Whimsy and wonderings about everyday life

Archive for the ‘Southern stuff’ Category

Merry Christmas!

peppbarkMidnight baking and candy making produced this peppermint bark, some brown sugar cookies, and Christmas shortbread crumbles. The first batch is for teacher gifts, in thanks for the selfless work they do, day in and day out. (We’ll throw some extras in for Dan, the bus driver. Imagine if your job was to drive all the children, kindergarten through 12th grade, on a rural router of 15 miles or so, to their various schools and back every day. Daily pandemonium. I don’t know how he does it.)

Merry Christmas.


In celebration of All Saints Day

“All of the places of our lives are sanctuaries; some of them just happen to have steeples. And all of the people in our lives are saints; it is just that some of them have day jobs, and most will never have feast days named for them.”
— Robert Benson in Between the Dreaming and the Coming True


Do you tend to look for the good in people or more typically try to find the bad in a ceaseless game of one-upsmanship? I think we’re biologically geared toward the latter. If we can find flaws in others, then we are, perhaps, not as woeful as we suspect.

But, like the choice to search for the Divine in life, looking for the good in others is a conscious choice and it takes commitment and perseverance. I find that I cannot see the good in others as clearly when I am driving. Or in Walmart. However, I can see it vividly in a nursing home. In a preschool. In a church service. Whenever I see two people who are tender with each other, for whatever reason. When someone is unexpectedly kind to me. When my son stirs on a lazy weekend morning and sleepily smiles at me –  before he awakened enough to raise the gates of his teenage defenses against the slings and arrows of the surly world.

There are saints around us everywhere, every day. Each of us is one. Each of us responds, when called, with our better nature.  You’ve done it before. I’ve done it before. Maybe next time, I won’t wait to be asked, but just step in and give. How about you?

Ordinary time passes entirely too quickly. Savor. Appreciate. Love. And revel.

In my beloved Episcopal church, we have the concept of “ordinary time.” The banal meaning of “ordinary time” is, well, what it isn’t. It isn’t a season, like Christmas. Or Advent. Or Lent.  Yet, the color of poor old “defined by what it is not” ordinary time is green – the color of hope, of growth, of zestful life – the life we are leading when we are not being intentional about what, precisely, we are doing. So, perhaps, 99% of our life?

What I’ve learned about ordinary time:

  1. Ordinary time is too short to spend it trying to judge who is in and who is out. The only call we have is to love our neighbor as ourselves – no exceptions noted. Segmenting by arbitrary divisions – sexual orientation, religion, political party, or any other silly structure we impose between “us” and “them” – dishonors our limited time.  Just love.  Judgment is the province of someone else – be glad.
  2. Running through sprinklers is just as much fun when you’re over 40, as are water parks and roller coasters. Swinging Statue is a bit of a stretch, though, and prank calls are no longer advisable in the era of caller i.d.
  3. Your ability to wholeheartedly commit yourself to someone else, once an adult, is sacred and ordinary. Your partner’s ability or lack thereof is not under your control.
  4. In the early days of marriage,  the romance of newly wedded bliss, the excitement of being together each and every night, will  be tempered somewhat once you discover that neither of you will ever snore *less* than you currently do. Adjust.
  5. Ordinary  new parenthood, that trusting nuzzling snuggle of a sweet-smelling, sleeping new baby, will bring the realization that even though you thought you’d loved before, you have never experienced such powerfully tender love, nor such knee-trembling fear, as that introduced by parenthood.
  6. The fiercely joyful hug of a homesick boy of any age when you pick him up from ordinary summer camp will make up for every dirty sock and unidentifiable piece of mummified food you’ve ever found, in each and every bizarre location.
  7. The only two ordinary, harmonious adult states to be in are either happily committed to someone or happily single.  If you are in a relationship, yet not happily committed, there may be a tough and worthwhile path to get there. If that path is not eventually apparent, or the two of you are not on the same journey, then your path may be that of happily single, at least for now and perhaps for always. The certain blessing: you will be okay, and there will always be love in your life.
  8. The reason our parents were not more forthcoming about ordinary middle-aged marriage is that, done well, it is more passionate, more honest and infinitely more fun than one’s children want to know.  Two grown-ups, accepting of each other’s imperfections, tending their mutual spark with daily care and mischief, can develop a spectacular relationship and maintain and grow a passionate commitment unthinkable in younger years when you are needlessly concerned with what other people think, ego, and whatever other flotsam and jetsam that interferes with what really matters.
  9. Ordinary, daily caretaking, of parents, children, spouses and partners, the mundane and sometimes infuriating responsibility for details, is an unimaginable blessing you might not value until the privilege is —  abruptly or gradually — removed.
  10. Ordinary time passes entirely too quickly. Savor. Appreciate. Love. And revel.

Margaret Walker – Alabama poet, college professor, and all around amazing woman

Margaret Walker, southern poet
I want my body bathed again by southern suns, my soul
        reclaimed again from southern land. I want to rest
        again in southern fields, in grass and hay and clover
        bloom; to lay my hand again upon the clay baked by a
        southern sun, to touch the rain-soaked earth and smell
        the smell of soil.      Margaret Walker

Have you read the poems of Margaret Walker? If not, you have missed some of the most beautiful, lyrical verse I’ve ever read. Southern born and bred, she writes of the black experience in the South in a moving, honest, unflinching and unmistakably beautiful voice.

She was born in 1915 and died in 1998. I wonder what she would have made of Condoleezza Rice, whose background is similar to hers – or President Obama – and whether she would feel like substantial, if not satisfactory, progress is being made. I suspect not.

As a white southerner who vividly remembers the latter part of desegregation in the late 60s, I would argue that much progress has been made. Racists are out there, of course, but they are marginalized, not empowered. Opportunities are available for all. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to see the value and the promise of those opportunities, particularly if your environment does not encourage, support or expect exploration of new and different options.

Here is her background and six of her poems. Here she is, her own self, reading her well-known poem For My People, in her accent that sounds so much like home to me, she brings tears to my eyes.

Colorado for Alabama Disaster Relief

A group of Alabama advocates here in Colorado have set up a site for helping the victims of the April 27 storms. On May 14, they’re hosting a crawfish boil at Moe’s Barbecue on Broadway in Denver. On the 15th, there will be live music, barbecue, and a silent auction. What an awesome idea by an inspiring and generous group of people.

If you cannot make the benefits, check out the site to see where donations centers are and who to contact if you want to get involved yourself.  Boulder, Colorado Springs, Summit County are just a few of the places where relief efforts are underway.

Diphthongs and monophthongs are not bathing suits, ya know.

North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns

North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns

Presenting the North American dialect map

Do you like accents? I love them. There is beauty to be found in the musicality of the molasses-slow Southern drawls that surrounded me when I was growing up in southern Alabama. The blustery nasal raucousness of blue collar Boston is uniquely robust and vigorous, at least until you visit the “yats” in New Orleans.  It’s easy to tell when you’re in the presence of someone from New York City. when you hear inventive urban smack talk delivered in the unique accent of Big Apple natives.

So, I am fascinated by this labor of love from Rick Aschmann. He lists eight major dialects and a host of subdialects in this incredibly detailed site. He augments the map with a huge amount of history, speculation and supporting data.

You can print the dialect map, record your voice, learn about classical southern English and the African-American vernacular. (The last was of particular interest to me, since I am originally from the deep South.)

There are sections about “pin” vs “pen,” “cot” and “cut,” “let” and “lot.” He includes links to videos of people like Bill Gates, representing the Seattle accent; the unmistakable West Virginia twang of the wonderfully named author Homer Hickam;  and the instantly recognizable middle class accent and vocal idiosyncrasies of New Yorker Howard Cosell. As a word nerd, history buff and people watcher/listener, I find it all fascinating.

I did not yet find the origin of people who refer to “Washington” but “warsh” their clothes, but if there were ever a place to find that kind of esoteric information, this would be it. He talks about New Orleans and the wide variety of dialects, but I need to read more to see if he discusses the Creole-based dialect indigenous to the some communities in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast.  Another interesting dialect study could be developed on the Vietnamese communities that sprang up after the Vietnamese war. I suspect the Gulf Coast communities have some different linguistics from the communities here in Colorado, for example.

So, if you have traveled around North America and marveled – or simply noticed –  the wide variety of ways people deliver their gliding vowels, this site is for you. I found it via a post at bitrebels, by the way – another site worth checking out on a regular basis.

My dad: the original walking Wikipedia (just more accurate)

My father was my own personal Wikipedia long before the Internet was commonplace.

Before the Internet provided us all with unlimited responses to everyday questions, there was my father.  When I was a little girl, I’d entertain myself my asking him whatever question popped into my head, from why the sky was blue (something to do with the Earth’s atmosphere and light refraction) to what makes jellyfish glow in the dark (I’ve forgotten most of the finer points of bioluminescence) to why I have square feet (genetic superiority, according to him. They’re by far the best design for comfortably going barefoot.) No matter how random the question, he always had an accurate answer.

He’s still got it. This morning, during a 27-minute commute to school, over the phone, he

  1. Taught my son how to solve a geometry problem
  2. Told him how to safely dispose of sulfur dioxide in answer to a science question and
  3. Still had time left over to gently chide us about waiting until the last minute to do homework

When we hung up, my son asked in an awed voice, “Is there anything GranDad *doesn’t* know?” Probably not if it’s worth knowing 😀