I Like a Good Character


I’m going to skip the whole portion of this post that would involve apologizing for not having posted in so long. Mainly, I think no one who actually cares actually reads my blog. So I’ll just jump right in.

I’m currently reading a collection of short stories written by a former college classmate.  We took some writing classes together back when I was a creative writing major, and his stories captivated me more than anyone else because of their sheer imagination. So far, I don’t think his published collection holds a candle to some of his college writing. It’s like he hasn’t “found his voice” yet. As cliched as that sounds, it is so true and important. The collection reads like an experiment in exactly that. Each story is so different. The endings come when he feels as if he’s gone on too long and wraps it up too quickly.  There is too much “telling” and not enough “showing,” which was one of the main things I took away from our shared seminars. The whole thing makes me question whether I believe any longer that it’s even possible to teach someone how to write, beyond good grammar and punctuation, which there are editors for anyway. You need to know about story arcs, plot, climax, resolution. But if you have a good story to tell, those things are already built in. So really, you just need a good story. And that is what I am always looking for.

I thought I could actually be a novelist one day. Until one of my professors suggested I focus on juvenile fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with juvenile fiction. Some of my all-time favorite books are ones written for younger audiences, and I don’t discount the possibility that I might be good at writing for a younger age group. Obviously, it’s a good group to target for huge money-making opportunities involving series and movie franchises — hello, Harry Potter and Hunger Games. But no aspiring writer wants to hear, essentially, that their mind functions on a junior high level, which is how I took it at the time. I don’t think I’m creative enough to come up with something kids would latch onto. I think I need to tell stories about people and their lives — stories that can only be appreciated by adults who have lived a while and come to learn some things about the way the world works.

Reading these stories by someone I learned writing skills alongside has made me want to revisit this far-fetched dream of mine to become a writer. That, and the sage advice I received from a self-proclaimed proselytizer, who told me many things about myself she could not have known, including the fact that I am a writer and creator and an artist who needs to focus on those things to find my calling and be truly happy. I do want to write. And unfortunately, there don’t seem to be enough non-working hours in the day to accomplish this. In “working hours” I include the time I spend talking to and being social with people so as not to become a complete hermit, which is a danger always lurking. I don’t know how people go about writing in their “spare time” and still maintain any kind of relationship. I barely have time to clean my house outside of everything else, and I never, ever get enough alone time for anything I want to focus on. When the fuck am I supposed to set aside time for writing??? It’s no wonder so many famous authors were alcoholic, semi-insane hermits who just holed themselves away with a typewriter. I can totally understand resorting to such behavior just to get it accomplished.

It’s just that I feel as if almost everyone I meet is a story that needs to be told in some way. Sometimes I think I am attracted to people based on the beauty of their story. Working a blue-collar job is so much fodder for my future novel, and I think about this daily. I’ve thought the same thing about pretty much every job I’ve ever had, because you encounter characters everywhere you go, and you spend a lot of time with the people you work with. It’s the same thing with living in low-rent areas. I like it for the stories I find, and it’s one way I find a positive outcome in my situation of being required to live in the semi-ghetto because it’s what I can afford. People who struggle to survive are much more interesting than people who don’t. I know everyone struggles in some way, but I find more concrete, beautiful truth in ordinary people than in those who don’t wish for much.

I tend to see most people as characters in books, unless I know them very, very well. This would seem counterproductive,  because a good character in a book is one the author knows very, very well. But I worry that if I ever actually write a book, the people I know best will be most obvious. And I don’t want that to end up meaning for me, as it did for Thomas Wolfe, that I can’t go home again. Or like Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl, that I could alienate everyone I know by publicizing how I perceive them. Imagine the drama that would ensue, even if only snippets were based on fact? Everyone would question it. And I can’t stand having people mad at me. And there are people I can’t afford to lose. This is one reason I try not to get too close to new people most of the time. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how I can create a character out of them, and if we’re too close, I won’t want to. I wouldn’t be able to.

Maybe I will begin posting some stories here, just to get in the practice of putting them out into the world for people to read. I’d love to get comments — that would help me improve and give me more confidence about sending them out to publishers. My fear of rejection has held me back from many things for far too long.

One thing’s for sure: the bug is back!

Everything Changes

I’m feeling very ashamed that it’s been so long since I’ve updated my blog. I kinda forgot I even had one until last night when my neighbor texted me that she landed on it after Googling something about thrift stores in Auburn. “Oh, yeah,” I thought. “I guess I should update that soon.” So here I am, and I don’t even really know where to begin. A lot has happened since July.

I’m still looking for a “real” job and applying for tons of office/admin type stuff. For now I’m working at a barbecue restaurant. It’s my first experience in the world of food service, and it’s been pretty fun so far. The pay is not great, but it’s something to keep me from being homeless.

I work with a bunch of college kids, and I have great hours. It’s close enough to my apartment to walk there, which is nice, and I enjoy the fact that it’s low stress. I go in, I do my job, I leave. As long as I show up on time and do what I’m supposed to do, there is no problem.  This is actually preferable to many better-paying “professional” jobs I’ve had in the past, where I felt like no matter what I did it was never enough. We’ve been consistently voted best barbecue and ribs in the county, and as a result of that we are pretty much always slammed, so the time goes by quickly and it’s almost never boring. A large percentage of our clientele is male, which is fun. Men tend to be easier to deal with as customers, and I get to look at hot guys of all ages almost every day. Teehee. The owners take care of the employees very well, and they are good about rewarding hard work. In general, it’s a good group of people to be around, and I am enjoying it.

If it paid more, I’d be pretty content to stay there a while. But since I need more to live on as comfortably as I would like, I’m thinking about looking for a second job until I can find something more “professional.” If that ever happens. I’m starting to lose hope after over a year of being laid off. So going back to school is an option I’m also considering. As has been my problem with school in the past, I don’t know what subject I should go back for. I’d kinda like to do psychology because I think I’d be good at it, but the thought of grad school being a necessity in terms of job options is daunting. Who knows? I’m adrift on the wind, as describes most of my years on earth thus far. Sometimes I wish someone would just tell me, “This is what you are supposed to do and would be best at. Here is how to do it. Now, go do it.” It seems like that would be better than having an endless array of choices, and an endless risk of failure, when you are as indecisive as I am. So for now I’ll just do what I’m doing. I already feel like a failure regardless.

Let’s see…in early August, I went on a super-fun beach trip with 20 or so friends down to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We were celebrating Kalli’s graduation from Auburn and rented out both sides of a duplex just a short walk from the beach. Since so many people went, we only had to pay like $50 per person plus whatever we ate and drank, so it was about the cheapest vacation I’ve ever taken. And Sean and Kalli’s brothers did their famous shrimp boil one night, and everyone feasted. I felt like we should have been drinking mead and wearing chain mail vests and braided hair crowns, such was our bacchanalia.

Sean’s band was playing one night at The Hangout (where they have a big music festival every spring that I would really like to attend. So we all went out and saw them play and danced the night away and got super drunk and smoked way too many cigarettes and had a fabulous time, followed by skinny dipping in the Gulf of Mexico and other unmentionable activities that resulted in sand in unmentionable places. See? Bacchanalia.


The Hangout.


Crucial Rhyme playing The Hangout. That’s Sean on the right with no shirt. They played a great show! Who doesn’t like live reggae at the beach?


Nick trying to dance me out of my chair.


Bubba getting his mixed drank on.


Zach, Curtis, and Casey keeping it real.


Carter on her hundredth cigarette.

The rest of the time, we laid on the beach, smoked a lot of weed, had a lot of sex, and poured alcohol down each others’ throats. Except for Jessica, who is responsible and sane and motherly and somehow manages to be really fun even though she does not participate in that type of inanity. I was expecting there to be a lot of oil and stuff at the beach left from the oil spill, but for the most part it was clean. While sitting in the surf and sifting sand through my hands, I pulled out some very small, pea-size or smaller tar balls, and the water tasted really, really bad. Like worse than ocean water usually tastes. So we will all probably end up with the same type of cancer some day, but damn it, at least we had fun at the time.


Stevie: “NICK! BEER ME!”


Jessica, Nick, and Carter on one of the many decks overlooking the ocean.

In September, I went to Auburn’s first home football game against Utah State and experienced the craziness of the student section at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Nick, Tyler, and I walked to the stadium from our apartment and got there at 9:00 am to stand in line for a while waiting for the gates to open. We got really good seats and waved our shakers and yelled “War Eagle!” at all the appropriate times and sang along to all the fight songs. I was pretty excited to finally get to see THE WAR EAGLE (her name is Nova) fly around the stadium before kick-off, and afterwards we walked up to Toomer’s Corner and watched other people roll the oaks. (We didn’t bring any toilet paper.) I am not the biggest football fan in the world, but I do enjoy a good game now and then, and being there in person was pretty damn fun. I’m glad I got to experience it and hope to go again sometime. We got really sunburned but had a marvelous time and were all smiles all day, especially after Auburn won! :)

October contained my birthday (which is also Nick’s birthday), which was…okay. I made a pretty kick-ass German chocolate cheesecake, combining our respective favorite types of cake, and decorated the apartment with balloons and streamers. I woke up to a sweet card and a goodie bag of my favorite candy and some DVDs and some Auburn face stickers from Nick on the kitchen counter. Jessica gave me flowers and a beautifully decorated cupcake and a nice card, and I also got a nice card from Carter and Mel. I would not like to discuss how old I turned. The key word is “old.”

A couple days later, my whole life changed, and the world went to shit. Though events did not conspire as dramatically as the Chinua Achebe novel of a similar title, “Things Fell Apart.” I am back to living alone again. I won’t discuss the details here, but suffice to say people can leave your life just as easily as they come into (or back into) it. Everything always changes. Disagreements can sometimes not be overcome. Emotions sometimes impede rational thought. Reality is only in your own mind. Double-standards are bullshit. That is all. October consisted of new friends coming into my life and old ones leaving it. I guess that’s the way it goes. I am very sad and depressed about the whole thing, and I feel like the happiness I had for the last year and a half has just evaporated into the atmosphere, and for no good reason (in my opinion, but that is only mine). But at least I had extreme happiness for a time, and for that I am thankful. At least I had some for a while, after a long time of feeling like I’d never feel that way again. You can probably imagine how I’m feeling about that now. Again. FML.

 

 

Smilefest Reunion 2011

I made a trip up to North Carolina last month to see some friends and visit with my family. The primary purpose was to go to Smilefest. This year was my fifth or sixth going to that festival, I believe. I’ve been to it in three different locations now, and the latest one, while still not quite my favorite, is definitely great. My favorite was when it was in Union Grove on Van Hoy Farms. Least favorite was at Deerfields outside Asheville. Of course, I love that area, but that park is not conducive to festivals whatsoever. We bitched the entire time about having to hike our stuff in for miles (even though there were flatbeds to ease the walk if you could catch one). It was still ridiculous, and I’m not a fan of sleeping in a tent pitched on a nearly vertical mountainside. This year, for the second year in a row, it’s been held at Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, right at the foot of Pilot Mountain. It’s a beautiful site, and they’ve kept the ticket sales semi-private for people who have been before (hence the “reunion” moniker), so you end up with people who know how not to act a fool, and who are experienced festival-goers and are there to enjoy the music (okay, and also have a little fun).

As usual, we heard a lot of really awesome music and drank a lot of beer and camped and got real dirty for a few days. I live for those weekends. Good times with good friends. Met a lot of awesome new people too. Saw folks I only ever see at Smilefest (another reason why it’s like a reunion). Here are some pictures my good friend Jenny took, since I have none of my own to share because I didn’t take any. You can check out the Facebook page of her photography business (Dancing Lemur Design) here. She is really good, and you should “like” her.

Me and my flip flops on my patchwork quilt, enjoying the band, Doby.

Every year, every location, they always have these cool windows and bottles hung in the trees.

Our buddy Kelly with his friend Laura, enjoying some muscadine moonshine.

Me trying to figure out how I’m gonna get a queen-size air mattress into my 2-man tent. Travis totally did it, and it was like my own private bouncy castle. Awesomeness.

Always love the hula-hoopers and wish I still had mine. Unfortunately not everything can make the cut when you move. I would like to investigate the collapsible options, though.

We had a huge campsite set up, with about eight people camping together, complete with four or five easy-up tents. We basically created an open-air house. One tent was just the kitchen area. One was the sitting room. We dubbed it “Cabanapyland.” The Jerry tapestry provided a little shade and privacy. In this picture, I’m standing in the living room. LOL. We had not one, but two solar showers. And, because we are seasoned veterans and smartipantses, we totally camped right beside a pole with a power outlet and a water spigot. SCORE!

Here’s a nice shot of the main stage with Pilot Mountain in the background. So pretty. Great time. Can’t wait til next year!

Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness

Ron Swanson, on Parks & Recreation, is truly one of my all-time favorite television characters. Do I agree with everything he says? Not even close. Do I admire his stalwart dedication to his own principles, and his general attitude of “I do what I want, and I get away with it, because I am Ron Effing Swanson?” Absolutely. He is also a decent person underneath it all. If I could get a beer with anyone on the planet, he would be at the top of my list. I loved the “Pyramid of Greatness” episode, and I decided there are probably some Swansonites out there who would appreciate seeing it all listed out, so here it is. Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness.

Honor
If you need it defined, you don’t have it.

America
The only country that matters. If you want to experience other “cultures,” use an atlas or a ham radio.

Buffets
Whenever available. Choose quantity over quality.

Weapons

Woodworking

Welfare Avoidance

Teamwork
Work together as if your life depended on it…IT DOES!

Selfishness
Take what’s yours.

Haircuts
3 acceptable styles: high and tight, crew cut, and buzz cut.

Greatness Itself
The best revenge.

Discipline
The ability to repeat a boring thing over and over again.

Attire
Shorts over 6″ are capri pants. Shorts under 6″ are European.

Self-reliance
Trust yourself.

Suspicion
Do not trust anyone else.

Skim Milk
That’s right, it’s on here twice. Avoid it.

Cow Protein

Pig Protein

Chicken Protein

Romantic Love

Deer Protein

Fish
SPORT ONLY!!!

Intensity
Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that.

Torso
Should be thick and impenetrable.

Old Wooden Sailing Ships
They’re beautiful.

B.O.
Cultivating a manly musk puts your opponents on notice.

Stillness
Don’t waste energy moving unless necessary.

Skim Milk
Avoid it.

Cursing
There’s only one bad word: Taxes. If any other word is good enough for sailors, it’s good enough for you.

Friends
One to three is sufficient.

Property Rights
They exist. Do not let them be taken away from you.

Masonry
Building walls makes you strong. Defending them makes you even stronger.

Cabins
A place to rest that is made of logs.

Perspiration
Only sweat during physical activity or love making. No emotional sweating.

You
You are your biggest ally.

Crying
Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.

Physical Fitness

Frankness
Cut the B.S.

Capitalism
God’s way of determining who is smart and who is poor.

Facial Hair
Full, thick, and square. Nothing sculpted. If you have to sculpt it, that probably means you can’t grow it.

Living in the Woods
Live off the land.

Rage
One rage every three months is permitted. Try not to hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

Security
Secure the land.

Poise
Sting like a bee. Do not float like a butterfly. That’s ridiculous.

Handshakes
Firm, dry, solid. 3 seconds.

Body Grooming
Only women shave beneath the neck.

Movies: Secretariat, Cedar Rapids, and True Grit

I avoided watching Secretariat for a long time, even after it became available for free on my Netflix Watch Instantly. The previews made it look completely cheesy, and it is a Disney movie. I finally broke down and watched it last weekend, because I just needed a distraction from some current stress in my life, and sometimes Disney movies are useful for triggering a good cry. Okay, it is completely cheesy, but it was so enjoyable. I love horse movies — I’ve seen Seabiscuit countless times. I think this is because it reminds me of how excited my mom gets on Triple Crown race days. She used to show and ride horses when she was young, and she knows all the small details to point out before, during, and after the races that make watching it a lot of fun for people who don’t know that much about the sport.

Secretariat is a great underdog movie, like a lot of Disney movies tend to be. Overcoming obstacles, staying true to your convictions, strength in the face of adversity. As cliched as it might be, these are still things that inspire me, and things I need reminders about sometimes. I was a little perplexed at first by the casting of John Malkovich as the trainer, but he turned out to be great and more lovable than just about any other character he’s ever played. I would have appreciated it if Diane Lane’s character (the horse’s owner) had been a little less one-dimensional. She was portrayed like the greatest saint who ever lived, who could do no wrong. I would have sympathized with her character’s difficulties more if she had come off like more of an actual human. And this is what you would expect from a Disney movie, and one of the reasons I had avoided it. But I was actually really moved by the race segments of the movie, when Secretariat came from last place and won by distances so great that no other race horse has ever come close to touching his records. He is, to this day, THE GREATEST RACE HORSE THAT EVER LIVED. During the race scenes, I was yelling from the couch and freaking out my dog, and when he won, I cried. Even though I knew the story, and I knew he was going to win. I admit it; I still cried. And you know what? I would totally watch it again.

Cedar Rapids…meh. I love Ed Helms, and I thought he was great in it, but it wasn’t quite as funny as I had hoped. Yes, it was quirky, but the characters were all a little silly. The plot was not that interesting when it came down to it. I liked the outcome/ending, and I was smiling when it was over, but it felt like a long time of waiting for that to happen in the last ten minutes. Also, Anne Heche? She’s still alive? Really? She should go back into hiding.

Oh, True Grit. I’m really not into Westerns, but I try to watch the Best Picture Oscar nominees every year, and Nick had really wanted to see it. I love Jeff Bridges. But Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger…weird. The little girl was annoying as hell. I could not get into the plot at all. Again, the last fifteen minutes of the movie were good, but leading up to that it felt extremely slow. Maybe it would have helped if I had seen the original. Maybe not. It had pretty cinematography, and the costumes and sets were pretty amazing. And maybe it’s a testament to my adult ADD that I have trouble sitting through a movie anymore, but this one was just not for me. I was still holding out hope for liking it until they shot a horse. Can’t handle it!

 

Fourth of July 2011

Yes, even though I post misanthropic things about government and politics at times, I still celebrate the Fourth of July. Well, sort of. I mean, I go to celebrations, and I enjoy them. I don’t feel particularly patriotic about it, and never have, with the exception of July 4, 2002, when everyone was still feeling patriotic on a daily basis after the events of 9/11/01. I bought a Boston Pops CD then, and the music made me cry. It was a good release. I still have it on my iPod, and I listen to it every Fourth of July, but it hasn’t stirred the same emotion since then.

This year was my first Fourth of July in Alabama. One of Nick’s coworkers invited us out to her house at Lake Martin for a get-together involving grilled meats, tossed footballs in the driveway, and jubilant children passing out tiny flags for waving. As it turned out, the husband of Nick’s coworker has family and roots in North Carolina, although they came here via Michigan most recently. We had a great time talking about differences in barbecue and between the Deep South and the “regular” South. How people are mistaken when they call a cookout a “barbecue,” how we both get challenged on whether North Carolina is even “the South” on a regular basis. (Seriously, have you people never heard of the Mason-Dixon Line? Can you not hear the way I speak?) There were some other coworkers of theirs present with their families and some neighbors from the street passing in and out.

I am a big fan of being near any body of water, no matter how large or small. So, I was very excited when we decided to caravan from their house on a small peninsula down to the neighborhood docks. What a beautiful spot of Earth! We sat out over the water, drinking beers, watching the sunset, craning our necks up at amateur fireworks being set off all around us, and watching kids and dogs swim merrily in the lake nearby. It was breezy and balmy and felt amazing. I can totally see why people dig living out there in the heat of an Alabama summer.

Lake Martin is about 40 minutes from where we live in Auburn, mostly two-lane back roads with nary a house in sight. It always sort of amazes me at how rural everything is here as soon as we get out of the city limits, particularly going west. I don’t feel like I live in the middle of nowhere, but it only takes driving for fifteen minutes to discover that in fact, I do.

According to my research, Lake Martin is actually a lot bigger than I thought it was when I was there. It’s about 40,000 acres and is actually one of the largest artificial lakes in the United States. I’m guessing I thought it was smaller because of the way it’s shaped, dipping in and out of many small peninsulas. I kept thinking I was looking across to the other side of the lake, but I think I was just looking across to other peninsulas. In a way, it reminded me of Lake Lure, which I grew up near in North Carolina, but without the mountains. Only Lake Lure is about 800 acres. Okay, so really not at all the same except they’re both lakes with houses and boats and docks.

Very interestingly, both Lake Lure and Lake Martin feature a rock formation called “Chimney Rock.” Here’s where I get to brag about mine. Alabama’s Chimney Rock is about 60 feet tall, and people jump off it into the water. Which sounds really frickin’ fun. But our Chimney Rock, in North Carolina, is 315 feet, and sits at a mountain-top elevation of 2,280 feet. You do not jump off that. You stand at the top and survey your 75-mile panoramic view. And yes, while a couple people have died jumping off Alabama’s Chimney Rock over the years, and it’s always possible because shit happens, I guarantee you if you jump off our Chimney Rock in North Carolina, you will absolutely die. No two ways about it.

Here’s a pic of Chimney Rock in Alabama:

Here’s the Chimney Rock I grew up with in North Carolina:

Incidentally, I think the North Carolina one looks a lot more like a chimney than Alabama’s. Although for years I’ve thought it looked more like a penis than anything else. Juuuuuuust sayin’!

The Question of Independence

In the first verse of the national anthem, which is the only one we ever sing, these are the last two lines:

“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It never occurred to me until this year that we usually stop there, with a question mark. The music at the end of the verses sounds very final and triumphant, and not at all questioning. Maybe that’s because Francis Scott Key wrote a patriotic hymn about a battle and set it to the tune of a popular British drinking song. Fun fact: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was only made the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931. Before that we used “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which I can remember having to learn in elementary school, and “Hail, Columbia,” which sounds way more anthem-like and is now used as the Vice President’s official entrance, like “Hail to the Chief” for the President.

But back to that question mark. The question in the song is regarding the outcome of the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 — have we won? Does our flag still wave? Today, it seems the question mark has taken on a whole new meaning, when thinking about our country’s place in the world and who we want to be as her citizens. Now, the question seems to (or maybe ought to) be, “Are we really all that brave or all that free?”

In the “home of the brave,” we collectively put actual brave men and women in harm’s way because we’re greedy. Most people are too lazy to recycle. The majority of Americans do not own hybrid vehicles or residential solar panels, myself included because I can’t afford to, because I haven’t had a job in nine months, but that’s another rant altogether. Alternative energy sources are not exactly highly touted by corporate honchos who stand to lose money when their technology is replaced. I don’t care what you say about major petroleum companies’ spun magazine ads of wildflower meadows and ethereally-narrated dream-scape television commercials, where they showcase the best (the one? lol) engineer they’ve put on the job of eco-do-gooding. Show me a year without an oil spill and I might start to give half a crap. As my Maw Maw would say, these are people with “more money than sense.”

So, we’re okay with sending people off to be killed in the name of some vague Medusa-headed terror cabal whose snake tendrils grow back as quickly as they are lopped, when we all know deep down that if it weren’t for the oil, we would not still be occupying the region. To me, this is not brave. This is greed, laziness, ignorant acceptance. Money and convenience before lives.

What about the “land of the free?” “We” have some freedoms. But “we” are not entirely free. Not until all the laws apply to all people equally. Not until the Patriot Act is repealed. Not until the Supreme Court stops making unconstitutional rulings like May’s Kentucky vs. King. Not until our Presidents stop signing executive orders giving themselves powers that our system of checks and balances expressly forbids. Not until you can lobby congress or run for office (realistically, people) without a cent to your name and still be taken seriously. As Georgiana Cavendish, former Duchess of Devonshire once remarked, “One is either free, or one is not. The concept of freedom is an absolute. After all, one cannot be moderately dead, or moderately loved, or moderately free. It must always remain a matter of either-or.”

I wish every year that people would use Independence Day as a time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, where we want to be, as a people. Instead I think it ends up being rote enthusiasm for a system we hate, because it’s tradition, and because we *think* we’ll always be on top, as if it’s our rightful place. I wonder what the first 4th of July will be like after the economy completely collapses (if that happens). Thoughts?

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…and They’re Always Glad You Came

There is a couple in our friend circle that everyone wants to be like: Sean and Kalli. They live in a communal house with a few other roommates. Kalli is an artist, and Sean is in a band. When you arrive, everyone hugs you. When you leave, everyone tells you they love you, just in case you A) didn’t know or B) die on the way home. There are big dogs to jump and kiss you when you walk in the back door, which is always unlocked in case anyone they know needs anything. Kalli’s artwork hangs in the hallway, and Sean has a music room with concert posters and carpet tiles arranged creatively on the walls.

They have turned a potentially awful back yard right beside the interstate into a weekend oasis for friends, drinks, and grilling, complete with twinkle lights, hammocks, and a water feature they made from an old trombone. Sean’s special secret recipe mojitos line the fridge in Sprite bottles, and you are to help yourself to that, as well as the honey mustard chicken he’s been grilling for two hours with his brother-in-law. Kalli will be wearing a piece of jewelry she has made, probably involving an owl and feathers, and telling an incredible story about ghosts in one of their childhood homes, or about Sean’s mom yelling at them through the door about condoms while they had sex in his room in high school.

There is much drinking and smoking, eating and talking, and laughing. Sean’s mom or brother-in-law or sister or some of Kalli’s brothers may be present. There is an iPod on the table playing the product of Sean’s band’s latest recording session of reggae. Someone with a generic name shows up, and you realize you know them, but you didn’t know Sean and Kalli knew them. Then you remember that Sean and Kalli know everyone. And maybe you keep randomly meeting people they know because it’s a sign that you both know good people.You may meet their friends from high school, because the group never really split up, even though they live in various places. Or you may meet someone who can eat a corn cob in 22 seconds, or someone who owns the local independent bookstore slash coffee shop. You will “know” them all, already.

Nick and I always say, “They’re good people” about those we really respect, admire, or connect with. But I think it’s just as much about being “real” as it is being “good.” So maybe we should say “They’re real good people.” Sean and Kalli are good people. They would be reliable emergency contacts in the event of a dead battery or your one phone call for bail. But they’re also real people. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it. (But they love you anyway.)

We all talk about how we would someday like to have the Sean and Kalli house, where there is always something going on, everyone is always welcome, food and drink abound, love and kindness permeate, there is always music and laughter, and you are accepted — no, welcomed –  just as you are. We know they won’t be around forever — once Kalli finishes her program this fall, they may move away. And we want to continue their tradition of real hospitality on our own. I feel so fortunate to know people like this, who make you feel like you do when you listen to your favorite song.

Good Music: Coldplay

This is hitting home for me right now…

Lost
by Coldplay

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Doesn’t mean I’m across

Just because I’m hurting
Doesn’t mean I’m hurt
Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserved
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I tried to cross
Every door I ever tried was locked
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

You might be a big fish in a little pond
Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come a bigger one

And you’ll be lost
Every river that you tried to cross
Every gun you ever held went off
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the firing’s stopped
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Random Craftiness

I have to say I haven’t been doing too much crafting since I moved. The majority of my craft supplies were given away prior to moving, and the rest is mainly in storage in North Carolina. I brought a few small supplies — one pair of knitting needles and some yarn, one box of jewelry findings, my sewing machine/sewing box and two pieces of fabric. That’s basically it. This is probably the one thing I should have made more room for in the car…everything else I can do without, but my craft supplies make me happy. Alas, I was overwhelmed by having an entire room devoted to it when it came time to pack. And I definitely needed to clean out the collection. Over time, I had built up way too many of those things you buy and think, “I am going to use this when I make something at some point.” So here is an update of my craftiness as of late with minimal supplies and a few economical purchases.

Nobody in our apartment building has their own private outdoor seating area because the outdoor area is just one big long hallway with cut-out breezeways like windows. So everyone has created these little spots outside their doors, most of which include a grill if nothing else. I swear, people down here are crazy about their barbecuing. Our outdoor spot used to consist of a bench and a couch with no cushions someone left behind before we moved in. I decided we needed something just a tad bit classier for our classy friends (haha) to visit when smoking. So…decorating while on unemployment is a challenge, but I like to think of myself as the world’s best bargain shopper, so it was a challenge I attacked happily.

A friend of ours just happens to be one of the maintenance guys at our apartment complex. With his help (and a bribe of coffee and pie), we were able to get the ratty couch carted off. Then he told us the apartments have a storage room of furniture they keep when people move and leave it behind, and as the bearer of the key, he offered to trade the couch for a table and some chairs. YAY, free furniture! The table turned out to be in great condition and reminds me of ones we used to have at school — that fake pickled wood that looks surprisingly like real wood. We also got some ubiquitous plastic lawn chairs in good shape, but looking a little dirty and dinged up. One coat of white spray paint, and they look brand new! (Spray paint = $2.98 @ Home Depot)

Next, I went in search of table decoration to offset the lovely black plastic ashtray we have. (Note to self: get a cooler ashtray.) Found cool table runners at Pier One…for a lot more money than what I spent on the place mat you see pictured! SCORE! (Place-mat-turned-table-runner = $4 @ Pier One)

One more cool accessory needed…and I am a sucker for Moroccan themed decor. So I splurged and got this glass lantern at Pier One also. It takes tea candles only, which is sort of annoying, and they are not very easy to get in and out. But it looks super cool glowing at night. I think it’s a nice complement to the conch shell and succulent plant I already had. (Lantern = $8 @ Pier One)

Finally, I was going to make chair cushions, but it turned out to be cheaper for me to buy new ones on sale. This is one of my most favorite shades of green, and they have a nice embossed diamond pattern in the fabric. Matches the table runner perfectly! (Cushions = $16 @ World Market)

And, voila! Outdoor seating for two, for only about $30! (Four, if you include the Depression-era wooden bench, with paint-splattered red vinyl seat that I inherited from my grandparents, which also sits outside. One of my most-prized possessions!)

I’ve also made and donated three baby blankets to an organization that formed in the wake of the devastating tornadoes we had recently here in Alabama. We are fortunate to live about three hours away from the area hardest hit, and although there was still a small tornado that caused some damage in our county, it was not nearly the ruined mess here that you’ve seen on the news. This group was formed by a friend of a friend, and they are having people donate handmade baby blankets and things to babies who were orphaned by the tornadoes, moms-to-be-soon, and new moms who may have lost anything “special” that was being saved for their babies. It’s supposed to provide a special heirloom, with meaning and significance — a keepsake.

I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on fabric and notions, so I used one of my favorite fabric-hunting tricks and hit up the closest Goodwill’s linens section. You can almost always find decent, usable fabric there in large pieces and other forms (blankets, curtains, etc.). It’s perfectly fine for cutting up and sewing with after a washing. I ended up buying a couple of blankets, a crib sheet, and a set of curtains, and this was enough for four blankets, although I only made three. I did buy the satin ribbon for binding at Walmart, but it was only about $3 per roll, and I only needed one roll per blanket. When I was little, my blankie had satin ribbon binding, and to this day when I feel it, I remember laying in my crib and being calm and relaxed. So, I included that in all of my blankets.

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