Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter's Here

Winter didn't wait for December 21st this year. Oh no. It's here and it's chilly. For those of you familiar with Northern winters or the should be uninhabitable settings, bear in mind I write from Georgia. For us, this is COLD. And I love it. Always have.

This morning, though, I started wondering why I esteem winter above hot, sticky Southern summers. Here's the situation: I was out running at ten after six. My face went numb in about thirty seconds and it was then I began to question my fervor for the icy air. As I ran, I gradually warmed. Then it hit me. It's not the chill I've loved about this season, but the measures we take to make ourselves comfortable in it. Fires, sweaters, hot chocolate, tea, stews, wool socks, hoodies, blankets, cider, boots, overly-cheerful music, cinnamon, Christmas--it's these things I find appealing in their juxtaposition to colder temperatures and stark landscape. When the outside world slips from fall abundance and smoldering colors into white and gray, we decorate it. With Christmas lights, for instance. You gotta love that about people.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Memories make my life look like a clothesline of sepia pictures, all hanging about at an artsy, off-center angle. In memory, food tastes better, light glows soft and mellow, and trips taken seem smoother. Squabbles either lose or gain significance in recollection, leaving me to wonder why I let something so small damage a relationship or why I reigned in my opinion.

Moving from one phase of life to the next throws that sepia glow hallmark of memory over the present. It all seems so much sweeter and I'm left wondering how I ever overlooked any details of my current life. Why didn't I spend more time with some people and less worrying about the opinions of others? Why didn't I visit that restaurant? When did that park get there? Why am I leaving again? And then I stop asking, for I know as soon as I decide to stay based on familiarity alone, my presently positive perspective will vanish in a wave of humidity. I know I must go. I also know, upon returning, I will appreciate all I left behind whatever the temperature or pollen count. Sometimes you just need a fresh start to see that next step. And sometimes, I suppose, you have to make that jump alone.

Best part, though? Moving alone doesn't require loneliness; for, I've found I'm only as lonely as I allow myself to be.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


In the not so distant future, phone companies will begin issuing phones used exclusively for texting. Talking capabilities will become an optional feature. We've already moved that direction, really. Most phone plans offer a limited bundle of minutes but unlimited texting capabilities. Many people prefer to text rather than call. Why is that? Convenience, I think. One can get the answer he needs from one friend while in the midst of a social gathering with several others, and all without breaking the flow of conversation. One can offer criticism he'd never be able to utter in spoken conversation, get an opinion on shoes while in a library, or send a jumble of punctuation to imitate some facial expression. The possibilities seem limitless!

While I do not deny texting is a helpful tool for a short answer, an address, or quick "Hey, I was thinking about you" blurb (Who doesn't love those? I enjoy them! They're something like leaving a sticky note hello on the cubicle adjacent yours.), it has morphed into a mainstay of communication. Talk about inconvenient! A text message conversation often proves lengthier than dialing and dialoguing. Determining plans for the evening is a good example. Say you send a text to your friend--let's call her Pheobe--and say, "Hi Pheobes! Wat's up?" To which she responds, "Heya. Nada. Want 2 do something tonight?"
"Yes!!! OMG, I;m starving."
"Where u want 2 go?"
"IDK...I went lsat night..."
"Eww! Gross to the max."

And so it continues. Now, during all of this, you and Pheobe have exchanged eight texts so far, all with a gap of typing and waiting for a response. Wouldn't it have been easier to pick up your phone, call, and have a three minute conversation as opposed to ten to fifteen of typing? Or, let's say you accidentally typed something like: "Not italian. breadsticks make u fat and bloaty...they always do that to me." Only you typed this particular phrase toward the end of your message without noticing you overstepped your 160 character limit, leaving off the crucial last segment implying you meant breadsticks were a dilemma for you personally. You alone. Pheobe takes offense, as she's been overeating the past two days and feels sensitive about the effects. You meet for salads and can't determine why she made a snippy comment about your outfit or why she didn't order the ranch dressing she prefers. When you ask her why she chose the vinaigrette, all hell breaks loose. See? You should have just called her.

Now, gents, this texting business has become a chronic issue for many of you. When you ask a girl for her number, DO NOT text her immediately thereafter. Give her a day and then CALL her. Make the extra effort to show her you have time for her. A text implies you're busy doing other things, but you felt obligated to touch base. It's the chicken's way out. It's too easy. She won't appreciate it. And heaven forbid you follow an text inquiry as to the state of her day with one of those dreadful little smiley faces. C'mon men! Would you send her a letter and seal it with a yellow Wal-Mart sticker? No! You're a man! Don't type like a middle school girl. Use your words to communicate your smile; don't bastardize punctuation in a gross quest to be cutesy. Be thoughtful. Go further than society's standard. It will set you apart.

Text responsibly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pasta Sauce

Between a conversation with a dear friend and a trip down the pasta aisle at Kroger, I decided to attempt my own pasta sauce. What's been stopping me? Prego's ease? The fear of undercooking tomatoes? Lack of initiative? Whatever the culprit, I began rummaging through the fridge and pantry for sauce worthy ingredients. Extra steak in the freezer? Perfect! I had been wondering what to do with that. I browned it right up with some freshly-pressed garlic and extra chaste olive oil, threw in some sea salt for good measure, and foraged for veggies. Mushrooms seemed appropriate. Tomatoes, of course. Spinach was up for debate, but I couldn't resist the deep green hue. I wasn't sure what to toss in for that little kick, that something different, the yum factor. Would you know it, I discovered a nearly empty bottle of merlot slightly beyond hope of straight sipping and employed it to harness the sweetness of the tomatoes. Presto! My newest concoction sits stewing on the counter. I can't wait for dinner.

You're right, Anna. There isn't a better use for those leftover bits of meat from the week.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This time two years ago, I decided to drive to a fancy salon (dear, brave friend en tow), and have my hair cropped to my ears. At that time, it fell four-plus inches below my shoulders and had remained in that general vicinity since the sixth grade. One-length, haphazard layers, and simple for years. I wanted an air of maturity, so I commissioned my stylist to make it something like Reese Witherspoon's 'do in Sweet Home Alabama. The finished cut looked nothing like the picture I brought, but it proved a cute style nonetheless. It felt so airy and sophisticated and cost less than I anticipated. I was hooked.

Over the course of the following year, I changed styles every two or three months. Stacked, a-line, choppy, razored, pixie--I tried them all. For a solid month, my hair matched my boyfriend's exactly (unintentional and hilarious and surprisingly stylish on both of us). The hair salon near my house in Demorest took me as a regular. I had a stylist, and this, right along with my shiny new college diploma, made me feel all grown up. She, Debbi, took to asking, "Hey Ali. What would you like to try this time?" She liked my adventuresome willingness and indecision. I'd let her try nearly anything she wanted, brought in new pictures, and gave her the opportunity to practice whatever she had learned at the latest beauty convention. No dyeing, though. I've never been able to venture from my original color; I like it too much.

Short hair was cute and trendy and I relished playing with styles, but I began to miss the femininity of length and flow. I missed having those last few inches brush my shoulders and upper back when I wore strapless. I missed ponytails. I missed twirling stray pieces when I felt pensive or sleepy. And so I've allowed it freedom to grow over the past year or so. Know what I've decided? I think every young lady should have the chance to feel the surge of independence in chopping her hair to that risky length. Go ahead and try it. As for me, I've had my hair-cropping adventure. It's length I like, and length I will fight to maintain.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Potato Peel Pie

The business of being a nanny has perks similar to those of a teacher. My breaks coincide with those of the child's. This means her nap time is my free time. It's as though I have a scheduled tea time in the middle of the day, the perfect chance to write or catch up on my reading.

Today's selection is a fictional collection of letters and the product of two authors, one of whom died mid-project. I find the latter scribbler's finishing the project a testimony to friendship and family. She was the original writer's niece. Most notably, she took the time to learn her aunt's style so as to preserve her work. What a blessed relation! The backstory aside, it's promising to be a glassy-smooth read. I haven't read anything so glib in awhile. It's refreshing.

The best aspect of this book so far is its tone, being a collection of letters by people with whom I'd love to form a literary society (or share in their roast pig feast). It's more like visiting with new acquaintances who are, as yet, unworn by familiarity. Do you know what I mean? They have that new friend sheen--not a scratch in the surface, both parties assuming the best of one another, all the promise of a life-long friendship ahead. So here I sit in my papasan chair, relishing the ways of the 1940s with Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday crooning in the background and a mug of piping hot Earl Gray Creme on the table to my right.

This is the real afternoon delight. Forget the ballad of the 70s. Spoken like a Bible college grad with a lit degree, right? With that attitude, I may as well buy a cat named Humphrey and start calling my glasses spectacles. I'll develop a nervous condition, give as much trouble as I like, and write terribly perplexing haikus.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You May Now Kiss The Bride

I've attended my share of weddings. Each emphasized different colors or themes or music or vows, but all shared one phrase: "You may now kiss the/your bride." Have you ever wondered about the origin of this particular famous sentence? Well, curious or not, I'll share my findings. Like many aspects of American speech (how very encyclopedia, no?), this phrase dates back to Roman rule when many contracts were sealed with a kiss. This particular kiss, however, served a dual purpose. First, it allowed the groom to see if his bride had been sampling the wine. Yes, really. Second, this kiss proved to the witnesses present the couple's faith in one another. Apparently, it was something like a romantic twist on a business handshake. I find this fascinating.

The best part of looking into this matter proved to be the great offense some take to the gender specific role of kiss initiation. It seems many women are offended by the notion their new husband is the one called upon to make the first move in this public display of affection. There are blog-style forums about it. I'm afraid many of the arguments lost their potency in a slough of ridiculous sentences. "Where did all these traditional lines come from anyway... did someone make them up a hundred years ago or something?" Insightful. Better yet: "...we wait to hear 'I now prononuce you man and wife (hysterically sexist!)' and 'you may kiss the bride'. I think that the origins are insulting but anymore it's so second nature that it's silly and almost sentimentally sweet!!" Ah, yes. Nothing like sticking to your principles in all matters save those which leave you feeling warm and Snuggie-fuzzy. Oh, we're a non-committal bunch, aren't we?

Personally, I like the idea of a strapping young man sweeping me off my feet in front of a room-full. I no more want to do the sweeping than I want to buy the ring.


A thought a occurred to me as I sat on the carpeted floor of my room. Perhaps it had something to do with my perspective having shifted closer to the ground or my overactive morning brain, but a floor covered in un-washable fibers suddenly seemed gross. Really gross. Sure, I could vacuum. I could take extra precaution to avoid wearing shoes inside. I could spray Febreeze. But all of these options do not alter the spills or the toddler residue.

Then again, I've grown up with the stuff. Carpeting makes a more comfortable bedroom than does hard flooring. Really, it's a similar to that favorite pair of jeans you may not wash with appropriate regularity. Comfort trumps style in a bedroom, right? My feet are happy. And who doesn't want happy feet?

Monday, August 30, 2010


This week, I considered writing an article on eating vegan style. I considered vegans today as I ate my Greek yogurt (with Nutella and blueberries), and the more I considered the sadder I became. Were I living such a lifestyle, Greek yogurt would prove taboo. I checked the Nutella label only to find it contains skim milk. No Nutella, either, then. Were I a vegan today, I would have eaten only blueberries for a snack. So I attempted a vegan lunch of lentil vegetable soup. It lacked something. I rectified the situation with a neat little plate of turkey and cheese saltines. Nothing vegan about it.

But then I probed further. My morning toast, tuna fish or turkey sandwiches, pita bread, eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, pizza, chicken noodle soup--all of these would fall into the taboo category. How devastating! What would steel cut oatmeal be without the creamy factor provided by the milk? No cappuccinos? No more fish tacos? Goodbye Mellow Mushroom? Well, bump that. New article topic. I love my dairy, fish, and meat more than I realized.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

That whole grass is greener mentality is innate. I'm certain of it. A few mornings a week, I watch the neighbor's little girl in addition to Miss Bug (anonymity is key in online writing). Now they're both able to run all about the house and communicate pretty effectively, they entertain one another. Scratch that. They entertain me.

One of my favorite scenarios I get to witness every visit is the trading of the sippy cups. You may not be aware of this, but spill-proof cups, much like all products available at Target, come in an array of models. One child has a traditional sippy cup, the sort with two handles and a lid that requires the user to tip it back for a drink, and the other has a straw of the bite-down-and-then-sip type, like a CamelPack. Each girl proficiently uses her own cup, but, when taking a milk break together, neither is content to drink her own milk. They trade. Every time. Funny part? Neither girl can use the other's cup. So there they sit, frustrated to the point of fussiness, unable to drink, and refusing to take back their original cups. It's a phenomenon they will undoubtedly repeat with ill-fitting but cute shoes belonging to their roommates. An oddity I've come to realize as a fact. It's just plain female.

Friday, August 20, 2010


As a general guideline, Americans work demanding schedules. We have a lot of things to support, right? Hence the basis for the standardization of caffeine addiction. The busier the city, the more Starbucks you will find. New York City, for instance, has one on nearly ever block. Apparently, we need consistent afternoon jolts. Why don't we just take naps every day after lunch? Spain and Latin American countries do it. Their culture predates ours pretty significantly. So do the nap-time practices of Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, India, Iran, Italy (southern), Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, North Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines, Serbia, Slovenia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Perhaps there's a lesson here.

Too bad sleep is deemed such a waste of time in our society. It's downright unhealthy.

I sip Earl Grey tea as I type this. Such the product of my surroundings!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Second Chances

Watched 17 Again earlier today. It's one of those feel good with a side of popcorn kind of films (Who am I kidding? Any movie merits popcorn). Perhaps it isn't box office gold, but I like it. I like most movies that involve second chances at life, the kind that throw the protagonist in the midst of what his life could have been or has become to refresh his perspective. Re-start films.

Why are these so darn popular? Why do they always rewind to high school or college? This time line should scare the younger of us. It means we're making the decisions right now that impact the rest of our lives. And we don't get a do-over. We're defining who we will become through our actions today. Sure, we can realize mistakes down the line and pinpoint where we made them, but no one hands us a fresh slate. We have to admit our wrongs and pick up the pieces from wherever reality hits us.

So why not train to be who we dream we will become now? Because it will take training; it will not simply happen on our twenty-eighth or thirty-fifth or whichever-is-the-magic-number birthdays. Now is the time to learn the balance between wise decisions and risks, realities and dreams. That faith you hope you have when you're all grown up? Pursue it now. That book you want to write? The fitness level you highlighted in Self or Men's Health? That move you wish you made? Pursue them now. Second chances are a rarity and, sometimes, simply the stuff of screenplays. Don't expect them. Live today as the person you hope to be ten years from now. Ask for encouragement when you need it.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Asheville and I click. If I held a more mystical perspective, I'd say my being born there left an imprint on me, but that sounds superstitious. I tend to hold to the theory I simply love its atmosphere. It's a blend of everything, a cross-section of culture uncommon in the South--something akin to Little Five Points and Boulder simmered with San Francisco and reduced by half. Naturally, this yields a peculiar taste which isn't for everyone (my granddad says its full of neo-hippies). I happen to adore it.

My perfect weekend here would loosely follow this plan: I'd arrive around lunchtime Friday and drop by Earth Fare for their cafe offerings (paninis, rotissere chicken salad, cookies that somehow maintain firm "skin" and meltingly soft centers) and next-day snacks, beeline to the hotel, get settled, and throw on my Keens for a stroll through town. I'd wander in and out of shops, talking to the proprietors if they're up for a conversation. They often have the best stories regarding their wares. One local owner told me he researched his store's clothing ten years before deciding what to stock. His t-shirts boast intelligent, creative screen print. No cheap squirrel guarding a pile of acorns. Of course I'd run into the Chocolate Fetish for an ancient pleasures truffle (Homer meant this when he spoke of ambrosia--cayenne pepper dark chocolate ganache inside a spiced chocolate shell and dusted with cocoa) and The Spice and Tea exchange. They offer four varieties of mustard, a hearty English Breakfast, and my dad's new favorite, the smoky lapsong suchong. Late afternoon calls for a cafe stop. World Coffee offers an excellent homemade pastries, sandwiches, and loose-leaf tea selection, while Double Decker Coffee Co is situated on the corner of Biltmore and Aston and housed in a refurbished double decker bus. The barista told me, as she made me a cappuccino, the bus once held party-ers in 1970s Atlanta before someone pulled it from retirement to play host to caffeine lovers. Coffee and tea shops dot the street corners. One day I'll try them all and remember more of their names. After a day of strolling, I'd happily end up at Chai Pai Indian Street food, the most flavor packed seven bucks you've ever spent. Try more than one thing, of course. That's the point of street food. Purchase their cream, cooling raita as a dip for the naan. You'll need both to cool the aftermath of samosas or tandoori chicken. Go for the tandoori fish wrap; the tilapia-spice combination they use yields a fish so tender you'll believe the wrap is the only thing maintaining its composure.

Saturday ought to begin with the Early Girl Eatery, one of my favorite breakfast places. They offer everything from scrupulously healthy to bacon and biscuits, and I haven't sampled a thing I didn't enjoy. Their granola and yogurt induces impromptu humming. Off to the Biltmore Estate next! I've toured the house several times, so I'd most likely stick to the grounds. And the winery. Remember that Earth Fare trip from the day before? Time for a picnic amongst America's most beautiful yard. By yard I mean an 8,000 acre estate composed of forest, delicately structured gardens, and terraced mountain views. Sit to the side of the monstrous house and watch the other tourists comment on the size of the place. Remember, after soaking in the Vanderbilt's creativity, Asheville's replete with creative expression--take advantage! The rest of my Saturday would be spent haunting art exhibits, local theaters, and few more cafes to sit and journal my impressions of it all. Wander.

Sunday? I'd start with Brugger's Bagels for their quick pace, rich coffee, and, of course, chewy New York style bagels. They don't find me peculiar when asking to sub peanut butter for cream cheese. They're used to health nuts more hardcore than I'd ever like to be. I'd proceed to whichever church caught my interest (I have yet to try one), then have lunch wherever looked appealing in my travels on Friday, probably one of the cafes or Green Source for a quick bite. The rest of the afternoon? I'd spend it on foot. Asheville's nestled amongst some of the best hiking in the Southeast. Chimney Rock, blazing your own trail, or tours of the parks. Hike, climb trees, hike, and jump from rock to rock in one of the creeks until I couldn't take anymore. Off to the hotel for a warm shower next, then I'd venture to Amici Trattoria for a long, quiet, slightly expensive dinner. Bill paid and tirmasu gone to a happy place, I'd jump in the car with my iPod set to shuffle, crusing home in time to read a chapter before bed.

Doesn't that sound idyllic? I couldn't fit it all in this weekend. Sometime soon, sometime soon.

Sweet Tea

Perhaps it's growing up as a traditional Southern girl, but I'm accustomed to manners overkill. While etiquette is important and warrants preservation, Southern ladies jump to the extreme. The Stepford effect. I've seen it in myself several times in my role as hostess--uncomfortable niceness. In some houses it's broaching the border of eerie, like overly sweet tea. And heaven forbid we say anything overtly negative! Better to adopt a pleasant tone, spread a buttery smile over your face, and fake it than address the situation as it truly is. Watch Steel Magnolias or Fried Green Tomatoes. You'll see.

No, utter honesty in the heat of emotion isn't a good goal, either. Some sort of balance is worth the practice, I think.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Two Stories

Cute, original coffee houses are a tricky find. Cute, original, and memorably delicious coffee houses are even more elusive. Finding original decor and excellent espresso in an actual house--that's something worth further investigation. Yesterday, I visited one with all three. Two Stories sits just inside Athens, a city replete with funky restaurants and respectable caffeine-based establishments. Despite its competition, this house keeps from falling anonymously into the mix. I love finds like this! They often make my whole day seem brighter.

My favorite aspect of this place--besides, of course, the beverage offerings--is the layout. It retains the feel of house with separate rooms, and a pleasant ratio of comfy seating to tables. No one seemed to feel the need to rush the one sofa or hover awkwardly till the cellphone guy finishes a business deal over the two corner chairs he occupies with himself and accessories. Here, there are plenty of seating areas for all both inside and on the porches. Yes, porches. Duo. The Georgia girl part of me thrills at front porches. Each room had a different feel, but none of them were distractingly artsy. You know what I mean--the place in which paint colors and furniture and experimental music practically scream for recognition. Not so here. Neutral tones, the occosional wisp of a painted tree branch, French doors, and a smattering of music rendered a comfortable blend, as if to say, "Yeah, we know how to recognize art. We like it. But you don't have to notice. How do you like that latte?"

I ordered a cappuccino, my staple for taste-testing new coffee places. The barista took time to tease out a leaf pattern in the smooth foam cap, which, refreshingly, looked like foam rather than windswept froth. The espresso pulled smooth, not biting, he placed the white cup on a black saucer to offer contrast. I meant to take a picture, but I lost myself in Bill Bryson's travel anecdotes too quickly.

I'll bet they offer great tea and scones. A return trip with a longer stay is in order.

Well, are you?

Have you noticed the ever-present trend in girls' shirts and facebook statuses? A strong, steady number reiterate some variation of the sentiments "I deserve it" or "I'm worth it," as though they just viewed a make-up ad or ate Dove chocolate? It's a marketing ploy and, younger ladies in particular, we seem to have bought it. Gobbled it up. American women--I can't speak for other cultures--tote an enormous expectation for the world to deliver perfection while we simply exist. Perhaps you work hard and you're reaping the benefits of that. Fantastic. Keep it up. However, it's often best to balance the message of "I deserve it" with the question, "Based on what?"

Specifically, these claims to entitlement include some reference to Prince Charming or Mr. Darcy. Perhaps it's the Disney effect or something in the water, but I'm more inclined to believe it's a manifestation of an eternal mantra claiming we deserve the best for being who we are, no questions asked. Have you ever noticed, though, in a film or a novel, the girl who ends up with fantastic guy is no slouch herself? (And I'm not talking Twilight--Bella and Edward are both unstable. We'll leave it there...) She is ok on her own. Sure, she dreams of someone to share a life with her, but she has taken time to cultivate a heart worth capturing. She's selfless. She's sympathetic. She's strong, either quietly or outright. She disciplines her mind to understand her surrounding world. She has something worth discussing for each conversation. She's open to new ideas and methods and is willing to test them. She's doesn't make a spectacle of herself. Do you see where I'm headed? Ladies, we cannot expect a man of Darcy's character and intelligence to sweep us off our feet if we haven't disciplined our minds and hearts to reflect something worth pursuing. He will not want a needy, lazy, or vapid woman by his side. Work on yourself first. Continually educate, improve, work. Don't stagnate. Be confident.

By all means do not try to be something you're not--be yourself. But do not expect a perfect man if you have no initiative to improve or ability to stand firmly without him. Keep practicing after you're in your ideal situation. Remember, even the seemingly perfect man is just as human as you. You will disappoint each other. If you've made him your world, what will you fall back on when he falters? It may work in the context of woman to chocolate, but constant, unrelenting love and acceptance is not a one-way right for being yourself human to human. We have to work at it. Don't assume.

So ask yourself, in this context, are you worth it? I'll keep asking myself the same.

**Please remember I'm in no way saying I'm a role model at this or that you're worthless or any other like extreme.

***There's only one relationship from which you can expect unconditional love and peace from simply resting in that love. And it's not with a person living anywhere on earth.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Running At Night

Every so often I have trouble getting to sleep. Running solves that issue. Aside from raising endorphins (which, according to Elle Woods, make you happy), it clears the mind. De-clutters it. Usually a morning runner, I've enjoyed the novelty of running late the past couple nights. Tonight, I noticed the differences. I have more energy as I'm full of a day's worth of food and start my pace fully awake. Apparently, more people run around nine p.m. as opposed to 5:15 a.m. and more cars zip in and out of garages. Where everyone seems to be going or coming from late-ish on a Tuesday I haven't a clue. My favorite aspect of nighttime running, however, is the toads. They venture out to the sidewalks for the evening cool or a bath in front yard sprinklers. Tonight I counted six. The night before I found ten. They appear in all shapes, sizes, and energy levels. None sit anywhere near the others, so passing each one feels something like a checkpoint. I imagine them holding little checkered flags, encouraging me to keep run faster. Try as I might, I can't imagine a smile on their dour faces. They are serious little buggers. Perhaps it has something to do with the impenetrable blanket of moisture in the summer air.

You know what I did with my excess energy in tonight's run? I turned up the hip-hop section of my iPod and threw in some dance moves as I neared the house. I looked ridiculous. People saw me, too. I didn't care in the least; I had fun.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scuttle Away, Little Black Clouds

The summer storm outside set me thinking. Well, a combination of the summer storm and my Mediterranean coffee break with Carey Grant and Irene Dunn. Do you have your own recipes for stormy days? This, of course, could mean accouterments for the pensive tone of a literal storm or just a bad day. Do you have staple foods or activities to get through? I do! And I'm happy to share them with you (Surprise!)

No matter the weather, I find release in something hot to drink. By something I mean tea or coffee, if you haven't already caught on. Rainy days (or bad ones) usually mean vast quantities of one beverage or the other. Thankfully, if I drink too much of either, a good long run late at night solves the caffeine buzz. By the way, aren't our bodies amazing things? It's systems are so intricate and allows us to savor all these aspects of life. I think that's why I enjoy taking care of mine in exercise and seemingly odd food.

With a hot drink, I pair comfy clothes, a witty book, stationary, recipe book, and my journal. Or sometimes a cleverly scripted film. Usually I keep all necessities in reach of my papsan chair by the window, set my grooveshark playlist, and curl up to lose myself in words. Hours pass quickly this way, pushing those little black clouds right along with them. No worries with my study blanket from college and a pen in my hand, sipping on something strong (in the flavor sense, of course). The world mellows to a hum and falls into soft lavender and golden tones. No rose coloring. I may be an optimist, but even I know life often dips into darker hues. It's the shades I choose to complement the palette at hand that yields a day worth displaying.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Peace, joy, love, hope have all disintegrated into buzz words. I often feel I need to speak in footnotes when applying any of them in a conversation. Other languages fix this dilemma by using a different word depending on the type of love being described. Spanish has several. Likewise French. The ancient Greeks had seeming myriads of words depending on the shade of meaning appropriate to the context. As much as I adore the English language, I find it wanting here.

Currently, though, the word that most irks me when used in a devil-may-care fashion is peace. Its history is so rich, so sweet. Now we apply it to bumper stickers and tacked to a hazy symbol behind pencil sketches of soaring doves. Peace has adopted a reputation of glorified nonchalance. How dreadful! The sixties hold most blame for this one, I think. As a follower of Christ, I must say I love most peace's history in relation to Him. Peace in this context is alive, productive, and worth every bit of pursuit. It's so much more than a vague hope to cover an aching heart in some sort of spiritualized Peptobisomol, all syrupy and chalky pink. It seeps down into the very essence of your heart. It guards you no matter the circumstance, keeps you assured of your place in the heart of your Creator. It acts as confirmation of your decisions made through prayers. It is the Holy Spirit's yield in a believer's tilled soul. The best aspect? You don't have to work for it. You pursue a deeper relationship with your Lord and He gives it to you. Freely. Just hands it over. Perhaps it sounds hokey to you (and I really hope it doesn't), but I find it beyond swell.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oh Chevre...

Chevre is nothing short of wonderful. The name, the texture, the fact it sounds like a contented sigh in French--I can't praise it enough. Thus, the restaurant Ecco (on Cyprus and 7th) made my culinary dreams come true in one appetizer. Ok, perhaps not all of my dreams, but just this one: the combination of peppercorn, honey, and chevre (goat cheese) in marble-sized pieces. Perfection. Flash fried, rendering them warm with a slight crispiness, then drizzled with a local honey and be-speckled in black peppercorns. It may sound odd, but trust me, it's heavenly. If you don't believe me, I'll happily join you for a sampling.

Their wine list is overwhelming. They are to wine what Taco Mac is to beer, with ambiance and waitstaff corresponding to your expectations of the wine savvy. I'm half tempted to enter their employ temporarily just to learn all their servers have to know.

Visit expecting Midtown restaurant prices. Worth the once in awhile expenditure to me. I'd gladly take a little portion of excellent food for the same price as an abundance of the mediocre. You may disagree. Consider yourself both forewarned and encouraged to branch out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Past Becomes You

Visiting places I grew up or attended school stirs something in me, something between a sting and warmth. Something I suppose we often dub bittersweet. Know the feeling? You're perched somewhere between intrigued to see the differences and a combo of pain and elation in memories of experiences long past. Reminders, good and bad, linger in windows or restaurants or smells. It can be downright eerie, really.

The general consensus is the good memories are the only ones worth revisiting. Cheery glimpses of, let's say, snowball fights, Waffle House at 2 a.m., drinking so much coffee in the course of three days your hands shake uncontrollably--happy reminders of "good 'ol days." They serve to block out the difficulties or trials you may have endured in the process of collecting the now past bright spots. They help you forget.

Do they? Really?

Often, I've found revisiting the lighter moments revives the darker ones surrounding them. Perhaps they still sting a little, but that's not a bad thing. Own that pinch. Or burn. Or straight-up pain. It's more than part of the place you're visiting; it's part of you. That circumstance has served to mold you into who you are presently. It's made the bright moments that much sweeter. Unless, of course, you wallow (I love the word wallow for the starkly accurate mental picture it gives me: a perpetually messy pig burrowing its nose in slop and filthiness. It can't get clean and doesn't really want to try, for the mud has such a claim the thought of a way out has never occurred to the creature. It's comfortable. So grubby and lethargic it's resigned to remain.). Owning sets you free, while wallowing traps you in the hurt. Result? Stuck, stuck, stuck. And you miss the new bright spots for the dingy prison to which you've relegated yourself.

Your past is your own. Use it honestly and constructively. You went through it for a reason. Let it run amok and you'll find yourself trapped like an octogenarian longing to email a great-grandchild but terrified to touch those buttons. Ask for help, learn what the buttons do, and get to it!

Monday, July 19, 2010


People, generally, do not like mornings. They associate them with alarms, stubbing toes as they walk bleary-eyed to the bathroom, or the end of their dreams from the night prior. Not me. I'm one of those dreaded morning people. You know the type. We jump out of bed ready to start the day, excited for the possibilities ahead--a whole day as yet unspoiled. What's not to love about that? Don't glare and roll your eyes. Simply because I enjoy mornings does not mean I'll bring my chipper self to your doorstep and sing merrily in a Snow White pitch. I've learned to keep a low profile until I assess the mood of my given crowd.

You keep to your distaste for mornings. I'll maintain my delight. There's something fanciful in awaking before the rest of the house or the sun. Dusky sky, groggy birds, slight breeze. Quiet. A brisk run through all of it. I love returning from exercise to get ready for the day, sneak downstairs and prepare my breakfast. It is unequivocally my favorite meal of the day, and as much as I love experimenting with different flavors and textures, my breakfast options remain rather fixed: two pieces grainy toast dressed with Skippy natural peanut butter, one large Granny Smith apple, and a mug or two of steaming black tea, usually Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast. I eat these slowly as I read wherever I happen to be in my reading and journal my subsequent thoughts. The sun creeps up slowly. He's a curiously reticent morning feature; he's only in it for the job.

Starting the day at its best is worth a little less sleep or wearing glasses in lieu of contacts to help my sleepy eyes. Well, most days...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Always Right

Customer service seems one of the few abiding practices of retailers, food service and other consumer industries. This is true of the ones who wish to excel, at least. If you've ever worked in any of these industries, you know what I mean. Customer satisfaction is paramount. If pleasing the public requires staying open an extra hour, walking people to their cars, or listening to complaints about your store's pricing, you will accommodate. Customers know this.

Still, though, there are those organizations that persist flunking customer satisfaction tests. These are places like insurance companies, mechanics and movie rental establishments. They know you need them. I think they may even have an agreement, the first knowing full well you'll need a movie to escape your tormented soul after dealing with them. Then, you're so stressed you forget to return the film for three days past its due date. True, they've abolished late fees--now you simply pay for the whole movie before you go pay to have your oil changed. The movie usually costs more than the oil by that point. It's vicious and cyclical.

Exceptions to these exist and I love them for it. USAA insurance--bliss. I believe I could call them on a bad day just to feel better about life. "Hello, Miss Steagall, what can we do for you today?" "I'm having a bad day, actually." "Oh, well, may I offer you a list of suggestions? Proven pick-me-ups? Loose leaf oolong delivered to your door?" "No, thank you, the mere mention made me smile enough." No, they haven't offered me tea yet, but they would. And I'd take them up on it.

In answer to my other usually trying experiences, I've found Hensley Auto Services and Netflix alleviate all stress associated with fear of hidden fees. (Ok, overdue movie fees are not hidden, but I detest them). What other auto shop sends you a thank you note the next day for having your oil changed there? Or remember the conversation you had on your last visit? (Corey Automotive ranks up there with this, too, but I moved too far away) And Netflix is simply brilliant. I can instantly watch all Audrey Tatou films and have Chuck shipped to my house. I can keep him as long as I want. Well, the DVDs, anyway. Plus, I love the mail. Stress...gone!

So, thank you, lovely establishments who make me think better of your industries. Keep it up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home-base and the intrepid

I live as a nanny to a marvelous toddler who fast becoming a little girl. Only six weeks old when I moved in, I've seen her grow from a totally dependent infant to a can-do child. By can-do, I mean independent. Intrepid. She can do anything an average one year-old can do and more.

With this independence comes a sense of adventure and, as she is not yet three, no sense of danger. She will climb on anything, walk straight up to anyone, and taste-test whatever comes across her path. The most fascinating thing about all of this, though, is watching her see or do things for the first time. (Being her nanny is something akin to having the chance to see and appreciate as an adult what it's like to watch a younger sibling grow.) One of my favorite means of watching this: the play area in the mall. She may be the youngest and smallest child out there, but she runs with the oldest. The bigger kids must respect her courage, for they always allow her to climb into the play airplane as a copilot or climb up the little slide when they wish to go down. One girl offered her a goldfish (which she handed to me as she does with most foreign foods. Perhaps she wants to see what will happen if I eat first...). She trips trying to keep up. She stands right back up un-phased.

Undaunted on the playground or outside she may be, but change her morning routine and watch out! Tears in abundance. Wailing and gnashing of the two prized bottom teeth. We will have oatmeal and there will be no more than ten second increments between bites. Otherwise, there will be hell to pay.

I know just how she feels. Take away my peanut butter and Granny Smith apples and my day just seems duller. Call it weakness or pickyness, but we know differently. Breakfast fuels intrepid explorers. Give us our usual and we're ready for anything.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Take that, Summer!

It rained yesterday. Blissful, beautiful, and then heavy all-of-the-sudden. The ground cooled as the heat of days prior rose about me in wispy, misty spirals. By the time it stopped falling, the rain leveled the outdoor temperature by ten degrees (Fahrenheit). My niche of the universe felt balanced again. Summer in Georgia feels infinitely better after the rain.

Do you ever consider how fantastic it is water drops from the sky to re-hydrate the ground and all life contingent upon its resources? It sparkles, too, in the right light. Perhaps it will rain again this week. If so, you'll find me rocking on the porch with a mug of Irish breakfast and the scones appropriate for my mood at the time. This could be anything from blueberries to oatmeal. One never knows. I wax nostalgic--and a tinge wordy--with storms.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Intentionally Quiet

This Tuesday morning, like all other Tuesdays, I woke as usual--no alarm (it's my day off), favorite breakfast, extra reading time, responding to messages, and two cups of Earl Grey. But this morning I took inventory. Do you realize I am attached to three email accounts, a facebook, and a cell phone? Five different digital/electronic pagers. I'm on-call 24-7, and I volunteered for it. Why do I make myself that available without the pretense of saving lives? When was the last time I went anywhere without checking one of these devices? Is the person sitting across from me at dinner not enough communication for me? Am I just waiting for something better? Apparently, I need a sidleline electronic conversation to hold my attention to a real one.

Texts, emails, and facebook make written/typed communication far too simple. It's easy to fill inboxes with piles of fluffy nothings and punctuation martyred for giggles. Sure, electronic communication has its benefits and I enjoy using it; my point isn't to do away with it. I only think our overuse of its ease has squelched the practice of handwritten letter writing or a focused, articulate conversation.

So, the stack of letters on my bedside table awaiting response makes me smile. These do not beep or buzz or stare at me with emblazoned font. They wait patiently. Their sweet silence wins my attention rather than demands it. I love responding in written format. I've depleted two ball point pens and a book of stamps in the last three weeks. What I love best, though, about this communication outlet is its intentionality. To write an insightful, responsive letter which conveys your heart, you have no option but intentionality. You must sit and focus. You cannot write letters at the family dinner table or in front of the TV. You consider the recipient in your choice of stationary, your word usage, and length. Most importantly, you only write if you have something worth saying.

Let's practice letter-writing once in awhile in addition to our emails. Who doesn't get a thrill out of receiving mail? If I know and love you, I would far rather see your handwriting on an envelope than a bold link on my homepage. Come on. You know you have someone to write. Try it.

And when you're out with people, silence the cell. Someone, a person, has taken time out of his or her day and chosen to spend it on you. Show your appreciation! Practice. We all need a little cell phone detox.

**Yes, I am writing this in a blog. Online. To people I do not know. Remember, I don't believe that online perpetuates evil, but it does free the avenue to listless comments and hasty emotional responses from responsible checkpoints. Let's weigh our words.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Traffic Aversion

By five o’clock on a Tuesday, I'm ready to jump in their cars and zip directly home. Zipping down Freedom Parkway to 85 North at 5:00 p.m., however, is a feat akin to attaining warp speed or ordering a perfectly boneless catfish fillet. So, as I traveled with the speed and agility of a garden slug, I scanned the radio this particular Tuesday in search of some relaxing snippet off the indie scene. I then remembered no indie artist worth her salt will appear on a regular line-up of radio stations; the next hour-plus looks pretty bleak.

Happily, Freedom Parkway is not that far from N Highland Avenue and its veritable cornucopia of local flavor and corresponding indie tunes. En route to my favorite haunt, I noticed a familiar yellow stone wall somewhere between Broad and Ponce, outlined in painted grapevine. Typically, I scoot right past this, acknowledging it as a visual Poncey-Highland checkpoint--much like the wild-eyed, futuristic man painted on the video store across the street--without taking a closer look. Turns out the spunky purple grapes encircle a name: JavaVino. Coffee and Wine. Is there a better way to kill traffic time?

Entering the glass doors, I met the buzzing whir of an espresso machine set against the sweetly bright tones of Katie Herzig, limited seating, and a glass case of non-corporate baked goods. A glance at the menu confirmed my stay, as it boasted a choice among homemade hummus with fresh veggies, a wedge of brie accompanied by crackers and cabernet, espresso options and oatmeal-raisin cookies. What to choose? As a first timer, I ordered the basics: something menu-marginalized like a vegan hummus wrap and a skim cappuccino. I figure, if they can't make vegetables stand alone in a wrap or make a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 capp, then the fancier offerings feel fake to me. It's as though they're making up for a dodgy base model with bells and whistles in a luxury edition; they're not maintaining the reputation they claim. My order didn't disappoint.

Locals parked their bikes outside, walked their dogs to the patio, or typed jauntily on laptops. Sitting at the window-side bar, I felt that rush of peace found only in the steady hum of afternoon coffee shop busyness. By six thirty, I knew I found yet another excellent spot to wile away the rush hour stress. Definitely worth a repeat. Cabernet and brie next time! Or a cookie and tea...

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Own Room

Any time someone mentions the necessity of having "a room of one's own," I envision Virginia Woolf tucked away in a corner, writing furiously. I imagine she went through scores of pencils and ink in a race to drench the paper with her thoughts, and for some reason, I imagine she bore down hard as she wrote. Light or effortless haven't a place in her style. Read her. You won't even have to finish and you'll agree with me.

But, as many disagreements as Ms. Woolf and I might have had, I do relish the experience of having my own space. As a live-in nanny, I have the above-the-garage apartment to myself. I love it. My walls were already purple and grey--a perfect canvas. Bit by bit, I've added personalized touches--sepia toned travel snapshots, framed postcards, familiar faces. Sitting from my papasan chair, I realize my little room feels like home. And I was so worried it would retain a generic, hotel feel as a bonus room in someone else's house. Not with this family. (We've mutually adopted one another, you see.)

Decorating your own space is the grown-up version of naming your best dolls. You're deciding you own them, they're important to you, and you're willing to take time to find a suitable name. You can't name a room without raised eyebrows, really, so you decorate it to lend it personality. Spritzed about my space are bits of my tastes and quirks, including a prominent collection of books and tea apparatuses. A copy of Virginia Woolf sits coolly on my shelf, not at all approving of the "frothiness" and general merriment imbued by my personal stamp. You just stare, Virginia. I can be a conifdent and intellectual and cheerful simultaneously. After all, who's afraid of you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Welcome back, estranged friend

Coffee has long been a favorite detail of my life. It's one of those staples. We first met my freshman year of college. It carried me through all four years--helped me write those concluding paragraphs at 4:30 a.m., accompanied me at the library, bolstered me through break-ups, and kept my eyes open in microeconomics. We became inseparable. Had you stopped by the grocery store in town and asked, "Which coffee should I buy?" I'm fairly certain the customer service rep would have given you my name.

So, to prove I valued its investment in my life, I delved into unearthing its deeper character. (Yes, foods and beverages do have deeper characters. Why else do you think culinary school exists?) Whole beans, finding my favorite roasts and regions, purchasing a grinder, discovering the joy in a French press--it all yielded a morning process for which I had no problem pulling myself out of bed 15 minutes earlier. That settled, I moved on to espresso and all that goes with it. I spent time and summer-priced gas zipping about the greater Atlanta area in search of favorite espresso bars, those who "did it right" from grinding the beans and pulling a shot to steaming the milk. My trip to Italy was a euphoric experience if just for the espresso alone. Cappuccinos in paper to-go cups were a rarity; people sat to savor their beverages in company of a pleasant reading material or friends. Loved it.

A year and a half after college, however, the trouble began. I started having stomachaches when I had coffee and headaches when I didn't. No small wonder, really, when you consider I had my two morning cups (a full 8 cup press, almost) everyday and a triple-shot americano on my lunch break three or so times a week. That robust, smooth but biting flavor of black coffee or straight espresso--I couldn't get enough. But when the physical issues (I'll keep to Horace and spare you the details) worsened, I knew I had to quit. I cried. I fought. I lost. I switched to South American mat`es and black teas.

Now, eight-plus months later, I remain a morning tea drinker. I've grown to adore it, really (whole 'nother discussion). Working in a tea shop will do that to you. Yet, there's still something alluring in a well-prepared cappuccino or a mug of fresh ground-n-pressed beans. Indulging once or twice every week or so seems compatible to my non-iron stomach, so I take full advantage. As I write this, I've just snatched up my book for class and am curled in my papsan chair in my garage apartment, steaming, frothy cup of black Sumatra resting on the stand beside me. Bring on old Herbert Marcuse's political theory! I'm ready for anything.