Friday, February 28, 2014

Significant Sleeping Success Equals Some Serious Snoozing

This has been a rather noteworthy week for me.  I've focused a lot of blog time to my sleep apnea issues,  but it really has had a significant impact on me.  Yesterday was the first day following a very good night of sleep, probably one of my best in years.  Last night was even better.  The more significant impact was on my awake time, though.  It's nothing short of amazing.

I received the CPAP machine on Wednesday.  The first night was good, but there were still a few hitches, like knocking my mask askew at one point, and my overall comfort, which varied depending on my position while sleeping.  I awoke feeling very refreshed, and I had a skip in my step for much of the morning.  After years of poor sleep, there was a significant feeling of restfulness.  Frankly, I didn't feel like crap.  My work day started out fairly well, but I started to get tired again as the day went along.  I had to sit in a rather long, boring meeting between 9 and 11, and the cup of coffee I drank was having no effect.  I was very tired about halfway through, and it carried over into the lunch hour.  By the afternoon, I felt like I needed a nap.

I came home and ended up snoozing off and on for a few hours.  Later, while attempting to type up yesterday blog post, I actually fell asleep while typing.  My daughter woke me up, but I soon fell asleep again.  If you're wondering, the answer is yes, the post is very short due to how tired I was.  My daughter and I went up for bed by 9:30, which is earlier than I'd gone to sleep in a long time, and I fell asleep quickly.  Night #2 was even better.  I awoke one time, just to roll over, around 1 a.m., then I slept until my alarm went off.  I usually hit the snooze button multiple times, but after hitting it twice, I just got up.  I was fairly alert and got ready for work quickly.

It must have been apparent to everyone I talked to, but I was wide awake and a bit chatty.  Several said something to me about an obvious difference in my demeanor.  As the day went along, I did not get that same feeling of drowsiness I had the day before after being at work for a few hours.  I had a meeting with my boss after lunch, and she told me immediately that she could see a difference in me.  Even my one-liners were getting chuckles.  It was really incredible.

I came home and continued to feel alert.  I did not need a nap, and I felt good.  It is now 9 p.m., the same time that I began falling asleep while typing last night, and I do not feel any grogginess.  This is really amazing to me.  You have to understand that I've likely been suffering from this for almost two decades.  My sleep has been bad, really bad, for a long time.  To be able to get a good night's rest and follow it with a full day of feeling good is significant to me.  I just can't emphasize it enough.

Tomorrow will present another test.  I don't plan on staying awake too late, but I'll likely go to bed close to my normal time tonight.  For most of the past year, I've been sleeping until at least 10 a.m. on average on the weekends.  I really want to see if I can wake up at a normal time (like, say, 7:30 or 8) without an alarm clock.  To me, 10 hours of sleep should be more than enough.

If you're the praying sort, I'd appreciate your prayers as I go through this transition.  There is so much positive going on with this, and I'm really happy with the progress so far.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

CPAP Results?

Wow!  It's incredible what this little machine can do!  I used the CPAP last night for the first time in my battle against sleep apnea, and it made a huge difference in the quality of my sleep.  I felt refreshed this morning, had a jump in my step, and felt well-rested.  I don't know if it will be the absolute cure-all for what ails me, but it's a great start! I had a pretty good day, but ended up very tired by mid-morning, and I'm almost dead now.  Thank you for your prayers.  More details tomorrow.

Now it's time for night 2.  Can't wait to get my CPAP cranked up!

Have a great day, Folks!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sleep Apnea Prevention

What a cool morning!  The morning snow storm was a nice surprise, especially since it didn't result in any missed school.  I understand there is some debate about whether Howard County should have reconsidered, but I think they made the right decision.  Had there been a delay, the kids would have headed to school at the worst point of the storm.  And it was pretty much gone by the time school let out.  It sure was a nice snow.


I'm loving my new Jeep.  A few months ago, I bought a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, and traded in my 10 year old Jeep Liberty.  The Liberty was a reliable vehicle, and it was more than adequate in the snow, but the Wrangler is so much better.  It has been a great Winter for testing it out, and keeps proving it is great in the snow.  I'm really pleased.  I have always wanted a Wrangler, and while I never considered the Unlimited (which is a four-door), I think the extended wheel base allows for better handling.  The thing is like a tank in the snow.  It is very big inside, too.  My daughter loves it, too, especially after getting stuffed into my little Mazda 2-seater.  I'm looking forward to the summer weather now so I can ride around topless (the Jeep, not me).


Today I received my CPAP machine for my sleep apnea.  I've been looking forward to this for a couple of months, after having to reschedule twice.  I did a sleep test just before Christmas, and was diagnosed with sleep apnea.  The 2nd sleep test was with the machine, and it helped me a great deal.  So now I'm ready.  The technician showed me how to work the machine, then asked me about the results of my sleep test.  I told him I had never actually seen the results.  I had spoken to the technician who monitored the test over the phone, but I didn't get the details.  There are three types of sleep apnea:  obstructive, central, and mixed.  The technician told me that I have mixed sleep apnea.  He said my doctor will likely have me come in for an exam, and an appointment with a neurologist.

The American Sleep Apnea Association describes sleep apnea " an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep.  Left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious and life-shortening consequences:  high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel, diabetes, depression and other ailments."  Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes while sleeping.  In Central sleep apnea, the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, but there is no airway blockage.  Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two.  In all cases, sleep is fragmented and poor.

The CPAP machine (which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) provides a continuous flow of oxygen through a mask worn over the nose or mouth.  The air pressure keeps the airway clear of obstructions and results in air getting into the body.  The result for me should be no stoppage of my breathing, and a better night of sleep.

This has been a problem for me for quite a few years.  I'm very happy to finally have a diagnosis and confirmation, though I am just a bit scared due to the neurological portion of the condition.  My research suggests that there may be a connection between the Central sleep apnea and Parkinson's Disease.  The sooner I find out, the better.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Walking Home From School

Three years ago, my daughter's school changed her status from a bus rider to a walker.  We live right around the corner from the school, so it isn't far, but because there isn't a direct sidewalk to the school from our neighborhood, the kids on our street have to take circuitous route through another neighborhood, then a narrow path between that one and a third neighborhood, and then up to a crosswalk in front of the school across a busy road.  While I'm all for saving the county some money and giving the kids a chance at a little bit of exercise by walking, I am not at all happy at the route the kids have to take.  The relative safety of the bus, which took the kids from the end of our street to the end of the parking lot on the school's property, was so much better.  In addition, because the bus ride was longer in the afternoon, I actually had enough time to get home from work before my daughter got off the bus.

Now, the kids are on their own.  I'm glad they all walk together (there are about eight of them on our street), but I hate the route they are forced to walk.  The crazy thing about it is that nothing has changed from when they were bus riders to now, as walkers.  It's just an unfortunate situation.  And I barely get home before she does.  Some days, I actually have time to pull up to the school to pick her up, but, otherwise, regardless of the weather, she's on her own.

Today was one of those days where things didn't go so well.  I got stuck at work, and wasn't able to leave on time.  I've allowed my daughter to carry a cell phone that she can use for emergencies when we're apart, and I can track it and her whereabouts using its GPS function, which is very helpful and gives me a little bit of piece of mind.  Anyway, I called her when I hit the road.  She had just left the school, but none of her friends were with her.  She couldn't find them (it turned out that several had an after-school function, and another had been picked up by her parents), and that meant she would have to walk home alone.  This is one of my greatest fears, and it is all due to the ridiculous route she has to walk.  I've shared this fear with the school, but the common answer is that the kids can walk together, or I can try to arrange a carpool, or have one of the parents walk with them.  These are good ideas, but not always available as options.  Because I never want her to walk alone, I told her to see if she could wait at the school until I got there.  I hate to put the school officials in this position (as a sitter), especially since the school offer an after school program, but this was an extremely rare situation.  Fortunately, they were understanding.  I actually got to the school within 10 minutes, so there was no problem.  But I hate having to do that.  What choice do I have?

The issues with the walk are due to the narrow path between neighborhoods.  It's remote and out of sight enough that I worry about the potential for someone to cause harm to the kids, especially a child walking alone.  Another issue is that there is a "shortcut" trail through the woods between our neighborhood and the adjoining one that the kids like to use, since it cuts off a significant portion of their walk.  I've forbidden my daughter from using the trail, as it is on private property, it is not an "official" path, it is often muddy, and, frankly, it goes through the woods, where, again, anyone preying on the kids could easily hide.  I took it upon myself to explain this to the kids, but upon seeing several parents cut through the trail with the kids, I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere.  Fortunately, the kids understand that my daughter cannot use the shortcut, so at least one of them will walk with her along the proper route, which, again, takes an extra 5 minutes for them to walk.

As I said, it's an unfortunate situation.  I wish there was a better way.  In my conversations with them, other parents don't seem to be as concerned.  But as a single father, I guess I worry about a 10 year old girl walking alone along an isolated pathway.

Try to have a great evening, Folks!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Watching the Daytona 500

Every year, I get just a bit excited about the Daytona 500, and I make the effort to watch the "Great American Race", one of NASCAR's most popular.  Sunday's race proved to be an exciting one, though the long rain delay, lasting over 6 hours, almost did me in.  I was ready to shut it off, but I decided to stick it out as it got more intense towards the end.  And, in dramatic fashion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., pulled out the victory.  As an auto racing fan, and NASCAR fan specifically, it was awesome to watch.  I'd been missing some of this kind of excitement from NASCAR for quite a few years.

I grew up loving NASCAR racing.  No one else in my family, and none of my friends, were fans, though, so I don't know where this interest came from.  But if there was a race on, I watched it.  I didn't go out of my way to watch.  I just watched if I came across one while watching TV.

It wasn't until much later, as an adult, that I was invited by one of my friends, Darrell, and his father-in-law, to attend a NASCAR race.  The race was at one of two road courses on the NASCAR circuit, at Watkins Glen, NY.  I love the road courses.  They're so much more exciting than the traditional ovals because the cars make multiple turns and change elevations as they move down the track.  I was very thankful for the opportunity, and I went to a total of three races back in the mid-90s at Watkins Glen.  It was here that I met my first driver, Ward Burton, and I became a fan of his since I didn't really follow any other drivers.  Ward wasn't one of the most popular drivers.  I really didn't have a good reason to follow him other than the fact that I met him and he seemed nice enough.

As I became a bigger and bigger fan, due to attending the races at Watkins Glen (and it's true:  once you attend a race, you become a fan.... you can't help it!), Ward Burton became more successful in the #22 Caterpillar sponsored car, and in 2002, he won the Daytona 500!  It was one of the most exciting races I had ever seen (though on TV).  But within a few years, as the rules changed and the drivers became less of a personality, and the cars were modified until they all looked the same (there was really no difference between a Chevy, Dodge, or Ford), my excitement for NASCAR began to diminish.  Eventually, Ward stopped driving, and I really didn't have another driver I wanted to root for.  I hated that NASCAR became more money-driven.  It wasn't about the personalities anymore, or the car makes and competition.  The same drivers seemed to win every week.  It wasn't interesting anymore.

I pretty much stopped watching for the past 8 years or so.  But I still got excited about the Daytona 500.  Yesterday's race was worth watching.  I was even rooting for ol' Dale Jr.  The race didn't disappoint.  Does this make me a NASCAR fan again?  I don't know.  I'm not sure I'll be watching the next race.  I still really don't have a driver to root for.  That really is important, in my mind.  It's hard to watch a race if you don't have someone to root for.  There aren't any other racers out there quite like Ward Burton.  Ward is from South Boston, VA, and speaks with a heavy Southern drawl.  He is as polite as anyone I ever met, but don't cross him out on the track, because he has a temper.  I was able to meet him several times over his driving career, and he was always kind to me.  I miss having a guy like Ward to root for.  But the race was fun to watch.  I hope my interest holds up.  NASCAR can be a lot of fun.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

History of Howard County

I'm a bit of a history buff, and there are a lot of different history topics that I enjoy.  World War 2 history is very interesting.  American History is really cool.  But my favorite type of history is the history of roads.  I know you're probably thinking this is a weird thing to be interested in.  But it is incredibly interesting to me.  It started with the National Road, which my family traveled on all the way to Uniontown, PA, my father's hometown, almost monthly while growing up.  Then I discovered Route 66, which led to multiple trips "Out West" to discover and travel on the old road that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles.  The Lincoln Highway, one of the first cross-country highways, is another road that fascinates me.  But my absolute favorite topics are the highways and road in and around the area I live(d) in.

About fifteen years ago, I found a reproduction of a late 19th Century road atlas of Prince George's County.  I was crazy about it.  I used it, along with a modern ADC atlas of PG County, to track down all of the roads that were around back then.  It was a fun project, and a great source of history of the county I was born and raised in.  To me, it was incredible to explore the roads that existed more than a hundred years ago and compare them to how they exist today.

Of course, what made it really easy is the fact that Prince George's County is still so rural in many areas, and it was very easy to track almost all of the roads.  Very few of the roads have changed, or had their alignments altered.

My current home is Howard County.  In my efforts to learn about the county, I've done some reading about the area so that I can better know the county's history.  One thing that I noticed is that the really early history of Howard County isn't nearly as interesting to me as Prince George's County.  It might be because of the earlier founding of PG, since it was founded in the late 17th Century, whereas Howard actually was part of Anne Arundel County until the middle of the 19th Century.  In addition, where roads were one of my primary interests, a big chunk of Howard County was basically plowed over by the founding and building of the city of Columbia beginning in 1967.  That's when my interest was piqued, though.

I love looking at Google satellite imagery, and I've spent a lot of time analyzing much of the area around Columbia.  I've been puzzled by the labeling of several of the roads in the area, and it lead me to want to know more about Columbia's history.  Fortunately, much of Columbia's founding is well-documented, so I'm having a lot of fun learning about it.  Of particular interest is a book that I'm currently reading, "New City Upon A Hill, A History of Columbia, MD", by Joseph Rocco Mitchell and David L. Stebenne.  It has been a nice learning experience and has lead me to want to know more about the more history of Howard County and this "strange land" called Columbia.

In fact, I asked my father today about his opinion of Columbia, since he and my mother were married in 1967 and lived first in Silver Spring, then New Carrollton, before buying their first home in Riverdale right after I was born in 1969, and then to Upper Marlboro in 1973.  Specifically, I wanted to know if my parents ever considered moving to Columbia.  Dad replied that Columbia was a big deal at the time, and they did indeed check it out before buying their Riverdale home.  The biggest problem they had with Columbia was the builders.  They really didn't care for the design of the homes, and they thought the lots were too small.  In addition, Dad said that Columbia just seemed too far away.  Even though Dad worked in Silver Spring and in Rockville back in the day, Prince George's County seemed to be a bit closer.  The fact that my mother grew up in Beltsville, and two of Dad's sisters had homes in Bowie, led them to consider Upper Marlboro ahead of Columbia.

Another reason for my interest in Columbia was something I read recently but can't remember where.  It was probably on a blog that I read regularly, but please forgive me for not knowing exactly where.  Anyway, the quote was, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Those of us who grew up in Columbia likely remember playing in the grass fields before Route 32 was completed."  I know that Route 32 in its current form isn't that old.  In fact, I read on a highway history website called that only a portion of Route 32 was completed at first, a stretch along Interstate 95 that ran to Guilford Road to the west, and a short loop just east of I-95.  Guilford Road then picked up the Rt. 32 designation heading west.  Based on what I see now, Guilford Road is now broken up into multiple pieces by the current Route 32 and other current highways, like US 29.

Also, I remember Route 29 having multiple at grade intersections throughout its length with traffic lights instead of interchanges, particularly at Rt. 216, Johns Hopkins Road, and others.  One other road that holds my interest is Old Montgomery Road, which seems to at one point have covered almost the entire length of Columbia.  I can see there are short segments everywhere, though it appears to dead end at Tamar Road on the east.  It picks up again heading west off of Old Dobbin Road, then dead ends before it reaches Rt. 175, then picks up again on the other side of Rt. 175, ending at Majors Lane.  It picks up again beyond that, to the west, crosses Tamar Dr. again, continues to Oakland Mills Road where the road continues in a westerly direction, but takes on the Oakland Mills Road name.  I can't find much else about it, but am dying to know more.

So if you're aware of the history of these roads, I'd love to hear about them.  If you do, I'll make sure to give you credit.  The history is all very fascinating.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Studying For My Stress Test

I spent most of last night studying for a big test this morning.... A stress test.  Just a little cardio humor.  I guess I passed.  My heart doctor is a good guy, and after this morning's test, he said things were looking pretty good.  I still have something strange in my EKG, but after talking about my recent issues with sleep apnea, he concluded that we might see improvement once I start using my CPAP machine.  That's the good news.  The bad is that he said he wants me to lose at least 5 pounds before my next appointment, in four months.  That shouldn't be a problem, but we'll see.  I know I need to be more active.

So how did I handle my good appointment?  I went out to celebrate with a big breakfast at the Nautilus Diner in Crofton.  I love diners!  They have such great comfort food.  I had a mushroom omelette (no cheese), potatoes, wheat toast, OJ, and coffee.  I also got a blueberry muffin.  I know, that's really not good for me in any way.  That's a bit too much sugar when you add in the OJ.  But I was celebrating.  That's how I'm justifying it.  It was good, too.

I've been trying since before my St. Louis trip to get a haircut.  I decided to go ahead and get it done, so after leaving the Nautilus, I headed over to Floyd's Barbershop.  This is a chain of trendy barbershops featuring loud music and barbers and stylists with a bit of a "harder" edge than your standard Hair Cuttery.  I've also found that they seem to be much better at their craft than the Hair Cuttery.  One of the really nice things that they do is shave the hair on the back of my neck with shaving cream and a straightedge, like the old style barbershops.  Also, they give a nice shoulder and upper back massage when they finish.  It's really great.  I had been to the Floyd's in Ellicott City once before, and knew there was one in Crofton, so that's where I went.

I have to say I was a just a bit shocked at the clothing that a couple of the young ladies working at Floyd's were wearing.  One young lady was wearing a VERY short, VERY tight skirt with what appeared to be thigh-high stockings.  In fact, when one of the other stylists mentioned to her that her skirt seemed to be showing off a little too much, she just shrugged and replied, "Oh, well."  I don't recall the Ellicott City store's employees wearing such risque clothing.  It just seemed a bit....unnecessary and gratuitous. The lady who cut my hair wasn't much better, but was downright conservative in comparison.  She had on very tight fitting blue jeans and a t-shirt that showed off her numerous arm tattoos.  Frankly, I was just a bit embarrassed.  For them and for myself.  I got a decent haircut, shaved neck, back massage, and then I quickly left.  Whew.

I had several hours until my daughter was due to finish school, so I decided to see a movie.  I went to the Regal Cinemas at Snowden Square and saw THE MONUMENTS MEN, starring a bunch of really great actors, including George Clooney (who also directed), Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett.  It is based on a true story of World War 2, in which a small platoon of art specialists are sent to find and recover priceless art and statues/sculptures that the Nazi's have stolen from museums across France and Belgium.  It was both very well acted and very well done.  I was totally engrossed by the movie.  My only issue is that I do not believe art should ever be considered more important than a human life, but the movie argued that it is, at least to the men who were trying to recover it.  I enjoyed the interplay between the actors, though I was hoping for more of Bill Murray than what we got.

After the movie, I went to pick up my daughter and we headed home.  I'm so happy that I was able to get so much accomplished today, despite missing work.  Though my appointment took up much of the morning, and it did not seem to make any sense to head back to work after the stress test, which stressed me out, I'm glad I wasn't so out of it that I couldn't finish a few errands and find some time to relax.  Despite the rainy weather, it ended up being a pretty good day.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TV Junkie

I love TV.  I've mentioned many times that I watch way too much TV.  It's a way for me to relax, though, so I justify it for that reason.  I limit the amount my daughter watches, since the last thing I want is for her to become a couch potato.  It isn't too much of a problem, though, since she has a couple of hours of homework every night, and she has a much greater social life than I do.

Every once in a while, I'll check out and review my season passes on my Tivo to see what I'm recording.  The following is a list of shows that I'm currently recording (though not necessarily watching):

The Big Bang Theory
The Amazing Race
The Walking Dead
Last Man Standing
The Blacklist
Sleepy Hollow
Modern Family
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD
America's Funniest Home Videos
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
The Goldbergs
The Crazy Ones
The Michael J. Fox Show
The Neighbors
The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
Finding Bigfoot
Destination Truth
Fast N' Loud
Swamp People
Top Gear (History)
Top Gear (BBC)
Counting Cars
Big Rig Bounty Hunters
Falling Skies
Impractical Jokers
Only In America With Larry The Cable Guy
Rods N' Wheels
Duck Dynasty
Chasing Classic Cars
The Car Chasers
Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives
Treehouse Masters
Jungle Gold
Auction Hunters
American Restoration
Fast Food Mania
Modern Marvels
America:  Facts vs. Fiction
Making Monsters
Comic Book Men
Chaos in the Skies
Brain Games
Outrageous Acts of Science
Rick Sebak*
The Three Stooges
Happy Days
Gravity Falls
Phineas and Ferb

That's a LOT of TV watching.  I should point out again that this is just what I record, not all of it is watched.  I also only record new episodes of the shows, not repeats, except for older classics like The Three Stooges and Happy Days.  There're a lot of similar shows, and you can likely figure out where my interests lie.  I love classic cars, especially the muscle cars from the late 60s and early 70s, so I watch a lot of shows about cars.  I watch only a few major network shows.  Like the books I read, I watch mostly nonfiction stuff.

It's still a lot of TV, though, and I hate that it makes me appear to be a couch potato.  I used to be a bit more anal and hated to miss an episode of the shows I watched regularly.  I guess you could have called me a manic completest.  But I'm over that now.  There's a lot more to life than watching TV.  But I figured I'd share what I like to watch.

Have a great evening, everyone.

* - Rick Sebak narrates quite a few documentary shows that originate out of Pittsburgh's PBS station, and he has a very laid back style that I enjoy, along with the road trips and subjects that he features.  My season pass automatically records anything on PBS that he does.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Check Out A New Blog!

I read a lot of great blogs, and I come across the occasional post that makes me laugh, or makes me think, or makes me angry, or makes me....well, makes me want to share.  In fact, many of the blogs I like are linked on my own blog, if for no other reason than to have easy access to the ones I enjoy the most.  Anyway, the following links go to blog posts that impacted me in some way today, and I wanted to share.

My daughter and I saw THE LEGO MOVIE over the weekend, and we really enjoyed it.  HEMMINGS DAILY is a blog about all things related to classic cars, and today the author shared a scene from the movie THE BLUES BROTHERS redone entirely with Legos.  It's pretty cool!  The people that do these things are just so talented, and I'm really impressed with this one.  Enjoy!

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO is one of my favorite movies of all time (#2 on my personal list), and provides the title of my blog with a quote of the last line of the movie, "Away from the things of man, my Love.... Away from the things of man."  It was one of the first of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic comedies, and this one is so original in concept and result.  I just love it.  I can watch it at any time.  It's just so enjoyable.  Anyway, the FILM SCHOOL REJECTS provides a nice little review of the film and argues for a Blu-Ray edition.  I have to agree.  I don't know why this incredible movie doesn't get more respect.  If nothing else, check it out.

One of my favorite readers writes a great blog focusing on Howard County and Columbia, VILLAGE GREEN/TOWN SQUARED.  Today's blog post brings up an issue that may end up affecting my daughter and me.  Melody is following in my footsteps and, as a fourth grader, started playing clarinet this year.  Our family has a long line of musicians, and she appears to have a talent for music.  The blog post explains that several elementary schools in the county are looking at cutting significant amounts of their music programs, which is a bad deal, as far as we're concerned.  Read about it here and help fight this bad idea.

Lastly, check out THE MATT WALSH BLOG and get angry.  What he shares in today's blog post is enough to make me spit.  It's scary to think what can happen to your child when Child Protective Services is involved.  Even if you've committed no crime, all it would take is for someone, anyone, even a complete stranger, to report you and you could lose your child.  You're guilty until proven innocent.  This has hit close to home for me because I had this situation actually happen to my father.  Someone reported that he might sexually abuse my daughter, and it created a horrible situation for our family.  For no reason at all!  All it took was an accusation.  Anyway, it all worked out okay for us, but read this for yourself.  I know CPS does great things for children that are in bad situations, but you really are guilty until proven innocent in situation involving children.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Read some new blogs!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Postponed Due To Bad Mood

I hate to do it, but tonight's blog post is postponed due to a bad mood.  Actually, it's more than that.  I don't like to frivolously post things.  I give them a lot of thought, and I just don't have the energy tonight.  Tomorrow will be a better day... I'm sure of it.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, February 17, 2014

That Elusive Date

I had my first activity on the online dating site in well over a month.  As usual, it was a very nice lady who I'm sorry to say, looks physically unlike what my profile describes as who I'm looking for.  I hate to put it that way.  It makes me sound shallow.  She could be everything that I'm looking for in a person personality wise.  But I honestly need to have that physical attraction, and not one of the women who has contacted me fits who I'm looking for.  In addition, not one of the women I've contacted has acknowledged me.  I guess that's how this stuff works.  If you're not interested in someone, you don't have to acknowledge them.  Sad.  I always write back to any woman who writes to me, or shows their interest.  Oh, well.

I've been having tremendous dreams over the past six months or so.  I don't know if it's because of the meds I'm on or what, but my sleep patterns have resulted in some pretty bizarre dreams.  Sometimes, they make sense.  I might have an incredibly romantic dream.  When that happens, I tend to start thinking about the romantic relationships I've had in the past.  My wife loved to kiss, and was the only woman to ever tell me my kisses made her weak in the knees.  That was a pretty nice compliment.  That's the kind of thing that drives me toward wanting to find a partner.

It's amazing to me how many women are out there looking for a husband, and how many guys, like me, who are looking for a wife, but can't make a connection when given the opportunity.  I think we're all way too picky.  I think the other part of this is how ridiculous it is for those of us who are introverts to be paralyzed over finding a mate.  It becomes so hard to even say something to someone who may be completely interested, but are turned away only because I can't tell them the feeling is mutual.  The words just don't want to come out.  It's happened to me many times.  Lack of self-confidence is my biggest problem.  I just assume that she wouldn't be interested in me, so I don't even try, thinking I've saved us both from embarrassment.

The few times that I've actually taken the chance to ask someone out, I've done okay.  I've very rarely not gotten at least a first date once I've instigated a conversation.  I figure, if they're really not interested, they'll tell me.

I remember being matched with a beautiful young lady at eHarmony, and we went out and had what I thought was a nice time, though the evening ended much earlier than I would've liked.  After walking her to her car and saying goodnight, she called me about 5 minutes later to apologize for the early evening.  She was tired, but didn't want to disappoint me or get the wrong idea.  It gave me the opportunity to ask her for a second date, since I didn't think she was interested, and she agreed.  The second date was fantastic.  She made me a steak dinner, then asked me to join her at her church's advent service.  We went back to her place for a little while and had a nice chat.  Then I figured I had better leave, as it was getting late.  I thought we had really made a connection, but upon a third date try, she told me she didn't feel the same, and that was that.  My point is that you just never know how these dates are going to go.  I'm glad this girl actually gave me a chance.

I admit I'm not the most exciting guy around.  I'd love to be the most interesting guy around, like the Dos Equis beer commercials, but that's just not me.  I'm a safe guy.  Not ugly, but not attractive.  Not in shape, but not out of shape.  Not boring, but not the most exciting.

So I'll keep looking.  I'm not desperate, but I would like to find someone.  I keep hoping I'll find someone, sometime, somewhere....

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekend Retreat

After all of the business travel over the past several weeks, you might think the last thing I would want to do is more travel, but my daughter, Melody, and I had a nice little over-night getaway this weekend.  I had just returned home on Wednesday from a business trip to St. Louis, just ahead of a major snow storm that dumped well over a foot and a half of snow on us.  We had planned our annual snow tubing trip over President's Day weekend, but the snow kept us from leaving on Thursday, as we normally do, and we cancelled.  Melody and I, going a little stir crazy at home, decided we needed to do something, though.

On Saturday, we awoke to more snow.  We proceeded to have on again-off again snow flurries all day.  We packed up and took Faithful Pup Scout over to my parent's place, then headed north to Hershey, PA.  It was a slow drive.  There was a lot of traffic out on the roads, for some reason.  Maybe it was the Holiday weekend, but a typical Saturday isn't normally this busy.  We took our time, and finally arrived in Hersey at around 5 p.m. We went straight to our destination, Hershey's Chocolate World for the free factory tour, which is a "tram" ride through a chocolate factory.  We've been coming here since I was a kid, though it has been tweaked and improved over the years, and appears to be undergoing a face lift even now.  Melody loves it.  We went through twice, and got a free candy sample at the end of the ride, this time a small pack of Rolos, which I didn't even know were made by Hershey's.  Then we shopped for some chocolate gifts for our family.

We checked into the Quality Inn right up the road, then went back out for dinner at the Soda Jerk Diner in Hummelstown, a little town just down the road from Hershey.  This is a pretty cool place, and modeled like a typical 40s/50s diner.  The servers are mostly young women from Europe here to work, and, I assume, go to school in the US.  We've eaten here several times now, and the food is good road food.  I had the hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.  My daughter had pasta.

After our fine dinner, we went to the movies to see THE LEGO MOVIE.  It was awesome!  There was so much going on on the screen all the time, it was almost overwhelming, but it worked.  I want to see it again if only to see the background action.  There is a typical lesson about playing with toys and growing up and all that stuff.  Suffice it to say the movie is worth seeing.  The voice actors are major stars, and seem to fit the characters well.  It was a lot of fun.  Melody really loved it.

This morning, we had to rush a bit since we were really tired, but we had planned to visit with our old friends, Sandy & Michelle, and their son, at their church in Carlisle.  Sandy is the Lead Pastor, and has been a friend for about 13 years.  Michelle and my wife, Teresa, were close, as well.  We quickly got ready, ate a quick breakfast at the hotel, and checked out.  We had about 40 minutes to get to their church in Carlisle, and we arrived just in time.  After a very good message and service, we had lunch with them at Red Robin.  It was a really nice visit, and we promised not to wait so long before visiting again.

After saying goodbye, we headed south down through Gettysburg, and then down to Emmittsburg, MD.  I decided to take a little detour and drive up into the Catoctin Mountains behind Mt. St. Mary's University, and drive by the old retreat camp I used to go to annually with my church youth group, and again as a counselor for almost ten years:  Summit Lake Camp.  It was just as I remembered, though it looked a bit run down.  It was practically deserted, and I felt a little spooked knowing I was on private property.  We took a few pictures without getting out of our Jeep, and I told Melody a few stories about the place before we continued on down the road.

We worked our way to Damascus to visit with my in-laws.  My daughter hadn't seen her grandparents in almost a month, so we were long overdue.  We surprised them, but it was a really nice visit.  We chatted for a few hours, then we headed home.  We picked up a Ledo's pizza on the way so we had a great dinner to finish off the trip.

It was a really great overnight trip, though I usually pay for it afterwards because of all of the driving.  I used to be able to do 500 miles in a day.  My record was 800 miles in one day, on a trip from St. Louis to DC.  Now, a couple of hundred miles wears on me.  I hope to sleep well tonight.

It's good to be home.  Have a great evening, everyone.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Loss

Valentine's Day isn't one of my favorite days.  The reality is that I only really celebrated on that day about a half-dozen times in my life, which is about how long I knew my wife.  I never dated anyone else over Valentine's Day, so the day doesn't hold much happiness for me, at least in the manner it is meant to be celebrated.  I always get my daughter something on Valentine's Day, but that is for a much different reason.

I remember deciding to propose to my wife on the day before Valentine's Day because I didn't want February 14th being associated with that day.  I thought it would be too typical, and she might actually expect it.  The 13th caught her by surprise (though I think the proposal all by itself was a surprise), and I continued to always celebrate the 13th by sending her flowers.  This allowed her to celebrate and feel special on the day before everyone else she knew.  I loved doing that for her.

It's kind of ironic that we got a snowstorm so close to Valentine's Day, as it reminds me of our most memorable Valentine's Day celebration.  I surprised my wife with a trip to Rehoboth Beach on Valentine's Day in 2003.  She had no idea where we were going.  I just told her to pack a bag to a surprise destination.  My parents agreed to watch Faithful Pup Scout for us while we would be away, and when we dropped her off at their place, my mother gave us a little romantic getaway basket full of candies, candles, sparkling cider, etc.  We had a nice, romantic dinner at a restaurant in Rehoboth, followed by a romantic stay at a nearby hotel.  We had recently decided that we would try to have a baby, and when we later found out we were expecting....well, this night was likely that moment.  Anyway, the next day the blizzard hit us and we had a slow trip home through the snow.  When the snow finally ended, we had almost two feet of snow.

I read a story of a couple who were in an accident, and both had received terrible burns on their bodies.  The wife had it the worst, and it took a long time for her to heal.  The burns completely changed her appearance, and kept her from a normal routine for a long time.  They had several children whose care was dependent on the wife's sisters and parents.  It made me selfishly think about my wife, and the fact that her death was so quick.  She was alive, and then, literally, in the blink of an eye, she was gone.  Now, I know she had a personal relationship with our Savior, and I know she has eternal life through Jesus, and that we will see each other again.  But the fact that she was gone from this Earth, and that we would be apart until we were reunited in Heaven, was a difficult thing to handle.  It devastated me.  It hurt so much that our daughter would never know her mother, since she was only five months old when my wife died.  And, as hard as this couple has it, with the terrible pain associated with the burns from the accident, I selfishly thought to myself, "At least they still have each other."

That's what life does to you when you lose your spouse.  It is so hard to go on, to accept that you'll never know the love of this person again.  You'll never know her kiss, her hugs, her touch.... She's gone.  For the rest of this mortal life.  And that is so hard to accept.

Valentine's Day becomes this reminder that I no longer have this person in my life.  And it's hard.  But I'm going to try hard to get over it tonight and get some sleep.

So Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, and I pray that you and your loved ones experience a love like no other.  Have a wonderful evening, everyone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home, Sweet Snow...

I made it home from St. Louis in advance of the snowstorm, but not without needing a little help.  My original flight was due to get into BWI last night at 10:15 p.m.  My boss very kindly excused me from the activities on Wednesday in order to catch an earlier flight out, so I changed my flight and got on one that left St. Louis at 8 a.m.  I arrived home at noon, in time to pick up my daughter from school (half-day on Weds.).  At around noon, I received a text from Southwest Airlines telling me that my original flight was cancelled.  How about that?

My daughter and I needed to get a few groceries (yes, like three million other people just before a snowstorm, though in my defense, I was out of town), so we went out at 6 to Wegman's with the idea that we would get dinner there.  When we arrived, there was a traffic jam getting into the parking lot.  We decided to wait, and get dinner first, so we went to Pub Dog for pizza instead.  On the drive over, on Dobbin Road, it started to snow.

We love Pub Dog.  The pizza is fairly unique, with a nice thin crust, and served in 10" sizes and lots of variety in the toppings.  During the warm months, it's always neat to see families joined by their dogs in the outside seating area.  The first time we ate here, I was a little disappointed by the size of the pizza.  It didn't quite fill me up (though I was pretty hungry that afternoon).  However, that led me to discover the delicious uniqueness of the "smash dog" pizzas, which are two of any pizzas put together, like a sandwich.  They are great!

Last night, Melody got her regular Cheese Dog pizza, which is just mozzarella and tomato sauce.  I got a Veggie Dog pizza, with mushrooms, red peppers, red onions, spinach, and garlic, smashed with a Pupperoni pizza, with, of course, pepperoni.  The combination was fantastic, with a nice spicy taste along with the combination of the veggies.  It more than filled me up.  Another unique thing they do at Pub Dog is bring each person two glasses of whatever they are drinking.  Melody got two glasses of water, and I got two iced teas.  The service is wonderful.  The servers check on us frequently.  Great stuff!

We headed out to a blizzard.  The snow was coming down fast, and there was already almost an inch of snow on our Jeep.  We drove back over to Wegman's, and again we were disappointed with the number of cars in the parking lot.  I guess everyone waited until the last minute to get what they wanted, or needed.  We decided not to fight the crowd, so we drove over to Harris-Teeter in Maple Lawn, which is almost never crowded.  Tonight, though, it was.  There were more cars in the parking lot than I'd ever seen.  We only needed a few items, so we braved it and went in.  Milk was on our list, and the milk cooler was wiped out.  Fortunately, I found a gallon hidden away on the very bottom of the refrigerator.  We were able to get the rest of what we needed, then joined the ridiculously long line.  Then we went home and settled in.  Schools were cancelled, and then the Government shut down.  Snow Day!

This morning, we awoke to a Winter Wonderland.  We had about a foot of snow.  I was really worried about my colleagues in St. Louis who would be flying home on Friday.  I hoped the airline wouldn't cancel their flights.  I was already feeling guilty about flying home early and missing the majority of the meetings in St. Louis.

I got dressed and prepared to go out and dig us out.  To my surprise, my neighbors had already shoveled the sidewalk out front, including the walkway to our front porch, so I didn't have to shovel at all.  I'm so appreciative of their kindness.  I'm sure the three brothers next door were the ones who did it.  I'll make sure to reward them.

It started snowing again later this afternoon.  At the rate it's falling, we'll have at least 15 to 18 inches.  I love snow, and this storm was a doozy.  I'm glad to see it, but I also pray for the safety of so many that are affected by it.  It sure is a beautiful site.

Have a great evening, everyone.  Stay safe!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weathering Business Travel

My career in the government continues to take me to only the most exotic places!  After a week in Oklahoma City, I find myself in bitterly cold St. Louis.  The best part of the trip was flying through snowy Grand Rapids, Michigan! And now it appears I'll be flying home into a blizzard later in the week.  The joys of traveling during the Winter! I hope I make it home...

Have a great evening, everyone!

Gerald Ford Airport, Grand Rapids, MI

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On The Road Again

Sigh.  I'm off to the airport again tomorrow morning for another business trip.  This time, I'm headed to St. Louis.  I'm glad the snow, which any other time I'd love to see, ended early and didn't become more than just a dusting.  It's bad enough that my connection tomorrow is in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I hope I make it.

With that in mind, the blog will sort of be on hold for a few days.  I will not have my laptop with me on this trip, and as I've established, I do not type very quickly at all without a full keyboard.  What this means is there will be no full posts for a few days.  I might have short ones as I have something to say, but otherwise, it will be quiet.  Thanks for your patience.  And thanks for your readership.  It is appreciated.

I'm thankful for my family who is so helpful while I'm away.  They hold down the fort, as they say, by taking care of my daughter and house-sitting while I'm away.  I'm thankful for God's protection on me while I travel, and for his care of my family.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Table For One

Long before I met my wife, Teresa, I would occasionally go out to eat at sit-down restaurants by myself.  It wasn't easy early on.  I was very self-conscious about it, and I figured all eyes were on me as I was seated at a table alone.  But after a while, I got used to it, to the point that I enjoyed it.

It was especially neat when I was traveling solo around the country on my many road trips, and I would enter restaurants looking like a tourist.  That would always create conversation opportunities with the locals, which led to unsolicited advice from the waitstaff regarding things to do in the area.  I know, nowadays, I wouldn't do that, since it's possibly dangerous to let strangers know you're traveling alone.  But back then, it was kind of fun, especially if my server was a young lady around my age.  I had many of them flirt with me.  I guess knowing we'd likely never see each other again caused us to drop some of our defenses.  I remember conversations being very easy with some.

One of my favorite moments was stopping at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Chicago, and the server, a young lady, single, about my age, actually sat down at my table with me to chat (I guess it was a slow time of day), and asked a lot of questions about where I was going (I was on one of my Route 66 trips).  I really enjoyed the attention, though I was still a little too self-conscious to allow the conversation to get too serious.  She was very nice, and it was obvious she was interested in me.  Usually I was oblivious to that kind of attention.  She seemed to be intrigued by the idea that I was traveling by myself, though less so my destination.

Fast-forward a few years, not too long after Teresa passed away, and I would go out to eat just to escape for awhile (while my parents or in-laws took care of my daughter), and I was back to feeling self-conscious about eating by myself again.  Maybe it was an age thing, or it was just too soon after Teresa's death, but I felt like everyone in the restaurant was looking at me.  I was convinced that other people were feeling sorry for me being there all by myself.  The reality is they likely didn't even notice, but that was the way I felt.  Of course, being so much older, and the waitstaff being so much younger, there was no longer that connection with them that I might have had in my younger days.  I really felt lonely.  In fact, I don't know why I even bothered since it was so difficult for me.

As the years have gone on, it has again become easier, but I definitely prefer having my daughter with me.  There's a sense of comfort having her with me, especially when I'm traveling, and I feel like, if anyone is observing us, they see a father and daughter spending time together.  And that's a nice thing.

Being alone is okay.  I usually take a book with me, or my journal, which I will write in while waiting for my meal.  The waitstaff doesn't question me anymore.  The young women don't give me a second look.  I'm no longer a "single guy".  I'm now an "old guy", even in my mid-40s.  Who picks up women at restaurants anyway?

Have a nice evening, everyone!  Go USA!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Winter Games Begin!

I watched the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony this evening with my daughter, and felt my heart filling with patriotic pride.  I love the Olympics, and I love the Winter Games more than the Summer Games (which I guess comes from how much I love Winter in general).  It was nice to see the huge contingent of athletes from the United States enter the arena.  The US athletes appeared confident and excited, and I only hoped that they wouldn't appear arrogant or disrespectful to the host country, Russia.  And it was neat to see the Russian's excitement over their own team of athletes as they entered.

While the ceremony was spectacular, as usual, it was the simple things that I enjoyed most, like the singing of the Russian national anthem, which was boldly sung by a men's chorus.  What I didn't like were the numerous commercial interruptions, especially the length of the breaks.  I know NBC has to pay the bills, but, c'mon!  It's disappointing to think about just how much we viewers are missing, as I'm sure NBC has unnecessarily edited what is actually aired.  In addition, I didn't care for the commentators constantly interrupting the ceremony.  So much of it was unnecessary.  It was as if we, the viewers, wouldn't be able to figure out what was going on without their explanations.  However, given how much of Russia's history is bloodied by violence, I wondered how they would show it without glossing over too much.  It's one thing to recognize the millions who lost their lives during the war years.  It's another thing when it's the leader of their own country (Stalin) who is to blame for many of those deaths.

I was amused by the proud look on the Russian President, Vladimir Putin's, face.  He isn't someone that is easy to like, given his politics, and, as an American, it's hard for me to shake that feeling of Russia being a rival to the US.  I actually felt guilty about enjoying the ceremony, since I felt like I wasn't supposed to like it.  I know the spirit of the Olympics is the games themselves, and the politics of the world shouldn't be the focus.  It's just hard to separate the politics when the games are played in a country like Russia.

I hope the Winter Olympics are free from tragedy, and that the safety of the athletes and attendees comes first, especially given the rumors of possible terrorist activity.  I'm looking forward to many of the games, especially hockey, downhill skiing, bobsleds, and my favorite, curling.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Enjoy the Games!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day

Today was one of those frustrating days where nothing seemed to go right.  It started out on a bad note when I overslept, which doesn't happen very often, and I arrived at work at 8:30 instead of my normal 6:30.  This became a problem for me since I usually use my morning hours to catch up on emails and prepare for meetings that I have later in the morning, as well as eat my morning oatmeal.  Instead, I had no time to do any of that, and I instead had to jump right in to a 9 a.m. meeting.  Just before that, I received a call from one of my managers at our other facility across town and was informed that he had done the exact opposite of what was negotiated yesterday with the employee's union, which resulted in a grievance and demand to return to the status quo.  I don't know what the manager was thinking, but it caused a big mess, and I had to straighten it out and apologize to the union president and explain to our director what had happened.  Because of all of this, the presentation I had been preparing for my meeting was not finished, and that led to issues with the work group that I was leading.  On top of all of this, I had several more back-to-back meetings and wasn't able to eat anything until 1 p.m., which led to a very low blood-sugar reading.  Not good for a type-2 diabetic.

I wondered whether my being late resulted in all of the problems, or was this something that could not be avoided regardless of whether I was late.  I decide it would be a mix.  There was nothing I could've done to prevent the manager from making his bad decision.  If I had been early, I would've had time to eat and finish preparing my presentation.

Further, I started thinking about how there are days when I have to be "on" regardless of how I feel, or what I have to do.  I'm in a position of leadership in my job, and I can't really take an off day.  This is true for me at home, as well.  I'm a single parent.  Single parents can't just take a day off from their parental responsibilities.  We have to be there to get the kids off to school, make sure they are well fed, keep them safe and warm, help them with homework, answer their questions, make their dinner, and get them to bed at a decent hour.  Much of this will not get done with out our doing.  Single parents, particularly those without a former spouse still in the picture to shoulder some of the responsibility, can't take off.  This is hard.

It's a hard life.  God has gifted us with so much, from being born in such a rich country, to the jobs that we have that enable us to live in a nice house and have many luxuries that more than 90% of the rest of the world could only dream of, and to not know hunger.  But it's still a hard life.  I didn't want to be a single parent.  I didn't want my daughter to never know her mom.  I don't like having a job that takes me away from my daughter for weeks at a time.  But at least I have family that can cover for me, helping my daughter experience a somewhat normal life, and a salary that allows us to take nice vacations and do things together as often as we do.

For every "bad" thing in our lives, there appears to be an offsetting "good" thing.  I'm convinced that's God's doing.  I'm so thankful to have Him in my life.  Not only is He there with me through everything, good and bad, He also provides comfort and balance.  I can't do it without Him.

I hope you know Him.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Satisfying the Wanderlust

I'm juiced up after talking to my family about some trips that I'm planning to take this year, and when that happens, the "wanderlust" gets me.  Blog reader Leeann recently commented about a trip she wants to take with her sons next year, and that further got me excited to think about traveling.  I'm always ready to take a trip.  And I'm not talking about the business trips to Oklahoma City and St. Louis that keep haunting me.  I'm talking about a bonafide road trip or "Out West" trip.  Those are my favorite kind!

Well, Leeann, first of all, as much as I enjoyed our big cross-country adventure, I have to say it was too much.  We easily could have doubled the amount of time to see everything we wanted to see.  Two weeks can do it, but you're not going to spend much time at each stop along the way.  In fact, you won't be stopping much at all.  I'll share the story of our stop in St. Louis.  We wanted to go up into the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and when we arrived, there was a two hour wait.  My wife wanted to wait, but I overruled and told her it would take us too far off schedule, since we were due to meet up with some friends in Cincinnati that evening.  She was very disappointed.  It was not one of my better husband-moments.  This occurred right after we stopped at Ted Drewes' Frozen Custard, on Route 66.  We arrived about 30 minutes before they opened for the day, and, again, I didn't want to wait since we had so much ground to cover.  And, again, my wife was disappointed.  So that's my advice, Leeann.  Give yourselves plenty of time to visit each location.  You never want to disappoint your boys.

Just before my daughter, Melody, started Kindergarten, I wanted to take her on a big trip out west, and I did what you are planning to do, Leeann, and that is to fly to a location and use that as your base.  We had about 10 days, so we flew to Denver, Colorado.  There, we visited Golden, which is a true Western town, and then went up into the mountains to visit Buffalo Bill's museum and grave at the top of Lookout Mountain.  The road to the museum is full of steep inclines and switchbacks, and getting there is half the fun.  From there, we went north to Boulder, then to Estes Park, near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We would've gone into the park, as it's worth seeing, but we were headed further north.  We spent the night in Loveland, then continued our trek north into Wyoming, then East/Northeast into Nebraska.  We stopped at Scott's Bluff and Chimney Rock, and eventually made our way to Wall, South Dakota.  We arrived at dusk, so again we spent the night.  The next day, we spent several hours at Wall Drug Store.  We easily could've spent all day there.  My daughter loved it.  I love kitschy stuff, so I enjoyed it, too.  We got Melody a pair of genuine cowboy boots (pink, of course), and I told her the story of how I had gotten a pair at this same place in 1997, and her Mommy, Teresa, got a pair in 2000.  We had breakfast at the attached restaurant, and just had a grand time.  Then we headed out and drove the loop through the Badlands National Park.  It was pretty spectacular, the highlight being the prairie dogs we saw at the eastern entrance.  It was time for lunch, so we went back to Wall Drug to eat and spend some more time there.  Melody didn't want to leave, but we had reservations in the next town.

Deadwood, SD, is a real Wild West town and well worth the stop.  There's plenty to see and do, and much of the town gets into the spirit of the town's history, with actors playing Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  Mt. Moriah cemetery has a who's who of western characters buried there.  Plus, Kevin Costner owns a restaurant and casino there, with lots of memorabilia from his movies, particularly DANCES WITH WOLVES.  Melody and I spend two nights there, exploring the town.  During the day, we made a side trip out to Devil's Tower National Monument in northeaster Wyoming.  It was featured prominently in the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  It's also well worth the visit.  We hiked around the base and saw some wildlife.  Melody particularly liked the Native American Indian stories surrounding it.

Our next stop was Mt. Rushmore.  While there is a bit of controversy surrounding this National Monument, particularly related to the Native Americans who were driven out of the area, Mt. Rushmore oozes with American pride.  It was my third visit, and I still love coming here.  We had a fine meal at the cafeteria, and I shared with Melody the description of the scene from the Alfred Hitchcock movie, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one of my favorites, which takes place at the coffee shop at Mt. Rushmore.  After hiking around, the next stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial.  While it is not completed yet, it dwarfs Mt. Rushmore in size and is a spectacular site.  It's almost too hard to gauge its size because of how far it is from the Native American visitor's center.  It was very neat to meet several of the craftsmen that work there, and Melody bought a few handmade trinkets and souvenirs.  That evening, we went to a real chuckwagon dinner and show at the Circle B Ranch.

The following day, we visited the Reptile Gardens.  This is a neat park and a great way to see many unusual reptiles, snakes, alligators, and lots of prairie dogs up close and personal.  The snake show was particularly fun, and the host of the show had his hands full trying to corral a few of the very poisonous snakes featured there.  Even more fun was an alligator show.  One gator got a little rambunctious and whipped his tail into the tank he was in and splashed much of the audience, including Melody.  Later, we took a drive through Custer State Park where we saw a magnificent herd of bison.  They are amazing creatures.  We took about an hour of video and hundreds of pictures.  Later, staying in the town of Custer, we ate at a local restaurant where I tried an elk cheese steak sandwich.  It was VERY good.

Our last day in the area included a visit to Flintstone's Bedrock City, a small amusement park with very few rides obviously themed on the Flintstones cartoon.  It was fun, but given the parks we've visited with roller coasters and thrill rides, this place was a letdown.  We later traveled to Wind Cave National Park, and Melody greatly enjoyed seeing the cave.

After a little more than a week in the Black Hills area, we headed back to Denver, where we met up with some old friends of mine for dinner.  Then we flew home the next day.  It was a fantastic trip, and one of the most memorable that Melody has ever taken.  She made a huge poster with a map and pictures of all of the places we went to, and she shared it with her preschool classmates, and it is now hanging framed on the wall in her bedroom.

So, Leeann, you can take a whole week or longer in just one area of this grand country of ours.  I think focusing on specific areas and maximizing your time there is your best bet.  It's hard limiting yourself, I know, but it's harder when you only scratch the surface of a bunch of places without really seeing them.  That would be my advice.  But definitely satisfy the wanderlust.  You'll be glad you did, and you'll likely want to take more trips in the future.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Stay safe out there!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is She or Isn't She? Only The Ring Knows...and Her Husband

As a single guy always on the hunt for prospective matches, I'm very conscious of the ring finger on the left hand of women who catch my eye.  I know, that makes me sound like a stalker or something, but, really, all it means is that I'm desperate.  Just kidding.  Let's try this again...

I tend to observe that some people I meet, though married, don't always wear a ring.  I find this mystifying.  When I was married, I was honored to wear the ring my wife gave me.  It was important.  It signified our commitment to each other, and it was a symbol of our love.  Now, I can understand if, say, a ring was lost, or maybe one outgrew the ring and it no longer fits.  But I find it surprising that there are as many as there are who only sometimes wear their rings, or not at all.

I recently attended a series of meetings at work and, during a slow moment, I scanned the hands of my colleagues and was amazed by how many didn't wear rings when I know they are married.  One married couple, both of whom work in the organization, only occasionally wear their rings.  I hate to think people actually do this, but I'm sure there are some who are actively trying to cheat on their spouse, and not wearing a ring allows them to get away with it.  Now, I'm not asking my colleagues about why they might not be wearing their rings, but I do wonder.

I would never pursue a married woman.  It isn't right, ethically, morally, or Biblically.  Having said that, the wedding ring is my indicator as to whether a woman is married.  If she's not wearing a ring, my assumption is she may be available.  Let me also mention, though, that I'm still as introverted as they come, and to approach a single woman with the intent of asking her out, or even showing my interest, is not something I can easily do.  It's much easier if there is a common friend or acquaintance who can introduce us to each other.  But when one isn't available, or if we're not at a social event, this is much harder to do.  For example, let's say I'm grocery shopping at, say, Wegman's in Columbia.  I might be amazed at the number of single women shopping there on a Tuesday evening, if I were to use the lack of wedding rings as an indicator of their singleness.  If I leaned a bit more toward the extrovertedness scale, I might actually have the nerve to do a little casual flirting.  I might then very well embarrass myself and never be able to shop there again.  OR, maybe I might just hit it off with some incredibly nice, somewhat attractive single woman, which could lead to a date and maybe even a relationship.  You never know.  For the record, though, I do not go to the grocery store to pick up women, even though I saw the Fonz take Richie Cunningham to the grocery store for that very reason once.

With that, have a great evening, everyone.  Stay safe out there tomorrow.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Super Bore

I consider myself a fairly big football fan.  I love to watch NFL Redzone on my Fios, which shows highlights of all of the games each Sunday.  If my Pittsburgh Steelers are on TV, all the better.  Since the Steelers are in the same division as the local Baltimore Ravens, however, I don't get to see my Steelers as often as I like.  I was disappointed that they didn't make the playoffs this year, and it was hard for me to root for any of the other teams that did make the playoffs, but once the Super Bowl match up was in place, I easily chose the Denver Broncos as my team of choice.  I don't really care that much, but the game is more enjoyable if you can actually root for one team over the other.  I like the AFC.

Unfortunately, my team of choice failed to show up, and the Broncos were kicked in the gut by the Seattle Seahawks, who were playing in the Super Bowl for only the second time in their existence.  The Steelers beat them eight years ago in a game that many thought was decided by the refs instead of how the teams played.  Sure, there were a few blown calls, but they would not have made a difference.  The Steelers were destined to win that day.  Just as yesterday, the Seahawks seemed destined to thoroughly annihilate the Broncos.  And they did.  The Broncos must still be trying to figure out what hit them.  The game was pretty much lost on the their first offensive play, which resulted in a Seattle safety and 2-points.  The Broncos never recovered.  Seattle rolled and won big, 43-8.

The game ended up being a gigantic bore.  We've been spoiled for much of the past ten years, with many of the games being close and some even decided in the last few minutes, or even seconds.  This year, with the game pretty much over in the first half, it was hard to watch any of it.

My daughter and I decided to go to my parent's home in Bowie to watch the game, and we planned to crash there for the night.  On the way over, I stopped at Timbuktu, a restaurant in Hanover known for their delicious crab cakes, where I got several crab cake sandwiches.  I first tried these crab cakes about 10 years ago, when my Aunt picked up a few of them and brought them over as a surprise.  They are the size of a softball, if not larger, and are very tasty!  They're a nice treat every once in a while.  I wanted to surprise my parents.  They were surprised, and we really enjoyed them.  It was a pretty nice dinner to go with a Super Bowl.  It's just too bad it became a Super Bore.

When the game was over, the only other excitement was the possibly of a big snow storm today.  Unfortunately, the temperatures never dropped enough to allow for the big turnover from rain to snow, and we never saw any.  I had hoped for a possible day off, but I should know better that to get my hopes up.  There are two more chances of bad weather this week, so I hope we'll still get something.

In the meantime, we're back at home, and I'm too tired to stay awake..  I hope you have a wonderful evening and a better tomorrow.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Jack Ryan: American Hero

While in Oklahoma City last week, one of my colleagues, Greg, asked me if I wanted to join him to see a movie one night to help pass the time.  Since he and I love Oklahoma City about the same amount, which is equal to how much we enjoy getting a root canal, it didn't take much convincing and we decided to go on Thursday night.  We went to the Harkins Theater in Bricktown, which is a touristy area of Oklahoma City, to see JACK RYAN:  SHADOW RECRUIT.  The movie theater was pretty dead on Thursday, and because the movie had been out for a while already, we were the only ones in the theater for the duration of the movie.

Jack Ryan is a character created by author Tom Clancy, and was previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck in other movies about the character.  In JACK RYAN, Jack is played by Chris Pine, who is fast becoming a superstar, having most recently played Captain James Kirk in the new Star Trek franchise.  Pine is a likable actor and convincing in this role.  Kevin Costner, who seems to be making a bit of a movie comeback recently, is also in the movie, and he is enjoyable as Pine's mentor.  Keira Knightley plays Jack Ryan's fiancee, and she is also very likable.  One note about her, though.  She is so thin as to appear sickly to me.  Unfortunately, as long as our society glorifies thin bodies, as models or actors, too many young women and teens are going to think that's how they need to look.  Anorexia is still a problem in this country.  Someone get poor Keira something to eat.

The movie itself was very good, if not very believable.  The plot has to do with a series of financial dealings and terrorist attacks that threaten to destroy the world's economy and cause a second Great Depression.  Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA as a shadow recruit who discovers the plot in his day job on Wall Street.  He then travels to Moscow to figure out what's going on, and that's when the movie starts hopping.  Ryan, at this point not a field agent, has his first run in with action and it shakes him up.  Pine is quite believable as a fish out of water, and the scenes with Kevin Costner, his mentor, are well played.  However, Ryan is quickly put into action and the movie quickly goes from tense and enjoyable to typical.  Ryan soon becomes the only one who can figure out what is actually happening, and he discovers where a terrorist attack is to take place.  He ends up in the center of the action, and again is the only one to figure everything out, including where the terrorists are, and he single-handedly keeps the plot from succeeding.  Jack Ryan is more like James Bond.

I give the movie 2 and a half stars out of four.  It was enjoyable enough, but way too predictable as it went along.  Chris Pine is pretty good, Costner is good, and Knightley is good.  But they're only good, not great.  The Bricktown Harkins Theater was pretty nice, and is in a great location.  Bricktown is full of great restaurants and things to do, and if you're in Oklahoma City, it's a great area to explore.

Have a great evening, everyone.