Monday, October 29, 2012

Visiting The Coolest Small Town in America 2011

Ablaze.  Utterly, brilliantly ablaze. One of the many wonders of my home state West Virginia is its breathtaking color palette every Autumn.  Having left the hometown early in the A.M to continue our vacation, we eventually embarked on to the West Virginia turnpike and every turn peeled back another multi-hued layer.  The further into southern West Virginia we got, the closer we were getting to some noted tourist spots as well, such as the renowned Greenbrier resort and the towering New River Gorge Bridge, then on the cusp of Bridge Day; the annual celebration of adventure-seeking that takes place every year there.  I found myself in an almost dreamlike reverie of memory as the colorful trees whizzed by; remembering the whitewater rapids of the nearby New and Gauley rivers and how rafting became one of my all-time favorite excursions after trying them out here.  An addition to an exit sign soon caught my eye: Lewisburg, WV. Voted The Coolest Small Town of 2011.

I had thought I had visited Lewisburg previously but if I had, it must have been ages ago.  This complete and total charmer of a town won us over from the moment we pulled on to its streets.  We stopped at the nicely appointed visitor center where I would discover the source of Lewisburg's new "coolest' moniker; Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine.  Clearly, the writer was swept away by Lewisburg and sure enough, we soon would be as well. 

Harmony Ridge Gallery was our next stop and what a stylish stop it was.  Alive with eccentricities and whimsy, this is a ravishing space. The sleek furniture and wild decor are enough reason to visit and they also feature a wine bar and coffeehouse called Red Key 3.  We picked up a couple of prints and took the proprietor's advice on lunch and headed to a little gem called the Stardust Cafe up the street.  I have to say there are lots of satisfactory restaurant experiences out there, and sometimes you have an excellent one that you look forward to speaking to your friends about.  Every once in a great while though, you enter a place and that makes you feel like you were welcomed home and that indeed is case with the Stardust Cafe.  The decor is like the menu and the service, fun and cheerful.  We sat at the bar where I nursed a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar and watched the lively Tuesday afternoon lunch crowd.  Keith ordered a satisfying Grilled 3-cheese sandwich consisting of goat cheese, Swiss and aged Reggiano Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil on homemade ciabatta bread.  After a bowl of creamy celery soup, I had what was considered a "Stardust classic", the Trust-Me Salad.  This bright, cheery confection of a salad earned its place in a Southern Living cookbook by its sunny flavor for sure: fresh greens topped with locally made Crazy Baker's granola, chevre, fresh tomatoes, onions and avocado tossed with Destiny's secret vinaigrette and a slice of crusty bread on the side.  Destiny is the proprietress of the Stardust Cafe along with her daughter Sparrow and the Crazy Baker in question is Destiny's twin brother.  Clearly, great care is taken here, with ingredients, with preparation, and with service.  I wanted to wile away the afternoon here, try some more ales from their impressive list and take in one of their sumptuous desserts like the apparently famous sticky toffee cake.  Time for travel was of the essence, though, and so we did reluctantly move on and stroll through Bella, the Corner Gourmet before finally returning to the road.

Yes, there are places I love to visit and then there are places I would like to move to and Lewisburg was definitely the latter.  So much so in fact, that I have read through much of the material we collected there.  Even while writing this post, I read the back story of Stardust Cafe and was charmed even by that.  I am always proud of my home state and prouder still to see a town so completely captivating reside there.  The Coolest Small Town?  You betcha. Almost heaven, indeed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Eastbound and Down to My Beloved Hometown

The ongoing demands of my new job, particularly on my mental state, continue to make it difficult to keep up with the continuously Confounded Cook.  We've had little to no time for cooking, let alone writing, but we did eke out a bit of a vacation recently.  It was a long, strange trip indeed and it was that for various reasons.

We went full-out road warrior for this journey, as we find ourselves doing more and more as flying is becoming too arduous a means of transportation.  We were going to kick the trip off with a shorter-than-usual hang with the hometown crowd and check in on my mama and sister.  The plan was to depart from the hotel late afternoon on Friday and head to our first overnight stay at Hannibal, MO., the childhood home of Mark Twain.  The first leg of our trip was snagged by our inability to unravel from our jobs on time and when we finally clawed our way out of town, we found we couldn't get....out of town.  There we were, stuck behind molasses-slow farm equipment chugging its way down the road; belching putrid smoke, with no way around it.  The dialogue between us during this time was typical:

Keith: "Now Greg, it is what it is, we've left work and we're on vacation....everything will be fine."
Me: "Bah. &^*@*!!!. Whatever."

Of course, he was right and eventually we moseyed our way east by back roads across Rt 36, through Hannibal and other famous hometowns like Marceline, Walt Disney's hometown.  We eventually landed at Springfield, Illinois where we would crash for an evening before heading out again.  We drove through some alternate routes on Saturday that took us through downtown Indianapolis, past the racetrack home of the Indy 500 and the Hip Hop Christian Church, past the Columbus, Ohio skyline and finally to meander along scenic Highway 60 along the tranquil, sunlit Ohio River beneath the towering, stately pine trees.  Sadly, I was not enjoying it like I should have; I'd had a call of concerned warning from my sister that Mom would be challenging during this visit and between that and leftover work stress, the relaxation part just wasn't materializing.  And I love, truly love traveling.  We would finally arrive to St. Marys as late as we departed Excelsior Springs and I was anything but chill.

By the next day however, my beloved hometown had woven its spell and my stressed-out soul was starting to heal. Mom, indeed, was fired up when I got to her but after wheeling her outside to soak up the warm autumnal sun and collect some fiery-colored leaves, we found ourselves cozily adrift in the perfectly crisp, fall day.  That evening, I would gather again with friends to continue to celebrate our dear Mrs. Reckard's 80th birthday (girlfriend has had about 10 parties now) as well as toast Kaki and JB's recent nuptials.  My high school teacher Bud came bearing cheesecake and his famous lasagna and we were also joined by my sister Shirley and bestie Kristy.  I also reunited with my childhood friend Bobby and met his partner Tim.  We all reveled in this great lakeside evening of raucous laughter and fabulous food.  And the food was indeed that...Kak and JB always do it up right, but this night was rife with mouth-watering fare.  I'm not a prime-rib fan by nature, but that smoky, spicy slab of red meat was something else for sure.  Accompanied by grilled lettuce with capers, fabulous grilled vegetables (the cabbage was amazing), garlic mashed, hashed potatoes and some Challah bread that I brought from the Elms bakery that JB grilled, it was a meal to remember.  JB and Kak own my favorite store the Greenhouse of course, and each of the dishes served that evening  featured some of the specialty food items that they sell: the prime rib was seasoned with Dizzy Pig's Raising The Steaks rub and cracked pepper; the grilled lettuce was adorned with Urban Accent's Fisherman's Wharf spice blend and the grilled veggies were marinated in Robert Rothchild Farm's Asian Ginger Teriyaki Sauce.  Yum city!  What a seriously delightful evening.

This brief sojourn into my hometown included some other highlights like hearty power-walks through my colorful city park, getting my traditional "prom picture" taken with our dear friend Dotte after she's been recovering from surgery and a night of beers and vintage music with Kristy, JB and Kak.  It was truly good for this cynical soul to get a taste of my West Virginia hometown.  Thank you, St. Marys.

Next up: the journey continues...

Veggin' With the Posse at Van Till Farms

We enjoyed a blessedly relaxing evening with our Dinner Posse crew recently in the chill atmosphere of Van Till Farms in Rayville, MO.  Chill AND chilly, actually, as the first truly brisk breezes of the changing seasons settled in.  Having not been to Van Till before, I was a mite concerned about sitting outside on their well-known patio on this particular Friday night.  The concern was needless, however, as the good folks at Van Till took care of everything. 
 Van Till Family Farm and Winery is located on an idyllic setting in Rayville, MO.  Van Till has always been in my peripheral vision in a way...they had participated in the Missouri Wine Festival at the Elms before and I always purchased their to-die-for Garlic-Gorgonzola bread.  I shouldn't speak much of those much-missed bakery items as Van Till isn't producing those anymore.  We spoke to Van Till patriarch Cliff about that the night we were there and he admitted that they needed to streamline and focus their efforts on their wine and gardens.  It's certainly hard to argue with that logic when you taste the bounty of their farm-to-table goodness.
 That night, we arrived to the enclosed patio, settled in with the Posse folks and ordered up some bottles of wine.  It was great to see the Boswells whom we hadn't seen in a while, and we caught up with them over various Van Till vinos like the flavorful Chambourcin and for the ladies, a makeshift blend of the semi-sweet Vignoles and the Sweet White.  On Friday nights and Saturdays only, Van Till serves up their marvelous gourmet pizzas and that's what we were here for.  Keith and I kicked off with mixed greens (grown in their own greenhouses) tossed in the tangy house-made basil-garlic dressing and then soon dug into a delicious vegetarian Spinach Blanco (with fresh spinach and tomatoes and creamy white sauce) pizza.  Among the savory pies sampled on the table were the Bacon-Gorgonzola and the Pesto Chicken Pear and all received enthusiastic thumbs up.  The pizzas are all baked in the wood-fired oven on the patio and that night Cliff's son was manning the oven.

 As for that patio, it was generously warmed by heat lamps and we were quite cozy...probably made even more so by the ongoing wine-sipping.  The camaraderie is always welcome with this bunch and we were duly impressed by the pizza, wine and service here.  We are looking forward to returning, for sure. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bloody Marys in The Enchanted Forest

It was a new day, like any other day, except that it wasn't. This past Sunday was mine and Keith's second day camping with his family and it began like any other. The morning sun was bright but the cold front had arrived and brought a welcome crispness to the air. It was certainly odd to see some of the ladies wearing sweatshirts barely a day after triple digit heat, but we were all most grateful for the change. We were anticipating our nature hike on one of the many trails through Pomme de Terre State Park and so we gathered 'round the picnic tables and grills to fortify ourselves for the hike ahead. Hole-in-ones; those filling egg sandwiches, sizzled on the griddle and an excellent fruit salad filled with fresh berries and kiwi got us revved up for our day...or maybe it was those killer Bloody Marys Dave was mixing up. Can I just mention that one of the secret ingredients in these bad boys was once again beer; just like Jim's Margaritas? We entered into some unappetizing "What If" apocalypse conversation when Jill and her girls thankfully arrived and we gathered our group and embarked towards the trail in the woods.

We would be fine, right? Sure, we were heading into the woods but this was the middle of the day and we were young...well, the rest of the group was...and we were vibrant...ok, for the adults, said vibrancy may have been due to the adult beverage sippy cups we were, what's the worst that could happen?

Isn't that what every happy-go-lucky group says before skipping merrily into the dark, enchanted forest?

Once upon a time, a young, merry band of travelers thirsting for adventure set out into the Enchanted Forest, looking to discover its secrets. The youngest among us, Tanner, Caitlyn and Sierra, led us on our path through the woods; watching carefully for the mystical blue signs that would ensure that we were going in the proper direction. Sierra would gather multi-colored stones for protection and Caitlyn and Tanner thought up new identities for each of us in order to confound any malevolent spirits that we might encounter. They assumed the identities of an elderly married couple and found canes to aid their walking....and poke me with, as well. They proceeded to rename each of us. They named Rhonda Glinda, as in the Good Witch and myself as the noble chipmunk. We adults followed behind in merry fashion; heartily laughing and enjoying our magic elixirs. These elixirs surely would aid us in our journey as one was home brewed by our own traveling sorceress Anne and the other was named after the legendary warrior Bloody Mary. As we ventured forth, the Enchanted Forest seemed to mount its defenses against us as the entirety of our surroundings darkened, and the colors seemed to fade into a grayer hue. Rays of sunlight shrank into pinpricks and the trees appeared to thicken. The trees also became more barren and misshapen, as if ravaged by great floods or devastating fires. One particularly sinister tree, its branches bent in nightmarish fashion featured a gaping maw at its center that seemed to invite innocents to enter, only to never be seen again.
Brave and fearless young Caitlyn, with her mother Jill at her side, walked right up to the dark void and utilizing their boundless creativity, deemed the tree a portal to another mystical land. While tempted to enter the tree, we all agreed to continue on, following the blue signs through the Forest. Trudging on, we thought that we had found our destination, but instead were tricked into a dead end....climbing
up a steep ridge, Sierra clung tighter to my side as we saw buzzards circling above and the intimidating birds seemed to sweep closer as we continued our climb. Suddenly, the sunlight brightened and the forest opened up and we ran; assured that we had found the endpoint and would soon rejoin our loved ones. Our hopes were dashed; as we ran to the the end of a knoll, surrounded by a vast lake that went on forever.
Our only choices were to leap into the lake and swim for it or to return into the Forest. We gathered and discussed our choices and in the end, we took the road less traveled...back into the Forest.
We tarried on and soon depleted many of our supplies. The Forest darkened again and the foliage returned to its gnarled state. We grew more apprehensive and our young ones were starting to shrink from this daunting path. Buzzing clouds of insects hovered in our way and long weeds lashed at our legs as we carried on. Young, intrepid Tanner continued to lead us, but even he was beginning to tire as the trail felt endless. Soon, we saw a herd of dear gallop nearby, leaving us all agape in wonder. As if a sign had been sent to us telling us not to give up, we kept going forward. Finally, we saw the familiar road that led us back to our campground and to our loved ones. In the end, the Forest's secret seemed to be the very challenge of traversing its trail without giving up. We all met the challenge, especially the young ones who despite some scares and frustrations, displayed courage, perseverance and valor.
Having proven themselves worthy, they all lived happily ever after.

The End

Ah, happy endings...well. except for those ticks that several of us inherited on our return to the the ones that tried to get a bit intimate with Keith. Or the bug that Anne swallowed. Or the horsefly that bit me on my back.

Whatever. We took the road less traveled and had a most excellent and memorable time. Way to lead us through, kids!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Bucket List Goes To The Color Run

Des Moines, Iowa.  Perfectly charming Midwest city, to be sure, but if someone had told me in the halcyon days of my muddled youth that Des Moines would one day be the backdrop to some of the more significant moments of my life, well, there certainly might've been a doubtful chuckle or two.  Here we were again, though, in the town where we were married last year hauling the beginnings of our Bucket List along to mark another big moment.  This moment may not hold the gravity of the beginning of a marriage but it did signify the result of following through with something once again: after eight weeks of training, we were embarking on our first 5k at the Color Run.  

We seemed to stumble on this milestone the same dramatic way we did the other Des Moines moment...

"So I wanna run this 5k."
"Well, hey, so do I."

Aaron Sorkin couldn't write more riveting dialogue, right?  Said exchange was indeed the beginning, though, and soon, we were training under an apropo iPhone app called Couch to 5k.  Now, I considered blogging the arduous journey of undertaking becoming a true runner (I've dabbled but nothing serious), but I admit once again that herein lies my superstitious streak.  I was afraid if I put it out there in the world too much, I would do as I've done too many times in the past and not see the task through to the end.   I proved that theory wrong with this very blog, as I set out to be a better cook and somewhat achieved that.  This journey of getting in better shape by becoming a true runner for the first time and running my first 5k, a fortysomething former smoker this trip could very well be fraught with all kinds of twists and turns....and that's just the ankles.

In fact, there were stumbles of every kind; multiple moments of wanting to give up and more than a few emotional shifts.  Don't even get me started on the physical stress.  There was pain from head to toe more times than I can count and we would repeat the mantra of "pain is weakness leaving the body" to each other to get through.  Occasionally, my version sounded more like "stupid #!*^pain is crapmother #@!weakness taking its sweet damn time leavin' my tired-ass #^* body" but nevertheless...

Eight weeks later, we had leapt every hurdle, stuck with the training even in 100-degree weather, and met every challenge, despite plenty of flirtation from both of us with giving up.  We gave ourselves extra time to heal and I audibly and personally thanked my knees, back and ankles after every run.  Ibuprofen became a blessing (and stairs became a curse every day after) but we got there.

We chose the Color Run because some of K's tourism comrades were already signed up and the website videos looked like too much fun.  The happiest 5k on the planet?  We're there.  Everyone wears a white T-shirt and at various times during the 5k, volunteers throw harmless powdered coloring on you so that when we're done, we are all T-shirts that have become multi-colored palettes.  When we were on our way to Des Moines, I had a small sense of panic: Why in the bloody hell did we choose as our first 5k an event where every moment of victory would be splattered by hurled balls of colored powder?  I had visions of being curled up in a mountain of orange Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder, heaving up a literal technocolor yawn.

 All the angst was for naught as the Color Run was actually a crazy-good time and for me, the perfectly eccentric way to start running 5ks.  We met the tourism comrades in the middles of the vast sea of white-clad walkers and runners at the Iowa State Capitol.  It was a slate-gray, bone-chilly day which was infinitely different than most of the weather we had trained in.  This race had over 30,000 runners and we were in the 17th wave, so there was much running in place and huddling to keep warm.  This was a good time to take in the wild methods of dress many folks used, from white chaps to Superman underoos to Mexican wrestling masks.  After many false starts we were finally off.  The run was a hoot as we came to recognize the approaching color stations by whatever hue of cloud might be hovering by.  The orange one was first and soon I knew what it was like to sprint through a mushroom cloud of Cheetos dust.  The run had many walkers but we ran it all, across the bridges and through the various explosions of color.  The final fourth of the run came as a surprise: it was all uphill.  Still, we kept running, although much of this featured a gutteral and long invective of increasingly creative cursing as the hill was seemingly endless.  The finish line did finally appear and we arrived, exhausted but over the moon and aglow with accomplishment.  Soon, we would truly be aglow as the finish line grew into a big party, complete with the heavy beat of dance music and mass crowd of runners throwing their own plastic bags of powdered color into the air.  From our vantage point, this vibrant multi-hued scene set against the factory smoke and gray Iowa skies looked like a completely awesome and vaguely Armageddon-ish rave.

After copious post-race showering, we celebrated with good friends and Des Moines residents (and fellow 5kers) Kara and Drew with a properly calorie-laden meal at El Chisme, a Mexican-Italian fusion joint.  We nursed our chilled bones and sore muscles with Margaritas, creamy queso, calamari with spicy green dipping sauce and chorizo-stuffed ravioli adrift in a cilantro-alfredo sauce.  On the way home the next morning, we indulged one last time in a hearty breakfast at Nana Greer's Family Table ("food so good, you'll swear we stole your mother"), a homey little breakfast hangout in Osceola, Iowa on the way home, happily noshing on jalapeno-loaded home fries before finally making our way for home.  Soon, it will be Monday and it will be work and the nosh will center again on smoothies and oatmeal and salads.  The sweet accomplishment of the Color Run won't be far from our minds, though....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Yard Sale Blues

The title seems to cue a song and I'm a fan of the blues for sure, so it would have been a kick to hear Buddy Guy growl a bluesy tune about hosting a yard sale while we were preparing to do just that.  Indeed, in an effort to downsize, we held our first yard/garage sale this past weekend and we were determined to make it something a tad bit festive as opposed to a slog.  That said, the day wore a bit of a melancholy sheen at times, though  that veil of sadness was in time lifted by that perfect antidote to feeling the blues: the power of laughter.

I suppose that part of my own heavy heart started with the selling of my comic book collection; at least part of it.  Comic books are something often dismissed as wasteful childishness; a needlessly nerdy pursuit.  I started collecting them when I was a child and in many ways, they helped me become a voracious reader as well as endlessly sparking my creativity toward writing as well.  I tried repeatedly over the years to stifle the funny-book pursuit for monetary reasons and self-imposed maturity guidelines and still, they kept coming back, orbiting around me and I would soon find myself caught in them again.  I'm a very visual person and as the stories and art matured along with me (or my age anyway), I found myself in their web many times.  I convinced myself again and again that I would hold on to them as they would one day sell for big bucks and now, as I set them up on various tables for a yard sale, I felt oddly cold and a bit depressed, as I seemed to regard them useless junk as I was everything else when in fact, they were a source of great entertainment for me for many years and at supremely low times (particullary in the preteen years), something for me to find the joy of discovery in when I had little else to be happy about.  I sold over 200 of them on Saturday and I was meant to revel in the sales but instead I gained satisfaction from selling many of them to fellow fans who would enjoy them as much as I have.

The pervasive sadness also hung a bit like a fog as my friend Linda (who co-hosted the yard sale with us) and I welcomed our dear friend Judy to hang at the sale with us.  Linda and I have had a couple of shared experiences over the past few months; both involving powerful and soul-stunning grief.  We have comforted two female friends; both mothers who were burying sons.  Both of the sons were younger than me and both died from tragic circumstances.  Two mothers awash in shock at two tragedies; two funerals in churches that could barely contain the overwhelming grief within their walls.  Judy was one of those mothers and the latest funeral we attended was her son Jesse's.  Jesse was by all accounts a wonderful man, a loving husband and father, a great cook and true friend.  The funeral was a vivid celebration of Jesse's life and made clear in no uncertain terms that Jesse would have preferred a full Viking funeral; being slid off the plank of a pirate ship to cries of "Ahhhrrrr, Matey!" as opposed to all of this pomp.  Since that wasn't (legally) possible, we were all given pirate eyepatches upon arrival and treated to multiple images of his multi-faceted life.  The music at the service was unsurprisingly moving and diverse as one would expect with Judy's family involved and we were all brought to tears by the closing song: the gospel version of the Beatle's Let It Be from the film Across The Universe.

As we prepped for the yard sale in the coming days, Judy and her unimaginable pain were foremost in my mind.  Ronnie had texted me to alert me to a post Judy had made on Facebook addressing certain people regarding her son Jesse's death.  With Judy's permission, I am sharing her words:

Today is the third week since my son, Jesse's, passing. Out of respect and admiration for someone whom fought so hard to survive so many transgressions, medical problems, abuse of all sorts and bullying, I ask this; Please don't tell me that you're sorry for the loss of my son. Please tell him that you're sorry for what you did to him and never thought of his mental, physical or body feelings. ...
You only thought of yourself. Tell him now, he can still hear you! I'm sorry for you, the ones that tormented Jesse throughout his life, he forgave you right up until the end. But you left scars on him. Those don't go away. You are the ones who lost something precious and that was the friend you could have had, the cousin that could have been your hero and someone whom would always be there when you needed him. He was someone that deserved your respect and admiration for never hurting you back. Please, think of what you are doing now to each other, the people around you, and most of all, your children. Are you harming your children? Are you letting things happening to them and closing your eyes? Listen to your kids, love them and live for them. You'll will never have a second chance. It was a privilege to have Jesse physically here with me for 37 years, I was honored to have such a wonderful son
TTFN-hugs around the moon. Momma
 Indeed, Judy had addressed her son's bullies.  It was a passage so powerful; so raw that it hit my friend Ronnie and I both like a thunderclap.  I came completely undone.  When we later returned to prepping for the yard sale, I texted Judy to see if she would be up for stopping by and was surprised to find that she would.  
That Saturday, we set out to create as festive an atmosphere as a yard sale would allow.  We served Mimosas and Bloody Marys and Keith whipped up a comforting breakfast casserole and a wicked-good monkey bread.  The Marys, I have to say, were kick-ass good.  Made the night before and based on this recipe, I subbed the pickled okra and olive juices for juices from our own homemade spicy pickled tomatillo juice.  When Judy joined us, Linda and I surrounded and clung to her for a while and we shared tears as she recounted Jesse's last days.  Judy is someone I feel very connected with on many levels.  We have a deep friendship and there are many qualities she has that she shares with my sister Mona who herself is no longer with us.  It started with her wearing a hint of patchouli, then a love of Bob Marley, and it continued on, and somehow I kept feeling more spiritually bonded with her.  I can't explain it but listening to her recount those horrible days affected me on a soul-deep level.  

Above all though, Judy loves life and as the afternoon wore on and the Mary-sipping continued, other friends like Kiko and Deb and later Ronnie and Jeff would stop by and soon familiar giggles would replace the sadness and by day's end, we were often bent over with laughter, the tears of shared friendship, funny stories (and maybe the unintentional humor brought on by a few of our yard sale customers) replacing the tears of grief.  We bid our farewells at the end of the day with smiles and laughs and closed our day in a positive way.

Indelicate it may be to draw parallels from comic books to a mother's grieving, but it all seemed to echo a loss of innocence; when wide-eyed childhood full of possibilities inevitably gives way to the harsh glare of reality.  As Judy addressed her son's tormentors, she spoke of the scars he still wore.  I lost myself in comics often to escape the reality, because escaping into my own head was easier that facing my bullies.  Maybe that's why I held on to them for so many years.....they were my guaranteed refuge no matter how stressful life got.  Those scars are still there, though.  They don't hurt anymore but they never go away.  
The finest tonic, though is truly the best medicine....the laughter that heals our battered hearts and tattered souls.  The laughter that held my family together and bonded my true friendships for life.  So Jesse, I never got to meet you but I hope you are laughing your ass off somewhere.

Ahrrrr, Matey.