Monday, March 31, 2014

Searching For Uncle Paul, Pt. 1

My father had a long-lost uncle that disappeared many years ago, and he, his brothers, and his father decided to try to find him.  They found him in a small town in Idaho.  Here is Part 1 of their story, as told by my father:

When my Uncle Paul came out of the army in 1948, he was disappointed to learn 
that the money he had been sending home to his mother to keep for him and been 
given to his sister by this mother so she and her husband could buy a house.  
So, in anger, he packed up his things (including some pots and pans from his 
mother) and headed out west.
My Uncle Paul was one of seven kids that was part of the Freed family.  My dad, 
Chester, was his only brother.  When Paul left in 1948, no one knew where he was 
going.  As a matter of fact, no one was in touch with him for many, many years.  
My dad was always curious about him obviously, wondering where he was and 
concerned, of course, that something might have happened to him since there was 
so no communication with the family.  In the meantime, both of my dad’s parents 
died and several of his sisters.  Uncle Paul, of course, had no idea they were 

There were eight of us kids born to my dad and mother (Grace).  There was an 
even split of boys and girls.  My brother Jim was the second oldest but the 
oldest brother.  He enjoyed camping with his family and they had a pop-up 
trailer that allowed them to travel and camp in various campgrounds around the 
country.  My brother decided to take a trip to California in 1975 and asked my 
dad to go along with the idea that they could check various places out west that 
might give a clue as to where Uncle Paul might be living.

They finally reached the State of Washington where Jim’s wife, Nancy’s, Aunt 
Dorothy lived.  To that point, they had no luck finding Uncle Paul as they 
traveled west.  They explained to Aunt Dorothy about Uncle Paul and their 
attempts to locate him.  It was at this point that my dad, certainly 
disappointed at not finding any evidence of where Uncle Paul was, decided that 
he’d fly back home alone since the trip in the camper would take another week to 
return to Pennsylvania where they lived at the time.

In late September, 1977, Aunt Dorothy was reading the paper (Tri-City Herald) 
where she found an article about a silver mine in DeLamar, Idaho.  In that 
article, it mentioned that Paul Freed, an elderly recluse, was the only resident 
of DeLamar before the big mine opened.  Curiously, she sent the article to her 
niece Nancy and said “I read this, this afternoon and got to wondering if this 
“Paul Freed” that is mentioned; could he be your uncle that you were looking for 
when you were out here to see us?”  Dorothy.

My brother Jim notified my dad immediately and my dad got in touch with the 
newspaper and asked if they had more information on the recluse Paul Freed.  My 
dad had his brother Paul’s social security number which he provided to the 
newspaper.  They checked it out and found out that the social security number 
matched my Uncle Paul’s except for one number.  That was enough for my dad.  The 
newspaper provided him Uncle Paul’s address, which was Murphy, Idaho.
My dad sent Uncle Paul a letter and Uncle Paul answered with “I knew where you 
were all the time.  If I had wanted to get in touch with you, I could have at 
any time”..meaning, of course, he didn’t want anything to do with the family.  
My dad wrote back and told him about his mother and dad dying and his sisters.  
Uncle Paul’s return letters were brief and short but he seemed to be warming to 
the communication. 

My dad mentioned to Uncle Paul that he’d like to see him.  Uncle Paul said to 
come on out if he wanted to.  Brother Jim, in the meantime, had purchased a 
Winnebago motor home, and after shuffling time schedules, etc. it was decided 
that dad, Jim, our brother Paul (yes, named for Uncle Paul) and I would head out 
to Idaho in the motor home.  Brother Paul and I were living in Maryland and both 
had families so we knew it would be a sacrifice to leave our families for 
several weeks.  But, we knew dad was excited about the prospect of seeing his 
brother so we arranged our schedules accordingly.  Paul and I drove to Uniontown 
to pick up dad, then drove on to Pittsburgh to meet Jim to begin our trip.  Jim 
had already stocked the motor home with food and since my dad was a pretty 
creative cook, we knew he’d be whipping up some specialties.

We headed out the Pennsylvania turnpike into Ohio and on to Chicago.  We did 
stop in Chicago to enjoy a good dinner.  Of course, as we left Chicago, we got 
lost and ended up going out of our way to get back on track.  Paul was driving 
at the time and we harassed him for getting us lost.

My trip was marred some because of a tooth ache.  It actually started hurting 
before we left but got gradually worse and we traveled.  But, it was tolerable 
although it did interfere with my sleeping.

We made another stop in Michigan and went to the Henry Ford Museum which was 
very entertaining and fun.  We also stopped at the Corn Palace in Nebraska and 
an “all you can eat” restaurant.  We had trouble getting dad to leave because he 
didn’t want to leave all that good food behind. Lol

After two days of traveling, we pulled into Murphy, Idaho – population 23 and 
2600 miles.  Since Murphy was a county seat, it did have a court house and a gas 
station type store.  Across the street was a landing strip that was used by 
small planes.  As you looked around the town of Murphy, there were a number of 
small homes and several shacks.  We went to the gas station store and asked 
about Uncle Paul.  They told us he was probably up at the silver mine if he 
wasn’t at his residence.  We walked down to Uncle Paul’s shack and sure enough, 
he wasn’t there.  As we peeked into some of the windows, my dad did recognize 
some of the pots and pans Uncle Paul had taken with him back in 1948.
We went back to the gas station store and talked with them.  They told us that 
Uncle Paul’s place in DeLamar was about 30 miles from Murphy.  They told us 
about a dirt road that we could take out of Murphy.  We thanked them and began 
our trip.  We went about 2 miles in the motor home on the rocky road and 
realized that this wasn’t going to work out.  The motor home was taking too much 
of a beating on the bumpy road.  We returned to the gas station store and 
learned that our cousin had flown to Boise and rented and car and was down at 
Uncle Paul’s place there in Murphy.  His name was Kenny and he was the son of my 
dad’s sister, Viola.  He, like us, was curious about seeing Uncle Paul and he 
knew we were traveling there so he timed his trip to meet us as well.  

The store clerk at the gas station told us that the only way to get to Uncle 
Paul’s place in DeLamar was to take the long way around by driving to Oregon and 
going in that way.  It was about 80 miles compared to the 30 miles on the dirt 
road.  Kenny volunteered his car so we all piled in and off we went.  Even 
though we had pretty good road most of the way, we still had to travel about 10 
miles on dirt road to reach DeLamar.

We weren’t entirely sure which “shack” in DeLamar was Uncle Paul’s place but we 
drove slowly and spotted the shack with an elderly gentlemen sitting on a chair 
on the front porch.  The five of  us got out of the car and my dad walked up to 
his brother Paul.  He put out his hand and said “I’m Chester Freed”. Uncle Paul 
acknowledged his hand shake and said “I’m Paul Freed” shaking his brother's 
hand. Meanwhile, I had my super 8 movie camera rolling although I was sure how 
Uncle Paul was going to respond to us.   After it looked like Uncle Paul was 
“okay” with our being there, we walked up to him and introduced ourselves and 
got a big handshake.  It was, needless-to-say, quite the experience.  After 
chatting for a little while, Uncle Paul asked if we wanted to drive up and see 
his silver mine.  So dad climbed in the cab of Uncle’s Paul pick-up truck and we 
guys climbed in the bed of the truck along with Uncle Paul’s German Sheppard dog 
Jake.  Now Jake was an interesting story as well.  Uncle Paul told us that he 
liked to ride in the bed of the truck and stand on his back feet and lean over 
the driver’s side part of the bed and try to bite car antennas as they came by 
in the opposite direction.  Jake would also bite at tree limbs as they rode 
through the mountains and several times Uncle Paul had to stop his truck and go 
back and get Jake who would be hanging from a branch by his teeth.

As we journeyed down the narrow dirt road on the way to Uncle Paul’s silver 
mine, we were hanging on for dear life as Uncle Paul was traveling rather fast – 
at least we thought so – given the mountainous terrain that was on either side 
of the road.  We suddenly had second thoughts about maybe he did want to  “bump 
us off” after all by throwing us out of the bed of the truck on a sharp curve.  
But, we arrived safe and sound at the mine after being amused at Jake as he 
snapped at various trees along the way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday Adventure

My daughter, Melody, and I, despite the miserable rain yesterday, decided to have an "Adventure Saturday".  We tried to get up early, but the late night Friday caught up to us (Melody).  So after a slow morning, we hit the road at around noon and headed into DC.

We don't often go into the city.  The only times, really, are for special occasions, like concerts or museum visits, or the auto show.  I'm not a huge fan of DC, sort of a carryover from my childhood.  My father worked downtown for years, and we would visit him or meet him for dinner every so often.  But I never looked at DC as being anything more than a "special occasion" type of place.  With that said, I know there are a lot of good restaurants and other neat places that are worth checking out, so we want to try going there every so often.

Several years ago, we were in the Great Smokies down in Tennessee, and after going on a memorable helicopter ride, we had a great lunch at a neat restaurant called the Mellow Mushroom.  It's a pizza joint, basically, and a chain, to boot.  We typically don't eat at chains while traveling if we can help it, but since we had never been to the Mellow Mushroom, and there were none in our home area, we wanted to try it.  And it was good.  I don't remember much about it other than it was memorable enough to want to try it again someday.  Since that time, there are two Mellow Mushroom restaurants that have opened in our area.  One is in DC, in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood.  That's where we went.

Adams Morgan is filled with a variety of restaurants and bars well worth checking out (though I am not one who ever goes to bars...I go to bars that have restaurants with food worth checking out).  The Mellow Mushroom is one such place.  It was still raining pretty steadily, and parking being what it is, we had to park about a block away in a crazily overpriced garage ($15 for one and a half hours!).  The place is pretty small, much different from the spacious version we ate at in Pigeon Forge.  We sat in the bar area.  It was around 2 p.m., so it wasn't crowded, and we sat at a large tall round table by the front window.  Our friendly server recommended the pretzel appetizer, so we got a half order of the Parmesan pretzels with marinara dipping sauce.  They arrived pretty quickly, and we devoured them.  They were awesome!

Melody got a small cheese pizza, and I got the House calzone, which had mushrooms (of course!), spinach, peppers, and mozzarella, and was served with marinara.  The same dough used for the pizza is used for the calzones and pretzels, and it is pretty good.  It has a darker, browner look to it, and I suspect it contains cornmeal.  The sauce is tangy, but it's the cheese that gives it most of its flavor.  There's plenty of it, too.  It just oozed out of the calzone, and, on the pizza, you couldn't see the breaks between slices since the cheese was so thick.  It wasn't greasy, though.  It had a pleasant taste.  We wanted to take a few pictures of ourselves with our food, which we do at most of the restaurants we visit worth remembering, and after taking a picture of Melody with my iPhone, she wanted to see it.  I handed it to her and it slipped out of my hand, right onto her pizza.  I quickly retrieved it and was checking to make sure it wasn't damaged, and I dropped it again, right onto my marinara-covered calzone.  Marinara went everywhere, and as I tried to clean off my phone, it got all over my hands, my shirt, and I used every napkin on the table to clean it, and me, off.  At least the phone was fine.

I finished off most of my calzone, and Melody ate half her pizza, and we headed back in the rain to our Jeep.  The next stop on our adventure was the cemetery where my grandparents are interred.  I had not visited them in over two decades, so I was going on memory that I could find them.  I knew the cemetery was in Falls Church, VA, and on Lee Highway, but I didn't know exactly where it was in relation to the rest of the area.  Thank goodness for Google.  So after a lengthy drive in some heavy traffic, we arrived.  Going by memory, I found the location in the rather large cemetery where they were interred.  Their bodies are in vaults, not in the ground.  Melody asked a lot of questions, mostly about how their bodies get into the vaults, and stuff like that.  After a few minutes, we headed for home.  It was a good visit.

It's a shame it was such a rainy day.  Once we got back on the road, traffic was really bad.  I'm sure the weather had something to do with that.  You really don't expect such heavy traffic on a Saturday.  But it was a long drive from Falls Church back over to Maryland, and, unfortunately, because of the traffic, we weren't able to make it to church.  We needed to get a few groceries, so we stopped at the store and loaded up on what we needed, then we stopped for a quick detour at Sweet Frog for some good frozen yogurt before heading for home.  It was a great adventure, despite the rain.  It also prompted a lot of conversation about my grandparents.  I love being able to share stories about them with her.

Thanks for reading, and have a great Sunday!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fish Fry Fun

My daughter and I were invited by my parents to join them for a Fish Fry last night.  I've never been to a fish fry before, though I've anxiously wanted to for years.  So we were on board.  My daughter, Melody, had a half-day of school, which meant my father would pick her up and take her to their place.  I was working at our Glenn Dale facility yesterday, which made it very convenient to drive straight to my parent's Bowie home.  We all piled into our Jeep and drove to Faith United Methodist Church in Accokeek, MD.

The pastor of Faith UMC is an old family friend, George Aist.  Rev. Aist has been "my" pastor since I was 12 years old.  He and his wife, Mary, were appointed to Bells UMC in Camp Springs, MD, in 1981, which was our church home beginning in 1978.  My mother was hired as the church's secretary, and we were very involved in church activities.  Bells was a great church community.  Rev. Aist guided me through my path towards a relationship with Christ, and we became great friends as the years went by.  I think he had hopes that I would follow through with a desire to enter the ministry, and though I considered it, particularly as I became active in youth ministry, my fledgling government cartography career took precedence.

The Aists were a great help to our family when we were in a tragic car accident that took the lives of my grandparents.  Later, he participated in my wife's and my wedding ceremony, and still later, he helped me when my wife died, in 2004.  We have been very close over the years, and it's amazing to me how often our paths have crossed.  My mother became the secretary at Bethel UMC about a decade ago, and, ironically, Rev. Aist was appointed to that church a few years later.  I can't help but think that the Lord had a role in that happening.  Anyway, Rev. Aist retired to his family's farm in Cheltenham a few years ago, though that didn't stop him from acting as a "substitute" pastor when needed, which is how he ended up at Faith UMC.

Faith has been having their Fish Fry for a couple of years, and they seem to have it down pretty well.  It costs $10, and they stretch it out over three Fridays (3/28, 4/4, & 4/11).  You get a lot of food!  The fish is a white fish, which isn't my favorite, but it is seasoned very nicely, and with a little tartar sauce, it is fantastic.  With three fillets, you also get hushpuppies, fries, a bowl of baked beans, and some incredibly delicious, sweet cole slaw.  For a dollar more, you can get a homemade dessert (cakes, pies, or cookies).  It was a lot of fun and really tasty, and the folks at Faith are so nice.  It was great catching up with the Aists, as well.  I hadn't seen them in a few years, and they had a hard time believing how much Melody has grown.  Rev. Aist is such a kind, good-hearted soul, and a wonderful, faithful pastor.  He's the type of guy you just enjoy being around.  He's kind of like a grandfather to me.  I'm so glad that my parents remain close to them, and we have opportunities to see them as often as we do.

We arrived home kind of late last night, and were very tired.  Today (Saturday), my daughter and I are going on an adventure to visit the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, a place I haven't visited in almost two decades, in Falls Church, VA.  We're also excited to have lunch at a restaurant we "discovered" down in Pigeon Forge, TN, a few years ago, called the Mellow Mushroom, a pizza chain that we enjoyed.  They have a location in DC, so we're going to try to find it.  It will be a fun activity for a rainy Saturday.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rating the Area Grocery Stores

I was just reading one of the blogs I read regularly (Village Green/Town Squared) and it got me thinking about all of the grocery stores at our fingertips in our richly blessed County of Howard, and I'm amazed by all of the choices.  But which is the best?  Which is the worst?  Which one should you shop at?  The closest?  Not necessarily.  Here, then, is a comprehensive list of stores I shop at semi-regularly along with why or why not you should consider them:

  • Weis (Gorman Rd., Laurel) - I hadn't even heard of this chain before moving into my current home in 2001.  Weis was the closest grocery store, so my wife and I began doing our shopping here.  We had been shopping regularly at Giant before, but the closest one was in Burtonsville.  Weis is good, with decent prices.  Their produce isn't the best.  The store isn't as large as the bigger chains, and so there isn't as much variety.  For example, I like to buy low-fat hot dogs, but Weis doesn't have very many to choose from.  Many times, I have to go without a particular item because Weis just won't carry it.  Sparkling Ice is another item I like, and there are very few choices of flavors.  They have about 5 or 6, and not the ones I like, though they seem to rotate the flavors occasionally.  Weis is a smaller chain, with stores in Central Maryland and South-Central Pennsylvania, mostly.  Overall, I give it a C+.
  • Harris-Teeter (Fulton/Maple Lawn) - I like Harris-Teeter, and was pleased when they opened this store in an area we frequent.  I believe the expectation is that the store will meet the needs of the completed Maple Lawn development, but until that happens, I find it amazing how empty the store seems every time I shop there.  Their prices aren't great.  Weis is better.  Their produce is better, though.  The store is much larger, and has a nice selection of everything that I tend to shop for.  It has a great deli, too.  I find their queues rather confusing.  You enter on the wrong side, then change sides after dropping your basket off beside the register for the Checker to empty and reload with bagged items.  I give Harris-Teeter an A-.
  • Giant (Burtonsville) - My wife and I used to live in Burtonsville, and we shopped regularly at the Giant there.  They have since closed and moved across the street into a new shopping center and much larger building.  Giant has always seemed like the most expensive grocery store, whether deserved or not.  I never shopped there growing up.  We had a Safeway down the street, so that was our go-to store.  Giant does seem to have the best selection of products, with the most variety.  They also have the best produce (and I'm not saying that just because my cousin works in the produce department at this Giant.... "Hey, Chris!").  They have a great deli, too.  Their higher prices means Giant gets a solid B+.
  • Food Lion (Fulton/Scaggsville) - I'm sure this Food Lion was built before they ever imagined a Harris-Teeter would move in less than a mile down the street, which would explain why it is so small.  I've only shopped here a couple of times, and I haven't been in the store in over 5 years.  At that time, it was called Bloom, part of Food Lion's attempt to gussy up the place (Bloom apparently was designed to cater to a more "upscale" clientele, versus the lower-income Bottom Dollar stores, like the one in Laurel.  The brand didn't last, though, and the name reverted back to Food Lion a few years ago.).  Frankly, with the Harris-Teeter so close, I'm surprised the Food Lion is still open.  I'll give it a C, but only because I haven't gone into the store in so long.
  • Wegman's (Columbia) - It's just a touch further away, but I definitely like Wegman's.  It is by far the largest chain, and has the best selection of items, though I'm not as impressed with the produce as I am with Giant's.  My only complaint is that I have such a hard time finding anything.  It's almost too big.  But I love the fact that my daughter and I can go there and have a sit-down dinner before gathering our groceries.  Prices don't seem to be great, but their not bad.  Wegman's gets an A.
  • Wal-Mart (Columbia) - I have such a hard time going into this store.  This is just my impression, but it appears to always be in disarray, and the employees do not seem to care very much about the customers.  This is a problem throughout the area, though.  Every Wal-Mart I've been in has this problem.  The store feels very crowded, too, and claustrophobic for some reason.  Interestingly, it only seems like the stores in this region are like this.  When I go to Oklahoma City, I don't feel the same way.  The store out there seems cleaner, less crowded, and nicer.  I just don't care to be in it.  My only reason to ever go there is if it is convenient and I don't want to go into Target.  I buy very few groceries here, if any.  Avoid it, if you can.  Just my 2 cents.  D.
  • Trader Joe's (Elkridge/Columbia) - I like Trader Joe's, but there really are a specialty store.  I just don't shop there much, and only if I absolutely need something right then.  I don't buy a huge amount here, but they do have high quality goods.  The store is much too small to have any variety, and it doesn't have much in the way of variety.  Decent store for what it is.  B-.
  • Target (Columbia) - While I believe Target is a huge step up from the Wal-Mart, I still feel like they don't care much about customer service.  Their prices on groceries are good, but they don't offer much in the way of selection or variety, and forget about produce.  I only buy food items if I'm already there and I don't want to go out to anywhere else.  While Target on the whole is okay, the grocery side is even better, overall.  C+.
  • Big Lots (Columbia) - Yes, they do have food stuff here.  Not much, and certainly no variety, but there are a few noteworthy items.  They had some fantastic hot sauce, but that now seems to have disappeared going on about a year now.  I am not comfortable buying any food items, though.  It just doesn't seem like a very well run store. D-.
  • Safeway/Shoppers/Other - I don't shop at any of these stores.  As I mentioned, Safeway was big when I was growing up, but there just aren't any very close.  Shoppers, too, isn't in my immediate area.
That's it for the stores where I shop.  I'm sure there are others worth checking out.  Hope you enjoy your shopping  trips.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Man of Few Words

Slept soundly.  Alarm sounds.  Dream interrupted.  Snooze button.  Up early.  Got ready.  Cold morning.  To work.  Made coffee.  Answered questions.  Big meeting.  All day.  Making plans.  Solving problems.  World peace.  Protecting the NAS.  Working lunch.  Major decisions.  Worked late.  Dinner out.  Joined colleagues.  Good time.  Drove home.  Heavy traffic.  Home alone.  Quiet house.  Phone call.  Lovely daughter.  Miss her.  With grandparents.  TV Tivo.  BROOKLYN NINE-NINE.  Funny show.  GROWING UP FISHER.  New show.  Great cast.  THE BLACKLIST.  Riveting episode.  Great show.  Hungry.  Cereal snack.  Mini Wheats.  Faithful Pup.  Good company.  Paying bills.  Checking email.  Reading Facebook.  Enjoying Instagram.  Updating Twitter.  Writing blog.  Getting tired.  Nearing bedtime.  Walking Scout.  Sleep calling.  Filling CPAP.  Setting alarms.  So tired.  Eyes heavy.  Body exhausted.  Muscles relaxed.  Blankets cozy.  Dreams beckoning.  Prayerful moment.  Thanking God.  Eyes closed.

Missing my girl...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Short Takes

Much excitement today!  My wonderful daughter, Melody, had her first band rehearsal.  She was very excited to play with the full band instead of just her fellow clarinet players.  They have their first concert in May.  I'm looking forward to it.  Melody is a fourth generation musician in our family.  My maternal grandfather was a professional trumpet player, and my fraternal grandmother played piano and organ.  While my parents didn't play any instruments, one uncle played trumpet, another played piano and organ, and several aunts played piano.  My mother-in-law also played piano and organ.  I played clarinet and saxophone.  Ours is a musical family and heritage.

I saw a show on TV about a restaurant in Minnesota that serves "Finnish pancakes".  I've never had them before, but they sure looked good!  They apparently are much thinner than regular pancakes, almost like crepes.  Now I have to find a place around here that serves them.

My OA, Miss K, invited her colleague, Mary, to the office today.  She was here on Pi Day, 3/14, a few weeks ago.  One reason she was there was to meet me, who Miss K told her is an eligible bachelor.  Mary is a bit young, though...probably about 30.  I think she's too young for someone like me.  I'm 44.  I also did my homework and discovered Mary was still "in a relationship" on Facebook.  Miss K clarified that even though they have been together for about 7 years, she wanted to find someone new.  So even though she was looking for someone, she was still seeing the other guy.  That's a problem.  Anyway, she was anxious to finally meet me.  So I introduced myself and we made small talk for a few minutes.  Mary is very cute, very nice, but I don't think she needs a guy like me in her life.  Miss K told me, after Mary left, that she was still very interested in me.  I just don't see it.

The Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team won their first round game in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, and they are playing Texas tonight in the 2nd round.  I had really hoped that we could go to the game, which is being played at Comcast Center at the University of Maryland.  It's likely the last chance we might be able to see them play in person this year.  But after a long day of work, and a big crowd expected to be there (the students get in free!), we elected to stay home.  The Lady Terps have been great this year, and will be a challenger for the championship.

One of my employees is retiring this week after over 30 years in the Federal Government.  It's a great accomplishment, and it has made me reflect on my own 23 year career.  The office had nice party for her this afternoon, and lots of nice things were said.  I always find it funny that no one ever says anything bad about the person retiring, regardless of what kind of worker they are.  It's kind of like when someone dies.  It's very similar, in fact.  There are only so many major life events that most people experience.  High school graduation, college graduation, starting a career, getting married, having a child(ren), first pizza, retirement, and death, or something like that.

We bought a new printer for our home a few weeks ago.  I wrestled with what kind to get, and finally settled on a Canon Pixma MG5500.  It seems to be fairly highly rated.  Anyway, it's a network printer, so it's nice to be able to connect multiple laptops and computers, plus our iPhones, to it.  The inks seems to be a dollars cheaper than competing brands, so that works for me, too.  We'll see how it goes.  The average life of our printers is about 2 years or so.  They just don't make them very well.  I may invest in a more expensive model in the future, assuming it will last longer.  I guess you get what you pay for.  And I tend to lean on the cheap side.

My daughter and I have had to reassess our bedtime routines, with the expectation that we get more sleep by going to bed earlier.  My daughter is a wonderful little girl, but the one thing that we struggle with more than anything else is getting to bed.  Since I get up at 5:30 a.m., I need my sleep, and it doesn't make sense to stay up later than we need to.  So it's off to bed in about 20 minutes.

Good night, everybody!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Family Freed

I love my family!  A few years ago, we had a nice reunion/90th birthday party for my great aunt, and it was the last time the Freed Family was all together in one place.  And since I'm half asleep, and I won't be able to do much of a blog post for tonight, enjoy a picture of a big chunk of my family.

...and my father and his siblings:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

America The Beautiful

I've been so fortunate to have seen so many iconic American landmarks during my travels throughout this wonderful country we live in.  I could probably fill out a list of a hundred different places I've seen that have made an impression on me.  It was very hard to keep this at thirty.  And keep in mind that I have been to only 41 of 50 states, so there are a lot of places that I still have yet to see.  I'm not finished compiling this list.  So, in no particular order, here is part one of my top 30 highlights:

The Grand Canyon - So beautiful and absolutely breathtaking.  It's just so BIG!  I was fortunate to be able to see the Grand Canyon three times, and each time, it was overwhelming.  There is nothing that can prepare you for the first time that you see it.  I can't put into words how to describe it.  You have to see it.  Everyone should have the Grand Canyon on their bucket list.

Mount Rushmore - I wasn't prepared for how much this impressed me.  It's not overwhelmingly big, but it is an incredible site.  To think that this is a man-made creation is all the more impressive.  I think part of it is the location.  You just don't expect to see something like this in the middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It's worth mentioning that the Alfred Hitchcock movie NORTH BY NORTHWEST, with Cary Grant, was my real introduction to Mt. Rushmore, and was what motivated me to go see it.  I've seen it three times, and each time, I like to get lunch at the cafeteria there and sit next to the huge picture windows that look out at the President's faces:  Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.  I should also mention that, nearby, the Crazy Horse Memorial, another sculpture that is still many years from being completed, but is significantly larger and even more impressive, is an incredible site, as well.

The Empire State Building - New York City is an amazing place.  I had never explored it until last year when my daughter and I went there and wandered all over, checking out as many sites as possible.  The one that really impressed us was the Empire State Building.  More than any other single building in that city, there is something incredible about being there.  It still feels and looks like what I would imagine a building built when it was would look like.  The view from the top is amazing.  Very impressive.

Devil's Tower - This place is just so cool!  It almost seems out of place when you first see it on the horizon, and up close, it looks like an alien landscape.  There really is nothing like it in the world.  And I can't help but visualize scenes from the movie, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (OF THE THIRD KIND), where it was prominently featured.  My daughter and I hiked around it's perimeter and it was very memorable.

The Badlands - It's like a lunar landscape.  It is incredibly alien and beautiful all at the same time.  I've seen it now three times, and it is no less amazing.  South Dakota has so many sites worth seeing, and fortunately, they are all close enough to see all in one trip.

The Golden Gate Bridge - While on our honeymoon, my wife and I drove down the west coast from Seattle to San Francisco.  It was an incredible drive, and we saw many things along the way.  The Golden Gate is an amazing site, more amazing in person than in the movies.  We loved San Francisco, and returned several years later.  It's such a beautiful city.

The Las Vegas Strip - Las Vegas surprised my wife and me.  We didn't expect to enjoy it as much as we did.  I had stopped there once on my big road trip around the country, and we went several years later on another road trip.  We made several more trips over the next couple of years, taking another couple with us, seeing a NASCAR race on another trip, and taking my parents with us on yet another.  We were never gamblers, but there is so much to see there.  Hoover Dam is incredible, and every casino seems to have something worth seeing.  We stayed at the Stratosphere, the Riviera, the Sahara, and the Luxor.  My daughter and I are going there for part of our Spring Break, and I'm hoping to find a few kids-oriented things to see while we're there.

The Hollywood Sign - One of the most incredible things I've ever had the privilege to see is Southern California by helicopter.  As a part of a task force on a prototype chart of the Los Angeles basin, I was allowed to go on a ride-along with the LA police on one of their helicopters.  It was two and a half hours of seeing all of the sites by air.  You can't pay to get a tour of LA that way.  The highlight was a ride over and around the Hollywood sign.  I'll never forget it.

The Space Needle - As I mentioned above, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Seattle, driving down the coast to San Francisco.  Seattle was our first stop, and the Space Needle was the first thing we saw after landing.  It has been around for awhile and looks a little dated, but it is arguably the symbol of this gorgeous city.  The entire region is incredibly beautiful, and we were fortunate to see nothing but blue skies while we were there.  The Space Needle gives a fantastic view of the surrounding area.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom - I had been to Disney's Magic Kingdom in the early 80s as a teenager, but I didn't really get to experience until a few years ago, when my daughter was 3 years old, and we went to Disney World with all of her grandparents.  Seeing Disney through my daughter's eyes was one of those parent things that creates a memory.  I actually had tears in my eyes as we explored the park and I saw the smile on my girl's face.  It was wonderful.

Rocky Mountain National Park - We didn't actually go into the park with my daughter on our trip out West, but my wife and I did on a previous trip.  It is a gorgeous park, riding along the mountain ridges at 11,000 feet and higher.  In fact, my wife ended up getting altitude sickness.  We didn't know what it was until later, but it was something she unfortunately was prone to getting.  Such amazing scenery.

Garden of the Gods - This is another in a series of scenic locations in Colorado.  This park is in Colorado Springs and contains site after site of amazing rock formations.  We had a great time visiting with our family there, along with a visit to Focus On The Family.

Downtown Pittsburgh viewed from Mt. Washington - Pittsburgh is my home away from home, and my future home, if all goes as planned.  It is a wonderful city, containing many ethnic neighborhoods, great sports, and so many other sites.  A highlight is to take the incline up to the top of Mt. Washington, a ridge overlooking the entire city, and take pictures and enjoy the scenery.  PNC Park, home of the Major League Baseball Pirates, is the best place to catch a game in the major leagues.

Zion National Park - The National Parks out west are amazing, and each is very distinct.  Zion is so beautiful.  The sun hitting the various rock formations creates a beautiful orange glow, and the main road through the park contains highlight after highlight.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - The most-visited National Park in the US, it is another must-see.  The whole area is really amazing, from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood is a whole lot of fun, too.  My wife and I had a wonderful trip to the area back in 2001, just after 9/11, and the whole region exuded patriotism unlike anything I had ever seen.  My daughter and I went back in 2011 and had a memorable time, as well.

A future post will contain part 2 of my tour of America.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

With the debut of Spring this week, I shaved off my beard.  I usually wear a goatee, or "circle beard", and have been for about ten years, but I grow it out to a full beard each Winter, right around Christmas.  Once the warm weather begins, I take it off.  My daughter usually gives me a hard time about it, but she has a hard time with change, no matter what it is.  What's funny is that every year when I shave it off, I have to tell her.  She doesn't notice it.

I grew a mustache in college, and kept it for about 15 years.  Since I care about how I look, I thought I looked better with it.  My wife seemed to like it, too, so I never even thought about shaving it off.  In 2003, my wife was away on a business trip, and while she was away, I shaved it off.  Okay, it was really an accident...I was trimming it and I sneezed, and I actually put a nice little "dent" in it.  Given the result, I really didn't have much choice.  It was going to look kind of stupid until it grew back out, or I could just take it all off and grow it back.  When she came home, she was surprised, and she wanted me to keep it off.  I stayed clean-shaven for over a year, just for her, though after her death, I grew it back.  After growing my Winter beard later that year, I decided to try it as a goatee.  I've had it ever since.

Mustaches get a bad wrap.  Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck made them popular in the 70s and 80s, but nowadays, it seems that they are looked at as being popular with porn actors.  I don't know where this comes from (I'm not into porn), but it bothers me that mustaches have become so cliche.  I liked wearing one.  The goatee is fine, though.  I'm happy with it.

Goatee or round beard

Full beard

Clean shaven


The only issue I have now with my facial hair is that so much of it is coming in gray.  I guess that's natural, and I guess I'm lucky that I'm not dealing with gray all over, but at 44, I would hope that I don't have to deal with gray hair yet.  I can live with a little gray in my beard and on my chest.  Too much information?

Another thing that most guys have to deal with is baldness.  I know that the bald look is kind of popular nowadays, but I don't get it, really, especially those guys that shave off their hair.  While I don't really care about how guys wear their hair, I know that, if I had hair, I wouldn't shave it off.  That said, I've had a slowly growing bald spot on the back of my head for much of the past two decades.  It bothered me at first, but I've accepted it as I've gotten older, especially as it thins out at the temples and recedes along the top.  What can you do?  There's not much I can do about it.

Another issue that I have to deal with, and this is hard to admit because of how much society seems to make fun of it, is back hair.  As if a guy has any control over it, back hair is apparently a bad thing, and something to be made fun of.  The only solution is to have it removed, whether by shaving or waxing.  It really bothers me that it is something that is ridiculed.  But I'm a hairy guy.  It can't be helped.

Have a nice, hairy evening, everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Date Questions

I was reading another blog a few days ago that had some great "first date" questions, questions you might ask on a first date.  I hate not giving credit where it's due, but I wrote down the questions and now I can't find the site that had them listed.  I thought they were pretty good, a little different from the standard questions you're asked on some of the dating websites like Match and eHarmony, and I wanted to share them here.  So if you're the author of these questions and a reader of this blog, please let me know so I can give you the credit you deserve.

1.  What was the best birthday cake you ever ate?

Eating birthday cake is a bit of a challenge anymore.  As a type 2 diabetic, I really have to be careful about the sweets I eat, and cake is a doozy of a challenge.  However, I know what kind of cake I like.  My mother used to make it for me.  It's a white cake with jello in it, along with cool whip on top.  It is a cool and refreshing treat, and tastes great.  In fact, it can easily be made with sugar-free jello and cool whip, so I could probably eat it today.  Mom used to make it at Christmas, with red and green jello, too.

2.  What's the best compliment you ever received?

My wife passed away almost ten years ago, and when she died, I was a mess.  One of my closest friends, Gary, who I work with, told me shortly after that he thought, of everyone he knew, I was the one person he believed was strong enough to handle losing his wife.  I didn't feel very strong at the time.  In fact, I told him I wasn't doing very well when he said it.  But it made an impact on me, and to this day, it was one of the most incredible compliments I've ever received.  Having said that, I will also say that any strength that I had at that time was God's doing.  I wouldn't have made it without Him.

3.  What was your favorite book as a child?

"The Little House" by Virginia Lee Burton.  For whatever reason, I was fascinated by this book about a house that experienced changes to its environment over the years, and went from being in a nice, country setting to a major urban city, then is moved out to the country again.  Interestingly, the book reminds me of a lot of things that I like, namely urban planning (and urban planning games, like Sim City), and cartography, though much more loosely, which is the direction my career took me.

4.  What's in your fridge right now?

I just looked:  Milk, OJ, leftover pizza, Sparkling Ice bottles, hot dogs, rolls, lunchables, juice, oranges, and about 15 different condiments.  Oh, and Angry Man salsa, some of the best (and spiciest) salsa on the planet (Google it.  You'll be glad you did!).

5.  What's the first thing you noticed about me?

Well, if I was on a date with my dream girl, I'd first notice that you're tall and smiling.  I'm a sucker for blue eyes, but that's really not important.  You might have medium length hair, really nice hair (color doesn't matter), and walk very confidently.  You're a happy person, and wear your heart on your sleeve.

6.  What's the most stressful element of your life right now?

My job.  No question.  But it's a temporary stress.  I will be transitioning from one particular part of my job responsibilities sometime in the next several months, at which point I expect the stress to decrease significantly.  I enjoy my job overall, but there is a great amount of responsibility managing over a hundred employees and a charting production operation.

7.  What's your favorite kind of outfit to see on a person you're dating?

I feel a little too old answering this question.  What someone wears is their business, as long as it doesn't embarrass them.  I tend to prefer a professional look, but I also am just as good with casual.  I think your dress should compliment your age.

8.  What are you bored of?

I tend to get bored with the mundane stuff.  I get energized when I'm doing things out of the ordinary.  I know that life is full of the mundane, and it's necessary, but it does tend to get boring without having someone to share with.  Give me a snow day, or a weekend trip, or anything that take me away from a typical day, and life gets exciting.

9.  What are you determined to have (or create) in this lifetime?

Already accomplished.  My wonderful daughter!  I'm very happy to have her in my life, and I'm even more proud of the intelligent, beautiful young lady she has become.  That said, unless God has other plans for me, I don't plan on being a father again.

10.  What are you thinking/feeling right now?

I'm tired.  Seriously, I'm relieved it's Friday and the weekend is ahead.  As I mentioned above, work is stressful right now, so being away from the office is great.  I like having time to decompress and enjoy life to a greater extent.

Have a great evening, everyone!

PS - Found it!  The website that contained the questions is HERE.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pi Day Romance

Ooooooh, the dating world is very hard.  You really never know what is going to happen, and though I've had very little success, it has been exciting.  I've shared with my colleagues my frustrations over this, and they've been sympathetic.  In fact, my Office Administrator (OA), Miss K, decided to do something about it.  She is a beautiful, smart, and talented young lady who has a lot of beautiful, smart, and talented friends.  She has one particular friend named Mary who she determined might be a good match for me.  So she put a plan into place to do something about that.

Miss K and Mary know each other through the company they work for.  Miss K works as a contractor at our office.  She had a conversation recently with Mary where Mary told her she was frustrated by her dating life, and wanted to find a nice, steady guy to settle down with.  Miss K figured I fit the bill, and set up a meeting at our office that would bring Mary in and we could be introduced.  She didn't tell me about her plan.

On Friday, I returned from a meeting to my office.  Miss K was at her desk just outside my office with a smirk on her face.  I knew to be suspicious.  Miss K has a hard time keeping secrets.  I asked her what was happening.  She smiled and said, "Nothing..."  I knew better, and asked her again, a little more firmly.  It was at that moment that I heard a pleasant though unfamiliar voice coming from Gary's office.  Gary was one of the managers under me.  I again asked Miss K what was going on, and she finally told me.  She said she had a colleague here for a meeting to discuss a charity golf tournament that her company was having.  Mary was organizing it, and Miss K was helping her.  That's when the real story came out.

Miss K, was playing matchmaker.  She briefly told me about Mary, and that she had shown her a picture of me and she was interested.  I had to run off to another meeting, so I wasn't able to meet her at that moment, but I saw her standing in the doorway of Gary's office.  She looked young.  Too young.  Like, 20-something young.  Maybe 30, tops.  I told Miss K I would be back in an hour.

After my meeting, several of my employees planned a little party for Pi Day.  Pi, or 3.14159 for short, was being held on March 14, at 1:59 p.m.  To celebrate, many had brought in pies.  We had banana cream, pumpkin, sweet potato, lemon meringue, Dutch apple, homemade blueberry, cheesecake, Boston creme, and six or seven others.  It was wonderful!  And, yes, I am a diabetic and have to watch my sweets, but that didn't stop me from having a few slivers of slices of several of the pies.  At the end of the party, we crowned a Pi King/Queen.  The favorites were the banana cream and the blueberry.  By show of applause, the blueberry won, and in a touching and memorable ceremony, Anne was crowned the Pi Queen.

In the meantime, Miss K had brought Mary down to the party in order to meet me.  The problem soon became obvious:  She was avoiding me.  She wouldn't even look my way.  She talked to many people, but wouldn't come near me.  I finally gave up and went back upstairs to my office.  I talked to Miss K later, after Mary left, and she said Mary was very shy, especially with so many other people around.  I mentioned that I didn't think she was interested after finally seeing me up close.  Miss K said that wasn't true.  I think otherwise.

Because I've been burned so many times, I like to do my homework about the women I might want to date, and there is a wealth of information online.  I immediately found Mary's Facebook page and found, prominently displayed, a picture of her and HER BOYFRIEND!  Further research showed that they had been dating for over 5 years!  They were "in a relationship" with each other, according to Facebook.  So what the heck?  Clearly she is playing the field, and after showing Miss K what I found, Miss K was incredulous.  She claims she had no idea.  As usual, my luck held true, and it wasn't meant to be.  Oh, well.  She was too young, anyway.

Happy Pi Day, everyone, even if it was last week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does, and I'm With Stupid

I did something really stupid today.  I regularly do stupid things, so that's not unusual, but what I did sure is.  I threw my car key into the trash can at Chick-Fil-A.  My daughter and I went there for dinner this evening, and as we were leaving, I had a handful of trash.  I also had my key in my hand.  Just as I went to throw away the trash, a woman and her daughter walked by and stopped right in front of the trash can.  Since I now couldn't get to the trash can, I headed in the other direction, towards the exit, to throw my trash into a different can.  Before I went three steps, the woman and her daughter walked away, so I turned around and returned to the original can.  I threw away everything in my hand, including the key.  It didn't even occur to me that I was holding the key.  As we approached the exit, I reached into my coat pocket to get out my key, and realized it wasn't there.  I started to panic, and began to think about where it might be.  I thought that maybe I had thrown it in the trash can, so we went back.  I reached in the can and, sure enough, immediately found the key.  It was covered in ketchup.

Why did I do that?  I believe I was distracted by the woman and her daughter blocking me from the first trash can, and I just forgot I had the key in my hand.  How dumb is that?

(Speaking of Chick-Fil-A, they started putting blueberries in their fruit cups.  I love blueberries!  But they decided to take out the grapes!!!  I love grapes more than blueberries.  Why, Mr. Cathy?  Why!?!)

As I said, I've done a lot of stupid things.  I once drove up a narrow mountain road without guard rails despite having a fairly severe fear of heights, and I almost panicked while doing it, then was afraid I'd be stranded at the top.  I ate a Big Mac AND a McChicken sandwich almost everyday for lunch during my freshman year in college.  I drove 800 miles in my 1999 Eagle Talon, a car not designed for someone 6'2" to take a long-distance drive, in one day, St. Louis to DC, which killed my back.  I slipped on a "wet" spot on my kitchen floor caused by Faithful Pup Scout and broke my shoulder.  I bought the Culture Club Colour By Numbers album when I was a teen.  I drove into a dangerous storm with tornado activity without knowing it because I wasn't listening to the radio and despite howling winds, dark skies, and driving rain.  I allowed my wife to talk me into wearing a French maid costume for a Halloween party (I quickly vetoed that idea after seeing how ridiculous I looked...she loved it, though).  I split open the top of my head jumping over a couch in our family room and hitting the ceiling.  I skipped a class in college for most of the semester, thinking it would be easy, and then bombed on the final, getting the grade I deserved.  I had a pool party at my landlord's home without his permission.  I played tennis with my friends during a snowstorm.  I used to feed peanut M&Ms to Faithful Pup Ginger without knowing chocolate was dangerous for her to eat.  I drove my car into a curb because I took my eyes off the road (fortunately I was only going about 20 MPH).  I walked 26.2 miles in one day for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer without any training whatsoever, and then couldn't walk for two days.  I tried to ski.  I tried to roller skate. I tried to ice skate.  I ate Lima beans. Blech. All of these stupid things, I did.

(By the way, "stupid" is a bad word, according to what I've taught my daughter.  It's the "s" word.)

So, what did I learn from all of that?  I learned that life happens.  Doing stupid things is normal, everyday stuff.  It can't be helped.  None of us are perfect.  So you can't cry over spilled milk.  Embrace your stupidity, but learn from it.  You are not a stupid person.  You, me, we are human and will stupid things.  We will DO stupid things, like I just did when I left the "do" out of the previous sentence.

Have a great stupid evening, everyone!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Suicidal Thoughts

I've made no secret that I've battled depression on and off for much of the past ten years, since the death of my wife.  It is a hard thing to deal with.  There were days when I struggled to just get out of bed in the morning, and more than a few when I didn't at all, preferring to stay under the covers and snooze.  It didn't help that I was suffering from sleep apnea, too, which kept me from any kind of good sleep.  The combination of the two made me miserable.  On top of all that, I have a fairly difficult job, managing a large workforce of more than 100 employees.  I've felt completely overwhelmed at times, but I'm so thankful for a Savior who loves me and takes care of me.  I don't know how I would do it without Him.

Despite how depressed I've been at times, I've never so depressed that I would ever consider suicide.  I can't imagine being so despondent that I would want to take my own life.  In fact, with a young daughter, I worry more about my health than at any other time in my life.  It scares me too much to think what could happen to my little girl should something happen to me.

I got word today that someone I know was having suicidal tendencies, and was battling severe depression.  It had gotten so bad for him that he was admitted to the hospital to be kept under observation, since he was a possible danger to himself and those around him.  I don't know the cause of his depression, but since I have a connection with him, I've begun wondering whether I might have noticed he was having difficulties, or even more disturbing, that maybe I contributed to them.  It's a sobering thought.  I'm praying for him, and I hope he is able to get well and find the help he needs.

It reminded me of so many other times when someone close to me was impacted by suicide.  Years ago, as a youth counselor at my church, I got to know a young man named Frankie.  Frankie and his younger brother had struggled with their parent's divorce, and were forced to live back and forth between their parent's homes.  Their mother had recently remarried, and the boys were struggling with their relationship with their step-dad.  I'm not aware of whether there was any abuse going on, but I know the boys enjoyed their time with the youth group.  One evening, though, I got a phone call from the youth director.  Frankie's mother had been murdered by their step-dad.  He had shot and killed her, then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide.  Fortunately, the brothers still had their father, and they were safely with him the night this occurred.  But it was all over the news, and it was a difficult time for their family.  It was very much a tragedy.  When the boys finally returned to the youth group several weeks later, we did all we could to make sure they felt loved and accepted.  Several months later, they moved away from the area, and I never heard from them again.  I've often wondered about them, and how they turned out.  But I also realize that their step-father must have been battling something to feel he needed to take his life, and his wife's.

Several years ago, I was dating a woman in Oklahoma City.  She worked in the same organization as I do, except she was based out there.  One of her close friends at work, an older guy who was approaching retirement, had been talking to her a lot about his future, and how much he was dreading retirement, but he knew that's what his wife wanted him to do.  About a week before he was due to retire, he left the office early, drove out to one of the lakes just outside of the city, and stood on the edge of a pier, with his back to the water.  He took a gun and shot himself in the head, causing his body to wall backwards into the water.  My girlfriend called me later that morning, after finding out from the police about what had happened.  She was shocked and very emotional about the whole thing, and, like others, she wondered if there was anyway she could've prevented his death, or if she could have seen any of the signs of his depression.  It haunted her for days.  Again, I just can't comprehend becoming so depressed and despondent that you would take your own life.

My grandmother became addicted to prescription drugs, and it caused a tremendous strain on our family.  She was not the same person she used to be.  She went from being a loving lady to becoming a very mean and, at times, nasty woman.  It was hard to be around her.  Then, one night, we got a call that she had taken a drug overdose and was taken to the hospital.  She was placed on a respirator and was comatose for several days.  The family gathered at the hospital, where the doctors declared that she was brain dead.  The respirator was turned off and her body stopped breathing.  Her suicide attempt was successful.  And we were the ones who suffered.  She was 66 years old.  I was 12 at the time, and it was the first death of someone close to me I'd ever experienced.  I remember crying at school when I found out.  It was so hard to comprehend.

I pray for these people that feel there is no other way.  It has to be awful to feel that way.  I hope that they can be surrounded by loved ones, whether friends or family, that will help them.  It's just so sad.  There is always a better solution than suicide.  It's just a matter of getting help for the person before the suicidal thoughts take over.

I really don't know what more to say about this subject.  It was weighing on my heart today, and I can tell when God is directing a post for this blog.  This is one of those times.

Stay safe, my friends.  Best wishes and blessings!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Things That Make Me Ask, "Why?"

Why did Howard County announce a 2-hour delay for tomorrow (Tuesday)?  My daughter is so disappointed that the schools are delayed again.  This means she will miss her first rehearsal with the full fourth grade band originally scheduled for tomorrow. She has been looking forward to it for a while now, and has been practicing her clarinet and gearing up for their Spring concert.  The delay only means the rehearsal will be later, but she is really disappointed.  We drove around the area this afternoon to check on things, and it appears that the roads are fine, and the sidewalks seem clear.  I know there are probably other parts of the county that may not be in good shape, but that isn't helping ease my daughter's disappointment.

Why is it so hard for me to introduce myself to an attractive, single stranger?  My introverted nature gets in the way anytime I'm in this situation.  And while I don't condone walking up to a stranger at a store, like, say, Target, I can't help but notice there is an inordinate number of very attractive ladies who appear to fit the bill.  I just can't get the nerve up to say anything to them.  Where else can you meet people, though?  I don't go to bars or clubs.  I don't drink.  I'm sad to say that walking up to a stranger at my church is even a bit awkward, and that's where I would want to meet someone.  The other issue is that I'm a very poor judge of age, and that makes me even more gun shy.

Why does our society celebrate newsworthy things that may have been scandalous a few decades ago?  Today was a snow day, so I found myself watching the TODAY SHOW on NBC.  I know they were biased since it was one of their own, but they showed some clips from the recent wedding of one of the shows hosts.  She announced at her reception that she was four month's pregnant.  The guests went wild and began yelling their approval through the celebration.  I was surprised.  I guess I'm in the minority in not believing in sex-before-marriage.  I realize that it's looked at as an acceptable practice by much of our society, but I can't help be feel disappointed that it's celebrated.  But how else are the guests going to react when the bride makes such an announcement, clearly expecting a show of support?  I don't know.  I guess I am too old fashioned and out of touch with modern society.  And I guess I'm just too judgmental, as well.

Why does my little lovable dog decide to wait until I am just getting ready to eat my first bite of dinner to begin barking incessantly at me to let me know that she needs to go outside RIGHT NOW!  It doesn't seem to matter what time we eat dinner, which can vary between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.  She picks that one moment to need to go.  She didn't start doing this until about a month ago.  Previously, she seemed to be fine between her trips outside after we arrived home from work/school and just before bedtime.  That has changed, though.  I feel like the poor mother on A CHRISTMAS STORY, who, as Ralphie describes, hasn't had a hot meal in years because everyone else asks for things just before she gets to take a bite of her own food.  My daughter does this to me, too.  I'll get her dinner prepared and she'll be eating it, and as soon as I sit down with my food, she begins to ask for a glass of water, or a second helping of this or that, or a napkin.  It's almost funny.  Almost.

Why does stress have to be so stressful?  Today was a snow day, and the Federal Government shut down in the Washington, DC, area.  I spent the entire day worried about the work that I wasn't getting done, and knowing my boss, she'll wonder why I didn't work anyway.  It was a day off that I had nothing to do with.  It wasn't like I intentionally took off from work.  I was forbidden from going in due to the weather.  But all I did was worry about it.  My worrying causes stress.  The stress causes my body to hurt, my blood pressure to rise, my diabetes to fluctuate due to my inconsistent diet caused by worry, and I make myself sick.  For what?  For something that I have no control over.  How frustrating is that?

Why?  Why why why why why?  I don't know.  *sigh*

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bits and Pieces of Stuff and More

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasted a beautiful day, even if I have an excuse.  It was gorgeous outside, and I wish I could have been out in it.  But I awoke this morning with more back issues, and I wasn't able to do anything I had planned to do.  It's the second time this week that this has happened, and it's getting frustrating.  I may need to invest in a new bed/mattress.


I sent my daughter to her grandparent's for the weekend.  Last night, we met up with my in-laws for dinner, and she went home with them.  We had planned this out about a week ago, and I thought it might be fun for her and them.  My mother-in-law is always hoping for more time with her, so this seemed like a great opportunity to do it.  I had something planned for Saturday morning, anyway, that she wouldn't have enjoyed.  I had volunteered to help a friend do some intense cleaning to prepare for a move, though my back issues kept me from doing that.


Stuck on the couch all day, I decided to rent and download a movie, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.  Wow, what a movie!  Tom Hanks was very good as the title character, and the situation he has to deal with, Somali pirates boarding his container ship, is intense.  At the end of the movie, and I don't want to give anything away (even though it's based on an actual event), the feeling of overwhelming relief that Tom Hanks' character experiences and exhibits had a pretty big impact on me, and I couldn't help but feel emotional.  I think anyone who experiences something traumatic like that can relate to that feeling.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is a very good movie and highly recommended.


I was very disappointed in the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game today against rival Philadelphia.  The Pens are clearly the better team, and have one of the best records in the league.  But a combination of injuries to several key players resulted in a complete collapse versus the Flyers, and they lost 4-0.


I'm even more disappointed by my Maryland Terrapins athletic teams.  It has been well documented the Maryland is leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, a conference they helped found, after over six decades, to the Big 10 Conference.  The reason has to do with the amount of money the football team will bring into the school as a member of the Big 10 versus the ACC, but for those who value tradition over money, it is a slap in the face.  The Terps have established rivalries with a number of schools in the ACC, particularly in basketball (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia), but they will have to start anew next season.  Because of the animosity that was created over the situation (and lawsuits - Maryland is suing the ACC regarding the exit fees the league is forcing on Maryland), what could have been a celebration and send off by the ACC to Maryland, there's been nothing, and Maryland's quick exits from both the men's and women's tournaments just added to the disappointment.  It's shame.  All of that tradition was just ignored and now it's over.  I hope Maryland is happy with their decision, and that the extra money they get is worth it.


I've been loving this Winter!  I love snow, so it has been great to see so much this year.  However, even I have my limits.  The weather guys are forecasting another snow storm for Monday morning.  Here we are, in mid-March, and preparing for more snow.  The weather, in the 60s today, is giving us no indication of the snow that's coming.  It feels like Spring is already here.  But it is coming!  One more trip to the store to stock up on bread, milk, and toilet paper!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sting and Paul Simon: An Entertaining Show

My daughter, Melody, and I went to see a wonderful concert last night:  Sting and Paul Simon.  Both have been performing for a long time.  Most fans know that Paul was a part of a duo with Art Garfunkel before moving on to a solo career.  Sting was a member of The Police with guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland, before abandoning them at their peak for a solo career of his own.  Now the two are touring North America with merged bands and playing their hits, and each other's hits, together.  When I found out they would be in Washington, DC, I tried to get tickets.  Unfortunately, I didn't find out until after the tickets had been on sale for a while, so the tickets I bought for our seats were in the far reaches of the Verizon Center arena.  They were the cheapest tickets available, however, and they got us in the door, so I surprised Melody at Christmas with the tickets.

So the show was last night.  Sting and Paul Simon are wonderful musicians and are experienced at their craft, so they put on a pretty good show.  The selection of songs included most of their hits, and I was especially surprised by the number of Police tunes Sting brought out of his bag.  I'm a bigger Police fan than Sting fan, so that was good with me.  And while I don't necessarily like all of Paul's older tunes, he performed a nice mix of old and newer hits. Melody has heard a healthy amount of the music I like, including The Police, Sting, and Paul Simon, so she also was familiar with and enjoys most of their songs, probably more so than me.  So she enjoyed the concert a great deal.  I loved watching her sing the words of so many of their songs.

The show was scheduled to start at 8 p.m.  We had arrived at 7:30 via Metro, and had gotten a couple of personal Papa John's pizzas.  They weren't great, but filled us up.  We reached our seats only to find we were sitting next to a couple of guys who had already been drinking for awhile.  They reeked of beer.  Our seats were in the 400 level, but we were in the front row and on the aisle.  The arena quickly filled up and the show started at around 8:20.  They sang "Brand New Day" to start off, then went right into Simon's "Boy in the Bubble", one of my favorites.  There was some fun banter between the two stars, with Paul noting that after a few months touring together, he felt Sting was rubbing off on him, making him feel like an Adonis.  That was probably the funniest line of the night.  Melody thought it was funny how short Simon was next to Sting.

Sting then did a solo set, singing "Fields of God", followed by one of the great Police hits, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic".  Next was "Englishman in New York" and "I Hung My Head", followed by a couple more Police songs, "Driven To Tears" and "Walking On the Moon".  Both surprised me, as neither were big hits, but they were well performed, particularly by the drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, and the backup singer, Jo Lawry.  She was really awesome.

Paul Simon returned to the stage for "Mother and Child Reunion" and the two shared the stage again.  Then it was Paul Simon's turn to do a solo set.  This pattern went on to an exciting joining of the bands and featuring a few more hits, and a rousing "You Can Call Me Al" took us to the end of the show.  They returned for an encore to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Every Breath You Take", "Late in the Evening", and the Everly Brothers song, "When Will I Be Loved", with Sting and Simon alone on stage with acoustic guitars, at which point the two legendary performers walked off-stage arm in arm.

We had a few disappointments on the evening.  The two guys sitting next to us had to get up to either use the bathroom or get more beer every 15 minutes, it seemed, for the duration of the show, which required us to get up out of our seats for them.  Then when we left the arena and headed back to Metro, the subway was only running a few trains all the way to Greenbelt, our stop, and instead had more trains running only to Fort Totten.  Plus, we had to wait 20 minutes for the Greenbelt bound train, which allowed the platform to swell with people.  We were positioned to get on the train first, but were "pushed" out of the way by selfish late-comers with an "every man/woman/child for themselves" attitude, and we were not able to both get a seat.  My back was still killing me, and standing was not comfortable.  Then we got stuck at Fort Totten with the doors open for another 20 minutes so they could move the two trains ahead of us to the other track.  It was frustrating.  I don't know why Metro can't run more trains during major events downtown.

Anyway, that didn't ruin our night.  We were pretty tired by the time we got home, which was about 12:30 a.m.  We crashed and went straight to bed.  It was a great evening!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back Pain and Aging Gracefully

As I've documented here on the blog over the past few weeks, I've finally found relief from my sleep apnea with my CPAP machine, which has helped me to sleep so much better than before.  The new issue is trying to find a comfortable position to sleep without knocking the mask off my face or off my nose resulting in air hitting me in the eye or something ridiculous like that.  I'm a side sleeper, so sleeping on my back, which I'm not used to doing, would be hard, but would keep the mask on my face in the correct position.  So I've been sleeping on my back for the last week.  My main issue has been trying to stay comfortable.  My lower back is taking a lot of abuse.  A friend said that I needed to keep my knees raised, so I tried placing a pillow under my knees.  That still didn't help.  My lower back was still sore when I woke up each morning.  So I tried putting a pillow under my upper back.  Well, that was a mistake.

This morning, I woke up in severe pain.  My lower back felt like it was on fire.  I ripped the CPAP mask off of my face, and tried to roll over on my side.  It didn't help, and I just couldn't get comfortable no matter what position I was in.  The pain was excruciating.  I didn't know what to do.  I got up and tried walking it off, but it wouldn't improve.  I took some Bayer Back and Body and tried laying down again.  The pain was intense, but I was able to snooze for a little while.  I called the office to say I couldn't make it in.  I laid back down and slept for several more hours.  I finally got out of bed and went down to lay on the couch.  I fell asleep again for another three hours!  My back improved over the course of the day, fortunately, but I figured I needed a heating pad.  I went to the store to get one after picking up my daughter at school.

So now I'm trying to figure out what to do.  My back hurt so badly that I'm not going to be able to sleep on it anymore.  I'll likely go back to my side sleeping and just try to deal with the mask moving around.  That's a lot better than the aches and pains from last night.


Faithful Pup Scout is getting old.  We've had her now for 12 years, and I've watched her deteriorate significantly over the past year.  Her back legs and hips are giving out, and it's harder for her to get around.  I carry her around the house (fortunately she only weighs ten pounds), and we no longer go for walks outside.  She does her business in the front or back yard.  She can't jump down off of objects more than one or two feet off the floor, and will bark at me when she needs to get down.  It's really sad to see, especially since it feels like she's aged so quickly.

A friend of mine at work suggested that I get another dog.  He figures that, when Scout's time comes, it will make it easier on me and my daughter, Melody.  Plus, he said, another dog will help keep Scout younger by playing with her and providing exercise and company.  I'm not sure how much I believe all of that.  Scout has been a loner for a long time.  I don't think she'd like to have to share her peeps, if you know what I mean.  It's kind of like the "only-child" syndrome.  They're so used to having everything to themselves, including attention, that I can't imagine they would be able to share.  Besides, Melody keeps telling me she wants a cat.  While I don't, a cat would be less work.  The downside is that my mother-in-law wouldn't be able to visit, since she's allergic to cats.  So I'm just not sure if that's a solution, either.

I have looked at a few shelter websites in the area to see what kind of dogs they have.  I would prefer to rescue a dog than go through a breeder, which is what we did with Scout.  I don't know what kind of dog I'd like to get.  Scout really has been an exceptionally easy dog to care for, even when she has longer hair.  No matter what, this process will be hard on all of us.  I can't imagine what life would be like without Scout in it.  She's a great dog.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kiss Me LIke A Stranger

I try to stay away from controversial topics on this blog.  It's not that I don't feel strongly about subjects that seem to divide the populace of this great country.  I just choose to stay away from these subjects on this blog.  For example, I don't believe in sex outside of a marriage relationship.  It tends to be accepted in today's "anything goes" culture, but, for me, it ain't right.  I've been accused of being too old-fashioned, but I believe in tradition.  I'm a Bible-believing Christ-follower.  So I'm not going to pull any punches with today's controversial topic:  kissing.  What?  Kissing isn't controversial?  I don't know about that....

I can't remember what it felt like to kiss my wife.  It has been ten years since her death, and I was thinking about it.  It bothers me that I can't remember.  I remember kissing the last woman I dated seriously.  She loved to kiss.  We would spend hours making out.  Since neither of us believed in sex outside of a marriage relationship, that's as intimate as we got.  But with my wife, I can't remember how she kissed!  I know we enjoyed kissing, though.

I just watched a short film about kissing.  The director asked several pairs of attractive models who had never met each other to kiss.  There wasn't any background information on the models/actors in the film, but I assume none of them are married.  When they were asked to kiss, it was interesting to see how they handled their instructions.  In every case, the couples appeared to be kind of shy about it, and a few were embarrassed.  One woman seemed to get very into it, and almost got too carried away.  Most seemed to loosen up once they started to kiss, but it was interesting to see them hesitate before that.  A few really got quite passionate.  A few only kissed once.  It was an interesting exercise.  I wish that they had gotten more "mature" couples.  They were pretty much all young and beautiful, which I guess was the director's purpose for doing this film.  But I found it fascinating.

If I had been asked to kiss a stranger, I'm not sure I could do it.  Several years ago, I went to a conference for work.  At the opening meeting, we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves to someone we didn't know.  I was approached by Dina, a woman I didn't know at the time.  She asked me my name, and I replied, "Eric."  Her brow furrowed, and she looked confused, then leaned close and pointed at her cheek.  I had no idea what she was doing, but then I though she wanted me to give her a kiss on the cheek.  I started to lean in, then reality smacked me in the face and I figured out she couldn't hear me, and was pointing at her ear, not her cheek!  I quickly repeated, "Eric," and I thanked God that I hadn't made a fool of myself and kissed her!  Ironically, she later became my boss several years later.  To this day, she doesn't know how close I came to creating an awkward situation.  There is no place in an office for affection of any kind.

Then there's Karen, an old friend of my wife's.  She insists on greeting me with a kiss every time we get together.  I always turn my cheek to her, but her lips make their way to mine regardless of how far I've turned my head.  It's completely awkward, since I know she really doesn't like to kiss.  It's as uncomfortably unromantic as it gets.

So, could you kiss a stranger?  I'm not talking about a little peck.  I'm talking about a deep, passionate, kiss and embrace that makes you weak in the knees.  I'd like to give it a shot.  I mean, it has been over six years since my last kiss like that.  I think I'm way overdue.

Have a great evening, everyone!