Posted in Where Happiness Finds You

Universally Speaking


The good folks at the Statesboro Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (especially the Pastoral Care Associate–Shari Barr and the Minister–Reverend Dr. Jane Altman Page) up the road in my old stomping ground of Statesboro, Georgia, where I taught at Georgia Southern University for twenty-plus years, invited me to deliver the message at last Sunday’s service.  What fun!  What joy!

I’ve visited a UU fellowship a time or two before, but had not really looked into their beliefs.  It seems they hold seven principles to be guidance:

  • 1st Principle:  The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • 2nd Principle:  Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • 3rd Principle:  Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • 4th Principle:  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • 5th Principle:  The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • 6th Principle:  The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • 7th Principle:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Wow!  All beliefs I hold as important in life.

I arrived a bit early and took pics outside their building.


Once inside, Shari met me and explained the order of the service.


And here I am with the Rev. Jane (who I knew for years as a colleague at Georgia Southern).


Before the service I reconnected with old friends, such as Donna Jones, an officemate of mine in the English Department for years at GSU:


My talk entitled “Becoming a Balcony People,” about the importance and power of encouragement, went over SO well with the group, mainly because of the attentive folks in attendance.


(Okay, I know I look a little goofy in that picture.)

What are Balcony People, you ask?  Here’s a brief excerpt from my message:

I submit for your consideration this morning the very simplistic notion that there exist two kinds of people: Balcony People and Basement People.  Balcony People are the folks you come in contact with who encourage you, bless you, give of themselves in some way.  They climb the steps up into your balcony, so to speak, lean over the railing, and yell, “You’re doing great!”  “Keep going!”  “I appreciate you so much.”  “You help make my life better.” “I love you.”  “No, your butt’s not too big.  Really!” 

But in addition to Balcony People, there’s a second category of folks, Basement People.  Basement People go down the steps of your basement, where it’s Dark and Damp and Depressing … and then try to pull you down with them!  They wound with words, or the absence of words.  They harm and cause damage.  They verbally vandalize.


I love the UU symbol:


May we all allow our true inner lights of goodness and joy to shine forth.


Thank you, Statesboro UU.  May all good continue to flow to you!


Link for full transcript.

Another cool link about the importance of smiling.

Go UU folks!

Posted in In Our Own Backyard, Where Happiness Finds You

Bright Morning Petanque


Last Saturday, loaded down with a big stack of research paper first drafts, written by my delightful and intelligent international graduate students in our Research, Reading and Writing in Art and Design class at SCAD, I escaped down to Amelia Island, Florida.  My Distinct Intention: sitting, for the next two days (since Monday was a holiday) on the patio of the condo, listening to the crash of waves …


… and occasionally eyeing a sea turtle meander up onto the lawn from the protected dunes …


… (this one’s about sixteen inches long) while Determinedly, Professorially marking up student texts.  And even though the papers are on fascinating topics, such as the spread of memes through websites, the commercialization of global opera, color’s impact on productivity in the work environment, and how video games make our lives better, can anybody besides me see a potential problem here?

I had no excuse.

But, to be honest, and to defend myself a little, the BETTER part of Saturday had really already vanished by the time I arrived at the condo, unpacked (I ALWAYS unpack–my mama says not to live out of your suitcase), took a much-needed barefoot walk on the beach to calm my nerves after the hour-and-a-half drive from Savannah (okay, maybe I stopped at Starbucks in Brunswick for a quick Salted Caramel Mocha), washed the shells I found …


… thought a while about whether I should make a hip Christmas sea shell wreath or just put them in a glass jar, ran to the Lucky Wok for a spring roll and Balsamic Vegetable Medley, rushed back to the condo and soaked my feet in bath salts–thus it was simply too late to think about grading.  Seriously.

So Sunday morning I got up energized–ready!–but, discovering there was nothing in the condo for breakfast except some peanut butter which had gotten beach sand it in and several pints of old strawberry ice cream, I had No Choice but to hightail it over to my favorite historic district Fernandina Beach breakfast place, Bright Mornings Café.  (Isn’t that a cool name?)


As soon as you sit down, the FRIENDLIEST wait staff rush over with a variety of muffins, jam, marmalade and coffee.  (I wish I lived inside that place.)


(I forgot to take the above pic until after most of the muffins were gone.)

Well, the neatest thing happened next!  I was lucky enough to have the World’s Best Waitress,  Laura, who, after recommending the breakfast potatoes (boy, was she right!) shared a terrific story.  Actually, she shared after I complimented her on her interesting necklace:


She told me that her daughter had given her the necklace, and it represented the body’s chakras.  You know about them?  Energy distribution centers throughout the body.   The lower one is the root chakra, which seems to be powerfully related to our contact with the earth, helping us to be grounded into the earthly plane.  Also it represents the center of manifestation, especially with the material world.  Anyway, after getting the necklace, Laura explained that she took off her shoes and enjoyed feeling the ground, the earth, with her bare feet.  The next day she received a large amount of money.  Wow.  Whatever we may believe, material increase came to Laura.  So cool!  I haven’t worn shoes since hearing the story, and ain’t planning to anytime soon!  (Kidding.)


Leaving Laura and Bright Mornings (darn it), I thought I should probably go back and start grading, but as I walked down 3rd Street in Fernandina Beach, I saw this sign …


… and it pointed in the opposite direction from where my little car Skedadler sat waiting for me.  So, being the lawful person I am, I traversed the way of the sign, and within minutes started hearing people (bunches of people) speaking French and Spanish and Deep Southwest Georgia Drawl and other languages I couldn’t understand.

Well, lo and behold, I stumbled upon a major national sports tournament!


I found myself smack-dab in the middle of the International Petanque America Open Tournament!  How exciting is that?!  One of the biggest tournaments in all of Petanque!

Okay, okay, I had no clue what Petanque is either.  Other people, from all over the world, apparently DO know what it is.  Before I explain, a few pictures:


Petanque (pronounced “pay-tonk”), I found out, “is one of Europe’s most popular outdoor games, a cousin of both horseshoes and of the Italian bowling game called ‘bocce’.  The game originated in the South of France in the early 1900’s.  The aim is to toss, or roll a number of hollow steel balls (‘boules’) as close as possible to a small wooden target ball, called ‘but’ or ‘cochonnet’ (French for ‘piglet’). Players take turns and the team that ends up nearest to the target ball when all balls are played, wins” (


Players must stand with both feet firmly planted in a circle when tossing their balls.  (Why did I just giggle like a seventh grader?)


Those petanque folks were all SO friendly, even when I kept mistakenly walking onto the playing courts or talking to the players in the middle of their games.  (It was all just a bit confusing to me, like Harry Potter’s quidditch, but then again, I never quite got the hang of horseshoes.)


I discovered that the only store in the Americas dedicated to petanque was right there in Fernandina Beach, Petanque America, owned and operated by Philippe Boets, an emigre from Antwerp, Belgium.   Doesn’t he have the coolest name, Philippe?  I’m thinking of changing my name to something hipper than “Neal.”  Any suggestions?

Here I am sitting on the sidelines, trying my best to stay out of trouble and wondering where that man standing in the circle got his shirt and whether or not I should roll up the legs of my pants to look a little more European.


And here I am with Rosemary Szczygiel, a Fernandina Beach petanque enthusiast, who filled me in on the basics of the game.


Such new-discovery fun!

P.S.  I had the papers marked by the time I headed back up the road to Savannah.

Posted in In Our Own Backyard

September Oaks Revisited


Last Saturday I revisited September Oaks Vineyards— a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery in Ridgeland, SC.  On my first trip to SOV about a year ago, I fell in love with the place–as well as the fun and friendly folks who work there, especially Nikki Davis …



… a kindred spirit, who at the time of my first trip (and the above pic) worked part-time at September Oaks and taught high school English in Ridgeland.  Thus, we hit it off as fellow English teachers right from the start.  Nikki has since become a faithful blog follower and happiness promoter.

For this second visit, good friends Robert and Edward (such strong, classical names–who names their child “Neal”?  And with an “a”?) accompanied me along lazy U.S. 17 on the forty-five minute trip from Savannah.

The entrance to September Oaks is as beautiful as the place itself.




So I motored down the old oak-lined entryway and parked Skedaddler.  (My little car’s name.  What?  You don’t name your vehicles?  Well, why not?  And, what?  You think “motored” sounds a little silly and pretentious?  Well, I would too under normal circumstances, but those ancient oaks and the incredible fall weather made me want to talk British-fancy.)



A special event was going on that day:  A Novel Wine Tasting & Literary Festival, featuring readings and book signings from over two dozen authors.  Such fun!  (More about that later … with a Princess Diana twist.)



So we sauntered (there I go again) into the tasting room, paused just inside the door because the place was booming with folks at the counter, and glanced around.  But not for long–because suddenly I heard a hooting and hollering, and saw Nikki rushing toward me and giving me a big hug, as if I were, oh I don’t know, a World Famous Blogger or something!  It was so cool to see her again.


We waited our turn for the tasting and then belly-ed up to the beautiful new counter …


… which is made from crushed wine bottles poured in layers to give the appearance of a flowing river amid vineyards.  WHO thinks to do creative stuff like that?!  When I think of crushed bottles, I always remember the time as a kid when I stepped on a broken Coke bottle and had to have a terribly painful and tear-producing tetanus shot.  And let’s be honest, nobody wants to see THAT scene worked into a wine tasting counter!

Anyway, we met our pourer Annette (delightful), who led us through three whites and three reds, from dry to sweet.  We were asked to score each wine on a scale of 1-5 points.  And I probably don’t need to tell you, but wine has alcohol in it!  Edward and Robert were SO much better at the taste scoring than I.  Really.  They swirled the wine around, smelled it deeply, commented on its color, and even had exaggerated expressions on their faces after each tasting which somehow seemed to register their definite approval or casual dismissal.  They even made comments such as, “Oh yes, I would serve this one with fruit and chocolate” or “This white would pair perfectly with fresh, local seafood.”  Me?  What was I doing?  Well, before I answer, look at the picture below.  Although the photo is a bit dark, here I am with Edward and Robert.


My biggest concern during our tasting was not wine aroma or pairing possibilities … but that woman in the right edge of the picture.  See her?  You can’t tell from the pic, but she’s really close (too close in my opinion) to the two heavenly smelling featured dishes at the tasting–southern seafood gumbo, and shrimp and grits–and she’s actually somewhat blocking my path to the food.  All through the tasting I kept glancing over my shoulder and worrying about how I could get past her.

Here’s a lighter picture of Robert and Edward.  I took it mainly to get a better perspective on how to get past that lady.


I did it!



Here’s Nikki with Evie Woods, wife of September Oaks owner Grady Woods:


And here I am with Evie:


And here’s Evie between two wine bottles:


And here’s Evie eating gumbo:


And here’s Evie feeding me gumbo:





After the wine (and food) tasting, Annette asked if we would like a tour of their new barrel room.  Well, who’s gonna turn that down?



On your visit (and of course you’re going to visit soon), look closely and you’ll see my shadowy spirit protectively overseeing the oak barrels.



Oh my gosh.  Look what showed up next in the warehouse area:


A set of drums!  So of course I had to play a while.



It would have been so much more enjoyable for myself and the others if I knew how to play drums.  Oh well, we moved on to the big steel barrels.





Next, we ventured outside to the vineyard and the literary reading.









Here’s Jack and Robin Firestone, authors of Chasing Diana.  The Firestones were in Paris on the night of Diana’s fatal car crash sixteen years ago … and were in the tunnel … and saw the wreck!  Chasing Diana is their fascinating story.  Here they are reading excerpts from the book.


And here I am harassing them.





Evie and Grady, SOV’s gracious owners and hosts.









What a joyful Saturday afternoon.  I hereby declare September Oaks to be the Official Winery of!

A special thanks to Robert Smith for taking most of the pictures in this post.

Read the blog post about my first visit here:  SOV 1.