Good Reads for the Long Weekend

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If your weather is anything like where I live, then it’s going to be the perfect weekend to curl up under a big blanket with a good book to read. There’s snow on the ground here in Memphis and the temperatures aren’t going to get above freezing tomorrow, so at least for the time being, it looks like my life is going to have that peaceful white backdrop, which is best complimented by staying inside the warm house, and with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, I’m looking forward to a long weekend stuck inside with all my books. My goal for the year, as it has been for the last couple, is to average reading a book per week for 2018, which is 52 books, and as of right now, I’m ahead of pace having finished 7 books. I’ve told you about the first five, so I’m sure you’re all dying to know about the last two books I read this week. You’re in luck because we’re going to talk about them now.

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks: This is the story of a pushover mother who, finally tired of being stepped on, embarks on a trip back to her hometown with her rebellious daughter so she can confront the girl who bullied her in high school twenty years ago. Unfortunately, her bully wasn’t the only reason for her never wanting to return back home, but now that she’s back, she must confront everything. With her outspoken daughter by her side, encouraging and prodding her along the way, Caroline Jacobs does the things that she needs to do, and gains a new friend as her once tumultuous relationship with her daughter, is given a second chance. From the moment I picked up Matthew Dicks’ book, “Something Missing,” in a used bookstore several years ago, I’ve been captivated by everything he has written, and “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” was no exception as I stayed up a lot later than I should have to finish the book on a Tuesday night, because I HAD to find out the ending. If you’re familiar with and enjoy the writing of Matthew Dicks, you will certainly enjoy the story of Caroline Jacobs, and if you aren’t familiar with him, it’s time to do yourself a favor and get acquainted, because he’s quickly rising on my list of favorite writers.

I am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll: Imagine you are on a train, and you observe something taking place, like two teenage girls talking and becoming acquainted with two complete strangers who just got out of prison. This is how the book begins. As a mother, she knows that if her son was in a dangerous situation, that she would want a responsible adult to step in or to at least get in touch with her so she could try and intervene, but just as she decides to try and get in touch with the girls’ parents, something happens and causes her to change her mind. The next morning one of the girls is missing, and the guilt at not having tried to help is eating her alive. She tries to do what she can, recounting the story and giving descriptions as best she can, but it seems that it’s too little too late, so like the rest of the country, all she can do is wait, and hope for the best. A year has gone by since the disappearance of the girl, but someone is determined not to let her forget her part in all of it, sending her threatening cards in the mail. Told through several different perspectives, the witness, the friend, and the father of the missing girl, “I am Watching You” is a wild and suspenseful ride filled with lots of guilt and questions about what each of them could have done differently, not just on the night of the disappearance. I’m aware that we are less than two weeks into 2018, but I’m going to go ahead and put this book on my list of best books that I read this year.
You won’t go wrong choosing either of these books, or any of those that I’ve read previously. The important thing is that you find something that you enjoy and read. Winter is here, and there are few things as satisfying as sitting beneath a warm blanket with a mug of hot tea or coffee on the table beside you, and a good book in your hands.

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Snow Day Survival Tips

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I don’t know where you live, but where I live, in Memphis, Tennessee, we are expected to get quite a bit of winter weather tomorrow morning. I just checked my weather app and it’s saying that there will be some mixed winter precipitation in the early morning hours that will be followed by 1 to 3 inches of snow as the morning progresses, and I couldn’t be more excited. It seems like a lot of people are down on snow, especially adults since the days of skipping school because of snow are far behind us, but for me, I still get that feeling of magical excitement I used to feel as a kid when I would wake up when it was still dark and run to the kitchen to turn on the light overlooking the backyard and seeing that blanket of white while giant fluffy snowflakes cascaded down from the sky. While snow days are great and filled with wonder and beauty, there are still some tips you should keep in mind to make sure that the winter weather won’t affect you in a negative way, so I wanted to share with you some helpful advice to get you through tomorrow should the snow come down in your area.

For a lot of people, driving is a huge concern when it comes to winter weather. We have all seen the horror stories on the news of cars in ditches or stranded along the side of the highway because the weather was too much for them to handle, but that’s good news for the rest of us, because the majority of the people are going to be too scared to get out on the roads, giving us an ideal society where morning traffic does not exist. You might be thinking to yourself that you should probably leave extra early for work, that is if you aren’t too scared to get out on the icy roads in the first place, to give yourself ample time to brave the dangerous roads to make it to the office on time, but there’s no need for that. You can actually leave later than you normally would, because without traffic, the road will be yours, plus the ice will have your car slipping and sliding down the road at breakneck speeds and you will get to your destination more quickly than normal.

It should go without saying that winter weather means that the temperatures are going to be extremely cold, so you’ll likely need to take additional measures to keep your home warm, because snow days are only fun, if you can come in from the cold and warm up. In preparation for this, it is advisable that you go ahead an increase your insurance coverage to pay for the fire that will likely devour your home in an attempt to keep you and your loved ones warm. You may think my scenario is extreme, but trust me, when you’re out of firewood and anything else that will fit into the fireplace, and you have to choose between your family freezing to death or lighting the couch on fire, you’d be stupid not to choose the latter. Prepare yourself. Up the insurance.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t murder anyone on a snow day. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t kill anybody anyway, but it would be particularly unadvisable on a day like tomorrow, because the weather completely eliminates all the good ways to dispose of a body. Bury it? The ground will be frozen solid, so good luck with that. What about the ever popular disposal method of dumping the body in the lake? The temperature will be below freezing all day, which means that all the lakes and ponds in the area will be frozen over, and I’m no homicide detective, but I think a body shaped hole in the ice will be fairly easy to spot, so make getting away with it easier on yourself, and wait until the weather is more cooperative. You know what, on second thought, just don’t kill anyone ever; it’s a really terrible thing to do.

Hopefully my advice will lead to a problem free and enjoyable snow day that you can look back on fondly for years to come. Pass this along to all of your friends and loved ones, so they can make sure to have a good day too.

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

Food and Football: The Perfect Night

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I’m exhausted today, like trying not to fall asleep at my desk tired, but that’s okay, because it is totally worth it. You see, I didn’t get much sleep last night, because I got home late and then once I got home I was too excited to fall asleep, so I tossed and turned for hours, and eventually got a few hours of rest sometime between the hours of 1:30 and 4:50 this morning. I may be tired, but I’m very happy, still living off the high from last night. I’ll explain.
 
Last night my wife and I went over to my grandparents house about six o’clock for dinner with them, my dad, and my uncle Brett. My grandparents had just gotten back from Orange Beach, Alabama earlier that afternoon, and brought back with them some shrimp fresh from the gulf of Mexico, a delicious and succulent treat that everyone was looking forward to. Mimi had made some potatoes and corn on the cob to go along with it, which were good, but the shrimp, as I sat there taking bite after bite dipped in cocktail sauce, seemed to be the very best thing I’d ever eaten in my life. We ate and ate until we could eat no more, easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and while the food was great and we all enjoyed ourselves, that really wasn’t why we were there. We had serious business to attend to.
 
Throughout the college football season, it is mandated in the Curtis Family Creed that we must gather together and watch the Crimson Tide of Alabama. In good times and bad, we stand by our team, although admittedly it’s been a lot more good than bad lately, which definitely makes it a lot more fun, and last night was no exception. We sat in the dimmed light of the living room, my grandpa on his throne, the leather recliner that sits to the right of the couch, where my wife, Mimi, and myself were seated. In the rocking chair sat my dad, the perfect seat to for letting out all of his nervous energy in the form of rocking, and on the other side of my grandfather sat my uncle Brett. By halftime we knew a change needed to be made, because our offense was stagnant and with short, three play drives that ended in punts, our defense would no doubt grow too tired to continue putting up a fight pretty soon.
 
For weeks now, at our football gatherings, we have talked about wanting our backup quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, to get some playing time, because clearly, between him and our two year starter, Jalen Hurts, Tua has the much better arm, able to zip passes across the field with pretty good accuracy, and last night we finally got our wish as he ran out onto the field to start the second half. From the first touchdown drive that Tua lead, hope re-entered my grandparents living room and we started to believe again that we could actually win this football game. It wasn’t easy, or all that pretty at times, but Alabama eventually won the game in overtime, and it was glorious. Everyone jumped out of their seats, high-fiving and hugging, basking in the victory of our favorite team. I told my grandpa, who records all the games, not to erase this one, that way I can come back later and relive that wonderful night all over again. As we left, I told him “let’s do it again next year” and hopefully we will. I don’t know when our good fortune is going to come to an end, but I know that for right now, we’re enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.
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My Wife’s Birthday Dinner

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Never in my life had I ever uttered the words “too much beef,” and before yesterday, I would have thought it impossible for those three words to exist next to each other, because in my experience, beef is good, and more beef is better, but it turns out there’s actually a limit, and I happened to reach mine last night. My wife’s birthday is on January 4th, so my dad took us to dinner last night to celebrate, and my wife chose to Playita Mexicana, my favorite Mexican restaurant. Although it wasn’t my birthday, I was pretty excited about the night; a free dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, what’s not to love? We arrived around seven, and my dad was already waiting at a table for us, and as soon as we sat down, a server took our drink orders, as well as an order for some cheese dip, or as I like to call it, white gold. The server returned with our drinks and cheese dip, and took our order, the red snapper for my dad, carne asada for my wife, and the combination number (numero) eleven for me, which included a burrito, enchilada, and a taco. We talked and laughed and my wife opened up the birthday gifts my dad had brought for her, and in no time, the entrees arrived, piping hot from the kitchen.

The other dishes looked good, but I didn’t spend much time admiring them, because lying right before me, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on, a plate of food, covered in white cheese dip. Sure, I’ve had enchiladas and burritos topped with the queso before, but in those instances I normally have to pay extra to substitute cheese sauce for the traditional red sauce, but not at Playita where they don’t even bother making you choose between the queso and the much more inferior, red sauce, plus out of all the Mexican restaurants around, their cheese dip is my favorite, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have it basically covering my plate. Now, when people talk about how they feel the first time they hold their baby in their arms, I’m going to be able to relate, because I’m sure it’s the same way I felt looking down at the plate. I took a bite of the enchilada first, then the burrito, and finally the taco, and individually each one was good, but together, it was just too much.

I didn’t realize when I was ordering that everything on the plate would have beef inside of it, and it did seem somewhat unlikely given that basically a taco, burrito, and enchilada, consist of the same ingredients, figuring that there would be some chicken or steak somewhere to break up the monotony of tortilla, ground beef, and cheese, but unfortunately there was not. Granted, none of the tortillas were exactly the same, the enchilada made of corn, the burrito and taco made of a flour tortilla while the burrito was fried so it was almost like a chimichanga, but it did seem to be too much of the same thing. About halfway through my plate of food, I realized that it was just too much beef, and knew that I would never order the combination number (numero) eleven ever again. My dad and wife liked their food, and my dad let me eat one of the fish eyes, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a while, although it didn’t taste that great or anything. To me it basically just had a fishy taste, so personally, I don’t get what’s so special about it, but I finally tried it, and that’s the important thing. All in all it was a really good dinner, with good food and good company, and while I won’t be ordering the same thing ever again, there’s no question about whether or not I’ll go back; Playita Mexicana is still my favorite Mexican restaurant in town.

Thoughts About Some Books

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Let’s talk about books today shall we? Well, seeing as how this isn’t your blog which gives you zero say in the content decision making, I’m going to do it anyway, because that’s what I want to talk about. I know I’ve already written a book review this week, but I’ve read three books since then, so to keep from falling behind to the point where I have to cram too many books into one blog post, it only makes sense that I do them after several books, regardless of how much time has elapsed since the last one. So here’s what I’ve read the last few days, ranked from least favorite to favorite.

3. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner: It’s not that this book was terrible, because it was actually pretty interesting, but the other books I read were just better, which is why this one has the lowest ranking. It’s the story of an above average income family living in New York, a father, mother, and their only child, a teenage daughter. Despite having enough money, the household is in disarray as the mother and daughter constantly butt heads, allowing the father to step into the role of favorite parent, which only furcates the mother further. When someone moves into the penthouse apartment above them and begins a renovation project, things take an unexpected turn when the construction crew shows up, causing dramatic actions to be taken. I can’t say anymore without giving it away, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and quick read, less than a hundred and fifty pages, so it’s definitely worth checking out. The one thing I didn’t particularly like about it was how quick everything happened in the end. With all of the buildup in the story, page after page of crescendo, the peak was quick, short lived, and left me wanting more.

2. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson: Days before her birthday, a young girl witnessed the murder of her dad, sister, her best friend, and her best friend’s mom in the family’s lakeside cabin. Ten years later she is still unable to come to grips with what happened, convinced that the police were wrong in thinking that it was in fact her dad who had committed the killing before turning the gun on himself, because she was sure the man she saw leaving the cabin was somebody entirely different. Her personal struggles and substance abuse keep the police from seeing her as a reliable resource when she sees the man she calls “rat face” driving past her outside of a bar late one night. She’s convinced that he’s the man who killed her father, and if the police won’t do anything about it, then she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. “The Girl Who Lived” is a fast paced thriller with action packed just over the course of a few days, with unexpected twists and turns around every corner and will keep you guessing until the very end. If you are a fan of suspense and reading late into the night to find out what happens next, this is the book for you.

1. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine: If you’re unfamiliar with Liv Constantine, it is the pen name adapted by two sisters who write together, which for some reason, an unknown notion that I hold, did not appeal to me. I don’t know why, but I just figured that two people writing a book together wouldn’t be as good or flow as smoothly as a single author, but I was an idiot, because “The Last Mrs. Parrish” is definitely one of my new favorites. It’s the story of Amber, a girl who befriends the rich Mrs. Parrish with the intention of getting close to her family, especially her husband, with the hope that she will eventually be able to steal him, and replace Mrs. Parrish with herself. Told from two different perspectives, the first half of the book by Amber, and the second by Mrs. Parrish, it is a very unique and enjoyable read. There are lots of secrets and you come to realize that not everything is what it seems. I would highly recommend “The Last Mrs. Parrish” to anyone that wants a lighthearted and fun read, that is also full of secrets and betrayal.

Wild Card Weekend Day 1

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The greatest stretch of time in all of sports is the month of the NFL playoffs, which just so happen to start today. Unlike basketball and baseball, where a team can lose three games in a series and still move on to the next round, in football, everything is riding on one game, the loser goes home, and the winner takes one step closer to winning the Super Bowl. While my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, had another disappointing season, falling short of the playoffs at the hands of Jason Garrett once again, I’m still incredibly excited about the playoffs, because so much is riding on each game and every team has the same goal, which only one can achieve, so this is the month of desperation, when coaches pull out all the stops, and players give that extra effort, in hopes that come Super Bowl Sunday, they will be the ones hoisting that trophy in the air as confetti falls all around them.

It’s Wildcard weekend in the NFL, which means there’s two games today and two games tomorrow, and while I think the Saturday lineup is slightly better than the one tomorrow, I still think you’re going to want to be glued to your couch for all four games, at least that’s what I’ll be doing any way. First up today at 3:35 on ABC and ESPN we have the Titans and Chiefs, a home game for Kansas City at Arrowhead stadium. Coming into the season, I thought the Titans were a definite playoff team while the Chiefs weren’t really even on my radar as I fully expected the Oakland Raiders to come out of that division, but I was wrong, and over the course of the season the Chiefs showed that they could really be a playoff contender, while the Titans seemed to take some steps backward since last year. I would love for Tennessee to win, but I just don’t see it happening, so I’m picking the Chiefs in what I think will be a very competitive and fairly close game.

Next up we have the Falcons at the Rams on NBC at 7:15 Saturday night, a game that I think could be the most entertaining of the weekend. Coming of an NFC Championship and a devastating Super Bowl loss, I expected the Falcons to pick up where they left off, only this year have a vengeance about them and roll over most of their opponents on their way to winning their division, but they just haven’t looked like that dominant team from a year ago. Los Angeles on the other hand, entered the season below everybody’s radar because of how terrible they were last year, but under the tutelage of first year head coach Sean McVay, the Rams have completely turned their program around and look like a strong contender heading into the postseason. This game will be interesting since Atlanta is a veteran team that has been in the playoff, high intensity situation before while the Rams haven’t been to the postseason in more than a decade. Will Los Angeles rise to the occasion, playing just like it’s any other week of the season, or will they fold under the pressure? I think it’s going to be a very close game, but I’m going with the Rams to get the win today and move on to their first divisional playoff game since January 15, 2005.

Enjoy both games today, and be sure to come back tomorrow morning for thoughts and picks on the final two wildcard games of the weekend to wrap up the first round of the 2017 NFL Playoffs.