Sunday, May 29, 2016

Buying Local Blues

Our first night in Nashville involved a restaurant incident that illustrates perfectly the down side to "buying local." Whenever we are out of town we like to eat at places indigenous to the city we are in, you know...sampling the local talent, so to speak. So last night, Pam gets on some app she has looking for a place close to our hotel where we could meet the kids for dinner. We found the perfect place...Murff's Craft Brews and Burgers. The owner was a decorated Vietnam vet with a local reputation for some sort of secret ingredient that had been celebrated on Nashville television. It's website looked amazing. We made a date.

We pull up into the parking lot and there were cars everywhere, a good sign. The place looked like a greasy spoon, but in a charming kind of way. I was psyched. Then things took a turn...

The front door of Murff's displayed a homemade, hand printed sign taped to the inside of the glass door just above the door handle, impossible to miss. It warned potential customers of the deadly dangers of consuming meat that isn't properly cooked. Needless to say, this isn't exactly the greeting one is looking for when entering a low grade eating establishment with burgers in its name. Then it got worse...much worse. Upon entering Murff's we were simultaneously greeted by two body blows. First, an elderly man( maybe Murff himself?), actually cleaning glasses with a towel from behind the bar greeted us, "Good to see you folks. Sit anywhere you want." Then it hit us...the smell. How to explain? The place reeked of strong, industrial strength disinfectant, like someone had just steam cleaned the place with Lysol ten minutes after they had exterminated the place with one of those lethal foggers. The other patrons seemed oblivious to the smell. None of us could imagine being able to eat anything inside a place that smelled like a DuPont plant might smell after consuming a tractor trailer full of rotten sardines. No, no...Pam laid down the!

The app was once again put to work. This time we found a Firebirds only half a mile away. Pam says, "See, this is why people like chain restaurants. Quality control. You always know what you're going to get. It's comforting..."

Yes. Yes it is. My steak was wonderful. Afterwards it was ice cream at Coldstone Creamery. Today, after church we will try another local BBQ joint. Hopefully we will have better luck.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Is She Hurt, or Is She Scamming Us?

Displaying her instinctive knack for horrible timing, Miss Lucy has come up lame a mere 24 hours before we are to depart for Nashville. She has developed a rather severe limp, her right front paw suddenly hardly touching the floor when she walks. When we inspect her leg she doesn't wince or recoil from our touch. Nothing seems amiss, no swelling of any kind. But she is favoring that leg to an extreme degree.

So, her bed is now in my library and a gate has been placed at the stairs to keep her from using them. Maybe she pulled a muscle in one of her daily frisbee catching workouts. She loves to launch herself into the air and catch the frisbee at its highest possible point, which looks beautifully athletic and graceful, but sometimes she comes back down to earth at awkward angles. Or, maybe she can tell that we are heading out for the long weekend and this is all a stunt to change our minds. This "injury" sure looks serious when she limps around, but it doesn't stop her from her manic gyrations and general goofiness whenever we enter the room. Last night when Ryan and Ron came over, she was in full whirling dervish mode, albeit with a pronounced hitch in her gettiup. 

This morning, after the guy from Gurkin comes to fix the upstairs air conditioner( a story for another time), I will take her to the Vet. 

Poor girl...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Libertarian Moment?

Stumbled upon this on the interwebs this morning. Fascinating. Although I have several quibbles and a few nits to pick, in general, I find this very useful as a summary of the power of rhetoric. 

It is clear to me why I lean Libertarian on so many of today's issues. First of all, Libertairans always win the battle of language. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the three parties words of choice on the economy...Democrats-regulated markets, Republicans-American capitalism, and Libertarians-free markets. Or, take the role of the military...Democrats-policing, Republicans-Expansion of democracy, Libertarians-defense. The differences could not possibly be clearer.

However, winning the language in politics is never enough, and has never been enough. You also need to win the theatre of politics...the optics. Libertarians always lose the optics. The guy in a debate who prattles on about natural law, responsibility, and individual initiative will always lose. Which brings me to the root of Libertarian failure in the modern political era....nobody wants to buy what they are selling. The core of Libertarian philosophy is the notion that we are all free agents and as such are ultimately responsible for ourselves. We look to government to provide only the things that individuals cannot efficiently provide for themselves, the common defense, a system of justice and the administration of that justice, and common infrastructure. This humble expectation of government involvement in daily life seems quite charming in a time when government has become so intertwined in every arena of life that they have taken to the administration of bathroom facilities! 

The fact is that Americans have looked at the world around them and discovered that it can be a hard and scary place. They have also discovered that this whole individual initiative business can be tough sledding. Life is hard, man! Liberty and freedom are fine, but what we really want is free health care, unlimited unemployment and an activist government to guarantee a whole host of comforts that our forefathers believed were the responsibility of each of us.( see item number 2 above )

So, while I admire this handy chart and agree with much of it, it reads like some ancient text. The Libertarian moment in America was 1776. It has long passed, and I doubt it will reappear again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

About the election.....

Have you noticed how I haven't written much about the Presidential contest lately? There was a time when the subject dominated this space. Now it gets largely ignored. There's a reason for that...I simply don't know what to say anymore. Hillary is still Hillary. Trump is still Trump, and Bernie is still a thing.

This election is like a dark menacing cloud off in the distance when you're enjoying a picnic. It's like the first intestinal cramp you feel after buckling your seatbelt on a cross country flight, or that sinking feeling you get once you realize that you should have gone to the bathroom before leaving the house but now you're buckled in with your maniacal conquer the trip husband whose determined to make it to Nashville with only one stop. 

Hillary can't put Bernie away. He's got no chance to win and he knows it, but he doesn't care. He's in it until the convention and intends to make Hillary sweat it out...because he A. Can and B. He can't stand the sight of her. There are, after all, advantages to being an older man in politics. Bernie isn't interested in waiting four or eight years to make another run. I mean, just look at the guy 

He might not even be alive eight years from now. No, he's all in for 2016, and if Hillary and the Democratic Party brass don't like it, they can all go to hell and get off his lawn!!!

So Hillary is left thrashing around for a campaign theme, trying desperately to fake authenticity. Remember a few weeks ago when her campaign printed up a million Women Cards? 

Yeah, well...Hillary hopes you forget. This brilliant idea polled about as well as Ted Cruz in New York City! Then she trotted out the loose cannon bit to describe Trump. This was apparently some field tested, poll-approved phrase that the Clinton campaign thought would resonate with the American people. Only, it bombed. Note to Clinton campaign: when testing phrases on the "American People" try using Americans who live somewhere outside of Manhattan.

Then, there's this guy. 

There's a reason he's smiling. He's now leading Hillary in several polls, more each week it seems. He doesn't have to hire consultants, doesn't have to employ campaign gurus, doesn't even have a pollster. Heck, he doesn't even have to be right about anything. All he has to do is be himself. All the wise men, not to mention idiots like me, keep predicting his demise....but he keeps on winning. 

So yeah...I haven't had much to say about this race of late because what is there to say? Nothing I say will be as outrageous as everything Trump says, and I couldn't be as boring as Hillary if my life depended on it, so I'm just going to sit back for awhile and let the candidates speak for themselves. 'bout the weather we've been having, eh?

Monday, May 23, 2016's raining.

It's the 23rd of May. It's raining. It's been raining all night, all weekend. As a matter of fact, it's rained for 17 days and nights during May. That means that the citizens of Short Pump have enjoyed exactly 6 sunny days this month. This, despite the fact that a famous nursery rhyme promises us that April showers bring May flowers. Of course, another one promises us that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Lies. All lies.

However, my weather app assures me that it's almost over. The next five days feature a bright sun with no clouds and temperatures in the 90's. Wait, WHAT

I'm told that the fine people of the Pacific Northwest live like this all year long. Rain, either in the form of showers, steady soaking rain or fine mist is the standard forecast for large stretches of the year. If this is true, then to the good people of Seattle I can only say, bless your hearts. If this is what your life is like all year, then no wonder you birthed punk rock. No stinking wonder you elected Patty Murray!! No wonder you're the home of Starbucks...caffeine by the truckload does lift the spirits...and no wonder you guys built the space needle, all the better to impale yourself. Oh, and all of that 12th man nonsense with your Seahawks? That's not enthusiasm, that's pent up rage! Oh, and don't think I haven't noticed that the most popular boy name in Seattle is Noah.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Prayer For Miss Lucy...

It's Saturday morning after a long and strenuous week. It is pouring down rain, and I do mean pouring. This is no intermittent shower, no soft mist. This is a deluge of rain, the type of Noah-esk event that sends the delicate imaginations of my dog Lucy into full derangement. She has spent most of the morning hunkered down in our small, dark walk-in closet imagining all of the worst case scenarios possible for the mind of a golden retriever. Maybe she thinks that the rushing sound that rain makes on our roof is the precursor of some sort of violent home invasion. Perhaps she fears that the rain is about to burst through the front door and steal her food. Whatever it is, she is taking no chances...shivering in a ball in the protective confines of our closet.

Of late, Lucy seems to have taken several steps back in her ongoing battle for mental health. Just about the time when she makes us think that she is becoming a normal, well-adjusted dog, inexplicably, she skips meals and slinks around the house like a shell-shocked infantryman on Omaha Beach

Lucy: Whoa!, wait..what's that sound??!!

Pam: Sorry Lucy! Mommy just dropped a piece of celery on the's ok! 

Lucy: Geeze Louise!! Would it kill you to give a dog a warning??!!

The weirdest part about Lucy's daily display of neurosis is her bizarre meal time behavior. Every dog I have ever had has always had the same meal time M.O. As you stand at the counter mixing up the kibble, the dog nervously pants, hardly able to restrain him/herself. Then you place the bowl on the floor and the dog attacks the thing like you haven't fed him/her in weeks! The whole thing is over in two minutes! Not Miss Lucy.

Me: You want some dinner Lucy? Daddy's got some dinner for that sweet puppy!

Lucy: ...completely disinterested, she sits in the next room staring at me, giving off the air of someone who couldn't possibly care less, weirdly cat-like.

Pam: Come eat your dinner Lucy. See? Mommy will sit perfectly still in this chair, and Daddy will go in the other room and be quiet so you can eat.

Then, and only then, will she slowly hurumph herself into the kitchen to inspect tonight's fare. She will slowly and carefully begin to eat her dinner, always keeping a sharp eye out for the appearance of some demonic beast who might suddenly swoop down from the ceiling fan to kill us all! Yes, the ceiling fan has been the source of intense fear and loathing ever since that fateful morning over a year ago when Lucy was laying on our bed minding her own business, when Pam accidentally flipped the switch for the ceiling fan instead of the light. Up until that point, Lucy had never seen the ceiling fan engaged in fan-like activity. Seeing it suddenly come to life above her was apparently the most terrifying thing ever. She bolted off the bed and out of the room faster than you could say,"Our dog is insane." Ever since that day, Lucy has been highly aware of the several ceiling fans in our house. Although we have taken special care never to turn them on ever again, she isn't convinced. Every so often, she will cast a wary eye upwards just to make sure that the fans aren't trying to pull a fast one, her hatred of them palpable. Oh, and don't even think about asking her to go for a walk in the Center Ridge culdesac since she saw a trash truck there six months ago!!

I could make a realty television show about Lucy's upcoming month long adventure to a lake house in Maine. The trip up alone would be a smash hit! 

Pray for us!

Friday, May 20, 2016

An Idea About Race

It doesn't take a genius to see that race relations in this country have taken several giant steps backwards over the past few years. I have written several times in this space about the hopelessness I feel concerning this subject. I watched the violence in Ferguson and Baltimore and felt like there wasn't anything I could do about any of it. My progressive friends all clammer for more government programs. My conservative friends prefer more aggressive policing. Then the black lives matter movement showed up and both sides doubled down. It's a hot mess.

I suppose that one of the problems is that as a white man, my ideas on this subject come from a place which is largely unfamiliar to a black man. My life experiences have been different. Some would refer to me as privileged. Although I started out my life in a trailer park on the south side of Richmond, to many the mere fact that I was born white provides a giant asterisk to every success that I have enjoyed in life. Moreover, being born into a two parent family who read to me every night provided me with an unfair advantage over anyone not so endowed at birth with a stable, literate family. Because of all of the unfair advantages bestowed upon me at birth, reparations need to be made...from me, to those less fortunate. At least, this is my understanding of modern, progressive race theory. But, I'm no social scientist. So, most of this type of talk goes right over my head, right after it infuriates me.

But, I am a human being, and a Christian. The teachings of my faith make it clear that whenever possible, I need to strive to be a peace maker, and agent of reconciliation. To that end, I've been kicking around the idea of reaching out to a group of my former Sunday School students who are still in town. I'm going to throw a cookout, grill up some steaks. In the past, that always guaranteed a crowd! The group I'm thinking about would be a mix of several races, all solid young men trying to make their way in the world, but from vastly different backgrounds. I'm going to give them a summer reading project. I'm going to ask them to come together at my house once a week over the month of August until we get through the book together. The book is "Under Our Skin" written by Benjamin Watson. I haven't read it yet myself, but it comes highly recommended by several men who I respect. It's a difficult read, they say...challenging and tough, but worth the effort.

I'm not even sure this will do any good. These guys might be too busy, or maybe my time with them has passed. But, I feel the need to do something. There might not be a damn thing I can do about Ferguson and Baltimore. But, if it's possible to make Short Pump a little better, I've got to try. I might not even like everything I read in the book. Maybe our discussions wind up being arguments. But at least we will be struggling together to find our own solutions. Asking the question, How should my faith inform my thinking about race, is a loaded question, after all. Could be great, could be a disaster.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

May 19, 1984

Thirty two years ago this morning, I was engaged in a spirited full court basketball game at my apartment complex. My groomsmen were making a number of off color wisecracks at my expense, as you would expect from the sort of guys who someone like me would have as groomsmen. But I needed to be playing basketball that morning. I was nervous. Very nervous.

I was about to marry Pam White, the oldest of the three White daughters from a little town in western Maine.

She was a ridiculously beautiful blond, smart, adventurous and funny. I couldn't believe my good fortune to have found someone like her. So, why was I so nervous? Because I was 26 years old and about to make the most important decision of my life, that's why! A million questions were racing around in my head. How could anyone possibly commit to anyone...forever? What happens if you wake up one day and discover that you don't love her anymore? Suppose she turns out to be a communist, a hoarder, or even worse...a horrible cook? Suppose she wakes up one day and realizes that she could have done so much better?? Such were the worst case scenarios running through my head as I paced back and forth in the clammy basement of Winns Baptist Church with my best man, Al Thomason, listening to the organ prelude. The place was packed with every important person I had known to that point in my life, and I was about to walk up the stairs to the front of the church to face them all dressed in a really sharp tuxedo. My palms were sweating, my hands shaking. But then I saw her standing in the back of the church with her Dad.

I remember thinking,...Holy Cow, how did I ever pull this off? For the first time in over a month, I wasn't nervous anymore. I could finally breathe. I knew in that instant that I was doing the right thing, the perfect thing.

Thirty two years later, we are still together. There have been plenty of times when she has thought,...I could have done so much better. Like the time she found out that I had played tackle football with a bunch of high school boys in freezing weather six months after undergoing open heart surgery. Or the multiple times I have been guilty of launching some ill-conceived, bone headed, semi-dangerous plan involving the kids. But, mostly she still loves me. Imagine that?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

17 Days Late

This morning, I learn two remarkable facts. First, it will not be raining today. Second, apparently I forgot to pay my mortgage last month. 

Yes, there's nothing quite like the feelings that flood into your mind when you open your bank account app and get greeted by a blinking pop-up that informs you that your mortgage payment is now 17 days late!! What the heck? What do they mean with this 17 days late nonsense? I pay my mortgage on the first of every month, have been for 204 consecutive months now. I hit the transfer tab and send the payment automatically each and every month...on the 1st. Only, upon further review, it appears that I had indeed queued it up to send...but never actually hit send! Perhaps I got distracted by an incoming phone call. Maybe I was prepared to hit send and got sidetracked by a bout of rapid fire sneezing which disoriented me. Whatever the reason, I did not pay my mortgage and it is indeed 17 days late. 

Unfortunately, this issue brings back some unpleasant memories for me. Four years ago my Mom called me in a panic. Dad was horrified to learn that his checking account was terribly overdrawn. He was embarrassed and mad at himself for making such a mess of his checkbook. She asked me if I would take a look at it. So, I drove over their one night and sat down with them around the kitchen table to get to the bottom of it. My Dad was a proud man. Although he had never made a lot of money, he was proud of his exemplary credit and how he had never bounced a check in his life. Now, suddenly...there were 14 such bounced checks, and he had a defeated look on his face like nothing I had ever seen. I immediately started cracking jokes, desperate to keep things light. It wasn't working. After a couple of hours I found the source of the problem...a month previous to all of the bounced checks Dad had entered two consecutive large payments as deposits. Consequently, he thought he had plenty of money in his account. Finally the math errors had caught up with him. I managed to make him laugh about it eventually...perhaps my finest comedic performance of all time. But there was something else I found which was more disturbing than a mere math error. Dad's handwriting always had a bold flair to it. His penmanship, like so many others of his generation, was flawless. But, several months back in his ledgers I saw abrupt departure from meticulous to sloppy. It hadn't been a gradual thing, it was immediate and total. It was about the time where the error was found.

Not long after, Dad made me power of attorney for his affairs and turned the checkbook over to me. He actually seemed relieved, but sad at the same time. So did I.

So, when I see the flashing warning about my late mortgage payment, I think of Dad. No, I haven't started bouncing checks, this was just a random mistake. We all make them. But it serves as a reminder that we are all getting older. Wiser too, but older nonetheless. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Graduation Story

My nephew graduated from college yesterday. I come from a tribe of people where this sort of thing is celebrated. It's a milestone, a seminal event. Whenever possible, we show up at these things. In my time on this planet, I have been a part of countless graduation ceremonies.

They are all horrible.

Our day began at 5 o'clock in the morning. That's how early I had to roll out of the rack in order to get to Lynchburg in time for the 8:45 processional. The day was glorious, bright sunshine and perfect temperature, but the day came with a unanimous disclaimer from every weatherman in the State of Virginia...strong chance of afternoon thunderstorms. But surely we would be out of harms way by the afternoon, right? I mean, long can a graduation that begins at 8:45 last??

Answer? All. Freaking. Day.

Here's the deal with college graduations. Every speaker seems to think that the 35,000 people in the stadium all came to hear them speak. So, all of them prattle on forever, convinced that we are hanging on their every word. College Presidents are the worst. Oh how they love hearing the sound of their voice! First, there's the boilerplate "limitless future" claptrap, followed by the deadly dull regurgitation of the gold-plated legacy of the school, and finally the obligatory shout-outs to the big donors. Meanwhile, we're sitting in the sun-splashed stands, scanning the sea of 8,000 graduates trying to spot our boy, wondering why the heck we never thought to bring some dang sun screen. An hour later the guest speaker strides to the podium. His speech has been loaded into a TelePrompTer. This means that somebody, somewhere is aware that we are facing a thirty minute stem winder. A full 90 minutes after taking our seats, we hear the magic words..."and now it's time to confer degrees on our graduates." This consists of an old guy saying, "Will all candidates for the bachelor of science degree stand and be recognized." Below, from the thirty yard line to the fifty yard line, a wave of black mortar boards rise rhythmically while exhausted parents, uncles, cousins and spouses clap politely. 

I'm sitting there thinking...what the heck just happened? No, sister explains. This is just the graduation service. Ryan will walk to get his diploma at the next service...after a convenient lunch break which we will miss because the President took two hours recognizing the Dingledorph family for the having now six generations of Dingledorphs as Liberty graduates. Oh, and did you know that there are 16 sets of twins, all cancer survivors, graduating today?

After standing in line at the concession stand to buy a five dollar cheeseburger assembled last week and brought back to life twenty minutes ago by a heating lamp, I made my way down the field for the main event. I noticed off in the distance at the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains to the west a dark black line. I consulted the weather app on my cellphone and saw the giant green blob of rain that every weatherman in Virginia had been warning us about. It was rapidly making its way towards us. I took a bite of my cheeseburger. Surely the people in charge of this event are aware that God has placed us on a time clock, I thought. Then the dopey speaker spends fifteen minutes trying to coax 10,000 people to get "the wave" going. Apparently not.

By the time my nephew got his name called, the stadium was being rocked by 30 mile an hour gusts and sideways rain. It was 2:15. I had just spent five hours in a football stadium so I could get to hear my nephew's name called while huddled under an overhang in the cheap seats. 

But, all was well. We were reunited with our graduate afterwards and made plans to meet at his favorite Mexican restaurant. I had parked on the fourth level of the only parking deck on campus a mere half mile from the stadium. It was determined that I would catch the shuttle and go get the car,
then pick everyone up. Only the shuttles didn't take you to the parking deck so I had to walk. But since rain was coming down at a rate of six inches per hour, I had to run. By the time I made it to my car, I was soaked to the bone. Everything I had was wet. I grabbed a golf towel from the trunk and tried to dry off, only to realize that my golf towel was covered in dirt. So now I was not only wet, but muddy. Luckily, I had a fleece jacket in the trunk and was able to clean up with that. I back my car out of my space and get in the long line of cars trying to exit the deck. I looked at my watch. It was 2:30.

Forty minutes later, I was in the exact same spot. Apparently, nobody on this campus of higher learning thought that the spot where a line of cars pouring out of a parking deck trying to merge onto a packed road might need a traffic cop. At least I had plenty of time to dry off. 

By 4:15 our party was happily reunited at the Mexican restaurant. All the misery of the previous seven hours of incompetence was over as we enjoyed a fine meal and watched Ryan open some gifts. We will tell hilarious stories about this day for years to come...if any of us survive the skin cancer we will get from our third degree sunburns.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Maniac is Back.

My tomato plants are growing like weeds, every morning the little green balls get bigger and multiply like rabbits. I live in the suburbs. You know what that means...yes, it's open season on that most diabolical of backyard rodents, that furry ball of menace, God's big mistake...the ground squirrel.

They sit up on their haunches up in the trees at the edge of my back yard casting their beady eyes on my tomatoes, plotting their evil schemes. The older ones stay away. They know the fate of their kind who dare to enter my yard. Many of them are still nursing wounds from past years from glancing flesh wounds administered by my Daisy Powerline 35. Squirrels know it only as the Swift Sword of Death. The older ones sit around in their little squirrel legislative assembly and try to warn the kids about the maniac who lives on Aprilbud Drive. But, kids being kids, they don't listen. Instead, they try their luck. They send probing parties around the perimeter of my deck. One such scouting party wandered in this afternoon, and were met with the merciless strafing fire of the DP35. It was over in seconds.

Word will soon spread in the squirrel community that the Maniac Is Back. But it won't matter. Every year there is some up and coming hot shot in the group who thinks he's the one born to take me out. He will rally a group of equally delusional idiots bent on fame and glory...and my tomatoes. But my aim is true. I will unleash old Daisy on this year's sacrificial lambs and my back yard will be transformed into the great killing fields of squirrel myth. Only it's no myth...the destruction will be pitiless. 

But, alas, every year one gets through, usually under the cover of darkness. I wake up to find little teeth marks surrounding a quarter-sized plug that's been taken out of my most ripe Better Boy who was just days short of the harvest. I will be apoplectic with rage. Prior to this outrage, my attacks have been purely defensive. But now, I start a revengeful hunt. My neighbors start to give me fitful glances when they see me back there, and clutch their young children close. But, at the end of the day, my garden will be protected from these freeloaders at all cost.

Semper Fi.

July is Coming

For the entire month of July, this will be my home.

This will be my view. It's called Duck Cove Cottage and it sits on Hobbs Pond in Hope, Maine, about an 8 minute drive from Camden and the Atlantic Ocean. If Hobbs Pond were in Virginia it would be called a magnificent lake. But in Maine it is dwarfed by hundreds of lakes much bigger and more grand, so pond it is. We will take rental possession of this beauty on July 2nd and leave on the 30th.

We have never done anything like this before. Sure, we have taken our share of vacations, many more than most people, I will admit. But, we have never gone away for an entire month before. It has taken a lot of planning and advance work. My profession doesn't really allow a complete hiatus, so my laptop and cell phone will be with me in case of some geo-political/financial market meltdown. 
Barring Armageddon though, professional concerns will rank approximately 16th on my priorities list.

It won't be easy, pulling this off. Ok, the hardest part is over since I've already paid the rent. But, we have never packed for a month before, have you? And, transporting Miss Lucy to Maine is going to be something like Dante's nine circles of hell. It will involve one pet friendly hotel stay in Conneticut, in case you're wondering. The drive takes 13 hours, which is like six months in dog years. Actually Lucy is very much the wild card of this adventure. Will her famous neurosis go to death-com five in 
a new, strange house, or will she, like everyone else, have herself transformed by Maine? Will living here chill her out?

I can already tell what many of you are thinking...What the heck would you do in Maine for an entire month?? The answer is a combination of anything we want, and whatever seems right. The best part of being in Maine is simply...being. The lake has a magnet in it. You swim in it, fish from it, kayak on it. But you also gaze at it, and listen to it. And if fresh water ever starts to annoy you, you get in the car and drive into Camden and eat a lobster and take in a lungful of salty sea air.

Or, you can climb to the top of Mount Battie, overlooking Canden harbor with a packed lunch and pick blueberries.

Mostly, you stay outside all day. Being outside so much changes you, recalibrates your mind and gives you a ravenous appetite which gets rewarded with amazing food cooked up on grills...again outside. Then, after dinner, you walk down to the edge of the lake, light a fire and sit around it, hypnotized.

We will have guests. At some point Kaitlin and Jon will be with us, and Patrick and Sarah, hopefully on the same week. Other family will come on other weeks. Maybe we will have a week by ourselves, maybe not. This is the sort of place that you want to share.

So, we will grind through all of the packing drama, and the hellish journey up I-95. We will arrange for house sitters and assure the timely cutting of grass here in Short Pump. But we will leave the 95 degree days and the suffocating humidity behind and enjoy four weeks of Maine..." the way life ought to be."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Know There's a City...

One of the songs performed on Nashville Public Radio's Studio C program yesterday was a modern day spiritual written by a local song writer named Dan Hart. I have been obsessed with the thing ever since I heard the Portara Ensemble rehearse it over the weekend. For one thing, the guy absolutely slaying the piano is a white-haired old man who you would never guess could play anything with such soulful beauty. But what really gets me about this song is the lyrics.

There must be a well that's fed by an eternal stream of tears.
 And I have filled my cup there once too many times in my life.
  Where is your God? I have heard them say
   When they hear me cry every night and day.

But I know there's a city where sorrow is gone,
 and every tear wiped away.

Sadness in the streets I walk down, trouble everywhere I turn.
 And mourning in the hearts of those broken and bruised in this life.
  All through the night on this bed I lay.
   Longing for the light of a brand new day.

I know there's a city where the sun never sets,
 and every tear's wiped away.

I don't know about you, but there are times over the past year where I have felt these lyrics. Bearing witness to the degradations of modern life, with its cruelty and suffering, the nastiness and violent edge of our politics, makes these words come alive for me. No, our response to a screwed up world isn't simply to "lay on this bed longing for the light of a brand new day." If we see cruelty and suffering, it's our job to work to end it. Still, history teaches me that some of the evil in this world cannot be overcome. Some of our most intractable problems have no solution on this side of eternity.

But, I know there's a city....

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Facebook is Liberal?? WHAT???

News broke yesterday that everyone's favorite social media hub, Facebook, has been cooking it's news feed. Several former employees spilled the beans that the algorithm that was supposed to be driving its "whats trending" section was actually a room full of newly minted Ivy League millenials who were picking the news items which they thought should be trending. To the surprise of absolutely no one with half a brain, the stories favored by Ivy League millenials tended to be very complimentary of progressive politics to the near banishment of "conservative news" with the exception of anything that might cast that philosophy in a bad light. This morning comes news that the United States Senate is opening an "investigation" of Facebook. A few observations...

I suppose it's disappointing to learn just how many people get their news from Facebook, but this is the world we live in. It is also a little disappointing that Facebook would try to pitch a room full of news curators in the scientific language of algorithms. But, there is no news here. I have held to a conservative/libertarian political philosophy for nearly 35 years now, and in all that time, most newspapers, and almost the entirety of television news has been dominated by people who disagree with me. With the advent of social media, nothing has changed. Mark Zuckerburg is a reliable progressive, and he has a huge platform. So what? It's his company. He can do what he wants with it. That a Republican senator would want to launch an investigation into a private enterprise nosing around in its free speech rights is a ridiculous overreach. You know who else has a huge platform? Rush Limbaugh. I remain fiercely opposed to the Fairness Doctrine precisely because it is not a function of government to cast about looking for inappropriate speech to suppress. If Rush can attract 20 million listeners to a program that espouses conservative politics, good for him. If Facebook wants to push liberal news stories, that's their business. Nobody is holding a gun to my head forcing me to listen to Rush or read the news feed on Facebook. There are plenty of other places where I as a free man living in the United States can go to get my news. I don't need my government to be mucking around with those options.

When I first read this Facebook story I thought...why?? Why would Facebook try to make it look like its news feed was produced by an impartial algorithm, when in fact it was a news-driving project? Why not just drop the "what's trending" tag and be done with it? Perhaps they thought that if they could convince their users that one way of thinking politically was what everyone was thinking it would advance the progressive agenda via the social pressure of group-think. Or maybe it wasn't nearly as diabolical as all that. Maybe it was the fact that the kinds of stories favored by young Ivy Leaguers reflect the near unanimous opinions espoused by those institutions. Either way, none of this comes as a surprise to me. Anyone who is surprised just hasn't been paying attention for the past fifty years.

My opinion? Leave Facebook alone. It's Mark Zuckerburg's job as CEO of Facebook to bring value to his shareholders. By all accounts, he has succeeded. If you don't like his liberal politics, ignore the what's trending newsfeed and go back to bragging about your awesome workouts and the off the charts accomplishments of your children...cough...

Monday, May 9, 2016

...maybe it was that.

First, the good news. I've got a couple of great kids. Getting to see them both over the last five days was tremendous fun. Seeing what kind of lives they are building for themselves made me quite proud. Although I still harbor a tinge of bitterness that they both settled so far from home, I have no right to complain. They are both accomplished, happy adults. What parent wouldn't want that?

Now, for the bad news. From the time I pried my stiff carcass out of the car upon arrival in Nashville, until that same stiff carcass rattled up the steps of my house a few hours ago, I have been in a death match with a three-day allergy attack. There were many contributing factors to my miserable condition. I will let the reader decide which was the actual culprit.

1. The weather in Nashville on Saturday and Sunday was probably the nicest two days that city has enjoyed in years; delightful breezes, crisp air, stunning blue skies. We arrived at Patrick's retiring house to see the van he had rented already in place and half loaded. There were only some large furniture pieces and neatly packed boxes left to load. We would be completely done with the loading and unloading by 12:30. However,....and life is always about the howevers, there was one problem. See, Patrick had shared this rental house for the past couple of years with two other bachelors, and a dog. A white dog. It was rumored that the house had a working vacuum cleaner, but no evidence of any kind that it had ever been deployed. Consequently, fluffy dog hair balls the size of large rodents drifted out from under every piece of furniture like roaches scattering in the kitchen when someone turns on the lights in the middle of the night. Maybe it was that.

2. Once we unloaded everything at his new place, I took a load of trash to the dumpster which was at the bottom of a small hill in a cul de sac just down the street from the apartment. When I turned around to walk back up the hill, I looked up and saw the bright sunshine illuminating a wall of pollen streaming down from the trees like an invading army of ants. A thick sludge of tree junk had been raining down all around me and I had only just now seen the evidence, thanks to the angle of the sun. This stuff made Short Pump pollen look positively polite by comparison. Maybe it was that.

3. Saturday night, high on Benydril, I attended a Nashville Sounds baseball game in the glorious dying sunset of a Chamber of Commerce day. We sat outside for the better part of two hours, all the while the invisible sludge was painting the inside of my respiratory system a lovely shade of lemon. Maybe it was that.

4. On Sunday morning, we went to Patrick's church, a glorious old stone building, with grand cathedral archways and stained glass windows a hundred feet above your head. The second I stepped into this beautiful building, I remarked to Pam how strange it is that all old churches, no matter their denomination, smell exactly the polished wooden pews, candle wax and moldy curtains. Maybe it was that.

Somehow, despite this perfect storm of allergens, I was able by sheer force of will to stave off a full fledged meltdown. I took Allegra, and popped Benydril, which kept me in a slow motion stupor for much of the time, but I was somehow able to fight off the big one, that embarrassing, fifty sneeze extravaganza that leaves your eyes swollen shut and two boxes of spent Kleenex at your feet. I was just not going to allow anything to ruin my time with my kids. Now that I'm at home, I feel like I just ran a marathon carrying a fifty pound backpack.

Finally, a word about my son. This month he will turn 27. I watched him very carefully all weekend. The kid is...happy. He likes his job. He still pours himself into his music and is continuing to grow as a composer. We watched him during a rehearsal for a choir he is in and nobody on the stage seemed to be having as much fun as Patrick. He's also happy with Sarah. They fit each other so well. And now, he has his own place. The sky is the limit.

Now, if he can only learn how to run that brand new vacuum cleaner I bought him.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

...She's one of THEM!

Yesterday we hit the road for Nashville a little after 9 in the morning. We were flying along making great time( a euphemism for 80 mph and no traffic ). Then, just west of Knoxville, interstate 40 became a parking lot. There were repairs on a bridge somewhere ahead. It took us an hour and ten minutes to go 4 miles. As you can imagine, I took this developement with measured grace and tranquility, never once losing my temper or my good humor...........

After we got unpacked in our hotel, we made the two minute drive to Sarah's apartment, where we were to meet up with Patrick. When she pulled a plate of cheese, fruit and home made cucumber sandwiches out of the fridge, I rolled my eyes and thought, Good Lord, she's one of them! That move was right out of the Dunnevant Women's Hospitality Handbook, Volume III. Lemonade was soon to follow. Pam was thrilled. In our tribe, hospitality is the coin of the realm. The women in this family are known far and wide for their outrageous feats of daring-do in the kitchen where guests are involved. It started with my Mom, who would disappear into the kitchen after unexpected guests arrived, and ten minutes later miraculously appear holding a twenty pound turkey with all the fixins! My sisters, Linda and Paula are just as bad. They can throw parties like nobody's business. And my wife might just be the worst of all of them, having been trained during my ten years in the Grove Avenue Baptist youth ministry. Thirty teenagers suddenly show up at the house at 9:00 on a Friday night? Before you could say, "Holy Crap, look at that gaggle of...", two platters of nachos would come flying out of the oven. And now, my son is dating a girl who goes to the trouble of making cucumber sandwiches? Mercy.

We had dinner last night with Sarah's folks out in Smyrna, Tn. The meal was wonderful, and they were delightful company. They made us feel welcomed and relaxed. We all kinda fell for their 13 year old beagle, Libby. Adorable! Gotta love dog people.

Today, we move the boy into his new digs. Pam will insist on a trip to several stores to buy him, ALL THE THINGS! Then we will take in a minor league baseball game in upper seventies weather, the Nashville Sounds, possibly the best named baseball franchise in history. There will be hot dogs, Cotten candy and beer. Can't wait!

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Great Night!

BRAG ALERT!!! If it annoys you to hear parents go on and on about the accomplishments of their kids, this probably isn't the blog post for you. So, save yourself the aggravation and go read about the latest Donald Trump ass-hattery.

Last night, Pam and I got to attend the teacher of the year banquet for the Richland II school district in Columbia, SC. Forty of that district's schools were represented by their winners. Among them were the five finalists for the district TOTY, my daughter being one of those five. There were many reasons to believe that she stood no chance of winning, not the least of which were the incredible accomplishments of the other four finalists. Kaitlin, as a third year teacher, was in her first year of eligibility, not to mention the fact that the outgoing TOTY was also from Muller Road Middle School. And yet, there she was standing at the microphone in front of over a hundred educators giving the most composed, articulate, heartfelt acceptance speech you've ever heard...with no notes. 

I was standing in the back of the ball room holding my cell phone up, live-streaming it on Periscope. They gave her a standing ovation. It occurred to me that my girl is a phenom. Three years ago, in her first year of teaching, she won New Teacher of the Year at her school in Henrico County, then became one of three finalists for that honor for the entire County. During the interview process, she informed them that she would be moving to Columbia, SC with her new husband at the end of the school year and would not be returning to teach in Henrico. Had she not mentioned this, she would have won. Now, in her first year of eligibility, she wins TOTY in her new school, new district, new state. The kid has a gift. 

Standing in the back of that room watching her was a moment, one I won't soon forget. I'm thinking...Pam and I must have done something right. But so did a lot of other great people in her life. Sure, she was gifted by God, but he gifts lots of people who turn out to be bums. What has made it work for Kaitlin is the relentless hard work, the striving to be the best, to make a difference. She has never been a place holder, someone who merely punches a clock. She is a passionate educator who lives to make a difference in the lives of her students. That doesn't happen without an awful lot of long nights, meticulous planning, and lots of love and care.

Now, it's on to Nashville to move my youngest into his first solo apartment. I'll try not to make the next few blog posts a gloat-a-thon, but I'm not making any promises.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


This morning felt like waking up from a weird dream where you were trapped in a really horrible comedy club where the punch line to every joke was Donald Trump.

All the wise guys told us back in June that he was a joke with no chance. They said he was just in it to sell hotel rooms. They assured us that he was just bored and decided to run for kicks. Nothing to concern ourselves with. This morning, the joke is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. Hoosier Daddy, indeed!

The media no longer has Ted Cruz to kick around. Last night he was, screw it! Maybe he was just being practical. Or maybe after Trump actually suggested that the elder Cruz might have had something to do with JFK's assassination, Ted just thought, alright, that's enough.

Now, the only guy left standing is John Kasich, winner of exactly one contest and still with less delegates than Marco Rubio who left the race two years ago. What kind of ego must one have to remain in a race in which you have elevated the art of losing to such Olympian heights? Is he angling for the VP spot?

Speaking of the VP, at some point soon attention will be paid to potential Trump running mates. I asked a rhetorical question on Facebook last night about Carly Fiorina's availability. Since the guy who picked her first is now gone, is she now a free agent, or once betrothed is she now off the market? No matter, finding a running mate for The Donald is not going to be easy. Most of the likliest candidates have been called every vile name in the book by the presumptive nominee, so the opposition ads practically write themselves. Here's some ideas:

Trump/Gingrich.....these two guys know a thing or two about dumping exes

Trump/ chance that Mr. Low Energy could every upstage the boss.

Trump/Bill Clinton....why the hell not? They do have a lot in common.

Trump/Condoleeza Rice....might help him with women and "the blacks"

Trump/Gilmore.....Jim was the only Republican candidate who Trump hasn't called a liar

Trump/Tom Brady....might help him with women

Trump/Christie....this might work, but Chris is going to have to work on his facial expressions

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Here We Go America!

Here we go America! After tonight the Trumptrain will be leaving the station. His candidacy, which was once considered merely a vanity project, will take on the mantle of inevitability after yet another landslide victory in Indiana. Ted Cruz has made a valiant effort, and yesterday's confrontation with a handful of Trump supporters was stout-hearted stuff, but it's all over. Republicans are about to nominate the first Presidential candidate in the history of the world with his own line of cologne.

But, the man has all the right enemies. Every time there's a riot at one of his events, cable television beams images of angry, violent people carrying the flag of a foreign country into living rooms all over America. Forget nuance, forget the subtleties of the immigration debate...the guy with the Budweiser in his hand who worries everyday that his employer might outsource his job to Mexico sees Mexican flags flapping in the breeze in the background of a riot and thinks..."whoever those bastards are against, I'm for!!"

Trump has run a masterful campaign, masterful in its nearly flawless manipulation of the media. He has been so bombastic, so outrageous, they simply cannot look away. Every ounce of oxygen belongs to the Donald. He is about to prove true that old adage that says...there is no such thing as bad publicity. The fact that most of the media despise him only helps him, because the only people who Americans hate more than politicians are journalists!

So, the 2016 Presidential election will be a contest between a man who the media hates, and a woman who they support ideologically, but are rightly suspicious of. No doubt, they will hold their noses and at least try to circle the wagons around her. Trump will run an "us against the world" campaign. If it works, we're screwed. If it doesn't, Hillary Clinton will assume office as the most despised woman in America, having received more lesser of two evils votes than any candidate in history. But at least she's a woman, so we can check that box off of our national to-do list.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Christmas in May

This week is like Christmas in May. For Pam and me, the real Christmas initiates a four month spell where we don't get to see our kids. We might spend a day or two in Columbia to visit Kaitlin and Jon, but we never see Patrick during those four months. I use that time to concentrate on my business and curse all the horrible winter weather, then the hellacious pollen, and generally complain a lot about being abandoned by my children. But this week...all is forgiven.

We will pack up the car, turn the house keys over to our house/dog sitter and make the six hour drive  to Columbia, SC on Thursday to see Kaitlin. There is a teacher of the year banquet, where all of the winners in the district are recognized, and the district winner is announced. Despite being in her first year of eligibility, Kaitlin is one of the five finalists for the top prize. Since her husband is in the Grand Canyon for his annual park ranger training, she would be attending this soirĂ©e alone. Not gonna happen! If she dosn't win I intend to make quite a fuss at the injustice of it all. (Just kidding, Kaitlin. Let not your heart be troubled.) Afterwards, we will take her someplace to celebrate, then spend the night at her place with Jackson, the wonder dog. 

Friday morning, we will set out for Nashville, a seven and a half hour trip across the Blue Ridge mountains. Upon meeting up with Patrick and his girlfriend Sarah, we will drive to Smyrna, Tn. to have dinner with and meet her family. The real reason for our trip however, is to help our son move into his first solo apartment. Since leaving home for college eight years ago, he has always shared quarters with others in an assortment of dorm rooms, apartments and houses. Now, he has the resources to strike out on his own. So we will spend most of Saturday helping him move in and set up the new digs. I am led to believe that a minor league baseball game is in the works( the Nashville Sounds )and some special Mother's Day event. We will attend church with him on Sunday, get his pantry good and stocked, then head home on Monday, which will feature many tears being shed by my wife for the first 30 miles of the drive on interstate 40 with Nashville in the rear view mirror. Eight years ago, she didn't stop sobbing until we reached Knoxville! This time she will demonstrate much more composure, since July in Maine will be right around the corner.