Saturday, January 29, 2005

Words fail me (almost)

This has been happening all night. It's not snow, exactly, but more like sleet with high ambitions. The s.o. worked at the bar last night and had to drive home through it. I was so glad to see him when he finally pulled into the driveway.

We are going exactly nowhere today. F. has volunteered to take my shift. Bless him.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The flu conquers Athens


"Hi, F. How are you?"
"Oh, hey, Jamie! Pretty good."
"Hey, I just wanted to call and cancel dinner tomorrow night with you and J. I'm really sick, and I don't think I'll be up to it."
"You know, that's probably for the best. J.'s sick too."
"Yeah. M.* was sick last week, plus two of the guys in my band had it. I don't feel that great myself, but I'm going to work both my shift and J.'s today."
"Ew. Well, hope she feels better...and that you don't come down with it."

Three minutes go by, and then...


"Hi, Jamie. This is L.**"
"Hi, L.! How are you?"
"Well, I have the flu, so I was wondering if you wanted my shift tonight."
"Whew, L., normally I would, but I'm sick too. I hope you feel better."

We are so screwed.


* Our boss at the bar.
** The boss's wife, who also works at the bar.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Things that didn't go as planned

My pizza yesterday was a disaster. The dough didn't survive two weeks in the freezer as well as I might have hoped, and it didn't rise. Not only that, but it stuck to the pan. Not just a little, but a lot. We had to scrape the whole thing off in inch-long shreds. I've never had that problem with my pizza pan before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.

I am ashamed to say I didn't take it well. I was feeling pretty crappy, and the pizza was supposed to make me feel better. It wouldn't be a stretch to call my reaction "throwing a tantrum." The s.o., who always knows how to make me feel better, drove into Greensboro to pick up some Chinese food. Half an hour later I was stuffing my face with fried tofu bits and crab rangoons, placated.

Meanwhile, the talk of the town is the failed robbery of a country store several miles north of us. Two teenagers from Athens barged in at closing time a couple of nights ago and demanded that the owner and his wife hand over the till. Trouble was, the kids were jittery and trigger-happy. One of them fired his gun at the store owner, but the gun jammed. In the moment of "Wha--?" that ensued, the owner and his wife had time to grab their respective pistols from under the counter, and they returned fire.

It's really a pity that the store had no video cameras, because the melee that followed must have been something. The teen who'd fired the first (failed) shot ran crashing through the aisles, firing actual bullets this time, until he was killed. The other robber had no gun, so he hid in a back corner and threw glass condiment bottles at the proprietors until he, too, was shot down. The entire store was spattered with blood and soy sauce.

The Oglethorpe County Sheriff ruled the shootings self-defense. The robbers were identified and turned out to have lengthy criminal records back in town.

All I can figure is that the kids thought what a lot of us think about rural folks: that they're naive and unsuspecting, an easy mark. But when it's ten or more miles to the next storefront, store owners generally don't take chances.

But in my current dextromethorphan haze, this is too much for me to think about. I can barely even get my head together enough to wander into the kitchen and get some Chinese leftovers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I must have touched the wrong dollar bill on Saturday night, because I have an awful cold. I'm sure the sleep deprivation didn't help. I'm spoiled when it comes to sleep. My system is very much used to eight hours a night. If I don't get it, little parts of me start going on strike.

The worst part is the tickling inside my ears. It makes me crazy; the urge to scrape out my brainpan with a Q-tip is very powerful. The sore, sinus-drainagey throat isn't any fun, either. I normally wait until I'm desperate to take any kind of medicine, but... Oh, wait, I am desperate. Tonight may be a Nyquil night.

I look pale and washed out, but that's not completely the fault of the cold virus. I went to my hairdresser yesterday* and she tried out a new brand of hair colors on me. The dye took, er, a little strongly. I am Courteney Cox when I was aiming for Jennifer Aniston. I washed it twice in a row this morning to no avail. So I have a second appointment tomorrow morning to lighten it up.

On the bright side, our weather has cleared up nicely. And! And! And! I am making homemade pizza for dinner tonight. Those two things are enough to bring a smile to my face.


* Yes, I remembered to pick up my boots at the cobbler's shop while I was in town. It's a great place. My shoes always come back looking glossy and expensive even though in most cases I originally bought them at a thrift store or a garage sale. The only thing I find disconcerting is their filing system. They stack finished shoes in towering columns along the walls, in paper bags with the clients' names stapled to them. They can never find my shoes when I come to collect them. This time it took 15 minutes for them to track them down. It didn't help that the woman behind the counter couldn't understand my last name no matter how many times I repeated it and spelled it. Look, I know it's a funny sort of Scandinavian name**, but it's only two syllables, and there are no unfamiliar vowels or consonants involved.

** Sometimes I think I should have changed my name back after I got divorced, but it wouldn't have really helped. My current name is unpronounceable, but my maiden name was unspellable. Which is worse?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Harbingers of Artic air, more like

Why the hell is it so co-o-o-o-o-o-old? Last night the wind howled and whipped for hours. The power went out several times. Something in the house, just over the bedroom (of course), creaked every two or three minutes.

I was already short on sleep because of working at the bar. But tired as I was, I didn't sleep much. I'm exhausted and my skin looks haggard.

Still waiting for a call back from the realtor. The couple who looked at our house have had trouble pinning down their granddaughter, so they can't schedule the second look-see just yet. So we continue to keep the house unnaturally clean...and wait.

Meanwhile, little nagging thoughts keep occurring to me. Like the fact that I left a pair of boots at the cobbler's shop more than a week ago and have so far forgotten to pick them up. And the fact that if I don't get my hair cut and colored soon, the What Not to Wear hairdresser guy is going to show up at my door.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Harbingers of spring?

Sunny and cold; frost on the ground. But the dogs notice something in the meadow, down by the pecan trees: Robins. Fat, red-breasted birds, at least 25 of them, picking through the thatch and cocking their heads in our direction.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


The guy who first introduced me to Nashville was not really qualified to do so. True, he worked within the legal boundaries of the city, but his office was way down south by the mall and he usually ate his lunches at Hooters. He took me out to dinner a couple of times, once to Shoney's and once to a bar that served batter-fried pickle slices. "That's real southern food there," he declared.

He lived in a small town not far from Murfreesboro and commuted 40 minutes into Nashville every day. Most of the men in his town seemed to have ruddy skin, beer bellies, and sandy-red hair. They shared oddly similar last names, and sometimes the same last names. They favored khaki Dockers and neat little goatees. He was no exception.

I knew the guy through Civil War reenacting. In Minnesota, where I was living at the time, reenacting was a serious academic-type pursuit. We memorized Dickens and the Romantic poets to "get inside the 19th-century mind." We took dancing lessons so we could do the Quadrille and the Waltz Redowa at our annual ball. Our underwear was correct and our clothes were sewn from historic patterns. We hoarded bone-handled silverware. We sent our "soldiers" off to "war" with homemade sewing kits and period-correct oilcloth tarps. Our regiment drilled for hours in the snow so it would know all the maneuvers the regiment in the 1860s knew.

Imagine my rude awakening when several of us traveled south to a reenactment at Chickamauga, Georgia. Suddenly we found out that the vast majority of southern reenactors (which would be the vast majority of reenactors, full stop) were complete yahoos with no sense of history whatsoever. They refused to switch sides if the army proportions were askew (a common and necessary reenacting practice that ensures at least marginal levels of accuracy), declaring that their Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy would "roll over in his grave" if they did so.* They sat in reproduction officers' tents (all of them, even the privates), drinking beer out of plastic coolers and eating pudding cups. The ladies roamed the battlefields in polyester Scarlett O'Hara dresses, filming everything on handheld movie cameras. Once my group had to stage a singalong in order to drown out the sound of a TV at a neighboring campsite. It was frustrating. We brought out our antique whiskey decanter and made the best of it.

So anyway, it turned out that when I moved to the south, I never reenacted again. My exceedingly correct 1860s wardrobe has only seen action once since then, and that was when I loaned a dress to a friend for Halloween. But when I first visited Nashville with this reenactor guy, I didn't know any of that yet. I was full of enthusiasm.

I had a friend who'd just bought a house in up-and-coming East Nashville, a place that inspired deep suspicion in the reenactor. "I guess it's getting better now," he said, in a voice full of foreboding, "but once I went to see a guy play guitar at the Radio Cafe and when I got out there were cops chasing a guy through the alley."

The projects were nearby, it was true. He had a lot of stories about them. "Don't leave your car near there," he said. "They'll come and steal your license plate, or even razor off the renewal sticker. Then you'll get pulled over."

He tried to steer me to other areas of town. There was a nice little neighborhood near a club he went to with a girl this one time, he said. How about there? Or maybe Sylvan Park. That was still kind of affordable, and he thought someone like me would enjoy it.

In the end I ignored everything the reenactor told me. I found a great little 1920s house in East Nashville for $500 a month and moved in. The yard was shady and was speckled with violets. I had hardwood floors and a huge eat-in kitchen. It was centrally located and made me happy.

I discovered a lot of things that year. First of all, I had to admit that the reenactor probably hadn't exaggerated his Radio Cafe story. One time I was walking through the Kroger parking lot and saw a security guard running after a man who had a frozen turkey tucked under his arm. The area was economically depressed. It was like the Reagan '80s at their worst. People would try to sell you things out of the back of their vehicles when you went to the gas station.

There were feral dogs. They were bold. Once I saw one dragging an entire Hefty bag down the alley. There was nobody to call about catching them.

Traffic was appalling in the city. The accident rate was so high that my insurance was almost too much to afford. The water tasted bad and there was no good Italian food.

But I fell in love with East Nashville. The people were friendly. The thrift stores were fantastic. I discovered Prince's Hot Chicken and Cantrell's Barbecue and returned obsessively. I lingered at the international grocery and the taqueria. The weather was beautiful most of the time, and I loved to walk through the neighborhood and look at the historic homes and gardens.

In The Joy of Cooking, the egg-yolk cookies are described as a "sturdy indefensible." There's nothing to recommend them, really, in their own right. But they are the right thing for the right time--something you might even love with all your heart even though you know in your heart that something else is objectively better.

I love Nashville. Especially East Nashville.

* Which, to me, begs the question, "So your Great-Great-Great Granddaddy would be okay with your 250 men being whipped by 10 or 12 Yankees?" But I rarely said that kind of thing, because some of those guys really were yahoos. Rednecks, even.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Just got a call from my realtor. Her partner has talked with the people from this weekend and says she thinks they may want to make an offer! The partner is coming by tomorrow to collect paperwork from me.

Imagine...the one time someone sees the place all askew and fluffy with dog hair, they go back to the agent and rave about it! I am stunned and very cautiously hopeful...



No realtor today. She's coming tomorrow instead, since she was stuck for longer than she expected at the doctor's office this morning. Word is that we'll be scheduling a time for the couple to bring their daughter to look at the place this weekend. Then (and I'm quoting here), "they'll probably want to make an offer." (!!!!)

But I mustn't count those chickens.

Monday, January 17, 2005

More progress

Sanding drywall mud makes me want to kill someone just to watch them die.

If, in a blind, helpless rage caused by sanding drywall mud, I were to kill someone just to watch them die, I would have a really hard time choosing between a life in filthy, squalid solitary confinement with lots of rats versus life on a drywall-sanding chain gang.

I can't stand the opressive face mask, which seems to filter out all potentially fresh air yet let in wisps of powdery contamination. I can't stand the drying effect on my skin--my eyelids papery and painful, my entire body raw like the end of your nose after a two-week head cold. I can't stand the white, plastery turds of powder that stick in the corners of my eyes. I can't stand the fact that no vacuum cleaner ever made can clean it all up. I know I will find more of it...somewhere.

I denounce powdered drywall mud as a middle-school health ed teacher denounces other white powders. Poison! Poison! Just once, and it will be the ruination of everything you cherish in this world.

I think I'm going to buy one of those thingies that connects a sander to a Shop Vac. But I know in my heart it won't make it better.

Oh, did I mention we're finishing the upstairs?

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Wow! A really nice retired couple with tastes just like ours stopped by this afternoon unannounced to look at the house. It was a bit of a jumble--our usual mess--but we had just finished setting up the dining room really nicely and they seemed to love what we've done. They loved the upstairs too.

It's their daughter, who lives about three miles north, who's supposedly in the market. They said they'll send her in our direction and that she'll surely want a look. I hope so! C'mon down! Although I must admit that some days (sunny, clear winter days like this one) I think I could live in the south forever...

Friday, January 14, 2005

A casualty in the coffee wars

J. is in a panic. Blue Sky Coffee has closed, depriving her of access to her favorite "Dancing Goats" coffee. She has gone so far as to call corporate headquarters: "Okay, so is there somewhere in Atlanta I can drive to so I can get this?"

I think Blue Sky was doing pretty well until Starbucks played its usual trick of opening two doors down. Then there was a long protracted turf battle. In the final throes of it, Blue Sky turned itself into a cafe that served pretty good food. Unfortunately, the white tablecloths and waiters made all the coffee hounds uncomfortable, and that arrangement didn't last long.

I used to go to Blue Sky a lot, but that was before I worked at the bar. There's an Espresso Royale less than a block away from the bar that employs cute young musicians and sells local band CDs as incidentals, right up there on the counter along with European wafer cookies and artisanal ginger chews. Everyone thinks it's an indie coffee shop, but I know better because I used to go to an ER that was near the west bank of the University of Minnesota, which isn't exactly right around the corner from here. Anyhow, I get preferential treatment at the ER. In fact, lately I have even been getting free coffee, because when one of my favorite colleagues and his wife left Athens for Hollywood, the wife gave me the ER freebie cards that were in her purse.

When Espresso Royale is closed--which happens sometimes, such as winter break or slow weeknights--I have to admit that I have been in the habit of going to Starbucks. There's a girl who works there who's a bar regular, so my money is no good there. It really is something to get Christmas Blend for free, plus tip of course.

But I'm going to miss Blue Sky. It was the only one of the three downtown coffee shops that used to be nice to hang out in. It reminded me of a place in Iowa City called The Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company, which was primarily a coffee shop but also sold delicious vegetarian sandwiches and soups, and (predictably) excellent ice cream. My friend Kevin and I used to sit there for hours and pound iced coffees while we talked about life, school, whatever.

I'm told that the Great Mid closed a few years ago.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Status of various Christmas presents*

1. Books-A-Million gift card: Has been converted into the anniversary edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1.

2. Barnes and Noble gift card: Shared between me and the s.o. last night when we went shopping after a dinner at J. and F.'s place. He got two really nice art books that were on deepest deepest discount, plus a little wooden artist's model. I got the new edition of the Writer's Market. I think the givers (my brother and his wife) intended us to get a specific very nice coffee table book with the card, but we hope they won't mind that we divvied it up the way we did.

3. Fluffy white robes: Worn daily by both of us. It's like a spa around here. I keep offering to give the s.o. a pedicure, but I hope he knows I'm kidding.

4. Origami Page-a-Day calendar: Lots of fun and faithfully executed every morning, except for the one where it had you cut up the paper and make four origami pencils. I thought that one was stupid and threw it out. The bunny head from January 2 is especially beloved ever since the s.o. turned it into a full-fledged character-about-the-house. In comedy Japanese accent: "You have made Origami Bunny very angry!"

5. Return to River Cottage DVD: OH MY GOD BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER, except for maybe that trip to South Africa a few years ago. But that's some very stiff competition.

6. Calphalon roasting pan: Much adored but not yet used.

7. Homemade book of Nana's favorite recipes: Ditto. I should post some of the recipes on my food blog one of these days, but not the pie crust recipe because it is a Family Secret.

8. Pen set: Ditto.

9. Home Depot gift card: More than half blown already.

10. L.L. Bean fleece sleeping bag liners: Tucked away for use during Spring Training vacation.

11. Bottle of Bumble & Bumble tonic shampoo: Used every time I shower, and if the s.o. uses any of it, I'll exfoliate him until he begs for mercy.

12. Tin of Lebanese baklava: Wow! Way better than my baklava. Two pieces eaten; the rest stowed in the freezer for a leaner time.

13. Bottle of wine: So very very gone. Weeks ago.

*I have a huuuuuge family, not because of excessive childbearing so much as due to repeated divorces and remarriages. It's really stressful to find good gifts for everyone, but then again, it's fun to receive so many cool things, because they all have very good taste.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A short respite

I sat in the idling car at the intersection, waiting for the light to turn. A pod of Harley Davidson enthusiasts revved and farted beside me. I could hear them shout friendly exchanges above the din. My window was open. My jacket was off.

Every once in a while, it is a true and complete pleasure to be a southerner. This week it has been in the 60s and 70s, mostly sunny, mild, breezy. It won't last, but it's fun to pretend it will. Endless summer is the myth that southerners live for...the whole reason they (we?) get to lord their (our?) superiority over the silly yankees nowadays.

We spent this Saturday morning at the outdoor flea market among a great congregation of Mexican-Americans, basking in the weather, eating excellent chicken tacos, and exchanging our excess stuff for cash. We outsold our next-door booth neighbors by miles, but only because we had so many things to sell. Our friends J. and F. dropped by and purchased some of the s.o.'s old Tae Kwon Do equipment. A townie hipster type couldn't turn away from the s.o.'s drum machine. A woman just about my age handed us a fiver for my My Friend Mandy doll from the 1970s, including all her little doll clothes. An older fellow stopped in and--to my disbelief--asked, "Do you have any books about rocks?" And it was thus that I sold four well-used college-level geology texts that I had never expected to see a dime from.

I bought our produce for the week from the fruit and vegetable vendors. I chased down a taco with a juicy orange, then was followed by bees until I could find some water to wash my hands with. The s.o. and I insisted that we weren't leaving without buying one of the chickens in the livestock stall, but of course, since we're moving and don't own a coop, we eventually left them alone. They looked a little ragged anyway.

We have decided to put away the money we made for the ultimate southern warm-weather pleasure--Major League baseball spring training in Florida. We hadn't been planning to go this year, since we're saving up for the move. But then again, when will we ever be able to do it again? Florida is ours for one more year.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I just finally watched the finale of The Office.

I'm so happy.

Aye, Matey

Today I did something that could legitimately be described as "swabbing the deck."

The front porch was filthy, probably because we had never ever cleaned it since the day it was first stained. The blue stained planks looked greyish-brown. So I took a scrub brush on a pole and a bucket of soapy water, and I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. It felt like it took hours. I was forced to stop, panting and obsessively taking my pulse, several times.

Once or twice, passing trucks honked at me as I stood there scrubbing and swearing. I daydreamed about ways to kill the drivers, or at the very least to humiliate them.

The end result was quite nice, though. The wood is blue again, and there is a lovely scent of Murphy's Oil Soap out there.

Hey! I exercised! (By accident.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

House hunters

Currently there are two families who have expressed interest in our house:

(1) A couple with two kids who live in the country north of Athens and run a hunting-dog training kennel. They have already sold their property and are renting it back from the buyers until they find a suitable new place.

(2) A couple (perhaps retired?) in Connecticut who are moving to the south and like older homes.

I'll keep everyone posted as to what happens! I hope they actually make appointments. All I can say is that the place already looks better than last time. Maybe that will make the difference.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The only interesting part of the game

"Well, that went well," I say, smirking.

The halftime show of the Orange Bowl has just drawn to a close. The crowd is booing Ashlee Simpson*, who has shouted herself hoarse to try to make up for the fact that she can't hear herself through the monitors. I picture her storming backstage, ready to impale the first soundman she finds, only to discover that Kelly Clarkson and Trace Adkins are already bearing the unfortunate engineer's head on a pike.

The camera cuts back to the sportscasters in the booth. Their voices resemble the staticky remarks of embedded reporters in the Iraqi desert.

"Someone ran over a cable somewhere," the s.o.** guesses.

* Probably not unusual, in and of itself.

** A longtime soundman.


Gawker covers the event. Heh.

Monday, January 03, 2005


The roads were covered with nubbly ice, the kind that shakes the fillings out of your teeth when you drive over it. Our headlights seemed to get dimmer and dimmer. We attributed it to them being jostled out of alignment, but in reality a coating of scummy road spray was probably the culprit.

We tried to stop for the night in Bowling Green, but the EconoLodge there wanted to charge us a monstrous pet fee. Onward we forged.

We pulled off for a second time in Cave City. We were getting pretty punchy by then, and we made a game of inventing new slogans for the town. Our favorite was "Cave City: It's shitty!" Little did we know how right we would be.

The Knights Inn offered a very reasonable rate, and the lady at the front desk cut me a deal on the pet fee. She handed me a key card, and we drove around to the back side of the motel to find the room.

The s.o. unlocked the door, walked in, and immediately walked out again. "The room hasn't been cleaned," he said. "It's filthy."

Clapping our hands for warmth in the single-digit weather, we got back in the car and drove around front to the lobby. I explained the problem. "Oh dear," the lady said. "A lot of the maids didn't come in today. The weather was too bad." She assigned us a new room and re-swiped the key card.

We found the room and the s.o. inserted the key in the door. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. And again. Nothing.

Back at the front desk, the lady assigned us yet another room, postulating that perhaps the key card reader was frozen.

The s.o. tried the key card in the third room, successfully. He walked in and looked around. It was clean. Then he noticed the rapidly spreading puddle of water coming from the bathroom. The tub faucet was on full blast and couldn't be turned off.

We drove around front again. I explained the latest issue to the lady behind the counter, and she dispatched the handyman to see what was up. Meanwhile, she re-swiped our key card and sent us to room number four.

The s.o. stuck the card in the reader. The green light flashed, but the door wouldn't open. He tried several more times before returning, defeated but laughing a little, to the idling car.

When I returned to the front desk, the lady looked a little haunted. She assigned us a fifth room--poolside!--and apologized profusely.

The s.o. opened the door. He scouted out the room and gave me a thumbs-up sign. I walked the dogs (with little result, because the grass was frozen solid and was painfully pointy under their paws) , then took their leashes in hand and led them into the room.

"It's not very warm in here," I observed.

"I just now turned on the heat," the s.o. said. "Don't worry. It'll be warmed up by the time we get back from dinner."

Dinner. What an ambitious word. Thanks to our room assignment capers, it was now after 10 pm. Any restaurant that had braved the blizzard to open its doors today was most definitely closed now. We ended up in a convenience store, eyeing our options. We were chilled to the bone and desperate for hot food. The only possibilities were (a) the kind of nachos where you push a button on a machine to get your "cheese," or (b) one of the Polish sausages that turned endlessly on rollers under a heat lamp. Neither of us could face the "cheese," so we chose the latter.

Back in our room, which did not seem to be getting much warmer, the s.o. took one bite of his Polish sausage and lost his nerve. "It's not even hot through," he said. He set it down on top of the TV and started munching his way through a tin of Christmas cookies.

I ate my Polish sausage hungrily, then devoured his too. I was shaking and couldn't take off my coat. I walked over to the heating unit and stuck my hand in front of it. It was turned all the way up, but the air coming out of it was barely warm. Apparently the heater was unable to compensate for the frigidity of the air it was sucking in from outside.

I called the front desk and asked if they had any space heaters. The answer was no. After a short negotiation period, they sent the handyman to the room with a stack of four extra blankets.

I couldn't get any hot water to come out of the faucet when I washed my face. I was too tired to care. I put on thermal underwear and fuzzy socks, then climbed under the heap of blankets.

In the morning, there was still no hot water. The boiler had burst.

Two good things came of our night in Cave City:

(1) We got the room for free.

(2) I didn't get food poisoning.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New Year's Resolutions

1. Stop procrastinating! Or at the very least, stop procrastinating so much.

2. Stop going back for seconds. As I've mentioned before, I am blessed with a speedy metabolism. Unfortunately, I am cursed with the appetite of a pack of 15-year-old boys. As a result, I spent a decade of my adult life 30 pounds overweight. I lost that weight in late 1999, but ever since I've been struggling with 5 or 10 pounds that keep creeping back on. If I would just eat a reasonable portion and then stop, I would never have to worry again.

3. Meanwhile, stop feeling ugly because of 5 or 10 pounds that nobody else can see.

4. Spend a little time every day working on a long-term project, such as home improvement or writing that isn't for an immediate deadline.

5. Enjoy the outdoors more often.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


"Like a bow," my mother said. She didn't mean like a Christmas bow; she was talking about the kind that shoots an arrow. What she was getting at is that Akron's two main streets, Market and Exchange, intersect with each other twice, once at each end of downtown.

Every time I go back to Ohio, I rediscover places that were special to me when I was young. You see, I moved away to college before I spent any substantial time in the driver's seat of a car. As a result, my geography at home is atrocious. I have a lot of pictures of places in my head, but no idea how they relate to each other on a map.

December 29, 2004 required me to drive to some places I'd never driven to. For one thing, I'd volunteered to cook a lamb dinner for my grandmother, my stepmother, my sister, her husband, and the s.o. I needed shoulder chops, which can be hard to find. So my mother suggested I go to Acme #1, the chain's flagship store, in west Akron.

Following both my mother's instructions and a rather nebulous MapQuest printout, I guesstimated my way from I-76 into the Quaker Square area and figured out which way I was going. (Market is north of Exchange in downtown, so if you come to Exchange first, then Market, you're headed north, and vice versa.) I crept from block to block, headed westward on West Market with my tires wading in three or four inches of dirty slush. The neighborhood started to look really nice, and I suddenly realized I was near the house of one of my mother's friends. Then the Tangier restaurant appeared on the left. Then I spotted the West Point Market, an upscale specialty grocery my dad used to take me to. And then there was Acme #1. Inexpensive lamb shoulder chops abounded. I also got some really lovely ciabatta bread.

As I drove even further west toward the Montrose intersection, I was startled to see the Skyway Drive-In. So that's where it was! The Skyway was another place my dad took me to when I was young. He'd been a fan of a fizzy grape drink they made, and he'd spent hours of his youth trying to recreate it at home, with no success.

I turned south at Montrose and soon arrived at the house my dad used to live in, an up-and-down duplex on 33 acres that currently houses only my grandmother (AKA Nana). My grandfather is usually there too, but he has been in a care facility recently because of recurring infections. I think both of them are pretty lonely.

A selection of cheeses. Red wine. Greek braised lamb, gravy, crisp-tender green beans, and crusty bread. Nana said she hadn't tasted lamb in years. She really liked it and it made me feel so good.

After dinner, the s.o. and I went out to play pool with my sister and her husband. Since I was absolutely burned out on following other people's cars (thanks to a grueling day of crosstown bumbling in Canton the day before), I got directions so I could meet them in downtown Akron. The bar in question was on East Exchange Street. Following Market all the way there was out of the question; it'd take hours. So once again, I hopped on the interstate and learned anew. Hwy. 8 to Carroll. Right on Spicer. Right on Exchange. I had a flashback to, of all things, preschool. I went to preschool at the University of Akron while my mom was completing her education. This was the neighborhood.

There was E.J. Thomas Hall, with its massive pendulum-like counterweights. There was the building my mom taught English Composition in. I had seen them so many times, but never knew where to find them. And now I could find them once again.

Happy New Year!

Our trip home was a lot easier than our trip north. The weather was misty and warm most of the way. All of the snow and ice on the highway--although not all of it in the fields and woods--had long since melted.

Cairo turned a corner on this trip. (How could he not?) On December 23, the first day, he had thrown up three times before we even got to Atlanta. The Happy Traveler didn't seem to help at all. But then he only threw up once more on the entire trip, and that was under extenuating circumstances (lots of bumps, turns, and stops in quick succession). I am tempted to believe that he was never carsick in the first place...just anxious. Once he figured out that nothing bad was coming, he relaxed quite a bit.

Since the drive home was easy, we took the opportunity to relax and to pop into thrift stores at every opportunity. We got a ton of great stuff. The s.o. got a whole new wardrobe and gathered stacks of books for his eBay business. I ended up with two blouses, a pair of trousers, a skirt, and two necklaces. Our kitchen was enriched by the addition of a set of cream horn moulds (they were British, so I'm spelling them accordingly) and a ravioli press. With all those stops, I think the trip home might have taken as long as the icy nightmare on the way up, but BOY was our mood different.

In the end, having collected our cat at the s.o.'s dad's place and lingered over a Mexican dinner, we straggled home at the last possible minute before the New Year. We pulled into our driveway at 11:57 p.m., rushed in the door, and turned on the TV to New Year's Rockin' Eve. The s.o. and I kissed as the ball dropped, and POP! went the champagne we'd bought on the way home. Then we talked about how much we hate Ashlee Simpson and sifted through our gifts.

I know it sounds strange coming from people who've braved a blizzard, but we hope all of you have had a holiday season as wonderful as ours.

Several of the upcoming entries in this blog will be titled with the names of states, and will explore various parts of our vacation. There's too much to tell otherwise.