Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The perfect computer travel bag

Each August as teachers are preparing their classrooms and buying school supplies, I am on the prowl for the perfect travel computer bag for my busiest work season. By looking at my online order history, one can see that this is a quest that I have been on for a while. Being a true travel nerd for six years, I have specific requirements for the perfect computer bag.  It should be colorful, lightweight, multi-pocketed, and sturdy. It should hold a computer, iPad, charging cables, a Diet Coke, and snacks; an easy access pocket for boarding passes, headphones, and my phone are also important.  These are not impossible characteristics to locate in travel bags because I can search Amazon, Google Marketplace, and eBags to try and find the perfect fit.  Alas, I am still in search of the perfect bag after trying several possibilities.

First up is  the basic businessman black rolling bag.  It is functional as it holds my computer as well as my other electronics and handouts for the training; however, even with the convenience of the wheels, it is not attractive. I have also misplaced many a charger for my computer and my phone because I forget about that one awesome pocket where it made so much sense to put those things when I was boarding my plane.  A day later when I am unpacking, I have totally forgotten the existence of that very special pocket and thus cannot find those chargers.

So I moved on to a vibrantly colored Vera Bradley for January through August or the Alabama patterned one for football season. These shoulder totes are so roomy they can hold everything and the kitchen sink. This, however, is a problem because I then pack TOO much into this bag that I will be carrying on my right shoulder.  No matter how many times I try to remind myself to pack lighter and to alternate shoulders, this option causes shoulder and back pain. In addition, without internal pockets to corral things I often find myself rooting around in my pocketbook like my great-grandmother used to do when she was looking for a Kleenex—not a pretty sight!  In this kind of bag, I also usually end my trip by finding a smashed granola bar, a bruised apple, and a leaky water bottle at the bottom.

Next, I chose a bright red backpack with wheels that seemed to fit my specifications.  Brightly colored, lots of pockets, and wheels were wonderful, but the internal frame made it impossible to put in the overhead bins of the teeny tiny regional jets I often take to get to smaller towns.  Having to grab my computer, phone, meds, and chargers as I am walking and trying to board a plane got very old very quickly. So nope, this alternative didn’t work either and was soon abandoned.

At the moment, I am using a hip Manhattan Portage bag in bright red recommended by my much cooler brother, Lee. He had one that I admired and he gave me the info for ordering my own; however, my brother has much less to carry when he travels.  The bag has many advantageous features. It has lots of pockets that are very convenient; it has a padded laptop sleeve; it can convert from a back pack to a messenger bag.  But, it also is so durable that I can pack six books, an umbrella, a sweater, snacks, magazines, and a crossword puzzle book so it gets cumbersome in a hurry.

Never one to give up on a quest, I have recently ordered a new smaller shoulder back that will hold my new work computer, some handouts, and my mini iPad.  Let’s see if this bag is a finalist for the best travel computer bag or if I will revert to a previous choice or continue looking for the perfect bag.  My hopes are high and I am ever optimistic that THIS will be the perfect bag.  What do you look for in a travel bag? I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Not Ready Yet

Not ready yet

I'm still not ready to not have my daddy. It's been five years and I miss him still and I guess I always will.I miss him on big holidays and events like Father’s Day, but it’s the little things that bring tears to my eyes, that make me catch a ragged breath, that make me miss him even more.
  • ·         Seeing tables of books with the sign FATHER’S DAY BOOKS and wondering, has Dad has already read that?
  • ·         Hearing Faded Love by Patsy Cline, or On the Road Again by Willie Nelson, or Have Mercy by The Judds and wondering if Dad’s voice is now in tune as he sings in heaven.
  • ·         Gazing at the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird and still wondering if he saw the book and read it on his own or if he had an English teacher who assigned it to a class of white high school freshmen in Rome, Georgia, in 1960.
  • ·         Noticing that he was reading a new book almost every day from hardback bestsellers to paperback spy novels from the grocery store and wondering if he, too, is waiting excitedly for the next Daniel Silva novel to come out in July.
  • ·         Hearing someone order a coffee with two sugars makes me anticipate his voice following up the order with I’d appreciate it and wondering if I will ever learn to drink “real”, not candy bar (Dad’s reference to the fancy stuff at Starbucks) coffee.
  • ·         Understanding in so many more ways, now that I am fifty, what life is not fair truly means and wondering if Dad felt that it was not fair that his life was cut short before he got to do all he wanted here on earth.

I have so much more discuss with my dad.  This is a partial list. I am sure I will think of other things as I live and work and travel this year.
  • ·         The good things and bad things I have been going through.
  • ·         The books I'm reading and which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t
  • ·         The books he’s reading and what he would recommend or let me borrow
  • ·         All the people I meet while traveling and the funny things I see and hear. I know he would get my silly, punny sense of humor.
  • ·         The many places I’ve been since I last saw him and all the adventures I have been on with friends, family, and on my own.
  • ·         Lord have mercy, the Trump presidency would be a very interesting topic
  • ·         EFM and all that it meant to me.
  • ·         My trip to Israel and all the amazing places I visited
  • ·         Trying out for Jeopardy again with the online test.
 I know I am blessed to have so many wonderful memories of my Dad. He was a man with integrity in his professional life and he lived and loved to the fullest in his personal life.  He was always my champion and my best editor. I miss you, Dad, today and always.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Walking with Gospel Music and Waterfowl

Sitting around all day with nothing to do is for some a dream come true.  Students finishing high school or college and people counting down the days to retirement look forward to days of freedom; however, for me working from home when I am supposed to be out in schools working is a bit depressing. 

I was heading toward depression even though I have good medication for that. Yes, I have been catching up on emails and some easy work stuff.  Yes, I have been on a Netflix binge. Yes, I have been reading for fun. Yes, I am bored.

As a remedy to this boredom, I got up yesterday and went for a walk around Garden Lakes park.  It was a beautiful morning—the sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was shining, the breeze was ruffling the leaves.  

I plugged in my headphones and chose the Gaither Gospel Homecoming album and set off on my walk. Gospel songs are reminders of my grandparents, Grannie and Papaw. Songs like How Great Thou Art, I Surrender All, It Is Well with My Soul, Sweet Beulah Land, and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder put a spring in my step.  I was reminded of not only my grandparents’ love for me, but God’s, too.  I am in a dark place at present going through some tough personal things.  But these songs buoyed my spirit and I was able to open my eyes to God’s creation all around me.

I observed the native waterfowl and their springtime behavior.  I was surprised that there were a bunch of species represented in this little lake in northwest Georgia—mallards, big white ducks, Canadian geese, and even a heron.  I noticed the birds paddle with their feet concealed under their bodies and then drag their feet behind them to steer themselves. I was amused when I saw a Canada goose land on the water, and he looked like he was water-skiing.  I loved the diving duck with his butt in the air looking for food under the water. And finally, I saw that a mama duck is just as protective of her ducklings as a human mama. 

So my friend’s suggestion to get out in the sunshine and walk was good advice. I walked almost two miles, saw the beauty of God’s creation, and remembered who I am and whose I am.  The dark times will pass and there is something better waiting on the other side. Thanks to gospel music and waterfowl for helping me remember that.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Real Meaning of Community

I am staying with my Aunt Jenny in Rome on and off for the next few months.  Jenny who is a member at North Broad Baptist Church was volunteering at their quarterly Community Brunch Saturday morning. So because I have a passion for feeding hungry people, I tagged along.

We arrived at 8:00 to a kitchen full of people bustling about making a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, grits, and biscuits.  Because it was the Saturday after Easter and other reasons, the number of volunteers was expected to be low; however, I am sure Julie (the Community Brunch liason)  and MIcah (the pastor) and many others must have done some mighty praying since over 35 joyful volunteers showed up to feed God’s people.

The Community Brunch is a true chance for people to give and receive God’s wonderful hospitality.  Our guests were escorted down the elevator to Rutland Hall for a breakfast feast.There, we directed them to choose a place at  one of the twelve decorated and inviting tables waiting for them.  Greeting them with smiles, the volunteers took drink orders and followed by food orders and brought everything to the guests.  All the fixins a person might want or need were on the tables--jelly, sugar, pink stuff, yellow stuff, salt, pepper, syrup, butter, and napkins. We brought them coffee, water, milk, and orange juice. We noticed that the grown ups were giving the kids the orange juice and said you can have some, too. In their world, orange juice is a luxury and they were willing to give that luxury to the children.

We wanted our community guests to feel welcome and well taken care of. We wanted them to find a place where they were accepted and where they could sit and enjoy a cup of coffee with their friends.  We wanted them to feel like dignified human beings. And I believe they did.

Some of my other noticings included--

If we asked how someone was, they always said blessed or glad to be here or happy to see us.

Our guests waited patiently in line to get into the breakfast and then went back to wait in line for seconds. Those patient people were truly hungry both for food and human contact.

Our guests were patient and sat socializing and drinking coffee to wait for 11:00 for go plates to be distributed. Many of them were taking plates to friends and family who were unable to attend because of illness or disability; however, our guests who didn’t have much themselves made sure that other members of the community could also share in the bounty.

The addressed me as Miss Laurie, which at first made me uncomfortable, but later I realized they were being respectful in their own way.

I saw that many of our guests had on layers of clothes including coats on this late April Saturday in Georgia because all they had was what they wore and what was in their backpacks.

I saw people taking care of friends and family with mental and physical disabilities with a tender touch.

I saw a gentleman collect the uneaten pancakes and biscuits from his table mates and wrap them in a napkin for later. I wondered just how hungry he was.

Everyone we served from the oldest to the youngest said please and thank you.

We were all one community celebrating God’s love at a meal.

Sharing a meal with others is one of the holiest ways to show God’s love and hospitality.

Their faces lit up when we got refills of the drinks. They enjoyed sitting at tables with other people they knew. They enjoyed holding each others’ kids so the parents could eat.  They enjoyed the food. They enjoyed the fellowship. They enjoyed being in a loving environment as a child of God.

Our faces lit up when we got refills of the drinks. We enjoyed sitting at tables meeting new people. We enjoyed holding the kids so the parents could eat.  We enjoyed the food. We enjoyed the fellowship. We enjoyed being in a loving environment as a child of God.

By the end of the two hours, as you can tell from the paragraphs above, we and they were now one--one community of North Rome, one community of love and friendship, community of God’s beloved people.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Let's Stop Pretending

Here is my response to the following article I read on Facebook. When I realized that I was having
a conversation with myself about the article, I knew that a blog post was in order.

Let’s stop pretending you don’t do these 58 annoying things when you fly

When this came up on my Facebook feed this morning, I just could not resist clicking on it to see if I
do any of these annoying things when I fly. I was certain that I was not going to be guilty of any
of these travel trangressions,and I did manage to read all the way through the annoying Check In
list without seeing any of my behavior. Alas, then I got to the Security list and number 5--walking to
TSA PreCheck with your head up like a royal--jumped out at me. I have to confess that I surely do that.
I feel so superior when I don’t have to take off my shoes or get my computer out of my bag.
Silly, I know.

In the Pre-Flight list I realized I was completely guilty of  #12--taking up an entire row with my bags/luggage in a crowded gate area.  I just like my personal space; and, I make the effort to show up early to stake out said row near charging stations.  And in a crowded gate area most of the rows are only 3 seats--one for my bags, one for me, and one for the food/drink I am consuming.  On that one, I say show up early and get your preferred seat(s) near your gate.

Onto the Boarding list, number 20--pretending you’re in a music video or a movie as you look out
the airplane window with your headphones on--is one that I have caught myself doing more than once.
I have my own ELF #1.In my best, loud teacher voice, I have been known to say,
“There is a line and YOU are not in it” or “We are in line and the back is that way.”  
I take no guff from the people who are trying to make excuses; please, gentle travelers,
board with YOUR group for heaven’s sake. Teachers really cannot stand people who cut in line;
it’s a hazard of the job.

The In Flight list (the longest of the sections) only had a few violations for which I have been
responsible.  First, there is #23--claiming an outlet as soon as you sit down. Again, I have learned to
watch out for myself as politeness and civility are often checked at the airplane door.  Next comes
28--taking note of which TV shows/movies/books/magazines other people are watching/reading
and promptly judging said choices. So the guy intently reading The Economist is probably smarter
and richer than I am but he is rude so that evens that out, I get tickled at the lady reading 50 Shades
of Grey and trying to hide it. I mean if you are going to read that book in paperback, own it, honey!
Also, watching FOX news makes me think many unkind things about your intellect.
I know I am an intellectual snob. Number 35 is one I almost always violate--laughing way too loud
with your headphones on at the corny in-flight movie or worse, singing Sweet Home Alabama
aloud when it comes up on my playlist! Most other passengers are either asleep or in their own
headphone worlds, but occasionally I see someone smile or giggle at me. I have also been know to
do #41--turning around and giving a look like, You best NOT be doing that again alluding to kicking my
seat.  I use my universal, irritated teacher look and it usually works (sometimes better on children than

I actually don’t do any of the things listed in the Landing section.  

Finally, in the Arrival section, I know that I definitely do #58--pretending that everyone else is the
annoying traveler, not you, because you’re cool and nice and a seasoned traveler so why would
anyone have any reason to believe otherwise?  And hey, I only did eight out of 58 annoying things,
and I am a Delta Platinum member, too. I truly am a seasoned traveler and a bit of a travel snob,
but I am sure that I do get bothersome sometimes.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mary Cole!

Dear Mary Cole,

I have loved being your LaLa for 11 years.  I think I was maybe the first person out side of your family to know you were on your way!  I remember visiting you when you were only a week old. I am sure my first gift to you was a book. I often just had to send care packages because I couldn't deliver them in person, but I am lucky that I live closer now. I love hanging out with you and listening to your musical performances.  I am truly blessed to be a part of your life.

 I have enjoyed playing games with you, reading with you, and doing things for others like running a 5K race to raise money for ovarian cancer, shopping for Angel Tree presents, and more.  Your sense of concern for others is remarkable.  You love fully with your whole heart.  Making the world a better place is one of your innate characteristics.

I am also impressed with your sense of curiosity and adventure. You are passionate about history and politics and so much more.  I know you get that  mostly from your parents and grandparents, but it has been a joy to be a small part of that. I am always amazed at how you discover something new and can't get enough of it--whether it's books, mythology, community service, or U.S. presidents.  I see much of myself and your mama in your passion for learning.

Finally, I want you to know what a wonderful young lady you are growing up to be.  I know that you are still learning, growing, and becoming.  I hope that you continue to excel in school, to care for others, and to explore things that interest you.

This is a list of words that I think of when I think of you.  Happy Birthday, sweet girl! LaLa loves you bunches.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hallelujah Anyway

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott 
A reflection by Laurie Fowler
I have read many of Anne Lamott’s previous books: Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Help, Thanks, Wow!, so when I saw a new book in an airport bookstore, I bought it.  A real book, that although it is small adds weight to my carry on.  Knowing how accessible Anne’s texts usually are, I opened it up before we even took off and was immediately engrossed.  Her prose style is simple, elegant, and yet, powerful.  I began to read and then realized I needed to open my laptop to record the lines from the book that I wanted to remember.

In the opening chapter, she references Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
This is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.  I was interested to see what her take on it would be.  On page 5, she says What Micah is talking about is grad school curriculum, while, spiritually speaking, I remain in junior high school, superior and cringing at the same time. WOW! She is so right; those simple words are lots harder to do than to memorize. I, too, feel like a young, gawky, not quite adult Christian when I look at my life and measure it by those three requirements.  I love that she compares being a better person and Christian to being in Grad School.  I totally relate to that.

After the exploration of this verse, she finally gets to the idea of mercy.  She says our hearts, minds, and spirits leap for joy when we just hear the word because the soul rejoices in what it already knows. (page 7)  I think this is true because on my journey so far in life I have met people and instantly felt like I have known them forever.  My soul recognizes other similar souls and rejoices. Yet why is it we are more willing to extend mercy and forgiveness to others, but not ourselves.  She state the obvious for those who are thick-headed—mercy is radical kindness. (page 10). God didn’t create us to be perfect, but because he thought we would like it. Wait, what?  God is that intimate with us to do things for us simply for pure enjoyment. (page 11). But, she later observes, God thought we would like puberty, warfare, and snakes? I could go on and on—senescence, global warming, Parkinson’s, spiders? (page 11).  I am guessing God did not place these things in our world to annoy us, but he knew that he would be there to help us through the tough times.  Because our God is so merciful to us, we, therefore, must learn to be merciful to others and ourselves.

Lately I have seen many memes on Facebook about being kind rather than being right.  Anne speaks to this, too.  Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves . . . Do you want this or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that? I am amazed at how well she takes my thoughts and puts them right out there on paper.  I feel this so many times—in my personal life, I think it is my job to save my friends and family from being wrong; in my travel life, I think it is my job to teach others fairness by jumping on people who break in line during boarding the plane; in my inward life, I think it is my job to take on responsibility for the problems of others. What if by being kind to others and radically kind to myself, I am freed from these impediments to my own well-being? Because, according to Micah, we only have to love mercy to begin again.

In the next chapter, Ms. Lamott focuses on her childhood and the issues that arose for her because of her parents and her upbringing. While I can read this and empathize, I cannot truly sympathize because I was raised by loving parents who did their best even when they weren’t sure what they were doing was right.  I think I parted ways with mercy much later than childhood—possibly not until adulthood. Her reflection on growing older resonated with me.  Many of us try to live some variation of the Serenity Prayer, . . . but our minds and bodies do not always cooperate.(page 18) She also realizes that it is much harder to receive intimate care than to give it, but in being merciful to ourselves, we learn to accept with grace.
In chapter 3, she talks about the Chinese approach to broken things.  When something is broken in Chinese culture, it is repaired with gold leaf so that the broken places become more prominent.  They are visible, even prominent, because that makes the object even more valuable.  Americans would throw something broken away rather than even think about repairing it, and certainly not celebrate the flaws.  I think the Chinese are onto something.

The metaphor of giving water to someone who thirsts or receiving water from another is one used to help the reader understand mercy.  We must be ready to provide water to all who need it, even those who annoy us, or, GASP! those who we don’t think deserve it.  We also have to be willing and able to receive water when it is offered to us without worrying about what people will think of us.  That is something I really need to think about. I am fine with offering mercy to others, but not so good with receiving mercy. 

I absolutely adore this next line. The shortest and most amazing line in the Bible: Jesus wept. But in some translations it says Jesus is pissed. P. 92 It is not unthinkable then that Jesus who was fully human could also get pissed.  If he can do that, then I can probably learn to be more merciful, huh?

Another line that got my attention was, I’ve lived through times when a connected group of humans in grief and shock stayed together as things unscrolled, when a person was dying too young, or after.  I think about Tim Cooper, Michael the organist, Ed Pradat, my Dad, my Uncle Bill, and so many others who were not finished living, but they died anyway.  It left those of still here on earth with lots of questions and many insults that we hurled at God.  Mercy seems far away in times of grief until that friend or family member appears and does a simple kindness to remind you that people are good, God is good, and you are good.  I find another line exceptional in its clarity—maybe mercy and grace go together like cream and sugar.  Hmm, really? Those two things can make life less bitter as cream and sugar can do for coffee?  I will have to give that more thought.

I learned a lot about mercy by reading this book. I saw how Anne Lamott views it and I began to explore how I see mercy.  I think the most important thing I may have learned is to be more merciful means not to try harder but to learn to resist less.  That is some powerful advice.  As I look forward on my journey toward Christian Grad School as proclaimed by Micah, I am going to try to resist less and learn how to receive mercy.  Amen.