Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 3: G-Fest XXIII

G-Fest XXIII, Chicago (Rosemont), Illinois.  G-Fest is the largest regular gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans in the world.  It's a family-oriented convention featuring presentations by fans and actors and crew from Japanese Godzilla films, including topics of interest, contests and gaming, new and classic kaiju  movies, a dealers room, and lots of fun. 

After arriving on Friday and attending the opening ceremonies, introducing all of the guests, daughter Melody and I crashed for the night.  We were excited to be at G-Fest, and we were looking forward to the beginning of our big road trip.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel O'Hare, in Rosemont, is a wonderful venue.  The rooms are very nice, and the views from the higher floors are actually kind of cool, as planes on final approach to O'Hare airport fly right by the windows (and they are appropriately soundproofed, too.  During G-Fest, the hotel airs rare TV shows and movies with a Japanese monster (kaiju)/sci-fi theme on the in-house TV channel, so during our downtime, we enjoyed watching some of the programs we wouldn't have a chance to see otherwise.  The hotel is fairly large, able to handle the needs of the convention (except for the long wait for the elevators), and we like that the convention has a home that we've become comfortable with.

I woke up early on Saturday morning.  I went down to the main level and got some breakfast stuff for us, returning to our room to eat.  I allowed Melody to sleep in, and I went down in time for one of the early sessions with Akira Takarada, star of the original GOJIRA (Godzilla).  Takarada is every bit the big star, and hearing his stories of his time on the sets of movies and working with other actors and directors in Japan, is just so interesting.  I particularly enjoyed his stories about Nick Adams, an American actor who starred with him in INVASION OF THE ASTRO MONSTER (aka, MONSTER ZERO) in the 60s.  He was interviewed by JD Lees, the publisher of G-FAN Magazine, and the organizer of the convention, and was translated by Robert Scott Field, an actor who played professional baseball in Japan and learned the language and lives there now, and is a popular guest at G-Fest every year.

After an hour with Takarada, the next session was with Bin Furuya, the suit-actor who played the original Ultraman, and acted in many other kaiju movies and TV shows.  ULTRAMAN was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, back in 70s.  I watched the show on Channel 20, which had a wonderful lineup of shows for kids each weekday afternoon, hosted by Captain 20 (Dick Dyszel).  I loved hearing Furuya's stories about the show, and the show he actually acted on (instead of being a suit-actor), ULTRASEVEN.  August Ragone, author of the wonderful book, "Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters," interviewed Furuya, and Field again translated.

Melody joined me during the session with Furuya, and after it ended, we went to the Dealers Room, which has so much great stuff for sale.  Melody got a few t-shirts, and we enjoyed browsing through the merchandise.  We then walked around the convention to see the sites, including the wonderful model and art gallery.

We then went to another session, this time with the wonderful actress, Hiroko Sakurai, who starred in ULTRAMAN, and also its predecessor, ULTRA Q.  This was her first trip to the US, so it was great to see her excitement and humbleness on display as she met with her fans.

We lunched on some leftover Giordano's, then went to see a session with Tony Isabella, prolific writer and comic book historian, as well as the founder of the First Church of Godzilla (see Facebook).  He shared a nice history and slide show about monster kaiju in the comics, and I loved hearing about his love of monster movies.  I've long wanted to see him at a G-Fest, so this was pretty cool.

We went on a drive to one of our favorite places when we come to G-Fest, Mitsuwa Market, in Arlington Heights, where we got some goodies and some Japanese carry-out for dinner.  Melody got some Bubble Tea for the first time, and thus began a new addiction...

Back at the Crowne Plaza, we ate, then went to the Main Event of every G-Fest:  The costume parade.  We got some good seats since we arrived early, and we watched the Final G-Pardy, a trivia game in the same format as the Jeopardy TV game show.  Following that, there were raffle drawings for some neat prizes, with proceeds going to "G-Fans Helping G-Fans," which helps needy folks in the G-Fan family.

This year's costumes were very good, and the parade lasted more than an hour.  There are simple costumes, and some that are very elaborate, and all are inspired by Japanese Kaiju movies and TV shows.  The participants vary in age from young toddlers to the most "experienced" folks in fandom.  It's a fun party, and one of the highlights of every G-Fest.

Following the festivities, we headed back to our room to watch movies on the in-house channel and rest.  Sunday morning, we got room service for breakfast, which was really great, probably our best meal of the trip so far (and definitely our most expensive!).

We checked out after getting ready, then we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the convention and making some last purchases at the dealers room, including meeting "Big In Japan" author Timothy Price, and artist Alan Barnes.  We shared with Timothy that we were taking a big cross-country road trip, and we chatted about our mutual love of roller coasters.

We ate lunch at the hotel's restaurant (the Front Desk gave us a voucher for a free meal when the hotel staff forgot to pick up our room service request for a Saturday breakfast late Friday night), then we hit the road.

It was another fantastic G-Fest!  I feel like we missed out on a lot of stuff this time, given how late we arrived on Friday, and then hitting the road on Sunday afternoon.  But this was one of the best G-Fests with so many wonderful guests, and the sessions were as enjoyable as ever.  But we were also excited to be hitting the road to continue our trip.

Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 2

The biggest problem with traveling on the road with a teenage daughter is her propensity to crave sleep above the adventure of travel.  I'm the type of person that wants to be on the road at sun-up, but... Let's just say it became a challenge for both of us as the trip wore on.

Day 2 of our trip would take us to our first and only destination:  Chicago, IL, for G-Fest XXIII.  G-Fest is the largest regular gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans in the world.  It's a family-oriented convention featuring presentations by fans and actors and crew from Japanese Godzilla films, including topics of interest, contests and gaming, new and classic kaiju  movies, a dealers room, and lots of fun.  My daughter and I have been going for about 5 years now, and I went to several of the first G-Fests back in the 90s.  It's held each year in mid-July at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, in Rosemont, IL.

Making the trip to Chicago each year means trying to vary the route a little bit so that is doesn't get old, because it tends to get old.  We've flown, taken the train, and driven the turnpikes.  This time, I decided to take the "southern" route across Ohio and Indiana, and then drive north into Chicagoland.  We left our hotel at 7:35 a.m. and headed west on I-70.  It wasn't long before we hit the mother of all traffic jams.  There was an accident just east of Columbus, OH, and traffic came to a standstill.

The cell phone is a masterful tool, and has changed the face of travel.  With this little device, we can check our route and traffic issues on the spot, find restaurants and pit stops along the way, including making reservations at hotels, and find every roadside attraction in existence, as well as stay in touch with our friends and family through online social media.  Oh, yeah... we can also call and talk to people with it!

Upon hitting this traffic jam, we found out that there was an accident ahead that had completely shut down the interstate.  We quickly found a detour around the incident, and we were able to continue on with a minimal delay.  Just east of Indianapolis, we stopped for gas, ran into a Wal-mart for a few needed supplies, and then had lunch at a Cracker Barrel.  We were back on the road at 1 p.m. and headed towards Chicago.

Unfortunately, it was rush hour on a Friday afternoon.  Traffic was really bad.  We criss-crossed our way through the Chicago suburbs, sticking with highways instead of surface roads, and hitting pockets of stop and go traffic all the way to Rosemont.  We arrived at about 4:30.  Given the itinerary of G-Fest and not wanting to miss any of the afternoon sessions, we decided to go eat dinner first.  As is customary, that meant a stop at the nearby Giordano's, which is some of the best stuffed deep dish pizza I've ever had (yes, even better than Uno's and Lou Malnati's).  We weren't disappointed.

After a delicious meal, we headed over to the Crowne Plaza, checked in, and made our way to the intro session for G-Fest XXIII!  It was fantastic seeing so many big stars from some of my favorite Japanese monster shows and movies, and I received personal greetings from Akira Takarada, Bin Furuya, and Hiroko Sakurai, as they passed us after the session.

We were really excited to be back at G-Fest, and, exhausted from the 463 mile drive, we decided to crash for the night back in our room.

To be continued...

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 1

It was July 14, 2016.  We were planning to hit the road at around lunch time, but my boss found it necessary to keep me around the office well past noon.  By the time I finished taking care of the things that my boss needed me to do, it was 3 p.m.  I quickly said my goodbyes, wrapped up the office chores, and headed towards home.  I picked up my daughter from the church day camp, and we rushed home to load up our Jeep.  The only good thing all day to that point was that we had packed everything the day before, so it was just a matter of moving it all from our living room and into the back of the Jeep.

At 4:30 p.m., I locked the front door and we pulled out of our neighborhood.  I felt the stress drip away off of my body, and I felt really good for the first time all day.  Daughter Melody said a prayer asking for God's safe hands around us as we traveled, and for good health and happiness along the way.  We were beginning our cross-country adventure, our biggest road trip ever.

We headed out Route 32, dodging traffic and hoping any delays would be short.  Heading west on Interstate 70, we hit a fairly major jam through Frederick, and then stop-and-go traffic all the way to Hagerstown.  Things cleared out and we were at speed to Hancock, where we stopped for dinner.  The Park N' Dine was a favorite of my family's since long before I was born.  Hancock was the halfway point for us when we traveled from home to my grandparent's house in little Hopwood, PA, where my father had grown up from the age of 10 to when he left home after high school to get a Federal Government job at 18.  When we visited my grandparents, we almost always stopped on the way to their place at the Park N' Dine to eat.

We arrived at 6:30, 95 miles from home.  We sat in the front part of the restaurant, which is the original diner section, instead of the main dining room towards the back.  The owners had added on to the original building over the years to expand with its growing popularity, eventually taking over the attached gas station.  Even with the expansion, we always had a long wait for a table when we stopped here to eat over the years.  Its popularity has obviously diminished over time.  The place was not at all busy tonite.  I ordered my favorite dish, the hot turkey sandwich, loaded with gravy and mashed potatoes with dressing.  Melody got chicken tenders and broccoli. It was delicious!  Our young server took great care of us, though it took a while to get our food.  It was 7:30 by the time we pulled out and returned to the road, jumping onto I-68 west.

Our next stop was at the Hill Top Fruit Market in Grantsville, MD.  We spent ten minutes of mad rushing around the little store loading up on snacks for the trip.  They have miniatures of just about every kind of candy currently being made, and Melody got a bag of her favorites.  I got some fruit and nuts, and a few sugar-free items, and we returned to the road.  It was 8:30 p.m.

We continued on US 40, the National Road, through the mountains towards Uniontown, PA.  It was rough going due to it being a 2-lane road, and getting stuck behind cars that had difficulty maintaining the speed limit because of the changing topography kept our speeds down.  We were not making good time.  It was almost dark as we crested the Summit of Chestnut Ridge and headed down the mountain towards Hopwood.  There were heavy, dark clouds all along the horizon, and we ended up hitting rain before we got to the base of the mountain.  As it was already dusk, it got dark very quickly, and the rains came down hard.  I could barely see.  Even though I was very familiar with the area around Uniontown, the road we planned to take, Route 43, was new and I didn't know exactly where the exit ramp was located.  With visibility practically at zero, I missed the exit, so we took the Route 51 exit and stopped at a Sheetz to wait out the storm.  It was a good pit stop for us, and I was able to get a cup of coffee.

I had hoped to get somewhere into mid-Ohio by the time we stopped for the night, but our late departure, the off and on heavy traffic, and now the weather, combined to knocked us off our schedule.  It was time to begin making our plans for the night.  The weather app on my iPhone told us that we would likely exit the immediate storm very soon, but there were bunches more west of us, where we were headed.  I used the Choice Hotels app to see where we might want to stay along our planned route, and I picked out a Quality Inn in Cambridge, Ohio.  It was 9:30 p.m., and the GPS estimated our arrival at around midnight.  It was well short of our plan for Day One of our trip, but that would be my limit for today.

Back on the road, we pulled out of the big storm a few miles down Route 43, but the rain continued in spurts for the remainder of our drive.  We didn't make another stop, having gassed up in Keysers Ridge, MD, just before crossing into PA earlier, and we arrived at our Destination at 11:50 p.m.  It was clean and comfortable, and sleep took over quickly.  We were 315 miles from home.

To be continued...

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, September 30, 2016

My Faithful Pup

I'm convinced my Faithful Pup Scout can tell time.  Not just sensing the time of day, like an internal alarm that tells us that we're hungry and need to think about making dinner, or feeling tired and realizing it's almost time to go to bed, but specific, down to the minute, read-the-clock telling time.  For three straight nights she has awakened me at EXACTLY 1:00 am, as if she had a specific agenda she needed to accomplish at that moment.  Given that Scout is an elderly old soul (she's 14), and shows all of the signs of a rapidly aging family pet, including bladder issues that have resulted in wetting the bed (that she shares with me) on more than a few occasions, I am quick to react to her middle of the night nudgings, and I always then rush her to the back yard to take care of business, all the while battling feelings of anger amplified by sleepiness balanced with sympathy and thankfulness that she at least knows to wake me up when she's got to go.  I can live with this.

However, I absolutely have to draw the line at the 7:00 am wake up calls that Faithful Pup Scout has adopted on the weekends.  Again, it's as if she's watching the digital alarm clock on the nightstand and recognizing the figures on the LED screen.  I relish my weekend mornings to sleep in, since I'm up before 6 am every weekday for work.  To wake up without an alarm is a luxury, allowing my body to naturally begin the day when it feels like it's ready to wake up.  I love this little rugrat of a dog, but, brother, I'm frustrated with her right now.

On top of that, the pup just can't seem to let me out of her sight.  She sleeps a great deal anymore, probably more than she's awake, and most evenings find us sitting together on the couch, me watching TV, her snoozing next to me.  But Heaven forbid that I get up to use the bathroom, or go to the kitchen to get something.  Regardless of how deeply she may be sleeping, and her snores are a telltale sign of just how deeply she's out cold, she begins to stir almost as soon as I'm out of the room.  Maybe it's my scent?  Or some kind of animal ESP?  Either way, she knows I'm gone.

But the real problem is what happens after she has come to the realization that I'm not in the room.  She begins to panic, as if she can't stand to be alone, or maybe she thinks she has been abandoned.  She moves to the edge of the couch, looks around the room, and begins to whine and bark.  She's too small and weak to be able to jump off the couch anymore, so she's a captive to her little boat in the middle of the ocean.  So I'll hear her pathetic shrill barking and I have to stop whatever it is I'm doing and rush back into the room and "rescue" her.  And once she sees me, she's okay and all is right in her world again.

I learned a hard lesson once when I didn't perform my rescue maneuver in a timely manner.  I had gone upstairs to use the bathroom, and while doing my business, I began to hear Scout's barking.  There wasn't much I could do at that moment, but I could hear her barking getting louder and more panicky.  I quickly finished, and rushed back down to her, and saw her on the edge of the couch, shaking uncontrollably.  It was then that I noticed she had urinated on our relatively new couch.

So the routine now is that, if I need to leave the room for any reason, I have to either return very quickly, or I take the pup with me.  Even if it's a trip to the bathroom.  And if I know I'll be away from the couch for a while, I make sure she goes outside to take care of her business before I can take care of mine.  That's life with an aging pet.

I love this little dog, as frustrating as she can be at times, but I understand that this is a part of the pet owning process.  You don't stop loving and caring for her just because she's old and requires a lot more work than last year, or even last month.  You make her life as comfortable as possible.  Because she's your family... your friend.  And for her years of faithfulness, it's something she's owed.

I was talking with my father the other day.  He asked, "Why is it that the three pets our family has had over the years have lived to such old ages?"  I thought about Ginger, the wonderful Terrier mutt that I grew up with, who was every bit my dog from the day we got her, when I was 7, until she left this life when I was 23.  Then there was Sam the cat.  Sam was my sister's pet, but I enjoyed his company enough to put up with him.  He was just a kitten when Ginger passed on, and he would go on to live 15 years.  About 2 years prior to Sam leaving this life, my wife, Teresa, and I got our little bundle of white fluff, little Scout.  That's 16 years for Ginger, 15 years for Sam, and, by this coming January, 15 and counting for Scout.  That's a lot of pet years.

Scout and Ginger

I'd like to think, to answer my father's question, that we've always been able to provide a good home to our loved ones, and our pets are able to live lives of good health and happiness, and that results in a long life.  And they certainly provide us, their "people," with the same.

I love my dog.  Oh, does she drive me crazy!  But I love her.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Still Not Ready For Primetime...

Headline news?

Ummmmm.... Yeah.  I'm still not quite ready to go, but the ideas and writing topics continue to grow.  My head is bursting.  I just haven't been able to slow down.  "Frenetic" is a good word for this current period of life.  Please stay tuned...


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Emerging From Hibernation to Tragedy

My blog has been in a state of hibernation for a few months now, and if you are (were?) a regular reader, and I appreciate your support, you may be wondering to where the heck I disappeared.  I'm here.  My plan was to restart blogging at the end of the summer, but something happened last week that prompted me to write.

My winter and spring were already extremely busy, and I was having difficulty staying with this.  I was taking a class for work purposes, and between the long hours at work, and the classwork taking my free time, I didn't have much of an opportunity to write.  I graduated from the Federal Executive Institute in June, and I followed it up with a series of work trips.

For the past two weeks, my daughter and I were on a trip of a lifetime, traveling across the country on an epic road trip.  After 5912.8 miles, 20 states, 1 great country (USA! USA! USA!), 17 days, 16 nights, 17 days of at least some precipitation, 290 gallons of fuel, 8 National Parks, 8 Cracker Barrels, 7 roller coasters, 1 incredible fan convention, 2 blessed lives enriched immensely, and one awesome Lord above all... and now we're HOME!

However, the trip was marred with tragedy.  On Wednesday, July 27, while we were driving east from Dallas on I-20, near the town of Lindale (though I didn't know the name of the town at the time), we coasted over a rise and saw that traffic was slowing considerably.  I audibly complained to my daughter, Melody, that the heavy congestion would slow us down, and I moved from the right lane into the left as we drifted down the hill.  I noticed a car in the right lane continue on at full speed (the speed limit was 70 mph).  The car never braked and slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler that had come to a stop in the right lane due to the heavy traffic.  The impact sent pieces of the car in all directions.

I slowed to a stop and just stared, attempting to register what just happened.  It was a tremendous collision.  Traffic behind us had stopped.  Melody was holding my phone, and I asked her to take a picture, because that might be important later.  It occurred to me that no one was doing anything.  Neither vehicle showed any signs of life, though the truck only sustained damage to the trailer, and continued to drift slowly a few hundred feet before stopping completely.

I was worried about the car catching fire, so, making sure the road was clear, we pulled ahead to go around the crash and park on the right shoulder, ahead of the truck.  As we drove by the car (a Subaru), we saw the driver's head sticking out of what was left of the side window at an awkward angle, and I knew he was dead.  I asked Melody to turn her head and not look.  We parked, and I asked Melody to call 911 (not thinking that we didn't know where we were...she called my parents back home in Maryland, instead).

I started to run back to the truck driver, but remembered that I had a fire extinguisher that I had just purchased before the trip, and I ran back to retrieve it.  I approached the truck driver and asked him if he was okay.  He seemed confused, and I repeated the question.  He replied in the affirmative, and I ran to the back of the truck.  It was chaotic.  Two other truck drivers coming in the opposite direction saw the scene and stopped to assist.  Both had fire extinguishers and were using them on the now burning Subaru.  One of the drivers grabbed my extinguisher out of my hand and began to use it, and the fire was quickly put out.  We heard the yells of a girl and realized she was in the car.  She was young (we found out later she was 9), and the truck drivers turned their attention to her.  An ambulance showed up, and I was surprised by how quickly it arrived.  It must have already been in the backup and was nearby.  The paramedics took charge and helped get the young girl out of the car and onto a stretcher.  She was crying and yelling for her father (who was the driver).  After placing her in a neck brace, they moved her to the back of the ambulance.  Another paramedic asked me what happened, and it became clear that I was the only witness to the crash (of those who stopped to help).

The driver of the truck was standing nearby, but neither offered to help nor came near the rest of us.  The other truck drivers directed traffic, which had started moving past in the left lane.  People in the other cars were taking cell phone pictures of the scene, and we quickly looked for a blanket or sheet to cover the body of the driver of the Subaru.  One of the paramedics returned and said there was another person in the car, a young boy (he was 8 years old).  We began to check and saw that there was a mangled body in the front passenger seat.  He had been decapitated by the force of the collision, and I noticed for the first time pieces of flesh strewn across the side of the car.  I was sick.

Fire and police soon arrived.  I was questioned several more times, by the fire personnel, then a sheriff's deputy, and a state trooper.  We were there for over an hour.  I kept going back to our Jeep to check on Melody.  She was so shook up, and I'm glad my parents stayed on the phone with her for the entire time we were there.  Finally, we were cleared to leave.  It was at least another 20 minutes before I felt calm enough to drive.

We pulled away from the scene and drove to an exit a few miles down the road.  I was really shook up.  Melody and I talked about what happened, but I didn't want to dwell on it.  But emotion over took me, and the tears came.  I broke down.  Melody hugged me, and we prayed for the people involved in the crash.

We had planned to continue to at least Little Rock, Arkansas, but we decided to stop instead in Shreveport, Louisiana.  I was exhausted and drained.  It was a sleepless night.  We were headed towards home, but we felt an urgency to finish our journey.

The rest of the trip was difficult.  I found that I was having difficulty driving, and I couldn't maintain the speed limit around trucks.  I felt my body tense up, and the last few legs of the trip were very stressful.  We finally arrived at home on Saturday.

Please pray for the family.  The driver was a mid-30s father of three.  The two passengers were a daughter and son.  The daughter sustained two broken legs, and was in a Children's Hospital in the Dallas area with her mom.  The truck driver also needs prayers.  He did nothing wrong, but I'm sure he'll battle guilt over the crash.  Pray also for our emergency personnel.  I saw firsthand just how much they care about the victims of these types of incidents.  It was a horrible experience.

Please tell your family and friends how much you love them.  None of us are guaranteed anything in this life, but if you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will have eternal life.

Be safe, everyone.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Life Is Best

I hate having to make excuses.  Sure, life gets busy, and we all have life situations that pull us in multiple directions, and we never get to do everything we want to do.  But I miss spending time here.  I love to write, and this blog provides a daily opportunity to scratch that writing itch.  But I'm not able to make that time to do it.
"Time and tide wait for no man." - Geoffrey Chaucer
I work a pretty stressful job, and it requires a lot of time and effort.  So much so, that it has impacted my health in a fairly significant negative way.  I find myself not sleeping well, and I deal with stress and hypertension requiring medication for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even my hair is thinning very quickly.  My boss is very demanding, and because I tend to have responsibility as the top value in my makeup, it drives much of this stress since I never feel as if I am doing enough, or as good a job as I want with whatever it is I'm doing.  In addition, there is a lot of travel that I am required to take, and I just returned from the first of four trips in the next four months, three to Oklahoma City, which is where I was all this week.  These are not pleasure trips.

Being a single father with an almost-teen daughter only adds to that stress, no matter how wonderful I think she is.  I can never give her enough of my time, the time she deserves, and I constantly feel like I need to make up for the fact she doesn't have a mother in her life.  How can I possibly do enough?

Add to all of this the Stanley Cup playoffs, and, well.... Let's just say that being a diehard sports fan isn't all fun and games, even though that's what it is meant to be.

Anyway, It was a difficult week, and I'm tired, and I found myself catching up on email this evening and I realized that the blog is just sitting here... waiting.  I don't even know if anyone is out there still reading this stuff.  And, if so, you deserve better for taking your own time to read my gibberish.

That said, please don't give up on me.  I desire to do so much better.

1 Peter 5:10 - "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."

I've been suffering for a little while, but I firmly believe that God will restore me, and I intend to spend this weekend doing the things I want to do.  And my daughter and I will enjoy ourselves, and I will for get all about this past week, and I remain hopeful that the best is yet to come.  Life is best.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lost and Found

I miss writing.  Life tends to get so busy, and I find myself not able to keep up with things like this blog, as much as I wish otherwise.  It's not intentional neglect.  It's all competing priorities, and real life is at the top.  My thoughts are all over the place tonight.

With Election Day coming tomorrow, and school cancelled for the day, I took my wonderful daughter to her grandparent's to stay overnight, so I can work tomorrow.  After enjoying a nice dinner at Urban Barbecue, I said goodbye and headed for home.

But before that, I decided to get lost for a little while.  It was a beautiful evening, and the top was down.  I had some great tunes playing, and I was surrounded by back roads.  Feeling a little bit melancholy, which is typical when I'm by myself, I took off and found myself...well, a little lost.  It was not a sense of direction issue, though.  I tend to have a very good sense of direction, which is connected to my love of maps and a desire to travel, to be on the road.  This feeling of being lost is more connected to an event from my past.

Twelve years ago, on April 19, 2004, my life changed forever.  While every moment of life has the potential to be life changing, there are specific kinds of events that impact us like no others.  Life and death events.

On that day, my wife died.  She collapsed right in front of me, while on an evening stroll with our at the time 5-month old daughter, from a massive heart attack.  I watched her body die in that moment, though at the time I didn't know she was gone.  In fact, I was convinced that she would be okay.  It wasn't until we arrived at the hospital that I was told she was gone, and that was when reality hit and the tears came.  And I've been grieving this loss ever since...the loss of my wife, life partner, best friend, and mother of my daughter.

So, for twelve years, I've been finding my way.  Life goes on.  And while there are moments of loneliness and sadness, and being lost, I'm constantly in awe of the saving grace of God.  My wife was a believer, and I know she is spending eternity with our Father, and I know I'll see her again. Even after she was gone, she was helping realize this fact.  She had written a verse on a piece of paper that I found months later, and it spoke to me like nothing else:

1 Peter 5:10 - "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."

Good night, everyone.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Anniversaries create wonderful memories and signify times of celebration...most of the time.  Today is an anniversary that is the worst kind:  twelve years ago today I lost my wife.  It is said that time heals all wounds, and that is true in a lot of ways. But Teresa's death has shattered me to the depths of my soul, and I continue to struggle every year on this date, April 19.

It had been a beautiful day, and we were out walking around the school where Teresa taught 9th grade English and Public Speaking.  She had taken the year off following the birth of our daughter, Melody, in November.  Suddenly, Teresa collapsed.  She had suffered a heart attack, caused by an enlarged heart and mitral valve prolapse.  Paramedics arrived and worked on her, and they took her to Howard County General, where she was pronounced dead.  I was a widower at the age of 34, with a 5-month old daughter, after less than five years of marriage.  And I was devastated.

While my faith in Christ remains strong, I struggle so much with an at times overwhelming grief.  You never recover from devastating loss.  Instead it becomes a part of who you are.  

I know Teresa, as a Christ-follower, is experiencing eternity, and I will see her again.  But life goes on here on Planet Earth, and I've chosen to continue living in hope despite my struggles.

1 Peter 5:10 - "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."

Thank you, Lord, for your care and presence in our lives.  Thank you for your grace and comfort.  Thank you for memories, both bad and great.  And thank you for giving us such a wonderful life together, despite how short it was.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Memorable Retreat

As I mentioned previously, a lack of blog posts means I'm on the road traveling.  It might also be a pre-trib rapture...but that's just wishful thinking right at the moment.  Maybe soon, maybe later, but only He knows for sure...

We have been out of town quite a bit lately, so this week was a catch-our-breath moment of rest and relaxation.  I know that will change at any moment.

We had just returned from a week of Spring Breaking when we headed north again for the Grace Community Church Youth Spring Retreat!  My daughter Melody went on her first retreat in October, and I went along to serve on the work crew, which prepared and served the food all weekend to over 400 youth and adults.  Melody had a blast, and while I had to work, it was an extremely rewarding and fulfilling weekend.  We were anxious to do it all again. 

The Spring retreat was even better, despite rain and freezing temperatures.  I wish the sleeping accommodations were better (they are lousy...the bunks are plywood with a mattress, and are made for people much shorter than my 6'2"), but otherwise, it's a nice place.

The only other negative is that I got sick right before we left.  I felt well enough to make trip, but I think I spent more time in the bathroom and in bed (though not resting...) than doing actual work.  I felt terrible.  And I felt terrible about not being able to assist as much as what was needed.  Bruce, thanks for praying over me.  And, Gary, I think you were more concerned about me than I was about you!  Elizabeth, thanks for going easy on me.  We have such a wonderful work crew!

It was an exhausting weekend in a lot of ways, but the impact this youth program and youth leaders have on the kids makes it so worthwhile, and I'm so thankful for the energy and effort they put into this weekend.  Melody had a memorable time.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Storming the Drive-in

We had a beautiful sky last evening, as indicated by this wonderful picture my daughter took (above).  We had just arrived at home after a week of road tripping and riding roller coasters, and while we saw much of God's beautiful handiwork on the road in the Great Smoky Mountains, there was this sky right here at home, reminding us that we don't have to go very far to be reminded of God's beauty.  So what did we do last night?  We went to the drive-in, and that beautiful sky turned darkly spectacular in a much different way...

It was a pretty great lineup of entertainment last night at the ol' Bengies Drive-in, and we were excited to see both movies.  The place was extremely crowded, and rightly so with two wonderful movies and THAT sky!

However, after sitting thru ZOOTOPIA, the sky clouded over completely, and a storm erupted unlike any I've seen in some time.  

We had just returned from the snack bar during the intermission and found a downpour, and we ran back to our Jeep.  There was a pickup truck filled with a gaggle of youth parked next to us, and they were hiding under a large tarp trying to stay dry.  The wind was gusting hard and I watched a pizza box shoot out of the truck and run in the direction of the snack bar.  Moments later, we saw a beam of light shoot out of the stars and clouds, followed by an earth shattering thunder clap that sounded like the world was in peril.  That was enough to frighten the teens, and they gathered their stuff and started to leave.  The wind grabbed the door, though, and it flew open and hit the side of our Jeep with enough force that I was sure it had stripped off the paint.  I jumped out to see, but I was immediately pelted with hail.  This was one mean storm!

Many of the great patrons of the Bengies decided to call it a night, and there was a long line of vehicles headed for the exits. It reminded me of a Terp's football game during a blowout.

Anyway, we stayed thru most of STAR WARS, and the storm had pretty much subsided by the time we decided to head for home.  The wind was still howling, though, the temperature had dropped more than 20 degrees.  We arrived at home at about 1:30 am, and slept like a couple of rocks.  My daughter finally got up at noon.

We had a wonderful vacation, though, and we're happy to be home.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Six Flags Rainy Adventure

A lack of blog posts generally means I'm away from home, and with Spring Break upon us, that's most certainly the case.  I added my first new US state in several years to my list of places I've visited:  Alabama!  We're in the Northeast corner and right in the heart of some really great mountainous territory.  I don't think of mountains when I think of Alabama, so consider me impressed!

We spent yesterday at Six Flags Over Georgia, an amusement park I had never visited.  Like most of the Six Flags parks, it looks a little run down.  There is some new construction going on, and it looks like they're trying to spruce it up, but it really needs some work.  When I go to parks like Busch Gardens, where everything looked new and beautiful, I'm a bit taken aback by how badly Six Flags looks in comparison.  And the employees don't seem to care.  I hope I'm wrong, but the attitude I see is not exactly towards customer service and safety.  Anyway, it was an overcast day, and rains were expected.  We rode some pretty great coasters before then, like the Georgia Scorcher, a standup coaster, which wasn't as beat up as others that have recently bit the dust (like Shockwave at Kings Dominion).  We rode a beat up looking Mindbender, which was actually kind of fun, and Batman the Ride, a suspended track coaster, which surprisingly got in the first row.  Goliath was a lot of fun, the park's hyper coaster (over 200' drop).

We ate lunch at a pizza place, and this is where Six Flags loses so many points with me:  their food is lousy.  I've never eaten anything at a Six Flags park that I would call tasty.  And it's expensive!  $25 for 2 measly slices of cheese pizza (because they didn't even have any specialty pizzas already made -- with no apologies!), fries, and two 8 oz "large" sodas.  And it was awful.

We rode the Monster Mansion, which was a ride-thru boat ride, then continued thru the park.  We saw a Wild West Shootout comedy show while we ate some ice cream, then the rains came.  We passed Ninja, which is receiving extensive rehabilitation and is not operating, and hopped on the Great American Scream Machine, a monstrous wooden coaster that really ended up being a highlight of the day.  Despite being pelleted by rain, and getting thoroughly soaked, we had a two great rides!

However, the rains became too great. Superman was already shutdown for the day, we just missed the last mine train coaster before it closed, and the same happened with Georgia's Cyclone.  The park was sparsely attended to begin with, but with the rains not expected to end until overnight, we called it a day.  At least we got five new coasters crossed off our list.  And we created a memory, which is more important than anything else.

I love traveling with my wonderful daughter, and am so thankful for the opportunity to spend time with her doing something we both love to do.  God blesses us every single moment of every single day!

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Weekend Getaway

Williamsburg in the Spring can be beautiful, though the threat of snow might diminish that just a bit.  We had a great time, anyway.

It was opening weekend at Busch Gardens, and since it's our favorite park, we were excited to be there.  It also was our first amusement park visit since we became card-carrying members of ACE, the American Coaster Enthusiasts.  We had a fantastic time hanging with some really great people, all of whom have a passion for riding roller coasters.

We also got the scoop on Busch Garden's big announcement regarding a first for the park:  a new wooden coaster!
It will be built in the New France part of the park for 2017, and will feature a Viking theme.  There's also a naming contest at the BG website...

Anyway, it was a great weekend!

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tomorrow is Pi Day

Tomorrow is Pi Day.  You know, 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286 208998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128481 117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233 786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006 606315588174881520920962829254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146 951941511609433057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548074462379962749 567351885752724891227938183011949129833673362440656643086021394946395224737190 702179860943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132000568127145263560827 785771342757789609173637178721468440901224953430146549585371050792279689258923 542019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049 951059731732816096318595024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010 003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303598253490428755468731159562863882 353787593751957781857780532171226806613001927876611195909216420198938095257201 065485863278865936153381827968... well, I could keep this up all day.  Pi Day will begin on March 14, at 1:59 p.m. (3.14159).  My office has a tradition of celebrating Pi Day each year by having a pie cook-off.  It's a lot of fun, and we usually have about a dozen different pies to try, with voting determining which pie is the best, and the pie chef who wins is the Pi King or Queen for this year.

Last year, Pi Day was on a Saturday, so the office celebrated on the day before.  This year we get to celebrate on the actual day.  On March 14 last year, I made a couple of very hastily prepared chocolate cream pies made with instant chocolate pudding and Redi Whip whipped cream to celebrate at home.  My daughter was very excited and surprised, and we had a nice time celebrating for really no reason at all.  And isn't that how life ought to be?

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Top Down Kind Of Day

Today became one of those really difficult, too-much-to-do-and-frustrated-about-it kind of days.  And when the stress gets to be too much, two things occur:  I turn it over to the Lord, and I put the top down and forget about the bad stuff.  Given my struggles with health issues, it's almost mandatory that I find a way to stave off the stress.  Driving home on a beautiful day is one way to mitigate those struggles.  And today was beautiful!

Have a great evening, everyone!