Sunday, April 9, 2017

Airbnb and a a quick update

For the past 12 years, in two different jobs, I have traveled to a different city almost every week.

From 2005 - 2015, I traveled to Memphis, TN from Nashville. From August 2015, when I changed jobs, to the present, I have been traveling to Birmingham, AL.

The length of time for this travel varies. When I went to Memphis, my general schedule was Monday - Thursday, but not always. Rarely was I ever there Monday through Friday.

But I was there enough that I got a small apartment downtown near my office. It was convenient to have my own place to go to when I was there, but when I moved out two years ago it was evident I had been there ten years and it was a pain to get rid of stuff and/or move stuff home.

In my current position, the drive is shorter, which is great, and I probably average a couple nights a week. I have a staff of ten folks there who report to me and it's because of their proficiency that I don't have to be there all the time.

A lot of people question me about why I do what I do. During the early years when I was driving to Memphis and back almost every week, and it was a relatively new thing, some folks would question me to the point of irritation. It was probably just me, but sometimes I felt judged, as if I were neglecting my family or something.

I was probably a bit paranoid about that.

The fact is, it worked for me and the current situation works for me. Wife still has a job here in Nashville and we have no desire to move. I am fortunate to have had employers with enough flexibility to allow me to do the back-and-forth.

Although all my children are grown and away from home now, during the time in the previous job when two of them were still at home and I was traveling, we maintained our family just fine. When I needed to be home, I was, and all was well. Wife and I still have a good marriage today, even though I travel some.

That's really not the point of this post but I always feel like I have to explain myself.

Anyway, when I started the current job in August 2015, a co-worker offered me the use of his guest house when I was in town. We agreed on a nominal amount I would pay him per night and it worked out beautifully. I knew, however, that it would not last forever.

He notified me this past November they would be needing the guest house for some family members and I would need to make other arrangements. He gave me through the end of the year. It was a good run and, again, I knew it would not last indefinitely.

As I pondered my options, Wife and I discussed it and I told her that, if I could avoid it, I really did not want to get an apartment in Birmingham. I enjoyed having the one in Memphis and there were some advantages, e.g. I could leave some things there from week to week. But the thought of doing that again and furnishing it wasn't very attractive to me.

During the 14 months I was in my friend's guest house, I had to clear out each week when I left, so I learned to be fairly "minimalist" if you will. I would pack easy-to-prepare food and make use of the small refrigerator in the place, but managed to take everything with me week to week.

As I pondered my options, knowing that getting an apartment would cost less than staying in a hotel and almost deciding to bite the bullet and do that, Older Son suggested Airbnb. It's a company that was formed a few years ago where people offer rooms in their homes, or their entire homes, for rent, usually at a price that is much less than a hotel.

Just like Uber (the ride sharing program) has disrupted the taxi industry, Airbnb had disrupted the hotel industry. But I think the hotels are still doing fine, best I can tell, and most cities allowing Airbnb have forced hosts to charge taxes similar to the hotels. And frankly, I think that's fair enough.

I decided to give it a try and it has worked great. The booking, communication and payment are all done online. I have stayed in five different ones, and only once have I met a host.

Two of the ones I have stayed in were actually someone's home where the host lives, but both were split levels with separate entrances, so I had total privacy.

I'm not interested in sharing a room or a bathroom with anyone, although if I were willing to do that, I could really get off cheap. But that's pretty much non-negotiable. At my age, I'm not interested in sharing living quarters unless it's with my wife.

So far I have always found places where I have it all to myself and the cost has been less than what I way paying my friend for use of his guest house. So our budget for this is still pretty much the same, if not a bit less.

I try to be the perfect guest, following my host's "house rules" carefully and leaving the place just as I found it. I have given good online reviews to all of my hosts except one, and for that one I sent him a text and told him my complaints, which were (1) even though he had a "no smoking" policy, it was clear someone had been smoking there, and (2) the trash cans were full of trash. He was somewhat apologetic, but I didn't think quite enough, so I have not been a repeat visitor there.

All of the hosts except that one have also given me very high marks as a guest but he did not give me a bad one. He just declined to give me a review, as I did him.

I am not going there at all this coming week, but I am already booked for the last couple of weeks in April.

It's a lot of fun looking for and finding a place and looking for the best deals. I'm starting to repeat some of my stays. I might eventually get tired of it and consider doing something else but for now, just like the travel itself, it works for me.


Wife and I recently learned that we will be grandparents TWICE this year!  Older Son and DIL are expecting in October, and they are having a boy, just as Daughter and SIL are. We are, needless to say, quite excited.

We had a rare time of all of us being together a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. Younger Son was doing some travel with work, so we all converged on Older Son and DIL at their place for about 24 hours, and it was incredibly fun.

We must seize those opportunities when we can.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Winter not leaving us just yet -- and a few random thoughts

I'm afraid my good start on the blog this year kind of fizzled out.

But I'm back, and hopefully I will do better. I could make excuses, such as not having my personal laptop computer for the past several months which is a long story from which I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to stay I'm warming to the idea of a Mac. We will talk about that another time.

It has been a mild winter, to say the least, here in middle Tennessee. After the early January snowfall, we have hardly had freezing weather. And many days it has been just like spring.

But wouldn't you know it, just when we were about to put away winter clothes (well that's a stretch because I never store seasonal clothes, I just move the sweaters, etc. a little farther down the pole in the closet), it's winter again, just a few days before it's supposed to be spring.

This past Thursday, it was 77 degrees. An overnight thunderstorm brought in a cool front and highs Friday were in the low 50s. There was some talk of snow for the weekend but our local prognosticators talked of "conflicting computer models" and by Friday night when we went to bed, they were saying we might have a "dusting," if anything at all.

There was plenty of dust, all right, and yesterday (Saturday) morning, it was falling fast and furious. It barely hampered travel, however, and by noon it was done. By late afternoon much of it had melted away. I managed to get this shot while it was still coming down:

Our almost-spring snowfall served as a reminder that our weather around these parts can be pretty fickle, and it's a good idea not to get too accustomed to one way or another.


Wife and I have made some short trips over the past couple of months. She went to the beach with some lady friends in February, during which time I flew to Dallas and saw my college roommate and a cousin.

We went to Atlanta to see Older Son and DIL, and to Huntsville to see Daughter and SIL, and learn the gender of our grandbaby coming in July (it's a boy!). And one weekend we drove over to Little Rock to see Wife's parents.

We are thinking of taking a trip the week of Easter since it appears nobody will be coming here. Those plans are tentative as of this writing.

Younger Son is leaving this Tuesday and will be traveling for work in the Southeast for about three weeks. He will crash in Atlanta with Older Son and DIL for a few days. He will not make it here but, given the close proximity, we'll take the opportunity to see him. Really looking forward to that.


We sprang forward last night, one of Wife's favorite activities of the year. She loves the longer days.

Me? Not so much. I'm much more a fall and winter person than spring and summer. I detest hot weather and turning the clocks ahead is my first reminder of what is to come.

Truth be told, though, I like living in a place where we have some semblance of seasons. I don't think I would do well in an area where it was warm all the time. Neither would I cope well with long, hard winters.

Even though we have had a very mild winter, we at least know when the seasons are changing. I might complain when it's hot, but if I had to experience bitter cold day in and out for an extended period of time, I would, no doubt, complain mightily about that (not that I'm a terrible complainer, mind you).

So I'm probably just where I need to be.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Off to a good start

Last year was a good one on the blog and we're off to a decent start this year.

I had made a commitment in late 2015 to pick things up a bit in 2016, and managed to make 19 posts, the most since 2013. I realize that is far fewer than many of you, but with a day job and my weekly column, I think I'm doing OK.

I am sad to report I cleaned up the blog list over to the right, and took down some friends who had not posted in two years or more (and one of whom, sadly, passed away). There are some who are becoming more infrequent, but I've kept them on the list for now. I've prodded a couple with emails, telling them I hope they will rejoin the blog world, but assuring them I completely understand if they don't. I mainly wanted to tell them they had been thought of. To everything there is a season . . . and I get that.

I am pleased to have added several -- Ed, Vince, Sage, Kimberly and Bone, all of whom, like the others on the list, write beautifully of interesting events in their lives; or share about books they have read; or voice an opinion about something; or post a photo or two. I am enlightened and enriched when I read their posts, and appreciative of the time they take to share.

What it comes down to is how much I love storytelling -- both the telling (writing or, in some cases, photographing) and the hearing (reading) part, and that's what keeps me grinding out the occasional tale here, and returning often to see what my friends have posted.

I still shy away from what has become known as social media -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. I guess this is some form of it, but I think it suits me better than any of these others.


I had a few things to say about last year's election, and I assure you I am none too happy with the result.

But as the stages of grief go, I think I have arrived at acceptance, and I'm not going back to any of the others. I am still extremely skeptical of a Trump presidency but it's off the list of things I'm going into apoplexy over. Just not worth it.


I trust 2017 is off to a good start for all of you and I look forward to meeting you here, and on your blog pages, for more storytelling.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Christmas in Brazil

It was our ninth annual international Christmas Eve at our house just a few weeks ago.

That's right, for the past nine Christmases, we have chosen a country or region for our Christmas Eve dinner and had food, dress and decorations in keeping with the theme.

It started the year Wife, who felt she had just finished preparing Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, dressing, etc.), asked if anyone would object do doing something a little more non-traditional for our food at Christmas.

We ended up having a Christmas Eve dinner of Mexican food, a Christmas morning breakfast/brunch that I prepared and, later in the day, a fairly simple -- but delicious, of course -- Christmas dinner.

We all decided we liked this just fine. But we especially liked the Christmas Eve Mexican food, made more festive by stringing pepper lights in the dining room and playing "Feliz Navidad" over and over . . . and over.

A new tradition was begun, and since that year, we have had Italian, Greek, French, Asian, Caribbean, German and British Christmas Eve dinners.

It has expanded greatly, and Wife has outdone herself with food and decorations in keeping with the year's theme. We have an inventory in the basement of each year's props, and there is talk that one year we'll have a "festival of nations" where we'll pull it all out and have samples from each year!

This past Christmas Eve was Brazil, and it was another grand occasion. Wife chose the "Carnival" theme for decorations, and costumes (which are optional) included a Carmen Miranda look-alike, an Olympic 2017 athlete and some other Brazilian-themed adornments. At the table, as you'll see below, Wife provided a mask for each person.

Wife chose food similar to what one might find at a Brazilian steak house. I grilled an assortment of meats and there were various salads, vegetables and desserts.

For the past three Christmases, we have had our Christmas Eve dinner as usual. On Christmas Day the married ones have gone to the respective in-laws' homes, then we have come back together on the 26th to have our Christmas celebration.

This has worked well. Wife and I have committed to flexibility as our family changes and grows, and we know that sometime in the future, the international Christmas Eve might have to give way to an international December 23rd or some other date. Again, Wife and I have committed to ourselves that it's not so much about the date as getting together when we can.

And speaking of change and growth, we learned just before Thanksgiving that we will become grandparents in 2017!  Daughter and SIL are expecting in July and we are over the moon! 

Our Christmas Eve  was great fun, once again, and a tradition we hope to continue.

Here are some highlights from Christmas Eve 2016, and a family picture outside on a very balmy December 26:

                                                     "Christmas in Brazil"

                                                      The table, with a "Carnival' theme
Daughter and SIL
                                                           Older Son and DIL
                                                             Everyone outside on the 26th

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 2016 fiction

Before we completely turn the page on 2016, I'll list my top fiction books of the year, in no particular order:

1. The Whole Town's Talking, Fannie Flagg. A master storyteller, Fannie Flagg is back with more stories that weave into one delightful tale of the goings-on in Elmwood Springs, Missouri (and in its cemetery -- you'll have to read it to understand). Readers of her other books will recognize a few of the characters, but this is a fresh and funny story that will grab you from the first page even if you have not read any of her others.

2. The Swan House, Elizabeth Musser. Another I picked up off Wife's ever growing stack on her bedside table, this coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in Atlanta in the early 60s is the last book I read in 2016. Told in first person, the main character deals with questions of prejudice and faith, making hard decisions about life and friendship. When I read fiction, I am looking for a good story in which I can lose myself. When the writing is beautiful and it makes me think, those are added bonuses. Both happened here.

3. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. I reviewed this in my weekly column and posted it here a few months ago, so I'll not say a lot more. If you grew up in the South, the book will probably mean a lot more to you. If you didn't, it is still a masterpiece. Ignore the political incorrectness of the time and enjoy it for what it is. (Thanks, Kelly!)

4. Circling the Sun, Paula McLain. I reviewed this one here a few posts back. It's historical fiction at its best, told from the point of view of Beryl Markham, a farmer/horse trainer/pilot who lived ahead of her time.

5. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain. Obviously, McLain is a new favorite of mine. Another historical fiction piece, this one tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. It's a fascinating story in which you will learn much about Richardson and her life with the quirky and eccentric Hemingway, as well as Hemingway himself.

6. Glory Over Everything, Kathleen Grissom. The sequel to "The Kitchen House," Grissom continues the story of  characters fighting for freedom.

7. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith. The latest in "The Number One Ladies Detective Agency" series, it is incredible how Smith writes each of these books in a fresh, new way that captivates me as if it were the first one.

8. The Second Coming, Walker Percy. A friend challenged me to read something by Percy, and I took her up on it. It's not easy reading but it's worth the effort. This tale of an unlikely friendship between a widower and a young woman who recently escaped from a mental institution takes concentration and is at times perplexing, but the poignant story that evolves left me enriched and richly satisfied. If you read for pleasure, but enjoy something a bit outside your routine, this would be a good one to pick up.

I'm looking forward to more good reading in 2017 and welcome your recommendations. Happy reading!