Allowing the Past to Influence the Future

Just after midnight last Monday, my grandmother closed her eyes and woke up in heaven.

My head is still spinning a little bit with raw and confused emotions. On one hand, I mourn the loss of my beloved grandma.  On another hand, I know in my heart that she has been slowly deteriorating since Grandpa’s passing and can now finally rest. And on a third hand (if I had three hands) there is the realization that she was the last lynchpin holding our small family – at least as it was in my childhood memories – together.

I can’t help but remember all of those good times we spent at their house, when family was the most important thing. There were only four grandkids. Mom had two boys and our aunt had two girls. But somehow grandma had a special way of making each of us feel and believe that we were the favorite. There was never a doubt that we were loved, that we were safe and cared for. Whether we were trading candy from our Easter baskets or reading the sale ads from the Sunday paper around the kitchen table, so much of my life was shaped and influenced by the presence of my grandparents.

There are certain things that will always remind me of her; the smell of baking bread, pop-tarts & RC cola, Sunday afternoon coffee, and so much more. But more than just living on in our memories, the legacy of my grandparents will be the influence their lives had and will continue to have on the four of us.

In about six weeks, I will be a grandpa myself, and when I imagine what kind of grandparents I want my wife & I to be, I can say with all honesty that it will probably be an awful lot like my “MaMa Tootie & Pop”.

Rest in peace, Grandma. And thank you for setting such a wonderful example of what grandparents are supposed to be.

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.

Happy Lent

Last night, the anchor on our local news said that many Christians around the world were celebrating Ash Wednesday. It struck me as an odd choice of words. Do we really “celebrate” Ash Wednesday? It’s a day of repentance – a day to remember that we were created from dust and to dust we will return – a day to be humble. Ash Wednesday kicks off the liturgical season of Lent, which is 40 days (plus Sundays) that Christians observe to prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.

Sounds like a party to me!

“Don’t need nothin’ – but Contrition”
(sung to the tune of the Poison song, Nothin’ but a Good Time.)

Many Christians traditionally give something up for Lent; like carbonated beverages, chocolate, or desserts. Others add something to their routine; like an additional bible study, devotional, or prayer. Some attend special Ash Wednesday services where they may participate in a ritual of receiving the mark of ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance and mourning. All of this is an effort to get their hearts and minds focused on the upcoming Holy Day of Easter, or the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. (THAT I can understand referring to as a celebration!)

Here’s the thing though: All of this is great, as long as you remember that it’s a human device – a ritual designed and perpetuated by imperfect people. In the end, God isn’t going to ask if you observed Lent properly, or call you out on eating a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup after giving up chocolate for 40 days. That isn’t what’s important to Him.

What He ultimately wants from us is exactly what He has always wanted: for us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, and souls – and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And if observing Lent or Ash Wednesday in whatever way we think is necessary helps us to do that – then that’s exactly what we should do.

I went to Ash Wednesday service last night, received the mark of ashes, and prayed a little extra. I am doing a couple of extra devotionals for the time being. I will be reading and writing more intentionally for spiritual reasons. I might even deny myself something that I really like. And I encourage you to do those kinds of things too. But I mostly encourage you to (as they say around Christmas) remember the reason for the season.

Prayer for the beginning of Lent:

Lord, help us to use whatever rituals and devices that we choose to do nothing more than strengthen our commitment to you, our families, our churches, our communities, and our world. Help us to love you more, and to learn how to love your people.

Amen.

Ward To Your Mutha

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”

I know – it’s a totally overused and obvious quote – but sometimes it’s true.

One day, I looked around and realized that I was fan of a specific guitarist and I didn’t even know it. It may not be a name you are familiar with, Michael Ward, but you’ve probably heard him play. Somehow he has been a part of four projects that I have absolutely loved; He co-founded the early 90’s alternative rock band School of Fish, he was the lead guitarist in Jakob Dylan’s awesome band the Wallflowers, and has played in bands backing the legendary singer-songwriter John Hiatt and the incredibly talented Ben Harper.

Listen to these samples of his work and you can see why I was a fan, even if I didn’t realize it:

~x~

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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”.