The Bucket List

There are things that I want to do in life that I think about from time to time, and occasionally I will do one of these things, like write a blog, but oftentimes these things will be forgotten and remain undone because I don’t have a list, but all of that is about to change. That’s right, I’m making  a bucket list, so I will have a documented account of everything that I want to do before I die and can cross things off as I do them, a visual record that I can reference to prove to myself that I’m actually making progress on accomplishing the things that I want to in life. So even if it feels like I’m wasting my life, that I’m not doing anything of significance or importance, at least I’ll have the list to prove otherwise. I can carry it around with me and shove it in the face of all my doubters, shouting, “See, I am doing something with my life!” While that might seem pathetic, having a meltdown in public is actually on the bucket list, so what do you have to say about me and my awesome list now?

So aside from having a public meltdown, which I know, sounds glamorous, there are some other things that I’ve dreamed about doing for a long time that finally have a home on my bucket list, like swimming with sharks. It would be so cool to be out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by one of the fiercest creatures in the ocean and have been the driving inspiration behind countless nautically themed movies. Perhaps, although there is a place for this invigoratingly risky activity on the list, admittedly it should probably be penciled in at the very bottom, because it will likely be the last thing that I ever do. That’s just planning ahead.

I’ve always loved travel, and I love food, so it only makes sense that I would combine the two for the ultimate bucket list item. I want to take a road trip through all forty-nine states, Hawaii the lone exclusion since you can’t drive there, and stop at a gas station in each state and eat a hot dog. I’ve only ever eaten one gas station hot dog in my life, and that was in Florida, and not only was it one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten, but it made me very sick, so naturally I’d want to repeat the experience forty-nine times over on a road trip. I just think it would be a great way to see the country and a fun study to write about the nastiest hot dog in the country. The good thing about eating a gas station hot dog is you know you are near a gas station bathroom in case you get sick, and we all know how notoriously clean those public restrooms are.

Those are only a couple of items on the bucket list, but it is far from finished. I’ll be sure to continue sharing my hopes and dreams with you from time to time here on the blog and any progress I make on the crossing those things off the list. If you have a bucket list or have done something that completely changed your life that you think I should try, unless it’s something dumb like having a positive attitude, feel free to share your experiences. I’m definitely open to expanding my bucket list.

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Orange Beach, AL

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Wake up at six in the morning, load up the car, then got on the road a few minutes later. Once I’m out of the city I roll down the windows and let the summer air blow through my hair, the feeling good against my semi-balding scalp while I have the music turned up way too loud. Although it’s early, the world is bathed in the soft glow of the morning sunlight. I’m happy; everything is perfect. I’m leaving behind all my responsibilities, all my worries and cares, there’s a smile on my face, and it’s likely to stay tattooed there for the next week. There is so much possibility about the days ahead, so much hope, so much excitement. It’s a little like Christmas morning as a child, only it lasts for seven wonderful days. I’m going to Orange Beach, Alabama, one of my favorite places in the world for one of my favorite weeks of the year, and life couldn’t get any better.

I’ll pull into the parking lot of the beachside condominium complex with a name as tropical as the ocean on the other side of it. I’ll step out of the car and although my windows have been rolled down for most of the drive and faint scents of the sea air have passed through my car as I inched closer to the coast, it was never as strong and beautiful as it is here, at the source. With it comes longing to be strolling in the sand towards the gulf and a flood of memories about all of the great summers past. I walk into my grandparents condo, set my bag down on the glistening white tile of the kitchen floor and make my way through the living room towards the sliding glass door, through which I can see the beautifully hued blue water that stretches much farther than I can see or even comprehend. I open the door and there’s the smell again, the salty sea aroma of a perfect day, then I take a seat in one of the reclining lounge chairs on the back porch, taking in the sight of pure tranquility as the symphony of gently crashing waves washes over me, lulling me into a state of contentedness that I haven’t felt for some time.

By that night the condo will be full, full of family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and a cozy warmth will have descended over condo number 111 that will remain until we all say our goodbyes a week later, but we’re much too happy to think about that so early in the vacation. Over the course of the week there will be lots of fun to be had, reading in the big padded beach chairs down by the water, splashing in the ocean, and late night trips to the sauna and the swimming pools. We will eat many fantastic meals featuring the best seafood I’ve ever had, and have Sunday brunch at a fantastic restaurant overlooking the marina packed with boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing gently in the water below. We might even go see a late night movie or two at the spur of the moment, because when you’re on vacation, there’s really no need to make plans. We’ll do what we want and we’ll have a great time doing it. I can’t wait to be in Orange Beach, a paradise that will be waiting for my arrival in five months.

The Time Machine

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I found a time machine. Yes, you read that right, I found a time machine, and quite frankly, it doesn’t look anything like how it’s depicted in movies, and if not for the dumb luck of me just stumbling across it, this time machine never would have been discovered. It was never my life’s mission to discover a time machine, despite how appealing one might be, but the truth is, I doubted their existence because it just seemed so far fetched and unlikely. If you want to read a book about a time machine, do you know where you would find such a book? In the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore. That’s right, it’s not even in the regular fiction section of the bookstore because books like that are fake on a whole other level that is completely out of this world without any trace of reality, so it’s not that crazy that I scoffed at the possible existence of time machines, as I’m sure most if not all of you reading this now are, but I assure you, time travel is real, something I myself have experienced, and if you keep reading, you’ll discover the truth too. I’m going to personally open the doors of the time machine for you so you can step in. Let’s go back in time.

To access the time machine, pull out your smartphone. If you don’t have a smartphone, I’m sorry, but you’re too irresponsible for time travel, because what kind of person in 2018 doesn’t have some kind of smartphone? I honestly can’t think of anyone that doesn’t have a smartphone, so I guess if you don’t have one and can’t go on this journey with me it’s okay, because I apparently don’t care about you anyway. The second step involves opening the Pandora music app, which as a responsible smartphone owner and a cultured citizen of the world you should already have, but if you don’t, I’m willing to turn my head for a few seconds so you can download it. I can’t overstate how crucial this is to the process, because without the Pandora music app, the time machine can’t function properly.

You now hold in your hand the key to the musical universe, and all that’s left is for you to enter an artist’s name, a genre, or song you like, which will whoosh you through the gateway into melodic bliss. At this point you’re brain is probably going a million miles a second, suggesting songs and types of music you like, trying to pick your absolute favorite, but it’s important to completely tune this out, because one wrong move, like choosing Taylor Swift’s pop station, and you will trip on the ramp leading into the time machine, and you’ll fall down before you get to the door. In the box, start typing in Barenaked Ladies, and click on the band’s name under the heading Top Hit, then it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride back in time to more than ten years ago.

Barenaked Ladies is just the tip of the iceberg, the jumping off point into a musical paradise where you will be surrounded by Blink-182, Sum 41, Blues Traveler, Sister Hazel, Blind Melon, Three Doors Down, Green Day and so many more. I was immediately sent back in time to my carefree childhood days of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and while the songs were playing, every single one of my worries and cares evaporated. I rolled the windows down on my car and hurtled back to the past, so happy and unconcerned about anything that I actually found myself singing along with just about every song. I hate my voice, so you’d be hard pressed to ever hear me sing, but if you happen to be driving next to my while I’m in my time machine, then there’s a good chance I’ll be singing “All for You” by Sister Hazel at the top of my lungs. Time travel is pretty great, you should give it a try sometime.

In the Gardens of Versailles

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I don’t remember much about the train from Paris to Versailles, how long it took or what I did to occupy the time, but I do remember the events on either side of that train ride, especially the Merguez Frites we had for lunch before embarking on our journey to visit the famous palace, once home to French royalty including King Louis the 14th and Marie Antoinette. I remember the Merguez Frites, which is basically a spicy sausage sandwich in a baguette with a side of fries, so vividly because while we had so much good food on our trip, this was my favorite meal by far. Not only was it was so delicious, but the simplicity of it was absolutely perfect, getting it from a street vendor and sitting on a street side bench, enjoying our lunch while taking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Paris on a cool spring day.
 
After lunch we boarded the train for Versailles, and that is where my memory goes fuzzy, perhaps due to a food coma that the delicious lunch put me in, or maybe because for a fourteen year old kid, riding a train through the country wasn’t all that exciting or noteworthy, but whatever the reason is, the train from Paris to Versailles is just a haze, and my memory doesn’t return until my dad and I were standing in front of the tall golden gates in front of the palace. It was magnificent, and it seemed as though each room in the palace was more beautiful than the last with ornate decorations and intricate designs everywhere you looked, but what really stood out to me, were the gardens.
 
It was an overcast and cool day, the kind of weather that both me and my dad enjoy, making it the perfect day for a stroll through the gardens of Versailles. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always really liked tall hedges and hidden paths in gardens, and Versailles had plenty of both. We walked down the back steps from the palace and turned right along the path with no particular destination in mind, just out for a nice stroll through the garden on a nice day. Everything was so beautiful and I particularly liked the fountains that were hidden throughout, made of stone with crystal clear water shooting out, pieces that could have been the centerpiece in an art show hidden deep within the garden of Versailles. We walked and walked and eventually we started to grow tired and felt sure that we were getting close to the palace again, having followed stayed mostly on the path at the outer edge of the garden that would lead us all the way around in a circle and end where we started. There were a lot of trees where we were so we weren’t able to tell for sure, but we were fairly certain that once we emerged from the brush we would see that we were right next to the palace and our trip through the gardens would mercifully come to an end.
 
We emerged from the trees and sure enough the grand palace was in view, unfortunately it wasn’t as close to us as we’d thought it would be, directly across from us and separated by a large body of water, we were at the halfway point. I don’t know how we made it, but I think the Merguez Frites probably had a lot to do with it, sustaining us on our harrowing journey through the gardens. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by the time we were through, the gardens were still my favorite thing about Versailles and one of my favorite things overall about that trip to France. My dad even bought me a book from the palace gift shop all about the gardens and the fountains, a reminder of that fun March day that we had together thirteen years ago.

Moving

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It’s been a little more than two years since my wife and I made the decision, that after living in Florida for the previous four years, that we were going to move to Memphis. We’ve been in Tennessee for a year and a half, and for the most part it’s been pretty great, both my wife and I having found a steady and comfortable rhythm of life here in the mid south, but sometimes I do think about moving again. My wife won’t graduate college until after her spring semester in 2019, so we won’t be packing up and moving in the next week or two, and I’m not saying that we’re going to be moving at all, but it’s just something fun to think about sometimes, imagining yourself living a different life in a different place, discovering everything that the new city has to offer and falling in love with the new place you call home. If we do decide to move from the Memphis area, these places would be my top choice destinations.
 
Of my top three places, the only city that I’ve actually spent any significant time in before, is the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., and it’s a place that I could definitely see myself living at some point. I think if money weren’t a factor, then I would almost definitely move to D.C. as soon as possible, because I absolutely love it there. My favorite things about Washington are the museums, of which there are many that you can easily spend hours in, all of the cool history in the city that seems to be everywhere you look, and last but not least, the public transportation. I love the idea of living in a place where you don’t have to own a car, where you can get around just as easily, and usually more quickly by riding the metro or subway. Not only would my commute become easier, it would allow me to save money on gas, a monthly car payment, and the car insurance payment, which when all added up isn’t exactly cheap, and a metro card would only be a fraction of that cost, which would be nice.
 
For a lot of the same reasons that I think Washington would be a good place to live, I think New York City would be a fun place to call home for a while. While it does have the downside, like D.C. of being fairly expensive to live there, it would be worth it to live at the cultural epicenter of the world. There’s so much going on all the time, so much to do and so much to see, it would be like a new adventure going out every day and that would be fun to experience at some point. I’ve never been to New York before, the closest I’ve gotten was when I had a layover at the Newark, New Jersey airport and we went to get a glimpse of the statue of liberty, that looked pretty small and unimpressive from the distance at which we saw her, but it seems like the kind of place I would like, a big city with a lot going on, so many entertainment options and things to occupy your time, and just so much culture. I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
 
Rounding out my list is Boston, Massachusetts, a place that I’ve never been and really have never been close to, but there are several things I like about Boston. Much like D.C., I love the history of the city, how it’s one of the oldest cities in the country, contrasted against the backdrop of the modern world. Big beautiful stone buildings against the gray winter sky, a depressing picture to some, sounds absolutely spectacular to me. They also have really good public transportation and Boston is a big sports town with baseball, basketball, hockey, and a football team nearby, which would be pretty fun to always have a game you could be going to, no matter the season. I also love that it gets so cold in the winter, because that’s my favorite time of the year and it would really make me appreciate summer more if we just had month after month of subfreezing temperatures.
 
In summation, I may or may not be moving, and it certainly won’t be any time soon, but if I do, then these are the three places that I’ll submit to my wife for consideration, and she’ll do the same for me, except hers will probably be cities in much warmer climates. We will discuss the pros and cons of each, and eventually come to an agreement on where we want to move, if we decide to move at all, and if I’m still blogging, I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as a decision as made. Until then, Memphis is my home and I still love living here.

Family Ties: A Snapshot of my Grandfather

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Pictures are like a time machine for feelings, because with the snap of a camera you can freeze a moment in time, and no matter how much time goes by, when you look at it again, some of those same feelings come rushing back to you through the memory, which is why a Christmas gift from my aunt Tracy is one of the most meaningful and special things that I’ve ever received. She put together a photo album for me and the eight other grandchildren of my grandparents, a personalized memento to remember our granddad, who passed away about two and a half years ago. When I say put together, I’m speaking literally, as the cover of the album is made up of neckties that belonged to my grandfather, neckties that I’ve seen him wear countless times, some ties that I’d actually worn before when I was on the debate team in high school, and I stopped by his house on Friday’s, the day of the debate match, so he could tie the tie for me. Before I even opened the photo album, just holding it in my hands and stroking the silky smoothness of his ties, I knew that this was special.
 
Inside the memories came flooding back, from the very first picture, one showing my granddaddy asleep in a lawn chair, hat pulled low on his head, chin angled down toward his chest, as he napped in the driveway of a beachside vacation rental home. Of the countless things to admire about that man, his ability to nap anywhere would certainly make the list. While you or I would probably get bored or restless waiting outside for your family to get ready to go down to the beach, my granddad, always the one to go with the flow, took the waiting in stride and decided to get a little rest and relaxation. Next was the picture of me with him and my two uncles, standing outside dressed in suits and ties, even me, who would have been no older than three at the time, either before or after going to church. I always enjoyed going to church with my grandparents when I was younger, because granddaddy was the preacher, and everyone there wanted to talk with him after the service and shake his hand and compliment him on his sermons. He was a rock star, and as his grandchild, I was a rock star by association, everyone shaking my hand and being friendly with me as I stood next to him in the foyer of the Southwest Church of Christ.
 
There were pictures of their new house, the one they built on “the farm” as we called it, ten acres of land that they bought just outside the Little Rock city limits years ago. Their previous house was only about two minutes away, and I remember after they bought the land, going over there with my granddad when that’s all there was and riding the four wheeler around on that blank canvas that would eventually hold their home. While they built the house, my grandparents lived in a mobile home on the property, one that would eventually be occupied by my great grandmother, grandma Laird, the mother of my granddaddy. The structure of the home was up by the time Christmas rolled around, so it was decided that we would have our first Christmas in the house, and it’s definitely near the top of my list of Christmas memories. There was no electricity or furniture, so extension chords were run through the house to light the giant open space that would one day become the living room, and folding chairs were brought in, arranged in a circle for everyone to have a seat, because nothing was going to stop our family from having a special Christmas together in that new house. I remember sitting around later that night, drinking apple cider for what I think was the first time, and listening to my Gran-Gran, my grandmothers mom, play her mandolin, and I was genuinely happy in that moment, sitting in the warm, comfy glow of the lamplight surrounded by family and lots of laughter.
 
Then there were the vacation pictures, from all the many trips my granddaddy generously took the family on over the years. There was the picture from our trip to Yellowstone, where we stopped somewhere along the way in the mountains to take some pictures, and I, excited upon seeing snow in the summer, ran over to it, then slipped on it and fell, covering the lower half of me in mud. In the picture I’m standing behind a wooden bench, which means that the picture was taken after the fall but before I got back to the car to clean up and change clothes. Before photoshop and airbrushing, there was standing behind large objects to hide things you didn’t want anyone to see. There were pictures from North Carolina, when we went to the Outer Banks, and one from when we stopped on the way in the town of Mount Airy, the town where Andy Griffith was from that inspired the fictional town Mayberry in his television show, which was my granddad’s absolute favorite. Finally there was a picture of the whole family in Destin, Florida. It was the last vacation we ever took together, the last time I ever saw my granddaddy. It was a good trip and I spent a lot of quality time with him, sitting out on the front porch in the morning, drinking coffee, reading, and just talking. I have so many great memories of my granddaddy through the years, and thanks to my aunt, I now have a time machine back to those great times and feelings we shared while he was still with us, something I will cherish for the rest of my life.IMG_4672

Weekend Getaway: Holiday Fun in Branson

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When you were younger, did your parents ever load you up into the car on a cool December night and drive you around to look at christmas lights while holiday music played on the radio? Neighborhood after neighborhood you would slowly drive through while your mom, with her head on a constant swivel, called out to you which way to look to see the lights, as if the brightness of them didn’t automatically reveal their position. It was a special night, but before too long, you probably got bored, and might have even started to complain, ready for the ordeal to be over. Now imagine driving more than ten hours to look at Christmas lights. That’s what I did this weekend, and I managed to have a good time, so until you do that, I don’t want to hear your whining about half an hour in the car looking at neighborhood holiday displays, no matter how excruciating you build them up to be. Yesterday my wife and I went from Memphis, Tennessee to Branson, Missouri, where we met my mom, grandmother, youngest brother, and his girlfriend at Silver Dollar City, an amusement park that CNN ranks as one of the top 7 places in the country to see christmas lights.

We arrived around noon, a time of day my stomach likes to think it is entitled to lunch, so we walked around the park browsing the food options for a few minutes before deciding on sidewinder fries. If you don’t know what they are, sidewinder fries are kind of like potato wedges that are not as thick, and twisted into the shape of grooves on a screw. If you’re the boring and unimaginative type of person, you can certainly get them plain, but if you want to live a little and attempt a little fun in your life, you can do what we did, and get the fries topped with bacon and cheese. The word that best sums up my order of bacon and cheese sidewinder fries would be “fine.” They were fine, not great, and not bad, but somewhere in between, a few ticks past edible. If you ever find yourself at Silver Dollar City and are starving and desperate for something to eat, the sidewinder fries will certainly assuage your hunger, but it’s not something I would ever make a point of eating again. IMG_4562

After lunch we rode a few rides, then decided to watch a show, the It’s a Wonderful Life musical. It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic christmas movie, one of my favorites that I try and watch every year, and I generally like musicals, so I thought it would be great, combining two things that I like so much. I was mistaken. The show wasn’t terrible, but I found my concentration waning through the performance, not completely being sucked in to the story, wondering just how much longer the show could go on, and was happy when it finally ended. I couldn’t believe it only lasted an hour and ten minutes, because it felt like at least twice that. It wasn’t nearly as good as the movie, and thankfully they left out quite a bit of the story, keeping the audience from having to suffer through any more time than was necessary. There’s a reason those actors aren’t on Broadway.

When we left the theater it was starting to get dark outside, and by the time we met up with Landon and Maggie, who had wisely chosen to skip the show, the christmas lights were turned on. There is a train in Silver Dollar City that goes around the whole park, so it seemed like a neat idea to ride around on it an look at the christmas lights rather than having to walk through the crowds of people that, like us, had gathered to witness some holiday magic, but the line for the train stretched probably a quarter of a mile long, and suddenly walking didn’t seem so bad. So we walked, around the whole park, and looked around in awe at all of the thousands of lights hanging all around us. I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life seen anything like that, not even in christmas movies. It was nothing short of amazing, which is probably why so many people were there to witness it, and get in the way. IMG_4568

Leaving the park we were literally in stand still traffic, and I don’t mean in our cars. The amount of people trying to leave the park at one time was so many that it took us over ten minutes just to walk out of the front gate, while from the other direction, people were rapidly pouring through the gate having just arrived at the park. We got on the bus that would take us back to our cars in parking lot 5, but unfortunately, less than two minutes into the ride the bus stopped. There was another bus in front of us, and in front of it, was somebody lying in the road, surrounded by paramedics. The driver announced over the intercom that somebody was in the road and that the bus would have to stay stopped for an indefinite amount of time until the situation could be rectified. I thought about singing “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” to lift everyone’s spirits, but given the situation at hand, it seemed a bit inappropriate, so I refrained.

After a few minutes the bus driver announced that he was opening the doors to allow anyone who wished to get off and walk back to their cars, the opportunity to do so. Everyone in front of us got off the bus, so it seemed like the thing to do, so we followed suit. As we stepped out of the doors and into the cold night, the bus driver yelled out to follow the walking path straight across the parking lot we were in, and it would lead us directly to parking lot 5, where we needed to go. We followed the walking path until it dead ended into a truck, which as I’m sure you can surmise, was not parking lot 5, but luckily behind us were some locals, who made a point to tell anyone within earshot that they lived in the area and visited the park four or five times a year and claimed to know exactly how to get to parking lot 5. We listened to them, which turned out to be a mistake. We followed them under a bridge and ended up in a parking lot, a deserted and desolate parking lot 6. We could see lot 5 across the busy street, but it was separated by a big fence and speeding cars hurtling down the road. At least we weren’t the only idiots who followed the “locals” to the wrong parking lot. We eventually ended up running across the street in the few seconds when no cars were coming, and walking along the fence until it finally ended and we could get into our parking lot. The lights were great, and although the end of the night wasn’t the most fun, it will certainly be an experience that I remember for a very long time, and that has to count for something.