Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh By The Way...

Lost in all the recent events swirling around me is that fact that we still have the Sibling Revelry cruise coming up--IN LESS THAN A MONTH.  Yep, a month from now, I'll be lounging on deck of the Carnival Miracle, heading for the Southern Caribbean.  I cannot wait!

Speaking of recent events, I've got to amend my planned activities somewhat when I go on this vacation.  First of all, my alcohol intake will be somewhat curtailed, although not completely wiped out.  I'll still have wine with dinner at night, and probably a fruity drink or two while lounging by the pool, but that's probably about it.  I'm really not supposed to be drinking at all right now, so I'm pretty much on the wagon until then.  Same with smoking my pipe and cigars--none until the cruise.

I'll also probably have dessert once or twice that week, too, which is something I've completely abandoned since I got sick.  The doctors and the nutritionist said it would be ok to splurge a little by then and enjoy myself, but the truth is, my 'splurging' is going to be limited.  I know I won't be able to drink much, and of course my appetite has changed completely, so it's not like I'm going to go nuts.

Due to my lack of strength, I won't be able to go snorkeling at all, something I always look forward to.  There is just no way on earth I'd be able to pull myself up a ladder at the stern of a sailboat from out the water, so that activity is off the agenda.  I was also thinking about spending a few hours doing some sailing on an America's Cup yacht down in St. Martin, but that is too strenuous of an activity, too.  So that won't be happening either.  I'm pretty much consigned to lounging on the beach, which ain't such a bad thing in the overall vacation scheme.

I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing in St. Lucia, but on St. Kitts I'm going with Sherry and Steve to some resort for the day and hanging out at the private beach club there.  While we're in St. Martin, Reverend Dave and I are going to taxi over to the French side of the island and do some shopping, then we're going to spend some time at the beach at the end of the runway, taking our own set of ridiculous pictures of the planes arriving.

Other than that, I'm all about the relaxation and enjoying the sun and salt air.  Amy & Scottie, Tim & Cyndi, Reverend Dave, and my buddy Gaines & I have four staterooms all in a row, all with balconies.  We've found out that the dividers between each balcony can be removed, so we're going to have one big long balcony to lounge on once we get settled in on the first day (Sherry and Steve have a big corner suite on another deck, and Mamasan and her friend Mary are staying down in steerage with the goats, chickens, and Irishmen--actually, they have an oceanview stateroom, just without a balcony, that's all).

I don't have any desire whatsoever to utilize the casino on the boat or even the ones I had so much luck in on St. Martin back in 2001.  I'm just over it, although Sherry wants me to give her some craps lessons and play with her.  So I'm sure I might be found in the casino at some point, but due to current circumstances, my bankroll is extremely limited, so even if I wanted to spend my evenings onboard playing dice and blackjack, I wouldn't be able to afford to.

That's ok--I'll take in more of the shows and entertainment on the ship at night, and of course my traveling companions are all lots of fun to hang out with, and we usually make our own good times no matter what we're doing.  That being said, I'm really looking forward to hanging out with my brothers in the evening, smoking some fine Cuban cigars and watching the ocean roll by. 

Less than four weeks away...  It can't get here soon enough!


Hump Day Update, and Photos!

Good morning everyone!  I'm feeling pretty good this morning, and I think it has to do with the fact that I finally quit 'fighting' my medication and got some real sleep.  I've always been reluctant to take medicine, and when I was in the hospital I got a stern talking-to from the nurses in the ICU because I'd never ask for pain medicine, and then one morning I woke up in extreme discomfort and they got after me for trying to be, in their words, 'a tough guy'.  After that, they hooked me up to the I.V. pain medication with the little thumb-activated thingy so that I could get relief whenever I needed it, so I took advantage of that for a few days.  Since that little episode I've been taking the pain medication regularly and it's helped a lot.

On the other hand, it makes me very sleepy, and I hate that.  I would doze off constantly, and since I didn't like that, I'd fight it and try to stay awake all the time and it seemed like I've been in a constant fog and just out of it during the day.  Yesterday, I think it came to a head.

My brother Tim was up here in the area to do a quick job on one of the houses he's working on (he owns a remodeling business), and so he stopped by to pick me up so we could go to lunch together.  I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of Brew House 100, which is just down the road from Amy and Scottie's place, so we went there to eat.  They had an awesome Mahi-Mahi and shrimp sandwich as their daily special, and since grilled fish is right at the top of the Mikey-can-have list, that's what we ordered (and it was damn good, too!).  After lunch, I went with him over to the jobsite with him because he said it would just be a quick stop, and it was a nice day and I felt like it would be good to get out of the house anyways.

So while he was doing his thing, I wandered around outside for a bit, but after just a few minutes, I had to sit down--I felt like I was going to pass out.  Not like a sickly passing out, more like I just needed a nap RIGHT NOW.  So I got in the truck, leaned back, and dozed for a bit in the sunshine while I waited for Tim to finish up.

Once he got done in the house, he drove me back home and dropped me off.  As soon as I got back here, I immediately went to bed and fell asleep, hard.  Of course, my phone kept ringing, Amy and Mamasan called a couple times to tell me random stuff, but I know it was a guise to check up on me.  I have no idea what we talked about, but I know that I was completely out of it and probably made no sense at all.  I ended up sleeping for almost three hours, and it did me a world of good.

I skipped out completely on our previous plan of going to the dog park when Amy got home from work that evening, and she was concerned that I was getting sick or something, but it turned out that all I needed was some intense rest.  It made all the difference in the world.

While she was out, she picked up some Chinese take-out, and although the egg roll and sweet-n-sour pork might not have been the ideal choice, I did better with lo mein and veggie fried rice.  But a long nap and a good meal made it much easier to take my twice-daily handful of pills, and I felt much better after that.  And I got over six hours of uninterrupted sleep later that night, too, which made the pain medication that much more effective.  I guess the lesson to be learned here is that I shouldn't fight the medicine--if I'm tired, I'm going to bed, no use trying to stay awake for no good reason.  Sleep, exercise, and good food are the recipe for getting better, but sometimes the stubborn part of me needs to learn lessons the hard way before they stick.

Anyhow, like I said, I'm feeling much better today.  I woke up before the alarm so that I could make a pot of good coffee for Amy & Scottie before they headed off to work (I gotta earn my keep around here), and now I'm just enjoying a pleasant Tennessee morning.  I have no place I have to go today, no urgent chores I have to take care of, no calls to make, and nobody to meet up with all day.  I get to relax.  It's only about 60 degrees outside, but it's sunny, and once I get some breakfast in me and take my meds, I'm gonna go for my morning walk.

Today I'm going to expand my walking horizon and leave the backyard and cul-de-sac, because due to the miracle of Google Earth, I found out that there is a nice out-of-the-way dead-end street just a block away from here, and I think it's close to a half-mile or so if I walk the entire way out and back.  Actually, it may be longer than that, but I think I'm up to it.  I'm taking my walking stick for support (it's amazing how much it helps), and I'll have my cell phone with me in case I overdo it, but the trick is figuring out where halfway to my absolute limit is, and then turning around at that point and coming back home.

It would be fun to take the pugs with me, but they are much too curious and playful to be good 'walking' dogs.  Oh, they love to walk, but I can't handle both of them on the leash at the same time, they get tangled up all the time and walking becomes a chore.  So I'm going to leave them here at the house and go solo.

Speaking of the pugs, here are a few pictures of them, plus a few other photos from the past week that I want to share:

Here's a close-up of Bertha and Lord Vader.  Cute aren't they?

And while they love to take over the old couch in the den, they much prefer to sleep on people instead of furniture.  I took this photo on Saturday when Reverend Dave was here.  I think we were watching the Alabama/Arkansas game at the time, but the puglets were using him as a bed.

Berth's little underbite grill just cracks everybody up.  Also, she feels like she must sleep right up under your chin all the time, so she's always up in your face.  And since my blood thinners make me bruise easily, I have several paw-sized bruises all over my chest and stomach this week from where she walks on me when I'm dozing in the chair.

This pic is of me and the siblings.  Well, five out of the six of us--Nancy wasn't here this past weekend (she's in Texas).  We were celebrating Sherry's 50th birthday and had a big family gathering on Saturday night.  That's Mikey, Cyndi, Amy, Sherry, and David.

Me and my brothers!  Reverend Dave, Scottie, Mikey, Tim, and Steve.  I really like this pic, and we're a good looking crew, if I do say so myself...

Anyhow, that's the news from here today.  It's a beautiful morning outside and I feel good.  Time to take my drugs and eat some breakfast, then get to enjoying the rest of the day...

Y'all have a good one!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Long Day, But an Improvement

I felt that Monday was pretty much the textbook definition of a crummy day.  I got up early and had a cup of coffee, believing I was off to a good start, but as with any recovery, there are good days and bad days.  It was a very long weekend for me, and I felt every bit of it yesterday morning.

Mamasan came over early, and once we gathered all the stuff I needed to haul with me, we were off to Vanderbilt to get my blood tested again.  Yep, it's good and thin and right where it needs to be, but I'm still having to go to the lab twice a week just to make sure.  But they make it easy on to be a patient down there at Vandy.  The Coumadin clinic isn't nearly the headache that I expected once I got discharged from the hospital.  Even though it's right there in the middle of campus and the clusterf*ck that is the Medical Center, they have a special entrance with free valet parking that's right in front of the elevators.  I get out of my truck, somebody parks it for me, I take a few steps to the elevator, and then it's straight up to the fifth floor. 

The lab is right there, and they have electronic check-in kiosks, and while I might have to sit about ten minutes in the waiting room, as soon as I go into the lab room, the procedure takes no time at all.  I guess that since my blood is so thin, I bleed fast, so two vials don't take very long to fill.  Then I'm on my way--somebody else fetches my truck for me, and I found out after my first visit that the guys in the valet aren't allowed to take tips.  It's all totally complementary for patients.  A nice touch. 

But then, after that little chore was done, I had to go to one of the local walk-in clinics (*not* related to Vanderbilt) in order to establish myself with a local primary-care physician who will be working with me on all of my non-surgery related issues and my general health and overall well-being.  Because of my situation, Vanderbilt referred me to one of the subsidized local city clinics.  Yeah, it was a real eye-opener, going from one of the finest medical facilities in the country to a local walk-in clinic on the other side of the tracks.

I can't complain, because I can go in and see the doctor anytime for just a $20 co-pay, but man, it kinda reminded me of that time I had to spend the afternoon at the Fremont Medical Clinic back when I first moved to Las Vegas.  Definitely a colorful clientele, and the questions they asked on the initial check-in forms were interesting--lots of stuff geared towards the local homeless population.  The worst part of it was that I had to sit there for an hour and a half before somebody could see me, and then I was there for another hour and a half after that.  It was a very long day, especially since I hadn't eaten anything that morning.  (And yeah, I got bitched at by my sister, my mom, *and* the doctor for skipping a meal).  Can't recover if you don't eat.

As much as I didn't enjoy being there, it was actually a pretty good facility and they're gonna be taking good care of me.  I go back in three weeks for a full-on physical and follow-up to my normal care that was started when I was in the hospital.

Bottom line, before I got sick, I was relatively healthy, except for the obvious fact that I was a morbidly obese fat-ass.  My blood pressure was good, my heart was strong, and I didn't have any other medical problems at all.  But because of my weight, I was at risk for all kinds of bad stuff, and believe me, they tested me for EVERYTHING when I was got transferred to Vanderbilt.  It's a teaching hospital, after all, so every department wanted to get their hands on me once it was established that I was gonna make it out of the ICU.

The one thing that worried them was diabetes.  They did that test where they can get your blood sugar history, and although I was never technically over the line for being a textbook diabetic, I was close enough that they had to treat me like one to assure that I'd heal properly.  And even though I don't have it, I still have to test my blood sugar and amend my diet.  And while I don't have to take insulin, I'm on a prescription medication to control my blood sugar. 

After a long talk with the endocrinologist, they said they're gonna treat me like a diabetic until I lose 100 lbs, so I'll be on the medication for awhile. 

That seemed like a tough pill to swallow, pardon the pun, but actually, it hasn't been very hard for me thus far. 

This whole episode was a major wake-up call for me, and I have been fairly zealous about changing the whole lifestyle around.  I don't ever want to feel the way I did that day I went to the hospital--it was the worst experience of my life, so I vowed to myself that I'd do whatever it took to improve my health.  That's one side of the coin.  The other side, the emotional weight of knowing that I was thisclose to never seeing my family again, well, that scared me straight.  I found out that I'm not afraid to die, it was actually quite peaceful for those few minutes in question, but I can't handle saying a premature goodbye to my loved ones. 

So what have I done so far?  First of all, I cut out all Coca Cola and other soft drinks, and anything processed with sugar added.  And I'm eating a whole bunch more raw veggies and lots more fresh fruit.  And I've discovered vegetable chips as a great substitute for potato chips.  Y'all know I was never a 'fry' guy anyways, so that's no problem, and I always preferred whole wheat bread and the like--I haven't eaten white bread in decades, so those were easy fixes for me. 

(Yeah, I know I posted pics from the Loveless this weekend, but here's the thing--My nutritionist told me all the stuff I can and can't have, and even a traditional southern breakfast like that is ok once in a while, especially if I only eat about half of it).  And since Amy and Scottie are pretty much hippies, we've had several vegetarian dinners since I've been here.  Not that they have anything against meat (hell, Scottie smokes chickens and pork damn near every weekend out in the back yard), but Amy is going above and beyond the call of duty while I'm here and is making sure that all the groceries we buy are 'approved' by the folks trying to get me fixed up and back to normal.  So yeah, my habits have completely changed.  (Can't forget the unsalted nuts, either--that's one thing I like, because now, almost everything tastes too salty to me). 

Also, I have to do a lot of walking to get my strength back, plus build up my lung capacity.  I can't lift any weights, so I'm all about doing laps around the yard and cul-de-sac.  Tonight, however, we're going down to the park and I'm going to try to walk some real distance, like maybe a half-mile or more.

But it's paying off in spades.  While I was at the walk-in clinic, I found out that my blood sugar was below 100, and I've lost 28 lbs since I first went to the emergency room a few weeks ago.  Obviously a lot of it was fluid, but then, I can tell I'm making progress in all kinds of little ways.  My face is skinnier, and I absolutely can't keep my pants up when I walk.  I wish I could keep up that pace of weight loss, but I know it'll taper off to a normal rate really soon and I'll probably be disappointed.  But just taking away soft drinks and some of the not-so-good things I normally ate, and changing those to more veggies and a whole lot of turkey, man, it's made a hell of a difference.

Now they want me to keep a daily log of everything I eat and drink (which I've already been doing since I got home), plus my daily blood sugar levels and weight.  That'll keep me motivated, plus I've got lots of people willing to walk with me every day.  Well, the truth is, nobody wants to let me do anything alone, much less walk around outside, so I kinda feel like I'm on house arrest.  But in a good way.

So the bottom line is that I've made many positive changes, and I'm doing well with them.  Aside from the gnawing pain in my chest where they cut me open and cracked my sternum, I'm feeling pretty good most of the time.  The painkillers make me tired, but they don't want me to skip them (I tried that once, too, and got in trouble for it), and so it seems that I doze off a lot when I'm sitting around.  And of course just doing normal things still kinda wears me out--I need to rest after getting dressed, or helping with dinner, or just going out and walking around in the back yard.  Everything is an effort.

But several people have asked me about my recovery and what steps I'm taking, and I appreciate the concern.  So I hope that maybe I've answered some questions.  I know some folks may have thought I've not been taking things seriously by trying to be upbeat and trying to keep my posts on the lighter side, but I think I was doing that so as to keep myself in a positive frame of mind.  And like I've said before, what I write is a small percentage of my actual daily experience, so not everything that happens makes it to the blog--it's just a peek into the window of my life, but I hope that those of you who are concerned for my well being kinda know where I'm coming from nowadays.

Like the long-haired freaky person once said, I'm alive and doing fine!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Breakfast at the Loveless

Besides the obvious reasons, it's great to be back here in Nashville.  There's a lot of family buffoonery going on this weekend, so Reverend Dave drove up from Alabama last night and stayed here with me and the hippies (in case y'all were unaware, everyone in the family just refers to Amy & Scottie 'the hippies').

Anyhow, the original plan was to go to the Full Moon Pickin Party over at Edwin Warner park and spend the evening, and on Friday night, we had about eleven or twelve folks come over after the workday ended.  We planned on pre-gaming it here at the house for a couple of hours and then heading over to catch some beer and bluegrass in the great outdoors, but the inertia of an already-happening party conspired to keep us all here and goofing off until the wee hours.  Lots of food, drink, and smokeables were on hand, and although I couldn't participate fully, I still had a good time.

After the last of our guests left, we wrapped it up and called in a night sometime around 2:00 am.  But at 8:30 this morning, I got a wake-up call in the form of Amy standing in the bedroom doorway telling me to roll my passed-out carcass out of bed because we were going out to breakfast at the world famous Loveless Cafe and we had to get there before the usual weekend crowds started showing up.  About a minute-and-a-half later I was up, dressed, brushing my teeth, and wondering where I'd left my sandals.

Lucky for us, the Loveless is just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road from Amy & Scottie's place, so we piled into Reverend Dave's urban assault vehicle and were pulling into the parking lot just a couple minutes later.  As we got out of the truck, we were greeted by the always-welcome smell of breakfast over a campfire.  There's a smokehouse on premises, and besides the smell of the woodsmoke, you could also catch a whiff of ham/bacon/coffee coming from the kitchen, and it makes your mouth water--the best kind of sensory overload!

Also lucky for us, we got there early enough that we didn't have to wait for a table--we were seated immediately, just as soon as we made our way inside.

The waiter gave us our menus, but the first order of business was coffee and some of their famous biscuits (as seen on the Travel Channel, I believe).  Here's a little food pr0n for you degenerates:

Believe me, the biscuits live up to the secret-recipe hype--they are simply outstanding.  And with each plateful, they bring three different kinds of homemade preserves; strawberry (excellent), peach (even better), and blackberry (the consensus favorite).

While noshing on our biscuits and sipping our piping-hot coffee, we finally decided on what to have for breakfast.  Scottie went with the pit-cooked pork BBQ and eggs, and he got some ridiculously good cheese grits with his meal:

Reverend Dave had the country ham & eggs with redeye gravy.  That stuff in the lower-left corner is the hashbrown casserole.  It's so damn good, and if I had no self-control, I'd want to eat it every day for breakfast.

Amy went old-skool with French toast and bacon, and although it was very tasty, she said that next time she's gonna just go with biscuits and get other stuff a la carte.  Biscuits and French toast might be just a little too much bread at breakfast.  Otherwise, she really liked it.

Of course, I had to go with my usual breakfast menu measuring stick--chicken fried steak and eggs.  Yeah, it was good.  And yeah, it's better than the Peppermill.  And the Peppermill doesn't have hashbrown casserole, either.  I couldn't finish it, as hungry as I was, but one of the cool side effects of all the time in the hospital is a loss of appetite, so I only made it about a third of the way through this meal before waving the white flag.

Overall, the food was very good, as was the service.  The Loveless is a pretty well-known Tennessee landmark, and it gets very busy.  And there's a reason for that--it's a damn good restaurant.  Our timing was perfect, because by the time we finished our breakfast, the crowds were lining up outside.

The restaurant, although located a good bit away from the city, is still a great destination.  It's right off of the Natchez Trace, and if you feel like taking a nice drive in the country, the Loveless is a good place to start or end your journey.  Lots of folks on motorcycles use it as a rendezvous spot.

After paying for the meal, we wandered around a bit outside--there are picnic tables and swings and such, plus there's a general store and gift shop if you want to get some of those homemade preserves to go.  We didn't do any shopping, but opted to head back to the house instead.  It was such a nice fall morning that we sat out on the back patio drinking coffee and and enjoying the weather--altogether a great way to kick off a lazy Saturday.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Morning Coffee Break

Good morning everyone!  I was thinking about taking the week off from the keyboard and just clearing my head, but where's the fun in that?  Besides, that would be kind of selfish, wouldn't it?  Everyone has been so kind and supportive since I got the medical smack-down that I feel obligated to try and tap the creative keg even when I'm not so thirsty.  So here I am!

It's been a good week for me, convalescing here at Casa de Amy y Scottie, but it can be a little dull at times.  Oh, I've had much to keep me busy, and the slightest effort still kind of wears me out, but I'm making good progress.  This morning, I've got another appointment down at Vanderbilt at the blood-testing clinic.  Yep, another needle.  I told my sister that I've had so many damn needles stuck in me these past couple of weeks that I feel like a voodoo doll that's got a lot of bad karma to burn off.  But it won't take long--they're pretty organized down there and the first time I was in and out in less than 20 minutes.  And I'm so used to getting stuck that I don't even notice anymore.

But that's not for another couple of hours.  Right now I'm chillin' in the living room, watching the squirrels mock the pugs from the top of the back fence, while sipping on some damn fine toffee-macadamia nut gourmet coffee.  Unfortunately, I'm limited to just two cups, but I'm getting maximum enjoyment out of 'em.  Angy and Andrea sent me a huge care package while I was in the hospital, and part of the goodies included in the box was a selection of four pounds of different flavored whole-bean coffees.

So on Sunday I ordered an electric bean grinder off of Amazon, and it got here yesterday.  I was anticipating making coffee so much this morning that I set my alarm for 6:30 to be able to get up and make a pot before Amy and Scottie headed off to work (yeah, they like it, too!).  Besides relaxing with a cup of good coffee, it's been a pretty good morning so far.  I'm just waiting for Mamasan to make the trek down from the North Country, and once she gets here, I'll do a couple of laps around the back yard (it's HUGE) and then take a shower, neither of which chores I'm allowed to do when home alone. 

Yeah, the medications I'm on are somewhat dangerous--all of my 'caretakers' are very worried that I'll take a spill or cut myself somehow, so they don't leave me alone much.  And I'm not allowed to go anywhere, not even the bathroom, without my cell phone on my person.  But the most serious danger is deep in the rear-view mirror, and I'm recovering nicely.  Way ahead of schedule, actually.

Anyhow, part of my recovery process is to get my strength back, and that entails a lot of walking.  I do laps around the yard in the morning, and laps around the cul-de-sac in the evening.  But I feel like I'm starting to 'outgrow' both places and want to expand my horizons a bit.  There are a couple of really nice parks nearby with lots of walking trails, so I'm hoping it won't be long until I'm able to exercise with some better scenery.  Besides, I know I look like quite the goober circling the cul-de-sac with my hiking stick.  But who cares what the neighbors think, right?

As far as the weekend goes, it should be a fun one.  Tomorrow night a few of us are heading over to the Full Moon Pickin' Party just down the road at one of the local parks.  For $20, you get four beers and four hours worth of live bluegrass entertainment.  I'll be giving my beers away and just parking myself in a camp chair in front of the main stage, but it'll be nice to get out, get some fresh air, and hear some banjo music without worrying if I'm gonna get Deliverance'd out here in the woods of Tennessee.  I'll see about taking my camera with me and maybe getting some pics and such.

On Saturday, I think there is some sort of family gathering to go to, but I'm not quite sure what that entails.  But I know that's on the agenda, also.  At some point, I have to get back up to Mamasan's storage shed and get a few things--like the coffee percolator and some more of my clothes--and we're also going to pick up her old backyard fire pit.  She doesn't use it any more, and since the weather is getting nicer at night, we figured we'd be able to use it out here on the weekends.  I won't be roasting too many marshmallows, but a campfire is always fun.

Anyhow, that's about all for now.  It's time that I got up and ambulated over to the kitchen and made some real breakfast--coffee doesn't count all by itself.

More to come...


Monday, September 20, 2010

What Next?

Hey Gang--

Y'all gotta bear with me, I'm struggling here.

I feel like I want to write a big long epic post about the events of the past week, but I'm not quite sure how to do it. See, I want to write interesting stuff, but unfortunately, lying in a hospital bed for a week with dozens of tubes and wires attached is definitely not much fun, and probably not very interesting either, unless you're into chubby white guys wearing backless hospital gowns. And you've already heard most of the high points already.

But here I sit, slowly trying to recover and get life back to normal, and I don't have much else going on and certainly an experience like that tends to stay on one's mind, so I've got nothing else to draw on right now. And I don't want to become a bore.

Part of the problem, also, is that it takes a lot of time and effort to write up one of those long posts that people like, and I just don't have the strength or endurance right now. I'm running on about 45% efficiency right now, and absolutely everything wears me down. Hell, just spending a half hour at Ace Hardware and Kroger earlier today took all the wind out of my sails for the rest of the day. I may be on the mend, but regaining my strength is still a long ways away. Even for simple tasks like sitting on my ass typing on the computer.

I've got a long road of recovery ahead, and basically, I'm going to apologize in advance because it's going to be all I've got to write about for awhile. I had a whole lot of time to think over the past several days, and getting those thoughts organized is much harder than I thought it would be. Writing about working and living in Vegas was easy--those stories mostly write themselves. But this, this is something new.

I think what I'll do is write one time about everything that happened to me, from beginning to end, and then maybe try to move on and get back to being my normal self. But before I can get back to normal, maybe I need my own bit of self-induced therapy that only the keyboard can provide. Once that happens, hopefully things will get interesting around here again. I dunno. Maybe it's just the medication talking.

Anyhow, we'll see what happens once I get some rest. In the meantime, don't worry, I'm ok. I came from one of the best hospitals in the world, home to one of the best families in the world. I'm in good hands.

Thanks again, everyone, for everything, and just keep your fingers crossed that my muse is as accomplished as my surgeon.


Still On The Mend

Hey gang--I was hoping to have a nice long update ready to go this morning, but I just didn't have the strength. I know people have been concerned that I haven't posted since Friday, but all is well.

First of all, I finally got out of the hospital on Saturday afternoon. Scottie came and picked me up, and of course they won't allow you to walk out--you've got to go in a wheelchair. But once I got all unhooked (I was good and ready for that tube in my neck to come out!) and cleaned up and dressed, I was chomping at the bit to bid farewell to Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Of course, I looked like I'd been beaten up, covered with bruises as I was and walking like a zombie, but the first order of business was to stop at the WalMart pharmacy and get my prescriptions (all six of them!). That was a tough stop--it wore me out to walk around there and play the waiting game.

Once we got back to the house, I just parked myself in the living room chair and chilled for the rest of the evening, happy to be home. My first meal, celebrating getting sprung from the joint, was a piece of toast with olive oil and avocado. And then I went to bed early.

I finally got my computer hooked up and on the secure network yesterday, and after getting settled in, I felt much better. In fact, I'm getting better by the minute--I can actually feel it. But I've got a ways to go and I'm still very tired, so I haven't been spending much time on the computer at all. Maybe if I get a full-night's sleep tonight, I'll get up early and hit the keyboard first thing in the morning.

Anyhow, today was my first 'normal' day of convalescing, and even though Scottie and Amy had to go to work, Mamasan drove down to make sure I was taken care of. Plus, I had to go back down to the 'Coumadin Clinic' at Vanderbilt and get my blood tested--and I can't drive myself, so Mamasan had to come down and drive me in my truck (ain't no way I can fold myself into her subcompact Nissan).

That visit didn't take very long, and after it was taken care of, we ran a few errands while we were out. That wore my ass out and I've been parked here in the chair ever since we got back home.

(Sorry that this post sounds so scattered, but I'm beat and under the influence of several pills, so it's tough to maintain any sense of coherency this afternoon).

Anyhow, I know people were worried, so I thought I'd put up a few quick words before I fell asleep. More tomorrow--maybe by then I'll start making sense!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Feelin' Stronger Every Day

I must be getting better--I was able to go almost the entire night without somebody coming in and drawing blood or taking my temp or stuff like that. I was allowed to sleep, uninterrupted, for almost six hours. That's a good sign. I knew the end was near, at least as far as my hospital stay goes, because they didn't put me on oxygen last night, and I wasn't woke up at 4:00 am for my usual chest x-ray, either.

In fact, the first person to visit me this morning was the attending doctor, and he said they've almost got my blood thinned out to where it needs to be, and it's likely that I'll be going home tomorrow (Saturday). Man, you don't have any idea how good that feels, just to know I'm finally getting out of here. I can't wait to sleep in a normal bed again and not have needles stuck in me at all hours of the day and night.

Besides the mental pick-me-up of the knowledge that the worst is behind me, I'm feeling pretty good physically, too. I did a lot more walking yesterday (my physical therapist gal is quite the cutie, too, so that helps), and I also tried stairs for the first time yesterday, and they were no problem. So I feel like I'm ready to go. (And the cutie therapist gal just showed up and we walked three quick laps around 'Sick South')

Of course, it'll be a new sensation, being able to bathe myself and oh yeah, wear pants again (Yeah, I've been going commando in a gown for over a week now), and I have to use an electric razor to shave with for the next two months instead of a blade, but otherwise, life will slowly get back to normal.

I'm looking forward to it.

More later,


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On The Mend

Ok! I finally made it out of the ICU--I'm out in the 'general population' now, but still wired up like a fighter pilot. That is, if a fighter pilot didn't wear any pants and had to pee in a cup. But otherwise, yeah, I'm looking like Clint Eastwood that time he stole the Russian MIG.

The Right Stuff--I has it, baby!


Well, I won't be going home on Thursday, as I'd hoped. I spoke to my surgeon yesterday and they're still trying to find the right balance of blood thinners for my system, so I'm gonna be here for a couple more days while they figure out just what type and how much drugs I'm gonna be on for the next several months. But it won't be long now. I'm able to stand up on my own and walk a bit here and there, so they can't keep me tied up here much longer. I figure I'll be getting the wheelchair/security escort, like a drunk in Vegas, by Saturday morning at the latest.

Then it's on to the hippie's house for several weeks of recuperation. I'm looking forward to that--Amy and Scottie are a lot of fun, and well, if you have to be on bed rest for a couple of months, you could do a lot worse than hanging out at their place.

Yesterday, we spent a good portion of the day planning for that, but the highlight of the day was when Scottie came up here to the hospital and smuggled in a baggie of smoked chicken during lunch. Yeah, I can have all the chicken and turkey I want (they're treating me like a heart patient), as long as it doesn't have skin, so Scottie hooked a brotha up. They smoked a bunch of meat this past weekend and saved me some, so I had some good stuff to go with my slice of bread and vegetable medley this past afternoon.

On the other hand, the nurses appreciate the box of chocolate truffles that arrived yesterday, too (I can't eat anything with sugar in it for awhile, so while I thank y'all for thinkin' of me, there are some things I won't be munchin' on anytime soon). Also, I've updated my address on Amazon for those that have asked, so anything sent my way will end up in Spring Hill and find its way to me eventually. Also, I want to say thanks to those who have hit the tip jar this week--that was really nice, and it'll go to a good cause...

As far as my stay in the hospital goes, it's not been all that bad. Vanderbilt is one helluva impressive facility, and the people here are amazing. I'm surrounded by some of the smartest and most qualified medical staff in the country, and I am truly lucky that I was in Nashville when all this went down. Had I ended up in the back of an ambulance at St. Rose or UMC on Friday, y'all would likely be talking about me in the past tense right about now. Nothing against the fine folks in Nevada, but trust me, if you're gonna be dragged to the hospital half-dead in the middle of the night, Vanderbilt is the place you want to be. And having family close by makes all the difference in the world, too!

Oh, one thing--now that I'm out here in the main hospital area, I can't use my cell phone at all--I get absolutely no signal here. I can receive text messages, but all phone calls are missed, and I can't sent out any texts, either. My computer is my only lifeline to the outside world, but then, that's only when I'm able to sit up and use it. Most of my day is spent lying down watching the ESPN loop on TV, waiting for the nurse to come by and stab me in the arm. I can only sit up for brief periods, and usually then it's for trying to pee or taking my meds. Otherwise I spend my day doing a pretty good impression of a door mat. So it's hard for me to answer emails and damn near impossible for me to answer text messages. I'll try and catch up with everyone once I'm free of this place and bored off my ass at the house.

Anyhow, it's late and I need to lie back down, but I just wanted to check in and say 'Thanks' to everyone, for everything. I'm amazed at the outpouring of good vibes and happy thoughts coming my way, and I'm gonna do my best to be worthy of such accolades.

I feel an epic post brewing...


Live Bloggin' From the Hospy!

Hey gang! Even though I don't feel like a million bucks, I'm gonna fake it for a few minutes and see how long I can type before I pass out.

I'm still here in the Intensive Care Unit at the medical center of my new favorite SEC campus. Not so much because I need constant supervision and care, but mostly because there still aren't any 'normal' rooms available in their step-down unit. So I'm camped out in the ICU for now. But I'm not complaining--the nurses and staff here are top-notch and they're all taking care of me like I'm the only patient in the entire hospital.

Word around the campfire is that I *may* get to go home tomorrow, but that's just scuttlebutt. Nothing official yet. But I still feel like a run-over bag of doggie poo, so I don't care what they do with me as long as it doesn't hurt. And oh dear god they've put a hurtin' on me this week. You have no idea. My arms have been stuck with so many needles that they are more solid purple than an eggplant. And I still have a few wires going in and out, too. Luckily the chest tubes are gone, and I got uncorked from the catheter this morning, too, so now I can pee like a normal person again, instead of having one of my scrub-wearin' homies lugging around a warm forty behind me everywhere I go.

The bottom line is, I'm on the mend, and it's nothing short of miraculous. Even my surgeon, as skilled as he is, had his doubts that I'd make it till Saturday morning, but he's got some mad skillz and I've got my second chance. I was talking to him yesterday, and he said he took two complete handfuls of goo out of my arteries that had passed through my heart--it was a serious blockage. But enough about that now--it's all behind me. They followed up by shoving a filter into my jugular vein that'll seek and destroy any other nefarious blood clots that decided they want to take a shot at me.

So yeah, right now I'm kinda lookin' like Frankenstein, with a huge scar down my chest and a friggin tube sticking out of my neck, but I'll be back to my normal pretty self within a day or two.

Anyhow, that's the latest--I'm just resting here for the day, entertaining the odd visitor (Cyndi's here right now). I want to say thanks to everyone who has sent books, magazines, and good thoughts my way--it's all appreciated. But I can't keep up this crazy pace all morning, so I'm gonna get some rest. Y'all have a good one, and GO VANDERBILT--WOOT!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Story of Mikey

Hey Guys!

I’m Mikey’s little sister, Amy, and will be your host for this afternoon’s post! I know many of you are wondering what the hell just happened, and since Mikey is still a little gimpy right now, I thought I’d fill in some of the blanks.

Mikey started feeling ill last Thursday and thought it was a bad cold. By Friday, he ended up in the emergency room at Williamson County Medical Center, where they thought it was either blood clots, or pneumonia, but were unsure because they couldn’t see the details from the cat-scan. I went home for the night thinking he had a bad case of pneumonia. At midnight, Mamasan called to let us know he was being sent to Vanderbilt because he had a very large and VERY serious blood clot in his lungs, probably due to sitting in one position during his trip from Vegas to Tennessee. Family started arriving to Vandy around 1 AM.

Mikey had a blood clot larger than my hand pass through his heart and it got stuck in both sides of his lungs. Part of it broke off and damaged his left lung permanently (although from what we understand, he won’t be able to tell a difference). It was a miracle that it didn't kill him on the spot when it passed through his heart. If you make it to the emergency room after something like that, you are already considered a survivor. Due to some significant health risks of the surgery for Mikey, the doctors urged us to gather the family and say our “goodbyes” before he went down for surgery (that was in the wee hours of Saturday morning). They counseled us that he was extremely high risk, and offered us no comfort or optimism that this would turn out well. It was awful. They actually let all 10 of us back into his ICU room to "say what we needed to say" before they took him down for surgery. I have never had a more painful or awkward moment in my life. Yet, in true Mikey fashion, he asked us if we had divided his stuff up yet…

The pre-surgery crew came in to shave him and prep him for surgery, while the surgeon spoke with the family. He was frank and businesslike and I think we all left for the waiting room in tears, believing that that was the last time we were going to see our brother/ son. Then the wait began. It was like the worst slumber party ever in the ICU waiting room.

To everyone's surprise and relief, Mikey did make it out of surgery. Dr. Ball came and let us know around 6 or 7 AM that he was able to remove the clot and Mikey was back in his room in the ICU. We gave Dr. Ball a round of applause, and there was a collective sigh of relief and gratitude. We were allowed to see him 2 at a time.

I don’t believe anything could have prepared me for seeing my brother hooked to a machine that was doing his breathing for him, with tubes down his throat and coming out of his neck. Again, it was AWFUL. After the shock of seeing him on a ventilator, we realized that within a very short period of time, he was nodding his head and blinking his eyes in response to us. He started biting at the tube in his throat and even tried to give us all a peep show by constantly trying to pull the sheet off of his nether regions… I guess when you’re hot, you’re hot!

At this point, we all started having some hope! He started breathing on his own in less than 24 hours and even got some of his humor and personality back.

He looked like a motherboard, with wires, tubes and machines attached all over him. He must have had 10 bags of various fluids pumping into all parts of his body, and a few particularly ugly tubes coming OUT of his body! I spent the night in his room with him on Saturday night and was shocked and amazed to see 2-4 doctors/nurses/specialists in his room every 30-45 minutes. There is truly no rest for the weary in ICU. They would add new bags of stuff to his tubes, take things away, attach new machines, jab him with needles, etc... ALL NIGHT LONG. It was a little surreal and sounded like a sonar lab, with all of the beeping of various machines and stats. His nurses in ICU were amazing and worked tirelessly to keep him stable. They had a goal of where his stats needed to be, and CONSTANTLY tweaked all of these machines to keep his vitals stable. I mean ALL NIGHT LONG tweaks.

He had a second surgery yesterday to prevent other blood clots from coming through his heart in the future and will be moved out of ICU tonight. He got up and walked a lap around ICU yesterday before his second surgery and even made a blog post from his bed. It's nothing short of miraculous and I am so grateful. He is still at risk for infection, but thank god my sister is a nurse and knows how to keep an eye on him once he gets home.

On an uplifting note, he's going to be living with Scottie and I until the cruise, while he recovers! We don't have stairs in our house, and he can have his own bedroom and bathroom. He'll be on blood thinners for at least 6 months, so he has to be careful about cuts. He has a nasty scar from the bottom of his throat to his belly button, where they had to crack his chest to operate. He will be on a short hiatus from many daily tasks we take for granted- he can't drive, lift anything more than 10 lbs, push or pull anything, or do anything that uses chest muscles for at least 6 weeks.

I'm still in a bit of a fog about the whole thing, and overwhelmed with gratitude, as we expected the worst. I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and feel like I could probably sleep for another 12 hours, if I had the time. Even with all that, I feel like my family is blessed and we have an opportunity to rethink our perspective on life, family, relationships, health and priorities. It was a very sobering weekend that took us on a journey of deep despair to pure joy. Mikey found a way to get the entire family together for the first time in 8 or so years. I hope that next time, he’s a little less extreme in his methods! There was some joy to come out of this situation after all.

As for the future, Scottie and I look forward to having Mikey stay with us. Bertha & Vader (our pugs) will be THRILLED to have Uncle Mikey around, and I expect the buffoonery will continue- post-surgery style! I think we’ll spend a good bit of time learning & cooking new recipes, planning future camping trips and daydreaming about the upcoming cruise. There will likely be many games of Quiddler, Rummy, Chinese Poker, Golf, & Settlers of Catan. And since Mikey likely won’t be able to play the drums or any of the guitars, I will gladly relinquish my egg shaker and tambourine responsibilities to Mikey in our next back porch pickin’ party!

Anyway, you all should know that your comments on his post and on Linda Lou’s site, and your emails and calls have meant a lot to Mikey and have lifted his spirits tremendously. I know he appreciates you, but I want to express appreciation on behalf of our family as well. We sincerely appreciate your thoughts, good vibes and prayers.

Many Thanks,

Amy & the rest of the tribe

Thanks, Everybody!

No pictures this morning, but I'm doing ok. I'm supposed to get the chest tubes out today, and maybe later I'll get out of the ICU and into a regular hospital room for a few days.

I'd love to personally respond to all the messages sent my way--but I can't. It takes me about twice as long as normal to type right now, and it's exhausting. I have absolutely no strength right now, but I'll recover eventually. But I want to say thanks to everyone for the kind words sent in my direction. It means the world to me to know that so many people care. Thanks again.

More tomorrow.


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Good News Is, I'm Alive!

Ok gang, for those of you who aren't aware, y'all almost lost me this weekend. Seriously--I was thisclose to saying goodbye for the last time. It was a very close call.

I'll give the entire story with all the details in a few days, but right now it's damn near impossible to type--I'm laid up in the Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt Medical Center and will probably be here all week. I went in Friday morning and already had one major surgery and will be having a follow-up procedure this afternoon.

More details later, but the bottom line is that it was very scary a couple days ago, but my recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. I've got a great network of family and friends for support, and I'll be ok, it'll just take some time.

More later.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

To The Place, I Belong...

Hey gang--after that epic post from last night (it took me over four hours to write it!), I thought I'd just do a quick little puff piece here to show you how much better life in TN is. I spent most of the past two days at Mamasan's place up north, and as far out in the sticks as she lives, I have to admit, it's really pretty up there. Hell, just taking the back roads out running to the grocery store and filling the gas tank, I felt like I just had to turn on a country radio station, seein's how I was driving a pickup truck and all...

Instead, I just popped in a Zac Brown Band CD and listened to it as I meandered through the woods.

I managed to take a couple of nice pictures during my travels that I'll share with you here:

This is just a random creek that's about a mile away from Mamasan's house. It's pretty shallow, but it was clear and full of minnows. Below is the road that follows alongside the creek bed. It's beautiful down there, with lots of trees and undergrowth. Next time I go up there, I'll wear jeans and some hiking shoes instead of cargo shorts and sandals. There is just too much long grass and poison ivy and probably all kinds of critters lurking on the ground out there, so I didn't go exploring too deeply. But it sure is serene.

Next summer, once the truck is paid off, I'm gonna get a motorcycle again--there is just too much good riding around here to be stuck in a truck the whole time. I'd love to just take off and ride around on all the back country roads around here and hop off and take pictures whenever I see anything interesting.

I just can't believe I lived out in the ugly-assed desert for the better part of the past twenty years, and I can't believe how much I missed this place.

It definitely feels like home.


The Road Goes On Forever, and the Moving Never Ends

Ok, so I've been 'home' for a week now, and I've spent a grand total of ONE night in my new place.

It's been a busy week...

Last week, after I concluded that epic road trip and unloaded the U-haul into Mamasan's storage shed, I took the trailer back to the local drop-off garage down the road in the teeming metropolis of White House, TN, happy that my truck was finally unencumbered by more than a ton of dead weight dragging behind it.

Once it got to be quittin' time in the real world that day, I headed south to Nashville proper to spend the evening with my sister Amy and her hub Scottie. I think they live about 40 miles from Mamasan, almost an hour away. But we had an enjoyable evening together. Amy made some killer chicken burritos, and we had that and some good beer for dinner while catching up on the latest. After dinner, we goofed off for a bit in their music room, where I took a turn on the fretless bass. Oh dear god do I ever suck as a musician! On the other hand, the good news is that I'm one of the few unemployed people in this town not looking for a record deal...

After our fruitless jam session, we set about preparing for the camping trip, going over shopping lists and who's-bringing-what. We also rooted around in their garage for awhile, and I loaded up my truck with more gear. Then we spent the balance of the evening playing with the pugs and drinking a bottle of wine, laughing our asses off while watching some Tivo'd episodes of Wipeout. Damn, that's some funny shiat right there!

After a few of those, we hit the sack. Amy and Scottie had to get up early to go to work, and I needed to head on down the road to Spring Hill. Now that I'm out here in Tennessee, I'm staying with Cyndi and Tim at their place--they've got a pretty big house with just the two of them, and Cyndi travels quite a bit for work, so now Tim's got somebody to hang out with during the week. I see a lot of cigar-smoking on the deck in my near future.

Anyhow, I finally showed up there and unloaded all of my clothes and such, then spent the day catching up with them. Later that afternoon, I took off for Alabama to see Reverend Dave, while they took off for the airport and a long weekend in Colorado.

I rolled into Sweet Home Florence Alabama around 6:00 o'clock last Thursday night, and joined the good Reverend at the pool with a cooler full of beer. We hung out with all his rowdy buddies for several hours, finally throwing some meat on the grill once the sun went down. Around 10 pm, we finally motivated ourselves away from the pool, the grill, and the beers, and headed down to the local Super Walmart with our extensive shopping list in hand.

$200 later, we were back at the apartment, packing up all of the food and the rest of the gear, dividing stuff to go early with me, and the stuff that could follow later in the day with Dave. After one last beer on the back deck, we called it a night around one o'clock in the morning.

Just a few hours of sleep later, we were both up and scurrying around, trying to get everything loaded in the trucks and get Dave off to work. We finally hit the road around 7:15, Dave heading to the office, and me heading off to Joe Wheeler State Park, about thirty-odd miles away.

I stopped and got another cheap styrofoam cooler and six more bags of ice to top everything off, and then showed up at the ranger station about ten minutes after they opened for business at 8:00 am. Since it was Labor Day weekend, the park was completely booked, except for the 'primitive camping' area, which was first-come, first-served, so I wanted to get there first thing in the morning on Friday and stake our claim to a primo spot.

I paid the fees, then motored out to the primitive end of the park. I drove around the loop a couple of times (it's much smaller than I thought), but finally found a nice area with lots of trees that was still relatively flat. The camping area was almost completely empty when I got there, save for a couple of other tents in the best spots, and also a couple right down on the water, but I still got a good spot--we had no complaints at all about our location.

And even after the week from hell that I had, packing, loading, driving, and unloading all my stuff, it was my responsibility, as the member of the party with no job, to haul all the big stuff down early and get the camp set up before everyone else got there. I had several hours to do it, but I got right after it.

The first priority was to set up the pop-up shelters--one for the kitchen area and another for Amy and Scottie to be used as a frame for their hanging tent. Then I had to set up Dave's tent for him and I to use. Well, easier said than done. Those 'Easy-Up' shelters are fine when you have two people, but one person fighting it was a cast-iron bitch. They'd been in storage for awhile and the moving parts didn't want to. Eventually, after much sweating and swearing, I got them set up.

There were also a few camp kitchen things to take care of, but once the shelters were up, the hard part was done. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to pay a visit with a quick late-summer thunderstorm.

My truck gets rained on for what seems like the first time in years! But notice all the trees and woods--You don't see that in Vegas.

If you look closely, you can see the rain. And that's the lake down there at the bottom of the hill, too. And oh by the way, 'primitive' means no electricity or a 'driveway'. Each campsite still had a concrete picnic table. The fire went wherever you wanted to put it--no forest fire restrictions here!

Of course, the rain sent everyone else in the campground scrambling for cover, but I just chilled under the pop-up shelter in my camp chair, reading my 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville book until the storm passed.

I also met some of my neighbors--I made friends with what I thought were a couple of college girls when they first wandered into my campsite, and then after about the first thirty seconds, I realized that they were 14- and 16-year old sisters. I felt like a dirty old man, briefly, but they kept coming over to visit and talk that afternoon. Friendly folks down there in Alabama, yes indeed...

After reading a bit and being distracted by the underage crowd, I decided to wander on down to the lake and look around. The campground, unfortunately, was in a backwater cove of the lake that didn't get much outflow, so the water down there was kind of scummy and pond-looking. Lots of moss and still water, more suitable for frogs and snakes and such, and not good for swimming at all. Well, not right next to shore--about fifty feet out, it looked really nice and inviting.

There was a small boat ramp there where the water was clear of obstructions and moss, but that was it. If you wanted to swim, it was better to drive down to the day-use area a couple of miles away. But lots of folks were fishing down in there by the camping area.

I got my toes in the water, my ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand... Life is good today

Further away from the campground, the water was fine, as evidenced by this gal on a raft.

Looking out to the main part of the lake. If you look closely in the foreground, you can see all the stuff growing in the water. Ick.

That's one of the swimming beaches. It's about a half mile across the water, but a couple of miles by road to get there.

Anyhow, Reverend Dave sent his people home from the office at 2:00 that afternoon, and his plan was to leave straight from work, stop and fill up a cooler with beer and ice, and then roll up into camp about an hour later. That was the plan. But at 3:30 he called me and said he had to drive back into Florence proper to get beer--apparently, it's all dry counties up there in northern Alabama, and there was no beer to be had anywhere along his route. He was a little pissed about that. But he eventually made it to the campground, where the first thing we did was crack open a cold one and toast my first free holiday weekend in over five years.

We unloaded his truck too--he had more gear--and then we tightened up the tent a little better than I initially had it. He had a cot to set up, but all I had was a foam pad and some old quilts and a sleeping bag for my bed. Oh well--I've slept on the ground before, so it didn't bother me at all.

Once we got all the rest of the gear unloaded and our camp set up as best we could, we drove down to the ranger station and picked up a few spare lantern mantles (we both tore one in our lanterns) and several more bundles of firewood to get us through the weekend. Normally, we'd just buy firewood from some redneck on the side of the road, but nobody was selling that weekend. Still too early in the year, I suppose.

After we got back, Dave built the fire while I put new mantles in the lanterns and fired them up, and also lit up the camp stoves to make sure they still worked after being in storage--Dave had gotten his for Christmas and never used it, and mine had been in storage for eight years, having not been used since Derek, Ed W, Wade, and I went camping up on The Rim back in 2002. Everything worked fine, though, and we had ourselves a proper campsite working just as dusk settled in.

For dinner, we had a nicely marinated pork tenderloin wrapped in foil that we threw on the fire, and I believe we opened a can of baked beans and a package of potato salad to go with it. Of course, just as we were sitting down to eat, Amy and Scottie arrived from their two-hour drive down from Nashville, so we scarfed it down in a hurry (it was damn good) and set to helping them unload their car and get the rest of their tent set up. They also had some really nice cots, too, so yeah, I was the only one sleeping on the ground that weekend.

After they got their work done and we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we just sat around the campfire cracking a few beers and enjoying the wonderful weather (all weekend it was mid-80's during the day, and mid-50's at night. Absolutely perfect camping weather!) I believe we also made some smores as the night wore on. (One of my specialties, as Falcon Rob can attest, is that I have mad skillz in turning plain old wire coat hangers into kick-ass marshmallow roasting devices, complete with stay-cool handles and everything--that was another project I did earlier in the day while waiting for people to show up).

Since it was a holiday weekend, the campground filled up to capacity that first afternoon, and well into the evening people kept showing up. One of the most interesting WTF? moments happened when a friggin' full-on diesel truck came rolling through the camp. We all sat there wondering what the hell he was doing, and Reverend Dave, having lived down in the area for several years now, calmly said Welcome to Alabama, y'all. Eventually, our friends in the diesel truck found a spot to set up camp, and I *had* to get a picture the next day.

Yep, Uncle Jesse loaded up the family in the rig and brought 'em all out camping for the weekend. Welcome to Alabama!

I don't think I made it past 10:30 that first night--I was plum tuckered out. After a week of sweating my ass off moving and driving cross country, plus another full day of hard work at the campsite, I collapsed in a heap in the tent, snoring like Yogi Bear after raiding a pick-a-nick basket. I was done!

I woke around 7:30 the next morning to the pleasing smell of campfire and bacon, and the not-so-pleasing sounds of Scottie and Dave trying to cook bacon directly on the grill over an open fire. There were a few casualties that we weren't too happy about, but the end product made up for it. It was a perfect 'appetizer' for breakfast. Once we nibbled on those, I showed the guys how to make camp coffee in a percolator (neither had ever done it before), and then we really enjoyed our morning around the campfire. Damn that coffee was good--I had some freshly ground Millstone that I used, and everyone raved about it. It sure beats the hell out of the automatic-drip version, and it provided further evidence that any food cooked outdoors is automatically superior to food cooked indoors.

After two or three pots of coffee, we eventually got around to making breakfast of French toast and bacon (this time, we used my huge cast-iron skillet for the bacon). It turned out fantastic, as you can imagine, but we didn't finish till almost 11:00 in the morning. That's the kind of slackers we are...

David took off to go get his motorcycle and spend the day riding since the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and Amy, Scottie, and I just hung around the camp playing cards, goofing off, and coming up with other gear we absolutely 'needed' for our further camping excursions. Now that I'm here in town, it looks like we're all going to be doing a whole helluva lot more camping trips.

We also loaded up all the dirty dishes and such and made a trek to the bathhouse over in the 'trailer park' area of the the campground--you know, where the RVers gather. Holy shiat--them people are crazy. And I don't quite know how they call it 'camping'--we saw some truly unbelievable rigs out there. Besides the usual toys, damn near every one of them had a satellite dish set up (couldn't miss the Alabama season opener!).

But that's not what we were there for--we had dirty dishes to take care of. Since it was so crowded down in the primitive camping area, you couldn't just wander off and pee by a tree during the day--too many people around. So we headed for the bathhouse with their luxurious flushing toilets, running water, and hot showers. And outside of the bathrooms there was a big counter with two huge sinks with water so hot you couldn't put your hand in it. So instead of using our propane to heat up small buckets of water to wash with at the campsite, we just loaded up our dirty dishes in a big metal tub and brought some soap, sponges, and towels to the bathhouse. (Also, it was much better to take care of biz there instead of the spider-infested outhouses they had over in the primitive area, if you know what I mean, so it was always a two-fold mission to do the dishes...)

Dinner on Saturday night was some of Amy's fine dry-ranch bacon burgers on the fire. I think we also had like chips and macaroni salad, and a beer or two. Oh hell yeah, we ate good this past weekend! But the highlight of the meal was her dutch-oven cherry cobbler. Damn, that was some good stuff, and as full as we were from dinner, we still killed the entire pot of it.

After dinner, we sat around the campfire singing songs while Scottie played the guitar (he's very talented musically, and can play just about anything but the banjo) and smoking our pipes. It was a good time, but again, we were done by 11:00, and called it a night. I slept pretty well, although about the time I was pulling a pine cone out from under my sleeping bag, I was thinking to myself Damn, I turned down a weekend in St. Louis with one of my favorite gals for THIS??? But even so, we were having a great time, and it was just what I needed. And like I mentioned before--the weather was absolutely perfect. I never even got in my sleeping bag the entire time. I was on top of it wearing boxers and a t-shirt at night, and only used a fleece blanket to sleep under. I never got the least bit cold, even when it was 55 degrees out.

We got punked at 7:00 in the morning though--there was a church group camped behind us, and they got up and were singing hymns and shiat bright and early, payback for us getting a little loud with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Amy's famous version of 'Me & Bobby McGee' the night before. So we decided that next weekend we're gonna learn this song in three-part harmony and bust it out when the need arises (WARNING: that link is *extremely* NSFW).

Anyhow, Sunday started out a lot like Saturday did--we sat around the fire drinking some damn good coffee for about an hour and then went to work in our camp kitchen.

Everyone's favorite piece of camping gear: My cowboy coffee percolator. I swear it was almost as popular as the beer cooler. Well, ok, let's not get carried away... But the camp coffee was a hit!

Morning coffee with coconut creamer--gotta love that! If you look closely (clicky for full-size), you can see the steam rising up from the cup.

David cooked up the rest of the bacon, and then we reused most of the drippings to cook up some hash browns. While those were cooking, we crumbled up bacon and sausage, added it to the mix, and then poured on the scrambled eggs. At the end we added cheese and salsa, and then had tortillas to make breakfast burritos. Add a cup of orange juice, and we had a damn good, and hearty, meal.

After the dishes were done, I remember taking a nap, enjoying the cool weather and fresh air. David took off to meet his on-again, off-again girlfriend for a picnic, and Amy and Scottie headed over to the swimming beach. They were back a lot sooner than expected, as nobody, for some odd reason, wanted to share the swimming hole with a water moccasin. Yeah, I'm less put off by sharks at the beach than I am by snakes in the lake. Fark that. So as far as swimming went, I never got more than ankle deep all weekend...

They went hiking instead, while I puttered around camp, straightening things up and enjoying the morning air while I relaxed by the fire.

Gotta love morning in camp--sunlight filtering through the mist and the trees--what a beautiful day!

This was our living room. Both of those coolers were full of beer. Well, maybe half-full by the time this picture was taken.

When Amy and Scottie got back to camp, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing 'golf' and Quiddler, and hitting the snack stash for beef jerky, chips, and the occasional fun-sized candy bar. Not a bad way to spend the day since the swimmin' hole had been taken over by reptiles.

David rolled back into camp later that afternoon, and once he got back, we set about preparing for the evening. We built the fire back up, and he and Amy drove up to the ranger station to get more wood while Scottie and I got started on dinner. While they were doing that little chore, Amy dropped a huge log on her big toe, likely breaking it, but certainly smashing the nail in and causing her much distress. We tried to dress it and bandage it when she got back to camp, but instead, there were a group of fellow hippies a few campsites over, and they had some suitable pharmaceuticals on hand to help dull the pain. That, and a 12-pack of Fat Tire seemed to do the trick.

As far as dinner went, we poured six beers into a big stock pot, sliced up a couple of onions, and then added a bunch of beer brats and let them soak for a bit. For sides, we had baked beans and the rest of the potato and macaroni salads, plus whatever chips we still had on hand. After we brought the beer mixture to a boil, we let it simmer for about a half hour, and then transferred to brats to the grill to finish off over the coals. Oh, and I almost forgot--we also had corn on the cob, slathered in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, and wrapped in foil that we cooked in the coals, too.

Dinner was amazingly good. So good that all conversation stopped and all you could hear was the sound of four people on a full-blown munchin' spree. Seriously, those brats were incredible--we had some good buns for them, and piled high with the beer-infused onions and topped with spicy mustard, oh man, it was a meal fit for a king.

After dinner, Amy was in no shape to do too much, so we just sat around the fire, emptying cans and singing songs. Eventually, I made it back to the kitchen area to prepare our dessert cobbler--apple was on the menu on Sunday night.

I swear, it's the easiest thing in the world to make, but everyone just goes nuts for it. Amy came up with it, and it's a huge favorite. Basically, all you do is line a Dutch oven with foil, spray a little Pam in it, and then pour in two cans of fruit pie filling (Scottie and Amy prefer cherry, but Reverend Dave and I prefer apple. But blackberry and peach are still on the agenda!). On top of the pie filling, just add one box of dry yellow cake mix. Don't stir or anything. Then take a stick of butter, and cut up a bunch of pats and place it all over the top like you're putting pepperoni on a pizza. After all that, you just sprinkle the top with cinnamon and nutmeg and put the lid on.

That's it!

We put some charcoal in the fire, then fished them out with tongs when they were glowing red. We put down a base of about twelve coals, then set the Dutch oven on top of them. Then we added another ten or so coals on top and let it sit and cook for about 25 minutes. The fruit bubbles up through the cake mix, cooking it, and the butter melts down from the top, infusing the whole mess with the spices. Oh dear god it's tasty! It was truly the highlight of the trip--absolutely fantastic.

Our campfire, and our dessert cooking in the Dutch oven. There was some serious magic happening inside of that thing!

I think the only thing that would've made it better would've been some vanilla bean ice cream on the side, or at least some whipped cream, but ice cream wasn't possible, unless you pack it in dry ice or something. Still, it was damn good all by itself. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the finished product. It didn't last very long once we took the lid off.

After the dessert was all gone, we spent a mellow night by the fire listening to Scottie play the guitar. We almost called it a night, but around 11:00 or so, the rest of the hippies in the campground showed up with drinks and smokeables, and we sat up for a couple more hours singing Grateful Dead tunes and such. It was a great time, but by 1:30 or so, I was done. The party wrapped up and everyone staggered off to bed for the last time.

Of course, there was some great comedy on tap. Just as everyone was settling down for the evening and all the campfires had burned down to embers, when all you could hear were the sounds of the night time forest, a shrill southern-accented female voice broke the silence across the entire campground--Don't you blame that nastiness on me, I did NOT do that!


Married couples are all the same--somebody farts and somebody else gets blamed...

Anyhow, once we finally got to sleep, I think we didn't get up till almost 8:30 in the morning on Monday. We were all pretty lethargic after the partying of the previous night, and knowing that we had to tear down and go home kinda put a damper on the festive mood of the weekend. Breakfast was cereal, coffee, and leftover cobbler.

Eventually we got everything packed up, got the trash thrown out, and everything cleaned up. We gave the rest of our beer to the very appreciative good-ol'-boys in the next campsite, and we said our goodbyes and were on the road by noon. David went back to his place in Florence, I drove up to Spring Hill, and Amy and Scottie headed up to their house in west Nashville. It took me not-quite two hours to get home, almost exactly 100 miles from campsite to driveway.

I dragged in a duffel bag and the cooler, put the food in the fridge and the cooler in the back yard to air out. Then I let the dogs in and took a shower, washing another day's worth of campground funk off of me. I dozed on the couch for a few hours before Tim got home (Cyndi continued on to her week's business trip while Tim came home). We stayed up and watched the Boise State-VA Tech game, ordered a pizza, and just chilled there at the house.

I slept like a rock that night, happy to be in a nice bed instead of on the ground. But my work was not done. The next morning (yesterday), I had to get up and drive back up to Mamasan's house all the way up in White House/Cottontown to store all the camping gear in her shed. Yep--more driving and unloading stuff. I swear, it never ends. But since it's 60 miles from Cyndi & Tim's house in Spring Hill to Mamasan's place, I figured I'd just stay the night up there. So that's where I am right now.

After I got all the gear unloaded, we just hung out for the afternoon playing cards and visiting a bit, then did a little shopping (I picked up a new heavy-duty camp grill that won't allow the bacon to fall through), after which we had a nice home-cooked dinner of pork chops, baked potatoes, and salad.

I crashed hard after dinner, the constant driving and loading/unloading my truck having taken its toll. I think I slept for like two hours, but then I got up to do this post, knowing that folks have been waiting patiently for an update.

I hope I didn't disappoint.

On Wednesday, I'm heading back down to Spring Hill with the rest of my clothes and will try to get myself settled a bit more permanently. But the chores aren't done. Tim and I have to go over to my niece Diana's place and pick up a dining room table and chairs and move it back over to our place. But that's the price you pay when you have a pickup truck and there is lots of family around. The moving never ends.

Peace out, y'all. I'll have more later.