Black Diamond Series

Black Diamond Series

The Black Diamond Series BLOG by JC Conrad-Ellis opens the door to today's trending human interest topics.

I just read an online CNN article about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and how it’s likely that the USSC might gut it like a fish. In the article, the reporter wrote that Clarence Thomas will most likely side with the conservative justices who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No surprise there. Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Stephen Breyer, are the justices who tend to vote on the liberal side while Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts are the conservative justices who believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Anthony Kennedy usually carries the all important tie breaker swing vote.  

In the article, the reporter wrote: “Three of the more conservative justices seemed aligned with the view that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and it's likely they'd be joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, who doesn't speak at arguments.” I paused and re-read that sentence. “He doesn’t speak at arguments?” I asked myself. It was written as a statement of accepted fact. Is he not allowed to speak at arguments? Is he mute? What the hell is that about? How can you sit as a justice on the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, and not speak? While the other justices are harassing and hazing the skilled attorneys who will now be able to boast that they’ve argued before the USSC, Clarence Thomas is watching the performance like a spectator. I remember reading that Clarence Thomas seldom (almost never) wrote majority opinions or even dissenting opinions, but I didn’t realize that his tongue was also paralyzed. 

This blog isn’t a slam on Clarence Thomas, even though I’m currently reading Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home written by Anita Hill. Admittedly, it’s not the most riveting read, but I bought it because I liked the title, and as a fellow author I thought I’d experience some good juju if I ordered her book on Amazon and helped her earn some royalties. So far it isn’t working. The book puts me to sleep and my own royalties haven’t increased. So much for my good juju theory. 


The scripture that he read was instantly familiar. The last verse in the 4th chapter a personal memory verse in my Bible. 

 

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, 

yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and 

momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory 

that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes 

not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since 

what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live 

in is destroyed, we have a building from God, 

an eternal house in heaven,

 not built by human hands.  

2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:1 NIV 

 

I don’t recall him quoting the scripture reference, but as soon as I heard the words, I flipped open my Bible and read along. In my quest for spiritual maturity, I’ve made a commitment to implant God’s word on my heart. For me, it’s a ‘slow and steady wins the raise’ type of process, almost a turtle crawl.

Raised Catholic, I’d never read the Bible until I took a religious studies course in college. It was then that I learned that the Book of Job (pronounced with a long O) was not the book of job synonymous with employment. I attended my first black Baptist church experience as a college pledge for my sorority. I was unfamiliar with the order of service, the location of the books in the Bible, the gospel music and the outward displays of emotion, but I remember that I enjoyed the experience. In my family, we were raised to believe in God and attended mass on high holy days and sometimes on regular Sundays, but we never read the Bible, and like other parishioners, we didn’t tote a Bible to mass. If we had a Bible, I didn’t know where it was. When I joined a Bible based Baptist church as a young twenty something, I felt that I was learning a new language. Decades later, my spiritual maturity quest is richer, but still very much a work in progress which is why I get excited when I can easily locate a learned scripture without assistance from the Concordance or the biblical version of “Shazam.”

Unlike my mother who now has a “Rain Man” like memorization and recall of biblical scripture, my recall of scripture is slower and more deliberate as though I’m translating in a new language. In those instances where I’m not near my highlighted Bible, I have a Bible app on my phone where you can type in a few words from a verse and the “smart” phone will take you to the scripture in various translations. In functionality, it’s similar to the “Shazam” app that  listens to a song and tells you the artist’s name. On the Bible app, you just type in a few key words or phrases and it directs you to scripture that has those words or phrases referenced. When it comes to biblical look ups, one of my personal goals is to be as smart as (or smarter than) my smart phone, so I was pleased that I didn’t have to biblically Shazam the scripture that the President was reading when he spoke words of encouragement at the interfaith service in Newtown, Connecticut. When he finished, I felt that the President’s speech writers had chosen the perfect scriptural verse to bring comfort to the people of Newtown, Connecticut even though I’d heard a vastly different message on that same scripture from our pastor several months prior. 


Face it, you’re either a reader or a talker, but you’re not both. When traveling, most of us carry some type of reading material that we use like a shield to repel even the threat of conversation from the strangers seated next to us. In some travel situations I’m a talker, and in others, I’m a reader. As a fiction author, I routinely chat up cab drivers in the hopes of learning something new that I can use in my writing, so in a taxi, I’m a seat belt wearing talker. But when traveling on an airplane, I’m generally a polite reader. I prefer window seats, so I smile warmly as my row companion settles in and before the flight attendant entertains us with the required safety dog and pony show. I usually chuckle when he advises that in a water landing the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device wondering how many people have actually survived a twenty thousand foot plunge into the ocean or lake due to their seat cushion flotation device. Before my seat companion has fully settled in, while clutching my reading material firmly in one hand and a pack of gum in the other, I usually smile and ask the same three questions in this order: “Would you like a piece of gum? Are you from (insert the place we’ve just left)? I hope the weather is as good or better than the weather here.” After they’ve replied I smile and lower my head into my book, feeling eternally bonded to my row companion. You see, I’m really not trying to make a new friend on the airplane, I’m just trying to break the ice so that if the pilot announces an emergency landing, and we start plummeting fast, I can quickly clamor into this person’s lap as I pray that their girth will cushion my frame on impact. So far, I haven’t had to test this gum tax strategy, but serving as my emergency landing cushion seems like the least they can do to thank me for the piece of gum that I generously offered.

 

Are you a reader or a talker? As much as we hate to admit it, most of us can be pretty accurately described in five words or less. If the people who know us best were asked to deliberate and verify the validity of our five word descriptors, they would probably nod in agreement on eighty-five percent of the words chosen, maybe substituting one word for a more descriptive word, not necessarily disagreeing with the challenged word per se, just following human nature to personalize us with their uniquely descriptive mark. Most of the time we play true to character, behaving in accordance with the five word descriptors that silently follow us around as though controlling our behavior like Geppetto did Pinocchio. When we fall out of character and betray our five word descriptors, our noses don’t grow, but we find ourselves stretching our thespian muscles like Halle Berry playing Cat Woman. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  

 


Our lives are shaped or altered by our decisions and choices. You decide or choose where you are going to go to school, your major, your city and your mate. Had you chosen not to attend your friend’s birthday party, you may not have met the person who would later introduce you to the person that is now your biggest source of joy or sorrow. As we mature, the decisions that we are forced to make become more difficult and the choices more complex. Sometimes we make good decisions based on the choices available to us, and other times we make bad decisions given the same choices, but each day we are faced with choices and decisions: what to eat, what to wear, what to say and what to do.  

I just completed a four hour, online defensive driving class because I chose to drive a few miles over the speed limit, and I got caught. It was my first ever moving violation, and in my own defense, I “thought” that I was only driving four miles over the posted speed limit, a range that has kept me ticket free for over three decades of safe driving. Here’s what happened. 

Like I normally do on interstate travel, I set my cruise control at what I decided long ago was a  “safe” albeit law breaking interstate speed over the legal limit; however, the speed limit changed once I crossed the border, so I was now unknowingly driving nine miles over the legal limit. Not far from the border, I was immediately pulled over in a small county whose name was foreign to me, but I knew enough to know that this town relied on speeding tickets to generate resources for their county. In other words, the sheriff was not interested in my “I have never received a moving violation before...I didn’t realize the speed limit changed at the border...” saga. As I shared my tale of woe on the social media sites, my social networking friends consoled me and shared that I was pulled over in a notorious speed trap zone. That bit of knowledge somehow soothed me and made me feel like I was in good company. Scofflaws enjoy company. I had chosen to speed so I paid the penalty (as well as another fee in order to have the list of defensive driving course options sent to me and then another fee for the privilege of taking the class on line). I did all of this so that the infraction wouldn’t appear on my driving record and result in higher insurance premiums. Thank goodness my insurance agent doesn’t read my blogs. 

I really am a good driver, I just like to live on the edge every now and then. I have double piercings in my ears, but no tattoos, so to me driving four miles over the legal limit on an Interstate is a double piercing, not a tattoo. It’s barely keeping up with traffic. Knowingly cruising 15 miles over the speed limit is a tramp stamp, and twenty miles over the legal limit is a tongue piercing. I have limits on my rule breaking behaviors and take pride in the fact that “most of the time” I try to drive in the good choices lane, but sometimes I veer into the bad choices lane concealed behind the security of my laptop and my fiction author title.

At my first book signing, a mother of a tween and a teen daughter approached me angry that I’d included a scene where one of the characters is dancing closely with a teenage boy at a party. In what I considered PG language, I described the sensations that the character feels long after the dance has ended. The mother was unhappy that I’d included such a “graphic description” in a young adult fiction novel targeted to girls ages eleven and up. I smiled and politely told the mother that she was kidding herself if she didn’t think that her pre-teen daughter hadn’t felt such sensations by her own exploration. I smiled and poured myself another mimosa, realizing that I was now on that mother’s banned book list. 


As most of my readers know, whenever I blog or leave witty footprints through the social media sites that I frequent (namely Twitter and Facebook), I refer to my children as heirs. I don’t use their names because it embarrasses them; however, anyone who knows me well knows which heir I reference in my pieces, and the heirs certainly know when I’m using one of their personal foibles in my shameless attempts to increase my fan base by exploiting their happenings. Nevertheless, when I don’t identify them by name or gender, it makes me feel as though I’m protecting the heirs’ right to privacy. Although they would beg to differ, I really am trying to limit the number of talking doctor sessions that they will need to schedule once they fly from my nest and into their own. The heirs usually calm down when I remind them that my blogs have a small (but growing) loyal following, so they need not worry about any Kardashian type mass media public humiliation quite yet.

One of the heirs is currently recovering from a concussion incurred while playing in a competitive sporting event, and now it appears that our home has become a head trauma haven. The heir is fine, but as a precaution, I’m now researching non contact sports like badminton and chess. Not to be outdone by a wingless two legged creature, no fewer than four (4) birds have slammed into the front and back of our home and knocked themselves unconscious within the last two weeks. I scored major points with the heirs when I fearlessly wrapped one lifeless bird in a paper towel, spun around three times and tossed the bird into the bushes. The overly dramatic xx chromosome heir was freaked out that I came near the bird, but the less dramatic xx chromosome heir thought it was funny, and the xy chromosome heir thought it was very brave of me to go near a dead bird. The spin suggested that maybe I had watched a little too much of the Summer Olympic Games in London. I had, but the bird was dead, so I thought some pomp and circumstance was in order, hence the shot putter spin and toss. I couldn’t decide if it was better to toss the bird into the trash can or into the bushes. It was five days until trash day and the thought of a decomposing bird in the trash can gave me the heebie jeebies, so I decided to make the bird part of nature’s compost pile under the shrubbery. And no, burying the bird was not an option, although last year I had our lawn care team dig a hole in our backyard and bury a red robin that slammed into our window and died on our deck. But that was different, the red robin was like family. He’d been pecking our window daily for almost a month. It was cute at first, but became annoying after the first three weeks, so after hours of research I inserted rubber snakes and a plastic owl in the tree as decoys. Confused, the red robin (whom we never bothered to name) disappeared for about a week. But upon his return, he apparently flew to the back of the house and did himself in by slamming into a different window. We found him lying in state on the deck. The only thing missing was a note pinned to his fat red chest that read, “see what you made me do?” He deserved a proper burial and was laid to rest in a cushy Stuart Weitzman shoe box.     

 

I was writing near the deck last week when another bird slammed into the window where I was sitting. I watched as the small bird gasped for breath. Not sure what to do to help the bird, I just watched as he stopped breathing. Saddened, I said a prayer and stepped away to get more coffee, because watching a bird die makes you thirsty. When I came back, the bird was sitting up. He must have knocked himself silly. I often threaten to knock my heirs silly or into next week when they get too out of hand, so I was amused watching a bird actually knock himself silly. Since I’m nursing my own little bird back to health now, I sprang into action and filled a small plastic container with water. The finch didn’t flinch when I set the water down near his feathers, but when I crumbled a saltine cracker near the water, the bird flew away. Because I once played a doctor on television, I surmised that the bird had probably suffered a slight concussion. 


The first bridal shower that I ever attended was my own. I remember being very confused when a boom box toting, scantily clad body builder “wandered” into the rooftop garden bridal shower hosted by my closest friends. Having never attended a bridal shower, I hadn’t the faintest clue of what was about to happen next, so I was shocked when when the body builder started dancing, and felt very embarrassed that this display was being witnessed by some of my more mature, prim and proper guests. In the end, a good laugh was had by all, and as my friends and I became more experienced with pre-wedding rituals, we learned that the “boom box set-up” experience is typically reserved for the private bachelorette party, not the bridal shower. Similarly, the first wedding that I attended as an active participant and not a guest, was mine. By the time I became a mom, none of my friends had started their families yet, so the first diaper that I ever changed was that of my first child. As a teenager, I’d babysat for children plenty of times to earn money, but I’d never cared for an infant or toddler in diapers. I have a niece and a nephew older than my daughter, but they live in a different state, so I never changed their fannies. 

 

There’s an insurance company commercial that features a teen daughter preparing to take her dad’s car for the first time. The scene shows a six year old girl in the driver’s seat, and her dad’s voice is heard in the background, giving her instructions. It’s not until the end of the commercial that you realize that the daughter is a teenager, but seen through the eyes of her dad, she remains a six year old “little girl.” As our oldest learns to drive, I can relate to that commercial and find myself humbled and in awe that my first child is now old enough to drive. A wise friend once said that when raising a family, the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly. Truer words have never been spoken. Ask any parent who has sent a child into the world for college or the military. “Where did the time go?” “It just seems like yesterday that I was taking him to kindergarten and now he’s eighteen.” “Enjoy each phase of raising your children. It goes by quickly.” These are the gems uttered by those in my network circle who have transitioned their children into adulthood. 

 

This week, I paused my life long enough to watch the original movie “Sparkle” for the first time. Yes, you read that correctly. Until a few days ago, I had never seen the original “Sparkle,” so my oldest heirs and I rented it on pay per view. I’d seen brief snippets of the movie here and there, but had never seen the movie in its entirety, so I didn’t know many of the plot details. A few years ago, a friend was watching the movie with her husband and seemed shocked that I’d never seen the black cinema classic, until she realized that I hadn’t been old enough to see it when it came out in the theaters. Once I became old enough to see it, I had no desire to see it. I am an Alfred Hitchcock, chick flick movie buff, and “Sparkle” didn’t fit into my favorite genre category. But with the hype surrounding the remake, I wanted to see the original version before seeing the remade version because whenever possible, I always try to read a novel before seeing the movie version of the novel. 


Beyond What I See

“They made us feel like we could do anything!” This was the quote that my twelve year old daughter shared as I drove her home from her first over night camp experience, a soccer camp with a strong leadership component. The camp was founded and led by Julie Foudy, a three time Olympic medalist in soccer and a multiple World Cup winner. Like most soccer parents, I sit on the cold steel bleachers to cheer on our soccer player rain or shine. Okay, if I’m being honest, if it’s raining or overly humid, and my hair has been freshly straightened, I’m watching the match from the comfort of my climate controlled vehicle in an effort to protect the investment made on the top of my head and to shield my tween heir from the mortification that comes when my hair gets wet and begins to inflate unexpectedly from the humidity. It doesn’t take much to mortify a tween girl, and her mother’s appearance and attire is usually an easy trigger. If I’m embracing my organic hair, I gladly sit in the rain and let my tresses soak up the free moisture. 

It’s important to understand that our tween heir has played competitive soccer for almost five years, but before registering her for this camp, I had no idea who Julie Foudy was. Not a clue, even though she played for the US National team for over seventeen years and was MVP several times. Julie and her teammates earned two Olympic gold medals and one “white gold” medal after a heart wrenching loss to the Norwegians. At the welcome session for parents, she shared this story with humor, grace and a sense of “I still want a do over, we were robbed!” in her voice. The campers played soccer in sweltering heat and bonded while participating in carefully orchestrated leadership workshops and skits. The extended debriefing that I received from my soccer player on our nine hour trek back home was that Julie was a daily and hands on presence at the camp, walking the hallways and chatting with the campers like she was Mrs. Garrett, the warm and fuzzy house mother from “The Facts of Life” albeit Julie would be a very toned and fit Mrs. Garret. My daughter hasn’t a clue who Mrs. Garret is, I threw in that nugget for my seasoned blog followers. My camper shared that “Julie still has skills” as she demonstrated soccer techniques on the field. Julie shared with the girls that the thing that made her a winner on the field was the leadership skills that she learned and modeled off the field, placing soccer second to leadership.

 

I snapped photos of my tween heir with her new camp buddies and smiled as she hugged her new friends and lingered, not really wanting to leave each other’s presence as they pledged to keep in touch and return next year. I felt blessed that we were able to provide her with an experience that was clearly life changing for her. That night, over dinner, she asked if we could break the “we don’t watch television during dinner rule” so that she could watch CNN to follow the Aurora, Colorado shooting tragedy that had unfolded while we were in the car returning from camp. She hadn’t watched television during camp. I paused. I watch CNN. Heir #2 watches anything but CNN. Who was this new kid masquerading as my daughter? I obliged and we turned on the television. We watched in horror as Don Lemon covered the story live in Colorado standing in front of the movie theatre. I watched as my daughter’s innocence was transformed. Obviously, this isn’t the first national tragedy that has occurred during her pre-pubescent life, but it’s the first tragedy to which she has paused, taken notice and expressed genuine concern. Coincidence? I don’t think so. While I drove, she read the CNN transcript which included interviews from survivors. That evening, as we watched CNN, a woman was being interviewed by a CNN reporter. My daughter recognized details from the woman’s story as the one that she’d read to me in the car. She was right. She hadn’t just been dutifully reading the story to me as I drove. She had been paying attention. 


With the passing of Donna Summer at only sixty-three years old, another musical icon has died way too young. But like many things, age is relative. When you’re six, sixteen or twenty-six, sixty-three sounds ancient and old. But when you’re gracefully approaching the sunset of your life, hoping to one day celebrate a birthday that allows you to receive a “shout-out” during Willard Scott’s Smuckers’ segment on the Today Show, sixty-three doesn’t seem that old. Age is relative.

 

Forty is the new thirty. Fifty is the new forty. You’ve heard these statements before because with proper diet, regular exercise, and carefully prescribed pharmaceutical supplements, people are improving their quality of life and many are reinventing themselves and just hitting their stride once they reach the mid-life hurdle previously known as fifty. When I suggested to my erudite oldest heir that middle age started at fifty, she quickly reminded me that since most people do not live to be one hundred, middle age really starts at forty. She can be quite a fun sucker at times.

 

Before I became a Fresh Market-Whole Foods devotee who now believes that “greasy” fast food emporiums have partnered with weight management companies to maintain an “in perpetuity” client list, I had a few favorite greasy spoon fast food spots that I frequented. A mother of two at the time, and working full time outside the home, my family was fed an embarrassingly large amount of convenience take out where the grease from the smell lingered in the car long after the bags were hauled inside. 

 


May 12, 2012

Mother's Day Musings

A few weeks ago, I served as the mistress of ceremonies at a scholarship breakfast. Now in its second year, the scholarship breakfast is named in honor of “Bettye” a woman who has dedicated her life to scholarship and service, all while serving as a public school teacher, wife and mother.  Bettye’s list of accomplishments is long, impressive and awe inspiring, and at the age of seventy-five, she is still reinventing herself by taking piano lessons to accompany the Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude honors that she earned over fifty years ago. As the twelve scholarship recipients were introduced, each presented a rose and a testimonial explaining what they found most admirable about Miss Bettye. Her abbreviated list of accomplishments covered two pages, so the responses were original and varied. Later in the program, she humbly added yet another plume to her feather filled fabulous cap.

 

It was shared that the scholarship committee only had enough money in the budget to offer 10 one thousand dollar scholarships, yet 12 deserving high school seniors had been identified. The committee approached the executive board and managed to secure another one thousand dollars that they decided to halve in order to create 2 five hundred dollar scholarships so that all twelve candidates could receive money for college. When it was time for Bettye to make her remarks, this remarkable woman announced that she would be writing two personal checks for five hundred dollars each so that the two recipients slated to receive five hundred dollar awards could also receive one thousand dollar awards. The room erupted in applause at yet this latest display of her humility and generosity. In my opening emcee comments, I described Bettye as, by far, the most fabulous woman in a sea of fabulous women.  This act of generosity confirmed that she was clearly at the far end of the fabulous spectrum.

 

This week in the media  we learned about a woman legally known as Patricia Krenticl, but nicknamed “Tanning Mom” by the media. The forty-four year old mother is accused of taking her five year old daughter to a tanning salon. After complaining of a painful sunburn and visiting the school nurse, the daughter told the school authorities that she received the sunburn while visiting a tanning salon with her mother. Many are saying that the mother has a condition known as tanorexia where she doesn’t realize how tan she is when she looks at herself in the mirror. I’d never heard of tanorexia before, but it seems plausible to me; in the same way that an anorexic looks in the mirror and thinks that she is fat, when to the rest of the world, she is frail and gaunt. If you haven’t seen photos of Tanning Mom, google her. To me, she looks like Magdella from the movie “Something About Mary” starring Cameron Diaz. Magdella was always tanning, and her skin resembled the orange hue of the Oompa Loompas from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I saw a brief snippet of an interview that Tanning Mom did, and in the interview, her speech is slurred and her eyes appear glossed over as though she was over served a few too many martinis while lying under the UV lights. Tanning mom appears to teeter toward the other end of the fabulous mother spectrum, farther away from the generous Bettye’s end of the spectrum.

 


I’ve often been told that I have long piano playing fingers, but sadly, I never learned to tickle the ivory. I tried lessons in college, but when told that I would have to cut my long fingernails in order to hit the keys properly, my piano playing lessons quickly became a failed experiment; which is sad, as I probably could have been a good pianist based on my DNA.

I come from a long line of musicians and vocalists. My paternal great grandmother played the piano (and my aunt still has the baby grand that she owned) and her daughter (my grandmother) played the organ at church. My middle and youngest heirs also play the piano. My dad sang in a street corner barbershop quartet and possessed a strong baritone voice, and my mother currently sings in her church choir. A few of my dad’s siblings currently sing in their church choirs, and my oldest brother is an actor and performs musical theatre. A deceased cousin was a pianist and music major in college, and another cousin sang in her college’s gospel ensemble boasting a beautiful soprano voice. My oldest heir auditioned and was chosen to sing second chair in her school’s premier chamber choir, besting a few upperclassmen with her score and her range. When God passed out the musical talent genes, I think I must have been standing securely under an awning holding a triple ply umbrella wearing purple rubber duck boots and a bright yellow Paddington raincoat so that not even an ounce of musical ability would touch my frame. I tell myself that the musical giftedness gene must have been doled out in the form of precipitation and God knows that I don’t like to get my hair wet, so I wasn’t invited to that party. 

I love music and sing loudly in the shower, in the car and in church. In church, I am a first chair alto or second soprano depending upon my mood, unconcerned about what my neighbors think about my less than perfect pitch. To me, pitch is something that you do with horseshoes or a baseball.


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