Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Taking a Break

Over the past few weeks, I've kind of lost my way with this blog.  I'm not necessarily writing about what I want to write about, and I'm not feeling the inspiration that I've felt in the past, which I've attributed to God moving through me.  I also mentioned recently how convicted I felt about devoting so much time to social media and other technology, and I've already cut back from daily blogging.

In an effort to rediscover my voice and figure out where this blog fits into my life, I'm taking a sabbatical.  I wish I could say how long this will be.  It may last a few weeks, or maybe through the Holidays.  I'll be around.  Just more as a reader than a writer.  It's kind of like a musician who takes a break from performing to do some listening for a while.  That'll be me.

Thank you for reading and for your support.  Please pray for me.  May God bless each and every one of you.  I hope you have a meaningful Christmas Season.


Monday, December 1, 2014

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Faithful Pup Scout became Playful Pup Scout this afternoon.  She found one of her old balls, and it was funny to watch her remember that the ball is equated to running around like crazy as we threw it around the room.  It was just like old times.  She was having fun, and daughter Melody was having just as much fun with her.  I loved seeing that.  We just don't have enough fun around here.

***

My parents came over yesterday and we all went out to Triadelphia Lake View (TLV) Farm to cut down our annual Christmas trees.  This is usually quite an exhausting exercise.  There is no such thing as a "perfect" Christmas tree (unless you go the artificial tree route, in which case it isn't actually a tree and doesn't count).  So looking for one that is the perfect size and shape is impossible, so you just accept a few flaws.  Maybe it has one bad side, or it might be a little thin in some areas.  Some are way too tall, but look great.  Unless you have a room with a 15-foot ceiling, it's just not going to work.  Still others look like bushes, not trees.  We always get a white pine, which means lots of needles as the tree dries out (and it always does, no matter how much water you feed it).  I think I still have needles in my living room carpet from three Christmas's ago.

Speaking of three Christmas's ago, we got a nice tree that year and set it up in our dining room.  We have several really good spots in our living room/dining room, and this was the first year we placed it in the dining room.  It was nice, since it was right next to the serving window to the kitchen, so we could see the tree from a several different angles.  About a week later, I noticed a very small small insect that looked a heck of a lot like a miniature praying mantis.  Upon closer examination, I realized that's what it was.  Soon, though, there were several of these little bugs wandering around the house, then there were a LOT of them.  They kind of minded themselves, and I was scared to just kill them since Mom always told me that this was illegal (it's not).  Anyway, I put two and two together and realized that the mantises had come in on the tree.  I found the nest near the lower part of the trunk.  I guess, once the tree had been brought into the house out of the cold, the mantises hatched and started to wander the house looking for food.  None of them ended up surviving, and I found the carcasses around the house for months afterwards.


So we found a really nice tree, cut it down, threw into the back of my Jeep (along with my parent's tree), and we headed on home, over the river and through the woods.  If you haven't been out to the TLV Tree Farm, it's worth the drive.  It's in one of the most scenic parts of Howard County, so the drive is part of the fun.  Santa is there on weekends, as well, and they have lots of goodies for sale.  Check it out if you like cutting down your own Christmas Tree.

***

I've been waiting for a few months now for the health unit at my office to get a shipment of flu shots, and it hasn't happened yet.  I get one every year, and I truly believe they work.  I haven't gotten the flu in years.  This morning, I wasn't feeling great.  I actually didn't sleep well the last few nights, and have had some pretty bad congestion.  So sitting at my desk this morning, I was feeling uncomfortable.  Achy joints, congestion, cough, itchy eyes...I'm definitely coming down with something.  By the time we got home, I was feeling miserable.  We called off dinner with my in-laws, since I just wasn't up for it.  I had some good soup for dinner, instead, which was really the best thing for me.  This is really rotten timing, since I have a pretty important management summit meeting over the next several days, with several of my colleagues having flown in from Oklahoma City.  I can't miss it.  I hope to sleep well tonight, which may help.  Your prayers are appreciated.

Have a great evening, everyone!  <><

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Prayer

Picture from Jumonville.wordpress.com

Heavenly Father, thank you.  I don't say it enough, I know, but I honestly mean it.  I have no life without you, so I can only say thank you for my life.

I'm a broken man.  I struggle in my job, I struggle as a father to my daughter, I struggle with my health, I struggle in my day-to-day routines, I struggle with money, I struggle with anger, sadness, grief, frustration, fear, discouragement...stress.  I struggle with relationships.  I struggle with life.

All of these struggles are a part of life, but I don't deal with them very well.  And the ironic thing is that if I just handed them over to You, I'd be able to deal with them so much better.  Because You are the one who provides for me.  "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you," (Psalm 9:9-10 - NIV).

There's a scene in my favorite movie, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, where George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is sitting at the dinner table with his father, Peter (Samuel S. Hinds), and they're chatting about George's future, and Peter tells him, "You were born older, George."  It speaks volumes about George, that he is so much more mature than his years.  My father always uses this quote in describing me.  I pass it off, because I don't want to believe it.  I don't think any of us ever truly feels grown up, no matter how old we get.  There's always something more to learn, to do, to experience.  When I think about this, I get anxious.  It means that there is an expectation that I carry myself a certain way.  It's a responsibility.  "In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us," (Titus 2:7-8).

When I hear stories from my parents about the things that they had to do, like my father moving away from home at the age of 17 and finding a job with the Federal Government (I never really left home....I just moved across town at the age of 25), and getting married at 22 (I was 30), and having a child (me!) at 24 (I was 34 when my daughter was born), I'm amazed.  And I think about how young that is.  Our parents always seem to have all of the answers.  And our grandparents were so wise.  And here I am, at 45, struggling with life.  I'm scared to death.  And then I'm reminded, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand," (Isaiah 41:10).  I don't know why I forget this, Lord.  I don't have to be scared when I know you're with me.  And you're ALWAYS with me.

I hate that I've allowed myself to drift away from you, Lord.  The struggles that I've experienced have only increased this distance, when I know that it should be doing the opposite.  I loved Teresa so much.  I've never known a love like it, except in my relationship with you, Lord.  I kid about how we had a storybook romance and marriage.  We fell in love, got married in a beautiful ceremony, served You ("As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," Joshua 24:15), We were gifted with a wonderful, beautiful daughter.  And then Teresa died.  And while I know, Lord, that you didn't take her from me, she is with you in eternal life, and I know that death is just a part of life, it hurts.  It hurts a lot.  And I should give these struggles I'm experiencing to you, Lord.  I know that.  "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast," (1 Peter 5:10).

Tomorrow is a new day.  And I know I have to enter into it with you.  So I throw my struggles to you, Lord, and any others I encounter, and we will move forward together.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything," (James 1:2-4).  I will persevere and thrive.

Thank you, Lord, for my life, for your blessings, for your love for me and my daughter and family and friends.  Thank you for my wife and my marriage, and for the encouragement to want to find a love like that again.  Thank you for giving me purpose.  Thank you for reminding me of my salvation through you.  Thank you for loving me despite all of the stupid things I do.  Thank you for accepting me.  Thank you, Lord, for my life.

Thank you for my life.

Amen


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Mid-life Crisis

At Donald Miller's Storyline blog, a post by John Richmond discusses the importance of a mid-life crisis.  Apparently, anyone who is in their mid-40s, has a mortgage, and a kid or three qualifies for one.  I've got my hand up, since it appears I qualify.  Richmond further states that his wife told him there was no room in their budget for a sports car or a mistress, and I would guess that's the case with most of us who qualify.

Richmond brings up some really good points.  There are hollow promises related to those things that are not going to bring us true value, like a sports car.  I went down this road.  Right after my wife died, I was 34, a single parent of an infant child, and I was completely overwhelmed by my job and life itself.  I knew I had to get myself realigned and off of a path of self-pity, buy my self-confidence was just too low to deal with the stresses life had delivered to me.  Instead of looking towards God for spiritual help, which is what I needed, I looked for ways to handle it myself through the materialistic world.  I needed a new car.  Gone was the four-door sedan that I had purchased a few years before, which at the time was a very sensible car for a new family.  Gone was the old beat-up Jeep Cherokee with well over 100K miles on it (but was paid for).  In came a shiny new SUV *AND* a convertible Mustang, which I was convinced would make me happy.  That worked well, didn't it?

That was sarcasm.  Of course it didn't work well.  The Mustang made no sense.  My daughter couldn't ride with me when the top was down because she got way too much wind in her face.  The SUV got rotten gas mileage at a time when gas prices were getting more and more expensive, and it just sat in front of the house, waiting for the occasional road trip vacation, but hardly worth the expense of purchasing it.

I also jumped back in the dating pool when I absolutely had no business swimming in it.  I had not gotten my spiritual, personal relationship with Jesus back to where it needed to be, which is necessary before considering a new relationship with a potential mate.  Friends and family were just happy to see me out there dating again, which convinced them that I had moved on from my wonderful but no longer valid marriage.

In my head, though, I thought I was doing the right things.  New cars, new dating relationships.... it was a mid-life crisis, and I had fallen right into the trap of looking at the wrong things (the "societal norms", if you will) for happiness.  I didn't look towards God, who is the source for completeness.

Ten years later, and I'm in a much better place.  While I'm still not all the way there, I'm certainly feeling like I'm on the right track.  God is keeping me centered, and I'm aligning the other areas of my life in the direction and priority they need to be in.  I have a long way to go.  Interestingly, I'm at the age now where I might have had a mid-life crisis, had I not had one already.  And I guess the rule book doesn't say you can't have more than one.  But I'm certainly better prepared for it should it happen.  I don't think it will, though.  Lessons learned, and all that.  Thank God.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.  Blessings and best wishes from my family to yours.

In HIS Grip,
Eric
<><

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lots of Good Stuff

Fun day... My pumpkin pies were a nice hit at work.  I took about a dozen to the office and they went over well.  It's always surprising to me, though, how many people just don't care for pumpkin pie.  I hate coconut, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  Everyone has their own tastes.

Left work at noon due to my daughter's half-day of school.  We came home for about 30 minutes, then went right back out to the school for a very good parent-teacher conference.  The fifth grade teachers have the students play a major role in the conferences, and Melody presented where she thought she was in her learning, along with some examples of her recent classwork.  Then her teacher (and student-teacher) followed up with some good feedback.  I'm so proud of my little girl.  She's doing so well this year.  She had one B, which seems to be bothering her, but all of the rest of her grades were A's.  Awesome!

I found myself feeling very tired this afternoon, and I took a rare nap.  It has been a while since I felt like I needed one, and it felt great.  Following my nap, we cleaned up and met up with my in-laws in Olney, where we grabbed dinner at the Greene Turtle.  My mother-in-law always amuses me with her observations (which I don't notice).  She said that they always seem to get better service from the wait staff when I'm with them.  She was referring to the attractive young lady who served us.  I laugh because the girl was at least half my age.  I'm no spring chicken anymore.  I really don't see it.

We talked about the next several days.  My Mom-in-law's eldest brother passed away the other day, and she said they may have to go to Raleigh, NC, for the funeral.  They're really concerned about the possible snowy weather being forecasted for Wednesday, as well as missing out on Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday at my parent's place.  We'll have to see how this plays out over the next few days.

I went to get a much-needed haircut after dinner.  After my faux pas last month, I decided to go somewhere else to get it cut, and I was pleased with the results.  "Irma" may be my new barber.

On the way home, I had a pleasant conversation with Melody where we talked about Moms.  She's never had one in her life, with Teresa's passing occurring when Melody was 5 months old.  So I asked her who is her favorite TV mother.  She told me she really didn't know, so I told her my favorite mom was Marion Ross from HAPPY DAYS, though I realize that she was playing a 50s mother, which is very different and comes nowhere close to how great my mother is.  I also told her that she may have a completely different definition of what a mother is, given her perspective and the current generation.  Her response was unexpected.  She said she liked Topanga Lawrence, played by Danielle Fishel, from the Disney show GIRL MEETS WORLD (and the same character from BOY MEETS WORLD).  It's an inspired choice, though I don't feel as if her character has been fleshed out very well, at least as of yet (yes, I do watch the show with Melody...I like to know what she's watching).  But, wow, if this is the type of mom Melody is looking for, I can't help but applaud her choice.  I know Melody is probably looking for different qualities in a mom versus what I might be looking for in a wife, but I'd go for her, too (keeping in mind that she's much too young for me).

Picture from www.stylelist.com

And back to reality.... The Terps had a pretty nice win tonight versus Arizona State, 78-73, in what was a tight game throughout.  It's good to see the Men's Basketball team play a solid team and pull out a solid win.  This will be a rather interesting season for the Terps, now playing in the Big Ten versus the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Terps may very well have a decent season.  I'm excited.

And that's all the news for the night.  Have a great evening, everyone!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

35 Pumpkin Pies!


It's beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving!  You're looking at 35 mini pumpkin pies, made using the classic Freed Family recipe, that was passed to me by my father by an oath of secrecy.  The majority are going to my employees at work.  My daughter and I will keep a few for ourselves.

***

We had a very nice dinner last night at New York J & P Restaurant in Fulton/Scaggsville.  It's surprisingly big inside, and they even had live entertainment (a singer-guitar player).  The place needs a little work, however.  I couldn't help but notice how many of the light fixtures over the tables had missing bulbs, or mix-and-match bulbs of different styles, or burnt out or missing bulbs.  They also seemed to be understaffed for the size of the place.  The few people working, who seemed to be family, were rushing around and constantly apologizing to us for any delays.  The food is good.  I had Shrimp Marinara and Spaghetti, which was very tasty (can someone please explain why shrimp are always served with the tails on?).  Melody had a small cheese pizza.  I tried one slice, and it was very good.  It's New York style, which means a very thin crust, though I was disappointed that the sauce was rather bitter-tasting.  I'm used to a sweeter sauce.  Our service was very good despite the supposed delays in getting the food out (there was a party on one side of the dining room).  With a little bit of TLC, this would be a really nice place.  We'll plan to go back.  The food was worth it, though I will try something different next time.

***

Pastor Mitchel gave another thought provoking message to us at our church service at Grace Community last night.  I was immediately convicted.  It was about how we've allowed technology to run rampant over our lives, to the point that we aren't living our lives in the way God surely wants us to live it.  I'm embarrassed to say that many of the things he commented on are things that I do, and they aren't good.  I sleep with my phone next to my bed every night, and it's the last thing I look at before sleeping, and the first thing when I awake.  I can't go an hour (or even 20 minutes!) without checking my phone to see if I got an email, or text, or Facebook update.  It's ridiculous.  And my daughter does the same thing.  It's not just our phones, either.  We do it with our laptops, as well.  And the TV is on almost continuously when we're at home.  Pastor Mitchel challenged us to make changes in our lives, and we began last night at dinner by leaving our phones in the car while we were in the restaurant (well...almost.  I put mine in my jacket pocket, but never got it out.).

I'm taking this thing seriously.  I'm not going to allow technology to rule my life, so I'm making some lifestyle changes, and my daughter will be, as well.  You'll likely see some changes here at this blog, too.  I'm cutting back on how often I post.  My philosophy, if you want to call it that, was always to post daily, but I also will do it as God inspires me.  Lately, I haven't been doing that.  I wanted so much to keep on a daily schedule that I was throwing just about anything in here.  Sometimes it was just a picture.  That will change, as I'm only going to post when I have something to say (as God inspires me).  That might mean only a few posts each week, or it might be daily, but it's not going to be every day for the sake of doing it every day.  I find it ironic that I did my Twitter thanks yesterday, where I sent a tweet to every one of my followers (who I follow back), given that Pastor Mitchel delivered this message on the same day.  It took several hours for me to do that, time I should have been spending with my daughter, or cleaning the house, or raking leaves.

The kind of TV I watch will be changing, too.  If the characters don't exhibit Christian values, why am I watching it?  Why watch something that falls outside of my own value system?  That means I'll be dropping any of the cop/lawyer shows involving killing or murder.  It means dropping sitcoms where the characters shack up with each other outside of a marriage relationship.  It means staying away from TV that pushes the bounds of taste.  And it means that the TV goes off if it is only on due to boredom.

Thank you, Mitchel, for issuing this challenge.  It made me look at how I use the technology in my life, and I'm taking charge of it by making serious changes.

I'll let you know how this goes.  It won't be easy, but I know we can do better.

Have a great Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fun Friday

It was a quiet day at work after a week's worth of intense meetings.  It felt good to relax a little bit going into Thanksgiving week.  Unlike most of my employees and colleagues, I generally work the day before and after Thanksgiving, since my family is local and I don't go out of town.  I can't even remember the last time I went out of town over the Holiday.  With so many out of the office, I love how quiet it is during those days, though my boss has already put me "in charge" which almost guarantees I'm going to have to attend a meeting or three.

My daughter's school is having a book fair, and it was kind of neat to stop by the school this evening and get a bunch of books for her for Christmas.  The teachers are really great at her school (as are most of Howard County's teachers!), and it was fun to see them in a "social" environment.  Teachers tend to be very dedicated to their jobs, but they also know how to have fun, and they sure appeared to be having fun, even if they had to stick around at the school well after their work day on a Friday.

Friday is date night, and Melody and I decided to grab a bite to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, Houlihan's.  Houlihan's is what I would call "upscale casual", and the food tends to match the ambiance.  We've been going there for a lot of years now, and their menu, which does change a lot, still has many of our favorites.  I got the fish tacos, which is always great.  Melody got chicken tenders, and it is a BIG platter of food.  While the tenders are rather bland, there are a lot of them, and instead of just fries, they also have green beans, which my daughter loves.  The restaurant was really busy tonight, and we had a good 20 minute wait before we were seated.

I like to people watch, and since Friday is date night, there were a lot of couples in the restaurant.  You can usually tell which couples are dating (and those who might be on first dates) due to the way they interact with each other.  There's a lot of nervous laughing, and there is absolutely no physical contact.  They just don't quite seem comfortable with each other, at least not yet.  Then there was a slightly older couple (about my age, I'd guess), who seemed a little more comfortable with each other, even if they didn't appear to be married.  After they finished eating, he started to massage her arm from across the table, rather intensely.  It was an awkward public display of affection.  A third couple seated nearby, who looked like they were married, seemed to be having a very serious conversation with the manager, and the young man was getting a bit heated about something.  His date/wife looked like she wanted to be anywhere else.  The manager kept shaking her head no, and he didn't seem to like that answer.  They soon left without ordering any food.  Melody and I had a good time, though, and we left the restaurant with a lot of leftovers.

Originally we had planned to go to the Bengie's Drive-in tonight, but it's just too cold.  It's their last open weekend of the season, and even though they do rent in-car dashboard heaters (for only $1!), when we found out that the Friday show only had two movies, we decided not to go.  They're playing BIG HERO SIX, which we really enjoyed when we saw it a few weeks ago, and ST. VINCENT, with Bill Murray, which I had wanted to see.  The Saturday show includes PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES, which is a classic Thanksgiving-themed movie featuring Steve Martin and John Candy.  I'm not sure why they decided not to show it on Friday.  Anyway, we decided to skip the movies since we wouldn't be able to see it.

And that's our Friday.  Hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Roller Coaster Inventory

Last Saturday morning, 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 has ridden that I have not (indicated by a double asterisk - **), and there are a bunch of others that I rode without Melody, most due to me being so much older and having ridden them 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 Melody tallied 95 different roller coasters, while I've been on 116!

This was a fun exercise, and it will serve as our official record of roller coaster rides.  We look forward to riding many more.  And if you want any information about the many coasters or parks we've been to, please check out the Roller Coaster DataBase.

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
Drachen Fire*
Das Katzchen*
Die Wildkatze*
Glissade*
Wild Maus*

Dutch Wonderland - PA:
Joust
Kingdom Coaster*

Sesame Place - PA:
Vapor Trail

Luna Park - NY:
Cyclone

Knoebels - PA:
Phoenix
Twister

Idlewild - PA:
Rollo Coaster


Kennywood - PA:
Jack Rabbit
Racer
Thunderbolt
Sky Rocket
Laser Loop*


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*
Mantis*


Hershey Park - PA:
Comet
Fahrenheit
Great Bear
Lightning Racer
Sidewinder*
Skyrush
Sooperdooperlooper
Storm Runner
Trailblazer
Wild Mouse
Wildcat

Kings Dominion - VA:
Anaconda
Avalanche
Back Lot Stunt Coaster
Grizzly
Hurler
Intimidator 305
Rebel Yell
Ricochet
Shockwave
Volcano
Woodstock Express/Scooby Doo
Galaxi*
HyperSonic XLC*
King Kobra*


Wild World/Six Flags America - MD:
Apocalypse
Batwing
Joker's Jinx
Mind Eraser
Ragin' Cajun
Roar
Superman - Ride of Steel
Wild One


Six Flags Great America - IL:
America Eagle
Dark Knight
Demon
Goliath
Vertical Velocity
Whizzer


Six Flags St. Louis - MO:
American Thunder
Batman The Ride
Boss
Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast
Ninja
Pandemonium
River King Mine Train
Screamin' Eagle

New York New York Casino - Las Vegas, NV:
Big Apple Coaster

NASCAR Cafe - Las Vegas, NV:
Speed:  The Ride*

Adventuredome - Las Vegas, NV:
Canyon Blaster*


Six Flags Magic Mountain - CA:
Apocalypse The Ride
Gold Rusher
Goliath
Ninja
Road Runner Express**
Scream!
Colossus
Viper
X2

Universal Studios Hollywood - CA:
Revenge of the Mummy

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure - FL:
Incredible Hulk*
Pteranodon Flyers*
Dueling Dragons (Dragon Challenge)*

Universal Studios Florida - FL:
Revenge of the Mummy*

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom - FL:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Space Mountain*

Legoland Florida:
Lego Technic Test Track
Coastersaurus
The Dragon

Busch Gardens Tampa - FL:
Air Grover**
Cheetah Hunt
Gwazi
Montu
Sand Serpent
Scorpion
SheiKra
Python*

Sea World Orlando - FL:
Manta
Kraken


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fat Free Fox's Original Sugar Free Chocolate Flavor Syrup



My daughter and I had to make a stop at the grocery store this afternoon to pick up a few items, and I saw this sitting on an upper shelf, kind of hidden near the end of an aisle.  I was looking for something else, and it was totally random that I saw it.  But it caught my eye because it's sugar-free:  Fox's U-bet Original Sugar Free Chocolate Flavor Syrup.  And it's Fat Free, too!  And I've never heard of it before today.  

As a type 2 diabetic, I'm on a fairly strict diet, and I try to stay away from sugar almost completely.  I allow myself the occasional sweet, like a cookie or a bowl of cereal, but I generally try to watch what I eat.  I really love chocolate milk, and I've struggled to find something that tastes good, but is either sugar-free or at least as low sugar content.  My favorite is Ovaltine, but it isn't sugar-free.  So I decided to try this.  It was even on sale, for $2.99.

As soon as we arrived at home, I put away all of the groceries and immediately poured a glass of milk and added the stuff pictured above.  My mouth was watering in anticipation.  I stirred it up, and took a long swig of chocolaty goodness.  As the...stuff reached my taste buds, and processed the flavor, I almost spit it all out in the sink.  It was awful!  I've tried a lot of sugar-free things, but this might be the worst.  Sure, it had a chocolaty taste, but it just didn't seem to mix well with the milk, and the sweetener used in this...stuff didn't come close to tasting like sweetener, even if the ingredients mention Sucralose as the sweetener.  I couldn't help but notice that the back label says, "Tastes great in milk!"  I wondered what you might put this in other than milk.

Anyway, that was the end of the Fat Free Fox's U-bet Original Sugar Free Chocolate Flavor Syrup.  It went right into the garbage.  It would've been easier to have just thrown three dollar bills in the trash, except that it felt good to throw away the bottle since I hated it so much.

Unfortunately, this is my lot in life.  I'm stuck eating sugar-free foods.  And while the taste of many foods has improved over the years, there are still those, like Fat Free Fox's U-bet Original Sugar Free Chocolate Flavor Syrup, that still taste really rotten.  My search continues...

Diabetes sucks.  And so does this stuff.  U-bet.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Beautiful Girl, Little Dog, Big Couch

THIS Girl....  #Awesome #Beautiful #Caring #Love


THIS Pup.... #Loyal  #Faithful  #LoudBark #LittleDog #BigCouch


Have a great evening, everyone!

The Birthday Girl and a Dog's Tale

As I laid my weary head on my pillow late last evening, and began getting comfortable on my wonderful bed, I discovered, to my horror, as a dampness creeped through my bed clothes, that my faithful yet aging pup, Scout, who has been sharing this same bed with me for over a decade now, apparently had a bit of difficulty during the short time after I awoke Sunday morning and climbed out of bed to freshen up, and when I went to get her to immediately take her outside to do her business, that she had, instead, taken it upon herself to move over to my side of the mattress, unprotected by a bit of plastic unlike HER side if the bed, and do her business without me being aware, allowing this bit of business to soak into the mattress all day long. I'm not sure I have any words to describe how I feel about this, except I fell asleep well past my Sunday night bedtime to the aroma of Lysol.




***

Had a great time celebrating Melody's real birthday tonight with my wonderful family!  Happy Birthday, Melody!



Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Girl's 11th Birthday

It's the eve of my daughter's 11th birthday, and I'm excited.  She's an awesome little girl, and I love her so much.  She's smart, beautiful, funny, a leader, responsible beyond her years, and so caring.  I'm so proud of her.  I pray that she will know God, and ask Him into her heart.  I wish her mother could have lived to see what a wonderful young lady she has become.

We celebrated this evening with all four of her grandparents at Ginza of Tokyo, and we'll be having a party with the rest of our family tomorrow evening.

Happy birthday, Babe!  I love you so much!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Public Service Message: Quality Absorbency

Today I feel the need to talk about something that impacts many people in so many ways:  cheap paper towels.  There aren't too many things worse than a bad paper towel, and I've got some that could be some of the worst ever sold in stores.  I know what you're thinking:  Surely he's not going to blog about paper towels, right?  You betcha, I am.  And don't call me Shirley.

Brands such as Brawny, Bounty, and Scott's tend to lead the way with the best of the best, good, greatly absorbent and quality-made paper towels.  The problem with them is that they tend to be on the pricey side, and sometimes it's difficult to justify getting the more expensive paper towels when there are so many other brands that are so much cheaper (price-wise).  But the quality is so much cheaper to match the cheaper brands, as well, even if you do get lucky every once in a while.  For every Viva, there's a store brand that actually works pretty well.

I decided to buy a brand I had never heard of before, called "Fiora", since my local grocery-chain had them advertised for a very good price.  Heck, they even had the pick-a-size kind, which tends to be a key feature of the better brands.  Now, I tend to go with the less expensive brands, but I really haven't found one that I like.  That means I end up trying a different one almost every time I purchase them.  And unless you break open a package prior to leaving the store, you really don't know what you have until you get home.  It's a risky proposition.  But I bought the Fiora paper towels based on a lack of knowing anything about them, and I headed home.


When I arrived at home and opened the package, I was immediately concerned.  The towels had that cheap feel to them.  Meaning they felt more like paper than towel.  Okay, a thin towel just wasn't going to cut it, but since I bought a pack of six rolls, I thought I may as well try them.  Faithful Pup Scout, after a long day at home, head left a wet spot on the kitchen floor for me to clean up, and this would be a good test for the Fiora's.  And they failed miserably.  They are absorbent, but all that means is that they completely disintegrated after taking on moisture.  It gets worse.  The perforation seems to be just a little too difficult to break the towel all along its edge, and it rips the towel about 7/8 of the way through consistently, leaving that last 1/8 of the towel hanging onto the roll (see the picture above).  It is maddeningly frustrating.

My daughter started to notice and complain, as well.  She almost never notices things like this, so it had to be bad for her to complain.  They are really terrible.

We don't seem to take shortcuts when it comes to toilet paper (thank goodness.... have you ever tried bad toilet paper?  If so, you know what I mean...), so I guess we shouldn't take shortcuts with paper towels.  It's really standing out for me this week due to my mother-in-law a few weeks ago buying me some great, high-quality Bounty paper towels (since the package had an NFL theme with a Steelers logo on the outside packaging, though nothing on the towels themselves).  I was really spoiled, and I guess that's why I'm so disappointed with the Fiora's.  Lesson learned.  Don't go cheap on paper towels.  Get the good stuff.

Have an extra-absorbent evening, everyone!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Way Out West

My daughter and I took an incredible trip in 2009 out to Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  It was Melody's first trip Out West, and we had a blast.  I had started to write up a trip diary, but I only documented the first day with any detail.  I had forgotten all about it until I came across it this afternoon.  Here it is.  Enjoy!


Day 1 - 5/14/09:  Melody & I were taken to BWI airport by Grammy & Pap Pap (Mom & Dad) for our 7:30a flight to Denver.  I promptly lost my cell phone somewhere between the car and the entrance to the terminal, but didn't realize it was missing until after we went through security.  Not a very good omen for our trip.  Spent most of the 4 hour flight trying to figure out what to do.  It was an uneventful trip.  After we landed and went to baggage claim, I found out I was being paged.  It was a message from Dad - they had my phone.  A very nice lady/airport employee graciously allowed me to use her cell phone to call him and he informed me that a Skycap employee found the phone and dialed the last number called, which was Dad's cell phone, and Dad picked up the phone for me.  I was greatly relieved, but still didn't know whether we should arrange to have the phone over-nighted to me or whether I should just do without.
 
Melody and I got our rental car, a 2009 Dodge Nitro.  It was a mess.  It had about 35000 miles on it and it had not been cleaned.  The Dollar Rental Car employees were no help at all.  They just told me to document it.  We decided to get some lunch, since it was about 11:30 by this time.  We had a nice meal at TGIFridays in a suburb of Denver.  Then we stopped at a Verizon Wireless store to see if we had any options with my cell phone.  I told the guy there that my phone was lost.  He proceeded to ridicule me for not purchasing the $6/month insurance on my phone, and that it would cost me over $200 to get a new phone.  That certainly was not an option.  I figured we would see if Dad could Fedex the phone to me at the next hotel we planned to stay at (in Deadwood, SD).  We decided to stop worrying about the phone and get on with our vacation.
 

We headed west from Denver and stopped in Golden, CO.  What a beautiful town!  We walked around a little bit, took some pictures, then drove up to Buffalo Bill Cody's grave and museum. 
 

Spectacular drive to the top of Lookout Mountain, and great view from the top.  The museum was just like I remembered it when I was here in Oct. '97.  Melody was a bit scared of the life-size figures in the museum, so we left about 15 minutes after we arrived.  


We hiked up to the grave site, though.  We got back in the Nitro and headed back down the mountain.  On the way down, Melody saw three foxes, and couldn't stop talking about them for the rest of the day.
 
We continued on to Boulder, CO.  It's a neat college town, with a central mall area (which regularly appeared in the show, MORK & MINDY).  We proceeded to 1619 Pine St., which is the location of the house Mork and Mindy lived in during the show.  The house has been fixed up a little, but you can still tell it's the same house.
 

We then continued on a scenic drive up to Estes Park, CO, which is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Estes Park is another one of those gorgeous towns in the heart of the Rockies, and, while looking for a place to eat dinner, we encountered several Elk eating on the side of the road.  


We stopped and took a bunch of pictures, then continued to Smokin' Dave's BBQ & Tap house.  Delicious barbecue and great view out the window of the place.
 
We got back on the road, but figured we should try to find a pay phone and call Dad.  We finally found one that worked and called him collect.  He said he would have my cell phone over-nighted to our hotel in Deadwood, SD, where we planned to arrive on 5/16.  I thanked him and we continued down the road.  I had originally intended to get as far as Cheyenne, WY, for our first leg of the trip, but it was getting late and I was tired.  Melody had already fallen asleep.  So, when we arrived in Loveland, CO, and looked for a hotel and found a Comfort Inn, where we stayed for the night.  Whew!
 
Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to take such an incredible vacation!  I pray that you will keep us safe, happy, and healthy during the entire trip, and blessings on everyone who makes this possible.  Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Frustration, Pizza, The Seventies, and SNOW?!?

Today was a rather frustrating day.  I don't like to write about things like this, because I don't think anyone wants to read about someone elses frustrations.  All I'll say is that professional jealousy has no place in the office.  Also, drawing the short straw that results in a task that I know nothing about is a terrible feeling.  Lastly, despite all of the many ways to communicate with someone, if their battery dies on their smart phone, it doesn't matter whether you text, email, FB, or call that person to try getting in touch with them.  They're still unreachable.

Whew.

***

One of the great things about this blog and sharing my many likes and dislikes is that I get a lot of links about topics near and dear to me.  A friend sent this link:  http://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/the-best-pizza-in-every-state-in-america .  Being a fan of travel and pizza, this is right up my alley!  I looked through the list and realized that I've never been to any of these places.  Not one.  Even the local Maryland favorite, Matthew's, in Baltimore, is one I've never tried, though I have heard of it.  And while it must be good, and I'll have to try it, I can't help but wonder how the list was compiled (the article doesn't say, but there are a lot of "we"'s in the write-ups).  My friend suggested that my daughter and I should create our own list, and I agree.  We've tried quite a few places all over the country, though to get a definitive list, we'd have to try a LOT of pizzas.  I'm not sure my body will hold up.

If nothing else, I think I'm going to have to visit a lot of local pizza joints, and perhaps come up with a list of the best pizza in Howard County.  Or maybe just Laurel.  We'll see.  I'll come up with our criteria and see what we come up with.  Stay tuned.  I may just take up this challenge.  (Thanks, Sarah.... I think!)

***

I mentioned a few weeks ago how much I'm enjoying an old TV show from my childhood:  CHiPs!  It's about the California Highway Patrol, and focuses on a couple of motorcycle officers in the Los Angeles area.  Now that I've watched a couple of seasons worth of shows (it comes on daily at 6 p.m. on ME TV), and the character's personalities have been fleshed out a bit, I can see just how cheesy it was.  There were more and more car accidents on the show, too, as things went along, which I'm guessing were used to draw in more viewers (probably a lot of young males) and an increased budget, and there are way too many shots of a shirtless Erik Estrada.  The disco music is tiresome, too.  But seeing the LA sites in this time capsule from the late 70s is really kind of cool, as are all of the 60s and 70s era cars!  That alone makes it worth watching.

***

Here's an update on my mother-in-law, who was rushed to the hospital by ambulance yesterday evening.  She's fine, and resting at home now, but she had to stay overnight at the hospital last night, where they did test after test to try to figure out what might be wrong.  All of the tests came back negative, so that's a good thing, but it doesn't explain why she felt so bad.

My daughter and I planned to visit her this evening, but the snow (SNOW?!?!) and wet roads hampered that idea.  Damascus is farther north than Laurel, and it's all back roads to get there.  Anyway, she's fine.  Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.

Have a great evening, everyone!