Southern Manners

I am a transplant to Texas. I was born and raised in Washington state, but Texas is home, and has been for awhile. One of the things I like about Texas is the prevalence of what I would term “southern” manners. As a rule (there are, of course, exceptions to every rule), Texans in person are friendly, helpful, courteous . . . all the things we northern-born Americans expect of those from the south.

But, Lord help us, when Texans get behind the wheel of a car . . . they forget everything their mamas ever taught them.

Now, I've lived in several other parts of the country: Washington, of course, but also Nebraska for ten years, New York for three, Oklahoma for one, etc. I have to say, though, that Texans are about the rudest drivers I've ever had the misfortune to share the road with. And I share the road with them a lot, because I live 50+ highway miles away from the office I commute to every day. So that's at least two hours (on a good day) of highway time for me each working day.

What do I mean by “rude” driving? First of all, Texans don't signal. During the first year I lived in Texas, someone told me that if you see a car with Texas plates with its turn signal on . . . it was that way when they got it. And I believe it. For the most part, Texans turn without signaling and they change lanes without signaling. They apparently think either that you can read their minds or that you simply don't need any advance notice of what they're about to do. It's your job to adjust.

This is especially exciting when their lane change is at 80 mph (Texans drive fast) on the interstate, and right in front of you — as in, you need to at least tap, and possibly slam on, your brakes to keep from hitting them as they move their car into the lane space currently occupied by some part of your car. This happens regularly. Daily. Multiple times each day. My very favorite is when this is done by a big rig. (In fairness to the truck drivers, they actually usually do signal — after they've already started to move over into your lane, which is after you're already beside them.)

Texas drivers tailgate. It's a real treat to have a big F-350 or Suburban riding the tailpipe of my little Mazda Miata. This often occurs because the driver of the big gas guzzler wants me to move out of the way because I'm only driving 70 mph (in a 60 mph zone) and they want to exceed the speed limit by more than I'm exceeding it. I especially love it when, after barreling up to my rear end and riding there for five seconds they flash their lights at me to “get out the way” and, if I don't get over quickly enough for them, they (a) whip out into the adjacent lane (without signaling), (b) fly by me, and (c) whip back into my lane right in front of me (without signaling), nearly taking the license plate off my front bumper.

I love it. Love it.

Then there are those Texas drivers who, on a dark and stormy day when visibility is low, don't see the need to use their headlights because, after all, it's daytime and they can see just fine. They apparently don't realize that they are invisible in my rear view mirror — right up to the moment that they come barreling up to my rear end and. . . . This happened three times on one morning this week while I was driving to work in a thunderstorm.

I don't get it. Texas drivers bear zero resemblance to the Texans I know in person. How is it possible that Texans who, in general, would give you the shirt off their backs when you meet them in person, turn into the Tasmanian Devil when they get behind the wheel of a car?

I like Texas, and I like Texans. But I really, really don't like the way Texans drive.

Review of The Noticer, by Andy Andrews

The Noticer (published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.) is subtitled “Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective.” This statement pithily summarizes the philosophy of the title character, a mysterious old man named Jones (“Not Mr. Jones; just Jones”). Jones, who says he has a gift of “noticing things that others miss,” appears from time to time over the course of many years to comfort, counsel, and aid hurting people in Orange Beach, Alabama, by helping them gain the perspective that helps them find a way out of their troubles, or at least makes them better people in the end.

I’m ambivalent about this book. I enjoyed reading it. It’s well written and engaging. It made me think about the importance of perspective in how we perceive (and therefore how we endure) the struggles we face in life. Still – and I admit that it’s probably my own inherent cynicism – I simply had a hard time buying into the book’s premise, even though it apparently is based on a true story. For me, it felt too . . . staged; it tried a little too hard to inspire. The characters into whose life Jones came, starting with the narrator, seemed too obviously chosen to illustrate various struggles that people face. And the perspective that Jones helped them find seemed to lead too inevitably to a heart-warming resolution.

I’m guessing that other readers, especially (but probably not only) Christian readers, will like this book very much and find it very inspiring. It certainly is hope-filled and uplifting. In his conversations with his various new friends, Jones offers thoughts and advice clearly illustrative of Biblical principals; I found no fault with its underlying theology. Perhaps it’s only my own failings that prevented me from reaping the book’s full intended benefit. Notwithstanding that fact, I wholeheartedly recommend this quick read to Christians looking for some encouragement and inspiration.

Doing the Impossible (With a Little Outside Encouragement)

I really intended to write a profound post about why I don't go to church anymore, and I will write that one (although I can't promise it really will be profound), but what's on my mind this morning is exercise. This makes sense, because this morning I had a session with “Guido,” my trainer at the gym. (His name isn't really Guido. He does have an Italian name, thought, and my husband nicknamed him Guido one day when I was whining about how hard he was making me work. I hope the nickname isn't offensive; it's meant as an humorous analogy to him being as tough as a mob enforcer.)

Anyway . . . I've been meeting with Guido twice a week since early February, when I joined a gym about a mile from my office. This is phase 2 in an effort that started just before New Years Day 2008. I am 5'4″ tall and had reached somewhere in the vicinity of 170-175 pounds. Not a pretty sight. I was fat and feeling old and worn out and uncomfortable. I can't even remember what triggered the decision (I think it might have something to do with my purchase of a new horse who was on the small side; I didn't want to break her back), but sometime between Christmas 2007 and New Years 2008, I decided it was time to do something about the weight. So I started watching what I ate, and dragged the stationary bike out of the closet. First time on it I could barely do ten minutes. Each day I added a minute more until I'd worked my way up to thirty minutes a day. I was getting bored sitting on that thing, so I dragged the treadmill in front of the TV and started walking every morning. First fifteen minutes, then twenty, then up to thirty. Then raised the incline and increased the speed. Eventually I got to where I'd do my walking outside when the weather cooperated, and I worked my way up to jogging part of the time and walking fast the other.

Following that routine and continuing to watch my diet, by October 2008 I'd lost close to thirty pounds, weighing in at 145 point something according to my endocrinologist's scale (I don't have a working scale at home). And I got stuck there. I tried walking/jogging longer, and doing more jogging. I tried adding some basic weight training at home, but I really didn't know how to do anything and just couldn't make myself do anything too difficult. So late in January 2009, still at 145 pounds, I decided to try some outside help. I joined the gym and signed up for personal training, and that's how I met Guido.

Two mornings a week I get up at 4 a.m. and drive in to the gym to suffer the torments of the damned. We do weight training and some cardio; it varies from one session to the next. I sweat and whine and fuss, but I just realized, sitting here today, that I love it. (Okay, I don't love it while I'm sweating and straining, but I actually look forward to going. Is that sick?)

The best part of it all is finding out that I'm able to do more, work harder, than I thought I was capable of. I've lost track of the number of times I've started a set on one of the weight machines and looked at him in disbelief when I feel the weight he's put on it. “Twelve reps,” he'll say, and on the third rep I am sure I've got no more than one or two left in me at that weight.

But I hate to disappoint anybody. And so I try, with everything I can find in me, to give him the reps he asks for. And so far, every time, I've been able to do it. Much to my surprise. (A week or so ago he gave me the biggest compliment I've received lately — I don't think he even realizes how much it meant to me — when he said something to the effect that he was impressed by the fact that I hadn't given up and that “so far, you've never refused to do anything I've asked you to do.”)

I had the same experience with my horse trainer/riding instructor. Often he'd ask me to do something during our lessons that I was certain I couldn't do (or maybe that I was just terrified to do). Afraid or not, though, I just couldn't bear to let him down, and I would surprise myself by being able to do the “impossible.”

That happens regularly at the gym with Guido. I have come to realize that left to my own devices I give up easily when something gets hard. But I will kill myself to avoid disappointing someone. So Guido gets out of me things I didn't think were in me, and I'm seeing results. After months stuck at 145 (despite regular exercise), I broke the barrier a week or so ago, and this morning the gym's electronic scale read 142.6!! Finally sliding down again. And even better, I'm finding muscles I didn't know I had — abs and arm muscles. (The other day while I was sweating away working my arms on one of the nasty weight machines, Guido commented, “Somebody's starting to get some definition in her arms.” And, wow, he's right!! Still too much body fat covering it, but little by little it's coming off, and my form-fitting exercise shirts are starting to look better on me!)

So the point of all this rambling? Sometimes we need a little outside motivation to find out what we're really capable of. And I'm glad I found Guido to provide that motivation for me.


I saw this “survey” on someone else's blog and thought it looked like fun.

What's your morning routine?

Mon-Wed-Fri I wake up @ 5:30am, stumble to the bathroom, take my thyroid meds, put on workout clothes, and stumble to the treadmill. 30-40 minutes on the infernal machine while watching morning news or reading something on my Kindle. Shower, breakfast, try to be out the door by 7:30 but more often closer to 8. Tue-Thur I slap at the alarm at 4am, whimpering a little, get up, wash my face, put in my contacts, put on workout clothes, and leave the house by 4:30 to drive in to Dallas to meet my trainer at the gym for torture session (I mean workout). Weekends, sleep until I wake up (unfortunately usually before 6am), wander around the house trying to wake up, wander out to the barn to feed the horses and check on the chickens, wander back to the house, force myself onto the treadmill for 30-40 minutes.

What's your bedtime routine?

Take out contacts, wash face, put on PJs, climb into bed and read until I can't keep my eyes open. M & W evenings I pack my gym bag before I go to bed so I don't forget something when I depart, bleary-eyed, at 4:30am for the gym.

What's missing from your daily routine?

Free time (during the week).

What is a habit you're working hard to develop?

Writing more.

What is a habit you're working hard to break?

Eating too much junk and wasting time on TV.

At your favorite restaurant, do you always order the same thing or do you try the special?

Pretty much always order the same thing, unless I'm feeling adventuresome. Then I try something new (and usually regret it).

What things do you buy at the grocery store every single time you go?

Post Selects Blueberry Morning cereal; Dannon Activia yogurt; fruit; salad stuff; raw almonds; cheddar cheese sticks; grape juice.

What would someone close to you say is your most annoying habit?

Pointing out all the ways something can go wrong or someone can get hurt. (In my defense, though, I can't help it. I'm a lawyer. I spend my workdays thinking up all the things that can go wrong with a deal and then finding ways to protect against them.)

Which outside forces have the biggest impact on your routines?

My job and my 50-mile commute.

Describe the person you know who is most driven by habit.

I'd have to say me. I like predictability. Unexpected change of any kind throws me off. My unfortunate motto is “We fear change.”

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

Yesterday I finally got around to transfering a bunch of photos from our digital camera to my laptop. Many of them were taken last month when our children surprised Mike and me with a party for our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Part of the surprise was that both of our sailor sons (one stationed in Hawaii, the other in San Diego) showed up. We'd been told that both were at sea (and, in fact, they were), so although we suspected that the kids were up to something vis a vis our anniversary, we never dreamed the boys would be there. For the first time ever we had all five of our children, both kids-in-law, and all four of our grandchildren (along with my mother and one of my sisters, whose visit also was a surprise) here in Texas with us at the same time. I was in heaven.

Anyway . . . we took LOTS of photos. And yesterday, in response to a Navy son's request that I email some of those photos to him, I spent some time transfering the photos. This was on a day when I was sitting at my desk worrying about . . . a lot of things. Mostly, though, about the economy and its impact on my law practice. I do not cope well with uncertainty, so I was feeling pretty discouraged, pretty down, pretty . . . stressed out about the future.

But then I saw this photo. I was overwhelmed. I can't even describe the emotions I felt, looking at the two of us with these babies — the future of our extended family. When I recovered from being all choked up, I got to thinking . . . these may be anxious times, but so what? Prices are rising, business is bad, our retirement fund has taken a beating. Like everyone else these days, our family is struggling because of the economy. Okay. Still, though, in general, life is pretty good. We are generally healthy and basically happy and we all love each other. Mike and I have had thirty years together, we have these great kids and these beautiful, funny, amazing grandchildren. And even in an uncertain world, those things are for sure. Though it doesn't happen often enough, we occasionally have these opportunities to gather the family and eat and laugh together and just generally enjoy each other. It doesn't get any better than that.