A little bit about Robin

I was born in raised in Alabama and am proud of my Southern roots. I love to write and share life experiences, thoughts, and crafty ideas about interesting things past and present. Welcome to my neck of the woods. Sit down and swing a while.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tis’ the Nutcracker Season! Cue the Drama.

This blog is dedicated to my mother, Joan Marcus May and my late grandmother Manya Robbins Marcus.  For all their hard work over the years championing for the Arts in Huntsville and serving as a volunteers and board members for the now Huntsville Ballet for 50 years combined. Thank you mom for pushing me out the door 4 and sometimes 5 times a week, even when I did not want to go.  When I finally got there, late or not, I always loved Ballet Class. 

It was a long, crazy day this week for me.  Things get that way working at an elementary school two weeks before Christmas.  I am not the type of School Secretary that sugar coats everything.  Two fifteen until right after carpool is what I call the witching hour.   Schedule changes, check-outs, lost and found, kids calling mom to ask,

“PLEEEASE can I ride home with Rachel instead of going to Bible Club?” 

The call at two minutes to the bell from the mom saying,

“ I'm stuck behind three dump trucks on 280 and one Mountain Brook Policeman. You must tell -insert-popular-name-here- to walk!”

I welcome all these shenanigans and much, much more with a wink and a smile, I promise times 100,  I do.  I love my job.  I do, until two weeks before Christmas.  By that time I have had too many Magic Muffins and chocolate covered pretzels, I am checking myself out or into a mental insitution. I was all bah humbug today then two mothers walked in about 2:15 to check their daughters out for Nutcracker practice.

“Nutcracker Practice!  Yes, I will call them right away!”  I said with enthusiasm!! 

With my newfound holiday cheer for the end of the year I proceeded tell the mother standing in front of me my Nutcracker life story.  I named every part I danced in my career with the Huntsville Ballet ( Huntsville Community Ballet Association) until my senior year of High School.   Let me see:  party child, solider two years in a row, trained animal, rat, maid of the mist (my first point part), sunbeam, sheppardess, snowflake, orchid, Arabian and finally Spanish. TADA, Encore, Encore…no flowers, please.

My Nutcracker life story begins when I was cast as a party child in 1983.  I was eight years old and they lined us up according to size. We only had two real boys so girls had to play boy roles. Mr. Lloyd B. Tygett, the Artistic Director, started tapping us on the heads and said in his theatrical, sing song voice, 

“Boy, Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl, Girl, Boy, Girl….”   

Please don’t say boy, please don’t say boy, I prayed as he glided down the line of little girls in their black leotards and white tights, hair in tight buns.  I was one of the tallest and near the end of the line. When he got to me he stood up right for a moment.  He had just head tapped my best friend Lauren Doyle who looked EXACTLY like me….she was tapped, girl. He stood there, one foot turned out, hand rubbing his forehead, his blue eyes piercing down at my brown ones. He took his time as his other hand slowly tapped down on my head and he pronounced,


NOOOOOOO!! NO.  I was not going to be a boy, never.  Not when Lauren was a girl, not when my other friend Hill and Kate got to wear a pretty dresses and Becky Lenning too!  What happened next goes down in Community Ballet History, well my CBA history at least.  All that danced there have one.  I picked up my little pink ballet slipper and stomped it hard on the floor in Robin May tantrum fashion.  They should have cast me as Clara right then and there for my performance. They really missed out. 

 ”GO. TO. THE. CORNERRR... until you get over it. “You are lucky to be in it at all!” He droned.

So the corner I went tears rolling down my flushed cheeks, hairs flying out of my haphazard bun, my hand pulling my leotard out of my bottom. I was looking at my mom out of the corner of my eye, as she glared me down with her “you will take the part he gave you or all be dammed” look.  I was about to walk back over and suck it up then, God willing I do not know what changed his mind.  He was in the middle of teaching the party child dance when he declared me, you guessed it...a party girl. I would like to think it was my convincing pout or my tousled bun, brown hair falling out in curls.  But I think he realized he had met his match in me and simply gave in.  We did after all share the same birthday, I found out way later.  This is the appropriate time to say something like, “Bless his heart.”

I was partnered with another party girl, Christina, in the Party Scene since the boy girl match-up was uneven because of my Robin May fit. It was not odd for the time, Mr. Tygett had said, for girls to dance with one another.  Ok y'all, he said that to make me feel better, bless his heart again!  I got my way that time and started a 10 year relationship with Lloyd Tygett that I am sure for him was at times rocky, but in the end filled with mutual love.
Community Ballet Party Children and Clown, 1983.  Clown Melissa Vandiver.  Party children from left bottom, Lauren Doyle, Robin May Seale and unkown.

Nutcracker every year has one of those unique memories for me.  Mr. Tygett and crew typically cast me in character roles, and that is not always what I wanted.  But every decision he made along with the Ballet Mistress Karen Gibb was a lesson learned for all of us who danced under them.  We all endured blood, sweat and tears on that stage every December. We underwent long practices locked up in the Von Braun Civic Center with our homework in one bag, toe shoes, mischief and adventure in the other. Warm up class took place on the stage, all of us in mixed match leg warmers and sweat pants, stage make-up painted on, the occasional paper snowflake drifting down from the rafters above as Mrs. Gibb kept time with her own snap.

The Snow Scene in the Nutcracker, listening to the music alone, can bring a grown man to tears. But if you have ever danced the Snow Scene, you will know what I am talking about when I say it stays with you forever.  Your experience on stage is the flight and fight of the snowflake, the push and pull of boney bodies in white, just barley colliding. Then, wait for it, the gut-wrenching climax where the music comes to a halt, pauses, and ripples back up like a roller coaster, satin clad feet whirling into the snow lit light.  Every time I hear that music I close my eyes, and in my head the seventeen-year-old version of myself starts to dance the chorus.  I remember the fleeting footwork, the beautiful choreography, fast and intense movement of our arms in unison.  I can even feel my toes bleeding under my toe shoes with every RelevĂ©' it is so ingrained in my core. And then the snow starts to fall and I am on stage looking out into the audience at the little girl on the edge of her seat, program in hand.  I use the red bow on top of her head to spot my next three Pirouettes.  Oh Holy Night, the glory!

Sunbeam, 13 or 14 years old?
Yes, those were the glory days.  The days when I was ushered out my parent’s front door to ballet lessons or pulled out of bed Saturday morning for company class. My only wish is that I had danced harder.  Danced harder for Mr. Tygett and Mrs. Gibb. Danced harder for myself.  I can never get those years back but it does not make me sad.  I feel privileged to have been trained as a dancer when and where I was, at such a special time when the Arts in Huntsville was finally in demand. The discipline and confidence, even though I fought it at times, shaped and molded all the girls and boys I danced with to be the strong confident people we are today.

So mothers and fathers of dancers, check you sons and daughters out of school, take them to rehearsal and wait in the wings.  Sit in the empty seats of the concert hall and gossip, just not during the Pas de Duex please.  Watch them kill the Mouse King over and over and over until his death is perfect.  Wrap their little toes when they bleed and dry their tears when it almost seems like too much.  One day it will not be too much, it will be part of who they are.  And inside each one of their young hearts is a glow that will shine every time the curtain opens in the second weekend of December, until they are 80+ years old.

Sheppardess, 15 years old
Spanish, 17 years old

Arabian, 16 years old

Saturday, November 23, 2013

PART 2 : Confessions of a 23 Year Old, My Journey to Vail and Back

Part Two:  God Bless Colorado and All that Other Stuff 
I was starting to clean my house today in preparation of my brother’s family flying into Birmingham for Thanksgiving this weekend, and it oddly facilitated a thought on how to start the second part of this blog.  You see…. my brother is a special person in his own right.  The things he did after college were extraordinary and the life he has led up to this point impressive.  Because both my parents have interesting and unique stories about their lives, what shaped and molded them, how they met, along with my brother’s unique and gifted ways, I needed a story too.  I knew driving up Vail Mountain that day in September 1999 my story had begun.

My narrative started with God, and even though I never doubted there was one, the Rocky Mountains are evidence of his creation.  I had never seen ledges so high, mountains so steep, such a blue clear sky.  Seriously, clearest sky I have ever seen with big white clouds and snowy peaks.  I could actually feel the air start to thin into this crisp breeze that made me feel alive as I got higher and higher.  John Denver was not kidding about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High, or maybe it was just altitude sickness. Regardless it is was amazing. 

When you look down the mountain towards Denver you can see where the city just stops at the foot of the Rockies.  It’s as if the settlers were all be-bopping along in their wagons and when they saw the Rockies in front of them they just paused and said, “Ok let’s just rest here for a while, or maybe forever.  That is one hell of a mountain to get our wagon over.”  I was not the settler, I was venturing over the mountain.  I longed to be away for the city and nestled in a small mountain town.

Carmella and Robin Skiing in Beaver Creek
When I arrived to Carmella’s house that day in September I felt liberated, overwhelmed and nervous all at the same time.  The first thing I wanted to do was, well, EVERYTHING.   I wanted to learn to ski(but there was no snow yet), go out on the town, meet the mountain man of my dreams, go shopping, explore Vail and the towns that surround it like Beaver Creek and Edwards where Carmella lived, oh and I needed to find a job.  But I think the first thing we did was go to Starbucks in Beaver Creek.  That was my first Colorado adventure and my first latte ever. Baby Steps.

After Starbucks, finding a job was looming over my head.  As luck would have it, the real estate company that Carmella worked for had put an ad in the paper that week.  Their Vail Village Office needed a front desk secretary.   So I applied and three days later I had an interview. I remember every outfit I was wearing in most major moments in my life, and my first interview was a major moment. I walked in to the HR department at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and the head of HR said with a smile,

“I heard they dressed up at Alabama football games, but here you are in the flesh. Y’allllll do dress to the nines down there.”

Her name was Diana and I think she was from Kansas.  I had never met anyone actually from Kansas or the mid-west.  She even looked like Dorothy.  She was wearing jeans and these cute little clogs and a bluish and white sweater with silver buttons that looked like it came from Austria or Sweden. A mountain look true to Vail that I would eventually become accustomed too.  

My Office on Bridge Street in Vail Village
Diana told me there were about 15 odd some Vail Valley offices and I was interviewing for the office, which housed Rod Slifer, himself, and about 20 other Real Estate Brokers. I landed the position but I think the head of the Vail Village office was a little wary of my southern accent and my Microsoft Word skills (I kinda told a white lie and said I had them, but I had to learn on the job) but he gave me a shot anyway, thanks Larry!   Along with working on Bridge Street in Vail Village right next to the slopes, I also got an amazing benefit package (happy parents) a great starting salary (enough to pay the rent) and a ski pass (SCORE).   It was the first time since my days dancing in Huntville Community Ballet ‘s Company that I felt like I landed on my feet.  I wouldn’t just be answering phones either.  I was the first person people saw when they walked in the door and considering the price of real estate out in Vail, my PR degree and people skills would actually be put to use.

My Desk at Slifer,  Rod Slifer my boss,
Manders and me(still have the vest!!)
Answering phones and trying to say "Slifer Smith &  Frampton Vail Associates Real Estate" in one breath, was the first thing I learned. The second thing learned/warned was to stay away from the boys.  When I was plotting my escape to the mountains I would dream of meeting a mountain man and raising little Patagonia babies by the fire in some log cabin strategically placed by a glistening stream.  I was coming from a place where everybody was getting engaged, buying their first home, and leasing their first new car.  Here in Vail - not so much.  The boys were transient; they worked hard and played hard.  They all had girls back home, and to them I was the new girl in town or a ski buddy.

I met the ski instructor, the snow border who showered once a week, the rich boy staying at daddy’s château “sorting things out for the semester”.   The vacationer who said he fell in love with my smile from across the room, only to leave on a jet plane the next week.   The 23-30 year old Vail boy does not commit until he has conquered the entire mountain and I realized and decided that I was not going to be a part of that trek.  I finally grasped the concept that I did not need a man to define me.  The guys out there are the best when they are just your friends, and they come in handy when learning to ski or singing on stage at the favorite watering hole The Club.

When I got over the Vail Male, the next thing I realized, and almost too late, was if I was going to survive in this crazy resort town with all these crazy rich people coming and going bringing their shenanigans, my friends and my job were going to be the only thing to keep me grounded. I coveted my job at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and have placed it neatly inside a shadow box in my head and heart for eternity.

Jobs plural was the name of the game out there.  The price of living in Vail is really high so we all wore many hats.   On top of my real job, I worked two and three jobs at a time, best experience of my life besides waiting tables in college.  Everyone needs to be on the other side of the money.  It is eye opening.  I house sat, worked in a ski shop, was an actual personal shopper for a catalog called Gorsuch Outfitters.  Over-the-top fancy ladies and men from all over the world would call in and we would help them shop the catalog. It was insane, and fun, and I did it at night and on weekends with the best friend I met out there - Manders -which leads me to the most important part of my story.

Amanda Jane Barnard (now Brady) was my first girlfriend in Vail besides Carmella.  We had been invited to go out with some other Slifer Smith Frampton folks and when we arrived at their house Mandye, whom we all called Manders, instantly became like a sister.  Carmella patiently taught me to ski Vail Mountain, Manders, well she became my partner in crime on the ground and on the slopes.  Make new friends and keep the old right?  I found my self drifting away from what I was when I first arrived in Vail and what I was trying to be.  Carmella showed me the ropes, looked after me, and is one of the most caring people I know, but as we grew we took separate roads.  I am thankful for the time I lived with her out there, and also for the time I chose on my own finding my best self.  It felt like a double edged sword when I drifted from my childhood to what was waiting for me on the other side. 

My best in the west Manders aka sista' golden hair, well we got ourselves in more trouble than the ladies on Designing Woman.  One little predicament skiing the back bowls is our most famous feat ever. If you are familiar with Vail, you will know the name Sundown Bowl.  Well let’s just say, the sun was going down when we finally got out of there.  We were following behind two guy friends that were way faster than us.  Somehow Manders and I got off track and lost the boys.  We had crossed over into a no ski area and were seriously lost.  The last thing I remember about that day was taking off my skis and literally catapulting them down a rocky hangover so we could traverse on our bottoms down the side to a ski run we spotted below that would take us home.   Getting out of that mess and then accidently ski-biking off a 15-foot cliff a couple months after that are my Vail war stories.  There are more, but they conclude with laughter and tears and all end up on September 11th 2001 where my story starts to come to an end.

I was half a sleep in my down covers that morning. I could smell someone was making coffee downstairs and Manders came in my room and touched me on the shoulder.   A plane hit the one of the twin towers in New York she said.  It took me a minute to even remember what the twin towers were.  She turned on my TV and Katie Couric was shaking, talking fast, and repeating over and over another plane just hit the World Trade Center, the second tower has been hit.  She said something close to,  this is not just an accident we are now linking this to a terrorist attack. Everything after that was a blur.  I know I went to work that day.  I watched the towers fall standing hand on shoulders with the brokers in my office.  Many of them with clients who lived and worked in New York, we had no idea what to think, what to do. That was the start of the end of an era.  I know they took tough hits in Real Estate after that.  It was when our world was slowly drifting from the big bang of the 90’s and creeping down the hill towards an eventually a dying economy.

Before 9/11, I had been getting homesick for the South.  After the events of 9/11 I took it as a sign that it was time for me to go home.  It was my last dance,  one heart break away from giving up on love, one penny away from being broke, one reality check away from experiencing life in the real world. I was the most selfish version of myself in Vail.  I did what I wanted, worked and played for myself, made decisions based solely on myself.  I met some outstanding people young and old, rich and poor (well poor for Vail).  People who loved me for my mistakes, who shaped me into the woman I am today and who taught me how to just grab life by the bullhorns and fight for what I wanted. I am very lucky and blessed to have had the experience I did in such a unique setting.

I try and use the word blessed sparingly.  People down here in the South use the term “blessed” a lot. She is blessed, you are blessed, bless her heart, bless this bless that. We say it so much that I personally start to feel like being blessed is just a trip to the Winn-Dixie and back.  When Michael and I started trying without success to have a baby a few years back one of my pregnant acquaintances said to me, “My husband and I feel so relieved that we did not have to go through what you are going through, we just got pregnant right away. We are so blessed.” I know she meant well, bless her heart....but I was thinking so you are blessed, but I am not?  What does one have to do to be blessed around here? 

Rafting on the Colorado
Well, in my opinion one has to live. We have to be happy with the decisions we make, the life we lead.  We have to act alive and love and be loved in return.  I am grateful for God yes, I was taught that I am created in his image.  The things I have done in my life, like moving to Vail, or living in Atlanta working in Advertising for 6 years, or meeting and falling in love with my Michael. Those are things I did on my own, decisions I made or circumstances I came across that God oversaw to get me where I am today, satisfied.  I did it by myself without his blessing, but with him overseeing my choices. My mistakes and triumphs in life in the past and present are what I believe to be God’s lessons, and for that I am truly, in my heart, blessed. As a wise friend told me once, God's best for you is yet to come.  I feel I have lived my best, and I can't wait to see what is next. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Confessions of a 23 Year Old, My Journey to Vail and Back

Way, way before I was a real adult, a responsible friend, or wife I was a fifth year college senior sitting in my apartment on 11th street in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, making plans for my life after graduation.  I was a summer grad, working at Wings in between semesters, taking my sweet time while most of my other friends had zipped it up in four years and made the move to Birmingham or Atlanta to find their first jobs. I was coasting, finishing up my last group project and planning my graduation dinner with my parents at Cypress Inn.

My fellow Communication Major classmates were looking at big advertising agencies in Atlanta and cities all over the southeast. The PR major was never without her Jennifer Anniston haircut, three-button suit from The Limited and Steve Madden Mary Jane heels. The Business Major/Advertising buying his first Brooks Brothers suit and Johnston Murphy’s was always ready for that big opportunity. All of them lined up outside the Ferguson Center (student union) with their portfolios waiting to go to some gray cubicle to be interviewed by overly enthusiastic college recruiters from all over the Southeast.   It was the end of the 90’s and the Clinton era when everyone got a job, a starting salary and chance to work their way up the corporate latter. A time our now Gen Y would scoff at.  They expect more by working less and the starting salary they anticipate would have been professional suicide if even suggested to companies interviewing my generation in 1999 where 18-24k was what you took regardless of how “Special” you were.   And you wonder why they can’t find jobs? But that is a story for another blog.

Being non-conformist I had different plans.  I did stand in those interview lines, I had the heels the hair and the suit, but I did not have the same drive they did.  The last thing I wanted in my gut was an office space or a city where I would be surrounded by the same people I knew the last five years.  I wanted to be successful in my own right.  Competing for the same jobs, the same lawyer boyfriends and the same seat at happy hour was not meshing with me. What I did take from my communications classes was that is was all about the presentation.  So I played the part.

Playing the part bought me some nice interview clothes and a proud earned A on my Campaigns Project.   Secretly I was listening to John Denver CD’s, wearing puffy vests, lighting woodsy candles in my apartment bedroom and planning my escape to Colorado. My childhood friend Carmella, who had recently graduated from Randolph Macon, moved to Vail, Colorado, after college because her family had skied there and she fell in love with the Rocky Mountains.  She had a steady job out there and was making it work.  She sent me brochures of the Vail life and we talked endless hours about me moving to Vail and how I could stay with her until I got a job.  I owe a lot to her encouragement.  Usually people who moved to Colorado after college in the South where “lost” trust funders (what Carmella called Trustafarians) or pot smokers trying to “find” their way.  I was neither.  I can’t speak for Carmella personally but she landed on her feet there and had some honest parental support if she needed it.  She was not the typical 90’s grunge either.  We were raised strong and right and wore our pearls with pride mixed with our corduroy pants and luggage tag earrings.

When I told my parents about my plan they pulled back at first.  We were not a ski family, it was just not part of the May family vacation budget.  Colorado was expensive.  The family ski vacation was as foreign to me as a backwoods farm in Alabama would be to California girl.   Our vacations consisted of the Alabama State Park in Gulf Shores and trips to my Grandfather’s farm in Eutaw, Alabama.  Visiting my brother in New Orleans where he had his first job with Arthur Anderson Consulting or Mississippi for our Family Reunions.  We made the flight to Boston twice to visit my mother’s family but that is as far north, east or west I had ever been. My parents are educated, worldly and open-minded so they finally agreed to let me spread my wings and fly.

On September 8th 1999 along with my father and five hundred dollars of graduation cash in my pocket we packed up my new, but old, gray beat up GMC blazer that my dad got a good deal on from one of his dart playing buddies and headed out West. Those two days in the car with my father will be some of my best memories of him one day. My dad is somewhat of a southern mixed drink.  Part Atticus Finch, part Jack Ryan from The Tom Clancy novels, part 1960’s beach party bass player.   He was my hero, he was cool with his Benson Hedges and his L.L. Bean corduroy blazers and Gant ties.  He was tall and handsome, stern yet sensitive, high expectations for his children, but realistic expectations because he himself was never perfect. 

The image I take of my father and share with people is the image of him on this Colorado trip. He was still relatively young and living vicariously through his 23-year-old daughter’s experience.   Living through his children is something my dad relishes.  My brother who is eight and a half years my senior got a different father.  He got the 26-year-old returning Vietnam solider just starting the process of making a life for his family.   I got the father who had come into his own, the more settled version. But both of us would agree he is jack-of-all-trades way of life rubbed off on us in a positive way.

On our drive West we crossed the Mississippi, saw the arch in St. Louis, we drank a beer together in Kansas and actually saw tumbleweeds crossing the highway like in the old John Wayne movies. It was the best adventure of my life.   The deal with my dad was that I would drop him off at the Denver Airport where he had a one-way ticket back to Alabama.  I would then drive the 2-hour jaunt by myself up highway 75 to Vail Mountain, elevation 8150, where I would meet Carmella and start my job search. My parents told me that if I did not find a job that could support me, when the 500 plus some dollars ran out I had to come home and figure it out in Alabama.  I had three weeks to make it work; this was my one big chance to be different.  If it did not work out I would chalk it up as an adventurous graduation trip.

When we finally arrived at the Denver airport I was so ready to break away. This was the girl that cried when her parents left her at Tutwiler dorm before sorority rush 5 years before.  I was free, free at last!   Bring on the slopes, the mountain boys, the job I had not found yet!!!  I was free until I hugged my dad and saw him walking towards his pre-9/11 terminal, canvas tote bag in hand.  My heart let go and I started to cry, I felt like the 18 year old being left at the dorm, the six year old on her first day of kindergarten, the 3 year old in the “way way” back of our 1976 ford station wagon watching the world go by backwards. I was still a child, and I was about to make a two-hour treacherous mountain drive to becoming an adult??  All of a sudden I was not ready.  It took everything I had not to run after him and jump in his Eddie Bower tote bag to sneak a ride back to the comfort of my mothers down couch and wood stove fireplace, sitting next to her while she graded papers.  My life was about to begin, and I was alone in this so far.  A long way from sweet home Alabama with the white peaks of the Colorado Rockies hovering right in front of me.   

To be Continued….

Picture taken September, 10 1999, on my drive
up to Vail Mountain for the first time

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Secret to True Love and Surviving the Fire Swamp

The picture of the fall flowers on my blog today holds much symbolism. Today is my 6th anniversary to Michael Paul Seale, my best friend and my own "Dread Pirate Roberts".  I always go through all our wedding photos with care on this day.  It was the most beautiful wedding.  The most beautiful day of my life. The Tiffany vase was a gift from my bridesmaids on our wedding day. Basket weave to match my carefully picked out wedding cake.  Forget the fight I had with my mom about not paying enough attention to me when I was getting my hair done, or the time I threw the wedding resister gun across the linen section in Macy's at Michael while stomping my feet because he could care less what color towels we picked out.   Or the OCD clipboard I carried around our entire wedding weekend to make sure everyone was in their place.  None of that really happened....well maybe some of it happened....OK all of it happened.  There is a Princes Buttercup inside me dreaming of true love and living out my happily ever after.  YET, SO MUCH as happened while we have been storming the castle since our crisp fall October wedding in the foothills of the Appalachians 6 years ago. Like most couples our anniversary marks some unique milestone every year. Last year’s anniversary was one we will never forgoet. Michael and I had just returned home from The University of Alabama Homecoming Game in Tuscaloosa when he looked at me and said, “Baby something is not right, can we go to the hospital?” 

Turns out my 38-year-old husband of five years had a heart attack, his LAD artery was blocked and there was an ulterior artery doing all the work.  The LAD is also known as the “widow maker.”  That is right, the widow maker. October 27th 2012 was a scary day and scary year for our family. Two heart stints later, a Miracle Max of a doctor and a couple visits to The Pit of Despair (not the one from Princess Bride, just St. Vincent's Hospital)  Michael is still coaching football, refereeing basketball and filling our living rooms and radios with his infectious laugh on Birmingham Mountain Radio’s Sunday night show Southbound.  

Whatever folks make of our unique situation at such a young age, Michael seems to be doing great.  For me, and sometimes to Michael's chagrin, our life is on open book and sharing bits and pieces of our story is part of who I am.  He understands that it is healing for me, and for that I am thankful.  We together appreciate all the concerns, moral support and smiles pointed in our direction. Until you live this heart thing or any illness at such a young age, the strength it takes to get through life is lost within our generation. Living with heart disease is part of our daily routine now and a major turning point in our marriage. It is not a negative thing; it is a gift.   Michael listened to his body and got a gift in return, the gift of life and a reminder that at any moment, ones life can change. This is just the beginning.

I am very grateful as I sit here this morning with Michael in my robe with wet hair watching the replay of the Alabama/Tennessee game from last night.  Yesterday we had an impromptu football gathering, friends stopping by, great conversation, an open door policy.  Lazy fall days like these define my marriage right now.  You won’t see pictures of us on Facebook at some fancy restaurant throwing our last paycheck on the table for free range chicken and pumpkin braised cous cous (although that does sound delicious). With our marriage, what you see is what you get. It is not picture perfect.  It can be the best of times, it can be the  worst of times, and it is now our time. We own it.

Ironically on our anniversary day this year we start the process of saying goodbye to Michael’s Grandmother, Christine who made peace with her maker late this week.  She was a strong woman, a southern lady.  Always dressed to the nines with earrings to match her favorite blue suit.  She may have been quick to judge others at times, but I liked it.  I too hold some of those old southern values. For instance not walking to the mailbox or going to the Piggly Wiggly without my lipstick on.  Ladies Clubs and Sunday dresses to Church or Synagogue is a must.  There is no reason people should wear jeans in the house of God. True Story.  I know God does not care, but let’s just look nice it makes it that much more grand and beautiful.  She would agree I think.  I like the traditional pomp and circumstance.  That I know Michael also agrees with too.  Tradition.  I am thankful since I lost all my grandparents before 23 that I found a kindred spirit in Christine Jones, even if only for a little bit. The woman in both my families are not for the faint at heart. They broke the mold. May she rest in peace.

This past 6 years since I have been married to Michael I have gained a second family, worked hard in a job that I love and worked to find a familiar place in my Birmingham community.  I figured out that to be a good wife, friend and daughter is not about serving just one person, idea or expectation all the time. Michael is my person, the one I am strong for when he can’t be.   Doing this all while staying true to yourself, your own family, and never forgetting whom your true friends are is very important and hard to do. In my opinion the best way to be a good wife is to submit to your own heart, because from that place the love can only grow outward to all the people around you. A happy wife is a happy life, but we as woman are the only ones that have the key to our true happiness. If I had advice to a new princess bride and how to survive the preverbal Fire Swamp,  I would tell her stay true herself, and she will have the strength to be true to everyone else around her. True love can defeat even the Rodents of Unusual Size(R.O.U.S's) when they visit our forest, because they symbolically exist in every marriage and they are sneaky little bastards.  (You have to be a Princess Bride fan to understand that one too).

I dedicate this blog to all my best girlfriends everywhere spread around the world. 
You know me the best and bring me down to earth when ever I start to float up. Thank you for teaching me and showing women everywhere, in all your own l
life experiences, how to be strong. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The House on the Street Where I Live

Me and My cat Wilbur in front of our Condo at
Foxhall Condominiums Summer 2013
Mountain Brook, Alabama
My life choices have navigated me in many different directions from Alabama to Colorado to Georgia and back again.  My experiences have included many apartments, houses, friends, landscapes, neighborhoods and jobs.   This suited me because I have always walked to the beat of my own drum, playing slightly off tune. People that know me well might say I am in the center of the crowd, although I never really quite follow it.  My ideals and expectations as I grow become more realistic according to what hand life deals me.  My choices have become simple, and I find beauty in that simplicity. 

I am an observer in my community of over seven years since I have settled in  Mountain Brook, Alabama. For those seven years I have walked down the street Euclid Avenue, a busy side walk- lined street with old bungalows, wisteria and Jackson vine. I go busting out of our condo door with headphones in toe, passing old dogs and children.  I scoot by bouncing ponytails, sorority row t-shirts and 24 year old boys running off the stress of a first job or the night before.  I have every house on Euclid and many in between memorized.  Although it would not be my first choice to live on such an exposed and busy street, I used to dream of what it would be like if we lived in one of those houses.  My head filled with foggy imaginations of our future children running out into a front yard with bare feet, summer outfits, and copper curls the color of a faded penny to greet us as we picked up the morning paper from the lawn.

My once foggy daydream of what it would be like to live on Euclid has kind of, well, lost its luster. Our busy and grueling lives are ever changing.  More fiscally realistic options and expectations that we always knew and humbly accepted are still in place.  But as I walk down Euclid every week there is one house that always seems less foggy in my daydreams.  It is distinctively out of place among most of the old English charm, immaculately redone bungalows, and carefully manicured lawns.

This timeworn house could have Atticus and Scout carefully placed inside it’s screened in doors in a time when men’s wilted collars did actually in fact wilt by evening and ladies did in fact take afternoon naps and smell like sweat and sweet talcum.  This bungalow with settled brick and a dipping roof sits back from the crowd as retired couples slowly drive by on Wednesday nights on their way to the Birmingham Country Club.  I imagine its owners are older than dirt and may have even been acquainted with Boo Radly himself.   An oak tree stands tall in the front, a large willow tree on its right, with its translucent green leaves hanging in the wind.

The house is surrounded by mostly larger newer homes.  Other homes like it knocked down to make bigger and better for the world to see.   It is the choice of the person buying the land I suppose.  We see more knocking down of these little gems so bigger kitchens can be built, and higher ceilings can be vaulted in preparation for designer drapes to hang.  But when I pass this particular old house I have my own simple and offbeat illusion of what it could be if it magically fell into our possession.

Over the years work would have to be done, of course. I would first paint the front door kelly green to match the willow tree.  In the fall, mums would adorn the cracked concrete stairs leading up to the screened in porch where we would rock away watching the world go buy. I would start a garden in the spring on the side of the house. I have actually pictured myself greeting my husband has he walked in from work, me wiping my onion-soiled hands on a fading tea towel that I grabbed from the small spot where it would hang right above the farmhouse sink.  In time we would paint the house and sand hardwood floors to get ready for a nursery.

For the past 7 years this house cradled my perfect little vision every time I walked by it. By the time I would reach the Chevron at the end of the block I would have spruced up the screened in porch and added a master bath with a claw foot tub. Lace curtains would be hung in the guest bedroom with a bowl of lavender placed on the side table and air loom linens in the half bath.  And out front would sit our orange cat Wilbur, his head held high to catch an afternoon breeze on his whiskers.  

About six months ago the for sale sign went up in the yard.  The price too much for us to afford, they were selling it as two lots.  The owners must have died or taken ill and the children, if any, did not have use for the house, for it obviously needed work.  It happens everyday in my neighborhood.  One house goes down and two go up in its place at a price tag that buys you Mountain Brook.  Not what I imagine this part of Mountain Brook used to be but what it has somehow become.  God honest truth, I never expected that we would ever be able to buy that old house.   I did hope one day that someone who had the means to afford this property would buy it and follow through with my same vision.  Not likely, but there is always a chance.

I still have foggy dreams of a house, some house, in my head.  When the time is right we will move maybe to an adjacent zip code, maybe in Mountain Brook, maybe in Birmingham city where folks like us are confidently migrating.  Who knows what God has in store for us.  I take things day by day in this fast pace world that surrounds us. But I know the best in life is yet to come for us and hopefully that includes a screened in porch.  I have learned as I observe my surroundings that my zip code should never define me.

In the meantime, I will continue to walk down Euclid Avenue in the neighborhood where I live, busting out of Foxhall Manor Condominiums into the Tiny Kingdom.  I must look lucky to passers by to live in such a unique setting.  It took me a long time to realize that.  I am lucky to live and work in a safe community, to have dreams that I can’t afford. Otherwise they would not be dreams.  I am happy to have a husband that truly loves me, a life with him that has medium to large imperfections I am not afraid to wear on my sleeve.  I feel fortunate to have the foresight that we will continue to make memories and start new ones. 

 They knocked down my old house just the other week, I assume to build two in its place.  I won’t like the houses they build and will walk by in disgust, mouthing something negative under my breath that won’t make it better.  In years when we drive by for old times sake I will look at my husband and say,

“Remember that old house, the one with the front porch and the good bones, the one we loved so much.  The one with the willow tree and red brick chimney.”  He will nod and smile and we will continue on down the street where everything changes, yet somehow I imagine it will still feel the same.
The house a couple weeks ago before they tore it down, in a sad state.  The two large trees shielding its mystery had already been removed from the yard.  One fell on the house during a storm too.  All the character gone and overgrown.  But if you look really close you can see the house has good bones.  Wish I could have saved it and enjoyed that land. All that yard in Crestline!!!  What a shame. 
This blog is dedicated to my husband Michael.
He has the best dreams, and deserves for them all to come true.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer, my time is tickin' away....

“Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon after their three o'clock naps. And by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There's no hurry, for there's nowhere to go and nothing to buy...and no money to buy it with.”

I love this.  A sign next to some clocks in an antique store.
I have always loved the above quote from To Kill a Mocking Bird, but this summer I have lived by it.  Hard times we have seen in my house, great times we foresee.  The economy and health still controls our lives. I have learned over the years to live the simple life - it works for me. I have had so much adventure in my life already, simple is just where I belong.  I will never feel like I have missed out. I am blessed with friends, family and people who love me.  I have been lucky to travel and to see great sites, stand on tall mountains, and live in big cities. Now I settle in the South, where I finally found my simplicity.

I go back to work in a little over two weeks.  This summer has flown by, my friends.  I am always enormously grateful for the time off that comes with my job.  When I started working for Mountain Brook Schools 7 years ago, it was important and almost a given that I would find a summer job.   But this summer I decided to make it my own. I have been back and forth between Birmingham and Huntsville, helping my mother.  My Dad fell on June 9th and the result was a compound fracture to his ankle.  Dad has been in and out of hospital and rehab and we still have a long road to go.  But he is strong and my time at my childhood home has actually been a good thing for me. 

Home is where the heart is, and the pool for me.  I have made fewer trips to the pool than planned this summer.  On the flip side  have been spending a lot of energy doing garage sales and trying to promote my items on local trading sites to make some extra cash. My time off also affords me more simple moments with friends I do not get to see as much when I am working during the school year.   Just yesterday my friend Marissa and I made the excursion out to Pell City to check out the thrift stores and antique markets they are known for.  That’s right, selling all my designer clothes on Mountain Brook Trading and down sizing to a simpler life of thrift store clothes.  It is my new thing. I have not given up manicures and pedicures, so no worries, just realizing that life is more important than a designer pair of shoes. Finding that one gem in 1000 racks of junk at a thrift store is awesome.  Out with the old and in with the older.
Here you see an Owl mug I bought at Landis, and the rest were
perfect finds at the thrift store.  The dress is a never worn Duck Head
preppy look for $4.99.  That look will always be a staple in my wardrobe.
And check out the vintage fabric on the bottom right.

So on the road we went my old friend and I.  Our first stop was The American Thrift store in Pell City.   We were scavenging for about an hour and came out with some great deals.  I walked out of there with four items for under 11 dollars.  Marissa scored with a cute gingham oversized shirt for lounging and a vintage BAMA shirt.  Not Too Shabby.

While I am talking Shabby how about shabby chic?  That was our next stop at Landis Antiques.  It is three stories and they have everything you need. If you are looking for a voodoo doll, they have it. A 1980 Jane Fonda cookbook, it’s there. A velvet framed image of Luke Skywalker - yep they have it. I walked out of there for under ten dollars with an owl mug and a green decanter for Michael (he collects decanters).  Marissa found the deal of the century.  She collects jadeite and found a little jadeite bowl for a great price.  We were pleased.
My fruit basket form the Flea Market and a green
bottle for Michael that I purchased at Landis.

We were so pleased with our purchases that we decided to make a pit stop at Crackle Barrel to eat lunch.  It was turning into a good old Mayberry kind of day. After our country cooking we made one more stop on the way home.  I can’t remember the name of the place but it is this huge flea market near Leeds.  This was my favorite place.  I only left there with one item, a hanging fruit basket, but it was worth the stop.  Marissa scored and found some Amish Pyrex, also a great find.

It was relaxing day with a great friend.  I have two more weeks to get creative before I go back to work.  This weekend is the highly anticipated Southbound Music Festival put on my husband and his brother David along with  Birmingham Mountain Radio.  Next week we are planning a trip to Huntsville to check in on my dad. 

Time is ticking; I need to get some more pool days in.  So, despite some bumps along the way this summer, so far this has been a productive one.

Some more interesting shots from our day in Pell City....
Blue Willow.  I own so much of this
it would make your
eyes bleed, so I passed.
Southern Living cookbooks.
The exact same ones that sit in my mother 's
kitchen today. PASS.

Two calendar teas towels.  One the year my husband was born 
and the other the year I was born.