Ladies Who Lunch, A Baptist Minister, The Atheist and Rodney King

The ladies who lunch
Prefer no spice, no salt, just
Smooth, lump-free eating.

……………………………………………………………………………..

Last week I enjoyed a few days R&R in my hometown, Macon, Georgia. This time of year it is extraordinarily beautiful (see here for proof), being not only the springtime home to azaleas, dogwoods and wisteria but also to more Yoshino Cherry Trees than any other place in the US.

With that many cherry trees, there is, of course, a Cherry Blossom Festival, a very fun 10 days that has been happening annually for 30 years. Events range from snake and alligator shows to Frisbee dog contests to concerts to broadway musicals to food fairs.  While there I enjoyed an author’s lunch, headlined by Barbara Eden, who has written an autobiography entitled Jeannie Out of the Bottle.   There were two other authors featured as well, R. Kirby Godsey and Ed Grisamore.

As it was a Tuesday, the majority of the 200+ attendees at “The Club” were women, mostly dressed in some shade of pink.  The 20 or so men also wore pink – jackets or ties or dress shirts… It is quite a sight.  I took special notice of a table for 8 just in front of our table. All women, recent trips to the beauty parlor were evident, sensible shoes, most aged 60+. They appeared to be friends (tickets were sold by the table so a safe assumption), chatting freely during the salad and main meal, and now settling down for dessert and the speakers.

Let me share the speakers in reverse, starting with Barbara Eden. What a delightful woman. She looks fantastic! I didn’t get up close, but I’m pretty sure she’s had some work done — but it wasn’t Joan Rivers work, it was a freshening, well done. She was funny and her entire talk was done Q&A style; she easily moved from one topic to the next, telling stories and laughing openly at herself. This is exactly what an author’s lunch with a celebrity writer during a week of pink is supposed to be like. The table of 8 ladies who lunch beamed.

She was preceded by Ed Grisamore, a local newspaper columnist and humorist, whose latest book is called There Is More Than One Way to Spell Wiener: The Story of Nu-Way. Nu-way is a local restaurant that has been selling hot dogs/chili dogs since 1930-something. He was very, very funny, informative, and carefully warmed up the audience for the celebrity. Again, very pleasing and palative.

What I want to focus your attention on, however, was the first speaker, a very distinguished gentleman named R. Kirby Godsey, who spoke about his latest book. Dr. Godsey is the former CEO/President of Mercer University, a local Baptist college, and he has the look of a well polished ordained minister (which he is). His gray hair is smoothed back, the blue suit fits just right. When he speaks, you can easily imagine him in front of a large congregation – he has a well-practiced cadence and a warm, caressing voice that was made for radio or TV preaching. His unassuming presence only seems to amplify a powerfulness you can’t miss.

His book is entitled Is God a Christian?: Creating a Community of Conversation. Pause on that title for just a moment. Reflect on where he is and who he is talking to. Perhaps some more detail to help paint the picture is required: There are 7 churches within walking distance of the house I grew up in, all Christian, most Baptist. We all knew the Catholic families in town (they were the ones with more than 2.2 kids).  Despite how easy it would have been to get there, we didn’t go to church – my mom had rejected her religion of birth (Catholic) and my dad, well, let’s just say he wasn’t (isn’t) into god – as such, I was once told by a friend that she was taught in Sunday School I would go to hell. There is a joke in Georgia: In Atlanta they ask you “what does your family do”; in Savannah they ask “what do you drink” and in Macon they ask “where do you go to church”. Dr. Godsey ran a Baptist university for 27 years, and still serves as chancellor.

You get the picture. This is the bravest man on the face of the earth.

And here he is, surrounded by ladies who lunch, all wearing pink, all there precisely because they are keen to hear what Barbara Eden, a woman whose heyday was 45 years ago, has to say. And this man, this pioneer in a field which tends to discourage discovery, starts to talk about how religion can be evil and how wrong it is to “exercise religious bigotry in the name of God”.  He believes we need to start talking to one another and recognizing…” The world has grown too small and the stakes for mankind have grown too high for any of us to engage our faith as if our understanding of God represents the only way God’s presence may be known in the world.”

So let’s return to our table of 8, all church goers I guarantee it.  I watched them off and on during his speech. It was a study in discomfort.  They never once looked at each other. They didn’t look at the podium. Their eyes were fixed on the butter dish or salt shaker or some other item just below the horizon on their table. When Dr. Godsey said “Christians just need to get over it”, my table (at which sat my mom, dad, sister, a non-Christian friend and an openly gay friend) laughed quite loudly.   These 8 ladies who lunch decidedly did not laugh. When Dr. Godsey finished, they politely brought their fingers together for a few perfunctory smacks, but quickly dropped them into their lap or nervously drank some sweet tea. It was clear to me that this was not what they signed up for.

But I’m not a lady who lunches.  I was enraptured. Who knew that I, who believe in god but find it hard to handle religion because of its history of treachery and narrowness of beliefs, would now want to read a book written by a Baptist minister?  I also didn’t bank on realizing that to some degree, I’m as closed off as the ladies who lunch, making assumptions about those who practice religion based on old history, not new stories.

Then today I heard about the Reason Rally in Washington, DC, where atheists gathered to protest religion and talk about their belief system. I have no issue with atheists, I happen to love several, but I was deeply discouraged by the headliner encouraging others to “ridicule and show contempt for religious people”. I think if Dr. Godsey has the backbone to contend that religions of the world need to find what is common and be open to “all ways God’s presence may be known”, then I think the non-believers out there could find room for theirs being just another voice at the table, not the only voice.

It’s a big world out there… we all have to make space for each other. Sometimes Rodney King’s famous plea of “why can’t we all just get along” seems the most fitting doctrine of all; listening, our most universal sacrament.

Then, One Day, It’s Spring… Childhood Revisited

Wondrous that nature
Strips down for winter – exposed,
(And we bundle up)

Yet in spring, covers
The world in dazzling fashion
(And we emerge, bare)
………………………………………..
At the risk of revealing something embarrassing about myself (my collected blog works notwithstanding), I must tell you that one of my favorite movies is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I made all my friends watch it in high school. Yes, you read that right; why my guy friends (yes, you Lee, Nick, Mike, Patrick) still talked to me afterwards has always been a mystery and something that made me love them even more.  Anyway, there is a song in there — wait! I forgot to mention – it’s a musical! double geek-fun! — about how spring arrives… “then…. one day…. it’s spring….” and people twirl, dance and burst into coordinated song. You get the idea.

I spent the bulk of the last week in my hometown of Macon, Georgia, enjoying my first spring there in over a decade and I couldn’t stop singing this song. Spring hadn’t sprung yet in Cincinnati, so arriving in Macon to find it in full bloom was a treat.

Spring is my absolute favorite season, and Macon has few rivals in terms of beauty this time of year. Why so long between trips, you may ask? Well, my parents and sister are CPAs, and the third week in March is pretty much major tax-season crunch time. Long ago I gave up visiting during March because two things would happen: 1. They would work the whole time, including weekends and 2. They would put me to work too.

As my parents are gliding into retirement now, their tax season is very light, so I jumped at the chance to visit this year and bring my family. It was as lovely as I remember. So this post serves to share some images and thoughts about Macon’s spring. All of these pictures were taken within 50 yards of my parents new home to give you an idea of how dense and readily available this type of beauty is.

All springtime visits south have to start with Puffs. Because you will be a-sneezing. My poor boy was a snot-factory the whole time.  The pollen coats everything – the cars, the sidewalk, your eyeballs. Don’t wear black pants – you end up with a yellow bum if you dare sit down outside (trust me, first hand experience here).

cherry blossom peeking out

Macon is known for it’s Cherry Blossom Festival each March. More Yoshino Cherry Blossom Trees than even Washington, DC.  They weren’t in full bloom when I was taking pictures, but when they are, it is like walking through cotton candy. The palest, most sheer pink you’ll ever see, everywhere. Beauty beyond compare.

Looking up through the dogwood

I was lucky enough that the dogwoods were still blooming. I’m not used to seeing both them and the Cherry Blossoms at the same time. They were in full glory and not only are they pretty, but they make great climbing trees. We had one growing up that I could scale in 15 seconds.

magnolia climber

Speaking of climbing trees, the best ones are the magnolias. They look so stately  from afar, but peek under those leaves and you’ll find a wild tangle of limbs spreading in all directions. (I think the magnolia is a living metaphor for the south. A little formal looking from the outside, but underneath a little crazy. It will protect and shelter you, but also encourage you to try out something a little risky.) Every kid should have access to a magnolia tree.

pink azaleas with bee

white azaleas

even more damn azaleas

Ok, so I just learned I’ve been misspelling azaleas my whole life. If you know me, you won’t be surprised, but it still a little disconcerting.

Anyway, azaleas. They are everywhere. You can’t round a corner without seeing them somewhere this time of year. If you are a fan of The Masters Golf Tournament, you know how amazing they are in bunches and stacks. They are very pretty…(but just a little boring if you’ve seen them so plentiful your whole life).

Wisteria... best smelling purple flower ever

Wisteria is basically pretty Kudzu. It is invasive, but since it is so pretty when it blooms and the sweet, heavy smell follows you wherever you go, you don’t mind so much. I also just like the word wisteria. The word could almost mean “the sense of fondness you feel when reflecting on your brief mental breakdown” (wistful, hysteria) or something like that. It’s just fun to say.

ahh... camellias

And then there is the camellia. My all time favorite thing that grows in dirt. It is an evergreen tree/bush that gets these big,  fat, olive-sized buds in December and January, and blooms like crazy in February. I only found a few, precious remaining flowers on a bush last week and was thrilled. They won’t grow outdoors here in Ohio (so sad) so I was very excited to see them.

Let me leave you with just a few more pictures that epitomize spring in the south.

fire ants... run away!

If you know Georgia, you know that it is completely covered in fire ants. As a kid growing up, there were two things you were trained from birth to stay away from: snakes (because they are all poisonous, or at least that’s what they told us) and fire ants (because they will bite you until you die). The problem is, they are everywhere. If there is a crack in the sidewalk, they set up housekeeping. If there is a dent in the earth, they build an ant hill the size of a tractor tire.   It was kind of fun telling my kids how awful the ants are and then watching them walk down the sidewalk, leaping this way and that trying to not step within 2 feet of a hill. I could have told them the ants don’t have leaping abilities, but it was too fun to watch.

redneck mulch

The only thing more prevalent than fire ants is pine straw. As such, it is used liberally in all landscaping activities. Classy. Not much else to say…

Below is a summary image. My daughter paraded around the neighborhood with some clippers, gathering up all the flowers she could find, and this is the result. (Note, to the people next store who had the lovely collection of lilies, I’m really sorry she cut them. I promise she knows better now, and I’ve scolded grandmamma for providing the shears, too.)

a beautiful collection, plus...

Lovely. And there is a bonus image in the picture above, too. Do you see it? Top left corner; see it now? … yes, that’s my mom, in her housecoat and slippers… you see! I’m not making this up! (read the linked posting for further information…)

Happy Spring to everyone! May where ever you are be filled with joyful color this time of year.

The Anatomy of a Breakdown (Through the Eyes of Vodka)

Haikus written drunk
Lack insightfulness, wit, depth,
But who the hell cares.*

………………………………………………………………….

Ahhh, vacation. A few days of sun and pollen-drenched blossoms. Restful sleep and a modest sunburn. All the ingredients required for a few days R&R.

And then you have the return drive. Nine plus hours up and down the mountains that criss cross I-75 through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky on the way to my beloved Ohio.

We were 34 miles away from home – 34 MILES!! – when AB, the 5-year-old, announced he could no longer hold it and we needed to stop. Since we couldn’t convince him to pee in a bottle (yes, I’m a horrible mother, this was a viable option for me… we were making fantastic time and I wanted to get home), we were forced to take the next exit, where we pulled into the Pilot Truck Stop. I like gas stations that service truckers. The bathrooms tend to be better than most, they have the widest variety of junk food, and the people watching exceeds all expectations.

So Frank and AB departed to the bathroom, while my girl and I sat in the car, enjoying the momentary silence and the air conditioning. Ohm. Then the boys returned, the car was put into reverse, and we began our departure.

Five feet later, the departure stopped. The car died. Died. As in dead. As in no-go-no-more. 34 MILES FROM HOME!  Below is my dissection of the event through the steps of emotional change I experienced. Kubler-Ross has her 5 stages of grief. I present to you my 7 stages of a breakdown…

1. Command and control. The car was dead in the water. Actually, it was dead in the middle of a high traffic area in the parking lot. The instant it was clear to me that there was no instant recovery, I jumped out, having acquired super human strength, and told Frank I would push while he steered. (Note: We were driving a Chevy Tahoe, not a Mini Cooper.) I waved off the people patiently waiting, blinker on, for our parking spot, and assumed my line-backer position behind the car. Heave ho, with a little help from Frank who assisted from the driver’s side, we pushed the car back into the parking spot. Alexander Haig’s famous line “I am in charge here” echoed in my head briefly.

2. The Adventure. This stage is marked by a sense of fun and a dash of gratitude. “At least it didn’t break down in the high-speed lane during rush hour!” I told the kids. This is something new – “we’ve never been in a situation like this” so let’s have some fun while we are at it. Adventure attempts to cover over the anxiety of other participants. I’ve employed this tactic on midnight ER visits with the kids with some success, so I readily reapplied it here. It is mildly successful.

3. Wary Problem Solving. This is where you realize things are no longer going your way. Of the few things your incredibly-smart-car-savvy-can-fix-anything-husband thinks have gone wrong, none of the easy ones are showing up. I start to participate in the problem solving, pushing the gas pedal just so, turning the ignition as instructed. Other car guys are stopping by to offer help and ideas, none of which fall in “the part is available in the truck stop and is easy to replace” category. I have started to count how many apples we have left and begin turning off cell phones to save battery life. The preparation has begun.

4. Taking Action. There we are, both Frank and I, on the phone trying to figure out how we are getting 4 people, a car load of crap and the car itself 34 MILES to our home. I’m calling American Express to find out if our gold car has any road side assistance features. He’s calling AAA re-upping our long expired membership so we can cheaply obtain a tow. The kids, who have begun to whine in earnest, have started to get nervous and fidgety… I decide to have a whining contest to give them a creative way to express themselves that doesn’t make me want to put them up for adoption. (This part was fun, actually. I gave each a scenario and they had to produce their best whine: “Moooooommmm, but I don’t want to brush my teeeeeeth”.  “Mooooommmmm, I don’t like to eat green beeeeeeannns.” They had a lot of fun.) Overall, this was progress, as we were making decisions, moving forward, no longer just waiting for a solution to stick.

5. The In Between. This was our darkest moment. Just like depression precedes acceptance in Kubler-Ross, we were in a dark place. The tow truck was going to be a while. The cab even longer (no room in the tow truck for us all).  I took the kids into the Subway restaurant in the Pilot Truck Stop to get them food that contained some semblance of nutrition, and they were like wet cats. At one point, I leaned over, demanded eye contact, and told them they had better stick with me or, well, I didn’t provide an alternative but rest assured they understood unpleasantness would ensue. I was incapable of communicating with the poor Subway clerk – I couldn’t make eye contact; I responded in single syllables; I took deep breaths before speaking; I was unable to make anything make sense. Words failed me and I found myself resorting to single syllables and doing nothing more than tell my children to sit down and be quiet (actually, I ejaculated the phrase “sit down now” so vehemently that they listened). It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t well. This was a bad place…

6. The Release. The cab arrived just as the tow truck was ready to depart. The driver was a delightful woman with children the same ages as mine. She took over – put the car seat in, put me at ease, got us on our way. We talked easily about kids and the news of the day. AB was a joyful, delightful boy intent on relaying his entire medical history during the commute. Salvation was upon us. The end was near. 34 MILES was traversed at last.

7. The Drinking. The bags are unpacked, mostly. The kids are in bed. I’m here, thoroughly enjoying my second Cosmo, replaying the day’s events for you, my delightful reader. I’m a little drunk, and more than a little resentful that I have a 8:30am conference call tomorrow (boo! hiss! what was I thinking!). We are all well; we even managed to pick the dog up in time (only 5 minutes after close) so that the whole family is now back together again.

That brings to a close our day returning from vacation. I provide these stages as a guideline should any of your find yourselves in such a situation. May this provide needed guidance and reassurance that you will, you WILL, arrive on the other side of such tragedies.

If not, here is my recipe for a good Cosmo: 2 parts (part=shot glass) vodka (I’m not picky, any brand will do, you are mixing it for crying out loud so pick the medium cheap brand); 1 part Triple Sec; 1 part cranberry juice; 1 part Rose’s lime juice. Mix all together; introduce an ice cube to cool it briefly; then poor into a drinking container without the ice. Snobs will tell you a martini glass is required. I use a wine glass because I am not a snob, but rather a cheap drunk. Enjoy.

 

*This is the best haiku I’ve ever written. This took 20 seconds to write. Viva la Cosmo!

A Bug’s Life – Adventures in Napping

The wobbly bee
Bobs in the sunshine, dodging
Unseen enemies.

———————————————————–

The following is a true story.

Today was a beautiful day. One of those spring days when the temperature, clouds, sun and wind came together to provide perfection. To top it off, I am on vacation, which took the day’s perfection into the stratosphere.

This kind of day called for a nap in the sunshine on a lounge chair next to the pool in my parent’s backyard.  I put on a bathing suit and some shorts but skipped the sunscreen.  My last blood work results indicated I was low on vitamin D (who isn’t this time of year…), so I thought body and soul needed a little melatonin stimulant.  

Once I had mastered the positioning of the chair relative to the sun (honest to god it took me 3 goes to get this right), I settled in… and quickly fell asleep.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

“Hey Billy, how’s it going today?” said the bumble bee.

“Not too bad, Buck… high season, you know, working my stinger off. You? How are the kids? Betty recovering from her encounter with the toddler down the way?”

“She’s great. Thanks for asking. A few more days and she’ll be — GOOD GOD! What is THAT?!?” Billy ground to a halt, mid-air.

Buck ran smack into him, reversed, and also hovered, dumb struck.

“I’m not sure – man, it’s hurting my eyes!” Buck pulled out his sunglasses and quickly put them on.  “Wait… it can’t be… grandpa told me about them, but I’ve never seen one myself.”

“You mean… It’s one of those? I didn’t think they really existed – are you sure?”  Billy, also with his sunglasses now firmly on his nose, looked worried.

“Yep, I think that’s Humanus Buttus Whiteus. Wow… they are really rare here in Georgia. And she – at least I think it’s a she, I can’t look at it very long before the glare hurts my eyes – she is quite a specimen.” Buck crept forward a bit, not willing to get too close, but curious nonetheless.

The bees slowly approached the Humanus Buttus Whiteus. It moved a little, but seemed relatively harmless.

“I think she’s asleep. Heh heh heh. Hey Billy, want to have some fun? This seems too good an opportunity to pass up.” Buck laughed as he rubbed his little hands together in a mad scientist kind of way.

“What did you have in mind?” Billy asked, a devilish smiling crossing his lips.

The two friends huddled together, whispering and planning, planning and whispering. Then they talked to their friends, the sweat bees and dragon flies.

45 minutes later…

“That was more fun than I’ve had in a long time – Buck, great idea!” Billy wiped sweat from his brow.

“I know… my sides are still hurting from laughing so much.”  He bent over, massaging his belly.  “Jimmy and the boys are so funny… did you see her twitch each time he landed on her arm? Classic… He’s the best.”

“And did you see her head jerk up each time we flew by her ear? Made her stop snoring every time!! God I could do this all day.” A wistful smile crossed Billy’s face.

“Yeah, me too. Humanus Buttus Whiteus is really not as bad as grandpa said. Sure, they’ll blind you, but it’s so worth it.” And the two friends glided happily away.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 It wasn’t what I would call a restful nap. The sun was great, the breeze gentle, but as luck would have it I managed to position my chair in a major flight path for bees and bugs. They kept flying by, extraordinarily close to my ears and I swear they were landing on my forearm.  I kept waking up convinced they were crawling all over me, only to find nothing there.  Regardless, I managed to get some sun and can feel the vitamin D coursing through my veins.

Mission accomplished.

Road Trip! Our Time in the Car

Doritos cheese prints
dot the windows, evidence
of too long car trips

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It’s spring break time, and so we find ourselves driving 10 hours to see grandmamma and granddad. Yes, I said driving. And yes for those of you keeping score, I have a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.

You might ask why we don’t fly instead. I will usually reply with some lame reason like “well by the time we get to the airport 2 hours early, get checked in, catch the flight, arrive, and then drive to my parent’s house, it takes almost as long to drive… plus it’s way cheaper”.

The real truth is when you travel by air there are witnesses. When you travel by car… no one really pays attention to what you say or do. If you have small/medium kids like I do, you understand what I mean. In the airport, when your kid asks you for the 379th  time “when will the plane get heeeerrrreeee” and you narrow your eyes and talk raspily through your teeth, replying “it will never get here and I’ll sell you to that sweaty man in the next row if you don’t stop asking”, well, undoubtedly someone will hear you and report it to security. However, in the car, well bwah hah hah…

Thankfully, our road trips have evolved to be not too terrible journeys.  The kids are old enough now to independently operate movie devices, milk cartons and hamburger wrappers. Nevertheless, our trips are marked by some regular features that make me wonder why we keep doing them.

Characteristics of Our Typical Car Trips

  1. Bottomless pit syndrome. This is where the adults and the kids find it impossible to fill up.  It has nothing to do with the fact that we are eating food with the nutritional value of lead paint, I’m sure. There is just something about driving that causes tremendous calorie expenditures that must be offset. (Point in fact: 5 minutes after departure for this trip, the kids started asking for snacks.)
  2. Shotgun car sicknesses. When you aren’t driving, you are in charge food, drink and electronics, meaning you spend a spectacularly large amount of time turned backward interacting with the kids. When this happens, there is some bizarre worm-hole-parallel-universe the car enters where all the roads are twisty and the driver (Frank) suddenly has a seizure which renders him incapable of steering smoothly.  It never fails; bring on the nausea. Eight times out of ten, I drive 100% of the time in these journeys for precisely this reason.
  3. Mis-timed cravings (the evil companion of #1).  The only time I ever want a DQ Blizzard (Oreo is best) is right after we pass the only exit in 120 miles where there is a DQ.  I look over just in time to see those red letters mock me from the sign of the combo truck stop/adult bookstore/fireworks store/Dairy Queen, but we are already past the ramp. Dammit! I spend the next 120 miles scanning each exit ramp “ood sign hoping beyond hope to see those two letters again…
  4. Slow Leak Affliction. This is something I suffer from. It usually only strikes when I’m a passenger. The symptoms are as follows: hand up in the universal symbol for stop, other hand gripping something and a sharp intake of air through gritted teeth (thus the “slow leak” name). It isn’t pretty… I’m not proud… and there is no cure.
  5. I don’t like that movie anymore disease. We have two devices where we have loaded the kids’ favorite movies for their driving enjoyment. However, about 2 hours into the road trip the kids usually declare that they no longer like ANY of these movies and they want something new. This is where the anonymity of a car ride is critical, because what shotgunner does next is usually best not witnessed.  
  6. Inopportune Sleepiness Disorder.  We tend to start the southbound trip after school, so that the kids spend as much of the time sleeping as possible.  I usually don’t have trouble staying alert while driving, but there are times, about 8 hours in, when no matter how much fresh air or cruise-control-enabled tap dancing I do, I can’t say awake. So we pull over, Frank gets a caffeinated beverage and I settle into the passenger seat, so very ready for sleep.  And I wait… and wait… and wait… and almost never, ever am I able to sleep. Why is it just 15 minutes ago I was a poster child of risky behavior behind the wheel and now I am as awake as a toddler after Halloween? Happens every time.
  7. The ob-NOXIOUS passenger. Someone always wants to stop at White Castle or Krystals to fill said bottomless pit. Always. And this “someone” proceeds to, a few hours later, try to kill us all via his own brand of chemical warfare. Oh my god. I don’t mind the occasional crop dusting this “someone” does while meandering around the house. But to dutch oven so-called loved-ones while encased in a metal machine doing 75 mph in the rain, well, that’s just unkind. 

Happy road trip everyone!

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