A Quick Welcome

Dear Thief,

I’m glad you stole our pumpkins from the front porch. You helped yourself to my son’s handpicked-from-a-patch-can’t-wait-to-carve-this pumpkin. We don’t really mind.  We are new to the neighborhood, so a warm welcome is always great. Anyway, it’s not like we have any real stake in a single gourd on a front porch.  It’s not like my son is a childhood cancer survivor; these are not his first pumpkins after the end of chemotherapy. He is not underprivileged nor is this his first Halloween with a pumpkin. Perhaps it’s his first time to be allowed to wield the carving knife? Nope. He is from a different country and this is a new tradition? Is he overcoming life-long cucurbitophobia? No and No.

We just moved to the neighborhood, and we wanted to decorate our little rental house in a festive way. Welcome to the city. It’s really not a big deal. I wonder if you are aware that the origins of carving pumpkins may trace to carving goblins’ faces on turnips in Ireland. I wonder if you know that Halloween is my son’s favorite holiday, even above Christmas and his own birthday? I wonder if you know the story of Jack and Satan tossing him embers that he carried around in said turnip? I wonder if you care. I wonder what you did with our pumpkin. Did you carve it? Smash him? Make a couple of pies?

It’s curious the things people steal from yards. I had a mum stolen one year while living in Illinois. In Urbandale, a string of Christmas lights went missing. In Georgia, a wheelbarrow and a rose bush turned up missing one year. I don’t know. People do tend to take what they want in life. And people get what they deserve.

You, my friend, deserve a pumpkin.



‘Tis the Season

Ladies and gentlemen, the season is upon us. The most wonderful time of year when joy fills the hearts of young boys and girls. Things twinkle and shine in the sunlight and moonlight alike.

You know what I mean.

Time for young people to get engaged so that they have the requisite nine months to plan their June weddings. History informs us that a proper engagement used to be a year long in order to show modest and proper society that the impending matrimony was not required because of a “delicate condition” for the bride. Now, this has been whittled to nine months for some. In modern society, of course, there are many who put the baby before the bath water – er, uh, wedding.

Nevertheless, the kickoff to any length of engagement, however, consists of engagement pictures at the beach against the backdrop of gentle surf or in the park amidst colorful fall leaves that pop up in social media newsfeeds and emails and save-the-date cards. Blushing brides to be “can’t believe it” or “just knew it” – depending where things stood over the summer.

Before I go any further, let me admit here and now that there was a time – not so long ago – that I sided with Edna when she told her doctor that, “a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth.”  Not unjustly, I was accused of being anti-marriage the first years that I taught women’s literature and issues. I have since mellowed. The institution is not for me, but I respect those who have entered in to it and kept it going: my parents (52 years); my sister (16 years); my best friend from high school (21 years); my best friend from adulthood (28 years).

Likewise, I respect my friends who have entered and exited – some gracefully and some awkwardly. I have done both: an awkward exit in 1994 and a fairly graceful exit in 2009. Now, I see young people getting engaged and married (and have children) as a perk of having been a teacher. Hope springs eternal, and my earlier-in-life cynicism is replaced with some hope for the institution of marriage. (Another thing that gives me hope is the fact that my friend since middle school just married his husband in Arizona, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Still there are some problems:

1. The pictures of the ring – the pictures of the girl smiling (finally! her life is worth living!) – the pictures of the girl and her friends looking at the ring – the pictures of the girl and her betrothed with the ring hand prominently displayed on his chest. Where is the focus?  (Yeah, yeah, my cynicism seeped through a bit there.)

2. The pictures from the girl’s Pinterest board being sent to her bridesmaids asking advice, asking bridesmaid to do a task, asking bridesmaid, “Why doesn’t he like this? It’s sooo cute!”

3. The loss of every other focus of life besides a wedding that is almost a full year away. These are women, many of whom have/had meaningful and fulfilling lives prior to the engagement. Now, instead of posting about, say, well – ANYTHING ELSE – they post about an event.

At the crux of it – the wedding is just that: AN EVENT. Ceremony + Party = event. These are often touching, meaningful, fun, silly, and/or thoughtful events. But so is a rock concert. A baptism. A book club. An evening with Netflix. Too many of these women are focusing too exclusively on the event. Where they posted about fun outings with friends and their special person before, now it’s all about the wedding. Where they mentioned work or family or pets or community involvement, now they post pictures of rings and dresses and hors d’oeuvres.

Yes, I am focusing on women because I have younger friends who are male and who have married. They are not guilty of the social media wedding overexposure of which the women are utterly guilty.

The wedding needs to be about the two people at the core of the event.

All the other stuff – are you ready for this? – Does. Not. Matter.

Let me take a timeout to offer another confession: since about 1995, whenever I have been invited to a friend’s or former student’s wedding, I have never looked at a registry. I don’t know what china pattern I will encounter at their homes or if their towels will be monogrammed. I gave a card and a generous gift certificate to a nice, local restaurant. I do not give a wedding card, either. I give a pretty blank card with the message, “Use this to remember why you got married.”

I’ve only been invited to a few weddings.

The thing is: I may still not like weddings very much. I don’t like the pictures and gushing over an event or a piece of jewelry. But, if people have the faith and love to try marriage – I’m all for it.

But, how about letting your social media and interactions focus on the fullness of all the parts of your life.  Sure, the person and relationship and impending nuptials are part of that, but not exclusive to everything else. No ring pictures. A picture with the person you are committing to and a comment about some of his/her best qualities.No bitching about centerpieces or dress alterations or showers. No wedding day countdown. If you must do some kind of public countdown, spend the months and days leading up to the wedding enumerating why you love and admire the person who will be at the wedding with you and the next day and the next day and the next day…

After all, once the ring is smudged, the dress is properly preserved, and the cake is digested, it is the person that remains.

“What are you doing tonight?”: Or, Re-entry Shock

Windsor Heights. Moscow. Wheeling. Riga. Urbandale. Martinez:  I have lived a variety of places as an adult. Not as many different places as others but widely varying places to be sure. Still and all, It would be difficult to top the culture shock I experienced moving from Iowa to Georgia. Now, fourteen years after the beginning of y’alls and shrimp & grits, I’m back.

Three months and I’m having some re-entry culture shock. This is a real thing. I had some culture shock when I moved from Iowa City to Moscow, but it manifested primarily in linguistic adjustments: Everything was in Russian! Everyone spoke Russian! When I returned from Moscow, I remember walking to the drugstore to buy shampoo. My then husband asked me why I would walk when I could drive. I clearly remember saying, “It’s only a mile or so.” I walked. I found the shampoo aisle. The dizzying array of shampoos was too much. I left with empty hands and confusion. Soviet Russia did not offer variety in shampoo.

With this kind of re-entry culture shock in mind, a few personal observations for those who never moved away or for those who don’t plan to go home again.

1. The cashiers here are capable of being polite and doing their jobs at the same time. It’s a pretty cool phenomenon. With few exceptions, the cashiers I encountered around Augusta could chat and be pleasant or they could work. Combining the two was out of the question.

2. Sometimes the cashiers here go a weird step too far. To wit, the gentleman at Trader Joe’s and several HyVee employees have said to me on various occasions, “How are you?” After my answer they ask me, “Have any big plans for tonight?” Since the last time this happened, I have determined to respond, “Not really, wanna hang out?”  (I’ll let you know how it goes.)

3. It is cold. Um. Yes. I said it. I have always liked cold weather – lived in -30 in Moscow with only small complaints – these were alleviated by  watching your breath freeze in front of your face mid-air. But, it is October and October in Iowa is January in Georgia. This is an adjustment. I’m betting the daffodils won’t be out for my February birthday.

4. Very few blue laws or blue law remnants remain here. Son and I were out to eat a few weeks ago, and the server invited us to come for a great brunch on Sundays with endless mimosa or bloody Marys from 10-1. I said something like, “Well that wouldn’t be so great – only half hour for drinks.” She looked at me as if I had sprouted a horn in the middle of forehead. I looked at her smugly, having pointed out a serious marketing flaw. A serious marketing flaw only if the establishment were in Augusta on a Sunday (no drinking or buying alcohol until 12:30 on Sundays).

5. There is a general expectation of competence here. “Bless her heart” and like phrases are very truly reserved only for the weak and infirm. Around Augusta, we used bless-her-hearts for anyone who was slow, incompetent, or generally annoying, as well as the elderly.  Here, if you are healthy and have any modicum of mental acuity – no bless-your-hearts for you. Get to work.

Those of you who know me also know that I found many flaws with life in the South. In fact, those flaws were only differences. Just like the Russian that surrounded me in Moscow or the proliferation of shampoo in the United States. It’s not bad, it’s just different.

You can go anywhere you want. You can go home again – George Webber notwithstanding – but, things are different.

In Defense of the High School Reunion: Or, Why You Should Accept that Friend Request

About two weeks ago a classmate posted the dates for our 30th class reunion. Wait. What? 1985 was not thirty years ago.  It was last week.

“You Can’t Take It With You” premiered; there was a Prism concert; a future NBA star was warming up in the gym; Baker’s Dozen was rehearsing; the boys’ tennis team was winning state; and the debate team was mulling whether the US government should increase exploration beyond the earth’s mesosphere.

Thirty years? It’s not real.

I had never been to a class reunion until five years ago. I was in town only for one of the days of the reunion, and some friends convinced me that we should all go to the opening night outdoor gathering.  And, in grand style, the group of us went together.  It was fun. We talked, hugged people we knew, hugged people we never said hello to in high school, and we just had an old fashioned hangout without the worry of getting caught drinking illegally.

Here’s the thing.  I swore I would never attend a reunion.  I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t care.  I used to say, “I don’t care about the people in high school.  There are two people whom I want to keep in touch with and I do. I don’t need a reunion.” Maybe it was because I was a high school teacher; I never really left high school, so I saw no need to revisit it. And, for twenty-four years that served me well. But, after I considered the invitation and went five years ago, I realized that I was interested in many of these people – I do care about them.

The thing is: from high school friends to enemies and everyone in between, these are the people who knew you when you didn’t know who you were. You knew them when they had the audacity to paint their nails in AP English or invite the French teacher to a hotel party or…well, I don’t want to get too specific. It is interesting to see who these people have become: as parents, as spouses, as community leaders, as bums, as professionals, as individuals, as human beings. And, you know what? They turn out pretty interestingly.

A few years ago I had a conference in Phoenix. The guy I dated in high school whom I will call my first real boyfriend lives there with his wife and three kids. We had a drink. Talked about raising three boys. A mini-reunion. On that same trip mini-reunion number two happened when I had a drink and some raw vegetables with a woman whom I would not have called a friend in high school, but I do now. She recalled AP English class much more clearly than I did. Like it or not, we have a connection.

What changed my opinion about the high school reunion? The looming spectre of my own mortality? A crushing need to right wrongs from them past or revenge injustices? A sense of a bygone era? A yearning for the good old days? Nope.  I think it was Facebook; for better or worse, it has become instantly easy to connect and reconnect with those people who “knew you when.”

Just last week I had the good fortune to have a lunch with a friend who was a year ahead of me in high school. In fact, we attended the same elementary school and junior high school (my son laughs at that monikker). She remembered things about me that I didn’t even remember. I was humbled. We have plotted to get together again soon. We likely would have never discovered that we work in similar agencies and that I was going to be at a conference in her office without the internet reconnection.

After the announcement went out about the reunion dates, I texted my dearest friend from high school, announcing that she was going to the reunion. She flat-out refused. I cajoled. I tried to bribe. No luck. Yet. I have eight months to convince her. (I’m taking suggestions on how to convince her – so, please write in!) There is value in re-meeting people from your past.

Just last night I had a telephone conversation with another then-acquaintance now friend.  We reminisced about marching band; talked about lost loves; the trajectories of life; and, the question many forty-ish people face, “What’s next?” Again, we recalled things about each other that we ourselves had lost touch with.

On more than one occasion I have had a Facebook request from someone who does not live in Nigeria and does not open their message with “Hello Dearest” but who has grown up in the same town I did.  I have looked at such a person’s name and picture (so frustrating when a profile picture is a dog or a cartoon!), and had to get out the yearbook or phone a friend to figure out the connection. When the connection is realized, it’s always an epiphany. And, I always accept that request. No ulterior motive other than that we-knew-each-other-when connection.

Yes, I will be going to my thirtieth reunion next June. If you have a reunion coming up or a chance to get together with a long-lost friend or acquaintance, you should.  And, to my friend who adamantly refuses: you should come with me if for no other reason to realize that high school is better on the other side, as John Mayer puts it. And, the reality is this: we are all pretty damn amazing people.



Inspiration: Where is it when you need it?

inspiration meme.1

I’ve been feeling down.

I’ve been tired from all the adjustments of moving. Of a changed life. Of a new job. Of organizing the end of my life in Augusta and the beginning of life in Cedar Rapids. These things have been weighing me down.  We all get that way from time to time (at least I like to think I’m not the only one who gets bogged down in bill paying and laundry folding.) I quit writing for a time. I quit reading. I became a little dark blob. I needed some inspiration – a pep talk from some great speaker; something to kick me back out to the path that I love and want to be on.

There are many internet “inspirations.” Memes are the current mode-de-inspiration (see above).  There are serious ones. Memes with animals telling you to be happy.  Memes with beautiful landscapes and notes about seizing the day or living authentically. But, when was the last time you were really inspired? I mean like the drop-what-you-are-doing-and-go-do-something-with-your-life inspired? It’s been a while for me. And, as the days get longer and darker, it is easy to not be inspired. Or motivated. And to make excuses.

inspiration meme.2

Once upon a time I had the idea that I would participate in a triathlon. I went to several. I subscribed to the magazine. I felt athletic. I bought some shoes. I talked about it to anyone who would listen.  Well, feeling like one wants to do a triathlon and talking about it and reading about it does not prepare a person to do it. However, last weekend two of my friends competed in the Ironman Chattanooga Triathlon. You read that right. They swam 2.4 miles; they biked 112 miles; they ran 26.2 miles.  In a row. Voluntarily. Without stopping.

Of course, I was rooting for them from afar and via Facebook “likes.” The thing is these two women spent a year (or more!) training to participate in this event. Then they went there and did it. They may have subscribed to the magazine and bought the shoes, but what is inspiring is that they put their time and energy and money where their desire was and did an Ironman.

inspiration meme.3  This weekend, I saw two more friends who inspired me. These are two men, both of whom lost their wives to breast cancer in the past few years. I’m sure that if asked these men would both deny that they are inspiring; they would attribute all inspiration to their wives. But, these men participated in breast cancer awareness and fund raising runs this weekend. They did so in memory of their beloved.  These are men who not only lost their loves, but they have carried on caring for children, continuing careers, maintaining friendships, and cultivating rich personal lives in the wake of real tragedy.

I know I could mine my Facebook page, talk with friends, review my own family. There is inspiration everywhere. So, why exactly have I been down? What real excuse can I possibly pretend to have for not being inspired?  Inspiration – personal, upfront inspiration is everywhere.

I’m (probably) not going to do a triathlon. I have suffered losses. Here’s what I have realized this week: I need to acknowledge the inspiration that surrounds me every day. This is my humble offering: a new blog format. More writing. More variety. More frequency.

Join me in finding inspiration and following it in your own personal and real way.


(Dedicated to Katie, Shannan, Todd, and Tom)