Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009 - A Time For Joy

Despite the expressions displayed by the two gentlemen in the photo above, Christmas is a time for joy. It is a time to visit with family and friends and to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As with most holidays celebrated in America, it is also a time to eat plenty.

Rachel and I arrived in Knoxville on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas (only a day and a half late - more on that in a minute). After dinner, breakfast, and only a few brief hours with my family, we packed up and headed to Nashville.

Monday evening, Rachel, her parents and I celebrated Rachel's sister Heather's birthday at Amerigo's in Nashville. Heather is once again a year older than I am, which is reason enough for me to celebrate.

Tuesday, Rachel and I met our good friends Liz and Tim Nagy, proud owners of Peter, the world's largest 4 month old, pictured with me in the title shot for this blog, for lunch on West End in Nashville. Liz and Tim made their first trip home from Sydney, Australia as new parents for the Christmas holidays. Rachel and I really feel sorry for Tim and Liz, as they have to constantly endure the rough climate of Sydney (pretty much sunny and 70 year round). They also really "roughed" it on the way over, as they layed over for a week on Maui to break up the trip. It was great to see them and to meet Peter.

Tusday night, we headed to Linden, TN (about an hour and a half west of Nashville) for dinner with Rachel's Mom's family - Aunt Janice and Uncle Dan, their daughter Amy, husband Charlie and son's Trey and Caleb (pictured here), daughter Becca, Cousin Stewart, and Uncle Tommy. We ate at the Rusty Fishhook and then went to Tommy's for desert and to socialize for an hour or so.

Wednesday was a down day, with no plans. Rachel got together with some of her high school friends that evening. Her dad and I watched some bad football - BYU vs. Oregon St. and bad basketball - Illinois vs. Missouri, a game of turnovers.

Thursday evening, we celebrated Christmas Eve with Rachel's Dad's Family - Sister Ginger and Ricky and their sons Neil and Patrick and Sister Judy and her sons Daniel and Jonathan.

Christmas morning, we opened presents with Rachel's parents and sister.

Toby the Wonderdog, pictured here with Rachel's mother, was also with us Christmas morning. Thanks to Tim and Nicole Callahan (actually, Tim's dad), Toby had some good presents to open, too.

Rachel and I left Nashville around lunchtime and headed to Knoxville to join my family for Christmas evening. We drove directly to Reid's and Renee's (cousin and his wife) for Christmas dinner.

This is my cousin Reid and wife Renee and their two kids, Kara and Ryan. My Uncle Stan and Aunt Lou are also pictured here with them. We get together at Reid's and Renee's house every year Christmas evening.

Renee's parents and brother also join us each year (or we join them, depending on how you look at it). Ronnie, Kaye and "Little" Ronnie all live in the Raleigh, NC area.

After we left Reid's and Renee's, Rachel and I went back to my parents' house and opened presents with them. Exhausted, we turned in about 10 PM.

Saturday, we met Tim, Liz and Peter for coffee on Market Square Mall in Knoxville. We forgot to give them one of Peter's gifts at our initial dinner in Nashville. Tim and Liz are similar to us, in that Tim is from Franklin (near Nashville) and Liz is from Knoxville. Their travel schedule often matches up pretty well with ours.

The city has really done a lot around old downtown Knoxville and the Market Square Mall area. They have given all of the buildings a face-lift and attracted some nice stores and cafes in addition to the condos that have been developed in the area.

Rachel and I, once again, had the opportunity to hang out with our big buddy, Peter. You really get a much better perspective of just how big he is when Rachel is holding him.

Sunday morning, we had to get up early and start the long drive back to Philadelphia.

REFLECTIONS - Makin' Memories in Harrisonburg, VA

Due to some work meetings that ran over, we ended up leaving Philadelphia several hours later than we had intended to on the Friday before Christmas. Normally, this would have been a minor inconvenience. Unfortunately, the delay this year threw our travel directly into a large winter storm that moved up the east coast.

We ran into snow about 8 PM just south of Winchester, VA. It quickly became obvious that we were not going to make it through, so we pulled off of the interstate and got a hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Harrisonburg, VA (home of James Madison University). Due to the 20+ inches of snow accumulation and a portion of I-81 being closed, we stayed 2 nights.

The video below shows the landscape during our drive to Tennessee on Sunday morning. They were still unable to get the interstate completely cleared in northern Virginia.

With a full day in a hotel room, unable to go anywhere (including restaurants within walking distance, as they were closed because employees could not get to work), I had a lot of time to compile several observations and reflections during this trip:

1) 5 Stars, Two Thumbs Up, Kudos, and a bag of Cheetos for the Harrisonburg, VA Hampton Inn. Clean room, continental breakfast (especially important since all restaurants were closed) and a friendly staff made this hotel a winner. They went above and beyond the call of duty when the evening Manager brought pizzas in for the guests, who were all stuck without food. The Hampton Inn policy was also to lower their normal room rate by $30/night in order to help people get off of the treacherous roads. We still have to write our Thank You note to corporate.

2) If I am going to be stuck in a hotel room, I am happy it was below the Mason-Dixon line. Why? Because you get biscuits and gravy at the Continental Breakfast. I never realize how much I have missed this southern delicacy until I spend the night in a southern hotel.

3) Technology is great. When you are unexpectedly confined to a 600 square foot space for 36 hours, against your will, wireless internet and cable television on a flat screen television make all the difference in the world.

4) By harnassing technology, one can win friends. I became the cult hero of the Harrisonburg Hampton Inn on Saturday morning December 19. Laptop in hand, Rachel and I headed to breakfast, where I amazed everyone over the age of 50 by having instant real-time weather reports and up-to-the-minute road conditions in 3 states. I provided weather updates and convinced several older couples that they should probably stay put an additional day. The following morning, I plotted the proper course to deliver them safely to their destination.

5) Isolation in a hotel in the middle of nowhere makes you appreciate computer social networking. It is easy to see why the freedom seekers in Iran and survivors in Haiti went to Facebook, Twitter and other electronic social media to provide updates. It is a powerful communication tool. It also helps pass the time. At this point, I would like to thank all of my friends who "Liked" my status of being stuck in a hotel in northern Virginia. You are some really insensitive people.

6) Mama Mia is for women. I normally like romantic comedies and other "chic flicks". However, Mama Mia pushed way beyond my estrogen threshhold. Had I not been stranded in a hotel room with a pregnant lady, I would not have finished that movie (My mom loved it).

7) There was obviously a big hockey game somewhere in Virginia or Tennessee. We saw no less than 6 separate cars with Quebec license tags. The only logical explanation for this is that there must have been a hockey game... or French cooking and/or wine festival.

8) Everyone in Quebec drives 65 miles per hour regardless of weather conditions. Friday night, before we ran into snow, we passed several cars from Quebec going 65 miles per hour. Sunday, on the snow covered roads of northern Virginia, we were passed by several cars from Quebec, going 65 miles per hour.

9) My wife is smart!!! Thinking ahead, she procured extra toast and packets of peanut butter and honey from the continental breakfast line. Thanks to her, we had peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch, even though all of the restaurants in the area were closed.

When we pulled over for gas north of Roanoke, Rachel made me take this picture. She thought it was hilarious that a FedEx truck would be snowed in. I bet the driver didn't think it was too funny.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Labor Day Guys Weekend - New Bern, NC

Labor Day Weekend, I flew to Raleigh, NC, where Mark Clark picked me and Jeremy Graves (Tuscon, AZ) up at the airport and shuttled us to a riverside cabin outside of New Bern, NC to meet up with Larry Wray. Graves needed a "guys weekend" right after spending 14 days in Maui (none of us are quite sure why you would need to get away after being in Maui). Clark found an awesome cabin on-line and Graves booked it.

We got a great deal on the place. It sat on the river, had a fully stocked kitchen, grill, dock for fishing and canoeing, canoes, and had DirectTV (no local channels as we learned when trying to catch the 3 PM CBS SEC football game).

Larry Wray served as our Grill Master and Chief Chef for the weekend. He brought seafood for a boil, beef for cheese steaks and steaks. The food was AWESOME!!!

The boys relaxed and fished a bit. I would make fun of Graves for this "whopper" that he brought in, if Larry had not caught a tree along the bank (unfortunately, I could not get the video of that event to upload).

Graves got out and canoed a bit. I tried to go out with him, but I felt that the canoe was very unstable with me in it (I can't imagine how frightened he must have been). It was peaceful and uneventful, except for the guy who came whizzing by at 30 mph in his speed boat twice a day. He about ran over Jeremy once when he was canoeing as he came through.

Of course, no guys trip with Larry, Clark and I can be complete without video games. We had the Wii and Tiger Woods 2009 (seems so ironic now). I also brought the old N-64 and Larry, Clark and I took Glasgow Rangers through the phantom "World League" unscathed in Fifa 1999. It's a classic!

A view of the fully stocked kitchen and bar area.

REFLECTIONS - New Bern, NC - Cultural Capital of North Carolina

Little did we know, but New Bern is the cultural capital of North Carolina. I always figured most of the action occurred in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill Research Triangle, but New Bern had many activities Labor Day Weekend.

Saturday morning, we loaded up and headed into town to watch the UT vs. Western Kentucky game. We went to Halftime Pub and Grub, a new sports bar in New Bern. This sports bar would stand up to any sports bar I have been to. They had 27 high definition televisions, and Chef Ben Wheat (the owner) took really good care of us. The highlight of the day was that we were able to watch the game with Montario Hardesty's Dad (pictured with us above). Hardesty, Tennessee's star Running Back, is from New Bern. Mr. Hardesty and a friend were there watching the game. When the younger Hardesty was recruited, he originally committed to North Carolina and then changed his mind on National Signing Day and came to Tennessee. I think the picture shows why he was originally going to North Carolina, which is where his younger brother is projected to go.

There is also downtown "Historic" New Bern to visit. Ironically, I will not be able to write about the experiences there, as there were none - we never ventured to "historic New Bern".

On Sunday, they had wrestling, or as it is better known in the south - "Wrasslin'" at the area high school. Unfortunately, we thought the festivities began in the evening. The event started at 2 PM, so we ended up missing it. Robert Gibson, of the Rock and Roll Express and "Hands of Stone" Ron Garvin were the headliners. The most interesting match to our group was the Lady's Champion, Tracii Taylor vs. Little Brutus, the Midget Champion.

I can only imagine the stories I would have been able to write about if we would have had the time straight.