Old and New Little Rock Memories

I went back this week for a short visit to my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m proud of being from Little Rock. It’s very different from my Malibu home of 30 years (and yet there are many similarities), and it’s  full of so many memories that made me who I am. These memories I share with family and friends there will always make it home, even though that period of my life ended over forty years ago.

In the bridge from The Beatles’ Two of Us*, Paul and John sing,

You and I have memories
Longer than the road
That stretches out ahead

Going home always makes me reflect on those memories, while creating a few new ones on the way.

The day before Jill and I arrived, vicious tornadoes slammed Arkansas and many other southern/midwestern states. One of those tornadoes struck very close to home. My sister Martha’s house was significantly damaged by the winds and falling trees, while my brother’s, my mom’s, and my dad’s houses were spared. But my sister feels fortunate, as many of her neighbors were hammered with far worse damage, some losing everything. Driving through her neighborhood reminded me of my own Malibu neighborhood after the devastating 2018 fires. Some houses were destroyed, some were severely damaged, and others were miraculously unharmed. It makes no sense looking at it. I believe those seeking to understand the reason behind the randomness are asking the wrong question. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes, it’s really bad. Most of the time, we won’t ever know why. What’s really important is how we react to the stuff that happens. 

Our family, friends, and neighbors can give us strength in that reaction. And we can do the same for those we love. And our memories of what we have all been through together and how we have supported and been supported by each other make us even stronger.

I remember one time, my brother Pat, my dad, and I were cycling on one of the beautiful forested roads in Arkansas, one of those roads that stretches out ahead forever, and we needed to eat lunch. The only thing open in town was a small mom and pop grocery. They didn’t have any prepared foods. While we were searching the shelves and considering our options, the mom of the store asked us if we wanted a sandwich, and when we said yes, she just opened up some bread, deli meat, and mustard from off the shelf, and made us three sandwiches. She prorated the cost and said that she would use the rest of it herself. That’s the best of Arkansas – neighbors who will do anything for you, whether they know you or not.

I saw that happening in Martha’s neighborhood after the tornado. Neighbors were helping each other with chainsaws and backhoes. In Arkansas, you don’t need to rent those tools. There’s always someone with the right tools. And if you’re not a tool person (my friend Merlin wisely advised me to stay away from the chainsaws – one more injury would just make things that much more difficult), you can bring a cooler full of water or Cokes, or just help with hauling stuff away. I said in my 61 lessons post that family is the main course in life, but having great neighbors is like pie for dessert, or more accurately, pie with ice cream, which everyone knows is the best dessert. 

The South does not have a monopoly on good neighbors. My Malibu neighbors would have fit right in, helping out and doing whatever needed to be done. It was my neighbors in the Malibu Volunteer Fire Brigade who helped to save my house and so many others. And I have so many work colleagues who are also the same way. Crisis sometimes brings out the best in people and shows us what we are truly made of. If we could convince ourselves that we don’t need a crisis to come together and help each other out, maybe our world would be a little less angry.

In thinking about that line from the Beatles, after 61 years, it’s interesting to recognize that my memories may be longer than the road ahead. It does not make the road ahead less interesting or inviting, but it does make reflecting on my wonderful memories somehow seem even more important. After all, it’s our memories and our choices, far more than our possessions and job titles, that make us who we are. 

So here’s to memories old and new from my childhood home in Little Rock, as well as all of the memories I’ve created with my family, my neighbors, my friends, and my colleagues. Those memories contribute to the hopes and dreams, and eventually the realities, of whatever our road ahead is going to bring. 

Let’s see what that road ahead brings today!


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*If you’re a Beatles fan, then while you may not recognize the lyric, you’ve heard this song before. It’s from the Let it Be album. I got to know it better while watching the amazing Netflix documentary, Let it Be, which contains several studio sessions as they developed and eventually recorded the song. While the song is written by Paul about his wife Linda, some people thing this section is about the impending end of The Beatles, and all of the memories Paul and John share.

The stunning and beautifully tragic lead photo was taken by my sister Martha. Taken through her tornado-shattered window looking behind her house, you see that the woods that used to be there are practically gone, and so many houses were hit by the tornado that swept through west Little Rock. The other photo features my beautiful mom, my amazing father, and Martha and Pat, my two siblings who still live in Little Rock.

Yogi Berra Would Not Have Liked Malibu Summers

No one goes to Malibu, my home since 1993, in the summer. It’s way too crowded. OK – that’s a stolen line. The famous Yankee catcher/American philosopher Yogi Berra said that about a restaurant in New York. He was a quote machine. But truly, there is no worse time to be in Malibu than the summer.

People hear about Malibu, and they think about a playground for the rich where the stars play. That’s not the life I lead. My friends are contractors, teachers, professors, jewelry makers, difference makers, doctors, midwives, photographers, and yes, a few people in the movie business. Yet, none of us are part of the Malibu “scene,” whatever that is. But we are into the natural beauty of our gorgeous beach town, and we all feel fortunate to live in a beautiful place with friends who are so close they are practically family.

The beaches are the thing in Malibu. Maybe. Actually, I could write a whole separate post that starts with “The mountains are the thing in Malibu.” But let’s focus on the beaches, which are used in so many ways. I took a bike ride up and down the coast last Sunday. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful rides. But the ride is along Pacific Coast Highway and, in the summer, you have to get on the road before 7 AM and be done by 10 AM, because the road gets busy around 9 AM, and the later the day goes, the less I trust driver attentiveness.

While the 7 AM start was the right goal, I made the poor decision to stay out way past my preferred 10 PM bedtime on Saturday night (I blame my aforementioned friends), and yada, yada, yada, I did not get on the road until 9 in the morning. It was warm, sunny (the picture above is a 7 AM picture from a different ride – still very foggy), and way too late. My three-hour journey gave me plenty of stories to tell that should explain why Malibu is such an amazing place, and why no one should come here in the summer.

I left my home, rode past the cars of people who drove for miles to park here and start their bike rides, and turned right onto Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Almost immediately, I was passed by a 5-minute convoy of Ford Mustangs – all years, all colors, and most of them with mufflers that were not fully functional. Shocking. And needless to say, very loud. Shelbies, Cobras, ‘65 convertibles, you name it. That’s a thing on PCH – these rallies or convoys of Mustangs, Ferraris, modified Honda Civics, Harleys, and more. I will say, the convoys are super fun to see. However, it doesn’t feel super safe to be riding in a noise factory surrounded by drivers who are staring lustily at each other’s prized possessions. Like I said, I started too late.

In case you were worried, those in the ocean are safe from the car traffic. And as I rode up the coast, I could see that the surf was up, and the surfers were out in droves. In sections of the coast where the surf is not as big, I saw people fishing, both above and below the water. While slowly ascending one of two main climbs on the ride, I rode past a parked truck and saw a guy getting his spear gun from the back of the truck. It was pointed right at me as he gently pulled it from the truck bed, and I said a silent prayer that I would not be his first catch – a prayer that was thankfully answered. You have to be hearty to take advantage of the ocean. Growing up swimming in the warm lakes of Arkansas and learning to scuba in the very warm Gulf of Mexico, I am a full-fledged cold-water wimp. Anything below 65 degrees just hurts. The Malibu ocean-lovers are out there all year long, with water temps that range from 55 to 70. But when my friend David (one of those I blame for my late start on Sunday) occasionally knocks on my door to give me two lobsters that he caught free-diving that morning, I am most grateful for those heartier than I.

You don’t have to be in the water to enjoy Malibu’s beaches. Low tide walks on the beach are spectacular, and there were a lot of walkers out there on Sunday. I remember seeing the wide beaches of Malibu for the first time when I was applying for the principalship of Malibu High School in 1993. They were stunning then, and I still marvel at them today.

Looking for dolphin, diving pelicans, and the occasional whales makes every trip to the beach something special. Although it’s not whale season, the dolphins and big-mouthed birds were out and putting on their show.

All of this stuff happens every day – you just see more of it as the day goes on. Maybe that late start isn’t all bad.

Even though nobody comes here in the summer, the not too foggy days between Labor and Memorial Days can bring 200,000 to 500,000 visitors to Malibu’s beaches, and over the course of a good-weather summer, our beaches receive almost 100 million visitors. Like I said, it’s way too crowded, and nobody comes here. Except … everybody comes here. And why wouldn’t they? Malibu’s beaches are state and county parks and the lifeguards are our awesome park rangers. I am a huge fan of our local, state, and national park system (thanks Teddy Roosevelt!), and the beach parks of Malibu are just one more thing that makes this nation the great place that it is.

My request for those of you who venture here – enjoy a truly beautiful place, throw your trash away, don’t make illegal U-turns on PCH (channeling my last post, that’s how people DIE), and please watch out for cyclists who start their day a little later than they should have.

Thanks for reading!


To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here

Note: The wide beach picture was taken a long time ago, when Dawson was very little. It features our Jill, Dawson, me, and Penny, our Pekingese. I thought the picture nicely portrays walking on the wide beaches. It’s also a picture I featured in a blog post I wrote after Penny’s death. I have two friends who lost their beloved dogs this week, and I was reminded of the sadness of losing those dogs we love, and all the beauty of the years with them.

Halloween, Closed Drawers, and Empty Nests

Halloween is a big deal in our neighborhood. Our area is one of the few places in Malibu where streets are lined with houses arranged on traditional blocks, on a semi-traditional street grid.  Malibu is dotted with large houses and properties spaced far apart, many of which are second homes that are dark at Halloween, making it very difficult to trick or treat – so we are a destination neighborhood on Halloween. I hate to brag, but as a kid, I was a very accomplished trick or treater, so I know the key to a successful trick or treating night is quantity. Hitting as many houses as possible makes for excellent trading opportunities later, and a good deal of variety as well. I’ve talked before about the people in my neighborhood, so it will be no surprise that with our smaller and mostly festive homes filled with friendly and generous people who are home every night, you can expect to get a lot of treats from a lot of houses. Every year, we greet between 300 and 600 trick or treaters – this year was more in the 400 area, so I’ll be bringing a few bags back to Costco. I’m not a guy-who-buys-a-big-screen-TV-at-Costco-just-before-the-Super-Bowl-and-returns-it-the-next-week guy, but I do love their return policy.

For me, the holiday season officially begins in October, as Halloween approaches. Each year, when October 1 rolls around, I strike up a friendly conversation with Jill, who knows exactly what I’m after. As the conversation meanders, she is well aware that I will eventually ask, “So. When do you think I can put up the Halloween Tree?” Jill will sigh, and say something like, “I need two weeks.” I run as fast as I can to mark October 15 on the calendar, and, once again, I have something to look forward to in my life.

A side note. I know that when my dad sees that this blog is about our Halloween Tree, he will cringe in shame. Nothing brings him less joy than me mentioning or showing pictures of the Halloween Tree. He claims that it’s an embarrassment to our family. I of course disagree. There’s nothing quite like getting out the artificial holiday tree and beginning three months of celebration. First, it’s the Halloween Tree, then the Thanksgiving Tree, and finally the Christmas Tree. It’s a beautiful thing. And once we start trimming the tree with skeletons and pumpkins, Jill gets into it. She is usually the lucky one chosen to put the traditional witch on top of the tree. We put some pumpkins underneath too, and the holidays are off and running. With all of the use I get from our tree – three holidays a year for so many years – I think I’m now actually making money off of that tree! I’m not great with the whole money and profit thing, but it makes sense to me.

Trick or treaters love the tree when they come to the door, and contrary to my dad’s thinking, I never hear any parents pulling their kids away and whispering, “Let’s get away from these crazy Halloween Tree people!” Anyway, it was once again a fantastic Halloween, and next week, the Halloween Tree will magically transform into a Thanksgiving Tree.

The big difference this year, of course, is that for the first time ever in this home, none of our children were part of the festivities. Putting up the tree was a stark reminder of the empty nesters’ reality we are living. Ryan was 11 when we moved into this home, and Dawson was born while living here. These walls have seen 18 Halloweens with our children dressing up, trading candy, and entertaining friends. On Halloween night, we usually open our home to friends and our children’s friends. Jill makes a huge batch of her award-winning veggie chili (Jilly’s Chili recipe can be found on principalchef.com), I make cornbread, and we offer hot dogs, hot links, bottles of water, and a few other libations. Sadly, that did not happen this year, but it will hopefully return in ’22.  What that means is, with the exception of 400 kids coming to our door, Halloween was q-u-i-e-t this year. And neither Jill, nor I, liked the lack of decibels.

I wrote my most popular blog post ever, Taking My Youngest to College, about 10 weeks ago. The minute we came back into our empty nest, Jill immersed herself into teaching, and I started figuring out what is next in my life. Things are certainly different. We see Dawson’s empty bedroom every day and unlike when he lived here, the drawers to his dressers are all closed. Dawson has six large drawers in his dresser, and until 10 weeks ago, at least five of them were open with something hanging over the edge at all times. I would dramatically close at least one of them when I woke him up, glare at him with a stern look, and he would tell me how much more efficient it was with the drawers always open. Exhibit 254 in my ineffective dad case. Now the drawers are always closed. Success does not always feel the way you think it will.

Putting up the Halloween Tree was a closed drawer moment. I love that our home is festive and fun, but it would be 10 million times better if Dawson (and Ryan) were here. I’ve written before that, even after 12 years, our home still seems emptier with Ryan gone, and now, with both of them out, the house feels like there is a lot of space in it. Because Jill is a more sensitive and deeper person than I, she felt it more than I did as we kicked off the holidays. But there are lights at the end of this new tunnel, and they’re not just the orange lights of our Halloween Tree. We go to see Dawson in Colorado for parents’ weekend next weekend! And Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday, is on the horizon, and all of us – Dawson, Ryan, and Ryan’s fiancé Yesenia – will be together for that holiday. In the meantime, we are just living and actually enjoying our new life.

Empty nesting is just fine. And I don’t mean fine like my friend Jen means it. When she says “It’s fine,” you know you’ve screwed up. I mean that in spite of missing Dawson, we are doing well. It’s definitely a simpler existence. Our house is WAY cleaner and the drawers are all closed. Marie Kondo’s shadow looms large in our house, as we (mostly I) seek even more simplicity and organization. It’s a little sickness I have, but more about that in some other blog post. I feel beyond lucky to be nesting with a fun and positive wife and life partner, and we are living well and laughing a lot in our new existence.

That being said, I can’t wait for the band to get back together again.