Category Archives: Thoughts

Thoughts

Middle Schoolers/ Punks with Potential

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Fine, so middle schoolers aren't really punks per se, but they are a rambunctious lot no doubt. In our local area, middle school is 6th – 8th grade. Our school has high rankings and great comments on all the various websites you use to learn about local schools. We live in a suburban area with an ethnically and financially diverse population. The middle school only offers very few electives: choir, band, and art/tech. Shop classes were cut years ago, which is a travesty. Because of the lack of choices, each program has tons if students, many of whom are not really interested in the class they are taking. And isn't that the purpose of electives, to learn more about topics you are interested in apart from the core academic classes? Choir is full of kids who don't like to sing, but wanted to take the easiest class.

Dealing with classes full of unmotivated kids all day can be very draining. I feel bad for the teachers who must be constantly frustrated. I think over time, teachers lose some of the cock-eyed optimism and motivation they started with. They get to the point of doing what they have to do to get the kids through the class, and nothing more. I don't blame them. No one can swim upstream forever.

The middle school had absolutely no drama program, no class, no club, nothing. The high school offers drama classes and puts on productions, but the program is not huge, well-supported, or well attended. Part of the problem is that incoming freshmen have no knowledge, experience, or excitement to join drama. They arrive from middle school completely ignorant of what drama can offer. It should not be this way! Freshmen should be knocking down the doors to join the drama club and take drama classes. So how can we make it happen?

Myself and two other parents decided to do something about it. We got involved in the choir program and built up some money through the choir boosters. Then we approached the choir teacher to ask for his support. We had to convince him that we were going to do all of the work and take on the burden, but we needed a faculty sponsor to make it official. With some trepidation, he agreed. He had wanted to do something for years, but it is just way too much work and energy for one person.

With his cooperation, we got approval from the school and began planning. It took an entire school year to plant the seeds to actually do the show this year. We chose a show, Oklahoma, and scheduled information meetings and auditions. We advertised through choir, word of mouth, and posters. On our information meeting day, we showed up nervous that the room would be empty. But it wasn't! In fact, it was packed with excited and energized students. Audition day arrived and over fifty kids showed up. Fifty kids were excited to be a part of something new, unique, and challenging. We couldn't believe it. It was really happening!

We sent home information to parents and tried to prep them for just how big of a commitment a full scale production can be. We understood that many students and parents wouldn't believe it until they experienced it, so we prepared ourselves for complaints and long conversations. Winter break came and went and it was time to start rehearsals. We had cast everyone who tried out to give the experience to the largest number of kids. It wasn't easy to set our cast. Middle school boys have higher voices and are much shorter then middle school girls. Our lead boys were at least a foot shorter than their lead girl counterparts. And we only had six boys try out, so our options were few. By rehearsal time, we had already lost around fifteen kids. How many more would we lose before it was over?

We decided as directors to set our expectations high. These kids were brand new and had no idea what their limitations were, so why set them low? Make them believe they could do whatever we taught them and then put in the work to get them there. It wasn't easy, but we worked and worked until slowly they began to get it. Kids who claimed they couldn't dance were doing dance steps, and kids who were terrified of being on stage were acting and singing. Teachers and administrators would peek their head into the cafeteria during practices and many commented they were amazed at what we had gotten the kids to do. How did we do it? By expecting nothing less. We had the advantage of coming into the school at the end of the day when the teachers were worn out. We were fresh and ready to go.

No one will ever acuse middle schoolers of focusing too much! They constantly had to be brought back and refocused. They find it physically impossible to go more than 30 seconds without talking. They can't go more than 30 minutes without checking their phones. They can look you in the eyes while you talk to them and not know anything you said when you ask them to repeat it back. But they believe they can do anything. They want to learn and want to do well.

Time went on and we needed help. Parents stepped up and volunteered to help with sets, costumes, publicity, etc. things starting rolling as the clock ticked down to show time. Many parents commented on how impressed they were. But we still had our unbelievers. Some parents complained about the time commitment, pulled their kids out of crucial rehearsals, and refused to volunteer. We had to just carry on. We weren't going to let a few ornery parents derail our hard work. On the night before we opened, we had a parent storm into rehearsal to tell us how things were going to be as he proceeded to tell us no one will care because it was only a little middle school show anyway. After resisting the urge to fight back and punch him in the nose, we finished the conversation and he went on his way. I turned to my fellow directors and we agreed we would have the last laugh after he actually saw the show. Let it be noted that he had never done one thing to help.

Opening night was a huge success! People loved it! Proud parents gushed in amazement. Teachers couldn't believe it was their students on the stage. We had a show, a real live honest to goodness show! We packed the house. We had a short run, three shows over one weekend, but it was a huge success. The cast members didn't want it to end. Parents who had been conspicuously absent suddenly appeared asking what they could do to help. Our irate dad offered his version of an apology by expressing how good the show was. Everyone was asking what show we are going to do next year.

So how does this article fit on a DIY blog? People love to complain about problems, but very few people stand up to do something about it. If your kid's school is lacking a certain program, find out a way you can make it happen. The only way our middle school was ever going to put on a play was if we jumped in and did it. If your neighborhood is boring because no one knows each other, plan a neighborhood BBQ. If a local park is dirty, organize a clean-up day. After the show, we sent out a survey to parents to try and improve our process for next year. One respondent said she showed up to volunteer once, but because it was so unorganized, she decided to never volunteer again. That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard! She obviously saw a need. Instead of walking away, she could have stepped up to organize our volunteer efforts, thus solving her issue and greatly helping the show. Sometimes “someone else” is actually you. If it needs to get done, jump in and do it yourself. You'll ensure it gets done, and you can make sure it is done right.

A Smile in the Face of Haters

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Hopefully after reading my posts and watching the videos I embedded, you were curious and decided to go to my channel to check out my other videos. And then after being so impressed with the wisdom and information shared in the videos, you subscribed to my channel so you would never miss a video. Okay, so maybe you weren't quite so impressed. I said “hopefully” didn't I?

Adding videos and throwing them out there for public consumption has been an experience to say the least. It's fun to check in and watch the views counter rise every so slowly. I hit a hundred views! Then a thousand! People are actually watching what I made and uploaded. My videos aren't random funny moments I happened to film with my phone. They are actual projects and ideas that I decided to film and talk about, edit, and upload. Does that mean they are useful to everyone? No. I realize that and never expected otherwise.

It has been fascinating to see which videos are the most watched. You think you know which ones will garner the most interest, but you will be surprised, just as I have been. And then there are the videos that garner controversy. What in the world? No one is forcing you people to watch my video. And if you do happen to click on the monstrosity that is my attempt to teach you something you may not know, no one is forcing you to sit through it to the very end. In fact, in the sidebar, there's a whole slew of other related videos you could watch instead. It's even possible that what you think is trash could be valuable to someone else.

But alas, this is the internet after all and people love to drop nasty comments. You can say what you want to say without filters because you are sitting in your mom's basement in your skivvies drinking diet soda and petting your cat. See, I just did it! And it was so easy. I've found that most people leave constructive comments, even if it's an opposing opinion. And I've learned some valuable things from comments.

But how do you react to the haters? I try very hard to thank everyone for their comment and to very politely respond. Take the high road if you will. Everyone has the right to their opinion right? But there is one that is starting to really stick in my craw. Multiple commenters have said the same thing, given the same criticism. I pointed the first commenter to my video, where I explain my reasoning. The second I thanked for his ideas. The third I politely agreed to disagree. If there is another, I may say just what I'm thinking. Who knows. If I do, will it affect the number of subscribers. And if so, positively or negatively?

I want to avoid the anonymous arguing that the internet engenders, but when is enough quite enough? I guess we'll just have to find out won't we?

Check out my videos and leave some positive comments ;), or leave some in the comments section below.

 

Playing the Host Game

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I'm not talking about having people over for dinner party or serving up a better spread than the next guy. I'm not talking about making the most creative Martha Stewart center pieces. I'm talking about your website or blog. For bloggers, the two most common choices are Blogger and WordPress. There is always the option to go completely free on those services, but that means your domain name will have “.wordpress.com” or “.blogspot.com” which lets the entire world know you are too cheap to purchase a domain and don't take your blog seriously. The free option is for people who want to share cute stories and photos with the grandparents.

Your first step is to purchase a domain name. I did some research and followed the recommendation of other bloggers in choosing to acquire my domain from godaddy.com. It was a very simple process and not too expensive. Once you find a domain name that no one else has registered and that is descriptive of your website identity and content, pull the plug and make the purchase. Now you have to pick a service to host your site. Godaddy offers hosting as well. I chose to go with bluehost, based on recommendations from other bloggers. They offer multiple plans and the price gets cheaper the more time you buy at once. Seeing as this was my first experience in creating a site, I decided to go month to month until I decided this whole blog thing was going to become, well, a thing. It started out at 9.99 a month, but was quickly jacked up to 11.99 a month. That is crazy expensive!! Bluehost was very easy. I installed WordPress, changed the name servers at godaddy, and I was off and running.

After a few months, I went in to bluehost to look at what it would cost to change my plan to one or two years, but there wasn't an option to do it. It said I had to call customer service. I hate calling customer service! In bluehost's defense, the one time that I did have to call them, they were very friendly and fixed my problem right away. I just don't like having to call in as a general rule.

So I started to look at other hosting services and found one with a coupon that would allow me to purchase three years of hosting for around $65! That is a great price. I googled the company and didn't find any negative reviews, so at that price, I went for it. My new hosting service is through hostmetro.com. I couldn't even get one year of bluehost for that price.

Then began the headache. I am not a software engineer or website designer. I have no idea how to design and build a website. It is my goal to someday learn. I am a pretty quick study and fairly technical, but have never had the time to really delve in. After switching to hostmetro, I decided to try and transfer my site from bluehost by myself. That was a mistake! First off, I changed the name servers prematurely, so I effectively took my site down before it was ready. When I realized that mistake, I switched them back to bluehost to give me time to make the transfer. I downloaded my site from bluehost and uploaded it into hostmetro, but I had no idea what folder to put it in or what to do with it afterward. I had a scare when I loaded a new version of WordPress on hostmetro, and it appeared I had lost all of my articles to date. That was a bad feeling!

Finally I decided to ask for help. Every time I tried to google how to do something on hostmetro, I only got results for host gator. Apparently hostmetro is new enough that there isn't much written on the web. Hostmetro has the option to chat, call in, or submit a support ticket. I decided to submit a ticket and got a response within an hour or so. I provided my bluehost login because hostmetro advertised they could transfer my site for me. Unfortunately they came back and said bluehost requires everything to be downloaded to the local machine, so I had to go and download my site from bluehost and then upload it to hostmetro via cpanel. Then hostmetro went ahead and did the rest, building out my wordpress site. They informed me when it was done and I went into godaddy to change the name servers again. It takes a couple of days for the domain to resolve to the new host, so I waited.

Finally, after two more days I started trying to access my website. I could access it via some browsers, but not with others. When it did load, it would load very slowly. I could access it on my phone, but not my tablet or laptop. Arggghhhhhh!!! I could log into WordPress, but couldn't access the admin panel. I went back to hostmetro, and was told I needed to clear my browser cache. I did, but no dice. I wrote back to complain and then suddenly everything started to work. It's quick, responsive, and works in every browser.

The saga of switching hosts lasted over a week, but in the end everything worked out. For the price, you can't beat it. Hostmetro was responsive and helpful and figured out whatever issues I was having for me, even though I probably created most of them. And now I know that I really need to find the time to buckle down and learn how to build a website and use cpanel. In the meantime, I'll keep writing. I have three years before I have to think about changing. Tell me what hosting service you use and why in the comments.

 

My Back No Longer Hates Camping

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Do you love the outdoors and love camping, waking up with the sun, the sound of birds in the morning and crickets and frogs at night? Do you find the fresh air invigorating and cold (properly filtered) mountain stream water refreshing? Did you grow up camping with your family and maybe even with a scout troop? Did you vow to teach your children the joys of camping? Did you reach a certain age, and after a night spent in a sleeping bag on top of a pad, get up to find you could barely walk from the stiffness and back pain? That could ruin anyone's motivation to continue venturing into the great outdoors.

Some of you never have and never will be phased by hard, uneven, rocky ground. My hat is off to you, though tinged with a bit of jealousy. It didn't take my back long to revolt. I don't think my back waited until I hit thirty to firmly insist I never ever try to trick it into thinking a half inch foam pad is the same as a plush memory foam or pillow top mattress. My back drove it's point home very effectively with knots and pain only a sadistic massage therapist would relish kneading out.

Just as with all problems in life, there are many solutions. For many, the back revolt coincides with a time when you are finally secure in a good job and the income is generous and steady. You are a grown-up now and worked hard to get through school and suffer through multiple job interviews. You have a mortgage, two cars, and 2.5 kids. It only make sense that you drive your new pickup truck or SUV down to the RV lot and take out essentially a second mortgage on a fifth wheel, trailer, motor home, or camper that you will use at least twice a year. Hopefully you could see the sarcasm dripping from the last few sentences, because that is just crazy. What is the point of buying a house on wheels? If you don't want to leave your house, then just stay home.

You are not the type to blow your investments and savings on a trailer, so you decide the way to continue camping and still be comfortable is to buy cots and air mattresses. They are a bit pricey, but don't require a loan officer. Of course you also need a tent large enough to accommodate the new camp furniture. These are not bad options for car camping. They take up a lot of room in your garage or storage shed, but the mattress is well worth the struggle of packing and blowing up when it's time to settle down. Hopefully you like campsites with neighbors and close quarters, because there is no way you are hiking all of that gear in. If you aren't like me, you won't end up with the loud drunk party in the site to your left and the very vocal middle of the night amorous couple in the site to your right.

You want to backpack in to your camp site while still saving your back from the horribly uncomfortable rocky ground. Therefore, you decide to look at hammocks. Your friend tells you they are a bad idea because you'll end up sleeping in a “U” shape. Your friend, of course, has never actually slept in a backpacking hammock. I vow to you here and now, if you buy a good quality backpacking hammock, it will change your life forever. You will sleep like a baby and look forward to camping to catch up on sleep.

I use a Hennessy Hammock and wouldn't trade it for the world. It is designed so you sleep at a diagonal. If you do, you can lay completely flat. You can even sleep on your side very comfortably. The HH I have uses a bottom entry Velcro system and includes mosquito netting and a rain fly. It is essentially a hanging tent. It has minimal impact on the environment because it is off the ground and the straps are safe for trees. You can buy different size straps to match the most common tree trunk sizes in your area or do as I do and use ENO slap straps which are adjustable to different size trunks. Sleeping in the HH is extremely comfortable and the nature of the material and design provides give to parts of your body that need it and support to others. It packs up nice and small and is great for backpacking. I've used mine in heat, cold, rain, and snow and have been perfectly comfortable. HH has under pads and insulation for cold weather, but I have found that using a reflective bubble type windshield screen and a small fleece blanket work really well to protect you from cold air flowing underneath the hammock.

It is also possible to make your own hammock out of parachute nylon and 550 or parachute cord. Homemade hammocks tend to use the cocoon type design to protect you from the elements. This is great, but I can't give up the built in bug and rain protection in my Hennessy Hammock.

Don't let old age and stiff muscles stop you from adventure. Try out a Heneessy Hammock and change your life. Check out their website for great information and informative videos. When you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below or feel free to ask any questions.

 

Oh No! They Found Out You Have Tools…and Skills!!

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You've been working diligently to hone your DIY skills. You have tackled seemingly impossible projects and emerged victorious. You have made too many trips to the hardware store as you learned the hard way what materials you actually need. You have had to tear out your work and start over because it just did not turn out the way you envisioned it in your head. And during the course of all of your hard work and hard earned skills, you have acquired tools. If you are like me, many of your tools can be attributed to a certain project. For example, I built a set of mudroom lockers and to join boards together finally invested in a biscuit joiner. I had always wanted one and will use it forever. I just needed a justification to pull the trigger. As you build more and more projects, you will eventually have a workshop full of tools.

What is one of the greatest joys of DIY? Why boasting about your new skills and showing off your work of course!! You love it when people ooohhh and aahhh over that repurposed coffee table you just built or that barn wood wall sconce you just put together. It feels good. There is a sense of accomplishment and pride. Maybe you recycled or repurposed something and you feel great about that. Or you accomplished something you never thought you would be able to do. You learned by doing and are proud of it!

So your friends come over and are inspired by your creations and they get motivated to DIY. Of course, they don't realize that you had a lot of little projects and failures leading up to this latest accomplishment. You've invested hours and hours of hard work, sweat, and saw dust to get to where you are now. But they see you as an average joe (or jane) and they say to themselves “If he can do it, so can I!” You are happy for their new found excitement to DIY, but you dread what is inevitably coming…the phone call. “Help!!”

Your friend decided to read “War and Peace” before working his way through “Dick and Jane.” And you get to pick up the pieces. You have two choices: you can assume the role as mentor, or you can let him learn the hard way, throw him into the deep end to sink or swim. Why should you help when he hasn't paid his dues? He needs to learn to start small! Are you willing to snuff out the DIY flame you so recently kindled? At some point in your DIY career, someone helped you. There is a mentor in your past who took the time to give you pointers and help you out. Now it's time to pay it forward.

This is my take. I want to help, but I also want to make it worth my time personally. I'll get satisfaction and blessings from helping of course, but I can also take the opportunity to learn or try something new myself. Try a new joining technique. Use a new tool. Try different fasteners. Hone your skills. I recently had a friend ask me to help build cabinet doors and shelves. Have I built doors and shelves before? Yes. Did I agree to help anyway? Yes! In fact I used the job as an excuse to finally build the portable router table I have always wanted to build. It made the job so much easier! I also tried a few different techniques. I learned something, my friend learned something, and we were both satisifed with a job well done. As an added bonus, he gave me all of the scrap wood when the job was finished. Score!!

I used to be the personal computer repair person for a group of friends. I just happened to know a little bit more than anyone else, so I was the go-to guy. I got a t-shirt that said, “No, I will not help you fix your computer” and wore it whenever they asked me to come over and troubleshoot. It was aways good for a laugh. My secret was I learned something new everytime I fixed their issue, keeping me always one step ahead of the curve. The same can be applied to DIY projects.

Take the time to be a mentor and help someone obtain your hard earned DIY status. Woodshops, autoshops, and metalshops are disappearing from our schools. The burden has fallen upon us, the American handy men and women, to pass along our knowledge to future generations!!! OK, so that was a bit dramatic, but you get the point!

 

Learn By Doing. No More Excuses!

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You just aren’t handy.  You are not good with tools.  You don’t know a hammer from screwdriver.   You would rather just pay someone to fix it.  You are too busy with life. Yawn yawn spit cuss.  One excuse is as good as another.  Are you truly all thumbs with no coordination?  Well, guess what, you can get over it.  Do you think certain people were just born with handyman skills?  They started walking one day and ripped a board on a table saw the next?  Learning to use tools is no different than learning to ride a bike or play an instrument.  It takes patience and practice!

Before you totally dismiss the premise of my post, let me concede that everyone has certain talents and strengths unique to them.  The world would be boring if we were all good at the same things.  People have different likes and desires as well.  I get that.  I’m talking to those of you who want to be handy and build things but are convinced you don’t have it in you.  Developing a talent is all about work and desire.  Do you really want it or has that become your excuse when you are in the presence of someone who acts instead of talks about acting?

Realize that the first thing you build or design is gonna suck,  Own it and get over it.  You will have this grandiose vision in your mind of what the final outcome will be and your finished product won’t even be recognizable.  You’ll be lucky if it is even useful.  But guess what?  You learned something and will do better next time.  You will identify your strengths and weaknesses.  Design to your strengths and incorporate your weaknesses.  So many cliches come to mind, but practice truly does make perfect.

I remember as a kid, we moved to a different state and somehow my baseball glove was lost.  We didn’t have the money to just go out and buy another glove, so while I saved and wrote letters to Santa, I decided I could make my own out of plastic bags and stuffing.  I planned it out in my mind for hours while laying in bed trying to fall asleep.  In theory it should work just fine as an interim replacement glove.  They really aren’t that complicated.  So I cut out the shape of a glove and taped everything together just so.  What a disaster!  It wouldn’t even stay on my hand let alone catch a fly ball.  I didn’t take into account the properties of leather and stitching.  Stupid kid you may say.  NO!!  Brilliant.  I had a need and tried to come up with a way to fix it.  I learned more by failing than I would have by not even trying.  I also built up a habit of learning by doing.

If there is a project you would like to build but haven’t had the cojones to take the plunge, do it!!  If it turns into an epic fail,so what!!  You’ll have a great time in the process and will build confidence for future projects.  Dive in and make mistakes.  Be willing to fail.  I’ve never met someone who regretted failing, but have met many who regret they never tried.

 

Disclaimer:  Read operating manuals to learn tool operation and safety guidelines before diving in.  You wouldn’t dive into a pool without knowing how deep it is would you??

Renting and DIY

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Due to the nature of my employment, we don't stay around in one place too long. And with the current nature of the economy and our other investments, it does not make sense for us to buy a new house every time we move. Not to mention it would be a huge headache to buy, finance, and sell every three or four years. We could keep the house and rent it out, but that brings up a whole slew of other problems. Having a successful lucrative rental also requires certain market conditions to even make it worth it. We have another huge issue keeping us from buying: we don't know where in the world we will finally settle down. So the common practice among my peers of buying your retirement home early and renting it out won't work. We have some ideas and we know where we don't want, but we haven't decided where we do want. What do they say about proving a negative?

I'm a DIY guy. When something breaks, I don't call someone. I fix it myself unless it is beyond my skill set. I always have plans on what I want to do in a house and it really sucks to be in a rental where I can't do anything without permission first. It is the major drawback to renting. In a previous house, the dishwasher was in horrible condition. We got the impression from the property manager that the owner was not interested in spending money replacing something that still worked (even if barely). We were not going to live in a house with an unworkable dishwasher for multiple years, so I went out and bought a new one and installed it. When the property manager came in and saw it, she freaked out! “He didn't agree to pay for that!” she cried.

I calmly tried to explain that I didn't care if he paid us back. I didn't buy it expecting to be paid back. If he chose to, awesome, but I was going to do it anyway. It was quite amusing. She couldn't wrap her head around the fact that someone would put money into a house he didn't own and expect nothing in return. From my perspective, even though I'm only there for a few years, it is still my home where my kids were going to grow up and where I would escape to after work. What man wants an inoperable dishwasher in his castle?? Not this one. In the end, the landlord ended up paying us back for the unit and our property manager trusted us implicitly from there on out.

I firmly believe that when you rent a place, you should leave it in better shape than you found it. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it ensures that you get good referrals when you move on and can always stay in higher end places. It also motivates the landlord to not raise your rent, because he doesn't want to lose such great tenants. It is worth a couple of hundred a month for the piece of mind that things will be taken care of and will be kept in good condition. If the biggest fear for landlords are horrible tenants, then the best way to allay those fears and make fast friends is to be an awesome tenant.

So how do I get my DIY fix in a home I don't own? My first rule is to not do anything that wouldn't have wide appeal. Only do things that are easily reversible. If the landlord doesn't like it, you can take it down or switch it back no problem. There is a project I will detail later on for a bay window bench. It is made to fit in that room, but can be removed easily if required. I also tend to make pieces that accent a room, but aren't a permanent part of the room. Use furniture, colors, and design to decorate a room when you can't use paint or wallpaper. If done properly, no one will even notice the room is painted the generic egg shell every landlord seems to use. Pillows, window treatments, shelves, and rugs can all be used to great advantage. And if you do get permission to paint, don't use wild colors that you will have to paint over before you leave. Use earth tones and other mild colors. You may get away with leaving it when you go.

Renting doesn't mean you can't have a “home”, only that you have to invest a little more thought into how you decorate the house to make it a home. Earn your landlord's trust and make wise design decisions and any rental can feel just as personalized as a house you own.

And a note to landlords everywhere: no more carpet!!! And if you insist on carpet, be prepared to re-carpet every 5-7 years. The worst is a landlord too cheap to install good carpet or replace bad carpet damaged by previous tenants or just from normal wear and tear. Part of owning a rental is putting money into it for upkeep. If you want good tenants, show you care about your property, because most tenants will only treat it as well as you do. And if we come knocking, fight for us; you will be glad you did!!