New York City, Part II

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So… Jon’s and Jeffrey’s Christmas present was their trip to Green Bay to see the Packers play at Lambeau. My Christmas present? I got a weekend in New York City! Jon held down the home fires while three of my girlfriends and I met in Manhattan to celebrate one of us having an important birthday. It ended up being an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Until this year, I had never set foot in New York. This year, I have been three times, and I am utterly won over, and I can see why people fall in love and move heaven and earth to live there. I still don’t think I’m a city dweller, but I can absolutely see the appeal- and if I were younger, and sans kiddos, I’d be easily swayed. I love walking everywhere, taking the subway, having everything, at any hour, at your fingertips. It’s a crazy, enticing, swirling, amazing place to be.

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This is the cheese counter at Mario Batali’s market. I stood there, the old California cheese commercial from my childhood running through my head, imagining if I won the lottery (if I played the lottery) that this would be one of my first stops. I did by a small wedge of Vela dry jack and carried it with me all day, snacking off it.

Midtown was a mess because of the Secret Service detail now assigned to protect the (unfortunate) president-elect. Part of the congestion was just Christmas foot-tragic, but here were also extra police, barricades, and a heavily armed assault presence visible. It was a little disconcerting, to be honest.

We went to Trinity Church for Sunday services, and were fortunate enough to be there for the fourth Sunday of Advent. I wrote up how I felt at BCC, if you like that sort of thing. It was stunningly beautiful, and we visited the famous inhabitants interred there prior to the service.

We walked about a million miles, managed to see two Broadway shows (because I know amazing people who have amazing connections, and I am so freaking lucky!), ate amazing food (street and otherwise, because serious, is there better food anywhere?), and spent a cold afternoon at the Met. The museum, not the opera. And I may or may not have burst into tears in the early twentieth-century American arts and crafts wing. I need about three days alone in the Met, just for future reference. One afternoon doesn’t even scratch the surface- I never even got to the paintings!

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But we had to be back towards midtown, where we had another show to catch that night, and it was pretty important…

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Yeah. I know. I know its not fair. I know. I do feel bad. I did honestly ask if there was another friend who might deserve the ticket more than me… but when it comes right down to it, you’d have probably said yes, too. I don’t regret sharing this experience with my amazing friends, celebrating one of their birthdays, crying and laughing together, getting late-night dinner after the show at Juniors. It was such a beautiful New York night.

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Merry Christmas Eve

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Here we are again, another trip around the sun, sitting at the nadir of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere at least- nod to my Southern neighbors) where light has waned to the longest night, only to have the sun be reborn on the solstice, the Solar King to rise again with the tide of the year. That’s one of the reasons we celebrate the birth of the Messiah at the winter solstice- just in case you were curious.

Christmas Eve has always felt like the holiest day, much more than Christmas itself. The night, pregnant with possibility and hope, holding the world at bay for just a moment, is where the real joy and peace lie. I relish this time. The subtle hum of electric excitement in the children, even as they’ve gotten older and less chaotic. The anticipation of what is coming— and while we experience that temporally as presents, it’s really our spirit keying in to something so much more important than new Lego or Beats headphones.

On this night, we acknowledge that darkness triumphs only briefly, no matter how long or how dark the deep winter night. Watch the skies, track the stars, do the math (yes, math! it’s how the Magi knew!) look for the light rising on the horizon, it returns. It always returns. It grows and gathers strength, rising first and shining best.

The sun is reborn. The Son is born.

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Painting “Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik

Day 27: Grandparents

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Resuming the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Seven.

Where to even start. My very first memoir piece was about my grandma. My memories of her are deep and vast, and she is associated in my subconscious with safety, love and softness. She was flawed and imperfect in a million ways, but she was also a place I always knew I was safe, and she is woven through the years of my life in strong and visible threads. There are reminders of her everywhere in my home and in my heart. Abigail is named for her, and I took her surname when I got divorced. I was wrapping myself in that security, even thought she (and my grandpa) were long gone.

I didn’t know my grandpa as well, but what I did know of him was legendary. He was not a small man, either in stature or personality. He, too, was deeply flawed and imperfect, and they divorced before I was born. But they never stopped loving each other, that was clear to anyone who knew them. Grandma would always twinkle, even as she would call him a sonofabitch. Jack would refer to her with a tenderness he reserved for few others, always calling her by her full name.

I have two more sets of grandparents, but neither informed my life to the extent of Kathryn and Jack. My biological paternal grandparents were unknown to me until I was an older child, and I got to know them a little bit in their later years before they died. They were deeply kind and good people, and regret I didn’t get to know them better. Their home was full of artwork and photos of me my mother had sent them over the years. It’s kind of surreal to realize there are people who love you, who have loved you, for years before you knew of them.

My other paternal grandparents were more distant- not for any reason besides the fact they traveled extensively and were almost always on the road to somewhere. My memories of Virginia are of holding her hands, riddled with arthritic bumps, but remembering how soft they were. She died when I was young, and my grandpa rapidly remarried- several times. I don’t remember all their names, but I do remember when his big fifth-wheel would be stopped at our house, on his way to somewhere new, or returning from another adventure.

Day 26: Daily Tasks

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Resuming the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Twenty-Six.

There aren’t very many things I *have* to do each day… I’m both fortunate and cursed by that reality. The way I’m wired is I am what appears to be fallow for stretches of time, and in crazy bursts of creativity and productivity, I get *everything* done in a short span of time. Then I sit back and appear fallow again. The truth is more complicated, because what looks like a sleeping field is really a calm surface with a million micro-movements happening invisibly. But I know how it looks.

So back to my days. I write every day. I feed my family every day. I put things off every day. Until suddenly I don’t. Most household and mothering tasks I find neutral. I neither love nor hate them— I am fully cognizant of the fortune of having modern appliances and a comfortable, warm, safe home from which to run my family. I don’t mind laundry- it’s pretty easy to stuff my machine full of similar colors and push a button. In an hour it’s all clean. That’s pretty awesome. Folding it, on the other hand…

Does anyone else have a Laundry Chair in their bedroom? I throw the clean, warm laundry on the bed, fully intending to fold it, and then at bedtime, I realize “Nope. Not happening.” and it moved to The Chair. Sometimes we repeat his little dance for days on end. The kids have their chores, but they’re pretty simple- unload the dishwasher, put their (occasionally folded) laundry away, clean the bathrooms as assigned, feed the dog.

The daily task I actually enjoy is cooking.

Being in the kitchen, dicing, chopping, slicing, prepping mise en place, stirring bubbling pots of alchemy, all things that calm my swirly mind and bring me happy peace. I love my good knives, my heavy cutting board, my beautiful island with the maple counter, my kitchen full of well-loved and well-used tools. My kitchen, while small, is organized and utilitarian, and while I occasionally curse the lack of cabinet and counter space for multiple projects, actually works very well for what it is. Just remind me of that next time I curse as the spices fall on my head when I open the cupboard…

Lambeau Field and Snow…

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So remember what I said about trading buying stuff for having experiences? The trip to New Orleans was part of that- my attempt to say “yes” far more often to things outside my comfort zone. I’m also encouraging the kids to do the same.  So… the day after we got back from New Orleans, Jon and Jeffrey got on (another miles-free) flight to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

My uncle holds season tickets at Lambeau Field- and he has since 1954, when his parents were original investors in the Green Bay Packers. I honestly think when Jon learned this is when he decided he would marry me. Apparently, this is a very big deal to football-y type people, and both Jon and Jeff were beside themselves with excitement. They spent the weekend with my uncle and cousin, on the frozen tundra of Green Bay.

I wasn’t there. I stayed safe and warm at home. I watched on TV and I got the play by play from my boys, until their phones died or their fingers froze, I’m not sure which was first. The Sunday morning of the game, Jon texted me, “Today, football is being played the way God intended it-in the snow, in December, at Lambeau Field.” I don’t think he’s ever been happier- though he did wear his Broncos hat. Jeffrey more than made up for it with the Packers swag. It snowed the *entire* game.

I’m so grateful for family. The picture of Jeffrey with my uncle and cousin are three of the four McKay men (Bean is the only one missing), Grandpa Jack’s descendants. I’m just so happy this happened.

New Orleans

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So the day after all our family left, Jon had to leave for a business trip. We had some miles socked away, and he said “You should come with me!” and I thought about it for half a second.  A girl from church came and stayed with the kids, and I hopped a flight and met him in New Orleans.

I fell in love with the literary New Orleans when I was about Abby’s age. I read historical novels a lot, and NOLA is a place writers love to romanticize. As I got older and became something of a student and lover of architecture, New Orleans again rose in prominence. Like so many others, Anne Rice further introduced me to details of Lafayette #1, the Garden District, and the French Quarter. I had always wanted to go there. But nothing can quite prepare you…

Writers much better than I have been seduced into trying to describe and pin down the elusive, ephemeral swirl of verdant, swimming life, juxtaposed with the constant companion of decay and death. I have never seen anything quite like it. When an entire city and the culture it contains is built in the cradling elbow of one of the world’s mightiest rivers, when sea level is above the ground, when the soul of a place is older than the country in which it currently sits, it effects everything. I’m not even going to try and go beyond that- three days of wandering does not qualify me for anything except appreciating the experience.

New Orleans in beautiful and complicated in a way I have never experienced, and I am grateful to have been in her embrace for a short time.

During the day while Jon worked, I was free to walk and wander. Walking kept me in a fairly small area of the historic areas, and I am aware New Orleans is a bigger place than I was able to see in three days. I did a historic walking tour of the The Garden District, where  a mishmash of Italianate, Greek-revival, Colonial, and some of the finest double-gallery architecture is preserved. None of this escapes the shadow of New Orleans being the largest city in the Confederacy, built predominantly on the backs of enslaved people, and that history is ever-present. Since it fell early in the Civil War to the Union, it escaped extended siege and the architecture was saved. But as I said, it’s complicated.

There are very few original buildings in the French Quarter- most were refurbished after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 to be more Greek Revival. It’s funny to think of 1804 as being a modern revision of the face of the city, but that’s how old New Orleans is. As you wander around, the buildings, hugging the curbs with their ornate cast-iron porches and galleries, are more than 200 years old- but they are remodels. Of course, most people wandering Chartres Street aren’t looking for markers of original Creole architecture. Jon just smiles and rolls his eyes at his weird wife.

So setting aside my predilection for history and architecture (I didn’t mean to wander so far down there, really…) we did take the requisite walk down Bourbon Street. I can say I have done it, and that’s good. It’s really kind of crazy, touristy, and commercial- because of course it is. People flood there, but it’s not all just tourists. Every bar is open, with greeters in the narrow sidewalks inviting you inside. Live music pours from every doorway, and the swirling lights, warm air and crush of people is intoxicating. If you wander off Bourbon and down the side streets, you can find lovely supper clubs, tiny charming restaurants with magnificent food, and some of the best live jazz you could imagine.

Walking back to our hotel after dinner, we were stopped at corner by a parade of bicycles. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of bicycles. They were all decked out, with lights on their wheels and spokes, some riders had colorful lights on their bodies, a bike or two had DJ equipment with loud music, there was even a tuba on a bike- and they rode on, ringing their bells, singing, a colorful swirl of laughter and kinetic energy. We stood, amazed, until the last person pedaled through the intersection. I looked perplexed at the man standing at the corner with us, and he shrugged “Don’t look at me, I don’t live here!”

When we got back to our hotel, we asked the concierge, “So, what’s up with the lit-up musical bike parade?” He laughed. “Oh, that’s because it’s Tuesday. They do that every Tuesday.” And that pretty much sums it up.

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And Then The Dishwasher Blew Up…

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It’s almost the middle of December, so right on schedule I’m getting to Thanksgiving. Anyone who knows me know Thanksgiving isn’t my favorite holiday. Yes, I know it’s un-American, and that my taste-buds offends most of the country. I don’t like turkey. I don’t like stuffing. I loathe anything with visible marshmallows. Gravy is gross. So for years, I made Mexican food for Thanksgiving. It worked well in my world, and my poor deprived children knew not what they were missing. Until Jon introduced them to real Thanksgiving food. You can imagine Jeffrey is a huge fan… Bean and I still huddle in the corner with our personal foods of choice.

The part I *do* like is having a house full of family. I do like the camaraderie and the cooking together. I do like the banter and the laughter and the getting out of the pretty dishes and the setting of a nice table. I do like everyone being together and the house overflowing with people I love.

So for Thanksgiving this year we had a houseful, and it was wonderful. Jon’s family feels so much like my own family, it’s easy to be at home with them. I am used to loud, boisterous brothers who tell off-color jokes. I am at home around strong women who are multidimensional and not afraid of voicing their opinions. There’s just an ease to being together. It’s comfortable and welcomed.

So after the requisite Thanksgiving turkey, pretty table, et al, we had some fun for a few days. Getting 12 people to do anything in unison is a feat, but we managed it. There was a Korean dinner out for just the grownups, while the older kids got paid to babysit. We learned a new role-playing game and a few of the kids are hooked. We got everyone to the theater and caught Moana (I cried several times over, and enjoyed a deep theological discussion with my brother-in-law over the divine feminine, and on my use of ‘its’). We took everyone to the amusement park, where it was nearly deserted, and the kids got to ride their favorite coasters over and over, while the parents huddled indoors trying to stay warm. I understand completely why Disneyland is in southern California now. Speeding a long a roller coaster is much more fun 0n a balmy 68* November night than it is on a bone-chilling 37* Maryland night. But the kids didn’t mind.

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But I’ve skipped over the dishwasher blowing up. It really did. Willy proclaiming, while we stood in the early morning kitchen, “Burning plastic! Burning plastic!!” as the acrid smell flooded the kitchen was the first clue. I thought something was caught inside on the heating element, and pulled the door open. Usually the dishwasher stops when one does that, right? There was the second clue something was terribly wrong- the water jets just kept spinning, spraying water everywhere, while black smoke poured from the little vents on the side of the door. “Kill the switch!” Willy said to a confused me, “What switch??!” Jon came running downstairs and burst into the guest room, where the fusebox is located, and where part of his family were still sound asleep, and ripped open the breaker to kill the power. A lovely way to wake up. So our Christmas present to ourselves was a new dishwasher!

There’s a story in here, too, about how the first one Lowes delivered was actually bent, and how I spent a couple of hours trying to level something that was inherently unlevel-able, and the vindication I felt when I realized my dishwasher-instalation skills were not actually at-fault, and Lowes brought us a nice, perfectly un-bent replacement dishwasher, and that meant I had to un-install the first one and install the new one. But that’s just me bragging about being a FREAKING PRO AT INSTALLING DISHWASHERS NOW. So all I’m saying is if you have a dishwasher that needs installing, including hardwiring, I’m your woman. I got it down cold.

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