Matrimony in the great outdoors

I’m not really a fan of weddings.

I guess I enjoyed my own wedding, but overall, they’re just not that appealing to me. They are too often a big production that has little to do with making a sacred vow before God, family and friends. The spectacle and expense are too much for me to take seriously.

Alex and Natalie get married on a dock
The view from the congregation at the King-Vinson wedding posted to Facebook by one of the couple’s friends.

That said, I have been to a number of very nice weddings and have enjoyed being a part of a number of ceremonies in which friends or family have done their best to put the emphasis on what’s important. This past week, Carla and I attended one such wedding that turned out to be the perfect combination of scenic venue, enjoyable conversation, delicious food and a meaningful ceremony.

I guess it’s just natural when you’re married that when you attend a wedding you end up comparing it to your own. Even though we married in May, we couldn’t help but think about the similarities and key differences in this union of our friends, Alex and Natalie, and our own wedding more than 15 years ago. We were good, Southern traditionalists and attempted a simple, tasteful and aesthetically-pleasing outdoor wedding. A heavy rain sent us indoors, completely changing the venue and vibe of our wedding, and Carla has harbored regret ever since.

She even gets a little jealous, I think, when couples get to have their nuptials outside, which was the case last weekend for Alex and Natalie. Because we have been in dialogue with them at church during their wedding planning for the past few months, we were eager to see their vision come to life.

Unlike our wedding, the weather cooperated magnificently. You could not have custom- created a better Georgia October day. It was clear with a slight breeze and warm without a trace of humidity. The lakeside setting with trees turning autumnal red, orange and yellow provided scenic vistas from nearly every vantage point of the several hundred attendees. The wedding party assembled on a flower petal-strewn dock, tastefully and simply adorned with two huge urns of fall flowers.

The music was a mix of violin and keyboard and included the classic as well as the bride and groom’s special selections.

Alex chomps a piece of the grooms cake as Natalie looks on.
Don’t they look like they’re having fun? The chocolate-peanut butter groom’s cake was a hit.

I care very deeply about Alex and Natalie and was glad to see them taking such efforts to ensure the event was about what weddings are supposed to be about, and when they tied a fisherman’s knot instead of lighting a unity candle, I couldn’t help but think how the metaphor was appropriate on so many levels. All that was missing was a fish jumping out of the water at the moment they set their completed knot down into a ceramic basin.

As the ceremony ended and guests made their way to the lit tent by the lake, the photographer got busy taking the obligatory after-the-ceremony photos. Unlike many weddings we’ve attended where the guests are left to socialize in hunger for what seems like hours, Alex and Natalie wisely invited their guests to help themselves to the buffet during the photography session. Having left our children with Carla’s parents, we were appreciative of the rare treat of uninterrupted adult conversation. The time at the table was a special gift for us as we and our friends reflected on our own wedding experiences, laughed at our naivete and reconnected with the reasons we had all chosen our mates. And it was a powerful reminder to me that Carla is a lot of fun to be around.

I’m glad the weather cooperated. I’m glad I was invited. I’m glad Brian, Amy and Rebecca sat at our table and provided easy and enjoyable conversation. I’m glad Alex and Natalie seemed to get what a wedding is supposed to be about. And for this wedding Grinch, I’m glad I had one to chalk up on the good side of the ledger.

Maybe my attitude will change about weddings. There are precious few years left before I may have to be the father of the groom myself. I might as well get ready for it.

Have you been to a particularly enjoyable or meaningful wedding recently? How did you make your own wedding a unique expression of your style and your relationship? Do you hate weddings? Leave a comment below and share the love.

Get thee to a pumpkin patch

As temperatures down South dip into the 40s and 50s, tasteful seasonal decorating requires at least one nice gourd on the front porch.

Carlton offers his little pumpkin
Carlton found the perfect sized pumpkin for him at Berry Patch Farms.

Some of you have been so eager for fall temperatures that you ran out and bought a pumpkin when they first arrived in stores or when the pumpkin patches first opened in late August or early September. Sadly, those early pumpkins are now rotten piles of mildew and orange goo or have long since been discarded.

When the air gets that hint of cool crispness, the first line of a poem by James Whitcomb Riley that I memorized in elementary school invades my mind: “When the frost is on the pumpkin…”

We haven’t had a frost yet, here in Atlanta, but now is the right time to get a pumpkin. If you still haven’t made your pumpkin purchase for this fall, here are few pointers to keep in mind:

1.) Pumpkin patches are fun. In my mind, the more authentic the pumpkin patch, the better, but we’ve seen everything from a random assortment of pumpkins laying out in a field to a church selling pumpkins from their front yard to the grocery store to Stone Mountain’s annual Pumpkin Fest where pumpkins are tucked in around the granite boulders. Pumpkin patches are usually accessorized by hayrides, corn mazes and an assortment of fall foods. To make things easier for you, I’ve found a website listing pumpkin patches throughout the Peach State.

Harris with a big pumpkin
Harris likes his pumpkins a little bit bigger.

2.) Purchase pumpkins where you buy your fruits and vegetables. At most of the pumpkin patches I’ve visited, you spend all your money doing the ancillary activities so that by the time you’re ready to pick out your pumpkin, you can’t really afford a nice gourd. Here’s a hint: you can buy the same size or larger at the grocery store for a fraction of the price of a pumpkin patch pumpkin. I apologize to all the pumpkin patch fundraisers out there, but I am duty bound to report this consumer fact to all of my loyal readers… well, both of my loyal readers.

3.) Pick a pumpkin that wasn’t picked in July. The firmer the pumpkin, the fresher the pumpkin. If it gives when you press on it, then it’s ready for the compost heap, not for carving. And if carving isn’t really what you had in mind, there are lots of varieties of guords that may meet your needs better. You can learn more at this site.

4.) Roast the seeds. In elementary school, I had a teacher who handed out roasted pumpkin seeds as rewards. Perhaps I have too much of a psychological investment in pumpkin as a result, but roasted pumpkin seeds are at least as good as sunflower seeds without all the spitting of hulls. We have trouble getting the process right and typically burn ours, but according the pumpkin recipe page, 225 degrees for an hour should do the trick.

Wallace family
Doesn’t the fall just bring out our family’s togetherness?

5.) Start a family tradition. You don’t have to sit in a pumpkin patch at midnight on Halloween to have a great time with gourds in the fall. Every element of the pumpkin process from the selection to the carving makes for great photos and even better memories.

Growing up, my family never really bothered with pumpkins, but Carla and I have purchased at least one pumpkin every year since we had kids. Some years were so busy that we didn’t bother to carve them, but having pumpkins is one of the highlights of our family’s fall activities.

Better get your pumpkin today. The pickins are getting pretty slim at the farms and patches. Pretty soon, all that will be left are the rotting, decaying or mishapen pumpkins, and no one wants a misfit pumpkin on their front porch.

Where do you get your  pumpkins? How many do you buy each year? Do you roast the seeds or try to use the entrails for pumpkin pie? Don’t hold back! Share all your pumpkin secrets by leaving a comment below.

Little gym, big gym

Last Saturday Carlton and our family and friends celebrated his fourth birthday at The Little Gym in Snellville.

Carlton and friends at The Little Gym
See? Smiles everywhere. Carlton and his friends had a blast.

Though Carlton only took classes there for six weeks, he often asks to go back. The birthday party was the perfect excuse.

The folks at The Little Gym were organized, well-staffed, professional but personal, and they made the entire experience a pleasure. We got to watch the kids have fun and take pictures while the staff ran the party. I can’t recommend The Little Gym enough. There’s a reason Parents magazine named The Little Gym the number one place to host children’s birthday parties.

Along with my recent job change, I’ve changed gyms as I seek to find a schedule that makes sense for me. I’m no longer at the Fitness 19 around the corner, though I had a good experience there for several years.

Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech
The BIG gym. Actually, it’s the biggest gym I think I’ve ever been in.

Now, I’m at the palatial Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech, the modified former venue of Olympic swimming and diving. It’s massive, with 14 machines of every type, and the equipment is so new I don’t even know what to do with some of it.

All this gym talk had me thinking about the similarities and differences between Carlton’s gym and my gym. So here’s my analysis, using the five senses as an organizing principle:

Sight: The Little Gym is full of bright, primary colors appropriate for children who are learning such basic concepts. The big gym has the appropriate Georgia Tech old gold and white with the navy and black accent colors tastefully and athletically applied. Both are well lit. Obviously, the patrons of The Little Gym are quite a bit shorter but after a rousing game of follow the leader or parachute circle, no less sweaty than their larger equivalents at the big gym. The key difference? The Little Gym people have way more smiling going on.

Carlton gets dizzy with the parachute game
No skydiving required for this parachute, but Carlton still got a little dizzy.

Smell: Without putting too fine a point on it, adults who are exerting smell bad. Children who are exerting have no real smell; unless they are so busy playing they forget to take a potty break. Both gyms smell of antibacterial cleanser, although I have to say The Little Gym has some of the “Scentsy” candle air fresheners that are aromatherapeutic–a nice added touch.

Taste: When I’m at the big gym, all I have is water. It’s pretty much tasteless, unless some of my salty sweat drips down my face while I’m at the water fountain. At The Little Gym, we had juice pouches, popcorn and cupcakes. Now that is fuel for a workout! I do eat a protein bar and a banana or apple after my workout, but as far as breakfasts go, it’s lacking.

Sound: Both gyms have up-tempo music playing to help you get revved up. At The Little Gym, they played a number of hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s such as “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” “Rockin’ Robin” and others. At the big gym, it’s typically a mix of hits from the ‘90s, dance tunes, and hip-hop. It’s enough to make me want my ear buds, but I tend to tune it out most of the time.

The view from the high dive platform
Mere mortals are not allowed up on the high dive platform, but it does make for a really nice view of the big gym’s pool.

Touch: Nearly everything at The Little Gym is padded. There are parallel bars, a high bar, rings and other apparatus that feel the same for the kids as they would the grownups, but overall, it’s soft place to fall, jump, tumble, flip and bounce. The surfaces of the big gym are less forgiving. There is a rubber floor, which absorbs the impact of dumbbells and barbells, and the four or five mats do offer some padding for stretching, yoga or other forms of fitness-related torture. In general, though, the big gym isn’t a place you’d want to fall down.

OK, so what’s my point? All of this is obvious, you say. Well, it’s clear that kids have more fun at The Little Gym than adults do at the big gym. And I think the reasons are in my analysis above. But more than the atmosphere and the physical setting, it’s about attitude.

No matter what color the walls are painted or how the place smells we can all bring a little more child-like play to our fitness. Not only would we enjoy it more, we would probably get healthier in the process.

I think I need a little more Little Gym in my big gym.

OK, it’s your turn. What do you like about your gym? What don’t you like? Have you had any experience with the Little Gym or places that are similar? Leave a comment below and share!

Recalculating

Apple released the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, and unleashed mayhem on America’s roadways in the process.

Warning: If the car in front of you suddenly stops in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, do not blame the driver. They are simply doing what Siri has told them to do. They have, according to Siri, arrived at their destination.

I know this from firsthand experience.

Screen shot of new Apple maps
Which one is better, new Apple maps or old Google maps? The new one talks to you. That’s not necessarily a plus.

You see, I recently uploaded the new operating system to my now antiquated iPhone 4S. Last Friday I was meeting a colleague for breakfast at an establishment that was previously unfamiliar to me. As an iPhone neophyte, I decided to give Siri a try. After I input the CORRECT address, Siri guided me to the Atlanta waterworks, where there was no sign of eggs, bacon, biscuits or grits. In fact, Siri emphatically told me I had arrived right in the middle of the road.

What happened? Well, a few days later I learned that corporate competition has caused Apple to abandon Google maps in favor of its own maps application. This is not a helpful development for the directionally challenged.

You see, Google maps has been around a while, and the database upon which its maps program is based has had more time to be updated and carefully tended to avoid causing you to, as Michael Scott once famously said in an episode of “The Office,” “Drive your car into a lake.”

It’s a simple proof of the time-tested principle of databases: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Over time, Apple maps will improve because the data will be updated and corrected, but in the meantime, beware.

All of this points to a more disturbing trend in the New South: Smart phones make dumb people.

Way back when I had both a Palm Pilot and a separate cell phone (yes, the Dark Ages, I know), I used to refer to my Palm as my “hand-held brain supplement.” At some point in the development of these devices, they went from being a brain “supplement” to a brain “replacement.”

We think these devices will enhance our functionality. They help us look up the answers to important questions we need immediate answers to, like what actor played what role with Kevin Bacon in a movie in 1986. But, if we are walking down the street while looking up the answer to this brain teaser, we are likely to step in front of a bus or fall down an open manhole.

Car in the Pacific Ocean
“Siri, can you give me directions to the Pacific Ocean?”

I am one month into a new job on the campus of Georgia Tech, and I have already nearly killed 14 pedestrians. Not because I’m not paying attention, mind you. It’s smart phones. Students, with their heads buried in their devices, will literally walk into your car, like a rodent on a neighborhood street that dives under your car’s tires.

In the South, we were once caricatured for our imprecise directions: “Go down to the Wal-Marts and turn left, then go ‘til you see the stand of pines. Veer right through the holler and when you come out the other side, you’ll make a left-hand turn past the third hill. When you reach the Ford on blocks in the front yard, it’s just four and a half mailboxes down.”

Still, we knew how to get around. And if we didn’t, we asked people.  In my last job, I did a fair amount of traveling to all the places where there are a lot of Baptists, primarily the South. At first, I would print out turn-by-turn directions from Mapquest. By the end, I would let my smartphone tell me where to go.

I developed this little game where I wouldn’t use the smart phone directions unless I got lost. Guess what? It never happened. By navigating through such visual clues as SIGNS, and a well-honed sense of likely church locations, I managed to find my way every time.

So don’t let the Apple maps debacle get you down. Look up. Look around you. See the sights. Get lost. Talk to people. Ask for directions. And, please, by all means, do not trust Siri.

Has your smart phone made you stupid? What’s your worst experience with bad directions from a smart phone? Leave a comment below and share your story. We won’t laugh… much.