Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 reading: non-fiction

Of the 37 books I read in 2019, 14 were non-fiction.

Rather than review my favorites, as I have done in the past, I'm going to tell you about all the non-fiction books. Although there were some I liked better than others, and a couple that definitely rise to top as I survey them, it's too difficult to pick favorites this year.

For no particular reason than they came my way or piqued my interest, the majority of non-fiction I read this year was in the spiritual genre. I'm not going to separate them from the others in my narrative, but you'll definitely notice it.

I started the year with "Thirst," a superb autobiographical account of Scott Harrison's spiritual journey and his transformation from a fast-living nightclub promoter to the founder of one of the world's most successful non-profits that works to provide clean water to impoverished areas around the world. I was so taken with this one I gave a copy to all of my immediate family members last Christmas.

I continued with David Sedaris, who I discovered in 2018, this time with "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls."

Although some of my more conservative believer friends might raise their eyebrows, after reading and hearing quotes from him for years, I read three by Father Richard Rohr this year: "Immortal Diamond," "Falling Upward" and "What the Mystics Know." I have become a big fan, and I'll read more of his.

Renowned theologian Henri Nouwen is another I have heard quoted but have never read one of his books. I chose "Making All Things New" in which he explores the age-old theme of Christ's regenerative power in us. This one is heavy, and worth the effort.

Two unconventional Christian women provided some great reading for me this year. Nadia Boltz-Weber's "Pastrix" has some similarities to "Thirst," in that she describes her faith journey as she morphs from a stand-up to comic to a pastor, but it's largely the story of a ragtag congregation, much like her, she ends of leading. She reminded me some of Anne Lamott, though even edgier. Weber's story is not for the faint of heart. But if you read with an open mind and the conviction that God's grace is bigger than you can ever imagine, you'll find nuggets of beauty.

Similarly, River Jordan (yes that's really her name), a Nashville author, describes her own winding pilgrimage in "Confessions of a Christian Mystic." With humor and poignancy, she gave me much to think about.

I heard Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, as a guest on a podcast I frequent. Her "Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I've Loved)" is the story of her cancer diagnosis. The title comes from one of the many platitudes she heard from well-meaning people as she struggled to come to terms with dealing with this horrible disease and thinking about the possibility of leaving her husband and young daughter behind.

"Twelve Patients," by Eric Manheimer, is the inspiration of the NBC television show, "New Amsterdam." Manheimer was medical director at New York's Bellevue Hospital for 13 years, and his narratives of 12 different patients he comes to know give a glimpse into his thoughts on the health care system. I watched season one of "New Amsterdam," but for various reasons have not returned and probably will not. I put "Twelve Patients" in my Kindle library queue when I was watching the TV show and when it finally came up, long after I had finished watching the show, I decided to try it. I'm really glad I did, and it's better than the show.

This one even surprised me when I decided to read it, but when I heard Kathi Lee Gifford (who now lives just a few miles from me) describe her many trips to Israel, and the book she wrote about it -- "The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi" -- I was intrigued. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I have many friends who have made the Holy Land trip, and many who plan to. I have never had a lot of interest in going. But hearing from those who have gone, and reading this book, is slowly changing that.

(Although I'm not picking favorites, the next three were a cut above the rest).

"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" is therapist Lori Gotlieb's account of how she became a therapist; her description of some case studies from her practice; and her own experience of going to therapy. Humorous and poignant, it almost made me cross the line and go for counseling myself. I loved this.

Scott Newport's "Digital Minimalism" is, in my opinion, a must-read for all of us who love the convenience and efficiency the computer age has brought us, but want to keep it in check. Even if you don't care about that, read this book for some of the fascinating facts and statistics. I can't do it justice here and if I could make you read two books from my non-fiction reading this year, it would be this one and the next.

"The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning is perhaps the most beautiful narrative about grace I have ever read. Manning, who died in 2013, was a Franciscan priest. He was also an alcoholic. He also struggled coming to terms with how God could love him. This one blew me away, folks.

I hope you found something you might also enjoy here. As always, I'll be anxious to hear your thoughts and, of course, your own recommendations. I'll soon be back with my thoughts on fiction I read this year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Eve from Cuba

It was another rollicking International Christmas Eve at our house.

For the 12th year, we celebrated the food and culture of another region and country. This year it was Cuba.

We choose the country mid-year, and Wife begins planning doing her research. One thing she learned this year was that, for many of the years (30, maybe?) Cuba was under the rule of Castro, Christmas was not celebrated. So finding Cuban Christmas traditions was not easy.

But finding recipes and décor to lend ambiance to the occasion? She came through in spades, as always, and she even found a playlist of Christmas music with a Cuban beat!

Here is a glimpse of the party last night. Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 20, 2019


In the early days of this blog, I wrote a fair amount about politics.

Over time, however, the fire in my belly has subsided considerably. I'm still interested in government and politics, but candidates rarely excite me, and never to the point that I put a bumper sticker on my car or a sign in my yard.

I always vote, and I'm an independent voter. I never registered to vote as a Democrat or Republican. As far as I know, in the two states where I have lived (Arkansas and Tennessee), a voter is not required to name a party affiliation when registering.

You could go back and read some early blog entries and conclude I was a staunch conservative, and maybe at the time I was. I have probably voted for more GOP presidential candidates in my time than Democratic.

But today I am strictly independent. In the last presidential election, I voted for the Libertarian candidate. I was not going to vote for Donald Trump and I couldn't bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton.

If I had it to over again, I would vote for Hillary. Not because I am a big fan of hers (I'm certainly not), but because I think she would be a decent president. She's smart. She listens. And she's a good dealmaker, like her husband (thought without his charm, which was a contributing factor in her 2016 loss to Trump).

All of that is an aside to the subject at hand, which is the impeachment of one Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States.

He will now be known as the third U.S. president to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither Johnson nor Clinton were removed from office following a Senate trial.

Richard Nixon would almost certainly have been impeached and removed from office in 1974, but he resigned before it went through. He knew what was coming and he decided to avoid the embarrassment of it.

For students of the U.S. Constitution, it's an interesting process. Impeachment is discussed in three different sections of the Constitution. It is stated in Article 3, Section 4 that a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Article 1, Section 2 gives the House of Representatives "sole power of impeachment" and Article 1, Section 3 gives the U.S. Senate authority to oversee the trial portion of the impeachment process, and to decide whether the president is to be removed from office based on the impeachment article(s) passed by the House. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to do so.

The House has now passed two impeachment articles concerning Trump, and a Senate trial will take place early next year.

Because there are not enough Democrats in the Senate to get a two-thirds majority, and not enough Republicans to join them to vote for a conviction, Trump is almost sure be acquitted just as Johnson and Clinton were.

You see, it's all about politics. The Dems have wanted to impeach Trump since the day he took office (or before, really), just as the Republicans wanted to impeach Clinton from the day he was sworn in in 1993.

With a vague term like "high crimes and misdemeanors," which does not bring with it the evidentiary requirements of a typical criminal proceeding, the Republicans were able to get Clinton when he covered up his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and perjured himself. Similarly, the Dems got the goods on Trump due to his "quid quo pro" conversation with the Ukrainian president and purposely stalling the congressional investigation of same.

But in Clinton's case, there were not enough votes in the Senate for a conviction, just at it will be with Trump.

It's interesting that it took well over 100 years for presidential impeachments proceedings to commence after it first happened to Andrew Johnson. Now it's happened twice in my lifetime.

The Democrats' ploy, in my opinion (because they know the Senate will acquit him), is to shame Trump so much that those swing voters who put him in the White House last time will change their minds and keep him from being elected again.

Based on recent history, however, Trump plans to turn this all back on his accusers, allowing as to how they tried to cripple him and keep him from doing his job, and waste a whole lot of time and money in so doing.

How can you not re-elect me, he'll say in not say many words, when you have Bozos like this wanting to run the country?

Less than one year from now, we'll know if the strategy of the Democrats worked, or Trump succeeded in having the last laugh (on Twitter, no doubt).

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Almost done with “the teens”

It only recently occurred to me that we are nearing the end of a decade.

Apparently the decade soon concluding will be known as “the teens,” while the one before that is “the aughts.”

Those are somewhat awkward labels and the decades will be easier to name for the remainder of this century, starting with the 20s.


Christmas is upon us. Wife and I got the tree up earlier than we usually do, during the week right after Thanksgiving, which I realize these days is considered late.

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, we are not sending Christmas cards. I’m the one who always does them for us, and I usually try to get a family picture taken to include, and I often write a letter.

But this year I released myself. It’s not like I’m any busier or more preoccupied than usual; I simply didn’t get them done.

We tried taking family photos at Thanksgiving and they were not very good, so I decided to punt. There’s a chance we might try again next week and I’ll send New Year’s cards, but I would say the chances are 50-50. I know life will go on, but I really did miss doing the cards this year.


We are still blessed to have everyone join us for Christmas. We will have our traditional international Christmas Eve celebration on the 24th (this year is Cuba!), and the married ones will spend Christmas Day with in-laws while Wife, Younger Son and I will spend a quiet day and go see a movie.

We will all gather back at our place on the 26th, which has become our day to celebrate Christmas. For the past several years that has worked well for us.


I’ll be posting my year-end book reviews — non-fiction first, then fiction — soon, if not by the end of the year, shortly thereafter. I’ve read so many good books this year, it’s going to be hard to pick favorites. If I had thought of it sooner, I might have tried to pick favorites from the past decade, or “favorites from the teens.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday.

Although for many it's become the gateway to Christmas, for us, it's very much a separate holiday.

We are very fortunate that our immediate family all still join us for Thanksgiving. Older Son and family are already here, and they'll be with us tomorrow for dinner along with DIL's parents, who have joined us for a number of years now.

Younger Son is here, having driven up from Birmingham last night. Daughter and family, which now includes our sweet one-month-old granddaughter, will be here tomorrow.

Wife is the chief orchestrator of it all, but I'm her able assistant. She's been busy for days, cooking ahead what she can. She's incredibly organized and I sure couldn't (and wouldn't) do all she does to make Thanksgiving special at our house.


There will be only one night when everyone will be sleeping here, which will be a total of ten human beings. Wife and I have gone through a number of scenarios as to where everyone will sleep, and I don't have it memorized, but there is a place for everyone.

Will everyone sleep in the places we have assigned? Who knows? We have learned to expect the unexpected, so if someone decides to rest his/her head somewhere other than what we have come up with, that will be fine.

We could for sure use another bathroom, and we always meant to add one over the 18 years we've lived in this house, but it never happened. There were other expenses, and adding another bathroom never rose to the top of the list. And it's a little late now. So everyone will have to flex with us on that.


I hope all of you, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, have a great day and find something to be thankful for.

Friday, November 8, 2019

New life and other stuff

These past couple of weeks have been crazy.

I'll start with the best news I know: my new granddaughter was born Monday, October 28th at 11:35 a.m., weighing in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. She joins her older brother, two years and a few months old, and two proud parents (Daughter and SIL).

Daughter giving birth was much like the last time around, as if it were simply on her to-do list that day.

We saw this new little bundle of joy soon after she was born, and she's a beauty. Is it possible to get wrapped around a tiny little finger in a matter of seconds?


While we were awaiting the arrival of this little one, Wife and I received a text message from Older Son in Atlanta. They had gone to the ER earlier that morning with GS2 (our other grandson), as he was having breathing problems.

He had been admitted to the hospital with croup, which is a terrible cough that probably sounds worse than it is. But they were understandably concerned, as we all were.

My plan had been to drive to my office in Birmingham (about 1.5 hour south of Huntsville, where our granddaughter was born) Tuesday morning the 29th and work there until Thursday. Wife planned to stay in Huntsville and help until they were home from the hospital, and a day or two after.

As I was driving to Birmingham that morning, Wife called and said she had talked to Older Son and DIL. They had been put in ICU overnight, as GS2's condition was worsening.

"Someone needs to be there with them," she said.

"That someone will be me," I told her.

I arrived in Birmingham and worked a few hours. I got my team together and told them I would probably need to be in Atlanta for a couple of days. I loaded up my laptop and off I went, 2.5 hours east to Atlanta.


I stayed in Atlanta until Friday morning. Older Son and DIL insisted on staying in the hospital overnight each night, but were glad to have me there as a reinforcement, and so one of them could leave during the day from time to time. It was a crazy, scary, emotional time, and before it was all over, GS2 not only had croup, but also RSV and an ear infection. He was one sick little guy.

I'm leaving out plenty of details, but suffice it to say, by the time I left Friday morning, he was stabilizing, and he got to go home Saturday morning.


Backing up a little, Thursday night, the night before I left to come home, it had become clear I was getting something -- probably just a cold, but with everything I had been exposed to in that hospital, I decided to be overly cautious. I went straight to see the doctor when I got home.

He checked me out and said I obviously had some type of virus and that viruses are everywhere. You have to be careful, he said -- wash your hands often, disinfect, even wear a mask if you think you're going to be exposed to something.

I had already been advised by the docs in the hospital in Atlanta that I should not go around my new granddaughter for at least two weeks, with what I had been exposed to in that hospital. Now it was even more certain I would not be making a return visit anytime soon.

In the meantime, Wife had come home with plans to return in a few days when SIL would go back to work. I immediately started wearing a mask at home so hopefully she would stay well.

By the next day, however, she was also down. We had apparently picked up the same thing somewhere, maybe in the hospital in Huntsville as we awaited our granddaughter's birth. Who knows?


Wife was able to stay home and rest this past week; I wasn't. She got better; I didn't.

I made a return doctor's visit Wednesday after two nights of coughing and little sleep. I got a shot and some other meds. Today (Friday) I'm feeling better, but I'm not 100 percent. This weekend we will both focus on getting well.

My fervent hope is we've gotten this stuff out of the way early this year and will be healthy throughout the rest of the cold and flu season. I'm sure planning on it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Culture and subculture

In today’s culture wars, one of the things that annoys me most is how people, usually on the extreme ends (and who are usually the most vocal), make snap judgments.

One side might preach “tolerance” until they’re asked to tolerate something. Another side is quick to label someone, or give a person unsolicited advice, before even thinking what it’s like to walk a mile in a person’s shoes.

Not only are there culture wars, there are also subculture wars where some folks want to tell anyone on what they believe to be “our side” how to conduct his/herself. It’s all very tiresome and I attempted to address it in a recent column I wrote:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Pretty warm around here

I don't begin to understand all the ins and outs of global warming. Because I'm a middle of the road kind of guy, I tend to believe -- and I guess I want to believe -- that the extremists are way too extreme about it, but those who deny it exists are burying their heads in the sand.

Things on the earth change, including climate. Is that 100 percent caused by humans and their negligence? I don't think so, but we certainly play a part in it (in my opinion).

It's kind of like my house. It's about 35 years old. Although we perform routine maintenance, it's never going to be the same as it was 35 years ago. On the other hand, it's incumbent upon us to take care of it because we live in it, it's a huge investment and, well, we don't want to live in a house that's falling apart.

I know I am way oversimplifying it, but that's my thought today. We don't have the same planet God created in the very beginning because everything ages. We can't do anything about that. But we do, I believe, have a responsibility to maintain it just as we do our house. I believe God entrusted this planet to us.

Does that make me a raging liberal or a right-wing nut? I don't think so. It's just my thought for the day. Remember, middle of the road.


And global warming or not, September, which is supposed to be the month we begin to feel a nip in the air and anticipate cooler weather, has been a scorcher here in Middle Tennessee. We've been breaking records, flirting with 100 degrees many days. I can't see autumn, or autumn weather, on the horizon.

I've whined about heat before on this blog and I'm sure I'll do it again. And I really don't like the heat in a month when I think I'm supposed to be feeling cooler.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Life gets complicated

Watching TV used to be relatively easy. Not anymore.

Like so many things, technology, while making it better in many ways, has also made it more complicated.

But it's given me good column material recently. See below:

Friday, August 23, 2019


I've always found summer to be an interesting season, in that people will say, "How is your summer going?" or, when it's over, "How was your summer?"

People don't ask that when it's fall, spring or winter. Has anyone ever asked you how your winter is going? I doubt it.

I guess it's because, traditionally, summer is the season of kicking back a bit and because even if we no longer have children in school, or even if we don't have children at all, we were all once in school and our minds were trained on an academic calendar, which has stayed with us.

We tend to think of summer as June, July and August, when technically it's June 21st until September 22nd. Again, it's that academic calendar mindset.

Summer is not a favorite season of mine. I detest hot weather and when I think back on my life, many of the tougher periods I went through took place during summer months. I'm not superstitious, but I can't shake that association.

But, as it is with anything, I try to find things that are positive, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and baseball.


It's been a good summer for Wife and me. We spent a good bit of May recuperating from our trip in April, but also helping Younger Son coordinate his move from northern Indiana to Birmingham, Alabama. As I wrote in a previous post, I drove a truck to South Bend in early June, with Wife going in her car. Younger Son and I got everything packed and I drove it back here and deposited his belongings in our garage for several weeks.

He started his new job June 24th, but stayed with a friend for three weeks until his apartment was ready in mid-July. He coordinated all the moving, but asked if I would be willing to once again drive a truck containing his stuff, this time to his place in Birmingham. He paid for the truck rental and for packers to load it, and I was happy to do the driving (I'm getting confident in my truck driving, by the way).

He is now all settled in and doing splendidly.


We have some good friends who have a beautiful lake house in north Alabama, and we've been fortunate enough to be with them there a couple of times this summer, including the most recent visit with our supper club. I'm not a big water guy, but I enjoy time at the dock or sitting up on their deck overlooking the lake with a book, or the occasional boat ride.


We celebrated the second birthday of my grandson who lives in Huntsville (GS1) in early July. Can't believe that little guy is two years old and let me tell you, he's the light of our life, comparable only to his first cousin who lives in Atlanta (GS2), whose light shines equally bright, and whose second birthday we will celebrate in early October.

And the fun continues. Daughter and SIL are expecting Baby #2, a girl, in late October/early November.

Blessings abound.


Nothing is more fun than getting the two grands together. It's non-stop action.

Last year I bought a wagon with seats that face each other. Both guys enjoy the wagon rides, but no more than GrandBob.


We spent July 4th in Little Rock with Wife's parents and her sister and brother-in-law who now live there. Older Son and family, and Younger Son, were with us there on the 4th, which was on a Thursday, and left on Saturday. I came home that Sunday, after which Daughter and her family joined Wife there for a couple of days. Although, as I said, it's a blast having the two little guys together, staggering their visits worked better in this situation.

Wife's parents are 90 and 91, respectively, and don't travel anymore, but they love it when family comes to them.


Wife and I celebrated 35 years of marriage August 11th. We rarely "celebrate" in the true sense of the word, but this year we were honored to have the entire family present as their gift to us, and Daughter and SIL prepared an outstanding lunch. A celebration indeed.


Although Wife is now retired, I've told her I don't know when she had time to work. She's staying plenty busy, keeping the road hot as she travels to Atlanta, Huntsville, Birmingham or Little Rock. When she's home she has book club or bridge, and she's recently started Mah-jongg lessons at our library. She's beginning to tackle some projects like cleaning out the laundry room and closets. I continue to support anything that reduces volume around here.


So life has been good this summer. I hope it's been the same for you.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Baseball trip 2019

My sons, son-in-law and I recently made our annual baseball trip. Once again, we had a tremendous time. I wrote about it an installment of my weekly column, here:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Oh, deer

Although we live in the suburbs, we live among all kinds of wildlife.

It’s a peaceful coexistence for the most part, and I have a fondness for most of the animals, except for squirrels (because they destroy my bird feeders; have gotten up in the engine of my truck and caused hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage; and got in our attic once); and the occasional snake (hate them all). And of course I’m not crazy about skunks for obvious reasons.

Last Friday we had an interesting incident with a deer. It was early afternoon and Wife had been out for a while. When she came in, I was working, and she beckoned me to come look out the window. There in the front yard, in a little crevice where the water meter is located, was a tiny fawn, obviously recently born, curled up in a little ball. I could hardly see him (or her, but I’ll use the masculine pronoun for consistency), but his little ears were barely sticking up above the grass.

We had witnessed something similar about 20 years ago when we lived in another house and a fawn much like this one was snuggled tightly up against a tree, in a little indentation at the roots.

When that happened, Wife called our local Animal Control office because we were concerned the fawn had been abandoned by its mother. The person to whom Wife spoke, however, told Wife that in almost all cases such as this, the mother placed the fawn there and will return for him later, usually within a day or so. We were instructed to not interfere.

Sure enough, within 24 hours the fawn was gone. The mother had obviously returned and herded her little one to a safer place.

With this situation a few days ago, we recalled the similar incident from long ago. We couldn’t stay away from the window, however, and later that afternoon we watched and held our breath as a band of turkeys practically did a dance around the little guy, but never directly approached him. He was obviously scared and a couple of times got up and wobbled a bit, only to hunker back down in his makeshift bed.

That night we had terrible storms here with heavy rains and high winds. We were out to eat and waited out the weather a bit in the restaurant. We wondered about our new yard tenant. When we pulled into our driveway about 9 p.m., we could see his ears still just above the grass.

Saturday morning I started on a walk at 6:30 and he was gone. Mom had returned.

I’m fascinated by nature and how animals function, even right here among we humans. (But I still detest squirrels and snakes).

Monday, June 10, 2019

On the road again

Those of you who have adult children have likely, sometime in your past, helped said child or children move.

Maybe it was the move from home to college. Maybe it was a move back home with you. Maybe it was simply a move from one location to another and you helped out of the goodness of your heart.

These moves often involve loading up a truck, a van or a car, or some combination thereof.

I’m just coming off one of those moves, this time with Younger Son.

He graduated from college four years ago. He stayed in Auburn, his college town, and worked that first year out and pretty much still did college-type housing. In August 2016 he took a job in South Bend, Indiana, writing for a publication that covers sports for the University of Notre Dame. A few weeks before he started, Wife went up there with him and helped him find a place to live.

As I recall, he had a fishing trip to Wyoming planned a few days before he started his job. So in true “What’s wrong with this picture?” fashion, Wife and I drove his pickup truck and another borrowed one to his new home and unloaded his belongings. Somewhere during those few days he flew into Chicago from his fishing trip and we picked him up there, then deposited him into his new place to start his new life.

That move wasn’t terrible. We took his clothes and a few furniture odds and ends from here, but he bought the bigger  items like a bed, sofa and desk after he got there.

Fast forward to just recently. Younger Son accepted a job with a marketing and public relations firm in Birmingham, AL about 2.5 hours south of here. We are thrilled he will be closer to us, and the job appears to be a good one for him. But of course this means another move.

I told him we were available to help, with some conditions, and he took us up on the offer. This time I was not interested in our going to move him while he went fishing. So my conditions were his being involved in all aspects of the move and getting the packing done before we arrived to help him load.

This past Friday morning Wife left to drive to South Bend in her car and I followed several hours later in a rented truck. I had reserved a cargo van, but the rental company called me on Wednesday and said they had overbooked, but they would let me have a truck for the same price. I told them this was not my preference as I didn’t relish driving all that way (about 1,000 miles round trip) in a big truck, and they said they would try their best to have a cargo van.

I don’t know how hard they tried, but a truck it was. When the guy helping me drove that mammoth vehicle from behind the rental agency building, I almost told him to forget it. I drove a 15-passenger van up and and down a mountain when I worked in Colorado many years ago, and I drove a small rented truck to my dad’s house in south Arkansas one time to get some furniture. But I had never driven anything this big.

I must say, however, that other than it not being very comfortable, driving it was not difficult. You have to depend on side mirrors to watch what’s behind you and you have to be constantly mindful of how much space you’re taking up on the road. But once I got used to it, I did OK.

Younger Son had done his part and was completely packed. He and I got everything loaded and we left him with an air mattress, a couple of sofa cushions and a TV. He’ll take care of a few last-minute things there and leave in a couple of days.

I drove the truck back here yesterday and I hired some young guys to unload it for me into our garage this morning (which I do not apologize for). Younger Son starts his job June 24 and still has to find a place to live, and may be doing something temporary at first, so he’s storing his stuff here in the interim.

The move from here to Birmingham will be on him and although I’m willing to help some, I expect him to show up here with a truck or instruct the movers he hires to do so.

He had a good run up in Indiana and he knew when he went there that it would not be a career-type job. Three years was a good stint and he got some valuable experience. He got to do some cool stuff and saw different parts of the country. Other than moving him in and out, we only visited once, going to a Notre Dame football game which was a lot of fun.

Now a new chapter begins. I’m advising him not to plan a fishing trip around move-in time.

A picture of the vehicle I drive is shown here. I must say I’m a bit proud of myself.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A great trip

I am finally getting around to writing about our recent European vacation. It was as delightful as I expected it would be, maybe even more so.

I still don't care for air travel and on the way over, by the time we landed I felt like I was about to come out of my skin. We flew from here to Newark, and Newark to Milan. We can't afford to fly business class (which I think is what used to be called first class) where you can recline your seat, get all kinds of great food and drink, and essentially go to bed, but we forked over a few more dollars for "premium economy" which put us closer to the front of the plane and gave us a little more legroom. I think it helped a little.

On the return trip, I flew home from Vienna and Wife flew from Vienna to London where she met Younger Son and they spent a week in England and Ireland. They flew home together from Dublin to Chicago, where Wife caught a plane back to Nashville. My flight home, although longer (ten hours, vs about 7.5 for the flight over), was more tolerable. I did the premium economy thing again and was also on an exit row.

It certainly helps that the airlines have those little screens on the backs of the seats so you can watch movies or even some TV shows. It's just the confined space for such a long period of time that gets to me.

But here's the thing: the destination makes it all worth it. I told Wife I was going to have a better attitude about it next time, and I will.

From Milan, we took a train to the Cinque Terre, which is a group of five villages on the northern Italian coast and is a national park. It was simply charming and we loved our time there. From there we went to Venice, where we met our Arkansas friends. Venice has to be one of the most interesting cities I've ever visited. I knew it was on the water but I guess I had never understood that it is ON THE WATER and the only way to get anywhere while you are there is by foot or by boat. People who live there don't have cars. They have boats if they have anything at all.

From Venice we went to Florence, which Wife and I had visited in 2009 when we did our Mediterranean cruise. We had a beautiful Airbnb apartment just a couple of blocks from the Duomo, the beautiful cathedral there that is probably the main landmark of the city.

We left Florence on Good Friday and went to what would be my favorite part of the trip -- the Tuscan region of Italy. We stayed in a B&B owned by two American guys who lived in Arkansas for a number of years, one of whom our friend Mike, who we were traveling with, knew. They were incredible hosts and their place was lovely, as were the people in the little town where they live. We spent Easter weekend there and enjoyed seeing the quaint villages in their area.

We left them on a Monday morning (Easter Monday, a holiday in Italy) and went to Lake Como. There we had our only bad weather of the trip. It rained off and on most of the two days we were there, but we made the most of it. In fact, the low clouds over the lake and mountains created a unique kind of beauty in itself. Some of the best food we had was during this part of the trip.

We took a train back to Milan from Lake Como and parted company with our friends who we had been with for a week. They went south to Rome and the Amalfi Coast, while Wife and I went north to Austria.

Our first Austrian stop was Salzburg, where much of "The Sound of Music" was filmed, and on which Salzburg has definitely capitalized. We did a cheesy Sound of Music tour and loved every minute of it. After a couple of days in Salzburg we went to the tiny and beautiful village of Hallstatt, where we spent one night, and from Hallstatt we went to Vienna and I flew home from there.

I came home on Day 16, but Wife extended another week to fully celebrate her recent retirement.

Our main mode of transportation, which I described in my column I linked in my last post, were the trains. While not intuitive, we eventually figured them out and we had a lot of fun on them.

I have not even scratched the surface of the things we did, but as I said earlier, it was even better than I expected. I loved the beauty and I loved meeting people -- both locals and fellow travelers. I enjoyed the food and drink. As I wrote in my column, the wine was so light and festive, I could let it get out of hand before I knew it (but I didn't, most of the time). The beer wasn't bad either.

I am again indebted again to Wife, who takes the time to plan these incredible trips for us. She studies guidebooks and websites to get the best possible deals for us, and enables us to truly have the maximum experience, with just enough sightseeing and relaxation. If you ever want travel trips, send me an email and I'll put her in touch with you.

Pictures are below.

The Cinque Terre

From our room on the Grand Canal in Venice
St. Mark's Cathedral in St. Mark's Square in Venice
In our B&B in Tuscany
Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg
"The Hills are Alive"
Another refreshing Austrian beer

Monday, May 13, 2019

Some observations

I've been home a couple of weeks now, but have not gotten around to posting a recap on our trip, nor any photos yet. Give me a little time and I will do so. In the meantime, I'll link to a recent column about some observations on foreign travel. Promise to be back soon.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Winding down

I’m on a train traveling from Lake Como, in Italy, to Salzburg, Austria as I come to the last few days of my time with Wife on her retirement trip.

This is the first time in my entire working career I have taken two consecutive weeks of vacation. Not     bad at all.

It’s been a glorious time in Italy, starting with just the two of us in Cinque Terre, then onto Venice where we met our Arkansas friends, then to Florence, then to a charming B&B in Tuscany (for a welcome change of pace), before the last two days in the town of Varenna on Lake Como. Other than the past couple of days of on-and-off rain, we’ve had splendid weather, with highs in the high 60s to low 70s and lots of sunshine.

We’ve navigated the trains beautifully. It presents some challenges, but with a little patience and persistence (and willingness to ask questions of the locals), it’s doable.

This morning we parted from our friends who are now en route to the Amalfi Coast and Rome. I’ll fly home Sunday, while Wife will continue on to London where she’ll meet up with Younger Son.

More to come! Ciau!

Sunday, April 7, 2019


When we got married nearly 35 years ago, Wife was ahead of me in our careers.

An accountant by education, she was working in the budget department of a utility company, while I, just a year out of law school, was clerking for a circuit judge.

Her income exceeded mine.

I changed jobs a few months after our wedding and got a bump in my salary, but hers was still greater than mine.

About eight months after our wedding date, she told me she was "feeling funny." I told her I was sure it would pass (I've come a long way in the "being in tune with my wife" category since then), but she said no, it seemed like something really serious, like she had lost control of her life. She couldn't explain it.

Again, with a little more concern, I told her I was certain it was something normal, like maybe she was overly tired.

Well, she had in fact lost control of her life and she was overly tired. She was pregnant.

I don't know why we were so shocked. We weren't spring chickens when we married and we knew we should start a family fairly soon, but somehow, we never thought it would happen when it did.

But it did, and in January 1986, our first little bundle of joy joined us and things have never been the same since.

This was before the generous maternity leave policies of today. Wife went back to work six weeks after Older Son was born. It was one of the worst days of my life because without question, she did not want to return to work.

I will spare you all the details, but about one year later, she quit to stay home with our son. We knew she would probably eventually return to the workforce but at the time, we decided she would stay home for a while. Even though she still made more than I did, we were willing to do what it took to allow her to be at home for the time being.

As time went on, she did return to work, but never in the sense that she had to go somewhere and be there all day, every day.

She has owned two different businesses, keeping books and doing accounting work for small businesses and non-profits. She started the first one when she was pregnant with our daughter (What? Is that not a logical time to start a business?), and sold it when we moved from Little Rock to Nashville in late 1997. (Another baby boy, our last one, had come along in '92).

She took another break from working the first year we lived here, then eventually became the financial manager for our church. It was a "church plant" at the time (meaning a new church), and word had gotten out she had done some accounting work for churches in the past.

The rest is history, and she did that job for 20 years before retiring last week. For a couple of years during that time she restructured a bit, and she and I formed an LLC. She hired Older Son as an employee of that company and did the church work independently with them as a client. And with Older Son working with her, she took on two or three more clients.

After Older Son  moved to Dallas in 2011, we shut that down and she went back to the church as an employee, and has been pretty much full time since then. She has always maintained a home office and since we live about a mile from church, it is has been easy for her to go there when she needs to.

Wife has never been what one would call a "feminist" or one of those women who says she can "have it all."

What she is, is a woman who knew she wanted to be home with her children when they were small, and after they started school, be around if possible when they arrived home in the afternoon.

She also had an education and a keen mind. At times she considered going back to work in the more conventional sense. If she had, we could have made that work, and she would have been every bit the outstanding mother she was and is.

But through her tenacity and discipline, and God's kindness, she was able to maintain a job that she was mainly able to do from home.

This is what she would tell you about working from home: The good thing is you're at home. The bad thing is you're at home.

Because she was at home, she was never truly away from work. But one of the big advantages was she could work at odd times if needed. If one of our children had something going on where they needed her during the day, she could usually be there.

But at times it required sacrifice from all of us, staying out of her way if she was in the middle of a big project, or allowing her some night or weekend time when she needed it.

But isn't that how a family works? You all pull together to help. Sacrifice and putting others ahead of yourself builds character.

Last Sunday night, the church honored Wife with a lovely retirement dinner at a local restaurant. There were 50 guests, including our older two children and their spouses. Tributes were made to Wife and the words gracious, hospitable and kind were used over and over. There was also a lunch for her on Tuesday with her work colleagues where many similar things were said.

It was also mentioned how she built the financial and accounting system for a church that grew from 40 to 4,000 and how, after countless audits, there was never any question about the soundness of all of her records. One of our pastors said, because of what she has done behind the scenes, he is able to do what he does.

A few years ago, we started talking about Wife retiring. She is a little older than I, and she said she thought it would be time soon. That was probably five years ago (maybe we had a loose definition of "soon"), and for several reasons it took longer to get here than she planned, but about two years ago she knew it was time. I've never known of anyone giving two years' notice at a job, but she did. Her replacement was hired last November and she worked closely with her until this past week.

Needless to say, I'm proud of her and I am also grateful. She never pretended to "have it all," but she worked in an excellent manner, helping support our family.

She will hardly retire, of course. Childcare opportunities will be in abundance with our grandchildren, and even today she is in Atlanta with one of them. She has plenty going on otherwise, too, but if there are days when she wants to sit here and just, well, contemplate or meditate, she has my wholehearted endorsement. (I've also told her she can sit around in fuzzy slippers and eat bonbons, but she didn't find that humorous).

To celebrate, she is taking me with her to Italy and Austria later this spring. After two weeks I will come home (I am NOT retiring), and she will meet Younger Son in London. They will spend another week exploring England and Ireland.

So she is going out with a bang.

Below is a picture of us from her retirement dinner, and another that Daughter took and labeled as, "Retired and Livin' Her Best Life."


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lenten thoughts

Here are some recent thoughts on the season of Lent and a devotional book I am using:

Monday, February 25, 2019

When it rains . . .

Oh my, but we are tired of the rain here in the Southeast -- middle Tennessee, in particular, but all around us it's soaking wet.

I don't complain about the rain much, and it seldom affects my mood or sense of well being. But we have had SO MUCH rain that I'm beginning to be weary of it all and it just might start putting me in a bad mood.

But  hope springs eternal, and it appears we are done with the rain and dreariness for a while. We woke yesterday morning and this morning to beautiful sunshine. It's cold, but I can take the cold if it's just not wet for a while.

I wrote those first two paragraphs a few days ago, then got distracted with something. I'm pleased to say the bad mood never came, but it was getting close.

To go with the yucky weather, there is all kinds of sickness around. There is an ongoing debate about whether the cold temperatures make us sick. My parents and their peers all believed it religiously, and that's how I was raised. Going out in "night air," walking around barefoot, going outside in chilly temperatures without proper clothing, going outside with wet hair -- all of these made me a candidate for sickness in my growing-up years.

When I raised my own children and relaxed those rules a bit, every time one of them got sick, 90 percent of the time, my parents and parents-in-law attributed it to their being cold. Passive-aggressive comments and not so passive-aggressive comments were duly noted.

I have to wonder what my folks might have thought a few weeks ago when I was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was Super Bowl Sunday and I had been fighting a cold for about a week. I thought I was feeling better but over the weekend the cough became worse.

I told Wife that Sunday morning, to be on the safe side, I was going to go to a walk-in clinic and get checked out. The doc there listened to me breathe with her stethoscope and said, "I think you have pneumonia."

I requested that she listen again because surely that could not be correct. Another listen and a chest x-ray confirmed her suspicions. Right then and there she made me put on a mask, told me to cancel my Super Bowl watching plans and stay home and rest for at least the next three days. That, along with a breathing treatment and an antibiotic, seemed to do the trick.

Somewhere my parents are shaking their heads, saying they knew I would eventually get sick if I kept going outside without a heavy-enough coat on.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Christmas 2018 "from India"

For our international Christmas Eve celebration last month, we celebrated the food and culture of India. It was another smashing success.

The only ones who wore indigenous dress this year were Daughter and SIL. Wife had something, but ran out of time and never quite got around to putting it on.

The little guys were with us at the start, but went to bed before we sat down to dinner.

The food was great -- chicken tikka masala, lamb kabobs, naan bread and some other dishes, the names of which now escape me. There were a couple of tasty drinks too, including a curry-based Scotch one with sounds dreadful but was very good. 

Wife said this one was the most challenging for her, but as usual, she made it very special and we all had a great time. This was our eleventh year of our international Christmas Eve, which began the year Wife asked how we would feel about having "non-traditional" food at Christmas, and having it on Christmas Eve. We gave our hearty approval, and that year we had Mexican food.

The rest is history and what started as a departure from tradition has resulted in a tradition in itself. Go figure.

For the fourth year in a row, it was Wife, Younger Son and me on Christmas Day. We went to see the movie "Mary Queen of Scots," then were joined late afternoon by Older Son, DIL and GS2. We went to a great little burger and beer spot that was open. On the 26th, we celebrated Christmas and it was nice enough to be outside some.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Christmas Eve table before we all sat down, as well as the food table.

Monday, January 21, 2019

2018 fiction

As I stated when I posted my list of favorite non-fiction books, I read much more non-fiction than fiction in 2018. However, as I look back over the fiction I read, I realize I liked each book -- some better than others, of course, but I liked all of them to some degree. Here are my favorites:

Crazy Rich Asians by Michael Kwan. This is a hilarious story of an Asian American woman who travels to Singapore, the home of her fiancé, where she learns he comes from a wealthy family -- wealthy beyond what she ever imagined. I watched the movie recently and it's also very good, although, as so often is the case, not as good as the book.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon. More of Mitford and Father Tim. I've read and loved all of them and this one was no exception. Karon is getting up in years and I'll be sad when she stops writing these.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny. This is number 2 in the Inspector Gamache series and I'm looking forward to reading the rest. Wife and I heard this author speak not long ago and she was great.

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah. The story of two women enduring abuse, and enduring brutal Alaskan winters. I found the story compelling and I also learned a lot about Alaska.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I seem to always end up with one of Hornby's on my list. Four strangers come together in an unlikely way, as they all consider suicide. Somehow Hornby makes it funny, and not in an offensive way, and also makes it poignant. He's edgy, but he's an artful writer, and I'm never disappointed.

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith. This is number 18 (!) in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. As a rule, I don't purchase new books. I generally check them out from the library or buy them used at a book sale. This series is an exception. I think I have all of them in hardback and I believe No. 19 has just been released. I'm nuts over these characters and stories and I've enjoyed each book in the series. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This dark novel tells the story of a mixed-race Chinese-American family dealing with the death of a child. Like Ng's first book, Everything I Never Told You, this is brilliantly written and grabbed me from the beginning.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner. I read Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose, two others by Stegner that are probably his best known, years back. I don't know why it took me so long to get to this one, but I'm so glad I did. Written in 1943, this is semi-autobiographical for Stegner, tracing the life of a 20th century family over three decades, the head of which continually seeks financial fortune and the next best thing. Like the other two referenced, there are depressing elements, but the writing is masterful -- as one would expect from Stegner.

I've started 2019 in the way of 2018, with two non-fictions under my belt and a couple more in line. I'm sure I'll need to escape into some good fiction soon. Let me know if you have any recommendations for me. Happy reading, everyone! 

Recent book review

I promise to still post my favorite fiction from 2018, but in the meantime, I want to share with you a book review I did for my weekly column that was posted today. I highly recommend this, another non-fiction book I thoroughly enjoyed:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 non-fiction

2018 was a good reading year for me. I read 38 books, including two that were 800-plus pages.

I think acquiring a Kindle did much to boost my reading. Being able to download a book from the library onto a screen presents convenience and speed that's a tremendous help to me at this point in my life -- still with a fulltime day job and traveling two to three days most weeks.

Interestingly, more than two thirds of the books I read last year were non-fiction. This was not by design. As usual, I kept a running list of books I wanted to read (the TBR list), in no particular order (and it's largely a mental list). One at the bottom of the list, or not even on the list, could make its way to the top if it was what I decided I wanted to read at the time. And for whatever reason, the books that made it to the top in 2018 were predominantly non-fiction.

I mentioned some of these in past posts, so I apologize for the redundancy. Here are my favorite non-fiction reads of the year, in no particular order:

--  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I've read a number of Lamott's books, but had never read this, one of her earlier ones. The subtitle, "Some Instructions on Writing and Life," is an apt description. Lamott is edgy, there's no doubt about it, and often edgier than I would prefer, but her writing is compelling which is why I keeping coming back.

-- Team of Rivals and Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I wrote about both of these books last April. "Team of Rivals" is the book the movie "Lincoln" was based on, and was one of the 800 pagers. "Wait Till Next Year" is Kearns-Goodwin's memoir of growing up in Brooklyn and her relationship with her father and their mutual lover for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I learned about this author from blog friend Jeff ("Sage") and am most appreciative.

-- A Higher Loyalty by James Comey. I'm a big fan of the political post-mortems, in spite of their biases. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Self-serving? Without question. An agenda? Of course. Wouldn't you have one if you had been fired (very publicly) by the President of the United States?

-- The Restless Wave by John McCain. Ditto my first comment on the Comey book. I read this shortly before McCain passed away. He was a true statesman and patriot, and this was a great read.

-- Educated by Tara Westover. This one is still making bestseller lists. A young woman who was denied an education by her quirky parents practicing an extreme form of Mormonism took matters into her own hands and eventually earned her PhD. Her narrative is well written and her story is captivating. I highly recommend.

-- Theft by Finding, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and The SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris. I have heard about Sedaris for years, and have read some short pieces by him, but had never read any of his books. Hilarious, poignant and beautifully written, these were all great, fun reads that made me laugh a lot and from time to time made me think.

-- Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. This one made it to the top of my pile based on Kelly's excellent review last year. I was not disappointed. A British writer buys a home in the Mississippi Delta and while immersing himself in the culture there, receives a lesson in race relations that surprises him. I loved this.

-- Everybody Always by Bob Goff. The sequel to his popular "Love Does," Goff continues with his emphasis of radical love toward his neighbor, with more stories of the remarkable work he has done in third world countries.

-- Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt. Wow. I'm going to have to read this one again. The subtitle is "Why Sacred Words are Vanishing -- and How We Can Revive Them." There is so much here. Not only does Merritt delve into words and their meanings, he challenges norms and calls us to a stronger faith life -- to discover a faith worth talking about. I recommended this one to Kelly and she reviewed it on her faith blog here.

-- Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The other heavyweight for the year, I'm so glad I read this before I saw the play. (See my summary here from late 2018).

I hope you might find something that piques your interest here, and please let me know when you read something good yourself. I'll be back soon with my favorite fiction of the year.