Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

6:05 p.m. New Year's Eve and Wife and I are already in our "jammies" waiting for the Chick Fil-A Bowl to start. It will probably be the only bowl game I watch in its entirety (Auburn is playing).  There are just so many games now and the whole BCS thing has kind of spoiled it for me.  I will not sit and watch football New Year's Day (or Jan 2nd this year) as I used to do. Just doesn't hold my interest.

Wife and I decided we would have a very calm New Year's and NY Eve.  Daughter has a couple of friends here and they are going out and staying elsewhere tonight. Younger Son and some friends have gone to a concert in South Carolina. Some friends had mentioned maybe having a party but they folded and we just didn't have it in us to invite anyone over ourselves. So it's just us, and we're fine with it.

We found a discount theater earlier today, about 20 minutes away, that was showing "Moneyball" and you could not beat the ticket price -- two bucks! We agreed we would remember that theater because, except for during the holidays, we rarely make it to the movies and will often say, "Oh I meant to go see that" after it is already gone. This particular theater, apparently, shows, for a greatly discounted price, films that are between the theater and DVD release. Can't beat that.

Loved the movie, by the way. As I had noted in my last post, it was a favorite book of 2011 and the movie did it justice.  If you are not a baseball fan, however, you might not find it as entertaining as I did.


Last year on New Year's Eve Wife and I looked at each other and said, "hang on," knowing with a wedding and graduations coming up, it would be an eventful year. We didn't know the half of it. As my dog Ralph said in our family Christmas letter, quoting Wife, a good year but not one I would want to live over again.


Have you heard about the tiny country of Samoa, near the International Date Line, which decided to move to the OTHER side of the IDL, meaning they had to skip an entire day?  That's right, they went straight from Thursday, Dec. 29th to Saturday, Dec. 31st.

I heard an interview with a Samoan lady who said she was pretty pleased about the whole thing. Since they are neighbors with New Zealand and Australia, with whom they deal heavily in trade and commerce and who have been a day ahead of them for as long as anyone can remember, it's been a source of stress and concern for business people in Samoa for quite some time.

The lady interviewed said that, due to the difference in times with their neighbors, she would sometimes have to go to work on Sunday, "or Monday, which is really Tuesday."

Whoo, that would be enough to confuse me too, Lady. Good for you. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good reading

I will, hopefully, have some photos to post from our "Asian Christmas Eve" and other holiday happenings at our house, within a few days. I always have to have Daughter's help in performing such high tech activities as posting photos and she's a little busy right now.

For now I'm going to give you my year-end reading review.  Once I finish Nearing Home by renowned evangelist Billy Graham, I will have completed my 24th book for 2011. I know this is not nearly as many as some of you read but for me, averaging two books per month is pretty good. I always have a mental, if not literal, stack of "to read" books and it just takes a while to get to all of them.

Since I mentioned Nearing Home, I will tell you it is a sweet, sweet book full of good advice for all ages from "America's Pastor."  He says in the introduction, "All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one taught me how I ought to live in the years before I die.  I wish they had because I am an old man now, and believe me, it's not easy."

Right before this I read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, one of the strangest books I have read in a long time. It was highly recommended by Wife, Older Son and DIL and as I read it, I kept questioning Wife as to why she was so drawn to it.

As I continued to read, however, I became more and more drawn into the story myself. It's fantasy and science fiction, and I am a fan of neither, and besides that it is WEIRD. But I confess, I could not put it down in spite of myself. The movie is coming out in March and there will be much buildup to it, so I recommend you get it and read it soon.  And it's the first of a trilogy.  Yes, I will be reading the next two.

My favorite non-fiction of the year was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit), the beautiful story of  U.S. Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini. You might remember that I wrote a few months ago about Wife getting to meet him. If you have not already done so, get this and read it. You'll be a better person for it.

On the fiction side, I loved Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, the compelling tale of twin boys born in unlikely circumstances in Ethiopia whose lives eventually take different paths. Great writing and a great

I read Blue Like Jazz for the second time, the book that brought unconventional Christian writer Donald Miller to notoriety.  Read this book, Christian or not, and you will alternately laugh and cry and thoroughly enjoy yourself. I wish I could write like Donald Miller.

Also on the spiritual side, I adored Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me, a memoir by Ian Morgan Cron, whom I met in October 2010  whowrote one of my all time favorites, Chasing Francis.  When I met him last year, Ian recommended to me Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which I also enjoyed.

The latest installment in The Number One Lady's Detective Agency series,  The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (Alexander McCall Smith), certainly did not disappoint. This is number 11 in the series and I can't think of one that did not leave me with a big smile on my face after finishing it.

I read Ayn Rand's classic, Fountainhead, at DIL's urging. This is capitalism at its extreme (and not a pretty extreme, either) and it's a page turner.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) had to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long, long time, and if I knew more about science, it would have been even more so. It's an unbelievable (but true) story about an everyday woman whose cells became famous beyond what she would have ever believed.

John Grisham continues to turn them out and I still find his tales gripping, hilarious and compelling from start to finish. The Confession and The Litigators are his two latest and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

If you are an animal lover, you will definitely love The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein), written from a dog's point of view, which is especially cool for me because my dog, Ralph, sometimes writes my family's Christmas letter. I think you would like this book even if you're not a dog person. If you are, there's no way you won't love it. I liked it even better than Marley and Me.

Older Son recommended I read Moneyball by Michael Lewis (author of The Blind Side) before seeing the movie. It's a great story about the business of baseball and I loved it.  Only thing is, by the time I finished it the movie was gone from theaters, so I am anxiously awaiting its release on DVD.

Finally, I completed two more Wendell Berry stories, Andy Catlett: Early Travels and Nathan Coulter. If you have not discovered this incredible American farmer/professor/author, get yourself to the library, the bookstore or Amazon before you do another thing.

Finally, I must mention The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Cadwell, much of which is set in Shanghai. Great, great book about family and redemption.

OK folks, now I need to know what should be in my "to read" stack for 2012.  Let me hear from you.

As for movies, Wife and I always take in a couple or so around the holidays, then hardly go at all for the rest of the year. We saw War Horse and We Bought a Zoo on consecutive nights this week and loved them both. Well worth your time.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

I have previously written about how we do an "international" Christmas Eve at our house. I think this is our fourth time to do it. We've done Mexican, Italian and Greek. This year it's Asian.

According to Wife, we are doing something unprecedented -- getting all takeout!  I guess, since Chinese restaurants are famous for staying open through Christmas, it's just the natural thing to do.

We are, from Wife, promised a few surprises for the decor so I'll report back on that. Should be a hoot.

Menu items include sushi, orange chicken, egg rolls, fried rice and edameme.  That's what I've been told. Would not be surprised to see egg drop or wan ton soup make it to the table as well.  And I'm sure there will be fortune cookies.

For "entertainment," Daughter has found a Chinese version of "Jingle Bells!"


We are in full holiday mode.

Some dear friends of mine were here for a concert Wed. night. They came by and we went to lunch yesterday (Thurs.).  That really kicked off the holiday for me.

Older son flew to Little Rock from Dallas Thursday afternoon. Wife's parents picked him up at the airport and they drove over here.  So, so good to see him and so glad he's here. DIL flew in yesterday. We will have everyone, including DIL's parents, for Christmas Day lunch.

We are big game players and we've already had a few rounds of Phase Ten, and Wife and I played Bridge with her folks last night. 

How incredibly blessed I am to have these people I love around me at Christmas. May I never take it for granted.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do not buy . . .

We are about ready for Christmas at our house. We finished getting the tree decorated nearly a week ago and I did some minimal outside decorating.

When we moved into our house ten years ago, Wife bought some wreaths to hang on the windows across the front. Every year when I take them down I say, gently, "Honey, before I hang the wreaths next year, you might want to freshen up the bows just a bit."  I can hang the wreaths but I don't fool with items such as bows.

Do you think we give those bows one thought during the year after I take them down?  Heavens no.  The fact is, most people don't get close enough to them to notice they are a little old and crumpled.  Maybe this year we'll go down, oh, say about August, and think about those bows.  Maybe.


I've mentioned here before that I am not a very good gift receiver.  I don't care for gadgetry and electronics.  I check out most books I read from the library. Clothes? Wife can pick me out some clothes and I am happy to receive them but I don't go nuts over them.  She knows not to buy me stuff that has little horse labels or whales or things like that, because I think those clothes are so over priced and I don't want to wear them and send the wrong signal about myself. I'm a simple guy, you know.

A few years ago I started making a list of suggested Christmas gifts for myself to help my family.  I also included, to their amusement (and to Wife's disdain) a "Do Not Buy" list -- a roster of items NOT to get me.  Frankly, I think that's more important than the list of thiings to get me. 

Because if you buy me on the DNB list, you have no right to get angry if I don't use or wear that gift.  You were forewarned.

Anyway, in looking through the Target circular today, I saw two items that I would put on my permanent DNB list.

One is a coffee maker that makes one cup of coffee. I don't drink coffee, so I am sure I am uninformed about all the intricate details of coffee making and preparing, but here's what I find profoundly mysterious. There is this fancy coffee make that makes ONE -- that's right, one -- cup of coffee and it costs well over $100.  A Mr. Coffee coffee maker, that makes up to 16 cups, costs $16.99. 

We have a coffee maker because we have friends and family who drink coffee but I'll be darned if I'm going to make one cup at a time, especially at that cost.

I think the most baffling thing in today's Target Circular, however, is the "cake pop and donut hole maker." 

Even if you want one of these, I would highly recommend passing on it for now. I'll lay you odds you'll see one at a garage sale by summer.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Beginning to look a lot like something, I guess

We don't get in a hurry with Christmas around our house.

It's December 11th, two full weeks before Christmas, and I got the tree up yesterday but it's still naked.  We'll get the lights and decorations on over the next few days. It will happen.

Wife said yesterday that "we just got a late start this year" but really, I think two weeks ahead of time is plenty. Since we still get a real tree, there is less time for it to get dry.

I put up a garland around the front door and hung wreaths on the windows this afternoon.  I'm sure the neighbors, most of whom had their outside lights up Thanksgiving weekend, were thinking we would just not participate this year.  Be patient, folks; we still observe Christmas.

I don't have to worry about shopping because we agreed long ago that Wife would take care of that. I am not, shall we say, inclined that way. I just hate it and Wife knows it, so she doesn't even try to get me involved. I think she knows how much I appreciate it and that I'll help in other ways.


We are invited to a "Christmas Murder Mystery" party tonight. It's one of those theme parties where there's a whole story involved and you're assigned a character to play. We went to one a number of years ago (not at Christmas) and I can take them or leave them, but I try to be a good sport.

Wife is assigned the part of Mrs. Santa Claus and I am a Gingerbread Man.  Wife, of course, is taking it very seriously. She considered a number of options and ended up getting a costume from a rental place.  She tried it on for me and it looks great on her. Only the white wig gives a bit of a George Washington look so I told her she might pass on that.

I told her from the start that I would participate with a smile on my face (there is no assigned part for Ebeneezer Scrooge) but I would appreciate it if she would not involve herself in my part.  I could just see her getting me some costume that I would refuse to wear and that would not go over well. So she kindly agreed to stay out of it.

Earlier this afternoon I asked Daughter if she would help me. I gave her a brown sweater that I have and told her that, whatever she came up with, I would be fine with it.

She took some black felt and made some buttons to go down the front, and took some white felt and made some "icing" to put around the collar.  Perfect.  I'll be a splended Gingerbread Man. 


Younger Son made it home Friday night, a semester of college now under his belt. He'll be here about a month and the supposed empty nest will swell even more later this month when Older Son and DIL, as well as my in-laws, come for Christmas. It will be a merry time.


I recently told Wife that one of my goals for 2012 is to meet one of my blog friends in person.  Kelly doesn't count, of course -- my hometown friend is the one who got me into all of this and I'm fortunate enough to get to see her once a year or so. Her sweet sister Pam doesn't really count either because I met her years ago, although she might want to be on the lookout. Since Older Son lives in Dallas now, I might just show up on her doorstep when I'm there visiting.

For any of the rest of you whose blog titles are on the right on my homepage (except for my son and daughter, of course) -- you have been warned.