Monthly Archives: July 2013

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Encounter with a chipmunk in the woods

Suddenly, there was movement ahead of me on the dirt path I was walking on through the deep woods.

I couldn’t believe it.  I wonder how many millions of people I would have to ask before I could find one person who has ever witnessed what I was seeing fifty feet in front of me.

It was a life and death battle for survival in the wild between an adult snake, several feet long, and a chipmunk.

Yes, a chipmunk.

A quick reading of Wikipedia would suggest the chipmunk’s prospects weren’t very good.  This was no small snake, dwarfing the little brown-furred rodent.  Chipmunks, when they aren’t singing with Dave, are more accustomed to being preyed upon by creatures of the forest.  Their idea of a conquest is to snatch eggs from birds’ nests when the mother bird is looking for worms.

But this little chipmunk was bad.  His burrow I’m sure had a weight set that was worn from excessive use.  I have a mental image of a chipmunk riding through the woods on a 6”inch Harley Davidson, with sunglasses and bandanna. In deference to all the lady chipmunks, this chipmunk may have been a mother whose pups kept her up all night and she was ready for some peace and quiet with a Jacuzzi, a glass of wine, and a romance novel.

Actual photo of deceased snake, with bloody wounds from attack of chipmunk.  This was no small snake.

Actual photo of deceased snake, with bloody wounds from attack of chipmunk. This was no small snake.

Whoever the chipmunk was, the snake never had a chance.  I watched an enraged chipmunk attack the snake with the skill of a well-trained Navy Seal.  “Alvin” was the poster-child for advertisements for classes on mortal combat with a serpent – go for neck, just below the head.

As I watched the chipmunk go a few feet into the brush to eat either the fungi of the forest or the flesh of its scaly victim, the snake remained curled up on the path –lifeless.  As I approached the snake, I noticed the blood on the path, on its spine, and oozing from its mouth.

“Announcing our new forest champion – chipmunk!”

Thirty minutes before my encounter with a scene from a high school science documentary, I had been sitting on a log at the top of a hill in the woods, contemplating my life – where I need to change, what lessons I need to learn, and how I can escape from some serious adversity in my life.  I had been feeling emotionally and spiritually exhausted, as the problems in my life have often seemed insurmountable.

“Lord, please have mercy on me!”  I had said as I lifted my arms towards the towering trees over my head.  It was on my walk back towards my car that I encountered a metaphor.

The snake represented more than simply the adversity we all experience in life.  The snake represented all the lies that we listen to that accompany the bad times.  We are failures.  We should feel guilty.  We should give up.  God has abandoned us.  God doesn’t care.  We should live in fear.  We are too insignificant.  We can’t do it on our own.  We are helpless.

Doesn’t the chipmunk represent each one of us?  We really are small creatures trying to survive in a scary forest called life that has all kinds of predators, especially snakes that like to tell us how hopeless things are for us.

However, this chipmunk fought back.  This chipmunk said “Shut up!  I’m not going to listen to you anymore!”  This chipmunk fought for his life, his dignity, and probably his family.  This chipmunk looked in the face of his fanged enemy and didn’t let the size of his foe intimidate him.  He was victorious!

Was this metaphor an accident?  A mere coincidence?  Or, did God have a message not just for me but for us all?  How much of the suffering in our adversity can be attributed to those internal voices that steal joy and hope from our hearts?

In this vignette of life on Earth, the snake may have struck the heel of the chipmunk.  However, the chipmunk crushed the head of the snake.  Does a story about a snake from someplace else come to mind?

After I stepped over the snake, took a few photos, and walked further down the path, the engine from a tiny Harley Davidson motorcycle turned on in the woods behind me.

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New Life Furniture Touches Lives in Cincinnati, OH


Telephone: (513)313-0530

Address: 11431 Williamson Rd Cincinnati, Ohio 45241

Leadership: Holly Young, Executive Director

Summary: A furniture bank operates very much like a food bank, but we provide gently used furniture instead of food. We serve folks coming out of shelters who have overcome homelessness or fled an abusive situation. The families we serve often move into their housing with only the items they were able to carry during their difficult period.Your furniture and financial donations give hope, a home, and love to those starting over for a new life. We turn empty houses into homes, with dignity and compassion.



Gramazin is determined to gather 10,000 inspirational stories. We are determined that we will travel throughout the US, volunteering in local charities, to celebrate those stories. We will raise the funding to visit each of the 70+ charities who has invited us to draw attention to the great work they do.

However, during this season when a lack of funding remains an obstacle for our national journey, the continuous enthusiasm for our visit expressed by the folks at New Life Furniture of Cincinnati, Ohio really caught our attention. We simply had to find a way to make this trip work for them. We are so thankful to God that we drove eight hours to Cincinnati on July 1, 2013 to meet the wonderful team at New Life Furniture.

Truthfully, the success of New Life Furniture flows from Holly Young, the Executive Director. She is a woman of deep faith, profound courage, genuine warmth and compassion, and a healthy obsession to detail. The woman is a walking ambassador to what it means to love others and treat them with dignity, regardless of their circumstance.

Chad and I were blessed being the recipients of her kindness. However, we also watched her practice her values as she engaged a woman in conversation who was begging for money in downtown Cincinnati. From that encounter, we learned of the woman’s hope for a job that she has applied for. The woman wants to be gainfully employed, a contributing member of society. She just needed some compassion. It was Holly who discovered the woman’s story because Holly is obedient to the command of Jesus Christ, to love others as you would like to be loved.

There is no doubt that Holly will ask me to edit this section. Her humility is evident. To tell the truth, proud and overbearing people rarely are willing to make the sacrifices needed to launch a furniture ministry from their garage and build it to the point where it has served over 1,000 people in Greater Cincinnati. Love is the engine that makes New Life Furniture effective and that love comes from Holly’s deep faith. Sorry, Holly! We are leaving this in here. It is a testimony to the message of love and compassion, taught over 2,000 years ago, that remains true for our culture today.


The Drive to Cincinnati

When the alarm rang early Monday morning, heavy rain could be heard outside. I took a look out the window and it was nearly a white-out of rain.

“Seriously? Really? We are supposed to drive today to Cincinnati, over 500 miles away, in this weather?”

However, a commitment is a commitment. God would see us through. Chad and I got ready and ran to the car, our clothes drenched before the day even started.

About a half hour down the Pennsyvlania Turnpike, the rain eased up. Eventually, we could turn off the windshield wipers. Now, the only pounding the car was taking was the bass of the ambient and worship music Chad was playing for us to pass the miles away.

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Our travel from Philadelphia, PA to Cincinnati, OH, Monday, July 1, 2013.

A rainy start to our trip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

However, it stopped raining as we approached central Pennsylvania.

By the time we were in Ohio, we were enjoying blue skies.

The beautiful sunlit fields of Ohio along Rt. 71, between Columbus and Cincinnati.


Sidebar – Our car and an incident on the road

We rented a 2012 Dodge Avenger from a nationwide rental company. The car had about 30,000 miles on it. It was comfortable and powerful. However, the power meant that it would suck the dollars out of my wallet into the gas pump. I was relieved to see gas sold for $ 3.17 a gallon between Wheeling and Columbus, OH, about $ .26 less a gallon than at gas pumps in the Philadelphia area. A little plug for the standard-of-living for the folks in eastern Ohio!

The 2012 Dodge Avenger we rented for our trip.

Heading south on Rt. 71 towards Cincinnati, I was in the passenger seat and Chad was driving in the fast lane. I glanced at the car in the lane next to me. Suddenly, it veered off the road and drove off the shoulder, onto the grass, and headed for a grove of trees. I watched as the brake lights came on and the car slowed to about 20 miles per hour as it just missed the trees by inches. Given the brake lights came on, I assume the driver fell asleep at the wheel and was startled awake. I hope that person was alright. We could not stop quickly in any safe manner to attend to them.



Arrival at New Life Furniture in Blue Ash, OH, a suburb of Cincinnati


The skies looked ominous as we approached the outskirts of Cincinnati. We drove into another heavy rain storm, forcing us to drive the last 5-10 miles of the trip slowly. Chad and I ran into the New Life Furniture office as quickly as we could to try to stay dry.

The area inside the office was colorful and warm. There was something really classy about the furnishing and decorations of the office. The green and blue signage looked like the work of a high-end marketing company. However, it was the work of students from Public Allies of Cincinnati. These students should be proud of the work they did for New Life Furniture. It is my understanding they also designed the signage on the truck! Gramazin!

Holly Young met us for the very first time, effectively making Chad and I feel like we have known her for 20 years! We received warm hugs! Within minutes, she had become a good friend, an indicator that she is in the right line of work. Her clients are in good hands! She gave us a tour of the office and warehouse. We sat and talked about Gramazin, New Life Furniture, and our personal lives. We learned that Holly had jumped out of an airplane with her instructor at 12,000 feet just the day before. That is a kind of courage I simply do not have.

Holly and I clearly share perspectives on serving others. We are blessed by her desire to help Gramazin make connections all over Cincinnati in our effort to gather inspirational stories.

Mike Lee and Anthony Clark, an aspiring baseball player, arrived back at the office after a day of delivering and picking up furniture. Mike is the kind of guy that just leaves a wonderful impression on you. He is one of those people who smile when they aren’t laughing. He loves his job bringing hope to the down-and-out in the Cincinnati area. I got the sense that he knows the mechanics of what he is doing very well and does it truly to serve others at the same time. Before leaving for the day, Mike showed us his remote-controlled helicopter, flying it around the warehouse with precision.

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Trying to find New Life Furniture in pouring rain.

The exterior of New Life Furniture’s Cincinnati, OH headquarters.

The colorful lobby of New Life Furniture.

Holly Young, the Executive Director of New Life Furniture, gave Charles and Chad Wagner, of Gramazin, a tour of the furniture warehouse. People who are downsizing donate furniture to New Life Furniture, a ministry that in turn donates the furniture to people in need in the Cincinnati metropolitan region.

The red dots indicate kind hearted people who have donated furniture to New Life Furniture. The blue dots represent individuals who have received furniture donations.

Holly is an absolute master at making sure the details are just right for people to have a wonderful experience. We were so impressed! Anyway, here is a gift basket she prepares for every recipient of furniture.


Dinner at the Fireside Grill with Daria Branham


We followed Holly to the Firehouse Grill. We enjoyed a delicious meal and pleasant conversation. Daria Branham joined us a little later. Daria, who now does the marketing for New Life Furniture, met Holly through her work with Public Allies. It was Daria who coordinated Gramazin’s visit to Cincinnati with the local media. She struck me as not only a kind person but also very knowledgeable. She knows the city and suburbs of Cincinnati very well. She is a wonderful asset to the organization.

The Firehouse Grill on Lake Forest Drive.

A Night Spent at The Kenwood by Senior Star

Nancy Grant is a fan of the work of Holly Young and New Life Furniture. She is also the Move-In Coordinator for The Kenwood by Senior Star, a premier and recently opened retirement community in Cincinnati. Nancy has the responsibility of helping residents transition from their previous homes to their new luxorious suites at Kenwood. Nancy heard that Chad and I were coming to visit New Life Furniture. She offered for us to stay one night at The Kenwood.

We arrived at The Kenwood just before dusk. It is a beautiful facility high on a hill. The receptionist was very friendly and was expecting us. Chad and I were greeted by a very nice welcome message on the main table in the foyer. When we arrived in our room on the 10th floor, we saw a very nice greeting card and some delicious treats waiting for us. It is not surprising that Nancy and Holly are affiliated, as they both excel at attention to detail. If Nancy makes Chad and I feel so welcomed, imagine what she can do for your elderly loved one who needs a retirement community in the Cincinnati area.

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The exterior of The Kenwood.

Nancy Grant reflects the attention to detail that makes The Kenwood such an attractive solution for individuals looking for a retirement home in Cincinnati, OH.

The hallway approaching our room on the 10th floor.

The living room of our apartment at The Kenwood by Senior Star.

Chad Wagner in one of the immaculate rooms in our suite.

The layout, roughly speaking, of our apartment at The Kenwood.

Our view of suburban Cincinnati from our 10th floor window at The Kenwood. We saw three deer walking outside below our window.

Nancy Glass and Charles Wagner.


Sidebar – It is people like Nancy Glass who make our Gramazin Journey happen

Without the generosity of Nancy Glass, the trip to Cincinnati would not have occurred. Her offer for Chad and I to visit The Kenwood reduced our expenses just enough to make the trip to Cincinnati affordable for us, which gave New Life Furniture another opportunity to receive media coverage in Cincinnati.

Do you have a charity that you would like Chad and I to visit, potentially giving them media exposure for the great work they do? Help us make the trip to your city happen by connecting us with people who can reduce our expenses. We don’t need the kind of luxury Nancy was so generous to give us. We can stay in private homes or in the back rooms of shelters. Perhaps your hotel can give us reduced rates or, in the case of the Hampton Inn in Morgantown, WV, give us a hotel room as a courtesy. We also think of Kroger’s grocery store that donated the food we prepared at the Morgantown Ronald McDonald House. Hertz also donated a car for our trip back in November.

There are many creative ways you can help make the Gramazin Journey happen and drive more traffic to the charity you love so much.



Day Two – Delivering Furniture for New Life Furniture


Chad and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at The Kenwood with Nancy Glass. The servers were friendly and attentive. Nancy spoke with us about The Kenwood, New Life Furniture, and Gramazin. Nancy shared with us how The Kenwood works hard to make sure transitions to retirement community living is as easy as possible for senior citizens.

After saying goodbye to Nancy and packing up the car, Chad and I returned to New Life Furniture. Mike Lee was already loading the truck, along with Xavier Ray. Holly, wearing a bright green New Life Furniture shirt, directed us to the warehouse. We helped carry furniture to the truck. Mike followed a well-planned checklist, knowing exactly what items of furniture each client needed. This organization is, well, organized! Mike loaded the truck carefully, knowing which stop was first and which stop was last on the itinerary.

After Daria arrived, we split into two vehicles. Holly drove her van with Chad, Daria, and I. Xavier joined Mike in the truck. We stopped briefly at a convenience store where I changed places with Xavier, riding in the truck. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Mike – about his experiences with New Life and his own personal story. He is very delightful to talk with.

We picked up some items from a resident in Milford, OH. She was getting rid of a carpet and a mattress. I know she donated a few more things as well. She was moving into a retirement home after the sudden loss of her son. She offered to give us more furniture but there simply wasn’t room in the truck. I watched Mike and Holly do what they do so well – making the woman feel very appreciated for her donations.

We got back into the vehicles and drove to another location, this time near center city Cincinnati. It was strange, however, that we first drove into Kentucky and then back into Ohio to actually make the trip shorter. I didn’t realize Cincinnati is adjacent to the state of Kentucky. I need to study my maps better!

We arrived at the second destination and discovered the Fox 19 TV cameraman was waiting for us. Good job Daria arranging the media connection! The cameraman taped the furniture being removed from the truck and taken into the home of Henry and Jasmine. I was interviewed, affording me the opportunity to share my story about Gramazin. However, what was far more important was that Holly was interviewed and people all over the city got to learn about the New Life Furniture ministry! The video aired on the 6:30 newscast that evening.

Fox 19, Cincinnati, OH

Chad hopped into the truck with Mike and I rode in the van with Holly, Daria, and Xavier. We arrived at this huge building that clearly was built in the earlier part of the 20th century, perhaps even back into the 19th century. Quite frankly, it reminded me of some of the haunted hotels that have been locations for Ghost Adventures, a show I watch frequently for reasons I cannot explain if you ask me. However, this building is occupied by people who have battled various adversities in their lives. Of course New Life Furniture would have clients here – such are the kinds of people their compassionate hearts beat for.

Len Evans was the recipient of furniture. Len explained how he has had a long battle with alcoholism but he has been sober for three years. Good for you Len! Yeah! That is inspirational! Len gave me his phone number and I will call him to get more of his story for publishing on Gramazin.

Len’s apartment was on the third floor of this huge building. By the way, did I tell you it was a big building? We had to carry the furniture down a very long hallway, turn left into a foyer area with an elevator. Moving furniture with an elevator is no easy task, not when the residents of the facility, including people with wheel chairs and walkers, are also using the elevators at the same time. After getting off the elevator, we had to carry the furniture through a door, around a huge room that is essentially a multi-story stair well that seemed very similar to the last scene of The Bourne Identity, when Jason Bourne falls many floors depending upon the body of the deadman he is falling with to cushion his fall. We then had to walk through a narrow door, make a sharp turn down a few stairs, hang a left, and then another left that finally led to Len’s apartment.

Uh, why the detail? I want the reader to appreciate what Mike, Holly, and Xavier do to serve people in need. It is not easy. It is hard work with many challenges. Furniture is bulky and heavy and clients aren’t living in first floor apartments, with wide doors and straight hallways, off the exit ramps of major highways. However, I didn’t hear one complaint! Not one! It was truly a pleasure for all of us to serve someone special like Len!

Holly asked Len if she could pray for him. She asked us to all hold hands and she led us in prayer for Len, asking God’s blessings on his life and on the furniture he received that was donated by others in love. It was a moving experience!

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Our travels July 1 through July 3, 2013 in Cincinnati, OH.

Mike Lee driving the New Life Furniture truck. What a cheerful personality with a contagious laugh!

Henry and Jasmine, who received the furniture on Clifton Avenue. It was a real treat to see how much they appreciated the blessings of the compassion of New Life Furniture.

Mike Lee discusses the details of where to put the furniture as Chad Wagner awaits instruction.

A Fox 19 news reporter met us at the location. Here, Holly Young interacts with the couple’s young child on television. The spot was broadcast at 6:30 that evening, helping spread the word about New Life Furniture to the entire Cincinnati region!

Fox 19 interviewing Holly and her special friend.

As Holly is being interviewed by Fox 19, you can see Mike Lee and Xavier Ray in the background getting the truck ready to depart for our next destination.

An image of the Fox 19 website with the article about the Gramazin visit with New Life Furniture.

We then drove to a huge apartment complex on Queen City Avenue in Cincinnati.

The New Life Furniture delivery truck outside the facility.

Len Evans was the recipient of furniture. We enjoyed talking with him, hearing his story. Left to right – Xavier Ray, Charles, Chad, and Mike Lee. Len is seated in the chair.

I loved Len’s passion for the Cincinnati Bengals!

Len was a recipient of a new table made by New Life Furniture. Not only are they delivering used furniture, they are now also building furniture. That’s gramazin!


The Trip to Cincinnati Sponsored By


ChromaGen Vision and Their Solution for Dyslexia and Color Blindness

A Memorable Day on the Golf Course With Winning Golf TV



Time to Relax and Enjoy Downtown Cincinnati


At this point, we said our goodbyes to Mike and Xavier. They had more deliveries and pickups. Holly wanted to take Chad and I on a tour of downtown Cincinnati. We were accompanied by Daria.

On the way to our destination, Fountain Square, Holly pointed our various murals on the sides of buildings that have been painted by youth in the city. Very impressive! We also drove past the Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium, homes of the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals respectively.

After emerging from the underground parking garage, we walked around Fountain Square. It was at this location that Holly showed her compassion to the homeless woman, already mentioned above. We visited the visitor’s center and had a delightful conversation about Gramazin with the volunteers.

We had a delicious lunch at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop. The staff seemed to take great care to make sure the sandwiches were made exactly as we wanted them to be. We then walked next door to enjoy ice cream at Graeter’s. The place was busy as the ice cream is famous.

Holly drove us back to New Life Furniture where we were met by Xavier and Mike who had just returned from their deliveries. It was time for Chad and I to say goodbye and we took group photos together. Chad and I both drove to our hotel feeling a little disappointed. We felt like we just met wonderful friends and now we would be saying goodbye to them so soon. We hope to return to Cincinnati again and enjoy the folks from New Life Furniture.

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After that delivery, Holly drove Daria, Charles, and Chad into downtown Cincinnati. Charles and Chad would like to capture images of as many stadiums on our journey as possible. Here is Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals home, as we pass by on our way to Fountain Square.

Holly pointed out the beautiful murals painted on buildings in Cincinnati by Art Works. Note the windows with people looking out painted on the building.

Another mural of vegetables, painted by teens in Cincinnati.

Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati, OH.

A photo of downtown Cincinnati, OH.

Charles Wagner, of Gramazin, talks with Holly and Daria outside Graeter’s in dowtown Cincinnati, where we enjoyed delicious ice cream.

Ordering a treat at Graeter’s.

Holly drove us back to New Life Furniture’s headquarters. We took a group picture with Charles, Holly, Chad and Mike Lee.

Charles and Chad Wagner said goodbye to the folks at New Life Furniture after this photo was taken with Daria.


A Gramazingly Unexpected Treat for Chad and I in Cincinnati Tuesday Evening!


We arrived at our hotel about 20 minutes after leaving New Life Furniture. It was around 4 pm. Chad and I decided we really wanted to attend the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants baseball game in Cincinnati at 7 pm. Around 5 pm, we headed down a very congested Rt. 75 into the city, arriving around 6 pm. The indoor/outdoor parking was very convenient at the stadium. We were impressed by the stores and restaurants just outside the Great American Ballpark that did give a feeling of life outside an inner city ballpark in the 1920s. Apparently the stores were built where Riverfront Stadium used to be located.

We bought our tickets and then walked down to the Ohio River, to enjoy the scenery for a few minutes. There were many couples rocking back and forth on swinging benches. We watched a young boy enjoy getting soaking wet running in the fountains, while his parents watched.

We entered the stadium and found the section we were to sit in. The sun was hot in the seats we were assigned. We found shaded seats at the top of the stadium and stayed there the rest of the ball game. The stadium is very nice. I’m not so sure I would say it is better than Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia. However, having a river just beyond the stadium with boats and steamships to watch gives the Great American Ballpark a slight advantage over Citizen’s Bank.

Chad and I had no interest in the outcome of the game, given we are Philadelphia Phillies fans. However, that also made the game a bit more relaxing. We didn’t care what happened on the field. Around the top of the 6th, I noticed that the Cincinnati pitcher had not yet had a hit against him.

“Hey, Chad, the pitcher has a no-hitter so far. Actually, I think it’s a perfect game.”

It was said without much interest. The odds of Chad and I actually attending a no-hitter at a ballpark we have never been to before 500+ miles from our home seemed ludicrous to believe. I fully expected a hit. The pitcher did walk a batter, ending the perfect game bid. Surely a hit would soon end the hope of a no-hitter.

By the 7th inning you could begin to tell there was a buzz in the stadium. By the 8th inning, eveyone knew that history was in the making. The game took on a championship game feel. Each strike and each foul ball by a Giant’s batter got the roar of the crowd. Suddenly, Chad and I had become Cincinnati Reds fans. We wanted so much to experience the no-hitter, just like the 29,000+ people wearing red in the stadium.

It happened! It actually happened! Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter, the first in major league baseball in 2013, on the night Chad and I were at the game visiting from out of town. It was like the icing on the cake, making our visit to Cincinnati truly amazing! Chad and I both agreed – at this point, the Cincinnati Reds are our second favorite team in baseball.

Chad and I hung around the stadium, both inside and outside after the game. I must admit – the Cincinnati police did a great job with helping the traffic exit the parking lots. Speaking of Cincinnati police, I asked a friendly Cincinnati police officer questions about how to get out of town. I struck up a conversation with him about Gramazin. He told me he has a story to share, a story about surviving a heart attack two years ago. It just was like the perfect ending to a wonderful day! Chad and I drove back to the hotel and collapsed in bed.

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The Cincinnati skyline as we drive up to the parking area for the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, OH.

After we bought our tickets for the game, we enjoyed a young family watching their little son run in these fountains outside the stadium. You can see the boy in the picture.

The Ohio River adjacent to Great American Ballpark.

The stylish Roebling Way bridge near Great American Ballpark.

A view of the Great American Ballpark from the Ohio River.

Cincinnati Reds fans crossing Main Street, walking towards the main gate of Great American Ballpark. The stores and restaurants outside the stadium are very attractive and adds a special appeal to the location.

A view of the exterior of Great American Ballpark.

A barge moves up river outside the stadium. Note the flames that shoot out of the smoke stacks of the simulated steamboat.

A real steamboat blew its whistle as it passed by the stadium.

Excitement builds for nohitter

Yes, we were really there. What are the odds of two visitors from out of town randomly deciding to go to a baseball game and sitting through a no-hitter? We were blessed!

Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, OH after Homer Bailey No-Hitter, July 2, 2013.

Cincinnati, OH at night, after the end of the July 2, 2013 Red’s game.

Cincinnati Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati OH, July 2, 2013.


Photo Gallery 7 – Return trip to Pennsylvania

On July 3, 2013, Gramazin returns to home in eastern Pennsylvania.

We drove through Columbus, OH on Rt. 70 to take a look at the city skyline.

We took a detour on our way home to visit Pittsburgh, PA. Here is an image of downtown.

Another image of downtown Pittsburgh, PA.

A tree-lined street in downtown Pittsburgh, PA.

A view from the river of the skyline of Pittsburgh, PA.

We were at Great American Ballpark last night to watch the home team, the Cincinnati Reds. Today, we visited PNC Park 300 miles away in Pittsburgh, PA, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the main rival of the Reds.

Nearby is Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We returned to our home in West Chester, PA, enjoying the beautiful western Pennsylvania scenery that we could not see on Monday because of low clouds.

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Home Is Truly Where Your Heart Lies

For anyone who travels, or embarks on an adventure far from home, it’s inevitable to feel lost in foreign land. Every time I’ve left Eastern Pennsylvania with my father, to serve others through Gramazin, I can’t help but take a long look at all the unfamiliar settings which are presented to me. In my hometown, there’s a certain feeling I receive when I drive down the road, or observe customers at a local store. I may see a person for the first time while at a local shopping center, but shift my eyes away from them, as if I had already met them and there was nothing left to discover about them. Yet, when I am miles from home, whether on the other side of Pennsylvania or in a completely different state, I observe others in a new light. I wonder about them and how they think and how they feel. I don’t know why.

Take for example an elderly couple I saw eating at a Wendy’s in Washington, Pa. with what looked to be their granddaughter. Washington, Pa. is about four hours from my home. It is near the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio. And I thought it to be strange that they saw this Wendy’s from a point of view other than my own. Rather than opening its doors, like I did, and feeling a bit uncomfortable about randomly stopping for lunch at a Wendy’s 300 miles from my home, they were more than likely at ease, knowing their home was perhaps a street or two away. Additionally, they probably did not think twice when they saw one of the cashiers wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates’ hat, considering the city of Pittsburgh was only 90 miles from the Wendy’s.

You could say to me, “Chad, this is very understandable. You were away from home and so you noticed things from a different perspective. It’s quite simple.” But I can’t let that be my conclusion. Why is it that we, or at least some of us, feel bored with the settings we experience time and time again around home, but become excited to experience newness when we are traveling? Why is it that I may be in the Philadelphia area, and see someone with a Phillies cap on, and shift my eyes, when I may be filled with curiosity at the sight of someone standing next to the Ohio River with a Cincinnati Reds cap on?

I’ve thought about it and I think it again comes back to why my father wanted to create Gramazin. We have a poor sense of community. In a culture where we always want newness and to be entertained by something we have never seen before, we settle for images over relationships.

If I were to move to Cincinnati and make it my home, would there be a point in which I would become tired of it? I can tell you that’s exactly what would happen if I wouldn’t make the right steps to truly embrace the people there. That is, if I were to come to Cincinnati, go to all the events Cincinnatians go to, and see their land on a daily basis, but not get to know them, and love them. I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with Cincinnati had it not been for the experience I had with my newfound family at New Life Furniture – our trip’s designated charity.

I did a great many things in Cincinnati.

On Monday, I dined at The Firehouse Grill, where I had the “Mile High Meatloaf” – an entrée which included grilled Texas toast, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, onion straws, and tomato gravy. I stayed overnight at a fancy retirement home, due to the generosity of New Life Furniture Committee Member Nancy Grant.

Tuesday morning, I ate breakfast at The Kenwood, where I enjoyed arguably the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. I drove through Cincinnati in a large truck for three to four hours that afternoon, doing the main task of our mission: experience New Life Furniture’s furniture delivery. Then, for lunch, I had an unbelievable sandwich called “A Wreck” at the Potbelly – that sandwich contained salami, roast beef, turkey, ham, and Swiss cheese, and was better than anything I’ve had back home. And, for dessert, we stopped at Graeter’s, and were blown away by just how good ice cream can really be – in case you were wondering, I got a scoop of “Black Raspberry Chip” and “Buckeye Blitz.”

Finally, for the grand finale, with my dad, I was blessed to see Homer Bailey toss Major League Baseball’s first no-hitter this season, against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday evening at Great American Ballpark, next to the Ohio River. All of these were unique experiences, impossible back in Pennsylvania. But, none of them would have been memorable, if not for the people we met in Cincinnati.

The trip was not made wonderful by the food we ate, the hotel we stayed in, or the baseball game we went to. The trip was made wonderful by the people we encountered. At each blessing, and free meal, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the experience we had through New Life Furniture.

If you haven’t heard of New Life Furniture, they help those in Cincinnati who do not have furniture. They help and show love to people who are impoverished – those who have temporarily survived homelessness, have bought or rented a home, but do not have the resources to make their home a pleasant living space. They help those who live in empty homes and have to create beds made of blankets on the floor to sleep on, and who spread napkins across their rug to act as plates for food.

And if you don’t know Holly Young, the co-founder and executive director of New Life Furniture, you should probably change that and give her a call. Seriously, this woman amazed us. I’m sure she’s shaking her head as she’s reading this right now, but she deserves every accolade for what she’s doing in Cincinnati. She was incredibly kind to each person that came across her path, and so aggressive to make sure they feel loved. I mean, you should see her warehouse! Sometimes I have gone into furniture banks and walked out feeling a little dirty – like dust had rubbed against my skin. But at New Life Furniture, the used materials appeared in pristine condition; although used, the furniture shined. Everything was organized, and nothing left untended. I remember laughing inside my head thinking someone had mistaken the place for a garden, before I realized it pretty much was one.

Have you ever bought anything from Goodwill? It’s a wonderful place, where you can find some really cool stuff. But not everyone looks at it that way. There’s a certain bias people have towards Goodwill; that it’s for the low-income, etc. And I think, as a result, some feel hesitant while in there. But it shouldn’t be that way. At one point, everything in there was once purchased new. And Holly seemed to hold the same opinion about everything that was donated to her warehouse.

A garden is a garden no matter where you place it. A garden can be put in a 100-acre backyard, or it can be placed in a 10 by 10 foot patch of grass right next to a city street. And no matter where you place it, it serves a purpose in making things look beautiful for other people. For Holly, her garden is New Life Furniture and though her donations may be used, she makes them appear as beautiful as possible to their beholders. And you could clearly see that in the impact New Life Furniture has on Cincinnati.

Holly told me of a time when she was helping out a teenage girl who lived alone with her newborn baby and had no furniture. Holly saw a picture of a man and a young girl on the wall and asked the mother who they were. The young mother replied that it was her husband and daughter. She explained that her husband had committed suicide a week ago, and that she was trying to become financially stable enough to get her daughter back from foster care. For the young girl, the furniture became a source of light in what must have felt like absolute darkness; a blooming flower in a dying garden.

Another story was of an old war veteran who was experiencing having furniture for the first time in his life. Piece by piece that Holly and her crew brought in, the man became giddy and overjoyed with delight. To the man with the 100-acre backyard, a couple of flowers may not be a big deal, but to the man who had nothing, a couple of flowers may be everything.

Then, in my own experience, I helped Holly make two deliveries while in Cincinnati. The first was to a man named Henry, his wife and young son. A former manager, Henry once had a job moving refrigerators up steep staircases around the city, but was unable to continue his deliveries due to an injury that had doctors telling him he could no longer lift more than 100 pounds. Henry said he has two tumors in his back, but that he can’t have surgery since they’re near his spine, and doesn’t want to risk being paralyzed. This man was jacked. He must have had the muscles to lift five times that amount, so that news couldn’t have been easy on him. Here we were moving heavy furniture into his house, when not too long ago, he probably could have done all of it without breaking a sweat. But he couldn’t have more grateful; for all that he was given.

The next delivery was to a man named Len. This guy was awesome. Bit of a comedian. We showed up at his apartment complex and he couldn’t wait to see all his new furniture, especially his mattress since he didn’t have one. After getting everything into his place, we found out quite a bit about him. That he once dealt with alcoholism and drug addiction, but was now living free from it because of Jesus’ working in his heart. What hit me the most was what he said was his biggest prayer – to pray peace on the man that’s living in his former home, with ex-wife and kids. I don’t think that kind of prayer is possible without Jesus. Before we left, he asked us all to pray for him.

There is so much to be said about the trip that it is hard to move towards a conclusion, but the point of this article is, again, that all those fun things I mentioned earlier on wouldn’t have been fun without the experience I had through New Life Furniture. I couldn’t have sat down for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and felt so overjoyed without experiencing community with other people. I couldn’t have sat down in Great American Ballpark with my dad and experienced such a euphoric feeling, without understanding the lives that were being lived in and around that stadium.

As human beings, we were created for adventure. God made us that way. But our adventure was meant to include people. It’s such a shame that we come and go places for the sake of seeing things and not other human beings; an emptiness overcomes us when a place no longer becomes about community. I think about my hometown. It’s full of shopping centers, cars, and carts, but no one talks to one another. That shouldn’t be.

There’s nothing wrong with traveling, but become excited about the people in your hometown – the stories that are being lived. Become excited about that person grabbing strawberries next to you in the grocery store, and perhaps you won’t want to get away, and vacate the area for “some place more exciting.”

See what I’m saying? We shouldn’t forget all the people already living around us, that aren’t supposedly more interesting than the people living in Hawaii or the Bahamas. I do too often.

I can’t give enough thanks to Holly, Daria, Mike, Xavier, and Anthony for how you welcoming you were to me and my father! You guys were so much fun!

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