Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Hershey Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


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

Happy Thanksgiving, my readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Melody's Birthday and Bring Back MST3K

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

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


Photo Credit:  Facebook - MST3K

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Dad the Army Vet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day, everyone!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Fine Fall Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!