Monday, December 27, 2010

Well, There Was *One* Thing I Really Missed About Vegas This Christmas

Yeah, people keep asking me if I miss living in Vegas, and I keep telling them 'absolutely not'.  But then I got to thinking about it, and even though I'm very happy to be here in Tennessee, there was one thing I'd almost forgotten about that made life in Vegas much better.  That was seeing the cocktail waitresses at Sunset Station wandering around for an entire month wearing those naughty Santa dresses.

Damn those were nice.  Everybody loved 'em.  Even the waitresses.  They knew they looked hot in them, and of course they made phat tips because of it.

One night a few years back, Kimmy and I were sitting around having a drink, running a few bucks through the Megabucks machine after our shift, and I asked her what she would do if I hit the jackpot.

Without hesitating, she said "I'd be your slave".

So my response was, Well, if you're gonna be my slave, you've gotta wear the naughty Santa outfit for me every night...

No hesitation there--she totally agreed to do it.  Unfortunately, I never hit the Megabucks jackpot, so she's wearin' it for somebody else, I guess...  Oh well. It certainly made the work hours more enjoyable, that's for sure, because Kimmy wasn't the only smokin' hot gal wandering around the casino wearing that outfit.  They were everywhere!

Anyhow, it's about 11:30 on Sunday night, and I just got back from five days on the road, visiting the various family members for the holidays, and I've got to tell you all, this was the best Christmas ever, for many reasons.  But most of all, for the simple fact that I was able to be here with my family, and we had a wonderful time together.  I don't think it could've been more perfect.

I stayed up at Mamasan's on Christmas Eve, and that night she threw a big party for everyone--all the siblings showed up (well, Nancy was in Houston, but she was there in spirit), and we did our gift exchange then since almost everyone now has kids, grandkids, in-laws, or other family obligations on Christmas Day.

Mamasan and I had a small tree, like we used to do back when she lived in San Diego and I would come out and visit when I lived in Phoenix, with our gifts for each other under it.  But when everyone else showed up, the living room was piled so high with presents, that it was damn near impossible to walk through, much less sit on the furniture.  So we had to move the party down to her den, which we thoroughly trashed.  But man, it sure was fun.

Recession?  What recession?  And you're not seeing the stuff in front of the china hutch or stacked in the hallway either.  You'd think we had a house full of kids or something, but no, it was all adults and our toys...

But it wasn't just all about the gifts, although that was very nice.  It was all about being together for the first time in what seemed like forever.  And since the time I moved away from here six years ago, I've also gained three new brothers, which is great when you're an adult--all the good times like a bunch of bunch of college buddies, but without any of the baggage that comes with growing up together!

Mamasan and I had spent most of the day preparing a big feast to graze on, it everyone loved it.  Instead of ham and such, like everyone else was doing on Christmas Day, we did pulled pork BBQ.  Oh hell yeah--it was a hit.  And we had all kinds of other stuff I shouldn't be eating, but what the hell, it's Christmas.  Mamasan made her famous ham & cheese log rolls, plus we had--dare I say it--cole slaw, meatballs, sweet potato fries, and the regular roster of holiday goodies, too.  Peanut butter balls included.  And since most of my booze is sitting in a storage tote next to her washing machine, we had a very popular open bar, too. 

Once everyone had their fill of food a had gotten a few drinks in them, we kicked off our newest family tradition--the Christmas Eve talent show.  Oh dear god, talk about potential for a hot holiday mess...  But it went off smoothly and was a total hit.  There was comedy, like Steffi re-working the Night Before Christmas poem so that it fit our family (off the charts funny!), or Scottie, Amy, and I singing Robert Earl Keene's Merry Christmas from the Family, which I believe caused a couple of people in attendance to lose control of their bladders...

Tim displayed his previously unknown juggling skills, while wearing a new t-shirt, which prompted the following exchange.

Reverend Dave:  Hey Tim, you know how we can tell that you're married?

Tim:  No--how?

Reverend Dave:  You wear sh*t like that...

Don't you just love family get-togethers during the holidays?  Heh.  But it wasn't all silliness and comedy.  Cyndi sang for us, and she actually has some musical talent, and Mamasan read a really nice Christmas poem (which I'll post next year), that came to her 20 years ago as she was driving down the freeway, so she pulled over and scribbled it down on the back of an envelope.  Sherry and David displayed their craftier side for us also...  It was truly memorable, and if I can track down a copy of the video of us singing, I'll post it. 

But after the talent show, we spent a good two hours or so opening up that huge pile of presents.  That was a kick in the pants, watching all the siblings opening their stuff.  I don't wanna brag or nuthin', but it seems that we were all pretty good kids this year, judging from the haul.  And after listening to me for almost three straight months complain about being cold all the time, and making fun of me for bundling up in fleece from head to toe just to sit in the living room, I got hooked up with damn near an entire new wardrobe of winter clothes and stuff.  And a bottle of Mt. Gay rum, too.  I'm gonna make it through this winter, one way or another.

Since Amy, Scottie, David, and I are big fans of camping and hiking, we hit the jackpot on outdoor equipment, too.  One rather large elf and his semi-crazy assistant managed to hide a huge Cabela's camp kitchen unit in the hallway for a few weeks, disguised as a huge Christmas present doing double duty as an accent table.  And that same rather large elf got a Mack-Daddy camp cot in return, so now I won't be the only guy sleeping on the ground next time we head out to lake.

But everybody got loads of good stuff, and some really nice gifts.  About halfway through, Scottie was taking the camp kitchen box out to the truck and he came back inside and announced that it was snowing outside--Holy shiat--a white Christmas!  In Tennessee!

We put the party on hold for a minute or two while we went to check it out.  Luckily I had my camera handy:

Like I said, perfect.  We enjoyed it for a minute or two, but it was damn cold outside, so we went back in to finish unwrapping all of the presents.  Of course, as soon as I stepped out onto the porch to take a picture, I got punked right in the chest with a snowball.  Gotta love my nieces...

When we finally finished up, it was getting pretty late--after 10:00 pm--and everyone had to drive pretty far to get home (Mamasan lives way up north, near the Kentucky border), so we wrapped it up.  We tried to clean up the den, but it was a losing battle.  Our hostess insisted that we didn't need to do it, so we just turned off the wall heater, turned out the lights, and closed off the den, opting to deal with it later.  Though not before I snapped a quick picture, of course...

The Aftermath--and this was after a good ten minutes of clean-up, too.  And if we learned one thing from this holiday season with my family--buy stock in Amazon...

After most of the trash was picked up, the dirty dishes put in the dishwasher, and all of the food put away, we just put on some soft Christmas music and sat in the living room drinking spiked eggnog and talking about some of our Christmas memories.  It was a good time.  

I finally shuffled off to bed and crashed for almost seven hours.  I got up first, put on a pot of coffee, and then took a picture of the huge juniper tree in mom's front yard.  It looked awesome on Christmas morning.

I turned on the music again, and then went to wake Mamasan up.  She got breakfast going and the we opened up our stockings.  One of our traditions is to wrap everything in them, even though most of it is cheap little doo-dads or toiletries, but it still makes it fun to have a bunch of little presents to unwrap. 

After the stockings, we had breakfast--but not the ebelskivers like our usual tradition.  Since it was just the two of us there that morning, we decided not to do 'em--they're kind of a pain in the butt to make, so we just had a regular breakfast--biscuits and coffee.  And mimosas. 

Then we opened up the presents that were still under the tree--She got a kick out of her new front license plate that says 'MAMASAN', and she loved the four decks of Kem cards I got her (she plays cards with a group of friends on a regular basis, and ever since she's discovered my nice poker cards, she hates playing with regular paper Bicycle cards).  There were a few other useful gifts, and I got hooked up with a nice new parka, too.

After the big event was over, I hung out for a bit, but then I had to pack up all my treasures and hit the road.  Sherry and Steve wanted me to come over and spend the afternoon with them, so I drove back into Nashville proper. They'd gotten a new puppy for Steve's son, he's been begging for one for two years, and so there was a 10-week-old yellow lab under the tree on Christmas morning.  Talk about a kid losing his mind!

I hung around over there for a few hours, playing with the kids and the puppy, then Sherry and I busted into a bottle of wine and we watched a movie with the kids.  It was a steaming pile of crap, but we laughed our way all the way through it, MST3K-style...  She put out a spread of honey-baked ham and such, but I just grazed a little, because after that, I had to drive out to west Nashville to have dinner with the hippies.

It took over an hour to get there--the roads were a mess and there were accidents everywhere (Yeah, it was still snowing and icing up, too), but eventually I made it.  I had a really nice dinner with Amy, Scottie, and Steffi, and then we adjourned to the living room to open even more presents.  (Oh, and eat candy, too).  We tried to stay up, and we made it for awhile, laughing and talking and carrying on like we do, but the bottom fell out of the party around 10 o'clock or so, and we all hit the sack. 

It snowed all night, and since the roads were so bad, we treated Sunday like a snow day from school and had indoor recess all day long.  Amy made ebelskivers (Yay!) while Scottie cooked up a bunch of bacon, and we had a great day-after-Christmas breakfast.  My niece Diana and her boyfriend Jeff stopped by for a bit, and Cyndi and Tim drove up, too.  We ended up spending the whole day hanging out playing poker around the dining room table (I lost my ass to Amy on one huge hand--pocket threes flopped a set with Ace-Queen-Three, turned a boat when a Queen came on the turn, got most of Amy's chips in the pot with her Aces-up, and then I lost it all when the case queen came on the river, sabotaging my full-house.  Ugh).

Besides that beat-down, it was a great day.  Cyndi and Tim brought up their dogs to play with the pugs, so we had a house-full of hounds, hillbilly style.  And we ordered pizza and nibbled on leftover Christmas treats for most of the afternoon, too.  Of course I felt like crap, eating all that junk for the past two days, but a couple of bottles of water later, I was good to go.

Eventually, I called it a weekend and packed up all my loot and drove back down here to Spring Hill.  Waiting for me in the living room when I got home was one last visit from Amazon-Claus.  Curt, Josie, and the rest of the Massachusetts poker mafia had sent along a nice big Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven and all the accessories--lid lifter, handle glove, tongs, etc.  And then Sonya from the Travel2Vegas board sent along a couple of great hiking books, too.

Thank you all very much--that was so cool!  I felt so appreciative at the time, thinking of all the nice things people have done for me this past year, and especially during the holidays, and it was almost overwhelming to me.  I had to take a moment to compose myself.  But I can't help but feel a little misty, considering all that's happened, and just how lucky I felt to be able to spend Christmas with those that mean the most to me.  It has been a very long six years since I got to experience the Joy of Christmas (well, 2006 was pretty good), but still, I feel truly blessed to have such good friends and also be able to spend time with my family once again at the holidays.  Not everyone has what I have, and for that I feel truly sorry.  I may not be rich, or be in perfect health, or have an interesting and fulfilling career at the moment, but I am loaded when it comes to what matters most.  Everyone should be so lucky...

Happy Holidays, everyone!  Enjoy the last bit of 2010, and remember, 2011 is going to be awesome.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Have a wonderful weekend.  And God bless us--everyone!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm Doing Graduate-Level Work in Procrastination

Even though I've been extremely busy so far this morning, all I can say is "It's about time".  You wanna guess what I did just now?  I finally unpacked my overstuffed garment bag that I took on the cruise in October.  Yep, that thing has been riding around behind my seat in the truck forever, and then I finally brought it in the house about two weeks ago.  Since then, it's just been sitting on the floor next to my dresser.  Until today.  Luckily all of the clothes were clean--it wasn't full of dirty underwear or anything like that--but now I have all of my shirts and such back where they should be (on the floor of the closet).  Just kidding--I'm tackling the laundry monster as I write this.

I know, I should've taken care of it when we first got home, but the weekend after we returned, I moved out of Amy and Scottie's place and into my current digs down here in Spring Hill.  And it was just easier not unpack it at the time.  And then once I loaded up all of my gear in the truck, the garment bag just never got unloaded.  Besides, it's not like anyone ever rides in the jumpseat behind the driver's seat in my truck, anyways, so it was content to remain packed for the past two months. 

Thankfully it wasn't an eight-day trip to Vegas.  I remember how bad my luggage smelled after a six day bender back in 2004.  I opened up that suitcase once I got home from the airport, and it smelled like a combination of Keith Richards (back when he was alive) and the carpet at the Golden Gate.  I think I had to run everything through the washer twice, and the suitcase went in the dumpster.

But now that chore is done, and while unpacking it, I realized that I never wore four of the shirts I took with me (my Cardinals jersey being one of them).  Guess I won't need to pack as many clothes next time around.  Don't know when that'll be, though--we haven't even started looking at next fall's vacation yet. 

As far as the holiday prep is concerned, I am tantalizingly close to being done.  I only have to wrap one more gift that arrived this weekend while I was gone, then hit the liquor store, and maybe get a few small stocking stuffers.  That's it.  I'm heading up to Mamasan's place on Thursday to help her prepare for the big Christmas Eve shindig that she's hosting, so maybe a trip to the grocery and some cooking will be on tap, but then I get to relax and enjoy Christmas with the whole gang, something I've been looking forward to for far too long.

Speaking of the Christmas Eve party, my niece Stephie decided that we should all share some sort of talent that night, since we'll all be together.  I don't know how well the idea was received by the rest of the family, but I'm doing my part.  And I haven't picked up the guitar in so long that the potential for unintentional comedy is off the charts.  So yeah, I'm spending a good part of the next three days practicing my fingers off.  I'm hoping somebody has a video camera with them, and if they do, well, you'll have something interesting to see on YouTube next week.

Oh--a couple of housekeeping things:

Email.  It's a complete pain in the ass for me.  Here at the house, I use the Verizon wireless 3G system.  It sucks like crap on a stick.  And, since that's the only option, I don't have an outbound mail server.  So, I'm stuck using my webmail to retrieve anything.  Same address, I just have to go to a secure website to get it--I can't use Outlook. 

Well, Outlook is where all of my addresses are.  And, whenever I need an email address, I have to open Outlook to go get it.  That causes all of my mail that was on the webserver to be downloaded here (I have my regular mail server that follows me everywhere).  So once that email gets pushed into Outlook, I can't respond to it.  (Well, I could copy and paste and take it back to the webmail site, but who wants to do that?).  Anyhow, long story short, that's why a lot of time I haven't responded to emails.  They're on the webmail system, but then they get buried in the avalanche whenever I open Outlook, which is by far a more useful tool.  So until we get real cable service out here in the boondocks, email will be an ongoing struggle.

Also, I was traveling most of the weekend, and forgot to take my phone charger with me.  Actually, I thought I might be gone overnight and coming right back home first thing in the morning, but that didn't happen.  So my phone was dead for two days and I just got it back working and fully charged yesterday afternoon once I got home.  So I wasn't really dodging anyone, I was just unable to call anyone back (lookin' at you, E!).

I'm hitting the road again Thursday (maybe Wednesday night, not sure yet), so my time around here is pretty limited.  Besides all the housework I've already done this morning, I still have to go out and run errands.  I still don't have a checking account here in Tennessee, and doing all my business through the mail has been another pain in the ass that I'm ready to pull the plug on. So at some point either today or tomorrow, I have to go down to one of the local banks and open a new account, then change all of my auto-pay stuff.  Not looking forward to that.

That's about all for now, but I'm hoping to have another holiday-type post up before Christmas Eve.  No promises, though.  Just wishful thinking at this point.



Friday, December 17, 2010

Still Elfin' It Up

Just a week left before Christmas, and we're still carrying on with holiday prep.  Cyndi got home in the middle of the night from her last week of traveling, so once we finish off this pot of coffee, we're off to the races again. 

We've got a few errands to run, but most importantly, we have to hit the grocery store for a bunch of baking stuff--tomorrow the kids are coming over to make Christmas treats all day, so we have to load up on all of the ingredients and get everything ready, because I'm sure the weekend will be complete chaos.

While Cyndi and the kids are annihilating the kitchen, Tim, Mike, Jeff, and I have to find something to do, but I think the plan is that we're just gonna hang out and watch The Christmas Story, unless of course we can find a bowl game or something.

I still have another batch of peanut butter ball dough in the fridge, and I still need to roll them out and get them dipped, and once they're done, I'm taking little gift tins full of them to a couple of the neighbors who've kinda checked up on me and offered to help out back when I was really sick.  After that, I think I have maybe one or two things left to wrap, one more gift to buy, and then pick up a couple of little stocking-stuffers, and then all of my Christmas running around is finished.  Oh, I may spring for a bag of candy or a couple of quarts of eggnog for our Christmas Eve party, but basically, my work here is done! 

Tomorrow night, a bunch of us are getting together for dinner to celebrate Mamasan' 70th birthday, so I'll probably end up spending the night over at the Hippie House once the party winds down (I think there may be some margaritas on the agenda, and although I can only drink one, it still farks me up like a high school girl trying her first wine cooler).  It should be a good time though, and I'm looking forward to getting together with everyone.

Anyhow, that's all for now.  I have to get dressed and go shopping.  Word around the campfire is that they're selling discounted 'ethnic' nativity scenes at the Cracker Barrel up in Cool Springs (the whitest place in Tennessee), and I'd like to get my hands on a few of them for next year's gifts...  Heh.

Later y'all,


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Walkin' In A Peanut Wonder Land

As promised, your peanut butter balls post--just in time for Christmas!  I just got home from delivering about five pounds of these little goodies to the nurses and staff up at the cardiac ICU at Vanderbilt.  Oh yeah, they loved 'em.  And I also took some to the gals I see every week in the diagnostic lab who get their kicks from stabbing me on a regular basis.

So here's how it's done--it's actually very simple, really.  The insides are just three ingredients; powdered sugar, butter, and peanut butter--that's all!  I made double batches, so I used two pounds of powdered sugar, three sticks of butter, and four *heaping* tablespoons of creamy peanut butter.

First, melt the butter over low heat.  While that's going, pour all the powdered sugar in a big damn mixing bowl.  Once the butter is melted, dump it in and stir it up (a wooden spoon works best, I've found).  After the butter is good and mixed in, hit it with the peanut butter.  And it works best if the butter is still pretty warm when you do it--it makes it easier to stir, because once it thickens up, it's a cast iron bitch to mix.  Unless, of course, you're using a Kitchen Aid mixer, or you have more upper body strength than your average little girl.  I'm not complaining though--it was a good workout for me.

Three sticks of butter--I used one stick of salted and two sticks of unsalted.  It's up to you.  BTW, notice the cool Rachel Ray cookware...

Two lbs. of confectioners sugar in a big Pyrex bowl.  That's where the magic happens.

This is what it should look like once all the mixing is done.  It'll be kind of crumbly at first, but as you mix it, it should get to be about the consistency of Play-Doh.

One caveat, though.  Mamasan has used Imperial margarine instead of butter in this recipe for decades, and we've always thought hers were damn good.  But I'm not supposed to eat stick margarine at all (while I'm *sure* powdered sugar is good for me...), and I just prefer the taste of real butter.  Also, once you start rolling the balls out, the ones made with butter are MUCH easier to work with, while the margarine version seem to need a lot of babysitting. On the other hand, if you use margarine, the mixing process is very easy.

After you get it all stirred up and all of the sugar and butter is incorporated, you should let it cool for a bit.  Put a lid on it and put it in the fridge for about a half hour or so.  (If you use margarine, it's easier to work with if you put it in the freezer, instead).  Relax, have a drink or something.

When you're done sipping your drink, get a couple of large cookie sheets out, and find a good podcast to listen to.  I find that either Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal doing the NFL lines on, or any random Adam Corolla podcast are good choices for background noise while I sit for an hour rolling the dough into individual balls.

Don't worry about greasing, flouring, or spraying the cookie sheets.  It's not necessary.  But once the dough is cooled down a bit, break off little pieces and start rolling them into balls.  Smaller is better--I've found that the ideal size is about as big around as a quarter.  Just set them on a cookie sheet in rows (I've found that I can get 77 of 'em on a large cookie sheet).  If you make this double batch recipe, it'll yield around 120-130 pieces, depending on 1) how big your heaping tablespoons are, and 2) who is helping you.  When I make them with Mamasan, she can't resist munching on the dough.  I have more self control, so I always get a higher yield...

Also, if you go the margarine route, this step is a complete pain in the arse.  I think the dough is too loose unless it's super cold, and then it sticks to your hands.  If you use butter, it's very easy to work with, and you don't have to wash your hands a half dozen times before you get them all rolled.  (In case you haven't figured it out, I've tried both methods in the past couple of weeks, and I much prefer to use real butter instead of margarine).

Once the cookie sheets are filled, cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge.  Or the freezer works fine, too--it doesn't much matter, as long as they get cool again since your hands warmed up the dough.

While they're cooling, prepare a double-boiler.  I just use a saucepan and a smaller Pyrex bowl.  I get just enough water in it so that it barely touches the bottom of the glass bowl, and that seems to work for me.  While that's heating up, you'll need some household canning paraffin.  I use plain old Gulf Wax, the same stuff we've had in our pantry since before I was born.

Cut off a chunk about an inch wide, and melt that in another saucepan--not too hot or it'll smoke.  You want to melt it, not burn it, and you definitely don't want to put a permanent wax coating on your cooking pans.

Now that the double boiler is good and hot, turn it down to low heat, and add the chocolate.  We normally use semi-sweet chips, but you can use milk chocolate if you want.  I prefer the darker chocolate, though.  Once it starts to melt, pour the wax over the top of it.  Don't worry, the wax is completely edible and harmless (come on, haven't any of you city folk ever eaten fresh honeycomb straight from the hive before?).  Stir it up and the chocolate will become silky smooth--you can't have any lumps.

Now here's where the 'art' part comes into play.  You've got to maintain a pretty good balance--you can't get the chocolate too thin, so keep the heat low.  But it's got to stay hot.  If it gets too thick, you can add more wax--but not too much--otherwise you'll ruin the taste of the chocolate.  So the trick is maintaining a good balance.  Hot, but not so hot it destroys the dough, and it's got to be thick enough that it stays on once they get dipped--you don't want the chocolate running off onto the pan.
So once your chocolate is at a good consistency, you can start dropping the naked peanut butter balls in, a couple at a time, getting them good and coated.  I use long-handled ice-cream spoons to dip mine, but any old spoon will work.  I've heard that some people use toothpicks, too, and just stick 'em and dip 'em.  I dunno--I go old school with the spoon.  Once coated, I gently drop them back onto the cookie sheet to cool.

I've found that it takes about a bag and a half of chocolate chips to coat a double batch like this, but then again, it depends on how big you make them, how thick or thin your melted chocolate is, and how much gets dropped onto the stove and counter top when you're doing the dipping.  But once they're all coated, back into the freezer they go.  I keep them there until they're ready to go into the gift tins.  The colder they are, the better they travel.  And the wax in the chocolate makes them very nice and shiny, too.  That picture up at the top is a pan of the finished product--I took that photo late last night (and you can clicky on it to enjoy the full-sized mouth-watering goodness).

So this morning after I got up, I packed up a couple of very big gift tins, and then two smaller gift tins, and headed up to Vanderbilt for my weekly stabbin'.  My first stop was back over to the Intensive Care Unit to give the big tins to the staff there, since they took such good care of me back in September.  

I hadn't been there since then, in fact, they wheeled me out of there in my bed, so walking back in was an enlightening experience.  The first thing I did was take one lap around the unit, remembering how hard it was to make that lap back when I could barely walk or even sit up on my own.  I got about halfway around when I saw a patient in her bed, all wired and tubed up, obviously having a very bad week.  It gave me an instant panic/anxiety attack, and I had to duck into a corridor for a moment to compose myself.

But I was ok after that, and made my way to the charge desk.  I told the nurse who I was and why I was there, and dropped off my tins full of goodies--one for the day shift, one for the night shift.  She accepted them and told me to go ahead and walk around and let folks know, so I did another couple of laps around the unit.  It was much easier the second time, and then I said goodbye and headed over to the diagnostic clinic.  I checked in, then went back and gave the gals their treats.  And you know what they did as soon as they got them?  Yep--they stuck another needle in my arm.  

I would've been cool with just a simple 'thank you, Mikey'.  Heh.

Anyhow, we finished up, I wished them a Merry Christmas (none of this 'Happy Holidays shiat--I don't care who I offend) and headed back down to pick up my truck.  The plan was to meet Scottie and Tim for lunch and the locally-famous Brown's Diner

Tim and I had lunch there last week, and we loved it.  And we both decided that Scottie should've been there with us.  Well, this week, Tim couldn't make it, but Scottie could, so I met him there after I got done at Vanderbilt--it's just down the road from the hospital.

But first, as I was driving through Hillsboro Village, there was a Ghetto Sled sighting!  I swear, the old girl lives!  Either that, or it was a twin.  Anyhow, I got so excited that I just *had* to snap a photo...

Anyhow, about Brown's Diner.  It's a new favorite, and the word 'dive' doesn't even begin to describe it.  It makes the Double Down back in Vegas look like the Petrossian Bar at Bellagio.  It is definitely a hole-in-the-wall joint, but they make a damn good burger.  

The best part is that nothing on the menu is over $6.99.  Actually, only one thing on the menu is that price--the catfish dinner.  Most everything else is $4.75.  And their hush puppies are only $1.75.  They only have Budweiser on tap, but they *do* have Amber Bock and regular Michelob Light (which I love).  Their food tastes all home-made, which it is, and I swear they use the exact same chili recipe that Cyndi uses.  

I stuck with their regular cheeseburger--a flat-iron grilled burger just like mom used to make, with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and mustard, while Scottie had the Frito chili pie.  Oh, and I can't forget the hushpuppies.  Tim and I joke that I'm gonna go in there with a ten-dollar bill and lay it on the table, and tell the waitress to keep the hushpuppies coming until I run out of money.  They're pretty damn good.

I had some extra peanut butter balls that I brought to Scottie, and of course we shared a couple with the waitress, too.  Well, she saw them and we could see her eyes get big, so we shared.  Of course she loved them!  And since Brown's diner is well within my budget these days, I even picked up the lunch tab when we were done.

After that, Scottie headed back to work, and I made my way back down here in the rain to Spring Hill.  I've got a few little household chores to do this afternoon before Cyndi gets back in town, and then the weekend of chaos starts up again (when I get a chance, I'll tell y'all about last weekend when I did a complete 360 on Briley Parkway).

So I'm gonna wrap it up for now, but if anyone makes themselves some peanut butter balls, I'd like to know how they turned out and how they were received.  

Talk to ya soon!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Posts Coming--I Promise!

Sorry gang--I've just been uber-busy this past week with doing all kinds of festive holiday preparations. And today is more of the same--I'm waiting for my niece Allison to come over, she should be here in just a minute or two, and we're going to wrap presents and such, then go out to lunch.

And I haven't forgotten about the peanut butter balls, either.  I'm in the middle of three double batches, most of which have to be delivered tomorrow.  And I've been taking pics, too, so if y'all will just hold tight, I'll be back on here with full updates again either late tonight or tomorrow evening.

Until then, enjoy your Hump Day!


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

24° F Outside Right Now

... And I'm pretty sure the 'F' stands for F*ck it's cold out here!  Nope, my thin blood can't handle it very well.  And I was out and about in it for a good portion of the day, too. 

But I'm home now, thankfully.  I've been on the road since Saturday, and before that, I think I was only home for a day and a half before heading out again.  So in case you're wondering why I haven't updated in so long, well, there's your answer--I haven't had much time at the keyboard.  Another reason, now that I think about it, is that I'm rarely alone anymore.  Living out in Vegas, obviously I lived alone, but unless I was working or out goofing off (or playing cards), then I was pretty much by myself.  Here, however, it seems like somebody is always around, so I'm rarely bored.  Consequently, I don't post as much as I used to.  (Boredom?  Really?  That's what kept this site going for so long???)

I don't know if it was boredom that motivated me, but all I'm saying is that now since it seems that I've always got something going on, it's tough to find time to sit at the computer and write.  Also, I don't have a designated space to work, either.  Usually, my laptop is sitting on the dining room table, or sometimes I'll haul it upstairs and use it in bed, but that's not comfy at all.  I'm thinking of setting up my utility table up in my room and creating a dedicated workspace (and a place to do puzzles and such, too!), but that would require me to move some heavy furniture around, and that ain't likely to happen anytime soon.  But I've got a pot of hot coffee going, and there's really nothing on TV worth watching right now, so here I am!

Anyhow, last week I was up at Mamasan's place for a couple of days, and our plan was to make a couple of batches of peanut butter balls (and yeah, I will definitely post the recipe and pictures in about a week since so many have asked), but we got distracted and it never happened.  We just hung out and prepared for the holidays in other ways--shopping lists, online shopping, and a bit of lounging around sipping on spiked eggnog and listening to Christmas music.  It was a nice and relaxing visit, though.

On Thursday morning, I left her place and headed back down to Vanderbilt for my weekly stabbin', and clueless me finally realized that one of the gals who takes my blood every week has been hittin' on me!  Don't know how I missed it, but I think that since I first got sick, I've just tuned out the interactions with womenfolk, because seriously, who wants to hook up with a chubby invalid who oh by the way has no job and lives at his sister's house?  Oh yeah, I'm quite the catch right now!  Even so, I realized last week that one of the gals in the lab seemed to be flirting with me.  So this week, I decided to pay closer attention, and yeah, she was definitely sending the Open for Bidness signal.  I guess my only move is take the George Costanza approach from 'The Opposite' episode.  My name is Mikey--I'm unemployed and live with my sister!  How you doin'? 


Anyhow, once I got out of there, I headed back down towards Cool Springs for lunch with Amy and Alli.  We had a great time at Cool Springs Brewery, which, in addition to making some damn fine microbrew, offers a pizza buffet for lunch.  I know what I was thinking--GAG!--but I was pleasantly surprised.  It was actually pretty good.  But I really enjoyed their salad bar, which is something I don't think I would've uttered just a few months ago.  After lunch, we lingered for about an hour, nursing our drinks and just catching up on stuff.

Alli and I decided to spend the afternoon Christmas shopping, so when Amy headed back to her office, we cruised over to Academy Sports and browsed for about an hour.  We got a few little things, and of course I drooled over all the camping and outdoor equipment.  We also spent a bit of time at the gun counter--Alli wants a Glock .40, and I want a new .45, 1911-style.  And I came thisclose to buying a Buckmark .22 pistol, but thought it might be a tad bit unwise.  Besides, I don't have a Tennessee ID yet, so I couldn't have gotten it anyways.

Once I ran out of gas for the day, I dropped Alli back off at her car and I made the trek back down here to Spring Hill, and then promptly went to bed and had a nice nap.  I woke up to the dogs barking and going apeshiat when Cyndi got home, so I got up and went downstairs.  Alli came back over with the kids, and we had a fun family night at the house.  We ordered some dinner in, then all of us piled onto the couch to watch Christmas Vacation together--Tim, Cyndi, me, Alli, Jackson, Brynn, and Major the cat.  And the dogs were lying on the floor in front of the fire.  Good times--I really missed this kind of stuff while living out in Vegas--little things like this are what make the holidays special, I think. 

Alli and the kids spent the night here, and the next morning we got up early and had a nice breakfast together.  Cyndi made our traditional Christmas ebelskivers, just because.  No real reason, but Alli & Mike haven't picked up the tradition--they do Belgian waffles on Christmas morning, and I think Cyndi is trying to get the grandkids back into the ebelskiver camp.  So we had a wonderful breakfast, and since it was a cold day and we had nothing on the agenda, we all piled back onto the couch and watched Home Alone.  I remember seeing it back in 1990 and thinking it was a cute movie, but this time, man, it's pretty dumb.  And the invention and proliferation of cellphones have made so many movies seem so dated.  Think about it--if Kevin and his parents would've had cellphones, this movie would've never happened. 

Early in the afternoon, Alli and kids headed out, and Tim, Cyndi, and I spent a good portion of the day wrapping presents and such.  That is, until the football games came on.  I watched those for a bit, then I headed up to the Amy & Scottie's place for the night.

Scottie had spent the day smoking a turkey, and oh hell yeah, it was nothing short of amazing.  He'd injected it with butter, spices, and herbs, and then smoked it over hickory for almost eight hours.  It was not the least bit dry--it was absolutely delicious.  So right then I made a proclamation:  Next year for Thanksgiving, the entire family is getting together for the meal, and Scottie will smoke a turkey while Tim deep fries one.  No roasting one in the oven--we'll save that space for casseroles, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pies.  Seriously--those two methods have proven to be far superior to the traditional method of roasting a turkey in the oven, which I'm still a big fan of, but the smoked and deep-fried varieties were just plain incredible.

It was so good that we didn't even have a sit-down meal.  We just stood around the counter carving pieces of meat off and eating until we were stuffed.  Yeah, it was that good.  And it drove the puglets completely bonkers--the aroma was mouth-watering, so it's easy to see why the pugs flip out every time Scottie uses the smoker.  And the term 'Bar-B-Que' is now one of those buzzwords that sets them off in a tizzie like 'Walk', 'Treat', or 'Park'.  Good eating and good entertainment from the dogs--can't beat that!

After that, we set about decorating their tree.  Before I got there, they had it mounted and set up in the corner, and had gotten most of the lights strung up on it, too.  So once we finished dinner, all we had to do was hang the glass balls and such on it.  It didn't take too long, and it turned out pretty nice.  And I love the fact that they always get a real tree, too.

After we finished the tree, we stayed up late watching about four or five episodes each of the funniest two shows on TV:  Community and Modern Family.   Both of them are very well-written and pretty clever--at least once or twice in every episode I end up laughing so hard that I have to wipe the tears from my eyes and clutch my chest pillow that they gave me in the hospital--it's so funny that it hurts.

Once we called it a night, I shuffled off to that ultra-comfy bed that I loved so much while I was doing my initial recovery.  It's so comfy that I always want to just spend the night in the guest room every time I go up there (it helps that Spring Hill is almost 40 miles away and we're usually half-crocked on red wine, too).  But even so, one day I went over there for lunch and just took a nap while Amy worked in her office.  

We slept in the next morning and didn't do much at all for awhile.  We didn't even go down to the Loveless for breakfast, which I halfway expected to be propositioned with first thing once I got up.  It was one of those cold, gray, and blustery mornings where you lingered in your PJs and wool socks, sipping a cup of coffee and appreciating the throw blankets on the couch.  Eventually, we got moving, and while Amy wrapped Christmas presents and finished decorating the house, I did a little home improvement project and finally got the metal TV mounting bracket off the wall in their living room.  It was a hideous eyesore that seemed impossible to remove, but I finally tackled it and won the battle of wills, and we also got the halfway-up-the-wall hanging extension cord mess disconnected and tucked away, so that they could hang up a nice mirror over their piano. 

By then I was ready to head back home and spend the afternoon and evening watching football, but just as I was gathering all of my stuff, my phone was ringing--it was Mamasan calling, asking if I'd come up and help her again.  Since I was only about forty miles away, instead of the usual seventy, I agreed, and headed back up north.

We spent the afternoon unloading groceries and such--she'd done all of the holiday shopping while I made the drive--and then we got to work on the peanut butter balls.  I believe we made and rolled two double batches that day, so nobody is gonna go without this year.  And we still haven't done mine for all the folks I'm giving them to.  So yeah, I'm going back up there again this next weekend to knock them out.  When doing those, I'll take pictures of the process and post the recipe and such.  

Once the chores were done, we spiked a little eggnog, lit up the gas 'fireplace' wall heater down in the den, and turned on the Christmas music for a bit. I had to put the Scrooge to that after awhile though--couldn't miss the Steelers/Ravens game!  

Monday was more of the same--we cooked a nice breakfast, finished up the last of the peanut butter balls, and then Mamasan took off for a doctor's appointment while I puttered around the house, mostly reading.  There was quite a snowstorm that morning, and for a minute or two, it looked like a full-on blizzard.  When I saw it from the window, I snapped a picture of my truck out in the driveway just as it started coming down heavily:

If you click on it, you can really see the size of the snowflakes coming down.  We thought we were in for a huge storm, but a half-hour later, the sun came out and all the snow disappeared.  It's not like it warmed up, but still--no blizzard to speak of.  The rest of the day was fairly mellow and relaxing.  Mamasan tried to talk me into staying a couple more days, but I was ready to get back home.  So the next morning (Tuesday), I packed up all my gear and made the long trek back down the hill.  I still had to run a bunch of errands though--gas station, bank, post office, etc.--so I was good and cold.  In fact, I've been home for about ten hours now, and I'm still wearing my hoodie.

But I'll sleep pretty well tonight, I'm sure.  I don't have much on the agenda for Wednesday, but I may do some more Christmas shopping with Alli.  I hope to be completely done by Thursday (except for maybe a few stocking stuffers).  For now, however, I'm going to finish off this pot of coffee and maybe do some reading before calling it a night.

And I promise I won't go another five days without posting.  Especially if it stays this damn cold!


Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Different Kind of Jackpot

Good morning, re-clickers!  It's a damn cold one here in the hills of upper Tennessee, but I've got a full pot of coffee going and nothing to distract me today.  So here I am at the keyboard, just like old times.

I feel especially happy this morning because last night I scored myself a little jackpot.  No, I didn't win the $95 million Powerball (apparently, one of my homies out in Arizona did, though)--I settled for something a bit less flashy.

First a little background.  Y'all know of my fondness for coconut creamer in my coffee.  I love the hazelnut, and I've even dabbled around with peppermint mocha around the holidays.  But coconut is my all-time favorite.  Sadly, I have had none since I've been back in Tennessee (I had some on the camping trip, but that was in Alabama).  I guess it's just not a big favorite of the southern folk.  So I've been making do with hazelnut (no complaints) or even cinnamon vanilla (feh... but I'm coming around).  Well, last night, I was at the super WallyWorld up in the miniature city of White House TN, and they had some!  Four large bottles, and I took every one of them.

At first, I felt a little guilty about cornering the local market on the stuff, but then I realized that I probably did a good thing--that is, if they sell out, then they'll get more and start carrying it on a regular basis.  I swear, I've been all over Nashville looking for coconut creamer ever since I got out of the hospital, and I've never been able to find it.  Until last night.  Actually, Mamasan told me that her friend Mary had scored some up here at the local WalMart, so I told her that next time she's there to pick me up a couple of bottles and I'll reimburse her for it.  Well, since I come up this way almost every week, I thought I'd check for myself--and I was rewarded!

Not only that, but since I braved the bitterly cold weather to find the coffee creamer, I was rewarded with yet another product that I've had a hard time finding.  I've been on a personal crusade for months, ranting the entire time, looking for firm toothbrushes.  I hate medium and soft-headed ones.  They feel like they've already been used for a couple of months.  I mean, seriously, how do you know when a soft-headed toothbrush has worn out?  I blame the do-gooders who started making kids wear helmets when they rode their bicycles.  Hell, when we were kids, nobody ever wore a helmet, and we did all kinds of crazy shiat on our bikes.  Yet nobody ever went to the emergency room with a cracked melon.  Anyhow, before I get lost too deep in the Angry Woods, let me just say that whoever decided that firm toothbrushes are Bad For Us is full of shiat.  Enough with the pussified soft-headed ones.  I want my mouth to feel like I'm taking a wire brush to the BBQ grill!  Ok, maybe not that extreme, but still, I prefer the firm ones.  And yet it seems that NOBODY sells them anymore.  What's up with that?  Can a brotha get a firm toothbrush?!?!?!??

I know that some dental health 'experts' have said that it's bad for your gums or hard on the enamel or some other such nonsense.  Bullshiat.  You don't have to grind on your teeth like you're refinishing furniture with a Dremel tool--in fact, I'd go so far as to say that you have to brush much harder with one of those wimpy soft-top ones because they're so ineffective (kinda like low-flow toilets that you always have to flush twice because they suck so bad--not really saving water there, either!).

Anyhow, two weeks ago, I scored a couple of them at the local Walgreens, but they don't have a big supply on hand.  And since they are becoming harder and harder to find, I like to stock up whenever I stumble across a new source.  Well, last night, after my coconut creamer victory, this same store also had one single row of firm-headed toothbrushes tucked away on the bottom shelf of the toiletries aisle.

Now, I didn't take all of them, like I did with the creamer.  I left a few behind, especially since we're so close to Kentucky and dental hygiene is something they kinda need to work on.  So I left a few behind for my fellow travelers.  Still, I replenished my stash, and it was a very productive trip to the store, if I do say so myself.

But not all was right on my shopping trip.  I was unable to find any warm wool socks, which I desperately wanted.  I bought a dozen pairs of plain white socks (all of mine seemed to have disappeared in the past couple of months, and Amy's theory is that they're all buried under the leaves in her backyard, courtesy of those thievin' pugs), but no cold-weather socks were to be had.  You'd think, being 28 degrees outside, that they'd have an entire section of wool socks.  But you'd be wrong.  That's ok, I'm sure I'll be able to find those somewhere--the People In Charge haven't come up with a reason for us not to have them yet.

I picked up a few more treasures here and there, but I was so excited about the coffee creamer and firm toothbrushes that I probably forgot half the stuff I went in there for.  No biggie, it's not like I don't have plenty of time on my hands if I need to go back.

But the plan today is to drink a few more cups of coffee, and then Mamasan and I are going to set to work making another double- or triple-batch of her famous peanut butter balls--we've got a lot of recipients this year, in addition to the regular family gatherings.  After that, we've got nothing else on the agenda except to listen to Christmas music and maybe drink a little eggnog while we get all festive, preparing for the holidays with the family.  Not a bad way to spend the day, if you ask me.

Y'all have a good one.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Rainy Day in Nashville

Hello everyone--I hope you all have sufficiently recovered from your holiday weekend.  And I hope it was a great Thanksgiving all-around.  Mine was excellent, although most of the family was scattered to the four winds this year.  Still, it was nice to be home.

One thing that really stood out was Tim's deep-fried turkey.  Oh, the oven-roasted one was excellent, as expected, but oh holy hell, the deep-fried one was nothing short of amazing.  And I still haven't grown tired of the leftovers yet.  In fact, just last night, I had a toasted turkey-and-Havarti sandie for dinner. And it was damn good, too. 

This past weekend, we also celebrated the anniversary of Cyndi's 39th birthday, which was a pretty good time--another houseful of people came over on Sunday, so the weekend was chock full of entertaining.  But that's not all we did--on Friday, it was all about lying on the couch watching football all day while the womenfolk went shopping (I think they left the house at 2:30 am and didn't get back until the early afternoon, the minivan full to the top of Christmas gifts).  On Saturday, Cyndi booted Tim and I out of the house (after bringing all the holiday decor down from the attic), and while she worked on the inside of the house, we went to Home Depot to pick up more lights, gutter clips, spare bulbs, and extension cords, and then came back and decorated the outside. 

I did the net lights on all of the low-lying bushes and shrubs, while Tim was up on the ladder and the roof hanging the icicle lights.  I ran out of gas early in the afternoon, and passed out for a couple of hours while he finished the stuff on the second floor trim.  We still got almost all of it done before it got dark, and the house looks damn good at night--not the least bit Griswaldy.  Cyndi also decorated the front porch, and we have a low-wattage spotlight on it, so it looks extremely festive.  If it ever stops raining, I'll take a picture and post it up.

So yeah, it was a pretty full weekend. 

Yesterday, I went out and did a bit of shopping, but I didn't get much done at all--it was one of 'those' days that happen every so often, and I felt cold and tired all day long, so I ended up sleeping on the couch bundled up in my wool socks, fleece jacket, my beanie hat, all wrapped up under a fleece blanket, with the cat curled up on my chest.  I must've snoozed for about three hours like that, and I'm sure I was quite a sight to see. 

Once Tim came home, we puttered around the house for a bit, and I fell asleep again waiting for the football game to start.  Clearly, I've still got a ways to go before my recovery is complete, but the doctors can't yell at me for not getting enough rest.  I woke up though--it was only about a 45-minute nap then, and stayed up and watched that god-awful Monday night game.  Before going to bed, however, I stayed up an extra hour talking to my gal Cheryl back in Vegas--we hadn't chatted in what seems like forever, so we had plenty of catching up to do.  I remember hanging the phone up at midnight, and then that's it.  I crashed hard for another eight hours.

But this morning, once I crawled out of bed, I came downstairs and got a lot of stuff done.  I've got a few cups of coffee in me, and I also did a bit of online Christmas shopping.  My cyber Monday fell on Tuesday, I guess.  Love me some Amazon Prime though.  And saving the 9+% sales tax they charge here in Tennessee is a satisfying personal eff-yoo to The Man.

Anyhow, once I get showered and such, I'm packing a bag and heading out again.  I'm going to meet Amy for lunch over at PF Chang's, then I'm gonna do a little browsing at a couple of stores over there in Cool Springs.  After that, I'm driving over to west Nashville to babysit the puglets for the afternoon until Amy and Scottie get home.  I'm gonna stay the night at their place, and then in the morning, we're loading my truck with their old furniture (if it stops raining).  They got some new stuff, yet their old furniture is some of the most comfortable ever, and nobody wants them to get rid of it, even though they don't have the space for it and it doesn't match their new sectional.  So I'm taking it up to Mamasan's house and she's going to put it down in her converted den (it used to be a garage, but the previous owners changed it over--now it's a huge spare room).

While there, we're going to make another double-batch of peanut butter balls in preparation for the family festivities.  I'll spend Wednesday night up at her place, and then on Thursday I'll make my way back down to civilization, because I have to go to the clinic at Vanderbilt that day and get stabbed again.  Once all that is done, I'll make my way back down here to the Hill and relax for a day before Cyndi gets home and the silliness of the weekend starts up again.

So I'm keeping myself busy.  Also, just in case y'all were wondering, I've been looking around a bit for some sort of part-time job to replenish the bank account.  I'm not hurting yet financially, and I have enough on hand that I don't have to worry about it too much until the end of February or so (not counting, of course, the medical bills), so I've been poking around for a little part-time gig.  I know that there is still absolutely no way I can work a 40-hour week, even if it were a desk-bound office job.  I just don't have the strength or endurance to do it--I'm only good for a few hours at a time before I need to lay down and recharge my weakened batteries.  Still, nothing really noteworthy has popped up, but I keep looking.  On the plus side, all I really have to worry about is my truck payment and insurance, and I'm down to only seven more payments before I own the ol' girl outright.  So, like I said, I don't have to sweat the money so badly--my family has been extremely generous in making sure that I don't have to take much out of my own pocket so I can just focus on getting better.  For that I feel truly lucky and blessed.

Anyhow, that's the latest from the rain-soaked hills of Tennessee.  I'll be taking my camera and laptop on the road with me, just in case the weather clears or anything of interest happens.  I'll try and come up with some interesting reading for ya later in the week, too.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

So Much to be Thankful For

Friends, one of my favorite holidays is upon us, and this year especially, I have much to be thankful for.  First of all, I'm just happy to be here.  After spending five years spinning my wheels in the casino business, it's wonderful to be back home with family and friends.  For those of you who've never missed out on that, let me tell you, it truly sucks.  Everyone says they're ok with it, but deep down, I'm sure that I wasn't the only person out there in the neon playground who resented the hell out of the fact that the holidays were nothing special. 

Screw that.

Nothing is more important than family and friends--trust me on this, I know!  And as crazy as they can drive you sometimes, remember that it's only because they mean so much and have years of experience pushing your buttons.

But this year I feel truly blessed.  I appreciate the fact that I almost didn't make it to this holiday season.  I think about it every day, and in moments of solitude, when I stop to consider it, it's almost overwhelming to me.  I can't believe how lucky I am.

Having put a few month's thought into it, I truly believe that everything that has happened to me this year was timed perfectly to help me survive and get another chance at life.  I hope it doesn't sound too hokey, but getting canned from the job at Sunset probably saved me.  It set me on the path that led me back here to Nashville, and I can't discount all the wonderful coincidences that got me here.

After I got the boot, two weeks later I was here in Nashville visiting the family, and at that time I decided that I was done with Vegas.  I was willing to give it one more year, but that was it--I was gonna be gone by the end of the World Series in 2011.  At least that was the plan.

But after that visit, I flew back to Vegas, looking for a decent job to carry me through.  What I got was a shiatty job at the Golden Nugget, and a damn good job at Bally's.  Unfortunately (I thought at the time), neither one was a permanent gig.  Not knowing what I know now, I thought working at Bally's would be a dream job, and I truly felt that I was going to get an offer to stay on permanently.  I really liked it there--the people were top notch, and it really was a good place to work, previous references to the 'Evil Empire' notwithstanding.

Nothing else looked promising on the job front, so I told myself that if the Bally's gig didn't work out, then I'd just go ahead and move back to Tennessee this year-- I mean, hell, if I'm going to work a crummy job (which was all that was left in Vegas), then I might as well work a crummy job in a place where I could be near my family.

So I jumped through the hoops, did the paperwork, and tried my hardest to get that job at Bally's.  I lasted longer and made it further through the process than most folks, but in the end, they chose somebody else for the position.

Probably the best letdown of my life.

I'm not lying at all when I say that I was bummed out for about five minutes, tops.  At least then I finally knew what was going to happen with my situation, after having been up in the air all summer long.  And I know it may sound weird, but I feel like I owe the poker director at Harrah's my life.  He's the last one I interviewed with and ultimately made the decision on whether or not to hire me.  He chose somebody else, and I'll probably be forever in his debt, because had I got the job, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be dead right now, having passed away alone in my apartment back there in Henderson due to a massive pulmonary embolism and unable to get to phone.  (Yes folks, it was that close).

Just a couple of weeks after I got the word that I wouldn't be working at Bally's any longer, I found myself back in Nashville, among the people that mean the most to me.  Never once did I feel like I'd made the wrong decision.  And luckily for me, I happened to be at Cyndi & Tim's house a week later when I fell ill, unable to breathe, walk, talk, or do much else.

They rushed me to the nearest emergency room, where it seemed every doctor on staff dropped what they were doing in an effort to keep me breathing.  They ran tests on me all day long, and after about twelve hours, they realized that what I had was something they couldn't treat. Again, luckily for me, my doctor there at Williamson Medical Center knew of a doctor at Vanderbilt who specialized in some sort of new procedure that was thought might be able to help me.  So at midnight they had him on the phone, going over my test results, and less than a half hour later, I was getting evacuated to Vanderbilt from the local hospital.  While I was riding in the ambulance in the middle of the night, they were rounding up a surgical team to perform an emergency operation.

That's when I started getting a little worried.  They don't normally schedule surgeries at 3:30 am on a weekend.

They took me straight up to the intensive care unit to do my initial preparation, and I met with the surgeon for the first time.  He gave it to me straight, and let me tell you, there is no way to prepare for a talk like that.  He told me that he could do the surgery, but this embolism (basically a huge blood clot) had gone through my heart and was so big that it was blocking the artery that came out of my heart right where it split to go to each my lungs--it was called a 'saddle embolism' because it straddled both paths.  And it was as big as a fist--how it ever got through my heart without me dropping dead, I'll never know.  I was told that most people don't even make it as far as I did--most of them die an instantaneous death.  Even though I'd made it that far, the doctor told me that my chances of surviving the surgery weren't very good.

In fact, his exact words were "You need to gather your family and say what you need to say to them".

How do you even respond to something like that?  How do you go from feeling like one morning you've just got a severe chest cold to the point where you realize a few hours later that you may not see another sunrise?  So much left to say, so much left to do, yet I had absolutely no control over any of it...

While all this was going on, Mamasan was lighting up the phones, telling everyone in the family to get down to the hospital as soon as they could possibly make it, because I was in trouble.  And not the kind bail money could solve... 

While I was being shaved from shoulders to knees and being attended to by an army of nurses, the doctor took my entire family aside and told them the same thing--chances are that I wasn't going to make it.  I can't even imagine the feeling in that room at the time, but afterward, they allowed all ten or eleven of them to come see me.  I knew it had to be a grave situation because they never let more than one or two family members at a time back there, and there I was with a huge crowd around my bed.

There are a few images indelibly inked on my memory, and that night, lying in that bed with all those tubes and machinery hooked up to me and my family around me is something that I'll never, ever, forget.  I know it was tough on them, but nobody has any idea how tough it was on me.  Not only did I already feel like I'd been beaten to a pulp physically, but I laid there thinking This is it?  This is why I made it home--just to say goodbye?  This is where it ends?  It doesn't seem quite fair...

I don't even remember what was said--just how I felt.  The only thing I remember was giving my sister Amy all of my passwords to my accounts and such, just in case.  It must've been pretty awkward, and it seems a stupid, if necessary, thing to be doing with your last few minutes spent with your loved ones.

Maybe I just didn't think it was my time to go.

I say that now, but I was plenty worried, especially when I got to the operating room.   

This is the place where people die...

Take a deep breath for me Michael...

Hey, this smells funny.  I hope I wake up from this...  I *have* to live--I can't die on September 11th!

Although I don't remember one bit of it, due to the extraordinary talents of my surgeon and his staff, I woke up about eight hours later, with my sisters Sherry and Cyndi at my bedside.  A few hours later, I was able to get the ventilator tube out of my throat and was able to talk a little. I remember seeing my sister Nancy for the first time in years--she'd flown in from Houston on the first available flight, and she sat with me for hours, just holding my hand.  That made all the difference in the world--I felt like the worst was behind me.

Eventually, I got to see the rest of my family--Dad drove up from Atlanta and Reverend Dave had come in from Alabama.  Everyone was there and had spent a sleepless night in the waiting room.  It had to be a tough time for everyone, waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them one way or the other if they'd ever see me again.  It had to have been a miserable stretch of time, because I know how hard it would've been on me had it been one of my sisters under the knife instead.  The realization that there's not a thing in the world you can do is a tough pill to swallow.

But I was told by my doctor and several of the ICU nurses that it was a miracle that I survived--apparently, it was a very near run thing.  Three days later, I was able to walk, and five days after that, I was going home, very much alive.

Ever since then, the process of my recovery has been nothing short of amazing, and I know how very lucky I am to be here--like I said, I think about it all the time.  Sometimes I get frustrated, wondering if I'll ever have a 'normal' life again, and wishing that I would just be completely healed, but it doesn't work that way.  I have good days and bad days, but the more days I have, the good ones outnumber the bad.

That is why I'm so very thankful today, and every day, for the life I have and the life I've been given.  I love my family more than anything, and the lengths they've all gone through these past couple of months to help me have been more than I could've ever asked.  The sacrifices that they have made on my behalf humble me almost to tears when I sit down and really think about it.  I'll never be able to repay their kindness, all I can do is try to live the kind of life that makes them feel that their efforts were worth it.

I'm thankful that I'm living in Tennessee, where I'm close to them.  I'm thankful that there is a cosmic order to the universe and all the chaos of the previous year led to me being in the right place at the right time, just when things seemed to be their worst.  That in itself is its own kind of miracle.  I'm thankful for the close friends I have, and all those who've shown their support as I slowly make my way from being a helpless invalid to being a fully-functional normal human being again.  I'm thankful for the skilled hands of Dr. Stephen Ball of the cardiac surgery staff at Vanderbilt Medical Center--without him, I wouldn't be here today.  I'm thankful to all of the amazing nurses and staff in the cardiac ICU who treated me like I was the only patient in the entire hospital the entire time I was there.

But most of all, I'm thankful for second chances.  I got a big one, and all of the stupid stuff that I used to think was important, well, I realized that some of it really ain't.  Family is important, friends are important, and most of all, never forgetting that it could all be gone in an instant is important.

Friends, raise a glass and be thankful today for all of the important things in your life.  Not only that, make sure that you do something to show it, because they may not be there tomorrow, and you may not be as lucky as me.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Much love--


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gettin' Ready for the Big Day

Happy Hump Day, everybody!  I hope all of you office drones have a short and enjoyable day in the cube farm while you goof off until it's time to punch out for the weekend.

Me--my weekend is already here, heh...  Actually, right now, I'm up here in the woods of northern Tennessee at Mamasan's house, and at some point this afternoon we're making that long 70-mile trek back down to Spring Hill.

I got here yesterday afternoon, after another session at the 'park-n-jab' clinic down at Vanderbilt (only four more months of that, I'm hoping!).  Anyhow, since I was already halfway here, I just drove on up yesterday to spend the afternoon.  And since it's such a haul, I brought a bag and my laptop and just spent the night in her spare room.

We spent a good portion of the afternoon making a huge batch of peanut-butter balls in preparation for the holidays.  I've decided that next week I'll probably make another huge batch myself and deliver them to all the nurses over at the Vanderbilt cardiac ICU--they were the ones who took such good care of me for five days back when things weren't lookin' so go for me.  Of course, once they wheeled me away and took me to the step-down unit for my last three days in the hospital, they never saw me again, and I want to let them know that I'm alive and doing well, and that I appreciate how much effort they put into keeping me on the right side of the grass.

So yeah, we rolled about 120 of those little suckers yesterday, a double batch, and this morning they get the chocolate coating.  It's been probably twenty years or more since I've been around to help Mamasan make 'em, so it's been a lot of fun. 

Once our chores were done last night, we took off and headed down to the nearest town of any size, a little burg called White House.  It's interesting, because when we were kids, three of us (Cyndi, Nancy, and me) used to go to school out there.  It's a small town, and it hasn't changed very much in the thirty years since I was in junior high.  But we had dinner at a pretty good little Mexican joint, and then we drove over to the Wally world supercenter to pick up all the non-perishables we need for our contributions to the Thanksgiving feast.

Mamasan is making her famous fruit salad, while I'm making deviled eggs, stuffing casserole, and corn casserole.  I just found the recipe for the stuffing casserole a couple of weeks ago and gave it a shot.  It turned out so well that I volunteered to make it again for turkey day--one less thing that Cyndi and Tim have to do (they're hosting this year, and I think there are ten or eleven of us that are going to be there.  And we're having a regular roasted turkey, plus a deep-fried southern-style one, too).

As far as family goes, Amy and Scottie won't be joining us--they're going to Scottie's parents' place up in Kentucky, and Sherry and Steve are headed off for a weekend escape to a cabin in Gatlinburg.  Reverend Dave has been noncommittal all month, and might be using the poor weather as an excuse to go with a better offer, so it's doubtful that we'll see him.  So it looks like it'll be me and Mamasan, Cyndi & Tim, plus a few family friends for dinner.  Cyndi's girls will be by later (this year is their dad's year) with the kids after dinner, but they'll come and hang out that afternoon and evening.

Should be a good time, and I'm excited to finally be able to celebrate Thanksgiving again after five years--no shift at the casino for me this time! 

So once we get on the road this afternoon, we'll hit the grocery store for a few last-minute perishables, then the plan is to do our cooking and prep this evening.  Cyndi will be getting back in town late this afternoon, too, so it should be a good time there at the house while we all get ready to prepare for tomorrow.

Y'all drive safe and have a wonderful weekend.  And for those of you who are flying instead of driving, enjoy your groping at the hands of the TSA!  Don't think of it as gate-rape, just lie back and think of England...

More tomorrow--


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Another Walk In the Woods

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day down here in The Hill, and as tempting as it was to lie around on the couch watching college football, I just had to get out and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.  And after suffering through that cold and damp hike up at Percy Priest Lake earlier in the week, I wanted to reward myself with some quality time out in the woods when it was actually kind of sunny and warm out.

Referring to my 60 Hikes book, I saw that there was an 'easy' rated hike just a few miles down the freeway from Spring Hill on the Duck River, so today around noon, I put on my walking shoes and grabbed my hiking stick, and pointed my truck towards Henry Horton State Park. 

It didn't take long to get there, and the trailhead is right off the highway.  Yeah, at first I thought that would be a feature, not a bug, but I didn't like it very much at all--I could hear traffic noise for most of the hike.

Officially, the trail is called the Willhoite Mills trail, and it meanders along the Duck River, through a civil-war era grain mill complex.  In fact, just a few feet from the parking lot, you come across the first relics:

Just down the hill a few steps from the old industrial equipment, the path turns left and runs along the top of a limestone ledge that overlooks the river.  It's not exactly treacherous, but then again, you have to pay attention where you step, else you'd go tumbling down the hill into the water.  Not something I wanted to do, that's for sure.

The first point of interest along the river is the 'narrows', a spot where it was supposedly dammed up back in the old days.  Also, it's claim to fame was that Andrew Jackson crossed there way back in the day.  I have no political or military aspirations, so I just stayed on this side of the river. 

It was actually a nice walk along the river, with several rocky outcroppings all along the way where you could sit and watch the water or toss pebbles in.  I just kept on walking, although I stopped to take a picture or two.

After about a third of a mile or so, the path veered away from the river and up into the woods along a dried up gulch that led to a spot called Haunted Springs.

According to the legend, and lady was doing her wash in the spring, holding a baby in a cloth sling.  But the baby fell out of the sling into the water and was immediately washed away, never to be found again, even after a large scale manhunt.  Somehow, that makes it haunted, but wandering through there on a sunny afternoon, it didn't seem too spooky to me.

As the trail wound it's way through the woods, uphill and further away from the river, the path found its way to another dried-up riverbed.  It was pretty cool to see, but I imagine that during the summer months, the place is just crawling with snakes.  It just looks like a good place to live, if I were a snake, that's all I'm sayin'.

Even so, it's still very pretty, and the last quarter-mile of the trail heading back to the parking area was nice and shady, too.  I enjoyed it a lot, although it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.  The first bit had some up-and-down, and for someone who's still somewhat uncoordinated and out-of-shape, there were a few tricky steps here and there, but nothing major. 

The further you got from the river, the easier the walk became--no rocks, a fairly defined dirt trail, and minimal change in elevation.  According to the guidebook, it's only a mile, but with stopping for pictures and taking the occasional rest, it took me about 40 minutes to walk it.  Definitely a better workout than wandering the sidewalks around the neighborhood, and certainly more interesting, too.

Once I got back to the truck, I rested for a bit, then crossed over the highway to check out the camping area at Henry Horton State Park.  I'm always on the lookout for another good camping spot, and I had high hopes for this one.  Unfortunately, it was pretty sucky.  Easily the lamest camping area I've seen yet.  I mean, do they really need 4x4 timbers staked into the ground to mark where you have to put your tent?  Seriously, it looked like the outdoors version of a time-out area.  Not only that, the sites were tiny, way too close together, and on the edge of a huge field with a barn out in the middle of it.  Who wants to camp there?  Oh yeah, and it's not far off the highway, too, so there is plenty of traffic noise. 

Worst.  Campground.  Evar. 

Anyhow, now that I've seen it and scouted it out, we won't waste our time staying there next summer.  At least the hike was interesting.