I set out on a walk for the year to tell me all about itself.
It was gray and raining and the atmosphere loomed heavy over the earth.
This was a beginning of many things (years, semesters, endeavors), and yet it held its own stagnancy. A pause and a quiet; impending, not doom but still one has to wonder.
A wondering based on what we can know; based on the good tests that we have that give us good information. The good brains and microscopes and data. And then too what we simply cannot know; the mysteries, holy and otherwise: our telomeric bodies, the intermittent elections, the mercy and/or terror inherent of the unpredicted.
But, a heavy atmosphere is always an allusion: a spirit brooding over the earth like a mother hen on her nest. A predictable cycle-hold a candler deep up to the dark daily to see the formation of something new, and layered too on the ground are a gloop of pine needles, mossy branches, and leaves that take on the cold and loamy smell of winter to keep the heat, brooding up from below.
And in this pressure pot from above and below interlopes me. Quiet too, heavy also with anticipation. Cutting a straight line across the radius of a new year-wondering.
“Sometimes I forget, and I think you forget, that you had life-long roots; that takes time.” He says this as I walk under a stories tall tree that has erupted the concrete beneath our feet in the name of growing it roots. I step over the cracks and unevenness and marvel at the power of those roots: it took time but they were not complacent and one day, or maybe over the course of several, they pushed aside the convenience of the sidewalk to make known what had been there all along.
I asked my mom if it was hard; was it hard to have your kids, who you pour all you energy and love into all their lives, at the established time simply strike out on their own, like we are told we should- sow oats, be independent, make your own path- how does all that work? She admitted that yes it is hard, but it is also just what we do; the world is a big place and now we know how big and now it is more available than ever. Of course, we want to see the world, live in a place that isn’t our hometown, see a corner of life that isn’t available where we are. And yet, how many times have I excitedly gushed (meanwhile knowing this is just talk of lovely things that will never really come together) about living in a commune with all our friends with a garden and houses to each side and raising our kids with “aunts and uncles” all over the place.
The thing is that in this global economy the home I am sick for is not one place. People are too transient, too adventurous, and too searching to stay in one place too long. Mom and I mused at what you miss for the opportunities- it used to be that families stayed in the same town, in the same plot of land even, and while they called it simply normal, not communal, it was a community and there was a chance for communion. I think we all long for that, and all the opportunity, while exciting, is also isolating. Not that I haven’t taken advantage of it and enjoyed the benefits of this world of opportunity; I have and I know that I (we) will continue to- we did after all just make the confident decision to move several states away- part of our reasoning was that I wanted to live somewhere else, have a new place with new things. But all this comes at a cost and I find that when I am homesick, it is not just for Kentucky and not just for my parent’s home in the country or childhood memories of our century old house with secret passages and dinners around the table with chores afterward or sitting in the “way back” of our station wagon facing the ever continuing road. In this expanded life home has meant more than that.
I am homesick for Thacker A where I and my roommates had more fun than I thought was possible (and it was good, clean fun too), for a university park in Oxford, England that gave me time to think, for the “fam” and how we probably all saved each other from those tentative just after college years, for the girls that restore my soul on quick trips to Ohio or Indiana, for trips to see my best friend at her boarding school and trips to see that best friend in her “borrowed” villa in Provence, for our best couple friends that we didn’t have to clean the house for, and for all the little homes (3 going on…) in which John and I have started our life together. There is a choice to be grateful for the fact that I have been allowed these friends and these places, and I am grateful, but I am also thoughtful. Emerson has a quote about gaining something in every loss, and I appreciate that, but it is a dialectic in that the same is true in every gain. I am thankful for the convenience, the speed, and the opportunity, but I think it is good to appreciate that there is something lost in the midst of it, so what to do but soak in this home in this time and this place and be grateful that there will come a time when I will have the blessing of being sick for it.
I am so happy that something like StoryCorps exists. It took a really windy, cold, wet, no good Monday and transformed it into a life-affirming love fest. Why don’t we stop and tell stories more often? I miss the concept of the front porch; I want a piece of the day-to-day to be sanctified in the re-telling, and that is what StoryCorps does. Their mission “is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives.” I started with one story and then just kept on.
In “Q and A” I heard point-blank the questions that we all wish we had the courage to ask of those that love us the most. He was twelve, an age where the average pre-teen does whatever possible to cover up the desperation to be needed and liked, and because of his Asberger’s syndrome this boy isn’t able to dissemble his emotions; they are bare and reckless. It is humbling to hear without the veil of pretense and, because of his disability, even the possibility of a buffet of social rules.
Many of the stories are love stories; most of us have them, but we live with them so long without really thinking of them that they can become rather pedestrian. When called upon by new acquaintances to answer how we met or what we though of each other at first glance, I often hedge in my memories- say the right thing- rein in emotions that might sound too strong or unrealistic, but in a room with just two people and a tape player there comes a sweetness and honesty that makes even the most common of these love stories inspirational.
I also loved “Miss Devine” a portrait of a “wiry lady” the “only woman who had more power than our grandmother.” Some people just demand to be immortalized, and that is what stories can do. They memorialize a place or a moment or a feeling. The simplest words and simplest stories somehow become profound when someone speaks and we listen.
Definitely worth a visit:
I left you at a bit of a cliff hanger- right on the cusp of the Natural History Museum. I know you were excited; we were too– I have evidence…
We were seriously stoked to be in the hall of mammals: here is a video to show you just how stoked:
So we can poke fun at how excited we got, but the place makes you feel like a kid again. We wanted to do all of our Christmas shopping in the museum store. Also, I learned from a young boy in the wing of mummies that the mummies were put in sarcophagi because they were zombies and that kept them from escaping ….
After close of business, we had all good intentions to hit up another cheap eats restaurant on my radar in Georgetown and to get a cupcake from Baked and Wired, but after a bit too much aimless walking and a few misguided metro stops, we hit the I’m tired and hungry and don’t want to walk anymore wall, and lucky for us, District Commons happened to be a stone’s throw away from the travel meltdown (I assure you it’s all part of the fun). It completely fell outside the realm of $ restaurants on urbanspoon, but man was it good; so good that next time it will be part of the plan. We sat in the bar in a perfect moody corner and had two of the best old fashioneds. I highly recommend a stop in; we didn’t regret it.
Revived and happy we took the long walk and ride back to Alexandria and tucked in for the night. We had another half a day planned for the morrow. After a good night’s sleep and a leisurely check-out we kept our car parked in Alexandria and took the trusty King Street metro toward Dupont Circle to catch brunch at the storied Ted’s Bulletin. The place was adorable and really good- worth the wait, though yours will probably be shorter if you don’t miss your name the first time. It is set up with a great old school lunch counter, they play old black and white movies on a big screen, and they leave the coffee carafe on your table, lots to love. Also, the bakery makes from scratch pop-tarts. We snagged a few to enjoy on the way out- pumpkin chai was especially good.
Eastern Market has an antique market on Sunday afternoons besides the usual food market, so we took a quick stroll over from Ted’s to check it out.
I wish we had more time to peruse the wares, and the dining counter at the market looked enticing for another time, but we had one more museum to get in before heading back to Durham.
Our last stop was the National Gallery, and I was, in a word, impressed. It is huge, spanning two buildings, and the broad swath of artists and styles is truly impressive. We loved wandering from room to room and stumbling on famous things we recognized or works we had never seen before but loved. The last art museum I was in was the Uffuzi Gallery in Florence, and it still holds the place as my favorite, but I can’t wait to get back to the National Gallery again with more time. These were a few of our favorites.
We had just enough time to stroll by the Library of Congress. In the past it has been one of my favorite places to visit; the interior is truly beautiful, but alas it was Sunday and even this library wasn’t open. We were satisfied with a picture of us instead of it and then hopped back on the train to return to our car and then home.
It was only a four hour trip, and we were home in time to wind down for a new week, so I have a feeling it won’t be long before we return.
Last weekend we took advantage of our new proximity to the fine state of Virginia and took an anniversary trip to Washington DC. I hope we get to explore Virginia a good deal during our time here; it was the state that always seemed so close and yet so far away from Kentucky.
I know some people don’t particularly love D.C., and I can understand that sentiment to a point, but as far as larger cities go, I could picture myself there more than any of the others. The politics (and political talk) can get heavy handed, but there are so many things of real import going on and it is beautiful in the fall and then there are the museums. Working in a museum has always been a dream of mine. I think it was afternoons wandering the halls of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that did it. Not having spent much time in them behind the scenes, I am not even exactly sure what sort of work I would do, and like any job I am sure it would be full of less glamour than imagined, but I just find it so exciting that these cultural vaults exist and that we are invited to explore them. And in D.C. we are invited for free, and so we fondly termed this our Nerds who Like to Eat Anniversary.
Mission: To visit as many museums and sample as many of the best cheap eats possible in two days…
Let’s get the must do D.C. out of the way: we made it to our hotel just as the sun and temperatures started to go down. Somehow my throw as many things as possible in an overnight bag and wing-it tactic failed this time, and I made it there without a real coat- we also realized around this time that John did not really own a fall coat- so we layered on as many things as possible and headed to the metro. I love the metro. I understand that I would probably hate the metro if I had to use it all the time, but as a tourist it is part of what makes the whole thing work. (Though remind me to tell you later of how I once nearly had a panic attack in the metro when faced with egregious crowding and a man dressed in a full gorilla suit.)
We strolled the mall and checked in on the White House.
…and then we strolled over to the Foggy Bottom ( I know) Metro Stop and checked in on Burger Tap and Shake. This place was pretty busy and full of patrons from the nearby George Washington U., and they have a good burger. We were really hungry, and I might have overdone it in ordering the Southern Comfort: A burger replete with a fried green tomato, pimento cheese, and vidalia onions. It was good and we will most likely return, but John and I thought that Durham’s own Bull City Burgers edged them out, if only on the considerable merit of their sweet potato fries.
As many meals of this kind, afterward John and I decided that it had been a big mistake: you know, burger, fries, and a milkshake is a bit much. – A few 24 hours later John pleaded that we return. I don’t think we will ever really learn.
We stayed in Alexandria, so a 20-30 minute metro trip was in order to get us back to the hotel. I had heard good things about Old Town Alexandria’s Farmers Market, so we decided that Saturday’s breakfast would be a great excuse to check it out. I was not particularly impressed with the market, but just walking around Old Town ended up being one of my favorite parts of the weekend.
It reminded me of another southern favorite, Charleston, S.C. We made sure to get a rounded breakfast of savory and sweet- though both options centered around buttery pastry dough- and enjoyed them on the way to our first museum on the metro.
*Note: We later saw signs that threatened fines for eating on the metro; you probably shouldn’t follow our example…
We narrowed our museum choices down to three for the sake of quality over quantity, and our first trip was to the Holocaust museum. Now there were a few jokes here and there about the implication of going to this particular museum on our anniversary trip, but later we both agreed that it was a completely worthy experience. The museum itself deserves and will get its own post, but needless to say, it was moving and difficult and at the end we were really glad to have gone.
After a two-hour route through the museum we emerged onto the mall and took in the clear blue skies. We had both visited the monuments several times before, so we didn’t make a specific trip to any one. But of course they were never far away…
Now we were ready for lunch, and I had done my homework. We are frequent users of sites like yelp and urbanspoon to make restaurant decisions, and when I found Panas, I knew we had to make the trip. It was a little out of the way but so worth the trip.
Panas serves empanadas stuffed with about 15 different flavor combinations, omnivores and vegetarians alike will come away happy and I wanted to buy a bottle of each of their four dipping sauces to take home; they were each wonderful in entirely different ways. I don’t think this is a chain, though it would work well as one for the concept; everything was so well thought out from the combinations, to the accompaniments, and finally to the codes that were baked into each crust so you knew which flavor you happened to be enjoying. We took the plunge and ordered the Canoa- 8 enchiladas and plaintain chips. For the record our favorites were The Popeye and the CubaNovo. All the food was excellent, and the food is a great price for the experience and quality.
Fully stuffed by the canoe of food, we were ready for the wonderland of every 10 year old in a 27 year old’s body: the Natural History Museum.
To be continued…
I like that we are pretty much not newlyweds anymore, I like that we are better because of hard things that have happened, I like that we moved to a brand new place and it is our brand new life together, I like that our inside jokes can only get more complicated from here on, I like that you write me letters on special days instead of cards, I like that a friend once told me that we have the best stories because I like thinking we are main characters together, I like that we laugh a lot, that we are just simpatico if you know what I mean, and I particularly like that I was able to find multiple pictures of me being dipped by you on dance floors.
Cheers to year four and on and on; I am oh so looking forward to them all.
—There are small things in life that just make it good but might not warrant a whole post: hence the awesome list- five little things that made life better this week.—
Just to begin, you can listen to this song while you read. You can also watch the pretty amazing trick biking footage, but I found that only mildly appealing (though impressive) and the song particularly enjoyable.
1. Roasted Fall Vegetables: Hello butternut squash, we have missed you. What is it about roasting vegetables that makes them so very good? John and I put roasted brussel sprouts on the same level as candy, they are chewy, salty, and slightly sweet, but the particular mix we have been enjoying this week is cubed butternut squash, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and carrots tossed in garlic, olive oil, and dried rosemary. It is awesome on its own but also a superior pizza topping.
2. Kid History Videos: We laughed such that I did that silent hiccuping falling over thing while watching these. I love that people who think of these things exist. This was a favorite, but you should also check out “Boys and Girls Camp.”
3. This post by cjanekendrick.com; my favorite section, and one that I can relate to a bit in this season, was this-
“The thing I noticed about me, about this summer, about that grass as it grew wild in the sun is this: what may look wild and untethered can actually be the very breath of obedience. Sometimes God just wants us to grow lush until we too, go to seed, replicate ourselves, scatter and store up more roots through the winter onto next spring, when the light finds us again.”
4. The fact that I conquered the Ikea Vittsjo. Sure it was true, as the mildly amusing graphic told me, that I needed a bit of a helper at one pivotal moment, but otherwise I independently followed the pictures and in only three separate sections of work, there she stood. Sure she didn’t fit in the part of the house I intended- measure twice build once means nothing to me- but once a lovely shade of emerald green is applied, she will work quite well in the hall.
5. Light saber fights: During a quiet night as the darkness descended on our quiet Durham street, I peered out the front window, and my jaw dropped when I saw this…
So, maybe it was just the neighbor kids and maybe they weren’t real light sabers, but in the darkening twilight it was the closest we’ll come to it this side of heaven. And it is not just my husband’s slightly too strong love of Star Wars that made it so delightful; seeing kids do stuff like this out in the real world just makes me smile.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin
I don’t like to read books that are popular. I think it has to do with the fact that I am a bit of a snob. I really like the classics, and I have been know to personally describe my favorite kinds of books as “pleasantly boring.” Perhaps I feel like there is something ironically original in being an old-school, stick in the mud- if I am honest with myself this is a literary equivalent to everything hipsters are trying to do with mustaches and eyeglasses. But, if a book wins the Pulitzer Prize, I probably should check it out, even if it was a little too popular (and a little too recent) for my tastes. In an effort to open my eyes to the more current classics, I am making it a point to read some of the more recent winners.
Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and I know why. This book was in a word beautiful. Last night as I finished it, I told John that throughout the book I found myself wanting to cry, not because it was sad but just because it was so very beautiful. I tried to think of another word that could describe it, but scrumptious or gorgeous or lovely just don’t do it; it is pure, sweeping, and enveloping, but there is not one bit of flash or kitsch about it. Robinson has a way of making every idea within the book seem sacred, and her exact words make you feel you are entering into a sanctuary every time you crack the cover.
This is not a book to read quickly; it plods along and you might even admit to yourself that you are a bit bored by it, but somehow it seems so worthy and so lovely that you will want to come back to it again and again, in that way it reminded me of a devotional text more than a novel. The focus of the novel supports that description as well.
Gilead is the story of John Ames, a small town preacher well into his seventies, who marries and has a child late in life. He has been told that, due to a heart condition, he won’t live much longer, and the text of the book is compromised of a letter to his young son about what he wishes he would be around to tell him.
“I’m trying to make the best of our situation. That is, Im trying to tell you things I might never have thought to tell you if I had brought you up myself, father and son, in the usual companionable way. When things are taking their ordinary course it is hard to remember what matters. There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all.”
This premise could easily devolve into a mighty last will and testament or a list of platitudes, but John Ames is too aware of his own fallibility for that, so instead it is a stash of his most loved memories, often contemplated thoughts, and stories of his family. Much of it is profound, but the bits and pieces that make you smile or laugh and the simple gravity of his love for wife and son, somehow seem just as much or more important in the scheme of the story. Robinson writes John Ames in such a way that every memory and thought somehow holds an answer; I don’t think it is important to really know the questions, just that they are the kinds of questions every man and woman faces simply because we are alive.
This will not become my favorite book, but it might very well go down as one of the most beautiful I can remember. Robinson should win awards simply for the way she brings John Ames to life; if I were to meet her, I would be surprised to find she herself is not this rural, aged minister she uncovers him so subtly and so completely. Pick it up sometime, but don’t feel like you have to read right through. This one is better savored over a month or so.
Below is a passage that I read over at least five times the first time I read through it; I think it shows many of the qualities I described above.
“I remember that day in my childhood when I lay under the wagon with the other little children, watching them pull down the ruins of that Baptist church, and my father brought me a piece of biscuit for my lunch, and I crawled out and knelt with him there, in the rain, I remember it as if he broke the bread and put a bit of it in my mouth, though I know he didn’t. HIs hands and his face were black with ash-he looked charred, like one of the old martyrs- and he knelt there in the rain and brought a piece of biscuit out from the inside of his shirt, and he did break it, that’s true, and gave half to me and ate the other half himself. And it truly was the bread of affliction, because everyone was poor then. There had been drought for a few years and times were hard. Through we didn’t notice it much when they were hard for everybody. And I guess that must have been why no one minded the rain. There had been so little of it. One thing I do always remember is how the women let their hair fall down and their skirts trail in the mud, even the old women, as if none of it mattered at all. And then the singing, which was very beautiful as I remember it, though I’m pretty sure it could not have been. It would just rise up with the sound of the rain. “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” All the lovely, sad old tunes. The bitterness of that morsel has meant other things to me as the years passed. I have had many occasions to reflect on it.”
A weekend hike in Eno River State Park and the way the sun shone through the windows this morning reminded me of this poem, an old favorite. The fall weather here does not disappoint, and my favorite part of our hike was seeing turtles sunning themselves on the creek rocks- their necks craned toward the sun like they were drinking it.
We are all a bit “dappled,” “fickle,” and “freckled,” and I like that his poem focuses on beauty found not in perfection but variety- all the colors of green on walk in the woods, the many colors in the iris of your eyes, thick layers of paint on a canvas, and the many colors of white in limestone- all made better by the inconsistency that creates its own harmony.
Not to mention that Hopkins creates fabulous musicality with his choice of wording. The alliteration of “fathers-forth” actually pulls you forward with the phrase, and somehow you can almost taste on your tongue the sights of the “swift, slow; sweet, adazzle.” Glory be to God for these things indeed.