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iced tea and stirring spoon

Overcorrection=Customer Service Fail

Recently, my sister reminded me of a family story that I hadn’t thought about in years. It happened back when we were in college, working in restaurants over holidays and summer breaks. At the time, she was waiting tables in our hometown in South Carolina.

iced tea and stirring spoonNow, for those of you unfamiliar with the South, you need to know this tidbit. In South Carolina, when you order tea, it is assumed that you want your drink served over ice and—unless otherwise stated—sweet enough to pass as a dessert. It’s the rare Southerner who would choose hot tea to go with a meal. Even then, it would be requested with a touch of embarrassment or a word of explanation. “I’m coming down with a cold, you see, or I’d have the regular.” At which point, the waiter would say something like, “Oh! Bless your heart! I’ll getcha some iced tea for after you finish that stuff. No charge. You can take it to go.” In the South, iced tea is serious business, and it’s just not something you want to go messing around with . . . .

As my sister recalls, it all started because one night during the supper rush, a fella complained to the management because he had to request a spoon for his glass of sweet tea. According to him, the tea wasn’t quite sweet enough and he wanted to add more sugar. Not having a spoon readily available (and apparently unable to make do with either his knife, fork, or straw), he made quite a stinker of himself, frustrated that he was made to wait even momentarily for the preferred utensil. His nastiness threw the staff off kilter and made for a rotten night for everyone.

By the time the servers arrived the next day, the restaurant owner had devised a solution to this customer service conundrum. Incidentally, this was the first time in memory someone had requested more sugar for the sweet tea. Never mind that though; on to the solution.

“From now on,” the owner told the wait staff, “We will put teaspoons in each glass of tea. That will solve the problem.”

The staff just looked at her, apparently waiting for her to see the obvious flaw in the plan. She didn’t; someone spoke up.

“Well . . . umm . . . we put the spoons in the glasses of unsweetened tea so we can identify them. How will we tell them apart if we put spoons in all the glasses?”

The owner thought for a minute, came up with the answer, and said, “Okay, in the sweet tea, put one spoon. In the unsweetened tea, put two.”

“Two spoons?”

“Yes! Two spoons.”

Well, you can imagine how this played out. The first really busy night, they ran out of teaspoons early on and the plan was scrapped. Which was fine really, because the problem wasn’t the system in the first place; the problem was a grumpy man who had probably just had one inconvenience too many that day.

Overcorrection: just one more way to create major problems out of minor ones.

Unlike water or wine or even Coca-Cola,
sweet tea means something.
It is a tell, a tradition.
Sweet tea isn't a drink, really.
It's culture in a glass.

(Allison Glock, writer)

(Original posting, November 17, 2014)

Black and White, Just Alike

One of my all-time favorite stories (at the end of this post) and worth a re-run. 

Before I moved to North Myrtle Beach, SC in my junior year of high school, I lived in Goldsboro, NC. Back in the 1980’s when I was a student there, Goldsboro High School lacked diversity. Everyone there looked alike—at least to the few of us who were of the paler variety. Evidently we white folk couldn’t differentiate between the colors of mocha, caramel, and dark chocolate. I guess we couldn’t tell the difference in hair texture, color, and style either. And, perhaps we didn’t notice the zillions of variances in facial features, body structure, height, weight, and so on. We were, after all adolescents, and by nature not that discerning. Anyway, I don’t know the ethnic percentages at GHS, I just remember that when we saw white faces, we waved; they were probably our relatives.

When I lived in Goldsboro, I was blessed: African-American role models were the norm for me. My favorite teachers, Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Hayes, were strong African-American women; our principal, Mr. Best remains the standard by which I judge all school administrators. He is an enormous man in my memory. “His biceps are the size of our football players’ quadriceps,” we often quipped. But it was his presence, not his size, which looms large in my recall: how he commanded the boisterous hallways by striding silently along, nodding at students, calling them by name. He died young, a loss to the community and to the world.

seymour johnson afb

Goldsboro is an Air Force town; race boundaries blurred early there. So, if I’d get off the bus to find my mother was not yet home, I’d go to the home of the African-American couple the Hightowers. Mr. Hightower had retired from the Air Force and was always home during the day, usually tending the roses in his yard. I spent many afternoons there learning about the delicate flowers he loved so well.

The Hightowers lived on one side of us in a house about the size of ours. On the other side was a house twice as big and parked out front was the son’s BMW. This family was also African-American. Sometimes I caught a ride from school with Darryl, who didn’t have to ride the bus since, well, he had the BMW and all.

Recently, chatting with a friend who coaches girls’ basketball, I got a chuckle when she told me about something her nearly-all-white team experienced. They were playing at a school that must have been something like Goldsboro High School was back in the 80’s because most of the students at the rival school were African-American. My friend’s team was not bothered by the circumstance, played a good game, and headed to the locker room. On the way, they passed a few middle-aged men from the rival school and my friend over heard a bit of their dialog. Observing the pasty skinned opponents, the men shook their heads and commented quietly to each other, “Man, look at those girls. They all look alike!"

"Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world!"

apparel shopping

Pregnant with Delusion

It’s not really known as a purveyor of youthful fashions. Sure, youngish folk stop by, even find a bargain on occasion, but its merchandise appeals to the more . . . well . . . seasoned shoppers. You can find holiday apparel by the rack-full there, plus polyester blends in every wearable form, and Alfred Dunner pantsuits aplenty. But, to be sure, no one under the age of 50 is too disappointed when they leave Hamricks empty handed. I mean, it’s not like it’s Forever 21 or Charming Charlies.

I like Hamricks, though. The prices are reasonable, and they have a great selection of Lee jeans—a favorite of mine. Anyway, not too long ago, I was meandering through the markdowns and overheard a conversation between two women who were probably in their twenties the year I was born.

Woman One, using her thumb and finger to pull a garment out from the rack for viewing, stared at it quizzically and asked her companion, “Is this the style now?”

"My daughter wears them,” Companion confirmed. “Granddaughter too.” She shook her head, seemingly baffled by millennial women and their utter lack of fashion sense.

The blouses in question are the ones made of flimsy fabric splashed with color; many of them have empire waists such that they cinch just above the rib cage and fall free below the hips.

Woman One continued flipping through the hangers, shaking her head. She selected one, held it up, and caught her reflection in a nearby mirror. Companion peeked in to see the result.

“No. No way,” Woman One said to Companion’s face in the mirror before turning to put the blouse back in its place. “I’m not wearing that! People will think I’m pregnant!”

Oh Sweetie, I thought. Bless your heart. Just bless your sweet heart.

First published March 18, 2013
Proficient Procrastination

Proficient Procrastination

I’ve been procrastinating brilliantly (it’s a gift) for the last several weeks on some paperwork that I really must do. Today I was determined to complete it. It is a lovely day here, so I fixed a tall glass of ice water, took my computer outside on the deck, and settled down to work.

Before I actually started though, I thought I should record this moment of spring beauty and uncharacteristic productivity in some meaningful way. A picture on Instagram™! Just the thing.

photo (11)After taking the picture, I cropped and edited it, and posted it on Twitter™. When I checked Twitter™ to see if my picture had been retweeted, I saw a video link whose title was something like, “If You Only Watch One Video Today, Watch This One.” After watching the video, I read the comments below it and was reminded of comments on my own blog.

Finding no new comments on my blog, I thought, Well no surprise there. I’ve not posted anything lately. I opened a new word document to begin a new piece: perhaps a humorous post about procrastination. Just then, my computer made that tell-tale noise it makes when new emails arrive in my inbox. Guess what? Amazon™ has a new site now—woot.com. Who knew?

While shopping on woot.com, I got a call from my sister. I never get to talk to her very much at all and really, who ignores a call from her own sister? I mean that’s just rude.

An hour later, we ended our call and I sat back down to work. I hunkered down and finished one of the documents, printed it out, and celebrated heartily. When I started the second one though, I saw that I needed some information I didn’t yet have. Well it’s just silly to start when you know you won’t finish. That’s a total waste of time.

I’ll get it done tomorrow. Or Monday. Tuesday at the latest.

Charlie the Beagle

Charlie Beagle and the Dog Food Disaster

DSCN3214Our beagle, Charlie, absolutely loves to eat. We’ve often wondered, if he were left alone with a never-ending supply of kibble, would he just keep on eating and never stop? We had no evidence to the contrary; so it was anyone's guess and not something we were willing to test.

We got our answer one Friday morning when my husband, Jay, went down to the garage before breakfast. We keep dog food in the garage in part because Charlie is rarely in there by himself. We leave the food in its original bag, rolling the top down tightly to keep out the critters. In Charlie’s 10 years, we’ve never had a problem. So, that morning in the garage, Jay noticed a nearly full bag of dog food—not the huge 20-pounder, but a travel bag of about five pounds—was open and more than half empty. Naturally, he went in search of the most likely culprit.

“Charlie? Charlie!” Jay found our beagle lying snug in his doggie bed. He looked up at the sound of his name. “Charlie? Did you get into the dog food in the garage?”

Charlie blinked and looked away, breaking eye contact.

“Charlie?” Jay used just as stern a voice as he can muster when fussing at the beagle. Charlie flopped his tail, then lifted himself on his front paws before plopping down again. “You ate just a little too much didn’t you?”

Charlie tried again to stand. This second attempt got him out of the bed and mostly on his feet, his tummy hanging low: it was twice its normal size! He took a step, then sat down. He worked his way back up to a stand, only to be pulled back down by the weight of his girth. He looked up at us, bewildered. As best we could tell, in just 12 hours, our 22 pound beagle had increased his body weight by over 10 percent. It was no wonder he could barely walk.

Charlie missed breakfast that morning, and dinner that evening and by the next day he was pretty much back to normal. But now we know. Charlie will indeed stop eating when food is still available, but not until he is completely miserable. Just one more bit of evidence that Charlie is just about human.

Ten commandments of Car Line Etiquette

10 Commandments of Car Line Etiquette

car line image(Originally Published March 9, 2012)

I wish they had been unearthed sooner. After all, I’ve been coping with car line for nigh on 13 years. Still, once I learned of their existence, I just had to share. So behold, straight from the research division of Parents Together Against Overt Car line Discourtesy (PTA-OCD), the

Ten Commandments of Car Line Etiquette.

  1. Thou shalt not activate thine mobile communication device. Yea, even shalt thou disable it whilst in car line.
  2. Thou shalt avoid all communication with thy offspring’s instructional personnel whilst in car line. Thou shalt hold such sessions at times and locations other than car line.
  3. Thou shalt not exit thine vehicle whilst in car line. Thou shalt obey this rule, lo throughout the day: sunrise, sunset.
  4. Thou, therefore, shant leave thine vehicle unattended in the car line regardless of how early thine arrival. In the event that circumstances demand thine exit, thou must place thine vehicle in a designated parking space.
  5. Thou shalt obey rule number three, even if thine offspring is carrying a satchel, a lyre, and hand-crafted graven images. The size of said graven image is irrelevant when adhering to this rule.  Plan thusly.
  6. Thou shalt zip* the zipper. Neither shalt thou avoid it, nor shalt thy prevent it. Zipping is a sacred practice that shall not be broken.  Zip, less thou be unzipped, so help you God.
  7. Thou shalt practice adherence to school policies regarding car line flow. Thou shalt remember that the rules set forth do, indeed, apply to thine actions, yea even as they doth apply to the actions of others.
  8. Thou shalt not allow thine offspring to exit thine vehicle prior to arriving at designated exit areas. Thou shalt refer to commandment number seven if thou doth not comprehend this directive.
  9. Thou shalt not drive around barriers that have been situated thusly to prevent thine passage. Thou shalt wait thine turn.
  10. Thou shalt eliminate all space betwixt thine vehicle and the vehicle situated before thine. Thou shalt avoid leaving vehicle-sized gaps betwixt the vehicle of thine and that of thine bretheren. Thou shalt pull ahead such that the zipper may continue to zip.

Feel free to distribute at will. And you're welcome.

*Zip (verb) [zĭp]—the practice of taking turns while in car line. When two lines of traffic enter the car line from opposing directions, one car enters from one line then another enters from the other line, thus creating a zipper of cars.

As in “Because I have good manners, I always allow the car across from me to zip into the car line before I enter the car line myself.”

"Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it, but whoever respects a command is rewarded." Proverbs 13:13

Thanks be to Technology

“Baker! Get in here!” Two remotes in each hand and I still can’t turn on the TV.

“Calm down, Mom. All you have to do is . . . “

“Don’t teach me. I don’t want to learn . . .”

“It’s so easy Mom; if you’ll just listen.”

“I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to learn. Just turn the stupid TV on for me.”

My son says I’m ridiculously impatient when it comes to technology and I suppose he’s right. I admit there are times when I miss the days when control was up close and personal and not one bit remote. But lately I’ve been thinking about technology that I appreciate. Here’s my annotated list.

Automatic Teller Machines also known as ATM’s. I remember when they came out and we were all nervous about this robot that took our money. Thankfully, the ATM has proven quite trustworthy. I love me an ATM. I love that no matter what time or day it is, I can go by the bank and get cash or deposit a check. Plus, now you can get postage stamps from these accommodating little automatons. Sweet.

Email. When I was in grad-school the first time, back in 1991, a friend of mine edited my papers for me. I printed them out on my daisy-wheel printer, separated the pages and removed the side perforations. Then I would drive over to her house to deliver them. During that year, her husband gave her some truly unbelievable information that she passed on to me.

“Vic says that there is a way to send documents from one computer to another,” she said.

“No way,” I told her. “I don’t believe it.”

“I know,” she said, shaking her head, “But he says it’s possible.”

Sure enough, before long, we were zipping papers back and forth and soon enough our computers sent whole picture albums to each other. Of course there are limitations. Now my laptop is in relationship with so many different computers it is susceptible to all kinds of viruses. Nothing, it turns out, is perfect.

Digital Cameras. Some of my readers will find this hard to believe, but back in The Day, there was a limit to how many pictures a camera could take before running out of something called film. In fact, I remember going to G.A. (Girls in Action: a mission-focused church group for, well, girls.) camp at Chowan University and taking my camera. And film. And flashes (the built-in flash came later). My mother would caution, “Don’t take too many pictures while you are inside and you should have plenty of flashes to last the week.” So when digital cameras came out (not the early ones; those were just irritating), it was so freeing. Take as many pictures as you want. Delete the ones that don’t turn out. Then load them on your computer and let it distribute them to your loved ones. Love it.

Texting (and cell phones in general). Need to send a quick message that doesn’t require a response? Text it. Forget your grocery list? No problem. Just have someone from home text you the list. Want someone to know you are thinking about them? Send an electronic warm fuzzy from your cell to theirs. Texting is quick and efficient. Of course it can also be outright rude. There is that.

I am also quite fond of my microwave and my programmable oven. Digital music is pretty awesome too. Oh, and my GPS. Love that thing.

So really, I like technology. And when I can’t get the TV on, I just curl up with my Nook instead.

GWU Divinity School

Lessons from the MDiv

Delicious and Beautiful!

Speech at Annual Gardner-Webb University Graduate Luncheon
May 12, 2011
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore

I was asked to speak today about what I’ve learned in my three years at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School. And I’ve been asked to do that in five minutes. So hold on: here we go.

I’ve learned that the 77.2 miles from my house in Asheville to the Divinity School here in Boiling Springs gets longer and longer over the course of 3 years.

I’ve learned that coffee tastes better at Broadriver Coffee Shop and that the grilled chicken salad at Italian Garden is big enough for two meals. I’ve learned to eat in The Snack Shop. But I haven’t learned to like it.

I’ve learned to format my bibliography and footnotes as I do my research. I’ve learned reconstructing a bibliography after a paper is written is nearly impossible.

I’ve learned never to take Old Testament, New Testament, and Greek I in the same semester. I’ve learned you can get a lot done in the last minutes before a paper is due.

I’ve learned what the inside of an Egyptian Pyramid looks like. I’ve learned it’s a long, long, long way from Egypt to the Promised Land—even in a motor coach. And I’ve learned that skirts don’t look too bad on Docs West and Robertson.

I’ve learned that David killed Goliath. But so did Elhanan. I’ve learned that 1st Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament and that the gospel writers did not have laptops or even voice recorders.

I’ve learned that God is too big for a pronoun. I’ve learned nothing is too big for God.

I’ve learned always to take extra money to buy books. I’ve learned that books take up a lot of space and may just need their very own room.

I’ve learned that Martin Luther wasn’t exactly a saint, but Oskar Romero just may have been; That the Catholics got a whole lot right in Nicaea, that the Protestants will probably always protest something, and that Jesus was Jewish, not Baptist.

I’ve learned that I’m an ENFJ and my husband is an ISTP. I’ve learned my conflict style, my ministry type, my leadership style, my communication preferences. I learned all that about me. And so infinitely more about God.

I’ve learned to sing the Hebrew Alphabet and to recite the Greek one. I’ve learned that neither language translates into American English without interpretation. I’ve learned that Jesus spoke Aramaic and I’ve learned what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like in Jesus’ own language.

I’ve learned that Jewish people leave little stones on headstones as a sign of respect and that one visit to DC’s Holocaust Museum will last me a lifetime. I’ve learned that even a fraction of 6 million pairs of shoes is a lot of shoes.

I’ve learned that Rosa Parks wasn’t so much worn out as fed up, that Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extraordinarily ordinary man and that George Washington Carver was probably a genius. I’ve learned that Denzel Washington occasionally attends commencement at Morehouse College. I’ve learned when commencement is at Morehouse College.

I’ve learned that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the African American National Anthem. I’ve learned to listen to U2.

I’ve learned that Roger Fuller* can drive to Alabama and back and never complain. And that he can endure unspeakable loss and still testify to God’s glory.

I’ve learned that loss lingers, that children die too young, and so do parents. I’ve learned that God remains.

I’ve learned from famous speakers: Jimmy Carter, Charles Adams, Carlotta Lanier, Anthony Campolo, William Shaw, Fisher Humphries, Julie Pennington-Russell, Marva Dawn, & Fred Craddock.

I’ve learned from books by Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, Roberta Bondi, Elie Wiesel, Frederick Buechner, Glenn Jonas, St. John of the Cross, Henry Nouwen, Joan Chittister, Clarence Jordan, Barbara Brown Taylor & Joseph Webb.

I’ve learned from professors who give beyond the limits of their paychecks, love students & like them too, and read their Bibles not just for academic gain but for deeper devotion.

I’ve learned from colleagues who were raised in the church and those who weren’t, ones who worship like I do and those who don’t, ones who have pastored churches for decades and from ones just starting out; from ones who vote differently or dress differently than I. I’ve learned from colleagues who have experienced grief beyond measure and joy beyond reason. I’ve learned we often take different paths to the same destination. I’ve learned that’s ok.

I’ve learned that God keeps calling. I’ve learned the joy of answering. I’ve learned that God’s calling may not make good sense. I’ve learned not to question someone else’s calling. I’ve learned people will often question mine.

I’ve learned that three years is a long, long time. I’ve learned graduation really is bitter sweet. And I’ve learned that God was right: GWU really was the perfect place for me to become.

*Roger Fuller graduated a semester or two ago. My first semester at GDub, his beloved son, a college student himself, died suddenly, tragically, of an undiagnosed illness. Roger is one of my heroes.

you were right

Parenting Teens: Right! Wrong.

Every mom longs to hear her child say those three little words: that phrase that makes a mother’s heart flutter with delight as warm fuzzies snuggle in through her ears and down into her soul.

I dreamt of the moment, imagining every possible detail: the tilt of her head, her curls framing her face just so, the conviction of her heart revealed in the intensity of her gaze.  I could almost hear her voice as she articulated the message I so yearned to hear. I envisioned my own reaction, practicing for the coming day.

Still, you can’t really prepare yourself for the magnitude of the experience.

You know it will happen. It will. Generations of mothers attest to it. Every child, regardless of limitations, finds a way to say it in time. You know your child is no different.  So you tell yourself to be patient. Don’t rush it. The time will come. Wait.

Me, I heard those three prized words on a day that seemed normal, average really. Nothing in the hours leading up to the event foreshadowed the momentous occasion that would follow. As it happened, the children had just come in from school and were reporting on their day.

“Sorry we’re late.”

“Too much homework.”

“Band test today.”

“Loved my lunch.”

And then, stuck onto the end of a sentence, there it was.

“So I was talking to Haylea, and we decided that you were right.”

All my preparation forgotten I swung around to face her, squeals of joy struggling against my restraint. Had I heard correctly?

“I was what?” I asked, a trace of wistfulness tinting my tone.

Her back was to me, so I couldn’t see the intensity that surely resided in her gaze. “You were right,” she said casually as she reached for a snack.

I was right. Me. I. Her mother. I was right. Not wrong. RIGHT.

I danced a little jig before embracing her.

“I was right, you say?”

Her conviction-filled eyes rolled upward and beyond—perhaps in an effort to preserve the memory of the moment. “You were right.”

“About what? Tell me everything!”

“Mom. Stop.” She tilted her head as if to punctuate the command.

Flush with delight, I pleaded, “Let me just enjoy this moment. I’ve waited so long.”

It was glorious. Fantastic. Absolute. It was downright . . . well . . . stupendous.

But then a deeper voice cut in, assaulting the magic, yanking me back to reality: each word so distinct, the message unmistakable.

“Mom. You’re so stupid." My son, two years younger than his sister, had the last word.

Dadgumit! So close and yet so far.

 Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding.

Proverbs 30:2

The Reminiscence of a Queen

queen tOriginally published in 2010, this post deserved a second round on today, July 15, 2014: Trellace's 20th birthday. She's not exactly queen of her own realm, but she's working on it . . . .

“Have you chosen a major” I asked my niece. Rachel, her mother, my daughter Trellace, and I were sitting in Starbucks™ having a late night snack. Rachel had graduated from high school a few hours earlier.

“Theater, I think, with a minor in photography.”

I recalled the last five years or more when she and Trellace (her twin cousin) spent hours taking pictures with their new digi-cams. I thought back to her elementary and preschool years when her carefree hours were filled with playing dress-up and gathering audiences for her impromptu shows.

“Perfect!” I told her, “Everyone should major in something they love.” I spent more than a decade in college admissions and career counseling. I can hardly stop myself from offering unsolicited advice.

“The way you find out what that special something is,” I went on, “is to think back to what you did for fun when you were a child. Major in something that parallels that activity. That’s what you’ve done by choosing theater and photography.”

Rachel nodded, understanding. She said she had recently talked to a radio announcer who told of his childhood.

“He used to talk into a cassette recorder, listen to his voice, erase it, and then do it again. He did that over and over again as a kid and now, as an adult, he is in radio.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” I said, “Like my sister, she’s a teacher, and when she was little, she loved playing school.”

Rachel and her mom nodded as I continued.

“Your Uncle Jay loved his microscope, plants, anything that had to do with science, and today he is a scientist. I loved books and played library when I was a little girl. Today, I write and I’m in a field that requires a lot of reading.”

Laughter spurted from Trellace, who had been silent throughout the conversation.

“What?” I asked, “Did I say something funny? Embarrassing?”

“No, it’s nothing,” she managed, still sputtering from her laughter, “I was just remembering that when I was little, Hollyn* and I always played ‘Queen.’”

*Hollyn lived across the street from us from the time she and Trellace were 4 until they were 9.