Tag Archives: friends

Thankful

30 Nov

By now, Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend, most people will have spent the long holiday period (not exactly a weekend) getting hammered (Wednesday night – AKA “Black Wednesday” – the drunkest night of the year – even worse than New Year’s eve)j, overeating (Thursday, natch), overspending (Friday), overwatching football (all weekend long), drinking even more, etc. etc.  Many people approach Thanksgiving weekend with both excitement and dread and the dread comes from a variety of sources – time spent with family you don’t care to see, travel worries and hassles, dividing time among various family members (Thanksgiving is considered to be the most complicated holiday for that), etc.

Notice the key missing element of the above is what the core of the holiday is supposed to be about? Giving thanks?

It seems like in our efforts as a country to over-program everything (admit it, we do) is extracting the basics of this holiday. The “first official shoppng day” of the Christmas season is now the day where everything USED to be closed, and people were home with family. Black Friday was officially usurped this year by Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Retail Federation’s tracking.

I have to admit to participating a lot in the overindulgence – but at least I think it is focused on family and friends. Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Professor Troutstream and I, plus our families and some select close friends gather at a pub for our annual “Burgers, Beer and Bourbon (and Tots)” fest. We do get a wee bit, umm, happy there, but the biggest feature is just great stories and tons of laughs.

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Robin and I hosted 22 for dinner at our house Thursday evening. We choose to do our big TG dinner in the evening – and that conveniently allows those who are having to split time, to hit multiple Thanksgiving celebrations. Most of our crowd was family – my mom, Robin’s parents, her aunt and uncle from Ohio, their kids and spouses – but we also had two couples that are among our best friends there – both couples are empty-nesters with no local family to go to. Happy to be their “local family”.

Friday was a chill day – I used it to get some house projects done, the most notable was getting my music studio organized in the way I have been planning to organize it since we redid our basement 2 years ago. Have a small PA system set up, a dedicated computer for playing and recording music, mutliple amps for visiting players, etc.  Pretty sweet. Still need to get all the guitars on the wall, but step by step. Friday evening, my inlaws hosted a wonderful dinner for the whole family plus a few more at a local Greek restaurant – and it was a huge treat and much fun.

Yesterday, on the idea of son #1, I got The Fanbulance out of storage, piled the three sons into it, and headed to Evanston IL to pick up Professor Troutstream and watch the Illini of U of Illinois play the Wildcats of Northwestern. The Prof and I enjoyed a bit more Kentucky “brown water” at the tailgate (goes great with Egg McMuffins!), and then left the game about halftime and headed to a pub where his wife joined us and we waited out the rest of the game and the arrival of the sons.  Last evening, was just a chill night – my mom made a delicious gravy to accompany the leftover turkey and we made “stuffing waffles” (heat up stuffing in a waffle iron – best idea ever!) to put all the good stuff over. Our local high school, Stevenson, was in the state championship football game and I watched them win that – enjoying the 4th quarter from bed.

Today, it’s just another chill day although we need to put the house back in order from the bash Thursday night as well as I need to put away our patio, run the gas out of the power lawn tools, etc.

So, now that I have bored you with a rundown of my weekend, I’ll return to the point of this post. I spent the entire weekend in the company of all of those I love the most – family, closed and dear friends, and more. Did we overeat and overdrink? Bet your ass we did. To me, that’s what Thanksgiving weekend is all about though – spending the time in the company of your friends and family.

And I have so much to be thankful for – my wonderful wife of 28.5 years, the three amazing young men that are my sons, my mom, and the fact that at 78, she is as sharp as ever and in generally good health and able to travel to us, live on her own, etc., Robin’s family and how they all travel in to make this such a fun weekend, my great pal Professor Troutstream, all of our other close friends, the fact that I have a challenging and rewarding career with a continued upwards trajectory, a nice home, a loyal dog, etc. etc.

Overindulge I did. Did I gain a few pounds this weekend?  I’m sure of it – back onto track with my Weight Watchers program this week. Do I creak and ache like a typical 50-something person? Sure do. But that’s how I know I am alive.

If you follow my blog, you most certainly know that my focus is on living life. It is entirely too short. I’m thankful for the opportunities I have to be able to live life so well with people I love.  There’s the sentence I was looking for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

As you were,

Stew

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The Indy 500 – why it belongs on everyone’s bucket list

30 May

If you’ve read my blog before, you know well that I’m a bit of what the Brits call a “Petrol Head” – I like cars. And I like driving fast cars on race tracks and watching fast cars race, both in person and on TV. Folks that are not racing fans don’t get why I like seeing cars going in circles and well, I don’t pretend to enjoy watching soap operas or golf on TV either (can’t stand either of them). That said, I think everyone ought to go to the Indy 500 at least once in your life. It truly is an American spectacle where the enormity of the event outweighs what actually takes place at the event itself. Going to the Indy 500 isn’t about cars making 800 left turns at better than 200 mph (although that’s way cool) – it is about witnessing something truly and uniquely American.

I have been going to the 500 for more than 25 years now – my first 500 was a spur of the moment thing that happened with my long-time hometown pal Tom called me the Thursday before Memorial Day in 1987 to ask me to go as his father-in-law couldn’t make it with him. Of course I said “Hell yes!” and a life-long tradition was born. I’ve only missed three races since then – one when a friend of mine was getting married (and didn’t wind up getting married that day … whoo that’s a long story, one when my twins’ birth was potentially imminent (it happened just three weeks later), and once when my sister-in-law was getting married. Two out of three of those were worth missing the race. The race was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I’ve already ordered my tickets for next year. Two days after the race.

For those that don’t know it, here are a few cool facts about the Indy 500:

  • This year was the 96th running of the race, and the 101st anniversary of the race. There is not a single sporting event that has gone on this long.
  • It has been for years, and continues to be the single largest-attended event in all of sports. Even though attendance is down from the heyday of Indy racing in the late 1980s, when attendance was nearly 500,000 people, 300,000+ people still go to the race, with more than 250,000 seated in the stands. Pretty amazing.

The track itself is stunningly huge – the track is 2 ½ miles as a square-cornered oval. The straightaways are 5/8s of a mile long, the “chutes” between the corners 1/8 of a mile long each and the corners are about ¼ mile each. The actual facility is huge – more than a mile from north to south, and ¾’s of a mile from east to west. There is an 18-hole golf course on the grounds – 9 holes of which are in the infield of the track! The track also features a nearly-3-mile per lap road course that uses about 1/3 of the oval and then snakes through the infield. The roadcourse is used for the US Moto Grand Prix.  I’ve heard a stat that 15 NFL-sized stadiums would fit inside the track.  I believe it – it’s huge.

The track was originally paved with bricks – and hence earned itself the name “Brickyard” – the namesake of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race held there in August. There is one yard of the bricks left exposed – at the start/finish line.

The speed at which the cars go around this track is simply stunning. There’s nothing in your life that can calibrate your senses for it. They go by so fast that your eyes cannot track them unless you pan your head like a camera. Seriously. To give you a sense – this year’s qualifying speed around the track was a four-lap average of around 227 mph. That’s straightaways and corners combined – which means that the cars are going nearly 250 mph at their peak in the straightaways and more than 210 mph in the corners. To give you another idea – jet airliners typically leave the ground at approximately 165 mph.
… and more and more.

So, you’re asking, “OK, it’s huge. The cars go really fast. It’s got a great history, and lots of people go. Meh. Why should I go?

Again, the 500 is America with a capitol ‘MERICA!. For starters, it is held on Memorial Day weekend every year, and the entire race day is dedicated to those that serve our country and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. In the lead-up to the race, they have:

  • A parade of military personnel walking up the main straightaway as part of the opening ceremonies – always gets a huge standing ovation.
  • A parade of the same military personnel riding around the track in the back of convertibles or trucks waving to the crowd – again, a standing ovation.
  • A haunting moment of silence to remember those that died for our country, where all 300,000 or so people all stand silently – followed by the most haunting rendition of “Taps” you’ll ever hear – a lone bugle, ringing over the sound system across this gigantic facility. With all 300,000+ people standing silently, remembering.   Goose bumps!
  • Performed renditions of America The Beautiful, God Bless America (sung by Florence Henderson), and “Back Home Again in Indiana” (sung by Jim Nabors).
  • An invocation prayer – this year’s was especially great.
  • A military jet flyby (this year was “multi-generation warbirds” that included P-51s from WWII all the way to an F-16. In years past, there have been stealth bombers, Harriers, F-16s, F-14s, B-52s, etc. etc.) at the end of the National Anthem.
  • The Purdue marching band playing all sorts of march music
  • And more … all kinds of America there.

Plus, there’s all the traditions – the bottle of ice-cold milk served to the winner along with the rose wreath (that always makes the winner look like some sort of racehorse), Gasoline Alley – the garage area, where fans can walk and mingle among the drivers and crews, the three-abreast start, which is the only place in motorsports that this occurs (interestingly, at the narrowest oval track in all of motorsports), and much more.

And it’s family traditions – we know so many people where going to the 500 is something the family does together. You see it all over the stands – people renew their seats over and over and get to know the people next to them – it’s like a strange, annual family reunion.

My own traditions on this are even more fun. For starters, where we park – we park in the yard of this small house in Speedway, IN – here’s a Google Maps view of it. A kindly old woman by the name of Mary Ann owns it – her husband, Art, passed away a few years ago. I’ve been parking at Mary Ann’s house for more than 20 years now. There’s a whole group of folks there where, for one day a year, we catch up with each other’s lives. We’ve all seen our kids grow up from babies to toddlers, to grown men (as my sons are now) – we’ve seen new friends introduced. There’s also been a few of those touchy moments where someone who has been there for years, just isn’t anymore … as the person has died. Divorces, new husbands, kids coming “out”, etc. A little microcosm of life on Cole Street in Speedway, IN.

Staying at Mary Ann’s is like staying at your grandma’s house – and comes with all the comforts of home – she just opens her house to those that park there. Most are not strangers and are repeaters, but … once a year friends. We’ve slept in the house when the weather has been bad (this year, Joel and Brian slept inside in the A/C while Alex and I “marinated” in the tent outside in the heat), we can take showers in the morning. She feeds us a wonderful breakfast of egg strata (I like to call it “cholesterol express”) and Monkey Bread – other folks bring donuts, and there’s always a steady flow of coffee.

Our usual race weekend has us driving to Indianapolis on Saturday morning, arriving at Mary Ann’s place in early afternoon. Job 1: Open the coolers and grab a beer. Job 2, unload, and set up camp – a tent in the back yard, portable grill, table and chairs, etc. From there, we usually head over by the track to walk around – outside the track’s main straightaway stands is Georgetown Road. It becomes a pedestrian mall of sorts – there are food vendors, RVs parked and playing music, wacky people hanging out, etc. Indy has a reputation of being Mardi Gras like, and the tradition is the guys encouraging the girls to, umm, “share” … so that’s going on all day as well. There’s a fan fest at the track itself, with big companies having exhibit tents, games, etc. And the Speedway Hall of Fame museum, which we toured this year for the first time.

From there, we get back to Mary Ann’s later in the afternoon, sit in the shade of the big tree in the back yard and have a beer or two – this year, we got into a spirited Eucher game (it’s a card game). We snack, and then fire up the grill and grill some nice-sized steaks, with baked potatoes, a salad, etc. Later in the evening, we usually wander back over to Georgetown Road to people watch – that’s when the weirdness cranks up to 11. Besides the aforementioned Mardi Gras action, there are wandering bands of evangelicals trying to convert the sinners, many, MANY more sinners pointing out to them that it’s not happening. Families, guys and girls walking together, groups of goofy drunk guys, etc. It is quite a scene to see. We usually split from there by 11:00 or so – as about then, it starts getting pretty crazy, and I don’t need to be around when a fight starts.

We dive into the tent and go to sleep – only to be awakened at 5:30 AM by a ground-shaking BOOM! – the military bomb that they set off in the infield of the track to announce that the track gates are now open. We usually manage to drop back off to sleep for another hour or so, then emerge from the tents and head inside to line up to take a shower, get coffee and be around as the rest of Mary Ann’s crew arrives – there are only a few of us that camp. After enjoying Mary Ann’s homecooked breakfast, it’s time to strike the campsite, reload the van, and head across to the race – about 2 hours before the start, where we enjoy all the pre-race festivities, and then, of course, the excitement of the race itself.

When I decided to start ordering tickets, I was looking forward to someday attending with my wife and kids – our plan was always to have two children, and even if it were two girls, this was something our family was going to do. We didn’t plan on having three boys though, and this has turned out far better than I ever imagined. Over the years, I’ve of course done a bunch of “guys weekend” trips – myself and three buddies – a 24 hour exercise in competitive drinking, eating and general silliness. We’ve done couples trips where Robin goes and we bring another couple – and those are always a blast. And, for the last several years, it’s just been me with my three sons. As I said, I never imagined ever when I started this, that I would be bringing my three boys with me. And to boot, I’ve got one studying to be an engineer, and he hopes to be working for a racing team for his career. I can’t imagine coming to the 500 as his guest. But I hope it happens!

As I said, the Indy 500 is truly something to add to your bucket list. I do have to say I’m blessed with a wonderful set of memories because we luckily found a “once a year” home at Mary Ann’s house – I look forward to that scene as much as I look forward to the race itself. The race, and the events around the race do have to be experienced once in a lifetime though. You’ve never seen anything like it. And you owe it to yourself to experience it. Just once. And if you like it as much as I do … well, 23 times so far for me …

As you were,

Stew

Tech Support Top 10

15 May

When you spend a major portion of your life working in digital marketing and information technology, you tend to wind up being the local expert on all things computer related. The irony of which is that you wind up generally hating goddamned computers. I enjoy using computers and technology – comes with being a serial early-adopter, but I do have to say at some points, I think I want to just skip them all across a pond and move to an island and never seen another one as long as I live. As usual, because of my helpful nature, I have managed to cast myself as being tech support for my family and for a lot of friends. I’m generally able to diagnose networking issues, sort out misbehaving iPhones/iPads, etc.,help out buggy email, eradicate viruses, rebuild computers and I’ve even built a number of “frankenDell” computers for the family out of obsoleted Dells that were castoffs from Robin’s family. So, I’m pretty good at this. But it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Additionally, because I am, A) a social media addict; and B) work in the digital marketing realm where online search, social media and other online experiences are the stock in trade of what we do, I’ve become an expert in those arenas as well, both from a user perspective and from a business perspective, so plenty of people seek my advice there as well. As you can imagine, I don’t mind talking about this area – although while many of the principles that big brands use to achieve dominance in online marketing DO translate to local business, the scale at which big brands do this also enables their tremendous results – therefore, it frequently boggles the mind of a small businessman who is for example, struggling to get search ranking on his site, to find out that a company like a major brand spends multiple millions of dollars per year on just search engine optimization.

On the tech support side, by and large the questions relate to internet connectivity – why can’t I get online, why does my internet connection seem so slow, how come my emails aren’t coming through, etc. etc. From an internet perspective, the questions generally run to how things work – how does Google decide which item to rank up first, how come Facebook changed to timeline, why, when I talk about something on Facebook, an ad pops up that seems to mirror that topic, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind helping out – in fact, for the most part, I enjoy it, unless I’m trying to undo a problem that was self-inflicted, like some horrifying piece of spyware that a family member got by clicking on something that they shouldn’t have clicked on.

One interesting thing about working in the tech business for all these past years is the number of silly acronyms that we seem to have regarding users of computers or products. “RTFM” is an admonition to someone that should consider perusing the product documentation. “PEBCAK” is an acronym that is used to classify a problem that seems to be rooted in user error. It stands for Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard. And of course the old fave: IIOHOINHAA. Actually, I’m pulling your leg – that’s not really an acronym. But it certainly represents a bit of advice I’ve given numerous times over the years when asked a question about “why did it do that??” In fact, it’s my first answer below.

So therefore, in no particular order are more or less the ten most frequent answers that I give when someone asks for help with a computer or internet question. Note that a few of them are questions to answer the question. You can supply your own questions:

  1. If it only happened once, it never happened at all.
  2. Just type that into Google. It will give you your answer.
  3. You can buy that on Amazon.
  4. You have to understand that the monetized product on Facebook isn’t the thing you interact with but instead is you – you’re Facebook’s product that they make money on.
  5. Just because you read about it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
  6. Sounds like your web connection is down.
  7. Because Google has all the answers to everything, that’s why.
  8. That’s not good. I can fix it, but we’re talking serious bottles of scotch to get it done.
  9. Restart your computer.
  10. It’s FM Technology. And Science!

Happy computing!

As you were,

Stew

Sweet Home Alabama – We All Live The Same Lives, Just at Different Addresses

10 May

This is the second installment of my blog posts about our Alabama trip last week – in this one, I address the people – our dear friends Keary and Lisa, Chris (Coach!) and Sharon, Brian and Leslie, and Tammy and Jerry.

This trip to Alabama, as I mentioned in my last post, was borne from meeting Keary and Lisa at a resort in Cancun in 2007, which led to us rendezvousing on a beach in Grand Cayman in 2010, and a week together in Cancun last summer. Last summer, they brought along the rest of the couples mentioned above and we all became fast friends – the two city kids became honorary “Bamy’s” and we joined in the chorus of “Roll Tide Roll” every time Sweet Home Alabama was played by the pool. This trip was born when we were sitting around the pool in Cancun and after about the 50th time we heard “y’all gotta come down and visit us in Alabama, we’ll have so much fun”, Robin threw down “Ok, sounds great – first weekend in May, next year. I’m done with tax season, the timing is perfect.” With the date set, we were game on.

As we were preparing for this trip, we kept thinking of what a different life we were going to observe in Alabama – these folks live in a tiny, one-stoplight town of 5,000 – we live in a bustling suburb of 42,000 people, surrounded by an unending carpet of suburban sprawl. Their entire county has a population of about 70,000. Our Metro area has a population of 9.8 million and spreads more than 100 miles north to south and 60 miles east to west. Life HAD to be different. Right? Well … no, not really, in actuality.

The title of this post actually comes from my pal “GASHM” who coined it one evening when we were commiserating over raising teenaged kids and talking about how we all have the same problems, hassles, etc. “We all live the same lives, just at different addresses”, he said. Truer words have never been spoken. And it applies here – other than geography, these folks are in the same boat we are – either raising or just finished raising their kids (Keary and Lisa just achieved “empty nest status” in the last 2 years), working for a living, trying to find the time to do it all and balance it all, while still seeking to have fun.

There are some characteristics of these folks though that do make them different than what we typically see in the big city.  First of all, they are fiercely proud of where they live – and I say that not in a “boastful/prideful” way – which would be negative – but in a simple “they love it here” way.  Each of them is deeply connected to the area and the community.  They are all from either Rainsville or the immediate towns nearby – like where I’m from in Newton, IA, one gets the sense that people don’t move here, but instead are born here, and if they stay, well, they stay and love it.  Secondly, they all recognize that life there is different than it is where we live, but they don’t see that as a negative, just a fact.  They marvel a bit about things like when we talk about the fact that our high school has close to 5000 kids in it when their K-12 school has 1600, or that I work in a 43 floor highrise in downtown Chicago, and ride a train to work every day.  But that wonder is matched with a healthy dose of “better you than me, man!”  They love the fact that their idea of a traffic jam is when they catch the redlight at the intersection of Hwys 35 and 75 red, and have to wait one minute.  While they wish they had more choices for shopping and restaurants and gourmet groceries, they wouldn’t give up for a second their quiet, small town lifestyle.  They all want to visit us here in Chicago.  We can’t wait to have them.  And after their visit, I’m sure they will hit Rainsville again with newfound appreciation of the quiet, easy pace.

Although I covered this in the last post, it also bears mentioning again – the impact of the tornadoes of April 27th, 2011 is unmistakeable.  The week before we arrived, the town unveiled a large stone monument to the people that were killed in the tornado – this was aggressively pushed through the city and county government by a committee that included our friends Lisa and Tammy.  Coach took us on a 30 minute driving tour of the damage area – and I was literally getting spine tingles when he was identifying empty house foundations with “and three people died here, two here, 15 people were killed here where this trailer park was, I knew the kid that was killed here”, etc.  Everyone in that town knows or knows of everyone that was killed.  We all marvel when we hear the news stories of these events “and 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured” in the national news – for these folks, those aren’t stats. They are people.  People they knew and loved.

Going individual, as I mentioned above and in the last post, Keary and Lisa own one of the two funeral homes in Rainsville, AL. Chris is a History teacher and the head football coach at the local high school and his wife Sharon is a nurse in a medical practice in the next town over, Scottsboro. Brian and Leslie own a DJ business, and Jerry works for the local John Deere business while his wife Tammy is the clerk at the local court, and together they own a small cleaning services business. With employment in small town America being what it is, this seems pretty typical. There aren’t a lot of big employers – to work for a big company means a long commute to Chattanooga, TN or Huntsville AL – both cities about an hour away or more, so you work local – own a business, teach, work for the municipality, work in a local service business, etc. Last summer after our Cancun trip, I wrote about these folks, and in that I said something to the effect of “work, for these people, does not define them – it is a means to which they live their lives.” And it really is true.

About the only person in the group that I can see is a bit defined by work is “Coach” (Chris) – and that’s merely because he so clearly loves what he does. It is not a definition by status like you see around where we live. He is all about the kids and all about the game and the experiences it brings them. We had a very nice moment on Sunday when we were standing around outside Keary’s lake house enjoying the afternoon, and Coach, Keary and Keary’s son Blake were talking. Blake is 20 and played football for Coach. He said to Coach “You know, I don’t think I’d be who I am today if it wasn’t for you.” Obviously, as a teacher, and as Coach, well, you hear that and you know you’ve done your job. His wife Sharon is one of the kindest, and funniest people I’ve ever met. On our Cancun trip last summer, she was reeling from a huge tragedy in her life – the death of her sister, which happened just before we went. But Sharon still managed to be the life of our party, and quite frankly, the person who was able to get me to bust out of work mode and into vacation mode. She had me laughing the entire time.

One of the more interesting experiences for us was staying with Keary and Lisa – as their primary residence is above the Funeral Home. They have built a beautiful apartment above the funeral home (which is an immense building, in Rainsville scale) – it allows Keary to be close to the business, “on call” at all times when possible, and yet be able to get away for a respite upstairs in their lovely home. Their home looks like an exhibit from Southern Living magazine – beautifully and comfortably appointed with not a detail out of place. I need to hire Lisa to come to our place and detail it like that – we just don’t have the eye for it. But being close like that allowed us to observe the rhythm of it. Like babies being born, people die on their own schedule, and well, that means that this business can be 24×7. On our last evening there, a case that Keary had been expecting – a 15 year old boy who had gone into hospice care just before we left for the lake house on Friday – passed away. Keary got the call during a late dinner at Brian and Leslie’s house. One of his staff was dispatched to the boy’s home to pick up the body, and when we got back to the funeral home, Keary had to go to work embalming the body at 10:00 at night. Just a reality of the business.

On our first night of the trip, Keary, Lisa, Brian and Leslie joined us in Nashville for the evening – it’s only a 3 hour drive and they came up on their beautiful Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycles to join us for fun in Nashville. I covered the music scene we hit in the last post, so I won’t bother now, but what was fun about this was that they got to show us some of their favorite things. Among them are of course, country music, and the John Stone band. But in addition, we also were reminded of how we met Keary and Lisa in the first place. The two of them are natural “friend makers” and Lisa is the ring leader – she will literally go up to anyone and start making instant friends with them. Don’t be a hurry if you’re with Lisa walking somewhere as she’s going to chat with just about anyone walking by. It’s just her natural, outgoing personality and it’s really cute and endearing. The way we met Keary and Lisa in 2007 was similar – they were sitting on the pool steps at the resort, having a drink and chatting up another gent they had met there – we came and sat down near them, enjoyed our first cocktail in the pool, and when I got up to walk/swim across to the swim-up bar to get another, Keary said “well, y’all mind getting us another round”, while Lisa invited Robin to join the conversation. The rest is history.

Our second night, we had the fun of going to watch Brian in action – in addition to doing weddings and parties as a DJ, he also does Karaoke at local restaurants and bars. On Thursday nights in Scottsboro, he’s at a local Mexican restaurant – Margarita’s. Brian is great at what he does – he has this terrific, “made for DJing” baritone voice, he is a great singer so he can fill in when necessary, and his between-songs banter keeps the fun going.  He has a great sense of “party pacing” and it seemed like he knew every person in the place.  Which, I’d bet, he does. I came to call Brian “Chamber of Commerce” as he possesses a great local knowledge about both the Nashville area and about the Sand Mountain/Rainsville/Scottsboro area. Leslie, of course, is his ardent supporter – she’s busy raising their daughters, and until recently, had a small resale shop. In what Robin and I consider to be such a sweet gesture, Leslie organized putting together our parting gift – “Bubba” the Big Boy tomato plant, planted in Sand Mountain dirt. Sand Mountain, the area where Rainsville sits, is well known across the southeast for its farmstand produce, and especially tomatoes – something about the sandy, acidic soil is great for tomatoes. Leslie got a tomato plant, a bucket of Sand Mountain soil together and loaded us up. Bubba now lives in a place of honor on the sunny corner of our deck where we have big expectations for him of tomato goodness!

Tammy and Jerry are such fun – Jerry is an easy-going, fun loving guy with great jokes. Tammy always has a big smile, a big hug and a big laugh for everyone. Tammy has hit the jackpot with her daughter and she is so happy for her – she’s finishing up at college with a very high GPA, has met a nice young man there and is set to take on the world. But in a great example of nothing ever goes as planned, Tammy and Jerry have taken in a young boy that is the son of one of Tammy’s family members – a bad situation where that family member wasn’t able to care for him – so right at the age that they thought they’d be heading into empty nester time, they are back in the parenting world again. He’s a nice young boy and I’m sure they will do great with him. Coach and Sharon are in a similar boat – they had one daughter of their own, who is a lovely girl in early high school – and with the death of Sharon’s sister, they have taken in her son, who is 11. I think the lesson learned here is that these folks take family seriously and it was never a question of if they’d do the right thing. The “right thing” is in their DNA. One of the best days at the lake house was Sunday, when all of the couples’ kids came out to the lake to join us for the day. They are a great bunch of well-behaved kids who are reflections of the qualities and values of their parents.  It’s not easy to raise good kids.  These folks are raising great kids.

Speaking of family, Friday was a special treat – we got a chance to meet the extended families on both Keary’s and Lisa’s sides of the family – first at a noon-time birthday celebration for Keary’s mother, held at the assisted living center where she lives, and then for a classic Southern family dinner at Lisa’s parents’ home. It was so special for us to, first of all, be able to meet the extended families, and secondly, that, as their weekend guests, they wanted to bring us around to meet the families.  Southern hospitality at its finest.  The families welcomed us with open arms (and in the case of Lisa’s mom – platters and bowls heaped with best Southern cooking!)  and a “y’all come back now” at the end. We will come back.

This arc leads me back to the beginning here – we all live the same lives, just at different addresses. Having grown up in rural Central Iowa, this was all very familiar to me. Geographically, the area that they live in reminded me a lot of the area around Greenwood Lake, NY, where Robin and I have vacationed several times in the past 10 years with the kids when I worked for a company based out there. We came into this trip expecting to see a very different lifestyle. In some ways, I guess we did – they don’t have the same access to big city culture, events and services that we take for granted here (example in point – we needed dry firewood for fires and when I said “well can’t we just call someone and have some delivered?”, all the guys broke out laughing), but that is really a minor detail. In the big city, we don’t think anything of a 15-20 minute drive to see something or someone – neither do they. Now in our area that drive will be through three other suburbs, while there it’s over a mountain and farm fields, but those are just details. Their lives are driven by family, work, friends and occasional fun, same as us.  Our biggest fun that we have at home is getting together with our friends for food, conversation and cocktails – the same with them.  They are very faithful people, involved in their places of worship, and we are as well – although their chosen faith is Christianity and Baptist, while ours is Judaism.  Nonetheless, faith and service to G-d plays a big part in their lives, as well as ours. We all struggle with parenting teen kids, but are generally successful at it – the same with them.  The same lives, just lived at different addresses.

We love our Sweet Home Alabama friends. I hope after this little introduction to them that you perhaps love them a little too.

As you were,

Stew

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