The Things I Carry

The Things I Carry

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I took this picture over a year ago on one of my last mornings living in Portland.  Fisher and I were on a walk and stumbled upon these little heart leaves that dotted our path the whole way home. Yesterday I got back from a few days in Portland.  It was the first time I had been back since I moved to Georgia last year.

I was curious how I would feel.  I lived in Portland for 12 years and Seattle for a few years prior.  I love the Pacific Northwest.  I have amazing friends, colleagues and memories in that part of the country.   I wondered if I’d have a hard time leaving, if somehow my thoughts or feelings about Georgia would change.

Moving to Georgia was big.  It was a move of opposing forces.  It was both weighty and also the simplest decision I’ve ever made.  I could tell it made almost everyone feel uneasy, yet there was also a lot of excitement for Stephen and me.  I was giving up roots and stability to move somewhere completely new.  The climate was going to be changing–both politically and weather-ily (totally a word).

As I was flying home yesterday, 30,000 feet up in the air with my only distraction being the question of whether or not I should watch Anchorman again, I looked out the window and thought about how I carry both places with me, along with everywhere I’ve been.

And this is the wonder, the thing I keep coming back to.  Even though everything is different, it’s all the same.  It doesn’t matter where I am.  I love the Northwest and I love Georgia.  I love cool weather and I hate the heat.  I love sunny mornings and Saturdays, people who are thoughtful, kind and care about others and their community.  I hate close-mindedness in all of its forms.  I both love and hate that I was so careful for so long.  When opportunity presented itself, I could take a risk and be just fine but what else have I missed out on by waiting?

The three of us walk now.  Around the lake we crunch through golden leaves made brighter by dappled sunshine.  We talk. We plan. We crack jokes and then stumble upon hearts that dot our path here too.  We stop for a moment to appreciate them before moving along quietly.  We’ve picked up something new to carry.

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here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings
from i carry your heart with me

Poe

Poe

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It is common for the small towns around here to have a commercial square at their center.  I have written about our town’s square before.  It’s one of my favorite places–home to two bookstores, trivia nights at the bars, and a great little coffee shop where we warmed up all last winter and played cards.

Today I introduce you to Poe, unofficial square ambassador.

Poe belongs to the oldest bookstore in Georgia–a shop with dark hardwood floors and old drugstore shelves that contain books on local history amongst the latest best sellers and classic children’s literature.  There is a knitting group that meets once a month in the cozy basement downstairs and a fireplace tucked away a corner.

Every morning Poe leaves the bookshop to spend his days in the Square.  He looks both ways before crossing the street, waits for the owner of the barbecue joint so he can traipse to her car where he gets treats.  Some days he forgoes the routine all together and just lays on top of her car swishing his tail and waiting.

The bookshop takes in foster kittens from the local humane society, but Poe seems to prefer the company of people on the square.  He’ll sit in chairs across from solo diners, give you a single, gravelly, Tom Waits style meow when you say hello and occasionally presents his belly for scratches.

Every night the bookshop owner’s daughter comes looking for him asking if he wants to go home.  He allows her to pick him up and carry him back to the shop so he can rise and do it all over again tomorrow.

Miss Mayhayley

Miss Mayhayley

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One sunny Saturday afternoon, Stephen and I struck out to find the grave of Miss Mayhayley Lancaster.  We followed the directions, as only directions can be given in this town, “you know that first road right outside the county line with the two gas stations?  Turn right there and it’s pretty much a straight shot.”

I get a kick out of hearing people give directions here.  “Turn at Jeff’s Exxon,” yet another gas station reference that sounds simple but is slightly more complicated as the gas station is no longer an Exxon, nor is it another gas station called Jeff’s, but a BP that used to be Jeff’s Exxon.  Got it?  Neither do I.  That’s why Stephen does the country driving and I do the city driving.

Miss Amanda Mayhayley Lancaster is a local legend in West Georgia.  There’s a healthy mix of curiosity, fear and lore that still surround her even 60 years after she passed.  Me? I’m a sucker for quirk and a story.  My interest has been piqued since the day I first heard the name.

Miss Mayhayley was born in Georgia in 1875 and had a pretty impressive career path.  Midwife, lawyer, teacher, politico and, you know, fortune teller/oracle.  She never married, dressed in military jackets and hats, had a marble eye and stuffed all kinds of cash in the backyard of the small shack where she lived with her dogs and sister.  Stephen said if you were alive during 1875 to 1955 and lived around here you had a Mayhayley story.  Lost items?  She could tell you where to find them.  Missing persons?  Yes.  Aaaaand dead bodies?  Yep, them too.

Miss Mayhayley was a witness for the prosecution in a big murder case that was made into a TV movie, Murder in Coweta County, which starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.  June Carter Cash played Miss Mayhayley (it’s on Amazon Prime if you want to check it out.)  She was able to tell the prosecution where to find the body.  The body, or parts of the body, eventually led to the conviction of a local landowner/bully who had taken over an entire town.

I’ve heard teenage stories of going to visit her grave where you cross over three bridges and only come back over two.  People have been in car wrecks after defacing her grave.  There is a great, local “swamp, gypsy, rag-time band” called Mayhayley’s Grave in town.  And now I have my own story.

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One sunny day, we went out to pay our respects to Miss Lancaster.  We turned right on the road just outside the county line by the two gas stations and parked in the quiet parking lot of a pretty white church.  We left $1.10 on top of her grave stone, which was what she charged.  $1 for her and $0.10 for her dogs.  Her gravestone reads “for neither did his brethren believe in him” but I have a feeling people still believe in Miss Mayhayley far more than she thought possible.

(Mayhayley Lancaster Photo Source)

Neighborhood Joint

Neighborhood Joint

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There is a diner in town known for their pancakes that come with only two options:  one pancake or two and the warning “don’t even try three.”  The pancakes take 20 minutes to cook, are the size of a dinner plate and the height of a quarter.  Smeared with butter and doused with syrup it’s a nap waiting to happen.  Ergo, I love it.  Two of my favorite things, breakfast and naps.

It’s in my blood.  For years my Gam and I would have breakfast on Monday mornings at The Huddle in San Diego’s Mission Hills.  We’d meet at her place on Ibis Street, walk the few blocks to Goldfinch and pull up a stool at the counter.  After a while we were no longer given menus, they’d just start cooking the moment we entered the door.  A bagel and an egg for Gam. Eggs, bacon and hash browns for me.  And coffee.  Lots of coffee.

Gam delighted in aesthetics and adored The Huddle’s tall coffee mugs.  She complimented them every morning and was so sweet that when the restaurant updated their dishes they held aside a few of the tall mugs just for her.

When Gam no longer remembered what day it was, she’d still walk over to The Huddle every morning for breakfast.  On Mondays they’d send her back home knowing I’d be meeting her at 8 a.m.  until eventually I’d just walk into The Huddle on Mondays and greet her surprised “Becky!” with a hug and smile.

We’d take long walks afterwards with Paul, a retired teacher we befriended over the years.  Nasturtiums flooded the canyons, front yards bloomed with hydrangeas and a sweet little black cat would get fawned over whenever we walked by his house.

When I moved to Seattle I started going down the street to the Stone Way Cafe.  The Stone Way Cafe now serves beer in the evenings and has a menu that includes frittatas and enchilada stacks but at the time they were a greasy spoon where the most adventurous entree was Eggs Benedict.  I’d warm my hands on mugs of hot, rich coffee while sitting next to commercial fishermen, the only other people up that early.  Eventually I found the highly rated (top five in the country!) Maltby Cafe and, along with the rest of Seattle, would make the hour long haul for their local eggs and biscuits.  Who knew it’d be a primer for living in the south?

When I asked Stephen if there was a bagel place in town he gave it some thought then said “why would anyone need bagels when there are biscuits?”  And so, the first time I came to Georgia to visit, we met up with his close friends for biscuits before heading to Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival.  The biscuits were so big I ended up eating mine with a fork and knife.  (Which, for the record, is not how you’re supposed to eat a biscuit.)  (Everyone was too nice to say anything.)

Maybe it was all of the Alice I watched as a kid…or the disturbing, yet somehow charming, diner lingo.  Where else would “burn the British and draw one in the dark” get you a toasted english muffin and cup of black coffee? But there is something so comforting knowing that right now in the cold dark mornings of fall, in towns all across the country, there are people pulling up to small diners.  Warm light pours from windows onto dark sidewalks, bells ring as doors open, seats are taken at tall counters and laminated menus dropped off with hot coffee poured in just the right mugs to let you know that you’re home.

With Love from the Kitchen

With Love from the Kitchen

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Do you read cookbooks like they’re novels?  At the moment I’m curled up with Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home and have already teared up:

A good home should gather you up in its arms like a warm cashmere blanket, soothe your hurt feelings and prepare you to go back out into that big bad world tomorrow all ready to fight the dragons.

I can’t sleep.  The world seems full of too many dragons.  It’s not even 4 a.m. and I did the only thing I could…put a loaf of banana bread in the oven.

I spent part of last week in Minneapolis and was around the corner from where Mary threw up her hat for the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I left the city for my new small town and got in last night, taking only two (long!) country roads home from the airport.  I passed by cows and horses, small ponds and groves of Georgia pines, before pulling into the driveway.  I was met with hugs and kisses, a cold drink, and Fisher’s wagging tail.

Fisher couldn’t sleep either and padded out to the kitchen to keep me company while I whipped up my favorite banana bread.  It’s the banana bread I started making in Georgia to take to neighbors, family and friends, all of whom I’ve been thinking a lot about this week.

I used the measuring spoons I got for high school graduation, a set I’ve carried alongside the battered red gingham covered New Basics Cookbook they came with. From San Diego to Seattle and back again. To Portland.  And now, Georgia.

I used the same measuring spoons to whip up one of the first recipes I learned how to make in the dark galley kitchen of my Seattle apartment–a dutch baby pancake.  I was both angst ridden and elated to live on my own.  To be able to take a little butter, milk, flour and sugar and come up with something not only delicious but impressive seemed like a secret to adulthood had been unlocked.

In San Diego we started a Sunday Night Dinner Club.  There were about 10 of us who all liked to cook and wanted to push our culinary boundaries.  So we’d rotate houses, try new recipes and cook three course meals for each other.  There was wine.  A lot of wine.  I frequently wondered on Monday mornings why we hadn’t made it a Saturday Night Dinner Club.

In Portland cooking became simpler.  A slice of toasted baguette with a heavy smear of fresh pesto topped with a round of goat cheese.  Hearty soups.  A loaf of homemade bread.  Roast vegetables tossed with a raw mixture of tomatoes, garlic and basil the moment they come out of the oven.

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home.  And so this morning I measure and whisk.  I butter the pan and pour the batter.  Humble ingredients come together and make the house smell warm and sweet.  I may not know exactly how to slay those dragons just yet, but I have hope, measuring spoons and the sense of connection that comes from a warm loaf banana bread cooling on the counter.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple

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This week I painted a room purple.  I moved in with my boyfriend.  And I was asked to speak to a national audience about my career.

It waaaas a week of firsts.

Next month I’ll spend an hour with two other panelists answering questions and discussing what I do.  It’s a fair question, a question I used to ask my dad all the time.  “You go to work every day, but what do you actually DO?”

He was an an aerospace engineer who had security clearance and frequently traveled to Cape Canaveral for space shuttle launches.  And I was, you know, eight.  Answers were vague.

To promote the panel, my picture will be on our company’s website with a few sentences about my work and a favorite quote.  All week I’ve been asking myself, “how DID I get here?”  “Is quoting your college roommates parents appropriate?” “How do I not mention Stephen?”  Everything is so entwined, I can’t talk about one without talking about the other.

Because this week I painted a room purple.  I moved in with my boyfriend.  I got asked to speak about how I got here.

What I want to tell them is this…

My dad worked at the same company for 35 years before he retired.  I was young when I learned about healthcare, retirement, saving money and how to use an ATM.  I really liked using the ATM.  Money!  It just spits out!  (It took me a while to figure out the whole, more-money-needs-to-go-in-than-come-out concept, but the other lessons stuck.)

I wanted a job where I could grow.  A job where I had healthcare.  A job that had a retirement plan.  This December it will be 25 years since I got my first job in banking.  If you would have told me I’d still be in banking when I was 43 I would have cried and then maybe died.  Banking wasn’t interesting.  It wasn’t creative.  It wasn’t ME.

But the truth is, for the last 25 years it has provided an underlying stability that has allowed me to become ME.  It has afforded me the opportunity to travel, to buy one house and then another, to move across the country and begin a life I wasn’t sure was in the cards for me.  There were a lot of days I didn’t like work.  I don’t feel like I really hit my stride until year…20?  That’s a long time to wonder if you should be doing something different.

When we were graduating college and I was moving out of the last house I shared with roommates, I asked Shannon’s parents if they had any advice for us.  They said, “enjoy it.  Enjoy every stage.  Life is full of changes.  Make sure to enjoy them.”  That has stuck with me throughout the years.  Especially when I wasn’t happy with something.  Like my job.  Or being single.

I dated.  I loved.  I lost.  I never got married and I never had kids.  And then almost two years ago I met Stephen.  And it just…worked.  We talk to each other.  We like each other.  He prioritizes my happiness.  He is intelligent, kind, creative and talented.  He likes the things I like about myself and the things I don’t like about myself.  He works hard and sees the best in people.  If you would have told 18 year old me that I’d have to wait until I was 41 to find the relationship I wanted?  And that he was younger, a musician and lived in Georgia?  I laugh just thinking about it.

I want to tell them I got here one day at a time.  I got here by letting go of expectations others had of me and that I had of myself.  I got here by showing up to a job every day while I spent my evenings tearing myself down to the studs and rebuilding a life that (I hope!) reflects authenticity, kindness and compassion.  There was a lot of sweat.  There were a lot of tears.  And that was just this week.  I got here by hoping, by asking, by trusting and then letting it all go and getting to work.

This week I painted a room purple.  I moved in with my boyfriend.  I got asked to speak about how I got here.

 

And what I will tell them is this…

I take it one day at time.  I am grateful for opportunity.  When I don’t like what I’m doing, I still show up and do the best job I can.  I compete with myself and not others.  I ask for help.  Even when it’s uncomfortable.  I try to be kind.  I apologize when I’m not.  I forgive myself and others.  I make sure once I leave work for the day that I actually leave.  I go out into the world and sometimes, when the time is right, I paint it purple.

Savannah & Tybee Island

Savannah & Tybee Island

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I had seen the movies.  Forrest Gump, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil and the lesser known period piece, Magic Mike XXL.  Savannah has been on my list of places to visit for a long time.  Last weekend Stephen and I headed east for my first trip to the Georgia coast!

We walked on the beach just before sunset, had dinner at a place that serves fresh shrimp off the boats, sat in Forsyth Park and people watched, played a round of mini golf and drove down the gorgeous mile and a half stretch of tree lined drive at the Wormsloe Historic Site before having barbecue that was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever eaten. Stephen, who grew up in the south and needs barbecue like I need burritos, said it was the best he’s ever had.   Here’s a full trip report of where we ate, played and slept.

Where We Ate

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As with everything, there were some hits and misses.  These are the places where we’d eat again, and a couple we didn’t get to try but are on my list for next time:

B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue
We ate this on our way home but it deserves top billing.  I had the brisket sandwich with mac & cheese and Stephen had the pork plate with baked beans and mac & cheese.  It’s in a strip mall and the staff was…interesting…but the food and story of how  B’s came to, well, be is awesome.

Coco’s Sunset Grille
Not gonna lie, this place had Margaritaville written all over it.  I don’t think either one of us had high hopes, especially as we drove down a dirt road that spills you right into the middle of the restaurant.  But we got settled, watched the sun set and were delivered a “Hurricane Survival Shot” to do with the rest of the bar.  Not our usual M.O. but when in Tybee, etc.

A conch shell emerged and then the toast brought me to tears.  It hit me how much people love their town, how much they almost lost and how genuine the feelings of relief were.  I was humbled.  And then I had the shrimp which humbled me even more.  Somewhere along the way, someone long ago told me that if I ever had the chance to eat fresh shrimp to do so.  I pass along this same advice to you.  I can’t even remember what Stephen got, I was too busy inhaling my shrimp.

80 East Gastropub
We kind of stumbled into this place when the restaurant where we wanted to eat was full.  I had the shrimp tacos (are we sensing a theme here?) and Stephen got the fried chicken with sweet potato waffles.  The food was good, staff friendly and then they had to go and bring us salted caramel ice cream sandwiched between two homemade white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies.  TLA and BFFFL and all other appropriate acronyms.

Tybean
Tybean was a recommendation from a friend whose parents have a vacation home on the island (hi Megan!).  The coffee was great, staff friendly, and it was in this cute little grouping of beach huts that were occupied by different shops.  We just had a chance to pop in for coffee.  It’s really small, so if you do go, plan on taking your coffee elsewhere.

For Next Time…

Goose Feathers Cafe
The Paris Market

What We Did

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Walked on the beach

Took a Tour
I will leave out the part about looking for parking for over 30 minutes on the same day SCAD students were moving into the dorms, and tell you if you go to instead to drive straight to one of the hop on/hop off tours.  We parked all day for free at Old Savannah Tours.

I usually do a hop on/hop off tour when I’m new to a city.  I think they give a good introduction to a bit of history and layout and then I have an idea of what places I’d like to learn more about.  (The tradeoff is putting up with the occasional not so great tour guide and/or pirate actor whose fake teeth were so bad you couldn’t understand a word he said.) (Aaaaaargh indeed.)

Walked the Savannah Historic District

I joked over on Instagram that the historic district was two square miles of straight up charm and humidity and that Forsyth Park nailed it.  Buuuuut…it’s kinda true.

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Played Putt Putt Golf

I hadn’t played putt putt in years and we had such a good time.  One of Stephen’s favorite jokes is “there are two types of people in the world, those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.”  I’ll tell you that he did not win this round of putt putt and allow you to extrapolate.  (Because I am nothing if not the epitome of graciousness.)

Wormsloe Historic Site

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I had seen pictures of this place for years and it did not disappoint.  Hundreds of trees were planted down a mile and a half stretch of road.  The care and preservation that goes into the site was just as beautiful.

Where we Stayed

We rented an Airbnb that was about halfway between Savannah and Tybee.  While it was a good experience, I think I’d recommend staying in the historic district of Savannah.  It’s such a walkable city, less than 20 miles to Tybee and you can rent an Airbnb for not much more than we paid.

Travel is a huge priority of mine.  I keep paid off cars for years, live in less house than I can afford, wear inexpensive clothes and (mostly!) eat at home so I can afford to do so.  I love getting out of daily life and love returning to it just as much.  I had no idea what to expect with the Georgia coast.  We had some bumps along the way, but it’s definitely a place I’d like to return to.  There are houses to tour, cobblestone streets to walk and horse drawn carriage rides left to do!