Friday, April 29, 2011

a royal feast

the people i love most in this world knocked on my door at 5:30 this morning. i welcomed them into a warm home, smelling like a breakfast diner with sausage, eggs, fresh fruit, bacon, hash browns, and english muffins with homemade strawberry jam.

and we gathered on the couch, warm mugs of coffee in hand, the sun not quite risen outside our open window. and we watched the royal wedding. watched kate in all her splendor, a vision in lace and curls. the choir boys in their ruffles, and the women in their fancy hats. it was all a big spectacle, that's for sure. but it was also beautiful, fun history in the making. made more beautiful by the people sitting to the right and left of me who got up early to make a memory.

 yes, it's a bit much. yes, the pomp and circumstance is stuffy. but it's also a bit magical, isn't it?

i've heard opinions from people who think the wedding is ridiculous, and couldn't care less about it, especially with the wars. and the horrible natural disasters. and a million other more important things.

but that's exactly why we do need things like this. to keep us believing. in the power of love, yes. but also in the beauty of life. it's the same reason saturday night live returned to television so soon after 9/11. because people needed to laugh. and now more than ever, people in america need to be reminded that there is happiness. there is splendor. there is hope.

so i gave in like any other sap and watched the whole thing. i'll remember her gorgeous veil and tiara, and his cherry red uniform. i'll remember the way harry looked back at kate, walking down the aisle, then turned and whispered in will's ear. i imagine he said she looks beautiful. i'll remember when kate got into the horse-drawn carriage, and looked at will and mouthed i'm so happy.

but most of all, i'll remember holding mama's hand when kate walked down the aisle. looking over at the excitement on her face. i'll remember robert in the kitchen, flipping over scrambled eggs in the pre-dawn haze. and i'll remember thinking, as they all drove away, that i wouldn't trade this life in the country, in our little two-bedroom cottage, for anything in this world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

a simple place to write

i found a new little sandwich shop yesterday. less than two miles from where i work, on the end of a brick office building. the shop itself is tiny, with only about seven little round tables. greek-owned, there's shredded beef and cheese, chicken souvlaki gyros and cheeseburger specials with fries and a coke.

but the thing that gets me? the black and white checkered floors. and the big metal vat of sweet tea. i could live on those two things alone. i feel promise in the fact that this will be a good place for me. a safe haven among corporate professionals grabbing a quick bite, and older women who found the place out of happenstance. i will tuck myself into the very last table. the one near the back, where the air is warm and privacy is ample. for now, i'll read my textbooks and make flash cards.

but one day, i'm quite certain this will be the place where i'll write. for myself. maybe for others. for you. and i'll nourish. body and spirit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

as the storm brewed and my soul stirred

around these parts, the air is pregnant with humidity and the threat of a downpour. the elms dance in the eight o'clock twilight and as the sun sets, the road quiets. lamps turn on and the blue glow of television streaming from old ranch houses is seen from sidewalk vantage points. and i shut down. change into something that doesn't involve a tight, high waist or skinny stilettos. something with elastic and give and cotton. and i sit and wait. for the drops to sprinkle on the roof and feel again God's promise, that He will wash all things new. even this little old house and the people in it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

this is so not an i-phone

this, folks, is my new cell phone. let's admire it for a moment, shall we? it hinges! it is industrial black and silver-toned with no pretty cover. it has a standard keypad, with letters on the numbers you push to text. no keyboard. the screen is maybe, maybe two inches long.

no, no, this isn't an archived post from 2002. no need to look around for your n'sync albums. "hot in herre" is not playing on the radio. rather, this bad boy became mine just yesterday, when i finally gave into the sad realization that my other cell phone, whom i refer to as "old trusty" simply wasn't trusty anymore. there's only so many times you can stick a water-logged battery in a bowl of rice before that trick just becomes gross and ineffective.

so it's not an i-phone. not a blackberry. not one of the glossy, sleek devices shoved into the back pockets of just about everyone i work with. but for a girl who hates the phone and finds any excuse to use e-mail instead, it's just right.

i don't embrace technology the way i should, i suppose. robert had to get me a new laptop for my birthday because he knew i wouldn't buy one for myself. i kept trying to tell him, "babe, i can buy HUNDREDS of vintage dresses for the price of a new laptop." the parallel was lost on him.

but just because i'd rather find my joy in nature, and my expression in writing, doesn't mean i don't feel a little twinge of jealousy when someone pulls out their version 5380183018.0 apple phone. it just means i'm rooting for the underdog in this case. plus, the phone was a free upgrade. i was looooooong past due.

Monday, April 25, 2011

when you break down, i'll drive out and find you

there are things you can't admit anywhere but a midnight highway. things you can't let your heart feel until trees past by in blurs of ebony, wheels thump methodically beneath, and staticy radio waves sit stagnant in the passenger seat. like he's really gone this time. or where did the time go.

but the beautiful thing about the highway is its continuity. you can hop on i-40 in winston-salem, north carolina and take it straight to santa fe, new mexico. and you remind yourself that you should sometime. and let the crooks and turns, roadside diners and mom-and-pop grocery stores scattered like tumbleweeds along deserted, sunny roads, have their influence on  you.

because the highway does eventually stop. and the wheels become bald with time and sand. and maybe you stop along the shore. maybe in a crowded parking deck. maybe along the sidewalk of your hometown, strangely familiar yet only as a photograph. either way, you stop. because the heart can only take so much realization. and the soul so much clarity, until little by little the breaks become as deep as the pavement crevices beneath your feet as you open the door to home.

Friday, April 22, 2011

pablo says relax, and a little video

an executive walked into my office yesterday and, upon noticing my bulletin board, remarked "practicing with the puppy, i see." and i know he meant for children. and yes, in a way that's what robert and i are doing. seeing if we can handle this little driveway before we get on the highway. but that's not all. i'm practicing so much more with pablo. like how to relax. how to drive with the windows down and not worry about my hair. how to taste the sweet breeze of summer's anticipation. and dive headfirst into the chaos. because he doesn't know that his time here is limited. for him, life is an endless array of mornings playing in the dew, afternoons with robert's grandma, snoozing in the soft flesh of her powder fresh arms. and nights curled up in a king sized bed.

but i know better. i know that life is short. and that knowledge, sad as it might be, sets me apart. and allows me to cherish more deeply. and life more freely. there are times when pablo actually stops and smells the flowers outside. i swear, that dog is wise beyond his 56 dog years.

we spent an entire day lounging last weekend. we ate breakfast for supper and didn't get out of our pjs or leave the house. and this video captures how we spent our time. have a beautiful weekend, friends, and a very happy easter to you and your family.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

because it's close to easter, and i needed this

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

'Cause this is not about what you've done,

But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to.

This is not about what you feel,

But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.
 -from this beautiful song

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

scenes from a country cottage


there are days i don't want to leave these walls. when the wind is too high, and sometimes on sunny days too. because what i've created here is sacred, and untouchable. and only here am i invulnerable. when i drive away in the mornings, with the dew fresh on the road and the school bus inevitably in front of me, i become courtney the technical writer. courtney the student. courtney the bearer of all stresses.

but here. here is magic. and here, i can pretend. that i am a queen. a grammy-winning singer in the shower. a movie star with a toothpaste bottle oscar. and even if the only applause i ever receive is the patter of grateful paws on the hardwoods, and the only speech i ever give is to robert, pointing to his socks on the floor, i sill feel like a star. because when the lights go down on tinseltown, all you need is love. and love, for me, is home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the persistent vine

there's a vine that grows along the shed behind my house. just a little ivy, trellising toward the sky. we've tried to kill it with commercial sprays and our yard tools, but it remains. and i sort of love it. it's a little rogue, a little unruly and a little strong-minded. but those very qualities, the ones that make it a nussiance,  also make it terribly beautiful.

and it reminds me that there's a reason, sometimes, for weeds. there's often a season where they have to grow. reach their obnoxious heads towards the heavens. but they'll be gone one day, and i'll walk to find them. and miss them. and ache to remember how the sunset used to hit them. and share in their fate, that we're all just a little misunderstood.

Monday, April 18, 2011

my 24th birthday

i turned 24 on sunday and spent the whole weekend with family. my sister came home from college and my brother took time out of his high school prom weekend to spend with me. and when i blew out the candles, every milestone in my life was by my side. from my first steps to my first kiss, these people have seen it all. and i am so deeply in love with each of them.

robert, the sneaky little angel he is, has been setting aside money from his paycheck since christmas to buy me a new laptop. the best part about it was the wrapping. after i fell asleep one night, he cut out words from magazines to spell out an odd, yet endearing message. it read:

"just inside, we've raised the bar. contact us every tuesday for the view on how this is the shocking present."

bless his heart. i love that guy. that message makes no sense, but i guess when all you've got to work with is entertainment weekly and us weekly magazines, you are a bit limited.

another fabulous part of the weekend was the cake that mama got. a girl at my old high school makes cakes, and she created one based around my and pablo's Best Friends Club:

so life is beautiful. and next year's birthday might bring a quarter-life crisis. but joining hands with my loved ones yesterday, around a cake flaming with candles, i knew that whatever this year brings, i'll be more than okay.

Friday, April 15, 2011

a heart that's too small

newspaper, newspaper. can't take no more. you're here, every morning, waiting at my door. and i'm just trying to kiss you and you stab my eyes. make me blue forever like an island sky.
-conor oberst, milk thistle

my co-worker shares his rolling stone magazines with me. once a month, i come into the office to find an issue waiting on my desk, usually heralding the latest pop culture phenomenon, or new summer album release. two days ago, he shared something different. his newsweek.

and between a feature of rhianna and a never-before-seen interview from liz taylor, there was an article on the war. one single glance and i was done with for the day. because my heart can't take it.

i am ruled by conscience. and purity. when i was younger, and a bad thought would sneak its way into my mind, i would write it down on construction paper and slip it under my mama's bedroom door. sometimes i would be dramatic and circle the place where my tears hit the paper, with an arrow and the words "here is where i cried." because through the act of writing it down, of getting it out on paper, i was subsequently releasing it from my spirit. and until i told someone, i felt awful. guilty. maybe that's why i blog now. to share with you my happiness, yes, but also my demons. my struggles. 

and i internalize things. like the news. like magazine features with awful images unfit to print. and they stay with me and embed themselves so deep into me that i can't distinguish myself from the muddle.

and i'm not naive. i'm not so blissfully happy or innocent that i don't know the terror that's going on overseas. or here in our home country. or one city away from me. some people have big hearts. they give and give and are so beautiful. but sometimes mine feels too small. it's not that i don't care, i just care so fervently that i render myself immobile. and thus ineffective.

so i tucked the newsweek in my office drawer. chiefly because rhianna is splattered on the cover wearing something between underwear and shorts, and i did not think that proper workplace fodder. but also because i know what's inside those pages. and if i ever, ever doubt my ability to feel (as i sometimes do. when the world gets mundane and slow and routine, i become a bit numb), those images will snap me back.

back to a world that is scary. overwhelmingly so. but also fluid. and for every terror there is a beauty. and it's easy to hide away. to squirrel myself in my room. my car. my office. but there's a God pouring sunlight  through my windows right now, glaring up my screen and reflecting off my arms. and He instructs me to push forward through the murk. because He has a handle on situations that i can't touch. and that's good news.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

baby flower buds are one of my favorite things in the world. stretching their little faces toward the sunshine. there are few more innocent, simple things. and i always watch for it. wait for green leaves to open and reveal their treasures. that's why monday night was disheartening.

i was walking behind our house, picking up sticks from the storm, when i noticed it. at first, it was only a glimmer. a tinge of magenta against brick. then i walked closer and saw it. our azalea bush. pregnant with beautiful blooms. the bush that was here when this house's original owners were. the one they planted in the ground. and i missed its opening act. and it's strange, but something so beautiful stirred in me such a sadness.

that life's going by like a movie, and i'm stuck in the theater holding stale popcorn. sometimes it just hits me. how breathtaking, achingly beautiful this life is. and how often i'm indoors. how the azalea put on a show for me and i missed all but the finale.

so i went to the store. i bought some little red begonias. with tiny buds just starting to bloom. i planted them and put them on the windowsill, where i can watch them every morning.

and morning by morning, the soul returns.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

sara bareilles is a goddess

robert has had a surprise brewing for me for weeks. to kick off my birthday week, he's been sweetly scheming. every once in a while, he'll break into a sly smile out of nowhere and exclaim, "i can't wait to tell you about your surprise!"

last night was the big unveil. and it was everything he built it up to be, and more.

we went to a sara bareilles concert in a little chapel, at nearby wake forest university. it was hands-down the best live show i've ever been to. and i love live music, and i've been to a lot of shows. sara was beautiful, effortless on stage, cutely entertaining and had a voice like clear diamonds. she ended the show with a cover of coldplay's "yellow", and when she sang the line "you know i love you so..." i wanted to yell it back at her.

forgive the awful cell phone pics, but behold the imitable sara:

i highly, highly suggest if she ever comes within a reasonable radius of your home, you go. she will not disappoint. and neither did robert. i love the fact that he chose to take me to see an artist that i liked. not one that we were both in love with, but that i particularly fancied. and by the time we left the show, i do believe he was a little in love with her as well. and i'm okay with that:)

here's one of my favorite by her, city. listen and fall in love.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

a casserole with canned goods and cheez-its

in order to make most vegetables fit to eat, you must cover up the basic taste of vitamins with calories.

let it be known that the above quote does not entirely sum up my philosophy on healthy eating. i like to eat healthy, i really do. i like the snap of a good apple, the delightful grittiness of almond butter and the colorful display of a pretty salad. and i do like vegetables, and to cook. i'm leaning in the kitchen, and i love it.

but truth be told, i also really like cheez-its. and butter. melted butter, to be exact. and i love a good bargain. thus, this casserole is perfect. made almost entirely of canned vegetables, with fanciful toppings like sliced almonds and four-blend cheeses, it's a perfect go-to weeknight meal on a budget. and hey, it's chock-full of veggies, so the guilt is minimal.

a shout-out and thank you to my sweet neighbor suzanne, for pointing this recipe out to me from, what else, a church cookbook.

suzanne's favorite veggie casserole
you will need:
one 15 oz. can of mixed vegetables
one can of pinto beans
one can french-style green beans
one can of veg-all mixed vegetables
one can of gold and white corn (i could only find gold)
one 15 oz. can chicken broth (i only needed about 9 oz.)
one package dry onion soup mix
one 10.75 oz. can of cream of celery soup
two cups of four-cheese (mexican) blend
1/2 a box of cheez-its
1/2 cup melted margarine (jackpot)
one cup sliced almonds

what to do:
drain the pinto beans, green beans, mixed vegetables and corn. pour drained veggies in a 9x13-inch dish.

mix the chicken broth, onion soup mix and cream of celery soup over the vegetables.

pour cheese over casserole mixture.

lightly crush crackers and mix with melted margarine. pour over casserole mixture. cover cracker crumbs with sliced almonds.

 bake 20 to 30 minutes or until topping is browned.

serve with crusty bread, salad or just a glass of ice water, because this bad boy is a meal in and of itself.

robert and i ate this last night, the carolina sun beaming through the windows. and like most decadently perfect things in life, this kind of meal has to be had in moderation. but when the time calls for it, this type of meal is sublime. it's comfort food at its core, and everybody, even the most dedicated health nut, needs to be comforted every once in a while.

Monday, April 11, 2011

a breakthrough in the shutdown

i walked into the corporate kitchen, and into a conversation. i sidestepped the men and reached for the coffee machine, my creamy white mug and vanilla toffee creamer jumbled in my hands.

one man left, leaving just me and another. i smiled politely and said hello. i started walking away, when he asked me. "did you hear about it?" 

of course i heard about it. of course i got the e-mail. of course i've been worrying about it since last night, i wanted to tell him. instead, i murmured "uh-huh." i tried to walk away, to retreat back into my little office nook where i could hold my mustard seed necklace, read a psalm and let the morning sunshine pour past the  window pane and into my weary spirit. but he kept on.

"are you worried? what do you think? i've been watching the news and..."

he proceeded with a re-cap of the pending government shutdown. the indecisiveness. the right-wing, left-wing, he-said, she-said debate. the effects on our company. the preventative measures being taken. the midnight deadline that felt ages away. he walked away slowly, with an air of defeat.

i watched my co-workers on friday. when faced with an angry circumstance, true colors are shown. i watched for the hurt. i watched for hate, disgust and blame to be thrown. 

i didn't see any of it. because like i've said before on this blog, i believe in people. and call it blind optimism, but i also believe in their goodness. and in their ability to cope and be okay. on friday, i saw people consoling, encouraging. i heard "it's all going to be okay" more than once. i said it myself, to girls in my office who were new. and scared.

and it worked out. the government struck a deal and nothing shut down. and i'm not political, and can't even tell you all the details, but i can tell you this: in a crisis, or in this case, the threat of a crisis, there might be a tendency toward animosity, resentment, and outrage. but in the midst of the rubble is a chance to come together. to unite and create a combined energy. and against such a beautiful force, no disaster can stand for long.

Friday, April 8, 2011

like a cat on a hot tin roof

then jump off the roof, maggie, jump off it. now cats jump off roofs and they land uninjured. do it. jump.

we browsed netflix around eleven. with the television glowing, mummering. pablo curled up with his nose at his toes, slumbering, sighing.

and we were in one of those moods. those indecisive, can't-make-our-minds-up-to-save-our-life kind of mood. twenty minutes later, we found it. cat on a hot tin roof. i'd never seen it, and with the recent passing of liz, i thought it apt.

and i sat. never has a movie so mesmerized and enchanted me. at not since marlon brando in a streetcar named desire, have i so swooned over a fifties leading man. paul newman is glowing in this movie. seriously so strong, complex and beautifully tormented. i ate it up.

and there is a line near the beginning of the movie. where maggie is standing near the fence with big daddy, and she tells him that she has a million emotions running around in her mind. waiting to be lived. waiting to be felt.

and how beautiful. to think there are still some emotions i haven't tapped into yet. haven't felt in my core. i've felt sadness, but i'll feel it deeper one day. i've been scared, hurt and overjoyed, but there are elements of those feelings that i've still yet to process. and there are emotions i haven't given names to yet, because they haven't entered my life.

what do you call the emotion when your child drives away to college? standing alone on the campus lawn, watching your world get smaller as the footsteps between you grow. or walking away from your retirement party. pulling out of that parking space for the last time. looking into your baby's eyes for the first time. getting unexpected phone calls in the middle of the afternoon that change your life.

there are emotions i've yet to feel. some i hope i never do, and some i can't wait to experience. but like elizabeth so passionately declares later in the movie, i'm alive. and as long as i am, i'll get the glorious honor of feeling. deeply. ferverantly. and without fear. because the tin on this roof is hot, and i'm not afraid of heights.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

the clouds are moving faster now, and the sun is breaking through

it rained terribly on monday night. enough to rip the old barn on the corner, the whitewashed one with broken windows that let the sunlight spill in, right in half. it made the local news and people are still driving their friends by to see it. the sour cherry tree in my backyard split in two. the tree that has seen births and deaths, and sunrises for the past 40 years.

and like that downpour, so the financial stresses of late have been falling. at first in small drops then in gushes. a second semester of graduate school. rent. bills on the counter. new brakes.

we have a little bench in our office at home. a wooden one with blue cushions. i sat on it last night and stared at the floorboards. thought about money. what it stands for and the value i place on it. robert came into the room and silently took pablo off my lap, gathered him in his arms, and stood me up. in movies, this is the part where the couple starts dancing. she in his oversized work shirt, he in sweats. they spin around in the dusk light and suddenly it's all okay.

but he didn't spin me around. he just held me and i laid my cheek against his work shirt. and around nine in the evening, i knew. it really was going to be okay.

because it doesn't take much, and it certainly doesn't take much money, to make me happy. i thrill to warm baths in the morning, long walks in the afternoon, and lazy sunday evenings. i cherish belly rubs, sweet e-mails and toffee vanilla creamer. and my favorite meal cost $3.

 the  best meal ever: wendy's. spicy chicken nuggets. honey sauce. sour cream and chive baked potato with sea salt and black pepper. caesar salad with avocado ranch dressing. 

so maybe another storm will come. maybe this time the crab-apple tree will break. but if i can keep having moments like last night, i know i won't. because things fall apart. nature defies itself and great limbs fall like weights to the ground. but the best things aren't things at all. they're free, and with them, we're all millionaires.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

the only thing that counts

what you feel only matters to you. it's what you to do to the people you say you love. that's what matters. that's the only thing that counts.
-the last kiss

that's my favorite quote, folks, from  my favorite movie of all time. with all the beautiful poetry, song lyrics (and goodness, there are some beautiful song lyrics), and classic literature that i've consumed, this one stands above them all. because at its core, it's the truest sentiment i've found.

because just as faith without works is dead, so is love. i  can hold in my heart the greatest, sweetest feelings toward robert, but if i don't act on them, if i just cocoon them and stay safe within them, he'll never know. and it's a beautiful harbor, that cocoon. i could live forever inside it. but i can't. we can't.

i've got to show it to my family too. for me, this means staying up on the phone with my sister, far away in college. helping mama clean up after a big meal. helping my brother with his homework (because microsoft excel can be ridiculously hard). driving 20 minutes to ship my etsy packages from the post office where my dad works, though there are three post offices within a two-mile radius of my work.

because no one can read my mind. no one will know how i feel about them unless those feelings pick themselves up by their bootstraps and morph into actions.

it's the greatest challenge, and the greatest gift, this ability to show love. it can backfire, lead to misread signals, and end up unrequited and defeated. but it can also lead to the greatest happiness and reward this life can offer. and when this life's up, all the love we've given, every single gorgeous drop of it, will be returned to us tenfold. by a Creator who graciously, thankfully, is a master of leading by example.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

a realization at 2 a.m.

there are moments when i think i'll never be able to be a parent. when the pleasures of staying up and sleeping in, spending my money on myself, and traveling on a dime weave themselves into my fancy. when i look at my own mama and wonder how to measure up. when i see all that the world is coming to and think about the cold future. when i look at my shortcomings, failures and inadequacies. for instance, my stutter makes me hate the phone. what will i do that day my daughter asks me to call and see if her friend can come over for a playdate? will i make robert do it? will she, in turn, love him more?

there are nights, when everyone is asleep and my little road is jet black and silent. when something catches me awake and i can't return to the comfort of my unconscious. when i stare at the ceiling, red alarm clock light bouncing off. and wonder about things like this, though i'm nowhere near pregnant.

but last wednesday night, pablo ate some dove chocolate, tinfoil included. six pieces, and he was up all night sick. and i laid, outside of the covers, on his little pallet, and rubbed his back for two hours. my feet cold, with robert slumbering unaware, mere inches away. i went outside with him at 2 a.m. and fed him at 3. i looked into his big eyes and reassured him with soft coos.

and i thought to myself, maybe i've got a little more mama in me than i thought.

Monday, April 4, 2011

to be full of days

i picked up my bible last night, and watched as it fell open to the book of job. then my eyes fell on a description of the man. the man who was tested and tried. who stayed true to his faith in the midst of unspeakable loss. the bible describes him as a man "full of days." i read the verse slowly and thought about it. what it means to be full of days. full of minutes, seconds. moments and events. about life as a noun. a collection of interactions. of sunrises and evenings. coffee in the mornings and the blue light of nighttime television. if we really tried, life can be contained and sorted. organized and laid out in a domino-like procession.

but it's also a devastatingly beautiful assembly of the in-between. the kisses under the covers with the lamplight on. sunshine sifting through car windows at a red light. a silent hug. a hot cup of tea at three in the afternoon.

there are experiences that simply don't fit into the schema of "days." yes, monday is a workday. but it's also the one day a week i get to cook for robert. the evening we take a walk. free movie code day at redbox. but so often, all i see is the workday, and fail to see the outlying grace that falls just outside the definition.

job lived 140 years. if i'm lucky, i'll live a little over half of that. and i want to reach the end of my life full of days. but more than that, so much more than that, i want to be full of life.

i don't think i'll ever live long enough to absorb the resplendence of this earth. but little by little, i can learn to squeeze the most out of my time here. to restructure my week from seven distinct time frames into thousands of little joys. it will happen slowly. but as job reminded me, most good things usually do take some time.