Why We Should Think for Ourselves

Why We Should Think for Ourselves.

Since the inception of this blog, I have asserted that independent thinking and action is one of the most important facets of our humanity, and one of the defining functions of personality. This is because I understand a very old (and yet very true) adage that states that “….the best ideas are common property.” Stated another way, the best principles/maxims/rules of living are understood by a great number of people, and not by a select few (those in today’s society who consider themselves the “elite,” or the so-called “intelligentsia”). Of course, in today’s America, the exact opposite is the prevailing vision, and teaching in modern schools and universities reflects this to a great extent.

It is thus refreshing to see a real-life experience–a direct antithesis to the prevailing vision–documented that proves (yet again) the truth of this ancient maxim.

The best ideas truly are common property–common property of strong-minded individuals who understand the power of independent thinking and action.


Where, Oh Where Has “The Southern Voice” Gone?

For several weeks, I’ve been hearing from followers on both WordPress and Facebook, wondering where in the world I’ve been, and why I haven’t been blogging more often. I would like to take a moment to update all my followers with a long-overdue status update and outlook for the blog.

Most of the folks who follow this blog have been with me long enough to know that I’ve been in school on and off since the end of 2008. This past semester proved to be the busiest yet, with a full class load and a full-time job for the last month and a half of the semester. Nothing new for a self-financed college student, but this semester has been different.

The truth is, Facebook followers of The Southern Voice have an advantage over those who stick to WordPress. They’re in on the secret. And it’s a good one. That’s why I’m grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

Grinning like the cat that ate the canary
Grinning like the cat that ate the canary

There are many things that are cause for rejoicing. In the last year, I’ve gone from being unemployed, limping on a strained ankle, and without transportation to unrestricted ambulation (a medical professional’s term for walking normally, lol), owning a dependable, fuel-efficient vehicle, and working, not one, but two jobs.

But that’s not all.

After breaking my hip last June, I had to drop out of two summer courses at the school where I was enrolled. During the six months that followed, I spent a large amount of time reading, thinking, and pondering the ins and outs of life. It was during this time that a great number of this site’s post were written, including the series entitled, A Refreshing Pause. Instead of going off to Kings Point, New York, as planned, I stayed home, found work, and went back to school during the spring semester of 2013.

There are times in life when time seems to stand still, and nothing seems to be happening. The most amazing part of it is that these times are almost always directly followed by a time when life accelerates to a fever pitch, and everything begins to happen at once.

At the beginning of the semester, I re-enrolled in the math course I had been forced to drop, determined to follow through and finish the job this time. After sitting through the now-familiar orientation class period, I lit into the coursework with a vengeance. This time, I vowed, I would track the math down and kill it.

Okay, I’m becoming overzealous with my metaphors. Moving on…

I couldn’t help but notice that one of the tutors was a young lady about my age, but at first, I really didn’t think too much about that. I was fairly sure that she had a person of interest in her life, and I was preoccupied with school anyway, determined not to get distracted from my goal of finishing the educational course.

However, after two or three weeks in class, I began to notice that the young lady in question was not attached to anyone, as it were. Still determined to stay focused, I merely noted that fact and went on about my business. I could never have expected what happened next.

About two weeks after school started, I went into the math lab early to make up time for an absence. As I was sitting at the desk, with my nose in a book, I couldn’t help but overhear this girl telling another tutor about a “stalker dude” that was giving her trouble.

This “stalker dude” (he shall remain nameless, to protect the guilty) was nearly twice her age, and making all sorts of stupid comments, such that Hannah was feeling quite uncomfortable–indeed, threatened–while at her workplace.

At this point, I knew that I should do what I could to help, even if we never became more than acquaintances.

Having determined to do something, I “happened” to encounter Hannah in the hall later that evening. After a few nondescript pleasantries, I observed, “It sounds like you’ve had a rough day in the math lab today.” Her face fell. “Every day’s a rough day,” she said despondently. “I feel like I’m doing something wrong to draw that much attention to myself.”

(I should mention here that Hannah never did anything indiscreet that would have drawn attention to herself, and was always professional and modest, both in demeanor and attire.)

“No, not at all,” I told her, “It’s guys like that that are the problem. They paint targets on whoever they want.” She brightened a bit as she looked at me and asked, “Do you really think so?” I nodded, adding without hesitation, “I’m a guy, so you can take it from me: you are not doing anything to attract undue attention to yourself. Ok?” She nodded, and a smile crept onto her face as she answered, “Okay.” Then, just as suddenly, her face fell again. “That still doesn’t solve my problem…”

I nodded. “I know.” I knew that now was my only chance to take the plunge, so I drew a deep breath and bailed off, “If you want, I can walk you out to your car after work tonight.”

Her eyes widened; clearly, she was surprised I would even offer. “Really? That would be great!” “All right,” I said, “It’s settled then.”

If you have stuck it out thus far, thanks for your patience. I’ll move more quickly now.

Since my math class was the last one on the schedule for the two nights I was there, it fell perfectly into both our routines for me to escort Miss Hannah to her car, and for a week or two, that was the extent of our contact with one another. As time went on, we began to spend a few minutes together before my class (it just so happened that was when her break fell in the schedule). One day, about three weeks after we had begun talking to one another, her father and brothers walked into the hall where we were talking. They said they had come to “talk to” the other fellow, the one who was bothering their daughter/sister, but Hannah later told me they had come to meet me, too.

I don’t remember much of what we said that night, but for some reason, her dad took a liking to me, and told Hannah that if it worked out that we became more than friends, that was fine with him.

That was nearly seven months ago. Not only is she my best friend, but she is the one person in the world I feel like I couldn’t live without.

Hannah and Me
Hannah and Me

Today, I am thankful for the way that the Lord worked in my life, orchestrating circumstances and locations so that I would meet Hannah just when I did, and be in the frame of mind that I was when I met her. Although I didn’t set out to find a “person of interest,” I firmly believe that the Lord moves people as He sees fit, and that He had more than just a wonderful friendship in mind for the two of us, long before last semester.

All that being said, where does that leave The Southern Voice? Well, there are other things afoot. My work situation is still in a bit of a flux, so I’m sometimes pressed to find time to post. At the moment, however, it looks like I’ll be able to post at least once a week. As time permits, I’ll continue to post on a more regular basis.

I would like to conclude this rather lengthy post by thanking my readers who have stuck with me throughout the course of the last year, through both showers and droughts of writing. It is your patronage that encourages the heart of this writer, and helps to motivate him to write posts for your reading enjoyment and mental provocation (After all, one of the things I strive to do is stimulate thoughtful contemplation of life.). Although I enjoy writing for writing’s sake, it is even more enjoyable to know that other people are reading what I write, and enjoying–and perhaps profiting–from what I have written.

Here’s to many more years of blogging together! Long may reading–and writing–continue in this forum!

For writing’s sake,


The (Happily Taken) Southern Voice Writer

Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee: Which Are You?

This interesting anecdote should make you stop and think before you proclaim that you are a victim of your circumstances. Circumstances are things that are beyond our control, there is no doubt….but our reaction to them is firmly planted in the realm of things we can contain and control.

(NOTE: Not an original article. Copied from Huntington, Long Island, NY. Minimally edited for clarity and grammar. Enjoy!)

Words of Wisdom from Grandma
Words of Wisdom from Grandma

Grandmother: “Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee — Which Are You?”

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the third she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the girl replied.

Grandma brought the young lady closer and asked her to feel the carrots. The girl did and noted that they had become soft. Grandma then asked her granddaughter to take an egg and break it.After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, Grandma asked the girl to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich flavor, then asked, “What’s the point,grandmother?”

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?

Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?


(NOTE: This article shows how an ordinary person can use ordinary objects to impart extraordinary wisdom and common sense that will serve us well in life.

While I don’t agree with every iota of philosophy expressed in this story [think, last two paragraphs], I really like the principle the three objects’ transformations illustrate. More on my interpretation in a future post.)

A One-Verse Blueprint for Meditation: Part II

Two weeks ago, we began looking at Philippians 4:8. In one verse, the Apostle Paul gives us seven tests through which to put our thoughts. Last week we looked at four of them:

1.   “Whatsoever things are true…”
2.   “Whatsoever things are honest…”
3.   “Whatsoever things are just…”
4.   “Whatsoever things are pure…”

Even with only those four qualifications, we can significantly narrow down the field of acceptable subjects on which we should meditate. There are many things in the world about us that are true, but are they honest? Have all the facts been presented justly? More importantly, is this a topic which is pure and should be the focus of large amounts of our thoughts and our time?

In this culture in which we live, there is no way that we can possibly avoid everything that would perhaps give offense to us or violate the terms of this list. However, while we may not be able to keep ourselves from incidental, momentary exposure to such things, it is a huge leap from admitting this to stating that we cannot possibly control our thoughts. If you cannot control your thoughts, as a pastor I know used to say, then someone needs to lock you in a padded room and take your shoelaces and any sharp objects away from you! In fact, we can control our thoughts, and we can choose on what subjects we will think (or meditate, if you will). Here in this verse Paul gives us a blueprint…a one-verse blueprint for meditation.

We’ve examined the first four qualities in detail. Now we turn to the latter half of the verse, and see three more characteristics of the things on which we should think:

5.   “Whatsoever things are lovely…”

The word “beautiful” is often used in today’s culture, and so is “appealing,” but “lovely” has been trivialized, it would seem. This is a pity, because this word denotes much more than an external beauty, although that is certainly included. “Lovely” also carries the idea of a “beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye; [something that is] charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; of a great spiritual or moral beauty…” The Old English root from which this word derives is luffic, which means “amiable.” Perhaps this is how the custom of describing an amiable person as possessed of a “lovely” temperament. How much meaning can be wrapped up in a single word! How instructive to the man seeking to order his thoughts according to the template for meditation! Whatsoever things are possessed of a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind, as well as the eye, of great spiritual and moral value, toward these subjects ought our thoughts to tend! How often do our thoughts (I include myself) tend in exactly the opposite direction? This is powerful; it is revolutionary for our thinking.

6.   “Whatsoever things are of good report…”

Ah, this qualification changes the dynamic in a new and powerful way. Previous requirements state truth, honesty, and justice as tests through which our thoughts should pass; but, here is “of good report” standing behind them to halt still more traffic, as it were. An even better picture is of stringent standards in a quality assurance lab at a manufacturing plant. If a product doesn’t meet all of the requirements, it doesn’t make it out to the consumer. Is it true? Is it honest? Is it just? Is it pure and lovely? Yes? Good…but now, is it of good report? The word translated as good report is the Greek word euphemos, from which we derive our English word, euphemism.  This word also carries the idea of something that is well-spoken of, and therefore reputable.  To break it down still further, the prefix eu-, to speak or speaking, is attached to a derivative of pheme, (fay-may–from whence we get the English word “fame”), a saying, or a rumor. So this means to think on those things which are well-spoken of.

Why would it be necessary to include an instruction to think on things of good report in this list? Let’s pause for a moment to evaluate this. Does this just mean that we should only speak of those things that are “happy ,” or “positive?” To adopt such a position may seem logical at first, but in fact an examination of other verses from the Paul’s writings will show us that truth is the preeminent concern.

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:14)

Two quick thoughts here. One, I’m breaking into the middle of a paragraph, so I beg your indulgence there. Paul is speaking of the goal of unifying and perfecting the body of believers, and states that this is one of the end results of the maturing process through which that goal will be accomplished. Two, notice the ways in which men seek to use words to lead others astray. This passage is rich in parallels to be drawn, but we’ll continue to the next verse, which illustrates the importance of truth:

“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” (4:15)

There is power here. Paul tells the Ephesians, and by extension us, that our words should be truthful and loving. In other words, we should be willing to say those things that may be hard to hear because they are necessary, but we should always do so out of a heart that desires the best for the other person. With how much grief and strife and hateful speech would following this simple command do away? Furthermore, how much gossip, slander, and backbiting would vanish overnight if we simply followed this blueprint?

Just a few verses later, Paul clarifies,

“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:25)

If I obey the command of Christ to love my neighbor as myself, this will follow as a natural result of that obedience, because I desire that people be truthful in their dealings with me. Even so, telling the truth can be painful at times, and Paul urges us to remember to speak the truth, but to do so lovingly.

There are many other verses in the writings of Paul that speak of the preeminence of truth, and this is a word-study to which we shall perhaps return in future. For now, let us return to our text, Philippians 4.

Paul wraps up this incredible list of qualifications for our thoughts with two more tests, stated almost as one:

“…if there be any virtue…” “…and if there be any praise…”

Virtue: Moral excellence; goodness; righteousness. Conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles. Uprightness. These are high standards to which to hold one’s thoughts! Indeed, as I have learned, it is impossible for a man to do this, and it is only by dependence on Christ in me that I can claim the victory and live in obedience to these principles.

Praise: extolling (by others) of the worth of one’s actions or character, the act of giving due credit to someone for a worthy action or virtue of character. These are things on which I should think, according to this verse.

Paul ends this verse with the simplest of commands:

“…think on these things.” <—— This is the emphasis I have often seen and heard put on this last phrase (and there is no doubt that such emphasis is proper), but stop for a moment and consider ——> “….think on these things.” Paul is not just recommending a five-minute session of thinking on such things–in the morning as you drink your coffee, perhaps. No, Paul is advocating a fundamental transformation of your thought life to include only those things that pass these tests. He’s talking about a consistent pattern of thoughtful, intensive contemplation on these subjects that will revolutionize your thinking, your speech, and your way of life. The truth here is powerful, for those who will believe and accept it.

There is much here to ponder. It is indeed

Something to think about,


The Southern Voice Writer

Photo 2

With Love, from Jon

I have a great family. I know a lot of folks that don’t get along with the people closest to them, but I get on quite well with my kinfolk.

My littlest brother is the most awesome fellow I know. This little gent, two years old, hit all the right notes this Christmas.


Here you see the guy in question offering someone (probably my sister) a flower. See? He knows what’s up. 😉

Given the large size of our family, it would be rather hard for everyone to get everyone else a decent gift. So to enable everyone to get a few nicer gifts (and to cut down on the post-Christmas clutter, I suppose), my Mom long ago hit on the perfect solution: we draw names from a hat. That way, everyone receives one (or two) nice gifts from another sibling, and Mom and Dad purchase one or two for each child. It means a smaller Christmas, but it works really well.

This year, my awesome little brother drew my name. Oh, one more thing about the drawing: we have to keep the names a secret. Whoever we get, we have to keep it to ourselves and do our own shopping. Normally, someone will be taken into confidence in search of outside ideas for gifts, but on the whole, a great amount of mystery pervades the atmosphere as Christmas draws ever nearer. Even when it came to picking his adviser, Jon had it all figured out. He went to Mom, and the scheming began. Most of my family is pretty good at keeping a confidence, but nobody’s better at it than Mom. She puts everything into the safe, and nobody can take it back out again.

So Christmas morning arrives and I have no idea what’s coming. We all wake up early and open the presents in our stockings, as usual. After a delicious breakfast  of apricot braid bread, we all gather in the living room to listen to my Dad read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke before we open the presents under the tree.

The story being read, the fun begins. Dad hands out the gifts one at a time. Suddenly, he tosses me a package from Jonny. I tear off the paper and find a pair of flannel pajama pants. Like I said, Jonny picked his adviser well. 🙂

But that wasn’t it. Five minutes later, another package from Jonny comes my  way. As I take it, it looks like a book; hefts like one. But when I open it, it’s a BIG pack of Stride gum! As in, 15 packs of it! 😀

I am a gum fanatic, and Stride is my favorite kind of gum. So it really made my day to get that from my awesome little brother. Like I said, he knew what was up, and he picked the right person to help him in his gift search.

I still have some gum left, and as I head into the new year, my flannel pajama pants are my favorite attire for relaxing around the house. Yep, I’m glad the two-year-old picked my name this past Christmas.

Who knows? I might even try to rig it where he draws it again this year. 😉

Welcome to the Community, Brother!

Folks have been taking notice of The Southern Voice over the last few weeks, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing from different folks through the likes, follows, and comments that have come to my site with the increased traffic. I’ve really enjoyed tracking folks back to their blogs and getting a glimpse of their takes on life. It’s been a most interesting time. 🙂

I’ve barely begun to get used to the fact that people are following me on WordPress when BAM! I’ve got an award nomination from one of my newest followers. That’s cool!

I now present the award banner for your viewing enjoyment, in partial fulfillment of the requirements of acceptance of this nomination. (I have written waaaay too many papers and speeches in school.)

Next, I would like to extend my thanks to the one who nominated me, Alexandra of I Started Late and Forgot the Dog. Stage two of the provisos, quid…oh, you know, requirements, is now complete.

Third (and this should be FUN!!), I will now answer the questions provided by the nominator of my blog. Tee-hee! These are great, and I really had fun coming up with answers to them. I’ve striven for a genuine answer, with a humorous touch. Enjoy!

Question: Batman and Leslie Knope are running against each other for POTUS.  Whom would you vote for and why?

Batman, hands down. Why, you ask? Well, to begin with, he is a businessman a capitalist, and a man who believes that an inventor/innovator should have a controlling interest in the company bearing his name. Second, he is an awesome public figure. He has no superpowers, except his uncanny ability to manipulate people by using their fear as a weapon, but he is definitely one bad dude, probably on the level of Chuck Norris. The man is be-awesome, to borrow Rhino’s phrase from Bolt. The clincher for me on this one is Batman’s stance on evil and corruption…he can’t stand it. And let’s be honest for a moment, entrenched corruption is always in need of a good swift kick in the pants, wherever it may be found.

It’s not that I have anything against Leslie Knope. I just don’t know who she is. Sound familiar? (My political bias obtrudes…forgive me.)

Question: Identify and describe your very favorite dessert.

Well, Death by Chocolate, as some call it. BUUUUT…huge qualifier: it has to be homemade. With real chocolate pudding, made from scratch. Real whipped cream. There’s a certain kind of cookie we make, chocolate with peanut butter chips in them? Yessss…homemade cookies, mind. And when it’s all layered into the bowl, over the final layer of whipped cream we sprinkle the super-tiny chocolate chips by Nestle. Oh yes, brother, I did…I went there. Try it…you will return to the norm reluctantly.

Question: In what outfit do you feel most confident and why?

A suit, shirt and tie, with dress shoes that are well-shined. Why that? Because I like looking my best; and, even after years of dissenting theory and indoctrination, people really DO let your clothes say it for you. Perhaps that will turn into a post sometime?

Question: What “good” movie do you hate and why?

Ummm…well. <——- This one stumped me for a while, so that sentence can be taken to represent the sum total of my tortured musings on this subject. However, I would have to say that I hate Gone with the Wind. Stone me if you must, I’ve lived in the South my entire life, but I just cannot get past that movie. Scarlett is so impossible, and yet such a vivid reminder of some people with whom I am “acquainted,” that it ruins it for me.  And Rhett (all due respect to Clark Gable) is a little stuck on himself. So yeah, Gone with the Wind needs to…well, get  gone. 😀

Ok, now I am called upon to nominate my fellow bloggers for this award, because passing it on is part of accepting your nomination. Great!

The Wordslinger — this guy is going somewhere in life, and having fun doing it, from all accounts (the beauty of having your own blog where you are solely responsible for all content there…you control the message and image you present). 🙂

Necessary and Proper Government — Jeff, the owner of this blog, has come to my attention recently through an interesting discussion surrounding my post about the Vice-Presidential Debate (You Give It to Biden? Really Now…). Really enjoy talking to, and reading behind, this gentleman who does his homework and always presents the facts logically with no spin. One of my favorite blogs. Ever.

Things We Make — Now here’s an awesome concept: take 2 writers, talented in many other respects as well; add generous cup of curiosity, heaping cup of creativity, pinch of wit, dash of run-and-find-out, and voila! Things We Make…a great blog about things to eat, brighten up your home, or make the day of someone special to you. Nice. 😀

Since this post is 50 years long already, please, my nominees, feel free to share 6, 7, 0r 11 wonderful, exciting, fun, unusual, interesting, strange, or disturbing facts about yourself. 🙂 Irony is welcome, humor is a great idea, but don’t drop the unqualified, “I have a boring life.” Really? If you do that, I’ll nominate your blog for the brand-new Kill-Joy Award, which you will have had the honor of minting. LOL. All kidding aside, I’m looking forward to learning more about you all. 🙂

Once again, I’m overjoyed to be welcomed to the community in this way. It almost feels like a meet-and-greet where you’re a nervous guest, and suddenly someone walks up to you and says, “Hey man, great to see you here tonight,” as he gives you a hundred-dollar “green handshake.” Bam! Confusion vanishes; confidence emerges.

Thanks again, Alexandra, for nominating me for this award!

Fall Is Getting Colder…

Warm, sunny, sub-tropical, Southern Florida — My Current Location

Well, I’ve been in South Florida for a week, and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed my time here. I can also say with complete honesty that I’m looking forward to returning home. However, given the nature of my return journey, I can also say that there may be some “complications.”

Even though it’s October, it’s been over 90 almost every day that I’ve been here. I’ve been working outside, doing some yard work that my aunt and uncle needed done, so I’ve had a chance to fully experience the sub-tropical heat. Most days I feel like Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) on the day that was so hot he evaporated. One of the great things about where I’ve been, however, is that I’m never more than 75 feet from a pool. Anytime I feel like I’m about to dissolve into steam, I can run and jump into six feet of cold, clear water and cool off.

…I can run and jump into six feet of cold, clear water…

I’m going from warm, sunny, sub-tropical, Southern Florida to North Carolina. In October. I know, it’s not truly cold there yet (I’ve been in Carolina since I was transplanted 16 years ago), but it’s going to feel like I’m constantly freezing after being in 90 degree weather every day.

…going to feel like I’m constantly freezing…

Now before I go any further, I need to clarify something. I love brisk weather. When the days and nights start cooling off and it’s time to break out the light jackets, I am one of the first and most excited about it. However, going from Florida to North Carolina is not something I’ve done before at this time of year, and I’m sure I’ll be slightly less than enthused about it. I’ll probably end up like one of those people who can’t believe that anyone else can feel anything other than hatred for cold (okay, cool) weather.

I’m sure my friends will look at me as though I’ve lost my marbles when I stride into the coffee shop wearing my leather jacket and blowing on my hands as I holler out, “Large cup of coffee with an extra shot of espresso…quick!” They’ll shake their heads sagely over their lattes and murmur to one another in demure tones, “There goes another Floridian.” Snickers. “Pro’bly ha’n’t seen snow ever. In his life.” More snickers. I grab my tall coffee and bolt to my car, slam the door, crank up the heat full. Full-blown laughter at the tables.

Eventually, someone will get up the courage to confront me, most likely on a cold night after midweek prayer meeting when the antifreeze has frozen in my radiator. I’ll be under my Beetle with a butane torch, trying to thaw the blasted thing out, and he’ll be there in his shirtsleeves, preaching how I need to get back on the cold weather bandwagon.

I’ll be under my Beetle with a butane torch…

“Open your eyes, man,” he’ll hold forth, “it’s only October, and it’s going to get colder before long. November’s coming!” He pauses for an answer, but the only sound is the arctic wind howling and the hiss of the torch. I’m concentrating hard, because the ice is finally starting to melt, and the drip is hitting me right below the chin, adding to my joy. “You should take a trip up to upstate New York this time-a year,” my friend continues as the arctic blast threatens to divest him of his T-shirt. At this juncture, the drip hits me in the eye, overwhelming the last vestige of my patience, and I leap to my feet and chase my friend across the lawn, yelling like a maniac and waving the still-burning torch.

Yes, I know that it’s not really all that bad in North Carolina in October. Still, going straight there from a week of 90+ degree weather, I’ll feel much differently about it this time around. Still, it will be wonderful to get home to the great state of North Carolina.

I’m really looking forward to all of the wonderful things about fall…the cooler weather, the changing leaves, the bonfires, the bountiful harvest from the fields of home, the hot chocolate, the toasting of marshmallows, and everything else that autumn weather brings with it. All too soon, winter will be here, the weather will grow colder, and the wonderful time we call fall will be gone. But for now, it’s here…so enjoy it while it lasts.

Hooray for fall!

Near Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


News from Ellenboro 4/13/2012

Josiah is getting ready to go to market, and Jed is going with him. It’s a farmers’ market where people go to buy veggies and meat raised on small farms in the area, but Jed is still excited. “I’m taking my money, Siah,” he declares exuberantly. “Cool, dude, whatcha gonna buy?” The response is instant and confident: “A gun.” “A gun?” Josiah is skeptical, but Jed affirms vigorously, “A gun.” “Well, how much money do you have?” Jed answers as he spills some coins onto the table, “Hundreds and hundreds of dollars.” Josiah tries to explain to Jed that he only has a few hundredths of one dollar, but Jed remains unconvinced. “No, Siah, I’m gonna buy a gun…A shotgun.”

When you’re young, everything is bigger. The small things are larger than life, and the big ones are gigantic. An oak tree with a bend a few feet off the ground becomes a castle’s tower, or a mountain to conquer, or the bow of a mighty sailing vessel. For hours you stride along the seven feet of almost-level trunk, directing epic sea battles from the for’rard deck of your flagship. You stand in the topmost turret of your castle, barking orders that are obeyed instantly by hapless minions fearing death should they incur your displeasure, and then Dad appears and his head is level with the top of your 200-ft. tower –“Time for supper,” he says—and you’re a kid again and leap, howling with delight, into your father’s mighty arms.

Warm weather means it will be swimming season soon, and the kids walk down to the creek to “wade.” Invariably, someone “falls in,” “accidentally,” in such a way that—even though the creek is only two feet deep, at most—they’re soaked up to their neck. Joseph and Nathan hatch a plot to pull the wool over Mom’s eyes (“Nate, you push me in, and I’ll say such and such happened, then we’ll dunk you and say…”), and it works. Mom doesn’t suspect them, but simply orders them to take a shower, and they laugh about their cleverness—quietly, of course—but big brother heard them conspiring. As Joseph is taking the mandated shower, big brother steps into the laundry room and turns off the hot-water heater, (one of those tankless, on-demand, gas-powered contraptions) and the resulting icy deluge almost kills him, but leaves enough life in him that he can loudly express his displeasure. He storms out after his shower, demanding to know WHO would DARE! …but everyone’s laughing and nobody’s talking, so Joseph has to let it go.

It’s April, and the garden bug bit Dad in January, so he’s had plant fever for about three months now, and the garden plots are full of green shoots in neat rows. Raised beds of potatoes occupy all of one plot, and the other is half-filled with more elevated beds containing leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, carrots, and greens (spinach, kale, collards, and mustards among them). Already there have been several salads made with homegrown lettuce—character-building opportunities for the kids (“See here, Jed, it’s either eat salad or go hungry,” Dad tells him, and Jed digs in like the salad is cupcakes with sprinkles and icing on top)—and everyone eagerly anticipates fresh kale to go with pork chops and corn bread. There’s ham in the freezer, for black beans and ham (with rice and coleslaw), and a package of sirloin tip for beef stew, also served over rice. A perennial favorite is Southwest Soup: tomatoes, corn, black beans, and ground beef, served with tortilla chips and sour cream. And then there are eggs, bacon, grits, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, All-Bran (looks just like bran pellets they give to horses), and all sorts of other good and wholesome food. Eating is not something the Crains take lightly; it’s serious business, providing the means to survive and work another day, cooperating with their overall goal of a healthy lifestyle…and yes, they enjoy their food, too!

Mom is in the kitchen, about to grind wheat in her WhisperMill that sounds like an airplane on final approach (“It’s the quietest one on the market,” she says in her gentle way as the mill gears down to convert the hard red wheat into wholesome flour), and the plane lands, taxies to the terminal and shuts off its engines—the turbines take a full minute to wind down. But there’s fresh bread for supper, and the whole family spreads butter on the piping-hot slices, and thanks the Lord for the Whisper(Loud)Mill. They also thank Him that Mom knows how to cook so well.

Dad and David take a trip to pick up a piece of equipment for the farm, and the journey begins at six AM…after breakfast, of course. Dad hooks the trailer to the truck, and the two of them journey four hours east to get this disc. CDs are rapidly going the way of the 8-track tape, but this disc was made before either of them were around—it’s a disc harrow that breaks up the sod and readies the soil for planting—and although it’s old, it’s definitely usable. On the way home, they share a Subway sandwich and reminisce about Florida, the state where Dad grew up, and how much the eastern part of NC reminds them of it (“It’s almost like somebody copied and pasted the landscape and vegetation,” David observes to himself). Arriving home in the mid-afternoon, they slide gratefully from the truck and stretch their legs—“That truck gets smaller as the trip gets longer,” Dad jokes—and they’re greeted with shouts of welcome from the family and yelps of joy from Ivan, the ninety-pound Boerbel that loves to see his people come home from anywhere. After a nutritious meal, the family gathers in the living room to hear Dad read from the Bible and a Ralph Moody book. Moody writes about life as it was at the beginning of the last century, and everyone loves to hear Dad read about the interesting experience Ralph had in Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, and the Southwestern United States.

Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly—and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ‘em both.

News from Ellenboro 4/6/2012

Spring has sprung!

After a winter that was more like a continuation of autumn (minus the falling leaves), spring has stepped out and thrown a verdant blanket over everything in sight. The weather, already unseasonably warm, has grown still warmer, and temperatures that seldom appear until late June are boldly strutting forth. Already, the thermometer has topped out over eighty degrees several days, and the older residents shake their heads and grumble to each other, “Never seen it this warm in April.” It was almost this warm last year in May, but the intervening winter weather wasn’t cold enough to make them appreciate hot weather; so they spin the dial on their home thermostats and grumble. “Never seen it so hot this early…shut the door, Frankie! We ain’t coolin’ the whole outdoors, for cryin’ out loud!” Five-year-old Frankie, startled by Grampa Jim’s sudden command, hurriedly slams the door on three of his fingers. Loud wails ensue, and Grammaw rushes to console him with an orange creamsicle. Grampa settles deeper into his leather armchair, grumbling to himself, “Even the kids are grumpy, it’s so hot,” and he turns the TV up so he can hear, which means anybody else trying to talk has to shout over the newscaster’s voice blaring from the set.

It’s been warm all month, but some of the good ol’ boys are shaking their heads about the unseasonably warm weather. The dogs lie panting in the shade cast by the trucks, and the fellas stand around with their boots (well-worn, muddy Justin, Red Wing, & Irish Setter) on the running-boards, muttering about record temperatures, high and low, spitting tobacco juice and expressing uncertainty about the weather holding. “I dunno,” one proclaims around a chaw of Red Man, “This warm this early…we’re liable to have a late cold spell here directly.” (In rural NC, “directly” means “in a short [but unspecified] amount of time,” not “in a direct manner.”) “Quit your yammerin’, Blake,” grumbles Ken, “I’ve already got my garden in.”

It’s been hot, but the rains have been regular, and everything’s growing like weeds. At the Crain house, the garden is growin’ to beat the band…and the weeds are growin’ to beat the garden. Dad walks through the garden, noting the growth of veggies and weeds, the faithful and the interlopers, and at the supper table that night, he announces that tomorrow is weed-pulling day (“There will be a family-wide weed-pull tomorrow, from 8AM-until; bring a hat, a hoe, and a good attitude…”) to a stifled, collective groan.

Weed-pulling means scratching at the dirt with hoes, cultivators, sticks, fingers…in short, anything that allows for digging out of weeds—roots and all—without harming the vegetables. It means crawling up and down—on dirt that is like an iron skillet, it gets so hot—beside row after row of tiny veggie plants, ousting the vile weeds, and before long the boys make a game of it. The good plants are their army, and they’re the mighty generals in command (except mighty generals don’t crawl on hands and knees through the dirt, they ride astride fine horses, wearing fine uniforms and wonderful hats; they look calm and aloof, and say wonderful, grown-up things like, “Now, what are the consequences of going through with this endeavor?” that’s what generals do) and then Mom calls from the deck, “Lunch!” and the boys clear the chest-high chain-link fence in a single bound, they’re so hungry.

Lunch is good, and there’s plenty of food for everybody, but Joseph & Nathan always ask for more. “Please, Mom, may we have some more, please?” Dad looks up from his first helping, “You can wait…some of us haven’t finished our firsts yet. Besides, you won’t starve to death if you don’t have more.” Joseph—feeling somewhat bold since Dad is 10 feet away and there are three people between them—starts grumbling, but Josiah shushes him in a hurry: “Whatsa matter witcha, ya got a death wish or somethin’? When I was your age, I ate like a pregnant moose…but I worked like a horse.” Then dinner’s over and the boys march back out to the garden to finish weeding, thinking on the way of horses that eat like pregnant mooses (meese? moose?) and sound a lot like Josiah.

It’s hot, and everything’s growing, and the boys’ pants get shorter in the leg as if by magic (“It’s like they’re drinking Miracle-Gro,” Mom sighs). Dress shirts get tight in the shoulders, and shoes pinch so they kick them off every chance they get.

Josiah is leasing a parcel of land just down the road, and he & Dad sit in the living room, after meals and until long after bedtime, talking farm names, plants to grow, fertilizer-to-acre ratios, and what sort of animals to raise and how to grow the food for them. “We have to grow our own forages,” Dad states emphatically, “because non-GMO foods are prohibitively expensive,” and Josiah nods in agreement, while the others scratch their heads and wonder what GMO is, anyway.

Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly–and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ’em both.