Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rough Rider Way

Over the last few months, I've gotten into the habit of walking and jogging at the Roosevelt-Stanton campus pretty much every day or as close to that as possible (outside Sundays).  It's relatively close, there isn't much car traffic to deal with (crossing the roads), and when I get there I have a choice of 2 all-weather tracks to use for my jogging.  Only my ankle sprain in June derailed my walking for about a month and my jogging for a little longer than that (much to my dismay).  I started when the weather first started getting a little warmer back in May (was very late this year) and lately have been going in the evening so that it's not as hot and the sun isn't scorching me too bad.  Plus, after a certain time, Roosevelt Stadium is covered in shadows from the trees, so I can do my jogging there.  The track at the adjacent Stanton Stadium has absolutely no shade at all, so I only jog there when it's dusk or cloudy.

Roosevelt Stadium, which got a new scoreboard and new
goalposts in the last few weeks!
Anyway, all that walking, especially the unshaded parts, definitely got me thinking.  Now, for those who don't know me very well, while I love music and teaching, it wasn't my first passion.  No, through elementary, middle, and much of high school I had every intention of being an architect.  While I obviously didn't go down that career path, I still love architecture and designing buildings.  Too often I find myself looking over a building and renovating it in my head; things I would change, additions I would make, etc.  That has definitely been true for Roosevelt as well.  Not only did I spend tons of time as a student there, but now as an employee I have even more time in there.  These next few posts I'll share just some of my ideas; basically, the ideas I think could be feasible versus my more grandiose pipe dreams for Roosevelt High School.  The first has to do with what most people know as "Roosevelt Drive".

We could have a special street sign like this (since it's not a city road)
or just use the traditional green and white Kent street sign format,
but either way it needs a street sign!
The road that goes across the entire Roosevelt Campus is known colloquially as "Roosevelt Drive".  It goes west from a signaled intersection with North Mantua Street (SR 43) to an intersection with Hudson Road and Robert Drive.  The road is not part of the city of Kent's road system--it's maintained by the school district--and has no street signs.  As a result, it's often omitted from published maps of Kent and some of the older maps identify the road as the "Roosevelt Service Road" if it's on there at all.  I've seen Google Earth label it as "Robert Drive" since it lines up with Robert Drive at Hudson Road.  In any case, it has no official name and no signs to identify it.  That's the first thing I'd like to change.  I'd like to see it officially named "Rough Rider Way" complete with street signs at each end of the road, whether they be special red street signs with the Roosevelt "R" logo or the typical green Kent street signs with the city's tree logo.  Basically something so it can be identified by anyone, especially people from out of town, for the purpose of giving directions.  I chose "Rough Rider Way" because Kent already has a "Roosevelt Avenue" in the southwest part of the city, so having a Roosevelt Drive and a Roosevelt Avenue in two different parts of town could be somewhat confusing.  Plus, the road at the high school includes Stanton Middle School, which also uses the Rough Rider mascot and it's how you get to Roosevelt Stadium and all the athletic facilities.  I've seen many other schools use their team name as the name for the road and I must admit I was initially inspired by these metal collectible "street signs" I've seen in some of the classrooms that say "Rough Rider Way".

Wouldn't this look much better with
trees lining the sidewalk?
The other things I'd like to see along this newly-named Rough Rider Way are some trees!  Walking along that road so many times now, I have lost count how many times I wish I had some shade.  Most of the road is completely devoid of trees.  On one part of the road, there can't be any trees because it parallels the main water line for the city of Akron.  But the side of the road that has the sidewalk can definitely have some trees and the part that runs almost directly east-west could probably have trees on both sides.  What I'd like to do is set up a program kind of like those brick-paving fundraisers where you can buy a personalized brick.  Instead, you have it set up where people, families, businesses, and other organizations can pay to have a tree planted along this Rough Rider Way.  It could even be tied in with the Urban Forestry class at Roosevelt not only for the physical act of planting and caring for the new trees, but also the research of what kinds of trees would work best for lining the road and even some research on what trees will turn red in the fall.  Anyway, the cost would include the tree (maybe have more than one choice) and some kind of sign or plaque for a personalization aspect.  I proposed this as an option for Kent's new Veterans Memorial Park, but I submitted it late and they went another direction anyway.  Either way, I think not only would it create a shaded area for those that walk along the road (students walk between the two schools all the time and I'm hardly the only resident who uses the campus for exercise!), but in the fall, it would be quite a sight to have a whole line of trees on Rough Rider Way turn a blazing red.  Added to that, we're beautifying the campus and hey, this IS the Tree City!

I recognize that there would be drawbacks, mostly maintenance issues and the removal of leaves in the fall.  It would be interesting to see what kind of discussion or response such a plan would get if it were ever proposed.  But in terms of cost, this would be largely self-supported.  About the only cost would be the street signs for Rough Rider Way.    
Map of campus, ca. 2005, showing in yellow where I would like to see trees and where they seem possible.  The south side of the part of "Rough Rider Way" where it runs diagonally is over the main water line for the city of Akron, so we couldn't plant a row of trees there.  The line runs diagonally across the entire campus.  There could also be trees on parts of the other roads on campus if the program were popular enough!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tree Top Villas

Front view of our unit at Tree Top Villas
I'm pretty sure this is my last post related to the big family trip to Pennsylvania, but I did want to post a little about the place we stayed for the week we were there.  One of the great things about the web tracker I have on this blog from (it's on the right column a little ways down the page) is not only telling me where my blog traffic is coming from, but many times it tells me why they came to the site in the first place.  When you click on "real-time view" you can often see what browser the reader used, what time they visited, and if they came via a weblink, what website that came from.  If they came from a search engine, it will usually say what search term they were using that my blog came up under.  As a result, I wanted to make this post for those who might do a search for the resort we stayed, the Tree Top Villas in Bushkill, PA.  That's why I did my recent post on the whole AT&T U-Verse thing too; just in case it could be of help to someone searching the world wide web!

Rear view of our unit
As I said in my recent post "Five-year photo", my grandma selected Tree Top Villas about a year ago after my sister had looked through every available property we could go to and evaluated the nearby attractions and resort amenities.  We had 18 total people (though had a friend of my sister for one night before we took her to JFK) and had 4 total units.  The unit I stayed in with my 3 siblings was a 3-bedroom unit, which apparently are fairly recent additions to the complex.  We had 6 people in the unit (7 for one night) and it had 6 total beds, though it can comfortably sleep 8 people in the beds.  The master bedroom has a king-sized bed and one of the upstairs rooms has a queen-sized bed.  The third bedroom (where I slept) had 2 double beds and then there's a loft area overlooking the living room that had 2 twin beds.  There was a couch bed too, so total, it could technically sleep 10 people if absolutely needed.  In addition, we also had 6 family members in an adjacent 3-bedroom unit (it was right next to ours and was simply a mirror-reflection of it), 2 in a 2-bedroom unit not too far from us, and then my grandparents were with an aunt and uncle in a 2-bedroom unit on the opposite side of the property from us.  I was never in either of the 2-bedroom units, so can't really comment on them.  My grandma thought theirs was difficult for people their age (my grandparents are in their 80s) because it had a lot of stairs.  Their unit, according to my aunt, was also much older and not in the best of shape.  The other 2-bedroom unit, from what I heard, was newer and in better shape but was the same basic floorplan.

View from the front door
I can comment on our unit, though!  Overall, I liked it.  The layout was nice and open and as soon as you walk in, you're greeted with a nice dining area, an open kitchen behind it, and a very nice staircase going up to the bedrooms.  The loft overlooking the living room was a nice touch, though I'm not really a big fan of the beds being in the loft.  I'd much rather have the beds be in an actual bed room.  One feature that our unit had that the adjacent unit did not was a few extra windows.  That was because our unit was on the end of the group (there were 4 units together), so it could have a few side windows instead of just on the front and back.  For someone like me, that was an added touch, plus the window we had at the top of the stairs provided me with one of those "memorable moments" from the trip.  I was opening the mini-blinds to it one morning and my  20 month-old nephew was coming up the stairs with his mom (my sister) and saw me opening it.  His face lit up and he said "Windows!  Yeah windows!" and went over to look out.  I like windows too, but I've never seen anyone get that excited for them!  Just think, if we had been in the adjacent unit (which obviously didn't have a window at the top of the stairs like that) I wouldn't have been able to experience that fun moment.  Anyway, there were quite a few windows on the front and back, so you could have your privacy, but still let lots of natural light in.  All the rooms had a ceiling fan too, which I very much appreciated!  The furniture was good enough and having a washer and dryer (and dishwasher) was a nice touch.  I never used the washer and  dryer, but my sisters did.

The columns as seen from the front door
There were a few things that I didn't care for, most of which are quite minor and cosmetic.  First, the way the unit was designed had these stylish columns right along the main hallway when you came in.  I like columns and all, but these were placed in such a way that they narrowed that hallway considerably.  While it seemed they were structurally necessary, I could see that they could've easily been placed further out or not used at all without compromising the structural integrity of the 2nd floor.  The master bedroom has an unusual layout too.  It has its own bathroom with a shower, but it also has a whirlpool and sauna that are actually part of the bedroom.  I just found it odd.  While yes, for the most part the people using the master bedroom will be the only people using the whirlpool and sauna, that's not always true, plus it makes the whole bedroom humid and steamy when it's being used.  I would much rather have that be part of the bathroom (which was a separate room attached to the bedroom) than part of the bedroom.  The other thing I was disappointed with was that many of the technology things, like the TVs and phones, were pretty dated.  Each bedroom and the living room had a TV (the one in my room would not change channels at all), but they were older TVs with the old 4:3 format instead of a widescreen.  I could understand the bedrooms maybe not having new widescreen TVs, but just putting one in the living room would instantly update the room without changing anything else.  The TVs weren't just old-looking, though, they were starting to look fuzzy and have picture quality problems too.  I know, the TVs don't make or break it and we certainly don't come out there to watch TV, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and relax while watching TV or a movie, so having a TV that's in good shape (and at least CLOSE to as good as what I have at home) is much appreciated.  The light switches were also in somewhat bizarre places for some of the rooms and the fans were controlled by those round dimmer switches from the 1980s.  The bedroom doors have closers on them, so the only way I could keep the door open to prevent the room from being absolutely freezing from the air conditioning, was to prop it open.  I didn't really understand the point of having the doors do that, and it was only the bedroom doors, not the bathroom doors.  

View from the loft
My biggest complaint was the Internet service there.  The resort has access to wireless Internet, but only via AT&T hotspots, not a wireless network of its own.  As a result, if you don't have AT&T at home you can opt to pay for Internet service to access the hotspot, or like us, you can log in using your AT&T U-Verse account.  While it worked out for us, even so the entire complex was using the same hotspot.  As a result, Internet was very slow, and that was after the headache of just getting online in the first place!  For the amount of money people are paying to stay there, decent Internet service isn't too much to ask.  Again, like TV, it's not why we come there, but it's how most people stay in touch and connected these days.  My brother, for instance, still had to work while he was there, so he needed Internet access.  It's not that expensive to set up a simple wireless network that can properly handle the traffic from the complex, and they could even add a small fee to the bills and no one would even notice or care.  Instead, it was like stepping back in time about 15 years to the days of long-distance (there was even a charge to make local calls!) and slow Internet (the speed was almost as slow as dial-up).

Master bedroom with sauna, whirlpool, and fireplace
The complex had the amenities I expected.  It's built around a golf course, so those that like to golf were happy.  There was at least one miniature golf course there as well.  The pools were decent.  I only went swimming twice, but when I did they seemed adequate.  I believe there are 4 pools total.  Each is in an indoor-outdoor pair and then the one closest to us had a hot tub.  I did like how the pools had towels to use so you didn't need to bring your own (though we figured that out after we brought our own).  With each pool complex was also a game room with a few video games and some other game options too.  I obviously had plenty to keep me occupied outside the resort, so I really didn't use a lot of the amenities to really evaluate them.  Compared to other places we have stayed, they were right what I expected.  Nothing glamorous or exciting, but not in bad shape or awful either.  

Living room with aforementioned TV
Breakfast area...window on left was one of
the "extra" windows we had because the
unit was on the end of the row.
Living room looking into kitchen and breakfast area
Stairway above the dining area.  I loved the curved railing!

Upstairs.  The door on the far right was where my room was

Loft area overlooking living room
The room I stayed in

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hello New York!

So much has happened the last few weeks, now I'm finally able to catch up on blogging.  My last post related to my most recent trip is about my 2 fun visits to New York City on July 31st and August 3rd.  I've already talked about the nightmare trip on August 1st, so no need to go there again!  Anyway, ever since I found out that the trip was going to be in eastern PA within driving distance to New York I knew I would make at least one trip to the city while I was there.  As time grew closer I decided to make a trip to New York on my own.  What transpired was a lot of fun (and a lot of walking)!

PATH Train from Newark to the WTC
Back in 2009, while my brother was still living in the Washington, DC area, I took a trip to see him on my Spring Break during student teaching.  I didn't really do a whole lot while there (I was mostly just getting out of town and relaxing), but one of the days I drove his car to the nearest Metro station and took the Metro into town and just spent most of the day visiting things I wanted to see and enjoying the scenery.  I also got a lot of great pictures.  Well, with that in mind, I wanted to do something like that in New York; just take a day and go explore the city by myself and not worry about anyone else.  Initially I was going to park in Jersey City or Newark and take the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train into Manhattan, but a friend of mine told me if I was going in on Sunday I could probably drive into Manhattan and find on-street parking.  To make a long story short, he was right and amazingly I found on-street parking for free.  Granted, when I crossed the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan I started thinking to myself "what the heck am I doing?!?" but I finally managed to maneuver my way through the river of traffic and I found parking on a residential street between 5th and 6th Avenues.  First thing after parking was I double checked to make sure it was even a legal space to park (it was) and then I found a subway station.  After paying some $26 to ride the London Subways back in 2007, finding out that the NYC Subway was only $2.25 for every time you enter the system (unlimited transfers), it felt practically free!  I got on the first train that came and took it to the end of the line, which was City Hall.  Just FYI, though, on-street parking is only available in a lot of places on Sunday.  Where I parked the sign said "No parking Except Sundays".

Finally got some pictures with the Brooklyn Bridge!
I had a great time re-introducing myself to the city.  I hadn't been to New York since I was in middle school.  My dad took my sisters and me on an East Coast trip in 1996 which included stops in Hershey, Valley Forge, Philadelphia, and New York.  We actually left the van in Philly and took the Amtrak train to New York and stayed there, I think, 3 days in a hotel along 8th Avenue.  In any case, a lot has changed since 1996 as anyone can imagine.  Most of the places I explored I ended up visiting later when I came back on August 3rd with my sisters, dad, and brother-in-law.  It didn't bother me though because I could be somewhat of a guide.  Being able to use the subway system again got me familiarized with the whole map system they use (it's not easy to read quick if you aren't familiar with it), so I was much more of a help on the 3rd.  I was also able to meet up with a friend from who lives in Queens.  He showed me around a bit and it was great to meet him!

New 1 World Trade Center under 
construction in Manhattan
Seeing the World Trade Center site for the first time since 2001 was surreal.  I vaguely remember it from the trip in 1996, where we took the elevator up to the 107th floor of the South Tower to the observation deck.  We couldn't go on the roof that day because of high winds (which we got to experience on the Empire State Building observation deck!).  I remember being up in the tower a lot more than the plaza around it.  Somewhere I have pictures I took of it, but they're in a box I have no idea where!  Anyway, seeing the massive construction site and remembering being there in '96 and seeing what I saw on the news in 2001, it was hard to believe it was the same place.  September 11th is a day that anyone who lived through and was aware of what was going on just never forgets.  I was showing some kids at Roosevelt a documentary about it back in May.  The same emotions I remember from that day were resurfacing as I watched the video.

Manhattan Temple
It was cool to see the Manhattan LDS Temple, right across from Lincoln Center and only a block from Central Park.  Both trips I went to the park via the 66th Street Subway Station, so I saw the temple both days.  It's not the most spectacular temple, but it fits in without totally blending it.  Kinda cool to see Angel Moroni on a spire in the middle of Manhattan!  Both trips were a lot of fun.  Being there solo was just a chance for me to be on my own and go at my own pace.  It was also a chance for me to be alone, which I really don't get a lot of these days.  The trip with my dad, sisters, and brother-in-law was fun too getting to spend time with them and seeing all the sites.  It was also nice having been there a few days earlier so I had a little bit of familiarity with where everything was.  The laminated map I got from my friend (who also recommended driving into Manhattan on Sunday) was a HUGE help!!

Vesey Street at the WTC site
Couple things I did learn: 1st, New Yorkers in general are very aggressive drivers.  Not just New York City, but the entire metro area.  They won't honk or swear at you if you just barge over into their lane or drive close to them (especially in congestion), but don't go slow.  Going slow is the ultimate sin in New York driving.  Keep up with traffic.  Don't drive like that in Ohio though.  We'll think you're nuts and probably give you the finger if you cut us off or drive too close like that!  Next, I also learned that I never really want to drive in New York again.  It's so slow (SOOOO much congestion everywhere) and frustrating.  Traffic congestion is one of the quickest ways to drive me insane.  I'm just not sure why anyone would ever commute into New York by car.  If I ever lived in the NYC area, I'd definitely live near a subway line or a train line.  Not only is traffic absolutely miserable, but there are tolls galore on pretty much every bridge and tunnel (at least in one direction).  The tolls are cheaper for residents and those with the automated EZ-Pass, but still...that can add up in a hurry!  I also learned that for me, New York is a great place to visit.  Keyword VISIT.  It made me even more grateful for living in good old Kent, Ohio and the whole road system we have in the Cleveland area.  It's not because I think New York is a horrible place; New York is a great place, but it's definitely not for me.

On the subway
Anyway, a great couple of trips sandwiched around one of the worst driving experiences of my life!  I'm glad I was able to go to New York and hope my next visit is in less than the 15 years between the first and second visits!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five-year photo

Nate and me during picture time...thanks to my cousin
Lindsay for this great picture!
Although it seemed a bit overshadowed by my car problems, I did actually have a great time on the trip to Pennsylvania that was mainly to celebrate my Ridinger grandparents' 60th anniversary and to get our traditional five-year photo.  This year, we all met at the Tree Top Villas in Bushkill, Pennsylvania, which is right along the Delaware River in eastern PA.  Being less than 2 hours from New York City resulted in 3 trips there for me, 2 to sight-see and the other being that horrific adventure to and from JFK airport that I mentioned in my previous post.

This trip was set up about about 2 years ago when my grandma first started looking into where to have the family gather for their 60th anniversary and the photo.  The site was selected about a year ago after my sister had requested we go somewhere else besides the traditional Lake Lure, North Carolina location.  She looked over all the options and made a list of several that had amenities and attractions she liked and my grandma picked the one in Pennsylvania.  My grandparents' anniversary is actually in June, but the last 3 "big ones" (50th, 55th, and 60th) we've celebrated with these big family trips.  Outside of my siblings, pretty much all of the family lives in Ohio, my aunt and uncle in Virginia Beach being the exception.  And in Ohio, we're all in Kent or near Kent, so we see each other pretty regularly.  The five-year photo, which has been a family tradition since the 1960s, has had quite a history, especially the last few!

2001 photo at Old Key West in the Disney World complex.
My brother was on his mission at the time.
In 2001 we all went to Florida for grandma and grandpa's 50th.  I always had to include we weren't going down there because they were already down there, but all of us were taking a trip there together since most people seemed to assume since it was for my grandparents, they must already live in Florida!  That trip was actually in June, so was right after around their anniversary.  I drove down with them that year and was the only one with them on their actual anniversary.  I remember we had a nice lunch right on the beach in Flagler Beach, Florida that day before getting to Orlando where we stayed for the week.  That was the first time we had ever done the photo "on location" (i.e. not in Ohio) and the first time we ever all wore matching t-shirts (which my sister Becky designed) instead of more formal wear.  That year, all the shirts were yellow for the "golden" anniversary.  It was the 2nd extended-family trip we had taken, gathering in North Carolina 2 years earlier.  It was also the first time we did the photo as part of my grandparents' anniversary.  Before 2001, we did the photo irregardless to when their anniversary was.  Instead, we just did it whenever the family could get together, which was often in the summer, but not always.  The 1996 photo, for instance, was done in November.    

Unedited 2006 photo in Lake Lure, NC
The next trip, 5 years later in 2006, was in Lake Lure, North Carolina.  That's where my grandparents' regular time share is, so they are down there once every year.  My siblings and I had been there twice before, in 1994 and for the big get-together in 1999.  The difference for the photo in 2006 was that my grandma wanted us to wear color-coordinated t-shirts that separated us by family.  That way it was easier for my grandma to tell her friends who everyone was and who they belonged to.  Of course, the day we took the photo it was about 95 degrees and humid, plus we lacked a professional photographer to really position us to get the best shots (which was also true this year, oh well).  It was so hot, we all just wanted to get the picture and get out of there.  My brother had to photoshop quite a bit of sweat off several of the shirts in the picture!

Unedited 2011 photo with spaces left for those missing
This year's photo was similar to 2006 in that we were again in color-coordinated shirts.  The difference this year was who wore what colors.  My immediate family was the only one who didn't change (blue), and that's due to both my youngest sister Becky and me having blue as our favorite color.  The other difference was that Becky screen-printed  the word "FAMILY" on the back of each shirt, with the letters made up of each of our names.  We also had 2 people missing from the photo this year (a cousin and my sister-in-law), so they will be photoshopped into the picture later.  When my brother was missing from the 2001 photo (he was in Hungary on his LDS mission), my grandma simply got a picture of him wearing the yellow t-shirt after he got home (he got home later that summer), cut it out in an oval around his face, and then pasted it on the actual picture.  I guess you can call that an "old fashioned photoshop"!  Anyway, as this year's photo looks now, there are just missing spaces in the picture.  Of the 8 grandkids in the family, half them are from my immediate family.  Now that we've added 2 spouses and a child to that plus my dad is engaged, the blue people (I referred to us as the "Smurfs") kind of dominate the picture, even as we tried to spread out.

My siblings and me Brady Bunch-style!
There was some discussion as to whether this will be the last 5-year photo.  While I doubt we'll be doing this mass vacation again, I don't anticipate not doing the photo in 5 years unless both grandparents have passed on.  While it's certainly possible (both are in their 80s), my great-grandma lived to 95, so I'm expecting at least my grandma to live another 10 years or so (if not longer) and it wouldn't surprise me if my grandpa made it another 5.  If he does, he'll be 92 at the next picture!  Either way, I expect at least one more with the extended Ridinger family and then we'll probably break off into individual families as we will most likely have a lot more spouses and kids in the next photo anyway!  That seems to be the evolution of the photo as it originally started out with my great-grandparents getting a family photo of their kids and grandkids.  The first four-generation photo was the 1981 picture with my brother.  As the respective families of my grandmother and her brother grew, the photo changed in 1986 and just included my great-grandparents and the children and grandchildren of my grandma.  This year's photo with my nephew Nathan was the first four-generation photo since 1996, the last photo my great-grandma was in.

Back of this year's shirt
Anyway, I'm sure you're all fascinated by the history of the Ridinger family photo, but there you have it.  All in all a great trip, plus it was great having all of my siblings together again, an event which happens now only once a year if that.  My next posts will have more about my side trips to New York and where we stayed in PA.  Outside that disaster coming back from JFK (no, I didn't take pictures!) I had a great time visiting the Big Apple for the first time in 15 years!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Roller coaster

So in my last post I alluded to the "roller coaster" I was in the midst of when This is Kirtland! opened at the beginning of July.  Basically, it was just a series of events one after the other that took me from the end of June to the middle of August.  Well, here I am in the middle of August and that roller coaster has basically come to an end, but in ways I never thought or hoped!  Don't worry, I'm still OK and overall the "ride" was fun, but there were some unexpected surprises along the way that I could've done without.

With Katie at Camp Pennyroyal in Kentucky on July 23
Soon after the show was over I went to Nashville with my Mom to visit my brother and sister-in-law.  While we were there we also took a side trip to visit my sister at the summer camp she was working at in Kentucky, about a 2-hour trip from my brother's.  While we were down south, the weather was hotter than hades down there and even here, part of that huge heat wave that covered most of the US.  Thankfully, I was able to stay inside through most of it and have a relaxing time in Nashville.  It was also nice to visit my sister and meet all the people she was connected with at camp.

We got home from that Monday, July 25th, and then I had a few days before I had to get ready for my next adventure, the Ridinger family get-together in Bushkill, Pennsylvania.  Before I left for that I had most of the week to myself and even helped my mom teach kickball to 2 cub scouts (it's not easy with just 3 people!).  I also discovered that all 4 of my tires needed replaced, so I had that done Friday during the day, the same day my sister Becky was visiting with my brother-in-law and my nephew (they were here to come to the get-together in PA too).  Little did I know that would be the least of my car's problems soon!  On Friday night (the 29th) I had the opportunity to "reprise" my role as Lorenzo Snow as part of the Kirtland Stake's Youth Conference.  We had several of the cast members come back and get into costumes to portray their characters in Historic Kirtland.  My role was that of tour guide and I took my group to 4 different places in Historic Kirtland where different characters talked to the groups.  It was a lot of fun even though it was suuuuuper humid that night.  Because of that commitment, I had decided to put off getting a haircut until after I did that (though no one else did so), so the next morning I finally got a haircut and it felt absolutely wonderful!

In Manhattan at Battery Park with the new 1 WTC rising
 behind me, July 31, 2011.
After the haircut, I headed off to Pennsylvania and made the 6-hour trip along I-80 to a resort called Tree Top Villas in the little town of Bushkill, PA, right along the Delaware River and the border with New Jersey.  That trip was uneventful and very smooth.  The next morning (after staying up late to talk to my brother!) I drove myself to New York City (about 2 hours away) and amazingly parked for free on the streets of Manhattan.  I had a great time visiting New York for the first time since 1996 and doing so by myself.  I met up with a friend of mine there and we hung out for the evening before I headed back to the resort.  I'll definitely blog more in detail about that as well as the 2nd trip to NYC a few days later with my dad, sisters, and brother-in-law.  The next day was the big 5-year family photo, which went OK I guess.  Later that day I took my sister and her friend to the JFK airport in New York so her friend could go back home to the England.  Getting there was somewhat of a struggle, mostly though traffic, but getting back was a nightmare.  What should've been a 4-5 hour round-trip turned into an 9 hour round-trip.  Part of it was me missing a turn and not being totally sure where I was headed on Long Island's antiquated Parkway System of roads.  The other factor was the absolutely horrible traffic.  It seemed no matter which way we went there was total gridlock.  I cannot stand traffic congestion for long periods of time, so I was going crazy.  There were points it felt like we were never going to get home.

New York Stock Exchange, August 3
Just when it seemed like we were finally back on track and clear of the traffic, then things REALLY got interesting.  I had begun to notice that it seemed like I was having to push harder on the brakes while were constantly stopping and going.  We came to the Triborough Bridge (between Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan) and I was trying to get the toll out and bumped into the lady in front of me.  Thankfully nothing happened as a result to either car (I was obviously not going very fast since I had been in line forever), but I then noticed that the brakes went completely to the floor.  I thought I had pretty much lost the brakes completely and then I have this toll worker telling me I need to slow down since it "coulda been a lot worse."  At that point I was so tired and irritated and now worried because I didn't know if I had brakes that I just nodded and drove away, albeit slower (which made someone honk their horn at me...New Yorkers HATE it when you go slow for anything).  I wanted to say "Slow?!?  I've been stuck in your $%*@*%$ city for 5 hours going 5 miles per hour and you wanna tell me to slow down?!?"  Anyway, next I had to cross the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey and used the emergency brake just to make sure.  I debated pulling off and calling AAA but at that point I just wanted to get home, so once we got across the bridge and back onto I-80, I simply was a little slower and kept my distance from any car in front of me.  I did have minimal use of the regular brakes; it just took much more effort on my part.  I came to find later it was basically that the brake boosters were out, but I still had brakes.  We finally made it back to our condo at like 11:15 after leaving around 2:30.  I pretty much lost it with my sister.  I was physically and mentally exhausted.

Times Square, August 3.  I absolutely love this picture!
Well, I figured there was obviously a leak in the brake line, so two days later I took the car into a local dealership to have it looked at.  I left it there as I went back to New York with my dad, sisters, and brother in law.  Well, of course I come to find that not only is the ENTIRE brake system rusted (on a 6 year-old car no less), but that the work would take me into the next week.  Too bad it was Wednesday and I was due to leave Friday.  Initially I said go ahead and do it, but then after talking to Mom (cell phone reception in Manhattan is actually HORRIBLE!) and others decided not to.  There was no way I could stay there with the car and no way to tow it back without renting a U-Haul truck.  My AAA towing only got me 100 miles and I was 350 miles from home.  I ended up hiring a company to have it shipped back here to Kent.  It cost me the same as if I had rented a U-Haul truck and towed it back myself ($350).  The car was delivered Tuesday and work started on it Thursday (for less than the original estimate too).  Shockingly, the car was done today (Friday) and that included some other work that needed to be done.

The last part of my roller coaster wasn't that bad as I had two more performances.  The day I got back from Pennsylvania, I had about 20 minutes to change and then my mom and I went up to Kirtland to sing in the Kirtland Temple for the Joseph Smith, Sr.-Lucy Mack Smith Family Reunion going on that entire weekend.  We sang the 2 number that we sang at the 175th anniversary of the temple's dedication back in March and then did some of the actual hymns performed at the temple's dedication.  I was sooooo tired and irritated at that point, but it's always nice to sing in the Kirtland Temple.  I also performed again for the same group at a dinner they had in Mayfield, Ohio (very close to Kirtland) with some of the cast members from This is Kirtland!  I performed "Lorenzo's Song with Rylee Mitchell, who played my sister Eliza R. Snow in the show.  Other cast members performed 2 other songs from the show.  It was nice to see a few cast members again and sing that song one last time.