Sunday, September 27, 2015


I've made no secret here about my struggles with depression.  When you have depression, even little things can set you off in a downward spiral, and my kryptonite has been my sports teams.  I know it's just a game, but when my teams are doing poorly, it brings me down.  A few years ago, in the midst of a downhill moment, my Pittsburgh Steelers ended their season with a heartbreaking playoff loss that sent me into such a funk, it took Heavenly intervention to finally bring me out of it.

A day like today is another example of this, though to a much lesser extent.  The Steelers, who were riding high with their powerful offensive team, and a recovering defense, lost their ace quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to a severe knee injury.  Football is a violent sport (too violent, if you ask me), and injuries like this happen.  But the fallout is that this could completely derail the Steelers season.  "Big Ben" will be out at least for the next four weeks, and if an MRI tomorrow reveals more damage, he may miss the whole season.

I'm not the football fan I once was.  The violence outside of the game, given the lifestyles and money the players live with, is sickening to me.  The Ray Rice situation from last season, with him physically abusing his wife in an elevator, completely turned me off to the game, and was a horrifying example of the violent lives many, though not all, of the players choose to live in, and how far outside the law many of them are.  When the commissioner of the National Football League, who's the judge, jury, and executioner of the players when things like this occur, can't differentiate between abuse and cheating, the league becomes a joke and the fans lose respect and interest.  That's where I am.  Some habits are hard to completely break, however, and my interest in the Steelers is still there.  Despite my disappointment in the cheating scandal with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, and the stupidity of players who figure they can use marijuana without consequences and then get suspended, I still care about the success of my team.  And their success took a major blow with Ben's injury today.

That takes me to the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball club.  The Pirates are in the midst of their third straight playoff season after 20 years of losing.  Read that again.  20 years!  That is a record for ALL professional sports teams in North America.  It was 1992 when the Pirates last had a winning season before "The Streak" began, and though you might think I would lost interest in baseball, or at least in the Pirates, I remained hopeful every season that they might just break out of it.  So, this year, the Pirates, my beloved Bucs, are finishing up a really successful season, one where they currently have the 2nd best record in Major League Baseball.  That's just incredible to me.  And that's where my hope is right now.  It's what keeps me from dropping completely into a depressed state.

This hope is barely comparable to the hope Christ-followers have in our Savior.  It may be hard to realize if you're not a follower of Christ, but it is an incredible feeling to know that the love that comes from Jesus, who died to save everyone, and you only need to open your heart to Him to receive this gift of eternal life, is enough to sustain us.  And while I struggle with depression, I know deep down that Jesus is there for me.

I'm such a poor witness for my faith.  You would think that Christ-followers wouldn't have any worry at all, and while much of what I worry about is just something created in my mind, there is a real struggle that takes place with depression.  My battle is rooted in the grief that I feel from the loss of my wife.  She passed away in 2004 from a massive heart attack resulting from complications from Mitral Valve Prolapse and an enlarged heart.  Her death was sudden, and she left me to raise my 5-month old daughter alone.  And I've struggled ever since.

I recently read a blog post from a man named John Pavlovitz who said almost perfectly what I've been feeling.  I don't necessarily agree with everything he posts on his blog, but there's enough common ground, mostly through the grief that we share and the love we have for Christ, that I find his writing worth reading.  Here's the LINK.

My reason for sharing all of this is to let you know that, even when everything seems hopeless, or when you're at your wit's end, or that you're feeling like it's the end of the world and you can't go on, there will always be Jesus.  There's always hope in Him.

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Six Flags America Concerns

Complaining always comes across as a negative, and that isn't really how I view things.  However, it seems recently that I'm becoming that typical Grumpy Old Man as I get older, and today may be an indication that I need to start thinking younger.

That said, my daughter Melody and I went to Six Flags America, located in either Bowie, Upper Marlboro, Largo, Mitchellville, or Kettering, Maryland.  Today seemed like the best day of the weekend, so we decided it would be a good day to visit the park after purchasing season tickets earlier in the month.  Six Flags had advertised a big sale on their season tickets, and a free upgrade to their Gold pass upon using them (providing admission to ALL Six Flags parks nationwide), plus free parking, all for about $60 each, and I grabbed them.  That's a pretty good deal.  When I got season passes two years ago, we took advantage and visited Six Flags America, Magic Mountain (in Valencia, CA), Great America (Chicago), and St. Louis (in St. Louis, naturally), dramatically increasing our roller coaster ride totals.

Here's the deal, though.  Six Flags is just not a very well run operation in my opinion.  Their parks just don't feel safe, and the peripheral stuff, like food, is outrageously expensive and not very good, particularly when compared to many of the top parks throughout the country.  For example, Busch Gardens is a beautiful theme park with great food, and is a better value based on food quality.  Again, my opinion, but one certainly shared by my entire family.  Today, we went to the Johnny Rocket's restaurant inside the park.  The selection was nothing like a "real" Johnny Rocket's, with the only items on the menu being a double burger, a single burger, and chicken tenders, with a side of fries & onion rings.  Melody ordered the chicken tenders and I got a single burger, plus a bottle of water and a "regular" diet coke.  While the burger came out very quickly, the restaurant staff was inadequately prepared for the small group of people who happened to be ordering food at that moment, and we waited for ten minutes while the chicken tenders were cooked up in the deep fryer.  Once the tenders arrived, the burger was cold to the touch.  Worse was the price.  $35 for our meal.  That included $4.39 for a 12-ounce cup of soda and mostly ice.  Both the burger and the tenders were as basic as they could be, and memorable only due to the price.

We saw a very ridiculous show called Monster Mash Bash, starring ridiculously costumed Dracula, the Wolfman, "Frankie" the Frankenstein Monster, and a "headless" Igor.  The music was a mix of pop tunes sung by the monsters, with rap-style lyrics.  Did I mention it was ridiculous?

I've very rarely ever felt unsafe on an amusement ride, particularly at a major amusement park like Six Flags.  Today was the exception.  The ride attendants didn't seem very thrilled to be working today, and their lapses in basic safety checks were jarring and disturbing.  One of my favorite rides at this park is the Wild One, an old wooden coaster built early last century and moved from New England to the park back in its Wild World days in the 80s.  It's pretty awesome, a rickety old thrill ride with lots of character.  Upon boarding the ride and landing in our seats, the lap bar was left unlocked.  The attendants breezily ran through their ride-checks without realizing that the lap bars were not locked.  When they got to our row, I showed the attendant that my lap bar wasn't locked, and she immediately looked back at the young man at the control panel and told him to press the lock button, which he clearly forgot to do, and which then engaged.  They went back to the front of the coaster and repeated their checks without missing a beat.  I was horrified by their carelessness and lack of concern over something so basic yet so vitally important, especially since they didn't even notice despite running through half the train before I pointed it out to them.  That's an absolutely egregious mistake.

"Plane crash" next to Apocalypse roller coaster at Six Flags America

Later, on Apocalypse, their stand-up coaster, Melody and I settled into our "stools" and I plugged in the safety belt into the shoulder harness.  I didn't realize that the belt had not engaged, and had fallen out.  When the ride attendant came by, she took the belt and apparently buckled it in for me again.  I said to her, "Wow, I thought it was already buckled in."  She just giggled and moved on.  I looked at the belt and it fell out of the buckle once again, without me touching it.  The ride was about to begin, so I quickly buckled it a third time, yanking on it to make sure it was engaged.  When the ride started, I was so paranoid that it was going to come undone again that I didn't enjoy the ride at all.  And when the ride did end, coming to a stop just outside the loading station, the ride shutdown and wouldn't advance, stranding us on the coaster.  We watched as the ride attendants announced to those waiting that the ride was out of service, and maintenance was called.  We were back in motion and off the ride in less than five minutes, but there was clearly some kind of technical issue.  Whether it was due to the the safety belts or not isn't clear, but I certainly didn't feel safe.  After one more ride, we called it a day and left the park.

I'm not sure how the rest of the day went for those visiting the park, but it was also the start of the Halloween scare season, and while it appears that many were looking forward to the haunted houses that would be opening up at nightfall, I wasn't interested.  I can't help but be reminded that a huge fight broke out at this very park two short years ago during their Halloween season, resulting in at least one major injury.  I wanted nothing to do with Halloween at this park, so I'm glad we left when we did.

Did I regret buying the season tickets?  No.  It was just too good of a deal to pass it up.  And since they are good throughout the entire 2016 season, it was worth it to me.  But I will be so much more vigilant and observant at every amusement park I visit especially the Six Flags parks.  I hope I won't have reason to worry.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Muppets, The Pope, and The Pirates

I just watched THE MUPPETS, the new incarnation of the late Jim Henson's wonderful puppet troupe.  I'm old enough to remember THE MUPPET SHOW from the 70s, and it was a huge hit and favorite of mine.  This new show is really bad.  I wanted to love it, but it's sophomoric and not at all true to the characters I grew up with.  Kermit The Frog says "Hell," "Sexy," and takes the Lord's name in vain, and it's so out of character as to make it appear that the writers did it only for shock value.  The show is written like most sitcoms these days, with a documentary-like feel (The Office), and purports to show the "real," behind-the-scenes lives of the Muppet characters.  Zoot, my favorite saxophone player in the Electric Mayhem house band, comes across like he isn't "all there" in the head, which was kind of charming in a naive way in the past, but now appears to be a result of a drinking problem.  And Fozzy Bear is "dating" an attractive young lady whose parent's come across as "racists," unapproving of their daughter's new "bear-friend."  The whole thing is very un-funny, and my daughter and I don't approve.  The 70s version of the show didn't have to resort to these attempts at humor, and was hilarious for the characters and the crazy acts, as well as the wonderful performers (Jim Henson and Co.).  This script could easily be applied to any other sitcom on the air, and the format for the show just isn't appropriate.  It doesn't fit the Muppets.  They deserve better.


It was all doom and gloom for commuters this week with the Pope in town, and my office prepared by emphasizing telework.  It also happened to be National Telework Week, so the timing was perfect.  As much as I would have liked to telework, my responsibilities do not really fit the model, so I found myself driving in to downtown Silver Spring, expecting the worst.  Fortunately, I left the house early and encountered very few traffic issues, other than a little bit of stop-and-go on the Capital Beltway.  Either many people decided to heed the warnings about the disastrous traffic and stay at home to telework, or the commute really wasn't all that bad.  I think it was probably a combination of the two, but it certainly wasn't the disaster the media predicted.  And it was kind of nice at the office, with many of my employees at home.  It kind of felt like a Holiday, though with the Pope here, it was more of a Holyday.  The afternoon commute was even better.  I hope tomorrow goes just as well, though I'm worried that everyone who stayed home will hear that traffic wasn't bad, and they'll return to work tomorrow, making the predicted traffic a reality.  I'm hoping for a Pope-like miracle.


While it's much more low-key this year than the past two, the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball Club is 5 short innings away from clinching their third straight play-off berth.  After 20 years of losing seasons, Pirates fans are enjoying this new trend of winning, and I'm greatly looking forward to seeing if they can finally get over the hump and possibly make it to the World Series.  Their last World Championship was in 1979, when I was a wee lad of 10 years, and I am so hopeful of this opportunity.  I love baseball!  Go Bucs!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Saturday Morning Adventure

My beautiful daughter Melody and I decided to take advantage of a rare happenstance this morning.  She has turned into a full-blown teenager, it seems overnight, and she sleeps almost more often than she's awake, particularly on the weekends.  But for whatever reason, she was up before the sun, and since I awoke at my more normal 7:30, we quickly got dressed and out the door for a Saturday adventure.

I had explained to Melody that I missed the days when we would awake early on a Saturday and go out to breakfast, so we headed out to Chick-Fil-A to eat.  The store on Johns Hopkins Road here in southern Howard County was not very busy, and we had a nice, peaceful meal, and we planned out the rest of our morning with some great conversation.

After eating, we drove over to our favorite park, Schooley Mill Park on Hall Shop Road in Highland.  The park was fairly packed, and a spirited game of Cricket was being played on one of the fields.  Melody and I took a fun hike down one of the series of trails that criss-cross through the park, and it was a nice workout.  The scenery along the trail is really spectacular, and we enjoyed the nice weather as we walked along through the woods.

After the hike, we took a nice little drive along the back roads of the county, finally ending up back in civilization to do some needed shopping in Columbia.  Without having much luck finding what we needed, we grabbed a couple of sandwiches at Jersey Mike's, and came home to relax for a bit.

Relaxing is exactly what we did, and I soon found myself snoozing on the couch for a good hour or so.  Work has been extraordinarily stressful over the past week, and I think the fallout has placed me in an exhaustive state.  The nap did me a world of good, and after a shower and change of clothes, we got ourselves ready for the Saturday evening service at our church, Grace Community.

After a great and meaningful service, with Pastor Mark at the podium, Melody and I grabbed a nice dinner nearby, then crashed at home for the night.

If was a truly memorable Saturday, and I'm so thankful that God blessed us with such a great day.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Revisiting My 9/11 Story

"9/11" has come to mean so much to Americans.  It's just a day in September.  It's also, ironically, the numbers that are dialed on the phone in the event of an emergency.  But it is and always will be one of those dates which will live in the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, the day JFK was assassinated, or the day the Challenger shuttle exploded.  Two years ago, I wrote my 9/11 story here on this blog, and I'm reposting it today.  Today is a day of remembrance...


Today is one of those days where we remember.  We remember exactly what we were doing 12 years ago today, we remember those who lost their lives tragically on that day, and we remember those first responders who tried to help and rescue so many.  It will always be a hard day for Americans, as seldom in our history, and particularly in our modern history, have we been attacked on our own soil.  And it changed the way we go about our daily lives.

This is the first time I've had a forum to share my own 9/11 story.  It is hardly a compelling story, nor is it surrounded in tragedy.  It is just the story of how my wife and I dealt with what transpired on that awful day.

It really was a nice Tuesday, kind of warm, and bright and sunny.  We had been having mechanical problems with our Jeep Cherokee, and it was in the shop being looked at.  Teresa, my wife, was going to ride with a co-worker to Mt. Hebron High School, where she worked as a 9th-grade English teacher.  I had gone to work as usual earlier that morning, arriving at 6:30 a.m.  I was a team lead in the central section of the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Charting office within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in downtown Silver Spring, MD.  We worked on the 3rd floor of a 13-story building, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) complex next to the Silver Spring Metro, the fourth of four high-rises on the southwest side of the tracks along East West Highway.

My boss was out of the office that day, so I was in charge.  I was sitting at my desk talking to one of our IT guys when I received an email.  It was from one of the employees in our airports division, and it stated, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center."  It had been sent out to our entire office.  Almost everyone assumed it was a small plane that must have accidentally hit the building.  I pulled out the New York Terminal Area Chart, a 1:250,000 scale VFR aeronautical chart, to take a look at that area of NYC to see if there was anything wrong with the chart.  At about the same time, one of the guys on the other side of the office turned on a small black and white TV he had in his cubicle, just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.  Word got around the office very quickly that this was no accident.  I quickly sent my wife an email explaining what was happening, that both towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by planes, and that we were trying to figure out what was going on.  She called me almost immediately after she got the message.  I could hear the worry in her voice.  They had a TV on in the 9th grade team teacher's office and were watching what was going on.  We both prayed, said we loved each other, and I tried to concentrate on work.

About that time we received word that something had hit the Pentagon, and mass pandemonium took over.  My boss's boss came rushing past my cubicle and said, "Evacuate the building, let's just get out of here.  Please account for all of your employees."  There were false rumors and stories of bombs going off all over downtown DC, and that government buildings all over the area might be targets for more jets.  I rushed around my office and made sure everyone had a way to get home.  Some offered to take other's home.  There was a great amount of cooperation despite the panic many were feeling.  One of my co-workers lived downtown, and I told her to be very careful.  Very few Metro trains were running into the city.  Most were heading out only.  Silver Spring, being right on the edge of northern DC, was a hot spot of employment in the DC area, but still considered the suburbs.  I called Teresa and told her we were evacuating.  She said that schools were going to release early, and then she would try to get home.  She was still dependent on her co-worker due to her not having a car.  I told her to be careful, and she said the same.  She was very scared.  I said I love you, and started to head for the exit.

Then I saw Greg.  Greg was concerned about how he was going to get home, since he took the train from the northeast Maryland suburbs to Union Station in downtown DC, then he took Metro from there to Silver Spring.  I told him that I doubted he be able to catch any trains running that day, and I offered him a ride.  He took me up on it, and we headed out.

I had parked on the G1 level, which meant I was only one level down from the exit.  NOAA employees had apparently decided at the same time as the FAA to go home, so there was a huge line of cars trying to get out of the garage, and it took us about 30 minutes to get out.  Once on the road, traffic moved fairly well.  Greg lived near and on the far side of Fort Meade, which is also home to the National Security Agency.  We figured that we might want to try to avoid that area since the NSA might be a hotbed of security given what was happening.  I kept the radio on WTOP, the local all-news station, to keep abreast of what was happening.  Greg agreed with my course of action, to take the Capital Beltway over to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, then to Rt. 32 which would take us right to Greg's car, parked in the commuter rail parking lot near Fort Meade.

Traffic continued to move well all the way up the parkway. When we got to Rt. 32, though, it was closed with emergency personnel blocking the exits.  Apparently, we were right about Fort Meade being busy.  So we took the next exit, Route 175, which would skirt just north of the NSA and take us right to the train station.  However, we his our first traffic jam of the trip just after jumping on 175 and we crawled the rest of the way.

The news on the radio was all shock and panic, with both WTC buildings having collapsed.  There were still many bad rumors flying around about incidents in and around DC, which didn't help.  We finally got through the traffic and I was able to drop Greg off at his car.  I wished him well, and he offered me a few tips on alternate ways home.  I lived in Laurel, which was only about 10 to 15 minutes away, normally, but with the traffic around Fort Meade, I had to make a big circle north of Fort Meade, and had clear sailing all the way home.  I turned on the TV and watched countless replays of the towers collapsing, which filled me with awe, but horror as well.  Within the hour, Teresa arrived home, and we hugged for a long time.  We had only been living in our house for a little over a month, so we really didn't know any of our neighbors, and we felt like we only had each other at that moment.  We sat in front of the TV all afternoon watching what was happening in New York, finding out about the other planes, the available details regarding the Pentagon, and the crash in PA.  Teresa made us a light dinner, but neither of us was hungry.

I can't really put into words what we were feeling.  There was this fear that gripped us, and immense sadness about all who had died.  We hoped we wouldn't have to work the following day so we could just be with each other.  We prayed.  We hugged and sat close to each other.  This was an event neither of us had ever experienced.  We weren't old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The only comparable was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which occurred when we were in high school.

We went to bed that night knowing we would be working the next day, and it would be a challenge to try to attempt anything normal.  We didn't want to be apart, but we also knew we had to work.  We prayed for so many that night.  And then we tried to sleep.  I don't know what time it was when we finally fell asleep.  It was pretty late.  I just kept praying to God how thankful I was that my family was all accounted for and okay.  And I prayed that God would bless America.

Hug and kiss your loved ones tonight, everyone.  Make sure they know how much you love them.  You can't say it enough.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Light Company at Grace

This is a difficult time of year to commute to and from work.  With all of the area school systems in session, the roads are full of people, and traffic is heavy.  So heavy, in fact, that my commuting time is almost double what it normally is.  This makes for a long day, and this week, following Labor Day, the official end of Summer, has made for a long week so far!

My wonderful daughter, Melody, has successfully transitioned from elementary to middle school, and seems to be doing really well.  The move to a new school also coincided with a change in routine at our church, Grace Community.  The youth program, called Light Company for the middle high students, is such a great program, and I've looked forward to her being a part of it for a long time.  I remember my wife, Teresa, who was a 9th grade English teacher in Howard County, telling me that she could tell which kids at the school where she taught were involved in the youth program at Grace.  They were just different.  Good different.  That was inspiration enough to lead us to the church.  That, and the lead pastor, who Teresa got to know since she taught most of his children.

So Melody is attending the youth services at The Warehouse at Grace, and she is making friends and getting to know the ministry staff, and she's loving it.  And this is such a blessing to me.  The youth program also has a weekly Bible study, and Melody gets to meet with the girls in her age group at the home of one of the volunteers who works with them.  Last night was their first meeting.

It had been a hectic day, and I got home fairly late yesterday afternoon.  I took the easy route and picked up some Chick-Fil-A for dinner, then rushed home.  We had just enough time to eat, then we had to leave for the weekly Bible Study.  It was clear across the county, so we were late, of course.  We're rarely on time for anything anymore, but we were welcomed by the youth leader when we arrived at her home.  She told me how much she has been praying for Melody, and this touched my heart in so many ways.

You have to understand, I hate the stigma that is attached to Melody, as a young girl whose mother died when she was a baby.  People automatically feel sorry for her, and that sympathy takes on a lot of different forms, from prayer to kindness to sadness to empathy to pity.  I don't like receiving that attention, myself.  Even though I continue to battle depression as a result of her death, now 11 years ago, which is a lifetime, I don't feel like I deserve the sympathy that is shown towards me, and I hate the emotion that creeps out of me when I receive kindness from others as a result.  Life happens, and death is a part of life.  But Melody is different.  While she has no memory of her mother, and is as well adjusted as she can be for someone who doesn't even know what it's like to have a mom, I relish the attention she receives through the prayers of the youth leaders, because she is special.  And I'm so thankful for the Light Company youth leaders at Grace.

God is doing great things at Grace.  I am grateful for the care the leaders give to the young people that are a part of the youth program, and the way they bless the families of Grace.  We are in the right place for us right now, and I can't help but see God's hand in this.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

An Evening At The Bengie's

Incredibly beautiful evening here in Middle River, MD, at the Bengie's Drive In!  It's the annual Labor Day weekend Dusk to Dawn show. They're playing a pretty decent lineup of movies:  SHAUN THE SHEEP, INSIDE OUT, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (yes, the Indiana Jones movie!), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 5, and ANT MAN!  I'm pretty sure we'll be snoozing by midnight, but this sure is a fine way to spend a Holiday evening! I hope you and yours are doing well.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Less Stress, More Fulfilling

For much of the past several years, I've really struggled with bouts of depression.  I'm not afraid to admit it.  It's something that bothers me a lot, and I've prayed about it constantly, that God would take the depression away, or take away what causes it.  Life becomes such a struggle, and while God never promised it would be easy, He does listen to our prayers, and I live with the hope that he will take this burden away and I can eliminate some of the stress that I feel.  I'm convinced God grants our requests, if it suits His purpose for our life.

So what is causing my depression?  Besides an all over malaise, I know that the main issues I face are related to my job.  I'm in a challenging position of management, with about 65 employees, and must make many important decisions on a daily basis.  I'm naturally a worrier, and a fear of making the wrong or bad decisions plagues me.  In addition, I have a boss who has high expectations, and constantly challenges me with tasks that take me out of my conservative comfort zone.  I'm always concerned about pleasing her.  I tend to be plagued by self-doubt, and I feel like I'm the weak link in my management circle.  This causes me to lose confidence in myself, which then feeds my depression, and I'm stressed out all the time.  The stress has caused a host of health problems, including hypertension, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.  I'm really a mess.

To combat the stress, I've tried to make my personal life easier.  In this, I've been sort of successful.  My sweet daughter, Melody, who is on the verge of entering her teen years, is my biggest supporter, and though we disagree occasionally, like every parent-child relationship, she certainly makes my life easier.  She's a good girl.  I don't have to worry about behavior problems, and she is a fantastic student.  I wish she was more confident in herself, but given my own propensity to doubt myself, she gets this honestly.  She seems to have inherited only the best traits from her mother, and that outweighs the more challenging traits she got from me.  So, while I worry that she should have an easy life, she more than makes up for any worrying I do by her wonderful demeanor.  I love her so much!

We are blessed financially to be able to take fun vacations frequently, and that is another way to combat stress.  While I know my boss would love to have access to me all-day and every day, I do not bring my work home with me, and I definitely stay off the grid while vacationing, which my employees honor.  They know how to get hold of me if they absolutely have to, but the managers under me are very competent and are able to make decisions on my behalf.  And our vacations are always a lot of fun.  As I've noted previously, we love roller coasters, so we have set goals to visit many amusement parks every year and ride as many coasters as we can.  We also have a goal to visit all 50 U.S. states before Melody graduates from high school.  She has visited 34 states (and I'm at 41), so we're well on our way.

So, after a particularly bad Spring, I turned up my prayer life a few notches, and I started asking God to ease the stresses related to my job.  The Summer months weren't nearly as difficult, even though the amount of travel for work increased dramatically.  While I was outwardly frustrated about this, internally I found that I was worrying a lot less than previously.  After some personal vacation trips, and getting out of the office for extended periods of time, I found that I was less stressed, in general.  Then after getting some direct feedback from my closest colleagues, I suddenly found myself with a lot of confidence, and that easily translated into a positive outlook about work.  It would be very easy for me to chalk it up to the kind things said by my co-workers, and my boss, I can't help but see how God responded to my direct prayers to ease my work-related stress.  It is incredible to see God working in my life.  There is tangible evidence that my outlook has improved, and for that, I am humbled and so thankful.

I still have a long way to go.  Life isn't easy, and God didn't promise that it would be easy.  But I asked Jesus into my heart a long time ago, and that has made such a difference in my life and outlook.  Life is so much better with Him in my life.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Once Again, Where is Eric?!?

It's time once again for another episode of, "Where is Eric???"  Or maybe the better question is, where WAS Eric?

Whew, what a Summer!  I typically take four or five business trips a year, but between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year already, I've been on four.  This past week was my fourth trip.  In June, I went to Oklahoma City for a conference with my colleagues.  Two weeks later, I was in Fort Worth, Texas, for a high-level management summit.  Immediately after returning home, my daughter and I went to Pittsburgh for a family wedding, and a few weeks after that, we went on our big Summer Vacation roller coaster trip.  We came home after the trip for about three weeks, then I went to Atlantic City for yet another high-level management summit, immediately followed by one more week-long adventure with my daughter to Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, and Ocean City.  This week, I returned to Oklahoma City for another conference.  All told, from June 8 thru today, September 4, I was on the road for 37 days, 19 for work, 18 for play.  I say again, Whew!


Flying to Oklahoma City is never easy, but I'm fortunate (for those who like Southwest Airlines...I do) that I can fly on an airline that benefits me.  However, despite earning lots of points for free flights, Southwest keeps tweaking their schedules and now there are very few direct flights to Oklahoma City from Baltimore-Washington International, and vice-versa.  Gone are those Friday mornings when I want to rush out of OKC to get home as soon as possible.  Today was a long day of travel, beginning with a flight out of OKC at around 6:00 a.m., a layover in St. Louis, and finally touching down at BWI at around noon.  I know there are worse trips, but I can't help but be completely exhausted after a week of high-level meetings and decision making, then a day on the road before finally collapsing at home.  I just don't fly well.  Being over six-feet tall is a challenge on even the shortest of flights, with all airlines stuffing as many seats onto a plane as will fit, made for average-height people.  I'm never going to be comfortable while flying, and your Federal Government is not going to pay for me to fly in comfort.  Anyway, upon arriving at home, I was ready for a nap and some relaxation.


I was very excited to be home and reunited with my daughter, Melody!  We don't like being apart.  It's just the two of us all the time, anyway, so these business trips really disrupt our regular schedule and daily routine.  I am so fortunate to have my parents nearby, and they were willing to move in to my home to take care of my girl while I was away.  Dad actually did a lot of work around my house during his time here, and for that I am so appreciative.  Mom always helps Melody organize her room and provide that motherly influence that I just can't provide, and I know Melody loves having them both here with her.  Between my parents and my in-laws, Melody is surrounded by so much love.  She's the only grandchild on either side of her family, and the assumption is that she is spoiled rotten, but the truth is that she is spoiled with love.  It's so easy for us to feel the challenges that circumstances have presented to us, but God continues to show us the way, providing us with love and support that family and friends give us.  Life is good.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Last week was the first week of school for Howard County students, and, as my daughter, Melody, told me about all of her teachers, and what she liked about each one, I got to thinking about my wife, Teresa, who was a teacher in Howard County for almost 10 years, until her death in 2004.

Teresa was a great teacher.  I know this because she won awards for her abilities.  She also had a passion for teaching, and she cared about her students like no teacher I ever met.  My guess is most teachers are great teachers, and all deserve awards for doing something that I think takes a lot of dedication and hard work.  I'll bet every one of us can remember at least a few of our teachers, since they have such an impact on their students.  I can still remember and name all of my elementary school teachers, and I remember most of my junior and senior high school teachers.  But not one of them had an impact on me like Teresa did on her students.

Teresa taught 9th grade English & Reading, and Public Speaking, at both Mt. Hebron High School, in Ellicott City, and, when it opened, Reservoir High School, in Fulton.  She also coached the Speech and Debate teams.  Every few years, I get an email message or card in the mail from one of her former students, and they always mention Teresa ("Miss Shirlen" or Mrs. Freed, depending on when they had her) as the one teacher who had the most influence and impact on them.  It's pretty awesome.

When Teresa died, the students and faculty at both schools provided so much support to me and and my family, and I appreciate that so much.  There continues to be a scholarship award given out each year at Reservoir High School in her name, the Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award.  The students also started a college fund for my daughter, who was five months old at the time of Teresa's death, and those funds were placed in a College 529 program for her.

Here are a few of the kind words I've received by some of her former students, and parents of her former students, since her death:

Mrs. Freed was one of my favorite teachers, and I feel very honored to have been one of her students. The memories I have of her and her class are very special to me, and I appreciate all the honesty and encouragement she gave to me. Thank you for sharing her with us...

Though I never had Teresa for a teacher, I remember her quite well. Always had a smile on her face... and was always willing to let me wash her chalkboards... not that I wanted to, had to, or did...

Teresa Freed was someone who touched our daughter's life. She took Brittany under her wing and helped her grow academically but, more importantly, helped her believe in herself. Our family credits Mrs. Freed with encouraging Brittany to continue writing and take risks. Brittany decided on a journalism career because of the encouragement Mrs. Freed gave her...

Mrs. Freed was my teacher and my friend. I'll always have her in my heart and in my prayers. I'll never forget the quiz song or her love of To Kill a Mockingbird... I don't think I could :)...

My daughter started as a Freshman at Reservoir last year. At the beginning of the year, my daughter came home from school one day and told me about a teacher who had stopped her in the hallway and introduced herself. The teacher said, "Hi. My name is Mrs. Freed. What's yours? I'm a 9th grade English teacher here, and every time I pass you in the hall way, you're always smiling. I just wanted to stop you and introduce myself." From that time on, they greeted each other as friends by their names when they passed in the hall. She blessed both Sarah and I that day. By making Sarah feel special, she touched my heart in a way that only a mother would understand...

Among the teachers who have deeply affected my life the most, Mrs. Freed would be, without a doubt, one of the first. I met her in ninth grade when I wanted to join the Speech and Debate Team at Mt. Hebron High School. I was so shy then. But with her encouragement, talent, and enthusiasm, she transformed me into a person with inner confidence and strength. She made me proud and appreciative of who I was and whatever I had to say. She supported me all through high school, and when I graduated, I loved her not only as a teacher but as a true friend.  I only went back to see her once since I left for college. I wish it could have been more now. But to this day, I think of her, especially whenever giving a speech or presentation. (S)he was a teacher who impacted so many lives. I feel utterly blessed to have been one of them...

Mrs. Freed helped me to discover what it was that I truly wanted to do with my life, and I will forever be in her debt. She is, without a doubt, one of the best English teachers I have ever had, and I am truly grateful that I had the chance to know her. I still remember when she was Ms. Shirlen, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to know her...

I had only one year in Mrs Freed's classroom, but I remember how she always gave freely of her effort and her compassion to help her students. It was her encouragement that pushed me to publish a piece of writing in a statewide anthology of students' work. Not only did she help me to submit my writing, but she stood in line for over an hour to be there with me at the reception for the anthology's publication. In the short year that I spent with her, I was touched by her genuine caring for everyone she met. I will always be grateful to have known her...

As a student who had Mrs. Freed (then Ms. Shirlen) as a sophomore at Mt. Hebron I know firsthand what a special teacher she was. I remember coming home and sharing with my parents after my first week of having her for English what an outstanding teacher she was. I told my parents how much I liked her, her teaching style, and her warm approach. Having graduated college last May and now working as a reporter in Howard County, I never forget those who helped me along the way to develop my writing and journalism skills. She was a teacher who taught me more than just English and writing.She taught all those around her to smile everyday and to love life. I will remember her for not only what she taught me but the presence she had in and out of the classroom. She had a way about her that allowed her to connect with students. I will always remember her as a teacher who touched every student she taught in some way or another, always challenging them to be a better person and student...please know that as a student who sat in her classroom she will always be remembered. She was the best kind of teacher, the kind a student can never forget...

We met only briefly in the office a few times, yet she touched my life in a special way that I'll always treasure. She took the time to say thank you for all you do for the kids and staff. She had a million things going on at the time yet she took the time for me.  She was one of those special teachers who make a difference in kids lives. She left her mark on everyone at Reservoir and will be greatly missed...

Mrs. Freed plays a role in so many of my most treasured memories of Mount Hebron. Freshman year English was, by far, the most influential class I have ever taken. I learned to love Shakespeare, conquer public speaking with my personal narrative, and tap my potential as a writer. I loved Mrs. Freed's teaching so much that I enrolled in her speech class junior year and, with her undying encouragement and faith in me, competed in speech and debate tournaments. I will never forget all of those Saturdays spent sitting in suits and chatting about everything from speaking techniques to our mutual love of doing our own manicures. Even after Mrs. Freed went to Reservoir, she remained one of the most influential people in my life. I will be eternally indebted for the college letter of recommendation. I am positive that Mrs. Freed's letter helped me to gain admission and a scholarship to my dream school. I wouldn't be here today pursuing a degree in journalism without Mrs. Freed's encouragement to write and speak with confidence...

Amazing stuff.

Just yesterday, as I went to get the mail out of our box, I found an envelope from Reservoir High School, enclosed in which was a letter from one of my wife's former students.  The letter read, in part:

Mrs. Freed was my 9th grade English teacher in 1998 and my speech teacher in 2000.  She was one of the most important teachers I had, who was able to make me a better writer and public speaker.  She had quite an impact on me, in ways that I am more aware of now that I teach and write full-time. 

Enclosed with the letter was a check for a significant amount for my daughter's college fund.  I nearly broke down upon reading this letter.  It is one of the most generous things anyone has ever done for me and my family.  The heart of this young man is incredibly huge, and he has my heartfelt appreciation for his kindness.

And, once again, all I can think of is the impact a teacher had on this former student as he went through his education process, and here we are, fifteen years later, and he is still thinking about and showing his appreciation to that former teacher's family.

My point in sharing this was not to show off the accomplishments of one teacher, who also happened to be my wife, but to tell you about the impact every teacher must have on their students; teachers who helped mold every one of us into the people we are today, who inspired and assisted in pushing us into the careers many of us have, many of which pay much more than a teacher will ever make.  Our teachers really are the true heroes.

Thank you, Mrs. Trammell, Mrs. Stancliff, Mrs. O'Toole, Ms. Park, Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Smith, Mr. Wood, Mrs. LaRue, Mrs. Gorol, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Krocheski, Mr. Reed, Ms. Keeny, Mrs. Thayer, Mr. Cowan, Mrs. Forrest, Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Vann, Mr. Puryear, Mr. Zahn, Mrs. Werhle, Mrs. Roper, Mr. Lopez, and several more I'm forgetting, at Melwood Elementary, James Madison Junior High, and Frederick Douglass High Schools, all in Upper Marlboro, MD.  Thank you for teaching and inspiring me.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ocean City

It was a noteworthy few days, with the start of another school year.  My wonderful daughter, Melody, began a new chapter in her childhood by starting middle school:  new classes and courses, a new school, new friends, and a new schedule.  She is enjoying it immensely.  She has such an easygoing personality, and it appears to me that she has transitioned flawlessly.  I wish I could say the same thing about me.

It seems like our vacation was a month ago.  Yet it was only last week that we were in Ocean City, MD.  We had such a great time, even if we were there for only three days.  We stayed at our favorite hotel, the Sleep Inn, at First Street, only a block off the Boardwalk.  We ate at some of our favorite restaurants, like the Dough Roller and Phillips Crab House.  We visited a bunch of our favorite shops on the Boardwalk.  We even rode through the old Haunted House dark ride.

Dinner at the Dough Roller

A ride through the old Haunted House

Walking the Boardwalk

Us on the Boardwalk

Relaxing on the beach

Me and my girl...on the beach

Lunch at the Atlantic Stand, on the Boardwalk

An evening on the Boardwalk

Riding a bike built for two, on the Boardwalk

Ripley's Believe It Or Not

The Ocean City Boardwalk

At the Ocean City Gallery

A Sundae at Dumser's
 Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Busch Gardens on National Roller Coaster Day

Last Sunday, 8/16, was National Roller Coaster Day, and my beautiful daughter, Melody, and I celebrated the day in style.  There was no possible way that we could let that day go by without a trip to an amusement park.  After a good part of the day at Water Country USA, a water park, something we don't often do, we headed over to our favorite park, Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, VA.  We rode not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE different roller coasters:  The Loch Ness Monster, The Griffon, Alpengeist, Verbolten, and Apollo's Chariot.  We would've had six coasters, but the park's newest one, Tempesto, but being a tempestuous, and due to technical issues, we were not able to ride it this night.

Busch Gardens is easily our favorite amusement park, a place I've visited often since 1979 at the age of 10.  I didn't ride the "big" coaster then, Nessie, since it was just too scary looking.  It had a unique design, with interlocking loops as its centerpiece, and a 114-foot drop.  At the time it opened in May 1978, it was the tallest and fastest coaster in the world.

In 1979, my favorite ride at the park was a smaller coaster, called the Glissade, which was fairly tame compared to Nessie.  But it was a lot of fun, and I rode the Glissade 9 times in a row at one point.  We had a great time at Busch Gardens, and at the time, we had no idea that we would come back to the park almost every year since.  It was only a year later that I finally rode the Loch Ness Monster, and it has been one of my favorite roller coasters ever since.

BG isn't quite the same as many other parks, in that the focus isn't on the roller coasters, like the Six Flags parks, or Cedar Point, in Sandusky, OH, which is known in fan circles as the roller coaster capital of the world (and is home to my own #1 ranked roller coaster, the incomparable Millennium Force).  BG is a theme park, celebrating the look and culture of Europe, with representations of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New France (Canada), Germany, and Italy.  The food is wonderful, and the park gets awards for its beauty year after year.

The park does, indeed, have some world-class coasters.  It also had a couple of memorable coasters no longer at the park.  In 1984, BG added the Big Bad Wolf.  This was a very unique coaster in that it was one of the first suspended roller coaster, with the coaster cars riding below the track.  It quickly became a family favorite.  In fact, it's the only coaster that my mother would ride...willingly!  I'm very happy that Melody was able to ride it before they dismantled it in 2009.

Another favorite, coming in the early '90s, was Drachen Fire!  This was a wild "traditional" steel coaster that had all of the bells and whistles that were popular at the time.  However, it was deemed too rough, and after only a few years, it was shutdown.  It stood at the park for a few more years before it was dismantled.  It's really a shame, since I loved it, but I guess there were just too many complaints for it to remain.

Later came Alpengeist, the tallest (until last year) inverted coaster in the world, in 1997.  It was another wild ride, and, personally, the inverted coasters are not a whole lot of fun.  They tend to be designed to shake you up and throw you around until you want to throw up.  I never really cared for these types of coasters, though they still are fun.

In 1999 came Apollo's Chariot, which remains in my top 5 roller coaster rankings.  It's termed a hyper coaster, meaning it has drops over 200 feet, and this ride gets some serious air-time.  Riding in the front is particularly exhilarating, and the first and third drops are incredible.  This is a world-class ride.

In 2007, the park introduced The Griffon, a dive coaster.  At the time, it was the tallest and fastest in the world, with a first drop of 205 feet, and it stops just as it begins to fall at the very top of the first drop. On top of all of this, it is floorless!

After dismantling the Big Bad Wolf, the park was quick to replace it with a rather exciting if not overwhelming "family" coaster, called Verbolten.  It features an indoor portion, a stop inside where the track drops unexpectedly, and it has a drop to the Rhine River at the end that it borrows from the Big Bad Wolf.  It's a really fun ride.

Finally, this year the park added Tempesto, which is by far the shortest coaster in the park, but provides plenty of excitement.  A picture is worth a thousand words...

We had a great time at Busch Gardens, and we look forward to returning in the Fall for Howl-o-scream.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Finally Home Again!

I'm back!  Again.  If it seems like I disappear every couple of weeks, it's true.  First it was another business trip, this time to Atlantic City, then my daughter and I had a fun getaway to Williamsburg, VA, and Ocean City, MD.  It was our last hurrah before school resumes.

I'm not sure I have much to say about Atlantic City.  At one point, I guess it was the Las Vegas of the East, but it sure isn't a pleasant place to visit, in my mind.  My wife and I went to AC about 15 years ago, just for an overnight, and it was my only visit there before this one.  It seemed a bit nicer back then, but that likely had more to do with the company than the environment.  This trip was rough since I had to work, and I ended up with some serious allergy issues the first night after arriving, which lasted all week.  It was likely caused by the terrible weather and the smoke, which was heavy in the casinos.  Since I don't bet, I avoided them other than dinner the first evening with my colleagues.  I had an awful night, and the following morning was worse.

The drive up was pretty miserable, as well.  I drove instead of flying, since, mapped out, it was only supposed to be a two and a half hour drive.  But it was raining when I left home, and there was a serious accident just beyond Aberdeen on I-95, which resulted in a lengthy detour and heavy traffic.  The approaches to the dreaded Delaware Memorial Bridge were also gridlocked, so it was slow going until I bailed off at US 40 towards the coast.  My two and a half hour drive ended up being a solid four hours.

Aside from some rain the following morning, it actually cleared up and was somewhat pleasant, weather-wise.  Your Federal Government employees worked very hard all week, and we accomplished a lot during our meetings there.  We had a few good evening meals and fed on each other's companionship.  I have great colleagues.  By Friday, I was ready to come home, but I woke up with severe congestion and felt miserable.  I knew, though, that after arriving at home, and repacking, I was going on a nice vacation with my daughter, so I trudged on.  I didn't have too much traffic, and I was able to get to my daughter, who was staying with my parents, by early afternoon.  She was happy to see me, and anxious to hit the road to Williamsburg.

We were soon on our way (with a heavy dose of meds), but as we reached the approach to Brandywine, on US 301, traffic slowed to a crawl.  Brandywine used to be a fairly rural area, with few businesses, but over the past several years, a huge shopping center was built.  It was already a congested stretch of highway leading down to Waldorf, but this was a whole different kind of congestion.  It's the type of traffic that slows regardless of the time of day.  Developers and county planners really did the public an injustice, because the shopping area really wasn't needed, given the excessive development in Waldorf, but since Waldorf is in Charles County, Prince George's County wanted a piece of the action.  The result is a ridiculous stretch of road that you can forget about rushing through.

Once past this slow stretch, and the long trek through Waldorf and La Plata, traffic picked up...for about 10 minutes.  Then traffic came to a halt.  It turns out that there was a disabled vehicle on the Potomac River Bridge, and traffic was alternating through the area.  We ended up stuck for almost an hour.  After we got over the bridge, traffic moved pretty well, but I was leery of what traffic on I-95 might be like approaching Richmond.  Instead, we took US 17, which is actually a nice drive, but not very fast.  We were moving, though, so that was a good thing.

We got to Williamsburg by early evening.  I was dog tired, but we were anxious to enjoy a few hours at Busch Gardens, and ride the new coaster, Tempesto, so we went to the park and actually had a nice time.  The weather was very pleasant, and it wasn't too crowded.  While I was still feeling awful, the smile on my girl's face was enough to keep me going.  Tempesto was pretty cool (though very short), and we were able to ride in the front seat, too.  The park put on a nice fireworks display at the end of the evening, and then we rushed out to our hotel to crash.  And I did.  I was exhausted.

I'll write a bit more about the fun side of our trip later, particularly our great few days at Ocean City.  For now, have a great evening, everyone.  It's really nice to be home!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Atlantic City

I spent a week one night in Atlantic City...  Business trip to Sin City East. Really not a very nice place, and while I enjoyed spending work and social time with my colleagues (and, brother, we worked HARD), I'm happy to be away from that place!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Two TV Kind of Night

It's a 2-TV kind of night.  Several years ago, I decided to set up our living room so that there were two TVs in the room, which allowed me to watch programs that I preferred to watch, and my young daughter was free to watch her shows.  This worked out greatly for both us.  We were both happy.

I took my daughter to my parent's house for the week, her second week of "vacation," earlier today, so I'm at home by myself.  Well, in a rare bit of programming, both the Pittsburgh Pirate and the Pittsburgh Steelers, my favorite teams in professional baseball and football, are on national TV this evening.  While the Steelers game is only an exhibition, the annual Hall of Fame Game, versus the Minnesota Vikings, it is the first game of the year and I'm excited to see what their newest players can do.  At the same time, the Pirates, who are in a pennant race as they chase down the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals, are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are leading their own division.  It's all very exciting.

Unfortunately, the Steelers game didn't go very well, and I lost interest fairly early on, though I kept the TV on just to keep track of what happens.  I mean, if you have two TVs in the room, why not use them, right?  The Pirates game is very exciting, though, with the teams all tied up at 5 runs each in the bottom of the 7th.  And the Bucs just scored 3 more runs!!!  And another!  It's 9-5, Pirates.  And a home run for 3 more runs!!!  This is crazy!  It's 12-5, Bucs!  Now, this score may not hold up, but it feels great right now!  What a great way to end the weekend.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!