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Friday, August 22, 2014

Home is Where Your Shell Is

Dear Mom,

Greetings from Telluride! Miss Karen and I keep saying how much you would have loved it here. We miss you so much.

Here's the view from her brother Bill's condo:

Can you imagine a lovelier place to read, write and think? I'm in heaven! (And I would still be in my jammies if I hadn't walked to get us some morning pastries for breakfast.)

Speaking of food, we had some really yummy nibbles on our first day, but those shots are on her camera, so they'll have to come in the next post.

We will fly out of Montrose next Thursday, but I flew directly into Telluride, which Miss Patsy informed me is the highest airport in North America...and one of the 10 most dangerous in the world!

As I posted on Facebook, "Holy chit! If there are female pilots who land at the Telluride airport, they may be the only ladies alive with bigger nuts than Gretchen Mashburn."

Gretchen responded that she appreciated the shout-out to her "very brassy, lezzy balls" and is currently obsessed with watching classic movies, inspired by Lauren Bacall's death. So far, she's taken in The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, and Casablanca, noting they are just as good the fifth time as they are the first. "CLEARLY Humphrey Bogart was AMAZING," she wrote. "Like my balls."

How can you not just love someone who is so unique and so comfortable in her own skin?!

Anyway, back to Telluride. What an absolutely delightful place! We are staying in Mountain Village, and you can ride the gondola down into the valley and explore the little town of Telluride. I didn't take my phone/camera the first day, as my battery was dead and I was trying to enjoy being offline a bit. But I did get a few more shots from here...

It's really a gorgeous condo, and I feel so lucky to be keeping Karen company. None of her kids could come out, so she needed a surrogate daughter for the week! And of course she and I can talk gangbusters about so many different topics. 

Feeling so comfortable being here with her -- so at home -- made me realize "HOME" needed to be the topic of today's blog post, as you would have loved the little exchange with Miss Betty last week. 

Most people know "MaBet" is obsessed with turtles. She found one in Michigan this summer... 
She feeds them in her yard...
Everybody thinks of her when they see one. People send her photos when they find them...

(This one was really QUITE fascinating to moi. Almost like a little digital safari!)
I took this photo when I was at the Museum of Natural History in Maputo and sent it to her.
She will occasionally "mark" a turtle as a tribute to someone. When the CSS turtle suddenly showed up in her yard again in March, the very week we were selling your house, it was like a special little sign...
You were still "with us," and your spirit would always be alive and well on Highland Avenue. 

And people who aren't churchy folks might laugh at us and say we're foolish to believe in such silly little "signs." But gosh -- if you don't believe in those funny little miracles of the world -- how do you get through life?!

Miss Betty and the turtles show all of us that there are little lessons all around us, nature is constantly teaching us things, if we just open our eyes a bit and use a little imagination. 
And apparently there's even a "homing turtle" in the neighborhood. Someone found one and brought it over to M.B.'s "turtle sanctuary," but that turtle slowly found its way back to the yard where it had come from. How fascinating! Proof we will find and remain in our place, no matter how others try to transplant us or interfere.

As I read the book "Orphan Train" recently -- one of Miss Patsy's summer reading recommendations -- I was struck by this passage and had to pass it along to "M.B." 

"Turtles carry their homes on their backs. They're exposed and hidden at the same time. They're a symbol of strength and perseverance." 
-- from Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
"I like this," she wrote back. "They are also hard but have a soft side. They are thinkers, slow to react, but once they decide it is full speed ahead. They are appreciative of the hand that feeds them. They are faithful. They also appreciate living in retirement mode."

And then she came back with a post script:  "Please note they carry their homes on their backs and not their house. There is a big difference."

Then I pasted a quote I'd gotten from a friend at work: 

“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.” ― Robin Hobb

Well, why let yourself be topped by some person we don't even know?! Our beloved friend and neighbor, and the wisest fourth grade teacher in our little community, our MaBet delivered her winning shot:  
"The Home that you can carry with you is the love that you received from your people." - MaBet

Wow! Doesn't that just say it all? I think it's why I feel so grounded, so at peace these days. Even though there's a lot of sadness from your loss -- and time is healing that wound, as it always does -- it was such a gift to spend so much time in Quincy as we slowly said goodbye to you. Because Leigh Ann and I renewed our ties to our hometown. We came to terms with the special place that raised us.

We realized you can indeed have roots and wings in life. That home is where your shell is. 

In fact -- I wonder if finding that balance isn't key for all of us? Coming to terms with our roots, embracing the way we were raised, understanding what made our parents tick? 

I think it's more essential for some of us than others. Obviously, I'm a bit more -- oh, I don't think there is a word -- I'll just invent one: polycasamous -- than most. (See: polyamorous, polygamous...and throw in casa as your new root word for home.) Is there a real word for this? If so, please advise! I guess I could just say nomadic, but that's not quite it. 

Nevertheless, I was emailing with a friend this week who said he needs to stay far from home, that home for him wasn't and isn't a safe place. And I know there are many people who feel that way...who fill in the void with friends when their blood family just doesn't get it. 

And knowing that, embracing that, was one of the most beautiful things to me about the way you raised me. You embraced such a generous definition of family -- or, as I call it, "frelatives" -- it gave you such joy to know that your girls loved being surrounded by an intergenerational community -- that we sought that, we craved it, and we created it for ourselves in Charlotte. 

It's that hunger for belonging, feeling welcome, having a place, knowing you are loved, invited, included, expected to show up. 

You taught us to find it at church; other people find it through clubs or their jobs or sports or other outlets. And some people, sadly, lives their lives in the same place and never really find it.  

For years, Leigh Ann and I weren't in Quincy for Thanksgiving, as it was too far to travel for such a short holiday, since bankers didn't get Fridays off. And sometimes you'd come to Charlotte, but often, you'd stay and eat with Miss Betty and Miss Karen, an honorary member of the "extended Suber clan." 

And I think that theology of abundance, of inclusion, of the loaves and the fishes -- that no matter how many people show up, there's always room for one more -- should be at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. 

Now...we do not always hit that mark, do we?! We come up with silly, earthly rules to exclude others. We make up dress codes and age limits and gender roles and find all sorts of other ways to leave out people. It's little more than a grown-up equivalent of this: 
I've fallen in love with the Humans of New York posts on Facebook; I know you would have loved them too. This week, the writer is in Africa, and there have been some that are so delightfully universal... I loved this one, given the history of Coca-Cola in Quincy: 
 Or this one...which any mama can embrace...
And then there's this one -- about the concept of home, finding a place for yourself, feeling embraced and included -- which feels just the same in Kinshasa as it does in Quincy. 

Feeding others, making them feel welcome, included, that they have a place at the table -- that's what it means to create a home. 

When we were growing up, you always cooked a little extra. If there were six pork chops in the package, you'd go ahead and cook the extra two -- just in case somebody stopped by, or someone wanted a little extra. And if no one ate them, Dad would always polish them off at lunch the next day. 

I know your generous spirit is why James Scott loved you so much; whenever you cooked us supper at the farm, you always had a plate for him. It's why Cookie and Mattie were so attached to you. Because even when you were so sick, when you weren't eating enough, you wanted to make sure they were fed. 

Thanks be to God for all of those who fed our family -- literally and figuratively -- to the people who welcome me in, who make me feel included, who give me a place at their table, a bed in their condo, an air mattress on their floor. May I be radically generous enough to return the favor, to remember always that home is people, not a place. 

Because home is where you park your shell -- whether it's for a night, a week, a year, or a lifetime. 



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Plane Grounded: Low on Fuel

Dear Mom,

I'm grounded!

Seriously -- it's like being in high school. It's as if the universe is punishing me for irresponsible behavior!

I went to the podiatrist yesterday morning, and he confirmed what I'd suspected about my foot: I messed it up by trotting all over the city wearing silly, unsupportive sandals. And, this definitely qualifies as an "uptown problem" -- or, as I like to call 'em "white lady woes" -- I couldn't get on my flight to Colorado until Wednesday.

He wrapped up my foot with some tape -- I'm not sure how much it will help, versus being sort of a thank you present for stopping by...
 So, I'll just sit here and enjoy my little view...and write you another letter.
The upside is I suddenly got two days with nothing to do but chill out. I'm not supposed to walk. Again, it's like I've been grounded!

And, after the emotional whirlwind of this summer, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. Sometimes it takes ye olde mind a while to digest and process things. A friend of mine who used to travel for the CIA reminded me to take it easy, to be gentle with myself: "A trip like your trip to Africa can take a while to recover from! You saw and experienced a lot. It takes weeks to get over something like that."

We'll call it a case of emotional jet lag. And sure, there are some external factors most people know about. But there's also some internal stuff. Which is the point of this post:

You never know what's going on in somebody else's head. 

Now, to some extent, I've known I was running out of gas for a while. And I found it almost...intriguing. Sort of a risk indicator. Because it made me think of when I used to drive a car. (Not having to drive is one of the things I love most about living in Manhattan.)

And I, like most people, would sometimes push it...

And once, when I was in high school, and really stupid and inexperienced, I pushed it so hard that Clint and Darla Weber literally had to push it!

For some reason, Darla isn't in this shot, but here Clint and I are in my Volkswagen Cabriolet in 1994, the year I graduated from high school, when I drove them to and from school. Mr. Glenn and Miss Vivian paid me $5 a day, or $2.50 each way. That was good money back then!

Unfortunately, $5 a day apparently wasn't enough money to make me keep my tank filled up (which is beyond ridiculous, as I'm fairly certain this was still in the day of Bo Beane's full-service filling station, when I could roll up and say, "Charge it to my daddy's account, please!").

So, one day we coasted into that Suwanee Swifty store on Highway 90 on fumes. Darla recalls that the three of us had to push just a little bit through the parking lot to the fuel pump (did we make Clint push or let him steer? he was so little back then!), but it wasn't too bad. We all laughed about it, and we still laugh about it.

Meanwhile...while we're on the are two more photos of that little car! I loved it so much. Gosh, sometimes you don't realize how privileged you were until you can look back on it. Let's give TBS a shout-out: What a sweet, sweet ride for a teenage girl to tool around in! It was my dream car. We decorated it one year for Homecoming...

Here Amanda and I are headed to Panama City for Spring Break, where I demonstrated my ability to execute a lightning-quick U-turn in heavy traffic on The Strip to tail a carload of cute Yankee boys. (Most people do not know that "How to Tailgate Cute Boys" was an elective course you offered to a very select pool of female students.)
Anyway, back to the point.

On some level, I knew I was running out of gas a few weeks ago, and I got curious about whether it's a sort of unofficial way to assess one's risk tolerance. My theory was...people who are bold and tend to take more risks would push the limits, while those who are risk-averse -- the 'fraidy cats of the world -- would never get below half a tank.

So, I did what anyone does when they want to take a poll these days: I put it on Facebook.

Well, silly me! That little theory didn't last long. People loved this question! I got more than 100 responses!

Angus submitted his answer with a visual.

And while -- in general -- it seemed there was a slight correlation of husbands being more willing to "push it," with wives being more in the "safety first" bucket -- especially if they have little kids, sick kids or elderly parents -- people's answers were all over the place. There was no rhyme or reason! Some women like knowing they can push it because their husbands will always take care of them. A lot of people fill up as a way to honor one of Dad's trusty life lessons. Others push it -- and know their fathers would wring their necks -- because they like to feel like the black sheep.

And then there was my friend Elyse, who chimed in with this:

I push it. Every time. Once ran out of gas on the Golden Gate Bridge. They have tow trucks permanently parked at the end with gas. It was actually so convenient that, if it wasn't for the embarrassment factor, I'd make a habit of it! I think it does reflect personality. I am not so much a risk taker as have an "it will all work out!" mentality. And, it usually does! Well, except when it doesn't. Lol.

Funny enough, I didn't know this story when I asked Elyse to drive me along the gorgeous California coast from San Francisco to Big Sur last September. What a perfect day we had!

We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe.

It was just breathtaking! She'd been a few times but said she'd never seen the sky so blue and clear. Sometimes the fog just won't lift.  
We had so much fun that I do suspect even running out of gas wouldn't have rained on our parade! We would have just made some new friends.

Because sometimes -- that's what happens. You let yourself run out of gas...and you end up with a new friend or a funny story.

That was Uncle Bob's take. I think Alfreida Lee was what he called that old VW bug that stayed in the family so long? You know...this one?

He wrote: Ran out of gas in Alfreida Lee with Susie Snider while out selling yearbook ads on our way back from Havana. Pretty sure she thought it was a set up.

Come to think of it, I ran the Ford combine slam dry one summer. Your father had me up on top wrapping my lips around the filler pipe and blowing while he bled the injectors down below! Pleasant farm memories!

It's so funny -- I posted that question sensing I was "running low on gas" from an emotional level. It was as if I'd been able to absorb everything that had been thrown at me for so long -- your illness and death, Dad's stroke, my knowledge that I "had to do something" to reignite my creativity -- and then BOOM!!

I just ran out of gas.

And it happened really, really quickly. There were a few other things going on, and it was all just more than I could handle. Fortunately, a couple of sweet, loyal friends saw the signs and connected the dots, and they just gently and lovingly told me I needed to cry "uncle." With everything I was managing, there was no reason for me not to be getting some professional help. And I knew they were right.

The reason I think it's worth writing about is because it taught me something:
If you wait too long, if you let yourself run out of gas, it can be really, really hard to jump through the hoops to get the resources you need.

Or -- in other words -- if you go for too many miles doing everything you can to keep the wheels on the bus -- without stopping for a tune-up -- the wheels will, indeed, come off the bus.

Now...that might not be such a bad thing. I mean, sometimes you are just on the wrong bus! Maybe another, better bus will come along while you're hanging out by the side of the road.

Nevertheless, figuring out the mental health system -- getting a good therapist, finding doctors who won't just write a prescription and tell you to pop a pill, figuring out what you can afford and what's covered by your insurance, finding someone who isn't located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn -- is NOT for the mentally faint. But that's the beauty of having good friends. People will help you if you let them.

Let me repeat: people will help you if you let them.

Okay, again, I think it's that last part we really need to zone in on: if you let them. 

We'll circle back to this theme another day, as the way this lesson played out when you were sick  needs its own post. (And it shall be titled Getting Help, a nod to Kathryn Stockett's wonderful 2009 novel.)

But it's sorta sad and sorta funny the way we all walk around sometimes pretending nothing's wrong. The day I felt like I might come unglued, I made sure to wear a really good outfit to work! I have this fantastic new red sheath, and I wore it with a turquoise necklace that really pops. And perhaps I could have made a more effective sympathy case to my boss if I had walked in looking like absolute hell. But I have too much pride, too much of that Mimi/Lota "look good...feel good" nonsense.

Why do we do that? I sent Dr. Howell a note and asked him if he's ever thought about having Pajama Day at church!

I mean, honestly -- if we want people to believe that the church truly is a "hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints," shouldn't we make it easier for people to show up like this?
When was the last time anybody laughed their ass off in a Saint John suit or an Armani tie?! There's something to be said for the way "the inner and the outer" are connected -- or disconnected.

Clothes make the man! 
Dress for the job you want...not the job you have. 
Today was a total waste of make-up. 
A smile is just a frown turned upside down.

And we could go off on a whole tangent about the way Facebook promotes this sort of "keeping up appearances," and how we tend to blast out the good news and cover up the bad stuff. Weddings are a trumpet and divorces are a whisper. Some of that is healthy and natural, but when we're doing it from a place of fear or shame, that's really not okay.

When bad stuff happens in Quincy, it tends to get gossiped about all over town, which can be really awful and embarrassing when it's your stuff -- but I think the upside of it is -- as you might say, "Well, hell, at least you don't have to tell the same story a million times. Everybody hears it anyway." Julia Sugarbaker put it:

Here's the bumper sticker version:

I mean, honestly, isn't there something rather delightful about being able to sit down with a friend and say, "Are your people as crazy as my people? 'Cause BOY -- do we have some stories!"

Anyhoo, in the interest of not becoming a family legend, as sometimes breakdowns take a few years to become comic, rather than tragic (and some are too awful ever to be anything other than forever tragic), I took myself a little much-needed mental health break the week before I resigned. And it kinda sucked to admit I couldn't do it all. I wanted to keep working through the end of August. But I just couldn't do it. I was exhausted. Out of gas.

I learned some new things about myself. And mostly...I remembered how to take care of myself. Because even if you have a partner or a spouse who helps out at times, the person who is responsible for taking care of you is, ultimately, you.

And I had a really cool conversation about that concept over happy hour with a colleague on Thursday night, one of those boozy chats you might not have if you weren't enjoying a few cocktails on a summer night. He said, "As long as there's someone else who sees you as their responsibility, you don't really feel like you have to be responsible for yourself." We talked about the pride he had from knowing he'd buried his father well, with honor and dignity. That it is, in a sense, an accomplishment, a sort of final rite of passage into adulthood. The torch has been passed.

That's why I could say goodbye to you in December -- knowing it was bittersweet as hell -- because it wasn't just bitter, there was a whole lot of sweetness. Literally -- warm pound cake, butter rolls, apple cake, the list goes on and on!

But more than that, there was a sense it was okay, your legacy was complete, you'd lived a rich, unique, wild and wonderful life, and you'd trained your girls to do exactly what you raised us to do: live our own rich, unique, wild and wonderful lives.

Because I'm a big girl who oughta know when she needs to put herself on restrictions! And if I don't...well, that's what friends are for.

And if they miss the hints...well, there's always our crazy relatives for back up!



Monday, August 18, 2014

Rolling Along

Dear Mom,

What a relief to be out of work for a while, so I can focus on the important blogging!

I jest...but seriously...there is something really wonderful about the release from a schedule that felt really heavy, really constraining, really limiting at times.

And sure, if I listen to "the voices of NO" in my head, I hear things like Who are you to take time off from work? That's lazy. You should be ashamed of yourself. You're acting spoiled. Who wouldn't want to quit work? Nobody's going to pay you to travel and write and amuse yourself.

And those voices, quite simply, suck. There will always be haters, there will always be critics, there will always be the Negative Nancys in life. We all get to tune our own radio dial. So, I'm gonna turn it to WIN-FM. And that's where I hear -- with cheers and applause --

That's awesome! You're so lucky! A lot of people would love to do what you're doing. But you really CAN do have the circumstances and the resources. You're brave! You're courageous! I'm so impressed with how deliberately you approached this. It was a mix of head planning and heart instinct, and you weren't afraid to pull the trigger and do something bold. 

And, while I know good and well nobody is going to pay me to have hobbies, there are, in fact, people who get paid to travel...and write...and eat...and share their good ideas! I mean, what about Erma Bombeck? Lewis Grizzard. Anne Lamott. Elizabeth Gilbert. Our beloved Page Leggett, creative writer extraordinaire, who's thrived as a freelancer in Charlotte since she left banking.

So maybe, just maybe, if I have the time, I'll find my way too! I'll figure out a way to make money and satisfy my soul.

Heck, Dear Abby and Ann Landers got paid for YEARS to tell people what they oughta do! Sarah Franklin figured out how to make a living selling candy -- leveraging that sweet nature that's been drawing people to her for her whole life.

Speaking of Say Ray...the Thomas girls dropped by Sugar recently, with "Cheryl," your beach towel. Stay tuned for more on that one. It's a hoot! They are such good sports. They took a crazy idea I had and ran with it. I love them!

(P.S. Meet Quincy the dog! No one will believe it now, but for years I wanted to get a chocolate lab and name it Quincy. I guess I will now have to steal JT's idea and call my future dog Gretna, unless he uses it first.)

Anyhoo, one thing's for sure. Even if I eventually go back into my safe, trusty, nothing-wrong-with-it career in banking, I am about to have myself a kick-ass couple of months in the meantime.

Which brings me to the point of today's post.

One reason I wanted to stop working was I just had too many fun things I wanted to do! Now, that may sound silly. Spoiled. So be it. The fact is, I am about to turn 38 years old, and I am single. I have worked hard for ten years in a fairly lucrative industry. I also went through some fairly heavy, hellacious experiences in the past year. I inherited some good things and some not-so-good things from both sides of my family.

And, while I do not think there is anything more valuable than starting your own family, nothing more special than cuddles from little people, watching others grow and learn, being there for the people you love because you want to, not because you have to...the fact remains... I am single, and I have a lot of flexibility in life!

It's kinda like that moment a few years ago, when Leigh Ann realized she had a "mom car," but not a "mom life." She was driving that Honda CRV so she could haul stuff...but she didn't really have that much stuff to haul. Sister bought herself a convertible!! Yeah!!!

And when we had to get her Christmas tree home that year...we just took the top down, got the elves to load up that tree, and ROLLED ON HOME!

"A convertible is nothing but a city folks' pickup," quipped my former boss Dale Cox from Marianna, when he saw the photo on Facebook.

I love that comment because that's how I see life these days -- Leigh Ann and I can laugh about our "redneck roots" and see the best of the way we grew up. Sometimes these city slickers aren't as smart as they'd like to think they are! New York City may have a lot to offer...but there is still something to be said for the land of sweet tea and grits and, "I just popped by since I was in the that a new camellia bush out front?" and, "I can't stay but for just a minute, but I wanted you to have some of this pound cake while it's still hot out of the oven!" And, "You won't believe what I heard Flossie say at the beauty parlor while I was getting ready to go under the dryer!"

Speaking of those Steel Magnolias moments...I just had to post this on Amy's wall today for her birthday. And I told her what I knew you'd say: ROLL ON, Birthday Girl!

There are no curlers in sight, but I get to roll around around New York City -- and be beautifully grounded in "the Q," and in Charlotte, which was such a lovely place to live for seven years. And heck, let's not forget my Alabama sojourn! And my little Brazilian godson.

Life feels like this lovely tapestry these days... Tapestry...which was, coincidentally, the name of Carol King's album...and I went to see the musical Beautiful again recently for the second time because I love it that much.

Anyway, so here I was, ready to blast off on the first stop on my new journey...enjoying my freedom. I was scheduled to fly to Telluride this morning to stay with Miss Karen at her brother's condo. From there, I'll go to Charleston, then Quincy. So, it's another big trip, three weeks of being gone.

And then, last week my foot started to hurt. Really hurt. It had creeped up for a while, and I'd been wearing sandals that I knew I had no business wearing all over the city...because they had absolutely no arch support...but they looked so cute! And my red toenails were so cute against those green sandals!

And then, ugh. This weekend, I had to cry "uncle" and admit I had no business going off to Colorado with a bad foot. I had to go to urgent care and get it checked out before I left. And that is a rant in itself, but we'll just summarize it with this:

The health care system in this country can really drive ya nuts, even if you're fortunate enough to have good insurance.

It's no wonder people don't go to the doctor! It's such a pain in the ass to navigate the maze of referrals and specialists and, "oops, sorry, we're no longer seeing patients," and "you'll have to go somewhere else to get it x-rayed, we can't do that here," and "she's booked through December."


But, just when I was ready to bitch up a storm, I called my podiatrist's office to see if they had anyone on call over the weekend (nothing says "I'm middle-aged" like "I have a podiatrist"). There was an emergency number on the machine, so I called it, and he called me back! Bless his heart! 

So, I've postponed my flight, and I'm heading to his office this morning, with my mysterious x-rays. And the irony of being "grounded" just when I was ready to "take off" seemed unmistakably poignant.

It made me think of one of our favorite peeps, who's been accepting limits her whole life. And someone who could write a book about the fact she's had entirely too much experience with this nation's health care system. Here she is with one of her sweet little nieces recently.

I remember so clearly the day Mason was born! We were all so worried. And I remember the teachers explaining to us in the auditorium what had happened while Coach Morris was delivering her first baby girl, and watching Mason grow, and how she'd wiggle across the floor in the gym during basketball games. We were leaving Luten's once, and Coach Morris called me over to watch Mason do some silly, wacky little dance in her high chair. God, that child had a big, funny spirit!

And then...a few years later...there was Spenser, who turned 24 last week. Where does the time go?!

And you and Mason butted heads here and there, because growing up is hard for all of us, but she loved you so much for the tough lessons you helped her learn.

And meanwhile...that voice! That spirit! It's still there, and these days, she comes up with things like this:

Honey, if brains were gasoline, you couldn't drive a piss ant's go cart two laps around a Cheerio!

But within all that sass, there's a whole lot of sweetness. 

Last week, she told me she's thinking of starting her own blog! Because she knows she has a voice, something only she can say, and she's figuring out how to do it.

So, we started batting around ideas. And you know me...I had plenty of 'em...just like you!

We will brainstorm a title! It should be something to reflect your delightful irreverence and natural, unflinching ability to call it like you see it. What about "From Where I Sit..." Or "The View from My Seat" Or "Oops, There I Go Again..." Or "It Just Rolls Out" "I Come By it Naturally" or "Born this Way." Or something that's a pun on "wheels"? "Roll With It"? "Get Wheel"?! Eureka! I kinda like it... XOXO

And then she came up with 
The Wheel Life
I'm Just In It for the Parking

Then I came back with 
Belle on Wheels
I like it because it's sassy and classy! A clear allusion, but in that delicate Southern "I'm gonna say bless your heart instead of calling you an asshole, but we both know what I mean" way.

Now...I have a "humble opinion" (or...not so humble!) about what the clear winner "oughta" be. And you know what? It does not matter! Because this will be Mason's blog, and Mason gets to name it.

(No wonder most people have figured out not to share baby names until it's a done deal. You know what they say about opinions!)

Just like this blog, which almost got "rebranded" a few years ago, when Leigh Ann was trying to help me make it more "marketable." And while there's something to be said for savvy really just need to focus first on product development! So this blog has evolved from a travel letters to you. Because my life has evolved. And this isn't a marketing project; it's my creative sandbox, open to anyone who takes an interest, but it's just my little playground, with no rules or regulations, other than the ones that feel right for me.

And so, here we are, Monday morning on Popcorn and M&Ms, and if anybody who isn't kin to me...or named Jeff, Grayson, Penny or Michelle...made it this far...well, thank you for tolerating it.

Sometimes ya hit a homerun...and sometimes ya just ramble 'till the podiatrist's office opens.

Wishing all of us a week of gracefully accepting our limits, of listening to the cheerleaders in our heads, not the critics. A week of taking the proverbial top down and feeling the wind in our hair. A week guessed it...sometimes it's just too easy to resist...rolling on.



P.S. I can't resist! This post needs a soundtrack. YOU KNOW you wanna hear it...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Carpe Diem

Dear Mom,

Something really sad happened this week, and I wish you were here to talk about it with me.

Robin Williams died of mental illness. (Thanks to Mary Katherine for sharing this post from the Barefoot Pastor, reminding us that what seems like a minor choice of words can actually be very important.)

You were really open about the fact you suffered from depression, and I'm so proud that one of the things you taught me was that mental illness -- or any sort of illness -- should never be a source of shame. You showed me at an early age that there was nothing wrong with seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist. In fact, I've realized lately that the fact you were so open -- that you shared and bonded and let yourself be so vulnerable -- is one reason why you had so many friends!

And isn't it funny how famous people can sometimes sort of seem like they were our friends? Gosh, what an incredible talent Robin Williams had! I can't count the number of times Leigh Ann and I watched Good Morning Vietnam, back in the late 80s when we had that big ol' illegal satellite dish in the yard out in the country.

I can still recite parts of it, though I haven't seen it in 20 years.

Oooooohhhhh, Viva
Viva Denang
Denang Me!
Denang Me!
Pick up a rope and hang me! 

I'm sure there are "scholars" of his work who could do a much more thorough analysis than I can...but it's interesting to me that the two films for which I will remember him most are that one and Dead Poets Society, as they're both about nonconformity. They're films about the fact that you can reject "the rules" while still living the values.

DPS came out in June of 1989, and I'm pretty sure we went to see it in the theater together when it came out. It might have even been something we "stayed out late" watching. (Kind of like the way you let us stay up late watching Designing Women and Murphy Brown -- which doubtless turned your girls into the kind of ass-kicking, "Screw Barbie, We Girls Really Can Do Anything," successful women we saw on TV!)

The eerily bizarre similarities between the Smith Girls and the Sugarbaker Girls shall be the subject of a future blog post...with color commentary from Gretchen, naturally.

But back to Dead Poets Society. The message of that movie -- the gift of nonconformity, the way literature can light fires and inspire us, and if we listen closely, we can hear our true life calling us to carpe diem -- was in a lot of ways what you tried to teach in your classroom.

Now...I don't think we ever got up on our desks...

But you did teach me and many others that learning is not about studying textbooks. It's about seeing the world as your classroom, that education is a journey, not a destination, and we should never, ever stop learning.

And, obviously, the journeys you started leading to D.C. in the late 80s were a part of that...

Driving your students nuts with your nonstop bus chatter...while also impressing the students and chaperones. "Holy cow! This lady knows this town backwards and forwards!"

"Look up, look down, look all around, y'all!"

For many years, you reinforced the fact that textbooks were only one way to learn by literally not having a textbook for Spanish!
You had your students make posters, write children's books, watch movies, and do all sorts of other "out of the box" activities.

Here's Leigh Ann posing as "Whistler's Mother" during one of your art satire crazes...

And sometimes, I just wanted to crawl under my desk and die. You'd go on and on for hours with the, "YO COMPRENDO. TU COMPRENDES. Do you get it? Let's do that again. [Insert name of cute boy here], why are you not getting this?"

"No boy at this school," I thought, "will EVER ask me for a date. If one more guy asks me if we speak Spanish at home, I will take shelter beneath this desk and never come out!"
But now...gosh...what a unique "window" to have on you, to have such a familiarity with your professional life. Few kids have that sort of full insight about their parents.

I mean...what the hell were you doing here?
"What a hoot!" you loved to say. Well, you, CSS, were quite a hoot! Everybody loved this photo when we posted it on Facebook in December, and somehow it dusted itself off in the news feed again this week.
"Oh, this is CSS perfection!" wrote Mason.

"That's about as CSS as it gets," wrote Ranie.

While it's been a real comfort to have so many friends grieve your loss along with us, I can't help remembering those days in middle school, when it was so tough to have you on campus. Having you teach all those cute boys, watching you fuss at the "cool kids" was sometimes really awful. I would rather have had a hot date to the prom! And Homecoming. And Miss Munroe.

But then again...could I have possibly had more fun with anyone than I had with Blaine? Who else is still best friends with their prom date?!

"The sexual tension in this photo is palpable," wrote Pee Pie in May, when I posted it on Facebook before Blaine came to the Hamptons. Love her! Love him!

Anyhoo, back to the classroom. Arriba!
This sort of CSS-designed curriculum, and the advantages and disadvantages of that could be debated for hours. Because learning -- like all of the best things in life -- is subjective, hard to measure, impossible to quantify. We try to make sense of it by applying a framework -- required courses, degrees, standards -- but we're really just muddling through. And even science or math, which start out as more objective disciplines, eventually become much fuzzier, more theoretical, once you pass the well-charted territory and start sailing out into the world of new discoveries -- where the real magic happens.

Or -- as you would say -- you've gotta know how to conjugate a Spanish verb. It's like a math problem or a formula with all sorts of variations. You can't just memorize your way through it.

And -- it's so funny how your little "tricks of the trade," your quirkly little CSS-isms, keep popping up, as Facebook makes it so easy to share things.

Blaine sent along some art satire recently:

He wrote, "Extra credit?!? Even though the yard tools are just all wrong, I give it a B+."

Isn't that neat?

Or this, from Mandy to you on June 6: Ten years ago today, we were in London in Churchill's war room with many WWII vets who were remembering the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. I'm so grateful that I got to go on that trip, and I'm so grateful to you for making it happen. Miss you, friend!
I spent an hour looking for a photo from that Europe trip, but I had to settle for the one above, which I adore, as you and Patsy and Densyl look like you're just having such a blast.

Just like you were here, having lunch in some European location I can't even name, with Princey and Katie Jo -- and I don't even know those girls, but my heart just melted when I saw Princey and Mr. Patel had signed in at your funeral.
Samuel Iglesias (heck...I don't know that kid either...but now he's my "friend" delightful!)wrote a beautiful tribute when you died. I posted it with the "roundup" I did in February, but I like it so much I think I'll post it again:
So many high school instructors these days teach for standardized tests. You take the class, get your 5, and you move on. You're to dump what you learn instantly to make room for what's next. 

Ms. Cheryl's classes always felt like the opposite. They were starting points; we had been prepared to be inquisitive, if not voracious, connoisseurs of Culture. It comes with growing up in a remote place like Mt. Pleasant Florida—essentially an island—that there's an inherent conflict between the curiosity about what's "out there" and intimidation that what's "out there" is unwelcoming, hostile, indecipherable. It's so clear that Ms. Cheryl's mission was to amplify the curiosity and crush the intimidation. In a charming way, to make us the ultimate outsiders. But never tacky tourists.


Samuel came along long after the first European odyssey you led in 1994, when I'd just graduated from high school, and Leigh Ann had finished her first year at Emory. Here we are with Mr. John in front of Buckingham Palace.
 This one should need no caption...
Although...I don't know, Samuel, I think you might be a bit generous with the "never tacky tourists." Yowza! #blessyourheart

CSS did love those comfy travel jammies! 

"Okay," I can hear you saying, "Get to the point!" 

Well, there are two points I want to make today. The first one is this:

Don't ever let the rules become more important than the values. 
This is something I'm seeing everywhere right now. I see it at church. I saw it at work, and it's part of what led me to realize I needed a break. People can say they value innovation or creativity, but then they fail to create a system in which those traits can thrive. (As a colleague of mine put it, "You can't get Google results without giving Google perks." Or, to put it another way -- during a conversation among my friends when we were in the Hamptons, recently, someone asked, "Do they allow dogs at your office?" That may have to be its own post! Allowing dogs?! At work?! Why, that idea is as wacky as the idea of allowing girls at an all-boys school! Who would propose something so preposterous?!)

I can almost hear Neil's wheels turning when he reads this: "Hmm...if Buddy and Molly could come along, maybe an office job wouldn't be so bad!"

Alas...I digress.

Rules are important; they create a framework, they help keep us "on task and on target," they give us a road map to follow.

But it's the values that really matter. Curiosity. Tolerance. Hard work. Diligence. Endurance. Faith. Persistence. Honor. Valor. Duty. Loyalty. Success.

Rising to a challenge. Not giving up without a fight. Showing a healthy sense of competition. Pushing through when things don't fall into place. Doing the right thing because it's right, not because it's easy. Winning with class and accepting defeat with grace.

That's what Mr. Keating (Robin Williams's character) was trying to instill in his students. He knew the values; he'd lived them himself at that school. He wanted to come back and show the boys what he'd missed -- that there were different ways to achieve the same objective -- that you could indeed march to the beat of your own drummer and still arrive at the same destination in the end.

When we visited colleges (and boy, did we ever visit colleges!), you were always fascinated by places that had a strong honor code. And it's been years since we talked about it, but I know your fascination was because an honor code represents the whole purpose of education.

And you were sooooooo proud when Leigh Ann and I graduated from Duke and Emory...

Because, in a broader sense, something like an honor code doesn't just represent education. It represents the whole purpose of life. Life is about discipline. It's about balance. It's about being set free but not forgetting what you've been trained and taught. It's about seeking new lands, but appreciating the place from which you come. It's about tasting, sampling, trying new things -- and enjoying the comfort of the familiar.

As children, we need our parents to give us rules and structure, but then we grow up and we realize there were reasons for all of those rules: Eating our vegetables keeps our bodies healthy, which makes us feel better. Getting exercise clears our heads and gives us more energy. Watching too much television is undesirable because television is a passive activity. Reading is a worthy pursuit because it's a way of interacting with the fascinating, endless ideas the world offers.

And...I learned something new this week...

Reading...and traveling...are ways of wearing perspectacles! 

I'm not sure if the write of the Momastery blog coined that term or just gets credit for popularizing it; she wrote about it in 2010, with this cool photo:

But she had a really neat post this week about celebrating your home, not criticizing it.

I feel like the message of her post is this: "Stop killing yourself trying to keep up with the Joneses...they're as exhausted as you are...and by the way, no one wants you to come over with a batch of homemade chicken salad if all you're gonna do is bitch about how you were up until 2 a.m. making it. Buy some storebought chicken salad, throw in a few grapes and some almonds, and spend the afternoon reading a book!"

Or...perhaps...sometimes ya just gotta settle for a B answer and be done with it.

Leaving my job this week was a big deal. And, in the end, I actually did leave, as it turned out I wanted a longer leave of absence than it was really feasible for me to take. And it would have freaked you out in some ways, if I'd done it before you got sick, because you always worried about money, until it became tragically obvious that you shouldn't have worried so much. But I know in my heart that you blessed my decision, because it was living the values you taught me.

And -- that's the second big takeaway of this (lengthy) blog post:
You taught us about seeking "an" A answer, not "the" A answer. 

I almost posted that very question on Facebook a few weeks ago; but then I realized this wasn't something I wanted to crowd source. You may have slipped a time or two and said "the A answer." And yes, sometimes there is indeed only one, when it's something simple like conjugating the present tense of hablar. But I know that you knew it was really about "an A answer."

I remember quite vividly doing homework in middle school, being assigned to fill in a blank with "the theme of the story."

And you said, "That's ridiculous. The theme? No good story has just one theme. All good stories have many themes."

Just like your life. It had many chapters. Many themes. When we were writing your obituary, Leigh Ann reminded me this was your favorite school day photo:
Should we use that for your obituary? It was so obvious. But it just seemed...well...kinda like a B answer. Too obvious. I knew you got sick of the fact that people always talked about "the teacher stuff." That was an important part of your life. But not the only one! You were a mother, a wife, you helped to run a small business, you were a traveler and an explorer and a connector. An aunt, a friend, a neighbor, a churchgoer, a colleague, a mentor. And a teacher. But that was just part of it.

So, I chose this one.

You had mixed feelings about that photo. It drove you NUTS that the photographer didn't tell you to fix those pearls! What the hell was he thinking?

And, when Miss Crystle came over to the house, bringing food to feed our family, she said the same thing! She remembered that guy -- David Hernandez, was it? "I cannot believe David Hernandez did not tell your mama to fix those pearls!"

"HA!" I exclaimed. "Yes! You do not know how much Mom would love it that you said that! That picture drove her nuts because of that!"

But really...when it comes right down to's the flaws that make things beautiful, memorable, special. It's the out-of-the-box, throw out the textbook, forget the road map, make some mistakes, find the way, get lost and ask for directions, see what we come up with spirit that makes life worth living.

My very, very favorite Spanish word is aprovechar. It's a word that has no literal translation in English. It's basically a verb form of carpe diem. 

It's been my favorite word for a long time. But now...with you gone so suddenly, so seems even more perfect.

1. to make the most of (tiempo, dinero) to take advantage of (oferta, ocasión) to use, to make use of(conocimientos, experiencia)
  • me gustaría aprovechar esta oportunidad para… I'd like to take this opportunity to…
  • aprovechar que… to make the most of the fact that…
2. to put to good use (lo inservible)
  • no tires los restos de la paella, los aprovecharé para hacer sopa don't throw what's left of the paella away, I'll use it to make a soup
I inherited your Christmas ornaments, and I can't wait to dig out the ol' "WC" this December. ("What does it mean? I don't know! You tell me.") Your wild, wacky, wonderful approach to your Christmas tree -- things you collected here and there. Because, as you told the Tallahassee Democrat in 1996, as a breast cancer survivor, you'd learned long ago to seize the day.
Carpe diem. Seize the day, y'all. 
Or, as they say in that traditional Spanish toast you taught us: 
Salud, peseta, amor, y tiempo de gustarlo. 

Wishing you, and the time to enjoy it. 

Caaaaaaaaarrrrrrpppppeeeeee diiiiiiemmmmm. Seeeeeiiiizeee the day, laddies! Make your lives extraordinary. 
And...just for one final "inside joke"...


Saudade, Mama.