Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Shut Up!!!

“Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
Robert Benchley

If only I could learn that! So many times, I’ve been in the middle of some statement and thought “just shut up, Maryann!” but of course it’s too late at that point.
I talk too much anyway. And I really want to give all of the information. And I want to tell the truth. And sometimes, this gets me in trouble.

The first time I realized, too late, that I should have just shut up was in the early 1990s when Magic Johnson reported that he was HIV positive. I was young, and worked on the Kentucky Fried Chicken account at the time as an account executive. Magic Johnson happened to own a slew of KFCs and I got a call from someone from the Washington Post asking if I could send them a camera-ready logo. They were doing an article about Johnson’s extensive business holdings. I told them I’d have to ask my client, and would call them back.

My client told me the absolute wrong thing. What she SHOULD have told me was to refer them to KFC’s public relations office. What she said was something like “Heavens no! We don’t want to be associated with THAT!” So I called the Post back and said no. The girl from the graphics design department asked if I’d speak to her “boss” (translated, as I found out later, as “reporter”) and he asked me why not. I hemmed and hawed – it was late on a Friday evening and my mom, sister and brother-in-law had just gotten in town and I wanted to leave to see them – and I basically told them what my client had said. As I mentioned, I like to be honest. As the words came out of my mouth, I desperately tried to backtrack. “I’m not authorized to give any statement!” I said. “You can’t quote me!” I said, almost in tears now.

But they did. Not with my name, but as an unnamed “source” who was repeating what someone from KFC said. Everyone in my organization and at my client’s office knew it was me.

I was sick to my stomach all weekend, with that feeling of dread. We rushed out on Sunday and bought the paper, and my fears were confirmed. Now I was sick with the dread of losing my job the next day.

In the end, I didn’t get in trouble, but the memory has stayed with me. But I’m not sure I learned the lesson all that well. Even as recently as a month or two ago, something I emailed to a business associate came back to bite me in the butt. I just answered a question truthfully, but had I taken a few minutes to think about it, I might have answered differently. I should have given the minimum amount of information and provided more only on request. I should have remembered that not everyone needs to or even wants to know the whole story.

Maybe by the time I retire I will have learned this lesson. Of course, I’ll be 90 then, and at that age I should be able to say whatever the heck I want and people will just have to deal with it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This afternoon as I was coming back to the office from dropping off something for Sara at school, I saw this Facebook post that Hannah put on Sara’s wall. It almost made me cry.

When the kids were little, they didn’t believe me when I told them they’d be best friends when they grew up. I think they do now and there’s almost nothing that makes me happier than this. I can give my kids a lot. I can be the most amazing, wonderful mother ever placed on the planet, but still, there’s something that a sister gives you that no one else can. And I should know – I have one of the best sisters around. And today’s her birthday.

So Happy Birthday Carole! I believe that one of the reasons my kids are so close is that you and I have given them an excellent example. I’m incredibly thankful for you and I love you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Family Matters

Today’s blog prompt delighted me. If anyone has fodder for this type of post, it’s a member of the Daves family!

For the question, “when was the first time that you realized that your home was not like other people’s homes,” I don’t have a good answer. I don’t remember having some epiphany one day, but our household sure was different.

My father was a professor at Georgia State University, and I assume he was doing what young professors do, primarily working to climb the tenure ladder. But my mother was another story. She is a free spirit, and has been since birth I think. She and Dad had a lot of odd friends – people who were into meditation and mysticism, or something like it – and these people would congregate at our house on the weekends to meditate and crash. These people had no love for the government, cared fiercely about the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam War loudly. I think she tried to convince my father to move us to a commune at some point in our childhood, but fortunately sense prevailed. Of course I didn’t know about all of this stuff when I was little, but looking back I know that it was true.

What I do remember was any number of people sleeping on our floors. My brother Phillip summed it up perfectly once saying “what do you do when you find 20 strangers lying around the living room on a Sunday morning? You make pancakes, of course!” And that’s just what he did. He was the master breakfast maker, heating the syrup up on the stove and flipping pancakes until everyone had eaten.

Mom has always been strongly anti-establishment, and established religion was no exception. We didn’t go to church – we were more likely to go to Chastain Park with other families and play touch football on Sunday mornings. We did spend some time at the Unitarian Church though – I remember going to a summer camp there. My “tribe” was called Ghana.

When we went on vacation, chances were good that we’d go camping with friends. The picture below shows my mother and me walking to the latrine. You can tell by the toilet paper in her hand! I don’t think I understood that people vacationed in structures other than tents (like hotels, for example), until I was much older. We did spend time at St. George Island because my grandfather owned a house down there. I remember going with another family that had a possum as a pet. I have a very strong memory of that possum walking around the wet sand on the beach.

When my parents got divorced, we lived with my father, and eventually my step-mother, Jeanie. Things got more “normal” then, but it was still an unusual and lively household. My dad has always been a musician, loving bluegrass and old-time, and every six weeks or so we’d have a bunch of people over to the house to jam. This was a more mainstream group of people, but certainly talented and interesting. We laughed a lot, and my Jeanie graciously endured the unruly talk at the dinner table and our other shenanigans.

Maybe the most unusual aspect of my life was the fact that my parents made a concerted effort to not put us in the middle of their marital problems and subsequent divorce. I have plenty of friends whose divorced parents can’t even be in the same state, much less the same room, but that wasn’t the case with my parents. Once my younger brother was born, he was confused because we called our mother “Mom” and his mother “Jeanie,” and in the end just called my mom “Mommy Susan.” These days, I’d even say that my mom, dad and step-mother are good friends.

I know so many people who have dysfunctional relationships with their parents or siblings, and that gives such a poor example of family to our children. I’m very thankful that my own children are being brought up in a family where we love each other, have fun together and care deeply about each other. Hopefully that tradition will be continued through their adult lives with their own children as well!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Grandmothers

The blog prompt today certainly falls into more serious subject matter than I usually write about. But it gave me pause. I have to really think about what I’ve experienced to determine if anything I’ve been through in my life would be described as “trauma.” I feel certain that those people who have been through terrible events would characterize my life as pretty easy, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. I know that I’ve been very blessed.

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had pain. And who’s to say what might constitute “trauma” for a person?

In June of 2000, both of my grandmothers died within a week of each other. My maternal grandmother, Dolly, died on the 11th and then my paternal grandmother, Anna, died a couple of days later. They were both well up there in years – both in their 90s. Anna had been in a nursing home for quite a while – she actually told me a year or so before she died that she wondered why God had kept her alive that long. Her body had deteriorated but her mind really hadn’t, so she knew what she couldn't do any more. My favorite memory of Anna comes from my birthday, when I was about 5. She took me shopping for a present and we bought a toy grocery store. She played grocery with me for hours - or that's what my memory tells me. I loved staying at her house in Decatur. The room where we stayed had a crawl-space/small attic area in it, and it scared me – in a good way- when we spent the night there. And Anna was a great cook, so we ate very well!  Anna loved to read, but she gradually lost the majority of her sight over a number of years. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for her, but I don’t remember her dwelling on it, at least in our presence.

Dolly was a different story. Until 1994, she lived on her own, playing golf and bridge with her friends, taking trips to the beach with family, and even taking a whole slew of us to Paris in 1990. When I graduated from college, I moved to Chapel Hill with the intention of going to graduate school. It was moving away from home, but still close to people who would take care of me. My brother Phillip was finishing his doctorate at UNC, and Dolly lived in Chapel Hill, and I actually lived with her for a few months. Many times, if I had to choose between hanging out with friends or doing something with Dolly, I’d choose Dolly. We saw movies, ate at the K&W Cafeteria or just hung out.

After Rick and I moved to Baltimore, we still went down to Chapel Hill once a month or so. We spent lots of family time at the beach. Dolly stayed in her townhouse in Chapel Hill until she broke her pelvic bone surf-fishing in the Atlantic Ocean at Nags Head in 1994. After that, she moved in with my Aunt Kate, and lived there in Salem, VA until she died on June 11, 2000.

I won’t go into the long story here, but my prayers were answered in a significant way just prior to my grandmothers’ deaths. I was able to see Anna about a week before she died, and I got to drive up to see Dolly the weekend before she passed away.

The summer of 2000 was the hardest summer I’ve ever had to endure. I didn’t realize until much later that I was as affected by their deaths as I was. And I still miss them, most every day. And I know it wasn’t trauma like some of the terrible things people have to endure every day, but it was traumatic for me.

I’ll say it again – I’ve been very blessed. And in spite of how hard their deaths were for me, the blessing was in knowing them.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Yesterday was a hard day for me. I gave blood after church, which always totally zaps my energy, and then made good on a promise to take Sara to the mall. I can’t even find the words to describe how tired I was when I got home. Hannah came home for dinner, which is always a treat, but by the time I got home from taking her back to school I was beat. So I didn’t blog.

The prompt question for blogging today is about how one balances their children, relationships and work life. That’s a really good question. At first I thought to myself “well, I do okay I guess. I spend a lot of time at work, but I always make my family a priority, right?” And then I got stressed out. Maybe I don’t have balance. Maybe I need to do something differently! Maybe I would have blogged if I had had balance yesterday!

Once I became a parent, I was focused on finding the best way to do things for my family . I wanted to be more organized, more engaged, more encouraging, just more. But I have found that sometimes the wish to be more, combined with the effort to make this happen is more likely to make me become less. Less because I’m stressed or spending time about money trying to be more. Less because I have anxiety about not doing enough or the right thing. Trying to figure out if I’m balancing or not can sometimes build the same type of anxiety in my chest because if I’m not doing it right someone will suffer, right? If it’s me suffering, well, that’s kind of okay, but I sure don’t want my kids to suffer.


Here’s what I do know:

I do know that I’m a pretty good mother. I also know I’m blessed – I have kids that are pretty easy to parent – but it is definitely an intentional thing as well. I give my girls my time and love, advice and discipline, and in the end I don’t think they feel slighted in any way (at least most of the time).

So rather than stressing out about whether or not I’m balancing everything appropriately, I think I’ll celebrate the fact that somehow things balance how they need to. When I need to be spending more time at work, everyone at home comes through to make that possible for me. When I need to be home with a sick kid, like today, the people I work for allow that to happen. When I need time for myself, somehow I’m usually able to do a bit of that as well.

So here’s to balance – however it happens!

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Will I Write About Today?

I’m struggling with what to write about today. The daily prompt didn’t move me so I decided to do some research on the computer to see what I could come up with.

First I looked at the Lectionary for the Episcopal Church for the day. There was a passage from Revelations - definitely not my style, and none of the other options triggered any creativity either. Next I looked at some daily devotional websites, but those mostly seemed to be blogs in their own right and I certainly wasn’t going to plagiarize, so no dice there either.

Finally I Googled “Blog Topics” thinking that might give me a treasure trove of ideas. I found one site that gives a list of 50 personal blog posting ideas that range from “Describe your first date/kiss” to a list of your top beauty product must-haves to “that college professor that almost made you pee in your pants.” No one really wants to know about my first kiss, at age 5, with Scotty Hager behind the bushes in our front yard. And if you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t really have any top beauty product must-haves (but you may want to suggest some). And I think the only time a college professor almost made me pee in my pants was when his or her lecture went on too long. Frankly, my bladder control was quite sufficient back then. Now, after giving birth to two children, all bets are off!

One site suggested that I talk to the people in my “niche.” Since I have no idea what that would be, I must not have one so that idea is out too.

Next on my list was to try to find something funny to write about so I Googled “Funny Blog Topics.” I found a site called “Funny Blog Ideas to Write About” which on the surface seemed right up my alley, even though the site was targeted to pre-teenagers. I figured I have the maturity of a teen-ager (my kids say I’m” immature but responsible”) and I think a well-placed fart joke is a funny as the next kid so I hoped for a gold mine. Alas, no. This was mostly a lesson in how to write, with suggestions such as "stay on topic" and "be amusing to your target audience." But there wasn’t a list of good topics from which to choose, and who knows what my "target audience" is? The three of you who read this can let me know what you think is funny and I'll try to hit it next time.

Then, I found “101 Great Posting Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle.” Now that sounds promising! I want my blog to SIZZLE and I’m sure my three readers would like for it to sizzle as well. These suggestions included topics such as “Post Your Research Findings “ (I’ve done meaningful and significant research in the field of where to put the litter box so that the dog doesn’t eat the cat poop but have no useful findings yet), and “Debunk a Myth in Your Post” (okay – I know this will come as a surprise, but I’m not really a super-hero in my spare time).

So, frankly, I’m still not sure what I’ll write about tonight. But one helpful tip I got was that the blog post should be under 1000 words, and 1000 words is suggested as too long. I’m at 541 right now, so I guess I’ll stop for now and see if I can come up with a good idea later. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions they will be greatly appreciated!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 3 - I Got The Music In Me

The prompt for today’s blogging asks if I listen to music while I’m writing. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. For me, music is a full mind, full body experience. Writing is too.

I’m a musician – or at least I was for many years. I played violin for 8 years as a child, I took voice lessons all through high school and actually began my college career as a music education major. Growing up there was music in our house all the time – and all kinds too – bluegrass, classical, show tunes – you name it, we either played it or listened to it. We still have music in the house because Rick plays the guitar and Sara plays violin and sings. It's one of my favorite things about my home.

I’m not as active a musician now – with the exception of playing in the handbell choir at church or singing the hymns from my seat, most of my performances take place with I’m alone in the car or with Sara. But music still moves me to the core. I usually wake up with a song in my head – sometimes I know where it came from and sometimes it’s totally random. . Songs run through my head all day every day – sometimes for extended periods of time. For example, “Gaucho” by Steely Dan was stuck in my head for a couple of months . This was probably a punishment for making the kids listen to it in the car in spite of the fact that they hate Steely Dan. There’s no accounting for taste I guess.

This morning my blackberry buzzed on my desk and the first thing I thought was that the tone that came from it is the same as the first note of Shawn Colvin’s version of “The Little Road to Bethlehem.” Now that song’s in my head.

There is music that makes me cry. Music that makes me smile. There are songs that have sections in them that give me goose bumps every time I listen to them – like one of the last lines in Elton John’s “Curtains” or a specific place in the middle of Third Day’s “You’re Everywhere.” Rick tells me that I’m drawn to music that is full – big harmonies for example – and I believe that’s true. In both of these instances, it’s the harmony and combination of instruments that does it for me. And it happens every time. I have to stop whatever I’m doing when I’m listening to these songs, just to experience the rush again.

When I listen to music I love, I listen with all of me. I sing and I move. Music isn’t just a backdrop for me, so it’s distracting when I write. I have to choose between the listening/singing/moving and the focusing on writing. I love both, I just can’t combine the two.

Now I’m off to grab my iPod.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2 - Expectations

I had a meeting with one of my dear daughter’s (DD) teachers today. DD is struggling in this class and I needed to find out how I can help her to succeed. It’s important to understand that DD has NEVER said that this teacher is mean, only that he is hard, DD doesn’t understand the content, and rumors abound that the teacher is teaching the 9th grade advanced Biology class from the AP Biology textbook. Plus, he’s Indian and has an accent that is supposedly hard to understand.

I was a little bit apprehensive about this meeting. I was expecting a difficult meeting with someone with whom I might disagree or even who I might dislike.

Instead, I met a very nice young man (younger than I am anyway) who seems to be genuinely interested in teaching well. He very patiently answered all of my questions, gave me information about resources the students can use to for help, showed me exactly what the students are graded on, and made it clear that he wants my daughter to succeed as much as I do (and hopefully as much as she does). Oh – and that accent? It’s there, but he speaks English very clearly in my opinion.

Today, at least prior to the meeting, was a diversion from my usual nature. There’s a saying from the cartoon “Life in Hell” that says “keep your expectations tiny and you won’t go through life so whiny.” While I wouldn’t suggest living one’s whole life by this maxim, I do find that if I manage my expectations in certain circumstances I’m hardly ever disappointed because my expectations weren’t met. I try to keep this little saying in my head for things like movies and social gatherings, and it seems to serve me well. I’m a glass half-full kind of gal and can find a silver lining almost anywhere.

Then again, my expectation that whoever spills water on the floor in the kitchen at work might clean it up are quite great, and as often as not, crushed.

And my expectation that if a lady doesn’t want to sit on the toilet seat she might choose to either use one of those handy seat covers, if available, or at least wipe the seat is apparently unreasonable. But still hope springs eternal.

And those expectations of myself. There’s a mixed bag if I ever saw one. I get disappointed in myself on a regular basis, but I also give myself an awful lot of slack. There probably needs to be some middle ground in that equation. Maybe when I grow up I’ll find it (see the slack-giving in its finest form?).

I have some very high expectations that will always be met though. My expectation that God has a wonderful plan for me – I just need to get out of the balcony long enough to listen to what it is. My expectation that I will always be able to find beauty in God’s world. My expectation that my children will continue to love me and I them, no matter what, because they are a gift from God.

What are your expectations? Are they reasonable? Are you disappointed on a regular basis, or delighted? Remember that God has a plan, and sometimes (Oftentimes? Always?) we aren’t the ones in charge. Expect that He’ll surprise and amaze you, and you won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's November! The Writing Month!

NaBloPoMo 2011

A couple of years ago I took on the challenge of writing a book (or 50,000 words) in the month of November. The same friend who posted the information about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) then posted a link today to a website that has a NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).  The challenge here is to write a blog post every day during the month. In spite of the fact that I can’t imagine how I can come up with something interesting every day, I’m going to give it a whirl. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I at least had an idea in mind – something I had been thinking about writing for a few years.  50,000 words was a daunting task but I made it - the nice thing about blogging is that the post doesn’t have to be long so I don’t have to stress about word count.

The website offers daily prompts in case a participating blogger is short on ideas that day.  Today’s prompt is “What is your favourite part about writing?” (they used the British “favourite” so I had to use it too!)  My favorite part about writing is the actual act of doing it. That means that I’ve taken time for myself to do something that is meaningful to me. It means that I’ve actually put down on paper the things that all too often just stay in my head. 

I think about writing all the time. When I’m in church and the scripture or the sermon touches me in some way. When I’m at work and I see something that strikes me as funny or even sad. Once, 18 or so years ago, I was on my way home from Chicago. I took the train to the airport and there was the really strange guy on the train. I got to the airport with three or so hours to spare so I sat and wrote a story about him. I mean I wrote FURIOUSLY. And it was so gratifying that I remember it very clearly. (If only I could remember where I put the story. I know it’s somewhere in this house. Maybe my challenge for next month will be to find it.)

But I live in the balcony (see my first post if you want to know what that means). And living the balcony means that I have to really focus because there are distractions everywhere – and I’m more susceptible to distractions than your average bear. So for me, NaBloPoMo will be a challenge, but one that I expect I’ll enjoy immensely. Hopefully anyone who reads it might enjoy it as well.