Sunday, May 31, 2015

Friday Night At The Drive-in

My beautiful daughter and I attended the showings at the Bengies Drive-In in Middle River, MD, on Friday night.  We saw CINDERELLA, TOMORROWLAND, and the first 40 minutes or so of AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON (it was ridiculously late and we had already seen AVENGERS last weekend).  It was a beautiful if somewhat warm evening (for May), and the lineup was pretty good, so we had a great time.

Melody, my daughter, saw CINDERELLA a while ago, when she spent some time with her grandmother, and she told me it was good.  It was a live-action update of the Disney classic.  It was good, but it also struck me as such a sad movie.  While it had a happy ending, poor "Cinder" Ella had a very difficult life.


Ella seemed to have a joyous childhood with two parents who loved and adored her.  But very soon, we watch her mother die due to an illness, and there is immense sadness.  It struck me more given the fact that my daughter lost her mother when she was a baby, and though Melody never really knew her mom, I know only too well what a difficult loss it was.  It gets worse, though.  Ella's father, who is trying to find love again, asks his daughter for her blessing to pursue a new relationship, and soon they are sharing a house with a woman who appears nice enough, and her two spoiled brat daughters.  They don't seem to appreciate how generous and loving Ella and her father are to them, and while they certainly liven up the place, their lifestyle is much different, with wild parties and gambling the new norm.

Ella's father has to leave on business which will take him away for several months, and Ella is very sad to see him go.  She begins to feel the full brunt of the invasion of her stepmother and stepdaughters on her life, without her father there to take the lead of tempering their rude behavior.  Soon, news arrives that Ella's father was stricken by illness while traveling and he, too, passes away.  This is devastating news to Ella.  It struck me, too, as this has been my greatest fear for my daughter since my wife died:  that should I die, it would leave her without both of her parents.  Watching Ella deal with the increasing rudeness of the people she's left with only emphasizing the loneliness Ella feels, and fueled my fear.  This could be my daughter's future!

Now, I'm not married, but I dated a young lady very seriously several years ago, and we talked about marriage.  One of the issues I had with this woman was how she behaved towards my daughter.  She had never been a mother, and she didn't know how to deal with children, which is more obvious in hindsight, but even then became apparent the longer she was around Melody.  The relationship ended, and not well, marking the worst breakup I'd ever experienced (aside from my wife's death), but I can't help thinking that, if the relationship had progressed to marriage, and this woman had become Melody's stepmother, and something then happened to me, what kind of relationship might they have had?  If it was anything like this movie, it would be tragic.

In the movie, it didn't matter how nice and loving and giving Ella was towards her step family, they continued to treat her worse and worse, ridiculing her and reducing her to a servant role and stealing her happiness any chance they could, even banishing her to the attic of their huge, drafty house.

Redemption comes in the form of Ella's fairy godmother, but that's hardly reality.  Love wins out in the end, and Ella even does the right thing by forgiving her stepmother, something I didn't expect, but, given the goodness and love exhibited by Ella throughout the movie, wasn't a surprise.


I enjoyed the movie more than I expected.  I actually thought I might grab a short catnap during the opening movie to help me stay awake for THE AVENGERS, but I was enjoying it too much, and, overall, it ended up being better that we left when we did, which was less than halfway through the Avengers movie.  Fortunately, we already saw it.  We arrived home at around 2:30 a.m., and went straight to sleep.  I didn't wake up until 11:30 Saturday morning!

TOMORROWLAND was a good movie, as well, and nothing like what I expected.  It may be too intense for really young kids.  I was surprised by the amount of violence, and the life-and-death situations, which previews didn't really hint at, but, overall, we enjoyed it.  And AVENGERS is awesome.  Though it wasn't as great as the first Avengers movie, this was certainly exciting and exceeded my expectations.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How I Met Your Mother

Dear Melody,

Since today is your mom's birthday, let me tell you about how we met.  It was April 4, 1998.  I was living with my cousin, Dan, in Montgomery Village, MD.  Dan and I would spend many a Saturday morning getting breakfast at the local IHOP.  It was an opportunity to catch up on things, even though we saw each other just about every day.  Dan and I could talk about anything, and we regularly shared stories about our relationships situations.  He was dating a nice young lady at his church, and things were serious.  I was dating a young lady who lived just over an hour away, which made it essentially a long distance relationship.  I hate long distance relationships.  They never work out.  And this one wasn't going well.

Ellen and I met in August 1993 after being introduced to each other by my aunt in Uniontown, PA.  Aunt Sandi was taking classes at West Virginia University, and Ellen was in one of those classes.  My grandfather, Pap, was in the last days of his battle with cancer, and the end was near, and I was spending a lot of time with him.  Aunt Sandi invited Ellen to visit and we kind of hit it off.  We dated semi-seriously for about six months before things fizzled.  It was just too hard for us to date with her at WVU and me working full-time in the DC area, and, frankly, I don't think either of us felt like we were "the one."  Fast forward to the Summer of 1997, and she tracked me down and began to write to me.  Not email...actual hand-written letters.  She was interested in seeing if I wanted to get together.  She was now living in Northwestern Virginia, which, as I noted above, was still kind of far.  I finally agreed to drive out to visit in October, and there were enough sparks to warrant dating again.  But it still didn't feel right.

That morning at IHOP, I shared with Dan my concerns about the relationship, and that I was considering ending it.  In fact, we were due to get together that afternoon, but she had called to cancel, so I didn't have plans for that Saturday.  The wheels were turning in Dan's head and he quickly invited me to the Easter Passion Play he was performing in at his church that evening.  He said there was a nice girl in the show that I might like to meet.  I hemmed and hawed, and told him I would think about it.  Then we went on with our days.

I decided to go to the show.  I arrived at the church and found a seat in the back row.  I looked over the program and the cast list, but Dan had neglected to tell me the girl's name.  I had no idea who she was.  As the show began, I started scanning the actors on stage to see who might fit the age range of the girl Dan wanted me to meet.  I had no clue.

The performances were well done, and after the show, Dan came out to tell me that much of the cast was planning to go out to eat.  He invited me to go with them, and that would give me the chance to meet Teresa.  My heart was thumping, and I found myself feeling excited about meeting someone new.  I drove over to the restaurant, which was just down the street, on busy Rockville Pike.  The place was really crowded.  Dan decided that it was too crowded, and suggested we go somewhere else.  I waited on the sidewalk with him and a friend of his just outside of the restaurant while he intercepted everyone to redirect them to the other restaurant.  A teal-colored Pontiac Grand Am pulled up, and driver rolled down the window.  Dan told her where we were going, and she drove off.  Dan then leaned over and said that she was the one he wanted me to meet.  I noted that she and I had the same car, since I also had a Pontiac Grand Am.  After Dan was sure he had redirected everyone, I followed him over to the second restaurant.

We walked in, and since everyone was already seated, we had to take the only available seats remaining.  He quickly introduced me to everyone, then he sat the open seat next to Teresa.  I spent the evening with Dan sitting between me and the girl he wanted me to meet!  Since I was at the end of the table, and didn't know anyone except for Dan, I just kind of sat there as a fifth wheel, staring at the beautiful young lady with the great smile and out-going personality that appealed to me, sitting a few chairs over, trying not to look too eager or stalkerish.

We were at the restaurant for about two hours, then everyone decided to break and go home.  As we headed for the door, I finally had the chance to say something to Teresa.  Since I clearly have a way with words, I blurted out the only thing I could think of:  "Hey, you drive a Grand Am, too!"  She just looked at me like I had broccoli in my teeth.

At home, Dan asked if I wanted him to get her phone number, and I said, sure, I guess, if she even remembers me.  Fortunately, she did, and gave Dan her number the following day.  I guess I made somewhat of an impression on her.  Dan said she was going on vacation for Spring Break and would be gone for a week, though.  I decided to wait until she returned from her trip.  In the meantime, I drove out to see Ellen, and we mutually agreed that things weren't working out, and we had an amicable break-up.

I called Teresa about two weeks later, after getting my nerve up, and we had a great conversation.  She clearly sounded interested.  I guess my Grand Am line made an impression.  We went on our first date on May 2, almost a full month after meeting, and we had a great time.  She was more beautiful than I remembered, and she told me that I was much taller than she remembered.  We continued to see each other regularly, frequently, and seriously, and fell in love.  In February of 1999, I proposed, she said yes, and we were married the following July.  The storybook romance was completed when Mommy gave birth to a little girl in November of 2003.

God blessed our family so much.  There was a lot of love in our little family, and I only wish Mommy was still with us.  She passed away on April 19, 2004.

And that's how I met your mother.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Mighty Sound of Maryland

After going to my old band director's retirement as the Director of Bands at the University of Maryland last weekend, I've been thinking a lot about my days in the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band.  I had played with my high school band, at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and I had a blast.  Music was my thing back then.  I played the clarinet in both the marching band and symphonic band, and alto sax in the jazz band, so I was a committed student.  Coming to the University of Maryland, though, was a bit like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON.  I was very unprepared for both the size of the band and the seriousness of the musicianship among the students there.  I was very much a small fish and a big pond.

The Mighty Sound has what is called "Early Week," which is a bit like boot camp.  It's an intense week of all-day rehearsals outside and inside, where we learned the pre-game show, the music, and the first few halftime shows for the upcoming football season.  There's a lot of bonding that goes on, as well, as we get to know our fellow band mates.

There are many romances that begin that week, some of which carry forward for the entire season (and sometimes for a lifetime!).  I wish it had worked that way for me (though I realize that God had a plan for me, and I have no regrets).  I had a buddy that first year.  Miss Renee was an oh-so-nice and very cute young clarinet player who was as new to the band as me, and it was fun getting to know her.  We weren't so close that we hung out together, but certainly, we seemed to hit it off well enough.  I was so clueless, though.  I'm pretty sure, if I had only asked, we could have dated, and who knows what may have happened.  But I didn't make a move, and her apparent interest in me, which I only saw in hindsight, quickly went to someone else.

Mr. Sparks could be fairly intimidating, much like an Army Sargent, and he would call people out if you were out of step or at the wrong spot on the field.  He stood at the top of a large tower during rehearsals and could see the entire field, and he used a PA system so everyone could hear him.  It was better if he didn't know your name.  I kept my head down, and I'm sure he didn't know mine.  But he knew my face.  During one intense rehearsal, he was standing down on the field.  We had finished one routine, and I guess we didn't do it quite to his satisfaction.  He said to do the end of the routine again.  We did it again.  He said to do it again, and we did it again.  He was really unhappy about something, and he was actually on the field, but because of the location of the speakers for the PA system, it was hard to know exactly where he was on the field.  He told us to do it again.  So we did it again.  It was at that point I realized that his anger was aimed at me.  He walked right over and stood directly in front of me, giving me one of his cold, icy stares.  He said to do it again.  I broke into a cold sweat.  My knees felt like they were going to buckle.  We did it again.  And then he looked me right the eyes, and he said, "Good man," and he flashed me a very slight grin.  Whew.

After two seasons in the Mighty Sound, I had had enough.  My grades hadn't been very good, and the amount of time I had to devote to the band was interfering on my studies.  I was a commuter student and I had a pretty busy life outside of school, mostly as a youth counselor at my church, and the band just didn't fit in.  It wasn't an easy decision, but it was better for me.  The band rehearsed on the field every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., and inside rehearsals on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., plus games and other events almost every weekend through the Fall season.  It was rough.  If I had lived on campus, it might have been different, but throw in a 30 minute drive to and from campus, which is what I had, and it was a lot.

But, wow, what memories I had of my time with the band.  It was fun and I enjoyed it, overall.  I'm hopeful that my wonderful daughter, should she decide to go to the University of Maryland (or any school, really), that she will decide to play with the band.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Impromptu Weekend of Something

Memorial Day weekend is not one of those weekends where I typically look for things to do.  It's generally the first day off since President's Day back in February, and I like having the opportunity to do a whole lot of nothing.  When I DO do something, it ends up being lots of yard work that I've put off since the beginning of Spring.  So we didn't plan to do anything this weekend.  And that's why it became so memorable.  Go figure.  A memorable Memorial Day weekend.

We started out enjoying a trip to the reclining movie theater, which I established in my last post.  Go check it out.  The theater, not the post.  Well, okay, go read the post, too.    'll wait.

Okay, so that's how the weekend started.  On Saturday, we had a bunch of errands to run, and so we ended up all over Columbia, stopping at four different stores and a quick, very enjoyable lunch at the always enjoyable Pub Dog.  Pub Dog has pretty awesome pizza.  After running our errands, and me striking out on getting a much-needed haircut, we rushed home, changed clothes, got ourselves all gussied up, and headed out for our next big event.

When I was a student at the University of Maryland, I played in the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band.  It was a lot of fun.  I loved having an immediate social group upon arriving on campus, and since I was a commuter, it was my link to on-campus life.  I only wish I had made more connections at the time.  I kind of kept to myself, and I didn't make any friends.  You know, those lasting friendships that carry forward into adulthood and old age?  I didn't have any of them.  Anyway, my point in bringing it up is that, on Saturday evening, my old band director, who eventually became the Director of Bands at the University, Dr. L. Richmond Sparks, retired this month, and there was a big retirement celebration at the Clarice Center on campus on Saturday night.  I took my daughter, Melody, and it was a really incredible evening of music performances by the Alumni Band and remembrances.  We had a great time, and I saw many familiar faces even if they didn't remember me (though I DO think my ol' buddy, Renee, remembered me even if we didn't get a chance to talk).  And I love being able to share this part of my life with Melody.  She is experiencing quite a bit of college life over the past few months, and it's pretty cool.

We awoke kind of late on Sunday morning, and while I wanted to get out and do something fun, we really hadn't planned anything specific.  We talked about going down to Luray Caverns, or the Virginia Renaissance Festival.  Melody then said the magic words:  "I want to go someplace where we can ride a roller coaster!"  So we got dressed and hit the road for Hershey, PA, and a day at Hersheypark.  This was just what the doctor ordered.  We left at noon and were there in a few short hours.  And we rode roller coasters.  Lots of them.  And so, an impromptu trip to Hersheypark became a memory.  And it was awesome.

The ride home wasn't so awesome.  I was tired. Really tired.  And despite what you may think, finding a cup of coffee at midnight on a Sunday night isn't as easy as you might think.  And when I get tired, I get grumpy.  I finally found a convenience store, and while they didn't have any hot coffee, I did get a bottle of iced coffee.  And that woke me up enough to get us home.  Safely.

Monday morning was more impromptu stuff.  It was Memorial Day.  It was also my mother-in-law's birthday.  We called to wish her well and invite her to lunch.  We had a nice visit and a delicious meal at our local Red Lobster.  Then we rushed home, got some more stuff, and headed over to Mom & Dad's for a cookout.  Always great to visit with my folks.

And then I came home and crashed.  It's back to work tomorrow.  But it's really nice to have had a great weekend of fun.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Reclining at the Movies

My daughter and I went to the movies last night and it turned into a neat, memorable experience.  We went to the "new" Laurel Towne Centre, which has a multiplex movie theater.  The theater has a cool feature that you might say is about time:  reclining seats!  Watching a movie here was like sitting in my living room.

Our plan was to see the new AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON movie.  Even though the movie has been out for almost a month, I wasn't sure how crowded it might be, especially since it was a Friday night.  I ordered tickets through, and discovered that the Regal movie theater has reserved seating.  I'm not sure I like the direction theaters are going with this.  While I can certainly see the benefits of having a reserved seat, especially if it's for a new release and crowds are expected, I like the freedom of going into a theater and scoping out where the best seats are given where other folks might already be sitting.  Since I didn't know what this theater looked like, I also was hesitant about choosing seats that might not be the best in relation to the screen.  That said, I elected to reserve the seats, since it appeared that there were a number of seats already reserved by others.

We arrived at the theater early, about 30 minutes before the movie was due to start.  Theater #3, where our movie was playing, was empty, so we were able to explore a little bit.  There were more seats than the Fandango app showed, so it appears that there are only a limited number of seats available for reservations, leaving the rest for walk-ups, I'm guessing.  Our seats, in Row B, were right in the center of the row, but the seats were all much too close to the screen.  The rows are spread out purposely to allow for the recliners to open up and still allow folks to walk through the aisles.

Once seated, we could tell that we were too close to the screen, and I started to regret reserving the seats in advance (though I guess it really wouldn't have mattered -- I had no way of knowing until I was in the theater).  I'll know for the future, though.  The recliners are really comfortable.  They are powered, and as the footrest lifts, the back begins to recline slightly, which made it a little bit easier to see the entire screen.  Even reclined, though, Row B is still too close, and I found it hard to see the entire screen.  There are only about five rows total, though so you're really limited as to where you can sit.  I'd say there were about 60 or so total seats in the theater.  It's possible that there are larger individual theaters for first-run movies.  Each seat has a built-in swinging table-top, which you can move to suit your comfort, and a cup holder.  Seats are paired up, such that there are larger gaps between every other seat, and, if you're there with someone, you can sit a little closer if you so choose (and your "date" doesn't mind...or smell).

The Avengers movie is really good.  Being a bit of a comic book geek and Avengers fan growing up, I loved it.  It picks up pretty much where the first movie left off, and the relationships between the characters have evolved nicely.  Ultron, the villain, played menacingly by James Spader, is eerie and powerful, a worthy adversary for the heroes.  The newer characters fit in well, and there are a few surprises, too.  The Avengers comic book is all about change, with a constantly changing membership, and the movies (with two sequels planned) follow suit, as it appears we'll have a slightly changed lineup for the next movie.  There's also a nice tie-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy movie from last Summer.

Anyway, Friday Date Night was a lot of fun, and the new Regal Theater at the Laurel Towne Centre is a neat experience, if only for the recliners.  Just don't sit so close to the screen.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 2015 Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award

Teresa Shirlen Freed was an awesome teacher.  She taught 9th grade English and Public Speaking in Howard County, first at Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, MD, and, later, at Reservoir High School upon its opening in 2002, in Fulton, MD.  Mrs. Freed was a hard grader, I'm told, but she was well respected for being not only very nice, but also a lot of fun.  Students found out hers wasn't an easy class, but she knew how to keep their attention because she was good at her craft.  She loved standing in front of her classes, just as the orchestra leader stands in front of the band, directing the action and showing them the way.  It was because she loved teaching, and she was good at it.

I was fortunate to have known this wonderful young lady, and she grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go.  We were married in 1999, and we had a wonderful marriage.  She made me laugh, and I was happier during our time together than just about any other time in my life.  She had a way about her that lifted my spirit whenever I had a rough day, and we made a great team as husband and wife.  God was first in our marriage, and I'm so glad that we lived our lives the way God wanted us to live them.  It was true love.

Teresa Shirlen Freed passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on April 19, 2004, five short months after bringing our little daughter, Melody, into the world.  She left a void in so many lives, not only mine and my Melody's, but all those whose lives were touched by her incredible soul.  That includes her family, her friends, her co-workers, and also her students.  It was because of the way she affected us that we were determined to keep her memory alive, and Reservoir High School and Mrs. Freed's family put together a scholarship award in her name, called the Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award, and it is given annually to one student who is a leader, who possesses school spirit, who participates in or goes to many school activities, and who is strong in speech/debate.  They must also attend a college in the Maryland State System, since Mrs. Freed went to the University of Maryland, a school she loved, thrived in, and graduated from.

Last evening, Melody and I were in attendance at Reservoir High School for the Class of 2015 "Evening of Excellence," the awards night for the Seniors at the school, and where the Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award would be presented.  Mrs. Margaret Brothman, a colleague and friend of Mrs. Shirlen, and a wonderful teacher at Reservoir who continues to carry the torch for the English Department, presented the award, and Melody and I joined her on stage.  Here is what Mrs. Brothman said:

This next scholarship is significant to me because it is always awarded to a very special student, in memory of Mrs. Teresa Shirlen Freed, someone close to my heart. Teachers in the English department selected this student because she exemplifies certain characteristics that were so important to Mrs. Freed.  Mrs. Freed was a teacher, sponsor, team leader, co-worker, mentor and friend to many students and staff members at Reservoir High School. She was one of the first teachers I met before the school opened 13 years ago, and not only was her character of the highest caliber, but she also represented the epitome of teaching excellence.  Teresa’s husband, Eric, and daughter, Melody, are here today.

In her memory, and through the donations of family members, colleagues, community members and friends, this scholarship is bestowed on a student who is a leader, who possesses school spirit, who participates in or goes to many school activities, and who is strong in speech/debate. This individual must also attend a College in the Maryland State System as Mrs. Freed was a true Maryland fan.  It is through this recognition that the spirit of Mrs. Freed continues to live on and flourish.  

This year’s recipient of the Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award is a former student of mine who is known for her truly sunny disposition.  She is a positive light in the lives of many.  She successfully leads and encourages others in the classroom, on the field hockey turf, as an SGA officer, and as a volunteer at St. Agnes Hospital where her weekly duties involve assisting elderly patients with mental illnesses. She sets high standards for herself and consistently works hard to achieve accolades as a student.  Learning is important to her, as is integrity.  Next year she will attend the University of Maryland, College Park, (Mrs. Freed’s Alma Mater) where she has been accepted into the Cultures and Creativity Honors Program and hopes to affect social change and justice on public health issues through a variety of media platforms.

It gives me great pleasure to present this award to Miss Emily Blanchard.

Miss Blanchard is an incredibly talented and gifted young lady and is a wonderful example of the type of student that Mrs. Freed loved to teach.  We wish her well in her future endeavors, and extend our best wishes to her and her family.  Congratulations, Miss Emily Blanchard, on being named the 2015 Teresa Shirlen Freed Spirit Award winner!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Quiz Me

We see them all over the web.  They're on Facebook.  They're in ads on websites.  Our friends take them.  Our relatives take them.  They're the trivial meaningless personality quizzes that tell us all about ourselves.  And I took a bunch of them so you don't have to!  From

Which dessert are you?  "Pie.  Lover of tradition!  Even though you don't exactly enjoy getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things, you're one of those people that is just purely NICE.  Caring, kind, the works!  I bet you're great during the holidays, as well! ;-) )  Eric's note:  I love pie.

Does your IQ reveal that you are a genius?  "You are in the 140-150 range.  Genius intelligence."  Eric's note:  I always knew I was a genius.

Which American accent to you actually have?  "You have a New England accent!  You have yard sales and you know what a "pill bug" is!  "Mary," "merry," and "marry" might all sound differently to you, or you may say "merry" differently than the other two.  Interestingly, the New England accent is traditionally marked by its non-rhoticity (dropping r's) in words like car, card, fear, etc.  But this feature is disappearing!  Your accent is very unique!  While you're enjoying the beautiful Fall Colors, take pride in your awesome accent!"  Eric's note:  This doesn't come close to describing my answers to this quiz.  Mary, merry, and marry all sound the same to me.  I consider myself to be Western Pennsylvanian with a dash of Southwestern Virginia, whatever that means.  It's certainly nowhere near New England.

What is your most dominant character trait?  "Your Courage is your most dominant character trait!  You are a fearless individual, afraid of almost nothing.  This can most likely be attributed to your bold, confident attitude that you take everywhere with you, or perhaps you just really enjoy a good challenge!  Regardless, you laugh in the face of danger and you usually never turn down standing up for a cause that needs your strength and stability.  You have faith in yourself and a thick backbone, a perfect combination for facing any obstacle or wild adventure without fear right in front of you."  Eric's note:  I'm afraid they're wrong.  This is not even close.

Which animal do you transform into?  "Tiger.  You like to be alone a lot of the time but when you have children on your mind nothing is too good for them you will spoil them as much as you can no man nor woman will ever step over the line with you they'd only get a toe over the line before they are thrown back far away from the line you have no time for people who want to cause trouble you just want a nice and happy life without stress."  Eric's note:  What does this even mean???  No punctuation makes this just confusing gibberish.  And what does this have to do with a tiger?

How high maintenance are you?  "You're easy going and adaptable.  Although you are deeply in touch with your emotions, high maintenance is not a term that describes your personality.  Sure, you may have a particular set of preferences when it comes to living your life, but at the same time, you are able to accommodate the needs of others without being too rigid.  Rather than overreact and make a fuss, you are much more likely to go with the flow and keep a smile on your face.  You're the type of person that people like to be around because you keep it drama free and your view on life is generally optimistic and cheerful!"  Eric's note:  This is the first quiz that might be right on!  One of the questions asked which celebrity I would want to have dinner with.  Of the choices, I picked Tom Hanks, but I imagine Jennifer Lawrence would be interesting...

Which villain is actually your evil twin?  "Loki (from the Avengers).  You and Loki are loyal, have a strong sense of duty, and immense wisdom.  You are ambitious and want to make big changes in the world."  Eric's note:  Okay...

What is your subconscious obsessed with?  "Your subconscious is obsessed with SEX!  Yes, you've read it right, and no, it's not something to be ashamed of!  The answers you chose suggest that your subconscious mind is very occupied with sex.  You are a naturally sexual and loving person, you simply love to LOVE, and one of the biggest acts that you do with someone you love is sex.  Although your subconscious is obsessed with sex, you have a healthy way of life.  You do not get too carried away (although you sometimes wish you would), and you look for emotional attraction before you think about the physical one."  Eric's note:  "Hmmm... I took this quiz twice because I didn't like the answer the first time, but I still got the same answer with different choices.  Is it because I have not been intimate with anyone since my wife died 11 years ago?  Is my subconscious causing me to answer a certain way?  Am I really obsessed with sex?  I thought I was obsessed with pizza.  Or roller coasters.  Or Scarlett Johansson.  Or...oh, there it is...

What should your nickname be?  "Sweet Pea.  You're pretty and smell really really good. ;-)  You can make peasants smile (even when you're not there or they're really upset about their fake cows.)  You are sharp as a tack and little gets by you.  You never do less than your best with things you care about, and your stubbornness is to be admired.  True to your name, you love candy.  You're loyal and trustworthy and make eggheads feel safe to be themselves around you no matter how ridiculous that might be."  Eric's note:  I think this says it all..."

What would your high school report card look like today?  "Very impressive!  You got straight A's!  Perhaps it's thanks to your strong work ethic or simply because you're a natural born genius, but either way, you'll definitely be Valedictorian!  Time to apply for Harvard, kid!"  Eric's note:  No doubt...

How good is your memory?  "You have an incredible memory!  Impressive!  You remembered all of the photos!  You most likely have what's called an "eidetic" memory.  This means that you have a remarkable ability to recall images.  You pay attention to detail, you notice the small things, and you have a gut intuition that kicks in when you've seen something more than once.  You have a great analytic ability and you're a natural born problem solver."  Eric's note:  Now if I could only remember where I put my keys....

What kind of house should you live in?  "You should live in a house in the suburbs!  You dream of the white picket fence, 2 kids, a dog, the American dream!  You are pretty traditional and have strong values.  You are family oriented and would do anything for your loved ones.  A practical home like this is perfect for you!"  Eric's note:  They know me so well!

What kind of lover are you?  "You're an awesome lover!  With time and practice you can become wild. ;-)"  Eric's note:  Given my obvious obsession with sex, are you surprised?

What role do you play in your family?  "You're the perfect one!  Mature and sensible, you're the family's greatest success.  You're respectful and trustworthy, and considered to be the smart and capable one.  Although you may occasionally fear failure, your natural intellect and talent will take you far (and make your family look good)."  Eric's note:  I'm sure my younger sister and brother would agree...

What country in the world best fits your personality?  "India.  You are driven in life by the search for meaning and have a passion for culture and religion.  You are a deeply spiritual person who thrives in an environment where people question their existence and devote themselves to a higher sense of being.  You enjoy a stimulating environment and do best when you are challenged, mentally, and spiritually.  You see live as an adventure and enjoy conversing with others on the big philosophical questions of life.  Whether you are spending time in a bustling market, or meditating in a quiet garden, you are nourished by a society that is devoted to serving others."  Eric's note:  I agree with the write-up here more than the actual country.  As a Christian, I'm not sure India is the best match, unless I plan to live as Mother Teresa did (which we should all aspire to do).  While India certainly would be correct if you are a "deeply spiritual person," a deeply Christian person would likely find the Holy Land as a more stimulating environment, at least in my opinion.  Of course, take this with a grain of salt...I've never traveled outside of North America.

All right, I'm done.  Feel free to take the quizzes if you want.  They don't mean anything, though.  You are who you are, not what some quiz tells you you are.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Breaking In The Appliances

I'm feeling rather odd this evening.  My daughter, Melody, was invited by a school friend to a sleepover, and I watched her leave with the young girl and her mother earlier this afternoon.  This is only Melody's second sleepover, and while the first was two houses down from ours, tonight she is in Virginia at their new home, where her friend is moving after the school year ends.  Melody was excited and anxious to go, while I questioned her repeatedly all week as to whether she really wanted to go.  It's hard to let go.  I'm sure she'll be fine and have a great time, and I'll pick her up tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, what am I going to do?  I thought about going to the movies.  There are a few out now that I want to see, but I will not take my daughter to see.  That was my plan.  The movie is scheduled to start at 10 p.m.  And here I am, still sitting on the couch, half asleep.  I'm getting old much too fast...  I will not be seeing the movie tonight.  Instead, I will be sleeping soundly in my bed...or perhaps right here on the couch halfway through my typing this post.


My new kitchen appliances arrived this week.  It's hard to get too excited.  Appliances just don't get me excited.  My father came over to watch over the delivery of everything, and as I noted previously, they arrived on two different trucks with two different crews.  The dishwasher, range, and microwave came in the early afternoon, and there were no complications.  My father was impressed with how capable they two gentlemen were who installed them all.  They work flawlessly.  I arrived at home at 4 p.m.  The gentlemen bringing the refrigerator said they would be about 45 minutes later than their scheduled "2 to 4 p.m. window."  Dad went home.  We waited.  And we waited.  They finally called at 6:40 and said they would arrive about 20 minutes later, which they did.  They apologized, claimed their dispatch gave them a ridiculous route for the day, and said they still had three more refrigerators to deliver after mine.  I didn't yell at them, but I was sure disappointed.  Melody and I had not eaten dinner yet, and we actually had planned to go to the movies that evening since she had no homework, and we both wanted to see the new Avengers movie.  So much for that plan.  Anyway, the guys were in and out in about 20 minutes, and everything was fine.  Melody and I quickly ran out to the store and got some dinner.

The refrigerator is my favorite of my new appliances.  I guess that's because I will get the most use out of it.  I hate to cook, so the oven is more or less a luxury.  The dishwasher, too, is a bit of a luxury, since I haven't had a dishwasher that worked for much of the last year, and I kind of got used to using paper plates and cups.  The microwave will get a lot of use, but, let's face it...microwaves don't get the same level of respect that the other, more traditional, appliances seem to get.  I can only imagine how jealous the microwave is of the range, its much larger and seemingly much more important sibling.  But the fridge speaks to me.  It's the epitome of masculinity, much like the outdoor grill (the manly version of the indoor range).  The fridge takes care of beverages and leftovers, as well as meats and cheese and ice cream.  It's pretty awesome.

I used the oven for the first time this evening, to heat up some leftovers.  Yeah, I know, I could've used the microwave, but the oven provides much more even cooking, and I felt an obligation, after spending so much money on this thing, to actually use it.

I wanted to run my dishwasher, but my sister, who comes over to my house each weekday morning, is still programmed to hand wash all of the dishes in the sink, so I don't have any dirty dishes to place in the dishwasher.

The only real issue I have with my new appliances is something that I predicted would be an issue for me:  they're stainless steel.  And, if you have stainless steel appliances, you already know how ridiculously hard it is to keep them clean.  After two days, I'm already fed up.

Oh, well.  It's done.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Congressional Hearings, Snakes, Late Night TV, and Gray Hair

The bike keeps falling over, but I'm still getting right back on it...


My wonderful daughter continues to amaze me.  Melody, as a part of her social studies grade, participated in the simulated Congressional Hearing that took place at school today.  She was a part of a group of five students who spoke on an issue in front of three judges, who then reviewed their performance.  Melody did a fantastic job speaking about freedom of expression, and she received great feedback from the judges afterward.  I was really proud of her.  This is the second time in a week that she has performed under what I would call stressful circumstances and delivered.  I love this girl!


A few evenings ago, I took Faithful Pup Scout out back to do her business, and I found myself pulling weeds out of the garden.  There were a few old dead leaves there, too, and when I went to grab them, they started to move.  Out from under them came a small snake!  It was about a foot and a half long, pencil thin, but it was a snake!  I hate snakes.  I'm sorry if you're someone who likes snakes.  Really, I am.  I about jumped out of my shoes as it slithered over towards the house.  The door was still open, and I quickly slammed it shut to keep it from getting in.  Did I mention that I hate snakes?

A long time ago, several months after my wife and I moved into our house, I went to the basement to get a box and found myself face-to-face with a snake.  I hate snakes, in case you haven't noticed.  I quickly sprang into action, though, and grabbed the first thing I could find, which was my steel Pittsburgh Steelers trashcan.  I flipped it upside down and covered it.  My first instinct was to kill it, since it was, indeed, a snake, and I hate snakes.  I lifted the can slightly, and it peeked its head out, and I promptly dropped the edge of the can right on its neck.  I then rolled it over the snake's neck, pushing my full weight on the can, until the snake's head was completely severed.  Still not thoroughly convinced it was dead, I then threw the snake into a bucket of water and dropped a plugged-in hairdryer into it, knocking out the power through the entire house.  Since I wasn't quite convinced it was dead, I grabbed a knife and cut it into 28 different pieces.  Then I took all 28 pieces and dropped them into a blender and chopped it into about 18 million pieces.  I thought I heard a hiss, so I dumped the pieces of the snake in a vat of hydrochloric acid, then I burned it in the fire pit out back.  Finally, I took the ashes and sprinkled them across a 17-acre field.  I think it's dead, but I'm haunted every night that the snake is still slithering around in the basement.  I hate snakes!


I'm not a fan of late night talk shows, but I enjoyed occasionally watching Craig Ferguson before he retired recently.  Now David Letterman is retiring, and since I never really watched his show, I decided to start Tivoing the last bunch of episodes.  I want to like Letterman, but he really doesn't seem that interested in what he is doing.  The shows really aren't funny, and most of the laughs surround his guests.  The musical acts are a surprise, though.  I'm enjoying seeing some musicians and groups that I've never really heard before.  One is the Dave Matthews Band.  They are pretty good.  They performed a song called "What Would You Say," which is really great.  I ended up downloading about a half-dozen different performances of the song, and I'm enjoying them a lot.

One other note:  Howard Stern is just not funny or interesting to me.  I do not understand how he has garnered any kind of celebrity.  I just don't.


It has been only a few weeks, but it already looks like like I need a haircut.  My hair is still lopsided and I am dreading going back to my local hair stylist.  I guess I'm going to have to open the wallet a little wider and go somewhere a little better than the chain I've patronized for years.  I'm tired of complaining.  So I'm going to do something about it.

As a side note, I think the recent stress has caused much of my hair to turn gray, one strand at a time.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Turning Words of Anger Into Words of Comfort

I'm struggling again lately with a bout of depression.  For whatever reason, I'm very short to anger, and my level of frustration with countless mundane issues is insanely high.  Why does this happen to me?  I'm constantly praying for forgiveness and peace of mind, and still it happens.

My frustrations over the recent kitchen appliances purchase keeps coming back to haunt me and taking me to the edge.  I finally got around to calling the store to schedule delivery on Friday and I found out that they were coming Saturday, the next day.  I didn't schedule it for Saturday.  In fact, I hadn't scheduled it at all.  That's why I called them.  I wasn't going to be home on Saturday, so delivery was impossible.  I told the operator this, and it took an hour and three phone calls to get delivery rescheduled, with the main issue being that three of the four appliances would be delivered separately by a contractor, and they were already "in transit."  Anyway, I finally got that straightened out, but it was a chore, and I wasn't entirely nice to the several individuals I talked to.  I still don't know what the store scheduled a delivery without asking me first, but I also regret how I acted.  I allowed my frustrations to overpower my reasoning.

While I was finishing up my phone call regarding the delivery, I watched out the front window as two of the landscapers who cut the grass in the common areas of our development were blowing the grass and debris off the sidewalks with leaf-blowers.  When they got to my car, parked directly in front of my house, they began to blow the debris right at my car.  Unfortunately for me, I had left the top down (since we were planning to go out right after I finished the phone calls), and it appeared that the two landscapers were intentionally blowing the debris into my open car.  I immediately ran out of the house and began yelling at them to stop.  One did, but he just looked at me as if I was delirious and then kept on doing it.  Again I yelled, and the two guys just kept on down the sidewalk, ignoring me. My car was covered with grass and leaves, inside and outside the car. After the phone calls, I was in the wrong frame of mind for a confrontation, but anger blinded me.  I ran inside, grabbed a pen and paper, and chased the two guys down the sidewalk.  I reached their truck, which had the landscaper's name and phone number on it, and I wrote them down.  Another landscaper came over to me and asked, in broken English, what was wrong.  I told him, and he followed me back to my house and I showed him my car.  To his credit, he stayed very calm while I continued to yell.  He could only say that I should call the landscaping company and they would arrange to have my car cleaned.  I immediately went back inside and called the company, but only got an answering machine saying they were closed until Monday.  This wasn't what I wanted to hear, and I continued to seethe.

Melody and her angry dad
The two issues left me practically bursting with anger and frustration.  I felt like my head was going to pop.  I have high blood pressure, and my dander was up.  Poor Melody, my daughter, was worried about me.  She kept trying to hold my hand, to calm me down.  Just then, I heard my next door neighbor, the one who complains about everything, telling another neighbor that he was mad at me for stopping the landscaping company from completely clearing off the lawn debris from the sidewalk in front of his house, and that I should've known better than to have the top down on my car while they were working.  If I had gone outside to confront him, I probably would've regretted it, so I'm thankful that I didn't.

I'm complaining about work, traffic, robo-calls, pollen, my messy house, my health, my forgetfulness, my sports teams, the weather, the dog, dust, stupid TV shows, politicians, Facebook, money, sore feet, hangnails, bad pizza, my thinning, graying hair, and the fact that I can't get a good haircut.  My wonderful daughter, who hates seeing me so stressed, is doing everything she can to keep me sane.  I notice it.

I talked to my parents on Saturday and my father told me he was worried about me.  He said that it was apparent that something was bothering me.  In fact, he had told my mother earlier in the week that he didn't like talking to me anymore since it seemed like I was angry all the time.  It pained me to hear that.  I didn't realize what an impact this was having on me and my loved ones.  It's out of character.  This isn't me.

The month of April is always difficult for me.  It's the month of Teresa's death.  Teresa and I had such a wonderful, almost storybook-like marriage, and her death has impacted me like nothing else.  I have ridden the emotional roller coaster for much of the past 11 years since that night she went to be with the Lord, which has taken me from the depths of despair to desperation and depression.  I just can't get past it.  I do have good moments, and might be fine for months at a time.  But I always end up feeling the weight of her loss at various times throughout the year, and it brings me down again.  April is usually the trigger.  May is always better.  But this year, after the sadness of April, May has only brought anger.  It's not constant, but it's there.

I think my biggest problem is that I don't have anyone to talk to about this.  I've mentioned before on this blog how I really don't have any close friends anymore.  I've apparently driven them all away.  Who wants to be around someone who is down all the time?  But that's what keeps me there:  not having someone to talk to.  Dad is always there, but he's my dad, and even he is tired of it.  And that just makes me feel even worse.

I was thinking back on this past Friday, trying to figure out why it turned so badly.  Friday morning, at work, I received a call from a colleague I spent the day with on Thursday, providing advice to him about a situation he was dealing with.  He called to tell me that my advice had helped him so much, that he practically skipped out of the office after work, with what felt like a great weight lifted off his shoulders.  His call made my morning.  I felt good for him, and I knew I had done something good.  What caused me to change so completely that I was on the edge of madness by the evening?

Saturday was better.  My family all got together to celebrate my mother's birthday, as well as Mother's Day, and even though I had that conversation with my parents about my anger issues, the day wasn't bad at all.  The church service on Saturday evening was great, and Pastor Mark's message had me thinking about my family.  Not just my immediate family, but my church family, too.

Melody and her grandmothers
Today, Mother's Day, was great, too.  My daughter and I went to my in-laws church, where my mother-in-law "preached" the sermon today, for Mother's Day.  Her message spoke to me, with the themes focusing on compassion, love, and forgiveness.

Melody and I stopped by the cemetery where Teresa's body is buried.  Her death has hurt me so much.  I don't blame her, and there's really no one else to blame.  It's not like the doctors misdiagnosed something, or there was an accident or anything like it.  She just died.  Her heart gave out.  It was her time.  God took her home.

I can't get angry at God, either.  How can I?  How can I possibly understand God's ways?  Pastor Mark, at almost every funeral I've been to where he has officiated, always says the same thing.  That only when we ourselves are present with God in Heaven will we finally understand the mystery of death and life everlasting.

I'm riding on this.  John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave is one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 14: 2-3 - "In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

Lord, thank you for my life.  Thank you for my wonderful wife, Teresa.  I wish she had experienced at least one Mother's Day, but I believe you when you say that you are preparing a place for us, and that you will come again and take us to you.  And that Teresa is already there, with you.  Thank you for my little girl.  I ask for your comfort during my times of stress, frustration, and anger, and that I will look to you when I need you most.  Thank you, Lord, for my life.

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Variety Show

My daughter is very brave, in my eyes.  I was such an introverted kid, and to watch Melody, as shy as she is at times, volunteer on her own, without any pressure from me or anyone else in the family, to sing in the school variety show, on stage in front of hundreds of people, just blows me away!  But she did.  She likes to sing.  I listen to her sing every time she gets in the shower (doesn't everyone?), and she is pretty good.  She sings on pitch, and shows an aptitude for music.  She's addicted to Radio Disney, but she also has an appreciation for 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s rock (though I might be the reason for that).  She sings with the praise team at her grandparent's church whenever the opportunity presents itself.  She has talent.  A real gift from God.

Last year, when her school began advertising for the annual variety show, Melody was convinced she wanted to try out.  As the time came for tryouts, she changed her mind and decided not to do it.  I didn't pressure her, and I just let it go.  This year was different.  She was set on trying out, and we went so far as to download the song she wanted to sing, BRAVE, by Sara Bareilles.  She didn't practice much, but she knew all of the words, and so she tried out on warm day a few weeks ago.  I watched her get up in front of a bunch of her classmates and several PTA members and teachers, and she quietly I could barely hear her.  But she was good enough to make the cut for the variety show.  She was so excited.  So was I.

The show was Wednesday night.  She was a nervous wreck.  She looked beautiful.  We had gone shopping for clothes, something we both hate doing with a passion, and got a nice long royal blue skirt, a pink, blue, white and black blouse, and matching scarf, along with a nice pink sweater.  She looked too adult-like for my tastes, but she was gorgeous.  She had a nice warm-up show earlier in the day in front of her classmates, which I'm sure was nervous for her in a different way.  She was scheduled to perform fourth out of forty acts.  That was good, because she would be able to get it done early and not worry about it.  My parents and my in-laws joined me in the audience, along with my sister.  I was feeling nervous for her, while knowing at the same time that she would be great.  The show started at 7.  She went out fourth, as planned...

And she was awesome!  She did such a great job!  We were all so happy for her.  She was noticeably nervous, but her voice was clear and loud and wonderful.  And she knew it when she finished.  We applauded for her, and later, the principal told her she surely had the biggest support contingent.  Then we had to sit through 36 more acts.

It was a great show, and I was really proud of my girl.  She was brave, just like the song.  And I'm so glad that she took that leap.  I pray that she will go through life knowing that she can leap and always land safely, and trust that she will always have my support.  And love.  And God's love for her.

Thank you, Lord, for my little girl!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 4, 2015

...All That, Plus the Kitchen Sink

Friday, after work, I stopped at my local Best Buy to get a best buy on a kitchen.  I've spent much of the past decade arguing with my appliances, putting up with a variety of issues with each of them, and I just have to replace before losing my mind.  For example, the ice maker in my 9-year old refrigerator stopped working about 6 years ago.  My dishwasher, only three years old, stopped working last year.  My microwave oven, which is the original unit and came with the house, as far as I know, making it over 20 years old, is getting finicky.  The door doesn't always shut correctly, keeping the microwave from starting and requiring a couple of maddening open-and-shuts before it works.  The range, also the original, is a mess, with knobs that don't work, and an oven handle that is broken.  I know I need to get new appliances anyway if I ever decide to move, and since I'm thinking about it, it made sense to start looking now.  And, if it takes at least a year or so before we actually DO move, I will at least have a few really nice new appliances to use.

When I first looked online at what was available, I was surprised that there really wasn't much else to choose from except the stainless steel models, which are anything but stainless, given all of the fingerprints on the store display models.  I have "bisque" yellow appliances, which are, apparently, not in style anymore.  So, after looking at the displays at the store, I decided that the black appliances really looked cool and were actually cheaper than stainless steel, so that's what I wanted.  The two young ladies who assisted us in finding the appliances in their computer and initiate the purchase were awesome, helpful, and beyond nice.  However, it was quickly determined that none of the items I wanted were available.  This meant that I would have to either:
  1. ...get stainless steel models of the ones I wanted;
  2. ...go to a different store;
  3. ...look at a different brand;
  4. a lot more for "better" models;
  5. ...or just give up.
I have very little patience for shopping, and when I'm not able to get what I've already decided I want, I'm very ready to give up, at least for a while, to think things out.  I don't do well with impulse buys.  So I was ready to walk.  The two employees who were helping me insisted that they could find me alternatives, and they quickly found comparable models in stainless steel....except for the range.  They found one that was almost double in price to what I wanted.  The "senior" employee insisted she could get me a discount on it, and she disappeared for 15 minutes to talk to her manager.  When she finally came back, she offered $200 off, which was still $300 more than the original one I picked out.  I balked, but after a few minutes of chatting, we decided to see what the final price would be.  Since the total price for the four items was about $300 more than the black appliances, it was still a good enough deal, so I said okay.  They began to process the deal and it became clear there was still a lot to consider.  I needed to get them delivered and the old appliances hauled away, and while that was all included, the installation was not.  That, along with all of the extra parts, like power cords and hoses and installation kits, cost a lot more.  Then there is labor.  And tax.  And warranties.  When all was said and done, my original $2100 package deal was $3600!!!  I was really disappointed.  My first instinct was to just walk away.

I should have considered these other items, but I could never have imagined just how much they would increase the total price.  I was ready to walk away.  It was especially disappointing because it had taken over and hour and a half to get to this point, with the two employees working on the deal to make it right for me.  My biggest issue was that I didn't feel like I was getting what I really wanted.  None of the appliances were the color I wanted, and the range was significantly more than what I needed.  And there was no way to know how much more it was going to cost, even while researching it online, until you're ready to purchase.

So you're probably thinking that I walked away.  I didn't.  I actually bought it, though I still wasn't comfortable with the deal.  The store was offering 0% financing for 18 months, which was a nice alternative, and I really did need to upgrade my appliances.  I've been putting up with lots of frustration for years, and it just made sense.  If I had walked, I would've lost my nerve and given up on buying anything for several months, because that's what I always do.  I'm still disappointed I didn't get exactly what I wanted.  This seems to happen a lot, whether it's a new car, or any major purchase, for that matter.  But I settled.

Props go out to the the two Best Buy employees who worked with me, though.  The senior member gave me a $25 giftcard because of how long it took to get the deal worked out, something that I had no control over.  It was really nice of her, and I will pay it forward.  And I should have some new appliances in the next week or so.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Free Comic Book Day!

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day (FCBD).  My daughter, Melody, and I participated with a visit to our favorite comic book store, Big Planet Comics, in College Park, MD.  They are a fairly large, very busy comic shop across from the University of Maryland, and they always do it up on FCBD.  They allowed every customer a limit of 10 free comic books, which was plenty.  Publishers throughout the industry participate, including Marvel and DC, though the quality is a mixed bag compared to regular monthly titles.  But it's great that there are comics available for many different age groups.

I started reading comics soon after I began to read.  My family used to eat at Bob's Big Boy fairly regularly, and back then, they gave out Big Boy Comics to all the kids.  That's my earliest memory of reading comic books.  I was introduced to Marvel Comics in the mid-70s, and I remember reading stories about the Hulk and Spider-man, among others.  My favorite, though, was the Avengers!  They were awesome, and led to a long comic-collecting hobby.  I still have thousands of comic books stored in boxes in my basement.  As you can imagine, I've been thrilled with seeing the Avengers get their own movies.

My first Avengers story was issue #164, written by Jim Shooter with artwork by John Byrne, two of the very best comics creators of all time.  The Avengers is known for having a revolving, constantly changing team of characters, and this issue featured Captain America, the Black Panther, the Beast, the Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, Yellow Jacket, and Wonder Man.  They battled the Lethal Legion, led by the nefarious Count Nefaria, and included Whirlwind, the Living Laser, and Power Man.  It was an action-packed story, and ended with a cliffhanger that I didn't see resolved for almost 20 years, when I found the issues containing the continuation of the story.  But I held on to this comic, and it remains the oldest comic I still have that I received when it was new.  I was an Avengers fan from then on.

I made sure that, when Melody was old enough, she would know about comic books, and she enjoys a small collection of her own.  For FCBD, she always finds several comics that catch her interest, and this year, we both got the maximum number available.  Comic Book shops see increased foot traffic and potential new comic book readers who walk in the door for possibly the first time, so FCBD is a boon for them, even though the comics they give out are not free for them.  Last year, Big Planet Comics featured the creators of the Lumberjanes comic, and my daughter was able to talk to them and get a free comic signed by them.  She has since read every monthly issue, and continues to be a big fan.  To support the store, I always make sure to buy something on FCBD (in addition to getting the free comic books), since I want them to stay in business.  The comic book business is a tough one for retailers, and they need the support.  Comic books are a lot of fun and are a great way for early readers to learn to read.  Support you local comic shop, and come out next year for Free Comic Book Day, every year on the first Saturday in May.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!