Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014

Another Halloween come and gone....

My daughter, the Pirate!  The PITTSBURGH Pirate!


"Hey, Kids....Comics!  For Halloween!!"  Little Princess:  "No thanks...I'm good with candy."


So we finished the evening with only 10 pieces of candy left, though I lost count of the actual number of kids who came to the door.  It was a moderately high number, though.  My daughter had a decent haul, but not enough for her to binge on and get sick.  We only threw out three pieces of candy, but not because they looked unsafe... they were Laffy Taffy, which is the worst stuff for the teeth.

We finished off the evening with a new tradition:  we watched a "scary" movie.  Our choice for tonight was YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  Not really scary as much as it is funny.  The blooper reel is hilarious.

Happy Halloween, everyone!



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy 40th, Bro!

My little brother is a pretty cool dude.  Darren is a giant of a guy, standing an impressive 6'6".  He keeps himself in fairly good shape.  He's active.  He works in the security field, and is out there chasing down the bad guys.  He's a family man.  He is engaged to be married to a very nice young lady with two teen daughters from a previous marriage.  He has a heart of gold.  He'll do almost anything for his friends and family, and is fiercely defensive of them.  He hasn't always taken the easy road.  He could've gone to college, but elected to pursue something providing more independence.  He could've had a nice desk job, perhaps working for the Federal Government.  But that wasn't in the cards for him.  He finally achieved his dream of going into law enforcement after years of climbing the ladder and gaining the experience he needed.  I would hate to be hunted down by him for doing something wrong.  He's an intimidating presence.

Darren wasn't always a tall guy.  While I seemed to grow to my full height by my freshman year in high school, Darren took his time.  He didn't really start to grow until after starting high school, and then he shot up very quickly.  By the time he graduated high school, he was my height and still growing.  No matter how tall he got, though, he remained my little brother, and I was quick to remind him of it all the time.  We weren't close buddies.  We had many opportunities to do things together, and while we enjoyed it, we still mostly wanted to do our own things.  We have some of the same interests, like our love of roller coasters and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  We are the epitome of Oscar and Felix, though.  He's a night owl.  I'm an early bird.  He was always more athletic.  I was always more studious.  We fought with each other.  The longer we're together, the worse it gets, so we have to limit our time with each other.  I once thought we would be a great team on The Amazing Race because we would likely fight the whole way around the world, which would make for some fun TV watching.  Less time together meant we tried to maximize our time when we were together.  He's a funny guy, and we did a lot of joking around when we were together.  It was necessary for us to limit this time, however.  Anything more than a day or so resulted in "brotherly love", which can be further defined as "someone is going to get killed!"  When we fight, we tend to yell a lot.  We're too old now to actually get physical, but we used to.  And riding in a car with him is a challenge.  I'm a nervous wreck when he's at the wheel.  I'm even worse when we're on a road trip together and he's driving MY car.  We've had a few too many close calls.

There's a little bit of sibling rivalry and jealousy between us.  While I was the "good" kid, because I never wanted to get in trouble, Darren experimented with stuff I could only imagine.  He told me he tried drugs once, and it was a frightening experience.  He likes his alcohol on occasion, while I've passed out after one glass of wine, so I don't drink at all.  I seem to always want to be in charge, which bothers him since I usually get my way, since I'm older.  My algebra teacher in high school, a difficult man who didn't like his students, liked me, and when my brother had him as a teacher five years later, Darren struggled, and the teacher asked him why he wasn't more like me.

Darren was a true ladies man.  I didn't date much.  It was all about quality over quantity with me.  But Darren could get a date with any girl he met.  He was smooth, and could pour on the charm.  I could never do what he did.  I just didn't have it in me.  If I allowed him to be my wing man, I'd probably have a date any time I wanted one, but the girl would still end up liking him better.  While I always looked for the long-term relationship, he was a love 'em and leave 'em type, at least when he was younger.  Then, after I got married, something clicked for him and he began looking for long-term relationships.  The young lady he's with now is the longest relationship he's ever had, and it looks like it's for good.  I regret that my wife didn't know her, as I think we would've enjoyed double-dating and doing things together as couples.

He's always been supportive of anyone who's in trouble.  When my landlord, the crazy guy I rented a room from many moons ago, accused me of breaking into his bedroom (which was absolutely ludicrous when all of the evidence pointed to the other guy who was renting a room there), Darren came with me when I had to confront him with the truth.  It worked.  My landlord backed down.  Darren can be very intimidating.  The night Teresa, my wife, passed away, he arrived at the hospital minutes after my in-laws, and his presence was so comforting.  And when my sister had a lengthy hospital stay, and I needed someone to take care of my daughter in her place, Darren volunteered in true "Mr. Mom" style.

While Darren and I haven't necessarily been super close, he's my brother and I love him dearly.  Happy 40th birthday, Kiddo!  Stay in God's grip!  I love you!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Memories of Old Friends

"Mike" was my best friends.  We got together almost daily when we were kids.  We both loved cars.  We had large collections of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and we played with them for hours and hours at a time.  We could be found on his front porch, or my backyard, or just about anywhere, building massive cities for our cars, and coming up with wild scenarios, car accidents, theft rings, and other fun stuff.  We were completely lost in our little world of miniature cars.

Mike's little sister, "Lisa", was a pest.  She always tried to interrupt our fun, and would sometimes take our cars and hide them.  Lisa was only a year younger than Mike and me, but back then, she seemed a lot younger.

As we all got older, we drifted away from playing with our cars, but we still would hang out often.  During the school year, we had a huge gang concentrated out our house, and at the house next door.  At our house, it was me, sister Angie, brother Darren, and Jamie, Melissa, and Karen, who my mom "baby-sat" each day.  Next door, it was sisters Kim and Lynn, and Krista, Mike, and Lisa, who were "baby-sat" at their house.  Wow, did we have a lot of fun!  We usually had about 2 hours of playtime each day, before parents began arriving to take everyone home.  Many times, the girls all did their thing, and Mike and I did ours (we were the only boys, and my brother was too young to hang out with us).  But we would occasionally add some others from around the neighborhood, such as Carlton across the street, Joe around the corner, and Danny, who lived down the block, and we would play "murderball", or some other game, in the back yard.  Sometimes, a few of the girls joined us.  We could always count on Lisa.  It was great.

As we exited elementary school and matured, it was natural for us to begin pairing up.  Before graduating high school, I went out with several of the girls, and there were a lot of crushes.  Lisa was my biggest crush, and I really liked her a lot.  She was spunky.  She was a bit of a tomboy, but she cleaned up very nicely.  She was the classic "girl next door".  I didn't want to tell Mike I liked his sister, so I didn't tell him, which meant I never told Lisa, either.  But I pined for her, and loved any opportunity to spend time with her.  We were in the band together, but she was a cheerleader, too.  She was never tall, but that just made her even more cute to my eyes.  She was popular, and always had a boyfriend.  So I didn't even try.

Several years later, I was a student at the University of Maryland in College Park.  Lisa had been dating a guy from high school for a while, and they announced they were getting married.  The news caught me flat-footed, and I reacted by writing a letter to her, telling her how disappointed I was to hear the news, and proclaiming my love for her.  It wasn't the right thing to do, I know, but I was really angry at myself for never telling her how I felt, and jealous that someone else had won her heart.  She wrote back to me by telling me how flattered she was, and then she yelled at me (in all CAPS) for not telling her before then.  She said her mom had always hoped Lisa and I would end up together.

Lisa got married, and she and her new husband moved into an apartment just a few miles from campus.  I actually stopped in often to talk, but, in hindsight, it was not something I should've done.  I know her husband didn't like me being around, especially since he knew I had liked her.  I knew better about allowing anything to happen between us, and her husband needn't have worried, but the impression was that I was there for the wrong reasons.  Upon finishing my degree, I stopped seeing them, and didn't see Lisa for several years.

Out of the blue, in the mid-90s, I received a phone call from her.  I was surprised by her call, and even more surprised when she told me why she was calling:  her brother, Mike, was dating a young lady that she didn't like, and didn't think she was right for him.  She wanted to know if we could get together to talk about the situation.  I didn't know why she wanted to involve me, but I agreed, and we decided she would call me about a week later to set up a time.

The whole thing mystified me.  I was looking forward to seeing Lisa, and the fact she wanted to get together with me was a nice surprise, but I was baffled as to why she was involving me in something about her brother.  I hadn't talked to Mike in a long time, much longer than Lisa.  A week later, Lisa called again and suggested we get together at the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge (her father was a police officer, so the family had access to the lodge through him) on the upcoming Saturday evening.  I said okay.  On Saturday, about an hour before we were scheduled to meet, she called me again (keep in mind, this is before the age of cell phones) to let me know she was running late, and that we would have to meet later, but that she would call me when she was available.  I waited for her call, and about an hour later, she called to say it might be even later.  I told her that was fine, and I'd wait for her to call.  She called me one more time to say she couldn't meet that night, but she'd call me sometime in the next week to plan again.  I said okay.  But she never called me.  It was really bizarre.

To this day, I have no idea why she really wanted to get together.  I assumed it was for the reason she said, but my father thought she was looking for something else, that maybe her marriage wasn't going so well and she knew I liked her,  I'll never know, I guess.  Though we've had on and off contact over the years (she and her family were guests at my wife's and my wedding, and they came to my wife's funeral), I never brought it up, and neither did she.  Lisa had two kids, both of whom are now in college.  We remain friends on Facebook, but she isn't very active on it.

And that's about it.  I haven't thought about her much in the last ten years.  I need to clarify that I never thought about her romantically after she got married.  I did like her company, though, particularly as a friend of many years.  I know I was wrong to spend time with her after she got married.  It wasn't fair to her husband, who I've heard doesn't like me very much due to how I felt about Lisa.  But the on again, off again cancelled meeting with her, back in the mid-90s, really mystified me.

So why am writing about this?  It's interesting.  I've been watching the old TV show, "CHiPs", on Me TV.  Mike and I would watch the show religiously, and then we'd talk about it the next day at school.  We would re-enact the car accidents on the show with our cars, and it was fun.  So I was watching an episode this afternoon and it made me think about Mike, and then his sister, and one thing led to another, and I now have a fairly lengthy blog post here.  I had really forgotten about a lot of this until I started writing about it.  I owe it to Mike to reach out to him.  It had been so long since I last chatted with him.  He was a great friend to grow up with.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Great Barbecue Just Beyond HoCo

I'm on a barbecue kick lately, and I've been to two barbecue joints in the past several days.  On Saturday, following my church's service, I stopped by Famous Dave's on US 1 in Laurel.  Famous Dave's is a nationwide chain, and while I would rather go to a standalone hole-in-the-wall, they do a very good job with their barbecue.  Then, tonight, my daughter and I met my in-laws at Urban Bar-B-Que in Sandy Springs.  Urban Bar-B-Que is a local, DC-area chain.

I decided to create an online account with Famous Dave's and try out their app for online ordering.  It works very well, though making edits to the cart isn't easy.  I ordered a two-meat combo with the beer-battered cod and the Georgia chopped pork, with a side of mashed potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and cornbread.  The food was ready for pick up within 15 minutes.  I had paid online when I ordered, but was given a receipt to sign at the counter.  As usual, there is an expectation to provide a tip.  I'm always a bit torn on tips for carry-out food.  Obviously, you're not getting quite the same service that you'd get if you were dining in and receiving table service.  Many times, the person handing you your bag of food at the carry-out counter didn't even prepare your food in the packaging.  So I gave a little less on the tip (15%), and got a stare that told me I wasn't giving as much as they were expecting.

I headed home to eat, and enjoyed the meal a lot!  The chopped pork is easily the best of the meats.  I've tried many of the other menu items, and I always come back to the pork.  It is so tender and juicy, and while sauce really isn't necessary, Dave's has a nice slightly thick sauce which is sweet and tangy and just right.  The cod was a nice surprise.  While I wasn't impressed with the presentation (it looks like a store-bought freezer-style fish stick shaped like a rectangle), it tasted really great.  It was light and flaky, and paired with tartar sauce, it was really good.  The breading wasn't as good as others I've had, and, frankly, it's typical of what you get from a chain (I had beer-battered cod at a dive bar right across from the ocean on a deserted stretch of highway A1A just south of Palm Coast, Florida, that did it right!).  Famous Dave's does give you plenty of food.  The sides are more than plentiful.  The corn-on-the-cob was juicy and sweet (I expected it to be dried out since I got carry-out), and the mashed potatoes were adequate.  The cornbread wasn't too heavy and was nicely sweet.  All in all, I give Famous Dave's a solid B+.

Urban Bar-B-Que is a bit of a surprise.  I had never heard of it up until the last year, when we regularly passed through Sandy Springs on our way to meet my in-laws for dinner in Olney (the halfway point between our place in Laurel and the in-law's place in Damascus).  I finally talked them into meeting us here a few months ago, and it was good enough to try a second time.

They have half-price appetizers on Mondays, so we got the nachos.  The chips are seasoned with (I think) Old Bay, and they come with chili and cheese for dipping.  The chili is good, though not very spicy, and there's just a little too much cheese piled on top of it.  My father-in-law got the pulled pork platter on a sandwich roll and a side of BBQ ranch beans.  He enjoyed it, but he left a lot on his plate upon announcing he was finished.  Mom-in-law got the sliced beef with a side of mac and cheese.  My daughter, who doesn't care for barbecue (I KNOW!) got a full-size bowl of mac and cheese.  I got the 2-meat combo plate of pulled pork and pulled chicken, with a side of potato salad and cornbread.  The pulled chicken was good, not at all dry (which is what I was expecting).  While the food is served without sauce, I added the slightly spicy sauce (they also have a sweeter version, and a vinegary version).  I liked the pulled pork a bit more than the chicken, but it was really fatty.  (As a comparison, Famous Dave's seemed much leaner, if that's even possible).  The potato salad doesn't have much flavor, and so I was disappointed.  I wish more places made their potato salad with eggs.  The cornbread was okay, but not as sweet as Famous Dave's.  I really like the ambiance of Urban Bar-B-Que.  This one, right in Sandy Springs on Route 108, is never crowded, it seems, and appears to cater to the local crowd.  I give Urban Bar-B-Que a C+.

Have a great evening, everyone!

#hocofood

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Big Steelers Win

I don't have time for a long post tonight, but it sure was an exciting day!  Between the Pittsburgh Steelers big win this evening over the Indianapolis Colts, 51-34 (WOW!), a game we really didn't expect them to win, and my brother's big 40th birthday and murder mystery party tonight, we've had an incredible weekend!  I also heard a great message Saturday evening by Pastor Mitchel at my church, Grace Community, which I hope to comment on in a future post here.  And I made a quick stop Saturday night at the impressive new Laurel Towne Centre (at the former site of the old Laurel Mall).  Lots of cool new restaurants over there.  Check it out!

I hope you all had a great weekend!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Rights of the Dead Update

Success!  A few days ago, HERE, I explained my frustration about finding a website that contained a profile and pictures of my wife and the headstone of her grave, called FindAGrave.com.  Upon further investigation, it became clear that they were copied directly from my own "official" memorial at www.mem.com.  This egregious act angered me, and after writing about it, I began to receive all kinds of help, all unsolicited, but so appreciated.  One reader sent me the name of a lawyer specializing in these types of cases, and the Utah Better Business Bureau contacted me through Twitter and let me know that FindAGrave, which is located in Utah, has an "F" score in their records, as well as 18 registered complaints against them.

I carefully read through the Frequently Asked Questions at the FindAGrave website and found that the woman who had created the memorial about my wife on FindAGrave.com had violated the policies of the site by copying my pictures and information and using them.  After collecting all of this information, I contacted the woman, who had an email address posted on her own profile at FindAGrave.com, directly last evening and I explained the issues and violations, and I requested that she remove the information about my wife from their site.   I told her I would be exploring legal action if she did not comply, which is fully within my rights, and let her know she violated FindAGrave.com's own policy.  Well, overnight, she complied, and the profile was removed.  I am extremely thankful for all of the support I received from you all, the readers, as well as the Utah BBB, which was helpful in getting this resolved.  There is some level of satisfaction knowing that this has been resolved so quickly.

The whole thing bothered me more than I can say.  FindAGrave believes they are providing a needed service.  It may be appreciated by many, but they have no idea how much they are hurting others by posting information not condoned by the families of the loved ones they profile.  I spent a great deal of time reading through the discussion board on the site, and quite a few people who are posting the information and control the memorials contained there are fanatical, and some are willfully going against the wishes of the families, a clear violation of FindAGrave's own policies.  Many relatives have requested control of the profiles, which is allowable, but some of these fanatics are so afraid of losing control of the profiles they created that they refuse to do it!  Some families have even supplied correct information when what is posted is wrong, and there are some who refuse to do it. There is absolutely no reason for it.  There are clearly flaws in their system when strangers to the people that are being profiled will not comply with the wishes of the loved one's families.

The only issue I have now is whether this could happen again.  What's to stop someone from creating another memorial on this site without my permission?  And, be clear, this is happening to many, many others.  The site contains almost a billion names.  You may be asking why this whole thing bothers me so much.  The issue is all about taking information without permission.  The woman who created the profile containing my wife's information stole the pictures and write-up directly from my mem.com profile of my wife, which I created following her death, and which was included in the package I purchased from the funeral home.  My contact information is contained there.  This woman could easily have contacted me to get permission, and I might have actually worked with her to make the profile at FindAGrave a really nice thing, though I would not have wanted someone else taking responsibility of the profile.  As her husband, I would want to create and maintain it.  But it only serves the purpose of duplicating the information I already created at mem.com, and is, therefore, unnecessary.

I found the FindAGrave profile by accident.  I "googled" my wife's name last week and the first hit was the FindAGrave website.  It caught me by surprise, because I had no knowledge of its existence. I'm very glad to have the whole thing resolved.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vote for the Mobbies

Wow!  I am totally blown away!  I was nominated for a Mobbie!  The Mobbies are the awards for Maryland's best blogs and social media accounts.  I was nominated in two different categories:  Best Personal Blog and Best Family Blog.  I am honored and humbled that you, the readers (or at least 2 of you!) nominated my blog.  If you're a blogger, you know that most of us don't write for awards or out of a need for attention.  I write to scratch an itch.  I've been writing Away From The Things of Man since 2008, and I really enjoy it.  It has been a source of therapy for me since the death of my wife, Teresa, and it allows me to share the things I find that are important in my life.  Most importantly, it's a record of the things my daughter and I do together.  I never set out to find lots of readers.  I figured, if it finds an audience, that's just a bonus.  That said, I realize just how valuable it can be for the community as a source of information, and I do enjoy writing it from the perspective of providing a service.  But, mostly, I just like being able to share what's happening.

To whoever nominated me, thank you so much.  It is much appreciated.  My daughter was sooo excited.  She keeps thinking I'm famous....

Check out the list of Mobbies nominations at the Baltimore Sun website.  You may also follow them on Twitter at @the mobbies.  And nominate a few of your favorite HoCo blogs!  The deadline for nominations is 10/31.  Then go back beginning on November 3 and vote for your favorites!  Then, on November 4, go out and vote for real for the things that REALLY matter for your community.  It's your civic duty.

Have a great evening, everyone!



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haircut Faux Pas

Despite having a grandfather who was a barber, I don't know much about the hair cutting industry.  I just know when I get a good haircut or not.  And I've had a lot of bad haircuts.

I used to have a lot of hair on top of my head.  In fact, you could say I was the Greg Brady (of Brady Bunch fame) of my high school.  My hair was thick and wavy and uncontrollable, and I really hated it.  It's a lot shorter, thinner, and grayer nowadays, and I like it simple.  It matches my personality (shorter, thinner, grayer, and simple).

When I was a kid, my grandfather, Pap-Pap Hair (as we called him), cut my hair.  Pap only knew a few different styles:  short and crew cut.  As I got older and actually cared about my appearance, I went to a hair stylist.  I didn't have a particular person who cut my hair.  It was generally whoever was available.  If I got a bad haircut, it was like a life-or-death situation.  Teenagers are a fierce lot, and teasing was inevitable if my hair looked anything other than what I thought of as normal.

In my mid-20s, my mother recommended a young lady at the local JC Penny's hair salon.  That's when I met Bonita.  Bonita was a beautiful (heh!) southern lady who knew how to cut hair.  I had found my "hair person".  I went to see Bonita almost once every month for much of the next five or so years.  I was one of her "regulars".  It's great being a regular, because you know you're getting treated well.  These people earn their tips.  The only negative is that Bonita would talk me into wearing my hair in styles that I really didn't like.  For a while, it was really long in the back.  Yeah, she talked me into a mullet.  That one didn't last long.  After meeting Teresa, who I soon married, I no longer went to see Bonita.  Teresa didn't want me to, and I honored her request.

Teresa had been getting her hair cut at the local hair chain by a nice lady originally from Nepal.  "Sofia" did a fine job cutting my hair, and I was happy to have a new "hair person".  In fact, Teresa and I would make our appointments with her together so that we could get our haircuts at the same time.  Teresa would go first, then, while mine was being cut, she would run over to the Giant Food Store next door and start getting groceries, and I would join her when I was finished.  Sofia didn't cut hair very quickly, but she was good at her craft.

After Teresa passed away, I stopped seeing Sophia, and eventually, the shop where she worked closed.  I've spent much of the past ten years looking for a new "hair person".  I've tried a lot of different places, and numerous stylists have cut my hair.  I haven't found that person who knows how to cut hair really well.  Whenever I come close, it ends up being a one and done.... the person just disappears, never to be seen again.  Many of the hair chains seem to have a lot of turnover.

Now, with my daughter, Melody, joining me on my trips to these many different hair places, I have to be even more choosy.  Melody inherited the long, thick, wavy, and uncontrollable (but oh, so beautiful) hair that I used to battle.  While she likes to wear it very long, meaning she only gets it trimmed up a few times a year, I needed to find someone to cut her hair, too.

We began going to a local hair place just a few miles away at a newer strip mall.  Since it opened, it's turned over its staff multiple times, as usual.  I usually just get whoever is available to cut my hair, since I'm still searching for my "hair person". Recently, Melody and I went and a very nice young lady took a great interest in Melody's hair.  "Rochelle" provided me AND Melody with advice on how to care for Melody's hair, and I felt like I had found a new "hair person".  So, just over a month ago, I went to see Rochelle on my own, to get my hair cut.  It ended up being a very bad haircut, in my opinion.  While I cringed while watching her cut my hair, we had a very nice conversation about her awful vacation with her husband and some friends at the Outer Banks.  So, I reasoned, Melody had a "hair person", but not me.  The other night, we went back to get my hair cut.  I did my usual whoever's available.  "Martha" cut my hair.  Rochelle was there, and she noticed.  I said hello to her, and while she responded with a "hi", I could tell she was ticked off.  Martha finished my hair very quickly (she isn't my "hair person", either), and when I went to pay, Rochelle had just finished her customer's hair.  Rochelle wouldn't even look my way.  It was very apparent that she figured we had developed a relationship, and that I was one of her "regulars".  I didn't feel the same, obviously, but Rochelle acted like a jilted lover.  I had committed a faux pas.  I may not be able to ever go back.  Meanwhile, Martha gave me a lopsided haircut.

I'll continue to hunt for my "hair person", and pursue the opportunity to once again be one of someone's "regulars".  Besides, don't we all want a great haircut?

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Rights of The Dead

I recently came across a website called "FindAGrave.com" while googling my wife's name.  It was, in fact, the first website listed on the search.  This website provides "memorials" for thousands (millions?) of deceased persons from around the world, and each "profile" includes information about the deceased, pictures, names of family members, and other personal information that a "manager", who is usually a complete stranger, controls in the profiles.  The site is a for-profit website.

I have so many problems with this.  First of all, I was never contacted about the information on my wife's "memorial".  I was never informed that the site even existed.  According to the Frequently Asked Questions on this site, the deceased have no rights, so no permission is necessary to publish this information about my wife.  Her obituary was published in newspapers, so I guess that's "public information", as well.  The FAQs further state that all pictures are owned by the "manager" of the profile, so the picture of my wife that appears on this site, which is MY picture of her, is "owned" by the person who manages her profile.  This "manager" is a woman ("Laura", a.k.a. "lgoldenm") who I have never had any contact with from New Jersey.  She apparently manages a bunch of these "memorials".  In fact, there are many people who have thanked her for providing the information about my wife that appears there.

I feel violated.  The biggest issue I have is the impression that this is somehow the "official" record/website of my wife's death.  This is wrong.  I paid for and manage a memorial to her (at MEM.com) that has been in existence since she died, and is the official location for any and all expressions of condolences and information about my wife and us, her family.  Second, I don't know how a stranger can claim ownership of a picture that I own, regardless of whether or not that picture has appeared in a newspaper as a part of an obituary.  I wish I understood the legal aspects of this.  Third, the only way I can contact the owners of the website to ask any questions is to create a profile.  While free, I am not comfortable with providing personal information to them that is required in order to create a profile.

Finally, I'm not a fan of Ancestry.com, the current owners of FindAGrave.com.  I'm sure many have opinions of the Mormon church (Church of Latter-Day Saints).  Personally, I have family who are very active in the church.  I have issues with many of the beliefs of the church, one being the desire of the Mormon church to "baptize" by proxy everyone who has ever lived.  While Ancestry.com isn't "owned" by the Mormon church, it is run by Mormons, and as such operates under the tenets of the church.  Ancestry.com provides a lot of very useful information to genealogists.  However, my mother, who has done a lot of legwork to trace her own family history, has discovered errors in Ancestry.com's data, yet they will not accept her corrections.  That's a different issue, of course.  But Ancestry.com recently purchased FindAGrave.com, and because I want no contact with the Mormon church, it bothers me that they feel the need to provide a profile on their site for people that have no link to the Mormon church under the auspices that the dead have no rights.  Right or wrong, I have an issue with this.

I haven't decided what to do about this yet.  I'm really struggling with it, though, and, as I noted above, I feel violated.  The picture of my wife, the fact that her "profile" is managed by someone who had never met her, the information that was not provided by me or my family, and the "ownership" that "lgoldenm" claims over my wife's "profile", including the acceptance of thanks from others for this information about my wife that appears there.... all of this bothers me.  How is this right?

Have a better evening, everyone!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

No Timetable For Grief

Rick Warren, author of the book, The Purpose Driven Life, and his wife, Kay, pastor Saddleback Church in California.  They tragically lost their son to suicide in April 2013, and they have struggled with grief since then.  Many have asked them, as people tend to do because they're human, when Rick and Kay will be back to normal, but the truth is that there is no such thing.  Their experience, as is the case with just about anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, is their new normal.  You just don't "get over" something like this.

I have personal experience with this.  As I've mentioned here on this blog numerous times, I lost my wife suddenly to a heart attack in April 2004.  I kept thinking that I had to "get over" her death, but all that did was cause me to fall deeper and deeper into depression.  It wasn't until after I had received a letter from a young lady who I knew from my days as a youth counselor, who had lost her husband in a tragic car accident about a year and a half before my wife's death, that I began the slow road to recovery.  She told me in the letter that I needed to embrace my wife's death as a part of who I am now.  As tragic as it was to no longer have her in my life, and knowing that she was in a far better place with God, this was something I needed to accept as a part of who I am, a part of my life experience.  This wasn't something I would eventually "get over".  She was correct.  It was shortly after I realized this was a part of me and that there was no timetable to recovery that I began to experience healing.  While this doesn't define who I am, it is certainly a part of who I am.

A friend posted a link to the following blog post from Christa Black Gifford, an author, speaker, songwriter, and musician, who shared Kay Warren's story of struggling with her son's death, and how hard it was to hear from others who expected her to "get over" it.  She explains how hard this was to hear, and how much she struggled as a result.  Here is the LINK.  It's a good read.

I continue to struggle now and then, and it has now been over ten years since my wife's death.  There are some who grief for a short time.  For others, it may take much longer.  The truth is that there is no timetable.  If you're trying to comfort someone who has lost a loved one, please remember that they will not "get over" it.  This is their new normal, and all they want to hear from you is that you're there for them.  Don't ask them how they feel, or when are they going to feel better.  They may not reply very well, and they may even resent you for asking.  Just provide them with the love and support they need, as a brother or sister in Christ, and pray for them.  They will appreciate it.

Have a great evening, everyone!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Life Without A Mom

I've been feeling an immense amount of sadness recently, and it's mostly due to the unfairness that I feel my daughter, Melody, is experiencing as the child of a single parent.  Divorce is hard enough on kids, but at least, in most cases, they are still able to have a relationship with both parents.  Because my wife, Teresa, Melody's mom, passed away unexpectedly in April 2004, only five months after Melody was born, she has never known what it feels like to have a mother.  And that's a shame.

I'm a firm believer in a two-parent family.  There is so much importance and value to having both a male and a female role model in a child's life.  While I can be a father to my daughter, I can never, no matter what I do or say, be a mother to her.  It's physically impossible, and I can't even pretend to provide the same emotional support that only a mother can provide.  And it bothers me so much that my daughter will never have that kind of relationship.  I am very fortunate, however, to have several women in her life:  both of her grandmothers are able to love her and give her advice and support, and her aunt is present in her life on an almost daily basis.  That's really great, and takes some of the pressure off of me, but it's still not the same as having a mom.

When Teresa and I were married, we talked about one day being parents.  We thought it would be ideal to have two kids, a boy and a girl, if it was possible for us to pick and decide.  Even though we were married a little later than some of our peers (I was 30), we still knew we wanted to experience married life for several years before bringing children into our lives.  So we waited.  We traveled a lot, including one of my favorite trips of my life, our big cross-country loop around the country.  We took two big trips to San Francisco, a city that we both loved a lot, and which included a combined trip down the West Coast, Seattle to San Francisco, and then SF to Los Angeles.  We toured New England, and took a several trips to Florida.  We took a cruise (while Teresa was expecting!) to the Bahamas.  And we took several trips to Las Vegas.

In early 2003, we decided the time was right.  For Valentine's Day, we went away for a very romantic trip to Ocean City, only two days before a major blizzard hit the Mid-Atlantic region and dumped over a foot of snow on us.  Not too long after this, we found out we were expecting.  Success right out of the gate!  We had a lot of fun surprising her parents, then my parents.  In fact, we reminded my father that he had promised us a trip to Hawaii if we gave him a grandchild.  He was excited to be a grandfather, but not enough to want us to experience an authentic luau.  Teresa's pregnancy was normal and without incident.  She was sick all the time during the first trimester.  We attempted the aforementioned trip to San Francisco and down the coast to LA, but she was really sick the whole time.  The second trimester was less problematic, and we were able to go on a mid-Summer cruise.  Teresa taught 9th-grade English and public speaking at Reservoir High School, in Fulton, MD, and she returned to teaching that Fall.  The baby was due in November, so she knew she would have to stop teaching at that time, likely for the rest of the school year.

About two weeks before the due date, Teresa told each of her students one quality each had that she hoped her child would have.  It had such an impact on the students, and they really felt like they were a part of our family.  Teresa had a check up with the doctor several days before the due date, a Thursday, and the doctor said that she thought the baby would come over the weekend.  If not, we should plan to have her be induced on Monday, and we made the appointment.  On Friday morning, Teresa woke me up just ahead of my alarm and said she thought this was it.  I planned to go into work for a few hours, wrap things up (so I could be off from work for the next two weeks), and then return home and see how Teresa felt.  Everything was still status quo, and we spent the next couple of days waiting....and waiting...

That Monday in November was the big day.  We arrived at Howard County General Hospital at 9 a.m. and we prepared to hunker down for the day.  My parents were there, and her parents were there.  We decided to share with them the names we had picked out.  We still didn't know whether we were going to have a son or a daughter, so we picked a boys and a girls name.  We really thought we were having a boy.  I don't know why.  So we spent a great deal of time working on a boys name.  The girls name came easy, but it was an afterthought since we didn't think we needed it.  Early that afternoon, we thought Teresa was going into labor.  It was a false alarm, but we had the only scary moment of the day when Teresa's blood pressure rose into the danger level, and the doctor sent everyone except for me out of the delivery room.  It frightened me, and Teresa ended up napping for a few hours after the scare, completely drained.  The whole family, including my brother and sister, who joined us at the hospital, decided to go out to get a bite to eat, and I stayed with Teresa, promising to call them if anything changed.  Sure enough, Teresa went into labor in the early evening, and everyone rushed back to the hospital.  Only our moms were invited into the delivery room with Teresa and me, and, let me tell you, the birthing process is the most intense thing I've ever experienced.  I don't know how my wonderful wife got through it!  I was exhausted!  At one point, I came very close to getting sick.  It was Monday Night Football, and my Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the San Francisco 49ers.  The Steelers were getting killed, as my father kept sending me scoring updates.  At around 10 p.m., Melody Grace was born, much to our surprise.  We were so convinced we were having a boy that Melody was a grand surprise.  Teresa was fine.  The baby was perfect.  I was wiped out.


We had a wonderful five months a parenthood as a couple, though Teresa had severe fatigue throughout.  Friends who had kids told her that it was completely natural to be exhausted following giving birth, and Teresa, despite feeling awful, and my encouragement, decided against going to the doctor to get checked out.  This continued until that fateful evening in April 2004, while we were on a walk with Melody and Faithful Pup Scout, at Reservoir High School, Teresa collapsed, dead before she hit the ground.  She had a massive heart attack.  Cause of death was determined to be an enlarged heart due to mitral valve prolapse with regurgitation.  It was unclear whether the pregnancy had created the strain on her heart, or even whether her doctor would've diagnosed the problem, but that was it.  Our lives were changed in dramatic fashion forever.

I want to note that Teresa and I, as Christ-followers, have/had a deep personal relationship with God.  We placed Christ at the center of our marriage, and we prayed to Him daily.  I know that Teresa now rests in Heaven, and the only reason I haven't completely broken down, then or now, is due to my faith.  I've had my moments, and continue to struggle, but I know God is still in charge.  That said, though, it doesn't change the fact that I no longer have my wife as my partner, and Melody doesn't have a mom in her life.  And that makes me sad.

So, full circle.  Today was one of those days.  Melody had a bad morning.  She's suffering from intense allergies and felt crummy, and she didn't want to get up for school.  My sister struggled to get her up and going, and they were almost late for school.  My sister was frustrated.  Melody was upset and unhappy.  And, since I had to work, there was nothing I could do.  It was just a lousy Monday.  And while I know there's no way to know what our lives would be like if Teresa had lived, how could it have not been better?  All we can do is trust that God is with us.

Hoping for a better day tomorrow.  Have a great evening, everyone.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Things I'm Thinking About

Things I'm thinking about...

  • I feel badly about missing my cousin's "re-wedding" this weekend. Jeff is my oldest first cousin, and though he is not a tall man, he is someone I've always looked up to.  He has always put God first in his life, even if it meant sacrificing a career in other fields.  I always thought he and his wife had the perfect marriage, however they had some problems that resulted in divorce.  After almost ten years apart, they realized that they were better together, and so this weekend was their "re-wedding".  Unfortunately, my immediate family had already planned our annual trip to Williamsburg for Busch Gardens Hall-O-Scream, which we've been doing for much of the past 20 years, and the trip was scheduled before we knew about them tying the knot.  So we missed out on seeing them and much of the extended family.  However, we celebrate with them, and ask for God's blessings on them and their marriage.
  • I came across a picture this afternoon of an old flame.  She and I became very close despite the long-distance relationship, and we talked very seriously about marriage.  In fact, she told me, after our first "date", which was really a full weekend together, that she was in love with me.  She had never felt that way about someone before.  Because it was a long-distance relationship (she lived in Oklahoma City, and worked at my organization's offices there), we were only able to see each other when I had business trips to OKC, or when she or I was able to spend some vacation time at one or the other's location.  The thing that hurt us was the distance, but we also had other problems.  While both of us placed God first in the relationship, since we were both marriage minded, we tried to do the right things by entering into couples counseling, probably earlier than we were ready.  The counselor, a Christian, right away discounted my previous marriage as trivial and incorrectly assumed that, since we had been so much younger when we married, we were too immature to have made any correct decisions.  He said my upcoming "new" marriage would be much more important.  It left a very bad taste in my mouth, because I knew he was wrong to discount my first marriage, especially since I was 30 when we got married, and I wasn't some kid.  Anyway, it's all water under the bridge now, but it's sad that much of the problem that we had stemmed from this counselor not allowing me to be "me", and he likely led us down the wrong path.  I still have a lot of anger about the whole thing, especially given how ugly the breakup ended up being.  I really need to just let it go.  In hindsight, though, this was likely God's way of telling me it was not the relationship he wanted for either one of us.  She has since gotten married and continues to live in OKC.  I'm very happy to be here.
  • Today turned into a weird one, with my daughter and I getting up late (after being up so late last night) and realizing we had no food in the house.  We made a run to the McDonald's drive-thru up the street while still in our PJs!  The rest of the day was spent trying to get ourselves ready for the work- and school-week.  I didn't even watch any football.  Late this afternoon, we had to run out to Damascus to get Faithful Pup Scout, who had spent the week with my in-laws at their place.  Scout was very pleased to see us.  She's so set in her ways that she would rather spend the day sitting in our kitchen by herself while we're at school and work, than spend a day lounging on the couch with either my parents or my in-laws at their places.  I guess that's why we call her "Faithful".  She's certainly faithful to her little family.
  • I feel like I just got home, and now, here I am, getting ready for another work-week.  With all of the running, from the trip to OKC last Tuesday, returning home on Friday morning, driving to Williamsburg Friday afternoon, running around Busch Gardens on Friday evening and much of Saturday, then driving all the way home Saturday evening, I'm fairly exhausted.  I could use one more day of rest.  But there's a lot to do at the office, especially after being out of the office all of last week.  So, with that, I'm off to bed.
Have a great evening and a wonderful week, everyone.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Week In Review

Week in review:

  • I woke up early on Tuesday morning for a business trip to Oklahoma City.  If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you may have picked up on how much I hate going to OKC, though I have to go at least three times a year.
  • Upon arriving in OKC, I crashed at my hotel.  On a whim, I posted on Facebook that I was in Oklahoma City on business, prompting my anti-government cousin to question why the government sent me to OKC.  He assumed it to be a boondoggle, which is what he expects all government-related business trips to be, since that's the only type of government-related business trip that seems to get reported in the news.  Within minutes, my dear mother decided to jump into the fray and posted how proud she was of me and my accomplishments as a public servant, which then brought on more questions from my cousin regarding the reason for my trip, and about how "corrupt" the present administration is and how much money he has to pay in taxes, and included his assumption that my trip was indeed a boondoggle costing taxpayers some outrageous sum.  Frustrated at what resulted from my little post about being in OKC, I deleted the whole thing. Thus began the latest family controversy that had my father, an aunt, several cousins, and a few of my friends who didn't even know my cousins, aunt, or even my father, arguing on FB about politics, economics, and United States history.  I found myself completely stressed out and I decided to go to sleep at 8:30 p.m., Central Time.
  • I spent all day Wednesday in a very intense high-level organizational meeting with 16 colleagues.  This was not a boondoggle.
  • After a nice meal at the Residence Inn (which didn't cost taxpayers a single cent), a colleague and I walked to the McDonald's across the street to get an ice cream cone.  Upon being told that the ice cream machine was out of order, we walked back across the street to get our rental car (and Toyonissonda economy car that barely had enough room for the two of us to fit into the front seats without bumping shoulders, and which needed a push just to get up to speed when pulling into traffic, AND is about the cheapest possible rental car available), which we drove about a mile down the road to the next McDs, where we found out that THEIR ice cream machine was out of order.  We drove across the street to the local Wal-Mart to check at the McDs inside the store, where, surprise!, the ice cream machine was out of order.  We decided to get frozen Popsicles, instead, and went back to crash at the hotel.  I was in bed by 9.
  • Thursday was spent in another all-day very intense high-level organizational meeting with my colleagues.  Again, not a boondoggle.
  • Friday morning was an early flight out of OKC, which got me to BWI at 12:30 p.m., and I quickly went home, changed clothes, repacked, then headed south to join my family in Williamsburg, VA, for our annual non-government-related vacation at Busch Gardens and Hall-O-Scream!  I decided that, instead of taking Route 5 south to US 301 through southern Maryland, and crossing the Potomac River into Virginia there, I instead assumed that I-95 through northern Virginia would be quicker.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  What would normally have been a 3-hour drive became significantly longer due to terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad traffic, which was stop-and-go from the Washington Beltway all the way south to Fredericksburg.  I had hoped to join my family at Busch Gardens at 4 p.m., but instead I arrived at 6:30 p.m.  The entire day was pretty much a boondoggle, but it had nothing to do with the federal government.
  • It was all worth it upon finally being reunited with my wonderful 10-year old daughter, who greeted me with a hug and kiss.  I love my girl, and my awesome family.  God is good.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Driving in a Fog

We had a wing-dinger of a ride home tonight as the fog took over and made driving almost impossible.  We left my in-laws at around 8, and the fog was thicker than cream of mushroom soup.  A 30-minute drive home ended up taking us a full hour.  I am amazed at how many bad drivers there are when the weather is bad.  I had a guy riding my bumper for several miles down Route 650 between Damascus and Sandy Spring, trying to push me to go faster than the 30 mph I was going.  With barely any visibility, I was tempted to just pull over and let him wreck himself.


The ride home, which was a bit white-knuckled at times, reminded me of other bad drives I've had over the years.  One drive in particular, back in the early 90s, was a hair-raising trip to visit my girlfriend, who was a student at West Virginia University.  It was late December, about a week before Christmas, and I was going to Morgantown to surprise her.  I planned to drive to Uniontown, where I could stay overnight with my Aunt, then I was going to drive to Morgantown the next morning.  On the drive up, I stopped briefly in La Vale, in Western Maryland, to grab a snack.  It was really cold.  By the time I had gotten my stuff and walked back to my car, the locks had frozen!  I kept jiggling the key and it finally turned, and I considered myself lucky.  However, the drive was about to get really bad.  Frostburg, the next town west, and significantly higher in elevation, has a reputation for bad weather, and I wasn't disappointed.  Just a few miles along I-68, it started to snow, and pretty soon it was a blizzard.  I was driving my 1987 Oldsmobile 442, which was horrible in bad weather.  I was starting to panic, but I stayed with it and finally reached my exit, at US 40 in Keysers Ridge.  The snow was really coming down.  I would then be on a 2-lane road for most of the last 30 miles of my trip.  There were times when I couldn't see the road at all.  My car was all over the road, but fortunately, there were no other cars.  I finally made it to Uniontown after some very scary moments.  When I reached my Aunt's house, she told me she was surprised that I had made it.  The news had reported that they had to close US 40!  No wonder I didn't see any other cars!

It was late and I decided to get some sleep.  I called my girlfriend the next morning, and got her answering machine.  I didn't want to just drive to her place, about 30 minutes away, until I reached her by phone (this was before cell phones, by the way), and I tried to call her several more times without success.  I finally gave up, and decided to drive home.  Upon arriving home, I tried calling her again.  She finally answered and told me she had gone home for the weekend, so she wasn't even in Morgantown!  The trip, other than to visit with my Aunt, was a complete waste, and I had endangered myself for nothing.  The relationship didn't last, obviously.  It was tough to blame her, but she hadn't bothered to tell me she was coming home, and the only reason I didn't call her first was because I had planned to surprise her.  I guess it was my fault.

Oh, well.  Tonight's weather wasn't nearly that bad, but it sure put me in mind of that terrible trip.  I hope you're home safely tonight.  Have a great evening!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fun On The Farm

Too often I find myself looking ahead too far into the future and I miss out on the here and now.  Today I consciously avoided doing that, and I was rewarded with a fun day with my daughter, Melody.  We started the day slowly.  We were both up before nine, which is actually kind of early for us on the weekend.  We found ourselves relaxing for a little while, which was nice.  I watched a little bit of TV, caught up on the news, took care of a little housekeeping.... Then, after we figured out that today's football games were not going to be enjoyable for us (as Steelers fans), we went out to enjoy the Fall day.


Our first stop was at Montpelier Farms in Upper Marlboro, MD.  This is a really great farm with all of the standard Fall Festival type of activities, namely a corn maze, hayride, pumpkin patch, produce barn, and so much more.  Admission is $10 for adults ($8 for children), but it includes almost everything.

We went to the corn maze first.  It's spread out over seven acres, and it had a spirit of America theme.  We took our time going through it, and I believe we spent about a half hour total inside.  We didn't want to rush through it, but savor it, if that makes any sense.  This one had a bunch of hills, too, which provides a pretty good workout.  After working our way through to the end, we went for a ride on the hayride.  The tractor took us around the perimeter of the cornfield, and right through the middle of the farm.  It gave us a nice overview of all of the activities they have at the farm.  It was really crowded!

After finishing the hayride, we went to the barn to get some seasonal stuff, including a jar of spicy salsa, candy corn, apple cider, and a few other little things.  We wanted to get a bag of apple cider donuts, and some pumpkin bread, but both were almost ten bucks!  That's really my only complaint about this place.  The prices are a little bit high.  Even the salsa was almost $6.

We headed outside with our stuff and immediately we were hit with the aroma of grilled corn still in the cob.  It smelled so great!  Since it was getting close to dinner, we decided to head out.  We drove up the road to Mom & Dad's.  We hadn't seen them in about two weeks, so it was great to see them.

We talked a bit about the upcoming week, which is going to be a bit challenging for us.  We're planning our big annual trip to Williamsburg, VA, for Hall-O-Scream at Busch Gardens, which will include much of our family.  In addition, I have to go to Oklahoma City again for a business trip.  I hate these trips, since it takes me away from my daughter, but I have to go several times each year, and this is the time.

We said good night, and Melody and I went home.  It was a fun day, and a nice way to end the weekend (even if my weekend continues for one more day due to Columbus Day).  I'm so thankful for these opportunities to spend time with my daughter.

Have a great evening, everyone!