Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Memphis: Shelby Farms

Remember that Pride and Prejudice inspired walk I've been trying to take? Well, I think I finally got it when we visited Shelby Farms.

It's a fantastic park just outside Memphis, but with its sweeping green fields, brooks, and lakes, it feels more like the English countryside. At least in my mind.

I must confess that when the trip began, I didn't foresee having a wonderful time such as this. Carrie and I ventured into Memphis late last Thursday night guided by an ever-trusty GPS system in the car. The GPS system, however, malfunctioned and sent us on a crazy goose chase through a very, ahem, seedy part of Memphis.

There we were, two women alone, circling blocks of boarded up shops and all-night laundry facility/pay day advance stores. I wasn't really that scared until we paused at a red light and I glanced onto the curb and into the eyes of a pimp.

I suddenly realized that with all our careful preparation for the trip (blue grass cd, full tank of gas, coffee, Starbucks cookies), Carrie and I had left behind the most important item: a firearm. We called Jared for help and he came to our rescue. Thankfully, our pimp-crack-house tour didn't set the precedent for the rest of the trip.
When we arrived at Shelby Farms the next day, we walked around with our hosts for a couple of hours, just breathing the fresh air, talking. Talking, talking, talking. No matter how much time has passed since the last time we were all together, there is never any shortage of talking.

We meandered through the walking trails.

I found the perfect location for my farmhouse, right next to this giant tree.

The woods glowed in a hundred different shades of green.

Every tree seemed to have some kind of flower.

Ducks flew in and out of these creeks, quacking and calling over our heads as the tree frogs sang.

And as we went to leave I smiled and heaved a big sigh of satisfaction. I've had my 'Pride and Prejudice' walk. All is right with the world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Memphis: Part 1

Carrie and Jared were my best friends in high school. No, scratch that. Middle school. So we all decided it was time for a much needed friend rendezvous in Memphis.

I adore Memphis. But by that same token, I've done most of the touristy Memphis things. I've hiked through the zoo, toured old homes, gone to art shows. My childhood was spent prowling the fantastic historical exhibits of Ramses II and Catherine the Great and hop-scotching over the mini-layout of the Mississippi River on Mud Island. I've squinted at the floor to ceiling shag carpeting in Graceland and wished for a black light. I don't care what anyone says... floor to ceiling shag carpeting is a health hazard. Even if it is the King's house. I've eaten fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at BB King's and Matt proposed to me on top of the Peabody Hotel.

So when Jared asked us what we wanted to do, Carrie replied, "We want to do what the locals do."

And so we headed to a neighborhood called Cooper Young.

And you know me. Any neighborhood with a big pink house is OK in my book.

It's a lovely, quirky little community. The houses have red doors, old southern charm, cracked sidewalks, iron fences, ivy covered walls and mammoth oak trees shading the streets.

There are shops (antiques, ahem) and restaurants and even a cat rescue society. It's called the House of Mews. How cute is that?

Doing what the locals do. It's my new favorite vacation activity. Because while the big attractions are often fantastic (and if you haven't seen Graceland I say GOOOO), it's the side streets of a city that make you fall in love with it. It's the cafes and gingerbread front porches and tree covered streets that make you sigh and say, "Mmmm... I could live here."

So that's how we spent our afternoon. Doing what the locals do.

Back With Bells On

I love Memphis in the spring time. A road trip with friends, good food, lots of laughs, beautiful houses, new scenery; it was better than any medicine. Tell you all about it tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alicia Paulson Picked Me

Ok. Fine. She picked ten people. But I was one of them!

Mini Spring Break

I've got a bad case of the "Don't Want To's." When I wake up in the morning, and peer out the bathroom window, I realize I don't want to go to work. I don't want to sit in a room without windows all day.

I don’t want to fix my hair, put on war-paint, and brush my teeth. I don’t want to leave the cheerfulness of our pink bathroom for work 45 minutes early, elbowing my way through traffic. I don’t want to eat a microwave baked potato for lunch while answering the phone and returning emails. Uh-Uh.

What do I want? I want to loaf about in the backyard like Ferdinand the Bull. Yep. A lot of frolicking and flower picking should do the trick. Wouldn't my neighbors just love that? I'll be signing off for a couple of days. See you on the flip side.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering Her

A year ago today, Angela wrote this about having cancer.

I miss her. I miss walking through the spring air during our lunch breaks like we did last year. I miss reading the same books. I miss her brilliant, always on target advice. It makes my chest ache.

Her two year battle with cancer and death left me with a lot of questions. I spent many a dark night praying. And on the darkest nights, I didn't pray at all.

I was angry. I never doubted that He wasn't there. I knew God existed. I knew He was listening to my prayers. To her prayers. To her husband and father and sister and mother's prayers. He was listening. But here's the bitter pill I struggled to swallow... God listened... and God said no.

The most amazing thing to me is that Ang wasn't angry with God. She wasn't bitter. She was scared, but not angry. I couldn't understand that. I was ready to scream the walls down, yell at doctors, throw a fit on the cold tile floors of the hospital lobby. And I wasn't even suffering. But she didn't do that.

Before I knew Angela, God and I had a very polite relationship. I prayed every now and then, always beginning it with “Dear Lord…” and always ending with the obligatory Amen. We were like the husband and wife at the dinner table with nothing to talk about. We smiled. We passed the salt. I believed, but it didn’t go much deeper than that.

And then as Angela got sicker and sicker, all that changed. My conversations with God seeped outside the boundaries of my biweekly, kneel at the bedside “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers. They got louder. Angrier. One night after visiting her I stood outside the hospital, gazed up at the stars, clenched my fists and muttered, “Lord… what the heck!?” Except I didn’t say heck.

I know what you’re thinking. The sacrilege! The disrespect! But believe me, over time my prayers became increasingly vivid. And while I was angry with God, disappointed and appalled that the curtain of good fortune was being torn down in front of my eyes…our relationship grew. I found that I needed to complain to him, cry to him, shake my fist at him.

I realized for the first time that I had an actual relationship with God. I realized that my frustration and tears meant that I really did believe He was there. That He was not a distant clockmaker or the leader of an exclusive club. I realized he was my Father, the only one I could turn to. Simplistic as that may sound, it was a revelation for me.

It's easy to have faith when things are going well. Or at least holding status quo. But when we face the dark side of life, when we have to turn and stand nose to nose with the unpleasant, frightening, heart-breaking face of suffering and death, things lose their clarity. We falter a little, gaze up toward heaven and ask the ultimate question, "Why?"But Angela didn't lose her clarity. She didn't lose her faith. And I thank God for that.

Losing her has made me re-evaluate my life. And while I cringe at the suffering she endured, I'm thankful for her example. For her faith. For her bravery. I'm humbled that I was there to witness the last few years of her life. It was a privilege. It brought me closer to God.

I still don't understand why it happened to her. I'm sure that Angela's struggle is just the first in a series of life events I wont understand. I've read at least ten books on suffering and each them seemed hollow. I know the authors had the best of intentions. But I don't believe suffering can be explained. I don't believe we'll have an answer in this life. And that's the hardest part.

But somehow, through a lot of tears and stubborn prayers, God and I are finally a team. We've mended the gap. At least I'm assuming that since He didn't zap me with lightening over the fist shaking thing. I kid people, I kid. But it's changed my life. And it really beats smiling and passing the salt.

If Angela was here, she'd wave her hand in the air and blow off these compliments. She was never one for accolades or praise. In fact, this post would have made her downright huffy. She did not want nor need the spotlight. But she deserves it. So I'll end with her words instead of mine.

"Painted at the top of my stairs, the first thing you see when you walk into my home, is the line “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.” It’s true. Those creatures who live closest to God do not bemoan their fate. They live every moment of their lives instinctively, vibrantly, freely."

The Great Weed Debate

Me: "Don't you just love all these white flowers in the front yard?"
Matt: "Those are weeds."

Me: "Well, they look like flowers to me."
Matt: "Nope, weeds."

Me: "Well, those purple things over in the shade, those are definitely flowers."
Matt: "Those are weeds too."

Me, hands on hips: "So what exactly is your definition of a weed?"
Matt: "Anything growing in the yard that I mow over."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Getting Started

We made the first of many visits to the local nursery. We wiped our noses and eyes and popped Zyrtec. Matt cleared out a huge outcropping of weeds on the side of the house. I planted caladium bulbs and stifled a scream when I accidentally picked up a giant earthworm (they're just small snakes in my eyes). We weeded and tilled and put our anti-perspirant deodorant to the test.

We stuck our noses in the middle of these herbs and took a deep breath. It smells like spring. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take another allergy pill.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Classy Gardening

Nothing like a few styrofoam cups lined up in your front window to scream 'class' at the neighborhood. I'm really looking forward to April when we put these suckers in the ground where they belong.
OK, I'm off to spend the rest of the day working in the yard with Matt, preparing the flower beds and ignoring my post-nasal drip.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

My little sister Rebecca has the most fabulous hair on earth.

She is also the only person on earth that loves Mabel as much as I do.

They have an extremely symbiotic relationship. Like the doggy/human equivalent of soul mates. Big hair, big attitudes, big eyelashes.

They understand each other. Neither one of them have any sense of personal space or boundaries. They wallow in the same chair for hours.

They also share an intense aversion to children.

Mabel wants to bite them, Rebecca just wants to avoid them (Except our cousin, which is the one exception to Rebecca's 'no kids not now not ever' rule).

But for someone who protests the idea of child bearing with such gusto, I think she's pretty darn nurturing when it comes to dogs. There may be some hope yet.

Mabel is oddly tolerant of the many head-pets/ear-poses/nose-kisses she receives from her Aunt Becca.

If I tried the ear-posing thing Mabel would mouth and complain and jump off my lap.

So it's been decided that Rebecca is Mabel's godmother should anything happen to us. Let's face it, no one else understands each other like these two.

You should see them chase squirrels together. I KID.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Walk With the Hamburgler

March weather makes me want to take lots of walks. The cloudy blue sky, new bright green baby leaves, flashes of pinks and purples and yellow sprouting from bushes and flowers; these things just scream to me, "Get off your duff and stop watching tv! Winter is over!"

So we did just that. We got off our duffs, turned off the tv and headed out for a walk beneath a foggy sky. It reminded me of the spring weather in the most recent movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, I watch that movie just to listen to all the lovely bird sounds and envy Keira Knightley as she tromps across gorgeous English countryside in muddy skirts.
I, on the other hand, wore sneakers and an old baseball hat on my walk. Not nearly as romantic.

We made our way down a hill (one of many, a walk in our neighborhood really works the ole' glutes) toward one of my favorite houses.

She's a quaint little brick cottage, complete with a green roof and purple shutters. I love her little attic windows and the fact that she's tucked away on a hill, so easy to miss by the passing cars.

One day I hope to be brave enough to put some color on my house. Can you imagine this woman's husband's face when she said, "I think I'll paint the shutters purple."

We continued our walk toward home.

And it was on the way home that Mabel spied a slightly rotted hamburger lying on the sidewalk. She was instantly pleased that some kind soul had the forethought and consideration to leave a luscious snack for her. In the flash of an eye, she gobbled the entire thing, rotted meat and all, into her mouth.

Matt lurched foreword and pried our Hamburgler's uncooperative jaws open, reaching in with his hand to retrieve the hamburger while she lurched her little head in anger. A passing car slowed, the driver peering out to make sure we weren't abusing such a sweet looking schnauzer.

It was quite the scene, ending our pleasant stroll. I quit imagining my stroll across the English countryside and instead kept a wary eye out for any more sidewalk food on the way home.

And Mabel is still sulking, mourning the loss of her day old hamburger.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Recipe, and an Insult

Several of you asked for Matt's recipe for the steak tips I posted about here. So here's the recipe, along with more pear blossom pics. Cause I'm a little obsessed with the tree in the back yard. Sorry.

Balsamic Steak Tips
Marinate 1 pound steak tips in the following mixture:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1/2 cup Teriyaki Sauce
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
And then grill. Simple as that.

In other news; my ego has been completely deflated like a trucker's tire, shredded to bits and left flapping on the side of the freeway. Ok, maybe it's not that dramatic. But this experience still smarts.

Recently, I was shopping for a surprise for Matt. He'd been longing for Guitar Hero, and in a determined effort to shock him, I decided to buy it. So there I was, skulking around Best Buy, completely out of my element. Ask me where to find the musical dvd's and I'm you're gal. Put me within six feet of the 'electronics' sections and my brain waves begin to jump and spike like corn on a skillet.

And as I gazed in confusion at the entire Guitar-Hero-Rock-Band stock, I spotted a kindly woman in her 60's with a couple of teenagers in tow. They looked like people who knew something. Anything. So I sidle up and say, "Um, can you tell me which Guitar Hero game is the most fun?"

And the woman pushes her glasses onto her head and says to me... ready for it... brace yourself...
"Well, it depends. How old are your children?"

My head began to spin, sweat broke out on my upper lip. Children. As in plural. And of the age that they could grasp the concept of Guitar Hero. Old children. My ovaries cried out for vindication, but I was speechless.
She continued to smile, unaware that she'd completely taken my small world, turned it upside down and shaken every happy flower of a thought onto the ground.

"Urrr, ummm, uhhh," I burbled, unable to compose myself.

"Because if they're over 12 they'll really enjoy the Aerosmith version."

My esophagus closed in on itself and I began to gag. In order to have a 12 year old, I would have had to have given birth at 17. Doable, but not likely. I suddenly felt the beginnings of crows feet and a few extra varicose veins spring up on my thighs. Imaginary of course, but when you find yourself suffering an extreme mental break in a public place, odd things happen.

Somehow, through panic magic, I composed myself. I wiped my nose, and eyes, and said, "I don't have any children. It's for my husband, he's 29."

I could see it register behind her eyes, bless her heart, because she looked flustered and back pedaled as quickly as she could, "Oh honey, my husband loves Guitar Hero too. It's all he does."

I muttered something like "Yeah, mine, he, too, thanks" and walked away, unsteady and swerving. Apparently, I've reached the stage when people begin to ask how many children you have, as opposed to the usual, 'do you have kids' prompt.

Ahhh the aging process. You are a cruel, cruel mistress.