The sermons you'll never hear Andy Stanley preach

Keep this in perspective: I love Andy Stanley.

Andy is only human, though, so at times, he disappoints me... like last year when he blasphemously called George W. Bush a hero.

No, Andy, "W" isn't a hero, but Pastor Greg Boyd of the Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, certainly is.

I don't believe Andy is as politically active as his father, but I do know (from my conversation with him last year) that he is a Republican and supports the president's actions. So regrettably, you'll never hear anything like Greg's "Kingdom" series coming from the pulpit of North Point Community Church anytime soon.

Mind on the gutters

I closed on my first rental house on September 7, 2001. It took nearly a year, but my wife and I did a complete remodel to the property ourselves, including a tear-down of an addition to the house that accounted for nearly 1/3 of the home's square footage. That addition needed to go--the roof leaked and termites and carpenter ants were feasting on its walls.

Now almost 5 years later, tomorrow I start the last remaining punchlist item on this remodel: gutters.


Inattention to detail

As mentioned previously, I've been in the Austin, TX area this week. The new Hyatt Lost Pines Resort & Spa is a really nice getaway for the central Texas area, but there seems to be a real inattention to detail that will hopefully be corrected in time. As an example, the typo on this sign posted outside the elevator doors has driven me crazy every time I ride the elevator to and from my guest room.

And then walking down the hallway to my room, I see towels used to keep doors open to housekeeping supplies as well as this area of damaged wallpaper seen here... unacceptable for a resort which hasn't even been open two months.


Another week, another city

I'm on the road for the next 5 consecutive weeks. This week I spent the last four days in Seattle, and it was made much more enjoyable by the awesome weather (sunny skies with highs in the mid-70's & lows in the 50's), lunch with one of the nicest and by far the smartest guy I know (who, on his first day back after a 2-week vacation, took an hour out of his day, for which I'm truly grateful), good company of my two amigos, and a really great hotel. The MarQueen Hotel is the result of a terrific renovation of an historic apartment building.

The guest rooms are huge. Mine had a walk-in closet, nice firm bed, a full refrigerator, high-speed Internet access, double-insulated vinyl windows (important in historical buildings since new windows keep the street-noise out), and the bathroom looked like it was renovated last week. So while I'm a fan of Westin, I'll be staying at the MarQueen should my travel plans ever again include Seattle.

Next week: Austin area.


Novotel New York is a Red Roof Inn in disguise

My new job started this past Monday, and what I thought was going to be a nice lull has turned into nothing but. I'd never met my new boss, and we'd only spoken twice, so I didn't recognize his voice when he called Tuesday morning and jumped right into a conversation about a customer I'll be working with. Thank goodness for caller ID, as it tipped me off as to where the call was coming from (and therefore that it might be him).

He asked if I wanted to make a trip up to New York later in the week to meet with this customer, and of course my response was affirmative. The Big Apple is having a really good year, and hotel rates are outrageous because rooms are scarce, so I choked when I booked the $300+ room at the Novotel New York. Novotel is owned by Accor, and in North America, they're best known for owning Red Roof Inns, Motel 6, and Studio 6.

If it didn't have a restaurant, the Novotel New York would be a Red Roof Inn. I arrived late into New York because of flight delays due a tornado north of the city and other bad weather, so I was very late checking in. The first sign I was in trouble was when I opened the door and the stench of stale cigarette smoke hit me. I immediately looked for and found the ashtray on the nightstand, confirming I'd been put into a smoking room. A call to the front desk confirmed my fear that smoking rooms were all they had left. I wish more hotel chains would adopt Westin Hotels' smoke free policy.

It was late; I was tired, so I went straight to bed. Morning came early, and I did a 6-mile run through Central Park. Arriving back at the hotel to take a shower, it surprised me that a hotel charging over $300 per night for a room has the amenity set in this picture--shampoo with the consistency of dishwashing soap, hand lotion which could be used to lubricate wheel bearings it's so greasy, and two "bars" of generic soap all on a plastic tray.

At least the bed was comfortable.


Thank you, Mom!

My parents have very practical skills, so when they visit, there is usually a small (or not-so-small) project that they tackle, like back in February when my Dad helped me with my rental house or the time my Mom painted this room [-->]. Sometimes they're asked to undertake the project while other times they eagerly volunteer.

My Mom is a great seamstress--growing up, she often sewed clothes for my brother and I, and they never looked dorky. During this trip, my wife was showing her some examples of window treatments she liked from the Pottery Barn Kids' catalog. I'm not sure if Mom consciously meant to say these words or if they are simply her involuntary response to anything within the scope of her abilities (which are many), but she said, "Those would be easy to make!"

With those words, she had her projects. In addition to sewing a valance and curtains for her youngest granddaughter's room, she also made this new drape shade which covers the Levelor cordless cellular blackout shade in our toddler's room. I think they turned out better than the catalog! And my daughter loves her new hanging butterflies, also courtesy of Grandma.


Running discipline

Working out of a home office I've developed professional discipline, but I've never really been consistent with anything athletic. Since I'm committed to running the Walt Disney World Marathon next January 7, I've started training, but my schedule hasn't been consistent.

In an effort to boost my consistency, I've just registered for the Labor Day U.S. 10k Classic, which is less than 2 months away. The course is nothing but hills, but that's what I run today anyway, so it shouldn't kill me if I discipline myself and stay with my running schedule.

I've also set up an account at Cool Running, which has a nice (and free!) online tool to log my runs. It also has a marathon schedule which is slightly different than the one I'm using today, but I like being able to keep everything online rather than an Excel spreadsheet which I'm now using.


Google launches Picasa Web Albums

Google acquired Picasa two years ago, and this has long been a great tool for organizing photos with one glaring problem: no web hosting. Just a month ago, Google quietly launched a beta version of Picasa Web Albums which fixes this limitation. Unlike Flickr, I've found Picasa to be easy to use, and in typical Google fashion, they've done it right: 250mb of free storage and the photos can be stored in high-resolution, unlike most free photo hosting sites.


Experimenting with Audioblogger

this is an audio post - click to play


Realtor partner for Cobb County

I made some negative comments earlier this year about real estate agents, and I regret not addressing the exceptions.

Over the last several years I've interviewed and spoken with numerous real estate agents hoping to find one to ally myself with for real estate investing. Last year I finally found my partner for residential real estate transactions in East Cobb: Kathy Drewien's North Atlanta Realty Group. I worked with both Kathy and Vivian Lacy when I purchased my fixer-upper last year.

I believe that good service is rare, and I don't endorse someone's product or service lightly. Kathy claims to offer trusted, personal, professional service, and she is true to her word. I've recommended her services through word-of-mouth, but like the Dyson vacuum and Briggs & Riley luggage, I decided I needed to give the North Atlanta Realty Group mention in my blog.

And those looking for representation farther north (the I-575 corridor of Cherokee, Pickens, and Gilmer counties) would be well-served by Brad Nix from Maxsell Real Estate. Brad also keeps an active blog at Atlanta 575 Real Estate.

The Da Vinci Code

I'll let you in on a secret: I don't read books. No, I'm not illiterate. I'm ADHD, and one of the ways it manifests itself in me is that I lack the ability to concentrate and absorb a story whenever I'm reading a long text. I may be able to finish a chapter with good recall, but shortly thereafter, I'll realize that I've finished another 5 or 6 pages with absolutely no recollection of the words I've just read... so I have to flip back in the book to the last thing I remember. It's really frustrating and not enjoyable at all, so I've given up on reading books. I have no trouble reading & recalling information from newspapers or magazines because the articles are much shorter.

Multimedia is an entirely different matter. Of course I have no trouble paying attention during a movie unless it has Nicolas Cage or some equally annoying over-actor. I have no trouble concentrating on the spoken word (except for weekly conference calls at work, and who doesn't?), so I also enjoy books on tape/CD. And when I'm on a family road trip, sometimes my wife reads out loud while I drive.

During one such drive, she read me The Da Vinci Code. I liked the book. From a Christian perspective, I especially like the premise that Jesus Christ may have been married and conceived a child. Jesus was a Jew, and to be an unmarried male Jew in his 30's would have been very unusual. In fact, my reading of the scriptures doesn't address his marital state, which lends credibility to the argument that perhaps he was married (since being unmarried would have been more unusual, and therefore more likely to be addressed). I personally believe that Christ was both God and man, and one of the reasons He became man was to experience life as a man, with all of its joys, sorrows, experiences, and temptations. I can think of no other experience that would make Christ more "man" than marriage. This concept doesn't undermine my beliefs at all.

To many Christians, though, this book really shakes their faith. This is from an email exchange with a community group leader at North Point and friend of mine:

The reason I stopped reading it [The Da Vinci Code] is basically due to my personality. I am VERY easily swayed when somebody offers me evidence. And, I don't go to the next step to explore the topic further and understand other evidence. I get too bored and give up. However, I know that there is a lot of contradicting evidence to the things he proposes in the book, from sources that I trust. I've researched some of it on the web. Since I trust these people, (Max Lucado, Charles Stanley, the Bible, etc...) it's hard for me to read something that, to me, totally contradicts my beliefs. To me, it's a very dangerous slope to get involved with things that contradict the Bible, even from a strictly educational perspective. I can't separate the two in my mind. Of course, that's because I believe the Bible is completely infallible. It's hard for me to believe that God would let a book (the Bible) be so misleading for so many years and that this "evidence" hasn't ever really reached the mainstream. The Bible, along with prayer, is how he communicates with us. Why would he choose for it to be incorrect??
And yes, I find it disappointing that someone wouldn't pursue an idea because it contradicts their existing beliefs, especially one who has a position of leadership within the church. Such individuals choose to live a life of self-imposed ignorance.

And now to the real point of today's blog.... with my parents visiting, my wife and I got an unusual reprieve from bedtime duties and decided to go on a date last night. After dinner at Bahama Breeze, we went to see The Da Vinci Code. I was impressed at how closely the movie mirrored the story line of the book. Two thumbs up.


New air freshener

With a lot going on I got several weeks behind opening my personal snail-mail, but I'm finally caught up. In addition to the usual subscription notices, mortgage refinancing letters, and slew of magazines, I received an unexpected gift from my friends Rob of Chasing the Fluency God and his wife Staci of NovelChick.

During their trip to Seattle, they were kind enough to think of me and my musty-smelling Ford Explorer and bought me a car freshener. And lest you think I have friends who would purchase me a $.49 car freshener assembled and packaged by a 6 year old in China to be sold at Wal-Mart, I'm here to say that my friends have style and know my particular taste in car fresheners because they sent me George Bush's Dumbass Head on a String.

Recommended uses include: in the car, under the toilet seat, anywhere there are hard to reach odors that need Republican attention... like our national debt.


Renters wanted

Fortunately it's not the perfect storm where none of my rental properties have tenants, but it still hurts to have two homes with vacancies.

Yesterday I had an open house, and despite having several individuals commit to touring the place, no one showed up. Later, though, I scheduled an appointment with someone to tour another property I recently finished. About an hour after scheduling the appointment, another individual called wanting to see that same property, so I scheduled her for the same time.

I've found that scheduling two or more prospective tenants at the same time creates a sense of urgency to submit an application along with the $40 fee, and today was no exception. Not only did I get the application and fee, but she also put down the deposit (same as first month's rent) as she expected her credit report to be spotless. It's too late to pull her credit report today, but I will first thing on Wednesday, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Safety in the air

In Friday's USA Today, there was a cover story about the the fact that there hasn't been a U.S. airline passenger death in over 4 1/2 years. The story attributed this improved safety rating to 1) better technology--specifically the FAA-required ground-detection equipment which alerts pilots when they're accidentally flying into terrain or water (the leading cause of death in airline accidents between 1987 to 2004) -and- 2) better pilot and crew training.

Since 2000, the odds of a crash are one in 22.8 million flights. Most startling to me is the following perspective: at the aforementioned rate, a traveler would have to fly every day for more than 64,000 years before dying in an accident.


View from the top

I used to really enjoy traveling, but the older I get, the less I like to be away from my family. Many would think it would be easy to have my family travel with me since my wife is a full time Mom and my girls aren't of school age, but it's not. First, it's not cheap to travel (have you checked airfares lately?); second, their schedules often have more events than mine; and third, it's next to impossible to sleep in a regular hotel room with a toddler and newborn. So 99% of the time I travel alone.

And every now and then I'm reminded of some of the perks of traveling. I woke up in my 16th floor room at the Omni Orlando Championsgate this past Monday to this view, and it reminded me of waking up in my former house in Orlando. That house had an awesome pool, huge windows, and a beautiful view of a lake. I really miss that house.