Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 non-fiction

As promised, I'm back with my favorite non-fiction books of 2015. In no particular order, here goes:

The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I'm a big fan of Lewis, who also wrote The Blind Side and Money Ball, as well as the next book on this list. I just finished The Big Short, which profiles the personalities and institutions involved in the 2008 financial crisis precipitated by the mess with subprime lending. As a lawyer and banker who has had some limited (thank goodness) exposure to, and fair amount of knowledge regarding, the subject matter (although even with that, a lot of this was over my head), this was a fascinating story for me. I have not yet seen the movie but plan to do so in the near future.

Home Game by Michael Lewis. Another great one by Lewis, this is a comical yet poignant narrative of his experiences as a dad of three. Anyone who has had the privilege of raising children is likely to laugh and cry at Lewis's honest account of fatherhood.

How God Became King by N. T. Wright. Any Christian would benefit from a very slow reading of this Anglican's priest's perspective on the holiness and deity of Jesus. I say slow because much of this is so deep that I had to read parts of it a couple of times to let it sink in. You might also have some long-held assumptions challenged.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. Oh my gosh, Jen Hatmaker is one of my new favorite people I have never met. She is hilariously funny but her convictions regarding the church brought me to my knees. This is the story of the church she and pastor-husband Brandon started in Austin, Texas, a radical and vibrant congregation that is leaving an indelible imprint on the community. I believe God has been trying to teach me about social justice for most of my adult life. Jen's book is one of His latest tools.

Scary Close by Donald Miller. I've been a fan since Blue Like Jazz. This latest installment chronicles Miller's personal journey of allowing himself to be loved. He and wife Betsy, the subject of much of the book, now live near me and I'm hoping someone will introduce us before I have to stalk them.

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg. This Alabama native and resident has outdone himself with this compilation of essays about life in the South. I had the privilege of hearing him speak and read from this at the Southern Festival of Books a couple of months ago in Nashville. Of all the adjectives I could use to describe Bragg's writing, one stands above them all: beautiful.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team and its quest for gold. I don't know the first thing about rowing but I loved this book.

You'll Get Through This by Max Lucado. A couple of years ago, while serving as chairman of the board of a local non-profit, I made opening remarks at a dinner where Max spoke, a day after the release of You'll Get Through This, which contains practical advice for making it through challenging times, applying sound Scriptural principles. He also includes stories of those who applied those principles and "made it through." He gave copies to all of us in attendance. Some two years later, when I hit a rough patch of my own, I read the book. Max was right -- I got through it. It wasn't necessarily painless and it wasn't necessarily quick (which Max writes in the book), but with God's grace and kindness, I got through it.

Jesus, Bread and Chocolate by John J. Thompson.  I met the author at a local brewery last spring. He was sitting next to me and had a pre-release copy of this book, which has as its subtitle, "Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World." Thompson shared with me a bit about the book's content, which includes an account of his personal faith journey, as well as stories of friends he has made who have abandoned "mass market" products in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, hand-made furniture, specialty dark chocolate, craft-brewed beer (a portion of the book describes the brewery where I met Thompson) and boutique coffee shops. And believe it or not, he weaves in an interesting parallel with the Gospel -- and it works. It was a few months after meeting him that I finally got a copy of Thompson's book and read it, but I am very glad I did.

So that's it for non-fiction in 2015. It was a good year of reading and I already have a stack for 2016. And as always, I'm open to suggestions and recommendations.

Happy New Year to all.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Warm temperatures and another international Christmas Eve



Having grown up in the South, I am not unaccustomed to varying types of weather at Christmas. I can remember Christmases as a child when temperatures hovered around 80 degrees and I wore shorts, and I can remember some, although not many, when there was snow and ice.

During the 18 years I have lived in the Nashville area, which is a bit farther north than south and central Arkansas, where I lived previously, it has, more times than not, been fairly cold at Christmas. I can remember there being snow and/or ice on the ground maybe two or three times.

We almost always attend an 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service which ends at midnight, when Christmas Day officially begins. I remember one year we walked out and it had begun snowing, It was magical.

We associate Christmas with cold weather and many of the traditional Christmas songs don't even mention Christmas -- the lyrics are about snow, sleigh rides and getting in out of the cold.

Welcome to Christmas 2015 in Middle Tennessee. It's a balmy 66 degrees outside and we're expecting thunderstorms later today. The forecast is 73 for Christmas Eve, 72 Christmas Day and 75 the day after! So any thoughts of a White Christmas are only in our dreams, for sure.

I understand it's similar for much of the Southeast and even the Northeast will experience higher than normal temps over the holiday weekend. Apparently it's all due to some Atlantic high pressure system.

It's doubtful we'll be roasting any chestnuts over an open fire, unless we just want to crank up the AC and force the ambiance.

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If you have read this blog over the years, you know that our family celebrates Christmas Eve with an international theme. Each year we pick a different country or region and we decorate, dress and eat according to the traditions of the area we have chosen.

It all started when Wife, years ago, said she would like to prepare something different on Christmas Eve and told us she was going to prepare Mexican food. To add atmosphere, we strung up red pepper lights in the dining room and played a recording of "Feliz Navidad" over and over.

It was so much fun that a new tradition was birthed and since that time we have celebrated Italian, Greek, Asian, French, Caribbean and German Christmas Eves. The dress, decorations and food have gotten a bit more elaborate and it has become a highlight of the Christmas season for us.

This year is England, mate, and a meal of beef wellington, Yorkshire pudding and other yummy dishes are planned. I've spied a few British relics here and there that I'm sure Wife is planning to use to add atmosphere. We are also having "afternoon tea" which will morph into "evening pub."

It will be another grand time.

Older Son and DIL, and Daughter and SIL will be with the in-law families Christmas Day. Wife, Younger Son and I plan a non-traditional day of seeing a movie, bowling and dinner out.

We'll have a postponed Christmas Day celebration on the 26th.

Wherever you are, and whether you are warm or cool this Christmas -- and it really shouldn't matter, should it? -- I hope it's a very joyful one for you and your family, and I hope 2016 brings many blessings.



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Recent column

Here are two recent installments of "What I Know:"

Nov. 30


Dec. 7


Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 favorite fiction


          Although it's not quite the end of the year, it's close enough for me to list some of my favorite reads of the year.

            As usual, there is no rhyme or reason to the books I read. I get most of the books I read from the library and I read largely based on recommendations from others or a book review I might catch in the paper or a magazine. At the time I'm writing this, I have read 36 books this year, which is a substantial increase from the past several years, when I averaged about 2 per month. Maybe the books I read this year were shorter on average than in past years or maybe I am reading faster.

            It looks like a little less than half are non-fiction. Again, no system there. I don't set out to read a set number of fiction vs. non-fiction; I just take them as they come. For this blog post, I am only going to refer to fiction. I'll come back later and tell you about my favorite non-fiction picks of 2015.

            As I look back over the list, I realize I liked nearly every book I read. I have a rule that if I don't like a book after 50 pages, I'll allow myself to put it down. That didn't happen at all this year, although there's one I wish I had given up on, and I'll start there.

           The Nashville Public Library (not the library I use; we live in a suburb a few miles south with a great local library) has a wonderful series where they bring in authors from time to time. It's free, and it always surprises me when I go and there are so few people there. For example, yesterday afternoon we heard Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie and Five People You Meet in Heaven. He was extremely interesting and entertaining and I would estimate there were less than 100 people there.

             But I digress.
           
              Earlier this year, Wife and I went to hear Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We both read that book several years ago and loved it. Barrows is primarily a children's author and Guernsey was her first adult novel.

              As it turns out, she co-wrote Guernsey, as she explained when we heard her speak. Her aunt was in the middle of writing it when she became ill. When she knew she was going to die, she asked Barrows to help her, and complete the book for her when she was gone. As I said, Wife and I loved it.

              Barrows was a great speaker. Her second novel, The Truth According to Us, had just been published when we heard her, and she read from it. I felt sure I would like it as well as I liked Guernsey, so I got it. I even purchased it, which is rare for me.

               After 50 pages, I was not impressed, but I just knew it would get better, so I kept going. At 100 pages it was still dragging for me, but since I'm a borderline obsessive-compulsive rule follower, even when the rules are self-imposed, I stuck with it to the end. After all, I had gone past page 50 and rules are rules. (I need help, I know that). Unfortunately, I just didn't like it.

                Bet let's not dwell on the negative. Here are some of the ones I liked:

                Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is the story of a college professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and how she and her family deal with it. Because I have not dealt with a close family member who has had this horrible disease, I was able to read it with great interest and it was also a great story. I've heard from some who have had close family with Alzheimer's that it was just too close to home and they couldn't do it, and I certainly get that. I have not seen the movie of the same name and probably won't. Although I have heard it's good, movies made from books I like rarely live up to my expectations.

               Genova also wrote Inside the O'Briens, which I also read this year, which is also about a family dealing with disease, this time Huntington's. Although the story did not grab me as much as Still Alice, it was still interesting and well written.

                All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was probably my favorite book of the year, and also Wife's. It's set during World War II, and traces parallel stories of a French girl and a German boy. I don't want to give you any more detail for fear of being a spoiler, but please go buy this book or check it out at the library. It's a beautiful read and I can almost promise you will be enriched.

                Here are the three funniest and quirkiest fiction books I read this year, all from foreign authors:

                What Alice Forgot by Lillian Moriarty, about a woman who has a concussion, forgets she has three children and must become reacquainted with them. Set in Australia, it's a poignant story but also hilariously funny.

                 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. If memory serves, this is another one set in Australia, about a college professor with a mild form of Autism who finds love in a most unlikely place.

                 A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This one takes place in Sweden and if you have ever had a lovable curmudgeon in your life, this book might be for you. I laughed out loud.

                  I read the final book in Ken Follett's Century trilogy, which started pre-World War I. This one, Edge of Eternity, ends with Obama's election to the presidency. Over a thousand pages just like the other two, I enjoyed it but I was glad to be done with the series.

                  And speaking of series, I thoroughly enjoyed Jan Karon's Come Rain or Come Shine, her latest installment in the Father Tim series (which succeeded the Mitford series), and The Splendor of Ordinary Days, the third in Tennessee author Jeff High's Water Valley series.

                   I would also give honorable mention to The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani; Peace Like a River by Leif Enger; Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult; and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

                    So there you have it. As usual, so many books and not enough time. I'll be back soon with my favorite non-fiction of the year.
                 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Last two

Here are my columns from the past two weeks:

Nov. 22

Nov. 15

 Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Questions outnumber answers right now

I am still trying to sort out the variety of feelings I have after what took place in Paris last week.

Grief, sadness, confusion and anger are among those.

Wife, Daughter and I were in Paris just two years ago. It's a truly magical place and the few days we spent there were not nearly enough. Wife has plans to go back with some friends in the spring.

She is now trying to decide if she should go through with those plans. I tell her absolutely she should, that when we alter plans because of the monstrous deeds of these people, we allow them a small victory.

With each terrorist attack, we become more cautious and, perhaps, more fearful.

What motivates people to take part in such horrible acts? And in the name of their view of God?

After September 11, 2001, we have never boarded a plane the same way. And with each event that takes place, security becomes more of a concern.

We go to a movie or a concert and now, even church, and sometimes wonder what might happen. At more and more venues we walk through metal detectors as we enter.

And how do we ever feel truly secure?

I truly hope to be a grandfather someday but, at the same time, I can't help but wonder what kind of world these future grandchildren of mine will be growing up in.

Did our ancestors feel the same way when Hitler was plotting his master race and orchestrating the massacre of innocent people?

And is it time to take extreme action against radical Islam to ensure their monstrous ways are thwarted?

And how do we take action against a concept -- not a place?

I realize there are more questions here than answers.

But somehow I'm short of answers right now and all I can do is pray.

And that, my friends, is perhaps the best -- and only -- answer I have right now.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thanks to our veterans

As promised, I am posting a link to my weekly column here. Although it usually runs on Mondays, I asked my editor to run it on Veterans Day this week. It was great to be with my aunt and uncle over the weekend.

Veterans Day column

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Music to my ears

Back in the spring, we learned some friends of ours would be selling their baby grand piano.

I started playing piano as a youngster and took years of lessons. Not long after I finished law school and had my own place, I moved my little spinet from my parents' house to mine, and it has been with me every move since.

But I've always wanted a baby grand. I think they are beautiful and I love the majestic sound.

The fact is, I never practiced enough to become an accomplished pianist, but I still love to play.

When I learned our friends were selling their baby grand, I inquired about it and they gave me a great price. I would also have to make arrangements to have it moved from their house to ours.

But I decided against it. We were in the midst of planning the wedding and I also had some uncertainty about my job. I took a pass on the piano. There would be a better time.

Fast forward to mid-September. I asked my friends about the piano, figuring they had long ago sold it.

They still had it. They were still offering me the same price.

Wife and I talked about it. The wedding is paid for, she said. You have your job, she said.

And she said I should get the piano.

Wife wrote them a check and a few days later the piano was moved into our house.

I am woefully out of practice, but I can't tell you how much I am enjoying this beautiful instrument.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to me -- for the rest of my life.


Monday, November 2, 2015

A new look and a new day



Blog friend Kelly, who got me started blogging about seven years ago, recently wrote about passing the ten-year mark on her blog.

As I said, mine is about seven years old, and with that, I think it's time for a new look and a renewed commitment to this site.

As I've mentioned previously, in 2011 I began writing a weekly column for a local publication. It has been an absolute blast and I have freedom to write anything I like, about any subject. I'll write about local subject matter and politics on occasion (from the point of view of an observer, rarely offering an opinion), and I get decent feedback.

I get the most positive response, however, from my "everyman" installments -- stories about everyday life that will occasionally strike a chord with a reader or two. And that's what has usually gotten the best response here too.

There's no doubt that my blog posts began to lessen when I started the column. And this past year my posts have definitely been fewer and farther between.

On a recent trip to Arkansas, I ran into an old friend who has followed this blog since its inception. When I told him what I just told you (that I didn't write on the blog as much since I started the column), he suggested I post a link to my column here.

I believe that's been suggested before but now I'm going to do it. My new columns are generally posted on Mondays so I'll try to post the link Monday or Tuesday.

Here is today's installment:




Nov. 2

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Now, I don't flatter myself so much as to think all of you would click on the link. I'm doing this in response to a request and in hopes it will make me more prolific here, not just posting this link but also writing additional entries.

Many of the folks who have gone along on this blog journey with me have dropped off, possibly in favor of Facebook. I get that but that's still not my thing.

I'm going to tidy up a bit on my list of frequently visited blogs and hopefully add some new ones.

I have just acquired a new laptop computer and I think that's going to help me to come here more often too. For a long time I've been sharing with Wife. She's great to let me interrupt her at times but she uses her computer for work most of the time, so it's not always convenient.

I just hit a preview of this piece and I don't think the the link is going to work so bear with me on that part. I am still woefully inept when it comes to technology, but I'll figure out what I'm doing wrong and come back and post it later.

**UPDATE: OK I came back and might have figured out how to make the link "live."


Thanks to all who stop by here from time to time and I hope this marks a new beginning.




Sunday, September 13, 2015

Change is a certainty



 
So here you go -- just a few glimpses from Daughter's wedding, nearly two months ago now.

Wife and I went to visit the newlyweds this past Friday night. Daughter had a wonderful meal for us. We looked at all the wedding photos and laughed and reminisced about all the good times from this summer.

We spent the night and came home mid-afternoon Saturday.

Older Son and DIL are traveling through Italy right now. This is a trip they have been saving for since the day they married and it finally came to fruition. They flew from Atlanta to Amsterdam last Monday night, spent a couple of days there and from there they were off to Venice, Florence and Rome.

We get the occasional email and they are having, as expected, the time of their lives.

Speaking of Atlanta, they will be moving there this fall. Older Son has a new job and he is excited about it. This will put them about 3.5 hours away from us, as opposed to 11. Although they will leave Dallas with heavy hearts, they tell us they are pleased they will be near family again.

And of course we are pleased about that too.

Younger Son continues his writing and hosting podcasts for 247 Sports. He seems to be doing great and we're happy for him.

The days are getting cooler here in Middle Tennessee. It's totally a tease. Warm weather will return. But the nice, crisp breezes from this weekend remind us that the season is changing, and remind us of that our lives are constantly changing, and we do well to "trust the process."

More importantly, we trust the One who stays the same in spite of all the changes around us.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Late summer update

What a summer it has been.

Daughter's wedding on July 18 was, of course, the highlight. I'll post pictures later. For now, take my word for it that Daughter was a beautiful bride and Wife and I were just as proud as could be.

It was a stifling hot day but, except for a few photos taken outside and some outside areas at the reception venue (that were optional and from which one could return quickly), everything was inside in the air conditioning.

The entire weekend was a joyous occasion. On Thursday night, we had a food truck in our back yard. This was Daughter and SIL's idea and it was a huge hit. This was intended to be for family and wedding party members who arrived early but Daughter told me I should also invite my college friends. They all cam and we had more fun than should be legal.

On Friday there were the bridesmaid luncheon, golf for the male wedding party members and lunch with my college chums. Friday night was the rehearsal dinner hosted by SIL's parents. Both Older Son and Younger Son made toasts to their sister that brought tears to almolst all. Warmed my heart.

The wedding was beautiful and a lovely, spiritual service. The reception was a blast and we danced the night away.

Sunday morning was brunch at our house and we got to visit a little more with friends and family before they headed out.

Our hearts were full to overflowing from start to finish.

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In the midst of all of this I was making a career change. I won't go into the many, many details but will just say I have changed jobs and have gone "back" to the bank that acquired the bank I used to work for from 1998 - 2005. The guy who made this happen is the same one that hired me in Nashville in 1998 and I'm working in his group. I have one week under my belt and so far, so good. I am convinced it's a good move for me.

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Wife and I managed some down time following the wedding. On the Tuesday following, we went to a lake house in north Alabama owned by some dear friends who were gracious enough to offer it to us. We spent that Tuesday afternoon floating on rafts and hardly talking -- just relaxing and unwinding. I spent the next day in Birmingham, about 45 minutes away and the headquarters location for my new employer, in interviews and discussions about my new position.

When I returned late in the afternoon, Wife was again floating on a raft in the lake and she was very relaxed. It was a good way to de-program from all the activity.

We took a quick weekend trip to St. Louis a couple of weeks ago for baseball. Then, not long after that, we flew to Buffalo, NY and drove from there to Niagara Falls. Older Son met us there and from Niagara we drove to Toronto (stopping at a couple of wonderful wineries along the way), and spent the weekend. We went to two baseball games and saw the Blue Jays play the Yankees.

All of these getaways were great, and we especially loved having Older Son go along with us on the Niagara and Canada trip. Thanks so much to DIL for letting him join us while she stayed home and worked! 

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We are settling into "normal" again now, whatevcer that is. It's weird to be starting a new job at my age, but it's also really cool to have a fresh start, something that is sometimes needed no matter what stage of life we might find ourselves in.

We're healthy, we're gainfully employed and we have three adult children ( and a daughter-in-law and son-in-law) who we get to see often and who are making their ways in the world.

So thankful for all of that.

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We also recently celebrated 31 years of marriage.

Pretty remarkable somoene could put up with me that long.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The big day approaches

When FSIL and I had dinner last November and he nervously asked for my blessing as he prepared to propose to Daughter, I knew a wedding would happen eventually.

But at that point in time, getting engaged and getting married seemed like two different things.

I know that makes no sense but sometimes I think I create such defense mechanisms in my mind to keep myself sane.

But it's show time, folks. In ten days I will escort my only daughter down the aisle and I'll answer that question, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

I'm embarrassed to tell you that, when Daughter and I were going through the order of the ceremony recently, we came to that part and she said, "So what are you going to say, Dad?"

In all seriousness, I stated, "My mother and I."

Hand to God.

Wife was not amused.

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So surely by the time the day gets here, I'll be able to recite my one line correctly. Wife told me if I get tongue-tied, I should just nod my head and get out of the way.

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Daughter has suggested we watch "Father of the Bride," the 1991 film with Steve Martin, sometime over the next ten days. I don't know that it's such a good idea. Daughter has always loved that movie and she's watched it countless times in this house. I've watched it a few times myself and have caught bits and pieces here and there when it's been on.

As Daughter grew older, I became more and more emotional during certain scenes. I'm afraid watching it now might push me over the edge, and that's already a pretty short trip.

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Wife and Daughter have been an incredible team during all the planning. They have at times had differences of opinion, but I have seen them get past all that and work together beautifully. They have both enjoyed the process and I'm proud of both of my girls.

We're now enjoying the calm before the storm. Most of the heavy lifting is done and we're trying to savor the few days of relative quiet.

I'll go get Daughter Saturday morning in Huntsville and FSIL will follow a couple of days later. I'm sure next week will fly.

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At the reception, Daughter and I will dance to the climactic waltz from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" ("Tale as Old as Time" as sung by the character Mrs. Potts, voiced by Angela Lansbury). We picked it as our wedding dance years ago, long before there was a wedding on the calendar or a man in the wings waiting to take her.

But now there is a date and a fiancé and it's almost time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Beautiful weekend

We are in the middle of a beautiful weekend here in Middle Tennessee. Today was one of those oh-so-perfect days that to stay inside would have been woefully inappropriate.

Wife has traveled to Little Rock this weekend, so I am on my own. Every once in a while, that is a good thing. I am somewhat of an introvert -- I love people but they make me tired. I can cope very well with a couple of days of semi-isolation. It recharges my batteries.

Wife, on the other hand, is an extrovert and is energized by people. We compliment each other in that way. She keeps me busy and forces me, in a good way, to get out and do things when I might choose to do otherwise. And, at appropriate times, I bring her down to earth and force her to rest when she needs to.

It was pretty cool when I got up this morning -- about 45 degrees. I had thought of a morning run outside but opted, instead, for an indoor spin class at 7:15 a.m. It was a good way to start the day

Last night I had gone to Home Depot and purchased 15 bags of mulch. They are having a great sale -- two bucks a bag. We have a berm out in the front yard that could use some attention, so that is how I planned to spend a good part of the morning after spin class.

I got started about 9:45, after eating breakfast. My next-door-neighbor was also out in the yard so I talked with him for a while. We don't see much of each other during the winter months, so we always catch up once the weather is warmer and we're outside more.

By 11 a.m. I learned that 15 bags was about half as much as I needed. So it was back to Home Depot, where I learned why I had gone last night. It was crazy busy. The line to load mulch was out of control.

I left and decided to take my chances on another store a few miles south. Bingo. It was busy too, but their mulch bags were in a much less congested space, so it was much easier to load them and be on my way. Going to the other store was a good choice.

With 15 more bags loaded in my truck (and what would I ever do without that truck and what will I do when Older Son says he wants it back???), I was back in business. By mid-afternoon I was done.

I watched a little bit of the Masters golf tournament (I am not a golfer but I love the beauty of the golf course at Augusta, GA and appreciate the importance of the tournament), then visited a nearby craft brewery for some late-afternoon refreshment.

I am now trying to finish Edge of Eternity, an 1100-page book that is the third in the Century trilogy by Ken Follett. I will confess that I have not enjoyed it as much as the previous two and I am tired of it, but I must, of course, finish it. I'm down to the last 150 pages.

Wife will be home mid-day tomorrow and I will be glad to see her. I am rested and refreshed and reminded that I am much better with my better half.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

For the birds (theoretically)



This is a sad picture. It's an empty birdfeeder.

It's empty because the squirrels in my yard take it over, to the detriment of the birds.

I thought I had the problem solved by hanging the feeder on a partial limb, hanging it (I thought) far enough down where squirrels would not be able to get to it.

But, alas, just a couple of days ago, after filling it up with fresh seed, I looked outside and there was a squirrel on top of the thing, literally tipping it over and pouring seed onto the ground where his fellow squirrels feasted below.

During the time I have had this birdfeeder I have fed deer (when I hung it on a hook too close to the ground) and squirrels, and on the rare occasion, birds.

I used to have nothing against squirrels but I now see them as obnoxious yard rodents that interrupt the otherwise tranquil life of wild animals in my yard.

Apparently the only option I now have is to get a feeder that is free-standing and doesn't hang in a tree, or try to find one of those that hangs from a tree limb but has a spinner concoction that sends a squirrels into circles of dizziness while allowing birds to feast peacefully.

I'm too stressed by if for now, but I'll be back. Can't let squirrels defeat me or the birds.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The best laid plans

I have some friends who, when sharing some spiritual truth, will sometimes say something along the lines of, "Oh God must have really laughed at me when I made those plans," going on to explain how something they had planned had gone differently than they had envisioned -- the lesson being that God orders our steps.

Although I'm not sure God laughs at us (maybe He does; I just don't have any certainty of it), last week when I closed out my blog post stating how we would be going to Dallas, implying we would  escape the wintery weather, He, being the all-knowing one He is, had to have known how things would ultimately turn out.

Which was much different than what we planned.

Wife and I set out last Thursday, one week ago today, at approximately noon, and arrived at Older Son and DIL's home in Dallas about 11 hours and 15 minutes later. Yes, it was a long drive, but Wife and I have always traveled well together and it was really quite pleasant.

We did find the weather more agreeable in Dallas. I enjoyed nice walks through Older Son's wonderful old neighborhood in shirt sleeves.

About mid-day Saturday, however, we began to hear weather reports saying things would turn nasty there in Dallas by Sunday. We were planning to leave Monday morning. We planned to stop by and see Wife's parents in Little Rock and have lunch with them, and then drive to Memphis to spend the night.

We listened attentively to the forecasts that became more ominous. Sunday morning I got up and ran -- in shorts, no less. When I got back to the house, Wife was looking at her phone, tsk-tsking about the weather. Rain would begin in the early afternoon and it would turn to ice overnight.

To summarize, we went to church, ate a quick lunch and hit the road in a driving rain about 1:30 p.m. We decided we did not want to risk getting stuck there.

We bypassed Little Rock, where it was beginning to snow, and headed east toward Memphis. We made it as far as Forrest City, Arkansas, about 70 miles west of Memphis. The snow was coming down steadily and our car thermometer told us it was 30 degrees outside, which was a good indication of why said snow was sticking to the ground and the road.

Wife called a nearby Hampton Inn and we got the last room. We left there about 10 Monday morning. Wife dropped me in Memphis so I could work in my office there part of this week, and drove home.

I arrived back here today. Nashville had more snow last night but today the temperature has finally risen above freezing and there has been significant melting. I talked to Older Son and he said it's still very cold in Dallas and they have hardly thawed out from the ice earlier this week.

Maybe God's laughing, maybe He's not.

But don't look for an announcement of any short-term plans here anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The ice cometh, man

We have just completed Day Three of our semi-confinement.

I'll explain.

All day Sunday the weather prognosticators were telling us we would have snow like crazy after midnight and into Monday. Expect five to eight inches, they told us. Around these parts, that's a lot of snow.

It was a holiday for me, so I was, quite candidly, hoping for the entire eight inches. It has been a long time since we had a really good snow so bring it on, I was thinking.

We awoke Monday morning and there was plenty of white but it was not snow; it was ice. And we were iced in, big-time. The snow took a detour to the north and we got the ice -- sleet and freezing rain -- and plenty of it.

Our driveway was one big sheet of ice, as was our street.

It was a work day for Wife but she generally works from home and she had a pretty light day. We had an enjoyable day and evening together.

Since I can also work a lot from home, I chose to do so yesterday (Tuesday). There was very little  melting, and the plows had made it into our neighborhood, although not very much of our street.

Yesterday afternoon I told Wife I thought we should take the pickup truck out for a spin. I had parked it in the garage when all this started. I told her worst case, we would turn around at the end of driveway and put it back in.

We got around just fine. I carefully maneuvered the icy driveway and road to the point to where things had been cleared. We made a visit to Sonic and came home.

Last night we had about an inch of snow on top of the ice. The truck still handled fine but I could definitely tell a difference with the layer of snow now on the road. I drove to the Y (to get some exercise, trying to offset all of eating I've done since being housebound) and we made our trip to Sonic again this afternoon.

Wife is usually the one to get "cabin fever" in situations such as this but I'll admit that I've been the more restless one this time.

It's been bitterly cold and tonight it's supposed to be below zero. We are not used to that, folks. I don't know that I've ever experienced sub-zero temperatures.

We are scheduled to start toward Dallas tomorrow to visit Older Son and DIL, stopping half-way in Little Rock tomorrow night. It looks like if we can get out of Nashville, we'll be fine. That's our plan.

We have become well acquainted with winter this week and I can say, unequivocally, that I'm ready for spring.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Top book picks

Although I'm a little late with it, I wanted to post a recap of some of my favorite books of 2014.

I read a total of 30 books last year. I don't set goals as to how many books I'll read. I just read as I can. I do try very hard for variety, and  include some classics (although I didn't do well with that one last year) and non-fiction along with fiction.

My favorite fiction book in 2014 was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, a beautiful coming-of-age story about two preachers' sons growing up in Minnesota in the 1960s. I found the adolescent theme to be reminiscent of A Separate Peace, with social justice tones that reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird (both of which are in my top five all-time favorites). I really can't recommend this book enough.

On the non-fiction side, my favorite was Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which chronicles the stories behind the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. It took me about 50 pages to get into it but once I did, it was a page turner. I don't know that I have ever learned as much from a book as I did from this one.

Other top picks on the fiction side were The Rent Collector, Orphan Train, The Fault in Our Stars (never saw the movie), The Invention of Wings,  We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, The All Girls Filling Station Reunion ,The 100-Foot Journey (saw the movie with Helen Murin, which was very good, but the ending is completely different from the book), Gone Girl (didnt' see the movie and don't think I can because the book scared the poop out of me) and Grisham's latest, Gray Mountain.

Each Shining Hour is the second in the Water Valley Series by Tennessean Jeff High, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also read the last two in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon and The Handsome Man's Deluxe CafĂ©, both of which lived up to the charm I have found throughout this delightful series.

Jan Karon's latest Mitford installment, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, affected me the same as all of hers, finding myself in love with all the characters and becoming sad at the end that I could no longer continue the relationship.

I picked  up Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time in a used bookstore in Maine last August. I tried. That's all I can say.

 Lois Lowery's The Giver and Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men would not yet be called classics, but they are two my more challenging reads from 2014. Both were worth the effort.

Shauna Niequest is a young spiritual writer I mentioned in my recap last year. I read two more of her essay collections, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and continue to be in awe of her insight and talent.

I already have a stack ready for this year.  I started January with Boys in the Boat, a great story about the 1936 Olympic rowing team, and just finished How God Became King by New Testament scholar N. T. Wright (very deep and challenging and I probably need to read it again).

As always, too many books and not enough time.

If you have any recommendations, I'm all ears.