Saturday, August 29, 2015

Teachers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amazing stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ocean City

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

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

Dinner at the Dough Roller

A ride through the old Haunted House

Walking the Boardwalk

Us on the Boardwalk

Relaxing on the beach

Me and my girl...on the beach

Lunch at the Atlantic Stand, on the Boardwalk

An evening on the Boardwalk

Riding a bike built for two, on the Boardwalk

Ripley's Believe It Or Not

The Ocean City Boardwalk

At the Ocean City Gallery

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


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Busch Gardens on National Roller Coaster Day

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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




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


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


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

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Finally Home Again!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, August 14, 2015

Atlantic City


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

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Two TV Kind of Night

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

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

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


Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Friday, August 7, 2015

She's HOME!!!


She's HOME!!!  Yay, she's home!  Yes, she's home.  She IS home!  I'm happy.  She's happy! Faithful Pup Scout is happy!  Everyone is happy!  Because SHE'S HOME!!!

It was a very long week.  I'm so happy my daughter is home!

Have a great weekend, everyone!  We sure will!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Day In My Life

The alarm went off, it was time to get up.
I said, "Good morning," to my little pup.

I jumped out of bed and stretched my legs;
I was craving breakfast; maybe farm-fresh eggs?

A warm shower beckoned, and then I got dressed.
My teeth were all brushed, and my breath was refreshed.

I packed a good lunch, and my pup got her food;
We took a quick walk, and the sunrise we viewed.

Saying goodbye, I went straight to my car;
I hit the road running, my drive wasn't far.

I entered my office, and turned on my PC;
Checked all my email, and brewed some coffee.

My crew then showed up and we planned out our day;
We had much to do, so we all earned our pay.

My first meeting was short, and the second was long;
The third was with a guy nicknamed King Kong!

After a while, I shook off the moss;
I walked up the stairs to visit my boss.

Her mood was good; I never can tell,
Sometimes she's calm; others she yells.

I updated her on the state of our project;
That made her happy to hear it is not wrecked.

Leftovers were good, and made a nice lunch;
But I had no time to enjoy it; I had a time crunch.

One more big meeting, and then I could go home;
It was long and boring, and inspired this poem.

I rushed out the door and to home I did trek;
I thanked the good Lord that I avoided a wreck.

So happy to see me was Faithful Pup Scout;
She jumped in my arms and licked over my mouth.

We ate a good dinner, then got ready to sleep;
I prayed to the Lord my soul He will keep.

Thank you, Lord, for my life.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Feeling Funky

Despite a good night's rest, I awoke on Sunday morning still in a funk.  I was hopeful that a new day would result in a better mood and outlook, but I was feeling lost from the moment I climbed out of bed.  Why does this seem to happen every time I'm by myself?  I hated saying goodbye to my daughter, Melody, on Saturday, as she left to spend the whole week with her grandparents (my in-laws).  This was necessary because camp is over for the the Summer, and I have to work, which means my daughter gets to spend time with her grandparents out of necessity.  She'll continue next week by staying with my parents for the week.  And while I believe it's good for her and them to spend time together, I just can't seem to keep it together, feeling intense loneliness while she's gone.

This isn't good.

After taking care of Faithful Pup Scout with a trip outside and giving her some breakfast, I got a bowl of cereal and a mug of java and watched some TV.  Several hours later, I was still in front of the TV.  My main chore for the day was to cut the grass, which I finally motivated myself into doing around mid-afternoon, when the sun was its hottest.  After finishing the grass-cutting, I cooled off on the couch, thinking about what I was doing.  I needed to get out of the house.

I cleaned up and changed clothes, then jumped into my little car, threw the top down, and took off down the road.  I really didn't have a direction or destination in mind, but I generally get pulled into a westerly direction.  I headed down Gorman Road, then Sanner Road, then Guilford Road heading towards Clarksville.  I lost interest in the music playing on my radio, and I just shut it off.  I just listened to the sound of the tires moving along on the asphalt, and it felt good.  It was the same direction and roads that I traveled on the fateful evening when my wonderful wife went to be with the Lord.  Upon arriving at Route 108, I took a right turn, deviating from that track.  I decided at this point on a destination.  It's where I always go when I'm in this funk.  I stopped at the Giant in Clarksville and picked out a bouquet of flowers.  Then, back on the road, I took Route 108 to Sheppard Lane.  I continued straight through the roundabout onto Folly Quarter Road to Route 144 (Frederick Road).  I turned left for a few miles, and then right onto Sand Hill Road.  At the next roundabout, I entered Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens, the home of my wife's Earthly remains.

I'm not sure why I feel so drawn to cemeteries.  It was only a few weeks ago when my daughter and I stopped at the cemetery between Brownsville and Uniontown, PA, to visit my grandparent's grave site.  And here I was at my wife's.  I parked and walked across the small field over to my wife's grave, where I arranged the flowers nicely into the attached vase.  I said a prayer, asking God to bring me out of this funk.  I just want to get my life back.  I sat on a nearby bench and thought about the location of the cemetery, and the faint sound of traffic cruising by on Interstate 70.  I tried to lose myself in the moment.  It was hot, but at least it wasn't humid.

I returned to my car after about 20 minutes.  I drove back out to Sand Hill Road, took a left onto Route 144, then another left on Marriottsville Road.to US 40.  I headed towards Ellicott City, turned right onto St. Johns Lane, then another left onto Frederick Road and went towards old Ellicott City.  I love this town.  But I didn't spend any time there.  I immediately turned right onto Old Columbia Pike, taking it up to Route 103, then right onto 104, and back to Route 108.  I stopped at the Centre Park Giant for a few groceries, then I drove towards home, arriving at around 7.  Scout seemed happy to see me.  I at a light dinner, then washed it down with a homemade milkshake made with sugar-free vanilla ice cream.

Then I crashed.  I was still down.  I was tired, but I didn't want to go to bed quite yet.  I watched a little TV, then snoozed on the couch.  I struggled to go upstairs to my bed, but once there, I quickly drifted off to a sound sleep.  I know this only because I didn't wake up until my alarm went off.  After getting ready for work, I was right back in the same funk.  And so, here I am.

Right now I'm tired, and I'm going straight to bed, even with the Cubs-Pirates match-up going on.  Tomorrow is another day the Lord has made, and I'll try to be glad in it.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

And Then She Was Gone...

And then she was gone.  I didn't want her to go, even though I know it's for the best.  But we've been doing so much together recently, and being without her makes me feel really alone.  I know she's going to enjoy herself, even if I can't be a part of it, and I'll just have to make the best of things.  Saying goodbye is never easy.  Thank goodness she'll be home on Friday.

Well, who did you think I was talking about?


Melody, my daughter, is finished with camp for this Summer, and for the next few weeks she'll be spending her time with her grandparents, since I have to continue to work.  Then, after another short getaway for the two of us, she starts school.  And, just like that, the Summer is over.

Melody LOVED camp!  Just like last Summer, and the Summer before that, and every Summer for the past six years, Melody has enjoyed camp.  The attention she gets from young women working at the camp as counselors, who channel a love for the Lord and have so much influence on her, is a great highlight and the focus of so much of what I like about her attending camp.  Grace Community, our church, hosts the camp every Summer, and they do such a great job with it.  It doesn't seem to matter that the cast seems to change every few years, Melody makes enough connections to benefit greatly from these counselors, and they are wonderful role models to the students.

Today, though, with camp over for this Summer, I sent her to stay with her grandparents, my in-laws, and they have a lot of fun stuff planned for the next week.  I'm sure she will have a great time.  Then, after a weekend at home with me, I'll send her over to my parent's place and she'll spend the week with them.

That means I'm by myself for most of the next few weeks.  That's harder on me than you might think.  Most parents would love to have their kid(s) out of the house for a while, if for no other reason than to cut back on that feeling of responsibility and have a little freedom.  This is much like a vacation away from my daughter.  But I still miss her so much.  I don't like the solitary life like I used to.  Melody provides that shot of life that is just plain missing when she's away.  But it's good for her, and the time she spends with her grandparents is just as important.

After saying goodbye, I came home to change, then I went right back out to church.  I really love the Saturday evening service.  It's so relaxed. Pastor Rich grew up in the same hometown as my father, and so we have in common a nostalgia for that area, along with the values that seem to infuse themselves onto everyone who grew up in the Mid-West (which, to me, encompasses everything west of the Appalachians and east of the Great Plains).  We also love our sports teams in that region.  Rich gave us a great message, and I'm so appreciative of the great pastors that are blessing the congregation of Grace Community.

I decided to get a Ledo's pizza on my way home.  I have not had one in quite a while, and felt like splurging.  It was great.  After eating, and watching some TV, I found myself snoozing on the couch.  I awoke suddenly at around 11.  I was typing up this blog post, and much of the last few paragraphs were gibberish.  So, here it is Sunday morning and I'm trying to make sense of what I was writing.  Hope this is a little more entertaining.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer 2015 Road Trip, Part 4: Pittsburgh

7/16/2015 - Cincinnati to Pittsburgh; Clear 80s


Up at 7:30.  We got ready, but didn't actually leave until almost 10.  We tried to get breakfast, but it was way too crowded and nowhere near enough food.  Bad scene, and I felt badly for the overworked young lady working all by herself to prepare food, take care of people, and clean tables.  I don't usually do this, but I complained to the woman at the front desk.  Rather than be understanding, the lady there debated me to justify their poor service:  "Well, the hotel is completely full."  It was full the day before, too, and there wasn't a problem with breakfast.  Oh, well.  We headed out and went up the road a few miles and found a Frisch's Big Boy.  Wow, was it good!  We continued down the highway and arrived in Canton, OH, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It was surprisingly crowded, but really cool, too.





Saw all of the enshrined Pittsburgh Steelers, and watched their movie about the season last completed (which ended with the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl).  On to Pittsburgh!  Our lousy Garmin GPS gave us a lousy route again, so it was a LONG trip to Pittsburgh.  We finally stopped for dinner just outside of the city, and another Max & Erma's, at 7:30.  We made a quick stop at Target, then, after wrestling with a major road construction project on Route 51, we arrived at our semi-uncomfortable Comfort Inn.  On to bed at 11.  Lord, Thanks!


7/17/2015 - Kennywood!  West Mifflin, PA; Partly cloudy, rain, sunshine, 80s.

Up at 7:30.  Sleepy Melody up a little later.  We got ready and ate, then headed out to Kennywood!  Great day at the park, even with the occasional light drizzle, and that was completely gone by 3 p.m.  We rode all of the coasters:  The Racer, Thunderbolt, Phantom's Revenge, Sky Rocket, and the Jack Rabbit.  Just a great day.  We rode lots of other rides, too, like Noah's Ark, and we played games, took pictures, at good food, and we even rode the paddle boats.  We decided to call it a day at 7:30.







Back to hotel to turn in a little early...Hopefully we'll get some extra sleep.  We watched a little TV, read, and on to bed.  Lord, thanks!


7/18/2015 - Strip District, Station Square, and Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA; Clear, 80s.

Up at 7:30.  I got ready, but let Melody sleep a little extra.  I went down for breakfast and brought some back for Melody.  She got ready and we headed out to the Strip District.  We had a lot of fun walking around and wandering and street shopping.  It's like a big flea market.  We bought a few things.



We ate out on the deck at Roland's.  I had a pizza, and Melody had a salad.  Shopped a little more, then we headed back to our hotel to regroup and cool off.  Then it was off to Station Square, and Highmark Stadium, for Dejan Kovajevic's DK On Pittsburgh Sports Lunatic Bash!  DK gave all of his followers two free tickets to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer match vs. Louisville.  We also saw Meghan Klingenberg, who was honored for the Women's US National Team's win in the World Cup.  She's a Pittsburgh native.  Great time!  We left shortly after halftime, then went to get dinner at Steak N Shake in Homestead.  Stopped at Target for ice cream and a couple of games.  Back to our Comfort Inn and we crashed for the night.  Last night of the vacation!


Lord, thank you for taking such great care of us and for a wonderful vacation.  Please keep us safe as we travel home!


7/19/2015 - Pittsburgh to HOME; Hot 90s!

Up at 7:30.  Packing up.  Melody got up, we checked out, and we went out to breakfast at Our Little Secret.  Really nice little shop and great breakfast.  Nice people.  Back to Station Square for a few souvenirs.





Then we began the long journey home.  Down 51 to Route 43 to Old US 40 in Brownsville.  We stopped at the cemetery there and visited my grandparent's grave site.  Continued through Uniontown and Grantsville.  Stopped at the Hilltop Fruit Market for a few things, then on to LaVale for a late lunch at Bob Evan's.  Hit some really bad traffic on 70 just past Hancock.  We took a "shortcut" through Boonsboro on Alternate 40, but got stuck behind some really slow drivers.  Back on 70 outside Frederick, and we continued to Route 32 towards home.  Stopped for a few groceries, and finally arrived at home at 7:45.  Whew!

Lord, thank you for a fantastic journey!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Roller Coaster Inventory UPDATED

Last year, after a record year for roller coaster riding, my daughter Melody and I decided to inventory our roller coaster rides.  We love roller coasters, and we've been on quite a few, all across the United States.  We used the Roller Coaster DataBase (http://rcdb.com/) to help us compile our list.  There are several that Melody rode that I have not (indicated by a double asterisk - **), and there are a bunch of others that I rode without Melody, mostly long before she was born (indicated by a single asterisk - *).  Many are no longer around, having either been torn down long ago, or moved to another park (or country!).  When compiling the list, we did not include how many times we rode each one.  That was next to impossible for me, especially on ones I've been on hundreds of times since I was a kid (like one of my favorites, the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which I rode for the first time way back in the late 70s).  We were surprised by the results.  We hadn't realized just how many different roller coasters we've ridden.  Assuming the Roller Coaster DataBase is accurate (and I believe it is), and that my memory is accurate and I am remembering correctly all of the parks my family and I have visited since I was a kid, then our totals are:

Eric has ridden 137 coasters.  Melody has ridden 120 coasters!

(Just a note.... While doing the updates for this list, we discovered that Melody had ridden more coasters prior to our most recent road trip than we had initially counted.  She thought her 100th different coaster was The Voyage, at Holiday World, and we made a big deal about it at the time.  In reality, her 100th coaster was Batman The Ride, at Six Flags St. Louis, which she rode in July 2014!)

In no particular order, here is our list...

Busch Gardens Williamsburg - VA:
Alpengeist
Apollo's Chariot
Griffon
Grover's Alpine Express
Loch Ness Monster
Verbolten
Big Bad Wolf - gone
Drachen Fire* - gone
Das Katzchen* - gone
Die Wildkatze* - gone
Glissade* - gone
Wild Maus* - gone
Eric - 12 coasters, Melody - 7 (Numerous visits to the park)

Dutch Wonderland - PA:
Joust
Kingdom Coaster*
Eric - 2, Melody - 1 (about 10 or so visits)

Sesame Place - PA:
Vapor Trail
Both - 1 (about 10 or so visits)

Luna Park - NY:
Cyclone
Both - 1 (1 visit)

Knoebels - PA:
Phoenix
Twister
Both - 2 (1 visit)

Idlewild - PA:
Rollo Coaster
Both - 1 (1 visit)

Kennywood - PA:
Phantom's Revenge
Jack Rabbit
Racer
Thunderbolt
Sky Rocket
Laser Loop* - gone
Eric - 6, Melody - 5 (3 and 2 visits)

Cedar Point - OH:
Blue Streak
Cedar Creek Mine Ride
Corkkscrew
Gemini
Iron Dragon
Magnum XL-200
Maverick
Mean Streak
Millennium Force
Raptor
Wicked Twister
Woodstock Express
Disaster Transport* - gone
Mantis* - transformed into a new coaster
Eric - 14, Melody - 12 (2 and 1 visits)

Hershey Park - PA:
Comet
Fahrenheit
Great Bear
Lightning Racer
Sidewinder (Melody finally rode this coaster in May '15)
Skyrush
Sooperdooperlooper
Storm Runner
Trailblazer
Wild Mouse
Wildcat
Both - 11 (about a dozen visits)

Kings Dominion - VA:
Anaconda
Avalanche
Back Lot Stunt Coaster
Grizzly
Hurler
Intimidator 305
Rebel Yell
Ricochet
Shockwave
Volcano
Woodstock Express/Scooby Doo
Galaxi* - gone
HyperSonic XLC* - gone
King Kobra* - gone
Eric - 14, Melody - 11 (10 or so and 1 visits)

Six Flags America/Wild World - MD:
Apocalypse
Batwing
Joker's Jinx
Mind Eraser
Ragin' Cajun
Roar
Superman - Ride of Steel
Wild One
Both - 8 (about 10 or so and 2 visits)

Six Flags Great America - IL:
American Eagle
Dark Knight
Demon
Goliath
Vertical Velocity
Whizzer
Both - 6 (1 visit)

Six Flags St. Louis - MO:
American Thunder
Batman The Ride (Melody's 100th Coaster)
Boss
Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast
Ninja
Pandemonium
River King Mine Train
Screamin' Eagle
Both - 8 (1 visit)

New York New York Casino - Las Vegas, NV:
Big Apple Coaster
Both - 1 (7 and 1 visits)

NASCAR Cafe - Las Vegas, NV:
Speed:  The Ride* - gone
Eric - 1 (1 visit)

Adventuredome - Las Vegas, NV:
Canyon Blaster*
Eric - 1 (1 visit)

Six Flags Magic Mountain - CA:
Apocalypse The Ride
Gold Rusher
Goliath
Ninja
Road Runner Express**
Scream!
Colossus
Viper
X2
Eric - 8, Melody - 9 (1 visit)

Universal Studios Hollywood - CA:
Revenge of the Mummy
Both - 1 (1 visit)

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure - FL:
Incredible Hulk*
Pteranodon Flyers*
Dueling Dragons (Dragon Challenge)*
Eric - 3, Melody - 0 (too young) (2 and 1 visits)

Universal Studios Florida - FL:
Revenge of the Mummy*
Eric - 1, Melody - 0 (too young) (3 and 1 visits)

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom - FL:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Space Mountain*
Eric - 2, Melody - 1 (2 and 1 visits)

Legoland Florida:
Lego Technic Test Track
Coastersaurus
The Dragon
Both - 3 (1 visit)

Busch Gardens Tampa - FL:
Air Grover**
Cheetah Hunt
Gwazi
Montu
Sand Serpent
Scorpion
SheiKra
Python* - gone
Eric - 8, Melody - 8 (3 and 2 visits)

Sea World Orlando - FL:
Manta
Kraken
Both - 2 (1 and 2 visits)

Dollywood - TN:
Blazing Fury*
Mystery Mine
Tennessee Tornado
Thunderhead
Eric - 4, Melody - 3 (2 and 1 visits)

Holiday World - IN:
The Legend
The Raven
Thunderbird
The Voyage
Both - 4 (1 visit)

Kings Island - OH:
Adventure Express
Backlot Stunt Coaster
Banshee
The Bat
The Beast
Diamondback
Firehawk
Flight of Fear
Flying Ace Aerial Chase
Invertigo
Racer
Vortex
Both - 12 (1 visit)



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer 2015 Road Trip, Part 3: Kings Island & Roller Coasters


7/15/2015 - Kings Island, Cincinnati, Ohio; Nice 70s to 80s

Up at 7.  We got ready, ate a nice breakfast, then headed out to Kings Island amusement park.  Kings Island got its claim to fame by being featured on the Brady Bunch TV show years ago, not too long after it opened, as well as on other shows.  Beautiful weather sparked a fantastic day at the park, riding lots of great rides and some incredible roller coasters!  This was our first time visiting this park.  It was fun!  We rode the Beast, an awesome wooden roller coaster, the longest in North America, and one of the best coasters I've ever been on.  It's like a runaway truck, hitting some impressive speeds and Gs, roaring down the track deep into the woods.  What an incredible ride!  We also rode the Diamondback, a really great hyper coaster that reminded me a bit of Apollo's Chariot (Busch Gardens Williamsburg), and just a little bit better!  We also rode Adventure Express, an old mine coaster, Backlot Stunt Coaster (just like its twin at Kings Dominion in Doswell, VA), Banshee (World's longest inverted coaster), Firehawk (where you ride on your back and stomach), the Bat (just like the old Big Bad Wolf at BGW), Flight of Fear (an indoor coaster, another twin of one at KD), Invertigo, the Racer (reminded me of the Rebel Yell at KD), Vortex (which was similar in some ways to the Loch Ness Monster, at BGW), and the Flying Ace Aerial Chase (a very tame inverted coaster), for an even dozen different coasters!  Just an all-around great day!

Big day of travel tomorrow, Lord, so please keep us safe!  Thank you for a wonderful day!



Banshee!


Invertigo

Entrance to Firehawk and Flight of Fear through The Racer
Flight of Fear

The Racer

Waiting to ride The Bat

Riding on The Bat



Vortex

Vortex

The Diamondback

Have a great evening, everyone!  To be continued...