Thursday, December 30, 2010

A good week; a good year

It has been a really good holiday season. I have managed for the past several years to take off work the week between Christmas and New Year's and I love it. It's just a great time to relax, unwind a bit and spend some time with the family while closing out the year.

I made a list last Sunday night of what I wanted and needed to do this week, with a good balance of worthwhile activities (sweeping the garage, cleaning out the closet, etc.) and fun. I have just about marked everything off.

This Christmas we learned how to "share" since Older Son and FDIL split their time between the two families. Wife and I had vowed some time ago that, when the time came, we would be agreeable and flexible around holidays. It all went very smoothly. The engaged couple spent a good part of Christmas Eve during the day and evening with FDIL's family, then joined us for our Greek Christmas Eve dinner which we did a little late, then church at 11 p.m. It was a beautiful service as usual, made only better by walking out into the beautiful snow at midnight.

Christmas morning I did the usual mid-morning breakfast for the four of us. Older Son and FDIL, after spending Christmas morning with her family, joined us for the afternoon and we did our gift-opening. We had a late afternoon dinner, then all went to see "The King's Speech," a movie I HIGHLY recommend.

Other highlights of this past week have included going to a cool downtown spot that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches and joining Daughter last night for a great concert presented by the Zac Brown Band. We gave her the tickets for Christmas and she invited me to go with her!

We also had a family game night a couple of nights ago, playing spirited rounds of "Scattergories" and "Phase Ten." I am pleased to report that Older Son, who is super competitive and has an annoying habit of almost always winning, has met his match with FDIL who will not put up with his nonsense.

Spent most of today taking down the Christmas tree and putting away everything. Although I love it, by this time it is beginning to look a little tired and I'm glad when everything is back to normal and looking fresh again.

Only real negative has been a nagging sinus infection that I've been dealing with for nearly two weeks. I broke down and went to the doctor Tuesday and got on an antibiotic. Happily, I'm doing much better.

Wife and I have no New Year's Eve plans. Our offspring will all be otherwise occupied and looks like most of our friends are out of town or have plans that do not include us. Fortunately for us, we can still amuse each other.

Looking toward 2011, we can only fasten our seat belts. We are at just under the six-month mark for the June 18 wedding. We'll have graduations in May, then moving Daughter home and getting Younger Son ready for college. Wife and I have also agreed to chaperone his Senior trip -- a Caribbean cruise in March.

It will be a challenging year at work, as it has been in the banking world for some time now. After enjoying this week off, I will hopefully be mentally ready to deal with all the new banking regulation I'm going to have to try and understand in the months ahead.

Yes, it's been a good week and overall it's been a good year. I am blessed -- far more than I deserve.

A Happy New Year to all of you and enjoy the rest of the holidays. Thanks for stopping by from time to time. Here are some glimpses of the holidays at our place:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

I think that, the older you get, the more Christmas brings mixed emotions. Overall, it's just an immensely happy time and I love gathering with my family.

But I am keenly aware that it's not happy for everyone. We just heard some awful news from Little Rock. A young man who is a year older than Older Son and used to play with him in our old neighborhood, and whose parents we knew from church, was killed in a plane crash a couple of days ago, along with his wife. A pilot, he was trying to land his plane at the airport in Colorado Springs in unusally heavy fog. They had flown from South Dakotah, where he was stationed in the Air Force, to Colorado to be with her family for Christmas.

Just like that, this family's Christmas is not happy at all, but wrapped in grief and sorrow. Each Christmas now will remind them of this tragedy. And all I can do is offer a prayer for them, that the child we celebrate this time of year will meet them right where they are and comfort them with a supernatural comfort, and help them to somehow know that He does, in fact, make all things new.


I went to the grocery store early this morning to get a few items for Christmas morning breakfast. The pickings were rather slim, but that's what I get for waiting until today to make my list and get what I needed.

I was surprised that there weren't more fellow shoppers. It really wasn't very crowded. I guess the serious Christmas cooks have already gathered what they need by December 24. Among my peers this morning, though, was a lovely lady who looked to be about 70. Her dark brown hair was swept into a bun, she had high heels on her feet and she was adorned in a full length mink coat.

And that coat reminded me of my mother.

To explain, there was not one thing pretentious or showy about my mom. She hung clothes out on a clothes line until sometime in the 1970s when she bought a used clothes drier at a garage sale. She still hung sheets on the line, and ironed them, until she became sick with cancer in 1996.

She rarely spent money on herself. She clipped coupons with a vengeance and could sniff out a bargain better than anyone I ever knew. She and my dad recycled before it was even called recycling.

So to say my mother lived frugally is an understatment. Sometime in the 1980s, though, after years of her longing and dreaming, my dad bought her a mink coat. I don't know why she wanted a mink coat, of all things, but she did. And the fact that she had lived her life so economically made it that much more cool for her to have something so seemingly extravagant.

And oh, how she loved that coat. It's not like South Arkansas had brutal winters but when the thermometer would hit about 50 or below, my mother would put that coat on and yes, she would wear it to the grocery store and, although I never saw her do it, I would not have been suprised to have seen her wearing it as she hung sheets out on the line.

So this morning, when I saw the dressed-up lady with the mink coat, I couldn't help myself. I told her that it was one of the most beautiful coats I had ever seen and I told her it reminded me of my mother. Her face lit up with a big smile and she graciously thanked me, and said she just loved wearing it. I told her I could tell she did.

And I know mink coats are no longer popular, and are in fact frowned upon, and I am really sorry for the animals that were killed to make the coats. But seeing that pretty lady in the mink coat added a very happy dimension to Christmas for me.


In keeping with our internationally themed Christmas Eves, we're doing Greek this year. Gyros, Greek salad, roasted potatoes and baklava. And dear Wife, bless her, with the blessing of all of us, got part of it from a Greek restaurant. She has had a low stress day and I think that's just great.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not Much Ado

The supposed to-do over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays,” fueled greatly by media outlets having slow news days, is one of the silliest topics in years and hardly worthy of comment, if not for all the silly comments I hear about it!

So, since a very few who unfortunately have broad forums want to make hay of this, I will offer this comment. Then I am done:

As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ (and that’s how “Christmas” got its name). I understand perfectly, however, that we have no record of the actual birth date of Jesus Christ and more than likely, it wasn’t even in the winter. It appears that Christians, at some point in time, adopted this date which actually corresponds roughly with the pagan celebration surrounding the Winter Solstice. Many of the Christmas traditions have pagan roots.

In the public school I attended when I was a child, we had Christmas parties, Christmas plays and Christmas programs. There were references to the birth of Christ. Nobody seemed to get upset over this.

On the other hand, I suppose if there had been a Jew, Muslim, believer in some other deity or a total non-believer in my school, this might have made that person uncomfortable. I knew a fair number of Jewish people in the town where I grew up (although I don’t remember any from elementary school when we had those activities), and as I remember, they had Christmas trees in their homes and attended Christmas parties. They didn’t observe Christmas Day as the birth of Christ, of course, but they took the day off as most did and seemed fine with it. Everybody seemed to handle it all just fine.

Over time, Christmas activities that specifically referenced the birth of Christ became taboo in public schools. They now have to be “holiday” programs. They can make reference to Christmas but should also include nods to Hanukah or other religious observances.

That seems fair enough to me, and in principal I agree with it. But the political correctness of it has gotten way out of hand. In the elementary school my children attended, there was always controversy over Christmas trees, of all things. And they just did away with any Christmas songs religious in nature, opting for only the secular holiday songs.

Again, that’s just silly. Why didn’t they sing “Silent Night” and then sing a song about Hanukah? I remember singing a couple of Hanukah songs in elementary school and I thought it was cool. I don’t recall anyone getting worked up over it.

I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and the last thing I want is government establishing or endorsing religion. But I believe the majority of people in the U.S. celebrate Christmas. And I believe the vast majority of those who DON’T celebrate it don’t mind the rest of us who do, and don’t mind getting the day off work that day.

I saw this atheist guy on a news program this week just going on and on about how Christmas trees in the workplace make non-believers feel bad. I respect this guy’s right to not believe, I really do, but come on. He objects to a Christmas tree?! Does he know that bringing a dead tree inside and decorating it is one of the pagan traditions adopted by Christians to be part of the Christmas celebration? His problems run a lot deeper than he knows if he is threatened by the presence of a decorated tree in his place of employment.

Likewise, as a Christian, I’m not going into apoplexy when someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. I’m not going to boycott a store that doesn’t appear to use the word “Christmas.” (I actually boycott most stores but that’s another story). I’d love to have the chance to share with someone who chooses not to observe Christmas why I joyfully celebrate Christ's birth, but I doubt I’ll get that opportunity if I’m having a hissy fit over words.

Ben Stein, a great writer and actor, and a Jew, wrote a wonderful piece a few years ago about how he, a non-Christian, is a happy recipient of a “Merry Christmas” greeting. And if Ben were to wish me a Happy Hanukah, I would also graciously receive it. I wouldn’t need to call the ACLU or go on a news program to yammer about my rights being violated. Here’s part of what Ben said:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Isn’t that great?

Wish me Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever, and I’m going to say right back at you, friend, may your days be merry and bright and may you be protected from the insane political correctness that is a genuine threat to our way of life, unlike a Christmas tree or a Menorah.

And to the news media, here’s a big news flash for you: this is no longer news. 99.9 percent of us just get along.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

We finished decorating the Christmas tree today. I know many of you have had yours up since Thanksgiving or even before but it's always been a slow process for us.

We're too tired Thanksgiving weekend to even think about Christmas. We get a real tree so we usually go get it the first weekend in December. Younger Son, Wife and I went and got it last Saturday morning at Home Depot.

We tried putting it up last Sunday but the old Christmas tree stand we have has seen better days and it just refused to stand (a common occurence -- nay, a tradition of sorts -- with us) and I didn't even say a cuss word. I just carried the tree back to the garage and put it in water and asked Wife if she would pick up a new stand when she had a chance. (Note: there is a video recording of me saying the "S" word while trying to put up the Christmas tree. I have confessed and asked forgiveness but it is forever etched in family lore).

Wife had her Bunko group over this past Wednesday night and she didn't want to fool with the tree while getting ready for that, so she decided to do her other decorating and wait until this weekend to put up the tree.

The tree stood beautifully yesterday in the new stand that has five screws and bolts rather than three. Daughter's home now, so she, Wife, Younger Son and I sat in the den, put the lights on, put the angel on top, then got into some conversation and never quite got the tree decorated. This morning after church we did it.

It's a nice tree and it looks good in our renovated den. With the new configuration of furniture, there's a lot more room for it.

We have had our share of stress this week so I am pleased to report that putting up the Christmas tree was a stress-free, and even joyful, time. I've progressed so much.

Here's Wife and me having fun with the lights:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sending Season's Greetings

One of my favorite things about Christmas is sending and receiving Christmas cards. I have always been the correspondent for the family and I guess that goes back to my love of the written word and the fact that I love to read and write.

And yes, I do the dreaded “Christmas letter,” but with a different twist. The Christmas letter, I believe, became popular once copy machines became such a common part of life. When I was growing up, we might have ever so occasionally received a mass produced letter. My mother, a proper and genteel southern lady, scoffed at them as impersonal and, if they contained too much unsolicited information, crude (she liked that word).

They seemed to really take root around the time I got married (in 1984). More and more, we would receive the letters and more and more, unfortunately, they would give WAY too much information and WAY too much “good news” -- all about new houses, new six-figure jobs, exotic vacations and children that are gifted beyond belief.

On the other hand, I love to hear from my friends at Christmas. And really, I love the Christmas letters if they are done in such a way that does not make me feel like a big loser because I’m not as successful as the letter’s author and my children are not National Merit Finalists. Give me a little summary of what you’ve done this year, how your family is doing, etc. and that’s all I really need to know. I don’t need painful details.

I started writing a Christmas letter in 1995 but it was the anti-Christmas letter, explaining how Younger Son refused to be toilet trained, my older two wouldn’t do their homework, Wife was on a cooking strike and I was mad as hell at a Christmas tree that refused to stand.

The response was quite encouraging and I’ve been doing it ever since. I usually try to write something funny, kind of like I would write on this blog. I wrote one in 2002 about my annual battle with the Christmas tree that some of my friends still pull out and read every year. A couple of times my dog Ralph has penned the letter.

But every once in a while I’ll throw a curve and write something a little more poignant or serious. I wrote essays about Older Son and Daughter when it was the Christmas before their respective high school graduations, and this year it will be about Younger Son since he’ll graduate this spring.

I’ll include some personal information but I try to follow the Golden Rule and only say what I would like to read myself.

So, with great humility, I offer you my guidelines for Christmas cards and Christmas letters. Hear me well: these are MY rules that I impose on MYSELF. I'm not saying I expect anyone else to abide by these (although I do, of course, endorse your own adaptation) :

1. Don’t send Christmas cards in town. Wife disagrees with me on this one and I’ve graciously offered to turn over the sending of Christmas cards to her, an offer she has so far not accepted, so the rule remains in place. (It just galls her to see her friends’ refrigerators plastered with holiday photos, with our family conspicuously absent). My thinking is this: my Christmas greeting is intended for those friends and family members who live away from me and who I don’t get to see as much as I would like. If you live in the same town as me, I'll wish you a very Merry Christmas in person. If you think you'll miss me, invite me over for Christmas cheer. And if you want to send me a Christmas card, it will be graciously received and appreciated. Just please don’t feel slighted if you don’t get one from me. I have to draw the line somewhere.

1(a). If you choose to send cards in town DO NOT, under any circumstances, include the Christmas letter. I mean, really. If I am sitting next to you in church or on the bleachers or wherever, I at least have the opportunity to know what's going on with you. I don't need to read it in a letter. This is the height of bad taste.

2. For the Christmas letter, less is definitely more. Include very little, if any, information about vacations, job promotions and/or awards and honors achieved by offspring. This can be done in summary fashion. GOOD: "Mary is now 15, a student at such-and-such and will be released from detention in a month." Short and sweet. Don't poor-mouth it either. BAD: "The third time is definitely the charm and we fully expect Johnny to pass second grade this year."

3. At least part of the Christmas card and/or letter should be in your handwriting, if only the address on the envelope. We have to cut corners, I know that. Time is precious. But I know for a fact (because he has told me) that the yearly card I receive from one of my best friends and his family is formatted on a computer by his wife's secretary, from the photo card to the mailing label. I just don't get a warm fuzzy from that. Hallmark has a commercial where the mom goes online, creates the card and downloads her address list and it's all done instantly. Hallmark addresses and mails it. I just think that's wrong. If you have time, a personal note is lovely (but I understand not usually feasible). Signing the card is good. But if you can do neither of those, at least manually address the envelope.

4. It's OK to send a photo or photos but use good judgment. The photo card is standard practice now and I enjoy receiving them. Like the Christmas letter, these should be tasteful and understated, and one should think long and hard before sending a photo of your family posed in front of the Eiffel Tower or The Great Wall. Likewise, be careful about those photos where you're all in your pajamas. Those are cute when your children are little, not so much when they're teenagers and never when they've all left home and it's just the two of you. Also, a piece of paper enclosed with photos copied onto said paper, which includes a legend, is pushing it.

5. There are times to cut. If your card list exceeds 100, it's probably time to review. Do you really stay in touch with all those people? Do you think they want to hear from you? Would you remember their names if you didn't send them a Christmas card? Would they remember yours? Ask yourself these tough question.

6. An e-Christmas card: NO. No additional comment needed.

7. Be careful about enclosures or adding a smell to your card/letter. The perfumed card, even with a pleasant Christmasy scent, is probably a little much and a lot of people are allergic. And the festive confetti that falls out when you open the card? Remember someone has to clean that up.

8. Try your best to send cards at least by New Year's Eve. I know it's tough with all that's going on in December but it is supposed to be a seasonal card and sending it in January or February is fine, of course, but kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Not that I won't be glad to hear from you anytime at all, of course.

Now please don't take offense if you engage in any of these practices. As I said, these are my guidelines. A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. Enjoy those cards and letters.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good for the soul

Wife and I both love to travel. We have done it as much as possible during our life together when the budget has allowed and have packed up our offspring and taken them with us. You just can't beat a family vacation.

We did the beach vacation thing more times than I can count, going back to our single days, then as married "DINKS" (double-income, no kids), then with our children as they were growing up, usually going down to the Florida Gulf Coast. We started going to Destin, where the white sand beaches and emerald waters are pristine, a long time ago. Sometimes we would go with or meet other families and we never went that we didn't run into folks we knew. It was (and still is) an immensely popular spot for beach goers.

From Little Rock we could get there in about 11 hours, depending on how many stops we'd make, and from Nashville we can be there in about seven.

The routine would nearly always be the same. We would rent a condo in a high-rise complex on the beach, would take enough groceries for breakfasts and lunches during the week, then usually visit one of the area restaurants for dinner. I absolutely love seafood of just about any kind, and you just can't beat getting it fresh right there by the ocean.

The days consisted of sitting under umbrellas at the beach, frolicking in the waves and making use of the beach-side pools. The place we usually stayed had organized activities for children as an option during the days which Daughter loved (she's always embraced structured, organized activities, hence her early desire to be a teacher) but which our boys would have none of. We also built the ubiquitous sand castles and went through the every-beach-vacation ritual of burying each other in the sand up to our heads and taking pictures of same. We have tons of happy memories of fun times at the beach.

Over the years Destin became more and more populated. The high-rises multiplied, as did the restaurants and shopping centers, as did the traffic and congestion. We eventually migrated eastward to the beaches on Highway 30-A. The little beach villages of Grayton Beach, Seaside, Seacrest and Rosemary Beach -- just to name a few -- all run together and are more sedate than Destin.

Eventually, as the curmedgeon gene took root in my being, I tired of the beach trips. The broiling heat of the summer, the growing crowds, and shaking sand out of everything I own, had all run its course with me. After our last family trip there in the summer of 2004 right before Older Son went to college, I told Wife that, although I cherished the memories of the good times, I believed I was going to be done with the beach vacations for a while.

As it turned out, she and I made a brief trip together in May 2005 right before I started the job I now have. She has been back a number of times without me, with my blessing. Wife loves the beach and will never, ever tire of it. Older Son and Daughter have been a lot closer to the beach at Auburn, so they've spent some spring breaks and long weekends there as well.

This year we invoked a "travel moratorium" of sorts. The house renovations earlier this year ate up the travel budget, and then some. So there were no real summer vacations, to the beach or otherwise.

October came and I still had quite a bit of vacation time to take. It's "use it or lose it" and I just don't feel obligated to "give back" to my employer in that way. I took a couple of days in October, puttered around the house a bit and did some fishing.

Wife and I started getting a little restless about a month ago. Business has been really good for her which is definitely a good thing, but she's weary. The banking regulatory world is making my head spin as well.

So I presented to Wife the possibility of a brief trip over to our neighboring state of North Carolina which I thought we could do quite economically. I suggested we go the week after Thanksgiving, then proceded to tell her all the people we would visit along the way, including a couple of longtime friends with whom I grew up, and a former special teacher I have wanted to see for a long time.

Wife gazed at me with that incredulous look that requires no verbalizing. The look alone said, "Are you kidding me?!" In other words, hopping from point to point seeing people -- some of whom Wife hardly knows and at least one she doesn't know at all -- didn't exactly appeal to her. I kind of dropped the subject.

Coincidentally, around the same time we had dinner with a good friend and client of Wife's who mentioned a condo he owns, guess where? On the Florida Gulf Coast. And we would be welcome to use it for nothing more than a small cleaning fee.

Need I go on? We just got back. We originally planned to leave last Sunday, then moved it to Monday, then finally got out of here very early Tuesday morning. We had thought we might go from there to Atlanta for the Southeast Conference Championship game but ticket prices proved to be astronomical, so we just came on home last night and watched Auburn blow out South Carolina on TV this afternoon.

The time at the beach -- Panama City this time, just east of the Highway 30-A beaches I had most recently visited -- was quiet, definitely the off-season. We took some long walks, did some reading, ate some great food, and Wife got a major part of the Christmas shopping done, which took a big load off of her (I am never much help there). She told me last night on the way home that the beach, quite simply, "brings peace to my soul."

And you know what? That's good enough for me. You know the old saying: "Happy Wife, Happy Life." We're happy here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

We have had a nice holiday weekend. There were ten of us Thanksgiving Day, including FDIL, as well as her parents, two great people who are already beginning to feel like family. Wife’s parents made the trip over from Arkansas and it was great to have them too. We are indeed blessed.

Wife once again pulled off a wonderful Thanksgiving Day meal, the presentation of which was beautiful and the taste of which was scrumptious. It is a great deal of work for one meal and the clean-up – my part – is lengthy.

Worth it? No question about that.


I have read a couple of items lately that are definitely signs of the times, as well as indicators of how out-of-touch (and old?!) I am becoming.

The first was a story about evolving manners of communication. Seems most younger folks send text messages more than they talk by telephone. Facebook messages are big too.

E-mail? It’s old fashioned, and the piece I read referred to it as “still used by many OLDER adults (emphasis mine).”

No additional comment needed on that.

The piece I read yesterday was about telephone directories, particularly the White Pages. Apparently, telephone service providers in a number of states are getting permission from the regulators to stop publishing them altogether. This is reportedly due to the fact that (a) people are eliminating their home phones (“land lines”) and moving to cell phones (numbers for which are generally not listed) at a rapid clip and (b) people rely on the Internet more and more to look up information previously provided by the telephone book (addresses and home phone numbers).

I am among those who use the Internet for these search functions. Here is the irony, though: with all the advances in communication and technology, I find that it's harder to locate people with whom I might not regularly communicate. Since most cell phones aren't "listed," I can't get a phone number for someone who has a cell number but not a land line. And it seems that many of the people who have both don't answer their home phones anymore.

Just a couple of days ago, Wife was wanting to contact one of her book club members. We were able to find an address but no phone number.

Wife has insisted that we keep our home phone service and even though she has a cell phone (an i-Phone, no less), the land line is still her preference when she's at home. As for me, I keep my cell in my pocket and have joined those who just let the home phone ring -- until Wife asks me to answer it.

I hope you have all had an enjoyable holiday weekend. We have watched football until our eyes blurred. We reached near hysteria yesterday when Auburn, after being down 24-0 at one point in the first half to its bitter rival Alabama (at which time you could hear a pin drop in our playroom where eight of us were gathered watching), roared back to an incredible 28-27 victory. This capped off a perfect 12-0 season and a berth in the SEC championship game vs. South Carolina next Saturday in Atlanta, where a victory will secure a spot in the BCS championship game.

The Cam Newton pay-for-play drama is as yet unresolved but, for now, we Auburn fans are euphoric.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Food facts

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, but it’s probably because it’s less commercial than Christmas has become, it’s in the fall which is my favorite season and so much of it centers around FOOD!

Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up always consisted of the typical turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and sides like sweet potatoes, corn pudding and green beans. Then there were the salads – tomato soup and strawberry. Tomato soup salad is not to be confused with tomato aspic which I don’t care for. Desserts were key, of course, and my favorite to this day is pecan pie.

I don’t like to think of myself as a picky eater (Wife is laughing hysterically as she reads this) but, rather, a discriminating one. To her credit, Wife has put up with my weird and sometimes changing preferences over the years. Thanksgiving, the holiday that so pertains to food, seems a good time to share some of those.

As for Thanksgiving dinner, I love, love, love turkey and dressing. “Dressing,” of course, is a regional thing and it has a lot of different incarnations. Here in the South, it’s cornbread dressing and one would never think of putting it inside the turkey. In other words, to us it’s not “stuffing.” I don’t make it myself but I know that one of the key spices is sage and that smell is wonderful. It always makes me think of my mother who made cornbread dressing very similar to how Wife makes it.

I don’t eat gravy of any kind, although it’s a main staple of the Thanksgiving dinner. To be quite candid, it just grosses me out. It grossed me out when my dad put it on turkey, dressing and rolls and it poured over into other food on his plate, and it grosses me out still. I know, that’s crazy, and many people that I love, love gravy, just as my dad – who I also loved, of course – did.

That leads me to other food things that gross me out, like ketchup. I eat it on the rare occasion I eat French fries or onion rings, and when I used to eat hamburgers I would put a little on a burger (more on that later). But I can’t stand to look at ketchup in any other way. Again, people I love will put it on hash brown potatoes or even scrambled eggs at breakfast and all I can do is look the other way. Kind of the same with baked beans – just can’t stand to look at them or eat them.

Texture has a lot to do with my food preferences. I can’t do things that are mushy and creamy (with the exception of desserts).

On to meat. I could probably be a vegetarian; I just don’t want to be. I don’t eat red meat of any kind except hamburger as part of the ingredients in spaghetti or lasagna, both of which I love. My preference would be to make it with ground turkey but since I don’t make it, I keep my mouth shut about that. I don’t like steak or beef of any kind and haven’t had a piece in years. My mother cooked a roast on many Sundays when I was growing up and maybe the repetition is what made me a non-beef eater.

The last hamburger I ate was in Chicago in 2006. We were downtown on a Sunday just before catching the el train to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. It was about 11 a.m. and a lot of places were closed. We found a bar that would serve us and the owner of the place said their burgers were famous. Well, they might have been famous but they were also cooked medium rare and when I did eat red meat, I could not tolerate anything but well done. I ate about one-fourth of the burger and that was all I could do. So that was it with me and hamburgers. Call me un-American.

I like chicken and I prefer it grilled and very tender. I love fried chicken but don’t eat it very often. I do love it, though. I’ll eat fish of just about any kind, prepared just about any way. I’ll eat pork sparingly, my favorite being pork tenderloin, for which Wife has a number of outstanding recipes.

I like almost all fruits and most vegetables (but not squash, asparagus or Brussels sprouts). I love fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer and could eat my weight in tomatoes. I love bread of any kind but try to eat whole wheat as much as possible and really, I like it better. I love yeast rolls oozing with butter but I can pass on them pretty easily. I love pancakes and waffles for breakfast but I don’t care for eggs of any kind. Generally, I eat oatmeal for breakfast and believe it or not, I eat it dry with a little fruit and maybe a handful of walnuts. When it’s cooked, I get into that texture thing again. While we’re in the breads/grains group, I love pasta and much prefer red sauce over white. I love crackers and crunchy stuff too, likes nuts and granola bars.

I like potatoes, but not mashed (texture again). I don’t like sweet potatoes.

My favorite food on this earth is dessert. I have just an awful sweet tooth. Cakes, pies, ice cream, you name it. So while I can be smug and say how much I like fruits and vegetables, there is no doubt how much I love sweets and I wish I didn’t.

I like casseroles OK but they are not high on my list, except for Wife's incredible chicken spaghetti that our friends and friends of our children drool over.

As for drinks, I have never acquired the taste for coffee and neither has Wife. Just can’t stand the taste of it. We got a coffee maker when we got married and used it for our guests until about two years ago when we replaced it with an updated model. The fact is I rarely drink anything hot unless it’s very, very cold outside and then I’ll drink a cup of tea or cider. I love wine and beer, in moderation of course, but have never cared for the hard stuff. I also love milk (and its byproduct, cheese!)

Funny thing about "soft drinks" in the South. We call them all "Cokes." "Let's have a Coke" can mean a literal Coca-Cola, but can also mean Pepsi, Sprite, 7-UP -- you get the picture. Depending on where you live, you might call it soda, pop or soda pop. I drink a Diet Coke most days and I think the caffeine gives me the lift a lot of folks get from coffee.

Most of you reading this are probably thanking your lucky stars you don't have to live with me and all these quirks. Can't say I blame you.

But I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope you will enjoy some very good food!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Haven't said a lot here lately. I've had a nasty cold that I'm just getting over and I promptly gave it to Wife, who was not at all appreciative. She is about three days behind me and we have been sleeping apart for our own good.


I wrote a long post last week about a trip I took to a used piano store and when I went back and read it, it bored me to tears so, in deference to those of you who are kind enough to drop by here from time to time, I decided not to bore YOU with that.

But to give you the condensed version, I took a couple of old dining room chairs, which I inherited from my parents, to a furniture repair shop I located on the Internet. The chairs are ancient. One had literally fallen apart and one was well on its way. New chairs are not in the budget. Wife and I know we want to replace both table and chairs at some point but again, not going to happen soon.

I delivered them last Thursday and to my delight, the proprietor of the furniture repair shop deals in old pianos that he buys, restores and re-sells. He also sells some on consignment.

After telling him about the chairs and after his telling me he thought he could repair them or sub them out to someone who can, we began to talk about his pianos. As someone who has played the piano since the age of six, this was incredibly interesting and fun for me. He had two baby grands that were made in the 1920s, several uprights, including a Steinway signed by Theodore Steinway, and a few studio pianos.

He told me stories on almost each piano and insisted I play a few notes. The sounds they made were heavenly.

So that's the story. It was an unexpectedly fun experience for me and I can't wait to go back and pick up the chairs and see what new instruments he might have.


You know what a college football fan I am. Once Older Son went to Auburn University in 2004, we all became ravenous fans. I laughingly say that I have purchased my allegiance, with Older Son, then Daughter, matriculating there, and Younger Son headed that direction next fall.

It's been a storybook season for the Auburn Tigers. They're 11-0 . They have clinched the SEC West and their quarterback, Cam Newton, has taken the place by storm and is the clear front runner for the Heisman Trophy.

Only now it looks like Cam's daddy "shopped" him around when he was leaving Junior College and looking for a place to land which is, of course, a huge no-no. The NCAA is all over it and the whole season could go down the drain if it's found that Cam Newton was in fact ineligible.

Not that it's all about me, but this is the story of my life with regard to the athletic teams I have supported over my lifetime. Always so close, always getting to the point of winning the big prize, only to have something like this happen. Makes one want to look for a new hobby.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You gotta read this one

FDIL is also a blogger. Her blog has a theme: it's all quotes from her fifth grade students. It's hilarious and you simply must read the most recent entry about the "Jingle Pills." You can read it here:

Trust me, it'll make you laugh.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friday Night Lights: A Retrospective

It's a cold Saturday morning and we had a frost last night, the first hard one of the season. We finally turned the heat on, just two days after running the air conditioning. And of course around these parts, we could have the AC humming again in a couple of days.

Younger Son's football season -- and his football playing days -- came to an end last night. It was the first round of the playoffs and, unfortunately, we were never really in the game against a powerhouse neighboring county team at their home field. This year's playoff system had two district champs playing each other so a good team (us) got knocked out early.

Younger Son was a bit teary when Wife and I met him on the field after the game, as were most of the senior players. These young athletes, so big and seemingly mature, still have a lot of "boy" in them (thankfully) and the emotion of losing their first playoff game and having their last season end so rudely played itself out in their hearts and on their faces, as it should. God gave them those emotions and they're nothing of which to be ashamed.

Wife and I experienced our own emotions on the ride home last night. Younger Son was our only football player in the family and he started when he was in sixth grade, playing in our local city league. We've been going to his football games for seven seasons.

He and I cut a family beach vacation short a couple of days to get him home for his first ever football practice in the late summer of 2004. Earlier that summer we had gone over to the league field house and gotten his equipment -- the helmet, practice pants and jersey, and pads.

As I remember, we arrived home from the beach a couple of hours before the practice was to start. I thought that, since I had not been a football player, I had better study all of this and make sure I knew how to get all of it on him. There appeared to be pads that were inserted into slots in his pants that appeared to correspond with his thighs, knees and butt.

Only I could not figure out what went where, how the belt was to feed through the belt loops or much of anything else for that matter. Younger Son was more helpless than I. I called a neighbor boy who had just graduated from high school with Older Son, a football player, and enlisted his help. He was over in minutes, got it all assembled and we soon had Younger Son outfitted. He walked awkwardly, kind of like the little boy from the movie "Christmas Story" who was so decked out in layers of apparel to keep him warm that he can hardly walk, and when he got pushed over he fell flat and couldn't get up.

The rest, as they say, is history, and Younger Son went on to play for two years in the city league, a year in middle school and four years in high school. He has had his ups and downs along the way and there has definitely been some associated heartache, especially in the high school years. We have had conversations about whether he would continue. I never tried to persuade him one way or the other; it was always his decision. As time went on a lot of his friends on the team called it quits and, consequently, he missed some activities in which he would have liked to participate and he ended up with only a few good friends on the team.

His perseverance and dedication were total and, unfortunately, that wasn't always rewarded. As his dad, that was tough to watch at times. And I know that my speeches on character building and life lessons got tiresome. I told him more than once that, despite feelings to the contrary, it would all go very fast.

Last Friday night, our last home game where we captured the district title, was Senior Night. Before the game, Wife and I walked on the field on either side of him right after he had presented Wife with a yellow rose and both of us with a note he had written, in which he thanked us for sticking by him through all of this.

And last night it ended. After he had gotten back to the school and changed, he called me. He was fine and said he was going to come home and shower, then go meet some of his friends.

Wife and I both hugged him again when he got home. I asked him if it was a somber ride back to the school and he said not really, that most of them realized they had had a good season and there was no use dwelling on it.

He showered quickly. He came downstairs and told us goodbye. He opened the door to leave, looked back over at me and said, "It flew, didn't it?"

"What's that?" I asked.


"Yes," I said quietly. "It sure did."


Here are some shots from the season:

On the offensive line

With his bro and sis

With his proud mom and dad

The "fam"

(BELOW:) the night he was captain; number 70

With his buds

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Returns

Some thoughts from this week’s mid-term elections (and I’ll stay off of politics for a while after this):

The news analysts are going crazy trying to figure out what kind of impact the Tea Party and “Tea Party candidates” had on the elections. It boosted Republicans but also hurt them, they’re telling us. Well, maybe. Ultimately, though, it comes down to – shock of shocks – voter preference.

As I have said before, I generally vote Republican but not always. If I lived in Delaware, I would not have voted for Republican Christine O’Donnel. If I lived in Florida I would have voted for Charlie Crist, who ran as an independent, instead of the Republican Marco Rubio. And if I had been an Alaskan voter, I would have written in Lisa Murkowski’s name. I’m not really too concerned about whether a candidate is part of the so called Tea Party or not, a movement with which I have some sympathies but also some differences.

Like any movement or group, there are strong and weak candidates. But obviously, this is a force to be reckoned with. More important is the fact that it’s the independent voter who is calling the shots in this country. As I read somewhere, “Yes we can” has met head on with, “Oh no you don’t.”


I had been kind of excited about Tuesday night and thought it would be fun hearing the reports coming in from around the country and hearing the pundits babble a bit. Ultimately, though, it was the same tired rhetoric and not that interesting. Whether it was Fox, CNN, or one of the other networks, the talking heads were telling us the same thing with perhaps a different spin here and there. They seemed more excited about the cool special effects – touch-screen poll results, stand-alone graphs that seem to pop up out of the floor, etc. -- than anything very substantive.

And the candidates? Would someone please give them some new material? How many times over the course of my life watching election returns have I heard from every corner and every political persuasion something equivalent to, “The people have spoken and we are taking this country back?” Back from who? Back from what? Again, try something new.


I’m done with rock-star politicians. I had a lot of respect and admiration for Sarah Palin when John McCain picked her as his running mate. I think she did a decent job in the campaign. I realize, especially after reading the book Game Change and other accounts of the 2008 election, that she was in way over her head and of course the media crucified her. In hindsight, she probably wasn’t the best pick for McCain. Still, I think she gave it a good run, and in my continuing quest to believe the best in people, I like to believe she had the best interest of the country at heart. (I even believe that about Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank -- really).

If only she would have gone back to Alaska and finished the job to which she had been elected, I might still be one of her defenders. But I believe that she turned her back on the citizens of Alaska when she resigned as their governor and she lost me as a supporter when she did it. That was the job to which she had been elected and she should have fulfilled her commitment (unless, of course, she had actually gone on to be vice president). When she made the announcement that she was resigning, she said something totally nonsensical about not continuing “politics as usual,” as if that catch phrase was supposed to explain why she was abandoning the people who elected her.

She was barely out of the governor’s office before she was writing a book, touring the country on a bus and signing on with Fox News. I’ve heard that her daughter is on Dancing With the Stars and I don’t know if she’s considered a star or she dances with one (I’ve never seen the show). And of course a run for the presidency in a couple of years is probable. Her style is not unlike that of Barack Obama himself, once the darling of a certain brand of up-and-comers. She’s the darling of a whole different and diametrically opposed brand of them, of course, but the similarities are there.

And this ilk of politics – and politician -- turns me off.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Misc. Friday Thoughts

It’s been about three weeks since Older Son announced his engagement and things have calmed down a bit since the initial excitement.

He and his fiancé have made a lot of progress. They have set a date, June 18. They will be getting married at the church in Nashville they have been attending for the past year or so and they have a venue booked for the reception. So all systems appear to be go.

I told my future daughter-in-law I would have to come up with a blog name for her and I think for now I’ll go with the very original “Future Daughter-in-Law” or “FDIL” for short.

FDIL is a no-nonsense type, which I think is a big reason Older Son fell in love with her. She’s easy going and not easily frazzled. She will be a beautiful bride and they will have a lovely wedding but I can tell she’s going to enjoy it and not get into a dither over it all.

She, Older Son, Younger Son and I drove up to Lexington, KY a couple weeks ago, a week after the engagement announcement, for the Auburn-Kentucky game. Older Son drove most of the way and Younger Son rode up front with him.

FDIL and I rode in the back and she had a little stack of bridal magazines she was flipping through. “Just to get ideas,” she said and was folding back pages of things that she liked. I don’t really understand bridal magazines but from what I saw they all look pretty much the same, full of photos of dresses, apparel for attendants, china and silver, etc.

A few days later FDIL was over at the house and had a little notebook (not only is she non-nonsense, she’s also very organized), all about the wedding, including clippings from the aforementioned bridal magazines. She and Wife had fun looking through everything.


We are still heavy into football. Younger Son’s last regular season game is tonight and it’s Senior Night. Before the game he, Wife and I will walk onto the field together as the senior players are presented. We still have the playoffs to go, and we’ve clinched a spot, so the season is not over yet. After tonight, though, it is single elimination -- one loss and we’re out. We’ll see how far it goes from here.

Auburn football has us over the moon with an 8-0 record and a quarterback who is front runner for the Heisman Trophy. Daughter, in her senior year, is having a ball and both sons are beside themselves. Still plenty of the season left, though, and we all know how quickly things can change.

Wife and I even made it to the Tennessee Titans’ game last Sunday. We have had tickets the past couple of years but the boys usually use them. Frankly, I’m not a huge NFL fan anymore, much preferring the color and pageantry of high school and college ball to the contrived entertainment and politics of the pros (OK there’s plenty of that on the high school and college levels too but I’m a little more oblivious to it there). Also don’t like to have to find a parking place and fight the crowd. But it’s still hard not go get behind the home team and every five years or so when I have the opportunity, I’ll make the trek downtown and watch a game.

Last weekend both boys had gone to Auburn for the LSU game on Saturday night and would not make it back by noon Sunday, so we decided to use “their” tickets. (I put “their” in quotes because you know who paid for the tickets!)

Wife and I heard about a great shuttle system which eliminates the necessity of having to find a parking place, which in turn eliminates one of my objections to going. We went to our local minor league ballpark which is about three miles from LP Field where the Titans play. We parked there, paid $10 and boarded a very nice bus that took us right to the gate. When it was over we hopped back on and returned. We hardly had to wait a minute. There are bus lanes marked off on game days so these shuttles are essentially non-stop from the ballpark to stadium and back. The Titans are having a pretty good season too and we saw a good game. I might even go back in five years or so.

You never know what’s going to get a response in the blog world. Most of my posts about business or politics receive polite, yawning comments if any. I even started my most recent entry about mortgage foreclosures with an apology.

But what do you know, six thoughtful, interesting comments from six thoughtful, interesting readers have been posted. In going back and reading my entry, though, I thought I came across a little hard-hearted. Please understand that’s not the case; I was only trying to point out the cold hard facts of the system. A couple of sharp readers pointed out that lenders will (usually) bend over backwards to help someone stay in their home. That’s an excellent point. Most banks do not want to be in the real estate business, nor do they want a defaulted loan on the books.

Along the lines of unexpected comments, I have to wonder if Kelly expected the flood of responses to her recent post about her five pet peeves in which she invited her blog visitors to enter theirs. Kelly has from time to time posted about five “favorites,” everything from books to songs, and has received a number of comments regarding her named topic, but when she wrote about the things we DISLIKE, well, the grumpy commenters came out of the woodwork. Guess we’re a discontented bunch?!


This Tuesday is election day. We have a governor’s race here in Tennessee and the Republican, Bill Haslam, is thought to be a shoo-in, even though we’ve had eight years of a Democrat, Phil Bredesen, in our state capital, in a very Republican state. The thing is, Bredesen, even though a Democrat, is a fiscal conservative and has been immensely popular among our citizenry.

We have some local state and congressional races in surrounding areas (none that affect me but we get the ads) and I am very tired of their very tiresome advertising. Here in Tennessee, many of the candidates seem to think going on TV dressed in camouflage and holding a gun, or standing in front of a church, will get them votes. No comment here, just stating facts. Maybe they’re right. I’m just glad it’s about over and I don’t have to see it or listen to it anymore, or at least not for another couple of years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quite a mess

I realize this post will be boring to many who read it and I apologize in advance for that. I try to keep my entries warm and fuzzy and controversy-free but every so often I just have to write a little about business or politics. Check back soon for something more soothing.

You might have heard the latest in the continuing housing crisis. It involves foreclosures. Apparently some of the big holders of mortgages have been a little lax in preparing foreclosure documentation. A lady in Maine with a $75,000 mortgage contacted her local Legal Aid group, a representative of which discovered some errors in the foreclosure documents. It snowballed from there. GMAC, the holder of this mortgage, and other big name financial institutions, have halted foreclosure proceedings in a number of states while foreclosure processes among a number of lenders are investigated. Attorneys General in 50 states have joined in to look into it.

I find this interesting because (a) I have spent the major part of my working life in banking (although now I am mainly involved in the deposit and regulatory world); and (b) earlier in my career in Arkansas practicing law, I used to represent banks and mortgage companies and handled a ton of foreclosures.

It’s not the most tasteful work, I can assure you. When it’s a residential foreclosure, it involves putting people out of their homes. That’s painful.

The flip side is that it’s a legal proceeding and we are a nation of laws. Although it is hard to be a part of a process that causes a person to lose a home, the person chose to be a part of that process and agreed that, if he/she could not pay, the house could be sold to help the lender recover. In the vast majority of cases I handled, by the time it got to the foreclosure sale, the borrowers had already vacated the property, having come to terms with the fact that they couldn’t retain something they could no longer pay for.

The underlying concept is this: a person wants to buy a piece of property. If that person can’t pay cash, he/she has to borrow the money. The lender has to have security, or collateral, for the money lent. So the lender, in addition to receiving a promissory note from the borrower, has the borrower sign a mortgage or, in some states, a deed of trust (essentially the same thing) in return for lending the money.

The mortgage instrument is filed in the county real estate records and becomes a lien on the property until the loan is repaid, at which time the lender releases the mortgage and the lien no longer exists (unless, of course, you fail to pay, in which event the lender is able to exercise its right to foreclose on -- and ultimately sell -- the property).

You know if you have ever purchased a house that, when you go to closing, you sign a stack of documents. Among these are the aforementioned promissory note and mortgage or deed of trust. It is very important, both for borrower and lender, that all of this is done correctly. And you also know that, although you have the opportunity to do so, you don’t read every word of every document you sign (although I, much to the annoyance of my wife, have come close).

My position on this is that your failure to read what you sign is not the lender’s fault. If you don’t read what you’re signing and you think you might not understand, you should at least ask questions about it. Nobody is holding a gun to your head making you sign anything and there’s no time limit on a closing – everybody will stick around as long as necessary so your questions get answered.

That’s why, although I’m a very merciful person, I have a hard time always being sympathetic with people who have taken out loans and then later say they didn’t know what they were signing. And if someone doesn’t understand everything he/she is signing, surely that person has to understand that if the loan is not repaid, the property can be taken away.

So now we have a whole bunch of lenders being accused of maybe not dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” when they started the foreclosure process. As I understand it, thousands of foreclosures are being stopped while this is being investigated. And I guess a lot of folks are getting to stay in houses without paying for them.

While some might see this as some type of justice, I think most of us don’t even begin to understand the ramifications. To begin with, if foreclosures are halted, then that segment of homes on the market will shrink, causing (in my opinion) prices to go up, yet artificially. While that might give a temporary boost to the economy since decreasing real estate values have contributed mightily to the downturn, at some point those properties will return to the market, en masse, which will likely cause values to fall faster than they increased earlier.

In addition, the mortgage world is complicated. A large number of mortgage loans made by banks are immediately sold to investors. They are packaged and/or “securitized” and become part of mortgage-backed securities. You also have the whole government (FHA/HUD) and quasi-government (Fannie and Freddie) entities that have a big piece of the pie as well. Many of these securitized mortgages are parts of pension and retirement plans or other investment instruments. When a loan goes bad, it’s important to the investor, whoever it is, that the loss-recoupment process take place efficiently and promptly.

Even the Obama administration, which has tried fervently to paint itself as the champion of the little guy, is advising against an overall foreclosure moratorium. The president has received good advice that stopping this necessary process could have long-term disastrous effects.

This is not to say that holders of the mortgages should not be held responsible for any misdeeds. They must get their acts together on this. Although sometimes burdensome, the technical requirements for foreclosing on a piece of real estate, which vary from state to state, must be met. And there’s really no excuse. Burdensome and tedious? Yes. Difficult? No.

I suspect that, due to the rise in foreclosures, the culprits in this crisis got careless. They didn’t really review what they were signing. Notaries probably didn’t see folks sign papers. Again, there’s no excuse. Hire more people if you have to, but don’t cut corners.

In the end, however, you still have a promissory note signed by Mr. and Mrs. Jones, saying they will pay “X” every month. If they can’t pay, then they are going to lose their property. Even if it is discovered that the mortgage holders didn’t meet the legal requirements, I cannot imagine there is a court in the land that will say the mortgages are just released and hundreds of thousands of borrowers will get to have their homes free and clear.

No, what will happen is the lender will have to go back and correct the error. Mr. and Mrs. Jones might get to stay in their home a little longer but, in the end, they’re still going to have to pay up if they want to stay there. At least that’s my feeling based on experience. With the number of cases I handled, there were times when there were challenges to the process and there were times when corrections had to be made. That resulted in costly delays but I don’t recall anyone ever getting to just retain a property and have the mortgage released.

It’s a mess, that’s for sure. But it’s a mess that can and should – and hopefully will – be corrected. Last I looked there was still no free lunch.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Race for the Cure

Dear Mama (and yes, all of you NOT from the South, this really is what I called my mother until the day she died),

I meant to write this to you a couple of weeks ago but got a little busy.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that a couple of weeks ago, 14 years after you died of dreaded breast cancer, I ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I signed up on Wednesday before the race on Saturday (yes, I still procrastinate) but managed to send out an e-mail telling a few friends, and I raised a couple hundred bucks for this organization that funds research to find a cure.

It wasn't pretty, but I ran the 3.2 miles. I ran with your name on my back, which made me very proud. Before the race I watched the "Survivors' Parade" in which all the (mostly) women who had survived breast cancer one, five, ten, fifteen and twenty-plus years walked by the rest of us as we cheered.

How I wish you could have been part of that parade. You never had a very good day, though, after your diagnosis in April of 1996. When yours was discovered, it had already spread, even though you had been good about having mammograms. You put up a noble fight, but you were gone six months later.

I sure thought of you a lot the day of the race. I'm going to try and do it again next year and maybe raise more money. I hope that maybe some of the money raised will help acquire better equipment that will detect cancer high in the breast tissue where yours was, which went undetected until it was too late.

Again, I didn't set any records, and I was sure huffing and puffing at the finish line. But it sure felt good, and I felt you with me. You still inspire me.

Love you,


Friday, October 8, 2010

Cool things happen

Cool things happen sometimes.

About three years ago I came upon a book called Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. It's the story of a young Evangelical Christian pastor who has a breakdown of sorts. He deals with the breakdown by going to Italy and retracing the steps of St. Francis of Assisi. He becomes a student of the beloved saint and also of practices and rubrics of the Christian faith that go back thousands of years.

To say I loved the book doesn't even begin to describe my feelings. It resonated with me because it confirmed feelings and concerns that had been welling up inside of me, particularly feelings that my view of God and His universe was too small.

About ten years ago -- a number of years before I came upon this book -- I was beginning to feel that I knew a lot about God, but didn't know Him as well as I would like. I began to ask Him how I might know Him better. I soon found myself serving lunch at a downtown homeless shelter. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus serving the downtrodden and marginalized. He said that when you're serving people like this, you're serving Him.

As I have previously written here, I went on to be on the Board of Directors of the organization where I started serving lunch and am now in a leadership position there. I see Jesus there all the time and I feel that I know Him better (although I still have a long way to go).

As I have gotten to know Him better, I have developed the strong feeling that He and His kingdom are much more vast than I ever imagined.

The main character in Chasing Francis, whose name is Chase, had a similar experience when he went to Italy and began mirroring some of the practices of St. Francis, who was all about serving "the least of these." Chase had been pastoring a "successful" church for many years, but when he went to Italy on this pilgrimage, his life changed in an unalterable way.

I really don't do the book justice here. Not only is it a riveting story; it is also beautifully written. I cannot recommend it enough, for Christian and non-Christian alike.

Since reading the book the first time (I have since re-read it twice and have read parts of it over and over)I have bought at least a dozen copies to give to friends and have recommended it to countless others. Also, as I have often done with books I love, I did a little research on its author.

I learned at the time that Ian Morgan Cron was the pastor of Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut and is an ordained Anglican priest (although Trinity Church is actually non-denominational).

A couple of months ago, after re-reading a part of the book again, I went online to see if there was any new information on the author. I found he had a new website: Also, much to my surprise, I learned that he had recently moved to the Nashville area!

On a whim a few weeks ago, I sent him an e-mail and told him how much I had enjoyed his book and how it had affected me. I also told him I'd love to meet him sometime. I soon received a response, in which he suggested that we meet for coffee. He even gave me a suggested date and time. I responded that I would be there! (I don't drink coffee but, hey, I'm not splitting hairs over that one).

So last week I had the privilege of meeting the author of one of my favorite books of the past several years. He was as interesting and entertaining as I thought he would be. For an hour and a half he graciously allowed me to bombard him with questions and he shared with me how he came to write Chasing Francis. Like me, he is a voracious reader, and gave me a number of new recommendations, including one that he proposed that I read, then discuss with him over lunch.

He is no longer pastoring a church. He is writing and speaking and is in the process of writing another book which is due to be published next spring. He is represented by an agency and publisher here in Nashville.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the written word, especially when it is written as beautifully as it is in Chasing Francis and evokes thought in me the way it has.

To get to meet the writer of those words? Well, it's just way, way cool.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on the Big News


Older Son dropped by the house on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago. It’s not uncommon for him to come by, but on Friday afternoons he is usually more focused on the weekend than coming to see us. But we were, as always, happy to see him.

I was upstairs working in our bedroom, enjoying the mobility that wireless Internet and my cell phone give me. I could hear him downstairs talking to Daughter who was home for the weekend.

He came up to say hello. I stopped what I was doing and chatted with him for a few minutes. I think I asked about his plans for the weekend but I don’t remember anything particularly significant about the conversation up to that point.

Wife eventually drifted into the room (this would save her having to ask me every detail of everything he said and becoming frustrated when I would not give enough information). The three of us made small talk for a few minutes. Then Older Son went over to close the door.

Wife and I looked at each other quizzically for a half-second before he announced, “I have something to tell y’all. It’s no big deal. Well, it is kind of a big deal . . .” and he proceeded to tell us that he would soon be proposing to his girlfriend of three years. Yes, one might say that’s a rather big deal.

Only he could hardly get the words out because big old tears started welling up in his eyes. Wife immediately embraced him. I went over and joined them in what, when he was just a little guy so many years ago, we would call a “love sandwich.” We were all three crying. (We’re an emotional bunch if you have not already figured that out).

I am not going to tell you most of what he shared with us that afternoon because some things should remain private between parents and their sons or daughters, but I can tell you that I will treasure those moments for as long as I live.

I will also tell you that I have been proud of him many times in his life. But the way he handled all of this -- going and talking to his girlfriend’s father and making his intentions known, planning every detail to make it special for his soon-to-be fiancée; hearing this from him was truly one of my best moments as his dad.

People who drop by here often know what a sentimental schmuck I am when it comes to my family. This is no exception. We are over-the-top excited.


He asked us to keep it a secret for the time being. He said he was still shopping for a ring and it would be about three weeks until he sprang this on his intended. He told his sister and brother. He called his grandparents in Arkansas. He called his girlfriend’s brother and her closest childhood friend. He had already talked to her parents. All have been under a strict gag order and were invited to come celebrate with him at the appropriate time. We have all kept it absolutely mum, which has been extremely difficult (for me anyway).

Having received the invitation from Older Son, most of the aforementioned were gathered at our house this past Saturday afternoon about 5 p.m. when the newly engaged couple arrived. He had just proposed and presented her a ring about an hour earlier and she had delightedly said yes. He had planned the small celebration as a surprise for her. (He was obviously very confident in her response).

Older Son’s new fiancée literally fell on the floor when she came in and saw everyone. She was rendered speechless for about three minutes before she regained composure.

There were blessings, toasts and hugs all around. Wife had, of course, prepared a wonderful buffet spread for everyone to enjoy. Some began talking colors of bridesmaids’ dresses while others found their way to the playroom to watch football. It was a joyous time.

When I have the opportunity, I will explain to Older Son that, while he might be the one who set this in motion, from this point forward he becomes pretty much an accessory. Although he might be asked his opinion about styles of invitations, or china and silver patterns (and if he is smart, he will not have one – an opinion, that is), his work (the proposal) is for the most part done. There will be a date set for sometime next summer and his main job will be to show up. He needs to get used to nodding his head, smiling and saying, “yes.”


Next year will be a busy one for our family as Younger Son graduates from high school, Daughter graduates from college, our daughter-in-law to be (have to come up with a blog name for her) finishes graduate school and we have a wedding.

There will be all kinds of moving out, moving in and moving on, and while the joy will be abundant, I have no doubt that the stress level will at times escalate.

As Wife and I have done so many times over the years, we will need to keep each other grounded. And we will need to remind each other of how very blessed we are.

Here are some photos from Saturday night.

The Happy Couple (Daniel & Krista)

Picture of their picture!

Celebrating with the family
(Front row: David, Daniel, Krista, Krista's mom)
(Back row: Susan, Susan's dad, Susan's mom, Yours Truly, Maggie, Krista's dad)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

We're all OOHKAY

Before I started this blog, I participated in a community site called “Pearl Soup.” Kelly introduced me to it and some of my other blog friends listed to the right were contributors as well.

Pearl Soup’s members submit written entries called “pearls” and other members can comment and critique. There are also forums for various discussions.

Unfortunately, I encountered some real weirdos who were part of Pearl Soup (none of those I just mentioned, of course) and one of them even tried to pick fights with me online! Heck, I don’t like to fight with people in person, much less via cyberspace, so I disassociated myself from that community site and started my own blog, over which I have more control.

In December 2007, while I was still participating in Pearl Soup, a pearl popped up from a new member named “oohkay.” This was her initial entry:

I am home from college for the Christmas holidays, once again fulfilling my role as the stereotypical twenty-something daughter. It is a role I generally enjoy, aside from the questions that always seem to leap to the forefront of every conversation I have with any older adult, whether parent or friend:

“When are you graduating?”

“What do you want to do after school?”

And worst of all, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Oh, what a dreaded interrogation. Over the years, even when I have been in a committed and happy relationship, I have always answered this last question with trepidation. Growing up in a wealthy and conservative Southern town, it is often expected that one will find one’s spouse as soon as possible, preferably while still in college. I can’t say I am appalled by the idea. Like many girls, I have been planning every minute detail of my “big day” since the age of four. I know exactly how the cake will taste, what color the bridesmaids’ shoes will be, and most importantly, how my soon-to-be husband’s face will look as I walk down the aisle. Alas, I am a ripe twenty-one years old with no husband to be found. Not a tragedy in my eyes, but close to one in the eyes of many in this Southern town.

I unexpectedly faced this reality during this break. Seeing my college graduation looming closer and closer in the distance, I decided it was time to make a run to the bookstore to prepare to take the GMAT. I have always considered myself a high achiever, a woman who, although she will choose to stay at home with her 2.5 kids and white picket fence, could support the family if necessary. Therefore, I decided to apply to graduate school, and furthermore, I decided it was best that I prepare to be accepted to such a school.

As I scanned the standardized test preparation books, I faced the stark opposite of my reality in the same squared-off nook as myself. A slender, blonde girl, no more than a few years older than me, was pulling wedding planning books off the shelves with her diamond-adorned left hand. She handed each one to her mother as they giggled and glowed over her recent engagement. I immediately felt the sting of jealousy and forced myself to pay attention to the reason I had come to the store. I compared the soft floral covers of the books she was flipping through to the harsh bright colors and complex equations sprawling the covers of my own. Where did I go wrong? Why was I not living every girl’s dream? I could feel my neck tensing with envy.

As I gathered my books to walk away, I glanced at the girl and she gave me a warm, accepting smile. At that moment, God gave me a gentle reminder that His plan far supersedes any plan I might have for my own life. He does not fit His works into the philosophy of a small town. He has phenomenal gifts in store for me.

I walked away feeling proud. I was preparing myself for a brighter future. One that would not only better myself, but one that would be more beneficial in sharing with someone else, should that be in God’s plan for me.

I enjoyed this entry and thought it was well written. I appreciated her very mature perspective. I did not, however, post a comment on it at the time.

Months later Oohkay posted another entry on Pearl Soup in which she referenced something that had happened at Auburn University where, at the time, Older Son was a senior and Daughter a freshman.

I told both Older Son and Daughter about this entry. Older Son replied that he was aware of it, and that it had been penned by a friend of his – one whom I had in fact met, a fellow Auburn student from the suburban Nashville community just south of the one where we live. He had told her about Pearl Soup and had given her the name I used on the site. She had read several of my entries there and decided to join herself.

When I learned Oohkay’s identity, although I did not know her well at the time, I went back and commented on both of her entries. As to the one I have shared here, I assured her, as did several others with the benefit of age, that there would be plenty of time for marriage and she was wise to relax and leave that to her Heavenly Father.

Older Son graduated from Auburn in May 2008 and Oohkay graduated the following August. Both moved back to their respective homes. I have gotten to know Oohkay much better since then. She has continued to be the high achiever she described herself to be in the Pearl Soup entry.

Not long after graduation, as she was working temporary jobs while looking for more permanent employment, her mother was in a terrible auto accident that rendered her unable to walk for about six months.

Oohkay devoted herself fulltime to helping her mother during her lengthy recuperation and to being a support to her dad. Both of her parents have said that they don’t know what they would have done without her during those months. Happily, her mother fully recovered and is doing fine.

In the spring of 2009 Oohkay was accepted into a highly competitive teaching fellows program. She was placed in an at-risk urban elementary school where she is paid a fulltime salary with benefits. She also received a grant for graduate school.

She has been living on her own and supporting herself for some time now. She is teaching during the day, which she loves, and going to grad school at night. She will complete requirements for her Master’s Degree in May.

She obviously knew what she was talking about when she wrote in her Pearl Soup entry that she was preparing herself “for a brighter future.” She is beginning to see some of her dreams come true.

And oh yes, there’s one other detail about Oohkay’s life that’s particularly exciting. It pertains to her other dream, the one that involves “exactly how the cake will taste, what color the bridesmaids’ shoes will be, and most importantly, how (her) soon-to-be husband’s face will look as (she) walk(s) down the aisle.”

It looks as if that dream is coming true as well. I am delighted to report that, just yesterday, Older Son asked Oohkay to be his wife, and she graciously accepted. Sometime next summer Oohkay will become my daughter-in-law.

And I can tell you, unequivocally, that I am completely “oohkay” with that.

(My next post will include highlights of the wonderful engagement celebration that took place at our house last night).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall Has Arrived . . . Finally

Fall weather has finally -- and mercifully -- arrived in Middle Tennessee! We were sitting at Younger Son's football game Friday night. It was Homecoming and I had attended the parade that morning in shorts. I had on similar attire at the game. Temps have been in the mid 90s for the past week.

About mid-way through the third quarter a little breeze began, then a pretty good little shower. Under most circumstances, I would pack it up and head for the car. But when it's my own son playing in his last season, I go to the games equipped with a poncho and umbrella. I'm there for the long haul.

Anyway, the rain lasted for about ten minutes and then it was noticeably cooler. We awoke to a cool, crisp autumn day yesterday morning and have enjoyed a beautiful weekend. Long overdue, I might add.

Wife did the math, and this was our 11th and final Homecoming parade and game at our high school since ours have been students there. One of the cool things about where we live is that we have a lot of the advantages of a big city with Nashville just up the road, but some of the joys of a small town also, and the Homecoming festivities are part of this. There's a big parade on Friday morning with the band, class floats and decorated cars.

There's also the traditional homecoming court with a king and queen from the senior class announced at half-time of the game. Older Son was king his senior year. Daughter always rode in the parade with the class officers and was always heavily involved in float construction for her class, with Wife close on her heels providing food for the workers. Younger Son has always been on the football players' float, except for sophomore year when he was an attendant for his class. So there have been lots of fun times and now we have some great memories.

The game Friday night was great in spite of the brief rain. Younger Son started and had a great game on the O-line, going up against a defender who towered over him and weighed about 350! Younger Son even got some mention in a local online paper. We won big, 42-0, in a game that was expected to be close.

And how in the world did it get to be almost October? If I sit really still, will things slow down, maybe just a bit?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sports Talk

This is the time of year where sports take center stage in our family.

Younger Son is in the middle of his senior football season. Our team is 3-2 and the two losses were heartbreakers. There are five more regular season games and then, should we make it, the playoffs start. We look good right now to be in post-season play come November.

Auburn is 3-0. They won a nail-biter in overtime vs. Clemson this past Saturday. Older Son and his girlfriend went down for the game. Daughter was there, of course, and the rest of us watched it on TV. ESPN "Game Day" was broadcasting from there, so we had to watch that Saturday morning.

(Lest you think I am a total slug, I got up very early Saturday morning, went to the Y and worked out -- to offset the ensuing couch potato time -- then went to a meeting at church. The rest of the day, yes, I was non-productive.)

Sunday afternoon, at the hottest game the Tennessee Titans have ever played here in Nashville, the Titans were pitiful, losing to Pittsburgh in a game where they turned over the ball with regularity. It was not nearly as close as the 19-11 score would indicate. Younger Son went to the game and came home with a very red face.

So we were 2-1 over the weekend, which isn't too bad. We would rather have high school and Auburn victories before a Titans victory anyway.


Not only are we heavy into football right now, but this is when the MLB pennant races get interesting. We're a National League family and the boys are big Atlanta Braves fans. From our door to Turner Field (where the Braves play) is about 3.5 hours so someone in the family usually manages a trip down during the season, if not more. And Daughter can be there in about and hour and a half from Auburn.

The Braves have lead the National League East for much of the season but trail the beginning-to-be-a-dynasty Phillies by three games now. As I write this, they're in Philly playing and are down 3-1 in the 7th. They'll have another three-game series against them in Atlanta later this month. The Braves are leading the Wild Card race right now, but of course every loss will hurt their chances of being in the post-season. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Elsewhere in the National League, it looks like Cincinnati will take the Central Division while San Francisco, San Diego and Colorado are duking it out for the West.

In typical fashion, my favorite team, the hapless Houston Astros, who have spent a big part of the season dwelling in or near the cellar, now is within five games of being .500. That's after making major mid-season adjustments and trading away most of the players (say it ain't so, Lance!) I've followed through the years.

Over in the American League, the Yankees and Rays are neck and neck for the East and whoever comes up short is almost a sure thing to take the AL Wild Card spot. Minnesota and Texas hold comfortable leads in the Central and West Divsions, respectively.


I really need to be resting up because with the Division Playoffs, League Championship Series and World Series, and some major college conference matchups, October will be a busy month.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not There Yet

There are six realms of technology into which I have not yet delved. Here they are and the reasons I am still abstaining:

1. The i-Phone, or any “smart phone” (e.g. Blackberry) via which the owner can send and receive e-mail and access the Internet. I remain the only one in my family of five who does not have one.

I can foresee the day when I am required to have one for work. Until that day comes, however, my little old flip-phone works just fine. I can make and receive calls and also text, though without a “QWERTY” keyboard (I hate that term), there’s a lot of trial and error and it’s time consuming. I can usually make a phone call faster. Honestly, though, I don’t text enough to warrant the upgrade. I don’t see myself wanting or needing Internet access so much that I must carry it with me at all times. The people who walk around and are constantly engaged with these things greatly annoy me.

2. Facebook. Again, I’m the lone family member who is still holding out. And to be fair, I access Wife’s FB page on occasion to catch up with friends and family members who are her “friends” and to look at photos, especially the ones that Daughter posts.

I don’t see myself relenting on this anytime soon. One reason is that I love to keep in touch with people. I know that sounds contradictory but, if I were ever to start the Facebook thing, I could see myself becoming way too obsessed with it. When I do get on Wife’s page, I’ll find myself typing in random names in the “Search” box, just trying to see who might be out there. I think I’m better off just hitch-hiking off of Wife from time to time when she tells me there is a matter of interest and keeping up via my old fashioned blog.

3. Twitter. While I can fathom MAYBE surrendering one day to Facebook (no time soon), I just don’t see me and Twitter ever getting together. Let’s be real. I don’t care what you are doing every minute of every day and I know you feel the same. No tweets needed in my world.

4. GPS. It’s my understanding that a lot of the smart phones have these now. The stand-alone versions have these voices that tell you where to go and how to get there. I have a friend who argues with the voice. In reality, I guess this is a pretty convenient gadget and I am certainly directionally challenged. Call me old fashioned (again), but I’m sticking with MapQuest and Yahoo Maps.

5. iPod / digital music. I can see this coming. I borrowed Wife’s the other day when I had to have some dental work done. She turned it to the Les Miserables soundtrack for me. Combined with the Novocain and the legal limit of nitrous oxide, I was transported. But, still, I see life left in my CDs.

6. Electronic readers like Amazon’s “Kindle.” I get almost all my books from the library so this is really unnecessary for me. Maybe the library will one day be nothing more than a website from which we download books onto our electronic readers (and that will be a sad day). Until that happens, I’m staying with the real thing. I hardly every pay for books now, so no need to get something that will cost me.