On September 16th (Tuesday for those of you without a calendar handy), I’m turning 45. 45! Where did the time go? In celebration of, or in remembrance of, I compiled a list of 45 great things from my 45 years. What puts a smile on my face? What’s most important to me? What do I like most about life? What are the things I want to remember (while I still can)?
You’ll see some expected items, even a few that might qualify as sappy, but you’ll also find more than a few atypical items. For me, those unique items provide the color that enriches and distinguishes one life from another. It’s what makes you and I different.
What are you going to learn about me? I like to eat, read, write, and ride a bike.
By the way, as you peruse the list and see the many food items I’ve highlighted, you should keep in mind that those foods, enjoyable and delicious as they are, are not a daily staple in my diet. Unfortunately. However, one of the side benefits of riding a bike so much is the freedom to indulge a bit more than I should.
Anyway, here’s the list:
- The Wife – For the last 25 years, she’s been a near daily presence in my life. She puts up with a lot, as you’ll see from the list below, and in return I’m not sure she’s getting equal value, unless doing the shopping and cooking counts more than I think. Regardless, I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll keep saying it, I cannot imagine who or what I’d be without her. (Don’t worry, this list won’t be a sapfest.)
- My son – I’m not padding the list here by adding my son as a separate item. How do you even begin to describe the joy that a child brings? He can wrap his arms around my chest and make the frustrations of the day go away. (And no, you cynics, he’s not reaching for my wallet. At least I don’t think he is.)
- My two brothers – One day, we’re chasing each other around the house and yard (sometimes in fun, and sometimes while swinging a baseball bat), and the next day we’re living in three separate cities. Growing up, it seemed like you two would be a daily presence in my life forever, and I never imagined a life apart from you. We don’t see each other enough, and no one is to blame, but I look forward to every time we’re together again. You guys are amazing.
- Friends – If I wanted to pad the list, I’d list you all separately. Of course, you could also accuse me of hiding those persons I’m not too fond of by refusing to name the friends who mean the most to me. But then you might be a cynic. I’ve lived in San Antonio, Austin, Seguin, Abilene, Ovilla, Arlington, and a few other places, and I’ve always been fortunate enough to make new friends who’ve enriched my life. I’m a lucky man. (Enough with the sappiness.)
- Breakfast tacos- Now we’re getting somewhere. FOOD. Eggs, cheese, a dash of salsa, and bacon or sausage. The perfect way to start a day, or as I have started doing, the perfect mid-ride snack. I like mine the best, but I’ll settle for a batch from Fuzzy’s Tacos or Rudy’s BBQ or even Smokey Mo’s when I’m in Austin. By the way, when did it become popular for BBQ restaurants to start serving breakfast tacos (not that I’m complaining)?
- Iced tea – You never saw my Dad without a glass of tea nearby, and I am the same. No coffee or hot tea for us, we like our tea on ice. I can drink it without or without sugar, unlike Dad who required copious amounts of sugar in his. Each morning I start the day with a glass of iced tea- not juice, not coffee, but iced tea.
- Chili - The first food item I ever learned to make, and to be honest, it took me awhile before I found just the right mixture of ingredients. Nothing hits the spot like a good bowl of chili. I love to get it started on a cold morning, let it simmer all day, and fill the house with its smell.
- Homemade flour tortillas – Or as close to homemade as you can get. Here’s how you can tell if you have a good flour tortilla – does it leave a residue of flour on your hand? If it feels like plastic, then leave it in the plastic bag it came in. Eat them plain, slathered with butter or guacamole, or fill them with nearly any type of meat or vegetable. HEB, Taco Cabana- you feed my addiction nicely.
- San Antonio puffy tacos – Here’s what you need to know about these puffy tacos to understand their allure. Dad, upon being released from the hospital after a surgery to clear to a clogged artery (and no I don’t remember which time this was) demanded I drive him to Jacala’s Mexican restaurant on West Avenue in San Antonio where he proceeded to order a half
dozen puffy tacos. I protested his dietary choice given his recent medical procedure, but he failed to hear my words as I was busy stuffing my own mouth with some puffy tacos. Dad devised his own homemade recipe and cooked them on Sunday afternoons, filling the house with smoke, which nobody minded. Corn tortillas, fried till puffy yet still soft, and filled with meat, cheese, salt, pepper, and salsa. I was pretty much useless after those Sunday lunches. A number of restaurants in San Antonio serve them, and I must have them when I visit. I don’t know why anyone outside of San Antonio (especially in the Dallas-Forth Worth area) has not started serving them. They are the best. My only regret- Dad never taught me his recipe, and I’ve never been able to get mine to taste like his.
- Warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies (preferably with nuts)- Homemade is best, because you can eat them straight out of the oven, if you haven’t over indulged on the cookie dough. Who am I kidding? Even if I have gorged on cookie dough, I’m eating those cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. In a pinch, a dozen or so from a bakery will do. If you happen to work near Tiff’s Treats, they’ll deliver warm cookies to your office.
- Ice Cream – I like ice cream, but I didn’t become a raving ice cream addict until I tried Brusters Real Ice Cream. Unfortunately, the location near us closed last year, and it’s been a bit of an ice cream drought lately. Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip, New York Style Cheesecake, S’mores, and Pumpkin, I miss you. I think we started having family night as an excuse to go to Brusters. Don’t worry, I’m avoiding withdrawals thanks to Blue Bell. Is it bad to plan a vacation trip to Florida around a stop at Brusters? I didn’t think so either.
- Fudge Brownies (preferably with nuts)- In the second and third grade, I walked home from school and passed a barbecue restaurant in a red building on West Avenue. The front display case, next to the cash register, contained a tray of freshly-made fudge brownies. Other kids might’ve spent their money at the ice cream truck or the sno-cone stand, but I stopped for brownies. I’ll still stop for brownies.
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – Chocolate and peanut butter, how could you go wrong? They also mix quite well inside a DQ Blizzard.
- Mexican food – Tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, tamales, fajitas, beans (black, charro, and refried), rice, tortilla soup, chips, salsa (I may have four open containers in the fridge), queso, and guacamole (homemade, of course). Nothing else need be said. If the question is ‘Do you want to go out for Mexican food?’ then the answer is always ‘Yes.’
- Sub sandwiches – A nice wheat roll piled high with deli meat, pepper jack cheese (preferably), lettuce, tomato, onions, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and bit of oregano. Jersey Mike’s is right down the road from the office, and let’s just say the discovery of their mobile ordering app, thereby allowing me to bypass their long lines, made for a very good day.
- BBQ – I’m from Texas and live in Texas, so yes, I love BBQ. Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, and when done right, turkey and chicken. Psst, by the way, brisket or sausage inside a homemade flour tortilla makes a great meal. And no, I cannot pick a favorite BBQ restaurant. Too many.
- Roasted vegetables – Hey, I’m all about the vegetable as well. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Asparagus, Corn, or Brussels Sprouts- drizzle a bit of olive oil, add some salt, pepper, and garlic, and then roast them in the oven till just right. Phenomenal.
- The Thanksgiving meal – Thanksgiving might be my favorite meal of the year. Start cooking on Wednesday night and continue first thing in the morning on Thursday. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing (whatever you want to call it), gravy made from the drippings (which I could eat as a meal by itself), some roasted vegetables, and biscuits. This might be the one day of the year I could forgo dessert, having tasted so much food while cooking, and then eating the meal itself, but, as you might imagine, I can’t resist the dessert table. Okay, that’s enough of the food.
- Reading – How this one slipped so far down the list proves my list should not be considered a ranking in order of importance (except for the first two). I’ve had a book in my hands as long as I can remember, and since college I’ve been devouring 8-12 books a month on all sorts of subjects. Ebooks have been a lifeline, saving me money on the cost of purchases and keeping me in the good graces of my wife as the books are no longer spilling out into other parts of the house. The upside of ebooks, or perhaps the downside, is that I can have my entire library with me at any time, which means I can read ANYWHERE ANYTIME. And I do.
- Riding a bike – Another one that seems too far down the list. I started on a bike in kindergarten, but I didn’t fall in love with riding a bike until the fourth grade when we moved to Seguin. The bike gave me a sense of freedom and discovery as Mom let me ride all over town. In my thirties, I picked up riding a bike again, and have become a bit of dedicated nut about it. Cold, hot, windy, hilly, or flat, I’ll ride almost anywhere in nearly any conditions, although I’m not much of a fan of riding in the rain. And yes, I take my bike with me on vacation. If you see me twitching in the corner, it’s because I haven’t ridden one of my bikes in a few days (yes, I own more than one- all Treks). On occasion, certain family members have strongly suggested I go for a bike ride. That is love.
- Riding a bike on country roads – I’m all in favor of bike lanes in the city, and I never hesitate to ride in the city, even after being hit by a truck (and I lived to write a book about it- shameless plug- available at amazon). BUT, I love wandering along a desolate, two-lane country road with only the occasional car passing. Just me, my bike, the open land, and some farm animals. I sometimes wonder what those horses and cows think when they see me speed by (a relative term, I’ll admit) clad in lycra and adorned with a helmet hunched over two wheeled pedaling machine.
- Writing – Next to reading books and riding a bike, writing is one of those things I love to do. It relaxes me, helps me focus, and clear my thoughts. I’m not sure I understand why. Maybe it’s an extension of loving to read and wanting to give other people some pleasure in reading. I don’t know. I only know I have to do it, and I would continue writing even if no one read what I wrote.
- Hoosiers (the movie) – I saw Hoosiers the night I graduated from high school. Other people went to parties, and I went to the movies. Probably an early trend being played out in my adult life. I’d like to think I enjoyed the movie for the story, or because I happened to be obsessed with basketball at the time, but it might also be due to the nostalgia of that day in my life – one period ending and another beginning. Sort of the theme of the movie as well. If I happen to run across Hoosiers on TV, I always stop and watch.
- Basketball – Growing up, I spent most of my time on the basketball court. Before school, at lunch, after school, and all day Saturday and Sunday. When we moved to a new city, I looked for two things right away, the nearest basketball court and the library. I didn’t let the weather conditions bother me- heat, cold, wind- I was shooting hoops. Sometimes, I played until my fingertips bled. When I wasn’t playing basketball, I watched it on TV. My knees can’t take the jumping and running anymore, and I switched my enthusiasm to cycling, but every once in awhile, I’ll pick up a ball and shoot a few baskets.
- Memories – Collect as many good ones as possible, and appreciate the bad ones once they’re in the rearview mirror, even though I’m no different than anyone else in wanting to forget them. Good and bad have played a role in shaping who I am. I consider myself fortunate to have built up a bank of good memories. If you and I go somewhere where I’ve lived or worked, I can usually bore you with some recollection about my time there. A few weeks ago, we stopped in Seguin for the morning. I bored the wife and son by showing them both houses where I’d lived, the skating rink my step-dad managed, the hospital where my youngest brother was born, the library I frequented, the elementary schools I attended, and the hill we rode our bikes down. I pointed out where the Dairy Queen used to be, the Mr. Gatti’s where we ate cheese pizza every Saturday night, and the Palace movie theater in downtown my brothers and I frequented. I even bored my wife and child by pointing out the electric pole where we used to lock our bikes when we went to the movies. Memories. I hope to have ‘em a long time.
- The Austin-San Antonio corridor - I’ve lived in Arlington for nearly as much time as I lived along the Austin-San Antonio corridor, but that place still has a hold on me. I love to visit as much as I can, although most of my trips tend to be to Austin these days.
- The Florida coast (specifically the Redneck Rivera) -
I could labor on with a bunch of words, and they would fail to do justice to the scenery. If this is what you get to look at it while riding a bike or going for a walk, wouldn’t you want to go back?
- Libraries – I’ve spent untold hours hidden inside a library. As a kid, I loved nothing more than grabbing a stack of books on a subject, sitting down, and immersing myself in the subject matter. Even in elementary school, I stopped at the school library nearly every day, exchanging one book for another, and in college I spent many afternoons and evenings there.
- Bookstores – Before ebooks came along, I stopped at various bookstores two and three times a week to to roam the aisles and see what new books had been released. If I went out of town, I made it a point to check out as many bookstores as possible- chains, independents, and used book stores. It was not uncommon for me to come home from a trip with stacks of books. On a trip to Sanibel Island, I stopped at a local bookstore where the owner insisted I read a book by a local author. I read the book that afternoon, and returned the next day to buy the other three she’d been pushing me to get. From one book lover to another. As much as I love ebooks, scrolling through a website just isn’t the same.
- Flannery O’Connor - The first Southern goth writer I ever encountered. Reading her stories and novels is to be transposed to a different world. Many try to imitate, but no one comes close.
- Huraki Murakami – A celebrated Japanese author who blends unique elements and crosses genres. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I’ve read numerous times, is just amazing.
- David Foster Wallace – The smartest, funniest writer I ever came across. I’m one of those people who read Infinite Jest, all 1,076 pages. To think, he cut 500 pages from the manuscript. When I finished that book, I sat there in awe at his abilities. When I read his non-fiction, particularly A Funny Thing I’ll Never Do Again, I became even more amazed.
- Mystery and crime fiction – I don’t just like mystery and crime novels, I love them. I started with the American, particularly the American private eye (the grand master himself Raymond Chandler) and have spanned the genre from the British to the Noridic to the Japanese and back to Southern noir, which is my favorite. I love the genre so much, I even wrote my own mystery novel (shameless plug number two, also available at amazon. By the way, if you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy, feel-good mystery with a happy ending, buy mine, BUT don’t read it. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with murder, mayhem, and deceit- buy mine AND read it.)
- Ken Bruen - Bruen is the master noir writer in my opinion. Lyrical, poetic, and unlike any other crime writer. He’s pure genius.
- Jo Nesbo – He’s turned into a crime-writing powerhouse selling millions of copies of his books. Whereas Bruen is poetic, brief, and stark, Nesbo knocks you between the eyes with brutality. What kind of man thinks of these things?
- The first paragraph of The Bird Artist by Howard Norman – The single best opening paragraph to a novel I have ever read. I cannot count the times I have pulled this book off the shelf and re-read this paragraph. “My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. You would not have heard of me. Obscurity is not necessarily failure, though; I am a bird artist, and have more or less made a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is equal part of how I think of myself.“
- Frederick Buechner – I stumbled upon his books in college, and I’ve read his memoirs countless times. In his third memoir, Telling Secrets, he writes of the helplessness of being a parent, and in his fourth, The Eyes of The Heart, he describes the pain of his brother’s passing. More than any other book, I’ve given and recommended his four memoirs.
- On Writing by Stephen King – How you write by one of the most prolific writers. Excellent book.
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Read and recommended multiple times. Phenomenal book. How do you write? Put your rear in the chair and get to work. It’s also how you live.
- Jack Logan - On random chance, I happened to walk by a TV one morning, turned it on, and saw a three minute segment about a musical artist, Jack Logan, from Georgia who’d been discovered. His discovery faded fast, but his debut album, BULK, a two-disc collection of forty-two songs, recorded over a period of time, garnered great reviews, and I consider it one of the best albums I own. I’ve listened to it thousands of times. He has an ability to tell mesmerizing stories. Can I pick a favorite? ‘New Used Car and A Plate of BBQ,’ ‘Optimist,’ ‘Floating Cowboy,’ ‘Drunken Arms,’ ‘Terminal Gate,’ and ‘Towne Crier.’ No, I cannot pick one favorite. Logan has released multiple albums since then on a variety of labels, and he always finds a new story to tell, be it ‘Alison Hilliard,’ from Tinker, or ‘Rained Like Hell‘ from Little Private Angel.
- Quiet Company – One of my brothers raved about this Austin band for years, and I finally gave them a listen. There’s a reason they’ve been voted Austin Band of The Year. My favorite song, if I had to pick one, is ‘It’s Better To Spend Money Like Theirs No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money’ from We Are All Where We Belong. Simple, stark, and beautiful.
- Podcasts – My favorite part of the drive to work. Actually, the only thing I enjoy about the drive to work. I can queue up a podcast, and learn something new.
- iPad – With one device, I can read books and magazines, listen to music and podcasts, watch TV shows and movies and even professional cycling, search for the nearest restaurant and maybe place an order, store my recipes, check out new roads to ride my bike on, and keep track of my friends and family. On one little device. If they could only figure out a way for it to make the meals and desserts I enjoy, and take care of all the mundane tasks with which I waste too much time (like mowing the yard), then it would be truly perfect. Until then.
- Words of wisdom – They don’t come along too often, so when they do, collect them, write them down, hold on to them, and most of all, never forget them.
- Mom and Dad – A lot of what’s on this list is due to my parents, so they deserve their own separate category. First, they gave me the genetic material which created me, and then in their own ways, they shaped and molded me. Dad, you sent me a letter when I turned 39, perhaps the only letter you ever sent me, and I still have it. For a long time, I carried it with me in my backpack, but then I got wiser and put it in a safe place at home. I read it a few times every year. Mom, you gave me a Christmas card with a two sentence note the Christmas before you passed. Nobody knew you were sick at the time, but as with Dad, I’ve kept that card and I re-read every year. The words you both wrote have meant a great deal to me. Mom, thank you for standing up to your doctor in 1969. Your back hurt and you knew something wasn’t right. If you hadn’t trusted your gut and raised a fuss, I might not be here. Thank you. My upbringing may have been a bit chaotic and certainly not normal, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I miss you both greatly and wish you were here. There are things I’d like to tell you, such as you’re proving to be more right than I ever gave you credit, but most of all I’d like to see your face and hear your voice.
There you go- 45 great things from 45 years. I don’t plan on doing one of these at 46. I’m holding out till 90, when blogs will probably be holograms or something like that. Now it’s time to celebrate my birthday (Yeah, I always start early) and enjoy some of these great things. Thanks for reading.