ground water away.

We’re extremely pleased with the purchase and the installation by Alabama Safe Shelter.  Everyone needs a safe place to go when danger threatens.  The weather has been good lately, so it may not seem like a high priority item to you.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  Your family is too important to lose because of procrastination.  If you would like more info, please visit their website or call Dewayne at 256-338-4984.  Tell him The Chestnut Burr sent you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Decided to Retire

Halloween of 2015 will always be remembered to me as the day I retired from AT&T.  It isn’t scary if you’ve planned for thirty-seven years.  It’s been a long time coming.  I remember a good friend trying to talk me into it about seven years ago, but it just wasn’t time.

Since then, most of my efforts have been spent trying to transfer out of Shelby County, but I was blocked every time.  The last two years I’ve had requests in for almost every town in North Alabama, but there just hasn’t been any job vacancies.  I could tell you the facts, but from previous blogs, the puzzle pieces could be put together.

Anyway, our remodeling project was finally taking shape, so we put our home in Alabaster on the market.  When it sold in two months, retirement was looking pretty good.  I took the remaining portion of my vacation and as of tomorrow, my retirement officially starts.

The events of the last four weeks happened pretty fast.  I’d like to tell everyone just how much I appreciate the opportunity to have been associated with them.  AT&T has a great bunch of employees who go to great lengths to keep the network up and running.  Unleashed, they would be a tremendous asset.

My career started as a Engineering Clerk, drawing jobs for construction.  From there, as a technician it went from regrading four party telephones to two party, placing service drops and cable, splicing and repairing outside cable, splicing fiber optic cables, and recently splicing fiber optic service lines for high speed Internet.  I’ve come a long way!

My future endeavors, of course, involve finishing our fixer-upper project.  As that winds down, probably early next year, I’ll look for my next career.

In the twenty-eight page document I signed this week for separation, one page requested that I write why I was leaving the company.  It was a simple one sentence statement, “It is time”.  It was time to finish the thirty-seventh chapter of AT&T and close the book.  I’m ready to start new adventures.  I’ve bought new running shoes and I’ve got my bike out of the back of the garage.  This is going to be fun!

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Coffee and Bluebirds

This is my “happy place”.  It’s a little after six in the morning and I’m sitting on the front porch, in a big cedar rocking chair. I’m sipping my morning cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and watching bluebirds feast on insects in the front yard.  They’ve had a pretty good year with at least two broods from our three bird houses.  Bluebirds are voracious eaters.  An insect on our property needs good insurance.

We have a pretty good variety of birds.  Hummingbirds are working hard on the nearby feeder and a towhee is in the oak tree, bellowing out encouragement for me to “drink your tea”.   The Cardinals are in the edge of the forest,  along with the nuthatches and tufted titmouses.  This isn’t just a bird sanctuary, it’s a David sanctuary.

As I sip my coffee, I’m reminding myself why this is my happy place.  One of my older blogs was ‘Rest for the Weary’.  That work pace hasn’t slowed down since it was written.  Our remodeling project for the past two years only intensified when we listed our current home on the market.  Getting it ready for sale and inspection seems to have made me an angry person lately.  I know buyers and realtors can do that to anyone, but to a person already with nerves on edge, it’s been worse.

A hummingbird just chased another away from the feeder…  I think, overall I’ve done a fair job of not letting loose when my boiling point has been surpassed.  My safety valve was to become more of a “quiet” person.   From past experience, I know the tongue can “kindle” quite a fire when let loose.    Granted, I have said quite a few things when no one was around, just to vent.  I also have to admit that my conversations with the Lord have even been a little testy, but He, like no one else, knows what’s been going on.  He, in return, gives me coffee and “happy places” to further bless those I’ll come in contact with next.

Some crows have joined the cacophony of singing now.  Birdwatching is great therapy.  I enjoy trying to pick out new sounds from the trees.  I’ve got a couple of apps on my tablet, which allow me to identify and memorize their songs.  It’s more of a challenge than most people think.

Well, my coffee is almost gone and the clock is ticking.  Like a crying baby, my “to do list” is drowning out the birds and urging attention.  Time to be like those bluebirds and get to work.

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Working Sunday, Again?!

Hi, I’m an employee of AT&T and the following is my opinion.

I’m taking my “hour-long” lunch as I write this.  It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve been scheduled to work the weekend, again.  The full one, Sunday too!  It seems to be deja vu every other weekend, because I’m scheduled to work every other weekend.  of course, in this case it’s more of a reality than a feeling, but I do feel it!

Yes, I’ve complained about it.  Of course I get just as much satisfaction of talking to the wall and just about as much interest.  My supervisor says that he has “emailed” the scheduling group and their responses have been; the computer did it, it was just his turn, it will all average out in the long run, and the most recent, we’re investigating it.

It boggles my mind how a multi-Billion dollar company like AT&T, can’t keep a simple schedule straight.  It ALMOST makes me think that my schedule is being purposefully tampered with.  Persecution can take many forms and be almost impossible to prove in today’s digital world.  I’ve written before how “numbers” can be manipulated without anyone knowing, in order to target an individual.

IF it were to be a form of harassment or persecution, I’d really like to know which of my characteristics I was being punished for.  Is it just that I enjoy going to church on Sunday and worshiping the Creator of the universe?  Is is possibly my stand against the LGBT mafia or the abortion rights crowd?  My beliefs aren’t a secret.  The Bible is clear which side is correct and that’s where I am.  For the record, I’m also against murderers and gluttons, but they don’t normally evangelize others to take part in their sins.

Is it the fact that I’m non-union due to not being represented properly?  You certainly don’t believe I would throw away money in such a frivolous manner.  I do apologize for being a dues paying member of CWA for nearly thirty years.  Or, is it possible they just want the “old guy” to go away?  They may think if I’m aggravated enough, I’ll retire.

Well, I’m not ready to declare that I’m being discriminated against, the proof just isn’t there.  It looks like it, but looks can be deceiving.  It might be that the folks who send out the schedules don’t ever read their emails sent from supervisors.  It could be their computer program is prone to make errors on a regular basis.  You know how funny computers are about throwing in errors repeatedly, just for laughs.  Maybe the system was hacked by Chinese loyalists of China Bell, trying to unravel our families weekend activities, so we all continue to be stressed and stay in turmoil.

Maybe so, who knows?  Gosh, I didn’t even get into the aliens from space, climate change, Hillary’s email server, or the Grinch.  The possibilities are endless, but the real reason is probably very simple.  It was the Grinch, wasn’t it?

Hey, I’d just like to have a few more weekends with “OFF” on the schedule.  Doesn’t seem like too much to ask…

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Looking for a Church Home

As I’ve gotten older, I realize how important attending a good church is.  I grew up in the church of Christ and spent over forty years there. Discovering greener “spiritual” pastures was a great enlightenment.  I migrated to the Baptist faith about ten years ago and am currently a member at Church of the Highlands and attend the Riverchase campus.

Judy and I enjoy Highlands, the only problem is, there isn’t a campus in Cullman. Since we spend most of our weekends working on our remodeling project, we’ve been visiting several churches in the Cullman area. We still haven’t decided which one to call home when we move permanently.

In today’s blog, I thought I’d tell a little about each, in case someone else was searching for a church home. I’ve included pictures of each building so you’ll know what it looks like.

We first visited Temple Baptist Church on Highway 157. Temple was probably the most different from Highlands of all we’ve been to. It has a country feel with a high amount of audience participation. “Amen”, “preach it”, “he’s warming up now”, are among the accolades of encouragement for the preacher, Malcolm Carter II, during the sermon. Once I got used to that, I found it a listening encourager as well. Temple was in dire need of a larger sanctuary and currently have an ongoing construction project to remedy that.

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We also visited at Northbrook Baptist on the east side of Highway 157. By far, the prettiest building facilities in the area, Northbrook is another large church with multiple worship services. Steve Britt is the pastor and has a smooth sermon delivery with emphasis on Bible teaching. I would guess that Northbrook has the highest “average age” attendees. An interesting plus, is that breakfast is available on Sundays and a nice meal on Wednesdays, which may help some families who are rushed to make attendance.

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Daystar Church was another, located in Goodhope, Alabama. It was only fifteen minutes away and the easiest accessible by Interstate. Jerry Lawson is the pastor and is another smooth sermon deliverer. We were there on Valentines week and the series involved a lesson on “sex in marriage”. You don’t hear that very often and my research discovered it wasn’t the first time that topic was taught there. They were once maligned by some for a billboard advertising a sermon series entitled “Great Sex“. Evidently the message went viral to the extent that the pastor was interviewed on several major networks. You can read about it in the link here.

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We are currently attending Desperation Church in the Downtown area. Andy Heis is the pastor. Andy may be familiar to some in Birmingham,  since he served at Gardendale First Baptist for several years, working with the college age and young marrieds. Desperation has big plans for Cullman. They have the most worship services of any church, probably due to the limited size of the building. We were there when plans were presented for a new facility on eighteen acres, soon as the funding goals are reached. I told Judy that I needed cotton in my ears for the worship team, due to the volume. Desperation probably has the youngest “average age” of all the churches. Worship is akin to a rock concert, so that is part of the attraction for the younger folks. During Christmas week, we were shocked to find “Santa” greeting people in the foyer. He was absolutely the most realistic one I’ve ever seen.

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When we make that final decision it’ll be pretty tough. I forgot to mention the closest Highlands campus is in Madison, Alabama, which is about forty-five minutes away. That drive is “doable” but I feel we need to be onboard in a local environment. Our culture is racing downhill in a death spiral. Only God knows what is ahead but my feeling is that local church work will have to play a larger role in “defending the faith.”  I also believe church unity across denominational lines will be extremely important for Christianity. Members in every church need to meet their Christian brothers and sisters who worship in other buildings. Jesus said that a house divided against itself, will not stand.

If you attend a church who believes it’s the “only” one going to heaven… visit elsewhere this Sunday and you’ll find there are saved believers everywhere! As they say in the country, “woods are full of em.”  Preach it Bro!

 

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