Photo of trees, fences, and fields.

The Hidden Gem Guest House in Franklin, TN

Photo of two-story home, trees, drive.

Last weekend, we travelled to Franklin, Tennessee, to see one of our favorite authors, Sean Deitrich, “Sean of the South”, at the beautiful Franklin Theater. The show will be the topic of another blog post. While in Franklin, we stayed at the beautiful New Hidden Gem Guest House.

We have always loved travelling, but accommodations are sometimes unpredictable. This was our first time using Airbnb lodging. What a delightful surprise we experienced when we drove in and found this beautiful home awaiting our arrival.

As we drove up to the house, our hosts, The Byrne’s, were sitting on the front porch welcoming us with a friendly wave. Having received detailed instructions, we took the left drive and continued around the side of the house where our private entrance was located.

The owner left the lock code for the door under the mat. We opened the door easily and were pleased to find a nicely decorated and comfortable space. The vaulted ceiling gave the area a much larger feeling than the actual square footage provided.

The kitchen area included ample cupboard and counter space and a double stainless sink. On the other side was an additional cupboard and counter. A Keurig coffeemaker, toaster, microwave oven, and hotplate was provided. A small refrigerator was under the counter.

Under the television mounted on the wall was a small bar and stool space, perfect for two people.

I am over six feet tall, so the very comfortable queen-size bed gave us three nights of sound, restful sleep.

I didn’t take photos of the bathroom, but the amenities were comfortable and the space was nicely decorated. There was a small vanity, a cupboard over the toilet with extra towels, and a stand up shower. There was a tall curtain that separated the kitchen area from the bathroom. There was plenty of hot water.

Through Airbnb, our host, Chelsea Byrne, communicated necessary details in plenty of time. Check-in and check-out was very easy.

The New Hidden Gem Guest House is located south of Franklin, just north of the Interstate 840 bypass, west of 431 (Lewisburg Pike).

We heartily recommend the New Hidden Gem Guest House, by Airbnb.

Thank you, Byrne Family, for a delightful and comfortable stay!

Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery

I have been a fan of Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery for many years. After all, coffee is really my middle name. I don’t use it often on legal documents and such, but it’s always there.

Coffee is one of those important things in life I don’t mess around with too much. It’s either coffee, or a mocha. I don’t venture too far beyond that. I might get a frappuccino once in a while, but that’s as wild as I get. I think of myself as a purist. Yeah, right.

New owners began their quest for coffee and ambience perfection two years ago. The Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery in Caseville, MI, is the excellent destination for everything coffee on the shores of Saginaw Bay. The new beverage menu is colorfully displayed with an incredible number of choices from basic hot or iced coffee, to almost any kind of variation you can imagine. I have always loved Brew Moon for the way the coffee bar is arranged. I am just a few feet from the baristas as they prepare my hot mocha.

The new owners obviously love interacting with visitors. Everyone who enters Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery is greeted as a friend, not just a customer.

In the bright display case there are many delicious items from which to choose to enhance your beverage experience. One of my favorites is the amazing homemade, large, dripping with icing, cinnamon rolls. Oh my word! I haven’t had a cinnamon roll even close to that since another business, which will go nameless, made the catastrophic mistake of removing their lovely, warm, delicious, cinnamon rolls (for which I always ordered extra icing so the roll was actually swimming in it) from their menu. A real blunder. I always felt so sad when my cinnamon roll was gone. No more! Now the Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery cinnamon rolls have taken their place! Yummm!

Not only is the Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery your place for delicious beverages, it is an experience of art waiting to capture your attention. The owners emphasize local and Michigan artists. A terrific decision!

The coffee house has been completely repainted and decorated. The color choices create a feeling of warmth and comfort embracing everyone with an invitation to stay longer. Customers move easily throughout the store without a feeling of being crowded.

I personally love the drawing/painting of the businesses in Caseville. I wish I could include the name of the artist, but I forgot to write it down!

The new Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery is truly a place to experience, not just stop by for a coffee. A coffee beverage, whether it’s dark, light, tall white, latte, mocha, frappuccino, iced, hot (never lukewarm), vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, or any other combination of flavors, is best enjoyed by wonderful ambience. That’s what the owners of Brew Moon have accomplished.

The next time you’re in Caseville, do not leave town without meeting the good folks at Brew Moon Coffee House & Gallery and purchasing your favorite beverage made to perfection. Then stay a while and enjoy everything it means to have a great cup of coffee. You’ll immediately begin anticipating your return visit.

Cottage Outfitters Expands!

In Caseville, Michigan, there is a shop that is the place to go when you’re in town. Caseville is a popular vacation spot drawing people from all over the Midwest for camping, boating, fishing, swimming and doing all the other things that define a great summer.

Just like many other lakeside towns, Caseville has a few stores that have all of the things you would expect, like Caseville shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, coasters and painted driftwood, all manufactured in foreign countries. There are several good restaurants. My favorite is Walt’s Restaurant where we often go. Their breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast made with homemade bread is unbeatable. Walt’s happens to be right next door to the special place I’m bringing to your attention.

Cottage Outfitters, in my opinion, is the one destination you have to include in your trip to Caseville, no matter how many times you’ve been here before. There is always something new to see.

Owner, Jonathan Bibby, is incredibly gifted at staging in such a way that your attention is captured many times as you walk through the store. Cottage Outfitters offers some beautiful antique furniture pieces, decorative items that will be perfect for your home or cottage, and even has some kitchen items. Homemade edibles like jams and pastries are also available.

Included among the displays at Cottage Outfitters are many items offered on consignment. You will not, however, have the feeling as you walk through the store that you have entered another booth operated by different vendor. Jonathan arranges the entire store masterfully so that all items flow together and make it easy for you to find just the items you’re looking for.

If you’re one of those people who use the term “cozy,” than you will immediately understand what it’s like to visit Cottage Outfitters. Many times I have walked through the store and thought, “I would just like to sit here with a cup of coffee and enjoy the surroundings.” It’s that kind of place.

Especially exciting for fans of Cottage Outfitters is the store has doubled in size. Jonathan Bibby acquired the storefront next to the original store and expanded his floorspace. There is much more to see and a much wider space to enjoy.

Be sure to visit Cottage Outfitters in Caseville, Michigan, during your summer travels. Oh, and be sure to have a cup of coffee in your hand so you can stop and sit for a while.

Christmas Is: Plays, Programs, and Concerts

In “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as the gang is preparing to rehearse the Christmas play, Linus is confronted by his sister, Lucy, with a script. Linus protests and complains.

Lucy: “Here. Memorize these lines and be ready to recite.”

Linus: “Why do I have to memorize these lines? Why should I be put through such agony?”

Lucy: “I’ll give you five good reasons why you should memorize these lines.” And slowly, folding one finger at a time into a fist, she says, “One, two, three, four, five.”

Linus: “Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it’s getting too dangerous.”

What everyone needs when Christmas rolls around is more to do. After we’re finished shopping for everyone on our Christmas list, which means we’ve been to malls, outlets, big-box stores, small-box stores, shoe stores, jewelry stores, tech stores, toy stores, music stores, clothing stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, drug stores, and convenient stores, we need a full schedule of special Christmas programs to perform and attend.

Linus captures the feelings of every child, young and old, who has ever been in the obligatory Christmas play. Schools have them, churches have them, community groups have them, they’re everywhere, and if they weren’t, it just wouldn’t be right. No one likes memorizing lines for the Christmas play. Every parent loves and dreads seeing their little one on stage, realizing before it happens that if they are going to scratch where the sun doesn’t shine, it’s going to happen when they’re the center of attention. And what children’s program would be complete without the child who fights to stand right in front of the mic and sings extra loud.

Christmas programs are delightful even if they’re awful. It was always exciting to begin working on Christmas music in band class. As a band director in a private academy I loved working on the music of the season in preparation for the Christmas extravaganza that happened every year.

I don’t know if church choirs still do Christmas cantatas every year like they used to, but I loved singing in them and then accompanying choirs on the piano during high school. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise, when as His mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Those are the words to the first solo I ever sang in church. I think I was twelve. It was part of a cantata called, “Born A King” our church choir performed. Many years later, directing community choirs myself at Christmastime was an exciting experience.

One of the most amazing church pageants (I call it a pageant because program and concert don’t come close) I have ever seen included costumes, incredible acting, a full orchestra, singing that should have been on recordings and in huge concert halls, was presented by a local church. No professionals, just willing, eager, and talented people.

Seeing the Christmas glow on children’s faces is priceless. The excitement in their eyes shines as bright as any candle.

As everyone knows, it’s easy to get swept up in the “must do’s” of Christmas and miss Christmas. Maybe there are a lot of things we have to do that don’t really need doing. Maybe Christmas will be everything we ever dreamed it could be without the details we’ve been striving to complete.

When I was working on my master’s degree in counseling, I had a professor who said something I’ll never forget. He said, “We need to learn to see with new eyes.” I said earlier that if we decorate too early we’ll get to the place we don’t see it anymore. What keeps that from happening is choosing to see with new eyes. If I choose to really see what I’ve seen every day for the last month, I’ll see it again for the first time and I’ll feel that Christmas joy all over again.

How many times have you heard “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby? Not just this year but every year combined? What about “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole or Johnny Mathis? “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey? “Silver and Gold” by Burl Ives? “Rudolf” by Gene Autrey? Try hearing them for the first time. Really listen.

Instead of attending the Christmas program for the n-teenth time, go for the first time. If you have lights on your house, notice the glow inside the house. See it and feel it again with new eyes and see what happens.

Christmas has nothing to do with amounts of anything. It has only to do with what we choose to see and believe. If we choose to really see and hear again, we won’t miss the blessing of Christmas.

Christmas Is: Anticipation!

Many years ago there was a commercial showing ketchup oozing very, very slowly from the bottle and finally falling to the hamburger patiently waiting below. The song, “Anticipation” sung by Carly Simon was playing. It was a display of advertising genius. All these years later I can still see the ketchup and clearly hear the song. I don’t remember the brand name, but I do remember Anticipation.

If Christmas could be summed up in one word, a good candidate would be anticipation. Everyone likes to have something to look forward to and looking forward to Christmas captures most hearts.

When we were kids the Christmas tree was never put up until about two weeks before the special day. Almost everyone was using real trees at that time and if a tree was placed in the house just after Thanksgiving, there wouldn’t have been anything left of it by December 25th. With artificial trees, it’s easy to put the tree up even before Thanksgiving, which many people do and enjoy it for a whole month.

A problem with decorating the house and the Christmas tree too early is that after a while you don’t see it. Oh sure, it’s still there, but now the tree is part of the normal appearance of the living room or wherever you put your tree and you have to purposely stop and look at it to realize again how special it is.

Anticipation loses steam if the flame is lit too soon. When Christmas items begin to appear in the stores in late September, it’s easy to feel excited even though it’s crazy early. I enjoy going to Hobby Lobby just to walk through the aisles of decorations. I have never seen so many nutcrackers in one place in my life. I have found that if I continue to walk through and purposely look at the colors and all the many decorations even though I’ve already seen them all, I continue to feel the anticipation of Christmas.

Another challenge to anticipation is midnight on Christmas day. I’m not one of those who begins looking forward to next Christmas on December 26th but I always feel a sense of sadness when the day has passed. If that happens to you, I think the reason is focusing on the day rather than the season. Anticipation can either center on the twenty-four hour period of December 25th, or we can change it a little bit and anticipate many things during the season. For example, we anticipate decorating the Christmas tree but the tree doesn’t disappear on December 26th. We leave it up until at least a week into January. The food of the season can be anticipated in October, but when the baking begins, it’s not over, it’s just beginning.

Of course, if you are a combination of Eeyore, the donkey in Winnie the Pooh, and Mr. Snuffleupagus, from Sesame Street, like I am, feelings up and down are a constant reality and source of struggle. Finding the balance and choosing what works is the key. The Christmas season can be an emotional roller-coaster. It’s a good idea to remind ourselves it’s not our responsibility to create the perfect Christmas for everyone, or to re-create a detailed copy of everything Christmas used to be when we were growing up or when our kids were all still home waiting to open presents on Christmas morning.

Obviously, anticipation is forward-looking. You can’t anticipate something that has already happened. You might anticipate experiencing consequences tomorrow for something you did yesterday, but simple anticipation is always about something that hasn’t happened yet.

Maybe you don’t anticipate Christmas at all, in fact you would be fine if it never happened. It’s fine to feel that way, I’m persuaded you’re not alone. However, you are still anticipating Christmas, but it’s dread, negative rather than positive. And really, there are lots of reasons one might dread the whole Christmas season.

I completely agree with what Fred, Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, said to him as he pleaded with him to come for Christmas dinner. He said that even though Christmas never adds a speck of silver or gold to his pocket he believes it does him good and to that he says, “God bless it!” I do too.

Creating a Fantastic Charcuterie Board

I have never used that term in a sentence before. I had to look up charcuterie to know how it’s spelled. I’ve had lots of items from a charcuterie board before. I’ve watched them being made. I’ve never made one myself. This is my first post about creating a charcuterie board.

The first thing you need is a suitable board. It doesn’t have to be a certified charcuterie board to do the job. After all, it’s not the board but what the board contains that makes it special.

You’ll have to decide what kind of charcuterie board you’re going to make. I did some searching on Pinterest, and there are dozens and dozens of variations of charcuterie boards. There are breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, salty, sweet, barbecue, candy, dessert, veggie, fruit, and many other charcuterie boards. The most fun is to be creative and come up with something brand new.

This is a great example of a beautiful charcuterie board.

We shared this treat tonight and every one enjoyed it. In the center of the board is fresh grapes to add a sweet, crunchy taste. You can use your favorite fruit on the board you create.

Cheese is a very important part of this charcuterie board. Ours contained Brie, Boursin, goat cheese with chives, and Smoky Gouda. Salami and Prosciutto were placed on the ends. Crackers were spread across the board to fill in the empty spaces.

Everyone gathered around our charcuterie board and dug in. It was a perfect combination of fruit, nuts, crackers, and cheese.

This is what a charcuterie board looks like in the aftermath. I hope you and your family enjoy yours as much as we did.

Here is a freebie joke: Do you know why melons don’t get married? Because they cant-e-lope!! Can’t elope!! Get it?! I made that up! Seriously!

Fun With A Colonoscopy

I have now had three intrusions into my most private personhood. The third was just yesterday. There are several thoughts that come to mind at a time like this.

My first experience with being completely exposed to the medical world happened in 1995. My daughter was having her wisdom teeth removed which gave me a perfect opportunity to go visit a local hamburger place. Very well known, by the way, which will remain nameless, a place to which I have not returned in twenty-five years.

I purchased a hamburger deluxe, fries, and a shake. (No, not McDonald’s). Everything was fine until later that night. Just before bed I began feeling minor cramps, didn’t think much of it, and went to bed. An hour later I woke up with the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. I will spare you the details of the next three hours, but I assure you I had never experienced anything like that before nor have I since. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

We called our physician the next day and described what was happening. I met with him a few days later and discovered he intended for me to go to the hospital, a detail I somehow missed. He ordered something I had never heard of, and if I never hear of it again, I will be thankful. He said I was going to have an air-colon-contrast. Okay, no big deal. Yeah, right.

My impending excursion into ultimate transparency meant that I had to drink three quarts of what can only be described as gag-me-now.

I tried to maintain a positive attitude, which required that I find a happy place to ingest the disgusting concoction. I went to the train depot so I could watch trains while I choked it down. It’s amazing I still like watching trains.

It’s difficult to describe what came next after I actually swallowed all of the sludge that tasted like a mixture of three-month-old yogurt chunks, goat meat, and sweaty sock fuzz. The expulsion of everything I had eaten since the previous Christmas and things I had only thought of eating was indescribable. That experience could only be outdone by the procedure itself.

At the hospital I was invited to lie down on a table. “You’re going to do what?” I thought, as the doctor approached me with what looked like a bicycle tire pump.

After my inner parts were rudely awakened by the air hose, I was asked to roll around on the table so the air would distribute evenly. Rolling around on a narrow table would be difficult enough even without a contraption connected to my posterior.

The test revealed nothing. What a relief! I had endured incredible pain at home, cleansed myself of everything that wasn’t attached, been probed, filled, viewed, scanned, and cleared of anything troubling. Fantastic!

Now it was time to rid myself of enough air to fill the tires on an eighteen-wheeler. I slowly walked, back parts in the breeze, to the bathroom. Nurses outside the door were discussing their anticipated evening plans.

As hard as I tried, nothing happened. Nothing. Not even a squeak. I moved, pushed, squeezed, lifted, turned, and finally gave up. I opened the door and told the nurses of my dilemma. I was invited back to the table. With great difficulty I lay back down. The doctor prepared an injection to help with the needed release. He asked me to roll over from my side which was the only position in which I could continue to breathe. When I did, my hand was impaled on the needle and it immediately went numb. (I’m not making this up!!). The doctor yelled at ME even though I was the one with the needle stuck in my hand!

He injected me with whatever it was and I went back to the bathroom. What happened in that bathroom was not unlike a whole team of horses lifting their tails to express the joy of having eaten an entire wagon-load of corn. It was explosive.

What inspires a person going into the medical field to want to specialize in those parts? Obviously, we need them and we’re thankful for them, but how does one come to a decision like that?

Age does many mean things to us. Strength fades, memories aren’t as sharp, and all of sudden we need our doctors to do things they didn’t do before. Reaching the golden age of fifty which happened to me many years ago, ushers in the era of recurring colonoscopies.

Yesterday I experienced my second. The most remarkable improvement has happened in the last ten years. Instead of the preparatory cocktail being a combination of sun-dried tapioca mixed with oatmeal and sour milk, it tastes like Kool-Aid. Seriously! Of course the Kool-Aid is mixed with a powder that guarantees nothing will cling to your inner parts ever again.

I was almost disappointed it was over so fast. Anything that requires that kind of preparation should last more than a second. I was wheeled in, the room began to spin, and I woke up not a second later in recovery.

Everything’s good. The doctor said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. See you in ten years.”

No explanation needed.

An Uninvited Guest Beast

I suppose there are people who think bats of all kinds are cute, harmless, helpful, even beautiful creatures. I’m not one of them. However, I do have to admit the fruit bats we often see on “Survivor” look sort of like a dachshund with wings. Maybe a little bit cute. When we were in Australia we got to actually see fruit bats in person. They’re huge!!

It has been sixteen years since we were last visited by a little rascal. In one house where we lived bats considered themselves part of our family. They often joined our sons to watch television in the basement. One wanted to have lunch with me but I assured him he wasn’t welcome. Another interrupted sound sleep and met the same fate as Captain Ahab.

After so much time, maybe you can imagine the sheer exhilaration, the pure crush of adrenaline and terror when our beautiful home became the scene of wild flailing with a soft pillow-weapon, yelling, dodging and weaving, and that was just me. My wife was hiding under a blanket and I don’t blame her. I wanted to be under the blanket too!

The little guy made himself right at home. He flew effortlessly through our living room, kitchen, hall, two bedrooms and back again. Twice he headed downstairs to the basement but came right back up, probably because it was dark down there.

With great skill and aim, I knocked him down three times with such force he took right off again, laughing at me in his little bat voice. I kept telling him to go outside, the front door was wide open but he didn’t listen. I know he was calling for his friends to join the fun. They declined.

I was finally able to get hold of our guest beast with the soft pillow-weapon and I let him go outside. I tried to have a calm man-to-bat talk with him and tell him he would probably be more comfortable somewhere else.

I should have known better than to wait three years before going into the attic, which is actually an overhead crawl space. It had to be 110 degrees up there. I discovered it’s a miracle we haven’t been having guest beast visits regularly. Our bathroom ceiling fan which is an old style fan with a large open grate vents directly into the attic without any protection. It’s wide open from the attic into the bathroom. There was also a direct entrance to the basement from the attic along the furnace flue. With both guest beast entrances blocked, the welcome mat has been removed.

Hopefully, that will be the end of our guest beast visits. I’m a big fan of dachshund-looking fruit bats as long as they’re on TV and not in our living room.

Breakfast Sandwich for Dinner

My lovely wife has discovered how to make amazing breakfast sandwiches that we enjoy any time. Actually, our son first made them for us and she watched very carefully. They are delicious!

A sausage patty, English muffin, fried egg and a slice of your favorite cheese make the magic happen.

There are sausage patties that taste great but stay around all day. I like them but not all day. The ones my wife uses are frozen, a dozen in a package. We keep them in the freezer and just use two at a time.

The patties only take about three minutes per side, so while my wife is frying them, I toast the English muffins. They don’t require butter, but if you want to use butter, go for it!

When the English muffins pop from the toaster, we put a slice of cheese on them. When the egg is fried to perfection, we add the sausage patty and the egg.

Combine the sandwich with some fruit and a big mug of your favorite coffee and you have a breakfast sandwich that is delicious at any time. Maybe even late at night while you’re binge-watching your favorite series.

Calorie Bloated Lusciousness!

Most of the time we eat consciously. I don’t mean there are times when we eat that we are unconscious. I mean we eat, most of the time, fully aware of the nutritional value of our food. Then there are other times when nutrition can take a hike, jump in the lake, buzz off, get out of town. This is one of those times.

We have friends who introduced us to deep fried cinnamon roll bites. Oh my gosh!! Evolutionary self-preservation has just taken a giant leap onto a higher plain. (Relax! Don’t get bent out of shape I’m just kidding). These are amazing!

I wrote a blog some time ago about the big mistake McDonald’s made by getting rid of their huge, luscious, soft, delicious, indescribable, no-price-is-too-high cinnamon rolls literally dripping with thick, amazing, beautiful icing. I have finally found the perfect replacement. Take that, McDonald’s! I don’t need your cinnamon rolls. (It’s only been almost twenty years since I had one.)

I first made these in a frying pan, but it’s very difficult to control the temperature of the oil, so I knew it was time to make in investment in lusciousness. I bought a small deep-fryer. It holds about six cups of oil and it works perfectly! Beautiful small cinnamon bites every time.

Ok, here’s how to make them. I buy three cans of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Why not just pop those babies into the oven and use the icing that comes in the package, you ask? How can you ask such a thing. We’re talking about lusciousness here. Get real. Take the cinnamon rolls out of the package, put them on a cutting board or a plate and cut them into pieces. I cut across the middle, then turn and slice them twice again so each roll makes six pieces.

The fryer heats the oil pretty quickly, so I don’t turn it on until I have everything else ready. Cut up enough of the cinnamon rolls to get started and set them aside.

Put 3/4 cup of soft butter, or margarine, or butter-like spread in a bowl. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar. Carefully stir until the sugar is completely mixed with the butter. Now add vanilla, a little at a time until the icing is the consistency you want. Not too runny, not too thick. You can adjust the amounts depending on how much icing you want to make.

A great variation of the icing is to use maple syrup instead of vanilla. The icing is more sticky and stringy, but it’s delicious. Another option is to use flavoring like almond or brandy extract. Yum!!

While you’re making the icing you can turn your fryer on so it’s ready to go when the icing is finished.

Put the pieces of cinnamon roll in the hot oil carefully! It works best to add only as many as you can easily turn with a fork so they are fried on all sides. Don’t let them get too brown, 4-5 minutes at most will do it.

Dump the bites into a bowl lined with paper towel and watch them disappear!

We let everyone put some icing in a small sauce bowl, take a load of hot bites, and dig in. Purely luscious!!

When everyone has had their fill, now you can go back to worrying about nutrition and calories. These are in a strictly “forget the calories and nutrition” zone. But well worth it!