Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 best fiction

I'm back with my favorite fiction of the year. I just looked over the list and there's no way I can keep it to six. I really hit on some good books this year. The biggest disappointment was "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles. I read it because I enjoyed his "A Gentleman in Moscow" so much (see below), but with scarcely a character I liked, it left me pretty cold.

Here we go, as always, in no particular order:

1.  "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles. Quite simply, I loved this one. The story of a person formerly of a noble class sentenced by the new Soviet regime to house arrest in a posh hotel, the characters are charming and interesting, and there is so much depth in the main character I had to go back and re-read certain passages to make sure I caught everything.

2.  "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate.  This was one of Wife's book club selections and she told me very little about it other than I really needed to read it. She tells me that about most of her book club books, so I didn't think that much about it. But, oh my, when I was not far into it, I told her she failed to tell me it was disturbing!  It's a fictionalized account of a black market baby market that took place in Memphis, Tennessee. If you like historical fiction, I can't recommend this one enough. You'll want to do your own research into the real-life events around which this story is built.

3. "News of the World" by Paulette Jiles. Another of Wife's book club picks, she shared with me more of the story line in this one before insisting I move it to the top of my TBRs. It's a post-civil war story of an aging "news reader" who gives live news readings to paying audiences. During his travels through north Texas, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan girl to relatives in San Antonio. Before being rescued by the U.S. Army, she was being raised by Kiowa Indians. The interaction between the two, and the encounters they have during their journey, make for compelling reading.

4.  "Look Homeward, Angel" by Thomas Wolfe. This was my nod toward more classical literature this year, and it did not disappoint. Written in 1929, it was Wolfe's first novel and considered by many to be autobiographical, covering the main character's life from his birth to age 19. Although at times dark and depressing, I quickly lost myself in the story and characters.

5.  "Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby. By the author of "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity," this one is set against the backdrop of English television. I've long been a fan of Hornby and find his characters both charming and hilarious. This is more of the same.

6. "Camino Island" and "Rooster Bar" by John Grisham. I know, I know, Grisham turns out novels like running water, but call him my guilty pleasure author. Criticism notwithstanding, I think he's an outstanding story teller. I am lumping these together because both came out this year, but I'm partial to "Rooster Bar" because it's about the for-profit law school industry, a subject I find immensely interesting. He spoke of this one when I saw him last June here in Nashville (he had just sent it to the publisher), and I knew when he shared about the subject matter that I would be drawn in. ("Camino Island" isn't half bad either).

7.  "The Pecan Man" by Cassie Dandridge Selleck. A beautiful southern narrative with elements of "To Kill a Mockingbird," a widow sets out to clear up misunderstandings from more then 25 years earlier regarding a homeless black man she hired to cut her grass. In so doing she learns as much about herself as any of the others involved.

8. "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. I learned about this one on the podcast I mentioned in my post on non-fiction, and then happened to see it on Older Son and DIL's bookshelf and borrowed it from them. Older Son told me he picked it up on a sale table (in an airport, I believe). He warned me that "it's weird," and it is. But it is also a page turner and I read it over the course of a few days. It traces the life of a female college student who marries her Asian professor and goes on to have three children with him. A tragic event provides the overall backdrop. It's not exactly a happy book to read, but there are encouraging moments, and it's extremely well written.

9. "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. This book made waves in 2016 for the youth of its author (born in 1989!). It's the story of two half-sisters, born in 18th-century Ghana, and the different tracks their respective lives take, one sold into slavery and one married to a wealthy businessman, and their descendants.

Considering the combined Grisham books, this is a total of ten, so I'll stop there. I will give Honorable Mention to "The Nightingale" by Kristen Hannah and "Small Great Things" by Jodi Pecoult. I will also mention that I just finished "To Kill a Mockingbird" for, I am estimating, the fifth time in my life, on my new Kindle, and my gosh, what a beautiful book. For many reasons, I refuse to read "Go Set a Watchman" which was supposedly also written by Harper Lee and released only last year. There was way too much drama and controversy surrounding its release and way too many questions about why it was published some 50 years after "Mockingbird," that I don't want to read it and set myself up for disappointment. It's kind of like what my late mother said about "Gone With the Wind" -- there is no sequel.

Happy reading to all in 2018. (And Happy New Year in general).

Friday, December 29, 2017

Favorite non-fiction of 2017

It's time for the year-end reading favorites. Today I'll list my six favorite non-fiction books for 2017.

I read 36 books this year. For me, that is very good, certainly a record for recent years. As always, I never set out to read a certain number of books, nor do I participate in any reading challenges. I just read them as they come, often based on recommendations from Wife (I read almost all of her book club selections), and some based on recommendations from friends. And no, there is never enough time to read all of them, which is why my TBR list is very long.

Also this year I started listening to a podcast called "What Shall I Read Next?" (For details see It's a great little show narrated by an energetic reader in Louisville, Kentucky named Anne Bogel. She has many recommendations that are now on my TBR list. The problem with the podcast is that, almost always, I'm in my car when I'm listening to it and I can't always remember the titles she talks about. The website has show notes and a summary of each episode, including the titles, but I'm not always faithful to follow up.

I just got a Kindle for Christmas. I resisted this for a long time because I get most of my books from the library or used books sales, but now I can also check out ebooks from the library. I will not use it exclusively, but I think I'll enjoy it on occasion. I have already downloaded "To Kill a Mockingbird" from the library and I am more than 50 percent through it. I would estimate this is the fifth time I have read it and I'm loving every word -- which makes sense, since it's in my top five all-time favorites.

Without further adieu, here are my favorite non-fiction books for 2017, in no particular order:

1. "A Lowcountry Heart" by Pat Conroy. This is a collection of Conroy's communications with his readers, with commentary on some of his own favorite authors and books and a foreword by his widow, Cassandra King. I had the privilege of seeing Conroy in 2015, just a few months before he died, and will always consider myself the richer for it. Reading these essays was like having a conversation with him and if you are a fan of his books (e.g. "Prince of Tides," "Lords of Discipline," "Beach Music") as I am, you are sure to love this.

2.  "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. As the title suggests, this is an exhaustive instruction manual for living as an introvert, with case studies and real-life examples of successful people (including the author) who have embraced their introvert characteristics.  Even though it's a little cerebral, it is not dull, and I suspect this is especially true if you are an introvert yourself, as I am. I highly recommend.

3.  "Hillbilly Elegy" by J. D. Vance. Although non-fiction, this reads a lot like a novel written in first person. The author writes in great detail about growing up in the Rust Belt, with descriptions of family members that at once amuse, shock and anger. Vance, in his early 30s, has become a minor celebrity on the talk-show circuit, and an unintended consequence of the book is how it has been used to explain Donald Trump's election to the presidency. Read it and you'll see why, and look up some of his interviews, especially the one with Terry Gross on NPR.

4. "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is one of those rare books that I read AFTER seeing the movie (it's usually the other way around). Written about African American women who worked as mathematicians for NASA and had a hand in writing code for the Gemini Space Program, it is great reading. Although both the book and movie were excellent, the movie used composite characters to tell the story. The book is, as usual, more detailed, and, in my view, a bit better than the movie. But I liked both.

5. "Love Lives Here" by Maria Goff. Maria is the wife of Bob Goff, whose bestseller, "Love Does," was one of my favorites a few years back. In some ways, Maria fills in blanks of Bob's book, with details of his work in Africa and the human trafficking trade there. Like "Love Does," she advocates for loving one's neighbor in a radical, sometimes uncomfortable way. When I finished "Love Does," I wanted to go have dinner with Bob Goff. After reading "Love Lives Here," I wanted to add another seat at the table.

6.  "What Happened" by Hillary Clinton. I mentioned this in a previous post, and some of you have already advised you will give this a pass, thank you very much, and I get it. I am NOT a fan of the author, and I am the first one to tell you this book is completely self-serving and she blames everyone but herself for her loss to Donald Trump. But it's also an interesting retrospective and if you simply enjoy reading about politics in general, and can put aside your leanings if you don't like her, it's a great read. I really didn't want it to be on my favorites list, but if I'm being honest with myself, it makes the list.

I read a total of 11 non-fiction books this year and, after just looking over the list, I can say there was not one I did not enjoy. I do want to mention a couple of others:

"The Zookeeper's Wife" by Diane Ackerman is, technically, fiction, and I guess it would be considered historical fiction. It's the story of a couple in Warsaw, Poland during World War II who owned a zoo and how the zoo was transformed during the war into a hiding place for Jews and others opposing the Nazi movement. To me, because Ackerman bases the story on the diaries of one of the principal characters, interviews with others and/or their descendants, and exhaustive research, it is more non-fiction than fiction, which is why I mention it here.

"Jewels in the Junkyard" was written by my high school and college friend, Warren Ludwig, and it is the poignant and moving story of how he picked up the pieces and moved on after his wife took her own life. I had completely lost touch with Warren, but when I heard about the book, I ordered a copy and read it, then sent him an email at the address given at the end of the book. I later reviewed it in the weekly column I write. I did not want to list it as a favorite since I am biased, but I did want to tell you about it.

I hope some of you might find something of interest here, perhaps something you'll add to your own TBR list. I'll be back with my favorite fiction picks in a few days.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Crazy stuff

Since Younger Son has been living in northern Indiana, he has dealt with weather conditions in the winter to which he is not accustomed. This week they had their first big snow.

But the funny thing about the snow that hit where he lives this week is that he was scheduled to fly out yesterday (Friday) to come home for the weekend to attend a wedding of a close friend tonight. In the early afternoon yesterday he called to tell us his flight had been canceled, not because of snow in Mishawaka where he lives, or South Bend, where he would be flying from, but Atlanta, which would be the location of his connecting flight.

That's right, the south was hit with a band of snow on Friday that went across Alabama and Georgia. Some parts of Atlanta got as much as eight inches! As I have previously written, I have ten folks in Birmingham who report to me, and they got a snow day yesterday. Two and a half hours to the north, here in Nashville, it was cold, but we had not one flake of snow. Crazy.

Younger Son made a strategic decision and drove home. Thankfully, the airline gave him a full refund. They were going to reroute him this morning through Detroit but with snow forecast there as well, he told him that wouldn't work. He arrived home a little before 10 last night and made it to the wedding tonight.


And speaking of crazy stuff, look at what walked through my backyard this morning.

We have plenty of wildlife around here and an abundance of deer, but it's rare we see a buck like this one. He was as still as a statue. The photo is a bit blurry as I took it on my iPhone and expanded the range a bit. But you get the idea. This guy is a big one.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cold season

And all of a sudden, it's Christmas. I say this every year . . . how did it get to be December?

We had a delightful Thanksgiving with everyone here. There were staggered arrivals and departures all through the week and it's funny how two tiny little people (my grandsons) can command so much attention and take up so much time, but they can and they do.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Daughter was in a wedding in California. This had been on the calendar for a long time, way before GS1 (Grandson #1) was born, and although she had misgivings about going, she had committed. She came from Huntsville and flew out of Nashville early on that Friday morning and was back mid-afternoon on Sunday.

All day Friday and most of Saturday, Wife and I kept GS1. SIL arrive late that Saturday afternoon.

GS1 did great overall, but got a bit of a cold. It was nothing major or debilitating, and SIL even checked with his doctor, who asked a number of questions and gave the opinion that it was a cold that would need to run its course.

Daughter, SIL and GS1 went home on Monday, and would spend part of Thanksgiving Day with SIL's family before joining us later in the day and through the weekend. GS1 still had the cold but appeared to be getting better. They checked with their doc again but were told that, unless his symptoms worsened and/or he ran a fever, they did not need to bring him in.

After wishing me a good morning on Tuesday, Wife informed me she had a sore throat. What she didn't know is I was about to tell her I thought maybe I was getting GS1's cold. I decided to wait it out and see if I could talk myself out of it.

I couldn't. By Tuesday afternoon I confessed to her, and by Wednesday morning we both had it big-time. We informed Older Son and DIL, who had arrived at her parents' house with GS2, so they might make an informed decision before letting him around us. Wife bought surgical masks for us to wear. We began fanatically washing our hands and washing down surfaces with which we came in contact. Wife seemed a little worse than me, so I tried to help her as much as possible.

Younger Son arrived home mid-day Wednesday. We proceeded through Thanksgiving. I ran a 5K with Older Son and DIL Thanksgiving morning. Wife cooked. Older Son and Daughter moved to our house with GS2 and we were very careful. It was hard not to get in his face and nuzzle him. Best we could tell, we didn't convey the germs to anyone.

By Sunday afternoon we were pretty much sucking wind. Unfortunately, this blasted cold has lingered and we hit the two-week mark a couple of days ago. We are both much better now but we have been through about a dozen boxes of tissues and our noses are pretty much raw. I'll spare you further details (you're welcome).

So hopefully this is it for this season. I have not had a cold in a very long time, at least not one that lasted this long, and I certainly hope I'm done.


I'm working on my end-of-year reading lists, where I'll post my favorite non-fiction and fiction books for 2017. As I said last time, I've had a good year of reading and I'm looking forward to telling you about some of them. My TBR list for 2018 is already quite lengthy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Grandsons, travel and good books

I certainly did not mean to let a month go by without a blog post, and I always refrain from saying, "I've been so busy." I'll just say there have been other pressing matters.

Wife and I just returned from seeing Grandson #2 (from henceforth, I'll refer to them as GS1 for the first grandson born, and GS2 for the second one. I started this code language when I started this blog in 2008 and it's not like I'm protecting my identity or anything  . . . but I gave everyone names from the start, so I'll continue with it).

GS2 is one month old and is doing great. Older Son and DIL are learning the ropes and Wife and I had a delightful time with them. This was my first visit since he was born, but Wife made another one in the interim, staying with DIL a few days while Older Son was traveling. She did the same thing last week, going on Wednesday, and I joined her for the weekend. Older Son went to the Auburn game yesterday so we spent the day with DIL and GS2.

GS1 is four months old and doing splendidly also. Daughter went back to work a few weeks ago and is still adjusting but is doing well.

So far, I'm enjoying the GrandBob gig.


Wife and I made a visit up to South Bend, IN to see Younger Son the last weekend in October. Having had a pretty warm October here, it was a bit of a shock to go there where the highs were in the 30s both days we were there. We were prepared, however, and took plenty of layers to wrap up in.

We went to a Notre Dame football game, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It's such a classic place, and it was really fun to experience a game day there. Younger Son was working, of course, but managed to spend all of the morning and the early afternoon w/ us. His experience this year has been much different than last, with ND having a winning season. Up until yesterday, when they experienced a nasty loss to the University of Miami, they seemed to be in the running for the college football playoffs. Those hopes were dashed, however, with this loss. Still, they have had a much better season than the last one.


One thing I have made time for lately is reading. I seem to have hit on a bunch of page-turners recently. You might be surprised to learn that one of them is Hillary Clinton's "What Happened," her retrospective on the 2016 presidential election. When I heard about it, I put my name on the list at the library and was second on the list.

Besides being self-serving and the way she blames everyone but herself for her loss to Donald Trump, it is extremely interesting reading. If you are a political junkie and can look past her biases (and there are plenty, of course), I would commend this for your reading. If you don't want to risk supporting any cause related to Hillary, do what I did and get it at your local library.

As is my practice, I'll share my other favorites at the end of the year, but so far it's been a great year of reading in 2017.

We will have a houseful for Thanksgiving next week. As usual, there will be staggered arrivals and departures, and for at least a couple of nights we'll have two babies in the house.

Wife and I are starting to get prepared and making those "go with the flow" speeches to ourselves.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The life of empty nesters

Sometimes Wife and I ask ourselves how we ever had time to raise three children.

We say it laughingly, of course, because all seasons of life are different and you adjust your schedules and priorities accordingly.

I am hesitant to even put it in writing, but Wife is planning to retire in about six months! She has threatened it for years, and in the past she never knew if she really wanted to.

Now, she tells me, she knows. It's time. More on that later.

My point is: I wonder if Wife will feel any less busy once she doesn't have a day job? We will see. Again, more to come on this.


And speaking of busy times . . . .

Younger Son arrived last Thursday night and will be here until the 16th. He's working a lot while he's here but also getting to see friends and spend time with his parents, of course.

He knew when he came that we would be "sitting on go" awaiting the birth of our second grandson to Older Son and DIL in Atlanta.

That call came early Sunday morning. DIL's water had broken at 5:30 a.m. and they were on their way to the hospital.

In less than an hour, Wife and I were on our way and were at the hospital around 1 p.m eastern time.

Grandson #2 arrived at 5:20 p.m. with his umbilical chord wrapped around his neck. Due to this complication, he had some fluid in his lungs and was whisked away to a transition nursery. We could watch him through a glass and his breath was labored, but the medical team did not seem overly concerned.

By 3 a.m. yesterday (Monday) he was in the room with his mom and all was well.

And we once again have full hearts.


We came home last night; got here about midnight. We both worked today. Reports from the new parents are good, and they went home with their new bundle of joy, all 6 pounds, 15 ounces and 21 inches of him, tonight. DIL's parents are still there with them.

I'm GrandBob twice over now.

This empty-nesting can get rather exhausting.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bitter with the sweet

As visitors here know, I am a weekly columnist for a local publication.

I have been writing "What I Know" for about six years now, and truly, it is one the most enjoyable parts of my life. In addition to this blog, it gives me an outlet and a forum and I feel privileged to have people read what I write.

From the beginning, I was given license to write about whatever I please. I generally write as Everyman, an observer of life, similar to what I do here.

Occasionally I'll dip my toe into something a wee bit controversial and I know, when I do that, I might have a difference of opinion with a reader. I almost always make it clear, however, that I don't hold myself up as a final authority or as one who knows all. But I will offer an opinion from time to time.

This past Monday I did so, here:

I don't get a lot of feedback, but for this one, a reader posted a comment telling me this is a topic I "should have left alone" and he went on to tell me I had lost a reader -- "permanently."

Honestly, I thought I had presented a pretty balanced view. I wonder if it was my comment about President Trump that pushed him over. The comments are made through Facebook. Since I don't have a FB account, I can't ask him about it.

Another reader sent me an email, saying she liked and agreed with what I wrote and thanked me for a "reasonable and thoughtful" piece.

It was my installment from two weeks ago, however, that really set someone off:

A reader named John sent me a lengthy email telling me I was giving fuel to the fire of all the "Apple haters." He said I misrepresented the part about the presentation of voice recognition at the unveiling of the iPhone X and suggested I get a "young kid" to adjust the settings on my phone so I would not be "passively accepting" things I didn't want it to do.

In my response, I explained to John that I occasionally write self-deprecating pieces about technology in which I poke fun at myself and do so with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I told him I like my iPhone and enjoy the many conveniences it affords me. He did not respond to my response.

Oh well. If I put myself out there, I have to be willing to accept both compliments and criticism. Truth be told, since I don't get a great deal of feedback, I'm happy to get both. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fall weather?

It is a sign of boredom, I suppose, to write about the weather.

I assure you I am not bored, however. I'm not a weather fanatic, but I do find it interesting.

I often tell Wife she would have been a good meteorologist. She knows a lot about things like trade winds, fronts, barometric pressure and the like. I'm more of an observer.

We had a false alarm for an early fall a couple of weeks back on the heels of Hurricane Irma. We are just far enough south and east to get a bit of rain and wind, and once it came through, we had a few days of gorgeous weather.

People were buying pumpkins, mums and Oktoberfest beer like crazy, but they barely had the front porches decorated and the mugs poured before temps were back in the 90s and we were sweating like crazy.

I tried to tell them.

But sometimes we want something so badly, we convince ourselves things are a certain way when, in fact, they are not.

A cool front is supposed to be coming through in the next couple of days and the forecasters are calling for a beautiful weekend.

I'm sure I will enjoy it, but I won't be breaking out the winter clothes just yet. This is the South, and it's not uncommon to be wearing shorts on Christmas Day.


We are anxiously awaiting the birth of grandson #2. DIL's due date is October 5th and there is much speculation among family members as to when the blessed event will happen.

As I have gently explained to Wife, it is a matter over which we have no control, and he'll get here when he gets here. Older Son and DIL are about 3.5 hours away, and unless DIL decides to give birth really fast, I am pretty sure we will get there.


And in case anyone is wondering, I am loving this grandfather gig. My little grandson #1 is almost three months old (how did that happen????) and I'm totally smitten with the little guy. I'm convinced he already knows me and of course he lights up when I hold him.

Humor me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Recent reflections: Part three

It has become our practice, in our empty nest years, that Wife plans a vacation for us each year. She is of the philosophy that we are not getting younger and should travel while we can.

She will take other trips between the ones she takes with me. For example, she will take beach trips without me because I am not the fan of the beach she is (I don't dislike it, but I have strict rules on when I will go, e.g. when it is not hot an not crowded; she is a bit more lenient). Also, if she has lady friends who get the travel bug, she'll quickly organize a trip for them. Last October, she and three of them went to Paris.

But still, she likes me to accompany her on at least one trip per year, and this year it was Ireland.

When we first started talking about it, I sent an email to blog friend Vince, who suggested either a southern or northern route after flying into Dublin, assuring me that we would likely take a liking to his native country and soon want to return for more. We did the southern route, and he was exactly right. I didn't get enough.

A while back, Wife was having a conversation with some good friends of ours who I''ll call "M" and "J."  She was telling them about our proposed trip to Ireland and M, the husband of the couple, allowed as to how he had always wanted to go. Wife said, "Go with us," and before we knew it, they were!

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Costco, which is a wholesale warehouse, which, believe it or not, has a travel agency. We know a handful of folks who have booked travel through them and have given us good reports.

Wife knew we wanted to fly into Dublin and fly home from Shannon. She had sketched out a rough itinerary and estimated the costs. She called Costco and they gave her a quote that was about $800 less than her estimates. The cool thing was, we could book it through them and get airfare and a rental car, as well as the first night (in Dublin) and last night (near Shannon) and do our own thing in between. And that's exactly what we did.

I'll not give you a complete travelogue here, but I'll tell you that we arrived in Dublin on a Friday morning. We checked into our hotel but could not get into our rooms yet. We visited the beautiful Trinity College near our hotel, then had lunch, at which time I had my first Guinness of the trip.

I have never been a big fan of "stout" beer but felt like I had to try it in the country that many think makes the best. The taste was quickly acquired.

While at lunch, Wife got a call from our hotel and was notified our rooms were ready. We went back and took a nap, then went to the Guinness Storehouse, which is kind of a museum for Guinness beer and at which time more of it was consumed. Great fun.

But to be honest, Dublin is a big city and is like many big cities. Crowded, dirty, etc. After a while, I couldn't wait to be gone from there.

I'm skipping details here, but . . . . Saturday about noon we got our rental car and Wife took the wheel. M was also authorized to drive, but he never did so. Wife drove for the duration of the trip and M rode in the front seat and navigated, while J and I sat in the backseat and did our best to keep our mouths shut and speak when spoken do (with limited success). Wife did an outstanding job of driving on the left, just as she had done a few years ago when we went to England. I would have, no doubt, gotten us into a collision, so it was never even considered that I would drive.

Again, I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow of everything we did, but will tell you that from Dublin we had stays at delightful inns and/or B&Bs in the towns of Kinsale, Kenmare, Dingle and Doolin; wonderful drives on the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, along with other unplanned countryside drives "where the road might take us;" delicious food (abundant seafood, my favorite, because we were on or near the coastline); tours of castles, including one adjacent to our hotel in Doolin; ferry rides; breathtaking scenery; incredibly interesting afternoons and evenings in pubs where we quickly became friends with locals; and, along with Guinness, wonderful local beers; and beautiful music.

And so much more. Even with the beautiful scenery, the most impressive thing about Ireland, for me, was the people. They were among the nicest, friendliest and most polite people I have ever met. After just a short time, I felt like we were friends and I felt so very welcome.

I am indebted, as always, to Wife, who is not only my better half, but the brains of this marriage and who takes time to plan trips like this that she knows I will know very little about before we get there but also knows I'll love each step of the way.

Although they don't fully do it justice, here's a very small glimpse into our trip. I certainly hope to return to Ireland some day.

 First Guinness
 One of my favorite pubs, in Doolin
 B&B in Kinsale
Wife and me  
 Spectacular coastline
 Cliffs of Moher
On the Scilly Walking Trail in Kinsale

Monday, September 11, 2017

Recent reflections: Part two

Wife and I left early the morning of Tuesday, August 22nd, for the visitation that evening, and memorial service the next morning, for my brother. It's about a 7-8 hour drive, depending on traffic and number of stops made.

When his wife first called to tell me he had passed away, she did not yet know what she would do as far as any arrangements, other than to have his body cremated. She wanted to know when I could get there and I told her I could easily be there by the following day, or even later that day if she wanted me to.

Of course I knew I had a vacation planned and we were scheduled to leave Thursday the 24th, but I didn't tell her that. If we had needed to cancel or reschedule, we would have done so.

As it turned out, that did not end up being necessary. Her son, my nephew, called later in the day to fill me in. With the memorial service being the morning of the 23rd, we would be able to drive back and get home in time to get things together and leave for the airport around noon Thursday.

Wife and I discussed whether or not we could, or should, do that. We decided if we could pull it off logistically (getting all our work taken care of), there was really no reason we should not go.

That's not to say we didn't have to work fast and furiously to make it happen -- I was pretty much on the phone with my staff until I walked out the door and Wife was doing tons of last-minute stuff as well.

We arrived in plenty of time for the visitation at the funeral home that evening. Hundreds of people came and there was a steady stream for two hours. It was very touching for so many people to come and honor the memory of my brother. I knew only a handful of people who came -- a few family members and some old friends.

But my sister-in-law and her sons were very gracious and went out of their way to make sure we were included as part of the family.

Wife and I spent the night in my old hometown, about 30 miles south of where my brother lived. On Wednesday morning, the day of the memorial service, Older Son was able to join us. He happened to be working in Dallas for part of that week, and made arrangements to drive part of the way Tuesday night and drove to our hotel Wednesday morning to go with us. It was very nice to have him there.

The memorial service was a lovely tribute. I know people have different views on funerals, memorials, etc. but I found it to be comforting and uplifting. My brother's grandson, my great-nephew, sang, as did another gentleman, and the officiating pastor gave a very appropriate, brief message.

I thought so much of my parents during the service and in strange but very real way, felt their presence.

We drove back later that day and arrived home that night. To be honest, at this point I was a bit numb to everything that had happened over those past 48 hours, and that continued through our vacation. The reality sank in, however, as soon as we arrived home, and I am very much dealing with the grieving process now.

But I know, from having lost both of my parents, that it is healthy and necessary.  There are sad moments as I think about the fact that he really is gone and we won't talk again in this world, but there are many moments I smile when I think of him. I keep remembering things from our childhood, things I have not have thought of in years, and I cherish those memories.

My brother and I were two imperfect people and two very, very different people. There are things each of us could have done better and done differently to have made ours a better relationship.

But there is no reason to dwell on any of that. I am thankful that, for the past decade or so, we did much, much better. And I'm especially glad I got to spend some time with him three weeks before he passed away -- a visit I did not expect to be our last.

I'll keep holding on to the memories, which I'm sure will become even more dear as time passes.


Next time: a report on our spectacular Irish vacation!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Recent reflections: Part one

It has been an interesting and eventful couple of weeks for me, a period of time in which I have experienced a range of emotions including sadness, awe and wonder, but have also had a great deal of fun.

As I mentioned in my last post, the solar eclipse on August 21st was the subject of much hype and excitement around these parts. Nashville was the largest city in the path of totality, and folks from all over the world descended upon middle Tennessee to witness this peculiar phenomenon.

Wife and I left the house about 11:15 that morning and drove a few miles north to a church parking lot we had previously staked out as a good vantage point to watch. We had wondered about traffic heading that direction, but it was no problem at all. If we hadn't known there was something special taking place, we would have thought it to be just another weekday.

(That was not to be the case as we drove back two and a half hours later, as thousands of people returned from their particular viewing locations and traffic was bumper to bumper).

We used the app on Wife's phone to tell us when the partial began, which was around noon. At that point we began using our special glasses and looked up every few minutes to witness the moon gradually crossing the path of the sun. All we could see through our glasses was the sun, which was a sign these glasses were the real deal and not a counterfeit. My fears of eye damage were put to rest.

We had a fair amount of cloud cover and at times during the partial, we could not see the sun for the clouds.

There was concern that this would be happening once totality hit. In areas of Nashville, this was in fact the case. In parts of downtown and in particular, at a local science center that had days of festivities leading up to the big event, the clouds covered up most of the total eclipse. Viewers in these locations (one of which was a downtown bar where patrons paid $500 for a spot on the rooftop!) witnessed the darkness that overtook the area, but they essentially missed seeing the big event itself due to the cloud cover.

Wife and I, however, were privileged to witness one minute and 21 seconds of totality with no clouds obstructing it. I will tell you this: it was not overrated.

When the moon totally covered the sun and we were able to remove our glasses and look directly at it, I witnessed something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Although a dusk-like darkness prevailed over us as stars came out and crickets began to chirp, the brilliantly white circle of brightness in the sky as the moon crossed in front of the sun made for a beauty unlike anything I have ever seen.

One of the things I loved about the entire experience was that, despite the hype and the many ways folks around here tried to commercialize it, it was a God-scheduled event that humans had nothing to do with.

And on a day that started with some very sad news, I was comforted. Looking at that brilliance in the sky for those 81 seconds reminded me of One strong and mighty who, even though He provides through his creation wonders our minds can hardly behold, He is also kind enough to remind me through such events that He loves us very much.


Several hours earlier as I had gotten back in my car after an early morning workout, I saw my sister-in-law's name in my missed calls. I did not have to listen to her voice message to know the subject matter of her call. We rarely talk by phone, and certainly not at 7 a.m.

Her husband -- my brother -- had passed in the wee hours of that morning.

He had called me in January to tell me had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He also had COPD. He was optimistic about the chances of sending the cancer into remission and soon began an intense regimen of chemotherapy.

At first he tolerated the treatment pretty well. As time went on, however, it took its toll on his body and the typical side effects -- rapid weight loss, nausea, fatigue, hair loss -- occurred.

He had some good days. When I scheduled a trip to see him in late May/early June, and called to tell him, he and his wife had taken an impromptu camping trip because he was feeling so much better. I never even told him I was planning to come; I simply told him to enjoy his time in the great outdoors.

A few weeks after that, he called to report that scans showed the tumors were decreasing.

That, however, was the last bit of good news I received from him.There were a couple of hospital stays. In subsequent phone conversations, I could tell his breathing was becoming more labored.
On Saturday, July 29th I went to see him. I could tell he was in bad shape. Still, we had a good visit and, as usual, laughed over old family memories.

I talked to my sister-in-law privately before I left, and she said they were still confident he could at least get the cancer into remission and, when he would finish his chemotherapy in a few weeks, were hopeful he would begin to feel better.

Three weeks later he was gone.

He and I were the only two children born to my parents. He was five and a half years older.

He married young, at 19, when I was just starting the teen years. His marriage at that time was a matter of great sorrow to my parents, which was, sadly, a continuation of strained relations between him and them, and especially between him and my dad. It was a difficult and confusing time for me as a young adolescent and I began to distance myself from my brother as much as possible.

Understandably, somewhere along the way he began to hold me partially responsible for not only the uncomfortable relationship he and I had, but also the tense one he had with our parents.

Over the years, after he had his family and I had mine, we began to do a little better. We had done much better over the past 15 years or so, especially in the nearly 12 since my dad passed away (which is sad in itself). I think we finally began to understand each other. He and his wife visited us here a few times and we made some good memories.

We made it to the visitation and memorial service in south Arkansas on Tuesday and Wednesday (August 22nd and 23rd) of that week, and still left for our vacation to Ireland on Thursday the 24th.

I'll write more about our time in south Arkansas in my next post, and report on our spectacular Irish vacation in the subsequent one.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Almost time

As I write this, in less then 24 hours, the "Great American Eclipse" will be history.

Although I am excited about it, especially since I live right on the edge of the "path of totality," I am also stressed out.

Don't judge me. There is a lot of pressure around here to make sure I'm in that path. I am told that if I miss it, I will regret it the rest of my life. But I can't look directly at the sun except for that very brief period of time where the moon is completely between the sun and me.

Had I planned better, I would have scheduled the day off tomorrow and headed north a few miles of Nashville where totality will be about two and a half minutes. But Wife and I are leaving on a ten-day vacation to Ireland next Thursday and a day away is not in the cards. We will, however, work from home, and take a break during the eclipse.

A few nights ago we downloaded an app on her phone that detects our location (of course it does) and tells us not only if we are in the path of totality, but how long it will last.

We are outside the path here at the house. A mile or so north of here, we can get to about 30 seconds, and in a few more miles we can get to over a minute.

So our plan tomorrow is to get in the car about 11 a.m. and head north a bit. We found some church parking lots with some "sweet spots" the other night when we went and tested the app, and we figure they will be OK to have us hang out (and I doubt we will be alone).

Downtown Nashville and north of downtown are likely to be crazy, and traffic is predicted to be nuts, so I want to stay as close to home as possible. As I said, I don't have time to devote the entire day to it.

We are equipped with our NASA-approved glasses for the partial, and will carefully remove them for that oh-so-brief time of the total. It's going to be surreal. The hype and excitement around this area are comparable to our big sporting events and the Country Music festivals.

I took a selfie of myself wearing the glasses but I'm doing all of you a favor and not posting it. I'm simply posting a pair of the glasses.

Happy Great Solar Eclipse to all.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Grandson, eclipse and baseball

How in the world did it get to be August? My grandson came into the world on July 3rd and now he's five weeks old.

And, oh my, how smitten am I with this new addition to the family?! I will try not to be THAT kind of grandfather, but rest assured, I'm more than thrilled with my new role as GrandBob. (And how blessed am I? I get to become GrandBob times two in October!)


Wife has spent a fair amount of time with the new family of three over the past month. She stayed a week after he was born, then went back for about three days again, and will go for a day next week while Daughter goes for her follow-up Doctor's visit. And this weekend, the new grandson will make his visit to see his grandparents on their turf. Can't wait for that.


In other happenings, we are all atwitter here in Middle Tennessee about the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st. Nashville is the largest city in the "path of totality" (where there will be a total eclipse, as opposed to a partial one) and there will be droves of people coming here.

Wife and I are in a little bit of a dilemma about what to do. We live in a suburb a few miles south of Nashville, and we won't have the totality, or length of totality, that they will have north of here. I could choose to work in downtown Nashville that day, but with all the crowds and craziness, I'm not sure I want to do that. We are leaving three days later for our vacation to Ireland (more on that later), so neither of us is in a position to take the day off. I think it will be pretty remarkable even where we are, but on the other hand, I don't want to cheat myself by trying to avoid the crowds.


I just returned from another baseball trip with my two sons, this time in Minneapolis. We all met there Friday morning and had a great time, as usual. This marked the 26th major league park for Older Son, with only four to go. I'm at number 24, and Younger Son is at 20.

We went to games Friday and Saturday nights. Younger Son had researched good places to eat and some breweries in the downtown area where we stayed, and Saturday morning we went to a park with some beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls.

The goal of visiting each major league park started when Older Son was 8 and he and I went to Atlanta (where he now lives) to see the Braves. He had become a fan watching them on one of the Turner cable channels.

He will hit number 30 in a few years, I suppose, but as Younger Son so eloquently put it a few years ago, it's not a race. And I don't know of a journey I have enjoyed as much.

It was a beautiful weekend in Minneapolis, and here's the view from our seats at Friday night's game:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A baby changes everything

Well, the blessed day has arrived.

At 5:30 p.m. yesterday, July 3, 2017, I became a grandfather to a baby boy who weighed 7 lbs, 1 oz. And yes, he is beautiful, remarkable, amazing, above average and all those things.

But his mother (Daughter) hit it out of the park.

She labored for about 7 hours. At 5:10 yesterday afternoon, SIL came and told us things were getting very close. Less than an hour later, when he reappeared, I was expecting another update.

There was an update, all right. The new little life had entered the world about 20 minutes after the last report and all was well. Apparently Daughter pushed a couple or three times and there he was.

Wife and I got to go in and see her with our new grandson about 7 p.m. and I say this with all humility and lack of prejudice -- my daughter never looked so beautiful. And that little boy  . . . well, see the above adjectives.

More to come. And there will be pictures.

Today I'm a grandfather and I have a new name. Call me GrandBob.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A literary evening

Anyone who has stopped by here with any regularity over the past nine years knows I'm a reader.

As I've said before, I don't set goals about what I read. I just read whatever I might have heard about, or often, something Wife has passed on to me. She and I like most of the same things, although not always. She has never gotten into the Mitford series, which I love, and I'm not a fan of James Patterson (one of her guilty pleasure authors).

We both love John Grisham and we both have read all of his adult books. (I say "adult" because he has a children's series which we have not read.)

We love his legal thrillers and have also enjoyed when he has occasionally departed from that ("The Painted House," "Ford County," "Skipping Christmas" and his only non-fiction work, "Innocent Man.") We agree he is a master storyteller.

Grisham is sometimes slammed by literary critics who say he turns out books so fast that he compromises on quality.

And he's not losing any sleep over that . . . as he's laughing all the way to the bank. And maybe I'm just shallow, but his stories grab me from page one. There might be some I like better than others, but I am yet to read one that has not been a page turner for me.

Another favorite author of mine is Ann Patchett. A longtime Nashville resident, she's the author of such works as "Bel Canto," "Run" and, her book of essays, "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage," among others.

Ann gave the city of Nashville a huge gift a few years ago when she, along with a partner, opened Parnassus Bookstore, which has quickly become one of the more popular independent bookstores in the South. If you ever visit Nashville, and you're a reader, you definitely want to pay a visit to Parnassus.

And finally, I've become a fan of Jon Meacham, an author and historian who also now makes his home in Nashville. He is a former editor at Newsweek and contributor to Time, and today you can often catch him as a commentator on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He's a Pulitzer Prize winner and his most recent work is "Destiny and Power," about the Bush family, and more specifically George H.W. Bush, which I included in my top non-fiction list of 2016.

And the reason I am writing about these three authors today is last week I had the unique opportunity to see and hear all three of them. Parnassus Bookstore hosted John Grisham as part of his first book tour in 25 years for his most recent, "Camino Island." It was a ticketed event, and the the cost of the ticket included a copy of the book and the opportunity to meet Grisham and have him sign the book. He was extremely gracious and I thoroughly enjoyed the 90 seconds or so I got to spend with him.

After the signing, the three authors conducted a panel discussion that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. It was delightful, and I am glad one of my good friends, a fellow reader, talked me into springing for a ticket. It was a most enjoyable evening.

Below, from left to right, are Meacham, Grisham and Patchett. I almost cut Meacham out of the picture but I was taking it from my seat, with my phone of course, and there was a pole right in front of me. (I am no photographer!)


Monday, June 12, 2017

Mild annoyances

I am the first to admit I have my quirks.

I'm not full blown anal-retentive, but I am mildly so. I might have gone all the way had I married someone that way, but I did not. While my spouse can be highly organized when it comes to planning -- whether it's her next day's activities, a party or a trip -- she's pretty relaxed when it comes to order and organization around the house.

And that is not in a bad way at all. She just does not get worked up over everything having to be in its place all the time. Our house has always been neat, tidy and clean, but when our children were young and one of them had a room that was messy over a period of time, she didn't sweat it.

This made her a great mom. She can look back and know she took time to be a student of her children and emphasize their strengths, and she did an incredible job. The occasional unmade bed or messy room didn't scar them for life.

I, on the other hand, was always the more nervous type. If I passed by one of their rooms and the bed was unmade, I would usually just stop and make it. And I might have picked up some clothes off the floor while I was at it.

I know, I know, I wasn't doing them any favors by doing that but it made me feel better, even if the room was otherwise a disaster, to see the bed made. I probably missed some great times with my children, taking time to make their bed rather than helping them to do it, or just forgetting it and doing something more meaningful with them.

Even today, I can't stand an unmade bed. If for some reason we have to get up in a hurry and run out to do something, and don't return until near bedtime (a rare occurrence, but it will happen every so often), I will make the bed before I have to unmake it to go to sleep. It's just one of those things.

I tell you to this introduce the main topics which are somewhat, but not completely, related.

The first is the shorthand people use in texting. Examples are "R U going tonight?" rather than "Are you going tonight?" "K" rather than "OK;" and "C U later" rather than "See you later."

I also detest the acronyms such as "IDK" (I don't know), "LMK" (Let me know) and those silly ones like "LOL" and "LMAO."

I don't know why this so annoys me, but it does. I just don't understand why you would not take the second longer it takes to spell something out. I'm trying to get better about not letting this bother me, but with limited success.

The other topic is related, I guess, because it also deals with technology. Maybe this has not arrived where you live. It was pretty common in Europe and Canada, I believe, before it got to the U.S.

It's little tablet computers that are used as cash registers. I am seeing them used increasingly in walk-up restaurants and even sometimes in ones where you order from the table. The restaurant employee will hand it to you and it will show the amount owed. If you are paying with a card, you have the opportunity to choose the amount of the tip.

This is all fine until it comes to the signature. You have to do with your finger and it's virtually impossible, for me at least, to write legibly. It's just a scribble, and that drives me crazy.

What's the big deal, you might be thinking, since most folks just scribble their signature anyway.

Well, not me. When I have to write my name, I write it in longhand and it is legible. I don't just write the initials and draw a line from there.

It's that mild anal-retentive thing again, and I just don't see it going away.

I'm sure people behind me in line are annoyed when I try to write my name legibly with my finger, because it sure takes longer, but they are going to have to deal with it.

So far, I have not required therapy for these quirks and my family members still seem to love me.

And as I said, I don't see this changing at this stage of the game.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Calling 'em as I see 'em

If you have read this blog since its inception nearly nine years ago, then you have likely noticed I have relaxed a bit when it comes to politics.

If you have only been reading the past couple of years, then you probably know I am an independent voter who leans toward the right, with a healthy dose of libertarianism (which is how I voted in the last election).

I like to think I have an open mind and even though I hate the word because it has been watered down by its overuse and inaccurate usage, I also like to think I am tolerant of others' beliefs and opinions.

I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion are values I hold dear. Although these days I will generally keep my mouth shut if/when a political discussion begins, I don't do as well when people begin to criticize the media in general.

Even though I'm afraid our press corps has lost much of its objectivity, I will still be its ardent defender. God help us if our news organizations are ever run by the government.

As for freedom of speech and religion, it's just a no-brainer to me. I might not agree with what you are saying or the form of religion you are practicing, but I strongly believe in your right to speak as you wish and worship as you wish.

But here is what makes my blood boil: those who would hold themselves out as believers in free speech, religion and the press, and blabber the word tolerance as if they invented it, but have no intention of being tolerant themselves.

My first example of this is Anderson Cooper on CNN. During a recent interview with Kellyanne Conway from the Trump administration, he ROLLED HIS EYES. That's right. He was so put out with what she said, he rolled his eyes. Right on camera.

Unprofessional? Rude? Babyish? Choose your adjective. Should he have been reprimanded by CNN? Absolutely. Maybe even suspended or fired.

The second example took place in South Bend, IN on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Vice President Mike Pence was the commencement speaker and many students and their families walked out in protest.

So here's what it comes down to for these people. If Anderson Cooper, who in some life might have represented himself to be an objective journalist, agrees with you and your point of view, he will be polite and professional. But if your point of view happens to conflict with his, he will roll his eyes in disgust and treat you in a rude manner.

It's similar for those folks at Notre Dame who walked out on the Vice President of the United States. They were rude. They would preach tolerance, but tolerance only for their point of view. If Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren had been speaking, they would have been fawning and hanging on every word. These people are hypocrites, pure and simple.

I sat through three lengthy college graduations for my children. At one, a member of the Obama administration was the speaker, an administration with which I disagreed on numerous points.

What did I do? I listened respectfully. I applauded at the end.

I would have no more thought of walking out while he was speaking, nor endorsing my children doing so, than I would have considered any other practice that is rude and disrespectful. I was raised better, and so were my children.

One account I read about the Notre Dame graduation quoted a mother who walked out alongside her daughter, one of the graduates.

This parent is a hypocrite, and has raised a hypocritical daughter. She is also rude and ill mannered, and she has passed these character deficiencies on to her daughter as well. Shame on both of them.

It's time to call these people out for who they are. Although my forum here is small, consider this my very small effort at doing so.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Meeting up with the bears

Last August Wife and I went to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. I shared some photos here after our trip, as well as a few details. I made reference to an encounter we had with some bears, but did not go into details.

I recently wrote about this experience in my weekly column and wanted to share with blog readers:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Airbnb and a a quick update

For the past 12 years, in two different jobs, I have traveled to a different city almost every week.

From 2005 - 2015, I traveled to Memphis, TN from Nashville. From August 2015, when I changed jobs, to the present, I have been traveling to Birmingham, AL.

The length of time for this travel varies. When I went to Memphis, my general schedule was Monday - Thursday, but not always. Rarely was I ever there Monday through Friday.

But I was there enough that I got a small apartment downtown near my office. It was convenient to have my own place to go to when I was there, but when I moved out two years ago it was evident I had been there ten years and it was a pain to get rid of stuff and/or move stuff home.

In my current position, the drive is shorter, which is great, and I probably average a couple nights a week. I have a staff of ten folks there who report to me and it's because of their proficiency that I don't have to be there all the time.

A lot of people question me about why I do what I do. During the early years when I was driving to Memphis and back almost every week, and it was a relatively new thing, some folks would question me to the point of irritation. It was probably just me, but sometimes I felt judged, as if I were neglecting my family or something.

I was probably a bit paranoid about that.

The fact is, it worked for me and the current situation works for me. Wife still has a job here in Nashville and we have no desire to move. I am fortunate to have had employers with enough flexibility to allow me to do the back-and-forth.

Although all my children are grown and away from home now, during the time in the previous job when two of them were still at home and I was traveling, we maintained our family just fine. When I needed to be home, I was, and all was well. Wife and I still have a good marriage today, even though I travel some.

That's really not the point of this post but I always feel like I have to explain myself.

Anyway, when I started the current job in August 2015, a co-worker offered me the use of his guest house when I was in town. We agreed on a nominal amount I would pay him per night and it worked out beautifully. I knew, however, that it would not last forever.

He notified me this past November they would be needing the guest house for some family members and I would need to make other arrangements. He gave me through the end of the year. It was a good run and, again, I knew it would not last indefinitely.

As I pondered my options, Wife and I discussed it and I told her that, if I could avoid it, I really did not want to get an apartment in Birmingham. I enjoyed having the one in Memphis and there were some advantages, e.g. I could leave some things there from week to week. But the thought of doing that again and furnishing it wasn't very attractive to me.

During the 14 months I was in my friend's guest house, I had to clear out each week when I left, so I learned to be fairly "minimalist" if you will. I would pack easy-to-prepare food and make use of the small refrigerator in the place, but managed to take everything with me week to week.

As I pondered my options, knowing that getting an apartment would cost less than staying in a hotel and almost deciding to bite the bullet and do that, Older Son suggested Airbnb. It's a company that was formed a few years ago where people offer rooms in their homes, or their entire homes, for rent, usually at a price that is much less than a hotel.

Just like Uber (the ride sharing program) has disrupted the taxi industry, Airbnb had disrupted the hotel industry. But I think the hotels are still doing fine, best I can tell, and most cities allowing Airbnb have forced hosts to charge taxes similar to the hotels. And frankly, I think that's fair enough.

I decided to give it a try and it has worked great. The booking, communication and payment are all done online. I have stayed in five different ones, and only once have I met a host.

Two of the ones I have stayed in were actually someone's home where the host lives, but both were split levels with separate entrances, so I had total privacy.

I'm not interested in sharing a room or a bathroom with anyone, although if I were willing to do that, I could really get off cheap. But that's pretty much non-negotiable. At my age, I'm not interested in sharing living quarters unless it's with my wife.

So far I have always found places where I have it all to myself and the cost has been less than what I way paying my friend for use of his guest house. So our budget for this is still pretty much the same, if not a bit less.

I try to be the perfect guest, following my host's "house rules" carefully and leaving the place just as I found it. I have given good online reviews to all of my hosts except one, and for that one I sent him a text and told him my complaints, which were (1) even though he had a "no smoking" policy, it was clear someone had been smoking there, and (2) the trash cans were full of trash. He was somewhat apologetic, but I didn't think quite enough, so I have not been a repeat visitor there.

All of the hosts except that one have also given me very high marks as a guest but he did not give me a bad one. He just declined to give me a review, as I did him.

I am not going there at all this coming week, but I am already booked for the last couple of weeks in April.

It's a lot of fun looking for and finding a place and looking for the best deals. I'm starting to repeat some of my stays. I might eventually get tired of it and consider doing something else but for now, just like the travel itself, it works for me.


Wife and I recently learned that we will be grandparents TWICE this year!  Older Son and DIL are expecting in October, and they are having a boy, just as Daughter and SIL are. We are, needless to say, quite excited.

We had a rare time of all of us being together a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. Younger Son was doing some travel with work, so we all converged on Older Son and DIL at their place for about 24 hours, and it was incredibly fun.

We must seize those opportunities when we can.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Winter not leaving us just yet -- and a few random thoughts

I'm afraid my good start on the blog this year kind of fizzled out.

But I'm back, and hopefully I will do better. I could make excuses, such as not having my personal laptop computer for the past several months which is a long story from which I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to stay I'm warming to the idea of a Mac. We will talk about that another time.

It has been a mild winter, to say the least, here in middle Tennessee. After the early January snowfall, we have hardly had freezing weather. And many days it has been just like spring.

But wouldn't you know it, just when we were about to put away winter clothes (well that's a stretch because I never store seasonal clothes, I just move the sweaters, etc. a little farther down the pole in the closet), it's winter again, just a few days before it's supposed to be spring.

This past Thursday, it was 77 degrees. An overnight thunderstorm brought in a cool front and highs Friday were in the low 50s. There was some talk of snow for the weekend but our local prognosticators talked of "conflicting computer models" and by Friday night when we went to bed, they were saying we might have a "dusting," if anything at all.

There was plenty of dust, all right, and yesterday (Saturday) morning, it was falling fast and furious. It barely hampered travel, however, and by noon it was done. By late afternoon much of it had melted away. I managed to get this shot while it was still coming down:

Our almost-spring snowfall served as a reminder that our weather around these parts can be pretty fickle, and it's a good idea not to get too accustomed to one way or another.


Wife and I have made some short trips over the past couple of months. She went to the beach with some lady friends in February, during which time I flew to Dallas and saw my college roommate and a cousin.

We went to Atlanta to see Older Son and DIL, and to Huntsville to see Daughter and SIL, and learn the gender of our grandbaby coming in July (it's a boy!). And one weekend we drove over to Little Rock to see Wife's parents.

We are thinking of taking a trip the week of Easter since it appears nobody will be coming here. Those plans are tentative as of this writing.

Younger Son is leaving this Tuesday and will be traveling for work in the Southeast for about three weeks. He will crash in Atlanta with Older Son and DIL for a few days. He will not make it here but, given the close proximity, we'll take the opportunity to see him. Really looking forward to that.


We sprang forward last night, one of Wife's favorite activities of the year. She loves the longer days.

Me? Not so much. I'm much more a fall and winter person than spring and summer. I detest hot weather and turning the clocks ahead is my first reminder of what is to come.

Truth be told, though, I like living in a place where we have some semblance of seasons. I don't think I would do well in an area where it was warm all the time. Neither would I cope well with long, hard winters.

Even though we have had a very mild winter, we at least know when the seasons are changing. I might complain when it's hot, but if I had to experience bitter cold day in and out for an extended period of time, I would, no doubt, complain mightily about that (not that I'm a terrible complainer, mind you).

So I'm probably just where I need to be.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Off to a good start

Last year was a good one on the blog and we're off to a decent start this year.

I had made a commitment in late 2015 to pick things up a bit in 2016, and managed to make 19 posts, the most since 2013. I realize that is far fewer than many of you, but with a day job and my weekly column, I think I'm doing OK.

I am sad to report I cleaned up the blog list over to the right, and took down some friends who had not posted in two years or more (and one of whom, sadly, passed away). There are some who are becoming more infrequent, but I've kept them on the list for now. I've prodded a couple with emails, telling them I hope they will rejoin the blog world, but assuring them I completely understand if they don't. I mainly wanted to tell them they had been thought of. To everything there is a season . . . and I get that.

I am pleased to have added several -- Ed, Vince, Sage, Kimberly and Bone, all of whom, like the others on the list, write beautifully of interesting events in their lives; or share about books they have read; or voice an opinion about something; or post a photo or two. I am enlightened and enriched when I read their posts, and appreciative of the time they take to share.

What it comes down to is how much I love storytelling -- both the telling (writing or, in some cases, photographing) and the hearing (reading) part, and that's what keeps me grinding out the occasional tale here, and returning often to see what my friends have posted.

I still shy away from what has become known as social media -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. I guess this is some form of it, but I think it suits me better than any of these others.


I had a few things to say about last year's election, and I assure you I am none too happy with the result.

But as the stages of grief go, I think I have arrived at acceptance, and I'm not going back to any of the others. I am still extremely skeptical of a Trump presidency but it's off the list of things I'm going into apoplexy over. Just not worth it.


I trust 2017 is off to a good start for all of you and I look forward to meeting you here, and on your blog pages, for more storytelling.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Christmas in Brazil

It was our ninth annual international Christmas Eve at our house just a few weeks ago.

That's right, for the past nine Christmases, we have chosen a country or region for our Christmas Eve dinner and had food, dress and decorations in keeping with the theme.

It started the year Wife, who felt she had just finished preparing Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, dressing, etc.), asked if anyone would object do doing something a little more non-traditional for our food at Christmas.

We ended up having a Christmas Eve dinner of Mexican food, a Christmas morning breakfast/brunch that I prepared and, later in the day, a fairly simple -- but delicious, of course -- Christmas dinner.

We all decided we liked this just fine. But we especially liked the Christmas Eve Mexican food, made more festive by stringing pepper lights in the dining room and playing "Feliz Navidad" over and over . . . and over.

A new tradition was begun, and since that year, we have had Italian, Greek, French, Asian, Caribbean, German and British Christmas Eve dinners.

It has expanded greatly, and Wife has outdone herself with food and decorations in keeping with the year's theme. We have an inventory in the basement of each year's props, and there is talk that one year we'll have a "festival of nations" where we'll pull it all out and have samples from each year!

This past Christmas Eve was Brazil, and it was another grand occasion. Wife chose the "Carnival" theme for decorations, and costumes (which are optional) included a Carmen Miranda look-alike, an Olympic 2017 athlete and some other Brazilian-themed adornments. At the table, as you'll see below, Wife provided a mask for each person.

Wife chose food similar to what one might find at a Brazilian steak house. I grilled an assortment of meats and there were various salads, vegetables and desserts.

For the past three Christmases, we have had our Christmas Eve dinner as usual. On Christmas Day the married ones have gone to the respective in-laws' homes, then we have come back together on the 26th to have our Christmas celebration.

This has worked well. Wife and I have committed to flexibility as our family changes and grows, and we know that sometime in the future, the international Christmas Eve might have to give way to an international December 23rd or some other date. Again, Wife and I have committed to ourselves that it's not so much about the date as getting together when we can.

And speaking of change and growth, we learned just before Thanksgiving that we will become grandparents in 2017!  Daughter and SIL are expecting in July and we are over the moon! 

Our Christmas Eve  was great fun, once again, and a tradition we hope to continue.

Here are some highlights from Christmas Eve 2016, and a family picture outside on a very balmy December 26:

                                                     "Christmas in Brazil"

                                                      The table, with a "Carnival' theme
Daughter and SIL
                                                           Older Son and DIL
                                                             Everyone outside on the 26th

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 2016 fiction

Before we completely turn the page on 2016, I'll list my top fiction books of the year, in no particular order:

1. The Whole Town's Talking, Fannie Flagg. A master storyteller, Fannie Flagg is back with more stories that weave into one delightful tale of the goings-on in Elmwood Springs, Missouri (and in its cemetery -- you'll have to read it to understand). Readers of her other books will recognize a few of the characters, but this is a fresh and funny story that will grab you from the first page even if you have not read any of her others.

2. The Swan House, Elizabeth Musser. Another I picked up off Wife's ever growing stack on her bedside table, this coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in Atlanta in the early 60s is the last book I read in 2016. Told in first person, the main character deals with questions of prejudice and faith, making hard decisions about life and friendship. When I read fiction, I am looking for a good story in which I can lose myself. When the writing is beautiful and it makes me think, those are added bonuses. Both happened here.

3. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. I reviewed this in my weekly column and posted it here a few months ago, so I'll not say a lot more. If you grew up in the South, the book will probably mean a lot more to you. If you didn't, it is still a masterpiece. Ignore the political incorrectness of the time and enjoy it for what it is. (Thanks, Kelly!)

4. Circling the Sun, Paula McLain. I reviewed this one here a few posts back. It's historical fiction at its best, told from the point of view of Beryl Markham, a farmer/horse trainer/pilot who lived ahead of her time.

5. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain. Obviously, McLain is a new favorite of mine. Another historical fiction piece, this one tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. It's a fascinating story in which you will learn much about Richardson and her life with the quirky and eccentric Hemingway, as well as Hemingway himself.

6. Glory Over Everything, Kathleen Grissom. The sequel to "The Kitchen House," Grissom continues the story of  characters fighting for freedom.

7. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith. The latest in "The Number One Ladies Detective Agency" series, it is incredible how Smith writes each of these books in a fresh, new way that captivates me as if it were the first one.

8. The Second Coming, Walker Percy. A friend challenged me to read something by Percy, and I took her up on it. It's not easy reading but it's worth the effort. This tale of an unlikely friendship between a widower and a young woman who recently escaped from a mental institution takes concentration and is at times perplexing, but the poignant story that evolves left me enriched and richly satisfied. If you read for pleasure, but enjoy something a bit outside your routine, this would be a good one to pick up.

I'm looking forward to more good reading in 2017 and welcome your recommendations. Happy reading!