It was Heath who selected Boston and its neighbors to the north for our annual pilgrimage to Anywhere But Texas. A student of history and obsessive collector of revolutionary facts, New England — what with its statues of white men in tricorne hats, and old buildings in which to congregate those very same tricorne hat-wearing white men–seemed the ideal destination for scratching that colonial itch. (Fun fact: colonial itch was the term of endearment Ben Franklin gave to his STD).
Allow me to pontificate on the three important lessons learned from this jingoistic jaunt.
Boston’s Freedom Trail is maybe 90% cool and 10% tacky.
The Freedom trail is a walking tour of some of the can’t miss historical sites prominently featured in American history. It mostly encompasses places where our revolutionary heroes either died or thought about dying. I’m talking of course about massacre sites and churches. But all-in-all it’s an enjoyable way to spend the morning. And thanks to the National Park Service (a government agency so fine, even Ron Swanson can support it) you can get a docent-guided tour for free every hour on the hour. Highlights include: park rangers sneering at freedom trail buskers, lots and lots and lots of facts about Paul Revere, and the realization that the Declaration of Independence is one of the most tedious break up letters ever written.
New England’s seafood game is on point.
“Oh you’re going to New England, huh? Are you excited about the lobster?” I was a little surprised that question — or a variation of it — was the most consistent reaction I got upon telling people about our summer plans. But I get it now. New England is all about seafood, and maybe its because the memory is as fresh as the lobsters we cooked up at our campsite, but the seafood offerings here far surpass those of other coastal food hubs (I’m looking at you Seattle). And I’m not talking simply about your high-quality seafood restaurants here. Whether we were throwing back raw oysters at chic oyster bars, nomming on buttery fish and chips at English pubs, or drooling over foot-long lobster rolls at harbor-side restaurants, we were bowled over by the the most intensely flavorful and perfectly prepared seafood we’ve ever tasted.
If Ken Burns doesn’t feel stupid for omitting Acadia from his national parks documentary, he probably should.
Have you seen the documentary? The one where Peter Coyote waxes poetic about Yosemite and Yellowstone and Join Muir for 12 hours but doesn’t give Acadia a courtesy nod? It’s a conspiracy is what it is. Acadia is the oldest national park East of the Mississippi, and it may easily be the most beautiful. The sun supposedly rises first on Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain before anywhere else in America, and it has one of the largest expanses of naturally dark sky in the Eastern U.S.–meaning whether you’re an early bird or a stargazing night owl, this park is for you. It’s also a phenomenal place for cyclists thanks to our pal John D. Rockefeller who, in the early 20th century, had some 50 miles of carriage roads thoughtfully designed to weave about the park. We’re more of a hiking/camping duo ourselves, so we stuck to the trails that meander through the trees and along granite rock slabs that plunge into the ocean. Acadia is located on Mount Desert Island, which also plays home to the Bar Harbor, a charming resort town. But despite it’s proximity to this popular tourist destination, the park was relatively uncrowded, even during its peak season. While campsites require a reservation and fill up quickly, we very infrequently passed others on our many hiking excursions. Perhaps it’s because Acadia is not an easy park to get to, or perhaps it’s because few have ever heard of it before. If the latter, sorry Ken Burns. Looks like you did me a solid. My bad, I hope we’re square now.
All in all, New England is an invigorating region. The colonial callbacks that pepper Boston’s streets and sidewalks, while perhaps expected, are nonetheless deeply inspiring. They serve as reminders of the courage and ambition that motivated our nation’s founders to create a new society–one that would encourage self-determination and put mechanisms in place to secure unalienable human rights. Meanwhile, in Acadia, the salty aroma of the Atlantic permeates the air as waves unceasingly claw at the granite cliffs it may, one day, turn into sand. We came to New England to study its history and revel in its natural beauty. We left, whether by forces of man or nature, rejuvenated.
Neither my parents nor Heath’s parents had housecleaning help when we were growing up. I don’t know the reasoning behind that decision in the Robinson household, but I’m pretty sure my mom nixed the option because she felt no one could do it as well as she could. I, however, do not share her enthusiasm.
I bring this up because while the question of whether or not to hire some bi-monthly help to tend to baseboard cleaning and oven scrubbing may not give others pause, it does for me because it’s not a luxury I am accustomed to having on a regular basis. Like manicures or massages. Nothing is wrong with either habit, but it’s difficult to embrace an indulgence like that if it’s not what you regularly grew up. I also feel like the maid debate is somewhat of a taboo, at least in our social circle. Before writing this post, I never brought up the subject to friends, it just wasn’t something anyone discussed. But as I started thinking more about it and asking questions, I found out that a surprising number of close friends benefit from the assistance of a professional housekeeper. The fact that it wasn’t discussed but was nonetheless present, makes me dwell on the topic even further.
The truth of the matter is, I am an employed adult in a two-income household with no kids and an affinity for exploration, and the last thing I want to do with my free time is engage in scrupulous cleaning. I’m not good at at. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it. I feel this same way about making sushi and going to the dentist.
So, is enlisting the assistance of an expert in cleanliness the right thing for Heath and I to do at this moment in our lives? I see a pro/con list in my future.
Pro: The time I currently spend cleaning house would be free to focus on other things.
Con: I don’t currently spend that much time cleaning house, so realistically that doesn’t add up to much.
Pro: I get a clean house, a cleaner house than I could ever imagine…a home where there isn’t a layer of dust on the tops of all picture frames and even places like the sides of the refridgerator have a lustrous sheen. Ok, I clearly can imagine it, and I like it.
Con: Unlike, say, plumbing or electrical work, cleaning house is something I could do myself. I have the tools and the know-how to sweep and shine, so forking over the cash to let someone else do the dirty work could feel a little off. But to be fair, I call cabs despite knowing how to drive and eat at restaurants despite knowing how to cook. Why think differently about housework?
Pro: Technically, hiring a housekeeper would be providing employment, and I’ve always wanted to be one of them “job creators” the Republicans have been going on and on about.
Con: It’s a new expense, something else to budget for, which means less money to spend on some of the fun stuff like concerts or vacays.
Pro: I’m fairly certain the overall quality of my life would improve. I’m not going to put all my eggs in the hiring–a-maid basket, but having a well-kept home would make me feel all warm and squishy inside, like I’m kinda sorta getting good at the being-a-grown-up-thing. Impressing my mom with my spic and span space would be a nice benefit too.
Con: I can see myself feeling what Ranjana coined “lifestyle guilt.” I’ve had a pretty privileged life—got a car at 16, studied abroad in college, own a home—and I’m not obtuse the fact that these are things that many, many harder working people than myself will never have or experience. I don’t pretend that I wouldn’t feel sort of awkward about “flaunting” my good fortune before a stranger. I think this is the reason my friends aren’t quick to fess up to having a housekeeper.
Pro: Having a clean home is better for the house itself. If I bring someone in to regularly maintain the corners and crevices, the house will experience less rust, ware and deterioration. That’s just responsible homeownership.
Con: I would be letting a stranger into my private spaces. Things like dirty underpants, medication and embarrassing dance movies would all be out there for the housekeeper to see. I don’t know if there’s a universally accepted moral code that housekeepers abide by that demands they refrain from judgement, but I hope so.
Pro: While a housekeeper would be a stranger at first, I hope that eventually we’d form a bond. I know many people who have developed strong ties and relationships with the people who provide them services, and I would really value building that unique relationship.
There’s clearly a lot to consider, at least from my perspective. But in the end, I think the good outweighs the bad. At the heart of it, hiring a housekeeper isn’t a reflection on me—it doesn’t mean I’m a spoiled and lazy so-and-so, it just means I would have a cleaner house. And that is something worth trying.
From where I’m standing, there are two schools of thought on what to do with a place, a home, when one of the people who loved it and lived within its walls perishes. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that part of what you once loved about the home would leave along with the departed, causing the remaining inhabitant(s) to become prisoners of their own surroundings. But it’s also true that you might love the place all the more for the memories it stirs, deriving comfort and familiarity. Such is the paradox of a home in mourning. It remains partly a tribute to the person who loved it and partly haunted by their absence. How much of one or the other tugs at the subconscious is what inevitably drives us to either stay submerged in the memory or move forward its shadow.
To summarize my metaphorical ramblings, I’m grieving the loss of my grandparents’ house. Since my grandmother, Oma, died in 2009, my grandfather, Papa, has been diligently keeping the house they shared together in working order. I wouldn’t say he’s been struggling with the upkeep, but it’s not been without it’s challenges. A few days ago, he finally moved out—putting the only house I’ve known he and Oma to call home, on the market for the highest bidder.
It’s a beauty of a house, a grand old thing they built together in the Texas hill country before I was born. Allegedly they traveled the country in an RV for some undetermined but lengthy amount of time before deciding there was no better place on this planet to retire than the outskirts of New Braunfels, Texas. They bought two adjacent lots and planted their house in the middle of a grove of native trees. As a kid, it was an epic destination, as every proper grandparent house ought to be. To begin with, the house served as the setting in which I was permitted to inhale more homemade cookies than I was ever allowed at home. Then there was the hearth, which instead of a traditional fireplace, was actually an elevated stone platform that played host to a shiny blue franklin stove. But this unconventional setup turned out to be the ideal location for after dinner “talent” shows where I forced my doting family to sit through dramatic readings of my favorite children’s books or bizarre musical numbers I had written 15 minutes prior to showtime. Bro’s and my original performance of Mexican Date, I’m told was a big hit. But cookies and attention-seeking behavior aside, the house is where I did my bonding with Oma. That’s where we cooked together and picked peaches. We rocked back and forth on the porch together, admiring the rolling grass like you’d admire waves from the deck of a ship. She told me stories and in turn I’m sure I provided an endless supply of laughter and general adorableness. It’s where I had the privilege to truly know my only living biological grandparent. After Oma died, the house is where I took Heath to engage in philosophical debates with Papa that would start around 5, cocktail hour, and carry on well into the night. The routine was fairly standard—cocktails at 5, dinner around 6:30, mind-spinning conversation until 9 and then sherry on the porch; but while predictable, dinners at Papa’s house were nonetheless looked forward to with monumental anticipation. Two weeks ago, Heath and I had our last-ever cocktail hour in the most consistent house of my childhood, and it’s not an easy experience to swallow.
The reasons for Papa relinquishing control of the house are fairly practical. It’s a lot of upkeep for one person, and while New Braunfels has grown exponentially from the time he and Oma first settled in, it’s a bit of a drive from the town center. And he’s lonely, I would be too. And living that far, that isolated from human interaction was wearing on him. He traded drinking sherry alone for the opportunity to dine with friends in a growing retirement community. I’m glad he knows what he wants, and that at 88 he doesn’t think he’s too old to go after it. I admire that. And if I chose that path for myself, I would want my grandkids, hell, everyone, to be happy for me.
But I’m still a little heartbroken. Damn those childhood houses and their emotional hooks.
The philosophical debates on exestentialism and excessive wine drinking will continue, however; even if the venue has changed. And that is something I can cheers to.
This week the high in Seattle is 81 degrees. In Portland it’s 84 and in Austin it’s 102. Is it any wonder we chose the Pacific Northwest as the optimal location in which to celebrate three years of matrimony? That and a love of IFC’s Portlandia is what got us to Washington and Oregon for our annual anniversary vacay (see San Francisco and Mexico City), but it’s not what made the trip a memorable one. Maybe I’ve been reading too much David Foster Wallace lately, but the account of our trip will have to come to you in multiple lengthy segments. Beginning with the following…
We arrived in Seattle around 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, but the sun hadn’t completely set yet, which meant we could observe the dimly lit cityscape as we rode the light rail to the hotel. We watched the sunset over Ranier Beach and Century Link Field. We were captivated by this city.
The first night in Seattle was a short one. It was 10 p.m. by the time we dropped our backpacks off at the hotel, and though we craved exploration of the city, we also craved a meal, which we hadn’t had since breakfast. A sushi place next door, which in an attempt to rid itself of a fish surplus, was offering half-priced sushi on most of the menu. At $3- and $4-a-roll we ate till our heart’s content before returning to the hotel. One night on the king size bed was all we got before packing our bags for two days in the northwest wilderness.
We walked the three blocks from the hotel to the rental car office—a serendipitous location—and loaded our bags into the aqua-colored Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master). It was a new day and the city looked different in the morning light: more fog, more people, more Starbucks locales than initially anticipated. Before hitting the highway to Olympic National Park, we had first to rent the sleeping bags and mattress pads to make our stint in the peninsula more comfortable. REI’s flagship store was just up the road, and having rented equipment from the chain before, seemed the easiest and cheapest bet for acquiring the necessary goods. But Heath’s face dropped from its normal aim-to-please state when the rental man told him there were no more mattress pads available.
“What do you want to do?” Heath asked me at hearing the news. I was stewing in my frustration, with REI and with Heath. What do I want to do? What does he want to do? Wasn’t he the one who just went on a 32-mile backpacking excursion in the primitive Weminuche Wilderness? Wasn’t he the camping expert? Shouldn’t he know what to do?! “I don’t know, this was your rodeo.” I said, grinding my teeth that the one part of the trip I had designated to Heath had suddenly taken an unexpected turn. We were advised to go across the street to a smaller local camping outfitter who would be more likely to have mattress pads to rent. When we got there and it wasn’t open, and we had 15 minutes to kill until it would be. It was nearly 10 o’clock and I had wanted to be in Kalaloch, which was still 4 hours away, by noon. We were both quiet as we waited; Heath afraid to say anything that would stir my anger, and me afraid to let my frustration kill the mood of the experience. When the shop keep arrived, she regretfully offered up the same mattress pad status proposed by the REI rental man and referred us back across the street. By now I was childishly negative. Hell, why go camping at all? I thought, ready to let the first hiccup of the trip spoil my good time. Our backpacks were already stuffed, but Heath suggested we buy some affordable mattress pads at REI and mail them home if we couldn’t fit them in our bags by the end of the trip. Two new mattress pads would cost us in the neighborhood of $200, so I wasn’t jumping for joy at the idea. But this was our anniversary, and I was acting like a Betty Draper brat. It wasn’t Heath’s fault that I had scheduled us to go camping during July 4 weekend, which was probably one of the busiest in the country. I knew I should relent and go with the flow. We picked out a couple of mid-grade pads and got the hell out of there so we could leave the negativity behind us and start the fun. Or so we thought.
We drove up Highway 5 to Edmonds to take the ferry to Kingston. From there the plan was to drive around the North side of the park and down to the west coast where we had a site reserved at Kalaloch beach. By using the term “the plan was” you may have correctly surmised that that is not what happened. We got to Edmonds at 10:40 and zipped into a McDonald’s drive-thru to gobble up a quick breakfast before the long drive to the beach. I ordered some kind of McNuffin and Heath some kind of McBiscuit. The total was surprisingly high when we pulled up to The First Window to seal the deal, but we were too hungry and too on-edge to care. When we entered the ferry traffic line it all became clear. Heath turned and asked, “Doesn’t McDonald’s stop serving breakfast at 10:30?” (I smugly admit that I was ignorant to this fact because practically the only time I eat McDonalds is at airports and the breakfast-or-lunch conundrum has never presented itself.) He was right. In our aqua colored Ford Forcus (whose headlights we would never master) were three cheeseburgers that paired quite awkwardly with our two scalding hot coffees. I was disappointed, yes, but not too much so to not eat. I had glumly swallowed the last of my breakfast cheeseburger as I noticed the sign overhead that read “Ferry Traffic Two Hours.”
WHAT?! By now it was near 11 and we weren’t even out of the Seattle metro area and likely wouldn’t be till 1. I had wanted to get to Kalaloch by noon, which clearly wasn’t happening, as it would be another 4 ½ hours to get there once we did board the ferry.
I had started to let this get the best of me when I remembered what Mark told me when I started to let my Type A personality go overboard in India (Drink every time she references going to India.) “That’s the lesson of traveling in India. No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, you have to be able to roll with the punches.” Mark’s right. I’ve got to chill. We aren’t even in India. We are in an air-conditioned aqua Ford Focus (whose headlights we would never master) with a reserved campsite on the beach and three years of sublimely happy marriage to celebrate. It is a little first-world-problemy of me to get so defeated and agitated by what is, at it’s core, a non problem. I’ll put on my big girl pants, lose the ‘tude and celebrate where we are and why we are. The magic that is 3G internet found us an alternate sans ferry route through Olympia that would get us to Kaloloch in 3 1/2 hours, plenty of time to enjoy a beach picnic and the perfectly breezy July 4 weather.
We rolled into Kalaloch at 4:30 and stopped at the information center where a comically unenthused park ranger (or maybe just a counter worker, I’m not sure of the national park hierarchy) not-so-politely told us how to check in, which was essentially not to. We browsed the marked numbers along Camping Loop D for our campsite and in record speed set up the tent. We could hear the ocean roaring but still had yet to catch a glimpse of the sea. (Our campsite was on a hill and surrounded by lush trees and ferns, but the ocean was just out of view.) We followed the sounds of the rolling tide down to the beach where we were met by sprawling sands, cold ocean water and beach logs that were larger than telephone poles. Heath said the view was like a scene from The Land Before Time rolled out before us—ocean in the foreground with misty mountains in the periphery.
For a good 2 hours we relaxed by the water, which really wasn’t that “by the water” at all since this was low tide and the sandy beach spanned some 100 yards before your toes could touch the cold Pacific Ocean waves. We cartwheeled in the tide, ran through the shallow water, photographed the expansive coast, lay in the sand, read in the sun, watched kite flyers fly and dog walkers walk and devoured with every sense the surroundings where we found ourselves.
Despite our breakfast hamburgers, hunger crept in and we returned to the campsite for requisite Independence Day hot dogs and to swap stories about the camping experiences we each had growing up, and agreeing without qualification that this trumped all those past childhood memories. Now, we had the glorious beach, and the unbelievably comfortable weather, and, most importantly, each other.
After stuffing ourselves with hot dogs and jalapeno-flavored kettle chips we wandered back to the water a final time to take in the sunset. There’s nothing about beach sunsets that I can describe more adequately than what’s already been said or experienced, so I won’t attempt to here; though, I will add the scenery was made more memorable by Bota Box (I have a deep, deep love for the bargain enjoyed by consuming boxed wine) and a pair of Pro-America, Franzia-drinking (fellow boxed-wine enthusiasts) military men who took it upon themselves to impressively carry a 250-pound log up to their campsite for the purpose of who-the-hell cares.
Full disclosure, I flaked out like a blizzard when it came time to, how do I say this diplomatically, make efficient use of our aggressive rooster Ruby. We had raised Ruby since he was a chick. Fed him. Housed him. Named him. So it was tough for me to then do the dirty and dispatch of him. That, I gladly left for Heath to endure. (Though I had no problem doing the subsequent cooking and eating and blogging.) Given my lack of participation in that surreal and slightly icky life moment, it seemed unlikely I would sign up for any future endeavors of the same ilk. How wrong you are my friend. For I was front and center when pals Mark and Ranjana made, er, “efficient use” of their three hens and two ducks last weekend.
Like Heath and I, and thousands of other wannabe urban farmers in Austin and elsewhere, Mark and Ranjana spent a good long while providing a comfortable space in the backyard in which Rothko, Benedict, Omlette, Frank and Scott could scratch up and stink up. It’s perhaps what they do best after egg laying and mealworm eating. But, alas, the couple has decided to relocate, and as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. And “it” includes chickens and ducks. So, a chicken dinner it would be for Mark, Ranjana and their invited guests.
I’m not blind to the fact that to many, it may seem gross and odd and perhaps even cruel to do in your pets. Nor am I obtuse to the cold hard truth that there is an entire industry out there that does this sort of thing day in and day out, and it’s in many ways not such a big f-ing deal. (In fact, the average American eats about 185 pounds of chicken a year, according to this NPR story, so chew on that if you’re a chicken eater of the “that’s cruel” ideology.) Whatever camp you’re in—Gross, Cruel, Who Cares—it doesn’t change the simple notion that it is important to know where your food comes from, REALLY comes from. So this time, I put on my big girl pants and played an active role in helping Maranjanark prepare their meal.
Why? Well, to help out some friends, for one. But also, I wanted to be there for selfish reasons. I wanted to document the process for the sake of art, or nostalgia or something. And I wanted to be able to tell my future kids about it. “No kids, I haven’t gone skydiving, or set foot on Antarctica, but I did see with my own two eyes, a chicken run around with its head cut off, and it was weird, and startling and magnificent.” I wanted to be there for my street cred.
What didn’t factor into my decision making process at the time I volunteered for this assignment, was the odd sense of fulfillment I would derive from it all. Not from the actual morbid blood-and-guts part, but being a part of the life cycle. For years Mark and Ranjana gave to the birds, and now the birds were giving back. It was all done humanely and gracefully. Mark and Ranjana said a few words to remember and be thankful for the experiences the birds afforded them, and then shared their nourishment with friends who had supported them along the way.
I was confused and conflicted and frankly a little immature when we made a meal of our rooster. But being a part of the experience, the whole experience, with our Austin family was different. It felt right. It felt important. It felt beautiful.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” –Cesar Chavez
“What Netflix movie did we get this week?”
“An American in Paris.”
“Oh the Woody Allen movie. Cool.”
“No, not the Woody Allen movie. That’s Midnight in Paris. This is the musical with Gene Kelly.”
“The Singing in the rain guy?”
…And so began our journey into this nearly forgotten movie musical.
My mom did a good job of ensuring I accrued a respectable number of musical titles as a child, for whatever that’s worth. Weekly trips to the public library always returned the best of Rogers and Hammerstein scores and MGM films. Oklahoma, West Side Story, Sound of Music, The King and I, Singing in the Rain all had regular dates with my VCR. Like most egocentric children, I took great delight in bellowing “Shall We Dance” and “Do-Re-Mi” through the house as loud as humanly possible and fantasizing about the day I would be cast to play the female lead in a grand stage version of each. And before you go around feeling sorry for my poor family who had to endure these homemade song and dance numbers, let it be known that ole Gretchen didn’t do much to discourage this behavior. There’s even a recording of me somewhere screaming “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” into a microphone at the tender age of 4, which is hilarious now for reasons I didn’t understand at the time.
But I digress.
I had vague, vague memories of the 1951 musical An American in Paris being on the musical circuit that passed through our home, but hardly could recall what it was about or recite any of the lyrics from the film’s musical numbers, which is a shame considering its Gershwin score and the fact that it won some six Oscars (if you care about that sort of thing), including one for Best Picture. One thing I did remember is for a wide-release film, it was uncharacteristically loaded with ballet numbers—a quality I gave extra weight too as a once aspiring ballerina—but not much else. So, 20 years later, as I scrolled through endless selection of Netflix titles, I thought I should give An American in Paris another try. Only this time, I would be viewing it not so much as a young amateur ballerina, but as a young adult with a developing interest in art, design, and history.
An American in Paris follows the story of Jerry Mulligan, a World War II veteran, who falls in love with a French shop girl. But as is to be expected, no couple can fall in love in Paris with out an obstacle or two to get in the way of their journey to happily ever after. The object of Kelly’s affection is of course engaged to another man, while the lead character himself is being pursued by a wealthy American heiress who vies for his attention under the guise that she is a great patron of the arts with an interest in sponsoring a grand exhibition by the American solder turned Parisian painter.
Unsurprisingly, the dancing in American in Paris is top notch. Gene Kelley makes producing 24802934234 sounds at once via his tap shoes appear all too easy and 19-year-old Leslie Caron (in her film debut) performs challenging fouettés like she was born doing them. But, you come to expect dancing of the highest caliber when you’re dealing with Hollywood’s heavy hitters. The Gershwin score too is one to be admired. Most of the numbers begin as soft and pleasant ditties that slowly build into epic mind-melting compositions. But again, it’s Gershwin. You know you’re in for a sing-songy treat before it even begins.
Re-watching this as an oh-so-wise-and-worldly 26-year-old, it was not only the song and dance that tickled my fancy. The art direction played so powerful a role in this film, the scenery and background seem to be their own character (not so divergent from the way, say, Wes Anderson or Baz Luhrmanm strategically employ art, color and light as visual communicators in films today). Throughout the movie the viewer is treated to surreal and dreamy vignettes that feature Caron, Kelly and composer-actor Oscar Levant in scenes that provide an escape from the somewhat predictable, plot. In one scene, for example, as Levant and French actor Georges Guetary describe the characteristics they seek out in the perfect woman, the audience gets to see Caron provide visual interpretations of what it means to be “modern,” “classic,” intelligent,” etc. And Kelly, portraying an artist, appropriately dances in and out of famous French artworks like Chocolate Dancing by Toulouse-Lautrec. And the film culminates in a 16-minute (and allegedly $500,000) ballet, which takes place on a set that draws inspiration from famous works by Renoir, Van Gogh and other iconic artists. (Check out this great frame-by-frame comparison of the film to its artistic inspiration here.) The visual elements were stimulating, engaging, surreal…exactly what a musical should be.
I haphazardly clicked the “add to queue” button on the Netflix account to bring An American in Paris into my living room, but was pleased to rediscover a piece of Hollywood cinema that left a lasting impression and awoke in me a new appreciation for the way proper art direction helps shape a story. It has me itching to rewatch other forgotten movies of my childhood to see what else I may have missed, and to explore newer releases for the surprises that may unfold as a result of the latest and greatest technologies in visual storytelling.
Some of us aren’t fans of revisiting films—unless of course, it’s one of those mega classics like Star Wars, for instance, or The Big Lebowski. With the incalculable number of films out there, it doesn’t seem practical to some to rehash the old while forgoing the new. But taking a second look has done me a world of good, and I’m motivated now more than ever to take another peak at yesterday’s movies to discover something remarkable and rejuvinating.
Honestly, I started writing this blog a couple of years ago just to keep track and have a record of Heath’s and my various comings-and-goings in Austin, not really expecting to gather any type of fan base or following. Today, as I celebrate 300 posts, I know I am really, truly, unimaginatively fortunate to have readers that can derive even the slightest bit of entertainment or inspiration from this little piece of internet. It’s a pleasure and a joy to have an audience.
This blog, which started nearly as an afterthought, has turned out to be the catalyst for motivating me to take on more home improvement, gardening and photography projects that otherwise may have gone unexplored. And I know it’s largely my readers who have inspired me to continue to tackle new territory (including my biggest fan, my mom, who has read and commented on every post, talk about supportive parenting). As I look back at the 300 posts and reflect on the more than 300 hours I have sunk into this funky manifesto, I feel it’s appropriate to mark this milestone with a collection of my favorite posts from throughout the years.
Don’t Bite The Hand that Feeds You
The story of what happens to rowdy roosters.
The Need for Seed
The joys and challenges of starting a garden from seed.
A contemplative post about finding balance between nesting at home and having experiences abroad.
They know me well at the painter’s counter
A lighthearted post about the important role unconventional colors play in our lives.
A slideshow of sorts
Photos from our life-altering Christmas vacation in India.
I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. Here’s to another 300.
We’ve been living together for 10 months now, this mid-century house and me. And I think we’re really starting to get to know one another on an intimate level. Of course, it’s not a perfect relationship, but we’ve done a lot of growing together, and I think we’re really getting to a point where we know how to live comfortably with one another.
You may wonder why I decided to enter into a relationship with an older gal. After all, she’s pushing 60, so allow me to provide a little background as to WHY Heath and I opted to move in with an old school casa versus something a little more modern and relate-able.
We always knew we wanted an older house. Maybe because we’re weird. Maybe because we like a challenge. Definitely because we value character–potentially to a fault. We gave up a lot when we decided to marry our current home: a dish washer, state-of-the-art energy efficiency, two bathrooms… But in the end, you’ve sometimes got to consider personality over perks, and we think we gained more than we lost. For one, the location (on our budget) is unrivaled. We also loved the idea of having a unique house that wasn’t one of four or five cookie cutter home plans repeated throughout a development. Sure, maybe our door dilemma is a head-scratcher, but it’s OUR head scratcher. We liked fantasizing about finding a house with good bones and then customizing it to make it fits our needs, something you can’t do with a ready-to-go home, equipped with counter tops, cabinets and floors pre-packaged by Joe Blow Developer for exclusive use by John Doe Homeowner. Sometimes you have to follow in the footsteps of Freddie Prinze Jr. and take a chance on the art student in overalls.
Hey girl, can I get your number?
Why the old house caught my eye in the first place.
- The picture windows. I adore them. They are single-paned but totally amazing because they crank with this quirky little lever that makes a task as mundane as opening a window seem sort of exciting and retro. “She’s fun!”
- The bathroom tile. It is original to the house and in amazing condition, but why blog worthy? Besides being pearly porcelain that feels clean and shiny and epitomizes a zen bathroom, it’s green—the best color of all the colors. It’s as if it was written in the stars! I’ve seen my fair share of pink and yellow tile bathrooms in houses from the same era, so I am ever grateful for finding a house with retro green tile in impeccable condition. “She’s pretty!”
- The built-in planter in the front. It’s functional, encourages landscaping and was built well. I filled it with succulents and pea gravel and it looks amazing. “She’s smart!”
Maybe we should go to couples counseling.
What I want to change.
- Popcorn ceilings. Why do that to a perfectly lovely home? They make rooms look smaller, they collect dust, they are super difficult to paint. “She’s irrational.”
- No backdoor. What genius thought skipping out on a back door was a good idea? We’ll put one in one day, but for now we let the dogs out through the window when they need to do their business. It’s one of the trashier truths about me. “She’s careless.”
- No electrical outlet in the bathroom. This is another one I just don’t get. How hard would it have been to put in one measly electrical outlet? I know they had electricity in the 1950s, so what gives? We didn’t discover this little nugget until after we moved in. No one dried their hair in the 50s? Come on architects, look alive. “She’s weird.”
You know me better than I know myself.
What I’ve learned to love.
- Knotty Pine. I’ve definitely come around on knotty pine, which I have been known to refer to as “naughty pine” on more than one occasion. When cleaned up and paired with appropriate fixtures, appliances and wall colors, knotty pine can be incredible and rich. I’m so glad we opted to refinish our cabinets in the same hue rather than go for a complete overhaul that would be out of style in another 10 years. “She’s classic.”
- Detached laundry room. Basically, I like not hearing the washer and dryer running more than I dislike walking outside to the laundry room. “She gives me my space.”
It turns out, there’s a lot to appreciate about 1950s architecture–something I never expected to love. Growing up, I always envisioned myself settling in a 1920s craftsman bungalow. But instead of substantial window trimmings, and cozy niches, I got minimalist lines and and an open floor plan–definitely not the characteristics I would have checked off on a list of qualities describing my dream girl. If she were a contestant on The Bachelor, the house would have made the initial cut only as a wild card.
When we moved in last October, I had a huge list of things I wanted to immediately add, remove, change or update. I was sure we would have wood floors and a revamped kitchen within the first month and a lusciously landscaped yard within the first year. Some of that happened, some of it didn’t, but in retrospect I’m happy with our pace. If I had changed the kitchen on my original timeline, I wouldn’t have realized that I wanted to keep the original cabinets, and instead I would have likely ripped out or at least repainted something that is now one of my favorite elements. And if I dropped a chunk of change putting in wood floors up front, we probably wouldn’t have installed the gutters that let us recapture rain water. It’s amazing to discover how priorities change the more you get to know a place.
When I first moved in, I was warned against making any drastic changes too soon. My mother cautioned me against renovations the way friends might warn against getting that girl’s name tattooed on your back after the third date. I’m glad I’ve taken the time to get truly acquainted with the old girl, to know her quality quirks and her catastrophic catches. We’ve got many more months and years to take our relationship further, but as of now, I’m glad we’ve taken things slow. I think she’s into me, and I know, despite her weird habits, I’m into her. In our 10 month courtship, I’m grateful for learning to appreciate the house for what she is. She’s not a glamorous Hollywood type and she’s not a fashionable and modern mistress. She is what she is—a small, 1950s Delwood dynamo—and I’m loving her for it.
This spring/summer has been very wedding-centric for we two, but alas it has come to a close (at least until September), and we made a point to go out with a bang. For the season finale, we attended the nuptials of Dan and Destiny who paired traditional elements with some pretty off-the-wall ones. I thought I had seen the coup de grâce of wacky wedding fare after Eric and Lisa tied the knot last September; their big day featured a midnight snack of breakfast tacos, a venue named after a haircut, multiple live music performances and iPod parting gifts. This event didn’t incorporate those elements, but there was badminton, snow cones and a wedding reception held at a swimming hole.
D & D got hitched on her family’s land out in Ingram, Texas (which is near Kerville, which is near nothing). The location is one Destiny had always singled out as her future wedding day destination long before Dan even came into the picture. Lucky for Dan (and for us), she chose well. Ingram was a treat to behold.
Getting to Ingram from Austin entails a 3-hour drive though some of Texas’ smaller towns, but it’s a pretty one that winds through Texas’ version of wine country and passes through historical landmarks, like Johnson City (birthplace of LBJ). So getting to the wedding festivities was actually half the fun.
Dan and Destiny, or Danstiny as I shall call them for the remainder of this post, were lucky to have family with astonishingly beautiful hill country property. But getting all the guests from their respective lodging accommodations to a hilltop located smack dab in the middle of a 700 acre sprawl is not an easy feat. Guests met at a bunk house located at the foot of the hill and were then transported via limousine party bus to the ceremony site. The drive was windy and rugged, and with zebra and deer roaming the country side to the left and right of the bus, the whole event seemed more the stuff of an African safari than a Texas girl’s wedding. The combination of Beyonce songs being blasted from limousine speakers along with sightings of families of deer made for an interesting juxtaposition.
The hilltop where the couple said “I do” was remarkable and benefited from a breeze that kept guests from sweating through their britches. The couple wrote their own vows and kept the whole affair short and sweet.
After the ceremony, guests were shuttled to the family swimming hole. And though her family titled it as such, the spot was less like a “hole” (which made me expect to find a muddy mess that perhaps was once a lake, but in these times of drought would more closely resemble a puddle) and more like the private swimming quarters of Texas royalty. Beautiful stonework surrounded a pristine blue pool that overlooked garden lights, green lawn and beautiful native terrain.
The couple were received with splashes of lavender seeds which sent an aroma through the air that lingered throughout the reception, and they celebrated with Texas BBQ and hill country wine. Wedding cake flavored snow cones were served to children and jars of homemade jellies and preserves were passed out to guests as they arrived (Heath and I snatched some Apple Butter to enjoy at home). Those who wanted to, swam, and those who preferred to stay dry hung out in the biergarten where Danstiny had arranged to entertain friends and family with a bean bag toss, card games, Chinese Checkers and badminton (which allowed Heath to say the word “shuttlecock” more times than I would have preferred).
The affair was personal and romantic and perfectly picturesque. I will remember it fondly and file it away as one of the more unique and inspiring celebrations of love I have been privileged to witness.
Fare thee well spring wedding season, and onward with summer vacation!
I do not normally support the excessive use of exclamation points, but today is a special day. It’s the last day of school/first day of summer for Mr. Heath. He has worked for the school district in some form or another for the past three years, but this was his first year as a classroom teacher—a goal he’s had since he was elementary school-aged—and year one of lecturing, tutoring and paper grading has come to an official close. But unlike me (who was praising JesusAllahBuda on day 185 for getting me through it in one piece), Heath has a different attitude about his final day with his pupils.
The poor guy is actually a little sad.
Since I’ve known him, Heath has always wanted to be a teacher. I, on the other hand, change careers every year or so (not an exaggeration). So it’s hard sometimes to comprehend how happy and fulfilled he is through his work, as it is quite literally a dream come true. He comes home every evening not venting about something trivial that happened during the course of the day, but instead laughing about the funny, reflective, and endearing things his students have shared with him. I am so proud of him for sticking with it over the years and for caring so passionately about education.
Of course, what get’s him through this little rough patch of bidding adieu to his year-one youngins, is the knowledge there will be a whole new crop of kiddos next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
So let us not wallow in sadness at the passage of time, and instead celebrate what all there is to look forward to this summer….
- Dozens of garden projects
- Daily trips to the public library
- Sleeping late
- Labradoodle walking
- Vacations to Mexico City
- Vacations to New York City
- Birthday Celebrations
- Texas Rangers Baseball
And now is the time for this season called summer, and though school is now out, let’s not view it a bummer. Tonight we will party in true doodle house style. Happy summer to all, see ya after a while!