Saturday, December 16, 2023

Popcorn, Family, and the Wonderful Life

A few years ago, I discovered a hidden world I knew nothing about:  Reaction videos on YouTube.  It was quite a realization, and I find myself thoroughly enjoying watching movies I love or listening to my favorite songs with new eyes and ears as I watch these people see movies or hear music I know so well for their first time.  And I gain a greater appreciation for those things that I love, watching their surprise, despisement and/or enjoyment, among other emotions.

My absolute favorite reaction channel is Popcorn In Bed.  Cassie, the young lady who hosts the channel, is adoringly sweet and genuine in her reactions to movies of all kinds, and I love to see her discover many of the ones that I've watched and loved over my own lifetime.  There is an honest innocence to her reactions, and I love to watch her become so ingrained and entrenched in the movies as she expresses her sadness, sense of humor, anger, frustration, and love of the characters as they tell their story.  For her to be able to make me feel the way she feels, even after I've seen some of these movies for the second, third, tenth, or fiftieth time, is a very real feat.

Tonight I watched Cassie's reaction to the movie THE FAMILY MAN, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni, among others.  THE FAMILY MAN follows the lead of its predecessors, A CHRISTMAS CAROL and my all-time favorite movie, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, with a Christmas background theme around the main characters experiences with the supernatural, which gives them the opportunity to see their lives from a different perspective as they go through a personal crisis, whether brought on by their own actions and personality flaws, or because of circumstances that cause conflict, doubt, sadness, anger, or frustration.

Without giving away too much of the movie's story, THE FAMILY MAN tells the story of a man who believes he has the perfect life, one of solitude, success, and what he believes is happiness, that was sent in motion at a point in his life where he made a choice to take that path.  But after encountering his own version of a "guardian angel," he is given a glimpse of what his life could have been had he made a different choice, with a loving wife and family, and without the high paying executive job and extravagant lifestyle he thought he wanted.  And we get to watch his transformation as the realization of what he really wants comes to fruition.

It's a classic wish fulfillment scenario, much like a fairytale, and we begin to root for him as he starts to accept this other life over the one he had, but then tries to bring those two lives together with devastating consequences, and then he's thrown back into his old life and begins to regret it.

I find myself sometimes wishing my life could have been different.  I found the love of my life, started a family, had a child, then lost my wife suddenly after only four years of marriage, when our daughter was just a baby.  She died of a heart ailment of which we were unaware.  It's not lost on me that my daughter just turned 20 years old, and in a few months, it will be 20 years since I lost my Teresa.

How different would my life had been had she lived?  I hate to speculate, but oh how I wish she could see how her daughter has grown, and the successful young woman she has become.  I wish she could have shared in my own job successes and failures, so that we might support each other during those highs and lows.  I wish she could see how her students have gone on to have successful lives and careers, knowing she had a small part in helping them achieve those successes when they had her as their freshman English teacher, or in her public-speaking classes.  I wish she could experience seeing her parents become grandparents, and assist them as they have grown older.  I wish we could have grown old together.

But the truth is that she and I didn't get to have a chance to grow old together.  The solitude of the past 20 years is something I would trade in a second to have her be with me now.  But at what cost?  Would it have been better than what I had?  I assume it would be better but there's no way to know.  I have accepted that the Lord had a plan for each of us, and that didn't include her life with mine past that April 19th date twenty years ago.  Melody wasn't meant to have her mother in her life, and instead she doesn't even know what she missed, since she was too young to even remember her.  It's a tragedy in my mind, since I DO know what she missed by not having a mom.  It makes me sad, and it's why I'm in therapy for depression, even after so many years.

So I try not to think about it.  Instead, I will live vicariously thru the lives of the characters in these movies, who do get to see what life would be like had things been different.  George Bailey, in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, will forever be a role model for me, so that I will always understand that the life we've had is the best life we have.  In fact, next week I will go to the American Film Institute's Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring, MD, with my parents and my daughter, to see IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on the Big Screen.  It has become an annual tradition for me, and this will be about the fifteenth time I've seen it there over the years, the last ten with my daughter, who has grown to love it as much as I do.

And I appreciate people like Cassie, from Popcorn in Bed, who allows me to watch movies with her, and even stated in her introduction to THE FAMILY MAN how welcome we are to enjoy her company, especially when we are alone or are lonely due to circumstances.  I highly recommend that you check out her site on YouTube.  Her personality and love of movies is infectious.  

(Cassie, if you ever read this, I hope you will someday soon watch my second favorite movie of all time, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, the first of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic comedies... I guarantee you will enjoy this fairytale of a movie...)

Best wishes to you readers out there as we approach this wonderful time of year.  I hope you have a blessed and meaningful Christmas season.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Life Adjustments

It is amazing how successfully depression and a well-timed pandemic can combine to push away, to at least arm's length, all of my closest friends, to a point where they no longer interact with nor ask about me, and they have practically no presence in my life.  That wasn't my goal, but that was the result.  If you feel like someone who fits that qualification, then you know you've been played.  Out of sight, out of mind, you know?

Am I happier this way?  The jury is out.  On one hand, those who seemed to worry about me the most no longer do so, which is a positive in my mind.  I didn't like having those with an active role in my life be concerned about my well-being.  All that did was make me feel terribly guilty, and increase how screwed up I felt my life had become.

As it is, I can put out onto social media the occasional picture of my dog, one-year old Winnie the Wonder Pup, my cheery and over active Cavapoo companion, and it will appear that life is good in my world.  Leave it to our cute pets to provide a sense of normalcy.

I also can allow myself to be the loner I prefer to be.  I'm an empty-nester now.  My calendar is relatively clear, and I can selfishly just do my own thing.  I don't have to leave the house except to go to work (when I'm not teleworking), and run a few errands, which allows me to be a self-proclaimed honest to goodness shut-in.  I can even have my groceries delivered.

My church slammed the door on my connections there with the elimination a few years ago of the Saturday service that I had grown accustomed to attending, and I lost my circle of friends there who had to spread out to over-crowded Sunday service times, and that, mixed with my own severe introversion and a growing feeling of anxiety as the pandemic became our new way of life, led to me no longer having a church home for the first time in my life.

I'm certainly not bored.  My daughter calls me regularly to update me on her campus activities in her second year of college life.  Mom & Dad check in periodically to give updates on their health.  My 14 fantasy baseball teams and 10 fantasy football teams provide me with plenty of entertainment.  And Winnie gives me opportunities to get a little bit of exercise, and someone with whom to talk.

Is this a life worth living?  Of course.  All life is worth living.  Is it a happy life?  No, not really.  It provides some contentment, but not the happiness I used to enjoy. 

This feeling of melancholy did lead me to pursue therapy, and that is helping.  I just couldn't keep going down the path I was on.  I was at my wit's end in a lot of ways, particularly with my job, which I actually hate with wild passion.  Retirement is approaching quickly, however, and as long as I keep making plans for that retirement, I feel like I have something of which to look forward.  Realistically, in three to five years, I can comfortably retire.

This isn't a happy post, though it isn't meant to be.  It's just where things are at this time.

I hope things are well with you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Still Alive

Every once in a while, I get a hankering to write a post here.  I usually don't get very far.  Writing is harder as I've gotten older; don't ask me why that is.  But I want to overcome that and actually, you know...write.

I'll sometimes get a reminder that I haven't written in too long, like over the past 24 hours.  A bunch of people, maybe random, maybe intentional, have left their email addresses in the contact form on this page, and I get a notification when that happens.  There was nothing for almost two years, but when I get a bunch of notifications in less than 24 hours, there's something going on.  My first thought is someone is testing me, to see if I'm paying attention.  Then I think it's a phishing attempt, or someone is going to try to hack into it.  My spidey-sense is tingling...

Well, I'm still here.  Still alive.  Life goes on...

Monday, September 6, 2021

Complications of Loss and Understanding in Grief

Grief is a complicated thing.  Everything may be going well in your life, maybe even joyfully, and then a reminder of a time of loss occurs and knocks you right back down.  This has been the pattern for me over the past 17 years, ever since my wife, Teresa, suddenly passed away from an undiagnosed heart issue during an outing with our 5-month old daughter.

I just finished reading a wonderful tribute written by an old friend on the 30th anniversary of the death of her husband in a tragic car accident.  It was filled with specific details of the emotional roller coaster she experienced after finding out he had died, all the way through her healing process.  She also shared how she was impacted by her walk with Christ, and the path her faith has led her during the time since this traumatic event.  It was a reminder of how fragile life is, and reminded me so much of Teresa's homegoing.  I wish I was where she is.

Last night, I received a message from another old friend, someone I got to know well during our time working together in youth ministry.  She is now a pastor, and it was clear early on that her walk with Christ would have a similar result to my other friend's experience.  Her message, though, hit me like a ton of bricks, and I am heartbroken upon hearing the news of the death of her daughter.

Her daughter wrote to me just after Teresa's death, sharing with me her experiences since the death of her husband, which occurred less than a year before Teresa's, and left her a young widowed mother.  The advice she shared has helped me more than anyone and anything since Teresa died, and she became in some ways my spiritual guide in my healing process.  Most importantly, she taught me that healing doesn't come by "getting over" the traumatic event.  Healing comes upon accepting the event as a part of your life story, and makes you the person you are.  I am forever thankful to her for sharing this with me.

However, while there are still a lot of unknowns at this time, her passing is a tragedy beyond all understanding.  I may find out more in the future, but given the information I have at this time only makes me sadder and grief-stricken.  I'm being intentionally vague because it is not my place to share.  I just know that, given the connection I had with her, my own path forward will very likely be impacted by her death.

I find it ironic that I would hear over two days from or about two women who experienced the sudden loss of their spouses at a time when they were raising young children, which is my experience, too.  Each has had an impact on me in very different ways.  I hope that I can learn only positive things from their stories.

My prayers go out to both of my friends and their families, and that they can find comfort and understanding through our Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Road Trip!

Despite rising numbers of those infected by the variants of COVID, travel was recently at the highest point since before the pandemic began.  People are tired of being stuck at home and anxious to get out and do things and live life fully again.  I’m one of those.  I hadn’t traveled since last summer, when my daughter and I successfully navigated a cross-country road trip during one of the worst times of COVID exposure.  It was a weird trip, with many tourism sites closed or limited in capacity due to the pandemic.  Hotels had many restrictions, and cleanliness was almost more important than the accommodations themselves.

So here we are, one year later.  My daughter and I are vaccinated, and we needed a vacation.  Based on the horror stories of canceled and overbooked flights, poor customer service, and violence occurring on planes in flight, we had no desire to fly anywhere.  Being isolated on a large ship with the potential of infection meant no to a cruise.  Even amusement parks are somewhat tenuous due to the amount of touchpoints offering high chances of exposure.  What’s left?  Another road trip!

We decided to take a road trip to a region we hadn’t explored much, and wasn’t too far from home:  New England.

Here are a few highlights:

New Haven, CT – We started the day visiting the PEZ candy factory, followed by lunch at Louis Lunch, where the Hamburger was invented.  Then, in a driving rain, we visited Yale University, where a security guard saw us wandering around and ended up giving us a two hour tour of the campus.  My daughter had not considered attending an Ivy League school, but the tour was so enjoyable, she has decided to at least apply to Yale.  A few days later, we visited Harvard, as well.

Bethel, NY, site of the original Woodstock – Because the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt home, museum, and library in Hyde Park, NY, was still closed due to the pandemic, we adjusted on the fly and ended up in Bethel, NY.  There we visited the Bethel Woods Center of the Arts, which provides a wonderful museum and overview of the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969.


The Coast of Maine – So many highlights, with scenic lighthouses (Portland Head Light, Bass Harbor Head Light, and West Quoddy Head Lighthouse); Acadia National Park; Penobscot Narrows Observatory; “Lenny,” the 1700 pound chocolate moose, in Scarborough; and Eartha, the largest rotating globe in the world, in Yarmouth.

Mount Washington, NH – The tallest peak in the White Mountains, there are a few ways other than hiking to reach the top.  The Auto Road allows you to drive your car, and that’s somewhat scary if you have a fear of heights due to the lack of guard rails above the tree line.  The most fun way to the top is the Cog Railway, which is what we did.

Dog Mountain, St. Johnsbury, VT – Home to the Stephen Huneck Gallery, Dog Mountain stands as a tribute and memorial to those who have lost a member of their family, man’s best friend, their dog.  There is a chapel at the site containing notes from floor to ceiling left by owners of their loved ones, and it begs the question, “Do dogs have a soul?”

Seneca Falls, NY – Home of the IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE Museum, this is the city that inspired Bedford Falls, the town featured in the movie and home to George Bailey.  Frank Capra, the director, visited Seneca Falls just before the movie went into production.

Watkins Glen, NY – Home of the Watkins Glen International road course, my favorite race track.  Aside from the annual NASCAR event, it hosts races of every kind and at every level.  And, for $30, you can take three laps around the track in your own car!  This was a bucket list item for me, and it was one of the highlights of our trip.  And if I hadn’t gotten stuck behind a Ford pickup during my laps (we were not allowed to pass any vehicles), I would’ve gone much faster than my high speed of 86 mph.

It was a great trip, and I highly recommend getting out and taking a road trip vacation (if you have gotten vaccinated).  It does the body, mind, and soul and world of good, and almost makes it feel like life is normal once again.

Monday, August 23, 2021

That's Long Enough

I guess that's long enough.  I've been away a long time, and I'm finding this "home" hasn't changed a bit.

My office has a biweekly newsletter, and it had a problem with readership, meaning no one was reading it, and there was a substantial lack of material.  I decided to submit one of my essays from a blog entry from this site, slightly modified it for a different audience, and submitted it.  It was well received, and I was encouraged by the editor to continue submitting stories, articles, essays, or whatever I wanted.  It gave me a regular column in which to share my thoughts, get things off my chest, and generally say what was on my mind.  It is highly unusual to be given that kind of freedom.  I wrote the column for almost two years, 46 entries in all.  I received nothing but positive feedback, which had a therapeutic effect on me.  I mined a lot of material from this blog for that column.

A few weeks ago, the editor received a complaint from a colleague who threatened a grievance due to the assumption that there were too many straight white males writing articles for the newsletter.  There were two of us writing regular columns, and it's true:  we were both straight white males.  Never mind the fact that we were writing voluntarily, and that the editor would accept just about anything that was either related in some way to the work that we do, or was entertaining and not offensive.  Anyone could write and submit an article.  But the complaint was legitimate, and the editor determined that she should cut back on the number of columns written by straight white males.  All two of us.  Her solution was to have us alternate columns, so instead of writing an article every two weeks, we would each write one article every four weeks, alternating every two weeks.

I was disappointed, but the arrangement was fine with me.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to be done with the whole thing.  So I requested that I be given the opportunity to write one more article to basically say goodbye, and announce that the column was ending.  I thanked everyone for their support, for the kind words sent to me as feedback, and for the extraordinary good fortune of being able to write something with such freedom.  It published last week.

The feedback I received was immense, unanimously positive, and certainly a greater response to anything I've ever written.  Readers were disappointed, but seemed to understand.  One told me that I should collect all of the articles I had written and make sure to save and share them with my daughter, who might appreciate them more than anyone else.

That led me to remember that this blog, "Away From The Things of Man," was written for that very purpose.  My audience has primarily always been for my daughter, and the writer of that particular piece of advice was a reminder that the blog would always be a place for me to scratch the writing itch.  And here I am.

The purpose of this blog has never been about gaining readers.  That was secondary to giving my daughter something to remember her father when I'm no longer around.  She missed out on knowing her mother, who passed away when she was only five months old.  My daughter needs to know how much I respect her, how proud of her I am, and how much I love her.  She is my primary source of happiness.  And while I tell her that all the time, I want her to be able to find these words in whatever format this blog is kept for the rest of time.

So, if there is anyone still out there who read this blog prior to this entry, welcome back.  I won't be writing every day, but I hope it will be often enough to keep your entertained. 

Have a great evening, everyone.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Slightly Hibernating

 I apologize for the lack of content for the past several months, during the length of the Pandemic of 2020. There were other priorities, but the blog will be back in the weeks to come.  In the meantime, since it appears that hackers have been trying to access this site, I wanted to comment to show that we are still an active site.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Postponing Alaska

One of my most popular and most-read posts on this blog refers to a bucket list trip that I've wanted to take since I was a teenager:  a trip to Alaska!  And not just a trip to Alaska.... We're talking a trip on the Alaska Highway, through most of Northwestern Canada, into the Klondike in the Yukon, thru Whitehorse, Dawson City, and all the way to Fairbanks, then down to Anchorage, Seward, the Kenai Peninsula, and to Haines, Juneau, and Skagway.  It is an epic adventure that I have been planning for several years now.  This Summer was going to be, finally, a four week adventure of a lifetime.

Then... Coronavirus.

We're still hopeful.  There may be a miracle where the virus disappears or is deemed under control, and life will return to some semblance of normal.  Maybe the kids will still be able to finish the school year before losing their whole summer, and having to start the next school year with nary a break.  Maybe families will still get a chance to take a vacation.  (What's happening now is NOT a vacation... Yes, the kids are out of school, and yes, many adults are home, but this is not a vacation.)

What the whole planet is dealing with is hardly just an inconvenience.  People are dying, families are suffering, our economy is a disaster, people are out of work, some with no income, and so many of the modern conveniences that we count on are no longer available to us.  We are denied physical contact with one another while we wait out the pandemic that has taken the normal out of our lives.

This certainly doesn't change the fact that we desire, and maybe continue to plan, the things that we want to do... the things we love doing.  Like travel.

My daughter and I are road trip enthusiasts.  We have had a lot of practice over the past decade traveling throughout America, and last summer we made a significant achievement:  we went to our 48th state in the USA.  Only Hawaii and Alaska are still to come for us.  Our excitement grew as we began preparations for the longest road trip of our lives.  But we just don't know now if this trip will be possible this year.  And we're disappointed.

Life appears to be on pause.  We can't do anything except stay secluded.  We can get out, of course, and we do that.  This is a great time for my daughter to put in lots of time behind the wheel of our car as she prepares to get her driver's license, with most roads devoid of traffic.  Last weekend, we even went into DC to do some city driving.  I think she'll have her full amount of hours completed by the time she takes a driver's education class.  Getting her license before our trip to Alaska was one of our goals for this spring.

We continue to pray for everyone that is impacted by COVID-19.  We pray for the health and safety of our first responders and for hospital workers.  We pray that our family and friends are able to avoid it, and that we are able to get it eradicated from our lives.

Take care.  Stay safe.  Keep away from everyone.  Let's beat it.

Best wishes.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Random Thoughts One Week In...

  • We're one week into our self-imposed quarantine during this world-wide outbreak of the COVID-19, or Coronavirus.  It's being called a pandemic by most, and there appears to be as many people who are frightened out of their minds as there are who could care less and are living their lives normally, or even recklessly.  I think both extremes are as harmful as the virus itself.  I've always believed that community is important to our mental well-being.  One could argue that community still exists even when we are closed off physically in our homes away from everyone, given that we have so many technological tools at our disposal to stay in contact with the world.  I hope that's the case.  I can't help wondering how different our world will be, if at all, when we are able to return to some semblance of normal.  Aside from the many inconveniences, it seems that only those who suffer serious setbacks during this outbreak may come out of this changed, for better or worse.  For everyone else, maybe some habits will change, but I'm willing to bet many will go right back into their previous lifestyle.

  • This was the longest string of telework days I've ever worked in my career, and counting.  I feel very fortunate that I'm able to do my job remotely, and that the service our agency provides is making an important contribution, even with so much of the country shutdown.  It can be isolating, even with the tools we have to stay in touch, just as with our personal lives.  My employees continue to do their work, and in most cases, they prefer teleworking than being in the office.  I get it.  I haven't teleworked much; just a few days sporadically throughout the year... I much prefer being in the office, but I can feel the benefits.  Instead of almost 2 hours per day of commuting, I only need to roll out of bed, without even the need to shower (my opinion, I'm sure).  But I miss the face-to-face contact I get with colleagues and employees.

  • My teenage daughter finds a lot of enjoyment in having no school work to do (aside from the year-long project in her Independent Research class, which she continues to work on almost daily), and the opportunity to sleep until noon everyday.  However, we have quite a bit of time together to just talk each afternoon, when I'm off the clock, and she has been very honest given her feelings about this whole thing.  Firstly, she feels terribly about the sacrifices that many of her senior-class friends have had to make, and who are missing out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  It started with the cancellation of the annual music trip, which impacted all of the band and chorus students, and took away their excitement about going to Boston.  Then it was the cancellation after one performance of the school musical, "The Addams Family."  It continued with the school system itself being shutdown for, currently, two weeks, and is sure to expand well past that.  Now it's the expected cancellation of the Senior Prom, and, perhaps, graduation.  And what to do about all of the missed school that will likely have to be made up?  It has become almost a lost year for students.  Time seems to go by so much more slowly during our childhood, and the teen years in particular impact so much of who we are and who we become and what we do for the rest of our lives.  Missing out on these once-in-a-lifetime school events is very sad, in my opinion.  My very intelligent and compassionate daughter seems to think so, too.

  • I'm mildly disappointed in one of the conveniences being offered by some businesses during these unusual times.  With our instructions to stay away from human contact to reduce the risk of exposure to the Coronavirus, and businesses having to shutdown and close as the impact becomes more and more widespread, some, particularly restaurants, are going to carryout service only, and some even offering delivery.  I hate cooking.  It's one of those daily chores that I just do not enjoy.  My daughter and I take advantage of these services regularly, and much more often than we should.  That said, I'm finding more and more restaurants that we enjoy are offering delivery.  We are happy to oblige these offerings... however, once we plug our address into their ordering websites, we're finding that we are, inexplicably, just outside their delivery areas.  It's incredibly frustrating, especially after whetting our appetites with our favorite dishes and then dashing our hopes with disappointment.  Carryout is always an option, but, since we're not showering as often, and not even getting dressed appropriately to face the public, the convenience of delivery is an option that is much more preferable.  Oh, the problems of a privileged society...

  • I don't mean to make light of any of this.  The COVID-19 outbreak is a deadly serious issue for our entire planet, and many are suffering terribly by its effects.  We who believe know that God is still in control, and we won't panic when we have faith.  We pray that our family, friends, and so much of planet Earth will survive and escape suffering and tragedy.  We are so thankful for what we have.  We will get through this, and we pray for a return to normalcy, and a willingness to learn the lessons this experience will teach us.

I hope you are safe and healthy during this unprecedented time.  Take care, everyone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Corona-cation, Day 4...

Corona-cation, Day 4:  We’re beginning to get stir crazy.  We began self-quarantining after last Friday, and have not left our home since then.  Our links to the outside world are through virtual connections, and, fortunately, technology allows us to maintain at least some semblance of normalcy.  While my daughter is missing school, she isn’t missing homework.  And I am able to continue working thru telework.

Our biggest issue so far was running out of toilet paper.  Why the run on such a necessary staple of civilized society is beyond me, since there really isn’t any logical connection between COVID-19 and toilet paper with which I am aware, but the shelves are empty at every store I went to over the past week.  Thank goodness we found a fairly inexpensive option online.  It’s not as soft as our regular brand, but these are not regular times.  And if you’re regular, you need this stuff, anyway.

Our concern is focused mainly on my parents and my in-laws.  Reports say that their age group is most at risk, particularly with additional health issues, such as my mother’s diabetes and mom-in-law’s asthma.  They are reporting price gouging on necessary medications, which should be a crime.  Over-the-counter meds are ten to a hundred times their regular cost, in some cases.

We’re thankful for modern entertainment conveniences, such as streaming movies, online games, and e-books.  There’s no shortage of options.  That said, we are getting bored already.  We’ve taken to cleaning out our closets and paring down unneeded clothes that will be donated.

A dedicated sports fan, I am suffering from withdrawal due to the postponement and cancellation of pretty much all spectator sports.  Hockey was nearing the end of the season and the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs, something I look forward to every spring.  March Madness is now March Mad-less with all college basketball tournaments cancelled.  And, the worst news, the start of baseball season is being delayed indefinitely.  As a diehard baseball fan, I find this news depressing.  I pass the time by doing fantasy baseball mock drafts.

We bought what we figured would be an adequate amount of food for an extended period of hunkering down, but we’re running through it much more quickly than expected.  Snacking out of boredom is a real thing, unfortunately.  Thank goodness for food delivery, but that puts us at some risk because what we’re eating is being prepared and delivered by unknown hands.  We must have some level of trust that they are taking precautions just like us.  But it may necessitate a store run, which means leaving the safety of our home.  Something we’ll have to consider…

Even the churches are shutting down, but church is more than just a building or a gathering of believers.  We can worship virtually in today's world, and connect with others through streaming, video, audio, and just about any other modern techniques.  And this is the time when we need community, particularly with the anxiety many are feeling.  Prayer seems to be the best thing we can do.

Nothing is normal right now.  My parents likened this to 2002, when the DC Snipers had the entire region on lockdown, and everyone took extra precautions when going out to the stores, or getting their cars gassed up, or stayed home, out of fear that the snipers might have them in their cross-hairs.  If nothing else, this is going to be one of those major life events so outside the norm that everyone is going to remember where they were and what they were doing, like 9/11, or the Challenger explosion, or the Kennedy assassination.  

This is unprecedented.  There are only a few times in my life when I felt out of control and/or fearful of something going on in the world.  In 1987, I was in a car accident in which my grandparents were killed, in a car I was driving, when we were hit from behind by a tractor trailer.  In 1990, it was the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, which had me watching CNN every free moment, expecting to be drafted into the war.  In 2001, it was 9/11.  In 2002, it was the DC Snipers.  In 2004, it was the death of my wife.  Now this.  I don’t think I’m overstating it.

These sure are some crazy times, but I'm glad to know that my family is safe and feeling well.  It's likely inevitable that some of us will end up getting the COVID-19 virus, but I pray the it's effects will be minimal, at least to our health.  Impacts to just about everything else are already here.

If you find a good deal on some toilet paper, drop me a line.

Have a great evening, and please stay safe. And wash your just may be saving a life.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Driving Me Crazy

My daughter started driving in November, a week after her 16th birthday.  This is a huge milestone in her (and my) life.  I know how excited I was to be driving when I was her age, and, while she seemed to not care a whole lot at first, now that she has a few miles under her belt, she really looks forward to getting behind the wheel.  She tries to come up with reasons every day why we need to go to the store.

We had some stressful days leading up to her getting her Learner’s Permit, which allows her to drive with an experienced adult in the passenger seat.  She had been studying the driver’s manual off and on for a few weeks, and she aced the online written driver’s test multiple times, so, a few days after her 16th birthday, and despite some anxiety (hers and mine!), we went to Motor Vehicle Administration to apply. 

She was a nervous wreck.  It became my responsibility to keep her calm, so I kept distracting her by asking her trivia questions, which she hates.  Getting her mad at me turned into a welcome distraction, it seems, because it did calm her down, if for only a moment.  Finally, though, they called our number and it was her turn.  To add a bit of drama to the tale, the testing room is behind a closed door, and she had to knock on the door and wait for someone to open it.  That took about five minutes, but she told me it felt like hours.  The door finally opened, she went inside, and fifteen minutes later, she exited excitedly.  She passed!

She did the math and figured out that she could only miss up to four questions and still pass.  She told me she had already missed three when she got to the last question.  She was so scared she would fail, but she got an easy one:  “What kind of sign is red with eight sides?”  She was so relieved!

The next hurdle was the actual driving.  She had only been behind the wheel once, and it was in our Jeep Wrangler, which has a manual transmission.  The experience traumatized her.  Driving a manual is similar to playing the drums, requiring all four limbs to be on the same page, since they each have a role while driving.  The left foot works the clutch; the right foot brakes and accelerates; the left hand steers; and the right hand shifts gears and holds your sandwich while you drive and eat lunch.  It takes a lot of coordination.  However, my daughter could not get the hang of it, almost burning out the clutch, and she decided she didn’t want to try it ever again.  Unfortunately, with manual transmissions in both of our vehicles, she was stuck.

Over the Holidays, we got a new car…with an automatic.  I guess we were due.  My 2-seater was impractical, 13 years old, and had a problematic leaky top, so it went to a worthy car donation organization.  My daughter will still have to learn to drive a manual transmission, but it doesn’t have to be right away.  In the meantime, she will get lots of hours behind the wheel of our brand new, brightly colored hatchback before she takes a driver’s education class.  That’s the way I learned, and I was better for it.  She is very excited, and I am excited for her.

The first few times out on the road with my daughter behind the wheel were very hard… for me.  I’m sure she was nervous, but, for me, who has anxiety issues already, this was a new level of fright.  Pulling out into traffic was very difficult.  I actually closed my eyes waiting for the crashing sound of another car piling into ours.  Indecision is another problem.  I told her that she can’t begin pulling out into traffic and decide she can’t make it with the car already halfway into the intersection.  Make a decision and stick to it.  Braking is also difficult.  I’ve worn a hole into the floor mat on the passenger side of the car trying to step on the nonexistent brake pedal.  Whew!  I got her one of those fluorescent yellow “Rookie Driver” magnets for the back of the car when she is driving.  Unfortunately, it only causes other drivers to harass her as they zip by us.  But things are getting better.  Experience makes all the difference, and while she still has some exasperating moments, I’m a lot calmer about it, knowing our lives are on the line.  She’s going to be a great driver.

If you find yourself in Central Maryland behind a hatchback with a bright yellow “Rookie Driver” sign on the back, look out!  It just may be my daughter and her stressed out dad.

Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Getting Away From It All

There is something to be said for getting away from it all, and to satisfy my wanderlust, I needed a getaway.  Travel is good for the soul, and when it comes to a road trip, I can’t recommend it enough.

I planned a quick 3-night trip to the American Southwest to drive a last bit of Route 66 that I had missed on previous trips across the country.  It would mean flying to Los Angeles, renting a car, and driving across the Mojave Desert on Route 66 to Needles, CA, swinging north for a night in Las Vegas, and driving back to LA the following day for the flight back home.

It was November 2004, fifteen years ago.  This was my first trip to the region since my cross-country trip with my wife, Teresa, in July 2000.  I was excited because I had been very recently promoted into my first management position.  The job was effective the day after my return from my trip west.  But I was also anxious.  I felt like I was ready for management, but I was still battling through the grief of losing my wife earlier that year in April to a sudden heart attack.  It had been a difficult year.  This was my first trip without her.

With my parents taking care of my almost one-year old daughter, Melody, I flew west.  I was by myself, and had rented a convertible for the drive across the Mojave Desert.  I arrived at Ontario International Airport towards evening, and I grabbed dinner at In-N-Out Burger and crashed for the night.  The next morning had a chill in the air, but I had the top down, anyway.  It was a gorgeous autumn Southern California day.

Heading east out of Barstow, CA, on Route 66, the first chunk of the old road paralleled the interstate, so the sounds of 18-wheelers were fairly prominent.  The road itself was in bad shape, with a patchwork surface, so the car, a well-used Chrysler, which so far seemed to float down smooth roads, felt like it was bouncing to a rhythmic pattern down Route 66.

The road eventually smoothed out and drifted southeasterly away from Interstate 40, near the village of Ludlow.  I was really out in the desert at this point, and there were no other cars on the road.  I knew I might be the only living person for miles around.  It brought me such peace as I looked around at the beauty of the desert, mountains off in the distance, the sound of a train echoing across the valley in front of me…

I stopped the car right in the middle of the road, got out, and stood on the double yellow line.  I could see for several miles in every direction.  I slowly turned in a circle to take in the moment, experiencing the beauty of the American Southwest, inhaling the fresh desert air, and embracing my aloneness.  The tears came as I sat back down in the car, and I thanked God for that moment, for my family and friends, for my career and the opportunities ahead, for my health, for my wonderful little daughter, and for the happy memories of my life with my wife.

I drove, continuing east on the old road just past the little town of Goffs, CA.  After seven years, I had completed all of Route 66 (from Chicago to LA) at this intersection, the same spot I had reached from the opposite direction with my wife just four years prior.  Then I headed north on US 95 to Las Vegas.

(The Rest of the Story… After driving to Las Vegas and back to LA, my flight from Ontario was delayed by mechanical issues, and then arrived in Atlanta late, so I missed my connection to Baltimore.  I tried to get another flight, but the airline insisted I wasn’t getting home that night.  However, I was able to get a flight to Richmond, VA, where I rented a car and drove two hours to my home, arriving at 2am.  I didn’t have my house key, or any of my luggage, which had been flown on to Baltimore without me, so I snoozed in the rental car for a few hours, and then rushed to the office just before dawn.  I greeted my new employees with a box of donuts, unshaven face, and in wrinkled clothing that I had been wearing for more than 24 hours.  And that was my first day of what is now 15 years of management.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Stressing Health

A few months ago, my daughter and I were getting ready to attend a Christmas party at my in-law’s church.  It’s an annual tradition, and ever since my wife’s death, it’s a way for us to continue to connect with my in-laws.  My daughter enjoys it quite a bit.  My father-in-law, Jim, is the pastor of the church, and the pastor’s family (including us) always gets spotlighted in some way at the party.  Unfortunately. 

It is a catered affair, and there are a variety of games and a program of singing carols.  Attendees generally get volunteered to be a “contestant” for some of these games, and getting embarrassed is all part of the fun, if you’re into that sort of thing.  I almost always get volunteered to do something, and I’m not fond of it. I get covered in glitter, or wrapped in wrapping paper, or I have to eat a mincemeat pie without my hands, or sing solo a verse from the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and everyone laughs, and I get thoroughly stressed out.  So I was just a bit anxious about the whole evening.

I was getting dressed, and thinking about the evening ahead, when the room started to spin.  I felt dizzy and immediately sat down on my bed.  My heart rate accelerated rapidly, and I started to sweat.  I laid back on the bed and tried some deep breathing, something I had learned a few years ago as a method for reducing stress.  Having battled significant stress for much of the past several years, I knew some of the signs to look for.  I felt awful, and my heart felt like it was racing right out of my chest.  Something was definitely not right.

I yelled for my daughter and told her what was going on as she entered the room.  Staying calm (though 16, she is mature way beyond her years), she suggested we call an ambulance right away.  Still in denial that anything was seriously wrong, I said no, that I didn’t want the whole neighborhood to watch me get placed in an ambulance.  Then she suggested that we call my father, since that’s what you do when you need help:  you call Dad!  So she called him up.  Dad, ever the voice of reason, told me to call an ambulance right away.  I resisted.  He insisted.  I was being stubborn and stupid, but I figured I could get myself to the hospital without an ambulance interrupting the whole neighborhood.

My heart continued its incessant rapid beating, and my stress over my predicament grew.  We decided to drive to the hospital.  My daughter recently got her learner’s permit to drive, but she had not yet driven our Jeep with a manual transmission (which is something I will address very soon).  So I drove.  Given the seriousness of the situation, I was foolish to think I could drive myself to the hospital, and, in hindsight, I would not have done it.  We should’ve called an ambulance.  But we rushed to Howard County General.  I believe I hit 85 mph on Route 32.  It was a hectic drive, but we made it to the hospital without incident.

Fortunately, we found a parking space near the door to the Emergency Room, and rushed inside.  I was in some distress at this point, and felt like I might pass out.  The nurse at the front desk recognized that I needed immediate assistance, and as she checked my heart rate (it was at 190 bpm!), she called an orderly and they rushed me into the ER in a wheel chair.  At this point I was in a bit of a panic. And scared.

I was wheeled into a room with a bed, ordered to remove my shirt, and there were nurses and doctors everywhere.  I think there were ten people in the small room.  They began to ask all kinds of questions, while attaching wires and sensors to me, connected to a vast array of beeping equipment.  Everyone knew their job and did it.  The whole situation was overwhelming to me, but I’m really glad they worked so hard to get my heart rate and blood pressure under control.  After a few minutes, my heart rate was near normal and, several hours later, after a chest X-ray and full examination, and with test results showing no blockages, meaning everything was fine, I was released with instructions to follow up with my doctor.  The consensus was that I had suffered a panic attack.  It wasn’t my first, but it certainly was my worst.  We missed the party, and my mother-in-law was angry with me for allowing the party to stress me out, which stressed me out.

So consider this a Public Service Announcement:  Stress is not good for you.  It is the body and mind’s reaction to uncomfortable situations.  Stress is recognized by many as the number one proxy killer disease, and is the basic cause of more than 60 percent of all human illness and disease.  Chronic stress can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including mental issues such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders, and cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke.

How can you better deal with stress?  Here are a few tips, courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH):

·         Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
·         Talk to your health care provider or a health professional. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress. Start the conversation and get proper health care for existing or new health problems. Effective treatments can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work.
·         Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.
·         Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
·         Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
·         Stay connected. You are not alone. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
·         Consider a clinical trial. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other research facilities across the country are studying the causes and effects of psychological stress as well as stress management techniques.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Anyone can become overwhelmed. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the confidential toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Lifeline chat is a service available to everyone.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Jumpstarting the Writing Muscles

Have I been away long enough?

It was bothering me that the ol' blog had sat idle for so long, and I wanted to get back to writing regularly.  Every time I sat down with an idea, though, I struggled to stay with it.  Before I knew it, a year had passed.

About six months ago, I was given the opportunity to write a story for our biweekly newsletter at work.  It proved to be successful and I was encouraged to continue writing, and I ended up with a regular column.  I mined this blog for a lot of material for the new column, adjusting it for an office environment, and it was just what I needed to jumpstart my creative juices.  And here we are.

To say that a lot has changed over the past year is an understatement.  Between the massive changes I've experienced in my work life, and the personal challenges with my health and family, things have hardly been normal.  That said, there's a lot of stuff to write about.

What I want to start with, though, is Faith.  Proverbs 3:5-6 -

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 

6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

I stared at this verse for a long time when my church made significant changes to their service times at the end of last summer.  The big thing, which impacted me and my daughter the most, was the elimination of the service on Saturday.  We had been attending that service for about 7 years, when it was started, and to say we enjoyed it immensely is an understatement.  Our whole week seemed to revolve around the Saturday evening service, and it was a principal part of our faith.  Socially, we connected with so many people who became our close friends, and their daughters prayed, worshipped, and did activities with my daughter.  Because of our lifestyle, which included the opportunity to sleep in on the weekends (particularly Sunday morning, and generally after a long difficult week of school and work), it was a wonderful and refreshing alternative to the typical Sunday morning worship times with which I had grown up.

Our routine on Saturdays generally allowed for running errands, cleaning house, doing laundry, etc., then attending worship at 5:30pm, followed by dinner out, either just the two of us, or with our friends from church.  It was comforting to know we had this to look forward to each week.  Our church is very large, and even after calling it our home since 2003, it was difficult for us to get involved.  I had attended small to medium sized churches my whole life.  Attending a church with several thousand members was intimidating.  The Saturday service was much smaller with a few hundred attending each week, and it was so much more relaxing.  It allowed us to get to know folks that we would not otherwise have known.

Due to significant mental stress, mostly from work, I had developed difficulty with anxiety, and large crowds in particular made it difficult for me to attend the severely overcrowded services on Sunday mornings.  In fact, the crowds on Sunday were the main reason the church started the Saturday service.  This was a Godsend, really.  I had gotten frustrated with finding parking, and even finding seats, on Sunday mornings, as the crowds got me down.  It was great for the church, though, to see the kind of growth that many other churches could only hope for.

For my shy daughter, the smaller youth gathering Saturdays allowed her to become more intimate with other kids her age, and praying with and for each other was so important to her spiritual development.  The student's program saw significant changes to the weekend services, too.  The high school program changed to a Saturday only service every two weeks, so instead of the smaller gathering, now ALL of the kids were together on Saturday evening.  My daughter has told me repeatedly that the change was not something she liked, and her interest in doing anything with the youth has greatly diminished.

The news of the elimination of the Saturday service was a punch in the gut to me, and I didn't take it well.  Even worse, it felt like our church home was turning its back on us.  I honestly feel like, given how large the church is now, losing a few attenders who could not make the switch from Saturday to Sunday, was no big loss to our church.  I reached out to the church elders, but they didn't give us any alternatives.

The last Saturday service was on September 2, 2019, and that was the last time I walked through the doors of my church home since 2003.  I love my church.  I can't put into words how supportive the people there were when my wife, Teresa, passed away in 2004, and how much Pastor Mark helped me find significant healing.  I don't want to leave my church home.  Why did this happen?

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding..."

The verse kept going through my head, and as hard as it is to do, I have to believe that there is a reason for these changes to me, personally, even if I don't yet know what they are.  I've already put out some feelers to other churches in the area that may end up being a good fit for us, but I'm not ready to walk away from our church yet.  I keep hoping that something will change to bring us back.  Unfortunately for my daughter, however, it's her friends that she misses the most in all of this, as school functions seem to take away much of her time, even for the biweekly Saturday gatherings.

So we will continue to pray for the Lord's guidance.

In the meantime, I'm feeling energized about writing regularly again.  Stay tuned for more content here on the ol' blog.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Incident At A Restaurant

Daughter Melody and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants:  Houlihan’s, in Elkridge, MD.  We’ve been going there since they opened more than a decade ago, and it qualifies as one of the better chain restaurants we frequent.  We had a special promotional envelope that was given to us on our last visit, about a week before Christmas, and we were anxious to see whether we would be getting a free appetizer, dessert, or discounted meal, which were advertised as possible “prizes” inside the envelope.

We entered and saw that it was not at all crowded.  The host, a young man, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties, asked us how many were in our party (just the two of us), made a series of marks on a list on his clipboard, and took us to a table right in the middle of the restaurant, awkwardly sandwiched between three other occupied tables.  There were a lot of other open tables nearby, including several preferred booths.  After sitting, I quickly glanced over at my daughter, and she looked at me, and we determined that we were going to be too uncomfortable to converse with each other while other patrons were sitting just a few feet away.  Our server showed up almost immediately, a young lady in her early twenties, and we told her our dilemma, and asked if we could move to one of the open booths, several of which were adjacent to our table.  She said she understood, and told us to hold on just a minute, as she needed to clear it with our host.  He happened to be passing by at just that moment, and our server asked him, within earshot of Melody and me, if she could move us to the booth nearest to where we were.  He sighed, and said that it was in “Jared’s” section, and she would have to clear it with him.

Now, I’m from the school of good customer service, and accommodating a guest is just good business.  Our request to move was not out of the ordinary, and there seemed to be no issues with over-crowding at the restaurant, and the server even volunteered to continue serving us at the other table.  But the host’s reply struck a very negative chord in me, as if we were inconveniencing everyone by wanting to move from a heavy concentration of customers to an open table.  His concern, I reasoned to myself, was that it might unbalance the number of customers in each of the server’s sections, and he didn’t want to make the change on his carefully arranged clipboarded sheet of paper.

Either way, I immediately went into the “red,” stood up, grabbed my jacket, and quite audibly exclaimed, “Okay, we don’t want to inconvenience anyone.  We’ll just leave!”  And I headed for the exit, followed by my suddenly surprised daughter.  As I walked away, I muttered about how ridiculous this was, and I couldn’t believe I was walking out over this.  As I reached the host/hostess stand, a lady who I’m guessing was a management type, asked, “What happened?”  I said, very loudly, “It’s apparently too difficult to change tables!” I said, flashing my prize envelope so she could see this wasn’t our first visit to the restaurant.  “We’ve been coming here for over ten years, but you just lost a customer!”  And we left.

I have never walked out of a restaurant like that in my life.  I was flush with emotion, and my poor daughter looked at me like I was a crazy man.  I immediately apologized to her, and told her that I didn’t mean to ruin our evening.  We went back to our car.  I told her that I have never reacted like that before, never been so upset that I’ve walked out of a place.  She didn’t know what to say to me, so she didn’t say anything.  I asked her to pick another restaurant, any place, something that she liked.  But we just sat there in silence.

I replayed the entire incident in my head, trying to figure out why I reacted so uncharacteristically.  I am not one to fall so quickly into anger.  However, given the current Federal Government shutdown, which is directly affecting us, plus not receiving a paycheck even while I continue to work to help maintain our National Airspace System, stress seems to be ruling my thoughts and actions, causing me to have a short fuse, and I overreacted to something that wasn’t worth reacting to.  I normally would have been too embarrassed to draw attention to myself in a situation like that, and my normal reaction would just be to suffer in silence, even though I knew my daughter and I both were very uncomfortable with the seating arrangement.  But I flew off the handle and reacted.

I again apologized to my daughter, letting her know that I was embarrassed by my reaction, and I promised her that we would return to the restaurant in the future.  I didn’t want to sacrifice more than a decade of patronage at a favorite eating establishment over one lousy incident.  In addition, since we are friendly with one of the managers, who has been there since they opened (though she wasn’t there last night), we would likely have the opportunity to talk to her about what happened.

Melody and I went on to have a very fine evening, completely overshadowing our bad experience, and I didn’t dwell on what happened, like I usually do.  But it serves as a reminder and cautionary tale of the impact stress can have on our day to day actions.  I will do better.

Have a great evening, everyone.