Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Weekend Away From It All…

This weekend was one we’d been planning for quite some time, a trip to Greensboro NC.  We had heard that our favorite author, Philip Gulley, was coming to speak at three different Friends meetings (as in the Quakers) in Greensboro and checking the map, we found it was a scant 4 1/2 hour drive away from us.  We were so excited and immediately decided we were going to make it, no matter what!

As the time drew near, we made more plans and posted to Facebook what we were planning, and Russell and Amy decided to join us.  We were SUPER excited, since we hadn’t seen them since last June for the Janet Evanovich road trip.  They wound up being the only ones who were going to be able to make it, but we didn’t mind one bit.  Russell found a hotel and we booked reservations and were ready to roll!

And then Snowmaggedon hit.  It was looking a bit dicey as to whether we’d get out of town.  But here’s the thing:  Philip Gulley has never come to the East Coast since we’ve read his books that we’ve known about and been able to go.  And I frankly would have crawled to Greensboro on my hands and knees, dragging Leah behind me in her stroller like a sled dog if I had to.  And fortunately, later in the week, the weather tamed for us and we not only decided to go on Saturday, but Michael and I elected to go a day earlier and leave on Friday.

P1040056 So I called the hotel and added an extra night to our reservation, we packed up, and we headed for Greensboro.  It was extra exciting because we got to add another state to Leah’s growing roster of places she’s been.  If I’m not mistaken, on the East Coast she is only missing Maine, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Not bad for not even being a year old.  When we crossed the border, she woke up from a lengthy nap, so we pulled into a rest area so I could change and feed her.  I snapped a picture of the sign you see here to commemorate the event, but there was no way for me to get her in it without putting her down, and I didn’t much want to do that.  We did go into the visitor’s center and they gave us a travel guide to Greensboro, which we read and found some neat stuff to see.

Michael and I were VERY impressed with Leah overall, I have to say.  She did not squeal at all the entire trip.  It is such a difference from the baby who would scream from the time we put her in the car to the time we took her out, whether that was 2 minutes or 10 hours.  She really is growing up and learning patience!  Way to go, Leah!

Anyway, we found the hotel and unloaded some of our car and let Leah crawl around a bit and work out the kinks.  The hotel room was a standard 2 double bed bit, but we were excited to see an adjoining door and hoped Russell and Amy would be able to get into the room on the other side so that we could hang out in their room Saturday night.  We gave them an update and they gave us one as well regarding the oncoming storm that gripped the south Friday evening.  They were a bit worried about whether they’d get out or not, but we all decided to just hope for the best and pray they’d get here!

Meanwhile, we were hungry and time was growing late so Little Baby would need to go to bed.  We decided to try out the Carolina Diner, which was right down the street from the hotel.  We hit the jackpot.  Not only was the food delicious, but Leah turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.  She had half the restaurant waving to her, she was waving back to them, everyone was coming up to our table and telling us how beautiful she was and how funny and sweet and cute she was, and long story short, we got 10% off our bill PLUS we got free dessert!!!!!  If she ever learns to harness her power for good, she will enact some serious change in the world.

After dinner, we debated attending Phil’s speech that night, but we were a little road weary and we wanted to put the baby to bed, so we went back to the hotel.  We put on the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremonies, but I was a little underwhelmed and fell asleep for a while.  I managed to catch the US team march in and then fell asleep before they lit the torch.  For some reason, I woke up at 4:45 and caught a replay of the torch lighting, and then I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I turned on my cell and got a message from R&A that they were going to wait a bit to see how the weather developed. 

P1040057 By 7AM, my two darlings were up and ready to roll (and very unhappy to discover it had snowed overnight!), so we decided to have breakfast at a local chain called Biscuitville, which seemed right up Michael’s alley.  He had tried a biscuit at the diner the night before and had an indecent reaction to it, so we had high hopes for Biscuitville, but overall, I’d have to say the biscuits there were just OK. 

After breakfast, we decided to do a little shopping—I had only packed one shirt for myself, since I was so excited to get out of the house, so we hit Walmart and I picked up a shirt, some treats for Leah, and a few Valentines for my Sugar Bear.  Then we decided to take Leah over to the Children’s Museum in Greensboro, since it is apparently appropriate for even infants.  (How did I ever live without my GPS, by the way?  That thing took us EVERYWHERE!)  Well, by the time we got there, both Leah and Michael were snoring.  When I pulled over, Michael woke up and we took a vote that we might as well take her back to the hotel because the more well rested she was, the better she would probably do during the speech.  So we drove all the way back to the hotel, I get her into the room, kick my shoes off, I’m kind of tired, and just as I am dozing off, she wakes up.  Figures, don’t it?  We get a text from R&A that they are on the road (we were relieved and happy they were at least going to try and make it!) so we decided to go over to Barnes and Noble to see if we could get the books for that night’s event.

In hindsight, this was one of the smartest things we decided to do.  I got the books, no problem at all, and then we went to Starbucks and I was able to connect to the wifi using my iPod.  Then we had liquid refreshments and a scone and as Leah was getting restless, I decided to take her down to the children’s area to zip around.  There wasn’t much doing in the hotel room, so I thought it might be a fun way for her to burn off some energy.  Well let me tell you!  BINGO!!!!  She crawled around until after 12 noon.  What a blast she was having!  She watched other kids run around, she followed after other kids, she found shelves of stuffed animals to knock around (which I picked up, thank you), we looked at books, she crawled everywhere, she played with trains.  It was a red-letter experience in every way possible.

P1040061 We left around 12:15 and got a call from R&A that we should go ahead and have lunch without them and we would all just meet up for supper.  Michael put in a request for Zaxby’s, a chicken chain that we had been to on our visit to Savannah.  While sadly, our luck with freebies was out, Leah was the hit of the place once again. Apparently even the way she eats celery is adorable.  And you know she just ate it up—she couldn’t even be bothered to face our table, she was looking all over, waving at everyone, going absolutely crazy.  And everyone was going crazy over her in return!

We went back to the hotel to wait for R&A’s arrival, and Leah fell asleep on the way over there, so I quietly put her in bed, and then I collapsed in bed for a while myself.  Sometime around 2:30, the Savannah contingent arrived, but I missed it because I was snoring.  Around about 2:45, the vibrating of my phone woke me up and when I saw “knock knock” in the text, I sprang to my feet and opened the door, and there was Amy!!!  WOO HOO!!!  They made it!!!!!

Russell was negotiating with the front desk to get them the adjoining room, and he was successful!!!  Even better!!!!!  They came in and Leah woke up and immediately we all started catching up and admiring Leah of course and before I knew it, two and a half hours had passed.  We had all agreed to go to Steak N Shake for dinner, and so we all got ready for the evening’s festivities and headed out.  Three of the four of us got milkshakes, and we all had burgers.  They gave us a free kid’s meal with purchase, so I got Leah some applesauce and mac n cheese, neither of which she especially cared for—Leah liked throwing the noodles on the floor more than eating them.  It was about time we found something she didn’t like, right?  I had a guacamole burger, my new SnS favorite, and it was so good.  It was probably the most crowded SnS I’d ever been too, but they dished food up fast and we all had a good meal, so who can complain?

Then it was time to head to the church!!!!  We were headed for New Garden Friends Meeting, and found it with only a little trouble—I am not great at reading signs in the dark and wasn’t too sure if Russell and Amy were behind us a good part of the time, so I was pretty cautious and stuff throughout the drive.  Not to worry though, we made it all in one piece and got to the church with about 15-20 minutes to spare.  We followed the crowd in and the sanctuary was on our left.  I peeked in and there was Phil, standing there talking with some Friends, just like anything.  I got all excited and hissed in Michael’s ear, “I SEE HIM!” It was like seeing a rock star or something, I mean, we were just so excited about this whole event.

We tried to figure out how long we’ve been reading Phil’s books and we finally decided on 6 years.  Home to Harmony is one of my two favorite books of all time and all of Phil’s books have inspired me with laughter, tears, thought, and joy.  To see the person who had the power and creativity and thought to bring that entire world into life for you, it is awe-inspiring to say the least.

So, we walked into the meeting room and as we made our way to find a seat, Phil came towards us!  Now I was really getting excited.  He looked at us, and I said, “Good evening!” and put on a bright smile, which he answered back and then patted Michael’s shoulder and said, “Good evening, friend!” and kept going.  Michael said, “Was that him!?” and I said, “yes it was!” and we both had to keep from jumping up and down :)

Soon a nice man named Bob sat to Michael’s right and we got to telling him about how we drove down from Fredericksburg VA and he asked where we were staying and we said in a hotel and he offered us that next time we come, he and his wife run a sort of underground B&B and we’d be welcome to stay with them.  I’d be lying if I said this sort of generous spirit was a fluke—every single Quaker we met greeted us with such warmth and generosity.  And we were total strangers there and admitted to not being Quakers and they did not care.  I was so inspired by them, I cannot begin to explain how profoundly our experience amongst the Friends affected me.

P1040069 Eventually, the presentation got underway and Phil was introduced and talked about his new book, If the Church Were Christian.  There are 10 different chapters in the book and he discussed the first two, entitled If the Church Were Christian, Jesus would be a model of living rather than an object of worship and If the Church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.  Unfortunately by now, Leah had had quite enough, and I missed out on some of the presentation, but I caught most of it, and I cannot wait to dive into this book.  I honestly felt as though he had written this book for me and was addressing directly thoughts that I’ve had and never shared with anyone.

And I know I was not alone in so feeling.

Eventually Amy came out and relieved me for a while, but I could hear Leah screaming from way down the hall, so during the Q&A session, I went and got Leah back from her and kept her quiet until the talk was over.  I knew she was just worn out from her busy day and she had only taken a 45 minute nap and refused any further rest, so she couldn’t help it one bit.  Amy and I went back in the hall to retrieve the men and I gave Russell my camera so he could catch a family shot of us with Phil.  We followed Phil and his crowd of admirers down the aisle and just as it was our turn, a woman came to him and said he had to come into the hallway to start signing books!  But he gave us his time very generously (I think Leah put the eye on him!) and so we asked him if we could take a picture and he was happy to do it.

P1040072 Then we followed him out and he signed our beloved and much read copy of Home to Harmony and the two copies of the new book I had picked up earlier in the day.  Bob had told everyone before the speech that we had driven down from Washington DC, so Phil thanked us for making the trip and we said that we would see him again tomorrow, because you can bet your butt I was not going to miss an opportunity to witness Phil as a pastor.  Russell got his book signed and then we were done for the evening.

When we left, I was all aglow, it was such a great experience already.  I asked Russell what he thought and all he could do was nod his head.  Words, honestly, were meaningless in the face of such an important message (or at least to me, they were not necessary!).

We stopped off at Sheetz on the way back to stock up on refreshments and by the time we were back at the hotel, Leah was out cold.  She didn’t budge when I pulled her out of the car seat, much less when I put her in her crib.  We went over to Russell and Amy’s room to talk about the events of the evening and it was just so affirming to talk religion and other sensitive topics with people who had no room for judgment of me, me of them, all of us asked questions, listened to each other’s stories and feelings, it was quite wonderful.  Unfortunately, having been up since 4:45, I was totally spent, and so I crapped out at 11:20 and went to bed.  I could have sat up all night, but driving’s demon head was leering at me for Sunday…

This morning we got up early (again I couldn’t sleep past 4:45) and when R&A were ready, we went out to IHOP for breakfast.  After lots of pancakes, coffee, eggs, hash browns, and more were consumed, we went back and checked out of the hotel and hauled ourselves down to First Friends Meeting in Greensboro, where Phil would be delivering the 11:00 message.  I had never been to a Quaker meeting before and was determined to make the most of it.  I read in the bulletin that there was childcare available, so with my heart in my throat, I decided to put Leah in the nursery so I could enjoy the service and listen to Phil’s message uninterrupted.  Holy cow were the girls in the nursery nice!!! I was introduced to them and their children and they took Leah and told me not to worry about a thing!  I don’t think she even noticed as I walked away, and I didn’t hear any screaming when I went back to the meeting hall, so I took it as a good sign indeed.

The meeting started and it was a lot of singing and a lot of time for quiet contemplation.  They had a segment where the children’s class filed in and talked about what they were doing for church school.  Then I got really nervous, because they brought in all the young children, and there was Leah right in front of us!  But she could not have cared less about where we were, she was fascinated by all the other children and the banks they had made to collect money for Haiti.  Then the minister handed around quarters for the children’s banks and even gave Leah a quarter, and you can imagine what she did with it:  yup!  right in her mouth!  Fortunately they got her to put in a bank.  Then the kids left and went back to the nursery or Sunday school, and the service continued.  When it was time for Phil’s message, I was totally enchanted.  He speaks very much like he writes, with much humor and grace.  The topic was “A Quaker Future” and honestly, I cried—the message really had a universal appeal, which was great since I know nothing about being a Quaker.

It was all over too soon.  The service ended, there was a talk back session afterwards, but we decided not to stay for that as we really were anxious to get on the road.  I went and retrieved Leah from the nursery, where I was informed she was the happiest baby in the world!!!!  She didn’t especially want to leave with me, she seemed to be having a heck of a good time.  But eventually I pried her away from the loving arms of the nursery worker, Leigh Ann, and went back to the chaos of the meeting room.  People were leaving, people were moving forward, and my party of three was waiting for me to come back so we could head out. We were swarmed by people who remembered us from the night before, asking if we had really driven down from Washington DC just to come to the meeting and meet Phil, people who wanted to admire Leah (who ate it up, may I say, the kid is an absolute rock star, I am not exaggerating in the least!), people who just wanted to welcome us.  It was the most welcome I had ever felt in a church, certainly in my adult life anyway.  There was no awkwardness, no sense of not literally being among friends.  I was ready to sell the house and move to Greensboro, honestly.

Finally the legions of fans cleared a bit and I put Leah on the pew to put her coat on when I felt an arm around my shoulder and heard, “Thank you again for making that drive all the way down here just to see me.”  I looked up and it was Phil, giving me a hug.  I about wet my pants.  I think I said something about how much we enjoyed it, how moved I had been, and I picked Leah up and he asked if he could hold her.  Well of course!!!!  I handed her right over, and I think it was an instant love for both of them :-)  I wish I had had my camera handy, it is an image burned into my brain, Phil smiling brightly at Leah, Leah kind of looking at him like, “Yes, that’s right, adore me!”  It was such a special moment as a reader and a mom, the two great passions in my life intersecting like that.

He handed her back to me and we said goodbye and then he went over to Michael and thanked him also for coming and either shook his hand or grabbed his shoulder, I’m not sure which.  And then he had to turn his attention to his talk-back and I had to turn mine to remembering how to breathe.

So that’s how we left Greensboro.  (Michael and I would both like to go back and explore the actual town—we enjoyed our time there a lot!)  We soon parted ways  with Russell and Amy and headed home.  Leah was completely knocked out, so we didn’t stop for the first 4 hours of the trip because she was asleep.  We did finally stop when she woke up and wanted some food, so spent our Valentine’s Day dinner eating at a McDonald’s somewhere between Richmond and Petersburg.  Leah wasn’t too happy to be put back in the car afterwards, but she made it home with only a few little squeals.

And I will now unpack and head off to bed.  It was an amazing, amazing weekend of friendship and love and I am so glad Russell and Amy made it and we didn’t miss each other due to snow.  I don’t know how to express how happy it made me to get a little hug from such a great and genuine man I have long admired, to hear what he had to say and to relate to it so deeply and personally.

It was such a wonderful Valentine’s weekend and memories I’ll carry with me for a lifetime.  Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

3 pearl(s) of wisdom:

nettiemac said...

WOW!!! I am loving your story! I haven't read any of his books (I know, right?) but I do believe I will have to check it out. Quite a few times, when I've taken quizzes on, Society of Friends has always been near the top of my compatibility list.... interesting, given my religious background and adult choice of religious expression as well. I very much admire their work in social justice issues. I definitely plan to check on the new book..... sounds like quite an interesting read! I hate I missed seeing y'all.... :(

Kate/Susan said...

We missed you tons, Annette!!! It's seriously been way to long. We HAVE to get together sometime soon :-)

Talmadge Gleck said...

I think I'm still nodding my head. This weekend, to be especially blunt, was on the level of "epiphany." I'm still processing all of this. Everything I saw, read, heard. Is this My Path? I'm too jaded to say as much based on just one weekend. (Although I second what you said about moving to Greensboro!)

I need to start on this book - thing is, once I start I just know I won't be putting this thing down.

And to think we were just going up there to see you, to babysit Leah while you all went to see PG.

We both miss you three terribly. It was a great "bungee visit." Worth every minute and mile!