Reflecting While Undecorating

Look closely at this picture.

phone-1

It is a vintage miniature replica of a telephone made of glass and metal. It only stands about four inches tall. The metal part screws off, and when it was new the hollow glass bottom was filled with tiny, colorful candies about the size of BB’s. The bottom is dated 1907  and has a sticker on the side that says “Hello Sweetheart”.

phone-2

Now consider this; this was a Christmas gift that my Grandfather received when he was a child. But it wasn’t stuffed in a stocking with other goodies. It wasn’t part of a larger gift, nor was it in addition to something else. This was Grandpa’s entire Christmas. It was the only item that Santa left under the tree for him that particular year.

  • Compare that to what you or your family members bought for each other this holiday season.
  • Compare it to what you put under the tree for your children.
  • Compare it to what you bought for yourself while Christmas shopping.

I keep this knickknack on a shelf in our dining room, and I think about its origins every time we decorate for the holidays or clean-up afterwards – and it almost makes me cry.  It helps me keep things in perspective as I pile present after present under our multiple trees – most of which, the recipients don’t even need.

It makes me grateful for the relationship I had with Grandpa and solidifies my desire to be more like him as I grow older and have grandkids of my own.  It’s why when my first granddaughter was born in 2012, I wanted to be called “Pop” – because that’s what I called him.

It also makes me grateful to have my daughter and her growing family close-by, where I can be there for them, just as Pop was there for us.

It’s been over 11 years since he passed away, but I still miss my Pop. Thankfully I can rest assured that because of things like this tiny toy telephone, or rows of tasseling corn, or a hundred other things I could mention, I know he will always be with me – be a part of me – and will continue to influence my life and my relationships for many years to come.

Silence is Golden

I personally believe that if you don’t have anything interesting to say, then you probably should just be quiet.

Lately, I haven’t had much to say, so… you know…

For a long time, I felt obligated to post a few blog entries per week.  I talked a lot but said very little.  Now Facebook & Twitter have become my outlets for random rambling nonsense, so without more to say this blog sits dormant quite a bit.  And I’m okay with that.  I hope you are too.

Q&A With the ArachNerd’s Granddaughter

While babysitting the most awesome baby girl on the planet (aka; my first grandchild, who – since this is a public blog – I will refer to as “T”) I decided to test her little brain so that we know what we’re dealing with. Here are the results:

Let’s start off kind of easy, shall we… What is 2 + 3?

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Excellent! The answer is 5. How about the square root of 25?

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Nicely done, Sweet T. I think you’ve got a handle on math. Let’s move on to science. What is the atomic number of the element ‘Boron’?

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Whoa! You’re good, kid. So if the planets in our solar system were numbered 1-8, beginning with the closest to the sun, what number would Jupiter be?

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That’s right. (And we won’t even begin to get into the Pluto discussion right now – not until you’re at least 9 months old.) Let’s try a different subject. Which constitutional amendment protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure?

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The Fifth Amendment is correct, Baby T. Very good! How about popular culture? Of the six Star Wars movies, which one is the best?

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That’s right – Episode 5, the Empire Strikes Back! (I know technically that’s kind of a subjective question, but you knew what answer your grandpa wanted to hear, didn’t you? Smart!) Ok, out of her 15 Grammy Nominations, how many has Lady Gaga actually won (undeservedly)?

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Dang Little T, that was a tough one, but you got it! Last question, baby girl; when Matt Holliday was traded from the Rockies to the Cardinals in 2009, he had to change his number to 15, and then change it again to 7 the following year. What number did he wear for the majority of his career before coming to St. Louis?

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8 for 8! I’m impressed!

High-Five!

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For the Love of BBQ – KC Edition

The planning stages of our trip began innocently enough. My wife suggested that we go somewhere besides St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play baseball this summer. One glance at the schedule and we noticed that they were playing a weekend series in Kansas City; which, obviously led to the desire to expand our barbecue travels westward.

So I did a little research. I knew that KC had a signature style, which had a highly regarded reputation, but I honestly knew very little about it. I knew that it was sauce based – but, like many uniformed idiots, thought that it would at least be similar to its namesake, KC Masterpiece… It wasn’t.

We were going to be there three days, so I chose three places; two supposedly “original” KC style joints and one slightly newer restaurant. I also made sure that I could order (for the most part) the same meats at each place so that I was comparing apples to apples; or in my case, Pork Ribs & Beef Burnt Ends to Pork Ribs & Beef Burnt Ends.

We started at Arthur Bryant’s – a BBQ joint with direct connections to Henry Perry, who is commonly referred to as the “father of Kansas City barbecue.” The ribs didn’t have nearly the amount of sauce I was expecting – which was fine with me – but they also lacked that good smoky flavor I’ve come to expect from Memphis style. The burnt ends were good; cut into good size chunks with plenty of bark. My only problem with them was that they were covered in the sauce, which detracted from the flavor of the meat.

On day two we went to another place whose roots can be traced back to Henry Perry; Gates Bar-B-Q. Again, the ribs were pretty good – a bit saucier than Arthur Bryant’s – but not bad. The burnt ends on the other hand had a good flavor, but were chopped so fine and swimming in sauce that it was more like eating barbecued hash. I didn’t care for them at all.

On day three, we waited for 45 minutes to get a table at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. The restaurant itself felt more like a sit-down, chain restaurant than a classic BBQ joint, but the food was really good. It almost pains me to say it, but I think I preferred the meat here to the other two “KC Original” places. It was smoky, not over-sauced, and cooked just right.

 

A few random thoughts:

  • What’s with all the french fries? KC’s menus were not easy to decipher, and for some reason, if you didn’t ask for (and pay extra for) a different side dish, you got fries. I personally don’t care for fries, but at least it gave me a delivery system to try their different sauces.
  • Pickles. That’s right; pickles. Everywhere we went served pickles with their barbecue. I’m not complaining – I just thought it was kind of weird. I suppose it could be Kansas City’s answer to Memphis’ slaw – but I don’t know.
  • Seriously, the menus are terrible. Even our ten-year-old niece noticed. Everything was very vague, and everything I asked for, I was promptly told that I couldn’t do. It was confusing, and the ladies behind the counter were little or no help.
  • Something else I wasn’t expecting; I liked the sauce. It’s a thick, tomato & molasses based sauce that’s as spicy as it is sweet. And I do love spicy-sweet foods!
  • Oddly enough, the best thing I ate in KC was a brioche bread pudding from the Bloom Baking Co. at the City Market. Amazing little bakery. Don’t miss it it if you happen to find yourself in the City of Fountains.

So, in conclusion, Kansas City barbecue wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Luckily it was a bit better than I expected. But for me, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the honest-to-goodness, dry-rubbed, slow-smoked Memphis-style ‘cue that I know & love.

A Random Question

I have a question. Even though I know that by asking, I am revealing my own ignorance & nerdiness.

I do not ride motorcycles. We had a dirt bike when I was a kid, but beyond that I have never had any desire to ride one. Not that I have anything against those that do – I just don’t. I am a natural-born klutz. I’m pretty sure if I ever did get on a motorcycle I would end up dead or disfigured within a matter of seconds. And nobody wants that.

But here is my question; Why do all bike riders wave at every other bike rider on the street?

  • Is there some sort of “code”?
  • Is it an acknowledgement of membership in a secret society of motorcycle enthusiasts?
  • Is it just some weird bike-riding etiquette that the rest of us aren’t supposed to understand?

I mean, I don’t feel the need to wave at other pickup truck drivers.

I just don’t get it.

Maybe that’s another reason I don’t ride motorcycles…  No, it’s mostly that klutz thing.

Pork Paradise

While driving down Poplar Avenue, a little over an hour after arriving in the wonderful city of Memphis for our annual Spring Break trip, a small SUV passed us on the right. Among the ten or twelve bumper stickers plastered across the back of the bright blue vehicle, one immediately caught our eyes. It said “MEAT IS GROSS”. I looked over at the driver and said, “No. No, meat is wonderful. While I respect your right to have an opinion, in this case you are just wrong. We just drove FOUR hours in order to spend FOUR days consuming as much barbecued meat as humanly possible in the world capital of smoked pork. Meat is most certainly NOT gross!”

Of course, no one heard me say any of this besides my wife, who just giggled and rolled her eyes.

We decided to begin this year’s visit with a quick stop at Leonard’s Pit Barbecue for a hearty meal before checking into our hotel downtown. We had been to Leonard’s before, but only for the buffet. We ordered off the menu this time – and in a rare move, we ended up ordering the exact same thing; the rib and pork shoulder combo platters. We also ordered a basket of onion rings for an appetizer, which honestly was a mistake on our part. They were delicious, but there were too many of them and our bodies just aren’t used to that much fried food. We barely ate half of the basket.

The ribs were very good, but not quite knock-your-socks-off good. We ordered them dry, and they were tender and juicy. I only had two complaints; first, even though it had a very visible pink smoke ring, I didn’t get a strong smoky flavor from the meat. My second complaint was with the rub. It was very seasoned-salt heavy which really made it a bit too salty for my taste. The pork shoulder was better though. Probably the best bite I had was when I made my own slider by piling some of the meat on a small dinner roll with a little of their sauce and a fork-full of slaw. It was an overall above-average barbecue meal, even with my few minor complaints.

We then made our way to our hotel and finished the night off with a high-energy Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at the FedEx Forum. I’m sure that helped us work off any excess calories we consumed with those onion rings (not).

On day two, we started early with a quick sandwich at what is apparently a Memphis institution, but one we had never actually tried, Tops BBQ. I learned quickly that there is a reason they’ve been around for 60 years and have 14 locations – and it’s definitely NOT the service, which was frankly rude and impatient. Fortunately the food made up for it. It was an honest-to-goodness Memphis-style BBQ sandwich served lightning fast. It was a nice way to start the day.

Later on we found our way to Cozy Corner, another place we had been to before, but just had to try again. I ordered the large rib plate and she got the Cornish hen – then we split the meat so that we could each try both. They don’t serve their meat dry, which I prefer, but instead covered in their signature sweet and spicy sauce (more spicy than sweet actually, which works for me). I will say this – if I have to eat “wet” ribs, these are the ones I want! Both entrees were outstanding – even if they’re impossible to eat with even an ounce of decorum.

We laid pretty low on Saturday, choosing instead to walk around downtown, make the obligatory trip up Beale Street, and ride the trolley around the loop before enjoying a large mid-day meal at one of our favorite que joints; Charlie Vegos’ Rendezvous. Unlike some people, we like the fact that there are virtually no choices at the ‘Vous. We want ribs and they come dry (just like we like them), there’s no such thing as unsweetened tea, and every meal is served with slaw & beans (period). But it has yet to disappoint us.

Before heading home on Sunday, we had to try somewhere we had never been, so on the advice of the blogger over at Memphis Que, we went to a place we might’ve passed right by otherwise; Double J Smokehouse & Saloon. It’s not just “new” to the Memphis barbecue landscape, it just officially opened in March – but it was immediately obvious that they knew what they were doing. I ordered ribs (duh) and the wife got pork steak. I am usually suspicious of too many options at a place that is supposed to be a BBQ joint, fearing that what I’m there for will suffer from lack of attention. But that wasn’t the case at the Double J. Everything we had there was amazing, from the BBQ Egg Rolls appetizer to the grilled asparagus. But the star of the show, as it should be, was the meat. The ribs were tender and juicy. I could be wrong, but I think they were a different, slightly fattier cut than most of the ribs in town which gave it kind of a bacon flavor – not that I’m complaining. And the pork steak was equally tender and delicious. What a great way to end our 2012 spring break!

Of course, we also went to two Redbirds ballgames, and though they lost both nights, we did get to partake in one of the best reasons to go to AutoZone Park – Rendezvous BBQ Nachos. We have always just got the standard pulled pork ones in the past so we decided to mix it up by ordering the smoked sausage one night and the pulled chicken the next. Both were amazing. That’s right, we ate barbecue in one form or another seven times in four days.

So, NO – meat is absolutely NOT gross.

Especially in Memphis.

Serving Up a Warm Bowl of Victory

Are you ready for Super Bowl Ecks Ell Vee Eye???

Personally, growing up, I was never a big fan of soup. It seemed like such a waste of a perfectly good meal opportunity. I mean, we weren’t poor. So it wasn’t like mom had to feed the whole family on a meager handful of meat and beans, so she had to thin it down with lightly flavored water. I wanted her to pour that stuff down the drain and cook me a hotdog or some spaghetti. I was a growing boy, for goodness’ sake. Throw some meat on the grill!

But that was then.

As my tastes have matured, I have grown to really love many soups. Give me some hearty Italian Wedding Soup, a spicy Tortilla Soup, or some decadent Lobster Bisque. One of my favorites is a good homemade French Onion with croutons and melted Gruyere cheese. That’s good eating right there! Serve it in a good, crusty bread bowl and just about any soup becomes better.

Seriously though, you can keep your split pea. That stuff is disgusting. It’s like someone decided that baby food looked yummy, so they dumped several jars in a bowl and heated it up.

Wait… What?

OHHHHH! S-U-P-E-R… Not S-O-U-P!

I see my error now. So, this is some sort of sporting event, huh?

Okay.

I suppose you could still eat a bowl of soup while you are watching it though, couldn’t you?

In the words of Emily Litella, one of Gilda Radner’s recurring characters back in the glory days of SNL, “Never Mind”.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

One night last week, as I lay sleeping soundly in the comfort of my own bed, something strange happened. I had pulled a muscle in my knee a few days earlier, so I had taken a low dose of a pain medication right before bedtime to help me sleep – but other than that, everything was normal. The room was the perfect temperature, the low hum from the running fan helped lull me to sleep, and the bed was as comfortable as ever.

Until…

I heard a loud crash – more like a loud THUD – from the living room, followed by my wife’s voice yelling out in what I could only imagine was obvious pain. I sat straight up, threw the covers to the side and ran into the living room at full speed, ready for action. I even grabbed my phone on the way, just in case I needed to call 9-1-1. And I was sure I would need to call 9-1-1. Like a super hero who and just been called into action by the voice of a damsel in distress, I was ready for anything!

But once there, I found the living room dark and empty.

I ran into the kitchen – my head whipping back and forth, scanning every inch of the room like the Terminator on a mission. Again – nothing was even out of place.

I ran down the stairs to the basement – too quickly to be careful not to fall forward in a crazed frenzy, which could have been disastrous for a klutz like me – but when I made it to the bottom, the only thing there was a half-asleep cat looking up at me with those, “WHAT?” eyes.

Back upstairs, I circled the entire house in and out of every possible room, getting more and more scared and panicked the whole time… Nothing… No one. I looked outside in every direction – the back door, the side patio, the front porch, the driveway… Nothing!

At this point, the taste of adrenaline is filling my mouth, and my heart is racing so hard that I am having trouble focusing my eyes through the quivering. I am, for lack of a better phrase, freaking out.

I decide that it is best at this point to slow down and take control of the situation. I run through my head where I have looked, what I heard, and every possible scenario. I take a few deep breaths & choose to go back to the bedroom where, much to my surprise, I see my wife – laying comfortably in the bed, fast asleep, only inches from where I had first bounded into action. She may have even been touching me at the time. It is entirely possible.

Evidently, the sound of the crash followed by her screams… was all just a dream; a dream so vivid that it jarred me out of a sound sleep.

It took me a while to calm down enough to get back to sleep, but I finally did. Informing my wife of how heroic I had been, dashing to her rescue in the face of certain danger, would have to wait until morning.

New Year’s Resolutions

I rarely make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t really believe in them because they seem so arbitrary and too easily forgotten or susceptible to failure. That has been my experience with them anyway.

You know, we often complain about how Christmas has become too commercialized – but have you stopped to consider the other facets of our life that have also fallen into that same trap?

There are two obvious ones this time of year:

The first is retailers giving us all kinds of suggestions on how to spend our income tax refunds. Watch for them – count them – we will be bombarded with advertisements for electronics and cars over the next few months. Some will even give you credit for checks that you haven’t even received yet.

The second is New Year’s Resolutions. We go from holiday candies and pastries to large grocery store displays of diet and health food. The cooking shows will all be focused on lowering calories and fat instead of increasing flavors and richness. Are they trying to help us keep our resolutions or are they capitalizing on them? Probably both – but either way, it happens every year.

At any rate, this year I made a few – I hesitate to call them resolutions – I am not limiting them to being accomplished during 2012 – let’s just say that they are things that I want or need to work on and am hereby committing some time and effort to them, beginning now. I may even add specific goals, milestones, or timelines on a few of them… but don’t count on it. Here’s the list:

Time management and organization:

This is an ongoing struggle with me. Procrastination is one of my big issues. Somehow I can be very organized and methodical with certain things – but at the office or with school work and other commitments, it seems to slip through the cracks. I don’t get it. I need to create some sense of structure so that I can meet deadlines, get things done, and not have to sacrifice time with my family or personal time to do it.

Read more:

Santa gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas. I geeked out a little because I have really been wanting a tablet but wasn’t willing to blow that much money on an iPad (especially since the next generation will make it obsolete by the time I get it set up the way I like it anyway). But I want to make sure that I use it – not just for games and comic books, but also for what it was actually made for – reading. I love to read – always have, but I really need to read more and have already downloaded a handful of books that I am looking forward to escaping into.

Plus I am looking into some apps that will help me with my time management & organization goals too – so if anyone has any suggestions…

Continued weight loss:

(Cliché – I know.) Last year I set a goal for myself: I decided to lose a specific amount of weight by a given date – 50 pounds by my daughter’s wedding. I not only met that goal – I exceeded it. But since that time, the scales have plateaued. I haven’t really lost or gained any more. So I need to step-up that game. One of the ways I am choosing to do that is by exercising more. Up to this point I have lost weight and inches through careful diet and self-control. Now it’s time to get active! But I will probably need to set myself another goal – especially since it seemed to help last year – otherwise I feel like I will be flying blindly with nothing to work toward.

Spiritual Formation:

Maybe it sounds a bit like a technical seminary term, but I specifically want to concentrate on the area of “Relational Spirituality” which is 3-fold: Loving God Completely, Loving Myself Correctly, and Loving Others Compassionately. I want to take some time to focus on my own spiritual life and how it is expressed through my relationships. I want to live a deeper, more grace-filled life with a heavy emphasis on God’s love – not with empty outward expressions of religion.