Monday, April 16, 2018

Slow down and stop “adulting” so hard

Published April 13 in MIdlandsLife 

We all know “adulting” can be difficult. It’s the job that’s forced on everyone over the age of 21 that could include a daily work routine, personal commitments, health scares, money issues, family responsibilities and unanticipated twists in the road. 

My recent post on the idea of just having fun got me musing about how fun fits into rigors of adulting. Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to take some breaks from adulting so hard and tried a few things that revolve around creativity, new experiences, fun, and just slowing down or showing up. These were things I wanted to do just for the sake of doing - not to meet a goal, achieve an end, or prove something to myself or others. 
As I took these occasional diversions from adulting, I was pleasantly surprised to discover nothing bad happened. I never missed work deadlines, overlooked paying a bill, forgot to put gas in my car or left the dog out in the rain. Actually lots of good happened, and I've realized that a little adjustment in my definition of adulting can bring bursts of joy, new friends, a little sense of adventure and some much-needed respite that I didn’t know I needed.
Here’s a little of what I’ve discovered: 

It doesn't matter if you aren't good at it (whatever "it" is).
For me that “it” is music. For most of my adulting life, I lived under the false impression that everything should be a means to an end – meeting a goal or expectation, whether mine or someone else’s. I've written about this before when exploring the art of creative dabbling versus regimented "doing" and came to the realization that the fun can be in the journey of the practice, rather than the destination of the perfect.

Admittedly, I don't have an untapped musical talent, an undiscovered angel's voice or even a basic sense of rhythm. I always thought these apparent shortcomings that meant the delight of playing music would be forever lost to me. I listened as others in my life talked about the "zone" of playing music. Sure, cool for you, I thought, but I figured I’d never experience that because I'd never be good at music.
Enter the magic of a little yellow ukulele and a diverse group of people I play music with who live the belief you don't have to be good - you just have to show up, try, play and have fun.
A conversation with an artist friend over the holidays drove home this idea of "not being good at something.” We were talking about my uke playing. I gushed about how much fun it is, but I punctuated the conversation by saying "but I'll never be good at it." She stopped me mid-sentence. She said "never say you're not good at something." Enjoy it. Try it. Learn from it. That's more than enough reason to do it (whatever that "it" is).

That conversation kept gurgling around in my brain, and I finally recognized the fact she was exactly right. I realized it was easy to lose sight of the fact that the practice journey is far more important than the perfect destination. And I do love the practice, but more importantly I love the fellowship - with my Uke-a-Ladies (+ Steve) sip 'n strum group,  my adult rock band class, my Sunday morning church group, the  occasional uke jams at Sims Music and the library, or my weekly lesson.

Not once has anyone ever told me I had to be good; actually no one's ever said I had to be adequate. All I have to do is show up, be a part of things and have fun. 
I had been adulting so hard, I’d forgotten how much fun it is to just have fun.



Thursday, March 22, 2018


I’m usually not one to wear a silly sequined fedora and oversized t-shirt while standing in the rain for an hour on a chilly, windy Saturday morning. But on St. Patrick’s Day, I did just that, along with dozen or so other adults and a handful of kids playing music on a parade float gliding down Devine Street toward the rabble in Five Points.

It was fun. Period. Just plain fun.

The idea of fun is something that’s often lost on us grown-ups. We spend so much time “adulting” - taking care of business, taking care of family, taking care of work, taking care of everything but ourselves – that fun never even registers as a priority.

But I’ve been working on finding fun, and on St. Pat’s it came in the form of those silly clothes. 
Actually the silly clothes didn’t make the morning fun – they just made me feel more a part of the fun. The real fun was getting caught up in something bigger than just me - something that made people smile, laugh, sing, dance and just have a good time.

I am learning to play the ukulele by taking an adult rock band class at Freeway Music, and we scored a spot on the school’s parade float to play several songs the mile or so down Devine Street into Five Points. Our band, Serious FM, consists of three guitar players (one sometimes playing mandolin), a drummer and my uke. My other Freeway class – the Sip ‘n Strum Ukeladies – marched and played alongside the float.

We had carefully watched the weather all week trading texts about who was in charge of chasing away the rain. On Saturday morning, we arrived at the appointed spot to meet the float. We were garbed in wacky green glasses, silly hats, green beads, Freeway Music t-shirts and rain ponchos.

Organizers had said the parade would happen rain or shine, so at 10 a.m., we launched – in the rain. 

Once the wheels on the flatbed started turning, however, we were the rock band and the ukulele band … not the professionals, parents, caregivers, spouses, coaches and bosses we “adult” as every day. For that hour, we rocked, we skipped, we sang, we strummed, we danced.

As we rode toward Five Points, I had a flash of that saying “dance like no one is looking.” In glancing around at my friends on and around that float, I think each one of us was living that for an hour.

If the elderly piano teacher of my youth had taught me to play the way we are learning music as adults, I might have ended up at Carnegie Hall (or at least in a honky-tonk music hall). Back then, performing meant playing a scary one-person recital of uninteresting classical music on an empty stage. That wasn’t fun. 
This is fun.
Of course, it’s fun to discover I can actually learn to play an instrument through sheer practice, patience and perseverance. But it’s also fun to discover the fellowship and friendship from people I never would have met otherwise.

And we all deserve a little fun, right?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Our Dixie - the gifts of a much-loved dog

This sweet girl quietly left our world Wednesday afternoon. Our beloved Dixie curled up in a sun puddle on the patio and just didn’t wake up. I’m imagining her heart just gave out from the effects of a serious recent illness and powerful drugs she had been taking.

While her physical heart may have stopped beating and her physical fluffy body is no longer here, her real heart will always remain a presence in my life.

Yes, everyone thinks their dogs are special. And Dixie was. She came to us as a 2 – 3 year old rescue with two sets of vet records. We chose to believe the one that made her younger so she’d last longer. She was probably 13 when she left us.

After the death of our beloved Golden, Beaufort, a friend found out about Dixie from a friend. Dixie had been in two families who just didn’t have time for her. We saw the flyer, fell in love and agreed to take her on a week-end trial run.

She showed up almost nine years ago with a thick red leash looped around her belly because she was so hard to control. All she came with was a bag of dog food with an old measuring cup, her vet records and that red leash. Her first evening with us was spent at the neighbor’s house with lots of dogs, kids, noise and food. We quickly discovered she was an expert counter surfer. She was hooked and so were we.

She had mischievous energy. Up to her last day, she was scavenging the trash can, licking dishes in the dishwasher and hiding contraband she had stolen off the counter. She would “tunnel” between your legs or give you a wet nose nuzzle when she wanted attention. She could block your path with her big fluffy self - forcing a stop for a quick ear scratch or belly rub.

Dixie was a creature of habit with three places in the house where I knew she could always be found. Every morning at 7:45 she jumped up from her chair in the sunroom barking at something – I never did figure out what. She knew when a certain light switch clicked it was time for bed. She had an intuition for what her “people” needed and gave it unselfishly.

As Dixie got older and more mellow, she became my beach travel companion. This was our happy place.

Last summer, I decided we needed to fit her for a sandwich board that said “therapy dog for people on vacation who miss their dogs.”

She was a magnet for kids on the beach never tiring of small hands groping her ears, pulling her tail or rubbing her belly (which she would quickly show at the slightest interest of anyone). So interesting how she loved kids never having lived with any.

At the beach she became a regular at several of my favorite restaurants, to the point one waitress knew her name and knew to drop exactly three ice cubes in her water bowl. At Thanksgiving, two families “rented” her for their holiday card photos.

One of my happiest moments with her was just a week or so ago as we sat quietly on a very cold beach watching the final magnificent sunrise of 2017.

Dixie’s serious illness in late October now makes me reflect on what a gift we had with these last weeks. She was a little slower but still up for a walk, or even better, a ride in the convertible. She’d rest her head on the side of the car with her ears flapping out like the flying nun. I was forever coming up with cartoon bubbles to describe what I was sure she was thinking.

Three beach trips, miles of walks, hours of nuzzles, not to mention several trash can disasters and disappearing food items filled her last weeks. We had some great adventures over the past few weeks - visiting Soda City, eating lunch with a friend on the patio at Salty Nut, making a Still Hopes visit, riding in the Cayce Christmas parade. I hold those memories so dear.

Now, I feel her physical absence intensely  - the click of her toenails on the hardwood floors, her nighttime sleep stirrings, her nose pressing at the patio door when she wanted to come in, her fluffy presence at the gate when I pulled in the driveway, her dance around the food bowl, the language of her eyes saying she’s ready for a little attention – or even more her eyes saying she knew I was in need of a little attention.

She’s left a hole in my heart, and I’m working on accepting her death with gratitude for her life and what she taught, gave and how she loved.

Anyone who doesn't believe dogs have souls, can smile and love, just never met Dixie to prove them wrong. Several friends have told me Dixie won the lottery when she got us. I know it was the other way around.

Rest in peace, sweet girl.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Are you a "wordie"? Celebrate National Word Nerd Day

Today is National Word Nerd day. This might not prompt the same reason for celebration as National Ice Cream Day or National Take Your Pet to Work Day for most folks. But for people like me, National Word Nerd Day is a chance to get your word freak on.

In anticipation of today's celebration, I was reading back through some of my previous  posts about my pride in being a "wordie" (I think I like that description better than word nerd) - describing pet grammar peeves, writing poetry about my love of a purple pen or describing the joy of receiving a hand-written note. Who else but a dedicated wordie could write about the relationship between smoking a pork butt and writing?

A quick glance around my home and office illustrates it’s clear I qualify as a world class word nerd. Just a few examples:
·   Your choice of clothes illustrates your word nerdiness. My “grammar police” t-shirt is always on the top of my t-shirt pile when I open my drawer. I have jewelry made from old typewriter keys, and I know the brand of typewriter.

·  The most treasured possessions you keep on your desk scream word nerd. Mine is a mocked up copy of the ETV program guide the staff gave me when I left my job there many years ago. The cover art was a photo of me dressed up as the “Grammar Police.”
·  You get your jollies from sharing funny newspaper typos and  cartoons with like-minded word nerds. I ove the fact that this is a frequent topic of texts with my young adult goddaughter.

·   You read the AP Stylebook for fun and make waves with its editor when you disagree with an entry. I recently raised a question about a particular entry in the 2017 edition of the Styleboook. I actually got a response from an editor noting my question was an issue worth considering. I’m anxiously awaiting release of the 2018 edition to see if the change got made.

·   Your bookshelf is laden with old and out-of-date dictionaries, thesauruses, AP Stylebooks and books about writing, editing, writers and typewriters. I still have my eleventh and twelfth grade grammar books, plus my “Elements of Style” book from college freshman year.
·   The topic of sentence diagramming is worthy of stopping the car to pay attention to a news story on the radio. This NPR storyabout diagramming sentences gave me a driveway moment this week.
·   Your beach reading list includes a stack of word nerd books. This summer my list included "Between You and I," "The Typewriter Revolution," the new edition of "The Elements of Style" (which includes beautiful artwork), and a re-read of my old favorite “Woe is I.”

But I recognize just because I self-identify as a wordie doesn't mean I don't fall victim to my own typos and errors - that's part of the territory. This is taped to my computer as a reminder. Sometimes I just get carried away with the words and don't pay enough attention to the rules.

Fellow wordies, share your own word nerd stories! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Danielle Howle: House Concert Nov. 10

House concert: (hous KON-sert) - A gathering of friends and neighbors in an intimate home setting to celebrate and support local musicians.

OK … so I kind of made up that definition, but that does describe the concept.

The practice of house concerts goes back generations to Appalachian traditions. A performer en route between gigs may have had a open night to play at a host’s home along the way in exchange for a good meal and place to lay his head. The host would charge a small ticket price with proceeds going to the performer.

So that’s what’s going on November 10 – a house concert featuring the fabulous Danielle Howle.

And to make it even more exciting ... Danielle released her new record on November 3 in Charleston, and this house concert will be the first time she'll be performing from it in Columbia. Get a sneak peek in this video. Or watch this TV interview on Fox 24 Charleston.

If you aren’t familiar with Danielle’s work, you need to be! Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DanielleHowleMusic.
I’ve loved Danielle’s music for many years going back to when she got started in the early 90s as “Danielle Howle and the Tantrums.”

Over the years, she has shared the stage with the likes of the Indigo Girls and Mark Bryan. Danielle has already done three house concerts at Chez 1425, so I’m thrilled she can do this again.

If the weather holds, we’ll be outside with the fire pit and string lights. There will be a few chairs, or bring your own or a blanket for picnic-style seating if you want. If we have to move inside, we’ll just wedge into the living room.

And in the spirit of a true house concert, we'll have chili and fixins, bring whatever you want to sip and a snack to share...this is potluck at its best!

You can get your $15 tix in advance on Danielle's website.  Or if you plan to pay when you get there, just shoot me an email so we have a good count. Kids are welcome, and those under 12 are free.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Meri's and Memories

Richland Mall was a real treasure for those of us growing up in Forest Acres in the 60s and 70s. More than just a local shopping destination, it represented all sorts of life passages.

For anyone who didn't grow up in the area, the Richland Fashion Mall of today bears no resemblance to the Richland Mall of my growing up years. The original design of Richland Mall somewhat mirrored today's "town center" concept that is popping up as enclosed malls are being shuttered in favor of these more walkable customer-friendly shopping destinations.

Woolworth's, Mr. Popper's Popcorn, Meri's Records, Whites, Sylvan's Jewelry, Winn Dixie, the S&S Cafeteria and Baskin Robbins are a few of the iconic stores I remember.

I got to thinking about the original Richland Mall experience while doing some research for
my most recent article in Columbia Metropolitan Magazine about the resurgence of vinyl records. I couldn't write about the history of vinyl records in Columbia without including the magic of Meri's Records at Richland Mall.

The store was located in a corner storefront so it was easy to peer in through the glass windows and marvel at the vast collection of records. It was a small space compared to the other stores in the mall, but every inch of it represented songs of the era along with oldies, classical music and who knows what else that I never even discovered.

At that point in our tween/teen lives, my friends and I ached to be cool. We enviously tried to imitate older siblings' wardrobes, language and music habits. We clamored to grow up.  Buying records and listening to the music of the day gave us a little sip of that grown up nectar.

An early rite of passage of our tween/teen years was gaining permission to ride our bikes to Richland Mall. That happened sometime around the seventh grade as I can best remember. My neighborhood was less than a mile from the mall but we had to cross Beltline Boulevard, a busy four lane road, to get there. This was before crossing lights and safe sidewalks, so being allowed to make this journey on our own was a real taste of freedom for me and my friends.

And Meri's … well Meri's was the ultimate in cool places to go at the mall. And as far as we knew, it was the only place in town to buy records.

I can vividly remember us going in the store dressed in bell bottoms and cool shirts with puffy pirate sleeves holding tight to the beloved Meri's gift certificate that allowed us to actually choose a record instead of just browse the bins. The best birthday gifts in that era were a 45 or a gift certificate from Meri's. Seeing that Meri's logo on the slim folder the record came wrapped in or the envelope that held the gift certificate gave us a peek at that illusive "cool."

Little did we know at that point that Bobby Sherman and John Denver wouldn't even register on our older siblings' cool meter when they were buying the Beetles and Rolling Stones. Being able to buy the singles - the 45s, as they were known then - for a dollar made music purchases possible for us. As tweens, our sources of spending money was allowance, birthday money or maybe a little babysitting cash. For a dollar, we could buy our way to a little bit of cool.
Owning a record player and having a way to buy records was for them was a very grown-up thing. For the most part, we listened to these records on our plastic "close and play’ record players. The lucky ones of us had an older sibling who owned a real stereo with a long spindle that stacked multiple records to be dropped one by one onto the turntable.

I still have two "Peaches" crates of these records in my attic. Based on what I learned from the record dealers I interviewed for this article, I've taken pretty good care of the albums over the years so they would probably play OK if I had a turntable. There are even a couple 45s still in the bin. The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds are two that take me straight back to those days of bell bottoms and pirate shirts.

When starting the research for the article, I turned to the Facebook group called "you must be from Columbia if…" to ask about the family who owned Meri's. Within minutes, the post was full of happy memories about Meri's and Richland Mall. To my delight, I quickly discovered that I know the son and daughter-in-law of "Miss Meri," who owned the store.

I learned that Richard Gergel's family owned Meri's for many years after spending decades in the toy store business. His mother was "Miss Meri." Richard and his wife, Belinda, moved to Charleston from Columbia several years ago when Richard became a federal judge.

My long conversation with him for the magazine interview yielded some great history about this beloved landmark that brought back rushes of tween/teen memories. Plus, Belinda sent me some priceless photographs of the store that confirmed my memories of its details were fairly accurate.

Read the article in the October issue of Columbia Metropolitan and get a bigger dose of Meri's along with some interesting history and perspective on today's growing resurgence of vinyl records.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A bike of another yellow

A work trip recently took me to Rock Hill to be part of a media day event leading up to the UCI BMX World Cycling Championship July 25 – 29. The event is just shy of the Olympics in terms of prestige and prominence in the cycling world. Organizers anticipate more than 20,000 spectators will be in Rock Hill to watch 3,300 riders from more than 40 countries.

This BMX event is anticipated to be the largest international sporting event in South Carolina history.

Rock Hill won the bragging rights to host this event in 2014, two months before the track, modeled after the 2008 Beijing Olympic track, even opened. The last time the BMX world cycling championship was held in the U.S. was 2001 when Louisville, KY hosted it. The last two championships took place in Zolder, Belgium, and Medellin, Colombia.

So yes, this is a really big deal for Rock Hill and for South Carolina.

Rock Hill has invested heavily in sports tourism in the past decade, and the results are showing. The Rock Hill Parks Recreation and Tourism Department estimates that sports tourism has had a $121.9 million direct economic impact on the city since 2006. In recent years, Rock Hill’s reputation as a competitive cycling center has skyrocketed with the opening of the Giordana Velodrome, Novant Health BMX Supercross Track, Cyclocross trails, a mountain bike course and Criterium course.

When I arrived at the BMX Supercross Track, I eyeballed the rack of BMX bikes parked and ready for the group of local reporters to try out. These bikes are small, even for someone of my petite stature. They reminded me of the stingray bikes of my childhood with the “mustache” handlebars. The seats are tiny and uncomfortable (there’s a reason for that – you aren’t supposed to spend any time sitting on them during the ride).

My helmet looked flimsy next to the BMX one
They assigned each of us newbies a coach to teach us the essentials of riding this squatty little bike and negotiating the course. The bike I picked was yellow - it looked like the plain younger sister of my beloved yellow bike. The helmet they gave me made my regular bike helmet look as sturdy as a baseball cap. This one was huge, squeezing my head and framing my face, reminding me of what it must feel like inside a football helmet.

My coach was one of the local adult riders, and her “assistant” was a 10-year-old girl in the full BMX uniform – brightly colored long sleeves, long pants, with matching gloves, helmet and shoes that clipped to her pedals. She had been riding since she was eight, and both parents race. I was a bit intimidated by both coaches.

My intent was to experience the course in a very passive way. I wasn’t planning to actually race. Looping the track a couple of times to get the feel for the bike suited me fine. Slowly pedaling over the rippling hills and avoiding the steep “starting hill” at all costs were my goals.

I lost my adult coach in the shuffle of the practice rides, but the 10-year-old coach stuck close. She showed me how to stand over the handlebars and how to get into the push/pull motion needed to avoid losing speed or spinning out when cresting the hills. After a few laps, she pronounced me ready to try the “start hill.”

No way, I thought when I learned it was 16 feet high and about 40 feet long. My second story office window is probably 16 feet off the ground. Speeding down a sharp hill from there didn’t seem like a really smart idea for someone who’s not a daring athlete.

Just to be clear…I’ve never been an athlete. Never wanted to be. I’m fine with the satisfaction of participation without the spirit of competition.

Until…this young girl convinced me to try the starting hill. I pushed my small bike up the back side of the steep ramp. Looking down those 16 feet, the angle of the hill seemed even steeper than it did looking up from the bottom. She gave me a few strategies for managing speed, braking and avoiding collisions.

Then she gave me a pep talk. After that I thought, why not? I could grip the brake on the way down to carefully deposit myself safely at the bottom. I could take the hills and turns at a respectable speed without losing my balance or my dignity. My coach got me situated, reminded me to stand and not sit, and use the brake sparingly.

Whoosh. Down I went. Then a loop around the 1,200 feet of rolling hills. Yes! I can do this! I wanted to try again. Even better the second, third and fourth practice rides. I hadn’t intended to actually race, but after gaining a little confidence I decided, why not give it a try.

I found my name on the heat list and headed to my spot at the top of the starting hill. There were four in my heat. Positioning was important to keep in mind, my coach noted, as I pull around the curves during the race. I was in slot number five of eight situated to the right side of two others and the left of one.

The starting gate
I eyed my competition. All seemed a good bit younger. A couple looked athletic. Others were wearing jeans or sweats.

The starting gate popped up from the ramp about 10 feet down from the top. We inched our bikes to position the front wheel against the gate so we would be ready for what I figured would surely feel like a free fall once the gate lowered.

Professional riders balance on the bike at this point - feet on the pedals ready to start pumping as soon as the gate goes down. We rookies kept our feet firm planted – fingers gripped on the brakes.
The announcer called the start. The gate dropped.

And there’s not much I remember for the next 30 seconds.

I was in “the zone” that I knew existed but never stumbled in to - the zone where all you’re aware of is the experience.

Standing over the handlebars as my coach had taught me, I pushed down as I hit the bottom of the hills and pulled up as I headed back up. I edged past the closest competitor. I was pedaling with all I had while still trying to pay attention to the hill strategy of pushing down and pulling up.

I'm second from the left-not a stellar start
A number of folks who work for the city were lined up along the fence. As I topped the final series of hills, I could hear them yelling my name – I had a cheering section! But by this time my zone was so focused that all I could think about was the finish line that was less than 100 feet and two more hills away.

I might just win this thing, I thought. I’ve never ever won anything athletic. I never cared before. At that moment, I cared!
Heading into the final stretch
Twelve-hundred feet and about 45 seconds after I’d careened down the 40 foot hill, I was crossing the finish line ahead of my three competitors. My heart was racing. My mouth was dry. My legs were shaking. So this is what the adrenaline rush of winning feels like, I thought. I liked it, much to my surprise.

When my young coach came up with a high-five of congratulations, I quickly shook off the daze I found myself in. She gave me a quick critique of what worked well and started coaching about what I might want to try in the finals.

When we got lined up for the finals, we were situated much more closely together than last time, which made me a little less confident about not running into someone. But at least this time I knew I didn’t have to hit the brake until I was close to the bottom of the starting hill.

The gate dropped, and we were off. As I rounded the second turn, intent on passing the third place rider, I saw a rider down on the curved embankment. Do I stop? Ride around him? Help him up? As others passed me, I realized that moment’s hesitation knocked me out of the top three. So I scooted around him and finished a respectable fourth. No medal ceremony for me, but I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.

When I woke up that morning I had no intention of speeding down a two-story 40-foot embankment on a little bike. I woke up intending to learn from others what that felt like. I found out it sure was a lot more fun to do it rather than watch it. Even if I didn’t hit the medal stand, I left there knowing I had won something else - the whole experience had given me the taste of competition, of pushing, of risking. And I liked it.
That's my coach after the race

(Plus I decided if the race had included age brackets, I’m pretty confident in saying I would have won mine – given the fact I had a good 15 years on the rest of the competitors)

Photo credits: Wendy Waddle, City of Rock Hill