Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading Wrap-up for 2020

 Like so much else in 2020, reading became a challenge for me, especially later in the year. 

The explanation for that probably comes down to one word: distraction. News of the coronavirus and COVID, then the racial unrest, then the election -- they all contributed to my becoming too much of a news junkie. 

Add to that a new world of working from home (as one of my colleagues quipped, it's hard to know whether I work at home or live at work), and one of my favorite hobbies and pastimes (reading) took a back seat. And of course the personal challenges over these past two months contributed to the reading lull. 

I plan to remedy that in 2021. And still, even with the distractions, I did manage to read 28 books in 2020, most of them excellent. Rather than list fiction and non-fiction separately, I'll list them in order as I read them and put an "F" or "NF" beside the title. I'll give some commentary after the list.

1. A Good Man is Hard to Find (F) -- Flannery O'Connor.

2. A Woman is No Man (F) -- Etaf Rum

3. Why We Sleep (NF) -- Matthew Walker

4.  Community is Messy (NF) -- Heather Zemper

5.  This Tender Land (F) -- William Kent Krueger

6.  The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (F) -- Robert Dugoni

7.  Naked (NF) -- David Sedaris

8.  In the Fullness of Time (F) -- Jeff High

9.  Everything that Rises Must Converge (F) -- Flannery O-Connor

10.  Hardscrabble Road (F) -- George Weinstein

11.  The Bright Side (NF) -- Melanie Shankle

12.  Deacon King Kong (F) -- James McBride

13.  Liturgy of the Ordinary (NF) -- Tish Harrison Warren

14.  Camino Winds (F) -- John Grisham

15. The Good Lord Bird (F) -- John McBride

16.  All Things Reconsidered (NF) -- Knox McCoy

17.  Nothing to See Here (F) -- Kevin Wilson

18.  Just Mercy (NF) -- Bryan Stevenson

19.  Stand All the Way Up (NF) -- Sophie Hudson

20.  The Lager Queen of Minnesota (F) -- J. Ryan Studal

21.  Countdown 1945 (NF) -- Chris Wallace

22.  The Splendid and the Vile (NF) -- Eric Larson

23.  Sold on a Monday (F) -- Kristina McMorris

24.  Little Beach Street Bakery (F) -- Jenny Colgan

25.  All Adults Here (F) -- Emma Straub

26.  Calypso (NF) -- David Sedaris

27.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (F) -- Mark Twain

28.  The Only Plane in the Sky (NF) -- Garrett M. Graff

My nod to classical reading this year was definitely the selections by Flannery O'Connor, both of which are short story collections. They are not easy reading, but they're worth the effort. Late in the year, I also picked up my weathered copy of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which delighted me yet again. 

My favorite fiction would have to be a tie between The Lager Queen of Minnesota (which, if you like beer and enjoy skillful character development as I do, is sure to please) and This Tender Land (by the author of Ordinary Grace, one of my favorites of the last decade). If you have read my lists in the past and tend to have reading tastes as I do, put both of these high on your 2021 TBR.

A close second would be The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, a work of fiction based on some of the author's personal experiences dealing with a rare ocular condition. (Thanks, Kelly). 

A Woman is No Man, although fiction, is also based on the author's personal experience, this one being her life in an oppressive Arab family, and it's riveting. (Warning: the ending is likely to frustrate you). 

Favorite non-fiction would be Countdown 1945, which begins the day FDR dies and Harry Truman takes office, and leads up to the bombing of Hiroshima. Even if you tend to become bogged down with historical narrative, this one reads fluidly and I found it fascinating. 

I enjoyed it so much, I decided it was time to tackle The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson, another WW II tome which centers mainly on Churchill. It was great and well-written (to say the least), but it is over 500 pages not nearly as easy to read as Countdown. If you don't ordinarily read much in the history genre, I would not recommend reading them back-to-back as I did. 

I continued to enjoy David Sedaris, who simultaneously cracks me up and makes me think. I recommend both of the essay collections listed above. 

I was delighted to learn Tennessee author Jeff High added another to the Water Valley series about the young country doctor. However, for whatever reason, he self-published this time around and my copy was full of typographical errors. I'm hoping perhaps subsequent printings got that corrected. 

The last book I read in 2020, which I finished only a few minutes ago, The Only Plane in the Sky, consists of accounts of those who personally experienced September 11, 2001. It is excellent, and I highly recommend it. 

My disappointments for the year would be both of the picks by James McBride, whose The Color of Water is an all-time favorite non-fiction of mine from 20-plus years ago. These were well written, of course, but I had trouble getting into the storylines of each of them. It was probably me, not him, so give them a try if you are so inclined. 

Happy to share thoughts on any of the titles on which I did not elaborate. Ask me in the comments or send an email, and I'm glad to discuss. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Merry Christmas

Earlier this year I vowed I would move my blog from blogger to another platform. 

I voiced some of my frustrations here and blog friend Ed was kind enough to give me a couple of pointers, which helped me out. 

Ed, if you’re reading, I might need you to make a trip to Tennessee for some in-person tutoring, or maybe set up a Zoom call. I won’t go into my various woes and complaints, or why I’m making this post from my phone instead of my PC, but things are not great with Blogger and me.


We are hoping to celebrate Christmas with our family (children and grandchildren) this weekend, and we’re being extra careful so everyone will feel safe. Oh my goodness I hope this vaccine will be distributed quickly and we can resume the life we once knew without having to assess the risk of everywhere we go and everyone we see.

With Christmas being on a Friday, we will move everything back a couple of days. Our Christmas Eve will be Saturday the 26th and Christmas Day Sunday the 27th. With two having families of their own and Younger Son now having a Significant Other, that’s what worked best for everyone. Our Christmas Eve theme this year will be Australia and the preparations have given Wife something to focus on, which is good. 

But the grief of losing both of her parents in two weeks’ time is very much with her, as it will continue to be for some time. She’s learning, just as I did, how very personal it is. I can be here for her, listen to her and give her hugs, but it’s her journey. Fortunately, she’s strong and has a strong faith. 

I’ll be back soon with my year-end reading list. In the meantime, stay safe. Wear your mask when you go out. Wash your hands and keep your distance. 

Most important — Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, November 27, 2020

COVID hits home

So much going on right now, folks, that I hardly know where to start. Two weeks ago, my wife lost her dad. It was not unexpected. He was 92 and his condition had deteriorated for the 30 days before he died — dementia, dehydration, extreme fatigue and a host of other maladies. He was worn out.

The day before he died, as he was about to transition to Hospice, he tested positive for COVID. That’s where the nightmare begins. My wife and her mother had been with him in the immediately preceding days. 

Wife came home from Little Rock to quarantine and I left town, splitting my time between my son in Atlanta and my daughter in Huntsville.

Both Wife and her mother eventually tested positive.

Wife has been mostly asymptomatic but her mother did not fare as well. She began to have trouble breathing and was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Little Rock last Saturday. Last night she passed away.

There is very much I’m not saying here, but let me say this: COVID is real. It expedited the death of my father-in-law and it took the life of my mother-in-law. While my father-in-law was already ill, my mother-in-law was still healthy and vibrant. Now she’s gone.

My wife, on the heels of this illness herself, must now deal with losing both her parents in two weeks’ time.

I’m not blaming anyone. Life’s not easy and I get that.

But for god’s sake is it too much to ask to wear a mask, keep safe distances and fanatically wash your hands? We’re just about to have a vaccine and in the next year, maybe even sooner, life should start returning to some sense of normal.

Surely we can hang on and do our part until that time comes. Can’t we?

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Once more about Election 2020

This will be my final comments here on the 2020 election unless something huge happens between now and January, when Joe Biden is sworn in as president, and I just have to say something.

But I do have a few parting shots, which I'll put in bullet points.

-- Although I don't tell readers of my newspaper column whom I voted for, I'll tell you. I voted for Biden. I was not excited about him as a candidate and I am not excited about his being president-elect. After hearing last night that Pennsylvania had pushed him over the top in the electoral college, I wasn't celebrating. I won't go into all the reasons I decided to vote for him, but I did, and I'm glad I did, and I'm glad he won. I congratulate him and I will pray for him. I think he's a good guy. But I'm not excited.

-- Biden's election was not a mandate (no matter what Nancy Pelosi, understandably giddy at the thought of standing behind one of her own at the State of the Union address, says). It looks like Biden will carry the electoral college in a similar way as Trump in '16. And it look like the popular vote is about the same, percentage wise, as 2016 also. Yes it's a majority, but it's hardly a mandate. And Madam Speaker, it's not like your Democratic brethren tore it with up with House seats, either.

-- I think Biden's first move as president-elect, interrupting the Notre Dame-Clemson game to address the nation, and causing NBC to switch coverage to the USA network, was a poor one. OK maybe I'm kidding, but really, Mr. Prez-Elect, could you not have waited until, say, Monday? Your presidency isn't going anywhere. (I would not have listened even if it had not interrupted the game. Along about Thursday, when I could tell where this thing was heading, I pretty much lost interest).

-- Everyone who voted for Donald Trump is not a fan of Donald Trump, just as I am not a fan of Biden. I am aware there are some ardent disciples who will argue till they're blue in the face that he's the best thing that ever happened to this country and we're in the middle of a big fat conspiracy to keep him from serving a second term. They will say some ridiculously stupid things. Those people are largely crazies and I get that. But most of the folks I know who voted for Trump did so because they agree with a big part of what he did while he was in office. They put a lot of the other stuff aside and decided, of the two candidates, he was the better choice. Make no mistake, I DO NOT agree with them, but I respect their decision. I will not lump them in with the lunatics.

-- Trump's election in 2016 was not a national nightmare, nor the end of life as we know it. His reelection would have been neither of those things either. Likewise Biden's election now. This is still a great country and we will all carry on just fine.

-- Between now and January, Trump will do what Trump will do. He has the right to a recount in some states and if he wants to explore legal options, let him do it. He knows he's leaving office, but he loves the theatrics. The best thing we can do is ignore him.  He has one last chance to show some class and  put the interests of the country above his own, but don't count on it. One way or the other, he'll leave office January 20th, 2021. My prediction is he will eventually throw in the towel, maybe in December, but he will whine and complain, and that will lay the foundation for the rest of his life as a former president.

-- I'm hoping against hope the GOP will retain the majority in the Senate. Apparently it all hinges on two runoffs in Georgia, and can you imagine the amount of cash that will be infused by both parties into the campaigns of those candidates? But a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Republican Senate will keep some balance and will hopefully prevent way-too-far left or way-too-far right legislation from being pushed through, and might even lead, say it with me, to compromise and bipartisanship. We can hope!



Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day

It's Election Day in the U.S.

Here in Tennessee, we have early voting, which means we can vote for about two weeks leading up to Election Day. I would guess I have not voted on Election Day in 15 years.

While I don't get nearly as emotional over politics as I used to, I still have great interest in the political process and have a sense of excitement today.

Here is my column that ran yesterday:



Sunday, November 1, 2020

Letter from the past

Yesterday's mail brought a handwritten note (one of those relics from the past) from a cousin in Florida with an enclosure.

In his note, my cousin said he had found the enclosed with some old pictures and said "I don't know why in the world I would have this."

It was another note, although typed (my mother typed a lot of letters), from my mother to my dad's sister -- my aunt and my cousin's aunt.

My dad had four sibling -- three brothers and one sister, and this cousin's father is one of those siblings. They are all now deceased.

I know exactly why my cousin ended up with this letter from my mother. That group of siblings and their mother would pass letters around. If one of them wrote one that contained  information that would be of interest or newsworthy to one of the others, or to all,  they would simply mail it to another sibling, and that sibling might continue and mail it to another.  

They were at times a rowdy bunch and would not have been above saying something disparaging about one of the others, so hopefully the letter-forwarding didn't happen in those instances. But I well remember this practice.

So I'm confident that's how my cousin ended up with this. My aunt, the original recipient, certainly wasn't going to make an expensive long distance call to update her brother with news, but she decided she could spring for a stamp (which at the time cost 13 cents) to keep him in the loop.

(They were also a frugal group, so some serious deliberation about this would have occurred in the mind of my aunt).

It was the content of the letter that most interested me. Some background is in order.

In 1975 my father was diagnosed was throat cancer -- cancer on his vocal cords. I was between my junior and senior years in high school. He and my mother traveled from our home in south Arkansas to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston, where he went through several months of radiation treatment.

Interestingly, one of his brothers (another of the aforementioned siblings), who lived in West Texas, received almost the identical diagnosis at the same time, and stayed in Houston for treatment at the same time. They both got apartments, as I recall, in a complex owned by the clinic for short-term patients to live in, with their wives. Since their treatments were not debilitating, my dad and uncle both got jobs at the apartment complex as maintenance guys.

The ending to this episode was both my dad and uncle went into remission and, after a few months, both went back home and resumed their lives. That's oversimplified, but it's what I remember.

Within a couple of years, my uncle's cancer returned and he had to have a total laryngectomy, in which his voice box was removed. After that he had a permanent trachea and had to learn esophageal speech. I saw him a handful of times after that, and it was fairly remarkable how well he did with it. His new way of speaking resembled his former voice, although it was extremely "breathy" and he had to take numerous small breaths in order to speak. Again, this is oversimplified, but what I remember.

My dad continued having checkups, and in the fall of 1978, his cancer also returned. He was scheduled for a laryngectomy in November. This was during my junior year of college.

That's where the letter from my mother comes in. She tells my aunt in the letter the date of the surgery and when they will be going to Houston. There is no date on the letter, but I'm guessing it was early November, as the surgery was scheduled for Nov. 13th.

She had obviously talked to my aunt on the phone a day or so before writing the letter, as she apologizes "for the way I must have sounded." She goes on to say that she had spent most of the day crying, and had stayed in bed. According to what she told my aunt in the letter, she told my dad he was going to have to let her have a day "to fall apart."  

She went on to say she was OK now. My dad's attitude was great, she said, so she knew she was going to be OK too. He had told my mother he would learn to speak again, and would depend on his brother to help him with that. He planned to keep his business going, she said.

Since I was away at college, I was not involved in the day-to-day of this. I got my information from phone calls and also from letters she would write. I was only an hour's drive away, and I think I went home on a weekend before they went to Houston for the surgery.

What struck me in this letter was my mother telling my aunt how she needed to "fall apart" and spend the day in bed, crying. I can't adequately express to you how unlike my mother this would have been, and how hard this must have been for my father. In my mind, she always represented the height of strength, courage and optimism and I would have been shocked had I known at the time that she had spent a day in bed -- "falling apart," no less. She just wasn't the fall-apart type.

But with the wisdom that only comes from years, I now know this was probably a healthy exercise for her. She didn't know what the future held, and she was scared, so she needed some time to process. She didn't do it for days or weeks, she did it for one day. She then got out of bed and moved on with life. I know her faith sustained her.

When I shared this with Wife, and told her what my mom had done all those years ago, she simply said, "Good for her."

It's as if she knew (through some type of woman's code????) what a spouse, especially a wife, would have needed to do for herself under the circumstances.

"Huh," I replied to my wife, in a wondering manner.

The postscript to this story is the best part. My dad had the surgery as scheduled, and when the surgeon got to his voice box, he discovered he could retain a portion of one vocal cord that was not affected by the cancer. He had only a partial laryngectomy and did not have to learn esophageal speech.  His voice was raspy for the rest of his life, but he could talk naturally and clearly until the day he died, 31 years later.

I am grateful to my cousin for passing along this treasure to me. It warmed my heart and I definitely learned something from it.



Thursday, October 29, 2020

Kitty Surprise

Daughter was here over the weekend with her two little ones.

Cap is three and Mary Brooks just turned one year old. I guess I'm prejudiced, but they're adorable. It's just that simple.

We had a grand time. Mary Brooks took her first wagon ride in the wagon I bought a couple of years ago to take Cap and his cousin, Hank, who is the same age, on wagon rides. It's not a traditional wagon, as it's plastic rather than metal, but it's red like the wagons of old, and it's made of sturdy plastic.

Best of all, it has little seats that face each other and has straps so the riders can be safely secured as they ride. It's been a whole lot of fun since the boys were able to sit up and ride. Now that there is a third rider, I guess there will have to be some negotiating when they are all here (which isn't very often).

And in a year, we'll have another rider. Maybe by that time the boys will have outgrown it?

Daughter loves having a little girl. She loves having a little boy, of course, but now that she has a girl, she is itching for her to play with some of her old toys and dolls that we kept.

While they were here, she remembered one. It was called "Kitty Surprise" and oh, how my little girl loved it. We couldn't remember all the details, but best we could recall, you bought a stuffed Mama cat, and inside her, ahem, womb (a Velcro pouch), little kittens resided. You didn't know how many you got until you opened her up. (Hence the name, Kitty Surprise).

And our Mama cat had the maximum number, six. (I wonder if they all did).

To Daughter's delight, Kitty Surprise was one of her treasures we kept. Because I've done some work in the basement lately, I knew right where she was.

All these years later, I must say she's a bit creepy looking.

But Mary Brooks was delighted with her and the kittens, and so was Cap. In fact, we had to divide up the kittens to they each had the same number!

Anyone else remember this?


Tuesday, October 6, 2020


Blog friend Debby said recently something to the effect that we all need to stay up New Year's Eve to make sure 2020 leaves and 2021 arrives.

Amen to that.

Don't know how to say it other than it's been a helluva year and we still have almost three months to go.

I thought I'd seen it all until I watched the presidential debate, which was an embarrassment and a disgrace, for starters. I'll stop there, even though other adjectives could be used.

But no, I had not seen it all, because over the weekend I, along with countless other Americans, witnessed our president tweeting and sending videos from the hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19, topping it off with a joy ride outside the hospital, waving to his supporters.

The grand finale occurred when he returned to the White House Monday evening. In his well orchestrated descent from the helicopter and ascent up the stairs to the entrance to the residential quarters, he defiantly removed his mask before walking in.

He reminded us in one the videos that he has "been to school."

"Don't be afraid of COVID," he told us.

I'm done. So completely done. I'm committed to not getting overly political on this blog, but let me say it again, for emphasis: I'm done.

But in this crazy, weird year, blessings still abound.

One has come to Wife and me in the person of our fourth grandchild, and second granddaughter.

Ruth Kay "Ruthie" McKinney was born in Atlanta September 23rd, arriving about two and a half weeks early, but perfect in every way.

We were not at the hospital for her birth as we have been for the other grands. We happened to be vacationing when she was born, and managed to swing by and meet her on our way home. She's a sweetheart.

And she came just at the right time.




Thursday, September 10, 2020

A good week

I'm coming up on the end of a week I've spent in Little Rock, which is about a 5.5 hour drive from where I live in Middle Tennessee. 

I moved here (to Little Rock) after college to go to law school and stayed until 1997, when we made the move to just south of Nashville. I lived here about 17 years. It's where I met Wife and where all three of our children were born. It's about 120 miles north of where I grew up in south Arkansas. 

Wife's parents, who are 92 (him) and 91 (her), still live here. About five years ago they moved from their longtime home into a retirement community. They are in "independent living," which means they have their own place, and they only get any kind of assistance in the event of an emergency. 

Until the pandemic, they went to a community dining room five days a week for lunch. Since the pandemic, one meal is delivered to them each day around noon. 

A couple of years ago, Wife's sister and her husband moved here from northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Both having recently retired and wanting to move away from that area, they decided to move to Little Rock, primarily to be here for the folks. 

We are grateful to them for being here, and we have expressed that to them. Now, if there's any type of emergency, they are only a few minutes away.

A couple of weeks ago, my father-in-law fell, one of three falls he's had in the past few months. The fact is he's not doing very well. His body is worn out, on top of having dementia and being extremely hard of hearing. The only way he stays in independent living is because his wife is taking care of him. 

That's right, a 91-year-old caring for a 92-year-old. Not optimal. 

But again, their daughter and son-in-law are nearby and they have been a tremendous help. 

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law had a vacation planned for this week, but given the recent tumbles my father-in-law has had, they were reconsidering. 

With Wife's recent health problems, she was not up to the drive by herself. She's better, but she's pacing herself and being careful. Right now she's also keeping our granddaughter in Huntsville, AL a day a week. 

So when I heard about this situation, I said the solution was easy. I can come to Little Rock for the week they're on vacation. I work remotely 100 percent of the time now, and I can work from anywhere. 

Everybody (Wife, her sister and brother-in-law) seemed amazed I would volunteer, but I don't see it as a big deal. I'm staying in my SIL's and BIL's lovely home and working during the day, and checking on the folks at night. I love them like they are my own parents, so it is absolutely no problem at all for me. 

As it so happened, today is their 72nd wedding anniversary. I took them dinner tonight and asked them questions about their wedding day. They married in Oklahoma City in 1948. They didn't own a car at the time, but my father-in-law's brother loaned them his so they could go on a honeymoon. Their destination was Hot Springs, Arkansas. 

His father gave them $200 for their honeymoon. He gave them the first 100 before they left, but sent the remaining amount to a post office in Little Rock, where they picked it up en route to Hot Springs. My mother-in-law said this was a common arrangement, but I had never heard of such. 

She said they were hoping to get back to Oklahoma City with part of that money, but an axle on the car broke on their way home, and the repair cost 50 dollars. She said they arrived home pretty much broke. 

"But we'd never had money before," she said, so it didn't matter. 

Some years later they made their way to Little Rock, and it's here they raised their two daughters, including the one I met and married.

And it's here they stay. 

It's been a good week. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Election 2020

Here is the most recent installment of my weekly column where I shared my thoughts on both the Democratic and Republican convention.

Left, Right and Baseball

Friday, July 31, 2020

A viable option

Because of the pandemic and the closing of schools back in the spring, many parents became defacto home school teachers. They didn't ask for the job; it just happened.

There is a faction of parents who do, in fact, choose to home school. Best I remember, it became a thing not long after I became a parent for the first time in 1984. And while we have known a lot of folks who chose this option for their childrens' education, and we have the utmost respect for them, it was not for us.

Except for a brief period of time in the fall of 1997.

We knew we would be moving from Arkansas to the Nashville area. I was, in fact, already working here and commuting back and forth while Wife stayed back to try and sell the house. She had been a business owner for a number of years, and had sold the business in anticipation of our move. So she was not employed at the time.

Ideally, we would have already been in Middle Tennessee by the time school started, but it didn't work that way. The real estate market in Little Rock was not exactly thriving and we had a rather odd house, so there was very little activity.

(Long story, but we finally decided to rent it to a family that needed temporary housing, and rent a house for ourselves in the suburb where we now live. But that didn't happen until mid-October. It took three years to sell that house!)

Our two older children, who were going into sixth and third grade, respectively, had been in a private school in Little Rock. We decided, when we moved, we would try public schools, having heard how good they were where we would be moving.

But when school started in mid-August, and we still had not moved, we were met with a dilemma.

Would we go ahead and start them in the school they had each attended since kindergarten, and pull them out that fall? That option would mean we would have to pay tuition, so it wasn't exactly attractive. Would we let them essentially play hookey until we made the move, which would mean they would be behind when they eventually started school?

I think it was Wife who came up with the idea of home schooling for that interim period before we moved to Tennessee. While we knew we would not consider it long term, we decided it was a viable temporary option.

Since this was before everything was online, she called the school district where we would be living and got the curriculum for sixth and third grades. She even bought some of the text books.

While we were the most unlikely of home school families, I must say Wife did a good job. By the time we moved, both Older Son and Daughter were right on schedule, if not a litte ahead.

The classroom part, however, was not without a few glitches. For Wife and Older Son, it was a dream. They are both lovers of life, and socialization was much more important than a rigid schedule.

On some days they might start around 9 a.m., but on others Wife might decide to let Older Son, who was just beginning to fall in love with golf, go play a round and do school later in the day. Some days she might decide to let everyone sleep in and start school later in the day. And some days she might just skip it.

Again, this type of schedule (or lack thereof) was a dream come true for Older Son. For Daughter, however, this was not an acceptable arrangement. She expected school to start at a set time each day, with breaks for recess and lunch.

A flexible schedule did not work for her, and she took every opportunity to express her frustration to me either on the phone or when I was home on weekends.She was very concerned she would be behind when she finally got in real school.

There was also another little guy in the mix at the time - Younger Son, a very active four-year-old at the time. Daughter did not like it a bit that he was allowed to be present, and very much present a distraction, during school time when she was supposed to have been learning.

That period of time lasted about three months and, as I said, it accomplished its purpose. Our two school aged children were well prepared to continue their educations and even Daughter begrudgingly admitted it.

It has become part of family lore and makes for good story-telling.

(Thanks to Ed for your assistance in getting blogger to work better for me. I'm still not thrilled with the changes, but your suggestions were helpful.)

Thursday, July 30, 2020


I have been working on a new post, but before I put it up, I want to ask any of my blog friends who use the blogger platform if they have been having any problems with the new format? It is driving me bonkers. I exercised the option of reverting to the "legacy" platform, but it's not much better. Case in point: I write my piece and when I go to post it, THERE ARE NO PARAGRAPHS! All the sentences run together, just as these are doing. (This next sentence is the start of a new paragraph, by the way). I've talked to users of WordPress and I'm probably on my way to moving over when I can figure out how without losing everything, but before I do, I wanted to see if anyone is experiencing the same frustration? Any suggestions?

Friday, July 3, 2020

And so it continues

We are three-plus months into this quarantine/pandemic/different way of life, and here in Tennessee the numbers aren't so good.

I live in a county just south of Nashville, and we are back "open" with all sorts of precautions. We can go out to eat, but restaurant staff will usually be wearing masks and tables are at least six feet apart.

Stores are open, but I've only been to hardware and grocery stores, and haven't paid much attention to the protocols other establishments are following.

Numbers of COVID cases in Tennessee are up, and in Nashville they are, if we believe what we hear in news reports, spiking. Nashville's mayor has declared mandatory mask-wearing.

Wife and I don't go out to eat these days unless we know we can sit outside, and now it's really too hot, so if we want something we don't prepare, we do takeout. I think that is what has sustained many of the restaurants through this and I think they're still doing a lot of it.

I work from home 100 percent of the time now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I manage a team of four people, and it is pretty seamless for us. We can do our jobs remotely without a problem and the longer we do it, the more normal it becomes.

I've been asked a few times how I measure productivity of my team and my reply is I measure it as I always have. Everyone knows what they need to do and we have goals and objectives to meet that are no different than if we were in an office. If I see someone lagging (and so far I have not), I'll address it.

I do miss the interaction, though. I don't think I ever fully appreciated how much my social needs were met at work. I'm a self-described high-side introvert (that's my terminology), meaning I can do fine alone and at times I enjoy seclusion. But I also need socialization. People make me tired, but I need the collaboration.

So I miss my work colleagues, and the occasional video conference is not a replacement for face-to-face contact.


Our church is resuming on-site services this Sunday, but Wife and I have decided to continue with online streaming for now. With both of us over 60, we are simply not ready to put ourselves at risk, even though I agree with reopening and I know extreme precautionary measures are taking place.

But for now, our assembling together for worship will continue to be virtual.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Current events

Here’s my latest column, dated today, June 22nd. I received some great feedback from readers on this one.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Healthcare during COVID, Part 2

When I last wrote here, Wife was still in the hospital, awaiting procedure number two for kidney stones.

During both of her procedures, because I could (supposedly) not get in the hospital, I sat in the parking lot. Call me crazy, but I simply felt, if my wife was going under anesthesia, I should be as close to her as possible.

During Thursday's procedure, an O.R. nurse called me as things were getting underway. When it was done, the doc called me.

Friday at 1:43 p.m., as I once again sat in the parking lot, I received a text message from the O.R. advising the surgery had begun. It was supposed to take anywhere from 45 - 90 minutes.

At 4 p.m., when I had not heard anything, I called the hospital switchboard, told them who I was. I explained my wife had been in surgery and I had not heard anything. The switchboard operator put me through to the nurses' station. Wife had been back in her room about 45 minutes, I was told.

This was one of a number of frustrating components of a frustrating few days. I finally talked to the doctor, along about 6 p.m. after I called the hospital and had him paged. He was nice enough, and talked to me about what Wife had been through, but offered no explanation of why he had failed to call me, even as I expressed surprise that I had not heard from him.

"This has been very difficult for me," I told him, allowing as to how this was my wife and I felt as if I had had to walk through a maze to get information about her.

Not an "I understand," or an "I got busy after her surgery and forgot to call you."

Nada. Just the facts.


I was able to get in the hospital that night, after my DIL called in a favor. Turns out she and her family knew this doc from years ago. The hospital, while still ostensibly following COVID protocols and allowing no visitors, was loosening up a bit if a doctor gave an "all clear" for one visitor per patient.

Wife began to feel better that night, and the next morning (Saturday) she was discharged and I brought her home. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the saga.


That night Wife began to have pain again. On Monday morning, she spoke with our primary care doctor's office. (Dr. M, who has taken care of our family for 20-plus years). Later that day Dr. M.  sent her a message that she had reviewed all her scans from the previous week and suggested that, since she was still having pain, she should have an MRI. Something else must be going on.

I'll skip over many details, but will fast forward to Thursday morning of that week, when Wife was having so much pain she went into to see Dr. M. The MRI was scheduled for that afternoon.

They were stopping patients at the door to be checked for COVID (a temperature check and a series of questions). I told the lady doing check-in I wanted to go in with Wife.

She had to get that approved by the doc, but I got the green light. I submitted to the temperature check and questions.

As Dr. M. quizzed Wife about the pain and the events of the last week, she asked Wife to show her exactly where it was. With her hand, Wife showed her the area on her torso.

Dr. M. pulled up Wife's shirt a couple of inches from her waist, took one look at a rash that had appeared and said, "You have shingles."

You could have knocked us both over with a feather. We had noticed the rash but thought it was skin irritation from the surgery. Shingles had never occurred to us because (a) Wife had a mild case of shingles about 20 years ago, and (b) she has had the shingles vaccine (as have I).

Dr. M. said Wife was her first patient to have had the shingles vaccine that had gotten shingles -- a distinction we would not have chosen. She said, very likely, the stress on her body from the previous week had caused it.

In some ways we were relieved. With the continued pain, we were both beginning to worry about something more serious that might be going on.

Shingles is no picnic. The pain can be excruciating and she's still not over it. She continues with meds and only in the last week has she started sleeping through the night.

But, thankfully, I think she's on the road to recovery.

In the healthcare system, you simply must advocate for yourself. You have to be persistent. You don't have to be rude, but sometimes you have to be firm. While I never had unpleasant words with the doc who did the surgeries, I think he was aware he was not on my favorite persons list. I'm fine with that.

If you can't be your own advocate, you need someone to advocate for you. In the hospital, Wife was too sick to advocate for herself.

It's not my nature to be pushy and I tend to be a rule follower. I had to go way outside my comfort zone in making calls, asking probing questions, etc.

But good heavens, with what we're paying for all of this? I'll be pushy all day long if I need to be.

Once Wife was home from the hospital and was still having pain, she did her share of advocating for herself too. I'm sure the primary care doctor's office became weary of her calls and her discussions with nurses and/or office staff.

But so be it. We had to figure out what was going on. Had we not persisted, we might still be trying to figure out all of this.

It's about four weeks since this began. Wife is much better. I think we're headed in the right direction now, and I'm thankful for that.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Healthcare during COVID

It's been said the pandemic is affecting just about everyone, and affecting different folks in different ways.

I think that's pretty accurate. As Older Son has said, we are all in this together, but everyone is not in the same boat.

For him and his wife, they've juggled two full-time jobs and caring for a two-year-old whose daycare was closed. Countless others have dealt with similar circumstances, and others have dealt with differing ones.

We finally had a partial family get-together last weekend, with everyone except Younger Son, and it was wonderful. We know where they have all been and what they've been doing, and they've been careful, so we felt it was a minimal risk.

Unfortunately, however, last weekend took an unexpected turn and we're still dealing with it.

Saturday morning, Wife woke up with a sharp pain in her lower back. She said she felt it during the night.

As the day wore on, it got worse, and by Saturday night it was unbearable. At midnight I took her to the Emergency Room at a hospital about 15 minutes away.

Following the COVID protocol, I could not go in with her. I parked and waited. Some three hours later she emerged with a diagnosis of a kidney stone. I had suspected as much because I have had several. The things cause god-awful pain.

They sent her home with pain meds, telling her maybe she would pass it, and with a recommendation to see a urologist.

Monday morning, Memorial Day, the pain was worse. I took her back to the ER and after another three hours, she left with stronger medication.

We saw the urologist Tuesday morning and a procedure was scheduled for Friday (tomorrow as I write this). But things deteriorated to the point she was admitted to the hospital yesterday, had one procedure today and will have another tomorrow. She has been very, very sick.

I'm leaving out a lot of details, including a couple of pretty severe miscommunications from hospital staff or the doctor's office to me. The most difficult part has been the fact I cannot go in the hospital with her. All the information I get comes from her conveying information given to her, phone conversations with hospital staff and one phone conversation with her doc.

In today's healthcare system, you have to be your own advocate, or you have to have someone advocating on your behalf. With the heavy medication Wife has been on, it's been difficult for her to advocate for herself. And it's hard for me to do it without being there.

But this afternoon some progress was made. Wife called me early in the afternoon and told me a nurse had told her she would be discharged this afternoon, but would return tomorrow for the next procedures. 

I got on the phone with the doctor's office. I did not get mad and I did not raise my voice but I very firmly stated I thought it made no sense whatsoever for her to be released from the hospital only to go right back there tomorrow, especially given the amount of pain she is still in and how sick she has been.

I got a call back a few minutes later and was told the doctor had canceled the discharge. I thanked the person who told me this, but told her I still had great concerns about communication throughout this ordeal. And I still do.

More than anything, I want Wife to be OK and to come home well on her way to recovery.

I have the utmost respect for folks in healthcare and I know the stress they are under right now. I'm not finding fault with anyone here. But when it's over, I think I'll send a nice letter to the hospital and the doctor's office, simply offering my observations and how this might have been handled differently or better. Maybe we can all learn something.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Notes from Isolation: Final Installment

Our neighbors in our mother city to the north (Nashville) are still under stay-at-home orders. But a few miles south where I live, we're slowly coming out of quarantine.

For Wife and me, things aren't changing that much. I'm still working from home and we are both not getting out much, other than to take our walks and drives. We run into a grocery store, drugstore or hardware store here and there for provisions, and those visits are planned so they are quick. We wear masks.

In each of our cars we keep a bottle of hand sanitizer. They are also strategically located throughout the house, although I much prefer plain soap and water when I'm not away from home.

We have scarcely had anyone in our house for going on seven weeks. We now attend virtual church and our small group meets that way too.

Several times during this time period, we've had friends come sit on our back deck with us for late afternoon visits. Those hours have been precious, and for minutes at a time we forget how the world has been turned upside down in less than two months' time.

Although we have enjoyed some things on TV here and there, Wife and I have learned we are not the binge-watcher types. Instead, as some evenings have stretched before us, we've pulled out some old games and refreshed ourselves on Yahtzee, Chinese checkers and Mancala.

Wife also has a computerized bridge game and I'll sit beside her and we'll play with a virtual partner.

And of course we are both voracious readers.

To be sure, we miss our family. We are getting closer to seeing them, however, and I see that coming in the next week or so.

Some close friends have a lake house in north Alabama, about two hours away from here, and it has a guest house. They have told us, should we want a change of scenery, we are welcome to use it. We have decided to take them up on that, and later today, after my workday, we will drive there and stay a few days.

It's fully equipped with Wi-Fi and it's in cell phone range, so I can work from there as easily as here.

I told Wife last night I feel like we are escaping from something, and half-wonder if we'll be stopped at the border! (I'm kidding . . . . but I do feel somewhat subversive).

In many ways these past several weeks have done a number on me. Some days I've felt downright depressed. Many mornings I have awakened feeling anxious.

But early on, as Wife and I discussed it, we agreed this is a faith-testing time. We have to draw on that, and decide if we really believe what we've always professed to believe. It's so much easier to do that when things are more stable and certain.

There is a verse in Proverbs that says to "lean not on your own understanding." I don't think it has ever been more applicable for me.

As I've previously written, I don't want to get COVID. And I sure don't want to give it to anyone.

So I am choosing to lean not on my understanding and trust the scientists and doctors who know about this kind of thing. And I'm trusting the One who has never failed me.

Because it's all I've ever known.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Do they make 'em like they used to?

You might surmise by this post I have some time on my hands.

Wife is making salsa today. It's one of her signature recipes that most people love. She usually makes it at Christmas as gifts for people, and occasionally during other times of the year just to have on hand. Our entire family loves chips and salsa, so there are never any objections when she decides to make a batch.

She has been making some to take to friends and neighbors during this quarantine/isolation time. We'll ring their doorbell and stand back or, in some cases, we'll just leave it on their front porch and send them a text to let them know it's there.

Anyway, Wife keeps her blender in a cabinet in the laundry room. She asked me to get it out for her earlier today, to use as she was making salsa, and I marveled at the age of this device. We have been married 36 years this July, and she brought it into our marriage. She estimates she had had it for at least five years at that time, so this blender is more than 40 years old.

It runs like a top. It's dependable, and she loves it. About ten years ago, her parents gave her a new one for Christmas. She received it graciously, but I could tell she wasn't all that excited about it. Kind of those "if it's not broke, don't fix it" things.

And the new blender wasn't worth a flip. It didn't satisfy her blending needs near as much as the one she already had.

I can't remember if that one played out, or what, but today we are back to the 40-plus year-old blender and Wife is as happy as can be with it.

So is it true? They don't make 'em like they used to? Anyone else have a valued old machine/device/appliance they won't part with?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Notes from Isolation: Istallment 4

It appears the country will slowly be "reopening," which I find to be a curious word. Has the country really been "closed?"

I suppose, in many ways, it has been, what with all the stores, schools and activities being shut down.

Wife and I have discussed it, and we don't really see much changing with us when the return to "normal" life begins in a couple-or-so weeks.

We are both over 60, so we are considered part of the "vulnerable" population (I promise that's the last word in quotes for this post). We really don't want to get the COVID sickness if we can avoid it.

So while we're going to go see our children and grandchildren as soon as they and we feel comfortable, we are also going to be careful. Daughter says she's not going to keep us from hugging  her children, who are now two and a half and almost six months, but I suspect it will be minimal and there will be lots of hand washing immediately following. But I can handle all the restrictions. I just need to see them.


I am going to be very unhappy if handshaking as we know it goes away. It is a gracious gesture and a sign of a civilized society. I taught all of my children they should offer their hand and look a person in the eye. Surely we can find a way to still practice this age-old gesture and still stay healthy.


There have emerged two schools of thought on how we've handled COVID.

The first one is the one that pays great attention to the science and believes it was absolutely necessary to shelter in place, stay at home, social distance, etc. To not have done so would have resulted in exponentially more cases, many more deaths and an impossible burden on our health care system, much worse than what we've seen.

According to this way of thinking, we are beginning to see fewer cases, and a slowing of the spread, because of the precautions that have been taken.

But there's another school of thought that holds we went way too far and are close to that slippery slope of losing the way of life we hold dear. What? We live in a free country and we're being told where we can and can't go? We've gone too far, they say, and the supposed models about all this were wrong. Look at what it's done to the economy -- all the lost  jobs and wrecked lives, while people are still getting sick.

There's an idea on this side of the argument called "herd immunity" (oops I broke my promise) where we should have just let the virus spread as it was going to, let those die who were gong to die (people die, and that's just how it is) and many would become immune even before a vaccine is developed.

(I know I didn't adequately explain that one, so look it up for yourself if you want more details).

I lean toward the first camp, although I've had my moments of thinking this is ridiculous. But when I hear the docs who are advising the White House (Drs. Fauci and Birx), and the surgeon general, speak, I just have to go with their expertise.

To be sure, I'm uncomfortable with all the government intrusion into our lives, and I do think it's time for the slow resumption of a more normal life, but I lean toward thinking, although perhaps some things could have been done differently, we needed to do what we did (and are still doing).

And it's what I'll continue to do for a while.

I'm fortunate to be able to work remotely and work for a company that's supportive of that. If this had happened pre-internet, things would be have markedly different.

All of this is one man's opinion, of course. If I've learned anything through all of this, it's that everyone has one!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Every Moment Holy

A couple of years ago for Christmas, Daughter and SIL gave a book to me I have come to love. It's called "Every Moment Holy" and it's a book of liturgies for everyday life.

It's a great resource for when you need to put a voice to a prayer, but aren't quite sure how.

The author lives in a Nashville suburban community not far from me and I was able to track him down. He was kind enough to schedule a meeting with me so I could write about his book and him. The meeting, of course, had to be changed to a videoconference, but he kept his commitment to meet with me. It was a real treat to get to meet him.

The piece I wrote ran this week and I'm sharing it with you here:

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Notes from isolation: Installment 3

Wife and I have gotten pretty serious about the social distancing thing. We're ordering groceries online and our daily outings generally consist of the walks we take. We'll take an occasional drive, and we'll occasionally pick up food from a place that's preparing takeout. Hopefully our support, and the support of others, will help keep them in business.

Last Sunday we took a drive on the Natchez Trace, a beautiful highway a few miles from us that runs from Nashville all the way to Natchez, MS, and is protected by the Department of Interior, kind of like a national park. There are no billboards and if you need gas, you have to get off.

Anyway, it's a wonderful little gem near us and there are some parks along it where there are some great hiking trails. We took a picnic lunch with us to one of those and enjoyed it there, then took a short hike. Many folks were doing the same thing, but everyone was being careful to keep a safe distance.

I hope our parks don't close after the action our governor took today.

He issued a stay-at-home order today, after he had issued a "safer-at-home" order earlier this week. The safer-at-home order was a strong suggestion, while the stay-at-home order is a genuine order, the violation of which is punishable, I suppose, by jail time. I don't know that they would really haul someone in; I'm guessing if you were found in violation, you'd get a warning and maybe an officer would follow you home.

I don't know because, once again, this is all unprecedented.

And I'm not sure if that means our park trails are going to close. I hope not. We're walking a lot in our neighborhood, but for a change of scenery we'll go to one of the nearby parks that has walking trails.

Apparently the powers-that-be could tell from cell phone data that people weren't staying in as they were supposed to. I don't know how that works but it kind of gives me the creeps because it's rather big brother-ish, don't you think?

Of course, if you work for an "essential" business, you go to work. Since I work for a bank, I'm essential, but I'm back office, so we're at home. But if I wanted to go in to work, apparently I could carry something with me proving I'm a bank employee and I would be OK.

Other essential businesses include, among others, construction businesses, car repair places, grocery and convenience stores employees and places providing curbside or delivery services. I am pleased this includes my favorite craft brewery, and I have been by there a couple of times to show my support and make a purchase.

It's all very bizarre. I can't imagine what online church is going to be like Easter Sunday.

But then again, I haven't been able to imagine a lot of things that are happening right before my eyes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Notes from Isolation: Installment 2

We are well into this thing of isolating and social distancing now.

I'm into the routine of working remotely and have incorporated video chatting into some of my meetings. That means my colleagues get to see the inside of my closet, which is where I office.

Wife suggested moving the video chat location somewhere else, that perhaps she's not ready to be that intimate with my coworkers. Point taken.

We are chatting that way (Face Time) with the family too, and it helps to see our grands. The two little guys don't stay still long enough for a long conversation, but just to see them run around and act like the two-year-olds they are warms our hearts.

And our little angel, our granddaughter, almost five months old? Don't get me started.

Yesterday was perhaps the first day I never left the house and I never even went outside. It rained all day so we missed our walks, and Wife brought in the paper for me.

I must do better than that. I went to bed last night with a little heaviness in my heart, and I think that's part of it. Fresh air does the body good and I have to make sure I'm getting plenty.

I've never denied I'm an introvert, but I miss people. I miss nuzzling into the necks of my grandsons and giving my sweet daughter and daughter-in-law hugs. I miss cooing at my granddaughter. I miss my boys hitting me on the shoulder.

I miss seeing my friends and my work colleagues.

And I'll never again take for granted the privilege of those relationships.


One of our pastors is texting us daily devotionals apropos to the season in which we are living. Every one ends challenging us to find something we're thankful for. That's a good exercise and I have plenty.


I'm not going to get into the politics of all of this here, but I am skeptical of the country being "back open" by Easter, as President Trump said yesterday.

What an opportunity this was for him to be presidential and to be the kind of leader we need. I'm no psychologist, but I think there is something way down inside of him that simply can't help lashing out at anyone who dares to question him.

Yes, those reporters in the briefing room ask some silly questions. But all he has to do is give a brief answer and move on. He doesn't have to make personal attacks.

But there I go. I said I wasn't going to go political on you.


It's the start of the day and I need to think of what I'm thankful for. I'm thankful to have Wife to live through this with me, and I'm thankful we keep each other balanced. She'll talk me off the ledge, then I'll talk her off. Blessedly, we have not yet found ourselves on that ledge together.

But if we do, we know the one to talk us both down.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Notes from Isolation: Installment 1

Recent observations as Wife and I have tried to follow the instructions for "social distancing," a phrase I sincerely hope I will never again hear in my life when this is over:

-- I'm working remotely, officially beginning this past Tuesday, March 17, but which began for me last Friday, March 13. I have worked from home part of each week for the past 15 years, but never on a consistent day-to-day basis, nor when most of my colleagues are doing so. We have a regular morning call each morning at 9 to check in with each other and hear the latest from the company leadership. Most of you know I work for a bank, and while the front-line customer facing folks need to be on-site, many of the back-office functions can be done remotely. It presents challenges at times, but it can be done.

-- Older Son, DIL and their son were here over the weekend, in from Atlanta. When they got word our grandson's daycare would be closed, they decided he and his mom would stay here this week so she could work remotely and have childcare (us and her parents, who live nearby). So we've had the lovely distraction of having one of our two-year-old grandsons here this week. They've alternated days where he's here during the day and she works at her parents' house, and the reverse of that. We will miss them when they go back to Atlanta Friday.

-- Wife and I have quickly seen we need to limit our daytime news consumption. Since I'm working, it's not that difficult for me, but she was finding herself drawn to non-stop news. I am NOT an anti-media person and frankly, I think most of them are doing the best they can to report what is happening. And as a consumer of news, we need to be smart. If we watch Fox News, they are going to tell us what a great job Trump is doing with this and they're going to underplay the effects of COVID-19. If we watch CNN or CNBC, we can expect, as soon as Trump has had a press briefing, for the folks on those stations to immediately tell us how what he just said contradicts everything else he has said and how his administration is leading us off a cliff. So we have established a routine of watching our local evening news, then the national news on NBC, and leaving it at that. We might read the occasional news alert that comes on our phones, but we are rationing our news consumption and staying away from the aforementioned 24-hour news stations. We have decided it's not healthy. Yes we stay informed, but we are limiting our news intake.

-- Our church held live streaming services this past Sunday and it worked well. They already have the technology in place to do it, since they already do it each week. But like working from home, we're not accustomed to everyone attending church that way. During the time we greet each other, we sent text messages. Wife and I lead a small group in our church and we're sending out emails every few days to stay in touch and let folks hit "reply all" to tell us how they are and any prayer requests they might have.

-- We're trying to walk a lot, even though we've had tons of rain (which doesn't help to lift our spirits). Some neighbors who have a young family stopped us a couple of nights ago and inquired as to our wellbeing and asked if we need anything. Translation: "We think you are old." That's 100 percent OK, and I'm glad we're looking out for each other.

More later.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

It’s here

Well, the first case of corona virus in Tennessee is right here in the county where I live. RIGHT. HERE.

Apparently the guy who has it traveled domestically in the last week. He has self-isolated.

In an abundance of caution, our schools are closed Friday and Monday during which time “deep cleaning” will take place. That’s probably sensible.

Wife and I are trying to be sensible too. We’re taking the precautions like washing our hands often.

If we were younger, we wouldn’t be overly concerned. I don’t know that we’re considered “elderly,” which seem to be the ones hardest hit and about which there is the most concern. But we’re not spring chickens, that’s for sure.

We’re supposed to board a plane to Tampa, Florida a week from Saturday and we’re trying to decide if we should do that or not. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I also have to consider the risk. There are many unknowns and even though, according to everything I have read and heard, the odds of getting the virus are low, and if one does get it, the likelihood of surviving and recovering are high, I don’t want to take unnecessary risk and be one who gives it to someone else.

I’m pretty bummed about what this is doing to our retirement accounts too. Wife talked to our financial advisor a week ago when the downward spiral began, and he said we should hold tight for now and if we have some extra cash, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in some stocks while they’re on the low side. He’s probably right, but right now I’m more inclined to hoard what cash I have.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


When I went to bed last night, it was raining.

I went upstairs about 9:30 and read for a while before dozing off. Wife had left in the late afternoon to go to Huntsville, with plans to go to Atlanta later today.

I heard it raining and thundering pretty strongly during the night but slept fairly soundly. A friend texted me just before 6 a.m. to ask if we were OK.

It was then I learned a tornado had touched down a few miles north of here. The damage is substantial, with eight people confirmed dead so far.

It's all that's on our local news coverage and it's sobering to see buildings and landmarks I'm familiar with that were hit.

We're no strangers to tornados here and our first responders are on sight. Just under 50,000 folks are without power. Relief stations have been set up. The mayor and governor held a joint press conference and apparently they've been in touch with the president.

Right now all we can do is pray for those who have been affected. I sent a text to a young friend who lives in East Nashville offering our home if they need a place to go. She said they were fortunate. They lost power for a few hours but it has been restored.

I'm on the board of directors for a local homeless shelter and life recovery center and our women's campus is without power, but the buildings were not damaged.

I learned a long time ago to respect these storms but I am probably not careful enough. I was unaware of anything other than strong rain until I got up this morning.

Down here south of Nashville we dodged another bullet. We're praying for our nearby neighbors.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A new low?

I don’t write much about politics here. Not anymore anyway.

It’s funny - if you were to go back and read posts from the first couple of years of this blog, you would think I was pretty right-wing at the time. And maybe I was, as I wrote in defense of Sarah Palin!

I’ve mellowed a good bit over the years and decided quite some time ago to dial it back with politics here.

It’s still a matter of interest, and I write the occasional political piece for the local weekly column I write. While I try to come from the perspective of an observer, my leanings have come through a time or two.

Interestingly, readers have accused me of being both liberal and conservative, accusations that have come with disdain. And I get a kick out of that. I answer all emails politely. I always thank the reader for his/her comments, and for taking time to write.

A few readers have responded to my response, expressing surprise that I would be gracious when their intention was to be critical and, at least once, downright mean.

The way I see it is I put myself out there and I have to be willing to take my lumps. Truth be told, I don’t get a lot of reader feedback and I’m grateful for most forms of it. And the guy who was mean was so taken aback by my response that he wrote back and apologized.

Mine is a learned behavior. Believe me, there have been times I wanted to fire back and give as good as it was given. (I’ve written some drafts in that fashion and deleted them).

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address last night. With it coming the night before the senators would be voting in the impeachment trial, I knew it had the potential to be awkward and I just didn’t have the stomach for it.

And I was right. President Trump walked up to the podium and handed a copy of his speech to Vice President Pence and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, both of whom stood behind him, as is customary.

Pelosi extended her hand to Trump. He turned around without taking it.

It was a classless move, the kind we have come to expect from this person who couldn’t care less about what being presidential looks like.

Some have defended him, saying he didn’t see her try to shake hands with him.

I don’t believe it, but even if that is the case, he should have been the one to extend his hand to her, especially in light of the circumstances. As the leader of this country, he of all people should demonstrate how, in certain moments, differences can be put aside.

But that has never been his style, and he acted in accordance with who he is.

At the end of the speech, Madam Speaker had had all she could take. As everyone stood, she stood, and she took the transcript of Trump’s speech and tore it to shreds.

And you know, she probably shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t becoming of her and she looked a bit childish. And she kind of brought herself to his level in doing so.

I wish she had just stood there and clapped politely for a minute, then made her leave.

But if I’m honest, I can’t say I blame her and I can’t say I might not have done the same thing. I hope not, but under those circumstances, I don’t know that I could have been as gracious as I always try to be.

Friday, January 10, 2020

2019 reading: fiction

Before I proceed with my recap of fiction reading from 2019, I need to make two corrections to my last post that summarized non-fiction. I realize this means little, if anything, to readers here, but I am just anal-retentive enough not to want a permanent record of inaccurate information.

So please indulge me.

First, I failed to mention a non-fiction book, "The Education of Ernie Dumas," by Ernie Dumas, which was given to me by a good friend in Little Rock. This one would be of little interest to anyone who never lived in Arkansas or followed the politics there. Because I grew up there and lived there as an adult until 1997, it was tremendously interesting to me. Dumas was a reporter and editorial writer for the now-defunct Arkansas Gazette, and was born and raised in my hometown. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. (With this, the number of books read in 2019 was 38 rather than 37).

The other error was when I said I had never read anything by Henri Nouwen until 2019. Soon after I published the post, I remembered a few years ago I read his beautiful account of the story of the prodigal son, "The Return of the Prodigal Son."

As they say in the journalism business, the writer regrets the error(s).

On to fiction for 2019. I read John Grisham's last two, "The Reckoning," and "Guardians." Say what you will about him and the way he churns out books, but I love his storytelling. These did not disappoint.

Years ago I read "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, but only last year got around to reading the other two in the non-chronological trilogy: "Lila" and "Home." I compare Robinson's character development to Wendell Berry, and that's high praise.

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver had been passed on to my wife in paperback years ago, and was on the bookshelf in our closet. For whatever reason, one day it caught my eye and I decided to read it. It's the story of a missionary family that moved from Georgia to the Congo in the late 1950s and how it affected their lives. It's masterfully written and I enjoyed it immensely, but as I read I couldn't help but think Kingsolver had some kind of agenda, perhaps pertaining to evangelical Christianity. This opinion is shared by some others with whom I have spoken, and apparently it's even stronger in some of her more recent writing. It was still a good book, and I usually look past agendas, but let the unsuspecting reader beware.

I really enjoyed "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones, the subject matter of which is exactly what the title describes, but specifically about marriage in the African-American culture.

A friend at work put me onto Greg Iles, a southern author who has a series about a lawyer-turned-writer (think Grisham-ish) who gets into some pretty outlandish  and far-fetched crime-related situations. I read the first three, "Quiet Game," "Turning Angel" and "The Devil's Punchbowl." These provided entertaining, lose-yourself-in-the story reading and I liked them a lot.

Speaking of, I've read a few in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, and last year added "The Midnight Line." I wasn't looking to read another, but when I was leaving Vienna last May to come home, I had finished everything I had taken to read on that trip. This one, in paperback, was in an airport bookstore and was part of a select group in English, so I picked it up to start on the ten-hour flight. It kept my attention enough that I finished it when I got home.

Continuing series reading, I am indebted to longtime and blog friend Kelly, who told me about Donna Leon and her Commissioner Brunetti series, set in Venice. I read three, "Death at La Fenice," "Death in a Strange Country" and "Dressed for Death."  I read the first one not long after returning from Venice, which made it even more enjoyable. Like Louise Penny's delightful Inspector Gamache series, there are quirky, lovable characters and interesting stories with unexpected plot twists. I look forward to reading more.

And speaking of the Inspector Gamache series, I'm slowly making it through those, and read "The Cruelest Month" and "A Rule Against Murder" last year.

And finally on the series front, I completed "The Colors of All the Cattle," the latest (at the time) in Alexander McCall Smith's "Number One Ladies Detective Agency" series. Great reading and this one was as good as all the others.

"Where'd You Go Bernadette?" by Maria Semple was made into a movie last year, and when I saw a trailer, I decided I would like to read the book first, as I often do. It's great, and I highly recommend it, but I can't speak to the movie as I never got around to seeing it.

I still love to read anything by British author Nick Hornby. At an Airbnb I stayed in last winter, the owners had a copy of "State of the Union," a hilarious short account of a modern marriage. I read it in two sittings.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, a first-time novel by this nature writer, was a blockbuster bestseller last year. I'm usually not one for the "latest and greatest" and one that my wife builds up so much that there's no way it can live up to her hype, but I loved this. It's a beautifully written coming-of-age story about an endearing young girl who accomplishes more than she could ever imagine, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That, along with the author's incredible descriptions of the South Carolina beaches and marsh, captivated me from page one.

I've read several by Charles Martin, a Christian author who writes stories with a spiritual theme without being preachy, and added "When Crickets Cry" to the list. This is a favorite among many Martin fans, the story of a man with a past who builds an unlikely friendship with a little girl fighting to have a future.

"The Most Fun We Ever Had" by Claire Lombardo showed up as a suggestion on my Kindle. The library had it available, so I tried it. It was one of those books in which I didn't like any of the characters, but I couldn't put it down.

"Summons to Memphis" by Peter Taylor is a great story about a Memphian who relocates to New York City, summoned back (hence the name) by his manipulative sisters to try and prevent their widowed father from remarrying. This was written in 1986 and was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Read it and you'll understand why.

"Boy's Life" by Robert McCammon was my favorite fiction book of the year. McCammon, from Alabama, is an author I would have never thought of reading, especially since he made a name for himself in the horror genre. (Nothing wrong with that, just not my thing). This one, however, traces a slice of the life of an 11-year-old boy who, along with his father, witness a car plunging into a river and a desperate rescue attempt. Against that backdrop, McCammon weaves a story that includes mystery, a bit of mysticism, and painful and poignant family life. I found it a bit like "Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Krueger, but with a different twist. I'm really not doing it justice, so trust me and put it on your TBR.


As a final comment, I continue to enjoy electronic reading (along with print) and I have no doubt it's the reason my reading has increased. As it is with books in print, publishers limit releases of the electronic editions. Now that libraries have gotten in on this, which is where I get most of my books, I have to put holds on some of the more popular titles, just as with print editions. I get an email when it's available.

The problem is, I might have a number of books on hold, and I might get several emails in a matter of a couple of days, notifying me a book is available for download. If someone else is waiting for it, I only have it for 21 days. Unfortunately that seems to be the case with a number of books I want to read.  At the end of 21 days, I can buy it, but that kind of defeats the purpose when I'm trying to avoid that in the first place.

Oh well, a good problem to have, I suppose. I'll go to my grave with books still unread. But I have a hunch there will be reading in heaven.