During the holiday break this year I had a chance to visit my oldest son Tim and his family. This was a special opportunity. Tim is temporarily at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina doing Special Forces training. His family lives in Clarksville, Tennessee near Ft. Campbell, which is his permanent post. I hadn't seen him since last Christmas when he and his then-girlfriend Shannon visited Boise. I didn't attend their wedding since it was a half hour Justice of the Peace ceremony done on a mad dash home over a weekend. I still hadn't met Shannon's two daughters. Since Tim had time off for the holidays this year and would be back in Clarksville, he invited me to come down for a visit. This was a rare chance for me to visit when they were all together so I took advantage of the opportunity. Sandy had already made arrangements earlier for Shannon (her daugher - there are too many Shannon's in this family!) to visit Boise after Christmas so she wouldn't be able to go with me. Since she was staying behind I didn't leave until after Christmas. This worked out well as Tim and his family took a trip to Disneyworld before I got there.
Christmas is my least favorite time to travel. I know lots of people do it but as an experienced traveler it always makes me nervous traveling at Christmas. The weather can be very bad and because of all the travelers there is no slack in the system if something goes wrong. Flying through Denver or Chicago especially seems to be tempting fate - it seems like holiday travelers are always getting trapped there by blizzards. But I had no trouble on my travel to Tennessee. I even arrived half an hour early at the Nashville airport. Can't say the same for my ride - Tim was half an hour late.
Since they had to drive to Nashville to pick me up at the airport we had numerous restaurants to choose from. We went to Mafiaoza's, an Italian restaraunt and pizzaria that Tim and Shannon highly recommended. As an afficiando of italian food I was anxious to try it. It was very good. The pizza was authentic Italian rather than American style - very thin crust, cheese, oregano, and not much sauce. Sandy would have really liked it. Afterwards we stopped at a big liquor store so I could pick out a wine or two to have during our visit. It did indeed have an extensive selection, particularly a lot of nice French wines. Sandy and I have been drinking more French wines since taking our course on wine from The Teaching Company. But I was frugal and got some inexpensive but still nice American wines for us to have during the week.
When we got back to Clarksville we had a late Christmas celebration. Kristan and Stephanie had been spending time with their dads and just came home the night that I arrived. So our first activity was a Christmas gift exchange. The highlight was Justin Bieber tickets for the girls. Shannon and Tim had bought them months before when the concert was first announced. It had to be about the best Christmas present ever. Well, except maybe a puppy. Everyone must have been nice and not naughty because everyone got cool presents. The girls got nice comforters with their names embroidered on them that Sandy had made. I got two books from Tim on counterinsurgency warfare, Counterinsurgency (duh!) and The Accidental Guerilla. Both are by David Kilcullen, an Australian counterinsurgency and counterterrorism expert who was one of the primary advisors for Gen. Petraeus during the surge in Iraq. I got Tim a PC game I knew he would like - Diablo III. And from the girls I got a PC game that Tim knew I would like - Diablo III. Great minds think alike. Since Christmas we have put the games to good use. Tim and I have been playing together online pretty much every weekend since then. We have played through the game once (I was a barbarian and he was a wizard) and are almost through our second playthrough (I'm a demon hunter and Tim is a monk).
I spent almost a week in Clarksville. One night we went to see the movie "The Hobbit". I had read the book when I was in eighth grade (probably on stone tablets) so I only remembered the story vaguely. The movie was well done, just like the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately like the Lord of the Rings they are doing it as a trilogy, so we will have to wait a few years to see the entire story. Afterwards Shannon showed that she could do an excellent Gollum impression.
We got a chance to play some wargames while I was there, although table space was at somewhat of a premium in the house. For Christmas I had got Storm Over Stalingrad for Tim. It is one of my favorite games for new players and an excellent short game for playing the famous battle. It's kind of a lite version of Turning Point Stalingrad, one of the favorite wargames for both Tim and I. I managed to win SOS so another day we played War of the Ring. It was very appropriate after seeing The Hobbit a few nights before. Shannon joined us and her and Tim ganged up against me as the forces of evil while I played the free peoples of Middle Earth. Not very well I might add - I lost badly. But both games were a lot of fun. I'm hoping that Tim and I can play more wargames online via VASSAL.
Of course whenever I travel someplace, visiting local wineries is always high on my list. One afternoon we made a trip to Beach Haven winery, right in Clarksville. They had a really good Sauvignon Blanc so I bought a bottle to take home. It actually survived the trip home in my suitcase and Sandy and I enjoyed it the day after I got back to Boise. I bought a souvenir wine glass as well which also made it back in one piece in my luggage.
One evening Shannon made some great chicken parmesian. It was delicious and I thinked I hogged the leftovers for two days. We also went to some good restaurants in Clarksville. One night we went to The Black Horse Pub and Brewery, a place I had been with Tim on my previous visit to Clarksville. On another night when the girls were staying with gramma and grandpa the grownups had a good dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse. That was the end to a pretty eventful day.
It was the day that we made our Big Trip to Nashville. First stop was Sky High Sports, a place the girls were really excited about visiting. It was a huge aircraft hanger style building filled with all kinds of trampolines. They were all over the floor and even on the walls. There were ball pits to jump into, ropes to swing on, even a continuous game of dodgeball. I maintained my dignity (and kept my old bones intact) by declaring myself official photographer. But everyone seemed to have a really good time and two hours went by really fast.
After all that physical activity we got more cerebral. We went to The Game Keep, the only game store that I could find in the Nashville area. I spent fifteen minutes looking around - nothing exceptional from a game standpoint although they did have some pretty cool tshirts. My favorite was one showing Cthulu and The Flying Spaghetti Monster as a couple. The old guy who ran the store was lamenting that he never got to play games anymore. Over time he had to let all his help go so he was always working. I guess that a game store is not the way to make your first million.
When we left it was just getting dark. We had an easy forty five minute drive back to Clarksville on the freeway. The plan was to stop at Shannon's parents house. The girls were going to spend the night there. There was a lot of traffic heading out of Nashville which made what happened next so surprising. With lots of traffic speeding along at 70 miles per hour, two deer decided to cross the road. (Please - no jokes about why did the deer cross the road.) It is puzzling though since there was a steady stream of cars going by, with bright headlights, moving fast and making lots of noise.
The first one made it across ok somehow. The second one was following and couldn't make up its mind what to do. It got across the right lane and then paused in the left lane. Unfortunately that's where we were driving. Tim tried to avoid the deer but it kept starting, stopping, and then starting again. At the last second Tim was able to swerve so that he didn't hit the deer head on - it was a glancing blow on the right side. He had slowed down quite a bit but was still probably going forty when he hit the deer. There just was no time to react.
Since I was in the front passenger seat I had the best view. The deer hit hard against our right front fender. Tim pulled off the rode to check for damage. We could hear a lot of brakes and swerving behind us - it sounded like the deer got hit by a big truck after getting hit by us. Well that answered the question of whether the deer was hurt but not dead. It was a pretty dangerous spot since traffic was trying to avoid the deer. Tim quickly checked the right front tire and wheel well for damange. It seemed ok so we got moving again. It was a bad place to be stopped.
We got off at the next exit. There was a gas station there and we were able to make a more thorough check of the damage. Nothing that affected driving the car but some body work was definitely going to be needed. Tim did well to avoid hitting the deer head on as it could have come up over the hood and hit the windshield. That would have been very bad for all of us. Instead only our nerves were rattled. None of us were hurt and we continued on. It was too bad about the deer though. I always did cry when I watched Bambi as a kid.
We made it to our destination and I got to meet Shannon's dad David and her stepmom Janice. David is a big LSU fan so we talked college football. Kristan and Stephanie had another Christmas present session openning gifts from their grandparents - they definitely made out ok. After that Tim, Shannon and I headed out. Since it was just us grownups we went for a nice steak dinner. And because of our exciting evening, a few drinks. When we got home we played War of the Ring. I already mentioned that Tim and Shannon beat me. Hey, they ganged up on me.
On New Years Day we spent the day at Shannon's parents house. We had a very nice dinner there. I also got to watch football on tv. Shannon and Tim don't have tv, which didn't matter to me at all. But I did want to watch Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Turned out I could have skipped it. They kept up their recent tradition of losing in the Rose Bowl - that's three in a row. Not what people usually mean by ThreePeat.
I also found out about Duck Dynasty. It is a reality show about a family that runs a very successful business selling duck calls. The interesting part is that it is located in West Monroe, Louisianna - the town that Shannon and her family are from. I've watched an episode or two since then. It is interesting to see what that part of Louisianna and its people are like. Kind of like me watching Laverne and Shirley becasue I grew up in Milwaukee. Can't say that I think it is great television though. It is amazing that it is the highest rated program on the A and E network. Very light on the A and not much on the E either in my opinion, but then I'm not much of a tv person.
One other interesting thing on the trip. One morning I happened to be checking email when I got a skype call from Mickey. He had noticed that I was online the same time that he was. For most of his deployment he was at FOB Apache. Their internet connection wasn't very good there so he couldn't do skype calls. But he happened to be back in Kandahar for a while. He was online and noticed that I was too so he made a video call. It was good to see and talk to him. He hadn't ever met Shannon or her daughters before either so they were at least introduced to each other online. It was the only time that I got to talk to him during his deployment so I was pretty excited. POSTSCRIPT: As I write this post two months later, Mickey has just returned home to Texas this past week.
It was a good trip. Finally it was time for me to head home. The holiday break was over. One of our guys was out for an extended time so I had to get back to work. But I had a lot of fun and enjoyed meeting up the newest members of the family.