Sunday, December 28, 2008

Four calling birds

Hello, darling people. I hope that you had the merriest of Christmases. Mine was spent loading and unloading countless dishwasher cycles, prancing around in my rapturous cherry-covered pink apron, and threading two young cousins through barbwire fences. 

Yes. On my mother's side of the family, I am the lone girl cousin in the Golden Horde of seven boys. Ages 6-22. This makes me very happy because it's just like Rose in Eight Cousins, the Lousia May Alcott book. And I've learned the secret of living with so many boys: do not try to control. Do not try to make them use napkins or stop playing video games. Just laugh. And enjoy them. Because they are much more fun than girls. And when their sense of humor gets a little too kindergarten - go drink coffee with the grownups. 

In other news: hardwood floors are beautiful. And treacherous (just like the Spares' album, which you should go buy right now!). I.E., I am a klutz. I fall walking up the stairs. I fall walking down the stairs.  I fall carrying laundry baskets. I fall vacuuming the library. Sometimes I fall walking across a room, just for the heck of it. 
My legs collect more bruises every week. It's good for them to have a hobby. 

Three days ago, I was very excited about my Nesting sleep method, which consists of piling blankets on top of a made bed and cocooning in them. Very similar to the Tent method, if you'll cast your minds back to October. No bed to make up in the morning. The comfort of swaddling. But now the enchantment has passed and I'm ready for a return to cold hard sheets. 

Current book affairs: 
1. Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
2. The Moviegoer - Walker Percy
3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage - Bill Bryson
4. The Complete Stories - Flannery O'Connor
5. What's So Amazing About Grace? - Philip Yancey

Break Notables to Date:
1. Watch Lars for the 3rd time. Fall asleep right after bowling with Margo. I think the infatuation has settled into a comfortable liking. And I own it now, too. 
2. Spend time with Jim. We took a drive to Anniston today just so he could introduce me to Radiohead. Five bucks of gas = totally worth it for music time with my brother. 
3. Making my way through the latest season of The Office. 
4. Hanging out with Kait and planning our post-college lives in Nashville. Now I want to write for this magazine
5. Receiving an affectionate bodyslam from the Sweet Dog every day. 

The Once and Future To-Do List:
1. 2 interviews. 2 articles. Eeek.
2. Texas this Thursday(!)
3. Drink more water and less coffee. (Except I got two bags of Stumptown for Christmas . . .)
4. St. Louis the next Thursday(!)
5. And Utah the Tuesday after that(!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Prelude to Narcissa

It's time to blog. And I've got lots of things to write about. Things like Drew Holcomb and the Red Mountain team at Workplay and the most amazing new version of Hark, the Herald Angels. Things like ponderings on the pioneers and winter bathing. Things like the Narcissa Whitman and my amazing find at Reed's Books the other day.

All deserve their very own post. And they are not going to get it tonight.

Because I'm three kinds of tired. And Jim is watching "The Royal Tenenbaums." Reasons enough. Mainly the tired part.

So here are some fragments of thanksgiving.

*Good talk with my roomie.
*Sun. Sunlight. Light. Yes. Why yes, I do get that Seasonal Affective Disorder Thing. This is why I cannot live in North Dakota. Or Seattle.
*Gray tights. I love my gray tights. They're so . . . gray.
*Uncle Marty's quick visit last night.
*Jim imitating a Minnesota accent from the next room.
*The random beagle that joined me on my arctic death march today.

Not on the list: Random gusts of cold air that come on when you are sitting right over the vent. Good night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ms. Betty

I'll go ahead and warn you that this is not a happy post. In fact, I debated writing it at all. But I process things through words. Good and bad. So you are not expected to read the following - I just had to write it. 

You see, tonight Mom and I went to stay a shift with Ms. Betty in the hospital. 

I started taking piano lessons from Ms. Betty when I was nine and lived next door. I still remember tripping across the yard to her house that evening, a shy and neurotic little 4th grader. And she was completely sweet and enthusiastic and I liked her right away. 
So over the next years, she cemented my love for music. Not through all the theory exercises and classical pieces - though those were a part of it - but through her own passion for playing. One night she was trying to teach me to play "with feeling," and it just wasn't getting through to me. She finally said, "Anna, this is a waltz. The men are in top hats. The women are in lovely dresses. But the way you are playing it, they are also wearing lumberjack boots." I thought this was hilarious. And suddenly I understood what it meant to not just play the notes, but express them. 
Somewhere along the way, she became my second mother. I would run to her after a fight with my mom, and she would somehow manage to make me feel that she completely understood me, and not say anything bad about my parents. She came to see me in plays and cried with me when my cat died. For nine years, she was a weekly constant in my life, a safe place (even when I hadn't practiced).

So Jim and I have still stayed in touch, because we are practically her adopted children. But school and life get in the way, and before I know it months have gone by and I get a phone call from my mother saying that Ms. Betty is in the hospital, and the pneumonia is not pneumonia, but cancer in her lungs and brain and spine. And I surprise myself by breaking down and crying. 

Jim and I visited her before Thanksgiving. I crawled up beside her in the bed, and we spent a solid two hours laughing and talking and remembering, and went away lighter. Ms. Betty is stubborn. Ms. Betty will beat this thing. 

But things are not looking so good now. Mom and I took a shift this afternoon, and Ms. Betty's sister-in-law met us outside the door, and warned us about the pain she was going through. And I thought I was prepared, but it is not a good sign when just hearing about the suffering makes your face crumple into tears. She could not talk, and was in a lot of pain, and I just had to cry for a while before I could go in. 
But go in I did, and now I am strangely thankful. I cried a lot, especially when it was just Mom and me. I was not, after all, prepared to see someone I love in pain. But things calmed down, and I knelt by the bed and held her hand and talked to her when she woke up some from the medication. 

And she said my name. I do not know why that makes me weep to the point of no words. But I do know that it is grace. Grace that she knew me, grace that she was able to form the sounds, grace that I was able to sit there and whisper "I love you, Ms. Betty", and give back some of the care she showered on me these past eleven years. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A pound of cake and productivity

I have written several posts since Saturday night. Some witty and charming. Some pensive and deep. Some rambling and disjointed. Some manic and frighteningly hyper.

Only. None of them made it out of my head.

So I am finally here to tell you, darling readers, that I just demolished a Fuji apple and made an (ahem): Cream Cheese-Pecan-Coconut-Bourbon Pound Cake. It is baking now. Soon it will come out of the oven and I will take a picture to show the world my beautiful creation.

In the meantime: a few Hints on Christmas Vacationing at Home

Do take lots of naps on the couch after reading Flannery O'Connor stories. Make sure to include the fuzzy red blanket/shawl thing.
Do not stalk around the house in the blanket shawl thing. It may be cozy at first, but soon you will start to feel like a hybrid between a very old lady and an Indian squaw from a pre-politically correct Western movie.

Do take lots of walks. Walk in the lovely clear and cold sun. Squish through the field across the street when it is foggy, until the mist envelopes you and you cannot see your house. Run with the Sweet Dog and shriek when he gallops past you with a stiff squirrel lodged in his happy mouth. Wander through the side woods after dark and gasp at the full moon shining through the bare-limbed trees.
Do not think of "The Village" while walking through aforesaid woods after dark. Specifically, do not call to mind the horrible red-robed creature and imagine it stalking through the woods right behind you.

Do sing your heart out with friends around the piano at a Christmas hymn-sing.
Do not
sing your heart out while the pest-control guy is wandering around the house. Um. Yeah.

Of my lists, so far I have accomplished none of the concrete. I did spend an hour watching movies like these with Jim. And quoting them continually since then ("Emotions are for ethnics, Bobby." Cue our raucous laughter). And I have cooked (Brown Sugar Maple Acorn Squash=weird but good) and scrapbooked (Mom and Dad: the pre-kids days) and read. Confession: I am reading a Jan Karon novel. I don't know why I feel so guilty . It's not as if Mitford falls in the same category with the much-hated Christian Romance Novels. But I got the O'Connor and a Walker Percy novel to balance out the sweetness and light, and also Orthodoxy by Chesterton, and I have lots of other serious reading planned. But I . . . I . . . I just needed to go to Mitford for a while, ok?

I think I hear a beeping. Excuse me while I scurry to the kitchen . . .

. . . and 1 hour later, it is done. Done, because either Southern Living or I messed up with the temp and baking time. And it wasn't me. For once (of course, I will probably wake up in the middle of the night and remember that it was me, but . . .). The point is that it tastes divine. I know, because I cut several small slivers off the craggy top where no one will ever notice, and it's really really good. Really. Good.

And it had better be, 'cause even going by the college schedule I lost sleep over this cake.

Edit: Here is The Cake

And here is The Cake after Dad's staff luncheon

Ah. Baking.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Lists before Sleeping

It is Saturday and 9 pm and I am sleepy enough to fall into bed right now.

And that would be ok. Because finals are done, done, DONE, and I have no-thing for six whole weeks. No papers. No tests. No frustrating google earth presentations. 

That's right. This year, I'm one of those slackers who skips Jan-term. And I really don't know what I'll do with myself during these six weeks. 

The Absolute, Concrete, Big-Things List
1) Visit Anna in Texas for New Year's. She will let me drink wine! Yay Anna. That's why we're friends, right? 
2) Roadtrip with Deborah to St. Louis to visit Joanna and eat frozen custard. 
3) Impose myself on Jim at Alabama. Experience RUF at a Big State School. Play on the one person see-saw at the expensive rec center. 

The Definite But Flexible List
1) Read. Read a lot. Read about things I love, like farmhouses and Shakespeare. Read about random things, like the Civil War and horticulture. Read everything I don't have time for during the semesters.
2) Scrapbook photos from this fall and maybe do one of Jim's kidhood. 
3) Cook. Cook a lot. Today: Swedish wedding cookies, and chocolate macaroon roll-ups. 
4) Watch "Lars and the Real Girl" again. The obsession must work itself out. 
5) Have the Great Music Trade-Fest with Jim. 

The Idealistic But Doubtful List
1) Strength training at least twice a week. (I am such a weakling. Cardio=love. Lifting weights=stake me to the fire ant bed. )
2) Use GarageBand to record a ground-breaking album with Jim, gain instant fame and success, and tour Europe with Franz Ferdinand. 
3) Teach myself a hip-hop routine off of YouTube videos.
4) Speaking of: watch all the YouTube videos I am always meaning to watch.
5) Speaking of watching things: go through 15 movies on the Netflix queue. 

Wake up baby, there's a train a-coming,
don't you leave me or forsake me.
Wake up baby, there's a train a-coming,
don't you know how much I love you.
-Doug Burr, "Graniteville" 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Longer than the road

Today, I had no exams. Tomorrow, I write my little heart out in (ahem) "The West in Global Perspective." I poured my morning into Germany from its unification to 1945, and traditional Indonesian art forms like wayang kulit, a theatre of shadow puppets. 

It is actually sort of . . . fun. 

In other news, today = productive. 
For one: got o.ffi.ciall.y signed up for that internship. Whew. 
For two: got my Poetry class stuff back. Not only did the professor like the essay I poured my life blood into (always affirming), she asked me to contact her about a position as a student research assistant this summer. A paid position. A position where I get paid to learn things and work with English professors. Um, heck yes. 
For three: Lunched at the Golden Temple with Deb and Joanna, where we ate curry burritos and tomato soup and mocked all the earth mother clothes and incense. 

And tomorrow I leave, which is sweet and bitter. I want to go home; I just want all my friends to come with me. Thank goodness Valerie and Joanna are, at least for the first two nights. And after all, Jan term does hold a flight to Texas and a road trip to St. Louis. See? I won't be completely people-deprived. 

For now, I'll just be curmudgeonly about the prospect of dragging everything I will need for seven weeks out to my car. In the rain. Blech. This is where a boy would come in handy -automatic luggage carrier. Is it unethical to date just to have built-in slave labor? 

In other other news, the Red Mountain Christmas album is really (really) good. Five bucks. Get 'em while they're hot. 

The Christ child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire. 
-G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Diner coffee and Christmas parties

The law library. Looking out the floor-length window to Reid Chapel with the crazy bells pealing against the walls.

I like the law library. I just discovered this study spot. It is pretty and not so crowded and most of all different. Changing atmospheres is important. Very important. Otherwise I go mad.

And it is extra appropriate that I am in the law library to translate an affidavit for my Legal Spanish class. Curses on you affidavit. Even though I would rather translate than study for a comprehensive final.

And be-sides, I am wearing my red and black print '40s style dress that I've had since I was fifteen. With a red sweater, and red sunglasses and purse and my hair is straight after a badly needed haircut (I like straight hair. Do you know what bliss it is to wake up and not have to DO anything to your mass of locks? I got ready this morning in eight minutes. Thanks to straight hair and mineral makeup and deciding what to wear the night before). I feel like an upperclassman, properly studious and put-together and on top of things.

This means I will trip and rip a hole in my stockings on the way back to the dorm, and fail all my finals. There's a certain kind of confidence that breeds catastrophe.

Yesterday/last night, I had a Christmas party at the house. Erin, Michael and Joanna accompanied me out to the wilds of Cook Springs in the morning, and we spent a semi-studious day at the house. Then seven more good friends showed up in the evening, and we ate pasta and laughed a lot and made merry well into the night. Photos to come.

I like red? I throw parties? I love being surrounded by people and throwing open the doors to guests?

Dear Lord. I'm becoming my mother.

In other news, I have four finals. Only three require studying. Two are over tomorrow. The last is on Thursday. Which basically means I get to party on Tuesday and Wednesday. I mean, STUDY. That's right, I will diligently STUDY allll those two days and not even think about lunching with friends and arranging midnight IHOP runs. Nope. Not me.

Besides, I'm a Waffle House devotee.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Just Clean Gone

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in church, and had one of those random thought-trains that have nothing whatsoever to do with the sermon. I was thinking about the phrase "clean gone," as in, "I'm just clean gone on him!" I love that phrase. I don't know why. But I started to play with the the idea of what it would like look in a picture or poem, and I wrote something down on my bulletin. I found it a week later and wrote this. 

Clean Gone
Not even a pickle jar
left in the icebox.
No shoes or paper clippings comfort
the straw-swept floor.
Outside, the laundry line trembles
in naked air,
and white clapboard sheds grey over
sighs of sinking foundation.
Let it sink, my love - I can never go back
to the home I lived without you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Barefoot and pregnant . . .

Last night, we had the RUF Christmas party. 'Scuse me. The Redneck Christmas party.

Daisy Jo, Barbara Jo, Pappy, Ruby Jo and Betty Jo. And I'm holdin my little Bobby Sue. 

It's  jes' plumb hard to balance a baby and hor d'oeuvres. Specially when you're already six months along with th' next one. 

The menfolk tried to ignore our delicate condition. 

But we hogtied 'em and made them get in the group photograph. That's our fine minister Mr. Sterling in the plaid at the front, with his sweet wife Susie and daughter Kate on the left. 

Betty Jo, a.k.a. Lindsay, in the kitchen.  We had the best time chattin' about Sears catalogs and pick-up trucks. Aren't those Christmas socks jes the sweetest thang?

*breaks character* The four of us! Yes, my roommate makes a very creepy redneck man. And Erin looks way too comfortable being pregnant. And I'm a little bit mad at Anna Page for looking so cute and normal. And Bobby Sue costs 99 cents at the thrift store. She's my favorite. 

Did I feel a little indecent walking into a party looking six months pregnant? A little bit. Did I develop some sympathy for those involved in actual pregnancy? Yep. Did I have the time of my life dressing up and talking twang with these amazing girls?


P.S. It's root beer, Mom.  Don't worry.