Tag Archives: Southern

The Patriot

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When did it become unfashionable to be openly patriotic? Did I miss a memo? After WWII, Americans were showered with flowers and kisses as they helped liberate countries and concentration camps throughout Europe. To this day, America is the first place the world turns to when disaster strikes or despots rage out of control.

American taxpayers feed more starving people worldwide than anyone else in the world. That’s a fact. We do that. American citizens. With our hard-earned money. Yet, we are often vilified. I wonder what would happen—and I’m not suggesting this is a good idea–if we stopped aiding the helpless, defending the weak, freeing the oppressed, or protecting our citizens and others around the world. Would those who receive our aid continue to bite the hand that feeds them? I honestly don’t know.

I am proud to be an American. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. I shouldn’t feel defensive when I make such a statement, as if I am identifying myself so that the rest of the world can hang a target around my neck, but I do. My son plans to study abroad next year, and my husband and I have repeatedly warned him to blend in with locals. We don’t think it’s safe for him to stand out as an American. We fear for his safety. Isn’t that sad?

I occasionally feel like I have to justify my patriotism to others. I haven’t always felt like this, but I do now. When I fly the stars-and-stripes from my porch (a normal-sized flag for a private residence; I’m not stringing up a flag more suitable for the Super Bowl, I assure you), I am sometimes asked by joggers or walkers going by on the sidewalk in front of my house why I’m doing so, as if the custom is somehow dated, passé, or quaint. I feel the need to cite a socially acceptable reason for flying our flag—the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or some other “official” holiday—as if it’s unseemly to be openly patriotic on an ordinary day.

This questioning reminds me of the folks on television who say, “I support the troops!” followed almost immediately by a criticism of the commander the troops follow, our government in general, the country as a whole, large segments of our population, or our way-of-life in this part of the world. These statements are thinly veiled insults, like the follow-up to, “Bless her heart” or “no offense, but . . . ” which, as everyone knows, is code for “I’m about to offend you.”

I’m unabashedly proud to live in this country. My hope for everyone else in the world is that they, too, can live in peace and safety in their own parts of the world like I do in mine. That’s what we all want, regardless of place of birth, religious affiliation, history, government, or any other variable, isn’t it?

The success our country and people have achieved isn’t some sort of cosmic accident, happy circumstance, or lucky break, you know. It’s self-determination that was hard-won initially, later overcame the loss of over 600,000 of its own citizens in our Civil War, and eventually resulted in a country that has ended up on the side of right more times than not.

Sure, our country is still a work in progress. It has flaws, like our record with regard to civil rights for Native Americans, African Americans, and gay Americans. There is no question about that, but it’s still the best place for an average person to live on the planet. I’d infinitely rather be poor here than poor almost anywhere else. When did we become reluctant to brag about that? We don’t build fences to keep our citizens here, and there’s always a long line to get in.

The circumstances of one’s birth do not define one’s destiny in this place. Ironically, this is one of the few places in the world where you can legally protest, sue, and generally talk bad about the government and all its minions. You can even re-write our laws, elect new leaders, and continue to scream and rant without fear of death, torture, or being tossed on the nearest plane to nowhere.

Americans occasionally learn the value of that privilege the hard way—by attempting to do the same thing while visiting or working in foreign countries. Not every country can handle criticism. It doesn’t take long to figure out that nowhere else is like America. It’s the greatest nation-state experiment in modern history.

We often take our liberties for granted, I think, the same way we know we will have water when we turn on the tap and electricity when we reach for the light switch. I am reminded of this reality, our “normal,” when I see news coverage showing citizens in far-flung places clamoring to be heard, to have their votes counted, to participate in their own government, and to secure the same basic rights for themselves that we enjoy.

It amazes me in the twenty-first century that there are still many countries in the world where women are not allowed to drive, where a son is worth more to a family than a daughter, and where citizens do not have the freedom to worship (or not worship) as they choose.

The rights we take for granted are still battleground issues around the world. I can’t imagine living in a society where a woman’s rape could bring dishonor to her family or where children are conscripted into war. What is considered civilized or barbarous is a matter of where one is born, what one believes, and who is in charge. That’s not okay with me. Might does not make right, or at least it shouldn’t.

I wonder if I would have the courage of the patriots throughout history, people in every country and every culture who risk everything to make their dreams the new reality. I am grateful to those from my own country who have gone before me to secure the rights and privileges I enjoy and for those who work to ensure their survival to this day.

When I see our flag, my heart never fails to swell with emotion. I get a lump in my throat, and I don’t care how cheesy that sounds. I can easily imagine the desperate faces of individuals from all over the world who searched desperately for a glimpse of our flag to know they were safe, or home again, or about to begin a new life.

 

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I Hear Voices

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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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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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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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Construction-Paper Hearts

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I love Valentine’s Day. I love every single thing about it. I love the romance of it. I love that the holiday excludes extended family members. I love that it doesn’t require decorations. I love that I don’t have to spend big money on my valentine (although if you can do so without eating chicken noodle soup for a month, and you are so inclined, then don’t let me stand in the way of any jewelry purchases.) I love that you never really know who will send you a valentine—the boy you dated in college, your eighty-year-old father, or your five-year-old piano student. Little surprises are my favorite.

I can’t tell you how disgusted I feel when I hear a man say he can’t think of anything to do for his one, true love on Valentine’s Day. Baloney. Can’t be bothered is more like it. I can think of dozens of things ANYONE can do. For example, if you want to steer around crowded restaurants filled with smooching couples, or you wisely wish to avoid another charge on your credit card, pick up an inexpensive bottle of wine and a take-away appetizer on your way home from work. I think there is something particularly festive about Chinese food, something to do with the boxes, maybe, but it could also be the chopsticks or the fortune cookies. However, since I won’t be there, get whatever works for the two of you. Set the stage for a romantic picnic in your own home—NOT the kitchen table or anywhere else you normally eat. Spread a tablecloth or blanket on the floor. Avoid the kids’ sheets with Disney characters splashed across them. Buzz Lightyear is not going to set the mood you are looking for. Light a candle. (Men: Look in the drawer with the flashlight, batteries, and matches. Find the candles without asking your wife where she keeps them, which is a real buzz-kill.) Use a piece of your wedding china to plate the appetizer and two crystal goblets. (They’re in the china cabinet in the dining room, not in the kitchen with the coffee mugs.) Blindfold your wife. Lead her to your romantic nook. She’ll be impressed. I promise. Total financial outlay: less than twenty bucks if you don’t get carried away in the wine store.

You could also ask your wife to meet you for lunch at a favorite spot or somewhere new and exotic. Stop along the way to buy flowers from a street vendor like you are a character in a romantic comedy. Fill up her arms with blossoms. Every time you hand her a flower, pay her a compliment to go with it. You might say, “Lilies—the first flowers I ever sent you,” or “Red roses—remember the ones on our honeymoon?” A girl can get drunk on compliments. If you can’t think of any compliments, make some up. This is as good a time to use your imagination for something more than the possibilities for the final-four bracket in college basketball.

If you are on a budget, stop by the library, and check out your wife’s favorite romantic movie. Watch it with her. Pretend that you like it, too. You could also write a poem for your wife. WAIT! COME BACK! It doesn’t have to be original. You can check out a volume of poetry at the same library where you got the movie. (Yes, your library card can actually be used for books as well as movies.) A little too uptown for your taste? Think about song lyrics if that makes it easier for you. I never met a man in my life who didn’t think he could write a great song. It doesn’t have to rhyme. You could write a haiku. Short and sweet. Heck, you could write a funny limerick. Give yourself extra points for dirty words. It is Valentine’s Day, after all. Lighten up. Have some fun with it. Write your poem on a paper heart you cut out yourself. Sign it. Put it in an envelope with your valentine’s name on it. I guarantee you that extra points will be awarded for effort.

I especially love that Valentine’s Day is the one day in the entire year when everybody else seems inclined to eat as much chocolate as I do on a regular basis. This holiday is a guilt-free, chocolate-eating-free-for-all, and that is absolution bound to make me sweetly disposed toward others. If you can afford it, go for elaborately wrapped, expensive chocolate, but remember that you can get the same result if you go to the drugstore and load up a bag with every candy bar your wife enjoys most. Show you’ve been paying attention to her candy preferences over the years, and she will remember why she fell in love with you. For example, if you know your wife is partial to Almond Joy candy bars even though she hates almonds, have a bag of Almond Joys all ready for her with the almonds already sucked off. She will know you are, indeed, her soul mate.

Homemade valentine cards are the best thing about Valentine’s Day. I keep the valentines my children made for me when they were preschoolers in a box under my bed, and when I get the urge to have DNA tests performed on them to see if they are, indeed, the same children I gave birth to years ago, the squiggly writing and shakily drawn hearts remind me of the years when my children thought I was the most extraordinary human on the planet. Now, of course, they look at me like I have three heads, leprosy, or like a guest who accidentally burps in the middle of a wedding.

Best of all, I love that on Valentine’s Day, my husband always gives me a romantic card that makes me feel loved—even if I was cheerfully thinking of divorcing him a scant twenty-fours hours before. He has never forgotten Valentine’s Day. That might be the reason we’ve been married for so many of them. Sometimes we were broke on Valentine’s Day, sometimes not. It never mattered. As I tell my sons, a single flower or one beautifully wrapped chocolate says the same thing as a dozen.

Even the history of St. Valentine is romantic. Theological scholars don’t know that much about him, but I like the theory that he helped persecuted Christians wed in secret. Maybe if he’d done a little matchmaking for the emperor, he could have kept his head. Of course, then he wouldn’t have been a saint. The suffering and traumatic denouement are requirements for sainthood. My family will tell you that I have a “thing” for saints. If you don’t know your saints, I urge you to do some reading in this area. Saints’ lives are colorful, to say the least. You don’t make it to sainthood by living a boring life. Passion. Dedication. Romance. The saints have all that in spades. Little warning: It never ends well.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. There’s nothing you can say about Valentine’s Day that will make me change my mind. Of course, I realize it’s a made-up holiday. I know it’s a rainmaker for florists and greeting-card vendors. The thing is: I don’t care. I understand that many people see Valentine’s Day as the cliché of all clichés. I just don’t think a cliché is anything to be ashamed of.

I promise you that a construction-paper valentine, cut out with kitchen scissors, with a romantic sentiment scrawled across it in a man’s own handwriting, is one of the most romantic gestures I know. Even now, a homemade valentine makes me wish I carried cloth hankies in my handbag every day instead of just for funerals. I hate having to wipe away sentimental tears with paper napkins that say Pizza Hut on them. It cheapens the moment.

The thing about clichés is that they got to be clichés by appealing to a large demographic. I’m not one bit embarrassed about being a member of the Valentine’s Day fan club. I say we women should stop apologizing for having a soft spot for this holiday. While I’m confessing, let me just go ahead and say that I also love bubble baths, milk chocolate, the occasional trashy novel, and shopping for fun. Is that so wrong? Why are simple pleasures the subject of such ridicule? Pure snobbery, I think.

Every woman in the world, from age twelve or so until senility, is looking for romance, yearning for it, actually, in everyday life. Sadly, it is very rare. It takes so little effort, time, or money, really, for men to be romantic. Sure, Valentine’s Day puts the pressure on publicly, but we all know a few men out there who need a jumpstart, men who say, “What? Is it Valentine’s Day already? Didn’t I just buy you a Christmas present?” A man who says that is not, I repeat not, what we are looking for in any way, shape, or form.

What we want is the Cinderella ending. It’s a long shot. Real life interrupts good intentions, lifelong promises, and heartfelt pledges of eternal love. Every grown-up woman knows that. To all you men out there, I say: If you’ve never made a big romantic gesture in your life, this is the one day of the year when it would not seem corny. On February 14th, every woman you know—old, young, fat, skinny, married, single, divorced, sweet, or mean as a cottonmouth—EVERY woman checks the mail carefully for a valentine with her name on the envelope. She answers the door with a fast-beating heart, hoping for a blossom or two, and she checks under her pillow, on the kitchen table, in her car, and in your coat pocket to see if there is a small surprise there for her from you.

*Want more? This is an excerpt from my third book, I Love You–Now Hush. Check it out! 

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10 Ways To Use Chocolate For Good

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1. You can combine chocolate consumption with other pleasures. For example, you can eat chocolate while shopping for shoes. Life does not get any better than that.

2. You can eat chocolate while you are waiting for a handsome man to send you a text message, email, voice mail, or shares in his stock portfolio–whatever.

3. You can eat chocolate while you peruse your divorce papers. It won’t change anything, of course, but it can’t hurt anything either.

4. You can eat chocolate while waiting for the timer to go off when you are coloring your hair. Usually, those minutes are just wasted.

5. You can reward yourself with chocolate for exercising when you felt like doing something (anything) else instead.

6. You can eat chocolate as a substitute for dinner. It’s a proven fact that chocolate will make you much happier than lima beans.

7. You can use chocolate to bribe children to practice their math facts, write their thank-you notes, finish their music theory, or to perform other odious tasks.

8. You can eat chocolate as a form of social protest against the media’s love affair with anorexic-looking models.

9. You can purchase gourmet chocolate as a luxury item to help stimulate the economy. It’s practically patriotic.

10. You can use chocolate to sooth the savage beast within you and prevent you from causing bodily harm to the tiny humans you gave birth to.

Laughing yet? Want more? This list is an excerpt from my 3rd book, I Love You–Now Hush. Visit a bookstore near you, order online, or download it today!

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