An October Update

After a brief stretch of unseasonably warm weather in late September, West Michigan has unambiguously slipped into autumn. I look out my home-office window—the air is nice, with that charming mix of cool and moist that suggests “tailgate season”—and I see more and more orange and red amidst the green. Squirrels scamper with earnestness. Bugs are vanishing. Things slow down.

“Winter is coming,” I’m told. And I hope it does. I’m excited for this year’s holiday season. In my head, it kicks off with my mid-September birthday, which marks for me the end of summer (Labor Day doesn’t do it for me) and the beginning of “winter Lent.” Then October sees the tree transitions and sweater weather and writing prep that culminates in Halloween—holiday season kickoff!—and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. Thanksgiving re-grounds me with family and marks a pivot point for NaNo. And as soon as the mad-dash of writing is over, I pivot to Christmas and then take two or three weeks off from the day job to recharge, etc. It’s a great time of the year, even in years when I’m not “feelin’ it.”

So today seems like as good of a time as any to offer some updates, offered as usual in no particular order, but as always under the watchful gaze of my feline overlords.

VLO’s Summer Vacation. Tony and I took a half-vacation (i.e., work slowdown) in late July and throughout August; as of September, we were back to a normal weekly podcasting schedule. The upside to VLO now rolling in its sixth year is that we’re stable and mature. And, of course, that we have thousands of downloaders and hundreds of engaged listeners on Twitter, Facebook, the blog, etc. Given that we don’t monetize this program—it’s a hobby and labor of love—the response by people all across the world has been fantastic. And for almost all of the shows for September and October, our alcohol segments came to us free of charge courtesy of gifts from our listeners. It’s a ton of work, but it’s a joyful thing.

NAHQ @ Cincinnati. On my birthday, I flew to Cincinnati for the back-to-back board meeting and educational conference for the National Association for Healthcare Quality. It was a professionally rewarding experience. Being a board member means that the conference is tightly scheduled for us. Six days, five nights. But what made it personally rewarding was the deep camaraderie among the current members of the board and the great cadre of seasoned, senior volunteers who work with us. NAHQ is about to go into a very tight period where the organization pivots from an association-management model (i.e., a separate company “manages” the association, hires the staff, provides the office, etc.) to a fully stand-alone model where the association itself handles all its own operations, leases its own offices, hires its own team, stands up its own I.T., etc. This is a huge deal. We’re bigger than most groups that make the independent pivot and we have only about a quarter of the time the average group enjoys to make the move … but our staff are awesome (almost all are leaving the management company to be hired by NAHQ outright) and our finances are rock-solid. It’ll be a heavy lift, but it’ll be done with finesse and—we expect—utterly transparently to our thousands of dues-paying members.

Jot That Down. I’m pleased to share that Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers has been successfully released. I worked with A. L. Rogers, the book’s editor, to get it produced in print. It’s a great resource for new/aspiring writers, covering a variety of topics and genres in an easy-to-digest manner. Currently available for purchase for $14.95 from Caffeinated Press or by special order from your local independent bookseller.

Other CafPress books. And speaking of Jot That Down, I’ve wrapped up Isle Royale from the AIR, an anthology edited by Phillip Sterling that collects stories, poems and art from former artists-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park. I’m also in the production phase of Brewed Awakenings 3, our annual anthology, and Off the Wall: How Art Speaks, a collection of poetry and art co-developed by Elizabeth Kerlikowske and Mary Hatch. And final edits are due from the advance review copy for Ladri, a novel by Andrea Albright. Barring disaster, each of these books should be in-scope for a boost event we’ll host at the end of the month. Two more novels await this year—Kim Bento’s Surviving the Lynch Mob and Barbara David’s A Tale of Therese—plus Jennifer Morrison’s local-history book The Open Mausoleum Door, then I’m caught up with production across all of our lines of business.

NaNoWriMo. NaNo’s coming, so that means that I’ve had to (a) re-curate my author page and (b) think about what I’m going to work on. I think my technical focus will be on sharpening conflict and using that conflict to be the primary driver of the plot (instead of my usual, which is to let the plot drive the conflict). The story itself will be another bite at a Jordan Sanders murder mystery because I’m well-acquainted with the characters in this universe. But I still have three weeks to nail down my idea.

Grand River Writing Tribe. The Tribe has been together for 10 months now, and it’s been going gangbusters. People are participating. Getting published. Supporting each other. Without a regular, focused critique group, a writer stands at a significant disadvantage. GRWT meets twice monthly for three hours, combining critiques, focused education and dedicated writing time. And we still welcome potential new applicants!

Juicing. So this happened. On October 1, a scant week ago, I began a significant diet program. I had purchased a juicer and accessories. For several days, I had nothing but fruit and vegetable juice. Then, on the advice of clinicians at work, I’ve migrated to a part-juice, part-good-food regimen. So it’s been juices with a little bit of, e.g., shredded chicken or sushi or carrot/celery sticks. The thing is, I’m avoiding all processed sugars, alcohol, refined carbs, etc. Not even doing my traditional Lean Cuisines. It’s either juice I prepared myself, or plain shredded chicken or sashimi without the rice. (Tonight, I’m making a salmon fillet with asparagus.) Already down five pounds in a week. And although the diet part isn’t hard—I really like what I’m consuming—what’s been more interesting is the level of planning I’ve had to do. Actually preparing a shopping list (“I need this many swiss chard leaves, this many pears, this many ounces of blueberries …”) and planning my evening schedule around my dinner schedule has been both illustrative and challenging. And now that I bought an elliptical, which just got set up in my living room—whoa! Credit to my friend Tony who did a 30-day juice diet in May (and lost a ton of weight!) and who remains incredibly supportive even when I mock him unfairly for becoming a vegan.

The Great Outdoors. Tomorrow, a half-day kayaking trip beckons, with Jen, Brittany and Steve. Next Saturday, I’m doing a day hike on a section of the North Country Trail in the Manistee National Forest.

Home Shopping Spree. With the annual management bonus we received at the day job, I was able to pay off some bills, pay other bills early and invest a bit in both Caffeinated Press and my own home front. Of note, with the mid-summer swap of my bedroom and my office, I had to buy all new bedroom furniture. That’s done: Dresser, headboard, vanity with bench. Then some odds-and-ends, including the aforementioned elliptical, some knickknacks like candles and new lamps, a full-length mirror and a stool for the bathroom, and a replacement computer. My “normal” all-in-one home computer is very old and has been intermittently hostile, so it’s been retired to be a dedicated writing machine at my dedicated writing desk. The new machine—the first upgradeable tower PC I’ve owned since, I think, 2005—is an iBuyPower box with a quad-core i7-7700 processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 3GB GPU (GeForce GTX 1060). In all, a decent if not bleeding-edge machine. The only real hesitation I had with it is that it appears to have been designed by a 13-year-old boy, with proliferating LED lights (that I covered with electrical tape!) and a keyboard that looked like a l337 toddler toy. Picked up a 27-inch monitor for it; almost got two but I’m glad I didn’t because with it and the 17-inch aux monitor I already had, I’m literally out of room on my desk. I literally cannot fit two 27-inch monitors. Anyway, Duane, if you see this: “SIXTEEN GIGS OF RAM.”

Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. It’s an exciting time at GLCL. The board has been discussing a very, very robust programming schedule for 2018 as well as rebranding and an expansion of the board. A ton of work, to be sure, but I think it’ll help focus the organization and promote local literary citizenship. More to come.

All for now. May your autumn Winter Lent warm your soul even if it chills your toes!

Trip Report – Louisville for #VLO5

Somewhat arbitrarily, Tony and I decided that the five-year anniversary of our podcast, The Vice Lounge Online, fell in April 2016. We started regularly podcasting (i.e., a weekly 30-minute show) in April 2011, but we had been recording intermittently since August 2010. For a while, in those earliest days, we released a show every three weeks or so, but after 4/2011, we went weekly and never looked back.

In January, Tony had the bright idea of doing some sort of group event. Other podcasts do it — there’s the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic every autumn in Las Vegas, and 360Vegas does a springtime 360Vegas Vacation. Those events are, as they say, hella fun. So we scheduled a weekend in Louisville, KY to get the best of all worlds — a bit of casino gaming, a bit of premium cigars and a bit of fine adult beverages.

I don’t know if Tony and I will do something like this regularly, or if maybe we’ll do something in partnership with other groups (lookin’ at you, Denton Dallas and Beyond). But what I do know is that we had a ton of fun this year in Louisville and we’re extremely grateful to all the folks who turned out:

  • Roux, Edwin, Sparkles and Ryan from Texas
  • Alastair from the U.K.
  • Ryan and Becky from California
  • Andrew from Indiana
  • Bogan from South Carolina
  • Mark from Tennessee
  • Jason, Tony, Jen and Jeff from Michigan

My trip diary follows.

Thursday, March 31

I didn’t leave Grand Rapids until 4 p.m. — I left the office later than I hoped and I also desperately needed to stop for an oil change. For the most part, the drive was fine. OnStar routed me somewhat oddly, sending me all the way to Lansing on I-96E to catch I-69S to Indianapolis then I-65E to Louisville. By the time I hit Indy, torrential rains with lightning had swept into the area. At times, traffic slowed to less than 50 mph and I had to use the fast setting on my wipers. I half-expected to be pelted with frogs and locusts at some point.

By 11 p.m., I arrived in Elizabeth, IN at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino. I’ve been at HSI before; this “”riverboat”” on the Ohio River was my first major destination casino trip with Tony. My first time out, I hit a royal flush at video poker. This time, I managed to lose only $60. Not bad, all things considered. I think we were engaging in not-quite-subdued revelry until around 2 a.m., mostly just ambling around the casino. At one point, we (me, Tony, Alastair, Jeff, Mark and Andrew) settled around a $5 blackjack table for a while. I bought in for just $40 but managed to last long enough that the pit boss wrote each of us a comp for the casino cafe — my first ever table-game comp slip!

Friday, April 1

We left HSI and decamped directly for the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY. The incursion into central Kentucky lasted a full 90 minutes — lots of driving on this trip. We took the hour-long tour, seeing such things as the vats of fermenting mash, one of the barrel houses and the tasting room. We got to sample some stuff, and I ended up buying a bottle of Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, which you can only buy at the distillery at present. (It’s not on the open market.)

On the way from Loretto to Louisville, we stopped twice in Bardstown — once at the Willett Distillery (I bought the Willett Pot Still Reserve, a well-regarded bourbon), and again at Mammy’s Kitchen for a tasty Hot Brown. Bardstown looks like a lovely little town that would be worth spending the night at, just to take in the local sights.

When we sauntered into Louisville proper, I bee-lined it for Galt House. I checked in, then most of the party assembled at Jocky Silk’s Bourbon Bar (or, as Tony memorably put it, “”Silky Jocks””).

After a cocktail or two there — I sampled the Noah’s Mill, a small batch bourbon made at Willett — we ambled over to Doc Crow’s for dinner. The food was mostly good (I had a beef chili that was awesome, but my brisket sandwich was not well-prepared, according to Lord Roux of House Brisket) yet the service was horrible. Everything was slow and no one’s bill was 100-percent correct. Frustrating. In fact, the commentary throughout the trip was the slow and uneven quality of service at bars and restaurants in the downtown Louisville area.

Dinner having been consumed, we went to Down One Bourbon Bar, where service was also hideously slow. After a single cocktail, the group split up. I went with the Texas Delegation (sans Sparkles, who retired for the evening) to Bourbon Raw, a bourbon-bar-slash-restaurant on Fourth Street Live. (FSL is kind of like a mini version of the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas — a blocked-off stretch of road with music and a canopy.) Whilst at Bourbon Raw, we enjoyed lovely cigars; I’m grateful to the Texans for providing me with a Diesel Uncut. We had drinks and smoked under the canopy until 1 a.m.

Saturday, April 2

Wake up. Get showered. Run like a demon to get checked out an on the road, because we had an 11 a.m. tour at Woodford Reserve scheduled and the location was an hour away from Louisville. I wolfed down a McGriddle on the road.

The tour of Woodford Reserve, however, was quite nice. We had headphones and a shuttle bus. The highlights of the tour were similar to Maker’s Mark, although at WR, we got to see the copper stills (they’re the only U.S. bourbon producer doing triple-distilled whiskey in copper pot stills) and also the barrel run. The facility is old; parts of it date from the early 19th century. This tour was a bit more “”corporate”” than Maker’s Mark, but it was no less enjoyable for it. And the last five miles of the journey to the distillery snaked us through working stud farms. Foaling season!

After the tour we returned to Louisville. The group enjoyed a late brunch at Bourbon Raw — and despite the friendly-but-slow service, the “”chicken”” part of my “”chicken and waffles”” was the best-prepared poultry I think I’ve ever enjoyed. Paired it with a Manhattan as well as a dram of Hirsch bourbon.

I chatted with the Texans again, outside. They enjoyed cigars while I nursed my Hirsch. The breeze had picked up, though, and temps began to fall. After a while, I said goodbyes and at 4 p.m. on the nose, I drove away from Louisville, with just a single stop around Muncie for fuel.

Two things of note on the return drive: First, the wind was horrid and on I-69, just south of Ft. Wayne, a truck had blown over and blocked both southbound lanes, causing the northbound lanes to back up from all the rubbernecking. Then, we had pockets of snow. Wasn’t bad until I hit Coldwater, MI and experienced white-out conditions with visibility less than 200 feet in places. OnStar had routed me from I-69 to I-94 to US-131. The stretch of I-94 between I-69 and the eastern approaches of Kalamazoo were treacherous, with probably a dozen spin-outs and accidents in a 25-mile span of highway. I arrived home around 10:15 p.m. The cats were delighted.


This was a fun trip. It’s really quite humbling to have made so many friends through podcasting that you can get 14 people from all across the northern hemisphere into a little town in the central U.S. for a vacation weekend. When I think about it, the fact that we have so many listeners (our show earns several thousand downloads per week from our server alone) and a vibrant social-media community on Twitter and Facebook is something remarkable.

And to get people to congregate in Louisville just for the heck of it? Wow.

We started VLO a half-decade ago on something of a whim. Tony had started listening to podcasts and became enamored with Five Hundy by Midnight. We figured we could try a podcast, too. And although it took a while for things to take off, we’re now reaping the rewards: Deeper knowledge of cigars, a more refined palate for premium spirits, comfort at knowing the right things to do at the casino. Our show isn’t going to resonate for everyone, but the fact that we have made so many friends through this podcast — well, again. Humbling.

Thanks to everyone who turned out in Louisville, and to the many others on social media who joined us in spirit. Your support and friendship mean the world to us.