Flip flops and running shoes

What you pack for vacation says a lot about you.

Vacation is that time of year when you are released from the bonds of work long enough for your true personality to emerge. Maybe it’s the only time all year you have real choices about how to spend your time. Maybe it’s when you discover there is such a thing as leisure time.

What you choose to take with you is a portrait of what makes you tick.

My wife always stocks up on reading material. She brings a stack of magazines that have piled up over the last few months, including New South essentials Southern Living and Garden & Gun. And she scrolls through the bestseller list to pull the most intriguing in “chick lit” and anything by Atlantan Emily Giffin.

The boys bring their bicycles and a giant tub of beach and pool toys. They usually load an entire suitcase with nothing but board and card games. Having recently taught the boys to play chess, I think I’m in for a lot of that classic game this year, with a few marathon sessions of Skip-Bo thrown in.

For me, it’s my flip flops and running shoes. I don’t wear flip flops nearly enough. I think my last pair lasted longer than our van’s tires. I’ve got a new pair for Father’s Day, and they need some breaking in.

OK, the suitcase will eventually have more than just these, but I start with these and pack around them.
OK, the suitcase will eventually have more than just these, but I start with these and pack around them.

As my wife frequently reminds me, I’m terrible at unwinding. At least for this week, I will try not to wear regular shoes or socks, unless it’s my running shoes, of course.

I have written about my passion for running in this space before, so I’ll spare you another ode to my running shoes. I will say that when I run on vacation, it’s a totally different experience. My mind isn’t processing what’s on tap for the day, major decisions or problems to be solved. My mind wanders in all kinds of directions.

I notice things during my vacation runs that I don’t seem to pick up very often: the different bird calls, sea breezes, turtles perched on a log in a lake. Knowing that when I finish my run I don’t have anything to do but sit by the pool, go to the beach and build sand castles or ride the waves with the boys or play board games is incredibly freeing.

Here’s one probably not-so-surprising confession: I bring a laptop, but it’s not for the reason you might guess. OK, yes, I do check work emails while I’m away. I limit it to once a day, but it’s just a necessity these days. My real use for the laptop is writing. You may remember that I both started and completed my still-being-edited-and-rewritten novel while at the beach.

I’m planning this trip to spend some time working on New South Essays, you’ll be happy to know, to prevent any more lapses in quality content or consistent publishing. I’ve got to flesh out all the ideas you have been so gracious to send me.

So watch Facebook or Twitter for the now-cliché photo of my feet from the beach. I’ll be wearing either flip flops or running shoes … maybe one of each.

What are your must-haves for vacation? Share your packing list in a comment below and join the spirit of vacation season. See you at the beach!

A Father’s Wish

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to spend four uninterrupted hours in the car with my oldest son. There were certain topics I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to discuss with him to take advantage of this gift of time alone.

We had no trouble talking about how he spent his week with my parents or the attractions he enjoyed at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure with my brother and my niece. It was easy to discuss his opportunities to eat out, the menus and the humorous moments with his Paw Paw and Granny. I got a detailed run down on the movies they watched and new television shows he wanted to add to his repertoire.

But when there was a lull in the conversation, before I had a chance to introduce a more serious subject, the iPad would come out, the headphones would go on and Barron would immerse himself in his music.

I get to celebrate Father's Day because of these guys, and, no, it wasn't staged. Carlton really tried to hit his brother in the head with a stick during the shoot.
I get to celebrate Father’s Day because of these guys, and, no, it wasn’t staged. Carlton really tried to hit his brother in the head with a stick during the shoot. Photo by Maureen Atwood Photography.

I don’t believe for a second that he was being defensive. I don’t think he was avoiding anything. He had no idea I had an agenda. He was doing what he always does, what comes naturally.

I’m a talkative guy. I typically don’t have a problem striking up a conversation, meaningful or trivial, with anyone. Over the years, I’ve even grown in my ability to talk about painful subjects with my own father and mother, a feat many adults never achieve.

Somehow, though, on this day, I couldn’t bring myself to do what I always do, what comes naturally for me.

Our conversation for the remaining three hours of the trip was intermittent. When Barron thought of something to tell me, he would pause his Hans Zimmer or Alan Silvestri or John Williams long enough to express it. When the conversation lagged and before I could bring up my list of talking points, he went back under the headphones.

With about 45 minutes left in our trip, I calculated we had enough time to cover at least one or two topics. Discussions with pre-teens don’t typically last as long as you plan.

I became nervous. I consciously tried not to convey anxiety as I casually transitioned the conversation during one of his headphone breaks. The car can be a safe place to have these kinds of talks because you don’t have to make eye contact, but the risk is that your child feels cornered with no escape.

Naturally he reached for the headphones. I told him he didn’t have to go back to his music just yet. So for about 20 minutes we had a good conversation on a meaningful topic before returning to lighter fare.

That’s it. Twenty minutes out of four hours. Somehow, I couldn’t carry on an in-depth conversation with my 12-year-old son for more than 20 minutes.

The trip ended with a mixture of relief and disappointment. Happy at our progress, I had to fight back the feeling that I failed to achieve my objective.

Why couldn’t I talk to my own son?

I suddenly had a small window into the world of my own father. How many times had Dad tried to discuss important subjects with me, only to have me unwittingly or even wittingly undermine it with trivial conversations about sports or entertainment?

This Father’s Day, I may get all manner of practical, thoughtful and lovingly-presented gifts from my wife and three sons, but all I really want is to have meaningful conversations with each of them. It doesn’t have to be on Father’s Day. In fact, it would be nice to spread them throughout the year.

I will continue to look for ways to have these conversations. They are truly gifts that I treasure, and someday my boys will think back on them and realize the truth that I now grasp: being a father means taking risks and sometimes feeling like a failure. But there is no more rewarding way I could spend my life.

So there, Amazon, put that on your “Ideas for Father’s Day Gifts” direct e-mail marketing campaign.

Can you remember having important conversations with your children or your parents? How did it happen? Were they good memories or do they dredge up repressed emotions? What advice would you give on how to have meaningful dialogue with your kids? Take a minute to leave your thoughts in a comment below, and we’ll all benefit from your wisdom.

Wedding faux pas?

Weddings in the New South bring up all sorts of issues never before encountered in the history of weddings.

Last weekend, Carla and I took our oldest son, Barron, to his first wedding — the marriage of his youth minister, Matt Hester, and our friend Courtney Phillips. It was a beautiful and somewhat unorthodox ceremony and reception that was very personal and deeply rooted in their faith journey and family history.

While we explained each element to Barron, who professed to be sleepy and yawned throughout, I couldn’t help but try to connect our Atlanta church friends to the ceremony, which was taking place in Courtney’s hometown of Orlando. We and two other couples were the only ones from our church in Atlanta who made it down for the wedding, and I knew the folks back home would want to participate vicariously in the celebration.

OK, I know I could be making matters worse by sharing the offending image here, but you have to see it to make a judgment. It's all about context. And isn't it a lovely wedding?
OK, I know I could be making matters worse by sharing the offending image here, but you have to see it to make a judgment. It’s all about context. And isn’t it a lovely wedding?

So, as the couple looked longingly into each other’s eyes and said their vows, I discreetly and silently took a photo with my iPhone. I wrote a simple caption and uploaded it to Facebook. Within minutes, several of our church friends “liked” or commented on the image and expressed thanks for my sharing it.

When we got to the dinner reception afterward, I showed Carla the photo and proudly proclaimed how thoughtful I had been by sharing this with our friends back home. That’s when I got the speech.

“You did NOT,” Carla said, wide eyed. “I thought we had talked about this at the last wedding we went to. They should have the opportunity to be the first ones to share pictures from their wedding. It’s THEIR wedding. What is it you say all the time: ‘It’s not your news to share?’”

Oops.

I began to doubt myself. We had talked about this at the last wedding we attended, and I couldn’t really remember, but I think I came out on the side of posting photos from a wedding in progress on Facebook was a no-no.

“Yeah, but there’s a bunch of people back in Atlanta who couldn’t be here. They would want to see it,” I meekly retorted.

Carla rolled her eyes in response.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think it’s something that they should be able to do.”

I continued to mull it over as we joined our friends at the table for dinner. By the time we sat down, Carla had already recruited our friend, Autumn, to her point of view. Carla swore that she didn’t prime Autumn to respond in her favor.

That’s when the self-doubt really kicked in. Had I committed a faux pas? Should I have left well enough alone and let the new couple post the photos they wanted posted from their wedding when they were ready?

This may be a rationalization, but beyond the idea that I was sharing this with our Atlanta friends who could not attend, I also thought “Hey, everybody’s doing it.” These were young people getting married. There were dozens of people holding up iPhones capturing photos and videos of the ceremony. I just assumed I was not the only one posting them to Facebook.

And in my defense, it was a beautiful wedding. It was outside under a giant Live Oak tree draped in Spanish Moss, and it was the same location where her parents had been married. See! Beauty and meaning! It was practically begging to be shared on Facebook.

I was so troubled that when we spoke to the bride and groom at the reception, I barely got out my congratulations before confessing what I had done. In their typical, laid back and inclusive fashion – the groom and groomsmen were wearing Chuck Taylors for crying out loud – Courtney and Matt shrugged it off and said it was fine. They were OK with it.

So if the bride and groom don’t mind, is it OK?

Not to turn this into an episode of “The Marriage Ref,” but I thought I’d let you decide this week: Am I guilty of prematurely sharing an indelible image from someone else’s important life event or was I sharing an event with people who could not otherwise participate because of distance?

You make the call.

We have another wedding in a week, and I need to know how to behave.

Leave a comment below and let me know how you feel on this issue. I don’t want to be still hashing this out with Carla at the next wedding!

Summertime blues

My innocent Facebook post on Tuesday sparked enough comments to let me know I struck a nerve.

Here’s what I posted the morning after Memorial Day: “Remembering that as I return to work today, Carla is at work 24/7. Summer vacation for children means summer overtime for parents who stay at home full- or part-time.”

One commenter suggested I blog about this topic. Challenge accepted.

Don't be alarmed. Don't call 911. He's not dead or even in a coma. He's just on summer vacation.
Don’t be alarmed. Don’t call 911. He’s not dead or even in a coma. He’s just on summer vacation.

Unless you are “Phineas and Ferb,” summer vacation holds a mixture of dread and anticipation. We all can remember the exhilaration of that final bell and those carefree days of “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.”

Like everything else, summer is more complicated in the New South. For working parents, there is a logistical puzzle that must be assembled so that your children are cared for every moment you are not at home. For parents who stay at home with the kids, summer can be just as daunting. Even the most doting and loving of parents has a limit of child time, and playing cruise director for your kids all summer can make you want to experience some of that heart fondness that can only come from absence.

Upon further review, I think I’ve isolated six reasons summer is no vacation. Feel free to disagree. Here goes:

1. Filling the hours. Whether you are at home with your kids or having to work, you must find something for them to do. Not to put too a fine a point on it, but if you fail to occupy their time, they will be possessed by Satan and destroy you. Or, you’ll get arrested for child neglect. Either way, it’s bad.

2. Fighting. If you are blessed to have multiple children, you know that where two or more are gathered, there is mortal combat. Carla, who is an only child, frequently asks: “Were you like this with your brothers?” And since there were three of us boys in my family just as I have three boys now, I say with a smile and a shake of the head: “Yes… yes, in fact, I was exactly like this with my brothers.” One of the universal truths of siblings is that there will be bloodshed, particularly if the hours are not filled constructively (see item no. 1).

3. Lack of routine. We all know children need structure. Your household is only two or three nights of staying up late to watch “Phineas and Ferb” away from utter chaos. Irregular sleep patterns begets irritability which begets unpleasantness which begets conflict which begets tears which begets punishment which begets whining which begets parental insanity.

4. Dietary battles. Cheese puffs and chocolate chip cookies in massive quantities make children crazy. No scientific study needed. Don’t even get me started on the “cleaning your plate” conversation. Cheese puffs and cookies will invariably invoke the “I’m not hungry” declaration at a well-balanced meal consisting of vegetables.

5. Electronics and TV. Back in the day, we only had re-runs and cartoons on the telly to idle away the hours. Now, children have an array of devices to keep their heads buried in all summer. I don’t know about your children, but when mine watch too much television and stay on their iDevices too long, they make poor decisions that result in my elevated blood pressure and their solitary confinement.

6. No break from children. Even the weakest of us can sustain decent parenting for a few hours, maybe even a few days. Summer is the ultra-marathon of parenting. It’s a 100-day relentless slog through the perils of having to be a negotiator, diplomat, nutritionist, chauffeur, party planner, referee, electronics technician, chef, lifeguard, teacher, shepherd, and the list goes on and on.

Summer isn’t just a frolic in the pool, and I’m sure parents have been dealing with these challenges for generations. It may seem harder these days, but I think the hardest part for us as parents is that we have to find balance. We can’t afford the luxury of narcissism. Yes, we may steal a few moments here and there, but in order for summer to be enjoyable for our children and survivable for us, we have to change our mindset. For the next 100 days, it’s really not about us.

To help you with this challenge, I leave you with the immortal wisdom of Phineas and Ferb:

There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it.

Good luck finding the good way to spend it without spending all of your income.

Do you dread school ending for the summer? How do you cope? What are your fondest memories of summer as a child? What are some activities you plan in order to keep your kids occupied? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Robertsons taking the New South by storm

They’re bearded. They’re quotable. They’re camouflaged. They’re armed. They’re wildly popular. They are the Robertsons.

Unless you manage to completely avoid all media – other than New South Essays, of course – then you have probably seen or heard about the Robertson family. The pride of West Monroe, La., the Robertsons are self-proclaimed rednecks who have turned a duck call manufacturing business into one of the most popular reality shows on television.

From left, Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson are bearded Louisiana rednecks who are ruling the reality TV airwaves.
From left, Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson are bearded Louisiana rednecks who are ruling the reality TV airwaves.

We discovered the Robertsons last year when my dad turned us on to “Duck Dynasty” while it was still in its first season. Not typically an early adopter, Dad was on board from the beginning after finding their duck hunting show “Duck Commander” on the Outdoor Channel. It seems that while searching for his beloved fishing shows one day, he stumbled onto the wise-cracking Robertsons . Although he cared nothing for duck hunting, he found them so compelling he started watching.

The Robertsons then found an unlikely TV home on the Arts and Entertainment channel when they premiered in March 2012. A little more than a year later, “Duck Dynasty” is A&E’s highest rated program. Renewal for season four is currently on hold until new contracts can be negotiated. The Robertsons are reportedly seeking $200,000 per episode.

The season finale airs this week on April 24 to mark the end of the third season. I’m trying to figure out why “Duck Dynasty” has caught on in the New South like no other redneck reality show, and there are many.

So why are the Robertsons so popular?

Not since The Waltons has a TV family consistently shared a prayer of thanksgiving at meal times. The Robertsons end each episode with a blessing, pronounced by Phil, the patriarch. They are obviously people of faith with their involvement in their church featured regularly on the show.

They also demonstrate a strong commitment to their family. The brothers squabble and their Uncle Si is a foil to all their well-laid plans, but in the end, they embrace, pray and pass the victuals.

Conservative Christians gravitate to the Robertsons because they finally feel represented. A family with their general beliefs is on television, and they are drawn to them.

Truth is, there aren’t many shows that we watch as a family. The kids watch their typical fare of Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon or Disney Channel, but with “Duck Dynasty,” we can and want to watch together.  There’s no cursing, and only the occasional expression of marital bliss between Phil and Kay can be considered “adult content.” It may be gross, but there’s a lot worse on television than an affectionate older married couple showing that their love still burns brightly.

The Robertson women, from left, Jessica (goes with Jep), Missy (goes with Jase), Miss Kay (Goes with Phil) and Korie (goes with Willie... or the other way around.)
The Robertson women, from left, Jessica (goes with Jep), Missy (goes with Jase), Miss Kay (Goes with Phil) and Korie (goes with Willie… or the other way around.)

My wife, Carla, fully admits to enjoying the segments of the show that include the younger Robertsons’ wives and children. She particularly likes seeing their homes, their choices in clothing, and how they parent their children, who just happen to be a mix of biological and adopted. She is fascinated by these beautiful, thin, well-coifed women and what drew them to their redneck husbands. Photos are circulating online that prove under their massive beards there are men who were once handsome enough to woo these lovely women.

Despite all these reasons for watching, the real reason for their success is that they are funny. We never fail to laugh when watching the Robertsons. I’m not so naïve as to think everything that happens is unplanned, but even with a sense that scenarios may be contrived, I can’t help but giggle.

Uncle Si trying to earn enough tickets at a local pizza arcade to win a stuffed purple gorilla is funny. Godwin, a co-worker at the duck call plant, shirtlessly scurrying across a path on all fours to see if he resembles a panther from a distance is funny. Willie and Jase taking their wives hunting and Korie dousing herself in doe urine is funny. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

“Duck Dynasty” may not be everyone’s blue Tupperware cup of iced tea, but the Robertsons have become heroes to a segment of the population that can’t find many in the media these days. We can debate whether or not they are role models, but you cannot deny they are trending.

It remains to be seen how many seconds are left on their 15 minutes of fame, but when the season finale airs Wednesday, as Si would say, “I’m down like a rodeo clown, Jack!”

What’s your take on the Robertsons? Do you watch and laugh out loud or do you cringe and avoid them like the plague? If you are a fan, what are your reasons? Leave a comment and make us “happy, happy, happy.”

Goofy Southern Golfers: A New Tradition Unlike Any Other

The Masters Tournament, the first of professional golf's four major tournaments each year, is played at the stately Augusta National Country Club in Augusta, Ga.
The Masters Tournament, the first of professional golf’s four major tournaments each year, is played at the stately Augusta National Country Club in Augusta, Ga.

Based on in-depth demographic research, I’ve determined that New South Essays readers may not know that this week is the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga. As a public service, I am writing to let you know that this is happening , and it is important.

Or at least it is to some people. Like CBS. And Augusta, Ga. And Tiger Woods.

As I scoured the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) headlines for some New South nugget to pull from the array of staid and stodgy story lines, I found and discarded the story of the 14-year-old Chinese phenom, Tianlang Guan. No New South angles there.

Then there’s Tiger. Trying to win a fifth Green Jacket (that’s what they give the winners. Not very practical. They can only wear it at Augusta National Country Club) might be interesting to some folks, but in the New South, it’s about as exciting as watching Alabama play Georgia State in football. Oh, and there’s a lot of hullabaloo about Woods breaking some arcane rule and needing to disqualify himself, but that will never happen.

Before you judge, admit it, you've been known to slouch around school classrooms, too, haven't you?
Before you judge, admit it, you’ve been known to slouch around school classrooms, too, haven’t you?

Then, I found this: the latest trend among pro golfers is called “Dufnering.” Named for 36-year-old Jason Dufner, an Auburn grad currently tied for 7th at the Master’s, who had his picture taken by journalists while sitting awkwardly in a school classroom back on March 28.

Bubba Watson mocked Jason Dufner with a Dufnering pose in his garage with his beloved Gen. Lee.
Bubba Watson “Dufnering” in his garage with his beloved General Lee.

The photo quickly went viral, and soon, Dufner’s golfing buddies proliferated the image through Twitter and named the pose “Dufnering.”

It doesn’t appear to be hurting his game.

Then there’s Bubba Watson, the 2012 Master’s champion. Much was made of his victory last year, and the 34-year-old Bagdad, Fla., native and University of Georgia graduate has quickly become one of the bright stars of the golf world with his buttoned-up golf shirts and pink drivers.

Bubba in his 2011 debut music video "Oh, Oh, Oh."
Bubba in his 2011 debut music video “Oh, Oh, Oh.”

He and his buddies have taken to making music videos. Yes, you heard me correctly: music videos. Perhaps you’ve seen the 2011 rendition of “Oh, Oh, Oh”? Watson and fellow golfers Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan followed up that effort with  “2.Oh,” another in their series of madcap musical mayhem.

An argument can be made that Watson’s musical exploits could be interfering with his game as he currently sits at four-over-par, 10 shots off the lead.

In the Old South, golf was a genteel game practiced by wealthy gentlemen. In the New South, it’s a bunch of rambunctious frat boys seemingly taking it all in stride and having fun. Not since John Daly — the chain-smoking, long-driving, overweight, alcoholic everyman — was competitive have Southerners had someone they felt they could truly root for in a tournament.

Is it me or is Davis Love III "Dufnering" back in 2008 on the cover of Garden & Gun?
Is it me or is Davis Love III “Dufnering” back in 2008 on the cover of Garden & Gun?

Yes, I know, lots of golfers hail from the South. You’ll even see such stalwarts as Davis Love III gracing the cover of Garden & Gun magazine. But will you ever see Davis Love III “Dufnering” or performing in a rap video?

Sometime in the last 10 years, golf… or I should say golfers… stopped taking themselves so seriously. Whether this makes golf more accessible to the public and ultimately more popular remains to be seen. What I think you can predict is that whether people watch the tournaments or not, they’ll feel a stronger kinship with the athletes, and that has to be a boon to the sport.

OK, let’s all assume the position and do some “Dufnering” while we watch the final two rounds of the Master’s. It’s a tradition unlike any other.

Who’s your favorite PGA star? Do you think it disgraces golf for players to be dancing around in overalls and sitting awkwardly in school classrooms? Leave a comment below and share your reaction to the current crop of crazy Southern golfers.

Pollen counts

Nothing says springtime in Atlanta like piles of facial tissues, billowing clouds of yellow dust and an encouraging addition to the weather forecast known as the pollen count.

I heart pollen
Not really, but you get the point.

Simply defined, the pollen count is the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air. It is measured by placing a silicon-covered rod outdoors for a 24-hour period and then analyzing the particles caught in the silicon. The higher the number, the worse conditions are for allergy sufferers.

Perhaps no other element of forecasting is as exciting to meteorologists short of a Doppler-enhanced, VIPIR II-detected bow echo in their severe weather center. As it rises into the tens of thousands, the smiling, suited, well-coiffed purveyors of climatological abnormality tell us with glee how miserable we are likely to be on any given day.

It never matters what the calendar says. I don’t care when the first pitch of baseball season is thrown.  I know that spring doesn’t officially begin until allergy season gets into high gear.

For those of us living in the New South, the pollen count has become an important consideration in how we plan our day. It influences whether we wash our car, visit a park, pack a wad of tissues in our purse before we leave the house, how far we plan to drive under the influence of an antihistamine and even what we wear.

I clearly remember trying to close my car door last spring with my derriere because my hands were full. My navy pants bore the yellow emblem of my foolishness throughout the workday, and my car door had the unique and FBI-database-traceable imprint of my rear end in yellow dust for several days. This is the real reason Southerners wear yellow in springtime. Khaki hides pollen pretty well, but maybe it’s time I invest in some yellow or even light green pants. Perhaps I should consider accessorizing my spring wardrobe with a gas mask.

Doesn't the sight of a pollen cell just want to make you sneeze?
The sight of microscopic pollen cells induces sneezing.

On Wednesday, I could tell the pollen count was high even before I rolled out of bed. The gurgling of fluid in my ear, the coagulation of mucus in my nostrils and the irritation in the back of my throat all told me that it was going to be a 10,000+ kind of day. Just writing that last sentence made me sneeze.

A couple of cold, rainy days have brought some recent relief, but that’s a high price to pay. Is it better to have a beautiful spring day or the last vestiges of winter just so you can breathe? It’s a Hobson’s Choice really. We get what we get, and we don’t pitch a fit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-pollen. I understand all about the birds and the bees. Pollen is a necessary part of the beauty of Southern springtime. Spring in Atlanta is really beautiful. The redbuds and Bradford pears have come and gone, our dogwoods are budding, the neighbor’s Yoshino is in full, glorious bloom and the azaleas are out. It is a spectacle that I anticipate each year.

I just wish I didn’t have to sacrifice breathing to enjoy it.

How do you cope with pollen season? Which variety attacks you the worst? Share your allergy cures and favorite spring blooms by leaving a comment below.

Etiquette just clogs your inbox

Please and Thank You are still magic words
Are they really? Maybe if they’re said and not texted or emailed.

In the South, we are taught to thank everyone for everything, even when we don’t mean it.

In the age of digital communication, Southern manners are annoying.

Whether you know it or not, we are now being conditioned to say only what’s absolutely necessary. Well-mannered professionals in the New South are being encouraged to let go of the rules we were taught growing up in favor of brevity and clarity.

Last week I came across a piece in the New York Times that debated the efficiency of sending a “Thank you” reply to the receipt of an email. On one hand, it is nice to know the person appreciates whatever crucial piece of work you sent.  On the other hand, it’s just another email clogging up your inbox.

This prompted deep, internal reflection: I am a gratuitous email thanker. I even send a “thx” to texts. According to the New York Times, I am super annoying.

Not sure if should send a thank you email or not bother them with an extra email
Many Internet memes, like this one involving the character Fry from the animated “Futurama” television series, decry annoying email habits.

I can be annoying for lots of reasons – at least 10 come to mind immediately – but it’s sad that having good manners is now deemed bothersome. As someone who struggles to keep up with two email accounts, three Twitter feeds, two Facebook accounts, two LinkedIn accounts, a Pinterest page, and, of course, a blog, I get it. Have we gotten so busy, though, that we don’t have time or even appreciate a common courtesy such as “Thank you?”

If “love means never having to say you’re sorry”, then in the New South being comfortable in the relationship means never having to say “Thank you.” Thinking about my own texting and email habits, I tend to say “Thank you” to people with whom I don’t have a well-established relationship. Since changing jobs, I’ve found that I do it a lot more than I used to with my former colleagues.

I had no ill will towards my former colleagues. It’s just after working with many of them for 10 years, I became very comfortable in my relationships and didn’t feel a need to thank them for every little email. But now, I am so eager to get off on the right foot, that I thank everybody for everything. And the New York Times tells me I am super annoying by doing so.

I'm somewhat skeptical you're laughing out loud as much as you claim
When you care enough to send the very best, someecards can express the unexpressable.

Sometimes, a brief “thx” or even an “lol” can be used to help gently land a seemingly endless text or email conversation. It’s a way to put a punctuation mark on the interaction and allow you to get back to work. Overuse, however, can be just that much more annoying.

I think the healthy balance is found in the secret of all good communication: consider the audience. It’s not just novelists or bloggers who need to ask “What does the reader want?” After all, isn’t etiquette, at its root, about making others feel comfortable?

If you are texting your brother, “thx” isn’t necessary. If you are emailing your boss, it’s not a bad idea to include a quick reply to confirm receipt. This isn’t universal. Don’t thank your boss if he or she hates email and doesn’t really know you. We live in an era of situational etiquette.

Taking a split second to decide how your message will be received and interpreted can save you grief. That momentary and tiny bit of thoughtfulness will be appreciated more than a thoughtless response, no matter how cheery.

And if it’s really important to thank someone, send a note. Yes, they still exist.

Now, I’m going to queue up some “Thank you” emails for everyone who read this post.

Do you like getting “Thank you” emails or “thx” texts or do you prefer the silent treatment? Are you an annoying thanker, too? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and I promise not to thank you for doing so.

My little brother the leprechaun

Tomorrow is March 17, a date that looms large for my family.

My little brother, Lee, turns 39 tomorrow. He's slightly bigger now.
My little brother, Lee, turns 39 tomorrow. He’s slightly bigger now.

No, we’re not Irish. Well, we’re a little Irish, but not THAT Irish. You see, 39 years ago on St. Patrick’s Day, my little red-headed brother was born. He would end up being my first little brother, but none of us knew that at the time.

Arthur Lee Wallace, named for my mom’s father, proved to be a handful then and continues to enlighten and entertain us with his witticisms and misadventures. I was a mere 3 years and eight months old when Lee was born. When he came home from the hospital, I tried to hold him in my lap but failed to properly support his neck and head.

“His head is falling off!” I yelled as his fuzzy noggin lolled across my knees.

Lee, seen here on his first Easter, also survived my fashion disasters. Although to be fair, this wasn't my fault.
Lee, seen here with me on his first Easter, also survived my fashion disasters. Although to be fair, I didn’t choose this outfit.

He survived my fledgling attempts to hold him – though any damage he sustained may explain some behavioral eccentricities – and much worse at my hands as the years went on.

I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I looked into the rear view mirror on my parents’ van and saw him rolling across the pavement of our driveway after I gunned it up the hill with him clinging white-knuckled to the spare tire on the back.

And then there was the time we fought. OK, well, we fought a bunch. In fact, the last whuppin’ I got from my dad occurred when I was 13. Lee and I we were hitting below the belt in a knock-down, drag-out tilt. I’m still not sure if we were punished for fighting or for fighting dirty.

Lee has also survived many a tongue lashing from my parents for following through on ideas I may or may not have planted in his mind.

“Lee, ask Dad if we can stay up and watch TV.”

“OK!” he eagerly responded.

Minutes later, after my father erupted at his post-bedtime appearance in the den, Lee returned, crying.

“Oh well. Guess that was a ‘No.’ Thanks, Lee. Good night!”

Lee is a talented musician and choir director. He sings WAY better than me and plays several instruments.
Lee is a talented musician and choir director. He sings WAY better than me and plays several instruments.

We shared a bedroom from as far back as I can remember until I left for college. We had long late-night chats about important topics like the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of winning a Super Bowl with Gary Hogeboom as the quarterback and how Darth Vader could possibly be Luke Skywalker’s father.

The conversation Lee likes to remind me of happened one night when I was 16. I professed to have found the woman of my dreams. Really, really, really wish I never shared that. Now Lee uses it to great comedic effect at family gatherings. He has a way of keeping me grounded if I ever get too full of myself.

Lee and the girl of his dreams, Karrie. What a handsome couple.
Lee and the woman of his dreams, Karrie.

Many years later I eventually found the woman of my dreams, and so did Lee. He actually preceded me in marriage by a full three years.

Although I would never tell him, I’m very proud of all that he has accomplished. He has been a youth and music minister for nearly 20 years, impacting the lives of hundreds of teenagers. He helps his wife, Karrie, run a very successful business in Lake Wales, and is excelling at selling nutritional and weight loss products. He and Karrie are raising an intelligent, beautiful and talented 11-year-old daughter, Kalee.

Our infrequent opportunities to catch up are treasures for me, and I enjoy following his exploits from afar on Facebook. My life changed forever 39 years ago tomorrow, and despite what I may have said in the heat of arguments during our childhood, I’m glad he was born.

While everyone else is donning the green tomorrow in honor of St. Patrick, I’ll be thinking of Lee, our family’s own lucky leprechaun. Having him in our lives is worth more than a pot of gold.

My cheatin’ foot

When you try a different hair stylist or dental hygienist, don’t you feel a little bit like you’re cheating on the relationship?

Since the mid-1990s I have been buying my running shoes at Phidippides, the first-ever specialty running store which opened in 1973 in Tallahassee, Fla., and now operates at Atlanta’s Ansley Mall. Even when I lived in Macon, I would drive to Midtown Atlanta to buy my running shoes from real runners who knew what they were talking about as opposed to the teenagers in referee uniforms at those shops in the mall or the big box stores.

screen image of my high arches
I have a high arch… so says the computer screen and the eyeball test.

For at least the last three years as I have dealt with a number of injuries, a running buddy of mine has been trying to convince me to visit Big Peach Running, an Atlanta running store chain that opened in 2004. He talked about their fit process and how they looked at your feet on some sort of scanner and then videotaped your gait and foot falls on a treadmill to determine your needs in a running shoe.

I stubbornly protested, saying I preferred the low-tech approach of Phidippides where they watch you run with their eyes and tell you the same information. I said I didn’t want to succumb to the “soul-less, technology-driven” approach of the new-fangled Big Peach.

After logging WAY too many miles on my shoes, I decided it was time to get some new ones. I had been complaining about my shoes to anyone who would listen for several months. Finally, my wife had heard enough.

“Go buy some shoes already!” was her less than sympathetic response.

Now that I work in Midtown, I made plans to slip over to Phidippides during a lunch hour. Before I could go, though, my running buddy made one last appeal for Big Peach. This time when I launched into my old school argument, he was ready.

“Wait, don’t you work at Georgia Tech? Why are you so afraid of technology?”

Touché.

I looked up Big Peach’s locations and found a brand new one on Peachtree Street, 1.7 miles from my office. Resistance was futile. I was assimilated.

During lunch last Friday, I drove over to the new Big Peach location, feeling guilty for abandoning my beloved Phidippides. The clerks, who, like at Phidippides, were clearly very knowledgeable runners, asked me the same diagnostic questions I used to get at Phidippides:

  1. How much are you running these days?
  2. What are you are currently running in?
  3. Are you having any problems?
  4. Are you training for something specific?
screen image of food landing in stable position
My foot lands in a stable position. Extra cool shot of my ankle, too, with my dress pants rolled up.

Because I knew all these answers so readily, they started to just pull some shoes they knew would work and go from there. But I sheepishly said, “Aren’t you going to do all that high-tech stuff to my feet?”

Embarrassed, they backtracked and had me step on the sensor pad to measure my arch. I have a high arch, by the way, which I already knew.

Then, they put me on the treadmill with the little camera aimed at my feet. I took off and actually got it going a little too fast (on accident, not to show off) so that my foot fall images were blurry. They found a clean frame and showed me how my stride is stable. I neither over- or under-pronate. I have a stable foot and need a neutral shoe. Again, this was information I already knew.

They let me trot around in the newest model of the Asics Gel Cumulus, which I’ve been running in for the better part of 10 years. They felt great, like rubber-soled comforters for my feet.

For grins, they showed me perhaps the ugliest shoes I have ever seen in my life. Newtons, they were called, as in Sir Isaac. And, no, they were not of the fig variety. They were of the $170 variety. They had little rubber blocks on the sole under the ball of the foot designed to induce proper running form. In case you’re not keeping up, these days proper running form is to land on the mid-foot or ball of the foot rather than the heel-to-toe technique most of us grew up learning.

My new Nike Flyknit Trainers.
Money, it’s gotta be the shoes. Nike Flyknit Trainers will get me over the hump in qualifying for Boston.

I donned these hideous shoes and trotted around a bit. They felt good and actually did make me run on the balls of my feet. But it wasn’t $170 worth of improvement, so I tried out the sports car model. These chartreuse Nike’s Flyknit Trainers were the lightest shoe I had every picked up. Made with engineered fabric, the shoes weighed just 1.2 ounces each. For legs that aren’t getting any younger, I swallowed my pride and bought the brightest pair of shoes I will ever own.

I am officially in the 21st Century of running. I wear neon green shoes that have a little pocket in the insole for a microchip (which I did not purchase) that can sync via Bluetooth technology with my iPhone to record my runs. I shop at a store that scans your feet electromagnetically and uses video cameras to record your running motion. I have officially moved to the New South of running.

I may not be the six million dollar man, but with these new shoes, I am the $145 man. I just hope they will help me qualify for Boston soon or else I may go back to my Luddite ways at Phidippides.

How hi-tech are your trainers? How do you buy your shoes? Have you succumbed to the technological generation and go for every GPS, heart-rate-monitor, sensor and microchip available?  Leave a comment and sure your running technology preferences.