Entries 575 - 551

ENTRY #575
DATE:  06/29/17 (Thursday)
SUBJECT:  One more day...

     Woohooooo!!! I have to get through only one more day and then I will be ON VACATION! Once I "clock out" tomorrow at 5:00pm, I'll be a free woman 'til July 10th! And I can't wait! We might even close early tomorrow, not sure yet, but that's the rumor as of right now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that 'cause I've got a lot to do to prepare for this vacation...
     On the way home, I have to gas up JEEP ROMULUS then make a quick stop at City Line Florist. Once I get home, I have to finish packing then load up the Jeep real quick. I have to empty all my trash cans and lug it down to the dumpster so it won't stink up my apartment when I'm gone. I have to check the weather again so I can decide if I'm gonna run the air-conditioners for the cats the entire time I'm gone or just leave the windows open for them. I've gotta leave out extra food and water for the cats and scoop out their litter box. I have to eat dinner, talk to Steve, and pick which books I'm bringing with me. I've gotta charge up my phone and the MP3 player. And then, finally, I have to get in the shower to wash off all remnants of WORK and then get to bed as early as possible.
     I'm getting up at 3:00am [again] on Saturday morning to make my second trip to Hamburg to visit The Friar. I can't believe I'll be seeing him [again!] in a couple of days and I haven't even finished the blog entry about the first visit yet, LOL!
     I'm not sure what we're gonna be doing this visit 'cause we haven't really talked about it much. The only things I've mentioned to him as possibilities are Stedman's Bluff on Goat Island so I can see/photograph the Nikola Tesla statue; maybe Niagara Falls for the same reason (there's another Tesla monument there); but the one thing I'd really like to do is The Butterfly Conservatory in Ontario. When he brought me to the Floral Clock (the last time I went out to see him), I saw the signs for the Butterfly place and I thought it sounded pretty cool; and since we both enjoy taking pictures, I'm sure a butterfly exhibit would offer up some awesome photo-ops! So... we'll see. Honestly, I don't care what we do... as long as I'm spending time with him, I'll be happy!
     I'm coming back home on Tuesday, the Fourth of July, and as for the rest of the week(?), it's kind've up in the air. Steve and I were going to see Hamilton on Broadway on Wednesday, the fifth, but he has since changed his mind and he's sold the tickets... which now gives me another free day.
     I know my Mom wants me to visit for at least one day. I think she primarily wants me to come so she can get a break from the puppy, Bailey. The new dog has turned out to be quite a handful, LOL, and I think she wants me to wear out the puppy so the puppy will sleep a little longer. She also needs me to show her how to do some stuff on the computer. For some reason, she can never remember how to move photos from her camera to the computer. I've shown her numerous times through the years but she never writes it down. This time I will write out step-by-step directions for her!
     I'm also debating whether or not to take a day-trip to New Hampshire to visit my Dad. He usually likes a couple days notice before I show up, so I don't know if visiting him at this point is going to happen. Plus, I also need some relax time before I head back to work, so, I dunno, we'll see. I may be trying to cram too much into one week, LOL.....

ENTRY #574
DATE:  06/28/17 (Wednesday)
SUBJECT:  So Many Books; So Little Time...

     I've gotta stop browsing around in Barnes & Noble stores. I have books piled all over the place, LOL. It's really getting out'a hand. I just can't seem to help myself, though, 'cause there are just so many great books out there and I wanna read them all!
     The thing is.... my reading ability used to be fast enough to keep up with my purchasing ability. That is no longer the case thanks, in part, to other hobbies fighting for my attention -- scrap booking, coloring, this blog, and occasional attempts at making jewelry now and then. My reading time has dwindled down to about an hour and a half a day, when it used to be four or five hours a day. Sad...
     I've also realized that my reading habit has changed as well. Ever since I was a kid, I would NEVER start a new book before finishing the one I was currently reading. It was just a little idiosyncrasy of mine that developed into a general rule, LOL. That's no longer the case either. LOL, I am currently in the middle of EIGHT books... and I'm not entirely sure how or why this has happened. I don't know if it's a problem with my attention span or with my will power. I think it's a will power issue... and when I bring new books home, there always seems to be one that piques my interest a little too much and I end up starting it right away, totally abandoning the one I was reading before.
     I'm 38 pages into Robin Williams: When the Laughter Stops by Emily Herbert.
     ...182 pages into A Deadly Tail by Dixie Lyle.
     ...222 pages into I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter.
     ...506 pages into my 2nd-time-through of Roots by Alex Haley.
     ...228 pages into The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell.
     ...40 pages into Father of the Fatherless: The Authorized Biography of Father Nelson Baker by Richard Gribble.
     ...91 pages into the historical-fiction novel Tesla: A Portrait With Masks by Vladimir Pistalo.
     ...and 167 pages into Grace (Eventually): Thoughts On Faith by Anne Lamott (which is one of the new books I just bought on Monday after the JEEP ROMULUS debacle with the AC/Vent). I'm really trying to stick to this one to the end 'cause it IS really good.... however... there are two other books I bought that same night that I'm dying to dive into. One of them is a biography about Meryl Streep (whom I adore!) and the other one is called The Company of the Dead by David J. Kowalski and it sounds awesome! I mean, seriously, check this out --- this is what it says on the back cover...

Can one man save the Titanic?

March 1912. A mysterious man appears aboard the
Titanic on its doomed voyage, his mission to save
the ship. The result of his efforts is a world where
the United States never entered World War One,
thus launching the secret history of the 20th century.

April 2012. Joseph Kennedy, grand-nephew to
John F. Kennedy, lives in an America occupied
on the East Coast by the Germans and on the West
Coast by the Japanese. He is one of six people who
can restore history to its rightful order -- even
though it may mean his own death.

     How cool does that sound?!?! And it's a door-stopper of a book, weighing almost two pounds in all its 752-page glory! I don't know, man... I might have to put Lamott's book aside 'cause this whole "Titanic Time-Travel" story is really, really tempting!
     See what I mean? Diminishing attention span or lack of will power? I can't tell............
     Gotta go. I've got pages to turn. Ciao for now...

ENTRY #573
DATE:  06/27/17 (Tuesday)
SUBJECT:  How am I to survive in a "Limited Edition Oreo" world???

     Oh. My. God. Life is just SOOOOO unfair......
     I'm dieting. Well, I'm trying to, anyway. So far, I've lost 26 pounds. Although, I gained five pounds back when I was in Hamburg, NY in April that I'm still trying to re-lose, LOL. So far, I'm not having much luck...
     Went to the grocery store after work this evening to hit the salad bar for dinner. I went down the center aisle and as I round the corner at the end I was stopped dead in my tracks by a huge NABISCO display. Good grief.... are they kidding me with this shit?!?!?

     Um... no, they are NOT kidding. Turns out they're quite serious!
     I am now coming down from a major "sugar high" due to the rather frenzied SNACKurbation session that just occurred in my living room!
     Salad?!?! What salad???
     Son of a bitch, man! Limited Edition Oreos..... [sigh] .....I'm doomed!

ENTRY #572
DATE:  06/26/17 (Monday)
SUBJECT:  "Can't Fix It if It Ain't Broke!"

     Well, obviously, the Vent/AC in JEEP ROMULUS worked fine all weekend long and continued to blow with no trouble at all during my 7:00am appointment this morning to have it fixed, LOL. So, when they finally called me at work this afternoon at 2:45pm to say, "We can't fix it if it ain't broke," this was not news to me. Since it's intermittent, I knew that's exactly what they were going to tell me.
     They checked out everything -- hoses, belts, wires, sensors, the knobs/buttons on the console, and the blower's motor and found absolutely nothing wrong. They even checked to see if any software updates were needed and, NOPE, that wasn't the problem either.
     All they could offer as an explanation was that it could've been some dust on a sensor, or maybe a temporary blockage in a hose, or a small twig caught in the blower, all of which could've been removed naturally [by either wind, rain, and/or engine vibration] which cleared up the problem. Only time will tell, I 'spose. They did say it's safe to drive and that - since they found nothing wrong - they believe my trip to Hamburg this weekend should be fine. I sure hope they're right 'cause I don't want The Friar to melt if we happen to be cruising around and the AC quits all of a sudden. That would totally suck!
     Oy! And speaking of things that suck.... the loaner car they gave me was awful! It was a Nissan Versa and, even though it was brand new, it was nothing more than a bucket of bolts. Good grief! But, hey, it did get me to work today and that's all that matters, I guess.
     Even with JEEP ROMULUS back in my possession, I was feeling a little frustrated when I left the dealership this evening. I was really hoping they'd find a problem - a loose wire, a disconnected hose, SOMETHING - so I'd have the benefit of a confident solution but no such luck.
     So, to cheer me up, JEEP ROMULUS took it upon himself to pull into the Barnes & Noble parking lot in North Haven which, of course, prompted me to go in and browse around. Spent a hundred bucks on books. I feel a little better now! ;-)

ENTRY #571
DATE:  06/22/17 (Thursday)
SUBJECT:  "Kinship With Creation"

     So I've been reading a little bit about these "Ecumenical" Franciscans lately and I came across this quote recently:

"Every creature God has made bears the imprint of the Divine touch.
We honor the whole creation as a revelation of God's love and its many and varied
members as our brothers and sisters."

     This struck a chord with me for two reasons -- 1. St. Francis' love for animals and, 2., my own love for animals...
     It also made me think of Fr. Tee, my Art teacher in high school, and his love for animals as well. Our passion for animals was one of the things we had in common.
     I then remembered a particular picture I drew one day in his class... so I just rooted around in my closet and dug out my old Art Portfolio to see if I still had a copy of it [since the original was sold at the Art Show that year]. My efforts paid off -- I actually found it... and, on the back of it is written three words -- "Kinship With Creation" -- the title he gave it for the Art Show. Which, oddly, is a phrase on the same web site where I found the above quote. Pretty cool, huh?
     Anyway, here's the sketch I did for Fr. Tee all those years ago...

ENTRY #570
DATE:  06/22/17 (Thursday)
SUBJECT:  The AC/Vent Problem in the Jeep...

     Well, it seems the AC/Vent issue in JEEP ROMULUS is an intermittent problem. Last night, on the way home from work, it wouldn't work at all. Same thing this morning on the way TO work; nothing blowing. However, when I went to lunch today it worked fine. Same thing on the way home tonight; no problem. So, now, I have no idea what it could be. It could be the fan-belt. It could be the fan-motor. It could be a loose hose. It could be a loose wire. It could be faulty control buttons on the console. Have no clue.
     Hopefully the Service guys will be able to find/fix the problem Monday morning. Until then, it's a crap shoot I guess. It might work in the morning, it might not. It might work on the way home; it might not. We'll see.
     [sigh]  It's always something.........

ENTRY #569
DATE:  06/21/17 (Wednesday)

     OMG, today is the FIRST DAY OF SUMMER and the Air-Conditioning in JEEP ROMULUS quit working on me tonight on my way home from work. The regular vent won't work either. It's not blowing ANY air at all. So, it's either a shot fan-belt or a dead fan-motor, no clue. I now have an appointment on Monday, the 26th, at 7:00am. Good grief...
     It was working fine on my way to work this morning. It was also working fine when I went to lunch today. I don't get it. As soon as I got in tonight and started the Jeep, I couldn't get it to blow ANY air at all, not even hot. I have a feeling the fan-motor is dead 'cause when I hit the buttons on the console, I can't even hear it trying to work. Wonderful... :-(
     I'm gonna have to get up at 5am on Monday so I can leave my house at 6am for this 7am appointment, LOL. I have to go all the way to North Haven and I have no idea what the traffic is going to be like. Hopefully it'll be early enough to avoid rush hour.
     I am not happy. Guess I'll be staying home most of the weekend. I'm definitely not gonna be driving around in this heat with no air, that's for sure! Bummer!!!
     At least it's under warranty so it shouldn't cost me anything to have it fixed. They even said a loaner car wouldn't cost me anything, if I happen to need one. I just hope I won't need one. I really hope they can fix it Monday morning, without having to order parts.
     Poor JEEP ROMULUS is sick. And poor ME too, 'cause I don't enjoy hot weather at all. Not having AC for the next five days is gonna drive me nuts. Ugh!!!

ENTRY #568
DATE:  06/06/17 (Tuesday)
SUBJECT:  111 Pair of Socks... HONESTLY!!!

     OK, here's the deal... I just received an email from someone who found this little Blog of mine and they're actually doubting that I have 111 pair of socks!
     Um, there are four things I find a little disturbing about this...
        1. The fact that someone thinks I'd LIE about the number of socks I own. (Why would I lie about that?!?!?)
        2. The fact that I have accumulated 111 pair of socks in the first place, LOL.
        3. The fact that I actually just took a picture of them to prove it!!!
        4. The fact that - when they are all clean at the same time - I don't have room to put them all away, LOL.

     On the left, you can see my sock drawer. On the right, you can see exactly what a pile of 111 pair of socks looks like. Only about half of them fit in the drawer. So, yeah, this is definitely a problem.
     Anyway... that's that.
     Ciao for now!

ENTRY #567
DATE:  05/20/17 (Saturday)
SUBJECT:  Bailey came home today!!!

     Bailey at 8 weeks old! Her first day at home...

     Went back to Massachusetts today so I could help my Mom bring home the new puppy, Bailey. My job was to sit in the back seat with the puppy and keep the puppy entertained so the puppy wouldn't experience any Motion Sickness and throw up all the way home. Swell job, huh? And I volunteered for this, LOL.
     As it turned out, the puppy was fine. As soon as the truck started moving, Bailey fell fast asleep, resting her little head on my hand. No problem at all... thank goodness.
     Then, once we got home, my next assignment was to take approximately two-hundred Baby Pictures of the puppy, LOL. No problem there either. Um, except for all the bugs! The bugs were terrible! Between the Black Flies, Mosquitoes, Gnats, Horse Flies and Deer Flies quite a bit of my DNA was hauled off into the woods! The Black Flies are the worst. They don't just suck your blood --- they actually fly off with small chunks of your flesh!!! They're awful!
     The only problem that occurred the entire day was when it was time for the puppy to go to sleep. This was Bailey's first day with "Crate Training" and she failed at it miserably, which is understandable. She's never been in a crate before and she wasn't happy about it. At all. In fact, she made it quite clear to everyone - in a two mile radius - exactly how unhappy she was with all her whimpering, crying, yelping and ear-piercing howling!
     Being that Bailey is far from the first puppy my Mom has raised, she suspected the first few nights in the crate would be tough. Mom was fully prepared --- with a mattress cover, a sleeping bag and a pillow --- which she spread out on the floor right alongside the crate. And that's exactly where my Mom will be sleeping until Bailey is used to this new situation.
     She's smart as a whip too! On her first day home, she already knows her name; she already responds to the "Come" command; and, miraculously, she's already house broken! VERY AWESOME! I'm sure within the next week or two Mom will have her fully trained.
     Welcome home, Bailey!

ENTRY #566
DATE:  05/19/17 (Friday)
SUBJECT:  Fidget Spinners?!?!?

     So I talked to Adrienne the other day and, somehow, she got on the topic of Fidget Spinners... and how all the kids at school are driving the teachers crazy with them in class. After listening to her rant about these things for about ten minutes, I finally said, "Adrienne, wait a minute, hold on -- what the hell is a Fidget Spinner?" I had no clue, LOL!
     Apparently, Fidget Spinners are the newest, HOT toy [fad] of 2017. ALL the kids simply MUST have one (or more) or "they'll just die," because all their friends have them! She filled me in - completely - all about these Fidget Spinners.
     When I got to work yesterday morning, I asked Porter if he had heard of them. He has three children so, OH YEAH, he knew ALL about them already. I did the same thing with Debby when she showed up for work. She has two kids so she was well informed also. Y'see, I have cats - not kids - which is why I was utterly clueless about this new toy fad.
     Growing up, I've seen a number of toy fads come and go. I think the first one I remember is Rubik's Cube. Then there was the global invasion of the Cabbage Patch Dolls. Then it was Tickle-Me-Elmo. And then, my ultimate favorite - which came out when I was well into my adulthood - the Furby. Hell, even I got sucked into the Furby fad. I owned seven of them. I had four Furbies and three Furby Babies. They were interactive, entertaining toys.
     What made the Furby so cool was the computer chip inside each one. When you first put the batteries in, the little Furby couldn't speak any English. They only spoke Furbish, their "native tongue." The longer you played with them, the more English they'd learn over time. They also had an infra-red sensor in their foreheads so when you placed two Furbies down, facing each other, they could interact with each other. Since I had seven of them, LOL, I'd put all seven in a circle facing each other, and let them go at it. Sometimes they'd chat, giggle, laugh, purr and talk to each other for two hours before finally going into "sleep" mode and turning themselves off. Used to drive my cats nuts!!! Again, they were cool toys! I wish I still had them today! Rigby would hate them, I'm sure, LOL.
     These Fidget Spinners, though, I just don't get the fascination. It's just a little gadget that you hold between two fingers and spin. Big deal, right? Yeah, that's what I thought too...
     Come to find out, there are different "models." They come in all different colors; some are plastic, some are wood, some are metallic, and I've found some online that are made out of solid brass (which are marketed for adults as a stress-relieving toy, selling for $65.00 and up); and they also have different kinds of ball-bearings inside which make some spin faster, quieter and longer than others. That's the hook right there -- the length of time it'll spin. I guess the "big deal" with the kids is whose Spinner will spin the longest.
     Well, I had to find out for myself what the big deal was. I now own FOUR of them, LOL...

     The yellow one came first. It's just a cheap, generic, knock-off version they call a Hand Spinner. I found it at the junk store, Five Below. It was only $4.99. I wasn't impressed. It only spun for about 20 seconds, plus it's kind'a wobbly and it's also kind'a loud. I can see why/how they're driving teachers crazy!
     The bright pink one was next. That one is an original, authentic Fidget Spinner. I found that one at Harmon's Pharmacy. It was $5.99. It spins for about two minutes and it's much quieter than the yellow one.
     The red-metallic one, called TriFecta-Spinner, I found at Barnes & Noble for ten bucks. It's fast, completely silent and will rotate for almost three minutes. (I'm a little more impressed with this one.)
     And, last but not least, the red/white/blue one - called Stress Gear - I got at my local gas station. It was $6.99 and it's about equal to the Barnes & Noble purchase. I 'spose if I hit the ball-bearings in each Spinner with a drop of WD-40, they'd all perform exactly the same. Dunno.
     What I do know is that I'd never dish out 65 bucks for one of these things, solid brass or not. If I did, it had better spin for three hours AND make me dinner for that price, LOL!
     Regardless, The Furby fad remains my favorite, hands down.

ENTRY #565
DATE:  05/12/17 (Friday)
SUBJECT:  Diet/Weight Update...

     Well... since my January 1st New Year's Resolution, I've lost 26 pounds so far. I'm down to 220. I'm still not happy, obviously, but at least it's a start. My goal - at this point - is to get back down to 180. That's forty pounds away, LOL, so I still have a LONG way to go!
     Along with all the salads I've been consuming, I think it's time to bump up my physical activity. Now that Spring has sprung, I might start walking after work. We'll see...

ENTRY #564
DATE:  05/07/17 (Sunday)
SUBJECT:  Photos, photos, and more photos!!!

     Spent almost three hours at Wal*Mart yesterday afternoon in their PhotoCenter. LOL, I had FIVE-HUNDRED-AND-SEVENTY-NINE 4x6 prints made from my trip for the scrap book. Oh my! What a stack of photos!!!
     Once I got home, I sorted them all into four piles, one pile for each day I was in Hamburg. Then, I organized each pile into chronological order.... so they're ready to be scrap-booked.
     Went back to Wal*Mart today and had some enlargements made. Two 8x10s and eleven 5x7s. One 8x10 is for the book, the other one is already in a frame, sitting proudly on my bureau in the bedroom. A 5x7 of the same photo is also framed and sitting right next to me on my desk. Finally, after all these years, a photo of the two of us!!! (The other ten 5x7s are for the book as well.)
     579 photos, LOL. I'm a bit overwhelmed. They're all sorted, yes, but now I have to decide which ones I'll actually use in the scrap-book. I'm pretty sure - at this point - a single book just won't be possible. I'm gonna have to create two separate volumes!
     VERY COOL!!!!!

ENTRY #563
DATE:  05/03/17 (Wednesday)
SUBJECT:  Porter gave his Two-Week notice...

     Oh. My. God. My "Best Buddy" at work, Porter, gave his notice today. I am beside myself. This totally sucks. His last day with us will be May 19th. During the last four years of working together every day, we've grown quite attached to each other. I don't know what on earth I'm going to do now without him....
     Since I'm still flying high from my weekend with Marcel, Porter's news was a very unexpected, crushing blow to my spirits. It's a sad, sad day. Don't get me wrong --- I'm happy for him that he found a "better opportunity," but I'm definitely sad to see him go. I've really enjoyed working with him. He'll be missed... a lot.

ENTRY #562
DATE:  05/02/17 (Tuesday)
SUBJECT:  Got the new windshield!!!

     WOOHOOOOO!!! The JEEP is finally fixed! The windshield came in and was installed TODAY at 10:00am!!! I am so relieved. Looking at that damn crack for the last two weeks - as it slowly spread farther and farther across my line of vision - was starting to drive me a little nuts.
     Between the oil change and the windshield, JEEP ROMULUS is back to normal. Now all I have to do is have him washed. He's filthy. He's coated with yellow pollen and every square inch of the front end is covered with bug guts. During the trip to Hamburg and back, I'm convinced I must've killed every insect in the state of New York, LOL!!!

ENTRY #561
DATE:  05/01/17 (Monday)
SUBJECT:  JEEP ROMULUS' First Service Appointment...

     During my trip home from Hamburg last night, as soon as I turned onto Route 8 south in Massachusetts, JEEP ROMULUS informed me he needed an oil change soon! Being that I [also] took today off from work to recoup from my trip, I figured I'd give EXECUTIVE JEEP a call to see if they had any time available so I could have it done.
     It's 10:30am right now, and I'm home already, LOL. They had an 8:30am slot available so I took it! And then, on the way home from North Haven, I stopped at Hobby Lobby, AC Moore's, Michael's Crafts and JoAnn's Fabrics so I could load up on a bunch of new scrap-booking materials. Since I now have 600+ photos from my trip, I'm going to put together a scrap book called "Four Days with The Friar." I can't wait to get started on it!
     So anyways... the oil is changed and JEEP ROMULUS is raring to go back to Hamburg in July, LOL!!! The "Count Down" begins again...
     61 days and counting!!!

ENTRY #560
DATE:  05/01/17 (Monday)
SUBJECT:  Four Days with The Friar!!!

Day One:  Thursday, April 27th...

     The Road Trip...

     The alarm clock went off at 3:00am and my hand naturally flew over to it and hit the SNOOZE button. At 3:09am the alarm blared at me the second time. This time I actually shut it off and rolled groggily out of bed. However, in a matter of seconds, I found myself wide awake from the excitement of getting on the road and finally seeing my friend again!
     I washed up, got dressed, decided which lights to leave on in my absence, and topped off the food and water for the cats. I went over my checklist for the last time, said goodbye to the cats, grabbed my purse and keys, locked up my apartment and went down to my truck. I plugged in the MP3 player and pulled out of my driveway at exactly 4:38am.
     Months ago, when I was studying road maps on Mapquest and Google I couldn't decide which way I wanted to go. The route I ended up choosing was "Route 8 North to I-90 West." Since I'm familiar with both highways I figured that would be the easiest way for me to travel. Plus, I knew there'd be plenty of Rest Areas once I got on I-90. As it turned out, there's TEN Rest Areas to choose from so there were ample opportunities for fuel/pee/food/beverage stops along the way. As I drove, I actually made a list of them in my notebook for the next time I make the trip, even noting the mileage between each one.
     Back in the early Nineties, I used to live in a little town called Whitesboro, on the outskirts of Utica, NY. I used to make the trip back n' forth from Utica to Bridgeport, CT quite often to come home to visit friends. Since that was 25 years ago, I had forgotten exactly how picturesque the trip was. It's absolutely gorgeous! The entire length of I-90 I was traveling to get to Athol Springs in Hamburg (all 300+ miles of it) is beautiful country. It's dotted on both sides with pastures full of horse, cattle, and sheep herds, including breathtaking vistas of rolling green hills leading the eye to old barns and towering grain and feed silos. The next time I travel through that area, I'll plan on making some stops along the way for photographs.
     The entire trip was uneventful and extremely relaxing. I hit no traffic at all and the tolls were a breeze thanks to the EZ-Pass transponder adhered to my [still broken] windshield. As I admired the scenery, I just sat back listening to my MP3 player and let my mind wander. By 8:30am, according to my odometer, I was half-way there. At 9:30am, as I was passing through the Syracuse area, my phone rang. The phone's display window announced Incoming call from Fr. Marcel. He was just checking up on me, wanting to know how the trip was going so far and where I was. After our brief conversation, I found myself getting choked up. My God, after fifteen years, here I was, only three hours away from seeing him! OK, Dove, calm down! You can't start crying already!!!
     I must mention, also, that the weather was fantastic during the entire road trip. After getting forecasts of questionable weather predictions consisting of temps between 50 and 65 degrees, mixed with spotty rain, drizzle and possible stormy conditions, I was happy to find myself traveling beneath a bright blue sky with white puffy clouds. By the time I hit Buffalo I was actually forced to run the air conditioner, with JEEP ROMULUS' thermometer broadcasting the outside temperature at a balmy 82 degrees! Amazing!!!
     When I pulled off I-90 at exit 56, onto route 179 (Mile Strip Expressway), my anticipation was mounting, butterflies and all! When I saw the sign for 75 South/Camp Road (which turns into St. Francis Drive), my heart started to pound. I was just minutes away!
     All told, it took me a little over seven hours to get there. If I hadn't needed to stop four times for fuel/pee breaks, I probably could've made the trip in six!

     The Arrival...

     At 12:06pm, I pulled into the Fr. Justin Rosary Hour/Sr. Friars Residence parking lot. With butterflies in my stomach, my heart pounding, and my hands trembling, I had to sit there for a few minutes - to calm myself - before I called him to let him know I had arrived. After all, I didn't want to burst into tears the moment I saw him, LOL. As the minutes ticked by, still sitting behind the wheel of JEEP ROMULUS, I took my first look around. After visiting his web site for so many years, I was already familiar with what the outside of the place looked like... but, seeing it for the first time - in person - was totally different. You couldn't have paid me to stop smiling! Then... I finally dialed his number. He answered on the first ring and immediately asked where I was. I laughed and said, "I'm out in the parking lot." His response was short and sweet, "I'll be right out!"
     I got out of the truck and started collecting the stuff I had to bring in from the back seat -- my purse, the camera bag and the tote-bag containing a stack of books, two framed photos and a smaller gift-bag for him. Before I managed to finish I caught motion out of the corner of my eye and with a quick glance through the windshield, I saw him. There he was, walking towards me with a huge smile on his face! I dropped everything back into the Jeep and headed in his direction. That first hug was the best hug ever!!!
     I grabbed up my purse and camera bag again and went around to the passenger-side to get the flowers. As I was doing that, through a smile - but still very cautiously - he said, "I don't think I remember all that... gray." He was, of course, referring to all my gray hair, LOL! I think the last time he saw me I was sporting a rather prominent gray streak. Now though, all these years later, the gray has filled in quite a bit, camouflaging the streak altogether. I was so relieved to hear him say that. It was great to know that he still felt comfortable enough around me to speak so openly. Immediately, the rest of my nervous jitters melted away. From that moment on, I felt at home; like I had just seen him a couple weeks ago, and we were just picking up right where we left off. It was wonderful!
     Anyway, I handed him the flowers and we headed inside. I followed him as we walked through the place, looking all around, taking it all in, until he said, "We'll go to my room so you can put your stuff down and relax from the trip."
     The words my room resonated a bit, bringing to mind the terrible conversation I had years ago with my Aunt Jean over the phone as she shrieked into my ear about how selfish I was, and how this friendship could ruin his life as a priest. It was that conversation that kept me from him for fifteen years. Because of her horrible, ignorant, despicable words, I lost fifteen years of his life that I'll never get back. And now, here he is, freely bringing me to his room without a care in the world! It just proved to me how wrong she was, and how stupid I was for believing her all this time.
     As I stepped through the door affixed with a Fr. Marcel nameplate, into his private domain, the emotional dam broke. Fifteen years. I felt my face flush and my eyes filled with tears. As soon as I put everything down, I hugged him again because I didn't want him to see me cry. Through tears, with my face buried in the cradle of his shoulder and neck, all I could manage was a whisper... I told him I was sorry that it had been so long; that I had never stopped thinking of him, that I had never stopped loving him; and how much I had missed him. I honestly don't know if he heard everything I said but, just as if he was consoling a small child, his gentle hug became a little tighter and he said he loved me too. As far as "reunions" go, this one was perfect. It was a very warm, comforting moment. One I'll definitely cherish for years to come!
     When I finally let go of him and stepped back, I wiped my eyes and said, "OK, what's first?" He asked if I was hungry, if we should go eat, and it was then that I finally took in the surroundings of his room. The very first thing my eyes landed on was a humongous Geranium plant standing directly under a skylight, next to his desk! I laughed and said, "Nope, I can't eat anything right now -- you've got a seven-foot tall Geranium I need to get pictures of!" So I dug out the camera and got to work! A seven-foot tall Geranium! I've never seen anything like it in my entire life! I was thinking, What is it with this guy? Last year it was an eight-foot tall tomato/potato plant. This year it's a seven-foot tall Geranium? Who's gonna believe this? so I asked him to stand next to it for perspective so I'd have proof that it really is seven feet tall! He grabbed his camera and obliged. Then we switched positions and he got a shot of me standing next to it too.
     Since we were both armed with our cameras already, I asked him to give me the Grand Tour of the place then we could go eat. He showed me all around the residence first. It's a really nice place! Neat as a pin but still very "homey" with a comfy, lived-in feel to it. One room, in particular, I've got to comment on. I got the biggest kick out of it...
     For the last couple weeks, as we've been planning my visit, he's been mentioning - what he calls - the "TV room." Now, when I heard TV room, I automatically pictured a room similar to my own living room. So the "TV room" I saw in my head contained - obviously - a television, a cable box, a DVD player with a selection of movies to watch, probably a stereo system with a CD-stand brimming over with a collection of music, maybe some bookshelves loaded with books, furniture - including sofas, recliners, coffee tables with magazines laying about. And, of course, your normal decorative knick-knacks and perhaps some framed artwork on the walls. Y'know, a community-type room where all the guys could hang out and just chill together...
     Um, the picture in my head was not exactly what I encountered, LOL. In one corner of the room, they have a 65-inch, flat screen, wifi/Smart TV sitting on a stand (which holds the DVD player and the wifi-reception/Smart box). Positioned in front of the TV, in a semicircle, are four LA-Z-Boy-type recliners/rockers, each separated by a TV-tray table. There's a small coffee table against one wall, on it sits one of two lamps and a phone. The other lamp is on one of the TV-trays between two of the chairs. The only things on the walls are a clock and the thermostat. Atop one TV-tray lives an array of remote controls. And that's it. That's the entire room. No artwork, no music, no movies, no books, no magazines, no personal items at all. Nothing but the TV, chairs, and a couple small tables. So, Marcel wasn't kidding when he said TV room. That's all it is. My first impression was, OMG - It's the Franciscan version of the Situation Room at the White House, LOL.
     The Tour continued and I found myself standing in the middle of the Rosary Hour Chapel. It's a beautiful room --- serenely elegant in its simplicity. As I walked around admiring the artwork on the walls and the San Damiano cross, taking photos every now and then, I kept hearing The Twilight Zone theme-music in my head, LOL, because I felt as if I had stepped directly into the
Rosary Hour's web site. I've seen this Chapel decorated for various holidays through the years thanks to online photos; and I also downloaded a video that The Friar filmed, narrated then uploaded to the site. I even dug a little deeper and found an actual .pdf file of the transcript he was reading the narration from. I already knew every square inch of that room by heart.... but standing there, in person, being able to reach out and actually touch things, to actually smell the candles burning, to read the words from the Bible lying open upon the altar, and to hear Marcel's voice in real time - not just on video - as he explained the items I was looking at --- Wow! --- the whole experience was surreal.
     While we were leaving the Chapel, The Friar said, "OK, let's go eat. You must be hungry," and as he spoke the words my stomach released a growl that I can only compare to the "Cookie Monster" from Sesame Street. Considering it was almost 1:00pm - and I had already been awake for ten hours - ayuh, I was hungry!
     He brought me to a little place called Peg's on Lake Shore Drive where I immediately ordered coffee - lots and lots of coffee - and then devoured a Chef Salad with Tuna fish. Over lunch, we decided to hit The Botanical Gardens up in Lackawanna next. When the waitress brought the check, we paid, dashed back home real quick to pick up our cameras, then hit the road...
     The Botanical Gardens is a huge indoor/outdoor complex filled with luscious greenery and flowers from all over the world. It was amazing! We didn't tour any of the outside gardens since the indoor greenhouse museum-like collection was plenty for us to photograph! Hell, the Cactus Room, alone, could've kept me fully entertained all day long, LOL! And, WOW!, their Orchid collection was truly awesome! I got some fantastic shots! ...and not just of the flowers either! I managed to capture some beautiful smiles on The Friar's face as well! Which, in all honesty, was the scenery I was most interested in bringing home with me!
     Considering it was 83 degrees outside - as you can imagine - it was quite "toasty" in that greenhouse! Two hours later, with sweat pouring off the both of us, I looked over at him and asked, "How ya doin'?" He hesitated a bit before answering with, "I'm... OK." That's all I needed to hear. Being in the heat that long, combined with his age, I wasn't taking any chances. In fact, we probably stayed too long.... so I called it by saying, "Ayuh, we've been here long enough, we're done, let's go! Now!" Though he smiled, it was definitely one of relief. Seeing that expression on his face bothered me a little...
     Once we got outside - it was still hot but at least it wasn't as humid, or as "tight," as it was inside - I noticed how much easier his breathing became. As we walked to his car, the Mother Hen in me stuck her head out. I told him, "Look, this garden was great, and I love that you brought me here. Thank you for that. But, really, please don't push yourself for me, OK? If you need to walk slower, if you need to sit down to rest, if you get tired, if you're uncomfortable - at all - you've got to open your mouth and say so, OK?" He looked ready to object but I waved and kept on going... "No. No, no! Listen, I mean it... it was HOT in there and if you started to feel like it was too much you should've said something! Don't push yourself, trying to make sure I'm having a good time. I'm with you, I'm already having a good time. You're the reason I'm here. Not the flowers, not Niagara Falls, not the Basilica -- just you. You're all I care about. OK?" With a nod, along with his famous friar's grin I've known and loved since high school, he finally said, "Yeah, I knooow... OK."
     I hope he didn't feel as if I was lecturing him. I know I can be quite assertive at times, which - in most cases - comes across as downright bitchy, so I hope he didn't take it that way; I hope he wasn't offended or embarrassed by my little speech. It came from the heart, out of genuine concern for him. And every word of it was true! I didn't drive seven hours for flowers. I didn't wake up at 3:00am for Niagara Falls. I didn't cross off the days on my calendar for months, counting down to see the Basilica. I did it for the friend I've always had in him. I did it for the family member I've always felt him to be. I did it all because - just as it was with my grandfather - Marcel has always been considered one of the greatest loves of my life!
     During the drive back to Hamburg, we passed numerous houses with grassy lawns filled with thousands of dandelions. I smiled to myself as we continued to drive by individual front yards, each one filled with more dandelions than the last...
     Two weeks ago, I was out with my camera taking some Macro shots of flowers. For some reason, I found myself spending most of that afternoon photographing dandelions. I came home with a very impressive collection of photos. Out of the 30+ shots I took, I selected five that I really liked and emailed them to him with a short note saying that dandelions weren't just "common weeds," that they have beauty too! About twenty minutes later, I got a reply from him exclaiming he never knew that dandelions had pistils! And then, later that evening, when I visited his web site before going to bed, I was amused when I found this...

     So... now that I found myself sitting next to him, driving by millions of those pesky, yet beautiful, little weeds I pointed and said, "Oh, look, a dandelion!"
     He laughed and said he was just thinking the exact same thing. He also added, "I can't see a dandelion now without thinking about you!"
     "Awww, how wonderful," I laughed, "I love that! That's really nice to hear! Thank you! And, um, judging by what I'm looking at, that means you'll be thinking about me quite a bit!" As I was talking, we passed another lawn that was filled with so many dandelions it was more yellow than green. "My god, look at that yard. I've never seen so many in one place. That's amazing! There's millions of them! It kind'a looks like the grass is the weeds, instead of it being the other way around!"
     By the time we got home it was already four o'clock and I hadn't even checked into my hotel yet. We agreed I'd be back by 5:00 'cause he made reservations for dinner at 5:30..... so off I went to the Red Roof Inn right down the road to unload JEEP ROMULUS.
     The room was cool. King size bed, microwave, mini-refrigerator, and a coffee maker as promised when I made the reservations. But I was pleasantly surprised to also find a safe, an iron/ironing-board, and a hair dryer! The room was also located on the first floor which was WAY COOL since I had so much stuff to lug in, LOL. Good grief!
     I soooo wanted to test out that bed but I didn't dare. I knew if I was to lay down I'd be out like a light in no time! Couldn't risk it. I didn't want to be late for those dinner reservations! Instead, I got the camera out and fired off a few shots of the room, then sat down to review the rest of the photos I had taken earlier. They looked awesome on the camera. I could only hope they'd look just as good once I loaded them onto my computer at home!
     A couple weeks ago, thanks to GoogleMaps, I already had a list of three cemeteries in Hamburg I was interested in shooting. One of them happened to be Lakeside Cemetery/Memorial Park, located directly between my hotel and the Rosary Hour, so off I went in my now-empty Jeep! I found it in no time and drove around for a few minutes. It was kind'a small but it definitely offered some great photo-ops! Knowing I only had a matter of minutes before I was due back at the Rosary Hour, I jumped out with the camera real quick and shot what I wanted of the Memorial Park section, making a note to come back another day for the actual cemetery.
     Dinner was at The Public House On the Lake and if I had known, ahead of time, where this place was located I would've brought my camera to dinner! When they say "on the lake," they're not kidding. In fact, I think the outside-dining patio area actually hangs over the water! We ate inside, thankfully (since thunder and lightning began half-way through our meal), in one of the main dining rooms with a beautiful, panoramic view of Lake Erie. We were seated right next to the window! What a lovely setting it was. Very, very nice. The occasional flash of lightning, reflecting off the lake, made the view even better!
     I couldn't help laughing when I was handed the Alcohol Menu. Good Lord! It was so extensive, it was impossible to decide what I wanted to drink. I figured I'd stick to my usual (even though I didn't see it on the menu), a frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, but I was informed they couldn't make frozen drinks 'cause they didn't have the right equipment. LOL, figures. Oh boy, back to the menu! My brain finally short-circuited from the overload and I ended up just ordering a Root Beer instead, LOL. When it came to the entree, though, that was a much easier decision. Pasta Primavera it was -- and it was fabulous! And for dessert, I ordered the Chocolate Mousse... which was so good I told the waitress, for future reference, they should serve it on a much larger plate in order for their patrons to roll around in it! 'cause, yeah, it was that good!!! ;-) It was a great meal... topped off with a steaming-hot cup of coffee. Ayuh.... happy, happy, happy!
     From the Public House, we headed back to the Sr. Friars Residence and monopolized that TV room. During dinner, he mentioned a Military Tattoo DVD he wanted to show me so that was our evening's entertainment. It was filmed in Nova Scotia and this particular demonstration was being performed in the Queen's honor. He got that massive TV fired up, stuck in the DVD and we kicked off our shoes and settled down in two of those reclining rockers. Good Lord... here I am, eight o'clock in the evening, I've been up now for seventeen hours straight, my shoes are off, I've got a full belly, and now I'm nestled deep in this cozy rocking chair? As I sighed in contentment, my only hope was that I could stay awake long enough to enjoy the show!
     Turns out that was not a problem at all! It was Military precision marching with a little Cirque du Soleil-type antics mixed in, set to a very eclectic, toe-tapping soundtrack. I've never seen anything quite like it. I enjoyed it immensely! Half way in, after one highly comical routine in particular, I was, like, "Wow! That was cool! It was like an omage to all the Greats... Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Marcel Marceau, Benny Hill, and Red Skelton all mixed together! Very awesome!" When I mentioned Skelton, Marcel chimed in with, "Ohhhh, I loved Red Skelton," but he said it in a rather puzzled tone. I'm not exactly sure, but I think it surprised him that I knew who Red Skelton was, LOL. At the same time, my mind flashed to the Red Skelton DVD box-set I brought with me in case we were rained in all weekend and needed something to do. I made a mental note to bring it to him in the morning!
     Twenty minutes later, I glanced over at The Friar and his eyes were closed. I reached over and gently touched his hand so I wouldn't startle him. The poor guy; he was pooped. I tuckered him out! At my touch, he slowly opened his eyes. I asked, "Are you sleeeeeping?" He smiled and said, "I'm trying not to." I asked if I should go so he could get to bed but he said, "No, no! You're enjoying this, I want you to watch it."
     Luckily, the credits started rolling soon after that so I told him I wanted him to go straight to bed -- no playing on the computer half the night! He agreed. He walked me out, we said goodnight, and I headed back to my hotel. During the drive, I chuckled to myself. Yeah, right, I thought, he's not going to bed. He's sitting in front of that computer already, I know he is!
     Once at the hotel, I climbed into my pajamas and called Steve. We were on the phone for over an hour, him listening to my entire day. When we hung up, I shut off all the lights and finally crawled under the covers.
     And I gotta tell ya, that king size bed felt gooooooood...
     What a day!!!

Day Two:  Friday, April 28th...

     After getting very little sleep the last three days - thanks to the road construction right outside my bedroom window at home, and then waking up at 3:00am yesterday morning for this trip - when my eyes popped open at seven o'clock this morning, without the use of an alarm clock, I could only assume it was St. Francis himself gently nudging my unconscious-mind with, "Get up, get up, get up! You're Friar Friend is waiting for you!" Whether it was really him or not didn't matter; I thanked him anyway!
     I peeked out the window, first thing. Hrmph! No blue sky at all. It was overcast, the clouds in various shades of gray, as far as the eye could see. I looked down. The grass and sidewalks were soaked and pond-like puddles were scattered throughout the parking lot. Good thing I brought the chess board, DVDs, and those jig-saw puzzles. Looks like we'll be needing them today! Oh well...
     I washed up, got dressed, shellacked the hair with a weather-repelling coat of hairspray and packed up my camera. While zipping the camera-bag closed my cell phone rang -- at 7:56. LOL, I didn't know what we were going to be doing today but, no matter what it was, we were getting an early start at it! Marcel announced he was ready and waiting! "Cool," I said, "see'ya in about five minutes!"
     I called him as I was pulling into the parking lot and met him at the door, with the tote-bag of gifts over my arm. The first thing I asked him (in a scolding tone) was if he went straight to bed last night as I had instructed, or if he was up half the night in front of the computer. Trying to hide the grin on his face, he hung his head in shame like a little boy caught red-handed while leaning over the cookie-jar and admitted, "Yeah, I was up... but just for a little while!" LOL, I knew it!
     First on my agenda was the tote-bag. I unloaded the books I had brought for him, including the two that Steve wrote (Founding Fathers and Lost Books of the Bible) and Alvaro's book, Dialogues with My God Self. That one, in particular, I'm hoping he'll find interesting! Between all his translation work for the Rosary Hour and his gardening, I hope he can squeeze in some time to read!
     Next out of the tote was two framed photos; one for him, the other for his nephew, Dean. It's an old black n' white photo of him and his sister, Jean. Marcel emailed the .jpg to me probably twenty-five years ago. My best guess is that it was taken in the late-forties. I have no idea who has the original photograph now - or if it even still exists - so I figured Dean might like a copy of it too. Considering the .jpg I had was such a low-res file, once it was reproduced at 600dpi, it didn't look too bad.
     The last item was a small gift-bag containing a couple cross-word puzzle books, some mechanical pencils for the puzzle books (although, now that I'm thinking about it, with that brilliant mind of his, he probably does his puzzles in pen), and some sugar-free candies and mints to help satisfy that sweet-tooth of his!
     Next item on the agenda -- BREAKFAST! I was starving so we climbed into JEEP ROMULUS and headed back over to Peg's Place where I inhaled a very yummy Mushroom & Cheese Omelette. When we stepped outside, back into the Diner's parking lot, we were both surprised to see blue skies and the SUN actually peeking out from behind a not-so-gray cloud! He looked over at me and said, "Today's not bad. We should head over to The Falls!" Alrighty then!!!
     We scooted back home to get the cameras! On the way, I managed to surprise him again, I think, with the music on my MP3 player. As soon as I started the truck, the last song on Adele's album "25" was just coming to an end. Since I knew what was next, I chuckled and said, "Let's see what you think of this next song," and I turned it up a little bit. As soon as the music started to play, he snapped his head in my direction and, with a big smile, offered me a very prominent, "WOW!" It was Glenn Miller's In the Mood. (And here I must add that I love to make The Friar say WOW! It's like getting back a graded test paper with a big GOLD STAR at the top!) His reaction made me laugh!
     "Yeah, I had a feeling you'd get a kick out of this one," I said. "There's a bunch of stuff on here that'd probably surprise you."
     "Oh?" he asked, as if he didn't believe me, "Like...?"
     "Well, there's a bunch of Miller's stuff, that's obvious. Thanks to my Dad I was raised on Jazz and Swing. And I love the clarinet! There's some Artie Shaw on here..."
     "Artie Shaw!" he repeated.
     "...and a lot of Benny Goodman stuff..."
     "Benny Goodman!"
     "Yup! And some Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey..."
     Still laughing, I reached out and started surfing. "And I've got a little of this too!" still surfing to find what I was looking for. "Hold on... just a sec... here he is!" and Frankie Yankovic's version of The Pennsylvania Polka filled the Jeep!
     As soon as he heard it, both his hands came up out of his lap in surprise! Big grin on his face! His toes were tapping, his fingers were keeping time to the music as they drummed gently upon his thighs, his head was bobbing along! It was cool! The Friar was Car Dancin'! He's such a little Cutie Pie!
     My god, I should've pulled over so I could watch the show! The voice in my head is screaming at me, Pull over! Get the camera! Get a video! The Friar's car-dancing! The Friar is CAR DANCING!!! If the cameras had actually been in the vehicle at the time, I probably would have pulled over to get a video of him! It was WAY COOL!!! (Mental Note to Self: Before my next visit, try to get some Jimmy Sturr on the MP3 player! That's his favorite!!!)
     Back at the Friary, as we climbed out of the truck, I mentioned that I had brought some old Jimmy Stewart movies in case the weather decided not to cooperate the rest of the weekend. Then I said, "Oh, and I brought these too," and I showed him the Risen DVD and the Red Skelton box-set. When he saw the cover of the Skelton box he smiled and offered me a quick, "Awwww, look at that, Red Skelton!" But, for the time being, I left all that stuff in the back seat. I'd collect it later, once we got back.
     We picked up our cameras, switched vehicles, and by 9:30 we were sitting in traffic at Customs waiting to cross the border into Canada. I got some great shots of the Canadian flag as it proudly waved us Welcome! in the breeze. I also managed to get two adorable pics of The Friar sitting behind the wheel of his car. When we hit Canadian soil, he decided to take the scenic route so I could take a look around. It was a nice ride, offering many beautiful views of Lake Ontario in all her glory.
     It was during this "nice ride" that I learned something new about my friend. The Friar, as it turns out, is a little Speed Demon! At least in Canada, he is! I kept glancing over at the speedometer and he was going 60, 65, almost 70 miles per hour. Granted, that's not all that fast, under normal circumstances. And I can't blame him, really, since the posted speed limit was 60, even 65 in some places. HOWEVER, we were now in CANADA and they use the METRIC system -- so they're speed limit is posted in KILOMETERS per hour, not miles. Big difference! Holy shit, I thought, if we get pulled over, we're going to jail! We're going TWICE the speed limit!! We're gonna get arrested!!! I checked both our seat-belts to make sure we were buckled-up and kept glancing over at the side mirror looking for cops. When I saw the needle on the speedometer creep past 70, I couldn't help myself, I reached out and lightly grabbed his arm.
     "Friar, I'm sorry, but please," I pleaded, "you've gotta slow down!"
     He glanced down at the speedometer then over at me with a cocked eyebrow, an expression that said what's the matter with you?
     "We're not in the United States anymore," I reminded him. "That 65 on the signs you're reading is kilometers." Immediately, I saw the realization hit him and he slowed right down to about 25, 30 miles an hour. Much better! Although, ten minutes later, we were cruising along at 60 again. Oh well. I just hung on and kept praying that I wouldn't have to call my Mom to have her bail me out of Canadian Prison, LOL. A minute or two later, though, we ended up behind a car with Canadian plates who, thankfully, stuck to the KPH speed limit. Phew!
     At 10:30, with both cameras hanging around our necks, we entered The Falls Welcome Center...
     I hadn't visited Niagara Falls in years. I think the last time I was there was back in the early '90s so I was a bit shocked to see how "built up" the area is now. There are gigantic hotels and a HUGE casino that overlook The Falls. I just can't imagine people wanting to waste their time sitting at slot machines and Black Jack tables when they could be outside, strolling the boardwalk, admiring Niagara Falls and all its "Special Attractions" Exhibits.
     We walked around, taking videos (I got a great one of him describing the "ROAR of the water" and the weather) and pictures, for about an hour then headed in to find something for lunch. The restaurant, Elements, didn't open 'til 11:30 so I wandered over to a little candy store called Pop & Lolly's where I found some fabulous TABASCO Brand Spicy Chocolates sold in little, round, metal tins. I bought SIX of them, a couple for myself, the others for everyone at work. (Although, LOL, the folks at work might never see them, we'll see!) From the candy store I popped into a little gift shop where I bought some souvenir postcards and two beautiful gallery prints of The Falls. At some point I'll have them framed and displayed somewhere in my apartment.
     Lunch at Elements was yummy! When we were standing outside the place (before they opened), we took a look at the menu hanging on the wall. I thought, initially, I was going to order the duck. I've always wanted to try it but I was a little leery, not knowing if I'd like it or not considering how gamy it can be if not cooked properly. Friar settled that dilemma. He told me to order something else I knew I'd like. He likes duck so he said he'd order that and I could sample his. That way at least I'd know if I liked it or not for next time. Cool, sounded like a plan to me!
     We were seated right by the window overlooking The Falls with the Canadian flag in the foreground. My god, what an amazing view! It was gorgeous!!! While we were waiting for a waitress to take our orders, I dug out my camera and snapped some shots of the view! I also took a short video of Marcel as he checked out the menu a little more. He did order the duck; I decided on the Chicken Caesar Salad which, as it turned out, was served on a humongous platter.
     From the restaurant, I scooted into another gift shop which sold nothing but Niagara Falls and Canada apparel -- everything from hats and socks, to shirts and pajamas! I just had to buy something with the Canadian flag on it 'cause, if I didn't, I knew I'd never forgive myself later. Right away, I spotted a bright red, hooded sweatshirt that was perfect. It had the Maple Leaf logo in black with "Niagara Falls" in the middle of the leaf, also in red. Woohooo!!! Two birds with one stone! After a quick CHING-CHING at the register, we made our way back out to the parking lot. As we were walking to the car I started to laugh. Between the gorgeous view, taking pictures and the video, the TABASCO chocolates, and our meandering conversation all through lunch, it dawned on me that I never did try the duck after all, LOL! Oh well....
     From The Falls, we - again - took the scenic route through Ontario to the famous Floral Clock. Now, I had seen one floral clock - years ago - at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Florida. At the time, I was impressed. After seeing this one, the one in Florida can only be described as minuscule. The Ontario Floral Clock is fabulous. It's four-times the size of the one in Florida. And this one is elevated at an angle so you can actually see the face of the clock while you're standing on the ground. The one in Florida is just a flat, in-the-ground garden and you're forced to climb a flight of stairs in order to see the clock-face. This one is WAY better...

     After The Clock, we drove along the shore of Lake Ontario for a while admiring the view. We pulled over at one spot and walked around for a few minutes so I could take some pictures. This one is my favorite. I'm calling it The Chalice which, I hope, the reasons why will be obvious to whoever sees it...

     We were back, sitting in traffic, at Customs at 3:45 and almost home by 4:15. On the way, The Friar suggested that since it was still early, we could visit the OLV Basilica and the Fr. Baker Museum which he knew I also wanted to see.
     "I dunno," I said, "You've done an awful lot of driving today already. Why don't we just go home. We don't have to cram everything into one day, rushing here and rushing there. Let's save that stuff for tomorrow. I'd like some down time with you too, y'know, where we can just relax and chill out..."
     "Yeah," he agreed, "and anything else we can save for next time."
     My ears perked up when I heard next time. "Oh? Next time?" I asked. "Does that mean you're willing to have me back?"
     "Sure, I hope so. I get cabin fever sometimes around here; it's nice to have company, to get out and around. You will come back?"
     "Absolutely," I laughed. "And when would you like this to happen?" Already I was thinking about my vacation in just a couple months.
     "Well, I wouldn't want to wait too long."
     "Cool! We'll figure it out..."
     When we arrived home, we settled in front of his lap-top with a flash drive I brought with me loaded with 800 photographs I'd taken through the years. A few weeks ago, when we were planning my visit, he had brought up the possibility of using his projector to view the photographs on a wall in the TV room. Though I thought that was pretty cool, it seemed like a lot of trouble to go through when a slide-show on a computer monitor would work just as well. His new lap-top came loaded with Windows 10 which neither one of us knows how to use yet. After tinkering on it for a while we both gave up, LOL, and switched over to his desk-top with Windows 7 instead. Apparently, his version of Windows 7 is different than mine because, for the life of me, I could not figure out how to view all the photos in a slide-show. It's so easy on my computer at home. I just open the folder the pictures are in, click on the first .jpg to open it and then, on the bottom of that screen, I simply click on the button for Slide-Show and it immediately starts flashing the photos on the screen. On his computer, when you click on a .jpg to open it, his default setting automatically opens the file in his photo-editing software. I couldn't find any way around that, no matter what I tried. Eventually, we gave up again and decided it was time for dinner.
     We jumped into the Jeep and headed out once more.
     "Which way?" I asked. "You wanna do Peg's again?"
     "Peg's isn't worthy of you, no let's go..."
     "Wait a minute, wait a minute," I interrupted, "what was that?!?! Peg's isn't worthy of me," I laughed, "what's that supposed to mean? Peg's is fine. I thought the food was good there!"
     He laughed. "No, no. Let's go somewhere else!" Now operating as Co-Pilot, he navigated me to a different place located right up the road from where he lives called Uncle Joe's. It's a quaint little family-owned diner that serves up marvelous food from an extensive menu! I ordered the Chicken Alfredo and was not disappointed! Good Lord, if I had been eating in the privacy of my own home, I probably would've licked my plate clean, LOL!
     Dinner was followed by multiple cups of coffee and some deep conversation about family, relationships, sex, religion, faith, denomination and Catholicism. It was awesome! It brought to mind many fond memories of my visits with him going back 25+ years.... and it made me realize exactly how much I've missed spending time with him. As I sat there, listening to him talk, I couldn't stop smiling. Once again, I found myself thanking "Brother Frank" for... well, for everything, really, leading right up to Uncle Joe's Diner, LOL. If Francis of Assisi hadn't existed, I never would've had a Franciscan Friar walk into my Latin class thirty-three years ago. I wouldn't have had a friend to visit at St. Michael's in Bridgeport. I never would've spent an afternoon in Brooklyn hangin' out at Most Holy Trinity. I wouldn't have spent a wonderful weekend in Ellicott City, MD. In between all that, the dinners we've shared and the hundreds of hours we've spent chatting in Instant Messages -- none of that would've happened either. And I never would've found myself - right now - sitting in a little diner in Hamburg, NY directly across from this amazing human being - one of those rare gems - that I'm actually lucky enough to call a life-long friend. That is a true blessing!
     It was almost nine o'clock by the time we left that diner. We were both kind'a tired so I dropped him off at home and headed back to my hotel. I called Steve again and told him all about my day, including the slide show problems on both computers. He offered a couple suggestions, all of which I had already tried, except for one. When he mentioned right-clicking on the .jpg icon to get a drop-down menu where "Open With" is listed, I immediately began kicking myself! Of course! That would totally bypass Marcel's default setting! All we had to do was select "Windows Photo Viewer" under the "Open With" menu! I can't believe I didn't think of that! Good grief! I wrote myself a note so I wouldn't forget to try that tomorrow!
     When we hung up, I got into my pajamas, reviewed the photos on the camera I had taken earlier in the day, then settled down in front of the TV. I browsed through the NEW MOVIE RELEASES and was thrilled to find The Shack listed among them. I clicked on PURCHASE and cried through the whole thing just like I did when Adrienne and I saw it in the theater a couple weeks ago. It's such a good movie!
     Once the credits started rolling, I don't remember anything after that, LOL. I must've fallen asleep instantly...

Day Three:  Saturday, April 29th...

     Another early start today! I was already traipsing around in Hillcrest Cemetery at 7:00am with the camera! It rained most of the night so the grass was wet and, by the time I left an hour later, so was I. My sneakers were drenched all the way through to my socks... and my pant-legs were soaked up to my knees. Got some decent shots, though, so it was worth it!
     From Hillcrest I headed back over to Lakeside Memorial Park so I could explore the cemetery section over there too. I figured since my sneakers and pants were already wet, a little more dampness couldn't possibly hurt. LOL, by the time I left Lakeside my pants were so heavy with water I could barely keep them pulled up! I was now soaked from my toes to the middle of my thighs. Enough is enough! I hit the hotel for some dry socks, sneakers and pants, leaving the wet stuff to drip-dry as it hung over the curtain-rod. I loaded the camera with fresh batteries and was out the door again!
     My next stop was St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church and the Friary where Marcel used to live; then on to St. Francis High School. Got pictures of everything! By the time I made it to the Rosary Hour, it was 10:20, leaving just enough time for a few more shots of the grounds surrounding the Senior Friars Residence.
     Today was our visit to the Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna! When we were at The Botanical Gardens on Thursday I saw a bit of it from there, its dome and steeples towering over the lesser buildings, so I was excited to finally see the place up close and personal!
     We hit Uncle Joe's again for breakfast (Woohoooooo!!!). This time I ordered the Banana Bread French Toast. As soon as the waitress set the plate down in front of me, the aroma, alone, was all the encouragement I needed to dive right in. And I gotta tell ya, it was definitely the right choice! Oh. My. God. It was heavenly! During the first bite - at that precise moment in time - Uncle Joe's escalated from mere diner to my new HAPPY PLACE!!!
     An hour later, we pulled into the parking lot at Our Lady of Victory. What can I say?!?!? At first sight, it boggles the mind. The architecture is truly remarkable! The entire structure - outside and in - is made out of marble, all topped off with solid bronze domes tarnished aqua-marine, bringing to mind another famous Lady in the Big Apple. We walked around the outside of the place, The Friar demonstrating impeccable patience, as I snapped 10, 20, even 30 photos of the Basilica's exterior.
     Upon entering, we were immediately invited into the Father Baker Museum. We were both surprised to see how big the museum is. From the OLV web site, I knew it was in the basement of the Basilica but I had no idea that it takes up the entire lower level...
     It was definitely impressive. If you're ever in that area, a visit to the Baker Museum should be on your Itinerary! The collection of Fr. Baker's personal items is vast! It was extremely moving to see his Bible with his name engraved in gold on the front cover; as well as the more intimate objects such as his hair-brush, his eye glasses, his razor, his rosary... even the little miscellaneous items he used to carry in his pockets! The photographs throughout the place are lovely and capture everything from his youth to his death (including a Death Mask that was made only a few hours after his passing). I definitely have to visit this place again. I took a bunch of photos but I want to go back so I can spend some time reading ALL the information throughout the entire Museum. The amount of History contained within those walls is - without a doubt - worth a second trip, maybe even a third!
     After the Museum tour, we ended up outside again so I took full advantage of that and got even more pictures of the Basilica's facade. As I walked around, I kept eyeballing the building directly across the street... and I think the next time I go back, I'm gonna try to get into that building so I can shoot some shots from "above street level." When you're standing on the street, trying to take pictures of the front of the Basilica, you can't see the main dome because it's set too far back. But if I can somehow get higher - say from the third or fourth floor of the building across the street - I think that'll work! We'll see. I can't remember what that building is though, LOL. I don't know if it's office space, or an Admin building, or a school, or apartments or what, but I just gotta try to get in there!
     OK... so... I was blown away by the outside of the place, that's obvious by now - I'm sure - if you've read this far, LOL. But, I gotta tell ya, when we stepped foot INSIDE the Basilica I was literally struck dumb! The first ten minutes there, I couldn't string together enough words to complete a full sentence. The stained glass windows, the statuary, the carvings, the murals, the plants and flowers, the candles, all the marble, the altars, the organs... it was unbelievable. Not to mention the size of the place; it is enormous. I could've walked around in there all afternoon and still not seen everything. I was awestruck! It's absolutely gorgeous... and I have a feeling that I'll be visiting it again the next time I'm out that way. I need to get more pictures 'cause I know I missed a lot of details.
     On the way out, we hit the gift shop so I could browse around a little. It's a nice store, half of it dedicated to the Basilica, the other half dedicated to Fr. Baker memorabilia. As I was picking out items to purchase, The Friar came over to me and said he wanted to show me something so I followed him over to this little table that was covered with a collection of small statues. He pointed one out in particular and asked what I thought of it. It was awesome! It was a seated Cherub, and in his lap he's holding a cat. It was gray in color, with an antique-like finish and it stood about a foot tall.
     "Awww," I said, "that's adorable! I've never seen one holding a cat before."
     "So, you like it?" he asked.
     "I do! It's very nice." I could picture it quite clearly in my mind sitting out in his garden surrounded by all the flowers he's grown. I thought it would look just lovely out there.
     "Do you see a price on it anywhere," he asked, "I can't find it, can you?"
     "Well, I dunno, let's see." I checked all the tags hanging off of it and there was nothing. "Hrmph, I don't see anything either, let's check the bottom of it." I carefully lifted it off the table and, nope, nothing on the bottom either. "No, it's not marked anywhere. Let's take it over to the cashier, I'm sure they can tell us how much it is as soon as they see it." I proceeded to do just that, but he stopped me and took the statue right out of my hands.
     "No, no," he said, "that's OK, I'll do it so you can shop. I know you want to take a look at those books over there."
     I laughed, "Ayuh, I sure do! You know me so well!" And off I went to check out the book shelves while he headed to the register with the little Cherub tucked under his arm.
     I picked out two books; one about St. Francis, the other an authorized biography about Fr. Baker. I also picked up a DVD about Fr. Baker's life. Then I found a beautiful pewter medallion (on a chain so it could be worn as a necklace) with Fr. Baker's likeness on one side, with a portrait of Mary ("Our Lady of Victory") on the other. I headed over to the register with all my stuff just in time to hear the cashier-guy tell Marcel to put that statue back on the table (because that one was a display piece) and he'd grab a new one still in the box from the stock-room for us. Cool, I thought to myself, that's really gonna look great out in the garden. He better take pictures of it and put them on his web site so I can see how cute it is!
     When Cashier-Guy came back out we opened the box to make sure it was the right one, then wrestled it into a shopping bag. Once that was done, Marcel grabbed the bag and walked around to browse while I paid for all my stuff. Still trying to get my wallet into my purse as I headed over to where The Friar was, he turned and faced me with a big grin.
     "This is for you," he said while holding the shopping bag towards me, "because I know you love cats!"
     OMG!!! I was shocked. I was totally shocked! I had absolutely no idea that's why he was buying it. I really thought it was for his garden, LOL! It was a huge surprise! HUGE! My god, I almost started to cry right there in the store. I put all my stuff down, took the bag from him and gave him a big hug!
     "I can't believe you. Thank you so much! I can't believe you did this for me. Oh my god, I thought it was for your garden! I had no idea. Thank you, thank you. I LOVE IT!!! I know exactly where I'm gonna put it as soon as I get home! Oh my god, I can't believe you did this!"
     Thank goodness we were the only ones in the store at the time, LOL, 'cause I was totally gushing over that little Cherub statue! Well, not really over the statue itself.... but just the fact that Marcel did that for me... I was genuinely overwhelmed by the thought of it all. He saw the Cherub had a cat in it's lap and it made him think of me. He knew I'd love it 'cause I have cats! That was just so sweet, so thoughtful, so generous of him..... I'm getting choked up right now, as I write this, just thinking about it. I'm still shocked. He totally caught me off guard. I mean, I saw that the Cherub was holding a cat as soon as I looked at the thing and I didn't even make the connection, myself, to the fact that I have cats, but he did, LOL. What a wonderful surprise it was!
     We headed home from the Basilica, stopping on the way for lunch. For the life of me I can't remember where we ate but we ordered pizza. The only pizza they offered on the menu was "Vegetarian" so we asked them to add pepperoni. It wasn't the greatest meal but, hey, it served it's purpose by quelling the rumbling of our bellies! The ice-cold beer made the stop worth while!
     After lunch, we made one last stop at the McKinley Mall so I could run into Barnes & Noble real quick. I had already written out a list of titles I wanted to look for so The Friar wouldn't get trapped in my usual "Browsing Aimlessly" routine, LOL. I grabbed The Secrets of My Life by Caitlyn Jenner, The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz, and three by James Patterson, 15th Affair, Never, Never, and Humans, Bow Down. Then I made a mad-dash to the Art section, hoping they'd have something on Renoir's paintings since I've tried all three of my B&N's in Connecticut. It was wishful thinking; they had nothing at all. That's OK though, since I was successful in scratching five titles off my list! Excellent!
     When we got in line, I noticed The Friar managed to find something too so I was, like, "Cool, whaddaya got there?" It was a Taste of Home, diabetes family-friendly cookbook. Nice! And I gently tugged it free from his hands. When he gave me a questioning look, I answered it with, "You know I love to buy books; my treat!"
     On the road again, heading home for real this time, I happened to mention that I thought I came up with a solution to the slide-show problem from last night. He said, "Great!" so as soon as we got back to his room, I dug out the flash-drive and plugged it in. We settled down in front of his computer and I clicked a few times and, sure enough, the slide-show fired right up. We sat back and watched 800 photos flicker across his monitor. New York City shots, a bunch of my cemetery shots, pictures of deer at my Mom's house, both covered bridges I've visited lately, the waterfall at Kent State Park, and a bunch of Macro flower shots that I was hoping he'd enjoy! It took about an hour to get through them, all the while I kept hoping he wasn't bored. Apparently he wasn't - at all - because as soon as the photos started at the beginning again - he got up from his chair and said, "Y'know, I'd still like to try the projector!"
     I was floored. I was, like, "Wait... what? It took an hour. You wanna sit through them again? With the projector? On a wall? Um... really???"
     Before I even finished talking, he had the projector in one hand and his lap-top in the other and he told me to grab my flash-drive. Alrighty then - LOL - whatever The Friar wants, The Friar gets! I quickly ejected my drive and followed him out to the TV-room. He closed the blinds to darken the room and began pushing TV-trays around -- one for the projector and one for his lap-top. He got everything hooked up and ready to go. I plugged the flash-drive in once again and waited for it to load. He grabbed a Gator-Ade for himself and "just water for me, thanks" and the slide-show ran for another hour.
     We chatted about this and that during the show.... he listened as I told him about the deer at my Mom's house and about how she lost the horse. We both reminisced about New York City, the Metropolitan Museum, and how I visited him in Brooklyn (on Sept. 9th) and how - less than 48 hours after that visit - the world was altered by four planes on September 11th, 2001. We chatted about the weekend I spent in Ellicott City and we both smiled as we spoke about all the photos we took back then! He asked me how I became interested in photography, how old I was when I first started taking pictures so he sat back and listened to that story as well. Before we knew it the slide-show had started again but we just kept chatting away.
     He eventually grew silent when the Macro shots of the flowers started to flash upon the wall. I glanced over at him 'cause I thought he might've been snoozing but he saw me look his way and with a grin said, "Yes?" He knew I was checkin' to see if he was still awake. I laughed and said, "Nothing, just checkin'. You got quiet all of a sudden."
     "Contemplation," he said.
     "About?" I asked.
     "The flowers. Nature. There's so much beauty in nature...."
     "There is."
     This opened a door to a whole new conversation.... about nature, beauty, gifts from God, faith and free will.... which lead to belief, church, denomination and receiving Holy Communion. (It was much like our conversation the night before at Peg's but, this time, it was on a more personal level, whereas - at Peg's - it was based more on a general, societal level.) We were getting philosophically deep - and I was loving every second of it - when, all of a sudden, his wristwatch beeped, reminding him he needed to take his pills. I looked up at the clock and was stunned to see it was almost 8:00pm and we hadn't eaten. As if he was reading my mind he said, "We haven't had dinner yet! You must be hungry," so we left the TV-room AS IS (furniture pushed aside, the blinds drawn, the lap-top and projector sitting on the TV-trays in the middle of the room, even our beverages were left sitting out, LOL) and hit the road in search of food. This time we headed to Olive Garden up by the Mall.
     The meal, itself, was good (I ordered the Stuffed Chicken Marsala), the wine and Margarita's better, but the conversation was stellar! We talked about school and education, movies and books, art and painting, fishing (fresh water and salt water), gardening, photography... and we shared stories about our families and memories from childhood. We talked about pets and animals, hiking, and berry (and mushroom) picking! We talked about sports a little bit too, and music, and about Donald Trump. We covered health, diet, exercise, medication, diabetes, and bypass-surgery. We even talked about CB and HAM radios and raising bees and tree-grafting, LOL. It was an absolutely delightful evening; just wonderful. Wonderful!
     This is one of the things I've always adored about this man -- our ability to talk, to really connect, one-on-one. I mean, once we sit down and start talking, the two of us could go all night. And, in fact, we have...
     LOL, I remember, this one time, when he was helping out at St. Paul's in Kensington - many years ago - I showed up one night, just out of the blue. I was actually on my way home from visiting my Mom (in Worthington, MA) and as I was driving down I-91 South, when I came to the Kensington exit, just on a whim, I decided to pop in and say hello. I arrived there around 7:00, maybe 7:30. I noticed immediately that the place was dark. I couldn't spot one light on in any of the windows so I figured, Oh well, he's not here, maybe next time. As I was pulling over to turn around, I saw a set of headlights in my rear-view mirror so I had to wait a few seconds for that car to pass by. Instead of passing me, the car turned into St. Paul's parish driveway. Once it parked and three gentlemen got out, I recognized Marcel's silhouette so I got out of my car and walked up the driveway. When I called out a greeting, he must've recognized my voice immediately because he spun around, already beaming from ear-to-ear, opened his arms for a hug while exclaiming "What are you doing here? How'd you find me? Come in, come in! Oh, it's so good to see you! What a surprise!" And I am not kidding you here, we sat at the kitchen table practically all night long, just shooting the breeze about everything under the sun. I never left until twenty after three the next morning. We sat and talked at that table for eight hours that night, LOL.
     Anyway, my whole point is.... it's always amazed me that, even though we come from two completely different eras, we stand on so much common ground. We're separated in age by 37 years, almost four decades, yet we have so much in common it boggles my mind. I love to hear him talk about his childhood because it, in many ways, mirrors my own. We both have "rural" roots... we both come from households that had financial hardships. We both come from that "small town" way-of-life where neighbors were considered extended family. And, I guess, when you come up in the world, with all of that as your foundation, it cements a certain set of morals, or values... it gives you an appreciation for things that not everyone can relate to. I dunno... maybe that's why we've always been able to talk the way we can. Maybe that's why we seem to have so much in common. I just don't know. But whatever it is, whenever I'm with him, I've always felt that our lives are, somehow, connected. When I met him, he was 51, I was 14. Today, he's 84, I'm 47.... yet, when we're together and we're sitting there talking and reminiscing and sharing stories - it's the oddest thing - but, to me, it feels like we grew up together, as siblings would; that we shared the same life.
     Y'know... I grew up as an "only child." So, for me to say that I feel like he's my brother - as in real "flesh & blood" - that's a big deal, folks! It's truly astounding! I don't know why or how it's possible to feel like that, LOL, and I don't really care. It's what my heart tells me and I'm not gonna argue. It is what it is. Ever since I was a kid, I've always believed God brought this man into my life for a reason, that our paths were meant to cross. Maybe this is the reason. Maybe God's great plan wasn't to give me a spiritual mentor, per se, or a magnificent teacher (though Marcel was, and remains, both). Maybe God's plan wasn't that complicated. Maybe He simply wanted to give me a brother to love.....
     Gift received!
     With a quick glance at my watch, we were shocked to learn it was almost 11 o'clock. We were at Olive Garden for almost three hours, LOL! We finished up our third round of wine and Margaritas and headed out to the parking lot. We stood, curbside, for a few moments stretching the legs and letting our meals settle a bit. Then we kind'a roamed across the parking lot until I finally realized what was happening. I was following him as he was trying to follow me. I stopped and just stood there. He stopped right alongside me.
     "Friar?" I asked.
     "Um, whose vehicle are we looking for, yours or mine?" At this, we both broke out in laughter. He said, "I don't know, I was following you."
     "Same here," I said. "OK... um... do you remember driving here, or did I? I don't remember driving..."
     "I don't either," he answered with another chuckle.
     "Damn," I exclaimed, "how potent were those drinks? OK, let me ask you this... do you remember climbing in behind the wheel, or did you have to climb up into the Jeep?"
     At that, he laughed again and shook his head in wonder. "I don't remember doing either one."
     "Wow! Oh my god. Seriously, how much did we have to drink? OK, you look for a little blue car and I'll look for JEEP ROMULUS." At this point, I'm actually standing on my tip-toes trying to peer over the rows of vehicles. "Oh, wait... there's a little blue car over there, is that us?"
     "Is it a Ford?"
     "I don't know, I can't see that far. Let's go check it out," I said.
     As we got closer, I could finally see a yellow plate on the front end. "Well, it is a New York plate, I guess, 'cause it's yellow."
     "Does it start with F-R-E?" he asked, sounding hopeful.
     "Ummm...." I hesitated as we got closer, "YUP, it does!"
     "THAT's ME," he announced.
     By the time I climbed into the passenger seat, I was cracking up. I said, "Wow, this is gonna make a helluva blog entry. I can see it now -- How The Friar and I Got Shit-Faced at The Olive Garden!"
     Through more laughter and with a growl in his throat he issued a mild threat with, "DON'T YOU DARE!"
     This made me crack up even more. "Ohhhh, no, no, no, Honey," I laughed, "this is absolutely goin' in the blog. It won't be an entry all by itself, no, but it's definitely goin' in the blog somewhere! There's no way I'm leaving this out, are you kidding me? No way, this is just too good. It'll be a funny memory for us later on!"
     [Now, with all that being said, let me just clear the air for anyone who might be wondering.... I drank two Margaritas and half a glass of wine. He drank two and a half glasses of just wine. It was spread over a three-hour period and it was also combined with a FULL meal, so, NO, we were not intoxicated. He was completely sober and so was I. My comments about how potent those drinks must've been was just my smart-ass way of KIDDING AROUND with him. Our "vehicle confusion" was due solely to the fact that for the last three and a half days, we were constantly switching vehicles. It was just a coincidence that we both lost track of who drove that evening, and nothing more. Please refrain from sending me nasty emails about how I allowed a friend to drive drunk. That's NOT the case, so I don't want to hear it!]
     Back at the Residence, we tucked the Blue Chariot in the garage for the night and proceeded to say goodnight. Then it dawned on me! I couldn't head to my hotel yet! I reminded him that we kind'a left the TV-room in shambles and we should probably clean up after ourselves. Once that was taken care of, I grabbed my camera and he walked me out. He said that, in the morning, he had to give Mass for Fr. Ken but that he'd probably be done by 9:00 so I could head back over then. I suggested 9:30 might be better, that way he wouldn't feel rushed. He agreed and we said goodnight with a big hug!
     I called Steve, reviewed all the pictures on the camera, then collapsed in bed at 1:02am. I never saw 1:05... I was out like a light!

Day Four:  Sunday, April 30th...

     I regained consciousness at 7:15 and climbed out of bed. I could hear rain so I peeked out the window. The sky was black and the rain was really come down out there! Off in the distance though, I could see the sky was much brighter to the North so I figured, since I had two hours to kill, I'd take a trip back up to the Basilica. I didn't know which way the looming black clouds were headed but, keeping my fingers crossed, I hoped they were headin' South.
     I pulled into OLV's parking lot at 8:00am. The sky was still dark gray but at least the rain had stopped! Cool! I walked around the entire Basilica, getting shots from all sides. I even found a really nice statue of Fr. Baker that I hadn't seen yesterday so I got a couple shots of that as well. Double COOL!!! I didn't attempt going in because I knew Mass was in progress and, since I wasn't really dressed appropriately, I figured I'd save getting more inside shots for my next trip.
     It was 9:10 by the time I made it back to JEEP ROMULUS. Yikes! It was later than I thought! I had twenty minutes to make it back over to the Rosary Hour. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, my phone rang. The Friar just wanted to let me know that, instead of 9:30, I should come at 10:00am. When he asked if that was all right with me I was, like, "Ayuh, that's perfect! See ya then!"
     Finding myself with a little extra time on my hands, I pulled into Holy Cross Cemetery and immediately found a map of the grounds located right inside the Main Entrance gate. I wanted to find Fr. Baker's memorial (even though his remains are now located inside the Basilica). After studying the map for a few minutes, trying to memorize all the left and right turns, I eventually gave up and just took a picture of the map so I could bring it with me, LOL. That made it much easier and I found it in no time at all.
     From Fr. Baker's Memorial, I drove around the entire cemetery twice just sizing it up. I wanted to get some shots of some of the headstones with the Basilica in the background and I finally decided on two or three different locations that would work nicely. I even managed to get an interesting shot of OLV looking through a chain-link fence. It looked awesome on the camera, though I wouldn't find out for sure until I got it home!
     When I glanced at my watch I was appalled to see that it was already 9:50. Damn! I had totally lost track of time. I was supposed to be at the Rosary Hour in ten minutes! Wonderful -- now I was gonna be late! And poor Friar! He hadn't eaten all morning. Then I realized something even worse... since he hadn't eaten yet, that also meant he hadn't taken his pills 'cause he usually takes them with food! OH SHIT screamed my brain, and at that moment, I took off RUNNING across the cemetery towards the Jeep. Good grief, I hope no one saw me, LOL, 'cause I must've looked like a complete crazy person sprinting through the cemetery, zig-zagging my way around headstones, even leaping over a couple of them. Oh my!
     By the time I made it to the truck I could hardly stand up straight because I was so out'a breath. I jumped in and peeled rubber out'a that cemetery, steering with one hand, while the other searched frantically in my purse for the phone. It was 9:56. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!!! He answered on the first ring and asked, "Where are you?" Still trying to catch my breath, I had to talk between gasps. I told him I was sorry and that I'd get there as fast as I could, that I was on my way. He was, like, "Are you OK? What are you doing? Where are you?" He sounded worried (due to my labored breathing, no doubt). I explained about how I had lost track of time in the cemetery up by the Basilica, and that I should be there in about twenty minutes.
     I pulled into the Rosary Hour's parking lot at 10:17 and found him standing there waiting for me. He climbed right in and asked, "Uncle Joe's?"
     "Oh my god, Friar, I'm so sorry. I totally lost track of time. I'm so sorry. Yeah, Uncle Joe's is good. Have you eaten anything at all? What about your pills? I'm so sorry I kept you waiting!"
     "No, no. Don't worry. I'm fine; it's fine. I'll just take'm when we get there. It's OK."
     "My god, you poor thing, you must be starving, I'm so sorry."
     "Yuppers," he said, "I'm thinking about pancakes!"
     "Oh yeah? That sounds yummy. I'm thinking about some kind of omelette."
     We arrived at Uncle Joe's at 10:30 and, luckily, they weren't that busy so we were seated right away with water and coffee in front of us within moments. When the waitress came back with our menus, it didn't take us long to decide. He ordered their Short-Stack (3 pancakes) and toast; I ordered a "Brussels Sprout & Bacon" omelette with a side of hash-browns.
     While we were waiting for our order to arrive, I kept looking at his face. He was wearing an unusual expression I wasn't sure how to interpret. I couldn't tell if he was tired, or if he didn't feel well or if, perhaps, he was a little annoyed that I had kept him waiting. Before I had a chance to ask if everything was OK, he beat me to the punch.
     "So," he started, "you're leaving today. Any idea what time?"
     Oh, I thought to myself, that's what it is. He's probably exhausted and can't wait to get rid of me. "Well, I have to check out of my hotel at twelve..."
     "I see. You'll have to head directly to the hotel from here then?"
     I shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so."
     "Oh... " He appeared as if he wanted to say more but, at that moment, our food arrived so we dug in. I watched as he poured maple syrup all over his pancakes. Then he lifted the top pancake with his fork so he could hit the one in the middle; and he did the same with the top two so he could smother the one on the very bottom as well. By the time he was done, the pancakes were practically floating across his plate.
     "Wow," I laughed, "why don't you have some pancakes with your syrup, Marcel!" Without any comment, he took his pills and started to eat.
     OK, something has to be wrong, I thought, because the expression on his face still didn't look right. There's usually a smile in his eyes but, this morning, his eyes were not smiling.
     "Um, what's up, Friar? Did you sleep all right? You feelin' OK?" I asked.
     "I feel fine. Everything is just fine. Feel pretty good," he said, "why do you ask?"
     "I don't know, just checkin', I guess. Seems like, maybe, something's wrong. Something on your mind?"
     "This has been a very nice weekend. I've enjoyed having you around, seeing you again... It's nice having company."
     "And now you can't wait to get rid of me, is that it?" I laughed. "I've worn you out, eh?"
     "No, no... when do you plan on leaving? Do you have to leave at noon or..."
     "Oh! No, no, no... I have to leave the hotel at noon. That doesn't mean I have to get on the road at noon. I'm in no hurry to get home, really. I have tomorrow off from work too so I can stay as long as you're willing to put up with me." As I spoke, I saw the smile creep back into his eyes.
     "Good," he said with a grin, "what would you like to do after breakfast? Any plans?"
     "None. I'm open to... whatever. But, y'know, we have done quite a bit during the last three days. It's been awesome! And I'm relieved that you've enjoyed it too. I thought for a second, there, you couldn't wait for me to leave," I chuckled. "It's good to know I haven't over-stayed my welcome. It is a long ride home though... so I'm thinking we should just chill out and relax today...."
     "Now that we've figured out the proper way to view a slide-show on the computer, maybe we could take a peek at all the pictures we've taken?"
     "I've already started working on them," he offered.
     "Oh, yeah? How'd they come out?"
     "Lots of good stuff," he beamed.
     "Excellent! I can't wait to see them. I've looked through mine too... but it's hard to tell how they really look viewing them on that little LCD screen on the camera."
     "Of course."
     I hesitated a few moments. "Um, and I've been thinking..."
     "You're always thinkin'..."
     "Ha, ha! I am, I know. The other day, when we were talking about the next time I come to see you... well, I have a week off for the Fourth of July. You think that's too soon? I know it's only a couple months away but...
     A brief, yet comical, flash of fear spread across his face at my mention of a WEEK off. I cracked up when I realized what he thought I was suggesting.
     "No, no, no, no, don't worry. I wouldn't be here the entire week," I laughed, "that'd be too much for both of us. The only plans I have that week, so far, is Wednesday, the fifth. Steve and I are going into the city to see Hamilton on Broadway. The rest of that week is totally open. I think this visit was perfect -- four days -- it was plenty for me, and I don't think it was too much for you.... or... was it?"
     "No, it wasn't too much. It worked out well for The Friar."
     The Friar. LOL, I love it when he refers to himself as The Friar. It's like he's the only one on the planet. He's THE Friar, the One and Only. I love it. I absolutely love it!
     "Great! So, I was thinking - if it works for you - maybe I could come on the first and leave on the fourth? Another four days? You think that'd be OK?"
     "Yes, I think that'll be fine, but I don't know if I'll be available that Sunday..."
     "That's OK. I know my way around here well enough already. I'm sure I can entertain myself that day, no problem! I could spend the entire day just at the Basilica and I'd be perfectly content. Oh, and that Holy Cross Cemetery up there is awesome! I could spend HOURS in there with the camera."
     "I was going to ask," he said, "what you were doing at the Basilica this morning. I was surprised when you told me where you were."
     "Yeah, that place is gorgeous; it's really something! I wanted to get some more pictures of it. Got some pretty good ones, I think. The architecture is totally amazing. I am sorry, though, that I lost track of time. I really didn't mean to keep you waiting."
     "That's fine, that's fine, no harm done."
     "Good, I'm glad, but it won't happen again!"
     And so it went. We chatted about this and that throughout the rest of our meal. He cleaned his plate (maple syrup and all!) and so did I. That Brussels Sprout & Bacon omelette was fantastic! And since it was established I didn't have to hit the road right away we leisured over a second round of coffee.
     We left Uncle Joe's at 11:30. I dropped The Friar at home and headed over to the hotel so I could load up JEEP ROMULUS and check out. When that business was taken care of I asked the Clerk how quickly the hotel fills up for the 4th of July holiday. Without batting an eye she was, like, "Wicked fast!" Alrighty then -- not just fast, but wicked fast. Right then and there, I booked reservations for Saturday, July 1rst through Tuesday, July 4th! Wooohoooooo!!!
     I called Marcel as I was pulling back into his driveway to let him know I was there. After I climbed out of the Jeep, I grabbed the Risen DVD and the Red Skelton box-set from the back seat and shoved them both in my purse. As we entered his room, I made the announcement. "It's official," I said, "mark your calendar. Reservations are made for July first to the fourth!" Again, he looked a bit startled, but I was, like, "It's OK - really - don't worry - no pressure, I promise. I just wanted to be safe, rather than sorry -- it's a holiday week and that hotel fills up fast, they said. We'll be talking between now and then. If something comes up, or if you change your mind, no problem, just let me know, and we can plan for another time." He said OK and nodded his agreement.
     "Oh, and since we had such great weather this weekend, we didn't get to watch this stuff," and I dug the DVDs out'a my purse and held them out to him. "Would you like to keep these so you can watch them, y'know, whenever you have the time?" When he looked down and focused on what I was holding, his eyes widened (just like a little kid!) and he smiled. "Oh, yeah," he said, "I would. Wow, Red Skelton... Thank you!"
     I noticed he had already positioned a second chair in front of his computer so we could sit side-by-side in order to critique our photos. One of his shots from the Botanical Gardens was on the screen, opened in his photo-editing software. I got my camera out and removed the disk, then took a seat, placing the disk right in front of me for safe keeping.
     He navigated to the folder where his photos from our weekend were and started a slide-show. We sat back and watched them all, "Ooh-ing" and "Aah-ing" at many of them. Then we switched seats and I put my memory card in the computer and we watched all my photos flicker across his monitor. It took almost an hour to get through both sets of photographs... and the whole time I'm thinking to myself, Cool! These are gonna make an AWESOME scrap book!
     I put my disk back in the camera so I wouldn't forget to bring it home... and when I turned around he was already back to editing the Botanical Garden pictures. I was, like, "Wow, it doesn't take you long to get engrossed in something, does it?"
     "Yeah, I like doing stuff like this..." he said.
     "I know you do -- I remember."
     "What do you mean you remember?"
     "I remember seeing you on my Buddy List late at night, while you were working on your web site. Sometimes we'd be IMing at the same time and you'd tell me about what you were doing. Sometimes you'd even ask me how to do certain things with the HTML tags. And, remember, after I visited you in Maryland, how we emailed all our photos from that weekend to each other once I got home? I think it took us two solid days to finally swap all those files. It was great!"
     "I still have those photos, right here, look!"
He double-clicked on a folder and, sure enough, there they were -- from 15 years ago. We sat and watched a slide-show of those as well. When those finished he said, "I'll do the same thing with these. Once I'm done with resizing them all and adjusting the colors and contrast, I'll put them on a DVD and send them to you."
     "Yeah, OK, cool.... and I'll do the same with mine when I get home. I'll just mail you a... Wait a minute, what am I saying? Why don't we just do the swap right now, then we won't have to burn any CDs or bother with trips to the Post Office?"
     He cocked his head at me in confusion as if to say, What are you talking about? And I was, like, "We don't have to mail them to each other. We can just swap our files right now. Do you wanna do that instead? It'd be easier, don't ya think?"
     He still looked a little lost. He shrugged his shoulders and kind'a shook his head at me, waiting for the clarification. "You're not following me, are you," I asked. He shook his head again and apologized. "No, no, no, don't apologize, it's OK, my Mom's the same way. Sometimes she doesn't get it either," I laughed, "but look, it's simple. I'll take your photos home with me, and I'll leave you mine. Ya get it?"
     "Yeah, I think, but... how can you do that?"
     "Um, I'll show ya. Do you mind if I sit there again for a few minutes?"
     "Of course," he said, and immediately stood up, offering me his seat in front of his computer. I grabbed my camera again and popped out the disk. Then I rummaged around in my purse and dug out my flash-drive.
     "OK," I said, "this is what I'm gonna do." As I worked at his computer I told him, step-by-step, what I was doing. "This is the disk from my camera. All my pictures are on this. I'm gonna put this in your computer and navigate to the folder for this disk. I'm gonna Select All my files and then drag them onto your hard drive, like so. Now my pictures are copying from my disk to your computer, see? That'll take a minute 'cause there's so many of them. OK, that's done. And just so I don't forget, I'm gonna pop my disk out now and put it back in the camera."
     "OK," he smiled. "I'm enjoying the tutorial. I have all your pictures now?"
     "Ayuh, you sure do. They're right here in this folder called DCIM... but I'm gonna change that right now so you'll know what's in there. I'll rename it, I dunno, Dove's Photos, that's clear enough, I guess. OK, now I'm gonna plug in my flash-drive so I can take your photos home with me. I just need to know where your photos are..."
     "I put them in My Pictures, I think."
     "OK. So, I'm gonna open your My Pictures folder, I'm highlighting them all, and I'm gonna click and drag them over to my flash-drive. See? That'll take a minute to finish, like before..."
     "But they're still on my computer right?"
     "Yup, I'm not moving them, I'm just copying them. OK, we're all set," I said as I unplugged my flash-drive, "I have all our photos and you have all our photos. And neither one of us had to burn CDs or deal with the Post Office."
     "When I finish editing them, should I mail them to you?"
     "Why," I asked, "there's no need for that now. I can do my own editing at home, just like you can here..."
     "Yes, that's right, of course you can."
     "Ayuh! See? I'm not as dumb as I look! What are we gonna look at now? What else ya got you can show me?" and we switched seats again so he could sit at the controls.
     "What would you like to see?"
     I laughed. "I haven't seen you in over a decade, Marcel. Show me everything. Pictures of the garden, visits with Dean, vacation pictures, whatever ya got, anything at all, I'd love to see!"
     I was expecting him to start clicking on folders to find photos on the computer so I was surprised when he reached over to his other desk and grabbed a 3-ring binder instead. It was a collection of photos he'd taken through the years, all printed out as 8x10s which he had inserted into clear plastic sheet-protectors. As I slowly turned the pages, he leaned in and told me a little about each one. There were many I had seen already from his web site and even a few he had emailed to me many years ago; but it was wonderful to sit next to him, hearing him recount the stories behind the photos, especially the family photos which included a couple wonderful pictures of his Mom.
     After we finished perusing the binder he excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he came back into the room he found me kneeling in front of his CD-stand in the corner, studying their titles... some were music but many of them contained photos, videos, and slide-shows he had made of a bunch of friar stuff, like Friars Day get-togethers, Masses, Transitus Celebrations, and OLA Province gatherings/conventions...
     "Can we watch some of these?" I asked
     He seemed surprised that I was interested but said, "Of course!" and he selected a few from the shelf. We settled in front of the computer and we began with a few short videos, moving on to the slide-shows. Many of the slide-shows included music, too, which I thought was pretty cool. Again, he was surprised, I think, when I started calling out names of some of the Friars I recognized -- Fr. Romulus, Fr. Joe, Fr. Ross, Fr. Paul, Fr. Marco and, of course, Fr. James McCurry. That little dude, in particular, gets around, LOL. James is probably the biggest Photo-Bomber I've ever seen. There are thousands of photos of him online. Somehow, at every Friar event, he manages to get in just about every photograph taken! I also recognized two Friars from St. Paul's in Kensington but I couldn't remember their names.
     With every name I'd mention, he'd glance over at me with a cute, though somewhat puzzled, grin on his face as if to say How do you know this? With a subtle wink I answered him with, "Between your web site, the Rosary Hour's site, YouTube, and the OLA Province web site and Facebook pages, I've always kept an eye on you!" When he heard my explanation he chuckled a little. To my ears, his chuckle sounded like one filled with disbelief at the thought that I'd gone through so much trouble to watch over him. "Hey," I said, "I really missed you. I'd search online for hours sometimes to find pictures of you, or whatever, so I'd know that you were OK, that you were still alive and well." And with a chuckle of my own I added, "Yuppers, I've been keeping tabs on you for years!" He smiled at my use of Yuppers.
     Even though I hated the idea of having to leave him to head home, the weekend was starting to catch up with me and I found myself worn out and starting to get sleepy. Knowing I had a long ride ahead of me, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 2:45. Begrudgingly, I made the announcement that I thought it was time that I head on down the highway.
     "Oh," he said, "you won't stay for dinner?"
     "No, I better not. I'd love too but I don't dare -- I'm already kind'a wiped out and if I make the trip on a full stomach it'll only make it harder for me to stay awake." He nodded his understanding.
     I gathered up my purse and camera bag and he walked me out to my truck. I thanked him for everything; told him I had a fantastic time, that he was the perfect host, and that every moment with him had been wonderful! As we hugged goodbye, I told him - once again - that I loved him and that I always will. I hugged him tighter and I heard him say, "I love you too. God bless you and keep you safe so we can have you back!"
     "See you in July," I said as I climbed into JEEP ROMULUS.
     "I'll look forward to it!"
     "Me too!!!"
     As I pulled out of the driveway, turning onto St. Francis Drive, he blew a kiss and threw me a wave. With my heart restored with JOY, I returned the loving gesture as I drove away...
     "I'll see you again in July," I said aloud to no one but myself. And the prayer that had become so familiar during the last fifteen years came back to me in a whisper, filling my heart and mind -- Lord, keep him healthy, keep him happy; Keep him safe, keep him strong. -- the mantra keeping me company all the way home as I thanked Him over and over for my friend, for my brother.
     The drive home was very nice. I enjoyed the rustic, farm-land views; the weather was beautiful and the traffic was nonexistent. And even though I only made two stops along the way, the trip still took seven hours. I pulled into my driveway at exactly 10:00pm.
     It took two trips up all my stairs to get JEEP ROMULUS fully unloaded. The first trip inside I was greeted at the door by my two girls - Rigby & Sabrina - as they both circled me like sharks, demanding my complete attention! They had plenty of dry food left in their bowls but I cracked open a can of their favorite Fancy Feast and dished it out for them anyway. By the time I made the second trip up the stairs with another armload of stuff, they were both curled up on the couch, without a care in the world, as if I had never been gone. LOL, cats are funny like that!
     The unpacking began immediately! My camera bag landed on my desk right next to my computer; all the clothes were sorted out and deposited in either the hamper or put back in drawers; and all the souvenirs I brought home were left, temporarily, piled on my bed. The little Cherub statue, though, was a different story. Right away, I cleared and dusted off a shelf in my living room and placed the Cherub there, surrounded by the books, the DVD, and the medallion I bought at the Basilica, along with a Buffalo, NY coffee mug I picked up on the road and a Niagara Falls key-chain I bought at the Welcome Center. And though my apartment was a stuffy 84 degrees, I donned my new Niagara Falls sweatshirt, grabbed my camera, set the timer and took a "selfie," proudly presenting my newly-decorated shelf!
     Since the camera was still out, I decided to load all the weekend photos onto the computer instead of waiting until Monday. Once that was done, I picked my favorite picture I had taken of The Friar and set it as my new desktop-wallpaper. I took a selfie with that too!
     I resized the two selfies I had just taken, signed on for a few minutes and wrote Marcel a quick note to let him know I had arrived home in one piece, safe and sound. I thanked him again for such a fantastic weekend, attached both the photos and hit SEND.


     Five minutes later, I collapsed in bed, thoroughly exhausted but extremely content and happy. I thought back on the wonderful folks I'd met over the weekend -- Chef Caroline and her little Yorkie dog; Fr. Ross, the Pastor at St. Francis Church; Fr. Joe, the Chaplain for the Buffalo Fire Department; Jerry, from the Rosary Hour; and Fr. Ken, a retired Friar (and Marine!) who lives right across the hall from Marcel's room. Fr. Ken is a very elusive species of Friar. Though I was there for four days, I only saw him for about 35 seconds, LOL. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet Fr. Bill because he was in the hospital. And I never got the chance to meet Fr. Romulus either, when we were in Lackawanna. Maybe next time... 'cause I'd like to get a photo of him standing next to JEEP ROMULUS, LOL. I think that'd be kind'a cute.
     The Botanical Gardens were beautiful! Niagara Falls was awesome! The Fr. Baker Museum was inspirational! The Basilica was magnificent! All of those things were fabulous. I was thrilled to visit them all and grateful that I was able to come home with hundreds of gorgeous photographs...
     But, honestly, what I enjoyed the most was the time spent with Marcel, just us, one on one, when our attention wasn't held by the tourist attractions; when it was just the two of us, hangin' out, talking. All the meals we shared, all the moments we spent driving here and there, the quiet time we spent in front of his computer, and when we were watching the photos projected on the wall. All the times we smiled and laughed together. And even the little things, like how he immediately commented on my gray hair; the road-side dandelions; the way he described all the pictures in the 3-ring binder; and how he lit up when The Pennsylvania Polka started to play -- all those little moments, that might seem insignificant to someone else, are precious memories to me because it was all time shared with him. That's all that really matters. That's what made the weekend so special!
     As I finally drifted off to sleep, the mantra continued -- Dear Lord, watch over my friend. Keep him healthy, keep him happy; Keep him safe, keep him strong.....

ENTRY #559
DATE:  04/26/17 (Wednesday)
SUBJECT:  I'm ready to go! Can't wait to get there!!!

     Well.... I've got a full tank of gas and the flower arrangement was picked up after work as planned. I've got my passport tucked safely in my purse, plenty of cash and a cleaned off credit card so I'm ready to go! I can't wait to get there!!!
     It's Wednesday night (late); JEEP ROMULUS is fully loaded already and I just got out of the shower. The cell phone and the MP3 Player are both fully charged and I've already left out plenty of food and water for the cats. Right now, I'm just trying to "wind down" enough so I can actually get a couple hours of sleep before the alarm clock goes off at 3:00am.
     I'm aiming to be on the road somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00. If I can manage to actually get out of bed at 3:00am I might be able to scoot out'a here even earlier than that, we'll see.
     I'm exhausted. Monday, Tuesday and today [at work] were crazy for me. Since I'm not going to be at work until May 2nd, my boss was kind'a in "Panic Mode," making sure everything was done before I left this evening at 5:00pm. On top of that, I've barely slept the last two nights. I've had a road-construction crew working right outside my bedroom window since Monday morning. They're preparing to pave the street I live on so I've been listening to jack-hammers as they dig up all the old asphalt and haul it off. And let's not forget the big construction lights they use so they can see at night. Good grief! My room has been lit up so bright I can actually read without having my own light on, LOL.
     I just checked AccuWeather again and the forecast still doesn't look that great. Lots of "Partly Cloudy" mentions, along with "Rain" and even some "Scattered Thunder & Lightening" warnings. In case we are rained in all weekend, I've decided to bring some DVDs along too. I just picked out six Jimmy Stewart movies along with the film Risen, about the Roman Soldier who's hired to solve the "Jesus' body is missing" mystery. I also grabbed my Red Skelton box-set collection of the old Variety Show that aired back in the '50s. The Friar might enjoy watching some of those, we'll see!
     Between being over tired and being extra-excited about this trip I don't know how I'm ever going to get to sleep tonight. My god.... it's been fifteen years. I can't believe after all this time, I'll be seeing him tomorrow!

ENTRY #558
DATE:  04/23/17 (Sunday)
SUBJECT:  Packing!

     So I leave for Hamburg, NY in four days...
     I got all my laundry done yesterday morning so I could start packing today.
     I've also been keeping my eye on AccuWeather's web site so I know what to pack based on the weather out there.
     Um, now that I have clothes spread all around my bedroom, packing for this trip has become more challenging than I thought, LOL. Since the weather looks "iffy" during the entire four-day span, I'm bringing clothes for chilly and damp conditions, as well as clothes for mildly warm/humid conditions.
     Another factor is that I have no idea where we'll be eating. Which means I'm also packing a separate bag containing four or five outfits from my "work attire" wardrobe in case we choose to have dinner in a finer establishment (where yoga-pants and T-shirts wouldn't be appropriate).
     The same weather/dining issues apply to the foot-wear I'll need. I'm bringing two pairs of sneakers, a pair of sandals and black pumps for dinner (if needed). I'm also including a pair of boots in case I decide to go traipsing through a cemetery or two with the camera and the ground is muddy from all the rain. Good grief!
     Add to this the stuff I've already loaded into the truck --- a case of bottled water, snacks for the hotel room in case the munchies hit, my chess board and three jig-saw puzzles (in case we're rained in all weekend), the puzzle-caddy, my Vera Bradley "go bag" that I usually take to Adrienne's house which is loaded with some coloring books, colored pencils, markers and a couple puzzle books in case I get bored in the hotel room at night, a stack of books I'm bringing for The Friar along with a gift-bag of some other "goodies" for him... and, Wednesday evening - on my way home from work - I'm picking up a small flower arrangement for him which will probably have to make the trip on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Plus, of course, my purse and my camera bag too!
     JEEP ROMULUS will be overflowing with stuff by the time I'm done. You'd think I'm going for four weeks, not four days, LOL!

ENTRY #557
DATE:  04/22/17 (Saturday)
SUBJECT:  Weeds have beauty too!

     Consider the Dandelion. Most of us pass by them without giving them a single thought. Others think of them as "pests" that disrupt the beauty of our luscious, green lawns.
     A common weed? I think not.
     Thanks to my new camera, today I've come to appreciate the Dandelion in a whole new light. When you get down and dirty - and I mean that quite literally as I was laying flat on the ground to take this shot - it's actually a gorgeous little flower!
     And - again - I got Photo-Bombed! This time by an ant! :-)

ENTRY #556
DATE:  04/18/17 (Tuesday)

     I am not happy!
     JEEP ROMULUS did NOT get fixed today! :-(
     Safe-Lite showed up at 10:00am and as soon as the guy took a look at my windshield he said, "We've got a problem." They loaded up his truck with the wrong windshield. The one he brought had Rain-Detection electronics which is not the right windshield for the model Jeep I own. JEEP ROMULUS is the "Sport" model with a plain ol' regular windshield.
     Apparently, since the Sport model is so popular, and comes in so many different varieties, it's impossible for Safe-Lite to stock the correct windshield. The windshield I need is a "Dealer Ordered" part which means I now have to wait "7 to 10 business days" for it to come in.
     Seven business days from now is April 27th, the day I leave for Hamburg, so that's not gonna work. It's gonna have to wail 'til I get back. That means I get to drive an 850-mile round trip looking at a cracked windshield. Super.
     Oh well. It is what it is....

ENTRY #555
DATE:  04/17/17 (Monday)
SUBJECT:  JEEP ROMULUS will be fixed tomorrow!

     First thing this morning, as soon as I got to work, I called my insurance company to inform them about the broken windshield. The second phone call was to Safe-Lite Auto Glass to make an appointment. Luckily, they have some time available tomorrow, between 8am and Noon!
     Woohoooooo!!! JEEP ROMULUS will be fixed! Just in time too 'cause the crack has spread another two inches since it happened on Friday.

ENTRY #554
DATE:  04/16/17 (Sunday)
SUBJECT:  Mom's deer...

     Yesterday, when I posted the photo of the new puppy, I forgot all about the OTHER pictures I took when I was at my Mom's house....
     Since her horse (Nuggett) is gone now, what used to serve as the corral has turned into a feeding ground for various wildlife. Occasionally, a fox or a hawk might be spotted out there eating a mouse or a rabbit; sometimes a flock of turkeys will take it over, pecking at the "grit" from the dirt that helps their digestion; other times you can walk through the ol' corral and spot numerous moose, bear, and coyote tracks. Every once in a while a mountain lion might come nosing around too! And then - of course - there are the deer! TONS of deer!
     For the last three years or so, my Mom has been buying 50-pound sacks of dried, cracked corn and she's been spreading it around out there for all the deer. The deer are used to this by now so they show up every day at the same time for their daily fill. My Mom loves it. She stands in the kitchen window every afternoon and watches as they munch up the corn.
     Like clock-work, at 4:00pm, we looked out the window and - sure enough - there they were, four beautiful doe! I grabbed my camera and headed out the door. I managed to snap about 35 great shots. It's hard to single out one photo as my favorite but I think this one is in the top five --- all four of them, heads up, looking straight at the camera...

ENTRY #553
DATE:  04/15/17 (Saturday)
SUBJECT:  A new member of the family...

     A new life!
       A new love!
         A new member of the family!
     Meet BAILEY, my Mom's new puppy....

     Bailey is a brand new, female, Black Lab. She's only 18 days old now so she won't be coming home 'til the third week of May. Today was the first time I met her and I'm looking forward to watching her grow up!
     Welcome to the family, baby girl!

ENTRY #552
DATE:  04/14/17 (Friday)
SUBJECT:  A trip to Litchfield County...

     Today is Good Friday. My shop was closed today for the Holyday (no, that is not a typo. I spelled it that way intentionally since it's a Holy Day). I didn't have any plans and the weather was great so I decided to head back up to that covered bridge (Bulls Bridge) in Kent, CT to get some photos!
     Had a good time doing it too! Walked all over the place to shoot it from different angles... and, eventually, I found myself - for the first time ever - standing right on the Appalachian Trail. The Trail runs right by Bulls Bridge so I walked in about a thousand feet to see what the photo-ops would be like. The Trail was angling away from the bridge; I could hardly see it through all the trees making photos practically impossible so I turned around and headed back to the truck. I would like to go back someday and actually do some real "hiking." Of course I have to lose about 50 pounds first before I attempt it though, LOL.
     From Kent I continued north, deeper into Litchfield County, to Cornwall in search of the West Cornwall covered bridge. That's an impressive bridge. It spans almost 250 feet and it's painted red, like an old country barn. It's gorgeous! Walked all around the area and took tons of photos.
     On the way home, I stopped in Kent again to visit Kent Falls State Park. Pretty place. I actually walked the entire length of the trail to the top of the falls, taking photos all the way up. As the climb became steeper, I couldn't keep myself from chuckling about the thought of going hiking with The Friar. After walking almost half a mile on the Appalachian Trail earlier today, and the quarter-mile climb to the top of Kent Falls, I am definitely NOT in "hiking" condition, LOL. My God, I thought I was gonna die by the time I reached the top of the falls. If it hadn't been for the frequent stops to take pictures, I never would've made it. Yup, I gotta lose more weight. A LOT more weight. Granted, I wasn't in agony by any means, but the breathing was definitely more labored than it should've been. Not cool!!!
     Oh, and this happened today too ---

     A big ol' chunk of gravel came flying towards me from a dump-truck traveling the opposite direction. I actually ducked while I was driving 'cause I thought it was gonna come right THROUGH the windshield like a bullet. There was more than a few choice words spoken immediately after I saw the damage! That really pissed me off. Poor JEEP ROMULUS is only five months old and I have to get a new windshield put in, dammit! So, come Monday morning, I have to call my insurance company along with Safe-Lite Auto Glass to get an appointment scheduled...
     Oh well... even with the broken windshield, it was still a great day. Got a bunch of nice photos. Once I get them sorted and resized I might put up a new photo album, we'll see.

ENTRY #551
DATE:  04/09/17 (Sunday)
SUBJECT:  I got Photo-Bombed!!!

     WOW!!! The MACRO setting on this new camera is incredible!!! I just loaded the pictures I took yesterday afternoon onto the computer so I could check them out and I am utterly amazed. Take a look at this picture...

     Now, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't consider this particular photograph all that interesting. (Although, the little specs of pollen are pretty cool, I will say that!) But check out the action going on in the upper right-hand corner. You see that little yellow insect? That is an Aphid. Seriously... check him out! He's just sitting there, chillin' on the edge of that petal, throwing me a Peace sign with his little antennae! I can't believe it ---- I actually got photo-bombed by an Aphid! Honestly, how many people out there can say that???
     Oh yeah! Dove's gonna have some fun with this camera! Big time!!!

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