Monday, March 2, 2015

Hotter Than Thou Chili Cook-off

Grace Community Church's Men Alive men's ministry hosted a chili cook-off this evening, and it was a hot time!  Over a dozen men and women entered the contest, with winners in four categories, Traditional, Vegetarian, Spicy, and "Unique," competing in a "best in show" with judges determining an overall winner who would represent Grace at on Sunday, March 8, at the fifth annual Hotter Than Thou Chili Cook-off!  Seventeen churches in Howard County will compete in the chili cook-off to raise money for the homeless, each vying for the coveted "Golden Ladle Award."  The Hotter Than Thou Chili Cook-off is sponsored by Bridges to Housing Stability, whose mission is, "To prevent homelessness by providing effective services and compelling advocacy that result in housing stability for Howard County households."

Courtesy of Bridges to Housing Stability
The contest was hotly contested.  I decided to enter my "award-winning" chili recipe.  I have entered my chili in the annual chili cook-off at my office for the past five years, and it has won first prize three times.  I've never made the same chili twice.  Since I no longer keep it written down, I approximate the ingredients as best as I can remember each time I make it, so it truly is unique.  For the Grace chili cook-off, I originally entered my recipe in the "Spicy" category, but after buying all of my ingredients, it became apparent that it would be better suited for the "Unique" category, since I was using a blend of lean ground beef and hot Italian sausage, along with my secret ingredients.  I prepared the chili on Sunday during the ice storm, and after letting it simmer for the evening, I placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Monday, after returning home from work, I quickly got my crockpot going to reheat the chili.  I then headed up to Grace for the cook-off.

Hey, that "U1" is mine!  Courtesy of Bridges to Housing Stability
It was a nice time.  I hadn't been coming to the Men's ministry meetings on Monday evenings in a while.  I'm in a bit of a bind when it comes to child-care, particularly in the evenings, so I typically stay home with my daughter.  Mondays are also a regular night to have dinner with my in-laws.  Tonight was a little different.  Due to the ice storm last evening, schools in Howard County were closed today, so my darling daughter spent the day with my parents, with plans to spend the night with them on Monday evening.  Though I had planned to take her to the church for the chili cook-off, now that she was not going, I could focus my attention on the chili.

The cook-off rules were simple.  Everyone had five tickets that they could use to "vote" for any chili they wished, placing one or up to five tickets in the chilis they liked best.  My chili got off to a slow start, partly due, in my opinion, to it being in the "unique" category.  However, once word got out, and some folks were very vocal about it, more and more were trying it.  I actually ran out towards the end of the contest, but I had fortunately saved one bowl just in case it made it to the judges round.  When the tickets were tallied, my chili had beaten another chili in the "unique" category by one vote, 57-56!  The judges then tried the chilis a final time to pick out the top chili, and to my surprise, I won!  I really could hardly believe it.  Not only did I win, I would be representing Grace Community Church at the Hotter Than Thou Chili Cook-off!  I was really honored and humbled to win, especially given how many great chilis that were entered.  I tried a lot of great-tasting ones!

So the cook-off is next Sunday, March 8, and will be held at the Church of the Resurrection at 3175 Paulskirk Drive in Ellicott City, MD.  While there is no admission charge, you can vote for your favorite chili (or congregation) by "tipping" money towards your favorites.  All proceeds from the chili cook-off directly benefit Bridges to Housing Stability, so you're encouraged to be generous with your tips.  The "winner" gets the Golden Ladle.  Please come out and support this wonderful charity.  Bridges works to empower local families to maintain stability in their homes and through community partnerships to prevent homelessness in Howard County.

I'm looking forward to this wonderful event.  Thanks for your support.

Have a great evening, everyone!



Saturday, February 28, 2015

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy

Donald Miller, one of my favorite authors, wrote a new book that was released at the beginning of February.  I was really looking forward to it, and pre-ordered it, and when it arrived, I tore into it with gusto.  I like to read.  I have hundreds of books sitting around the house, all at different stages of completeness.  I tend to jump into a book, then I get distracted by the next new shiny one, and then another trip to the bookstore results in three more books, and...well, I don't always finish reading them.  I keep post-it notes as bookmarks, and, during one of my semi-annual inventory/clean-ups, I realize I've got a huge stack of started-but-not-completely-read-thru books that I become re-invested in.  I guess I should stop going to the bookstore on a thrice-monthly basis.  Or read a little faster.


Anyway, Donald Miller, who wrote the landmark Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, a book that re-energized my own walk in faith, has written Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. Wow!  I feel like this book was written just for me.  The book is, essentially, Mr. Miller's journey to finding intimacy with others, in particular with the woman who became his wife, by dropping the act; or, in other words, stop living a life of isolation through the building of walls, whether actual or within relationships, and consciously allow yourself to be open and intimate with others by being yourself.  I hope I've stated that well enough to allow you to understand just how life-changing this can be, particularly if you've allowed yourself, either over time, or because of circumstances, or because you sincerely weren't even aware you were doing it, to throw up masks and/or walls that prevent others from seeing the Real You.

Mr. Miller's journey focuses on his frustration with finding and keeping a partner, something that many unmarried people can identify with, and his search for reasons why.  Later, during his courtship of the woman who he married, he discovered the changes he had to make in order to create, and hold, an intimate relationship with her.  Based on the stories he shares, I'm sincerely happy that it worked out.  I cringed at some of things that Mr. Miller did during the courtship that almost derailed their relationship.  One, where he picked out the house he decided they should live in after they were married, based on his assumptions of what would be important for her (but certainly was for him) without talking to her about it first, had me shaking my head, even as he described how upset she was when he told her he didn't think her opinion (or financial input) mattered.  Whew!  But I was rooting for him, and he realized that he had disregarded her feelings and opinions on what truly mattered.  They had an open and honest discussion about it and it opened up the opportunity for a key moment in their relationship.  To make it work, you have to throw selfishness out the window.  You have to consider the thoughts, opinions, hopes, and desires of your partner, not just your own.  And that can only come through intimacy.  Ephesians 5:31 is one of my favorite verses:  "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (ESV)

There are many more stories Mr. Miller tells in his book that reflect on his attempts and successes at making himself more open to meaningful relationships, and it is so worth your time to read it.  It had a profound affect on me.  My story is a little different from Mr. Miller's, though.  I am very much an introvert.  It isn't easy for me to connect with people on my own.  I've been so fortunate to be surrounded by folks who were open enough and, through circumstances and conversations and connecting, friendships developed.  In 1998, at the age of 28, I met a young lady named Teresa.  We fell in love, and, by placing God at the center of our relationship, we found true intimacy.  It wasn't just romantic love, though that's part of it.  It was an all-encompassing love, full of respect for each other, acceptance, trust, understanding, familiarity, and affection.  We married in July of 1999, and we thrived.  We made our home, found success in our careers, found opportunities to serve in our church community, and then we started a family.  Our daughter, Melody Grace, was born in November of 2003.  We were ecstatic!  What we didn't know was that the strain of childbirth had a significant effect on Teresa's heart.  She had been diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse, essentially a "leaky" valve, a condition where blood in the heart falls back into the previous chamber while it is pumped out and through the body, when she was a teen, and never really had any problems.  MVP is a fairly common condition, and many live with it without any complications.  The problem was that the condition had worsened, and Teresa was experiencing severe fatigue in the months following Melody's birth.  Teresa hated going to the doctor, and since everything she had read and heard about dealing with motherhood emphasized how tired she would be, she chalked it up to that and not anything more serious.  In fact, the fatigue she was feeling was a significant sign that her heart condition had worsened, and, during that beautiful evening in April of 2004, while we were walking around at the school she taught at, she collapsed right in front of me.  At the hospital, she was declared dead at the age of 31.  Melody was five months old, and I was a widower after fewer than five years of marriage.  It was a life-changing moment for all of us.  However, Teresa had given her heart (no joke) to Jesus, and I know she will have everlasting life, and I will see her again.

The ramifications of Teresa's death were significant.  Melody was too young to have any memory of her mom.  I hate that she has only had me, her father, as her only parent.  I will never be able to give her the love, and advice, and experiences, that she can only receive from having a mom in her life.  I can try to fill that void, but it is impossible.  I will always be her father, however, and I hope and pray that will be fulfilling enough, and I'm happy that she has both of her grandmothers and an aunt to provide her with role models she can look to.

For me, despite efforts to date and trying to find love again, and I am serious in my desire to marry again after the amazing and beautiful experience I had with Teresa, it has been a difficult endeavor.  I thought I had found a new relationship that was leading to marriage in 2009.  I met "Jane," a colleague within the agency I work for.  There were hurdles, as there are with just about any relationship, but most significant was the distance.  She lived in Oklahoma.  I live in Maryland.  While we both had careers in the Federal Government, there was an expectation that one of us would have to move.  I had no desire to go to OK.  Maryland is my home, and it's where Melody's "village" resided ("It takes a village," and all that).  It would be unfair to her, and to my family, to move so far from home.  "Jane" didn't want to leave OK, but she didn't have the same kind of roots, having moved to OK for college, that I had in MD, where I was born.  She agreed to moving here to MD, but I know it was a difficult decision for her.  Another issue we had was our level of trust.  She had never had a significant relationship before, and was in her mid-30s when we began to date.  While I believe she and I were experiencing a loving, and very affectionate, relationship, it soon became obvious she didn't trust that I would be able to give her the life she was looking for.

While I had been in a marriage relationship, I was apparently having difficulty "moving on,"  There is a popular misconception that people who experience significant loss must move on before they can experience healing.  This is not true, at least not for everyone.  For me, it was only after I realized that my wife's death was a part of who I am now, and not something I had to get over, that I began to experience true healing.  That said, I still have moments where a thought or circumstance will set me off to reminiscing about Teresa, and I have had more than a few breakdowns.  Additionally, I've had to battle periods of depression that go so much deeper than just Teresa's death, and that has had an impact on me, as well.

I was still living in the home Teresa and I bought together.  Jane expected me to move.  That included getting rid of all of our possessions.  She didn't want the furniture that I picked out with Teresa, or the dishes we used, or anything that she could connect to Teresa.  We had to erase all signs of Teresa ever having been in our lives.  She didn't want to go to the church my daughter and I were attending, since it was where I attended with my wife.  And she wanted me to find a new church right away, not after she moved to Maryland.  While these are all reasonable requests, they were still very difficult for me, and I was reluctant to follow through with them.  This was Melody's mother, and a part of me didn't think it was fair to get rid of the things Melody would one day want that belonged to her mother.  While I did agree to each request, I felt like I was being bullied into accepting them.  Jane held these things over my head, saying that she was giving up everything to move away from her home in OK.  Ultimately, it became clear that she didn't trust me to do any of the things she requested.  I was afraid that, if I didn't agree to them, she would walk away from the relationship.  So the walls went up.  We stopped talking about any of the issues.  Even when we got together, which was as frequently as possible despite the distance, we were too busy "dating" to want to deal with the issues.  We still hadn't been dating long enough, nor did we know each other well enough, to enter into such an important institution as marriage, yet, for all intents and purposes, we were moving forward with our marriage plans.  We were rushing forward without a well-thought out plan, at least one that we both could agree on and discuss, and without the trust we both needed to build the foundation.  We were doomed.  I thank God for helping us realize that we were making a mistake before either of us did something that we didn't really want to do.  It was a bad breakup.  Jane wanted a scapegoat, and I accepted it.  We've had no contact since then, and I mourned the relationship, despite the problems we had.

I've dated several women since Jane's and my breakup, but I've put up walls.  Deep down, following Teresa's death and the failure of my relationship with Jane, I've stopped trusting.  I want so much to find another significant relationship, but I'm so scared that it isn't going to work that I don't let these women find out the real me.  I'm afraid of intimacy.  I've allowed my circumstances to be a barrier to true intimacy.  I honestly didn't realize I was doing this until reading Donald Miller's book, Scary Close.  It has opened my eyes.  This was so important in order to take the next steps, which, now that I realize the issue, is to work on improving myself.  I have to find healing, and that will require changes in how I deal with my relationships, and prayer.

Thanks, Mr. Miller, for your wonderful book.  If you're looking for a life-changing book, please check out Scary Close.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

M-A-R-Y-L-A-N-D, Maryland Will Win!



Wonderful late season win for the Maryland Terrapins tonight at Xfinity Center in College Park.  They beat a really good Wisconsin team, 59-53, to raise their record to 23-5, 11-4 in the Big Ten Conference.  The Terps, currently ranked #14, are putting themselves in great position for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Way to go, Terps!

Maryland we're all behind you,
Raise high the black and gold.
For there is nothing half so glorious,
As to see our team victorious.
We've got the team boys,
We've got the steam boys,
So keep on fighting, don't give in!
M-A-R-Y-L-A-N-D
Maryland will win!

Words and music by Thornton W. Allen
Copyright © 1928 by the Student Assembly of Maryland

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stating My Favorites

Copyright 2011 Jeanine Colini
Completely at random, here is a list of states I have visited and the first things that pop into my head when I think of the state, based on my experiences and the places I've been to...

Maryland - Home, Upper Marlboro, Ocean City, Hancock, Howard County
Pennsylvania - Home away from home, Pittsburgh, Hershey, Uniontown, Steelers, Gettysburg
South Dakota - Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug Store, Crazy Horse, Deadwood, Custer State Park
Washington - Mount Ranier, Gig Harbor, Seattle
Arizona - Grand Canyon, Route 66, Oatman, Flagstaff, Painted Desert, Williams, Kingman, Winslow
Texas - Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo
Kansas - Galena, flatness
Minnesota - Who wants to be a Millionaire?*
Vermont - Ben & Jerry's, Montpelier
New York - NYC, Watkins Glen, Niagara Falls
Delaware - Fenwick Island
South Carolina - South of the Border, Charleston
Florida - Disney, Universal, Miami Beach, Lakeland, Bradenton
Tennessee - Smokies
Ohio - Cedar Point, Pro Football Hall of Fame
Utah - Bryce Canyon, Zion
California - Hollywood, San Francisco, Avenue of the Giants, Mojave Desert, Magic Mountain, Rt. 1
Montana - BIG
Colorado - Lookout Mountain, Loveland, Estes Park, Boulder, Independence Pass
Maine - Calais, Portland, Lobster Rolls, Acadia
Rhode Island - Newport
Kentucky - Fried Chicken, Louisville Slugger
Oklahoma - work away from home, Clinton, Miami, Pop's, Route 66
Nevada - Vegas, Baby!
New Mexico - Gallup, Tucumcari, Santa Fe in 18 hours
Connecticut - Mystic
Wyoming - Devil's Tower, 1st Anniversary in Wheatland
New Hampshire - North Conway, Mount Washington Cog Railway, White Mountains, Concord
Nebraska - Carhenge, Lincoln, Snow
Wisconsin - Cheese, Baraboo, Circus World, The Dells, Milwaukee, The Bronze Fonz
Indiana - Santa Claus
Missouri - St. Louis, Gateway Arch, Six Flags, Rolla
Georgia - Savannah
West Virginia - Point Pleasant, Harper's Ferry, Hillbilly Hot Dogs
Illinois - Chicago, Route 66, Lincoln
North Carolina - Mt. Airy, Winston-Salem, Outer Banks
Massachusetts - Boston
Michigan - Dearborn, Ford
Virginia - Roanoke, Skyline Drive, Luray Caverns, Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Kings Dominion
New Jersey - Somers Point, Sussex
Oregon - Lighthouses, Astoria, Tillamook, Gold Beach

I have never been to Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

* - My wife and I picked up the board game for the show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, in La Crosse, WI, and we played it all the way across the state of Minnesota.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It Was Cold!

Cold!  That's what it was!  And I'm not talking about the weather.

Last Monday, I took a shower, as usual, but the water was almost scalding hot.  I didn't think much about it, and just figured I had the hot water turned on a little too strongly.  I skipped my Tuesday shower since it was an unplanned day off due to the snow, and I didn't have anywhere else to go.  On Wednesday morning, as I was getting ready for work, my shower was lukewarm.  That was unusual, especially since my daughter had been with her grandparents for a few days and she hadn't taken her regular 20 minute shower, using up all of the hot water.  On Wednesday evening, I was washing a few dishes and realized the water would not get hot.  It wasn't even lukewarm.  It was cold.

I checked out my hot water heater, which replaced my old one about 8 years ago, and it was cold to the touch.  I checked the circuit breaker and it was still in the on position.  I reset it anyway, but nothing happened.  It wasn't working.

I really wasn't ready to get another hot water tank.  I quickly checked online to get an idea of what a new one might cost, then I called a repair company to see about getting an appointment to have mine looked at.  I made an appointment for the earliest time available, which was Friday morning, between 7 a.m. and noon.  With the way things were going at work, I really couldn't afford to take off Friday morning, but it appeared I didn't have a choice.  I needed hot water.  Especially after my Thursday morning shower.

Courtesy of CoolClips.com

I guessed that it wouldn't be too bad.  I guessed wrong.  I hopped into the shower Thursday morning, took a deep breath, and felt like I had just jumped into a swimming pool in the dead of Winter.  It was freezing!  I could barely catch my breath.  It was so cold, I could see my breath.  Ice cycles formed at the end of my fingers and on my eyelashes.  My lips turned blue.  I barely washed my body, trying very hard to avoid the flow of water, and just quickly washed my hair.  I lasted maybe 2 minutes.  That was all I could stand.  I shut off the water, and wrapped myself in my towel.  Usually, first thing in the morning, it takes me a little bit of time to fully awake, but that wasn't a problem this time.  I was wide awake.  I dressed quickly, and was ready to leave just as my sister walked in (she gets my daughter up and ready for school each morning).  She was surprised to see me ready to go so early.  I warned her about there being no hot water, and rushed outside.  The incredible record-setting low temperatures were no problem for me.  I had already been prepped for the coldness.

My father agreed to come over to the house on Friday morning for the repair guy, but he wouldn't arrive until 9 a.m.  I gave my sister the day off, and decided I would wait for the repair guy until 9, and then, with Dad covering for me, I would drop my daughter off at school, and then proceed to work.  Dad planned to stay until noon, or whenever it took to get the hot water tank fixed.

The plan was mucked up by the 2-hour delay for schools on Friday.  Dad said he would still plan to come over, but he said he could probably get there by around 8 or so.  We arranged for our wonderful neighbors to give my daughter a ride to school with their twin boys so Dad didn't have to leave the house if the repair guy was there.  That problem solved, I still had one more concern:  I had to take another cold shower on Friday morning.

The alarm went off, a little later than normal, and I crawled out of bed.  I was really dreading the thought of another cold shower.  I probably could have done something different, like heating some water and dumping it in the bathtub.  I just didn't have that kind of time.  So I braved it.  I turned on the water and jumped in.  I wish I could say it wasn't as bad as the previous day.  And it wasn't.  It was worse!  I don't know how it could be worse, but it was.  Since I had barely washed the day before, I knew I would have to be a little more thorough this time.  This meant actually getting in the flow of water from the shower head.  I'm pretty sure I qualify for the Polar Bear Plunge after this shower.  In fact, I'm challenging about a dozen relatives to do the ALS Cold Water Challenge.  The shower had the side effect of causing my blood pressure to hike into dangerous levels.  When it was over, and it lasted about a minute longer than the previous day, still less than half as long as a normal shower, I was ready to run a marathon.  I was pretty wired.

The repair guy showed up at around 8:30, and he quickly diagnosed a faulty thermostat.  $32, plus $99 for the housecall.  My father waited with him to finish up his work, and I headed to work.  Thank goodness I didn't need a whole new unit.  And let me tell you, when I arrived home, I had the nicest, longest, most relaxing hot shower that I've had in years.  It was like a spa.  I felt as if I deserved it after the cold water temperatures I had to deal with.  Thank goodness for modern conveniences.

I certainly get that I am fortunate to have a hot shower every morning.  Have you wondered about the homeless in your community?  Can you imagine how they must feel, especially given how much snow we've had and how cold the temperatures have been this Winter?  Did you know you can help them?  Sign up to help at your local homeless shelter.  My church, Grace Community, is having a Cold Weather Shelter at their facility all week.  There are still many opportunities to help.  If you have the time and can help, please do so.  Here is the website for more information:  Cold Weather Shelter

Stay warm, people!  Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Creating a NASCAR Fan

I love auto racing.  To be more specific, I'm a NASCAR fan.  Yeah, I'm one of those guys.  I love watching souped up race cars drive around a track in circles for three or four hours, I used to watch the races when I was a kid.  It was really exciting, though I thought the most exciting parts were when the cars wrecked.  I was too young to realize that the drivers could actually get hurt.  When I was older, I figured out the strategy involved in NASCAR racing.  Everything from the engines, the body styles of the different cars, fuel economy, tires, and the handling of the cars could all affect the outcome of the race.  And the personalities of the drivers, and driving styles, certainly made a difference in who you might root for.  There were heroes and villains, good guys and not so good guys.  NASCAR racing is so much more than just cars doing circles around a track.

I didn't know the names of very many drivers when I was a kid, but I figured out who I liked.  Cale Yarborough was a favorite, but that was because he guest-starred on one of my favorite TV shows, THE DUKES OF HAZARD.  During the 80s, Cale was sponsored by Hardee's, so Hardee's became my favorite fast-food place.  I was an hones victim of the marketing of the day.  Another driver I liked was Harry Gant, sponsored by Skoal (a chewing tobacco).  I just knew he won races and, at that time, drove an Oldsmobile, which was my favorite kind of car.  I had no idea back then the issues with smoking or tobacco, or the relationship between Winston, a maker of cigarettes, and their role as the major sponsor of NASCAR's top racing series.

I followed NASCAR off and on, and in the early 90s, I was invited by a friend to go to a NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, NY, one of two road courses on the NASCAR circuit.  Road courses were really cool because they weren't just ovals.  The drivers made left and right turns, and the track changed elevation and was much longer than the rest of the tracks.  I then became a die hard fan.  There is nothing like seeing a race live and in person.  You gain such an appreciation for the work that these drivers put into their craft, the complexity of the cars, and everything involved in racing.  Plus, every driver has a merchandise trailer full of hats, t-shirts, jackets, license plate frames, stuffed animals, lunch boxes, and so much more.  I also got my first autograph.  There was a driver standing just outside of the pit area of the track, and I was able to get his signature on my race program.  It was Ward Burton.  I had never heard of him.  He drove the #22 MBNA America Pontiac Grand Prix.  I just happened to have an MBNA America t-shirt and decided to wear it to the race.  Ward became my favorite driver.  While he didn't do very well in the race, I was excited to have someone to root for.  I found out more about him, and his conservation work in Virginia, and that he was a really great guy.  He had only won one race in his career in NASCAR's top series.  I also found out he had a more successful and popular younger brother, Jeff.

Ward Burton, courtesy Sears.com

My friend invited me to the same race the following season, and this time I bought a #22 hat to go with a t-shirt.  The evening following qualifying for the race, we went to the actual Glen to go hiking.  We discovered that there were a bunch of drivers walking around the state park there.  I remember meeting Chad Little and Steve Park.  I also saw Ward Burton, there with his wife and two kids (at the time), and he noticed I was wearing "his" hat.  I was much too shy to say anything to him, but he photo-bombed a picture my friend took of me.  Anyway, we ended up back in the parking lot getting ready to head back to our hotel, when Ward came back from his hike with his family.  He walked over to us and we had a nice little conversation, and he autographed my hat.  How cool is that?!?  Once again, Ward didn't do very well in the race,

I became completely engrossed into the NASCAR life, watching every race, memorizing all of the drivers, their car numbers, their sponsors, and all of the tracks.  Ward continued to drive the #22, and after getting a new sponsor, Caterpillar, he began winning more races.  When I started dating Teresa, she and I would spend our Sunday afternoons after church watching the races on TV, and she became a fan, as well.  In our 2nd year of marriage, we were given tickets to the NASCAR race in Las Vegas, and we had a fantastic little vacation highlighted by the race, Teresa's first live race.  The pinnacle of our fandom, though, was when Ward won the 2002 Daytona 500.  It was so exciting.

Anyway, my interest waned when Ward retired from driving, not too long after Teresa's death.  I lost interest in NASCAR, especially as the rules changed and the same half-dozen drivers seemed to win every race.  I really didn't have anyone to root for anymore, and that significantly affected my interest.

Father and son, Ward and Jeb, courtesy Getty Images

Fast forward to this week.  NASCAR is ready to kick-off the new season.  I discovered that Ward Burton's son, Jeb, who was now all grown up, was now driving at NASCAR's top level, and was preparing for his first race,  I really got excited thinking the next generation of Burtons was about to start his career.  And I got wrapped up in watching the qualifying races on Thursday night.  My daughter, Melody, sat next to me and began asking me questions about the drivers, and I pointed out Danica Patrick, the only woman currently racing in NASCAR.  From that point on, Melody took a great interest in the race, and she kept asking lots of questions.  I found it amusing just how much interest she showed, and she was asking questions about what was happening on the screen.  When Danica wrecked, she was upset, but that turned back into satisfaction when she was able to finish the qualifying race and actually make the Daytona 500.  My little girl was fast becoming a fan!  Unfortunately, Jeb Burton failed to qualify after sparking an accident of his own during the race, so he will not be racing on Sunday.

Danica Patrick, courtesy Yahoo.com
While Danica isn't necessarily the best role model for Melody, and I deplore the Go Daddy ads that sponsor her, I'm really happy to see Melody take such as interest in racing, as well as take a rooting interest in such a strong female racer.  She is a second generation NASCAR fan.  Melody and I will watch the Daytona 500 together and root for Danica to win.  I can hardly wait to take her to a race.

Have a great, safe weekend!  Good night, everybody!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gettin' Old Ain't For Sissies

Hang on.... I'm going to meander a bit.

"Gettin' old ain't for sissies!"  My father says this a lot.  It's his favorite saying, at least for the moment.  He has a lot of favorite sayings, but they are only favorites for a short time before he comes up with another one.  "If it ain't rats, it's roaches."  "Jiminy Christmas."  "You gotta do what you gotta do."  "Long time, no see....kind of like a dead fish."  "Out of sight, out of mind."  "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  "You can't go home again."  "You only live once."  And, "Hang in there, son."  I get that last one a lot.

I was thinking about age over the past few days.  I'm not as young as I think I am, but I'm not as old as I sometimes feel.  "You're only as old as you feel."  Hmmm....I'm feeling a bit old.  The cold weather is really cold.  Cold didn't used to bother me.  In fact, I love the Winter, and I love snow even more.  While Fall is my favorite season, Winter is close behind, and I really do feel like a kid when it snows.  That only lasts a little while, though, because I have to shovel it after it falls.  And when it's this cold out, it only feels worse.  So I'm feeling a bit sore right now, and it's making me feel old.  Sore back. Sore legs.  Shoulder aches.  I wish someone would give me a massage.  My wife used to give me great massages...

I just watched a movie about aging.  LAST VEGAS.  It's another one of those buddy movies about a bunch of old guys trying to feel young again by going to Las Vegas, and stars Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Robert De Niro.  The sex was gratuitous, and there were way too many scantily clad young women.  I'd be embarrassed watching it if my daughter was here. I'm embarrassed and she's not here.


Hollywood is in the business of making money, and since they want to appeal to the base of humanity, most movies have this kind of stuff.  I wish they'd just tell a story.  This could have been a good story.  The gist of the movie is that one of the guys (Douglas) has been dating a woman half his age, and he proposes to her.  There's a very awkward scene of him having a conversation with the young girl's father, obviously disappointed, and he's younger than the guy she's marrying.  Anyway, when the other old buddies find out, they decide they all need to meet in Vegas for a bachelor party.  Things get a bit out of hand when they hit the casino up for over a $100K and end up getting a penthouse suite and go out partying with a bunch of very young women who don't like wearing lots of clothing.  Further, they find out that being old is kind of a badge of honor when some of the women become "touchy-feely" with them.  One young lady ends up in the bedroom with Kevin Kline's character, who is married, and whose wife sent him to Vegas with a condom and a little blue pill, telling him, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."  The woman tells Kline that she's tired of the young guys, and is turned on because Kline is married, so she takes off her clothes.  He finally wakes up and stops her, explaining that he really does love his wife and knows he shouldn't be doing this.  And, so, I guess that makes everything okay.  Douglas's character also realizes that he's too old to be marrying his young fiancee, especially after he falls in love with a lounge singer closer to his age.  So he breaks off the wedding.  And again, that makes everything okay.

I'm really bothered by how little respect Hollywood seems to show towards women in particular, but also to marriage.  The creators of this movie seem to think they've come up with a very deep and meaningful story where these four old friends come to grips with their age, when what they've really done is allowed them to totally disregard true love, and even marriage, while they're partying with much younger women who think they're so great, feeding their egos.  I live a pretty staid life, but even I feel like this is all pretty unrealistic.

There is one thing that I did come away with that may be good... Because I tend to be pretty reserved, I've missed out on a lot of fun things over the past decade, which could be looked at as the prime of my life.  I'm in my mid-40s now, and I am feeling old.  I've allowed myself to waste these prime years, in some respect.  Yes, being a father to my young daughter comes first, but beyond that, I really haven't done anything for myself.  And maybe I need to do more for myself.  I'm not saying I should head out to Las Vegas and party with women half my age, but I don't need to be sitting around waiting for some other body part to go haywire or stop working.  Life is meant to be lived.  Just live it in a rational way.  The way God wants us to live it.  Fully.

Enjoy the rest of this day off, and have a great evening!



Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine Blizzard: Hearts of Ice and Darkness

Oh, what a night!  What a Valentine's Day!  Our day started out with us putting the finishing touches on my daughter's science project, which is due next Wednesday.  We made good progress on it, and once it was completed, our reward would be a quick getaway on Sunday into Monday.  However, as we finished it up, we realized that our printer completely ran out of ink, so we were unable to print out the necessary papers and graphics for the project.  We planned to stop at the store following our church service that evening.

Since we had gone without TV and Internet all day, we didn't know exactly what was being forecast for the evening.  I knew it was going to get bitterly cold overnight and all day Sunday and Monday, but aside from a few snowflakes, we figured we could have a typical Saturday evening.  When we left our house at 5:15 and headed over to Grace Community Church, it had begun to snow.  It was also getting fairly cold.  Pastor Mark, who gave the message during the service, let us know that there were folks monitoring the weather and the parking lot, and we would be alerted should things get really bad outside and the service would end promptly.  Indeed, at the end of the service, Mark received word that the parking lots were very slippery, with ice under the snow, which was accumulating very quickly.

I picked up Melody from her Kid Zone class, and we headed out into the Arctic blast that had enveloped the area.  It was really cold, and the snow was coming down fast and furiously.  There was enough snow that I had to clean off our Jeep.  I threw it into 4-wheel drive and we headed out.  We had to decide fairly quickly whether to just head home, or grab dinner first.  We decided to get dinner.  We went to one of our favorites, La Palapa Too, and had a very nice time.  The restaurant wasn't very crowded, and most of the patrons were couples likely out for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner out...all except for the large table in the middle with two couples and about 8 rambunctious kids.  I'm sure they were excited about the snow falling outside.

My Valentine Date

After a delicious meal, we headed back out.  The heavy snow had stopped, for the most part.  But the thick, soft snow had been transformed into a hard, crusty mess due to the quickly dropping temperatures.  I again cleaned off the Jeep, and we debated whether we should just head home, or if we should chance going to Staples for the needed printer cartridges.  We started for home, and headed down Johns Hopkins Road to Gorman Road and continued on to Murray Hill Road.  I decided to turn left and make the trek to Staples.  Though the roads were bad, I trusted my Jeep to handle them with ease, and it did.

About halfway down Murray Hill, there were several cars stopped in our lane.  It was just in front of the steep hill down to the Middle Patuxent River, and into the Kings Contrivance community.  There were a few people running around, and the cars coming up the hill from the opposite direction were going very slow.  I guessed that the road must be icy, and thought about turning around and bagging it, but the driver in front of us jumped back into his vehicle and started to drive forward.  As the line of cars began to head towards the hill, I could see the tracks through the snow to the right that a car had run off the road.  The car was gone, though, so they must've been able to move on.  We were listening to WTOP and it sounded like conditions were poor everywhere.  I noted that there were power outages everywhere, too, including  over a thousand in Howard County.  We had only lost our power three times in the 15 years we have lived in our house, so I wasn't worried.

We finally made it to Staples at the Snowden Square Shopping Center.  The store was empty, and I asked the three employees within sight if they thought about closing early, and warned them about the dangerous roads.  They said they were anxious to get home.  We got our printer cartridges ($67!!!), then decided to make one more stop.  Wegman's was just across the street, and I decided to grab a few necessities just in case we were stuck at home for the next few days.  Following that, we headed for home.

It was a slow trip, but we made it without incident.  There were many cars on the roads that were having a lot of difficulty with the conditions, and they were treacherous.  The new threat was blowing snow due to the severe winds.  We had a few whiteout situations, where the winds whipped up the snow and we couldn't see anything.  I had to bring our Jeep to a stop because I just couldn't see.  Fortunately, we stayed on the back roads, which were snow covered, but had no other cars on them.  We got to our street, and it was clear we had a new problem.  It was dark.  It was really bizarre because I don't remember ever seeing it so dark on our street.  All of the street lamps were out.  This meant our POWER WAS OUT!

Sure enough, as I backed into our parking space, we had another decision to make.  For our power to be out, something must be seriously amiss.  This just doesn't happen to us.  But given how bitterly cold it was going to be overnight and through the next few days, we could be in big trouble with no power, which means no heat, plus the threat of frozen water pipes.  We checked in with my parents, who invited us over to their house for the night, if we thought the power might be out for a significant amount of time.  They live in Bowie, a 30 minute drive in good weather.  I called BGE, and their automated system said we would have power by 11:30 p.m.  That was good news, so we decided to wait it out.  It was approaching 9:45, and the house was more than comfortable, which told me our power hadn't been out for very long.  We lit a few candles, and I suggested we get ready for bed.  Melody kept her coat on, though.  She said she was getting cold.  I said she was letting the cold outside get to her.

Ben & Jerry's by iPhonelight

At about 10:15 p.m., the power came back on!!!  We were very relieved, and I said a quick prayer of thanks.  BGE came through, and quickly.  All told, the power was out for less than an hour.  Then we went to bed.  We still don't know if we should take a trip or not, but at least we'll finish Melody's science project.  Small victories.

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Questions To Ponder, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently participated in a training class at work where we were asked several specific personal questions about ourselves, and then we had to share our answers with our colleagues.  The questions were very thought provoking, and I shared several of them previously.  The final item asked us to share 3 or 4 experiences that shaped who you are, and who you are becoming.  Here are the ones I chose:

In 1987, I was a senior in high school, and one of the greatest days of that year was the day I graduated from high school.  I remember it very well, in a lot of detail.  The graduation took place on June 1 at the old Capital Center in Largo, MD, home of the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team, and the Bullets (now Wizards) NBA basketball team, and long since demolished and replaced by a shopping center.  I had to be there earlier than the rest of the family, so I drove over by myself.  I remember a rock hitting my windshield, and there was a long crack in it by the end of the day.  Our class, the Frederick Douglass High School Class of 1987, was the first class to graduate from Prince George's County that year.  It was a great day.

Exactly 29 days later, on June 30, my family and I were traveling just outside of Hamilton, Ontario, on a memorable road trip with my grandparents.  We had a 2-car caravan:  my family's Chevy Van,  with Dad driving, and Mom, sister Angie (who had just celebrated her 16th birthday the night before), and brother Darren (10 years old) riding with him;  I was driving my grandparents in their car.  This was because my grandfather, who we called Bebop because he had been a professional jazz trumpet player, had experienced a stroke a few years before this trip that had paralyzed the right side of his body.  He had been stricken with polio when he was a baby, and it left him without the use of his right leg.  He had used crutches for years, but since his stroke, he needed to use a wheelchair.  It was too difficult for him to get up into our van, so it was necessary to take two vehicles for this trip.  My grandmother, "Grammy," rode in the backseat, and I was driving.  Bebop rode shotgun.

We were approaching a major merge area between two highways, one the QEW, or Queen Elizabeth Way.  Traffic was heavy, and at the merge area, a young girl was attempting to get over from the right lane into the adjacent thru lane.  She was having difficulty because of the heavy traffic, but the lane was quickly running out.  My father was directly behind her, and the only reason he didn't get over was because he didn't want to cut her off.  I was behind my dad.  The girl finally stopped, and my father ended up running into her because he didn't expect her to stop.  I couldn't see around the van, and I ended up running into the back of the van.  They were insignificant "bumper taps", since we weren't going very fast.  Unfortunately, there was a tractor-trailer behind us.  The driver of the truck was looking in his mirror to see if he could merge into traffic, and he didn't see us stopped in his lane.  He smashed into the back of our car at full speed, creating a chain reaction which collected all four vehicles.  Our van was squeezed out, and Dad was able to move over to the shoulder a little ways ahead.  When he got out to check on the damage, and on us in the car behind him, he saw a tremendous sight.

The truck was practically on top of our car.  Dad rushed over and attempted to get me out of the car.  I was unconscious.  The impact caused my head to hit the steering wheel, knocking me out.  My grandmother was killed instantly in the impact.  My grandfather was unconscious in the passenger seat.  Dad couldn't get to the drivers side door due to the truck's position, and he told the truck driver, who had jumped out to help, to see if he could back it up, which he did.  They then tried to pull me out of the shattered driver's side window.  The car caught fire from the ruptured fuel tank, and while they were able to get me out, they could not get my grandfather out.  He died of smoke inhalation, and was burned in the subsequent fire.  I survived with a concussion and no memory of what had happened.  It was a tragic accident, and one which changed my family dramatically, the repercussions of which we still suffer from to this day.  The most serious was to my sister, who has suffered from anorexia since then.  It has kept her from being able to live a normal life, causing numerous health problems.  My mother suffered severe depression following the death of her parents.

The impact on me was that I went from preparing to move away for college, to instead changing my plans and remaining at home, becoming a commuter student at the University of Maryland.  Who knows how different my life would have been had I decided to go away to school.  I believe this is the path God meant for me, though, and I went on to graduate and have a wonderful career in the Federal Government.

In 1998, I met a wonderful young lady named Teresa.  We had a storybook romance and were married just over a year later.  Life was great.  Soon, little Melody, our daughter, was born.  Teresa seemed to relish the role of motherhood, but she was concerned about how tired she was all the time.  Friends told her this was normal, that every mother goes through severe fatigue after giving birth.  When she continued to suffer, I told her she should see her doctor, but she passed it off.  On April 19, 2004, we had just finished a fantastic dinner, and I wanted to go out for a ride, and maybe get some ice cream and go for a walk at one of the nearby parks.  We took Melody and Faithful Pup Scout with us.  After getting ice cream in Clarksville, we ended up stopping at Reservoir High School, where Teresa taught 9th grade English and public speaking, before taking maternity leave.  I carried Melody, who was 5 months old at this point, while Teresa held Scout's leash.  We walked over to the front of the school and Teresa noticed the Principal's car was there.  Addie hadn't seen the baby in a while, so I said why don't we see if she wants to come out and see Melody.  Teresa went over to knock on Addie's window, while I waited on the sidewalk.  I looked away for just a moment.  When I looked back, Teresa was on the ground, laying on her back.  I rushed over to her and watched her eyes glaze over and slowly close.  Something was terribly wrong.

Addie opened the window, and I asked her to call 911.  She soon joined me outside and took Melody, giving me her cell phone to talk to the 911 operator.  Addie had the forethought to announce over the PA system that we needed assistance, and an off-duty nurse, who had been exercising over on the school's track, rushed over to help.  She administered CPR while I talked to the operator.  Soon, the paramedics arrived, as well as the police.  An officer pulled me aside to ask me about what had happened.  I told him what I saw, but I was preoccupied with poor Teresa, laying on the sidewalk surrounded by emergency workers.  I didn't know it at the time, but the police treated me as a suspect, since there were no witnesses as to what had happened.

They finally loaded Teresa into an ambulance.  They wouldn't let me ride with her, though.  I instead rode in a police car behind the ambulance.  Addie kept Melody with her, and Scout went with one of the school's custodians.  I kept trying to reach my parents and my in-laws on my cell phone, but no one was answering.  Finally, my mother-in-law called me back.  I told her that Teresa had collapsed, but I didn't know why, and we were headed to the hospital.  She said they would leave immediately and meet us there.  I called Dad again and he finally answered.  I told him that Melody was with Addie at the school, and they should get her there before coming to the hospital.

When we arrived, the officer wouldn't let me go to where the ambulance bay was located, and instead took me in through the main Emergency Room entrance.  I was led to a little room just off of the ER, where I was told to wait.  I didn't know if Teresa was okay or not. No one had told me anything.  I looked around the little room, with a table and chairs, and a Bible sitting in the middle of it, and figured this was a room where they gave bad news.  I got nauseous.  I sat down and read a few passages in the Bible, praying that God would take care of Teresa.  I was on the verge of a breakdown.  Soon, a man and a woman entered.  The man looked like a doctor.  I assumed the woman was a hospital administrator or something.  They sat down with me and the doctor explained they had done all they could for Teresa, but that she had died.  The lump in my throat led to crying, and the breakdown that I had been fighting completely enveloped me.  All I could think about was poor Melody losing her mother at such a young age.  I had no idea what I was going to do.  In an instant, my whole life was turned inside out and flipped over.  I went from happily married with my little family, to a widower and uncertainty in a moment.

The whole family soon gathered there at the hospital.  Teresa's cousin prayed, everyone hugged each other, and after I spoke with a police officer one more time, we were free to leave.  They would not let us near Teresa's body, though.  The detective said that they would have to do an autopsy to find out the cause of death, which was still unknown.  We later learned that she had died of a fatal heart attack.  She had a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, which we were aware of, and which had been diagnosed when she was a teen.  It's a treatable condition, but it involves one of the heart valves that doesn't completely close when the heart is beating, resulting in some blood leaking back into the previous chamber.  Unfortunately, the condition had worsened, and the strain on her body following the pregnancy had resulted in an enlarged heart.  Her severe fatigue was a symptom of it, but because she never went to the doctor, we were unaware of the problem.

I was given her shoes and her wedding band, the only jewelry she wore that night, and we all left the hospital together and reconvened at our house.  It was an awful night.  And it did completely change my life.

I am so blessed to have such a wonderful, supportive family who has helped me get through the past almost-eleven years.  I also have this incredibly beautiful, highly intelligent, gifted, perceptive, and loving daughter.  She is a gift from God.  She is also a reminder of the wonderful marriage that I was allowed to experience, despite how short it truly was.  I know that Teresa gave her heart to Jesus, and so, as He promised, she is now experiencing eternal life with God.  And because I am a Christ-follower, I will see her again.  I'm thankful for God's grace, and I pray that my beautiful Melody will know Him, as well.

These are the events that have impacted my life the most, aside from giving my life to Christ, which is the most important event of my life.  Each one has shaped me and led me down the path I am on, the one that God has set before me.  I have faith that He will continue to lead me.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Questions to Ponder, Part 1

I recently participated in a training class at work where we were asked several specific personal questions about ourselves, and then we had to share our answers with our colleagues.  It was a "deep dive" kind of thing, and some of my co-workers got very emotional.  The idea behind doing this is to bring us all a little closer, help us understand how and why we think and do the things we do, and frankly, allow us to get to know a little more about each other.  The questions were actually very thought provoking, and I don't mind sharing them here.

1.  What are you known for?

I'm known for being a nice guy, and I don't say that to brag.  Among the other managers, I'm usually the one who either compromises or goes along with everyone else.  I don't argue, I don't fight, I don't disagree.  I may express my displeasure or disappointment over a particular issue, but I don't make a big deal out of it, and overall I don't push it if I'm on the losing end of an issue.  That said, I also have a reputation for being the "nice boss" among my employees.  That said, the negative for being this way is that I tend to get taken advantage of, and some even look at me as weak.  I've had to "take one for the team" in some situations involving benefits one group in our organization may have over my group.  That isn't good, and it has gotten me into trouble.  This has led me to bottle up my disappointment or anger when I don't get my way, because I don't want others to know something is bothering me.  Because I battle depression, this sometimes brings me down.  The nice guy almost always finishes last.

2.  What are your 3 favorite movies and why?


My favorite movie of all time is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  It is the classic story of a great man, played by my favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, who grows up in a small town and who finds himself sacrificing what he wants to do, his passions, in order to do the right thing.  Very simply, it ends up costing him his happiness, and after entertaining thoughts of suicide after a particularly hard situation that wasn't his fault, but could bring shame to him and his family, as well as costing him his livelihood, he is visited by a Heaven-sent angel who shows him what the world would be like had he never been born.  He comes to realize his life really was worth living, and that he has many friends, as almost the entire town comes to his rescue.  It is the ultimate feel-good movie.  I catch it every year at the AFI Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring in the days leading up to Christmas.  It still brings a tear to my eye every time I see it.


Movie number 2 is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, which is about a man named Joe, played by Tom Hanks, who is unhappy in his life, in his job, and comes to find out he is dying.  He is visited by a rich industrialist who makes a deal with him.  Since he is dying anyway, the rich man convinces him to help him secure a rare mineral he needs from the natives of a small island in the South Pacific who need a sacrificial lamb to appease their gods by jumping into a volcano.  In return, Joe can live like a king, buying anything he wants, while journeying to the island during the time he has left before he dies.  Along the way, he meets several very different women, all played by a beautifully wacky Meg Ryan, one of whom he falls in love with during his journey.  One of my favorite scenes from the movie is of Tom Hanks's character, Joe, floating on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, who sees the moon rise over the horizon, and he exclaims, "Dear God, whose name I do not know...thank you for my life.  I forgot how BIG...!  Thank you for my life."  It's a powerful scene.  The movie is a wonderful fairy tale of a story, filled with symbolism, and ultimately results in the power of love over death.  It's one of those movies I can watch any time, and I do watch it at least once every year.  It also provides the title of this blog, as Meg Ryan's character asks Joe, "I wonder where we'll end up?"  And Joe replies, "Away from the things of man, my love....away from the things of man."


Move number 3 is REAR WINDOW, an Alfred Hitchcock-directed masterpiece, starring Jimmy Stewart as a professional photographer who breaks his leg while working and is stuck in his tiny apartment in a wheelchair unable to do anything except for ogle at his neighbors surrounding the courtyard outside his back window.  He has a wonderfully beautiful girlfriend, Grace Kelly, who despite he glamorous lifestyle, wants to prove to our hero that she can be just as adventurous as him, and sets out to prove it once they become suspicious of one particular neighbor who they believe may have killed his wife.  After watching his brave girlfriend in danger, and then he himself gets into danger, he finds out just how much he truly loves her.  The movie explores the hazards of being a Peeping Tom, no matter how innocent it may seem, and is as suspenseful as Hitchcock's best films.  In fact, it's my favorite Hitchcock movie.

3. What is the world's greatest need?

At the risk of sounding like a child of the 60s (which I am, I guess), I believe the world's greatest need is LOVE.  With love comes an end to war, a sharing of resources, man helping man, the eradication of disease and hunger, and the bringing about of Christ's love across the planet.  I truly believe it's as simple (and complicated) as loving your neighbor.

4.  What is the convergence of questions 2 and 3?

This was a challenging question for me, as it was explained to me that we needed to find the relationship between what our favorite movies mean to us and their connections to the world's greatest need.  Unfortunately, two of the movies deal with suicide, and the third deals with a man with a death wish.  Okay, not really, but in all three, the hero triumphs over evil, or incredible trials, which results in a better situation than was there previously.  One could argue that just about every movie ever made is a battle between good and evil, but all three of these movies show the power of love, in different ways, over evil (or dangerous situations).

The final question, which isn't really a question, states that we should share 3 or 4 experiences that shaped who you are, and who you are becoming.  Since this resulted in a rather long answer, I'll share it with you next time.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting Reacquainted With Grace

A rainbow over Grace Community Church
With schools out on Friday, I sent my Melody, my daughter, over to her grandparents for the weekend.  My in-laws love having her, though I think it's sometimes a challenge keeping her occupied.  They're pretty busy with their church.  My father-in-law is the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Damascus, and they always have thing to do, so Melody ends up being put to work.  They are in the midst of a rebuilding project, with major renovations to the front of their church building, and Saturday was spent doing a lot of cleanup inside their sanctuary.  Melody told me last night that she was helping with some painting.  I'm glad she's learning a trade.

I felt like I was on vacation, even though it was pretty much business as usual.  I love my little girl, even though I rarely spend time without her.  I took advantage of the time by getting reacquainted with my church, Grace Community.  I've loved my church, and have attended Grace for almost 12 years.  The support I've received from many of the staff has been so important to my general outlook following the death of my wife Teresa in 2004, in particular folks like Pastors Mark Norman and Tim Siemens.  Mark is an incredible lead Pastor, and his messages have been some of the best I've ever heard.  Adding to the staff in more recent years has only increased the number of great preachers there, including Mitchel Lee and Rich Yauger.

The only frustrating thing for me is where I fit in at this church.  It appears that God keeps opening and closing doors, and I can only trust Him through this process.  In the past, I have found my roles pretty quickly, and they always play to my strengths.  I spent over ten years as a youth counselor at several churches, prior to meeting Teresa, and I had a blast.  It was good for me and I know God used me as He saw fit.  Together, Teresa and I led the drama ministry at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, where we attended after marrying, and just before finding ourselves at Grace.  Following her death, it took me awhile to find a ministry at Grace that I could fit into, and through much encouragement, I joined the drama ministry.  Just as I was gaining confidence and enjoying my role, the drama group kind of folded up and I felt a bit aimless again.  I prayed about it quite a bit.  My role as father to my little girl, who was still quite young, took priority, and I just didn't know where I fit in.  God wasn't pushing me in any particular direction, and maybe being Dad was the reason why.

I tried out volunteering in Melody's classroom during the summer several years ago, and quickly realized that I was in the wrong place.  My hat's off to those who do volunteer there every week.  They are truly gifted, and they have my appreciation for giving my girl a wonderful place to learn about God.  But I really wasn't comfortable in there.  It was definitely outside my comfort zone.  I've worked with teens for most of my life, but even my role of father couldn't compare to working with the little kids.  Enter Stephen Namie, the worship director at our church.  He invited me to help out with a video project he was doing for the worship service, and after participating with that, he began using me in other projects, doing readings and videos here and there, and I figured this was where my role would be.  After Stephen's tragic death (so similar to my wife's), I kind of lost my direction again, and I really didn't know where I fit in.

In the last month, I've tried to focus on my daughter and her future.  She has so much talent, and watching her sing with the praise band at my in-laws church, her solos on Christmas Eve, and her emerging instrumental talent (with her clarinet at school, and now with the potential on guitar), I'm trying to encourage her, looking ahead to middle school and her involvement in the youth program.  Perhaps that's where my future lies.  Youth ministry was always one of my strengths.  We'll see.

In the meantime, I enjoyed the Men's Breakfast on Saturday morning.  It was great to reconnect with my friend Rick (check out his blog:  Mr. Garner Goes To Washington), and finally meeting Bob after much too long (check out his blog, too:  Pastor Bob Tousey).  I enjoyed hearing Fred, one of the men of Grace, share his heart and his family, especially his two wonderful sons.  It was really kind of Pastor Tim to ask about me and my girl before the church service last night, and Pastor Ryan Richardson had a great message (if not a messy sandwich...you'd have to be there).  And, wow, that wonderful music from the praise team which, at one point, caused me to get emotional.  It was a wonderful weekend at Grace.


Thank you, Lord, for your direction and presence in my life, and in my church community...

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Separated at Birth?

I was headed out the door after a long day of decision making at work today when my old pal Gary walked into the room.  I had just closed my office door and was headed towards the elevators, and Gary made a comment about how I looked.  He said, "Wow, you look just like that guy on the show BLUE BLOODS."  I said, "You mean Tom Selleck?"  He said that was who he meant.  I asked him if he was sure.  I mean, Tom Selleck was one of the sex symbols of the 80s, a tall, ruggedly handsome star of TV and movies, from MAGNUM PI to QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER.  From 3 MEN AND A BABY to MR. BASEBALL.  From JESSE STONE to Monica's much older boyfriend on FRIENDS.  The guy with more hair in his mustache than I had on my entire body when I was a teen.  The modern day John Wayne.  Women idolize this guy.  And he's still "got" it, right?  And I was being compared to HIM?  Gary said, "Yeah, you've even got his mannerisms down."  I immediately stopped slouching, straightened my tie, and brushed the hair out of my face.  My OA (office administrator), Miss K, who witnessed the exchange, laughed at me.  However, the damage was done.  I had a jolt of confidence that has been absent for longer than I care to admit.  I was feeling pretty cool.  I had a bounce in my step all the way to my car.

When I got home and changed out of my work clothes, I looked in the bathroom mirror and reality came crashing in on me.  If I really resemble Tom Selleck, then he's in pretty sad shape.  Oh, well.  It was nice for a little while.  Maybe I need to go out and get a shiny red Ferrari.  And color my mustache.  And find some hot 20-something girlfriend.... And then maybe forget the whole thing.

Tom Selleck?  Sheesh...

Separated at birth?
***

I am so excited about baseball season.  My Pittsburgh Pirates, a playoff team for the past two years, look to at least be as strong this season as last, and for the second straight off season, I'm feeling really good about their chances for success.  I love their rotation, the fact that they brought back AJ Burnett (that he actually WANTED to come back to the Bucs!), and resigned Francisco Liriano, and Gerrit Cole settling in as the Ace of the staff.  I love the pick up of Korean star Jung Ho Kang, a slugger who is making his American debut.  I love the formidable starting outfielders, Starling Marte, youngster Gregory Polanco, and MVP-contender Andrew McCutchen.  I can't wait to see what the exciting Josh Harrison can do over a full season as a starter.  I'm hoping Pedro Alvarez can transition over to first base and return to the power-hitting home run champ he was in 2013.  And I just love watching the hometown Pittsburgh Kid, Neil Walker.  This team is for real, and will contend once again.  How can you not get excited about that?  I'm so glad football season is over.  Bring on March Madness, then let's get some Baseball Fever!

Raise The Jolly Roger!
Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Eric The Uncanny Cartographer

Eric the Uncanny Cartographer...nimble, noble, and nearsighted.  Maker of Aeronautical Charts.  Circa 1994.

Whew!  Those glasses....

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Adventure Saturday

Melody and I have spent the past few weeks dealing with illnesses, bad weather, missed work (and school!), and other nonsense, so I told her that Saturday would be an "Adventure Day" the likes we haven't seen in a long while.  She was on board, so we turned in relatively early on Friday night in hopes of getting a great start on Saturday morning.  We didn't do too badly.

I was up at 7:45 a.m., and Melody got up shortly after that.  We got ready and left the house at 9:30, which was later than I wanted, but when dealing with a pre-teen daughter, I'll take it.  It was a cold morning, and knowing we would be inside and outside, we had to compromise a bit.  That meant layers.  Now we were ready.

We stopped for breakfast at the College Park Diner, which we, surprisingly to me, had never tried before.  It's a winner.  The location is on US 1 just north of the University of Maryland, in an old Toddle House, if you can remember those.  They began in the 1920s, and gained new and bigger life in the '80s.  There was one just down the street from our church in Camp Springs, MD, though I think I ate there only once.  The chain grew a bit, but then began a fast decline and are now gone, but many of their distinct buildings live on as diners or food stands.  They are designed like a small house, but inside is a row of counter seats and booths surrounding the visible kitchen, like a typical diner.  I had a great time just sitting there people watching while we ate, and I found myself tweeting (@Eric66F) what I saw:

  • People watching at the College Park diner...
  • ...the elderly couple having breakfast; she talking nonstop, while he just smiled and stared at her adoringly...
  • ...the giant gent sitting at the counter, a dead ringer for Mike Webster, reading the C.S. Lewis book MERE CHRISTIANITY...
  • ...the two 50ish guys who look like they both just rolled out of bed, catching up in animated conversation...
  • ...the very polite family in the minivan with the New Jersey plates, who ate and were in and out in under 30 minutes...
  • ...the guy in the Raiders cap, sitting by himself at the counter, with a passing resemblance to Bill Cosby, whose wife went to Maryland...
  • ...the very busy and business-like staff, a mini melting pot of nationalities...
  • ...the two rather large young ladies who are pouring over the menu with gusto, discussing the pros and cons of different breakfast items...
After we ate, we drove a few blocks down the street to the College Park Metro, and then rode down to the DC Convention Center at Mt. Vernon Square for the Washington Auto Show.  I love going to the Auto Show, and used to go every year.  I don't go quite as much in recent years because it is so late in January.  It used to be during the week between Christmas and New Years Day, and I loved going downtown during the Holidays.  My guess it they moved it because so many people had other things to do during that week, and they figured they might have better attendance.  That's just a hunch on my part, though.

Melody came off the Metro feeling sick.  She was very close to throwing up, and we made our way out into the fresh air at the top of the escalator.  I was worried about her.  She never gets sick like that (stomach-related) and has only thrown up once, ever.  We guessed maybe it was something she ate at the Diner, or maybe motion-sickness from the Metro ride.  Within minutes, she was fine, though, and after making sure she was okay going forward with our plans, we headed in.  Entry was $12/adults and $5/kids under 12.  We headed down to the first floor, and immediately headed over to "Camp Jeep," which offers free rides in a Jeep through an obstacle course.  There were a lot of people in line, but it went quickly (like being in line for a roller coaster), and we were soon boarding a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Special Edition.  I talked Melody into letting me ride up front in the passenger seat, and she rode in the back with a little girl and her father.  It was a cool ride, including a rough ride across a bunch of logs, a climb up a steep hill and back down, then a ramp at a 30 degree angle, and finally, another hill.  The guy driving said he had a 2-door Wrangler that he takes off-road a lot, and convinced me that I should do the same, and join a Jeep club in the area.


We went through the rest of the car showroom fairly quickly, and by 1 p.m. we were ready to go find some lunch.  It was cold out, but we were only a few blocks from Chinatown, so we decided to walk down there.  We found Matchbox, which I had heard about due to their great pizzas, so we gave it a try.  It was crowded inside, but with only a 20 minute wait, we were seated soon enough.  Melody and I both got small 10" pizzas.  While Melody likes her plain cheese pizzas, I tried the spicy sopressata salami and wild mushroom.  It was very good, probably one of the ten best pizzas I've ever had.  Matchbox is a cool place.  It is very narrow, but it's multi-stories with plenty of (tight) seating, and the service was great.


We thought about going to one of the museums, since Melody was dreading the ride home on Metro, afraid she might get sick again, but it was getting late and we wanted to attend church at Grace Community at 5:30 p.m., so we headed home.  It was a quick ride, and she made it without a repeat of her sick feeling.  Since we were in the area, we decided to take a quick side trip past my first home, my parent's first house, in Riverdale, just off of Kenilworth Avenue near East West Highway/Riverdale Road.  It's such a tiny little box of a house, with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath upstairs, and a small bedroom my father finished off in the basement.  At one point, there were six of us living there (Mom, Dad, me, my sister, my uncle, and a family friend), and we all had to share one bathroom!


We made one more stop, in Maryland City, at Sweet Frog, where we got some frozen yogurt for dessert (Matchbox's desserts are pretty pricey).  While sitting in Sweet Frog, we noticed a brand-new Chipotle on the other side of the parking lot.  That was a surprise, and it is the closest Chipotle to our home.  We decided to run over and grab some dinner to go, and so, after church, we came home to a delicious Chipotle dinner.

And that was the end of our Adventure Saturday.  It was a lot of fun, and we had a great time.

Have a great evening, everyone!