Saturday, August 30, 2014

Football Time in Tennessee

I'm sitting at Martin's BBQ Joint on Belmont Boulevard, drinking a Yazoo Hefewiezen and watching Alabama-West Virginia on the big screen above the bar.  College football season is finally, at long last, upon us and I am so ready for it.  There's just something about college football in the South that makes it really, really special.  Pro football is popular here, but college football just seems to be on a different level.

For me, the start of college football season means fall is just around the corner - my favorite season.  It also means summer is almost over - my least favortite season.

In the South, people plan their weekends around college football.  This week, I actually was able tos settle a case in large part because one party wanted to be able to watch their favorite SEC team's home opener with the children.  With Jude, J.P. and Joe in Neptune Beach with the Baines' clan, I've planned my entire weekend around watching UT-Utah State with my buddy, Mike Matteson (or "Mr. Mike," as J.P. calls him).

Yep, it's football time in Tennessee!

Monday, August 11, 2014

School Daze

Tomorrow, J.P. starts kindergarten at University School of Nashville, and I think my heart is breaking. 

I am so excited for him, as he embarks on his journey through school.  It is, after all, his journey, although Jude and I will be along for the ride. 

At the same time, I am a little bit sad and, I guess, nostalgic, as I think about times past.  Zero to 6 + in the blink of an eye, and tomorrow J.P. starts school.  Damn. 

Lately J.P. has started sleeping with his "loveys" (stuffed animals) again at night, which he'd gotten away from for a while.  I wonder if that's a byproduct of his being a little nervous about starting school.  If so, I hope Smokey, Gnash, Bruiser, Laker Lovey, Snowbird, T-Rex and Ozzie have brought him some reassurance that things will be okay.

I think, for me, it's the loss of control that troubles me as J.P. starts school.  There will be so much going on there with so many difference variables, all of which is totally and completely out of my control. 

Will J.P. make friends?  Will other kids accept him for who he is?  Will he do well in school?  Will he like his teacher?  Will he like USN?  Will he like school in general?  Will he be scared?  Will he smile enough?  Will he fit in?  Will he be a leader?  Will he be nice to other kids?  Will he succeed?  Is he ready?   

So many questions, banging around repeatedly inside my head like it's an echo chamber.  So few answers.

I remember Ronnie Henderson honking his horn at me as he drove past J.P. and me strolling down 10th Avenue.  It was our first walk together in the City Elite stroller.  Later, Ronnie told me I was literally beaming with pride as I waved back to him.

I remember holding J.P. on the front porch swing after dinner in the spring and summer evenings, swinging and singing to him when he was a tiny baby, glancing at Jude through the window as she ate dinner and watched television for few minutes in between feedings.

I remember breathlessly calling Jude on my cell phone from our front yard while she was napping upstairs, excited beyond belief because J.P. had crawled for the first time on a blanket I had thrown on the ground.

I remember J.P. walking for the first time on our small back deck, staggering like a drunken sailor from Jude to me and back to Jude again, wearing his "Basketball" t-shirt.

I remember strolling all over the neighborhood with J.P. on weekend afternoons while he napped in the stroller.  Bongo Java, 12South Tap Room (ah, Sweeney), Mafiozza's (ah, Doc), Frothy Monkey and others too numerous to name.

I remember so many Sunday mornings at Bongo Java, just J.P. and me, having a quiet breakfast at the middle table in the small back room, him sitting on the window seat beneath the large window that overlooks the back parking lot.

I remember listening to the Avett Brothers' "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa," the first song that J.P. and I really fell into love with together.  "Play that again, Dada," he said, over and over, as we drove around the neighborhood. 

I remember his first meal out with me flying solo, at Tabouli's on Belmont Boulevard, the predecessor to La Fiesta, then later, Chago's Cantina.

I remember running up and down the side of Belmont Boulevard one spring evening after a hard rain, the running water splashing over our shoes as we laughed and laughed.  People watching smiled as we splashed down the street.

I remember playing in the "doctor's office" (a stairwell) at Belmont U., playing college upstairs in the student center and many, many evenings spent on the soccer field there.  So many happy memories of time spent together at Belmont U.

I remember coming home from work one night and listening to Jude and J.P. playing and talking quietly in the nook upstairs, my favorite musical teddy bear playing its music softly in the background.

So many memories.  So many memories to be made.

Godspeed, J.P.  Know that on this night, the night before your first day of kindergarten, your daddy loved you and was so very proud of you.  You're everything I could ever want my firstborn son to be. 











































Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness

(originally posted on August 1, 2014)

I'm sitting in Chan's Wine Bar in Watercolor, FL, sipping a glass of a Henri Boillot white burgundy, Sleeping Joe beside me, on the last afternoon of our vacation.

As proof that the last day of  vacation is always the best, Jude just texted me from the beach to tell me that J.P. is playing touch football with Creighton (a local boy he met this morning) and a couple of other boys.  Sadly, endless summer it is not.

As per usual, below are some of my enduring memories from Santa Rosa Beach 2014, in no particular order.

  • Watching DVD's about John Ward and Condredge Holloway with J.P during lunch, encouraged as he inched ever so slightly toward being a Tennessee fan.  I'm not giving up hope yet.
  • On the beach one glorious evening, reenacting with J.P. a scene from the Condredge Holloway DVD where he leaves Neyland Stadium (then Shields-Watkins Field) for the hospital in the 1st quarter to have his injured shoulder x-rayed, then miraculously returns in the 3rd quarter.  As he enters the stadium and runs all the way around the field to get to the Tennessee sideline, the crowd erupts in a full throated roar.
  • Dusting off the "person are you ready?" routine with Joe, for the first time in 3-4 years, as Joe jumped off the side of the swimming pool into my arms.  It was funny 3-4 years ago, when J.P. would say it before he jumped into the pool and into my arms and it was just as funny when Joe said it.
  • Hanging out with Sleeping Joe at Grayt Coffeehouse and talking to barista Rick Burch.  To quote my friend, Hal Humphreys, "be more than just another customer."  I love Grayton Beach, by the way.
  • Playing football with J.P. (wearing his neon green swim goggles and looking like John Jefferson from the "Air Coryell" days with the San Diego Chargers) in the ocean, laughing as he squealed with delight every time he or I dove into the water to catch the football.  Yes, it's the little things.
  • Telling J.P., "I'm Mean Joe Green," as I ran toward him in the ocean, his eyes growing ever wider as I approached him, then sacking him as he clutched the football to his chest.  This, of course, led to 30 minutes of taking turns being Mean Joe Green and sacking the other in the ocean.  Laughter, lots of uproarious laughter, the whole time.
  • Discovering a 5-mile trail run on the Longleaf Pine Greenway Trail a half mile from our house in  Old Florida Village.  Seeing a bounding deer right in front of me the first day I ran the trail was pretty damn cool.
  • Seeing our friend, Jed, at Blue Mountain Beach Creamery and learning from him that the business is going great.  He looks so different from when we met him 5-6 years ago on our first trip to Santa Rosa Beach, after his family had just opened up the ice cream shop and he was trying to figure out how to run it.  In short, he's grown up.
  • Drinking a couple of beers at The Great Southern in Seaside, FL, with Sleeping Joe riding shotgun next to me at the outside bar.  The Great Southern might be my favorite bar on 30A.
  • Playing UNO (and losing, repeatedly) with Jude and J.P.  Playing Battleship (and winning, repeatedly) with Jude and J.P.  Sadly, J.P. has picked up the worst parts of Jude's and my competitive spirit - he hates to lose (Jude) and he is a poor winner (me). 
  • Dana McLendon's Youtube clip. 
  • Early morning swims with J.P. at the pool, after my morning run, always one of my favorite parts of our vacation to Santa Rosa Beach.
  • Making friends with Kyle, Gabby and their kids (from Tupelo by way of Thomas Street Coffee) and playing with them at the pool in the mornings.  As Jude, J.P. and Joe made the rounds before we left Saturday morning, J.P. got a little teary eyed when he realized they already had left for Mississippi.
  • Watching J.P. befriend Creighton at the beach on Friday, the last day of our vacation, then laughing as they caught dozens of jellyfish together and put them in buckets of ocean water and sand.
As always, it was a much needed vacations to Santa Rosa Beach.  I'm more than a little sad it went by so fast.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Home Away From Home

(originally posted on July 30, 2014)

I'm sitting at the outside bar at "The Great Southern" in Seaside, FL, reprising a splendid afternoon I visit I had last summer w/Sleeping Joe.  If further proof is needed that my visit this afternoon is indeed a sequel, Sleeping Joe is alongside once again, his stroller bellied up to the bar.  I love this place.

We're on vacation for the 6th consecutive year in Santa Rosa Beach this week, staying in the same house in Old Florida Village ("Cracker Jack") we stayed in last year.  Joe and I slipped over to Seaside this afternoon, so he could catch a nap and I could catch a cold beer or two.

I've been thinking, there are advantages and disadvantages to vacationing at the same place every year.

If you're a creature of habit, like I am, and averse to change, like I am, vacationing in the same place every year brings with it a certain allure.  Over the years, I've explored and discovered several running routes in and around Santa Rosa Beach, including most recently the Longleaf Pine Greenways Trail that is near our house and simply the perfect place for a 4-5 mile trail run.  I've discovered coffee houses I can sneak away to with Joe (or J.P. in the old days) while he naps and I catch upon e-mail, blog a bit or just read (Grayt Coffee House, Starbucks in Grayton Beach (gone now) and Ama Vida in Seaside.  The same holds true for bars/restaurants I like to slip into while Joe naps, places like The Great Southern, Crush in Seaside, Red Bar in Grayton Beach, etc.).  As a family, we've found restaurants we like to eat at every trip, places like Local Catch, Elmo's and the Pickle Factory.

And we always, always return to see our friend, Jed, at Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, an ice cream shop he and his family opened shortly before our first trip to Santa Rosa Beach 6 years ago.  We've stayed in touch with Jed and, as such, one of the highlights of our vacation every year is stopping by his shop for the first of several afternoon or evening visits and seeing him again.  The ice cream there is amazing.

Disadvantages?  Well, I'm not exactly exploring ne running routes, coffee houses, bars and restaurants.

Same old, same old?  Probably, but for me, that's just about right.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Softball Wire

(sitting on my front porch, listening to James McMurtry's "Hurricane Party," enjoying a 69 degree night in mid-July)

As best I can remember, I started pitching a softball in 1986, maybe 1987.  Almost 30 years ago in intramurals at UT (Knoxville).  I learned from "Preppy" Drew Daniel, an older fraternity brother of mine from Americus, Georgia.  The beautiful thing about intramural softball in college was that if you could land the ball on a green rug placed behind home plate, the pitch was a strike.  It didn't matter how high you pitched the ball, if it landed on the rug, it was strike.

Well, we all have undiscovered talents.  Mine is the ability to pitch a softball 20 or 30 feet in the air and land it right behind home plate.  That's it.  I can pitch a softball like few other people I've come across.  I just can.  It's a ridiculous, useless skill in almost every way, but it's mine nonetheless.  And I've been utilizing it on softball fields in Knoxville (UT), Franklin (Fieldstone Farms), Brentwood (Granny White Park) and Nashville (West Park, East Park, Cain Ridge, Paragon Mills (once) and Shelby Park (gone but not forgotten) for almost three decades. 

Which brings us to tonight.

I had a "law league" (Nashville Bar Association) softball game against B-D at East Park.  It was just a normal, regular season game against a law firm with several attorneys who are friends of mine and who I respect a great deal.  At least it started out that way.

It was nothing and it was everything.

Jude, J.P. and Joe came to the game, as they normally do.  Jude brought cupcakes (it's my "birthday month" she and J.P. had made, which was sweet.  Having my family at my softball games is great, for so many reasons.  J.P. sits in the dugout during the games and it's awesome to watch him interact with my teammates.  After the games, J.P. and Joe take turns hitting and running the bases.  This year, J.P. slides into all of the bases and deliberately tries to skin his knees and elbows, which is a hoot. 

And, for me, one of the coolest things is knowing the boys are watching me do something I'm really good at it - pitching a softball.  I like that they can see their old man doing something remotely athletic with at least a fairly high skill level.  Okay, I don't like that.  I love it.

Tonight's game was a slugfest.  We were playing with only nine players and one woman, as a result of which we had to take an out every time the 10th spot in our order came around.  Still, we hit well and had a large lead until the last few innings, when B-D rallied and tied the score at 27.  We scored 3 runs in the top of the 7th inning before I grounded out to shortstop for the last out.  If we could hold them in the bottom of the 7th inning, we would win.

B-D loaded the bases with two outs, down by three runs and the winning run at the plate.  The batter (whom I hadn't met until tonight) was arguably their best hitter and had hit two home runs off me already.  My first pitch was a called strike.  Then, I deliberately pitched him outside on the second pitch.  He popped the ball up and as it spun backwards, almost foul, near the 3rd base line, I lunged toward it.  I dove for the ball and caught it, just off the ground, for the last out of the game.  As I rolled over in the dirt, I looked up, right into our dugout on the 3rd base side and made eye contact with J.P.  He grinned at me, pride in his eyes. 

J.P.'s old man can still play softball. And he was there to see it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Winding Down

(this is a post I drafted on my iPad a little over a month ago)

May 26, 2014

It's Memorial Day and I'm sitting inside at P.M., drinking a glass of white wine, listening to a Grateful Dead mix playing not so quietly in the background.  Interesting place, P.M.  Sleeping Joe is beside me, tucked away and dozing in the City Elite stroller (tip of the cap, again, to Baby Jogger, or #babyjogger, as we say in the "age of Twitter).

Things are winding down, or so it feels to me in the here and now.

Joe is almost 2 1/2 years old and my weekend afternoons with him in the stroller have dwindled to almost nothing.  J.P.'s baseball games on Saturdays inevitably intrude, as we scramble to find a suitable nap time and place for Joe.  Also, he's getting to the age where he naps really well in his crib.  It's a little easier for me to take J.P. on weekend afternoons, let Joe nap in his crib and give Jude a little well deserved down time.  It's been on the horizon for a while and, in truth, it's here - the end of my weekend afternoon strolls with Joe.  And it absolutely kills me.  I could write an entire blog post about it, and I probably will.

J.P. finished school at Children's House last week.  3 wonderful years filled with love, learning, laughter and the occasional tears.  Jude and I learned as much, if not more, than he did.  I suspect that's always going to be the case.  What a spectacular place for J.P. to spend his 3rd, 4th and 5th years, surrounded by friends and teachers who loved him every day.  The age of innocence for him (and us), is almost over and, to be sure, it went by far too fast.  All of J.P.'s K-club friends have scattered to the winds ad they prepare to attend different schools this fall.  Although I diligently tried to appreciate every minute J.P. spend at Children's House, I can't quite shake the nagging feeling that I took it a little bit for granted.  I find myself more than a little sad at the prospect of it coming to and end.  Winding down, if you will.

J.P.'s baseball team, with I coached - the Red Sox, completed or season yesterday.  What a great group of boys and parents, the likes of which I'm not sure I'll see again.  6U baseball is maybe the perfect youth sport.  Coach pitch (or tee ball, for the boys who struggle to make contact with the ball) allows me to develop a one-on-one bond with each boys, pitcher to batter.  It's special.  Everybody bats, nobody keeps score and nobody makes an out.  Perfect.  We're starting a 6U all star team next week and that's a totally different deal.  Winning and losing.  Succeeding and failing.  Making outs.  In a different context, the end of the age of innocence. 

In our last practice on Tuesday, J.P. bounced a ball over the centerfield fence during batting practice, which stunned him and me (gale force winds notwithstanding).  It was awesome! 

Jude and I have looked at houses, talked about renovating our house and poured over new listings e-mailed to us by our realtor.  Our time in our house, at least as it's currently situated, is nearing an end.  We may renovate our house, we may sell it and buy a new one or we may sell our house and buy and renovate a new one.  Whatever happens, our time (almost 12 years0 in the house Jude and I bought on the eve of our marriage, the house in which we've laughed and cried and into which we carried both of our boys in a car seat as they arrived home with us from Baptist Hospital - well, it's winding down.

Now, Joe's nap is winding down.  He's starting to stir in the stroller.  Time to walk down to Bongo Java, so I can have a sippy cup of mile ready for him when he awakes.  And then, a nice stroll home, with Joe and I talking to each other all the way.

Life is good.

Friday, July 4, 2014

4th of July

It's July 4th and I'm sitting on my front porch in the fading twilight, listening to fireworks explode, near and far, with Sly and the Family Stone's "It's a Family Affair" as background music from a party up the alley across the street.  I just took my first sip of a Yazoo Hefeweizen, fresh from a growler I filled up this afternoon at the Yazoo Brewery on Division Street.

Just another summer night in the city, albeit a summer night that feels like early fall.  For some crazy reason, the high temperature today was 81 degrees - on July 4th!  Right now, it's 71 degrees.  The crescent moon is peaking at me between the leaves of my stately old maple tree and crickets are chirping loudly.  The boys are already asleep after a busy day and Jude is upstairs, reading in bed.

It's evenings like this that I'll really miss if and when we move out of the city.  I love the city sounds.  I love the physical closeness of my neighbors - next door, across the street or up the alley.  I love the sound of cars driving on Elliott Avenue in front of my house or up and down Acklen Avenue around the corner.  I love the sound of Engine #8, sirens blaring, when it leaves the station to go on a run.  I love all of it and I'll miss it terribly, I know.

But, I digress.  Busy, busy holiday today. 

This morning, I strolled Joe down to Sevier Park to meet Jude and J.P., who were playing tennis.  While Joe and I played on the playground with dozens of neighborhood children and their parents, J.P. defeated Jude in 3 "sets." (they have a unique scoring system in their tennis matches that I don't quite understand).  Jude and the boys strolled back home while I picked up lunch at the "secret Subway" around the corner from Belmont U. 

We ate lunch on the front porch and played a variation of a game we invented long ago, when J.P. was 2 or 3 years old.  We watched for cars passing in front of our house, with J.P. getting one point for every gray, green or white care and me getting one point for every red, blue or black car.  Sadly, he beat me 12-9, even though I thought I had stacked my lineup by choosing red and blue.  Who knew that almost everyone drives a gray or silver car?

At J.P.'s suggestion, we reenacted "the Music City Miracle" in the front yard over and over again, taking turns playing the parts of Lorenzo Neal (who fielded the kickoff and pitched it back), Frank Wycheck (who caught the pitch from Lorenzo Neal, ran to the right, then passed the football back across the field) and Kevin Dyson (who caught the pass and ran behind a convoy of blockers to the end zone.  Eat your heart out, Bills' fans, IT WAS NOT A FORWARD LATERAL.

Watch it right here!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pfz4JViRkoA

When Jude put Joe down for a nap, J.P. and I went on a hike - our first hike ever - in Shelby Bottoms.  It was really, really cool spending that time with J.P. and showing him the trails where I have probably run a thousand times over the past decade.  I don't get to Shelby Bottoms as much as I used to, but I love those trails.  J.P. raved and raved about how much fun it was to hike.  In particular, he liked how peaceful it was walking through the woods ("Beaver Woods," actually - I learned that today looking at a map of the trails with him).  For me, it was just really good father-son time, just the two of us.  Not watching a game on TV, not playing with the iPad or reading a book, just walking through the woods with backpacks on our backs. 

Toward the end of the return leg of our hike, he started to get tired, which was understandable, since we hiked 4+ miles.  Still, he held up like a champ.  When we arrived home, he talked Jude into playing soccer with him in the backyard.  It's crazy how much energy he has. 

For dinner, Jude cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, which were delicious.  Then, a final walk around the block, baths and bed.

That's a full day, don't you think?