Renewing......

.... goodnight, all....... I wish you all the best in the coming New Year....... and although I know that to discerning ears, Lombardi misses the cue in a few places, he will still always be the BEST in my mind when it comes to the old Burns classic........ so, enjoy........

..... Happy New Year, everyone!....... may this one be twice as nice as the one that has just passed....... peace to you all....... and may you all get everything that you wish for.......

.... hey, Vanderbilt did..... and if it is OK for them, then why not for us?!.......

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Clinton....

.... Clinton, Tennessee is the county seat of Anderson County..... snuggled in between the western edge of the Appalachians and the eastern fringe of the Cumberland Plateau, it's a kind of natural crossroads....

.... it's a small place, in the Great Scheme of Things.... and with a population of just under 10,000, it literally dwarfs the small town where I grew up - Clinton's population density being nearly 10 times larger than my little hometown.... but it still feels like a small, cozy, friendly town....

..... the Clinch River flows through Clinton.... further to the east, the Holston and French Broad rivers conflue at Knoxville to produce the Tennessee River... and the Clinch eventually flows into the Tennessee further to the southwest at Kingston....

.... in days gone by, my Father often found himself using the small railroad yard there as a daily base of operations for his welding crew.... traveling out with his two-ton truck each morning to repair various points along the great Southern Railway as it snaked through the mountains towards Virginia....

.... and on one such occasion, I made the trip with him......

.... I was a tall, scrawny 15-year old red-head with seventeen billion freckles who probably weighed 150lbs soaking wet.... he was the same height as I, but you could hardly tell that we were related.... broad, straight, and with a bone-deep suntan & a shock of golden-blonde hair, he looked like he should be heading ashore to sack York with the rest of his Viking mates instead of frying eggs for me before heading off to work....

... it was late July, if I remember correctly... in any case, that date sticks in my mind.... mainly because one of the tasks that I had been given to accomplish while he was off railroading (and I was wandering around Clinton exploring) was to find a Tennessee pearl ring for my Mother's birthday..... that area of northeastern Tennessee having been famous for their freshwater pearls.... (and her birthday being in July...) ...

.... I spent the first few days wandering up and down Main Street looking in shop windows.... I'd find a place to have lunch by myself - usually a burger or a hotdog - and just generally watch the world go by until time for him to get off work..... but as I said, Clinton, while much larger than my old stomping grounds, still isn't exactly a metropolis.... and after two days of strolling, I had pretty much seen all that there was to see in the fine, old town of Clinton, Tennessee.....

.... and that's when I decided to explore the trains......

.... what is it that they say about "Idle hands being the Devil's playthings"?..... well, I suspect that there is more than a little truth in that old one-liner....

.... for verily, on the third day, I got into trouble.......

.... there were three or four sets of tracks laid out in neat rows just yards from my Dad's little trailer.... and after he had departed, I sat on the top step and watched the cars slowly being pushed around.... one boxcar switched to the left.... another - a tanker - switched to the right.... coal car after coal car clanged their way towards a newly-forming train..... the noise was terrific as each car slammed into its neighbor and the couplings caught..... I was fascinated.... being around such heavy, slow-moving pieces of equipment was like being a pygmy surrounded by elephants in some far off jungle..... curiosity and boredom finally got the best of me, though, and I crunched off through the gravel to get a closer look at the cars..... looking back, I suspect that any random jungle pygmy had a lot more common sense than I did at 15.....

.... to be continued tomorrow...... (and yes, I know that 'conflue' isn't a word..... but hey, it is now!.... )

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Trains....

.... when I was fifteen years old I accompanied my Father to work one week..... he was foreman of a welding gang for Southern Railway, and his territory stretched from Bristol, TN in the north to Ooltewah, TN in the south..... quite a stretch of real estate, actually...... and as such, he usually spent most of every week away from home.....

... nowadays the railroad will put you up in a hotel room.... but back then, they'd provide their traveling gangs with a small trailer that slept 8 men..... his "gang" consisted of he & his assistant..... and since his assistant was from Strawberry Plains, he normally traveled to and from work each day from home..... this mean that - most of the time - my Dad was alone in the trailer after work....

..... I bring this up because I'm just back from having nipped into town for some light bulbs & laundry detergent.... and on the drive, I found myself stuck at a railroad crossing while one of CSX's finest slowly chugged its way southwards.... and as the boxcars rolled by, I noticed a gentleman laying inside one of the cars soundly asleep..... (at least I assume that he was asleep and not, well, dead...).....

.... anyway, I was a bit shocked to see someone "hobo'ing" these days..... with surveillance systems, barcodes, homeland security, etc, one would imagine that the railroad police would have a pretty firm grip on keeping people from hopping on a train just to see where it'd take them... I've seen people riding in boxcars before, though, so it must be quite common......

.... when I was growing up, I was surrounded by everything Train-related... my maternal grandfather used to regale me with tales of his own hobo-type adventures from when he was a young man during The Great Depression.... how he caught a train in Sweetwater that was headed north.... on to DC, Philly, and Boston.... west to Columbus, Chicago, and eventually the West Coast.... and finally back to Tennessee just before the beginning of WWII..... I remember thinking back on his stories as being so amazingly romantic.... an adventure born out of something other than what it really was - desperation.....

... and my Father, too..... he'd arrive home on the weekends and tell of far away places where he'd worked all week..... John Sevier Yard in Knoxville, Coster Shop, Lake City, Clinton, Jellico..... he'd give me timetable pamphlets that were tattered and covered in coal dust and I'd soak up each place name..... every town, siding, and yard seemed so exotic..... and my mind would take me there like an explorer.... again, never realizing just how hard of a job it was that he was doing..... how he was frozen in the winter, baked in the summertime, and soaked in the spring and fall.....

... and yet Trains have always been romantic to me..... even now....

.... there's a track near my house, and every time I hear the whistle go, it sparks my imagination.....

.... but seeing that fellow today also reminded me of the first (and only) time that I ever jumped on a train illegally..... I guess I should attempt to write it down..... I was nearly friggin' killed.....

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Ragtop.....

.... it's just after 4pm here..... December 27th, 2008...... and I've just turned off the central heating and opened all the windows in the house.... and earlier today I drove into town to fetch lunch for The Missus with the top down on Sylvia..... my goodness, 70 degrees on December 27th... the chill is supposed to return tomorrow, though, with temps back down near the freezing point.....

.... hell, I suspect that each of the darling woodland creatures that inhabit my neck of the woods have probably been scratching their furry heads and checking, checking, and re-checking their calendars for most of the day today out of pure bewilderment......

... as for me, I've been a bit lacking in the bewilderment department these days.... it's odd, really.... it seems that nothing has be able to surprise me lately..... which, actually, is a bit of a curse since I am a huge fan of surprises.... but today, though, it seems that the chain that has held me down like Marley's ghost has fallen free...... and Surprise has once again snuck back in..... it wasn't the weather, though..... just little everyday things that I once had - and then had missed - popped up again today..... and each little surprise was welcomed, accepted, and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed....

.... I am continually amazed at how the small things in life make all of the difference.....

..... anyway, I'm off to check on a pork tenderloin that is currently swimming in a garlic & mustard marinade in the fridge..... backstroke, I think......

.... and with that, boys and girls, I'm off..... my Sainted Mother is coming over for dinner this evening, and I've got cooking to do.....

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Mushing!....

...... nothing says 'Happy Christmas" like a tale of a selfless act of bravery, friendship, privation, perseverance, humor, and cremation....... and having said that - and since to day is Christmas Day and I'm off to make pancakes for The Missus - I will leave you with a poem - a small part of which takes place on some long ago (and fictitious) Christmas Day..... way, way up in the Yukon..... a heluva lot closer to Santa Claus than I am down here in Tennessee......

..... so if you feel inclined, give this a listen..... I posted it originally back in October of 2004...... but hey, my voice hasn't changed all that much in the past four years...... so just pretend that this is the FIRST time that I've posted it....

..... I hope that my reading put you all in the proper festive, thankful, giddy, and joyous mood needed for a proper celebration of The Holidays.....

..... and as Tiny Tim often says this time of year - and rightly so, "God Bless Us, Every One." ...

.... Merry Christmas, blogworld...... I'm off to watch Scrooged and eat blueberry pancakes......

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Greatness......

..... happy Christmas Eve, rubberneckers....... I hope that this morning finds you all well.... as for me, I'm just dandy-oh.....

....well, apart from having trimmed my toenails a wee bit too close last night whilst watching Discovery Channel shows about ancient Egypt....

... which reminds me, how the hell did Alexander the Great "rule" his empire when he was nearly constantly romping, stomping, and conquering thousands of miles away?..... I mean, what's the deal with waltzing into Egypt, declaring yourself Pharaoh, and then buggering off to Babylon & India?.... and dying at nearly 33??..... he should have kept himself in Egypt, if you ask me.... I mean, I love korma and naan as much as the next guy, but I do believed I'd have stayed in Memphis and ordered a carry-out instead of making the walk.....

.... anyway, I'm looking very much forward to opening the socks and tee-shirts this year that Santa Claus is going to bring me.... Santa is always good to me, folks.....

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Pubfare.....

.... well, the steak pie that I whipped up last night rocked the house...... the words "better than the pub" were used, and that made me quite proud..... and since I'm not feeling overly creative tonight, here's the recipe that I dreamt up.......

... you will need - in no particular order - the following....

1lb of chopped steak - cubed..... (I actually bought a packet of "steak kabobs" from the grocer and then quartered each kabob once I got home)
Olive oil
Flour
Beef bouillon or stock
1 large white onion
3 cloves of garlic
black pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Mushrooms (if you are so inclined)
1 egg
1 package of puff pastry

.... this was so simple that even a Straight White Guy caveman could do it.....

.... with the oil, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and garlic in the pan, I browned the steak cubes slowly... once they achieved a nice brown color and were cooked through, I added the onion & chopped mushrooms.... I also added 1 cup of hot water that I had impregnated with some handy-dandy beef bouillon paste and upped the temperature....

.... the pan that I used was quite large.... so I ended up having about 1/2 inch of liquid in the bottom of the pan while it bubbled away..... anyway, I covered all that mess up and let it simmer away for three hours.... due to it being covered, there wasn't much of a reduction..... but the steak (which was quite lean) did cook well enough so that it was tender enough to be broken into smaller pieces by being pressed with a wooden spoon......

.... I preheated the oven to 400 and and began thickening the meat's gravy by adding a teaspoon of flour..... to get the thickness that I wanted I had to use four tablespoons - mixing each tablespoon of flour individually with the gravy, onions, mushrooms, and meat.....

... once it was thick enough, I decanted everything to an ungreased casserole dish..... having let the puff pastry thaw earlier, I draped it over the casserole dish and folded each corner back onto itself (the pastry was square and my dish was round.... and I couldn't be bothered cutting off the corners)..... besides, MORE pastry is a GOOD thing....... I tucked it in around the edges to make sure it had a good seal, and then poked a 1/2 inch hole in the middle for venting....

.... after that, I cracked the egg, whisked it up with a tablespoon of water, and glazed the pastry... the whole shebang was then baked at 400 for roughly 35 minutes (until the pastry was done).....

.... and there you go, boys and girls...... thick, meaty, and rich...... I served it with a sizeable pile of thick-cut Freedom Fries..... and it was yummy, yummy, yummy, folks..... probably not a good meal for anyone with sodium issues, though..... but wow, those fries sure were perfect for sopping up all that gravy......

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Pie.....

..... today dawned clear & breezy..... and downright chilly..... but the rain that has been here for the past week finally moved on.... it's amazing what a little sunshine can do......

.... as I write this, the thermometer in the garage is telling me that tonight's temperature will be well into the freezing range..... and tomorrow should see wind chills around the 5 degree mark......

.... I received a call today informing me that my Brother-in-Law had arrived safely in Scotland, and is going to be spending Christmas with my in-laws.... they are overjoyed, and we're happy too.... he'll definitely provide them with plenty of Holiday Cheer..... sadly, though, his wife didn't make the trip.... so she will be spending the holidays holding down the proverbial fort at their home in Bangladesh..... but still, it is good that he is there.....

.... here tonight?.... the air is thick with the smell of beef steak, onions, gravy, and garlic..... a juicy, dark mixture is currently percolating away on the stove.... a bit later tonight? .... well, it'll be lovingly casseroled, covered with an egg-brushed puff pastry, baked, and greedily consumed with a side order of "chips" while the wind howls outside.....

.....Steak Pie & Chips, ladies and gentlemen...... it's what's for dinner..... and I am stoked....

..... depending on how the pastry works out, I might post a photo..... hell, depending on how it tastes, I might actually write down the recipe....

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Time....

..... once upon a time, I absolutely loved Christmas.... in fact, the days that ran between Halloween & January 2nd were always my most favorite of the entire year....

.... Halloween, parties, candy, and costumes... knowing that Thanksgiving was lurking just around the corner with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie.... and then the school holiday - two weeks off for Christmas and New Year..... deer season opening, morning hunts, sniping squirrels with the .22 magnum, Grandpa helping me cook and clean them, Dad congratulating me as he ate them......... and then Christmas with its decorations, presents, feasts, and surprises....

.... I was a child back then.....

.... and then I left home at 17 and went off to join the Corps.... that was in May of 1990..... but by the time Christmas rolled around I had enough leave built up that I managed to bum a ride from NTTC Corry Station in Pensacola up to Tennessee to be with The Family... I mentioned my driver on that trip here once, long ago, if you are the inquisitive type and wish to delve....

.... every year from 1991 to 1999 found me absent from Christmas in Tennessee... I was overseas during all of that time and always managed to visit the folks when the weather was warmer..... thus missing The Holidays....

.... in late 2000 I quit my job in Scotland and moved back to Tennessee to help my Mother take care of my dying Father... I remember making a mental note of the fact that it was the first Christmas that I had been with my Mom and Dad in what seemed like forever..... my Dad's family even attempted to keep all of their bickering at bay for a few hours and have a Generational Family Christmas with each other....

.... in truth, it really was quite a monumental effort..... every single one of my Grandpa's children, their children, and their children all together under the same roof at Christmas..... it worked, mostly..... looking back now, it is a miracle that no one got killed...... but they all knew that it was my first Christmas home in a long time.... and likely the last Christmas for my Dad..... so they behaved themselves and tried to get along "for him"..... lots of photographs were taken of The Event.... and it hasn't happened again.... .

.... he died the following May, and Christmas has not been the same since....

.... This year has been watched by my Mother, Brother, and I like a shark circling a whale carcass..... you just KNOW that something is going to take a bite out of you, you just don't know exactly when....... good god, just waiting and waiting for Christmas to arrive...... the sense of foreboding is so damn thick that you'd need an industrial Saw's-All to release even one tiny shred of the pressure - but yet, here it is....... Christmas is here....

.... The Missus put the tree up two days ago out of sheer boredom..... I sat on the couch and watched that poseur "Bear Grylls" do shit in the Cairngorms that I have done myself a hundred times and had a GREAT time doing so... "Man vs.. Wild" is such bullshit..... but I digress...... anyone wanting to see what survival is really about, just be quiet and watch Les Stroud......

.... anyway, I spent the better part of today beginning my Christmas shopping in Knoxville in the rain, gloom, grey, and traffic...... yes, I know that it is the 20th of December, but I can't help it....... next year we'll probably be shopping on the 21st..... it is what it is.... and as it is slated right now?.... my Christmas cards will begin flowing forth from The Compound around (or very near) Christmas Eve......

.... all in all, I'm just not in the mood...... not in the mood, at all.......

.... as a matter of fact, there was a family pow-wow after Thanksgiving where everyone agreed to limit their expenditures for Christmas to (and hopefully less than) 150 bucks per person...... hey, I'm hip...... and I am downtown with that....... but fast forward a month, and my Mother asks for a used computer that someone is selling - price? 150 bucks..... I agreed and paid.... and she said, "nothing else"..... so, that is exactly what she is getting....

.... as for me?...... I have no idea what I am getting, but all I want for Christmas is Time...... time with those that I love...... there is NEVER enough time.... and time is the most precious gift that you can give....... Time..... I want it..... I need it....... and I searched every damn place in The Mall today and never found it in stock.....

..... The Missus is getting socks and underwear....... that might seem odd, but it isn't..... hey, she needs them....... like the Rolling Stones said back in the day, right?..... "You get what you need!"........ besides, we all buy what we need or WANT throughout the year, so what is Christmas without the gifts?.... especially since The Family is not the same?.......

..... Mom has her computer..... and my Brother is getting a lump of coal and a bottle of bourbon On Principle....... his girlfriend will get a sweater.... and her children will each get a twenty-dollar toy from Wal-Mart that either buzzes, bounces, spins, sings, or has lots of flashing lights.....

.... in short?.... Bah!..... HUMBUG!....... I want to be a child again....... and I want more fucking time......

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Boogie?.....

..... it is true that The Internet is a wonderful, wonderful place.... stuffed full of gems and dross, you just never know what the next clickety-click is going to give you....... and while hope springs eternal every Friday around here, today was not as I expected......

.... and once again The Great Reader has fallen grossly inadequate in trying to convince me to dance on a Friday......

.... sir, WTF?..... KC and the Sunshine Band?..... 'Boogie Shoes'?...... have you been sniffing the uranium again?....

.... brother, that stuff isn't even music, is it?......

..... anyway, here's a little something that blipped across my radio on the way out to town today....... not really danceable, no.... but it beats the hell out of 'Boogie Shoes'......

.... and for those of you who wish to sing along, feel free.....

ZZ Top I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide

Well I was rollin' down the road in some cold blue steel,
I had a bluesman in the back, and a beautician at the wheel.
We're going downtown in the middle of the night
We was laughing and I'm jokin' and we feelin' alright.
Oh I'm bad, I'm nationwide.
Yes I'm bad, I'm nationwide.

Easin' down the highway in a new Cadillac,
I had a fine fox in front, I had three more in the back.
They sportin' short dresses, wearin' spike-heeled shoes,
They smokin' Lucky Strikes, and wearing nylons too.
'Cause we're bad, we're nationwide.
Yeah we bad, we're nationwide.

Well I was movin' down the road in my V-8 Ford,
I had a shine on my boots, I had my sideburns lowered.
With my New York brim and my gold tooth displayed,
Nobody give me trouble cause they know I got it made.
I'm bad, I'm nationwide.
Girl I'm bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, I'm nationwide.


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Disorder....

..... I read this a few days ago and, well, I just couldn't help myself..... clicken to embiggen, of course......

books_small.jpg

.... my humble living room is home to two massive book shelves junk repositories that are chockablock with stuff.... so hey, Erica!.... I hope that this suitably tweaks your OCD!.... just like pets & small children, you have to FEED a good mental disorder to keep it happy!.... and I really hope that this helps!.....

... oh, and the magazines down near the bottom-right are mainly old Military History, Civil War, and Jane's Defence Weekly....

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Ducking......

.... I take it by now that most everyone has witnessed video footage of that wacky Iraqi lobbing his loafers at President Bush......

.... well, two of my favorite bloggers have approached the incident - and both from completely different viewpoints.......

..... here is my buddy, Big Stupid Tommy's take......

.... and here is that of The Maximum Leader ala Naked Villainy......

...... I'm not a violent man, per se - sure, I have my moments - but I tend to lean more towards The Maximum Leader at this particular moment.....

.... hey, call me old fashioned, call me a Hillbilly, call me whatever you like...... I don't fucking care...... but if someone attacks me, all bets are off.......

... the only thing that I will quibble with is this - unlike The Maximum Leader, I would not have snatched the first shoe out of the air..... no.... most likely, I would have ducked it just like Dubya..... but as I saw the SECOND shoe come a'flyin'?...... (and since the FIRST shoe hadn't exploded and scarred my ass with a million bits of leather & lace shrapnel?...... well, the beating would have commenced, ladies and gents......

.... when faced with an uncertain violent intent, it is always best to see if explosives and/or firearms are involved first or not....... like myself at the moment, I suspect that George was only armed with a pocket knife at the time of attack (or possibly an un-exploded shoe) but hey, that's just MY rule of thumb......

.... never take a knife to a Semtex fight, folks..... you'll lose..... unless you get really, really close... .and really, really lucky......

... actually, I'm surprised that one of the Secret Service guys didn't cap his ass with a 9 after that first shoe was thrown...... Hell, if I was Dubya, I'd be working on some "Protect Me Drills" with The Boys this weekend..... after all, an Iraqi threw a shoe at him a few days ago...... TWICE.......

.... that's just plain ole, everyday fucked up... at least ONE of those shoes should have bounced off the kevlar'd chest of a guy with a ear-piece in his ear and a MP5 in his hand..... right?....

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Pride......

..... Boom Boom........

...... I watched most of these fights while sitting on the couch with my Pa back when I was just a pup........

......HBO was still in its infancy back then....... and I am now a HUGE Zevon fan?......... his music rocks, of course, but still, go figure.....

.... but, good lord..... in its own way, it really is quite beautiful, isn't it?...... if you tilt your head right and pay very close attention?.....

.... some times we just have to beat things, right?......otherwise, what was the lesson?.....

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Religion.....

..... today has been one gloomy sumbitch, weather-wise..... the morning was beautiful, but the afternoon tailed off into a complete funk..... as such, I've been spent a large part of today cleaning out old photographs from the computer and filing them away in their proper locations.... I managed to dig up quite a few from my recent trip (three months ago) to France.......

.... here's one taken on a daytrip out to the village of Equisheim......

religion_small.jpg

.... that discarded wine bottle adds an interesting touch to the statue of the crucified Jesus, non?...... especially since Pope Leo IX was born just around the corner from there.....

... I tell you, it truly is amazing what you can see whilst on holiday..... I mean, I can just imagine some poor sod standing there.... gazing intently at poor Jesus and swigging steadily - deep in contemplation - from his bottle of vino.....

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Green.....

..... we live in a world of wonders..... and beasts....

.... whilst checking the blogroll this morning, I happened to notice that Oom Keesie was displaying a nice photograph of a strange creature that had visited him recently.....

.... and while not quite as impressively camouflaged as his, I couldn't help but remember the day that this guy wandered into the garage here last summer....

mantis_smalla.jpg

... here's another view......

mantis_small2.jpg

.... and yes, that is a full-sized bottle of beer in the background..... looking back now, I'm pretty sure that he was after our hummingbirds..... a few years ago, I actually watched a mantis sit in the driveway and crunch its way through a struggling field mouse..... and it was not a pretty sight.....

.... but that's life..... sure, it's not like watching a lion rip the guts out of a gazelle, but still.....

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Rubberneckin'.....

.... a term that I have used for nearly six years now.......... "rubbernecking".....

.... nice lyrics, though........ quite snappy if you listen closely enough.....

.... I am off to bed...... with visions of Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart dancing in my head.....

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Stuff.....

...... Dear Santa Claus,

.... hey, big guy...... your ole buddy Eric here.... hope that you and the all the rest of The Gang are doing well and ahead of schedule on your upcoming round-the-world gift-fest...... as for me, I'm just excellent....... had a slight head cold on and off for the past month or so, but I'll survive..... 'tis The Season, after all, right?.......

.... oh, and I know that I should have just sent you an email like everyone else, but I thought it might be a bit easier if I dropped you a line here since I know how unbelievably busy you must be right now....... and hey, those proverbial wires do get crossed.... we all make mistakes, you know?.... especially with the millions of Erics in this wide, wide world.... and I know that your email inbox must be absolutely PACKED this time of year....... not to even mention your snail mail, good lord...... but since I know that you read my blog more and more regularly since I stopped posting thoughts on Audrey Hepburn, silk skirts, Italian leather, and Esprit scooters, I figured it'd just be easier to post something here for you to read whilst kicking it with your Scotch after hours, if you know what I mean.....

.... besides, I know how wonky email can be at the best of times....... and well, I just knew that this would be a better way of communication....... don't want you getting me confused with that OTHER Eric who spends all year long yearning for sports socks, festive turtlenecks, and books on trivial facts from Around The Globe....

.... and I do have to admit that I figured my chances might be a bit better if you already had your feet up, Mrs.. Claus on her knees at the end of the ottoman lovingly rubbing your boot calluses, a Talisker half-finished resting in your hand, and the elves snoring peacefully before you surfed on by.....

.... anyhoo, I hope you are enjoying a gentle buzz and that the reindeer haven't been giving you too much trouble.....

..... I know you're a busy guy, so I'll get right to it....... if you have been wondering what to bring me this year, here are a few helpful hints....

.... take this, for instance..... an absolute STEAL at 2,150 Pounds Sterling.... personally, I think it would look just GREAT hanging in the old blogroom.....

eve_the_girl_with_the_bobbed_hair.jpg

.... also, I have been informed From Upon High that I will soon be needing some of these...... evidently souffls are in my future..... hey, who knew that people would ever be asked to cook souffls in McMinn County?!?....

.... and as I know that you are probably leaning towards the dishes at this point, Santa, I'll keep the list short...... so if it is humanly possible at all, I wouldn't mind rounding out my holiday with eight or ten of these babies in my stocking Christmas Morning......

gold_eagle.jpg

..... you can get them here at a nice price....

..... well, that pretty much sums it up, Big Guy...... oh, I promise that I have been a good boy all year long and haven't kicked Fred OR Bob at all..... even if they deserved it.....

... oh, I also want a pecan pie, too.... whew! ... I almost forgot about that one!....

... your humble (and anxious) pal,

Eric

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Doc

.... it's raining here, boys and girls......... raining, indeed.......

.... time for some Doc Watson..... a master if there ever was one......... I'm off to pick up my old acoustic Fender and practice......

... wish me luck..... I think I need to work on my finger nails......

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Doors.....

... back in July of 2005, there was this....

.... and later that month, there was this...

... in September of '06, I started again...

.... and by October of '06, I finally told the second one here....

..... since it has been two years since the last installment, I suppose that it is time to talk about the 'other' ghost that I ran into all those many years ago.......

.... once again, this story revolves around the cottage that I was living in at the time - Craig Gardener's Cottage, near Montrose, Scotland...... the cottage was situated just outside a 16-foot tall stone wall that ran around the gardens that surrounded Craig House...... Craig House being the ancient pile, and my cottage being the once-upon-a-time home for the gardener that would have serviced the manse.....

..... if you read the links above, then you already have the stories of the encounters in the house...... and you already have much of the history, dates, times, and places of both the cottage and The House..... so, with that, I shall simply tell you exactly what happened on summer afternoon at the garden gate......

..... I remember that it had been a beautiful day..... warm, sunny, and with the faintest of breezes arriving in off of the North Sea & the Montrose Basin..... I'd stopped a hundred times during my chores and watched the two-man sailing ships playing out in the blue water of the basin...... the cottage was bordered by box-hedges on all sides, and I remember that I had spent most of the morning re-shaping the hedges with an antique set of hedge-trimmers.... The Missus had been slated to work from noon until six that day, and I remember that she brought me a cheese & Branston Pickle sandwich outside for lunch.....and I ate it while watching the little white boats ease their way under the railway bridge and out into the North Sea via that tiny neck of water the separates Montrose from Ferryden.......

..... she left for work soon afterwards - it was a Saturday, I believe - and I decided to give our postage stamp of a yard a mowing before the rain came that evening.....

.... I had made an arrangement with the owners of Craig House that I would do all of my own yard work - keep the grass cut, the hedges trimmed, and the flowerbeds maintained - if they would let me borrow their equipment and tools as I needed them..... they had no problem with that at all.... and since they were seldom home in the castle (they both worked in London during the week), I had been given a set of skeleton keys for every gate, door, and lock..... and I had helped myself to their lawnmower, strimmer, spades, etc hundreds and hundreds of times.....

.... the castle - Craig House - was situated in the center of a series of square & rectangular courtyards that radiated outwards for a few hundred yards in every direction...... so to reach the stone shed where the mower was kept, I actually had to pass through three different locked doors.... in other words, once I penetrated one courtyard, there was a gate which I had to unlock and pass through to get to yet another sequestered space..... and after three doors, I was standing on the gravel in front of the 12th century keep & the rest of the continually-rebuilt Castle Proper.... bits of it having been completed, added, and renovated in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.....

...... for those of you who have visited my house, you might recognize this photo from the tack-board in the kitchen/dining room..... well, this is the path that I walked down to get to the gate that opened on the outermost western courtyard.....

path_small.jpg

.... after entering the side-door, you were greeted with gravel paths that crisscrossed an area of about two acres..... this enclosed space was actually 1/4 of the walled property..... beds of roses and rhododendron were alongside each path... behind you and to the left (resting alongside the giant wall) was a Victorian greenhouse that ran nearly the entire length of the western wall.... it was partially sunken and was an amazing configuration of plate glass, wrought iron, and wooden panes that had been painted, painted, and re-painted white for over a hundred years......

.... I remember that there was an ancient fig that had grown out of one of the broken panes and I usually picked a few each time it bore fruit......

... when no one was home, it really was quite creepy to wander through the gardens alone..... the high walls actually kept out the sound of the wind that was usually constant in Scotland..... and combined with the crunch of the path as you walked - and the fact that you were always under the gaze of the windows from the three stories of castle - I always felt like I was being watched..... and there truly was something surreal about stepping from a windy drive, through an ivy-covered wooden door, and finding yourself in a still, quiet, flowery & manicured wonderland.....

.... and as it came to pass that fine Scottish afternoon, I grabbed my keys, unlocked the door, and began making my way towards the inner circle to fetch the mower.....

.... after having lived in the cottage for years, I had managed to get myself used to the feel of "being watched" as I explored the courtyards... not that I was ever nosy or a busybody, or anything, but I did occasionally take the "long way" through the gardens before reaching the tool shed..... hey, there was no one home, I had the keys, and it truly was a beautifully maintained garden, so there was never any mischief...... that is, until the day that I am referring to now.....

..... I had unlocked the shed and retrieved the mower..... and I was in the process of dragging it through the deep gravel of the Main Area when I stopped to open the gate to the first outer garden...... and here is where it gets a bit weird.....

... the gate that I am talking about consisted of two wooden doors..... each door was 10 feet tall, three inches thick, and six feet wide..... the wall that they helped to close ran directly into the westerly wall of the castle - the castle itself providing the "wall" until it continued on off to the right for 75 meters or so......

.... I pushed on the heavy wooden doors each in turn, and opened them wide...... and as I dragged the mower through (the gravel were so deep and loose that the wheels wouldn't turn properly on the push mower), I noticed that there was a window on the side of the castle at nearly ground-level that looked a bit odd...... it was one of those "archer" type windows that was tall and narrow..... but time - five hundred or more years - had caused the window to be slowly covered with dirt from the garden..... and as a result, it was nearly buried....

..... I stood there for a few minutes and just looked around..... there was no one there but me..... the air was still and silent...... there was no noise except for my own crunching footsteps in the gravel and the occasional wail from one of the local peacocks...... and I was more than just a little curious about what was up with that oddly placed window..... but as I said, I stood there for ages just thinking and wondering..... one hand on the mower, one hand at my chin.... until finally I thought, "hey, there is no crime in looking in a window.... besides, no one is here anyway..... I should see what if I can see anything!".... well, I took one step off of that gravel path towards the window and both of those 300lb doors slammed shut....

.... I remember standing there with chills running up my spine before turning around to see what had happened...... there was no wind..... no one else around..... and those ancient, heavy doors were not easy to move when I opened or closed them......

.... I jumped back on the path, pulled the doors open and ran back into the inner courtyard..... nobody around be me..... and all those black windows looking back at me...... I walked up to the front door and knocked..... there was no answer...... feeling a bit freaked out, I made my way back to the gate and tried to slam one of the doors by pushing as hard as I could...... all I managed was a weak thump as it hit the rock keystone.........

..... and, therein is the story, boys and girls....... I brought both doors together, locked them with the key, and hastily made my way back home absolutely chilling from head to toe......

.... no ghosts, no visions, just the totally assured idea that something in that house did not want me looking in that old window.... or, perhaps more likely, did not want me roaming around and doing something that I shouldn't.... who knows?....... but I will tell you this, and this is a fact..... the doors that slammed behind me were huge.... and there was no gust of wind that could have slammed them...... I'd opened and closed them a hundred times, and they were hard to open OR close....... it was just plain odd......

..... I told my landlord about it a few weeks later.... he laughed and said, "Eric, old friend, you have no bloody clue...... next time we're out of town for a while, you and The Missus should come up and spend a few nights..... the maid's little boy - a four year old - talks to someone in the second story parlor the whole time she cleans.... and his dog won't get within ten feet of the front door... day OR night......... ".....

... of course, I declined the invitation to stay the night...... but then, you guys already knew that, right?...

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Mountains.....

.... wonderful, wonderful weekend, but I sure am tired!....... more tomorrow..... but right now, I just need a nap!........

.... hummed this song to myself whilst driving around northern Georgia today..... and still can't get it out of my head.....

..... I am definitely going to bed early tonight.... I must be getting old or something.....

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Lyrics.....

.... believe it or not, things very similar to this happen at my house every October....... no, it's true.....

..... well, except that there is a kazoo instead of a flute........ and slightly less dancing.....

.... but feel free to sing along anyway!...

A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard
Bonedigger Bonedigger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

A man walks down the street
He says why am I short of attention
Got a short little span of attention
And wo my nights are so long
Where's my wife and family
What if I die here
Who'll be my role-model
Now that my role-model is
Gone Gone
He ducked back down the alley
With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl
All along along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me Al

A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
The sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen! and Hallelujah!

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me Al

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Done.....

.... and now for something completely different...... my normally sunny disposition has been frayed.... and it is now lying in a twisted, slightly damp pile in the corner of the living room next to the bookcase muttering under its breath over and over, "The Horror".....

....... "but Uncle Eric!?", you pleadingly ask....."Why so glum?!?"...... well, because today has been the dreariest, shabbiest, most colorless day that I've had the displeasure to sit through in as far as I can remember.... and hey, that's saying something since I have a memory for The Ages..... but today?......cold, dark, wet, windy, drippy, gray.... just plain bone-numbingly fucking miserable, folks....

.... personally, I blame the Canadians..... evidently this little stretch of weather we're receiving is fresh from the plains of darkest Alberta.... I say we should make the Canadians keep the damnable thing next time..... it's seriously harshing my mellow down here.....

.... in other news, I'm making Gorton's fishsticks and Heinz beans for dinner..... hey, it's comfort food...... and besides, I didn't have any Spaghetti-O's..... and who ever said that a grown-up can't eat children's food anyway?..... and I plan on washing them down with a fine Rioja just for good measure......

.... damnation, folks, it's hard to have fun in a place like this, but I give it my best shot.....

.... and while I'm at it, I sure as Hell hope that Santa Claus brings me a gas-log portable fireplace for the living room this year for Christmas.....

.... I don't mind the cold..... I don't mind the rain.... I don't even mind the overwhelming grayness..... but, damn, all three at once is just not cricket, folks....... time to turn my fishsticks & stir the beans...... y'all have a great evening.....

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Belief.....

..... mystics and philosophers have pondered the great mysteries of life since, well, forever..... and while we mortals use terms like karma, celestial balance, Xi, life force, etc, we rarely understand their deeper, real-world meanings......

.... as a casual and uneducated observer of Nature's Balance, I myself often wonder about the Great Things In Life..... love, passion, anger, lust, contentment, life, death, creation, fortitude, the number 42.....

.... and while normally stymied in my half-assed, hillbilly efforts to find the greater meaning in the everyday things that surround me, today did provide me with an unusual scene..... one which, as you do, I snapped a photograph of...... so without further gumsmacking & mental frolicking, behold "Yin and Yang" as the Chinese originally envisioned them thousands and thousands of years ago....

yin_yang_small.jpg

..... yep, ole Fred & Bob at their most Chinese.......... and those are the same two kitties who bat, smack, bite, and hiss at each other every evening while vying for the best position (at the full-length glass kitchen door) to watch The Missus and I eat our dinner..... but after one single, solitary frosty night?...... duality at it's most marvelous...... two cats who literally cannot STAND each other when they are awake are suddenly the BEST of friends when the temperature drops below 32 and the wind begins to blow.......

.... you know, I'd really like to believe in the whole Yin/Yang thing..... I truly, truly would...... and I do on one level or another, I suppose..... I mean, it is a plausible philosophy, but I don't think that it is quite complete yet.......

... however, I do have to admit that I admire the way that Fred & Bob instinctively mimicked the customary shape of the Yin/Yang emblem, though..... there must be something to be said about that.....

..... but just like the Bermuda Triangle and Socialized Medicine, I need a bit more evidence before I agree to an actual belief.....

... still, though, you do have to admit..... the shit around here is strange...... so, Yin & Yang?.... I just don't know....... but I like to think that my kitties are just more pragmatic than most other beasts.....

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Ambition....

.... spent the day reworking some stuff while music played in the background....... and here's one that I had on repeat for most of the day..... enjoy..... and sing along!..... trust me, it will do you good to sing along...... just trust me...... vintage Jimmy Buffett, boys and girls.......

Cowboy in the Jungle

Theres a cowboy in the jungle
And he looks so out of place
With his shrimp skin boots and his cheap Cheroots
And his skin as white as paste

Headin south to Paraguay
Where the gauchos sing and shout
Now hes stuck in Porto Bello
Since his money all ran out
So he hangs out with the sailors
Night and day theyre raisin hell
And his original destinations just another
Story that he loves to tell.

With no plans for the future
He still seems in control
From a bronco ride to a ten foot tide
He just had to learn to roll.

Roll with the punches
Play all of his hunches
Made the best of whatever came his way
What he lacked in ambition
He made up with intuition
Plowing straight ahead come what may.

Steel band in the distance
And their music floats across the bay
While American women in muumuus
Talk about all the things they did today
And their husbands quack about fishing
As they slug those rum drinks down
Discussing who caught what
and who sat on his butt
But its the only show in town.

Theyre tryin to drink all the punches
They all may lose their lunches
Tryin to cram lost years into five or six says
Seems that blind ambition erased their intuition
Plowin straight ahead come what may.

I dont want to live on that kind of island
No, I dont want to swim in a roped off sea.
Too much for me, too much for me
Ive got to be where the wind and the water are free.

Alone on a midnight passage
I can count the falling stars
While the Southern Cross and the satellites
They remind me of where we are
Spinning around in circles
Living it day to day
And still twenty four hours, maybe sixty good years
Its still not that long a stay.

Weve gotta roll with the punches
Learn to play all of our hunches
Makin the best of whatever comes your way
Forget that blind ambition
And learn to trust your intuition
Plowin straight ahead come what may.
And theres a cowboy in the jungle.

..... beautiful stuff, folks....... and wonderful to help disengage the brain from the subconscious.....

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Snow.....

.... had snow squalls here on and off all day......but it all melted as it hit the damp soil.... my goodness, it has rained for the last few days and the earth is a bit too waterlogged to handle a snowfall....... which is too bad, really.... since I do so love me a nice dusting of snow......

.... we're cursed lucky like that down here in the Tennessee Valley..... the Cumberland Plateau to our west normally catches all of the snowfall...... and to the east - The Appalachians - they get the left over snow once it passes eastward from off the plateau...... but down here in the valley?....... maybe one snow of any substance every five years or so..... and after having spent so much time in Alaska and northern Europe, I do miss me some snow once the weather starts getting colder......

..... I suspect that my Viking forbearers would be quite dismayed and disappointed to learn - while resting their marauding souls up in Valhalla - that one of their own is now residing in the mild and delightfully pleasant climes of southeastern Tennessee...... but hey, while I do enjoy a snowfall once in a while, Glacial Living is something that I prefer to choose in the figurative sense rather than the literal one......

... The Curse of Being a Redhead though, well, it never abates fully....... autumn and winter are My time of year for sure...... but around here they just don't quite cut it...... they're just too damned mild....... as for spring and summer?.... they are unmerciful and overbearing, but yet here I am......

..... I think I'll build a longship in the garage this winter.... maybe I'll whip out some blue face paint and channel a few of my blonde-braided ancestors.... perhaps even have The Missus work on knitting me up some sort of sail..... after all, I DO have that garage full of battle axes that my Dad made just sitting there rusting....... perhaps he meant for them to be used...... hmmm...... I wonder how one goes about hiring oarsmen?.........

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