Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dusk to Dawn at the Bengies

Tonight's blog is postponed due to the dusk to dawn show at the Bengies Drive-in!  Playing tonight are DESPICABLE ME 2, PLANES, RED 2, PACIFIC RIM, and WE'RE THE MILLERS.  Will we last for the whole, all night show? Doubtful. I had a nap this afternoon, so I'm feeling good right now. My darling daughter will likely be passed out by the end of the second movie!

They're doing another all-night show tomorrow night, so come on out and enjoy a night at the drive-in!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fantasy Football

Missed an opportunity to work on a post for the blog tonight.  I'm a fantasy sports addict and I spent the evening studying and getting ready for my fantasy football league draft, which is taking place on Sunday evening.  Fortunately, my research is much less involved than for fantasy baseball.  Baseball is much harder, with many more players, and daily changes due to games taking place almost every day for six months.  Football uses about half the players and the games are only once each week.  That makes a huge difference.

But I still have to study.  The desire to win is strong.  The stakes are huge.  My competitors in my baseball league are more or less strangers, not people I even know.  Everything takes place online.  But with my football league, we are all family, and though there is no money involved, bragging rights are a big deal.  It doesn't help that our commissioner is my cousin JJ, who had actually made a career in the fantasy football industry.  Check out his website if you get the chance:

Have a great evening, everyone!  Go Steelers!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Great 2013 Spider Invasion

I hate spiders.  I hate snakes, but I don't see as many of them as I do spiders.  I don't get all girly and scream or anything when I see one, but really big ones, like the ones I found outside my house tonight, make me cringe.  So I'm not panicking yet, and don't call out the Marines, but.... I believe the Great Spider Invasion of the Summer of 2013 (I may have to shorten that for marketing reasons...) has started!

I'm currently on the "web" (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha) trying to figure out what we have here.  There are three of these suckers hanging out next to my front porch.  That is one big honking web!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Will The Steelers Be Good or Bad?

Baseball season isn't over in Pittsburgh, an odd thing for the Pirates in August over the past 20 years.  They are still in the thick of things, and the playoffs are within their reach.  Their great play has overshadowed for the first time in recent memory the start of the Steelers season.  Football never takes a backseat to baseball in Pittsburgh, so with the start of the season, focus will undoubtedly shift over to the Steelers, at least on Sundays.  With that, I read a great preview of the Steelers 2013 season over at Sean's Ramblings, a blog I read regularly and enjoy.  Check it out!

There are a lot of young guys on the Steelers team this year who could make an impact.  Jarvis Jones, the first round draft pick linebacker, had all of the makings of a big play defender, much like the guy he is likely replacing, James Harrison.  He seems to be in the middle of the increase in turnovers in the preseason.  Troy Polomalu is looking like the Troy of old, and will make last year's #1 defense just as strong.  The secondary has been a strength for this team, especially at safety.  Ryan Clark has played well, as has CB Ike Taylor.  If Cortez Allen can lock down the other corner, the Steelers will be hard to pass against.  The defensive line is going to have to be the difference maker, though, with Casey Hampton, the Nose Tackle for most of the past decade, now gone.  Hood and Heyward need to play better, and Woods and Ta'Amu need to clog the middle.  Pressure on the QB is the key on passing downs.  I expect the run defense to be solid.  Outside linebacker LaMar Woodley could make all the difference if he plays like he's capable and gets to the QB.  Jason Worilds, too, will have to get pressure on the QB, or he could be out of a job.  Timmons and Foots will be solid in the middle.

The offense has a lot of question marks, particularly on the offensive line.  It is very young and not very deep, but keeping Ben upright is a task they need to succeed at.  The passing game looks solid so far in the preseason, as Antonio Brown looks like the guy that was so impressive two seasons ago, and Sanders has to be up to being the #2 guy.  Cotchery, the veteran, is solid, but could be replaced by rookie Markus Wheaton, who has looked really good.  Derek Moye looks good, too, though he has played mainly against backups and rookies.  Tight End is going to be important, more for the the running game than the passing game.  Heath Miller is a question mark on returning from the devastating injury from last season, though it's hopeful he'll be back sooner than later.  TE David Paulson has looked good as a receiver, but he's not the blocker that Miller is.  TE David Johnson will be back, and that's a huge positive.  The running backs are battling injuries, and that makes the Steeler's offense look questionable.  Rookie Le'Veon Bell was expected to take over as the starter, but a foot injury has kept him from playing more than a few snaps this preseason, and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who looked so good in the first preseason game, is also injured.  There may be a running-back-by-committee for awhile, with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, along with recently acquired Felix Jones, leading the way.  The Steelers should again have solid Quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger, who is hitting his prime and looks to be healthy after being injured much of the past two seasons.  He looked very comfortable in the new Todd Haley offense for much of last year, and will likely be improved for this year.  But it's the health of the team that will either push them back into the playoffs or derail their season again.  Let's hope for the former.

As for my own prediction on the Steelers, I'm torn between reality and hopefulness.  I expect the Steelers to be competitive every year, but they have so many question marks leading into this season that it's hard for me to be too hopeful.  Reality is probably 9-7 and perhaps a playoff berth.  Hopefulness is more like 11-5, and maybe a division win. A lot depends on their health and, really, just how good the Ravens and Bengals aim to be.  If either struggles, and I can see the Ravens having a Super Bowl hangover that seems to haunt many teams after winning the Big Game, that may open the door for the Steelers.

Wins and losses don't mean anything in the preseason, but the Steelers, at 0-3, do not look like they have played very well, and that's a concern.  It would be a bad omen if they're out of it before the Pirates finish playing, but Pittsburgh might be satisfied with that.  A winning baseball season is big news.  I'm guessing football is still king, though, and the fans will be expecting good things out of the Steelers.  I'm one of them.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to School, Back to Work

One day, you feel like everything is going great.  The next, it feels like it's falling apart.  How quickly things can change...

Monday was a pretty exciting day.  It was the first day of school and my daughter was excited to go to her new class and see many of her friends.  It would also be her first with new responsibilities associated with being a walker, and while she was a bit apprehensive about it, knowing that so many of our neighbors would be walking with her, it wouldn't be a problem.

Monday was also my first day back in the office after being off for several days for our beach getaway.  Normally, that would be reason for me to be depressed.  Monday felt different, though, and I was anxious.  It was probably a result of my daughter's excitement about school.

Work started out a bit crazy, and it got worse from there.  Many of the things I had planned to do were usurped by bigger issues.  Most notably, I received my first grievance from an employee in my 9 years as a manager.  In addition, due to preparation for our manager's 2-day meetings on Tuesday & Wednesday, I had a lot of stuff that had to be completed before Tuesday.  Not an impossible task, but something to keep me more busy than usual.

I got out of work on time, and I was able to track my daughter on her route home and meet her at the halfway point, driving her home the rest of the way.  Our plan worked beautifully!  Once at home, our typical routine of homework and playtime, followed by dinner, worked just like clockwork.  We went to the grocery store after dinner to get a few important items, then back home we got ready and went to bed.

Tuesday was entirely different.  I headed to work a little bit later than usual, which was fine due to our manager 2-day meeting, which didn't start until much later.  There was an awards ceremony for our employees, who were going to get certificates of appreciation since we had no money for awards this year due to sequestration.  This resulted in a bitter sweet party since our appreciation is no substitute for money.  The manager's meeting was more difficult.  We tried an exercise in sharing some of our deepest secrets and issues, which resulted in a teary-eyed group.  The discussion continued deep into the afternoon, with the only break being lunch at our Chinese restaurant across the street, which was treated by our boss, and which we were deeply appreciative of.

I was pretty exhausted by the time we broke and I headed for Chick-Fil-A for dinner with my daughter and in-laws.  It was a nice way to end the day, however I also was given information about a rough morning my daughter had with my sister, due to her not getting enough sleep.  This is intolerable, and I immediately called my daughter on it.  Turns out, her new iPhone is causing her to play too much in the morning, as well.  New limits on phone usage and an earlier bedtime were the result.  Further issues will be met with punishment.  My daughter knows better than to act this way, especially so early in the school year, so hopefully this will make a difference.  I made her call my sister to apologize, as well, and I just as well could've sent her to her room for a year, given how hard that was for her to do.  She was embarrassed by her actions, that much was obvious.

Tomorrow is day two of our manager's meeting, and the hope is that it will be easier than today.  School, too, should be much better.  That's my hope.  Now, though, it's bedtime.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 7: Hersheypark & Home

Our trip was nearing its end.  We left our Pittsburgh hotel and headed south to Uniontown, my father's hometown.  We had a bunch of relatives in town and it was fun getting the chance to visit everyone.  Dad had come up, too.  We chatted and caught up and ate and ate and ate.  My Aunt Sandi is a wonderful cook.

We stayed late into the afternoon, actually later than we intended, but we hit the road at around 5 p.m.  We headed northeast on US 119 to Connellsville, then headed east through the mountains, a very scenic trip.  We then joined up with the PA Turnpike and headed east.  We arrived near Hershey sometime around midnight, after many stops for snacks and dinner.  Then we crashed.

We got up as early as we could, had breakfast at the hotel, then headed for Hersheypark.  It was another stifling hot day, with temps in the upper 90s and heavy humidity.  Frankly, it was miserable weather, the third time in a week we had this kind of weather for our trip to an amusement park.  We made the best of it, though.  We rode the park's newest roller coaster first, Sky Rush.  It was quite a ride, and very enjoyable.  It climbs the first hill very fast, and has a lot of great dips and loops.  It seemed to be a long ride, too.  We followed that with a ride on the Great Bear, another fantastic inverted coaster.  I was feeling a little bit loopy, so we rode the turnpike cars so I could catch my breath.  Melody drove.  Then we took a ride on the Kissing Tower, a ride that terrified me when I was a kid because of how high it went.  It's pretty tame, though, and nicely air conditioned.

After a nice lunch, we rode the Trailblazer, an older steel coaster.  We watched a "game show" which featured the Hershey Kiss, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and Hershey Bar characters, then took a walk to where a few more rides were located.  There, we rode the Wild Mouse, then the Wildcat, an aggressive wooden roller coaster.  That about wiped me out.  We were headed to a few more coasters when the skies became threatening and all of the rides closed.  We could see the thick, dark clouds and lightning.  We decided to head for Chocolate World and wait out the storm, but thousands of people had the same idea.  So, instead, we ran to the car and headed back to the hotel for a while.  The skies opened up just as we left the parking lot.

After a couple of hours, the storms moved out and we returned to the park.  It was noticeably cooler and we were able to get a few more rides in.  Reese's Extreme Cup Challenge was a neat ride-through shooting game.  We also rode the Comet, another great wooden roller coaster, just before the park closed.  We had another great day, though we missed out on a few other major coasters.  We'll just have to plan another trip.

After a long night, we came back to Chocolate World the following day and rode through the chocolate factory, made our own candy bars, took a trolley tour of the town of Hershey, did a chocolate tasting, and watched a 3D animated movie.  It was a great way to end our day.

We started home late in the afternoon, and finally arrived home just before it got dark.  What a wonderful trip!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ocean City Getaway

With school getting ready to start tomorrow, my little girl and I decided we needed to plan one more getaway to finish off our summer in style.  We headed east to Ocean City on Wednesday, staying at our favorite Sleep Inn on 1st Street at Baltimore Avenue, just a block from the Boardwalk.  We got the best room in the place, room 409, which is on the top floor and has a wraparound deck with views of both the ocean and the bay.  After settling in, we took a walk down the Boardwalk to soak in the atmosphere, then grabbed some dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, the Dough Roller.  After getting some ice cream at Dumser's, we returned to our room and crashed for the night.

The next day, we went to the beach.  My daughter loves the beach!  We spent most of the day getting some sun, collecting shells, and enjoying the waves.  At one point, a particularly big wave crashed into us.  I had hold of both of Melody's hands, and she went down as the wave plowed her over.  I tried to keep my balance without letting go of Melody's hands, but I couldn't stay up.  I went over, face first, into the water.  My big toe on my left foot was deep in the sand as I fell, and twisted awkwardly.  I also skinned my knee on the rocky, shell covered ground.  I felt a shot of pain in my toe and got to my feet, limping back onshore.  Melody started to panic when she saw my bloody knee, thinking that was why I was limping.  Melody was fine, and she helped me back to our towels on the beach.  I sat down to assess the damage.  My toe was in poor shape.  My knee was fine, just bloody.  We gathered our stuff together and worked our way back to the hotel.

After cleaning up and verifying that my toe was not going to be a problem if I walked on it (and wearing shoes seemed to help a lot), we went back out to get dinner.  As is a tradition for us, we went to a seafood buffet, this time going to Phillip's.  It was a great meal, and we tried a lot of things we don't normally tray.  The seafood lasagna was a bit too fishy, and the shark fillets didn't have a lot of flavor, but the crab imperial was excellent.  After stuffing ourselves, we tried some dessert.  Melody had grapes, surprisingly, and I tried the bread pudding, which was great, if a little too sweet.  Then it was off to play some miniature golf and cruise up to Delaware and back before heading back to our room to crash for the night.

We slept in kind of late the next morning, so our breakfast was more of a brunch.  We went to the Decatur Diner in West Ocean City, with the hope of spending most of the day at Assateague Island.  It was threatening to rain, though, so we went back to the Boardwalk and spent the afternoon there instead.  Most of the time was spent riding Trimper's carnival rides, which was fun.  We toured Ripley's Believe It Or Not, which was fun.  Then we toured the Life Saving Station down near the inlet, which was educational.  We had a good time.  We jumped on the tram and rode up to the Dough Roller for another nice dinner there.  While eating, the rains came.  The restaurant got very crowded with folks trying to get out of the rain, and we were thankful we already had a table.  The rain quit, fortunately, before we finished, so we headed back to the hotel and we crashed for the night.

Saturday, we got up early and once more went to Dough Roller for breakfast, before coming back to pack and check out.  We then went hunting for souvenirs at the Boardwalk, then hit the road up the coast.  We decided to try Grotto Pizza for lunch.  Melody loved her pizza, but mine tasted only so-so.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great.  Melody wanted one more round of mini golf, so we found one.  She was very competitive and wanted to beat me in the worst way, and I ended up having a bad round.  She beat me by 4 strokes, and she felt like the champion of the world.  We made one more stop, this time at Dumser's for one more ice cream, then we headed home.

While crossing the bridge, we decided to stop at Sandy Point State Park to see the lighthouse at the site that my wife and I were engaged.  Then we arrived home.  We are so thankful to be home, and for God's safety, health, and happiness throughout our trip.  We had a great time.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sandy Point Lighthouse

On our way home this evening from Ocean City, my daughter and I decided to stop at Sandy Point State Park, on the Chesapeake Bay in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.  I hadn't stopped there since before my wife died, and my daughter had never been there.  The spot is significant as the location of my proposal to Teresa, who agreed to be my wife.  It's special because Teresa loved lighthouses, and the Sandy Point Lighthouse is just offshore from the beach here.  My daughter, Melody, had heard about our engagement, but had never been to this spot, and she told me it was neat to finally see it.

I felt some odd feelings while we were here.  I hadn't visited this spot since my wife and I came here a few years after we were married.  So it has been well over ten years since then.  I didn't know how I should feel.  It was a mix of sentimentality, some sadness, excitement in sharing it with my daughter, and happiness from remembering when...

It was very cold and windy, but I didn’t notice. I was sweating profusely. Poor Teresa was bundled up in her heavy jacket and mittens, trying to stay warm, and looking around in the sand for shells, not suspecting a thing. I directed her towards an area of large rocks, right on the water, and we spotted a large bottle hidden between two large rocks (a bottle my brother, Darren, had placed there before we arrived). I pointed out that the bottle looked like it had a note inside of it, and I picked it up, much to Teresa’s surprise (she thought it was garbage). I pulled out the cork and slid out the rolled paper from inside it. On it was written a note. I had written the note to her a few weeks earlier (on recycled nautical chart paper, to make it look authentic) with the intent of placing it in the bottle for Teresa to find. In the note, I outlined our entire relationship to that point, and mentioned how much I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her. At the end, I had written, “Will you marry me?”

Teresa read the note while I stood next to her, holding it. She told me later that she recognized the handwriting as mine right away, but didn’t understand why it was there. It took her what seemed to me to be a long time (I had written too much, I think), and when she finished, she gave me a curious look, as if she was trying to figure out what was going on. I pulled the ring out of my pocket, which I had been fingering the entire time she was reading the note, and dropped onto one knee on the wet sand. She started to shake, and I don’t think it was because of the cold. I made a little speech, which I don’t remember at all, and asked her to marry me. The realization of what was happening began to hit her, and she took her mitten off and I slipped the ring on her finger. She started to cry and yelled, “YES!” And we hugged and kissed each other for the longest time. Then Darren jumped out of the woods whooping and hollering with the camera still running, perfectly capturing the moment with the lighthouse behind us. Teresa continued to cry tears of joy, and I got a bit misty eyed. I was sincerely happy. Happy that I had surprised her, happy that my plan had worked so well, happy that she said yes, and greatly relieved that it was over! And I was so happy that I was going to marry the sweetest, most wonderful young lady I had ever known!

This was a happy time in our lives.  We had almost five wonderful years as a married couple, though only a short five months for her as a mom.  I was glad to be able to share this scene with my little girl.  I had fun re-telling the story of the engagement, and she laughed along with me.  I'm glad now that we stopped.  It wasn't anything we had planned to do until we saw the lighthouse as we were crossing the Bay Bridge.  It was cool to see it again.

Have a nice evening, everybody!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

OC Boardwalk

An evening at the Ocean City Boardwalk...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Up And Down The Mountain

I was looking at a website that had old pictures of different locations in Western Pennsylvania, and it got me thinking about many of my trips to my grandfather's house in Uniontown, PA, and driving through the mountains to get there, which is awesome.  I have such great memories of my many solo driving trips to his house, which I started taking in my early 20s when I was old enough to be trusted to take a trip like that by myself.

The fastest, most direct way to get to Uniontown from the DC area is to take I-70 west out of Frederick, then jump on I-68 just past Hancock, the unofficial halfway point.  When you get to Keyser's Ridge in Western Maryland, you take old US 40 into the mountains, cross into PA, and continue into Uniontown.  It's a spectacularly scenic drive, and takes just under 4 hours to get there.

When I was a kid, the road west out of Hancock was mostly 2 lanes, long before the divided highway was completed, and it took a lot longer since the road seemed to ride the lay of the land instead of how the highways are graded over (and through) the mountains now.  Going up the mountains on those old 2 lanes meant sometimes getting stuck behind trucks, and they weren't going very fast.  As construction began on what was old US 48 to convert it to interstate status, it was neat to see how the old road would get bypassed as each stretch of new highway was finished.  Since we made the trip about once a month, it was easy to see the way the new road would make travel so much easier.  When it was finally completed, it cut almost an hour off the trip.  US 48 was now I-68.  Old US 40 was co-signed with I-68, and 40 became "Scenic" US 40, where it still remained.  Parts of it disappeared completely under the new 68.

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  After getting used to the new highway for almost a decade, and the fact that I was driving myself, I now wanted to ride on the old road, and I more and more found myself jumping off the interstate and taking the old road as much as possible.  It was a lot more fun.

Taking the old road made for some scenic driving, and I liked finding other similar roads.  In fact, I started searching out mountain roads any chance I could just to be able to drive them.  In 1995, I took a solo trip to New England.  I had heard about a road that goes to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire's White Mountains, and I decided to take it.  There were signs at the bottom of the mountain warning that the road was dangerous, steep, and had no guardrails in some places.  The sign emphasized that people with a fear of heights may not enjoy this driving experience.  I couldn't imagine any road being so bad that I couldn't drive it, so I didn't pause and kept on going.

The road started climbing fairly rapidly, with many switchbacks, and before I knew it, the road had risen above the treeline.  It was at that point that I started to notice just how high up I was, and without guardrails, I realized that I might have a severe fear of heights.  The fear gripped me so much that I actually felt panicky, and I was sweating to beat the band.  There was nowhere to pull off the road, so I had to keep going, as a line of cars began to form behind me.  Fortunately, because of the switchbacks, I had a reprieve when my lane was on the inside, but when it was on the outside, my heart was in my throat.  The road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other.

I was so relieved when I got to the top of the mountain and found a fairly large level parking lot.  There was a museum there, and plenty of things to see, but I couldn't concentrate on anything except for the fact that, now that I was at the top of the mountain, how was I going to get down?

I walked around for about an hour, but I don't remember anything.  I finally figured I had to get moving, but not before thinking I might look for someone to pay to drive me and my car back down.  I went back to my car, pulled out my video camera, filmed a last will and testament, then started the dreaded drive down the mountain.  And once I got moving, it was easy.  In fact, I had no problems at all, and got to the bottom without any hassle.  I couldn't believe how worried I was.  As it turns out, my fear was only when going up, not going down.  I felt pretty dumb, but I was also relieved at how easy it was.

I still look for the mountain roads, and hardly have a problem with them anymore.  In fact, my love of roller coasters has only grown as I've gotten older.  There are a lot of similarities between mountain driving and roller coaster riding.  The major difference being you have a lot more control when you're driving.  Although, depending on who is driving, one might be better than the other.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Here We Go... Blog Party?

It's really hard for me to get excited about preseason football, but I can't help but be curious about the Pittsburgh Steelers prospects for this season.  I watched their game against the Giants last week and was underwhelmed.  The starters, who played most of the first quarter, didn't play well on either side of the ball.  The offense couldn't seem to get moving, though the running of LaRod Stephens-Howling was impressive.  The defense allowed the Giants to get a few big plays, and that was the ball game.

This week, the Steelers play the home-town Redskins.  Redskins fans are a curious sort, as they tend to get very excited about the littlest bit of success, and figure their team is Super Bowl-bound as long as their QB, Robert Griffin III plays.  I can't blame them, since their owner has shown no ability to put together a winner over the past couple of decades.  But the attention everyone gives RGIII borders on the ridiculous.  He's on every commercial, and ESPN devoted almost an hour on him alone during the pre-game.

The Steelers and Redskins don't have any kind of rivalry (though my wife was a huge Redskins fan and made it a fact, it was fun for us to take wagers on the outcome of the games, and it really didn't matter which of us won....we both won! :-) ).  I never have a problem wearing my Steelers jersey in the Washington area.  It's much different with Ravens fans.  They have no problem abusing any and all Steelers fans, and I've been on the receiving end of lots of colorful insults throughout the Baltimore suburbs, where I live.  Redskins fans don't seem to care one way or the other.

I hope the game tonight is entertaining and no one gets hurt.  And I hope the Steelers win, whether it counts or not.  But I'm not taking wagers.

I'm honored to be a part of the community of bloggers in Howard County.  I was recently invited to have this blog linked on the HoCoBloggers website (linked on the right side of this page).  While I don't blog very often about Howard County, I'm proud to live in the county and enjoy being a part of this community.  My wife was a teacher at both Mt. Hebron and Reservoir High Schools, so I can't help but feel connected.  And my church, Grace Community, is a major presence in the county, as well.

It came to my attention recently that the community's bloggers are planning a get-together this Wednesday, August 21, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Second Chance Saloon in the Village of Oakland Mills in Columbia, MD.  I sure wish I could be a part of the festivities.  I read quite a few of the Howard County blogs, and link many of them on the right side of the page, a little further down, and it would be great to meet the people behind the writing.  However, my daughter and I have other plans for the evening. so I'll have to wait for the next get-together, and I do hope there is another.  But if you're a blogger in Howard County, I figured I would at least put the information out there so you know about it.


I'm not enjoying the game thus far.  The Steelers are getting pushed around and have already given up an interception returned for a TD.  I'm sure glad it's preseason.

Have a great evening, everyone!  I hope I do...  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 6: Kennywood

We awoke at around 8 and had a leisurely morning getting ready.  We decided to go out to breakfast at Denny's, which was relaxing.  I love Western PA!  After a fine breakfast, we headed out to Kennywood Amusement Park!

We parked in the upper free parking lot, which required a longer walk, plus a ride down a pretty long covered escalator.  We went through the gate and entered the park.  Kennywood is really an old time amusement park, over a hundred years old, with many old rides still in operation, as well as several old wooden roller coaster that have been around forever.  It has such a great atmosphere.  Lots of families and friendly staff make it really fun.  The only downer on the day was how hot and humid it was, with temps in the upper 90s.  The humidity made it feel worse, and I was sweating profusely before we even got in the park.

Kennywood has a brand new roller coaster this year called the Skyrocket.  It's a launch coaster, but at a smaller scale than many of the ones we've been on in the past.  It's not a long ride, but it has it's moments.  I wouldn't call it a serious thrill ride coaster, but it's fun.  Interestingly, there's a warning sign with all of the requisite warnings about heart issues, back issues, pregnant women, etc., but it also included a note about diabetics shouldn't ride.  That's a first for me.  And even though I'm a type 2 diabetic, I rode it and had no problems.

We rode a neat little ride-through boat ride themed by Garfield the cat having a bad nightmare about food.  It was cute, and it cooled us off since it is entirely indoors.  Then we rode the Racer, a neat old wooden roller coaster that features a parallel track with two coasters that run side-by-side, but is actually one track that reverses on itself, meaning you start on the right side and end on the left.  It is the only one like still in use in the US, built in 1927.

We then rode the Jackrabbit, which is one of the oldest active running wooden coasters in the US, built in 1920.  It makes great use of the hilly terrain to provide a double dipping drop.  For as old as it is, it provides a really nice ride.

Next, we wanted to ride the Thunderbolt, which for me was the highlight of my only previous trip to Kennywood, back in 1989.  The Thunderbolt was built in 1968, but it was built originally as the Pippin in 1924.  It was dubbed the Ultimate Roller Coaster and King of Coasters by the New York Times in 1974.  It is unique in that it has a huge plunge as it leaves the station, practically going off a cliff into a valley.  It's a great ride, and Melody and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The only negative is that they only had one coaster running, and waiting in line was excruciatingly hot.

Next, we rode Ghostwood Estate, which is a ride through haunted house where you use a "blaster" to shoot at the ghosts you see as you ride through.  It was fun, though Melody was just a bit scared before we figured out that it wasn't a scary ride.

Then we went through Noah's Ark, which is a walk-through dark ride, built in 1936.  It is a classic, and one of the few still in use.  The ride starts out in an elevator that "breaks down", and you have to make your way through the maze of passages.

We decided to get some lunch at this point, and this is one of the few negatives of Kennywood.  When I was here in 1989, I remembered getting some really good pizza.  So we went looking for the pizza place.  We found the one I remember eating at, but they didn't have personal pizzas, which is what we wanted.  They directed us to another place on the far side of the park, which is where we went.  The pizza was really bad.  This was worse than the worst frozen pizzas you get at the grocery store.  I was very disappointed.  I'm curious as to whether the other pizza place was better, or even close to what I remember.

We rode a few other rides, then decided to get in the long line for the park's centerpiece attraction, Phantom's Revenge.  Phantom's Revenge started life as the Steel Phantom, built in the 1990s, as a major steel coaster.  However, the ride was a bit rough, and was redesigned several years late which eliminated the inversions.  Phantom's Revenge is still a phenomenal ride, based on the reviews I read.  We waited in the slow moving line (with only one coaster running -- I don't understand this policy of the park to run only one coaster on the major roller coasters on a (slightly) busy day in the middle of summer).  After waiting in line for at least 20 minutes, the ride unexpectedly closed, reportedly because lightning appeared in the area.  Melody and I were disappointed, but we understood.

We went back to Noah's Ark once again, which Melody really liked, but then the rain came.  And given the dark clouds and multiple lightning bursts, we decided to grab some souvenirs, then head out.  We were exhausted from the heat.  During the walk back to the car, we arrived at the escalator and it wasn't working!  We had to climb up the stairs.  When we got to the Jeep, the skies opened up and it started to pour.  We headed back to our hotel slightly underwhelmed by our day at Kennywood.  Though we had fun, we had hardly made a dent in our riding the rides.  We missed out on quite a bit.  And we hope to return to Kennywood sometime in the future.

We battled a little bit of traffic on I-376, the notorious parkway, which always seems to have traffic problems.  At the hotel, we rested and regrouped, then decided to go back to Max & Erma's for dinner, since we had enjoyed it so much the night before.  Then we called it a night.  It was a great day, despite the heat and weather.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

...And Then She Was Gone...With a New iPhone

My girl came home, then she was gone again, having a fun sleepover with her future cousins.  The life of a traveling girl...

Today we made a major purchase and created a turning point in my little girl's life.  I bought her a phone.  And not just any phone.  It's an iPhone.  Is 9 years too young for a phone?  I didn't get a cell phone until I was 30!  And it was the size of a brick.  An iPhone is a pretty slick phone for a 9 year old. Is she a little too young for one?  Yeah, probably.  It's a shame our circumstances have required it, but that's what happens when you're an only child in a one parent family, and safety comes first.

I had intended to wait until my girl turned at least 12 before getting her a phone.  Yeah, it was annoying that she used my phone more often than I did, and she seems to understand more about the apps I have on it than me.  Kids today seem to just know this stuff, as if they're born with this innate technical know-how.  I don't know.  I can usually figure it out, but it takes me awhile.  Anyway, her school keeps changing the game for us, and that's why I got her the phone.  Three short years ago, she was a bus rider.  This gave me plenty of time to get home from work before the bus dropped her off in the afternoon.  The year before last, the eliminated her bus route.  Yes, it seemed ridiculous for her to ride the bus because we're just around the corner from the school, but there is no direct sidewalk for her to walk on, so the bus was required.  The change to her being a "walker" came about when a traffic light was put in at the major intersection between our house and the school.  However, the route she is required to take isn't even at that light.  She and the other kids on our street who rode the bus were now forced to take a circuitous route zig-zagging through two separate neighborhoods connected by a narrow paved pathway between several houses.  It's not a new walkway.  It has always been there.  But now, all of a sudden, the county deemed that our kids can't ride the bus and have to take this route because of a new traffic light that they don't come anywhere near.  Yes, it makes no sense at all.  Bottom line is that I don't like the pathway they have to walk on, and I think it's too far and dangerous for the kids.  My response was to pick my daughter up at the school each day.  This required me to arrive 30 minutes earlier than before.  And this was a struggle for me given the commute I have from work.  One little traffic incident messes me up.  There were numerous times when I arrived late and would have to take the walk of shame to the school office to get my daughter, where the administrators would glare at me for keeping them at the school late.

Fast-forward to this year.  The school announced that they were starting school ten minutes earlier, which means it will end ten minutes early, which just about eliminates my buffer.  There is no extra time for me and my commute to pick her up.  The only alternatives are to spend several hundred dollars for 15 minutes of aftercare each day, find a willing carpooler on our street, or to just allow her to walk.  At least, if she was walking, she could be with a group of her friends that would all walk together.  This seemed to be the best option, but to ensure that she stayed safe, I determined that she should have a phone that would allow us instant communication should anything happen, to her or me, and the GPS on the iPhone would allow me to track her whereabouts during her walk home.  I would still arrive home at just about the same time as her, depending on traffic incidents, but it gives me peace of mind.  For someone as stressed out as I tend to be, this was a Godsend.

So we went to the phone store today and got her a phone.  It was a surprise to her, and she literally couldn't stop smiling the whole day.  The young gentleman at the store, Matt, was great, and his kidding around with her made the experience even better.  Yes, this is a major expense, but I sincerely believe it is the best solution.

The only thing my daughter seemed to get tired of is all of the lecturing she got from me today about the responsibilities that come with owning such an expensive "toy".  The first thing was that this isn't a toy.  I think she gets it.  But I'm waiting for that first time when she forgets and leaves the phone at someone else's house, or loses it somewhere in our house, or forgets to charge it, or leaves without it, or drops and breaks it, or who knows what else.  What an adventure!

I hope you all have a wonderful evening!

Friday, August 16, 2013

ULTRA Q, Plus Home Today, Gone Tomorrow

Melody's home!  I'm very happy to have my girl home with me.  She had a pretty great week with her grandparents.  They took her to the Montgomery County Fair one day, then they took her out of town to Dutch Country, spending a day in Lancaster, PA, and another in Hershey and Chocolate World.  So today they arrived home and invited me over for dinner.  We had a nice visit and a great meal.  Then I brought Melody home.  Macy the Hamster returned home, too.

We came home to an email inviting us over to my parent's place tomorrow evening after church.  My brother and his family are going to be there, along with Mom, Dad, & my sister, and they're going to order a bunch of pizzas and hang out.  It sounds like fun.  In addition, though, Erica, my brother's fiancee, invited Melody over to their place for a sleepover with her girls, Brittany & Caitlin.  That's great and fine with me, but Melody's return home will end up lasting just a day.  She'll be with my parents for most of next week.  And I'll miss her.  Again.


Shout Factory just released a DVD set of the Japanese TV show, ULTRA Q, which originally aired in 1966 in Japan.  It was produced by Tsuburaya Productions and filmed in black and white, and was the first show in the Ultra series of TV shows featuring live action monsters made popular by Godzilla and Gamera.  The show was conceived as a TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS type of show.  It has never aired on American TV, and was never released in the United States until now.

ULTRA Q featured a monster-of-the-week format, where an alien or creature from the sea or underground attempts to create havoc before human scientists and the military figure out a way to stop it.  The show stars Kenji Sahara (featured in many Godzilla movies), a pilot, Hiroko Sakurai (best known for her role on ULTRAMAN as Science Patrol member Fuji), a photographer for a newspaper, and Yasuhiko Saijou, a young protege of Sahara's character.  The three always seem to be in the middle of the action when the monsters attack.

28 episodes of the show were aired, and it was followed by the hugely successful ULTRAMAN, which featured a giant alien superhero who fought with humankind against the monsters and aliens who attached the Earth, and led to at least a dozen spin-offs over the years.  In fact, several of the monsters featured in ULTRA Q ended up on ULTRAMAN, either as the same creature, or slightly modified to appear as a new monster.  In the first episode, the creature, Gomess, is literally a heavily modified Godzilla costume.

The show is very creepy, and makes good use of the black and white filming to create a very atmospheric setting that adds to the tone of the show.  It is played straight, for the most part, and the action and stories are treated with respect and seriousness.  A few episodes are more lighthearted, and likely aimed at children, but the show is definitely made for adults.

If you're a science fiction fan, these shows are great examples of the genre from Japan, and capitalize on the popularity of Godzilla and related monster movies of the time period, but the intent was for the show to resemble the American shows mentioned earlier, particularly THE OUTER LIMITS.  The show is in Japanese, but the DVDs contain English subtitles so it is easy enough to follow the plots.  If you're a fan of ULTRAMAN or Godzilla, ULTRA Q is a must-own and can be purchased through the Shout Factory website or from Amazon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Caught in the Middle

The weather over the past couple of days has energized me.  The Summer months are generally some of my least favorites due to the hot and humid weather in this area.  But the lack of humidity at temperatures under 80 degrees makes such a difference in how I feel.  The Fall is my favorite time of year, and the weather makes it feel like it is Fall.  But then, after feeling so good going into today, everything kind of fell apart as the day went along.

For whatever reason, others find me to be a good listener.  It isn't a special skill or anything.  You just have to be willing to listen to what others are saying.  When you gain that kind of reputation, people tend to want to talk to you, and/or confide in you, if you prove you're trustworthy.  This has placed me in the awkward position of getting caught in the middle of situations between people I know, only because I am willing to listen without being judgmental.  Getting caught in the middle can be stressful, and that is what I had to deal with today.

I hate getting caught in the middle of things.  I don't like having to take sides between people I like and/or respect, and I refuse to do it, if I can help it.  It gets even more difficult when one of the people is my boss, and another is a trusted colleague.  Now I have to "choose" between my career and a friend.  By providing information to my my friend, he used it to confront our boss.

The result of this mess is that my boss believes that I'm not able to keep to myself information meant only for me.  In addition, my colleague now believes that, since I did it this time, I am willing to pass along information to him that he isn't really meant to know about.

I don't know if any of this makes a bit of sense to you, the reader, but I am not happy with where my relationship with either one now stands.  And it's my own fault.  I allowed myself to be put in the middle of this situation because I was willing to listen.


I finally get my daughter back home after she spent this week with my in-laws.  She loves her grandparents, and I'm glad she has such a great relationship with them.  But I'm excited to get her back and we'll have a nice weekend together before she has to return to my parent's for most of the next week.  The summer is almost over, and school will be starting in another week and a half, and our lives will return to a somewhat normal state.

I really wanted to end the summer on a high note, so I'm planning to take off a few days next week so that we can go to Ocean City.  My girl loves the beach, and I love the atmosphere at Ocean City.  We've been there enough times to develop our routines, which includes eating at a few great restaurants, walking the boardwalk, playing miniature golf, riding carnival rides at the pier, and dipping into the ocean water at the beach.

One thing I always try to do is take her to a seafood buffet so that we can experiment with different kinds of seafood.  There are a lot of things that she's never tried before, and it's fun to develop tastes for new foods.

Anyway, the getaway will be good for both of us.  I can't wait.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Returning to the Dating World

For long-time readers of this blog (both of you), this may look familiar.  I have been dogged recently by several colleagues to dive back into the dating pool, mostly because they love hearing about my dating escapades.  And I've had a few doozies.  I have more serious reasons for pursuing a partner, as I desire companionship and (hopefully, at some point) marriage.  I've had kind of a mixed bag of dating experiences, though, obviously, not much success.  I've tried eHarmony,, ChristianMingle, and a few more that I'd rather not talk about.  I tend to attract women who are not very good matches for me, and, as a result, not who I'm looking for.  I sometimes wonder if these women actually read through my profile.  I think they may like what they see in my profile, but only think they fit the criteria for who I desire to find.  Anyway, for your entertainment, I'm sharing my dating profile.  While it is welcome, I am not necessarily seeking advice.  But it you know of a friend, cousin, sister, colleague, aunt, teacher, celebrity, heiress, etc., seeking a guy like me, AND who fits who I am looking for, feel free to send them here.

Without further ado, enjoy....


20 things about me:
  1. I love the Lord!
  2. I love my little girl!  She's 9, very cute, very smart, and makes me laugh.
  3. I believe your work ethic is more important and impressive than how much money you make.
  4. I believe it's important to tell you loved ones everyday how much you love them.  Live is too short.  You can't say it enough.
  5. I love the city of Pittsburgh!  I am very passionate about my Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates, plus I'm a die-hard Terp!
  6. I'm a classic introvert, but will open up with the right person.
  7. I love road trips.  Driving through God's beauty in the USA is both therapeutic and humbling, and I've been fortunate to see 41 states.  Every state looks unique.
  8. I like the mountains a little bit better than the beach.
  9. I'm a bit of a throwback.  I believe in chivalry and respecting the opposite sex.  I like tradition.  You can trust me to always be a gentleman with you, and you can expect to be seriously romanced if we hit it off.
  10. My favorite movie of all time is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  It's the classic feel-good Christmas movie.
  11. One of my role models is Richie Cunningham from HAPPY DAYS.  Most guys wanted to be like the Fonz.  I wanted to be like Richie.
  12. My favorite movie of all time is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO.  Most people don't get it.  Many don't like it.  I hope you get it and like it.  It is amusing and inspiring and filled with symbolism, and is very romantic.
  13. If someone wanted to make a movie about my life, I think John Cusack would be the ideal actor to play the part of me.
  14. I'm not a great cook, but I do okay.  And I make an award-winning chili!
  15. My daughter and I love roller coasters.  They're a blast to ride, and they seem to be a metaphor for my life.
  16. My favorite movie of all time is REAR WINDOW...and NORTH BY NORTHWEST... and OCEAN'S ELEVEN...and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON...
  17. I am frequently accused of being a nice guy (the kiss of death in the dating world).
  18. I don't much care for beer or even wine.  I do not drink alcohol.  I'm not against my partner drinking, however.  I've only recently begun to appreciate coffee.
  19. Who I'm attracted to:  You are beautiful to me, inside and out.  You honor old-fashioned values with modern sensibilities.  You are a Christian.  You are a person of high-character and confidence.  You love your family.  You are more of an extrovert, but not overbearing.  You enjoy watching sports, or will at least put up with my passionate fanaticism.  You'll play sports with me, if the opportunity presents itself, and won't feel that embarrassed doing so.  You understand my need to take care of my daughter, and are willing to get to know her.  I think you'll come to love her as much as I do.  You are happy with both yourself and your life, but you recognize that a potential mate can only enhance your life.  You put God first, and you understand that by doing so, you open yourself up to love.  If this sounds like you, I'd like to meet you!
  20. God has blessed me with a wonderful life.  One of my favorite verses is 1 Peter 5:10: "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast."  With Him, life gets better each and every day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Meeting In St. Louis

Two weeks ago, I found out that I would be going to St. Louis for a business meeting.  Usually I have a little more advance notice, especially since these trips mean that I have to find alternative care for my daughter, Faithful Pup Scout, and Macy The Hamster.  Fortunately, my daughter was already scheduled to be with my wonderful in-laws, and, believe it or not, my mother-in-law agreed to having Macy The Hamster spend the week at their home, too.  Faithful Pup Scout was once again sent to my parent's place.  And I was now free to make the trek to St. Louis.

I've been to St. Louis several times before.  The first time was during my big cross-country adventure in which I drove down most of old Route 66 back in 1997.  Next, in 1998, I passed through on my Chicago to St. Louis road trip.  The third time was in 2000, when my wife and I passed through on our big cross-country trip.  Back then, the only real draw of St. Louis, to me, was the Gateway Arch.  I went up to the top of the Arch in 1998.  I regret that, in 2000, with my wife, we did not go up in the Arch due to my insistence that we couldn't wait 2 hours to ride to the top, as we had to keep moving down the road to get to our next stop, much to my wife's disappointment. Lesson to newly married husbands:  make every effort to let your wives do things that are entirely reasonable, even if it means a few more hours of driving for you.  It'll be worth it.

Needless to say, my most recent trip to St. Louis, which began on Sunday evening and ended several hours ago today (Tuesday), was not one I was much looking forward to.  I had already seen the biggest tourist draw in the region.  This would be all business.  And, for the most part, it was.

I arrived shortly after 7 p.m. and my boss picked me up.  We rode into downtown and checked into our hotel, the St. Louis Union Station Hotel Double Tree.  It is a BEAUTIFUL building!  It used to be a train station, but was converted into a hotel with an adjoining shopping mall.  The Grand Hall is just amazing.  I think the only disappointment was that my hotel room was what seemed to be about 6 miles from the lobby, and my view was the interior of the mall.  I had to use a taxi to get from my room to the front desk.  After checking in, my boss and I had a very delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant.  She had just flown in from Seattle after a week of vacation, so we both called it a night and decided to meet the next morning to carpool to our meeting.  There were seven other colleagues that would be joining us, though none stayed at this hotel.

Following our meetings, we all went to The Hill, which is an Italian neighborhood about 15 minutes from downtown.  There must be about 25 Italian restaurants in the area, and we decided to eat at Gian-Tony's.  Tony himself was in the restaurant and greeted us as we entered.  We had a wonderful feast!  I had the baked ziti special, which included a delicious sausage and mushrooms.

After dinner, we hunted down and found Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard stand on old Route 66, however there must have been 300 people there.  We decided to just head back to the hotels and crash for the night.

After arriving at our hotel, I decided to shop for a few souvenirs, then I headed back to my room to pack.  I didn't sleep very long, it seemed, and I was ready to head to the airport at around 5 a.m.  I had an uneventful flight, though there were only 48 people on the plane and I had an exit row all to myself.  For a tall guy, that was pretty cool to me!  The only negative was the rainy weather at home, and, upon leaving the parking lot, I paid the attendant with my credit card and asked for a receipt.  The attendant began to cough uncontrollably, and rather disturbingly neglected to cover his mouth.  I was sure he was going to lose a lung or two.  He then handed me my card and receipt, which, unfortunately, was rather damp.  I accepted the documents, and, rather gingerly, slipped them into my wallet.  I then reached for the Purell.  Thank goodness for anti-germ hand cleanser.

I thanked the Lord for keeping me safe and in His grip during my trip, and taking care of my daughter, as well.  I'm happy for short, efficient meetings, and coming home.

Have a wonderful day, everyone!  Tell your family how much you love them.  You can't say it enough!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 5: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, Sandusky, Ohio.  We had just finished a fantastic day at Cedar Point Amusement Park where we rode a bunch of great roller coasters.  We awoke the next day very tired, but anxious to move on to our next destination.  We checked out of our hotel, got a nice breakfast at Bob Evans, then headed east towards Cleveland.

Cleveland gets a bit of a bad rap in the media.  Not sure where that comes from, but it seemed decent enough.  It kind of reminds me of Baltimore in a way.  No wonder the Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore.  The city seems very clean, though it has an aged look to it common to many northeastern and midwestern cities.  We passed the Indians nice stadium, and continued towards the waterfront.  We drove past the Browns stadium, as well, and made our way to a parking lot across from our destination:  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We parked and entered the museum.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a rather large place, with multiple levels bordering a large atrium like entrance that rises the entire height of the building.  We got our tickets and worked our way in.  The guidebook suggests starting in the basement, where you can see many interactive displays of various early pioneers of the pre-rock era.  Many of these artists, musicians, and performers played jazz, blues, gospel, and other forms of music the influenced the generations that followed.  I'd heard of a great many of these folks, but others I had not, and there is an opportunity to listen to examples of their music.  It then leads into the early rock era, and then gradually goes through the decades with plenty of examples of the various bands and singers through the years.  Major bands and influences are given larger displays, such as Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, among others.  Missing from the Hall are two or our favorite bands:  The Monkees and Yes, both of whom we saw in concert a few weeks ago.  One of the highlights of the Hall is a theater room where a 20 minute video tribute of Dick Clark on American Bandstand is played on a continuous loop, along with at least 50 or so bands that were featured on that show.

We continued through the Hall and enjoyed many other displays.  Melody got a kick out of the Alan Freed display, and asked if he was one of our relatives.  I honestly don't know the answer to that, but I guess he could be.  There was a very large display for the Rolling Stones, who must have recently been inducted into the Hall.  We enjoyed ourselves quite a bit, and we ended it by going into their gift shop.  I was disappointed that it wasn't a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gift shop, but an FYE, which can be found at any mall.  We got a few souvenirs anyway, and headed out.

We were hungry for lunch, even though it was past 3 p.m.  There was a Hard Rock Cafe about a mile away, so we found close parking and went there to eat, thinking that was an appropriate way to end our day in Cleveland.  Our server was from Pittsburgh, so we had a very pleasant lunch (I was wearing a Pirate's jersey).

We hit the road again and had a nice drive east towards, then through, Pittsburgh.  We had a reservation at a Comfort Suites near Monroeville, on the eastern side of Pittsburgh.  It was easily the nicest hotel of the trip.  In fact, the highlight was the second TV in the bathroom, which my daughter found to be very convenient.

 It was about 9 p.m. and we hadn't had dinner yet.  Using our iPhone, we discovered there was a Max & Erma's almost right across the street, so it was imperative that we eat there.  We had a great time, too.  The food was great, and we got a few hot baked cookies before we left.  Then it was back to the hotel to crash.

  Our next day would be spent at another fun amusement park, Kennywood!