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!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grace Fall Retreat

My wonderful daughter went on her first youth retreat this past weekend at Northbay camp in Northeast, MD.  Melody is in her first year with the Grace Community Church middle high youth group, and the youth go on a Fall retreat every year.  I went along as a member of the kitchen work crew, the first retreat I've been on since 1998 when I was counselor at my old church, Cheltenham United Methodist.  It was a first in a lot of ways for both Melody and me.

The weather certainly wasn't agreeable for a weekend away, especially since being in the great outdoors is a big part of the experience.  With Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on us, it promised to be a bit of a wash out.  We did not ride along with the rest of the youth group on the buses, instead driving up ourselves.  We left at around 6:30 p.m. and headed up I-95 in the rain.  The drive really wasn't a long one, and we arrived at the camp at around 8.  I thought for sure we would arrive after the buses, but we beat them.  We were completely unfamiliar with the camp, and it was dark, so we waited until the buses arrived, which was only about 20 minutes.  Several hundred kids unloaded, and I left Melody in the capable hands of the youth counselors to find her cabin.

The dorm I was staying in with the work crew was in a different part of the camp, and with a trusty map, I kind of figured out the general layout of the camp and headed up the path towards where the dorm was located.  The path was on a hill, and it was a substantial hike in the dark.  It was only after I got to the building that I discovered that there was a parking lot there and I could've driven instead.  A nice family gave me a ride back down to the dining hall for our quick tutorial of our jobs for the weekend.  We had a crew of about 30 people, most of whom would be serving food to the youth, counselors, volunteers, and staff.  After learning about how it would work, and setting up the tables for breakfast the next morning, we were released for the evening.  This time I drove back to the dorm.

The dorm itself was fairly nondescript.  It had a large open room with plenty of couches for the everyone to socialize, read, hang out in, or just sit.  Down the hall were several rooms containing bunks for about 16 people each, with an attached bathroom for each room.  The men were on the top floor, with a duplicate level below for the women.  I unloaded my stuff in the room furthest down the hall, and that proved beneficial when only 4 of us claimed a bed in there.  The rest of the men were in the other room, where I'm sure they had to double up.  I was soon snoozing.

I woke up several times during the night, unable to get comfortable.  The beds each had a mattress on a sheet of plywood, and they were made for someone not quite as tall as my 6'2" frame could fit on.  I just could not stretch out, and my legs kept cramping up.  It was a long night.  I woke up before my alarm went off at 5:30.  I was tired, but I grabbed a quick shower, dressed, and was out of the room before most of the others got up.

I drove down to the dining hall and got some coffee in me, then proceeded to keep busy getting things ready for breakfast along with the other early risers.  Soon, everyone was working, and the smell of bacon filled the air.  The work crew ate breakfast first, then we got ready for the crowd.  We all stayed in the kitchen as the room filled up, then, after a prayer to thank God for His provision, we went into action.  Each of us were assigned to two tables, each with eight place-settings.  My tables were on the opposite side from the kitchen, against the far wall.  There were 16 hungry young men ready to eat, and I served them scrambled eggs and bacon.  It seemed to go over well, and I made two trips back to the kitchen for refills.  I visited very briefly with Melody, who was at a nearby table, and she told me how much fun she was having.  In less than 30 minutes, everyone was fed and the room cleared out.  Clean up was messy but smooth, and it was great to see everyone work so quickly.  We had the room ready for lunch in no time.

We had a couple of hours before the next meal, but I remained in the dining hall and got to know some of the other volunteers.  They all went to Grace Community Church, and most had kids in the youth group.  I got to know one guy, Gary, whose grandson was there.  Gary and I planned on going out to explore the surrounding Elk Neck State Park later that afternoon.

Lunch was more of the same, this time with chicken quesadillas as the meal.  It went even more smoothly this time since we were becoming more and more familiar with our roles and what needed to be done.  The room was quickly cleaned and readied for dinner.  Then we had a nice 3 hour break.  I was sweating and tired, but Gary talked me into going on the hike anyway.

We drove down to the end of the peninsula.  The weather was cool and breezy, with a slight mist in the air.  We started down the trail towards the nearby lighthouse.  It ended up being a two mile hike, but the Turkey Point Lighthouse was neat to see.  We then headed back to the camp.  Unfortunately, we had to take a detour due to a tree falling down across the main road, but we made it back to camp in plenty of time.  I was able to change clothes and freshen up before heading back to the dining hall for dinner.  Another smooth serving and cleanup, and we were done for the night.

I had forgotten to bring a bar of soap, and I knew I needed to fill the tank on my Jeep, so I decided to drive back up into town to get what I needed.  I found a Wal-mart, and gassed up at a Sunoco, then drove back to the camp.  It was about 8:45.  I figured I would try to pack up a few things since we had to clear out our room before breakfast.  When I walked into the dorm room, it was already dark and I heard the sounds of lots of snoring.  I could hardly believe it!  Everyone was asleep!  I stumbled around in the dark, trying to be quiet, and decided to just go to bed.

The night was very similar to the previous night, and I was pretty miserable.  I just could not get comfortable, and I tossed and turned all night.  And again I was up before my alarm.  I lay in bed for a long while before getting up, and I prayed for a great day for everyone.  Then I showered and dressed, packed up my stuff, and exited the dorm, loading everything into my Jeep.  Then I headed back down to the dining hall.  It was a repeat again of yesterday.  This time, Melody and some friends decided to sit at my table, so I had the honor of serving my daughter.  It was fun!  There were a few food fights, and the kids all seemed to be getting along very well.  Then they all went off to a worship service.  We cleaned up, got a few pictures, then said goodbye.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the camp for the first time, getting the lay of the land, and being impressed with all of the amenities.  When I was a youth, I went on numerous retreats to Summit Lake Camp in Emmittsburg, MD.  It seemed a bit more rustic than Northbay.  Here there was a beach, a pool, zip lines, rock climbing wall, and so much more. I'm sure the kids had a blast.

I sat down and waited for the worship service to end, then Melody and I said our goodbyes and headed back to the Jeep for the long trip home.  Before long, we were back in our neck of the woods.  Melody and I stopped for lunch, and she shared with me her journal for the weekend.  It was really neat to see how involved she was, and, in particular, how much fun she had.  She wrote, "This is the most exciting weekend ever!"  I could only smile, and pray silently to myself my thanks to the Lord for His blessings.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I can hardly wait for the Spring retreat!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, October 5, 2015


I have a thousand things flying through my head right now, and I can't wait to write about them.  The past few weeks have been terrible, bearable, wonderful, and incredible.  I can't be more proud and impressed by my daughter, and at the same time be frustrated by the approaching teen years. Work is so hard, but it can be so fulfilling.  They make me mad at times, but I love my family.  Every high is met by an equally difficult low.  The roller coaster analogy fits so perfectly.  Life seems so out of control at times, and yet I know God is completely in control.  I'm scared and excited.  My faith is strong.  How can I not be filled with joy?

1 Peter 5:10 - "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast."

In HIS grip...