Thursday, March 29, 2018

Goodbye To Our Good and Faithful Pup...

We said goodbye to our wonderful little Faithful Pup Scout this afternoon.  She was 16 years old.  We will miss her so much.  Our lives are just a little less bright without her...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Play Ball!

Baseball season is about to start, and I have a fantasy baseball draft tonight.  That means there will be no post of any value this evening.  Unless you like fantasy baseball and, like me, are excited for the start of baseball season.  Since my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, is already eliminated from post-season contention due to incompetence, I have to rely on the fantasy world of sports.  I actually have two teams so I can stay as distracted as possible.

Play ball!  Have a great evening, everyone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top Ten Reasons to Love Your Boss...

Top Ten reasons your boss gives for moving you out of a job you love during a down-sizing...

10.  "It's a numbers game...  There are more managers than there are positions."

9.  "I feel awful... This was the hardest decision I've ever had to make..."

8.  "It has nothing to do with your performance.  I just haven't spent enough time with you to know what you do...."

7.  "It's actually your fault... You've done too great of a job achieving efficiencies that it gave me the idea we could eliminate your position."

6.  "You'll have to talk to your colleagues.... It was their idea."

5.  "You're just too nice a guy..."

4.  "Seniority doesn't count in this situation..."

3.  "This is good for you... You should learn a new skill-set, anyway..."

2.  "Look at it this way.... Now you'll have more time to spend with your family."

1.  "This is a great thing you're doing...  Thank you for making this easy and taking one for the team..."

Monday, March 26, 2018

Retreat Weekend and Dish Pan Hands

The Grace Students of Grace Community Church went on their semi-annual retreat to NorthBay Camp in North East, MD, over the weekend.  It was a wonderful opportunity for the Grace Students to get away for the weekend, grow in their walk with Christ, and bond with each other.  This was my daughter's sixth retreat and she had a fantastic time, and she came away with an emotional and spiritual high.

For me, it was an opportunity to once again support the students by assisting on the Kitchen Crew, which prepares and serves the meals for the almost 400 students and leaders.  Now that I've done this for the past three years, I guess I'm looked at as one of the more experienced volunteers, and I've found myself leading a small crew in the dish pit for the fourth straight retreat.  The only downside to working in the dish pit is the impact it has on my body.  I'm just not young enough, nor in shape enough, to put that kind of stress on my body, unfortunately. 

A year ago, I messed up my back during the retreat weekend, and I missed several days of work after returning home.  Last Fall, I had surgery four days before the retreat, and while the doctor told me to take it easy for two weeks, I still ended up working in the dish pit, and I got in trouble with my doctor when I went in for my follow-up appointment to have my sutures removed for not following Doctor's Orders.  For the retreat this past weekend, there were again not enough volunteers to help in the dish pit, so I found myself volunteering there again, despite my making a deal with my body not to do it.  And, unfortunately, I paid for it.  I injured my back again, and am currently recovering from the stresses I put on it.

NorthBay is fine camp.  There are a bunch of cabins for the students and their leaders, while the volunteers get to stay in the main lodge.  I'll note that the lodge does not necessarily have the finest sleeping accommodations.  The wooden bunks and worn out mattresses are not at all comfortable, and the bunks are made for bodies shorter than 6 feet tall.  I'm a little over that, and the bunk just doesn't allow a body to stretch out.  It's not made for someone my size, so I don't usually sleep very well. 

I'm not complaining.  If I didn't want to volunteer, I wouldn't do it.  I'm just disappointed in myself for not being in better shape for the type of work required.  I love serving, and this is the best way I can think of to support the youth and the leaders.  There are aspects of the weekend that are a lot of fun.  There are some fantastic messages by the youth pastors, David and Ryan, and the music is inspiring.  It's also a lot of fun to watch the shaving cream battle on the beach.  The kids love it, despite getting covered head to toe in white lather, and it was pretty cold on Saturday afternoon, too.  The camp at NorthBay has plenty of activities, and everyone who attends comes away feeling a bond with one another that only comes through the love of Christ.

The church youth group that I attended while growing up during my teen years also went on an annual retreat, and I continued going on retreats during my ten years as a youth counselor.  They are such wonderful experiences, and I'm so happy that my daughter is able to have the same kinds of experiences.  It really is a great weekend.

I guess I'll have to use this as motivation to get myself in better shape, since I have at least four more years of retreats to get through.  In the meantime, I'm continuing to heavily medicate my body to ease the pain in my back.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My First Big Road Trip

I was about ten years old when my family took what was perhaps the most influential vacation of my life, and led me to have a life-long love of road trips.

It was 1979, and my parents had purchased an RV trailer the year before, beginning our new family past time of campgrounds, sleeping bags, and mountain pie makers.  Dad pulled our 24 foot trailer with our '77 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, complete with fake wood paneling.  The first year with the RV was spent on occasional weekend getaways, but in the second year, we spread our wings a bit.  Our vacation would span two weeks!  It was easily the longest vacation we had ever taken as a family.

School had just let out, and we loaded up the camper for our big trip.  We hit the road on a hot June afternoon, heading south out of Upper Marlboro, MD, on US 301.  We crossed the Potomac River on that single span bridge (towing the RV with our station wagon across that bridge was an experience all by itself!), and continued to our first destination:  Williamsburg, VA.

We found our campground, settled in, and enjoyed the pool!  The following day was a fantastic visit to Busch Gardens!  The vacation was off to a flying start.  We were in Williamsburg for several days, then we loaded up and headed to our next destination...Holden Beach, on the south coast of North Carolina!

I recall, during the drive down to NC, the station wagon wanted to overheat every time Dad put on the air conditioning.  This meant that we traveled with the windows down for much of the drive.  We had a scary moment when a very large flying bug flew into the window and landed on Mom's shoulder, causing us all to scream and yell, and panicking my poor mother enough that Dad had to pull over.  I think it was a dragonfly, but we couldn't identify it at the time since it flew out as quickly as it flew in, as soon as we stopped.

Holden Beach was pretty memorable.  We met up with my Uncle Jim, Aunt Nancy, and cousin Jimmy, and I fished for the first time while we were there.  The campground was right on the beach, and we spent a lot of time in the Atlantic, too.  Dad, Uncle Jim, Jimmy, and I went out one morning to a nearby pier to do some fishing, and while I didn't catch anything, Uncle Jim caught several large fish.  We also had a crab trap, and we caught a small sand shark in the trap by accident.  Cousin Jimmy and I also discovered little sand crabs near the beach that came out at night, and he caught a bunch of them, placing them in a sand-filled cardboard box.  The crabs burrowed into the sand, creating little holes.  I placed my finger a little too close to one of the holes, and a crab latched on to my finger, pinching it enough to cause me a lot of pain, and I flicked it a good forty feet away trying to get it to let go.

We also took a day trip to Myrtle Beach, the southern-most point of my life up to that time, and we went to our first waterslide.  I had a bad experience when I got to the bottom of the slide, and the person behind me tackled me and knocked me face first into the pool where I breathed in a lot of water.  Back at Holden Beach, I took another spill when a large wave knocked me off my feet, and I drank a lot of water there, too.  I wasn't much of a swimmer, and these experiences caused me to hate the water, something that has carried over into adulthood.

Anyway, after almost a week in Holden Beach, we said goodbye to my aunt, uncle, and cousin, and we headed to Greensboro, NC, to visit with my mother's distant Aunt Virginia, Uncle Hubert, and Aunt Petunia.  Aunt Virginia was the only one we had met before, back when she and dearly-departed Uncle Buddy had visited the DC area.  Uncle Buddy and Aunt Virginia were circus performers years before, once having crossed Niagara Falls on a high wire.  Aunt Virginia had long since retired.  Aunt Petunia was her sister, or cousin, or some kind of relation.  Anyway, it was nice to visit them and they rolled out the red carpet with their southern hospitality.  Instead of staying in the camper, we were able to stay in their houses, which were right next door to each other.  We were there for only two days, but we had a good time.

The next stop was in Roanoke, VA, where we stayed with my Great Uncle Ollie and Aunt Willie.  We were also surprised to find that my grandparents had traveled down from their home in Maryland to visit, too.  It was a party, since we were celebrating my sister's birthday, as well.  Uncle Ollie lived right down the road from the Roanoke Star, so we were able to hike up to see it late one afternoon after dinner.  On the way back down, my sister and I sprinted back to the house, but my brother, only three years old, didn't see us and kept on going down the road.  When everyone else caught up, there was a moment of panic when we couldn't find him.  Dad jumped in the car and drove down the road, finally finding him almost a mile away!  It put quite a scare into everyone.

After three days in Roanoke, we said our goodbyes and headed for home.  It was a good five hours drive, but when we arrived at our house, it felt like we had been away for the whole Summer!  It had been an epic road trip, and planted a seed that sprouted as I got older.

I love taking road trips!  I'm so glad my daughter loves them as much as me, and as much as her mom did.  Traveling is good for the soul.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snow Day Fun

Teleworking on a snow day is not fun.  With the snow that crippled the Washington Metropolitan Area today, and the closure of government offices, I was forced to telework for the day.  I find it boring to work at home without the interaction of my colleagues and employees.  Attending meetings via phone is not the same.  So it was a miserable day.

On the flip side, I love the snow, and watching it come down as Spring began was pretty cool.  However, I felt guilty as I sat on the couch with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone, all day, attending virtual meetings and answering emails, as my neighbors were all out front shoveling snow off the sidewalk.

We were kind of disappointed this morning when we saw so little snow on the ground, but as the morning went along, the snow got deeper and deeper.  Check out this before and after picture separated by about four hours:

Anyway, my workday ended at 3pm, so I still had a nice amount of time to go outside in the snow, and catch up on some TV watching.

While watching NewsChannel8, my daughter and I were witness to some noteworthy news.  Check out the headline on this screen capture of the Pope losing his hat to the wind:

We just got word that schools are closed again tomorrow, so it looks like I'll be teleworking again.  We'll still take the snow any day of the week, though.  What we got today was more snow than what we got over the whole season, so it makes up for what had been a pretty disappointing Winter.  And maybe we can find a way to make a telework day more entertaining.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Map Lover

Barry Schiff, a pilot and author, writes a column for AOPA Pilot, the magazine for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, called the Proficient Pilot.  In his most recent article, he pays tribute to aeronautical charts, which I have been working on over a two and a half decade career as a cartographer.  In the article, he shares a quote by Amelia Earhart:

"Someday I would like to write a piece about the fun of voyaging with maps -- without ever leaving home."

This is such a wonderful quote, and perfectly describes the almost geeky fanaticism felt by map lovers.  And I am most certainly a map lover.

My love of maps began when I was a kid.  My grandparents gave me a subscription to National Geographic's World Magazine, which I read cover to cover every month, and the occasional map that was included in some issues were cherished.  I would pour over them, analyzing the areas they covered, and imagine visiting these sometimes faraway places.

As I got older, I graduated to National Geographic Magazine, and the maps that were included with many of those issues were much more complex than in World.  My favorite map was a political map of the United States, and I invented so many different mapping games, the rules of which only I knew, and I could play with them by myself for hours.

Soon, I started buying Rand McNally and AAA road atlases every year, and I would go through them page by page, exploring the states, highways, and sites, comparing the new editions with past editions, and planning and planning and planning future road trips and vacations.

In college, I discovered that I could major in Geography, and I pursued my Bachelors degree in Cartography, eventually getting a job in the government as a professional cartographer.

With the advent of the internet, the world of cartography continues to grow, and the number of online mapping sites make it easy to plan just about anything, from checking traffic for local trips and destinations, to planning huge cross-country road trips.  It's a map lovers dream!

I'm constantly planning road trips, and I have a catalog of at least a dozen different trips that I want to take.  And I still use a paper map atlas, along with the technology available, to plan these trips.  And this creates, and sometimes even satiates, my wanderlust.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2018

First Date

A mutual friend introduced us, and while we didn't get a chance to say more than a dozen words to each other during that introduction, I guess I made enough of an impression on her to get her to go out with me.  But while our mutual friend got her phone number for me, I didn't call her for several weeks.  That was mostly because she spent a week on vacation in San Francisco after our initial meeting, and then I had to get up the nerve to ask her out.  But she was quick to say yes once I did ask her.

The following week, I went to her apartment to pick her up.  She was prettier than I remembered.  Reddish brown hair framed her face, featuring an innocent smile and large hazel eyes.  She wore just a touch of makeup, though I don't think she needed it.  It was her natural features that I found so inviting.  We made small talk, and then I invited her to go to dinner.

It was a rainy evening, so she brought an umbrella.  I drove us over to the local Olive Garden, which I thought would make a good first date restaurant.  When we arrived, I got out and opened her door.  It was raining hard enough that we needed her umbrella, so I opened it as she stepped out of the car.  I held the umbrella in my left hand and place my hand in the small of her back as we walked to the door of the restaurant.

It wasn't crowded, so we were able to get a table quickly.  Conversation came easy, and I asked her about her trip to San Francisco.  She excitedly told me all of the highlights, making sure to emphasize all of the places that she thought would have been more fun had she traveled with someone else.  While she had stayed with an old high school friend, she had to work during much of the week, leaving my date to sight see alone.  I enjoyed her description of the sites, in particular her stop at Ghirardelli Square, and getting a sundae that was really made for two, vowing to return one day with someone special to share.

The food arrived, and prayed and gave thanks to Him.  We enjoyed our meal, eating slowly as we took turns sharing with each other our life stories.  She was an only child.  I was the oldest of three.  She was a high school teacher.  I was a cartographer.  She grew up in Wheaton.  I grew up in Upper Marlboro.  We both went to the University of Maryland.

I'd been trying to ignore it, but while we were finding comfort in our sharing, the earlier nervousness I had felt took its toll, and I needed to use the rest room.  I excused myself, and soon found myself experiencing a lot of discomfort due to what I'll just call IBS.  My stay in the rest room was much longer than I could have anticipated, and I was embarrassed that I wasn't able to quickly take care of business and return to my date.  The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.  After an eternity, I was able to get my composure back, and I returned to the table, and my date.  I apologized profusely, and assured her I was fine, though the concern on her face troubled me.  We ordered dessert, and continued our conversation.

After the meal, we began to head out.  The rain had stopped, so we were able to walk to the car slowly.  I opened the car door for her, and helped her in.  Then I drove us back to her apartment.  She invited me in and we continued to talk about anything and everything.  She had turned on the TV, but we didn't watch it.  We likely could've talked all night, but we both had church in the morning, and it was late, and I had an almost hour long drive ahead of me.

She walked me to the door, and gave me a warm hug.  There was no kiss, but only because I was too nervous to ask for one, and I thought it ungentlemanly to assume that there should be one.  I expressed that I wanted to see her again, and she agreed that it would be nice to go out again.  I told her I would call her the following evening (and I did).  And then I said goodnight.

It was a long drive home, but all I could think about was this wonderful young lady.  She was awesome, funny, mature, intelligent, fearless, confident, and beautiful.  I thanked God for being with us throughout the evening.  He had been preparing us both for this moment, and I knew that it was something special.  I was going to marry this woman.  She said yes to my marriage proposal less than a year later, and we were married the following Summer.  It was blessed relationship, with God at the center, and while it lasted less than five years, it was the happiest time of my life.

Teresa was taken from this life on a beautiful evening while we were walking with our five month old daughter, Melody.  Her heart stopped beating and she collapsed right next to me.  I had no chance to even say goodbye, though I'm thankful we both said I love yous to each other just a short time earlier.  She is now spending eternity with our Lord and Savior.  I miss her every day, but I know, one day, we will be together again.

Hug your loved ones, and tell them how much you love them.  You can never say it enough.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Busted Weekend

This weekend was a bust.  There is much to do as we prepare for a major downsizing of the amount of "stuff" in our house, but we did absolutely nothing all weekend.  Other than attending the church service on Saturday evening, we had nowhere to go, and we were, essentially, shut-ins.

This isn't necessarily unusual for us.  We're a week into Daylight Saving Time, and my daughter and I both hate it.  We've felt exhausted all week, and no matter how early we went to bed, we still struggled to get up each morning.  I think there's a problem with the fact that Standard Time is shorter than Daylight Saving Time.  I'm all in favor of getting rid of it.

So we spent the weekend taking it easy.  With the job stress that came to a head this past week, and Melody completing four different projects for four different classes, we both felt like this weekend was a good one for vegging out.

Faithful Pup Scout had different plans, unfortunately.  Regardless of what the clock says, Scout's internal alarm never seems to change.  She will not sleep past 7am, and even when I took her out at 7 this morning and we went right back to bed, she woke me up again just as I fell asleep again.  At 7:20.  For more than a year now, I have only slept past 7am when my daughter and I have been away on vacations and Scout is with my parents.  Otherwise, it doesn't matter what time Scout and I go to bed the night before.  We're up at 7.  At least it isn't my 4:30am normal weekday wake up call.

There was one other thing we did this weekend.  Every Saturday, after church, we always go out for dinner.  Last night, we went to one of our favorites:  Steelfire, in Maple Lawn.  I love this place!  It was St. Patrick's Day, so everything was green, including the water, beer, and shakes, and while we don't drink beer, we still enjoyed the luck o' the Irish.  The restaurant's staff was clearly having a fun evening, and it was contagious.  If you go, make sure you try the Taylor Tots.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

FDHS Jazz Band

When I was in high school, being in the band was one of the highlights.  There weren't many.  I probably had a typical high school career.  I wasn't popular (though I was fortunate to be in classes with the most popular students).  I didn't play any sports.  I was an above average student and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but I wasn't necessarily accomplished in any particular subject.  I was just a tall, skinny, introverted kid who preferred to stay off the radar, out of the limelight, with a small circle of close friends much like myself.

But I thrived in the band.  That was what I enjoyed more than anything else.  I started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, and had worked my way to section leader in our Symphonic Band by my senior year at Frederick Douglass High.  I added an alto saxophone to my repertoire during my junior year, and joined the school's jazz band.  That was really the highlight of my senior year.

The jazz band was a diverse group of musicians.  Wakene played alto and tenor sax.  He was outgoing and had no qualms about playing a solo on many of the songs we played.  Randy played the bass, and while he always seemed to be missing a string on his bass guitar, he gave our sound a touch of funk.  Andre was a talented all-around musician.  Trumpet was his main instrument, but he also played keyboards, and he was a percussionist in the symphonic band.  Dominic was our drummer, however he was just beginning to play and was very raw.  He was fine playing a straight 4/4 rock beat, but was still learning how to play anything else.  Finally, we had a trio of guitar players.  Joe was still learning to play the guitar, and with a background in hard rock and metal, his style tended to lean towards the gruff and grungy distorted sound.  Giles had more of a blues style, and he gave us more of a rhythm guitar sound.  Kirk was the true talent of our band.  I'd known him for years, and he played a variety of instruments, including clarinet, sax, piano, contra-bass clarinet, and even the French horn.  While the guitar was a new instrument for him, he had learned to play it fluently, and he became the lead soloist of the band.

Our band director, Mr. Lopez, was a professional jazz drummer, and that benefited Dominic more than anyone.  In addition, he could substitute for Dom on the more difficult songs, which helped everyone by giving us a steady beat as we learned to play with each other, since none of us had ever played in the jazz band before.

We learned several jazz pieces, including a few classics, like Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" and Miles Davis' "Freddy The Freeloader."  We also brought our own visions to the band by writing our own songs, usually with one of the group bringing a melody or bass line as the starting point, and the rest of us collaborating on developing an arrangement.  "New Groove" was a hot mess, but it was fun and showed our creativity, but our true accomplishment was a song we dubbed "Arabian Sunset," which Kirk brought to us.  Kirk had developed the melody while working on an obscure chromatic scale, and the rest of us filled in to turn it into a full masterpiece, which became our signature song.  In fact, to add to the melody, I used my clarinet instead of the sax to give it more uniqueness, and I even played a few solos on it, which brought me out of my music shell.

By the time the winter rolled around, we were pretty solid, and it was fun to perform in front of a variety of audiences.  We went on the road and played at my old middle school, which was a lot of fun, with an enthusiastic audience.  We performed for a Black History month assembly at Douglass, and as our reputation grew, it really didn't seem to matter what we played.  The audience was anticipating something exciting and different, and we delivered at least on the different part.

As a not very popular, introverted student who preferred not to draw attention to himself, this was alien territory for me, and I didn't necessarily take to it naturally.  But it was fun, and, along with the more classic training I received in Symphonic Band, the Jazz Band only enhanced my musical abilities and education.

Music and the arts are so important to our students, and opportunities for this part of their education in public schools should never be questioned.  Please support this aspect of public education for our students.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Paralympic Curling

One of my favorite events of the Winter Olympics is curling.  I think it was during the 2010 Games that I first starting watching curling, and I'm absolutely fascinated by the sport.  I wish there was more televised coverage of curling outside of the Olympics, but it seems like it gets popular only when the Games are being played, then the popularity dies down.

I was reading an article about curling and discovered that there are curling clubs all over the country, and while I don't necessarily feel like curling competitions are in my future, I'm looking for opportunities to watch more often than every four years.

Anyway, all that said, I was eating breakfast just before leaving for work yesterday morning when I came across a curling match on TV.  It was Paralympic Curling!  Obviously, if you watch curling, there are differences, which include the poles used by the competitors to launch the stones, but it's amazing how much control they still have over the speed and curling motion that the stones take.  This particular match, between Norway and Slovakia, was extremely competitive.  Good stuff!

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day Sights...

The many faces of Pi Day...

Pi-Mel with Pi-Scout

Disheveled Pi-Scout

Pi Day Humor

Pi Day Chili?!?

Pi Day Pie, chocolate silk cream variety...

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Rejecting Lunch

About six weeks ago, I had the worst bout of food poisoning I've ever experienced.  It knocked me out for several days, and during the worst of it, I thought I was dying.  When I finally began feeling better, there was such a sense of relief, but I was very careful about what I ate for much of the following few weeks.  Then, of course, I went back to my poor eating habits.

Yesterday, my good friend and prayer brother, Rick, joined me for lunch.  We had much to discuss, as we've had a lot in recent weeks to be thankful for.  The Lord is good, all the time.  Anyway, we met at Shake Shack, at the Mall in Columbia.  My only other experience with Shake Shack, a few months ago, wasn't great, but I'll chalk it up to the time of day (the height of mealtime) and growing pains (they had only been open a few weeks at the time).  Rick has a lot more experience with Shake Shack, having visited the New York City location, as well as one in DC, and following his guidance, I figured our visit could only be better.

We met at 11:30, beating the lunch crowd, and easily found a table while we waited for our food.  I got the Shack Stack, which is a combination cheeseburger and 'shroom burger, a side of fries, and an iced tea.  Health-conscious Rick got the burger sans the bun, and his looked like a head of lettuce with a burger in the middle.  Mine was good, but very rich, and, in hindsight, was likely too rich for me based on my recent diet.

Daughter Melody and I tend to get a little lazy with meal preparation.  It's just the two of us, and I hate to cook, so we go out to eat often.  We went to Red Robin on Friday, Bertucci's on Wednesday, and Double T on Monday.  I don't always make smart choices with my menu selections.  Even though we go out to eat a lot, I still treat these experiences like special occasions, meaning I'm not going to get just anything to eat.  Given my health issues, I really need to be smarter about what I'm eating, though.

Rick and I were sharing recent happenings when I broke out into a cold sweat.  Nausea took over from there, and I was rapidly becoming sick.  I know the signs, and given the food poisoning experience of six weeks prior, I did not want a repeat.  I explained to Rick what was happening, and assured him it had nothing to do with his job-search story (really, Rick, I was legitimately feeling sick... :-)), I excused myself to run to the rest room.  Unfortunately, the single stall was occupied, so I just kept breathing deeply, splashed some water on my face, and kept my bearings.  I returned to Rick and apologized, that I really needed to get home.  I was so paranoid about food poisoning and my last experience, and I really didn't want to go through that again.  He was more than understanding, and I hope we can get together again soon.

The cold air outside the restaurant helped a bit, and I rushed back to my Jeep.  I had been fighting the urge to vomit up to that point, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to drive and not throw up all over my steering wheel.  I called Melody to let her know I was returning home and why, and I started the 15 minute drive back home.

As I neared our neighborhood, another wave of severe nausea came over me, and I weighed whether I should just pull over, or continue driving because I was so close to home.  I kept driving, and I made it to our house.  I jumped out of the Jeep, and I knew I wouldn't make it.  I ran over to our front bushes and lost my lunch, along with everything else that was still resting inside my belly.  It became awkward when neighbors on either side happened to come out just as I was heaving, and so there was plenty of concern.  I assured them that I was okay, and I was able to get inside.

I ran to my room, stripped off my jeans and sweatshirt, and again threw up just as I got to the toilet.  Shortly, having felt like I had survived another round of nausea, I emptied a trash can, put on my sweats, and collapsed on my bed.  Melody checked on me, and I told her I just needed to rest.  Then I fell asleep for two hours.  During my restless slumber, my wonderful daughter had lined my trash can with a plastic bag, and brought me a cup of ice water.  She's awesome.  Rick, too, had checked in on me, sending me a text to find out how I was doing.  He's awesome, too.

I slept on and off for the rest of the day.  I only got out of bed to use the bathroom.  I didn't throw up again, fortunately, and I still don't know what set off this latest round of illness.  I just know it was a wake up call, of sorts.  I need to stop eating so indiscriminately, and make better, more health-conscious choices when I'm out.  Another possibility is that I was suffering from dehydration.  I had worked out earlier that morning on our exercise bike, and perhaps I didn't drink enough water before or after.  I just don't know.

After tossing and turning all night, Faithful Pup Scout had enough and woke me up at 7am this morning.  I'm hesitant to eat anything, but I'm drinking plenty and am functioning.  I'm not feeling any nausea, and that's a bonus.  Even during the night, I wasn't entirely comfortable.  A week of fasting may be what I need.

Sorry, Rick.  We'll catch up again soon.  Thanks for checking in on me.

Melody, thank you so much for caring for me.  You have such a caring heart.

Have a great day, everyone.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Red Red Robin

For about seven years, or so (half of my daughter's life), we ate almost weekly at Red Robin, a nationwide gourmet burger chain.  The restaurant in Columbia, MD, was where we met Melody's grandparents, as well as family and friends, just about every Thursday evening.  We got to know the staff pretty well, and they became a part of our family, sharing stories from their lives as much as we shared with each other about ours.  It was a fun gathering, and it helped Melody and me as we dealt with the loss of my wife and Melody's mom, Teresa.

The food was good, if pretty basic, and there was enough variety to appeal to everyone who gathered with us week to week, though I know some of the family got tired of going to the same place all the time.  But it was more about the time spent together than the food.

As folks moved away, and Melody got older, we stopped going weekly, then monthly, and then we stopped altogether.  We lost touch with many of the staff, too.  Other restaurants became popular with us, and we gathered for other reasons, mostly to celebrate special occasions.  Red Robin was still in the mix, but we really didn't go more than maybe once every six months, or so.

Melody told me this afternoon that she was craving Red Robin, so we had an opportunity to meet my parents at the Annapolis store.  Many of our old favorites are still on the menu, and I got the Souper Sandwich combo:  a cup of chili and a barbecue chicken wrap.  I used to get this dish often.  I was kind of astonished at what I received this time, however.

The chili was served, not in a cup, as in the past, but in a small, square, shallow dish.  The amount of chili was barely half as much as what I used to get.  The wrap was even worse.  The tortilla was wrapped so tight as to be almost an inch less in circumference than what I was used to.  All in all, it was significantly less food than what I received in the past.  And it was a lot more money, too.

Now, one could argue that I really shouldn't be eating so much food anyway, and that perhaps the restaurant was doing me a favor, but it was so ridiculous.  I was so disappointed.

There were other things, too, like the fact that sweetener for our iced teas was not on the table and had to be requested, and even something as simple as extra napkins had be asked for.

I wish that all of these things were all I had to complain about.  I wish I didn't have to complain about anything.  But our server tonight just wasn't on the ball.  He forgot about us several times.  I also don't understand why his demeanor changed so much when he forgot to bring a requested item, Splenda, and when we reminded him to bring it, he stopped being friendly.

Oh, well, I guess you can't go home again.  There's still much to like about Red Robin, and the food was good, overall.  We won't be rushing back, but it was nice to have that familiar taste again.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Last Few Weeks of Daedalus Books

My daughter and I decided to make a stop at our favorite bookstore, Daedalus Books Warehouse Outlet, one more time before they close forever.  Their last day is March 21, 2018.  It's really making me sad to think that I will no longer be able to stop by on a whim and find a book for under $5 to keep me company during a solo meal at a local restaurant.  I've spent hours meandering through the shelves looking for interesting books, and I've likely spend $1000s, which purchased a lot more books than the equivalent of any other bookstore.

They're currently taking 40% off everything, and the shelves are starting to look more and more empty with every visit.  I'm going to miss this place so much!  Below are a couple of pics, including my latest haul, which was under $35!

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Band of Brothers and Sisters

A wonderful friend recently posted the above picture on her Facebook page, and it brought back a flood of memories.  Yeah, that's me on the far left.  This is a picture of the Symphonic Band from my high school's yearbook from my freshman year.  I played the clarinet.  We were certainly children of the 80s.

It was a great honor to be in the Symphonic Band.  There weren't very many freshmen in this band.  The Concert Band had most of the freshmen, and was, more or less, the "beginners band."  The Symphonic Band contained the more experienced musicians.  I remember, as an eighth grader in junior high, auditioning for the director of the high school band and being a nervous wreck, never guessing I could make the Symphonic Band.

What I find most amazing about this picture is the fact that my daughter is the same age now as I was then, and she's following directly in my footsteps, though her poise and talent is so much more than I was.  She recently auditioned for the high school band director, and found out she will be in the top band next year.  She also plays the clarinet.

I'm really excited for her, and she seems excited.  I benefited from being in the band.  It was an immediate social group for me, and made the transition from junior to senior high that much easier.  Let's face it:  being a freshman in high school is hard.  You need any advantage you can get to establish one's social standing, and if you get to be a part of an established group that includes a cross-section of students from across the high school spectrum, then even better.  Besides, band is fun.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Meandering Thoughts

Melody doesn't know what it's like to have a mother.  That's why she doesn't like me to date.  She likes our lifestyle, even as I know that her life would be so much better with a father AND a mother.  I feel so inadequate most of the time, but I'm trying so hard to give her the best life possible.  When she was old enough to start recognizing what she was missing, I felt like I needed to remarry before Melody got too much older, because I knew it would be more of a struggle for her to connect with someone in a mother-daughter way the older she got.  But while I dated here and there, it was never anything that would lead to a more serious relationship.  I think I was trying too hard.  It was also the wrong reason to look for a relationship.  I think it's wrong to get married to someone just so my daughter can have a mother.  That needs to be a benefit, but not the reason.  When Teresa and I got married, it was because God knew we were ready to be married, that our love for each other was strong enough to carry our relationship to the level of devotion necessary to sustain it.  And we both had a relationship with the Lord before we knew each other.  And it was fantastic.  Teresa and I were a great match for each other, and we became best friends.  It hurt so much to lose her.  It's something with which I still struggle.


I dated someone very seriously about 8 years ago.  She was a work colleague, though she lived in and worked in our offices in Oklahoma City.  I had known her for a few years before we started dating.  She had never been in a serious relationship before, let alone a long-distance one.  I had been in a long-distance relationship back in the 90s, and I knew it was difficult.  That one had crashed and burned after six months.  This one had promise, and after communicating via email for several weeks, she admitted that she felt like our relationship had reached the stage of us getting together.  Because I travel to OKC often, I was able to tie a long weekend with her in OKC with a business trip, and she proclaimed her love for me.  She began making marriage plans without telling me, and bought a wedding dress.  She told me she was willing to move to Maryland.  A few months into the relationship, she came to the DC-area and I allowed Melody to meet her.  They really didn't connect, and it was obvious that the woman didn't have a clue how to relate to Melody.  Melody wanted so badly for it to work, though.  As the relationship progressed, it became very clear that the distance was too much of a strain, just as I found that she really had no desire to come to Maryland, trying instead to persuade me to move to OKC.  The red flags were all over, and not just because of the distance.  She wasn't ready to be a mom, and she also couldn't handle the fact that I had been married before. We had been seeing a pre-marriage counselor, and he told us he didn't think we were a great match, though not before discounting my marriage to Teresa as not being long enough to be a good gauge of my marriage-worthiness, which I resented like you wouldn't believe.  The relationship ended badly, and Melody took it worse than I did.  We broke up over the phone, and I never heard from her again.  She quit her job and moved on to something else.  I found out she got married about a year and a half after our breakup, so I guess she was able to use that wedding dress after all.


My father is one of eight siblings, so his side of the family is very large, and I have a lot of cousins.  We used to get together a lot more than we do now, and I enjoyed those times so much.  Dad grew up in Western PA, in Uniontown.  It's less than an hour south of Pittsburgh.  That's why I'm a Pittsburgh sports nut.  Dad raised me right. :-)  My grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed, was an awesome individual, and, when I was old enough to start driving, I loved to go visit with him.  Every month, I made the 4 hour drive to his place, and I loved to just sit with him and soak in his advice.  He once told me that the greatest thing in life was the pursuit of a woman.  He was a lay pastor at the little Methodist church in town back in the day.  I never heard him preach, but he was a wonderful storyteller.  Everyone loved him.  He worked in the coal mines in that area when he was younger, but quit after experiencing a cave-in and his partner was killed.  He worked three jobs after that to support his huge family, working as a nightwatchman at the Methodist camp in Jumonville, PA, up in the mountains;  he was a barber, and he cut hair for many years; and he was a preacher on a circuit of three churches in the area.  Pap had a long battle with cancer, beat it, then it came back with a vengeance and took him from us.  On his deathbed, after a week in a coma, the whole family surrounded him, encouraged him, and told him it was okay to let go, and as he took his last breath, he suddenly opened his eyes, then slowly closed them as the life left his body.  I was holding his hand at the time, and I'm convinced he saw Jesus in that moment.  He died on his 84th birthday.  I was 25 at the time.  Next to my parents, he was the biggest influence on my life to that point, and he was the one who inspired me to consider youth ministry.  I love talking about him.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Melancholy Nights

Some nights, I get to feeling a bit overwhelmed, and little things cause me to get angry and frustrated, and I wonder about what triggers these moods.

We attended church earlier this evening at Grace Community, and while I enjoy Pastor Seth's messages, I found myself missing Mitchel and Rich.  I don't think I've heard a message from Pastor Rich in a few months, with illnesses, trips, and missed services.  But Seth is good.

There's usually a carryover from the service into the evening, and I wasn't feeling it tonight.  My mood soured as my daughter and I debated dinner plans.  It has become more difficult to decide on a place to eat anymore.  I got frustrated with our inability to agree on anything, and we spent much of the next hour trying a handful of places that were all way too crowded.  15 to 20 minute waits were uncharacteristically 30 to 40 minute waits, and we just didn't have the patience to wait.  We finally decided to just go home.

We drove past the funeral home where my wife was taken after her death and home-going, and while I've driven past it many times, tonight it brought a slew of memories to my mind.  The day after she died, I went there to make arrangements and purchase a funeral package.  My parents and in-laws went with me.  I became so overwhelmed that afternoon, that I ended up breaking down in the men's room.  It's an awful memory.

There were quite a few dark intersections on the trip home, a carryover from the windstorm yesterday, and we started to worry a bit about whether our power might be out.  While we have only lost power about a half-dozen times in the 16 years I've lived in this house, it's always one of my daughter's fears.  When we arrived at home, we were fine.  The kitchen light was on.

Dinner was pretty lousy.  We had hot dogs and broccoli, which was fine, but just not what I had in mind.  My sour mood continued, though, and the weight of the world continues to feel like it's resting on my shoulders.  I wish I could shake it.  Sleep brings relief from these thoughts, and that's where I'm headed now.  Prayer brings thoughts of better things.

Have a restful evening, everyone.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thar She Blows....!

So the big story today is the wind.  Good golly, it was blowing!  Hard!  Really, this was the windiest day in this area that I have ever experienced.

The biggest surprise in all this was the fact that the Federal Government decided to close because of the wind.  When my alarm woke me up this morning at 4:30am, I did my typical pick up my iPhone and start checking emails, news, and sports scores.  The first thing that I saw was a message from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) stating that my office was closed.  And my first thought upon seeing that was there must've been a national emergency.  Was the Capitol blown up?  Did North Korea send out a nuke??  Did the President offend another country???  No, no, and no.  It was the unprecedented wind.

So I attempted to go back to bed, but the Faithful Pup Scout was awake by this time, and she needed to go out.  A few of my employees sent me texts stating they were either teleworking or going to enjoy an unexpected Friday with no work.  Even though I was off the clock, I monitored my email all morning, and my peers and boss and I called in to our morning Stand Up at 9:30am.  After that, it was a whole lot of nothing.  Daughter Melody woke up with her normal alarm at 6am, but I sent her right back to bed, and I didn't see her again until around 11am.

The biggest problem I had today was keeping the cover on my 2-seater Mazda, which still has a gaping hole in the top.  There were snow flurries most of the morning, and I found myself repeatedly going out to re-cover the car because the wind whipped it off.  I use a bunch of bungee cords to keep it strapped down, but the wind was too strong.  Following my stand up, I decided to run out to the store and get a few more bungee cords, and I pretty much wrapped it up like a Christmas Tree.  It stayed in place for the most part for the rest of the day, but I had to keep checking it because I was so paranoid about it.

While I was out, the wind buffeted my Jeep like crazy.  Higher profile vehicles had a major disadvantage today.  And so did many trees.  I saw debris everywhere, and there were a couple of roads that were closed due to fallen trees, which meant detours and a longer trip home.

At around 4pm, my neighbor rang my doorbell and pounded on my door.  It turns out that a large piece of the siding on my house was ripped off by the wind, and he saw it and brought it over for me.  I did a walk-around of the house to assess any other damage.  Fortunately, I didn't see any, though I found several shingles, but they were a different color from my roof.

The wind continued to blow all evening, with sustained gusts howling like nothing I've seen or heard in all the years I've lived here.  It's now 9pm, and we still have a few more hours until it is predicted to die down a bit.

This wasn't the day I expected when I woke up this morning.  I'm glad that my family and friends seem to have gotten through the day relatively unscathed.  With all of the power outages and fallen trees, it certainly could have been worse. 

Stay safe out there, and have a great evening.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Quadratic Equations For Dinner

My very smart daughter, Melody, missed the past two days of school due to illness, tripling the number of days she has missed all year, and triple what she missed all of last year.  It's unusual for her to be so sick to miss school, but she was really out of it.  It wasn't the flu, but it was a debilitating cold.  She is feeling tons better, and returned to school today, bringing home a ton of homework.  I guess that's to be expected, but it's a shame that she has so much that she has to work through dinner.

She told me she had a craving for an old favorite restaurant, Ram's Head Tavern at Savage Mill, so we made plans to eat there for dinner this evening.  When it was time to head over, she still had a lot of homework, but in dedicated fashion, she said she wanted to work on it at the restaurant.  So while we waited for our food, she worked on her Algebra homework.  I was impressed.


Some days are grand, and some are difficult.  Yesterday was the difficult kind.  I haven't figured out what all of the triggers are for me, but sometimes all it takes is one action, or one wrong word, and I find myself in a poor mood that just gets exacerbated by other actions, snowballing into a thoroughly dreadful day.  That was yesterday.

Today was better, but I still couldn't shake the melancholy until I got home.  My father called me to chat about the Terps Men's Basketball team's terrible loss in the Big Ten Tournament earlier today, and once we got beyond that, I found my mood improving as we switched topics.  This is the second time in a week that Dad has been able to get me out of a funk and into a lighter frame of mind.

He shared a scary/funny story about my brother, Darren.  D was working his security job at a site in DC last night, and a "gentleman" approached him using some rather choice language.  D said he was high on something, and decided to confront my brother, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall and in pretty good shape.  He tried to bull rush him, and my brother laid him out with three punches square in the face.  The employees at the job site cheered him, and when the police showed up, they defended his actions, saying the guy deserved what he got.  The sequence brought to mind the scene in the movie UNCLE BUCK, when John Candy punches out the drunk clown at the kid's party.  Anyway, my brother is tough dude.


Speaking of John Candy...

We're kinda missing the Olympics this week.  We really enjoyed the Games this year, and I exposed my girl to a few events that she had not seen before.  One of those was the bobsleds.

So, last night, we watched COOL RUNNINGS, loosely based on the Jamaican Bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and starred John Candy.  It's a cute movie, with some fun dialog, and we enjoyed it.  

And it's much better entertainment than tonight's terrible Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.  It's already 7-3 in the 2nd period.  Talk about ugly.  I think I'm turning in early this evening.

Have a great evening, everyone.