I would choose a close up shot of a pale blue fabric with metallic gold tigers embroidered on it for the cover of this book, if it were up to me.
Over twenty-five years ago while skimming a People magazine in a dentist office waiting room, I first read about Nanci Griffith. If I had not purchased Lone Star State of Mind on the recommendation of a brief review in that magazine all those years ago, then I might have missed out on more than a few remarkable live concerts and hours of listening to Nanci in my home and on numerous road trips. All this is to say that, yes, I admit I do occasionally read celebrity magazines and even follow the recommendations in them. Last month while waiting for my two oldest offspring to donate blood I flipped through Oprah magazine for the first time and read a review of Tigers in Red Weather. I promptly checked the book out on my next visit to Gordon Avenue Library. Liza Klaussmann’s first book is a saga set after the war in the mid forties and continues to the late sixties. Told from the viewpoint of five different characters the story deals with family, romance, loss of innocence, trust and secrets. I love the descriptions of the life at the shore (both in Florida and New England) during that time period. One of the best parts about the book is Klaussmann’s ability to construct a suspenseful plot, with some disturbing and unsettling twists, so no more details in an effort not to spoil the experience for others.
Tropical storm Andrea brought lots of rain our way this past week. I love running in a cool drizzle and spent my days off work trying to build my mileage back up. Long runs and warm showers were followed by hours of reading, working on samplers, baking these wonderful muffins (link to Lynn) and writing postcards to friends working in North Carolina and Nantucket.
Light thunderstorms make for great running weather but are less than ideal for swim meets, so fingers crossed for clear skies later this week!
Eliot’s April bled into May this year, leaving us caught in a lurch between seasons. After several days of rain and cold that felt like the rather cruel perpetuation of a particularly long and drawn out spring, this week brought our first real days of summer.
We have started filling small bowls each day with strawberries from our backyard. Yesterday, I walked back and forth from the spigot to our garden, filling up the watering can and looking forward to the weeks that will bring us radishes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It wasn’t just the weather and taking the time to admire our rose garden, this week has been full of summer: reading Hemingway and Faulkner and Warren, running at dusk and smelling backyard grilled dinners, driving Carson home from work and listening to our favorite Nanci Griffith songs, teaching a sweet and energetic five year old boy how to swim, and sitting on the back porch with Miss F while she paints my nails.
Several nights ago I moved back home and Mom, Miss F, and I took advantage of the new summer dusk to walk through our neighborhood. In doing so, we stopped by the high school and caught a snippet of the chorus concert, the portion of the evening where the director recognizes the graduating seniors and announces each student’s plans for the coming year. I don’t think there is any demographic of humans on this planet brighter or shinier or beaming more promise and potential than a collection of high school seniors. They are emerging from a cocoon of teachers, administrators, and counselors whose sole focus is to build up their students, to encourage them, to teach them, to convince them they are capable of changing this world. High school seniors possess a new sense of agency now that they have completed our nation’s compulsory education, now that our society has deemed them responsible enough to determine how they will fill their days.
Just a little over three years ago, when we were among the shining seniors poised to collect diplomas and accolades with accomplished smiles and firm handshakes, my friends and I were sifting through opportunities, fearful of choosing the wrong university or career path and accidentally ruining the entire course of our lives. In the face of these stressful decisions, my mom asked us a question.
“Do you know who will be waiting in your room if you go to [University x] or move to [y city]?” she would ask.
“No,” we said, clearly we didn’t know because if we did, that knowledge would probably bring clarity to our decisions.
“You,” she would reply. “Wherever you go in life the one person who will always be there is you.”
At the time, her answer was terrifying. We were ready to shed a layer of ourselves, to evolve into a worldlier, more intelligent, self-sufficient, better version of our childhood self. It seemed like we wouldn’t have a clean slate, that everyone in the world would know that we cried once in our 6th grade math class when we forgot our homework, that we completely forgot the words to the Pledge of Allegiance one morning while leading the student body on school-wide television, that we’d once possessed headgear, heinous haircuts, and Furbies. My mom’s point, that we missed, of course, was that where you go matters much less than what you do and who you are once you get there. The orchids blooming in our kitchen are just as beautiful and just as fragrant as if they were planted in a rainforest.
But since then, as I’ve traveled new places with friends, strangers, or by myself, I’ve found comfort in that sentiment. It is often encouraging to know that wherever you go, you will at least know yourself better than anyone else. That just by being yourself, you are capable of making the best of any given place or situation.
This has been an especially important bit of wisdom for me to revisit this past semester. The glittering promise and potential possessed by high school seniors exists on one side of a spectrum. In the middle of this spectrum are mundane events that we can choose to experience as equally humorous or devastating: contracting lice at age 21, spilling your reheated meal of rice and beans across your newly washed sheets and discovering mold at the bottom of the container, accidentally attaching a personal letter instead of your essay to the email you wrote your professor. And at the very far end of this spectrum is a mass of negative energy, a cosmic combination of chaos, entropy, tragedy, violence, and evil. Life is hard, really hard, sometimes, just as it is wonderful at others. We will not, and cannot, know everything and achieve all of our goals and see all of our dreams through to fruition. Our governments, our schools, our communities, people we love dearly, will all at some point disappoint us. For reasons beyond our mere mortal comprehension, other humans, who have surely at one point felt bright and shiny themselves, perhaps on their own graduation day, choose to inflict pain and suffering and heartbreak on those around them.
My mom is right (as she often is), in saying that the place we go does not matter, because there isn’t a place we can go in this world completely devoid of disease, where some group of people isn’t discriminated against or deprived of their rights, where no one we love will die or disappear, where we won’t just want to cry sometimes because of the sheer weight of it all. And at the same time, the place you go does not matter because everywhere in this world needs a healthy dose of brightness and sparkle retained from the potential your high school English teacher saw in you.
When I returned this semester, I found I possessed very little faith in my surroundings. It seemed my campus, my city, my state, my national region, even our very nation itself, had been swallowed by a tornado and thrown down onto the precipice of the dark void of that spectrum. A Gotham without Batman.
But, fortunately, so many people around me hadn’t lost sight of their shine and knew that the best they could do was to continue being better versions of their prior selves. It meant that when our governor said this, a talented friend of mine replied respectfully. It meant that when cases of rape and sexual assault on our campus were poorly handled or were covered up, a student journalist focused on integrity and a group of students in pursuit of justice didn’t let it go unnoticed. It meant that there was sadness and fear and frustration but: miles were conquered, vegetables were devoured, Nabisco started producing birthday cake Oreos, people brought kittens and corgis to play on the quad in the sunshine, class assignments were fascinating, Dolly Parton tweeted a lot of wisdom and inspiration, and those stinking lice were eradicated.
It may not matter where you go when you are first trying to decide, but the places you choose will matter a great deal to you after you’ve been there. There are places of great sentimental value, places I will always think of fondly: a particular tea field in Kenya, the second platform of the Tottenham Court Road tube station, a hippie cabin in Arkansas, the house and its boxwood hideout by the train tracks in Appomattox, a precious slanted apartment in Brooklyn, a brightly colored house by Wrightsville Beach. But until recently, there was really only once place I called home. Somehow though, even as excited as I was to snuggle with Miss F, to rejoin my family for Sunday crosswords and hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, to work a job I dearly love, it was much harder for me to leave North Carolina this spring than in previous years. Chapel Hill has become a home to me not because it is free of strife and home to a perfect university, but because it has proved to be imperfect and yet worthy of admiration all the same.
My friends and I celebrated the end of the semester by going to see some very talented Carolina students perform and this new song of theirs has quickly become one of our favorites. It speaks to the pull of a place considered home, and I especially like the sentiment that such a place could remind us “how we ought to be.”
Last weekend, Natalie, Caroline, and I took a quick 24 hour trip to Wilmington. We had envisioned a warm and sunny beach getaway before exams. No sooner were we beach bound when a tornado watch was placed on the state and a heavy storm hit the area. Kudos to Natalie for navigating flooding conditions on I 40 in her little purple car!
We made it safely to her house and were met with warm hugs and lots of yummy vegetables (ARTICHOKES!) that we don’t always get to eat at school, plus a freshly baked pound cake. Even though the day we spent in Wilmington was cloudy and overcast, we had more than enough fun snuggling, eating more great food, and introducing Caroline to the cinematic masterpiece that is “Just Go With It.”
We got to see Natalie’s younger brother (and soon to be Tar Heel!) off to his senior prom before we headed back to Chapel Hill to gear up for exams.
Here is a very belated account of Easter weekend highlights:
1) Our whole family together in Chapel Hill for the first time since I moved here three years ago.
2) Watching Miss F amuse herself to no end while learning the meaning of the phrase “I digress.”
3) Running every single set of stairs at the football stadium with my dad—we clocked in at just under twenty minutes!
4) Playing “Ticket to Ride,” which I think is well on its way to being the board game of 2013.
5) Listening to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s collaborative project and Ashley Monroe’s debut album.
6) Exploring new parts of town and trying out new restaurants. I think our family eats more barbecue than any other family this side of the Mississippi.
7) Meeting the Arboretum whistler who stopped in his tracks and initiated a conversation with my parents. He ended his cryptic monologue of life advice with the statement, “as you can tell, I’m self-taught!”
I had so much fun running my half marathon yesterday. The first ten miles were a breeze, and the entire race was an incredible experience to share with Natalie and Emma. I am hoping to run another half marathon in the near future!
I greatly appreciate the support of our friends and family—those who made signs and woke up early to come watch us and those who were cheering us on from their own homes miles and miles away.
Yesterday, our finish line was a place of joy and relief, laughter and tears, huge hugs and lots of sweat. We met up with other friends of ours who also ran (huge congratulations to Taylor who placed first in his age group!) and rehashed each mile, confirmed that the ninth mile marker was, in fact, nonexistent, and commiserated over the steepest hills and dark tunnel.
I cannot imagine completing 26 miles to be met with tragedy and chaos. I cannot imagine being at the bombing site in Boston as a spectator or a resident. I cannot begin to imagine the daily sense of uncertainty and heartbreak that accompanies our brothers and sisters who live in certain areas of the Middle East, where such attacks occur frequently.
I am very thankful that those I know in Boston are safe today.
The facts elementary school children memorize for standardized tests will be forgotten, but lessons learned about creative and critical thinking and collaborative effort will last a lifetime. Thank you, John Hunter!
Many many thanks to my dear friend (and musical soulmate) Caroline for making sure I got tickets to see Iron & Wine this week. A much needed break from writing essays and grant applications, the concert was two of the most beautiful hours of this semester. Sam Beam is a talented musician and lyricist with an excellent sense of humor and it was a joy to watch him perform. Because he didn’t have a band with him, he announced he didn’t have a set playlist but would instead play a few new songs off his upcoming album and then an “Iron & Wine buffet” during which he played requests shouted out from the audience.
Today is the first day of spring and watching this family of bluebirds in our yard has helped me through these last weeks of very wintery weather. Here’s hoping today marks warmer temperatures and more sunshine for us and the birds!
I had been looking forward to walking on the High Line with Mikaela since I read a Smithsonian article about the park a few months ago. I can’t wait to walk with her again on a warmer day when the flowers are in full bloom. The weather may have been dreary last week, but we loved the bright colors of this graffiti.
Just returned from a wonderful weekend with two of my dearest friends in New York City.
One highlight was walking around Mikaela’s neighborhood in Brooklyn and exploring several vintage clothing stores. I liked getting to see all the places I have heard her describe in stories—including the store owned by a man who sells gravestones and freshly baked bread.
I also got to visit the headquarters of Mast Brothers, chocolatiers my family has been intrigued with for several years. We love the unique patterned paper they use to wrap their chocolate. The store is open to their work space, so we could sample different flavors while we watched them make and wrap chocolate.
Years ago when my eldest niece was still quite young, my sister looked out her kitchen window to see Emily swinging by herself on the swing-set in their backyard. My sister grinned realizing her daughter had figured out how to pump her legs and swing on her own without requiring anyone to push her. That’s a huge step in independent play and my sister smiled to herself as she continued to watch Emily through the window while she did the dishes. A bit later my brother in law walked in the house, smiling as well. “How long has Emily been out there swinging?” he asked. My sister answered that it had been a good long while, still pleased and proud at their daughter’s progress. “Why?” Steve laughed and said, “Well, she is singing over and over: ‘I wish I knew how to stop this thing!’”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
— The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams, 1922
There is a joke about Virginians that my friend Molly used to like to tell in middle school.
“How many Virginians does it take to change a lightbulb? Three. One to change the lightbulb and two to stand around and talk about how great the old one was.”
We often joke about being “true Virginians,” both of us developing irrational attachments to commonplace items, like toothbrushes or hair-ties. One of the worst moments of my childhood was when my favorite swim cap ripped. I was so devastated by the loss of my swim cap that I sewed a piece of it onto a quilted banner my Girl Scout troop made. When we were in fifth grade, Molly’s parents replaced their toaster and out of reverence to the beloved discarded kitchen appliance, Molly refused to use the new toaster.
I would like to think that I have outgrown this nostalgic sentimentality. For the past year, I’ve packed up my life and relocated every three months, and I can generally do so without fear of inevitable change, like sleeping on a different mattress or having to switch shampoo brands.
But in many ways, I am reluctant to relinquish my hometown as the the center of my life. This is partially a positive quality, as nothing brings me greater joy than spending time with my family. But it is also an inconvenience, since I refuse to get my hair cut anywhere else or switch doctors. At the urging of my mother, I’ve been trying to wean myself off my hometown, which is hard if you were born and raised in a place that was named the #1 place to live in America.
Running over 25 miles a week has taken a toll on my body—and also my running shoes. Ever since I started running cross country when I was 14, I’ve purchased my running shoes from our local store. Owned by a married couple, the store is known for its personable approach to fitting customers for shoes, and their dedication to the broader running community. They keep an old recipe box of index cards with every customer’s size and shoe history. When I knew it was time to replace my shoes, my first inclination was to figure out how soon I could return home.
But it quickly became clear that I needed to either replace my shoes or stop running, because they were no longer supporting my feet the way they should. Lauren told me about a great running store her mom swears by, just a mile from campus. And I threw the fit of a “true Virginian.” I extolled the dedication of my local shoe store, the way they treated me like family. Lauren, tired of me complaining about my sore shins and throbbing arches, cajoled me into her car to buy new shoes last week as I literally dragged my feet.
The moral of this story is that your mom is always right, and your roommate is right most of the time. The shoe store here is perfect. Their staff are helpful and knowledgeable. They understand my inserts and my tendency to pronate. When I had irrational feedback like “this shoe is too comfortable; I can’t run in it” or “this shoe is pink so I automatically don’t want to like it,” they worked with me to find shoes I love that are also good for my feet.
I will always identify as a Virginian, and I will probably always struggle when it comes time for me to throw away my toothbrush. But I’ve learned in the past year that I can leave the southeast of the United States, and thrive somewhere else. Replanting somewhere else, either here in Chapel Hill or a new city after I graduate, doesn’t mean I have to dig up my roots at home.
Here’s another book I chose because of the cover. Does anyone else do this? I picked it for the cover but once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. It’s about families - having them, making them and needing them. It also deals with abuse, drug addiction, slavery, gambling, alcoholism, poverty, sacrifice, bravery and love. It is set in southern Virginia but surprisingly written by a woman who was born and raised in Canada. It is Ms. Grissom’s first book.