This is the eighth of my “Best of the Year” series, dedicated to remembering and appreciating all the great experiences and memories the year holds, but before I get to those, I want to acknowledge the loss of several of our dear loved ones, as Marge, Dorothy and Toey passed from this world and into the loving arms of God. It was a difficult year for them in their suffering and for us in our grieving, but we’re comforted that they have been reunited with their loved ones that passed before them.
As is custom, I start this year’s countdown with the tenth best experience and work to the best of the best. What you don’t see are the other thirty-two that didn’t make the cut, but contributed to making this another fun year. Without further ado, here’s 2018.
10. Cocoa Beach
The lone vacation of the year was a January trip to Orlando, and unlike the past two year’s winter trips to an unusually cold Florida, this time we were treated to five days of sunshine and mid-80’s. We had left one day open in our schedule and we used it to take a trip over to Cocoa Beach on the east coast to soak up some rays, walk the sand and listen to surf. We found a tiki bar at the end of long pier and sipped a few frozen concoctions while we relaxed in the way only a day like this can bring.
9. The Loft Theatre
One of the hidden gems I was introduced to this year is the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton, and with its capacity of just 212, there is truly no bad seat in the house. We watched a performance of the comedy “An Act Of God”, with Sara Mackie playing the title role and two fellow actors playing archangels Michael and Gabriel. The funniest joke I remember is the answer to the age-old riddle, “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. That answer is “neither, the rooster came first”.
8. Penguins Game in Columbus
While good tickets to a Penguins game in Pittsburgh cost a pretty penny, tickets in Columbus cost half as much, and it’s way closer to home, so we decided to visit “enemy” territory for a hockey game in February. Hockey games tend to be low-scoring affairs, but the action is non-stop and there’s typically a shot on goal every minute, leaving no chance to get bored. Since there are three periods in hockey, each team plays offense twice at one end, so we carefully picked seats where we would see the Penguins offense twice. We met up with a former neighbor for dinner at Forno’s before the game and then watched the visiting Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 5-2.
7. Meeting DL Stewart at Figlio
During one of our frequent dinners at Figlio, which more often than not we eat at the bar, my wife noticed the couple next to us and asked if I thought that was DL Stewart, our favorite writer at the Dayton Daily News. I said I thought so, and she proceeded to ask him if indeed that was he, which it was. He graciously talked for a few minutes while he and his wife waited for their table, and after their table was ready, he hung around for a few more minutes to talk some more. He is so personable and so funny, talking about how, long ago, he was supposed to cover the Cleveland Browns, his and my favorite team, but instead got stuck covering the Cincinnati Bengals. And he gave my wife some good-hearted grief over being a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.
6. Paying Off The House Mortgage
After two divorces and sitting at fifty-two years old, I didn’t own a home and never thought I would. Then I moved into my wife’s house after we got married and a few years later refinanced both the primary loan and an equity loan into a single, ten year loan at about eighty percent of its appraised value, which would be paid off when I was sixty-six years old. But we began paying extra every year to reduce that to eight years, when I would turn sixty-four. But we got some extra money as a result of the NewPage-Verso-Catalyst Paper transaction, and used some of that to accelerate the early payoff, which was accomplished in February of this year, just six years after we refinanced. A minor miracle.
5. Tenth Wedding Anniversary
It’s really hard to believe that a few days into the New Year we celebrated ten years of married life together. It’s true that time flies when you’re having fun. That wedding weekend is still a blur, from the rehearsal dinner at Benham’s, the ceremony at Incarnation, reception at the Carillon Park Transportation Museum and flying to St.Thomas for our honeymoon. Looking forward to many more years with my wife and soulmate.
4. My Retirement
First it was going to be October of 2018, then I moved it back to March of 2019, but when ND Paper purchased the U.S. operations from Catalyst Paper, I pulled it forward again, and completed my journey of the working world on August 24th after almost 41 years. I started at Wright State University in November of 1977, went to Hobart Corporation in 1980 and started the run of six paper companies with The Mead Corporation in 1981. It’s hard to leave friends and colleagues, and the work was still fun and challenging, but at 62 years old, I could tell I was ready for retirement and starting a new chapter of life. And whether anyone believes it, I was truly surprised and in a bit of shock when they threw me a surprise party at Jimmy’s Ladder 11. Still brings a tear to my eye.
3. Pat and Emma’s Wedding
My wife’s oldest son Pat married his fiance Emma in June at St. Patrick’s Church in Cleveland. From the rehearsal dinner blessed with beautiful evening weather at the Music Box to the bagpiper greeting guests at the wedding to the reception at Tenk West Bank, the entire weekend came together perfectly after many months of planning. Most of my contribution came from using my computer skills and an eye for detail in printing envelopes for the various events along the way. Staying in downtown Cleveland afforded me the opportunity to walk around FirstEnergy Stadium, home to my Cleveland Browns.
2. Universal Studios
The main destination for our Florida vacation in January was Universal Studios, and specifically, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans the two theme parks. Our two-day, two-park passes allowed us to travel between Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida (the original park) and Hogsmeade in Universal Studios Island of Adventure, riding on The Hogwarts Express train. The most thrilling ride was the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, dodging He Who Must Not Be Named and his snake Nagini. with the help of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Not far behind, but easier on the stomach, was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, where you soar above Hogwarts. Other highlights included a having a refreshing Butterbeer, watching people disappear through a brick wall to access Platform 9 ¾ and the thrill in kid’s faces as they waved their wands to activate special effects.
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium
When something comes off your Bucket List, it’s no surprise it becomes the highlight of the year. I’ve been a Duke basketball fan since the early 1990’s and have wanted to see a game at Cameron Indoor for many years, so when my friend and local resident Bob invited me down to see Duke play Princeton in December, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Cameron is a unique stadium, seating only 9,300 without a bad seat in the house, and looks from the outside a building that could be a church. This year’s Duke team features the most talented group of freshman in the country, headlined by the high-flying Zion Williamson and super-smooth RJ Barrett, and complemented by floor general Tre Jones and sharpshooter Cam Reddish. After a slow start, Duke blew out Princeton by the lopsided score of 101-50. A dream has come true.