Women in my family have taught me

Advice from the women in my family.

My mother

Christmas 2015Buy nice hand soap. Make your home a warm and welcoming place for guests. Be a kickass business owner who isn’t afraid to negotiate, with everyone, for everything. Never settle for uncomfortable jeans, even if they’re on sale. Take care of your nails (stop painting them). Sit down and eat a good meal, mostly derived from the earth, and don’t worry so much about hard-core exercise. Tend a garden. Take walks.

My grandmother Lucy

Ma-Maw getting some bun cuddles.Take care of your face. Invest in expensive face creams. Be proud of your family; tell them how proud of them you are whenever you see them. Create and cherish family traditions. Find your signature scent and do not deviate. Write and send cards to people on every conceivable occasion.* (*At Ma-Maw’s funeral, a woman came up to me and told me that Ma-Maw sent her dog a birthday card.)

My grandmother Loretta

GranBe direct with people about what you want; don’t hedge. Laugh a lot: loudly and daily. Tell stories and crack jokes in every social interaction. Making fun of people is a nice way to show that you care. Consider the needs of dogs, first and foremost. Take risks and do not give any weight to cultural opinions. Show off your legs.

My sister Kelsey

Easter 2016Be confident about yourself and your appearance. Marie Kondo your entire home; if you bring home one new thing, throw out one old thing. Reserve time for kissing and cuddling. Take care of everyone around you; be uncannily prescient about predicting others’ needs. Prioritize your own needs on a long road trip (e.g., chicken nuggets and a milkshake).

My sister Grace

It's so hard having hot sisters #farsonsSee the whole damn world. Do what you want with your life and ignore conventions. Hoard creative material and ideas and make no apologies for the rats’ nest that is your childhood room/closet. Dress like you just went on a trip to Japan and found out that your life calling is to be a potter (who also owns a motorcycle and two pit bulls). You can never have too many notebooks.

My great aunt Lib

Found photo: Aunt LibRead everything and write long letters full of great sentences. Tell stories in every conversation. Invent your own catchphrases and use them liberally. Preserve an irreverent sense of humor in all circumstances. Be a lady who gets things done and doesn’t let anyone stand in her way.

Christmastime

ChristmasHow pleasant it is to be home with the whole family; how quickly it always passes.

ChristmasThis year, I was particularly grateful to have such an extended amount of time with Grace, whom we now get to see only a few times a year, owing to the fact that she lives in Germany.

Christmas times

Christmas timesChristmas times We got to meet sweet baby Covin, our second cousin.

Christmas timesEden was strangely good and cuddly.

Christmas timesCheers for the new year.

Xmas lovers

Should have known better

Weddings in May
Sisters beckoning to cows. Small-town NC, May 2015.

We had two weddings in two states this past weekend, and they were both beautiful and fun (one wedding for beloved friends, one wedding for family). People are so generous at weddings; I am floored by the multiple kindnesses. At our friends’ wedding, I was especially so impressed by my dear friend, the compassionate bride, and how concerned she was with everyone else’s well-being throughout the day. She was beautiful and happy but thinking of everyone else’s happiness and comfort.

I thought our wedding was ideal, but I would have done things so differently if I had gotten married today. We will celebrate our five-year anniversary at the end of this month, and I smile when I think about what a different day we might have had if we had married now. We had a very small budget, and we truthfully invited way too many people. I would have cut the guest list in half (maybe even have whittled it down to a third); I would have not done a bouquet toss, which is so absurdly insulting; I would have had a ton of wine; I would have had a lot more lovely wedding paper and designed the invitations myself. But everything else about the actual day was really perfect. We were speechlessly happy.

Saul Bellow had a character say or imply somewhere in Mr. Sammler’s Planet that intelligent women were almost always angry because they were paying attention to the world. This has stuck with me since then (particularly as the sentiment is coming from a notable misogynist), and maybe I’ll mull it over for a longer post sometime. I think it is mostly true. I’d rather not live in a perpetual state of anger and frustration, but when I think of the smartest women I know, I would not use words like “blissful,” “complacent,” or “cheerful” to describe them. (I think the same can be said of smart people in general, regardless of gender.) Frustration, ire, sarcasm, and skepticism seem to me to be the hallmarks of an intelligent woman. The intelligent woman is paying attention to what is going on in society at large and therefore has a reason to feel angry. (Insert semi-related point here about my perpetual state of befuddlement that women can and do vote Republican.)

I’m not sure what the conclusion of this thought is, except how can intelligent women channel their anger in useful, publicly productive ways? Writing, for one. Protesting, for another. Starting organizations. Helping others. Speaking up and speaking out. Serving as an advocate for the less fortunate.

In this way, all of the anger that is generated by women who are paying attention may yield fruit (and perhaps some powerful social change). That is something to hope for.

Whenever I settle in and start deeply and intently cleaning the house, one of the first thoughts that floats to the surface of my mind is, Maybe the dogs will suddenly die. Then I won’t have to deal with this horrible mud and endless quantities of fur and dust and slime and drool… if the dogs were dead, I could have nice things… yes, yes, maybe the dogs will inexplicably die. It sounds so horrible to write it here, but I can guarantee you that I will think this as soon as I start dusting, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing again. I fantasize about not having them around. The thing is, though, that if I didn’t have the dogs, the only thing that I would be able to think about would be how much I needed dogs. This is all just to say I love those little monsters. Just when I’m not cleaning up after them.

Below, my sisters, two of the most intelligent women I know. They are more compassionate human beings than I am, and they have found very socially useful channels for their awareness/anger. Brava, G. and K.; proud to be related to you.

10 May 2015
The trials of having beautiful sisters.

Patrick’s wedding and Mother’s Day in NC

We spent the weekend in NC to celebrate Patrick’s wedding and Mother’s Day. It was so lovely to be with everyone; I only regret that the time seemed to fly by. Requisite photo dump!

Rehearsal dinner and wedding festivities

Family weekend
Sexy sister & bro.
Family weekend
Jak loves to ruin photo ops.
Family weekend
Us. Playing along.
Family weekend
Paul (best man), Mom, and Patrick (groom).
Family weekend
Backup bridesmaids.
Family weekend
#truelove
Family weekend
Sisters ready to go.
Family weekend
Mom surveys the landscape.
Family weekend
Bro!
Family weekend
Sisters, redux.

Family time

Kelsey loves dog wrangling.
Kelsey loves dog wrangling.
Family weekend
Ma-Maw and Grace.

Family weekend

Family weekend
With Cousin Emz.
Family weekend
Sam and MM.
Family weekend
Da-Dan is the best.
Family weekend
Wry husband.
Family weekend
Eden getting some fetching lessons from Juju.
Family weekend
And Pyrrha gets some love from Emily.
Motorcycle mama
Finally, hot grandma on Jak’s new toy.

Intense woman time

Sisters!

Kelsey’s bachelorette weekend in the misty mountains = Lots of good, edifying conversations; lots of loving on the very sexy bride-to-be. I felt like it was really intense woman time, because it rained every day and so we were all stuck in a tiny house together, which fostered many good conversations, many gin and tonics, many viewings of many very bad movies*.

Even though I very much missed my husband and my German shepherd dog, it was very pleasant to keep the exclusive company of women for a chunk of time. Being cooped up in the cabin with 10 other women made me think of Emily’s poem about our harem, the girls’ bedroom at my parents’ house—a harem in the sense of a separate sanctum for women, not as a storehouse for one’s concubines. A separate, exclusively female space, but not A Room of One’s Own—rather, a female space intended for community, for sharing. I liked how this weekend felt like that.

I had also just started The Second Sex, which is maybe why the weekend hit me the way it did. Even amid Simone’s tangents about the implications of asexual organisms on historical feminism, I felt content, easygoing, unencumbered. How nice it is to be a lady, to keep the company of ladies.

*Vicky Cristina Barcelona excepted.

The photographer

Family love: Grace

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the seventh installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Gracie, Petunia, Chicken

Coming third in the family birth order, we have the natural rebel, the original maverick. To some, it may seem a disadvantage to be born after two other sisters, to get proverbially lost in the shuffle. But little Adrianna Grace wasn’t going to be forgotten very easily. She came into the world screaming and, as my parents say, didn’t stop screaming for the first three years of her life.

My mother likes to say that all of her babies were pretty easy — except Grace. Grace formed her own opinions about reality very early in life and stuck to them with outrageous tenacity for such a tiny human. The famous story about Grace was her self-imposed hunger strike when she was about four years old. We had asparagus that night for dinner and Grace refused to touch it. The family rule was that you had to at least try everything on your plate. Grace insisted she couldn’t even look at it without feeling near death. Mom told her she couldn’t have anything else to eat until she tried the asparagus. Grace refused. Breakfast came. Mom gave her a stalk of asparagus before her cereal and said she had to try it. Grace refused. She did not eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner for two full days, since she was greeted with a tiny stalk of asparagus before each meal. On the second day of the strike, Kelsey, the sweet one, came sobbing to Mom, saying, “Please, Mom! You have to feed her! She’ll STARVE!”

Starve she might have — if only to prove a point. Once Grace’s mind is made, you cannot change it. (As children, we found that reverse psychology worked pretty well on her.) Her natural stubbornness might sound like a fault, but it has served her as a virtue in many ways. Because of her natural independence, this child does not take “no” or “nobody does that” or “that’s weird” as a rejection; rather, as an opportunity to explore, to pioneer new territory. Girls don’t just take off on a six-month trip around the (predominantly) third world? No one gets their yoga teacher’s license at the age of 16? Most humans don’t have that many thrifted clothes in their entire lifetimes? People don’t just visit almost all the continents — and pay for it themselves — before they turn 20? Well, you haven’t met Grace. She lives to push boundaries.dover beach

She was an incomparably beautiful baby: White blond hair, round blue eyes, little doll-like features. (Despite a penchant to look like Jeff Daniels in a strange number of family photographs…) She is still extremely beautiful today, as everyone who knows her can agree. Her impish grin flashes at the most unexpected moments.

In our childhood, I was not a model big sister to her. (Truth be told, I was not a model big sister to anyone, but especially to Grace.) Kelsey and I were close in age and we were natural playmates. When Grace came along, I saw her as a disruption to the family order. Kelsey was my BFF… and this mewling porcelain doll-baby, the natural favorite of my father? What were we to do with her? Torture her, of course. And leave her out of play dates. And begrudge her presence when Dad told us we couldn’t go anywhere unless Grace was invited, too.

Thankfully, this prejudice against Grace tagging along wore off as we both grew up. Interestingly enough, I think we became extremely close once I left for university. We started talking about art and ideas and new music and found that our temperaments had far more in common than we had ever thought before. Grace bathes with elephant in Nepal

Today, I depend on her. My life is far less interesting when she is not around. She makes me laugh and she makes me think. My favorite moments in life are lounging on the couch with her in Davidson, watching trash TV, simultaneously talking about all of the great food we’re going to make and the new ideas we’ve latched onto.

She’s incredibly accomplished. Her photography and her paintings are laudable by any standards. She is as strong as a little sun bear, thanks to her years of yoga practice. She dresses with the structure and flair of a true artist. She writes a blog that’s way better and more popular, for good reason, than mine. If I ever want to impress someone, I just have to start talking about what Grace has done in her short time on Earth. She’s accomplished more in her 19 years than most people accomplish in their entire lifetimes.

IMG_6926

Grace is sensitive and profound and loving. She is my true hero. Among my family members, I think I understand Grace the best — or, at least, that’s my perception. It may very well be true that I haven’t even begun to get to know her. Because let me tell you: There are miles and miles to this girl’s soul.

Monday Snax

Winter in the Connor Quad, taken March 2009, during my junior year at UNC-Chapel Hill.

G. and I have both been sick since we got back from Thanksgiving. I think I’m getting over it, but he’s just acquired my slew of symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, aches, general yuckiness). As E. Hylton would say, “I feel like a big gross.”

In brighter news, however, my department at work moved to a new building, which has WINDOWS and I get a bigger desk. It feels like an upgrade on life, since I spend so much of mine there. Yesterday, we also had our first snow. It was just a light dusting, but everyone got pretty jazzed about it. On my way back from the grocery store, I saw a dad and his two sons “sledding” down a big hill in the park off Madison. They were basically just sliding down wet grass. But they were having a great time. Oh, and I have this Mac. I’m still getting used to it–it’s kind of a learning curve after spending most of your adult computing life on a PC–but I think I am going to like it just fine.

Snax to cure your sniffles:

Catalog Living. Courtesy of R. Hylton (via Facebook) and E. Hylton (via handwritten letter). Finally, someone mocking the ridiculous spreads that occur in catalogs. The site follows the imaginary lives of Gary and Elaine, who live in the catalogs you get in the mail. Pottery Barn, you’re probably guilty. This post has to be one of my favorites I’ve seen so far. (Catalog Living)

100 Notable Books of 2010. I get really excited when this list comes out every year. I’m generally not very good at staying updated with good modern literature, and this is always a great place to start. Need to start stuffing my book list. (New York Times)

Chloe the Australian Shepherd. I am going to keep posting pictures of puppies until someone tells me to stop. And even then, I am going to keep doing it. (Daily Puppy)

Side Eye: A Collection. The blog title is oxymoronic: One cannot overload on cute. (Cute Overload)

Hideaki Hamada. This Japanese photographer takes the most beautiful and sweet pictures of his son. Some of my favorites: Windows (the comic/seriousness kills me); New Balance (adorable); Another World (they already have his hair groomed to look like every Tokyo teen boy). (One Year)

Posters Reminding You Not to Forget Your Umbrella. Again, I love Japan. It’s totally true, though: there are little umbrellas everywhere. I think my host family had at least 35 in the foyer. (Tokyo Mango)

Paris in the Summer. My sisters are so beautiful and talented. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. (Como Say What?)

Mega Bookshelf. Um, yes please. (Miss Moss)

Teapots. I’ll say it again: Yes, please. We’ve been drinking a lot of tea lately and it’s really made me want to buy some more teapots. (Miss Moss)

Life on My Street. I think I just have a general crush on Danish women. This post will get you in the wintry mood! (Ida Nielsen)

Living In: Marie Antoinette. Guion had never seen this film, and so we watched it the other night. I fell in love with it all over again. Sofia Coppola, you have my heart. (Design Sponge)

Wednesday Snax

Barely-there mountains

Because sometimes that’s just how it goes. It’s finally starting to feel like fall around here! Gigi and I had to scrape ice off the windshield yesterday morning. Our giant, unsightly gas furnace has also been roaring to life: literally. It wakes me up every morning, it’s so loud. I think it will preclude us from having any house guests for the winter. I don’t think you could get any sleep in the living room with that beast.

Belated snax, with a sprig of parsley:

Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier. Apparently, all people who have sisters are happier than those who do not have them! Loves it. I’ve got two great ones, and I’m plenty happy, so I guess that proves it. (NY Times)

The Ballerina Project. Emily and Catherine, this is for you. A photographer takes gorgeous shots of ballerinas around New York City. I’m enamored. (The Ballerina Project)

A Week of Dresses. She’s just too fabulous. Grace, watch out, because when I come home for Thanksgiving, I am going to outright steal stuff from your enormous, inspiring wardrobe. (Como Say What?)

Cassie, the Silken Windhound, as Virginia Woolf. The New Yorker featured people who dressed their dogs up as authors/literary characters. This dog actually LOOKS like Woolf; it’s eerie. (Also, I know more information about dog breeds than anyone should ever know, but I’d never heard of a Silken Windhound before. That’s because some crazy lady invented them! It’s probably the most dramatic breed name ever.)

Sad and Sadder Clown. I’m very impressed with this childhood photograph reenactment. Even the T-shirts are perfect! (Young Me Now Me)

High Five. (J.Hecht, if you’re reading this, now is the time to look away. There may or may not be a whale here.) THE COOLEST. Looking at this picture, I realize that I’ve always wanted to do this. (Cute Overload)

Help I’m Bored. Guion and I probably looked at these little problem-solvers for about half an hour the other day. Wildly entertaining. “Help I Hate My Roommate” is especially pointed. (Help I’m Bored)

You & I. What sweet pictures of life with his kids. I want to take photos like this one day. I also like his description: “No words are needed.” Indeed! (Cristian Ordonez)

Square. I don’t know how he does it, but I love every single photograph that comes out of Brian Ferry’s camera. (Brian Ferry)

The One Commandment. I mean, I’m going to keep posting Kate Beaton’s comics until someone tells me to stop. And even then I probably won’t. (Hark, A Vagrant!)

Dracula. See? I told you. (Hark, A Vagrant!)

Van Gogh tilt-shift. I have no idea how this works, but it’s absolutely mesmerizing: somehow taking photographs of famous paintings to make them look 3D?? (A Cup of Jo)

Sumimasen. The Japanese do pretty much rule the world in the realm of adorable packaging. This little blog demonstrates this. (Sumimasen Doozo)

A Carrying Case for Doughnuts and a Lollipop. This is absolutely something Liz Lemon would want and use. (Tokyo Mango)