Friday, July 30, 2010


Hundreds of miles ago, I sat at this desk writing about Prague. There's been a lot of caffeine pit stops and books on tape since then. I took a road trip two weeks ago back up to North Carolina (nothing finer than being in Carolina) for Rosemary's wedding. I stopped in Birmingham on the way home to visit Kinsey and Rick, and got to play around with their granddaughters, Carly and Olivia while I was at it. Then on to Anniston to hang out with April and do some serious soul talk, which I think we were both in desperate need of. That night was not without incident. In the midst of our visit, Daisy got into some rat poison in April's garage, and I had to induce vomiting with H2O2 so that she would live to see another day. Never a dull moment with that baby girl dog.

Then it was up to North Carolina for a week of wedding festivities. I think I will blog on that separately, so I'll save words for now. After the wedding, Andy and I drove to one of my favorite places on the planet- the North Carolina mountains. I have a t-shirt that I bought in the mountains a few years back, at the Mast General Store- it says, "I wasn't born in the mountains, but I got here as fast as I could." That about sums it up for me. There are people who say that they were born for the sea, or the city, or for wandering to exotic locales. Me, I was made for the mountains. I don't know why that is because I love social life and people and friends and such and I'm liking Austin enough to consider myself somewhat of a city gal these days, but nothing really compares to sitting in cool mist on a mountain morning and feeling the droplets of water tickle your forearms. It makes me laugh. Something about the mountains makes me feel like a child again, like I can play and get dirty and laugh and be silly. I feel like the mountains themselves will act as a sort of protective big brother, watching over me while I forget the rest of the world for a moment, keeping me safe from the worry caused by those who forgot to how to play a long time ago. I am always so in a panic about what other people think about me- a handful of individuals in particular- and I am torn up over it in one way or another a lot of the time. But in the mountains, something stills that. When I stand on the side of a mountain, the subtle movements of nature lure me into peaceful stillness. When on a hike this past week, I stood at a point in the trail and watched the morning light illuminate a valley that had been tucked underneath a blanket of fog. The sun's rays seemed so gentle, so gradual, like a ballerina unfolding her body into an arabesque. The wind, so moved by the performance, began to stir through the trees, swirling like a spoon through Bisquick pancake batter on a Saturday morning. I could have laughed at the display, if I weren't so entranced, so still, finally, still on the inside.

If you are a person who is concerned with other people, then you might know exactly what I mean. For you it might not be mountains, maybe it's salty breezes or starry nights, but hopefully there is something out there that is able to arrest your always-pounding heart for moments of sweet rest, when no one else matters but the One who made whatever it is that has such power over your mind and body and emotions.

I thank God for mountains. I am so thankful that He made places where things are lush and green and smell like Christmas all year long. I'm thankful He made waterfalls that are so beautiful that someone should write a story about them- something really sappy about star-crossed lovers or something. And I'm thankful that people had the sense to realize that God made mountains to be enjoyed so they built cabins with front porches meant for rocking chairs and swings and fried trout suppers. And I'm thankful I got to sit on one of those porches with my family and smile and swing and throw Gatsby's ball for him.

I took Andy on one of my favorite hikes- the Profile Trail up Grandfather Mountain. It's not for the faint of heart. My hubby is from the Rocky Mountains, but he was practically cursing me toward the end. But the hike is worth the work when you reach the crest of the mountain and look down into the valleys, at clouds that have laid themselves at your feet, the way Gatsby lies down at my feet when I sit here at my desk to write. Oswald Chambers says that God is in the clouds. Figuratively, this means that God is in the troubles of life- the storms, the fuzzy moments when you can't see. He likes to appear in there. Chambers says we won't see Him if the weather is always clear. While Andy and I were hiking, we walked through clouds the majority of the hike. It was cool and damp and we had a hard time knowing how far we had gone or how far we had to go, and when we reached some of the more spectacular viewpoints, we were so enveloped by clouds, that Andy didn't get to see my beloved mountains below.

I wish that I had been thinking of Oswald's words when that cloud was up there. I'd have enjoyed a chat with God nearby. I suppose that I ought to be applying that same principle figuratively. Back in Austin, things are not always circumstantially sunny. But it's comforting to think about Him in those types of clouds- seeing clouds from a distance is much more foreboding than actually being in one. What looks like it will spoil everything from far away is mysterious and mesmerizing from within. I like thinking about looking for God in the cloud. I can say that after having hiked through the cloud, it made it even more thrilling when the sun finally shooed them away and Andy and I could see the panorama below. Of course, the view is great, but the cloud touches you, you experience the cloud- and maybe that's how it should be when those figurative clouds descend on my life. Maybe I should be looking for the touch, the experience, the mystery of His presence- Oswald Chambers seems to think so. I like that idea. It makes me more peaceful, even though the mountains are hundreds of miles away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


It's been at least a month since Andy and I drove together down Anderson Mill Rd. in the pink-purple nearly-night sky to the strip shopping center where the UPS store, liquor shop, florist and wholesale furniture market daily serve suburbanites. Everyone has been to that strip mall, even if you've never been to Austin. You've been there. In fact, you can picture it in your mind now, if you'll just stop and think for a moment. There's not much there to draw you in, just the familiar facades of stores you only need to frequent twice a year, if that. I'd have never been inclined to have wasted the beginning of a perfectly lovely evening by traveling through the tedious string of stoplights on Anderson Mill if all that awaited me at the end was a packaging and shipping chain or a bottle of vodka. But, tucked in between couches for cost and bottles of Bourbon, you can find a place worth visiting. If you have a little cash and want to, for a moment on a summer evening, feel like there's more to your life than watching re-runs of The Office on your sofa with your dogs, this is just the suburban getaway for you- Half Priced Books. It is exactly what its name implies, a bookstore that sells books that other people have owned before you ever got your bargain-hunting eyes on them.

I like going to Half Priced Books, because it's less swanky than Barnes and Noble and not quite as eclectically intimidating as Book People. Barnes and Noble makes me feel like I've lost my soul in the generic flood of New York Times Best-sellers and Oprah's book list titles. And Austin's own Book People, with its collection of shabby-chic vintage chairs and sections on spirituality and organic gardening is a two-story, coffee-brewing reminder that I shop at Old Navy and live in an apartment complex in Cedar Park and really have no business inside walls meant for folks much more trendy and bohemian than me. But at Half Priced books, I can sit on the floor in my jeans and t-shirt and read snippets of poetry and feel whole-heartedly more free-spirited than I did earlier in the day when I was folding laundry, without feeling like a fraud or a sell-out.

I've bought a few things from Half Priced book. A fantastic Thai cookbook which I cooked out of a handful of times, and haven't pulled off the shelf since. Gore Vidal's 1876, a purchase I had to defend, though I hadn't read it yet, because I refuse to assume that a book must be worthless because its author is a homosexual. Most recently, I purchased a book on tape to help me pass the insufferable hours in my Focus on my way back to North Carolina. And lastly, the muse for this blog, Prague, a novel written by Arthur Phillips, Harvard graduate and master of sarcasm.

Prague is interminable. Granted, I am a terribly slow reader, seeing as I am a writer and I read books the way a chocoholic would eat a Godiva truffle. I savor each wordy morsel, moving it around in my mind repeatedly, until I'm sure I've identified the author's intention and my own enjoyment to the fullest extent. Then I finally swallow and move on to the next paragraph. It's exhausting. And so, in this way, I've been reading Prague for at least a month and have only today reached the 200th page, little over halfway through.

Even for me, this is slow. But Prague is not a truffle, it's a piece of Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake (which Lacy assures me is the best dessert man has ever made). It's almost unbearably rich. But I was almost certain that, while masterfully written, it was completely pointless. Until today.

While I was perusing more familiar authors at Half Priced Books, I paused at Arthur Phillips book because the title was appealing, as well as, of course, the cover. (Because obviously that is how one should judge a book with which you are not familiar. I am not at all joking about that.) Maybe too many loads of laundry or pointless shifts at Banana Republic had me craving the whimsical memories of the thirty-six hours I spent in Prague a few years ago. Only a city as romantic as Prague could have you remember 36 hours of tourism as something beautiful and full of passion, when the real story consists of a bus tour, souvenir shopping (lovely souvenirs, though, some of my best treasures) and a nearly harmful attack of low blood sugar. Oh, and there was that hilarious movie my brother and I watched on BBC late one night-the unavoidable result of time zone change wreaking havoc on circadian rhythms. It was a murder mystery about a woman who went out for a jog in Kensington Park, then stopped to strip and commit murder, only to resume both her clothes and her exercise after the deed was done. She killed in the nude so that she would not have any DNA evidence on her clothes- and my brother and I found this hilarious. Nude women killing people and sugar lows and water colors that are far too cheap- that's real Prague. Even so, the whole place is magical enough to entice you to read a book named after it.

And today, somewhere around page 207, I realized that the idea of Prague is Phillips's entire point. He's hinted at this mystery throughout the book, writing devastatingly smart satire about a handful of ex patriots living life in post-Communist Budapest. Phillips lived in Budapest in the early 1990's and I can only imagine that after living in Eastern Europe at that time and returning to the United States, the only thing you could do is write a book like Prague.

The beauty of Prague, both the book and the city, is the irony of the illusion. This is the reason Phillips writes a book about Budapest and names it Prague. He knows Prague will draw you in, will lure you with its picturesque bridges and rising fog from the Vltava River and its clocks and spires that are older than our country. But the reality is odd movies and food so bad that you resort to eating a Snickers for lunch- thus the low blood sugar. But (clever boy!) Phillips knows that the reality is irrelevant. It's the illusion we seek, and, in some way, need. Because life cannot always be laundry and bills and work that dulls the mind. We need fog and old clocks and places we cannot pronounce the names of.

I cannot tell you why, but all of this has made me think of marriage in a different light. As I drifted off to sleep reading Prague this afternoon, my mind alighted on a few marriages I know that seem to have never found Prague- not necessarily the geographic location, but the idea- the romantic, beautiful, passionate refuge of the mind. Or else, they've forgotten how to look for it. They are people who live in laundry and unpaid bills and stress without joy and marriage without romance. And, as the words from Phillips's verbose novel swam around my mind, I was both sad for those people and afraid of becoming one of them.

Everyone knows that you cannot live in Prague. That's why Phillips wrote this book. It's ever-elusive splendor always keeps you wanting- but that's the point, now, isn't it? Not that our real lives, in Austin or North Carolina or wherever we are, are not enough. There is much to be thankful for in quiet evenings in front of The Office, with dogs asleep at your side. But how sad, how very tragic, to never get up and leave. Because it's the search that makes it really beautiful. As reality pairs with illusion, we watch movies in the middle of the night with company we'll never forget and buy watercolors we'll frame and hang to forever memorialize a breath of time that was never really as beautiful as the memories will make it out to be. But we have to go. If we set our hopes on remaining in that elusive city, we'll be sorely disappointed- it's a mirage. But how terribly worse off we would be, if we'd never left to find it in the first place.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I walked into the HEB plus a couple of weeks ago and found a display I could not take my eyes off of. At the front of the store, where they always have their seasonal displays, sat a jet ski with a flat screen TV situated somehow just above the seat (I honestly don't know what was holding it up). Around the jet ski were mountains of beer cases, punctuated by the occasional innertube or other water toy. There was also a free-standing display of sunscreen and a rack of T-shirts that said "Aquapalooza" on them. On the flat-screen, Alan Jackson was singing bad country while girls in bikinis danced on a nearby platform, and the camera moved back and forth from Alan to the girls to a panorama of boats out in front of the stage Jackson was singing from. I stood, mesmerized by the display, for several minutes. I reasoned that I was watching footage from last year's Aquapalooza concert. I wasn't sure what to make of it all. Beer and Alan Jackson are two things I don't ever want too much of, but the word "Aquapalooza" was bringing desire out from my fun-seeking brain like "Abbracadabra" would a genie in a bottle. I had to find out more.

To my delight, there were free "Aquapalooza 2010 Survival Guides" magazines planted strategically amongst the beer cases and water toys. To my even greater delight, the face on the cover of the magazine was the only country star that I could eat with a spoon- Brad Paisley. It's impossible not to love Brad Paisley because, not only does he sing funny songs about manhood and romantic songs about being in love forever, but he is also married to the cute girl from Father of the Bride, and that just makes him more precious than he would be if he were single. So there was the beer, the jet ski, the sunscreen, the flotation devices and a picture of Brad Paisley in a cowboy hat being splashed by water. I began to put together the pieces.

Aquapalooza 2010 was a free concert on Lake Travis. Not at Lake Travis, on Lake Travis. The Survival Guide read, "Your boat is your ticket." All you had to do was get there by water and you could see Brad Paisley sing about water and fishin and love- for free! I was determined to go.

I told Andy about my desire to go Palooz with Brad and all of the boat people. But to be sure that he didn't forget about the upcoming event, I'd wake up every morning and announce "Five days to Aquapalooza!" "Four days to Aquapalooza!" and so on and so forth. Of course, there was just one problem with Aquapalooza, the free Brad Paisley concert on Lake Travis- you had to get there by boat. We don't have a boat. We don't know anyone who has a boat. But, what do we have? Kayaks. :)

My husband is such a good sport. Not only did he email the Aquapalooza powers that be to make sure it was okay to kayak into this huge event, but he also scouted out the most optimal place for us to put our kayaks in, so that our paddle to Palooza would be bearable.

So on Saturday morning, we got up and started the day with a trip to a new fishing hole Andy discovered online. I reasoned that if Andy was willing to kayak with me all afternoon, then I was more than willing to sit in a folding chair and read while he threw his line into the water for a couple of hours. Once it started to get hot, we packed it up and headed home. We stopped at HEB to pick up some provisions and two innertubes. (We could take the yaks into the concert area, but to get close enough to see Brad, we'd need the tubes, as hard watercraft were not allowed in the "mosh pit" viewing area).

By noon, we were on the road, headed to the Lake. One of the best things about living in Northwest Austin, is that Lake Travis is literally minutes away. People travel from all over the Southwest to vacation at Lake Travis, and there are famous restaurants and attractions on the Lake that are such a short distance from where we live. In less than half and hour, we were at a public park on the North shore of the lake, downing ham and cheese sandwiches and slathering on sunscreen.

Out on the lake, which is a breathtaking blue, scores of motorized boats were zooming by. Speed boats, sail boats, pontoon boats, ski boats, jet skis- everything was headed in the direction of the concert. Andy and I weren't intimidated, though, even though the wake from all that watercraft was causing surf like you'd see at the ocean. I told Andy we might be like ants going to the picnic, but we were going to get there anyhow.

So we started to paddle. And we paddled. And we paddled. And almost two hours later, we arrived at Aquapalooza. There were hundreds of boats lined up strategically in front of the massive stage that was mounted on a point. There were more boats in one place than I'd ever seen anywhere in my life. People had brought their boats out the night before to claim a good space, close to the stage. The rows of boats went way back into the water, far from the stage. Those people out in the nosebleed section had to paddle use water craft (kayaks, jet skis, tubes, etc.) to make their way up to the viewing area. But the nice thing about being the ant at the picnic is that you're so small that no one notices you. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, but Andy and I were able to stake out a prime spot on the third row. We could have gotten closer than that, but it was too loud for me. We put the anchor in the water, inflated our tubes and chillaxed on Lake Travis.

Brad Paisley didn't come on until almost six, so Andy and I got to just hang out and relax on the water for a while. It was fun people-watching. Lots of drunk people on nice boats. People swimming around and floating on tubes and noodles and rafts of all kinds. There was live music and people were playing games and singing and dancing. Finally Brad Paisley came on, and Andy and I floated our tubes a little closer to the stage, though we never got in the mosh pit area. We sang along with Brad and basked in the evening sun. By seven, as Brad was wrapping up his show, Andy and I were busy deflating our tubes and making ready for the journey back. We wanted to try to hustle across the lake, so we could get out of the way before the big boats came through. Imagine ants trying to escape the picnic before the people pack up and leave. That was me and Andy trying to cross Lake Travis and get to the opposite side, where we could hug the shoreline until we reached our destination. We made it across in one piece before the wake got too big.

It was quite the adventure on the way home, though. The trip out to Aquapalooza had been tiring, but we had excitement on our side. The trip home, we were tired, hungry, and Andy was sun-burned. But we made it back before the sun went down. On the ride home, I commented to Andy that I was really thankful that we could go out and enjoy an adventure like the one we had just had, but not have to get so drunk or feel like all there is to life is drinking or showing off your boat. I guess that being the ant at the picnic really isn't all that bad. Andy might disagree, though. He has a bad burn from Saturday and we were both really sore from all those hours of paddling. Still, I'm convinced that on days like that, my hubby and I have it made.

I'm so thankful that God has given me a friend and companion like Andy. I'm as aware as ever that life is hard for people. That's never a far-away thought. I don't want to forget about the people I know and love who are struggling with things and having a hard time. I've been in their boat. But it's good, I think, to give glory and credit to God- who can bring you out of that boat and put you in a new one, even if it is a kayak. :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

I have decided that hair dressers are a source of great wisdom. Mine certainly proved her knowledge of things very Austin-tastic by recommending that I go visit Krause Springs to cool off from the Texas summer heat. I've been wanting to go for a while, but Andy and I have been running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We've had almost opposite schedules- me working nights and weekends and him a more traditional 9-5 schedule. We haven't had time for much together-fun in weeks.

But, after my recent trip home to North Carolina, I was compelled once again to devote more time to finishing my book, and working on relationship-building in our new home. But to do that, work needed to change. So I'm taking a two month hiatus from BR, which means that I have weekdays to work on my book, and weekends to play with my hubby.

I worked my last shift at BR on Saturday evening, and was excited to have my first day of this new period of "free" time as an official celebration of freedom in this country- Independence Day! I LOVE the Fourth of July!!! I think it is my second favorite holiday. I've really enjoyed filling Andy's ear with stories of childhood summers with friends at the beach or the river. I don't think I've ever had a "bad" Fourth of July- at least, not one that I can remember. They've always been full of fun and sun, water, food, friends, family, and plenty of red, white and blue.

So this year, I had high hopes for a day in keeping with the "good ole days" on the Carolina coast. Of course, there are no sandy shores around here, no ocean breezes or briney boat rides, but, there's plenty of patriotism and people are more than willing to relax and enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with you.

I started the day by getting up and making an all-American favorite- apple pie. We had plans to meet up with friends from small group for dinner and fireworks, and I was determined to make an authentic American treat for dessert. I had worked on the pie crust the day before, and left it to refrigerate overnight. But when I went to try to roll it out and make it look pretty in the pie dish on Sunday morning, things didn't go very smoothly at all. I got pretty frustrated, and Andy had to eventually come and help me transfer the fragile dough from the cutting board to the pie pan. I continued to whine about it and toss flour and dough fragments around the kitchen (to the dogs' delight). The dough became less and less malleable, while I kneeded it and rolled it out, in an attempt to make a lattice-top. It wasn't easy, and I definitely understand now while people pay Pillsbury to make their pie crust for them, but eventually, it all worked out. The pie went in the oven, and Andy and I buzzed around the apartment getting things ready for church and then our Krause Springs adventure.

Austin Stone was packed out. The fireworks show that evening required that Cesar Chavez, one of the main roads to get to the church service, shut down, so church attenders had to make the 9AM or 11:15 services. The service was great! I was really excited about the message- about faith and God's authority- something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. And, I was especially thrilled when I saw that the Stone is welcoming some guest speakers in July- and that one of those speakers is J.D. Greere, the pastor of Summit Church in Durham, where my friend Liz attends.

After church, Andy and I stopped at a mall food court to pick up some sandwiches to take to Krause Springs. My morning pie-making had kept me from being a good picnic-packer. We headed southwest and arrived at Krause Springs about half and hour later. Krause Springs is a privately owned park, of sorts. The Krause family owns the property and, for $5 a person, you can camp, picnic, or swim in both the spring-water-fed swimming pool or natural swimming area. There's also a really pretty garden area with giant wind chimes, which you see in the picture. Andy and I were not at all disappointed with this natural oasis. The spring water was deliciously cold, and it was incredible to dive into the pool and then get back out and sit on the warm, sandstone benches. We had a great time exploring the surrounding area, swinging on the rope swing and Andy jumped from the bluff above the pool. We just didn't have enough time, since we needed to head back to town to meet up with friends for dinner. But we will be back!

We met up with two couple from our small group for dinner at Home Slice pizza, on South Congress. Austin Stone has a website set up to help you get connected with a "missional community" (fancy name for small group) within the church. The groups are all over Austin, and can fit in any number of genres. There are groups for just women, for singles, for young married couples, for families. They meet all over the city at different times and different locations. Andy and I found the Starnes Missional Community on the site, and saw that it was close-by (literally down the road from us) and that it was for married couples. We first went about a month ago, and have since really enjoyed getting to know the couples in the group. Everyone is in their first few years of marriage, super nice, friendly, and very interested in forming relationships with people new to the church, and also with people who don't know the Lord. We've been overjoyed to get to know these folks better, so last night was a great time of fellowship with these new friends.

After pizza, we made our way over to the downtown area in search of parking, which was sort of stressful. We ended up having to move our cars around several times, trying to find a place that wasn't towing cars parked for the fireworks event. Eventually, God provided some good spaces, and the stress of the situation melted away. We stopped at Amy's ice cream and got scoops to plop on top of the pie, which Andy and I brought with us in a cooler. After everyone was completely stuffed, we walked in the direction of Town Lake, searching for a good vantage point for the fireworks. We landed some spots along the side of a bridge, which proved to be an excellent place to watch the show. The fireworks were really beautiful and the show lasted about 25 minutes, which was a lot longer than I expected. The weather was wonderful, really breezy and not super humid. Just after the finale, I was almost sedate with contentedness and thankfulness for this country, when I heard an odd noise down at my feet. Soon water was spraying, and people were squealing and rushing as they attempted to pull their lawn chairs and blankets off the grassy area we had been sitting on. It was the sprinklers! Dozens of laughing, soaking fireworks-viewers rushed out into the street, where, fortunately, traffic had practically stopped while the show was going on. Some people were drenched and we were all really amused at watching the herd try to escape the water. It was a good way to end a great day- with a laugh and a little spray of cool water. :)

So that was our Fourth of July. I could write more about all that I was thankful for yesterday and the fun and peacefulness of the day, but, I am supposed to be writing a book these days, and I need to get back to that now. Hope you had a great Independence Day, wherever you were! :)