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.