Thursday, December 13, 2012

Prayers Gone Wrong

You know the saying, "Be careful what you wish for?"  Well, the same can be said for prayers.  God knows our heart when we pray.  He will always answer prayers, it just may not be in the way we would like.  The classic example is when you pray for a person to be healed of a terminal illness.  God may answer that by quietly ending their suffering.  We get all ticked off because we meant for them to jump out of bed and start high-five'ing everyone in the room.  But, if we'll step back and reassess the situation, that person is likely* more healed than they could have ever been in human form.

Here are some other examples of prayers that can get an unexpected answer.**
  • pray to get a raise at work - the next week get moved from the 1st floor to the 3rd floor
  • pray for help in losing weight - get food poisoning, then contract swine flu
  • pray to not covet neighbor's wife - they get divorced  (...pssst. She's not his wife...)***
  • pray to find the time to get more exercise - car breaks down five miles from the nearest cell phone tower  (Think it can't happen? You've never been in western Oklahoma.)
  • pray for more communication with the kids - more arguments ensue****  (Arguing with kids? Hard to believe, but I hear some parents do it.)
So, the next time you pray for something, and it seems that you got the opposite result, step back and see if the problem was you.*****


*Not going to get into a theological discussion of saved/unsaved, Heaven/Hell.  That's for a different post.

**These are fantastical illustrations solely for humorous purposes. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, real or imagined, is purely coincidence.

***Would this happen? Not as an answer to prayer. Please refer to the previous footnote.

****Come on people! Lighten up! This is supposed to be funny!

*****Actually, the problem was you - you're not God.  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

******Just my way of helping you exercise your eyes - up, now down. Up, and... down. You're welcome.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eulogy For A Friend

Today I lost a friend. A friend who's been close by my side almost every day for the past six years.  This was one of those good friends that doesn't come along every day.  A good companion.  We shared gallons of tea, and liters of Dr. Pepper.  Sharing drinks was our special connection. 

He lived a full life, and his memory will continue to leave a warm feeling in my belly. 

I'm comforted by knowing he's gone to that Great Cupboard in the Sky.

He was my buddy Bubba.

RIP Bubba
circa 2006 - 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Apple From the Tree

I know I've been the invisible blogger lately, but I've been around, and I'll be back to posting real soon.

In the meantime, I've been reading and enjoying all the blogs I follow.  All my reading list is interesting and educational -- I follow some talented writers.

I had to make an appearance to promote a new blog by a smart, talented, entertaining blogger.  She's writing about her experiences in Japan as she's there studying for the next month-plus.  Check it out, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Oh, and she just happens to be my daughter -- but, don't worry, I'm just a lot prejudiced.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chattanooga Tea Tour 2012 - Part 2, Court Side Tea Room

With the taste of Miss Audrey's dessert still resonating on the taste buds, we hopped back on the interstate - using the direct route - and continued our journey toward a 1:30 appointment at the next stop, the Court Side Tea Room.

Now, before I get into this, I first have to say the owner is a very nice woman.  She has the right personality for running a tea room.  Her intentions are sincere, and I'm sure she put a lot of thought into everything.  It's the execution that falls a little flat.  What follows is by no means meant to be reflective of her as a person, it's a critique of how she runs her business.

We drove around the block the first time we pulled up.  We weren't sure where to park.  There was a business next door with all the parking spaces next to the building labeled "For Customers Only."  (Great.  While we're having a relaxing tea, the store owner will tow the van of "them outsiders".)  We parked next to the road, hoping those were fair game.

We walked up the brick sidewalk to the porch, tugged on the door....  and it was locked.  Locked?  We knew it was the right place - the sign out front said so.  There was another sign in the window that indicated it was Open.  Tried the door again.  Still locked.  She knew we were coming - we made reservations.  Well, we were early, by 12 minutes.  As we stood there wondering what to do, the owner came and opened the door for us.  Okay, good.  She even called us by name.  Right place, right time.

The dining room was, well, the dining room for the house.  It was a quaint house, nicely decorated - not exactly with a theme per se, but it was comfortable and pleasing.
Our table
We were seated at the table in the center of the room. (Obviously, since the door was locked prior to our arrival, we were the only ones there.)  She shared what she had planned for our meal, complete with dessert. 

She said she had "a selection of teas" that we could have either hot or iced.  We asked what the selections were.  She disappeared for a few seconds and came back with a saucer with six different tea bags on it.  O...K...  Seeing how I haven't been to that many tea rooms - in case you're not keeping count, this is number three for me - I cut her some slack, chastising myself for making an assumption that tea rooms only use loose leaf tea.  I chose the green tea.  Sweetie chose iced tea and was given iced green tea.

Complete with Valentine's decorations
Our tea.  See the pitcher on the left?  Yeah.  That's what my tea was served in.  The only thing I could think was maybe she thought that was a more manly selection.  There were "real" tea pots sitting around that would have worked just fine.

One more thing before I tell you about the food.  Most of the pictures are of half-eaten items.  I'd like to say this is by design, giving you a chance to see the inside of the dish, but, really, I just stink at remembering to take pictures when the food first arrives.
The salad was a generous serving of spinach leaves, with strawberries, kiwi, sunflower seeds, and croutons, with a little serving of balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  I'm not a dressing person.  I usually stick with Thousand Island, and sometimes if I want to go crazy, I'll do Catalina.  But nothing that sounds like it has balsa wood in it.

It looked really tasty.  We gazed longingly at our salads after she served them -- no silverware.

After she came back and discovered us with handfuls of spinach held up to our mouths, she realized what we were missing.  OK, that's what I thought about doing.  Actually, we sat there politely waiting for her to return.

Once we had silverware in hand, we dug in.  I'm not a spinach lover, but I have to admit that was a great salad.  I had my doubts about the vinaigrette, but it was good, too.

The sandwiches were Black Forest Ham with Swiss, and Chicken Salad.  We each got half a sandwich of each, along with a generous helping of ... potato chips.  (Really??  Yeah, really.)  The bread looked like it was Arnold's bread from Kroger.  Definitely not homemade.  The chips would've been redeemed if they'd been made from scratch, but, alas, they came from a bag.
Fuzzy, partially consumed sandwiches
After the sandwiches, she told us about the dessert and then went and got it for us.  It was a two-layer chocolately confection, with the bottom being a sort of mint ice cream Klondike bar.  That part wasn't bad, it reminded me of an Andes Mint.  Laid on top the ice cream bar was what resembled a Little Debbie Swiss Roll.  They were drizzled with a chocolate syrupy pudding piped onto it.  There was also a strawberry with the chocolate syrupy pudding piped on it as well.  ("Chocolate syrupy pudding piped on" is the closest my limited culinary experience comes to describing it.)

All through the meal I drank my tea, resisting the urge to swing wide my pinky finger from the dainty little cup.  It was a smooth tea, very pleasant to drink, and a nice compliment to the meal.  However, with each cup, the tea would get a little more stringent.  I had a strong suspicion I knew what the reason was, but still, it tasted good, so I kept drinking.  Maybe I'm interjecting false memories after the fact, but I think it tasted a little pulpy, too.

When I got to the bottom, as I suspected, the tea bags were still in the pitcher.  There were four of them resting on the bottom - with the tags still attached(!).  Tags?!?  In my tea?  Might as well tested the water temperature by dipping a finger into it.

At some point in the visit, I needed to visit the "Powder Room" - that was the sign on the door.  It was a large room with an antique claw tub, and a dressing/sitting room past it, curiously, with a handwritten note on the door saying "Please do not close."  I found out why.  The window in the dressing room provided the light for the powder room.  There were no bulbs in the fixture above the vanity.  And the sink only had cold water.

Well, it was finally time to leave.  You'd think this nice little meal might have taken a total of 45 minutes to an hour.  After all, we were still half an hour away from our final destination, plus we were going to be losing an hour crossing into a new time zone, and we had a concert to go to.  No, it's almost two hours later.  (Note to self - light conversation with customers is good - going on and on about pets is not.)

She brought the check.  I thought all the surprises were out of the way.  Au contraire!  The dessert, which she brought out without asking us, was a separate charge.  If anyone knows me well, you know I never pay to get a dessert if it's chocolate.  Well, that raised my blood pressure some.  The total bill was over $32.  For lunch!  And a small one, at that!  (OK, breathe.  It'll be all right.)  We anticipated that these smaller tea rooms might not be equipped to take plastic or checks.  We thought we'd make it simpler by bringing good ol' American currency.  I laid down two $20 bills. 

She picked them up and said, "Oh, I'm sorry.  I don't have any change."  I think I stared in disbelief.  Let's see - there was a sign on the front lawn - we were served a meal, even if it was an assemblage of store-bought food - we were presented a bill - yup, this is supposed to be a business.  So, I dug deeper in my pocket, and Sweetie looked in her purse, and we were able to come up with the exact amount, plus a little extra for a tip.
With money in hand, we settled up the bill, said some pleasantries, and beat a path for the van.  Fortunately, the van was still there.

That experience gave us plenty to talk about as we continued on to Chattanooga.

Thank you for sticking with this to the end.  This is longer than I normally write, but there was SO much to include.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chattanooga Tea Tour 2012 - Part 1, Miss Audrey's Tea Room

This week was the fruition of the VD gift (also here).  It was time for our excursion to auditory awesomeness.  While a TSO concert would ordinarily be sufficient, we decided this trip needed more.  We love tea, and although my Sweetie's been to a couple of tea rooms, I've only been to one - that's now out of business.  I try not to let it hurt my psyche too much.  Wait - I've been to a tea shop that also served afternoon tea, however, they've closed their physical presence and now just maintain a virtual presence on the web.  Where's the number of that therapist?

Using the web, we planned our stops.  In case you like tea, I'll give a shout-out to for being a wonderful source of information.  One can pull up a whole state of tea room entries and click a link that Google-maps everything on the list.  That's really helpful when one doesn't know that Arlington, TN, is closer to Memphis than it is to Bristol.

Anywho, thanks to TeaMap, we also discovered that most tea rooms had limited hours on limited days of the week.  Three were right on the way, at most, just a dozen miles off the interstate, but only two of them were open Wednesday.  One required reservations, the other recommended them. 

The first stop was an 11:30 reservation at Miss Audrey's Tea Room in Manchester, TN. 

If I had taken the right exit off the interstate, it would've been an easy off/easy on trip.  I had to make it challenging by getting off one exit too early as my Sweetie - who happened to get a call from her sister at that time - was frantically trying to motion with her free hand that I was going the wrong way.  As a guy, I know this:  there are no wrong ways, just the direct way and the long way.

Miss Audrey's is located in a historic looking home (not sure if it's officially "historic").  We were given a choice between "fruit tea", iced tea, and sweet tea.  Sweetie got the fruit tea, and I got the unsweet iced tea.  After asking, the waitress said they also had hot tea.  No flavor choices, no choice of green, black, etc., just "tea".  Since we're adults, and we didn't have any kids with us, we were able to order dessert.  Strawberry shortcake for me, and pecan "cobbler" ala mode for the Missus.  It looked like pecan pie to me.  We had about a tub of whipped cream between our two desserts.  Regardless of the names, or the abundance of whipped topping, these dishes were delicious!  Worth skipping the entree to get to it instead.

The atmosphere was nice, quiet, and relaxing.  Although I didn't see any power cords, Sweetie says the setting was elegant, complete with chargers.  Overall, it was a pleasant place to visit.  We plan to go back to order a meal next time.

Getting back on the interstate was a breeze since they were only a half mile from the exit I should have taken.  Taking the direct route was much quicker.  We were on our way to the next stop - let's just say we were about to have the most interesting stop of the trip.

(For the uneducated, which I was until Wednesday afternoon, "chargers" are plates used as place mats, that all the other plates are sat upon.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fat Tuesday!

I completely forgot yesterday was Fat Tuesday.  It wasn't until I read about one of the Mardi Gras parades that I remembered.

Fat Tuesday is one of the days I most miss Michigan.  We always looked forward to a nice, plump, creamy-filled, sometimes still warm, paczki (pronounced PUHNCH-key - it's got a soft double O sound, somewhere in between noon and punt).  Paczkis are Poland's gastronomic gift to the world.  Most people look at them and say, "Oh, it's a filled doughnut."  Oh, no, no, no.  Anyone who says that has never had the pleasure of letting one of those gooey, powdery morsels pass their lips, swirl around the inside of their mouth, and then lovingly slip down the throat and settle into the stomach with a satisfying goodness.  

And for those who say they've had paczkis, but have never had one from an authentic Polish bakery in Hamtramck (Ham-TRAM-mick), Michigan.  Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck is like Black Friday at Toys R Us.  People line up for hours to take home a box or two of sweet goodness.

Heaven on Earth?  Pretty darn close!

My favorites are Bavarian creme and strawberry.  The hazard to liking strawberry is it's very similar in appearance to raspberry.  Most people have an irrational predilection towards the latter, making for a very unpleasant surprise when expecting the former.

When we moved to Tennessee, I looked a few times for paczkis without success, but I didn't have too high of hopes because I knew they need a higher concentration of Polish immigrants, like in Hamtramck. I always thought that with all the Michigan "immigrants" to the area, that some pastry shop would capitalize on filling the void by filling the stomachs with lots of sticky sweet filling.  

A few years ago, I found paczkis in a Publix.  I heard people rave about Publix's bakery, so I thought they might have them.  I practically danced to the checkout line when I found some.  I prattled on to the cashier about how she hadn't lived until she ate on those.  She smiled at me like she was making a mental note to buy pepper spray on her way home.

I buckled the box into the car seat because I didn't want anything to happen to it.  I rushed home to give one to my Sweetie, and to my second wife (yeah, I'll have to explain that one sometime), who grew up in Michigan.

Bleah.  Oh, the sorrow.  They were poor imitations.  It was box of a half dozen poser paczkis.    Now I fully understood the sorrow of Lent.  (Ok, maybe that's a little too melodramatic.)

So, if on a Fat Tuesday in the future you find yourself in Michigan, or in an area that has a large number of people of Polish descent (corrected), I encourage you to throw off any caloric concerns and heap culinary merriment on your tongue in the form of a little ball of fried dough.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Big Surprise

What was the big surprise? A card.

You know what the best thing about being unconventional is?  That even when something
"normal" is done, it's refreshing because it's not expected.

And, technically, I didn't spring the card on her at that time.  It was hidden in the car, and I pointed it out when we arrived at the restaurant.  She did, however, wait unti after we ordered to open it.  But only after exclamations of "What did you do?", and "I didn't get you anything", and "I didn't think we were going to get each other anything."

Of course, she was greeted with something red and frilly and mushy.
Standard V-Day Accoutrement
You don't get to see the inside - I don't want you to see how I fumble over words when I don't have Ctrl-Z and a delete button within reach.

And, well, maybe the BIG surprise wasn't so much the card.  The card wasn't the only thing in the envelope.  There were a few pieces of paper wedged inside the card.  First, there were two of these:
21st Century version of an E Ticket
Yes, that's a ticket to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert.  You may think you haven't heard of them, but au contraire.  It's likely you've seen this somewhere on the interwebs (it's only had over 31,000,000 views):

Most people know them for their awesome, electrified, rockin' versions of Christmas classical songs.  They excel in combining Mozart with more volume, Pachelbel with power rock, and Ludwig with, uh, Ludwigs.

What they're also masters at is making a concert a visual experience as much as an auditory one.  Here's a clip of them on stage.  Two things: first, jump to about 3:00 minutes in for the music, and second, this was in 2003.  They've had nine years to make it even more exceptionally mind-blowing.
The downside to their tour is that it's not coming to Nashville.  The next closest location is Chattanooga.  So that's where we're headed. 

Past experience has taught us the balcony is prime real estate, not the floor.  That's the best place to be immersed in the production.

In high school we often drove 2.5 hours - on school nights, no less - to go to concerts in Oklahoma City and drive back home afterward.  With age comes wisdom - and the inability to drive that late.  So, we're making an excursion of it, taking a trip like we haven't done for a few years.  We're spending the night on the Delta Queen.  I also printed out this picture and included it in the envelope.

It doesn't go anywhere, but it's also not a Days Inn.  (I was going to compare it to a Holiday Inn Express, but that would make us look less smart.)

Another thing we're looking forward to is sampling Chattanooga's tea rooms.  Those should be fun to visit, like this, and this. There's also one on the Delta Queen, but sadly, I think it's closed for the season.

We have that to look forward to next month.  That capped off the VD Eve dinner.

The following night, Sweetie one-upped me in the "not getting each other anything" department with a home-cooked meal.  Complete with my fave, Red Velvet Cake.  I didn't think to take a picture of the rest of the meal.  Take my word for it - it was delicious.
It's amazing how she can make 1/2 a cake.
It's not like I ate that much.... (ahem)
Cards, dinner, cake - a pretty typical Valentine's Day for most people.  Fortunately, we're not like most people.

Did I mention how much I like Red Velvet Cake?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Post VD

Of course, I'm talking about Valentine's Day (what did you think I meant?).
Alright, so it was a cheap ploy to get you to read, but it had to be done this one time.

That reminds me of a story.  In high school, our English teacher told us plan she had in case she ever decided to become an author.  The first book she intended to write would be a smutty, scandalous book that people would be sure to get everyone's attention.  Then, the second one would be all pious and boring, but a lot of people would buy it just to see if it would be as bad as the first.  (At that point, the internet was still a non-graphical government application - there weren't any pesky bloggers around to instantly share their thoughts with thousands of people or less than a dozen all at once.)

Enough of that sidetrip.  Back to today, and to Valentine's Day.

Years ago we did away with the "normal", obligatory Valentine's stuff.  Flowers die - or are eaten, and subsequently regurgitated, by cats; cards are thrown away with a tinge of guilt; neither of us needs chocolate (I'm not a big fan of it anyway); usually money for necklaces, watches, earrings, diamond-studded grills, has been allocated to diapers, food, mortgages, band fees, and other mundane obligations.  Also, we've never felt our expressions for each other should be dictated by the calendar.  I prefer the spontaneity.

This year, Sweetie's schedule caused her days off to fall on Monday and Tuesday.  Since she has to get up even before o'dark:30, she's generally done for the day by 9:00 on the nights before she works.  We decided to go out to eat on Monday so we wouldn't have to be concerned with the time.  It turns out, that was never a concern. 

If you ever want to literally avoid the rush, go out to eat the day before Valentine's Day.  The restaurants and the servers will appreciate it.  Since we don't go there very often, we went to Applebee's this year.  (We just had pasta on Sunday, so we decided to skip Olive Garden this time.)  We were one table out of five others that were filled.  If restaurants allowed crickets inside, I'm sure we would have heard them. 

Our server's name was Gage.  I've heard of kids named things like Paris (no, not that one), London, Angel (as in Angeles), and Dallas, because of their conception location, so I couldn't help thinking if we were in Oklahoma he would probably be asked about his name a lot.  (Gage, OK)  He treated us like royalty, like we were his only customers.  We weren't because he had one other table to wait on - seated right next to us, of course (!).

So, we ordered a nice meal, and then I sprang the surprise on her.

Check back to see what the surprise was.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What's in a Birthday?

A month ago was my birthday.  I've had people ask me what it feels like to be reaching the end of my 40's.  My daughter even said, "Ooo, just one more year before you're a half century old."  With comments like that, one would think it would make for a distressing time.  Actually, birthdays haven't bothered me much over the years.  All except for one.

The only birthday that gave me pause was three years ago.  That was the year that I "outlived" my Dad.  It was the year I reached the age where I was older than he was when he died.

I don't have a lot of memories of my dad.  One thing I remember is he taught me to tie my shoes. That was when he was he was a milkman, driving a truck for Plains milk. It was also before I started school. I rode with him a few times, driving what seemed was ALL over western Oklahoma, even up into the Panhandle. For all I know, it was probably only a 30 mile radius.  I even once got to take the wind out of someone's sails when they accused me of being fathered by the milkman.  I just said soberly, "Yeah, I was. So what?"

He was a stern disciplinarian, but I only remember being paddled by him once.  And I deserved it.  I definitely deserved it.  I threw a rock through a pane glass window of an abandoned building on the town square. 

There was another time I was playing hide-and-seek with the family, only they didn't know it.  I was hid really well.  Then I got sleepy and dozed off.  I think they were a little panicked when they discovered I was missing.  I thought it was a fun game.  No one else, especially Dad, saw the humor.  He was upset, but he didn't spank me. I don't know if I would've been so lenient in his shoes.

I don't have a lot of memories of him because his life was cut short by an unfortunate accident in the service station he owned after giving up the milk route.  That was back when you went to the gas station and never got out of your car if you didn't want to.  In case you don't remember, there was a time when you'd just sit in your car while one or two attendants took care of the gas, washed the windshield, checked the oil, tire pressure, and usually did it with a smile.  Carmax parodied it excellently in this commercial:

It was also back when gas prices were only specified by numbers to the right of the decimal.  It was also when we weren't wimps, and only gas with lead was sold. 

Kinda like this, but there was Regular and Unleaded, not Premium.
Also, it was all about half these prices.

Some of my fondest memories of my Dad were at that gas station.  I knew where the magical key to the Coke machine was kept.  This magical key opened an outer door, inside of which was a little lever that when toggled twice, would allow a bottle of Coke to be extracted from the machine, no money required.

After getting a Coke -- original Coca Cola, with sugar, not High Fructose Corn Syrup -- I would go behind the counter and get a bag of peanuts to pour into the bottle.  Mmmm, peanuts in Coke.  I tried it once with HFCS Coke.  It's not the same.

Another way I kept myself entertained was to jump on the hose that laid across the driveway and make the bell ding -- until I got in trouble...

When I was in the third grade, I remember playing outside our house when people came by and got Mom, and she rushed to the hospital.  I didn't know what was going on.  Later that day, my grandparents took me to the hospital. That was when I found out there was a horrible accident as Dad and a coworker were fixing a flat on a front tractor tire.  It was a split rim tire, and because of a flaw, it exploded as they were inflating it (that's my understanding of what happened).  Dad was leaning over it when it blew.  The rim went straight up in the air with so much force it put a 3-foot hole in the ceiling.  His coworker was holding onto it and lost some (two? three?) fingers.  Dad didn't make it through the night.

I think this is a split rim tire.

I don't remember the day like I would later remember days like when the Challenger shuttle exploded, or the Murrah building was bombed, or the World Trade Center fell.  I know because of documentation that it was May.  I remember it was warm.  I was in the back yard doing "something."  I think as a child, one would probably block most details as protection from the trauma.

Cyrus Leo Plymesser, Jr.
1927 - 1972
This is the only picture I have of him.  He wasn't one for having his picture taken.  It was shot next to the gas station, so I know it's one of the last pictures of him.

I've never really unpacked this memory before now. Maybe it's because it was 40 years ago this year. Maybe it really is the season of life of which I'm in denial. I will say that this has been somewhat cathartic to type it out.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Return (Even Though I Never Knew He Left)

This settles it.  We - as in the U. S. of A. - need to take our tea drinking more seriously.  Then we can have spokesmen -animals -stuffed animals like the PG Tips Monkey. 

As best I can tell, PG Tips (which I still find to be a funny name for a tea company) first used chimpanzees, ala  Lancelot Link, in commercials back in the 70's.  Later, they developed a sock monkey to be their mascot.

Search YouTube for "PG Tips Monkey", and you'll find some of his commercials.  Thanks in part to a legal dispute, he apparently went on hiatus.  This clip, is appropriately named, "The Return".

In typical British fashion (no pun intended), he's even been known to don a dress and wig. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

For 2012, I only have one resolution to make.

I resolve not to make any resolutions this year.

Ok, now that I've broken all my resolutions, time to enjoy the rest of the year.

Hope you had a safe New Years Eve.  I had a quiet evening at home with my Sweetie, catching up on TV shows that were DVR'd while we were out of town.