Assorted Thoughts On My Trip to Arkansas

May 18, 2024

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Last week, I enjoyed a five-day visit to my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. The temperature was nice, though it rained every day. These days, I am able to go home three or four times a year. I love seeing my mom, my dad and step-mom, my brother and my sister-in-law, my sister and my nephew, and other friends and family. I feel fortunate to have so much love and friendship in my life, and to have the luxury of time that allows me to take these trips. This blog post is devoted to a few thoughts I had while on the trip. They are not meant to be linked or related in any way – just a few thoughts from the trip.

  • My flight to Little Rock went through Las Vegas. When you walk through the Las Vegas airport, it feels like you entered the Twilight Zone and landed in the 1970s. It is old, worn-down, and wonderful. They’re going to ruin it by making it beautiful and modern one day, but until then, I’ll keep expecting to see Sammy Davis, Jr. stroll by, shades on and a cigarette hanging in his fingers. I love seeing people’s excitement as they arrive, and their exhaustion as they get ready to go back home. I always have $40 cash with me for my Vegas layovers, and I am looking to hit it big on the airport slot machines. I don’t go for the $10,000 jackpots. Who wants a measly $10,000? I want the $1 million WHEEL OF FORTUNE jackpot! It’s like the lottery. Nobody plays the lottery when the prize money is only $80 million. But they rush in as the prize nears $1 billion. Clearly, none of us have any economic sense at all. My money usually lasts about 15 minutes. And I don’t want to press the button on the slot machine. Those weren’t there in the 70s. I want to pull that slot machine arm. And yes, I know that all that arm does is press the button. This time, I was up $100 for a while, then I wasn’t. It’s always $40 well spent.
  • I had three outstanding visits with my mother. By the way, my mom always loved the Reno, Laughlin, and Vegas slot machines. She could sit at one of those with a cigarette (before she quit 30 years ago) and a glass of wine for hours. She would get giddy when she won $5, and it was always fun to watch. Back to my trip last week – Mom remembered me in one of the visits, and she knew I was a person who loved her in the other two. My favorite moment was when the two of us were sitting on the living room couch, holding hands and watching a beautiful video that had drone shots of stunning buildings and landmarks in Europe – The Coliseum, the Parthenon, the Louvre, the Amalfi Coast and much more, backed up by soothing classical piano music. Several of the pieces were ones that she used to play. The beauty and music were mesmerizing, and the sensory experience seemed to make her extremely happy. Since I wrote a previous piece about my mom’s dementia (and thank you to the thousands who have read it), she has continued to decline. That being said, I think she is at peace most of the time. I don’t know what is next, but I know I enjoyed these moments. And I think she did too.
  • Top things I ate while I was there:
    • Burnt ends at Count Porkula BBQ. This is a relatively new place that I think is one of the most poorly named restaurants in the world. The food was pretty darn good. I still rank Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock and McClard’s BBQ in Hot Springs higher, but it was a great meal.
    • Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pie from Blue Cake Company in Little Rock. I was making a birthday dinner for Candyce, my wonderful step-mom, and she wanted something chocolaty and gooey. The take-and-bake chocolate fudge brownie pie was perfect. I highly recommend it! I have committed to eating every single pie variety on their menu, and I will keep readers updated. I’ll bet you can’t wait.
  • My pickleball game held up just fine. I played with three friends from high school and did not totally embarrass myself. We managed to play for a full 80 minutes before a torrential downpour stopped us. Until next time, my old friends/new rivals!
  • My dad and I enjoyed some great visits together. We went and worked out together at the Hot Springs YMCA. They have an awesome 25-meter indoor pool where we swam side by side for about  40 minutes. My Dad is the one who got me into swimming. He was a rock star swimmer until he hurt his shoulder in college. When I was a kid, he drove me to workouts in the mornings, and he was always interested in my swimming career. Now, for both of us, it’s just about occasionally trying to swim fast, but mostly trying to do the work it takes to be younger next year.
  • Dad shared that he told his guys’ breakfast group that at the age of 85, he was pretty sure he had “lived past his shelf-life.” That made me pause, smile a little, and pause a little more. That’s certainly true in some sense. The average lifespan for males in the US is just over 76, and the average lifespan for men in Arkansas is a 45th-best 73. So, maybe he’s past the average shelf-life in years, but I think the more important indicator is quality of life. By that measure, I think his shelf-life has miles to go. He’s sharp as a tack, still funny, though not as funny as he thinks he is (that’s not new, and I think I share that quality), he and his wife are wonderful together and truly enjoy each other, and he remains a wonderful father to all of his children. We talked about his shelf-life comment, and I told him that I am choosing to ignore the shelf-life date (there’s a lot of discussion about that these days – expiration dates are usually just a suggestion at best), and just enjoy every conversation we have and every moment we have together. I believe there are many more of those moments and conversations left for both of us.
  • I won a little money betting on the Kentucky Derby! On a whim, several of us placed a little money on the Arkansas horse running in the Kentucky Derby, and wouldn’t you know it, Mystik Dan won the whole thing! Go Arkansas – and that more than made up for my losses in Vegas. I’m not a big gambler, but it’s amazing how a $20 bet on a golf game or a horse race makes the whole event a little more intense. But gambling is way better when you pay your money first, then hope to get it back. I never want to gamble like golfer Lee Trevino did. As Trevino famously once said, “Real pressure is playing for $5, when you only have $2 in your pocket.” No thank you, Lee. 
  • The trip home went through Denver and it was delayed for two hours due to hard winds gusting across the Denver plains. If you’ve never been to the Denver airport, you probably imagine flying in amongst beautiful and majestic snow-capped mountains. But the only mountains you actually see are the white peaks of the crazy airport roof. Everything else is flat, flat, flat. The mountains start rising about 30 miles to the west. Anyway, the winds were still blowing HARD as we landed. I felt like one of the people from the Progressive “Becoming your parents” commercials, because I just had to stop and thank the pilots for bringing us in safely. I never take those landings for granted, but I was especially grateful for this one. Also – if you want to fly into an airport with truly majestic mountains, fly into the box canyon surrounding the Jackson Hole, Wyoming airport. That is majestic . . . and also a little scary. But mostly majestic. And a little scary.

It was another wonderful trip. I’ll be seeing my family next at my nephew’s wedding in southern Washington, and then I hope to head back to the Rock in September. I can’t wait. Dorothy was right: There’s no place like home.

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Post #108 on


The picture above is on one of the visits with my brother Pat and my sister Martha. Here’s the post I wrote six months ago on my mom’s fight with Dementia.

An example of my Dad’s wit and humor. After I wrote the post on golf, which I knew he wouldn’t like, he emailed me with this line: “Well…as you know, I’m a non-golfer, but still, at your urging, I did read every word of what you had to say about the joys of membership in the First United Golfers’ Church of Awakening and Goodness …repetitious and boring as it was…I did read it.” —- Dang it, that’s funny.

I made a “Younger Next Year” reference. It’s a great book that my Dad and I keep coming back to. See my review here.

If you haven’t seen the Progressive Becoming Your Parents commercials. You’re missing out. Here’s the grocery store one. Not only did I thank my pilots, but like the guy in the commercial, I’m always giving shoutouts to my two local grocery produce guys – Lee and Frank. And I’m not going to stop, even though Progressive thinks it makes me look old.

If you don’t know about burnt ends, here’s a quick tutorial. Take the fatty part of a brisket that’s already been smoked for 12-14 hours, cut the pieces into cubes, season them, then smoke them two or three hours more until a very dark “bark” develops. Burnt is just how they look – they are actually cooked perfectly. They are fatty, no good for you at all, and absolutely outstanding. Some people call them “meat candy.” 

Links to the restaurants I mentioned:

Finally, as my friend Dawnalyn has pointed out, I lived in Arkansas for 18 years, and I’ve lived in Malibu for the last 31 years, and I still call Arkansas home. Can you have two homes? They both certainly qualify, and I love them both, but my only plans are to stay in our Malibu home. Dawnalyn is a true wordsmith, and I have often advised her not to pay attention to my words. Instead, try to figure out the sentiments behind them. She just shakes head. Home is a complicated concept, and I’m just fine with that. 

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  1. Bill Sampson says:


    You once told me that the Arkansas state motto was: “Thank God for Mississippi,” – an obvious reference to MIssissippi ALWAYS being in 50th place, even if Arkansas were all too frequently in 49th. Rosemary and I scaled the Arkansas highpoint (NOT an oxymoron), Mt. Magazine. without supplemental oxygen. In a physically and mentally demanding “double” we later free climbed the Mississippi highpoint (DEFINITELY an oxymoron), Woodall Mountain. You were right – Arkansas is better.

    I’m so glad you were able to spend time with your loved ones.


    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Yes – That’s something we definitely said. Good for you for climbing Magazine (what a beautiful place to be). Arkansas is filled with spectacular beauty. Thanks for reading, Bill.

  2. Laurie Morgan says:

    Family and friends, sharing, caring and loving every moment! You are truly blessed! Absolutely Love your stories‼️💜

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Yes, yes, and truly yes, Laurie Morgan. Thanks so much!

  3. Seth Finn says:

    As you so often do Mke you’ve taken your experiences and spun them in to the larger issues we’re all facing. I’d say this post is about being grateful for what we still have, not lamenting what we don’t, and enjoying every moment we get. I frequently fail, but I try to remember all of those things every single day, you’ve just issued another excellent reminder, thank you!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Seth. It’s funny. I wasn’t trying to spin or connect anything, yet you, being you, did that for me. We are overdue for a lunch or something, my friend.

  4. Debbie Becker says:

    Thanks Mike. You gave us “food” for thought.
    Great writing and I love your brother’s paintings! They are beautiful.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Nice to hear from you, Debbie. Thank you, and yes, Pat is incredibly talented. I’ve long gotten over being bitter about how he has so much artistic talent. Actually, I’m super proud of him and love seeing him be successful doing what he loves to do.

  5. Ana Avila says:

    I love the read; I feel when I travel to visit my family, I recharge with good energy. loving, caring.

    Always nice to read you Dr. Matthews.

  6. Darla J Carroll says:

    Enjoy the trips home. I live in south central Kansas, am 61, and enjoy teaching high school ELA for, oh, 37 years, now. (Would be 39, but I “retired” for 2 and went back in 2019) Anyway, your posts are so relevant and yeah, Progressive nails it with their humor! My parents are long gone, but it’s terrific to read how others still cherish some time with theirs.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Hello Darla, and welcome! Thanks for all you’ve given to schools and to our students learning English. Most of us can point to ancestors who have been in that situation, and your efforts are a critical part of what makes America so wonderful. I bet you have a gazillion success stories, and a high number of frustration stories. Regardless, I hope you enjoy these thoughts from a similarly aged fellow educator. All the best. – Mike

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