A Bit of Wildness in Sophistication – The Art of Scott Avett

Motherhood

This past Friday night I was witness to something remarkable, something magical.  In fact, I was more than a witness to this event.  I was an active part of it, an integral piece in the puzzle of community.  So too were the other 200 people who were present.  No piece was more important than another.  Rather, all were necessary to make the evening as powerful and memorable as it was.

It was to be an evening centered around the art of famed musician Scott Avett, co-frontman of The Avett Brothers and a native to Concord, NC.  However, it became so much more.  The fundraising event entitled, The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality was the brainchild of local artist Tom Schultz and his wife Sheila Ennis of Empathinc..  It was organized and executed flawlessly by a passionate and dedicated team of individuals, all working towards a common goal–to support one of Charlotte’s most valuable resources, The Educational Center.

I approached the evening with eagerness, curiosity, and excitement.  As I ascended the stairs to the second floor gallery, a mist of celebrity blanketed my thoughts.  This was going to be a very unique opportunity to be in the presence of an artistic genius away from his usual musical arena.  While my endless appreciation for Scott Avett’s talents was the driving force of  my attendance, I was surprised to find an anticipation bubbling up inside of me for something more.  It wasn’t until I walked into the gallery that I began to understand what that “more” was.

The gallery, which was actually an empty second story condominium two days prior, had been transformed into a maze of rooms adorned with Scott’s masterful oil paintings, charcoal sketches, and linocut prints.  People filled each room–mingling, laughing, eating, drinking, visiting, and carrying on.  I was drawn to familiar faces, and with the first hug and smile the mist began to clear.  While I was certainly in the presence of greatness, it was not simply in the form of one man, but rather in the group as a whole.  On that night, in that second floor gallery, community trumped celebrity.

Midway through the night people gathered around the front foyer of the gallery, eagerly awaiting the centerpiece of the event–storytelling by Scott Avett.  First, Sheila took a moment to share her thoughts about the event with us.  She highlighted the history and mission of The Educational Center, as well as its accomplishments.

“[The Educational Center] has been nationally acclaimed [as] a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called maieutics, which is the Greek word for midwife, and it means as a teacher or facilitator, you are not the authority.  You simply help another person work what that person may already know,”  Sheila explained.

As an educator myself, this resonated with me.  So often in formal education we get bogged down by authority and power and lose sight of our mission to facilitate learning.

Tilly Tice (President of the Board of Directors of The Educational Center) followed Sheila and commented on the theme of synchronicity that led up to the evening–a theme that by that point was more than palpable.  She thanked Scott Avett for his support of The Educational Center through his participation in the event, and praised him for being “committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history, and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.”

As Tom stepped up to the microphone, the anticipation for Scott’s talk grew even louder.  Tom, like Scott, is also an artist and a storyteller.  Through a few brief stories he explained his connection to Scott and how he relates to Scott’s paintings.

“When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated.  When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated.  I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck…sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays.  There is a bit of wildness in sophistication.  I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication,”  Tom shared.

We hadn’t even gotten to the man of honor, yet I was already inspired by the passion and spark that came from Sheila, Tilly, and Tom.  I was not expecting this feeling, but welcomed it freely.  As Scott stepped out before us, his presence alone commanded respect and attention.  Perhaps it was the fact that the majority of those present are inspired daily by the lyrics of his songs, the earthiness and ease of his voice, his humbleness, or his homegrown charm.  The room was quiet, and we were all ready to listen.

Though he admittedly didn’t outline the conversation that followed (“for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy and not planning anything”), Scott seamlessly wove themes of family, discipline, work ethic, and self-awareness together as he danced from story to story.  He was funny, expressive, honest and revealing in front of his audience.  It was plain to see that he came by his storytelling talents honestly, as his dad Jim is the original Avett storyteller–although I suspect there was a long line before him as well.

Scott candidly discussed the push and pull struggle of balancing this learned discipline and work ethic with his innate artistic drive.  He felt best to explain this through the writings of John Ruskin, in particular an essay entitled The Seeing and Feeling Creature.  Scott explained:

“Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.  The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit…With the seeing and feeling and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order.  But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.”

Again, Tom’s theme of wildness in sophistication emerged in Scott’s words.  This theme has invaded much of what Scott Avett shows to the public, both in the recording and art studios.  There is a constant state of re-balancing taking place to keep the wildness at bay, but also to ensure that it isn’t smothered by the sophistication.

As the evening carried on, the energy continued to grow.  Scott had shared with us his stories and his outlook, and now it was our turn to share with others.  We made connections that will guide us along in our spiritual journeys.  Like-minded people from all walks of life created an experience that fostered community, and that was just the beginning.

The next day I returned to the gallery to pick-up the piece of Scott’s artwork that I purchased.  The rooms were quiet and the sun shone in through the windows, creating a new perspective on the space and his paintings.  However, the spark and the energy that permeated through the space the night before remained.  Could we go back and do it again?  I wish we could, but in all honesty it wouldn’t be the same.  The synchronicity of that evening was a once in a lifetime alignment of our lives that we will remember for years to come.

To see some of Scott’s art please click HERE

February 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Friends, Life. 1 comment.

Will you be…..my bridesmaid?

I am less than a month into my engagement and knee deep in planning a beach wedding that is over a year away.  Before setting a precise date and venue, I just couldn’t help but start to get my bridal party in order.  I had already known who I would ask to stand up for me at my wedding well before DH proposed, so that was the easy part.   The challenging part was coming up with a creative way to “pop the question” to my girls!

I didn’t want to call, text, or send an email.  That just seemed too impersonal and cold.  A handwritten note would be a nice gesture, but it still wasn’t quite enough.  So I came up with an idea that would incorporate my creative side with our seaside wedding.  I modified it from another idea, to fit our style and theme a little better.  When Hurricane Irene fell upon us and the power went out, I thought it was a perfect time to finish this project!

“Spe-Shell Delivery”

Cut out a strip of fabric and stamped my message on it.

Be creative with your message!

 Glue it face up into the opening of a seashell

Make sure you glue it in good!

 Roll the message up and tie it with a pretty fabric bow

Wrapped up and ready to go!

Put the “invite” in a cute little personalized box and they are ready to send!

Reuse and Redecorate Stella & Dot boxes!

I was so excited for  my best girlfriends to get these in the mail.  Their responses were emotional and perfect.  They felt super special and loved the thought behind the gesture.  It really doesn’t matter the occaission or your level of creativity.  Creating something from your heart and with your hands is always received gratefully.  Think of your own way to make a special event even more memorable!

September 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . DIY, Friends, Life, Wedding. Leave a comment.

Dogs and cows and chickens…oh my!

"What are you lookin' at?"

Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Charlotte, NC lies a small family farm that is cared for by my friend Jim and his wife Susie.  Their sons, both grown and with families of their own, swing by when time allows to help out Dad and get in some good ol’ fashioned manual labor.  Not sure they need to be reminded of their roots, but they say it helps them stay grounded.  Aside from the help of Susie and the boys,  the daily tasks of keeping the farm up and running fall on Jim’s shoulders.  Luckily, Jim is no stranger to work. He was raised to appreciate a hard day’s work, and spent most of his professional life working as a welder, in addition to taking care of the family farm.  These years of hard work are vividly apparent in the deep-creased lines of his hands, the dirt beneath his fingernails that never seems to wash away completely, and the experience in his eyes.  When you meet a person like this, you take every opportunity to listen and learn, not only from him, but from those who know him well.

I recently had the chance to visit with Jim and Susie on their farm and learn a little bit about how much time and effort goes in to keeping things in working order.  For over 30 years, Jim and his family have lived on this 60+ acre plot of land.  As the family grew and changed, so did the landscape of their home.  Whether it was the addition of a garage on the house or an apartment atop Jim’s work room, each of these projects were modest and carefully crafted to fit the family’s needs.  Although they had plenty of space for these additions to be over the top or ostentatious, they were designed with simplicity  and usefulness in mind.  These are themes that permeate their family’s past, present and undoubtedly future story.

Beside the house stands a weather-beaten but beautiful old barn that is used to store hay bales and tools.  We climbed up to the barn loft to find one of their five cats taking an afternoon snooze in the hay.  “If you don’t have cats on a farm, you’ll be in a world of trouble,” Jim told me.  No cats leads to many-a-mouse roaming freely, which can be a nightmare for any farmer.  From the second story Jim called out with his deep southern voice into the wooded area below, “Daaaaaaisy!  Daaaaaaaaisy!”.  Slowly but surely a group of cows, black, brown, large and small, trotted up through the mud for some dinner.  We threw two bales down to the mud and watched them happily graze in groups.  A few of the smaller cows waited on the outskirts for their turn to feed.  While it was easy to throw the dried hay bales down from the loft, Jim informed me that when wet, these bales can weigh up to 60 lbs.  Needless to say, I was happy for the dry conditions that evening.  As we climbed down to visit the munching bovine, they happily greeted Jim with their big, brown, gentle eyes and wet noses.  Like giving encouraging words to his own kids, he patted his cows and sweetly said, “Yes, you are a very handsome!”  Their love for Papa Jim was quite apparent.

Jim, Susie and I walked down the dirt path to just outside the chicken coup.  Jessie, their Doberman Pinscher, weaved in and out, running circles around us and happily enjoying the last minutes of sunlight.  Multicolored chickens roamed freely around, pecking and prodding the ground for morsels of goodness.  It was obvious to me that these animals are very well cared for, which was something Jim expressed during our visit.  “If you are going to have animals, you have to take very good care of them.  There is just no other way to do it,” he said to me.  We continued down the path to the raised garden that his eldest son built last year, and chatted about how I should plan out my first attempt at a vegetable garden.  I learned how easy it is to plant and grow potatoes, and took mental notes as he and Susie discussed the various crops they have planted over the years.  We approached Jim’s work room to find an old beat-up banjo I had agreed to take off his hands, and came upon bins full of tomato seedlings, each individually planted in dixie cups and eagerly awaiting the last frost of the season.  Jim’s work room not only housed some major machinery (table saws and such), but off to the side he had an entire room filled with old country records, all arranged by artist and in mint condition.  He was very proud of his music collection, as music is a major part of their daily lives.  Beside the stacks of records stood one of  their eldest son’s oil paintings, a beautiful depiction of the crucifixion.  Jim and Susie’s kids are not only gifted musicians, but also gifted artists, and their pride is lovingly displayed throughout their home.

We continued our tour back to their hay field that opened up behind the house.  Tractors and old cars sat under the carport on the field’s perimeter.  There was a collection of Ford Galaxies (’63, ’65) and a ’67 Chevy Impala carefully parked under the carport canopy, just waiting for that first ignition of the Spring.  As I asked about the old cars, Jim lit up with joy and was eager to show me his pride and joy, and old ’57 Plymouth Cranbrook, that was tucked off in its own carport.  He opened the door and I hopped in, clutching the giant steering wheel and getting comfortable.  I have always wanted an old car to drive around, ever since my high school days of driving my dad’s ’67 Camaro (I still can’t believe he trusted me with that beauty!).  There is just something so beautiful and sturdy about an old car that was built to last.  Jim opened the back door and said, “Listen to this.”  As he slammed the door shut, the sound of sturdiness echoed through our ears…a solid car, built to withstand the test of time.  My opinion is that Jim and his family relish in anything like that…reliable and timeless, much like the fabric of their family.

Off in the distance beyond the treeline stood their eldest son’s new home, which was built on land that Jim and Susie gifted to him.  Their youngest son lives just down the road in a sweet, white home with a gravel driveway and friendly front porch.  Simple and perfect.  While their daughter lives in the next state over, it’s immediately obvious to anyone just how important family is to Jim, Susie and their kids.  Their appreciation for family as the foundation to everything else is palpable when I am around them, and it makes me want to work for the same in my life.

My evening at the farm ended with a special tour of Jim’s music room, a small loft in their home where he goes to listen, play and write his own music.  While I could go on and on about music and their family, I will save that for another time.   We sat upstairs, surrounded by 60+ guitar and banjo cases, each with its own story of how it came to be in his collection.  Jim told me, “I never golfed or gambled, so I spent my money on collecting these guitars.  I don’t collect them to sell and make money.  When I am gone from this earth, whoever is in charge of taking care of my things can come up here and know their story.”  He took out one of his guitars and played me a few songs, including his own beautiful version of Jim Reeves’, “Welcome to my World”.   As our visit came to a close, I listened intently as he seamlessly weaved storytelling with his singing and picking.  I left the farm that night with a delicious gift of a dozen fresh eggs from their hens, and a greater appreciation and knowledge of life, music, and the importance of family.

March 16, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Friends, Life. 4 comments.

Red, Green or Both?

Santa Fe Getaway

This year Girls’ Trip brought in ladies from CT, CO, OR, FL, AZ, and VA to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Before this weekend, my only time spent in New Mexico was driving along the I-10 to and from Tucson, which is far from a scenic drive.  I expected to see a landscape very similar to Arizona, but instead saw wide open spaces filled with mesas, rolling hills, and snow capped mountains.

Melanie and I arrived a day early (my mistake during booking, but ended up a gift!) and spent some quality time with Kristin and her family, including her parents, grandma (Omi) and son (lil’ Preston James).  Highlights from our time in Albuquerque included a private tour and detailed history of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center by Ron (Kristin’s Dad); Omi’s amazing hospitality and cooking/baking of quiche, graham cracker cake, and abelskivers (Danish traditional breakfast treat!); a delicious lasagna dinner at the Soliman residence; trying to stay awake and finish strong margaritas overlooking Old Town, multiple cutie-patootie quotes from PJ himself (the cutest 3 year old alive!); a fabulous lunch of authentic NM food at Padilla’s Restaurant (I got the combination platter but would recommend the Carnitas Special on Thursdays…amazing!);  and greeting the other ladies with big hugs at the airport.  A mistake in booking our tickets turned into a wonderful extra day in NM!

Once we got Mackenzie, Melissa and Michelle, we headed North to Santa Fe to start our wonderful weekend!  On the drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe the highway stretched between the various pueblos of NM, and gave us some fantastic views of the jagged mountains interrupted by mesas and rolling rocky hills.  We arrived at “Artist’s Retreat” and were greeted by a better looking Kris Kattan look-a-like named Justin Greene (owner).  He welcomed us into the house, gave us the tour, and proceeded to run down a list of must-see/go places in Santa Fe.  Before he was out of the door, we had scattered throughout the house to explore.  Artist’s Retreat is a perfect use of space with immaculate design…bright rooms, tall ceilings, decks/patios off every room, and one of the best features: a steam room/shower with two shower heads!  We quickly settled in, and started in on perfecting our fresh margaritas…fresh squeezed orange and lime juice, simple syrup, Patron, and Grand Marnier.  It took us a little while, but after some serious taste testing, I think we found the perfect recipe.  The iPod was on shuffle as Kristin prepared dinner and we awaited Zoë and Amy’s arrival.  By the time they arrived, we had finished the Patron and had moved on to his distant and not so cool second cousin José, but we didn’t care.  GT 2010 had finally arrived and there was no place we would rather be than together at Artist’s Retreat.  We fought fatigue from long cross-country flights as we caught up with stories and shared pictures of new babies, boyfriends, and puppies.  One by one the group got smaller, leaving only a few of us who decided to end our night watching YouTube videos of Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” (a must see!).  Zoe, Amy, Melanie and I trucked our tired bodies upstairs to our “wing” of the house for a night cap, a few laughs, and some more story-telling out on the deck.  This is what GT is all about…relaxing with our best girls from all over the US.  We look forward to this trip every year for very good reason.  Thursday night came to a close as we melted into our comfy beds and dreamed of the weekend ahead of us.

After a tasty Friday morning breakfast of egg casserole (with a little ice…no worries Mel!), bagels and NW Pinon coffee, we ventured up to Ojo Caliente for a day of rest, relaxation and spa treatments.   While we initially had planned our spa day to be at the very highly recommended Ten Thousand Waves, we opted for the more affordable and versatile version, just an hour North of Santa Fe.  As we drove into Ojo Caliente Spa, we saw a rustic adobe village at the base of surrounding rocky hills and mesas.  The unique thing about this spa is its various natural hot springs of arsenic, lithium, soda, and iron, each of which boasted its own healthy benefits.  The day was spent in individual massage, scrub, facial and wrap treatments, with group soaking intermissions in the various springs.  A few of us ventured into the “yoga hut” for an 80 minute class, during which I spent most of my time making sure my bathing suit (yes, I forgot appropriate yoga clothes) was staying put during poses like “happy baby” and “pigeon”.   Following yoga, Melanie and I headed into one of the adobe homes for our hot bath soak and wrap.  A small and stout American Indian woman led us to an individual tub, which we decided to share (to save water of course…we are so green!).  As we became submerged in our hot tub, the sound of small hail pelted the plastic roof above us.  The ominous clouds that had been off in the distance were now on top of the spa and showering us with an afternoon mix of hail and rain.  While we soaked, the others found cover and watched the storm roll through.  I would say that the most interesting and uncomfortable part of my day at the spa, was the “wrap” that followed the hot tub soak.  Having already raised my core body temperature a few degrees, I was then shuffled off to the “Milagro Wrap Room” by the same stout woman, who directed me to lie down and promptly wrapped me in two separate blankets like the tightest burrito this side of the Rio Grande.  While my heart attempted to find a regular rate, I forced myself to get through the next 25 minutes in this cotton tortilla by thinking “happy” thoughts and ignoring the thought that I may not be able to pull a Houdini move and get out of the wrap if I started to have a panic attack.  The guy next to me opted to stay in his burrito an extra 10 minutes…what!?  I listened intently for the little woman’s footsteps down the corridor, and when she entered the room and asked, “Are you ready?” I couldn’t have been happier.  Needless to say, that was a “one and done” experience for me.  Melanie described it as being a combination of two of her least favorite things…being hot in bed and not having free reign of her arms.  We emerged from the adobe home to cool air and the distinct smell of the desert after an afternoon thunderstorm.  What a wonderful way to end our day at Ojo Caliente.

We drove back to Artists’ Retreat and began getting ready for our evening out…dinner and dancing at El Farol Restaurant and Cantina!  Justin had suggested getting a table in the bar area and sharing a dozen of the delicious tapas while the band set up for that evening’s live music…Cuban Salsa baby!  We took our time, devoured the tapas and washed them down with plenty of wine, mojitos, sangria, and tequila shots here and there.  We surprised Zoë with a loud and lovely rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a trio of their best deserts, which I think made its way around the table a few times so we all got to enjoy Zoë’s birthday!  Our waiter, Neal had no idea what he was in for with us, but handled it like a pro!  Following dinner, we were stuffed, satisfied, and ready for some Salsa dancing!  As the band warmed up, we started moving in our seats.  It was about that time.  When the first note came through the speakers, we were out of our seats and on the tiny dance floor just inside the front door.  I assume it was put there so that patrons coming through the door immediately knew what they were in for…a sweaty night of hot moves, big smiles, and frequent cries of “Aye ya ya ya!”.  While we all spent some serious time sweating and shaking our stuff on the dance floor, the award for “Best Dancer and Motivator of Others to Dance” went unanimously to Kristin!  She was in her element and loving the rich Cuban tunes as she pulled complete strangers out of their seats and dragged them on to the dance floor.  She single handedly MADE the night better and brighter for about ¾ of the people in the bar area.  That will be a night that they (and we) will never forget.  For years to come, the cute group of ladies from Texas will reminisce and say, “Remember that beautiful young lady with the beaming smile who got us out of our chairs to Salsa!?  She was the best!”  The characters who graced us on the dance floor, including Eduardo, Amy and her friend (what was her name?!), Coke shirt guy with the cheese grater instrument, the drunk guy who had a crush on Mack, the Ebert look-a-like business man, and others, kept the dance floor full, steamy and fun.  We danced the night away then cabbed it home to get our beauty sleep for our early Saturday morning departure up to the Rio Grande!

Saturday morning came fast, so we pieced together what we each thought would be appropriate for our river rafting trip, grabbed some food, and hit the road.  We headed northeast towards Taos, to meet our rafting guides along the Rio Grande at the Taos County Line.  Soon after arriving at the launch site, our Kokopelli rafting guides showed up, made us sign obligatory papers, and carted us up to the top of our half-day “Racecourse” rafting course.  With helmet, wet gear, and life jackets on, we looked like a family of State-Puff Marshmallow women, but we didn’t care.  We were ready for some white water baby!  We got our safety debriefing on the beach and were ready to head down the river and take on the rapids.  Our guide Brian seemed a little too laidback and skeptical of our abilities on the water so we immediately tested him.  He initially saw eight hung over chicks and thought to himself, “Great, I got stuck with them!?”  He quickly changed his attitude after some teasing, poking and prodding.   After taking it like a man, we could tell that he was a good match for our group.  We jumped in our raft and practiced some strokes along the way when we found our raft in eddy currents.  We were in sync and psyched to hit some rapids.  Initially I was the “hood ornament” of the raft because we had so many rowers.  My job was to sit in the front of the raft, grab onto the side ropes with mouth open and yell while we broke through the rapids.  This basically meant that I got a face full of water while the other girls rowed hard through the rapids.  It was a fun spot for a while, but I wanted to contribute to the physical effort of getting down the river.  Michelle handed over her paddle and took my spot up front, despite her cotton pants that were about to get completely soaked in the next set of rapids (thanks Michelle!).  We made it through a few more sets before Mackenzie took on the “hood ornament” spot for the final stretch and largest set of rapids.  On the second to last set, Brian calmly told us that if we didn’t get this rowing/steering right we would get pinned against the rock and dumped into the icy river.  GREAT!  Perhaps he just wanted to put the fear of God in us or maybe he was really serious about the danger of that particular rapid.  Regardless, our group pushed through the rapids successfully, let out loud cheers and hit our oars together over the raft!  WOO HOO! No sweat!  Our last rapid was one of the best, and also where our pictures were taken.  Needless to say, Mackenzie was under a wall of water and each of us had very distinct and determined looks on our faces that were properly captured in time by the professional photographer on the river’s East bank.  The last stretch of water before our course ended was calm and slow-moving.  Brian gave us permission to take a dip in that icy Rio Grande, which I decided was a good idea after a few minutes of contemplation.  And yes, it was cold, but I am glad I did it.  When will I have another chance to be surrounded by beautiful ladies and scenery along one of our nation’s most well recognized rivers?!  Our rafting ended with snacks and beers on the beach, and picking the guides’ brains for the best post-rafting lunch spot in SF.  The consensus was a restaurant called Tune Up, a quirky, quaint local hangout in SF that is well-known for its fresh and flavorful food.  What a perfect spot to satisfy our post-rafting hunger.  We noshed while recounting our rafting trip and planning our final night in our home away from home.

Saturday night was bittersweet for many reasons (as the last night of GT always is).  Many of us used our post-rafting time to relax, stroll down to peruse the beautiful American Indian art along the sidewalks of The Plaza, grab the best coffee and gelato from Ecoo on Marcy Street, or in Zoë’s case, find the last few ingredients for her birthday feast and begin preparing her take on Tyler Florence’s “Chicken Mole Poblano” recipe.  It is a running joke that when Zoë cooks, we end up eating on “European Time”…meaning somewhere between 10-11 PM.  This year was no exception, although she made every effort to have her dishes ready earlier.  Although we teased her about it, we really didn’t care.  Zoë’s cooking is well worth the wait, and we know better than to complain.  The final product is always woven with intricate flavors, paired with delightful aromas, and sprinkled with a whole lot of love.  Hopefully I don’t have to wait a whole year for another one of her divine dishes!  While we waited, the house was filled with music, jovial chatter and laughter.  The wine was pouring freely and we even had a pre-dinner session of Les Mill’s “Body Jam”, courtesy of Melanie.  She really knows how to distract hungry women and burn calories at the same time!  It was fun to watch the ladies reaction to Melanie’s “personality” as a “group fitness instructor” (they don’t call them aerobics instructors anymore…for fear of bringing back neon spandex thong leotards and leg warmers), and feed off of her energy.  She is one of the best that is for sure!  As the aerobic dancing died down, the time was right around 10:30, and we started placing bets on when the food would actually hit the table…10:47, 10:53, 11:03…At some point, we stopped looking at the clock, set the table outside near the fireplace, threw on our warm clothes and filled up our wine glasses.  Dinner was served and it was to die for.  We raised our glasses to our beautiful in-house chef who proceeded to bless us and the meal with a very sweet and fitting prayer.  As the flavors from the mole sauce, braised chicken, avocado salad, and beautifully matched wine hit our palates, the “oohs” and “mmmmms” filled the air.  Various toasts were given, most of which brought tears to our eyes, and one of which was highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint (Melissa!…cupeth runeth overeth!).  The meal was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.  There we were fireside with our best friends enjoying a special meal to celebrate not only Zoë’s birthday, but also the uniqueness or our friendships and the blessings that have been bestowed upon all of us.  We truly are the luckiest group of ladies.

Sunday morning came too soon.  While handfuls of ladies left at various times to get home to the loved ones who had been missing them, Melanie and I were able to spend some extra time at the house and in SF.  We took one last trip to Ecco, walked around the neighborhood and ended our day at Old Fort Marcy Park.  We walked up through the park to the summit, reading plaques about Santa Fe’s history along the way, and taking pictures of the town down below.  Although we didn’t want to leave, we trucked ourselves back to Albuquerque for a little more time with the Solimans and one last authentic NM meal at Blake’s Lotaburger.  Let me tell you, the Itsa burger with green chilies and cheese gives any burger at In-n-Out Burger a serious run for its money!  Pair that with some fries and a Dr. Pepper and we were thoroughly satisfied!  Kristin dropped us off at the airport and we headed back East.  All-in-all, I would say that this GT weekend is right up at the top of the list.  Every year they seem to get better.  Perhaps that is directly proportional to how much more we appreciate each other with each 365 days that passes.  As the 6th GT came to a close, I think it’s safe to say that we all were ready to start planning the 7th.  Until Jan 1st of 2011, let’s keep these memories close so we can be brought back to SF from time to time.  Love you girls…thanks for everything!

Memorable Quotes: “Can you have a natural C-section?”; “Sorry for giving you the shortened version”; “Intimate moment”; “’I’m going to start the appetizer at 5 o’clock so that we won’t be eating dinner at 10 o’clock”; “Oooooh Mojitos!”; “What is your name?” “Naiz.” “You mean like Maize”? “No Naiz…with a N.”; “You mean Naiz, like nasal?”; “I’m making shhhimple shhyrup!”;

May 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Friends, Travel. Leave a comment.

Hood to Coast 2009: The Honey Bucket Saga

This Summer I participated in my first team relay race from the top of Mt. Hood to the coast of Oregon.  This 197 mile route meandered through Oregon’s mountains, rolling hills, cities, and quiet rural towns and ended at the Pacific Ocean in the quaint little beach community of Seaside, OR.  I was fortunate enough to be in Van #1 and share this awesome experience with some old and new friends: Zoe, Rob, James, Jared, and Tracy.  Van #2 was full of the sub-6 min milers, so it’s safe to say that we had the more rowdy, fun van!

Since we were in Van #1, we had the honor of starting the race atop Mt. Hood.   We got up there with plenty of time to peruse the parking lot full of uniquely decorated team vans, many of which displayed team names that were most likely derived and agreed upon after heavy drinking…some of the top names: Rusty Trombones, Dragon-ass, Go N.A.D.s, Team Corndog, and of course top prize goes to our own team…”A Good Case of the Runs”.  So when 2pm on Friday came, we were ready to hit the trail runnin’!  Zoe bravely took the first treacherous downhill leg and knocked it out without needing to duct tape her heels (a trick that James picked up from past races…apparently it helps to prevent full-heel blisters…what a wonderful invention!).  Tracy followed and then it was my turn…Leg 3…which was deemed “easy” in the racer’s handbook mainly because it was all downhill and just under 4 miles.  No sweat!  Tracy passed me the “baton” (slap bracelet from back in the early 90’s…genius!) and I was on my way.  Seeing that there really is no 4 mile strip of road in the Fan that is all downhill, my training was lacking this type of terrain.  Luckily, I had some good tunes blarin’ from my ipod (thanks Bros) and I was liking the downhill run.  Without mile markers or provisions along the leg, I was a little unsure about how far I had gone or what was ahead, but as I neared my exchange, I saw a good ol’ trusty Dairy Queen sign and I knew I was almost done!  I slapped Rob with the bracelet and he was on his way.  First leg down (avg 7:11 miles…thank you downhill), two to go!

Our team finished our first round of runs and passed the baton off to Van#2.  We had about 6 hours to spend wisely before our next round…which included eating dinner, trying to take naps, showering, and getting to our next exchange.  I would have to say that the nap taking adventure was my favorite part of our down time.  We ended up in the front foyer of an office building that smelled of “rich mahogany”, curled up on the floor or on big cushy study chairs, surrounded by several “leather-bound books”.   We were supposed to sleep in Jame’s office but apparently they changed the elevator code on him, so we had to opt for the foyer.  The funniest part was that while we were attempting our naps, there was a crew of workmen doing construction and an old security guard on duty who made no attempt to find out why there were 6 people, dressed in pjs and carrying pillows camped out in his building.  Perhaps that is the norm in Portland.

Well our 45 min naps ended swiftly and we were off to our exchange with Van #2 in the middle of the night.  This was the leg I was most concerned about…how the hell do you run 7.25 miles in the black darkness of Oregon, along a highway, with no provisions, and only a head lamp to guide your way?  CREEEPY!  Again, the two ladies running before me knocked out their runs and it was my turn again.  My nerves were a little eased by the fact that I could usually see a runner in front of me at all times (by the light of their headlamp…awww), and the team vans were parked along the road to cheer us on.  Despite needing some body glide and water 1/3 of the way through, my second leg went pretty well.  Once I saw the exchange I turned on the speed and finished averaging ~9:10 min miles.  I was really in need of a nap by that point.  Luckily, to the dismay of my teammates, I snuggled myself in the back seat of the van and attempted to sleep until we finished our legs and then made our way to the “big field” for the final exchange.  It was at this “big field” where we were going to actually be able to get out, get horizontal and attempt to sleep on a tarp…fun!  Poor Rob and Jared were stuck with driving to this lovely destination, which was off of a one lane road that was completely backed up with vans.  Once we FINALLY got to the “big field” we nestled into our respective cocoons and slept for maybe 2 hours.  All of us, minus Rob who was in a sleep coma, woke up to tiny raindrops pelting our faces and the sound of the Honey Bucket trucks emptying the “honey” from the “buckets”.  Once we were up, it was plain to see that THIS exchange had it going ON!  Some smart Oregonians set up tents with food and coffee.   Although I didn’t think that biscuits and gravy really would have sat well for my final leg, I settled for a Cliff bar and iced latte…come on coffee go to work baby!

Our final set of legs went very well.  I think everyone was ready to be done and make our way to the hotel and beach finish line festivities.  My last leg was just under 6 miles and I would have to say that although it was difficult, I particularly enjoyed pretending to smoke a few people on the trail while the “media” van drove by filming me.  Once they left and rounded the corner, I was back to my normal pace…hahaha!  I wonder where that footage will end up?  Jared brought up the rear for Van #1’s final legs, just in time to hear the first beer being cracked open.  According to the vets, it was tradition to stop at this little tiny po-dunk bar at the Olney General Store and throw back a team shot to celebrate.  So we made rolled in, sweaty, stinky and sore, but ready to get the party started!  The local yokles got a kick out of us as we held up our shot glasses to cheer our victory.  VAN #1 ROCKS!  We jumped back into the van, cracked some more brews, and made our way to Seaside.

I couldn’t have asked for a better place to lay my weary body than the condo that James got us.  Basically, it surpassed everything I had imagined…ocean view, roomy, full kitchen…but honestly I was just happy to have a side of a bed!  We headed down to the beach finish line and watched the teams come in and cross the line together.  We met up with Van #2 and waited for Morgan to get close before we joined her and all finished the race together.  What a great experience!   Post-race festivities included sharing some beers on the beach and sharing our most and least favorite things about the whole events.  The best answer was Jared’s “least” favorite part…”My favorite part was the commrodary and my least favorite part was that I kept fucking everything up”.  We all were rolling.  Poor Jared was our anchor runner and 2 out of 3 times was not prepared for James at the exchanges.  He got some sympathy votes for his honest plea that night on the beach.   My evening ended fairly early.  Although I hoped to throw a few more back and celebrate, my body was telling me something different….SLEEP!  The next morning came and we had a final breakfast all together.  It was a great ending to an even more amazing race and experience.

Now, there was talk of getting a team together for next year.  While the pain hadn’t completely set in and I was still high from it all, I threw my name in the hat for Hood to Coast 2010.  I originally said “one and done” but had such a great time with my new and old friends.  It was definitely a bonding experience, and one I will not quickly forget.  Thanks to all of my team members who made my first (and maybe not my last) HTC an amazing race!

December 30, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . Friends, Sports, Travel. Leave a comment.

Po’ Boys, Hurricanes and Jazz

I visited New Orleans in 2001 (B.K. – before Katrina) for one night just before the madness of Mardi Gras invaded the city, and remembered feeling the intense energy and spirit that was present all around me.  It was in every crack and pothole on Bourbon Street, every dark and smokey alley jazz club, and every savory scent that poured out of the hole-in-the-wall soul food kitchens downtown.   It was like nothing my senses had ever experienced, so I did what any 22 year old American girl would do in a new and exciting city.  I drank and danced that night away with family and friends, and made a promise to myself to return one day for another taste of the Big Easy.

Four years later, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the coast of Louisiana, causing flooding and subsequent breaching of nearly every levee surrounding New Orleans.  The city didn’t have a chance.  As the water rose, so too did the death toll, and spirits began to sink.  Could the birthplace of jazz rise above the murky waters to thrive again?  Would the amazing food and music, so unique to the city, find their way back into the kitchens and clubs of Bourbon Street?  Would the Mardi Gras parade floats, covered in beads and glitter, meander down the streets of NOLA ever again?  Luckily, the spirit of the native people of New Orleans didn’t sink too low before it was fished out of the flood waters and thrusted high into the sky.  The proud people of the Big Easy would see their city alive and bright again if they had anything to do with it.  No hurricane, no piss-poor government response, no broken levees, and no pessimistic public opinion could break them.  They would rebuild and flourish again.

Fast forward four more years, and my promise to return to NOLA was finally fulfilled.  The moment I touched down early Friday morning, along with my friend Melanie, I could feel that spirit and energy again, as if it had never been even a tad bit diluted by Katrina.  We, along with seven other wonderful ladies, had chosen New Orleans for our 5th Annual Girls Trip, and it just happened to fall on the 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest!  The weekend was upon us, and we were ready for what the city had to give.

Most of my first day in NOLA, was not spend in NOLA, but rather with my friends Jess and Randy in Metairie.  I hadn’t seen  Jess and Randy since graduation from PT school in 2002, so this was a very overdue visit.  There were a few highlights from our visit that can’t go without mention.  First, meeting their lil’ boys Noah and Isaac and being greeting with warm hugs and smiles was so amazing.  To know a girlfriend before having kids and then seeing how she glows after having them is a wonderful sight to see.  Noah wowed us with his knowledge of dinosaur names that I had never even heard of.  Seriously I could only remember like 4 names from back in the day.  Either they have made some amazing advances and discoveries over the past 25 years or my teachers jipped me!  Isaac impressed us with his cute lil’ chipmunk cheeks, wonderful trunk control (yes that is the PT in me), and his ability to bounce incessantly on any surface that would hold him.  We didn’t wait long to get our first taste of NOLA, and spent the afternoon enjoying the tastiest po’ boys and onion rings this side of the Mississippi!  After lunch, Randy graciously drove Mel and me to our hotel down on St. Charles Street, and along the way made sure we learned our NOLA history.  We passed houses still marked from post-Katrina body searches, Tulane University, and a scattering of quaint little cafes.  As we made our way into the Garden District, the beautiful old oak trees formed what my mom used to call “tree tunnels”, and provided some much needed shade over us as we rode on.

We arrived at our hotel, hugged and thanked Randy, and got comfortable while we waited for the others to arrive.  Our lil’ mid-afternoon cat nap was pleasantly interrupted by texts and calls as the girls made their way from the airport to the hotel.  There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you open a door to see the smiling faces of people you love.  That feeling may be one of my favorite things about these girls trips.  Even though I get to see most of these girls at least twice a year, there is just something special about our Spring get-togethers.  Maybe it’s the tradition, or maybe it’s the idea of experiencing a new city with old friends.  I can’t pinpoint it, and maybe that is just how it’s supposed to be.

After the screaming, hugging, and laughing subsided a bit (it never really stops completely when you have 9 friends in the same place), we headed out to start our exploration…which lead us just next door to Superior Grill for THE best margaritas in town!  We didn’t have to go too far :).  Bourbon Street was then calling us to come and play, so we headed down to find a perfect spot for dinner.  On the near end of Bourbon Street, we found a little restaurant called La Bayou, which seemed inviting.  So we put in our name and number in our party and waited in the street, talking to complete strangers as they passed.  Everyone was happy and friendly, without a care in the world.  It was like all of the problems in the world or in each person’s life just melted into the pavement and disappeared when on Bourbon Street.  Seemed like a grand idea to me!  Fairly quickly we were shuttled up the stairs of La Bayou and out onto the balcony overlooking the madness below.  Seriously, could we get any luckier?  By that time, we were all a bit toasty (well minus Mel and Mack…mamas-to-be!).  We enjoyed some Louisiana cookin’, some sweet views, toasted to each other and our trip, and then headed out to cruise Bourbon Street.

After bar hopping a bit, we all started to notice a trend.  The DJs at the bars believed themselves to be “semi-professional” singers, and frequently took their acts to the stage.  However, rather than just singing with the band or on their own, they did this little “sing-over” thing…adding in “Uh Uh”s and “Throw your hands in the air”s here and there.  This got old quickly, so we made our way to a jazz and blues club that had ACTUAL talent on the stage.  We danced the rest of the night away and ended the night at Pat O’Brien’s.  After leaving Zoe and Amy at Pat’s the rest of us made our way back to the hotel to crash.

Saturday morning came pretty quickly and we all knew the day was already planned and packed.  What was supposed to be an early morning, and perhaps a jog through the mansion laden neighborhoods, almost predictably turned into sleeping-in, laughing about the happenings of the night before, and light grubbing on the Hampton Inn’s (surprisingly) well-balanced free breakfast before our big Jazz Brunch at The Commander’s Palace!  We took shifts getting 9 ladies fed, showered, and beautiful for our one “nice” meal we allow ourselves per Girls Trip.  What our mothers to be did not know, was that the Jazz Brunch was also a joint baby shower.  Kristin and Jenny told a lil’ white lie to get out before the rest of us and set up our table.  The remaining seven finally figured out the street car system, hopped on and made our way down to Commander’s Palace, one of NOLA’s finest and oldest dining establishments.  The street car dropped us off about 4 blocks from our final destination, but the walk wasn’t met with any animosity.  As our heels clicked on the pavement, we took in more of the neighborhood scenery, shaded by oaks, and caught our first glimpse through the cemetery gates at the traditional mausoleums and above-ground graves that seem to be scattered throughout New Orleans.  Our resident photographer Melissa ducked into the cemetery and quickly made her way up and down the aisles of tombs before the gates closed for the day.  There was something very beautiful about that cemetery, which is a concept I have always had trouble trying to explain…beauty in death.  Maybe some things just don’t need to be explained.  The rest of us were greeted by Kristin and Jenny at the door, Melissa finally emerged from the rusty gates, and we asked the young men at the valet station, who couldn’t have been more than 17 years old each, to snap a few group shots below the famous blue and white restaurant sign.  As we entered the building, the walls were lined with workers dressed in starched and pressed tuxedo pants, white button downs and black bow ties, all standing at attention, smiling and ready to serve.  We walked into the main dining room and when Mackenzie and Melissa saw the table, they confusingly looked at all of us and then knew that they had been tricked.  The table looked great…decorated with pinks and blues, balloons, fun favors, and gifts.  It was a great way to combine two very important celebrations into one afternoon.  Now, as much as I want to describe every facet and detail about each and every taste, smell, sight and sound that I experienced at this amazing brunch, I will attempt to simplify it.  The sounds:  beyond the laughter and chatter of our group, we were sweetly serenaded by a cool jazz trio as we enjoyed our brunch.  They played a very special tribute to our mothers-to-be, “Babyface”, which basically brought tears to all of our eyes, and then a great version of Louis Armstrong’s “A Wonderful World”.  The smells:  spicy tomato juice and ice cold vodka…yeah, that’s right…when the waiter came out with a bottle of chilled vodka and created the BEST Bloody Mary I’ve had to date right at the table, it was hard to ignore the scents.  However, once the food emerged from the kitchen, the savory scents took over…Creole spices, cream-heavy sauces, slow-roasted meats, and the freshest of fresh seafood and produce created an olfactory experience like none other.  I thought it couldn’t get better, but that was until the food hit our lips.  I know it may be cliche to describe food as orgasmic, but in this case if you saw the looks on each and every face at our table, that is probably the first word that would come to mind.  Bites were followed by “Mmmmmms” and “Ohhhhh my…” and “You have to try this!”  The initial tease of the scents was followed by the fulfillment of the taste.  I can honestly say that the food at Commander’s Palace, along with the service and ambiance, was and will remain in my top 3 for all-time great dining experiences.  I recommend the Turtle Soup, Cochon du lait main dish (translated “Pig in Milk” but don’t let that sway you), and the Bread Pudding dessert (don’t’ start eating before they put in the creamy brandy sauce…I was a little too eager to taste!)  Everything was flawless, and no, the Bloody Mary’s had nothing to do with this glowing review!

We all left with full and satisfied bellies and smiles on our faces.  The rest of the afternoon was pretty open, but most of us meandered through the cute boutiques of Magazine Street.  I was on a mission to find a dress for a wedding, that could double for a “souvenir” as well.  It did not take long before I found my dress, and then spent the rest of the time fighting urges to buy more.  It’s never a fun thing to shop with a budget, but sometimes it has to be done.  As the energy to shop died down, Amy, Zoe, Melanie and I made our way back towards the hotel.  We stopped and took pictures along the way, and noticed the abnormal number of large caterpillars littering the sidewalks, while doing our best to avoid them.  We were almost to St. Charles Street when Zoe yelled ahead to Melanie, “Mel, what the heck is on your leg.”  I kid you not, within a matter of milliseconds, Melanie was jumping, kicking her leg, and screaming, all while totally avoiding actually LOOKING down at her leg.  I looked down to see a nasty smear of what appeared to be caterpillar guts, and immediately doubled over with laughter.  “Get it off! Get it off!”  Amidst the laughter, I handed Mel the soft case to my sunglasses, reminded her she had a bottle of water in her hand, and instructed her to get it off.  You know sometimes you just need a friend to help guide you through such a traumatic event!  Her reaction was priceless.

After a couple cat naps and a quick glimpse at the Kentucky Derby, we mustered up some energy, got gussied up and headed back down to Bourbon for our final night in the Big Easy.  Our day had been full, but we weren’t about to let that slow us down.  As usual for these trips, we made our way to Pat O’Brien’s in groups..the “Mom’s and Mom’s to be” room was on the ball and got down there to get us a table for a light dinner.  The “Married, Dating, and Single” room followed shortly after and shared in the evening’s first round of Pat O’Brien’s famous Hurricane drink.  It was tasty of course, but said to be pretty lethal if over-consumed, so we all took our time and enjoyed the red concoction.  We then moved into the “Dueling Pianos” room to attempt to get a table to fit all nine of us.  I quickly grabbed one of the guys in green to let him know we were “up next” for a table.  He kindly gave me a nod of the head and promised to help.  I don’t remember if I tipped him, but I should have…even though he was just doing his job.  After about 10 minutes we crammed our bodies into one of the back tables, ordered another round of Hurricanes and settled in for a few hours of tickling the ivories and sing-a-longs.  We lended our voices to many Billy Joel, Elton John, Neil Diamond, and Beatles tunes, as we observed the drunkards around us.  A pair of very cute girls, clearly wasted but having a blast, put on quite a show for us right in front of our table, and even encouraged us to get up and get involved (which of course we did).  I felt like we were playing a game of telephone as we all tried to determine the authenticity of one of the girl’s “girls”.  I think the final vote was: FAKE (but nice).  We got our fill of pianos and the tin tray tapping guy who frequented the stage, paid our bill and freed up a table for the next round of drunk and happy singers.  We were on a mission to check another thing off our list…the Grenade.  As we entered the home of the “Original Hand Grenade”, Tropical Isle, they lined up 7 tall “yards” of Hand Grenades.  They must have known we were coming.  The bar was decorated with some of the most random and somewhat freaky decor I have ever seen, but it added to the entire experience.  We gathered up our drinks and headed up to the balcony for some sight-seeing and music.  Stepping out onto a Bourbon Street balcony makes me smile and feel completely energized.  Perhaps it’s because you never can tell what you are about to witness below, or maybe it’s just the energy rising from the street itself.  Regardless, it’s a unique feeling.  We danced and drank up there for a while, and probably left shortly after someone threw a beer up to our balcony from below and completely drenched Michelle.  I turned around to see her entire head soaked, as she let out her trademark laugh.  The beer throwing was a result of someone NEXT to us on the balcony throwing beer down on someone below.  Unfortunately, that guy’s aim wasn’t so hot from down below.  Eh, it made the night a bit more dramatic!  After Tropical Isle, we stumbled into a gay bar (which was my idea because the music was good!), which should have been evident by the transvestite dancing outside, but it didn’t deter me one bit.  I probably would have stayed, but we were the only people in there!  We made our way from bar to bar, back down to the other end of Bourbon Street, ditched our Grenade yard cups, and ended up in bar with a band who’s lead singer was a sight to see.  I can only describe her as a coke-head meets redneck wanna-be-Janis Joplin, but with what could have been a pretty face.  She reminded me of someone I would see on the show Cops (my grandma’s favorite show by the way).  Anyway, while the guitarist ripped into his solo, she somehow managed to play a little air guitar, with a beer in one hand and a cig in the other, all the while making a face like she just smelled something really nasty.  Again…a sight to see.  The band took a break and then the DJ jumped on stage to do some of that sing-over-the-song stuff that they do so well in NOLA (surprised?).  He was actually pretty funny, but definitely was singing with hopes of being discovered…ahhh, we all have dreams!  We ended our time at that bar by watching a “Birthday Boy” do a skinny white boy’s version of a strip tease on stage.  I just hope his friends got it on video.  Our night ended with a trip to the pizza joint, because no trip with my girls is complete without some late night pizza.  I don’t recall our mode of transportation home, but we all arrived safe and sound.  We needed our rest, because Sunday was JAZZ FEST!

The much anticipated Sunday morning came.  Although a bit more hungover this morning, we all managed to get downstairs to the lobby for another wonderful (but again small) free breakfast.  We needed a little fuel, but wanted to save room for our trip to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait!  Another NOLA landmark awaited us, so we hopped on the street car again (by day three we were experts!) and headed downtown for a little snack before our trek to Jazz Fest.  We quickly caught on to how popular Cafe du Monde really is, especially on a Sunday morning (and the final weekend of Jazz Fest).  We opted out of the “wait to be seated” line and went straight for “to go”.  Medium cafe du lait and order of beignets…$3.00 (approx).  I mean seriously, you can’t go wrong with coffee and fried dough smothered in powdered sugar for breakfast.  We basically made a mess of ourselves, laughed over the silliness you can do with that much powdered sugar, and checked yet another “to do” off our list.  Now it was time to hail two cabs and make our way out to the Fairgrounds…the jazz was waiting for us!

Once we all got organized and found each other, I was already hungry and salivating at the thought of all of the deliciousness that was at my fingertips.  We were also concerned about finding the “good beer” tent, as well as (of course) figuring out what stage we needed to find.  Although the vendors were plentiful, I really had no plans of buying anything there.  I was there for the food and music.  After the others got their souvenirs, I got my Cuban sandwich to hold me over, and we were successful at finding our Blue Moon beer tent (bonus!).  We made our way to the main stage, planted ourselves and waited for the music to begin.  We stayed there to listen to Alan Toussaint and Neil Young, had our ONE semi-celebrity siting (some guy from Sex and the City), and then it was about time to eat again!  Next stop…cochon du lait po’boy booth.  Seriously, it just melted in my mouth.  I know, I know I had a very similar thing for brunch the day before, but I just couldn’t pass it up!  After grubbing, we made our way to the Gospel Tent to meet up with some of the other girls, which was a great decision.  Let me tell you, it had been a long time since I’d felt that much energy coming from a group of people all at once.  Maybe it was the heat, or the torrential downpour that dropped upon us while we were under that tent, or perhaps it was simply the music.  No matter the reason, that tent became my favorite part of the Jazz Fest.  We were singing, clapping, dancing, hugging, smiling, waving our hands in the air…you name it, we were doing it!  That may have been the closest thing to “God” that I have ever felt, and it felt good!  Everyone was feeling the energy in there…even the guy with the “Cherry Popper” tattoo in front of us, and the lady with the Guinness Book of World Record finger nails (I am really  not sure how she clapped with those nasty things, but she made it happen).  Nevertheless, for about an hour I felt like we were all in the same boat, looking for something to praise and I think we found it under that big top.  Although Buddy Guy was playing in the Blues Tent next door, I was really content with ending my Jazz Fest experience on that note (no pun intended…really).  The rain subsided, and we emerged from the Gospel tent looking like a bunch of wet messes, but with uplifted spirits.

We all made our way back to the hotel in phases.  I think it is safe to say that we were all pretty exhausted and all we wanted to do was to get some food, maybe one last drink, pack our stuff up, and hit the sack.  We walked next door to Superior Grill for a late dinner and reflected on the last three days.  The consensus?…another wonderful trip, void of drama that often accompanies that many girls stuffed into two hotel rooms, and full of lasting and fun memories.

All in all, our whirlwind weekend in NOLA can be summed up into one word…delicious.  The days and nights of our weekend getaway were sprinkled with the delectable tastes, sounds, scents and sights of this great American city.  The time I spend with my girls is always time well spent, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have them in my life and the opportunity to share these experiences with them.

The planning and festivities may be over for the year, but come January 1st, 2010, my little fingers will excitedly type away, I will hit “send”, and that first “GT 2010” mass email will reach email inboxes across the US.  Until then, I will reminice about the po’ boys, jazz and hurricanes I shared with my best friends in one of our nation’s best cities.

December 30, 2009. Tags: , , , . Friends, Travel. Leave a comment.

Leaving Lexington

Driving through the rolling hills of Lexington, I left your hometown today with a very heavy heart.  I glanced in the rear view mirror occasionally, looking back on Rt. 11 and trying not to feel like I was somehow leaving you behind.  No longer was I surrounded by the masses of the people who came out yesterday to celebrate your life.  I was alone with my thoughts, and I wept as the finality of your passing crept up on me and slowly settled into an empty space in my heart.

As the miles passed, I channeled your strength, knowing well and good that you would cringe at the thought of me mourning your physical absence from this Earth.  I recently told you that when I was faced with difficult decisions, you often sat on my shoulder as a voice of reason, as my little angel (and sometimes as my little devil!).  Today, I leave Lexington believing that you are still perched on my shoulder, donning your new and shiny angel wings just waiting for your next task.  I know there are times when you may have to leave and help the hundreds of others who will also need some “Carter advice”, and I accept that.  If I have learned anything new this week it’s that your love was never spread thin among your friends, but was surely spread far and wide.  No one ever got a watered down version of you, Pal.  What an amazing legacy to leave behind.

What happened in Lexington yesterday was nothing short of amazing.  Now I didn’t count heads, but would describe your service as “Standing Room Only”.  Packed into the pews like sardines and lining the walls, we listened to story after story of true friendship and brotherhood told by those who loved you.  In your wildest dreams did you imagine having such an overwhelming impact on so many lives?  Carter, you were truly sent from heaven to bless us with your unconditional love, even for just a short while.  I am sure your family knew that you were a loyal and thoughtful man who valued his friends, but I am not quite sure they knew the extent of your love and loyalty to so many of us who considered you a best friend.

The celebration that followed your service went off without a hitch and in true “Carter style”.  Friends and family poured into the banquet room at the Holiday Inn (which by the way I know you are now singing “Hotel, Motel…Holiday Innnnn!” and laughing).  We laughed, sang, drank, hugged, cried, danced, and shared stories that will continue to leave us completely amazed by the man you were.  Thankfully, though temporary, the pain I had been experiencing over the past week subsided as I reconnected with old friends and created connections with new ones.  It felt so easy and natural to bond over our love and admiration for you.  But that was all part of your master plan, wasn’t it?  If I were to imagine it, I could just see you saying to yourself, “Hmmm, how should I live my life?  Oh I know!  I am going to throw myself completely into the task of filling the lives of my family and friends with laughter, love and compassion.  I will instill in each and every one of them the hope for a better and brighter tomorrow, help to heal their pain, and teach them to see the goodness and blessings in life.  Once I am gone, they will all come together to carry on my teachings and take care of one another.”  Come to think of it CC, your life of selflessness and love bears a striking resemblance to that of a humble carpenter who also left this world around the age of 33.  What an interesting coincidence.

As dusk turned into dawn, the celebration slowly wound down.  I fell fast asleep still reeling over losing you, but uplifted by the gifts you left behind.  I have to be honest, the events of the past week have left me mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.  But in my weakest state, I was able to leave Lexington, reflect on what happened there, and find a renewed outlook on the best way to move forward from here.  I refuse to live my life without you in it, CC.  I know you will be there to rejoice in my successes and lift me up when I fail.  You will laugh along side me, and dry my tears.  I know you will be with me always.  In exchange for your undying love and support, I will live my life with your love in my heart and carry on your legacy to the best of my ability here on Earth.  I will call on you from time to time to help me stay patient and focus on the blessing I have in life, rather than what might be missing.  And I will always remember when you told me, “If I can see happiness in your future…you should too!”  The celebration in Lexington may have ended, but I will continue to celebrate and honor your life until we meet again.  I love you CC.

December 30, 2009. Tags: , , , . Friends. Leave a comment.

The Day the World Lost Chris Carter

The world has lost the best of the best today.  Shortly after 10:15 am this morning, doctors came out to the waiting room and informed those waiting that Chris had passed peacefully.  Thank you God for allowing us to share our lives with the most amazing man.

I met Chris Carter during JMU Summer orientation in 1996.  I was instantly drawn to the magnetic personality and smile known as Carter.  He was a senior.  I was an incoming freshman.  I knew we would be friends for life.  I just didn’t know that life would be taken from him only 13 years later.

Most of my freshman weekend nights were spent in the basement of AKL fraternity house, dancing and sweating and drinking with Carter.  We didn’t skip a beat on that nasty, sludgy dance floor…always in sync, always laughing, always happy and having fun.  With the best of the 80’s and 90’s blaring from the basement speakers, we ruled that dance floor and I felt like the luckiest girl to have Carter as my dance partner.   Days were spent watching “Friday” over and over and over again in his dorm room…talking about life and laughing about everything.  He was my big brother and best friend.

He graduated and moved on with his life, but always made time to come back to JMU for special occasions (namely Alumni Weekend, Lombardigras, Kamakazi, Homecoming, etc.).  The first glimpse of Carter at these events always filled me with overwhelming joy and giddiness, followed by an amazing bear hug and kiss.  It’s almost like his energy seeped through his pores and I hoped it would rub off on me.  He made my college experience a million times better, and taught me so much in the short time he was at JMU with me.

One of the funniest conversations I had with him at JMU was about my virginity.  I was 18 and (for those of you who know me) pretty comfortable in my own skin and with my sexuality (not in a promiscuous way, of course).  As Carter would say to me, “You exude sex.”  That being said, I was still a virgin and waiting to share that with someone special.  When Carter found this out, he didn’t believe me.  Seriously.  He said, “There is no way you are a virgin.  I am not trying to be crude, but I just don’t believe it.  Women act and move differently after experiencing sex, and you move and act like that.”  I just had to laugh.  Some women may take that as offensive, but I didn’t.  I knew what he meant.  I finally convinced him of my virginity and he told me something that has stayed with me ever since.  He looked me straight in the face and in a very scholarly tone he told me, “Well Love, just be careful because once you get it you will want it again and again.  Ahahahaha!”  We laughed and laughed, and to this day that conversation still brings a smile to my face.  Mainly because (sorry Mom and Dad) he was right.  He was always right.

As our friendship grew, our conversations about sex and relationships evolved and he continued to give me advice even up to about a month ago.   That was one of the special things about Carter.  No subject was off limits, and he made talking about certain “taboo” things fun and easy.  He allowed me to learn and grow through these conversations (not only about sex) because of the ease he brought to the table.  He sat back and watched me experience certain things at JMU and after, and interjected with advice only when he thought I needed some guidance.  He delivered it like no other…in a very classy, caring and honest way.  Very Carter.

As years passed, he continued to support and love me.  He made me see and appreciate my beauty both inside and out, and always brought the best out of me.  His infectious laugh could make me smile on the darkest of days.  When we could, we would meet up for meals or fun events like an Orioles game at Camden Yards and Fighting Gravity concert at Wolf Trap.  He always treated and never asked for anything in return.  He was a giver who just loved his friends and valued each and every moment with them.  Believe me, he treated EVERY ONE of his friends like gold.  He also ALWAYS gave his full attention.  In a time when people are constantly multitasking, Carter never once checked his phone or allowed his gaze to drift when we were together.  I had him…100%, and in turn he had me.

Carter was not only a great friend, he also had amazing friends around him, men and women who would do anything for him.  When his mother passed away, his fraternity brother Gary called me as I was leaving FL and driving up North for Christmas.  I hadn’t talked or seen Gary at that time for about 6 years, but that was what Carter’s friends were like.  They made sure that he was supported during difficult times, because they knew he would never ask for help.  I was able to spend some time with Carter shortly after his mom passed and it meant so much to both of us.  I remember I went over to his house and we just hung out and laughed about old silly memories.  Despite the circumstances, I never saw him sad.  He injected humor into everyday, no matter the situation.   I would have been a wreck if I had just lost my mother, but he was so strong.  He had this gift to be able to accept everything that happened to him and be at peace with whatever was thrown his way.  He tried to teach me to do the same, because at times I am sure it was hard for him to watch me suffer through certain experiences.  I am still working on the “not suffering” thing Carter…right now it’s not working too well.  I am still asking why you were taken from us, and waiting for the tears to stop creeping up on me without notice.

The past two days have presented me with feelings I have never felt before.  Two days ago, Carter’s fraternity brother Vince called me to tell me the bad news.  Carter was in the hospital in a coma.  His blood sugar had reached 1000 and he lost consciousness shortly after arriving at the hospital.  When I arrived, it was so hard to see him lying in that hospital bed.  It wasn’t him.  He was too quiet.  But I sat by his bed, held his hand, kissed his beautiful bald head and spoke to him.  I felt so lucky to be able to go into his room and spend time with him before he left.  I refused to say goodbye, but told him I would see him when I get up there.

Carter, you were such a bright light in my life.  You were my big brother and best friend.  You watched over me and reminded me to love and respect myself.  You assured me that my life will all fall into place as it should.  I will always remember all of the words of wisdom you shared with me.  I will always remember your laugh and smile.  I will carry all of those gifts with me as I move forward and live my life, knowing that you are smiling down on me and all of those who love you.

I selfishly ask one favor Carter.  Please send me a sign from time to time that you hear me when I talk to you, whether it be a song on the radio or movie on TV….better yet, a burst of wind trying to lift up my dress…I will DEFINITELY know it’s you CC :).  You dirty dog!  hahaha!  Each and every day I will look at your picture and remember you as I saw you last…laughing and smiling and living and loving life fully.  I will laugh when I imagine you saying “Oh my god, Oh my god, Oh my god” or “Phrrrrrrr”.  Despite being gone from this Earth, you will always have the ability to make me laugh CC.

My life has been so blessed by your friendship for the past 13 years.  I love you and will miss you ’til we meet again.  Rest in Peace my love.

December 30, 2009. Friends. Leave a comment.

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