Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fatherhood means...

Moving 'Ernest, Scared Stupid' to the front of your Netflix queue.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Fish

We like to fish, we just don't seem to be very good at it. Two years ago Bylinda's Father bought a piece of property that has lake access and we like to camp but our attempts at catching a fish had been unsuccessful. Last year we had a fish on a trot line but it worked itself off the hook as we were bringing it in; that was the best we did unless you count a turtle. The Big Guy was the top fisherman during his week of Summer camp, so our spirit of optimism was renewed but nothing prepared us for the Monster.

Bylinda and the boys were out at the lake on a Friday afternoon and I went to join them after work. On my way, I picked up some chicken livers to use as bait. The boys seemed more interested in swimming, so I took the opportunity to try a few casts and Bylinda joined in with our other pole. We were not having too much luck; really just finding new ways to get our lines snagged or tangled but we were having fun. As I was helping Bylinda clear a snag, I felt a pull on my line. I was no too worried, really I thought that she might have snagged my line. As I reeled in my line, there was some resistance. The boys swam over to the dock just in time to see me pull a large catfish out of the water. As I was trying to land the giant, he flipped himself off the hook and dropped back in to the water, almost landing on the boys.

The boys seemed excited, having seen proof that there are fish in the lake, so they took over the fishing effort while Bylinda and I worked on dinner. After we ate, I decided to rig a trot line so I untangled a line of string and attached eight hooks. We baited the hooks and the Big Guy swam out with the line. It was getting pretty dark, so the rest of us headed in but Big Guy decided to try a few more casts with his rod. Just about the time we got to the tent, Big Guy started yelling that he thought something was on the trot line. We ran back out, grabbing our cooler on the way. As soon as we tried pulling on the line, it was obvious that we had something on the line. We pulled a catfish about two feet long out of the lake and manoeuvred it into the cooler. We were all super excited, finally a fish. We filled the cooler with water and went to bed, what a successful day.

I had to run a couple of errands Saturday morning but when I got back to the lake, the boys were waiting for me. They reminded me of a promise that we made them, if they caught a fish, we would clean it and cook it for them. I tried to get them to agree that we could prepare the fish at home but they insisted that we eat the fish at the lake. We have a small chefs knife at the lake, not an ideal tool for filleting a fish and I had not cleaned one since my Boy Scout days. I improvised a work area with a board and 2 logs and got down to business.

The boys were excited as I cut into the belly but they quickly recoiled when they saw the insides and the blood but they came back quick to watch the process. I got the guts out and managed to take 2 reasonable fillets and several more large pieces off the fish. We wrapped the fish in foil with butter and lemon juice and let it cook on the campfire. As we were not too sure about the lake, we let it cook for quite a while. They boys dug in with gusto but the Little Guy decided that catfish wasn't his favorite. The rest of us enjoyed our lunch and we even had a small piece left for their Papaw.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christmas Swap

We just got back from a lightning fast visit to my father's to find my present on the porch. It seemed that I had already been paired with the perfect partner, when I had to apologize for barely getting my package mailed in time, she responded that she had just mailed my package; so I was excited to see what she would send me.

The first thing that I found was a post card from Superior, WI. I have always been a geography nut so I enjoy pictures from different locales but this struck me on a couple other levels. First, I was born in Normal, IL; so I found it amusing that this was a gift from a Superior woman to a Normal man (female readers may think that every gift falls in to this category). The second way that I connected with this picture was that the postcard showed pictures of a large cargo ship and my grandfather was a radio man on a great lakes cargo ship. I remember him trying in vain to teach me Morse code. I was barely in to the package and I was already impressed.

After checking out the postcard, I moved on to the gifts. The first one I unwrapped was a beautiful picture frame. As a newlywed, I have a few pictures, so a picture frame will be a welcome gift for the foreseeable future.

I was really getting in to the unwrapping, so I did what I think that most people would...I went for the big package. I was rewarded with one of my favorite things, CHOCOLATE. I received three packages of Hershey's products, YUM.

The last package turned out to be an amazing gift. My final gift was an assortment of hand-made cards. I knew from our initial contact that Sara was crafty but these cards knocked me out. They are amazing! There are cards for all occasions, my only problem will be giving any of them up.

I was very impressed with the Christmas Swap. I had a ton of fun receiving presents and even more fun shopping for Sara. I hope she enjoys her gifts as much as I like mine. Thanks to Angie for setting up the swap ans especially to Sara for my gifts. By the way, Sara's blog is great, so I hope all 3 of my readers check it out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Can I keep the bone?

We stopped up at the lake a few weeks ago, just to grab a fishing pole. The boys wanted to jump in the water despite the fact that we were only going to be there for 5 minutes. We don't normally go in with bare feet but we let them swim. Of course, the Big Guy cut his toe on a rock. When we got home, we cleaned out the cut with peroxide and then alcohol. The Big Guy was pretty fussy and one of the neighbors came to see what was wrong. Bylinda asked him if we could use his pocket knife if we needed to amputate. With out missing a beat the Little Guy chimed in with, "If you cut his toe off, can I keep the bone?" Brotherly love at its finest.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Busy Summer

Summer seems to be in full swing, as the declining frequency of blog posts might indicate. Baseball season finally wrapped up with our five year old playing a double header in ninety-five degree heat. I'm still not sold on the whole culture of youth sports (except Upward). Still both boys got trophies, the Little Guy's was larger as his team came in 2nd in the end of season tournament and generally seemed happy with their decisions to play. I'd call that a small win.
Reluctantly the Big Guy headed off to church camp for a week. The Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee has a small but very nice camp up near Watts Bar Dam. As late as when we were pulling in to the parking lot, he seemed convinced that this was a plot to get him out of the house for a week. He refused to believe that we just thought he might have fun and enjoy himself. After all how could anyone have a good time swimming, fishing, canoeing, learning to shoot a bow, doing arts and crafts, etc. On Friday, we got a post card that said "Thank you soooo much for letting me come". He was the "King Fisher" of his session, catching a total of five fish. Church camp was definitely a big win.

We headed out to the lake for most of the weekend, camping with Bylinda's sister and brother-in-law. It was hot and I can't muster much enthusiasm for swimming in the lake after spending a week at the beach. Still there were some good times and my father-in-law procured some army cots for us, which are an improvement over the air mattress.
We're gearing up for the 4th of July, planning a trip to see the Lookouts, and maybe a trip to watch Chattanooga FC play their last home game. Somewhere in all of this, laundry must get done, the house needs to be kept clean, and we try to find some time to visit with our family and friends.
I'd keep going but I think it's time to start the grill and keep the good summer vibe moving along.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My wife made me do it...

My wife signed us up for this swap

CIJ Swap Button

It looks like it will be interesting and fun!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Decoration Day

My wife's family holds a family reunion called Decoration Day on the first Sunday of June, so I went for the first time today. I think that we were in the Sequatchie Valley but regardless of the location, it was beautiful. Rolling hills with lush green farms stretched out to the horizon. The event is held in a family cemetery which is wonderfully shaded, and the shade trees certainly proved to be a blessing today.

There were probably about 100 people at the event, my wife is related to the family through her great-grandmother who had 13 children, so the potential was there for an even larger crowd. We sang hymns and had a little prayer service. It was lovely to worship outside on such a wonderful day, it was not hard to focus on the blessings of God's creation. One member of the family read scripture and I found some of his remarks touching. He talked about how he only sees some of the people at Decoration Day just that one day every year. That thought made the day that much more special, the only connection that some of that group really have is a single Sunday spent in a cemetery but they do it every year.

We sat down to dinner together and talked. People caught up, plans for upkeep to the cemetery were discussed and announcements were made. When bellies were full, we packed up and picked up, said our good-byes and headed home.

I can't wait for next year!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Summer is here (I know that technically there are still 3 weeks of spring) and now life slows down and we can relax. Just kidding life is crazier than ever. Baseball is still going on and we have already started football practice!

Monday night we had a "volunteer" night to work on the field at the Big Guy's new school. I met a few of the dads and we tried to help whip the field in to shape. We worked on a fence and moved some dirt around to fill in some holes. The boys who intend to be on the team were there too and I had a good time watching some of them try to break cement with a sledge hammer. It was actually pretty fun for the most part although it was about 93 degrees. After we finished at school we had almost an hour to go home, eat and get to the ball field. Big Guy got a hit and we won, the game ended at 10. Now there were just a few simple tasks left like getting two boys to bathe and get to bed; getting clothes and lunches ready for the next morning (it was zoo camp week); getting laundry done for me and packing clothes for the boys as they spent the next 2 nights with their father.

Tuesday I went to a PTA meeting on my lunch...well the whole week kept going like that, just one thing right after another. I suppose life might have been like that when I was young but it seems like it was easier. I guess if we can make it to Fall, I can start catching up on my Summer reading. Maybe the books will be in paperback by then. :)

Friday, May 29, 2009


On Sunday evening we pulled into Grayton Beach. We went to the State Park office and got the key to our cabin and directions to the cabin area, located about a mile from the rest of the park.

After we got the car unloaded, we took a quick look at the beach. It was beautiful.

We took some pictures and then headed out to check out the area a little more.We drove through Water Color and Seaside

and started amassing mental notes of places to visit, then we turned left on County Rd. 395 and found the Publix and the most beautiful fire station I have ever seen.

I was getting tired and I'm sure Bylinda was too, so we began to look for a place to have dinner. We found Pandora's.Located at Grayton Crossing (corner of 30-A and County Road 283),

Pandora's is a steakhouse. There is an attached open-air bar but we were for air conditioning and dinner. We were seated in a large, round room with a tree trunk in the ceiling.

We took a quick look through the menu and were both very happy to discover a Sunday night Prime Rib special. We ordered a bottle of wine and started with some burgundy mushrooms as an appetizer.The mushrooms were fantastic, cooked in burgundy and very rich beef broth. They were piping hot and delicious. They came to the table with hot, fresh bread and were followed quickly by French onion soup.I am a big fan of French onion soup and I was a little let down. I used to (perhaps still do) work at Outback and I think they do a great job with their French onion soup. They crouton fits over the bowl, the soup id fantastic and it comes smothered with cheese. None of this was the case at Pandora's. The soup was very sweet, the crouton was little and the cheese barely covered the crouton much less the bowl. I would not go so far as to say that the soup was terrible but it wasn't very good. Compared to the rest of the meal, the soup was a disappointment. We followed the soup with a nice salad and then the main event arrived.We had not questioned our server about the portion size for the Prime Rib. It was the Sunday special and, at $14.95, well below the price points of the rest of the entrees. With that in mind, I think that we both expected a six or eight ounce cut of beef. What we got was at least twelve ounces, if not a full pound. The meat was a beautiful pink and was juicy and tender. When combined with a large baked potato, neither of us had any illusions about cleaning our plate and any thought of dessert quickly vanished as well. We enjoyed what we wanted and happily had the rest boxed up. As the potato toppings came on the side, we took those too which furnished us with some supplies for the kitchen in our cabin.
On our way home we stopped at Publix for some supplies and decided that the way to use the rest of the Prime Rib would be in breakfast burritos. We made those on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we had a potato and egg burrito and they were almost as good as the dinner.

Monday and Tuesday above and Wednesday below! YUMMY!

Pandora's is definitely worth a visit, just ask if they can substitute for the soup.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


We left Chattanooga on Sunday, May 10 and headed for the beach. The drive from Chattanooga to Grayton Beach takes you past Birmingham and Montgomery and then through some small towns in southern Alabama. We made pretty good time, fortified by our wonderful breakfast by the lake, courtesy of

Lookout Lake Bed and Breakfast

hunger was not an issue. Bylinda contented herself by snapping pictures with our new Canon Rebel...

and I made sure that the car stayed in the lanes and negotiated the occasional driving challenge. After we left Montgomery, I began to think that we should think about lunch and we began to see signs for Annie's.

I think initially, as we rolled past several 'Discount Groceries', we were treating the 'Annies' signs as part of the local scenery. The signs advertise BBQ, Fried Chicken, Catfish and Vegetables. They are plain, maybe homey would be a good word, and you know from the sign that the 'cocktail du Maison' is going to be Sweet Tea. As we got closer to Luverne, AL, I was getting more interested and I could tell that Bylinda was too. We both wondered aloud about our chances of getting into a sit-down restaurant on Mother's Day but we were curious.
Even upon entering Luverne no decision had been made but I could tell from her face that Bylinda agreed with my decision when I turned into the lot. Annie's is unassuming, a low brown building that shares a parking lot with an antique store but the aroma was fantastic. You could smell the smoke from the BBQ pit and you did not need a sign to tell you that there would be fried chicken available. We hurried in, eager to try out some specialities. There was one group of four waiting ahead of us, so we settled down for a short wait.

Annie's is not fancy,

a bench just inside the front door is the waiting area and the decorations were pictures colored by children. There was no list but Annie's is the type of place where the guests can just sort that out for themselves and I bet no one cheats. The manger found us a small table in the middle of the dining room and we quickly ordered. Catfish, fries and slaw for Bylinda,

while I went for Fried Chicken, fried okra, and slaw.

After a few minutes a table in the corner opened up and the manager let us move there, although I was content to keep center stage.

As an aside, I have spent many years working in restaurants and know from experience that when diners relocate, accidents can happen. Sure enough, the first server thought that we would be taken care of by the server who had the section we moved to, while the server in our new section thought that the original server would keep us. Not being terribly thirsty and having plenty to discuss, we really did not notice that our food had been delayed but just as I was thinking lunch should be appearing, the manager headed to our table and let us know that it would be just a few minutes on our order. We were not in a hurry and are pretty easygoing so we were not worried but it was very nice of the manager to make sure we were taken care of. After three or four minutes, our food was delivered and I think that we knew right away that the wait had been worthwhile. As soon as I bit into the chicken, I was secretly looking to get out of my promise to share with Bylinda, only the smell of her catfish held me to my word. I dipped in to my slaw and it was good but then I tried the okra...

...I was born and raised in the Midwest, so okra did not come naturally. It was found in soup, if at all and I'm sure that the first time had fried okra was at the Cracker Barrel. Since moving to the South, I have developed a fondness for fried okra but after eating the okra at Annie's, I think that I might not be able to order okra anywhere else. The okra was still crisp, served nice and hot and the breading was fantastic, I've not had better.

Across the table Bylinda had made a great discovery of her own, homemade tarter sauce.

Those of you who know Bylinda may be aware of this already, but one of her passions is mayonnaise. I'm sure they used her favorite, Hellman's, in the tartar sauce and of course there were pickles, I could not begin to guess the other ingredients but Bylinda was hooked. We were both in heaven!

After we got some proof to show our friends, we settled in for some serious eating, Bylinda kept telling me that everything was just like her mamaw cooked and the only thing that slowed us down was breaking to pepper the manager with questions. It turned out that she was the owner but not Annie. She had purchased the restaurant but kept as much of the staff as she could, several members of the kitchen staff had been there 30+ years. The owner insisted that we have dessert and although we tried to decline, fried cheesecake was soon on the table.

I'm not a huge cheesecake fan but this dessert was off the charts, two large pieces of cheesecake battered and fried served with ice cream, strawberries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We were ready to stay there for our honeymoon. From beginning to end the meal was delicious. We posed for a picture out front and after trying to pay, the offer was refused, we were back on the road.

If you ever find yourself in Luverne, Alabama around meal time, stop by Annie's, you won't be sorry. If it is not meal time, maybe you should just hunker down and wait.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cooking with Little Guy

We were supposed to visit friends tonight but they were not feeling well, so we stayed home instead. While I was attempting to regain control of the laundry room, a never ending battle, B and Little Guy were working on one of our favorites, nachos. Little Guy loves to help in the kitchen, he is full of energy and desire but, at 5, possesses the skills you would expect. He has lots of fun but, of course needs supervision. He was in rare form tonight, every word I heard from the laundry made me laugh.. B let him squeeze some lime juice and put it in our chicken. He thought that the chicken tasted so good that he said he hoped "he could marry the chicken" and as B took his picture, he shouts, "James, come race your finger around this pan."
He can drive me crazy but moments like tonight make it very worthwhile.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Awards night

5th Grade graduation is tomorrow at Tommie Brown Academy, so tonight there was an awards dinner. All 3 classes were there with their parents. Our friends at First Christian Church across the street provided dinner, spaghetti and fixings, very nice as always.

Our older boy got four awards which was probably fair, he's got a ton of ability but sometimes falls short on effort and motivation. I had that problem later in life, so I try and help him with it but I think that he's going to have to find a way to make it happen for himself. I really appreciated the way his teacher found a way to give at least one award to everyone, she included a lot of "most improved" awards to go along with the "best" awards. Older boy got a trip for ice cream with his mother too. A good night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Costs of being poor

I found an enlightening article today (thanks Reddit) on the costs of being poor. Here's the link:

It made me think, we seem to hear lots of people talk about big projects to help relieve the burdens of poverty but I think maybe we need to take smaller steps. Could churches provide 'not for profit' laundromats? I was without a washer and dryer for a while and it cost quite a bit to get your laundry done. Cities give tax incentives to businesses all the time, how about tax breaks for a grocery store to locate in a low income area, maybe with some agreement that the store keep prices reasonable. How about limits on the cost to cash a payroll check? I wouldn't think that payroll checks would bounce too often. This is pretty off-the-cuff but I think that these ideas make sense. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Life seems to be back in full swing. The laundry is starting to pile up, the lawn mower needs to be fixed and the gutters need to be cleaned. Fortunately (or not) baseball is still swallowing a large amount of my 'free time'. Both boys are playing, so we seem to have games 4-5 nights a week. I missed almost all of baseball season last year, as it wrapped up just after I started to see B. She asked me what I thought about the boys playing and I said that it was fine with me, as long as they wanted to, I don't believe in forcing participation in activities. I did not realize how much time would be involved.

When I was about 5 we started playing T-Ball. Our mothers would take us to our games which took place on weekday mornings in the summer. I suppose we played for an hour or two and then went home. We did not have uniforms that I remember. When I was about 7 we started playing baseball. American Legion ran the program where I grew up, although I think that now there are other leagues there too. One night, late enough in the spring for Fred Young fieldhouse to be stifling hot, we would go to Illinois Wesleyan for registration. My Dad and I would stand there while a very long single line ran through 2 or three stations. Finally we would get to the front where I would receive a t-shirt and hat as well as the fundraiser materials. Everyone in an age group wore the same colors, green for the youngest, then red and finally blue. When I was maybe 10 or 11 people started wearing baseball pants and some times leggings. We would generally walk to our games or maybe carpool. I really don't recall parents attending very often, maybe once in a while a bunch of mothers would attend but I think that it was more an opportunity for them to socialize than anything else. Our umpires were high school or college students and they helped set the lineups. No coaches, just kids playing ball. I think it might be better that way.

I know that we are often nostalgic but the other night, between the 2 games we were involved in, I bet I saw 5 kids in tears. Whether or not the parents pressure the children, I think that the presence of the parents provides pressure. We all knew who the best players on our team were, we went to school with them and they were the best on the playground but our parents never had to watch us as we were outclassed. I expected that Scott would strike me out, and that Steve, Dan, Greg and Joel would be better than I was, but I didn't have to worry about looking bad in front of my mom and dad. It was just fun and gave us something to do while school was out.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe its better now but there were certainly less tears when I played ( I did cry once though, at a game my parents were watching)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back Home

We had a pretty eventful trip home. The Older Boy was causing drama the whole way. He made a poor choice Thursday and followed it up by trying to blame everyone but himself. I hope he'll learn soon. While that was going on we managed to get stuck on two-lane roads behind a house and a helicopter (it was on a hauler). We also managed to go through a town where the main drag was down to a single lane and hit Birmingham at rush hour. All thing considered, it was a very abrupt return to the real world.

We had baseball and errands today. We got rained out of our second game, so we get movies now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Heading Home

We had a great time at the beach but now its time to go. One more quick stop a Starbucks for iced coffee and internet access. we met so many nice people on our trip. We're stopping to mail postcards and to get a few last items, then it's time to hit the road. Chattanooga here we come!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


We rented bicycles Monday morning. B thought that it would be fun. I had a bad experience with a bike, a car and a curb when I was 10 and really didn't ride much after that. I thought that I might discover some great joy that I missed out on, I didn't. I have fought my stupid bike around the park and to Starbucks a couple times. I can't seem to make it go straight, as it veers left when it wants to; I'm afraid to ride it near other people for that reason as well. It goes back today! My rental fee may be the biggest waste of $30.00 ever

B, on the other hand has had a great time riding her pink bike. She sits up very straight and rolls on down the road. She's very cute. The rental fee for her bike may have been the best $30.00 I have ever spent.

If you are in the Grayton Beach area, you could do worse than stopping by Yellow Fin Ocean Sports on the corner of 30-A and Cty. Road 283. They will rent you a bike and throw in a lock, helmet (important if you're like me) and basket for free. Caleb, the owner, is pretty laid back. As the name implies, you can rent other gear there as well. Have fun.

Playing Tourist

We spent some time yesterday doing some more traditional tourist activities. We bought cheap t-shirts, drove go-carts and played on bumper boats. We had fun but I couldn't help thinking that none of that was as fun as I remember. I guess we'll have to bring the boys for a visit and watch them, now that will be fun.

After we got back to the cabin, we went back to the beach. I hadn't been to the beach in years but I could really get used to it. The water here is so clear and the sand is beautiful. We played bocce, waded and I read while B dozed in the Sun. I'm not sure that I'd want to be here in July when it's hot but right now, it's almost perfect.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


As soon as everyone got settled for dinner, we were encouraged to find a glass of champagne for the toast. After some beautiful words from our friends Phyllis and Seth, we all took a sip and sat back down. As everyone was settling in, the Little Guy went up to my Mother and asked her when the toast would be served...priceless! I hope he's not still disappointed.