I Hear Voices


My favorite weather report is windy and cold. I know I’m in the minority with that vote. Most people prefer hot summer days. I do not. You need to respect my opinion and move on. I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m not campaigning for cold, windy, wet weather fans. I don’t understand why people are so scandalized by my preferences. When I claim to like windy, cold days, people act like I’ve personally offended them. It’s as if I’ve confessed to stuffing ballot boxes or buying an outfit to a wear to a party that I plan on returning to the store the next day. There’s nothing unnatural about preferring overcast days to sunny ones. It’s unusual, I admit, but my preference doesn’t make me freaky. I’m a little bit tired of having to defend my views on weather. I like storms, too. Deal with it.

Where I live, I don’t get nearly enough windy, cold days. When I luck up weather-wise, I have to hide my delight from the sun-worshipping masses. I check my grin and grumble a bit to fit in with my fellow commuters, but secretly, I’m throwing a little party in my head. I especially like the sound effects on cold-weather days—a roaring fire, rustling leaves spinning across the sidewalk, and the whooshing effect of wind rattling the last dry leaves clinging tenaciously to tree branches. Those sounds are so much prettier than the incessant clicking of cicadas on a hot, humid summer night. That is a harsh, repetitious, non-melodious noise that I associate with misery. In fact, that’s the sound of crazy in the South, if you ask me.

Prepare yourself. I’m asking you to keep an open mind as you continue reading. I need room to write here, a little literary license, often defined as a willing suspension of disbelief, and some leeway. Humor me for the next few paragraphs, and I promise to give you something interesting to think about for the next few days.

The sounds of wind blowing through trees, a faint, whispering murmur, sounds just like voices to my ears. In my imagination, those voices could belong to all the people I have ever loved in my life who have died before me. Before you get all worked up, let me reassure you that I’ve not gone round the bend, I promise. You don’t need to call someone to check on me. Let me explain.

Instinctively, I strain to make out faint sounds when I hear them. We all do. So when I hear the wind rustling the leaves and branches of trees, a sound that mimics human speech to my ears, I close my eyes and concentrate. If someone is trying to talk to me, I want to be hear what he or she has to say. What if that could really happen? I want so desperately to hear those voices distinctly and to connect with people I’ve loved who have died. This is the stuff of ghost-hunter fantasies. I’ve never pursued such hobbies myself, but I’m open-minded. I have gone on ghost tours in Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana. (That’s a whole industry now, in case you didn’t know. People will do anything to make money. Humans are resourceful like that. I think it’s an admirable trait.) Those were fun. And I had a friend who had a Ouija board when I was young, but we never got any messages to the other side. I wanted to stop for a palm reading several times on long trips with my husband, but I have never been able to talk him into it. He said I could just roll down the car window and throw my money out to get the same result. He’s not as interested in being open-minded as I am.

Haven’t you ever longed for contact with someone who has died, even though you know it’s impossible? Sometimes, I think I can hear those people in the wind, as if they are discussing the upcoming SEC football schedule among themselves. It’s just a faint, murmuring sound. The experience reminds me of the time my dentist showed me a cavity on my X-ray. “Can you see what I’m talking about?” he asked, looking down at my upturned face. “I think so,” I replied, “but it’s possible I’m imagining it.”

When I feel the chill wind on my face and hear the murmuring, I feel sure that the presence of those voices is real, as real as other conversations I overhear when I’m walking down the street passing pedestrians deeply engaged on their cell phones, or when I make my way past tables of bar patrons in search of a bathroom. When I lie on a beach with my eyes closed, my face turned up to the sun, my body draped across a lounger, I hear conversations around me ebb and flow against the background of waves crashing on the shore. We can all agree those conversations are real. What is so different about the possibility of . . . more?

When I walk across campus after teaching all day on my way to the parking lot, my brain is tired and more open to hearing voices. (You could argue here that my students have actually driven me mad, and I am hearing voices because I’m two minutes away from crazy town. That’s one interpretation.) In the minute right before I drift off to sleep at night, I think I’m more open to the sounds around me, too. Voices, maybe echoes of former conversations, seem to crescendo and demand that I pause to remember the random people who have crossed my path over the years.

I know, I know. Hearing voices isn’t a good sign—is it? I might be in need of medication or a hearing check-up, but I don’t think it’s something boring like that. Don’t worry. The voices don’t threaten me or give me instructions or anything scary like that. It’s just a warm presence I feel, like hearing the noises from a fun dinner party my parents hosted when I was a child when I was tucked into bed on another floor of the house. It was nice, even then, to hear those pleasant sounds. It made me feel safe and happy. I knew I wasn’t alone, and I had nothing to fear.

I believe there are proverbial thin places in the world, spots where this world and the next one are close, literally, as if we are only separated by a sheer veil, (think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban here) but I believe the thin places may be different for everyone. There is some scholarly reading on this topic if you’re interested. I’m not the first person to talk about this by a long shot, which is reassuring, I admit.

When I allow my mind to wander, or when I’m especially tired, that’s when I hear . . . more. Have you ever experienced a thin place in your own life? Open yourself up to the possibility. Listen carefully. You might hear voices, too. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I think we’re both perfectly sane. We are in good company in those thin places—in more ways than one.


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Camp McDowell


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


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


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


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


*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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