Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This Day

A few days ago, while half-comatose on the couch in Nyquil-induced cold-relief, I glanced over at the other couch and watched my daughter, who had a pair of headphones over her ears and was singing a Disney-fied pop song of some sort at the top of her lungs.  I could only smile, because she seemed so happy and in her own little world, oblivious to everyone (me) in the room, no self-consciousness evident at all.  She is so much like her mother.

About an hour later, I awoke from snoozing (the story of the last several days) and looked at my girl, still in the same place on the other couch, still with the headphones over her ears, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and she was sobbing inconsolably.  I jumped up and went over to her, put my arm around her, and asked her what was wrong.  She said, "I miss Mommy!"  I gave her a hug, and asked, "This Day?"  She nodded.  My heart sank, but I knew what was going on.

"This Day", by Point Of Grace, had become the theme song for my all-too-short storybook marriage to my wonderful wife, Teresa.  She had picked out the song as a favorite of hers to be played at our wedding while a series of pictures of her and me alternated in a slide presentation, from birth through our romance.  We showed the same slide presentation less than five years later at Teresa's funeral service, again with "This Day" playing.  It was such a fitting song in so many ways, for both events.  And, now, Melody associates the song with her mom.  Melody was much too young to know her mom when she died, but that song still strikes a chord with her, and almost always causes her to cry.

And all I want to do when I see my little Melody cry is hug her and let her know it's okay to be sad, but we know that Mommy is enjoying the glories of Heaven with our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And we will see her again.  And that makes it all okay.

Point Of Grace - This Day
Songwriter: Lowell Alexander

This day is fragile - soon it will end 
And once it has vanished, it will not come again 
So let us love with a love pure and strong 
Before this day is gone 

This day is fleeting when it slips away 
Not all our money can buy back this day 
So let us pray that we might be a friend 
Before this day is spent 

This day we're given is golden 
Let us show love 
This day is ours for one moment 
Let us sow love 

This day is frail - it will pass by 
So before it's too late to recapture the time 
Let us share love, let us share God 
Before this day is gone 
Before this day is gone

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sick Day

I spent my Saturday doing nothing I had planned to do.  I came down with a fairly horrendous cold, and had a full day of feeling miserable.  My poor daughter, also suffering from a cold, joined me.  I slept until 9:30 a.m., a luxury for a guy who gets up before the sun every day for work, but I didn't sleep well.  After a light breakfast, I fell asleep on the couch for another 3 hours.  Melody stayed busy playing games online with her grandfather.  I felt head was pounding, my nose stuffy, my throat sore, my body aching...even my hair hurt.  With regular doses of Nyquil & Dayquil, I tried to weather the storm.  What else could I do?  So, a whole lot of nothing is what we did.


Today was the day of remembrance for little Miss Kyleigh, who passed away last week.  I had every intention of attending, but with my the illness, there was no way I could make the drive, and I certainly didn't want to pass my cold on to anyone else.  My dear friend, Shawna, Kyleigh's mother, was on my mind all day.  I continue to pray for her each day, but I knew today would be a difficult day for her.  Fortunately, I saw some pictures from the event and it was very well attended.  I'm very happy about that.  Shawna and I are already making plans to get together another time.


After a second nap, and going a bit stir crazy, we watched a movie, WE BOUGHT A ZOO.  It was a feel-good movie and we did enjoy it, but, once again, I was very bothered by Hollywood's handling of the death of a spouse.  The story, briefly, is about a family of four, a husband & wife, and their two children, a son, 14, and daughter, 7.  The wife passes away due to illness, and the family decides to move away from the city they live in and buy a zoo out in the country.  The zoo is in bad shape, and requires a lot of work to get it back up to standards that would allow it to open.  The zoo-keeper is a young single woman, and soon, in typical Hollywood style, there are sparks between the zoo-keeper and the father.  And this is where I always have an issue with how Hollywood handles these situations.  I lost my wife several years ago.  Since then, I have had several romantic relationships.  In almost every case, though, the woman I've dated becomes jealous of my dead wife.  This is typical, from what I understand through books I've read on the subject.  Hollywood, though, seems to think that the new woman in the widower's life will love him no matter what, and has no problem talking about the dead wife and listening to the husband wax poetic about his love for his dead spouse.  This just isn't reality.  And it bothers me that Hollywood, in the guise of creating a story for a movie that tugs at the heartstrings of the movie-going audience, shows so little respect to the subject of spousal death.  I get that no one wants to see a movie without a happy ending, but it's just so unrealistic.  I guess I just need to get over it, eh?  I know God has a happy ending story for me, and I just need to have patience.


So I'm getting tired again, and despite 16 hours of sleep in the last 24, I'm going to take another dose of Nyquil and go to bed.  My daughter seems ready, too, especially since she didn't get a nap today.  I think Faithful Pup Scout is the only one who has enjoyed our day of laying on the couch and doing nothing.  She doesn't normally get this much time with us.  Hoping to feel better tomorrow.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Marathon Cancer Walk

I wrote the following on my mother's birthday, May 7, 2007, after participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  I walked to support Mom, who was at the time dealing with breast cancer.  Enjoy!

On Saturday and Sunday, May 5 & 6, 2007, I participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. It consisted of a 26.2 mile (or optional 13.1 mile) walk on Saturday, and a 13.1 mile walk on Sunday, for a total of 39.3 miles. I registered to walk as a tribute to my Mom, Gwen Freed, who is battling breast cancer now. She was diagnosed in November, and, after several operations, elected to have a mastectomy with breast reconstruction. She is currently halfway through her chemotherapy treatments, though she is dealing with an infection in the reconstructed breast, which will require more surgery at some point. She is doing well, though, thanks to everyone's prayers, thoughts, and support.

I had to raise $1800 to participate in the Walk, and, because I got such a late start raising money, it was a daunting task. But so many of you came through with donations, and you helped me raise more than $2700, with more checks still coming! Thank you all so much! You are all so generous! More than 3100 people participated in the Walk, raising a total of $7.4 million! Check-in for the Walk began on Friday afternoon at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I arrived shortly after the event registration began and found that I was surrounded by many, many women. My guess is that approximately 90% of the participants were women.

Friday night, Melody and I slept at Mom & Dad's house, and Dad woke up with me at 4:00 a.m. to drive me to the Kennedy Center for the opening ceremony. (Thanks, Dad! Sorry about the traffic on the Whitehurst Freeway!) I began stretching and warming up as the sun started to come up, and the place got crowded in a hurry. After a short ceremony, the Walk began at around 7:30 a.m., and I found myself immediately stuck in a large pack. It was very slow going for the first two miles, then folks began to spread out a bit. We headed across the George Washington Bridge into Virginia, then over the Key bridge into Georgetown. There were "rest stops" every couple of miles, with port-a-johns and water and Gatorade available, as well as medical personnel and volunteers to cheer everyone on.  Walkers seemed to be going at a different pace, so you were always walking with different people.

The route took us up through Georgetown and Northwest DC. I averaged about 4 miles an hour. Lunch was at Sibley Hospital (appropriately near the emergency room), and I took my first extended break of the morning. We had covered 10 miles and I was feeling pretty good. I didn't do any training during the weeks leading up to the Walk (how can you with a 3 year old?), but I figured I could easily do 26 miles. After about 30 minutes and scarfing down a turkey sandwich and an apple, I hit the road again.

The route took us through American University, then up Nebraska Avenue. At the halfway point, 13.1 miles, where many were hopping on a bus to go to the finish line, I was still feeling pretty good. I decided to keep going. Besides, there were so many folks continuing on, that I didn't want to quit yet. Besides, I was in better shape than at least a few of them...or at least I thought I was....

I reached mile 14.5 and I started to feel sick. I was on Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase, and I knew there was a rest stop at 14.8. I walked faster, and I felt worse. I wasn't dehydrated, but I felt very sick. I made it to the rest stop and sat down to rest. After a 20 minute break, with a stop in a port-a-john, I was feeling somewhat better, so I continued on. From this point on, I made sure to stop at every rest stop and drink plenty of Gatorade.

I knew the first day of walking would end at Sligo Middle School on Dennis Ave. in Silver Spring, and I kept trying to figure out when the route would turn east again, but it kept going west. I knew, if we kept walking this far to the west, I would have to walk even further to the east. I was somewhere near Bethesda and getting tired. My legs were beginning to feel the strain of so much walking. I found myself stopping often to stretch. By the time I reached mile 17, I wasn't sure if I would make it.

I was walking along Old Georgetown road when I finally passed under the Beltway. That moment was a milestone, because it meant to me that I was beginning the home stretch. Also, there are many spectators along the route. They act as cheerleaders, and they can motivate you to keep moving. I said a prayer and I began to feel a second wind coming on. The route began going eastwardly again, and I felt encouraged that I was beginning the home stretch.

It didn't last long. I reached the next rest stop and I found myself surrounded by zombies and the walking wounded. The makeshift medical tent was really crowded, and I saw a young lady leaning over a bucket, heaving every few seconds. Another girl was led to a waiting ambulance. Her face was pale, and she looked like how I was feeling, which wasn't good. I called Mom & Dad to let them know I was headed for the last 5 miles. They were trying to wake up a grumpy and half-asleep Melody, and then they were going to head to Sligo Middle School to wait for me.

A couple of miles later, I stopped at another rest stop, this one near I-270 on Grovesnor Lane. I called Lynda and Jim Shirlen. They encouraged me to keep going.

I made it to Plyers Mill Road when my body began to ask me, then tell me, to stop. I could hear my legs yelling at my feet to stop moving. I started thinking about when Teresa was in labor with Melody, and the breathing exercises she used. I tried using them. In-out-in-out, step, step, in-out-in-out, step, step.... Folks lined the route and yelled encouragement to keep me going. I was being passed by women twice my age. They kept yelling, "Only a mile more to go!" "You're almost there!" The route kept going up hill. I wondered aloud why the route-choosers put so many hills so close to the finish line! My legs could no longer take full steps, so I had to take shorter strides. Finally, I reached Georgia Avenue! I was almost there! I turned onto Dennis Avenue! Only a few more blocks!!!  Another hill!!! Oh, the pain, the agony!!! And, finally, I reached the finish line!!! 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon. It was about 5:00. It had taken me about 9 and a half hours. But I finished! And all I could think about was how in the world am I going to be able to do another 13 miles on Sunday?!?

Mom, Dad, and Melody greeted me, and I collapsed in their car. Mom was so excited that I had finished. I was excited, too, but I was finished in more ways than one. We drove up to Wheaton and stopped at the Shirlen's house. Dad & Jim helped me out of the car and removed my shoes for me (I could not work my legs anymore). Melody gave me a big hug. Then Mom & Dad drove me home where I collapsed again and was dead to the world. Dad called me to check on me at 9:30 p.m., but I don't remember the call.

I awoke at 6 and tried to move. Everything hurt. I fell, literally, out of bed and tried to climb into the whirlpool bathtub. I know now why Teresa and I bought this house 7 years ago....for this tub. I soaked for about an hour, took some painkillers, then tried to get moving.

I fell into the car and drove back up to Sligo Middle School for Round 2.  I walked over and picked up the itinerary for the day, and then went right back to my car.  My legs just would not work. I couldn't do it. My body was finished. My lesson learned was that I need to know my limitations. I should have stopped at the halfway point on Saturday, and I probably would have been able to finish the walk on Sunday.  But I would not be walking today.

Instead, I took a beautiful drive along the route that the walkers would be taking, all the way down to the Kennedy Center. There was no way I could have walked another 13.1 miles. I returned to the Kennedy Center, later that afternoon (via Metro), for the closing ceremony. I felt bad that I had not been able to continue the walk, when there were so many more who did. But I felt like I had accomplished something extraordinary, for me, anyway. And I also knew that any pain I was feeling was just the tip of the iceberg for folks who are actually dealing with the effects of cancer and the rough treatment they have to go through, like Mom. I thanked God for helping me through this, and I asked Him to be with everyone suffering from this terrible disease.

Thank you all for your support, through your donations, through your thoughts, and through your prayers. You are awesome.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kyleigh & Her Mom

A dear friend of mine lost her daughter on Friday, February 15, 2013.  It was tragic in so many ways, but mostly in how it has impacted my friend, Shawna, and those who care about her, who are NUMEROUS, if her Wall on Facebook is any indication.  I believe it is worth sharing the words Shawna shared with all of us about her wonderful daughter, Kyleigh, who had just turned 10 years old last month:

Miss Kyleigh

I am a child who may never crawl, walk or talk but I am your teacher, if you allow me I will teach you what is important in life. I will give you and teach you unconditional love. I give you my innocent trust. I teach you respect for others, their uniqueness and the sanctity of life. I teach you about patience, understanding and not taking things for granted. Most importantly, I teach you about hope and faith.
♥ ♥ ♥ ............ ♥ ♥ ♥
Princess Budda Butt is the apple of mommy's eye and the best cuddle bug. One of the sweetest angels you'll ever meet. Just living each day as it should count and appreciating the moments!

It's a lifestyle, no victims here, and not that it counts - but since you are curious ;P For those who need to know the "Labels" and Medical Diagnosis: Microlissencephaly,Spastic Quad Cerebral Palsy, Intractable Epilepsy, Feeding Tube, Profound Global Retardation, blah, blah, blah. 

Most Importantly, don't confuse her medical diagnosis with illness. She is not sick, she is just Kyleigh.....

Alas, as most may already know, Kyleigh, my precious cuddlebug took her last breath laying in bed with me Friday morning, February 15, 2013. SubhanAllah, all praise to God. This phenomenal gift is beyond words. A wonderful blessing! 

Though my arms may not be able to hold her vessel, but my heart is full, overflowing and am clothed by her spirit. Kyleigh knew no sin and is surely at peace with t
he angels in Jannah, heaven. I was and am honored to carry the responsibility purposed to me through my delicate, beautiful baby girl. It is because of her, Allah, gave me my voice. I am forever grateful. Alhamdililah.

Kyleigh C.
January 5, 2003 - February 15, 2013

I have felt every prayer and sentiment expressed via email, text, Facebook, mail, and the like. My circle of friends are amazing. Thank you for your embrace and support. I will try to respond as time allows. Please continue to pray or make du'a for the family.

I know Shawna is hurting.  But I also know that she is one of the strongest women I know.  I've known her since high school, when she was one of the most popular individuals in our school, a wonderful athlete, intelligent, beautiful, a cheerleader, a leader.  I wish I could say I knew her well, but I really didn't.  But the attributes I listed above are what everyone knew her to be.  I feel like I know her a little bit better now, and I am just so impressed with the way she carries herself, as a mother, in particular, but also in her career.  As a single parent, she is a role model.  I don't wish single-parenthood on anyone, as it is so very difficult to raise a child(ren) and pursue a career and run a household and all of the other responsibilities that adults have.  Shawna seems to make it effortless, and I can only hope to be able to do it as well as she does.  She did all of this and care for her amazing daughter, Kyleigh, as well.

Shawna, I continue to pray for you every day.  I'm so thankful you have such a large circle of friends to help care for you.  Please let them.  We know you can take care of yourself, but, right now, surrender your hurt, your sadness, your heart, to our Lord above, and let us, your friends, be used by Him to care for you.  Thank you for being my friend, Shawna.  Lord, please be with her, and welcome Kyleigh with open arms.  Thank you, Lord.

This Isn't the Blog You Thought You Knew...

I promised myself that this blog would not be THIS kind of blog, but a friend posted this on Facebook and I thought it was worth sharing.  Perhaps my friends at my daughter's summer camp will find it helpful.  But don't tell anyone you found it here.  In fact, if anything on this list ISN'T true, you definitely didn't find it here. I'm supposed to be a clueless dad who doesn't know about these kinds of things, and I have a reputation to uphold...

1. Budweiser beer conditions the hair
2. Pam cooking spray will dry finger nail polish
3. Cool whip will condition your hair in 15 minutes
4. Mayonnaise will KILL LICE, it will also condition your hair
5. Elmer's Glue - paint on your face, allow it to dry, peel off and see the dead skin and blackheads if any.
6. Shiny Hair - use brewed Lipton Tea
7. Sunburn - empty a large jar of Nestea into your bath water
8. Minor burn - Colgate or Crest toothpaste
9. Burn your tongue? Put sugar on it!
10. Arthritis? WD-40 Spray and rub in, kill insect stings too
11 Bee stings - meat tenderizer
12. Chigger bite - Preparation H
13. Puffy eyes - Preparation H
14. Paper cut - crazy glue or chap stick (glue is used instead of sutures at most hospitals)
15. Stinky feet - Jello !
16. Athletes feet - cornstarch
17. Fungus on toenails or fingernails - Vicks vapor rub
18. Kool aid to clean dishwasher pipes. Just put in the detergent section and run a cycle, it will also clean a toilet. (Wow, and we drink this stuff)
19. Kool Aid can be used as a dye in paint also Kool Aid in Dannon plain yogurt as a finger paint, your kids will love it and it won't hurt them if they eat it!
20. Peanut butter - will get scratches out of CD's! Wipe off with a coffee filter paper
21. Sticking bicycle chain - Pam no-stick cooking spray
22. Pam will also remove paint, and grease from your hands! Keep a can in your garage for your hubby
23. Peanut butter will remove ink from the face of dolls
24. When the doll clothes are hard to put on, sprinkle with corn starch and watch them slide on
25. Heavy dandruff - pour on the vinegar !
26. Body paint - Crisco mixed with food coloring. Heat the Crisco in the microwave, pour in to an empty film container and mix with the food color of your choice!
27 Tie Dye T-shirt - mix a solution of Kool Aid in a container, tie a rubber band around a section of the T-shirt and soak
28. Preserving a newspaper clipping - large bottle of club soda and cup of milk of magnesia , soak for 20 min. and let dry, will last for many years!
29. A Slinky will hold toast and CD's!
30. To keep goggles and glasses from fogging, coat with Colgate toothpaste
31. Wine stains, pour on the Morton salt and watch it absorb into the salt.
32. To remove wax - Take a paper towel and iron it over the wax stain, it will absorb into the towel.
33. Remove labels off glassware etc. rub with Peanut butter!
34. Baked on food - fill container with water, get a Bounce paper softener and the static from the Bounce towel will cause the baked on food to adhere to it. Soak overnight. Also; you can use 2 Efferdent tablets , soak overnight!
35. Crayon on the wall - Colgate toothpaste and brush it!
36.. Dirty grout - Listerine
37. Stains on clothes - Colgate toothpaste
38. Grass stains - Karo Syrup
39. Grease Stains - Coca Cola , it will also remove grease stains from the driveway overnight. We know it will take corrosion from car batteries!
40. Fleas in your carpet? 20 Mule Team Borax- sprinkle and let stand for 24 hours. Maybe this will work if you get them back again.
41. To keep FRESH FLOWERS longer Add a little Clorox , or 2 Bayer aspirin , or just use 7-up instead of water.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lizard On The Loose

I found this story while going through some old files.  I wrote it sometime in 2005.  Enjoy!

A lizard has been terrorizing my household over the last week. I am not a
big fan of reptiles, and I particularly hate snakes. Somehow, this lizard
found it's way into the house over last weekend.

I walked into my kitchen on Sunday and saw it scurry under the oven. Since
I was by myself, I figured I would wait until I had some help to actually
try to catch it. Call me a wimp if you will, but I really have an
irrational fear of these little creatures. I didn't see it again,
however. It just seemed to disappear. I mentioned the lizard to my
parents, who came by with my daughter later that day, but not to anyone

On Tuesday, my daughter's nanny panicked when she thought she saw a mouse
in the living room. She didn't relax much when she discovered it wasn't a
mouse; it was our lizard. She spent a couple of hours trying to catch it
in a Tupperware bowl, but she didn't have any luck, and it disappeared
again. My in-laws arrived later, and I reluctantly decided to let them
know about the lizard. My mother-in-law didn't take this news well,
particularly since she was planning to spend the night in the living room.
But, again, it just seemed to disappear.

Last night, Thursday, I found it. It ran past me in my basement. My
mother and I spent the next two hours trying to catch it as it ran from
behind one bookcase to another. This guy was really fast. We didn't want
to hurt it, necessarily, but we didn't want to just let it run loose in
the basement, where it could conceivably live for some time, and where my
almost-two-year-old daughter or my faithful Maltese pup, Scout, might find
it. In fact, we almost lost Scout at one point when I tripped over her
in a panic when the lizard unexpectedly jumped out at me from behind one
of the shelves and we all ran out of the room. We finally trapped it,
after much difficulty (I had to move several 6-foot shelves and quite a
few books, and we discovered it didn't much like Windex), under a clear
plastic bowl, and we piled several heavy books on top of it to keep it
from crawling out from under it. We didn't know what to do with it, since
it was on a carpet and it would not be easy to move it with him under the
bowl. So we left it there, under the bowl, for the time being. However,
I guess we unintentionally cut off the lizard's oxygen supply, as it
appears to have expired. Serves it right, though, for coming into the
house in the first place and eluding capture for most of the week. For
the record, it was dark brown in color with yellow stripes, about 4 inches
in length, and more than big enough to bite a little toe. I'm thinking
about having it stuffed and mounted. We're a little worried, though,
since we saw its brother (or sister. Or Dad!) hanging around outside near
the front porch.

I'm feeling a bit of remorse since it died while in our capture. My
intention was to catch it and release it into the woods out back, but we
were so concerned about it getting away again that we decided to wait
until we could think things out (there was a lot of adrenaline flowing
just after we caught it). It didn't occur to us that it might run out of
air, at least that quickly.

I was told that the lizard is actually a "skink", which is a little
creepier than your standard lizard, since it "slithers" like a snake. This
is the second reptile to get into the house in the last three years. A
snake got into my basement, too. Unfortunately (fortunately), it met the
same end as the lizard. I REALLY hate snakes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

25 Random Things

1. My favorite movie of all time is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. Every year, I make a point of going to see it a few days before Christmas on the big screen at the AFI's Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring. It really puts the Christmas Spirit in me.
2. I love my little girl!
3. For almost 6 years, we used to meet friends and family almost every Thursday at the Red Robin in Columbia, MD.  It was a blast, and Melody loved getting together with everyone.  It was our chance to catch up and visit, and we never ceased to have a great time.  We also got to know some of the wonderful staff that works there, and we continue to stay in touch with several of them.

4. My dream car is a 1970 Olds 442 W-30 convertible.  Maybe someday that dream will come true.
5. My almost-five years of marriage were among the happiest years of my life. I fell in love with and married my best friend, Teresa, who passed away in April, 2004. I’ve been widowed longer than married, but I’m praying that, if it’s God’s will that I marry again, it will be as wonderful as the first time. Tell your loved ones everyday how much you love them. You can't say it enough.

6. I am very passionate about my Pittsburgh Steelers. The city of Pittsburgh is a wonderful place, and I would move there in a heartbeat if I had a job waiting for me there.

7. I’ve driven the entire length of (what's left of) old Route 66 (Chicago to LA). Highlights include the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX, home of the free 72 oz. steak (if you can eat it in one hour….no, I didn‘t try); Albuquerque & Santa Fe, NM; “Sweet Home” Chicago, IL; Flagstaff, AZ; the nearby Grand Canyon; the Mojave Desert (where, at times, I know I was miles from any living person, alone with my thoughts and our wonderful God. Driving through God’s beauty in the American West is both therapeutic and humbling.); and Hollywood, CA, which is just too cool for words.
8. I’ve driven through 41 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces, but I’ve been to only one other country. 
9. My daughter regularly beats me at Wii bowling. 

10. My favorite movie of all time is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. You'll only like it if you GET it. Most people don't GET it. It is amusing and inspiring, with lots of symbolism, and is very romantic.
11. One of my role models is Richie Cunningham. Most guys wanted to be like the Fonz. I wanted to be like Richie.

12. My family has owned 16 Oldsmobiles, starting with Mom's '66 442 convertible, and includes my '87 442.
13. I am a frustrated actor and director, though I’m fortunate to have had an outlet through church drama for most of my life. Teresa and I ran the drama ministry at Montrose Baptist for several years, performing, writing, and directing many Sunday morning dramas, shows, dinner theaters, and numerous productions.
14. I’ve been so blessed to have many wonderful pastors as friends and mentors, including George Aist, Tom Kaylor, Dick Craig, Lisa Kerwin, Pastor Moussa, Sandy Adams, and my current pastor at Grace Community Church, Mark Norman, as well as my grandfather, Chester “Pap” Freed, and my father-in-law, Jim Shirlen.
15. I love Fall much more than Spring, and Winter much more than Summer. Bring on the snow!

16. I have three Tivos.  It's one of the best inventions ever.
17. My daughter inherited my love of roller coasters, and that’s one reason why we’ve been to over a dozen different amusement parks in the past several years.
18. I played in the Orange Bowl during my freshman year at Maryland….in the Mighty Sound Of Maryland Marching Band.
19. I didn’t care for coffee until a few years ago.  Now I drink at least one cup each morning.
20. My favorite movie of all time is REAR WINDOW….and NORTH BY NORTHWEST….and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN….and DAY OF THE JACKAL....  I'm a bit of a movie buff.
21. I spent over 10 years as a youth counselor at several different churches, and I was truly blessed by my friends and co-workers in that ministry, particularly Lisa Kerwin, Scott Yackley, and Diana Depew, and so many great kids!
22. I’ve worked for the Federal Government for over 21 years, half with NOAA and half with the FAA, but all with the same organization, Aeronautical Charting.

23. I have the most wonderful parents. My father is my best friend. My mother is like a mother to my daughter. I love them both so much. My in-laws are a true blessing, too.
24. There are several people who inspire me and have become role models to me because of how they have handled adversity in their lives: Brian, Sheryl, Brooke, Erin, and Mom, thank you! You are each in my prayers regularly.
25. God has blessed me with a wonderful life. Several months following Teresa’s death, as I was going through some papers, I discovered a slip of paper on which she had written the following verse. I don't know why she felt the need to write it down, but it was as if I was meant to find it. I am comforted every time I read it: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” - I Peter 5:10. With Him, life gets better each and every day.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Jug Of Bread, A Loaf Of Wine....

I don't like alcohol.  I don't like beer, wine, or liquor of any kind.  I just never acquired a taste for it.  Mom & Dad never had to worry about me sneaking out and drinking when I was a just wasn't going to happen with me.  Fortunately, most of my friends were the same.  They either chose not to drink, or they didn't like it.  I certainly tried it, but I just didn't care for the taste, so I stayed away from it.

When I was 22, the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, the last time the Pirates were in the postseason.  It was the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record, beginning a professional-sports-record 20 years of futility (that's a story for another day).  However, in '92, they were in the playoffs.  It was Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, all tied up at 2 games each.  My Pittsburgh uncle got us tickets for the game.  We were pretty excited!  The night of the game, we arrived at Three River's Stadium and we found out where our seats were located:  behind home plate, but all the way up at the top of the stadium, literally the 2nd to last row!  I have my share of fears, but one of my greatest is a strong fear of falling.  Sitting that high up in the stadium put me in a panic!

So there we were, tailgating in the parking lot with 50,000 Pirates fans, gearing up for a big game, everybody was excited, hanging with my father, 2 uncles, and 3 cousins, and all I could think about was having to sit up at the top of that stadium.  I don't recall who it was, but, since it was obvious to everyone I was preoccupied by this situation, someone suggested that I get wasted before the game and I would likely not worry about it anymore.  And, since it was a sporting event in Pittsburgh, and we were tailgating, there was no shortage of beer available.  So I drank one beer, and, sure enough, it relaxed me enough to no longer worry me, and the game was very exciting, a big win for the Pirates (in fact, the last playoff win for the Pirates for the next 20 years).  Bob Walk pitched a complete game shut-out, and the Braves and Pirates went back to Atlanta to finish the series (the Braves won 4 games to 3 to go on to the World Series).  I was nervous, but I was able to handle my fear of falling and enjoy the game.

While I didn't go on to regularly drink beer, and in fact barely ever drank again, I did come to the conclusion that alcohol could help relax me.  But as time went on, and I got older and wiser, I reached a point where I didn't drink another drop of alcohol for at least ten years.  I had no interest, and I was never in a social situation where I needed or wanted to drink.  And I still hated the taste.

After getting thrown a few curve balls at my life, I found myself battling a lot of stress, and it was having an impact on my health.  I had a scary time with high-blood pressure, and am now on medication for that.  I have a fairly stressful job, which hasn't helped, either.  So, one evening, I was chatting with my father and he suggested that a glass of wine each day after work would probably help me "relax".  Plus, he said, he had heard it could be good for my health.  I discounted the suggestion right away, and said that really wasn't an option, that I didn't like the taste of alcohol and I would have to look at another way to deal with my stress.

A couple of months ago, I happened to be at a store right next to a wine outlet.  I figured it couldn't hurt to take a look, so I did.  I was completely overwhelmed!  I had no clue what to look for, what I might like, or what kind of wine was any good.  So I looked around and bought four bottles in a variety of colors, not spending any more than $30.  I took them home and decided to try a little taste test.  I poured a little bit into four different styrofoam cups, and took a few sips of each one.  They were HORRIBLE.  Not just typical I-don't-like-alcohol horrible, but they were so bad I didn't drink another drop and proceeded to pour them all out.  I decided to look up each of them online and discovered that I had actually purchased a couple of fairly decent wines, and a couple that you wouldn't give your worst enemy, rotgut horrible.  I continued to do some research and figured out what kind of wines might appeal to me, and which one's I should stay away from.  It was educational, but I still wasn't sure if this was even going to help me.

About a month ago, I found myself near another wine store, so I decided to check it out, with my new found knowledge of wines.  Again, I was completely overwhelmed, but I at least had some idea of what to look for.  So I found a few bottles, again not spending more than about $30.  One in particular looked like it had promise:  it was a chocolate wine.  It looked like Yoohoo.  They had about 300 bottles in a nice display at the front of the store, so I figured it must be good.

When I arrived home, I decided to look them up online to see what I had.  I took the reviews with a grain of salt, since I knew from experience that, just because it received high marks, I wouldn't necessarily like it.  Interestingly, the chocolate wine received the worst reviews.  Once again, I got out my little styrofoam cups and did my little taste test.  And, once again, they were all horrible.  Except the chocolate wine.  I was actually able to stomach this one.  I think the bottle lasted about two weeks.  I only drank a little bit each time, and certainly not everyday.  I also have no clue whether or not it was helping me to relax.  I haven't decided whether to continue my experiment and try some other wines, or just forget the whole thing.  While the chocolate wine was okay, I'd still rather have a Yoohoo, or even a glass of Ovaltine.

So that's my wine story.  I'm open to suggestions for other wines to try, but I really can't promise that I'm going to like any just because you like them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Vacation Furlough

Vacations have always been important to me, and I am so fortunate to have a job that includes so much vacation time.  I value any time spent with my little girl, but especially when we can take a road trip or hit an amusement park and add to our roller coaster inventory. We really enjoy doing these things together, and I make plans to take at least two big trips every year, with a bunch of smaller long-weekend trips thrown in throughout the year, too.

A few months ago, I started looking at taking a big Disney World vacation, including staying at a resort and going to all of the parks there in Orlando.  Whew, was I ever blown away by the cost!  I can't believe there are families that do this every year!  But, I figured, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and would be worth it.  So I began making arrangements.  Then it all fell apart.

Working for the Federal Government is as stable a job as one can get, with a nice salary and very good benefits, including healthcare and retirement.  I am really fortunate to have such a job, and it has been a wonderful career for me.  The only downside is the periodic uncertainty that surrounds us when our elected officials can't agree on a budget, and we Feds become pawns in their little games.  It is, frankly, stupid.  It's not our fault that our President and the folks on Capitol Hill can't get their act in gear, but they take their fights out on us, threatening us with multiple years without a pay raise or cost of living adjustments, and toying with our retirement and Social Security benefits.  Politics aside, it is ridiculous that we go through this every year, it seems.

Things are really bad this year, and now there is talk of a furlough.  I've been in the government now for over 20 years, and I've only experienced one furlough with no loss in pay.  This year, there is talk of a 20+ day furlough, averaging one day "off" per week for the rest of the year, and no chance of getting back pay, all a result of our elected officials not being able to do the job they are elected to do!  If this becomes a reality, and each day it looks more and more likely, many of my employees could experience quite a hardship, losing approximately 20% of their take-home salary.  Looking ahead, this means that any frivolous spending should be kept in check, including big vacations.  See where this is going?

It would make sense for me to call it quits on our big Disney World vacation because of this uncertainty.  If nothing else, I will at least put it on hold until we know exactly what's going to happen, and maybe plan it for the Fall.  Either way, I have not mentioned anything to my daughter as of yet.  I wanted the trip to be a surprise, and now I'm glad I didn't say anything.  She would be really disappointed!

So now it's time for Plan B.  What should we do for Spring Break now?  Maybe a nice little inexpensive road trip?  Maybe a local amusement park (Hershey Park or Busch Gardens)?  Maybe we should just stay home?  Maybe a service project through our church?  The sky's the limit, I guess.  And I'll count my blessings that I even have a job with the opportunity to take a vacation.  Things could be so much worse, of course.  Thank the Lord for His blessings!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reflecting on Then & Now

Today is the second day I've been home sick and I'm going stir crazy.  Though I don't feel like doing anything, I also hate just sitting around doing nothing.  Despite fairly constant nausea, and in between trips to the bathroom, I'm getting caught up on my Tivo watching.  I think faithful pup Scout is enjoying hanging out with me on the couch all day, though.  Dogs are the only ones that seem to enjoy a sick day.

A friend posted one of those simple little frivolous questionnaires on Facebook last night, so I jumped on it.  My friend, Michael, gave me the age I was to use (19).  It caused me to reflect on my life and where I was and what I was doing almost 25 years ago.  Here it is:

Age given - 19
Where I lived - Upper Marlboro, MD
What I drove - '85 Oldsmobile Cutlass (poor man's muscle car) 
What I did - student at University of Maryland; youth counselor at Galesville UM Church
Who had my heart- searching...always searching
My Fear - not being successful; not finding a companion

Age now - 43
Where I live - Laurel, MD
What I drive - '04 Jeep Liberty, '07 Mazda MX-5
What I do - Manager of a team of 75 employees
Who has my heart - My sweet, smart, beautiful daughter
Fear - being a single parent; managing a team of 75 employees

It's fun to look at where we were at a certain point in our lives and compare that to where we are now.  In particular, I found it interesting to consider what my fears were at the age of 19, and how things actually turned out in relation to those fears.  At 19, my biggest fear was whether I would be successful at whatever it was I would end up doing when I finished my studies at the University of Maryland.  In high school, I found my classes to be fairly easy, and I was an honor role student & graduated in the top 5% of my class.  After the car accident in Canada, things seemed to change (I'm fairly convinced this is because of my head injuries from the accident and from hitting my head on our ceiling several years earlier).  I no longer found my course work to be effortless, and discovered college to be pretty difficult.  It was harder to concentrate and my grades suffered as a result.  I changed my major a couple of times, from computer science to music to geology (finally settling on geography in my 3rd year).  At age 19, my confidence in my abilities took a major hit, and I sincerely worried about where my studies were taking me and what career path I might take.  Despite my worries (and I am a worrier by nature, unfortunately), I also turned to God and prayed constantly that He would guide me through this process.  He is so faithful, and I have yet to ever doubt Him, even when I'm inwardly worrying.

Fast-forward to age 43.  God is faithful.  I never could have imagined how successfully my career would progress, and all glory goes to Him.  My fears and worrying were for nothing.  Before graduating from college, I was able to get a job for the summer at a government office.  With my foot in the door, I was able to prove myself and I was offered a permanent position, and my career officially was off and running!  Now I'm responsible for 75 employees.  Unfortunately, since I am a worrier, I still find myself worrying about things that I know God will take care of, and managing a large group of people, knowing I'm responsible for so many people and their careers, is daunting.  However, again, I know that God is in control.  I pray everyday for my employees, and my prayers are that I will make good decisions that will benefit not only our organization from a business sense, but also for them.

My other fear at age 19 was about finding companionship.  I didn't do much dating throughout my high school years, and that made it difficult to think about dating in college.  I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, and my introverted nature sure didn't help me.  I wasn't and still am not a "party-er", so I wasn't really in situations where I could meet people, and being a commuter student didn't help, either, since I wasn't on campus enough to be around female students in social settings.  I was my own worst enemy.  Though I continued to pray that God would lead me to my soul-mate, I also believe that God expects us to do our part and get out into the world in places where we might actually meet potential partners.  So I worried about it.  I was so dumb.  There probably wasn't another time in my life where I was in a better position to date and get to know someone of the opposite sex than at age 19.

Fast-forward again to age 43.  God did bring me my soul-mate, though it didn't happen until age 28.  It was a whirl-wind storybook romance blessed by and centered on God.  Teresa was awesome, and we really were a great match.  It was the happiest time of my life, and I am so blessed to have known her.  What I didn't know was that, six years after we met, four and half years after we married, and 5 months after she gave birth to our daughter, she would die of a massive heart attack at the age of 31.  Almost 9 years later, I'm still alone, a single parent of a beautiful little girl who has made being a parent much easier than expected and is such a blessing on me, but I'm still alone, nonetheless.  And that is what I fear at age 43.  I know God is in control, but I worry about being a single parent, whether I'm able to provide for all of my daughter's needs, hoping that I will find a companion that I can share my life with, but who will also be a mother-figure to my daughter.  This is not a position I would have ever predicted for myself, especially not at 19, and certainly not even now, 24 years later.  But, this is life.  This is where God has placed me.  I know he's in charge of my life.  All I can do is continue to put God number one in my life, and place myself in positions where I may get to meet companions and potential mates.

Thanks, Michael, for giving me the opportunity to walk through some interesting memories of an earlier time in my life.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Oldsmobiles, Stitches, & Falling Ladders

  • My first car, a 1981 Oldsmobile SportOmega, was a unique car.  It was a strange combination of white & gray, with orange and red stripes down both sides, and "SportOmega" blazed across both doors.  It was easily one of the most identifiable cars in our high school parking lot, and gave me a bit of notoriety, which I thought was a good thing for a guy who was not very popular. We only had the car for about 3 years, and it certainly had its problems (when I attempted to take off one of the wheels after getting a flat tire, I found out that the wheel was rusted onto the car!).  But I loved it!  It stood out from the crowd, and was certainly the only car like it on the road.  By the time I had started college, and because I was commuting everyday instead of living on campus, I needed more reliable transportation, so we traded it in for a burgundy 1985 Olds Cutlass.  I wasn't happy at first, since the Cutlass had wire wheels and a bench front seat, and there was nothing unique about it, but Dad said we could get mag wheels and lettered tires. With the new wheels, tires, and all of the chrome, it was really a very good looking car.  I really missed my SportOmega, though.
  • I'm convinced that I have some sort of brain damage due to several head injuries over the years.  When I was a freshman in high school, we were preparing for our annual retreat with the youth group at our church, Bells United Methodist Church, to Summit Lake Camp in Emmittsburg, MD.   It snowed on the Friday we were planning to make the trip, and school was cancelled.  Mom still had to work, so Angie, Darren, and I just hung out at home all day.  Darren and I were horsing around, and I must've done something to make him mad.  He started to chase me around the rec room.  I jumped up on the arm of our couch and started to leap over it, but I hit the top of my head on the overhanging ceiling over the duct work.  I immediately fell backwards onto the floor and passed out for a few seconds.  I came to just as I started to feel the pain, and I laid down on the couch feeling nauseous.  Darren, who saw the whole thing happen, suddenly yelled, "You're bleeding!"  Sure enough, I looked and there was blood all over the pillow of our white cloth sofa.  Mom was going to kill me!  I didn't know just how badly I had injured myself, but I knew I was in a lot of pain.  I got some tissues to cover up the gash and hoped it would stop bleeding.  As it was getting late in the afternoon, and knowing we would have to hit the road for our retreat shortly after Dad got home from work, I took a shower and gingerly washed my hair.  When I finished, I looked in the mirror and checked out my head, since my wet hair allowed me to get a good view of my scalp.  I had a 2-inch open gash on the crown of my skull.  That's when I got scared.  I knew I needed medical attention.  Mom came home and agreed, immediately taking me to a clinic where they stitched me up.  They also warned me to take it easy, that I may have concussion symptoms later.  I was so happy that I wouldn't miss the retreat, and we really had a good time.  And I was able to gross out my friends in the youth group due to the stitches in my head.  It really looked awful!
  • I had a very real close-encounter with God several years ago.  My wife, Teresa, and I were members of the Drama Team at our old church, Montrose Baptist.  We had volunteered to participate in a show being performed at the church, called "Heaven's Gates & Hell's Flames".  The show is used as a tool to reach out to non-believers by showing them that the only way to Heaven and eternal life is through Jesus Christ.  It's a very powerful show, with an elaborate set, many lights and pyrotechnics, and a great bunch of people from Reality Ministries, who travel around the country bringing the show to churches and working with the volunteers and cast members to great effect.  We performed three shows in three days, spending many hours putting the set together and rehearsing in advance, and then breaking down the set after the last performance.  After the final show, while breaking down the set, I was assisting a few people on one side of the stage, while a few guys were using the large, heavy, steel ladder to remove some of the decorations on the high ceiling of the church.  The ladder was leaning at a bad angle against the curved brick wall, and it slipped.  Fortunately, no one was on the ladder at the time, but as it began falling, the guys yelled since it was headed right for me and a woman standing next to me.  There was no possible way we could move out of the way of that ladder.  All I can remember is a blur.  The next thing I knew, I was laying on my back at the back of the stage, four or five steps down below the top, some distance away from where the ladder landed.  Everyone was running towards me to see if I was okay, led by my very frightened wife who saw the whole thing.  She thought for sure I was going to be killed, and she said later that she thought this must be what it feels like to lose your spouse.  The ladder had nicked my elbow, but that's all.  Several people told me they couldn't believe how fast I was able to roll out of the way.  The woman standing near me said that I had pushed her out of the way, otherwise the ladder would have hit her.  I know there was no way I could have rolled out of the way of that ladder, let alone push someone else out of the way.  I honestly believe that God reached down and pulled me out of the way, placing his protective hands around me and protecting me.  That is the only explanation.  After catching my breath, and folks got back to the business at hand, I stepped outside to reflect on what had just happened to me.  I had helped carry the ladder into the church earlier, so I knew how heavy it was.  If it had hit me, it would have put me in the hospital, if not flat out killed me.  The thought that God had protected me shook me so much that I began weeping.  I'm not the type to cry, but this was an extraordinary event.  My wife came out to find me and we both had a good cry over God's goodness.  It's still such a strong memory, and I still remember how I felt that night.  God is just so good!