Alexa, Tell Them to Stop Slamming My Doors

I know that we’re 12 days in, but Happy 2018! I trust everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Not counting Christmas, our house has celebrated – or is currently celebrating – 3 birthdays since my last post. My kids have early January birthdays that seem to stretch for weeks. I think Jack’s third and final birthday celebration event is Sunday afternoon.

Presents for weeks now, but the one that has gotten the most attention is the Amazon Echo or, as it’s more commonly known, an Amazon Alexa. Like me, Alexa is sleek and stylish and stays behind the lamp, hoping to be left alone. Also like me, Alexa gets asked a zillion questions a day.

If you’re not familiar, the Amazon Echo is a speaker/assistant/encyclopedia that you control with your voice. Just use a wake word, like “Alexa”, to get her attention and she’s at your service. She can tell you the weather, calculate your commute time, read your Twitter feed, play music, roll dice, and a million other things. If you have a “smart home”, you can control the smart devices with the Echo. “Alexa, raise the thermostat 2 degrees.” “Alexa. lock the doors.” “Alexa, turn off the lights upstairs.” If you download your contacts, you can use the Echo to make phone calls, or make Echo-to-Echo calls or send messages to others in your contact list who have an Echo. (My guess is that the Amazon account is tied to their email address, and Amazon puts the pieces of that puzzle together for you).

You can also control your TV with your Echo, but that requires Amazon Fire TV and I, quite honestly, am a little overwhelmed with all of the channel delivery options and I’m not signing up for any more. I will say that it would make my life easier if YouTube TV added History, HGTV, A&E and the FoodNetwork. Google will get there but, of course, the Amazon Echo and Google don’t play well together. Those two crazy kids just need to kiss and make-up.

Y’all realize that, in the span of 35 years, we’ve gone from having one way – cable television – to get THREE ADDITIONAL STATIONS (WOR, WGN, WTBS) to 194 different ways to watch The Bachelor.

Anyway, back to the Echo. I don’t know which agent at the NSA is charged with listening to the conversations that we have with Alexa, but that poor guy is questioning his career choice. I’m sure that he’s thinking, “if I have to listen to Alexa open a box of cats one more time, the terrorists can just have it!”

That’s Layne’s favorite – Alexa, open a box of cats.

Jack has discovered that he can ask the Echo to play whatever song he has on his mind at at the moment. My Spotify history has everything from Lecrae to the soundtrack from The Greatest Show.

We got our first Echo for Christmas. Big hit. Realizing that we can just use the call or drop-in feature to create an intercom system for the house, the kids got their own Echo Dots for their birthdays. Now, instead of yelling aimlessly up the stairs, I can just say “Alexa, drop-in on the playroom” and my pet peeve of people staring at a ceiling yelling someone else’s name is resolved.

Now, if I could get Alexa to make them stop slamming doors, I could really solve some of the world’s problems.

Have a great weekend!

The Least Shareable Post of 2017

I’ve said this one million times, but waking up at 4:30AM on Friday, tip-toeing to the office to get the laptop, then tip-toeing to the kitchen, and sitting on a cold stool at the breakfast bar to write for 30-45 minutes is a relatively easy habit to break. I wasn’t going to do it this morning – it’s a work day for me, but it’s the Friday before a long weekend and I really didn’t have a topic in mind, so I was going to sleep-in, which is to say sleep until 5:30AM – but I woke up without the alarm on my phone going off and, without looking at the clock, decided that I would write if the clock said 4:30.

4:30 it said, so here I am. I try to be a man of my word. That’s why I’m a man of few words.

As inconsistent as I was with posting this year, you guys were consistently amazing. You responded to posts, you liked posts, you shared posts, and you commented on posts – even the ones that weren’t any good.

I know a guy who knows a lot about website analytics. It’s his career, so I don’t ask him to look at mine because he wouldn’t charge me for the work, and I don’t think that’s fair. He should get paid for his work and I don’t like the feeling that I owe someone something. Thanks Dave Ramsey. So, I looked at the analytics the way that I look people – looks familiar, and I know it’s English, but I don’t feel confident that I understand what you’re telling me – but I understand it enough to know that It Was a Small Town was the most read post of the year and the most read post EVER on this little site. It did 6 times the volume of the previous leader, The Kiffin Hire: I Like It!. People commented on the post, they commented on Facebook, they responded on Twitter. It was fantastic to see the response. That was a fun couple of days.

I believe that 2018 will be year 6 of this site (domain and hosting renewal year! Yea!), and year 20 of inconsistent writing for me. From the More of Less blogspot, which was mostly pop culture lessedness (that’s not a word) to The Conch Shack (which is still up) to the Kiva Cup (which has been transferred to a participating member of the event). I guess I should focus, but that’s not any fun. That’s probably one of the reasons that my book on self-awareness, based on Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”, is still in outline form…and not even a good outline.

Thank you very much for another incredible year. I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas and I will endeavor to be more consistent, and entertaining in 2018, but that’s not a legally-binding promise.

Merry Christmas!

It’s Not Really Raw

I don’t like to use the word puke when I write, because some of you read this early in the morning while you’re eating breakfast. It’s not a very pleasant word at any time but, fact of the matter, it’s what I did and there’s no way to write this post without using it. You’ve been warned.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’d like to tell you that it’s because I spend so much time reflecting on the blessings of the year, but I’m not that good. Oh sure, I will spend a few minutes in reflection when I see my kids and wife watching the “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”, huddled up snug on the sofa under three blankets because I won’t turn the heat on in November.  It’s a beautiful sight. What I really like about Thanksgiving is the four-day weekend, spending time with Leah and the kids, and the food. Oh my word, the food.

Thanksgiving was always a Nana and PawPaw holiday. All of their kids and all of my cousins would descend upon their house for the day. There were years that Nana tried to escape to Gatlinburg or to Cherokee, North Carolina, but we always found her anyway and descending we would go.

I don’t know why she was such a good cook with the simple things, but she was. Biscuits, gravy, cornbread…she had every staple in her wheelhouse. I promise you, she could slice a tomato and it would taste better than the tomato that you sliced. It was crazy, really. She had this way of making cornbread that I wish I had paid closer attention to. It was good without butter! That’s crazy talk, I know, but butter actually took away from the flavor. It was almost a shame to see her cornbread crumbled up for use in her dressing, but the magic that happened there was spectacular.

I wrote a post a few years ago, Well Bless Your Heart Ma’am, that didn’t really sit well with some people. It wasn’t meant to offend anyone, but I guess it did anyway. If you want to offend a southerner this Thanksgiving, compliment their “stuffing”. They’ll be nice and say “thank you, it needed more sage, but I’m glad you liked it” while on the inside thinking, well bless your heart.

Dressing is cornbread and some dried out pieces of french bread or loaf bread mixed with celery and onions, sage and thyme and other spices,  eggs, giblets and livers (that’s what you do with those, in addition to the giblet gravy), and some chicken broth. Some people add proteins, like sausage or oysters, but that’s optional. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve always been told that it’s okay to eat dressing “raw”, that is, after it has been mixed up in a gigantic pan, but before it is baked in the oven. After almost 20 years, Leah has stopped giving me a quizzical look when I walk in to Aunt Pat’s house, put whatever we brought on the counter, and ask “where is the raw dressing?” It’s always in the refrigerator.

I can remember years when Nana didn’t save enough raw dressing, and those who arrived late didn’t get any. That’s a downer. You stand for hours at the refrigerator, trying to hope a small bowl of raw dressing in to existence. Then PawPaw would say “close that door and get out of this kitchen, you hophead!” At that moment, you wondered what a hophead was and you vowed to be the first one to arrive at their house for Christmas, even though you were 11 and had no actual control over that sort of thing.

I promised to use the word puke but then I went off on a dressing tangent. The puke came from the pecan pie, but I never made it to dessert in this post, so you were spared. Such is the danger of Freestyle Fridays. I could talk about dressing all day, I guess. I’ve got a friend that makes oyster dressing. My brother-in-law visits his wife’s family in Louisiana where, I suppose, they make some voodoo dressing that will take three years off your life. They’ll all be posting photographs on Facebook at Cornbread Smoke. If you’re particularly proud of your dressing this year, or if your dressing ends up being a goopy disaster, send us your pictures! We’d love to see what you created!

If you’re eating stuffing, well….

Have a great a weekend and a very happy Thanksgiving! And if the turkey is dry, love ’em anyway!