Camp McDowell

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It’s out! The Camp McDowell book by Doug Carpenter is available for purchase! All proceeds to benefit the new Bethany Village at camp!

To buy: $23 ($3 P&H, $20 to Bethany fund, make check to Camp McDowell, The Rev. Doug Carpenter, 3037 Overton Rd., B’ham, AL 3223. carpenter.doug7436@att.net

This is a beautiful gift book for a worthy cause! Doug will sign and personalize every copy!

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The Grand Moments

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I remember—exactly—how my red, wrinkly, newborn babies’ feet felt to my fingers the first time I touched them. I can feel, even now, twenty-eight years later, the heat from my husband’s breath when he bent his head to kiss me for the first time.

Of course, these moments are the very definition of cliché. Milestones like these are common to us all. They are the high-water tides that break over our heads, ripple out in every direction, and determine the course of the rest of our lives.

Often, it’s the firsts in our lives that define us—a new job, a fortunate meeting, or a path taken or not taken in a meandering journey. We have no idea what the repercussions will be when we live, as we so rarely do except in these clichéd firsts, entirely present in the moment.

When these freeze-frame moments of incalculable import come out of nowhere when we least expect them, and when there is little or no time to consider, weigh, or debate, that’s when we often choose to leap off the high dive to see what will happen next.

I’m fascinated by these grand moments. They are small slices of our lives in terms of time, but they have the power to change us irrevocably for better or worse and for all time. The split second when a choice must be made that will define our own personal ethics forevermore—to do the right thing when no one is looking, for example—will ultimately declare who we are, what we believe deep-down, and what we can or can’t live with for the rest of our days.

What makes a person decide in a fraction of a second to risk his or her life to rescue a stranger? What drives another to a moment of infidelity? How does a lone protester suddenly find the courage to stand up to oppressors?

What we leave behind when we die are the chain reactions begun by each of us in our “first” moments, our split-second decisions, and the choices we make when we are courageous enough to take a chance.

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The Incident With the Big Toblerone

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So . . . it’s that time of year again. You know what I mean. The BIG GIRL Toblerone bars are out for Valentine’s Day.

This candy bar is my personal kryptonite. Diet disaster of epic proportion. Temptation worthy of Jesus in the desert. My all-time favorite chocolate AT A BARGAIN PRICE.

I can’t lay off that. The truth is: I’m a weak, weak woman.

I spotted the big Toblerone the second I walked into Target like an eagle spying a bunny streaking across a grassy plain. I craved it instantly, with a knee-jerk longing that I’m convinced is encoded on my XX chromosome helix somewhere.

I NEED chocolate to be happy. I also need bubble baths, good books to read, and my children to hang up their wet towels.

When I approached the candy aisle with my red buggy (with the John Williams theme music to the movie “Jaws” streaming in my head), I’m sure I heard a faint hiss:

“Just let me ride in your buggy, lady. You know you want to.”

“Get behind me, Satan!” I yelled, loud enough to make other shoppers avert their eyes and scurry out of the aisle like teenagers fleeing a party when the cops arrive.

“I’m on sale,” the evil Toblerone continued persuasively, “You should at least take me home to your children. You’re a good mom. Think of the children. You could have a bite of me first, of course, and save the rest for them. It would be so thoughtful. You really are very unselfish.”

I resisted. At first.

“I know what you’re doing! You aren’t just a candy bar—you are TEN SERVINGS of candy bar that I could consume in the parking lot without taking a single water break! I might as well plaster you to my tummy right now! There aren’t enough spin classes in the world to work you off. I’m on to you,” I taunted my cocoa Satan.

That’s how it started this time. That’s how it always starts. It’s an old story for me.

In the buggy. In the car. In my mouth. On my hips. Regret. Remorse. New resolutions. But the story always ends the same delicious way: I’m always happy to talk about my new diet with you—preferably as we devour our “last” Toblerone.

Happy Valentine’s Day season to my fellow chocoholics!

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10 Ways Southern Women Communicate Without Uttering a Word

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  1. We raise our eyebrows to the heavens. Translation: Seriously? Have you lost your mind? What were you thinking? Have I taught you nothing?
  2. We close our eyes in weary defeat like we’re headed to the Appomattox courthouse. Translation: You have messed things up so badly that we can’t bear to look you in the face anymore. (Sometimes this is accompanied by fingers in our ears and a la-la-la-la-I-don’t-hear-you refrain like we’re monks seeking Nirvana on a mountaintop.)
  3. We cross our legs and swing the top foot in a rapid-fire motion like we’ve been mainlining caffeine since dawn. Translation: We can barely remain seated because a situation close at hand would be much improved if we got up and handled it, which we are sorely tempted to do, even though we know no good will come of it.
  4. We raise a pointer finger imperiously to the sky, a la Miss Clavel speaking to Madeline. Translation: Depends. Several possibilities here. Could mean: “Something is not right” in nun-speak. Can also mean: “I’m about to impart life-altering words of wisdom. Someone should really write this down”. Or it could be an all-the-way-across-the-room, modify-your-behavior-this-instant warning to children we have reared better than that. Rest assured, our children know what the finger means.
  5. We make “pfffing” noises with our lips. Translation: We are actually scoffing at your point of view. This is a more grown-up, sophisticated version of the classic raspberry.
  6. We roll our eyes. Translation: Your suggestion is too ridiculous for words. It is beneath us to discuss this again. We’re already on record—more than once—about this, and you are STILL wrong.
  7. We lean our heads back, close our eyes, and cross our arms. Translation: We Shall Not Be Moved. Think Mount Rushmore. We’ve DECIDED. Learn to live with it if you can’t love it. Whatever it is. Doesn’t matter.
  8. Hand on the hip. Translation: A verbal smack down is nigh. Somebody has it coming, probably had it coming for a while, and is about to get it. Prepare for incoming. Duck and cover, join forces, or get the heck out of the way.
  9. We tilt our head coquettishly to the side. Translation: We might be listening to your point of view. Truly. Or we might be mentally contemplating the many important things your mama apparently failed to teach you.
  10. We open our arms wide to you, extend both hands decidedly in your personal space, or reach up to kiss you on the cheek. Translation: Southern women are very touchy-feely. If you are not, you need to suck it up. You might be rewarded with pound cake. You should hug us back like you mean it. Bonus: If you pick us up off the floor in a bear hug and swing us around like we’re six-year-old girls again, you get homemade whipped cream with that.

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Straight From the Mouths of Teenage Drivers

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I’m teaching my third child to drive. It’s making me crazy. Certifiable. Nuts. I don’t remember it being this hard with the boys. In honor of this special bit of parenting craziness, I’m posting a list from my fourth book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. Feel free to yuk it up at my expense. As usual.

Straight From The Mouths of Teenage Drivers:
1. “I’m not speeding! I’m going exactly the speed limit!”
2. “That dent was already there.”
3. “I’m not too close.”
4. “That car needs to stay out of my lane.”
5. “I know what to do. You told me that a hundred times already.”
6. “I did come to a complete stop.”
7. “This is harder than it looks.”
8. “That was close!”
9. “Merging is hard.”
10. “I forgot about crosswalks.”
11. “I’m never going to parallel park, so I don’t need to practice that.”
12. “You don’t have to yell at me!”
13. “Sorry. Is that going to be expensive?”
14. “I drove well this time. Didn’t I, Mom? You didn’t throw up once.”

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Graduation and Last-Minute Parenting Panic

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*This is a post I wrote two years ago when my oldest son graduated from high school. My middle child graduates in a few weeks. I’m re-posting for all the mamas I’ve loved and commiserated with over the years!

I’m out of time. My son leaves for college soon. He thinks he’s ready, but I find myself lying in bed at 3 AM, staring at the clock on my bedside table, worrying about all the things I have forgotten to tell him, teach him, explain to him, or warn him about. Recently, I’ve jumped out of bed in the middle of the night and flown down the stairs to impart words of wisdom that simply cannot wait until dawn.

“Sweetie? Are you awake?” I ask, after tiptoeing into my son’s bedroom like a jewelry thief, looming over the side of the bed like a stalker fan, and poking him sharply in the side until he acknowledges my presence.

“Barely. What do you want this time, Mom?” he asks in a resigned voice, peeling back one eyelid, and staring at me bleary-eyed with fatigue.

“Promise me you will not accept any credit card offers, okay? Credit card companies prey on college kids. You could rack up thousands of dollars of debt!” I explain in an urgent tone of voice, gesticulating wildly with my hands to punctuate every word, increasing my volume and becoming more worked up with each second.

“Um. Okay, mom. I’ve got your card for emergencies, so we’re good,” he reassures me, rolling over so I have to move to the other side of the bed to maintain eye contact.

“You could end up with a bad credit score! You wouldn’t be able to buy your own home one day!” I warn, not fully convinced I have his undivided attention.

“Mom, could we worry about buying my first home later? I have a history test in four hours for HIGH SCHOOL. Okay?”

“Sure, sure! Go back to sleep, honey. I just thought since you were awake, we could talk,” I respond, a tad defensively.

A few minutes tick by. I remain frozen by my son’s bed, unable to move, my hands hovering over his body, which is now twice the size of my own, praying silently a sort of desperate litany to God, fate, Mother Nature, the lottery, and anything and anyone else who might listen.

“Are you going to stand there much longer, Mom?” my son asks in a dry voice, without opening his eyes, “’Cause I have to say it:  you’re kind of creeping me out.”

“Nope! On my way upstairs right now!” I reply, a trifle huffily.

“Good deal. See you in the morning, Mom.”

“’Nightloveyousomuch, son.”

“Loveyoutoo,” he mumbles in return.

Lately, every time we’re alone in an enclosed space—the kitchen, an elevator, the car–for more than five minutes, I find myself talking to my child in rapid-fire, staccato syntax as if I’m a drill sergeant, and I’ve been forced to send him to the front lines for hand-to-hand combat. I can’t seem to stop preaching mini-sermons, making dire predictions, or offering dangerous hypothetical scenarios for him to figure out while he’s still geographically close to me so we can talk through the options.

Like the sergeant, I feel it’s my job to keep this boy safe. I know how many dangers and temptations lurk just around the corner for him. Like all eighteen-year-olds, he is oblivious and thinks he is immortal. He’s poised on the starting block, grinning from ear-to-ear, out of his mind with excitement.

My heart races when I think of setting my child free, unchaperoned and curfew-less into the world. I feel like I’m throwing him off a pier into the deep end of the ocean with only his iPhone, a debit card, a high school diploma, and some monogrammed towels to help him on his way.

He’s bound to hit some white water. Everybody does. There are going to be treacherous currents, vicious undertow, barges that appear out of nowhere, hurricanes, whirlpools, sharks, and other predators. And that’s just the college years!

I’m worried about all the pitfalls I haven’t pointed out: pyramid schemes, cheating spouses, door-to-door solicitors, the importance of separating the whites and darks when he does laundry, and remembering to text his younger sister, the sibling who dreads being on the receiving end of my undivided attention.

I’ve covered everything I can think of: good grades, safe sex, binge drinking, illegal drugs, texting and driving, and the importance of choosing friends wisely. He’s going to make some whopping mistakes. I know that. I just don’t want them to be split-second decisions that result in eighteen years of child support payments or an interstate pile-up.

He’s heard it all before. He knows the lectures by heart, and he can repeat them with me in a singsong voice. Wear your seatbelt. Mind your manners. Take your vitamins. Don’t text and drive. Go to class. Do your homework. Write thank-you notes. Call your grandparents. Be a gentleman.

“I know, Mom, You’ve told me a thousand times already,” he says every time I open my mouth.

“Yeah,” I nod, fighting off a panic attack.

Is it enough? Does he hear my voice in his head? Will it cause him to pause, think twice, and reconsider before bungee jumping off a bridge on a college dare or eloping with the first girl he falls in love with?When my teenagers were babies, they were more afraid of me than God Almighty. That was a good thing. Back then, that was enough.

“You have to quit trying to cram everything into my head, Mom!” he begged me this week. “I’m going to college, not outer space. You’re going to see me again. I don’t have any money of my own.”

True. That’s one of my jobs as the mother of teenagers: I am a slightly overweight, farsighted, menopausal ATM machine. I am also a: short order cook, chauffeur, laundress, coach, nurse, tutor, psychiatrist, spiritual advisor, and social secretary. Parenting teenagers requires flexibility. You have to be able to clean up vomit, talk about condoms, cough up a small fortune in acne products, and love unconditionally and with fierce, illogical abandon. It also helps if you have a smart mouth and a sharp pen, in my experience. I have both in spades.

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A Fond Farewell to My Old Suburban

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Farewell to an old friend: After 15 years and 256,000 miles, my faithful Suburban-mama-car just motored off to the big retirement garage in the sky. Lord knows, she deserves the rest, but I’m a little sad.
Sure, one of the turn signals has been randomly blinking since the 90s, and none of the locks work. Climbing in late at night requires a look-see in the back seats to make sure no one is stowing away back there. 

It’s also true that the driver’s side window refuses to roll down upon occasion, and that makes for awkward fast-food-drive-through ordering, bank deposits, and valet parking.
When the leather seats wore out, I repaired them with duct tape. Classy.

But I loved that car.

Family vacations. Beach trips. Disney World. Football games. Baseball games. Basketball tournaments. Summer camp. A carload of giggling cheerleaders . . . Memories.

Did you know you can fit a full-sized mattress in the back on an old Suburban? You can also transport huge buckets of flowers that need to be arranged. Garage sale items. Pine straw. A new washer and dryer. Big antiques? No sweat.

I liked driving my big mama car. I admit it. I felt like my kids were encased in a tank. It felt safe. Solid. It also had a huge gas tank. We could drive through three states in a hurricane evacuation without filling up. That’s handy where I live.

I’ll miss my Suburban. Did you ever fall in love with a car?

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