2014 Looking Back

2014 was a year of enormous change for me. All things look bigger when they are too close, but I think 2014 will still be a big year even as it lingers further in the past. I clicked on my old blog posts from January 2014 and it turns out that I was overly optimistic that the transition to Pittsburgh would happen faster than it happened. Back in January, we thought selling the old home in Hartsville would be a breeze and we’d be in our new home by March. Ultimately, it took us until August to complete the transition.

In January & February, I was hunkered down in a small apartment in the outskirts of Canonsburg, PA adjacent to a large cemetery on the top of a hill. I still remember an old gentleman standing by a grave every morning around 7AM as I made my way to work. The apartment was on the top floor of the building and during the polar vortex, I would be kept awake by howling winds and shaking windows. I didn’t allow myself to make the apartment home, in fact, the housekeeper must have thought I didn’t live there at all because I never did anything inside the apartment. I would get to work early, leave work late, sit on the couch for an hour watching The Wire on HBO and repeat the cycle.

In June we finally sold our home in Hartsville, but hadn’t found a home in Pittsburgh yet, so my family moved into the apartment with me. The place immediately became a mess and the housekeeper must of thought I was making up lost time. It was great having the family in the apartment with me, but it still felt like living out of a hotel room. To pass the time, the kids became acquainted with the museums, swim clubs, and the most wonderful candy/ice cream store called Sarris.

On a business trip to Louisville, KY I got into a bidding war over the house I intended to buy. It was a stressful night and got the news that we made the highest offer late on the night before an important business presentation. To celebrate, I went to the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn and order a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, I still can’t decide if I liked it, but felt a tremendous relief to have that part of my life behind me.

We’re still settling into our new home, there were a couple surprises at first. The first surprise was that the washer and dryer were gone, the second surprise was the dishwasher stopped working, the third surprise was that the sewer line in our basement had disintegrated and needed to be fixed. The surprises have now all been replaced with a short list of wishful home improvements, but they can wait until our bank account is replenished. We put a fence in the back yard and Toby loves hanging out there, we feed a small herd of deer that travel through our back yard and often watch them eat the corn we leave for them. We’ve met a great family in the neighborhood and it is great to have new friends here in addition to the great people we know back in Bucks County (and beyond).

I lost my Grandmother this year. She really was amazing, there’s one last story that she told me that I wanted to capture on this blog. I will not do it justice, but it is worth writing nonetheless. She told me that during World War 2, the butcher’s son was recruited for the war effort and will be shipping off to the front lines (presumably Germany). He asked my Grandmother, when she was just a youngster herself, if she would mind if they corresponded by mail while he was away, he didn’t really know anyone else besides his parents that he could keep in touch with while he was away. Of course she agreed and they decided to write to each other. The boy died on his way across the Atlantic, a German U-Boat torpedoed the ship and killed everyone aboard. I think there are a lot of reasons she told me that story, but the main one, or the one that best speaks to her, is that it was important to her that her community, friends, and family felt her support and contribution.

So, you look back at 2014 and a part of me says it was a tough year and 2015 promises to be much easier, but another part of me enjoys all the positive aspects of this year and how much I experienced by taking on a new job, moving to a new city, and seeing all these new nieces and nephews popping up all around me. It reminds me of a post from October 2011:

https://rkdeemreport.com/2011/10/05/percentage-points/

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Two Studies Of Interest

The British Medical Journal recently published a study that shows men are more likely to engage in stupidly risky behavior than woman, supporting the ‘Male Idiot Theory’.

http://time.com/3631350/men-are-idiots-new-study-says/

The other study was conducted by physiologists at the University of Grenoble in France. They concluded that men with a taste for spicy food tend to have higher levels of the hormone testosterone (which is known to make men more adventurous, aggressive, and sexually active. Those with the highest levels tend to be more dominant, or the alpha male, of a group. I knew eating the world’s hottest pepper was a good idea…or am I just a prisoner of my intense manliness?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2874362/Why-liking-hot-curries-really-does-make-alpha-male-Men-enjoy-spicy-food-higher-testosterone-levels.html

Gremlin Run

Dalia reports that she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night because of nightmares. The nightmares and anxiety have intensified ever since I tried to make my kids watch Gremlins. We only made it 1/3 of the way through as it got too scary for them. Now, there is concern that Gremlins may be in closets or under beds.

It must be pretty scary to wake up in the middle of the night, convinced an evil Gremlin is staring at you in your closet, just waiting for you to fall asleep so it can bite out your eyeballs. She probably pulls up her blanket over her head, leaving a sliver open to peek out, squinting to feign sleep, and seeing if the Gremlin makes his move.

The Gremlin holds his ground, most likely because it knows you are pretending you’re asleep and he does not want to lose the element of surprise. This waiting game cannot go on forever, it is in the middle of the night and someone needs to make a move. Dalia decides her best bet is to head for safer ground to the protection of her parents. Her impromptu armor is a tightly wrapped pink fuzzy blanket and she grabs two or three stuffed animal sentinels to make the 50 foot sprint from end one of the house to the parent’s room at the other end of the corridor.

She is ready as she will ever be, she rolls out of bed and shuffles her feet within the blanket’s cocoon to get her down the hallway as fast as possible. She approaches our bedroom and announces, “I’m scared, I am sleeping in your bed”, without breaking stride, she looses the blanket’s grip and leaps into the safety of our bed. Dad rolls over, kicks the black dog, and Mom gently calms her back to sleep.

Pirates Fan Fest

My work gave me a couple passes to the Pirates Fan Fest this weekend, we got to go in early with fellow corporate sponsors & season ticket holders. As we walked through the convention center, we saw several Pirates players standing in different areas. We first encountered Pirates outfielder, Starling Marte, by the Fast Pitch booth. I asked the kids if they wanted to say hello to a real professional baseball player, Dalia was shy and scared, Winston had no interest at all. I told the kids that they should say hello and wish him luck this season, but then the Chick Fil A mascot (a giant cow) came along and the kids were much more interested in interacting with him…or her.

Then we walked to the Root Sports booth (it is Pittsburgh’s version of Comcast Sports and it is the TV channel that plays all the games) and a nice lady asked the kids if they wanted their picture taken with starting pitcher, Charlie Morton. The kids do not know who Charlie Morton is, but I am certain that they’ll see him pitch this summer, so I shepherded them into the booth with Charlie. He was such a nice man and tried to make small talk with the kids, but they were too busy making faces in the camera. Here’s the final photo:

ROOT_PHOTO_(2)

At the same booth, the kids got to spend a lot of time operating the huge camera that they use at the baseball games. There’s a little switch on the right handle and if you push it to the right, the camera zooms in and if you push it to the left, it zooms out, the kids had a tremendous time operating the camera and then seeing themselves on the TV. That machinery holds a magical power that forces people to act so strange when it is pointed at them, Winston did his best John Travolta and Dalia was shaking her butt, they could have played with that all day.

The kids were not enjoying this baseball convention nearly as much as me, but I still wanted to check out this one booth that had a picture of Bill Mazeroski’s World Series homerun from 1960. In 1960, the Pirates made the World Series against the Yankees. The Yankees were huge favorites with a roster that included Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. The World Series came down to game 7, but in the 3 games that the Pirates lost, they lost 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, so it was not looking good for them in game 7. The score was tied 9 to 9 in the bottom of the ninth when Bill Mazeroski smashed a homerun over the left field wall to win the game.

So, I was looking for photos of the event (see above) and Dalia asked if she could go over and color in at a coloring station across from the Memorabilia Stand. Winston and Dalia went over to the coloring station and sat at this little kids tables with little kids chairs and started to color. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see a Pittsburgh Pirate come walking over to the kids, pull out a chair and sit next to Winston. I stop what I am doing, because I am nervous about what the kids might say or do. I hear the baseball player, Pirates catcher Chris Stewart, ask Winston if he likes baseball. Winston responded that he did not like it. Chris asked Winston what he did like and Winston said, “Minecraft & legos”. Chris told Winston that his son also liked legos and then they talked about Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars legos for awhile. We talked about relocating for work, although he has to come to Pittsburgh all the way from Southern California. He spent a lot of time talking with the kids and gave me the impression that he is a great father, I am rooting for him to have a great 2015. The kids wrapped up their coloring projects and I purchased a great photo of the homerun and unbeknownst to Jaclyn, it is now hanging up in the house.

Afterwards, the kids and I went to the Strip District for lunch. The kids really wanted to go to Luke Wholley’s seafood restaurant because they have a gigantic fish tank. The kids ordered chicken tenders and stared at the fish, the chef came out to talk with them and asked if they were interested in watching him feed the fish. The kids were thrilled to see the chef grab a pinch of fish flakes and toss them into the water, it created a frenzy and the kids were pleased.

We walked up and down the strip, it was a wonderful day, everyone was in the Christmas spirit.

I Have An Idea

Ever since I moved to Pittsburgh, I’ve felt like I’m on the boundary of a great frontier. I am a stones throw from Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Niagara Falls, etc. I had a hankering for barbeque and found out it is only 12 hours to Kansas City. Anyways, with Christmas around the corner, I started to think “It was only 4 hours to Niagara Falls, which means I’m only 4 hours from Canada, I wonder how far north I can drive, can I drive to the North Pole? How freaking cool would it be to drive to the North Pole, plus, I’ve always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. It is 2014, there should be a way to drive up there, I turn to Google to figure this out. Take a look at the map below, the big black circle was provided as context. Theoretically, the distance across the diameter should remain somewhat constant (it isn’t a perfect circle), so my distance from Pittsburgh to the Polar Bear Provincial Park is roughly the same distance from Pittsburgh to Denver.

PB Park

I took a look at the Polar Bear Provincial Park and there’s Polar Bears there! It isn’t quite the North Pole, but there are seriously Polar Bears roaming around the joint! The only issue is, you cannot get there by car, fly in on a plane. In fact, roads are pretty rare up north, here’s another view that shows a couple of the roads.

PB Roads

You can see Route 11, it gets a quarter of the way there, but not even close to Polar Bear Park. Driving to the North Pole is going to be harder than expected. I nearly gave up on this endeavor until I found out the greatest road ever, James Bay Road. Take a look at this!

Chisasibi

This road goes way up north, right across the bay from Polar Bear Park. According to Google Maps, it is about a 24 hour drive. There’s a website dedicated to the road, check it out: http://www.jamesbayroad.com/

The road is actually paved, primarily for some hydroelectric workers who built some giant damn way up north. People up there are called Cree and speak French. Tons of Native Canadian people too (Native Americans in Canada). The website claims that the ride up north is actually pretty boring, no mountains, no twists or turns, just tons of lakes, rivers, and silence.

This sounds like a perfect experience for me, a kayak, and a fishing pole. There is not cell phone service, there are lots of bugs, there are not many gas stations, there are bears, there are not many lodges or places for food, there are wolves. I am putting this on my 2016 calendar. I think I try to make it to the top, Chisasibi, Quebec in two days. Then, enjoy my time, working my way back in 5 to 7 days. Try to make the whole trip in less than 10 days.

If I do this trip in the summer or early Fall, the temperatures will be plenty warm.

Pre-Civil War Bridge

“Our home is just 30 minutes away from Wheeling, West Virginia!” The words left my mouth with a heaping amount of enthusiasm, my son did not budge from his catatonic state in front of the TV. My daughter asked, “What’s in Wheeling, WV?” and Jac had a pretty strong suspicion that there would not be a lot of gold at the end of this rainbow. To sweeten the deal, I offered in a stop at Cabela’s which is a gigantic fishing/hunting/outdoors superstore (“it features an aquarium”). The troops stood idle before me, no one was remotely interested in joining me (with the exception of my black dog, Toby).

I was left with no choice, to pull out the obnoxious, “I am the Dad and we have to go” card. After a collective groan from my family and a rapid tail wagging from the dog, we piled into my Jeep and headed on 70 West to Wheeling, WV.

We first stopped at the Cabela’s and spent a good hour and a half putzing around and looking at all kinds of equipment we don’t need, examples include:

  • Motion Activated Camera that snaps pictures of unsuspecting animals (or people who walk by it), they ranged from $200 to $600
  • Sleeping Bag rated for sub zero temperatures ($200)
  • All kinds of waterproof boots ($150 to $250)
  • Salt Licks which we just an amazing large hunk of salt, like a basketball ($14)
  • Gun Safes which are magnificent giant safes, which look like a cool thing to have in a house ($600 to $1,200)

They had a giant mountain covered with taxidermy animals and a stream with big trout swimming through it. There was even a stuffed elephant! The kids were starting to get hungry so we needed to move on, I decided to move us along into downtown Wheeling. This is what Wheeling looked like many years ago:

Now, just imagine that all those cars and people disappeared. Imagine that no one invested in any upkeep of those buildings, then you would have a great idea of what Wheeling looks like today. I would say the pattern of storefronts now goes like this, bar, bar, vacancy, adult bookstore, bar, CVS, Quiznos, vacancy, and then the pattern repeats. I doubt their board of tourism plans to hire me anytime soon.

As we drove through downtown, I looked out my passenger side window and saw this:

This bridge looked old and creepy, but enormous too. Against the protests of my family, we decided to venture across it. The bridge crosses the Ohio River, which is a very wide river, in fact, this bridge happens to be over a 1,000 feet long, almost a quarter mile. It was built before the Civil War and was only really updated once in the 1850’s since it was built.

The road is now a road, it is some sort of grate and my jeep slid left and right on it. I was terrified and very anxious to get off it.

As we rode back on a parallel bridge, we were shocked at how flimsy the whole thing appeared. My heart was racing for a bit afterwards. Wheeling has the heart to be a nice place, but it isn’t right now. If you’re ever near Wheeling, WV and want to scare yourself, drive across that bridge.

DJ Deem

The school nurse called Jaclyn yesterday saying that she thought Winston had head lice. Jaclyn was understandably freaked out and texted me. Upon receiving the text, my head started to itch, I immediately rolled my office chair away from the other people at the conference table to reduce chances of a little bug jumping from my head onto theirs. I do not want my legacy at this company to be patient zero for the massive head lice infestation.

Jaclyn picked Winston up at school and then took him to the doctor to get the diagnosis confirmed (the school nurse never saw the lice, just flaky skin on his head). The doctor took a long look at Winston’s scalp and determined it was NOT head lice and that it was just something weird with his scalp being agitated by something. Jaclyn immediately concluded that it was a result of Winston’s bad habit of failing to rinse 75% of the shampoo out of his hair when taking showers. He likes the sensation of having the shampoo in his hair like a gel which allows his hair to be styled in unusual fashions. Trust me, we try to discourage this, but sometimes he slips though and goes to bed with shampoo still on his head and this time it resulted in a false alarm for head lice.

We had the opportunity to visit home for the Thanksgiving break. On the Saturday following Thanksgiving, Jaclyn and I snuck out to the Heart of Oak pub in Buckingham and decided to have a drink. We pulled up to the bar and I had a Guinness and Jaclyn a glass of red wine. While we enjoying grown up time, I looked up at all the liquor bottles on display behind the bar and saw a couple that I’d never seen before from the Hewn Distillery. I looked them up on my phone and saw that they were made in Pipersville, PA and that they have tastings on Fridays and Saturdays from 5PM to 11PM. It was only 8PM, so I told Jac that we were making a road trip. She was up for the adventure and we followed the directions on the phone until we found the spot, we drove by real slow as it was in an industrial park and we were certain that no one would be there, but sure enough, a group of 8 or 9 people were in the intimate room with refurbished barn wood. Upon walking in, we saw the bartender happened to be an old friend who I played football with years ago. He immediately lined up a sampling of whiskey, two types of rum, and moonshine. It is not a sampling for the faint of heart, it is a pretty manly experience and a little too much for Jaclyn, but I was in my zone. They also offered up great mixed drinks and we enjoyed some hot cider mixed with moonshine and it was delicious. In the summer, the place has food trucks that come by and it sounds like quite a happening, you should check the place out if you need something different on the weekend.

I am in the process of making a Christmas present that no one wants. I purchased a microphone for my computer and I’m making my own 1 hour radio show. Jaclyn and I listened to a draft of it last night and it is pretty terrible, but amusing in an amateurish way.

Thanks for reading & stay warm.