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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Happy second bike-i-versary, yellow bike!

Two years ago today, this unsuspecting middle aged woman walked into a Greenville bike shop intending to rent a bike for the afternoon to explore on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. In retrospect, I don’t know what inspired a bike ride or why I picked that specific bike shop other than I liked the name (Pedal Chic), the logo (whimsical yet professional), and the website said the shop catered to women riders.

I had no idea that two-hour spontaneous adventure would lead to a new passion, new friends and new perspectives.

When I returned from my ride that hot June 13 afternoon, I casually asked the women working in the shop about the sassy yellow bike parked out front. I wasn’t in the market to buy; I was just curious. Bikes had changed a lot in the 30 years since I last had one.

It didn’t take long for curiosity to get the best of me. Within an hour, I’d tried a half dozen bikes. But I kept getting drawn back to that yellow one. It wasn’t flashy or sleek. No fancy tires or complicated handlebars.

Before long, I was chatting with the shop’s owner asking questions about gears and brakes on that yellow bike and wondering if it would fit in the back seat of my convertible.
Next thing I knew I was handing over my credit card with no more stress than I would have buying groceries (I typically have angst over any purchase larger than a pair of black shoes). The yellow bike was mine! I resisted the padded bike pants and walked out with only the basics - a water bottle and a helmet.

I hadn't owned a brand new bike since I was a child. The first one I really remember was pink with the sparkly banana seat, a sissy bar, a basket with flowers and tassels on the handlebars. I would speed down the Roslyn Drive hill pretending I’d sprouted wings.
Today, I’m pretty sure I’ve dusted off those magical wings.

With cousin LeDare in Columbus, GA
Whether it’s peddling my yellow bike on the beach at Sullivan’s Island or exploring on a rental bike hundreds of miles from home, my feet hit the pedals and those wings give me a lift, a peace and a daring I didn’t know I was missing.

I’ve packed those magic wings with me to ride and explore in nine states over the past two years. I’ve biked through Central Park; around Lady Bird Lake in Austin; on the shores of two Great Lakes; along the bluffs overlooking Cape Cod; on the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg, VA; by the Chattahoochie river in Columbus, GA; and along the Grand Canyon rim, just to name a few.

Whether it’s on my yellow bike or a rental, the feeling is always the same once my feet tap the pedals and the wind brushes my face. I can experience my surroundings with a perspective and intensity different from what I’d feel by walking or driving.
With my sister, Bootie, and nephew, John,
at the Grand Canyon

If I’d chosen to explore the Grand Canyon on the big tour bus, I would have missed not only the magnificence of the Canyon’s edge but also sharing the riding experience with my sister and nephew.
If I’d been in a car, I would have missed the quick turn in a small Cape Cod town that led me to a magical beach where I ate oysters as they were being unloaded off the boat.
If I’d been walking, I never would have made it far enough around Lake St. Clair in Detroit to eat the best hot dog ever and chat with the stand owner who was a retired cowboy.
On this bike-i-versary, I will admit to an obsession in  observing milestones. They give me a groundedness to see progress (or sometimes lack of progress) in my life. These observances are more than just a perspective on time, however. They also give me reason to be grateful.
With goddaughter Beverly on the Swamp
Rabbit Trail
Every year, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I started my first job and can be grateful for the people who mentored and inspired me all those years ago. I rejoice in the observance of the day our rescue dog Dixie came to us and am grateful for the simple joy she brings me every day.
On this second bike-i-versary, I can be grateful for many things 
  • the diversity of the travel adventures I never would have experienced otherwise;
  • the healthy habits I’ve gained and the calories I’ve burned from pedaling more than 1500 miles (without padded biking shorts);
  • the depth of life lessons learned;
  • the fun I've had on rides with my cousin, my goddaughter, my nephew, my sister, and numerous old and new friends;
  • the inspiration I have drawn from my new friend Robin, Pedal Chic's owner, who has encouraged me in my bike riding adventures.
So cheers to you, yellow bike! It's been a great two-year ride. 

I think I’ve proven to myself you’re a keeper - just a few nicks and pings along with new brake cables, one new tire and a new chain and a few added necessities like a rear-view mirror, bottle holder and rear rack. Plus, yes, even the padded biking shorts!


Friday, May 12, 2017

Are you a do-er or a dabbler?

For so long, I thought the world was divided into two types of people – the do-ers and the dabblers.

The dabblers were those people who would try something - maybe learn a little about a topic, show some interest in a sport, read a bit about a foreign city or casually pick up a hobby – but never commit to it. Merriam Webster defines a dabbler as "someone not deeply engaged with something” or "a person who follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status."

To me, these people never "got good" at any of these dabbles. They just flitted and piddled their way through life. Dabbling just never felt appealing to me.

Then there were the do-ers. I considered them to be the ones who were getting "it" exactly right (whatever "it" happened to be - cooking, writing, working, exercising, playing an instrument, even reading a book). As someone intimidated by these proficient do-ers who were out there "getting it exactly right," I was often hesitant to try something new knowing it wasn't likely I'd get it exactly right.

So for a long time, there I sat suspended in a hallway between the room of do-ers who I thought were getting "it" exactly right and the room of dabblers who I saw as not really engaged in "it." The do-er’s room was pristinely perfect. The dabbler’s room was a chaotic mess. Neither room was attractive to me.

But I've come to learn there’s a third room off that hallway. It’s the room for “I want to try it even if I don’t get it right” camp. I can hang out there with no expectation of getting it exactly right - just the expectation of the experience. Once that dawned on me, I saw huge possibilities in things I always thought were too hard, too challenging, too far from my reach.

Sports is a good example. When I was in high school, girls didn't participate in sports unless they were tall or strong or talented. I decided that sports and athletic pursuits just weren't my thing. For many years as an adult, I dabbled in an exercise regimen, sticking closely to one or two class types I thought I could handle with my non-athletic leanings. But run a 5k? No way. Lift heavy weights? I'm too small. Ride 50 miles on a bike? Are you crazy?

Once I discovered that exercise didn't have to mean excelling at a sport, winning and losing, or even reaching a goal, I began to explore yoga, cycling, Pilates, kayaking and even scuba diving. I’ve come to enjoy the challenges of passionate dabbling in exercise and sports….not to mention the personal connections and health benefits that result.

Being a writer means always fighting the temptation of that last edit, one more proof, one final tweak. I always thought that was the beauty of writing using a keyboard. There was always a way to perfect the piece.

When I started a writing class last year, the instructor insisted we all use composition books rather than computers for our writing exercises. Yikes. That meant it wouldn’t be possible to edit out mistakes, move things around or delete bad grammar. I was a do-er when it came to writing. It had to be exactly right before I hit send.

But dabbling in writing by hand in that composition book using my purple pen led to lots of new paths to follow, ideas to flesh out, and, much to my surprise, even poems to write. I still like the cut and paste of a computer, but that experience let me see I can think differently when I write by hand.

Fresh flowers in my home and on my work desk bring me great joy, but I always settled for just shoving a few stems of grocery store flowers in a vase because I thought formal arranging was for creative, talented floral designers.

Last fall, I accepted a friend's invitation to take flower arranging classes. I went mainly because she was kind enough to invite me, not because I thought I'd be any good at it. I pretty quickly figured out that there's no secret formula in creating an attractive flower arrangement.

Ever since, I’ve been passionately dabbling every week with a dozen random flowers from the grocery store, a few stems of greens cut from the yard and a supply of mason jars. This translates into instant joy for me…and I've come to learn the same is true for family and friends who have enjoyed my creations.

I’ve always had a dream of performing on the Grand Ole Opry. That was surely a do-er’s dream, not a dabbler’s dream…showing up on stage with a guitar strapped around my neck, decked out in a spangled top and cool cowboy boots. You can’t dabble your way to the Grand Old Opry.

But…that dream did kind of come true due to some pretty committed music dabbling over the past year. Thanks to my uke-a-lady friends, a couple of patient instructors and a commitment to just practice, I am living that dream…just on another stage, with a different instrument and a somewhat tamer outfit. Read that story here.

Once I’d made a commitment to reading a book, I was determined to finish it. I wouldn’t dabble with a book. I spent many drawn out hours slogging through a book I didn’t enjoy because of a misguided belief that just putting it down meant defeat.

But what’s the use of reading a book that doesn’t engage, entertain or educate? So now I’m a passionate book dabbler. I’ve bought many books in the past few years that just caught my eye on the bookstore (and I only buy hard copy books from independent booksellers).

Have I finished them all? No way. Do I have unfinished books in my car, in my briefcase, in my beach bag, in my bike knapsack, beside my bed? I sure do. I’m dabbling in books ranging from fiction and inspiration to how-to and travel. All of them are unfinished and may stay that way. And that’s just fine.

Now, I find myself comfortably hanging out in this messy, colorful, aromatic third room that is chock full of musical instruments, flowers, books, bikes, weights, notebooks, vases and boxes of possibilities I don’t even know about yet.

If I could add the word “passionate” to the dictionary definition of dabbler -  "a person who passionately follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status” – I think I could live with that! It’s about the journey and not the destination…the practice and not the perfect.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mentors matter: We've all got a lot to learn

As young people in the workplace seem to get younger faster than I’m getting older, I increasingly notice the role of traditional mentor relationships evolving to adapt to younger professionals’ inherent confidence, use of technology and varying styles of communication.

Today’s young professionals have an entrepreneurial spirit that was less evident in generations past. Even those in government, non-profits and education seem to bring a spark of individualism to the workplace that we haven’t seen before.

These differences among generations mean the relationships between mentors and those they advise has changed substantially in the past 25 years. I remember college advisors and professors telling everyone to find a mentor. In those days, that meant seeking out an older professional in a similar business and asking for direction, help or advice. Admittedly that was an intimidating challenge to a young professional just starting out.
For my generation, professional or industry-specific associations were a primary source of mentoring, networking, and professional development. Today networking often happens in more social contexts such as young professional groups or more virtual environments such as webinars and online meetings. These types of networking provide both professional and social support from peers, but sometimes may involve less interaction with the “seasoned” professionals, often due to the fact that we “seasoned” folks just don’t get out and “network” like we did when we were younger.
Sometimes it can be the more informal settings where professional mentor relationships between generations evolve. Over the years, I found my most valuable mentors did not necessarily come from formalized work relationships. Rather they grew through everyday interactions or resulted from relationships I developed through professional civic, church and volunteer organizations.
Regardless, mentors matter.
Recently I ran into my boss from my first substantive college job. I thanked her for being my first mentor. She said she had no idea I’d seen her in that role. I probably didn’t even see it at the time. But looking back, I realize how much I learned from watching her interactions with others.
I learned the value of teamwork and saw how much we could get done if no one cared who got the credit. I saw how she treated everyone with respect – from the elected official we worked for to the guy who delivered our typewriter ribbons (yes, it was that long ago). She had no idea she was teaching me these secrets of success in the workplace. She had no idea of her mentor role in my career development. These were lessons I’ve taken with me through many years … and hopefully passed on to others.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed many informal, but increasingly reciprocal, mentoring relationships. Today, I’m finding myself just as frequently on the receiving end of advice from younger colleagues as I am on the giving end.
I have found there are valuable lessons from this younger set that go beyond learning how to use social media or get the latest app. Younger colleagues keep me focused on a better work/life balance. They make me smarter by asking questions I hadn’t considered. They challenge me to stay on my toes and seek out new approaches to solve old problems. They keep work fun and interesting. But mostly they keep me motivated to learn.
As I become more “seasoned” in my profession, my thirst for learning and trying new things seems to be increasing. I’m counting on these “reverse mentors” to steer me toward new ways of thinking while, at the same time, I hope I can still challenge them to be better professionals too. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The blessing of laughter

My friends and the bride
I don’t even remember what was so funny the first time it happened, but it happened countless times over the course of a long weekend celebrating a friend’s daughter’s wedding.
The laughter.

We laughed until we cried.

Really big tears. The kind that needed a man-sized handkerchief.

And not just once.

Probably dozens of times.

I hadn’t felt so good in ages!
I have a crowd of five girlfriends who came together 30 years ago in Washington, D.C. as young professionals, young marrieds, young parents. Our families formed a supper club connected by the shared experiences of growing up in the south, attending SEC colleges, and (for the most part) working in politics.
At the time, we thought of the supper club as just a fun way for some southern ex-pats in D.C. to come together over food, football and kids. Little did we know we were starting to set the table for a lifelong friendship.
Just so you get the picture … this supper club didn’t require fancy meals, the good china or even a clean house. Our supper club focused on simplicity.
But the big thing I remember about the supper club wasn’t the food.
It’s how we laughed.
We laughed playing board games. We laughed over the meals that didn’t turn out exactly as our moms would have made them. We laughed while helping each other move from one small condo to another or paint the walls of a new house. We laughed over our bold attempt at throwing our first “grown up” cocktail party using all that silver and china that good southern girls got for wedding gifts. We laughed while sharing holiday meals far away from our families back home.
Eventually, the realities of D.C. life kicked in, and four of the five families moved back south. Among us since our years in D.C., we have lived in eight cities, had 12 children now ranging from 14 to 31, experienced parents’ deaths, lived through a tornado, weathered illnesses and changed jobs more times than I can count.
Girls’ weekend 1999
Today, two of us are in Columbia, one each in Florida, Mississippi and Connecticut. We’ve stayed in touch through the years with girls’ weekends, texts, emails, Facebook, Christmas cards and random overlaps during trips that took us to each others’ current hometowns.
I don’t know if this friendship would have weathered these 30 years if we had all stayed in D.C. We might have ended up living in distant suburban neighborhoods. Kids probably would have gone to different schools. Budding careers could have forced our priorities to change. Time together may have fallen by the wayside.
Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t all live in the same city that has kept this friendship alive. And I am so thankful for that.
As I reflected on the laughter hangover I had for several days after that weekend, I realized those couple of days fell at the intersection of three things that are basic to a happy life – laughter, joy and friendship. We had all three in great abundance for that weekend.
But the question came to my mind: Why was it so easy, when we don’t communicate regularly as a group, to fall into that kind of soul cleansing laughter time after time over the weekend?
First, we were gathered for such a joyful occasion – the first wedding among the children of our supper club group. At the bridesmaid lunch, we seemed to have caused a spectacle with several of the bridesmaids videoing one of our laughing bursts. I’m sure we sounded like a combination of yelping dogs and snorting pigs, but we were oblivious. It happened again in a store, then at lunch the next day. We broke out in laughs numerous times during the wedding reception.
Second, I believe as we’ve aged, we’ve become far less conscious of what others think - both among our little group and in our wider worlds. We’ve all had our own versions of successes and failures. Age has gently nudged us with the gift of being able to say exactly what we are thinking and allows us to be ourselves …  but more importantly, to laugh at ourselves.
That reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Brene Brown, who described laugher in this way in The Gifts of Imperfection: Laughter is a spiritual form of communing; without words we can say to one another ‘I’m with you, I get it’ knowing laughter embodies the relief and connection we experience when we realize the power of sharing our stories - we’re not laughing at each other but with each other.”
Then a couple of days later, I was reading an interview with another of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, and she mentioned a quote from one of her earlier books, Plan B.
“Laughter is like carbonated holiness,” she wrote.
Yep. That was the perfect way to describe this intersection of laughter, joy and friendship we experienced. Our laughter was carbonated holiness connecting us that weekend ... the blessing of holiness amped up by the bubbly, tingly, fizzy carbonation of laughter.
At the wedding reception that weekend, I watched all the young folks who had come from far away to celebrate the marriage of their friends. They probably haven’t considered the possibility that these friendships could fall away as they age, move, have kids.
My wish for the young people … particularly the young women gathered for this happy wedding … is they would be blessed by this same kind of friendship I’ve found with these four friends. 
You don't have to see each other, talk or text every day. But you can pick up exactly where you left off last time ... in the middle of the best-ever belly laughs that bless us with giddy, giggling carbonated holiness. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Can we just quit life and join the band?

The place was hopping when we peeked out from the stage door. The mosh pit was packed with anxious fans waiting for the performers to take the stage. People in the audience were milling around with anticipation. Their necks craned for a quick glimpse of the performers entering the venue. The bartenders were busy. T-shirts on the merch table were selling briskly.

But…this was no rock concert at a sold-out coliseum. It was a Sunday afternoon at the Vista’s Tin Roof for Freeway Music School’s winter student showcase. The mosh pit occupants were elementary school-age siblings of the performers. The audience was parents trying to get a glimpse of their kids who were about to go on stage. The bartenders were serving up more diet cokes than fireballs. The t-shirts were reasonably priced.

Still, the air was electric - the same feeling you’d experience before any long-anticipated rock concert.

Back in my day, we called this kind of event a recital. You take music lessons. You suffer through a recital. It meant dressing in Sunday best, shining up your patent leather shoes, and hoping and praying that the kid who shared your piano duet maybe wouldn’t show up.

Agonizing childhood piano recitals and equally stressful choir practices led me to believe as an adult that looking at music as a hobby, a pastime or a passion probably just wasn’t my thing. I sometimes wonder if I would have developed a love of music as a child if things had been different. What if I had learned “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” instead just practicing scales? Or what if I hadn’t been shooed to the choir practice back row for the kids who couldn’t sing?

But as I watched these kids performing at the showcase, I realized all is not lost for me - even at middle age. We all get second chances in life, and mine comes in the form of a yellow ukulele. I have been playing (well more like practicing) for over a year with a group of “uke-e-ladies” who gather periodically for a “Sip and Strum” evening put together by folks at Freeway Music. This experience has taught me that talent and skill don’t have to be the driving factor in learning to enjoy playing a musical instrument.

Sure, having a little rhythm or an ear for music may help. But they aren’t critical. It’s really all about fun and passion and friends and connections… and maybe a little wine thrown in.

In February, my uke-e-ladies group got the chance to play at the Freeway showcase. We were assigned to play REM’s “Losing My Religion” sandwiched between two teen-aged rock bands.

I anticipated this second time playing publicly with the uke-e-ladies might be a bit of a letdown because we had such a great experience when we performed “Don’t Stop Believing” at the fall showcase. Surely the second time can’t be as exhilarating.

As we sat through the first two sets, we watched the students who were grouped to play together like real bands. No one had to go it alone. They ranged in age from preschool to college. The music school instructors played back-up on some songs but many of the bands were just the kids. Amazing! What confidence. What poise. But it really just boiled down to … what fun! I figured if they could do it, we could too.

When our turn came, 12 uke-e-ladies, our singer, a couple of token men and our instructors hustled to the stage. Granted we might have been a little rag-tag. Our singer had to read the lyrics off her phone because the breeze kept making her music fly off the stand. There were so many of us that we overflowed the stage onto the floor in front. Our uke teacher had laryngitis.

But the magic happened again when the opening riff started. For four and a half minutes, we wanna-be musicians were the band on stage. We sang. We goofed up. We strummed, and we probably goofed up some more. But we were making music. And that’s all we were there to do.

At the end, the rush was the same as before.

I’ve always joked I need to just quit life and join the band when things get hectic at work or I’m just sick of stuff. Now I’ve had a taste of why people join the band, and I like it. It’s not for adulation or compliments or money. It’s for the rush, the buzz, the zone of playing music you love with people who love doing the same.

So for now, I’ll be content to keep sipping and strumming with the uke-e-ladies. But you just never know when the big break might come!