Thursday, March 22, 2018

My First Big Road Trip

I was about ten years old when my family took what was perhaps the most influential vacation of my life, and led me to have a life-long love of road trips.

It was 1979, and my parents had purchased an RV trailer the year before, beginning our new family past time of campgrounds, sleeping bags, and mountain pie makers.  Dad pulled our 24 foot trailer with our '77 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, complete with fake wood paneling.  The first year with the RV was spent on occasional weekend getaways, but in the second year, we spread our wings a bit.  Our vacation would span two weeks!  It was easily the longest vacation we had ever taken as a family.

School had just let out, and we loaded up the camper for our big trip.  We hit the road on a hot June afternoon, heading south out of Upper Marlboro, MD, on US 301.  We crossed the Potomac River on that single span bridge (towing the RV with our station wagon across that bridge was an experience all by itself!), and continued to our first destination:  Williamsburg, VA.

We found our campground, settled in, and enjoyed the pool!  The following day was a fantastic visit to Busch Gardens!  The vacation was off to a flying start.  We were in Williamsburg for several days, then we loaded up and headed to our next destination...Holden Beach, on the south coast of North Carolina!

I recall, during the drive down to NC, the station wagon wanted to overheat every time Dad put on the air conditioning.  This meant that we traveled with the windows down for much of the drive.  We had a scary moment when a very large flying bug flew into the window and landed on Mom's shoulder, causing us all to scream and yell, and panicking my poor mother enough that Dad had to pull over.  I think it was a dragonfly, but we couldn't identify it at the time since it flew out as quickly as it flew in, as soon as we stopped.

Holden Beach was pretty memorable.  We met up with my Uncle Jim, Aunt Nancy, and cousin Jimmy, and I fished for the first time while we were there.  The campground was right on the beach, and we spent a lot of time in the Atlantic, too.  Dad, Uncle Jim, Jimmy, and I went out one morning to a nearby pier to do some fishing, and while I didn't catch anything, Uncle Jim caught several large fish.  We also had a crab trap, and we caught a small sand shark in the trap by accident.  Cousin Jimmy and I also discovered little sand crabs near the beach that came out at night, and he caught a bunch of them, placing them in a sand-filled cardboard box.  The crabs burrowed into the sand, creating little holes.  I placed my finger a little too close to one of the holes, and a crab latched on to my finger, pinching it enough to cause me a lot of pain, and I flicked it a good forty feet away trying to get it to let go.

We also took a day trip to Myrtle Beach, the southern-most point of my life up to that time, and we went to our first waterslide.  I had a bad experience when I got to the bottom of the slide, and the person behind me tackled me and knocked me face first into the pool where I breathed in a lot of water.  Back at Holden Beach, I took another spill when a large wave knocked me off my feet, and I drank a lot of water there, too.  I wasn't much of a swimmer, and these experiences caused me to hate the water, something that has carried over into adulthood.

Anyway, after almost a week in Holden Beach, we said goodbye to my aunt, uncle, and cousin, and we headed to Greensboro, NC, to visit with my mother's distant Aunt Virginia, Uncle Hubert, and Aunt Petunia.  Aunt Virginia was the only one we had met before, back when she and dearly-departed Uncle Buddy had visited the DC area.  Uncle Buddy and Aunt Virginia were circus performers years before, once having crossed Niagara Falls on a high wire.  Aunt Virginia had long since retired.  Aunt Petunia was her sister, or cousin, or some kind of relation.  Anyway, it was nice to visit them and they rolled out the red carpet with their southern hospitality.  Instead of staying in the camper, we were able to stay in their houses, which were right next door to each other.  We were there for only two days, but we had a good time.

The next stop was in Roanoke, VA, where we stayed with my Great Uncle Ollie and Aunt Willie.  We were also surprised to find that my grandparents had traveled down from their home in Maryland to visit, too.  It was a party, since we were celebrating my sister's birthday, as well.  Uncle Ollie lived right down the road from the Roanoke Star, so we were able to hike up to see it late one afternoon after dinner.  On the way back down, my sister and I sprinted back to the house, but my brother, only three years old, didn't see us and kept on going down the road.  When everyone else caught up, there was a moment of panic when we couldn't find him.  Dad jumped in the car and drove down the road, finally finding him almost a mile away!  It put quite a scare into everyone.

After three days in Roanoke, we said our goodbyes and headed for home.  It was a good five hours drive, but when we arrived at our house, it felt like we had been away for the whole Summer!  It had been an epic road trip, and planted a seed that sprouted as I got older.

I love taking road trips!  I'm so glad my daughter loves them as much as me, and as much as her mom did.  Traveling is good for the soul.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snow Day Fun

Teleworking on a snow day is not fun.  With the snow that crippled the Washington Metropolitan Area today, and the closure of government offices, I was forced to telework for the day.  I find it boring to work at home without the interaction of my colleagues and employees.  Attending meetings via phone is not the same.  So it was a miserable day.

On the flip side, I love the snow, and watching it come down as Spring began was pretty cool.  However, I felt guilty as I sat on the couch with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone, all day, attending virtual meetings and answering emails, as my neighbors were all out front shoveling snow off the sidewalk.

We were kind of disappointed this morning when we saw so little snow on the ground, but as the morning went along, the snow got deeper and deeper.  Check out this before and after picture separated by about four hours:

Anyway, my workday ended at 3pm, so I still had a nice amount of time to go outside in the snow, and catch up on some TV watching.

While watching NewsChannel8, my daughter and I were witness to some noteworthy news.  Check out the headline on this screen capture of the Pope losing his hat to the wind:

We just got word that schools are closed again tomorrow, so it looks like I'll be teleworking again.  We'll still take the snow any day of the week, though.  What we got today was more snow than what we got over the whole season, so it makes up for what had been a pretty disappointing Winter.  And maybe we can find a way to make a telework day more entertaining.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Map Lover

Barry Schiff, a pilot and author, writes a column for AOPA Pilot, the magazine for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, called the Proficient Pilot.  In his most recent article, he pays tribute to aeronautical charts, which I have been working on over a two and a half decade career as a cartographer.  In the article, he shares a quote by Amelia Earhart:

"Someday I would like to write a piece about the fun of voyaging with maps -- without ever leaving home."

This is such a wonderful quote, and perfectly describes the almost geeky fanaticism felt by map lovers.  And I am most certainly a map lover.

My love of maps began when I was a kid.  My grandparents gave me a subscription to National Geographic's World Magazine, which I read cover to cover every month, and the occasional map that was included in some issues were cherished.  I would pour over them, analyzing the areas they covered, and imagine visiting these sometimes faraway places.

As I got older, I graduated to National Geographic Magazine, and the maps that were included with many of those issues were much more complex than in World.  My favorite map was a political map of the United States, and I invented so many different mapping games, the rules of which only I knew, and I could play with them by myself for hours.

Soon, I started buying Rand McNally and AAA road atlases every year, and I would go through them page by page, exploring the states, highways, and sites, comparing the new editions with past editions, and planning and planning and planning future road trips and vacations.

In college, I discovered that I could major in Geography, and I pursued my Bachelors degree in Cartography, eventually getting a job in the government as a professional cartographer.

With the advent of the internet, the world of cartography continues to grow, and the number of online mapping sites make it easy to plan just about anything, from checking traffic for local trips and destinations, to planning huge cross-country road trips.  It's a map lovers dream!

I'm constantly planning road trips, and I have a catalog of at least a dozen different trips that I want to take.  And I still use a paper map atlas, along with the technology available, to plan these trips.  And this creates, and sometimes even satiates, my wanderlust.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2018

First Date

A mutual friend introduced us, and while we didn't get a chance to say more than a dozen words to each other during that introduction, I guess I made enough of an impression on her to get her to go out with me.  But while our mutual friend got her phone number for me, I didn't call her for several weeks.  That was mostly because she spent a week on vacation in San Francisco after our initial meeting, and then I had to get up the nerve to ask her out.  But she was quick to say yes once I did ask her.

The following week, I went to her apartment to pick her up.  She was prettier than I remembered.  Reddish brown hair framed her face, featuring an innocent smile and large hazel eyes.  She wore just a touch of makeup, though I don't think she needed it.  It was her natural features that I found so inviting.  We made small talk, and then I invited her to go to dinner.

It was a rainy evening, so she brought an umbrella.  I drove us over to the local Olive Garden, which I thought would make a good first date restaurant.  When we arrived, I got out and opened her door.  It was raining hard enough that we needed her umbrella, so I opened it as she stepped out of the car.  I held the umbrella in my left hand and place my hand in the small of her back as we walked to the door of the restaurant.

It wasn't crowded, so we were able to get a table quickly.  Conversation came easy, and I asked her about her trip to San Francisco.  She excitedly told me all of the highlights, making sure to emphasize all of the places that she thought would have been more fun had she traveled with someone else.  While she had stayed with an old high school friend, she had to work during much of the week, leaving my date to sight see alone.  I enjoyed her description of the sites, in particular her stop at Ghirardelli Square, and getting a sundae that was really made for two, vowing to return one day with someone special to share.

The food arrived, and prayed and gave thanks to Him.  We enjoyed our meal, eating slowly as we took turns sharing with each other our life stories.  She was an only child.  I was the oldest of three.  She was a high school teacher.  I was a cartographer.  She grew up in Wheaton.  I grew up in Upper Marlboro.  We both went to the University of Maryland.

I'd been trying to ignore it, but while we were finding comfort in our sharing, the earlier nervousness I had felt took its toll, and I needed to use the rest room.  I excused myself, and soon found myself experiencing a lot of discomfort due to what I'll just call IBS.  My stay in the rest room was much longer than I could have anticipated, and I was embarrassed that I wasn't able to quickly take care of business and return to my date.  The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.  After an eternity, I was able to get my composure back, and I returned to the table, and my date.  I apologized profusely, and assured her I was fine, though the concern on her face troubled me.  We ordered dessert, and continued our conversation.

After the meal, we began to head out.  The rain had stopped, so we were able to walk to the car slowly.  I opened the car door for her, and helped her in.  Then I drove us back to her apartment.  She invited me in and we continued to talk about anything and everything.  She had turned on the TV, but we didn't watch it.  We likely could've talked all night, but we both had church in the morning, and it was late, and I had an almost hour long drive ahead of me.

She walked me to the door, and gave me a warm hug.  There was no kiss, but only because I was too nervous to ask for one, and I thought it ungentlemanly to assume that there should be one.  I expressed that I wanted to see her again, and she agreed that it would be nice to go out again.  I told her I would call her the following evening (and I did).  And then I said goodnight.

It was a long drive home, but all I could think about was this wonderful young lady.  She was awesome, funny, mature, intelligent, fearless, confident, and beautiful.  I thanked God for being with us throughout the evening.  He had been preparing us both for this moment, and I knew that it was something special.  I was going to marry this woman.  She said yes to my marriage proposal less than a year later, and we were married the following Summer.  It was blessed relationship, with God at the center, and while it lasted less than five years, it was the happiest time of my life.

Teresa was taken from this life on a beautiful evening while we were walking with our five month old daughter, Melody.  Her heart stopped beating and she collapsed right next to me.  I had no chance to even say goodbye, though I'm thankful we both said I love yous to each other just a short time earlier.  She is now spending eternity with our Lord and Savior.  I miss her every day, but I know, one day, we will be together again.

Hug your loved ones, and tell them how much you love them.  You can never say it enough.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Busted Weekend

This weekend was a bust.  There is much to do as we prepare for a major downsizing of the amount of "stuff" in our house, but we did absolutely nothing all weekend.  Other than attending the church service on Saturday evening, we had nowhere to go, and we were, essentially, shut-ins.

This isn't necessarily unusual for us.  We're a week into Daylight Saving Time, and my daughter and I both hate it.  We've felt exhausted all week, and no matter how early we went to bed, we still struggled to get up each morning.  I think there's a problem with the fact that Standard Time is shorter than Daylight Saving Time.  I'm all in favor of getting rid of it.

So we spent the weekend taking it easy.  With the job stress that came to a head this past week, and Melody completing four different projects for four different classes, we both felt like this weekend was a good one for vegging out.

Faithful Pup Scout had different plans, unfortunately.  Regardless of what the clock says, Scout's internal alarm never seems to change.  She will not sleep past 7am, and even when I took her out at 7 this morning and we went right back to bed, she woke me up again just as I fell asleep again.  At 7:20.  For more than a year now, I have only slept past 7am when my daughter and I have been away on vacations and Scout is with my parents.  Otherwise, it doesn't matter what time Scout and I go to bed the night before.  We're up at 7.  At least it isn't my 4:30am normal weekday wake up call.

There was one other thing we did this weekend.  Every Saturday, after church, we always go out for dinner.  Last night, we went to one of our favorites:  Steelfire, in Maple Lawn.  I love this place!  It was St. Patrick's Day, so everything was green, including the water, beer, and shakes, and while we don't drink beer, we still enjoyed the luck o' the Irish.  The restaurant's staff was clearly having a fun evening, and it was contagious.  If you go, make sure you try the Taylor Tots.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

FDHS Jazz Band

When I was in high school, being in the band was one of the highlights.  There weren't many.  I probably had a typical high school career.  I wasn't popular (though I was fortunate to be in classes with the most popular students).  I didn't play any sports.  I was an above average student and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but I wasn't necessarily accomplished in any particular subject.  I was just a tall, skinny, introverted kid who preferred to stay off the radar, out of the limelight, with a small circle of close friends much like myself.

But I thrived in the band.  That was what I enjoyed more than anything else.  I started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, and had worked my way to section leader in our Symphonic Band by my senior year at Frederick Douglass High.  I added an alto saxophone to my repertoire during my junior year, and joined the school's jazz band.  That was really the highlight of my senior year.

The jazz band was a diverse group of musicians.  Wakene played alto and tenor sax.  He was outgoing and had no qualms about playing a solo on many of the songs we played.  Randy played the bass, and while he always seemed to be missing a string on his bass guitar, he gave our sound a touch of funk.  Andre was a talented all-around musician.  Trumpet was his main instrument, but he also played keyboards, and he was a percussionist in the symphonic band.  Dominic was our drummer, however he was just beginning to play and was very raw.  He was fine playing a straight 4/4 rock beat, but was still learning how to play anything else.  Finally, we had a trio of guitar players.  Joe was still learning to play the guitar, and with a background in hard rock and metal, his style tended to lean towards the gruff and grungy distorted sound.  Giles had more of a blues style, and he gave us more of a rhythm guitar sound.  Kirk was the true talent of our band.  I'd known him for years, and he played a variety of instruments, including clarinet, sax, piano, contra-bass clarinet, and even the French horn.  While the guitar was a new instrument for him, he had learned to play it fluently, and he became the lead soloist of the band.

Our band director, Mr. Lopez, was a professional jazz drummer, and that benefited Dominic more than anyone.  In addition, he could substitute for Dom on the more difficult songs, which helped everyone by giving us a steady beat as we learned to play with each other, since none of us had ever played in the jazz band before.

We learned several jazz pieces, including a few classics, like Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" and Miles Davis' "Freddy The Freeloader."  We also brought our own visions to the band by writing our own songs, usually with one of the group bringing a melody or bass line as the starting point, and the rest of us collaborating on developing an arrangement.  "New Groove" was a hot mess, but it was fun and showed our creativity, but our true accomplishment was a song we dubbed "Arabian Sunset," which Kirk brought to us.  Kirk had developed the melody while working on an obscure chromatic scale, and the rest of us filled in to turn it into a full masterpiece, which became our signature song.  In fact, to add to the melody, I used my clarinet instead of the sax to give it more uniqueness, and I even played a few solos on it, which brought me out of my music shell.

By the time the winter rolled around, we were pretty solid, and it was fun to perform in front of a variety of audiences.  We went on the road and played at my old middle school, which was a lot of fun, with an enthusiastic audience.  We performed for a Black History month assembly at Douglass, and as our reputation grew, it really didn't seem to matter what we played.  The audience was anticipating something exciting and different, and we delivered at least on the different part.

As a not very popular, introverted student who preferred not to draw attention to himself, this was alien territory for me, and I didn't necessarily take to it naturally.  But it was fun, and, along with the more classic training I received in Symphonic Band, the Jazz Band only enhanced my musical abilities and education.

Music and the arts are so important to our students, and opportunities for this part of their education in public schools should never be questioned.  Please support this aspect of public education for our students.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Paralympic Curling

One of my favorite events of the Winter Olympics is curling.  I think it was during the 2010 Games that I first starting watching curling, and I'm absolutely fascinated by the sport.  I wish there was more televised coverage of curling outside of the Olympics, but it seems like it gets popular only when the Games are being played, then the popularity dies down.

I was reading an article about curling and discovered that there are curling clubs all over the country, and while I don't necessarily feel like curling competitions are in my future, I'm looking for opportunities to watch more often than every four years.

Anyway, all that said, I was eating breakfast just before leaving for work yesterday morning when I came across a curling match on TV.  It was Paralympic Curling!  Obviously, if you watch curling, there are differences, which include the poles used by the competitors to launch the stones, but it's amazing how much control they still have over the speed and curling motion that the stones take.  This particular match, between Norway and Slovakia, was extremely competitive.  Good stuff!

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day Sights...

The many faces of Pi Day...

Pi-Mel with Pi-Scout

Disheveled Pi-Scout

Pi Day Humor

Pi Day Chili?!?

Pi Day Pie, chocolate silk cream variety...

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Rejecting Lunch

About six weeks ago, I had the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever experienced.  It knocked me out for several days, and during the worst of it, I thought I was dying.  When I finally began feeling better, there was such a sense of relief, but I was very careful about what I ate for much of the following few weeks.  Then, of course, I went back to my poor eating habits.

Yesterday, my good friend and prayer brother, Rick, joined me for lunch.  We had much to discuss, as we've had a lot in recent weeks to be thankful for.  The Lord is good, all the time.  Anyway, we met at Shake Shack, at the Mall in Columbia.  My only other experience with Shake Shack, a few months ago, wasn't great, but I'll chalk it up to the time of day (the height of mealtime) and growing pains (they had only been open a few weeks at the time).  Rick has a lot more experience with Shake Shack, having visited the New York City location, as well as one in DC, and following his guidance, I figured our visit could only be better.

We met at 11:30, beating the lunch crowd, and easily found a table while we waited for our food.  I got the Shack Stack, which is a combination cheeseburger and 'shroom burger, a side of fries, and an iced tea.  Health-conscious Rick got the burger sans the bun, and his looked like a head of lettuce with a burger in the middle.  Mine was good, but very rich, and, in hindsight, was likely too rich for me based on my recent diet.

Daughter Melody and I tend to get a little lazy with meal preparation.  It's just the two of us, and I hate to cook, so we go out to eat often.  We went to Red Robin on Friday, Bertucci's on Wednesday, and Double T on Monday.  I don't always make smart choices with my menu selections.  Even though we go out to eat a lot, I still treat these experiences like special occasions, meaning I'm not going to get just anything to eat.  Given my health issues, I really need to be smarter about what I'm eating, though.

Rick and I were sharing recent happenings when I broke out into a cold sweat.  Nausea took over from there, and I was rapidly becoming sick.  I know the signs, and given the food poisoning experience of six weeks prior, I did not want a repeat.  I explained to Rick what was happening, and assured him it had nothing to do with his job-search story (really, Rick, I was legitimately feeling sick... :-)), I excused myself to run to the rest room.  Unfortunately, the single stall was occupied, so I just kept breathing deeply, splashed some water on my face, and kept my bearings.  I returned to Rick and apologized, that I really needed to get home.  I was so paranoid about food poisoning and my last experience, and I really didn't want to go through that again.  He was more than understanding, and I hope we can get together again soon.

The cold air outside the restaurant helped a bit, and I rushed back to my Jeep.  I had been fighting the urge to vomit up to that point, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to drive and not throw up all over my steering wheel.  I called Melody to let her know I was returning home and why, and I started the 15 minute drive back home.

As I neared our neighborhood, another wave of severe nausea came over me, and I weighed whether I should just pull over, or continue driving because I was so close to home.  I kept driving, and I made it to our house.  I jumped out of the Jeep, and I knew I wouldn't make it.  I ran over to our front bushes and lost my lunch, along with everything else that was still resting inside my belly.  It became awkward when neighbors on either side happened to come out just as I was heaving, and so there was plenty of concern.  I assured them that I was okay, and I was able to get inside.

I ran to my room, stripped off my jeans and sweatshirt, and again threw up just as I got to the toilet.  Shortly, having felt like I had survived another round of nausea, I emptied a trash can, put on my sweats, and collapsed on my bed.  Melody checked on me, and I told her I just needed to rest.  Then I fell asleep for two hours.  During my restless slumber, my wonderful daughter had lined my trash can with a plastic bag, and brought me a cup of ice water.  She's awesome.  Rick, too, had checked in on me, sending me a text to find out how I was doing.  He's awesome, too.

I slept on and off for the rest of the day.  I only got out of bed to use the bathroom.  I didn't throw up again, fortunately, and I still don't know what set off this latest round of illness.  I just know it was a wake up call, of sorts.  I need to stop eating so indiscriminately, and make better, more health-conscious choices when I'm out.  Another possibility is that I was suffering from dehydration.  I had worked out earlier that morning on our exercise bike, and perhaps I didn't drink enough water before or after.  I just don't know.

After tossing and turning all night, Faithful Pup Scout had enough and woke me up at 7am this morning.  I'm hesitant to eat anything, but I'm drinking plenty and am functioning.  I'm not feeling any nausea, and that's a bonus.  Even during the night, I wasn't entirely comfortable.  A week of fasting may be what I need.

Sorry, Rick.  We'll catch up again soon.  Thanks for checking in on me.

Melody, thank you so much for caring for me.  You have such a caring heart.

Have a great day, everyone.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Red Red Robin

For about seven years, or so (half of my daughter's life), we ate almost weekly at Red Robin, a nationwide gourmet burger chain.  The restaurant in Columbia, MD, was where we met Melody's grandparents, as well as family and friends, just about every Thursday evening.  We got to know the staff pretty well, and they became a part of our family, sharing stories from their lives as much as we shared with each other about ours.  It was a fun gathering, and it helped Melody and me as we dealt with the loss of my wife and Melody's mom, Teresa.

The food was good, if pretty basic, and there was enough variety to appeal to everyone who gathered with us week to week, though I know some of the family got tired of going to the same place all the time.  But it was more about the time spent together than the food.

As folks moved away, and Melody got older, we stopped going weekly, then monthly, and then we stopped altogether.  We lost touch with many of the staff, too.  Other restaurants became popular with us, and we gathered for other reasons, mostly to celebrate special occasions.  Red Robin was still in the mix, but we really didn't go more than maybe once every six months, or so.

Melody told me this afternoon that she was craving Red Robin, so we had an opportunity to meet my parents at the Annapolis store.  Many of our old favorites are still on the menu, and I got the Souper Sandwich combo:  a cup of chili and a barbecue chicken wrap.  I used to get this dish often.  I was kind of astonished at what I received this time, however.

The chili was served, not in a cup, as in the past, but in a small, square, shallow dish.  The amount of chili was barely half as much as what I used to get.  The wrap was even worse.  The tortilla was wrapped so tight as to be almost an inch less in circumference than what I was used to.  All in all, it was significantly less food than what I received in the past.  And it was a lot more money, too.

Now, one could argue that I really shouldn't be eating so much food anyway, and that perhaps the restaurant was doing me a favor, but it was so ridiculous.  I was so disappointed.

There were other things, too, like the fact that sweetener for our iced teas was not on the table and had to be requested, and even something as simple as extra napkins had be asked for.

I wish that all of these things were all I had to complain about.  I wish I didn't have to complain about anything.  But our server tonight just wasn't on the ball.  He forgot about us several times.  I also don't understand why his demeanor changed so much when he forgot to bring a requested item, Splenda, and when we reminded him to bring it, he stopped being friendly.

Oh, well, I guess you can't go home again.  There's still much to like about Red Robin, and the food was good, overall.  We won't be rushing back, but it was nice to have that familiar taste again.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Last Few Weeks of Daedalus Books

My daughter and I decided to make a stop at our favorite bookstore, Daedalus Books Warehouse Outlet, one more time before they close forever.  Their last day is March 21, 2018.  It's really making me sad to think that I will no longer be able to stop by on a whim and find a book for under $5 to keep me company during a solo meal at a local restaurant.  I've spent hours meandering through the shelves looking for interesting books, and I've likely spend $1000s, which purchased a lot more books than the equivalent of any other bookstore.

They're currently taking 40% off everything, and the shelves are starting to look more and more empty with every visit.  I'm going to miss this place so much!  Below are a couple of pics, including my latest haul, which was under $35!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Band of Brothers and Sisters

A wonderful friend recently posted the above picture on her Facebook page, and it brought back a flood of memories.  Yeah, that's me on the far left.  This is a picture of the Symphonic Band from my high school's yearbook from my freshman year.  I played the clarinet.  We were certainly children of the 80s.

It was a great honor to be in the Symphonic Band.  There weren't very many freshmen in this band.  The Concert Band had most of the freshmen, and was, more or less, the "beginners band."  The Symphonic Band contained the more experienced musicians.  I remember, as an eighth grader in junior high, auditioning for the director of the high school band and being a nervous wreck, never guessing I could make the Symphonic Band.

What I find most amazing about this picture is the fact that my daughter is the same age now as I was then, and she's following directly in my footsteps, though her poise and talent is so much more than I was.  She recently auditioned for the high school band director, and found out she will be in the top band next year.  She also plays the clarinet.

I'm really excited for her, and she seems excited.  I benefited from being in the band.  It was an immediate social group for me, and made the transition from junior to senior high that much easier.  Let's face it:  being a freshman in high school is hard.  You need any advantage you can get to establish one's social standing, and if you get to be a part of an established group that includes a cross-section of students from across the high school spectrum, then even better.  Besides, band is fun.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Meandering Thoughts

Melody doesn't know what it's like to have a mother.  That's why she doesn't like me to date.  She likes our lifestyle, even as I know that her life would be so much better with a father AND a mother.  I feel so inadequate most of the time, but I'm trying so hard to give her the best life possible.  When she was old enough to start recognizing what she was missing, I felt like I needed to remarry before Melody got too much older, because I knew it would be more of a struggle for her to connect with someone in a mother-daughter way the older she got.  But while I dated here and there, it was never anything that would lead to a more serious relationship.  I think I was trying too hard.  It was also the wrong reason to look for a relationship.  I think it's wrong to get married to someone just so my daughter can have a mother.  That needs to be a benefit, but not the reason.  When Teresa and I got married, it was because God knew we were ready to be married, that our love for each other was strong enough to carry our relationship to the level of devotion necessary to sustain it.  And we both had a relationship with the Lord before we knew each other.  And it was fantastic.  Teresa and I were a great match for each other, and we became best friends.  It hurt so much to lose her.  It's something with which I still struggle.


I dated someone very seriously about 8 years ago.  She was a work colleague, though she lived in and worked in our offices in Oklahoma City.  I had known her for a few years before we started dating.  She had never been in a serious relationship before, let alone a long-distance one.  I had been in a long-distance relationship back in the 90s, and I knew it was difficult.  That one had crashed and burned after six months.  This one had promise, and after communicating via email for several weeks, she admitted that she felt like our relationship had reached the stage of us getting together.  Because I travel to OKC often, I was able to tie a long weekend with her in OKC with a business trip, and she proclaimed her love for me.  She began making marriage plans without telling me, and bought a wedding dress.  She told me she was willing to move to Maryland.  A few months into the relationship, she came to the DC-area and I allowed Melody to meet her.  They really didn't connect, and it was obvious that the woman didn't have a clue how to relate to Melody.  Melody wanted so badly for it to work, though.  As the relationship progressed, it became very clear that the distance was too much of a strain, just as I found that she really had no desire to come to Maryland, trying instead to persuade me to move to OKC.  The red flags were all over, and not just because of the distance.  She wasn't ready to be a mom, and she also couldn't handle the fact that I had been married before. We had been seeing a pre-marriage counselor, and he told us he didn't think we were a great match, though not before discounting my marriage to Teresa as not being long enough to be a good gauge of my marriage-worthiness, which I resented like you wouldn't believe.  The relationship ended badly, and Melody took it worse than I did.  We broke up over the phone, and I never heard from her again.  She quit her job and moved on to something else.  I found out she got married about a year and a half after our breakup, so I guess she was able to use that wedding dress after all.


My father is one of eight siblings, so his side of the family is very large, and I have a lot of cousins.  We used to get together a lot more than we do now, and I enjoyed those times so much.  Dad grew up in Western PA, in Uniontown.  It's less than an hour south of Pittsburgh.  That's why I'm a Pittsburgh sports nut.  Dad raised me right. :-)  My grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed, was an awesome individual, and, when I was old enough to start driving, I loved to go visit with him.  Every month, I made the 4 hour drive to his place, and I loved to just sit with him and soak in his advice.  He once told me that the greatest thing in life was the pursuit of a woman.  He was a lay pastor at the little Methodist church in town back in the day.  I never heard him preach, but he was a wonderful storyteller.  Everyone loved him.  He worked in the coal mines in that area when he was younger, but quit after experiencing a cave-in and his partner was killed.  He worked three jobs after that to support his huge family, working as a nightwatchman at the Methodist camp in Jumonville, PA, up in the mountains;  he was a barber, and he cut hair for many years; and he was a preacher on a circuit of three churches in the area.  Pap had a long battle with cancer, beat it, then it came back with a vengeance and took him from us.  On his deathbed, after a week in a coma, the whole family surrounded him, encouraged him, and told him it was okay to let go, and as he took his last breath, he suddenly opened his eyes, then slowly closed them as the life left his body.  I was holding his hand at the time, and I'm convinced he saw Jesus in that moment.  He died on his 84th birthday.  I was 25 at the time.  Next to my parents, he was the biggest influence on my life to that point, and he was the one who inspired me to consider youth ministry.  I love talking about him.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Melancholy Nights

Some nights, I get to feeling a bit overwhelmed, and little things cause me to get angry and frustrated, and I wonder about what triggers these moods.

We attended church earlier this evening at Grace Community, and while I enjoy Pastor Seth's messages, I found myself missing Mitchel and Rich.  I don't think I've heard a message from Pastor Rich in a few months, with illnesses, trips, and missed services.  But Seth is good.

There's usually a carryover from the service into the evening, and I wasn't feeling it tonight.  My mood soured as my daughter and I debated dinner plans.  It has become more difficult to decide on a place to eat anymore.  I got frustrated with our inability to agree on anything, and we spent much of the next hour trying a handful of places that were all way too crowded.  15 to 20 minute waits were uncharacteristically 30 to 40 minute waits, and we just didn't have the patience to wait.  We finally decided to just go home.

We drove past the funeral home where my wife was taken after her death and home-going, and while I've driven past it many times, tonight it brought a slew of memories to my mind.  The day after she died, I went there to make arrangements and purchase a funeral package.  My parents and in-laws went with me.  I became so overwhelmed that afternoon, that I ended up breaking down in the men's room.  It's an awful memory.

There were quite a few dark intersections on the trip home, a carryover from the windstorm yesterday, and we started to worry a bit about whether our power might be out.  While we have only lost power about a half-dozen times in the 16 years I've lived in this house, it's always one of my daughter's fears.  When we arrived at home, we were fine.  The kitchen light was on.

Dinner was pretty lousy.  We had hot dogs and broccoli, which was fine, but just not what I had in mind.  My sour mood continued, though, and the weight of the world continues to feel like it's resting on my shoulders.  I wish I could shake it.  Sleep brings relief from these thoughts, and that's where I'm headed now.  Prayer brings thoughts of better things.

Have a restful evening, everyone.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thar She Blows....!

So the big story today is the wind.  Good golly, it was blowing!  Hard!  Really, this was the windiest day in this area that I have ever experienced.

The biggest surprise in all this was the fact that the Federal Government decided to close because of the wind.  When my alarm woke me up this morning at 4:30am, I did my typical pick up my iPhone and start checking emails, news, and sports scores.  The first thing that I saw was a message from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) stating that my office was closed.  And my first thought upon seeing that was there must've been a national emergency.  Was the Capitol blown up?  Did North Korea send out a nuke??  Did the President offend another country???  No, no, and no.  It was the unprecedented wind.

So I attempted to go back to bed, but the Faithful Pup Scout was awake by this time, and she needed to go out.  A few of my employees sent me texts stating they were either teleworking or going to enjoy an unexpected Friday with no work.  Even though I was off the clock, I monitored my email all morning, and my peers and boss and I called in to our morning Stand Up at 9:30am.  After that, it was a whole lot of nothing.  Daughter Melody woke up with her normal alarm at 6am, but I sent her right back to bed, and I didn't see her again until around 11am.

The biggest problem I had today was keeping the cover on my 2-seater Mazda, which still has a gaping hole in the top.  There were snow flurries most of the morning, and I found myself repeatedly going out to re-cover the car because the wind whipped it off.  I use a bunch of bungee cords to keep it strapped down, but the wind was too strong.  Following my stand up, I decided to run out to the store and get a few more bungee cords, and I pretty much wrapped it up like a Christmas Tree.  It stayed in place for the most part for the rest of the day, but I had to keep checking it because I was so paranoid about it.

While I was out, the wind buffeted my Jeep like crazy.  Higher profile vehicles had a major disadvantage today.  And so did many trees.  I saw debris everywhere, and there were a couple of roads that were closed due to fallen trees, which meant detours and a longer trip home.

At around 4pm, my neighbor rang my doorbell and pounded on my door.  It turns out that a large piece of the siding on my house was ripped off by the wind, and he saw it and brought it over for me.  I did a walk-around of the house to assess any other damage.  Fortunately, I didn't see any, though I found several shingles, but they were a different color from my roof.

The wind continued to blow all evening, with sustained gusts howling like nothing I've seen or heard in all the years I've lived here.  It's now 9pm, and we still have a few more hours until it is predicted to die down a bit.

This wasn't the day I expected when I woke up this morning.  I'm glad that my family and friends seem to have gotten through the day relatively unscathed.  With all of the power outages and fallen trees, it certainly could have been worse. 

Stay safe out there, and have a great evening.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Quadratic Equations For Dinner

My very smart daughter, Melody, missed the past two days of school due to illness, tripling the number of days she has missed all year, and triple what she missed all of last year.  It's unusual for her to be so sick to miss school, but she was really out of it.  It wasn't the flu, but it was a debilitating cold.  She is feeling tons better, and returned to school today, bringing home a ton of homework.  I guess that's to be expected, but it's a shame that she has so much that she has to work through dinner.

She told me she had a craving for an old favorite restaurant, Ram's Head Tavern at Savage Mill, so we made plans to eat there for dinner this evening.  When it was time to head over, she still had a lot of homework, but in dedicated fashion, she said she wanted to work on it at the restaurant.  So while we waited for our food, she worked on her Algebra homework.  I was impressed.


Some days are grand, and some are difficult.  Yesterday was the difficult kind.  I haven't figured out what all of the triggers are for me, but sometimes all it takes is one action, or one wrong word, and I find myself in a poor mood that just gets exacerbated by other actions, snowballing into a thoroughly dreadful day.  That was yesterday.

Today was better, but I still couldn't shake the melancholy until I got home.  My father called me to chat about the Terps Men's Basketball team's terrible loss in the Big Ten Tournament earlier today, and once we got beyond that, I found my mood improving as we switched topics.  This is the second time in a week that Dad has been able to get me out of a funk and into a lighter frame of mind.

He shared a scary/funny story about my brother, Darren.  D was working his security job at a site in DC last night, and a "gentleman" approached him using some rather choice language.  D said he was high on something, and decided to confront my brother, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and in pretty good shape.  He tried to bull rush him, and my brother laid him out with three punches square in the face.  The employees at the job site cheered him, and when the police showed up, they defended his actions, saying the guy deserved what he got.  The sequence brought to mind the scene in the movie UNCLE BUCK, when John Candy punches out the drunk clown at the kid's party.  Anyway, my brother is tough dude.


Speaking of John Candy...

We're kinda missing the Olympics this week.  We really enjoyed the Games this year, and I exposed my girl to a few events that she had not seen before.  One of those was the bobsleds.

So, last night, we watched COOL RUNNINGS, loosely based on the Jamaican Bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and starred John Candy.  It's a cute movie, with some fun dialog, and we enjoyed it.  

And it's much better entertainment than tonight's terrible Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.  It's already 7-3 in the 2nd period.  Talk about ugly.  I think I'm turning in early this evening.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Quiet Night

I only have a short post tonight... My wonderful daughter is suffering from a bad illness, and my attention is situated on her.  I have a lot on my mind, but am having difficulty bringing those thoughts into a coherent post this evening, and with my focus on my daughter, it's just as well if I don't force a post that doesn't need to be written.

I hope you are with your loved ones this evening, and that the time spent is worthwhile and meaningful.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Guest Post: twenty one pilots, Part Deux

Guest Post:  My daughter, Melody, writes about our summer trip to Columbus, OH, to see her favorite band, twenty one pilots.  Here's her story.

Yes, we really did drive the 9 hours from Maryland to Columbus just to see a concert! (It was totally worth it.)

    The whole trip lasted from June 21st until June 25th and it was amazing. I miss it so, so much.

    The tickets for this tour had come out while we were on a retreat with our church, and my dad took time out of his busy day to try and snag some amazing seats. It was April 1st (April Fool's Day) so when he emailed me that he had gotten them, I didn't believe him!

    Pittsburgh was our destination for the first Wednesday night. We left home around 3:45pm and our first stop was at South Mountain rest area, located somewhere in Maryland. We went on to the Park n' Dine and Hilltop Fruit Market after that. We arrived at our hotel in Monroeville, PA, around 10:45pm and crashed for the night.

    The next morning we ate breakfast and went to look at a piece of property (property, not house) that my dad had seen. It was in really bad shape and would've needed a lot of work. We then went to the Strip District for about an hour. After that, our destination was Cleveland, OH. We stopped at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame for a few hours and then got lost trying to find the house from A Christmas Story. It was closed, though. Oh well. After that we left downtown Cleveland and gave up trying to find a Target. We went to a Red Robin instead. Our stop for the night was in Huron, OH. 

    The next day did not go as we had originally planned it. We were going to go to Cedar Point for the day and then stay another night in the same hotel, in Huron, but the weather had other plans. We woke up to a lot of rain. We had not factored bad weather into our plan so we were at a crossroads. We could go and brave the weather at Cedar Point, or we could try and cancel our hotel reservation for the night and head straight for Columbus. After much debating and extra planning, we decided on the latter. We were able to cancel our reservation and we switched gears to head for Columbus.

    The trip to Columbus was very rainy. Our GPS took us on a lot of back roads. We even had to stop for a very, very long train! After making it through traffic, we arrived just outside of Columbus and stopped at Polaris Mall to see if we could find a Hot Topic store that had twenty one pilots shirts. We entered through a Barnes and Noble and went up the stairs to the Hot Topic. Sadly, they were out of the shirt that I was hoping to find, but there was a bubble tea shop right across from the Hot Topic, which was definitely a plus.

    When we were leaving, it was pouring down rain, so we ran to our car and found a Texas Roadhouse to eat at. I chatted with the waiter over twenty one pilots and about the shows. He was very nice.

    After Texas Roadhouse, I made my dad drive past all of the venues that 21p was playing at - The Basement, Express Live, Newport Music Hall, The Schottenstien Center, and Nationwide Arena. Almost all of them had some sort of acknowledgement towards Tour de Columbus, which was really cool. It was still raining as we made our way to our hotel for the night, a Holiday Inn, which turned out to be a very nice hotel. A car with "Tour de Columbus" written on its back window was spotted in the parking lot.

    We decided to go and see the newly released Cars 3, having passed a movie theater on our way into the city. The band members, Tyler and Josh, had suggested in an interview two pizza places to stop at while in Columbus - Donato's and Hounddog's. After some research, we figured out that Donato's was actually a chain restaurant and set sail for Hounddog's. Once there, we spent a fair few minutes trying to find parking. They had a car out back with a hound dog strapped to the top! The inside was very interesting; it must've been a college/high school hangout. They had pictures all over the walls and our table had names carved into the wood. Their pizza was absolutely amazing! Faithful Pup Scout approved.

    After dinner we went across the street to a CVS, as I had neglected to pack extra deodorant and had run out that morning. It was expensive, and for the rest of the trip it was infamously known as the $7 Columbus deodorant. 

    Our movie was at 7, so we walked back to the car at Hounddog's and made our way to the theater. The shopping center had another Barnes and Noble! We didn't go - we were already late enough. The theater was nice, as was the movie! If you haven't seen it yet, it's very good. When the movie was over, it was dark. We had an adventure trying to find Nationwide Arena, and we got lost, so we set our trusty GPS and went back to the hotel for the night.

    And then it was Saturday, the big day. We woke up and walked to a restaurant called SuperChef's (where my dad accidentally canceled our reservation and messed up the online wait list). I got 8 small heart-shaped red velvet pancakes, and my dad can't remember what he got ("It was like a salad egg thing"). The food was amazing. Then we walked back to the hotel and checked out. 

    They were selling Tour de Columbus merchandise outside of Nationwide Arena, so that's where we went. After a lot of searching, we got parked and went to get in line. It was long, but it went fast. Some other people came out of a nearby Starbucks and were letting others in line sign a flag that they had brought, saying their name, where they're from, and their top two favorite 21p songs. The guy who brought the flag told us that he was going to be in the pit (general admission - standing room) and he was going to try and get the flag to Tyler during one of their songs (he didn't get it, but we did see him trying on the big screen). Finally, we got up to the front of the line and picked out two tour shirts and a sweatshirt, which are both very comfy (although, as I'm typing this, the tour shirt no longer fits.) 

    My dad had read about a German Village just outside of the city, so that was our next destination. It was a very cute little town with very limited parking - we had to do two loops around town before finding a place to park. We found a Golden Hobby shop, which is filled with things made by retirees, ranging from jewelry to puzzles. It was a very nice little shop. We went to put our stuff in the car and spotted a bookstore across the street, so of course we went in. It had so many little areas and it was spread out so much that I got lost and had to call my dad to come and find me! Afterward, we went to Max and Erma's for lunch. 

    Finally it was time to check into our hotel. It was a huge tower within walking distance from Nationwide. The name was something French - Hotel LeVogue or something like that, I don't know. They had valet parking, so I knew it must be a nice hotel. We walked in and immediately a bell boy came and took our bags. We checked in and the bellboy took us up to our room, all the while struggling to carry my dad's bags. He walked in and gave us a tour of our room before leaving. The room was very very nice. The TV even said "Hello, Mr. Eric." It was wild!


    Soon, it was time to go to the concert. We were walking, so we had to leave around 5. There were a LOT of people walking down both sides of the street, so we tagged along near the end. Once we got there, we had about 5 minutes until the doors opened, so we got in line to wait. The arena put up a Tour de Columbus flag on their flagpole, which was cool. 

    Inside, it was a madhouse, per usual. They did not allow flashlights, and my portable charger looked like a flashlight, so, when we went through security, the lady questioned what it was ("Is that a flashlight?" "Oh, no, it's a portable charger." "Hmm. I've never seen one like that before."). We didn't stop to get merch, seeing a we had already gotten it earlier, and we went to get snacks and see our seats. They were AWESOME seats! We had a very close side-view of the stage.

    Soon it was time for the show. A band called Public opened; we had never heard of them before, but they were good. Next was Judah & the Lion (again!). They were wonderful as always. 

    Then was the Bathroom Incident. Prepare yourselves, it's kind of long.

    Right after Judah and the Lion, the curtain for 21p went up. Not knowing how much time I had, I decided to rush to the bathroom. There was one close to our section, but, as I got there, they CLOSED IT. So I started following a bunch of girls literally halfway around the arena to the other bathroom, which ended up having  line out the door. Giving up, I turned around, deciding that, yeah, I could last three hours without a bathroom. So I went back to our section. But it wasn't our section. I had walked down the wrong one! In my defense, it was quite dark. Navigating the maze that is Nationwide Arena, I finally found the right section and walked down to tell my dad what had happened. "Well, you have to go!" he told me, and I heaved a sigh before going back out to brave the line. Except there was no line. They had opened the other bathroom. I went and came back out, laughing at myself the whole time, and I walked back to our section. But it wasn't our section. I had gone down the wrong one AGAIN. Oh well. 

    I made it back to my seat and the curtain dropped a few moments later. It was magical. The atmosphere was amazing and I honestly feel like I enjoyed it a lot more than the Charlottesville concert (which was still very good). There is nothing quite like a twenty one pilots hometown show. 

    Sooner than I would've liked, it was over. Confetti floated around us, and I was so, so happy.    

    We got back to our hotel around 11:30pm and crashed. We had to leave bright and early the next day for our 9 hour drive back to Maryland (which would've been 6 without traffic). I will never forget this trip. We got home around 7pm, and that's where it ends :)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Grace Disguised

Three nights after my wonderful wife, Teresa, went to be with the Lord after suddenly and tragically passing away before my eyes on that beautiful evening on April 19, 2004, I was at the funeral home greeting friends and family, accepting their sympathy and slowly succumbing to the early stages of a grief that was dulling my senses.  I have very little memory of that night, and even less of the following day of visiting prior to the finality of the funeral for my wife and best friend, the mother of my infant daughter, Melody.

On that first evening at the funeral home, a young lady came up to me, introduced herself as one of Teresa's co-workers, a teacher at Reservoir high school, named Sara.  We spoke no more than a moment, and she handed me a book.  She offered her condolences, told me how much wisdom, advice, and friendship Teresa had provided to her, and explained that she had lost her fiance just over 2 years ago in a tragic accident involving a drunk driver.  She had since met someone else, and was engaged again, and she told me that Teresa had told her how, when she and I were engaged, we began reading the first 100 Psalms in reverse order, a hundred days before our wedding, counting them down each day so that we read the First Psalm following our wedding ceremony.  Sara and her new fiance were doing the very same thing.  She then told me about the book.  She said it had provided so much help to her as she was going through the throes of grief following her fiance's death, and the advice in it had made such an impact, she wanted me to have it.  I thanked Sara and wished her well.

I didn't think about the book again until I was at home later that night.  Looking through it, I saw that the book, "A Grace Disguised," by Jerry Sittser, is about loss, and specifically the sudden tragic accident that claimed the lives of his mother, his wife, and his young daughter, and how he dealt with the circumstances of his loss.  It explores loss in all of its myriad forms, and how we can use it to bring about spiritual depth, joy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings, a transformation that only comes through the grace of our Father.  Sara had inscribed a message inside the front cover that said,

"I hope this book brings understanding to your heart, a friend to share in the sorrow, and the reminder of the amazing hope we have in Christ as our souls grow because of grief.  You're in my prayers.  To God's Glory, Sara Z"
Inside was a card of condolence from Sara to me, and inside she had written about the details of her fiance's death, her own walk with the Lord through grief, and how the author's words had provided a friend she could turn to for advice.  She wanted me to know how helpful the book was to her, and that she hoped I could find the same.  She said she would pray for me.  After I read the card, I began to sob, and I wished I had talked with her more.

The book turned out to be an amazing source of comfort and advice, and I have since recommended it to so many others who have experienced similar loss.  The advice in the book would be helpful to anyone suffering from any kind of loss, from divorce, illness, or the death of a loved one.  I can't recommend it enough.  Sara, if you're reading this, thank you again for your thoughtfulness.  The book was an immense help to me, and I appreciate the gift so much.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Big Apple iPhone Mess

About a month ago, we found out that my daughter's iPhone 6 was a victim of Apple's battery issues, and we were scheduled to get a new battery.  The technician at our local Apple Store said the new battery would be available in 3 to 5 days.  We were happy to hear that her phone's battery issue was not a unique problem, and we awaited a phone call from Apple to return to get the new battery the following week.

I'm less patient than I may appear, but in this case, when we didn't hear from them for multiple weeks, I continued to wait.  After 4 weeks, on Friday afternoon right after work, I called Apple at the number I was given for the local Apple Store.  It instead sent me to Apple's national call center, though I didn't know that until I talked to the operator after spending 10 minutes navigating through their automated system, and another 12 minutes on hold waiting for the operator. 

I explained that we were waiting for a new battery for my daughter's iPhone, and though we were told it would be 3 to 5 days, it was now four weeks and we still hadn't heard anything.  She asked me for all of my information, even though I told her I had a work order number.  Then she put me on hold while she called our Apple Store.  She came back on the line about 3 minutes later, and I was transferred to a gentleman at the store, who immediately said that they had our battery, and when did I want to bring in our phone?  I made an appointment for that afternoon at 5pm.  I think they were worried that I might be a bit angry, but I decided not to ask them why they didn't call when the battery became available.  It just wasn't worth the effort.

I went home and picked up daughter Melody, and we made the short trek over to the Mall.  Once there, we went to the Apple Store.  One of the issues I have with the Apple Store is the assumption that we know what to do when we walk in.  We found out from our first visit, last month, that we have to "check in" with an employee in a designated spot in the back center of the store, and not just go straight to the table at the very back.  We also didn't know that there was another line after that, and we ended up offending several customers when we were helped before them.

Anyway, there seemed to be no problems, we dropped off the phone, and were told to return in an hour and a half.  Melody was nervous, and didn't know how to act without her phone.  But she was anxious about something possibly going wrong.  While we had backed up her pictures, just to be safe, that was all we did.

We went to dinner, then returned at exactly 6:45, just over an hour and half.  The young lady, McKenna, who helped us when we dropped off the phone, saw us and called us over.  It turns out my daughter was right to be worried:  there was a problem.  The battery, McKenna said, had "swelled," so we were getting a new phone.  She assured us that it was nothing we did.  It explained the sudden shutdowns and loss of power at any time, even when the battery was fully charged.

Anyway, we never would've guessed that we'd need a new phone, and Melody immediately panicked.  McKenna asked if we had backed up the phone to the iCloud.  We had not.  She said we could do it right then, but given how much was on the phone, we had to purchase the extra space for 99 cents per month.  I okayed it, and we started the back up procedure.  McKenna explained that it could take some time.

At 8:30(!), the back up stopped suddenly, and we got an error message.  It said that, due to a loss of wifi, the back up was unsuccessful.  We had wasted another hour and a half!  McKenna had gone on a break, so a different technician, Walle, explained our options.  It was almost 9pm, and the store was closing.  We would have to take the old phone home and do the backup using our wifi, then come back to the store and they would transfer the sim card to the new phone, along with setting it up.  We asked if we could come back the following day, and they said yes, both McKenna and Walle would be there.  We said we'd be back.

Friday, we went back and arrived right at 5pm.  We found Walle and he helped us get Melody's new phone set up.  We were there for less than an hour and left before 6pm with a new phone.  Our faith restored, we thanked Walle and headed for home.  Everything transferred perfectly, and the new phone is pretty awesome. Melody told me she is so happy.

So kudos to the folks at the Apple Store for making it all right after neglecting to call us when they were supposed to, turning our 3 to 5 day wait into a full month.  My daughter's new phone is great.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Who Ate My Apple?

No blog tonight due to an entire evening spent at the Apple Store... and you KNOW there’s a story coming!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Too Warm For Snow

I just looked at the weather app on my phone and saw that the temperature outside is 80 degrees.  I cringed.  It’s not that I hate 80 degree temperatures (though, I do…), it’s just that they have their time and place, and right now, here, in Central Maryland, is not it.  It’s still February, which is Winter around these parts, and 80 degrees is anything but normal.

My parents both love cold weather; Mom even more so as she’s gotten older.  But they both have always loved late Fall and Winter.  I also love the cold (and snow), and it goes far beyond any influence my parents had on me.  Maybe it’s a genetic thing, since my daughter is also this way.  I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years, and while it is likely ingrained in my DNA, I think there were other influences that only emphasized my love of the cold.

When I was a kid, I think my love of snow came from the high possibility that we might get a day off from school.  School was always fairly easy for me, and my grades were good to great, but I never really enjoyed it, and if snow kept us home, then that was a good thing.  And, as kids, my siblings and I (and my dad, if he was home from work with us) would play outside in the snow for hours.  We had a pretty nice sledding hill in our backyard, so that was cool, but we had snowball fights and would run around for hours, until our clothes were soaked and our legs were numb.  Then we’d go inside for hot cocoa and sit by our large family room’s fireplace to defrost, roasting marshmallows.  A few hours later, and we were back outside doing it all again.

The cold weather and possibility of snow is what keeps me positively motivated after the Holiday season, which is my favorite time of year.  Once the weather starts getting warm, and Spring arrives, I begin getting depressed.  The Spring is not a good time of year for me.  It was April 2004 when my wonderful wife, Teresa, passed away, and that was a particularly warm day.  I associate the warming of the weather at that time of the year with her death, and every year since then, when the weather starts to get warm, it causes me to feel depressed.

There's a time for 80 degree weather, and February is not it.  The snow we had over this past weekend brought excitement and happiness to my daughter and me, and it would be awesome if we could get one big snow before the end of Winter.  It doesn't look good right now, but we're hopeful.

Have a cool evening, everyone.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Elusive Tubing

My daughter, Melody, and I started an annual President's Day Weekend tradition several years ago by going snow tubing.  Early on, additional family members joined us, like my parents.  But over the past few years, it's usually just the two of us.

This year, the weather wasn't looking very good.  We had above-average temperatures leading up to the weekend, which always results in slow speeds on the slopes, and with rain forecast for the entire area on Friday, we knew our best bet would be to go deeper into the mountains in hopes of snow.  Seven Springs, in Pennsylvania, was just what the doctor ordered.  Snow was forecast for Friday, so that's where we planned to go.

We were up early on Friday morning, packed and ready to go, with breakfast at our local Chick-Fil-A for our first stop.  Then it was a three hour drive into western Maryland.  It rained steadily the whole way.  We made a quick pit stop at one of our favorite shops, the Hilltop Fruit Market, in Grantsville, MD.  We loaded up on goodies and snacks.  Then we headed north into PA.

We arrived at Seven Springs with rain coming down in buckets.  While there were many cars parked near the lodge, there were none at the snow tubing area.  It looked deserted, in fact.  It appeared that our plan to head for colder climates didn't work out.  With the soggy conditions, we weren't going to be able to go tubing, and our 3 hour drive was for nought.

We decided to adjust our plans, and we headed to Somerset, PA, for lunch.  We chose Hoss's, and we had a nice soup and salad lunch.  We figured to head back to Gettysburg, where we already had a hotel reservation, and then consider whether to go to Ski Liberty to go tubing in the evening.

We headed east on the PA Turnpike to Breezewood, then took the Lincoln Highway all the way in to Gettysburg.  We found our hotel, and basically collapsed.  Six hours of driving had worn me out.  We decided to find a pizza carryout place and eat in our hotel room.  Melody grabbed a shower, and we considered going to the movies to see the new Black Panther movie.  Unfortunately, tickets were sold out, since it was opening day, and we instead just crashed for the night.

So far, none of our plans had worked out, and all we did was wear ourselves out.  We had a reservation the next night in Hershey.  The weather forecast for Saturday was a concern.  We were due to get hit by a snowstorm by afternoon, and it was scheduled to continue all evening.

We didn't get up very early on Saturday morning, so we had a late start.  Rather than do anything touristy in Gettysburg, we elected to go to Lancaster, instead, and stop at our usual haunts, then drive to Hershey by the time the snow was scheduled to begin falling.

It was actually a very nice day.  Still cold, but sunny and clear.  We took the Lincoln Highway all the way over to Lancaster, and made a few stops.  We had a great lunch at Miller's Restaurant, then headed north towards Hershey.  Sure enough, as we entered Chocolate World, the snow was coming down hard.  My daughter and I were really happy.  It was the most snow we've seen all winter.

Chocolate World was fun, but a bit crowded, though it was clear the snow had many people worried.  We did some shopping, getting stuff for the folks at home, then we figured we should go check in at our hotel.  But first, we decided to try again with the BLACK PANTHER, so we went to a nearby movie theater to purchase tickets for the 7:45pm show.  It was about 5pm at the time.

Our hotel was about 20 minutes away.  The snow was coming down really hard, and the roads were pretty bad.  We saw one stretch of road where several cars couldn't make it up a hill.  We were 4-wheeling it in our Jeep, so we didn't have a problem, but it was slow-going.

It was dark by the time we arrived at the hotel.  We quickly unpacked, then headed right back out to get dinner.  Again, it was very slow-going.  The roads were terrible, and it was still snowing hard.  We went to Red Robin for dinner, then drove to the theater.  There was a sign on the door saying that all movie showings from 8pm and later were cancelled due to the weather.  We were glad we bought tickets for the 7:45pm show.

BLACK PANTHER was awesome!  Go see it!

It had stopped snowing by the time we walked out of the theater.  We were also the last ones out.  In fact, the lights were off in the lobby and we never saw any of the employees.  The roads were much better than earlier that evening, and we had no problem getting back to the hotel.  We were tired and we went right to sleep.

Sunday morning was very relaxing.  Our plan for the day was to go snow tubing that afternoon before heading home.  We slowly got ready, then checked out and went to breakfast at one of our favorite places:  The Soda Jerk Diner, in Hummelstown, PA.

We made another stop at Chocolate World for a ride through the chocolate factory, then we left Hershey and headed to Roundtop, a ski resort about an hour away.  We arrived at Roundtop to find huge crowds.  It was so crowded, there was no parking available.  While most seemed to be at the ski resort, the snow tubing area was just as crowded.  We decided that we didn't want to fight the crowds, and we figured, if we waited awhile, maybe we could go to Ski Liberty and the crowds would diminish.

We drove to Gettysburg and stopped at the Outlets.  Neither of us were feeling very well by this time.  We walked around a bit, but decided to just go home.  It was dark by the time we got there.

I continued to feel under the weather, and we really just crashed.  We went to bed early, and I had a terrible night.  I continued to feel even worse as the day went along, and last night was still worse.

Our weekend was nothing like we had planned, and it seemed like we didn't do anything we really wanted to do.  It was still nice to get away, but we'll have to go back on a different weekend to go snow tubing.

Have a great day, everyone.