Vacation agenda sure beats duties back home

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

June 7, 2012

I’ll tell you how much longer we have. We have about 500 more words to go.

That’s right, it’s time for our annual family beach trip. It’s the one-year anniversary of finding out how well this family fits into a minivan loaded with beach toys, snacks, DVDs, CDs and a few clothes. Our destination this year is Grayton Beach with its eclectic shops, laid-back environment, funky cafes and, of course, the white sands of the Florida Panhandle.

I sit and write this now on the front porch of Grayt Coffee House with my daughter, Somerset, and her friend, Meredith. It’s morning of the first day, and the sun is filtered through the leaves of gnarled water oaks, a musician from Atlanta and his family just introduced themselves and their dog, Annabelle, and joggers pass by at a leisurely vacation pace.

And I think I may never leave.

Instead of packing up in a week to find out how much sand we can squeeze into the van with all of our other belongings, would it be unreasonable for me to just stay on this porch and wave at the people passing by as though I were the business’ mascot, or a sunburned and sand-flecked cigar store Indian?

Do my kids expect more of me?

They expect me to make enough money during the year for this trip, though they have no concept of what a vacation like this costs. They expect me to drive them 980 miles round-trip, though they have no idea what it costs me mentally to have them whining and pleading for stops behind me, and asking me that same question again and again (only 220 more words to go now). It’s a week in which they expect me to build a sandcastle, throw them in the surf, slather them in sunscreen and grill supper.

Nobody expects me to stay on this porch for the rest of the week. Or the rest of the summer. Or, if it’s not a problem, the rest of 2012.

Do they really expect any more from me?

My concern is that they may all want to join me on this porch where I sit beneath a handmade metal wind chime with the word “serenity” stamped into it. They and their snacks and their toys and their DVDS and sandy beach towels.

As we get older and have more and more kids, the agenda for vacations is filled less with what we want to do and more of what we have to do. But we also find that what we have to do while away is more fun and, in some ways, more meaningful than what fills the responsible days at home.

Planning and building that castle, jumping in the waves with my youngest on my back, pointing out constellations in the pitch black night and spending a morning lounging on the front porch of a sleepy little coffee shop with a few kids is what they expect and, it turns out, just what I expect as well.

This porch is the perfect place to start a vacation. We’re here, kids.

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The hands-on dad

Cover feature story for Memphis Parent magazine

June 2012

The gradual emergence of the hands-on dad — one who shares the responsibility in changing diapers, feedings and baths for babies, and makes time to be a part of an older child’s school programs or just plays video games with them — began in the mid-1970s when James Levine, Ph.D., published his book, Who Will Raise the Children? New Options for Fathers (and Mothers) in 1974.

Levine, as director of The Fatherhood Project for the Families and Work Institute in New York from 1989 to 2002, suggested that fathers would need to take a more active role in the raising of their children for women’s equality to work, that boys and girls would need to be raised to reflect these evolving roles, and that institutions would have to adopt progressive sociological changes.

“When women became more involved in the workforce, and fathers were acknowledged by academics such as Levine, ‘fatherhood’ became the new phenomenon,” says Elizabeth Harris, a clinical psychologist who works with children and families. “The space was created for fathers to be more involved; there were the beginnings of paternity leave from corporations and the relationship of more day-to-day duties began being assigned and claimed by fathers.” … (read more)


Writer’s first novel followed storybook path to publication

Feature story for The Commercial Appeal

May 30, 2012

Courtney Miller Santo grew up in conditions fertile for a burgeoning writer, a conservative Mormon household with seven children where there was no television to be found. Instead, the large and close family told stories and created plays. They interacted in ways almost unheard of today. And they read.

“My dad was always reading, he would go to bed at 9, and he would always have a book,” Santo said of her father, an elevator mechanic.

Santo, the oldest of those seven children, describes her childhood just outside of Portland in Milwaukie, Ore., as “chaotic,” yet a bookish manner set in and has paid off for her in a big way as she prepares for her debut novel, “The Roots of the Olive Tree” (William Morrow), to be released in August.

The story is threaded along one olive-growing season, taking a look at the lives of five generations of firstborn daughters and Anna, the 112-year-old matriarch, who wants to be the oldest living human being in the world.

The story, set at Hill House and the family’s olive groves in northern California, centers on a geneticist coming to study the longevity of the family just as the youngest, Erin, returns home alone and pregnant.

It’s a combination that, the dust jacket of an advance reader copy explains, “ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.”

It’s a novel with a road to publication almost as intriguing as the tale within the pages. Santo entered her manuscript in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition in 2011. Out of 5,000 entrants, she made it to the semifinals and the remaining 50 hopefuls. And then she was eliminated. But that’s only the beginning of the story because she was then contacted by an agent with the Janklow & Nesbit Associates literary agency who had read the manuscript excerpts posted at Amazon, and wanted to represent Santo … (read more)


Freedom best part of summer parenting

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

May 24, 2012

The school year is over, and it was a good year with advances made, focus maintained and lessons learned. The grades are just beginning to roll in, and I could not be more proud. I’ve given myself a solid B-minus in School Year Parenting for 2011-12.

It wasn’t perfect (it never is), and I’m no show-off, but I did manage to prepare just north of 750 sandwiches since last August. I found socks, washed uniforms, located shoes and walked the kids to school. I napped. I read to my daughter’s kindergarten class once. OK, sure, it was only once, but one is more than none, and that’s good math. I also helped my kids with some math homework.

My weakest subject was probably handwriting. Specifically, in putting my handwriting on the many forms that Memphis City Schools requires for our kids to take part in any activities. There was a mountain of paperwork in my inbox, and no way to get to all of it, not with all of those sandwiches to be made. So some papers were late, and some never made it to school. Or they made it there, but were tardy.

There were forms for field trips, for projects due and projects done, graded homework, quizzes to be signed and notices of fundraisers. I put these things off, set them aside and forgot all about them.

The first rule is to always show your work. Well, here it is, beneath this pile on my desk, still.

There were tests, too. Spontaneous questionnaires by people I’d run into at Lowe’s or Kroger — “Papa quizzes,” if you will — and I was expected to know the answers. “Sixth-grade … baritone saxophone, Japanese and Spanish, soccer … 14 years old … TCAP … peanut butter.”

School-year parenting is different than summertime parenting, isn’t it? During school, there are rules and regulations to adhere to, time schedules, adults standing at the front of the room telling you what is and is not acceptable. But in the summer, I can do what I want, when I want. Mostly. As long as the adult at the front of the room says it’s OK.

During these 10 weeks of summer, we will sleep late and eat at all hours of the day. We’ll go outside when the sunshine calls and come in for television and naps when the shade begins to vanish. I will still make sandwiches, and I will still walk with my kids, but I won’t have to sign the forms to say they can go to the zoo, I won’t have to wake them before sunrise, and they can spend whole days with no shoes for all I care.

Summertime Dad will get an A-plus. I can feel it. I’ve been studying for this since late last year, somewhere around sandwich No. 220. I’ve memorized the formula, I’ve solved for X and found that X marks the spot. And that spot is poolside, where I’ll be with a cool drink in my hand and working on a passing grade at passing the time.

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Meeting client needs top priority for McManus Reilly

Feature in Special Emphasis: Financial Services for The Memphis Daily News

May 21, 2012

The laws surrounding estate planning and employee benefit and health care packages are complex and ever-changing.

With the upcoming presidential election and the potential changes to inheritance tax, among other issues, the financial planning industry is being kept on its toes more than ever.

But these aren’t necessarily obstacles, as Mike McManus of McManus Reilly Financial looks at it.

He said he sees the challenges ahead as an “opportunity.”

“We have some great clients and we enjoy working with the clients that we have, and that’s what gets me up and gets me going in the morning are the people I work with and my associates here,” McManus said.

The firm began in 2004 by McManus and Mike Reilly who worked side-by-side prior for Executive Financial Services. As partners with three employees, the boutique firm now manages close to $75 million in assets, and works closely with corporate clients from the worlds of medicine, legal, retail and manufacturing … (read more)


Magnificent movie houses of 1920s remembered during Memphis Heritage program

Hidden Memphis feature for The Commercial Appeal

May 13, 2012

Between the years 1905 and 1925, Memphis city directories listed 30 storefront theaters. All had disappeared by 1929. These were nickelodeons — Idle Hour at 269 N. Main and Amuse U at 253 N. Main, among others, little more than storefront venues for showing silent films.

The palaces — The Warner and the Loew’s theaters — would be built specifically for stage and film. They would be lavish houses created for live entertainment and the grandest entertainment Hollywood had to offer.

Memphian Vincent Astor’s interest in these movie houses came from a visit to The Malco theater (now the Orpheum) to see the original “True Grit” in 1969. The gilded decor and opulent surroundings struck a chord with him, and a lifelong interest was born. Over the years, he worked for Malco in maintenance and played the organ “anytime someone would come in that needed to be impressed with the building.” He continued with the Orpheum throughout the 1983 renovation.

“I watched that building change from a semi-dark, unappreciated old movie theater … to introducing myself to Leontyne Price, who was going to try out the acoustics in 1984,” Astor said. “So I actually watched a dream come true.”

May is National Preservation Month, and to celebrate, Memphis Heritage wants to take you to the movies. Two lectures and an exhibit at Memphis Heritage’s home at Howard Hall will focus on movie houses of the past. The first lecture, “Before the Palaces,” focusing on pre-1920 theaters, is set for Thursday; the second, “The Gilded Halls (1920-1929),” is on May 24 … (read more)


Volunteer early for getaway errands

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

May 10, 2012

Every parent needs to get away from time to time. We need to step out of our role as caretaker and the crushing weight of responsibility that comes with it. We need time for ourselves, time to clear our mind, a change of scenery. We need silence.

However, a weekend on the Florida coast or a Caribbean island might not be available to all of us. A trip to New York or San Francisco might interfere with soccer games, homework projects and sleepovers.

So what I do is, when I’m sent up to the Kroger on Sanderlin for a necessary dinner item or forgotten lunch staple, I take a little time just for me and stroll around the store. I sight-see and explore for things like fruits I’ve never seen or a new flavor of toothpaste. Perhaps I’ll run into someone I know or just sit and watch the lobsters for a bit.

It is the saddest vacation available in the Frommer’s travel guide.

There are times when a special item is needed and Kroger becomes a layover before traveling on to Whole Foods. This is the closest I come to visiting a foreign land. The foods there are exotic, the people concerned and the ambience organic. I feel, while walking around that store with no children tagging along, as free to range as their chickens.

There are other vacation packages available as well. There is the obvious choice of the hardware store. The aisles of Home Depot and Lowe’s are populated by fathers who have “run up to the store for a minute” for a box of nails or “a bracket for that thing I’m working on.” I see them wandering, clutching a roll of duct tape like it’s luggage and admiring a 12-amp reciprocating saw as though they were browsing the duty-free between flights. A trip like this could take an hour; in the spring, when the garden center is in full bloom, an hour-and-a-half. Bracket For That Thing I’m Working On would be a good name for some sort of VIP lounge if those companies were so inclined.

The trick, of course, is to buy your ticket early. Not too early — don’t look too eager — but claim it just before your spouse has the chance to volunteer picking up that pack of toilet paper or a head of garlic. It’s why I always offer first to travel to Gibson’s Donuts. It’s just something, I tell my wife, that I want to do for my family. I’ll get the dozen donuts and then get one just for me and a cup of coffee. It’s 10 minutes of “me time,” 20 if that train at Poplar, blessedly, delays me.

The trip home from any of these excursions should be a long, circuitous one. I’m the one you’re stuck behind and cussing as I meander just below the speed limit to take in the changing leaves or the progress my neighbors are making on renovations. I know they’re renovating because I see them at Home Depot all the time. The escaped parent finding himself alone in the car does not care about gas prices. He is not concerned (at the moment) with the environment. He is alone and at peace with the windows down and the dulcet tones of NPR to keep him company.

Being able to spend quality time with family is a gift we all should cherish. Being able to spend a few moments away from the kids and the television and the responsibility is like an exotic trinket from a far-away gift shop.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Driving minivan full of kids no easy ride

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

April 26, 2012

I’ve always appreciated the way that guys riding motorcycles will wave to each other as they pass on the street in a show of knowing macho brotherliness.

I saw two people in Jeeps do the same thing the other day while zooming down Poplar. With the roofs off, wind in their hair, sun glinting off their smiles, they acknowledged each others’ carefree ways and devil-may-care attitudes.

You know who don’t wave to each other? People driving minivans. You know why? Because we’re too busy reaching back with our waving hand to snatch a sippy cup from our youngest as she threatens to pummel the oldest, or handing a bag of Cheerios put in the glove box during the second Bush administration back to a wailing son. Noses need to be wiped, carsickness tended to and shoes located.

Are we brothers and sisters, those of us who careen around town in minivans? Yes. More so even than the helmeted and anonymous and, dare I say, lonely dudes on motorcycles. The mother idling at the light next to me in her Honda Odyssey is just as likely as I am to be wondering what is that smell emanating from the far back seat (fermented chocolate milk) or what is the whirring from beneath the driver’s seat (a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy).

The dad in front of me will rest his elbow on the open window and try his best to appear coolly detached as a Barbie, thrown from behind, hits him in his head. No matter, I know from the sticker on the bumper of his Chrysler Town and Country that he’s proud of that young hurler.

The easy rider days have passed me by. Or, I should say, the possibility of such a day. I never had a motorcycle. I never had a convertible. Now I have four kids and a vehicle with doors that open at the push of a button on my key chain. I have a DVD player mounted in the ceiling and a commanding 360-degree view.

A car seat won’t even fit on a motorcycle, will it? I’ve never seen one other than in the film “Raising Arizona,” and even as a childless 17-year-old I knew that Leonard Smalls was being far too reckless with that baby.

When we were first married, Kristy and I had a two-door Toyota that we traded in for a four-door Nissan when Calvin was born just so we could get the car seat into the back. Not even four-door drivers wave to each other on the streets.

Parenthood, for all the people living in one house and riding in one car, is a lonely traveling companion.

Parents have been otherwise occupied since the earliest days of car travel when a baby was carried on its mother’s lap in Henry Ford’s first Model T as the father steered with his knee and unwrapped a granola bar for the kid in the backseat.

Perhaps it’s the innate need to protect our children that keeps us from waving to others in our tribe, the absolute imperative to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes forward as we navigate the Memphis traffic. It may be what I should do, but there are things within my vehicle that require immediate attention and leave me with precious little time to look cool, nod at passing motorists and imagine myself on a vehicle built for one.

Driving minivan full of kids no easy ride (4/26/12)


Low-impact landscaping

Centerpiece story for The Memphis Daily News

April 19, 2012

Companies fill latest green niche as homeowners turn to organic yards

For most people these days, the descriptive word “green” evokes thoughts on diminishing consumption and environmental chivalry, and not necessarily the lush colors of an early spring such as Memphis has seen this year.

For Kalki Winter, however, it means both.

As the owner of eScape, he has an eye toward the quality of backyard ornamentation, as well as his customers’ overall quality of life.

Winter began the organic landscape company last October after a 12-year stint in management with ServiceMaster Landscape.

He said the mission of eScape is to offer “sustainable, site-specific landscape design with a focus on using native and zone appropriate plant material, as well as refurbished, recycled and repurposed building materials.” … (read more)