That which we call a rose...

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I offer a free service to friends and acquaintances.  It is this: I offer to name their babies for them.  So far, no takers, even though some of my offerings were as follows:For girls: Chalice Hulga, Blanche Tiffany, and Maude Ivy. For boys: Oscar Dudley, Zeno Horace, and Manly Francis. I've always been fascinated by names, whether it be people, book titles, countries, or anything else with a name.  Even medicines, like FloNaze.

So when my long-suffering wife and I were out early on our big road trip in September, I was impressed by two towns in Mississippi through which we passed.  One was named Bovina and the other was Chunky.  I am not making this up.  Being one who enjoys sports, I ruminated over what the schools' teams might be called.  I thought about the Bovina Bulldogs, but a former colleague of mine said that would be cross-species and wouldn't work.  I thought and thought about it.  Finally, I came up with the Bovina Buttercups which, I think, honored the bovine in all of us.  The town named Chunky provided a little more room and, thus, required less thought, which always appeals to me.  "Chunky Chubbies?" Nope on that one.  I would hate to hurt the feelings of any snowflakes in that school.  "Chunky Chickens" was a nonstarter.  I finally turned to the "Chunky Cherubs" which would not strike fear in the hearts of their opponents on the football field, but would certainly lull them into a false sense of superiority.

We finally crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and made our way to a lunch date with friends in the Natchitoches, Louisiana.  Their public high school calls itself the "Chiefs" in honor of the Natchitoches Indians indigenous to the area.  I'd prefer they call themselves the "Natchitoches Neanderthals," or "Natchitoches Knuckledraggers."  Much more intimidating than "Chiefs."  Maybe if they called themselves the Neanderthals, they'd be having a better year, but nobody asked me.

Arrowroot = Recliners, Maybe

olddefault In two previous blogs, I wrote about Carenen family shopping experiences; specifically, mine. There was the 7-minute suit and the nails and oven entries. Today, I'd like to expand the source of these blogs and include my long-suffering wife, Lisa, in this series, which will temporarily retire with this offering.

Recently, very recently, we went shopping together on a fine Saturday morning. Our plan was to go to Trader Joe's to pick up some specialty items on the list, one of which was arrowroot. I had no idea what that was. At first I thought it was a reference to an old rock band from the 60's, but I was quickly disabused of that notion. Anyway, we picked up a few items at TJ's and headed home without any arrowroot.

The next thing I knew, we had stopped by the La-Z-Boy store and purchased two leather recliners which were not on the grocery list. Fortunately, they were on sale. It's not as if I didn't know she was thinking about reclilners - I did know. It's just that, well, I didn't realize that arrowroot translated to recliners. Sometimes I miss things.

In any case, I am not the only member of the family with quirky shopping skills. I'm just glad we didn't have to drive by a car dealer on the way home.

Nailed it!

nails The response to my male shopping blog last week was so overwhelming, I have decided to do a short series of blogs about shopping habits of myself and my long-suffering wife, Lisa. A few decades ago, we purchased an abandoned stone house in the country in western North Carolina, and set about transforming the place. One thing it needed was nails so we could proceed with some basic carpentry, so I took the truck and drove into Morganton to the Lowe's. I bought the nails, and also a stove, which we also needed.

Imagine Lisa's surprised when I came home with a stove instead of just nails! Talk about a smart shopper. I don't think she expected me to return with nails AND a stove, but, hey, we needed one, and I'm pretty sure they were on sale. It was beautiful. White. And it worked right away.

I think that was the first of our Carenen family shopping saga, and a story that refuses to go away, appearing and reappearing in small gatherings of family and friends. And, heck, why should it go away? I'm proud of it.

Anyway, I hope you, dear reader, are impressed with my shopping acumen and overall wisdom when it comes to participating in our capitalistic, consumeristic society in which we live so comfortably.

Next blog? Well, I want to surprise you, but it has something to do with arrowroot. Stay tuned.

Seasonal Shopping Disorder

christmas-shopping I'm afraid the main reason for the season around the end of December is, for many people, shopping. We're all familiar with people being stomped to death fighting over bargains, shoppers shattering glass doors of Big Box stores to beat each other to sale items, lunatics camping out for days in line in order to seize good deals ahead of anyone else. These behaviors call for a Three Stooges group slap to bring them back to their senses.

I do not engage in such activities. I DO shop, and I'm good at it. For example, when my niece was getting married a while back, down in Florida, it was decided I needed to buy a suit. I used to have a couple-three suits. Back in high school, where I played basketball (and the older I get the better I was), I had two 3-piece suits available for road trips, where we had a suit-and-tie dress code. But I didn't shop for them. My mother did. And they fit.

So, with a wedding looming and pressure to suit up, I went shopping. By myself. I forget the name of the store, but it was a big store, a chain, and it had men's clothing. Seven minutes after entering the store I was leaving with my suit. And it fit. I had gone directly to the "Men's Clothing" department, found a conservative dark gray suit with light, narrow pinstripes, and bought it. On sale, a detail I didn't know until I paid the cashier. Truth is, it would have been a "5-Minute Suit" except that I tried on the jacket still wearing my sweatshirt, which made it a little snug. But an astute sales lady suggested I try the jacket on without the sweatshirt. Perfect. And I was on my way. Today, the "7-Minute Suit" is a quirky part of family lore.

At Christmas time, I enjoy giving gifts. But my long-suffering wife buys the gifts for our daughters, so that frees me up to shop for her. Sometimes our younger daughter feeds me info-tips on what my bride might like, data acquired over the previous year while they were hanging out. This year, a few days before Christmas, I went shopping downtown (I hate malls). It took forever to purchase my beloved's gifts. Fifteen minutes. One store. So, what did I buy her? Well, three gifts, actually - an article of clothing, a scarf accessory, and earrings - all coordinated aesthetically into one stylish fashion statement. She was genuinely pleased.

And the article of clothing fit. Some of us have the gift, others not so much.

Bug Back Boogey

Recently, my LSW (long-suffering wife) and I spent four days visiting her sister and brother-in-law at a state park in eastern North Carolina. In an RV. This was no skanky RV, dear reader. It had an upstairs, a downstairs, and a basement. Suffice it to say, we did not suffer. In addition, one afternoon there was free entertainment at the campsite across the road from us. A young woman was laying out food and utensils on a picnic table, obviously preparing lunch for her husband and child. She was a redhead. She wore a summer shift. Everything was pleasant and peaceful, and then a bug went down her back, inside the confines of the shift.

What followed was a wildly-gyrating interpretive dance that had to be seen to be believed. In an attempt to dislodge the insect, this lady engaged a variety of moves that would have made Michael Jackson appear to be a catatonic. It was either a fertility dance or an ode to Satan, but in either case, it was energetic enough to free her from the intruder that had slipped inside her shift. Mission accomplished, undeterred, she continued with her work at the picnic table.

I finished my chilled glass of domestic chablis, entertained random thoughts of youth and energy, and nodded off into the comfort of a nice nap.

Saluda Take Me Away

The Oaks My long-suffering wife, Lisa, and I rarely take real vacations. Oh, we went to the Bahamas for a few days once, and a trip to New England when our daughters were still at home. But, generally, we don't vacation. But last weekend we did have a getaway to celebrate the last day of students for Lisa where she teaches 9th graders all day. If anyone deserves a getaway, it is she.

A few weeks ago I booked a weekend at a bed and breakfast in Saluda, North Carolina, not far from where we live in Greenville County, near the North Carolina line. Saluda is an artsy village situated well up in the Blue Ridge mountains. There's a winding road up the mountainside and then you're on Main Street with a string of shops, restaurants, and an array of art dealers. The village is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting with a wide variety of local characters, outstanding and varied art and antique shops, and mountains all around.

We chose well when we booked at The Oaks Bed & Breakfast. The house is a restored Victorian mansion built in the late 1800's with all the charm and distinctive features of the period. The owners, Dale and Donna Potruski have created an elegant place to stay, surrounded by enormous oak trees. The wraparound front porch is an excellent place to have morning coffee, read a book, or have a conversation with other guests. Breakfast is a gourmet delight served with flair and flavor under a chandelier. There is privacy, peace and quiet, and several lovely places to relax outdoors.

Donna was at a family event in Florida, so we did not get to meet her. But Dale is a sincere, delightful, witty, and charming host who does everything he can to make you feel at home. He knows the village and people of Saluda, and he can direct you to a wide variety of places and events close by.

I don't often recommend much. I do remember recommending that people should vote for Alf Landon for President, come to think of it. But I can highly recommend, without reservation, Dale and Donna Potruski and The Oaks Bed & Breakfast. So, if you're in western North Carolina or the Upstate of South Carolina, you'd be wise to drop in for a day or a few at The Oaks in Saluda. Give their website a look, then book. You can find them at The Oaks Bed and Breakfast (www.theoaksbedandbreakfast.com).

By the way, I did not get paid for this blog. Dale doesn't even know I'm doing it. Also, I can assure you that Lisa and I will return to Saluda, and if we're staying overnight or longer, we'll return to The Oaks.

Not my kind of suds...

Shampoo Aisle After decades of dormancy, it emerged again, fangs and claws ripping into my memory, long dormant. "It" is shampoo.What's scary about shampoo? Here's the history.

A while back, when our daughters were teenagers, I was sent to the supermarket to pick up a few things, one of which was shampoo. Fine. But once I got to the supermarket, and sauntered down the aisle marked "SHAMPOO," panic began to well up in me. My girls had not told me what kind of shampoo they wanted, and I didn't have a cell phone to find out. So, up and down I went, learning about shampoo. There was beer shampoo, wheat shampoo, honey shampoo and wheat germ shampoo. I had never before thought of shampoo as food.

Finally I just stood there, staring, a bit of spittle beginning to slide down my chin. After about an hour, maybe two, I took a deep breath and made a choice. I mean, shampoo is shampoo, right? How could I go wrong?

Back home, I presented the shampoo to the girls. "You got us Flintstones Shampoo!" they wailed in unison, that followed by a long, drawn-out "Daaaaaaad!"

Since then, I have always asked for specifics when I do the shopping. What kind of flour? How many eggs? How many baking potatoes? But three days ago I grabbed the grocery list without checking with Lisa, and off I went. I picked up the things I needed, methodically checking items off the list. Milk, almonds in the little round can with the red plastic lid, marshmallows for Roxie the Wonder Dog, frozen pizza, and vegetable broth. And then I came to the one word that sent chilled earthworms through my innards. "Shampoo."

I quickly recovered from the shock, selected a very expensive shampoo, and took it home. Lisa was pleased. If she had said, "But I prefer Flintstones," a discussion might have ensued.

World's Most Wonderful Wife

I heard about a Big Remodeling & Additions Expo being held in the convention center downtown. Lisa didn't know about, but I did, and then I told her and asked if she wanted to go, even though I hate shopping. H-A-T-E. I was confident that my sacrifice would put me in the running for Husband of the Year. The Expo wasn't a hard sell, kind of like offering bratwurst to a weakened vegan. I made several observations. The first was that approximately 37% of all the displays were for hot tubs. I am not a fan of hot tubs. They look great but, from my experience, they are nothing more than expensive disappointments. You get in. You get wet. You get warm. You drink wine. I can get warm and drink wine in front of the fireplace at the cottage, and save money, too, although we both kind of liked the one that appeared to be carved out of stone. Classy. Even had two glasses of wine nearby.

Another observation was this: half the men and a third of the women were morbidly obese, especially the ones selling dietary supplements and hair care products. I am not making this up. What do those things have to do with Remodeling? Or Additions? That's what I thought.

We lingered at a display specializing in showers. Our expansion plan includes a second bathroom. I told Lisa we already had the woods for a backup. She always gives me a tolerant, long-suffering look when I mention that. "Maybe for you," she says. But it was good information. We did not commit to buying a shower. Lisa asked questions and picked up a business card and two brochures. And measurements.

Even though a hot dog stand was highly appealing, we left without buying anything. I think that vaults Lisa into the lead for Wife of the Year. In my book, she's already there.

The Marriage Bed

Women live longer than men. It has been documented all over the place. In the United States, the average life span for women is 117.4 years. For married men in the United States, the life span is 23.6 years, after which they become brain dead from watching too much Mixed Martial Arts shows on TV, along with endless football games. They continue to breathe, but they're not really living. This all came to me today when my long-suffering wife, Lisa, and I were making the bed. We had just brought in the sheets and pillowcases from our clothesline and were putting the bed together. The final step, putting the quilt on, revealed that there was more quilt draping over the side on my side of the bed than hers. We tried to even it up, without much success. Then it occurred to me that it didn't make any difference. "You're going to get the covers anyway, sometime during the night," I said.

Lisa said, "That's right." And she was. Somehow, no matter how many covers I start out with, she ends up with approximately 82% of them. I don't mind very much because I don't really need those covers most of the time. Still, it was a revelation.

Women also live longer than men as recompense for having to visit a gynecologist on a regular basis. But that's another story for another time. In any case, I don't begrudge women the extra years. They earn it.

The ladies, they love me (or, more accurately, Thomas)

Signs of Struggle In the last few days I've had two very interesting people provide observations on my debut novel, Signs of Struggle. They are both female, astute, interesting, and opinionated. They are also well-read. One is twelve years old and the other is ninety. The 12-years-old girl is the precocious daughter of one of my colleagues at the college, and has become a big fan of SOS. She gobbled the book up and declared it good and much better than anything written for people her age. She said, "It's got lots of action and moves fast and I liked the colorful characters. Much better than YA novels about teen angst." You gotta love it.

The other reader is my wife's aunt who lives in North Carolina and is a voracious reader herself. Her daughter (my wife's cousin) came to a book signing and bought two copies - one for herself and one for her mature mother. The seasoned citizen is a strong Southern Baptist, god-fearing, and wonderful woman who is an example of virtue and humility for all in the family to emulate. We went to visit her recently and she had not only read the book, but offered several observations, including one that I had been too hard on the pastor (a corrupt individual on several fronts). I reminded her that he was not a Southern Baptist, which eased things a bit. She went on to say she enjoyed the book and was curious about how things were going to work out between Thomas O'Shea, the protagonist, and Liv Olson, his romantic interest. I told her to please stay tuned, that the sequel, A Far Gone Night, might be available by Christmas.

Although some have characterized SOS as "a man's book," others have characterized it as "mainstream fiction," and still others call it a "detective series," it is important to note that it definitely appeals to a very comprehensive spectrum of readers, both sexes, and a multitude of ages.

If you haven't picked up a copy, consider doing so. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

Whale-watchin'

humpback_whale_sfw Some of you reading this doubt that there are demons. Had you been on a recent flight with me from Charlotte to Seattle, your minds would have been changed. I don't know the filthy little brat's name, but he emitted shrieks and shouts accompanied with outright temper tantrums and screams of "NO!" for about four and a half of the five and a half hour flight. His parents were incompetents, so everyone else on the flight suffered. He should be a prize when he's fourteen.

Other than that, our cruise to Alaska turned out well. There's a whole subculture of people who cruise their lives away; some of these folks had been on fifteen or twenty cruises. This was our first.

Alaska is breathtaking. The scenery, the people, the wildlife all made the trip a pleasure.

They love their wildlife in Alaska. Even in the little towns there are places where creatures could hang out. For instance, I saw a Moose Lodge in Ketchikan and an Eagles' club of some kind in Skagway. We saw a black bear crossing a city street in Ketchikan, bald eagles all over the place (including one in a tree that we got within six feet of before it took flight), and eighteen hump-backed whales in one place - a rarity.

Speaking of whales, there were quite a few on the ship. One had red hair and an attitude. And I must say, I have never seen so many morbidly obese people in my life. With "dining anytime" privileges, I had a pretty good run at being a fat boy myself. I was on first name terms with the sausage chef, Guido; and the bacon chef, Arnauld.

My long-suffering wife, Lisa, ate fruit and salmon. That's why women outlive men. More sense.

Even at night there were interesting amenities, such as first-run movies in our cabin. We watched "The Life of Pi" one night and I told Lisa when it was over that they'd never get me on an ocean-going vessel. She gave me a strange look. Women.

So now we're back at the Carenen Cottage and a simpler life. My diet starts today, and I'm sure that somewhere, somehow, Guido and Arnauld are cheering me on.

SNAKE!!!!

Green Mamba SNAKE! Of course, that one word grabs everyone's attention. On Saturday afternoon I was reclining on the sofa, at least the part my Zimbabwean Cattle Retriever - Crested dog, Roxie would allow me to enjoy. Then I heard my long-suffering wife call from outside, "John, come quickly!" So I did. She was looking over the edge of the front porch, pointing down into our flower garden. It was a SNAKE! It slithered back into the bushes.

I hate snakes.

Lisa went inside. I peeked over the railing and there it was again, enormous, farther out in the yard. SNAKE! My heart went pitty-pat. My body went to the out building for a shovel. I came back. It was still there. Defending my family and territory, I drove the shovel down and nearly cut it in half. Still, it slithered away around the courner when I pulled the shovel back. It's guts were emerging, yet it was still alive.

I pursued but could not find it. I poked around with the shovel, wishing it had a longer handle, and the SNAKE emerged, weaving back and forth. I nailed it again, shouting ancient Irish epithets and channeling St. Patrick. It would not die, striking again and again at the shovel. Creepy.

Finally, I finished it off, separating the head from the body, then went inside to Google its identity. I knew if it had been a black snake I would have left it alone, even though I think I mentioned that I hate snakes.

It is dead now, dumped on the dry bird feeder so our friend Mike, an expert, can identify what I killed. Lisa is sad. She is more of a naturalist than I. Google confirmed my suspicions that it was either a King Cobra or a Green Mamba. Mike's coming over tomorrow after church. He'll know.

Stay tuned, dear reader.

Blow Westward, Winds of Prayer

Like many of you, I have family and friends in Oklahoma, and I am happy to report that they were all okay through the recent swaths of destruction wrought by those sinister storms. One friend, a former colleague, lives in Shawnee, but she and her family were spared. Prayers answered, for sure. I have never been in a tornado or even seen one. There was an afternoon when I lived in Iowa and was driving toward Cedar Falls for a meeting. I turned the radio on when I noticed the weather ahead of me looked peculiar. The sky was black and green with dense clouds swirling low to the ground. The radio announcer started reporting that a tornado was just seen at such and such a place in Cedar Falls, and another one, and still a third.

At this point I made the wise decision to not drive on into Cedar Falls, just a few miles away. I turned off the highway and parked along a gravel road near a deep ditch. Shortly after, the all clear was sounded and I went on in.

My sister and her husband live outside Bixby, near Tulsa, and they have what she calls their "hidey hole," a concrete and steel tornado shelter deep into the ground. It has a heavy steel door with steel rods to hold it shut, steel steps leading down, and a heavy concrete and earth dome with a ventilation pipe overhead. Inside, there are two chairs, a table with a radio on it, and flashlights.

They spent time down there these last couple of days.

There are two old musicals that I enjoy. One is "Music Man," set in Iowa. I am partial to that one, being an Iowan. The other is "Oklahoma!" which is pretty good, too. But now, thanks to the tragedies these last few days in that fine state, I can never again hear the overture from the musical that sings forth, "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plains . . . "

Please keep those people afflicted by the wind in your prayers

At least the shirt was clean...

People rarely ask me for advice, and I'm okay with that. As a result, however, sometimes I kindly offer advice, even though it has not been sought. Here's my advice to you: Don't put an open tube of Super Glue in your mouth. You're welcome. No charge.

Understand that this advice comes from someone who hit himself in the head with a baseball bat when just a mere boy, who walked into a stop sign and split his head open resulting in profuse bleeding for which I was unaware until the lady at the dry cleaners screamed, and who was struck on the head by lightning shortly after being married.

Head issues. I'll admit it.

The reason I advise against placing an open tube of Super Glue in one's mouth is born out of experience. A few days ago I was gluing a chair spindle into the place it was supposed to be. So I placed the Super Glue in the hole in the chair and some more on the spindle Then I replaced the spindle in the proper place, but that took two hands; one to hold the chair and one to push the spindle.

What to do with the Super Glue? I figured I could gently hold the tube in my mouth, and I could. Still, some oozed out onto the roof of my mouth, which I worked with for the nest few days, making funny faces for which people held me accountable.

My younger daughter asked me why I didn't hold it with the opening outside my mouth, and I told her, "I didn't want to get any on my shirt."

At that, she began laughing much harder and longer than I thought necessary, without explanation.

Anyway, as the Animals warned in their hit single, "The House of the Rising Sun," just be sure you " . . . don't do what I have done."

You're welcome.

Real Romantic

two_towers_024 Valentine's Day is looming and so I'm going to come right out and say it: I am a romantic. The Oxford English Dictionary's second defintion of romantic is, "of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality. . . " Further, the OED defines "idealized" as "regard or represent as perfect or better than reality."

My idealized view of reality has many faces. For example, I believe certain scenes in movies are real. The battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, for example, are real and make my heart swell every time I see them. They make me want to participate. I believe, and I don't want any additional footage trying to convince me that special effects, camera angles, and choreography were involved. I DON'T WANNA HEAR IT!

Another face of my romanticism works for me in literature. For example, I believe every word of The Life of Pi. I believe the story. I believe Richard Parker was a real tiger and that he and Pi made it to Mexico and Richard Parker strolled off into the jungle and found a girl tiger and they had cubs and a nice habitat and pizza delivery. So don't tell me Richard Parker was a symbol for something else. He was a tiger.

Also, I tend to be a romantic when it comes to sports. I believe my Iowa Hawkeyes will win next year's BCS championship and this year's Final Four. And the Red Sox will win the next World Series.

Finally, I must say that my romantic view of my long-suffering wife is based on facts that interface perfectly with "an idealized view of reality" and "perfect or better than in reality." You can look it up.

The Boy in the Bridal Boutique

Shortly after Christmas, my long-suffering wife and I drove to Florida for a visit with her sister's family in Melbourne. An unexpected highlight awaited. Given the choice of watching a bunch of men in shorts kicking each other's shins or accompanying my wife, her sister, and two nieces to The Bridal Boutique, I chose the latter.

I had wisely avoided such enterprises when my daughters married, so why was I going now? Well, my gifted, talented, lovely, witty, and brilliant niece is getting married in March. She had purchased a wedding gown and was going in for a fitting. Being a lifelong learner, I thought I'd tag along.

While Anna was getting fitted, I roamed around the estrogen-rich environment, looking at wedding gowns on a rack that extended about the length of a football field. The cheapest gown was $1,800, and they escalated into the low 4's. Off the rack. Above the rack were posters of the Bulemia All-Stars modeling various gowns. One young woman appeared to have failed in her attempt to escape vampires.
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Backtracking to the front of the business, I proved useful in picking out the color for the Mother of the Bride dress. Blue. Later passed over for a mauve taupe sea mist stone aqua.

And even though Anna looked radiant in her tasteful gown, I just might pass when it's time for my niece Amy to visit the Bridal Boutique. And maybe give soccer another look.

Local artist? Why yes, I am.

Travelers Rest, South Carolina, is a beautiful little village just north of Greenville. There is a thriving arts community, several wonderful restaurants, and My Sister's Store. My Sister's Store is a bookstore where authors sometimes have book signings. I had never done a book signing because I never had a book to sign. I didn't know where to begin. So, with a copy of my novel, Signs of Struggle, in hand, I pumped up my courage and approached Pam, one of the sisters, and asked if they would be willing to host a book signing for me.

I expected rejection. What I got was, "Yes, we'd love to host a book signing! We just love local authors!"

The signing was on Saturday, October 27th during an "Arts on the Trail" festival, with artisans, chefs, and half-naked runners all over the place. Lisa and I showed up, set up our table, and waited to see if anyone wanted to buy a book.

And you know what? I sold a bunch of books, including one to my niece and her husband from Dahlonega, Georgia, 3 1/2 hours' drive away, surprising us with a "drop-in" visit. Thanks, Kelly and Dan, you made my day. And you know what else? Pam asked me to sign and leave more books to be prominently displayed in the store.

Thankful? Yes. Grateful? Yes. Humbled? Of course. So it was a great day, and I had my first book signing done. Now, my Book Concierge, Rowe Carenen Copeland, has slated me for readings/signings in Greenville;  Athens, Georgia; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I could get used to this.

Cottage Comforts

It's not "little." We prefer "cozy." It's not a "cabin." We prefer "cottage." And due to a delightful configuration of circumstances, it is our "home." We still have the condo as our primary residence, but the cottage is home every chance we get.

Our long-term plan is to live simply and well, and a smaller residence in a beautiful setting was key. Two years of driving around appealing neighborhoods had been frustrating and fruitless. Too big. Too expensive. Too fancy. Too far. Too crowded. Too new.

We like older homes, enjoying their charm and craftsmanship and solid feel so, even though we considered building, we did not fully embrace that approach.

And then our friend Melinda found our home for us. She later admitted hesitancy, thinking the cottage wasn't big enough, that Lisa and I couldn't be interested in a two-bedroom, one bath house. But her hesitancy dissipated and she gave us the word. And when we drove down the narrow lane and saw the cozy white cottage nestled up against the mountain with deep woods on one side and a lovely meadow on the other, we were sure.

Now, every chance we get, we retreat to the beauty, peace, and tranquility of our cottage, where I can nap and write and nap some more and Lisa can attend to an array of established plantings while planning more.

Recently, a friend came by, looked around, and said, "You know, John, this is a special place." I cannot argue with him.

So we've been blessed for sure. We thank God, and thank Melinda, too. Now it's time for me to say, "Y'all come see us now, y'heah?"

The beer is plentiful and cold.

Cell No!

Recently, during a discussion in our kitchen about the time-space continuum and dog farts, the topic of cell phones came up.  I hate them. I think they might have some use if I were back in Iowa, the western counties, and a blizzard was coming on as I drove into the great chasm between Varina and Odebolt, and it might be nice to let people know where I was in case the blizzard blew me into a ditch and covered me up. Barring that, I don’t see much point beyond chatting, and any male who likes to chat, and do so on a cell phone, needs to buy his underwear at Victoria’s Secret. I hate cell phones. However, I own one. Lisa bought me one for my birthday a while back and I am just now learning how to answer it. I carry it in my school bag where it usually stays, and does so in the OFF mode. I know how to send a call and how to receive it. For either, you just flip off (I mean flip open) the phone and push the button marked “STUPID.”

Anyway, Lisa and our younger daughter Rowe were putting together some baked goodies recently, but they had a problem. They were out of brown sugar. I volunteered to go to the store before the football game started. I am such a prince.

“Here, take your phone in case we forget something,” Lisa said, pushing it toward me from the kitchen countertop where it was plugged into an outlet, charging up.

I recoiled from the odious instrument. Pure instinct. It was like the time I came upon a copperhead on the foot path in the mountains. I said, “No, you guys write down exactly what you need and then I’ll be happy to go get it. Without the cell phone.”

“It won’t hurt you to take it, just in case,” Lisa said, scribbling down what else she needed.

“I would rather make three trips to the supermarket than answer one cell phone call.  In public. Make that four trips,” I said.

Lisa game me a look and I acquiesced.

As I reached for the vile thing, Rowe, who loves technology, said, “Let me show you some of the options, Dad.’

“I don’t want any options,” I said. For some reason, she thought that was funny.

When I got to the supermarket I considered leaving the phone in the car. That way, if they called, they could just leave a message and I could say, sorry, I just finished. Then I realized I did not yet know how to retrieve a message, so I slipped the phone in my jeans pocket and went inside. I shopped as fast as I could because I suspected, as a joke, Lisa and Rowe would give me a call. What fun to harass people about that which troubles them. I told them I did not like bells going off in my pockets, especially in public, but I still didn’t trust them.

I was making great progress on the list (cocoa, white flour, and brown sugar) until I got to the brown sugar. Lisa wanted the kind in the plastic bag and all I could find was the kind in a box. On top of that, she had not said what kind of brown sugar – dark brown, light brown, granulated, raw brown, sorta brown, fawn brown, sandalwood brown, faux brown – she wanted. This slowed me down. It also made my body itch all over because I was confident about the trick call allowing the people around me to mutter about the dork talking in the baking supplies aisle.

What to do?  What to do!  I paused, transfixed, in front of the sugar shelves.  If I could grab what she wanted and get out, maybe I’d get home before she and Rowe pull their little joke.

As I reached for the boxed light brown sugar to be used only on weekends by right-handed women of German-Scotch descent, my pocket jingled softly. At first I thought it was someone else because it had never happened to me before. When I realized it was for me, I retrieved the insidious device, flipped it open on the third try, pushed “STUPID” and said, “This better be good.”

It was my bride. “Baking SO-da,” she said.  “Add baking SO-da.”

“I got it,” I muttered. I pressed STUPID to END the message (END rhymes with SEND) avoided the glares of my fellow shoppers, whipped through the “10 Items or Less,” checkout, and sped home.

I hate cell phones.