Wife, writer, tinkerer, grower of food. I'm happiest outside our rambling farmhouse with a basket looped on my arm, picking dinner from the garden. That's joy right there. Please follow along; I'm so glad you're here!
This is how it's supposed to be. Saturday afternoon. Christmas cookies. Carol of the bells.
I spent all week in the Bronx, with my aunt. I always love being with her: she's a sunlamp radiating sweetness and warmth, even in dark times. Even when she's recovering from surgery and traveling headlong towards scary months of chemo. This is a recent development-- sudden might actually be a better word-- and in between reeling, I have moments of grace where I feel completely and satisfactorily sure how this will play out: it will suck, but she will have me with her.
My place is to provide whatever I can to get her through this, just the latest insult heaped upon the sweetest, gentlest person I know.
Yep. That's how it's gonna be. She's gonna lick it-- kung fu karate chop it is more like it-- and sweetly hand it its walking papers. That's her way.
Also in progress: snow globe bases, and a vintage suitcase re-vamp. I can't share what that's going to become, but I know it's going to be cool. And slowly, the pile of wrapped things is growing downstairs, and slowly, the gift baskets are filling out and looking ready to trot. I love this time of year. What kind of merry-making is happening 'round your parts?
In a lot of ways, it's good to be back to normal. The thing I miss most when we're away is my own cooking-- or rather, I miss the sense of control and comfort that comes from creating my own nourishment. Sunday night I made a giant pot of lentil soup, which is usually my excess detox meal of choice. Garden leeks and carrots and a jar of summer tomatoes-- oh yes. The comforts of home.
And then, there is the Christmassing. I put the tree up before we left, but hadn't decorated it yet. So last night we did that, and drank a bottle of wine, while the opening chords of a two-day Nor'easter played out over the house. Patrick sat on the couch and changed all the batteries in the window candles while I installed the snow village on the mantel, and we put the antlers on Del (poor Del) but Del was too zonked-out from soaking up the warmth from the fireplace to care much. Love that dog.
And now we are on Day 2 of the Nor'easter, and Patrick has had to go to work this morning anyway. Sigh. I am making bath fizzies for the Etsy shop, which has thrillingly had five sales in just its first three weeks. It feels like it has promise, and I can't even articulate how good that feels. BIG thank you to those of you who are readers here who have supported it so far! I am cheering. Thank you.
In other news, a change of Christmas venue has occurred. As in, it's not going to be at our house this year, which means I don't have to CLEAN, or even cook, and, after a moment of aw shucks, I was like I DON'T HAVE TO CLEAN! and that was terrific. So in lieu of cleaning, I am focusing on Etsy and gift-making, and that is just fine with me.
It's not a bad groove to be in, really. Especially with so many awesome memories to keep returning to as I go about the days.
First, synopsis. Last year, we came to Nashville for five nights and four days, and it was absolutely magical. We left feeling like we'd gotten just the very tip of the (amazing) iceberg, and we wanted MORE. So, back we came, hoping that the magic wasn't a fluke, hoping that, though we'd gained some familiarity, the element of surprise would be as present as it was the first time. We knew it was a tall order, but still, we hoped.
And we were rewarded with a week (seven nights, six days) that was absolutely full of serendipity, surprise, and magic. Like, did this really just happen-type magic.
Our journey began at about 9am, the day after Thanksgiving, when we folded ourselves into the car and embarked on an eleven-hour drive down 81. It was not fun, but it was uneventful, and when all was said and done, we were able to check in, unpack, shower, and be downtown by 9pm. Plenty of time to rock.
Last year, when we came, it seems like we hardly left Robert's Western World all week. It's the ONLY good honkytonk downtown, the one where they still play real country music, and it's special. This time, we told ourselves, there's more to Nashville than Robert's Western World. We made up our minds to see more of the city. And we did. But we also spent a LOT of time at Robert's, because there is no other place like it. The back door leads right out into the alleyway behind the Ryman, and in another time all the greats would wander over after their show at the Opry. The faces are on the wall. The boots are on the shelves. The magic is in the air.
Saturday afternoon, we were back. This is Rachael Hester and the Tennessee Walkers, probably my favorite band that plays Robert's regularly. Lots of Patsy Cline.
Then we saw Chuck Mead playing at a record store called Grimey's. Anyone know who Chuck Mead is? If you like hillbilly music as much as I do, make it your business to know Chuck Mead. He basically set off the whole downtown Nashville revival back in the 90s, playing at Robert's with a band called BR5-49. And there he was, in a tiny space, doing his awesome hillbilly front man thing, and after I bought the new vinyl he was there to promote, I went up and he signed it. I told him it was nice to meet him, and apologized for being the drunk chick at his Oneonta show (back in the spring, when he came to play just 20 minutes away!) screaming for "Ramona." And he was courteous and funny.
Later that night, we went to the Bluebird to see four songwriters play in the round. Last year we had a terrible experience (mostly due to a song with a refrain of hey y'all hey y'all) but this year we decided to give it another shot and it was wonderful. Marshall Chapman, Will Kimbrough, Tommy Womack, and Matraca Berg (who wrote "Strawberry Wine"). So we got to see Matraca Berg tell basically her life's story in song, and she sang Strawberry Wine, and then her husband Jeff Hanna from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got up and sang "Mr. Bojangles."
Oooooookay. No biggie. It's just Nashville. It gets better.
The next day, we were back at Robert's seeing Rachael Hester again. There is something to be said for exploring the city, but there is also something to be said for doing the comforting, sure thing. Watching her band, with Chris Scruggs on guitar and her dad on fiddle, drinking a $2.50 PBR at Robert's on a Sunday afternoon is about the best way to pass time I can contrive.
At a set break, Chuck Mead walked in. And then Rachael invited him to sit in, and he sang one of Hank's. Oh right, no biggie, we're in Nashville. I put my camera to use.
That was incredible. Then, we went to see the Time Jumpers, a ten-piece country swing outfit featuring three fiddles and one Vince Gill on lead guitar. That's right.
Ohhhhh man. But oh right, no biggie, we're just in Nashville. This is just the kind of thing that happens in Nashville.
From that point on, it was like, did we really just see Chuck Mead at Robert's? Did we really just see Vince Gill last night? Dream-like and crazy. But then it got even better. How? Well, we spent some more time at Robert's.
Of course. But then we had to go get ready. We had tickets to see chef Sean Brock talk about his new book with his buddy Jason Isbell. So: sit and watch a sweet Virginia boy and a sweet Alabama boy talk about what their grandmas cooked for Sunday supper? Oh, yes please.
As luck would have it, we made it out to East Nashville with just enough time to... eat fast food before catching the event. Oh, the irony. So painful.
Topics of conversation included: cooking cornbread on a car door, Sean's quest to cook the perfect brisket, and Jason's wife's first biscuit attempt, which did not end well. ("So I picked it up and dropped it on the table, just to see, you know, how loud it would be. It turns out that was not a good idea. That was not something that I should've done.")
And then I got my new cookbook signed by Sean. And then I stood there hyperventilating for a minute, and then I met Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires.
Just go ahead and add that to my list of Peak Life Experiences. They were both totally sweet and accommodating, and I managed to not say anything stupid.
And then we walked out and to the car and my feet were not touching the ground...
We went to Robert's for the rest of the night. We sat in the balcony and met a really nice couple from Indiana, and I tried in vain to get a decent picture of the two of us...
Sigh. The never-ending quest.
Then it was Thursday morning: Our Last Day.
We went to Percy Priest Lake. We walked around in the mud. I picked up rocks. Patrick let me sing him lines from the Jason Isbell song with the chorus that goes:
Girl hang your dress up to dry
we ain't leaving this room
Til Percy Priest breaks open wide
and the river runs through
and carries this house on the Stones
like a piece of driftwood
Cover me up
and know you're enough
to use me for good.
Finally got a good picture.
And then? Well, maybe you can guess.
Yup. And then we walked on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge, for what's becoming our traditional Last Night in Nashville swansong experience. Someone was kind enough to ask if we wanted our picture taken, and Patrick couldn't even make funny faces or give the finger.
He was less well-behaved when I tried to take a selfie.
We got back to Robert's in time to see another set from a different band.
And for a picture out front. Best, sweetest place on earth. Friendliest place. Then we walked to the car. I'm not to going to say I didn't have tears streaming down my face, because I did. Mostly happy tears. Smile-because-it-happened tears. Smile because this incredible happy kind comfortable little bastion exists on Lower Broadway in Nashville, and we can go to it when we need it, and Lord willin' it will always be there to take us in. (That's right, I just said Lord willin'. But I just spent a week in the South, and I figure it's justified.)
We capped off the night in fine fashion by going to see a real bona fide rock show at the Mercy Lounge. We wanted to see the Mercy Lounge-- a pretty iconic little venue-- and we wanted to see the band, Centro-matic, because they're good. And then I heard rumors that Jason Isbell would be sitting in, and that sealed the deal.
It was so good to rock out all the we're-leaving-Nashville angst, and to hear all that glorious guitar work. I got to meet Amanda again-- she remembered me-- and for an encore Jason sang No Matter What by Badfinger, which was about as awesome and unexpected a cover as could be imagined.
I decided the song was Nashville singing to me:
No matter where you go
There will always be a place
Can't you see it in my face, girl,
Ooo girl, want you.
No matter where or what, there will always be this place. I think that's what it is, more than anything. In Nashville, the fourth wall comes down, and you can meet and greet people without a pretense of fame or separation or other-ness. That's what I love. It's a warm, friendly bubble where the barriers are erased and we can go just sort of hang with the most talented people out there-- the ones who make the music we cherish.
I am absolutely full of gratitude. I am going to try as hard as I can to hold on to that feeling.
The only thing keeping me from crazed pre-vacation squealing is the fact that it's supposed to do THIS all day and Patrick went to work this morning. I took that picture maybe twenty minutes ago and already it's unrecognizable. We're in for it.
Meanwhile, I have to finish sewing a bag for myself (because this vacation calls for a new bag!) and do some cleaning and list a few new things in the shop and write the last articles I will ever write... for two weeks... And then later on tonight there will be pimento cheese-making (because we make sandwiches for vacation lunches to save money, and what could be better than eating pimento cheese in Nashville?) and PACKING.
It's a weird hurry-up-and-wait sort of feeling, because we're not actually Nashville-bound until Friday, but all the crazy packing madness needs to happen now. In a way it's a good thing, because there will be more time to spend looking forward to the trip. But in a way it feels like a tease.
Regardless, we are thisclose. From booking the damn hotel in March to right here, right now. Oh, mercy. This is going to be one for the record books, even if all we do is sit on barstools and drink PBR and listen to honky tonk music.
I am so grateful we have made it, and that we are close. But I am also pushing myself to be grateful for those things that are challenging in our life, for our crazy demanding house and my garden and chickens that we chose, and it was a good choice, four years ago. I am grateful to be making a living, however narrowly, by working from home and being a writer. I am grateful for family, and for friends new and old. I am grateful for our marriage, for the thing that seems more and more like a well of sweet fresh water that never runs out even when everything around seems to be in drought. I feel like I learned more about marriage this year than in any other so far-- you learn more when things are tough. And I am thankful for the lessons.
Ok. Wishing you and yours all the warmest things for tomorrow. A really good turkey. Some excellent pie. And that cranberry sauce that's always your favorite thing, even though people look at you funny when you make that statement. (It's always my favorite thing.) Cheers! Travel safe and be thankful.
You didn't think I hadn't started yet, had you? Oh no. I've begun. Somehow, in the midst of Etsying and entertaining and spackling the laundry room ceiling and making a packing list for our trip, I've managed to sew two lap quilts, a handbag, and put together materials for felt ornaments to be sewn in-car. Last year I made little owls out of felt, with button eyes, and those were great fun. This year, I found a simple round felt ornament decorated with little embroidered-on feather-shaped scraps of fabric, and fell in love with that. Wanted to show you that, but wouldn't you know, I can't find the idea now. But I remember. I filled a little tea tin with feather-shapes, drew some circles on the sleeve of a shrunken sweater that I cut off, and loaded up my embroidery hoop and spool of ribbon.
Between sewing those and doing the hand-finished binding on the two quilts, I should be set for... 28 total hours in the car, yes? I hope so. What's the first thing to get crossed on your holiday list?
Hello! You might notice an Etsy shop applet on the right hand side. Please do not be alarmed.
Yesterday was launch day. Er, make that Launch Day. I made stuff, I packaged stuff, I did keyword research, I ordered packaging materials... I wrote item descriptions, cackling merrily... and then I bit the bullet and and launched. Skeery.
I spent all day on pins and needles, checking my pageviews, googling my shop, doing a miniature happy dance whenever I got a new favoriter. Around about 4pm, I got an ORDER (!!!) from a friend (still an order. still counts!) That felt really good.
Please check it out, if salty language and organic skin care are things that interest you. If not, no worries. I wish I could sell you all flavored salts and infused vinegars direct from Sweetfern Acres, but alas, NYS has this pesky law that makes it illegal for me to sell foodstuffs over the internet.
Anyway, moving on.
In other news, Nashville is happening in ONE WEEK. Oh my goodness. I am trying really really hard not to be insufferable, not to go on Facebook like leaving in SEVEN DAYS!!!!! (because it's horrible, I know, when you have friends going on vacation and you are staying home. I mean, even if you love your life, not going on vacation is tough. So I am mainly just squealing to Patrick. And, er, you guys. SEVEN DAYS!!!)
We had such a good time last time. Really, we just walked into Robert's Western World, the one authentic honky tonk, and stayed most of the week. It was excellent. This time we want to see more of the city. This time, we have six days, where last time we had only four.
We have reservations at Husk, we have tickets to see Jason Isbell and chef Sean Brock (from Husk) talk about Southern food at a bookstore on Wednesday night, we are going to get tickets to see a show at the Mercy Lounge and at the Bluebird... and none of this probably means anything to you, because Nashville is not your happy place. But nevertheless, I must get it out. I must crow, just a little. What a long year this has been, and how hard we have worked, and how much we have gotten done. And what an AWESOME freaking time we are going to have in our favoritest of cities.