Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It's Christmas Day and Wife and I are learning to share.

We had our 7th annual international-themed Christmas Eve last night. This year's country was Germany and it was a huge success!  Everyone was responsible for their own costume and it could be as extravagant or as simple as the wearer pleased. Everyone participated, and the attire did in fact range from simple to extravagant -- and it was a hoot!

For preliminaries, we set up a beer garden in the entry hall with four kinds of German beer. Wife also made pretzels and we had some other appetizers as well. Full disclosure: we did make one departure from the German tradition -- we iced down the beer. Just couldn't go that far.

Our meal included Oktoberfest Beer Cheese Soup (to die for), Sauerbraten (German Pot Roast), Chicken Schnitzel, Spaetzle with Gruyere and Carmelized Onions and Red Cabbage. For dessert, Wife made a German Chocolate Bombe (and it was the bomb!) and a Black Forest Cake.

Folks, it was a feast to behold!

Before dinner, I sang the first verse of "Silent Night" in German ("Stille Nacht"), which I learned in church as a child.

Our centerpiece was a simple Advent wreath, which originated in Germany. Each of our five adult children read a summary of the symbolism of the four candles representing the four Sundays in Advent, and the Christ Candle which is in the center.

We also played some fun games and read the Christmas story together (FSIL did the honors this year, as the newest family member) before going to church at 11 p.m. and welcoming in Christmas Day.

It was another memorable night. Wife's and my eyes met many times during the evening as we agreed how incredibly blessed we are.

I said earlier that today we are learning to share. Older Son and Daughter are each spending the day with their in-laws/future in-laws respectively.

But Wife, Younger Son and I have had a fulfilling day. At 8 a.m. we went to the Nashville Rescue Mission, where I serve on the board of directors, and helped prepare lunch that would be served later in the day. We sliced tomatoes, prepared salads, peeled about a thousand potatoes and sliced dozens of pieces of cake. It was gratifying, to say the least.

Older Son, DIL and DIL's parents will join us for a late afternoon meal and tomorrow we'll do our family Christmas celebration a day late.

Below are a couple of photos from last night, and one from this morning at the Rescue Mission.

I wish for each of you a blessed Christmas and New Year.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Adding to the family

A week ago Thursday morning (about 10 days ago as I write this) my phone rang about 7 a.m. and the caller ID displayed DSO's name. (As a reminder, DSO stands for "Daughter's Significant Other," which has been his role in our lives for just short of three years).

When I answered, he greeted me and wanted to make sure he had not awakened me (he had not), then asked if I had any plans for the evening. I told him that, to my knowledge, I did not, at which time he asked if I would like to meet him for dinner or a drink. I told him dinner would be fine and we made plans for a time and place.

I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but DSO and I don't chat a lot on the phone and certainly not at 7 a.m.  Neither do we make dinner plans for just the two of us. I had a pretty good idea of what he might want to talk about.

I met him that night at the appointed place and time and he was already there, about one beer down by the time I got there. We made small talk for a good 20 minutes and he discussed the menu in great detail. Just before I was about to say, "What's on your mind?," he quite nervously let me know.

He proceeded to tell me how much he loves Daughter and asked if I would give him my blessing to propose to her.

All day I had thought of how I might respond to this, and I will tell you that I have never felt as unprepared for anything in my life. Would I grill him about his intentions and his plans for the future?  Would I lecture him about the ups and downs of marriage and give him the no-rose-garden speech?

When it came my turn to talk, I went with my gut.

I thanked him for calling me and arranging our meeting. I told him he is an adult and Daughter is an adult and he needed neither her mother's nor my permission to marry her.

But I told him the fact that he would want to talk to me in advance of proposing to my one and only daughter, who is the absolute light of my life, meant a great deal to me and that most certainly he had the blessing of Wife and me.

There were many other things said but they will mostly stay between DSO and me. I will tell you, however, that it was one of the sweetest conversations I have ever had and one I'll always remember and cherish. Most importantly, the things said to me during that dinner reflect the character of the man who will be my son-in-law, the man Wife and I have prayed for since Daughter was a little girl.

Yesterday morning, the day after Thanksgiving, DSO took Daughter on a walk at one of their favorite spots in Nashville, Radnor Lake, and popped the question. A couple of hours later they returned to our house where our family, as well as DSO's parents and grandparents, and Daughter's best friend from college, were waiting to help celebrate.

We toasted them, prayed for them and had a lovely lunch together. It was one of those days where Wife's and my hearts were full.

The plans are just beginning. Mostly Daughter is still grinning and enjoying the well wishes of others.

Daughter is the sweetest girl on this planet and I say that, of course, with all sincerity and objectivity. I am putty in her hands and I make no apologies for it.

And if I can't keep her right here with me forever, well, I think DSO is well qualified to be the man of her dreams. From henceforth, until the time they become husband and wife, he shall be known in this space as FSIL -- Future-Son-In-Law.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


It is Thanksgiving Eve (day) and Wife has just headed out for yet another grocery store run. She did her "major" shopping days ago but there's always that last-minute stuff (her words).

We'll have nine tomorrow -- all our crew plus DIL's parents. It will be a great day and we'll have a great meal and we will have much for which to be thankful.

Thanksgiving has for years been my favorite holiday, especially in my adult life. Wife and I hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple in 1984, with my parents and her grandmother as our guests.

We took the turkey out of the freezer -- that's right, the freezer -- after we got home from work on Wednesday and yes, that's right, Wednesday. We were young and we didn't know any better.

We were up intermittently through the night, alternately immersing the bird in hot water and defrosting it with a hairdryer. We didn't know that the cavity was stuffed with the giblets and after they fell out, I stuck a flashlight up there to make sure there wasn't anything else lurking about.

The turkey ended up being delicious and, as far as I know, nobody contracted food poisoning from that meal.

Through the years we hosted many Thanksgiving meals, combining our families and navigating through political discussions. Some 30 years later we know how to steer conversations in different directions when it needs doing.

There are always mishaps and near-disasters, but we always have a great day. Not perfect but always memorable.

And yes, always much for which to be thankful.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Blog friend Debby often says there are stories all around us. That's the source of many of her blog posts.

Like Debby, I try to keep an ear out for stories and I heard a really good one yesterday.

Our family spent the weekend at Lake Martin, a lake near Auburn, AL where all three of my offspring have gone to school, as well as DIL and DSO.  Younger Son is still there and will, God willing, graduate come spring. All the others love to return from time to time, mainly during football season.

So as I said, we were all there over the weekend, for a football game, and Wife, Daughter, DSO and I stayed at a place at the lake. Older Son and DIL were staying with friends nearby and Younger Son, of course, was at his place on campus.

We had a great time. Had dinner with friends Friday night, tailgated and attended the game Saturday, then spend a leisurely morning Sunday before heading out early Sunday afternoon.  Love having everyone together.


All of us except Older Son and DIL had lunch together before going our separate ways Sunday. That's where I heard a great story.

There was a good crowd at the place we ate, very much an after-church crowd. There was about a 20-minute wait for a table.

There was a long bench up against a wall on a porch outside the restaurant. We were sitting there when a lady who had obviously been to church stepped out of the door to begin her wait. She looked around and saw that there were no seats so I got up and told her to please take mine.

"No, no, I won't do that. You sit back down."

"Please," I said. "Sit down."

"No, I'm going to stand right here," she said.

"Then you and I are going to just stand here together," I said with a smile, "because I'm not sitting there while you're standing."

She laughed and proceeded to tell friends around her (she seemed to know most of the people there) how this "young man" had offered her his seat.

Of course she had me in the palm of her hand right then and there. I don't get called a young man very often anymore.

She told me Bob, her husband, was in the car "trying to fool with the air conditioner," that it hadn't been working for days. Things had heated up again and it was getting to where they couldn't stand it.

Her name was Barbara and she was about to turn 80. Bob's 81. They have been married only two years, having both lost their spouses years ago. Bob was her minister, "so I knew him pretty well. Or I thought I did.

"You really get to know a person once you're married to him," she said, cocking her eyebrow a bit.

By this time she had sat down on the bench where I had been sitting, next to Daughter. DSO was standing beside me and we were all in the conversation.

Barbara had had a place on the lake for 40 years and she and Bob had just spent the weekend there. She had just put it up for sale. She hated to do it but it was time. She and Bob now live in Opelika, another nearby town, and the upkeep on two places is just too much. They have several children and a number of grandchildren between them and all had agreed it was time for her to let the place go.

(If I were one of those children or grandchildren, I would be doing everything possible to keep that lake house, but maybe there's another story there. I digress).

Bob walked up, hobbling steadily along with the help of a cane, and sat beside her and of course she immediately introduced him and told him about the young man (me) from Nashville who had offered her a seat. By this time she knew a good bit of my story too, how I had three children who had attended Auburn, and that I visited this area from time to time.

(Bob still had not gotten the AC working and was fretting about that, and Barbara told him to calm down, that they could roll down the windows on the way home and let the wind cool them off. It would be fun, she said).

And by this time space on the big bench had cleared and I had sat back down, next to Barbara. She moved over and Bob sat between us.

I asked Bob if he still pastored a church and before he could answer, Barbara said, "Oh that's a great story. Since you're sitting here you might as well hear it."

And I did, of course. Bob was ordained a Baptist minister and preached for many years, but in the early 2000s his wife got Parkinson's disease, which progressed for eight years before she died.

Midway through that, he retired to take care of her. His eyes glistened over as he spoke about her.

"I knew Jane, his first wife," Barbara said. "Lovely lady. He knew my first husband too."

Bob now fills in for two small United Methodist churches and it works out just fine, they both said.

""There's really not much difference in beliefs," he said. "They're very kind to me. I am glad to still be able to serve when I can."

Being a former Methodist and being married to a former Baptist, I know one of the traditional differences between the two is methods of baptism -- sprinkling vs. immersion. I asked Bob what he did about that, and he said he's fine with either, but it is preferred that one of his Methodist brethren take care of sprinkling if it needs to happen when he's on duty.

Younger Son poked his head out the door and motioned to us that our table was ready. I could have waited another half hour.

I told them goodbye and Barbara thanked me again for offering her my seat.

I assured her the pleasure was all mine.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Time for an update

Wow, it's been a long time since I dropped in here.

Things have changed quite a bit since I started this blog six years ago. Some of my friends have left the blogging world, and I sure don't write as often as I once did. That's due largely in part to the weekly column I now write. Coming up with something that I think people will want to read, and which has to get by an editor's pen, presents a challenge, but one I truly love.

But it does mean the posts here are less often, and probably not as interesting as they once might have been.

But I'll keep plugging along, even if it is less frequently than it once was. I still really enjoy my friends whose own blogs are listed over on the right of my blog "home page" and I appreciate that they still take the time to check in on me from time to time.


Wife and I have done some traveling over the past month.

In late August we flew to Boston and saw a Red Sox game. I had never been to Fenway, haven fallen ill several years ago when Wife, the boys and I were scheduled to go. The Red Sox have had a dismal season this year -- "first to worst" -- but the Boston fans are a loyal bunch. Fenway Park was filled to capacity the night we went to see them play the Angels, and seeing a game in that classic baseball venue completely lived up to the hype.

The next morning we drove up the coast of Maine, to Booth Bay Harbor, where we spent the night in a B & B. After that it was on to the town of Camden for a couple of days and another charming inn, during which time we visited Acadia National Park.

The quaint villages along Maine's coastline are storybook-like, and the people are delightful. Lobster was abundant and we enjoyed every bite of it we could consume.

We drove through New Hampshire, over to Woodstock, Vermont, for our last couple of days and stayed at the beautiful Woodstock Inn.

We had near-perfect weather nearly the entire time after a little bit of rain our first day driving. Highs were in the low 70s and whether it was just sitting on a porch taking in the view, or enjoying a schooner cruise around a bay, we had a great time in New England and have it on our short list of places we would definitely revisit.


We visited Older Son and DIL in Dallas just a couple of weeks ago. Older Son had told us months ago that the Atlanta Braves would be playing a three-game series against the Texas Rangers and we should plan to come. He went to all three games, but we missed the one on Friday night, flying in on Saturday.

Alas, the Braves, who crashed and burned in the month of September after having been in playoff contention and having even led their division for a good part of the season, lost every single game of the series.

Older Son and DIL were, as usual, the consummate host and hostess, making us feel right at home as we always do with them. They have just hit the three-year mark in Dallas and that's hard to believe.


We're home for a spell now, although there are a number of weekend journeys planned, mainly to Auburn football games and to see Wife's parents in Little Rock.

Wife, my travel agent, has informed me that this is the time in our lives when we should travel and do things, "while we still can," and has also informed me she's happy to have me along but, when I'm not available, well, that's not going to hold her back.

She didn't really put it that way but that's kind of the message. And I'm thrilled for her. Her work schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so I won't always be able to go when she's ready. And also, while I still have a plenty high energy level, my batteries require a bit more recharging than hers. It's just the difference in our wiring.


I'll let you in on a little secret:  Wife and I really don't mind this empty nest thing too much.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Transitions and passages

August has always been a big month for us.

Wife's birthday is on the 7th and our wedding anniversary is on the 11th. For about 23 years, somebody has been getting ready to go back to school at this time of year. For the past ten years that's included -- and is now exclusively -- college.

So celebrating said birthday and anniversary has always  been in the midst of getting school supplies and/or clothes together, packing up, moving and transitioning from a more relaxed "summerish" mindset to more of a routine.

This August has been no exception.

Younger Son came home on Wife's birthday, fresh from his summer newspaper job with about a week to spend with us before heading back for his senior year. Moving him was a non-event because he lived in the fraternity house all summer and commuted to his job in a nearby town. He's moving from one room to another but he's able to accomplish all of that without parental assistance.

He and Wife did a little bit of shopping for him while he was home, but overall he's become pretty low-maintenance as far his physical requirements and needs.

While he was home, he was kind enough to help get his sister moved out. She is now a resident of Huntsville, AL, about 100 miles south of us, where she and DSO are teaching in the same school system.

We spent last weekend getting her moved. She's in a great apartment in a great little community, living with a young lady she knew at Auburn.

And I hate to say this out loud but it appears that Wife and I are . . . . empty nesters!  That's right, she and I are the sole occupants of this house. We married on August 11, 1984 and Older Son was born January 24, 1986. Do the math and you can figure how long since it's been just the two of us.

It could last less than a year as Younger Son's plans after next May's graduation are as yet unknown. And of course he's always welcome. If we've learned anything, we've learned to be flexible.

And we did manage to celebrate the birthday and anniversary, the anniversary being one of those landmark ones -- our 30th.

On August 1st I told Wife I would be giving her a gift per day until the 11th to commemorate both her birthday and this very significant anniversary. She loved that. They were not all big, by any stretch, but all were fun and for most I wrote her a little note explaining the significance of the particular gift.

I'm not going to go through each one but I'll tell you that the first one was a bottle of perfume, the one she wore when we first started dating and during the early days of our marriage. Whenever I catch that scent, be it ever so slightly, I think of her because that's the smell I remember from when we first met. And I still love that fragrance.

I'm not exactly the best gift-giver in the world (and I'm a terrible gift receiver), so it came as no surprise when she asked where I got this idea (11 gifts in 11 days) -- had I known somebody else who did it or did I do some research for original gift-giving ideas?

Nope, I told her. Thought of it all by myself. There might be hope for me after all.

One friend of hers, after she shared what I had done, pointedly asked if maybe I were having an affair.

I got a good laugh out of that one. I've been too tired for years to even think about any such dalliance.

And of course much more than that, I wouldn't ever even think of it. If she's put up with me for 30 years, I don't think anybody's going anywhere.


Back a few weeks ago Older Son drove here with one of his prized possessions -- his pickup truck, the one he and I went and bought for him after his first year in college. Oh how he loves that truck.

But it is not exactly practical for his current station in life. It drinks gas quite liberally and he drives around Dallas a bit with his job.

So last fall he told me was in the market for a car, but would not be parting with his truck. He asked if he could entrust it to me. He might want it back someday, in fact he probably would.

He came to the right place. I'm loving that truck.

And he might have a hard time getting it back.


Transitions and passages. So much of life is about these things.

As Wife often says, we're in the revolving door years where we can go from a house full of folks to an empty house in a matter of hours.

This afternoon Daughter and DSO will be here to go to an outdoor concert with us tonight. They'll stay the night.

 Later a friend from Arkansas and her two daughters will stop in to spend the night on their way to North Carolina for one of the daughters to go to school.

We'll all have a big breakfast together in the morning.

By Monday morning it will be quiet and it will just be the two of us again.

Did I mention we're flexible?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Three ballparks, three days, great times

            It was a Fourth of July weekend to remember this year as Older Son, Younger Son, DSO and I hit three Major League ballparks in three days, a trip that had been in the works for several months.

            For years we have tried to go to at least one new ballpark annually (and see a game there) on our way to visiting each one.  Not long after a game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. last summer, Older Son was plotting on a map how we might double our pleasure in 2014.

             Yes, two would be great. Three? Even better.

              After the first of the year we studied game schedules a bit and it soon came together. Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh would be in the middle of home stands over July 4th.  And with the holiday being on a Friday, well, it was meant to be.

            We weren’t 100 percent opposed to inviting female family members but they were advised that it would be strictly a baseball trip, and a quick one at that. There would be no time for any significant sightseeing or visiting renowned dining spots. It would be “eat when you’re hungry” and no coddling of anyone.

            The girls gave their blessing but opted out. 

            Three of us flew from here to Detroit on Thursday the 3rd where we met Older Son who flew in from Dallas. We picked up a rental car at the airport and drove to our downtown hotel near the ballpark.

            Although it had been pouring rain when we landed, the skies soon cleared, giving way to incredibly beautiful weather that would stay with us throughout the weekend. The temperature didn’t even get above 80 degrees until our last day. 

            On the recommendation of local friends with Michigan ties, we visited the rooftop of “Hockeytown,” which overlooks Comerica Park, where we would see our first game. Although Hockeytown’s obvious main focus is hockey (and there’s a framed Nashville Predators jersey prominently displayed), it’s a great local sports bar paying homage to all Detroit sports teams.

            We made our way across the street to the stadium where we saw the Detroit Tigers play the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a hitting fest and the Tigers had three homeruns in the first inning. They went on to win handily.

            On Friday, the July 4th holiday, it was on to Cleveland, about a two-and-a half-hour southeast jaunt. It was another gorgeous day and before leaving Detroit we drove near the Canadian border and by the original home of Motown Records.  (I had never said there would be no sightseeing – just nothing extensive).

We enjoyed an outdoor lunch in Cleveland’s downtown warehouse district and a stroll along the pier on Lake Erie before checking in our hotel and going to watch the Cleveland Indians play the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. The Royals’ bats were flying and they took down the home team.

            A spectacular post-game fireworks show above the stadium was a fitting finale to Independence Day, or so I thought. My young travel companions were soon pushing – or dragging -- me way outside my comfort zone, and keeping me up far past my bedtime.  Before I knew it we were sharing a midnight pizza at a nearby “open late” spot.

Younger Son had done some research and learned that the house featured in the movie “A Christmas Story” is in an old Cleveland neighborhood. We thought it was worth a drive-by Saturday morning before going to Pittsburgh. The neighborhood has capitalized on the movie’s popularity with not only the house, but a museum and gift shop across the street, taking up almost an entire block.

We arrived in downtown Pittsburgh in the early afternoon and enjoyed lunch at a local deli and a walk along the riverfront before walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge (closed to vehicular traffic on game days) to PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, for a late-afternoon start time. There was a festive atmosphere around the stadium, similar to football tailgating, as baseball fans enjoyed refreshments, live music and games of corn-hole toss.

The Pirates were playing their intrastate rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies had plenty of fans there talking trash right back to the hometown Pittsburgh fans dishing it out to them.

We saw another great game, a win for the home team with lots of hits, in a beautiful stadium that frames the city’s skyline beyond the outfield.

We spent the night at an airport hotel and we three Nashville travelers were back home early Sunday morning.

It was the perfect trip for a baseball fan – three ballparks in three days, with three great guys kind enough to take an old guy with them.









Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Covering all our bases

I'm pretty excited about a trip I am about to take, one that's been in the works for a few months.

Tomorrow morning Younger Son, DSO and I will fly to Detroit, where we'll meet Older Son who is flying in from Dallas.

We will pick up a car there and begin our barnstorming baseball trip, visiting three Major League parks in three days. It will be Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, in that order, and it should be more fun than ought to be legal.

This was the brainchild of Older Son, who leads his brother and me in our quest to visit all MLB parks. After this, he'll have seven to go. I'll be exactly two-thirds there, having visited 20 of the 30, and Younger Son is at about 17, I believe.

DSO was late to the party so he's on his own as far as catching up is concerned, but we're glad to have him along.

Younger Son is a sportswriter for the Auburn Plainsman, the student newspaper of Auburn University. He wrote a great piece a few months ago about our baseball journey, which I ran in my space shortly thereafter. I'm happy to share it with all of you today. I'll report back after the trip.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vacation and thoughts of graduation

Oh my, times does have a way of getting away from us, doesn't it?

Since my last post we went on vacation. Although I'm not the biggest beach person in the world, my family members find it incredibly enjoyable. And when I'm with them, so do I.

So the week before Memorial Day, off we went, down to Highway 30-A on the Florida Gulf Coast.

Wife, Younger Son, Daughter, DSO and I were there for the week. Older Son joined us Wednesday and DIL came on Thursday.

It was the perfect time to be there -- light crowds and tolerable temperatures. As Memorial Day weekend approached, more folks came in, but it was still entirely doable.

The house we rented had bicycles and I enjoyed early-morning bike rides in the very bicycle and pedestrian-friendly community where we were staying.

We ate delicious, just out-of-the-ocean seafood just about every night, including some caught by the boys. (I declined going with them since the last time I went deep-sea fishing, in Mexico, I got incredibly seasick. It's still too fresh in my mind).

We went out to eat a few times but mostly ate in and shared cooking and cleanup duties.

And having the family together was just as it always is -- fun, confusing, crazy and beautiful all at the same time. I am so glad these people choose to put up with me.


Younger Son was home for two weeks in May before we left. He's now a senior in college (gulp!) and is working for a newspaper in Phenix City, Alabama this summer, fulfilling an internship requirement for his degree.

I have threatened not to attend his graduation next spring, saying that, in the alternative, I would celebrate the end of the college years for my three children by running unclothed down the main drag in Auburn, Alabama, then opening a tab at a little bar that was visited by each of my children during their sojourns there. (Which should be followed by the dedication of a building to be named after Wife and me, though I have not been notified of same).

Since I would probably be arrested for carrying through on the first part of the aforementioned proposal, I have retracted that portion. I have been advised that the open tab could cost me dearly so I'm reconsidering that as well.

I'm really not much on graduations, but I'll behave myself and attend. We will have some type of celebration afterward and we will all be clothed. I promise.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Great show

About six months ago, some of our old friends from Little Rock called and said they would be coming to Nashville in May to attend a recording of Garrison Keillor's radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion" at the famous Ryman Auditorium.

They asked if we would like to go with them. Neither Wife nor I knew much about Keillor or the show, but we're always up for something new, so we said yes, get us tickets and we'll go with you.

The performance was late yesterday afternoon and it was delightful. I read up a little on A Prairie Home Companion and Keillor, who weaves in tales of the mythical Lake Wobegon, MN with each performance. From what I have read, the show usually originates from studios in Saint Paul, MN, but is frequently taken on the road for live recordings such as the one we saw yesterday. It has been a popular part of National Public Radio since the 1970s.

Keillor included some nearby and local talent for the Nashville recording, including a gifted artist from Kentucky named Sturgiss Simpson, and country star Brad Paisley who, not surprisingly given the location, was the crowd favorite.

Keillor himself is quite the singer and clearly enjoys interacting with the crowd, inviting audience members to sing along on well known tunes and hymns.

Getting to go to the Ryman -- "the mother church" of country music and the original home of the Grand Ole Opry -- is always a treat and yesterday's show was just another reminder of the blessings of living in Music City.


Happy Mother's Day to all, especially Wife who is the most outstanding mother I know, and my mother-in-law, still kicking at 85 years young. And a big shout-out to my own mom, who left us in 1996 but whose memory is as alive as ever.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bread and Wine

It's been a fun weekend. Several months ago, college friend Martha, now a doctor in New Mexico, sent me a text message saying she would love to visit Nashville again. She was here in 2011 for Older Son's wedding and fell in love with the place, as so many visitors to this area do.

Anyway, we settled on this weekend. She arrived Friday night and is leaving in the morning (Monday).

Ours has always been the most platonic of relationships. We found each other our freshman year in college. Our hometowns were about 30 minutes from each other. Her mom and my parents became friends. We worked together in Colorado the summer of 1981 when she was in medical school and I was in law school. We've always been extremely comfortable with each other.

She's divorced now, but I was friends with her ex and she is very good friends with Wife.

Anyway, Wife got an invitation to go to the beach this weekend, the beach being Wife's haven for relaxation and soul-restoration. I told her by all means she should go, that Martha and I would be perfectly fine and at our age, I'm not too concerned about what anybody else might think about it, and probably nobody thinks one blessed thing anyway. Martha and I are longtime friends and I don't have time to worry with appearances.

So Friday morning it was off to the beach with Wife, and I picked up Martha at the airport Friday night.

Daughter and DSO are here and yesterday Daughter ran in the Country Music Half-Marathon. We went and cheered her on and Martha took us to lunch afterwards. It was a gorgeous day and Daughter looked radiant as she crossed the finish line.


Martha has some old med school  friends that live in Franklin, the town just south of us. She suggested we have dinner out with them last night and I suggested we just have them over to the house. She thought that was a splendid idea.

I grilled some salmon and sautéed some vegetables on the grill's side burner. We made a huge salad with lettuce, pecans, muenster cheese, strawberries and vinaigrette. Daughter made some bacon-wrapped dates and brie as appetizers, and some herb-roasted new potatoes to go with the salmon. We opened bottles of wine.

I also took some chocolate muffins out of the freezer (that Wife had made) and made some vanilla ice cream in the little Cuisinart ice cream freezer we gave Wife a couple of years ago.

I threw a cloth over the table on the back deck and put out some candles. It was a delightful night and we sat and ate and talked until the bugs became bothersome, then came inside.

I only had to make one call to Wife, to confirm something about the ice cream freezer.

Martha's friends raved about the meal and the female of the couple allowed as to how she's a bit picky but this far exceeded her expectations. She was writing down recipes by the end of the evening.

I talked to Wife this morning and told her what a successful evening we had had, and that I gave full credit to her because she has taught me so well. She exudes hospitality and that has rubbed off on me. More and more, I am much more content sitting around our own table with guests rather than meeting them at a restaurant.

And again, I owe that to Wife. Yes, she prepares wonderful food, but more importantly, she makes people feel welcome and comfortable, where they want to linger over just another bite of cake or just a bit more wine as the candles burn down and warm conversation continues into the night.

There's a wonderful young writer named Shauna Niequist. Her latest book, Bread and Wine, is a collection of stories about life around the table and the importance of hospitality. Wife and I both devoured it last year and still read parts of it to each other. Here are some of our favorite excerpts:

What's becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I've made with my own hands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.
It's not actually, strictly about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories.
And finally:
The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.
Beautiful words, words that state exactly how we feel after we open our home and our table. It has not always come natural to me, but I've had a good teacher who has made it so.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I might have forgotten to remember

I have made a conscious effort over the past 18 months or so to improve my health. It's an effort I have to make each day, and some days are better than others.

I'll write more about that another time but suffice it to say it's a work in progress.

Along those lines, Wife and I had a discussion yesterday about one component of the aging process -- memory. We are fortunate that, as far as we know, we don't have any signs of Alzheimer's or any form of dementia. Not yet anyway.

But we both acknowledge that our memories aren't what they used to be. I can remember what I did on a certain day in, say, first grade, but oftentimes can't recall events of the same day. Oh, it will come to me after a while, but the instant recall is rusty.

Wife was going to a local mall yesterday to make a return of something and on the way she totally forgot why it was she was going to the mall. Fortunately, the item she was returning, placed in the backseat of her car, jogged her memory once she got there.

With me, I notice it when I get sidetracked, especially at work. I'll be working on something and get a phone call. When I get off that call, I'm lost as to what I was doing before the call came. Like Wife's return item in her car yesterday, an incomplete email or some papers on my desk will bring me back to reality.

Names of folks I haven't seen in a while just seem to go to a file cabinet in the back of my brain. They will eventually come to me but it takes a while to get the file cabinet open.

I've heard that brains need to be exercised just as other parts of our body, so I continue to work the Jumble and Scramlets every day, and the occasional crossword, to hopefully keep the mind sharp, or as sharp as possible.

That's all for today. I might have had more to say but I can't seem to remember.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Best laid plans

Anyone who has read this blog for some time knows that Wife and I love to travel, whether it's a real vacation that lasts a week or more, or just a weekend or few days away. We like to go back to some of our favorite places but we also enjoy visiting new ones.

This past weekend it was The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. We left Friday afternoon and drove most of the way, spending the night about an hour and a half out. We arrived about 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Greenbrier is a large resort nestled in part of the Allegheny Mountain Range, built in the late 1800s, and calls itself "America's Resort." I found it to be a bit like stepping back in time. The hotel is a huge white structure with massive columns which, at first glance, looks a bit like the White House.

The inside is massive and the recurring decorative theme is floral which is a bit dated, but as I said, going there is like stepping back in time anyway, so it works. It's all very crisp and clean and everyone who works there epitomizes southern charm and hospitality.

We were able to take advantage of a special themed weekend -- "Antiques Roadshow," which we saw hardly a sign of -- which allowed for some great rates.

It is a beautiful setting and there are three golf course that are part of the compound. There are great places to eat and there's a casino that was added about ten years ago, as well as upscale retail shops. There are great walking paths all around the grounds.

Wife and I likened it to being on a cruise ship (although everything is a la carte, pay as you go, and it ain't cheap), where everything you would want to do is right there on site but you're not floating and don't have to worry about getting seasick.

Wife and I began enjoying the lovely surroundings upon our arrival. We went to a cooking demonstration, right up Wife's alley, walked around and through the massive lobbies with the repeated floral patterns, comfortable groupings of chairs and sofas and big fireplaces.

I went to a class where I learned how to tie a bow tie. We talked to an author who was signing copies of his book.

After lunch we took a walk around the grounds. It was cool-ish, with temps in the high 50s, but the sun was shining and it was beautiful.

As we were walking, one of the resort employees greeted us, commenting on the beautiful weather.

"Can you believe how beautiful it is today?" she said. "Hard to believe they're predicting 6 - 8 inches of snow!"

With the kind of winter this country has had this year, we had watched weather forecasts before we left. Everything looked good. Our plan was to stay until mid-day Monday.

After talking to the employee we began to watch updated forecasts. Every weather map we looked at showed a big part of West Virginia as part of a band of snow and ice that would hit about 2 p.m. Sunday and last through 2 p.m. Monday, with all of the trimmings -- accumulations of snow and hazardous road conditions.

We could not risk getting stuck. As much as we hated to do it, we packed up and left about 3 Sunday afternoon, just as the snow was starting and temperatures were dropping. We drove in snow for about two hours until we got out of the band of the storm.

As disappointed as we were, we managed to pack a lot into the time we were there. Sunday afternoon would have been leisurely. We probably would have each found a comfortable chair by a fireplace and sat there with books. We would have had afternoon tea, gone from there to Happy Hour and from there to dinner (as we had done on Saturday). It would have been dreamlike to wake up to all the snow Monday morning.

But we both had too much on our plates at home to risk getting stuck or delayed. We followed the prudent path and cut if short. Got home late Sunday night.

Sometimes following that prudent path is just the right thing to do.

We still look back on the weekend with fondness and will add The Greenbrier to our places to revisit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Breaking down barriers

My blog friend  Steve lives in Hong Kong and his blog, Beyond the Pale, is a regular stop for me.

I have never met him in person but through his blog I've learned that Steve has led an incredibly interesting life. He's a former politician (who once ran for U.S. Congress in Colorado) and pastor and is now a teacher. Last summer he and his son walked together across England and he wrote a book about their experiences.

Steve and I share a common love for a number of things, including baseball and reading, and I hope  one day, when he makes a stateside visit, to meet him at a major league game, buy him a hot dog and a beer and explain to him the superiority of the National League.

But most importantly, Steve and I are brothers in Christ. His blog is now devoted almost 100 percent to Christian themes. He has given me much to ponder as I've read his posts the last several years, and he has repeatedly challenged me in my own Christian life, kind of like "iron sharpening iron."

His most recent post is a great example of that, where he writes about different Christian writers, pastors and leaders, and how someone in a certain Christian "camp" would likely never cross over and read something by an author from another one of those camps. For example, a fan of N.T. Wright would probably not be a fan of John Piper, and a reader of Gregory Boyd would not do a Beth Moore Bible Study.

Steve points out, in not so many words, that Christ should unite us, not divide us, and when I read this particular post I sent a big "Amen" all the way from Tennessee to Hong Kong.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote about how Christ "broke down the barrier of the dividing wall." Granted, there are some matters that are deal breakers for me as far as Christianity goes, but there are way more things that unite me with the entire body of Christ than divide me.

I attend a church that is the more contemporary type, but I can go to a more traditional church and benefit from the beautiful liturgy and ceremony that characterize their services. Likewise, I have friends at those churches that can come to my church, raise their hands, clap their hands and pat their feet to the beat of the drum. We might have our preferences, but those walls no longer divide us. And they shouldn't.

As I pointed out to Steve when I commented on his post, do we not all, for now,"see in a mirror dimly?"

I had to come to terms with breaking down walls a couple of years ago when the Houston Astros, the baseball team I have stuck with through thick and thin (mostly thin) announced they would be going from the National to the American League.

That one still hurts and that wall is tough to get through, but I'm working on it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hard job

We were for the most part spared from the blast of winter weather that swept over much of the South last week -- at least the precipitation part of it. It's been plenty cold here in middle Tennessee, to the point that I'm tired of it, and I rarely tire of cold weather because I so detest the heat of summer.

(The previous paragraph sounds like one written by a malcontent and I certainly don't mean to come across that way. Stay with me here, please).

I have to admit I felt sorry for the mayor of Atlanta last week. He was roundly criticized for his city's lack of preparedness for the winter storm that left motorists stranded (or abandoning their cars) and caused school children to have to spend the night in their classrooms. There were similar stories across Alabama. Younger Son, a student at Auburn (about 90 miles west of Atlanta), had classes canceled last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

I'm sure those more accustomed to the winter weather scoffed at all of this but the fact is we're just not used to large amounts of snow and ice and when it happens, it's an event. And sometimes, no, we're just not prepared. Apparently folks thought the mayor of Atlanta should have paid more attention to the Al Rokers and Jim Cantores of the world and had the snow plows up and running and telling school administrators to get kids home pronto.

But there's the rub, see. If the good mayor had taken the weather reports as gospel and done all of that, and the storm system had taken a turn in a different direction and the snow had not come, he would have been criticized for "crying wolf" and inciting hysteria among the citizenry. He's in a no-win situation.

It's similar around these parts with the school superintendent. Because so many students ride buses, when snow and ice is forecast, he is entrusted with making the call of whether or not those buses should run. If they don't run, there is no school.

Many of the buses go to rural areas where snow plows and salt trucks either don't make it or are last on the list. In other words, it might be all clear in my neighborhood but icy on the back roads.

Many has been the time when our superintendent has erred on the side of caution, taking the weather forecasters at their word and canceling school. Sometimes the predicted weather has not arrived as believed and the poor guy is left explaining himself. And in some instances he's found himself like  Atlanta's mayor -- taking a bit of a gamble, then having to dismiss schools early when the weather hits, resulting in chaos as parents scramble to get their children home in the bad weather and the buses skid and slide their ways into the countryside.

Long ago when my offspring were in school I decided to trust the school superintendent and give him a break. Nobody's perfect and he's not always going to make the right call.

I don't live in Atlanta but if I did, I think I'd be giving the mayor there a break also.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Better late . . .

I'm terribly late with this but I did want to do a recap of books I read in 2013. I definitely don't set any records as far as number of books read. With a "day job" and my chair position of a non-profit board for the past two years (which ended 12/31), I have had to grab times for my passion for reading when I can.

I'm going to list the 20 books I read last year, in chronological order of when I read them, then I'll give some brief comments on some of my favorites. Here goes:

1.  The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett.
2.  Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxes.
3.  Still Life, Louise Penney.
4.  The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom.
5.  Killing Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly.
6.  First Family, David Baldaci.
7.  Fall of Giants, Ken Follett.
8.  Seven Men, Eric Metaxes.
9. When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Finkert.
10.  A Natural Woman, Carole King.
11.  Winter of the World, Ken Follett.
12.  In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan.
13.  Younger Next Year, Chris Crowley and Harry Lodge.
14.  The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult.
15.  The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen.
16.  The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy.
17.  More Things in Heaven and Earth, Jeff High.
18.  Sycamore Row, John Grisham.
19.  Double Down, Mark Halperin and John Heilmann.
20.  Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist.

I can honestly say I enjoyed each book. The first one on the list is The Pillars of the Earth, the first of a two-part series which, with an addictive storyline, chronicles the building of some of the great European cathedrals. I read most of it on our Mexico vacation last January and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have not yet read the sequel but probably will this year.

The other two on the list by Ken Follett (Fall of Giants and Winter of the World) tell the story of four different families from four different countries, starting around the turn of the century and going through World War Two. These are the first two of a trilogy, the third of which will come out in September. Each is about 1,000 pages (as is The Pillars of the Earth) and they are both page-turners.

For a couple of years I have been on a quest to improve my health. In Defense of Food, which is a bit of a technical narrative about the history of food and the food industry in this country, and Younger Next Year, an instruction manual of sorts for living well "in the last third of your life" by eating well and maintaining a high level of physical activity, were my nod to that goal. Both inspired me to keep up good habits.

On the spiritual side, Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of the most beautiful commentaries I have ever read on my favorite Biblical parable, told from the viewpoint of Nouwen after studying Rembrandt's famous painting depicting the story. Nouwen unveils the richness of this timeless parable like no one else.

I loved A Natural Woman, Carole King's autobiography. Any fan of hers should enjoy reading the story of her life and career.

The Death of Santini is the latest from one of my all-time favorites, Pat Conroy, and it's largely autobiographical, the story of his dysfunctional (to say the very least) family and his lifelong struggle to come to terms with his relationship with his father. To put it quite simply, his writing is beautiful.

Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, which is a sequel to his first novel, A Time to Kill, certainly did not disappoint. His artful storytelling continues.

Bread and Wine, last on my list, is by a young writer named Shauna Niequist, who happens to be the daughter of Bill Hybels, one of the founders and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, one of the country's original "mega-churches."  In this book she celebrates cooking and hospitality (and includes recipes) while interweaving personal stories. I think I enjoyed this book so much because Shauna reminds me a lot of  Wife, an accomplished cook and the most hospitable person I know.

An improbable favorite from last year was More Things in Heaven and Earth by fellow Tennessean Jeff High. I say improbable because this author is relatively unknown and the book was sent to Wife by her friend who happened to be Daughter's and Younger Son's orthodontist. They became good friends during the braces years through their love of reading and that friendship has continued.

He sent this one to her in the mail with a note that simply said he thought she would enjoy it. I saw it when it came and thought little of it.

After Wife finished it she told me she thought I would like it too and it is one of the most entertaining and sweetest stories I have read in a long time, reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford series. It's the story of a young doctor and set in a small rural Tennessee town. The author says it's the beginning of a series and I hope he makes good on that.

I just looked back through the list and again, I really did enjoy and would recommend each book on this list, even those I did not specifically comment on. I hope one or more piques your interest and you'll let me know how you like it/them.