Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Top 5 Pizzas of 2015

Everyone seems to be writing one of those "Year In Review" blog posts or articles, and while I like to use the blog itself to document our happenings, I decided it might be kind of fun to do one of these things for myself, particularly since I seem to have reduced my output this year.  Since it's the last day of the 2015, why not do our own year in review by mentioning our Top 5's of the year?  Every year is more exciting than the last, and there is so much that the Lord is doing in our lives.  So, today, on the last day of 2015, I'm starting with my favorite food.

I've never met a pizza I didn't like, though there are certainly different levels of good.  My pizza tastes were formulated at an early age with regular family dinners at chains like Pizza Hut (when it was actually good) and Pizza Oven, and one of a kind places like The Dino Restaurant in Suitland, MD, and the original Ledo's in Adelphi, MD.  You might laugh, but Mom regularly bought the Chef Boyardee pizza kits when I was a kid, and I learned how to dress them up into a weekly feast of the taste buds, and I still have a hankering for that pizza sauce, even if it was a thin, tomato-y tasting concoction of plainness.  Anyway, I consider myself a pizza connoisseur, and I continue to seek out good pizza everywhere we travel.  Keep in mind that there are many pizzas I would rank above some of these, but this is just for 2015.  So without further delay, here are my Top 5 pizzas of 2015:

5.  I really do try to stay away from the pizza chains.  Some of my least favorite pizzas come from Domino's and Papa John's, two of the few places who deliver to our home.  Ledo's is my all-time favorite pizza of those that are still around, but the original (and its sister location, TJ Elliot's in Bowie, MD) are better than the chains.  That being said, #5 on the list is a new chain I discovered several months ago.  It's called Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza, and it is the Chipotle's of the pizza biz.  When you arrive at the walk-up counter, you pick out the type of crust you want, the sauce, and cheese, then you add all and as much of the plethora of toppings they have available along their assembly line, just like at Chipotle's.  Once made, it is thrown into their oven and cooked in about 5 minutes.  And it's good!  They only have one size, and the price is the same regardless of the toppings, with the plain cheese a few bucks less.  The crust is nicely thin and crisp, the sauce just right, and the toppings are fresh.  It's easily one of the best of the pizza chains.  I just wish they delivered.  There's one at the Laurel Town Center, which is just close enough to be dangerous.

Picture courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
4.  Okay, I guess this one qualifies as a chain, too, though it is certainly a regional thing.  The Dough Roller, native to the Ocean City, MD, Boardwalk, is a long-time family favorite!  Every time Melody and I go to OC, we stop at one of several Boardwalk locations for a very unique pizza.  The crust is nicely thin, but it's the sauce that seems to give it a taste that's a little different from a standard pie.  I don't think I'd like it if I could have it all the time, but given that I only get it once each year, it's definitely in my Top 5 for 2015.  The ambiance of the Boardwalk, mixed with being at the beach, make for a wonderful memory-making experience.

3.  A local favorite, Pub Dog, in Columbia, MD, has become a personal favorite for me and Melody, and we eat there more often than we should.  But it's so good!  Pub Dog is a bar/draft house with really great pizza, especially their "Smash Dog" pizzas, which are two pizzas smashed, face-first, into each other.  They have a variety of different flavors, like the Veggie Dog, the Froggy Dog, and the Fox and the Hound.  Old Yeller is another good one.  Check out their menu.  There's a lot to try.  Pub Dog started in Federal Hill, Baltimore, and expanded to Columbia in 2007.

2.  After visiting the annual Auto Show at the DC Convention Center last January, Melody and I were looking for a good place to have an early dinner.  With Chinatown only a few blocks away, and despite the frigid temperatures and snow on the ground, we wandered down H Street, NW, and found matchbox.  This wasn't what I expected to find in Chinatown, especially since we were craving some authentic Chinese food, but I had heard of matchbox and we decided to try it.  The small place was packed, but we were seated within 20 minutes.  We both got a small pizza and they were fantastic!

DC Chinatown's matchbox

1.  Every year, daughter Melody and I travel to Chicago for the annual G-Fest convention, and we make a stop at the local Giordano's, famous throughout Chicagoland and beyond for their stuffed pizza, and it is a masterful creation.  I'm not a big fan of thick crust or deep dish pizzas anymore.  They're just too filling, and as a type 2 diabetic, I really have to take it easy with meals like pizza, so I try to stay away from the heavy breads and carbs.  But this once a year treat is just too wonderful to pass up.  It is awesome!  Melody and I each get a small pizza, and we're never able to complete them.  Melody sticks with the plain cheese, but I try a different variety of toppings/fillings.  This year's pizza had mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, and pepperoni.  I'm sure my body is still recovering.  If you're in Chicago, you've got to try it!

Giordano's in Chicago
Next Post:  My Top 5 Roller Coaster's of 2015

Have a great evening, everyone, and I hope 2016 is at least as great, but even better, than 2015!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Home For The Holidays

Yeah, I'm still here.  Though I wasn't here for much of the past month.  I was sent off to "executive training" for a solid two weeks by my boss, an experience I'm still trying to digest.  It was some of the most intense training I've attended in my 25 year career.  Not only was I far from home, and away from my daughter for the longest stretch of her life, it was during the lead-up to Christmas, my favorite time of year, and I was forced to do all of my Christmas shopping online.  Thank goodness for Amazon Prime!

Upon arriving home, Christmas was practically on top of us.  I spent last Saturday wrapping presents, and Melody and I spent the day doing some fun things together, including our service at Grace Community Church.  On Sunday, I introduced Melody to my personal annual Christmas tradition by taking her to see IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on the big screen at the AFI Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring.  It is the best movie ever made.

I returned to work on Monday, spending much of my time getting re-acclimated to the office.  Things were pretty much shutting down for the Holidays as the week went along, though, so I didn't feel pressed.  And the President gave us a half-day on Christmas Eve, so that was a nice gift, as well.

Monday evening was Melody's Middle School Band's concert, rescheduled from December 10 (when I was away), and I was so thankful to be able to attend.  Melody made first-chair clarinet in the Concert Band, and she has improved greatly over the last several months under Mr. Twigg's tutelage.  The concert was awesome!  It was a great evening, all around.

I could feel my stress and anxiety level drop all during the day on Christmas Eve, and after leaving the office, I had a leisurely lunch by myself (an annual tradition for me), and then I attended my church's Christmas Eve service at 1:00.  I returned home with plenty of time to prepare for the evening's festivities.  I was proud of myself for having gotten all of my Christmas shopping and wrapping completed early despite being away so long, and I felt relaxed when I left the house to attend my in-law's church's Christmas Eve service.  I had dropped off Melody with them the night before, and upon arriving at the church, I found out that she was singing during the service.  This was the third year in a row she was doing that, and it filled me with excitement and emotion to see her stand in front of the whole church singing from her heart.  My father-in-law delivered a great message, and then it was time to eat.

My parents and sister always join us on Christmas Eve for the service, and my in-laws host a great dinner.  After we all eat, we exchange gifts.  It's a wonderful tradition that we started about 3 years ago, and I'm happy to give my in-laws a day to spend with their only grandchild for Christmas.  My wife was an only child, and after her death and home-going, Melody is all they have.  After opening gifts and enjoying everyone's company, Mom, Dad, sister Angie, and Melody head over to Mom & Dad's while I rush home to pick up Faithful Pup Scout.  Then I join them at their place.  It's usually after midnight before I get to sleep, but all of the preparation is well worth it.

And Christmas Day was as meaningful and memorable as it can be.  God has truly blessed our family despite all of the tragedy we've experienced, and it was great to enjoy each other's company.  My brother, his girlfriend, Erica, and her two teen daughters, join us, too, and it's a big party.  We spend all day having a great time together.

Melody and I finally returned home last evening, and we spent today enjoying our gifts and preparing for the week ahead.  We're both home until January 4, so it's a great time to rest, relax, and recharge.

I hope you all had a meaningful Christmas and wonderful Holiday break.  Best wishes and blessings!  Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Where in the World Am I?


Hope to be home by Christmas!

Best wishes for a joyous season!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Hershey Thanksgiving

We just completed a fantastic few days of fun following our Thanksgiving feast with the family!

Thanksgiving itself was great.  Mom made a wonderful meal with all the trimmings, and the rest of the day was spent in fun conversation with football playing in the background.  Everyone parted late in the evening and Melody and I headed home.

Friday morning, we both got up early and packed and prepared for a getaway for a couple of days.  Destination:  Hershey, PA.  We left the house at around 11:30, made a stop at Chick-Fil-A to grab some lunch, then continued up the road to Hershey.  First stop was at Chocolate World.

Hershey's Chocolate World contains a lot of different fun activities that, as hokey as it sounds, really are for the whole family.  First of all, there's a free ride-through attraction that takes you through a mock chocolate factory, giving one a nice overview of how Hershey makes their chocolate.  It's informative and fun, with the smell of chocolate wafting through the air as you ride along.  At the end, a free sample of chocolate is given to every rider.  On this day, they gave us a Kit Kat bar.

There is a very large retail area with every kind of Hershey product available, including the basic Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars, Special Dark Chocolate bars, Mr. Goodbar bars, Krackle bars, Hershey's Kisses, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Pieces, Twizzlers, Whoppers, Mounds, Almond Joy, Payday, Kit Kats, plus shirts, bags, stuffed animals, banks, hats, and so much more.

There is a fun movie that Melody and I watched last year, where the audience gets to interact with the characters on the screen.  There is a chocolate tasting class, which teaches you the differences in the tastes of the various chocolates.  There's a make-your-own-chocolate bar activity that allows you to do that very thing, adding your favorite ingredients to customize the bar to your tastes.

Finally, there's a trolley ride through the town of Hershey where you get a sense of the history of Milton Hershey, his chocolate, the factory, and his contributions to the town he founded.  For the Holidays, there is a true Christmas theme to the ride, with a visit by Santa Claus along the way, and singing Christmas carols.  It's a lot of fun.

We did it all, and loaded up with chocolate gifts for the whole family, too.

The highlight of the trip, though, is Hersheypark, the adjoining amusement park, which opens for the Christmas season with lights and decorations.  We spent the rest of the evening running around the park and riding several rides.  It was really crowded, though, so the more popular rides had really long waits.  We ended up only riding five rides before calling it a night and heading for the exit.

The last thing we did for the evening was a ride through a spectacular light display called Hershey's Sweet Lights.  If you live in the Columbia, MD, area, this is very similar to the Symphony of Lights Holiday display at Merriweather Post, except much larger.  It was very festive, and was a great cap to the day.

After a great night of rest, we had breakfast at our favorite diner, the Soda Jerk Diner, in Hummelstown, PA, just up the road from Hershey.  The food is great, and the ambiance is even better.  There's just something about diner coffee...

We returned to Hersheypark after breakfast to ride the few coasters that were open, since we missed them the night before.  The park was not crowded since it was raining lightly, and we were able to ride Laff Trakk, a new coaster for 2015, for the first time.  It was fun, but the 20 minute wait really wasn't worth it.  The ride is kind of similar to a Wild Mouse, with a tight track and turns and 4-person coaster cars, but it's in the dark, like a fun house or dark ride, and the cars spin as the ride goes along.  It's also very short.

We also rode the Wildcat, a rickety old wooden coaster that my daughter, Melody, didn't really care for in the past.  However, this time, riding in the front seat, in the cool weather, it was fun.  We enjoyed it.  Finally, we rode the Sooper Dooper Looper, an older steel coaster that goes upside down.

We had some lunch, then headed for home.  It was an uneventful drive home, and it felt good to be home on Saturday, which allowed us all of Sunday to relax and gear up for the Holidays, and prepare for another week of work and school.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Another Thanksgiving is upon us, and with the season comes another reason to thank the good Lord for our health, safety, and happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving, my readers!

For much of the past dozen years, we have stayed with the same script.  Thanksgiving is all about family, and so our family is almost always together.  Mom makes a fantastic Turkey dinner; Dad makes the pumpkin pies using the super-secret Freed Family recipe (so closely guarded, I only became aware of the exact recipe last year); sister Angie assists Mom in the kitchen; brother Darren brings over his family almost every year (with his fiancee Erica and her 2 daughters, Britney & Caitlyn); many times my in-laws join us, as they will this year; sometimes my Aunt Linda (Mom's sister) comes to join us from her West Virginia home; and other members of our huge extended family come to join us, as well.

My daughter, Melody, and I are usually up early.  We watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, question why anyone would want to go to NYC on Thanksgiving to see the parade live, then discuss what we would do if we did go...

We eat a light breakfast, anticipating that we will be eating constantly for the rest of the day...

We pack up Faithful Pup Scout and head over to Mom & Dad's, this year with a few of our own pumpkin pies, now that I know the recipe!

The NFL games are usually already started and blaring on the TV when we arrive.  Our family is full of sports fans, particularly football.  We're all diehard fans of the Steelers (and Redskins, when my in-laws are with us), so it gets pretty lively, especially if the Steelers are playing.

Mom always has appetizers out, whether it's fresh veggies and dip, or chips, or shrimp.

Everyone grabs their seat in the family room, and, except when Brit & Cait are with us, the seats usually stay assigned throughout the rest of the day (the teen girls grab the best seats as soon as they arrive, and don't move out of them until we eat, so the rest of us play musical chairs throughout the day).

The meal is the best part of the day.  Everyone heads to the dining room, where the seats are assigned:  Dad at the head, Mom to his right, me to his left.  The prayer tends to rotate among my Dad, me, Melody, or my father-in-law, Jim.  We usually have a pre-meal game or assignment, many times arranged by Mom and Melody, involving thankfulness in some way.  Sometimes it's as simple as saying what we're thankful for; other times, it might be a full ten-page quiz that is meant to be shared around the table while we eat.  It's always fun.

The turkey is awesome.  Mom has mastered her preparation.  There are rarely any surprises.  The meal is as traditional as it can be.  And there is never enough room on the plate for everything that is served.  Dad is the carver.  Mom sits just long enough to get a few bites in before she rushes back to the kitchen to reload.  Dishes are quickly passed around the table.  Some items, because there are so many, are usually already cold by the time we get around to actually eating.  And it's all great!

There is laughing, lively discussion, some shouting to be heard, and everyone is in a joyous mood.

And then the meal is over.  We tend to linger at the table, not wanting it to be done too soon (unless the Steelers are playing).  Then, at some point, though there's never a clear signal, everyone gets up and the table is cleared.  It's a group effort.  Mom never gets stuck with all of the cleanup.  She plays referee, deciding which leftovers go in which microwave-safe storage plate or bowl.  Angie usually mans the sink, rinsing off plates and placing them in the dishwasher.  It's a madhouse, but there's organization under the madness.

Then it's back to the family room, to our unofficial assigned seats, and the desserts are served.  Melody almost always plays hostess at this point, asking each person what they would like for dessert (pumpkin pie, cheesecake, mincemeat pie, jell-o, many to choose from), then rushing back to the kitchen to tell Mom and she dishes it out, Melody then bringing a fresh plate to everyone.

We then begin to reflect on the day, and past Thanksgiving Days.  We tell stories.  Invariably, we talk about my wonderful wife, Teresa (now resting in Heaven with our Lord), and our traditions.  We rarely learn anything new, since we tell the same stories every year.

And then the fun really starts.  Out comes the Catchphrase game.  Catchphrase is a little electronic disc that has a word or catchphrase on it, and each person, split up into two teams, must describe what it says (without saying the word) so that their team can guess the word, while a timer counts down, faster and faster, and once a team guesses the word correctly, it is passed to the next person to describe a new word, all while a timer counts down faster and faster.  Whichever team is holding the disc when the buzzer sounds is the loser for that round.  It is fast and frenetic and oh so funny.  And everyone is laughing.  It's great!

After an hour of that, it's usually getting dark outside, and my in-laws are the first to call it a day.  Slowly, everyone begins to say their goodbyes, with hugs all around, and they journey home.  Melody and I stay until close to bedtime, staying overnight at Mom & Dad's many times.

While driving home, when we do drive home, I always spend a portion of the drive thanking God for another wonderful Thanksgiving.  He has blessed us so much, even as I battle through the sadness of another year gone by without my wife by my side, but knowing she's in a far better place.

Thank you, Lord, for this day, for your blessings, for our health, safety, and happiness.  Thank you for my Melody, who I love so much.  Thank you for family.  Where would we be without them?  Thank you for my life, Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Melody's Birthday and Bring Back MST3K

Tuesday was my daughter Melody's 12th birthday. Aside from the fact that she turned into a teen about a year ago, this was a pretty major birthday.  My little girl is growing up.  She's no longer the little angel who listens to everything her daddy tells her, and is sweet and nice all the time.  She's turned into a middle schooler, which is moodiness and sassiness and intelligence unexpectedly mixed with sarcasm.  She's still very smart.  Much smarter than me at that age.  Her fantastic report card and discipline with her homework is evidence of that.  And I'm so proud of her big accomplishment, getting straight A's in her first quarter of middle school.  She made the Honor Roll, and received the Principal's Award.  I couldn't be more proud.

We celebrated her birthday with all four of her grandparents and her aunt, and we had dinner at our local Ginza of Tokyo, on Johns Hopkins Road.  It was a wonderful meal, and a great time with everyone.


Photo Credit:  Facebook - MST3K

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, created by Joel Hodgson, which ran (mostly) on Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Network back in the 90s.  The cast invented the term "riffing," which is the art of making fun of, and jokes about, a movie or show, generally due to how bad the movie or show is.  MST3K, as it's affectionately known, had a back story of a young, hard-working janitor named Joel, working at a company called the Gizmonics Institute, who is kidnapped and shot into space in a rocket as a part of an experiment by a couple of mad scientists, who make him watch really bad movies.  Joel has created several robots as companions, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, as well as Gypsy, who runs the "Satellite of Love" as it orbits the Earth, and Cambot, who serves as the camera that documents the goings-on.

The show is hilarious, and the jokes are creative, obscure, obvious, and downright funny, and the movies they chose to riff are some of the worst ever made.  The show is a lot like what most of us would like to do while we watch bad movies with our friends in our living room.

Anyway, the show finished its run in 1999, and while it was no longer on the air, the fans continue to watch the DVDs, now released by Shout! Factory.  However, Joel Hodgson, the original creator, wants to bring the show back, and he began a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money needed to create new episodes.  Here's the link:  It appears they've already raised enough money to make several episodes, with more possible as the money pours in.  The show was popular enough, and the fans fanatic enough, that it will likely make the needed money.  If you're interested in contributing, click on the link.  And if you have never watched the show, it's worth checking out.

Photo Credit:  Everett Collection
Have a great Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, November 21, 2015


The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated, even despite how much I may have felt like I was dying over the past month.  I didn't realize just how much pneumonia was going to knock me off my feet, but here I am in week 4 of my recovery.  Coughing fits aside, I guess there are some benefits to doing just about nothing.  I have been working regularly recently, so I really haven't done nothing, but it sure feels like it, and I've really enjoyed the rest.  Daughter Melody came down with a bad cough, too, in the past week, though, so we're enjoying the stereo sounds of phlegm.  I think we might have a hit on our hands.

With all of the sitting around I've been doing, you might think there would be an uptick in the amount of posting on this site, but, frankly, I've had no desire to write.  I've started almost a dozen posts, but most ended up as one-paragraph drafts, if they weren't just deleted.  I may expand and finish some of them at some point, but I just haven't felt like writing.  I hesitate to call it writer's block, though it's close.  I just haven't felt like writing.

I liken this to a musician who goes through a listening phase in his or her development.  I went through this in college.  I had been playing my clarinet and sax pretty much non-stop for almost 9 years when I decided to break from it.  I went through a period a immense growth listening to a lot of music I hadn't heard before, for almost a year.  When I got back to playing again, it was as a much more mature musician, but I also found less opportunities to play, and eventually I stopped completely.

I did much the same thing with my acting.  I loved acting when I discovered it late in high school, and through my church drama program, I had an outlet.  However, as things progressed, I ended up more on the production side, and I preferred the smaller roles, which got me on and off the stage fairly quickly and right back to the behind-the-scenes stuff.  By the time my wife and I took over the drama program at our church, we were writing and directing as a team, and with my wife's obvious natural acting skills, I decided I liked being behind the curtain and camera and began directing exclusively.  I loved acting with my wife, but not so much without her.  I also liked putting everything together, and as a director, you have a lot of power to do so.  I enjoyed that.  And now I'm not acting or directing.  Lack of opportunity led to the end of that.

I'm not saying I'll stop writing completely, but I guess it's a possibility.  I certainly wouldn't be the first blogger to do so.  I'll just consider this a phase for now, and I'll just say thank you for continuing to support me.  I've got a lot of stories to tell, that's for sure.  They just haven't come out of me at the frequency I'm used to.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Dad the Army Vet

My father doesn't talk about it much, but he is a United States Army Veteran.  He joined the reserves in the mid-60s, just as the Vietnam War broke out.  He figured he would likely be drafted, and decided to join the reserves before it happened.  That's where he put his training into effect.

That's Dad at the top right center, standing tall

Dad was a smart egg.  When he was in high school, he took a typing class.  Dad could type, and he could type well.  He also knew how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, another skill that served him well during his time in the service.  You might think that these are odd skills for someone who served, but, believe it or not, these were much-needed but not very prevalent skills needed by our Armed Forces.  There just weren't very many skilled typists among our servicemen.

When Dad went to basic training, he learned a lot of survival and combat skills.  Dad was a fair athlete, and I think he took to the training well.  On one particular "mission," his unit was in the midst of a war game with another unit.  Dad and a few other soldiers were sent to out-flank the other unit, and while trudging through the woods, he realized he had lost his gas mask.  Having been through a training exercise where he experienced what it was like to not have a mask while being exposed to tear gas, he knew he needed to have his mask on him at all times.  So, without telling his platoon mates, he turned around and backtracked down the path to find his mask, which he was sure he had just dropped at some point along the way.  As he was walking along, he heard voices.  He ducked, and looking through the trees, he saw the other unit in the exercise.  Using some quick thinking, he jumped out of the bushes with his rifle pointed at the other soldiers, surprising them.  He had captured the entire unit!  He led them back to his commanding officer, and was quickly honored for his excellent work, and his immediate officer garnered praise for his fantastic strategy of leaving a man behind the unit to surprise them.  Dad never said a word, but I don't think he ever found his gas mask.

When the men in charge found out about Dad's typing skills, he immediately was reassigned to the typing pool, taking him out of any potential combat situation.  He watched many of his unit move out to duties oversees, many in Vietnam, while he typed letters, memos, and other military correspondence.

Dad also found himself driving VIPs all around the military base because he could drive a Jeep with a manual transmission, He served in the motor pool and was constantly on call for this type of duty.

The hardest thing he had to deal with was typing letters to the families of those soldiers who were killed in the line of duty.  Those are the types of things that broke his heart.  He quietly thanked God for the opportunity to serve in a way that didn't put his own life in danger, though he certainly would have if his circumstances had been any different.  He knew it was a great honor to serve his country, the United States of America.  And I'm really proud to know that he served.

Thank you to all who have served in our Armed Forces, protecting the freedoms that make America the greatest nation in the world.

Have a great day, everyone!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Fine Fall Weekend

Halloween was fun.  Daughter Melody loves the scariness of the season, and since I wasn't sleeping well, I got up early Saturday morning and decorated.  She was suitably impressed, and happy, when she finally woke up at around 10 a.m. and saw what I did.  We spent the rest of the day getting ready for the festivities.  While I was on the couch most of the time, we did take time to carve a couple of pumpkins.  It was a beautiful Fall afternoon, though I couldn't enjoy much from the couch.

And, when darkness fell, Melody was ready in her Ladybug costume, though she decided to get rid of the uncomfortably fitting wings and go with a cape instead, which made her the Super Bug!

While we didn't have the really cheap Halloween candy, we didn't go all out.  We had Dum Dum lollipops and mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey Bars, Twix, and Twizzlers.  I also had a bunch of mini Comic Books designed specifically for Trick-or-Treaters, and they always go over well, especially with the youngsters.

Melody went out with her friends, doing one pass through our small development.  I manned the door, despite still recovering from pneumonia.  Fortunately, Melody was done in about an hour, and she took over, allowing me to return to the couch.  We ended up with about 50 kids, which is about our average, I guess.  It seemed quieter than usual, but that's probably because I wasn't answering the door once Melody took over.

We shut off the lights and closed the door at around 8:15, and we spent the rest of the evening watching a scary movie.  We were both asleep by 10:30.

I had a better night of sleep last night, and that contributed to feeling a little better.  In fact, it's the best I've felt since before last week's funeral for Melody's great-grandmother, though I'm still coughing like crazy.  But I feel rested.

I love the time change.  Standard Time agrees with me so much more than Daylight Savings.  I find it ridiculous that we even have a time change, and it's even more ridiculous when you consider that Standard Time is shorter in length than Daylight Savings.  The Standard is the Standard, as Coach Tomlin, the Steelers head coach, would say.  Anyway, Melody took advantage of the extended night of sleep and didn't get up until almost 10 a.m.

We had a nice, quiet afternoon, mostly watching football (me).  Melody decided today was the first day of the Christmas Season, and she spent the whole day listening to Christmas music.

Tomorrow will be my fourth day of missing work, between the funeral and pneumonia.  I have a followup appointment with the doctor tomorrow, and I'm hoping he'll clear me to return to work.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Case of Pneumonia

Well, on the positive side, I've got a forced weekend of rest and relaxation ahead of me.  That's all I've got, though.

I broke down today and decided I needed to see my doctor.  My cough wasn't improving, and in fact was getting worse since it began over the weekend, and I was losing sleep (and work!) trying to put on a smile and deal with it.

Since I was up, and daughter Melody was getting ready to head off to school, I decided to go to work.  I had already missed two days this week, between my great grandmother-in-law's death and homegoing, and taking off due to my cough and lack of energy yesterday, and I really hate being out of the office for any reason other than vacation.  I sure wasn't feeling like I should be at work, though, and it was apparent that my employees all thought the same thing, given the comments I received from them after they took one look at me.  I guess I looked pretty lousy.  I never had a face for playing poker.  I planned to call my doctor's office to see if they could take me in today, but I remembered that my father, who also sees the doc, told me he was on vacation this week.  Plan B meant heading to the emergency room, which I really didn't care to do, or go to one of those ER-like stand-alone little medical centers.  I chose Patient's First in Columbia.

I left work at 10, not too long after my employees pretty much threatened to MAKE me leave, and drove up 29 from Silver Spring to Columbia.  I arrived at 10:30.  The parking lot was crowded, but the lobby/waiting area was practically empty.  The front desk had a questionnaire on a touchscreen, which asked whether I had recently been to any of several exotic foreign countries, and whether I had any of a number of symptoms, and then it asked a few personal, identifying questions.  I was told to have a seat and I would be called soon.

I was called soon...within 30 seconds, in fact.  I went into a small room where a lady took all of my personal information (including the fact that I had visited a Patient's First once before, with my daughter, about 8 years ago), and then she entered my symptoms (cough, fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue) into the computer.  I paid my co-pay, then I was told to have a seat in the waiting room and I would be called soon.  Again, I was seated for less than 30 seconds when my name was called, and I entered the main room.  I was weighed, measured, vitaled, and then sent to own private little partitioned room.  A nurse asked for my symptoms (again), and then told me to undress from the waist up and she handed me a gown, with instructions to keep the opening in the back.  Well, at least I could leave my pants on.  I quickly changed, and then was taken to another room where they took two X-rays.  Then I was lead back to my private cabana and told to wait, that the doctor would be there soon.

Soon quickly turned into an hour.  I could hear a lot of activity on the other side of the curtain separating me from the rest of the "hospital," and it sounded like they were having a good time.  But no one came to check on me.  I continued to periodically hack up a bucket of phlegm, and I still felt awful, but all I could do was wait.  Thank goodness for smartphones.  I played a lot of Candy Soda Crush, texted with my father, and continued to expect someone to check on me at any moment.  I had gotten comfortable on the bed, and I soon got pretty drowsy.  I guess I must've dozed off for a few seconds, because soon there was as knock outside my "door" and the doctor entered the room.  I must've jumped three feet off the bed.

The doctor went over my symptoms (again) and showed me the results of the X-rays.  His diagnosis was pneumonia!  I surely didn't expect that!  He said he wanted to do a few more tests before sending me home.  First, he wanted to draw blood to check my white blood cell count.  Second, he wanted to have me use a nebulizer to see if that would help my cough.  He then left again.  Within five minutes, another nurse entered and set up the nebulizer, which was like a breathing tube with an oxygen mist that I would breathe in through my mouth.  But I first had to take a breathing test, using a gadget that measured how quickly I could exhale a breath of air.  My first try was in the 450 range.  The second was around 400.  Then I was told to make myself comfortable on the examining table and the nebulizer was started.  She said it would take about 10 minutes to run through the test.  Then she left. Two minutes later, a second nurse entered to draw blood.  I always enjoy doing that.  When she finished, I was alone again...for about 15 minutes (I thought the test was only 10 minutes?).  The first nurse returned, turned off the nebulizer, and asked if I felt any better.  I could feel a little bit of difference, but not much.  She had me do the exhaling test again, and I hit 500, which she said was the goal.  Then she left.  I was alone again for another 20 minutes.

Finally, the doctor returned.  He concluded again that I likely had pneumonia, and he prescribed an antibiotic and Albuterol, an oral inhaler.  He gave me several printouts with instructions and details about the day's appointment.  He said he wanted me to return in three days for a follow-up.  He said I could get dressed and he would see me on Monday.  And I was free to leave, after over two hours.

I was a bit frustrated that I had been there so long.  The downtime was ridiculous.  But then I reasoned that I was able to get X-rays and all of the tests in one appointment, all of which would not have been possible at my regular doctor's office.  He likely would've sent me to the ER, and I was able to get all of the same things done that the ER would've done.  So I guess it was all good.  I might actually recommend Patient's First, though I still have an issue with how they treated my daughter 8 years ago.  But that's a story for another time.

So I'm home and on forced relaxation, and I'm loaded with all kinds of meds and tools for battling a case of pneumonia.  My wonderful daughter has promised to take care of me all weekend, even with Halloween happening tomorrow night.  And I can't help but thank the Lord for the doctors who are able to care for us when we're sick, for the medicine that assists us in healing our bodies, and a loving family to take care of me when we're feeling lousy.  And I am feeling really lousy.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Yesterday was the funeral and homegoing celebration for my daughter's great grandmother.  It was a sad occasion, but it also was a learning experience.  It's tough being an in-law in a close-knit family.  I'm related but only through marriage, and that connection is never as close as flesh and blood.  But what yesterday reminded me is that love surpasses all of this.  The love of this family is so strong, and they show me that love during these times of crisis.  Despite Meemaw being 94 and having lived a long and fulfilling life, and spending much of the past dozen years she's lived in the haze of Alzheimer's, the love she showed to her children, which has lived on in each generation following, is what will always be central to the family dynamic.  And it's not just a love for each other.  It's a love for Jesus.  I had a vision during the funeral service of my grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed, who loved the Lord himself, sitting down to a conversation with Meemaw and Pop, Teresa's grandparents, as well as Teresa.  And that is such a comfort to me.


Melody seemed to take the whole experience in stride.  For a little girl who seemingly is surrounded by the stigma of death (losing her mother at 5 months old), she really hasn't experienced loss in any other way.  Several years ago, a close friend lost her father, and that ended up being Melody's first funeral.  It was a closed casket, and she didn't really know him, so the emotional attachment wasn't there.  However, with the death of her great grandmother, this was the first time she has had someone close to her pass away, and I was concerned about how this might affect her.  But she did well.

We talk often about the love of Christ, and eternal life in Heaven, and while she readily admits that she understands it, she hasn't made the decision to bring Him into her heart.  It will be her decision.  I look forward to that day so much.


I seem to have come down with a fairly severe bronchial infection of some sort.  I've been miserable.  Hacking cough accompanied by lots of phlegm, body aches, sweating, and chills.  It hit me a few days ago, and while I worked on Tuesday, I steadily got worst as the day went along.  The viewing for Meemaw was Tuesday evening, and I got through it with lots of cough drops.  Wednesday morning was the funeral, and I was able to get some meds to help me.  That was helpful, but I was pretty miserable by afternoon, and we came home and crashed.  It sure didn't help that it was pouring down rain at the cemetery, and as a pall bearer, I was soaked.  After a rough night, I was significantly worse this morning, and I stayed home from work again.  What a miserable day.  I couldn't get comfortable, and my body aches made any movement so painful.  I slept through most of the day, but the cough returned like clockwork anytime the meds wore off, every four hours.  It was a long day.

Tomorrow is Friday, and after being out of the office for the past two days, I hate missing another, but it's probably better to stay home and rest, and not bring any germs into the office.  We'll see how I'm feeling in the morning.


Today is my brother's actual birthday, and I want to give a shout out to him.  So proud of my little brother.  Happy birthday, Kiddo!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Death in the Family and a Birthday

It continues to feel like anything but normal these days.  My new hours at work have been a big adjustment for me, and my days just seem to fly by.  While I love this time of year, I'm not looking forward to when I will be going to work in the dark, and coming home in the dark.

We received some sad news on Friday.  My wife's grandmother, and daughter's great grandmother, went to be with the Lord.  She was 94.  She suffered from Alzheimer's for about a dozen years, and was in a nursing home for much of that time.

I met Meemaw and Pop shortly after meeting my wife, Teresa.  They were so nice.  Pop was a great guy who loved the Lord, and I was proud to know him.  Meemaw was so funny, and I loved listening to her fuss over the things Pop would do or say.  I remember being in Florida visiting with them, and one evening, while riding around Lakeland, getting a nice little tour, they carried on back and forth for about 30 minutes, arguing about where we were going, what we were seeing, and why were we doing it.  It was hilarious.

Pop passed away in February 2004 after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Teresa passed away two months later.  It was a terrible time for the whole family.  Unfortunately, Meemaw didn't know what was happening at the time, and it was right around then that she was moved into the nursing home.  She was there ever since.

We visited her every few months, but it was difficult watching her struggle with not knowing us.  At first, she acted like she knew us, and I'm sure she knew she was supposed to know us.  Later, though, she just didn't know us at all, even though she was as nice as she could be towards us.

We saw her last weekend, and it turned out to be the last time we saw her before she passed on.  Aunt Jody was with her constantly over the past 10 days, and I know this was difficult for her.  She was completely devoted to her mom.  I'm glad to have known her, and I'm doubly glad that Melody was able to know her.  How many of us remember our great grandparents?  Though a few of mine were alive, I was too young to remember them.  Melody will always have this memory.

Rest in peace, Meemaw.


Yesterday we celebrated my brother's birthday.  He'll be 41 later this week, but we took advantage of the weekend to spend some time with him and his family.  We watched the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Chiefs.  That wasn't the plan.  The Steelers were supposed to win, but with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still out with a knee injury, and the Steelers playing their fourth (!) string QB, Landry Jones, it was a tough game.  Big Ben will likely be back next week.

Anyway, each year, right around this time, we all get together for Darren's birthday.  My little brother, who is 6'6" tall, looks forward to all of us getting together for a Steelers game and cake and ice cream.  We had a lot of fun.

Darren and I are very different.  He would be the first to say that I didn't prepare my parents for him (or my sister).  I was a straight-shooter.  I didn't rock the boat, or do anything to make my parents mad at me.  I didn't sneak out of the house.  I didn't drink (I still don't).  I don't fight.  I don't curse.  I got good grades.  I did well in school.  I always tried to do the right thing.  I've had a safe government career.  I'm wired for responsibility.

Darren has lived life.  He had no problem being a "bad boy."  He got into trouble.  He once backed the car down the driveway (at the age of 14), right over the bush at the bottom, without my parents ever finding out.  He conveniently placed his bike over the broken bush, telling Mom & Dad that he crashed his bike into it.  They believed him, but were so disappointed and angry when they discovered the truth.  Darren hung out with a bad crowd.  He got into trouble for throwing rocks at passing cars.  He got in trouble for sneaking out of the house at night.  He got into fights.  He struggled in school.  He's still trying to find his niche in life.

He used to get angry with me when HE got in trouble, because I never did.  So we never really became buddies.  We tend to argue when we're around each other too long.  We're much better being together for short doses.  We both can't stand to admit the other is right about something.

He's a good kid, and I'm so proud of him for being true to himself.  He's doing well, and I'm happy for him.  Happy birthday, Bro!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mapping Booklandia

I'm a map geek.  I can't help it.  I love maps.  I buy a new Rand McNally Road Atlas every year and pour over it looking for all of the changes from the previous edition.  I have a collection of old atlases, some almost 100 years old, because I love looking at the old maps.  I have a collection of old globes, too.  And a few old gas station road maps.  There's something beautiful about a map.  Maps are a representation of actual places, and I love how the cartographer (the map maker) interprets how the map should be designed.  They are used for all kinds of purposes, to show us where to go, or how to get to where we want to go.  And they're all around us.  They are literally everywhere.

I love to plan a road trip, and so I will periodically start looking through my road atlas and pick a state, or landmark, and plan a trip around it.  I have a log of more than 20 different trips that I want to go on, all at various lengths and destinations.  My favorite trips were my two cross-country loops, one alone, and one with my wife.  I also drove down old Route 66, one of the most incredible drives I've ever taken.  But I honestly had as much fun planning these trips as I did actually taking them.  And it's all because of maps.

It's kind of sad that map reading skills are disappearing with the proliferation of GPS, or Global Positioning Systems.  These nifty gadgets are now everywhere; in your car, on your smartphone...they're everywhere.  You don't have to be able to read a map anymore.  All you have to do is ask it where you want to go, and it will tell you how to get there.  I guess they make things easier.  But for me, the fun is in trying to figure out on my own how to get to where I want to go.

When I was deciding on where I wanted to go to college, I decided I should be a computer science major.  Once in college, I discovered that I had a lot of other choices.  But I was surprised when I found a geography class.  I took it and I had a blast!  I had no idea I could be a geography major.  But that's what I wanted to do.  I became a cartographer, and began a career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Aeronautical Charting.  And I've been there ever since.  And I love it, even if I'm no longer practicing cartography.  Management isn't quite as much fun.

Anyway, my point is writing this is because my wonderful daughter, Melody, in her Geography class, was assigned a project where she had to design her own country.  She determined how it would look, what kind of topographic features it would contain, where the towns and cities would be located, what kind of natural resources it might have, and she had to come up with names for all of these features.  On the flip side of her design, she had to create a map of a city within her country, and what the street layout would look like, where stores, hospitals, schools, neighborhoods, police stations, fire stations, parks, municipal buildings, and so many other features would be located, and then she had to come up with names for each of them.  I think I was more excited for her to do this project than she was!

Mockingbird City, capital of Booklandia

The results were profound.  Her country, "Booklandia," so named because of her love of books and reading, is a work of art.  She named many of the features after books she has read, with names like Mockingbird City (named for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, her mother's favorite novel), as an example.  I'm just so impressed!  She approached this project with gusto, and the result is inspiring.  And I didn't have to help her with any of it.  She designed the whole thing herself, with no input from me.  I couldn't be more proud of her.

So I don't know if my girl has a future as a cartographer.  As I mentioned, with the proliferation of digital navigation aids, there aren't too many needs for cartographers.  My employees are all called "Aeronautical Information Specialists" now.  Our tools are GIS hardware and software, not exacto knives and scribers.  We don't use paper much anymore, and paper charts are being replaced by digital files.  My boss recently asked our employees, "Who, besides Eric, still buys road atlases?" Not very many raised their hands, and there were chuckles that I was mentioned by name as someone who does.  But it doesn't change my opinion.  I love maps.

Have a great evening, everyone!  Don't get lost out there!  And don't get so dependant on technology that you forget, or don't learn, how to use a map.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens

Just about every year since I was a youngster my family and I have traveled to Williamsburg, VA, and visited Busch Gardens, one of the nicest theme parks in the world.  We go not just because we love the roller coasters, which are all world class, but also because it is so beautiful, the food is fantastic, the employees are friendly, and the setting is so relaxing.  Last Friday was one of those trips, and my daughter Melody and I, along with my parents, my sister, and my brother and his family, had a very nice time.  But it wasn't great.  Like all businesses, and Busch Gardens is a business, they want to make money.  In the Fall, the park is transformed for Howl-o-scream, their Halloween "celebration," and this is where Busch Gardens has changed from family-centric to anything goes.  And that isn't a good thing...for families.

We arrived in Williamsburg on Thursday evening after a hectic drive.  I left work a few hours early to get a jump on rush hour, but it became clear that the best plans don't always work out the way we want them to.  Hitting the road at 3:30, we met heavy traffic at every turn.  I-95 south out of Howard County usually isn't too bad in the afternoon, but traffic was already barely moving.  I decided to work my way over to US 1, but then decided to take Powder Mill Road across the Agricultural Research Center, eventually cutting over to Route 450.  We jumped on the Beltway here, and crawled pretty much all the way to Route 4, where we bailed and cut across towards 301 south.  Traffic in Brandywine was terrible, so we again took back roads around Waldorf.  We made it to La Plata at about 5:45.  Mom, Dad, and sister Angie had stopped at the Texas Roadhouse in La Plata for dinner, and we were able to join them just as they ordered their food.

Melody wanted to ride with them, so I drove alone in our Jeep the rest of the way to Williamsburg.  It was smooth sailing all the way down 301 into Virginia, and at Bowling Green, we took Route 207 to I-95.  I-95 is like a race track, and after some white knuckle driving, we took I-295 to I-64 towards the Tidewater area.  After about 5 minutes, traffic screeched to a halt:  road construction.  For the next 30 minutes, we crawled.  Then it cleared up and we had no problems the rest of the way.  We arrived at our hotel at 9 p.m.  Our typical three hour trip became well over five.  I was exhausted, and we quickly checked in, sorted out our room assignments (Mom & Dad, Melody & Angie, and me, with my brother joining me on Friday night), and went to bed.

Our hotel on this trip was a very well-regarded EconoLodge that we had stayed in the past.  It's old, but clean and decent, and we actually got to know the owner and his family from our previous trips.  I had stopped staying here a few years ago because, frankly, there are much better, more modern places to stay nearby, though not necessarily as inexpensive.  But because everyone is on a budget, we agreed that this would be a good place for us to rest our heads.  Friday morning, we were reminded why we don't like staying here:  the free breakfast.  I know it's free, but all hotels offer a free breakfast anymore, and this one isn't even close to being par.  We were offered hot or cold cereal, bread, and, at least according to my sister, terrible coffee.  After eating, we headed out to Busch Gardens.

It was cool and partly sunny to start the day.  We were looking forward to what was forecast:  60 degrees and mostly sunny skies, with 0% chance of rain.  As the day went along, however, we were reminded that, despite all of the technology available to meteorologists, the weather can't be predicted until you look out the window.  Within minutes of arriving, the skies grew dark and it began to spit rain.  We're optimists, so we hoped that the rain might keep the crowds down, but everyone likely saw the same forecast as we did, and wouldn't change their plans despite how it looked.

Brother Darren and his girlfriend, Erica, and her daughters, Brit & Cait, arrived soon after we did.  We got our requisite group picture, in England, and then we started having fun.  We headed to our usual first ride, on the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster, in Scotland, but it was our first hint that the crowds would be large.  So we mixed it up.  We all took the sky ride over to France and found no line for the Griffon.  We all (except Mom) hopped in line and rode in the front row for an exhilarating ride.  After it was over, the line was still short enough for a second ride, so we rode again.

We continued to ride many more rides as we walked through the park, then we had a nice lunch at the Festhaus in Germany's Oktoberfest.  We arrived in time to see one of the shows, which had a Halloween theme, a song and dance show with bad puns.  But the food was outstanding, as usual.  After a break, we headed back out, but the rain was coming down much harder now.  We decided to shop for warmer weather, since it was clear it wasn't getting out of the 50s, and would be chilly when the sun goes down.  Then it was back to the rides.  The crowds continued to be heavy, and we weren't able to ride some of our favorites without long waits.

Busch Gardens is a beautiful place, and it has an added mystique about it in the Fall.  The leaves have started to change, and the air feels great.  My family has always enjoyed Halloween.  We like the scary stuff.  We've always recognized it for what it is:  entertainment.  But it's also more than that for the park.  This is where things have changed.  Halloween was a subtle addition to Busch Gardens, and really, all amusement parks, a few decades ago.  Now it's an industry.  A money-making industry.  And the appeal is more than just for families.  The park has changed by adding risque shows, and "haunted houses" that take things much farther than rides and decorations.  And these changes bring in teens, many without any supervision, and young adults, who would much rather drink and party than just be scared.  And the park has obliged them.  When nightfall came, the park transformed, with an influx of hundreds of people entering just for the Howl-o-scream festivities.  The seven or eight haunted houses opened up, each a walk-through slash- and gore-fest scare factory, with waits as long as an hour to enter them.  In other places, the techno dance music is turned up to an ear-blistering level, and bars with beer and mixed drinks are available for all who want them.  The anything goes looseness comes with it.  The park has specific areas marked as smoking lounges, but I saw MANY people lighting up cigarettes everywhere.  Busch Gardens is NOT family-centric anymore, not for Howl-o-scream.  And this is where the park has sacrificed what makes it unique to us.  It just isn't fun.  And that's unfortunate.

We visited a few of the haunted houses.  One had a theme of lumberjacks who hack up unsuspecting guests.  Another is a cornfield filled with killers.  And yet another is a demon-possessed house.  Mom's knee gave out on her, so Dad and she went to the entrance to wait for the rest of us.  We rode the Loch Ness Monster one more time before heading out.  It was a fun day, but not at all what we expected, though we've noticed changes in the park over the last few years.  It's making us jaded.  And that's sad.

The park is celebrating 40 years of operation, and we've been coming for 38 of those years.  The problems we're seeing aren't limited to just Busch Gardens.  They're at all amusement parks. And they are very popular.  I guess we're just in the minority.  We're all getting older, and our disappointment stems from what we're used to, and what we would prefer to experience.  Things change.  Maybe the Christmas season will be better.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pastor Mark

My wife, Teresa, and I were looking for a new church home.  My wife's church, where we attended after we were married, was a place Teresa had been attending since her teens, but after we moved to Howard County, it was just too far away.  So, in the Summer of 2003, with a little one on the way, we began shopping around.  We visited four different churches, but none of them felt comfortable to us.  Then Teresa remembered a family that attended Mount Hebron High School, where she had been teaching 9th grade English and Public Speaking before moving to Reservoir High School upon its opening.  The student's father was the pastor of a church in the area.  She had gotten to know the parents, Mark and Lu, at regular Parent-Teacher conferences, and since Teresa taught three of their children over the course of several years, they met quite often and got to know each other well.  Teresa also noted that she could tell which students at the school attended this church, since the youth program was particularly strong, and the students just had a way about them that made them stand out.  Teresa suggested that maybe we should visit their church.  That was enough of a recommendation for me, and the next Sunday, we attended Grace Community Church for the first time.

We liked Grace from the start.  Pastor Mark was very approachable, and his message was strong.  I liked his style and demeanor.  He was confident, knowledgeable, and humble.  And, man, could he pray!  The style of worship was very similar to our previous church home, so that made us feel comfortable.  And the fact that there were a few people there that Teresa recognized allowed us to feel a little more at home and less like visitors.  I told Teresa after the service that I thought we had found a new church home.

The only downside was the location.  While it was much closer to our home than Rockville, it was still a fair jaunt from our home in Laurel, and it also seemed very crowded.  The church was in an office park, and it really didn't feel like a church.  Parking was also an issue.  But it was clear that the church had a future building plan, and that was encouraging.  So we started to attend regularly.  It was great being in a new church family, and between the wonderful people we met, and Pastor Mark's messages, we started to feel energized.  It was nice to have a new church home.

Our daughter, Melody, was born in November that year, and we had to get our parenting legs under us.  It was actually a couple of months before we were comfortable enough to return to Grace with a baby and leave her in the nursery with "strangers."  But soon that was comfortable, too.  I remember that Easter Sunday, in April of 2004, Grace moved the services to Howard High School, and Melody was returned to us with a diaper change (with a sticker on the backside of her diaper letting us know that she had been changed).  We chatted briefly with Mark and Lu before leaving on that rainy Easter morning.

One week later, Teresa died.  It was the most horrible experience of my life.  She had suffered a fatal heart attack during a stroll that evening, and her death and home-going changed my life, and that of our little girl.  Melody was 5 months old, and I was still learning how to be a father.  Now I was a widower at the ripe old age of 34.  Mark showed up at our home the following morning.  He was such a pro.  It was obvious to me he knew exactly what he was doing, even if I didn't see it at the time.  He was so supportive, not just of me, but also my in-laws, who were grieving right along with me.  Mark was able to point us in the right direction of a funeral home and cemetery, as well as help us plan the funeral service at Grace.  And he prayed with us.  He was with us at the viewings at the funeral home, and supported us right through the funeral, connecting us with many people who were there to help, including the preparation of a wonderful meal after the burial back at the church that the people of Grace hosted for the family and a couple of hundred guests and loved ones.  I will never forget the incredible generosity and love that Grace showed us during that dark time.

Fast-forward one year, and I was in the midst of a deep depression.  I had been struggling with some health issues, and my faith was in a period of stagnation because I just wasn't allowing myself to find comfort in the Lord.  Grief overwhelmed me.  Prayers became rote and meaningless, at least it seemed.  I was attending Grace regularly still, but I found that I was breaking down often during the services, mostly upon hearing songs that I know Teresa loved to sing.  I hit rock bottom, but I was conscious of a need for spiritual help, and I poured out my soul into an email message that was sent to several of the pastors in my life.  While a few returned messages offering various degrees of support, only Mark called me on the phone and suggested we get together to chat.  And we did.

We met a few days later at Seibel's, a restaurant in Burtonsville, MD.  The first thing Mark noticed is that we were both wearing leather bomber jackets.  Then we talked.  Mark has this way about him that immediately put me at ease, and he really listened to me.  We talked about my health issues, and he told me about someone at the church who had a similar issue, and gave me that person's phone number so that I could talk about the procedure that I needed to have done, one that this person could give me the details about.  It really helped ease my mind about it.  Additionally, we talked about my daughter, and he suggested that I was really not going to be much good to her until I got help for myself.  This may sound like common sense, but I sure wasn't thinking straight at the time, and these were blockbuster suggestions.  We talked a bit about Job, and the fact that people still go through Job-like situations.  And then we prayed together.  We embraced as Christian brothers, and said our goodbyes, with Mark promising to check on me, and letting me know I could talk to him whenever I needed to.  And that day was the beginning of my healing road.  I don't know if he knows just how much he helped me that cold day during the Winter of 2005, but it meant the world to me.  God used Mark to get my attention.

Several years later, Mark and Lu set me up on a blind date.  They didn't just give me this young lady's phone number and send us out on a date; they set up the entire evening for us, including how to recognize each other at the Joanne Fabrics store in Columbia, to a bag full of conversation topics, to gift cards to restaurants for dinner, to instructions for each step of the entire evening of our date.  It was easily the most unique date I had ever been on.  While their attempt at matchmaking wasn't successful, it was a fun time and created a great memory, and I am so honored that Mark and Lu felt inclined to give us such a wonderful gift.

Grace Community Church is a special place.  And Pastor Mark is a special person.  I will continue to pray for him, and for his family, and as my friend.  Thanks, Mark!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Morning

Saturday mornings are so relaxing.  Even though I didn't sleep in, which was common before I adjusted my sleep schedule a few months ago, I had a lot of energy and was ready to take on the world.  However, now that my daughter has taken on the characteristics of a full-fledged typical teenager, my day doesn't seem to get started until 10 or 11 a.m.  I've been up for over four hours and not much to say for it, other than wiping out the backlog on my Tivo.

The other thing I get to do is catch up on my blog reading.  I read a few dozen blogs semi-regularly, and there are a lot of good writers out there.  I always find out something new, and I'm constantly updating the list of blogs on the left-side of my own blog.  There's a lot to recommend, though don't assume that just because I provide a link means I agree with the opinions they share.  I just find them interesting.

I've been challenged recently by a new work schedule, which places me right in the heart of rush hour, both morning and afternoon.  I hate it, to put it bluntly.  It is unreal to me just how horrible we have it in the greater-metropolitan Washington, DC, area.  My commute is now almost double what it used to be, yet it's the same distance.  I've tried every shortcut I'm aware of, and apparently everyone knows every one of them.  Traffic literally crawls.  It is maddening.  My boss said I should use public transportation.  That would be great if there actually was reliable public transportation that was anywhere near where I live.  Why Howard County doesn't have something other than commuter buses is beyond me.  The buses have to use the same route that I use to get to work, so I'm not saving any time, and co-workers tell me they've abandoned using the buses because, in the afternoon, those same buses, which originate in DC, don't even stop to pick up passengers in downtown Silver Spring because they're already full, so catching one becomes an uncomfortable wait, especially when the weather gets chilly.  Carpooling may be an option, but it won't get me to work any quicker.

My boss loves that I'm at the office later in the day, however.  Most of my colleagues are out of the office at 3, which is what time I used to leave over my entire 24 year career, until school started in August, which is why I had to adjust my schedule.  My boss, who works until 6 pm everyday, loves having one of her managers in the office to handle crises that could possibly come up but never do.  But I'm there.  At least someone likes my new schedule.

Dinner is a little later at our house nowadays.  This makes it more difficult to come home and do things before dinner.  No TV watching, no snacking, no errands, no cutting the grass, no resting... I come home and go write into food preparation.  And with our emphasis on eating better, I don't like to get carryout or go out to eat as often, even if that's easier.  It also means grocery shopping is more critical, as well.  Instead of shopping for 2 or 3 days worth of meals, I need a full weeks worth, at least.  Finding time to shop for groceries is a challenge, as well.  It's a bad cycle, but it's my life.

We haven't given up completely on going out to eat, though.  This past Thursday, with a slew of gift cards in hand, we made our way to our local Red Robin restaurant.  We realized, upon arriving, that the inside has been completely redecorated since we were last there, and that it has likely been three or four years since then.  The menu has not changed, though, and we ordered our favorites.  We then started to look at the staff to see if there was anyone we recognized.  For about five years, we ate at Red Robin on a weekly basis, with family and friends joining us.  It was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity for the grandparents to all get together with their only grandchild.  We also got to know much of the staff, and some of those folks, who have moved on to other work, school, or other Red Robins, remain friends to this day.  So we looked around, and sure enough, Lauren still works there!  We got to know Lauren when she dressed up as Red Robin on Kid's Nights, a long time ago.  And now she's one of the managers.  That's pretty cool.  She stopped by our table and greeted us, and it was great to catch up.

My daughter is finally up, so I'm off to continue my Saturday.  Have a great weekend, everyone!