A trip to Georgia’s oldest city to feel new again

I’ve kicked around Georgia now for more than 21 years, almost half my life. In all that time, I had only been to Savannah twice.

The third time was definitely a charm last weekend as Carla and I were able to parlay a work event Friday night into an excuse to leave the boys with Carla’s parents and have a weekend away.

It was just what the doctor ordered for us in the early stages of a rat-race school year overly filled with scouts, band, work and other volunteer responsibilities that prevent such basic relationship necessities as uninterrupted conversations and rest.

You can't beat the Westin Savannah Harbor for a weekend getaway. It's across the river from downtown, but worth the extra distance.
You can’t beat the Westin Savannah Harbor for a weekend getaway. It’s across the river from downtown, but worth the extra driving distance.

We stayed at the Westin Savannah Harbor overlooking the Savannah River, and were treated to a great, 11th floor view of the channel and its bustling activity: freighters laden with containers, tugboats trailing or pulling the container ships, ferries running tourists back and forth to River Street and even the occasional personal watercraft piloted by those who don’t think the last weekend in September is too late in the year to be in the water.

We purposefully did not fill our schedule, although we had contemplated everything from a historic trolley tour to a ghost tour.  Instead, we just went with our impulses. Sleeping late, brunch, enjoying a breezy walk down River Street and ultimately up into the historic downtown. Inadvertently accomplishing a major Christmas shopping milestone and sampling the goods at Byrd’s Cookie Company was as ambitious as our day got.

We left plenty of time for napping poolside and a stack of Southern Livings and Garden & Guns.

The Olde Pink House is supposedly haunted and is one the Savannah Ghost Tour. The food is hauntingly good.
The Olde Pink House is supposedly haunted and is on the Savannah Ghost Tour. The food is hauntingly good.

As much as we enjoyed each other’s company, the highlight of the trip was dinner Saturday night at The Olde Pink House, a Savannah landmark and memorable culinary and cultural experience. Our good friends from Macon, Dusty and Tonya, have survived several vacation outings with us, including a cruise, and are the kind of good friends every couple should have.

They invite you to be yourself in a sincere way, laugh at your jokes, empathize with your child rearing challenges because of their own three kids, and know enough of the same people to gossip but have enough new in their lives to keep conversation interesting. And since they moved to Savannah two years ago, they have an intimate knowledge of the city they now call home.

Interestingly enough, though we spent the better part of six hours together, our conversation tended to break into gender-specific cliques. They talked home decorating while we talked football and Georgia Tech, Dusty’s alma mater and my employer.

Not one to have to be the life of the party, Dusty gave us an unexpected treat when The Olde Pink House’s roving improvisational singer came by the table. His premeditated, and perhaps rehearsed, harmonizing with the vocalist on Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” including the whistling part, gave our friendship yet another lifelong memory and the room full of diners something to giggle and whisper about. What can I say, that’s just Dusty.

The Savannah City Hall is a landmark that may be impossible to take a bad picture of. It's one of many beautiful historic landmarks in the city filled with parks and squares.
The Savannah City Hall is a landmark that may be impossible to take a bad picture of. It’s one of many beautiful historic buildings in a city filled with parks and squares.

Here’s what I learned from the weekend: you appreciate a time out from your regular routine more when it’s infrequent. You need time away from your children in order to appreciate them more. You should never fail to appreciate good friends because you never know when circumstances may separate you. And, finally, you can appreciate your spouse more if you have time to actually talk to him or her.

Anyone within a few hundred miles should plan a trip to the oldest city in Georgia – just don’t do it during Spring Break. That’s when we’re planning a return. This time we’ll bring the boys along and have a different kind of memorable weekend that will help the entire family bond.

What do you like or dislike about Savannah? Have you ever been? What are must-dos and must-eats in this historic city? Leave a comment below and share your experiences.

Fiscal cliff

Lately my wife and I have been talking a lot about money.

fiscal cliff ahead road sign
This message may be personal as well as national.

No, not the exciting “What would we do if we won the lottery?” kinds of conversations about money. More of the “If we refinance our mortgage what does our monthly budget look like?” kinds of conversations about money.

During the seemingly never-ending presidential campaign, we heard a lot about the economy, but my hypothesis is that most couples either don’t talk about or don’t like talking about finances, even if they have plenty of money.

It’s definitely a wedge issue in most marriages. Carla and I avoid the subject like the plague. I know; it’s silly. It’s the same principal Carlton employs when he covers his own eyes to “hide” during Hide-and-Seek. Somehow, we think if we don’t discuss it, we have all the money in the world.

Well, when it comes to money, ignorance is definitely only blissful in the short term. Eventually, you have to face reality. Everyone has a fiscal cliff.

It’s interesting that we criticize our government for not being able to sit down and solve our debt crisis without devolving into partisan bickering while at the same time, most of us married couples can’t have a civil conversation about spending.

Like Congress and the President, we wait until there’s a crisis. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? One spouse has inadvertently overused the debit card pushing the account to the brink of being overdrawn. Or maybe an extravagant purchase was made without the consent of both spouses. Or money that was set aside for savings ended up being slowly eroded over time to meet monthly budget overruns or used for something unexpected like a new set of tires. These are the situations that cause most of us to finally sit down and talk about our finances.

Carla and I tend to discuss our finances while driving. It’s just easier to discuss money when you don’t have to look your spouse in the eye. My recent job change has necessitated more of these windshield chats to talk through our budgetary realignment. For starters, I went from being paid every two weeks to once a month. This kind of shock to your system requires conversation.

A couple with a dollar sign in the middle
At first, conversations about money can sound a lot like arguments. You have to get past that phase in order to make progress.

We scheduled a summit – not the kind of summit where we jet off to Sea Island and discuss heady world economic challenges over shrimp cocktail and Dom Perignon.  This was a kind of intentional conversation that allowed for total honesty, no blame and mutual support. The result? We had our personal 10-point economic plan for avoiding a fiscal cliff.

I am not a marriage counselor or a certified financial planner. That said, I humbly share five tips to help you and your spouse talk about your finances:

1.) Whatever it is, it’s both of you. If the money is flowing in and your problem is how to spend it, it can’t be just about one spouse or the other. Even if you maintain separate bank accounts, your collective largesse or indebtedness is a financial reality that must be owned and shared by both of you. If you take credit or assign blame, you will kill any dialogue before it starts.

2.) Start with the big picture. Most couples are penny wise but pound foolish. It’s easier to begin the conversation by talking about overall assets and liabilities than jumping down into the details of expenditures. This also helps set the stage for shared ownership of your financial situation.

3.) Neutralize your language. Speak in realities without assigning blame. “You” and “yours” must be “us” and “ours.” Avoid loaded phrases like “your spending” or “my salary.” It’s more helpful to talk about household income and expenditures.

4.) This is a private conversation. If you share too many of the details with your loved ones, you will find yourself talking about your spouse instead of to them. If you talk in front of your children, you may find your name on the church prayer list under “financial concerns” because your child mentioned what they overheard in Sunday School. Seriously, it freaks kids out to hear their parents arguing about money. It’s not very sexy, but if you must, plan a date night to have “the talk.”

5.) Schedule regular updates. This can’t be a once-every-six-months conversation. You need to write into your calendars consistent, monthly meetings to help you get over the awkwardness and conflict. Like any habit, it’s gets easier over time.

For what it’s worth, this is what I think. We live in a New South that isn’t as financially stable as it once was. Marriages have many points of conflict, but we all know money can be one of the biggest.

If Congress can do this, surely you can.

What tips would you offer to help couples discuss their finances more openly? What has been your experience that others may find helpful? Leave a comment below and channel your inner-Dave Ramsey.

Fifteen years and counting

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the day Carla Lynn Barron became my wife. Emily Post would tell me to celebrate the occasion with a gift of crystal and an arrangement of roses. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem to fit.

Carla and Lance run through the rose petals after their wedding 15 years ago.
It hasn’t always rained rose petals, but it’s been a great 15-year run.

Rather than blindly opting for tradition – a very “Old South” thing to do – I am customizing things a bit, planning a celebration that matches our mood and needs of the moment.

Early on in our marriage, we established the tradition of switching off the responsibility for planning our anniversary. We thought it was silly for one spouse to have to come up with a way to recognize our anniversary every year when both of us entered into the relationship and both of us exert energy to keep it going.

So we alternate: I plan odd years, Carla handles the evens. That means I got the first year, and then I get all the fives, which will someday include our 25th. Carla got 10 and will have all the 10-year increments after that. It’s a good system that works for us.

Another anniversary tradition we started early on was an anniversary journal. Carla gave it to me as a gift on our third anniversary, and it became the way we express our feelings about the previous year. You can tell when times were tough at a glance: the dates of our entries fall weeks even months after our actual anniversary date. But those have been few and far between. The journal has been a much anticipated part of our annual commemoration and saves on buying those cheesy, over-sexed anniversary cards that never really say what you are feeling.

As I made the anniversary plan this year, I surmised that Carla needed the all-important words of affirmation found in the journal entry and some time without the kids. I have been traveling for work a lot this spring, leaving her to handle the boys all by herself too many nights. So while we acknowledged the actual day yesterday with roses and a journal entry, we’ll really celebrate tomorrow.

SPOILER ALERT! (This is top secret, and Carla doesn’t know! Don’t tell her!) Carla’s day begins with a 90-minute massage appointment. I’ll take the boys to free comic book day at Odin’s, and she’ll have the early afternoon to relax, get dressed and enjoy some quiet time in her own house.

At 2:30 p.m., Rachel arrives to watch the boys, while Carla and I head to the Decatur Garden Tour for several hours of child-less strolling around immaculately landscaped homes, conversation and maybe even some hand holding. We’ll follow that up with an early dinner at Parker’s on Ponce in downtown Decatur, not rushing to get home. With the kids in bed, our nightcap will be a movie streamed from Netflix. Her choice, of course. Probably a romantic comedy.

No great shakes, right? Just a simple plan of spending time together that won’t break the budget.

I don’t feel pressure to jet off to some exotic locale for a weekend getaway just because our anniversary ends in a five. I’m aiming for meaningful interaction, shared experience and a relaxed pace. Enjoyable over splashy.

I think that’s really more descriptive of our relationship. We share our lives in ways that enrich each other rather than thrill each other. That’s not to say I still don’t have a rush of excitement to see her after a business trip, or the occasional date night doesn’t help me remember why we fell in love in the first place. Overall, though, our relationship is more stable than sparky.

Still, I don’t view being married 15 years as an accomplishment. Yes, it’s not always easy being married. It takes effort and, to invoke the cliché, you do have to make the daily choice to love your spouse. But my life is so much better with Carla that I don’t even want to imagine what the last 15 years would have been like had I not had the good sense to marry her on that stormy May afternoon.

We’ve had some tough times, but really, with the benefit of time and perspective, I can honestly say that our marriage is great. We’ve grown closer and stronger through every challenge. I’m sure there will be days in the future that test us, but at the 15-year point, our marriage is hitting its stride.

Thank you, Carla, for sharing life with me. I don’t mind folks knowing that I need you. So until next year’s entry in the journal, happy anniversary. I love you.

If you survived the total mushiness of this entry and would like to share your anniversary traditions, leave a comment below. Or if you have a tip that has enhanced your marriage, share it so we can all benefit.

Love means never having to say ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’

The longer I am married, the less Valentine’s Day means to my relationship with my wife.

valentine's day roses
I'm sorry but this just isn't natural.

I have learned that my wife operates by a simple but sometimes confusing philosophy: if everyone else is doing it, she wants no part of it. Therefore, if I come home on Valentine’s Day with a dozen red roses, I get the third degree on why I overpaid for flowers.

But, if I show up with a dozen white or pink or even yellow roses for no reason in the middle of June, I’m a hero.

The same is true for cards. If I go out and spend $4 on a Hallmark Valentine’s card, no matter what the message, she questions my sanity. If I take a blank piece of stationery and write a heart-felt note on a random Tuesday in September, I’m a champ.

Don’t even go there with chocolate. If I want to induce self-loathing in my wife, there’s no quicker way than to give her a giant box of chocolates that will tempt her until they’re gone.

I can only imagine her utter horror if a box of pajamas or a giant teddy bear was delivered. In fact, if there’s a commercial for it during the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, she finds it distasteful.  As much as she may appreciate diamonds, she has an involuntary convulsion every time she hears the jingle “Every kiss begins with Kay.”

Don’t get me wrong. Carla wants me to shower her with love and affection, just not on the same day and in the same way everyone else does.

Over the years, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that Valentine’s Day just doesn’t mean anything for us anymore. And maybe there are others like us.

Carla has this theory that the earlier you are in your relationship, the more important Valentine’s Day is. Insecurity is at the root of all the card-writing and gift-giving, not romance.

valentine's day chocolates
Just because they come in a heart-shaped box doesn't necessarily mean they will evoke affection.

After you’ve been together for, oh, let’s say 15 years as a completely hypothetical duration, there’s less insecurity in the relationship. Demonstrating love and commitment comes in more practical forms.

If I really want to make my wife’s day, I’ll take the kids off her hands, send her out shopping or let her watch “Say Yes to the Dress” uninterrupted while I read to the boys. If I really want to show her how much I love her, I will leave her alone completely.

Before you think we’ve lost all sense of romance, let me say that we enjoy date nights from time to time, and any day other than Valentine’s Day is a good day for me to show up with flowers.

Truth be told, I think more women subscribe to Carla’s view than the Valentine’s Industrial Machine wants to admit. It requires no thought, no planning, no special effort to give your loved one the same gifts that everyone else is buying.

It’s like “Romance for Dummies.” There’s nothing about those traditional gifts that have meaning once you reach a certain stage in your relationship.

So while the rest of the guys out there are shelling out $50 for roses, $30 for chocolates or $100 for an oversized teddy bear, I’ll score major points by putting the kids to bed early, turning the lights down low and uttering those three little words that melt her heart:

“Here’s the remote.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Am I right, people? If the over-commercialized ideal of Valentine’s Day still appeals to you, speak up! Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.