Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve, truly one of the best days of the year.

For those with young children, it's the calm before the storm, the few hours before a (hopefully) joyous chaos erupts.

For those of us at our stage of life, who have adult children but no grands yet, it's a relaxed day of preparing, laughing, visiting and eating (too much).

For years our next-door-neighbors have brought us pizza bread on Christmas Eve, and each year it's always the same. It gets to be about lunch time and we all wonder aloud, "Do you think they're bringing the pizza bread?'

"Maybe they're not doing it this year," someone will say.

Thankfully that person was not correct. About 11:45 the doorbell rang and there was lunch. And it was scrumptious, as usual.

For a number of years now we have done an internationally themed Christmas Eve. This year the theme is tropical-island Caribbean, with a menu of jerk chicken, slaw, rice and beans, Cuban pork tenderloin and some other specialties Wife has up her sleeve.

She is in the dining room now decorating, and went to Goodwill the other day to get us all appropriate clothing. It should be a hoot, as usual. I'll report back.

I hope it's all merry and bright for all of you but I am mindful that holidays sometimes bring pain. I'm saying a prayer for all, and especially those who might be hurting at this time of year.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A good reminder

 Debby had a really good post recently (well, all of her posts are good but this one was especially poignant) about seeing a man at church hugging his little girl particularly tight after a Christmas pageant. Debby could see tears in his eyes and she wondered to herself what his story might be.
And she offered a prayer on his behalf. Sometimes -- many times -- that's the best thing we can offer someone.
Her story reminded me of a scene I saw in the airport in Mexico last January as we were about to board our plane for home after our New Year's vacation.  I was sitting there at our gate, reflecting on the past week of fun and laughs with my family, when my eyes drifted to the gate next to ours. A man about my age, maybe a little younger, was standing in line with his two daughters and son. The girls looked to be college-aged, or close to it, and the boy looked to be 14 or 15.
As they got close to the entry to the plane, he began hugging each one of them, then got out of line and stood a few feet away from them. They were getting on the plane and he was not. One of the girls came out of line and gave him another hug. She was trying hard not to cry. She got back in line, and then the other two went over to him for another hug. They were all fighting tears. He held them each tightly, one at a time.
As they went through the gate, each of them turned around and gave him a big smile and he waved and smiled too.
"We had a great time, Dad," one of them said. He smiled again and gave one more big wave before  they walked down the ramp and he lost sight of them.
The minute they were out of sight, his shoulders slumped and he walked over to a chair, sat down in it and put his head in his hands. He obviously lived in a different location than they and their departure no doubt offered a stinging reminder of that fact.
I wanted to go over to him and tell him that no matter what might have happened in the past with him and the kids' mom, I was proud of him for spending a few days in Mexico with his children, making memories. I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him what a great dad I though he was and that there was plenty of time to repair any damage that might have been done.
I wanted to tell him that I could see by their eyes that his daughters and son loved him very much and he could spend each day building on that, no matter how far apart they might live from each other.
I wanted to tell him all those things but obviously I didn't know the full story and I had not earned the right to say those things to him.  I don't know, maybe I should have.
But I'll never forget that scene and I'm glad Debby reminded me I should pray for him, whoever he is and wherever he might be.
Because sometimes -- many times -- that's the best thing we can offer.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow days bring back memories

This is for the "The More Things Change" category.

When my kids were in school, they loved snow days, the days school would be canceled because of ice and/or snow, or the prediction of same.

When it was predicted, they spent untold time looking with their faces pressed to the glass of the windows, wondering if the stuff would ever fall. Sometimes their wishes came true and sometimes they didn't.

Daughter was probably the most active as she anticipated snow days, looking out the window and listening to the weather reports. She would often ask me if I thought school would be canceled, to which I would respond that I was not an employee of the school district and not entrusted with that decision.

Or I would tell her no, I didn't think school would be called off and she should prepare herself assuming that school would go on as usual.

Both of these answers infuriated her, as if I wanted to dash her hopes.

Now Daughter, age 25, is a kindergarten teacher who lives here with Wife and me, and things are not that much different. Snow and ice were predicted for today and last night she was greatly anticipating her first snow day as a public school teacher.

She asked my opinion, which was the same as it was when she was a student.

On cue, she became miffed. Her dad's still the kill-joy.

But she got the fateful call at 5 a.m. Snow and ice, just enough to wreak havoc on the roads, and no school.

And our resident teacher got to sleep in. Despite what she might believe, I was happy for her.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A disaster, perhaps?

I don't write much about politics here anymore. I still have an interest but it does not ignite the fire in my belly that it once did.

This has happened over a period of time and, frankly, I like myself a lot better now. All of that is a topic, perhaps, for another day.

I can't resist the urge, however, to say something about the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. You can go back through my posts (not that you would want to) and see that I never once bashed the ACA. And in fact, once the legislation passed, I wanted it to work. I really did.

For years I have had mixed feelings about this nation's handling of health care, battling with my conscience over the people in this country who don't have access to adequate care, while having a gnawing feeling in my gut that the federal government is not equipped to handle such a gargantuan task as insuring millions of people.

That gnawing feeling is largely supported by the news over the last several months. It looks like our government was and is woefully unprepared.

I'm not ready to say the whole thing is a disaster, but it is disturbing beyond comprehension that the website through which a large portion of the citizenry was supposed to have obtained health insurance is so overrun with glitches that it's become a joke.

And not a very funny one, I might add.

Yes, the ACA has withstood a Supreme Court challenge. I get that. But what are we supposed to do now? Just wait, wait and wait some more? How long?

And what about the president's promise, made so emphatically, that if you liked your health insurance plan, you could stay with it?  I don't doubt that he meant it, but it's looking like it's simply not true. I saw one of those news shows last night with a panel of commentators, one of whom stated that it's just a small percentage of folks who are having their health insurance policies canceled.

It might be a small percentage, but it still numbers in the millions. I think that is unacceptable when those people WERE TOLD IT WOULD NOT HAPPEN!

So what happens now? Your guess is as good as mine.

I'm not ready to call it a disaster just yet, but it might not be long. Here's hoping something gets cleaned up fast.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Of stadiums and aging

Big news over the past couple of weeks w/ regard to baseball teams I follow.

Well, the news is not really about the teams but, rather, about the venues where they play, or used to play.

Voters in Houston, TX last week rejected a referendum that would have authorized a bond issue, the proceeds from which would have gone to make the tired old Astrodome (once dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World") into a convention center.

Alas, it will now probably have a date with a wrecking ball, having fallen into disrepair. Once ahead of its time as the first indoor sports stadium (completed in 1965), in less than 50 years it has become obsolete. No teams have played there since 1999 and it has become an eyesore for the city.

It's especially sad to me because, ever since I visited the Astrodome in 1966 as an 8-year-old, the Astros have been my favorite baseball team. To be sure, they have tested my loyalty with mediocre and downright bad teams. Ownership and management have frustrated me.

But the "unkindest cut of all" was their switch to the American League. And they treated us all to another 100-plus losses this past inaugural season in the AL. The pain continues.

Yet I remain a fan. I hold on to those scant handful of division championships and the one glorious year they won the National League pennant (2005). Even though they were swept by the White Sox in the World Series, they made it to the dance.

Now the venerable old building where I became a fan will probably be no more.  Very sad.


And what do you know, today the Atlanta Braves big wigs announced the team would be moving from Turner Field and will build a new facility in Cobb County just north of the city.

I'm not really sad about this but I am pretty surprised they are vacating a park that is less than 20 years old. Turner Field was completed in 1997 (originally built for the 1996 Olympics and scaled down after that event), the successor to Fulton County Stadium. Both parks were near downtown Atlanta and the fact is the location is terrible. Parking is a nightmare and the surroundings are anything but fan friendly.

Braves management say Turner Field needs upgrades that would be costly. The Braves have a lease with the City of Atlanta that will apparently expire in the next three years. The new stadium should be ready for the 2017 season.

Since, of course, it's all about me as a fan, I've decided this is good news. The move north will take about a half hour off of my drive and I will welcome not having to drive through downtown and all the Atlanta traffic to get to a game.


So what's next? Will the Cubs abandon Wrigley? Will Fenway Park become a dinosaur? Only time will tell, but it's becoming clear it's out with the old.

And old just doesn't seem to be very old anymore.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Travel memories

As promised, here are some photos from our recent trip to England and France. The photos don't really do it justice but they help keep the memories strong!

Our wonderful hotel in London - Marriott County Hall
On the London Eye
Dinner at a pub - The Globe

My sweet girls and traveling companions at Trafalgar Square
On Westminster Bridge in front of Big Ben
Love those phone booths! 
View from our room

Ancient Roman Baths in Bath

The Royal Crescent in Bath

The Cotswolds - a piece of Heaven!

Snowshill - The Cotswolds
Stanton - The Cotswolds

Street cafe in Paris

The Paris equivalent of a sports bar, watching soccer (futbol)!

The gardens at Versailles

At the Love Lock Bridge with Notre Dame in the background
Lounging in Tuileries Garden
Atop the Eiffel Tower
Open top car tour around Paris at night

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Travel log

Daughter is letting me use her computer on this beautiful fall afternoon. I am outside on my back deck and I am going to attempt to write about the trip we just took. Pictures will probably come later.

I had traveled to London and Paris as a very young person in 1975 when I was 17 years old. It was a great experience but, like most 17-year-old boys, I was extremely immature and did not have a full appreciation of the things I was seeing and experiencing. I thought one of the coolest things we did was having lunch in a McDonald's on the Champs Ellyses. Pitiful. (There are McDonaldses all over Paris now -- and London, as well as numerous other American chain establishments).

Returning some 38 years later, my perspective had changed a bit!

Wife, Daughter and I arrived in London late on a Friday morning after taking a "red-eye" flight in which we slept hardly a wink. Just couldn't do it. We got to our hotel in the early afternoon and the excitement kept us awake.

One of the things that helped make this trip possible was our Marriott points which Wife and I had been saving for a long time. We had enough for four nights at our hotel in London and it was great -- the Marriott Town Hall, right on the Themes next to the London Eye, the huge ferris wheel-like structure built for London's millenium celebration.  Although some Londoners looked on it scoffingly (kind of like the Parisians with the Eiffel Tower in 1899), it has become a permanent landmark and is making money hand over fist.

We could see "the Eye" right out our hotel room window, as well as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament across the river. It was a stunning view, and all for free! Also included were a lovely breakfast each morning and drinks and appetizers in the late afternoon.

We took a late afternoon nap that first day, then set out for a walk that evening. The next three days we hit it hard seeing the standard London sites -- the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace (including the changing of the guards), Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Churchill War Rooms, the National Gallery and St. Martin in the Fields. We also rode the London Eye late one afternoon and it was spectacular, with stunning views of the city.

One afternoon the girls shopped and I conducted my own pub tour which I might say was a huge success. The British are proud of their ales and, while enjoying them at room temperature is not the norm for us here in the U.S., it's an easily acquired taste in the delightful atmospheres of these establishments.

We hated to leave London, but by Tuesday morning it was time to move on to our "vacation from our vacation" in the Cotswolds. We took a train back to Heathrow airport and rented a car there.

Here is an unqualified truth: Wife is a better driver than I. That has always been the case. Therefore it made sense for her to at least start as the driver in not only a foreign land but in a land where they drive on the left (wrong) side of the road! And once she started, that was it. I rode in the backseat and lent moral support while Daughter rode in the front passenger seat and served as navigator.  (And by the way, she was the driver permanently. I never got near the steering wheel).

Wife did an incredible job, keeping her wits about her and her senses sharp as she drove into the confusing roundabouts and "gave way" (a British term) when it did not seem logical.

We drove first to Bath, about 90 miles west of London, a city where there are natural hot springs and where long ago the aristocrats would travel for the supposed healing powers of said waters. About 200 years ago (or so -- don't hold me to this) it became the "Hollywood of England" and the wealthy and powerful traveled there as a place to see and be seen.

Today it's a beautiful small city where the ancient architecture and beauty has been preserved. Today's citizens of Bath are proud of their city and volunteers conduct free tours daily. We participated in one and it was greatly beneficial.

After a late lunch there it was time for our Cotswolds destination, the charming village of Chipping Campden. We stayed two nights in a Bed and Breakfast there that looked like something out of a coffee table book.

We spent the next day there with a guide who drove us to other villages, and through breathtaking hills and meadows populated by scores of sheep. I can't do justice to the beauty and charm of this lovely area but I can tell you that by the end of this day I was looking at real estate listings to see if I could buy a pub there. Daughter assured me she should would move there with me, get a teaching job and help in the pub in the evenings. (Pragmatic Wife brought us back to reality . . .  but I can dream).

On Thursday we bid goodbye, far too soon, to this little piece of heaven, and drove back to London, where we boarded the Eurostar train for the two-hour-and-twenty-minute ride to Paris, part of which goes under the English Channel (through the "chunnel").  This was a non-event. I opened a book, read a few pages and I was in Paris!

Prior to Paris we had enjoyed beautiful weather -- highs in the high 60s, and I even wore shorts one day in London. We had a a few drops of rain in the Cotswolds but not enough to even cause us to open an umbrella.

It was cold in Paris. It had rained before we arrived and a few drops fell on us the first day but, again, hardly enough to notice.

Paris was, in short, magical. The first night we went on a driving tour that ended in front of the Eiffel Tower at 9 p.m., at which time it lit up with flashing lights as it does each hour on the hour. Our driver let us out there and we boarded a river boat that took us up the Seine, by Notre Dame, which was spectacular.

On Friday morning we took a train to Versailles Palace and Gardens, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The crowds there were massive. Although this is considered the "shoulder season" in Europe, I could not have imagined it being any more crowded in London and Paris.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent going to museums and gardens, sitting at charming sidewalk cafes and finding hidden-away streets that made us feel as if we were in a movie. We also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset and it was spectacular.

Monday morning, 11 days from our departure date, we boarded the plane for home.  We were glad to get here but the memories are strong of this wonderful vacation. The time spent with Wife and Daughter is something I'll always cherish.

I'll write a little more about my impressions, and post some photos, in my next post.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Back home

We are back from our trip to England and France. I had hoped to have posted an update, as well as photos, by now. Alas, my home laptop seems to have finally breathed its last so it's not going to happen just yet.

We had an incredible time. Wife and Daughter were wonderful travel companions and the time we spent together was something I'll always cherish.

There are so many highlights I can't even begin to recount them all, especially on this blasted iPhone. London and Paris, although massive cities, were magical places. And the "vacation from our vacation " in the Cotswolds was a beautiful excursion that at times left me speechless.

So stay tuned. Hopefully there's more to come.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Good time of year

Fall is here, my favorite season of the year.

Probably the number one reason for that is the fact that this season ushers in cooler weather. But God smiled on us here in middle Tennessee this year and we had such a pleasant summer, I can hardly complain. We hardly made it into the 90s and never even got to 100 degrees.

Still, there's a crispness in the air now that tells me it's that time of year where not only the temperature drops, but we don't have the stifling humidity either. I want to be outside as much as possible.

September brings the intersection of two of my favorite seasons in sports -- the end of the Major League baseball season, which brings in post-season play, and the beginning of college football.

In baseball, the hapless Houston Astros, whom I long ago claimed as "my" team, once again posted a 100-loss season, this being their first in the American League (and I'm not too happy about that either). Something's gotta give. I don't know what it is, but something.

On a brighter note, my adopted favorite National League team, the Atlanta Braves, whom I can see by driving about 3.5 hours from my front door, clinched the eastern division just today.

Atlanta's a sentimental favorite because Older Son, when he was a wee lad, used to watch them on cable (TBS) when they became "America's Team" and they became "his" team. When he was eight, he and I flew out to Atlanta from Little Rock, where we lived at the time, and saw them play at the old Fulton County Stadium.

That started our quest to go to every MLB park. He's well over half-way there, having added Nationals Stadium in D.C. this summer. I'm a little behind him. I've been to Philly and he hasn't, and he's seen the Giants, As and Marlins play at home, which I have not. Most of the others we've managed to do together and often Wife, Younger Son, Daughter, and now DIL and DSO, have been with us.

I'm hopeful that one day we'll cross through the turnstill together at our last park and it will be a glorious celebration.

As I said, I'm also a college football fan and it's now in full swing. We suffered through a terrible season with Auburn last year so, with a new coach (and coaching staff), we're hoping for better things. At 3-1 (after having their first loss last night against SEC powerhouse LSU), they've already won as many as they did last year.

We were down last week for the Mississippi State game and got to see a win. Also visited Younger Son, now in his third year, and he's doing great. He is living in the fraternity house this year and we visited his room, which he and his roommate had dutifully cleaned before hosting us.

I'm not much of an NFL fan anymore but had a late invitation to go see the Tennessee Titans here at home in Nashville today, so spent a beautiful afternoon there and got to see a Titans win.

It really is a nice time of year.


Wife, Daughter and I will soon be taking a very nice vacation. We'll leave here the evening of October 3rd and arrive in London the next morning. We'll stay there a few days, then visit the Cotswolds outside of London for a couple of days. We'll take the Eurostar train through the English Channel to Paris, and come back home on the 14th.

Traveling with my two favorite girls, there's no doubt it will be a great time. If I don't get around to posting something before we leave, look for a retrospective and photos when we get back.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer temperatures

The weather here is typical of summer in this type of the country -- hot and humid. During the 10 p.m. newscast last night I heard the local weather lady say the air is so thick "you can move it around."

The Labor Day weekend forecast is for highs in the mid to high 90s with a chance of scattered thunderstorms. Again, that's typical. 

I detest hot weather and usually by this time of year I'm just holding on to the fact that fall, along with relief, is in sight.

But let me tell you something: we can hardly complain this year. It has been the mildest summer I can remember in my 16 years of living here. Except for a couple of glorious summers in Colorado, every summer prior to that was spent in Arkansas and it was always muggy there in the summers. So I am well acquainted with this type of weather.

But it was downright pleasant here for almost all of June and we had spots of it all through July and August -- days where temperatures would top out in the mid 80s or even lower, and some nights where they would dip down near 60.

But a couple of days ago the steamer came on, as if summer is telling us, "Not so fast. I'm not going anywhere yet."

Strangely,also as of a couple of days ago, the hummingbirds seem to have left us. If you read my last post, you saw a picture of one our frequent visitors outside the kitchen window. They have been sucking that feeder dry and Wife has been filling it up about once a week. 

This morning she took it down, gave it a good washing and filled it with fresh "juice" to see if maybe they'll come back.

I'm wondering if perhaps they also enjoyed the cooler summer we have experienced and decided to pack up and move on when this heat wave hit.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

They're back!

Last summer we hung a hummingbird feeder outside our kitchen's big picture window. The feeder was filled with a red concoction made from a base we purchased and mixed according to instructions. I remember hanging it and having "customers" within 30 minutes.

The hummingbirds are fascinating to watch. There are three spigots on the feeder but the birds don't seem to do group activities well. If one is feeding and another one flies up, the one that was already there appears to chase the other one away, even though there is plenty of room for both of them. I say "appears" because (a) I don't really know what's going on in the world of hummingbirds and (b) they move so fast that it's hard to tell who would be chasing whom.

Anyway, I was anxious to put out the feeder again this summer. I did so about six weeks ago, mixing from the same base we had stored in the refrigerator from last year. I followed the instructions exactly.

But no hummingbirds came. Not a one. I asked Kelly, my bird expert, about it and she suggested that maybe the mix was "stale" and I should start over again. I did, using the same mix again, with still no results.

I think what Kelly meant was that I needed a new mix altogether. Wife agreed. She found a recipe and mixed up her own hummingbird nectar. Interestingly, it has no color. The mix we used last year was bright red and I thought that was what attracted the hummingbirds.

Wife read that as long as there is some hint of red on the feeder, it is not necessary to color the water. In fact, the instructions for the recipe she used recommended against it, saying the food coloring might make the nectar bitter.

Each of the little spigots is red but they are so small that I was doubtful that would be enough to attract the little boogers.

Not to worry. I am happy to report this did the trick. They are back in force and they're not any nicer to each other than they were last year. It's still one at a time. They are a still a big kick to watch.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Familiar roads and faces

U.S. Highway 167 runs north and south and it is of particular significance to me for two reasons:  (a) it is the main road that connects Little Rock, Arkansas, the city where I went to law school, got married and lived as an adult until 1997, and El Dorado (pronounced el-do-ray-do), the town where I grew up in south Arkansas; and (b) it goes south from El Dorado to Ruston, Louisiana, where I went to college at Louisiana Tech University from 1976 to 1980.

For decades both of these stretches of 167 were almost entirely two-lane, winding through towns in Arkansas called Sheridan, Fordyce and Hampton. In Louisiana the towns between El Dorado and Ruston are Junction City (on the state line), Bernice, Dubach and Vienna.  All are splendid little towns that have changed some with the times but in many respects remain the same as they were during the years I traveled these stretches of road so much, containing little service stations (now convenience stores) and fast food drive-ins with names like "Daisy Queen."

Today both stretches contain significant parts that are four-lane and although they have made travel more efficient, I maintain that the road has lost a bit of its character with less yellow lines, double yellow lines and narrow bridges.

I got to travel 167 last weekend as I returned to both my college town and my old hometown. Familiar faces greeted me at both places -- old college and high school friends who remain dear to me. Also had a good visit with my brother in Camden, Arkansas, just north of El Dorado, on Sunday.

Here's a picture of my El Dorado group at dinner Saturday night. That's me on the far right on the second row and blog friend Kelly on the left on the front row. I think we all look pretty good for middle-agers, if I do say so myself!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Good times celebrating independence

We had a nice Fourth of July vacation last week in our nation's capital.

We had heard and read about "Capitol Fourth" and envisioned ourselves spread out on the lawn of the Washington Mall, between the Capital and the Washington Monument, listening to the concert on the Capital steps and watching the fireworks over the Monument afterwards.

We watched the fireworks and they were, in fact, a sight to behold. But the concert takes place over at the Capital and concert-goers sit up on the Capital steps, the big stage being at the bottom of and facing those steps, so that the back of the stage is what everyone spread out on the mall sees. We couldn't hear any of the concert and there weren't any big screens broadcasting it.

Had we wanted to be there watching and hearing the concert, we would have had to go through a long security line and sat out there in the sun hours before the start time of 8 p.m. And that area is all barricaded off and once you're in, you're in. So we opted out.

While that part was a bit disappointing, the day was fun. There's an unavoidable buzz of patriotism celebrating the Fourth of July in D.C.

I'll backtrack a little. Wife and I were invited to a wedding in Williamsburg, VA, a couple of hours south of D.C., to take place on Sunday, July 7th. The groom is the son of my best friend from my growing-up years in south Arkansas. I was Best Man in his wedding 30 years ago this November, and he was a groomsman in mine 29 years ago this August. He is one of my life's soul mates, one of those guys who knows me inside and out but loves me anyway. We still try to share big life events whenever we can. He was here for Older Son's wedding a couple of years ago.

Anyway, when Wife and I decided we would go, we started trying to figure out a way to get the family together the few days prior. Wouldn't it be fun, we thought, to get everyone together in D.C. over the Fourth of July.

And it worked, as things often do when we shamelessly entice our adult children with paid-for vacations!  Daughter, DSO, Wife and I drove to Lorton, VA, just outside Washington, on Wednesday, the 3rd. Older Son, DIL and Younger Son flew into D.C. and joined us that night.

One of the things that made this trip possible was that Wife's sister, who lives in Lorton, made her home available to us. She and her husband were out of town for a few days so we had the whole place to ourselves. We had free -- and lovely -- accommodations for seven people.

Back to "Capitol Fourth."  Wife had scheduled a tour of the Capital building at 1 p.m. We road the D.C. rail system, called the Metro, in from a station near where we were staying. The Metro system is great -- very clean and easy to maneuver, especially if you have two directionally gifted people with you, like Wife and Older Son.

The young folks did the Capital tour while Wife and I headed down to the Mall to scope things out. We have both done D.C. a number of times, including touring the Capital, so we were fine to miss it.

We found it crowded but not overly so. We found a nice park bench in the shade and sat down. A number of folks were already lining up for the aforementioned concert and this is when we learned how all that worked and decided, if everyone agreed, that we would pass on that part.

When the others called and said their tour was done, Wife walked up the hill and met them for lunch. I decided to stay behind and scope out a place for watching the fireworks. In hindsight, that was not necessary, but I was fine to people-watch and Washington, D.C. has to be one of the top places to do that.

One of the highlights of the trip for me happened right then and there, that afternoon. A group of about 50 Pentecostals, dressed in their long dresses and heavy suits, set a couple of tents up down there on the mall and began to sing hymns.  Their beautiful voices resonated and I sang right along with them. One of their leaders came over to me and said, "I believe you know them all, don't you?"

I told him I certainly did and how much their singing was blessing me. I really think they would have asked me to join them if I had been dressed appropriately.

When everyone came back from lunch, we set up our chairs in a shady area and came and went throughout the afternoon. We visited part of the Smithsonian and walked around.

About 9 p.m. the fireworks show started and we had a great view.  It was spectacular and it was a great day. We got out pretty easily and were back at our home base in Lorton by about 11:15.

The next couple of days were fairly leisurely. We went to a Washington Nationals baseball game, did a night-time drive around the monuments, visited an extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport (fantastic), visited Alexandria and enjoyed being together.

Sunday the young folks flew home. Wife and I drove south to Williamsburg for the wedding and drove home Monday.

A good time was had by all.  Here we are on July 4th:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unexpected gifts

Wife and I received an unexpected blessing last weekend.

On Friday night we were invited to an impromptu "summer solstice" party. As an early onset curmedgeon, it was my obligation to hem and haw a bit about going but I had no legitimate excuse so Wife said of course we would love to come.

Daughter left to go to DSO's for the weekend. Wife and I went to eat an early dinner -- barbecue at a new place in town. We went allowing for a wait, but there was none, so we had finished eating and still had 45 minutes or so before the party.

We sat and talked about upcoming events and, as we often do, talked about various goings-on with the family.

As we were getting in the car I shared with Wife how much I was missing our "young'uns" in Dallas (Older Son, DIL and now Younger Son) and I wished we had just bitten the bullet and gone there to see them that weekend. Although we will all be together over the Fourth of July, I told her, it would have been a good weekend to go see them.

We got to the party and while Wife was mingling with some of the ladies, she called me over.

"Want to go to Dallas tomorrow?" she asked.

I looked at her incredulously, almost mildly irritated because I couldn't imagine what she meant.

I'll make it short. We have some friends, a married couple, the husband of whom has built a very successful business. He speaks around the country. He is also extremely kind and generous.

They were at this party and his wife told (my) Wife he would be leaving the next morning on his plane for Dallas for a speaking engagement there. "You should go with him!" she told Wife.

He had extra seats on his plane and thought it was a great idea for us to hitch a ride.   I sent a text message to Older Son "asking" if we could come. He said, "Come on!"  (Truth be told, I didn't exactly ask . . . )

We went. We were there 24 hours. We had a great time. Loved seeing them all.

Sometimes the best gifts come when we least expect them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Laughing all the way

It might have been mentioned previously here that I'm not a car guy.

Never have been. My main concern about a vehicle is that it get me where I'm going reliably. Dependability is the main attribute I want it to have. Make, model, color and all that? Not a big deal.

I detest purchasing a car. Just can't stand the whole process.

Which is why, when Wife and I finally bit the bullet and bought a car in late March, it was the culmination of a nearly two-year process.

For a number of years, Wife and I possessed three cars between us. She drove a sedan as her main car, I drove a SUV in town and I had a little compact car I drove back and forth to Memphis the days I work there because it got such good gas mileage.

We decided we could go back to two cars between the two of us. The fact is Wife doesn't drive nearly as much around town as she once did, since she doesn't have little ones to cart around and taxi here and there and we go a lot of local places together. It just didn't make much sense anymore for us to have three cars for the two of us. 

So we decided to sell the SUV and the compact car. She would hand her sedan down to me and we would get her something new. The sedan she would hand down wouldn't get quite the good mileage my compact did, but with what we would save in insurance, we would come out ahead.

To say we looked for two years is a little bit of a stretch because we really didn't look; we mostly talked about it, looked on the Internet, read ads in the newspaper, etc. while continuing to drive the cars we had. When Wife would suggest we go take a test drive, I would become very quiet and shake my head. Did I mention Wife is very patient?

Anyhow, around the end of last year we began to get serious. Each of the three cars had well over 100,000 miles and I was going to either have to put some major work into them or get rid of at least a couple of them.

I sold the compact car first. A friend bought it. I gave him a fair deal and he was happy with it.

I began to drive the SUV back and forth to Memphis, piling up the miles.

I asked Wife if she would just go pick out a car and buy it. I would sell the SUV, or trade it, and take her old car if she would just go ahead and get a new for one for herself. That's how much I loathe the process.

She looked and she took test drives. But she wasn't willing to pull the final trigger without me.

On a Saturday in March she made an appointment with a dealer, at a place where she had already test driven a car she liked. She told me I would be going with her.

 "What do you want to accomplish?" I asked her.

"I want to buy a car," she replied.

"Today?" I asked her incredulously.

 "Will there be a better day?" she asked, equally incredulously, reminding me that we certainly could not be accused of rushing into anything.

A few hours later we had bought Wife a new car. I say "new" but it actually had 19,000 miles on it. Although I have bought a couple of them in my life, I pretty much believe a brand new car loses its value so fast that it's almost impossible not to get taken. I prefer to buy one that is "gently" used.

I sold the SUV a few weeks later. Wife dutifully handed down her car to me and I put a little money into it to insure it will last a bit longer and I don't have to go through this again any time soon.

Now here's the funny part. Wife's car has a "navigation system" that includes a rear camera. It also doesn't have a key. You carry around this little remote control (Wife and I call it the "key thing") and you push a button to start the car. 

The little "key thing" is marketed as a device that will keep you from ever locking your keys (or your key things) in the car, because if you try to lock it and the key thing is inside the car, it will make a beeping sound and it won't lock.

That works fine but here's the thing. You can't start the car without the key thing. So what's the problem, you ask?

Well, Wife and I are at the age and station in life where we go a lot of places together and sometimes I'll let her out somewhere and come back and pick her up. She typically keeps the key thing in her purse.

The scenario is this: I let her out and tell her I'll pick her up at X time. I drive merrily off and the key thing is in her purse. After I stop the car and turn it off, you guessed it -- I can't start the car. More than once this has happened. Not very efficient, is it? I appreciate that I can't lock the keys in the car but not being able to start the car is a bit of a problem.

Also, when I've been driving that car and I arrive back at home, I'll leave the key thing in the car, which is in the garage, for several hours. Since it's not a  real key, I will have just tossed it somewhere on the car's middle console and I don't think about retrieving it when I go in the house.

This will be very convenient for the person who wants to steal the car because since I often leave the garage door open, our friendly thief can just casually walk in the garage, get in the car, push the button and off he (or she) goes.

The best story about the car, however, is this:  Wife, who has an almost perfect driving record, has hardly ever put a scratch on a car and qualifies for every available safe-drive discount, had the first little incident with the car.

We've lived in our house 12 years and she's zipped in and out her side of the garage thousands of times.

A few weeks ago she backed her new (to her) car right into the garage door, just as pretty as you please. That's right, her navigation-system and rear-camera equipped vehicle.  Right into the garage door.

When she called and told me, I said, "you mean the car with the rear cam . . .?"

I didn't have to finish that question. 

I'm thinking old fashioned car keys work just fine, as well as turning one's head to see what's lurking behind (like, say, a garage door). 

Is it any wonder we've been happily married 29 years? We just keep laughing.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I've been saying for some time now that we are in the "revolving door" years -- a phrase Wife actually coined and one that others have no doubt used.

We experience it fairly regularly with DSO (Daughter's Significant Other) who visits frequently, as well as various other comings and goings. For the past three weeks Younger Son, now with two years of college behind him (and all God's people said, "Amen!") has been with us. It has been a joy to have him at home and, just as I was getting used to having him around, he's gone again.

He will be in Dallas this summer, doing an internship with a local magazine there. He's excited and I'm excited for him to have this opportunity.

And yes, that is where his brother and sister-in-law live and yes, they urged him to look for something there this summer and he'll be living with them.

Well, kind of. They were ready to welcome him with open arms but remembered that their next-door-neighbor, a single guy, had mentioned a furnished garage apartment he had that was empty most of the time. Sparing you all the details, Younger Son will have his bed and bath there this summer. It really couldn't be a better situation and it's just steps away, literally, from Older Son and DIL. I'm betting those steps will provide just enough space between them at times.

Wife and Younger Son left Wednesday and drove to Little Rock and spent the night with Wife's parents, then drove on to Dallas yesterday (Thursday) to get Younger Son all settled in. Wife was only too happy to go along and get to have a visit with Older Son and DIL.

She'll fly to Birmingham in the morning. I'll pick her up there and we'll spend the rest of Memorial Day Weekend at our friends' lake house in North Alabama. Daughter and DSO will be joining us there.

Did I mention I had grown accustomed to Younger Son being around again? And did I mention I already miss him? 


Daughter's kindergartners graduated this morning at 10.  She was home by 11:30 and she was full of the details. Her eyes glistened a bit as she filled me in.

So did mine.


Of course I was only too happy to take Daughter to lunch to celebrate the graduation of her little class.

Indulge me here, but she is the type of teacher that you would want to teach your children, going the extra mile to make each child feel special. She made a notebook for each one of them called "The Busy Little Kindergartner" with pictures and mementos from the year, personalized for each one of them.

Nobody told her to do this; she just did it. Am I right? Would you not want this child of mine to be your child's or your grandchild's teacher?

I digress.

We talked at lunch about how fast these two years have passed since she graduated from college, around the same time Younger Son graduated from high school and Older Son and DIL got married.

We talked about the fact that in many ways that seems like a lifetime ago, while at the same time seeming as if we just blinked and two years were gone in a flash and here we are.

And here I am, sitting in a quiet house, daring myself to blink and see where time will take me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fish tales

It was a nice day at the lake today. This fish were not exactly biting like crazy. The water was high and murky due to last weekend's heavy rains.  BUT -- I managed to reel in a few, including a couple of nice ones.

Like anyone who fishes (especially one who does it as infrequently and poorly as yours truly), I can take all kinds of license in telling you about my experience. The one that got away would have, of course, been a trophy of gargantuan size. I fought the guy for a good five minutes before he . . . well you can figure out the rest.

As usual after a few hours on the water, my spirit was renewed and my soul restored a bit. That's a good day. The smiles below are genuine.

Maybe next time the fish will give us more to brag about.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Forever in our hearts

This will be the last in my three-part series on Ralph the Dog. I did not, of course, set out to write a trilogy; it just ended up that way.

In my last couple of installments I told you how I was supposed to "know" when it would be time to help Ralph along. I wondered if I ever would really know. A number of you told me I would, in fact, know, and if I was struggling with that, then it was not yet time.

You were right. And at 5:30 yesterday morning I knew.

For the past several weeks, I knew the time was getting close. But Ralph still enjoyed some of the things he had always enjoyed like our morning walks (he would still meet me at the door, tail wagging, trying to get out the door before I could open it, as if he would finally be able to just walk through it), and he still stood on his hind legs when one of us would hold up his bag of treats or stand in front of him with any food item he liked (and there were many).

He had to be boarded for a little over a week recently due to a leak in our kitchen which forced us to have our floors stripped and refinished, causing us to have to leave the house.

Susan picked him up this past Thursday morning and our good friend at his kennel said he had done fine as usual, eating heartily and enjoying the pampering he always received there.  Susan said he acted excited to see her and skipped right out to her with his usual look of, "Let's get out of here."

He acted equally excited to see me Thursday night. Maggie heard me drive up and met me down in the garage with him. He ran out to me and we walked around the yard a bit.

We walked Friday morning as usual and life seemed to be returning to normal. He seemed to be sleeping a lot but (a) that's his usual routine after a stay at the kennel and (b) he had been sleeping a lot anyway, so we gave little thought to that.

About mid-day, however, Susan and I both noticed a greater-than-usual lethargy on his part. He would eat his treats but couldn't make it onto his hind legs.He stopped eating dog food but still drank water. He would very reluctantly jump off his usual perch on the playroom sofa to go outside and it only happened after much coaxing. Every trip outside took a lot of coaxing, for that matter.

He walked gingerly and his back was humped a bit. He had a sad look in his eyes. He would, however, still wag his tail when I said his name.

Saturday morning I had to carry him to the front door. He did not wag his tail when he saw me with the leash. Rather, he seemed to walk outside as an act of obedience rather than desire. We walked slowly and I eventually picked him up and carried him back in.

The rest of the day Saturday was much the same.  He lay prostrate on the floor, or on the aforementioned sofa, and by the end of the day he would no longer jump up there -- we had to lift him.

Saturday night we noticed his breathing was becoming labored. I carried him upstairs and put him on a blanket on the floor in Maggie's room which had become one of his sleeping places. Where previously he would have made a little circle, curled into a tight little ball and settled in for the night, he just stood there for a  long while, humped as previously described, before finally lying down front-ways on his "haunches."

About 12:30 I woke up and saw the light on in Maggie's room. She was looking over at him from her bed as he was again breathing erratically. I picked him up and took him downstairs.

I put him on his usual spot on the sofa. I lay down on the other end and dozed off and on. At 5:30 I reached over to pet him. He winced and looked up at me, then wagged his tail just a bit, and I knew it was time. It was as if he were telling me, "I've done all I can do. It's been a good ride but now you know. It's time."

I went and woke Susan. She recommended calling the after-hours vet. I did, and the nice lady who answered the phone said they would be waiting for us. Susan woke Maggie and 15 minutes later we were there.

A very kind young female veterinarian talked with us and we confirmed it was time. We said our tearful goodbyes. We felt a great sense of comfort and peace as we felt Ralph relax after having struggled so much over the past couple of days.

We were devastated, of course, but never once doubted.

Four weeks ago it was not time. It wasn't time three weeks, two weeks or one week ago. Yesterday it was time. We were tearful and it was agonizing. But it was time.

The above picture was taken by Maggie one night when Ralph jumped up on the sofa in the den, one that is strictly off limits to him by order of his mother, which he knew.

But his mother had left town for a few days. It was not unlike him to occasionally "push the envelope."  Just observe the look in his eye. He knew exactly what he was doing.

We have discussed whether we will see Ralph again and questioned his having a soul.

Of either I have no doubt. We will see him again and that soul is forever linked with a family of which he was a faithful member until the very end.

Godspeed, good friend. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Still here

Well, Ralph the Dog is still very much with us. I took him to the vet a couple of weeks ago and we had a very candid conversation.

He listened to me describe the past year with Ralph, much of which I related in my last post here.

He looked at me with a compassionate look and said, "You know there's not a lot I can do for a 15-year-old dog to make him better."

I assured him I knew that and that I needed the wisdom of his years of his taking care of animals. He told me he felt that we have an obligation at some point to help our furry friends along when their quality of life has greatly deteriorated.

On the other hand, he told me that I know Ralph and I'll know when that time comes.

That's what a lot of you told me after my last post and I appreciate your words.

The fact is I'm not there yet. I've discussed it with everyone in the family and everyone agrees and understands.

So for now, Ralph continues with his life of mostly eating and sleeping. He still wags his tail at the door in the mornings when I get his leash and on some mornings he still jumps. That's definitely the high point of his day and the time when he has the most energy.

I told the doc I thought it would be relatively soon and he said to just let him know. He said he would ask me to bring him in toward the end of the day when things are quiet. Again, he said he felt I would know.

And I'll trust the process.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reading and Ralph

I have closed my Shelfari "account" or whatever it is. I have found it less and less user friendly and I can no longer get it to link to my blog, which is the whole reason I started it in the first place. 

I am looking for another way to show the books I have read. In the meantime, I'll share with you the books I have read since the last one that appears on my Shelfari shelf, The Pillars of the Earth (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way).

Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxes, is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German dissident and Lutheran minister who joined in a plot to assassinate Hitler. I really enjoyed it and learned a great deal about Hitler, the Holocaust and general information about World War II that either I never learned or had forgotten. 

Still Life is the first in a mystery series by Louise Penney. It was a good "light" -- but fun -- read after the last two heavy hitters. It is set in Canada and includes a lovable cast of quirky characters. I look forward to reading more. 

I'm currently reading The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Set in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it chronicles the life a young white girl who is raised by a slave family and is eventually torn between  the world of slave and free. 


Ralph the Dog has now lived a year since we were told he had "probably a few weeks, maybe a couple of months."  For most of that year, he has scarcely missed a beat and life with him has continued as usual.  As I've said many times, nobody bothered to tell him his time was short. 

For the past couple of months, however, we have begun to see changes. His "plumbing" still works but I'm afraid he's lost a bit of his control. As much as we try to get him outside, we can't seem to avoid "accidents" of both kinds. He has a tumor on his posterior (which was supposed to have caused his demise) which we were advised by the vet would eventually impede his ability to "go." Instead, I believe it has just caused him to go more frequently, and in inopportune places. That's all I'll say about that.

He is a bit disoriented and when we take our morning walks we don't get very far before he just stops, sniffs, then heads back the other way. We also don't make it nearly as far as we once did.

We trip over him in the house quite a bit. I don't think he's totally blind and deaf but I'm pretty sure he has no peripheral vision and I know he can't hear me until I'm right up next to him. 

About a month ago he fell down the stairs, resulting in a vet visit with X-rays that showed nothing broken. He was shaken up and bruised and while he will now still walk up the stairs, we have to carry him down.

He's nervous and the accidents are more frequent when other people are in the house.

He still eats and drinks quite well.

He startles easily, especially after he's been sleeping (which is what he does most of the time) and will sometimes snap at us when we approach him to try and take him outside. We tell all visitors not to try to pet him or play with him because of this.

He is much more calm than when he was a younger dog. He doesn't bark when the doorbell rings anymore, or go crazy when people come in the house.

In short, he's an old dog.  He's about 15, probably already past his life expectancy, and he's been part of our family a little less than 14 years.

So you know my dilemma. Sometimes I think he looks a bit sad, as if maybe he's done with all of this and trusts me to make the right decision. Other times, like before our walks when he's standing at the door wagging his tail, I think he's good for a while longer and it would be unkind to intentionally remove him from our lives.

I'm supposed to "know."  Well I don't know and I don't know that I will.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sometimes you have enough

About eight years ago, Wife and I heard that Carole King would be performing at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, which is about a three-hour drive from here.

Carole King is one of those artists we would definitely drive three hours (or longer), and pay a substantial amount of money (which we did), to see. She is a classic and one of my all-time favorites. At the time of this performance, although we had both been fans for years, we had never seen her in person. (A few years later we would see her right here in Nashville with another favorite, James Taylor).

Anyway, we made the trek over to Memphis to see Carole and we were pumped. We had great seats -- front and center about ten rows back. As expected, the performance was incredible. It was just Carole at the piano and a couple of guitarists.

I could have easily sung along with her on just about every song. I had long ago worn out the Tapestry album. I restrained myself, however, because I knew that audience members had paid to come hear Carole King -- not me.

A lady in front of us did in fact sing along with Carole.  Every song. Every line. She also danced and raised her hands. I could deal with that but I just couldn't take the singing.

A few minutes before intermission, after her singing became more than I could take, I leaned forward and said, "I paid a lot of money to come hear Carole King, not you."

You have to understand this was huge for me. I am conflict-avoidant to a fault. But I had just had all I could take.

It was not received well. She and her friend glared at me the remainder of the concert. She did stop singing though. At the end of the show, as I was trying to make a quick exit, her friend grabbed me and said she was sorry about her friend but her husband had died about a year ago and she was just getting out again.

I told her I was sorry to hear that but it didn't change the fact that I had come to hear Carole King, not her friend.

Since that time, I have observed that people are more and more rude in public.

In church, people sit in front of me and talk in a normal voice, whether it's during singing, announcements or the message. In addition, couples in church are way too liberal with PDA.

Don't even get me started on cell phones and the ubiquitous texting that goes on anywhere, anytime -- all the time.

This past weekend Wife and I went to a movie. Three middle-aged ladies sat in front of us. They talked non-stop, in a normal voice, from the start until the credits. They also texted.

Wife, who is becoming more bold as she gets older, kicked the chair of one of the ladies. It made no impression on her. When she was engaged in a long texting exchange, with the bright light of her phone shining in our faces, Wife had had enough.

Sensing what she was about to do, I put my arm across her as she was leaning forward, much like my mother used to do to me in the front seat of the car when she had to stop suddenly.

I then leaned forward myself and said, "TURN OFF YOUR PHONE!"

She did. She continued to talk to her friends but at least we got something.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reading, etc.

I enjoyed Quid's recent post regarding her top eight books of 2012.  She said she set out to do a "Top Ten" but could only put eight in the "top" category.

I didn't list top books as I have done in previous years. My reading was a lot less in volume last year and toward the end of the year I got to a place where I just wasn't finding anything of the "can't put this down" type. The last thing I read in 2012 was John Grisham's The Racketeer which I really enjoyed, as I do all of his books. I finished it in late November, though, and didn't pick start anything new until New Year's Day when we left for Mexico.

I started the year with a nearly 1000-page tome by Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth, set in the 1100s and interweaving the building of some of the great European cathedrals with a really enjoyable story. It was a good vacation read but for the first time I kind of wished for an electronic reader because it was so big it got a bit cumbersome to hold at times. I still, however, love the look and feel of a real book I hold in my hands. I even love the smell.

As usual, I keep track of the books I read on my "Shelfari" shelf on the right side of my blog page. I won't do a "Top" list but will tell you my favorite fiction reads in 2012 were The Lost Wife, City of Tranquil Light and The Book Thief.  My far-and-away top non-fiction was Love Does and if I could make you read it, I would. And you would thank me.

I am now in the middle of Bonhoeffer, a really interesting biography of German dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I love biographies and this one was recommended to me by a couple of friends. So far I am really enjoying it. Two of the three fiction books mentioned above are set during the holocaust, so it's enlightening to read a true-life account of someone who eventually gave up his life for opposing the atrocities that took place under Hitler.


For the second straight day we awoke to snow. It's almost 8 a.m. I got up a little more than an hour ago to walk Ralph the Dog and it was coming down pretty hard but it's tapered off now and there's probably not more than half an inch on the ground. It's not as cold as it was yesterday (high of 29 degrees) and it's expected to get above freezing later this morning. We have had a much colder winter than last year.

It just dawned on me that it's Groundhog Day and if he got up and looked for his shadow here this morning, he definitely didn't see it, so I guess he's out there strutting around waiting for spring to come.


Speaking of Ralph, it is exactly one year ago that Wife and I were told to take him home and enjoy the "few weeks" we had left with him. That would be 52 weeks, friends, and judging from his walk in the snow this morning, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

He doesn't see or hear well and it's not uncommon to trip over him.  His days are spent lounging in some of his favorite spots -- the playroom sofa, Wife's and my bed, Daughter's bed, a blanket on the floor in Daughter's room (where he sleeps at night) or any spot on a rug where he can get direct sunlight.

We pamper him quite a bit these days and after crate-training him only three years ago, no longer require his confinement there when we leave the house.

I hope for the same privileges when I'm older.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Recent Shots

I'm sitting here with Daughter and she has graciously agreed to help me post some photos from Christmas and our recent Mexican vacation.

Hope you enjoy . . .

"Christmas Eve Eve" before church.

Daughter and DSO at Monell's Victorian Christmas. 
Wife's beautiful French Christmas Eve table (above and below). 

Carrying out the French theme.
Younger Son and Daughter relaxing at the pool.
Waiting to go to dinner with Older Son and DIL.
Hola from Mexico!
With my Sweetie at the beach.
Older Son and DIL thanking Wife for a wonderful trip.
Don't you think she looks like me?
My pride and joy.

After our fishing trip. I'm feeling better!
Younger Son's big catch!
Mi Familia Bonita!