Monday, December 28, 2009

Year in Books

I am not going to do a full-blown top ten or twelve year-end book review but I can't let the year end without at least a little bit of commentary on some of the books I read this year.

My favorite fiction read of the year had to be The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This new 40-year-old Alabama author struck a cord with readers, especially Southerners, with her poignant account of life in Mississippi in the early sixties and the relationships of white women and their African American domestic workers.

A close second was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which left me feeling warm all over. Upon the recommendation of blog friends Quid and Steve, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the chilling post-apocolyptic account which literally kept me up at night after I finished it. Did I enjoy it? That's hard to say -- don't know if I would use the word "enjoy" associated with this book. Did it keep me spell bound? Without a doubt. Now I'm trying to decide if I would dare go see the movie.

Also near the top of the list of fiction was Sarah's Key which centers around the little known (at least to me) part of the Holocaust which took place in France.

My hands-down non-fiction favorite was Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years in which this unconventional Christian author of Blue Like Jazz had me dying laughing then crying, as he related his journey of learning how his life is a story. Also loved Witsec, which tells the fascinating history of the U.S. Government's Federal Witness Protection Program; Letters from a Skeptic, a collection of letters back and forth between a seminary professor and his agnostic father; and Late Edition, a Love Story, by Bob Greene, in which he laments the shrinking of the American newspaper at the hands of the Internet by telling his own story of working as a high school student at a local newspaper in Columbus, Ohio.

Also on the non-fiction side, really enjoyed Three Cups of Tea, about Gregg Mortensen's amazing success at buiilding schools in Pakistan.

My nod to classical literature this year was J.D. Sallinger's Catcher in the Rye which somehow I misssed as a high school and college student. Really enjoyed it and I am open to suggestions for more classics in 2010.

I am ending the year with The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, originally written in French but translated into extremely readable English. I am about two-thirds through this one, which tells parallel stories of a middle-aged widowed concierge in a French apartment building and a 12-year-old girl who lives in the same building. I started it Christmas night and it has been a real page turner.

As usual, I would welcome your reading recommendations for 2o10. Good reading to all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Notes from Christmas Day

Christmas night. It was a great, relaxing day. I did Christmas morning breakfast which we enjoyed about 10:45 -- we have to wake them up now! My how things have changed. We lingered at the table talking and laughing, then opened gifts.

We had about ten minutes of snow!

Lunch about 3:15. The young ones off to the Titans' game (which is proving to be sad) about 5. Wife and I in our PJs, watching the game but losing interest.

The menu for Christmas Eve ended up being Shrimp Scampi and Baked Ziti, both of which were wonderful. Also had a tortellini appetizer. Wife found a CD with Italian Christmas music. Great fun. Bread pudding for dessert. Mmmmmm!

Need to get to the Y early in the a.m. to start working off some of the excess I enjoyed these past couple of days. They're having a 90-minute cycling class, twice as long as the norm; think that could kill me but Daughter is challenging me to go. We'll see.

Hope everyone enjoys the long holiday weekend.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What I Love About Christmas

We will have a different kind of Christmas this year in that we will have no extended family. Over the time Wife and I have been married, we have gone to one of our parents’ homes and celebrated with them and, at times, our siblings, or, in more recent years, they have come to us.

My parents are now, of course, deceased. Wife’s parents, who live in Little Rock and are both 81, were here at Thanksgiving, along with their other daughter and family. They said they were staying home this Christmas, that the trip over in November was enough traveling for them for a while.

While we will miss them terribly, we are turning our attention toward our own family and what we will do. We started a tradition last year of having an international theme on Christmas Eve. Last year was Mexico and we strung up red pepper lights, played “Feliz Navidad” over and over, ad nauseum, and ate tacos, etc. It was a riot.

This year, in honor of Wife’s and my recent European trip, we are going with an Italian theme. Haven’t settled on the menu yet but I am sure we will have some type of pasta and it will be wonderful. How authentically Italian it will be remains to be seen but it will be great. Not sure about the music.


I think I might have written about this last year, too, but it’s worth mentioning again. I just don’t get worked up over whether people say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever. There are some Christian organizations that are urging us to boycott stores that don’t say “Merry Christmas.” One even goes so far as to tell you how you can “rate” the various retail outlets for their attention to the word Christmas.

Please. Don’t you think those of us who are Christ followers can make better use of our time and energies? And don’t you think Jesus would rather we concentrate a little more on that “love your neighbor” stuff than trying to assure that those who choose not to follow Him acknowledge his birthday? Nobody can stop you or me from celebrating the birth of Christ, just as I can’t force anyone TO celebrate it. So please, chill out about this one.


Have you seen this year’s hands down winner of the award for “Sure-to-make-you-cry” Christmas commercial? I’m telling you, Wife and I can’t even talk about this one, much less watch it, without tearing up.

It is presented by Publix Supermarkets and I haven’t been able to find it on YouTube so I owe it to you to try and describe it.

There’s this young man, looks mid-twenty-ish, and apparently he’s a medical resident and he’s having to work Christmas. He’s standing at the nurses’ station in the hospital talking to his mom on his cell phone and it’s obviously Christmas Eve. It cuts away to Mom and she’s just as wholesome looking as can be, standing there with the phone in her hand amidst all the activity around her – folks trimming a tree, rolling out biscuits, putting a pie in the oven -- while Christmas music plays in the background.

He tells her how he wishes he could be there and she says she does too. He has to go, he says, and tells her he loves her. You can tell Mom’s being strong for him, as moms are supposed to be.

The next scene is him standing at the foot of a hospital bed and you can hear the voice of his patient asking if he’ll be going home. He replies no, that his family will all be gathering but he won’t be there this year. He tells the unseen patient that he’ll see her tomorrow.

He is next seen walking down the street about sundown with just a hint of a slump in his shoulders, observing store windows with holiday greetings. We then see him walking down the hall of an apartment building. He stops and punches in the numbers on his phone and tells his mother that he almost forgot, but to please be sure and greet everyone for him and tell them Happy Holidays. She says she’ll be sure to do that.

He then opens the door to his apartment and what do you know, there is his mom, having just hung up the phone, and the other family members. All the while they have been getting his place ready for him to come home so they’ll celebrate Christmas together.

And folks, I’m getting choked up just typing this and my description doesn’t even do it justice.


And that’s one of the many things I love about Christmas. I love the sense of family and togetherness that it evokes. My family could have been a case study in dysfunction and nobody knew it better than my mother, but until she died she and my dad had us, along with my brother and his family, come to their house on Christmas Day. It was not always -- nor even often -- the idyllic scene I have described from the TV commercial, but the holiday held enough significance for her that she would always make an effort to patch together a family celebration for a family that, sadly, was not often inclined to gather together.

Late Christmas Eve, after our internationally themed dinner, where there might or might not have been harmonious togetherness, Wife and I will gather our little brood and one of our grown or nearly grown children will read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke as they have done since they were little guys. This will happen after we have a debate about whose turn it is to do it (we once thought of writing it down, but arguing about who did it last year has become part of the tradition).

At 11 p.m. we will go to a local church that we always attend on Christmas Eve, where we will hear beautiful music, listen to Scripture readings and take Communion. As midnight approaches we will light candles, sing “Silent Night” and usher in Christmas. We will welcome the Baby Jesus and prepare our hearts. For a moment things will be perfect, as He is perfect.

I will hear the music, see the candles glowing and look at my beautiful family and I will hardly be able to take it in.

And these are some of the things I love about Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

RLS Home Remedy

I like to think I use the common sense approach when it comes to illnesses and their remedies, be they the prescribed or home kind.

I get about one cold or sinus infection-type malady per year. I try not to go to the doctor if I can possibly avoid it because, inevitably, she will say either (a) that it’s probably a virus and it’ll have to run its course and in the meantime drink lots of liquids and eat fruits and vegetables or (b) it might be bacterial so here, go get this prescription filled and take the entire amount and if the mucus is yellow, yeah, it’s for sure bacterial and this won’t do you any good if you don’t take all of it but, really, it just kind of has to run its course.

So, as I said, I try to use common sense. I get the flu shot every year. I try to eat right and exercise. And I try to just let whatever it is run its course (as if I had any choice?!).

Ever so occasionally, I’ll try a home remedy if I can stand it. My dad was a big believer in caster oil and/or this awful ointment-stuff called Mentholatum – for anything! If one of these wouldn’t do the trick, according to him, you were probably beyond help and were going to die. And believe me, I much preferred that alternative to getting anywhere near either of those products.

I know a lady who has drunk a glass of Ovaltine every day for the last twenty years and swears she has not had so much as a sniffle during that period of time. I don’t do Ovaltine but I started eating a bowl of oatmeal most mornings about three years ago and it definitely helps with the cholesterol count. The makers of Cheerios claim their cereal will do the same thing but if you look at the fine print you’ll see that you probably have to eat them at every meal to have the same benefit as oatmeal. I think I would tire of that much Cheerios.

But I digress. The latest home remedy that Wife and I have discovered is, get ready for this, IVORY SOAP! No you don’t eat it, silly, you go to bed with it!

And get your mind out of the gutter!

Let me explain. Wife and I have both self-diagnosed ourselves with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). You might have seen the commercial in which the narrator describes this stick person (who appears to be androgenous) who can’t get his/her stick legs to stop twitching. He/she takes this drug and, lo and behold, the sticks/legs become calm. Side effects include -- and this is the God’s honest truth -- a tendency toward compulsive gambling and/or sex. Ahem.

Wife and I both think we have mild cases so we haven’t sought medical attention. I won’t comment on sex but I have never gambled and don’t want to start.

My leg restlessness, when I have it, is purely nocturnal. It starts sometime in the evening when I’m sedentary. It continues a little more noticeably when I go to bed, which is when Wife’s really kicks in -- pun intended. If I am dead-dog tired I’ll just toss and turn a bit, then drift off to sleep and it doesn’t bother me anymore. Wife can pretty much do the same.

But if either of us happens to be having one of those nights where we are a bit preoccupied with the affairs of the day and either or both happen to be twitching and kicking too, it can be a long night. One of us inevitably ends up going to the guest room to sleep.

It’s not awful but it’s annoying. I have thought of telling my doc about it the next time I go but it’s not worth a special trip just for that. And again, there’s that sex and gambling thing. So we have lived with it for, oh, a couple of years now.

That’s until about three weeks ago when Wife announces that she has found the cure, the aforementioned Ivory Soap. Now understand this is coming from a woman who has been known to buy into an urban legend or two, so you might understand my skepticism.

But she was adamant that she had gotten this from a reliable source, a friend of a friend, and she actually named names.

Well, why not, I thought. It’s a bar of soap and it will have other uses. And I’ll get a lot of mileage out of this when I want to share about it at parties, I thought to myself.

Well, folks, I am here to tell you that said bar of Ivory Soap has resided in our bed going on two weeks now and there has been narry a twitch! NONE! NADA! The bar of soap rests between our bottom sheet and mattress pad and I tell you our legs are just as calm as sleeping babies!

I have done a little Internet research and there are numerous testimonials to this and apparently it’s good for leg cramps too. I just wonder why it took us so long to hear about it.

I understand that, if you suffer from RLS, you might want to go the more traditional route, get a prescription and take the risk of unbridled sex and/or gambling. (Now I can’t make any guarantees as to the side effects; that’s just what they say on the commercial). That’s your prerogative.

But if your legs, they are a-twitching, you’re skeptical of drugs and you want to keep sex and gambling in check, I urge you to invest in this stuff that is still, famously, 99.44 percent pure. Your legs will thank you.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I have a friend named Jack. Jack is in his mid-seventies and we first got to know each other years ago when my sons and his grandsons played summer baseball together. My older and younger sons correspond closely in age to his older and younger grandsonss.

A few years after meeting Jack at the baseball field, I accepted a position as a board member for a non-profit in Nashville. Jack is also on the board and we got to know each other better through this. He asked me to serve on a board committee that he chairs. We continued to compare notes on the boys and he was always interested in what all three of my children were doing.

Earlier this year, after noticing Jack had missed a couple of our board meetings, I learned that he had been diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gherig's disease. It came on him quickly and within a couple of months after his diagnosis, he was in a wheelchair. Today he's mostly confined to a hospital bed.

Jack and his son, the father of the aforementioned grandsons, each sold their respective houses a few months ago. They pooled their resources and bought a house together that has a downstairs living quarters where Jack and his wife now live. The son and his family live upstairs and are, of course, nearby when needed.

Jack was and is an exemplary grandfather. During the summers we were wathcing the boys play baseball, he and his wife scarcely missed a game. If there were any conflicts they would tag-team. Jack enjoyed getting to know and visiting with the other spectators in the bleachers, like me, as much as watching the games.

He always loved to talk. I remember several occasions after one of our board or committee meetings when he would call me just a few hours after the meeting to go over a point that was made or rehash some things. We would end up having lengthy conversations that I always enjoyed. Knowing I was in banking, he also liked to ask me financial questions from time to time.

He was particularly kind to me when my dad died in 2006. He wrote me a very nice note and said he would be available to talk at any time. He said just the right things.

I remember telling Wife that Jack was the kind of man I would like to be when I reach his age. Not only did I aspire to have the fitness and good health he enjoyed, but I also hoped I would have the integrity and depth of character so evident in my friend.

Possessed of a wry sense of humor, Jack has not always been long suffering with his peers. I remember one lengthy Saturday morning board meeting when one of our especially verbose fellow board members had been, as usual, very talkative. Our board chairman made mention of a called board committee meeting on which this member and Jack served. This guy, who could be a little dramatic at times, heaved a big sigh and told the chairman, "I'll be here if I am able to get here."

Jack, sitting by me, leaned over and whispered, "Do you think you can get me over to his house so I can trip him on his way out the door?

A couple of weeks ago, several of us from our board went to see Jack. I was prepared for the worst.

His wife, an attractive and energetic seventy-something, welcomed us with a warm smile and thanked us for coming. She led us into their bedroom where Jack was in a hospital bed, on a feeding tube and a ventillator.

Although it was hard seeing Jack in this state, I could tell with one look that this was still the same old Jack and he had lost none of the characteristics I hold so dear. He can no longer talk but he grabbed and squeezed my hand and mouthed my name. His eyes communicated beautifully.

I told him how Younger Son was playing football and his team was in the state playoffs. His eyes got wide and he grabbed my hand again, and I could tell he wanted more information as things developed.

We said a prayer with Jack and he mouthed "Amen." I was definitely blessed by the visit.

How I hate sickness and disease. How I despise things like ALS, cancer, heart disease and all those other horrible afflictions that attack and hold hostage good people like Jack. Although I was encouraged by visiting Jack, I cuold not help but weep and pound my steering wheel as I drove home, daring to question God as to why Jack would have to be visited with this slow, grueling death sentence -- this condition from which he will, short of a miracle, not recover.

Yet still, I was blessed by going to see Jack, when I was supposedly there to be an encouragement to him. His eyes and his characteristic grace and good humor, still so evident, told me that Jack has accepted this as another bump in the road.

I don't understand it and I don't like it. But I am still thankful for Jack and his friendship.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Great Season

The season is over. Our high school football team, of which Younger Son is a proud member, fell in the semi-finals of our state playoffs last night in a heart-wrenching down-to-the-last-minute thriller. Final score: 31-27.

A win would have put us in the state title game next weekend, but it was not to be.

Losses such as this are hard for young guys and Younger Son was somber last night. Even though we all knew it could happen, it is still an abrupt ending. Throughout the spring and summer, Younger Son’s life is consumed with conditioning and workouts. Two-a-days start in early August, then there are scrimmages. When school starts there are afternoon practices, then games on Friday nights. He still played JV this year too, so he would often have a game on Monday night as well.

Younger Son comes from a gene pool that is not inclined toward athletics. Of my three children, he is probably the most like me, but there is one significant difference: when I was young, I had a tendency to give up on things that I thought were too difficult. I stopped playing any kind of organized sports early in my life when I noticed the superiority of my peers, even though I had a strong desire to play.

Younger Son, in contrast to his father, has worked hard to overcome obstacles. He has given his whole heart which at times has gotten stomped on, but which is so big that sometimes I don’t think his football jersey can adequately contain it.

When he comes off the field after a successful extra-point attempt where he has been on the line, his enthusiasm is no less than if he were a running back who had run 90 yards for a touchdown. I can see him grinning through his helmet as he pumps his fist in the air and slaps his teammates on their backs. And every time it makes me catch my breath.

And my enthusiasm, I assure you, is no less than if he were a running back who had run 90 yards for a touchdown.

In short, he is my hero.

And so, in recognition of his winning season but, more importantly, as a tribute to his own internal victories, I present to you my favorite football player -- with his biggest fan:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Come Ye Thankful People

I wrote last year at this time about my love for the Thanksgiving holiday and my disdain for merging it with Christmas, so I won’t drag up all of that again.

I know many of you already have your Christmas tree standing or you will put it up this weekend and, of course, that’s your prerogative and I wish you the best. With all the work Wife does preparing for Thanksgiving, if I started dragging out anything having to do with Christmas tomorrow or this weekend, she would not be pleased. Everything in due time.

Tomorrow morning Daughter, Older Son, Older Son’s girlfriend and I will participate in the annual Habitrot, a Thanksgiving Day 5K which benefits our local Habitat for Humanity chapter. I use the word “participate” because I make no promises that I will run. I will finish, though, and we will have so much fun.

At our house tomorrow we will be hosting Wife’s family and will have a total of 13. We will have our Thanksgiving meal about mid-afternoon. Daughter and Older Son will head out early Friday morning for the Iron Bowl, Auburn’s annual clash with intra-state rival Alabama.

Friday night will be another football game as Younger Son’s team heads into the semi-finals of the state playoffs. (He even has practice tomorrow morning but believe me, he is not complaining). I will write more about that at a later time.

Given that there was no observation or mention of Thanksgiving at my church last Sunday, I will print the words of a wonderful old hymn that I would hope is still sung in many churches around the country at this time of year. If you are so inclined, you can go to this link and hear a piano playing the lovely tune, and you can sing along:

Have a blessed (and thankful) day.

Come, ye thankful people, come. Raise the song of harvest home! All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin. God, our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied. Come to God's own temple, come. Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God's own field, fruit unto his praise to yield. Wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown. First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. Grant, O harvest Lord, that we, wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home. From His field shall in that day all offences purge away. Giving angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast. But the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.

Then, thou Church triumphant come. Raise the song of harvest home! All be safely gathered in, free from sorrow, free from sin. There, forever purified, in God's garner to abide. Come, ten thousand angels, come. Raise the glorious harvest home!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting to Know Some Neighbors

I moved to Tennessee twelve years ago after having spent my entire life (except for when I went to college in Louisiana) in Arkansas.

My family and I quickly adapted to our new home and have enjoyed so many things about the State of Tennessee and Nashville in particular. Nashville is a great central location. There are three Major League ballparks (St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati) just a few hours away; we can be at the beach (Gulf Coast) in about seven hours; and we can be in Chicago in about eight. We have had tons of friends over the years stop in on their ways to points east and west, north and south.

It's also really pretty around here. Lots of rolling hills, rivers and creeks that are breathtaking this time of year. The beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway begins in Nashville, going south. The Smokey Mountains, home of the most-visited national park in the U.S., is about three and a half hours to our east.

Right here in Nashville we have the NFL and the NHL. And of course the music here is legendary. People are friendly and, in the suburban area where we live, there are lots of transplants like us. We know very few natives.

So it's not hard to see why we came to love our adopted home.

What I really like to do when I have time is find those hidden gems, the ones that most of the tourists don't know about, a bit off the beaten path. With a day off last Wednesday, I found one of these jewels in Ethridge, Tennessee, about 65 miles south of my house.

Ethridge is the home of an "old order" Amish settlement. They settled in the area in the 1940s and, according to a brochure I picked up, "arrived in a railroad car loaded with their horses, farm equipment and household goods." About 250 Amish families make their homes there today.

Arriving in Ethridge, I came upon the Amish Welcome Center right on the main highway, where one can board a horse-drawn wagon and tour the Amish community. When I arrived I was told that the wagon had just left and wouldn't be back for the next tour for an hour and a half. I piddled around the "touristy" Welcome Center, then decided to get a map and strike out on my own. (I saw the wagon a little later and decided it was pretty lame and was glad I had missed it).

What I found was nothing short of fascinating. About one mile behind the Welcome Center, off the main highway, are country roads where the Amish live. There might be "modern" people living on some of the land around them, but most of this particular area is occupied by the Amish.

They have no modern conveniences -- no cars, no tractors, no electricity and no running water. They dress in black and, while they are pleasant and friendly, they essentially keep to themselves.

In this area they make their livings by working the land. They sell fresh vegetables, milk, molasses, quilts, rugs, hats, furniture and other hand made goods from their homes. Most of the houses have hand-made signs out front that advertise what is for sale.

In the town of Ethridge, and in the nearby much larger town of Lawrenceburg, it is not uncommon to see the Amish horses and buggies trotting along with the traffic. I followed one into the parking lot of a farm supply store and shot a couple of photos.

Speaking of photos, you have to be discreet. They do not like to have their pictures made and they certainly won't pose. I managed to get a few and hope I did not offend them.

It was a delightful way to spend a day off. Here are a few shots of my day:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Some Thoughts

A few thoughts on the national news:

-- The tragic shooting in Fort Hood, Texas defies explanation or reason. Every time another of these unspeakable events happens, we as a nation wince. Unfortunately, such happenings in my lifetime have become, if not commonplace, at least all too frequent.

-- The assailant in this massacre appears to have been Muslim. A day after the event, there were reports that he had been harassed because of his religion. While this is indefensible, there should be absolutely no suggestion or inference that this harassment drove him to do what he did. It simply does not matter. Bullying and harassment are, unfortunately, a fact of life. When each of my children has encountered it, their mother and I have not gone down to the sporting goods store and decked them out with the latest guns and explosive devices.

-- Why all the debate about whether this was a “terrorist act” or not? It was horrible. Maybe it doesn't meet the most current politically correct definition of "terror" but if it was not an act of terror, I don't know what is then. It is obvious this guy had bought in to a radical, twisted agenda. President Obama stated it very well when he said that, “no faith justifies this action; no God looks on with favor.”

-- By the same token, just because the shooter was a Muslim, this should not in any way implicate the Muslim religion as a whole. I am pleased that a number of Army officials were quick to point out that many Muslims serve in our Armed Forces with dignity. Likewise, peaceful Muslim leaders have condemned the action taken by one who claimed to be of the same faith.


-- As she so often does, Nancy Pelosi is basking in the glory and taking credit for the health care bill that recently passed the House. Has anyone but me noticed that when Speaker Pelosi makes an announcement she always seems to be walking down some long hallway, corridor or sidewalk and the cameras follow her until she reaches her perch, minions beside her, and she sanctimoniously speaks to her subjects?

-- Who knows what we will end up with once this thing goes through the Senate?


One of my biggest criticisms of the Obama administration is its intolerance (yes, I said intolerance) of opposing views. I might add that this was an unattractive characteristic of the Bush presidency as well. With Obama, if you aren’t fully buying in to the health care plan, well, you just don’t get it and obviously you don’t care about the millions that are going without health care. Doesn’t seem to matter that there are a lot of us out there that think PAYING FOR IT might be something we just might want to consider. And if you are a member of a media organization that this administration considers “just another wing of the Republican party?” You just might find yourself ostracized at the White House Press Room.

As I said, George W. Bush was no better. Once he sent troops into Iraq, his point people were all over anyone who questioned or criticized the war effort there. It was ridiculous.

Can you say PARANOID?

If you are going to run for and take on the office of President of the United States, well guess what? THERE WILL BE JUST SCORES OF PEOPLE WHO WILL DISAGREE WITH YOU. Remember the old proverb about not being able to stand the heat . . . .?

Not to mention that we are guaranteed through the First Amendment the right to speak our minds.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Blind Side

Kelly recently wrote about reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I commented back to her that it is one of my top five all-time favorite books and one of the few to which a movie actually did justice. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch -- well, there's just no comparison.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about a movie that will be coming out in just a couple of weeks, The Blind Side. I am greatly anticipating the movie because I absolutely loved the book by Michael Lewis, which I read last year. The movie will include such notables as Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw (bless his heart, someone told him he could act and he believed it) and Kathy Bates.

The book has two different agendas. It relates the development of the left tackle position in football and, as a parallel, tells the amazing story of Michael Oher who, as an African-American teenager, was picked up off the streets of Memphis, Tennessee by an affluent middle aged white woman who took him home. She and her husband sent him to a private Christian high school where he enrolled in football, became a left tackle and was almost immediately sought after by Division I football coaches across the country.

The Memphis couple eventually adopted him. He ended up going to their alma mater, Ole Miss, and he was a top NFL draft pick last spring, going to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round.

As I said, I am greatly anticipating the movie, but also dreading it a bit. I dread it because so many times movies are nowhere near as good as the books on which they are based. This was such a good story and it will not make me happy if the movie messes it up.

There is a lot of technical stuff in the book that, if one is not a football fan, might become tedious. I passed it on to a guy friend of mine who loved it. He passed it on to his wife who just couldn't get past the football technicalities and put it down.

I assume the movie will focus solely on the Oher story. The name The Blind Side is a really cool play on words based on the left tackle protecting the quarterback's blind side. The parallels with both his football team's and family's blind sides are unmistakable.

I believe one of the fun things about the movie will be the various (mostly SEC) coaches who will be playing themselves. Only almost all of them are no longer at the schools they represent in the movie.

Tommy Tuberville, formerly at Auburn, is not coaching right now. Neither are Philip Fulmer, who left Tennessee last year, or Lou Holtz, whose last gig was at South Carolina before he became a fixture on ESPN.

Houston Nutt, formerly at Arkansas, is now at Ole Miss (and coached Oher in his final year). Nick Saban portrays himself in the movie as the LSU coach before he left and went to Alabama by way of the Miami Dolphins.

There are other coaches in the movie; these are the ones I can recall.

I highly recommend the movie, even though I haven't seen it yet, but more than that, would urge you, if at all possible, to read the book before seeing the movie. If you like football, it's almost a sure thing you'll like the book. If you don't, I still think there's a good chance you'll be entranced by the Oher story enough to get through the other parts.

And who knows, it might just make a football fan out of you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still Great After All These Years

A few days ago I wrote about my birthday and the cake my mother used to always make. Debby recognized it and said she had made it before.

I've been out working for a couple of days and Wife caught up on my blog while I was gone. When I got home tonight, guess what was waiting for me in the kitchen? That's right. Wife had found a recipe and made the very cake that my mom used to make! And here it is! And it is just as good as ever!

Monday, October 26, 2009

I have photos!

Well Younger Son is here helping me to see if I can possibly post some photos from Wife's and my recent European trip. Several of you have been kind enough to ask, so I am going to try and comply with your requests. For those of you who did not ask, of course, I would never begin to ask you to look.

I am still challenged at posting photos and am having trouble with (a) getting them in chronological order and (b) attaching captions. So, before I delete them totally, I'll just give a quick narrative in the order they are posted:

1. Portofino, Italy.
2. Wife and me in Florence.
3. The Duomo -- cathedral -- in Florence.
4. Me on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
5. Me sampling one of the Italian beers in Ravello, Italy. I felt it my obligation to support the local economy.
6. Fountains in Barcelona (our first day).
7. The French Riviera (Cannes, France).
8. Ezze, France.
9. Open air market in Rapallo, Italy.
10. Barcelona.

Monday Thoughts

It's sunny here in Middle Tennessee today, for which I am thankful. It's been so wet all across the south this autumn season and when we see the sun these days it almost brings tears to our eyes.


I just returned from my annual mission weekend to the Cumberland Mountains, just about 100 miles south of Nashville, but light years away from a cultural standpoint. This is the southern tip of Appalachia and is a beautiful area, especially this time of year. There is a year-round ministry there that I have been working with since 2002. Their purpose is to meet the physical, spiritual, social and emotional needs of the people who live there. It is an area of high unemployment and infant mortality. The drug culture has, unfortunately, flourished there and stolen away the lives of many young people.

This ministry (called Mountain TOP which you can read about here:, like so many non-profits, operates on a shoestring with a skeletal staff who live there year-round. What they provide for people such as myself is an opportunity to go and serve.

I took six people from my church. We left Thursday afternoon and went for a long weekend where we did home repair and construction. Anyone who knows me well and is reading this is probably holding back laughter but remember, God has a sense of humor. Sometimes that's why I think He called me into this in the first place. But I am of reasonable intelligence and I can follow instructions. I am always under enough supervision so that I don't destroy anything or screw something up beyond repair. So there.

Maybe I will elaborate another time about all the benefits I have gleaned from my various times on the mountain. I always come away feeling as if I received much more than I gave.

I worked on a house on Saturday that, along with the family of five, included as its residents a python (he was "tame"), a chinchilla, a tarantula, a dog cross-bred with a wolf, a tabby cross-bred with a wildcat, and assorted dogs and cats. The father of the family was a tattoo artist and would have gladly given me one.

Was God smiling? I don't know, but the more I reminded Him that this was way outside of my comfort zone, the more He reminded me that these people were made in His image.

The more I thought how painting their walls barely put a dent in the repairs they needed and wondered how on earth any effort I made would even begin to meet the aforementioned physical, spiritual, social and emotional needs, the more He helped me remember that He has been transforming lives and making beauty from ashes for centuries.

And He sure doesn't need me to accomplish that but, oh my, what a privilege to be a small part of it. Once again, I have come away changed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Another One Gone

Last Sunday was my birthday.

Now, suffice it to say, at this juncture in my life I do not mark these occasions with any great fanfare and, like so many of us traveling through mid-life at warp-speed, I would just as soon forget how many years have now ticked off.

Still, family members and a few friends were kind enough to remember and I enjoyed lunch with part of my family as well as a couple of phone calls and e-mails to commemorate the date.

I now experience a weird sensation on my birthday, though. I really miss my parents.

My mother has been gone 13 years now and my dad left this Earth four years ago this January. I think about both of them every day and there are all kinds of mental and physical reminders of them in my life, not the least of which is the fact that every time I look in the mirror I see my dad, almost literally, staring right back at me with the receding hairline and crooked mouth that are identical to his.

As a 50-something adult (an early 50-something adult, by the way) who has lost both of his parents – just as millions like me -- I carry on with them very much in my heart, but I no longer grieve their passing.

For some reason, however, my thoughts turn more toward them on my birthday.

As a child, I did not have lavish birthday parties. I might have had a few friends over, but there were never the “destination” parties that would take place at the skating rink or bowling alley, nor was there ever a clown or pony. And of course in the small town where I grew up, the likes of Chuck E. Cheese or any such hot birthday spots were unheard of.

My mother always made my birthday cake. It was three layers, either chocolate or white, always made from scratch. I loved to scrape the moist, leftover crumbs off of the individual pans after she tapped each layer out on wax paper to cool.

The icing was this really sticky white stuff that she made in a double boiler on the stove, and it got hard after it was spread on the cake. It had little swirls and peaks all over it and I have never seen one like it or known anyone else to make one that is similar. It really was a beautiful cake. The pieces were cut in perfect wedges and a scoop of vanilla ice cream right next to it made a delectable treat.

Although a great cook, my mother was not in any way creative or artistic. The most I might have ever gotten on the cake, other than candles, were those little hard, sugary letters that spelled out, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB” or, when I was a little guy, since my birthday was close to Halloween, little miniature plastic jack-o-lanterns that held candles.

My mother would never, in a million years, have even attempted to decorate a cake beyond these simple measures, nor would she have ever purchased a cake. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes envied my friends who had the bakery cakes adorned with footballs or cowboys.

My folks always gave me presents, of course, but again, nothing extravagant.

Birthdays as a teenager are a blur. I’m sure my mom still made the cake. I remember sixteen because I got my driver’s license. The rest don’t really stand out.

Funny, but it seems that as I got older my birthday became more significant to my parents. In college they would usually try to come see me if I did not go home. I kind of found it interesting that they wanted to be with me, or at least talk to me, on my birthday.

My first year in law school, when I was struggling a bit, I went home for my birthday and my parents had arranged for some of my college chums to be there. There was a huge dinner and lots of old friends. They loved that.

Later, after I had married and lived a couple of hours away, they would get the biggest kick out of calling me from a pay phone in town (long before Caller ID and cell phones), pretending they were at home making my birthday call, then knocking on my door just a few minutes later and yelling, “Surprise!” and just falling all over themselves with tears of laughter. One time they showed up with the aforementioned cake in hand, my mother advising Wife that it was my favorite cake. That did not do a lot for the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship but they worked through it.

My last birthday with my mother living was Oct. 18, 1996. She was in the final stages of cancer and under the care of Hospice, but she called me and sang the most beautiful version of “Happy Birthday to You” I have ever heard, stopping after a couple of lines and saying that was the best she could do. She handed the phone to my dad, who was unable to talk to me. She died one week later.

Dad did his best to keep up the traditions after my mother was gone and I had moved to Tennessee, but there were no more “favorite” cakes from my mom (though Wife has more than adequately filled the gap with an Italian Cream that is to die for) and no more showing up at the door, just a phone call and a card Dad had bought at the discount store with a hundred dollar bill enclosed.

Now that I have raised my own children, I have begun to understand why my parents always wanted to talk to me, and, if possible, be with me on my birthday as I got older. They had learned, just as we all do as we move along in life, that life is short and that there are no guarantees as to how many of those special occasions we have left.

And now, that has all come full circle for me. If I could have had just one birthday wish granted last week, it would have been to see them at my door yelling “Surprise!” and doubling over with laughter.

But what great memories.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back on American Soil

Well I am sitting in my hotel room with Daughter in Auburn, AL while she is preparing her speech for tonight. She is letting me use her cool Mac computer and I have hit the wrong button a few times.

Wife and I arrived safely back on U.S. soil (thanks for all who prayed) yesterday afternoon in Atlanta, drove to Auburn and managed to stay up until about 10 p.m. (just two hours short of being up 24 hours) before crashing.

I will not bore you with all of the details and I will post pictures later, but I am happy to report that we had a wonderful time in Europe. We both fell in love with Italy and, should my proverbial ship ever come in, I will rent/buy a villa in Tuscany or on the Amalfi Coast and spend at least part of the year there. Alas, I don't see that ship anywhere near my harbor.

Just a few of my thoughts/observations:

-- The flights both ways were uneventful but still mildly miserable. I wish I could afford the "business elite" class (what I guess we used to call first class) where those who sit in the luxurious spacious seats with at least twice the leg room of coach are served wine upon arrival. That contrasts greatly with us peons who are crammed into the cattle car/sardine can that the airlines call "economy."

-- I did not take the Valium my friend gave me (although it got close on the way home) but on the flight over I took advantage of the complimentary beer and wine with liberality. That helped some. The airline food, though -- where do they get this stuff? It's crap, pure and simple.

-- Upon arrival in Barcelona at 9 a.m. we immediately began to see the sights and tried to pretend we had slept but by noon we were zombies. We took about a 3-hour nap and were much better after that. This was against some strong advice from well-meaning friends but, sorry, when my body tell me to sleep, I sleep. We managed to get up and resume sight-seeing.

-- Our cruise was fine but, really, it was incidental to the trip -- just a mode of transportation and a place to eat and sleep at night. We had a nice state room with a balcony but, except for the last day which was at sea, we were off the boat every morning early and seeing the sights. We did meet some delightful people from England with whom we ate dinner every night. But other than that, we did very little aboard other than sleep. This was much different from our cruise to Alaska in 2006 with our entire family where we were at sea three days and off the ship three days.

-- Except for one day in Italy, our tours were all private, meaning we did NOT do the excursions offered by the cruise line. This was a little more expensive but well worth it. Every one of our guides, both in France and Italy, were superb. We got great personal attention and, especially in Rome and Florence, were able to absorb a lot of history in a brief amount of time.

-- It was very, very unseasonably warm in every port we visited. Highs in the 80s. I wore shorts each day except the day we visited Rome where long pants are required in St. Peter's (although I think some guys got away with shorts).

-- We made a waiter mad at lunch in Florence. Our guide recommended a really great looking restaurant where I though we would have the classic Italian meal. We were greeted with smiles upon our arrival and we smiled back but, after being shown to our table, we were obviously scorned as evidenced by being brought different food than we ordered and never receiving the wine we requested. That's still a mystery.

-- I had a ball trying to speak Spanish in Barcelona and I think Mrs. Fernald, my high school Spanish teacher, would be proud. Wife, on the other hand, was convinced that if she just spoke English LOUD enough to anyone, they would understand, even if they didn't speak a word of English.

-- I don't understand Europeans and bathrooms. I mean, don't they have internal plumbing just like I do? Yet their bathrooms are all remote and obscure tiny little structures for which you must beg for directions. They are also often unisex and there is often a fee charged. Never got that. I can tell you that, by the time I would reach one, I was willing to pay handsomely and I didn't care if I was sharing with a female. Some things can't wait.

-- We saw near-nude (i.e. topless) bathers on the beach in France. For documentary purposes only, I took photos (which will not be published). Amazing. Also saw men who might as well have been nude and their little speedos were not flattering.

-- I love the outdoor cafes where Europeans sit and have their food/drink of choice and watch the world go by.

-- I am happy to be back on American soil but we had a wonderful time. My thanks to Wife for planning and executing all of this, a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage.

-- I kept a daily journal but, again, I'll not bore you with that. When I get home and can get them loaded, I'll post a few photos.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Busy Times

The fall season is defnitely the busiest around here. We are heavy into football with Younger Son, a high school junior, playing JV and varsity. We also make as many Auburn games as we can and if we're not there in person we're watching them on TV. And the boys have tickets to the Titans' home games this year.

We are also in a season (that will probably go on for a while) where we have a lot of friends whose children are getting married. Wife, Older Son and I will hop a plane for Dallas in the morning and attend one of those weddings. The young man getting married is a longtime friend of Older Son's from Little Rock, and his parents are good friends to Wife and me. It will be a quick trip but will be worth the effort.

Daughter and her friend who lived with us over the summer are coming in later today and will go to tonight's game with us, then stay the weekend, even though we're leaving early in the morning. They'll have fun hanging out at home, though, and watching out for Younger Son.

It is during this busiest of times that Wife has chosen for us to go on our 25th wedding annversary trip. Readers might remember from an earlier post that she saved the money for and planned this trip.

We will fly from Atlanta to Barcelona next Thursday. Not having to board a plane in Nashville means we don't have to add another leg to the flight and for flying-averse people such as Wife and me, that is a good thing. We can make the short drive to Atlanta and get a direct flight.

We will be in Barcelona a couple of days before we get an a cruise ship that will take us to ports along the Mediterranean in France and Italy. I am sure it will be a lovely time. Not only did Wife plan the trip, she has also made all the arrangements for tours and excursions.

The good thing about cruising is that there is a minium of packing and unpacking and trying to find places to eat. I have only done one previous cruise, to Alaska with the whole family in 2006, and I loved it.

If there is a negative, I'm sure it will be that we will hit some high points but not have as much time as we might prefer. But hey, I am not in any way complaining.

As I have gotten older, some of my mild fears about certain things have grown into greater fears and some of the things I once had no problem with, welll, those things now bother me. Like flying, for instance. I no longer enjoy it. From going through security to being cooped up in that cabin to landing and taxiing to the gate, I just don't care for it. I feel a lot safer and more in control on the ground.

Funny, when we got married, Wife was the white-knuckle flier and I was not very patient with her. Somewhere along the way, though, I caught it from her. So I am no longer much help to her as I am just trying to get through it myself.

All that to say, I won't be dropping in here for a while. I go to Dallas tomorrow, get back late Sunday then work in Memphis Monday through Wednesday before leaving for our big trip next Thursday. We get back to Atlanta on the 10th but will spend a couple of days with Daughter at Auburn before we finally come home on the 12th. Her new members are being initiated and she will be speaking at a banquet, so we need to be there. Also thought it would be a good way to crash and get over jet lag before we re-enter real life.

For those of you who pray, I would ask for the following entreaties:

-- That there are no terrorist attacks in any country while we are gone, especially those we are visiting.

-- That the plane on which we are flying, each way, will take off, cruise and land in a smooth, non-remarkable way.

-- That Older Son and Younger Son, staying together at our house, will be safe and that Older Son will use the wisdom and maturity of his almost-24 years should any decisions need to be made of any importance.

-- That I won't have to take the Valium that a friend has given to me just in case a panic attack comes my way. More specifically, that there would be no such panic attack.

-- That Wife and I are safe on all parts of this journey and that we will return rested and refreshed.

Talk to y'all later . . . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's gotten really bad

In one week’s time here is what we have witnessed in the U.S.:

-- A Congressman yells out, “You lie!” to the President of the United States while the President is speaking to a nationally televised joint session of the House and Senate.

-- A world renowned tennis player who has made millions of dollars and has enjoyed privileges most could only dream about bursts out with profanities and throws a tantrum worthy of a three-year-old when she disagrees with the call of a line judge.

-- At an awards ceremony, a performer walks up to a fellow performer as she is accepting an award, pulls the microphone from her hand and explains to the crowd why another performer should have in fact won the award.

When did it get this bad? When did people like this – people of privilege – lose all sense of decorum and good manners and decide they can say and do anything at any time?

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Open House

Wife and I made the annual trek to our high school’s Open House last night. With Younger Son, our last child, now a junior, this was our next-to-last visit.

We opted to skip the big convocation at first and just go for the classroom visits. I know, I know, we are probably just cheating ourselves and when we don’t know something that’s going on at school we will have nobody to blame but ourselves

BUT this is our third and final child to go through the school system and we have sat through, ad nauseum, the speeches where they introduce all the principals and teachers, then plead for money, countless times. We know the teachers and principals by now. We give the money they ask for. Haven’t we earned the right not to sit through this?! And you know Wife and I are big rule followers and it took a lot of discussion for us to get our consciences clear enough to skip it. But we did and we’re OK.

Anyway, the way they conduct the Open House AFTER the boring meeting is by giving you a copy of your child’s schedule and letting you walk through it, going to each class for about seven minutes. Bells ring and everything. During your “lunch” and “study hall” you can loiter in the halls and visit with other parents – you don’t even need a pass.

To be doubly bold last night, we even skipped a class (Wife and I are definitely living on the edge)! It’s Weights and Kinesiology and Younger Son takes it as an elective so, in the off-football season, he can do his workouts and not have to stay after school. We’ve met the teacher and we know what they do in class. Besides, it was way on the other end from where we were.

The rest of the night we followed the rules to the letter, attended every class and learned what was expected of Younger Son. (This is, of course, so we could go home and interrogate him about everything).

To say things have changed since I was in school would be a gross understatement. Every teacher has a website and e-mail address. Many of the assignments are e-mailed from student to teacher. One of Younger Son’s current tasks is to prepare a Power Point presentation about the “gilded era” of the late 1800s. Good thing I don’t have to do that.

One of the coolest things about technology in the classroom is the advantages it gives students. If you forget to take a textbook or assignment home, you can more than likely find what you need online. Yes, even many of the textbook units are available at the click of a mouse and most of the teachers post the assignments on their websites. This eliminates the 9 p.m.-or-later frantic phone calls and/or visits to friends, begging them to borrow their book or assignment. We have been on both ends of that one through the years.

The Open House is really a lot of fun. I enjoy walking the hallways and sitting in the desks, pretending I am a student again (but thankful I am not). We are blessed to be in a superb school district with top-notch teachers who really care about students succeeding. The corollary to that is, in our community, we also have great parents who are supportive of the schools. The halls were so crowded last night with moms and dads that you could hardly move. What a great message that sends.

As we left, Wife commented with relief that no teacher shrieked, gasped or widened his/her eyes when we disclosed whose parents we were. That represents extreme progress from the time we first met Younger Son’s kindergarten teacher eleven years ago, who told us we had a very “active” (translated: wild) child and it would be very nice if he would “learn to use his inside voice.” I remember smiling politely and assuring her we would work on that.

I knew full well that this teacher would soon learn that Younger Son came to this earth equipped with only one voice -- kind of like indoor/outdoor carpet -- with one volume, with no control switch. I figured she could learn to live with that just as I had. And I really don’t think her sudden decision to retire that year had anything to do with that.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Healthcare Quandary

I am as conflicted and confused as ever over the healthcare issue.

I have been reading just about everything I can get my hands on, including some great thoughts from my fellow bloggers, to try to be as informed as possible. I have asked the opinions of people I respect. I have talked to doctors.

I have listened to conservatives tell me how this is the beginning of socialized medicine; how, if the “public option” happens, the private insurers will be driven out of business and the government will become bigger and bigger; and how we will eventually have to wait weeks/months/years to obtain medical treatment we might need. I have also been told the proposed healthcare legislation has provisions that encourage euthanasia for older patients (this is not true).

Those more to the left allow as to how we are the only industrialized nation that does not assure healthcare for its citizens; how we have allowed the insurance companies to take over and run healthcare and, in so doing, cut out a major portion of the population via their various denials of coverage (Nancy Pelosi has called the insurance companies “villains”); and how upwards of 45 million are uninsured, which is unacceptable.

I have read authentic stories of patients in Canada and the UK who have, in fact, died while waiting for some procedure due to the government red tape involved. There are also accounts of patients from other countries, who in fact have some form of government insurance, coming to the U.S. to get treatment and paying from their own pockets due to the superiority of care in this country.

I have also read heart-wrenching accounts of hard working middle class Americans going bankrupt because of a catastrophic illness; a father whose Down Syndrome daughter was denied coverage because of her “pre-existing condition” when he changed from one insurance provider to another; and, maybe the most preposterous of all, a happily married couple who, upon recommendation of a hospital social worker, divorced so the husband, who contracted early-onset dementia and could no longer work, could qualify for Medicaid by not having to count his wife’s income.

It is enough to make one scream. And, after all this reading and studying, I am really not any closer to having a firm opinion. Here, however, are my thoughts today:

-- I think the Obama administration, though perhaps well intentioned, has done a horrible job of presenting the healthcare package to the American people. Although regular readers here know that I respect the man a great deal, sometimes I watch and listen to the president speak on this matter and think that he really doesn’t get it. He comes across as arrogant and impatient. I feel like he’s telling me to just get on board and let him work out the details. And that’s not Democracy, folks.

-- President Obama went on a popular national radio show recently to tout healthcare reform. There were callers to whom he spoke. To one of them he said, emphatically, “I guarantee you we will pass healthcare reform.” Really?! Seems a former president and his wife tried to make the same guarantee back in the early 1990s and look where it got them.

-- I am tired of people crying “socialized medicine.” Socialized medicine means the government essentially owns all the hospitals, and the doctors work for the government. A “single payer” system means the pay to the healthcare providers is funneled through the government but the providers are all still independent. They are not the same thing. As I see it, socialized medicine is not even on the table. A single payer plan, of sorts, would happen via the public option, but we would still not have a complete single payer system because private insurers would still exist. This is NOT socialized medicine. Maybe it's coming, but this is not it.

-- Along those lines, Medicare, enacted by the Johnson administration in the early 1960s, is an example of a single payer plan. Seniors who are on Medicare have their bills submitted directly to a government entity that pays them. I am sure it has its flaws but there are many elderly people who are very protective of it and, understandably, don’t want to lose it -- a lot of the same people who are so upset about the public option. A little ironic, it seems.

-- Insurance companies should not be painted as the “villains” in all of this, a la Nancy Pelosi. Some time ago, healthcare costs skyrocketed so that every person now must have health insurance to avoid bankruptcy in the event of a catastrophic illness. It was not always this way. For many years my dad, who was self-employed and the breadwinner for a family of four, did not carry health insurance but, rather, he “self-insured.” Today that would hardly be possible. Because health insurance today is not what it was originally designed to be, the companies have had to make drastic changes. They’re in the business – surprise, surprise – to make money so, just like any business, they are going to design themselves to have as few costs as possible and retain as much cash as possible. Because the cash they dispense goes to pay for our very wellbeing, it’s very personal to us as consumers. But it’s silly to call them “villains.”

-- My friend Steve wrote a great piece in which he questioned the whole matter of how healthcare today is so tied to our jobs. Getting health insurance is pretty much expected in this country when one applies for work. Steve hits the nail on the head, saying, “the fact that our healthcare is tied to employment is one of the reasons we are in this mess.” Wow, I could not agree more on that one. Why in the world should it be so? Would-be entrepreneurs are constrained from following their dreams because they need a job that provides health insurance.


My heart is heavy when I hear of hard-working American people who are denied coverage for healthcare. I have heard the accusations of laziness, making bad choices, etc. But I am careful not to judge another’s situation. Thank God, I have not been in those shoes. Not yet anyway.

Be that as it may, I still have a big problem with more and bigger government. Yes, we’ve had Social Security and Medicare around for a long time. But that doesn’t give me much comfort. I will be honest: the “public option” really scares me.

Although I am a little more informed than I might have been a few months ago, I am not any closer to a strong feeling either way.

I am prayerfully hopeful that our representatives from both sides will come together and tame this beast that is called healthcare. It is going to take hard work and it is going to take compromise. Arrogance, name calling, yelling and making outrageous exaggerated claims will not get it done.

Friday, August 28, 2009

So Long to a Senator

I have to hand it to my local YMCA. They make it very difficult to make excuses about exercising.

On most of the machines that are there for aerobic exercise, whether treadmills, elypticals or cycles, there are little televisions into which you can plug earphones and watch and listen while you exercise.

Believe me, I take advantage of this little luxury. Anything that will hasten the time or help me go into another dimension while I am huffing and puffing is a good thing.

This morning while doing my stepping on the elyptical machine, I watched the funeral mass for Senator Edward Kennedy who died earlier this week.

Now, as I have said about others of Kennedy's left-leaning persuasion, I would have never, ever voted for him. Not in this lifetime; not on this planet.

Still, as I have also said about President Barack Obama, I think if I had ever had the chance to meet Senator Kennedy, I would have liked him. I think we could have been friends. We even share, I believe, some of the same ideological principles; we just have always had different theories on carrying them out.

Today, as I watched his funeral and listened to the eulogies, I was struck once again by what a remarkable country we live in.

Sitting in the audience were Kennedy's admirers, but also some of his strongest detractors. Republicans sat among Democrats; liberals among conservatives. Three former presidents and one sitting one also paid their respects.

For events such as this, we are very civil. We know how to put politics aside and honor a statesman who served his country with distinction; a public servant who championed causes in which he strongly believed; a family man who endured more tragedy in his family than most of us will ever know, and who, as the "baby" of his own family, by default became its patriarch.

There is a lot of needless bickering, partisan yammering and turf-protecting pettiness in U.S. government; of that there is no doubt. But on days when we need to, we can pull ourselves together, suck it up and remind the world what we're made of.

That gives me encouragement about the future of this country; that gives me hope. And I believe that is exactly what Senator Kennedy would have wanted his funeral to do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I don't do "mad" well

I don't do "mad" well. I'll try to explain.

My dad always told me how important it was to speak up for myself, that nobody else was going to do it if I didn't. He kind of went into every situation, whether it was getting a car fixed or going out to eat (which he did as little as possible), with the assumption that someone was out to get him and, by god, he would not allow it. And if anything was out of order, he could always successfully wear down the offending party to achieve (what he perceived to be) justice.

In other words, he could get mad and get results.

Wife's father was, and is, similar -- and her mother too, for that matter. She recalls her mother telling her, "You just let people walk all over you, that's what you do."

And now, Wife doesn't do "mad" well either. If she gets mad enough, she'll end up crying, bless her heart.

We have put our heads together and decided, just maybe, the determination we saw in our respective parents didn't look all that attractive to us and that's why we are each a little on the meek side. We are not into the pop psychology that might have us blaming our parents for this; we both had (and Wife still has) very good relationships with our parents. We just acknowledge the possibility of our parents being the root cause of this characteristic we share.

What happens, of course, is that Wife and I often feel taken advantage of because we either (a) refuse to get mad like we probably should or (b) we get mad, but we do it so poorly that we make fools of ourselves.

Here are some recent examples and one not so recent:

-- Daughter has had a laptop computer that is nothing short of a lemon. It's a piece of crap. Fortunately (I guess) we bought the extended warranty when we purchased it two years ago. Under said warranty, you take it back to Big Box ("BB" -- and I'll let you figure out who they are) for repair. Only BB keeps it, oh, anywhere from two to four weeks, or they might even forget to send it off to wherever the heck it is they send it. So you just do without while it's gone. And they don't care how much inconvenience that might cause you.

The fine print in the warranty states that, the FOURTH time you bring it in for repair, they will give you a new computer. So about four weeks ago, not long before Daughter would be leaving to go back to school, you guessed it. The piece of crap goes down for the fourth time.

Daughter and I showed up at BB with computer in hand. I walked up to the service desk, explained the problem and said, "I want a new computer." The guy behind the counter said that wasn't his decision. I repeated, with a little more volume, "I want a new computer." I got the same response.

I think I said, "I want a new computer" about a half dozen times before he explained to me that he would again have to send it off to wherever, and they would let us know something as soon as possible. I felt Daughter nudging me from behind as I gave him the history of the worthless machine and all the trouble it had caused for two years. I think I was still saying it as Daughter guided me out the door. And I'm pretty sure I was shaking.

The story has a happy ending, in that a week later they called and Daughter got her new computer. But it probably had nothing to do with my ranting which, Daughter admitted, actually scared her. You see, I just don't do mad well.

-- Wife and I frequent a little neighborhood restaurant. We love the food and the ambiance there and we eat there often. We have sent a lot of our friends there. We have been extremely good customers.

When eating there a couple of weeks ago, Wife told the waitress that she would like to purchase a gift card for a friend who had recently done her a very nice favor. For some reason this threw her (the waitress) into a dither and I never fully understood why she could not just add $25 to our bill rather than having to go ask her manager, three different times, how to do it, but for some reason she could not.

Anyway, after much discussion between our waitress and management, and our having to have two totally different checks for our meal and the gift card, we left with the card, which Wife presented to her friend the next day.

Imagine Wife's surprise and embarrassment when Wife's friend called a few days later and told her he and his wife and been to the restaurant and, upon presenting it at the end of their meal, were told the gift card was worthless. He had to fork over the money and pay.

Wife immediately called the restaurant's manager who said he just didn't understand how that could have happened, but he would get back with her. He eventually called her back and said obviously the waitress did not "key it in" correctly. He said he would leave a new gift card at the front and we could pick it up. He never ONCE apologized or offered us any kind of additional compensation for our trouble. Wife said he was much more concerned with the mistake the employee had made than the trouble and embarrassment it had caused us.

Wife took her friend $25 cash and apologized all over herself. We want $25 cash from our former favorite neighborhood cafe but, see, we don't do mad well and if I went up there and made a scene and raised hell, I'd regret it later. Same for Wife.

But if my dad were alive? Or if Wife's mom or dad had this happen to them? Any of them would walk in there and walk out with not only the $25 cash but probably the gift card as well. But me? Or Wife? No, we will just slip in and get the new gift card, then go right back in there and eat again because we can't let that go to waste.

-- Wife and I went to another restaurant Thurs. night to celebrate our anniversary. We had one of the worst waiters of all time. Not only did he give poor service, but he called Wife "Sweetie," interrupted our conversation, didn't listen to our orders, never offered to refill glasses and was incredibly annoying.

But what did I do? Well, I didn't say much to him but he didn't get much of a tip either. At least I can do that.

-- Now here's a funny one that happened over a year ago.

When Older Son graduated from college, we, as his parents, who had paid a fair amount of money for that college education, thought it would be appropriate for us to be there.

At this graduation, which included a large number of graduates, the names were called rapidly. This was necessary if the event was not going to last eight or nine hours.

As names were called, however, it was very common for large groups to get up and leave. What became obvious was that, when So-and-So's son, daughter or whatever's name was called and the stroll across the stage was complete, So-and-So was done.

And guess what? There was a big old bunch of these So-and-Sos sitting right in front of us and they all got up, en masse, and walked out just as Older Son's name was called. AND WE DID NOT SEE OUR SON GET HIS DIPLOMA BECAUSE THESE INCREDIBLY RUDE PEOPLE WERE IN OUR WAY!

Well, I will tell you that Wife and I did not care at that moment how poorly we do "mad." We let them all know how rude we thought they were and I told them I was very happy for them, that they got to see their son/daughter/whatever graduate, because I, because of them, had not had the same privilege.

Daughter and Younger Son were both humiliated but we didn't care. After a while we started to laugh about it and it's become one of the favorite family stories, of Mom and Dad "losing it" at the same time (which wasn't pretty). So, even though Wife and I may not do mad well, we did it at this event, and we really don't regret it.

But that's definitely the exception.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twenty-five Years

A death of an old friend has caused some unexpected travel early this week and I will probably be away from anything but a work computer for the next couple of days, so please pretend you are reading this on Tuesday, August 11, the day I intended to post it:

I will be honest: although I do watch television, I find little there of redeeming value. If I had it to do over again (how many times do I find myself saying that?), I might be one of those radical parents who doesn’t allow one in the house, forcing my children to be more creative and resourceful.

But with that said, I will grudgingly admit that, on occasion, there will be a nugget of truth that comes my way via the airwaves. One such little jewel made its way to my brain just recently when some cable sitcom was on in our playroom.

It was a typical scenario that has been done and overdone millions of times on TV, where a husband decides he must take a more assertive role and not allow his wife to run rough-shod over him. In this particular episode, when said husband began throwing his weight, he learned that his wife, who made numerous decisions each day without consulting him, was actually making them with his best interest at heart.

She explained, for example, that, when she had asked him for what time she should make dinner reservations, he had said, “Seven-thirty.” She, however, had made them for eight. When challenged, she explained that she had decided 8 p.m. would be preferable because she knew that, at the restaurant where they would be going, he would have to valet park before that time, which would upset him, which would in turn put a damper on their evening. The point was beautifully made that, although she appeared to be taking an “in charge” position, she was actually just thinking of him.

To this, the bewildered husband could say nothing but, “Oh.”

Oh my goodness, friends, have I been there and done that. I have gone down that road so many times that my foot has a way of just involuntarily making its way to my mouth as I (lovingly) question Wife about decisions she might have made, just daring her to match wits with one trained by education to argue.

A very high percentage of the time I have learned that, just like the sitcom husband, Wife was actually thinking of me in the process.

Wife learned many years ago that she can assert herself better in these little exchanges by giving me a certain look of self-satisfaction, a look that nonverbally conveys that I may continue wallowing in my assurance that I know what she is thinking or what her motivation might be but, at some point, I will be sheepishly returning to her to admit the error of my ways.

In other words, she says it best when she says nothing at all. And she knows it.


Today Wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage – two and a half decades in which we have had a few of the episodes I have just described but also, I am pleased to report, in which we have had a blast together much of the time. There have been ups and downs and challenges, to be sure – and there still are -- but we are insanely compatible. And 25 years since making it permanent, although we sure don’t agree on everything, we seldom have a cross word.

To give some statistics: As regular visitors here know, we have had three children, two boys with a girl in the middle, one of whom is grown (23), one who is half-way through college (20) and one who has two more years of high school (16). Fertility was never a problem with us. I could relate well to the cartoon in Wife’s obstetrician’s office where two small children are observing an obviously pregnant mother. One of them quips, “It has something to do with my dad looking cross-ways at her.”

I have lost both of my parents during the time we have been married; both of Wife’s are still with us and doing relatively well. I have had a total of seven different jobs since we got married, which I guess is not all that uncommon. One only lasted three months, a total disaster which I don’t even include on my resume. Wife has had about four and has owned two different businesses, one of which she owns today.

We have lived in six different houses, three that we owned and three we rented, and we’ve been in our current one eight years, longer than any of the others. When we moved to Nashville from Little Rock in 1997 we were unable to sell our house there for nearly three years and lived in two different rent houses until we bought our house here in 2001. We now live across and up the street from the house we rented when we first moved here.

We have been abundantly blessed with friends. We still have a strong base of friends back in Arkansas and have also been fortunate enough to develop a number of cherished relationships in the Nashville area and, really, scattered across the country from various times in our lives. We are both “people persons” and we try never to take any of these friends for granted.

Wife is not a pet person but has tolerated two dogs during our marriage. I’m a total sucker for dogs and treat them like children. Our first was a miniature schnauzer who met her unfortunate demise when she got out one night and was hit by a car right in front of our house. We had only had her a few months. Our current canine, Ralph, has now been with us for ten years, a terrier-mix rescue from the Humane Society. He is an absolute joy to me and he has grown on Wife.

We have enjoyed some great travel together. We honeymooned in Hawaii. As a family we did Walt Disney World a couple of times when the children were young, have taken numerous beach vacations and have made journeys to Virginia, D.C., California, Colorado, Alaska and New York, among others. Wife and I agree that there is nothing quite like a family trip together and we have always tried to make it a priority. We have many times deferred home maintenance and other expenditures or purchases in favor of family travel. I have never once regretted it.

When Wife and I started talking about our 25th wedding anniversary and what we might do to celebrate (having only modestly celebrated the previous 24, if at all), I very pragmatically explained to her that, although it would be nice to go somewhere, the house would need all kinds of repairs this year (we’ve deferred about all we can defer) and we still have six years of college tuition ahead of us. In other words, not going to happen.

She gave me that previously described look a number of times and eventually presented me with an envelope in which she had saved a significant amount of cash, which we will use to go on a Mediterranean cruise in October. So, good for her – she knows I would have never taken that kind of initiative – and Happy Anniversary to us.


What is the secret to a happy marriage?

Well, I could espouse a number of theories. A friend told me once not to “major in the minors.” I took that advice to heart, and I think it makes great sense.

I know that I am inherently selfish and have a certain amount of prejudices. I’m not proud of that. But as I’ve lived with another person for 25 years, I have learned what a joy it is to let go of so much of that. It is really fun, and preferable, to defer to my soul mate. I love seeing her happy. And I know she feels the same about me.

No, we don’t agree on everything and, in fact, we disagree on many things. But, when all the dust settles, does it really matter? Not usually. I think we both understand that.

I think our common faith has a great deal to do with our commitment. I know that when we each said, “I do,” our Heavenly Father said, “I do too.” We take that seriously.

In the early years of our marriage we were involved, through our church, in a number of studies about marriage and God’s supposed “blueprint” for it. Funny thing was, the more I got into it, the less I believed in a specific formula as much as a desire on God’s part that we observe His directive to love each other and strive to have pure hearts and attitudes, with His help. Today I am much more concerned with that than how we might fulfill some rigid roles of husband and wife.

I realize that participating in intentional projects and reading commentaries on being a faithful spouse is helpful to some – and please understand I am not in any way putting it down – but for me it was tedious and way too mechanical. I have learned tons more in the past 25 years of marriage by just going through the day-to-day than I ever did from any of that.

As a young lawyer I occasionally practiced in the domestic relations area and would receive referrals from friends and fellow church members. I would at times come upon spouses – both husbands and wives – who I believe totally distorted the Scriptures to try and justify the divorce settlements they thought they deserved. That annoyed me.

What still baffles me to this day are the scores of folks in the Evangelical world who are so quick to quote Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands . . . ,” but act as if the immediately preceding verse, Ephesians 5:21, the one that says, “Submit to EACH OTHER,” is not even there. No such thing as mutual submission, they say. Hmm, that’s sure not the way I read it.

And there, I believe, you have it. No, I don’t know of any secret to a happy or successful marriage, but I think much of the success in any relationship, especially a marriage, comes down to a mutual deference and submission to each other as the Apostle Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians. He stated it similarly in Romans when he said that we should “give preference to one another in honor.” Both Wife and I are imperfect people and we will not always achieve that, but we stand a greater chance of being content in our relationship when we try.

And it helps, as my friend said, not to major in the minors.


Happy 25th, Honey. I miss you today. Thanks for a wonderful 25-year ride.

I’ll see you on board in October.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another transition

"Summer" -- the summer that is defined as the young folks being out of school, having a more relaxed or flexible schedule, having Daughter home from college, having Younger Son at camp, having friends of both here at late hours, making road trips to baseball games -- ends early around here.

Today Daughter and I load up (and when I say "load" I mean it literally in every sense) and move her back to school, with Rush preparations, then Rush itself, being imminent, then classes starting in a couple of weeks. She will be moving into a brand new dorm this year, one of those apartment-like facilities that I would have gawked at back in the 70s when I moved into a cinder-blocked cell my first year of higher learning. We have our move-in instructions for tomorrow morning and any prayers for patience and understanding on my part are most appreciated.

Younger Son is in his second week of football two-a-days and he starts back to school a week from Thursday. Our supposedly wiser-than-the-parents school officials here believe we need to get an early start, have a break in the fall and finish first semester before Christmas. They have tried, unsuccessfully to push a "balanced calendar," a/k/a year-round school, on us but we have, thankfully, fought them off. Starting mid-August is bad enough and we traditionalists still enjoy the aforementioned rites of summer days and nights.

Wife and I have learned to flex. In the past several years we have gone from having three offspring at home, to two, to one, back to two, back to one . . . I've lost track. Suffice it to say we do a mental headcount every morning and we go with the flow. The doors revolve well and we try to do the same, enjoying whomever, whenever, and trying to keep some semblance of order at the same time, a feat that is never fully achieved. As a mild anal retentive and early-onset curmedgeon, I have to go out on the back porch and take the occasional cleansing breath.

I told Wife recently that I have this idea in my head that I really can slow things down if I try. "Maybe if I sit still for part of every day and just think about things . . . "

She suggested maybe I try a little harder to make the most of moments while they are here, a suggestion full of hidden meaning for me to ponder and a suggestion just chock full of wisdom, as her statements so often are.