November 19, 2013
Saturday I attended my very first marathon. It was held in Richmond and had a record number of runners with 19,629 folks registered (this number includes those who ran the half marathon and the 8K). My oldest sometimes reminds me of Longfellow’s quote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” And, I appreciate the reminders to look at others with fresh eyes and recognize that I do not know their stories. In that sea of nearly 20,000 runners, I knew two people: my husband and a neighbor (a very fast one!). At the 26 mile mark I stood next to an older man wearing a cap stating that he was a veteran. Beside me for nearly an hour in the chilly drizzling rain, he cheered for everyone who passed by. He had something encouraging to say to all the runners whether they were sprinting the last half mile or limping. He clapped just as loudly for the woman sporting the Wonder Woman costume as he did for the guy struggling with a cramp in his thigh. I kept waiting for him to get more excited for the one person he had come to see and wondered if it would be his son or maybe his daughter. Finally an older woman walked up and put her arm on his elbow and asked if he was ready to leave. He nodded yes and they shuffled off. Apparently he had come to watch and cheer for everyone!
November 7, 2013
Hooded tombstone figure at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
We got a tad bit lost while running an errand in Richmond on Tuesday. It was a good thing too, because we finally found and got to visit Hollywood Cemetery. The graveyard was dedicated in June 1849 and sits on a hill overlooking falls in the James River. The two men who purchased the original 42 acre property hired an architect from Philadelphia to create a “natural” memorial park. It really is a lovely and peaceful setting. Oddly, the Richmond community at first fought the plan for the cemetery. Neighbors thought it would lower their property values and others felt it was dangerous to situate it just above the city water works. The organizers eventually ceded the property closest to the water works to the city and then were able to proceed. Later, in 1858, when President James Monroe was buried at Hollywood, everybody stopped complaining. In fact lot sales boomed once folks realized they could be buried with a President! President John Tyler is also interred there.
In addition to two US presidents, Hollywood Cemetery is also the final resting place of Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart, Lewis Ginter (his tomb includes three stained glass windows designed by Tiffany) and John Randolph of Roanoke.
We were fascinated by all the ornate tombstones. The detail art and carvings of the older stones and the wordings on the epitaphs are intriguing. Some are over the top (in words and decorations) while others are so simple they do not even include a name or date.
November 4, 2013
Happy happy birthday!
Thank you for teaching me to enjoy every moment, no matter how ordinary, and to share that joy with others. Wishing you lots of hugs, precious panda cam moments, and chocolate today! xoxo
October 27, 2013
A wise and thoughtful relative recently wrote me that October is unique among other months in that it focuses him on the preciousness of each moment as it passes. I have found this to be true this month and so it was no surprise to me that the best parts of my research trip to Birmingham were also the stillest, quietest moments.
I was extremely fortunate to travel to Alabama over fall break with two wonderful new friends, one of whom grew up in Birmingham. I am very grateful to have shared four days of laughter, introspection, and the new The Head and the Heart album on repeat with them.
While visiting the popular Civil Rights Movement memorials was both a valuable and productive experience, visiting the street Virgil Ware grew up on was the most powerful moment of my research. Two middle school aged boys played basketball in a gravel driveway and farther down the road, an older man stood on a ladder, cleaning sludge out of his gutters. Virgil’s life is commemorated by a simple, bent sign surrounded by discarded McDonald’s cups and, unbelievably, several cacti. The neighborhood was so serene that it was easy to imagine James Ware coasting down the gentle curve of the hill, Virgil perched on his handlebars as the two left home to deliver newspapers. It was also heartbreakingly easy to imagine the community in a state of mourning, to picture the little church in the middle of the neighborhood holding a prayer vigil and organizing efforts to deliver casseroles and pies to the Ware family, as if filling one’s stomach with warm food was a cure to melting the cold knot that would have formed the second they got word that Virgil had been shot, that he had died in his teenaged brother’s arms.
Molly, my friend from Birmingham who was the most amazing tour guide, drove me one afternoon to a neighborhood that was perhaps the polar opposite of Virgil’s, full of metal gates and sophisticated security systems. We didn’t see any children playing near the road, but she led me through a stranger’s backyard to a hill that overlooks the entire city (I apologize, citizen of Birmingham, for slipping through your gate, but the view was too grand to pass by). Birmingham is a city of contrasts, rooted in tragedy but growing in reconciliation, and from where we stood we could see physical contrasts of industrial development and green park space. Virgil’s story is not one that is taught in public schools, but he was recently honored with a plaque in Birmingham’s City Hall and his neighborhood has dedicated his former street to his memory. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young American black men and it is rare for the vast majority of them to be mentioned in a newspaper, let alone honored with a plaque or a street sign. With the city of Birmingham spread out before me, my heart ached not just for Virgil, Emmett, Medgar, Martin, Trayvon, and their families, but also for all of those whose deaths have been marked only by the empty spaces they left behind, in school desks, places of employment, city buses, church pews, and quiet city streets.
October 17, 2013
We had the pleasure of watching Patrick Dougherty create one of his “stickwork” sculptures here on the grounds of the University of Virginia. He completed it yesterday. It is made from tree saplings and should last for two years. Mr. Dougherty graduated from UNC in 1967.
October 10, 2013
At 25 acres Liberty Mills is Virginia’s largest corn maze.
Saturday we completed the largest corn maze in the state. This is a real feat as it was surprisingly over ninety degrees. It was cloudy and rained half the day yesterday and today is overcast as well. So, we are feeling thankful we went on Saturday and got to enjoy the sunshine. A special thanks to the cheery and clever Liberty Mills employee who carried bottles of ice water into the maze.
October 1, 2013
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Things I’m looking forward to in October:
1) the feeling of a warm mug of tea cupped in my palms
2) wool socks, new jeans, old sweaters, and clomping around in boots
3) squash soup
4) all the events on campus for Relationship Violence Awareness Month
5) picking apples
6) outdoor music festivals
7) watching the Blue Ridge Mountains turn red and orange
8) meals with new friends and bike rides with old friends
9) seeing Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert
10) Miss F turning 12 years old (how did that happen??)
October 1, 2013
September 18, 2013
September light and the books we are reading now.
September 15, 2013
Fifty years ago today, six children in Birmingham lost their lives to violent acts of hatred.
Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair were in Sunday School when they died due to an act of domestic terrorism.
Johnny Robinson was murdered by Birmingham police in an act of unjust brutality.
Thirteen year old Virgil Ware was on a bike ride with his brother when he was murdered in a drive-by shooting by a sixteen year old white boy who had just left a segregationist rally.
Each act is both heinous and tragic, yet Virgil Ware’s death has touched my heart especially in the past month. Fifty years ago today, our country was a place that taught a child to murder another child based on his physical appearance. His murderer was a kid, a kid who had just become an Eagle Scout and in doing so had sworn to “duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self,” a kid who was told to hate his neighbor and then handed a gun.
As the always sage Nanci Griffith sings, “It’s a hard life wherever you go/If we poison our children with hatred/then the hard life is all that they’ll know.”
September 14, 2013
I spent part of this week culling through old newspapers from 1963, gathering research for my thesis. One of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my research is observing the way bigotry and hatred infiltrated the media in the early 1960s. Looking back fifty years later, historians are confident they have pieced together an accurate account of the events of the Civil Rights Movement, but newspapers and TV reports at the time rarely reported accurately, particularly in the South. When there were reports about acts of violence and injustice against African-Americans, reporters often tried to justify the tragedies by fabricating acts of violence perpetrated by African-Americans.
I love the research I’m getting to do and am trying to find a way I can make a living essentially reading about the Civil Rights Movement. When a friend of mine sent me an article earlier this week that said that special edition Beanie Babies were worth thousands of dollars, I got excited. I owned only a few Beanie Babies in elementary school, but I remembered winning a special edition Princess Diana memorial Beanie Baby at an elementary school fundraising event. The bear is purple, which is why it appealed to me in the first place. My serious case of eldest child syndrome meant that I never removed the bear’s tags, which featured a short memorial poem, and I rarely played with the bear in a way that would dirty its fur or crumple its tags. The article said that the Princes Diana Beanie Baby was selling for an exorbitant amount of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
My friend also owns several special edition Beanie Babies, and for a whole day, we were lost in the dream of selling our stuffed animals for massive amounts of cash. Gone was the low hanging cloud of anxiety over post-grad plans. I could pay for my siblings to go to college, I could take some time off after graduation just to listen to NPR pieces and read about civil rights efforts in the Camelot era.
It wasn’t until the next day, when we had time to do a little non academic research ourselves, that we realized people were listing their collectibles on sites like eBay for large sums of money, but in fact the toys were selling for only about thirty dollars. I wasn’t disappointed; I had thought that the article was too good to be true. However, the Beanie Baby incident was a lesson in applying my thesis research to my own life and evaluating sources before jumping to conclusions.
August 24, 2013
August 18, 2013
July 30, 2013
Our fish had babies! We had nine fish for several years and at the end of last summer we had a visit from a blue heron who ate all but two. We weren’t sure if we were left with two males, two females or a pair that could mate. We bought one more fish and added him or her to the pond to increase our chances that the population would grow. We have at least six baby fish now. There are three adults and three babies in this photo. Do you see all of them? One of the babies is completely black so he (or she) is hard to spot.
July 22, 2013
It seems like months, rather than just weeks ago, that I took the Greyhound up to DC. My visit coincided with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, one of my favorite annual celebrations of culture. I loved talking to a regalia maker from the Siletz tribe about the dress she made from items found along the US Pacific coast. One of the focuses of the festival was on disappearing languages, including the Siletz Dee-Ni language, and it was a testament to the importance of oral history collections. When languages die out, traditions, culinary practices, clothing styles, ceremonies, and other cultural components often disappear as well.
I could have spent an entire week at the festival but I only had a few days off from work and was fortunate enough to spend one of them in a precious house on the Chesapeake Bay with some dear friends of mine. We spent the most idyllic of mornings alternating between the dock and a rowboat. In the afternoon, we took a ferry to Oxford, Maryland where we ate rich ice cream, waded in the Bay, and admired the beach homes along the water.
July 11, 2013
July 7, 2013
July 5, 2013
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” -Anne of Green Gables
June 25, 2013
The man in the gold shirt is my uncle KM. He died on May 5th at just 69 years of age. This picture is taken in my maternal grandmother’s front yard. She lived in a small brick house surrounded by farmland. KM and my aunt had their wedding reception in that house and were married for 44 years. KM loved to meet people and visit with them, which I guess is what he is doing in this picture. He loved to listen and talk and tease others. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a jaunt to his step. He was a skilled farmer, a successful salesman, a brilliant businessman, a devoted husband, father, son and brother as well as a doting grandfather. He was also a fun uncle. Always thinking and usually working, he used to say the day was half over by 9:00 am. He remained direct and honest; choosing wisely and consistently considering others. He impressed everyone and kept us focused and entertained. He was a true Virginia gentleman. He and I shared a love of chocolate, reading and family. We miss him.
June 13, 2013
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.
June 11, 2014
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 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!
May 29, 2013
One of us has eight and a half days of school left. That gives us a little over a week, plus a weekend, to bake a batch of cupcakes and make a summer list. Time to celebrate.
May 23, 2013
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.
May 22, 2013
officially over halfway finished
May 13, 2013
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.”
May 12, 2013
view from summit of Turk Mountain
We had a Mother’s Day hike along part of the Appalachian Trail. It was my first time climbing to the top of Turk Mountain. Certainly worth the view!
May 9, 2013
Remember the days when all your belongings fit in one carload?
May 1, 2013
We’ve got high hopes for you around here.
April 29, 2013
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.
April 26, 2013
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!”