Thursday, December 24, 2015


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had occasion to go the Lone Oak K-Mart on several occasions. I’ve actually bought several nice UK clothing items on sale there. It led me to start reminiscing about K-Mart. It’s kinda sad to see how few people shop there. Even though it was a few days before Christmas, the parking lot was no different than any other day I’ve been there lately. They do have a few things (like the UK stuff I bought) but really, they just aren’t that great a store any more.

I remember in what I believe was 1971, when that K-Mart opened. It was a huge deal to have that chain locate in this area. Kentucky Oaks Mall was an orchard. I don’t even think the old Paducah Mall on the Southside was open yet. If it was, it wasn’t fully operational. I-24 was just a dream so getting to Nashville to shop wasn’t anywhere as easy as it is now. I remember visiting there right after it opened with my friend Steve Vick. I couldn’t believe what all they had in there. I remember the 45s being locked in a cabinet – you had to have an employee come with a key to open up the case when you wanted to buy one. I have a lot of other memories of that place.

Back in the day, the six of us that hung out together on Houser Road thought we were filmmakers. We could buy a roll of Super 8 film there for a few dollars and make our own movies. The neat thing was they included a mailer inside and you simply sent the film in when you were done and within a few weeks, it appeared in our mailbox. It was like the premiere of a big movie when we would load that up on my parents Super 8 projector and watch it.

You could buy real food there. They had a deli in the front that sold a pretty decent ham and cheese sandwich. They also had the best summer drink of all – an Icee. In the back, they had a grill that you could order a pretty decent meal from.

My cousin JoAnn worked there for years as well as my friend Brent Starkey’s mom. I honestly think they beat Wal-Mart to the idea of a greeter since they always had someone in the front of the store to say Hi when you came in. They had an auto center where you could actually leave your car with a description of what needed to be fixed and drop your keys in a box. I also remember it was the place to park your car when you went to a Lone Oak High School football game. They also would have someone (one of the local volunteer fire departments) set up a trailer with a haunted maze kind of thing in it. I remember taking Donna through and somebody pinching her and him ending up with a poke in the eye somehow :-)

The thing K-Mart is probably most famous for were the blue light specials. You’d be shopping there and a voice would come over the loudspeaker to let you know an item was on sale for the next several minutes. You would look for the flashing blue light to find it. The flashing blue light was on wheels and would be moved from sale to sale. I remember my sister Melissa telling me the story about laughing watching packs of women in the store following the blue light around for the next sale and then being totally embarrassed to see mom right in the middle of the pack.

I am not sure what exactly happened to cause K-Mart’s fall. I imagine it was between the appearance of Kentucky Oaks Mall, Wal-Mart and some corporate issues. They also took away all the neat stuff (the deli, Icee’s, the grill, garage and especially the blue light specials). They do have some things I like including a pretty good rewards program and the ability to get your receipts emailed to you. But, I just wonder how much longer that store will be around.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Several months ago I’d seen stories about something called an escape room. The way I understood it worked is you are placed in a room with some sort of theme that you have 60 minutes to get out of. You solve puzzles and use your brain to get out. You have to work as a team to figure it out. This sounded to me like something that would be really be fun to do. There were several of these in the area we’d be staying at in Fort Lauderdale, so we thought we’d give it a shot. We signed up for the Crime Scene Quest at “Escape the Quest”.

We (minus Donna who didn’t want to go) got there and were told how it would work. We would have to get through three rooms in the hour and figure out the actual killer of a woman. We had three lifelines – a hint, a clue, and a time check. We were not allowed to bring in our phones or any timepiece. You are given a walkie talkie to communicate with the staff. With a certain level of excitement, we entered the first room. I don’t want to give away too much, but there were a lot of things to examine and a lot of visual distractions. We burned our hint and clue just to get out of the first room. We got to the second room and never could figure our way out of it. I was totally dejected. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t smart enough to help us figure this out. We ended up going to hamburger place called Circus Freak – it had circus posters and burgers with circus type names. I had the “Two Headed Man” which was a hamburger with a hot dog on top. The burgers were excellent. I slowly started to cheer up. We picked up Donna and went to Wednesday night services at 6th Street church of Christ again. Being with fellow Christians helped me too, but it was just ridiculous to get that upset over something like I did.

The next day, Donna and I went over to Sixth Street again. They have a program on Thursday to help feed and provide clothes for the homeless. Being a warm weather area, there are a number of homeless there. The preacher there did a devotional talking of love with the 15 or so there. I really enjoyed doing this. I talked with several of the people that showed up. They were all really appreciative. Donna and I talked and I convinced her to go with us so we could give the Escape Room another shot. I hoped with the six of us that we could do better.

We went back and attempted the one called “House of Pain”. We used our hint/clue much more effectively this time. I don’t want to give anything away, but once I opened that last door and we got out with plenty of time to spare, I was ecstatic. I wasn’t totally stupid after all. We were so excited that we went ahead and did the final Escape Room there called “Stay of Execution”. Almost immediately though, we had some trepidation. The young lady pulled out five pair of handcuffs and cuffed five of us together. Donna started to look really nervous so I had her get on the end so that she’d have a free hand. Then the young lady took Jonathan and led him away by himself. After a few minutes, she let us in. We looked around the room and found a couple of useful items (I don’t want to give anything away). I have to tell about one part though. There was what appeared to be a light switch in the first room with a question mark over it. I had to press it of course which immediately produced a scream that I recognized as Jonathan. Turned out, we had to get him out of the Electric Chair and get ourselves out (of the handcuffs and the rooms) before the hour ended. Josh of course, used any excuse to press that button and make Jonathan scream even convincing Donna to do it once. Again, we managed (using the hint and clue) to get out well before the time allotted. We celebrated with a trip to Longhorn Steakhouse.

We spent the evening packing. Kentucky was to play UCLA at 9:00 Eastern. We thought they’d win, but they played terribly. Marcus Lee was knocked out early and UCLA took the lead. Kentucky could never quite catch up and were saddled with their first loss of the year. We all went to bed a bit disappointed.

We got up the next morning to leave. I’d hope to make one last walk on the beach, but it was pouring rain so we couldn’t. We said goodbye to Josh and Shelby as they headed to the airport to fly back. We got to Macon that night and then finished an uneventful drive back home on Saturday.

The trip had been a lot of fun. I’m not sure when we’ll go back since UK doesn’t appear to being the HoopHall classic next year. They play in Las Vegas next year, but I’m not so sure I want to do that.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I had gone ahead and done a reverse phone number lookup on the phone number we’d seen for parasailing after we got back from our Jungle Queen excursion. It pointed me to a web site with a form submission. I submitted a question to see if they would take us parasailing. The next morning I woke up to a reply saying they would. I went for a run then called them. We got our parasailing trip set up for noon. All of us were going to go except Donna (she’s scared of heights).

We got there about noon. The skies looked ominous so they suggested we wait an hour. We drove around and went under the Waterway on the highway (that we’d been told about yesterday). It wasn’t as impressive as we would have expected. We found a mall and looked around there a bit and went back. They were ready to take us out. We went out the same path we’d been on the Jungle Queen and we headed out for the open ocean. We got geared up, but alas it started to rain. I began to think we’d never get to do this. The two guys running the boat went ahead to gas up the boat to wait this one out. They went to what was pretty much a convenience store that you pulled up to with a boat. They gassed up their boat while we hung outside. The rain stopped and we went to take another shot at it.

We got out to the open water again and geared up. The sun was out and so Cheyenne and Jonathan took the first ride. They were up in the air for over 10 minutes and were very close to 500 feet in the air. One of the guys on the boat told us that this was as high as we allowed to go. Turns out over 500 feet actually gets into flight airspace and we’d show up on their radar. Jonathan and Cheyenne landed telling us how much they loved it. Josh, Shelby and I went next. Josh and I had parasailed in Myrtle Beach years ago. We went much higher and longer this time. It was really enjoyable and worth the wait (we all felt). We got back to the dock and went back to the resort.

We were really tired so we just ordered food out. I got Chick-Fil-A and brought it back. I was a bit upset to find that we were missing a sandwich when we got back so I had to drive back and get it. The really odd thing was they didn’t seem too apologetic about it. Later that evening, we decided to go out for ice cream. There was a very good ice cream shop we’d found called Razzleberrys. The ice cream was homemade and they gave us huge portions. We sat outside in the really nice warm evening and ate our ice cream.

In my next post, I’ll finally get to us doing that entertainment trend sweeping the nation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Jungle Queen

I started Tuesday by calling a few parasailing outfits to see if we could do one day while we at Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t get through to anyone. No one would return my calls or emails for some reason. We finally decided to take the Jungle Queen tour. It goes on a tour through the Intercoastal Waterway and ends up at an island with animals and a alligator show. We headed over there Tuesday afternoon.

The parking was a bit confusing (you actually park at the resort next door) but we finally managed it. I had bought our tickets online so we had no problems when we got there. The Jungle Queen is a large two decked craft. We grabbed seats where we could see. Our guide told us about all the large yachts and homes as we passed them. All of the yachts were multi-millon dollar, some of them as much as 50 million EACH. The homes were beautiful and equally expensive. Many of them are owned by big name business types (such as the owners of Sunglass Hut and Alka Seltzer). We passed under several drawbridges and even OVER a highway. We saw where the yachts are moored and where they are repaired. We finally arrived at their island. Their were several cages of birds and other animals to see. The highlight though was the alligator show. A young man actually dragged a 300 lb alligator around and sat on it! He also opened its mouth and put his face in it! This was especially risky given it was drizzling at the time. When the show was over, he brought out a much smaller alligator (with it’s mouth taped shut) that we could pose for pictures with. I could of course not resist doing that. We took the Jungle Queen back and passed a huge cruise ship. It looked like someone had grabbed up a big hotel and put it out on the water. I didn’t realize how huge they were. When we got off, I noticed a sign advertising parasailing so I noted the phone number to call later.

We decided to then go to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner since it was relatively close to where we were. It was hard to find and didn’t even have it’s own parking lot. We ended up paying to park and walking. I was immediately disappointed to find out they were out of my favoriate appetized – mini corn dogs. The service was barely passible – for example they took Donna’s tea glass midway through the meal to refille it and never brought it back. Finally when we left, we decided to order cheesecake to go. The young lady at the counter was not very nice at all – she acted as if we were bothering her. It was easily the worst Cheesecake Factory experience we’d ever had.

We got back to the restort in time to watch Kentucky play. Tyler Ullis was still suffering from the hyperextended elbow he’d suffered again South Florida while we were there Friday so he didn’t play. It really showed. UK started off very sluggishly against Illinois State. The game was tied at 31 at the end of the first half. UK played better in the 2nd half and eventually won by 12 but it was obviously Tyler Ullis was severely missed.

That’s enough for this post. For my next post, I’ll let you know if we ever got to parasail plus how we tried out one of the new entertainment trends sweeping the nation.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The HoopHall Invitational

We got to Miami several hours before the game. I had been able to park in the closest parking lot (available on ParkWhiz) to American Airlines Arena by using a 50.00 gift code ParkWhiz had given me to be used on the Thanksgiving holiday. Josh and Shelby had already arrived from the Fort Lauderdale Airport. We walked over to the Biscayne Shopping area next to the Stadium. They had a Five Guys so we headed for that to eat. It was a madhouse, but we finally got our food and ate. We walked around the shopping center and then went and saw the harbor. We then walked to the arena. We had to go through metal detectors which were not too bad except for the fact that they impounded Jonathan's nail clippers. We got to our seats and they were as good as I'd hoped. We were only a few rows from the court. Kentucky would be playing South Florida coached by former UK assistant Orlando Antigua. One of their players was the brother of former UK player Darmarcus Cousins. UK was expected to win easily. The Arena was roughly half full and most of them were UK fans. The Miami Heat mascot Burnie entertained everyone and seemed to have a special rapport with Josh.

The game was somewhat close throughout the first part of the game. Kentucky ended the half on a 15-0 run to take a 42-21 lead at the half. However, there was a scary incident in the first half. In a scrum for a loose ball, Tyler Ullis came up holding his arm. He left the court not to return until the second half (with his arm in a sling). Tyler is the player UK can least afford to lose. It turned out he had a hyperextended elbow. Uk ended up getting as much as a 31 point lead before winning by 21. We stayed and watched a little of the Memphis/Ohio State game and then left.

We walked back to the car to head to Fort Lauderdale. I had the bright idea of stopping by a Krispy Kreme on the way back. One, I wanted doughnuts and two, I thought it'd be something for us to eat for breakfast the next day. I got off an exit on the north side of Miami and we finally found it. Unfortunately, it was in a area that can be best described as "sketchy". Donna and Cheyenne didn't want to get out of the car so Jonathan and I went in to get doughnuts and milk. We got back and could tell they were really uncomfortable. They had seen several scary looking people wandering around so we hurriedly made our way back to I-95. We made it the rest of the way with no problem. We checked into to our resort and the room was as nice as I hoped. We were right on the beach. Josh had gotten food from Wendy's so we ate and crashed out.

We got up the next morning and I headed out to see the ocean and to run on the beach. I ended up ditching that plan after running about a mile on the sand and ended up going to the sidewalk for the rest of my run. Donna and We then went to a Wal-mart neighborhood Market for food for the week. We found out that we had to watch for drawbridges when we crossed back over the Intercoastal Waterway. When a tall boat/yacht went over, we had to wait just like one does for a train. We finally got our groceries and came back. We spent most of the day going back and forth to the beach and enjoying getting out in the surf. The only bad part of the day was keeping up with the UK Louisville football game. UK jumped out to a 21-0 lead only to have Louisville come back and win 38-24. So much for our hopes of going to a bowl game. I ended up ordering pizza out from a recommended place called Heavenly Pizza. The pizza was excellent. We watched a little TV and then went to bed.

We got up the next morning and headed for the worship services at Sixth Street church of Christ. We found the building with no problem. The brethren there were very welcoming and hospitable. One of the elders preached the a lesson about grace and it was one of the best ones about that topic I'd ever heard. Afterwards, we went back to the resort. It turned out the Jets game would be on early and the Cardinals game late. So, we watched football. The Jets won easily over the Dolphins. We kept up with the Giants who dug a deep hole against the Redskins and almost came back to win. We watched the first half of the Cardinal game. They struggled to a 6-3 lead at halftime. We headed for evening worship services at Sixth Street again. Afterwards, I found out the Cardinals had pulled out a 19-13 win. We went and got chicken from Popeyes. It was good but unfortunately, we were shorted a couple of pieces of chicken. We had enough though. We watched a little of the New England Denver Sunday night game and then went to bed.

In my next post, I'll let you know about what we did during the week.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Welcome to Florida!

While last year’s UK season was going on, plans were announced for UK to play in Miami in November. They would be playing former UK assistant Orlando Antiqua’s South Florida team at American Airline Arena – the home of the Miami Heat. The game would be played the day after Thanksgiving. It sounded like a great opportunity to go somewhere warm and see UK play. I also thought we could spend a week in Fort Lauderdale – which is about 30 minutes north of Miami. I talked with Jonathan and Josh and we were even able to arrange it so they and Cheyenne and Shelby could come too. It’d be our first family vacation in several years. This sounded great to me, so I went ahead and bought the tickets in January and arranged for us to have a suite at Wyndham Royal Vista on the beach.

Jonathan changed jobs in October and I was a little concerned that he’d be able to go. But his company graciously gave him that week off in November as part of their offer. The day finally came to leave. Cheyenne was already in Orlando with her family at the Disney Complex so we’d pick her up on the way. We left on the Wednesday before. We got to Nashville and ate at one our favorite hamburger places – Fat Mo’s. We then went to Lebanon Road church of Christ and enjoyed their Wednesday night service. We drove on to Murfreesboro after that and checked in at the Embassy Suites there. I’d forgotten how nice those hotels are. They also offer a cooked to order breakfast which you might well guess we took full advantage of the next morning.

The next day was of course Thanksgiving. I figured that was the first Thanksgiving of my life I hadn’t had a full Thanksgiving dinner with family somewhere. We had the aim to stop at a Cracker Barrel on the way to have their Thanksgiving dinner. We finally stopped in Macon. The restaurant looked crowded but Jonathan somehow finagled us a table for three when we got inside. The food was excellent and it also kept me from overeating like I usually do. We headed out after that and eventually got to the Florida border. We stopped at the Welcome Center there to go to the restroom, but mainly to get a transponder for use at toll booths in Florida. We then pressed on to Lake City Florida to spend the night. I’d booked at suite at Country Inn and Suites there. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. Getting dinner proved to be difficult since it was of course Thanksgiving. I eventually ended up just getting McDonalds.

We got up the next morning and heading to Orlando. We arranged to meet Cheyenne at a Home Depot and picked her up there. We took the Florida Turnpike most of the way there. It’s very different from your usual Interstate. There are few exits with any restaurants, etc, on them. They have Travel Plazas every 45 miles or so. It’s pretty similar to the Beaver Dam Plaza on the Western KY Parkway. We finally stopped at one and it was a madhouse. They did have an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel place in it, so we got pretzels there. We left out to finish our trip to Mami.

That’s enough for now – I’ll continue in my next post and let you know how the ballgame and Miami in general were.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Champions Classic 2015

When UK’s 2015-2016 basketball schedule game out, I noted that the Champions Classic would be played at the United Center in Chicago. Josh, Jonathan and I had seen UK play UCLA there last year. With the game in Chicago, Josh could meet me pretty easily by driving down. So, I waited anxiously for the ticket presale. Imagine my disappointment when I tried to buy them immediately only to be told they were already sold out! I mean, why even bother if you don’t have any tickets to sell? So, I played the waiting game with Stubhub and finally got us two lower level baseline seats.

We’d just spent the weekend in Lexington watching UK play two games, but this one was going to be a lot tougher. I thought UK looked OK but with all the new players (as is the norm now), they looked a bit disjointed. This game would a good test for them. UK hadn’t beaten Duke since the 1998 NCAA tournament, so I hoped they break that streak. I left out for Chicago that morning. It rained almost the whole trip. I stopped at Culvers in Champaign for lunch. I felt a bit guilty eating there without Donna. It really started to rain when I got on i-294 in Chicago which made the trip on it even more of an adventure than usual but I finally made it. I had decided to stay in Lombard this time at Towneplace Suites. I got a good deal on a two bedroom suite. I checked in and the room was nice. I confirmed Josh was on the way and went out to get dinner.

I headed for Portillos. I had gone there several times while at training classes in Chicago. Their specialty is Italian Beef. You can get the sandwich all sort of different ways (different kinds of peppers or wet/dry). I got us sandwiches without peppers and the juice on the side. I also grabbed fries plus the Portillo’s chocolate cake milkshake. I ate in the room and waited for Josh. He hit traffic about an hour out from Chicago. So, he was later than he expected. When he got to the hotel, I brought his food to eat on the way and we headed for the United Center.

The traffic was terrible on the way there. Google maps kept telling us to take a side street that paralleled I-290. I had reserved close parking with Park Whiz so we only had to walk about a block to the arena. When we got there, we found long lines to get in. Everyone had to go through a metal detector to get in. A lot of people acted like they’d never been through one. A guy in front of me kept setting off the alarm and couldn’t figure out why. Security told him he had something in his pants pocket. He was adamant he didn’t have anything until he finally pulled out a set of keys! We finally got in and to our seats just as the player introductions had started.

The game was close in the first half. Duke stayed in it at the start because of the offensive rebounding of the latest Plumlee they’ve cultivated. Kentucky finally managed a six point lead by the half. They had completely shut down Grayson Allen. Five minutes into the second half, Kentucky opened a double digit lead. Josh and I were still nervous knowing a young team could cough up a lead quickly. The Cats continued to hang on. Once they opened a sixteen point lead with four minutes to do, we relaxed a bit. We were sitting in a large group of Dukies who seemed in utter disbelief in what was happening. Coach K ranted and railed at the referees in the first half. In the 2nd half, he finally just sat down on the bench and watched. Kentucky ended up winning 74-63. Josh and I celebrated by buying Champions Classic t-shirts. We watched a little of the Kansas Michigan State game then went back to the hotel. We had the chocolate cake milkshake I’d bought and it was great.

The next morning Josh got up early and headed for home. I did the same to avoid the usual maniacal Chicago traffic (which I did). I had an uneventful trip, but I did have to stop in Marion for Krispy Kreme.

We had a great time. UK looked good. if they can play that well ,they will definitely be a Final Four contender.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

UK Weekend

When Josh was at UK, I started what has become a tradition (in 2010). I end up going to the first UK home game of the year. It’s become my birthday present each year since it’s always close to my birthday. The earlier games in the season are generally easier to get tickets to. Josh was able to swing tickets for me the years he was there. Last year, I was able to get Lower Level seats via Ticketmaster. This year, Josh’s former roommate (the recently married Bryant Clemons) got tickets for us. This year for the first time I ever remember, UK had two home games on two consecutive days to start the season. Bryant got us tickets for both games so we were set! Josh and Shelby would get there Friday and Jonathan and Cheyenne on Saturday, so we’d get to have our whole family together.

Donna and I left out Friday morning. The trip up was pretty uneventful. The one big change on the trip is the interchange for the Western Kentucky Parkway and the Pennyrile Parkway (well, now it’s called I-69). I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say it’s no longer a simple interchange and you should really pay attention when you get close to make sure you go the way you want to go. There was some road construction and New Circle Road was busy as usual, but we made it fine. I had found a new Towneplace Suites over in the Hamburg area that I decided to try. It was about 15 minutes from Rupp Arena and about 5 minutes from where we’d be going to church Sunday. I rented a two room suite so we’d enough room for Donna and I, Jonathan and Cheyenne and Josh (Shelby would be visiting with friends and her parents). The hotel was very nice but the suite only had one bathroom which concerned me a bit for getting ready Sunday morning. Josh and Shelby got there about 4:45 and we headed out to eat dinner. We went to one of my favorite places to eat – BDs Mongolian Grill. You fill up a bowl with as much stir fry stuff as it’ll hold. I usually go heavy on the meat, but there are vegetables and sauces you can add as well. You then take it to be grilled and take it back to your table. The server brings rice and tortillas to wrap your food in. I had a coupon for a free bowl for my birthday so it was even better. We got done eating and headed for the game.

Our hope was to park in our usual spot at Memorial Coliseum. When we got there, the lot was completely full and we didn’t know why. We ended up having to park over by the K-Lair, so it would be about a mile walk. Fortunately, the weather was fine for walking and a lot of the walk was through campus. I found out later that the Lady Kats had a game at Memorial that night as well. We managed to make it to Rupp Arena a few minutes before tipoff. Our seats were excellent. We settled in to enjoy the game against the Albany Great Danes. Kentucky played OK but you could tell they weren’t a cohesive unit yet. They won by 13. We stayed for the Star of the Game interview (Derek Willis) and for Coach Cal’s post game show and then headed back. Josh took Shelby to a friend’s house to spend the night and we went back to our hotel for the evening.

We got up the next morning to have the hotel breakfast. I was not impressed by the choices so I made a side trip to Krispy Kreme. Jonathan and Cheyenne had left early that morning and got to Lexington after noon. We decided to go to Canes for chicken tenders. Bryant met us there. We had a really enjoyable time catching up with him. We went back to the hotel to rest a bit. There was a Culver’s within walking distance of our hotel so we went out for ice cream later. I kept up with the UK Vandy game on WatchESPN (amazingly enough I couldn’t find it on any of the cable channels in the room). It was just as well, UK played pretty poorly. Jonathan, Cheyenne, Josh and I headed to Chick-Fil-A to eat and then to the game. We were able to park in our usual Memorial Coliseum spot this time. Kentucky played NJIT this time. They had beaten Michigan last year and were one of the top three point shooting teams in the NCAA last year. They jumped on top 16-10 in the first four minutes hitting just about every shot they took. UK came back and ended up by 8 at the half. UK played much better in the 2nd half and ended up winning by 30. We didn’t stay for the post game shows since the game started so late (8) so we went back to the hotel.

The next morning we got up and went to North Lexington church of Christ (sharing the bathroom to get ready didn’t end up being an issue like I feared). This is where Josh attended while he was at UK. It’s a special place to us; they took really good care of Josh while he was there. It was good to see many of our friends there – it had been two years since we last visited there. One of Josh’s buddies – Davey Moster – came down from Cincinnati to see us. His brother Jake is a current student at UK and attends there. After services and taking with several people, we decided to go to one of our eating institutions – Five Guys. We had a great time there and posed for our usual Five Guys photo. But alas, all good things had to end. We all had to head for home. Our trip home was uneventful and we got back in plenty of time to go to services at our home congregation.

We had a great trip as usual, I am already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Marathon Man Comeback

I had run my first marathon right after I turned 50 in 2011 (has that already been four years ago?) and had planned to run another. With the problems with my aging parents, I had to skip 2012. Jonathan and I planned to run the St Judes again in 2013. However, a freak ice/snowstorm blanketed the south and forced it to be cancelled. So, we decided to line up one for 2014 a little earlier in the year. We settled on one in Southern Illinois at the end of October. I didn’t blog about that one because it was an epic fail for me. The course was really hilly, I went out way too fast (especially given the hills) and I ended up cramping up severely with a couple of miles ago. I limped my way to the finish with a much worse time than my first. Josh did complete his first marathon with Jonathan and I so that made it a good day.

I went searching for a marathon to run in 2015 that was a bit less hilly and within driving distance. I found the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November that proclaimed itself as “flat and fast”. That sounded good to us, so we signed up despite our bad memories of the city from April. I got us hotel rooms within a couple of blocks from the start and then settled in to start my training. My big changes in my training were I started six months in advance and I did more 20 mile runs than last time (five instead of two). I also increased my other weekly run distances (hills and regular runs) from week to week hoping to build my stamina. The training went really well except for one run in the middle of summer. I started out on a long run on a particularly humid Saturday morning. About 13 miles in, I completely ragged out. I had to lie down and rest and walk the last few miles back. Fortunately, a beautiful angel (my lovely wife) came walking up with a bottle of water. She knew I was late getting back and came looking for me. I managed to do one of my 20 miles runs while visiting Josh in Verona. The cooler and less humid weather there made that much easier. I also slowly acclimated to the humidity plus got a better read on how to hydrate. I started my taper with three weeks to go before the marathon. I ended up with my usual hypochondriac feelings the week before the race thinking every day I was taking ill, but I did not.

We headed out for the race on Friday. We stopped at our usual eating place in Effingham Illinois (Culvers). As we ate, Donna spotted my good friend Chuck Walter with his wife Tonya and son Ben. We laughed about the strangeness of meeting up in Effingham. Chuck was wrestling with a GPS he had purchased which default language was Greek. I tried to help but to no avail. They were heading for Wisconsin to attend a wedding. We finished lunch (and ice cream) and headed out for the remainder of the trip. We had no trouble finding the hotel (Hampton Inn Downtown Indianapolis). We checked in and I headed for the Expo Center to pick up Jonathan and my race packets (he wouldn’t be able to get there til later). Donna and I walked to the downtown mall and got dinner at Chick-Fil-A. Jonathan and Cheyenne arrived about 9:30 and I saw him before I went to bed.

I got up and felt OK except for a little soreness in my right hip which of course threw me into a panic. I had some Tylenol which seemed to help. I ate breakfast (toast, banana and yogurt) and Jonathan and Cheyenne met us and we headed for the starting line. The weather was overcast with temperatures in the low 40s with just a bit of wind. Those were perfect running conditions for me. Jonathan and wished each other luck and I kissed Donna and told her I’d see her at the finish line. I went to the bathroom one last time. I lined up with the five hour pace group. My goal time was 5:15 but I figured I’d stay with the five hour group for at least half the race then drop back to the 5:15 group if need be. The time for the race started and we headed off!

Things were packed at the start. The always present issue of walkers lining up in corrals they have no business in (corrals for runners) forced our group to have to wave in and out around them. Our pacer actually set a pace a bit faster than five hours but I held up fine. The guy doing the pacing was excellent. This was his 48th marathon. He told us he still got jitters before every race. The race broke off at about the seven mile marker with the half marathoners heading back with the rest of us going on out. True to their promises, the course was pretty flat. We kept our slightly faster than five hour pace up. We were able to even walk through the water stations and up the one real hill (at mile 16). We lost a few people from our group on the way but there were about four of us left when we reached the 18.6 mile mark. We were still three minutes ahead of the five hour pace. Our pacer cramped up at about the 22 mile mark and the couple of us that were left went on. I was still able to hold the pace I needed to finish in under five hours. He finally caught up to me at mile 24 and said he was ok. He told me he needed to finish right at five hours but that I should keep pushing to beat that pace. It was an amazing feeling to be able to keep running the last couple of miles and pass quite a few people. As I headed into the final stretch, I heard Donna’s voice call out and I saw her and that encouraged me for the last little bit. I was able to keep up the pace and I made it to the finish with a time of 4:56:47. That shattered my previous best by 35 minutes. I heard Jonathan’s voice calling to me. He’d finished in 3:13 which was easily a personal best for him as well.

I was able to grab some Gatorade and water and I sat down and rested for a few minutes and we headed back to our hotel. As I was getting ready to cross the street, I felt someone touch my arm. I looked and it was our pacer. I told him I had PRed and I thanked him profusely for his help in my getting that. He was genuinely happy for me. I rested at the hotel for a bit and kept up with Kentucky getting beat by Georgia (via my phone). Donna and I went out later to the mall and I got a pretzel and some chocolate chip cookies. Jonathan and I watched college football and then went to Jimmy Johns (for Donna and I) and Buffalo Wild Wings (for him) for food later that night. I went to bed still feeling great from my accomplishment. We had breakfast the next morning and checked out. We went to church at Stop 11 Road church of Christ (where my friend Charles Blair preaches). We then headed for home with Donna and stopping at a Culvers in Indianapolis for lunch and then the Culvers in Effingham for a snack. We made it back to Paducah in plenty of time for evening worship services at our home congregation (Central church of Christ).

The whole experience was excellent. We are planning to run this one again next year. My next planned race though will be the 2016 Iron Mom half marathon in May here in Paducah. Several of my cousins and my sister Melissa are planning on running it so we’ll have a mini family reunion that weekend. I have already made a note to sign up for the Indianapolis Marathon on January 1st though. It'll be tough for us to do better than this year, but that'll be our goal.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Spiritual Sword Lectureships

Donna and I have received the Spiritual Sword publication for more years than I can remember. It’s an excellent publication always full of good articles by sound teachers of the church of Christ. It is a publication of the Getwell church of Christ in Memphis Tennessee. I have visited that congregation many times over the years whenever my family is in Memphis. I always thoroughly enjoy our visits there and I can heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the Memphis area.

They have an annual lectureship that covers several days. They have been doing this for several decades. Donna and I finally were able to go there for the lectureship two years ago. We totally enjoyed it. We were both taught and edified by the excellent speakers there. We were pleasantly surprised to see our friends Keith and Kathy Anderson there when we arrived. We decided that would strive to attend this lectureship each year. Last year though, we were derailed in going by the unfortunate shutdown of the plant where I worked. That very week, I spent multiple long days working to finalize that. This year, with my now being retired, Donna and I had nothing to get in our way of going.

We left after worship services on Sunday. The trip to Memphis was totally uneventful and we arrived at our hotel (Poplar Avenue Hampton Inn) about 4. We like to stay in this area because it’s only about a ten minute drive to Getwell plus we don’t have to venture out on I-240 to travel there. We noticed across the street that the McDonalds offered two Big Macs or two Fillet O’Fish sandwiches (mix and match) for five dollars so we decided to have that for supper. I went across the street and ordered. Per my recent experiences, it took over ten minutes to get our food but at least it was good and inexpensive. We headed to Getwell for the Congregation Singing at 6:30pm. The theme of this year’s lectureships was “Great Bible Portraits of the New Testament”. We heard two lessons on Peter and Paul which were excellent. We went back to our hotel and went to bed.

We got up the next morning and had breakfast and headed out for a full day of lessons. We saw eight speakers over the course of the day and they were all excellent. I even found some Krispy Kreme doughnuts between sessions. The Getwell congregation also provides and excellent lunch for the attendees. Donna and I enjoyed talking with the people who sat at our table. I did make the mistake of mentioning John Calipari though. As you are probably are aware, he is not thought of too highly in Memphis. Between the afternoon and evening sessions, we had a long enough gap to eat dinner with my brother Kevin and nephew Zach (who live in Memphis). We had a really good time with them.

Tuesday was another full day of lessons. Again, we really enjoyed them and had an excellent lunch. Randall Evans spoke on Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I’d had Randall in my teenage Bible class years ago. He did a great job but it sure makes me feel old to see him as an experienced Gospel preacher now. We also saw Ben Giselbach speak on Ananias and Sapphira. He’s spoken several times for us at Central and his brother Brett was our youth intern last summer. We grabbed dinner from Taco Bell and attended the evening sessions then came back to the hotel and went to bed.

We got up Wednesday and attended the morning sessions. We had decided to leave after lunch so we could be back home for Wednesday night services at Central. Donna and I went around to say goodbye to several people we had befriended over the past several days. I gave our phone number and address to a young man who had made the excellent food all week and was also a Cardinals fan. He said his wife and he occasionally made it up to the Western Kentucky area and would look us up the next time they were up this way.

I would heartily recommend this lectureship. We learned quite a lot over the week as well as being edified both by the lessons and spending time with fellow Christians.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pizza Hut and War Eagles

Ever since the UK football schedule was released, the big game everyone pointed to was with Auburn. It would be the first ESPN Thursday night game at Commonwealth Stadium ever. Auburn was ranked in the top ten at the year’s beginning, but lost a couple of games and seemed beatable by Kentucky. Jonathan had invited me to come over and watch the game at his apartment. I had hoped I would be at game 5 of the NLDS that evening but alas the Cubs ruined that plan for me. So, we made arrangements for Donna and I to go over there. I had seen a deal where you could get two pizzas at Pizza Hut for 6.99 plus get a large chocolate chip cookie for 5.99. So, we decided to go for that. I got online and set up the order to pick up on the way to his apartment.

I got there early but within a few minutes, I had the pizzas. We got to Jonathan’s and prepared to eat. The first issue I noticed is you couldn’t really tell the pizzas apart. I had ordered one Meat Lovers (my Pizza Hut favorite) and one with beef and bacon. I am used to the Meat Lover’s being so full of toppings that you couldn’t see the cheese or crust. This wasn’t the case. I had to look for the pepperoni to tell the difference. The beef and bacon was all beef and no bacon. The pizzas were OK, but not up the usual quality I’m used to there. I’d read that Pizza Hut had made changes to their pizzas but if that’s the case, they are a disappointment in my mind. The chocolate chip pizza was pretty bland – not too sweet at all. I probably won’t go back.

The game proved to be equally disappointing. Auburn gashed KY’s defense and jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Kentucky tied the game, then Auburn scored again. KY looked to be driving for a game tying touchdown but Patrick Towles threw an interception in the end zone. Auburn kicked two field goals and KY got one. With the score 20-10 and the half winding down, KY punted. Auburn drove into KY territory and narrowly missed a TD pass. They managed a long field goal on the last play of the half to make the score 23-10.

The second half was a bit better. KY got the score to 23-20. Auburn scored with about eight minutes to go in the game to make it 30-20 and things looked bleak. UK got a touchdown though and forced Auburn to punt with about 2 minutes to go but they were out of timeouts. They drove the ball to the Auburn 45 and had a 2nd and five. Unbelievably, they ran the ball and got two yards as the clock continued to move. Then, they tried a long incomplete pass and finally on 4th down and 3, got sacked – all the while Jonathan and I were yelling at the TV and the bizarre offensive play calls. Auburn ran out the clock and that was that.

You’d think about 40 years of these type games, I’d get used to this kind of thing. But, I guess I haven’t.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


I’ve known since I’ve started working at Martin Marietta in 1984 what the magical formula for being able to retire with a full pension was. It was when your age and company service added up to 85. So, my earliest retirement date would be August of 2015. That seemed a long way off for a young 22 year old computer programmer who didn’t even have a steady girlfriend at the time. But as life has a way of doing, time marched on. I ended up with a steady girlfriend who ultimately became my lovely wonderful wife. We had two wonderful sons who graduated high school and college and ended up with really good jobs (and consequently left us with an empty nest). Our plant went through several shutdown scares and finally in October of last year, shut down for good. A few of us retained our jobs. I had a really good arrangement. I was allowed to work from home several days a week plus actually work in a real office area where I could come and go as I pleased. I honestly planned on working at least through 2016. But the job started getting more and more stressful. As a lot of companies seem to do, there was the expectation of the same amount of work to be produced by a diminishing staff. I actually ended up doing quite a bit of work on two vacations in Wisconsin. I had to spend more and more time working from the office instead of home. The final straw was getting home after a particularly rough day and finding my blood pressure was 148 over 95! Right after I checked it, I get a call asking me to drop everything and take care of an issue. I became concerned that my health was going to get worse and worse.

So, I sat down with Donna and we talked about my going ahead and retiring. She finally convinced there was no reason to stay. Our pension had been frozen several years ago, so I would not get any bigger pension by staying longer. The only possible pro was that I could withdraw from my 401k if need be penalty free if I waited til 2016 to leave. We only planned on doing that in a real crisis. We had the pension plus a good amount of other savings/investments – we’ve been following the Dave Ramsey plan and we’d been out of debt for years. I prayed about it for several days and made the decision to leave at the end of September and let my management know. Just about everyone seemed to understand my reasoning for leaving. I worked on knowledge transfer with the people who’d be taking over my work. I spent a LOT of time on the phone with our benefits service center. I found out there is a TON of paperwork you have to fill out to retire. In additional to getting my pension distribution set up, I had apply to get my pre-65 retiree health, vision, and dental plans – our company is very generous in providing these for us. After some back and forth and a lot of help from our Centrus Energy Benefits person, I got that done. There are also a good amount of things that have to be done before you leave the company (items that have to be confirmed and checked off). My co-workers had cake and ice-cream for me one day (a very nice gesture) and Donna and Cheyenne came to my office for that.

The day finally came and once I got the final paperwork filled out, I was ready to go. I said goodbye to everyone there. There were several people I’d known there for over 30 years. I would especially miss my fellow network admins Bill Griffin and Skip Hancock. I finally walked out the door and got in my car and left I called Donna to happily tell her “I am retired!”. It was a strange feeling. It’s still a strange feeling; it’s finally sinking in that I don’t have to go to work each morning. I still look at my cell phone or think I should go check my work email and then realize that I don’t have to do that anymore. A couple of days later we went to Longhorn Steakhouse and Krispy Kreme in Clarksville to celebrate.

The question I get the most is “What are you going to do now?”. I had a couple of work offers but I really didn’t want to jump into working again unless I had to. I’d hoped to spend a lot of October in St Louis, but the Cubs messed that up for me. We’re going to the Spiritual Sword Lectureship in Memphis later this month. I’m running a marathon in November plus going to see UK play in Lexington. Donna and I and the boys and Cheyenne and Shelby plan to go to Miami and Fort Lauderdale at the end of November. I’m hoping to make a trip to Glendale Arizona in January for the NFL Playoffs. I have all sorts of places I’ve always wanted to go to – Hershey Pennsylvania, Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon. But, the thing I want to do the most is be more involved at church than I have been. I’ve already started doing that. I’ve also agreed to become part of our eldership. I’ve made the excuse for years that I didn’t have the time but that certainly isn’t the case anymore.

The other question I get now is “How is retirement?”. I tell people “Great, but you should ask Donna what she thinks” (with a smile on my face). I’ve asked her a couple of times and she says she loves doing more things with me and having me around more. I’ve said it before and will say it forever I suppose – she’s the most wonderful woman in the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I Left My Heart in Ballard County (31 years ago)

Tuesday September 15th is the 31st anniversary of a day that set my life (happily) on a drastic change.

I was a fledgling programmer at what was called Martin Marietta then (now Centrus Energy) and living in an apartment in Forest Hills. I had gone over to my buddy Jeff Lawrence's trailer (known to this area as Dr. Jeff on WKYQ). He asked if I had plans for the next evening. I said no thinking we were going to have one of our regular marathon Trivial Pursuit matches. He says "Well, you've got a date". I was aghast. "I've set you up with someone I work with at Trader's Mart" (Trader's Mart is a long defunct want-ad kind of paper). He told me I had to go because I wouldn't be allowed to hang out at his place the next night so I reluctantly agreed.

The next day, I went with my friends Keith "Corky" Johnson and Jim Hill to Massac State Park. I sat on the bank of the Ohio River looking and thinking "What kind of idiot goes out with a girl he's never seen before?".

The hour approached and I headed out to meet her at Trader's Mart in my 1983 Trans-Am. All I knew is her name was Donna Woods and she'd be in a black Olds Cutlass.

I got there and the car was there. I watched the door open with apprehension. Out stepped the most beautiful brown haired brown-eyed girl I'd ever seen. I almost couldn't speak. I finally said "I'm Stuart, do you want to see my driver's license to prove it?". She actually laughed at my bad joke.

She wanted to go to McDonalds and eat so we did. She had a quarter pounder with cheese and I had a Big Mac. I saw some guys I knew and I think they were in shock when they saw me out with this beautiful girl.

She wanted to see Grandview USA at the Paducah Drive-In. I was glad to go there since I worked there for years each summer until I started working full-time at Martin Marietta. My boss Richard Phillips was at the ticket booth. I guess he was so shocked to see with such a pretty date that he let us in free. He also told me to go to the concession stand and get free drinks and popcorn. Donna told me later how impressed she was when I brought out drinks and a large brown bag full of buttered popcorn.

The whole date cost 5.00 (including gasoline). She even shared my frugality beliefs! I was enthralled...

The night went great and she even agreed to see me again.

The next morning as I was getting ready to go to church, my phone rang. The caller introduced himself as the "Ballard County Sheriff" and he needed to talk to me about an incident last night. The girl I had gone out with was from Ballard County. My main experiences with Ballard County were to go to the "Game Preserve" (as my Uncle James called it) to camp with my family and a visit to the "Green Palace" (which was really really Green) to watch Lone Oak play in a district basketball tournament. I remember all the kids there blew duck calls the whole game. Anyway, I thought "Oh man, she didn't make it home and now I am the last one to see her and the main suspect". It turned out that they had picked up a couple of guys I know as they came off the Wickliffe bridge and they wanted me to vouch for their identities.

For reasons I'll never understand, she kept going out with me. We've been married 29 years. She still laughs at my bad jokes. I've worked at "Martin Marietta" for over 30 years. We drove that black Olds Cutlass til it wouldn't run any more. I've lived in Ballard County for 27 years now. I still order a Big Mac when I go to McDonalds. And I couldn't be happier....

Monday, September 14, 2015

I Left My Heart in Ballard County (31 years ago)

Tuesday September 15th is the 31st anniversary of a day that set my life (happily) on a drastic change.

I was a fledgling programmer at what was called Martin Marietta then (now Centrus Energy) and living in an apartment in Forest Hills. I had gone over to my buddy Jeff Lawrence's trailer (known to this area as Dr. Jeff on WKYQ). He asked if I had plans for the next evening. I said no thinking we were going to have one of our regular marathon Trivial Pursuit matches. He says "Well, you've got a date". I was aghast. "I've set you up with someone I work with at Trader's Mart" (Trader's Mart is a long defunct want-ad kind of paper). He told me I had to go because I wouldn't be allowed to hang out at his place the next night so I reluctantly agreed.

The next day, I went with my friends Keith "Corky" Johnson and Jim Hill to Massac State Park. I sat on the bank of the Ohio River looking and thinking "What kind of idiot goes out with a girl he's never seen before?".

The hour approached and I headed out to meet her at Trader's Mart in my 1983 Trans-Am. All I knew is her name was Donna Woods and she'd be in a black Olds Cutlass.

I got there and the car was there. I watched the door open with apprehension. Out stepped the most beautiful brown haired brown-eyed girl I'd ever seen. I almost couldn't speak. I finally said "I'm Stuart, do you want to see my driver's license to prove it?". She actually laughed at my bad joke.

She wanted to go to McDonalds and eat so we did. She had a quarter pounder with cheese and I had a Big Mac. I saw some guys I knew and I think they were in shock when they saw me out with this beautiful girl.

She wanted to see Grandview USA at the Paducah Drive-In. I was glad to go there since I worked there for years each summer until I started working full-time at Martin Marietta. My boss Richard Phillips was at the ticket booth. I guess he was so shocked to see with such a pretty date that he let us in free. He also told me to go to the concession stand and get free drinks and popcorn. Donna told me later how impressed she was when I brought out drinks and a large brown bag full of buttered popcorn.

The whole date cost 5.00 (including gasoline). She even shared my frugality beliefs! I was enthralled...

The night went great and she even agreed to see me again.

The next morning as I was getting ready to go to church, my phone rang. The caller introduced himself as the "Ballard County Sheriff" and he needed to talk to me about an incident last night. The girl I had gone out with was from Ballard County. My main experiences with Ballard County were to go to the "Game Preserve" (as my Uncle James called it) to camp with my family and a visit to the "Green Palace" (which was really really Green) to watch Lone Oak play in a district basketball tournament. I remember all the kids there blew duck calls the whole game. Anyway, I thought "Oh man, she didn't make it home and now I am the last one to see her and the main suspect". It turned out that they had picked up a couple of guys I know as they came off the Wickliffe bridge and they wanted me to vouch for their identities.

For reasons I'll never understand, she kept going out with me. We've been married 29 years. She still laughs at my bad jokes. I've worked at "Martin Marietta" for over 30 years. We drove that black Olds Cutlass til it wouldn't run any more. I've lived in Ballard County for 27 years now. I still order a Big Mac when I go to McDonalds. And I couldn't be happier....

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Grayson County

There are a lot of counties in Kentucky – 120 to be exact. I’ve been through quite a few of them and some of them hold special meaning and some them are just little more than green signs you see when you pass them on a drive. Grayson County used to be one of the latter. I would pass through it back in my UK student days. The only two things about it that I remembered was the most expensive toll of the Western Kentucky Parkway was at Leitchfield (1.00!) and that there was an unattended toll booth at the end of the exit to Caneyville that required exact change. Later when the tolls were removed, the Leitchfield exit was the one I thought had the best restaurants on the whole Parkway. Plus, the convenience mart containing the Taco Bell there had Donna’s favorite gum – Super Bubble. Over the last several years, Grayson County has come to mean a lot more to me.

During Josh’s last year and a half at UK, he moved to a new apartment off of Richmond Road. He acquired a new roommate – Bryant Clemons. I had met Bryant before when Josh preached a lesson at the Nicholasville church of Christ. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to Red Robin for lunch. I met him and he told me that Josh’s words were “pearls of wisdom dripping from his lips”. This of course made me laugh out loud. We were glad they were roommates. I knew Bryant was a Christian but as we got to know him we found out that he was a fine young man as well. He also had to be a patient person to survive rooming with Josh. He went out to eat with us often when we came to visit Josh because we felt we owed him for putting up with Josh (ha..). We even played a little basketball and tennis together. But alas, young men grow up and go their separate ways and Josh left to live and work in Wisconsin.

Early in the year we found out that Bryant would be getting married. We really wanted to attend, we considered him one of several surrogate sons we had that lived in Lexington. Bryant and his fiancee’ Rachel sent us an invitation so we were glad to be able to go. We went up on the appointed day and had little trouble getting there. There was a good amount of road construction in the West Kentucky Parkway but we made it to Leitchfield fine. We did run into a roundabout on the way to where they’d be married. Wisconsin is full of roundabouts and they always confuse me and make me think of Chevy Chase in “European Vacation”. We ended up being in the wrong lane and got off a street to early but finally made it to our destination.

As well pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by another of Josh’s friends from Lexington – Kevin “Kev-man” Young and his fiancee Erika. We went inside and got to see Josh looking quite dapper plus Bryant came out and talked with us as well. We got to see our friend Brandon Rader from North Lexington church of Christ. Brandon and his wife Sabrina pretty much are surrogate parents to the college kids that attend North Lexington church of Christ. We were so thankful Josh had them in his life there. Brandon would be performing the wedding service. He did a fabulous job keeping things lighthearted but also stressing the importance of God in a marriage and what the Bible said God intended marriage to be. Everything went great and Bryant and Rachel were officially married. We then headed to “Centre on Main”.

We got there and sat at a table with Kev-Man and Erika, Brandon, his wife Sabrina and daughter Anna and Josh and Shelby. The buffet meal was excellent. Rachel and her dad had a father daughter dance which evolved into what I can only describe as a medley of different dance routines. Then Bryant was called up to stand with his father and new father in law as they were decked out in overalls and beards and singing “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”. It was quite entertaining. In fact, it was one of the most entertaining wedding evenings I’ve ever had. We had quite the enjoyable time at our table talking with our old friends. I finally got to meet Bryant’s mom and later his dad. His dad and I talked for quite some time and even discussed those old Grayson County toll exits. I could have talked for even longer with him but the evening was wrapping up and we had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us. The only remotely non-good thing of the evening was when I committed the faux pas of visiting the desert table before the bride and groom had cut the cake. We stopped to congratulate the happy newlyweds and the new Mrs. Rachel Clemons even told me to take all the cookies I could hold with me for the trip home.

I can tell you now when I drive through Grayson County, it’ll be with a smile on my face thinking of all the wonderful memories I associate with it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Coming Home from The Land Down Under

Sorry for the delay in this last post. I’ve been on a “Facebook Fast” for the past week. And if you think you know why, unless you’ve heard it from me – you are probably mistaken in your surmise of why. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

As the old saying goes “All good things must come to an end”, so we finally had to come home from our trip. We got up at 4:30 am to head home since we’d been told to arrive at the airport 3 hours before our flight was to depart. We met Josh’s co-worker Owen in front of our hotel. Our plan was to try and catch a cab from there and if we couldn’t try to get an Uber. Within a minute a cab drove by and we hailed it for our trip. We actually go to the airport a little more than three hours early. We found out though that international check in didn’t actually open til precisely 3 hours before our flight (which must have been the first one of the day). We checked our baggage and headed for security. We made it through security with little pain. My passport was looked at several times. Finally we reached what I thought was the last found where they reviewed my electronic visa. The guy looking online said there was an issue. I couldn’t figure out what it could be, I had gotten into Australia with no problem. Turned out when I applied for my electronic visa – I had put my full name in my Family Name and my first and last name in Given Name. Turns out you should put your last name in Family Name and first name in Given Names. So, I was shuffled off to a separate counter where another official looked over my info and finally let me through. We headed to our gate and sat down to wait for our flight.

I gave Donna a call to let her know all was well. I then got up and went to look for something to eat. I went light and only got a doughnut and a Pepsi Max. I worked a bit and rested a bit. We boarded the plane with little difficulty and then things started to go south as we say. Even though it was morning, they served a dinner of chicken teriyaki with ice cream for dessert. I know I should have known better from our trip down, but I ate it. Within an hour, my stomach felt bloated. I tried to sleep on the way back but it was very difficult. They served breakfast later and Josh said he knew something was wrong with me since I had fruit and yogurt. Somehow, I survived the trip and we made it to the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). Once you get to the US, you have to go through customs and immigration again. You have to pick up your checked baggage. You then take the card you filled out on the way there and go to a kiosk and input your info and have your passport scanned. You drop off your checked baggage at the proper place and then pass through one more security checkpoint. We exited the International Terminal to head to the United terminal. Theoretically, you should be able to shuttle there. We waited about twenty minutes and saw every shuttle imaginable except the intra airport one. We finally just gave up and walked. It was a nice little walk since it was on the opposite end of the airport. We got to security only to find that with construction there was a line that stretched out on what felt like a temporary catwalk up in the air. We finally got through and looked forward to heading to the United Club.

We headed into the first club we reached. Josh had a one time pass his company had given him. He gave it to the woman at the desk and started to head through. I mentioned that I wanted to buy a one time pass (like I had at O’Hare). She then said “Oh, we are not selling one time passes because of construction”. I was dumbfounded. I mentioned that my son had just used his one time pass and we’d now be separated for almost four hours. She just simply shrugged her shoulders and said “I can’t do anything to help you!”. So, I just told Josh to go ahead into the Club and I’d meet him at the gate later. I walked to the gate and sat down to wallow in my pity. I worked a bit on my laptop when a woman walked by in a Cardinal jacket. I remarked that it was nice to see another Cardinal fan in LA (showing her my Cardinal jacket). She said “I’m the mother of one of the Cardinal players”. I asked which one and she said “Randal Grichuk”. Randal is a young player for the Cardinals that they acquired from the Angels before the 2014 season. He looks like a good young prospect. I told her I thought he’d be a good player for the Cardinals if he got enough playing time. She said her and her husband were in town to watch him play against the Dodgers. I remarked that she must be very proud of him and she told me she was. She then went to sit with her husband. Later, they lined up to wait to board their flight right in front of me. I met Mr. Grichuk and told him I was glad his son had gotten the only hit off Clayton Kershaw the day before to keep the Cardinals from being no-hit. He remarked how tough Kershaw was and I mentioned I’d just settle for us continuing to beat him in the playoffs (which he laughed at). I told him I thought his son was a good player but he (like most dads would say) said “He needs to hit more consistently”. They got on their plane and I must have ended up falling asleep because Josh finally surprised me by showing up at the gate. We got on the plane and headed for O’Hare. My stomach still felt horrible. I even took the precaution of pulling out the air sickness bag just in case. I made it OK though.

Once we got to O’Hare, we found Owen still there. It turned out his flight to Madison had been cancelled. There was a huge line of thunderstorms south of the airport. The issue was that a lot of flights couldn’t get in to O’hare to then head to other destinations. Josh went to get something to eat. They have a lot of great places to eat at the O’Hare Airport but I still felt too unsettled to take a chance. Josh brought me a banana which was perfect. He then found out his flight to Madison was delayed because the plane couldn’t get there. It kept being later and later. He finally decided to just to ride home with Owen (his wife was coming to get him). I told him I’d be fine there and to head on out. I finally got the idea to go to a store in the airport to see that I could find for my stomach. I finally found some Gas-X pills for an outrageous price (10 pills for 10.00). I took a couple of those and that seemed to fix my issue. I kept checking my flight to Paducah and it was still showing at leaving on time (the plane was already at O’Hare). I scoped out some hotels close to O’Hare just in case I needed one. We left on time though. The pilot ended up having to fly east all the way to Dayton Ohio to get around the line of storms. We didn’t get back until midnight (an hour late), but I was just glad to get home that night. I personally thanked him when we were exiting the plane for getting me home. My lovely wife was waiting to pick me up – I’d missed her so much. I got my baggage when it came out and we headed for home. I crashed until 9:00am the next day.

The amazing thing was I actually lost weight on the trip. That has never happened to me in my adult life. I spent the next few days getting my sleep pattern regulated but it really wasn’t that bad. Would I ever go back? Yes, armed with new knowledge (bring my own food on the plane with some Gas-x tablets and know how to fill out my Visa application correctly). Even with the plane issues, I still had a lot of fun with Josh and it’s one of those unforgettable experiences I’ll remember my whole life.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Part 7 - The Land Down Under

I forgot to mention that after we went to the aquarium, I had to see a street called Batman Avenue. However, it’s not named for who you think it is. It’s named for a man named John Batman. Why is he a big deal? He founded the settlement on the Yarra River that eventually became Melbourne. He’d be the equivalent of Chief Paduke around here.

We decided to head to the Melbourne Zoo after we’d rested a bit. We were supposed to meet the two co-workers of Josh’s for dinner, so we decided to take the tram (what I’d call a streetcar) to the zoo instead of walking. Melbourne has a pretty extensive tram system. You use a card that you tap as you get on the tram and when you get off. It’s pretty much the honor system though. One of Josh’s co-workers who had left had given Josh his car (they used the tram to go to the hospital to work a few times). There is a “Free Zone” that covers part of the city. However, the zoo was outside of that. You pay based on travel between zones. It cost something like 5.00 American for a roundtrip (the zoo is about 1.25 miles about or 2 kilometers as I’ve learned by now) so I wouldn’t call it inexpensive. Anyway, we got to the zoo with no problem on the tram.

It was quite a large zoo. We however ran into the same issue we had at the aquarium. There were a ton of families with young children there. We managed to out run the crowd on the path finally. It was your basic zoo with elephants, giraffes and zebras. The zoo is well-known for its gorilla exhibit. However, when we got to the exhibit, there was a sign up saying “The Gorillas need downtime from visitors”. I’ve never seen that before. Near the end of our visit, we made it to the exhibit that had the “Little Penguins”. So, I was actually able to take a few pictures of them. We saw most of the zoo and hustled back on the tram to meet Josh’s co-workers. They had been told to go to a Spanish restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out it did not open for another hour. So, we set off to look for somewhere else to eat dinner. We found a place called “Queen Street Rescue”. I remembered reading about that restaurant online. They had several Australian dishes. I ended up going with Fish & Chips again and found these were much better when what I’d gotten before. Once we finished eating, we took off for our final destination.

Several of the people at the Melbourne Children’s hospital had recommended we go to an Australian Football game. I knew nothing about the sport except vaguely remembering it being shown during the NFL strike in the 90s. The teams to play would be the Essedon Bombers versus the Geelong Cats. Essedon is part of Melbourne so they were the home team in Ethiad Stadium. We’d seen people all day in their colors (Black and Red). They were sporting what I thought were some spiffy looking black and red scarves. So, we walked on over to the stadium. It was a domed stadium that seated about 35 or 40 thousand people. One of Josh’s workers picked up the tickets at will call and we went in. Our seats were about midway up toward one end of the stadium. I had read a little about the game. You score by kicking the ball. It looks like a rounder thicker football. There are two sets of goal posts at each end of the stadium. If you kick it between the two closest ones, you get six points. Kicking between the others is one point. There is a line marked with a 50 that I found was 50 meters from the goal posts that would come into play. I figured I’d root for the Bombers (for obvious reasons).

The referee started the game by bouncing the ball between two players like a jump ball in basketball. You can either run the ball (you have to bounce it every so often), pass the ball (you cannot just throw it, you have to punch it with your fist) or most often, kick the ball. If you kick the ball from outside the 50 meter line to a player inside the 50 meter line and it goes over 14 meters and they catch it, he can get a free kick at the goalposts. He can also elect to “play on”. You can also make a kick at the goalposts during live play. I will throw out at this point that I still don’t totally understand all the rules so I may have some of these wrong. Anyway, Essedon got 4 free kicks but only scored one point each. Then Geelong turned it on. They were up 19 to 5 at the end of the first quarter. The halftime score was 59 to 6! Essedon didn’t score a six point goal in the first half. I found out that this was the first time that this had happened to them since 1984. Their red and black clad fans booed them as they left the field at half time. They played better in the 2nd half but still lost 122-53. Josh told me when we got back to the States that the people at hospital apologized to him for sending us to such a non-completive game. I wasn’t upset, I found it quite interesting.

I went out at one point to get some food. I ended up getting a drink and some candy bars. The concession stand was totally different than I was used to. All the food was out cafeteria style. You picked it up and took it threw a line to a cashier and paid for it. On my second trip, I got my staple from home – a hot dog. It was one of the worst I’d ever had. It wasn’t cooked well and the bun wasn’t steamed well. I didn’t even finish it. I did find the fans while cheering strongly for their teams were not nearly as obnoxious to each other as NFL fans usually are. We stayed for the whole game then walked back to our hotel. We loaded up our suitcases to be ready to depart for home the next day.

In my next post, I’ll relate about our trip back home. It was not uneventful….

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Part 6 - The Land Down Under

So after we had visited the farm, we headed to our next stop which was the Koala Sanctuary. You were able to walk around and see koalas in their natural habitat. Josh and I took the long path around the park. We saw a lot of wallaby’s around us. We saw six or so koalas in trees sleeping. We found out they sleep somewhere around 20 hours a day. I would have to say this way the least impressive part of our tour. Our guide then took us around the island and we were able to see some spectacular coastline views of Phillip Island. After that, we headed for what is called the penguin walk. There is a species of penguin called the Little Penguins. They are small penguins with a bluish coloring. They come up out of the ocean at dusk to the beach and then waddle overland to their burrows. There are rows of seats set up at beach so you can see them come up out of the water. There are boardwalks you can stand on and watch the Little Penguins walk across land to their burrows. One of the rules the rangers reminded us of several times was that no photography was allowed. The flash scares the penguins. Literally seconds after the words were out of their mouths, I saw a bright flash behind me. The ranger came over to again remind that group that photos were not allowed.

We waited eagerly and finally the penguins started to come out of the water. We watched several groups come up and then went to the boardwalk to watch them walk on the land. Josh staked out a great spot right over a ditch and we waited. Our patience was rewarded as we saw multiple groups come right under us and go into burrows. People still ignored the rangers request not to take pictures. They had to threaten to take one man’s camera away from him. Josh finally went to the visitor center to get something to eat. I stayed and watched a few more penguins go by. I then started walking up the visitor center. ON the path to my left, I saw many more of the Little Penguins walking to their burrows. We gathered together and got on our bus and left (after our guide looked underneath for any stray penguins). It was about an hour and half trip. We stopped at what I would call a rest stop back home. It had a McDonalds in it, but I didn’t get anything. We finally got back close to ten to our hotel and went to sleep.

We got up for our last full day in Melbourne. We ran a few miles on the treadmill at our hotel and then headed out for breakfast. I had read good reviews about a place called the Pancake Parlor. We walked to the shopping center where it was supposed to be. It took a bit of searching and we finally found it. They offered pancakes with ice cream on them, so Josh ordered that. I couldn’t bring myself to order pancakes with ice cream for breakfast (despite Josh chiding me saying that I might as well be at the IHOP). My pancakes were excellent. We left and headed out for the aquarium. We got there and found we had a fatal error. It was a Saturday and not only that, it was a three day weekend (the Monday was the Queen’s Birthday). So, there were a lot of parents with kids especially kids in strollers. We finally managed to get around a large group of these. There were some very neat exhibits there. You could go through a huge glass tube and watch large manta rays glide right over you. We finally got to a crocodile that was monstrous; it was fully 15 feet long and quite imposing. We finally reached the penguin exhibit. They had a large exhibit of the penguins I am more used to seeing. It was funny to watch them move around. A woman was trying to feed one fish. It was funny to watch one penguin in particular nip her on the arm, legs and even rear end trying to get a fish. You could also watch the penguins swim. I did not realize how fast they can dart around in the water. The aquarium had some neat exhibits, but I don’t know that it was worth what we paid for it (35 American each).

Afterwards, we walked to Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar so I could get another 80s milkshake and Josh could get one as well since he missed getting one with me a couple of nights earlier. He pronounced the milkshake excellent just as I had. We walked back to our hotel to rest a bit before heading out for our afternoon and evening activities. In my next post, I’ll let you know how sports fans are in Australia and how they compare to Americans.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Part 5 - The Land Down Under

We got up the next morning and decided we needed to take an outdoor run since we had not done that the whole time we’d been on our trip. The bus wasn’t going to pick us up til 9:40 so we headed out. We ran to the actual harbor and saw the beach and several large ships anchored there. We walked out on the pier and then turned around and came back so we ended up with about a six mile run out of it.

We had enough time to grab breakfast beforehand. I found a place close to our hotel called Krimper which had high rankings on Yelp so we headed there. We had a little trouble finding it and finally realized it was behind what looked like a set of warehouse doors. Josh ordered almond French toast and I went with my staple of bacon and eggs. My ears perked up when the server asked what I wanted with my toast. One of my options was “Vegemite”. Josh had been looking for that all trip since he wanted me to try it. He kept telling me (with a sly grin) that I just had to try it. We didn’t want to buy a whole jar so I hadn’t had any yet. This was my chance. I had heard of Vegemite for years in the Men at Work son “Down Under”. When I got my food, I spread a little bit on toast and took a bite. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It was awful and I presume it must be an acquired taste. We left there and stopped at what I’d call a convenience store. Interestingly enough it had (like many of them do in Melbourne) the brand of IGA. IGA to me is a supermarket but not in Melbourne at least. We got to our hotel and prepared to wait for our tour bus. It arrived about five minutes late but we got on and headed out for our tour.

Our driver/guide was named Peter. He asked us all to introduce ourselves. When I said my name and that I was from the US, he told me I had “a ripper of an accent and he loved it”. I laughed about that considering I thought he had a really good one. We took off for our first destination which was the Moonlit Sanctuary. There would be numerous animals native to Australia there. We got there and Peter stopped me trying to apologize about the accent comment. I laughed and said it didn’t bother me at all and told him I felt the same way about his accent. I found out while it was free to enter; you could pay to do various things. We chose to pose with a Koala and then each bought a bag of kangaroo food. We headed out and stopped by the dingo pen to look at them and then lined up at the Koala pen. A young lady came out to tell us about Koalas. She said that the one thing you should not do is touch them on the head. Their eyes are very small and it frightens them when they are touched on the head. We were free to touch them on the back though. Josh and I took our turn touching a koala and each taking a picture of the other. That was pretty neat. The next stop would be the wallaby and kangaroo trail. This was supposedly the place where we would feed them. I was skeptical (as I often am). We saw a wallaby in the woods and it wouldn’t come to us so I grew more skeptical. However, that all changed as I rounded the curve. There were several kangaroos and they bounded right up to us and ate out of our hand! We fed them for a while and then went on to the next curve and there were more! I would say we easily feed 20 to 25 each. Josh we as excited as I’d seen him since he was little. He pronounced this “the best part of the trip”. We used up all of our food and looked at the wombat, emu and several birds. Then, our lunch was ready. We had snags (grilled sausages) with salad and potato salad. They were excellent. We went back out and Josh petted the dingoes and we walked around until it was time to go. We loaded up and headed for our next destination.

Peter told us various things as he drove along about the country. For example, he talked about Keith Urban. I had always though he was from Australia. Peter let us know that Keith Urban was actually born in New Zealand moved to Australia when he was two. We got to our next stop which was Churchill Island. There was a huge farm on the island called Heritage Farm. The island had been farmed since 1872. When we got there, we were offered tea and biscuits (cookies) by our guide. I had to steep my own tea something which I don’t remember ever doing in my life – I’m used to being an iced tea drinker. By the way, I never saw a single place in Australia that offered iced tea. We got to see a sheep shearing (and feel the fleece with its lanlolin), a demonstration of whip cracking and watch a dog round up sheep. We also got to walk around the far and enjoy its wonderful views. We really enjoyed this as well.

We were only halfway done with our tour, but I’ll leave the rest for my next post. We’ll find out that even in Australia, people often won’t listen and do what they are told.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Part 4 - The Land Down Under

The next morning Josh and I slept in since he didn’t have to go to work. We breakfasted on leftover Krispy Kreme plus leftover desserts he’d gotten from working at the hospital. We checked out of our hotel and walked down the street to the hotel we’d be staying at. Amazingly enough, we could check in even though it was in the morning. We had a one room suite that had a kitchenette and even a washer that doubled as dryer. Once we got settled, Josh and walked down to the Victorian Market. Josh was impressed especially with all the butchers. I got him a sausage roll which he agreed was excellent. We planned to meet his co-workers for lunch so we rested for a bit and then headed out.

We met them at a place called Grill’d that had very good grilled hamburgers. After that, we headed south across the Yarre River and went to the National Gallery of Victoria. We’d seen it the night before and it was free to enter, so we decided to see it. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an art person. They had a huge amount of art from various countries (Asia and Europe). The bizarre thing was they had no art at all from Australian which we would have been interested to see. My favorite painting was one of St George and the Dragon. The top floor had a “modern” art display about television. I walked around one corner and saw such a shocking display that I immediately exited. I then saw a sign saying “Some of the exhibits may contain offensive material”. They certainly did. There was an exhibit of TV remotes from around the world. It led me to my familiar recourse of “This is art?”. When we left, Josh and I agreed that we were really playing a game of chicken. Had one of us just admitted we didn’t really like what we were doing, we would have just left. I think I would have been upset if I actually had to pay to get in.

When we got back to our hotel, I watched several game shows I’d started watching while there. There was an Australian version of “Deal or No Deal”. My favorite was a show called “Eggheads”. Each day a team would try to take on a team of “Eggheads” and try to win a cash prize. There would be multiple one on one battles with questions from a topic. The loser would be stricken from their team for the final round where there was one more round of questions to determine the winner. The Eggheads won every time. The show succeeded in putting Josh to sleep. He didn’t want to get up so I struck out to find some dinner. I ended up at a place called Mad Mex that appeared to be something like a Qdoba or Chipolte. It was OK but not nearly as good as those. Right down the walkway was a place called Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar. They had all sort of chocolate drinks and desserts. I ended up getting what was called a 80s milkshake. This was a chocolate milkshake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream crowned with hardened chocolate coating. It was fabulous. I got back to the hotel and found Josh had foraged out for a pizza. He couldn’t find me when we went out so he was slightly miffed that I had gotten the chocolate milkshake without him.

We talked about our upcoming day. I had signed us up for an all day tour of various attractions that we hoped would be very entertaining. I’ll give you the details in my next post including the part Josh said “was the best part of the trip”