Friday, April 24, 2015

A Life Well Lived

Eleven years ago today, I said goodbye to my wonderful wife in a beautiful ceremony celebrating her 31 years of life.  The service was held at Grace Community Church, and officiated by Pastor Mark Norman and Rev. George Aist.  200+ family and friends attended with us, and the love felt that day was overwhelming.  Just five days earlier, Teresa Shirlen Freed passed away suddenly from a heart attack resulting from Mitral Valve Prolapse and an enlarged heart.  Teresa's death and home-going was a difficult thing for us, her family, to experience, and left my five-month-old daughter, Melody, and me without my wife and her mother.

Those were rough days, and while I have vivid memories of that time, there are specific details that remain with me.  One is the steady constant drone of the cicadas of that year (known as "Brood X").  The sound and sheer numbers created a memory like that of a horror movie.  They were everywhere!  I'm sure, when they return, that droning sound will have a negative effect on me.

A few weeks after the funeral, before going back to work, I took a little road trip by myself.  I left my little girl, still just a baby, with my parents, and I headed out of town in a rented convertible Mustang.  I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a place I had never visited before.  Teresa loved lighthouses, and I figured I could visit several in that area that she never saw, such as Cape Hatteras, as a sort-of tribute to her memory.  It was a beautiful mid-May day, and I rode all day with the top down (and no sun protection).  I stopped at a rest area and I saw myself in a mirror.  My face was beet red.  I had been sunburned something awful.  I soon stopped off at a Wal-mart and loaded up on sun block, though the damage was already done.  I needed to get sunburn relief, as well.  My scalp was scorched!

I spent a couple of days at OBX, which was really nice, before heading north up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Ocean City, MD.  While there, I visited with my old boss, JB.  He was retired at this point, but we were close when we worked together, and it was nice to chat with him.  He kind of helped me think things through as I prepared to return to work and my new life as a single dad and widower.

A few days later, I did return to work.  It was very difficult.  I had not seen most of my co-workers since before Teresa died, and my emotions were in overdrive.  Everyone wanted to stop by to see me, so there was no let up for most of the day.

I was very fortunate to have someone to take care of Melody when I returned to work.  While my parents and my in-laws spent a great deal of time with us, we still needed to address her day-to-day care when I was at work.  Teresa's cousin, Josh, was dating a fantastic young lady who was really good with kids, and we hired her to be Melody's nanny.  She worked for us for two years before needing to find a better paying job.  It was then that I had to place Melody in a daycare center.  Fortunately, that worked out well, with the wonderful folks at the Bright Horizons Daycare Center at my office.  Melody would end up being there until she was ready to begin Kindergarten.

Life without Teresa has had its challenges.  I never guessed that I would go through my adult years without my partner.  The day we were married, in 1999, was one of the greatest days of my life.  I miss her everyday.  However, God is here for us.  We don't know and cannot fathom His ways, so I'm not going to attempt to try to figure out why, but I know He is taking care of us.

There are no guarantees in life, though God promises an afterlife in eternity.  But life here on planet Earth can be hard.  We have a choice as to how we live our lives:  We can fall into a life of sadness, or we can choose to live a life of joy and happiness and kindness.  Always tell your friends and family how much you love them.  You can never say it enough.  My friend Rhonda shared the following on Facebook yesterday, and it struck a chord with me:

"So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you’ve never been hurt. Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances. you just have to live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you and tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone’s hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don’t be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back."

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Take Five

My five favorite....

AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar
  1. Mario Lemieux
  2. Terry Bradshaw
  3. Franco Harris
  4. "Mean" Joe Greene
  5. Andy Van Slyke
Sports teams:
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Maryland Terrapins Men's Basketball
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins
  5. Maryland Terrapins Women's Basketball
Pizza places:
  1. The Ledo Restaurant (College Park, MD)
  2. Dino's (Suitland, MD - now gone!)
  3. Giordano's (Chicago)
  4. Matchbox (Chinatown, DC)
  5. Margellina's (Clinton, MD)
Sitcoms (current):
  1. Last Man Standing (ABC)
  2. Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  3. Modern Family (ABC)
  4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
  5. The Goldberg's (ABC)
Sitcoms (all-time):
  1. Happy Days
  2. Seinfeld
  3. Police Squad!
  4. NewsRadio
  5. The Andy Griffith Show
Movie Comedies:
  1. Young Frankenstein
  2. It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
  3. Airplane!
  4. The Naked Gun
  5. Hold That Ghost
  1. Blue
  2. Red
  3. Black
  4. Gold
  5. White

Roller Coasters (Wooden):
  1. Cyclone (Coney Island, NY)
  2. The Wild One (Six Flags America, Largo, MD)
  3. Thunderbolt (Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA)
  4. Rebel Yell (Kings Dominion, Doswell, VA)
  5. American Thunder (Six Flags St. Louis, MO)
Roller Coasters (Steel):
  1. Millennium Force (Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH)
  2. The Loch Ness Monster (Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA)
  3. Apollo's Chariot (Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA)
  4. Manta (SeaWorld, Orlando, FL)
  5. (tie) Magnum XL-200 (Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH)/Goliath (Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA)
Movie Dramas:
  1. It's A Wonderful Life
  2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  3. The Caine Mutiny
  4. Elizabethtown
  5. Grand Canyon
Rock Bands:
  1. YES
  2. The Eagles
  3. The Police
  4. Steely Dan
  5. The Electric Light Orchestra
Pittsburgh, PA
Cities (I've visited):
  1. Pittsburgh
  2. San Francisco
  3. Las Vegas
  4. New York
  5. Seattle
States (I've visited):
  1. South Dakota
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. California
  4. Arizona
  5. Colorado
Amusement Parks:
  1. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA
  2. Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH
  3. Universal Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL
  4. Hershey Park, Hershey, PA
  5. Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA
Jazz Bands:
  1. James Taylor Quartet
  2. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones
  3. Dave Brubeck Quartet
  4. Benny Goodman Orchestra
  5. Count Basie Orchestra
Small(er) Towns (I've visited):
  1. Ellicott City, MD
  2. Deadwood, SD
  3. Indiana, PA
  4. Williamsburg, VA
  5. Charleston, SC
Movie Westerns:
  1. Tombstone
  2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  3. The War Wagon
  4. Winchester '73
  5. High Noon

Muscle Cars of the Late 60s/Early 70s:
  1. Oldsmobile 442
  2. Plymouth Barracuda
  3. Mercury Cougar
  4. Dodge Charger
  5. Chevrolet El Camino
Sci-Fi Movies:
  1. The Thing (From Another World)
  2. Godzilla (original)
  3. Star Wars
  4. Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan
  5. War of the Worlds
Saxophone players:
  1. Paul Desmond
  2. Stanley Turrentine
  3. Gerry Mulligan
  4. Jeff Coffin
  5. (tie) Jay Beckenstein/Mark Colby/Bobby Militello
Action Movies:
  1. The Road Warrior
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. Aliens
  4. The Avengers
  5. Iron Man
Columbia, MD, area restaurants
  1. La Palapa Too
  2. Houlihan's
  3. Eggspectation
  4. Pubdog
  5. Rocky Run (gone!)
Suspenseful Movies:
  1. Rear Window
  2. North By Northwest
  3. The Birds
  4. The Day of the Jackal
  5. Westworld

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Life Remembered...

No matter what I do to occupy my time and try not to think about it, this anniversary, the day my wife, Teresa, went to be with the Lord, continues to haunt me with emotion.  However, other than immediate family and one friend's annual reminders at the crack of dawn on every anniversary (this day, her birthday, our wedding anniversary...), no one else remembers.  I guess eleven years is too long to grieve for most of our community who didn't know her like we did.

Yet we do grieve, those of us who called her close friend, daughter, niece, mom, or wife... we continue to suffer because the mystery of death is still with us.  We celebrate that she is with our Lord and Savior, but we miss her impact on our daily lives.  And it hurts.  My daughter took it hard this year, more than any other years.  And that makes my heart ache for her.  She never even knew her mother.  She was only five months old when Teresa left us, but she knows that her life could be so much better with her mom in it.

So please continue to pray for us.  Forgive me my bitterness.  Thank you for thinking of us on this dreaded anniversary.

And thank you, Lord, for blessing us with thoughts of Teresa, a wonderful human being in so many ways.  May we always remember her life (and not her death).

Teresa Shirlen Freed
Born:  May 28, 1972
Died:  April 19, 2004
Christ-Follower, Mother, Daughter, Niece, Friend, Teacher, Role Model...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Tortoise and the Hair

I care about my appearance.  Yeah, I'm a little older, and a little bit out of shape.  I have a few health issues, and my stress level is way too high.  Occasionally, I dress down and don't care.  But I really do care about how I look.  That includes my hair.  It's graying and thinning, but I care about how my hair looks.

I went to get a much needed haircut yesterday afternoon.  I tend to put convenience over quality, and I went to the local hair chain, a place I've been to many times with mixed results.  For the most part, I've gotten decent haircuts.  It all depends on who is doing the cutting.  There are a few regulars who I see every time I go, and I know who does a good job with my hair and who doesn't.  I try to avoid the ones who don't, but since I don't have a regular "guy," I just go with whoever is available.  With ten people working there, the odds of getting a bad haircut are slim.  There is one young lady there who is not very good.  She has been there for years, and has cut my hair about five or six times.  It always results in a bad haircut.  I'm not exaggerating.

So I arrived yesterday afternoon needing a haircut.  She was working, just as she always is.  I don't think she ever takes a day off.  She's always there.  They usually take customers in the order they come in the door, and there were four people ahead of me.  I watched as one of the customers was called back.  Then, the young-lady-who-cuts-hair-badly (or YLWCHB) finished with her customer and came to the front.  I was happy to see this because I knew she would take the next customer, and with at least 2 people in front of me, and with ten other hair stylists working, I knew I was safe.  YLWCHB checked the computer, then called out my name.  I quickly looked over at the other folks waiting, and none looked up or stirred.  I looked back at YLWCHB and she looked at me, and she said, "You're next!"  My heart sank.

I made the long trek from the waiting area to her chair, where she asked what I wanted to have done.  I told her, and she dug in.  Her bedside manner isn't very good.  She asks questions but doesn't listen to my responses.  She interrupts the haircut to talk on the phone (this time it was about her air conditioner), but resumes the haircut before she's finished talking and doesn't pay attention to what she's doing.  Her hair was green.  She appears to be in her early 30s, so I'm not sure what kind of statement she's trying to make.  She finished the haircut in 5 minutes.  She is the only person I know of who finishes a haircut in that short amount of time.  Every other haircut I've received from others takes longer.  Because my hair is completely soaked from her water spray bottle, it is impossible to know what my hair really looks like when she finishes, so it's always after I get home that I find out just how badly she has cut my hair.

I was in and out in 15 minutes even with the wait after I arrived.  I went home, allowing my hair to air dry.  When I got home, I surveyed the damage.  It was horrible.  The length of my hair was completely inconsistent on top (my hair actually forms a point on top of my head now!).  I'm embarrassed.  YLWCHB just doesn't know how to cut hair.

So I'm weighing whether to finally confront the issue and return to the store today and talk to the manager, as well as to see if I can get my hair repaired.  My hair may end up even shorter, but at least it will look normal.  I hope.

There's a lesson to be learned here.  If you don't like something, say it.  You're the customer, and the last I heard, the customer is always right.  Especially when it's your own hair.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Our House, Our Home

I found myself reminiscing earlier this evening after taking Faithful Pup Scout into the backyard for her to do her business.  I love our backyard, with a nice thick stand of trees providing a peaceful backdrop which guards our little neighborhood from the power lines running behind it, and giving us a bit of privacy from the main road that runs at an angle to the south.  That said, with the leaves still coming in, the trees don't seem quite as thick right now, and the road can be clearly seen.  I observed that there was a lot of traffic on this little road.  There was a constant flow of cars going in both directions, their headlights and taillights reflecting on the trunks of the trees as they passed by.  And that's what caused me to think back to when we moved into this house.

Back then, in 2001, just before September 11 changed our world, we lived in an idyllic rural area, with a cornfield directly across the street, and very little traffic.  Our house was about 10 years old, and we were first-time homeowners in our third year of marriage, very excited to be settling in to the normalcy of the American Dream.  Call me a romantic, but I bought into the whole married-life, working-a-nine-to-five-job-and-creating-a-home-with-the-one-you-love lifestyle, and Teresa, my wonderful wife, and I were enjoying our life together.

We barely knew any of our neighbors.  There was a young couple next door, and they were very nice and quickly became our best friends.  The older couple on the other side wasn't quite as friendly, and we felt as if they weren't happy with us as their neighbors, quickly offering us unwanted advice about how we should take care of the garden out front, and how often I should cut the grass.  I found myself not wanting to spend much time outside as a result, fearing that every time I did go outside, the older compatriot would find fault with something I was doing.  This home-owning stuff was hard work!

It was quiet back then, as I noted, with very little traffic out on the main road.  We could just hear the traffic on I-95, about a quarter of a mile to the west and masked by a stand of trees.  When I stood on our deck, back when I used our grill regularly, I could hear it more clearly.  But it was something that I didn't notice unless I consciously paid attention to it.

About two months after we moved in, we had gone out to dinner with some friends.  That evening, a tornado went through the community and ripped up one of the trees just a few houses down from ours.  We lost the US flag that hung next to our front door, but fortunately didn't suffer any damage.  This same tornado is the one that hit the University of Maryland campus pretty hard.

In March of 2002, we brought home the little Faithful Pup Scout, and she changed our lives in a lot of ways, notably in how she introduced us to our neighbors.  Being dog-owners got us outside and we got to know our other neighbors, particularly those who had dogs themselves.  And there were a LOT of dogs in the neighborhood.  We met our current best friends, just a few houses down.  We met the neighborhood patriarch, who kept everyone informed about community issues.  I met the British folks across the street.  I met "Harley Davidson-guy," the weekend motorcycle rider.  I met the "cat-lover," the "Jeep-Guy," the "Gardener," and so many others.

When we moved to this home, it was after a long period of searching.  We started looking in the Mt. Airy and New Market areas, thinking being farther away from the metropolitan areas would give us more house for the money, but we soon realized this would mean a much longer commute, something I wasn't relishing.  Southern Howard County ended up being the perfect location, halfway between Silver Spring, where I worked, and Ellicott City, where Teresa worked.  When she was offered a teaching position at the brand-new Reservoir High School, literally less then 10-minutes from our front door, we knew we had made the right decision.  But there would be more reason for it.

Daughter Melody arrived in late 2003, changing our lives yet again, but it was in April 2004 that really impacted us.  That was when Teresa, my wonderful wife for almost 5 years, passed away unexpectedly, leaving me with a 5-month old baby and an enormous void in our lives.  That was when I saw why God had directed us to this home.  We lived almost exactly halfway between where my parents lived, in Bowie, and my in-law's home in Wheaton.  They would all spend almost everyday with us for much of the next two years.  Had we moved to Mt. Airy, it would've placed us a long way from what became our support.  Grace Community, our church family, wasn't too far away, but when they finally built the new church building, it was located right down the street in Fulton, almost directly across from Reservoir.  This also became very important for us.  As the years have gone on, I've gotten to know my neighbors much better, and while I'm more of an introvert than ever, they respect that and are so supportive.  Finally, with so many young kids in the community, Melody has a large group of friends to grow up with, and that is fun to see.

God is so good.  He gave us a wonderful home, one we will celebrate 14 years in August.  It is the second longest place I've lived.  When you move into a new house, you really don't necessarily think about what it will be like 5, 10, even 15 years later.  This home has made a huge difference for us throughout the many experiences I've had since we moved in back in 2001.  And while I am actively considering where I will move to next, likely in the next year or so, I am so thankful for it.

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  Joshua 24:15

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fun Day in Frederick

Somehow my daughter and I have not been able to sleep this weekend.  Both on Saturday and Sunday, we were up by 7 a.m., which was incomprehensible a mere few weeks ago, particularly after going to sleep much too late (is 11:30 p.m. late?).  But our mornings started very early, and we found ourselves this morning wondering how we should take advantage of the extra time our bodies seemingly had given us.  That led to our awesome Sunday fun-day.

Even with the early start, we didn't get out of the house until noon.  I'll mention that my daughter, Melody, is a new addict of Minecraft, after she talked me into downloading the popular game for her yesterday morning.  As creatively fertile her mind seems to be, I finally talked her into shutting down her laptop and we readied ourselves for our great day.

We went to Frederick, MD, a place we've been to many times but rarely explored.  The central part of the city is actually pretty cool.  We found a place to park and began to wander a bit.  There were a LOT of people doing much the same.  We decided to get lunch at a place I read about online, called Pretzel and Pizza Creations.  They specialize in pretzels, the soft German-style kind, and the pizza is made with the pretzel dough.  We ordered two 8-inch pies, and they were really good.  The place is in a cozy old building with barely enough room to move around.  It was a neat place, despite how crowded it was.

We continued our adventure with a walk down the block to the Roads and Rails Museum.  This place is really cool.  If you've ever been to Roadside America in Shartlesville, PA, an incredibly detailed miniature model railroad set up in a large building back in the 50s, located just off interstate 78, then you'll be really impressed with this modern version inspired by the original.  It is larger and much more detailed, and the guys who put it together and built it provided numerous little humorous touches throughout.  We spent a good hour examining it, and we plan to visit it again because we're sure there was much else we missed.  Exploring it is fun.  And a separate room has a large Lego creation, too, with many Lego sets from my childhood.  Again, it was a blast just exploring all of the little hidden details and humorous touches.  My daughter who is 11, really enjoyed it, and I'm a big kid, anyway, but I can only imagine kids of all ages would enjoy this place.  It was well worth our time.

We walked back up towards the part of town we started in and returned to Pretzel and Pizza Creations to get a few pretzels to go.  We got a chocolate chip stuffed pretzel, as well as a "bald" pretzel.  About a block up and across the street, we came across another little shop.  This one, called the North Market Pop Shop, has hundreds of hard-to-find vintage soda pops for purchase.  Represented are sodas from the Appalachain Brewing Company, Kutztown, Sioux City, Dang, Moxie, Nehi, Fanta, Crush, Dr. Brown's, and many more.  I got a Sprecher Lo-Cal Root Beer and a few others, and I talked Melody into trying a Nehi Grape Soda.  It was a lot of fun.

We decided to begin our trek home, but we took the old National Road (MD Route 144), which took us through a lot of neat small towns, including New Market, Mt. Airy, Lisbon, and West Friendship.  We stopped off at Crest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, where my wonderful wife, Teresa, was laid to rest.  We grabbed some dinner at the Double T Diner in Ellicott City, then came home and crashed for the night.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us a beautiful day of travel.  We love road trips, and we had a particularly great day of it.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pharmaceutical Phanaticism UPDATED

A few days ago I made a post here on the blog about my "adventure" with a mail-order pharmacy, and that my meds, ordered back on March 15, had not yet been received, and my continuing ordeal in trying to get the order after running out of my reserves and watching my health deteriorate.  In particular, my blood pressure went into the stratosphere, and I was in the danger zone, if you will, for almost a week with dangerously high BP, something that is regulated by one of the meds I take and had run out of.  At the end of the post, I stated that I had received a message from the mail-order company telling me the meds would be shipped within 5-business days (after they had promised me they would be shipped over-night), and that I was expecting to get short-term prescriptions from the local pharmacy here to get me by until the shipment arrived.  I was also scheduled to see my doctor on Tuesday for blood work and to assess the damage from being off all of my meds for over a week.

On Monday evening, I went to my local pharmacy to pick up the short-term prescriptions.  When I arrived, the place was packed.  This is exactly why I went to a mail-order pharmacy, so as to avoid the crowds and waiting that go with a busy pharmacy.  I waited patiently, and after 20 minutes, I got to the head of the line.  The cashier asked for my name, and then went to get my meds.  She appeared very frustrated when it was clear that I did not have an established account with them (since I had never been there before), and she would have to build it.  She took my insurance card and asked me to take a seat.  It was another 20 minutes before I was called to the front desk and was told that my insurance would not cover the 30-day supply of prescribed medications.  Since they had already paid the mail-order company for the prescriptions, they would not pay for the short-term prescriptions.  I replied to her that she must be kidding.  Two of the meds cost over $3/pill WITH insurance.  A 30-day supply of even one of the drugs was well over $100!  I was flabbergasted.  I started to tell her the story of my situation with the mail-order company and that this was because I had not received the other meds.  The pharmacist replied in a condescending tone, "I just got off the phone with them and they said they will not cover them."  Her tone, along with my frustration over the last several days, and with the stress on my body, caused me to bubble over in anger, and I said to her, "Well, I guess I'm just going to die tonight."  And then I walked out.

In hindsight, this was an absolutely stupid thing for me to do.  I needed the meds.  My life might well have depended on getting them right away.  I also took out my anger on an obviously tired and likely overworked pharmacist who chose the wrong customer to use a tone of voice better suited to someone who might be trying to "break the rules."  I probably could've paid for the heart meds, if nothing else, or even a week's worth to tide me over until my mail-order delivery arrived.  In any event, I wasn't thinking clearly, and I actually went home and broke down.  I felt awful and completely stressed out and I really had no idea what to do.

The next morning, I went to see my doctor.  He was the voice of reason I needed to hear.  He's a really good guy, knows his stuff, and has been caring for me for almost 20 years.  He's only a few years older than me, and has known his share of tragedy.  He also treats my father and brother, so he knows our family, and family health and history, well.  He got on his soapbox about the state of health insurance and decried the issues I was dealing with as something that is wrong throughout the industry.  He had samples of the meds I needed, and stressed to me that I could call him whenever I had an issue like this again.  He told me never to wait until I run out of meds.  It was common sense advice, but good to hear, regardless.

In the meantime, I finally received a message from the mail-order company on Wednesday telling me my meds had shipped, accompanied by a UPS tracking number.  My meds finally arrived late Friday afternoon, accompanied by a letter from them telling me that they were "...sorry for any inconvenience due to my not receiving the order shipped on 3/15/2015.  Enclosed is a replacement for this order."  I know, based on several phone calls to them, that the order NEVER shipped, so this is a lie.  The company lied to me several times throughout this ordeal, all to cover themselves from any wrong-doing.  It is now my word against theirs, however, and I don't believe I could do anything about it even if I wanted to.  My solution is to find another pharmacy option.

As I stated previously, there's a lesson to be learned here.  I don't know what it is, but I'll figure it out.  I'm just thankful that I'm still around to learn it.  I'll probably never know just how critical my situation was, but I can tell you that I never want to go through it again.  It was the worst I've felt in years.  But God is good, and He continues to be with me.  And for that, I praise Him.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Break Trip

Last week was Spring Break, and as per tradition, my daughter, Melody, and I took a trip.  It wasn't a BIG trip, like the past few years (Florida, New York City, and Hollywood).  We decided to keep this one short and sweet.  After working a half-day on Wednesday, I met Melody and my mother-in-law at our local Chick-Fil-A for lunch, said goodbye to Grandma, then we went home to repack.  We then headed to Williamsburg, VA!  We arrived at 5:30 p.m., and went straight to Busch Gardens, our favorite amusement park.  We have season tickets, so our next few days would be a lot of fun.

Busch Gardens is like Europe in miniature.  It is comprised of areas representing England (& Scotland), France, Germany, Italy, and Ireland.  It opened in 1975, and my family made our first visit a few years later.  We've made the park a regular destination for years now, and just love it.

The Loch Ness Monster

The weather was nice but cool, and got colder as the night went along.  But the park was practically empty!  We were able to go straight to each roller coaster and ride without having to wait.  We entered the park in England, and walked straight over to Scotland, where we jumped on one of our favorite coasters, the Loch Ness Monster!  We rode it twice, once in the front seats.  That got our adrenaline racing!  Nessie is a classic double-looping roller coaster that was built back in 1978.  It was the first major roller coaster I ever rode, just a few years after it opened.  It was also the first upside-down coaster that Melody ever rode.  We then walked from Scotland over to "Festa Italia," in Italy, where we hopped on Apollo's Chariot, another favorite coaster.  Again we rode twice.  It's a "hypercoaster," meaning it has a drop that is over 200 feet.  It was built in 1999.


It was now just after 6 p.m., so we decided to get dinner.  We ate at a pizza and pasta buffet, which fit the bill.  After eating, we took a few pictures of the newest coaster at Busch Gardens:  Tempesto!  Unfortunately, Tempesto isn't open yet, but it is due to open in just a few weeks.  It is being called a "Sky Rocket" coaster, and it features three launch experiences, with a 154-foot inversion, and will reach speeds of 63 mph.  We'll be returning to the park this Summer and will make sure we ride it!


It was getting pretty chilly, but there was hardly anyone left in the park and we wanted to ride a few more things before the park closed for the night at 8 p.m.  We walked through Italy and crossed the bridge over to Germany, where we entered the Oktoberfest part of the park.  We went straight over to one of the newer coaster, Verbolten.  Verbolten opened in 2012, and is termed a "multi-launching" coaster.  It is an awesome ride, with a lot of neat, modern features, including a large enclosed area that contains a "free fall drop," a vertical 18-foot drop in the dark.  We rode until the park officially closed, then walked to the exit and headed to our hotel.

Loch Ness

The following day was a bit warmer, and we quickly got ready and returned to Busch Gardens.  The park was much more crowded this day, and that meant longer lines and waits.  We again immediately went to and rode the Loch Ness Monster.  That's sort of become a tradition.  It's the ride closest to the entrance of the park, and it always gets our blood pumpin'!  We then walked around to the opposite side of the park from the night before, and walked through Ireland and over to France.  We saw that the line for the Griffon, another unique coaster, was almost empty, so we jumped in line and got two quick rides on it.  The Griffon is a dive coaster, with an almost straight vertical drop of over 205 feet.  The coaster actually travels right to edge of the drop and pauses, which gives riders the chance to figure out where they went wrong in life and perhaps say a quick prayer, before dropping.  It provides quite a rush.

Next we entered Germany, where we rode Alpengeist, the last of the roller coasters at Busch Gardens.  It is an inverted coaster built in 1997, and, at 195 feet, is the tallest complete-circuit inverted roller coaster in the world.  Melody and I do not care for this coaster as much as the others.  It's just a bit too "busy."  We tend to enjoy the longer dives and hills of the steel coasters, not the ones that throw you around and leave you wondering if your brain was just scrambled.  It's one of the few coasters that I've come off of feeling completely nauseous, though that was due to me being dehydrated in the middle of a 96-degree Summer afternoon.

After a few "quieter" rides, including the carousel and Le Catapult (a Merry Mixer), and a ride on the Curse of Dark Castle, a modern dark-ride, we decided to get lunch at Das Festhaus in Oktoberfest.  With last night's trip to the park, we now had made a complete circuit around the park.  Das Festhaus has traditional German food, and I got a sausage platter with sauerkraut.  It was awesome.  We also watched a fun new musical show about making beer.

We rode a bunch more rides, then, with the crowds getting bigger and lines getting longer, we decided to take a break and return to our hotel.  We returned to the park around dinner time, and enjoyed a less crowded park.  We again rode until they closed.

Friday was a little different.  It was crazy crowded, so we made a decision to ride a few things, then take another break and do something else.  We stayed until lunch, then went over to Colonial Williamsburg and walked around that area.  We visited the College of William and Mary bookstore and picked up a few souvenirs, too.  We went back to the hotel for a few minutes to freshen up.  It was a very warm day, and we were feeling it.  We decided to get a nice dinner at the Whaling Company, which was really great, then we went back to Busch Gardens for the rest of the night.  And, again, we closed the park with the last ride on Apollo's Chariot.  It was a great day, even with the crowds.

We crashed for the night, and the following morning we went to the Colonial Pancake House for a fantastic breakfast.  Then we played a round of miniature golf before starting the long journey home.  It was a great trip!  We had so much fun, and we're looking forward to another trip to Busch Gardens later this Summer.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Pharmaceutical Phanaticism

In December, after a frustrating few years dealing with my local pharmacy (who kept getting my prescriptions wrong), I went to a mail order service for my prescriptions.  The entire process was very easy, and my doctor even mentioned I would probably save some money.  I received all of my prescriptions within about a week after everything was set up.  At the beginning of March, I received an email reminder from the service to refill my prescriptions.  About a week later, with a little over 2 weeks worth of pills remaining, I went to the mail order website and refilled each pill.  That was the beginning of my nightmare adventure.

On March 15, I received a message from the service telling me that my order was processed and my prescriptions were being shipped.  I figured, much like the first time, that I would receive them in about a week.  After two weeks, I still hadn't received my meds, and I was running out of my reserves.  I called the service on March 30 and explained my problem, that I almost out of meds, that I had received a message saying they had shipped over two weeks ago, and, on top of all this, I was about to go out of town for a few days.  The customer service rep told me that it looked like there was a problem with my payment method, which was set up through a direct deposit, and which I had no problem with in December.  With me on the phone, the lady processed it without any issues.  She did not know why there was a problem with my payment, but everything worked fine this time. She did not have an explanation for why I received a message saying my meds had shipped, but she assured me they had not. She said they would ship them immediately.  I was already several days without any meds.  I did not receive them before our trip.

My daughter and I had a wonderful few days in Williamsburg, VA, and a great time at Busch Gardens.  Something I noticed while we were there, however, was that I was having trouble sleeping.  I use a CPAP machine to regulate my breathing while I sleep, and I awoke several times both Thursday and Friday nights gasping for air.  I didn't think much about it, though, attributing it to the poor hotel room mattress.  But I also had a bit of an issue breathing during our hikes around the amusement park.  I know I'm out of shape, but this was ridiculous.

By Saturday morning, I was feeling really bad.  I had tightness in my chest, I hadn't been sleeping well, I had a pain in my jaw, I was feeling stressed out, and I had a killer headache.  It was then that I put two and two together and connected my symptoms with the fact I had been off of my meds for over a week.  My biggest worry was my high blood pressure.  I could tell that this was what was causing a majority of my problems.

Let me also mention that I know better than to stop taking my meds.  I really had no clue that this was going to be a problem, though, and I also assumed that my meds were waiting for me at home.  Or so I thought...

We came home on Saturday, and it was an exhausting drive.  I didn't feel well, and the sooner I could get restarted on my meds, the better.  We arrived at around 6:30 p.m.  No meds.  I checked with our neighbors to make sure they hadn't picked up the package.  They hadn't.  I was starting to panic just a bit.  Which made me anxious and stressed.  I immediately called the mail order company to check on the status of my order.  And they told me that they didn't know.  What they did know is that my order had NOT shipped, even though I had received an email saying they did.  They couldn't explain why.  I got a little angry and took my frustration out on them.  I even asked them if they would be liable should I die from a heart attack over night.  The operator got a supervisor involved and they could not figure it out.  They said I should have received the meds by now, but they could see in their records that they had not shipped.  Apparently not realizing it was the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, they suggested I just call my doctor and have him get me a short-term prescription order at a local pharmacy.  When I protested and explained that my doctor would not be available until Monday morning, they said they would contact him on my behalf, and they placed me on hold.  When the operator came back on, she said that the answering service told them that they would not be able to reach my doctor, but she said they insisted and that I should rest assured that my doctor would call the local CVS pharmacy for me to pick up a short-term prescription on Sunday morning.  I wasn't convinced, but she insisted that it was already taken care of.  They were also not going to charge me for the shipping of my meds, which she said would be sent priority mail and I should get them by Monday evening.  Doubtful, I said okay, and ended the call.  My daughter and I prayed about the situation.  I was hopeful that God would keep me calm.  I had a fitful sleep.

On Sunday morning, I called the CVS pharmacy, which was a 24-hour pharmacy.  They had no record of anything under my name.  Nothing from my doctor, nothing from the mail order company....Nothing.  So I called the mail order company again.  The male operator, after hearing my explanation, said that none of what transpired the previous evening with the other operator could have happened since it was against their policy to do any of what they said they did.  When I suggested that this meant the operator from last night lied to me, he said, "Probably."  He then said that I was pretty much on my own.  He didn't know why I hadn't received my shipment of meds, but he said, according to what he could see, they were sent out. I asked if there was any record of my call from the previous evening, or my call from last Tuesday, and he put me on hold to check.  When he came back, he said there were notes on my file explaining the whole thing.  So HE lied to me.  Anyway, he still said that what they told me on Saturday night was against their policy.  He said my only recourse was to call my doctor myself and have him place a short-term prescription at the pharmacy.  He said the absolute earliest I would receive my shipment of meds would be on Tuesday.  I told him I was completely unsatisfied with his explanation, and I wanted to talk to a supervisor.  After some hemming and hawing, he finally transferred me.

The supervisor was not helpful at all.  She told me that they had done all they could.  She said she had never seen a situation like mine, though, where their records indicated that my order had shipped but hadn't really, and that it was now three weeks after I had placed my order and not received it.  She offered no solution other than I would have to wait until Monday to find out anything, since it was Easter Sunday and they didn't have anyone working on the pharmacy side of the company.  I was furious, which was the worst thing for someone with high blood pressure and no meds for over a week.  All she could say is that they were sorry, but they would do everything they could to help me.  I replied, "But not today...tomorrow."  And she could only agree.  After the phone call, my blood pressure was 167/101!

This morning, I still felt horrible, and I decided work stress was not in my best interest.  I called my boss and she agreed, told me to relax, and said not to worry about work.  I called my doctor and asked about short-term prescriptions.  They receptionist said this would not be a problem, but my doctor wanted to see me and do blood work before giving me my meds.  I said I could come in right away, but since I have to fast, the earliest appointment that would work is tomorrow morning.  I asked if he could go ahead and call in the prescriptions, since that would begin the process of relieving my symptoms, and she said they would try to do that.

In the meantime, I received a message from the mail order company telling me that my prescriptions had shipped, and that I should receive them in about five business days.  They only reason I didn't call to protest is because it might kill me.  Seriously.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.  I don't know where, but I know, somehow, it's my fault.  This was supposed to be easier...

Have a nice evening, everyone.  I hope I make it through the night...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!
Colette Scharf from

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Busch Gardens Getaway

My daughter and I just returned home tonight from an excellent trip to Williamsburg, VA, and Busch Gardens, our favorite amusement park.  We'll have a full trip report very soon, but here are a few pictures from the trip.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Road Trip to the Eastern Shore

Faithful Pup Scout woke me up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.  This is not a good thing.  I regularly get up at 5:30 a.m. during the week for work, so while this could technically be called "sleeping in," I like more than just an hour more than usual.  Once awake, though, it's difficult to get back to sleep, so I decided to just get up.  Then I decided that I wanted to do more than have a normal Sunday at home.  With my daughter spending the weekend with her grandparents, I was on my own.  So I got dressed and headed out.

I've been driving my Jeep a lot over the past several months, but I wanted to get my 2-seat Mazda out on the road, especially given how nice a day we were expecting (though no where near warm enough to put the top down).  I hopped in, drove to the local Shell station, and topped off the air pressure in my tires, then headed up I-95.  I live very close to the rest area near Laurel, MD, and I decided to stop there at the Welcome Center to pick up a few maps.  But it was still too early.  I left the house at 8:30, and it wasn't open yet.  So I kept on driving up the road.

I ended up in Ellicott City at the Double T Diner on US 40, across from the old Enchanted Forest, where I decided to get some breakfast.  I had a delicious spinach, mushroom, and tomato omelet and a blueberry muffin.  It was awesome.  And while I drink coffee not for the taste, but for the caffeine, there is something about diner coffee that really tops off a good breakfast.  My server appeared to be a bit harried, which I assumed was a result of an earlier morning for her than she might have wanted (kind of like me), but she quickly warmed up and was very friendly.  She even called me, "Hon."

Back on the road, I debated which way I wanted to go.  I could go west towards the mountains, where I could expect some fun roads to drive on, or I could go north, maybe go up into Dutch country.  I could go south into Virginia, but since we are planning a trip later in Virginia, I decided that wasn't a good option.  So I went east.  I drove back towards Baltimore and jumped back on I-95 north.  When I reached the Maryland House Rest Area, I stopped and finally picked up a few maps and brochures, which allowed me to finalize my plans for the day.

I went back out to my car, and realized I was blocked in on either side by a couple of New Jersey cars.  Not sure how this can happen.  I have a very small car, and I'm parked directly in the middle of the space.  But the cars on either side were practically on the lines, making it difficult for me to get into my car (and I'm sure it was difficult for the passengers in the other cars to get out of their vehicles).  This is one of my pet peeves.  Very frustrating.

Back on the road, I was immediately confronted and surrounded by a bunch of race cars.  I decided I'd had enough of the interstate, and I got off at the next exit, at Aberdeen.  I instead took US 40 east.  I soon reached Havre de Grace, and I explored this colorful little town for a bit.  I found the lighthouse, and got out and walked around the waterfront area.  It was really nice, though it was still chilly.

Back on the road, I soon crossed the Susquehanna River, and was confronted with a rather ridiculous $8 toll!  Brother!  I kept going and soon reached Elkton, MD, just shy of the Delaware state line.  I took Route 213 south and remained on this road all the way through Centreville.  The drive took me through a lot of nice little sleepy towns, each with a bridge as an entrance.  Most impressive was Chesapeake City, with a steeply arched bridge over Back Creek.  Chestertown was a neat little college town, and Centreville was really nice.

I was really hungry, but I had no desire to stop.  There weren't very many restaurants anyway, but I learned something about myself on my little adventure.  I've forgotten how to travel by myself.  Before I met my wife, Teresa, I took many solo trips all over the country, but after getting married, and then with my daughter, I always had a traveling partner.  I didn't like being by myself on this trip.  So it was well after 2 p.m. when I finally stopped to eat, and it was at a chain, something I try to avoid when traveling.  I reached the western shore and drove all the way to Crofton before stopping to eat at a Red Robin.

I had a really good time, overall, even if I didn't do much.  I really didn't stop after leaving Havre de Grace, which ended up being a really long drive.  But it was fine.  It was good to be home, too.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My Life - From A to Z

A - Available/Single?  I am single.  Not by choice, though.  I'm technically widowed.  I was married for a total of 4 years and 9 months out of my almost 46 years on this planet.  And I've spent no time off planet, as far as I know.

B - Best Friend?  My father.  I just don't have anyone else that I can talk to like I do my dad.  From sports, to finances, to relationships, to...well, anything.  Faithful Pup Scout is also a pretty good best friend.

C - Cake or Pie?  Pie, though as a type 2 diabetic, there better be little to no sugar in it.  Pre-diabetes, Boston Cream Pie was my favorite.

D - Drink of choice?  Milk.  I don't drink alcohol or sodas.  I drink coffee, but I don't like it.  I've cut way back on juices.  Organic skim milk is a mainstay.  I drink it on cereal, or with a snack.  Add some Ovaltine, and it IS a snack!  I still love a good milkshake, but sugar-free only.

Pizza is essential

E - Essential item you use everyday?  Toothbrush.  I hate not having my teeth brushed, and I'm extremely paranoid of having bad breath or something stuck in my teeth.  Floss would be a close second.  Then comes my iPhone.  If I could eat pizza everyday, it would be essential, too.

F - Favorite color?  Growing up, I liked the color blue.  As a student at the University of Maryland, I came to hate the color blue (Duke blue, Carolina blue...), and red quickly surpassed it.  Now I'm back to blue, though black is a close second.  Steelers black.  And gold!

G - Gummy bears or worms?  Blech.  Do I have to answer?  I hate gummy anything.

H - Hometown?  Technically, I guess it's Riverdale, Maryland, where my parents lived when I was born.  But I was there for only 4 years and barely remember it.  We lived in Upper Marlboro, MD, for 20 years after that, and I have mostly good memories of it, I always say it's my hometown.  Upper Marlboro.  But I wish Pittsburgh was my hometown.

Indulging in pizza

I - Indulgence?  Pizza.  I can't eat it like I used to, but I still try to get it regularly.  It is the best combination of ingredients in the world, and can be customized according to mood and taste.  It's awesome!

J - January or February?  I like January, mostly because of the potential for snow.  I also like how Christmas, my favorite season, seems to linger into January.  That said, I like February for the potential for significant, shut-down-everything snow.

K - Kids and their names?  My daughter, Melody. She's pretty awesome.

L - Life is incomplete without?  Life is incomplete without my savior, Jesus Christ.  'Nuff said.

M - Marriage Date?  July 24.  We chose that date because it gave us the maximum amount of time to prepare a wedding while still giving us time for a honeymoon and setting up our home before my wife, a teacher, had to begin the school year.  I'll note that we were very traditional, and went on our honeymoon directly after our wedding, and we did NOT live together before getting married.  And the honeymoon lasted the length of our marriage.

N - Number of siblings?  I have two, a younger sister and brother.  I'm the firstborn.

O - Oranges or apples?  For the longest time, I loved a nice, sweet apple.  But now I'm partial to big, juicy oranges.

P - Phobias/Fears?  I make no secret that I'm an introvert, which keeps me from wanting to be in the spotlight. I hate the spotlight.  I also have a strong fear of falling, which might be confused with a fear of heights, but is actually very different.  If I know I can't fall, I don't fear heights.  Otherwise, heights are just a higher place to fall from.

Q - Favorite Quote?  I'm partial to Bible verses, many of which can be seen to the left of this post.  My favorite:  1 Peter 5:10 - "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

R - Reason to smile?  I have a toothbrush!  No, seriously, how can we not smile?  Yeah, I have my moments, but, really, I have nothing to worry about when I really think about it.  Life is good.

S - Season?  Fall into Winter.  I love Fall when it starts to get a little chill in the air.  From that point, all the way through the Christmas season, I love the cooler temps and the potential for snow.

T - Tag three or four people?  Nah...but if anyone's interested, feel free to borrow this one.

U - Unknown fact about me?  I'm missing a small organ in my digestive system that I really didn't need, especially after it malfunctioned.  Though that may not be unknown anymore.

V - Vegetable you don't like?  Too many to list.  Among my least favorites are peas and asparagus and Brussels sprouts.

W - Worst habit?  I eat more than I should...especially pizza.  I like to be lazy.  I spend too much time doing wasteful things.  I give sports way too much importance.  I don't get enough sleep.  I'm materialistic.  And I don't pray enough.

X - X-Rays you've had?  Aside from teeth, I've had X-rays on my wrist, head (twice), abdomen, shoulder, and ankle.


Y - Your favorite food?  Pizza.  Have I mentioned how much I like pizza?  It's the perfect food.

Z - Zodiac sign?  Gemini.  But I'm not into astrology.  And I'm not a twin.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Management Versus Leadership

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things.  He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things."  Ronald Reagan

When I was selected to become a manager in my organization, I knew that there was much more to the job than just managing.  I had to lead.  And I doubted myself, because I wasn't sure if I was up to the task.  The timing wasn't great.  It was about 7 months after my wife's death, I had a daughter who was about to turn one.  My home was a shared living space for a village (" takes a village to raise a child..."), with both my in-laws and my parents, as well as a part-time nanny, spending time there.  This was by design, of course.  I had to care for my little girl and provide for her, be a full-time Dad while maintaining a full-time career and battling through the grief of losing the closest person to me in my life, my partner, my wife, my love, my teammate, my soul mate.  The stress was immense, and would only grow.  Now I was a manager, too.

The year after taking that job was awful.  I fell into depression, and my health worsened, both mentally and physically.  I felt removed from my daughter because there were so many other hands involved in her care, which made me feel even worse because I didn't think I was being the father I knew I had to be, but was in some ways a relief because it allowed me to focus on the other responsibilities in my life.  The grief was overpowering, though, and it overtook my faith in God.  I was in full crisis mode.  

I finally reached out to the pastoral community that I had access to.  I've been so fortunate throughout my life to have close friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are pastors, and several came to my rescue in various ways.  Many began or continued to pray for me.  I needed that more than anything, since my own prayer life was reduced to going through the motions.  Pastor George, a long-time family friend, was quick to lend a hand and make recommendations on ways to help.  Pastor Mark, though, called me the following day and asked if we could get together later that week.  And we did.

Mark and I met at a local restaurant and we talked.  We talked for a long time.  He asked a lot of questions and got me focused on the important things in my life.  His advice was very simple.  He said that I was of no help to my daughter until I got help for myself.  Until my head was on straight, what could I do to help anyone else?  That was the turning point for me, and the start of my long journey back to a healthy state of being.

Fast-forward to the present.  I was able to get help for myself, and it righted me in a lot of ways.  My spiritual life was the first step, which has grown by leaps and bounds by placing God first in my life, ahead of everything else.  This led right into getting my mental state improved.  While my physical health has remained a concern, I am getting help for that, as well.  Stress is still very much a day-to-day issue for me, especially as it pertains to my job.  But I've learned a lot about myself in the years since entering the management arena.  The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which my organization provided to all of the managers, was a part of that learning process.

From the StrengthsFinder website:  "In 1998, the Father of Strengths Psychology, Dr. Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., along with Tom Rath and a team of scientists at Gallup, created the online StrengthsFinder assessment...and is the culmination of more than 50 years of Dr. Clifton's lifelong work:  leading millions of people around the world to discover their strengths."  Strengths Based Leadership was the key in educating so many of us.  I realized, through discovering my Strengths, what type of manager I am, and this formed the basis for my transformation from manager to leader in my organization.

My top 5 strengths are:  Responsibility, Maximizer, Relater, Belief, and Developer.  My boss understands me now, too, and even made the comment, "Well, no wonder you're so stressed!"  Apparently, as a result of my Responsibility strength, I take on my employee's stress, as well as anyone who shares a problem with me.  This is a tremendous load, but it's also not mine to take.  I just wish I could make myself understand that.

But this combination of Strengths has also led me to discover tremendous leadership potential, something that is more innate than I may have thought, and knowing it allows me to use it, and/or recognize it.  As an introvert, I hate the spotlight.  My job requires me to be in the spotlight to some degree, but the challenge for me is to make sure that I'm able to get the spotlight where it belongs:  on my employees.  I'm well beyond being a subject-matter expert in my organization.  After over 10 years in management, the technology has zipped past me and left me breathing gas fumes and dust.  The focus should never be on me anyway.  It belongs on my employees for their accomplishments.  And I realized that not only is this the right thing to do, it's also something that brings me great satisfaction.

This satisfaction manifested itself when I was directing stage performances of plays and sketches in my role leading the drama ministry at my church.  I loved finding roles for actors to play that would maximize their performances given their abilities, and that's what would happen.  An individual actor would then get the accolades for an incredible performance.  That made me feel great.  And it kept me out of the spotlight, where I was most comfortable.

So transferring this Strength into my career as a manager was fairly simple to realize.  And it has proven to be dramatic in its dividends.  I truly believe that being a manager is more than just managing one's employees.  It's all about leadership.  And in order to lead well, one must put aside their ego, put aside their need to be on stage (except when necessary), and let the employees shine.  Give them the opportunity to feel the spotlight.  They are more apt to support your lead and follow you into battle knowing you're not in it for the glory.  You're in it to lead them to success.

This post went all over the place.  I had no agenda when I started, but I hope it makes some sense.  I feel like anything useful that comes out of my writing is inspired by God, so I'm leaving it here in raw form.  I really just wanted to talk about the differences between management and leadership.  I know I have a long way to go, just as I've come a long way, and I just want to share when I have my little epiphanies.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Memories of Pap

I was thinking a lot about my grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed, today.  I loved that man.  He wore his heart and his faith on his sleeve, and I only wish he had lived longer than his 84 years.  As a father of 8 kids, he was the breadwinner and worked very hard.  He had a varied career as a coal miner, for the railroad, as a night watchman, as a barber, and as a circuit preacher.

Grandma and Pap, 197?

My dad has shared many stories about his father, and how influential he was on his four sons.  He wanted nothing but the best for them, and that meant, when they were old enough, he sent them out to find careers, not just jobs.  My dad was just a few months out of high school when Pap saw an ad in the local Uniontown, PA, newspaper advertising Federal Government jobs in Washington, DC, and he sent Dad and my Uncle Paul on a trip to DC to take the government entrance exam.  That was the start of my father's career in the government (Uncle Paul passed it, too, but he soon went in a different direction and because a Prince George's County Police officer).  Pap didn't want his sons to have to work in the coal mines.

Pap had a scary incident while working in the mines.  Everyone was paired up with a partner, and he and his buddy were working hard when there was a cave in.  They were cut off from their exit, and it was so dark that they couldn't see anything.  It was then that Pap realized that his partner had been killed.  It was some time before the other mine workers were able to dig them out.  Fortunately, Pap got out, but he quit that job on the spot.

Many years before that, he worked on the railroad.  One day, as the train he worked on cut through the city, they came up on a grade crossing at a busy road that came off a steep hill.  Cars would work their brakes hard as they came down the incline and have to stop at the foot of the hill in order to look for trains at the crossing.  It was not unusual for there to be many close calls as cars either just missed being hit by trains, or raced to miss them.  Well, this car was coming down the hill, had stopped at the crossing, then tried to hurry across the tracks to beat the on-coming train.  But the car stalled right on the tracks.  The young couple, a man and woman, were sitting in the open car when the train Pap was on crashed right into the car, throwing out both of the occupants of the car.  The woman fell right onto the tracks and her body was immediately cut in half by the train.  The train was going at a pretty good pace, and the engineer immediately hit the brakes.  My grandfather was the first one to reach the young woman.  She was still conscious.  Pap said there was a lot of blood.  He recalled that the woman kept reaching down to her abdomen, and, seeing that her lower body was missing, would scream and go into shock.  This occurred several times.  He tried to comfort her, but he knew she wouldn't live, and she died very soon after that.  It was a horrific incident and it scarred him for the rest of his life.

My grandparent's home in Hopwood, PA

Pap was the best kind of preacher.  He told life-lesson stories and anecdotes that people could relate to.  While he was not ordained, he was a lay preacher who worked a three-church circuit each Sunday, preaching at the local church located right behind their Hopwood, PA, home, and then two more located in the mountains just east of town.  I never really got to hear him preach.  He stopped when I was a kid, and I just don't remember his messages.  But after his death in 1994, I inherited many of his sermon notes.  They weren't filed in any order or anything, so I tried my best to put them together in a way that they made sense as standalone messages.  He sure loved the Lord.  I know of four men who can pray like no one else, who I feel are speaking directly to God and through Him:  Pastor Tom, who preached at a church I went to as a young adult and is now retired; Pastor Mark, at my current church, Grace Community; my father-in-law, Jim Shirlen, who is the pastor at First Baptist of Damascus; and my grandfather, Pap Freed.

I was honored to be asked to present Pap into the Hopwood Methodist Church's Hall of Fame, the church where he preached at for many years, about a year before he passed away.  He touched so many lives.  When he passed away, on his birthday in 1994, in his bed, in his home, after a long battle with cancer, he was surrounded by his family who loved him so much, I was holding his hand.  He had been comatose for much of the week prior, and as his breathing became very shallow and the nurse on hand told us he was nearing the end, all of a sudden his eyes opened wide, staring up into the ceiling.  Then he slowly closed his eyes and breathed his last breath.  I am convinced that he opened his eyes at that moment because Jesus had come to guide him into the gates of Heaven, where he now resides for eternity in God's arms.

He was a great man.  I miss him a lot, but I know I will see him again one day.

Have a great evening, everyone!