Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Church Is Suffering

Most of you have heard of the shooting today at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is my church.

I was not there. I have not attended services in a long time. I am still a member but I have become lazy on Sundays, especially in the summer.

This church is very special to me. I have never been a religious person. I am a questioner but not one to look for answers from traditional religions. I always felt that I was sort of on my own quest, looking for answers that I could understand and believe in. I had great respect for those that had a strong sense of faith but I did not have that when it came to spirituality or religion.

After my husband died, I felt that I was missing something in my heart. I never could really pinpoint what that was but I felt empty. Then 9-11 happened. People in the country came together, some in faith and some in anger. I felt the need to belong but I needed to belong to a group that felt as I did, that didn't blame every Muslim person for the acts of a few. One that didn't condemn gays and lesbians. One that realized people change. One that lived the golden rule. I was missing some sense of community and wasn't sure where to find it.

I was on an internet discussion group for widows when the discussion of religion came up. One person brought up the Unitarian Church and how it had helped her. I began searching for information and found TVUUC. This seemed to be what I was searching for. A spiritual community that didn't tell you how to believe or what to believe, but one that helped you along on your spiritual journey. I visited several times and felt so comfortable. It was the first time I ever felt at home in a church. I joined small group ministries. I served on the minister's advisory group. I loved it.

Some are confused by Unitarians. They say we don't believe in anything. Not true. We seek understanding of all beliefs, religious traditions, and practices. We are not a Christian religion yet we have many Christians in our church. We have Christmas Eve services every year and sing traditional holiday carols. But we also have those that were raised in the Jewish faith, we have athiests, agnostics, and pagans. We have those that don't want to be classified as anything. We have many doctors, scientists, and university professors. Unitarians seemed to be highly educated, very open minded individuals. We have very spirited discussions on religion, spirituality and, of course, politics. We are involved in many social causes and many are active in county and city government. Quite a diverse group of people.

And apparently, we have heroes too. Today a man walked into the service while the children were performing and opened fire with a shotgun. He killed one member and another has died tonight. There are 5 other members in critical condition at a local hospital. Members of the congregation tackled the man and ended his mayhem quickly. Other members got the children out quickly and to the church next door. Still others with medical training reacted quickly to help treat the injured. Our minister left his family vacation in North Carolina immediately and was at the hospital and church within hours.

We are all grieving. Every Sunday service opens with the congregation saying in unison:

Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law. This is our covenant to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, to help one another.

Today that peace was shattered. I pray that the members of our church find peace once again. Please keep TVUUC and the families in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Drive Time

You all know I spend a lot of my work time in my car as I have discussed that fact on numerous occasions. I have lots of time to think so a lot of what I post on this blog has it's origins deep in my brain, during a long, boring drive between cities.

So besides thinking, listening to my Ipod or XM radio, what else do I do?

Here is a list of 10 things . . . but DO NOT attempt to do this in your own car. It takes a complete idiot to do these stupid things while driving the interstate at 70 miles per hour.

1. Write a list of future blog topics.
2. Look up movie times and order tickets.
3. Write a list of traits that my ideal man would have.
4. Eat. Even Chinese food. With chop sticks. Not really with chop sticks ;)
5. Take pictures of myself.
6. Take pictures of my coffee cup.
7. Talk on my cell phone. Okay, who really doesn't do this, even secretly?
8. Read email on the Blackberry.
9. Play solitaire on the Blackberry.
10. There are really only 9 things but 10 just sounded better.

I want to reiterate that I really am a safe driver. I don't do stupid things while there are other cars close by or at a time that I cannot completely control the car. I do not have a death wish and could not bear the thought of hurting another person. I have two young adult children whose father has died and I have no desire to give them a matching set of dead parents.

Although, I guess this post has taught me a lesson. Anytime you say "I really am", you probably aren't. So I will rethink my actions. I may or may not change all of those things but I will do better. Maybe I can start with no more solitaire.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My 3 Favorite Family Vacations

Over the years, our vacations have brought craziness, relaxation, adventure, and education. Here are my top 3 favorite vacations:

1. Our First Real Family Vacation - When my children were very small, there was no way we could afford to take a family vacation. We lived in Montgomery, Alabama, only 3 hours away from the beaches of the Florida panhandle so we took a lot of day trips to the beach, driving down early and returning late in the evening. When my son was 6 and my daughter was 3, we managed to pull enough money together for a 4 day weekend trip to Panama City Beach. We stayed in a hotel right on the beach that was pretty old and surprisingly cheap. The "cabana" room had two beds and a kitchenette so we took all of our food and cooked in the room. No eating out, not frills, no activities. Just beach. It was our first real family vacation and although it was low rent and we paid for weeks afterwards, it was one of the best ever.

2. Cruise to Key West and Cozumel - After my husband died, I decided that my children did not need more stuff for Christmas. CDs, electronics, and new clothes just ended up in the floor of their bedroom a week later. What they needed was memories. So I told them that they would receive fewer "things" for Christmas but we would go on a family trip. It would be a surprise to them and would be something we would all enjoy. The first Christmas I surprised them with a cruise to Key West and Cozumel. It was the first time they had been out of the country and it was an amazing thing to watch. It was also the first time it was just the 3 of us. We had to learn how to be just the 3 of us. When our shore excursion on Cozumel fell through, we rented a car and explored by ourselves. We drove the coast away from the tourists, had lunch in an out of the way restaurant on the beach, toured the ruins, shopped, and just hung out. It was one of our best days since their dad died. And there were lots of memories.

3. New York City - In 2002 I went big for the second annual Christmas trip. The kids were ecstatic when they found out where we were going. I am a "planner" so I purchased guide books to NYC, did research on the internet, and talked to anyone I knew that had been there. I was prepared! I was also scared to death. Me and two teenagers in NYC!!! At Christmas. Walking or taking the subway. But I put on my Mom face and didn't let my fear show. And we did just fine, so much so that you would have believed we were locals! We stayed in Times Square, saw Mama Mia on Broadway, shopped in every major shopping district, and ate in amazing restaurants. We were secure in being just the 3 of us and we were in our element.

We really didn't do the tourist things - didn't see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or Grand Central Station. But we did see the World Trade Center site and it was such an emotional experience. My husband was a firefighter and 911 occurred only 3 months after he passed away. There was an emotional connection as I watched that tragic day unfold that I will have to explain in another post. So I was determined that we would go to the site if we did nothing else. They were still excavating but it was open in some areas and you could walk around the fenced off areas. It was unnervingly quiet. There is a fire station right next to the site. Many of the firefighters that lost their lives on 911 were assigned to that station. As we meandered along the fence with other quiet tourists, the station door opened and a fire truck backed out, preparing to leave on a run. Every single observer stood silently, staring as the truck backed up and drove away. Some people bowed their heads and, I assume, said a silent prayer. I wiped a tear away. I will never forget that place or that feeling. Or the trip to NYC.

What is your favorite family vacation?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Balancing My Passions

I am artsy girl. Show me anything creative and artistic and I will be drawn to it. I have painted, crocheted, sewed, tried knitting, and created crafty items. I have tried it all but my two favorites are photography and scrapbooking. The two go hand in hand so that makes it even better.

The page at right is a digital scrapbook page I made today. I have dabbled in digital before and still prefer paper scrapbooking but I am kind of liking the flexibility of digital.

The problem I have is finding a balance. I seem to be totally focused on one or the other. Either I spend the weekend taking photos or I spend it scrapbooking. I recently went on a scrapbooking weekend retreat in May. Some friends and I have another scheduled in August. Other weekends I meet up with local photographers to hang out and take pictures locally. Then I get overwhelmed and take my weekends back, doing nothing but vegging out in front of the TV.

At some point, I will spread it out. I will find balance. I have started carrying my camera with me everywhere and taking a photo when I see something interesting. I will someday just work on a scrapbook page over a few hours or even a few days, not spend the whole weekend working to complete 15 pages. I will quit trying to "catch up".

This passion thing . . . it can wear you out!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Hometown

I am often asked "Where are you from?" I don't really have an answer for that. I answer that I am from Knoxville, Tennessee because that is where I have lived for the last 11 years.

But I am not really "from" here. I did not grow up here and have no family here. My aunt lives in Oak Ridge which is nearby but she is not from there either.

I don't go into the long explanation of being an Army Brat and the fact that I don't really have a hometown to call my own. Wow, that sounds quite pitiful. Cue the violins. "Poor little Army girl . . . grew up playing in the Alps. Poor you!"

Maybe I can give you a little understanding of why I feel this way. Here is a list of places I lived, in the order that I moved, until I was 20 years old and got married:

Murray/Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Ft. Lewis, Washington
Garmisch, West Germany
Munich, West Germany
Clarksville, Tennessee
Bel Air, Maryland
Okinawa
Leavenworth, Kansas
Petersburg, Virginia
Dale City, Virginia
Nurnberg, Germany
Munich, Germany
Stuttgart, Germany
Clarksville, Tennessee
Montgomery, Alabama

The longest I lived anywhere before I got married was 4 years in Dale City, Virginia while my dad was stationed at the Pentagon and I was in middle and high school. I graduated from high school in Nurnberg, Germany. I went to college in Germany and in Tennessee. I don't really consider any of those places my hometown but they certainly hold a special place in my heart.

Ultimately, I think the world is my hometown. I have lived on both coasts of the US as well as the midwest and the south. I have lived in Asia and Europe and visited many countries other than those in which I have lived. I have learned so much about the people of the world, their customs, and their beliefs. I feel like a global citizen.

I am glad my children have a hometown, well, really two - Montgomery and Knoxville. They have lifelong ties and consistency that I never had. But I also feel they missed something. They have only one view of the world, that of a US resident. They have been to Mexico but only as a tourist. They have no concept of door handles that don't turn in Europe, vendors selling rice on the street in Asia, and toilet paper, horrible toilet paper in most other countries in the world.

It is my dream to show them the best of both worlds. To have the same, loving place they will always call home and the experiences of life in the rest of the world. Now, where is that lottery ticket I bought the other day??????????????

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Home Made

I love Southern cooking. It is not health food by any stretch of the imagination so I can only enjoy it infrequently. Yet it brings back special memories, as do so many things I love.

My mother's parents owned a farm. They were simple people with a great deal of love to share with their grandchildren. My Mammaw was an amazing cook and she passed her talents on to both her daughters. She cooked all their meals and used what was available on the farm. Her love for her family and friends came through in her cooking and talents in the kitchen were well known in her community.

Mammaw made creamy chicken and dumplings, crispy fried chicken, beans of every sort - green, white, and pinto, yummy buttered new potatoes, sweet fried corn, small fluffy biscuits cut out with a jelly jar, cornbread in an iron skillet, iced tea, sweet berry cobblers, and the best fresh coconut cake you have ever tasted. The table was always full of food, so much so that you could barely fit your plate on the table.

When we would arrive at her house from some other state or country, Mammaw hugged me with her whole body and would whisper in my ear "I made you some fried chicken livers". I know, sounds gross, but they were amazing and I loved them. She did it because I loved them and she loved me. It was her way of showing us how much she loved us.

These days, I try to carry on that tradition, striving to make the dishes Mammaw made, just like she made them to show my family how much I love them. When my family comes to visit, I make chicken and dumplings. fried chicken, biscuits, and cornbread because I can come close to getting them to taste like Mammaw's. I use an iron skillet but I cut my biscuits out with the top from a can of Pam. I can't duplicate her cobbler or coconut cake. I keep trying. The blackberries in the photo are destined for a cobbler. We will see.

In the meantime, I love the memories. My kids, my siblings, my nieces and nephews and I have our own good memories to share that have nothing to do with food, farms, or chicken livers. But my memories of Mammaw and my attempts to recreate the taste of her food serve a purpose. Part of her and part of my childhood is passed on to another generation, keeping her alive in the minds of children that never knew her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Surprise!

Yes, that is a real tattoo. For those of you that know me, this is truly a surprise. I have never wanted a tattoo, mostly because of my age and the impression it gives people about you, but also, I am not into permanently scarring my body.

Last year when I did the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure we were given a scarf from Ford's Warriors in Pink campaign. With it was a card that told what all the symbols in the scarf's design represented. When my daughter started talking about getting another tattoo, she wanted to get one of the symbols. Later, she changed her mind but I still thought it would be a great idea.

As our beach trip approached, Robin decided that she was getting a tattoo for her 40th birthday. The idea of the tattoo became more interesting to me, I was going to do it. It had to be meaningful. I wanted something that was in memory of my mom but didn't want it to be cheesy. I didn't want anyone to be able to see the tattoo but I wanted to be able to see it myself. I finally decided on TWO - one for Mom on my shoulder and one for me on the inside of my ankle. I chose the Angel Wings which "honors the angels who have passed after their fight with breast cancer" and the Spiral which "represents life, a conduit through which spiritual and physical energies flow".

Before we went to the tattoo shop, we were waiting on dinner and a family walked by us several times. The woman was several years older than me and wrinkly. When she spoke, she sounded like she had just smoked 5 packs of cigarettes. The two small girls called her "Mammaw". She had a big black tattoo on her calf. It made me think . . . do I really want to be "Mammaw with the tattoo"?

But I went through with it. And I'm glad. I never have to do it again either. I have my Mom on my shoulder. And on my foot, I have a reminder that life goes on. That's all I need.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Diversity Strikes

Our vacation was quite the adventure. It was never boring. We should have known when the first morning started with a lightening storm.

We were a widely diverse group of folks, all with strong personalities and varied lifestyles. We had a kid, a single mom, a couple that have lived together for 5 years, a newly dating teenage couple, a teenage couple of 2 years, best teenage guy friends, and a gay couple. And we were being joined by some redneck party crashers for two nights.

Let me explain the redneck party crashers. Robin has these friends. I "know" them but would not call them friends. I want to clarify, I am not a snob. In fact, I am quite proud of my hillbilly and redneck roots. Okay, I am a little bit of a snob. So anyway, Party Crashers were already coming down for the weekend and staying at a hotel. They asked if they could come down a few days early and crash on our sofa bed. The deal was that they would provide dinner for everyone on Wednesday and Thursday in return for our hospitality. I could deal with that. It was only two nights.

Now, in the past, Maw Party Crasher has not been terribly friendly. I am okay with that, it relieves me of the obligation to appear interested. I would not feel rude if I left her on the porch to sit by myself on the beach since she didn't really want to chat anyway. Paw Party Crasher loves to talk and socialize, he's just usually drunk while he's doing it. I'm okay with that also since he mostly likes to hang with the men folk and I am not men folk.

So Maw and Paw Party Crasher arrive on Wednesday afternoon. They put on a huge pot of spaghetti sauce with meatballs to simmer and go out to set up their canopy on the beach. They haul their cooler full of beer out and set up about 50 yards down the beach from our canopy. Maw stretches out on her chair for about an hour. Paw drinks beer and discusses life with Robin's boyfriend. They serve the spaghetti and meatballs. Then it was back to the beach. Pretty soon Maw decided that she wanted to sleep on the beach rather than the sofabed. It took 3 men to haul it out to the beach but they brought out the futon. Maw stretched out on the futon. The teenagers came out to throw the football around and pretty soon, Paw and Robin's boyfriend joined them.

The next thing we knew, Maw decided she was calling their hotel to see if they could check in early. They had a room available so she left to check in, leaving Paw, the futon and canopy, and ALL the dinner mess for us to clean up. Paw said she was mad about something. He apologized. Maw was overheard calling Paw a pervert. Maybe he was looking at our teenage girls. Or maybe they were intimidated by our gays. Either way, go on.

So they left. And we all got heartburn and indigestion from the spaghetti. Every one of us. Good riddance.