Monday, January 2, 2017

Once Upon A Time

2017 hasn't started well.

I went to sleep on Saturday night (Sunday morning?) feeling sick with a sore throat and possible fever. Then yesterday at the Caps game, I managed to fall while going up the steps to my seat, mangling my knee the process. Between those two things, I'm spending my last few hours of winter break at home, versus going to my rec league hockey game. While I'm not feeling as bad as I did yesterday, the pressure in my ears has been occasionally great enough to trigger the Meniere's related vertigo. It's safer to stay off the ice.

So, I may as well do something, like revive the blog, and recap some of fun stuff from 2016, since I didn't blog at all last year.

Last January, we had an epic snowstorm that was alternatively called "#snOMG" and "T.J. Snowshie." Whatever you called it, I planned ahead so that I could do this when the snow stopped falling.
The firepit in the snow!
Not quite the salt flats.... 
My last birthday was spent out of town, as the Matco Tool Expo in Las Vegas coincided with it and Valentine's Day. Unlike my friend Michael Jenkins, I'm not a big fan of Vegas, but I had Southwest Airlines miles and could do the flight for $25 roundtrip. When I got there, I had plans for the times when Pat was in meetings and stuff though.
The screams are from the roller coaster we rode as part of my birthday celebration
Saguaro cactus and Pat. This was at the Alan Bible Visitor Center.
Hoover Dam

I spent my Valentine's Day in Death Valley
A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on

Going home....alone.... snow and ice....
We did do things together the following weekend, including spending all day in DC prior to going to the Caps game. I hadn't been to a few of the newer memorials, and Pat hadn't really been on the National Mall since the early 80s.
Korean War Memorial
I actually prefer going to this memorial at night
The Petersen House. Where Lincoln died. 
I remember my grandma loved her Hupmobile. This was at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
While at the American History Museum, looking at the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a somewhat famous little song, Pat remarked that he also hadn't been to Fort McHenry since that trip with his mom in the 80's. So, the next day, we went to Fort McHenry. 
O say can you see.... the dawn's early light....

Since I bought a National Parks annual pass when I was at Death Valley, I was really gunning to use it. Fort McHenry was just the first of many, many parks I would be flashing the pass to enter. Mid-March, we stopped at my mom's place in Sharpsburg, hit some Antietam goodness, then after fishing in Point of Rocks, went by Monocacy Battlefield, a park I'd never actually gone to before. 

A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on

Pat, at 6'3", standing next to the floodwaters marker in Point of Rocks
I love lighted maps like this one at Monocacy's visitor center. I don't know why they mesmerize me.
That Monday night, my rec league team for last Winter's season played for the championship. Normally, our season (and post season) would be done by mid-to-end February, but with the snow, there'd been some cancellations. Yeah, even hockey can get cancelled due to snow these days.
Yep, we won the "cup" :)
Wanderlust hits me regularly, and I try to succumb as often as possible. I get impossibly irritable if I don't. Since I'd been at Antietam and Monocacy already, Gettysburg was inevitable. I fulfilled a promise while I was there.

Civil War era fences intrigue me
Stone, wood... doesn't matter. They are neat.

The NSTA National Conference was in Nashville this past year, and because it was relatively close and during my spring break, I'd decided to drive there instead of flying. At the last minute, my mom asked if she could join me. I think I know why -- part of the reason I'd already planned on a mind-numbing Predators vs. Sharks hockey game on Saturday night. It was the one year anniversary of dad's passing. I don't think either of us wanted to be alone that evening.

We took her Ford Fusion, and Pat watched the spaz dog while we were gone. We hit some Civil War sites on the way out.
Cedar Creek, a site of a sneak attack. Who, in their right mind, would attack at 4:30AM!?
Belle Grove
Meadow Brook, where General Sheridan made his famous rallying ride
Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive. Kind of drab in late March.
Andrew Johnson's original tailor shop is preserved in Greeneville, TN
Andrew Johnson's home
Inside of the Franklin State Capitol building
Upstairs in the Capitol building
The Slaughter Pen at Stones River National Battlefield
Havens Brigade Memorial, the oldest Civil War monument anywhere
1800 Confederate soldiers died in an hour, trying to cross the Stones Rivers here at McFadden's Ford
At NSTA proper, I got to do a lot of neat things, including a field trip to Adventure Science Center and another trip to the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. I felt bad leaving mom in Nashville, alone, but I'd warned her ahead of time that I already had my time pretty much planned. She made her own little trips. 

I went to a bird watching workshop, and Celestron gave all attendees these binoculars!

Mom and I went to the hockey game together. It was a good way to take our minds off things, even if the Predators did lose to the Sharks.
Forsberg in the shootout. 
Fireworks on the way back to the hotel.
The trip home was supposed to be straight through, but we got distracted by the idea of visiting the Obed Wild & Scenic River. So, we did. I will probably have to go back to this. 

I found something neat after a trip to Harpers Ferry, along the banks of the Potomac when my wanderlust seized me, and I left the beaten path.

No, this was not on NPS property. I know better than that!
Pat and I did go camping a few times, though not as often as the previous year. Since I got my own rods, the camping generally coincides with fishing. :)

Fishing and camping at Antietam Creek in May 2016
Pat had landed five or so fish at this site within 10 minutes of arrival
The campstove still works great
Hoosier Bear loves camping!
We attended several Hershey Bears games with the 404 family, especially once they got to the Calder Cup playoffs. There was a Marlies game, just so we could say we saw Nylander's kid.... but also we were kinda hoping the Maple Leafs would send Brooks Laich down so that we would see him, too. 

As the end of the school year wound down, I started getting hyped for the summer break and the road trip I was planning. 
Three weeks on the road....
To tide me over, I sated the wanderlust bug with quick trips nearby, including Valley Forge and Hopewell Furnace

On June 6, a momentous occasion happened. The Friday previous, I'd had a difficult conversation with a staff member about her future at the school. It had been discovered that she'd falsified grades after a pile of papers (a good 3-4 inches tall) had been discovered tucked away, but grades were entered into the gradebook. She'd been found to be playing with students' grades in other ways as well. I confronted her with the fact that I'd been told by at least a dozen people (some outside of the school) that she was leaving at the end of the year, and she still denied it. Yet, that lovely June afternoon, a mere three actual days after the conversation, I received a text that confirmed what we all knew was going to happen anyway; she'd officially submitted her resignation form. It was time to celebrate and post the job opening. 
In hindsight, this was worthy of two. Our new physics teacher kicks ass.
Graduation happened, then the 404 family was in Cleveland for the Calder Cup finals. While the Bears were able to take out the Toronto Marlies, who'd been on an improbable streak up until Hershey, the Lake Erie Monsters would prove to be too much to handle. Hindsight being 20/20, this actual foretells the Columbus Blue Jackets improbable 15(+?) game win streak heading into January 2017. Elizabeth bought tickets to games four and five, but it turned out that we only needed the game four tickets, sadly enough. 
The Monsters troll us Caps fans by having Steve Eminger in the starting lineup
Much of the crowd at the Q had no idea what was going on. Many admitted that they'd never been to a hockey game before.
With nothing else to do on Sunday, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where Elizabeth's Smithsonian staff pass earned us all a free entry. We finished the weekend with the James Garfield Historic Site and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Epic CAH games always occur on 404 road trips. This one was particularly awesome.
Before Presidential Libraries, there was the Garfield estate.
Garfield had this chair designed so that he could throw one leg over the side; it was his preferred style of sitting.
Cicadas were out in Cuyahoga.
The three of us at Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga.
Father's Day was tough again this year. I spent it wandering... first at Catoctin Aqueduct, then at Catoctin Park
It's called "The Beautiful Aqueduct".
I find weird stuff in the woods when I leave the path.
Blue Blazes whiskey still

Hershey Park at the end of June was a family tradition, from 1977 through the late 80s. I still try to go, even if it's by myself. This time, it was on June 29th. I had a good time, finishing up at the 404 hang out, the Warwick Hotel, before heading home. 
Fahrenheit. It's fun, but not worth an hour wait in line, which seems to be the norm.
With the Giant Wheel long gone, the Midway's ferris wheel is as close to the icon as you'll get.
Stormrunner is awesome. 
Comet's first drop.

Okay, there's a story to the Trailblazer photo above. Many, many years ago, when my go-to camera was an old Kodak Instamatic and the medium was Kodak 126 film, I took a picture here, heading under the railroad bridge with it. I was scared to death that I'd drop the camera, and I was mildly worried it was a worthless venture, because I doubted it would be more than just a blur. When we got the photos developed, it turned out that the photo was focused, and it was awesome. So, when I am feeling nostalgic, I will take a photo in this area. Just for old times sake. :)
sooperdooperLooper at night
At the end of June, Pat and I went up to the Susquehanna for some camping and fishing. He and Kirk had going fishing with a guide earlier in the year, while I was in Nashville for NSTA, and they'd both caught huge smallmouth. So, naturally, Pat wanted to go again, and he threw in the camping bit to entice me. ;) It was fun, and I almost landed a good 18" smallie, but it escaped just before I brought it out of the water. Pat and the guide saw it though, so they'll vouch for its size. ;)
There is a miniature Statue of Liberty in the middle of the Susquehanna
Pat's first fish of the trip
I finally caught something from shore, the next morning
At the beginning of July, Pat, mom and I finally got to do something I'd been trying to arrange starting in January; we got to go to the White House. So, the night before, Pat and I stayed in Sharpsburg, so that we could all head down first thing in the morning.
Vermeil Room
State Dining Room
A poignant painting of JFK
End of the tour

During the drive there and back, I'd seen exits for some places that I suddenly had a hankering to visit, including the Clara Barton House, and some of the C & O locks further down the trail than I'd been. So, after some work days later in the week, I drove over to Glen Echo Park to check some things out. I'd never even known this place existed, and it was cool except for the fact that it was one of the last places in the area to integrate. 

Glen Echo's carousel
Clara Barton's house was closed for renovations
Lock 8 Lockhouse
Locks downstream seem to be in better shape than those up near Harpers Ferry and further west.
The road trip was drawing closer and closer. In the mean time, I was going in to work, getting things set up to start a new year on a good note; trying to hire the right people, and getting scaffolds in place to support my department in following some basic ideas and tenets. That meant I was going to pack the weekends as full as possible, and the weekend after the White House was no exception. 

It started with the 404 group text, after a Troegs tweet about a Mad Elf summer variant called Wild Elf. It ended with the idea of going to Philadelphia for the day, wrapping up with Troegs. 
Franklin Square fountain
Edgar Allan Poe house, stairs to the basement
I hope it wasn't this creepy when he lived here.

The room where Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived.
We'd managed to get tickets to an Independence Hall tour, but we ran out of things to do prior to our tour time. So, we got through the security area, and waited patiently for our entry time. 
A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on

We got our Naked and Wild Elf beers, had some food and headed home. #404hockeynotfound
I was getting serious antsy. It was time for the road trip. But I needed to get through one more week of "work" (required meetings and other wastes of time) before I could leave. 
Another lock, I think this was 12. I visited it after leaving work early.
And in the midst of this wanderlust angst, I asked Pat a serious, adult question. 

"Do you want health insurance?" 

I picked up the marriage license with the idea that we'd get our friend Shawn to sign it after my niece's birthday party, and then I'd fax the information to work so he'd be added onto my employer's insurance. I didn't anticipate Pat to post a photo of it on Facebook, which elicited a ton of OMG and "Wait, wat?!" responses. There were also demands for a party. Well, now. That would have to wait. 
Allie turns two!

What did I do after getting married? Go fishing! ;)
I won't go through all the details of the three week road trip here. We left on 7/24, and returned on 8/14. We hit parks throughout the south and southwest. We were at Civil War and civil rights sights. Native American and natural wonder sights. We saw the beautiful and the ugly side of America in the sights we visited. I'll only post a few of my favorite photos here; maybe later I'll get around to making an album or two. 
The New River from Grandview

Little Rock Central High School
Field of Empty Chairs
A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on

Cadillac Ranch
Western box turtle in the road
Salinas Pueblo Mission at Abo

Painted Grotto at Carlsbad Caverns
The road up and down seemed death defying, but what a view from Coronado Mountain.

Saguaro cacti in the twilight
Organ pipe cacti are not found very far into the US.

Wukoki ruins at Wupatki 
Grand Canyon
Dam, again!
Same cactus Pat posed with in February, now with a bud!

The cemetery at Manzanar

Starkweather Lake at Devils Postpile

So. Many. Dinosaur. Bones.
Fort Larned
The Arch
Of course, coming home meant going back to work and getting ready for the return of not just staff but students. I went to work, getting ready to implement my new ideas for setting a good foundation, and so far it has worked well. For the most part, the new teams are working well and consistently, and the department as a whole is working more like a team. We even finished "on the podium" in a team building competition during a staff development day in September!

Pat and I went camping a few times in September, and he's still looking for walleye and muskie. Maybe sometime this winter he'll catch a walleye on the Potomac. ;)

Come October was our marriage "party." Since everyone seemed upset that we didn't have an actual wedding and therefore an actual reception, we decided to hold a potluck party at Jailbreak Brewing in Laurel. It was pretty fun, and the taproom actually allows toddlers and pets (as long as the pets are on a leash, and the children don't drink). There was tons of food left over though; we should have expected that. :)
Princess Nymeria and Brooksie of the 404family made it out!
I helped Mollie buy a car the following weekend, so that she doesn't have to rely on others to drive her around, unless it's an emergency. She was looking at late model Hondas, and the one she really liked on looks had some issues that I didn't like upon driving. We settled on a little silver Civic, and she paid for it on the spot. 

For the first time in forever, I bought a few pumpkins to carve for Hallowe'en. Not only that, but we entertained trick-or-treaters. I had a lot of excess candy, though. I guess that's better than not enough!

The hair was long enough to keep me warm... for the most part.
The next week would prove to be trying, as Election Day resulted in the improbable happening and Donald Trump actually being elected. Talk about wishing I really had Sailor Pluto's time warping powers... 

Caps Casino Night was a time of trying for "squad goals." Pat hit his goal almost immediately, when we found ourselves on the "wrong" side of the room during the Caps' entrance. I felt a tap on my shoulder after the first few introductions and turned around to see this :
Matt Niskanen, Taylor Chorney and Pat
I couldn't convince Jay Beagle to say "woo!", but Jenn did get her photos with Niskanen and Schmidt, and I did get a photo with Williams. None of us got the chance to play poker with Mojo so that we could use the "get off the ice" line. ;) 

We spent the holidays in Sharpsburg. With Allison being a bit more self-aware, John and Jessica wanted to do Allison's first Christmas from Santa this year, so we opened some gifts on Christmas Eve. Pat and I stayed the night at mom's and opened the rest on Christmas morning. It was a bit of a change, but inevitable. 
I found this while wrapping gifts. It derailed things for over an hour. 

Allison loved this car track
I loved how she exclaimed, "It's a book!" when she opened this.
My rumtopf turned out to be a bit too much rum. All the sugar was at the bottom. :(
A few hours later, Pat was out on the Potomac trying to catch real walleye.
Winter break will be over in a few short hours now. I've spent the past week not doing anything work related; I wandered the grounds at Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Washington, and we spent New Year's Eve in Hershey after going to a Bears game. 
Pier at Piscataway Park
HooDoo nachos at the 'Wick
Here's hoping that 2017 brings more fun and less drama, more happiness and less sadness. 

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