broughton brownies.

I bought a new-used cookbook a few months back, when we were checking out a thrift store that happened to be having a book sale. It was the Capitol Cook Book, distributed by the James T. Broyhill for Senator campaign. Back in 1986, a furniture heir was running to represent North Carolina in the United States Senate. He'd been a representative of the 10th district for twenty-some years before being appointed by the governor to fill a Senate seat vacated by a guy who died. Then he had to actually get elected to the Senate seat, which he did not, and thus ended the political career of James T. Broyhill.
Yeah, that's all pretty boring. EXCEPT. I happened to have grown up in North Carolina's 10th district. More specifically, I share a hometown with the Broyhills. Lenoir is not much of a place, but we had furniture factories.

In the course of his Senate campaign, Jim Broyhill released a cookbook. I guess he gave them out at fundraising events. According to the excerpt on the back cover, there was a previous edition of the Capitol Cook Book, perhaps made during one of his earlier congressional campaigns. I dearly wish I had a copy of that earlier book, but surely any existing copies are going for millions on eBay are rotting in some basement in the 10th district. Also according to the back cover, the "booklet was authorized by and printed at the expense of the Jim Broyhill For Senate Campaign."
Pretty much everything you see in the secondhand market feels like fate, but it was pretty weird that I, a woman from Lenoir, happened to find a twenty-six-year-old Broyhill campaign cookbook in a Raleigh thrift store. Of all the people who come through that thrift store, how many had come from the 10th district?

So I paid a quarter for it, just to look through it (actually, I looked through it at the store, clutched it to my chest, and said "I MUST HAVE IT."). The first section is mostly Broyhill family recipes. And then the rest of the book is full of recipes supplied from various politicians. I found this part hilarious, even though I was annoyed that the recipes were credited to "Representative and Mrs." You know what? I bet Pat Roberts has never made a pumpkin chiffon pie in his life, so we might as well give credit to his unnamed Missus (I looked it up - her name is Franki).

I do not recognize all the names, though I suspect they are probably mostly Republicans. You can make the Secretary and Mrs. Caspar Weinberger's Apple Rum Cake or Congressman and Mrs. Trent Lott's Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole. While Strom Thurmond the man might make me cringe, his (and his Mrs.) recipe for barbeque sauce looks pretty tasty. The last couple of pages even have recipes courtesy of the Reagans. I intend to make the Gipper's Mac and Cheese, because, well, why wouldn't I? The recipes are mostly pretty simple and a lot of them sound good.

I was nearing the end of the book when I came across something that I instantly knew I needed to make: Broughton Brownies. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Just like I was one of the few people in Raleigh that would have any interest in James T. Broyhill's campaign cookbook, the people who might get a kick out of Broughton Brownies have to come from a specific place, say around the 10th district.

Needham Broughton was a prominent North Carolina businessman in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He gave the state a lot of money, so he has a high school in Raleigh named after him. His nephew, J. Melville Broughton, the 60th Governor of North Carolina, was the namesake of Broughton Hospital, located in Morganton, North Carolina (in the 10th district!). That's nice, isn't it? Had a hospital named after him.

See, Broughton Hospital is a mental institution. We can all agree that it's not very nice to poke fun at mental illness, you can bet your britches that little kids growing up anywhere near Morganton used Broughton Hospital in their insults. You know, yo mamma so crazy she had you at Broughton Hospital. Or something, I never was very good at those kinds of jokes.

At some point in high school, I met some girls from Raleigh, and they talked very casually about how they went to Broughton. Of course, they meant the high school in the nice part of town. But I didn't know that. I was amazed that not only does the loony bin apparently have a high school attached to it, the kids that go there don't even know enough to be ashamed of going there.

I made Broughton Brownies for an office potluck. I did not tell anyone where I got the recipe, because A.) it would require too much explaining, and B.) it would ruin the fun I had watching them all eat asylum brownies. They had nuts in them, too! GET IT?

The recipe makes a dense and dry marbled brownie. They're not bad. I imagine that if I had to spend some time in Broughton Hospital, I would develop a complicated relationship with such delicious symbols of my incarceration and mental instability. Josh went on and on about how they were no good, because they did not have nearly enough chocolate in them. He did this while shovelling them into his mouth. Once I pointed out that he had eaten them all, he revised his statement to say that they were not actually brownies. I'm okay with that explanation. It would make sense to me that Broughton Brownies are not actually brownies. They just think they are.



peacocks in the front yard.

"Did you ever notice that a bathing suit allows you to wear a dress over it that would be completely inappropriate to wear over regular underwear?"

Whoa, deep.

I did not hear the response to that question, because I was just walking by. I was coming back from the keg station, carrying a beer over to the tent where my chair was. It was a slip 'n slide party, but I was not wearing a bathing suit. I was wearing a dress, and since I was wearing it over regular underwear, it was reasonably concealing. Under the tent with me were two other women. One of them was also wearing a long dress, no bathing suit, while the other was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She even had a jacket, which she attempted to use to keep the sun from burning her shoulders. I offered her some sunscreen, but she said she had to go to work soon anyway. The other tent and the rest of the yard was inhabited by women in bathing suits and the kinds of dresses that you can really only wear over bathing suits.

Why would someone go to a slip 'n slide party and not wear a bathing suit? Actually, let's back up and ask another question: What is a slip 'n slide party?

Presumably, you know what a slip 'n slide is. It's a long piece of plastic with a irrigation tube on one side. You plug it into a garden hose, which makes the plastic very wet and very slidy, so that little children can take a run at them and then slide faster faster faster all the way to the end, where they will either land in a pool or get a bunch of grass cuts on their tummies. Commercial slip 'n slides are not recommended for adults, due to danger of spinal injury.

You're quick, so you've by now figured out that a slip 'n slide party is a party where there is slipping 'n sliding. However, I was at THE slip 'n slide party. It gets the definite article because it is an annual event. A fellow that we know throws a party at his house. He gets a couple of kegs, supplies a bunch of food, hires a band, and constructs a massive slip 'n slide going down his inclined yard.

Since this party has been happening for a few years, the slide construction is down to a science. First, there is a thick layer of carpet over the grass going down the hill. There are rolls of carpet on either side to prevent people from sliding off to either side. A thick layer of clear plastic covers the carpet. At the bottom is a giant inflatable pool. Last year, the pool was more of a kiddie-variety, and a couple of sliders with too much momentum bounced right out of it like skipped rocks. The water comes from a holey hose that is strung from tree to tree across the top of the slide.

So now you know all about slip 'n slide parties in general, and also THE slip 'n slide party in particular. Back to the original question: why wasn't I wearing a bathing suit?

I agonized over that decision, let me tell you. Aside from not particularly wanting to shave my legs, I didn't want to appear in public in a bathing suit. Good old-fashioned body shame. I looked at the other women, all tan and thin in their suits and tiny dresses. I consoled myself that they all probably hated their own bodies, because that's just the way women are.

That's all old news, though. I'm not here to talk about how women hate their bodies (well, except for those previous five paragraphs). Because there was something else that I could not help noticing. Just as the women were all either self-consciously covered up or uncovered, so were the men. Some guys kept their shirts on even as they went down the slide. Others paraded around shirtless, tan, and toned. Some preferred that you not look at them, while others competed for your eyes. It was equal-opportunity body shame (and eye candy) out there.

That's probably not a new thing. I just never noticed it before, because I was too busy worrying about myself. It was funny to me, actually, to see men worrying about their appearance, like they ought to know better. With their brightly colored swim trunks, I couldn't help but think of peacocks.

And then. Over there, under the band tent. There was a guy who kept his shirt on. It was a tee shirt meant to look like a boy scout uniform. He also wore a ridiculous pith helmet and some silly sunglasses. He was not covering up, nor was he strutting, though his outfit did draw attention to him. It made me wonder what kind of person I was, that out of all the peacocks in the yard, mine was the one in the pith helmet.


the march 2 bug.

Before I fell in love with my house, another person did. Well, I never met him, so I can't say for sure how he felt about it. All I know is that he put an offer down on it, the offer was accepted, and he went under contract. It might be that he bought it for a hated mother-in-law, or perhaps he just wanted a place to keep his howler monkeys. In any case, four days before he was going to sign the papers for the house, he lost his job. That meant that he couldn't get his loan, so he couldn't get the house.

Then came me. I went under contract and I had a month to think about that poor guy who lost the house so that I might buy it. I was terrified that something would happen that would prevent me from buying it. I stopped talking on my cell phone while driving that month, because I didn't want to get in an accident. My logic was that if I totaled my car and had to buy a new one or if I had sudden overwhelming medical bills, I might not get the loan. As soon as the house was mine, I went back to driving and talking on the phone. Remember kids, it's okay to do potentially dangerous things, as long as you are not under contract to buy a house.

I was also afraid of losing my job. This was in the scary days of early 2009. We'd all watched the stock market plummet and the unemployment number grow. No one had been let go at my company, but I had the least seniority. I seemed like the easiest cut to make.

I took off work on a Friday to sign the papers and buy the house. Up until quitting time on Thursday night, I lived in fear of being laid off and I did not use my cell phone while driving. Friday, I bought a house. While driving from the lawyer's office to the house, I called my mom.

Monday morning, two people were laid off at my office. I was not one of them. I felt relieved, of course. But it made me wonder whether it would have been worse to have been laid off before I bought the house or after. I would not have gotten my wonderful property, but then again, I wouldn't be newly unemployed and 130K in debt at the same time.

* * *

This year, on the second day of March, whenever any of our customers fired up our product, they were greeted with an error. And then the program crashed. That was it. No one in the whole world could run our application on March 2. When we all got to the office in the morning, the people overseas had encountered this problem hours before. People were unable to do their jobs because our program was not running.

That's a pretty bad bug.

We have a web site where customers can report problems and get help, either from other users or employees of the company. One of my coworkers happened to check the web site on the night of March 1, when those foreign customers started complaining. He found the problem and posted a message on the web site about how to fix it. We were all properly impressed the next morning when we saw his message, which was posted at 1:03 AM.

The bug was a simple math error, and the fix was to add an equals sign to a comparison (greater than or equals, rather than just greater than). The buggy code was a couple of years old, and disaster would only happen on March 2. It hadn't come up in previous years because there was no code that called the bad code. As it happened, I was the one who called the bad code, but of course, we all blamed the person who wrote that very bad code in the first place. First, because it really was his bad code, and second, because he'd been one of the people laid off a couple years ago. The general rule is that the last person to leave a company gets blamed for all the bugs.

The really funny thing is that he was laid off on March 2, 2009, which I remember because I bought my house the Friday before. And so it was like some spooky revenge that he set into motion on his way out. I don't think he did, but after spending a morning scrambling around reassuring angry customers whose very expensive software product suddenly quit working, it was funny to think of it that way.



Thing 1: Put 'er there.
Someone at work sent me a video that had told the story of a half-dead pitbull puppy showing up on somebody's porch. The person was going to take it to the pound because of all the nasty things they'd heard about pitbulls, but a soft-hearted sister convinced him not to. Fast forward a year, and the dog is happy, healthy, and knows all kinds of tricks. I watched this and immediately felt bad that my dog could not pick which hand held the coin. She can sit and lie down and roll over. But I thought it would be neat to teach her to shake paws. Then later, we'd move on to teaching her to bake cookies, use the toilet, and fold laundry.

She learned to shake in about two minutes, and I felt like an idiot for not teaching it to her sooner. I also felt sort of irrationally angry, as if she had known how to shake the whole time and yet had not told me. Why hadn't she come up to me and offered her paw when we first met?

Thing 2: Jeepers Creepers.
I've been buying up interesting books to rip up and turn into paper decorations. Among those books were three organ music books that I bought because they had sheet music on colored paper. Once I found myself the owner of an organ (and after I had cooled down about that fact), I dug them out and gave them to Josh, who immediately sat down to learn to play "Jeepers Creepers, Where'd You Get Those Peepers." The books had specific instructions about how to use all the befuddling buttons on the organ, such as the spectretone setting. Sometimes it is cool that I happen to have just the right thing already stashed somewhere, and sometimes it's actually a little embarrassing. Either way, I guess Josh and I deserve each other.

Thing 3: I found a feather.
I now have two feathers in my house, picked up outside and kept for being beautiful natural objects. The other one is blue with black stripes. They are kept tucked into the trim of the shade on my beloved bird bath lamp. Like anyone who spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, I've found enough feathers to make at least one mismatched flightless bird, but I can't recall ever having found a red feather. I don't know that something as ho-hum as "I found a feather" counts for a Thing for someone out of elementary school. But I did take a picture, and then I wrote this little paragraph, so that counts as enough, right?
I found a feather. It's red.



Last week at work, my cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, out of my area code. I let it ring. Ten seconds later, it rang again. I figured it might be important, so I answered. It was the American Red Cross, asking me to make an appointment at a donation center, because blood supplies were critically low. I sighed at being tricked into answering the phone and thought that they always say that their blood supplies were critically low.

In case you were wondering, yes, I do believe that mine was about the most selfish possible reaction to a plea from the Red Cross. I realized it immediately, and as penance, I made an appointment to give blood the following morning.

They call me, because my blood is magical. Know how? Well, they can take my blood out of my body, and then if someone else loses a lot of blood, they can put my blood into their body, and that person will then not die from lack of blood. See? Magical. What? You say your blood is magical, too? Well! You should get on down to the Red Cross!

I've given blood bunches of times, but I've never actually gone down to the Red Cross for it. My donations have always been a part of a blood drive. In the last few years, all of my blood donation has taken place on a bus. I consider myself to be committed to blood donation. I always sign up for the blood drives, even though I sorta hate doing it. I don't mind the weird questions about trips abroad and I like the cookies at the end, but I will never get used to the part where the needle goes into my arm. However, there doesn't seem to be any way around it.

But it occurred to me that if I only give blood when it's convenient to me, as in when the blood bus comes to my door, then that is not very committed. Only driving out of one's way early in the morning implies commitment. Or something. Once, I worked at a blood drive at church, and an old man came in who had donated multiple gallons over the course of his life. It takes eight donations to make a gallon, and you can safely donate about six times a year, so it takes a while to rack up gallons. That guy was committed to giving blood. Someday, when I am an old lady, and I go visit the Red Cross, the volunteers will be amazed at my lifetime giving record. They may even clap, while I smile modestly. No, no, it was nothing. Extra cookies? Well, maybe just seven one, to be polite.

Unlike the blood buses, which have little room for decor, the Red Cross' walls are littered with art meant to inspire your bleeding. Once, at that same church blood drive, one of the sponsors had her fourth-grade class draw artwork for placemats. There were a lot of pictures of syringes and blood drops. The American Red Cross chose a different route, displaying framed posters featuring women in WWI era nurse outfits. One of these nurses was holding her arms out plaintively, begging you to either join up or take her blood. She looked a little like a zombie. There was also a set of Disney posters, featuring Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald working for the Red Cross. The Minnie poster was particularly striking - Minnie comforts a little girl while a tornado pulls apart a house in the near background. That's great, Ms. Mouse, but shouldn't we get underground now?
The nurse asked me if I was here for a double donation. I'd never heard of such a thing, so I said no. In fact, that sounded kinda dangerous, since they're usually pretty strict about how often you can donate. But they were talking about a double red blood cell donation, where they take twice as many red blood cells, but give you back the platelets and the plasma. They use a special machine. I said no, but decided that I would look into it later, because I am committed to blood donation. The double donation is something they ask only of people with type-O blood (~90% of the population can receive O-positive blood, while everyone can receive O-negative).

It was really cold in the Red Cross, just like it's always cold on the blood bus. That's intentional. Because there is already a danger of people passing out (you know, from having their precious bodily fluids taken out of them), a warm or even comfortable temperature would only make that worse. If you do feel like you're going to pass out, they point an oscillating fan directly at you. Sometimes they put an ice pack on your chest (guess how I know these things!). Anyway, the cold is a necessary nuisance. When I was waiting for my turn with the nurse, a lady sat beside me reading a book, with a folded blanket in her lap. It was clearly not her first time at the Red Cross. She was committed to blood donation.

Finally, I was sitting in a right-arm bleeding chair, shivering but otherwise comfortable, considering that I was having my life-force drained out. The TV was set to CNN, which was reporting that someone had shot a bunch of people at the Empire State Building. Though it sounded sensational, it turned out to be just another of the awful things that happen every day. I guess that's why the Red Cross always says their blood supplies are critically low.

I always feel upbeat after a blood donation. It's a very easy and very good thing to do. But I felt better than usual that day, the difference being that I had gone and done this, not that I had happened across it and said okay. I am committed.


embrace the mystery.

A couple of Sundays ago, on the way home from the Lutheran Church we've been attending, Josh said something about joining up. And I said, whoooooa there pardner, isn't that just a bit hasty? I mean, I like the Lutherans and all, and these specific ones are swell, but I'm not sure I'm ready to put my name on the books. I dunno, I just don't feel Lutheran, you know?

It was the only church we'd tried. Josh picked it because it was the closest Lutheran church to our house, and you like what you know. I know, because I had already eyed a tiny Methodist church a couple miles out in the country. We'd talked about getting back into a church habit for a while. We'd both grown up in faithful families, and we missed church. Drifting back to your childhood faith in your late twenties is maybe cliche, but here we are.

I personally was intrigued by the Unitarians. I wanted to give them a try, just to see what the service was like. My only impression of them was that they were a place for people whose beliefs didn't seem to fit into any of the approved boxes. I wonder how many people in the pews of other churches have personal beliefs that are different, even at odds, with the messages being preached to them every week. The Unitarians seemed to be embracing that: "Hey, there's lots of ways to think about these questions, and frankly, it's impossible to know, but let's get together, sing songs, and talk about how to be good people." Josh did not trust the Unitarians ("They're not even Christians." "Some of them probably are, and I bet most of them are down with Jesus."), but was willing to try out a service. But we never did, because the only church is twenty minutes away. So I guess if you asked how interested I was in the Unitarians, the answer is less than twenty minutes.

But the Episcopal church was only five minutes away, closer than the Lutherans even. So I said, hey, let's give them a whirl. And Josh said okay, because he trusts the Episcopalians.

It's funny searching for a church together, because we each have different ideas of what we want out of it. He grew up with a few different traditions - first Baptist, then Lutheran, with a dash of Catholic school thrown in. He likes high church, with lots of rituals and candles and robes. I grew up in the archetypical old country church, a Methodist community that was constantly on the verge of dying out with its elderly members. I like small churches, with strong connections between members. Neither of us can abide contemporary music.

The Episcopal church was smallish, with traditional music - so far, so good. And their service? Well, Josh referred to it as "really high church." A good Lutheran would come to the Episcopal church and say that they liked it, but that there was kind of a lot of ritual. There is a procession coming in and one going out. There are lots of opportunities to sing, even if you're not in the choir. There is a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and a excerpt from the New Testament. And then, there is a reading from the Gospel. The two acolytes and an altar boy have a mini parade down the middle aisle, leading a priest carrying a book. They stop halfway between the front and the back, and the priest reads a little good news.

I'm not actually sure if the guy was a priest. They had four people in robes up front. I think they all had different titles, which confuses the heck out of me because I don't know the difference between a priest and a rector and a vicar. In my low church tradition, we had a preacher and that was it.

The first time I experienced high church, I was confused and frustrated the whole time. I always felt half a step behind, even though everything was listed in the program. I guess I've been to enough of these services to be able to follow it, but it has still mostly felt...empty. Rote. Like I was following a script. But at the Episcopal church, I sorta got it, and I honestly can't say if the difference was in the church or in me. Maybe I had enough of a feel for the flow that I was able to actually pay attention to it rather than fumble to keep up the whole time. But it didn't feel empty and rote, it was solemn and reverant. Maybe my problem with high church was that it hadn't been high enough. Or maybe I just really wanted to like the Episcopalians.

The sermon blew my mind. I grew up with well-meaning but not particularly insightful or inspired sermons. Small country churches are really more about the good salt-of-the-earth people in the pews, because they can't afford a good orator up front. The Lutherans, despite being a larger city church, were similar - solid messages, but not something you'd go home and discuss further. However, because of all their liturgy, the message was generally brief. The Episcopal priest spoke from the aisle, using no notes. He started with a story from the Kabbalah. And he talked about not interpretting the Old Testament literally.

I looked around, waiting for the angry mob to form. Obviously, my experience with Christianity has been very limited. I knew there were some who read the Bible as symbolic, but I figured they were isolated sects who lived off the grid and shunned outsiders. I was used to places where if you called the Bible's literal truth into question, ladies would start fainting.

The priest talked about the specific story of God raining manna from heaven. He said we should not think of this as literal bread falling from the sky. Nor should we try to explain it by saying that there was a certain type of flowering bush that produced something similar to what is described. After eliminating those two options ("supernatural literalism" and "historical realism"), he ended the message. I waited. If it's not A, and it's not B, then there must be a C. The preacher is supposed to tell you the C! But if there was one, he didn't mention it. At first, I thought it was a glaring oversight, but then I decided that was the point. The church was not telling me what to believe. They had addressed a couple of interpretations and outlined the downfalls with them, but then they left the rest of it to me. They embrace the mystery, and I really, really like that.

Mind blown.

The Episcopalians may be vague on their interpretations of Old Testament miracles, but they are emphatic about loving Jesus. They have Communion every single Sunday. It's right there on the front page of the bulletin, under the church's name - "Eucharist-centered worship." While I teased Josh about how often the Lutherans communed ("You know, the way the Methodists do it, they don't have to do it again for months. Much more efficient."), I've accepted that some people really like the holy meal.

The Lutherans intinct, which is a fancy word for dipping the bread into the wine and then eating it. Growing up, we got little shot glasses of grape juice at the Methodist church. The Episcopalians share the cup. You have the option to intinct, or you can forego the wine altogether. We took a when-in-Rome attitude. I think I've used a communal cup maybe once before, but I've never had the priest hold the cup up to me as I knelt. I felt profoundly humbled by it, and once again, I felt like I was being introduced to a whole new Christianity. Are the Episcopalians different or am I?

As we left, Josh said we could start going there instead of continuing to court the Lutherans. I was relieved, after feeling like I'd dragged him there when he was all ready to get his Lutheran card stamped and sign up for a retreat at Lutheridge (or was it Lutherock?). So. Episcopalians! Who knew?

*Note: When I talk about big groups of people like "the Methodists" or "the Lutherans," I am speaking about the specific congregations that I am familiar with. There is great variety even within denominations, because it's a big world.



It was time to buy a chainsaw.

A couple of years ago, a tree fell in our yard. It missed the deck by about an inch. Josh said he'd chop it up and we'd get some free firewood. Because when you live at the mercy of trees, the best you can do is pray that they don't hit anything and then enjoy burning them in retaliation when they do. I sent an email to my brother, who is my official tool expert, asking about axes. He recommended that I get a gas-powered axe made by Husqvarna.

Josh said no, real men uses axes. I said whatever, bought the ax, and let him do the work.

A month ago, a tree fell on two other trees. The combined trees, a mighty woody force, fell on Josh's car. They also fell all over the driveway and onto some smaller decorative trees that actually fared much worse than the Toyota. A neighbor walking by offered to let us borrow a chainsaw. In fact, lots of neighbors stopped at the bottom of our driveway to marvel at nature. Some of them offered help, others offered unhelpful commentary like "That's a big tree." Undoubtedly, they all considered why the lot of us are stupid enough to live around all these leafy monsters.

Josh said that he would chop it up. And he probably would have, except that it was really hot outside, and he had to work a lot of hours, and did I mention that it was hot? Record-breaking temperatures. Real men stay inside in the conditioned air.

I told him about the friendly neighbor with the chainsaw. Shrug. I said, I will buy you a chainsaw. He said he didn't want one, because . I said that while I respected his silly-illogical-real-macho-reasoning, dear, but the task will never get done this way. LET ME BUY YOU A CHAINSAW. Seriously? Most men would love to have some nice woman offer to buy them a chainsaw.

I sent an email to my brother, who still recommends Husqvarna. I looked up chainsaws online, sighed at the price, then cheered myself by saying "HusqVARNA!"

We went to Lowes on a Monday afternoon. We'd gone to the post office earlier, because they used to have Lowes coupons in their change-of-address packets. This is very dishonest. You should never take a change-of-address packet unless you are moving. You should not go to the post office for free coupons just because chainsaws are $300. Do not do this. For one thing, the coupons aren't even there anymore.

Being thwarted at the post office prepared us for our next thwarting at Lowes. They had two Husqvarnas, but not the size we needed. I pouted, and consoled myself by saying I would now have time to order Lowes coupons off eBay, possibly sold by unscrupulous persons who live near post offices that still give away coupons. I said "HusqVARNA!" some more.

Tuesday afternoon, I drove up the driveway after work, and I noticed that the tree situation had been taken care of. I could tell that whoever had done it had used a chainsaw. It probably made him feel powerful, like a real man.

The thing is, Josh didn't do it. There was no note, no nothing. Someone happened along and chopped up our tree. Maybe the person who owns the vacant lot where the tree used to grow, maybe some neighbor who felt a little sorry for our pathetic attempts at home maintenance. I wish I knew who it was, so I could bake them some cookies. So now we have lots of free firewood, and still no chainsaw. Maybe next time.


cheese and crackers.

After booking a reception venue, the next thing to look at was catering. We had hoped to hire a friend of ours, Big Rig, who is a real, live chef at a restaurant. He's the guy you call to work the grill at a party, just because he likes to do it and always does a bang-up job. We must have each thanked him several times for cooking up so many chicken wings at Josh's birthday party, and the next time we saw him, he mentioned that he was interested in catering the wedding. He was already doing the food at the wedding of another friend of ours, and he was confident that he could handle our 150-guest affair.

I was intrigued. It was the kind of thing that could turn out brilliant or terrible. We would have total control over the menu, and would be basically just paying for the food, with a little extra thrown over to Big Rig. I have no doubts about the man's cooking, and I was willing to be convinced that he could handle food on a mass scale. Plus, I liked the idea of people asking me who was doing my catering and then me getting to answer, "Big Rig."

It was not meant to be. Big Rig would need an on-site kitchen, and short of offering up Josh's mom's house, we couldn't figure out how to make that work. Also, most reception venues are very picky about caterers. Some of them insist that you use their own. Others have a list of approved companies. On none of those lists did I see "Big Rig." They don't know what they're missing.

The venue we chose has a list of accepted caterers. If we choose a different one, we can have them added to the list of accepted caterers, for a fee (which covers the administrative cost of...something or other). I started with the list. Several of them had very delicious-sounded menus available, and I was excited about getting to go have a tasting day where we picked out our own menu. Then I started looking at the prices, and I lost my appetite.

I thought about that money, still sitting at my parents' bank, that I had turned down. I thought about a honeymoon. I thought about the car we would need to buy for Josh. I realized that we could pay for the wedding ourselves if we really, really scrimped on the festivities or if we went into debt. A fresh new debt is not how I want to start my marriage. But neither did I want to serve my guests cheese and crackers in the church basement. Having these kind of expensive demands for my wedding made me feel very shallow. If you can't afford the wedding you'd like to have, I guess you can't have it, right?

I called my mom and asked if the Sandra Wedding Fund was still available or if they had already picked out a new pontoon boat. She laughed at me, and said of course, it's yours, shall I write you a check? She didn't want to eat cheese and crackers either. And this was what the money was for - me to have the wedding I wanted, and what I wanted was a fun party for everyone. I'll happily wear the Goodwill dress and some borrowed pearls, but it was important to me that people actually have a good time. I want good food, alcohol, and a band. Is it less selfish if my wedding demands have to do with the things that are for everyone?

I knew that the money was still mine for the asking, but it was a very humbling phone call. Not just because I had already made a big deal about paying for it myself, but also because I don't like the idea of taking money from my parents. It's like I think that not paying my own way all the time makes me less of an adult, even when it's money that has been set aside for years for this very purpose. They're not supporting me, they're giving me a party. That's what I tell myself. I also tell myself that it's stupid to feel bad for failing to live up to a requirement that I pretty much made up on my own.

As soon as I got off the phone, a huge weight was lifted off of me. I was able to look at caterers' websites and not get a worryache. But then I quit after about five minutes, because this wedding stuff overwhelms me.


And the piano sounds like a carnival.

One Thursday evening, not too long ago, I came home and found an organ in my living room. No, Remix had not brought me the still-beating heart of my nemesis, it was the musical kind. An electric organ, six feet wide and extending four feet out from the wall, with a huge speaker on each side.
I don't know what you guys think about all the silly things I admit to owning or the enthusiasm I have for what even I would call junk. I recognize that my tastes are not universal. So it's totally okay if you assume that I was really happy to find the organ. It's fine if you figure that this was something I wanted, as I know I have given you every indication that all I want out of life is a bunch of crap to put in my living room.

Actually, I was really very pissed off.

I had seen this organ before. It had been sitting at the Durham Rescue Mission Thrift Store for months. It was the kind of thing that I admire briefly and then move on, because c'mon, that thing is huge and ridiculous. It would be an incredible thing for someone else to own. Unfortunately, Someone Else turned out to be my fiance, who had thoughtfully set it up in the living room and then left it for me to find while he was at work.

I fired off some angry, angry text messages. I said unkind things. When he said it would grow on me, I compared it to cancer. I. Was. So. Mad. I briskly walked the dog, and I was still mad. I cleaned the floors, and I was still mad. I wrote in my journal, and that just made me madder. I went out in the backyard and pulled weeds, and that helped. Then later, after he got home from work and we were both there staring at it, we had a good old-fashioned in-person fight.

She said: Do not bring giant things to live in the house without discussing it with other house members.
He said: ORGAN!
She said: Could you not wait until you saw me to talk about it? You could have called from the store. Did you have to have it right that second?
He said: ORGAN!
She said: So when you were driving to go get the band van and find three friends to help you move this thing into the house, during all that, did it never occur to you that I might not want it?
He said: ORGAN!

Basically, Josh really really really wanted the organ. He thought it was beautiful and amazing, the desire for it was self-explanatory: ORGAN. He'd wanted it from the first time he saw it, and only recently had it been marked down enough to consider buying it. Once it got to that price point, he was convinced he had to act at that very moment, before someone swooped in and bought it out from under him. He further assumed, like maybe you did, that I would really want it, too. I mean, if I was okay with the sarcophagus, why would the organ be any different?
Answer: I had been present at the purchase of the sarcophagus, therefore my approval was implicit. Also, you could fit like ten mummies in that stupid organ. Fourteen, if four of them were cats.

I felt a little sorry for him. His enthusiasm, which I had swiftly and deftly murdered, was very earnest. He had even talked to me earlier in the day, after he'd bought it, and it was all he could do to not spoil the surprise that awaited me at home. He was so sure that I would love it, just like he was sure that someone else would buy it if he did not (Note to self: Josh very bad at estimating other people's desire for electric organs). Then I compared it to cancer and hurt his feelings. I felt bad for ruining his new toy high, and I could see why he would figure that I would be okay, even happy, about it. But I reserve my right to be angry about giant musical instrument purchases made without consultation.
It would be hilarious if it happened to someone else (as I'm sure you well know). I bet there are lots of folks out there who buy ridiculous stuff that their significant others do not want. I don't know what those other ridiculous things are, but I think that for most people, it is not an electric organ. This is a common situation, made unique by the fact that it's us. Someday, I hope that I will find it funny. Right now, I do not, even as I play it up for laughs on my blog.

I am accepting it, because there is not much else I can do. The next morning, when we were no longer fighting, but the sight of it still made me burn inside, he remarked about how he was going to be glad that he bought it every day for the rest of his life. And I felt the rest of the room fade away so it was just me and the organ in all the world, as that phrase echoed in my head, "the rest of my life." I'm going to marry this man, which is marrying his stuff. The movie of our marriage will have a soundtrack full of carnival music.
"Why couldn't you just have gotten a piano? I like pianos. Pianos don't stick out so far or have huge speakers."

"We can still get a piano."

"And get rid of the organ?"

"No, we'd have both!"

"It'll be a really cool piano. And we'll put the organ on CraigsList and find it a good home with someone who will play it and love it."

"It has to be a reeeeeeally cool piano." A pause. "A player piano."

"That would be amazing." Pause. "Challenge accepted." We shook on it.



We were on our way to church this morning, a new-to-us church that is across the street from the Food Lion and next to the Korean Baptist Church. As we approached, a dark-haired man crossed the street in front of us, coming from the Food Lion and on his way to Sunday worship.

"Maybe he's an Episcopalian," Josh said, on the lookout for people we might soon meet.

"I don't think so. I think he's going to the Baptist church," I answered. "I just racially profiled him," I admitted.

We turned into the drive that is shared by the two neighboring churches. As we continued, we came upon a pair of guys in plastic vests, directing traffic with orange wands. They waved the car ahead of us to the right, into the Baptist church overflow parking. As we got closer, the waved us to the left.

"I think we just got racially profiled," I said.



We recently did some stuff reshuffling to make room for a new piece of furniture. Somehow, this game. came up to the surface out of some closet. I vaguely remember buying it - Josh picked it up with the intent of giving it to his brother. We were at a church yard sale that was closing down and eliminating stock by having customers fill paper bags for a dollar.
As much as I love the stuff-a-bag time, I tend to end up with all kinds of weird crap (more than usual). It's not hard to go a bit crazy. Really, the first thing that you put in a box costs the dollar, and then everything else is free. So once you have committed to buying the bag, anything else you see that even remotely appeals to you ends up yours. At least, that's the way it is with me, but maybe y'all have more self-control in shopping spree situations.

Anyway, we've had this for a while without ever having even opened the box. I was feeling in a purge-y mood, and I thought this was an easy toss. To give it a fair shake, I set it up. It's flimsy and brittle little thing, and the fact that it's in such good condition indicates that the previous owners didn't get much use out of it either.

Of course, once I got it all put together, we remembered why we liked it in the first place. Ever seen an old episode of Star Trek where Spock is playing 3D chess?
This is like that. Except rather than chess, it's like Tic Tac Toe or Connect Four. Vulcan Connect Four!

We've left it set up on the mantle in the living room. That way, we can have ongoing Qubic games. Maybe we can invite company over and have tournaments!

That will probably never happen, but at least it looks cool.


alumni day.

At the Governor's School Reunion last month, I:
  1. Bought a small piece of art. There is an Art-o-mat in the Fine Arts Center, and I bought a tiny album of pinhole photographs. I took it home and put it next to the art I bought twelve years ago at Governor's School. That original piece is a block of wood with a small leather flap nailed to it, hiding an old photograph of a family.
  2. Ate a lot of bread. We tried to get lunch at three different places and failed at each one. First, we went to Mayberry, a little diner in Old Salem, but the line to order food was out the door. So we went to the Rat Factory, but it became obvious that the alums were not supposed to eat there, because, well, why would they want to? Next we went to the courtyard where alums were supposed to get bag lunches. When I was third in line, they ran out of bag lunches. Finally, we went back to Mayberry, where the line was still ridiculous. I ended up going downstairs to the Old Salem bakery, where they only sell bread by the loaf. We went back upstairs and sat on the porch. I ripped chunks off a loaf of rosemary bread and washed them down with Cherry Coke.
  3. Distributed some paper boats. Josh and I wanted to leave our own pieces of art. We made paper boats out of an old copy of Strunk and White and then left them at the fish pond, though I kept one to put on the fridge.
  4. Shared the rest of my bread. I couldn't eat it all. Lots of people were eating lunch there, and we made new friends as people sat down at our picnic table. They were current students and alums from other years, extroverts every one. I offered them each some bread and they reached over and ripped off chunks delightedly. It was highly symbolic. Later, I gave the rest of the loaf to a choral student, who thanked me more than was necessary. I mostly just didn't want to carry it around anymore.
  5. Wished there were more seminars. Twenty seminars, but only two time slots. We chose carefully.
  6. Wandered around the Fine Arts Center. We used to hang out in the FAC when we weren't at the fish pond, because the FAC had air conditioning. We visited old class rooms while the sound of the weird orchestra concert going on in the auditorium got louder and softer depending on our location. Josh sat down in a classroom and wrote a poem. I sat in the floor and thought about how unlikely things could end up being sometimes.
  7. Took a beat-boxing class. We learned some basics, which we have been practicing ever since. It confuses the dog.
  8. Attended a lecture about Harry Potter. The professor pointed out some themes in the stories and how our culture's wide acceptance of the stories implied acceptance of the messages, too. While maybe that's not so bad when the message is that love wins, sometimes the message is that natural talent beats out hard work or that it's okay to break rules whenever you want. He compared Hogwarts to Governor's School and we all felt chastised, yet special.
  9. Learned about elbow licking. One of the kids we met at lunch told us that he had heard that if you licked someone's elbow, they wouldn't notice. It was exactly the kind of dubious, yet irresistible, information you might pick up at Governor's School.

The Day after the Governor's School Reunion, I:
  1. Licked Josh's elbow. He did not notice.


rat factory.

"What about reception venues?"

"Oh, well, we were wanting to have it at the Salem College cafeteria," I answer with obvious excitement. Carney gets a look that I have learned to recognize since we started talking about wedding stuff. It's her usual sunny smile, frozen in place, her eyes betraying her terror. She teeters on the edge of hoping that I am kidding and fearing that I am not. I take a perverse delight in making her get that look, and so I smile blandly back at her, as if I think that anyone would jump at the chance to get married in an institutional cafeteria.

"A cafeteria?"

"Yeah." I decide to give her a break. "Salem College is where we went to Governor's School together, where we met. We used to have 3 meals every day in that cafeteria." Throw a little sentimentality on something, and Carney will get on board. Her eyes grow soft, like suddenly cafeterias are romantic after all. Later, she found links online of cutesy school-themed wedding decorations. She's a trooper.

The cafeteria is actually called the refectory, though we called it the Rat Factory. And it looks like any college cafeteria. I could imagine my guests walking in and looking around in wonder - what is this place and why would anyone throw a wedding here? We'd have to explain it to them. No, no, it's not weird and ugly, it's romantic.

None of that matters at all, because Salem College doesn't rent out the refectory to outside parties. Jerks.

The next best thing would be Old Salem itself. Salem College is a small private girls college in the middle of the historical town of Old Salem. Every fifth grader in North Carolina visits Old Salem at some point, where they can walk down the cobblestone streets, talk to a real life blacksmith, and buy too much rock candy at the gift shop. There is a very nice visitor's center there, which does rent to outside parties. We stopped by the visitor's center to, well, visit, and check out the space to see if we wanted to throw a party there. The room was beautiful - lovely hardwoods, pretty molded designs on the walls, and a great big pipe organ. Not sure what the organ had to do with anything, but it was very nice. However, the room was on the smallish side. I wasn't sure if it would fit 150 people with room for a band and maybe dancing. On the bright side, rather than getting a caterer, we could just give people a few bucks apiece to go stuff themselves with rock candy.
I admit, my heart was already set on Old Salem, but we checked out some other options, just to be thorough. We dropped by the church where we are having the actual ceremony. We could just throw the reception in the fellowshop hall, and since it's a Lutheran church, we could still have beer and wine (Woo Lutherans!). As church fellowship halls go, it was new and spacious and fine. Also, use of it came free with the marriage ceremony. But the thing about a church dining room is that you feel like you're in church. We'd probably save a bundle on alcohol, just because no one would feel comfortable drinking any.

Finally, we stopped off at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts. We refer to it as the Sawtooth Center, which is actually just the arts and crafts school located there. There is also a theater, a gallery, and several rooms available for rent. We didn't have to look for very long before deciding that this was our place. Larger and cheaper than Old Salem, it is a really beautiful and modern space. Plus, it's right downtown, so after our guests wish us well, they can walk a block and continue celebrating our nuptials (on their own dime).
Josh was particularly excited, and in a peculiar reversal of roles, he nagged me about reserving it right away, fearing that someone else would come along and snatch up the room on the exact same date, eight months away. Monday, I mailed in the deposit check. It was the first big money I've spent on the wedding. It kinda hurt, even though it's nice to have one more thing settled.

Then I started to look at caterers. This wedding stuff is a racket.