Monday, September 30, 2013

A New Musician in the Family

Big news!  My wonderfully talented daughter has decided to take up playing a musical instrument, and her choice is the clarinet!  She's following in her proud daddy's footsteps.  I played clarinet for many years, as well as alto saxophone, and enjoyed it a great deal.  Now my daughter, who has already shown some musical ability by trying her hand at learning to play piano with her grandmother, will try her hand at another instrument.

We had a very nice experience getting her instrument of choice at the Maryland Music Academy ( in Columbia, MD.  Our friend's mother owns and operates the Academy and devoted a lengthy amount of time with my girl while getting all of her supplies.  Her attention made my daughter feel special and she was excited as we left the store with her rented clarinet, music book, music stand, folder, and Van Doren reeds.  She took a picture of her clarinet and sent it to her grandparents, she was so proud.

The other day, I dug my own clarinet out of the closet to show my daughter.  I actually was able to get some pleasant sounds out of it.  It was the first time I've played it in over ten years.  My clarinet is in pretty bad shape.  Two years of marching with the Mighty Sound of Maryland in all kinds of weather took its toll on the instrument, and it really needs a complete overhaul.  I started playing in the sixth grade.  My grandfather, who was a professional trumpet player, took great pleasure in developing my interest in music, and determined that the reed instruments would be better suited for me than brass.  I played in the beginning band that year, and I remember my first concert.  I threw up back stage just before we went on.

I played in the concert and symphonic bands in Junior High, and the symphonic band (as one of four freshmen) when I started High school.  I also played in the marching band for the first time.  I began to really take my music seriously.  Later, I joined the jazz band and took up the sax.  I don't know if my daughter will take her musicianship as seriously, but she really enjoys singing, playing the piano, and listening to music of all kinds.  If she enjoys playing the clarinet, she may become the next Woody Herman.  Or Richard Stoltzman.  Or maybe Benny Goodman!

So tomorrow is her first lesson.  I hope it's the first of many.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

First Date

She looked gorgeous, more beautiful than I remembered during our only previous meeting.  She was wearing an off-white sweater and tan stretchy pants, with brown flats.  I have no idea what I was wearing, but I'm sure I looked decent.  It was a rainy night, so I had brought my umbrella with me, and I walked her to my car, allowing her to get in the passenger side before going to my side of the car and getting in.

We made small talk while I drove us to the Olive Garden, a pretty standard first-date kind of restaurant, as far as chains go.  I again opened her door for her and escorted her into the restaurant, with the umbrella in one hand, and my other in the small of her back.  I didn't think much about it, but she told me later that it gave her goosebumps.  In a good way.

Despite it being a Saturday, our wait was short, and we were seated in a quiet section of the restaurant.  She ordered a pasta dish, while I ordered the personal pizza.  We talked for a long time.  She told me all about her recent trip to San Francisco, and how much she wanted to go back.  I told her about my recent cross-country trip, and how much I enjoyed traveling.  We talked about our families.  We talked about our jobs.  We talked about so many things...the time went by so fast.  I kept getting lost in her beautiful green eyes.

Then it hit me.  Usually, when I least expect it, a combination of nervousness and what I'm eating clash inside me and the result is something that I honestly don't like to talk about in public.  I began to sweat profusely and knew I'd have to take care of this before it become an embarrassing problem.  I don't think she noticed.  However, it came over me like an attacking army deep within my colon and I needed a bathroom in a hurry.  I excused myself, and hot-footed it to the men's room, where I found much needed relief.  However, the next problem was stopping the problem.  Past experience has shown me that I might be in the men's room for a lengthy amount of time.  I tried to think about other things, like sports, or traveling, or my poor date who was left sitting at the table by herself for what felt to me like seven hours and what was she going to think of me and oh, no, here comes another wave of nausea...!!!  In reality, I was probably in there for about 20 minutes, which is still a VERY LONG time as first dates go.

I finally was able to compose myself and I returned to our table.  She was still there, thank you, Lord!  She expressed concern.  I apologized and tried to hide my embarrassment.  She told me later (thankfully, there was a later!) that it has occurred to her that I might have just left her there, but she was pretty sure I wouldn't do that to her.  I told her there was no way I would do that to her.  We finished our meal, enjoyed a shared slice of cheesecake, then we returned to her apartment.  She invited me in, and we watched some TV.  We talked for a another long time, about lots of things, then I told her I really should be going, since it was late and I knew we both had church in the morning.  We hugged.  It was a nice hug.  I was too nervous to ask for a kiss, and I wanted to be a gentleman.  I asked her if we could go out again sometime soon, and she said she would love to.  I said goodnight and she showed me to the door.  I smiled nervously and watched her eyes sparkle in the porch light.  I felt her watch me walk the steps back to the parking lot.  It was a memorable first date!  I will never forget May 2, 1998.

I hopped back in my car, excited that things seemed to have gone so well.  I then drove the one hour trip back home.  I was still wide awake, thinking about how great she was, and looking forward to seeing her again.  She was special, I could tell.  I don't go on many second dates.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Serving for Christ

As usual, my pastor delivered a very compelling and thought provoking message this evening, and has me considering what my own next steps will be as far as involvement at Grace Community Church.  The key passage was from Romans 12:3-8:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

So what are my gifts?  I've actually considered this a few times in the past.  I'm certainly not gifted to prophecy, nor teach.  I've found myself in positions of leadership, both in my church communities and in my career path, and I've enjoyed times of serving.

In the past, I've sort of fallen into roles at the churches I've attended, though in hindsight, it was God nudging me in the directions I found myself going in.  I served for over 10 years as a youth counselor, and another four as a drama ministry leader.  In addition, I spent almost a year as a deacon at the Baptist church I attended, which was a great honor that I was voted into by the church body.  Following a turbulent separation from that church after the pastor was fired due to misappropriation of church funds, many at the church either left or were driven from the church due to a number of issues with the remaining leadership.  My family did not care for the direction the church went, including the poor treatment of many, and we were looking for a church closer to where we lived, so we elected to leave.

That was when we began attending Grace.  As is true with many, we found ourselves less involved at first.  We were expecting our child, and it was just too much for us to consider at that time getting involved in any of the ministries.  Honestly, we were a bit burned out after our experience at our former church, and so we enjoyed just attending for a while.  A few months after our daughter was born, my wife decided she wanted to get involved in the drama ministry at Grace.  I was still feeling a bit burnt out, and not sure about how I wanted to serve, I waited.  My wife passed away about a month later.

It was several years before I felt the urge to serve again.  I started slowly, following my wife's approach by joining the drama ministry.  It was hard at first, since my wife had been my inspiration, and without her, I felt kind of lost.  But following God's lead, it felt more and more natural, and I greatly enjoyed my two years with the group, acting in many sketches during the Sunday morning services.  But then the plug was pulled, and the ministry just sort of fizzled out.  At that point, I really didn't know what direction to go in.  I really wasn't ready to return to youth ministry.  The kid's ministry was constantly calling me to volunteer to help in my daughter's class, and I tried it a few times.  But I felt extremely out of place, and knowing it isn't one of my strengths, and despite feeling very guilty for not volunteering in that ministry since they desperately need volunteers, I continue to decline the requests to help in the classrooms.  It is just too far out of my comfort zone.  I've had a few other opportunities to serve, but nothing in the areas I feel are my strengths, and I continue to struggle with where I fit into the church.

I would really like to do missions, but I already travel so much in my job that I hate to be away from my daughter more than I am.  I've never done a mission trip before, but I can't help but be drawn to opportunities in Africa, particularly Kenya and Uganda, as well as in the US.  There may be an opportunity to help in Moore, OK, which is not far at all from the Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, where parts of my Directorate within the FAA are headquartered.  That may be a real possibility.

For the past several years, my daughter and I have been blessed by the Grace Adventures Day Camp each summer.  The camp is a wonderful ministry and a Godsend, as the young adults who work the camp have taken my daughter under their wings and provided an incredible environment for kids to learn about the love of Jesus through the teaching and role models at the camp.  Personally, it was great to know my daughter was being blessed through this ministry by the young women who cared for her.  I only hope that things don't change too much next year with new leadership.  I've felt God nudging me into a serving role in some capacity with the camp, but I'm still not sure how.  My job certainly doesn't allow for much due to my role there. So I'm kind of in limbo.

I really want to be involved in something, but I just don't know where I fit.  Being a single parent doesn't make it any easier, though I know that's just an excuse.  God will make anything possible if it's where he wants me.  I need to be involved somewhere, and I need to figure it out.  I'll just keep praying and look for God's direction.  But I get it.  I need to be involved.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The World According to Me

The Three Stooges are the funniest comedians ever.

Oldsmobile 442s were the greatest muscle cars.

The best NEW show on TV is THE BLACKLIST.

Black and gold are the best color combination for a sports team.

Ledo's has the best pizza.

THE AMAZING RACE is the best reality TV show.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are the best sports story of 2013.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is the greatest movie ever made.

Coke is better than Pepsi.

Mushrooms are the best pizza topping.

The best pie is pumpkin pie.

New York really is the greatest city in the world.

Pittsburgh is the greatest city to live in, though.

Maryland has the coolest flag in the US.

The Bible is the greatest book ever written.

The greatest classic movie western is THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE.

The greatest modern movie western is TOMBSTONE.

California is the greatest state to drive in.

South Dakota is my favorite state to visit.

The greatest man I've ever known was my grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed.

The most beautiful woman I've ever seen is Grace Kelly.

The most beautiful woman I've ever known was my wife, Teresa.

My father is my best friend.

The coolest thing I ever did was ride in a police helicopter over Los Angeles, including circling the HOLLYWOOD sign.

Boston Creme is the best filled donut.

Timbuktu has the best crab cakes.

Dogs are better than cats.

My favorite actress is Sandra Bullock, though Laura Benanti is catching up.

Christmas is my favorite time of year.

My daughter is AWESOME!

I am tired.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

May-December, Take 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a possible relationship with a very nice young lady, and the risks involved with possibly dating someone despite a large age difference.  Well, here's an update.

I found out that she's not as young as I had thought.  She looks young.  She's actually in her early 30s.  That puts her in the "almost" ten years age difference.  She's also from Pittsburgh.  How cool is that?  As a fan of all things Pittsburgh, I like her even more.  She's always smiling.  She has great hair.  She wears it up in a pony tail most days, but when she lets it down, she looks gorgeous.  She loves working with kids.  She teaches yoga to 1st thru 5th graders.  She's taken a great interest in my daughter, though they've not yet met.

Okay, so what's the problem?  She works in my office.  I am one of the lead managers in our office, and there is a definite risk involved with dating an employee, even if she is in a different office group.  She would be the subject of office gossip.  If she got a promotion, there would be those who would think she got it because (or in spite) of the fact that she's dating a manager.  It really complicates things.  So now what?  Do I still forget about her?  Is the age difference still in play?  I think she would go out with me if I asked.  Am I thinking about this too much?  The quote from the old guy sitting on his front porch in my favorite movie of all time, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, reading his newspaper while George and Mary are singing "Buffalo Gals Won't You Come Out Tonight", keeps going through my head... "Why don't kiss her instead of talking her to death!?"  I'm doing too much talking.


More spiders, this time outside of my back door...


Saw quite a sight as I was headed home this afternoon.  Going north on US29 just north of White Oak, I saw a plume of smoke rising into the air, getting thicker and thicker, just as several police cars whizzed by, followed by several fire engines.  I could see up ahead that there was a car on fire.  I was  able to get a few pics as I crawled past, just after they put the fire out.  It was quite a scene.


Have a great Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Laid Off and Punished

A great day turned sour in a hurry today as I had to fire an employee.  Technically, he wasn't fired.  He was "let go".  He's a victim of Congress's war against Federal Government workers.  And as long as Congress can't do their job and fix the federal budget, many government workers will be unable to do theirs due to furloughs, shutdowns, or the dreaded RIF (Reduction In Force).

Government workers get a bad rap.  They are looked at as being lazy, stupid, bad at their jobs, overpaid, and useless.  Now, I'm not going to say that there aren't some of each, but my experience is that many government workers are very good at their jobs, some are incredibly smart, dedicated, necessary, and vastly underpaid.  They don't get a very nice salary until they've been in the government for several years, and promotions are not easy to come by.

The employee I had to let go today has lots of issues to deal with now, one of which is an apartment lease that he can't get out of and which he will no longer be able to afford.  He and his wife will likely move out of the DC area altogether since it's so expensive to live here.  They had a small boat that they will have to sell, too, and will have to give up many small luxuries they've enjoyed.

I've only had to fire three employees in my 9 years as a manager, with the two previous ones the result of disciplinary actions.  Even though it was extremely difficult on me, there was a small part of me that said they deserved it for what they were costing tax-payers who were paying their salaries.  But with the most recent employee, he's being fired for no reason other than money.  And that's hard on everyone.

I've been sick about this all day.  It's one of the worst parts of my job.  I just wanted to get home and forget about it.

I came home from work and had to deal with an incident between my daughter and her aunt who takes care of her each morning.  The result was I had to punish my daughter.  This after lecturing her.  I discovered early on in my parental career that I am a lecturer.  I lay it on thick to the point that my daughter ends up crying and probably sick of hearing my voice.  But the punishment always fits the crime, and she is without her laptop and iPhone for the rest of the week.  That did the trick, as she was very upset, but it was clear she understood why she was punished.  I also made her call her aunt and apologize, which was pretty hard for her to do, too.

So I'm feeling like a bad guy tonight.  This kind of thing wears on me, and I just want to crawl into bed and forget about the entire day.

I hope you all have a better day.  Best wishes, everyone.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Daddy-Daughter Fall Hike, 10/30/10.

A Daddy-Daughter Fall Hike, 10/30/10

It was a beautiful fall morning, crisp, cool & fine;
Not a cloud in the sky, and the air smelled of pine.

After breakfast at Denny's, my daughter & I,
We hopped in the car to take a nice drive.

We stopped at a park, to wander around...

With leaves blowing through trees the primary sound.

A trail to the left looked mighty inviting...

Through the trees it went; we decided to go hiking.

God's beauty all around, we felt very inspired...

Our soundtrack today would be Mother Nature's choir.

As we walked, colored leaves crunched under our feet...

A chill in the air, trees blocked the sun's heat.

We rounded a bend and the trail met a stream...

We sat near the edge, watching sunshine in beams.

We returned to the trail and saw others hike by...

On horses, with dogs, friendly waving, saying, "Hi!"

We saw bugs...

...and "elephant ear" leaves...

My girl ran & jumped...

...even tried to climb trees.

We found shiny rocks...

...and trees with big holes...

We wondered if it was home to really big moles.

We had so much fun...

...we walked several hours.

We soon reached a meadow...

...filled with wildflowers...

We'd hiked long & hard, and we got sort of tired...

But around the next bend was a view that inspired!

We took a short break...

...and played for a while...

But it was starting to get late, and we had one more mile.

Back on the trail...

...grasshoppers hopped around violently...

My daughter smiled big, and I thanked the Lord silently.

Moments like this come along often, it's true...

But I take them for granted; too much work to do, too.

I love my sweet girl; my heart she has touched...

Thank you, Lord, for this moment; you've blessed me so much!

--Eric Freed, 10/30/10

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Inactivity

I'm really disappointed in how our Sunday turned out.  We had wonderful weather, this being the first day of Fall and it feeling like it, and plans to do the Maryland Lighthouse Challenge, which I referenced yesterday.  We had planned to get up early, grab breakfast at Denny's, then head towards Southern Maryland and see some lighthouses.  Our first problem was getting up.  After another late night, it proved to be tough to get up this morning.  9:30 a.m. wasn't too late, but the next issue was a little girl who didn't seem to want to do anything.  After all the talking we did yesterday, her mood had changed and I decided not to fight the battle.  So we didn't do anything.  We spent the entire day inside doing nothing except watch TV.

This is just a snapshot of a bigger problem that I've seen develop over the past few months.  My daughter, who is a social butterfly with her friends, has become more and more of a shut-in.  She has little desire to go out and play with her friends, particularly on the weekends, and instead would rather just sit at her laptop and play games.  It has gotten worse since school started, especially given the increase in homework which takes her 2 to 3 hours each night, leaving her little time to play anyway.  But I'm not going to blame her teachers for this.  She just has little desire to do anything.  That lack of desire, coupled with my own battle with depression which keeps me from doing things, has resulted in both of us not wanting to get out and do things.

I've tried to fight through this by actually planning things for us to do on the weekends, such as the Geocaching adventure last weekend, and the Lighthouse Challenge for this week, but when my daughter shows little desire to follow through, it doesn't take much to convince me to call it quits, as well.  So between the two of us, we're really struggling.  Being away all week on business didn't help.

One thing that might help is something my church has coming up on Wednesday evenings for girls my daughter's age.  It's an activity night with games and fun, and may turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.  As long as she's able to balance her homework with this activity night, it can only be good for her.

With the change in weather, and I absolutely love the cooler weather that comes with Fall, I want to be out doing things, whether my daughter wants to or not, not that I want to create a needless battle with her, but because we need to be doing things like this, today notwithstanding.

So what's on the agenda for next week?  I have no idea.  At least, not yet.  But you can bet, if the weather is decent, I am not going to spend another weekend inside doing nothing.  Look for us outside somewhere.

Have a great upcoming week, everybody!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Update

From the "Life Is Good" department, the Pirates beat the Reds and are back in first in the wildcard playoff race in the National League, the Maryland football Terps soundly defeated West Virginia today, 37-0, we had a very nice visit with a bunch of cousins and an uncle, including three generations of McCuskers, AND we had a very good, very relaxing church service earlier this evening at Grace Community, including communion and a great message by Pastor Mark.  The rains did finally come and they came hard!  Now it's time for bed.

Say goodnight, Scout.  "Woof!"

Saturday Re-Planned

Another long week had ended.  Your Government has achieved great things.  I have successfully survived another trip to Oklahoma City and am back at home.  My entire family, including my beautiful daughter, Faithful Pup Scout, and Macy the Hamster, are all together again.  Life is good.


We actually had big plans for the day, but the weather forecast changed things and we elected to not follow through.  Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and the day is looking pretty nice so far.  But it's too late now to go back to our original plan.

Today is the 2013 Maryland Lighthouse Challenge.  My daughter, Melody, and I did the challenge back in 2008 (I think).  The challenge consists of driving to about a dozen designated lighthouses throughout the great state of Maryland, where patches may be collected for each one.  Some are open and can be climbed to the top.  It's actually very interesting and it creates a unique opportunity to see the lighthouses which might otherwise be closed to the public.  Anyway, the Challenge lasts two days, giving ample time to see them all.

We had planned to participate in the challenge, but with heavy rains forecast for the entire day on Saturday, we decided on Friday evening not to do it, since it isn't nearly as much fun when it's raining.  But, so far, the forecast is wrong and we certainly could have enjoyed many of the lighthouses this morning.  We'll probably try again tomorrow, but we won't be able to hit all of them, as we had hoped.


Football season hasn't been very enjoyable so far.  My Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled, mainly due to injuries, but also due to some pretty pathetic offensive play calling.  The Steelers brought in Todd Haley to coach the offensive last year and the results have been poor, overall.  Hope may be on the way with the return of my favorite Steeler, Tight End Heath Miller.  He was the Steelers MVP last year, and the leading receiver on the team before a severe knee injury ended his season.  He's back this week and may be just what the Steelers need to get back on track.  They take on the Chicago Bears tomorrow evening, so the challenge is big.  I'm thinking the Steelers get back to their winning ways.


In the meantime, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are on the verge of making it into the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, had a devastating loss last night, losing in 10 innings to the Cincinnati Reds, tying the two teams in the wildcard standings.  The Pirates had a the lead going into the 9th, but allowed the Reds to tie it up.  The Reds then scored in the 10th to win it.  With just over a week left in the season, these kinds of losses can be crippling.  I'm hoping they can right the ship.  I can't handle all of this negative sports news.


However....The Maryland Terrapins have a big game today in Baltimore against West Virginia.  The Terps have won all of their games so far this season, but this will be their biggest test of the year.  Of all of my teams, the Terps are the most surprising, and I'm hoping they'll be able to keep up their early season success.


So we're off to make the best of our Saturday.  Lunch with some family we haven't seen in a long while, followed by a wonderful church service at Grace Community Church.

Life is good.

Have a great Saturday, everyone!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Yes, I am once again in Oklahoma City on business.  You don't think I would come here for fun, do you? Your Government is actually hard at work and getting things done. Don't believe the stories you hear about Gov't. employees being lazy...I'm telling you the folks who work for me are some of the brightest and hardest working workers you'll come across.  I'm exhausted from the stuff we had to do today, but it proved to be very profitable.

Anyway, since I can't type on my iPhone worth a darn, the blog is on hold until I can get home to a full, 10-fingered keyboard.  In the meantime, my girl, Faithful Pup Scout, and Macy the Hamster-rat are hanging out with Grammy and Pap at our place.  Yeah, Mom and Dad are pretty awesome!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Short Takes

I'm not enjoying this game.  In fact, I haven't enjoyed any moment of the two Steelers' games so far, except the first few seconds of last week's game vs. the Titans, which opened with a safety on the kick-off and 2 points for Pittsburgh.  Their play has been horrible, and has left my stomach in knots because I take my sports too seriously.


A tragic moment this morning at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, as a gunman shot and killed a dozen people and injured more, before being shot and killed himself.  Still a lot of unknowns as to the whys, but this kind of thing shouldn't happen.  Too many innocents, people who just were in the wrong place at the wrong time, losing their lives for no reason.  It's sad, and keeps happening over and over again.  What's the answer?  I don't know.  But we need to pray for the innocents and for the crazy ones who are killing them.


Hated saying goodbye to my little girl again on the eve of another business trip.  I hate the trips to begin with, but I can't help but feel bad for my girl who just never had a normal routine.  On top of that, I'm going to miss Back To School Night tomorrow and the band informational meeting.  She's excited to take on the clarinet, but I really wanted a chance to visit with the band director.  I would've been nice to meet her teacher, too.  Fortunately, my parents are filling in because they're awesome.


The trees out front next to the parking area were removed on Friday afternoon, and the results are dramatic.  The entire look of our street is different, and you can see all the way to the end of the street.  The bad thing, though, is that we've lost all privacy.  The tree out front essentially blocked our house from the rest of the street, and our front grass rarely if ever saw the sun.  The tree also blocked out the street lamp, as well, so now we have a spotlight on our house all night long.  I don't think I'll ever have to use our porch lights again.  I sure won't miss the berries that fell all over my cars, and the bird droppings, but this is going to be an adjustment after ten years.


My daughter expressed a lot of interest in what occurred on 9/11 in 2001, so we watched several of the shows a few days ago that aired on the anniversary that I had Tivoed.  It was emotional.  A couple of moments really hit me hard.  My girl soaked it all in, and took her cues from me.  She asked a lot of questions and I gave her honest answers.  I shared with her what I experienced on that day, too, and how big a deal it was and continues to be.  She's a small little girl.


With all that said, I still get a bit nervous when I have to fly.  It's even harder this close to the anniversary, with all of it fresh in my mind.  I never liked flying before 9/11.  I didn't fly for the first time until I was 25 years old, so it's still a unique experience to me.  I have a routine when I fly, which includes a prayer asking for God's safety just before the plane takes off.  I also always fully pay attention to the flight attendants as they go through their pre-flight drills, and I'm very conscious of the sounds of the jet engines.  I don't relax until the plane hits cruising altitude.


Back and forth Steelers-Bengals game is still not helping my nerves.  Bengals winning again late in the 3rd quarter.  I'll be up for the entire game, unfortunately.  Because I take my football way too seriously.

Hope you all have a great evening!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Santa And The Toilet

I've been asked a number of times over the years to fill in for Santa Claus.  I happen to have a Santa suit, which is an important item to have in order to do the job, and though I don't have a long, full, curly white beard, nor do I have white hair or a "bowl full of jelly" for a stomach, I get by okay for the small jobs that I've done.

It started out as just something I would do at family Christmas parties, but as more and more people found out I had the suit, I received more and more requests.  And it's kind of fun!

One of my regular gigs was helping out my aunt's majorette's class for a group of little girls.  They had a nice little Christmas party every year at the local elementary school, and though my father was the first to fill in for Santa, it became my job after Dad decided he was ready to retire.  It was fun, but the kids could be brats at times.  Since the beard isn't real, and the kids who aren't starry eyed know it, some of the kids find it fun to yank on the beard, and that destroys some of the magic from the moment.  There's not much I can do when that happens, either, and my only complaint is that their parents don't police their kids a little better.  They just laugh.  So their kids just laugh, too.  And poor Santa loses all respect.

My worst experience occurred at one of these parties.  I showed up on time and was directed to one of the small classrooms to get ready and await my cue to make an entrance.  I put on the suit, with all of the padding that goes with it.  The last thing I do when getting ready is to put on the beard and wig.  The beard has an elastic strap that fits over the top of my head to hold it in place, then the wig goes on over the strap and it really keeps it all from moving.  The classroom has a small bathroom.  Since I need a mirror to get the beard and wig on, I stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror.  While I worked on the beard, I placed the wig under my arm.  I didn't realize it at the time, but as I got the beard in place, the wig fell from beneath my arm and I heard a small splash.  I looked down and there was the wig floating in the toilet.  Then I noticed that the water in the toilet was yellow.

I pulled the wig out and tried to clean it off and dry it as best I could.  The show must go on!  I got the wig in place, put on the hat, got my bag of candy canes, and headed out to the party.  And then I started feeling the drip, drip, drip of water on the back of my neck, and slowly flow down my back. It was awful.  All you can do is grit your teeth and keep ho-ho-ho-ing through it.  I finished the job and headed out as fast as I could, changing my clothes and craving a hot shower.

I prefer to leave the Santa filling-in to the real thing.  Santa Claus does a much better job than anyone else, and I'd prefer to leave the job to the professional.  He's the only one who can do it.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Er....Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, September 14, 2013


My daughter and I had an adventurous day.  One of our new favorite "hobbies" is Geocaching.  There are hidden items all over the region, all over the country, all over the world, really, with clues to finding them.  It's sort of like a scavenger hunt.  A GPS unit is generally required in order to find the items, but they can really be anywhere.  Google it for more information.  It really is a lot of fun.

It's also very challenging, much harder than I first realized when I read about it.  We've only been able to successfully find a Geocache twice, even though we've attempted dozens.  Some are just hidden too well.  But it's still fun, and the fact that we've had a little success is enough to keep us in the hunt.

Our plan for the day was to get up early, go to Denny's for a nice breakfast, then go hunting.  But, as is typical lately, I just wasn't able to get out of bed when the alarm went off at 7:30 a.m., and my daughter and I both woke up right around 9:30.  We decided to eat breakfast at home, then get ready and go out.

It was a beautiful day!  The weather was in the low 70s, no humidity, just a slight chill in the air.  We put the top down on the car and headed out.  A friend of ours was having a yard sale, so we decided we'd run by there before going Geocaching.  It was a multi-family yard sale, and when we didn't see our friends or any familiar faces, our introvertedness took over and we just kept going.  Yard sales are such personal affairs and I don't like to stop at them unless I actually know the people having them.

We stopped next at REI to check on prices for hand-held GPS units.  I had been wanting to find one that's better than the GPS unit we used in the car for traveling, and for Geocaching, the GPS units are better than my iPhone.  But REI didn't have anything under $200, from what I could see.  I'll probably keep shopping online for a better deal.

We found another Geocache nearby than claimed not to be too difficult, but did require a little hiking, stream-crossing, and bushwhacking.  We found the parking area in an apartment complex, then headed down the paved pathway into the woods.  The iPhone directed us to an area in the woods that required us to cross a little stream.  That proved difficult when my daughter reminded me she forgot to wear sneakers.  She was wearing flip-flops.  I hadn't noticed.  Well, she was willing to brave possibly getting her feet wet, and wanting to press on, I decided that was good enough.  So we crossed the stream at a narrow area with plenty of stepping stones, then I went into the wooded area next to the stream, telling my daughter to wait for me.  I followed the iPhone fairly deep through the trees, thinking I was getting closer and looking for anything resembling what is used to hold the Geocache.  I lost sight of my daughter, and she was starting to panic.  She called me to come back, and, not having any luck anyway, I backtracked to her location.  I was a little bit frustrated that I wasn't able to find it, but I also didn't like leaving my daughter alone, so we decided to head back to the car and try another.  We did find a handful of golf balls in the woods, so that was a nice souvenir of our trip.

When we got near the parking area, a group of 5 or 6 young teens were approaching my car.  I assumed we wouldn't be gone long to necessitate putting the top back up, and there really wasn't anything in the car worth stealing anyway, but it was clear the boys were up to some mischief.  Even though we were headed right for the car, it wasn't enough to scare them away.  One young kid went so far as to put his hands on the door as if to check to see if the door was open.  The windows were up, making it difficult for someone who wasn't very tall to actually reach the locks.  They were talking amongst themselves about the car, wondering about the make, and I very loudly and confidently stated it was my car.  They acted like they were in a hurry at that point to go somewhere else, and they started moving away from us and the car, and my daughter and I hurriedly jumped in and got ready to leave.  There was no incident of any kind, fortunately, but I was concerned.  One of the boys shouted to me just before we started to pull away and asked what kind of car it was.  I shouted back to him, "A Mazda!"  He turned to one of his buddies and said, "Told you...that's a lot faster than an Audi!"  I smiled.  Then we headed out of the neighborhood.

We tried another Geocache located just off Rt. 108 in a sleepy little neighborhood that I didn't know existed.  We found the paved path that the directions listed and headed down.  It was about a quarter of a mile and led to a little play area, with swings, a jungle gym, and benches.  We found the Geocache on the underside of a metal bench, logged in the date and user name, and then logged it in to the Geocaching site on my iPhone.  We were pretty proud of ourselves for finding it so easily, but I was still frustrated at how easy some are to find, and how others can be so hard.  Anyway, we decided to celebrate with lunch at Bertucci's, which was nearby.

Following lunch, we went to our favorite bookstore, Daedalus, off of Snowden River Parkway, and browsed.  I always give me daughter a limit of five books, which, given the great prices of the books, is usually less than $20.  Then we went home.  It really was a fun day.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend.  Have a wonderful evening, everybody!

Friday, September 13, 2013

When Will I Learn? May-December Doesn't Work!

I think I'm in love.  I don't know why this keeps happening to me.  I guess I can't really call it love.  I really don't know her that well, though we've talked enough that I feel like we both know each other at least fairly well.  She's an awesome young lady.  She's very beautiful, funny, caring, God-fearing...she's in many ways exactly the type of person I'm looking for.  As usual, though, there is a problem.  I'm old enough to be her father.

As I said, I don't know why this keeps happening to me.  I went through this same thing about six months ago.  It's starting to get pathetic.  I guess I need to widen my circle of contacts.  I already know that there's no way a relationship will work for us.  No matter how I feel about her, I know that I don't want to be a father again.  That may be unfair, but it's the truth.  I'm already looking ahead at where my life will be within the next 15 or so years.  My own daughter will likely be finishing up college and I'll be ready for retirement.  I don't anticipate raising a child at that time in my life.  Besides, I'll be over the hill.  I'm pretty sure someone in their 20s is going to want to be a mom.

I know I shouldn't be looking at her as a marriage partner when I don't even know for sure we'd be a good match, nor have we even gone out on a date.  I tend to be a fairly good judge of character and I do know that she would make a great companion.  And I can fantasize about what life could be like with her, just as I know it can't work out for us.  On top of that, I'm only speculating that she would be interested in a guy like me.  In typical "typical guy" fashion, I've already assumed that she would go for me, but the truth is there's really no reason why she would be interested in me.  I've already established that I'm in about the worst shape of my life, I'm suffering from a whole host of medical issues associated with an aging guy in his forties, and, frankly, I've got a lot of baggage.  Plus, I'm a father already.  I'm a package deal.  That's a lot to take on.

So why am I even bringing this up?  Good question.  One thing that I wanted to address is the fact that society just doesn't seem to approve of relationships between couples with very large age differences.  Those May-December romances don't tend to work out.  There are so many reasons for this, from generational differences and life experiences to health issues and sexual chemistry.  I also know that, as a father, I sure would find it difficult if someone my age showed an interest in my daughter (assuming she was over 21).  I'd probably be offended and I'd do everything I could to talk her out of the relationship.  Society also tends to look at these types of relationships as creepy.  Guys my age shouldn't be eyeing women that young, even though it seems to happen all the time.  In fact, it's not like I'm married.  She's single.  I'm single.  That's all that matters, right?  But as a Christ-follower, though, shouldn't I know better?  Isn't this inherently wrong?  As much as I wish it wasn't, it really is.  And I do know better.

So what's next?  I stop carrying a torch for this young women, first of all.  Next, I go back to looking for a companion closer to my age.  As I said before, it's fun to fantasize and speculate that we might be a great match, but I need to stay in reality.  And I need to trust God.  He has a plan for me.  I know that.  As usual, though, I just need to have patience.  That's the hardest thing.  I had such a great marriage, but it has now been almost 10 years since my wife passed away.  How long will God make me wait?  I just don't know.  That's why He is who He is.  So that's what I'll do.  Trust Him.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Parking Issues

I'm not a fan of living in a townhouse development.  While we like our neighbors for the most part, parking becomes such a contentious issue when there is limited parking in the neighborhood.  Our neighborhood consists of one street.  On one side, there are parking spaces, 2 for each household, plus about ten "visitors" spaces which are for visitors, of course.  On the other side of the street, all of the townhouses have driveways and garages, with enough room for three cars, if the garages are used.  I have two vehicles, so I use both spaces that are assigned to me.  There are well marked, with numbers, while the visitor spaces all have "visitor" spelled out on them.

Several years ago, I bought my current little 2-seater, and I planned to sell my Mustang outright.  So for a short period of time, about a month, I had three vehicles.  Since there was a visitors space just outside my house, and no one used it about 90% of the time, I parked the Mustang there.  After two days, one of my neighbors came over to lecture me about using the visitor spot for personal use.  I argued that I'd be happy to move it if someone needed to use it, but he said he had already heard complaints and just wanted to let me know.  I was a little bit angry that someone would complain behind my back, but deep down, I knew he was right.  The rules are pretty clear about using the visitor spots.  Anyway, my sister was using one every morning when I left work, anyway, since she got my daughter up and ready for school.  I just parked my Mustang at the end of the block, in a prime location for someone to steal it easily without any prying eyes even noticing.  But I didn't want to upset my neighbors, and since, technically, they're right, it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward a few years, and the same neighbor now has a third vehicle, a classic convertible.  He mostly parks it in his garage, but he makes his wife now park along the curb.  While this isn't a visitor spot, it IS in one of the few places one can park if there are no visitors spots available.  I stewed but didn't say anything.

More recently several of my neighbor's kids are now able to drive, and they have cars of their own now to drive.  So these families are taking three, maybe even four spaces for all of their vehicles.  Our neighborhood is rapidly getting more and more crowded.  Several of these families have decided that, since they have so many vehicles, they should be able to park in a visitors spot, if one is available or not being used.  It's the same argument I tried to use, but I was yelled at, yet, aside from myself, no one seems to be upset about this.  What makes this worse, though, is that now my sister, who arrives each morning at 5:45 a.m., has no where to park.  All of the visitor's spots are filled, so she parks in the only spot that's available:  one of my neighbor's assigned spots.  Then, when I leave for work, she moves her car into my spot.  The whole situation is ridiculous.  The homeowners association has said that the home owners on our street will determine the parking policy for our street.  Since this was already done a few years ago, that's the policy that's in effect.

Another problem in our neighborhood is the type of tree that was planted in the common areas next to the parking areas.  They're crab apple trees.  Crab apples are small berries that birds seem to love, but apparently don't digest very well and result in bird droppings that are similar to acid, which just destroys the paint on cars parked under these trees.  Whoever determined that crab apple trees should be planted next to parked cars never had to park their car under one.  One of my assigned spaces is under one of these trees.  Once I figured out what was happening to my cars, I got a cover for one of them.  However, now I have my Jeep Liberty parked there, and I don't want to invest in a new cover to fit the Jeep.  And my paint is horrible.  Again, I complained to the homeowners association multiple times over the years, and nothing was ever done.

A few years ago, they decided to re-stripe the parking area, and that meant re-painting the lettering/numbering on the parking spots, as well.  So I switched my space with the visitors space in front of my house.  That kind of took care of the problem, but the tree has grown so much that the branches now hang over both spots, and I still have the same problem.  Then last week, out of nowhere, I got a postcard in the mail saying that all of the trees are coming down.  This news really surprised me, but as much as I love trees, I'll be happy to see these go.  But many of my neighbors, particularly those who don't have to park under the trees, have made a big stink about the whole thing,  They just don't seem to get it.  Anyway, I guess the whole problem could have been avoided if I had just bought one of the more expensive homes with the garage so I wouldn't have to fight so much with my neighbors.

Hope you all have better parking than I do!  Have a great evening!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9/11 Story

Today is one of those days where we remember.  We remember exactly what we were doing 12 years ago today, we remember those who lost their lives tragically on that day, and we remember those first responders who tried to help and rescue so many.  It will always be a hard day for Americans, as seldom in our history, and particularly in our modern history, have we been attacked on our own soil.  And it changed the way we go about our daily lives.

This is the first time I've had a forum to share my own 9/11 story.  It is hardly a compelling story, nor is it surrounded in tragedy.  It is just the story of how my wife and I dealt with what transpired on that awful day.

It really was a nice Tuesday, kind of warm, and bright and sunny.  We had been having mechanical problems with our Jeep Cherokee, and it was in the shop being looked at.  Teresa, my wife, was going to ride with a co-worker to Mt. Hebron High School, where she worked as a 9th-grade English teacher.  I had gone to work as usual earlier that morning, arriving at 6:30 a.m.  I was a team lead in the central section of the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Charting office within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in downtown Silver Spring, MD.  We worked on the 3rd floor of a 13-story building, part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) complex next to the Silver Spring Metro, the fourth of four high-rises on the southwest side of the tracks along East West Highway.

My boss was out of the office that day, so I was in charge.  I was sitting at my desk talking to one of our IT guys when I received an email.  It was from one of the employees in our airports division, and it stated, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center."  It had been sent out to our entire office.  Almost everyone assumed it was a small plane that must have accidentally hit the building.  I pulled out the New York Terminal Area Chart, a 1:250,000 scale VFR aeronautical chart, to take a look at that area of NYC to see if there was anything wrong with the chart.  At about the same time, one of the guys on the other side of the office turned on a small black and white TV he had in his cubicle, just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.  Word got around the office very quickly that this was no accident.  I quickly sent my wife an email explaining what was happening, that both towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by planes, and that we were trying to figure out what was going on.  She called me almost immediately after she got the message.  I could hear the worry in her voice.  They had a TV on in the 9th grade team teacher's office and were watching what was going on.  We both prayed, said we loved each other, and I tried to concentrate on work.

About that time we received word that something had hit the Pentagon, and mass pandemonium took over.  My boss's boss came rushing past my cubicle and said, "Evacuate the building, let's just get out of here.  Please account for all of your employees."  There were false rumors and stories of bombs going off all over downtown DC, and that government buildings all over the area might be targets for more jets.  I rushed around my office and made sure everyone had a way to get home.  Some offered to take other's home.  There was a great amount of cooperation despite the panic many were feeling.  One of my co-workers lived downtown, and I told her to be very careful.  Very few Metro trains were running into the city.  Most were heading out only.  Silver Spring, being right on the edge of northern DC, was a hot spot of employment in the DC area, but still considered the suburbs.  I called Teresa and told her we were evacuating.  She said that schools were going to release early, and then she would try to get home.  She was still dependent on her co-worker due to her not having a car.  I told her to be careful, and she said the same.  She was very scared.  I said I love you, and started to head for the exit.

Then I saw Greg.  Greg was concerned about how he was going to get home, since he took the train from the northeast Maryland suburbs to Union Station in downtown DC, then he took Metro from there to Silver Spring.  I told him that I doubted he be able to catch any trains running that day, and I offered him a ride.  He took me up on it, and we headed out.

I had parked on the G1 level, which meant I was only one level down from the exit.  NOAA employees had apparently decided at the same time as the FAA to go home, so there was a huge line of cars trying to get out of the garage, and it took us about 30 minutes to get out.  Once on the road, traffic moved fairly well.  Greg lived near and on the far side of Fort Meade, which is also home to the National Security Agency.  We figured that we might want to try to avoid that area since the NSA might be a hotbed of security given what was happening.  I kept the radio on WTOP, the local all-news station, to keep abreast of what was happening.  Greg agreed with my course of action, to take the Capital Beltway over to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, then to Rt. 32 which would take us right to Greg's car, parked in the commuter rail parking lot near Fort Meade.

Traffic continued to move well all the way up the parkway. When we got to Rt. 32, though, it was closed with emergency personnel blocking the exits.  Apparently, we were right about Fort Meade being busy.  So we took the next exit, Route 175, which would skirt just north of the NSA and take us right to the train station.  However, we his our first traffic jam of the trip just after jumping on 175 and we crawled the rest of the way.

The news on the radio was all shock and panic, with both WTC buildings having collapsed.  There were still many bad rumors flying around about incidents in and around DC, which didn't help.  We finally got through the traffic and I was able to drop Greg off at his car.  I wished him well, and he offered me a few tips on alternate ways home.  I lived in Laurel, which was only about 10 to 15 minutes away, normally, but with the traffic around Fort Meade, I had to make a big circle north of Fort Meade, and had clear sailing all the way home.  I turned on the TV and watched countless replays of the towers collapsing, which filled me with awe, but horror as well.  Within the hour, Teresa arrived home, and we hugged for a long time.  We had only been living in our house for a little over a month, so we really didn't know any of our neighbors, and we felt like we only had each other at that moment.  We sat in front of the TV all afternoon watching what was happening in New York, finding out about the other planes, the available details regarding the Pentagon, and the crash in PA.  Teresa made us a light dinner, but neither of us was hungry.

I can't really put into words what we were feeling.  There was this fear that gripped us, and immense sadness about all who had died.  We hoped we wouldn't have to work the following day so we could just be with each other.  We prayed.  We hugged and sat close to each other.  This was an event neither of us had ever experienced.  We weren't old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The only comparable was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which occurred when we were in high school.

We went to bed that night knowing we would be working the next day, and it would be a challenge to try to attempt anything normal.  We didn't want to be apart, but we also knew we had to work.  We prayed for so many that night.  And then we tried to sleep.  I don't know what time it was when we finally fell asleep.  It was pretty late.  I just kept praying to God how thankful I was that my family was all accounted for and okay.  And I prayed that God would bless America.

Hug and kiss your loved ones tonight, everyone.  Make sure they know how much you love them.  You can't say it enough.