2015…A Pretty Good Year

2015 started off with my family’s first trip to Orlando. We spent time at Sea World, on an airboat in the everglades, and of course, Disney World. My favorite moments included: getting incredibly close to an irritated gator on the airboat, Dalia getting soaked by a killer whale (above), and the ladies finally meeting the princess they were so anxious to meet (below)

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Spring rolled around and we caught trout.

Fishing

We purchased a friendly little dog named Benny. He grew, and grew some more, but has maintained his leisurely perspective and upbeat wag in the tail. He is a friend to all he encounters.

Benny Paint

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I traded my jeep wrangler for a jeep cherokee. It was a good trade, but will miss those perfect weekends where I drove with the top off (but the other 360 days I am a happy camper).

JeepBenny Jeep

Speaking of camping, I intensified my outdoors exploration with tons of hikes and a couple camping adventures. I am now pretty familiar with the western side of Pennsylvania and have plenty more adventures lined up for the future.

We also went to some cities, NYC & DC. Went a top of the tallest building in the US, the Ford Theater where Lincoln enjoyed his last show, and too many museums to count.

Constructed quality time with the love of my life. If you asked for me to describe Jac in one word, “adventurous” would not be the first word that comes to mind, however, she joyously tags along and always keeps an open mind. I would choose the word, “Amazing”, sincerely, that is the word I would use, but if you would not allow it, my fallback would be, “harmonious”, but one word is just not enough. Her word for me would probably be “insane”.

I took on a new hobby of exploring local distilleries, eating hot food, and searching for items that break the monotony. Throughout the year, I lost about 50 pounds in an effort to donate my kidney.

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We got Rosie.

We had a remarkable trip to Coudersport, PA. Our family and friends journeyed out to Pittsburgh to visit us. We had loved ones pass away. We saw our children do outstanding work in school (hopefully it stays that way!). We have had a year that we can celebrate when the ball drops at midnight on new years eve.

 

Epic Night

Last night was an amazing night in an idiotic man kind of way. Old friend from Philadelphia has recently moved out to Pittsburgh and we finally got out to a bar to catch up for awhile.

The bar was playing a Thursday night football game that featured 3 of my fantasy football players who were competing in my league’s championship game. This fantasy football league is mostly comprised of childhood friends and they can be pretty ruthless and intolerant if your team delivers a dismal record, so I am very excited that I am now competing in my second championship game (proving that my first one wasn’t a fluke!). Plus, some decent money is on the line, which made it all the more awesome when my three players all made significant contributions. I watched the game while eating extremely hot mango habanero wings that were almost too hot to eat, but a steady rotation of Miller Light and ice water allowed me to complete the challenge.

At the end of the third quarter, the game was losing its intensity and we all had work the next day, so we decided to pack it in, but I made a last minute audible and stopped at the movie theater to see if any opening night tickets were available for the new Star Wars movie. There was no line, I walked right in and was immediately seated and got to see the Force Awakened (second row from the front)! The movie ended after 1AM and I have a pretty important meeting with my boss and boss’s boss this morning, but it was all worth it!

Here are three logos that I’ve often seen and always confuse, hopefully this helps you keep them straight.

The Star Wars rebel logo:

Phoenix logo:

Ruger logo:

Some Dad

Johnstown

I had read about the Johnstown flood that killed over 2,000 civilians (ranks third among civilian catastrophes in the United States, Galveston Hurricane being the worst with over 6,000 casualties and September 11 being second worst – more on that later). I made it a point to take the kids here to explain how these rich guys (Carnegie and Fricke et al) decided to build a fancy fishing club house and dammed up a river to make a super awesome fishing lake. Unfortunately, they did not use good judgement or care in maintaining the dam and ultimately it broke during a heavy rain storm. The kids got to see the actual dam remnants in South Fork, PA and understand what caused it to break (the release pipes had been removed and the spillway was inadequate which caused water to go over top of the earth dam and rapidly erode the dirt structure). The picture above shows the basin that once held the lake, it was about 2 miles long and appeared to be 40 to 50 feet deep in most spots. When the dam broke, a force of water equivalent to the Mississippi River came rushing towards Johnstown (14 miles away). A train was approaching the South Fork dam and saw the collapse, the conductor immediately threw his train in reverse and went backwards as fast as possible, blowing the horn with the utmost frequency and urgency trying to warn everyone, the flood caught up to the locomotive, threw it aside, killing 50 passengers, but the conductor made it out alive. The flood gathered barbed wire, buildings, and factories along the way, it traveled at 40 miles per hour and was SIXTY feet high, crushing many people and small towns as it rolled into Johnstown.

If you wanted to create a scenario of a terrible flood disaster, there’s not much you would change from Johnstown because it was densely populated city in a deep valley, leaving no where for the water to go, it was inevitable for it to level the town. Amazingly, many civilians actually managed to cling on debris or climb onto their roofs to survive the initial wave, but as the wave passed through the heart of town, it collided with a large steel bridge at the end of town, the debris slammed against it to create a wall, causing a second massive wave that bounced backwards off the bridge and tear into Johnstown again. People who survived the two tsunamis of terror then clung to debris in an eddy, waiting for the water to recede when the debris caught on fire.  In case this hasn’t sunk in, let me repeat, THE DEBRIS CAUGHT ON FIRE! Can you imagine surviving a horrible raging flood that destroyed your town, you are clinging on a wooden beam from a destroyed house and everyone is crying and screaming in horror and then the stuff floating on the water starts igniting and you can’t go anywhere to escape it (going underwater is not a long term solution), 80 people died in that horrific scenario.

The challenge with visiting the Johnstown Flood area is that it is very spread out and the earth has healed itself remarkably well, it is hard to grasp what happened in such a tranquil patch of earth. I hope the kids took something from the experience, but they both acknowledged that the best part of the day was when they used a fallen tree to cross a small creek.

Johntree

All this history built up an appetite and we found a wonderful restaurant in Johnstown called The Boulevard Grill. Honestly, the place was awesome. Not worth driving a couple hours to get to, but if you are close by and need food, it is the place to go, far exceeded my expectations. The service was top notch too. Good American food at a good value.

So, we were in Johnstown, which is about 30 minutes away from the Flight 93 Memorial. I knew it would be two somber historical places in one day, but it is just so far out in the middle of nowhere, I just did not know if we would ever be back in this part of Pennsylvania, so made the executive decision to drag the family (and two dogs) into Shanksville, PA. We had the unenviable responsibility to explain the terror of September 11 to our children, to help them understand why this location is important. Unlike Johnstown, the moral of the story would not easily unfold, but I think a thread of positive perspective did emerge. A couple people thought they could do their worst and hurt this country, but this country picked itself up and responded. Our response since that day has been uneven and has not perfect, but our country did respond and came back stronger.

Flight

One thing I like about the Memorial is that they are taking a rather desolate field and turning it into a place of beauty. This new lake and walking bridge was recently created, they’ve planted hundreds of trees, and it is emerging into a place worthy of the event that happened there. It is the quietest place.

My kids have managed to hang in there this year, they’ve seen Gettysburg, Johnstown, Flight 93, Ford’s Theater, Freedom Tower, and the Austin Dam. I hope some of this stuff sticks with the kids, some broad framework of responsibility, consequences, difficult decisions, overcoming adversity, and the basic principles of leadership. However, I think their memories will probably look like this:

Gettysburg – that place with rocky hills and we got yelled at for rolling a stone down the hill.

Johnstown – crossed a small creek on a tree

Flight 93 – dad made us be super quiet since it was a serious place

Ford’s Theater – Lincoln was shot there

Freedom Tower – super fast elevator ride

Austin Dam – caught trout in a pond nearby

In any case, it beats watching TV.

Be Nicer

There’s a pretty depressing movie called, Seeking A Friend For The End of the Universe. It prominently features the song below, The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies. What a sensational song, the next time the wife and kids sneak out of the house and I have the opportunity to turn up the dial on my Marshall speaker and crank out a song that rattles the home, it will be this song.

An interesting side note about this song is that Radiohead utilized a similar chord progression in their song Creep and lost a lawsuit for that infringement. Coincidentally, I’ve been listening to Radiohead’s Creep often lately too, I guess I’m just in tune with this melody right now.

Here are the songs mashed together

There has been a lot going on in the world lately. When things get scary, people tend to do 3 things:

  1. They retreat (avoidance, hiding)
  2. They attack or become confrontational, everything becomes binary of good and evil, all or nothing
  3. They seek to understand why they are concerned, wrestle with the problem, work hard to minimize risks with a solution oriented focus

The first two approaches are easy, but unproductive because they either perpetuate or escalate the issue. The third approach is challenging because you must confront something that scares you, it is inherently complicated, and the best solution oftentimes does not satisfy 100% of the people.

Right now the World, America, even my neighborhood (teachers are striking) are struggling with COMPLEX, COMPLEX, COMPLEX issues. Politicians and Media are desperate for the public’s vote, so they dumb down the issues, go on attack and the public eats it up, perpetuating and exacerbating the issues. Unfortunately, this is not a cycle that can be broken by leadership, because leadership is determined by the masses and the masses are stuck in retreat (low voter turnout) or attack, so leaders give them what they want. Not only does this feed the cycle, it further isolates or polarizes sides, dumbing and dividing the population exponentially.

I don’t claim to have the solutions, but I think two simple things would help us all make the world a better place.

  1. Be Nicer
  2. Forget your position, focus on your goal – regardless of whether you are for or against abortion, guns, refugees, or  climate change, chances are you share common goals as the people on the other side of the issue. For example, let’s say you and your “opponent” agree that you want fewer unwanted/terminated pregnancies, the possible solutions become more abundant (greater access to counseling, improving education, enhancing adoption services, better access to birth control, etc.) and holy cow, you didn’t even need to fight about a stupid binary solution offered by the media/politicians (pro-choice or pro-lives).

Thank you for reading. Now go out, enjoy the weekend, and spread some holiday cheer.