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January 1, 2011

Erin and I get up around lunchtime and drive to downtown Columbus to see if the North Market is open. It is not, but Barley’s is, so we pull into a parking garage and walk in the drizzling rain over to it. Erin’s laughing at these three chicks in dresses, barefoot as they hold their heels, doing the “walk of shame” (as she calls it) to their car, dolled up from the night before.

Barley’s is awesome. I don’t feel like having beer, stick to water. These sauerkraut sausage rolls we get for an appetizer are amazing. And then we are on the road back up to Mansfield to retrieve my folks, before returning to Columbus.

Emma and Maddie are extremely excited to see us, and it probably worked out better that we are here a week after Christmas with our gifts – Jill and her mom went pretty wild spending inheritance money on presents for these girls, and ours would have been lost in the shuffle. As it is they are thrilled with what we give them. The kids are really into “crafts” related things, Madison especially. I had given Erin money on Black Friday to do all the shopping for the girls, which she was pretty stoked about herself, plus we picked up some more things we saw here & there. Mom and Erin both picked out this “learning laptop” toy, although they were different enough and of possible interest to Maddie as well as Emma. 

We shoot a bunch of video and take pictures galore. Or should I say, Mom and Erin are. Mom's photos are distinct because they always have that handy orange date at the bottom right. As for the videos, I always catch a lot of heat for lugging that Hi-8 camera around instead of an iPhone like Erin has here. camera captures better footage than this.

Regarding this clip below, Emma is cracking up about this horrible hairstyle I give her new Barbie with rubber bands. And won’t let my Barbie ride in the car with the two she’s playing with, because they are going to a special party.

It sucks having to leave when we do, but there’s always a mad scramble for time up here and plus we’re dividing our hours with this rental car. Mom and Dad drop us off at our hotel, then they are on their way to meet up with a bunch of people for dinner in Galion. The restaurant everyone has chosen is closed, however, so instead they relocate to one over in Ontario – Paul & Cindy Knackstedt, Brad Gibson & his new wife, Judy Owens & her new boyfriend, etc.

Erin and I lounge around our room for hours. Norman and I are exchanging texts about getting into something, but then he just drops out of the picture. We’re craving sushi and plan on walking up the road to Otani, but they happen to be closed, and investigating online reveals there is nothing that sounds good around here. She falls asleep around 7 or something and I play online poker. Then Kyle materializes at the eleventh hour, salvaging our night. He’d been in Cincinnati all day, only getting back to Columbus sometime after ten. He swings by and picks us up, we cruise down to Press Grill for dinner. He and I are drinking a holiday variety of draft beer, Erin’s enjoying a tomato & cheese sandwich, I have a burger and we all split a plate of cottage fries – awesome.

January 2 

The drive home. After Mom and Dad swing through to pick us up, we cruise down 23 to 35 to Charleston. We try to eat at Diehl’s, but it’s packed literally out the building with church people, so we end up at this crappy Italian buffet chain place in Nitro, Gino’s. Well, three of us think it sucks, but Dad is saying he's "going to have to remember this place." After helping himself to some buffet offerings, to try it out, before actually committing to paying for such. He's also initially making fun of Erin for constantly consulting the internet on her phone, but by the end of the trip he’s calling her “Google” and asking her to look up stuff. “Is Google asleep?” he asks Mom at one point.

The car we rented is a Dodge Charger and is very uncomfortable, plus the climate is difficult to get right for some reason. Not recommended. We are all happy to be home.


January 14

Erin and I have dinner at Sabi, this place in Davidson that’s relatively new. Concrete floors, white walls with lots of windows, modern décor, it’s very busy & we have to wait about twenty minutes. The food is good but unremarkable – Erin has California roll and spicy tuna roll as well as wonton soup, I have this combo of General Tso’s chicken with curry shrimp. Erin her insanely sweet iced tea, while I stick to water. I’m glad we came for the experience of trying it out, but we agree there’s no way we would pick this place again over Joel’s.

From here we move on to Summit Coffee to kill time before our movie starts nearby at Our Town Cinema. We love this theater. Unfortunately, it’s a fine balance between staying low-key and staying in business, because if they have a bunch of Friday nights like this one, they won’t be – then again, it’s extremely cold out, and the students are probably not back in town yet. We have bought tickets to watch Black Swan and are the only two here, for the duration of the movie.

But we are enjoying the quiet & the privacy, and of course the seating arrangement is a major draw. She recognizes some orchestrated instrumental piece playing while we wait for the previews to start, but can’t place it. I tell her that it’s called, “Sir…Sad Bastard…In…Epic Land…” which she thinks is hilarious. As far as Black Swan, I find this to be a very good movie, Erin’s not sure if she likes it or not. 


January 21

Another trip to the beloved Ru San's in Charlotte, for dinner. In reality the lunch buffet here is the main attraction - otherwise, we debate about whether this place or Joel's is better. But we were feeling like we needed to get out of dodge in some capacity, so this is exactly what the doctor ordered. Erin has her usual Gone With The Wind and one other sushi variety (I forget), I try the Bento Box, which is awesome. We are both drinking sake, too, which is normal for me but somewhat out of character for her - I tried some "saketini" to start with, but it was too sweet, and immediately switched to this pear flavored bottle that we both liked.


January 22

We drive down to John & Tina's place in Harrisburg, to hang out for the day. The girls do whatever, while John and I and some buddy of his named Chris go fishing. These two apparently go all the time, whereas I haven't been in ten years. Hopping in John's truck, we drive across 49 to some one horse town called Richfield, where I pick up a temporary license in a convenience store. These guys are telling me it's a $180 fine if busted without one, and if you don't have the cash on your person, they haul you off to jail - sounds like quite the racket.

Tuckertown Dam is our eventual destination. There are these turbines on the backside of the dam that apparently chew up all the tiny fish and spit them out in little pieces, and it’s a feeding frenzy for the larger fish, easy pickings for the fishermen. Personally I’m not big into catch-and-release (it seems pointless, and cruel) but that's what we’re doing here today. In theory, anyway.


February 4

Erin and I drive up as far as Charleston and crash in a hotel near the casino, somehow, without ever venturing over there. But then again we've had a rough week. Just prior to this we had dinner at a McDonald's, because we seriously need to conserve money on this trip. The plan was to crash at somebody's place in C-bus, and I've been in contact with a couple candidates, but then we only make it about two more miles up the interstate and decide to get a room at exit 47.

The room here just goes to show you never really know what to expect, anywhere, anytime. Here we are at a Super 8 in the hills of West Virginia, a hillbilly section of town no less, and we open the door and the décor that greets us is something you’d expect to see out of the pages of a trendy architecture magazine featuring Manhattan condos or San Francisco townhomes – wood floors, bright pomegranate-ish-orange paint on the walls, marble type slab for the sink, sparse yet modern paintings and mirrors etc. The bed is also like triple sized or something, easily the largest bed I’ve ever slept in.

The next room over are some crazy looking military guys who are making a bunch of thumping around noises. When I was bringing in luggage the one guy asked me if they were too loud, but I dismissed this notion, telling him we don’t care. At the time that was true, though later on Erin was getting somewhat annoyed, though noting that they were crazy military guys and she didn’t want to say anything to them. When we were checking in they were right behind us and we heard them talking to the clerk as we were walking out, she was asking if they had a current military ID in order to get the discount. “Oh yeah, it’s definitely current,” the one guy said in a serial-killer-esque manner, as though daring her to just try and continue challenging them.
February 5

Another fast food breakfast, because this exit is basically the last outpost of civilization between here and Gallipolis, and we are on the road. Erin notes that the bed was so big, “I couldn’t even tell you were in it.”

I was planning on leaving home this morning, because we’re really in no hurry. But she was kind of freaking out about the snow forecast, and even though I’m not worried about it, I agreed to drive up Friday night. Thus, the hotel room. Now we are cruising up 23 and she’s consulting the internet on her phone for National Parks where she can get a stamp and/or dead presidents we can visit (which I tried to get her to decide upon last night, but she wouldn’t commit to anything, thus I stuck to the normal route). I suggest we stay on 23 clear up to Fremont, where we can drop in on ol’ Rutherford B. Hayes, but now she’s extremely interested about Canton, Ohio, in particular some first ladies museum and President McKinley’s tomb. Let it be said that I don’t actually care and am in fact extremely happy and excited anytime she gets happy or excited about anything. So, we are now cutting back again through the middle of Ohio, clear over to I-77, in a sudden snowstorm no less.

Erin catches a nap as I make it up to Canton. We GPS the way over to the First Ladies Museum or whatever it's called, and then we’re in a downtown area, one of the only cars it seems cruising through these streets. Finally it's over to visit McKinley in this blizzard.


And we are still driving to Mansfield after this. It's only mid-afternoon when we make it there, so as we're getting off of route 30 at the 314 exit, we spot this school bus up there ahead of us. Erin's flipping out that they would still have school in these conditions, but I'm laughing, telling her well yeah, because otherwise they'd be canceling it every other day. 

 It's just no big deal in these parts. For example, Damon meets us for a late lunch/early dinner at The Warrior in Ontario right after this, driving quite a good ways himself. Then we go watch Frank's annual Blues Festival at the Liederkranz. Here's an awesome clip of one band playing Poker Face - country style!

Some little kid comes up to our table and asks Erin if she knows the "apple bottom jeans" song. I'm cracking up and wondering how she was picked at random for this burning question. She says little kids are just drawn to her for some reason.

Scott Yugovich is bartending here now. At one point he's out on the floor talking to Damon and me. We're standing around and I mention that his name actually came up in conversation recently - I was telling Erin I scored exactly one goal in two years of playing soccer, and Scott had the assist. He kicked the ball, but it deflected off my knee and bounced in.
February 19 
We have the alarm set for 3:15am. I get up and take a shower, then Erin gets up: welcome to our new schedule, every other weekend in Ohio, for the next few months. Though already packed, it still takes us till about 4:20 to get on the road. Neither of us really ate any dinner, & I'm so hungry I'm seeing spots. But we don't stop until we reach Wytheville, to have our 6am dinner at a Denny's there. Yesterday it reached a high of 78 degrees in Statesville, but the wind & cold knock us off our feet almost when we get out of our car here, it's in the forties.

The Denny's is very new & modern inside, but we are the only patrons. Our lanky waiter reminds me of Dave Weinle sort of & is equally comical. Erin has chicken fingers with fries & green beans, I have the Super Bird and fries. Then we get gas & coffee at the attached truck stop, & are on the road.

It's strange to be driving when it's dark, along this route, but it's getting lighter out & the moon (full) is on my left, sinking over the mountains. We should have taken some pictures. Erin drank a coffee, which is unusual, & is jabbering at warp speed on a variety of topics – I thought it was quite hilarious. She doesn't sleep the entire trip up, which is nice.

Erin & I pick up Emma and take her to the Magic Mountain over by Polaris. This is our first time ever, where it's just the three of us. There's a little potential bonding moment where we're at a table eating some food there, and Emma explains that salt's her favorite food, and sugar's her second favorite. "Salt is Erin's favorite food, and sugar's her second favorite!" I reply. Erin shoots me a haha, very funny type look, but I was (somewhat) serious.

We take her shopping for a toy at Target, and also swing by her favorite, Perry Park. She doesn't quite know the directions at this age, but can tell you if you're going the right way or not. So we're pretty impressed by this. This is because she recognizes the "neigh-vor-hood" that the park is in.

In other developments, I am scolded for not doing the stand-on-and-spin thingamajiggie correctly. She demonstrates the proper technique below. I have to content myself with attempting to give Erin an electrical shock, after coming down from this slide.

 February 20
We take Emma to see this play called The Elevator Family, downtown. She does well but does get a little fidgety toward the end. Is extremely stoked, however, to meet the main actress, still in her costume, after the play is over. 

Upon leaving here, we hit the North Market & grab some ice cream. Wrap things up with a quick trip to Tuttle Mall before dropping Emma off.

March 5

Today the three of us hit COSI. I only went to the old location once, when Dad & Faith took Daniel & me clear back in 1983. This one's been around about ten years and seems twice as big, yet with much less to do, somehow. But Emma has a great time, which is really all that matters, and it's pretty entertaining for us adults, too.

Oh yeah, and Emma also sketches this charming little pencil drawing for Erin, later in the day:

March 6
Erin & I take Emma down to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It's always pretty here, but currently they also have these colorful glass displays by Team Dale Chihuly. Emma has a blast running ahead and then calling out to Erin to catch up. For the most part Erin plays along, except when Emma shouts down to her after running up these steps:

Otherwise, she does stand still long enough to smile sweetly for a couple of cute photos. Later, somehow I end up wearing the crown:

March 9

I meet Erin, her dad, & Jennifer at the Statesville Red Lobster for dinner. As luck would have it, not only is it Tom’s birthday, but he also won $500 today on a $2 scratch off from a machine at Food Lion. So he treats us to dinner. Tom is drinking this gigantic pina colada w/ another side car of rum, Jennifer some tropical rum drink in a tall slender glass. Erin & I stick to water. Everyone orders some variation of a seafood combo except Jennifer, who has a steak. The food is very good, better than my last experience in Columbus years ago.

Back over at the Walle house, they have a cake shaped like a pirate’s hat for Tom. On Erin’s phone a song from Pirates of the Caribbean is playing, an instrumental for which the Walle girls have nonetheless made up lyrics for, and sing together now. They are so weird & awesome, it’s like this was the family I was always destined to meet. 

March 19

Today is actually my birthday, though. So after we drop them off, Kyle takes me out to celebrate. And Erin too, of course - dinner at Sushi Rock, then watching some band at what used to be Victorian's (not sure about the name; they totally destroyed this place, though, as it's now some sort of voodoo rockabilly club or something) and finally closing out the night at good ol' Amicon's. One of the beers I decide to try is pretty disgusting, and actually has chunks of some sort in it. I give it to Kyle but he can't drink it, either. Erin immortalizes it with this photo, as we voice our rallying cry that beer should not be chunky!

March 20

We pick up Emma and have lunch at the Dublin Mellow Mushroom. Then meet up with Clif and his kids, hang out at Emma's beloved Perry Park. Clif's daughters go absolutely berserk with excitement when a train passes at one point, it's pretty hilarious.  As far as these pictures go, what you are seeing here is a "strawberry pie selling" business, which they are conducting through this window.

In our travels we all stop for ice cream at the UDF in Linworth, too.

April 4

Dad calls me to break the horrible news that Faith has died. It was some heart defect that nobody knew anything about - presumably not even her - and she passed away overnight in her sleep. She's only 55 and they've been married for over 27 years, and dated for about a year before that. So she was my stepmom for pretty much half her life and 100% awesome for all of it. Daniel and I never had any negative experiences with her whatsoever, it was all positive and she was always tremendously sweet to both of us. Not to mention, gave us two wonderful sisters, too. 

The weird thing is, you not only never know what unimaginable events might arrive tomorrow, but sometimes older ones which seem trivial at the time wind up having significance later. I can pinpoint the last time I ever saw Faith, or spoke to her: it was that day last summer when I left my phone at their house, when Erin and I were heading up to Cleveland, and we had to turn around to retrieve it. Faith was leaving for work and we passed in the driveway, she smiled and said she saw my phone sitting there, but nobody had Erin's number. Then she & Robin left for work, and I went inside to grab it. 

April 8

Faith's funeral. We all agree that the pastor gave a great speech. Everyone meets for lunch afterwards at the Der Dutchman in Lexington. Laura's boyfriend Craig eats absolutely nothing, he just sits there. At one point, though, Laura tries something and says, "this is really good!" Erin and I bust out laughing and tell her she sounded just like that guy in the yogurt commercial we're always making fun of.

April 10

You do not mess with Miss Kitty's lunch.

April 11
I’m sitting on the back patio typing here on the laptop. The weather is absolutely perfect - pin drop still, ideal temperature - and we’ve had the back door open all night. Erin and I ate for the first time at this all you can eat Hibachi place in Mooresville for about $10 apiece and it was incredible. She crashed out fairly early though and I’ve spent almost four hours winning twenty bucks at poker, while writing some in between hands. Now finally enjoying a beer, might crash out soon.
April 30

Our great zoo adventure. Emily & Victoria have ridden up with us this trip, and Dad meets us here. Emma is excited to get her face painted like a butterfly, and vaguely looks like a superhero after doing so. That's probably her personal highlight, although she appears a little nervous at first. Before that, I remember she was also pretty thrilled with petting, then brushing this goat.

Later on, the six of us will take a ride on their little riverboat, or whatever you call it:

May 1

The four females and I decide to hit Chuck E. Cheese. This is one of Emma's favorite places, so why not. When I was a kid I know this was considered a pretty expensive place to come to, but it's really not that outrageously priced. Especially when your little girl likes running through the playground stuff, which is free, more than she does playing the games. Otherwise, Erin and I entertain ourselves watching Emily and Victoria try to keep up with her.

May 4
Erin’s in a grumpy mood and nothing is making her happy. I suggest she make out a grocery list of things she wants, and I will go get them. When I get back from my trip, she’s completely elated. “How’s come you always know how to make things better?” she asks, in giving me an extended hug. 
May 14

We take Emma to the circus. Later, after dropping her off, we are driving by some little hippie craft fair in front of Whetstone and decide to stop. One of the vendors here talks me into signing up for some "local merchants" loyalty card. Then we drive up to the Polaris mall and even hit the Goodwill up this way, looking for an Indians or Reds shirt for Erin, to no avail. 

Trying to decide what to have for dinner, and this local merchants loyalty stuff already comes in handy. Erin says she wants Mediterranean, so we're consulting this card's list of businesses, and see some place in Grandview called Mazah. This turns out be amazing. Feta on salad best ever, house dressing awesome, cukes & lettuce impossibly crisp & fresh. We get a couples platter w/ beef shawarma – hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki, fava beans, saffron rice, Greek potato salad, tabouli, 3 bean salad & peas. 

After this we walk up to Stauf's for coffee (me) and apple cherry tea (her).

May 22
About 90 degrees today. Erin makes pancakes this morning, then I sit on the patio drinking coffee and reading, taking notes for my book. Then she heads over to her mom’s house to do laundry, I hop on my bike. First I mix a drink concoction of red wine, ice cubes, mango flavoring, more wine, then water. It occurs to me then that the drink holster on my bike needs repaired, so I reach into my “junk drawer” and somehow magically the first screw I retrieve fits perfectly. Then I super glue it in place to be sure, grab my headphones and mp3 player, and head out.

My quest today is merely to find that bike trail I’ve only recently heard about. You can see this wooden bridge from 21 as soon as you get off the exit from 40, and I’m sure it’s connected to that somehow. Sure enough just behind the bank you can access this trail from the parking lot - it only goes a stone’s throw in one direction, toward 21, where the “Bridge To Nowhere” as Erin calls it is proven to be truly that, dead ending in midair, bizarrely enough, in a giant mass of brush. But moving in the other direction, it apparently goes on clear past the Signal Hill Mall area, underneath Statesville, more or less, past that house we are trying to buy, about 2 miles all told. Fascinating. I had no idea! It starts out gravel/mud, then passes under 40, but at the empty lot where I think that old movie theater used to be (Erin worked there as a teen, it is now torn down), it switches to asphalt. There are markers every quarter mile, and I make it as far as this spot where it turns to mud again underneath this bridge. Stop and eat a packet of peanut butter crackers, drink some of the tasty beverage (I’ve been trying to come up with a name for this ever since inventing it a couple of weeks ago - now bicycle themes are running through my brain. Possibly a Third Tire? Or a Rusty Spoke? Or maybe a Missing Helmet?).

Home is a bigger battle (mostly uphill) but not too terrible. I do stop in Taco Bell to splash water on my face. Considering I haven’t ridden in awhile and that it’s not going to get much hotter than this ever, I think I did very well. 
May 28

We have rented a room at this Red Roof Inn on W. Broad Street, slightly outside of downtown proper. Earlier in the day, after picking Emma up, the three of us wind up at James J. Thomas Park. It's a gorgeous day and we goof around with a frisbee, then Erin laughs her head off filming Emma and me trying to get a kite airborne. We finally give up in favor of running around with the kite held high instead:

What can I say, childhood was a long time ago. Of course I sucked at it back then, too. Actually I believe the last time I ever went, it was another fine spring day, when Dad and Faith lived over in Gahanna and took Daniel and me to fly some kites they'd just bought us. I would have been about 10 or 11. Managed to get my kite tangled up in some trees fairly early on, and while Dad was able to retrieve it, he snapped the line in the process and my handle was stuck way up there forevermore. He fashioned a short boomerang shaped branch for my handle instead, and this worked just fine. I mean, it wasn't any worse, at least.

As for today, it's a pretty memorable one all around. After this kite business, we head down the hotel. Erin takes a nap, while Emma and I venture downstairs to swim in the indoor pool. Although Erin must awaken at some point to hang out and take some pictures:

After this, we drive downtown to Columbus Commons. This is a park built on the site of where City Center Mall used to be. Tonight they are screening Raiders of the Lost Ark against the side of whatever building that is in front of here. Emma brings some princess playset and puts me in "jail" for not playing correctly, with whatever scenario this is here. And is clearly quite pleased with herself for dong so:


As night settles in, she acquires some glow in the dark gear and explains to us she is a "light fairy" bringing the gift of light to all her precious friends. 

Back at the room, those two fall asleep relatively early. As for me, I haven't had any allergy trouble whatsoever in over a decade - it just magically went away one day - but my sinuses are driving me bonkers tonight for some reason. I'm up until about 5am before breaking down and driving to get some allergy medicine.

May 29

We start off the day at Rhodes Park, in the name of variety and convenience. I wish there were more pictures of Erin from these outings, but she's the one with the nice phone, taking most of these photos. Although I do manage to grab the phone and sneak one in of her here: 

Anyhow, since we have to drive that way regardless, and Emma's kind of obsessed with Perry Park, we wind up making a pitstop there as well. “I always make friends there,” Emma says, and she does, with this little Asian girl. I play hide & seek with the two of them while Erin’s talking to the girl’s mom (and start a trend, too, as some other dad is then playing hide & seek with his kids). 

Heading home, I actually pull over into a rest area in southern Ohio, somewhere along route 35. Erin was sleeping but wakes up. My plan was to nap, but she takes the wheel & drives an hour & a half to Nitro – the only time she’s had to drive for any of these weekend interludes so far.

June 4

Dad M swings through town to visit. Actually he's at Daniel's house, so Erin & I drive down there to see him. Dad, Daniel, Addison (sort of) & I play 3 games of croquet. We joke about the "dreadful 6th wicket at Markham" as pro golf commentators would - it's this ridiculous one we wedged into that steep hill over on the woods-facing side of his house. But consider it a challenge and refuse to cave in by moving it, at least for the first game.

So Dad is two wickets ahead of us early on, but will wind up stuck there at the 6th for the next hour and a half. And I soon join him. We can't get the ball to stop anywhere near it. Meanwhile Daniel, who was way behind, catches up and manages to do so on 3 separate occasions. On the 3rd try he hits it through & beats both of us by 12 holes. 

Sanity eventually prevails as we rearrange for the last two games, to fit everything into the back yard except for one wicket on the flat side yard. I manage to win both of these contests. This time around it's the return trip on the 4th wicket (so that would be.....15) that proves difficult. Daniel has the green ball but yellow mallet because of the 1st time they ever played here, years ago - Ray lost the yellow ball, and then later smashed the green mallet to pieces in a fit of rage.

June 9

Lyle's telling me about getting out of prison, then renting an apartment, but he has no furniture. Except within a week, he met, then started dating some chick, and she furnished his place. "I can hustle when I have to," he says.

Gene is sitting here also, listening, and agrees that "hustlin's a game," as he nods and does his usual, "mmm hmm, mmm hmm," bit. This has to be one of the funniest things I've heard all summer.

June 11

We start out at Homestead Park early on. Then later on, are looking for this water park on the east side. But it turns out to be in the hood and kind of sketchy looking, so we backtrack to our hotel.

This time around we are staying at the Comfort Inn on 161 again, same as the New Year's trip. By this point we're kind of on fumes with this crazy visitation schedule, both energy-wise and financially. So Erin naps for about three hours while I take Emma down to swim in the hotel pool. 

Later, I drive up the road to grab us some McDonald's for dinner. The theory behind this is that it's a cheap meal and we're trying to conserve dough. But I come away from here thinking it really isn't all that cheap - we could have probably eaten real food somewhere for not much more.

It's a fun if chill evening around the hotel, though, which I think maybe we need at this point. Emma and I will spend much of it attacking her coloring books.

June 12

Emma's breakfast consists of Goldfish and grapes this fine morning, in the hotel.

June 18
    Today we both wake up somewhat early (after staying up past 2) but just kind of lie around. We had some rough times with that every other weekend stuff, but we made it. She’s an awesome & amazing chick & I’m lucky to have her. The whole family, really - there’s just something so perfect about how the way everything fits into my life now. 
    After a night where everything blew up in my face at the poker tables (kept losing huge pots to long shot nonsense; only down about $8 but it’s the agony, plus the knowledge of what I failed to win, not just what I lost) means I wake up obsessed and start playing at like 8am today. After discussing our lack of desire to really do anything major, we decide to drive over to her parents’ house and swim.
    “Are you sure you’re not sick of it?” I ask.
    “Jason,” she says, “are you kidding me?”
    I guess it is a silly question. This is basically her ideal way to spend every summer day, if she can. It’s already sunny and hot out. We stop at Food Lion for refreshments. Erin’s in a bubbly mood. She's thrown on this hippie looking summer dress over her swimsuit, it’s basically brown but has a bunch of crazy designs on it - not the sort of thing she normally wears, but this looks good on her. She buys some crème soda and BBQ chips (“because no one else in my family likes them”), I get red wine & a Sprite off brand to make spritzers with. We drive over, Erin mixes me a drink, her mom and sisters are hanging out. Erin makes us salami and pepper jack sandwiches (hers on Hawaiian bread, mine on a soft hoagie roll) and sticks two tiny pizzas in the oven. There is some consternation about the empty pans Erin has stuck underneath the pies, which are on open racks above, because they are smoking. But everything works out okay. Then I am sent back to the store to pick up crushed tomatoes so Elaine can make her sauce, as we’re having spaghetti and meatballs tonight.
    When I return the four women are in the living room laughing themselves silly watching a Billy Blanks exercise video. They’ve decided upon fake names for everyone working out with him. Erin says she and Jennifer are going to work out this summer and are trying to find a routine that they like. Then Erin and I jump in the pool - she’s standing at the edge, doing Sudoku, and meanwhile insists I bring my computer out to play poker, so we’ve run an extension cord over to the edge, and I stand there, with my wine spritzer beside me and a kiddie pool flipped over above the screen for shade, playing this freeroll tournament.
    Elaine joins us in the pool. Their washing machine quit working earlier today. Erin’s asking me if we can skip the whole wedding ceremony part when we get married, if I care, which of course I’m totally fine with. Those two are talking about plans with Emma and so on behind me, floating around. Then Jane and Mike show up briefly, Jane says she really wants to get in naked and they make me promise not to look. “He’s such a gentleman, you don’t have to worry about him looking,” Elaine says. Mike fixes the washing machine, sort of. Then they leave with Jennifer on some shopping excursion.
    Storm clouds roll in something fierce. The girls head indoors and I at least get out of the pool, sit underneath the tent. Then it’s break time, I head inside. Finally bust out in 22nd place for $50 - first place would have been $1087.50. But this is a minor miracle considering I haven’t really played a multi table tournament all year. Those used to be my bread and butter, but I just haven’t had the time. And yet still managed to rack up a $700 month of April, somehow.
    But anyway...Erin is heading out to Jokerz tonight with Melissa and some of their other teacher friends. Now she has Caitlin put on makeup for her night out, then is horrified and in tears because she has white eyeshadow on, which she says makes her look “Mexican,” takes it off, applies some pretty green shade instead. While this is all going on they were in the back of the house, Victoria and Emily and some other chick come over, then they're all hooting and hollering and in hysterics back there. I sit in the living room alone, play poker & drink wine.
    Erin emerges looking very pretty, with this green & white polka dot shirt I’ve never seen before and black capris. We hop in my car and head home. I’ve got the laptop bag at my feet, 3 grocery bags of snacks she pulled from various cupboards and the fridge, in my lap, a beach bag in my lap also, and a huge Ikea bag of laundry in the back. That Adele song comes on and she turns up the radio. 
     Back at the house she grabs a necklace from her car (the kind she normally wears, i.e. has these black stones etc spaced very far apart on a chain), asks me how she looks, we kiss, she takes off in my car.  I hang out, play poker, watch some White Sox-Diamondbacks interleague game. Sitting on the couch with a box of Cheez-Its, Maxwell is shaking me down and I give him one. He eats it. 

June 24
Erin and I are chilling out at her parents’ house, after dinner. Somehow Caitlin and Elaine have gotten on this kick around 9pm of talking about ice cream, now decide they are going to McDonald’s for a cone. Jennifer and Erin decide they want to go. Tom’s back in his room watching the Yankees-Rockies game, we’ve got the same game on in the living room. The girls have been kind of wandering from room to room yukking it up, but at present Erin’s doing a sudoku with her head on my lap on the couch. She has been here all day, I came over after work.
There is endless discussion about this, but as it turns out, nobody runs for ice cream. Instead everyone troops over to Mike & Jane’s house. He’s in the yard with that goofy neighbor guy from the corner, the two of them are hanging out by a yellow remote control airplane they’d just been out flying. Or at least Mike had. The girls all head to the back patio, Elaine has the giant bottle of sangria we’d been drinking earlier. Then, right behind us, here comes John & Victoria & some little girl.
    I’m in the yard talking to the guys for not even 5 minutes, walk inside, out to the patio. Jane says, “oh, here’s another kid…,” and Jennifer jokes that there aren’t any more chairs. Erin bolts up out of hers, says, “I’m tired of hearing Jane talk this kid shit!” and we leave. 
June 26
Surprise party for Erin winning Teacher Of The Year. John blows it about 15 minutes before it’s supposed to happen. Until then, Erin had no clue, and is extremely excited - and scolding Jennifer for almost letting her walk out of the house in no bra, wearing pajamas. Jennifer said she had ways in mind for getting Erin to change her clothes. Anyway, Jane for some reason comes by to pick the 3 of us up, as Tom grumbles about being left behind, and we wait on him, and then he takes his truck anyway. The family and some of Erin’s closest friends, such as Amy and Melissa, await over at Mike & Jane’s house. A lemon cake designed to look like a chalk board spells out the congratulations. Erin is still in awe by the time we leave. Everyone’s laughing about my cover up attempt after John spilled the beans of, “I think that’s next weekend.” 

Meanwhile, down in Mooresville, I'm not sure what's going on over at my parents' house. But here's a great picture Mom takes of young Holden with his Grandpa Bill:

July 1
1. We wake up at 5:30am

2. Hit the road and stop for breakfast at the Wytheville Denny's. She has a Build Yer Own Slam, I the Georgia Peach French Toast. We both have coffee. She tries mine but does not like it. She uses 6 packs of sugar per cup.

3. Cracking up at the trucker tee shirt slogans, in the attached gas station:

You Mess With Me, You Mess With The Whole Trailer Park
You Don't Have To Be Crazy To Be A Trucker, You'll Get On The Job Training
Give Me Liquor & Enjoy The Show
4. We stop again for coffee, at a Starbucks inside this travel plaza. It's extremely busy and many of the menu items are covered up with tape.

5. Van Halen's Eruption comes on the radio as we're driving through Charleston. Erin starts freaking out and says, "oh my God! What is this!? I could play this!" 

6. She naps soon after this, from here to the Kentucky border - this is a new state for her, incredibly enough, and she wants to wake up to see it.

7. We make our way to Bobby Mackey's bar in Newport, famous from a couple of Ghost Bros episodes as "the gateway to hell" or whatever. I don't know about all that. Then again, it IS just across the river from Ohio. So maybe they're onto something.
They are closed at this hour on a Friday anyhow. However, we do hear a disembodied thump. Also even more mysteriously Erin's phone takes a weird picture of the parking lot, all by itself. She says there is absolutely no way she snapped this, and it does have this strange warped look to it:

I think Zak and the boys might be interested in this paranormal evidence.

8. From here we cross into Ohio and through Cincinnati, out to former president William Henry Harrison's tomb. Erin wanted to add this to her collection, so we've now hit 4 out of the 5 buried in Ohio. We're cracking up at the guest book because some guy named Joe Large seemingly comes here every day.

9. Then it's back in to the heart of Cincy, so she can get a stamp at Taft's National Historic Site. He was born here but is buried in some other state.

10. We're still a little bit early for the Reds-Indians game. Dad and my sisters and Robin's boyfriend are driving down from Mansfield, Kyle from Columbus. Erin's claiming to be a huge Reds fan now just to mess with me. We kill some time in the gift shop and she gets this temporary tattoo on her face:

The game itself is really somewhat of a snoozefest. Kyle is an actual Reds fan for real, so he & Erin bond over that one. Laura's wearing an Indians shirt but is mostly into the Yankees. When Jay Bruce comes to bat for Cincinnati, Erin asks me why they're booing, but in reality the fans are chanting Bruuuuuuuuuuuce. Dad and I are talking about how much we hate Ken Harrelson, and when the dude at the plate strikes out, we both coincidentally say "he gone" at the exact same time, and are cracking up about that. Aroldis Chapman comes on in relief late in the game, the first time I've seen him pitch in person. Erin and I agree that you can tell, even from these outfield bleachers, that he's throwing harder than anyone else who pitched today.

There are fireworks after the game, and for this you can sit wherever you want. So we are able to move down to some sweet lower level seats between the third base dugout and home plate. Also, they have some kind of "couples night" theme going, for which fans could submit photos online and have them displayed on the big bleacher video screen. Erin sneakily did this during the game, but we weren't sure if we'd make the cut or not.
    As it turns out, the photo of us that she sent flashes early during the fireworks. We're snickering because nobody in our group even noticed. But then they cycle through and display a second time, which Laura alone happens to spot. "Hey!" she shouts and laughs, smiles over at us.

Our groups split back apart after this. Erin and I have a hotel room reserved north of Cincinnati. It's okay and everything, although they do have this hilarious soap in the bathroom. The labels spell out in plain English what you're supposed to use them for. Here's Exhibit A:

July 2

We drive up to Columbus, to get Emma for the week. This is her first such visitation, although starting next year we will get her for half the summer. And of course half of every Christmas break from now on too. During our odyssey, Erin keeps herself entertained with this:

July 3

Emma asks to see the back patio & I put a chair out for her, so she can stand on it and check out the woods etc. She’s telling me she wishes she could plant “fruit plants” in her yard. “I would do watermelon plants, orange plants, apple plants, grape plants, and waffle plants!”

Later, we’re driving to “Grandma Nain & Doodah’s house” & she’s in the backseat singing along w/ the “blow-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" part of Ke$ha’s Blow song. We pretty much just play the pop station whenever she's in the car, for our entertainment as much as hers.

We meet there so we can ride out to Amy's 4th of July party as a group. At the party, there are a ton of kids here and Brad has an impressive arsenal of pyrotechnics lined up. Unfortunately, Emma is jumping on the trampoline with some other kids and lands funny at one point, tweaks her ankle something fierce. I feel horrible and personally responsible, like I could have prevented this somehow. But Erin and I examine her foot and it doesn't seem that bad, and Emma says it doesn't hurt much, so we think it's maybe not that big of a deal. Even though Troy also takes a look at it, and tells us we should definitely take her to the emergency room.

Nothing much happens until hours later. It's well past midnight and those other two are asleep, I'm actually playing a paid (not freeroll) online poker tournament for the first time in eons. The apartment is pitch black apart from my laptop screen. But then Emma wakes up and says her foot is killing her, so we wind up driving her to the hospital after all. They prescribe a little medicine and put her foot in a cast. She handles all of  this like a champ, though.

July 4

July 5
-up just before 10 and hanging out playing with the princess playset that we’ve gotten tremendous mileage out of ever since Erin bought it months ago. Then I pull out this bag I’ve had since 2005 of Madison’s things. Like the Strawberry Shortcake puzzle that she and I used to do pretty much every day that summer of ‘05, when Jill was at work and I was watching her. Also one candy necklace, already completed and rotten, a ziplock bag full of pieces to make still more candy necklaces (Emma licks one to confirm that these are what they are; Erin then steps in and makes us pitch all of it, unfortunately), some chalk, a magnet doll, a magic wand that is also magnetized, some books, this porcelain looking doll which is not actually made of porcelain (white, wearing some brown plaid getup), some fridge magnet letters, etc. Most of it was stuff they left behind when they moved out in 2005, but if I’m not mistaken a couple stray pieces were also left here when they all came to visit in ‘09. 

-Emma and I start working on the Strawberry Shortcake puzzle. Talk about déjà vu - I’m giving her the same lessons I used to give Madison, about the corner pieces, the edge pieces, etc. We start but are unable to finish, it’s time to go.

-right before we leave, Jill calls Emma’s phone. Emma asks her, “have you seen those houses in North Carolina that have a lot of stairs? They have these in North Carolina these houses with a lot of stairs have you seen them? Daddy and Erin live in one of these houses that they have in North Carolina it’s all the way up at the top and their house is in the first room!” Later she will add in a voice that would suggest unspeakable torment, “I really love it at Grandma Nain’s house I never wanna leave there!” When Jill says, “huh? I can’t really hear you,” Emma says, “okay, well, bye, you’re as pretty as a blossom!’ and hangs up on her.

-run over to Erin’s parents’ house to pick up the goggles that Addison left behind yesterday. She needs them for swim practice.

-this lunch was my idea but of course we are running late. We fly and make it to the Davidson Healthy Home Market at about 1:15. Daniel, Jackie, and Mom are eating; Dad’s goofing around by the coffee and tea, agreeing with Erin that traffic’s brutal (it took us ten minutes just to get from our parking lot to I-40) - I’m guessing he just got here too. Daniel is having a brisket sandwich, Mom a veggie lasagna, Jackie some sort of vegetable dish from the hot case that looks vaguely disgusting. She is raving about it, though, and our store in general, and walks over to buy some Mexicali Fire mix from bulk. Emma has a single serve Horizon strawberry milk, we hang out and plan on getting lunch elsewhere now that we’re late - no way she eats anything here. She colors this page for a “coloring contest,” a picture of a pirate ship, and Dad scribbles over on the margins. She says, “you’re not very good at staying in the lines,” and then later, looks up at him and says, “I think you should stop.” He laughs his head off at that one. 

Some pictures are taken. I'm not sure why, but most of us look a little queasy in this one: 

Surprisingly, no one from work bugs me. For some reason Dad, Daniel, and I are laughing hysterically as we talk about Photo-Shopping a picture of Nick Nolte with Richard Simmons, cutting out the mouths, figuring out how far back from the computer to set it up, and talk behind these when we’re on Skype with anyone.

-carry Emma back out to the car, and the three of us ride up to Mooresville. Erin gets out at this consignment shop to look for a cheap stroller, no luck, we have lunch at Brooklyn Boys. Emma has cheese pizza and says, “this is so good I want to eat here all the time!” and that “this and that pizza place that has the brownies are my favorites!” (Cici’s, we’ve taken her twice to the one up in Dublin). Erin shakes things up a bit by getting one corner piece of Sicilian (normal) and one broccoli piece (not normal). A side of house dressing too, but her usual routine of ordering a piece of cheese pizza, eating the cheese, then dumping a house salad on top of the slice and eating that is abandoned. I have two buffalo chicken slices. To me their pizza is pretty mediocre but I was fussing with Emma and didn’t think to order the Brooklyn Bomber sub that I like.

-From here we head around the corner to Goodwill to look for a stroller or a wagon. “I think you first should get me a stroller, then you should get me a toy cause you don’t really have too many toys at your house,” Emma helpfully suggests in the parking lot. As it turns out they had a wagon earlier but sold it, and no stroller. Instead we find this Barbie party van for $7, a pink stool for Emma to sit on, and a pair of shades for me. 

-Then over to Target. Their cheapest wagon is $36 and they are out of the $15 strollers so we just forget this concept. Load up on groceries instead, and a Princess Tiana Barbie to go with the party van. I also make fun of Erin for picking up some school supplies, being obsessed with her job.

-Home to drop off the groceries, then over to Erin’s parents’ house again with vague plans to swim. Except all we really do is hang out in the living room while Emma plays with toys. She and Jennifer are sliding this plastic plate back and forth, at one point the striped grey cat Jack is lying in the middle, batting at it, then I’m in the middle and pretending to be trying to catch it. Erin finds a bag of toys, a wheelchair, and her mom’s vacuum cleaner in the basement. 
    Elaine wants to buy Emma a cone, so she and Caitlin hop in the minivan and follow us over to this Dairy Queen attached to the gas station on 21 by our apartment. Emma has a vanilla cone in a cup with sprinkles, Elaine a cherry dipped cone, Caitlin a cherry dipped & fries, Erin just fries, myself nothing. Elaine comments on how great the music is - Don Henley (End of the Innocence - Erin says it sucks but I tell her, “it’s not any worse than some of that crap you listen to”), Keane (Somewhere Only We Know), Collective Soul (Run - we can’t remember what movie soundtrack this was from, Erin guesses Varsity Blues, then looks up on her phone & confirms), some vague faux reggae pop song that Caitlin says is from the Jungle 2 Jungle soundtrack. Emma remains in great spirits, despite the situation with her foot.

-home to give Emma a bath, the last of the medicine she has to take for her foot, etc. We finish the puzzle & she’s excited, giggling & declaring, “I’m a genius!”

-Stinky licking Emma’s Barbie doll, one of those that Erin pulled out of her parents’ basement. 
July 7
My attempts at listening to vinyl for the latest writing project have hit a snag. I have two turntables, and am trying to play Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, but now neither of them is working. In other news, Emma has a great time swimming at my parents' house today. Addison is here also, so they get to hang out some more.

 July 30
The day starts with our getting up early and driving down to my parents' house for this yard sale. Of course they were just waking themselves and not ready, but this is better in some ways, less stress. We take our sweet time setting up, getting the signs out - not the most lucrative strategy, but we do have a decent amount of traffic. The real issue really is that our offerings are somewhat unexciting. Mom fares the best, but even then only makes about $16. Dad socializes with everyone relentlessly, promotes his big ticket items, pulls in $10. I sell a box of baseball card commons for $5 (has to be my 1st profit from cards in more than 15 years), a mimeographed Babe Ruth autographed baseball for $1, and a CCR greatest hits CD for 50 cents. 

“It seems like it should be a crime to sell this,” the chick buying it says. 

“I think I’ve just listened to it so much I’m like whatever,” I tell her. 

There was also this little kid looking through the commons before I sold them. Dad walks over to observe and says, “mmm hmm, look, there’s Darryl Hamilton right on top.” He obviously knows nothing about baseball cards. 

The kid for some reason really wants this ‘93 Donruss Mike Guthrie, so I just give it to him. For Erin’s holdings, meanwhile, she sells this trio of Avatar action figures to some little Latino kid for a quarter. She also has this Jolly Roger flag hanging from the pool fence, and this girl of maybe 9 or 10 years old rounds the corner, sees that, and freaks out, ecstatically inquiring about the asking price. Erin gets $1 for it, which the girl pulls from her own pocketbook. The box of sweaters I’ve got marked “Bill Cosby Sweaters $1” fails to generate much interest in this 90+ degree July heat, and the same applies to the sports jacket that Dad suggested I label “Don Johnson Jacket $2.” 

It is obviously somewhat of a bust but at least from our perspective, we get this crap out of our apartment and my car, avoid having to transport it to the new house - they plan on having another sale next weekend, so we just leave it. We also pick up this nice book case that they wanted to give us. And as Erin & I note a little bit down the road, it’s only 12:30 - our whole day feels better because we did something productive on a Saturday morning, whereas we’re often just sitting on the couch discussing what to do at this hour.


August 5

-we hang out mostly with SpongeBob on, and I work at the kitchen table on my laptop until clocking out somewhere around eleven.
    -Melissa shows up with grey and white balloons for us and ring pops for everyone. Erin’s getting ready.
    -Amy arrives somewhere around noon

They are the only two who know that Erin and I are getting married today. We need two witnesses, so she went with her two best friends. 

    -Jennifer, Caitlin, and Victoria were supposed to be here then as well but are almost an hour late. It doesn’t really matter because Erin’s taking her sweet ol’ time getting ready. Caitlin & Victoria have their phone taken away and Erin breaks the news to them, but they’re talking and it takes about five times for Erin to repeat it before this sinks in. Victoria jumps up and down and flails her hands and looks around the room at everyone for confirmation; Caitlin wants to know why we didn’t trust her with the secret.
    -Melissa takes a handful of my Lions Of March CDs to stuff into geocaches. She's going to the beach this weekend and it was her idea.
    -we take off for downtown Statesville in a handful of vehicles.  However, an insane Wal Mart traffic crowd (it’s tax free weekend! Yessssssssssssss! Even if you spent $200 on a piece of office equipment, you would save a whopping $14! Totally worth wasting an extra hour or two in traffic!) makes us turn around and head out “the back way,” i.e. out to I-77 via 21, take that back into town and off at Broad Street.

We have made Secret Wedding Soundtrack mix CDs for everyone. These are half actual songs we like (such as Pink Floyd's Echoes as the last track, or Wagon Wheel) and half snickering "inside joke" type picks like Nickelback (Gotta Be Somebody) or Alanis (Ironic). In our car we are actually listening to the disc, and it starts drizzling outside...on our wedding day! Whoa! Isn't that...interesting? Uh yeah, I really do think.

    -at the courthouse, Amy is snapping tons of pictures.
    -the magistrate actually refers to it as a “shotgun wedding”
    -there’s some black dude sitting on a bench in front of the jail, watching all this transpire.
    -I endure endless ribbing later for saying “yes” instead of “I do.”
    -Amy has us pause for some pictures outside again.

After the ceremony, we invite whoever we can rustle up down to the Brixx in Birkdale for dinner. This is still without telling any of them that we've gotten married. Daniel I know is working so unfortunately he cannot make it. My parents were in the middle of packing the car for a trip to the beach and say "this better be good," when I insist they should come down here. Erin and Melissa drive around looking for geocaches while we wait for people to arrive. My parents and Erin's parents both assume that we are going to announce an engagement - are thus astounded to learn we already jumped that gun and tied the knot:

We refuse to smash any cake into each other's faces, but some of our guests are more than happy to do so themselves.

-Tom pulls a salt shaker out of his pocket for the pizza he’s ordered

    -Dad calls me as we’re driving home - they're on their way to the beach finally - and says he just found out that on this day in 1967, Pink Floyd released their first album (not quite true as it turns out - off by one day, but still…). He asks if we planned this and I say no. “Isn’t that ironic!” he concludes, which is especially hilarious because he has no idea about this inside joke Erin and I have about that stupid song. Although it was on the wedding CD we just gave him.

August 6

Erin takes me out geocaching for the first time, around Mooresville. We also hit Rita's for some Italian ices - I don't usually partake but decide to have one today. After this we swing by Daniel's house, for Addison's birthday party. Daniel is working again today, so it's basically just us and then Brandy's extended mob. We don't stay all that long.

August 20

Crazy day working 4 hours at the Davidson store to make up some time, then driving over to River Run Country Club to hand in my paperwork. This will be a fun little part time job on nights and weekends - a nice combination of bartending, banquets, waiting tables in the actual restaurant, catering parties at members' houses, and even working at the pool some. I start on Wednesday.

After this I drop by Mom & Dad's house (they're out of town) to jump in their pool for a millisecond, drink a couple beers. I grab this tiny dresser/TV stand/whatever thing they're giving us, then head back to Statesville. Make a few trips to our new house with my car, taking stuff over there.

August 21

Erin cruises down to Charlotte with Melissa, to meet this Brandon guy that Melissa's just started dating, goof around down there. I make a few more trips back and forth, moving stuff in my car.

August 22

Working at the Hickory store. Then I meet Erin & Melissa at the city building in downtown Statesville, we need Melissa's co-signature for some bizarre reason to avoid a $200 deposit to turn on the freaking water. We are here an eternity. They walk over the ABC store next door while I'm waiting in line, and pick up some liquor. That sounds like a swell idea. I finally make it to the counter at five or ten minutes before 5, the lady is slow as molasses. Mom was going to come up to the apartment to help Erin clean, but Erin says she's in a bad mood and doesn't feel like it. So she tells Mom thanks and cancels.

August 23

I scheduled a personal day because I have to be at the house from 3-5 anyway to wait on the cable guy. Skipping work on a gorgeous day like this feels like playing hookie, it's an awesome feeling. Even if I'm making 6 round trips with the car, wrapping it up at 2:30 with every last item we need moved out of that apartment. Perfect. And we have cable, internet, etc at the house now, as well as a home phone that Erin felt we needed. Who knows, if nothing else it will be easier for people to track me down this way.

September 2

Erin says she had to yell at some kids today and rearrange desks. Then at lunch Melissa blew the whistle because they were too loud, and Erin stood up, yelled some more and told them to tone it down or they were all having a silent lunch.

September 9

An easy night at River Run, from 5 to about 9:30. Erin and Melissa are in Charleston, SC for the weekend, so I stay up to the wee hours playing online poker for a change. It's been a good year, when I have found time to play, if nothing like 2007-09 when I was pretty much doing it constantly. Also, Dad M was planning on making a trip down here, but scuttled those plans due to the threat of hurricane Irene. So he just sent Daniel and me $500 apiece, unexpectedly, since he won't be spending money on that now. Tonight I use some of the loot to order Erin this Derek Jeter shirt.

September 14

Mom's poker game, she wins $270 and they are playing until 2:30am. I don't bother to stop in or call to check on the action, even though nearby (working at River Run), because I'm not off until 11:30 and was told they'd be done playing by then. First we set up for a wedding in the ballroom. Then four of us head over to cater a party at this member's house. 

September 15

Work at Hickory, a coffee from Taste Full Beans. Then stroll over and find that geocache that's hidden in the time clock there on the square. Easy day. Home and ride my bike, then Erin & Melissa get in - they'd been at East Coast Wings. Emily & Victoria stop by to help us clean for this party, and Kym is here briefly too. 

September 16

Our housewarming party. The turnout here is pretty astounding, as it's pretty much standing room only. You never know what to expect with these things. Lots of family, friends, some of our respective coworkers, etc. That really old couple Andy & Ann make it, even. Erin drinks a lot more than I've ever seen from her, is lying on the floor at one point. For the most part we are given gift cards, which is perfect. Susan gives me a speech about "these are for you, too, so don't let Erin spend them all!" in handing me their gift card, meaning our entire collection of them. One of Erin's friends, Teresa, gives us a tree to plant. It's called a Cleveland Select Flowering Pear and is my favorite present.

Joe parks his truck in our back yard, then when they leave, he tries to do so via the park behind us - not realizing it is gated shut at this hour. So then he comes roaring through again a short while later, tears through the back and side yard, out into the street. A handful of us diehards are up late hanging out by a small fire I built. 

October 1

Erin and I ride up to the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival in the lead car, with the rest of her family behind us in their minivan. It's much cooler out this year than the last, with seemingly a ten degree swing if the sun dives behind the clouds. A sign outside a church in North Wilkesboro proclaims GOD IS NOT ON FACEBOOK. We find parking immediately, near the festival's entrance, in some dude's lawn. $5 to do so, because no one wants to park any further away than this. Tom compares walking through this crowd to running back a kickoff return in football.

We run into Jennifer's friend Amanda while here. She has one kid already, and has recently announced being pregnant with the next. “You want a baby brother?” the Walles ask Amanda's kid, “you want a baby girl?” The kid seems unexcited about this prospect either way.

“You want a baby transgender?” Caitlin asks. 

October 2

I plant the tree in our back yard, on the slight hill separating us from the park. 

October 8

Erin and I agree that this is one of our most fun days in a while. It starts out early, with us driving over to Mitchell College, for this training class on working the admissions booth at the Balloon Festival - we volunteered. Sitting through this only takes about an hour, they have donuts and coffee, plus we get a tee shirt. And free admission when the festival rolls around.

It's still only 10am when we leave and I'm honestly feeling like going home to nap (less than 6 hours' sleep each of the last 5 nights) more than anything. But Erin playfully threatens that if we go home now she's not going to want to do anything the rest of the day. So instead we drive from here straight to Greensboro. There's supposed to be all this stuff to check out, tied in with this "17 Days Of Arts" concept, but we can't really find much to get excited about. Even so, we make our our own fun, as is always the case.

The day actually started out with me opening my mail from last night, and finding a $225 check - I'd gotten a letter a couple of months back stating that it was coming, a replacement check of some Wild Oats stock benefits that were supposed to be mailed years ago, but apparently never were. Hilarious. I mean, that company hasn't even existed for about 5 years now. I told Erin she could have it for "mad money," so already we are starting off the day in a good mood.

We drive to this Witherspoon Museum that's supposed to have a traveling exhibit on Blackbeard the Pirate. Except they aren't open yet, so, using the handy GPS device, we drive to a nearby Old Navy where Erin buys a scarf and some shirts. Back to the campus area where that museum is located, we park a couple blocks away and walk - weather's awesome, why not. We stop and check out a couple little indie shops. At one of these, a bookstore, we pick up a hair clip (Erin) and a used old paperback on the Beatles (me, $1.75) before moving on.

As it turns out, we don't even have the right museum, but decide to stay and check it out anyway. There's very little of note here, however. One of the few interesting pieces came from an artist who polled a bunch of people on what they remembered about 9/11/01, and had them record their responses on index cards with an old school typewriter. These he hung from clips on metal wires in two little nooks of this one room. But other than this, not much resonates, and there are no names I recognize here whatsoever outside of Nick Cave - and his contribution consists of a considerably dumb video upstairs where someone (presumably him) dances around in outfits very reminiscent of Yo Gabba Gabba. 

We have the most fun in a corner just beyond that, where they have a computer set up with props you can hold in front of your face, and take pictures, the best of which they print off and hang on the wall. We goof around here awhile, in front of some windows that offer a neat view of the street we've just walked up. Erin also snaps some pictures with her phone.

From here we figure out the right place, and head downtown to this historical museum. But are soon disappointed to learn that the Blackbeard exhibit is a paltry joke located just inside the door. It is free, however, so we walk through the rest anyway, even if Erin maintains a mostly breakneck pace and doesn't pause to read much. There's a huge section on Dolley Madison, some pamphlets featuring O. Henry short stories. A writeup on the guy who invented Vick's VapoRub, and that famous Woolworth's lunch counter where they had a racial riot on their hands decades ago. Also, a seat from the old minor league stadium here (formerly the single A Yankees) where Mattingly and Jeter etc once played, though they have a new stadium now (which we just drove past getting here) that belongs to the single A Marlins.

Now we drive around basically at random looking for somewhere good to eat. Actually pass that famous Woolworth's, and then Natty Green's. Erin remembers eating here once &  that it was great, so we stop, grab a seat on the patio. 
At Natty Green’s we order the Sideways Crab Dip, which is awesome. They serve not quite enough pita triangles and crackers with this, but you can eat the rest with your fork so it’s no big deal. Erin has an avocado burger, pesto pasta salad, and even a Buckshot Amber beer – they make their own here. I order this sandwich called The Cahiba, which is ham, turkey, swiss, and horseradish mayo in grilled bread with chipotle BBQ slathered on the outsides. Our server is a friendly & comical northerner who does his job well, by that I mean tells us what sucks on the menu and what is awesome. Nobody likes the cheesy Bob Evans style waitress insisting, “everything’s awesome!” He says it’s his favorite sandwich here, and it is indeed awesome. I have fries with it, no beer, but end up drinking most of Erin’s anyway.

Within walking distance - though we end up driving there anyway, because we were unclear about the directions - we find two geocaches. One of them is underneath this plaque of Martin Luther King Jr, saying that he was actually scheduled to speak in Greensboro at a nearby church on the day he was shot, but had cancelled because he wasn’t feeling well.

Back to Statesville, where we rest for a couple hours. I wake up vaguely grumpy because I’ve just opened my eyes and Erin decides then to flop on top of me and roll around until I am actually up up and on my feet. But soon enough all is merry and forgotten, we are in my car and driving to Charlotte now. Initially the plan was something in the Cornelius/Huntersville area, except after I get off at exit 25 we think of the Penguin and decide to give it another shot. Neither of us have ever found what it is that everyone raves about. Yet we’re both in good moods and feeling like a drive, so I take the long way down - west of 77.

First we hit up the Smelly Cat coffee shop in NoDa. There are a bunch of little kittens hanging out terrified behind this shed in the dusty lot, one of which Erin has to actually get out of the car to shoo off. Inside the coffee shop she talks to the chick working the counter about various flavors of tea awhile before settling on one she’s happy with, and I of course have a coffee. After downing these, we are off to the Penguin.


October 26

Stopped by Mom’s shop for the first time today after work. She got the credit card machine hooked up this afternoon, plans on opening in the morning. It’s called Deju Vu and is a consignment shop located on the main strip of quaint old stores there in Cornelius. It’s small but cute - I only hope she can do enough business to stay afloat. There’s a shop in the front of the building that’s empty right now but will soon be some kind of hair salon, and then Kathy, Brandy’s aunt whom they are renting this space from, has what amounts to a hostess stand’s worth of space right as you walk in, where she sells embroidered stuff. Mom’s shop really is adorable, though, with her little laptop computer and cash register, a kitchen and bathroom area in back, even wooden porch behind the store to chill out on.

November 10

Erin and I leave for Florida at about 3:45am. I'm taking her to the Harry Potter theme park for her 30th birthday. This also happens to coincide with Paul & Dawn's wedding, so the timing is perfect.

Stop just over into the South Carolina border for gas, and McDonald’s - Erin’s breakfast sandwich is literally cold, and she’s angry but eats it anyway. She only sleeps for pretty much the duration of our short I-26 jog, that was it. Georgia smells horrible of course, but for a smaller stretch than in previous encounters. Erin is ripping on the mix CDs I burned last night, though texting Jennifer cracking up about my title Sad Bastard Country + Other Mellow Greats written with a Sharpie on one of them. Jennifer is hanging out at our house while we’re gone, using Erin’s car, feeding our cats, etc.
At the Florida border we stop at the welcome center for our free cup of juice - orange for Erin, grapefruit for me. When we got out of the car I started to say, “stretch ’em if you got ’em,” which just occurred to me, but decide it’s a cheesy joke and say nothing. Erin’s in a bubbly mood, though, and I love it. I’m looking at a map of the state while waiting on Erin to get out of the restroom, and this friendly old timer asks me where I’m heading, tells me I-4 is a mess to be avoided at all costs, suggests I get off at DeLand and take this “really beautiful” scenic route. Once we get to Jacksonville we turn off at the zoo exit, taking state route 105 east over some bridges, past some X-Files looking white oil domes that belong to BP and Hess, people fishing (mostly off of those bridges), then south on state route 9-A over this enormous bridge with an amazing view. All this so we can get a stamp - or five, actually - in Erin’s National Parks passport book, at Fort Caroline. We also walk through the woods on this sandy path to the fort, where troops of school kids on a tour hoot & holler, pretend to battle with imaginary weapons. “Enemy! Enemy!” some shouted as we approach.

“Wow. They’re getting way too into it, especially considering they don’t even have pretend weapons,” I joke.

“Yeah. You notice who it is getting way too into it, right?” Erin says, “it’s the boys.”

“Boys like to pretend they’re killing each other,” I agree.

Across the street, in a park labeled “Spanish Pond,“ we try to find a geocache, but the GPS on her phone is acting up so we don’t even leave the car. Consulting a map, we decide to now head east on various side roads and state routes a short distance, until we reach A1A. We’re not in any hurry and the interstate is boring.

Right at the beginning of A1A, at Atlantic Beach, we hit pay dirt when Erin spots Poe’s Tavern, a whole bar/restaurant based upon Edgar Allen Poe. All of the burgers on their menu are named after his various works, it has his face plastered here and there, and in the restroom, there are actually laminated pages taken from books acting as the wallpaper, and stories being read aloud emanating from the overhead speakers. Erin has the Annabel Lee, a grilled chicken breast sandwich with crab cake and remoulade sauce on top of it - awesome. I have the Tell-Tale Heart burger, which has bacon and an egg on top. It was pretty good, but I was more impressed with their fries, which are crispy yet soggy somehow, perfect. That and the local Intuition Pale Ale, one glass of that. Our waitress was also really cool and talked to us forever, as we sat just inside the patio, beneath one of the opened garage doors.


Upon reaching Orlando, we check into the room which will be our base of operations this trip. Also of course Erin has me drive her to downtown Disney, where she purchases some sort of trinket.

November 11

Paul & Dawn's wedding. We get up early and drive to Sarasota. The ceremony is held on this floating chapel that I believe is the only of its kind in the country. Everyone climbs aboard and they take us out into the Gulf of Mexico before getting down to business. With some time to kill, Erin and I also explore the beaches a little bit, back on the mainland.

Dinner is held at this steak house type place (although they must have good vegetarian options as well) further down Tamiami, in the southern part of town. Paul's sister Shelly is sitting the next table over, so we chat with her quite a bit. Also talk to Paul's friend David for a couple of minutes out in the parking lot, that's about it.

November 12

At last we get to check out the main attraction, so to speak, this Harry Potter/Universal dealio. The Potter half of the park looks extremely cool, but there's not a ton to do. They have like two rides and one of those is a repurposed roller coaster from whatever this place was before. The other, though, is this 3D offering that is easily one of the most entertaining rides ever. So we hit that one I think three times.

Otherwise, Erin's extremely excited to try butter beer at this one pub type place. It's actually not bad. We also watch some kind of weird ceremony involving the actors that work here. And there are a handful of old-timey-England looking set pieces you can walk into and look around, but that's about it.

At some point we check out this time share presentation, too. This is Erin's idea, and she knows what she's doing. This is not her first rodeo. We sit through their spiel, which isn't all that bad, and they give us $80 in park cash to spend wherever - it has the same buying power as real money, but you have to use it here. So that basically pays for all our meals here today.

The Universal part we check out later, and the highlight here is a fairly awesome Spider-Man ride. Then later we return to the Potter side. Finally conclude our night using up the rest of the park cash at the Hard Rock Cafe.

November 13

Breakfast at the Cracker Barrel right by our hotel (chosen mainly so we can hit this geocache there) and then we are on the road back to home.

November 20
Erin & I have dinner at this Kobe Hero Japanese Steakhouse in Cornelius. It was one of those $25 gift certificates I bought for $2 on The food here is pretty average, though, very bland - the best thing was the tiger roll sushi we have as an appetizer, spicy with those bright red roe on top. It would be easy to claim we came here to celebrate, but the truth is...only on the way home do we realize this is our 2 year anniversary, from when we started dating.
November 21

Erin calls and asks me what soups of the day are, I go over and check (artichoke stew), she has me bring some home. I also go to the mix & match beer section and put together a 6 pack based solely on bottle caps that I don’t think I have.

At home, Erin locks herself out of her car. Her purse is sitting on the passenger seat with the keys visible on top, which makes it all the more frustrating. I bend a clothes hanger and make a loop at the end, try to pop the release knob at the top of the passenger door. No dice. But then with a flashlight, having made the end into more of a hook, I’m having more luck trying to fish her keys out of the purse sitting there on the seat. Some Latino dude that lives up the street shouts out asking if I need any help, then he’s over showing me this strange method for shimmying the window down. But first, he actually manages to hook the keys and bring them clear over to the door, before dropping them down between the seat and the door. So close! Then some black dude who lives across the street comes over, attempts messing around with the clothes hanger & knob method. We actually shimmy the window down a crack, to give him better access. 

Another black kid who is friends with the Latino comes over, says, “I got this, I’ve been locked up for doing this kind of shit,” but actually just stands there, as a moment later the clothes hanger method finally hits pay dirt. Erin’s alarm starts going off & she runs out profusely thanking all of us. The guy across the street gives me a fist bump & introduces himself as Neil, I say I owe them a beer sometime and they walk off.

Inside, Erin makes stuffed mushrooms for her holiday party at work. I make a few dollars playing poker.

November 23
After working all day at Davidson, I pick up a few things for Thanksgiving festivities. Caitlin is still here, she's scheduled until the store closes at 6.

I head over to Mom & Dad’s for a couple of hours. Jackie is in town, we shoot pool, snack on hummus, have a couple beers, etc. From here I drive up to Erin’s parents’ house, all because they are having trouble slicing sweet potatoes. Erin already cut two of her fingers and is sitting at the table in Band-Aids. By the time I show up Caitlin’s home, too, actually all four women are hanging out in the kitchen and Tom’s in his bedroom like always.

November 24
Thanksgiving. Erin thinks it's hilarious & convinces me to wear my crazy tiger shirt. We start out by driving to Mom's house. I bring one of the wine bottles I was able to take home from a recent tasting at the country club – a Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse. Mom & Dad are both impressed & I agree it's very good for a white. Daniel & Brandy show up w/ Holden but not Addison for some reason. Mom is vaguely ticked off because either Jackie or Dad tinkered w/ one of the stove burners while she was off walking Andee, but no one will admit it.  
December 1
Balloon Rally celebration dinner at the Statesville Civic Center. Catered by Glutton’s, the food is really pretty mediocre. Bowtie pasta I don’t eat because it has onions, same with peas (Erin says neither is great). 
December 17
I paint the master bedroom its new grayish blue color, the entire first coat. Everyone agrees it looks amazing. Just some touchup left and that’s it.

Before this I drove Erin down to Charlotte for some two hour TAG class she gets paid to attend. I drop her off at this office complex near university, off of Harris. The plan is to pick her up at noon, as I’m going to run around doing some Christmas shopping. What I actually kill my time with is kind of besides the point - I find what I’m looking for in about forty five minutes, spend about an hour reading at the coffee shop.

December 20
I totally came crashing through the ceiling today. Was in the attic hiding the coat I bought Erin last night and took a wrong step and - BAM! - there is now this giant hole above the washer and dryer. I somehow manage to escape this debacle with only about a papercut sized scrape on my left wrist, and that’s it. But I knew Erin was on her way home from the TAG Xmas party, so a frantic cleanup - I plan to somehow keep this, ahem, under wraps until after I’ve given her the present - and she doesn’t notice anything amiss at all tonight. I even posted on Facebook “I totally just injured myself trying to hide one of Erin’s presents,” which numerous people have commented upon, including her.

In other news, I interviewed today for the Accounts Payable position at Tropical. It went well, I think. The bosses asked me to apply for it, so I'm presumably already a finalist right out of the gate.
December 22
Mike officially announces that I'm taking the new position. In typical HHM fashion, he does this by emailing everybody before anyone even tells me. So this is how I find out as well.

December 24
Xmas party at John & Kym's. Tom gets pink duct tape from Victoria in the Secret Santa deal. I'm not allowed to open my gift from Kym until Christmas morning. I'd gotten Catherine a gift card from CitiTrends and tell her with a straight face that I bought it at the Independence Blvd location & they said she had to use it there. "Huh?" she says, and her face drops, until Erin starts cracking up.
December 25
Talking to Emma on the phone today. She’s rattling off all the presents she’s gotten, including some Barbie house or castle or mansion with “a working elevator!” Under Jill’s direction in the background she explains she’s been eating a lot of ramen noodles lately. When Jill gets on the phone, she tells me she’s tried to correct Emma numerous times, but my daughter is still under the impression she’s going to be swimming a lot when she comes down here this week. 

Later, it's Christmas over at Daniel's. Mom plays message for me of shady Kathy antics concerning her shop. Once again ridic hot in here & this is after Daniel turns down the heat. Some awesome roast beef & horseradish pinwheels Beverly made, & I do have a piece of Mom's cherry cheesecake, but there's no real food food. Very subdued affair even w/ the “Chinese Christmas” idea – we all draw numbers, just as we'd done earlier at Jane's house ($5 there, $25 here). But they didn't want to cap the # of trades, which means the bottle of tequila Erin brought gets swapped around endlessly. Dad ends up w/ my case of canned chili, which I bought at Bi-Lo. 

"Now who the hell did this? A case of chili?" he questions, but nobody speaks up. In my defense I will say now that it's my favorite brand. Come to think of it, we should have just cracked these bad boys open and tossed them on the stove.

Erin gets a nice heated blanket, I a wireless mouse – I think we came out best. Mom, Daniel, Brandy, Beverly, Sherry, & Bruce also played. April & her man & kids are also here but don't participate. Also Brandy's grandma I think, & Addison's dad rolls through to drop her off. But this gathering only starts at 6, and at 8 Brandy puts Holden down to sleep, is shushing people to keep quiet – we decide to just leave instead, as do Dad & Mom. 

Erin & I head back to Jane's house to wolf down Chinese leftovers. Mike & Tom are watching It's A Wonderful Life, which I've somehow not seen one minute of until now. Erin, meanwhile, has seen it, but doesn't know who James Stewart is.


December 27
Erin & Emma begin their week of hanging out. I'm at Tropical in the morning learning my new job, South in the afternoon training my replacement at the old one. Erin calls from her Mom's house, tells me to go home & rest, they will bring over dinner. Then calls after I've been sleeping about an hour, tells me to come over there. I have no gas & no money, waiting till morning to cash my last check because the credit union's been closed 4 straight days now. So Erin drives over w/ $20 she borrows from her mom, follows me to gas station, then we go to her parents' house. Emma's playing her Nintendo DS. 
“She's so beautiful,” Tom says. He adds that she looks like a young Caitlin, “especially the profile.”
December 28
We drive to Mooresville to hang out at Mom & Dad's. Dewane & Mona are in town, as is our cousin Nick Land. They're down from Ohio of course and he's up from Alabama, so this just happens to be a cool coincidence. Although for some reason the only photos I was given are the ones involving us.

December 29

A bunch of us meet up at the Red Robin in Mooresville for dinner. Even Elaine comes down to join us. It's a lot of fun, but just about everything about our experience here is screwed up: asking for coffee like 4 times, getting our own high seat, orders wrong, food taking forever. They attempt to pacify us w/ endless baskets of fries. The manager emerges. Elaine complains & gets a gift certificate.  
But we have been here many times and will surely return many more. They're just having a rough night. At least we have a good time and get a few great photos out of it. 

December 30
It's more difficult to write on the rickety CATS bus than I recall. Today I parked at our Davidson store and took the bus down to Charlotte, so Erin can get my car later & bring Emma to see me at work. The CATS website is still a joke – the schedules still don't match when the bus actually shows up (& times posted at the stops differ from both). Today is my last full day at the HHM, training Dominique. Tues, Wed, Thur, & last Fri I did half days at both. 
Erin has Emma sit at my desk specifically to take these photos. She's already a fan of those little Martinelli apple juice bottles, one of the things she has for lunch. But the only thing she'll eat here is an apple, and this is just so we will give her chocolate:

After I get off here, we ride up to River Run. They drop me off, run around for awhile with Amy & her kids, then stop by to get me when I'm finished working.
December 31
I'm stuck working at the country club late, mostly in the back bar. Some dude even gives the band a $100 bill at the end to stay and play longer. Meanwhile there's a New Year's party over at Mike & Jane's which I miss.

Emma apparently says the fireworks sound "like puzzle pieces dropping." At midnight, she's insanely excited, runs around hugging everybody. Then takes off hat, throws down horn, puts on snuggie and passes out on the couch at 12:01am.