Sunday, June 17, 2018

happy father's day

My dad used to tell me this story.  He was driving north on I-85 near Gaffney when a road crew was cleaning up a black bear that had been hit by a car.  The road crew truck used a small crane arm to lift the bear into the truck bed and they had it raised up, stretching the carcass out much farther than the bear's normal posture would have allowed.  My dad was awestruck by how big the bear was, almost too large for the crane to get it into the truck bed.

We were not mountain people so while we knew bears were around, we didn't see them often.  We were not experts on bear sizes.  The bear intrigued him so that he told me this same story every single time we drove past that particular spot on the interstate.  We drove past that particular spot many times during the last few years of his life.  He told the story every single time.  

If you're lucky enough to have a dad that you speak to, this is likely to happen to you if you both live long enough.  Perhaps it's not a bear or even an animal but there will be a story (or many stories) your dad will tell you over and over again like it's the first time.  It may annoy you and you may even interrupt him and tell him that he's already shared this story.  What you may not know is that proper child etiquette states that you should listen to the telling of the story, never letting on that you have heard it before.  You should analyze the story for hidden meaning and you should commit the story to memory.

These days, I'm a dad.  I'm not saying I have children, y'all know that.  You don't exactly become a dad when you father a child and it enters the world.  It takes experience to become a dad.  This is not something I pretend to understand completely so you'll just have to trust me on this but what I can tell you is that at some point after I had kids running around my house, I started to understand that dads have a secret agenda of things to take care of in the household.  This is not just the list of rules and having the job of scolding kids who don't follow those rules.  It's not just letting the kids eat cake and ice cream for every meal when the mom isn't at home.  It's not just tossing or kicking the ball outside and it's not just the telling of cheesy jokes.  The secret role of the dad is to constantly remind the children who they are.

One of the many things They don't tell you when you become a parent is that kids need to be constantly told who they are.  Most of us dads have tried over recent years to give our kids things and opportunities because we think that makes them happy and productive citizens.  I might argue that this miscalculation on the part of dads everywhere has created a generation or two of children who have all the gadgets and play all the sports but have no idea who they are.  One wouldn't have to try very hard to find multiple applications to that statement.  Just think about this one train of thought...what if all dads constantly reminded their daughters that they were of high value and that they were deserving of love and respect and that they were expected to contribute in an important way to their community?  Can you imagine the army of intelligent, driven and powerful women we would have in position to help fix this planet?  And if this is not currently happening, guess who is to blame guys?  This is a dad job and it can't be pawned off on an older child or even a mom.  Mom's have this whole other encyclopedia of secret agendas they have to deal with.  They can't do our job too.

I think about the stories my dad told me.  Some he told over and over again.  Some he only told once.  Some of the most important stories were not even stories at all.  They were silent actions.  Choices made.  Sometimes just a look.  And with my dad, sometimes it was just a joke.  A joke that sits with you years after it was spoken.  A joke that wasn't a joke at all, it was a statement reminding you who you were.

I came into this parent thing kicking and screaming.  I was scared.  Kids bring responsibilities and you have to open up your heart and allow yourself to love new people.  You have to then turn those people over to the world and allow them to run free in it.  You have to feel and you have to be willing to be hurt and I didn't want to sign up for that.  Lucky for me, G did.  It took her 11 years to wear me down and it's a well known family legend that when she told me she was pregnant, my first words were not family friendly.  But now...

I've got these two wonderful little humans and I'm having a blast with them.  For every difficult thing about parenting there are 20 adorable giggles and 53 goofy faces.  For every emotion I'm forced to feel there are 431 fart jokes and 39 hugs.  I'm gonna call that balance.

But for every fun thing, there's also a task on the secret agenda.  I have to find a thousand ways each week to tell these kids who they are.  

My dad told me stories about learning to laugh during difficult times.  He told me stories about being observant and applying what you learn.  He told me stories about great mysteries and told me that you can never figure everything out.  He told me stories about finding ways to help other people.  There was mischief, adventure, some questionable language and overcoming obstacles.  He was always telling me who I was long before I had a clue.

Maybe your dad was/is telling you something other than a story.

Because it's Father's Day, here's a link to another time I wrote about my dad:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

becoming love

I love to run on the beach.  Especially at sunrise.  When we go to the beach any time of year, my body wakes me up ready to run just before the sun comes up.  When you're out that early, you don't see many people but you kind of feel like you have a little something in common with them.  Some are running or speed walking but others are just up to appreciate the light show as the sun breaks over the Atlantic.

Here in the South, we say hello to people.  I consider the Grand Strand area of South Carolina to be "my beach".  I don't live there but I do live in the state and I spend a lot of time there throughout the year.  I know that most of the people I encounter on the beach have traveled from other states and many of them may have even ventured there from a northern state.  With this in mind, I consider it my duty to wish a good morning to each person I pass while running.  Other runners appreciate it and chalk it up to the brotherhood/sisterhood of runners.  Out-of-staters often seem surprised but all smile and return the wish.  

During a week-long stay you start to see the same people every morning.  After the second or third day you see them give you the look of recognition and they smile and speak to you even before you get a chance.  As much as I complain about people, I admit that I like this early morning camaraderie.  

In our favored vacation spot I run south past the pier where there's a long stretch of houses.  No hotels or big condo units, so there are much fewer people out on the beach this time of day.  In fact, you're just as likely to see a dog as a human down there.  There's a lady with a golden retriever and they pass a tennis ball back and forth down the beach.  There's a group of three older ladies speed walking with lots of warm clothing on.  There's an older, very lean man with a black dog.  And my favorite, there's the older lady in the wind suit with headphones dancing her way down the beach.  It's some sort of dance exercise, obviously, but she's all smiles and joy as she goes and I think it's great.  

This year on vacation I saw most of the usual suspects but as I headed back toward our place I ran past a new character.  She was short, Asian and had on a black work out suit.  You know, the old kind with long sleeves and zipped all the way up the front.  I think there were two white stripes down the arms and legs.  She had on white gloves and a white hat with a bright yellow flower on it.  She did not appear to have headphones but she also seemed to be doing the dance exercise as she walked.  The look on her face brightened as she passed me the first day and we exchanged our "good mornings".  

The second day I had just finished my run and was stretching and getting some photos of the sun on the water before heading in when she passed me.  We spoke again and her face was all joy and sunshine.  

I missed her on the the third day but saw her pass from the balcony.  Her timing was just behind mine apparently.  

On the fourth day, near the end of my run I spotted her coming my way.  She smiled and spoke, her face beaming.  It was like her excitement was building with each day.  She hesitated as we passed, almost as if she wanted to say something and then I saw her steer toward a random dude on the beach looking for early morning shells.  She approached him as I headed inside and she grabbed him and embraced him.  He was not a hugger.  I recognized the look of surprise on his face.  Dude, I was stunned for him.  I mean, what the heck?  Who was this lady?  Why was she hugging this man?  By the time I made it to our balcony, G was watching the show.  The lady had stopped two teenage girls and hugged them as well.  She was eyeing another target and hugging her way down the beach.  G and I laughed at the responses of people and wondered what was going on.  I couldn't help but wonder, though, why didn't I get a hug?  G looked at me dripping a puddle of sweat on the balcony floor and assured me it was because I was stinky and sweaty.  I recalled the hesitation and the look the lady gave me as we passed.  G was right.  I was unhuggable after a run.

Well.  I needed to know this lady.  I thought about her all morning.  Why was she hugging people?  What about her made her so pleasant?  On day five, I was going to find out.  I ran my regular pace but slowed down for the last half mile.  I wanted to time it just right.  

On my way down the beach I ran past a whole crew of kids from the Garden City Chapel Camp.  They were all out to see the sunrise.  As I made my way back their crowd was breaking up but I noticed one small circle of people with heads bowed in prayer.  And there was my friend in the circle with them praying.  I stopped in my tracks.  I fiddled around with my running app so as not to look too creepy and as the circle broke up after the "amen", I took a few steps in their direction.  Immediately the lady saw me and headed over to me with her arms stretched out.  I told her I was sweaty and stinky and she said she didn't care.  I got my hug.  She said "good morning" and we started talking.  She told me her name was Yun and she was from South Korea.  She asked if she could pray with me and she did.  In Korean!  I thought I'd just wait for the "amen" but I wasn't sure what it might sound like in Korean so I had to peek a couple of times.  She asked me to pray for peace for her country and I asked if she would take a photo with me.  

The photo is terrible because I'm terrible with photos in general, but my specialty in terrible photos is with selfies.  But the glare of the early morning sun gives you a fairly honest take of how Yun radiated love and kindness.  

I just had another tenth or so of a mile to run to finish up but I did so with a huge grin.  I got my hug from the nice lady on the beach.  And remember, I don't like hugs.  I don't even like people.  

This is how the universe works on people:  Just before this trip I started reading the book Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck.  In the book, the author is traveling across the country in a camper intentionally trying to have conversations with everyday people.  He meets lots of strangers and initiates pleasant conversations with them and in doing so, he feels a connection with them.  I finished the book after I saw Yun the first day.  The same day I started the book Everybody Always by Bob Goff.  Bob is heavy on initiating relationships with people he doesn't know.  He sees this as "becoming love" to people.  His book encourages readers to find ways to share love and kindness with everyone you encounter, even the crappy people who can't drive and who say mean things to you.  So all this is percolating in my head when I see Yun each morning.  Until I'm running the beach hoping to get a hug from her.

There were plenty of people on the beach each morning who laughed at Yun.  She was dressed different, she was dancing and waving her arms and she was hugging strangers and praying with them.  I don't want to be one of the people laughing at her for being different.  I want to be like her.  

I don't have any plans to buy a track suit or a hat with a flower on it, but I want to bring love and kindness to people by the truckload.  I hope I don't have to hug people to make that happen but if I do, y'all better look out.  Yun was affecting people she didn't know in a very positive way.  She wasn't spending money to do it and she wasn't traveling across the world to do it.  She did it naturally everywhere she went.  She left smiles in her wake.  

I want to do that too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

vacation with the mcabees

The kids finished school, I made a few sculptures and fixed the bathroom wall and we spent a few days vacuuming up all the dog hair so our dogsitter wouldn't think we were total slobs.  Then it was time for vacation.

 We've been adding an extra day to our family vacations by going one day early for the last few years.  That one day makes a huge difference.  We dodge traffic, get an extra day in the sand and often we get to see a different city by spending the first night in a different place like Charleston.  This year our weekly rental was open for the extra night which made things easier.  We left our dogs pouting on Friday morning and headed out.

 For the last several years, our first day of vacation has coincided with National Doughnut Day.  This is a special day for me because Krispy Kreme gives away free doughnuts all day.  Since we are always scooting across the state, we have found free doughnuts as many as 4 times in one day, one in each city.  This year our first stop was Lexington.  Sadly, in our beachy excitement, we forgot to get our other free doughnuts in the Krispy Kreme at the other end of our street.  

 We drove straight to our favorite lunch spot, The Grilled Cheese & Crab Cake Company and saw our favorite waitress.  She welcomed us back (I saw her twice just a couple of weeks ago) and she gave us some suggestions for when we would come back later in the week.  Then we checked in and just admired the view from the balcony for a few minutes.

 We made a quick run for groceries and picked up a little BBQ for dinner and then resumed our spot on the wave observation deck.  This is one new thing we learned last week, how to watch it get dark.  

 I'm pretty good at watching it get light.  I'm often up running when the sun comes up, but at the beach I make it my goal.  Without any alarms my body jolts up at about 5:45am and gives me just enough time to get outside as the light show starts around 6:00.  Each day I'd make it to the pier just as the sun broke the horizon.  

 And with my one goal met for the day, I was then free to sit in my beach chair and do nothing all day.  Maybe nothing isn't the most accurate word.  I watched the kids a little, played in the sand and napped.  So that's something.  One of the joys of this bonus vacation day is having the "turnover day" to spend on the beach.  While all the weekly renters are leaving and the new ones moving in, we tanned and napped with the day visitors.  

The day's real excitement came when Blue and Violet were boogie boarding in the shallow waves.  A lady beside us jumped up and yelled "SHARK!"  This happens from time to time and often it's a ray instead of a shark, especially at this time of the year.  The rays feed in the very shallow water and when they flip their little "wings" up on the ends they look like shark fins.  But this time it was a shark.  A black tip shark about 5 or 6 feet long was hanging out very close to Blue and Violet.  A little too close for Blue's comfort.  (And ours)  They basically walked on water getting back to the dry sand and we watched the shark look for lunch all along the coast for the next hour or so.  Every time the kids would think about going back in, that little fin would pop up.

For the first day, I always make a skull.  For fun I turned the skull sideways to give me an extra challenge.  It was tough and I was lazy so Blue was not impressed.  He told me I sucked a little.  He's honest.

 We washed the sand and sunscreen off and made the short trip to Russell's for the best seafood in Murrell's Inlet.  G and I have been going to Russell's religiously since way before we had kids.  Our hostess friend and waiter friend have watched Blue and Violet grow up.  Russell always makes the kids' day by coming by the table and talking to them.  I love looking at the marsh so when we leave Russell's, we always have to stop and look at the marsh.  It's different each time.  

 After our nightly walk on the beach, we had finished our first full day of vacation and we still had a week to go.  It's such a good feeling.  

Sunday morning sunrise.

 Sunday morning sunrise run shell finds.

 I was scarred by Blue's harsh critique so I tried a little harder on my daily sand sculpture.  He was not impressed.  He said he'd seen it before.  Now I feared I had lost my mojo.

 He and Violet made a little fort under the shad of the umbrella.

 And before too long they were back out in the ocean, not afraid of the sharks.  Of course G and I had to be on alert and they did make me stand in the water with them while they ventured out.  

 A request was made for a drip castle, so we took our position at the edge of the outgoing tide.

 And then I took my position in my chair under the umbrella.

 Sunday was the only night I remembered to take my PoserSnap lenses on our beach walk.  The macro and the fish eye are my favorites.

 G and Violet in the fish eye.

 Blue and me in the fish eye.

This was not the week for sharks teeth hunting.  This was the biggest one we found all week and it was one of just a handful.  I think the beach renourishment project messed us up.

I wont bore you with a day by day for the whole week.  You get the idea that we are creatures of habit and when we stumble on to a good thing we more or less stick with it.  G's mantra all week was beach, eat, sleep, repeat.  We followed it pretty closely.  

So out of daily order are the sunrises:

And here's what the sky taught me from these:  the more things get in your way, the more beautiful the view.  On the mornings with no clouds obstructing the view, the colors were less intense and I found myself turning and pausing my run less frequently.  But add some clouds and even a pier and boom, breathtaking.  I'm sure there's a life application to this but I'll let you find that on a calendar one day.

 We love to eat on vacation.  In addition to our two favorites, (Grilled Cheese and Russell's) we also have a pool of lesser favorites open for discussion each day while on the beach.  Sitting side by side in our chairs G and I usually discuss what we're in the mood for that day.  We got burgers at River City where I got the peanut butter and banana burger.  It was great!

 We also marched ourselves into the big Paula Deen restaurant at Broadway at the Beach and had some expensive southern cooking.  Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candied yams and banana pudding for dessert for me.  I can see the value of a restaurant like this for people who don't have my mom as their mom.  But for me, meh.  I've had better food.  Like, every other Sunday for lunch to be precise.  My mom's cooking makes Paula Deen look like an amateur.  My mom takes better photos too.  Paula scares Blue for some reason but he wasn't afraid of her cardboard version.  Bring your credit card if you're going to try this place.  I give it six dollar signs.  Once and done.  We enjoyed the experience but we never have to go back.

We drove the kids through "crazy town" or Ocean Boulevard.  I spent so much of my childhood summers there on that street and I hope it wasn't as sketchy then as it is now.  Even after they "cleaned it up" several years ago it's still shady as heck.  They also had much of it blocked off in preparation for the big country music festival.

 With the extra day, we are free to take a day trip during the week and not feel like we're missing any beach time.  After a few days of sun and sunscreen we went out for breakfast and then drove up to Wilmington, NC.  We took the scenic route through Southport so the kids could ride the ferry.

 Driving the car on a boat and then riding across the water was weird for them.  But fun.

 Just off the ferry is the beach at Fort Fisher.

 With a protected coastline where you can see how the constant ocean breeze literally forms the landscape.  The shrubs and trees are all pushed inland by the wind so much that they grow that way.  I ventured off the path a bit for this photo before remembering rattlesnakes exist.  

 G and I had not been to Wilmington for a while and we enjoy the town.

 The river front has changed a lot since our last visit.  There's public art and a lot more shops and restaurants.

 We ate at one of the river front places before continuing our exploration.

 The old customs house and current courthouse.

 Inside the Old City Market we found this mural used in the Coen Brother's Film "The Hudsucker Proxy".  It was filmed in Wilmington and the foam mural was made to look like bronze.  This was interesting to me and only me.  Apparently I was the only one who saw the movie.

 You can give us history, adventure and knowledge in a day trip and we'll end up most excited about the goofy.  Our visit to The Museum of the Bizarre was the highlight of our day.  The "museum" was a weird collection of objects of questionable nature.  Some were clearly fake but most were props from movies.

 Like this Annabelle doll from the super scary movie.  The kids were freaked out by it.  As Blue walked by it, trying to hurry away, the freakin' thing moved and he just about soiled himself.  It was great.  We laughed all day about it.  There were a couple of other artifacts on remote control so that when visitors got close and let their guard down, something would scare the bejesus out of them.  And of course any place with Bigfoot evidence is ok with me.

In keeping with the weird theme of Wilmington, we had to drive by the Presbyterian church on our way out of town to get a closer look at the fancy steeple with the giant chicken weather vane on the top.  Very interesting.

The rest of the week in sand sculptures:

 The big sleeping dog gave me a little confidence back.

 The suntanning skeleton was my personal favorite.  He was at least 10 feet long and very detailed.  It may not be obvious to non-sand sculptors but this was the most difficult sand sculpture I've ever attempted.  The details, the verticals and the undercuts were very challenging and it all turned out without any major disasters.

That one gave me the confidence to try a waffle.  I was missing my waffle maker and I wasn't afraid of details anymore.  This was my big head eating a giant waffle.  

 The beach monster on the last day was everyone else's favorite.

 The scale of this thing was huge.  That's a sand bucket in the background for reference.  Through the week, we got to know our beach neighbors through the sand sculptures.  By Wednesday they were coming out early in the morning and asking me what I was making today.  Then they'd check in through the morning and then come by after I was finished to take photos.  One lady was a friend from last summer.  She found my sculptures on the beach on a walk last June and then her and her husband ended up staying in the same place as us in late summer.  On Monday she walked over to say hello again.  Strange coincidences.  

Each morning after my run, this was the thing I looked forward to.  My coffee and breakfast on the balcony.  The balcony was my favorite place this trip.  This particular place offered a corner balcony so there was a lot of breeze.  G and I spent so much time out there and maybe that's what made it so enjoyable.  We would just sit side by side and read or stare out at the vast expanse of water.  We talked about important and goofy things.  And we'd share coffee.  

Normally I wait on my exiting day run until we get home.  But in June here in the South that means running in 90% humidity around 90 degrees when I'm used to running at dawn.  So this year I decided to be ridiculous and get up at 4:30 am to run on the beach.  If you ever consider this, you should know that it's dark.  Very dark.  So dark that you'll trip over sand piles and step in holes filled with water.  But, it was about 70 degrees so I'm calling it a good decision.  

That's about it.  We had lots of ice cream and lots of food.  We had lots of fun.  I finished the book Travels With Charley and started on Everybody Always.  I didn't draw much.  We watched Austin Powers one night and I avoided the TV the rest of the week.  Now I have to figure out how to watch the kids all summer while getting some work done and getting ready for the summer studio sale.  Stay tuned.