Sunday, March 18, 2018

Busted Weekend

This weekend was a bust.  There is much to do as we prepare for a major downsizing of the amount of "stuff" in our house, but we did absolutely nothing all weekend.  Other than attending the church service on Saturday evening, we had nowhere to go, and we were, essentially, shut-ins.

This isn't necessarily unusual for us.  We're a week into Daylight Saving Time, and my daughter and I both hate it.  We've felt exhausted all week, and no matter how early we went to bed, we still struggled to get up each morning.  I think there's a problem with the fact that Standard Time is shorter than Daylight Saving Time.  I'm all in favor of getting rid of it.

So we spent the weekend taking it easy.  With the job stress that came to a head this past week, and Melody completing four different projects for four different classes, we both felt like this weekend was a good one for vegging out.

Faithful Pup Scout had different plans, unfortunately.  Regardless of what the clock says, Scout's internal alarm never seems to change.  She will not sleep past 7am, and even when I took her out at 7 this morning and we went right back to bed, she woke me up again just as I fell asleep again.  At 7:20.  For more than a year now, I have only slept past 7am when my daughter and I have been away on vacations and Scout is with my parents.  Otherwise, it doesn't matter what time Scout and I go to bed the night before.  We're up at 7.  At least it isn't my 4:30am normal weekday wake up call.

There was one other thing we did this weekend.  Every Saturday, after church, we always go out for dinner.  Last night, we went to one of our favorites:  Steelfire, in Maple Lawn.  I love this place!  It was St. Patrick's Day, so everything was green, including the water, beer, and shakes, and while we don't drink beer, we still enjoyed the luck o' the Irish.  The restaurant's staff was clearly having a fun evening, and it was contagious.  If you go, make sure you try the Taylor Tots.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

FDHS Jazz Band

When I was in high school, being in the band was one of the highlights.  There weren't many.  I probably had a typical high school career.  I wasn't popular (though I was fortunate to be in classes with the most popular students).  I didn't play any sports.  I was an above average student and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but I wasn't necessarily accomplished in any particular subject.  I was just a tall, skinny, introverted kid who preferred to stay off the radar, out of the limelight, with a small circle of close friends much like myself.

But I thrived in the band.  That was what I enjoyed more than anything else.  I started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, and had worked my way to section leader in our Symphonic Band by my senior year at Frederick Douglass High.  I added an alto saxophone to my repertoire during my junior year, and joined the school's jazz band.  That was really the highlight of my senior year.

The jazz band was a diverse group of musicians.  Wakene played alto and tenor sax.  He was outgoing and had no qualms about playing a solo on many of the songs we played.  Randy played the bass, and while he always seemed to be missing a string on his bass guitar, he gave our sound a touch of funk.  Andre was a talented all-around musician.  Trumpet was his main instrument, but he also played keyboards, and he was a percussionist in the symphonic band.  Dominic was our drummer, however he was just beginning to play and was very raw.  He was fine playing a straight 4/4 rock beat, but was still learning how to play anything else.  Finally, we had a trio of guitar players.  Joe was still learning to play the guitar, and with a background in hard rock and metal, his style tended to lean towards the gruff and grungy distorted sound.  Giles had more of a blues style, and he gave us more of a rhythm guitar sound.  Kirk was the true talent of our band.  I'd known him for years, and he played a variety of instruments, including clarinet, sax, piano, contra-bass clarinet, and even the French horn.  While the guitar was a new instrument for him, he had learned to play it fluently, and he became the lead soloist of the band.

Our band director, Mr. Lopez, was a professional jazz drummer, and that benefited Dominic more than anyone.  In addition, he could substitute for Dom on the more difficult songs, which helped everyone by giving us a steady beat as we learned to play with each other, since none of us had ever played in the jazz band before.

We learned several jazz pieces, including a few classics, like Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" and Miles Davis' "Freddy The Freeloader."  We also brought our own visions to the band by writing our own songs, usually with one of the group bringing a melody or bass line as the starting point, and the rest of us collaborating on developing an arrangement.  "New Groove" was a hot mess, but it was fun and showed our creativity, but our true accomplishment was a song we dubbed "Arabian Sunset," which Kirk brought to us.  Kirk had developed the melody while working on an obscure chromatic scale, and the rest of us filled in to turn it into a full masterpiece, which became our signature song.  In fact, to add to the melody, I used my clarinet instead of the sax to give it more uniqueness, and I even played a few solos on it, which brought me out of my music shell.

By the time the winter rolled around, we were pretty solid, and it was fun to perform in front of a variety of audiences.  We went on the road and played at my old middle school, which was a lot of fun, with an enthusiastic audience.  We performed for a Black History month assembly at Douglass, and as our reputation grew, it really didn't seem to matter what we played.  The audience was anticipating something exciting and different, and we delivered at least on the different part.

As a not very popular, introverted student who preferred not to draw attention to himself, this was alien territory for me, and I didn't necessarily take to it naturally.  But it was fun, and, along with the more classic training I received in Symphonic Band, the Jazz Band only enhanced my musical abilities and education.

Music and the arts are so important to our students, and opportunities for this part of their education in public schools should never be questioned.  Please support this aspect of public education for our students.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Paralympic Curling

One of my favorite events of the Winter Olympics is curling.  I think it was during the 2010 Games that I first starting watching curling, and I'm absolutely fascinated by the sport.  I wish there was more televised coverage of curling outside of the Olympics, but it seems like it gets popular only when the Games are being played, then the popularity dies down.

I was reading an article about curling and discovered that there are curling clubs all over the country, and while I don't necessarily feel like curling competitions are in my future, I'm looking for opportunities to watch more often than every four years.

Anyway, all that said, I was eating breakfast just before leaving for work yesterday morning when I came across a curling match on TV.  It was Paralympic Curling!  Obviously, if you watch curling, there are differences, which include the poles used by the competitors to launch the stones, but it's amazing how much control they still have over the speed and curling motion that the stones take.  This particular match, between Norway and Slovakia, was extremely competitive.  Good stuff!

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day Sights...

The many faces of Pi Day...

Pi-Mel with Pi-Scout

Disheveled Pi-Scout

Pi Day Humor

Pi Day Chili?!?

Pi Day Pie, chocolate silk cream variety...

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Rejecting Lunch

About six weeks ago, I had the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever experienced.  It knocked me out for several days, and during the worst of it, I thought I was dying.  When I finally began feeling better, there was such a sense of relief, but I was very careful about what I ate for much of the following few weeks.  Then, of course, I went back to my poor eating habits.

Yesterday, my good friend and prayer brother, Rick, joined me for lunch.  We had much to discuss, as we've had a lot in recent weeks to be thankful for.  The Lord is good, all the time.  Anyway, we met at Shake Shack, at the Mall in Columbia.  My only other experience with Shake Shack, a few months ago, wasn't great, but I'll chalk it up to the time of day (the height of mealtime) and growing pains (they had only been open a few weeks at the time).  Rick has a lot more experience with Shake Shack, having visited the New York City location, as well as one in DC, and following his guidance, I figured our visit could only be better.

We met at 11:30, beating the lunch crowd, and easily found a table while we waited for our food.  I got the Shack Stack, which is a combination cheeseburger and 'shroom burger, a side of fries, and an iced tea.  Health-conscious Rick got the burger sans the bun, and his looked like a head of lettuce with a burger in the middle.  Mine was good, but very rich, and, in hindsight, was likely too rich for me based on my recent diet.

Daughter Melody and I tend to get a little lazy with meal preparation.  It's just the two of us, and I hate to cook, so we go out to eat often.  We went to Red Robin on Friday, Bertucci's on Wednesday, and Double T on Monday.  I don't always make smart choices with my menu selections.  Even though we go out to eat a lot, I still treat these experiences like special occasions, meaning I'm not going to get just anything to eat.  Given my health issues, I really need to be smarter about what I'm eating, though.

Rick and I were sharing recent happenings when I broke out into a cold sweat.  Nausea took over from there, and I was rapidly becoming sick.  I know the signs, and given the food poisoning experience of six weeks prior, I did not want a repeat.  I explained to Rick what was happening, and assured him it had nothing to do with his job-search story (really, Rick, I was legitimately feeling sick... :-)), I excused myself to run to the rest room.  Unfortunately, the single stall was occupied, so I just kept breathing deeply, splashed some water on my face, and kept my bearings.  I returned to Rick and apologized, that I really needed to get home.  I was so paranoid about food poisoning and my last experience, and I really didn't want to go through that again.  He was more than understanding, and I hope we can get together again soon.

The cold air outside the restaurant helped a bit, and I rushed back to my Jeep.  I had been fighting the urge to vomit up to that point, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to drive and not throw up all over my steering wheel.  I called Melody to let her know I was returning home and why, and I started the 15 minute drive back home.

As I neared our neighborhood, another wave of severe nausea came over me, and I weighed whether I should just pull over, or continue driving because I was so close to home.  I kept driving, and I made it to our house.  I jumped out of the Jeep, and I knew I wouldn't make it.  I ran over to our front bushes and lost my lunch, along with everything else that was still resting inside my belly.  It became awkward when neighbors on either side happened to come out just as I was heaving, and so there was plenty of concern.  I assured them that I was okay, and I was able to get inside.

I ran to my room, stripped off my jeans and sweatshirt, and again threw up just as I got to the toilet.  Shortly, having felt like I had survived another round of nausea, I emptied a trash can, put on my sweats, and collapsed on my bed.  Melody checked on me, and I told her I just needed to rest.  Then I fell asleep for two hours.  During my restless slumber, my wonderful daughter had lined my trash can with a plastic bag, and brought me a cup of ice water.  She's awesome.  Rick, too, had checked in on me, sending me a text to find out how I was doing.  He's awesome, too.

I slept on and off for the rest of the day.  I only got out of bed to use the bathroom.  I didn't throw up again, fortunately, and I still don't know what set off this latest round of illness.  I just know it was a wake up call, of sorts.  I need to stop eating so indiscriminately, and make better, more health-conscious choices when I'm out.  Another possibility is that I was suffering from dehydration.  I had worked out earlier that morning on our exercise bike, and perhaps I didn't drink enough water before or after.  I just don't know.

After tossing and turning all night, Faithful Pup Scout had enough and woke me up at 7am this morning.  I'm hesitant to eat anything, but I'm drinking plenty and am functioning.  I'm not feeling any nausea, and that's a bonus.  Even during the night, I wasn't entirely comfortable.  A week of fasting may be what I need.

Sorry, Rick.  We'll catch up again soon.  Thanks for checking in on me.

Melody, thank you so much for caring for me.  You have such a caring heart.

Have a great day, everyone.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Red Red Robin

For about seven years, or so (half of my daughter's life), we ate almost weekly at Red Robin, a nationwide gourmet burger chain.  The restaurant in Columbia, MD, was where we met Melody's grandparents, as well as family and friends, just about every Thursday evening.  We got to know the staff pretty well, and they became a part of our family, sharing stories from their lives as much as we shared with each other about ours.  It was a fun gathering, and it helped Melody and me as we dealt with the loss of my wife and Melody's mom, Teresa.

The food was good, if pretty basic, and there was enough variety to appeal to everyone who gathered with us week to week, though I know some of the family got tired of going to the same place all the time.  But it was more about the time spent together than the food.

As folks moved away, and Melody got older, we stopped going weekly, then monthly, and then we stopped altogether.  We lost touch with many of the staff, too.  Other restaurants became popular with us, and we gathered for other reasons, mostly to celebrate special occasions.  Red Robin was still in the mix, but we really didn't go more than maybe once every six months, or so.

Melody told me this afternoon that she was craving Red Robin, so we had an opportunity to meet my parents at the Annapolis store.  Many of our old favorites are still on the menu, and I got the Souper Sandwich combo:  a cup of chili and a barbecue chicken wrap.  I used to get this dish often.  I was kind of astonished at what I received this time, however.

The chili was served, not in a cup, as in the past, but in a small, square, shallow dish.  The amount of chili was barely half as much as what I used to get.  The wrap was even worse.  The tortilla was wrapped so tight as to be almost an inch less in circumference than what I was used to.  All in all, it was significantly less food than what I received in the past.  And it was a lot more money, too.

Now, one could argue that I really shouldn't be eating so much food anyway, and that perhaps the restaurant was doing me a favor, but it was so ridiculous.  I was so disappointed.

There were other things, too, like the fact that sweetener for our iced teas was not on the table and had to be requested, and even something as simple as extra napkins had be asked for.

I wish that all of these things were all I had to complain about.  I wish I didn't have to complain about anything.  But our server tonight just wasn't on the ball.  He forgot about us several times.  I also don't understand why his demeanor changed so much when he forgot to bring a requested item, Splenda, and when we reminded him to bring it, he stopped being friendly.

Oh, well, I guess you can't go home again.  There's still much to like about Red Robin, and the food was good, overall.  We won't be rushing back, but it was nice to have that familiar taste again.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Last Few Weeks of Daedalus Books

My daughter and I decided to make a stop at our favorite bookstore, Daedalus Books Warehouse Outlet, one more time before they close forever.  Their last day is March 21, 2018.  It's really making me sad to think that I will no longer be able to stop by on a whim and find a book for under $5 to keep me company during a solo meal at a local restaurant.  I've spent hours meandering through the shelves looking for interesting books, and I've likely spend $1000s, which purchased a lot more books than the equivalent of any other bookstore.

They're currently taking 40% off everything, and the shelves are starting to look more and more empty with every visit.  I'm going to miss this place so much!  Below are a couple of pics, including my latest haul, which was under $35!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Band of Brothers and Sisters

A wonderful friend recently posted the above picture on her Facebook page, and it brought back a flood of memories.  Yeah, that's me on the far left.  This is a picture of the Symphonic Band from my high school's yearbook from my freshman year.  I played the clarinet.  We were certainly children of the 80s.

It was a great honor to be in the Symphonic Band.  There weren't very many freshmen in this band.  The Concert Band had most of the freshmen, and was, more or less, the "beginners band."  The Symphonic Band contained the more experienced musicians.  I remember, as an eighth grader in junior high, auditioning for the director of the high school band and being a nervous wreck, never guessing I could make the Symphonic Band.

What I find most amazing about this picture is the fact that my daughter is the same age now as I was then, and she's following directly in my footsteps, though her poise and talent is so much more than I was.  She recently auditioned for the high school band director, and found out she will be in the top band next year.  She also plays the clarinet.

I'm really excited for her, and she seems excited.  I benefited from being in the band.  It was an immediate social group for me, and made the transition from junior to senior high that much easier.  Let's face it:  being a freshman in high school is hard.  You need any advantage you can get to establish one's social standing, and if you get to be a part of an established group that includes a cross-section of students from across the high school spectrum, then even better.  Besides, band is fun.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Meandering Thoughts

Melody doesn't know what it's like to have a mother.  That's why she doesn't like me to date.  She likes our lifestyle, even as I know that her life would be so much better with a father AND a mother.  I feel so inadequate most of the time, but I'm trying so hard to give her the best life possible.  When she was old enough to start recognizing what she was missing, I felt like I needed to remarry before Melody got too much older, because I knew it would be more of a struggle for her to connect with someone in a mother-daughter way the older she got.  But while I dated here and there, it was never anything that would lead to a more serious relationship.  I think I was trying too hard.  It was also the wrong reason to look for a relationship.  I think it's wrong to get married to someone just so my daughter can have a mother.  That needs to be a benefit, but not the reason.  When Teresa and I got married, it was because God knew we were ready to be married, that our love for each other was strong enough to carry our relationship to the level of devotion necessary to sustain it.  And we both had a relationship with the Lord before we knew each other.  And it was fantastic.  Teresa and I were a great match for each other, and we became best friends.  It hurt so much to lose her.  It's something with which I still struggle.


I dated someone very seriously about 8 years ago.  She was a work colleague, though she lived in and worked in our offices in Oklahoma City.  I had known her for a few years before we started dating.  She had never been in a serious relationship before, let alone a long-distance one.  I had been in a long-distance relationship back in the 90s, and I knew it was difficult.  That one had crashed and burned after six months.  This one had promise, and after communicating via email for several weeks, she admitted that she felt like our relationship had reached the stage of us getting together.  Because I travel to OKC often, I was able to tie a long weekend with her in OKC with a business trip, and she proclaimed her love for me.  She began making marriage plans without telling me, and bought a wedding dress.  She told me she was willing to move to Maryland.  A few months into the relationship, she came to the DC-area and I allowed Melody to meet her.  They really didn't connect, and it was obvious that the woman didn't have a clue how to relate to Melody.  Melody wanted so badly for it to work, though.  As the relationship progressed, it became very clear that the distance was too much of a strain, just as I found that she really had no desire to come to Maryland, trying instead to persuade me to move to OKC.  The red flags were all over, and not just because of the distance.  She wasn't ready to be a mom, and she also couldn't handle the fact that I had been married before. We had been seeing a pre-marriage counselor, and he told us he didn't think we were a great match, though not before discounting my marriage to Teresa as not being long enough to be a good gauge of my marriage-worthiness, which I resented like you wouldn't believe.  The relationship ended badly, and Melody took it worse than I did.  We broke up over the phone, and I never heard from her again.  She quit her job and moved on to something else.  I found out she got married about a year and a half after our breakup, so I guess she was able to use that wedding dress after all.


My father is one of eight siblings, so his side of the family is very large, and I have a lot of cousins.  We used to get together a lot more than we do now, and I enjoyed those times so much.  Dad grew up in Western PA, in Uniontown.  It's less than an hour south of Pittsburgh.  That's why I'm a Pittsburgh sports nut.  Dad raised me right. :-)  My grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed, was an awesome individual, and, when I was old enough to start driving, I loved to go visit with him.  Every month, I made the 4 hour drive to his place, and I loved to just sit with him and soak in his advice.  He once told me that the greatest thing in life was the pursuit of a woman.  He was a lay pastor at the little Methodist church in town back in the day.  I never heard him preach, but he was a wonderful storyteller.  Everyone loved him.  He worked in the coal mines in that area when he was younger, but quit after experiencing a cave-in and his partner was killed.  He worked three jobs after that to support his huge family, working as a nightwatchman at the Methodist camp in Jumonville, PA, up in the mountains;  he was a barber, and he cut hair for many years; and he was a preacher on a circuit of three churches in the area.  Pap had a long battle with cancer, beat it, then it came back with a vengeance and took him from us.  On his deathbed, after a week in a coma, the whole family surrounded him, encouraged him, and told him it was okay to let go, and as he took his last breath, he suddenly opened his eyes, then slowly closed them as the life left his body.  I was holding his hand at the time, and I'm convinced he saw Jesus in that moment.  He died on his 84th birthday.  I was 25 at the time.  Next to my parents, he was the biggest influence on my life to that point, and he was the one who inspired me to consider youth ministry.  I love talking about him.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Melancholy Nights

Some nights, I get to feeling a bit overwhelmed, and little things cause me to get angry and frustrated, and I wonder about what triggers these moods.

We attended church earlier this evening at Grace Community, and while I enjoy Pastor Seth's messages, I found myself missing Mitchel and Rich.  I don't think I've heard a message from Pastor Rich in a few months, with illnesses, trips, and missed services.  But Seth is good.

There's usually a carryover from the service into the evening, and I wasn't feeling it tonight.  My mood soured as my daughter and I debated dinner plans.  It has become more difficult to decide on a place to eat anymore.  I got frustrated with our inability to agree on anything, and we spent much of the next hour trying a handful of places that were all way too crowded.  15 to 20 minute waits were uncharacteristically 30 to 40 minute waits, and we just didn't have the patience to wait.  We finally decided to just go home.

We drove past the funeral home where my wife was taken after her death and home-going, and while I've driven past it many times, tonight it brought a slew of memories to my mind.  The day after she died, I went there to make arrangements and purchase a funeral package.  My parents and in-laws went with me.  I became so overwhelmed that afternoon, that I ended up breaking down in the men's room.  It's an awful memory.

There were quite a few dark intersections on the trip home, a carryover from the windstorm yesterday, and we started to worry a bit about whether our power might be out.  While we have only lost power about a half-dozen times in the 16 years I've lived in this house, it's always one of my daughter's fears.  When we arrived at home, we were fine.  The kitchen light was on.

Dinner was pretty lousy.  We had hot dogs and broccoli, which was fine, but just not what I had in mind.  My sour mood continued, though, and the weight of the world continues to feel like it's resting on my shoulders.  I wish I could shake it.  Sleep brings relief from these thoughts, and that's where I'm headed now.  Prayer brings thoughts of better things.

Have a restful evening, everyone.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thar She Blows....!

So the big story today is the wind.  Good golly, it was blowing!  Hard!  Really, this was the windiest day in this area that I have ever experienced.

The biggest surprise in all this was the fact that the Federal Government decided to close because of the wind.  When my alarm woke me up this morning at 4:30am, I did my typical pick up my iPhone and start checking emails, news, and sports scores.  The first thing that I saw was a message from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) stating that my office was closed.  And my first thought upon seeing that was there must've been a national emergency.  Was the Capitol blown up?  Did North Korea send out a nuke??  Did the President offend another country???  No, no, and no.  It was the unprecedented wind.

So I attempted to go back to bed, but the Faithful Pup Scout was awake by this time, and she needed to go out.  A few of my employees sent me texts stating they were either teleworking or going to enjoy an unexpected Friday with no work.  Even though I was off the clock, I monitored my email all morning, and my peers and boss and I called in to our morning Stand Up at 9:30am.  After that, it was a whole lot of nothing.  Daughter Melody woke up with her normal alarm at 6am, but I sent her right back to bed, and I didn't see her again until around 11am.

The biggest problem I had today was keeping the cover on my 2-seater Mazda, which still has a gaping hole in the top.  There were snow flurries most of the morning, and I found myself repeatedly going out to re-cover the car because the wind whipped it off.  I use a bunch of bungee cords to keep it strapped down, but the wind was too strong.  Following my stand up, I decided to run out to the store and get a few more bungee cords, and I pretty much wrapped it up like a Christmas Tree.  It stayed in place for the most part for the rest of the day, but I had to keep checking it because I was so paranoid about it.

While I was out, the wind buffeted my Jeep like crazy.  Higher profile vehicles had a major disadvantage today.  And so did many trees.  I saw debris everywhere, and there were a couple of roads that were closed due to fallen trees, which meant detours and a longer trip home.

At around 4pm, my neighbor rang my doorbell and pounded on my door.  It turns out that a large piece of the siding on my house was ripped off by the wind, and he saw it and brought it over for me.  I did a walk-around of the house to assess any other damage.  Fortunately, I didn't see any, though I found several shingles, but they were a different color from my roof.

The wind continued to blow all evening, with sustained gusts howling like nothing I've seen or heard in all the years I've lived here.  It's now 9pm, and we still have a few more hours until it is predicted to die down a bit.

This wasn't the day I expected when I woke up this morning.  I'm glad that my family and friends seem to have gotten through the day relatively unscathed.  With all of the power outages and fallen trees, it certainly could have been worse. 

Stay safe out there, and have a great evening.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Quadratic Equations For Dinner

My very smart daughter, Melody, missed the past two days of school due to illness, tripling the number of days she has missed all year, and triple what she missed all of last year.  It's unusual for her to be so sick to miss school, but she was really out of it.  It wasn't the flu, but it was a debilitating cold.  She is feeling tons better, and returned to school today, bringing home a ton of homework.  I guess that's to be expected, but it's a shame that she has so much that she has to work through dinner.

She told me she had a craving for an old favorite restaurant, Ram's Head Tavern at Savage Mill, so we made plans to eat there for dinner this evening.  When it was time to head over, she still had a lot of homework, but in dedicated fashion, she said she wanted to work on it at the restaurant.  So while we waited for our food, she worked on her Algebra homework.  I was impressed.


Some days are grand, and some are difficult.  Yesterday was the difficult kind.  I haven't figured out what all of the triggers are for me, but sometimes all it takes is one action, or one wrong word, and I find myself in a poor mood that just gets exacerbated by other actions, snowballing into a thoroughly dreadful day.  That was yesterday.

Today was better, but I still couldn't shake the melancholy until I got home.  My father called me to chat about the Terps Men's Basketball team's terrible loss in the Big Ten Tournament earlier today, and once we got beyond that, I found my mood improving as we switched topics.  This is the second time in a week that Dad has been able to get me out of a funk and into a lighter frame of mind.

He shared a scary/funny story about my brother, Darren.  D was working his security job at a site in DC last night, and a "gentleman" approached him using some rather choice language.  D said he was high on something, and decided to confront my brother, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and in pretty good shape.  He tried to bull rush him, and my brother laid him out with three punches square in the face.  The employees at the job site cheered him, and when the police showed up, they defended his actions, saying the guy deserved what he got.  The sequence brought to mind the scene in the movie UNCLE BUCK, when John Candy punches out the drunk clown at the kid's party.  Anyway, my brother is tough dude.


Speaking of John Candy...

We're kinda missing the Olympics this week.  We really enjoyed the Games this year, and I exposed my girl to a few events that she had not seen before.  One of those was the bobsleds.

So, last night, we watched COOL RUNNINGS, loosely based on the Jamaican Bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and starred John Candy.  It's a cute movie, with some fun dialog, and we enjoyed it.  

And it's much better entertainment than tonight's terrible Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.  It's already 7-3 in the 2nd period.  Talk about ugly.  I think I'm turning in early this evening.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quiet Night

I only have a short post tonight... My wonderful daughter is suffering from a bad illness, and my attention is situated on her.  I have a lot on my mind, but am having difficulty bringing those thoughts into a coherent post this evening, and with my focus on my daughter, it's just as well if I don't force a post that doesn't need to be written.

I hope you are with your loved ones this evening, and that the time spent is worthwhile and meaningful.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Guest Post: twenty one pilots, Part Deux

Guest Post:  My daughter, Melody, writes about our summer trip to Columbus, OH, to see her favorite band, twenty one pilots.  Here's her story.

Yes, we really did drive the 9 hours from Maryland to Columbus just to see a concert! (It was totally worth it.)

    The whole trip lasted from June 21st until June 25th and it was amazing. I miss it so, so much.

    The tickets for this tour had come out while we were on a retreat with our church, and my dad took time out of his busy day to try and snag some amazing seats. It was April 1st (April Fool's Day) so when he emailed me that he had gotten them, I didn't believe him!

    Pittsburgh was our destination for the first Wednesday night. We left home around 3:45pm and our first stop was at South Mountain rest area, located somewhere in Maryland. We went on to the Park n' Dine and Hilltop Fruit Market after that. We arrived at our hotel in Monroeville, PA, around 10:45pm and crashed for the night.

    The next morning we ate breakfast and went to look at a piece of property (property, not house) that my dad had seen. It was in really bad shape and would've needed a lot of work. We then went to the Strip District for about an hour. After that, our destination was Cleveland, OH. We stopped at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame for a few hours and then got lost trying to find the house from A Christmas Story. It was closed, though. Oh well. After that we left downtown Cleveland and gave up trying to find a Target. We went to a Red Robin instead. Our stop for the night was in Huron, OH. 

    The next day did not go as we had originally planned it. We were going to go to Cedar Point for the day and then stay another night in the same hotel, in Huron, but the weather had other plans. We woke up to a lot of rain. We had not factored bad weather into our plan so we were at a crossroads. We could go and brave the weather at Cedar Point, or we could try and cancel our hotel reservation for the night and head straight for Columbus. After much debating and extra planning, we decided on the latter. We were able to cancel our reservation and we switched gears to head for Columbus.

    The trip to Columbus was very rainy. Our GPS took us on a lot of back roads. We even had to stop for a very, very long train! After making it through traffic, we arrived just outside of Columbus and stopped at Polaris Mall to see if we could find a Hot Topic store that had twenty one pilots shirts. We entered through a Barnes and Noble and went up the stairs to the Hot Topic. Sadly, they were out of the shirt that I was hoping to find, but there was a bubble tea shop right across from the Hot Topic, which was definitely a plus.

    When we were leaving, it was pouring down rain, so we ran to our car and found a Texas Roadhouse to eat at. I chatted with the waiter over twenty one pilots and about the shows. He was very nice.

    After Texas Roadhouse, I made my dad drive past all of the venues that 21p was playing at - The Basement, Express Live, Newport Music Hall, The Schottenstien Center, and Nationwide Arena. Almost all of them had some sort of acknowledgement towards Tour de Columbus, which was really cool. It was still raining as we made our way to our hotel for the night, a Holiday Inn, which turned out to be a very nice hotel. A car with "Tour de Columbus" written on its back window was spotted in the parking lot.

    We decided to go and see the newly released Cars 3, having passed a movie theater on our way into the city. The band members, Tyler and Josh, had suggested in an interview two pizza places to stop at while in Columbus - Donato's and Hounddog's. After some research, we figured out that Donato's was actually a chain restaurant and set sail for Hounddog's. Once there, we spent a fair few minutes trying to find parking. They had a car out back with a hound dog strapped to the top! The inside was very interesting; it must've been a college/high school hangout. They had pictures all over the walls and our table had names carved into the wood. Their pizza was absolutely amazing! Faithful Pup Scout approved.

    After dinner we went across the street to a CVS, as I had neglected to pack extra deodorant and had run out that morning. It was expensive, and for the rest of the trip it was infamously known as the $7 Columbus deodorant. 

    Our movie was at 7, so we walked back to the car at Hounddog's and made our way to the theater. The shopping center had another Barnes and Noble! We didn't go - we were already late enough. The theater was nice, as was the movie! If you haven't seen it yet, it's very good. When the movie was over, it was dark. We had an adventure trying to find Nationwide Arena, and we got lost, so we set our trusty GPS and went back to the hotel for the night.

    And then it was Saturday, the big day. We woke up and walked to a restaurant called SuperChef's (where my dad accidentally canceled our reservation and messed up the online wait list). I got 8 small heart-shaped red velvet pancakes, and my dad can't remember what he got ("It was like a salad egg thing"). The food was amazing. Then we walked back to the hotel and checked out. 

    They were selling Tour de Columbus merchandise outside of Nationwide Arena, so that's where we went. After a lot of searching, we got parked and went to get in line. It was long, but it went fast. Some other people came out of a nearby Starbucks and were letting others in line sign a flag that they had brought, saying their name, where they're from, and their top two favorite 21p songs. The guy who brought the flag told us that he was going to be in the pit (general admission - standing room) and he was going to try and get the flag to Tyler during one of their songs (he didn't get it, but we did see him trying on the big screen). Finally, we got up to the front of the line and picked out two tour shirts and a sweatshirt, which are both very comfy (although, as I'm typing this, the tour shirt no longer fits.) 

    My dad had read about a German Village just outside of the city, so that was our next destination. It was a very cute little town with very limited parking - we had to do two loops around town before finding a place to park. We found a Golden Hobby shop, which is filled with things made by retirees, ranging from jewelry to puzzles. It was a very nice little shop. We went to put our stuff in the car and spotted a bookstore across the street, so of course we went in. It had so many little areas and it was spread out so much that I got lost and had to call my dad to come and find me! Afterward, we went to Max and Erma's for lunch. 

    Finally it was time to check into our hotel. It was a huge tower within walking distance from Nationwide. The name was something French - Hotel LeVogue or something like that, I don't know. They had valet parking, so I knew it must be a nice hotel. We walked in and immediately a bell boy came and took our bags. We checked in and the bellboy took us up to our room, all the while struggling to carry my dad's bags. He walked in and gave us a tour of our room before leaving. The room was very very nice. The TV even said "Hello, Mr. Eric." It was wild!


    Soon, it was time to go to the concert. We were walking, so we had to leave around 5. There were a LOT of people walking down both sides of the street, so we tagged along near the end. Once we got there, we had about 5 minutes until the doors opened, so we got in line to wait. The arena put up a Tour de Columbus flag on their flagpole, which was cool. 

    Inside, it was a madhouse, per usual. They did not allow flashlights, and my portable charger looked like a flashlight, so, when we went through security, the lady questioned what it was ("Is that a flashlight?" "Oh, no, it's a portable charger." "Hmm. I've never seen one like that before."). We didn't stop to get merch, seeing a we had already gotten it earlier, and we went to get snacks and see our seats. They were AWESOME seats! We had a very close side-view of the stage.

    Soon it was time for the show. A band called Public opened; we had never heard of them before, but they were good. Next was Judah & the Lion (again!). They were wonderful as always. 

    Then was the Bathroom Incident. Prepare yourselves, it's kind of long.

    Right after Judah and the Lion, the curtain for 21p went up. Not knowing how much time I had, I decided to rush to the bathroom. There was one close to our section, but, as I got there, they CLOSED IT. So I started following a bunch of girls literally halfway around the arena to the other bathroom, which ended up having  line out the door. Giving up, I turned around, deciding that, yeah, I could last three hours without a bathroom. So I went back to our section. But it wasn't our section. I had walked down the wrong one! In my defense, it was quite dark. Navigating the maze that is Nationwide Arena, I finally found the right section and walked down to tell my dad what had happened. "Well, you have to go!" he told me, and I heaved a sigh before going back out to brave the line. Except there was no line. They had opened the other bathroom. I went and came back out, laughing at myself the whole time, and I walked back to our section. But it wasn't our section. I had gone down the wrong one AGAIN. Oh well. 

    I made it back to my seat and the curtain dropped a few moments later. It was magical. The atmosphere was amazing and I honestly feel like I enjoyed it a lot more than the Charlottesville concert (which was still very good). There is nothing quite like a twenty one pilots hometown show. 

    Sooner than I would've liked, it was over. Confetti floated around us, and I was so, so happy.    

    We got back to our hotel around 11:30pm and crashed. We had to leave bright and early the next day for our 9 hour drive back to Maryland (which would've been 6 without traffic). I will never forget this trip. We got home around 7pm, and that's where it ends :)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Grace Disguised

Three nights after my wonderful wife, Teresa, went to be with the Lord after suddenly and tragically passing away before my eyes on that beautiful evening on April 19, 2004, I was at the funeral home greeting friends and family, accepting their sympathy and slowly succumbing to the early stages of a grief that was dulling my senses.  I have very little memory of that night, and even less of the following day of visiting prior to the finality of the funeral for my wife and best friend, the mother of my infant daughter, Melody.

On that first evening at the funeral home, a young lady came up to me, introduced herself as one of Teresa's co-workers, a teacher at Reservoir high school, named Sara.  We spoke no more than a moment, and she handed me a book.  She offered her condolences, told me how much wisdom, advice, and friendship Teresa had provided to her, and explained that she had lost her fiance just over 2 years ago in a tragic accident involving a drunk driver.  She had since met someone else, and was engaged again, and she told me that Teresa had told her how, when she and I were engaged, we began reading the first 100 Psalms in reverse order, a hundred days before our wedding, counting them down each day so that we read the First Psalm following our wedding ceremony.  Sara and her new fiance were doing the very same thing.  She then told me about the book.  She said it had provided so much help to her as she was going through the throes of grief following her fiance's death, and the advice in it had made such an impact, she wanted me to have it.  I thanked Sara and wished her well.

I didn't think about the book again until I was at home later that night.  Looking through it, I saw that the book, "A Grace Disguised," by Jerry Sittser, is about loss, and specifically the sudden tragic accident that claimed the lives of his mother, his wife, and his young daughter, and how he dealt with the circumstances of his loss.  It explores loss in all of its myriad forms, and how we can use it to bring about spiritual depth, joy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings, a transformation that only comes through the grace of our Father.  Sara had inscribed a message inside the front cover that said,

"I hope this book brings understanding to your heart, a friend to share in the sorrow, and the reminder of the amazing hope we have in Christ as our souls grow because of grief.  You're in my prayers.  To God's Glory, Sara Z"
Inside was a card of condolence from Sara to me, and inside she had written about the details of her fiance's death, her own walk with the Lord through grief, and how the author's words had provided a friend she could turn to for advice.  She wanted me to know how helpful the book was to her, and that she hoped I could find the same.  She said she would pray for me.  After I read the card, I began to sob, and I wished I had talked with her more.

The book turned out to be an amazing source of comfort and advice, and I have since recommended it to so many others who have experienced similar loss.  The advice in the book would be helpful to anyone suffering from any kind of loss, from divorce, illness, or the death of a loved one.  I can't recommend it enough.  Sara, if you're reading this, thank you again for your thoughtfulness.  The book was an immense help to me, and I appreciate the gift so much.

Have a great evening, everyone.