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?