April & May

I’m alive, calm down.

I can’t explain why I haven’t posted more, but here’s the run down:

  • Bought a pack of baseball cards from 1990 (28 years old), I convinced the kids and myself to eat the bubble gum. The gum immediately dissolved in our mouth, no negative consequences as far as I can tell. The shopkeeper did explicitly state that I was not to eat the gum.
  • My work has me traveling all over the United States. I feel very blessed to experience so much of this country and its people.
  • Went on an early morning hike in Utah near Park City, encountered a moose. At first we were both alarmed, then we realized we were cool and just stared at each for a couple minutes (I snapped a couple blurry pics below). I probably became a little complacent and tried to pass the moose on the trail and he/she became agitated when I got pretty close. It was a bad decision on my part, happy the agitated moose exercised restraint.
  • Bought a chainsaw as we’ve had an abundance of fallen trees. I’ve become committed to cleaning out the back lot and have revealed a nice fire pit (pictured below).
  • Took my family to Hershey this weekend, primarily hung out in an amazing pool at the Hershey Lodge. There was this lily pad portion where you could try to cross the pool without falling in with ropes above you could hold onto. I managed to do it a couple of times and was feeling sore the next day.
  • Saw one of my favorite bands in concert (The National) and bought their shirt. Saw them in Asheville, NC and met up with my friend from elementary school. We had a great time and tried a tremendous variety of local beer.
  • Picture below of me in Nashville, TN under the sign for Robert’s Western World. I was by myself and a little worn out in Nashville, I didn’t have the energy to partake in any of the wildness on Broadway. I did get some Barbecue from Peg Leg Porker which came highly recommended from a local there…it was incredible!
  • In a little bit, my friends and I are renting a houseboat in Raystown Lake. Can’t wait to get out there, catch some fish, swim, and do manly stuff (maybe I should bring the chainsaw).
  • Been waking up and running 3 miles almost every day. I went to the grocery store afterwards and got a lot of disgusted looks as I was soaked in sweat…probably not very sanitary.
  • That’s it for now, will get back in the habit.
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Punxsutawney Phil

Dalia had a cheerleading event in Indiana, Pennsylvania. On the way, I saw a sign saying we were only about 20 miles from Punxsutawney, so I dragged the family to the nearby town. Fun fact about Punxsutawney, the name is from the Lenape Indians and it translates to either “Town of Sand Flies” or “Town of Mosquitoes”, either way, not a lot for the tourism bureau to work with, I guess that is why they resorted to the Groundhog.

Punxsutawney also bills itself as the weather capital of the world, I am going to say that this is a bit of a stretch claim. In any case, the town is upon hard times and has seen steadily declining population over the past 100 years. Lots of vacant boarded up building and a large confederate flag in front of a home off main street.

The library has a nice den with big glass windows where you can observe the famous Groundhog (Phil) and his spouse (Phyllis), the kids & I were pretty excited to see the celebrity rodents. After checking out the town and procuring groundhog souvenirs, we ventured to Gobblers Knob where you can get on the platform and check out where the Super Bowl of weather predictions takes place. On Groundhog’s Day, it is pretty mystical and carnival like, on this cold Spring day, the abundance of vandalism carved into the wood made its biggest impression on me. The stump from which Phil is extracted each February 2nd is covered in initials and crude scrawling.

It wasn’t all bad though, happy to check Punxsutawney off the list, there is magic still swirling around the town, but the Town of Sand Flies could use more than an annual influx of tourism to get it back to what I bet it once was.

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A Significant Accomplishment

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It has been cold in Pittsburgh. We are fortunate enough to have a tranquil lake in the neighborhood with a trail around it. Benny walked on the ice and seemed to be surprised he was not getting wet.

Rusty Gold Brewing in the little town of Canonsburg, PA (birthplace of Perry Como!). I was eating our foods and trying the beers, I saw a chalkboard advertising the 3 Rings of Death Challenge.

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I convinced one guy to do it and we tried the challenge last night.

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The challenge was brutal. The wings were coated in ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper sauce, it was horribly hot. My initial plan was to eat all 8 wings in about 1-2 minutes just to hustle through it and get to the burn portion as fast as possible. Unfortunately, after eating 4 of the 8 wings, my body decided it was not on board with this challenge and it became nearly impossible to eat them fast. I committed myself to powering through and finished the last wing with about 5 seconds remaining. The restaurant required I wear gloves and after the challenge, I was forbidden from wiping my face, drinking fluids or eating anything. I just had to wait for 5 minutes in excruciating pain. Where the sauce was on my face around my mouth, it just burned the heck out of my skin.

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Finally, the 5 minutes went by and I was crowned champion of the challenge and they took my picture and gave me the free t-shirt. It was an awesome experience, I felt very triumphant. Jac was less enthusiastic as she thought I was going to die from the ordeal.

The kids got to watch me eat them too, they’ll have some funny memories of me when they grow up!

 

City and Tranquility

Traveled to NYC for work, stayed in the Financial District, which is my favorite part. This is the oldest part of NYC and a couple areas still maintain that vibe. Additionally, I switched to a Google Pixel XL 2 phone which can take better pictures than my old iPhone.

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It took a lot of waiting to find a time where the bull and girl were not surrounded by tourists, a 2 second window opened and I snapped the picture below.

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After a long day of work, I walked over 20,000 steps (according to my watch), I was heading back to the hotel and the light hit this building in a very warm way.

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The weather warmed up a little this weekend and I took Benny to Ohiopyle for a hike up to Baughman’s Rocks. My car was the only one at the trailhead parking lot, the town was in full hibernation except the General Store who sold me a bottle of water and beef jerky that I would share with Benny. When I hiked up to the overlook below, it was amazingly quiet. I start these hikes with so many tasks and thoughts scattered all over my mind, when I am home I feel like they are all organized and filed away in the right spots. Would love to see what tranquility I would find if I could ever hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It had been awhile since I last hiked, my legs were the tiniest bit tired the next day…need to get back at it.

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The picture below is from Manhattan in the Financial District, a Vietnam War memorial. This is just one letter of many inscribed on the illuminated wall.

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Indoctrinated

For a couple of weeks now, this is what I see every day. It is so darn cold, even though we shoveled, we couldn’t peel the layer of snowy ice from the walk/driveway. We start the mornings in single digits and get up to 10 or 15 degrees during the day. This weather ruins ambition!

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Had the opportunity to visit New Orleans for a sales meeting. We had a free night and I went to Frenchmen Street which is known to usually have good music. I walked into a bar that had a brass band blasting amazing music. I went up to the bartender and asked for a Coor’s Light and he gave it to me on the house, said it was a big celebration for a cigar company’s 50th anniversary. It was open bar with amazing music, a good deal. The band was doing an amazing show when they started marching off the stage (while still playing their hearts out) and then marched by all the people in the audience towards the back of the bar, people started to follow them, I followed too. They led us through a long dark hallways and we emerged in a courtyard (pictured below) where the band played a couple more songs and everyone was smoking cigars…New Orleans, I love that place.

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On my way to New Orleans, my flights were delayed. It was snowing and everything was freezing, this was the view outside my plane window. A briefly occurred to me that this is not ideal weather to fly or land a plane, but I pushed that thought away and listened to music. I’ve gotten super into the band called The National, I am not sure many other people will enjoy them as much as me, but I am feeling them now.

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My kids have shown on a number of occasions that they forget they are really from the eastern part of Pennsylvania, they are Philly kids. To them, they have spent the more substantial part of their existence in Pittsburgh and they much more identify themselves with that part of the state. To remedy this, I took them to Philadelphia to give them a deep indoctrination of what makes Philly great. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’s printing press, made them try a cheesesteak at the Reading Terminal Market, and the were pretty much unsatisfied with the experience. On our way back to the car the kids saw the ornamental street decorations indicated we were a block away from Chinatown and they begged me to let them walk through Chinatown. I said, “Sure, you can go to Chinatown, but you will not like it. You’ll see dead ducks hanging in the windows and lots of advertisements for massages, nothing you’ll like.” The kids persisted and found the store pictured below, it was the most magical store the kids ever discovered, filled with all the things they loved. This was the highlight of their trip to Philly.

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Grueling

2017 has peppered my dome with gray hairs. The year started and ended with threats of layoffs looming, people who survived the layoffs received the work of the people who were let go. The house had an issue with the foundation, just the part under the front porch, but enough of a part to be fairly expensive. I did achieve some sort of balance, my career advanced a couple rungs throughout the madness, but it came at the expense of a little health and a lot of family time. It wasn’t all bad though, had a lovely vacation in North Carolina, nice hikes with the family, and a medical miracle with my dog Benny. When I toast 2018, I will be wishing for one thing…a tiny bit more tranquility next year. I will post my favorite pictures of 2017 soon, but here is another batch from the past month and a half.

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In my new job as national sales director, I have to travel around the country. I have had the opportunity to visit places I have always loved (San Francisco – above) and get to see some places I have never been, like Oklahoma City (below). Oklahoma is a fascinating state, I cannot wait to someday go back. Saw lots of nodding donkeys, cowboys, and big signs for all you can eat catfish, the whole thing just seemed like a tall tale. I’ve traveled to San Fran dozens of times over the years and always see it in a different angle each time. This time all the hotel rooms were too expensive for my liking so I stayed outside of down in Berkeley. The hotel staff said if I need to be in San Francisco by 8AM, I should leave at 5AM to beat the traffic. Still being on Eastern Time, I was out the door by 4AM and wandered around a dark San Francisco for a couple hours until it was time for my appointment. I made myself at home in several coffee shops and hotel lobbies to kill the time. A stranger gave me an umbrella, a lifesaver.

The picture below if of Oklahoma City’s memorial to the hospital bombing. I drove into Oklahoma City after working in Kansas all day. It was a six hour drive and I arrived late at night, the memorial was open and I walked through it. You hate to give out awards for best memorial, I do not mean to trivialize it, but it was the most powerful, elegant, and thoughtful memorial I’ve ever seen. I also had a steak at the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in the Oklahoma City Stockyards. I was the only dude not wearing a cowboy hat, but they took good care of me and I enjoyed the meal. I’d go back to Oklahoma in a heartbeat, plus they have the best state flag I’ve ever seen. 44E0B941-9D4E-4F1E-8C73-0D0E2614DB00Image result for cattlemen's steakhouse

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The image above is the construction crew working on our front porch. Digging out the foundation and building a new wall under it. Home ownership is filled with expenses where you pay a lot of money and after all is said and done, your house looks exactly the same. 3028224C-D869-45CF-8D8E-5E7B9BC08D53

The picture above is one of my favorites. It was a freezing cold day in Ohiopyle, in fact, snow was coming down throughout most of the day. The water of this river, the Youghiogheny, is always cold, but I am sure it was even colder today. The river was higher than normal, an enormous boulder about 4 feet off the shore stuck out of the swollen water. I jumped out onto the rock, the kids were in awe. It was definitely stupid, the water was freezing and cold and rushing like mad all around me. I stood on my own little island and snapped a couple of pictures.

Benny loves Ohiopyle and the Youghiogheny River more than anything, he ran around all over the place, tearing up the river banks, rolling in the sandy gravel, bathing himself in the dirt and debris. Then he casually walked into the water and took a long dip to rinse himself off – completely unphased by the freezing temperatures.

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Visited Columbia, SC to see my sister-in-law’s family. I got a kick out of how much Columbia’s monuments and historic plaques criticized Sherman for destroying their city. I guess I really am a yankee as I was not at all sympathetic. These turkeys fired the first shots of the civil war at Fort Sumter and I would think they should have anticipated some terrible consequences of picking a fight with the United States. I would have love to hear a debate between Sherman and Lincoln on what America should have done post the Civil War and what they would do differently.

Went to Coudersport, PA a couple weekends ago with my family and my parents. It is known for its dark skies which are perfect for star gazing. We got there on a beautiful Friday night and to top it all off, we were there in prime time for a meteor shower. Not long after settling in round a camp fire, we saw a ball of flaming rock tumbling over the horizon for a good 2 seconds before it disappeared. It is such a startling sight, seeing the flaming object with a long tail of light behind it, it seemed like it was inevitably heading for earth and would wipe some town off the map, but I guess it just burnt up in the atmosphere as the failing NY Times did not report any catastrophes caused by meteor.

Later that night, I remember hearing the sound of a cooler being thrown violently to the ground. Like a giant picking it up over their head and slamming it onto the ground. The next morning we observed the cooler had indeed been tossed around, complete with teeth punctures from a bear. Inside the cooler was a styrofoam container housing leftover turkey, the styrofoam was neatly opened and licked clean, looked like it was never used used, not a single dent or hole, the bear tenderly consumed the turkey. The bear did bite into a giant can of Fosters beer, would have loved to have caught that on camera!

Our route home to Pittsburgh had us zigzagging through Elk County and we did our best to stop off at observation points to find a grazing herd of elk. We did not see any elk, but Jaclyn, the kids, and I all did our best to cajole the elk to us with our best elk bugle imitation. It was to no avail, but we were somewhat satisfied to come across some elk scat.

My iPhone is the primary navigation tool and we were now way outside the realm of cell phone signal. We used the car’s compass to head into the right direction for about 45 minutes until we got signal and our navigator back.

I like to admit when I am wrong about things and I was really wrong about Netflix. A couple years ago, I remember Netflix mentioning that they were going to produce their own show(s), perhaps it was House of Cards. I think I said something like this, “That is the dumbest idea ever, no one will ever subscribe to Netflix just for their own shows, they will always have to rely on big mainstream produced content.” I was totally wrong and have nowhere near the time to watch all the original Netflix content that I would want to watch.

Went to Michigan for work last week, drove all over the state. I saw lots of trees and the sign for the road “8 Mile” that Eminem made famous. Will be visiting again for fun sometime, but will hug the great lakes when there for recreation.

We turned our backyard into a haunted forest trail for the neighborhood on Friday. It was so wonderful to have all the neighborhood parents participate (their performances were wonderful, loved the jokes, pirate acting, and scares). I always tell Jaclyn that I do not vote in elections because I just want to be president of my backyard, I have been very proud of our backyard & entire community the past couple of years.

My new job will be wonderful, but I have a lot to learn as this role is very different from my last job. As a result, I will be cramming through the end of the year, but 2018 should be one of the best years yet.

 

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A friend of mine, who is black, mentioned that they need to start exercising again. I asked what they plan to do. The person replied, I will definitely join a gym, if I am going for a jog in the public, the police will interpret as me running from something. As I ran that scenario through my mind, it almost seemed comical, but my friend was serious.

All this heated debate about kneeling during the National anthem has me thinking of Frederick Douglas speaking about the Fourth of July, I had to give it another read.

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Not saying anyone is right or wrong, just saying it would go a long way to seek to understand versus yelling into the ether of the internet.

 

So Brave

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Things are turning a corner. Last week I was informed that I got a new job at my current company, it is a promotion and its the most excited I’ve ever been about a role.

In addition to that, I’ve been stressed, busy, driving all over the place for the past couple of weeks, but this weekend, I just stayed home and did yard work, cleaned up my car, tidied up the house, and relaxed.

We did make time to sneak into Pittsburgh and visit The Strip. The kids and I love The Strip, lots of vendors, tasty food, toys, sounds, and people. On our way back to the car, I dared the kids to go into an old abandoned building filled with graffiti. Winston first agreed and when he made it to the center without consequence, his sister joined too. I told them I wanted to snap their picture and their faces convey, “I am so not scared by this.”

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We also went to Target and did reconnaissance on the Halloween section and costumes. We can have fun anywhere.

I am traveling down to DC for a couple of days this week and a big Pepper Festival in Pittsburgh this weekend. Perhaps I can goad someone into eating the Carolina Reaper pepper!

Unplugging In West Virginia

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I had once driven by Seneca Rocks (featured above) and thought, I need to climb up to the top of them. I couldn’t that day, I was in a hurry from one point to another, but filed it away for a later date.

The past couple of weeks at work have really stressed me. By Thursday, my head was beginning to hurt and I knew that I was on an unsustainable course, I suggested to Jaclyn that we take a little trip into West Virginia for a day to push the reset button. We booked a hotel room at the Canaan Valley Resort which was extremely reasonable and a great value for the money. It was well maintained, modern furnishings, had an indoor swimming pool and arcade! There were also ski lifts, bike riding, golf, cabins, and camping sites too. Before we checked into the hotel, we drove to Seneca Rocks, which were about 30-40 minutes away. On our drive to the rocks, we passed 3 cattle that escaped from a farm and were running full speed on the right lane of the highway. A couple miles later a big black bear bolted in front of our car, which gave us a fright, then we were all scared on the bear’s behalf as it narrowly avoided getting hit by a tractor trailer carrying enormous pieces of timber.

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The trail to the top of Seneca Rocks is relatively short, maybe a mile or two, but it is a barrage of switch backs that get the blood pumping in your legs. At the top, they encourage you to stop at the observation platform, which is just short of the rocky peak. More adventurous folks scale the rocks just beyond the platform to get to the top of the top. I climbed up about half way, snapped the picture above, and felt a tremendous amount of fear take over and descended back down to the safety of the platform. A half dozen more sure footed crazy people were lounging on the sunny rocks at the top, nestled on a 10-15 foot wide area with sheer cliffs dropping hundreds of feet on each side.

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The resort had tons of wildlife and the deer were fully aware that hunting was not permitted there. It was not uncommon to drive slowly feet away from half a dozen deer grazing, they were outside our hotel room balcony, and we could even see them hanging outside the window while we were taking advantage of the indoor swimming pool.

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We hiked down to the bottom of Blackwater Falls, it was a very loud waterfall, but beautiful and easy to navigate with well maintained stairs.

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The arcade had Guitar Hero and I managed to get my name on the high score list on several occasions. The image above is for my performance of La Grange by ZZ Top.