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Up In “Arms”

July 23, 2011

I really did not want to go. We are in great transition this summer.  New job for my husband, a pending move for the family, the adoption of a second son, a 6 year old boy from China.  We have been maintaining two households since May, as my husband settles in to the new life that awaits us once we can get a home purchased.  The real estaste transaction driving us toward this reality is the most convoluted, ridiculous dance I’ve ever attended.  It appears that, with our usual great sense of timing, we have managed to find the ONLY sellers in this down economy who don’t really need to sell their home.  We were to have closed on the house at the end of June.  Today, we still don’t know when or if we’ll move in.

Our current home has been completely packed, not counting our beds, computers and a picnic basket’s worth of dishes and utensils, since mid-June.  

The delay in the move has put our adoption on hold. 

I have apparently time travelled back to the good old days when my then-boyfriend sweet-talked me into doing his laundry but otherwise lived his own life.  Okay, not that bad, but it is strange to see my husband show up every Friday night with a duffle full of foul smelling apparel and a winsome smile.  I wish I wasn’t so good at washing his clothes.  He simply refuses to settle for less, or so he tells me.  (Should I question that?)

 To rob, then abuse Shakespeare, “Now is the summer of our discontent.”

In the midst of all this chaos I received an invitation from my MIA husband.  His new job was taking him to Atlanta for a week, and he would love the pleasure of my company.  Well.  Although there is not much I like more than time with my man, I felt horrible as I contemplated leaving the kiddos in a packed up house, no end in sight, no pool passes,  while I tripped the light fandango in Atlanta.  Besides, I was plain tired.  No, I thought, not this time. 

 Then he sent me his itinerary, and he had me.  The hotel: HG Atlanta.  The Hyatt Grand!  I love the Hyatt.   I was miraculously energized.


The only flight available was a 1030 pm departure.  I made the long drive to the nearest airport and settled in, visions of mint juleps dancing in my head.  The flight was canceled at the last minute due to mechanical issues. 

 I finally arrived inAtlantathe next night at 7pm.  My husband was there, a knight in shining armor.  “The hotel is just a few minutes away!” he reassured me as he beheld my tense face and tired eyes.  If I’d been on my game, I would have smelled a rat.  The Hyatt Grand is 20 plus actual miles, and lightyears away from the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. But I wasn’t on my game; we got my luggage, and he led me to the car like a lamb to slaughter.  Seconds later we pulled into the parking lot of a hotel that most emphatically NOT the Hyatt Grand.  It was, horror of horrors, the Hilton Garden.  GH ATL.  Not the Hyatt on Peach Tree, but the Hilton Garden on BOBBY BROWN PARKWAY.

 No, there were no histrionics. I immediately said,“NO!  This isn’t the hotel!”  To which my sweet husband countered, “Sweetie, I’ve been here for three days, they had my reservation when I arrived.  This is the hotel.”  I stumbled dejectedly into the room, so very glad to be with my husband, so very sad not to be with my husband at the Hyatt Grand Buckhead.

 I don’t really mind Hilton Garden Inns.  They are reliable, plain vanilla sleeping quarters for road warriors, and they do a good job.  They just aren’t the Hyatt. 

This story has a happy ending.  I may love the Hyatt, but I also love to eat.  All was not lost, and the redemption of the week came by way of England. Manchester, England, to be exact.  We discovered the Manchester Arms, a gorgeous little gastropub just up the way from the HG.  Unlike Catherine Tate, I like shitakes in a soup, and gastropubs are more than welcome on my list of dining options.  We enjoyed outstanding food, drink, and service and became regulars for our week near the airport.  We never ate a meal that we did not consider a five star offering. 


I would love to tell you that by week’s end I was sorry to leave the hotel, but I wasn’t.  I did find myself wondering if I could plot a several hour layover next time I changed planes in Atlanta so that I could sit on the patio of the Manchester Arms again and enjoy a cold Stella and a plate of Blue Cheese Chips.

 Nah, I think I’ll book a weekend at the Hyatt instead and drive over for supper.


Oh My Heart

July 14, 2011

We go way, REM and I.  Back in the day, I mumbled through the early music, certain no one would guess my inadequacies, confident that the brilliance spilling from the mind of Michael Stipe was just as obscure to others as it was to me. 

Yes, Mike Mills, Bill Berry, Peter Buck were major contributors, but to me, REM was Michael Stipe and his very clever, sweetly soulful, unapologetically political, often angry, nearly always ambiguous lyrics.

I owe my love for this Georgia band’s music to my little brother, David.  Back in the late 80s he introduced me to their album “Murmur”.  It would be safe to say that REM helped define the 90s for me.  They swept me through the early years of my marriage.  They serenaded my daughter in the womb.  They buried my dad.  They created a bond between David and I that stands today. Thanks David. 

As a newlywed, my husband often teased me about my musical taste.  I may have shared the playlist with The B-52s, The Fine Young Cannibals, and Counting Crows, but those many glorious road trips we took back then were almost exclusively REM territory.  Today, he sings along to every word to every song…. Well, he mumbles.  Like me.   He has loved them all along.  Thanks Alan. 

I grew up, grew older, grew into a middle class life that I imagine is diametrically opposed to the life of Michael Stipe, yet his music still speaks to me just as it did when I was less “socially acceptable”.

When my 17 year old daughter recently experienced her first real broken heart, she and I listened and wept to “Everybody Hurts” and then found the perfect diversion watching the YouTube offerings of the band.  I’d attended some of those concerts, how cool is that? I’ve passed the baton, she appreciates REM as much as I do. 

Drifting away from the band for their past several albums, I “dabbled” in their new work, but stuck solidly to the early years.  So I waited with great expectation but also a bit of trepidation for their new release, “Collapse Into Now”.  I held my breath.  It was worth the wait.  In almost every song I hear whispers of earlier melodies, haunting guitar riffs, the evocative plink of the mandolin, the spoken lyrics, the raspy raw emotion of a voice that walked a generation through life, still speaking, still singing. 

What he has is gold. “Blue”.  

20th Century…. Collapse Into Now 

Thanks Michael. 

Enjoy the album.

Something Old Something New Something Borrowed Something Blue

June 23, 2011

Today is my birthday.  Self-depreciating humor…. I’m the “something old”. 

Ever since my children were born, and I became my mother (thanks Mom!) and life truly became a journey of giving to others, my perennial request when asked what I want for my birthday is “time away, and time alone”.  I adore my husband and my children.  Expanding the circle of relationship outward, I thoroughly enjoy people in general.   People make me happy.  People I know, people I see, people I interact with in person or via the internet.  People are interesting, delightful, and often very, very clever. 

Yet I long for time: Time for silence, time to read, time to think, time to create.  Once in a great while, I love waking up alone a thousand miles away from home, captivated by a view that is not my own.  My family understands that. 

They also like to make a little fuss on my birthday, and each year, I get one; a fuss that is. 

The fuss is far more than gifts, in fact it is not really about the gifts at all, although I am always delighted by the material surprises they somehow come up with. 

This year, it is a handmade Happy Birthday sign made of brilliant blue glitter (glitter makes me very happy), a delicate vintage basket, a fine Japanese porcelain partridge and her child, a favorite movie, a longed for camera (that I would not have consented to purchasing had they asked), a beribboned packet of perfectly pastel Jordan almonds.  And this… something blue.

On any given morning, I am up and going, getting about the day, “hitting the ground running” as the saying goes.  Not so today.  I awoke this morning to those presents, and a stack of  birthday greetings,  and a British Breakfast, complete with sautéed mushrooms and impeccable British Breakfast tea. Then a pot of Starbucks and my favorite music.  Then I was sent away from the kitchen to relax.

I began to read through the blogs I follow, a ritual that I love, but seldom have the time to perform. And I discovered there Tasty Kitchen, the brainchild of one of my favorite real-food cooks, Ree Drummond, also known as the Pioneer Woman.  If you have not discovered her earthy, Every Woman blog and recipes, let me introduce you.  But I digress!  Back to Tasty Kitchen, the cyber recipe box storage facility for real cooks and their favorite recipes.  I can dig through your recipe box, you can dig through mine.  Well, you can once I join, and load up my recipes.  Before I start typing in my own, though, I’m going to borrow “kitchenrunaway”s  Kale & Quinoa Salad with Apple Lime Vinaigrette recipe for lunch…. Tomorrow.  It’s my birthday, and I’m not cooking today!

Now I will stretch like a cat, and pace myself ever so slowly in this day.  I have been for a lovely early morning walk, and saw several vignettes that are crying for a good camera (I have one now, thank you family!) to come along and immortalize.  I have been given carte blanche to have my favorite music playing all day, and have been ordered to flee for my life from feeding the animals, messing in the kitchen, cleaning the house.  Ah, bliss.  If birthdays came more than once a year, it would be too much for me.

Reading Aloud

June 21, 2011

Reading is in my blood.  I cannot remember a time in my mother’s life that she did not fight for a moment to read a book.  She still, at 80, reads voraciously.  Our literary tastes range from classical fiction to sci-fi thrillers, from anecdotal cookbooks to historical biographies.  We are picky only in terms of the skill of the author.

 We part ways however, when it comes to reading aloud.  Although she encouraged me to read, took me to the library, paid from her meager household cash for Weekly Reader book selections throughout my youth, I do not remember my mom reading aloud to me.  She was far too busy. 

Life is easier for me than it was for her, and it is my delight to read aloud to my family.  I have done this for years.

 I began reading aloud to my daughter when she was still in the womb.  After she was born, there was little I liked better than nestling her into my arms and reading to her.  As the years passed, I found myself increasingly disappointed by the armloads of books I was bringing home from the library.  Most were poorly written, unimaginative, and uninspiring.  Then I discovered “The Read Aloud Handbook”, by Jim Trelease.   He had done the difficult work of reading through, critiquing, and recommending hundreds of books.   I stopped with the armloads, and instead went armed to the library with my list of great read-alouds.

Meanwhile, I still maintained a steady diet of adult reading, and often found myself sad that my husband, struggling to excel in a very competitive business, did not have time to read.   Often at bedtime, I’d sit propped up reading, while he lay on his side of the bed, his bedside lamp off.  One night I quietly asked if he was awake.  He was.  Tentatively I asked if I could read him something.  It was a passage from a book that I have long forgotten, but that passage opened a new chapter in my read-aloud life.  When I was finished, he asked me to go on.  We have never looked back.

I would not want to read him every book that I read.  But there are some that I must.  Books that expand, change, teach and entertain us in a unique way that nothing else has the power to accomplish.  Those books, without fail, have brought us closer, given us history, topics of conversation, private jokes, gentle quotes that have enrich our interaction tremendously.

One of the best read-alouds we have ever shared is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.  After weeks of some of this world’s most beautiful and moving words, I read the last sentence.  Neither of us could speak.  The pain of ColdMountain’s passing stayed fresh and for a long while there was no mention of a new read-aloud.    Eventually we began again with a new tale, although Inman,Ada, Ruby, and Stobrod are still with us in an almost tangible way. 

Had I known what wonders would unfold from my purchase of “The Read Aloud Handbook” all those years ago, I am certain that I would have found it even earlier.  Thank you Jim Trelease, for sharing with book lovers the pass-it-on privilege of reading aloud.

On Fathers

June 19, 2011

My father did not get an owner’s manual when his first child was born.  Fatherhood had probably never entered his mind when he found himself, a wet behind the ears Air Force recruit, sent to England from a poor town in Arkansas in the 1950s. 

He was a mama’s boy, who grew to manhood in the poorest of environments.  His father was a violent alcoholic.  Once, my father brought home a stray puppy and asked if he could keep it.  It was beaten to death with a frying pan right in front of him.  There was no security. There was no indoor plumbing.  The only thing that grew in that home was the love between a mother and her son, and a desire in that son to escape one day. 

He carried the ghosts of home with him to England, and stood silently taking in the sights and sounds with his new Air Force buddies in that strange, wet, green land.  He met my mother at a dance club.  She was everything he had never known he wanted; beautiful, foreign, fun, and carefree.  She was from an upper middle class home, and she enjoyed the thrill, to the delight of her many friends, of touching the hem of impropriety with madcap and sometimes irresponsible antics.    

“I was determined to make him smile.”  She once told me.  Well she did make him smile, just enough to keep her trying, and she turned her back on her steady, upstanding British boyfriend, and turned her heart to the Arkansas Yank who would one day be my dad.  

As these things sometimes go, she found herself pregnant.  In keeping with the times, her parents were dismayed, disgusted and ashamed.  With post-Victorian reserve, they told her, “You have made your bed. Go lie in it” and turned their backs. She married him quietly there in England, and a son was born. My father took his new family home to Arkansas, where niceties of life like running water and a bathroom were to be forgotten for years.  

In the early years of my parents’ marriage, my grandfather’s violence increased against my grandmother. By this time there was a small bathroom in my grandmother’s Arkansas home, and one night she cowered screaming in the newly placed bathtub while he fired shotgun blasts through the door.  Often she would call my dad from a neighbor’s house where she had run for her life, and he would drive the four hours south fromSt. Louisto collect her, bloody and beaten, and bring her home.  She would be so traumatized that he and my mother would put her between them in the bed and hold her while she cried and whimpered the pain and fear out, and for as long as she would stay, he kept her with the greatest tenderness.

 These were the life lessons he drew from as he tried to parent.  This was his only male role model, as he attempted to live as a husband and father. 

My dad’s father died when I was four.  I have no memory of my grandfather other than visiting him in the final days of his life.  I remember my dad orchestrated several days of all us children being cleaned up, lined up, told to be quiet, then being led into the hushed sick room where a shriveled old man lay dying from a combination of cirrhosis of the liver and esophageal cancer. It terrified me.  He terrified me.  Each of us was led up to the side of his bed and he rattled strangely at us words that I could not understand.  I shrank back each time, repulsed. The room smelled of sour illness and meanness.  I believe that in that dim room I witnessed the odor of his life essence leaving him.  In that strange daily ceremony, at the end of a sick man’s life, my dad, through his children, paid some sort of debt to his father, giving him honor, granting him the respect he could not have felt in his heart. 

By the time the babies stopped coming, there were six of us, four boys and two girls.  You may imagine that ours was not the happiest of homes.  You would be right.  

Looking back, I do not believe that my father loved any of us very much until his last years, when we were all adults, and off his hands.  Only then did he see us as people, and not the needy, grasping millstones that swept him downstream from everything he’d ever envisioned for himself.  But he did provide for us, and he never left.  For that I am thankful.  

I find it increasingly easy to forgive him, when I think of his beginnings.  His heart was forever shaped, forever damaged by those formative years.  What he had to give, he gave to his mother, and it was she who needed it most.  The rest, the “showing up” that he did at the end of each day, was more than just living up to generational standards. It was the best he could do, based on the raw material he had to draw from. I may have eaten commodity peanut butter, but I never went hungry. He was physically there, and provided food for the table. He was no hero, and I remember many times in my teens begging my mom to leave him.  She did not and I am thankful for that too.   There was a provider in our home.   He was imperfect, flawed, and almost certainly resentful.  But he stayed. 

I wish I could tell him thank you today.  I wish he had lived longer than he did.  I wish that I had the last 10 years back to dote on him and to be the kind of child to him that he was to his mother.  I understand that tenderness now.  But it is too late. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Words to Picture

June 18, 2011
“I guess it is hard for some people to understand why this was, why she kept going back to him when he treated her so badly.  I guess trying to explain it is futile, since it would be like trying to explain starving to someone who thinks hungry is being late for dinner. ” Rick Bragg from All Over But The Shoutin’

The Life

June 17, 2011

We live in a clever world.

Most of us will live out this day right where we are. We will not decamp to greener pastures, but will stay today behind this desk, under the hood of this car, over this changing table.

Life is hard. Life is hard work. If you think otherwise, give it time. We are a lonely, driven people, often filled with weariness, anxiety, detachment.

Yet there are wonders.

Welcome to World Appreciation 101. The written word, people, food, music, travel, nature, creativity ~ be it in the kitchen, through the lens of a camera, or with fiber and fabric in hand, are my class handouts.

This is not about escape, though it can be. It’s not about a fully stamped passport, or finding the perfect meal, or hiking the best trail. It is about recognizing, connecting with this clever world by choosing to find moments of delight, brilliance, sweetness in the moments of each day. Celebrating the mundane and the marvelous.

No matter where this day finds me. Beginning today.

Victoria, BC