Last Minute Gift Ideas (Good for Any Time of Year)

Christmas is almost here, so you’ve likely completed your shopping. If you haven’t and aren’t in an a hurry to get the gifts, then this article contains a couple of items I recommend considering for yourself or those you know. My reasoning for selecting the items in this list is simple. These are products or services that are by small businesses I know.

Product One: Create a Castle

The first item is for kids of every age. While this product was originally developed for building sand castles, it quickly became obvious that the real value of the product for most people is in using it with snow to build snow castles. This product was developed by a person I worked with for a few years. His “out of the box” thinking resulted in a mold for building castles that doesn’t leave you with sand stuck in the bottom of your bucket. Rather, the mold clamps and opens to make it easier to create masterpieces.

Over the past year, Kevin’s product has gone from idea to reality. More so, it has gotten national attention on shows like Kelly and Ryan:

Recently Kevin mentioned that they will be on QVC as well. You can find them in a number of stores around the country as well as online. You can order the castle kids online from their site at or from retailers such as Barnes and Nobles online. I personally recommend the Deluxe or Pro Tower Kits!  If you are heading to the beach or expecting a couple of inches of snow, then this is the product to take your castle building to the next level!

Product Two: Funky Munchkin Candles

Yankee Candles are so last year. Today’s candle lovers want something a little more funky, which leads to the second product I’m recommending – Funky Munchkin Candles!

Funky Munchkin candles are being created and sold by my friends, John and Terra. They started the candle business as a way to earn extra money to help fund their adoption process. The business has continued as they’ve expanded their candle line to a number of scents.

Being a stickler for details, they have focused on building candles using high-quality materials. Specifically, their candles are made from palm wax, which burns more cleanly than traditional candles. It isn’t, however, this high-quality approach that causes me to recommend their candles. Rather, it is the fun, unique scents that they’ve brought to the mx! There are some expected scents such as apple cinnamon, blueberry muffin, Hot cocoa, lilac, and Jasmine. There are also unique scents such as Goji (a super-fruit blended with a classic flower), fireball (intense cinnamon), granny’s pumpkin roll, pirate (as in those bad guys that sail the seven seas), shire (like where hobbits live), vanapplemon (I have no idea…), and many others. For the holidays they have we three kings, Christmas spirit, candy cane, and humbug.  I’ve named a lot of scents, but also left out a number f them too. You can find all of their current smells at!/Products/AllCandles

So as to keep up with the times, in addition to the candles, they’ve also started selling melts. You can find more information on their site at At the time I wrote this, they were offering free two-day USPS priority shipping on orders.

Product Three: Apex Taekwondo

Most people think of gifts as items that can be wrapped and placed under a tree or given at a party. Sometimes, a great gift is one that not only provides enjoyment, but also improves the physical well-being of the recipient. Based on that, my next product to recommend is a membership to Apex Taekwondo in Fishers, Indiana.

Apex is a newer business in Fishers, Indiana, so unlike many of the more established Taekwondo centers, you aren’t just the next subscription. Rather, the owner and his team are going to be able to give anyone that attends the attention they need to learn the art and skill of Taekwondo. Whether this is a gift for a child or for yourself, the end results are sure to be rewarding as you work to learn new skills.

The owner of Apex is Master Stephen McEwan, who is a fifth degree black belt. Not only is Stephen experienced in training (he has trained over 500 students), he is simply a great guy! Like John and Terra at Funky Munckin, Stephen is someone I’ve had the chance to get to know. In addition to knowing Stephen, several of my friends have been taking his classes. As such, it is easy to recommend Apex and Stephen to anyone consider a unique type of gift!

Product Four: Child Safety Playing Cards

Sometimes a simple gift is needed. Not only is the Child Safety deck of playing cards a fun bit of entertainment, it is also a learning and teaching tool! This is a unique set of cards that can be used in the same manner as any other deck of playing cards. It can also be used as a dice alternative. Each playing card includes the picture of a six-sided dice with a number of dots showing form one to six. This is great for those times when you want to play a dice game, but don’t have a surface for rolling!

The most important aspect, however, of this deck of cards are the safety messages that are included. Each card includes a safety message that is good for kids to know and understand. For example, the Queen of Hearts includes the message that lets you kwno that water temperatures less than 120 degrees won’t scald. The card also includes a kid-drawn picture to illustrate the safety tip.

The Child Safety Playing Cards are available for order at At the time of this writing the price had been lowered from $8.95 a deck to just $5.95!

Products Five and Six: Discipleship Training Guides

The final products I’ll recommend are books that I’ve mentioned before that are available on Amazon. These books were written by my parents, so clearly I know the authors. These books are Discipleship Training for Followers of Christ and Discipleship Training for Christian Outreach. Both paperback books present a study guide approach to learning about discipleship. Each chapter of these books presents a relevant topic along with questions and Bible versus to guide in learning. The answers to all of the questions (along with versus) are included in the books.

At only $9.99 each, these are a great stocking stuffer or a gift for yourself!

So Much More….

These are just four products that are easy for me to talk about. All are worth checking out! If you are still looking for that extra gift, then all of these work. While it might be too late for getting these in time for Christmas, all make great things to have any time of year! If you choose to purchase any of these, feel free to tell them Brad sent you!

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HSE School Board December 12, 2018 – Redistricting and More…

I attended the December 12th, 2018 Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board meeting. This was expected to be an interesting meeting because the board was to approve the redistricting plans that had been developed over the previous months. Additionally, it was to be the last official board meeting for three of the seven members whose tenure ends at the end of the month.
I attempted to capture video of this meeting; however, I had limited success. I worked with a new camera, so while the video quality is better than the cell phone I’ve used in the past, I’m clearly still learning to use the camera. Additionally, I can’t control the audience around me, including the tiny kids that had been brought to the meeting that were right behind me.

Redistricting HSE Schools

The primary topic of the meeting was redistricting. Like the previous school board meeting, the HSE Superintendent, Dr. Bourff, presented a recommendation for the school board to consider. This was the same recommendation that he made at the previous school board meeting. Unlike the previous meeting, he also included several possible amendments to the proposal. You can catch my video of Dr. Bourff presenting here (sorry for the low audio in this snippet):

The first option Dr. Bourff presented as a change to the proposed redistricting plan was to move Logan’s Pointe from Southeastern elementary School and HIJH over to Durbin Elementary School and Fall Creek Intermediate/Junior High. This only impacted 19 students. This proposed change was passed by the school board.

The second option for change was to move Sunlake apartments to Harrison Parkway, and the “River” neighborhoods to New Britton Elementary School. This proposal had received a lot of discussion. This proposal would have put the “River” neighborhoods back into New Britton. The irony is that Sunlake kids would likely have to drive past New Britton to get to Harrison Parkway once the construction on 37 starts. This proposal failed to pass.

A third option for change was to move the Anchorage neighborhood from Geist Elementary School to Brook School Elementary School. This proposal only impacted 6 students that currently attend Geist. This proposed change was passed by the school board.
The fourth and final potential option for change in the proposed redistricting plan involved removing the 8% split that occurs at HIJH for students going to Fishers High School. This proposed option failed to pass by the school board.

Community Comments on Redistricting

After Dr. Bourff presented, a number of community members took time to speak. Most raised concerns regarding the redistricting plans. You can catch their comments in the following video. I bumped up the volume on this video:

School Board Redistricting Discussion

After the community talked, the school board members discussed the recommended redistricting plan and amendments. A final vote approved the redistricting plan with amendments to move Logan and Anchorage back. There would also be grandfathering for grades 3, 5, and 7; however, transportation would not be provided. Amendments to move Sunlake apartments was not approved, nor was eliminating the split at HIJH. An additional proposal to move allotments 131/132 in the Durbin area also failed to pass by the board.

The final redistricting map is currently available on the school’s web site:

Other School Board Items

There were several other items that were covered in the school board meeting.

A proposal was made and approved to move the school to a third-party audit system instead of using the Indiana State of Accounts system. An audit committee was brought up and approved in the previous school board meeting.

Also covered was an update on live streaming the HSE School Board meetings. It was stated that the school board meetings would not start streaming in January. It was stated that the school system is required to include closed captioning on the video. This was not seen as an issue. The delay was indicated to be a result of using an out-of-state company of the video streaming. This company needs to file to do business in Indiana, which will take time. It is expected that February or March is more likely to be a start time for streaming. Nothing new was stated on the 45-day retention policy. I will, however, try to record any meetings I attend and post them on a YouTube Channel for long-term retention (Fishers, The Other Side of the Tracks).

New high school courses had been presented in the previous school board meeting. The courses were presented again and approved. The courses include African Studies, International Relations, Language for Heritage Speakers, Painting III, Robotics Design and Innovation, and Science Research (Independent Study).

Thanking Go to Those Leaving

Several other topics were covered in the board member reports. The big topic, however, was the recognition of the three board members that were ending their tenures. Terry Tolle, Matt Burke, and John DeLucia will be leaving the board at the end of the month. Each of these guys brought their individual perspectives to the board. While Terry tended to be focused on beating Carmel, all three seemed to be looking out for the Kids in the district. Each contributed positively to making HSE Schools the best they could be. Losing these guys is a loss to the school system; however, hopefully those joining the board will fill the gap with fresh insights and perspectives.

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Good Samaritan Holiday Assistance Walkthrough

My previous article presented some pictures from the Good Samaritan of Hamilton County’s holiday assistance program. It showed some of the rooms prior to the event. The event is now over for 2018 (although Good Samaritan will still be doing meals near Christmas). I was unable to get pictures that showed how the rooms looked at the end, but suffice it to say that the housewares were picked over, the food was all distributed, and the toys and books that were left were primarily the second hand toys, many of which showed a lot of wear and tare.

One thing I was able to do quickly was walk the path that clients getting assistance would follow. I took the below video the morning of the event right before clients were going to be allowed to sign in and start their “shopping”.

People who have signed up and been approved for this event start lining up the night before. When I arrived at the building about 30 to 45 minutes before the doors were to open, the line stretched out to the parking lot and down the sidewalk. It was hundreds of people standing in line in the cold. Out of respect for their privacy, I don’t have pictures to show the line, but take my word – it was long.That event started at 8:00am, which is when the line started moving. It kept going for 6 or 7 hours with the last of the people “shopping leaving between four and five in the evening.

This year I spent more time helping with issues in the toy/kid room, but still took the time to walk a few families through. I was joined by high school kids, parents with middle aged children, and adults who were also working with families, by helping them work through the kids clothes and toys. While it seems like an easy task, it is tougher than you’d think. It also, however, is rewarding to help families find that near perfect toy for their kids.

For me, the hope is that when they get home, they will have what they need to have a very merry Christmas holiday.


Christmas with Good Samaritan

I wrote about Poverty and the Christmas Spirit in Hamilton County last week. This week I’ve had the chance to volunteer with Good Samaritan for their Holiday Assistance Program. The work has been hard and the event is still a little more than a day away.

Hundreds of volunteers have already helped at the fair grounds to get this facility ready for the assistance give-away. In the last two days, I’ve worked with numerous parents, company groups, the Fishers High School basketball team, kids from a local elementary school, and numerous others. All of these people spent time helping to set up an assistance program that will give away thousands of household items, toys, items of clothing, food, and bikes to those that could use a little assistance.

While work has been going into this program for months (if not the entire past year), I’ve only helped the last two days. What does this event look like? The following are pictures from setting up two of the three main rooms from Wednesday night. This first picture is the main room where toys will be given out:

The toy room is primarily toys and books that will be given out to families who will be able to “shop” (select) toys based on need. I also grabbed a quick shot of the housewares room:

The housewares room contains houseware items, more clothes, and a much more.

On Thursday, a lot was accomplished. The following is a picture of the toy room. You can see that with the help of the volunteers, a lot of items were spread out in the room. In addition to toys and books, this room also contains clothing for younger boys and girls as well as a few special items such as slippers and boots.

Here is the ‘food room’ on Thursday evening with some of the volunteers working hard!

Of course, there is still a lot of work to happen on Friday before the big event on Saturday. I’ll take additional pictures on Friday to give you more of an idea of the scope of this event.

While the picture show a lot of stuff across the rooms, it doesn’t mean there will be enough for those that need assistance. It is because more could always be used that I often put out an “ask”. If you are in the Hamilton County area, please consider donating ‘like new’ or even new toys and such to Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County. They collect all year for this event. When you see that toy that is on clearance for a crazy low price, why not buy it and donate it to an organization like Good Samaritan?

I’ll do my best to post a few more pictures over the next two or three days! The housewares room looks completely different! Of course, if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see pictures there!


Nickel Plate Trail Feedback to the City

The city had a public meeting on December 4th regarding the city budget. I’ve raised concerns in the past about increasing taxes for a trail that doesn’t have a budget. I wrote quick notes to have in case I chose to speak. I did speak, but because comments by others prior to my speaking, I went off script. While I didn’t present what I wrote below, I did speak on the overall topics presented. I spent a little more time talking about needing a better understanding of the return on the investment of the trail. If the trial is going to provide $300 million (or some number) of economic growth, then why do we need to increase taxes? What portion of that growth will come to the city and thus cover the cost of the trail?

I share the following as what I prepared as my notes to use in talking on the Fishers City Budget and the Nickel Plate Trail tax increase.

Nickel Plate Trail Feedback

Brad Jones, November 4th, 2018 – Feedback to Fishers

Thank you for allowing me to take a moment of your time.

I’m Brad Jones and I live in Stevenson Mill across from Conner Prairie. This neighborhood is the one that had four wrecks in the span of 12 months on Allisonville at the neighborhood entrance. People turning into the neighborhood have a tendency of getting rear-ending as cars try to illegally pass on the right side of them. I was told two people later died as a result of the accidents during that period.

How does this relate to budgeting for a trail?

Near the time of the fourth accident within 12 months, I asked for a bump out or blister to be added to Allisonville to help improve the safety by giving cars a way to pass. The response from the city was that such an expense was not in the budget. It was not in the budget, but as a consolation, they would put a sign at the north end of Conner Prairie warning to watch for turning cars. Even after a follow-up or two, the sign was never put up.

A lack of budget.

Four wrecks in 12 months would have likely put the entrance to Stevenson Mill into the top 20 locations for accidents in Fishers if it were an intersection.

People died.

My kids are in jeopardy every time we turn into the neighborhood going South on Allisonville.

Lack of budget prevented a safety change.

This is just one area where budget doesn’t support a safety update. I recall a person mentioning sidewalk safety issues along Fall Creek – but again there was no budget to address all the sidewalks that are needed across the city.

Did I mention people died?

If you said you were increasing taxes for safety reasons – or to do things that benefit the community in a way that increase safety – such as updating fire stations — then I’m sure people would support it within reason.

But, when safety issues are outside of the budget and don’t warrant increasing taxes, then how do you justify raising taxes for an asphalt sidewalk?

People died. My neighbors were seriously hurt.

Question One: Where are the Real Numbers?

So let’s say the city does raise taxes and forge ahead with the trial….
Then that raises two questions I’ve been asking. The first is, where’s the budget or plan?

Understandably, you can’t have a solid budget until you have a plan. You can, however, have an estimate that is realistic and relatively close for a baseline. This isn’t the first asphalt sidewalk, err, trail to be built.

An estimate that is closer to reality based on the speculation for road crossing costs, the $1 million dollar a trail mile, and a rough idea of some of the base feature costs. Of course, to be complete, there is an expectation that this would include an estimate for connecting the side road sidewalks to the trail on locations like 106th and 131st where the sidewalks don’t connect all the way to the tracks – areas where there are streams or other obstacles that are going to add substantially to the cost.

Being that connectivity has been a big part of the promotion of the trail, an estimate of costs should also include how the 96th Street and 146th Street crossing will be covered along with information on when Indy and Noblesville will be building from those locations. Those two locations are going to be outrageously expensive if safety is a factor. Even though it has been called out as being substantially wrong, the Nickel Plate Trail FAQ continues to promote a deceptively low cost of $4.4 and a promise to “value engineer for cost savings.”

As a side note, the FAQ also says the timeline for the first phase is 2019-2020. What is not stated in the FAQs about the timeline is that (based on comments from a community meeting), the suggestions being solicited from the public are part of a 20-year plan – a plan that means they kindergartners helping with designs might be graduating college before they are implemented.

Question Two: Why the Redundant Section First?

The second question, I’ve raised before as well. If you are going to spend tax dollars on the trail, then why pick 106th to 126th Street as the initial phase rather than focusing on the areas that would extend existing trails? With existing trails between 106 and 126 that are near the tracks (one of which I believe is even called Nickel Plate Trail), it seems like it would be more valuable to the community to do 96th to 106 or 131st to 146th first. With the new business center South of 106th, going South would seem to make a lot of sense. These trails could connect to the existing trails at Cheeney Creek Nature Park and the trail at 131st and Lantern Road.

Trains and Mass Transit

Finally, I’ll add that I’m not a “save the train” person.

I like trains, but the train derailed a long time ago. Having said that, the feedback from Amazon indicated that mass transit was one of the key reasons that many cities lost bids. Having a Mass transit system in and out of Fishers going into Indianapolis could do wonders for the city – especially as the need for low-wage workers increases (bring them into town) and as the number of destinations within Fishers that need customers also increases. Having an existing corridor that could be used for such transportation could be a boon.

A return of the train has been suggested for this as has light rail, but there are other options that could be used for building consistently scheduled mass transit as well – electric busses or trams down a dedicated pathway are a prime example that would require a much smaller right of way. These could be done with a ‘share the path’ approach. They could also be done on similar asphalt to the trail – instead of rails.

When it comes to the cost….

When it comes to the tax cost to fund the trail, the comment is that “The tax increase is only a penny to a penny and a half”. The wheel tax is only $25, and the last school referendum was lower than our neighboring city.

The residents of Fishers don’t pay just the penny; we pay the aggregate of all the pennies, nickels, and dimes. This equates to hundreds of pennies that result in thousands of dollars for most of us. While city taxes might be lower, the net tax that resident of Fishers pay is higher than neighboring cities.

If you ask us if we’d rather our pennies go to updating an amphitheater, building a trail, or instead go with safety issues such as fixing pot holes and adding SROs to our school, then I will speculate that the response will be overwhelmingly be the later. Granted, those are safety issues, so while the residents would choose fixing pot holes and adding SROs, the city ‘leadership’ has already indicated their priority.

If we can’t do the trail without raising taxes and without taking from other more critical projects, then we shouldn’t do it. If there is the chance for economic payback, then show the numbers in a plan. Show the increase in revenue for the city that would not have otherwise been generated. Compare that to the cost of the trail with normalized dollar values. I would expect such ROI to be part of a plan / budget you’d create before money was spent – let alone before a tax increase was considered.

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Noblesville’s rendering of their part of the trail. A stroll between two roads….