Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Vegas Sights


Melody and a living statue, at the Venetian.

New York New York

The Excalibur

MGM Grand

Melody at the Hard Rock Cafe

Yours Truly at the Hard Rock Cafe

The Frankenstein Monster grooving on The Strip

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Break Eve

It's the Eve of Spring Break!  The house sitter is arranged, the Faithful Pup Scout sitter is arranged, everything is packed, tickets are purchased, reservations are made, prayers have been said, and we're ready to go!  Just a half day of work tomorrow, and then we can go, go, go.

So where are we going?  We'll be mostly on the West Coast, the first time for my traveling partner, daughter Melody.  There will also be a road trip and lots of roller coasters, as well as a television appearance, if all goes as planned.

Updates will be appearing periodically over the next week, along with the occasional picture or three, here on the blog.  Hope you all have a great break!

Best wishes and blessings!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Favorite Muscle Cars

I'm a car buff, and I love classic muscle cars!  While growing up, my best friend, Milton, had a bunch of classic cars.  His father had a '55 Thunderbird and a '60 Corvette.  When Milton started driving, he had a '66 Mustang.  I was just a bit jealous.  My uncle had a '68 Olds 442 that I loved.  My parents loved their Oldsmobiles, too.  Mom's first car was a '66 Olds 442.  Dad bought a long string of Cutlasses, including a '68, a '71, a '74, and, later, a '67, then a '72.  I fell in love with our '72 Cutlass, which was gold with a black vinyl top.  Dad traded it in a few years before I started driving... for an '81 Chevy Citation!  Blech.  When it was my turn to get a car, I started with an '81 Olds SportOmega, which was kind of different.  It wasn't a muscle car, but it was colorful.  It was 2-tone white on gray, with orange and red stripes along the sides and back, and "SportOmega" in big white letters on each door.  I got something a little more normal with my second car, an '85 Olds Cutlass.  It had mag wheels and lettered tires, and looked faster than it was.  It had a V6 engine.  But my next car was true muscle... in an 80s car.  It was an '87 Olds 442.  It was a beautiful car, navy blue on gray, with T-tops.  It had a 307 and was plenty quick, and it sounded great.  Unfortunately, it was a lemon, and spent a lot of time in the shop with all sorts of problems, including electrical problems and a bad oil leak, then a gasoline leak.  Everytime I turned around, I had to spend money to fix it.  I finally sold it after only 3 years, and a woman who had one just like it bought it for her teenage daughter.  She wrecked it within a year.

So I would love to get another muscle car someday.  And not just an 80s version.  I want a true late 60s/early 70s muscle car.  Here are a few of my favorites:


The 442s are still my all-time favorites!



My cousin had an AMC AMX Javelin, and I thought it was really cool.



I really liked the MOPAR muscle cars, particularly this body style of the Dodge Challenger.



And anyone who watched The Dukes Of Hazard loved the Dodge Chargers.  My cousin had one just like this one.



My aunt had a Mercury Cougar, and I thought they were really cool, especially the back sequential turn signals.



Like the Challenger, the Plymouth Barracudas were awesome.



The Plymouth Dusters were another favorite.  They sure made a great police car...I had a model of a Duster police car.



The El Caminos were unique, and that made them cool.



I really wasn't much of a fan of the Mustangs, but the Mach 1 was pretty cool.



I loved the Chevy Novas.  My cousin had a souped up later model Nova that was really nice.



I loved the Plymouth Roadrunner.  It has a great look to it.



Finally, there's the Ford Torino.  I liked this body style better than the one that followed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Non-Hollywood Not So Happy Ending

Doggone you, Hollywood!  Why do you keep doing this?  Especially when I'm at my lowest?  Why is it that you always have to show a happy ending?  You know real life isn't like that.  There are so many people hurting, and you always have to take the unrealistic route.  Either tell a real story, or don't tell it at all.  Just don't create false hopes.

So what am I ranting about?  I had a rare day at home today, and found myself unintentionally watching a movie.  I don't know what it was called, but it's a pretty typical scenario for Hollywood movies.  A man and woman get married, then they find out that they're expecting, and then the wife dies during childbirth.  The husband then has to raise the baby all by himself, ultimately finding a new love that has no issues with the fact that the man is still pining for his dead wife.  And they all live happily ever after.... the husband, his new wife, the child, and the ghost of the dead wife.

That's not necessarily how it works in real life.  It really isn't as easy as Hollywood makes it seem.  The death of a spouse is such an awful experience.  It hurts to the depths of your soul.  Unless you've experienced it, you have no idea how devastating it is to lose the one person in your life who you share everything with.  It's like losing half of yourself, as, literally, your marriage is torn apart.  It's so different from divorce, since in the case of death, the person is gone, never to return.  And it leaves the surviving spouse alone.  And that loneliness impacts you to the core of your being.

In my case, my wife, Teresa, and I were walking around with our infant daughter one beautiful Spring evening over at Reservoir High School in Fulton, MD, where my wife taught 9th grade English, when my wife suddenly collapsed.  I watched her face drain of color and her eyes glaze over and slowly close.  Air escaped from her mouth causing her lips to flutter.  I didn't know what was happening.  I was fortunate that there were people nearby, and someone called 911, and another person, a nurse, came over and began administering CPR until the paramedics arrived.  The principal of the school, a close friend, took care of our daughter for me, so I could give Teresa my full attention.  The 911 operator kept trying to keep me calm, but when the police arrived, they had no way of knowing that there hadn't been foul play, and they immediately led me away from Teresa (at the time, I didn't know that I was all of a sudden a suspect in her death, since no one had seen her collapse except me).  It seemed to take forever, but they finally moved her to an ambulance.  I thought I was going to be able to ride in the ambulance with her, but a police officer took me in his car, and we followed the ambulance over to Howard County General.

Even after we arrived, I wasn't allowed to be near her.  The paramedics took her into the Emergency Room through the emergency entrance, while the police officer took me in through the main entrance.  He escorted me to a little room next to the emergency room.  It had a table, several chairs, and a Bible in the middle of the table.  I was left alone.  A few people came by over the next 15 minutes or so to check on me, and I kept asking about my wife, but no one would tell me anything.  I had called my in-laws and my parents during the drive over to the hospital to let them know what had happened, and they were all on their way.  I found myself paging through the Bible looking for verses that could comfort me, but the uncertainty of the situation made it hard to think clearly.  I prayed.  I was certain that Teresa would be okay, but I was concerned about how long she might be in the hospital, and how I was going care for our 5 month old daughter.  Finally, a doctor and a hospital employee entered the room.  They told me they had tried all they could, but Teresa couldn't be revived.  She was dead at the age of 31.  Though they wouldn't know the cause until the autopsy, it was determined that she had a massive heart attack due to complications from mitral valve prolapse and an enlarged heart, which may have been caused by the strain of childbirth.  We'll never know for sure.  Only that she was gone from our lives for the rest of our days in this life.

I was a mess after that.  I started to sob.  I couldn't imagine how I was going to make it without her.  How could I take care of a 5 month old baby?  This wasn't supposed to happen.  We had been married fewer than five years!  I was so fortunate to have so much of my family nearby to help me.  With them, we were able to get through the days, weeks, months, and years following Teresa's death.  My daughter is now ten years old.  I greatly desire companionship.  It's really hard being alone, especially after having such a wonderful marriage relationship that had God at its center.  I've had a few dating relationships, including one that came very close to marriage, but nothing yet.

If this was a Hollywood story, and to this point it very well could have been one, I would meet that wonderful, sweet young lady that would warm this widower's cold heart, and they would live happily ever after.  Maybe that will still happen.  Who knows?  But, you know, it just as easily may not happen.  Maybe God feels that it will be better for me not to marry again.  Maybe I'll have to wait until my daughter is all grown up before I find someone.  I just don't know how my story will go.  And that's why the Hollywood happy ending story is so hard to watch.  I may never get to have one.  And maybe, eventually, I'll even accept that and be content with it.  But right now it hurts.  I hate not having a companion to share things with, to be intimate with, to grow old with.  I pray every night for God's will on my life.  I remain hopeful.  And I think Him for my life.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Foggy Evening

In the "you get what you pay for" department, with a vacation to a warm climate coming up very soon, I decided I needed to get my hair cut.  Instead of going to the place I like to go to, which is a little more expensive and many times requires an appointment, I went to a discount chain to get a walk-in haircut.  The result was....well, not exactly what I wanted.  This happens so ridiculously often when I go to this particular place, and I don't know why I go back there.  In fact, the one young lady who has given me three other bad haircuts was in line to cut my hair this time, though I didn't know it was her turn when I told the receptionist I didn't care who cut my hair.  So, as usual, I ended up with a bad haircut.  I guess, if I was getting my head shaved or a crew cut, it would be hard to mess that up.  But my hair, despite graying and thinning, still requires a little bit of work.  So a cheap haircut results in a cheap haircut.  

So after a rough day at the office, I came home and immediately crashed and snoozed on the couch.  My daughter, upon finishing her homework, woke me up at around 6 and asked if we could go to Cheeburger Cheeburger.  Since I knew we were going out anyway for my haircut, I agreed.  She really loves Cheeburger Cheeburger, and, admittedly, it's a family favorite.  So off we went.  Tonight I had the turkey burger, topped with pepper jack cheese, black olives, pickles, mushrooms, and honey mustard.  It was very tasty.  My daughter had a craving for the chicken fingers, plain.  I don't know why she doesn't like dipping sauces, like bbq or honey mustard, but she just prefers to have them plain.  She also had a small brownie batter shake, the shake of the day.  Wow, that sounds great!

It was dark when we left the restaurant, and it was extremely foggy.  Since we were headed for Maple Lawn, I decided to go an extreme back way, so we headed down Dobbin Road to Oakland Mills Road, which is kind of a fun drive once you pass the intersection with old Montgomery Road.  As we approached Blandair Park, with all of its lights blazing in the fog, we were provided with an eerie sight.  In fact, we saw a herd of deer outlined on a hillside against the light filtered through the fog.  It was worth getting a picture, though the deer scattered before I could set up the pic.  Here's the result:


Anyway, it was a nice evening despite the rain and stress of the day.

Hope you're all doing well.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stressing Out

I generally share a lot from my personal life on the ol' blog, and so many of you may already know about my health problems.  One of the biggest issues is the effect of stress from work and life that has impacted me in a negative way.  Unfortunately, I had a very bad week, and the stress carried over into the weekend.  I usually try not to allow the stress from work to come home with me, but this time it did.  I didn't sleep well all weekend, and I had a hard time thinking about anything other than the issues I was dealing with on Friday.

I use my father as a sounding board, and since Mom & Dad invited us over for dinner today, it provided an opportunity to share with him the things that were overwhelming my mind.  I kind of snapped and unloaded on him.  That's not to say I took out my frustrations on him.  I just broke down and shared everything with him.  The conversation was good for me (I'm not sure about Dad), and I love him for allowing me the opportunity to talk about things and get them off my chest and out of my system.  I usually feel better afterward.  And while I'm going to have a lot to discuss with my boss tomorrow, and that stresses me out, too, at least now I have a plan.

I took on a lot more responsibility last year, doubling the number of employees I manage, including a team located in a different facility.  It's those employees who require the bulk of my time and are the source of my stress.  Without going into details, I'm trying so hard to prevent a powder keg of issues to blow up, but it requires me to walk on eggshells most of the time.  Even though I only have 20 employees there, they take up about 80% of my time (I have almost 100 employees at our other facility).  Many of the issues there have been in existence for years, and they were never resolved.  Now I have to deal with them, and the expectation is that I will take care of them.

Is it fair that I've been given this responsibility?  My boss actually asked me that.  I've made no secret of the fact that it's weighing on me, but I've told her repeatedly, as rough as it is, I'm up for the challenge.  I come from the school that says you don't admit you can't do the job.  But, because of my health issues, particularly related to stress, I'm concerned that if I don't do something, I risk something worse.

So I'm completely stressed out going into tomorrow.  I need to talk to my boss tomorrow about all of this stuff, and I don't know how it's going to go.  In the meantime, I'm praying.  I'm praying that God will be with me now, overnight, and tomorrow, through everything I need to do.  This is something I haven't done enough of.  He is there for me, and I need to give it all to Him.  I don't know why I don't do that more often.  It ultimately makes all of the difference.

Thanks for reading.  Have a great evening!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Finding My Gap

Saturdays are our lazy days, and today was exactly that.  However, it's also our church day, and we went to the 5:30 service at Grace Community Church.  Pastor Mark had a great message, and it had me thinking quite a bit afterwards.  But before I get to that, I wanted to mention that my daughter and I returned to Eggspectation tonight for dinner.  It's our second trip to the restaurant in Ellicott City this week.  While my daughter got the same meal as last time (chocolate chip pancakes), I tried the Cuban sandwich, and it was excellent!  But the real highlight was when the manager came to our table.  It turns out he's the son of a couple that I've known for almost 15 years.  I didn't recognize him at first, since he's all grown up, but it was great to see him, and I'm glad he stopped our table.  After chatting a few minutes, he gave us a discount on our check, which he didn't have to do.  It was really kind of him to do, and I really appreciate the gesture.  If you're ever at Eggspectation, make sure you say hello to Justin.  And Mark & Sonya, you've raised a great young man!

Now, let's go back to Pastor Mark's message tonight.  The key verse is from Ezekiel 22:30, "I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one."  Who's going to fill the gap?  Mark told the story of a young person he was talking to recently who said he was going to take a "gap year" after finishing college, before deciding on a career.  As someone who is well past the age where he could do that, Being able to do something like that would be awesome.  However, that's not going to happen, and it's not what is referred to in that verse.  What is necessary is whether I can fill in that gap where I'm needed.  Whether that's in service at my church, or wherever, we should all be looking at where we can fill in the gaps.

I gave this a lot of thought after the service.  I've been struggling to find my place at Grace for a while now.  My wife, Teresa, and I began attending Grace in 2003, shortly before our daughter was born.  This was after a tumultuous final year at our previous church.  My wife had spent most of her teen and adult years attending that church, along with her parents, and they were pretty well entrenched there.  Her father taught a Sunday morning Bible study, and her mother was the pastor's executive assistant.  After we were married, Teresa and I led the drama team ministry.  We greatly enjoyed it, though it was a lot of work, but we felt like that was where God was calling us to be.

In 2002, the pastor at our church was caught up in some financial improprieties and was asked to resign, and during the transition, there was a shake up in the staff.  My in-laws got caught up in the mess, and as a result, we elected to leave the church.  We were not happy with the way things turned out, and leaving was disappointing, but there was a silver lining, and I can't help but feel that God was leading us in that moment.  We found a new church home, much closer to where we lived, and it was  well-connected to our community.  Grace was that church.

We were pretty burned out after five years of intense involvement in our previous church, and it was kind of nice to be able to just attend without the commitments we had previously.  After our daughter was born, it was even more appreciated, as those of you with children can imagine how those early days of parenthood can be.  Several months later, Teresa was ready to return to drama ministry, and she began to get involved.  I wasn't quite ready.  A few months later, though, Teresa passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me and our infant daughter.  It took a long time for me to recover, and I still struggle with her death.  It was a horrible loss for me.  You never get over something like that.  I'm so thankful for the support Grace provided at that time.

Within a few years, I felt well enough to become involved in the drama ministry at Grace, and I was honored to serve in several sketches on Sunday mornings during the services and on Christmas Eve.  More recently, however, the church stopped doing live drama during the services, so I'm not sure where I fit in.  Complicating things, if you want to call it that, is the fact that being a single parent makes it difficult to get involved like I want to.  Child care is hard to schedule, so I find myself unable to balance things.

I think my future will be with youth ministry.  I spent over ten years as a youth counselor in my late teens and twenties, and wrestled at the time with whether to go into ministry as a youth pastor.  My fledgling federal government career was starting to take off at the time, and I decided that's where my future would be.  But, with my daughter ready to begin middle high in a little over a year, I may find myself back in saddle again in youth ministry.  I'll follow wherever the Lord leads me, but that may be my gap.

Right now, I feel Him leading me towards the bed.  It's late and well past my awake-time.  So I'm wrapping this up.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Scout Is Getting Old

Faithful Pup Scout had a little accident this morning.  No, not that kind.  She was headed down the stairs a little too fast, lost her balance on the first landing, then rolled down the stairs (about 12 of them) before smacking her head on a toolkit at the bottom.  She seemed to be fine, but it's another sign of her age.  It's really sad to watch a beloved pet begin to age.  It's a gradual decline, but, at least in Scout's case, it seems like it's happening very quickly.


My aunt had two Maltese pups that my wife fell in love with shortly before we got married.  My aunt lived in Pittsburgh at the time.  In January 2002, she sent an email to us (we were married by this time) letting us know that the breeder who she got her pups from had a Maltese puppy for sale.  This pup was born to the same mom as my aunt's pups, though because the mother was over a certain age, the litter of one was not allowed to have "papers", and would be available for half the regular price.  Were we interested?  My wife promised me that she would take care of the pup if we got her.  I reluctantly agreed.  I was afraid that having a dog would weigh us down.  I liked the freedom we had to be able to travel, and it would be more difficult for us to get away with a dog.  But I saw how happy my wife was, and I agreed we could get her.



"Scout", as my wife named her (after the little girl in my wife's favorite book, "To Kill A Mockingbird"), was born on January 1, and we were able to get after she reached ten weeks old.  We made plans to go to Pittsburgh, and my aunt arranged to have the breeder come to her house to meet us.  We met Scout on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.  She was a cute little pup, filled with personality, and lots of energy.  She ran around like a little white blur, antagonizing my aunt's two pups, and getting into mischief.  After a few hours of running around, she collapsed in a restful ball of fur and napped for almost an hour.


The rest of the day was more of the same.  Lots of running around, biting fingers, trying to play with the other pups (who seemed afraid of little Scout), and getting to know her new owners.  When it was time to go to sleep, we had her all set to sleep in her new crate in our room.  She kept us up most of the night, though.  She didn't like the crate, and we knew it would take a while to get her trained.

The next day, we said our goodbyes, thanked my aunt for all of her help, and we headed back to our Maryland home with our bundle of fur.  She slept most of the way home, surprisingly, and we even stopped a few times on the way.  It was snowing in the mountains, so the drive on the PA Turnpike was rough.  The trip took a lot longer than planned.


Scout ended up being a good little pup.  My wife died just over two years after we got Scout, so she ended up becoming my dog.  She was always a great watch dog, almost too good.  She barks at any noise she hears.  She's slowed down a lot in recent months, but she still seems to hear well.  I hope she lives several more years, though I also don't want her to suffer.  It's amazing the bonds that are created between man and animal.  I love the little furball more than I could've imagined.


Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Eggs and Waffles, Ethiopian Style

Several years ago, my office had a going away luncheon for a colleague who was planning to move to the West Coast.  We let her pick the restaurant she wanted to eat at.  We hoped for a nice, mainstream type of place that everyone might like.  But she decided on something different.  The result was the WORST MEAL I'VE EVER HAD.

Susan was a bit unusual, but we really didn't expect her to pick an Ethiopian restaurant.  I'm sure there are some really good Ethiopian places to eat, and I'm sure there are very delicious dishes, but what I had to eat that day was awful.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is no longer in business, so I will never have to eat there again.

I had been trying a lot of different kinds of ethnic foods and restaurants in my 20s with several of my coworkers, and I greatly enjoyed several, including a Vietnamese place, a Korean restaurant, a Thai place, and a Mongolian restaurant, but never an Ethiopian.  I was curious enough to try it.

I didn't know what to order, so Susan recommended a few things.  The menu had pictures, which helped.  I decided to order a chicken dish.  The first thing to arrive was a giant greenish-colored waffle-like thing.  It was for the whole table to share.  I was told it was to be used as the eating utensil.  This confused the heck out of me.  Susan explained that you pinch off a piece of the waffle and use it to pick up your food, and you then eat it.

The server brought out everyone's meal one at a time.  Mine arrived first.  It consisted of what looked like a small chicken leg and a hard boiled egg laying on a plate of green glop.  I immediately lost my appetite.  While everyone looked on, anxious to see me try it, all I could think was that I may not be able to swallow any of it.  One of my buddies hollered that it looked more like a rat's leg than a chicken leg.

I waited until a few other people received their plates before I tried my own.  But then it was time.  I slowly tore off a small piece of the "waffle", soaked it in some of the green goop, and tried it.  It wasn't horrible, at least at first, so I tried some more.  I was able to eat it if I didn't look at it, but I also needed to look at it to see what I was doing.  Everyone else, for the most part, raved about the taste of their meals.  I couldn't do that.  It was enough that I was even trying it.  I picked up the "chicken" leg.  It was tender and well marinated, but it didn't smell very good.  I gently chewed it and swallowed.  Well, at least I didn't die.  It had a strange taste, though.  The only thing left to try was the egg.  Now, I like eggs.  I don't eat them very often, but when I do, I like them a lot.  I like scrambled, fried, poached, and even hard boiled.  I picked up the egg, expecting it to taste like an egg.  And it did, sort of.  I could stomach it.  So I finished it in three bites.  By now, I was feeling a little queasy.  The waffle was giving me a strange after taste, and I was slowly getting nauseous.  Rather than prolong the agony, I decided I was finished.  The server took my plate away.  Everyone was being social and chatting away, but I didn't feel like talking.  All I wanted to do was lay down.  Finally, the bill came, we split it up and then headed back to the office.

Once I got outside in the fresh air, I felt a little better.  About halfway, though, I felt a shot of nausea rocket through my stomach, and I quickly found a bush and, um.... lost my lunch, as they say.  Then my breakfast, the snack from the night before, some of last night's dinner, and my socks.  After catching my breath, and popping a couple of Tic Tacs into my mouth, I was fine.  That may have been the first meal I ever had that I was scared of.  It was awful.  I said to myself that was the last time I ever try Ethiopian.  And I've never tried it again.  I'll never forget it.  My all-time worst meal.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eggscellent Eggspectation

My daughter and I were eggcited to try out Eggspectation this evening in Ellicott City (at Rt. 108 and Snowden River Parkway, near Rt. 100).  It was awesome!  Our server was great, the food was great, and the atmosphere was great.  We really enjoyed our meal, eggcept for the prices....they were just a bit eggspensive, though that could be eggscused due to the quality.  The flavor of the potatoes was eggsplosive, though not in a bad way.  And that flavor wasn't eggsclusive to just the the potatoes.  The pancakes were eggcellent, and the turkey bacon was eggsquisite.  I can't eggspress enough how much we enjoyed our visit.  After that meal, I will have to eggsercise for a week.  The restaurant seems to eggsploit their connection with eggs, as the eggsternal and internal decorations focus on them.  They appear to be eggsperienced with all kinds of egg-related charm, though I'm not eggsagerating when I say they eggsploit it.  It's a little bit eggstreme.

Anyway, we were eggspedient in finishing our meals, and we eggscitedly paid the bill and got ready to leave.  Upon eggsiting, we received a warm, "Thank you!" from the hostesses.  Not being an eggstrovert, I tried to eggsplain that we really did have an eggcellent time.  We have plenty of eggscuses to return!



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Terps, Chili, Gas, and the Tooth Fairy

Whew! I'm trying to calm down after a very exciting if stressful basketball game on TV.  The Maryland Terrapins Women's Basketball Team beat the Louisville Cardinals 73-70 to go to the Final Four in Nashville, TN.  It was a rough game.  The Terps had to battle a raucous Louisville home crowd and a lot of bad calls by the refs (both ways).  I think it was totally unfair that the Cardinals were playing an Elite Eight game on their home court.  I'm relieved they pulled it out.  If the game had gone to overtime, I might have had a heart attack.  I take my sports WAY too seriously!

***

My office had a chili cook-off today.  It's our fifth annual.  If there's one thing I can make that's actually pretty good, it's chili, and it's one of the few things I feel justified in bragging about.  I have a recipe that has mutated over the years from good to great to award-winning championship chili.  I don't think it has ever been the same each time I make it.  I approximate so many of the ingredients.  Today's batch contained ground beef, beef brats, all of my secret seasonings, along with jalapenos, a touch of brown sugar, and my new addition, Angry Man salsa.

Angry Man salsa is made by former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Baron Batch, who makes it in his own kitchen.  He makes limited batches (ha!) of it every so often and jars and sells it to his fans.  It's really good!  It has a good taste, and a slow burn, nicely spicy.  After trying it the first time, I was convinced it would make a great addition to my chili recipe.

So I tried it.  And it won!  We had fourteen entrants this year.  Everyone gets a vote, and mine won by two votes.  And I had none left over.  My pot was cleaned out!

***

The next paragraph is really not for the faint of heart.  I apologize in advance for stating what may be obvious after a chili cook-off consisting of 14 different chilis, all of which were sampled by me.  I also just had a large glass of Ovaltine mixed in milk.

I am suffering from some pretty severe gas.  I've spent most of the evening blaming Faithful Pup Scout so my daughter wouldn't know.  But I can't keep it bottled up, and the odor in the room is getting very bad.  If my wife was still alive, it's possible she might have become asphyxiated by the smell while we sleep tonight.  In fact, after blaming the dog, I'm afraid she might want revenge.  All I know is I'm not feeling very well, and the only relief is release.

***

The Tooth Fairy has been trying to visit our home over the last several nights.  Typically, "he" brings $1 per tooth.  I think he struggled to fulfill his duties the first night due to forgetfulness.  Night 2 didn't happen due to tiredness.  Night 3, an attempt was made, but he had difficulties finding the tooth.  I forgot to mention my daughter has a bunk bed that is about six feet off the floor, and it isn't easy to see inside the bed.  So, for something new and different, it appears he made a visit this afternoon while my daughter was out playing with her friends.  There's no rule that says the Tooth Fairy has to wait until night fall.  Especially with the amount of gas floating through the house tonight.  The last thing I need is to asphyxiate the Tooth Fairy.  I'd never be able to explain that one.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Searching For Uncle Paul, Pt. 1

My father had a long-lost uncle that disappeared many years ago, and he, his brothers, and his father decided to try to find him.  They found him in a small town in Idaho.  Here is Part 1 of their story, as told by my father:

When my Uncle Paul came out of the army in 1948, he was disappointed to learn 
that the money he had been sending home to his mother to keep for him and been 
given to his sister by this mother so she and her husband could buy a house.  
So, in anger, he packed up his things (including some pots and pans from his 
mother) and headed out west.
  
My Uncle Paul was one of seven kids that was part of the Freed family.  My dad, 
Chester, was his only brother.  When Paul left in 1948, no one knew where he was 
going.  As a matter of fact, no one was in touch with him for many, many years.  
My dad was always curious about him obviously, wondering where he was and 
concerned, of course, that something might have happened to him since there was 
so no communication with the family.  In the meantime, both of my dad’s parents 
died and several of his sisters.  Uncle Paul, of course, had no idea they were 
dead.

There were eight of us kids born to my dad and mother (Grace).  There was an 
even split of boys and girls.  My brother Jim was the second oldest but the 
oldest brother.  He enjoyed camping with his family and they had a pop-up 
trailer that allowed them to travel and camp in various campgrounds around the 
country.  My brother decided to take a trip to California in 1975 and asked my 
dad to go along with the idea that they could check various places out west that 
might give a clue as to where Uncle Paul might be living.

They finally reached the State of Washington where Jim’s wife, Nancy’s, Aunt 
Dorothy lived.  To that point, they had no luck finding Uncle Paul as they 
traveled west.  They explained to Aunt Dorothy about Uncle Paul and their 
attempts to locate him.  It was at this point that my dad, certainly 
disappointed at not finding any evidence of where Uncle Paul was, decided that 
he’d fly back home alone since the trip in the camper would take another week to 
return to Pennsylvania where they lived at the time.

In late September, 1977, Aunt Dorothy was reading the paper (Tri-City Herald) 
where she found an article about a silver mine in DeLamar, Idaho.  In that 
article, it mentioned that Paul Freed, an elderly recluse, was the only resident 
of DeLamar before the big mine opened.  Curiously, she sent the article to her 
niece Nancy and said “I read this, this afternoon and got to wondering if this 
“Paul Freed” that is mentioned; could he be your uncle that you were looking for 
when you were out here to see us?”  Dorothy.

My brother Jim notified my dad immediately and my dad got in touch with the 
newspaper and asked if they had more information on the recluse Paul Freed.  My 
dad had his brother Paul’s social security number which he provided to the 
newspaper.  They checked it out and found out that the social security number 
matched my Uncle Paul’s except for one number.  That was enough for my dad.  The 
newspaper provided him Uncle Paul’s address, which was Murphy, Idaho.
My dad sent Uncle Paul a letter and Uncle Paul answered with “I knew where you 
were all the time.  If I had wanted to get in touch with you, I could have at 
any time”..meaning, of course, he didn’t want anything to do with the family.  
My dad wrote back and told him about his mother and dad dying and his sisters.  
Uncle Paul’s return letters were brief and short but he seemed to be warming to 
the communication. 

My dad mentioned to Uncle Paul that he’d like to see him.  Uncle Paul said to 
come on out if he wanted to.  Brother Jim, in the meantime, had purchased a 
Winnebago motor home, and after shuffling time schedules, etc. it was decided 
that dad, Jim, our brother Paul (yes, named for Uncle Paul) and I would head out 
to Idaho in the motor home.  Brother Paul and I were living in Maryland and both 
had families so we knew it would be a sacrifice to leave our families for 
several weeks.  But, we knew dad was excited about the prospect of seeing his 
brother so we arranged our schedules accordingly.  Paul and I drove to Uniontown 
to pick up dad, then drove on to Pittsburgh to meet Jim to begin our trip.  Jim 
had already stocked the motor home with food and since my dad was a pretty 
creative cook, we knew he’d be whipping up some specialties.

We headed out the Pennsylvania turnpike into Ohio and on to Chicago.  We did 
stop in Chicago to enjoy a good dinner.  Of course, as we left Chicago, we got 
lost and ended up going out of our way to get back on track.  Paul was driving 
at the time and we harassed him for getting us lost.

My trip was marred some because of a tooth ache.  It actually started hurting 
before we left but got gradually worse and we traveled.  But, it was tolerable 
although it did interfere with my sleeping.

We made another stop in Michigan and went to the Henry Ford Museum which was 
very entertaining and fun.  We also stopped at the Corn Palace in Nebraska and 
an “all you can eat” restaurant.  We had trouble getting dad to leave because he 
didn’t want to leave all that good food behind. Lol

After two days of traveling, we pulled into Murphy, Idaho – population 23 and 
2600 miles.  Since Murphy was a county seat, it did have a court house and a gas 
station type store.  Across the street was a landing strip that was used by 
small planes.  As you looked around the town of Murphy, there were a number of 
small homes and several shacks.  We went to the gas station store and asked 
about Uncle Paul.  They told us he was probably up at the silver mine if he 
wasn’t at his residence.  We walked down to Uncle Paul’s shack and sure enough, 
he wasn’t there.  As we peeked into some of the windows, my dad did recognize 
some of the pots and pans Uncle Paul had taken with him back in 1948.
We went back to the gas station store and talked with them.  They told us that 
Uncle Paul’s place in DeLamar was about 30 miles from Murphy.  They told us 
about a dirt road that we could take out of Murphy.  We thanked them and began 
our trip.  We went about 2 miles in the motor home on the rocky road and 
realized that this wasn’t going to work out.  The motor home was taking too much 
of a beating on the bumpy road.  We returned to the gas station store and 
learned that our cousin had flown to Boise and rented and car and was down at 
Uncle Paul’s place there in Murphy.  His name was Kenny and he was the son of my 
dad’s sister, Viola.  He, like us, was curious about seeing Uncle Paul and he 
knew we were traveling there so he timed his trip to meet us as well.  

The store clerk at the gas station told us that the only way to get to Uncle 
Paul’s place in DeLamar was to take the long way around by driving to Oregon and 
going in that way.  It was about 80 miles compared to the 30 miles on the dirt 
road.  Kenny volunteered his car so we all piled in and off we went.  Even 
though we had pretty good road most of the way, we still had to travel about 10 
miles on dirt road to reach DeLamar.

We weren’t entirely sure which “shack” in DeLamar was Uncle Paul’s place but we 
drove slowly and spotted the shack with an elderly gentlemen sitting on a chair 
on the front porch.  The five of  us got out of the car and my dad walked up to 
his brother Paul.  He put out his hand and said “I’m Chester Freed”. Uncle Paul 
acknowledged his hand shake and said “I’m Paul Freed” shaking his brother's 
hand. Meanwhile, I had my super 8 movie camera rolling although I was sure how 
Uncle Paul was going to respond to us.   After it looked like Uncle Paul was 
“okay” with our being there, we walked up to him and introduced ourselves and 
got a big handshake.  It was, needless-to-say, quite the experience.  After 
chatting for a little while, Uncle Paul asked if we wanted to drive up and see 
his silver mine.  So dad climbed in the cab of Uncle’s Paul pick-up truck and we 
guys climbed in the bed of the truck along with Uncle Paul’s German Sheppard dog 
Jake.  Now Jake was an interesting story as well.  Uncle Paul told us that he 
liked to ride in the bed of the truck and stand on his back feet and lean over 
the driver’s side part of the bed and try to bite car antennas as they came by 
in the opposite direction.  Jake would also bite at tree limbs as they rode 
through the mountains and several times Uncle Paul had to stop his truck and go 
back and get Jake who would be hanging from a branch by his teeth.

As we journeyed down the narrow dirt road on the way to Uncle Paul’s silver 
mine, we were hanging on for dear life as Uncle Paul was traveling rather fast – 
at least we thought so – given the mountainous terrain that was on either side 
of the road.  We suddenly had second thoughts about maybe he did want to  “bump 
us off” after all by throwing us out of the bed of the truck on a sharp curve.  
But, we arrived safe and sound at the mine after being amused at Jake as he 
snapped at various trees along the way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday Adventure

My daughter, Melody, and I, despite the miserable rain yesterday, decided to have an "Adventure Saturday".  We tried to get up early, but the late night Friday caught up to us (Melody).  So after a slow morning, we hit the road at around noon and headed into DC.

We don't often go into the city.  The only times, really, are for special occasions, like concerts or museum visits, or the auto show.  I'm not a huge fan of DC, sort of a carryover from my childhood.  My father worked downtown for years, and we would visit him or meet him for dinner every so often.  But I never looked at DC as being anything more than a "special occasion" type of place.  With that said, I know there are a lot of good restaurants and other neat places that are worth checking out, so we want to try going there every so often.

Several years ago, we were in the Great Smokies down in Tennessee, and after going on a memorable helicopter ride, we had a great lunch at a neat restaurant called the Mellow Mushroom.  It's a pizza joint, basically, and a chain, to boot.  We typically don't eat at chains while traveling if we can help it, but since we had never been to the Mellow Mushroom, and there were none in our home area, we wanted to try it.  And it was good.  I don't remember much about it other than it was memorable enough to want to try it again someday.  Since that time, there are two Mellow Mushroom restaurants that have opened in our area.  One is in DC, in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood.  That's where we went.

Adams Morgan is filled with a variety of restaurants and bars well worth checking out (though I am not one who ever goes to bars...I go to bars that have restaurants with food worth checking out).  The Mellow Mushroom is one such place.  It was still raining pretty steadily, and parking being what it is, we had to park about a block away in a crazily overpriced garage ($15 for one and a half hours!).  The place is pretty small, much different from the spacious version we ate at in Pigeon Forge.  We sat in the bar area.  It was around 2 p.m., so it wasn't crowded, and we sat at a large tall round table by the front window.  Our friendly server recommended the pretzel appetizer, so we got a half order of the Parmesan pretzels with marinara dipping sauce.  They arrived pretty quickly, and we devoured them.  They were awesome!

Melody got a small cheese pizza, and I got the House calzone, which had mushrooms (of course!), spinach, peppers, and mozzarella, and was served with marinara.  The same dough used for the pizza is used for the calzones and pretzels, and it is pretty good.  It has a darker, browner look to it, and I suspect it contains cornmeal.  The sauce is tangy, but it's the cheese that gives it most of its flavor.  There's plenty of it, too.  It just oozed out of the calzone, and, on the pizza, you couldn't see the breaks between slices since the cheese was so thick.  It wasn't greasy, though.  It had a pleasant taste.  We wanted to take a few pictures of ourselves with our food, which we do at most of the restaurants we visit worth remembering, and after taking a picture of Melody with my iPhone, she wanted to see it.  I handed it to her and it slipped out of my hand, right onto her pizza.  I quickly retrieved it and was checking to make sure it wasn't damaged, and I dropped it again, right onto my marinara-covered calzone.  Marinara went everywhere, and as I tried to clean off my phone, it got all over my hands, my shirt, and I used every napkin on the table to clean it, and me, off.  At least the phone was fine.

I finished off most of my calzone, and Melody ate half her pizza, and we headed back in the rain to our Jeep.  The next stop on our adventure was the cemetery where my grandparents are interred.  I had not visited them in over two decades, so I was going on memory that I could find them.  I knew the cemetery was in Falls Church, VA, and on Lee Highway, but I didn't know exactly where it was in relation to the rest of the area.  Thank goodness for Google.  So after a lengthy drive in some heavy traffic, we arrived.  Going by memory, I found the location in the rather large cemetery where they were interred.  Their bodies are in vaults, not in the ground.  Melody asked a lot of questions, mostly about how their bodies get into the vaults, and stuff like that.  After a few minutes, we headed for home.  It was a good visit.


It's a shame it was such a rainy day.  Once we got back on the road, traffic was really bad.  I'm sure the weather had something to do with that.  You really don't expect such heavy traffic on a Saturday.  But it was a long drive from Falls Church back over to Maryland, and, unfortunately, because of the traffic, we weren't able to make it to church.  We needed to get a few groceries, so we stopped at the store and loaded up on what we needed, then we stopped for a quick detour at Sweet Frog for some good frozen yogurt before heading for home.  It was a great adventure, despite the rain.  It also prompted a lot of conversation about my grandparents.  I love being able to share stories about them with her.

Thanks for reading, and have a great Sunday!