Friday, October 31, 2008

My First (and Only) Halloween Memory

My family almost never celebrated Halloween.

But one time, when we were very, very small--and because my sister and I were the only ones old enough to understand what it was all about--the two of us got to celebrate Halloween. My dad bought us matching Wonder Woman costumes that we wore for months afterwards--we both were crazy about Lynda Carter and spinning until we were dizzy, imagining that we too could have magical powers. I remember squinting through the small eyeholes of the pressed paper mask, struggling with the elastic that went around my head. The painted black hair on the mask, which fanned out from our painted faces, wasn't enough to satisfy my sister and me, who both sported short, easy-to-wash haircuts. So we snatched up some old towels, tied them on with headbands, and preened with our long "hair" draping over our shoulders.

The costumes themselves were basically big plastic bags with arm and legholes, and painted to look like Wonder Woman's bustier and star-spangled underpants. We struggled into them, uncomfortable and probably a little sweaty. But we thought we looked fabulous. There's a picture somewhere in an old photo album of us in our towels and plastic costumes and paper masks, vamping for the camera.

Then, we stood in our tiny hallway, just the two of us, with all the doors closed around us, bags in our hand. I remember feeling inexplicably scared and timid. The light seemed too bright, the house too eerily quiet. Then we knocked on the door to our living room. "Trick or treat!" My dad opened the door and smiling dropped some candy in our bag. Next, to the kitchen, where Aunt Dot stood waiting with more treats. I don't remember, but I'm sure my uncle and my mom were behind the other doors too.

Looking back, it was such a strange and oddly sweet thing for my dad to do. I wish I could remember why he did it, if we'd been talking to him especially about Halloween or he had just caught us wistfully looking at costumes or if it was just a crazy idea he thought up, a fun thing for his girls to do.

We never did it again. But as my only Halloween memory, it was, and is, absolutely perfect.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Do You Want To Do?

When I was little, figuring out what I wanted to do was so easy. At first, I wanted to be a dentist, until my dad mentioned that I'd have my hands in people's mouths all day (My reaction?Eeeewwww! I was about 5 at the time.) Then I wanted to be a country music singer, and belted out some pretty good tunes in the living room, at the dining room table, in the bathtub, in the backyard..... But when I first figured out that I could get a pencil and fill up a notebook with stories--real stories like they had in books--that is all I really wanted to do. 

Then came the roadblocks. I was painfully shy (and often still am) and just getting up the nerve to let anyone even read my stories was tough. But our school did have a newspaper for a semester or two (we were tiiiny), and I can't even remember what I wrote, but I do remember the thrill of seeing my name in print, officially. In college, I was sure that I wanted to write novels and poetry and draw too, but before he died, my dad really drummed into me that I needed to really do something practical. I remember sitting in the hospital room with him before his final round of chemo, and us talking about my future. I wanted to write; and he was supportive of my choice (being so shy, I seldom offered any) but gently told me to think about money too.

For a while, it was easy not to think about the money and just get lost in the dreams. I was a journalism major as a backup, but I knew that after college I was going to go to New York and be a writer. So naive! Until my sister started asking where I would live and how I would support myself and how I'd even eat, moving to New York with no job and just a few hundred dollars in the bank.

So I came home. I feel like my career so far really has been serendipitious...I got my start working in magazines, then got an interest in PR and now marketing. But I started thinking too much about the money and not enough about what I really love. So now I'm full circle again, dreaming dreams that I haven't thought about in a while.

Will I make the right choice? I don't know...heaven knows I've made plenty of bad ones already. But one thing I've always said and always believed in is that certain things aren't worth it unless they make you happy. Even if they ensure you're in a certain tax bracket and can take vacations to places you've always wanted to go. Day-to-day happiness, that's what I'm wishing for. We'll see what happens next. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Room With a View

People always seem to be a little surprised when I tell them I also do a little painting. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I'm playing the role of an artist, mainly because I don't do it very often, and "almost being an art major" isn't much of a background.

But it's something I enjoy when inspiration hits, as it did when my sister asked me to paint a mural for her nursery. It actually became a family project, with me as lead painter and my brothers, sister and husband all helping. "I painted that hill," my brother Piers still points out proudly. "That's my picket fence," says Sean.

I also did a portrait of their dog, Bonnie, on the opposite wall. I think my best review came from Bonnie herself...after I had finished, I called her in to take a look, and she barked at herself there on the wall.

Most recently, for my new niece, my sister asked me to paint something to go over her crib. We chose bluebirds; my sister, who has the best handwriting in the family, would later add her daughter's name in gold ink.

Such a fun project!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some recent changes in Italian law make me sad (both courtesy of CNN):

"We found St. Mark's Square a bit lonesome since officials passed an ordinance in April banning tourists and locals from feeding the pigeons that used to flock to the piazza by the thousands. (The birds' filth was blamed for damaging the city's facades and monuments.) Still, no visit to Venice is complete without a stop here."

Right on the heels of this, in July:

"Cappuccino by the Trevi Fountain? Gelato on the Spanish Steps? Such small delights have run afoul of the guardians of Rome.

A ban on snacking is in effect at some of Rome's famous sites, including the Spanish Steps.

City Hall has banned snacking near its famous monuments in the historical center. Violators face an $80 fine."

Some of our best memories during our March visit to Italy were seeing the pigeons in San Marco in Venice. Vendors would sell little bags of bird seeds, and the greedy birds flocked to anyone foolish enough to buy them. Walking was nearly impossible as the fat, complacent things blocked our steps (Sean even kicked one by accident). My favorite memory was shooting a picture of Japanese photographers shooting male Italian fashion models in expensive suits with pigeons flying around them.

And my visit to Rome would not have been complete without a visit to the Spanish steps to eat a gelato, a la Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." 

We took a quick subway ride over and found the closest gelateria to place our order. We'd ordered a one-scoop gelato in Venice for about 2 Euros, so felt like pros and didn't even ask the price as we ordered two scoops. We were presented with two scoops of hazelnut and chocolate, all fancied up with "razzle dazzle": streamers, cookies and fancy twizzlers. The price? 20 Euros (about $30 American dollars at the time). Needless to say, we gulped, paid up for the melting ice cream and enjoyed every single bit of that gelato. I still say it was the best ice cream I had in Italy. Sean says it better have been. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What I Believe

This time of year, many people are talking about the election. There's a lot of passion for both sides, as well as a lot of anger and just plain spitefulness. People want to know who you're voting for, and so many times, it seems as though if you don't agree with someone's particular side, you become evil, or just stupid. 

Our ninth grade teacher gave us a test once that was supposed to tell you whether you were conservative or liberal based on your answers to 10 or so issues. I was the only person in the class who fell squarely in the middle, and on neither side (or perhaps all sides).

I don't enjoy talking about politics because I don't like opening up the anger that sometimes comes when someone finds out you're not voting in the same crowd as they are. And I know I'm probably not the most well-informed person out there. I certainly don't read as much news as I should or necessarily keep up with who's serving in what office. But for all those who are curious, this is what I believe.

I believe in giving people the power to make their own choices. That includes health care. I've worked at a hospital--I know how awful it can be when someone doesn't have health insurance and how screwed up our current insurance system is. But stories from countries that have a national health care plan scare me. I don't want to have to wait months for an appointment or not be able to choose the doctor I want to see. 

My own family will probably not like hearing this, but I do believe in having abortion available as an option. Don't misunderstand--morally, I do not agree with abortion, but if I were raped or if my life were in danger, I can't say that my husband and I would not want to be able to make that choice. Even knowing that we would be doing something wrong. 

I believe in any policies that support families. I believe that many things wrong with our society today can be linked directly to the fact that even in the nicest homes on the block, children don't have parents who parent, love and support them. I think schools would be safer, crime rates would be reduced, fewer families would be on welfare, teen pregnancies would drop--and I don't know what else. I'm not making a blanket, rose-colored glasses statement that everything would be fine and dandy, but I think the world as whole would be a better place if families were more involved with one another and really striving to raise a next generation to be even better than the one before.

I believe in doing everything we can to help the environment. That means supporting local farmers, tax rebates for buying fuel-efficient cars and building "green" homes, encouraging recycling, and so much more. There's so much waste and just one little planet to live on. I believe in reducing our dependence on foreign oil--and domestic oil too. I'd rather we look into alternative fuels that are kinder to the environment.

At heart, I am a pacifist. I hate fighting at any level. I don't even like getting into an argument around the dinner table. But I have to believe that as a country we have to stand up for ourselves. I'm not saying we don't try to talk things over. But you also have to understand that you can't reason with people who would happily kill themselves in order to harm you. I would never want to see someone I loved have to go out and fight and potentially die for my country. But I believe there is a greater good that is worth fighting for.

I believe in taking responsibility. It's not the government's responsibility, not the school's responsibility, not the bank's responsibility. Ultimately, we all have to try to be as educated as we can to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. So let's save and invest our own money as wisely as we can, let's teach our kids kindness and compassion, and let's live as honorably as we can. 

I don't believe any one person can solve all of our country's problems. I believe we're all human and we all make mistakes. I think, I hope, we're all just doing the best we can. And I'm voting for the person whom I think will do his best and who, I hope, will do the right things, at least the way I see them. I hope we all will vote that way. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lunch with the Chef

With all the excitement of last week's fire, our excellent dinner at Pastel, crafted by Chef Philippe Chin, was overlooked. The best thing about his menu is that it was short--to me a prix fixe menu is the best because you don't have to decide between 20 things that sound great--and everything that he cooks is always so good. I fell in love with his Japanese crab salad (served so beautifully on a rounded, rectangular crackly turquoise plate with a thick black and gilt rim) and sweet strawberries swimming in a vanilla cream sauce for dessert.

So what a treat it was when we sat down to lunch at Manuel's Bread Cafe in North Augusta to have Chef Chin and one of his friends join us at the next table. Sporting black rubber clogs with white polka dots and pink, blue and yellow rimmed glasses, he looked completely cool, and still so French.

Some choice tidbits from our conversation:
Pate: "You like pate? Next time I make it, I'll call you!" Love him!

On making pate: "The best place to buy chicken livers is Gurleys on Walton Way." (Note: We actually recently purchased some chicken liver at Publix--where they were nice enough to split a package for us--and it was sooo good. I fell in love with Florentine crostini when we were in Italy, and we recreated it--basically a loose pate served on crusty bread.)

On trying something different: We were talking about Asian grocery stores and he mentioned a kind of egg that has a small chicklet inside instead of a yolk. According to Chef Chin, it's delicious and tastes like chicken and scrambled egg when you cook it. His friend said, "I think I'd rather eat chicken and scrambled egg."

On Japanese mayo (which he mixed with his crab salad and swears is the best): "Next time your mama goes to the Asian store, tell her to buy this for you. It's in a bottle that's shaped like a baby bottle."

On our interest in looking at open houses in Hammond's Ferry: "You don't want to buy one of these. You're not yuppie enough!" I like that he considers us cool and not straights!

As we left, he was talking about ideas for his new ventures (all I will reveal is the words dim sum--I hope he really does this!) and still enjoying the beautiful breezy day, sitting there sipping his white wine, glasses perched on his nose and hair rakishly combed back. Can you tell I'm a fan?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Wisdom of Arthur

I was super grumpy coming home from work today. Didn't even turn on the radio, just rode home feeling hot and gross and growly, sick of work, not wanting to do my interview, not happy with anything.

We leave the TV on for our dog now, ever since our friends Wyatt and Jenni said how it made their mastiff, Percy, a little calmer and happier while they were out. Budha was so mellow today that he didn't even run up for his usual HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!, just stretched and yawned like he was saying, O, you're back again? After turning off the alarm, I sat there on the coach with him, curled up on the pile of blankets, griping still about the interview I had to do and work and family troubles. 

The PBS show Arthur was on, and suddenly I heard, "A is for Angry." And then Arthur (a funny little bear man for those who've never seen it) said, "Whoa, D.W.!" (my initials!) to another funny little bear she-woman who was griping about something. Was it a sign or just one of those odd coincidences? It doesn't matter; it sure made me smile though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Breaking News

We were driving back down Calhoun Expressway after enjoying a meal by Chef Philippe Chin at Pastel when "Oh, my God!"

"What?!!" asked Sean, slamming on the brakes.

"Look!" I pointed over the treetops to our right, where a mound of flames, brilliantly orange against the purply black sky, sent up a billowing column of smoke. The flames licked well above the tops of the trees.

"Where is it?" asked Sean as he started roaring down Calhoun. "Let's find it...I may need to get a camera." We crossed 13th Street and started heading down Greene. I rolled down my window and raindrops hit my face as I kept looking down to my right. 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th...we kept getting closer. "I'm getting a camera."

We whipped to our left toward the Augusta Chronicle building, just as a firetruck, lights blazing, sirened past us. We drove down to the rear photo entrance. As Sean went upstairs, I waited in the car, then another car drove up. It was Annette, fresh from shooting Cirque de la Symphonie. As Sean came back down the stairs, he and Annette decided to swap places--she'd head out to the fire while he edited her images and alerted the newsroom.

Inside the crowded, creative space of Photo, Sean answered the "bleee-eeep" of his phone and confirmed to the night editor that Annette would be covering the fire. Annette called back to report that she'd found it...most of the historic Southern Milling Co. was engulfed in flames. Sean said, "Get what you can." 

I paced while Sean flipped through Annette's photos of acrobats twisting and bending and tossing rings to the music of the Augusta Symphony, part of this year's Westobou Festival. Chris called next; he'd heard about the fire and would head over too. Just as Sean finished making his photo edits, the door slammed. "Annette!"

She was back, one of the first journalists on the ground before the police and firemen pushed everyone back. Her images of the water arcing from the fully extended firetruck's ladder, lit by the glow of the thirsting flames, with a hose curling on the street in the foreground, emphasized the magnitude of the fire. According to Annette, the brick section of the mill was fine, but the entire rest of it--a wooden structure still containing combustible chemicals and other fire food--had gone up. 

We left to do a little looking of our own. The street was entirely blocked by fire engines and police cars...the lights could be seen from blocks away. The fire was still glowing, although tempered by the continuous spray of water. 

We came home then, still full and tired but with adrenaline pumping. "That was fun," I said, smiling at my husband. All in a day's work. 

P.S. Here's the link to the story and photo.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Everyone's Got a Bathroom Story

So my little bathroom story was published this week in Abode, and I was so thrilled to see that Amy Christian, the editor, wrote her editor's letter about my story and her own bathroom trials.

Here's Amy's letter...hard copy available inside this week's Metro Spirit. A link to my story is in the Clips column on the right.

Thanks, Amy! I'm glad we can commiserate together.

Bathroom nightmares


AUGUSTA, GA - You know how Harry Potter was confined to a bedroom the size of a closet under the stairs in the Dursleys’ house when we first met him all those years ago? Well, I have a bathroom kind of like that.

So when I first read Danielle Wong Moores’ story, “Bathroom Purgatory” (page 18), I had to laugh. Yes, I laughed because it’s funny (sorry to laugh at your misfortunes, Danielle), but I also laughed because it seems she and I have something in common: We both have bathrooms we don’t know what to do with.

When my husband and I were looking for a home five or six years ago, we really wanted one with two bathrooms. We decided on the house we still live in today which, technically, has one and a half baths. We didn’t mind at the time because we loved the house so much.

I still love our house, but I am beginning to get really tired of our downstairs bathroom.

What’s wrong with it? Well, it’s located under our staircase which means two things: one part of the ceiling slants to a degree that, at a certain point, a person can’t stand upright.

So even though there’s still room back there, cleaning it is nearly impossible. The second thing the location means is that it’s about the size of a closet. And I don’t mean a walk-in closet. I mean a downstairs hall closet.

I bet Danielle, when she walks into her bathroom, can at least turn around in a circle with her arms out. I can’t, unless I want to have bruises on my arms the next day.

Where the ceiling begins to slant also contains what looks like a metal box against one wall. It’s pretty big and juts out a few inches into that back part of the bathroom.

Apparently, it’s part of the cooling system, which means we can’t do a damn thing with it (although it has become a handy storage shelf).

So basically, the only things we can fit in that bathroom are the toilet, a pedestal sink and a mirror — although the mirror can’t go directly over the sink because that’s where the ceiling begins to slant. Oh, and that back portion of the bathroom is the perfect size for the cat box, so you can imagine that it never smells very good, despite how many air fresheners I stick in that small space.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, at the moment, there’s not much I can do about that particular room in my house. We’re not quite at the point where we have the time, money or inclination to do a full-on renovation. Until we do, we’ll continue to employ the previous owners’ idea of a curtain to hide the back portion of the bathroom. It’ll just have to do.

Maybe when Danielle’s finished with her bathroom and she hands over the title of “Ugliest Bathroom Ever” to me, she can come take a look at mine.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Falling for Fall

All the circulars in the Sunday paper are telling me it's time for fall to be here. I stare at all the pictures of plastic autumn leaves and papier-mache pumpkins and long for branches of real autumn leaves to decorate my house and real pumpkins to put on my front steps. I'm dreaming about cool weather days and the first sweaters of the season, snuggly blankets and long walks down Broad Street in jackets. I want to tear out the dying flowers of summer and plant the cheerful pansies of the cold weather season. In the kitchen, I'm already thinking about the first potato soup and fiery chili to put up in the freezer for winter days to come. 

Come the end of winter, I know I'll be going through the same thing, only it will be dreaming of shorts and bikinis and beach weather. It's the change in seasons that I truly love, the little feeling of anticipation that you get in your belly, knowing that it's right around the corner. I can almost taste the fresh, crisp air. Soon, very soon, it will be all apple pies and piles of leaves and camel coats with bright red gloves. And I'm so ready. 

Funny Dog

We call this "Budha tongue." 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Italian Days

Italy's been on my mind the past few days. It's been about six months since our trip, a couple of our friends have asked for our recommendations for their upcoming trip, and I have a story due for a local magazine. So here's a little excerpt from my journal, chronicling our favorite city, Venice: 

Wandering the streets of Venice with a map in your pocket, but ignored, lets you come upon small surprises everywhere. Suddenly an open square lies before you with a singing gondolier beckoning you for a ride, or suddenly a perfect Italian picture--a grandmother all in black holding a cane, entering her home against a backdrop of salmon-colored stucco. Or, a sculpture of a pig flashes its genitals at you. You never know what lies within these narrow alleyways, with their in-leaning houses. 

We really did see a statue of a pig for sale, lolling on his back and flashing everyone who walked by. It was fun sitting at a nearby restaurant eating delicious seafood risotto and watching all the doubletakes of tourists as they walked by the shop window. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If It's Shaped Like a Mouse...

We'd been to Florida before and to be honest: we didn't really like it that much. Not to say anything against the state because several of my really good friends hail from there, but I think we were expecting something else. I was thinking white sand beaches, palm trees and wide open spaces, and what we got were bustling cities (Miami) and beaches with sewage warnings and strange rocky undergrowths (the Keys). Even the palm trees seemed a little less. It felt too hot, everyone was too drunk and we stayed way too long.

But this last trip, I think we really got Florida. First, we went as strictly tourists, eager to experience every bit of schtick there was in the three days we were there. The glitz of Pleasure Island, the cheeriness of Epcot's international village, and anything shaped like the mouse's head. It was pure plastic fun, even though we never did get to see Mickey himself. 

Second, we took a side trip to Tampa to visit Sean's friend Kathy, her husband Baird and their baby Grayson, who showed us real Florida. They took us to an amazing sushi restaurant (I will forever dream of that salmon bowl) and ice cream in Ybor City, where a teenager looked appraisingly at my Velvet Underground T-shirt, and said, all youth and coolness, "Yeah, I like your T-shirt." We drove around Tampa Bay, looked out over its skyline and just had a great time with people who knew and loved Florida.

I remember now that the best time we had on our last trip to Florida was while we were on Deer Key, which is inhabited by miniature deer. We stayed at a B&B that felt more like a home, with great hosts and a golf cart that we whizzed up and down the street on. The best part of all was at breakfast, where we fed the little deer (almost like little dogs) who came up to us both eager and shy, for pieces of carrot. One little lame one gently lipped the carrots from our hands and would come close for a little snuggle before limping away. 

I guess my point is, just go all out and be the tourist. Wear the ears. Ride the rides. And get a picture with a sweaty teenager dressed as a giant rodent. But if you get the chance, try to slip into the real side of the state. It's a little elusive, but it's worth it. 

Bathroom Stories

Abode, a local home magazine published by the Metro Spirit, recently accepted a story I wrote about our bathroom (thanks, Amy!).  I'll post a link as soon as it runs, but in the meantime, here's an earlier version of the story. It's funny...I actually forgot all about this version until I found it in my files, but it's interesting how I say basically the same thing but the voice and style are completely different. 

The Bathroom that Took Four Years (and Counting)

My college newspaper once published a regular column on “The Best Public Bathrooms.” Usually accompanied by a garishly lit photo of a white porcelain toilet, it espoused all the amenities that students who survived on Ramen and little or no heat during Virginia winters might want: “clean,” “no smell” and “plenty of toilet paper.” Just like your basic dorm bathroom.

Even then, I read magazines like House Beautiful imagining what my bathroom in my house might look like. It’s a topic that most definitely is different for women than for men. Not to be sexist, but your average male generally wants “clean,” “no smell” and “plenty of toilet paper,” and is plenty happy with that. My imaginings included chrome faucets, a shining white clawfoot tub, fluffy white towels, wildflowers. And plenty of bubble bath and candles.

When I became engaged and we decided that I would move into my fiance’s 1920s cottage, I decided that along with wedding planning and settling into a new job, we would redecorate. Living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom. We painted the kitchen a bright Italian yellow, before we tackled the bath.

It would be another two years before we felt up to tackling anything else.

Because we’re in an old house, we discovered that we had lead paint (this after we had already merrily scraped and breathed in lead dust in our kitchen). So for our bath redo, we decided to play it safe and used a fancy paint stripper that was safe for lead paint and safe for us. The only catch was that you had to neutralize it before you could apply fresh paint to the walls—otherwise the paint won’t stick. It will simply ooze and strip itself from the wall.

Did I mention that we didn’t read the fine print about using the stripper on dry wall and not plaster walls, which is what our lovely cottage has throughout?

After about 20 attempts at neutralizing, using a vile vinegar-based substance, and after a final breakdown into a sobbing fit by me, we threw out the vinegar and started with a clean slate, literally. We bought water-resistant drywall and over a long weekend, my husband, my brother and I cut sections, heaved them up and nailed them in place. For the ceiling, my brother and I stood on ladders and held the boards in place with our head and hands while Sean nailed.

The truly wonderful thing is that the boards come in purple, and our bathroom was already sporting wall tiles in a lovely 70s pollen yellow and avocado green. That year, we hosted Christmas with my family at our house with a purple, yellow and green bathroom and snowman guest towels. I like to think the candle helped.

Now, every time she comes to my house, my mother asks, “Is the bathroom finished yet?” She doesn’t really expect to hear yes, and always giggles and shakes her head at us. And while we’ve put the time in to complete the other rooms that we planned to update and paint, the bathroom still remains in its crazy tricolor glory. I can’t even call it funky. But at least the end is in sight. Maybe by this Christmas.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Favorite Things

Strawberries and ice cream (in a blue pottery bowl)
Yellow Italian leather purses
Black and white puppies with freckles on their nose
Big teethy smiles!
Ribbon wrapped packages
Birthday cake and surprises!
Fine paper 
The smell of grass
Perfect hair days

To be continued....

Friday, August 22, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere

One of the nice things about doing marketing is that sometimes you get to work at industry trade shows. And sometimes they're in really interesting places. Like Orlando. Or Sea Island. Or so we thought.

It was Sean's birthday, so I had the bright idea that he could come with me and while I wasn't on and working the trade show, we could relax on the beach and have an extended celebration. I imagined sun, the beach, pool time and just enjoying island life for a while. We didn't figure on another guest tagging along--Hurricane Fay.

She's my namesake, minus the e (I'm Faye Danielle), but definitely not welcome. We walked on the beach our first afternoon, and the enormous power of the wind had me walking at a right angle. My second afternoon, crashing waves enticed us to at least go out and put our feet in, just so we could say we'd been in the water during a hurricane (OK, tropical storm), but as we ran gaily down the sidewalk to the set of steps down to the beach, waves were crashing toward our feet and the steps were completely underwater. Water droplets, propelled by 25 mph winds, felt like miniature darts against our faces and bare legs. We beat a hasty retreat and sank into the hot tub instead, with chilly heads and warm bodies. 

I've never seen water like this, giant swells that crash almost as high as a one-story building, joined with wind that could knock you down. It's exhilarating but also a little scary.

Sean says we just need to get to the hot tub again. I tend to agree. 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dani Freakin' Barcelona

So we just watched "Vicky Christina Barcelona," Woody Allen's tale of the complicated feelings and needs of two American tourists in the Spanish city. Their love affairs played out over a summer spent walking and touring and painting and loving in cafes and homes and fields in and around the city.

Barcelona and I? We had a speed date. I was there for a work trip and had four precious hours after the convention was over and our booth packed up to explore the city of Gaudi. If you have to choose what to do in four little hours starting after 5 p.m., food and walking, I thought, should be the main goals. Not knowing any Spanish would make this even more adventurous.

So I took a subway ride, navigating the city's large and very clean subway system with an ease that made me walk with a little more lift in my step (this after I thought my card wasn't working and a kind Spanish couple with many hand gestures showed me that I was trying to enter the wrong gate!). From there, I walked across a wide square to the Rambla, the heart of Barcelona's downtown. 

After ordering a hazelnut gelato to make the time pass even more sweetly, I set off down the Rambla, which is basically a long series of piazzas lined with the most magical vendors and artists. First there was the soccer player, I'm sure a former minor star, who kept a soccer ball bouncing on his head and neck while he put on and took off a shirt, while he was jumping rope. Then the pet shop vendors. There were parrots and other birds for sale, brown chipmunks with black stripes, little rabbits, giant chickens--what a strange place for such a menagerie! Next came the masses of flowers at every vendor. Then one little cart that had the funniest pet chew toys, for example, rubber pigs with legs outstretched. There I had my feeling that Italians are the friendliest people of all because I met an Italian tourist who smiled at my interest in the toys and pointed at a long length of sausages and kept trying to explain to me in multiple languages what they were. 

Next were the performers, all painted in gold and decorated to imitate famous portraits or grand ladies or one memorable woman who was covered in fruit and vegetables who was imitating a market stand. There were frightening ones too...circus midgets in face paint and dressed in black and other ghouls with masks and bleeding necks. 

I got lost trying to find Gaudi's famous church (actually I never did find it) but happened upon a fruit and vegetable market under a covered pavilion that smelled so sweetly of peaches and other fruits that I decided to find food.

And in Spain, that for me meant tapas. And where else could I go in Barcelona but Quimet & Quimet, a tiny "jewel box" of a tapas restaurant, as described by Amanda Hesser, my favorite NYT food writer. Back onto the subway, then more walking, looking for the Pizza Hut on the corner that was Amanda's recommended landmark. A lovely Spanish man walking a little white dog, after staring hard at me while I was slowly walking by with my map, vigorously pointed me in the right direction after I smiled and queried, "Quimet & Quimet?" 

I think, and the food at Quimet & Quimet, makes me believe it even more, that tapas in Spain truly is meant to be an appetizer, a refresher before your main meal at 9 or 10 in the evening. Because the little tapas there were so rich, so salty, and so heavy, that after just a couple, I felt thoroughly done. Not speaking Spanish was a challenge, but I ordered a seafood tapas on crusty bread and drizzled with flavored oil. Next was rich pate, again on a toast, with even more fancy olive oil and sweet vinegar. Finally a plate of preserved artichokes, beans, garlic and onions, with more oil and vinegar dressing the salad. Washed down with a glass of cava, the food finished me, and I went heavily back to my hotel, where I ordered a plate of fruit to refresh me, then bed.

So our date ended with just a chaste peck. I didn't fall in love with the city, but we left as friends. Maybe one day we'll meet again. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Budha Has His Day

Morning. Early early morning.
Itches and scratches and twitches.
Ahhhh, sleep, deep, deep sleep.

"Morning, Budha!" Real morning.
With my people thumping and pounding and going.
Let's sleep, let's play, look at me!
Ahhhh, tummy scratches and head pats and almost, almost sleep.

Don't go, don't walk, don't leave.
"It's time to go to work, Budha!" 
Time to dig deep in the bowl and eat, eat, eat.
And wait, wait, wait until my two people come home. Treats? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Being Creative

To me, there's nothing better than planning a story, thinking through the words and how to start the sentences, how the paragraphs form together and conclude into a satisfying end. Sometimes I hate it, especially when I can't start a story and it flows jerkily along until I have a page full of scribbles and maybe one or two great phrases to show for it. Or when the darn thing just won't end the right way and it feels like I'm stopping short or making the very worst, awful cheese you could ever read. 

But when it works, you feel like you're coasting...the only thing you have to worry about is being able to type the words quickly enough before they fade into nothing.

My husband works in the newspaper industry and one of my very favorite things is to lie in bed with him, our dog scratching his belly contentedly beside us, and talk about ideas for stories and photos. It's just that much fun. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Grass is Always Greener

When Sean and I were in Charleston last week, THE thing to do was to wait outside the new Apple Store and hope to get in to play with all the pretty little jewel-like iPods and iPhones. Our rickshaw driver, Wes, told us at the opening the week before that more than 150 folks were standing there on King Street waiting in line. (Look, Wes has a cool tattoo of a rickshaw on his calf!)

Well, we got suckered in. We went just to look and came out with a new MacBook for me (to help with my freelance writing career, but so far, I've gone Facebooking, messed around with Garage Band and shopped on iTunes. What can I say, I love my new toy.) It was tax-free weekend in South Carolina and we also got a free printer as part of the deal.

Those Mac guys sure take any remarks about Mac products personally though. As we were buying the MacBook, we were chatting about all the different programs on the Mac, including iPhoto, which is amazing to help you create photo books for all the events in your life. We'd just used it to put together all our honeymoon photos. But I said, "I do wish they had larger format, 12x12 books available, though." He looked a little pissed and said a touch snidely, "Well, they say the grass is always greener." Sean and I giggled a little after he left to get our boxes.

But it makes you think, especially in your day to day life. We're all such a mass of desires and petty jealousies and wishes. A job that drives me up a wall may be someone else's whole reason for being. Another person's life might seem amazing from the outside, until you actually live it. This world of ours is endlessly complicated, frustrating, annoying---yet somedays you're so delirously happy that you feel like you could want for nothing else. I would love to keep that feeling with me always. Then the grass where I was would be the freshest, greenest-smelling, softest grass there ever was.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Having Cake and Eating It Too

I looked up gift traditions for a fourth anniversary a few weeks ago. Traditional couples give each other flowers and fruit, while modern couples are stuck with traditionally unromantic appliances. Us? We wanted it all. Raspberries sandwiched between the light creamy yellow layers of our anniversary cake (a recreation of the top layer of our wedding cake, our always anniversary tradition), a Nintendo Wii because there's nothing more romantic than seeing your significant other doing the butt shake while trying to hula hoop in virtual reality, and to top it off, a weekend trip to Charleston, the location of our first trip away together.

Our anniversary dinner (yes, that too, because we're that spoiled) was at Casa Bella in Aiken, the beautiful house inside the door in the wall. It was a reminder of our trip to Italy back in March. We became the special anniversary couple that night, arriving all dressed in our finest work attire, carefully carrying our white cake box. The wine was Chianti, poured in balloon glasses. The appetizer, antipasto, richly drizzled in olive oil and eaten with a small Italian loaf.
The kitchen had run out of soup, but somehow, two special bowls of the hearty split pea, a bright grass green against the white cappucino cups it was served in, were brought to us. An amazing osso buco, with a marrow fork standing at attention in the bone, came nestled in a bed of linguine, and a true veal saltimbocca rounded out the savory part of our dinner.

The cake had been whisked away to the kitchen the moment we arrived, so we worried in a desultory way...what if they lost it? What if it had been swiped off the counter and into a heap on the floor by a quickly moving waiter? What if our waiter Cory tripped while carrying it out to us?

No worries. Cory served it with a flourish and as we filled in the corners nicely with Jennifer Saxon's fresh delicious creation, we remembered past anniversaries, particularly one where the couple next to us pointed at our cake and told their waiter, "We want to order THAT." How La Maison, our usual anniversary restaurant, would miss seeing us this year and how we missed their serving the entrees covered, then delicately whipping off the covers with an "Un, deux, trois!" And a very small bow.

We left with the remainder of our cake and most unItalian carryout boxes, and the same deliciously full feeling we had nearly every night in Italy. Casa Bella is our new favorite Italian trattoria, and the weekend is just beginning.