Reflecting While Undecorating

Look closely at this picture.


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”.


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.

Watching Christmas on TV

I love the Christmas season and many of the things that come along with it, like the music, the decorations, and the movies.

When it comes to the movies though I like the classics; Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, among others.  My wife on the other hand – well, she likes those too but she also can spend countless hours watching those awful, made-for-tv, Lifetime & Hallmark channel holiday movies.  I often watch them with her, half-heartedly, playing on the laptop or Kindle. (I mean, those green pigs aren’t going to knock themselves over, are they?)

We watched one this weekend on GMC called “Christmas Angel” – and while I am certainly not implying that it was “good”, or that a movie starring Teri Polo, Della Reese, & Kevin Sorbo is fine cinema in any way, shape, or form – it did teach a moderately important lesson.

The lesson was that watching absolutely anything other than Lindsay Lohan in “Liz & Dick” was probably a good idea.

(Just kidding… kind of.)

No, the lesson was not so much stated outright as it was implied – and maybe I read too much into it – but it’s something that I strongly believe.  The lesson I took from it was that maybe we should spend less time looking for angels or praying for miracles, and more time BEING angels; HELPING those in need, PUTTING our hands & feet where our mouths are, FEEDING the hungry, CLOTHING the naked… BEING the change we want to see in this world!

Don’t get me wrong – praying for miracles has its place.  But sometimes we need to get off of our rumps and do those things that we can take care of ourselves.  Sometimes we can be the answer to other’s prayers just by putting out the effort.

But that’s just my opinion.


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.

Reading the Gospels in 90 (or 89) Days

The following is an article I wrote for our church’s newsletter, which was distributed this past Sunday.

I don’t normally share these through my blog, but since I kind of issued a challenge with this one (a rarity for me), I thought it might be good to open it up on a larger scale & offer collaboration, commiseration, or a way to hold each other accountable.

You can also click this link to download or print a checklist that can help you keep track of your progress: Read the Gospels in 90 days

Continue reading

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?


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


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’?


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?


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?


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


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)?


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?


8 for 8! I’m impressed!



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.

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.