Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

A simple thanks:

Hello everyone I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope it is filled with fun and family and that everyone gets to enjoy the day and everything that they are Thankful for in their lives.

I am thankful for my family. Even the family I don't see that often (or hardly at all) the greatest thing about my trip to Italy with Meghan and my Mom was getting to meet and know my family in Torre Del Greco. That was truly the trip of a lifetime. So to my family in Italy and America thank you. I am thankful most especially for my immediate family of Meghan and my Mom. We have definitely had a rough path lately but the three of us can handle anything together.

I am thankful for my house in TN. Even if I am at this moment sitting 900 miles away in NY because I haven't (for various reasons) been able to move yet.

I am thankful for my friends who I know will always be there for me and who give me the trust and honor to be there for them whenever they need it.

I am thankful for my job. Sure I wish I made more money but no matter what I did I feel like that would be a given. I like my job there is something nice about being able to step back and see an immediate difference in a set. Also I have the greatest coworkers in the world and that is not an exaggeration. They make coming to work fun and entertaining.  

So thank you life for being pretty good. Maybe not what I thought it would be and I'm not saying I don't have complaints but Thank You. Thank you. Thank you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A quick trip to TN

We reached the point where the things that were left in NY where to large, heavy, or cumbersome for us to move alone. I started looking into moving companies but couldn't find one I liked for various reasons. Mostly I didn't like the idea of my stuff being loaded onto a truck then unloaded into another storage location or larger truck and then reloaded onto a box truck at the new location. There was way to many times when my items were being touched and could be broken or stolen.  So we returned to ABF. This time, however, we took advantage of their partnership with Moving Solutions. Three helpers from a local moving company came to my house in NY to help us pack and load the furniture into the truck. Then three helpers from a local moving company came to TN. Both times they were punctual and professional.

Since unloading the truck was going to be a lot of work and we only had a short time we decided to fly this time instead of wasting 32 hours driving to TN and back. I hate flying! But there was no way around it driving would be too much. So my Mom booked flights out of LaGuardia Airport. Usually we use JFK airport but there were no direct flights. JFK is convenient because of the air train which connects the Long Island Rail Road to the airport. For LaGuardia we had a slightly different route The Long Island Rail Road to Woodside station and from there the Q70 Limited to the airport. I got to Woodside before my Mom which gave me enough time to find where the bus stop was located. It was easy, not as secure as the air train but it was good.

The flight was less than two hours so by the time they were bringing the snack cart by we were almost in TN. I had just enough time to finish my coffee and biscoff cookie (which was delicious) before it was time to prepare for landing.

When I packed the truck I had written numbers on the paper and bubble wrap on the furniture for each bed room. So when I got to TN I put matching numbers on the bedroom doors.

This way it was easier to tell the movers which room to bring the furniture.

While I was there I was able to get a full look at the damage my dear sweet dog Schultzy had done to the laundry room door. Originally there was a cat door that she would poke her nose through when she was 'in her room'. It was cute. But at some point she realized she could make the opening bigger.  And she did.

Saturday was our day for fun. My Mom took the packing materials to the local dump while I started building four more book cases that I had sent in the truck. When Meg got back we picked a playlist from records she had recently purchased. The music choice was certainly eclectic.

And judging from the stack of boxes that we emptied we were very successful. My library is really coming along nicely (though the books aren't organized but that will be fixed when I move).

Then we moved on to Meg's new hobby of throwing knives and axes. She had recently gone to a SCA event and won a banner for her skill as a novice. So she wanted to build a target to practice with and learn. The target sadly didn't last long but I think the design was good just the wrong materials. 

We used PVC to make the frame because we wanted to do this easily and cheap. We also wanted it to be light enough that Meg could move it.Two blocks that I think are actually for a retaining wall but the had a cross in the top that fit perfectly over the 1.5 inch pipe and provided the weight we needed to hold it down. I think the wood we got was to hard. Eventually we got some knives to sink in and stay but a softer wood or tree trunk slice would have been better. The chain needed to be tighter and stronger. The target was to loose which allowed it to swing back with the knife (that also effected the knives force). One of the knives broke the chain when it was thrown and we decided that the axes would probably break the target entirely. We used my Uncle's fence for the ax throwing which had the strength to hold up to the axe weight.

On Sunday we went back to the airport and flew, sadly, back to NY. It was a quick trip but we got a lot done and getting the furniture out of our house in NY was a big step forward to get the house sold.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Volunteering is good for the body and soul

On December 14th 2012 my sister, a coworker, and myself went to a Chili's restaurant to celebrate a successful inventory. Moments after sitting down though we looked up at the tv as an update on breaking news came across the screen. At first the details were confused but the overall story was painfully clear. A shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut had left an unknown amount of children dead, injured, and traumatized. Which meant that an unknown amount of families had suffered an unimaginably loss and an entire town was going to be effected. It was similar to the way my area was effected by 9/11. Even if you didn't have someone you knew killed in the terrorist attack you know someone who did.

A few weeks later we were at my house in TN driving to Lynchburg, TN and we saw a bunch of wooden crosses along the side of the highway. At first I didn't realize what it was for and then it dawned on me when I realized there were twenty six. . All the way in TN this tragedy had been felt. And it went further than that there were memorials across the country. It truly is a day that has effected people all across the country.

 Part of the widespread reaction was that everyone could identify with the loss. Everyone was asking themselves what if that had been my child, cousin, niece, nephew, or neighbor. That thought inspired lots of different reactions from people. One group of NJ firefighters started the Sandy Ground Project. They began building playgrounds all along the east coast, 26 in total one for each victim.

For more info about this wonderful organization follow this link:

I found out about this because my store teamed up with other to donate supplies and labor to plant flowers in the West Islip park that would be built for Madeleine Hsu. I went back last week to see the finished park and to see how the flower beds were doing. Here is the main entrance that my coworkers and I proudly worked on.

There were some other flower beds throughout the parking lot and up to the beach. Then the playground was built on the beach. I hadn't been able to stay long enough to see the playground finished so this was the first time I was seeing the completed park.

Each playground is built specifically for the person it is named after. So some of the signs included things that Madeleine had written, said or drawn. It also had pictures of her favorite things.

As you can see from the sign this is the twenty third park they have built. 


I hope that her parents can find some comfort in the fact that other children will have some place to play and enjoy being children and that their daughter will always be part of that joy.  

Personally for me it was an invigorating experience. I felt like I was part of something that would help several communities heal.  The families in Newtown, as I said before, hopefully can find some peace in the fact hat the names of their loved ones will be remembered. As well as remembering them and their likes and personalities in the individualization of each park. Also the community of West Islip gets a park that was damaged during Hurricane Sandy re-done in an effort to rebuild the areas damaged by the Superstorm. By participating  in a project like this I feel like I have taken some kind of ownership of the situation. I helped take a negative and turn it into a positive even if in a small way.

It made me feel good to go back and see the completed playground and check on the flowers my coworkers and I had planted. There were some people lounging on the beach and a family enjoying a meal at the picnic benches that had been installed.

I had spent the entire day digging, planting flowers, and spreading mulch. I thought I would be sore but I wasn't in fact I felt relaxed. Really I felt better both physically and mentally then I had in a while. And I think it is part of doing something for other people creates a natural high. It just feels right.

As I was driving home I thought of the quote from Mr. Rodgers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
That was what we were doing. That is what the people in TN were trying to do along a highway over 1600 miles away from the tragedy. By helping we show our empathy with those directly impacted by the event and give ourselves hope that we can make a difference.

Tennessee is the volunteer state and I intend on doing a lot of volunteering when I move. I may not be able to donate money to various causes but I have skills and time that I can put to use.

I want to thank the Sandy Ground Project and Lowe's for allowing me to participate in this wonderful project. I look forward to future chances to do something that will impact my community.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That was one good car.

Well, the day finally came that I have been dreading. Onk, my 99 Ford Taurus, has finally made its last trip. I feel a little ridiculous that I am so sad at the loss of this car but that car is a piece of my history.

My sister and I bought that car when we were 21. I was close to getting my driver's license and we went looking for a car with our Mom and Dad. I definitely had dreams for what I wanted as a first car but then prices clashed with dreams. At a ford dealer we saw the tan taurus. It was in our price range, had one previous owner, not too many miles, and lots and lots of space. We could (uncomfortably) fit six. And the trunk was huge. So we bought it.

I've had a lot of good drives in that car from the first drive up to NH when Jeanne and I talked the entire way with only about 10000 reminders that I drove to close to the car in front of me, driving up and down highway 3 from Merrimack NH to the MA border just to listen to the radio, to the time Meg three friends and I drove to Maine and got lost on the way back to NH, or the time we filled my car up with more classmates than legally possible including having one person in the trunk to drive to Bickfords in Nashau NH, and the many hours spent in traffic in the Bronx listening to the radio.

Onk had a cassette player in it so Meg and I made one of our first orders of business to buy tapes for the car (mostly we had switched to cds at home). We got a Hank Williams Sr tape, Billy Joel Greatest hits, Patsy Cline and Chris Ledoux. There was nothing better then rolling down the windows and blasting Hank sr from a cassette. The sound wasn't as clear as a radio or cd it was different but we loved it. Actually the radio and music was a big part of that car. Meg and I had fun one Christmas wearing Santa hats driving around in December with the windows open playing Christmas music while Schultzy sat in the back wearing antlers.

Then there was painting the car when the New York Rangers made it into the playoffs.

We had a picture of the front of the car which we got signed by the entire team during the playoff run. And Meg got her 15 minutes of fame when someone at the Garden saw the picture and recognized her from the video shouting out "Agravaine" which is Meg's Youtube account name.

The beauty about the Taurus is how well it was built. It was a perfect car to learn in. There is a scuff on the side from the first time I drove to Yankee Stadium. The bumpers had both been tested a few times. One time I was pretty sure I was in a set up. We had been stopped at a light for almost a minute when all of a sudden we were slammed into so hard I hit the car in front of me. I got out and walked to the back of my car. The guy who hit me said we should pull into the parking lot on our right. I told the guy I hit I was hit from behind and that we were pulling into the parking lot to get out of the road. However when I got into the parking lot the car who hit me was gone. Some guys in the parking lot told me he went in reverse down the road and drove through a different parking lot and was probably long gone. The guy I hit then looked at his rear bumper said "that's not enough" and left.

My ethics were tested in that car. I was delivering papers early one morning in a horrible storm. It was dark and I passed the house I needed. When I switched to reverse to back up to the car my back spun out and hit a car parked on the street. I'd be lying if I pretended the thought that 'it was 3am and if I left no one would ever know I was there' didn't go through my mind. I got out and woke the owners of the car up and left my name and phone number and then came back at a more reasonable hour when it wasn't pouring with high winds and was light out.

It also played a part in one of the worst days of my (and my family's) life. Meg and I had just pulled into a Walmart parking lot in order to pick up photo's from a recent trip to Nashville. Meg was standing behind the car when a car a few spots away pulled out very quickly and came to a stop. Before I could say to Meg "That kid (I assumed it was a kid) is going to hurt someone" the driver backed up equally fast as if he was backing into the spot I was parked in. He pinned Meg between his bumper and my bumper, pushing my parked car over a curb. Then began to drive away as if nothing happened.

The car as we liked to say had character, which was a euphemism for all the little things that would go wrong. For example the door locks which were supposed to be automatic stopped working.  We would have to push the bottom multiple times to make it unlock and then eventually it just had to be unlocked manually. Occasionally the key wouldn't unlock the driver door and I would have to remove it and pull the handle a couple of times before trying again. The seat belt on the passenger side was great at locking when I hit the brakes but hated to retract. The tape player had stopped working and would only play five seconds at a time. Then there was its refusal to switch from heating to cooling which I guess was a sign of its future end.

And there was my bumper which I had covered with my very own  bumper stickers.

I guess some were due for a refresh anyway.
 But if you like them they are available here

I can't say I didn't see the writing on the walls. I had told myself over a year ago that the next large repair would the end. It happened a month ago when the head gaskets went and anti-freeze was apparently spewing into the engine. It was more than the car was worth.

I'm going to miss that car.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Playoff Hockey!

So as I watch the Rangers playing in the Stanley Cup Final my mind keeps drifting back to perhaps my best hockey moment before this.

It was back in 2007 when the Rangers were playing the Buffalo Sabres. I had left NYU and gone to the bar/restaurant in Penn Station to watch the game before I jumped on a train. As I sat down a woman across the bar called out to me something along the lines of:
"Look at this girl she is a true fan she has a Ranger jacket and hat and jersey." I waved and we maybe had a short exchange. At the end of the game I was getting ready to leave and something else caught her attention and she repeated the list. So I went over to her and we talked. I told her I was a crazy fan and showed her pictures of our car which Meg and I had painted for the Rangers playoffs.  She asked me if I went to a lot of games and I said no just a few. She asked why and I told her it was to expensive. Then she said to me "well I'm about to make your day." She worked for the Rangers and she told me to call her the next day and she would get me tickets. Well I was in shock and I thanked her and told her she didn't know how much this meant to me.

It was more than just going to see a playoff game. I had tickets to the final game of the season and planned on going with Meghan. However she had just had her last surgery after her car accident a few days before the season ended and couldn't make it to the game. Now a few weeks later she could. The next day when I called she told me the tickets would be in the nose bleeds and I said I didn't care. She asked me when I could get in on Sunday and I told her whenever she needed me there I could be there. On Sunday we took the LIRR in to the city and I left Meg by the playoff bus that circled Times Square while I went to get the tickets. As I walked over she smiled and told me she had another surprise for me. The tickets weren't nose bleeds. They were in a suite. I was in tears. I went running back to Meg (almost fell down the steps of MSG). We rode the playoff bus around the city and then went in to the Garden. Just when we thought it couldn't get better the elevator door opened at the suite level and there in front of us was Ron Duguay signing autographs.

As exciting as our pre-game experience was the game followed more than held its own. As Michael Roszival ended up getting the winning goal in a double over time. The Rangers didn't end up advancing but that didn't matter. Just to go to a playoff game and see a win with my sister (especially after missing the last game) was all I needed. 

Now the Rangers are in the third period against the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. All last round I felt like I was satisfied. I never thought the Rangers would get past the first round let alone make it to the third. They fought Philly and Pittsburg and came out strong against Montreal and I really felt like if they lost I would be ok because they could hold their heads high with how they played. But now they are here. They are in the final and there is no reason they can't beat the Kings (or any team) in a series. They need to stay focused, keep their sticks on the ice, support each other especially in the neutral zone, they need to use their speed to draw penalties rather than take dumb penalties and they need to clear the puck away from Hank.  All last round I felt like I was satisfied. I never thought the Rangers would get past the first round let alone make it to the third. They fought Philly and Pittsburg and came out strong against Montreal and I really felt like if they lost I would be ok because they could hold their heads high with how they played. But now they are here. They are in the final and there is no reason they can't beat the Kings (or any team) in a series. They need to stay focused, keep their sticks on the ice, support each other especially in the neutral zone, they need to use their speed to draw penalties rather than take dumb penalties and they need to clear the puck away from Hank. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pretty good for a Saturday

A few weeks ago Meghan told me that a magnetic storm was going to cause the Northern Lights to reach potentially a 5 on the Kp-scale. I started looking up areas on a map where I might have a better chance of seeing the lights (where I am in NY would need a score of around 7 and a whole lot less light pollution) to be visible. I figured if it was a three or four hour drive then after work I could go for a nice drive with my Mom and park somewhere facing north. I pulled up a dark sky map to see where there would be the least light pollution.

Kp numbers over North America
Dark Sky Map

It was pretty clear that there was nowhere I could drive to quickly that would greatly increase my odds of seeing the Northern Lights. Which meant that there would need to be a reason to go other than seeing the Northern Lights since it was possible that even with the magnetic storm we still wouldn't see anything. Now there was a very dark spot in Maine. So I google mapped it to see how long the drive would be and if anything was near there that would be worth while. Well there is nothing near there and apparently you can't drive there! According to google maps the suggested driving route was to take a plane. Yeah. I had never seen that before. Mind you I took a trip from NY-TN-TX-GA-TN-NY. And never once did google driving directions tell me to fly. :-)

The next dark spot was Lake Ontario. Now I have lived in NY my entire life but I have never been to one of NY's greatest tourist spots, Niagara Falls. I have also never seen any of the great lakes. So imagine when I checked my handy dandy google map and discovered that Niagara Falls was only seven hours away. So that Friday night around 8pm after doing all the research I needed I asked my Mom how would she feel about getting up at 4am and driving to Niagara Falls, checking out the sights, seeing Lake Erie, and then driving over to Lake Ontario to hopefully see the Northern Lights. And being the awesome adventurous person she is my Mom said sure.

While driving on I-90 we pulled over at the Syracuse road stop for a break and a drink. In the stop was  Zoltar the Gypsy fortune teller. So I had my fortune read and according to Zoltar I should do the things I feel I should, because no one wants to leave this place with regrets. Which was kind of fitting since we were on a spur of the moment seven hour trip. To make our spur of the moment trip even better we reached Buffalo NY right around 1:30 which was conveniently right around the time we wanted to stop for lunch. Now when driving by Buffalo NY and needing to stop for lunch what better place could we choose then the birth place of the Buffalo wing? (See even our spur of the moment trips have spur of the moment trips).

We remembered seeing a clip about the Anchor Bar on the Sunday morning show on CBS. The story went that when the owner's, Teressa Bellissimo, son came home one night with a bunch of friend's she wanted to find something for them to eat. She deep fried some chicken wings (usually used for soup) and poured a sauce over them and served them with blue cheese. And like that the Buffalo Wing was born! So I typed Anchor Bar into the GPS and we drove over.  We of course ordered the wings and they did not disappoint! That's an understatement cause they were awesome!

I mean how yummy does that look? I'm not
usually a fan of wings but this was special!

At a different rest stop we picked up a map of the Niagara Falls area. I thought that we might be able to park on Goat Island and watch the Northern Lights from there.  Now this was off-season for tourists and because of that we made a wonderful discovery. Everything was free: the parking was free, the trolley was free, and the observation deck was free.

From our parking spot we walked over to the Horseshoe Falls. Here is a view off the falls. The water was so beautiful and blue as it rushed towards the Falls. The mist swirled up and around the falls creating an ethereal effect.

Sadly because it was off season the Maid of the Mist boats were beached. Also the cave that you can walk through was closed partly because it was off season and also because of a beautification project that Governor Andrew Cuomo has commissioned. I can't wait to see how the facelift will look when it is finished. From the Horseshoe Falls we took the trolley over to where the main visitor center, aquarium, and observation deck were located. We walked out onto the observation deck for an amazing view of the Falls. One thing I never realized was that Niagara Falls is made of three different falls: the Horseshoe falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Falls. Being so close to a brutally cold winter the Falls still had a good amount of snow and ice built up. Which, in my opinion, provided a view of the Falls just as beautiful as normally seen and quite remarkable. I mean I will be very excited to see the Falls again sometime when they aren't still icy. As it was the water wasn't flowing as fast as normal and it was still amazing.

I really like the way the ice seems to be reaching towards the falls like a white shield surrounding them.
We left the observation deck and walked over the boundary line to Canada and then came back to America. When we got to the customs desk the agent asked where we were coming from which confused me  (being that there was only one option) and then made me laugh as I answered Canada. As we were walking back we passed the stone where it is said that Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, viewed the Falls. He eloquently described them by saying:
"Betwixt the Lake Ontario and Erie, there is a vast prodigious Cadence of water which falls down after a surprising and astonishing manner, insomuch that the Universe does not afford its parallel. 'Tis true, Italy and Suedeland boast of some such things; but we may well say they are but sorry patterns, when compared to this of which we now speak. At the foot of the horrible precipice we meet with the river Niagara, which is not above half a quarter of a league broad, but is wonderfully deep in some places. It is rapid above this descent, that it violently hurries down the wild beasts while endeavoring to pass it, to feed on the other side; they not being able to withstand the force of its current, which inevitably casts them down headlong above six hundred foot."

The magnetic storm was supposed to start around 7:30 causing the spike of the Northern Lights. So we headed north to Lake Ontario. When we had stopped at one of the rest stops on the way to Niagara my Mom had picked up many brochures (for planning future road trips). One of them mentioned the Woodcock brother's brewery in Wilson NY just south of Lake Ontario. So our initial plan was to find a spot and sit at Lake Ontario for a few hours and then go for a late dinner around 9pm. But making plans is a really fluid thing because I find they are constantly changing.

We drove past the brewery and continued up to the road to Lake Ontario (to a beautiful spot I will have to keep in mind next time I go). My first thought as I walked up to it was that it was more like an ocean then a lake. It had waves and a beach. When I thought back to the still waters of Lake Placid and Mirror Lake it was so unbelievably different.

As you can see in the panorama the sun was still up and very bright. Unfortunately this was at 7:30 right when the Northern Lights spiked.  In a perfect world it would have been darker and in this shot I would have had an extraordinary display of lights through out the sky. But the world isn't perfect and we had taken that imperfection well into account so it wasn't very disappointing anyway. We drove a few blocks back to the brewery for a delicious dinner. The menu asks for patience because good food takes time to cook. The menu was right. The food was great and made the wait worth it. The spent grain pretzels were an amazing kick off to the meal, and the serving was huge so we had some to take with us for the drive home. When we left we went back to Lake Ontario, now that it was dark, but the Northern Lights had already gone back down. We drove back to Buffalo to spend the night in a hotel so that we could drive to Lake Erie in the morning before returning home.

Due to the harsh winter (complaining about this winter is a theme in my life right now) Lake Erie was currently 96% frozen. Now, when the guide at Niagara Falls told this to us I couldn't really picture it. Then as we drove over the Buffalo skyway towards Wilkenson Pointe we had a great view of the frozen lake. What we saw on Sunday juxtaposed to the free flowing great lake we had seen on Saturday was vastly different.

After that we headed home by a different route (this time staying in NY and driving home via Albany). For a total route that looked like this:

There had been a few times on the drive when my Mom had seen wild turkeys so I was hoping I would eventually see one. As we drove to Lake Ontario I saw one run across the road pretty far in front of it (hardly reacquiring a slow down). Then as we were driving towards Albany I spotted a turkey ahead on the side of the road. And then as I approached the damn thing took off. I think the air pressure from my approaching car lifted it over us or else we would have had one hell of a mess.

It was a pretty nice way to spend Easter weekend, enjoying one of the most beautiful places on earth. And it was fun to go for the ride and see where it took us. This time we got to try the wings at the Anchor Bar and discovered the Woodcock brother's brewery. Who knows what we might find next time!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was already Pope for four years by the time I was born. To me, and an entire generation of young Catholics, he was and had been the only Pope. When I went to Rome first quickly on a high school trip and later for three months during my sophomore year of college I was thrilled to go to the Vatican where this great and inspirational man lived.

When I was there for college my goal was to see the Pope as many times as I could. I went to several Sunday angelus, my school arranged a Papal audience, and then there was Holy Week. We went to St. Peter's for Palm Sunday mass, we returned on Good Friday for Stations of The Cross, on Saturday was the Easter Vigil and then Sunday was Easter mass. we got to the square early and got a good spot in the middle of a row. At the end of the mass people began moving to where they thought John Paul II was going to drive which allowed me to walk to the barricade. Then John Paul II made a turn and began heading towards the aisle that I was near. I climbed up on  a chair (And I think about six nuns tried to follow me on to the chair). And watched as he drove just a few feet away from me. I can close my eyes and see that day in my mind.

When he became ill and it was clear he would not live much longer I felt as if I was losing someone I knew. I remember stopping at my parish church one day to light a candle and say a prayer. When I left the church I got in my car and I had the radio on set to 1010 Wins (24 hour news radio). The correspondent said that the Pope had reportedly said something along the lines of "you have come back to me." Now I don't know when he said that but I felt like he was talking to me.  To me he was as much an integral part of the Church as the Bible and the sacraments. He had always been there. I had never even thought about a different Pope.

I'm not surprised that Pope John Paul II has meet the requirements for Sainthood so quickly. We all knew that we were in the presence of a Saint and now it is official.