The road less traveled

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There are two certainties in my life. One – I love driving. And two – I love road trips. Yesterday, one led to another and the afternoon was one of the most enjoyable I have had in a while.

I arrived at a friend’s house and we decided to survey the rising water from the epic floods of 2019. After we passed the gushing falls close to where he lives, we continued our journey down some unknown back roads and absorbed the beauty of the un-mapped communities that are so close to the new town he now calls home. I can say un-mapped because, as we were driving, the GPS froze as we continued along the back roads and we could only navigate by roads that did not have a “dead-end” sign as a means of direction.

The sun was shining, the countryside was stunning and the company was perfect. Thankfully, we both enjoy getting “lost” on country drives and seeing what is within a stone’s throw of what everyone refers to as civilization. Rows of wind-break trees were seen lined between farms and random goats and their kids enjoyed an afternoon snack by the side of the road. It was beautiful.

There is so much to be seen beyond the boundaries of our town limits. A life line beats outside of our main streets. The road less traveled is arguably one that is filled with interesting stories and views that cannot compare to anything else you will see.

After discussing our shared interest, our journey today solidified the desire to drive Route 66. It has been on my bucket list since 1999 and almost died with the passing of my dear friend who inspired the idea. But the dream is alive and well and taking on a new life. It is certainly not the road less traveled, but it will be the road I will eventually travel. The highlight for me will be Arizona. I have not smelled that air, nor have I seen those red rocks, but those things haunt my dreams and they are something I am destined to experience.

The planning begins, and I am excited to plot the course from the here and now to the historic journey across America. And, although several points of Route 66 really are less traveled, I am already starting the journey in my head and my heart. It may take a couple of years to see this thing through, but I am all in.  I am so ready to motor West.

 

 

How 5 weeks turned into 27 days

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“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” ~ Mother Teresa

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about my friend’s text message regarding the gift he had purchased for me for Christmas. His excitement was palpable and, more than contagious, it was consuming. I spent many hours trying to figure out what this mystery gift could be. There were a few hints, but the tidbits of information he shared about the gift only made it more difficult for me to solve the riddle.

This past Saturday, I was Christmas shopping close to his house and we had made a plan for me to stop in quickly to pick up something I had left behind during a previous visit. Once I was inside his house, the five-week waiting period came to an abrupt halt when he told me he couldn’t wait any longer for me to open my present. I was instructed to sit on the couch while he ran downstairs to collect the gift.

He presented me with an unwrapped box and eagerly watched as I opened it. He was relatively sure I did not own what was in the box, but until his suspicion was confirmed there was a chance the fire of his excitement could be extinguished. But the box contained something that was definitely not a part of my collection of kitchen gadgets. His smile can only be likened to the smile on a child’s face when they open their present from Santa to find exactly what they had asked for. But he was the one giving the gift, not receiving it.

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I had heard the term Sous Vide and knew a bit about the cooking concept, but I had never had the good fortune of eating meat cooked to a perfect temperature, evenly across the steak, until now. I am very particular about how my steak is cooked and thought I had perfected the method at home with an extremely hot pan. I was wrong. I bought a lovely cut of beef on my way home, followed the cooking instructions for a blue rare steak and enjoyed the most tender piece of beef I have ever eaten.

To say I was touched by his thoughtfulness is an understatement. He didn’t just buy me a Christmas present, he spent a great deal of time researching this gadget online and bought a gift he knew I would love. I guess the perfect way to say thank you is to cook him the most tender Garlic Butter Prime Rib he’s ever had!

 

 

Thirty-six days of pure torture

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I think of myself as a thoughtful gift-giver. There were a few awkward years with my nephews at Christmas that I ended up giving them gift cards, but they were always gift cards that would get well used. It may not have been as personal a gift as I would have liked, but teenagers have very specific likes and dislikes. Gift cards are perfect for those conundrums.

The old saying “it is better to give than receive” is something I believe deeply in. I get an immense thrill watching someone open a gift that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. I love the element of surprise and the fact I try to come up with gifts that were never a blip on the receiver’s radar. I pulled off a few of those gifts this year, the most recent being a hat for my boss that is embellished with a quote from Ozark, one I will not repeat in this blog because of its profane nature but, sufficed to say, he was surprised and he loved it.

That gift-giving shoe no longer resides on my foot, for the time-being. Right now, the shoe is on another foot. I received a text message from a friend yesterday excitedly telling me they know what they are buying me for Christmas this year. That statement was followed by the line, “I’m so excited, it’s going to be the longest five weeks of my life”.

Now, I have received some lovely gifts during my lifetime, but I’ve never had anyone dangle a rabbit in front of my greyhound five weeks before I can chase it around the track! I’m dying. There are thirty-six days until Christmas and I know am going to spend countless hours during each one of those days trying to figure out what this gift could be. This is my nature – I need to solve puzzles, I need to answer riddles.

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The next thirty-six days are going to go by at a snail’s pace and I’m sure I will receive many more text messages about this gift before the holiday is close enough to be almost tangible. There will be no hints, I know that. There will only be the endless ticking of a clock until Christmas finally arrives.

 

Stuffing all you can into the holidays

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There is much to be said about the joy the holidays bring – or any celebration, for that matter.  Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas or a reunion, the ease of the conversation, the steady flow of wine, the melodic sound of laughter and the joy of being with a close-knit group of people is unrivaled. There is an undefined comfort level that allows us to become absorbed in the festivities that surround us. The fact that we can gorge ourselves and have an excuse to eat everything in sight with only a few fleeting moments of guilt is sublime.

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The molecules change in the room when family and friends get together for a holiday celebration. There is something intrinsically sacred about holidays and the memories that are created within those moments. Time has a way of strategically obliterating those precious seconds as it marches on at a frantic pace, but our shared memories have a way of stopping that clock, if only for a few moments.

Holidays are a portal. They can freeze time and create a vortex that allows us to travel back and relive certain periods in our lives. The memories wrap themselves around us like a blanket and soothe us with the warmth of the times that have engaged us and truly breathe a bit of life back into our frenzied existence.

Although many holidays have passed and are collecting dust on the books in the library of my mind, watching my brother “float” his dinner in gravy brings back a rush of nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to be at Thanksgiving dinner this year because I had to work, but I poured enough gravy on my dinner at the lodge to make my brother proud. That is what the holidays are truly about, the personal moments that any other person would find arbitrary but, to me, define my holiday experience.

Embrace your family, enjoy the moments and get stuffed with the memories your family helps to create.  We all have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

These kids today….

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Many of the kids in today’s world scare me a little.  It’s not that I find them threatening, by any means.  I just worry for their future since so many of them just don’t seem to get it.  They have been too sheltered.  They have been too coddled.  And they have had so many things done for them that some just cannot do anything for themselves.

But there are a few who shine a small ray of hope that all is not lost for their future.  They are self-starters.  They learn by example.  And they are able, at a young age, to think outside of the box.  This blog post is about a kid who completely altered the box.

During an all-inclusive vacation with his family, “Tony” (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) took it upon himself to bend the rules of the resort.  Upon check in, adults are given orange wrist bands and children are given green wrist bands.  This is to distinguish whether or not guests of the resort are allowed to partake in the adult beverage portion of the all-inclusive vacation.  Tony was absent-mindedly playing with his band and realized that one side was green and one side was white.  A light bulb clicked on in Tony’s brain and he ran to find his golf bag.  He reached into his collection of colored Sharpies and proceeded to color the white band orange.

A few hours later, Tony’s parents got a call from the Front Desk telling them that Tony was with security and they were asked to meet them at the reception desk.  When they arrived, Tony showed the signs of having had a few cocktails before being busted.  Ironically, Tony still had a cocktail in his possession and continued to drink it while his parents talked to the security guard.  Laughter ensued and pictures were taken of Tony with the security guard.  Apparently, what happens in Mexico doesn’t necessarily stay in Mexico!

Today, “Tony” turns eighteen.  There is one full calendar year before he is of legal age to drink.  I know there will be more moments until his nineteenth birthday that he will bend a few rules when it comes to imbibing in some alcoholic beverages but, I have to say, I have no doubt that his quick, analytical brain will take him a long way in this life.   Happy birthday, buddy!!

 

Boys will be boys and then they make you cry – round 2

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He did it to me again.  My now 17-year-old nephew has created a Christmas memory that brought me to tears.  Three years ago, several months after we lost my mother, and his Nana, I wrote this post about his wonderful Christmas gesture that reduced me to a puddle once I was safely in the confines of my home.  This year, he managed to pull at my heart-strings once again, forcing me to swallow my raw emotion until I got home.

Our Christmas Eve tradition has not changed.  We all gather at the end of my brother’s driveway to watch Santa Claus cruise through the streets atop the fire truck, we go to the Christmas service at the church and then we all go home to finish up the last-minute wrapping for the big day.  This year was different.  My nephew insisted that we all go back to my brother’s house after church because he wanted to give us his Christmas gifts when we were all together.  Carefully he placed his gifts in the laps of his family and grinned from ear to ear as we tore off the paper to see what lay underneath.

Each of us received a gift that he had given great thought to and created with his own hands.  Attached to a piece of very sentimental barn-board was a piece of metal that he had carved for each of us with our last name and either our year of birth or our year of marriage.  This is my beautiful sign.

The Christmas spirit is alive and well and now resides in the heart of my nephew.  He truly felt the joy of giving.  His face was animated as he watched each of us run our fingers along the names he had carved into our signs.  He was more excited for us to receive our gifts than he was to think about what lay under the tree for him on Christmas morning.  He gets it.  He now knows that the true gift at Christmas is the one  you give and not the one you receive.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how much his gift meant until I had been home and had time to process my emotion.  After I shed a few tears, I texted him and told him how much his gift touched my heart.  He is coming over later today to help me put up the sign that I will look at with great pride and emotion for a very long time.

My letter to Santa this year

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Dear Santa,

I hope this letter finds you well and feeling the joy of the season.

I have spent many hours considering what I would like for Christmas this year.  I do believe you will find my name on the nice list so I thought I would save you some time when it came to my gift.

santa's list

I want life experiences for my gift this year.  I want to sit in a room with my family and laugh until we cry because the joke is something only we would understand.  I want my brother and I to share a toast to my parents and take a moment to remember my dad waking us up at 6:00 am by cranking the Beach Boys vinyl album and my mom inevitably leaving a price tag on at least one of our gifts and then finding the last gift sometime in April because she had hidden it so well.

I want to really watch my nephews this year as they tear open their mountain of presents.  It seems like only yesterday they had no real concept of what was happening and now I’m going to blink and they will both be off to University and, soon after that, having Christmases of their own.

I want to embrace the friends I have and let them know how lucky I feel to be able to call them friends.  I want them to know how much they mean to me and how close I hold that friendship to my heart.

I want to take a quiet moment or two during the holidays and reflect on all of the wonderful things that happened to me throughout the course of the year.  And I want the words “I love you” to be a comfortable phrase that gets shared a lot, and not just during the holidays.

I know you are a busy man this time of year so I shall leave it at that.  I will be waving at you on Christmas Eve as we stand at the end of my brother’s driveway and watch you go by on the Fire Truck as I have every year since I was seven years old.

Merry Christmas Santa.