Monday, November 25, 2013

Road trip

I love to drive. It's difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my great-grandmother never learned how to drive.

I drive just to go somewhere. I drive even when there is nowhere to go.

I realized that while I've done plenty of travelling this year, I haven't been on many road trips. I needed to fix that. I made some time this weekend to get back out on the road. It's been very cold in the mountains, but so far the snow has stayed at bay, which made a spontaneous road trip possible. I packed my bags and left right after work, ready to spend the weekend with my parents.

I got to go shopping with Mama. Hang with Dad. And give the dogs lots of love.

It had been too long since my last visit. Nearly a year. But sometimes, everyone needs to go home, even for just a quick weekend. To travel the roads you first learned to drive. To hear once again the radio stations of your youth. To see faces of people who knew you back when. There is something about going home.

But a quick trip means it's over to soon. Lucky for me, I love driving in the evening. And my trek between the mountains and home has some incredible views.

Chasing the sunset.

Don't worry, Mama. I pulled over to take these photos. 

Do you ever feel the need to get in the car and go?


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The one about the chair

I think everyone needs their own chair. An upholstered chair to sit and read or watch t.v. or simply to relax. A chair that is the essence of them. 

I have no idea where this idea comes from. Maybe it was growing up and Grandpa Z had his chair, and Grandma Shelby had hers, and one year my mom got my dad his very own wingback chair in a dark green fabric depicting fishermen fly-fishing on a river. Later Mama would get herself an armless chair in red with little blue frogs all over it. 

Everyone needs their own chair. 

A few years ago, I saw my aunt's chair. It was an old chair she got a great deal on at a thrift store or garage sale. She kept it around for awhile as is, but eventually paid professionals to recover it in a luxurious fabric in her very favorite color, pink. It is her chair. And I loved the structure of it. I wanted one. 

Since then, I've learned that it's called a channel back chair. Over the years, I've looked off and on. I've waited. I am not a diligent or hardcore thrift-er. I knew what I wanted. I knew how much I was willing to pay. But in my sporadic searching all I found were chairs in terrible shape that were being priced at double what I wanted to pay. Plus I was busy denying myself shopping privileges while I worked at paying off that student loan

Occasionally over the years, I'd plug in channel back chair to the local Craigslist to see what would pop up. About a week ago, I plugged it in and found nothing local. There was one possible candidate, but it was way up near Seattle. I wasn't willing to drive 12 hours to buy a chair. Then for some inexplicable reason, I was thinking about it again Friday night, and I searched simply for chairs. And what do you know, but there it was labeled "Upholstered Armless Chair." 

I couldn't believe it. It was at a Habitat Restore the next town over. I knew I just had to have it. And then I got nervous when I realized the post had been up for 7 whole days already. There was no way this chair was still in the store. No way. 

But my sister, being the kind soul that she is, said as long as I bought her a cup of coffee at the Sister's Coffee Company, she's drive me up the next morning. 

I woke up anxious to get going. I ran to the bank, and Sister was still getting ready when I got back. It was just after 9:00 so she suggested I call the store to see if it was still there before we hit the road. 

They had barely opened the store, but Mari confirmed that the chair was still there and she'd put my name on it. I think I jumped up and down when I got off the phone. I couldn't get Sister out the door soon enough. And then I got worried that maybe there were structural problems with the chair, or that it smelled like cats. 

"Sister, you don't have to buy if you get there and don't like it," my sister reassured me. 

I wouldn't want it if it smelled like cats. I am allergic to cats. But I really wanted the chair. 

We found the store thanks to my sister's smart phone. And when we walked in, the chair was nestled under a great big artificial Christmas tree. It wasn't falling apart, and it didn't smell like cats, and a great big tag read: HOLD FOR SHELBY. I was kind of like unwrapping a present on Christmas morning.  

As I paid for the chair, the gal who answered my call earlier said three people had called about the chair the week after it had been posted, but I was the first to actually show up. (This wasn't my first great experience with Habitat for Humanity Restore. My bed came from there too at an extremely good price. If you haven't checked out your local store, go do it. You might be surprised at what you find.) 

I have my very own chair. Eventually I plan to fix it up and reupholster it. But for now, I'm happy that it's a very neutral color, and it's oh so clean, so I can enjoy now while I attempt to decide how I want to finish it. So many color and fabric options to consider.

It does have a seat cushion in excellent condition. I just didn't get a photo of it. 

Do you have a chair that is all yours? Is there a story behind it? What does it look like?

If you were going to re-do this chair for me, what would you choose? A velvety celery green fabric? A damask yellow pattern? A solid white or navy? A pattern with fish or frogs? Or something completely different.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mother of Rain and Pecan Pie

My book club just finished reading Mother of Rain. Have you read it yet?

If you like historical fiction, WWII novels, Southern fiction, Appalachian story-telling, this is the book for you. But don't take my word for it, I am kind of biased when it comes to this book.  So go read what others have to say on Good Reads and Amazon. Then hop on down to your local bookstore and pick yourself up a copy. You can thank me later.

My book club met yesterday to discuss Maizee's story. Since I love a good thematic party, I made a very southern pecan pie in a cast-iron skillet for the occasion. I got the recipe from none other than Southern Living. It's called Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie. How's that for a name? Here's the link to the recipe if you want to give it a try. 

Even if you don't make yourself the pie, go get a copy of Mother of Rain. You won't be sorry you did.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gypsy life and holing up for the winter

I stepped out the front door yesterday morning to the smell of wood smoke. The air was thick with it. It was hard to tell if the fog was truly weather induced or the result of every house on every block burning logs all night long.  

I had to light a wood stove for the first time in my life last weekend. And the only reason I was able to do that is because my brother-in-law had set it all up for me before he left town. It was like fire-starting for dummies. Pick up lighter, lite stick, put stick to paper, wait for flames, add log, shut door, get warm. All that and it still took me three tries to get the fire going.

I’ve been told if you do it right, you only have to do it once. So much for that. By the time I woke up in the morning the fire was gone. I apparently don’t know how to do it right. And I wasn’t going to attempt starting from scratch on my own.

I get that building a fire is supposed to be some sort of human instinct. Cavemen did it. But I seem to lack that primal skill. Maybe all those genes went to my twin sister. She was the firefighter after all.

My twin sister. Fighting fires and saving lives. 

I am pretty sure I never even got a fire started after a week at outdoor school back in 6th grade. All I remember is that I was told later that pocket lint is supposed to be good for that. That’s just one of the many useless to me facts I carry around in my brain on a daily basis. Kind of like what I wore on January 15, 2012: skinny jeans, green sweater, brown boots.

I’m not sure if my lack of fire smarts is related to the fact that I can’t light a candle without burning the tip of my thumb nail to a char. To solve the problem I simply swore of matches and switched to a long-handled lighter. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had one too many sparkler sparks fly into my eyes on the 4th of July. I’ve also sworn off sparklers.

Eyeball protection comes first. 

It’s not that I can’t start a fire. I’m actually pretty good at starting fires by accident. Just ask my wood handled teapot what happened when I left it on high for four hours while I went to class. Bye-bye wood handle; hello electric. (And yes, I realize how lucky I am not to have had further damage on that one. And have been properly scolded by my friend the Fire Investigator.)

It’s not even 10 degrees above freezing today. I keep getting messages from my East Coast friends about the cold, but I know for a fact it’s 15 degrees warmer there.  I can only smile. Because part of me misses D.C. winters. Sixties in January and wearing shorts and a t-shirt on a run around the lake.

A client guessed that I’d be happy living in Florida. A native of Germany, she told me she doesn’t like the transition from warm to cold, but she’s happy once she gets used to it. She skis. When she lived in Florida, she used a snow machine to get her snow fix. I think she’s crazy. When it snows here, I imagine the white stuff is the sandy beaches of the Gulf coast. So maybe I'm the crazy one. It keeps me going, even if it doesn’t change my reality.   

It already snowed one day last week, briefly. And it looks and feels like it won’t be long before we see some more.  In the meantime, this gypsy has been busy trying to figure out what to do with herself for the winter.

As of this weekend, this gypsy life is on a temporary hiatus. Much like a bear, I’ve found a place to hole up for the winter. It’s only temporary. I’m only taking the necessities. I will still be a semi-gypsy with many of my belongings in storage. I won’t be getting too comfortable as another move will be in the future. But at least for the months of smoke-filled air and white and snow, I will have a temporary home and a place to call my own.

Don’t you worry. No matter where I end up, I will always have the heart of a gypsy.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A fireworks kind of day

Today is a day to be celebrated. Not just because it's 11-12-13. And not because November 12 was Hayley Mill's birthday in the Parent Trap. It's someone else's birthday today too. And she isn't a fictional character, although she's written her share of fictional lives.

Today is Mama's birthday. I think every birthday should have a fireworks show, so Mama, here are your fireworks:

I hope your day sparkles!

And for any of you who want to wish Mama a happy birthday, hop on over here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Men in the Yellow Hats

You see those men in the yellow hats? They are some of the most important people in this world to me. They are part of my patch-work family. Not the one I was born into, but the one I've created. I call them my Uncles, though we do not share the same blood.

I only met them when I moved across the country to attend school. But they quickly took me into their group and watched over me and protected me whenever they were in town. They came to D.C. often in pairs or groups. At least twice a year, they'd gather all together.

One of those times was Veteran's Day. These men are all Vietnam Veterans who continue to sacrifice their time and their money to volunteer at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall. Mama wrote all about these men and what they mean to our family over at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund website, go read what she has to say. She tells the story much better than I can.

I didn't join them in D.C. this year, but today I am honoring these men, my uncles, and those who have and continue to serve their country. Welcome home and happy Veteran's Day!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

As you wish

She texted me. Asked if I'd make her cookies. I don't tell her no.

I rarely tell her no. More often than not, I take an "as you wish" approach to her requests. I'm not sure if she uses that fact to her advantage or not. She may. She's the baby. She has always been the baby. And with that comes the perks of being the baby, like having no shame in asking for exactly what she wants. And often times, getting it. Especially if she asks me.

I get off work, and I bake her a giant tray of cookies. I add an extra cup of chocolate the way I used to make them when we still lived at home. I drop the dough onto the cookie sheet in extra large heaps.

This act. The mixing. The stirring. The shaping. The waiting. It is love. Love in action.

She doesn't get home until late. But when she does, I greet her with a giant tray of cookies and she is not disappointed.

I can't give her everything she desires. I can't fix all her problems. But I can bake her cookies. And when she asks, I do.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gypsy Life: Trunk Organization

I was recently asked how I pack my trunk to live life as a gypsy.

The short answer is that I keep the things I need readily available. But that doesn't explain much.

To be honest, lately nothing in my life has been well organized. I've hauled bags and baskets of my belongings from one house to the next for the last three months, and everything is a chaotic mess right now.

When I started out on this gypsy journey, my trunk was considerably more organized.

For anyone aspiring to live life as a gypsy, here's my recommendation for trunk organization.

Keep a duffle bag or suitcase full of clothes in the front alongside a toiletry bag. These are the two items you're going to take with you wherever you go. Anything else can live in the trunk on a more permanent basis.

Get a box or basket to corral your shoes. Place this box up front and ready to be switched out according to each day's attire.

Behind these daily necessities you'll have the non-essentials. A bag, suitcase or box for sweaters and jackets and scarfs depending on the weather. It's still easily accessible, but also contained and out of the way when you don't need these items.

I also recommend keeping a sleeping bag back here. I have had my sleeping bag in my trunk since I first moved across the country in 2005. You never know when you're going to need it, or when it'll come in handy. Even before my gypsy life, I was a road warrior who has spend many a night asleep in my car. And with winter weather on the way, it's just a good idea to have a blanket or sleeping bag in the car anyway.

You'll probably also have a number of miscellaneous items, whether it's books you think you might read, a football or other sports equipment, tools, or if you're anything like me, a box full of Sweet Baby Rays barbecue sauce. You may not ever find yourself in need of these items, but you also never know when you might want them. So be sure to leave some trunk space for the random items that make you feel at home.

Take it from me, gypsy life is a heck of a lot easier when everything has a place and you know where to find it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A happy ending to a Happy Girls 1/2

I woke to the sound of wind chimes and rain. It was still dark. I reached for my phone. 4:45 a.m. My alarm wasn't set until 6:15. Just enough time for me to get dressed and eat a small breakfast before my sister was to pick me up to drive the 30 miles to the race location. I rolled over, but all I could think about was the rain and the wind and how unprepared I was for this race.

It's not my friend's fault I was unprepared. And just to clarify, I owed her big time. A few years ago, Leslie and I trained together for my first half marathon. She'd show up on my front porch early in the morning and make me go for a run. With her as my partner, I was so much more ready to run 13.1 miles. 

The day of that first race, she was battling what she thought was a simple cold. She showed up anyway. She ran the entire race. And then her sister made her go to urgent care. Turns out she ran a 1/2 marathon with pneumonia! The doctor scolded her and banned her from running for a very long time. So when she called me and asked me to run the Happy Girls Half Marathon in her place because a number of recent events interfered with her ability to train for this one, you can understand that I pretty much couldn't say "no"after what she'd been through. After all, she ran with a serious lung infection for me. The least I could do was attempt to train to run in her place in a few week's time. 

So Saturday morning, I tossed and turned for an hour dreading running the 13.1 miles I wasn't nearly prepared for, trying to decide how to dress for the weather, and wondering if I'd even manage to cross the finish line. I was anything but a happy girl. Before I knew it, my alarm was beeping. There was no turning back now. 


My sister picked me up and we made the drive to Sisters, Oregon for the race. We sat in her car until I had to take the shuttle to the race start. The race was a point-to-point, where the start is at a completely different location from the finish line. I ran one other big point-to-point race, when I ran the Tucson Marathon two years ago. Like Saturday's trail race, it was advertised as being all down hill. But when you're running 26.2 miles, most of it on the side of a highway, it does not feel downhill or fast. And the only people around to cheer you on are the people who have volunteered at the water stations. With my prior experience, I wasn't sure what to expect of this race. 

Unlike the Tucson Marathon where the racers were allowed to stay on the buses until race time, we had to all disembark once we arrived. I happened to take a bus that put me there an hour before race time. Thankfully the rain had mostly stopped at this point and we only had to contend with a cold wind, because the "fire" that the race officials had advertised was nowhere to be found. Nor was any other sort of shelter for the runners. 

Soon the turnout where we were dropped off was full of women. This was a women only race after all. I overheard one of the women huddled near me comment to a friend after returning from the port-a-potty, "The great thing about women's races is the toilet seat stays warm." I took her word for it, glad that I didn't need to find out firsthand. 

Finally, someone got all of us moving to the starting line. With some blue skies visible as the sun rose, I decided to ditch my jacket and gloves and keep my long sleeve, which I knew I could tie around my race when I warmed up. I was in the second wave, so I headed toward the middle of the pack. I saw a guy holding a 9.5 mile "Handsome Pacer" sign. Apparently there were men allowed to run this race, so long as they wore skirts and held a steady pace. 

What little training I did do was at 10 minute mile pace. I knew I didn't want to push it and try to run faster than that. But I also knew, I have a tendency to start out too fast. So I decided to stick with this pacer early and see how I did the rest of the time. My only real goal was to cross the finish line. And that may have been the best decision I made. 

I had to rein myself in to stick with the pacer for the first few miles. The majority of the race was on a single track trail, a line of women in pinks and purples and every color under the sun stretched out like marching ants before and behind me. I train mostly on trails, but haven't done much racing on trails. I got a little worried when I rolled my ankle right before mile 1 on what would be one of the flattest, most gentle portion of the next 10 miles. Thankfully, I didn't injure myself, and that would prove to be my only rolled ankle of the entire race. 

I stayed with the pacer for the first 4 miles. The "all downhill" race proved to have a number of rolling hills through those early miles. After the first aid station, I decided to try to settle down into my own pace. In miles 5, 6, and 7, I found a pack to run with. I had to hold back on the up hills to keep from passing them, but the downhills were perfect. I haven't run in a pack like that before, and enjoyed the dynamic of sticking together, intentionally or not. The trail was still single track at this point, so occasionally someone would say "left" and I'd have to do my best to make room for them to pass on the narrow trail. 

Just before mile 6, someone behind me said "Rainbow on the left." It had come out around mile 3, but we'd been running in the trees for some time. Here where the trail hugged the edge of the ridge, off to the left was an incredible view topped off my a rainbow stretching across the cloudy gray sky. I tried to take a picture, but refused to stop running and nearly broke my neck when the trail turned rocky when I wasn't looking, so this is the best I could do. 

Trust me. There was a rainbow out there

At mile 6, I got momentarily confused and thought I was already halfway done. I texted my sister who was already done with her 5k. Halfway. And I snapped our traditional "halfway" photo.  And then I realized my math was off. (I was an English major for a reason y'all!) I texted my sister back, "Kidding mile 6." In the interest of not falling on my face, my texts thereafter consisted of only mile numbers. 

Sort of halfway

I managed to stay on my feet the entire race. But every now and then I'd hear a squeal or a screech when someone stumbled. Mile 7 came soon enough. And by mile 8 the trail opened up and before I knew it I was running beside the older woman I'd spent the last few miles drifting behind and then I'd passed her and I was suddenly on my own. It was also starting to drizzle. Up ahead, I saw a girl fall. I trudged on through mile 9 and by mile 10 it was full on raining. 

The thing I hate about running in the rain is wet feet. And when I say hate, I mean hate. As in there are entire cities in this country I dislike because every time I ever raced track there I could hear the rain sloshing in my spikes as I ran (I'm looking at you Spokane). But by some odd turn of events, the trail wasn't very muddy and my feet stayed relatively dry. I knew in mile 8 I was already developing a blister on the arch of my right foot. It happens nearly every long run. The rain wouldn't help it, but all I could do was keep going. The thing I noticed about Saturday's rain is that it was dripping down my face and falling in droplets on my hands as I ran. I started singing the chorus of  Luke Bryan's "Rain is a Good Thing" in my head. "Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey . . ." 

By mile 11 that chorus had turned into the Army and Marines anthems, or at least the parts I know after hearing them at every ceremony I've been to over the years. It was just what came to me when digging within to find a beat and inspiration to keep fighting forward. At this point I had already run further than my longest training run for this race. There was no sense in letting the rain slow me down. I only knew that the faster I ran, the sooner it would all be over. I knew by my watch that I wasn't going any faster, but I was maintaining the 10 minute miles I settled on back at mile 4. 

When I could see the mile 12 mile marker ahead, I got a text from my sister asking me if I was on my last mile. I knew I wanted to finish strong, but I had no idea where I was in relation to the finish line. At various points along there trail there had been men standing with their children cheering on every runner who passed by. But it was only one guy here and there. Suddenly there were a lot more voices and I could see buildings on the other side of the treeline. And I heard someone say, "Go Shelby." 

I looked up and saw my sister coming towards me. I gave her my best smile, as good a smile as I could muster after running 13 miles. She started running beside me. I handed her my cell phone and asked her how close I was to the finish. It's right around the corner, she said. I thanked her. I was so glad to have her running with me, even for a little while. She had biked with me on my long runs. Kept me company. Kept me distracted from the pain. Kept me moving forward. Encouraged me along the way. 

She'd been texting me during the race at different intervals. You've got this sista. You're a rockstar. Go sister go. I read them all. She'd been timing my miles based on the sporadic mile updates I gave her and knew when to expect me at that last mile. I couldn't have done it without her, the training or the race. 

Afterward she said I looked pissed when she was running with me, but I promise I really was happy. I should have worn the cat mask to hide my Mean Girl face again.

Coming down the final stretch, I tried to give it a kick. One man on the sidelines cheered, "Keep it up. This is where all your training pays off." Of course, I thought to myself, "Or not training." One lady's kick was stronger than mine and she passed me with mere yards to go. But at that point I didn't care. It was over. I had run 13.1 miles at a 10 minute mile pace on the bare minimum of training. 

My first half marathon was faster. But I had trained and it was on a paved, flat and fast course. I ran this one on basically no training over rocky trails. And I learned a new lesson in life, set your expectations low, and you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. OK, maybe that's not a great life strategy, but it sure worked for this race.


Sister and I skipped out on the post race festivities in the rain and headed back home. I was house sitting again, and there was a long soak in a hot tub waiting for us when we got there. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

It ain't easy being green

I don't know about you, but I have some of the funniest friends. Remember Leslie and Shawna and their mouse problem? Last night I went back over for dinner and the handing out of candy. A night at the girls' house is never without adventure.

They love any excuse to dress up. You'd think they ran their own small theater with the number of costumes they can dig out of a closet or whip up at a moment's notice. Inspired by the witch's hat they placed on my head, they decided to pull out some old face paint. 

Only when Shawna went to wash her hands after applying the paint, she realized it wasn't washing off. 

We then spent a good amount of the evening scrubbing green paint off my face. 

It's mostly off this morning. I wore a green shirt so at least I'd match. How did you spend your Halloween?