Category Archives: Guest Columns

GI Bill eases college costs for military families

By Jason Alderman

As Veteran’s Day approaches, this is a good time to remind our active duty service members and veterans about the many education assistance benefits available to them through the G.I. Bill and other government programs.

Here’s a rundown of a few of the more commonly used programs:

The Post 9/11 GI Bill is more flexible and generally offers more generous benefits than earlier GI Bills. It provides up to 36 months of support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of active duty after September 11, 2001, or those with a service-connected disability after 30 days. An honorable discharge is required.

Approved training includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, and vocational/technical/on-the-job training, among others. You will be eligible for benefits for 15 years from your last period of active duty of at least 90 consecutive days.

This program covers 100 percent of tuition and fees for in-state students at public institutions, paid directly to the school. For those attending private or foreign schools, it will pay up to $19,198.31 per academic year (sometimes more in certain states).

If you attend a costlier private school – or a public school as a non-resident – you also may be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, where schools voluntarily fund tuition expenses exceeding the highest public in-state undergraduate rate. The institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses and the Veteran’s Administration will match the amount.

The 9/11 GI Bill also will pay a books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year, and a monthly housing allowance generally comparable to the military Basic Allowance for Housing for a military pay grade E-5 with dependents, based on the ZIP code for your school.

Another advantage of this newer GI Bill: Armed Forces members with at least six years’ service can transfer some or all of their benefits to their spouse and/or children. Here are the basic rules:

You must agree to four additional years of service. (Special rules apply if standard policy precludes you from serving four more years or you’re eligible for retirement).

Because the clock starts ticking from the date you elect to participate – and you can’t enroll additional beneficiaries after leaving the military – it’s best to sign up all family members right away. You can always go back and change allocation percentages or remove beneficiaries at any time until the benefits are used.

Spouses may begin using transferred benefits right away; however children must wait until you’ve served the full 10 years.

You and your spouse must use the benefits within 15 years of your leaving the military; children must use them by age 26.

Montgomery GI Bill. This older version of the GI Bill may still be available if you didn’t already opt for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You’re eligible if you started active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985, served continuously for three years, are honorably discharged and had your pay reduced by $100 a month for the first 12 months. (There’s a separate plan for reservists.)

For most people, this program is less generous than the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Benefits typically expire 10 years after military separation and are not transferrable to family members; plus, you pay tuition and fees upfront and are later reimbursed. The VA website has a tool to compare benefits under the two GI Bills.

To learn more about the GI Bill, visit www.gibill.va.gov. Other VA-sponsored educational financial aid programs can be found at www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/other_programs/index.html.

4 simple steps to combat prescription drug abuse

By Dr. John Dakin, PhD, MS, LMFT

You may have heard the news that prescription drug abuse is on the rise in your community. In 2007 alone, more than 2,300 Texans died as a result of using drugs. You may even know someone affected by this epidemic. But did you know that there may be hidden dangers in your own home?

Here are some important tips to keep in mind during the upcoming holiday season when friends and family may be visiting:

  • Remove any      prescription medications from easy-to-access areas such as under the sink      or in the linen closet. Store them in cabinets or other containers that      can be locked.
  • Count your      pills and keep track of them. It is not being overprotective; it’s the      only way to know if someone has stolen any.
  • Dispose of      unwanted or expired prescription medications in a safe way. For example,      towns often have programs that offer “take-back locations” for disposing      of medications in a safe manner. Your local police department should be      able to provide specific guidance in your community.
  • Educate      yourself about the dangers of prescription drugs abuse and make a point of      talking to your friends, children or grandchildren about it.

There are a number of helpful resources available regarding this public health issue. For more information visit the Caron Texas, www.carontexas.org,the Partnership at Drugfree.org, www.drugfree.org, The Medicine Abuse Project, www.medicineabuseproject.org and the Caron Chit Chat blog www.caronchitchat.org.

There is Power in Praying Together

There is strength and power in numbers. In other words, we can accomplish a lot together at a team than a single individual. Numbers amount to power if all are joined together with a single purpose and vision.

A praying group is a powerful group.

A powerful group is a productive group.

A productive group is a progressive group.

A progressive group is pregnant with unlimited power.

All believers in God should pray, because when we don’t pray, we forfeit the blessings and power of Almighty God. And truth be told, a powerless believer does nothing to please or glorify God. God demands us to unite collectively in prayer. If we want to see lives changed and have a positive impact on our world, we must link together in prayer.

Because at the end of the day, “There is Real Power in the hands of a Praying People!”

Can the DFW community, the surrounding areas and the nation count on you to pray? Think about it! “I’ll see you in the terminals!”

For more information, visit www.dfwchapel.org .

Don’t dawdle on student loan search

By Jason Alderman

Millions of young Americans recently began their senior year of high school. If your kid is among them, he or she is probably busy juggling homework, extracurricular activities and maybe a part-time job – all while trying to savor the last official year of childhood and simultaneously prepare for impending adulthood.

You, on the other hand, are likely just wondering how the heck you’re going to pay for college.

College may be a year away, but scholarship and loan application deadlines are just around the corner. As you’ll soon learn, there are tons of decisions to make and documents to fill out. Plus, some states award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning funds for your child’s dream school could be exhausted by the time you get your paperwork together.

If that doesn’t make you want to get the jump on financial aid, I don’t know what will.

Your first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which is required by virtually all colleges, universities and career schools for federal student aid, as well as for most aid from states and individual colleges.

It’s easiest to file an FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. You can also get a hard copy from your child’s school or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. The FAFSA filing deadline for federal loans isn’t until June 30, 2014, but many state and individual school deadlines fall months earlier.

Many types of student aid are available to help cover costs at four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, career or technical schools, including:

Hundreds of thousands of free scholarships and fellowships are awarded each year. Visit www.finaid.org/scholarships for helpful tips.

Federal Pell Grants are needs-based grants given to low-income students to pursue post-secondary education. The maximum annual Pell Grant amount is $5,500; but students can receive Pell Grants for no more than 12 semesters. They need not be repaid.

Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants for up to $4,000 a year are awarded to undergraduates demonstrating exceptional financial need.

Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses.

Low-interest Federal Perkins Loans are for students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. They are “subsidized,” meaning the government pays yearly interest while students are enrolled. They have no origination or default fees.

Direct Stafford Loans are low-interest federal government loans with no origination fee and come in two varieties: needs-based “Subsidized” loans for undergraduate students where the government pays the yearly interest while students are enrolled; and “Unsubsidized,” for undergraduate and graduate students of any income level, where students are responsible for interest that accrues while enrolled.

Private Education Loans are offered by lenders to students and parents to supplement government loans. They aren’t government-guaranteed or subsidized and typically carry higher interest rates, although you can borrow greater amounts. Details and rates vary widely.

Some colleges sponsor their own loans to students and parents. Interest rates may be lower than federal loans. Check each college’s aid materials to see if they’re available.

PLUS loans are federal loans that graduate or professional-degree students and parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to pay for education expenses. They are made through participating schools at a fixed interest rate. There is an origination fee.

Visit the Federal Student Aid site (http://studentaid.ed.gov) and www.FinAid.org for complete explanations of the different types of grants/loans, calculators and many other tools.

Carrie is one horror villain everyone can root for

Title: Carrie

Rated: R

No one rooted for Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger, or Jason Voorhees. But there is something about Carrie that makes you cheer for her; if not out loud, a little from the heart. Most of us have felt like the outcast at one point in our life; wanting to fit in or at least not stand out. So when it comes to horror films this story does draw attention to itself in how good it is. Revenge is never the answer but at times it is sweet to watch.

Carrie is a retold, modernized version of the 1976 supernatural horror flick based on the Stephen King novel. Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is an awkward teen made even more socially inept by her bible thumping momma (Julianne Moore). When Carrie becomes the brunt of horrible teasing by her fellow classmates it unleashes a hidden kinetic power. Things begin to get better when she is befriended by another student, but not everyone is ready to let the taunting end. The film culminates with the memorable prom scene made legendary in the first film.

Remakes of classics are always iffy. They will forever be compared to the original and must bring something new and exciting while not overstepping the boundaries of loyalty. It is safe to say that this version will not only captivate new comers but sit nicely with fans of the first film, and even of the book. This is achieved mainly by three factors.

First and foremost are the performances by Moretz and Moore. Chloë is fabulous as Carrie White. She not only captures the demeanor and naivety of the awkward teen but adds something that Spacek was unable to; a heartbreaking softness. You feel sorry for her from the beginning and never sense the need to pull away. She has such innocence about her delivery that immediately draws you in. Yet when the power is unleashed, you see a strong force in her eyes that is controlling without ever being harsh.

Moore gives an award winning performance as the religious fanatic trying to save her daughter from the world’s evils. She is more terrifying than Carrie ever will be. Your heart beats a bit faster and your palms get a little sweatier every time she enters the scene. Julianne is expected to bring drama, but here she adds a fuel to the “crazy fire” that we have yet seen from her. Her back and forth dance with Moretz is spot on and makes this movie special.

The other thing that makes this film work is the antagonists. For Carrie to truly get you in her corner you have to have someone to hate. You must despise the girls that taunt her mercilessly. And in this one you do. The writing, directing, and performances of the teenaged girls in this movie help stir the adrenaline and tension. By the time it is over you can’t wait for Carrie to mop the floor with them.

Carrie is rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content. This is totally an adult film and parents need to think hard before letting their young teens watch. Granted the anti-bullying message is there if you look for it, but the imagery, drama, and content is way too brutal for young eyes. This is made for fans of the genre that want a slick, well made, and perfectly acted horror film.

If you are squeamish or have a hard time breathing in tense moments, then this is likely not your first choice. Those who are loyal to the original should give this a view. It will certainly please. I give it 4 out of 5 dirty pillows. Some of the special effects kept it from being perfect but those are worth overlooking.

Believe Your Prayers

By Bishop “DD” Hayes

Again, I bring you another article on prayer. There is one thing about our nation, and that is when trouble or calamity strikes, we as a people know how to turn to our Father God in prayer.

The problem is that many people don’t follow through. What I mean is that many do not believe that God will answer prayer. Praying to God and not expecting an answer if like going to the bank, fill out a withdrawal slip to receive money from the bank, then turning around and walking out before getting your money. We must believe that God will answer our prayers!

A story is told of an old country church in the red hills of Alabama, where it was 100 degrees in the shade. The rain had not fallen for some time. The pastor of a local church called the members together stating that they were going to meet at the church the next day for a special prayer meeting to pray for rain.

The next day they assembled together, but noticed that Sister Johnson had not arrived. They looked down the street and saw a person wearing a raincoat and boots, and carrying an umbrella. They noticed that it was Sister Johnson. When she reached the church, they asked her why she was wearing such clothing, to which she responded, “if we are going to pray for rain, we should at least dress for rain.”

Believe that you will receive when you pray. We are PRAYING for You! “I’ll see you in the terminals!”

For more information, visit www.dfwchapel.org .

Carrie is one horror villain everyone can root for

Title: Carrie

Rated: R

No one rooted for Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger, or Jason Voorhees. But there is something about Carrie that makes you cheer for her; if not out loud, a little from the heart. Most of us have felt like the outcast at one point in our life; wanting to fit in or at least not stand out. So when it comes to horror films this story does draw attention to itself in how good it is. Revenge is never the answer but at times it is sweet to watch.

Carrie is a retold, modernized version of the 1976 supernatural horror flick based on the Stephen King novel. Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is an awkward teen made even more socially inept by her bible thumping momma (Julianne Moore). When Carrie becomes the brunt of horrible teasing by her fellow classmates it unleashes a hidden kinetic power. Things begin to get better when she is befriended by another student, but not everyone is ready to let the taunting end. The film culminates with the memorable prom scene made legendary in the first film.

Remakes of classics are always iffy. They will forever be compared to the original and must bring something new and exciting while not overstepping the boundaries of loyalty. It is safe to say that this version will not only captivate new comers but sit nicely with fans of the first film, and even of the book. This is achieved mainly by three factors.

First and foremost are the performances by Moretz and Moore. Chloë is fabulous as Carrie White. She not only captures the demeanor and naivety of the awkward teen but adds something that Spacek was unable to; a heartbreaking softness. You feel sorry for her from the beginning and never sense the need to pull away. She has such innocence about her delivery that immediately draws you in. Yet when the power is unleashed, you see a strong force in her eyes that is controlling without ever being harsh.

Moore gives an award winning performance as the religious fanatic trying to save her daughter from the world’s evils. She is more terrifying than Carrie ever will be. Your heart beats a bit faster and your palms get a little sweatier every time she enters the scene. Julianne is expected to bring drama, but here she adds a fuel to the “crazy fire” that we have yet seen from her. Her back and forth dance with Moretz is spot on and makes this movie special.

The other thing that makes this film work is the antagonists. For Carrie to truly get you in her corner you have to have someone to hate. You must despise the girls that taunt her mercilessly. And in this one you do. The writing, directing, and performances of the teenaged girls in this movie help stir the adrenaline and tension. By the time it is over you can’t wait for Carrie to mop the floor with them.

Carrie is rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content. This is totally an adult film and parents need to think hard before letting their young teens watch. Granted the anti-bullying message is there if you look for it, but the imagery, drama, and content is way too brutal for young eyes. This is made for fans of the genre that want a slick, well made, and perfectly acted horror film.

If you are squeamish or have a hard time breathing in tense moments, then this is likely not your first choice. Those who are loyal to the original should give this a view. It will certainly please. I give it 4 out of 5 dirty pillows. Some of the special effects kept it from being perfect but those are worth overlooking.

A beach book for wine enthusiasts

By David White

Rarely do wine enthusiasts have a summertime page-turner. There was Sideways, of course, the Pinot-drenched novel by Rex Pickett that became a blockbuster movie, but that hit bookstores nearly ten years ago.
Over the past decade, many writers have tried to replicate the success of Sideways with wine-inspired fiction. But the strongest narratives have been nonfiction — books like Benjamin Wallace’s The Billionaire’s Vinegar, which exposes the seedy underbelly of wine auctions, and Evan Dawson’s Summer in a Glass, which chronicles the history of the Finger Lakes wine region.
Fortunately, oenophiles once again have a work of fiction that’s perfect for the beach: James Conaway’s Nose, released this spring by Thomas Dunne Books.
If Conaway’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been writing for more than 40 years. An essayist for National Geographic Traveler, Conaway is best known in wine circles for Napa: The Story of an American Eden, released in 1990, and his 2002 follow-up, The Far Side of Eden. Both works — juicy, social histories of America’s top winegrowing locale — garnered much acclaim.
At the center of Conway’s foray into fiction is Clyde Craven-Jones, a transplanted Briton who has become the world’s most powerful wine critic. From his adopted home in northern California, Craven-Jones — known as “CJ” — can move markets with the scores he publishes in his eponymous newsletter. So producers everywhere try to imitate “the Craven-Jones style” by producing big, boozy wines. (Without question, this character is loosely based on Robert M. Parker, Jr.)
Early in the novel, CJ sits for a routine tasting of nine different bottles of local Cabernet Sauvignon. Included in the blind tasting is a shiner — an unlabeled bottle that mysteriously ended up on CJ’s doorstep.
That shiner isn’t just the best in the lineup — it’s the best California wine CJ has ever tasted. So he gives it a perfect score, an award he’s never bestowed upon a California wine. An investigation promptly begins, spearheaded by CJ’s wife, Claire.
In Claire’s quest to identify the wine, readers meet a collection of misfits, villains, and unlikely heroes.
Helping Claire is Les Breeden, an unemployed journalist who decides to advertise himself as a private investigator after losing his job at the local newspaper. He spends virtually all his free time at the local dive bar, a wine geeks’ paradise called Glass Act.
As the investigation unfolds, readers become well acquainted with two others: Jerome Hutt, a developer-turned-winery-owner whose wines are as opulent as his lifestyle; and Cotton Harrell, an ecologist-turned-winemaker who is dedicated to biodynamic farming.
Like the cheerleader and the band geek in a classic high school drama, these men serve as foils to one another. Hutt is the symbol of all that’s wrong with California’s “cult” wines and Harrell represents all that’s pure about viniculture.
The book hints at some serious issues, from the madness of wine ratings and the changing media landscape to the alcoholism and class divisions that quietly exist in every winemaking region. But at its heart,Nose is a straightforward mystery novel. Predictable, to be sure, but with enough twists and turns it’s nearly impossible to put down.
David White, a wine writer, is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com. His columns are housed at Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine (PalatePress.com).

After Earth does not have a lot to offer

By Matt Mungle

Title: After Earth
Rated: PG-13

I think movie audiences are ready to forgive M. Night Shyamalan for The Happening, The Last Airbender, and anything else that isn’t The Sixth Sense. He has made more good films than bad ones, but sadly it seems the bad ones are the ones we remember. So with the release of the new sci-fi thriller After Earth, it was time for him to prove his merit.
This is a story all about how the Earth got flipped turned upside down. Well not exactly, but since it stars Will Smith, I could not help but type that. Smith portrays Cypher Raige, a futuristic, military, Ranger. His son Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) wants badly to find favor in his dad’s eyes. When Cypher takes Kitai on a mission that goes horribly wrong, Kitai finally gets that opportunity. They live somewhere other than Earth, though that is really never explained in full. Not that it matters. All we have to know is that Earth in no longer inhabitable due to our abuse of the environment. All that remains are vicious animals. So when Cypher and Kitai crash land on Earth and Cypher is badly wounded, it is up to Kitai to overcome the environment and save his father.
Like most of Shyamalan’s stories this one has promise. It has a decent foundation of the father and son dynamic. You immediately feel for Kitai and want him and Cypher to engage with each other. The casting of the real life father and son Smith’s help that tremendously. The chemistry onscreen works. Like most of M.’s stories though it has a hard time getting past a story line. Once the story starts fleshing out, it becomes apparent that a whole lot of nothing is happening. It looks good, and there are a few intense moments of action, but other than that the whole thing just seems sort of stagnate. 
There are many things in here that will leave you shaking your head. For one, the two main characters speak in some horrible accent that at first sound like a mistake, then you realize they are doing it on purpose. Also, there is an obvious message about the environment, but it is so random and at times campy that you lose the impact. Many of the scenes never quite segue, and so you are left with and edited mess.
Now the good news. Teens will love it. The use of young Kitai as the hero will grab the attention of fans of Maze Runner and The Hunger Games. Those 14-17 will love the journey he goes on and will be more apt to overlook the plot holes, bad dialogue, and production errors. Also, for a sci fi film it has a lot of very cool technological imagery. This is a plus in its favor as well. So it isn’t a total loss but just not the terrific film it could have been.
After Earth is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images. There are some very scary moments in this film, and Kitai takes it on the chin a few times. I would say it is for those 14 and older, but if your kid doesn’t scare easy you might be ok for 13. Anything under that might be pushing it.
I want to find something positive to end on, so I will say that the father and son story is very moving and will resonate with those who have young kids. It isn’t enough to carry the whole film, but the moments it shines are the best part of the film. I give it 2 out of 5 tree hugs. Yes it is good to find something original in a season of sequels. It just didn’t have the goods to be a blockbuster.