18 Things To Do During A Southern Winter

February 4, 2015
  1. Stay in during those cold 50-degree days and clean out, clean up and de-clutter. When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t want but can’t toss that old family heirloom? Put it aside to sneak into their car the next time your kids, nieces, nephews or even second cousins once removed visit.
  1. Embrace your fleece with abandon. It’s the flip-flops of winter.
  1. Wish for snow at Christmas
  1. Feed the birds. Concede to the squirrels.
  1. Go to the movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
  1. Celebrate all winter holidays, occasions, sports events or reward shows. Put it on your calendar, plan special food, and do not be ashamed when you Just. Get. So. Aggravated! when that silly Pekingese takes Best in Show over the noble beagle. For example.
  1. Do NOT get the flu. If someone near you coughs or sneezes, hold your breath for 10 seconds. Wash your hands until they are raw, chapped and scaly. At church, a fist bump passes the peace just as well as a handshake.
  1. Grill out. That’s right. Take advantage of those 60+-degree days (you know we’ll have one or two or twelve) and enjoy the taste of summer mid-January.
  1. Eat less. Exercise more. Spring clothes are in full bloom by the end of January. And so am I.
  1. Make some kind of homemade soup once a week. Experiment with recipes and seasonal ingredients. Depending on how much it makes, you could have lunch wrapped up for the rest of winter.
  1. Hope for snow.
  2. Hear the “S” word from the local meteorologist, run out to buy bread and milk. The next morning, make the kids French toast before putting them on the school bus.
  1. Schedule a trip to a place where there is snow.
  1. If you have dogs, take a cue from them to nap more; bark less.
  1. Read and drink tea and/or coffee as much as you possibly can.
  1. On a cold winter evening, book that summer beach house!
  1. Post a picture on Facebook of your last warm weather vacation and make people jealous because they think you are there now. You didn’t SAY you were there, now did you?
  1. By President’s Day, just go ahead and pray for snow. Spring is less than a month away.

 

 

 

 

 

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Seismic

October 31, 2012

I get to work in words. Words are my work. I really love the whole world of  language. All of its nuances and origins and different meanings and inferences with just a flick of the tongue or curl of the lip. Before our recent trip to Scotland, one of the things I looked forward to most was listening to the language, and hearing where and how we say things in Tennessee and the Carolinas originated, changed, spun and became, well, Southern. And I was not disappointed!

But back to words. And straight to my point. Some words are seismic. Some words—once said, once read, once written—can rock a world. There are the obvious ones and then the previously innocent ones, that, in context, out of context, on purpose, or by mistake, shake things up, for better or for worse.

“Well, you know, Mother never said much,” Aunt Betty reminded me during a recent visit. She was talking about my grandmother, Mama Sue, a steady, strong influence in my life, even as she lays in bed unseeing and unknowing with Alzheimer’s Disease.

I quickly flipped through the “things Mama Sue must have told me” files in my brain. Mama Sue never said much? Well, yeah, but what about that time she …

“Can we swim?”

“Come look in the pool.”

“What are those?”

“Tadpoles.”

“What are tadpoles?”

“Well, wait a few days and they will be frogs.”

And every day I came and watched the tadpoles, until one day, they were gone.

“What happened to the tadpoles?”

“They turned into frogs and hopped away.”

And there it was, my first biology lesson, in 25 words or less.

And then when I was in first grade, I got my thumbnail smashed. Not gently, either. It featured gushing, spewing blood and blood curdling screams. It turned purple, blue, then black, and needed to come off. But with all the force of a 35-pound six-year-old with a pixie haircut, I forbid anyone to come near it. Until Mama Sue.

“Let’s see that thumb.”

“Hmmm. Come over here in my lap and let me cut it for back for you.”

“Otherwise you’re going to catch in on something and make it hurt again.”

And just like that, it was all gone and all better. Neither of us said much at all, and absolutely no one screamed.

I never realized it in quite that way. No, Mama Sue never said much. But she did much. And made much of an impression, on all of us she loved. She led a seismic life with a minimum use of words.

I love being waist deep in words every day. It’s been all I ever wanted. I’m so grateful for it.

But what Aunt Betty said about Mama Sue was seismic for me. I felt a shift. Not like the shift a word like cancer delivers (and it does). Still, a shift. A conviction. An acknowledgment of the knowledge that often we should say less and do more. If not always.

Is that the lesson I’ve been given to keep as mine as I wonder why she is still in this world? The funny thing is, Mama Sue still has speech. She whispers and mumbles and sometimes we can make out a name. Honestly, I have no idea what to think about it. I have no idea what to say about it. There are no words.

Even so, I doubt I’ll ever be remembered by, “Aprill never said much.”

Words. They possess seismic properties. But what we do can be even more powerful. What we do can change a world, even that of a six-year-old girl, blessed and kept safe and healed in so many ways by a woman who never said much.

Hungry

August 2, 2012

Lately I’ve found myself hungry. Hungry to behold God in a more high and holy way. Hungry to glorify God, and not hungry for the glorification of ideals and actions we hold holy (but maybe God doesn’t). Hungry for more God and less me. And you, to be honest. Hungry to try to be more like Jesus, to  have a meal with those who have been cast off and cast out.

Oh, and I need to drink in more of God’s creation. And while I’m at it, get a Big Gulp of love. All the those spewing vitriol and hate, along withthe blow hards, have made me lose my appetite lately. And left me parched in the wake of the dry wasteland they leave behind. I’m hungry for God. And nothing else will satisfy – not even a chicken sandwich.

This Is A Good Place

November 7, 2011

The other day, without much thought, my status on Facebook became “This is a good place.” It is. Few words. Much involved.

The place where I write this. This is a good place. A nook in my family room. A small built-in desk of knotty pine, designed in the ’50s before laptops. Right by the fireplace. It’s a good place for a most excellent dog to nap underneath, leaving me scarce little room  for my feet and legs. First Stu. Elmo when he got old. Now Henry.

The place where I live. This is a good place. This ramshackle shack in Sherwood Forest. There’s a reason this place is called a forest, which we all realize all over again every fall. Charlotte. Shiny, new, vibrant and vibrating. A great place to start your business. A great place to be in business for nearly twenty years.

This place where I live in this country. North Carolina. This is a good place. Mountains. Beach. Charlotte. Tomorrow I drive about three easy hours for a conference in Charleston. In the low country. A place of pungent plough mud, stories and shrimp and grits. It will be a good place to be a couple of days. Then back home to Charlotte. The place where I belong right now.

This place where I am personally. This is a good place. I’ve never been to a place like it, but I find it fine. I no longer worry if I find myself thinking it’s not a good place. Things change soon enough, and then I find myself in a different place. Carole King was right. These are the good old days.

This place where my marriage is. This is a good place. We’ve never been in this place, either. The place we are in 2011 is different than the place we were in 1984. Aside from our place in 1984 being New York and in 2011 being North Carolina. And we’ve been to all kinds of different places, with hands firmly clasped. In every single place we found ourselves. My husband’s strong hand is a good place.

The place where I am as a writer. It’s a good place. Work behind me that I’m proud of. Work ahead of me that I’m eager for. Work that fills me up and wears me out. A blank page that constantly changes. A place with room enough to be anxious, excited, determined and grounded all at once. It’s a place I hope to stay for a while.

Are there still painful places? Of course. I just choose not to dwell there right now. But if a painful place is where you are right now, know my heart is wrenched for you. I could join you tomorrow. Or in the next moment. I understand that.

But right now, yes. This is a good place. I’m grateful. I’m thankful. I’m mindful. And I’m here.

Kind Words and a Lovely Memory

September 28, 2011

Have you ever made a mistake? Of course. As we say, we all have. Have you ever considered the words you said after you made a mistake? Of course. Well, hopefully we all have. Have you ever thought of those words, the ones after a mistake, as kind words? Some of those words and phrases seem to have fallen out of fashion. It may have been a while since you’ve heard—or said—

I should have realized.

Oh, my bad.

I apologize.

And when we’re on the receiving end of someone willing to take the burden of the blame, what are the kind words we can offer?

No sweat.

Don’t worry about it.

Thanks. It’s fine.

As one sometimes all-too-willing to shoulder the blame—maybe even all of it (as you may recall from earlier posts, now is not the the time to psychoanalyze me), I’m all-too familiar with the first and second set of kind words. Not always the second, but no big deal, I probably didn’t give them a chance to say it. Anyway. It can be a burden. You have your own burdens. And I hope someone offers you kind words often and in multiples when those burdens or flaws or undesirable characteristics are on display for the world to see.

My burden could have been substantially heavier after one particularly heart-wrenching, achingly difficult decision I had to help make, which resulted in multiple people crying but with scarce little to offer in the kind words department. I was totally convinced it was all my fault. How could it not be? And then, despite the roar inside my head, I was able to hear some of the kindest words I ever heard, whispered in my ear:

It’s not your fault.

It still was for a long while. But those four little words made an impact, lifting my burden little by little and giving me a small hope and eventually freedom from self condemnation. Those were four hard working words. Given as a kindness, taken as a lifeline.

Social media gives us a chance like we’ve never had to offer kind words to friend and stranger alike, early and often. I glance at my running Twitter stream and I see someone ask for prayers for a new job opportunity. “Prayers!” “Thank you!” she tweets back. All done in less than 30 seconds.

A loss of a pet and the resulting grief expressed on Facebook. We all have a chance to rally around the person, holding them up, offering kind words that really do mean something to them.

Kind gestures count, but words give us a chance for kindness-on-the-fly. A moment of opportunity. A moment lost if we let it fly by. You never know the impact those words might have—could have. You never know when you may never have another chance to offer the kindness of words. However and whenever those words are needed. When you make a mistake. When someone else makes a mistake. When someone can be supported. When they can be encouraged in a struggle or for no reason whatsoever. You just have something kind to say and say it.

That’s what my friend Scott did at our class reunion. In a crowd of 150 or so of your closest friends, sometimes it’s hard to say more than “It’s so good to see you, ” or, “Where are you now?” before someone else you haven’t seen since graduation is within earshot. Scott, however, used that small window of time and gave me four encouraging words:

I read your blog.

Although we had become Facebook friends, I had not seen or talked to Scott in thirty years. And out of the blue, he encouraged me. I bet he didn’t even know it. Two days later, I got the news that Scott had died overnight, of an apparent heart attack. Young and not the heart attack type. But the type for leaving kind words the last time I and probably most of my classmates would ever talk to him.

What kind words will we leave today, tonight or tomorrow to those we don’t even know we’re leaving them to? Don’t let any opportunity pass you by. Note to self: Admit a mistake. Forgive a mistake. Support. Encourage. Use your words. Your kind words.

Undone all over again.

September 11, 2011

I’ve spent a little time this week working on messaging for the 9/11 10th anniversary. But when I was trying to think about what I have to say about 9/11 on a personal level, I came up empty. In avoidance mode. Denial. Still undone. Still overwrought.

I can tell you my memories of only a few weeks before, at the end of August 2001, when we had to put down our golden retriever, Stu, and how that felt like the end of the world. Around that same time, I went to my class reunion in Tennessee and danced with the man who had been my prom date, then went back home to Charlotte with him. That seemed pretty momentous. Those things did matter a great deal too, and still do, in my life, in that moment in time before those moments in time to come.

Here’s what I know about 9/11/01. I wept and wept, just like most of you. For the lives lost and the lives lived, for the heroes, the terror, and for the sure knowledge that things would never be the same. Nothing would ever be normal again.

Some of  the immediate changes were good. I remember on one of the days following 9/11/01, I snapped at a woman at the grocery store for blocking my way, then going back and apologizing to her. And there we were, two strangers, hugging and crying in front of the canned foods at HT.

I received an email today from the Co-Founder and CEO of Meetup, an online social networking portal that facilitates offline groups meeting in real life at various locations all over the world. I was uplifted by the story Scott Heiferman tells of living at the time of 9/11/01 two miles from the twin towers, and finding himself forced out of the internet and into his neighborhood, talking to more neighbors than he ever had before. And so the idea was born to use the internet to get people off the internet and back into their communities. Today, Meetup has over eighty employees and 10 million meetuppers. Heiferman ends by saying “9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or to talk to strangers.”

But all the days that have followed have been marked by the weighty and terrible knowledge that somewhere out there, Americans are fighting to make the terrorists less terrifying. My cousin Mark spent years poking his gun into caves and holes in Afghanistan with other Special Forces Troops, looking for that son of a gun. My cousin Pat was not even allowed to wait one more day so that he could attend our grandmother’s funeral in 2005. He was being deployed, and war doesn’t wait, even for funerals. My cousin John has spent the last three years tracking Asian terrorists, even through a personal catastrophic event. His brother Joseph has been embedded with some Marines as a Navy chaplain, away from his family for eons, at sea in the Middle East when OBL met his just demise.

Last year, on 9/11, I waited in the airport security line, traveling for a client, when they called for a moment of silence at the exact time the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I stood with my head down, thinking if I didn’t close my eyes, I might keep from crying. And then I saw a big fat tear fall out of my eye and on to the cold, hard floor, and I started thinking of those people forced to jump from those tall, tall buildings or face worse—worse!—and I nearly came undone again. It was all too much. In that line because of the things that happened that we were having a moment of silence for while in that line.

I don’t know that I have a point here (which really bothers me as a writer, but not so much as an American tonight). A lot of people are saying they can’t believe it’s been ten years, but I can. Think of all the things you’ve been through since that moment you saw that second plane crash into the other tower. Jobs lost. Careers renewed. Moving. Moving again. Children all grown up. Children born. Children overcoming injury and illness. Some lost to us. Grandmothers and mothers lost to us, too. Stu. Elmo. Orange. Piccadilly. <Insert your pets’ names here>. All gone. Henry here. Lots and lots of waters gone by.

So, it has been ten years, and nothing is the same, which is normal, except it’s a “new normal.” I’m heartbroken over some of the changes, and heartened by others. The other thing I know is that 9/11/01 will always be one of the saddest days of our lives. And if I think about it too much, I’ll come undone all over again.

Culture Shock

August 25, 2011

The other night I had a very strange dream in which I was driving on an interstate on ramp and kept seeing all these deer carcasses in the road. I soon caught up to a pick up truck from which these people, in Middle Eastern attire, were tossing the carcasses from the back. In the dream, it became clear to me that because they had seen so many dead deer in the road, they thought it was where everyone here put their deer carcasses.

Bizarre, I know. Hey, it was a dream. Don’t psychoanalize, just stay with me, because I want to talk to you about culture shock, which is serious and can cause some serious misunderstandings. You may even experience culture shock without ever leaving your laptop!

I personally experienced culture shock in a big way after I had lived in Mexico for three months. I realized living there was real, that I was a stranger in a strange land, and that everyone else was going about their business, while I was the one (pardon the continued metaphor) standing like a deer caught in the headlights.

The great Mexican food that I had had such an enthusiastic appetite for  lost its intrigue, and I just wanted some tomato soup and a grilled cheese. My Spanish skills limited me to conversations with ninos six and under, but I had a whole grown-up conversation in English inside me. Waking up to yet another bright and sunny day lost its luster. I wanted some rain. Or at least humidity. My eyes were craving green as they looked at a brown, rocky landscape.

And in the midst of trying to sort it all out, there finally came a small shower one afternoon. I stepped out to feel it and smell it, revel in it. Then a wise woman across the plaza, also on her porch, said to me, (in Spanish, of course), “You miss the rain and you miss your mama.” The short conversation (one a six year old could understand) made it clear to me that someone did indeed understand a little, and made me think there was hope yet. While still in culture shock, the culture suddenly seemed a bit more friendly.

Now, fast-forward to 2010 (that was long ago in 2005), and I’m pretty sure I had the weird dream about deer because I had had a conversation with a client the day prior about how social media conversation can go way beyond teaching you about your audience’s demographics, preferences or brand loyalty. Social media conversation teaches you about your audience’s culture.

So, as a brand, you’ve charted your demographics and buying behaviors are tracked and accounted for. You know where your customers live and what they like, according to your data. And then, you find your brand mentioned in social media. You start listening. Should you take part in the conversation? What do you say? What do you do? It’s all very overwhelming. And as the chatter increases and gets louder, you may find yourself in shock. Culture shock.

You always knew that yours was the wine and cheese crowd, but look at what your customers talk about in the social realms – beer and pizza! Working moms are always your best buyers. Or are they? Looks like lots of stay-at-home moms are chiming in here. Is it because they are on home computers more? How can you know? And would you look at that? Your customers are going to indie rock concerts – not Broadway musicals! Shocking!

So moving into the culture, I mean their social media world, you try to create content that others will respond to. Content your audience can relate to at least. Nothing. Are you talking to six year olds when your audience is all adults? It’s lonely and confusing. Then, you do something natural – like walking on the porch and smelling the rain or relating when someone misses their mama – and you find a pocket of understanding, someone who will talk to you. Can you build on that? What did you say or do? Can you look back and find what has led you into your audience’s culture?

Weird dreams and culture shock are not phrases normally heard in “social-media speak.” That’s why I wanted to talk about them here. I think who we are, where we are, and the culture in which we live, work and play, and the desire to communicate with others who are similar is an integral part of social media content creation and conversation. How else can you explain the mass appeal, to both the public and commercial sectors?

So ask yourself, as a brand wanting to engage your customers, are you serving grilled cheese when your audience really likes fish tacos? Are you trying to grow green grass in a land of sun and rocks? Are you sniffing for rain when there hasn’t been one drop for 55 straight days? And even if you find yourself a stranger in a strange land, can you be, of all things, gracious in the midst of culture shock?

See “Be Gracious” which I ungraciously decided to post before this deeper dive into culture shock.

I know I don’t know.

August 14, 2011

And in an instant. And against your will. A quilt of sadness is draped over you. It is the heaviest quilt ever made. Yet you have no other thing to do but wear it like a shroud. It reeks of evil and does not shield you from the continued blows to your body and mind. You shiver despite its cover, from the freeze frames of the tragedy played over and over before your unbelieving, unblinking eyes.

And the day you put your child’s body in the ground, that heavy quilt becomes heavier from the weight and wet of your sobbing, and adheres to your body, and you just don’t care. There is goodness and love waiting outside the quilt for you, waiting to penetrate the tightly woven threads, but not today they won’t. And probably not tomorrow, either. No one knows when or if the weight of it will make you stronger or break you down. But you are wrapped in sorrow beyond penetration today. And there’s just no help for it.

Happy Birthday, Henry

July 26, 2011

He is the dog I couldn’t live without, and my husband was going to see to it that I didn’t have to.

He is the dog that came home to us even before we got around to getting a new sofa for him to jump on. Which he never did. Unless invited. He still waits. Standing by the sofa, waiting for an “okay” and a pat on the sofa cushion. And then he climbs on. He does not jump. If his blanket, on a rare occasion, is not on his end of the sofa, he waits patiently until you get it and cover the cushion.

He is the dog who adored Piccadilly, trained Chester, convinced Ginger to go in the crate, and liked to go over to his girlfriends Molly and Katie’s house. Cheerio is still a puzzle to him. I wished so badly I could tell him about Piccadilly. My heart broke to think that he lost his best friend and didn’t even know it. Maybe he did, somehow.

He is the dog that I told him once, maybe twice, “stay with me” and he has followed me around everywhere ever since. He is under my feet under my desk as I write this. But he’ll walk better with Chuck off-leash. 

He is the dog who came and gave us a fresh, new, positive focus when we needed one. And has over and over.

He is the deputy, and will report to me or Chuck whatever you do, so be warned. He will stay between me and anyone, even children. He will hide behind Chuck on the very rare couple of times he has been spooked by something. He will fake an injury so that we will rub his paw and make it better.

He loves Lisa, Michelle and Nancy. I’m not sure about anyone else. He’s usually too busy reporting to me or standing watch for us to get a good read. Our excellent trainer, Andy Bunn, once said about him, “There’s a lot of things going on in that head.” He was right.

He may always be an only dog. We can’t imagine life without a dog. But right now, we can’t imagine a life that isn’t just the three of us. It’s working for all of us.

So on the occasion of Henry’s sixth birthday, I write with gratitude that we found him, for what he brings to us, that we get to spend this time with him, and that he will forever be a part of our family. I fell in deep doggy love the first time I ever saw his puppy picture. And while the picture has changed to a handsome grown dog, the love has only grown as well.

Happy birthday, Henry!

Smoke Signals and the Town Crier

January 29, 2011

Yesterday, driving down to the lovely Greenville, SC, I heard an NPR correspondent, reporting from Egypt, say something like this: ” Thousands and thousands of people are congregating in the square, which is hard to believe they knew it would be happening since all social media sites, a great deal of internet and much cell phone coverage has been cut off.”

I just have two words for this reporter: Paul Revere. Oh wait. Two more. Smoke signals. Here’s another two: Town crier. Feel free to play along.

So, if TV were to be no more, no more advertising, I guess. Oh yeah. There would still be radio. Like before TV. Print may be a different matter, but perhaps the events in Egypt this week show the value of putting words on paper. That remains to be seen but I’m pulling for print. We need it.

Let’s be clear. I love communication technology. Look! I’m using it right here. And Chuck makes the point that people will always be looking for ways to communicate, and one way to communicate won’t negate another. We’ll just add it on.

And in the case of those wishing to protest in Egypt, or anywhere for that matter, it’s a beautiful thing. No one can shut us up without shutting us up literally, especially in numbers. Almost all of us learn to say “mama” before we learn to key it in. We learn to hug before we learn to text. We learn to walk before we know about blogging. Usually.

Depending on how long the earth keeps spinning, evolution could change some of that, but probably not before I download my last mobile app.

And this is not a rant against “the media.” I think we have the best journalists in the world as a whole. They keep some of us informed and some of us honest. They tell us about things we don’t really need to to know and things that truly impact our lives, our world, and our history. I wouldn’t be listening to NPR in the car if I didn’t think there wouldn’t be something of value said that I needed to know.

But we have to keep “new media” in perspective. It’s another couple hundred communication tools in the tool box, or should I say, talk box, and I think it’s incredibly interesting to see them globally embraced and how that plays out. I also know, however, that people will communicate, make their will known, congregate, commit brave acts of civil disobedience and evil acts of hate, no matter what means are at their disposal. Even if it’s just their vocal chords. Just ask Paul Revere.