Author Archives: automatic7

About automatic7

Learning to be a writer. Struggle with consistency but every now and then I get inspired. I like to laugh at myself and other funny things.

Dodgeball Underdog

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The rules of Dodge Ball are straightforward and widely known. Players on two teams try to throw balls at each other while avoiding being hit themselves. The main objective is to eliminate all members of the opposing team by hitting them through varying levels of intensity with thrown balls, or catching a ball thrown by a member of the opposing team, or forcing them to move outside the court boundaries.

The strategies of dodge ball fall into three possible categories:

Attack – offensive stance where the player obtains a ball, races forward and pegs a player, preferably below the face.

Avoid—hence the name of the game – to have situational awareness to the extent that you see and prepare for incoming attacks, moving your body to dodge each hurled sphere

Absorb—the most impressive move is when the attackee faces their attacker and instead of dodging, bravely catches the ball, therefore effectively eliminating their attacker.

The year was nineteen hundred and seventy-eight. The place: Jefferson Elementary School, in Jefferson City, Tennessee—22 miles east of Knoxville, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. It was time for Physical Education with Coach Ogburn. I can still smell the freshly waxed gymnasium floor and feel the hard wooden bleachers.   I knew the moment we walked in and saw the round red rubber balls that there would be only one winner, and many, many losers–possibly with the visible welts to prove it.

As the class filed in and completed warm ups, I sized up my other classmates. There were always a few you hoped were absent on Dodge Ball day.

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That’s gonna leave a mark.

Coach Ogburn was not the stereotypical elementary school coach. Yes, he wore a whistle and usually a baseball cap. He alternated between blue and red Champion shorts and his tennis shoes and crew socks were impossibly white. I know this from sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor as he roamed between the students counting our arm circles out loud. He wasn’t the yelling kind of PE teacher. He was kind and soft-spoken and he frequently turned down the 4th grade boys constant and repeated pleas to divide the class into “boys vs girls” on Dodge Ball days. Unless.

There were less than 10 boys.

Something about 9 boys to 15 girls caused Coach Ogburn to relent on this particular historic day and we had the first and only battle of the sexes that gymnasium had ever seen. And quite possibly the last…for reasons that shall unfold.

The boys high fived each other and lined up across their side of the gym. The girls looked at each other sheepishly. Without benefit of Beyonce, Katy Perry, or Lady Gaga we attempted to rally our girl power. Our main mojo in those days came from The Bee Gees, Barry Manilow and Olivia Newton-John, so you know the cards were stacked against us.

Imagine if you will, the shock and awe that ensued as one by one, we began to methodically strike out the boys –just as efficiently as they were eliminating us. Of course the main strategy of at least half of our young lady squad was to congregate along the back wall, safely out of range. The band of brave sisters coordinated efforts along with the front line. Using a series of facial expressions, imperceptible nods and the American Sign Language we usually saved for silent classroom gossip, we were able to identify a plan of attack that brought us closer and closer to the seemingly impossible victory.

We bided our time, with a heightened awareness of incoming attacks, mournfully sending off our fallen, and swiftly reconvening to slowly and methodically take out the boys. One of ours, one of theirs. One of ours, two of theirs.   Soon we were down to – you guessed it – one brave girl.

She was not yet known for her athletic ability and she had gone as far as she could go with the avoidance strategy. The boys had finally begun working together as a team, and they nodded to each other, smiling because they knew this victory would be swift and sweet. On cue, the boys strutted toward center court and fired. Time seemed to stand still as the next few moments played out in slow-motion. The boys knew better than to aim for her head or they would surely be eliminated for foul play. Ricky Thomas fired ball one directly toward her left hip – and she bravely caught it. Groans erupted from the other boys on the sidelines as their eliminated number grew by one. How can this be happening?

The rules state a caught ball must stay in possession for at least two seconds so there was no time for her to drop ball one before WHOOSH Randy Miller fired ball two at her right shoulder—with cat like reflexes, she caught it ONE HANDED against all odds. ALL the girls cheered wildly and the entire gym was on their feet! Coach Ogburn’s whistle dropped from his lips, his mouth fell open in disbelief and his eyes followed as Eddie Massey hurled ball three WHOOSH across the center court line towards her knees. This would be the fatal blow. If she dropped either ball, the boys would win. If ball three hit her, the boys would win.

The vertically challenged 10 year old mustered up her strength, heart pounding, and dropped to one knee. With every fiber of her being she securely gripped the other two balls under her forearms, holding out her small, cursive-writing hands, and epically caught the third and final ball with her glorious fingertips .

It was a banner day for girls everywhere. Well, at least for the girls of Jefferson Elementary School in the foothills of the East Tennessee Smoky Mountains. I have treasured that memory over the years. It sometimes comes back to me when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed. I like to recall how good it felt to win one for the girls that day. And how proud I was….of my good friend Carey Woodard. How much I admired her for her bravery and perseverance. Oh, you thought it was me? Gosh no. I was out at least ten minutes before when I tripped over my untied shoelace and fell out of bounds.

But I did cheer though. I cheered my butt off.

 

Saturday Snow Snickers

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Much of the south is blanketed in snow this weekend and I spent a delightful Saturday in my pajamas with my new Keurig, Kindle, and social media.  I have several friends who are talented photographers, so I anticipated some great captures and I was not disappointed.  A family friend posted some spectacular bird photos and I couldn’t help but give them voice:

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Bird 1:  This snow is off the…. Bird 2:  Don’t say it.  Bird 1:  HOOK!  Bird 3:  Why did you invite him.

 

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Brown Bird:  I think I see a worm!   Bird on L:  That’s a stick, bro.

 

 

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“NO RUSH FRANCINE.  WE’RE NOT AT THE CORN YET.”

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*hums* When this old world starts getting me down/and people are just too much…

**Here’s the musical clue to go with this for those uninitiated to the Drifters**

 

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Stuck the landing.

 

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Waiting for the judges’ scores…

 

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This is my LAST.  ONE.  I swear.

 

Thanks to John Zirkle for sharing your gift!

 

 

FORWARD 2017

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Two events this year sparked inspiration for my 2017 One Word. The first was during the summer on a day that Chris and I learned how to stand up paddleboard. We had a 5 minute lesson in a shady spot (on land) near the Virginia Aquarium. The lesson was brief and direct: hold the paddle the correct way, stay balanced, keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, not down at your feet, and keep moving forward. The instructor advised us, “The board is designed to use forward momentum, and that’s when it has the most stability. When you come to a stop, you have to work twice as hard to stay balanced and to begin moving forward again.” I tucked this life lesson away to ponder more deeply, but those wise words got us through a fun day on Rudee’s Inlet.

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Dat me.

The second event happened just a few weeks ago at the Military Aviation Museum.

 

This museum is home to a huge private collection of historical military aircraft. Each has been painstakingly restored to its prior military condition, using original parts whenever possible. Most of the planes are airworthy and flown at the museum during flight demonstrations and at air shows throughout the year.

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As we toured the hangars, I could not stop admiring the lines and features of each aircraft and the awe-inspiring designs of these machines from WWI and WWII. The thought and dedication that goes into not just flying them but designing, building and maintaining them is a new area of fascination to me. Even better is the fact that they are all still airworthy and flown on a regular basis.

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While walking through the museum I landed (ha!) on my word for 2017—FORWARD. Up is essential and the destination is important, but forward motion is the focus for me right now. As I look toward my future, I am uncertain how high I will rise in authority or prestige. I simply desire to move forward,

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increasing in knowledge and favor, and to perform better than I have ever done before. Holding on to the lessons I have learned from previous years where I found PEACE, narrowed my FOCUS, appreciated TRUTH, took time to LISTEN, and reveled in WONDER, now I elect to move FORWARD into the great unknown. I remain hopeful and confident that I have what I need to do what needs to be done.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON WONDER

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My intention was for this year to be one of openness and rest. I love getting creative, trying new things & finding fun projects but often get stressed by deadlines and discipline, so I took this year to appreciate, revel and wonder.

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I wondered this year as I watched people learn, grow, compete and conquer, what makes them tick. I wondered about the group dynamics of any given subset of culture. I found many things interesting and always tend to look forward with optimism, even as I trust the challenges ahead will be met and overcome.

I was able to take several “Artist Dates” this year, although I never made it to the Smithsonian to see the Wonder Exhibit, we had a breathtaking display of paper and light at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens with “Lanternasia.”

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Beauty and nature are always a rich source of wonder.
It was a graduation year for both my girls—that was a high point of pride as well as a large focus during this year of wonder.

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I wonder how but also somehow KNOW with absolute certainty that they are going to make this world a beautiful & more caring place as they launch into adulthood.

I do wonder what their future holds, but I am convinced they are both going to accomplish all they dream about and more than they ever considered possible.

I am filled with joy and anticipation as I look forward to the mark they will be forging on this world.

My boys are also a source of inspiration and wonder.

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Every time I have watched a soccer game or video-taped skateboard tricks, I am in awe of their human bodies, their strength and bravery and dedication.

They are gentlemen who know how to laugh, pray, and step up. I often wonder how they got to be so great because so much of who they are and what they can do did not come from me.

I have my someone else to thank for that.

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My husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage on June 22 at the Magic Kingdom.  I look back with nostalgia at all we held dear in 1991 and my sense of wonder exponentially explodes. I realize there is no way we could have fathomed what life would bring over a quarter of a decade. Our path has been rocky and dirty and challenging and at times threadbare but we have made it thus far and are making it still. I wonder sometimes how he puts up with me and I wonder why he continues to have such an endless amount of grace instead of a constant barrage of helpful advice for improvement. I’m so thankful he chooses grace instead of correction.

As 2016 draws to a close, many people are characterizing this as a terrible year – a year of a dramatic election and the loss of several iconic heroes and legends.

I am also touched by these events but grateful for the blessing of my one word WONDER and the optimism, gratitude and sparkle that it brings as a filter for this year.

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Goodbye 2016, the year of Wonder, time to move FORWARD into 2017!

Camera Bait 2008

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So thankful.

Take the Automatic 7

This idea is from the blogroll of a friend http://theroost.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/12/-my-top-10-photos-of-2008.html of a friend, www.caprik.wordpress.com.  In no specific order, let’s just call it stream of consciousness and picture browsing (be warned, there are a few more than 10…just a few):

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I just took this picture on Friday on Coosaw Island, SC with my new Christmas-present camera.  It makes up for the fact that I am in 0% of this year’s Christmas morning pictures.  I spent every Christmas at this place from 1968 to 1998 then had a 4-kids-in-Michigan hiatus for a while or 10 years.  It was SOOOO good to be back.  I can’t stop gazing at that shot.

bethy This was taken the first week we lived in Virginia Beach.  Instead of unpacking or sleeping in that long-awaited First Week of Summer, my kids all agreed to work at VBS at our new church.  Rising 5th grader was delighted to have a job instead…

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Reunion Time

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A whole bunch of friends, many who have known each other since kindergarten, reunited with music & talking & the minute I walked in, someone bee-lined over for a hug and planted a kiss on my cheek & held it there until someone could snap the picture.

Someone I didn’t know very well asked me something confusing which I didn’t know how to answer and eventually I was told they thought I was someone else–which I took as a grand compliment–so we all just rolled with it.

There were times when I kept looking around for the person I wanted to talk to just to make sure they didn’t leave yet & meanwhile turbo-texting pictures to others who couldn’t make it but not wanting to miss a thing.

The call was made for the classmates to squad up for a group picture and it initially looked like 3-4 people but they keep coming out of the woodwork then everyone stood around catching up for 30 minutes chatting and laughing after the photo was taken.

The realization occurs that now we are mature adults who actually look forward to meeting our prom date’s spouse because she’s pretty and seems cool and “good for you.” The appropriate level of awkward is attained and then we move on.

Then the moment comes when someone has to break down and use the porta potty because beer but then somehow manage to drop a Yeti tumbler down there so all that can be done is to just shrug & say “Goodbye Yeti.”

Then you hug someone and they smell so good and so you tell all your girlfriends so then they all want to go smell him too & also wow, there’s your other prom date and he has AGED VERY WELL & you realize it’s a good thing he wasn’t that fit at the prom or one might have forgotten their boundaries.

Treasure abounds in the scattered souls throughout the meadow. Together we faced so many First Days of School, class pictures, dodgeball mishaps, lunchroom shenanigans, practices, games, assemblies, field trips, graduation parties and now another reunion. These are the ones who were beside me on my maiden voyage into the world outside the family and many have been around ever since.

We all belt HOW DO I GET YOU ALONE with the keyboard player from Little River Band who is a local & you are so glad you carpooled because it is like cruising again but this time in a nicer car with no curfew.

Next comes gushing over the friends’ kids who look just like their parents used to look and maybe even act a little like their parents used to act but also lets take a moment to forget everybody’s kids and let’s somehow mysteriously become teenagers again ourselves because being together in a field with tunes is like a magic time machine that takes you right back to 1986.

So then we trade shoes in the bathroom because her shoes match your dress PERFECTLY & then we have conversations with the spouses and Plus Ones of our classmates who have graciously volunteered to participate in the events of the evening and hear all the same stories again and again. Eventually, all those courageous enough to share or listen to the hard situations begin to discover how every single person has veiled misery lurking just under the surface and when it bravely peeks out into the light we receive the unique opportunity to love and support one another and be sad together even in the midst of a party.

As the night winds down, the people who work there begin to clean up and they graciously point out chairs and couches in the lobby where we can sit but instead we just stand around for HOURS laughing and remembering and chiming in on each other’s stories. Couples tell hilarious stories that suddenly make you thankful for your own spouse. We all experience the type of laughter that starts well before the punchline simply because of such overwhelming fondness for the person telling the story. We realize how elated we are just to be watching the expressions & mannerisms of our pals, listening to their voices, surrounded by other childhood friends who are all doubled over laughing at the content and memory of each tale.

Then your 5th grade crush takes a swig of the growler you brought so then you take a swig after they walk away & it’s a little bit like a smooch only less fun and you ask the famous couple at midnight where their young child is and they dryly say “in the car” and several don’t realize it’s a joke.

Then comes the stalling when keys are slowly coming out and time is regretfully being checked & everyone mournfully realizes “I guess it’s time to go.”  Finally comes the dreaded task of tearing ourselves away from such authentic joy & so we soften the blow with one last affectionate hug & encourage one another to be safe going home. We are left now to revel and remember each story, process each interaction, scroll & refresh & like all the pictures & promise to keep in touch & share thoughts and plans for the next time we are together. We glow & giggle & gush with immense gratitude, thoroughly charmed, awash with wistful fondness. So much everything.

A Different Kind of Freedom

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Today is the 4th of July. I’m grateful for the Land that I Love, Home of the Free because of the Brave and My Country Tis of Thee, but today I am considering a different kind of Freedom.

To My Friend I Haven’t Seen In A Long Time Who Gained Some Weight,

It was a delight to bump into you yesterday at the mall. I am excited for you to come back to the place where I usually see you every day. I know you are ready, but when you said, “I don’t want people to see me like this,” it made you tear up a little.  My heart broke with yours hearing you bravely share those thoughts but I also have insight on the matter, seeing that I am 20+ years your senior—and I have too much to say for a text.

  • It doesn’t even matter that it was from the medicine. I know you may prefer to wear a nametag or a T-shirt or perhaps a large sandwich board that advertises “I HAVEN’T BEEN EATING THAT MUCH—IT’S FROM THE MEDICINE.” That might make you feel less self-conscious, but why? Why does it matter HOW people get bigger? That is a conversation to have within your own mind and you’ll know when you get to the end because the finish line sounds like this: People of all sizes are important and brilliant and special and loveable and attractive. By the same token, some jerks and jack-wagons are skinny so….there’s that. You are still super cute and adorable and loveable and fancy and a goddess. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Oh You Fancy

  • Retail lies. That includes the store where you saw me, stores where you can get a scarf and a 6 pack, ESPECIALLY Stores with a Secret, and the store you used to manage. Combat lies with the truth. ESPECIALLY when shopping for bras & undies & bathing suits and Spanx. If it doesn’t fit, go up a size. Do like Jerry Seinfeld did and use a sharpie to change the number/letter when you get home if you have to. Clothes are not the measurement of Your Awesome Self. You are worthy of nice things that look good and FIT WELL– even if you have to choose a different section of the rack. Or a whole different store.

Hey Girl

  • People really really like the You that snorts when you laugh, gets irritated at the small things, shows vulnerability and capability and grace and charm and style. People will really really continue to like the You behind those beautiful watercolor eyes, no matter what you’re wearing and whatever dumb and possibly temporary numbers are associated with the skin-covered residence of your soul.
  • Repeat after me: “I’m not that big of a deal.” Listen, the world didn’t rotate around it’s axis and the sun because you were a svelte & leggy size 6 (or 4) ((or whatever size you were at age 22)) and it is not going to come to a screeching halt with people grabbing their hats and clutching their pearls with a loud gasp and a vinyl record scratch just because you walk in the room taking up 3 or 6 or 11 more inches than you used to. You are still you. You are still fabulous. You kind of ARE a big deal, just in a good way. And so is everyone else, no matter what size they are.

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And here are a few wise words from my writing hero that shaped and cemented my perspective a while ago. You do not yet have the benefit of membership in the “F-you 40s” club but until you get in, try these thoughts on for size (haha! Size!!  See what I did there?):

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

“I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided to treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, who did embarrassing things like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles at the beach, but who I was proud of because they were so great in every important way. We walked along, the aunties and me, to meet Sam and our friends on the beach. I could feel the aunties beaming. They had been in the dark too long. It did not trouble me that parts of my body – the auntie parts—kept moving even after I had come to a full halt. Who cares? People just need to be soft and clean.” Anne Lamott

I hope that this helps, Sweetie. I’m sorry you are troubled. I understand because I’ve been there and I am there. Please don’t keep your wonderful self from us any longer than necessary. Life needs you and your people love you, support you, respect you and cherish you right now today. If you need time and space, by all means, take it. Please, though, do not rob joy from yourself because you aren’t who you were. YOU ARE NOT WHO YOU WERE!  CONGRATULATIONS!! None of us are! Don’t you dare punish yourself for adapting to the harsh realities of this stressful, chaotic, demanding unrelenting world. You have added experience and trials and victory to the self that you were. You are changed, that’s true. GOOD. FOR. YOU! Now on this Independence Day, let’s declare ourselves separate and complete from the lies that we hear about ourselves not being “enough” or being “too much” or “not there yet.” Commence your freedom celebration. The world needs your sparkle!

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