Thursday, May 31, 2018

Don't Tell Me Not to Fly, I've Simply Got To

I'm just checking in. I see you're enjoying Chicago full on. Let me know when you're back, would love to hear more about your adventures in person. Do we need to make a porch date? ~ Pru

Um, yes.

Far be it for me to turn down an invitation to spend time blathering on the porch of Pru's manse. After a day spent trying to get back in the Richmond groove - laundry, setting up interviews, doing a rewrite, mopping floors - I was more than happy to brave the rain for an evening with friends.

Ever the hostess with the mostess, Pru soon had Beau pouring us glasses of J. Mourat Rose to accompany a dinner scored at the new Church Hill location of 8 1/2: arugula salad, white pizza and red pizza with sausage and mushrooms, savored on the porch while a light rain fell all around us.

Group consensus: 8 1/2's pizza tops Dinamo's, not that any of us would turn down Dinamo's pie.

And sure, we began the evening with a discussion of what I'd seen, done and eaten in Chicago, including my fondness for the Carbide & Carbon Building because its design resembles that of a champagne bottle, complete with dark green terra cotta tower and gold leaf accents to mimic the foil around the cork, but eventually moved on.

When Pru put me in charge of music, I asked if she had any restrictions on my choice. None, she claimed, at least until I told Alexa to play the Carpenters (a favorite of both Beau and I) and she groaned loudly. Looking for something completely different, I asked Alexa for Bon Jovi and she looked at me like I'd lost my mind. That's when Queen B stepped in and suggested Barbra Streisand and everyone finally seemed okay with the music.

Don't tell me not to live
Just sit and putter
Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter
Don't bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

Once the music was settled, the three womenfolk united to do an intervention on Beau who has an unfortunate habit of looking at his cell phone while lively conversation is taking place around him. And lively conversation with a guest present, at that.

While he swears he can multi-task, after the second time he started asking questions that had been covered in a conversation only moments earlier, we saw no option but to insist he step away from the phone. He couldn't, of course, but settled for cradling it in his lap and periodically making longing glances in its direction. Once an addict, always an addict.

Relationships turned out to be a hot topic, little surprise given how fascinated everyone is with the turn of my love life, but for a change, the focus was on Pru and Beau. That two people could meet in college, go their separate ways in terms of marriage and children, and somehow find their way back to each other 30 years later is nothing short of extraordinary.

That when they first began dating, Pru - in her usual straight forward manner - had told Beau that he was good raw material and just needed some guidance is proof positive that you can say anything if it's to the right person.

Beau, who decided last night to name his as yet unwritten autobiography "From Under the Swoop," a tribute to his magnificent mane of hair and its come-hither swoop in the front, admitted that he'd never stopped thinking about Pru in the intervening three decades. Now that's romance.

It was going on 11 p.m. and I'd been there for over four hours when I began my exit strategy. Not so fast, Pru insisted, you were invited over to share some juice, so sit back down and start spilling.

Hadn't I raved about our meals at the Purple Pig and Marisol? Did she want me to tell her about my other favorite buildings?

"You're not gushing as much as last time," Pru worried. "What's up?"

I'm just trying to contain my over-the-top happiness and not subject everyone I see to it, I explained. You want me to gush, I'll sit back down and gush. Happily.

Speaking of, just after Beau had observed that the Rose was having far more of an effect on me than it was on him, he'd had an epiphany. "Oh, wait," he insisted. "You've got Rose on top of euphoria, don't you?"

Sure do. And I'm hoping to live out the rest of my life that way. My parade is too fabulous to be affected by rain...or anything else.

Sorry, I just can't help myself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

From On High

So worry not
All things are well ~ The National

Zoom, where did those six days go?

I know it's lazy that I'm copping to a highlights reel today, but I've only been back in the Ward for a few hours and that laundry isn't going to do itself. So here goes, with digressions.

Best place to be on a record-breaking hot Chicago day: on the bow of the First Lady, listening to a volunteer docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation try to condense his encyclopedic knowledge about the buildings we're ogling from the river into 90 lively minutes (albeit with 2 breaks to cool down). His best anecdote involved recently seeing two coyotes on the sight of a cleared lot he'd shown us. As long as I've got my wide-brimmed hat on, I'll listen to the professor nerd out, watch powerboats full of scantily-clad millennials pass by and just bask in being on the water on such an uncharacteristic May afternoon here.

Best impromptu picnic: on lime green chairs in the courtyard of the Art Institute next to a Yoko Ono sculpture, but only after being told we weren't allowed to eat the museum's food outside. Pshaw, rules are for young people. Almost everyone who came in stayed only long enough to take selfies with the wall-hung sculpture we already had a seated view of. Amateurs.

Best urban walking bonuses: Because of a Memorial Day parade Saturday, many downtown streets were closed, meaning a dedicated walker and a native son had no problem taking it to the streets. Sans cars, they were a walker's paradise. Headed to the Girl and Goat Bakery for bagels (rye-onion) on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, I was more than a few times the only person walking the block and it was 10:30 in the morning. I saw traffic lights as no more than suggestions.

Best melding of food and art: brunch at Marisol at the Museum of Contemporary Art, with a booth that offered prospect and refuge (so important to some people), pale-as-Provence Rose from Veneto Italy and the opportunity to consider the art we'd been looking at for the past few hours. For guilty pleasure, there was "Heaven and Earth: Alexander Calder and Jeff Koons," although I question the curatorial choice not to use the word "stabile" to describe sculptures that weren't mobiles. Don't get me started on the dumbing down of museum signage. On the other hand, Otobong Nkanga's "To Dig a Hole that Collapses Again" combined political commentary about stripping third world countries of natural resources with tapestries and with a wave-like wall sculpture that incorporated materials and crops from those countries (tobacco, coffee, spices) and were intended to be smelled as you walked along it. Serious mind art.

Best backdrop for a meal, best breakfast eaten in a park on Rush Street, best drive through Lincoln Park...

Obviously I could do this all night, except I can't do this all night. The Purple Pig dazzled with cheese, swine and wine in a room full of community tables and serious food lovers and featured an offal menu. 'Nuff said. That seafood saganaki was so good I wanted to marry it. The couple next to us were from Kansas City and said they'd come three nights in a row last time they were in Chicago. Now they were back for more.

Food aside, who wouldn't keep going back for more when things are this good? I'm just trying to keep my head from exploding and not be too effusive but it's challenging. I know, I know, first world problems.

But also first time in a lifetime problems. Desert, meet the rain.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hey, Batter, Batter

I have been to Wrigleyville and it was berry, berry good to me. Look it up, kids, it's vintage SNL.

Yes, my Dad had supplied several pertinent facts for me to toss out in conversation - among them that Bryant is a real looker and Rizzo plays a mean first base - and my partner-in-crime had made certain we'd made a Cubs t-shirt purchase the day before so I'd fit in, so I was as ready as I'd ever be for my first trip to the ivy and bricks.

See what a quick study I am?

Mind you, it wasn't just my Chicago-born partner I had to impress at the game against the San Francisco Giants, it was also three of his associates from Milwaukee, all of them die-hard baseball fanatics lovers. As it turned out, they were a cinch to dazzle, far more curious about me and how we'd met than batting averages.

And while I'm no sports fan, I'd be the first to admit that a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field is a cultural experience as much as an athletic one and heaven knows I'm all about the culture. A Friday afternoon game meant that from the time we left the hotel, we were caught up in a sea of blue and red-clad people and while I'd never claim to say I could pass for a Chicagoan, I certainly fit in.

Sort of anyway.

Besides, it was a gloriously sunny, blue-sky kind of a day and our seats in the fourth row on the first base line ensured that we were right up in the action. The only ball that came our way, though, hit a woman in the second row in the head before being nabbed by a nearby man and handed off to a kid who looked like he'd won the lottery: out of school, in possession of a Cubs baseball and the three-day weekend hadn't even started.

Of course I had to have a hot dog and peanuts - I'm not a complete baseball idiot - and the afternoon passed in a blur of personal questions, baseball commentary and Cub mania on all sides. The few Giants fans were pretty much ignored, though I admired them for their bravery in showing up with this rabid bunch.

I'm talking the kind of people like the woman in front of me who was trying to rustle up some betting action, stuffing dollar bills in her cup holder as strangers around her bet on whether or not the ball would roll off the mound or stay put.

Hey, enough beer on a sunny afternoon and why not bet on the minutiae ?

Once the Cubs had put another win in their column, we walked through Wrigleyville to Uncommon Ground, an adorable, sprawling (it began by occupying one small building and kept adding others until now it's like something from "Alice in Wonderland," a series of interconnected rooms that require a step up or down) farm-to-table restaurant with a long history of live music.

We're talking Jeff Buckley dropping by with an acoustic guitar in 1994 and playing to a small crowd of gob-smacked Chicagoans. My kind of place, in other words, so I gave major props to the Milwaukee crew for the choice.

While I tucked into my dinner of spicy Korean calamari and shrimp tacos, the guys ate and regaled us with love life stories, from one's friends throwing in cash so he'd propose to his girlfriend via an airplane banner the next day to the merits of proposing via scoreboard at a baseball game and having it announced on the radio so Grandma knew about it by the time they got home.

All I can say is, who knew guys working in the financial world would be so romantic?

My Cubs t-shirt got baptized with mustard and relish and I managed to slide in all but one of my purloined baseball facts over the course of a perfect baseball afternoon in the Windy City.

We got so busy talking about travel and where we'd all been that I forgot to mention to the boys what a terrific manager Madden is. I mean, c'mon, he's got to be one of the best managers in the history of baseball.

Yea, I knew I couldn't pull that one off.

But that handwritten sign saying BRYZZO RULES I'd spotted earlier? The pure satisfaction of knowing what it meant without asking was almost as satisfying as the state of my Cubbies shirt.

I believe both are enough to qualify as a major score for this first-timer.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Only Happens in a Town Like This

No one beats a native Chicagoan for showing you the Windy City.

The funny part is that on the train in from the airport, we got to talking to a high-spirited quartet - two middle-aged brothers and the two sons of one of them - sitting nearby, only to learn that they were on a bucket list trip to see the Indianapolis 500 Sunday.

But, they added, they'd also be attending a Cubs game and hitting every Irish bar they came across, so the long weekend was a pretty big deal to them. They were also pretty sure they were going to run into us again based on nothing more than our conversation and how much we made them laugh.

Come on, guys, what are the chances?

My partner-in-crime wasted no time in demonstrating his Chi-town bona fides by advising the group not to spend all their time staring up at buildings, unless they wanted to be taken for the tourists that they were.

After checking in and admiring the view of the brilliant blue lake from the seventh floor, we set out to stretch our legs by walking the lakefront. I've said before that the best part of visiting Chicago in May is that the scores of lilacs are in full bloom and I wasn't disappointed. I leaned over iron railings and climbed concrete dividers for the sake of smelling my favorite flower every time I spotted one.

Having a native son as a field guide fulfilled every nerdy bone in my body as he ticked off the year/decade of the building, the architect/firm responsible, why it was significant when it was built and every other arcane fact he thought would interest me.

In other words, we spent the afternoon staring up at buildings looking like tourists, which I most certainly am and he could only pretend to be. It was grand.

We capped off the walk with glasses of Rose at Aire, the rooftop bar of our hotel, this time admiring the lake view from 24 floors up while a shady breeze provided respite from the unexpected heat of a late May Chicago afternoon. In between sips and conversation, I was trying to decide if Chicagoans have a "look" and I'm starting to think that they do.

Exhaustive research had resulted in a list of places I want to eat over the next five days. After a major pow-wow, we decided on a nearby wine bar, Acanto, for its extensive grape offerings and appealing menu, but nothing could have prepared me to follow the hostess to our patio table and be greeted by a server saying an exuberant, "Karen!" and throwing her arms around me. After an extended greeting, she scurried off, saying, "I'll get you a straw."

Welcome to Chicago, indeed.

The lovely C. had served me countless times at Secco and Acacia, but I'd been unaware she'd landed in Chicago last year. After dropping off glasses from a reserve magnum of Chianti Classico they were serving by the glass for the evening only, she told us to take our time because she was there all night. We were happy to settle in for the next three hours with a primo Michigan Avenue view of the promenade of humanity and cars honking/blaring music along it.

We ate through a black kale salad, tuna tartare (sublime with Fontanafredda Cuvee 157), red snapper over roasted eggplant and cauliflower, chickpea and blistered tomatoes in an olive puree, and a chocolate meringue dessert I couldn't even finish.

The additional glasses of Cuvee, however, I had no problem dispatching. We were, after all, celebrating somebody's homecoming, at least temporarily and admittedly with great enthusiasm. Even he started talking about coming back more often, so I see more Chicago in my future. Among other places.

No telling what other surprises Chicago holds, but I'm wide open to find out. I'll be the one with my mouth hanging open, staring up. Very happily.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sepia-Toned Afternoon

Birthdays were always high holy days in my family. The celebrant chose the meals.

Which means I shouldn't have been surprised when  I got to my parents' house Monday and Mom announced that today's lunch would be my birthday lunch, even though it was a couple days away. Not only that, but she gave me two choices, knowing they're both life-long favorites of mine: cheeseburgers or fried chicken.

And don't you know that despite having had cheeseburgers for my chosen birthday dinner my entire childhood and beyond, I requested fried chicken this year. "What else?" she wanted to know. Gherkins and clementines was all I desired to accompany my thigh and wings.

"I'll have some potato salad with mine," my Dad announces from his chair on the screened porch, making it clear that he thought gherkins and clementines inadequate sides for fried yard bird. It was a fabulous birthday repast (what meal that ends with greasy fingers isn't?) made even better because it was with the two of them.

It was a perfectly gorgeous day to be on the Northern Neck - mid-70s temperatures and a spirited breeze off the Rappahannock - and after I'd planted some moonflowers and hung some pictures, we all settled on the porch to enjoy the afternoon.

When the topic turned to the current administration (as it always does when you put three lifelong liberals together), I didn't expect to hear my Dad say, "I wish I was going to be around to see how history treats Trump."

I understood where he was coming from because Dad's been a lifelong student of history, meaning most of his pleasure reading is about the past, especially war and politics. As a kid, I just thought that was because I had the coolest and smartest Dad ever.

So naturally he's curious about how this era will be depicted by future historians.

But it turned out that his comment came from a deeper place. An athletic and active man all his life, he's been in a lot of pain lately from a bad knee and back problems and it's finally starting to get to him. After climbing a ladder to hang the refilled hummingbird feeder for him, I asked if there was anything else he wanted.

"Yes, a new body!" he admitted with no irony. That set me wondering what age he'd like his body to be again and he said twenty-two.

"I was 22 when I met your mother," he said by way of explanation and then turned to Mom. "Like that picture of us upstairs from when we were in our bathing suits at the beach when we first met." That black and white photo is a family classic of my 6' tall father standing next to my 5' mother, long before they knew they'd have six daughters and stay happily married for over six decades.

Yet again I was reminded of how fortunate some people are to meet their "person" so early on in life and stay with them through all that comes with children, careers and changing interests. It's a luck I never knew.

Talking about Dad's years abusing his body playing baseball and softball, he said that when Mom started coming to his games, she didn't even know how the game was played. She was quick to defend herself, though, saying that her family had always listened to baseball games on the radio, but she'd never had any visuals to go with it.

This was new intel for me. Baseball had been a big deal in Mom's family growing up?

Next thing I knew, she's telling me how my grandfather O'Donnell (known to us kids as "Papa") started playing on an Irish baseball team (because of course all the Irish kids would have played together back in the '20s) when he was just a kid.

The team's name? "Little Potatoes Hard to Peel."

Every time I see my parents, they make me laugh, tell me stories I didn't know or remind me of things I no longer recall.

The best part of my birthday isn't a surprise fried chicken and gherkin lunch, it's that I'm still lucky enough to have these two wildly eccentric people in my life.

Now that's a gift.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Planners Gotta Plan

As weekends away go, it had everything.

A fair amount of rain, yes, but also my first time on the National Gallery of Art's East Building rooftop terrace (yes, the one with the bright blue rooster sculpture) overlooking Constitution Avenue's puddle-slicked lanes. To the right, the Capital seemed close enough to touch.

Truth is, I've been devoted to the National Gallery since fourth grade and it can still thrill me with something new or different.

Art, natch, with the NGA's "Cezanne: Portraits" - surely never did a man repeatedly portray his wife in such a dour manner -  and the captivating newish Calder Gallery where I saw Piet Mondrian's influence on Calder's painting for the first time. The lighting in the gallery masterfully cast shadows on mobiles and stabiles, in many cases (see: "The Rearing Stallion") rendering shadows that looked quite different from the source.

Let's just say the Calder fan with me was transported.

There was the new-to-my mouth neighborhood of Del Ray where we sipped Hillinger Secco Rose at the Evening Star's atmospherically dark lounge and ate in a former house, now the farm-to-table (and French) Del Ray Cafe, which got bonus points when it seemed that every server spoke multiple languages, depending on which table they were speaking to. Or perhaps my head was turned by the chocolate beignets with orange creme anglaise accompanied by glasses of Port.

That's my kind of final course.

This trip definitely had fog. Walking toward the mall mid-morning, we found the Washington monument so shrouded in fog that its top third appeared lost in the atmosphere. Later, at Hank's Oyster Bar for Montand Brut Rose, gazpacho and tuna tartare, TV screens showed us an eerily foggy racetrack with horses being trotted out at Pimlico.

My Dad would be so proud if he knew I saw even a few minutes of one of his favorite sports. I mean, what girl-child doesn't remember going with her father to get a copy of The Racing Form from the drugstore?

Succulent cobia collar (and a charming server from Ukraine) were the bright spot at Vermilion, a place that could take itself a lot less seriously but is too self-involved to realize such a thing. At least the company was superb.

Architecture came courtesy of a private tour of the Pope-Leighey House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian (one story, affordable, small) houses, a tour given by a man so deeply involved with the house that he'd made some of the furniture reproductions in the house.

There were many things about the house that impressed me, not the least of which was a screened porch complete with screened roof that the original owners had used as a place for the kids to play while Mom cooked dinner. Child cage, screened porch, potatoes, potahtoes, call it what you like. It was a magnificent outdoor room.

I was told I got the star treatment when our guide opened up the dining room's two corner windows - yes, they were floor to ceiling windows - out into the yard. Apparently, most visitors don't get those windows opened so they can walk out them the way god and Frank Lloyd Wright intended.

We'll call that good birthday karma, although not mine.

A driving tour of mid-century modern neighborhood Hollin Hills provided an up-close look at what happens when a neighborhood association takes pains to insure that such concentrated housing stock stays true to its origins. House after house looked pretty much as it had been designed in the '40s, a startling reality in 2018.

As a fan of complementary colors, I found the bright yellow car parked in front of a low-slung purple house with clerestory windows especially fetching.

A meandering drive down the Parkway and along Route 1 (please, can we just take down those Jefferson Davis Highway signs and be done with it?) landed us in Fredericksburg by mid-afternoon, where we first tried out a rooftop deck before switching to the patio for the sake of being able to order brick oven pizza and wile away the hours discussing baseball, feminist writers and the definition of romance.

When our server discovered there was a birthday celebrant at the table, she offered up the traditional birthday cannoli (you know the one), a kind offer, but one which neither Taurus nor Gemini had room for after an elegant sufficiency of two pies, an arugula salad and a memorable weekend.

Next step: rinse and repeat.

I'm doing my best to hang on, but it's looking like it's going to be a wild ride. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sea Shell Millionaire

It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Say you're laying in bed at night and hear the distinctive sound of seashells hitting together just outside your bedroom.

It's not entirely unlikely, even in an urban jungle like Jackson Ward, because on my March foray to Cape May, Mac and I had scoured the Wildwood beach, with me scoring 17 sand-crusted conch shells which I loaded into a couple of found bags and toted home like a true tourist.

Since returning from Wildwood two months ago, the bags o' shells have been sitting on my balcony awaiting their fate. When I did my big Spring cleaning of the balcony last week, I'd moved the bags off the balcony and on to the first floor roof adjacent to the balcony to get them out of the way.

Of course, then I'd promptly forgotten about them, at least until Sunday night around midnight when I'd been awakened by the sound of shells banging against one another.

It certainly wasn't enough to get me out of bed to investigate, but I did glance out the bedroom window (which overlooks the balcony), only to see nothing unusual. One could say that darkness and uncorrected vision didn't make it any easier. If there was a roof prowler or seashell thief out there, they were tucked out of sight, and since I take getting my 9 hours of sleep pretty seriously, I gave up caring.

Imagine my surprise then when I went out on the balcony this morning and spotted the bags of shells ripped open with seashells scattered around the roof. Climbing over the railing to retrieve them - my first time walking on that roof since I moved in 9 years ago - I couldn't help but wondering who could have possibly taken most of the shells out of the bag.

A cat? My neighbor? A wild critter? That last one isn't quite as unlikely as it seems since I once woke up to find that some animal had climbed onto my balcony and removed cans from the recycler, presumably to lick, and left them sitting on the balcony floor. My neighbor's bathroom window faces over that same little roof and I noticed the window screen was sitting on the roof instead of being mounted in the window, so was he (or his goofy girlfriend) a suspect, too?

Beats me.

I finally knocked the New Jersey sand out of the shells and lined them up along one side of the balcony, sort of a repeating motif of long-gone animal homes, all fully intact and most still displaying their opalescent salmon-colored interiors. Souvenirs of a post-Nor'easter beach vacation that required gloves, hats and long pants but delivered long, windy walks, gingerbread architecture and tasty local oysters.

All I can say is, if I go out there in the morning and the shells are rearranged, I should probably have some serious concerns. But if something happens worth investigating during the next 9 hours, I make no guarantees.

Let us not forget what that wise sage Betty White once told us: "Get at least 8 hours of beauty sleep. Nine if you're ugly.

I don't want to brag, but last night I got eleven. Sleep before seashells because a woman's got to have her priorities straight.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Life You Choose

We're going to have to start calling me a very bad blogger.

Believe me, I started out with all good intentions at the beach last week. Then, as four guests were replaced by one bearing flowers, time became a precious commodity and blogging was replaced by endless oceanfront conversations.

When I got back Sunday, I barely had time to shop for and make Boursin-stuffed mushrooms (Pru's suggestion, natch) to take to a South African wine tasting patio party at Beckham and the Beauty's house.

The wines - souvenirs from their month-long honeymoon - were fabulous, starting with a magnum of Waterford Estate Sauvignon Blanc we agreed we could have sipped right through until sunrise. For something completely different, next came a viognier, Bloemcool Skilpadrug, particularly appealing because it was made at Fairview, a winery I'd also visited, as was Fairview Broken Barrel Red Blend boasting Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Tannat and Shiraz and pretty much an ideal pairing with our host's obscene Derby pie.

It hasn't helped that my week away at the beach meant that I had double the deadlines to meet this week, not to mention housecleaning, grocery shopping and all the other business of life to re-establish life in the city. The satisfaction I achieved mopping the floors of a week's worth of pollen (via open windows) alone was worth the time spent on menial labor, though I probably should have been writing.

Monday meant a trip to the Byrd House, aka the Graduate rooftop bar, where the view of the Jefferson Hotel is nothing short of breathtaking and you can all but look down on the Manchester Bridge like an osprey might. My favorite planner and I followed that with dinner at Saison Market surrounded by the raucous and the comedic, not that we paid attention to any of them.

When Tuesday rolled around, it was girlfriend time, so Mac and I headed to Rapp Session for smoked bluefish dip, Old Saltes and a catch-up session. Not long into the conversation, she said that she'd been reading the blog, saying it was blatantly obvious how happy I sounded, even going so far as to point her finger down her throat for smiling emphasis.

This is especially funny because if you knew Mac, you'd know she's the kindest person in the world. So while she made clear she's terribly happy for me, she couldn't resist doing it with teasing.

The thing is, I knew I'd been sounding deliriously happy going into beach week, but I wasn't expecting others to notice. And now, after a much anticipated reunion, I'm not fit to blog about anything but how unbelievable it is that I find myself in this enviable position.

Truly, madly, deeply happy and with a forecast of lots more to come. Let's get real here, I'm far too effusive and annoying to blog right now and not bore people with how wonderful my life is.

While being introduced to Pru's dog-walker, she mentioned the euphoric state of my love life, causing the woman to unexpectedly congratulate me. I thanked her, but explained that it had been a challenging, convoluted path to wind up where I am now.

Her response was immediate. "Was it worth it?" was all she wanted to know.

Completely doesn't begin to cover it. I would have done whatever it took to get to this place at this time.

See how obnoxious I am? Truly sorry, it cannot be helped. As Lady G likes to say, I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Never has the Outer Banks felt like a private beach. Until this week.

The weather is glorious: sunny, deep blue sky, highs in the upper '70s and lightly breezy. Practically perfect beach weather, right? Yet, the fact that it's the beginning of May means that the vacancy rate around here appears to be somewhere around 95%, as compared to Summer.

I'm not complaining, but it's awfully strange. You can look up or down the beach and see no more than a handful of umbrellas against the brilliant blue-green of the ocean. Typically, the sounds of kids screaming - because little ones somehow sense that the ocean will drown out their shrillest squawks and they're right - is a constant, but not this week. People-generated sounds are rare.

And get this. Not a single one of the infrequent cars that pass by on the Beach Road are blasting music or booming bass, leading me to believe that only low rent tourists are guilty of that particular kind of noise pollution.

Walking down to Wink's, the quintessential beachfront market, as high tide approached was like walking in uncharted new territory. I've been walking that stretch of beach for decades, but it's unrecognizable since the beach replenishment was done over the winter. Enormous tidal pools and a seriously wide beach have replaced what used to be an uncomfortably narrow stretch of sand that resulted in high tide waves licking the posts under some cottages. Looking like decoys, small seabirds stood up to their skinny ankles (if birds have such things) way out on sandbars.

So. Much. Beach.

Inside Wink's, a place that barely changes from decade to decade, the clerk came across as someone who long ago lost interest in her job and now merely shows up to suffer fools unhappily. A far cry from the kindly cashiers who used to strike up conversation with anyone willing. "Where y'all from?"

Yesterday we'd gone to John's Drive-in, so today we made do eating at home so we could spend most of the day on the beach reading to our heart's content. The only time we didn't have tomes in hand was when we had grub in hand, making for a day of simple pleasures, the last one for my companion who returns to the real world (and off-the-chart pollen levels) tomorrow morning.

Not me. I've got 3 1/2 days of vacation, plenty of wine and Espolon and another guest yet to enjoy before I have to breathe the yellow dust of allergy death in the city.

Until then, you'll find me right here on the quiet beach, ready for anything. Let the next chapter begin...

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Well-written with Juicy Bits

With May's arrival, there are no problems except where to be happiest.

For right now, I'm plenty happy at the beach doing very little. Before I left, Beau asked if I'd be doing any work this week and when I told him absolutely not, he'd been impressed. "Wow, not at all?" The extent of working this week is occasionally responding to an email with a quick "I'm on vacation" or "Send that info to my editor." Vacation with a capital "V."

Instead of working, I am reading morning, noon and night, totally indulging my need to read and making everything else secondary to that. It's delicious.

Today's read is "Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller" by Mary Dearborn, chosen from Chop Suey Books for the cover blurb: "Serious, scholarly, well-written and studded with juicy tidbits about Miller's eccentricities ~ L.A. Times.

Scholarly and studded? If that doesn't scream "read me!" I don't know what does.

My introduction to Henry Miller came courtesy of my 11th grade English teacher Mr. Crabill (completely uncool because he wore white socks with black shoes) who, on the first day of class, wrote the names of all the authors we could choose from to read for his class. Next to Henry Miller's name was an asterisk, so naturally I had to ask what that meant. "You have to have a note from your parents if you want to read Miller," he explained curtly.

Naturally, I went home and secured such a note from my Mom, who'd always said we could read what we wanted, as long as we were reading. Little did I know that his books had been banned in this country until a dozen years earlier.

I'm not sure what age would be best for a young woman to pick up Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," but I do know it was fascinating reading for a 16-year old who was curious about, well, almost everything and definitely mesmerized by how casually depicted the many sex scenes were. Twenty years ago, I circled back and read more Miller - "Letters to Anais Nin," "Crazy Cock" - so when I spotted the biography, it struck me as just the kind of person I wanted to immerse myself in while beach reading.

Reading this fascinating biography only reinforces my loss at not stopping at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur when I had the chance. Regrets, I have a few....
Then there's eating, of course.

Unlike yesterday, my beach crew and I gathered our forces enough today to make it to the Salt Box, one of my favorite restaurants here and, happily, open even during the off season. I could say I was disappointed that the screened porch doesn't open for another 10 days, but a lovely salad crowned by a massive, breadless crabcake, French Rose and mocha mousse made up for it.

My daily constitutional, now that's a different story. I'm still getting used to walking on a beach unlike the beach it has been since I began coming down here as a child. This past winter finally saw Kitty Hawk having beach replenishment done and the result is a finer grained sand with fewer shells, notable in that it's far more challenging to walk on. 

Don't get me wrong, this narrow strip of beach desperately needed more width, but it walks differently, a fact I would know. 

Still, I'm not saying it's a problem. It's the first of May and I've been told that I'm owed an April, which is about to be repaid at the beach, the happiest of places to collect.

Or, as Miller put it, "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." I'm looking intently and liking everything I see. 

May, you already got a hold on me...