Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year-In-Review

While largely dormant in 2017, Away From The Things Of Man is still ticking, just with less than regular activity.  I want that to change, but life's priorities are ever changing, and the importance of sharing my thoughts on a variety of subjects takes a backseat to my roles of father, dog-owner, and public servant, as well as enjoying the enthusiasm of travel and roller coasters.  Teen daughter Melody's life and interests trump my own, and time only gives us 24 hours a day.  Factor in the needed sleep my half-century-old body needs on a daily basis, and I just don't have the time I want to write regularly.

However, with the end of 2017 upon us, it seems like now is a good time to throw out a year-in-review.  The Good Lord took such great care of us this year, and we're so thankful to Him for all the ways He has blessed us.  I'm sharing this as a way of summarizing the past year and bringing currency to the blog, as well as a way for me to document for my daughter all of our activities.  So here, in bullet form, is a list of our major events from the past year:

  • January - We celebrated Faithful Pup Scout's 15th birthday.  She was born on January 1, 2002, and we picked her up from the breeder in the Pittsburgh area about 10 weeks later.  Two of her sisters (from the same parents, but earlier litters by several years) also lived into their 16th year, so while Scout is aging quickly but gracefully, we expect her to be with us for at least another year.
  • January - Work trip to Fort Worth, TX.  I travel several times each year in my job, and the trip to Ft. Worth a week into the new year was planned months before.
  • January - Trip to DC and the US Holocaust Memorial.  Daughter Melody and I decided to take more trips into DC since it's so close to our home, and it makes sense to take advantage of the many sites and activities.  This was the first of several trips we made this year.
  • January - Trip to Charlottesville, VA, to see twenty one pilots in concert at John Paul Jones Arena.  Melody became a big fan of their music, and the chance to go to a concert (and she begged me to go for months in advance), I decided to surprise her with tickets.  The only unfortunate issues for me were that it meant she would miss a day of school, and it ended up being at the same exact time as the AFC Championship game in which my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were playing.  Despite miserable weather, and me having no chance to actually watch the game, relying on text updates from my Dad -- given that the Steelers got their butts beat by the New England Patriots made me glad, in hindsight, that I didn't see the game -- the show was very good, and Melody had a significant memory of a lifetime.
  • February - Trip to Gettysburg for snow tubing at Liberty Ski Resort, and Hershey's Chocolate World.  Melody and I plan a trip each year to go snow tubing, and even though the weather was lousy (it was almost too warm), we had a great time this year.  We took side trips to Gettysburg and to Hershey.
  • March - Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament game at the University of Maryland.  While we didn't go to a lot of games this year, we always like to see the Lady Terps.  They're always competitive, and while their season ended earlier than we hoped, it was a good team and we had a blast.
  • April - Spring Break trip to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens.  We almost always take a big trip over Spring Break, but this year we decided to keep things close to home while still doing something fun.  We hadn't been to KD in a while, and the day we spent there was a lot of fun.  We rode almost every coaster and stayed until almost dusk.  The following day, we drove down to Williamsburg and spent the first of several days at Busch Gardens.  BG was much more crowded than KD, so it wasn't quite as much fun.  We offset that with a side trip to Jamestown and a visit through Colonial Williamsburg.  It was a fun week.
  • April - Remembering Teresa at Reservoir High School on April 19th with new friends and old.  We gathered with a bunch of our friends and family at Reservoir High School to remember my wife, Teresa, who passed away in 2004.  It was a nice time, and it felt good to share stories with those friends who had never met Teresa.  We followed it up by heading over to Loony's Pub until late.
  • April - Bengies Drive-in to see BOSS BABY and HIDDEN FIGURES.  The Bengies Drive-in, in Middle River, MD, is the last remaining drive-in movie theater in the state.  We try to visit and see movies at least a half-dozen times each season, which begins in April and runs until November.
  • May - Teresa Shirlen Freed Memorial Scholarship Award at Reservoir High School's Awards night.  After Teresa passed away, Reservoir High School wanted to create a scholarship award for a worthy graduating senior each year.  We've been invited almost every year since, and sometimes participate in the awarding of the scholarship.  Reservoir is blessed with many smart and talented students, and despite its short history, it has a rich history.  We are proud to be a part of that.
  • May - Trip to DC to see the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, JR, Memorial, the World War I Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  Melody had visited these same sites just a week before during a school field trip and wanted to share them with me.  I've lived in the DC area my entire life, but had never been to any of these memorials, so it was a treat for me to experience them with my daughter.
  • June - My birthday, celebrated with family at La Palapa Too, along with Melody's band concert at Hammond High School.  48 years old.  The concert was a highlight.  Melody is thriving as a musician.
  • June - Mom and Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary!  We didn't have a big party, nor a big celebration.  We just had a nice dinner at a favorite restaurant with the whole family.  Later, we sent them to a Chicago concert at the end of July.
  • June - Received the scrapbook of letters of remembrance and reflection to Melody written by students at Mount Hebron High School who were taught by my wife just days after her death and homegoing, given to us by Greg Murach at Grace Community Church.  This was one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received.
  • June - Daddy-Daughter Luau hosted by our Johns Hopkins Road Chick-Fil-A.  We felt very out of place (it was clearly designed for much younger daughters), but it was a memory and we had fun.
  • June - Celebrated Father's Day.  I have the best father.  I have the best father-in-law.  And I have the best daughter.  I love them all.
  • June - Road trip to Pittsburgh, PA, and Cleveland, Sandusky, and Columbus, OH, featuring stops at The Strip District, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Christmas Story House, and seeing another twenty one pilots concert at Nationwide Arena.  This was a road trip we had not planned on having, but after surprising Melody once again with tickets to see twenty one pilots in their hometown, we put together a pretty cool little vacation.  Melody has her own write-up about this trip, so I won't go into detail, but it was a really memorable trip, and she talks about it all the time.
  • June - Daryl Hall and John Oates and Tears For Fears concert at Verizon Center in DC.  This was the year of the concert, and we went to quite a few.  This one was kind of an after-thought, but it was a lot of fun.  Tears For Fears sounds just like they did in the 80s, and our only disappointment was that they didn't feature a few of their deeper album cuts.  Hall and Oates were awesome!  They took their music in new directions, and sounded great.  I wasn't happy with the overall sound at the Verizon Center, but the music was great.
  • June - Work trip to Oklahoma City, OK.  More work stuff.
  • June - Melody's week at Band Camp, featuring a twin bill of concerts at the end of the week.  I returned home from OKC just in time to see Melody perform in a couple of great shows at this music camp.  She tried out new instruments and showed just how serious she has become as a musician.
  • June - Dinner at the Tomato Palace a few days before they closed forever, followed by a stroll around Lake Kittamaqundi at Columbia's Lakefront.  It was a hot and humid night, and we were disappointed to hear that one of our favorite restaurants, the Tomato Palace, was closing, but we always have a great time together.
  • July - Grace Adventures Day Camp.  Melody has attended this camp at our church, Grace Community, since she was 5 years old.  It has been a blessing to us and provides so much fun and enjoyment to her.
  • July - Celebrated Independence Day at the Columbia Lakefront.  We had a wonderful dinner at Cheeburger Cheeburger, then headed over the Mall, found a prime parking space, and watched the fireworks.  Not only did we have a good view of the fireworks, we were able to get out of the parking lot very quickly, unlike the year before, and we made it home in record time.
  • July - Celebrated Independence Day at the Damascus parade.  The following weekend, we went to Damascus for the town's big parade, then watched fireworks, with our friends at First Baptist Church.
  • July - Saw HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap.  Melody, an avid Harry Potter fan, dressed in her Hogwarts best, and we headed to Wolf Trap for a fine evening of music and the first Harry Potter film.  
  • July - Summer Vacation begins with a flight to Milwaukee, and a visit to Six Flags Great America outside of Chicago, and our annual trip to Giordano's.  This was the big vacation of 2017, and continued with G-Fest XXIV and the Pacific Northwest.  
  • July - G-Fest XXIV, featuring Shinji Higuchi, Michiru Oshima, Yuji Kaida, Ryuki Kitaoka, Kazuhiro Hakagawa, Riyotaka Taguchi, Tony Isabella, and Robert Scott Field.  G-Fest is the largest gathering of fans of Japanese giant monsters in North America.
  • July - Flight to Seattle, WA, visiting Pike Place Market, Olympic National Park, Cape Disappointment, Astoria, OR, Tillamook Cheese Factory, Cape Meares, Portland, OR, the Columbia River Gorge, Voodoo Donuts, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, the Seattle Aquarium, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Space Needle.  Spectacular scenery!
  • July - Celebrated what would have been our 18th Wedding Anniversary.  I still fondly remember our wedding day, one of the best days of my life, and marriage to my best friend.  I miss her every day.
  • July - Melody went to New York City.  Just days after returning from the Pacific Northwest, Melody went off to NYC with our great friends, the Garners.
  • August - Day Trip to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  The week after returning from NYC, Melody went off to her grandparent's for two weeks of fun.  While she was away, I took my own little road trip with a day trip to Skyline Drive in my little 2-seater.  It was a wonderfully hot day, but I had a good time.
  • August - Melody went to Pigeon Forge, TN, with her grandparents.  Another incredible vacation for Melody, this time to the Great Smokies.
  • August - Experienced the almost-total eclipse of the sun.  Like everyone else around the world, we watched things get darker for a few minutes, then we went back to our normal routines.
  • August - Trip to see The Orchestra (music of the Electric Light Orchestra) at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, PA.  These guys were great!  We love the music of ELO, and every member of the band played with ELO at some point. What an awesome concert!
  • August - Continued our trip with stops at the National Christmas Center, Strasburg Railroad, Dutch Wonderland, Roadside America, and Hersheypark.  We had a great few days enjoying Dutch Country and Hershey's Chocolate World.
  • August - Trip to DC to the National Gallery of Art.  Continuing our regular trips into DC to visit the cool sites.  Melody picked this museum out of all of the many museums in the city.
  • September - Saw YES (featuring Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, and Trevor Rabin) perform in concert at Wolf Trap.  We love the music of Yes, and this was our first opportunity to see this version of the group.  In the past, we saw the Chris Squire/Alan White/Steve Howe version of Yes, and, while good, seeing Jon Anderson was a thrill.  These guys still have it.  This was the best show I saw all year, and we saw a LOT of concerts!
  • September - Work trip to Oklahoma City, OK.  Again.
  • October - Surgery to remove a mole.  My dermatologist had concerns about several moles on my back, and one in particular required surgery to remove.  While I got good news overall that it was not cancerous, it was more painful and larger than I expected, and waiting for the results was worrisome.  Unfortunately, I still have a lot of questionable moles and will likely experience more surgeries.
  • October - Trip to DC to the National Archives and the National Museum of the American Indian, researching Melody's History Day project.  This is a year-long project for school, and Melody wanted to research this the right way.
  • October - Visited Six Flags America for Fright Fest.  Melody and I took my father to Six Flags for this annual tradition.  We had a fun evening, but it was very humid.  Also, Six Flags has the worst food of any amusement park chain.
  • October - Grace Students Fall Retreat at NorthBay.  Good time, and very meaningful.  I worked in the kitchen and cleaned dishes for two days.
  • October - Trip to Williamsburg with the whole family for Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream.  While my mother didn't join us for the first time (she volunteered to care for Faithful Pup Scout), we had a nice time regardless.  It was crowded, as usual, but we were able to see all of the sites we wanted to see, and we rode all of the coasters at least once.  It was a lot of fun.
  • October - Homecoming at the University of Maryland.  While we didn't go to the football game, we hung out on campus all morning to see the Mighty Sound of Maryland rehearse their halftime show.
  • October - Corn maze and pumpkin farm.  We like to do at least one of these each Fall, and we decided to go to Sharp's at Waterford Farm in the wilds of Howard County.
  • November - Melody attended the Imagine Dragons concert at Capital One Arena in DC.  This time, I didn't go, and sent Aunt G to take Melody to this concert.  It was a great time, she said.
  • November - Season's end at the Bengies Drive-in, with THE SANDLOT and BACK TO THE FUTURE.  It was great to see these movies on the big screen.
  • November - TPed Grammy and Pap's house!  After the drive-in, we stopped by my parent's house and I shared with Melody that time-honored tradition of toilet papering a house!  We were quiet and successful, and the following morning we called my parents to find out if they would tell us about it.  Finally, after hemming and hawing, they let on that something happened, and they then quickly figured out that we knew something about it.  It was a great prank!
  • November - Opening season women's basketball game with the Maryland Terrapins!  With a win, the Lady Terps gave us a great evening at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center.
  • November - Celebrating Uncle D's and Melody's birthdays with family.  We had a big party with the whole family to celebrate a joint party for the birthday kids.  It was topped off by a big Steelers win.
  • November - PVMS Cluster Concert.  Melody is playing with the Honor Band, and they hosted in-coming Sixth Graders so that they could experience playing with the Big Kids.
  • November - Melody's 14th birthday.  We celebrated with dinner with the grandparents at the local Japanese Steak House.  Lots of fun.
  • November - Death and homegoing of my cousin, Pam Fike.  Pam died unexpectedly at the age of 54.
  • November - Death and homegoing of my wife's aunt, Janice Russ.  Aunt Janice passed away after a long bout with cancer.
  • November - Thanksgiving and Aunt G's engagement.  Thanksgiving dinner at Mom and Dad's, along with lots of family.  We also were witness to my sister's engagement to her boyfriend, Ron.  Lots of excitement.
  • December - Midnight Madness in Ellicott City, MD.  It was a cold night, but we had a blast experiencing this new tradition in historic EC.
  • December - Melody's birthday party with friends to see WONDER.  We had lunch at MOD Pizza, then saw this very good movie.  No dry eyes.
  • December - Coastin' Thru The Snow with ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) at Six Flags America's Holiday in the Park.  We met with our friends in ACE and had Extended Ride Time (ERT) on both the Wild One and Roar!
  • December - Symphony of Lights at Merriweather Post.  This is a favorite tradition, and the lights looked festive.
  • December - IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD... an annual tradition.  My favorite movie, and seeing it on the big screen is a thrill.
  • December - STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.  This was an Event movie.  We give it 4 stars.
  • December - Patuxent Valley Middle School's Winter Concert.  A great show.  I'm very proud of my musician daughter.
  • December - Chili Cook-off Champ!  For our holiday office party, my employees had a chili cook-off.  I entered, since I love chili cook-offs.  And I won.
  • December - Christmas Lights at Seneca Creek State Park.  We never saw these lights before, but it was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed driving through the park.  It was crowded, though.
  • December - Christmas Eve at First Baptist Church of Damascus.  A very meaningful service with a message by my father-in-law pastor, and lots of music (both clarinet and singing) by my daughter.  Following the service, we celebrated with all four grandparents late into the evening.
  • December - Christmas with the family.  Spent the whole day opening presents with the whole family, followed by a Steelers win for the second year in a row.
  • December - Busch Gardens Christmas Town in Williamsburg, VA.  Melody and I took our annual road trip to Williamsburg, VA, to visit BG decorated for Christmas.  We had a great time, but it was colder than we remember it ever being, and every roller coaster was closed, as a result.  It was a good time, but cooooooold!
  • December - Celebrated Pap's birthday.  The whole family gathered one more time this year for a dinner and to celebrate my father's 73rd birthday.
  • December - New Years Eve.  At home, with my daughter and our Faithful Pup Scout (soon to be 16 years old), with our traditional Chinese carry-out feast for dinner.  I hope we make it to midnight!
Happy New Year, everyone!  May God bless everyone!


  1. So good to hear from you. So many concerts!

    1. Thank you! Yes, it was a year of concerts! My musical daughter loves music in all forms, performing it as well as hearing it. It was a great year!