More than a day

Barron with birthday presents
Celebration Part One: Barron’s 12th birthday celebration began with cake, ice cream and presents with his grandparents in Sandersville.

It wasn’t that long ago that a birthday was just that – a day.

In the New South, however, we celebrate a person’s birthday for many, many days. I have a theory about why this is: It takes us longer to celebrate birthdays now because of geographic dispersion of family, over-stuffed schedules and the vicious cycle of birthday one-upmanship.

My oldest son, Barron, recently turned 12. Our commemoration of this blessed event began with a Saturday trip to Sandersville to celebrate with Carla’s parents. There was cake, ice cream and presents. My folks live 8-10 hours away. Although they have sacrificially made the drive to be with us on some of the milestone birthdays, we don’t see them on most birthdays.

Grandparents are an important part of birthdays for us, and we have to make the time to go to them. When we lived in Macon, it was no big deal. We might even be able to scoot over to Sandersville for an afternoon. But now that we are in the Atlanta area, it’s a bit more of a commitment and takes some scheduling. When families lived closer together, it wasn’t as much of a challenge getting everyone together for a birthday, but covering the miles takes planning. With our schedule, making a trip to see family causes the birthday season to become elongated.

Barron with birthday card mustache.
Celebration Part Two: Barron’s other grandparents from Florida sent a cool card with a mustache disguise in case all of the birthday mushyness caused him to need a disguise.

This leads me to my second point: birthday celebrations take more than a day now because of our overflowing schedules. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find time to celebrate a birthday, particularly if it happens to fall in the middle of a work/school week.

Barron’s big day occurred on a Wednesday. We acknowledged his actual birthday by opening gifts on that day, but our mid-week church activities took precedence over any celebration. The sad truth is, most of our weeks are a sprint that may have only one or two small openings at night or on a weekend afternoon. And our kids aren’t even involved in sports. That ups the ante even higher.

We ended up celebrating with Barron by going out for pizza and bowling on a Friday. It was fun, and we all enjoyed it, but it was several days removed from Barron’s actual 12th birthday. This brings me to my final point: birthday celebrations have become a season because we feel the need to make each year better than the previous year.

If we started at the first birthday with a candle, a song and a cupcake, this wouldn’t be so bad. But we make the first birthday such a production that by the time kids are old enough to actually remember their birthdays we have to rent bounce houses or invite 30 friends to the gymnastics center or go bowling or play mini-golf or ride ponies or rent a limo or go to Disney World or on and on and on.

Barron at the bowling alley.
Celebration Part Three: Barron celebrates a strike as he dominates the family, including dear old dad, in a game of bowling.

Growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the birthday destination of choice was Crystal’s Pizza Palace in Irving. As a kid the place seemed massive, and it was the only place to play such arcade game classics as Sea Hunt, Galaxian, Joust and Pacman. I didn’t feel that my parents were under pressure to deliver a bigger and better birthday experience each year. I just wanted to go to Crystal’s.

But these days, it’s a hard pressure to resist. We want desperately to give our kids memorable birthdays. To do this, we sometimes have to schedule the event in increments, like Barron’s this year. It makes for a season of birthday celebration rather than a single day.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m talking about a societal phenomenon that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like we take enough time to appreciate our loved ones anyway, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about getting too much attention for their birthday.

I just hope we can finish celebrating Barron’s 12th birthday before his 13th rolls around.

Do your birthday celebrations extend past the actual day? How do you handle it? What was your most memorable birthday celebration? Leave a comment and extend this blog beyond a single day.

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.

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.