Sunday, January 31, 2016

Beautiful Sunday

I had such a wonderful Sunday with my daughter, Melody!  It has been a long while since I've had a weekend that actually felt kind of normal.  While we both slept in later than normal, we got out at around mid-day and hit a few bookstores.  Melody had a few gift cards to Barnes & Noble that were burning a hole in her pocket, so we spent over an hour browsing through the store. While she had an agenda, I was having fun just perusing the shelves.  

After checking out, we went to the Double T Diner on US 40 in Ellicott City.  Melody had a piece of chocolate cake that I swear was bigger than her face, and I had some bread pudding and coffee. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but there's something about diner coffee that makes me nostalgic for being out on the open road, traveling across this great country we live in.  God bless America.

We decided to make another stop at our favorite bookstore, Daedalus, just off of Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.  We found a few more books before deciding to head for home. We witnessed a beautiful sunset along the way.

God gives us such a wonderful life, and I'm so thankful for his blessings!

Tomorrow it's back to normal in many ways.  Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dating For Idiots

I haven't dated in almost two years and I couldn't be happier.  I remember my last date, in early May of 2014. It was a second date. A second date is a rare thing for me. I generally know after one date if there's going to be a second one. In this case, there were no sparks, and while we ended the evening amicably, there was not enough interest by either of us to pursue a third date.  

I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my daughter, then 10 years old, shortly after that night and she flat out told me she didn't like it when I dated.  That was enough for me to give up on dating, and I've gotten very comfortable with the idea of going through life solo.  In fact, I've had several friends and colleagues ask if I'd be interested and I've declined before they could finish their question.

What changed?  My daughter, Melody, found the experience more uncomfortable than me.  I was in a very serious relationship about 6 years ago, and we were talking marriage. Melody was a key part of that relationship since I'm a package deal. But it became clear that they were not connecting very well, mostly since this lady had never been a parent and she didn't know how to relate to Melody. And Melody could sense it. And she was becoming resentful towards her.  While Melody had nothing to do with our resulting breakup, upon reflection it became obvious that it was a very good thing we didn't get together, for everyone's benefit.

So that brings us to today.  An acquaintance of mine sent me a message asking if I was interested in meeting a friend of hers, with the idea we might hit it off.  She went so far as to clear this with her friend, and included a link to the friend's Facebook page.  My first inclination was to say NO WAY! I don't think I could run away any faster.  I'm so appreciative that my friend wanted to do this (it's not the first time she has tried to set me up; its not even the second time she's wanted to do this).  But I'm just not interested. I'm reaching the age where I'm just a little too set in my ways, and I also saw how bothered Melody gets when these things come up. That's enough for me.

Will I ever date again? Or am I truly against even trying?  Well, I'm convinced that anything is possible.  I'm not shutting the door on dating again, someday.  More likely after I retire, or at least until Melody heads off to college or gets married herself.  I can wait.  God has a plan for my life, and I'm letting him have the wheel.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Post-Blizzard Return To The Office

I finally headed back into the office today after almost a week of teleworking from home.  Telework didn't really agree with me.  While I've always been a bit of a loner, the solitude offered by telework, even despite emails, phone meetings, and lots and lots of instant messages, had me pining for human contact.  So, with school out until at least Monday, I shipped my daughter and Faithful Pup Scout over to my parent's place, and I returned to the office today. And it felt great! Sort of. I didn't enjoy battling traffic for the first time in a week, and the roads were in no shape for rush hour.  But once I got there, it felt like home. And I mean that in the figurative sense, because being at home means being able to sit around in my PJs all day.  I can't do that in the office.

Things are starting to get back to normal.

Have a nice, normal evening, everyone!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hoover Dam

I'm finally putting away my Christmas ornaments. I know I'm a little late getting around to it, but with the snow, and being a bit stir crazy with nothing better to do, this seemed like a good time to tackle it. I came across the ornament in the pic, above, and it brought back a whole slew of memories.

The ornament itself was purchased during one of my numerous trips to Las Vegas with my wonderful wife, Teresa.  We began collecting these types of ornaments on our many road trips, and we have a bunch of them. They're great reminders of the many places we visited during our way too short almost-five year marriage.

I first visited Hoover Dam during a solo road trip I took in the Fall of 1997, about six months before I met Teresa.  I took another dam tour with Teresa during a return trip to Las Vegas in the Spring of 2000. We returned to Boulder City with friends for another dam tour in June 2002, when we purchased the ornament, and yet again, in October of the same year, with my parents.

You might think I could give the tour myself, given how often I saw the dam place (does that joke ever get old?). In fact, it really never got old. Hoover Dam is an iconic symbol of the Great Depression, and I find that time in our country's history to be really interesting.  I also have a fascination with the wide open areas of the "Wild West," and the southwest is just incredible.

When my daughter was old enough to appreciate it, I brought her to see Hoover Dam, during Spring Break 2014. Not much had changed on the dam tour in the 11 years since that previous visit, and daughter Melody enjoyed it. The dam tour guides keep things light, with a tongue-in-cheek approach to their humor.

Last month, I returned to the area for the leadership class I took, and one of our field trips was a tour of the dam.  It was my 6th tour, but it also was the best one. We were taken to places the public never sees, and it was very impressive.  Standing on the roof of the building at the bottom of the dam was incredible!

I'm not sure I'll ever need to return to Hoover Dam, but I'll always feel a connection to the place.  It's an amazing feat of engineering, and it's definitely worth seeing. But not six times.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Freed The World

I started watching "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" on CNN recently.  I kind of like his nonchalant approach to food as he immerses himself into the culture of the area of the world he's visiting.  I don't have a strong desire to travel to other countries, preferring to see my own country, the US, through road trips.  I realize I'm missing out on other cultures, but I just can't justify traveling the world without seeing America first.

Anyway, Anthony Bourdain's show is now a must-watch for me, and I saw the episode about Libya recently.  It is incredible and scary what happened in that nation, but it is amazing, too, that the people believed that they would improve their lives by deposing the horrible dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.  In many ways, they have improved themselves, however the unrest in the country, as the show explored, is a bit unnerving.  There seems to be danger everywhere, and it really is chaotic.  I just can't imagine.  We, in the USA, are incredibly blessed to live in freedom.  The Libyan people had to fight for theirs.  At one point, the camera pointed through an alley and there was a young man standing against a graffiti-ed wall, a painted Libyan flag and the word, "FREED," next to him.  I snapped a picture of the screen shot, hoping to make a joke out of the use of my last name, but I imagine it really has a very strong meaning to the Libyan people.  Freedom has so much more meaning in the rest of the world.  I think we Americans take ours for granted.  We shouldn't.  What we should do is take responsibility of our freedoms and make the world a better place.  I know that sounds hokey, but every one of us can do more.  Make a difference.  If you don't know how, have a conversation with a neighbor you don't know and watch the doors that open, and opportunities that appear.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hide-and-Seek With Parked Cars

Finally got out of the neighborhood this evening after putting in a long day at the virtual office.  The good and the bad of teleworking is that it offers flexibility when you need it, but a snow day is no longer a snow day... You've gotta work regardless of whether the government is open or closed.

The roads looked good overall, but neighborhood streets are still a mess (see pic above).  I think I'm done shoveling. I pulled a muscle in my back after clearing off about 80% of the deck on Saturday, so I'm putting myself on injured reserve. What happened to money-starved kids willing to shovel snow? I'm willing to pay really well!

We decided to spur on the local economy by eating out at a local chain restaurant. It wasn't very crowded, and they were a little understaffed, so we were patient, but the service was absolutely awful. Without apologies.  And that was after they thanked us for stopping in.

We stopped for a few groceries at our local Weis.  They seemed to be well stocked, except for bread.  The shelves were bare!  But there was lots of milk and TP!

I'm hoping for another telework day tomorrow.  There's no school, so maybe there will be no work, too.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dude, Where's My Car!?!

I'm sure we've all had those moments when we can't remember where we parked our car, but my car completely disappeared.  I'm guess I'm just a victim of the Blizzard of 2016, and my car is a casualty...

Have a great week, everyone! Stay safe out there!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reminiscing About Road Trips With My Wife in 2001, Pt. 2

My wonderful wife and I went on a lot of road trips during our short almost-five years of marriage, and one of the things I made a point of doing was documenting those trips in a trip journal.  I recently ran across one of them and really enjoyed reminiscing.  Here is Part 2 of one of my favorite trips...


Day 6, 12/31/2001 - Still in Lakeland, FL.  Up at 8 or so.  Relaxing morning.  Got ready.  We took T2's (Teresa's) grandfather to the doctor to have his knee checked out.  First we went to the wrong place.  That one sent us to another place.  It was the wrong one, too.  The 3rd one was the correct one.  The appointment went well, with the doctor recommending knee replacement.  I had to go in the examining room with T2's grandfather because of his hearing difficulties, and I could answer any questions the doctor might have.  We went out to lunch at Jimbo's BBQ, then headed back to their house.  Rested and regrouped.  T2 and I back out later to Disney's Pleasure Island to celebrate the New Year!  It was still a little early, so we walked around Downtown Disney, first at the West End, then at the Marketplace.  We ate dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.  Very good food and neat atmosphere.  We went back to the car to get some warmer clothes.  It got cold after the sun went down!  On to Pleasure Island!  First we went to a comedy improv show, then we saw the Devonshires, and then Tone Loc with a bunch of rappers, all at different sites.  We got some dessert, then we saw Cyndi Lauper perform.  We went to the Adventurers Club, which was really cool, then we brought in the new year with Cyndi Lauper again.  Lots of excitement and fireworks.  Back to the Adventurers Club again for one last show, then we left Disney and went back to T2's grandparent's.  Went to bed at around 3 a.m.  Lord, thank you for a wonderful New Year!

Day 7, 1/1/2002 - We got up at 8.  Another relaxing morning with the grandparents.  Neighbor Les stopped by, then we were called by T2's parents and her Aunt Jody.  Then we got ready and packed up, said our goodbyes, and left at noon.  Stopped for some lunch at a Fazzoli's and gassed up at Citgo, and headed south out of Lakeland on US 98, then to US 17 (long, boring road) to I-75.  Stopped in Fort Myers for a short break, then continued east across Alligator Alley on I-75 to Miami.  We arrived at our "swanky" Crowne Plaza at around 6:15 p.m.  We refreshed, then over to the Dolphin Mall, but it closed at 7 (for New Years Day).  Dave & Buster's was open, though, so we ate and played games.  Then we went to Miami International Airport to pick up our friend, Elizabeth (who was flying in from Chicago for the Orange Bowl!).  All of us back to the hotel.  Whoo-hoo!  On to bed at 12:30 a.m.  Lord, thanks for blessing my wife and me!  Bless us and our family and friends with a prosperous New Year.

Day 8, 1/2/2002 - Up at 8:30.  Slow morning.  We got ready.  Elzi came by.  I called my Mom to check in at home.  We went out at 11 to drive to the Keys.  Raining, but not cold.  We got some gas, then drove south to Key Largo!  Weather lifted a little bit.  We went to the Visitor's Center, then ate lunch at the Bayside Grill, right on the water.  Very tasty!  Stopped at a gift shop, then saw the real African Queen!  It was getting late, so we headed north.  The skies got very dark.  We reached Florida City, and the skies opened up.  It was a terrible thunderstorm, one of the worst I've ever seen.  We stopped under an overpass to wait it out.  There was a lot of hail, too.  We continued on after it let up.  We had a local radio station on, and it reported that there was a Tornado Warning in the area we were just in.  We were convinced it must have just passed us.  We made it back to our hotel to regroup, then we drove to the Orange Bowl for the Maryland Terrapins versus Florida Gators!  It was being played at Pro Player Stadium at 6:30.  We wandered through a few tailgate parties, then int the stadium.  Sitting in Section 431, Row 4, Seats 18-20.  Game started out close and exciting, but soon became a rout.  Our Terps got clobbered 56-23.  It rained on us during the game.  We headed back to the hotel after the game a little bit bummed, and we went to bed at 1:30 a.m.  Lord, thanks for a great day!

Day 9, 1/3/2002 - Up at 9 or so.  Slowly getting ready, but felt well-rested.  Said our goodbyes to Elzi, and we headed out of our fantastic hotel.  Got stuck in traffic due to an accident, so it was well after noon before we got our of Miami.  Decided to stop for lunch near Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach at a Cracker Barrel.  Poor T2 got really sick a short while later.  We continued up I-95 after gassing up at a Mobil, and we stopped again at around 4:30 at the Kennedy Space Center.  We went in and walked around to see some pretty cool stuff, but it was so cold and we were freezing.  We left at 6 with some souvenirs.  Stopped for dinner in Daytona at a Steak & Shake, then continued north.  Got tired after going around Jacksonville, so we found a Holiday Inn Express in little Yulee, FL.  What a dump!  Our room needed a new battery in the smoke detector, so they moved us into a new room instead of just giving us a battery.  After moving, we soon discovered that the 2nd room didn't have a working shower.  Instead of moving us again, they gave us a key to a third room and said we could shower there.  With outdoor corridors, this was not a great option given how cold it was outside, so we just moved into the third room.  Unfortunately, it only had a double bed (the other two rooms had king beds!), but we finally went to sleep at 11:30.  Lord, thanks for keeping us safe!

Day 10, 1/4/2002 - We got up at 7 and got ready (our shower smelled like rotten eggs!).  Gladly left one of the worst hotels I've ever stayed at.  Stopped for breakfast and snacks at a Stuckey's just across the Georgia line.  I wasn't feeling well this time.  Continued up I-95 into South Carolina, and soon stopped at a rest area.  Still not feeling well.  Saw some snow on the ground.  Continued on, but needed another rest area.  Really feeling sick.  We stopped for lunch at a Shoney's, but I didn't eat.  Continued on into North Carolina, and we needed to stop again at a rest area.  I finally started feeling better by then.  We got off of I-95 near Fayetteville, and we tried calling T2's aunt, figuring we would have dinner with them.  The phone wouldn't work and we thought maybe cell service was out due to the severe weather they were having in the area.  We found a pay phone and called from there.  They invited us to stay with them for the night.  We headed down Route 24 to Jacksonville, NC, and arrived at T2's aunt & uncle's place at 6:30.  They had dinner ready.  Their granddaughter was staying with them, and her parents came by to join us for dinner, too.  We had a nice visit and talked well into the evening.  They had 6 inches of snow on the ground!  Finally went to bed at around 11.

Day 11, 1/5/2002 - Up at 9.  We got ready, and had a nice breakfast.  They wanted to take us on a quick tour of Jacksonville, so we headed over to see T2's cousin, Jenny, and her two kids.  Continued on and passed by T2's grandmother's old house, then to another cousin's house, Rob & Pam, who we had dinner with the previous evening.  They have a neat home, with a cool boat house.  We all went to lunch at a nearby restaurant, the Fisherman's Wharf.  Good food and nice time.  We went back to the aunt and uncle's place where we packed up and said our goodbyes.  We thought about heading up along the Outer Banks, but it would make for a much longer trip.  It was already 2 p.m.  We gassed up at a Citgo, and found one more Sonic for a last cream pie shake, then headed up US 258 towards Rocky Mount, NC.  Stopped at a Walmart for a break.  T2 drove us from there to US 64, then to I-95, and we headed north for home.  Stopped for dinner outside of Petersburg, VA, at a Golden Corral.  Good, filling meal.  We decided we were dieting beginning tomorrow!  Stopped for gas in Stafford, VA, at a Texaco.  Called our parents to check in, then headed home.  Made one last stop, at our local Weis grocery store for a few necessities, and then home!  Arrived at 10:30 p.m.  Lord, thank you for a wonderful, safe adventure!


One-Picture-Every-Day Project:  Pics from today's Blizzard...

View from our front door

Hour 30 of the Blizzard of 2016
Have a great evening, everyone!  Stay safe out there!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Reminiscing About Road Trips With My Wife in 2001, Pt. 1

My wonderful wife and I went on a lot of road trips during our short almost-five years of marriage, and one of the things I made a point of doing was documenting those trips in a trip journal.  I recently ran across one of them and really enjoyed reminiscing.  Here is one of my favorite trips...


This is TRIP #13, our Christmas Trip to Florida, which includes a visit with Teresa's (T2's) grandparents in Lakeland, my cousin's, Greg & Tiffany's, wedding in DeLand, New Year's Eve at Disney World, and a trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami to see the Terps play the Gators.  It covers 12/26/01 to 1/5/2002.

Day 1, 12/26/01 - Packed and left our home in Laurel, MD, at 6:54 a.m.  We stopped at 7-11 for drinks, then continued on down I-95.  Stopped for breakfast near Chester, VA, at a Waffle House.  We continued on down the road, made a quick restroom stop in Emporia, VA, and continued into North Carolina.  We then found a Sonic in Wilson, NC.  (Sidenote - we discovered Sonic's Cream Pie shakes on a previous trip and became addicted to them.  There are no Sonics in Maryland.)  Unfortunately, their shake machine wasn't working.  On down I-95, and we stopped to eat a lunch that my mother gave us yesterday, and T2 packed for us to eat on the road.We found another Sonic that DID have a working shake machine, and we got a Chocolate Cream Pie Shake.  We stopped in South Of The Border, SC, but it doesn't seem like a very nice place.  In fact, it's kind of rundown and shady-looking.  Back on the road, we decided to stop for dinner at a Cracker Barrel near Walterboro, and filled up on gas at a Citgo for 97 cents per gallon.  We finished our day of driving in Brunswick, GA, and we're staying at a Ramada Inn for $46.  Drove approximately 700 miles.  Whoo-hoo!  On to bed by 11.  Lord, thank you for a good, safe trip so far.  Please bless my T2!

Day 2, 12/27/01 - Up at 6 or so.  T2 & I slowly got ready.  We had a free breakfast in the hotel dining area, then packed up and headed out at around 9, taking our time.  We entered Florida and stopped at the Welcome Center and got lots of brochures.  Headed towards Jacksonville, then took I-295 to I-10 West to US 301 South towards Ocala.  We passed a few Gators fans, and they gave us a few arm gestures (gators opening and closing their jaws), since we were flying our University of Maryland window flag.  We stopped for lunch at a McDonald's for a quick lunch and gassed up at a Mobil just outside of Ocala.  We saw a Disney Welcome Center, and decided to stop.  We purchased tickets for New Year's Eve at Pleasure Island.  On to Lakeland.  We arrived at T2's grandparent's place at 3 p.m.  Great to see everyone.  T2's parents were visiting, too.  We celebrated Christmas with everyone and exchanged LOTS of presents.  We all went into town for dinner and a little shopping.  At at the Roadhouse Grill, which was great.  Back to the homestead, and we watched TV and videos until late.  On to bed at 11:30.  Lord, thanks for a safe and enjoyable trip.  We pray You will continue to be with us and our family, and keep us all healthy and happy.

Day 3, 12/28/01 - Up at 8 or so.  Relaxing morning.  T2's grandmother had a hair appointment, then her father did the laundry at a local laundromat.  T2 & I went to Publix for a few groceries, to the Hallmark Store, and to a hardware store to get a few house keys made for T2 and me.  Then we had lunch at a local BBQ joint, Jimbo's, a family favorite.  We then hit a flea market for a few bargains, and drove thru a few parks on the drive back to "home."  T2's mother made a deee-licious spaghetti dinner.  Afterward, we took a trip out to Target for a few items.  Back home, and we watched TV and had some ice cream.  On to bed at 10 or so.

Day 4, 12/29/01 - Up at 8 or so.  Another relaxing morning in Florida.  T2's parents packed up and headed for home at around 9:30 or so.  We noodled around for a while.  Les, a neighbor, came by for a short visit.  Then T2 and I got ready and packed up.  We headed out for lunch at the local Steak & Shake, then to a Dillard's for a wedding gift.  Headed East on I-4 thru Orlando and on to DeLand.  Checked in at the Comfort Inn and got ready for the wedding.  Found my Aunt Nancy & Uncle Jack, and cousins Jimmy and Nicole.  Uncle Jim & Aunt Nancy (my OTHER Aunt Nancy) had their motor home parked in the parking lot of the hotel.  Great to see everyone.  We rode with them all to the wedding.  Greg and Tiffany were wed at 5:30 in a very nice ceremony.  On the way to the reception, the directions and map were not very good, and we arrived late at the Yacht Club.  It was a really great time.  Back to the hotel, and we went to bed late.  Whoo-hoo!  Lord, thanks for a great day!

Day 5, 12/30/01 - Up at 8 or so.  We got ready, checked out, and headed over to the President's House at Stetson University for a brunch with Greg and Tiffany.  All of the relatives were there and we had a very nice time.  We called my Dad to wish him a happy 57th birthday, and most of the family spent some time talking to him.  Thank goodness for weekend rates on the phone call!  We said our goodbyes to everyone at around noon.  T2 and I made a stop at McDonald's for a quick lunch, then headed over to the Daytona Speedway.  Very cool!  We had fun taking a tour of the track.  We left Daytona at around 4:30 for the trip back to Lakeland.  We had dinner in Orlando at the Macaroni Grill, then to T2's grandparent's place.  Good to see them, and we talked until late. On to bed.  Lord, thanks for all that You do!  Please keep us and our loved ones safe, healthy, and happy.

To Be Continued...


Beginning a One-Picture-Everyday project, and will post a picture each day on this blog.  Here is today's picture(s), Hour 1 and Hour 5 of the Blizzard of 2016:

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Given how busy I've been lately, and without the time to update this blog very often, I called in the reserves:  my beautiful daughter Melody.  She agreed to do a guest post about STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS.  Here's her review:


This was a movie.
I've seen it twice, and I caught a lot more when I watched it a second time. The first time, though, would always be the best because you don't know what to expect, and, to be honest, I cried for half the movie. I honestly didn't expect any of that. Literally the only thing I knew about this was that Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) were in it.
In my opinion, this was one of the best Star Wars movies. The only problem that I had was that it had basically the same outline as Episode 4, A New Hope. I was confused as to why Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) was wearing a helmet, though. He clearly didn't need it. But I guess it was to give you the feeling that he was like a new and improved Darth Vader, because that's what I got from it.
We've been watching the original Star Wars movies lately, and we've picked up that the sentence "I have a bad feeling about this" and the famous Wilhelm scream were used in every single movie. This was no exception for TFA, as in the beginning, in the Storm Troopers scene, where they're attacking the planet of Jakku at the beginning (I think), it can be heard in the background if you listen carefully, but we didn't notice it until the second time we watched it. Also, when Han, Rey, Finn, and Chewie are about to be arrested by the Storm Troopers in the battle at Takodana, Han casually mentions that he 'has a bad feeling about this'.
What really got to me was Han's death. I genuinely thought that Ren was going to turn back and go home with him, but clearly I should've not made assumptions about him. I cried when he fell over the edge, and I kept telling myself after that that he was going to be in the next movie, that he had landed on a ship or something, and that he had made it out of the planet alive before it exploded. But I guess you can't land on a ship and make it out of a planet before it explodes.
TFA left me with questions about Rey. I am confused as to who she is related to. It must be someone who was a Jedi, but it can't be Luke because as far as we know he never fell in love with anyone. Also, how did she know how to use the Force when she had been captured on Kylo's ship?
Mark Hamill's part at the end also got to me. It seemed really odd for him to have a 30 second part in a Star Wars movie.
My favorite part was when Han and Leia saw each other for the first time. I liked how Han's first words to her were "You changed your hair," because of course that would be the first thing he notices.
Overall, this was a really excellent movie. It is definitely now one of my favorites. I had no idea what to expect, and it came out better then I expected. I had my doubts at first, because I heard that people were saying that it was a bad movie, but watching it changed my mind completely. If you haven't seen it yet, you certainly should.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Break In The Action

Life is getting in the way of writing for much of the past week, and while I had hoped to keep the blog up to date with regular posting, it just hasn't happened.  So please accept my apologies despite having much to write about, including the big success of our presentation last week, which secures the future of our organization and resulted in great attention for several of my staff.  Also, I can't wait to comment on the incredible spectacle of a football game on Saturday night between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, as embarrassing a collapse and defeat as I've seen in any game.  But because of the huge amount of work related to my job and the coursework from the class I went to last month, I have not had the free time that is necessary to write regularly.  Hopefully I will get some time to post this weekend.

In the meantime, here are my "Top Nine" pictures of 2015 from my Instagram account, eric66f.  I can't help but point out that they are all related to roller coasters.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Very Good Day

I don't think it's possible to find true happiness except through the love of Jesus.  But I received a true gift this afternoon that provided a happy moment.

I'm being purposefully vague in the details because I have to be.  My colleagues and I have been working hard to prepare for a great trial tomorrow, the culmination of weeks of labor that may very well determine the future fate of our organization.  Everyone is on edge.  My boss is stressed out.  I guess I was fortunate enough to be out of the office for much of the past month, so I wasn't feeling the stress of planning for this moment like my colleagues were.  My stress was compressed into just the past two days.

I prepared my staff for our portion of the presentation.  I know they are probably sick of me making them run through it to make it perfect (or as perfect as it can be), but we ran it and ran it today.  My boss scheduled a dry run this afternoon.  This meant our rehearsals were wet, damp, and sponge bath.

Anyway, when it came for the dry run, our part was fourth on the agenda.  My boss was not happy as we ran through the first part, and it got worse on the second and third.  When it was our turn, we did it just the way we rehearsed it.  And it was GREAT.  My boss was very happy.  She turned to our deputy and said, loud enough for the other teams to hear, "This is what happens when you REHEARSE!"  I was glowing inside, but only because I knew we had taken the right approach and knew our material.  So I'm fully confident in our ability to pull it off successfully for the real thing tomorrow.

But the real payoff came later.  One of my young employees, who has a rather big role in the presentation, and isn't accustomed to being thrown into the fire on such an important project, stopped by my office on his way out to head home for the day.  He thanked me for making him prepare.  He said it was amazing to see the other teams struggle so much and feel the wrath of our boss because they hadn't rehearsed.  He told me he appreciated the hard work I put him through to get it right.  And he received a big compliment from the boss for a job well done during our dry run.

This made my day.  I don't celebrate personal successes very often.  I don't like to brag about them.  I prefer to let others receive praise.  I hate the spotlight.  But this felt good.  I was happy that my boss was happy.  And I was happy because my employee was happy.  He absolutely deserved the praise he received because he has talent.  But I'm glad he stopped by.  Given the state of my mental health, it really made my day.

If someone does something for you and it has a favorable result, tell them.  It can really make a difference in their outlook.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

There Are No Ordinary Moments

So tomorrow is a return to normalcy, whatever that looks like, with the Holidays done and school back in session.  Vacation is over.  A return to the ordinary.  It's hard to believe that one month ago, I flew off to the wilds of the Nevada desert for a training class for work.  I've not experienced any kind of routine since then.  The training class was intense, some of the most difficult work of my career, and lasted two weeks.  It was the longest separation of my daughter's life, for both of us.

Upon my return, daughter Melody and I spent some bonding time gearing up for Christmas, doing some shopping, watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the greatest movie ever made (in my opinion), on the big screen at the AFI Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring.  We had a wonderful Christmas with the whole family, and followed that up with another getaway for a few days to Williamsburg, VA, where we went to Busch Garden's Christmas Town celebration.  We also saw the new Star Wars movie while in Williamsburg, and it was pretty awesome.  We celebrated Dad's 71st birthday just before the New Year rang in, and caught a great Maryland Women's basketball game yesterday with good friends.  And after all that, we got to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers return to the playoffs with a big win today (and a Jets loss).  Whew!

I spent most of today focused on my return to work tomorrow.  Attitude being everything, I'm concerned about not having the right attitude about my job.  I was really enthused about work after I returned home from my training class, and my three days in the office just before Christmas felt good, overall.  I was not feeling good about much of the circumstances surrounding work just prior to the class.  I knew this had to change.  So I'm anxious about tomorrow.

It's important that I have the right mindset from the get go, especially given how depression has clouded my thinking for several years now.  I'm excited to put into effect some of the strategies I learned from the class, and that may be enough to keep me positive, but there's also a looming project coming up mid-week that has kept much of our management staff on edge for a few months now.  That may take precedence.

Part of the training I received had to do with my own health, particularly my mental health, and I made a commitment to make this a priority.  The reality is that this focus may prove to be life-changing.  I've tried to maintain better physical health since returning, but the mental health is key.

I'm excited to be working on my spiritual health, too, and Pastor Mark's message last evening, at our church, Grace Community, really impacted me.  I have not been a very good advocate of my faith.  I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but in my battle with depression, I've too often forgotten to look to Him.  Mark's message was a nudge towards being more service oriented.  I've been content to just attend my church instead of being actively involved, mostly due to my commitment to my role as a single parent to my daughter.  But I know that balance is needed, and my faith is the most important thing in my life.  That doesn't make me any less of a parent.  It only makes me stronger.

My wife, Teresa, before her untimely death and home-going, which sent me spiralling into the depths of depression, taught me a lot about faith by how she carried herself.  Her focus was on being a servant, and this was apparent in her role and career as a teacher ("neighbor"), the things she involved herself in at our church, and how she carried herself and lived her life.  She lived life the way God wants us to live our lives.  She was such a great role model.

I was already a Christ-follower when we met, but she showed me how to serve Christ.  I've forgotten how to do that while I've tried to scramble my way out of this hole (depression) I've been in.  But through a combination of factors, including consciously recognizing that my recovery can and will lead to a better outlook, and make me a better person, is where I've placed my hope, and my faith is the motor to make it happen.  I don't want to return to normalcy, or the ordinary.  There are no ordinary moments.  Life is extraordinary.

I will keep you apprised of my progress.  And if you're looking for a church home, or have questions about God and how He can work in your life, come to Grace Community Church.  What a wonderful place this is.

I'll have more on all of this in future posts, I'm sure.  In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful week.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Brief Bits

The New Year is an opportunity to make life changing pronouncements and adjustments towards improving one's life, but it's also a good time to signify changes in other areas.  Pastor Mark, at tonight's service at Grace Community Church, emphasized that, while improving ourselves is good, it is even more important to serve others.  I'll have more on this in a future post, but it was a great message to hear, and one that had an impact on me.


Much thanks to my friends, the Garners, for an enjoyable afternoon today.  They took me and my daughter to see the #6 ranked Lady Terps play #9 Ohio State at the University of Maryland.  While it was very exciting, the Terps lost the game.  They played well, and led most of the way, but OSU pulled away late in the 2nd half as the Terps couldn't get their shots to drop.  It was really kind of the Garners to treat us to the game, and our daughters seemed to enjoy the time together.  It also gave me a chance to spend time with my prayer buddy, Rick.  And if you're not reading his blog, Mr. Garner Goes to Washington, you're missing some great words of wisdom.

Mr. Garner & Mr. Freed


You read it here first:  The New York Jets will lose to their former coach, Rex Ryan, and the Buffalo Bills, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will march into the playoffs with a win against their long-time arch-rival, the Cleveland Browns, tomorrow afternoon.  This after the Steelers blew the game last week against the awful Baltimore Ravens, choking big-time in a must-win game.  The Steelers better get their act together.  They have one of the best offenses in the game, with Ben Roethlisberger at QB, and world-class talent at receiver with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Martavis Bryant.  Despite a bunch of injuries, they still can be dominant, but their defense, particularly against the pass, has to play better.  It starts tomorrow.


The Pittsburgh Penguins, with a huge 5-2 win tonight versus the New York Islanders, seem to be on the verge of turning around their season.  They've got all kinds of talent, but they have struggled terribly all season.  But with their captain, Sidney Crosby, finally showing signs of life, the team is playing much better.  Tonight's win was impressive.


I don't know how I missed it, but yesterday was Faithful Pup Scout's 14th birthday!  Scout entered our lives in March of 2002.  She was supposed to be my wife Teresa's dog, but she became my buddy after Teresa's death and home-going in 2004.  She's named for the little girl in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Teresa's favorite novel, Scout has been such a comfort to me over the years, and while she continues to slow down and show her age, I can't imagine life without her.  Happy birthday, Scout!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Top 10 Roller Coasters of 2015

I'm in the midst of a "Best of 2015" series of posts, and today my focus is on roller coasters. We visited a lot of parks this year, including Busch Gardens, Hersheypark, Holiday World, Kings Island, Kennywood, and Six Flags America.  Daughter Melody and I rode a bunch of coasters, too, and many crept into my personal Top 10, and a few are in my Top 5.  While my personal Top 5 includes coasters I didn't ride in 2015, the following list is for coasters ridden only in 2015.  Here is my Top 10 for 2015:

Honorable Mention:  Two coasters just missed this list.  Considering I rode almost 40 different coasters in 2015 alone, it was tough narrowing this list down to just 10.  Storm Runner is a launch coaster at Hersheypark that really made an impression on me.  Melody and I made a last-minute day-trip to Hershey, PA, on Memorial Day weekend, and, while the park was really crowded, we had fun riding about 10 different coasters that day.  Storm Runner blasts off and hits a fairly high hill, then rampages through a series of turns before ending.  The ride isn't that long, but it is very intense.  Banshee is an inverted coaster at Kings Island, near Cincinnati, OH.  I don't normally like inverted coasters.  They have a different feel than traditional steel coasters, and my body just doesn't handle the twists and turns that inverted coasters wrack on me, which tend to be more intense and frequent.  But I seemed to handle Banshee much better, and I actually enjoyed it.  It holds the record for the longest inverted coaster in the world, at 4124 feet.  It's quite a ride.

Storm Runner at Hersheypark

Banshee at Kings Island

10.  The Wild One is a wooden roller coaster at Six Flags America, near Bowie, MD.  It was originally built in 1917 as "The Giant Coaster" at Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach, MA.  It was partially destroyed by fire in 1932 and redesigned, but was again partially destroyed by fire in 1963.  It was rebuilt, but without several of its unique features.  It closed in 1985, and Paragon Park sold it to Wild World, the precursor to Six Flags America.  It opened at this, it's current location, in 1986.  I rode it that Summer and enjoyed it immensely.  It was a wild, rickety old coaster then, and it hasn't changed at all.  Melody rode it for the first time a few years ago, and we returned to the park in September.  It still packs a wallop.

The Wild One at Six Flags America

9.  Griffon is a steel coaster that opened at Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, VA, in 2007.  It is currently the fastest "dive" coaster in existence at 75 mph.  It isn't a very long ride, and it is unique in that it has three rows of ten seats, making it much wider than it is long.  It also features a pause at the very top of its 205 foot drop, creating a bit of anticipation and/or anguish, depending on how much you like such things.  It's a great ride.  Melody and I went to Busch Gardens several times this year, including in April, August, October, and again this week for Christmas Town.

The Griffon at Busch Gardens

8.  We made our first visit to Holiday World, in Santa Claus, IN, during our Summer road trip, and this very small park has several world-class coasters.  Their newest coaster, Thunderbird, opened in the Spring, and it was a pretty cool ride.  It is a steel "wing" coaster, and it features a launch system that blasts it to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds.  It also features the largest vertical loop, at 125 feet, on any wing coaster in the world.  We rode it on a very hot day, but it provided nice thrills at this very under-estimated thrill park.

Thunderbird at Holiday World

7.  Melody and I returned to Hersheypark just after Thanksgiving for their Christmas celebration.  They feature over a dozen great coasters, but the Wildcat was one my daughter decided she didn't like when she first rode it with me last year.  When we returned over Memorial Day, she wouldn't ride it based on how she felt after that first ride.  However, with only a few coasters open for the Christmas season, she agreed to ride it with me since it was running, but it took some convincing.  Wildcat is a wooden coaster that opened in 1996.  It is named after the park's first coaster, the Wild Cat, which ran from 1923 to 1945.  The ride is pretty rough, which is why Melody didn't like it initially, but we both enjoyed it a lot this time around.

Wildcat at Hersheypark

6.  We returned to Kennywood, just outside of Pittsburgh, again this year, and while it doesn't have a lot of coasters, it does contain several older classic coasters.  One of our favorites is the Thunderbolt.  The ride's name was The Pippen when it was built in 1924, but after a track expansion in 1968, it became the Thunderbolt.  Because it is built on several ravines, the coaster follows the lay of the land, and it features a drop straight out of the loading platform.  Its longest drop is 95 feet, and it reaches speeds of 55 mph.  The Thunderbolt is a unique and enjoyable ride.

Thunderbolt at Kennywood

5.  The Loch Ness Monster is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a "beginners" coaster, but this Busch Gardens classic steel coaster is still one of the greatest ever built.  It is the only remaining double-interlocking looping coaster in the world, and it was a record holder for height and speed when it opened in 1978.  It was my first major steel coaster, and maybe that's why I still love it so much.  Melody loves it, too, and it is easily our most-ridden coaster.

The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens

4.  The Voyage surprised me.  Actually, Holiday World surprised me, too.  I didn't expect it to have these world-class roller coaster, and each coaster made an impact on me.  The Voyage is a wooden coaster that feels like an old classic ride, but was actually built in 2006.  It's ranked #4 in height for a wooden coaster, and #2 in length.  The first drop is a doozy.

The Voyage at Holiday World

3.  The Beast is another coaster that surprised me, but not because of its reputation.  It surprised me because of how much I loved it.  I knew it was a great ride.  It has a lot of supporters, as does the coaster's park, Kings Island, just outside of Cincinnati, OH.  The park might be best known as the park that the Brady kids, from the Brady Bunch TV Show, visited in one of their episodes.  The Beast is like a runaway truck coming down a mountain.  That's really the best way I can describe it.  It's the longest wooden coaster in the world, and after the first drop, it feels like it's not going to stop as it rampages deep into the woods beyond.  Melody and I rode it about a half-dozen times, and it just got better and better.

The Beast at Kings Island

2.  Apollo's Chariot surpassed the Loch Ness Monster as my favorite coaster at Busch Gardens shortly after it opened in 1999.  It is a steel "hyper" coaster, with a 210 foot drop, and it reaches speeds of 73 mph.  It features eight air-time hills.  It's a fantastic ride!

Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens

1.  Diamondback is another hyper coaster, this one at Kings Island, opening in 2009, and features a 215 foot drop with speeds of 80 mph, and ten drops across its length.  This was our first visit to Kings Island, and the coasters there are some of the best I've ever ridden.  Diamondback is very similar to Busch Garden's Apollo's Chariot, but it is just a little more intense.  What a ride!

Diamondback at Kings Island
In case you can't tell, I'm a bit passionate about roller coasters...

There's more to come!  I'll do another Top 5/Top 10 of 2015 next time.  For now, have a wonderful evening, everyone!