Newspaper Memories

When I graduated from college, I knew two things:

  • I had a degree!
  • I had no idea what to do with it…

I’d spent the last three years devoting myself to reading and writing, and I’d earned my bachelor’s degree in English a year early and with honors.  In college, I was “the wunderkind.”  My professors respected my work and encouraged my curiosity.  Out of college, I was a twenty-year-old kid with a lot of debt and no real job experience.

I wasn’t scared for my future. I had an abundance of confidence, but not cash.  So I did what any slightly lost, mostly broke kid would do:  I applied to every job for which I was even marginally qualified.  Thankfully, a couple of employers took a chance on me.  One of those employers was the local newspaper – a freelance gig, sure, but a chance to get my name out there and make money doing something I loved.

Growing up in the theater had cured me of shyness, and college had taught me to write well and concisely (and quickly, if I had to).  Writing for a newspaper – interviews, deadlines, etc. – was a natural fit and I loved it immediately.  Talking to people and writing about it didn’t feel like work.  Having the opportunity to meet people in my community and share their accomplishments was a privilege.

My first article was about a sweet elderly lady who made prayer bears and prayer flowers for grieving families and families whose loved ones were in the hospital.  In the fall of 2007, I sat with her for a couple of hours in her living room.  I’d prepared questions, but the conversation was so easy and so honest, I didn’t need them.  As I was packing to leave, she made me a set of my own prayer flowers, and prayed for my health and success.

From there, I met with a 97-year-old ham radio operator and we talked about the days when radio was new and exciting.  To her, it still was.  I interviewed two little boys who decided to grow out their hair and donate it.  They wanted to honor their grandmother, and they didn’t care at all that people said they looked like girls.  I walked around a hospital and spoke to volunteers who often came home utterly exhausted and still wondered if they could do more.  I spent an afternoon with a church youth group as they were preparing for a mission trip.  For many of them, it would be their first airplane ride, and not one of them was afraid.  They were just excited and eager to help.

I handled quick deadlines.  I worked late.  I wrote on my lunch break.  I skipped dinner.  I learned to take decent photographs for the first time in my life (much more difficult than I thought it would be…).  More than anything, I realized that people have good things to say, and it’s important to hear them.

In 2009, Graham and I moved from Abingdon for what we thought would be a temporary stay in Northern Virginia.  The prayer flowers from my very first story came with us.  All these years later, they still sit on a shelf in my study.

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I look at them often, and they remind me that the people we meet are never just a means to an end, and that kindness and compassion are real, tangible, and enduring.

Beowulf, Epics, and Why Curiosity Matters

I can’t remember what first sparked my interest in Beowulf.  I was in high school.  I was hungry for stories and itching to immerse myself in subjects that challenged me.  It could have been that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was going strong in theaters, stoking the collective imagination of a generation ready for magic and epic battles between good and evil (having been primed by Harry Potter and his many adventures).  It could have been a new phase in my lifelong interest in historical esoterica.  I’m not really sure, and it doesn’t really matter, because I’ve loved Beowulf ever since, and I’m not about to stop now.

My first encounter with Beowulf was shepherded by Seamus Heaney, and I’ve often called his work the “gateway translation.”  This is the iteration that gets you into the story.  Heaney’s meticulous attention to the cadence of the verse; his talent for turning arcane sensibilities into relatable one-liners; and his easy dedication to presenting Beowulf – the original man, myth, and legend – as not only an adventurous, brave soul in search of a noble calling higher than himself (and seeking a little glory along the way, because why not?), but a flawed human being just like all the rest of us, all serve to draw new readers into this old story.

I’ve read Heaney’s translation now more than any other, and I’m about to do it again.

Over breakfast last week, I read a magazine article called “Beowulf is Back” by James Parker.  The crux of the article – that this ancient epic just won’t go away – got me thinking, not only about Beowulf and why I love it, but about why people love epics.  Why do we obsess over heroes?  Why do we frame our world in terms of good and evil?  Why do we love a battle scene?  Why do we still look to a text older than our language to find answers about ourselves today?  And what does all of that say about us?

I don’t know.

Really, I’m not sure.  I could fill pages with my assumptions, but I don’t really want to do that, and I don’t think anyone really wants to read it.  Instead, I’m going to look at Beowulf with fresh eyes, and see what I learn.

Here’s the plan:

Over the next four weeks, I’m going to reread Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, and then I’m going to read, for the first time, three graphic novelizations of the story that James Parker mentioned in his article.

I’m looking at this challenge in two ways.  First, it’ll be fun – I love Beowulf, and I’ll have four weeks’ worth of Beowulf, and that is exciting.  Second, it’ll satisfy my curiosity.  What can these different interpretations of the same story tell me about why we just won’t let Beowulf fade into obscurity?

If I haven’t yet convinced you that Beowulf is worth your time, or if you’re not into old stuff, or if, for reasons I will never understand, you don’t like to read, I’m sure you’re asking yourself why I want to do this.  The simple answer is, because I am curious.  I want answers.  I want answers to lots of questions, actually, but I’ll settle for the Beowulf-related ones for now.  I believe that we should always be thinking, we should always be asking questions, and we should always, always, always be curious.  A curious mind is a powerful one.  People who ask questions make discoveries, and sometimes those discoveries change the world.  Sometimes, they just scratch the intellectual itch that people like me can never quite shake.  But, and at any rate, no one ever amounted to anything who didn’t first ask questions.

And so, off I go, into Heorot once more, to see what I can learn with thirty-year-old eyes and a brain that often forgets where I left my car keys.

And it all begins with “Hwæt…”

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New Year, New House, Same Me

I’ll be honest – I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution that I’ve kept.  I believe that we should always strive to be more kind, more honest, more engaged, more fulfilled, and just happy, but for me, setting goals because the calendar’s turning over feels a little, well, artificial.

It’s 2017 – twelve days in – and I’m sitting in my same chair, writing on my same laptop, using my same brain, in my new (old) house.

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I know that this house will become a project not just for 2017 but for life.  And I mean that in a couple of ways.  Graham and I will spend this year (and the years to come) making this charming old farmhouse everything it was ever meant to be.

And that is my hope, not resolution, for now and for always, for all of us in 2017 and beyond.  That we appreciate ourselves for who we are.  That we set the path for who we will become without fear or doubt.

That we embrace our flaws and build beautiful things with them and make our lives everything we want them to be.

I wasn’t perfect in 2016, and I expect I’ll be the same ridiculous person in 2017.  And I’m pretty okay with that.

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But as I look ahead, with my same eyes, I am excited and a little scared, and hopeful, always hopeful, that I will keep working and writing, that I will keep singing and dancing and having fun, that I will learn and try and fail and succeed, and that I will do my part to make this world everything I believe it can be.

Heaven is Music Everywhere: Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion

I grew up in music.  It’s how my family communicates, celebrates, mourns, loves, and just passes the time.

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I spent my childhood in an area of the country famous for its country music history.  I’m as formed by music and mountains as I am by the cells that build my body.  Music is in my blood.  My soul was nurtured by the sounds of guitars and drum sets and fiddles and banjos.  What I’m getting at here is that the one thing that makes me who I am, more than anything else in my life, is music.  My roots run deep and firm and, well, musical, in the brushy, misty mountains of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

As they say, it’s Bristol, baby.  Or, more aptly for this post, it’s all about Bristol, baby.

You might have been to music festivals, but you’ve never been to a festival quite like Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots Reunion.  Bristol cemented its place in music history in 1927 with the Bristol Sessions, essentially the founding of modern country music.  Since then (and long before), Bristol and the surrounding area has been a gathering place for musicians and music lovers to come together, collaborate, and celebrate.  That’s what Rhythm and Roots is all about.

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Once a year, Bristol, a city that spans Virginia and Tennessee, closes State Street and its side streets for several blocks.  It sets up stages, brings in vendors for arts, crafts, and food, and invites musicians from all over the country to play for a three-day celebration of music and mountain culture.

There’s music everywhere.  There are stages and musicians tucked into every corner.  There’s a band in almost every bar and restaurant.  From Friday through Sunday, once a year, Bristol becomes a little piece of melodious, lyrical, pickin’ and strummin’ Heaven.  And it’s not just country music.  You’ll find Americana, folk, classic rock, rockabilly, alt rock, bluegrass, jazz and ragtime, and even some Celtic flare.  Music is a universal language, and Rhythm and Roots offers something for everyone.

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Ed Young of Ed Young and Friends, a three-person band featuring guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass, and Ed’s bluesy, deep baritone.

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Randi Denton, lead singer of Indighost, a rock band with a sound reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia.

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Blair Crimmins, front man of Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, an energetic Dixieland, jazz, and ragtime band.

I love Rhythm and Roots because it captures the spark that makes music what it is.  Music is more than just sound waves.  Music is important.  Music is culture.  Music is identity.  Music is home, and as long as you never lose the music, you’ll always carry your home with you.

I’ve done cartwheels across State Street that carried me from Virginia to Tennessee, and I’ve stood many times in two places at once.  I’ve spent some of my most memorable days in the green room and on the stage of Bristol’s impeccably restored Paramount Theatre.

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I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for seven years.  I’ve done my time in fast-paced, competitive jobs.  I’ve commuted three hours each day.  I think I fit in well enough here, now.  But it’s not home.

Home is where the heart is, and my heart’s tucked safely away in the mountains where I grew up.  I might have left them, but they’ve never left me.  Every time I go to Rhythm and Roots, I’m grateful all over again that I grew up in the land of biscuits and gravy, Johnny Wood and fishing, flatfooting, porch sitting, moonshine, and music.

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*Some links, for anyone who’d like to learn more about the festival or the bands I’ve mentioned here: Bristol Rhythm and Roots ReunionIndighostBlair Crimmins and the Hookers

A Little Something Different (or, Our Visit to Otium Cellars)

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for something different.

Before I say more, I should note that I am a creature of habit, almost to a fault.  I eat the same salad every day for lunch.  I do the laundry on Mondays and Fridays.  I drink Irish Breakfast Tea at least once a day.  I read every night before I go to sleep.  When these things don’t happen, I get a little…anxious.  Graham would say hard to deal with, but I’m giving myself a break.

I’m not quite so particular about wine.  I like trying different varietals from different places, and I don’t really have a wine-drinking schedule (does anyone?).  But I do have a level of comfort with the grapes that are commonly used at Virginia vineyards and wineries.  I’m all about a peppery Virginia Cabernet Franc.  I love the way smoky Virginia soil brings out the minerality in a Viognier.

But sometimes, like I said, you’re just in the mood for something different.  Which is why Graham and I found ourselves at Otium Cellars last weekend.

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This place is picturesque.  Otium is a Latin word for leisure, peace, rest, and tranquility, and it fits the setting.  Rolling hills, silos, mature trees, and even horses, because, you know, Loudoun County.  It’s conveniently located right outside of the town of Purcellville, and for a fun side trip on the way, take a quick drive through the historic village of Lincoln, a little gem in the Loudoun County countryside.

We wanted to try Otium Cellars because of their reputation for German varietals, and particularly German reds.  Uncommon in Virginia, and executed very, very well at Otium.  Their tasting is well worth the cost, as it’s pretty extensive and the tasting room is a comfortable spot to relax on a weekend afternoon.  There wasn’t a single wine on the menu we wouldn’t have bought.  We ended up bringing home bottles of 2014 Blaufränkisch, 2014 Dornfelder (both reds), and 2015 Grüner Veltliner (a white).

We opened the Grüner Veltliner tonight.  We figured this would be one of the last 90 degrees days of the year (please, oh please!), and so a cold white wine seemed like the most logical choice.

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I’d never tried this varietal before.  This grape is grown primarily in Austria, and the grapes for this particular bottle were grown in Washington State.  It’s robust for such a crisp wine – a light, bright nose of citrus, with hints of apples and stone fruits (and I think just a touch of honey), light acidity and a bit of spiciness on the palette, and a delicate finish of white pepper.  Lovely, and absolutely perfect for a hot day like today.

I’ll feature the two reds that we bought a little later in the year.  I’m excited to pair them with some classic fall flavors (sage, cinnamon, cloves…how long until Thanksgiving?).  For now, I’ll enjoy my cold white wine, dream of cooler days and changing leaves, and heartily recommend a visit to Otium Cellars.

Cheers!

 

*If you’d like to check out Otium Cellars, here’s their website:  Otium Cellars

Making Dumplings

Life is a lot like making dumplings.

There aren’t exact measurements to get it right.

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Sometimes things get messy before they get better.

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Just keep at it.

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Because it’s okay to be a little rough around the edges.

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And it’s okay to be unconventional.

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That’s what makes you beautiful.

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Don’t stir the pot.

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Just let things rest sometimes.

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Add a little spice.

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And always savor every bite, because chicken and dumplings never last long.

Thirty < Sixty (Or, Why I’m Drinking Rum Tonight)

Happy birthday to this guy!

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The best dad in the world, and my favorite partner in (musical) crime!

It didn’t sink in for me until I was in my mid-twenties that, when I was born, it meant he had a child and turned thirty within one week.  That’s adulthood punching you in the face, right there.  But he seems to have coped pretty well.  And in honor of his birthday tonight, we’re drinking his favorite: rum.

We bought a bottle of Amber Rum from Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg, VA about a year ago, and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to open it.  If my dad’s birthday isn’t the right opportunity, I don’t know what is.  Now, my dad’s favorite way to drink rum is to mix white rum with Coke over ice, but I decided to get a little creative tonight, and make my favorite cocktail with a rum twist.

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Yeah, so I made an Old Fashioned with rum.  Hopefully, I won’t be chased down by an angry mob of rye whiskey devotees, because I drink a lot of wine and I eat a lot of pasta and running isn’t really my thing.  I’m also not sorry, because this is a delicious cocktail, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate my dad’s birthday from across the state.

Usually, when my dad and I get together and have a drink or two, this is what happens:

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Since it’s just Graham and me tonight, we’ll have to settle for raising our glasses in a toast.

I wish you the happiest of birthdays, Dad, today and for many, many years to come!  Cheers to you!

 

Post Script – Regarding Mt. Defiance:  They make a wide variety of ciders and spirits, they’re located right on the main street in Middleburg, and their rum tastings are really fun (they make mini-cocktails!).  Here’s their website, if you’d like to learn more, or plan your visit:  Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery.

Beaching and Wining

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no better accompaniment for relaxation than a good glass of wine, and there’s no better place to relax than the beach.  So, basically, Beach + Wine = Paradise.  Add in some family, board games, and good food, and I think we’ve officially made it into Heaven territory.

We’ve opened several bottles of wine since we got here on Monday (what can I say…we’re a family of wine lovers), but I set aside a bottle of Breaux 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for today.  I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to taste a good Virginia red.

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A little bit of history on this one – we’re going back in time today.  A couple of years ago, Graham and I were members at Breaux Vineyards.  Breaux is a large(r)-scale operation located just outside of Purcellville, VA.  Their tasting room is always busy, but they have a wide variety of wines to taste, and their sommeliers are knowledgeable and friendly.  The grounds are also lovely, and they have lots of outdoor seating to use on nice days (you know…if you can’t make it to the beach).  We dropped our membership in an effort to cut some costs before my big writing adventure, and also because we were members at over ten wineries and it was time to cut back a little.  We’re still working down our bottle backlog, so a Breaux wine was a natural choice for our beach week.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon went over really well with everyone.  It’s got a robust nose of black cherry, black pepper, and hints of smoke and tobacco.  It’s smooth, though, with notes of smoke and plum on the palate.  As Virginia Cabernet Sauvignons go, this one is done much more in the Bordeaux style than others – smooth, structured, lightly tannic, and it’s aged very well.  It would pair nicely with red meat, or with pretty much anything grilled.  It would be great for a cookout on the beach.  Then, you could have both wine and smores, and wouldn’t that be awesome?

It’s just too bad that time flies when you’re having fun (read: drinking wine), because I don’t think I’m ready to head home yet.  Like, ever.

Cheers!

From the Bluegrass State to the Beach

We’ve successfully made it to Figure Eight Island in North Carolina!  We’re all settled in to our beach house, and recovering from our whirlwind stop in Asheville.

We didn’t leave Louisville, though, before trying a Hot Brown.

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Conclusively, the best sandwich ever, if not really a sandwich.

We also tried authentic, official, trademarked Derby Pie.

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And we enjoyed spending a little downtime at the Brown Hotel, and wandering around downtown Louisville and the riverfront.

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Our friends had a beautiful wedding, and overall, we enjoyed our time in Kentucky, even if the heat was a little intense.

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Asheville was, in a word, amazing.  I’d only ever been to the Biltmore Estate, and I was really looking forward to seeing the actual city in all of its artsy, mountain-urban glory. I was not disappointed.  I’m only sorry I didn’t take pictures.  A few of the interesting sites we ecplored:  the Thomas Wolfe House, the Asheville Community Theatre (once co-directed by Charlton Heston and his wife), lots of interesting shops and restaurants, and lots of…interesting…people (including an urban hippie meditating in the middle of a city park.  I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of the guy’s focus).

We had dinner at Rhubarb on Sunday night, and if you’re ever in Asheville, I would recommend you do the same.  The chef puts together a Sunday Supper every week, and the price for such a large meal was surprisingly affordable.  Here’s the website, if you’d like to learn more: Rhubard Asheville.

Yesterday, we loaded up the car again, and headed for our final stop.  On the way, we stopped at the best fast food place in the world (though Bojangles is a close second):

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I’m so happy we get to spend time with Graham’s family on this wonderful little island every summer.  Nothing makes this Virginia girl happier than combining travel and family tradition.  Except maybe travel, tradition, and a little wine on the beach.

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Bourbon at The Brown

We’re all settled in at the first stop on our road trip, and I think Louisville has treated us well so far.  We’re staying at the Brown Hotel, a 1920s beauty and the birthplace of the Hot Brown, a legend among sandwiches (no, really, it is).  We’ve not tried one yet, but we did spend some time at the Lobby Bar yesterday enjoying that old Kentucky favorite – bourbon.  When in Rome, right?

I went for an Old Fashioned, which is actually my favorite cocktail.  Unfortunately, no Old Fashioned will ever compare to the one I enjoyed here in Kentucky.

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Graham had a bourbon flight, because contrary to what the politics of the day would indicate, we can have nice things.

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If you’re ever in Louisville, I would definitely recommend spending at least one night at the Brown, and I would also heavily encourage you to spend some time in their Lobby Bar getting to know their bourbon selection.

We’re off to a wedding tonight, and then it’s full speed ahead to Asheville tomorrow.   As the song says, the road goes on forever and the party never ends…