Monday, August 17, 2015

If you are up for a little fatherly reading ...

So today, aside from being a really challenging day at work, is also the 11th anniversary of my father's death. I'd like to say that it just seems like yesterday that he passed away, but the reality, at least for me, is that it seems so long ago...

I started this blog in 2006. Over the past 9+ years, I have shared stories about my dad, usually around significant times, like his birthday, the anniversary of his death and Memorial Day. I posted some of my favorite stories, including memories from going to his bowling night when I was in junior high school, my dad and cars, going drinking with my dad at a local VFW hall, my dad and the Rolling Stones, and more sobering stories like dealing with a father with dementia and watching my father die.

In a mood for some funny stuff interspersed with sad stories? Check out this link:

I hope that after I croak, my kids remember some fun stories about me.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dog Days, Part Two

This past week was one mutha of a week for me -- that is for sure. I wanted to drive to the Chicago suburbs tonight but might have to wait until early tomorrow morning since I feel listless and exhausted. These truly are the dog days of work for me in my job and with some particular situations the past few weeks. However, they will soon be over -- in about another week or so.

So aside from having a really busy and stressful week at work, luck and the life run good gods were also toying with me. For example, take Monday. Exhausted at the end of the work day, I immediately had to change clothes to make a softball game at 6:00 p.m. Whenever I have a really busy day at work I almost always suck in softball if I have a game that night. Monday didn't disappoint. I went 0-3 at bat and flubbed a play or two in the outfield. I grabbed a beer with a few guys after the game, then headed home only to get a flat tire. Unfortunately, my son apparently used my lug wrench to help a friend and never returned it. I called a towing service for some roadside help, but they were having a busy night and I had to wait almost an hour for them to get there. To top things off, I got home and found out I will have to deal with my health insurance provider over an upcoming minor surgery they say they won't cover.

Oh -- and did I mention that I started having automobile battery issues? And when I told my wife she said that she had one of her own? Geez. One week, one new tire and two new batteries. Life doesn't get any better than that, huh?

I just felt listless today and even passed up an opportunity to stop at Harrah's Joliet for some poker on the way up north. It's just one of those weeks -- what can you do?

Tomorrow thundering36 and I are going to watch the Cubs at White Sox game. thundering will be in his Cubbie blue and I will be wearing my traditional black and white. As you might know, I root for both teams although the Sox have always been my top baseball team. However, they appear to be pretty much dead in the water while the Cubs are smoking in their bid for a playoff appearance. It should be a great game as Chris Sale is scheduled to start for the Sox.

Oh -- and a quick shout out to my friends who are having a great time in Las Vegas this weekend. Alysia, Koala, Chris and Cokeboy are all playing in the Aria 1:00 p.m. tourney today. Best o' luck to them all except for the guy who busted in the first hour (ummm ... Chris)!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

San Fran, Ali, lightning and the Dreaded Pocket Kings

This weekend I was able to get in three poker sessions at Harrah's Joliet, one of two casinos in which I have had outstanding success in 2015. In my final session I ran into a situation that had me thinking of my poker buddy Rob and his arch enemy, the dreaded pocket Kings.

The set up: $1/2 NL table, $200 maximum buy in, full table of nine players.
The players:
San Fran -- relatively new to table, wearing 49ers gear, talkative, friendly, about $200 behind, on the Button
Ali -- relatively new to table, more serious, aggressive, won several big pots right away, about $600 behind, in the Cutoff
lightning36 -- about $300 behind, in the Hijack

A few times in all three sessions, talk centered around the new rules for straddling at Harrah's Joliet. Straddles were allowed from the button and under the gun with utg having priority. Additionally, we were told several times that there was no limit on the amount of the straddle.

Action had been kind of quiet and slow before San Fran came to the table, but he changed things rather quickly. He was talkative and somewhat aggressive, which really picked up the game. At one point he decided to spice things up.

"Okay," he declared. "I'm straddling $15 on the button. I won't look at my cards yet and I guarantee that I'll call any raise up to $40 total."

Play continued around the table. Fold ... fold ... fold ... I looked down at my cards and saw the dreaded pocket Kings! I cut out eight redbirds and placed them in front of me, and then added a ninth one. I was thinking of raising to $41 just for laughs, but decided to just go with $40. I had not been doing anything crazy, so I am sure that anyone paying attention knew I had a big hand. These guys hadn't been at the table very long and might not have seen it that way, or might not have cared anyway.

I was surprised to see that Ali, in the Cutoff, also called. San Fran looked at his cards and also declared "Call."

At that point, with $120 in the pot, I was prepared to make a big bet and take my chances that neither player hit a set or two pair. I don't know that I would have believed either of them anyway. The only thing blocking my path was if an Ace appeared on the flop. The dealer put out the flop: rag, Ace, rag. Dammit! Being first to act, I checked. Ali pushed out a bet of $80 or $100. Double dammit! San Fran reluctantly folded and the action was on me. I gave a disgusted look and folded my Cowboys. San Fran and Ali started talking after the hand. Apparently (since neither one showed - but I have no reason to not believe them) Ali had A-K and San Fran had A-2. My pocket Kings were behind both after the flop. Not fair! They really are the dreaded pocket Kings.

We all laughed about the hand afterwards. Ali and I speculated on how much fun it would have been if the case King had been part of the flop. Certainly that would have been fun for me!

Although the poker gods were not exactly in my favor in that hand, I was soothed because even though I lost a little money, the game was fun -- exactly what we recreational players live for.

I then thought of Rob and the dreaded pocket Kings. Bah!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Dog Days

Just a short post to say that I am still alive and kicking, but just supremely busy as August is really one of the worst months of the year at work for me. The pressure the last few weeks before classes start is always a challenging time in so many ways for those of us who work in student services areas in higher education. Being the boss man has some benefits, but dealing with all the associated issues with last-minute students, frustrated parents, fatigued workers, etc is sometimes overwhelming. For several years, I used the beginning of September to go to Las Vegas to blow off some steam and relax, as well as helping to celebrate thundering36's birthday. This year, however, I will make my return to Las Vegas in the first week of October to attend a professional conference. The trip is now only two months away!

On the home front, my mother continues to struggle with her health. I will have three kids in college at once this school year, so money has just become a concept with me. I get it, it goes. At least when the kids were little the expenses were a lot less.

I did get out to play some poker with cokeboy99 a week and a half ago. He tells the story that I hate to repeat: I got my butt kicked. Fortunately, he had a good night, so there was at least one positive on the night.

I don't know when and where I will play next. I have been doing great at Harrah's Joliet, so that would seem to be a logical choice. If not for poker there, I would be sucking major wind in 2015 poker-wise.

Okay -- lunch hour is ovah. Back to work. *sigh*

Friday, July 24, 2015

One final night in Memphis

After three great nights in New Orleans, it was time to leave The Big Easy and head back north. With a 12-hour drive back home, it had been an easy decision to plan one more night in Memphis on the trip back to Illinois. This time, however, I upgraded our Memphis hotel accommodations to the Sheraton Memphis Downtown after getting a pretty good rate on Hotwire.

We got to Memphis in the early evening and, after checking in at the hotel and dumping off our luggage, proceeded to Beale Street. Thank goodness my kids got to experience the real Beale Street this time as it was a Friday night. We ate a the Tin Roof, which apparently was a Hard Rock Café in a previous life. It was kind of fun eating there as the entertainment for the night was a country music singer -- not exactly the Memphis jazz experience one would expect. And ... my family is not exactly a country music family! The food was great, however, and of course, so was the beer.

The atmosphere on Beale Street that night was what I have always experienced in the past. I'm glad my kids got to experience it, as well as some of the fun places on Beale Street like Tater Red's Lucky Mojos -- a cool souvenir and voodoo shop. It was a fun night for the family.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and headed to one of my favorite barbecue places in town -- Tom's Barbecue and Deli. The food was pretty good, but not the totally excellent experience like I had the last time I was there. And actually, despite have barbecue at many places in Memphis, my all-time barbecue place is actually located in the southwest Chicago suburbs!

We finally got on the road for the last leg of our trip and would up back home in the early evening.

With our kids getting older and knowing that the day will soon be coming when our two oldest likely move out of the area, Mrs. lightning had suggested that we take what might be the last family vacation with all of us going. Whether it is or not, it was a great time for all. The trip, along with the shared experience of having our family dog put to sleep a few days before the trip, seemed to deepen those important family bonds. And really, when you come down to it for most people, shouldn't that be about the most important thing?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Orleans 2015 Road Trip

A little jazz as you read if you please ...
After a night in Memphis (previous post), on Tuesday morning it was time for the family to head back into the van for another 400-mile trip further south to New Orleans. I made hotel reservations at a place that was highly rated at
I wanted the family to get a feel for what it would be like to really live in the French Quarter. The Inn on Ursulines did not disappoint. It was really more of a bed and breakfast type place without the breakfast. And best of all, it was located right near the quiet end of Bourbon Street. Time from the inn to Bourbon Street -- about 30 seconds!
We were there for three nights and focused most of our time in the French Quarter. None of us had been to New Orleans before, and now that we are home, I can truly say that we had an excellent time!
Some of the things we did included: Having beignets and coffee au lait at Café du Monde...
Visiting historic buildings like the Cathedral - Basilica of St. Louis King of France...
Sampling some of the night life on Bourbon Street, including (as suggested by PPP) the Hand Grenade -- "New Orleans' Most Powerful Drink..."

And taking a swap tour in nearby Slidell -- featuring alligators and feral hogs...

And of course, eating! Aside from Café du Monde, French Quarter restaurants we ate at included ...

Deanie's Seafood -- we loved everything there including Stuffed Flounder, Stuffed Crab, Barbecue Shrimp Pasta, Shrimp Po-Boy and Softshell Crab Po-Boy. Not exactly cheap, but excellent fresh seafood.

The Praline Connection -- great cajun-creole soul food including Fried Chicken Wings, Jambalaya, Shrimp Po-Boy, Aligator Po-Boy, Collard Greens and Cabbage Greens. Tasty!

Louisiana Pizza Kitchen -- pretty good pizza, salads and soup. My son ordered the special -- Lamb Meatballs -- which were supposed to be served on a "bed of cucumbers." His meal turned out to be three dinky meatballs, each on a slice of cucumber. Bed of cucumbers? This is the one place where I would not return. The food was okay, service was meh and we paid way too much for what we got.

Jimmy J's Café --  Excellent food including Eggplant Sandwich, Chicken & Andouille Gumbo, Philly Cheese Steak and Fried Shrimp and Oyster Po-Boy. Excellent value!

Central Grocery --  No way would I visit New Orleans without getting a Muffuletta, so I went to the place that is acknowledged as the creator of the sandwich. It was very good and reasonably priced (for the French Quarter, of course!).

The family (minus Mrs. lightning) decided to visit the Museum of Death. Based on Yelp ratings, which were all over the board, I was not sure if this place would be any good. The kids absolutely loved it and I thought it was pretty good. There were interesting things like a John Wayne Gacy painting and letters from several famous killers. Pictures of Sharon Tate and Nicole Simpson were unreal. This is not a place to go if gory stuff makes you squeamish. The best part was that we were the last visitors of the day and the guy running the museum spoke with us for about 20 minutes.

And of course, how could I possibly pass up playing poker at Harrah's New Orleans when I could walk to it from my room? This poker room doesn't seem to have much buzz, and I can understand why. A floor person wasn't sure of the rules of a promotion. There seemed to be a pervasive negative atmosphere, including some negative comments I heard from players and dealers. It seemed like several people were not afraid to voice their displeasure at how the room was run. I did get in three sessions here while my family was crashed, sleeping or doing other things. I made a profit in two of the three sessions and was headed for a winning third session when chasers and variance bit me in the butt, changing a nice win into a nominal loss. I did enjoy playing here, though, and certainly would again.

Outside of the swamp tour, we did not attempt to leave the French Quarter as there was so much to see and do. While my kids expressed a wish that we would be staying for longer than three nights, I was pretty sure that the long drives and being away from home for almost a week would take its toll on them. I do know, however, that we all loved New Orleans and would come back in a second if the opportunity presents itself. If (When) my wife and I return, we will fly instead and work on visiting other New Orleans restaurants and areas of interest.

We loved walking around New Orleans and were pleased with how polite everyone was. We only ran into one rude person just as we were leaving. Since neither my wife nor I are foodies, we were not concerned with eating at any of the high-end restaurants. However, even with going to moderately priced restaurants in the French Quarter, we did not have one bad meal. I am not a big drinker and did not consume a whole lot of alcohol on Bourbon Street, but the sleazy, party atmosphere was interesting and fun. The temperature was really hot, which we expected since we went in July, but as long as we stayed hydrated and occasionally stopped in air conditioned places, we were fine. All in all, it was a wonderful trip!

Next post: One more stop in Memphis on the way home.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Walking in Memphis

The great lighting36 family vacation began on Monday morning with a 400 mile drive to Memphis. We were able to actually get in where we wanted at lunch -- Lambert's Café in Sikeston, MO -- the "Home of the throwed rolls." At Lambert's, they toss these huge rolls to anyone who wants them. Some of the throws are underhand lobs, but some are arching throws across the restaurant. It is a really fun place to eat.

We were all pretty tired when we got to Memphis and the kids declined to go to the National Civil Rights Museum at that time. It looks like we will do it on Saturday on the return trip.

We stayed at a relatively dumpy (but inexpensive) Sleep Inn that I had stayed at several times. Popular opinion was that we should not stay there on the return trip. Instead we will stay at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown, which will certainly be more popular with the kids.

After resting at the hotel, we ate at a lightning36 favorite place: Corky's Bar-B-Q. As always, Corky's did not disappoint. The kids loved it.

We went to Beale Street and were surprised to see that it was ... almost deserted! I have been to Beale Street several times and had never seen it quite like that. Our plan is to come back on Friday night. I am sure it will be much different then.
The lightning36 younger crew
After getting some shut eye, we loaded up the van and began on the next leg of our trip: the 400 mile drive to New Orleans.

Next post: The Big Easy