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.

Another British Invasion

Like most trends in popular culture, Carla and I are late to the ball on the Emmy-award-winning “Downton Abbey.”

Downton Abbey
The cast of Downton Abbey, now in its second season on PBS but gearing up for a third "series" on the BBC in September.

After many friends and co-workers insisted we join the cult of Downton, we reluctantly re-subscribed to Netflix last weekend so we could go back and watch the first season of the early 20th century British family drama now in its second season on PBS.

The first episode was pleasant enough to keep us watching, but it’s still hard for me to explain Downton mania.

The opening sequence of the first episode is beautiful cinematography. Sweeping shots of the interior of the house as the servants prepare for the day spoke volumes about the characters, the setting and even the plot. The story begins in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic, and its impact on the heirs to the Downton estate.

It was hard to follow the dialogue at first. We had to tune our ears to the frequency that allows Americans to understand English spoken with a British accent and idioms.

The characters were interesting, and the interplay between the hired help set apart from the wealthy family had all the intrigue of a back-stabbing corporate drama. Like most of these British dramas, which Carla particularly likes in movie form, the plot seemed to turn slowly around relatively minor points.

It reminded me of the 1992 Oscar-winning film “Howard’s End,” which involved a similar plot about who would inherit an English estate. Perhaps I was too shallow back then to appreciate the story, preferring instead movies with lasers, explosions and car chases. My chief impression of “Howard’s End” was that it was overly long and less-than-exciting. The most compelling action in the entire movie was [SPOILER ALERT] a bookcase falling on someone.

But what enamored the Academy, if not twenty-something male movie-goers, is also true of Downton: the writing is brilliant and the characters well-crafted.

Dowton Abbey's servants
Wouldn't you like a staff of servants to help you keep your "estate" in order?

The way American television develops characters lacks subtlety. Writers and directors feel a need to stick to stereotypes and one-dimensional portrayals to keep things simple. With Downton, every nod or wink or wince keeps you guessing about what is really going on with a character. Is Lord Crawley going to dismiss his war buddy, Mr. Bates, because of his disability? The dilemma plays out slowly and with nuance, holding your attention to the very last moment.

However, I must confess that Downton feeds one of my many annoying habits: poorly imitating British accents and phraseology.

As I cleaned up our plates of take-out Chinese, I couldn’t keep myself from saying in the clipped and precise manner of Carson, the head butler, “Is that all, your grace?”

I got a courtesy chuckle from Carla, but I could tell her patience with the Queen’s English wouldn’t last very long.

So I guess we’ll be visiting Downton Abbey regularly, joining the rest of you people who insisted we come along for the ride. With such a dearth of decent programming on the telly, this is a welcomed weekly retreat we can enjoy after putting the kids to bed.

I’ll try to keep a tight rein on Anglicising my vocabulary, and keep an eye out for falling bookcases.


Do you watch Downton Abbey? What do you love about it? You say you hate British dramas? What do you detest? Take a minute and share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Are we there yet?

Summer road trips have been a part of the Southern landscape since rednecks first discovered their Riviera on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. For nearly as long, parents have been looking for ways to entertain their children in the car on the way to the beach.

We’re just past Independence Day, and my family has already made one long and several short car trips. All the time behind the wheel has me contemplating how kids pass the time in the car in the New South.

When I was growing up, my family made annual treks from Fort Worth, Texas, to Columbus, Ga., to see my grandparents.  Not confined to car seats like today’s kids, my two brothers and I freely roamed the back seats of our family’s station wagons and sedans.

We amused ourselves with books, coloring books and handheld, battery-operated electronic games, which were the new technological rage in the late 1970s. We counted “Lovebugs” and cried out in olfactory offense when we passed a nearby paper mill. We enjoyed egg McMuffins and Whoppers, and occasionally stopped at Stuckey’s when traversing Mississippi.

electronic football
Mattel's Football 2 was our favorite. You could even "pass" indicated by one red blip blinking and moving downfield to another red blip. Highly advanced for its day.

Kids in the New South, spend car trips watching movies, listening to MP3 players and playing handheld game systems like Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP. These game systems allow kids to play interactively in high resolution graphics. Back in my day, we tried to move a red blip past other red blips in a game that sounded like Morse Code and resembled a malfunctioning Internet router more than it did football.

Our 2-year-old son, Carlton, demonstrated a new breakthrough during a recent trip to Tampa. As all 2-year-olds confined to car seats for long periods do, Carlton began to fuss and whine and lose interest in the movie my older two boys watched on our minivan’s built-in DVD player.

My wife clicked away on Facebook on her ever-present iPhone attracting Carlton’s attention.

“I want it!” he whined, arms outstretched.

Tough love isn’t something we practice during long car trips.

Carla handed over her phone, and in just a few seconds we heard Barney singing “The Wheels on the Bus.” Carla and I exchanged puzzled looks. She took the phone away, reset it and handed it back so she could see what he was doing.

Carlton on Iphone
Carlton outsmarts the smart phone.

Unable to read but not immune to good branding, the 2-and-a-half-year-old Carlton scrolled through the apps until he found Netflix. After he hit the Netflix button, he immediately found “Barney & Friends” among the “recently watched” options. He clicked it, resuming Barney in mid-chorus.

I get that kids pick up technology quickly. I get that the iPhone is easy to use. What is a little hard to fathom is how quickly we went from counting state license plates and Volkswagen Beetles to playing DVDs and streaming children’s TV shows on our smartphones.

With one more car trip to go, my faithful readers as my witness, if I hear the words “I’m bored” I’m going to lose it.

Here’s hoping Carlton’s fascination with Barney and friends holds up for a few more hours, and Carla’s data plan doesn’t give out.