Wednesday, December 31, 2008


It started early on the last day of the year, this boom boom boom in my chest.

Standing on the rooftop of Kasteel Biljoun, gazing at the frozen moat surrounded by acres of Dutch countryside, and feeling the fireworks cracking in the distance.
Boom boom boom.

Later in the afternoon, tromping across a frozen field, watching soccer balls rocket from homemade cannons, and bracing for each blast as my insides shook.
Boom boom boom.

At midnight, celebrating in the cold by the Amstel River, turning in every direction to see fireworks explode over canals and bridges and buildings, and trembling as tears streamed down my cheeks at the overwhelming sight.
Boom boom boom.

Were the day's visible and audible explosions causing my feelings to surge, or were my feelings the cause of these explosions to so amplify in my chest?

Now after midnight, a new day - the first of the new year - the boom boom boom had at last swelled to the surface in the form of a resolution I could put into words. Questions I wonder but never ask, emotions I feel but never express, thoughts I have but never speak - no longer will I hold them silent but let them burst my very own fireworks display (I am a red head, you know!)

The sound of fireworks from Biljoun...

...the jolt of cannons in the fields...

...the thrill of fireworks surrounding the Amstel.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Royal Twirl

My baton twirling performances have taken place in many different settings for many different audiences - fans in college football stadiums from California to Florida, students in high school gymnasiums, spectators on miles-long parade routes, old folks in nursing home cafeterias, my parents in our driveway, even coworkers in my office lobby. All rather expected places for someone who lived as a majorette for over nine years of her life. But never did I think I would entertain an audience deep in the heart of the Netherlands - in a castle, no less!

Engelenburg Castle, Holland

The evening began quite elegantly - me in my lacy dress, sipping champagne and enjoying casual conversation over fancy hors d'oeuvres with the glow from the hand-carved fireplace dancing on the walls. A gourmet dinner in the stately dining room with high decorative ceilings and antique furniture, the laughter and voices of the entire Heersink clan clinking with the fine china. Savoring the last taste of my dessert and politely dabbing the corners of my mouth, I regarded it as an evening of graceful elegance at its best.

So, it's a bit of a mystery to me how such refineness evolved (or de-volved?) into a dance party the likes of which Engelenburg Castle has never seen. Was it the refrain of Sweet Home Alabama or the conga line over chairs and tables that transformed not only the pristine castle bar but our well-mannered moods? I can't be sure. But what I do know is that when a long, straight umbrella was put in my hand as It's Raining Men pumped over the stereo, the only option for a girl who was trained in the fields of Tuscaloosa was to twirl!

Flips and spins turned into a full-fledged routine, and the surprised smiles and cheers of my audience prompted me to toss higher and shimmy more. Spinning around a final time, the umbrella twirling on beat, I hit a final pose and took a bow as hurrahs and applause coursed through the castle walls.

Damion and me - the umbrella provider and the umbrella performer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Breathe Easy. Rest Well.

Sometimes the New York City air becomes stagnant; bus fumes and cab exhaust intermingle with the already over-recycled breathing air of millions of tourists, all trapped in the grid of concrete and maze of skyscrapers. If the city air doesn't suffocate you, then the exhausting pace of the always ticking New York minute will.


Stepping off the train in Dieren, the surroundings are so refreshing I can't help but fill my lungs with a deep breath of air, but I'm quickly reminded the countryside of Holland has its own pollutants - the air punctuated by the smell of nearby pastures. The walk from the train station will cure the shock of nature for this city girl, the smells disappearing into the cold wind as we tread the uneven brick sidewalks toward the house.

The air, the sky, the time - here in Holland it all bears a unique awareness; distinctively different from any environment I've encountered in New York City or even Alabama. The local color being relaxed living, it's not uncommon to see close laid neighbors chatting in the street or enjoying a bike ride through the village-like town. Shops and restaurants in one direction, acres of pasture in the other - the worlds connected by an age-old ferry that, oddly enough for me, never suffers the impatience of a car's horn at its slow progress.

A week of rising with the Holland sun at 9:30 or 10 AM - my only alarm clock the bells of the town church chiming outside my window. The hazy morning sun glowing over the frosted fields shifts unnoticed during midday to burn low on the other side of the sky - a sunset hanging on the horizon that lasts all afternoon. Chirping geese pierce the crisp night air, the sky pitch black to reveal the same stars I can't see in the city.

The sun rising over the frozen fields of neighboring Olburgen and the still waters of the River IJssel - about 9:30 AM.

The view of the church clock - and the chilled rooftops - out my window. You'll have to imagine for yourself the sound of the bells chiming through the calm air.

A lake naturally frozen by the sub-zero Celsius temperatures, made even more enchanting with the Dutch skaters and lingering sunset.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Miracle

Except for the lit and decorated tree in my bedroom, and the wreaths, bows and candles festooned on the front of the house, there was nary a Christmas decoration in sight when I arrived home for the holiday. Mama claimed Daddy didn't finish painting the walls of the den in time for her to decorate, and Daddy claimed he had to pick someone up from Atlanta unexpectedly and was unable to finish any sooner. I feigned shock at the un-Christmasy state of the house, but really, it was three days before Christmas, and the time and effort to decorate just seemed unnecessary. Plus, considering it usually takes Mama three weeks to get the house looking just the way she wants, even a reindeer would figure that to accomplish the same in three days was impossible.

If I didn't know better, I would claim Mama hired a team of three foot tall helpers from the North Pole and put them to work, but - from years of watching her experience - I know she was the one hocking the boxes from the attic, decorating every nook and cranny and even hauling the Christmas tree up from the basement all by herself.* By Christmas Eve, icicles hung from the chandeliers, reindeers perched on the mantle and red birds nested anywhere Mama could make a place for them. Our house resembled a snow globe - turned upside down and shaken, but now radiating Christmas charm.

A house fully decorated in just three days. Yes, we witnessed our very own Christmas miracle indeed!

*Mama did most of this decorating in the early hours before anyone else was awake, thus doing most of it herself. We would not have let her carry the tree from the basement by herself had we been awake!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Encore: "Do you remember coming this way?"

The plane landed in Atlanta. I exited silently and walked slowly through the terminal toward the passenger pick up area. Lighted trees decorated the concourse, and I remember thinking, quite stunned really, "Oh yeah, it's Christmas." Mama and Daddy were still at least 45 minutes away from the airport. I bided my time in the food court, devouring a sandwich and chips while calling my sisters to say guess what happened to me.

Soon enough Mama and Daddy arrived, and I waved dramatically as the big Suburban pulled to a stop beside me. With a flourish of hugs and kisses and luggage, we pulled out of Atlanta Hartsfield a little after midnight and headed toward Birmingham, and I felt the suspense subside in this drawn-out drama of getting home.
But as I reenacted the events of the day, my weariness changed to theatrics. I mimicked the gruff Delta employee who tried to make me get off the plane and the "there, there" of the employee who tried to make me stop crying. I flipped my hair and shook my fist the way I did when I refused to give up my seat. I recounted the absurdity of the packed airport in New York. My final performance of the day was delivered to this captured audience who interjected questions rather than sympathetic stares.

But it was when - after at least 45 minutes of driving - Daddy looked over to Mama and said, "Do you remember coming this way?", that I knew this show really wasn't over. No, these two supporting actors came from the wings - from Alabama, precisely - to put on this final encore with me. We were lost in podunk Georgia at 1 AM, and the only person who could point us in the direction of home was one-tooth Bubba at the A&P.
When the Suburban pulled into the garage at 2:30 AM, I crawled upstairs in the comforts of home and tumbled into bed...and the glowing lights of the Christmas tree in my room faded to black as my eyelids closed like heavy stage curtains.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Act II: "Don't cry, it's going to be okay"

Sure enough, we landed in Charlotte exactly one hour after my scheduled flight to Birmingham had departed. And there were no more flights to Birmingham that night. I stood at the ticket gate with a brand new audience staring silently at me - the slightly disheveled New Yorker - and the Delta agent - the slightly agitated worker.

Take 1: I'm irate. Everything concerning Delta is unacceptable. "Someone HAS to do something. I HAVE to get on a flight tonight. Or give me a hotel room. Or give me a voucher. Delta owes me!" I slap my hand on the counter for emphasis.

The slightly agitated worker just looks at me. Says nothing. Turns to the Delta agent next to her - the slightly caring worker. "Can you deal with her?" she demands more so than asks.

I fume. I open my mouth to explain my situation to the slightly caring worker, and I start with a forceful, "This is unacceptable!" but I pause.

Take 2: I'm pitiful. I open my mouth to demand a seat on any plane headed anywhere near Birmingham, but all that comes out is tears. I choke out enough information so the slightly caring worker is able to understand where I'm trying to go, and then I rest my head on the counter and cry - okay, sob - while he searches flights for me. With head down, tears pouring and shoulders shaking, I remember about the silent, packed audience sitting just to my left. I do not dare look to see their reaction to my performance; these tears are not acting, they are real.

The slightly caring worker confirms he has a seat for me on a U.S. Airways flight to Atlanta, but it's leaving in 10 minutes, I need to be at the gate right now. I half expected him to slap me a few times to shake me out of my tears, but instead he spoke to me like I was a little girl, writing out the gate number, giving me explicit directions on how to get there, advising me to not dawdle but run to the gate, and saying, "Don't cry, it's going to be okay. Now, did you get all that?" I nodded and sniffled, and sheepishly thanked him and my audience with a quick bow of my head as I turned and ran down the terminal with luggage in one hand and cell phone in the other - "Mama, Daddy - can you come pick me up in Atlanta in about an hour and a half?"

Act I: "We have a situation here"

"Oh no I'm not getting off this plane! I absolutely refuse!" I boldly screeched with uncharacteristic defiance to the Delta controller, my fists planted firmly on my hips. She didn't respond, she just closed her eyes once, blinking back a very bored, disgusted glare. She raised the walkie-talkie to her surly lips, "I need a Delta manager. We have a situation here. I have a passenger who is refusing to get off the plane."

"Dang straight, I'm not getting off this plane!" I huffed as I stepped over my row mate to reclaim my 3-C window seat. Several passengers seated around me joined my plight, "Yeah, don't make her get off!"

As much as I enjoyed putting on a show for the entire plane's amusement, I sat back in my seat shaking - a little because I was afraid they would make me get off, and a little because I was afraid of how I would react if I got the boot.

My emotions were frazzled from the weekend's hour-long phone calls with Delta - now numbering four or five. The calls began friendly and thankful enough; I remember telling the first operator how much I appreciated her help, and the second operator I'm sorry for sounding so irritated - that I know the cancellation mess is not his fault. But it was around the third or fourth cancellation-prompting call when I lost it. My talking turned to ranting turned to tears in practically the same breath, and I hung up the phone for the last time with the Delta operator consoling me, "I'm sorry, honey. We'll get you home the best we can."

So as I now sat on the plane, awaiting my fate and planning my next act in the drama that was unfolding, I felt shaky with the same nerves I suppose any actress who is about to deliver the climatic scene would feel - I did have a plane full of people watching me!

I nervously turned my ticket over and over in my hand as I replayed the events of the day - waking to another cancelled flight, spending $60 on cab fare to JFK airport although my rescheduled flight was already listed as delayed, waiting four hours in an airport full of stranded travelers, stepping on a guy napping on the floor, skipping through the gate like I had the golden ticket when my flight was finally called. And now this - the plane wouldn't take off until the weight issues were resolved...until I got off the plane!

I was this close to finding any passenger whose weight exceeded my measly 134 pounds and insisting they get off, when three Delta crew members walked up the aisle and exited the plane, giving up their seats because they had boarded as passengers for a free ride to Charlotte.

Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that I didn't have to perform the "desperately clutching to my seat as the Delta authorities try to drag me away" showstopper I had planned, but as the doors closed and the plane prepared for take off, a quick check of the time revealed there was sure to be an Act II in this getting home drama...there was no way this plane would land in Charlotte in time for my connection to Birmingham.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow day

I awoke Saturday morning to a very quiet, very relaxed, very snowed-in New York - and I was surprised to realize I was feeling much like the city.  Peering out my bedroom window at the thick blanket of snow, no longer did my missed hair appointment seem so frustrating, no longer did my skipped Christmas party seem so disappointing, and no longer did my insistence to get an earlier flight seem so strong.  Lord knows I had tried my best to get on any Saturday flight out of any airport in the New York area, and into any airport in the general vicinity of Alabama, but alas - there were no seats to be had.  So Delta rescheduled me for a three-leg flight beginning at 6:30 Sunday morning, a far cry from my original Friday evening direct flight home.   

But accepting the hassles of winter travel in the north, I realized the only thing I could do was embrace this day.  With two weeks of travels ahead of me, and weeks of nonstop busyness behind me, maybe this buffer day was part of a greater travel plan than I had scheduled for myself.  I enjoyed a leisurely long brunch with other stranded friends, I strolled the winter wonderland streets around my apartment, and I even braved the crowds of midtown to gaze at the Christmas decorations I had yet to see.

As the heavy white skies of day faded to the black of night, so too did my peaceful feeling slip away.  A check of my flight status showed today had been the calm before tomorrow's heart quickened and my stomach lurched: my computer screen burned with another red "Cancelled" alerting my 6:30 AM flight was no more.    

Snowy benches along a quiet 5th Avenue.

A lone Christmas tree in Madison Square Park.

Snowy Christmas at the fire station next door.  

Friday, December 19, 2008

"It's the most wonderful time of the year"

The thick, fluffy snow cascaded from the sky, simultaneously erasing color from the streets and any hope I had of flying out of New York later that night.  Watching the snow accumulate on trees and fire escapes, I still prayed for a miracle and raced home from work (as fast as you can race on icy sidewalks without breaking your neck) to grab my suitcase and head to the airport. 

One last check of the flight status stopped me short - the formerly green “On Time” square was now a big block of red. “Cancelled”!!

Disappointment, sadness, rage and anxiousness swirled as I frantically dialed Delta.  Immediately put on hold, I stared glumly down at my feet bundled in snow boots, ready for the trip to the airport.  The hold music began, and the first line of the first song pumped into my ear.  “It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year!”  Irritation boiled over to irony, and I laughed in spite of myself and settled back on the couch for a long evening of waiting on hold, pleading for more options and praying for a seat on a plane – any plane – heading to the sunny South.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Stairwell surprise

Running down the steps of the apartment on my way to work, I was suddenly a little girl descending from her bedroom on Christmas morning.  I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the stairwell, grabbed the banister and squealed in surprise.  Colored lights!  Red bows!  A little elf had come during the night and decorated!  As I snapped pictures and nodded appreciatively at the even swoops of the lights, I realized the saying, “It’s the thought that counts,” is most true during the Christmas season.  These decorations were by no means elaborate, by no means impressive, and by no means the most beautiful in the city of New York, but their presence in our lobby showed the thrill of the season, the joy of giving to others, and the spirit of having a happy heart.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

O (my!) Christmas tree!

As with most things in my New York City apartment, I make do – and my Christmas tree this year was no exception.  I figured there was no point in buying a real tree when I would be here to enjoy it for only 12 days, and then after surveying the apartment, I figured there was definitely no space to put it anyway.  The two-square foot area next to the couch was tempting to fill, but my visions of green quickly vanished with the thought of being accosted by pine needle pokes and Fraser fir sap each time I entered the apartment.  And who am I kidding – do you really think I have boxes of Christmas ornaments tucked away under my bed?  

So with a little bit of creativity – not to mention a little bit of tape – I finally put to use the swag of garland I had planned to throw away back in June, the string of red lantern lights I had piled in a heap back in September, and the incredibly long J. Crew green ribbon I’d kept since untying it from a birthday present back in November.   After a few minutes of twisting and trimming, I plugged the lights in and stepped back to assess my work.  Seeing the masterpiece as only the artist can, I clapped my hands with delight – the lights glowed just right and the zigs zagged in perfect order.  Santa will have somewhere to put the presents after all!

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Sweet Time

The preparations for Julie's wedding continue to fall into place, no doubt falling so easily because she is so well-organized with folders and clippings and notes and books - she is a marvel of planning and ideas.

Living up to my maid of honor duties, I went along on several wedding tasks while home for Thanksgiving - dress shopping, invitation selecting, jewelrey searching. Even with a tired mind or hungry body, I willed myself to forge on with Julie and not complain; it's not every day I get to spend such memorable time with my sister.

But our "sweetest" time together? Selecting the wedding me, it's going to be beautiful, original, and really really yummy!

Approximately 15 seconds after our meeting with the cake designer was over: in the car and devouring the sample!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pass the Baton

A few weeks ago a current Crimsonette emailed me to say the girls planned to wear a costume from the Crimsonette closet - a fabulous red, white and blue outfit we debuted in 2001 at the Alabama-Auburn patriotric show (the nation in crisis, so we got new outfits...). Oh, how we adored those cute little hot pants! Ranking as the most expensive costume ever made for one halftime show, we did find reason to wear them again the next season, but the costumes have been stored away in the depths of Moody Music Building since 2002.

Amanda's email said she had been assigned the costume I wore, and that she was honored to wear the outfit of such a great former Crimsonette. As my smugness at the compliment (and jealousy that SHE, not me, got to wear it) subsided, feelings of excitement to see her twirl and pride in the Crimsonette tradition swelled. On gameday, as I joined with the thousands of other Alabama fans in the victory over Auburn, I enjoyed a personal victory of seeing "myself" out on the field again.

Amanda giving me a chance to shine again in 2008!

Red, white and blue debut in 2001.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Memory Lane

An unsuccessful trip to a wedding dress shop near Muscle Shoals prompted a drive through our old neighborhood. An area my family so loved for the five years we lived there in the mid-1980s, the memories of the house and friends there are plentiful. As we drove along the street and slowed in front of our house, I was surprised at the forgotten memories triggered by seeing it in real time; assurance that the images of the house sometimes swirling in my mind are not just figments of a made-up charming childhood.
Studying this picture now - back in my New York City apartment - it's not the memories of the house and yard that fill my thoughts: I'm bewildered to realize the size of the second-floor, street-facing, corner bedroom with two walk-in closets I enjoyed in Muscle Shoals is at least three times the size of this small New York City bedroom I sit in now.
What do all the NYC kids do with no room for Barbie house creations, dress-up clothes spilling out of the closet, doll cribs for each baby, palettes in front of the TV for cartoon watching, games of "house" with the wooden stove, table and chairs, or a window for daydreaming into the trees and sky?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

You belong here

Last year I explored the Thanksgiving traditions of New York City (read: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) and Connecticut (read: a train ride, and sweaters and wine by the fire), and I came to a few conclusions:
1. There is something to be said for watching the parade in your PJs on the couch, where the only person blocking your view is dear ol' Dad when he stops in front of the TV to say, "Ughhh...turn it!"  2. The Connecticut suburbs of historic white-washed houses with backdrops of huge trees of orange and gold may look like the idyllic fall setting, but 3. a northern Thanksgiving dinner that features salad, cold, hard green beans, and dressing stuffed with I-don't-know-what, makes a wandering southern girl long for her Mama's casseroles of broccoli and sweet pa-tay-tas!

Now I can't claim any specific family traditions I wished I was home for last year, unless you count our shouts from the couch for Mama to "Come see!" from the kitchen whatever float, balloon or Rockette during the parade, only for her to rush in to the den in time for the screen to change and miss seeing it.  Maybe we could count as a tradition all the Thanksgiving decorations Mama so loves - her pilgrim man and woman, the beautiful ceramic turkey she painted one year, the Thanksgiving-themed spreaders, to name just a few.  Another almost-tradition is the Indian girl head Elizabeth made in elementary school using a reshaped wire hanger, pantyhose stretched for the face and construction paper for a feathered headdress.  For some reason that thing stayed in the pantry (of all places) for years, awaiting its flourish through the kitchen each Thanksgiving Day.  

Making my way home this year, as I lugged my suitcase from one flight, to the next, to the next, I realized there was one thing I couldn't wait to see, and I wondered if maybe this was our greatest Mummert Thanksgiving tradition.  Years ago, using folded index cards and colored pencils, Elizabeth made the most creative yet simple place cards.  We laughed to see what she had chosen to draw for each of us, and joked at the novelty of having place cards for just the five of us, who sat in the same seats every year anyway.  Those cards were saved, and pulled out of the drawer again the following year and again the next.  Suffering a few gravy stains, Elizabeth redrew them a few years later, using a bit more care and matured colored-pencil skills, now knowing these would be seen year after year.  

I don't know how much thought Elizabeth put into choosing our Thanksgiving caricatures, but I've always thought the drawings represented us fairly well:  

Daddy the patriarchal and Mama the matriarchal pilgrim and Indian figureheads; Julie a cornucopia surely because several decorate her house,  all of them painstakingly hand made by her, at that; Elizabeth as the turkey has always perplexed me, I would have chosen an Indian baby in (what is probably her favorite Native American-related word) a papoose.

Our outdoorsman Chris gets the trees and squirrel, and our sportsfan Gabe appropriately gets the football turkey.

And me, Rebecca, the little Indian girl, who I've always liked to think of as Pocahontas, poking through her surroundings and discovering something new to marvel.  

I Googled "Pocahontas" today to find facts about her that might relate to my personality, further linking my place card to me.  According to Wikipedia, she "became a celebrity during the last year of her life." I'll take celebrity, but I don't want it to be in my last year.  "She was a daughter of Wahunsunacock who ruled...the Tidewater region."  I'm a daughter of a Crimson TIDE fan. Hmmm, still not a convincing enough link.  

But a few lines down, my answer came: "After her baptism, she went by the name Rebecca."

"But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew."

~ Colors in the Wind from Disney's Pocahontas

Sunday, November 23, 2008

So that's how it feels

My very best friend in New York City told me last night that she and her husband are moving to San Francisco. I had just settled into our cozy table at the Soho restaurant Boom: the drinks had arrived, we had chatted a little catch up small talk and I was mid-bite on my first taste of the appetizer.

“Well, we have some news,” Lauren announced.

In one swift move, I dropped my carefully stacked piece of bruschetta back on my plate and spun to face her, the glowing candles on the table blurring in my vision.

“Oh my gosh, you’re moving. Oh my gosh!” I blurted before our eyes even met. I knew it was true before she slowly and tentatively nodded her head to confirm it; a few months ago I guessed the only other good kind of “we have some news” news: when Lauren had then told the waitress, “Water is fine for me,” instead of ordering her signature glass of wine, I spun in my seat to face her, “Oh my God, you’re pregnant! You are, aren’t you?!” Another head nod – that one faster and with excitement – confirmed the good news.

I tried to process this new news, “Oh my gosh, you can’t be serious!” I screeched.

“I know. I’ve been dreading telling you!” Lauren said almost apologetically.

“What am I going to do without you here?!” My mind was swirling.

“I know. I’m sorry! I would die if you were leaving me here!” 

“This is all your fault!” I said, looking past Lauren to her husband Jake, who sat there with big sorry eyes and a hint of a smirk. “You are my people! And the baby?? You’ll already be gone by the time the baby gets here!” As Jake fielded my hysterics, I couldn’t help but smile a little too. “You owe me, Jake. I’ll think of some way you have to make this up to me.”

As I’ve mulled the news today, I realized this must be how my beloved friends felt when I announced I was heading off to New York City. At least with Lauren and Jake I have about two months to say goodbye instead of the two and a half weeks I gave my friends. But no matter how long I have to get used to the idea of them moving across the country, news like that is still a shock, a stun…and, remembering the name of the restaurant last night, I laughed: a “Boom”.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The New York City Dream

Dreams are what bring people to New York City. Dreams of becoming a famous fashion designer, of making a fortune on Wall Street, of dancing on Broadway, of writing for a magazine, of living in the greatest city in the world. But once here, all those many dreams meld into one; one dream that so nags at your conscious, so grips at your very being that all you can do is hold on to it, playing it over and over in your mind, hoping that one day, one day soon, it will come true. And, oh!, what a glorious day that would be!

I have the New York City dream. I have it quite frequently, actually. It’s the kind of dream that occurs while sleeping, subconscious thoughts playing out in such real surroundings that when roused, for a split second it doesn’t seem as though it was a dream; it seems real and has renewed my excitement of living in the city. But then my eyes open and my feet hit the floor, and I wish terribly to close my eyes and be transported back.

Transported back, because it is only in the dream, this one collective dream of every New Yorker, that my apartment is indeed four times its actual size. That my closet has room to walk in and turn a cartwheel. That the door I had never noticed in my hallway opens to a huge hidden room with skylights, a swimming pool, 20-foot ceilings, unobstructed views of the city, and three ponies grazing on lollipops. As my waking body rushes to the hallway to see if the door to my dreams is still there, the dark, small reality sets in: it was all just a dream.

But thankfully for all of us dreamers, another night awaits, and another chance to make it all come true.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

District of Cuteness

Saturday morning I boarded a bus in midtown Manhattan that promised a "luxury" ride straight to Washington D.C.  Four hours, three rain storms, two naps leaning into my neighbor's seat and one detour off the Baltimore-Washington Expressway later, the bus arrived in our nation's capital. A weekend filled with college friends, a tour of Alexandria, Georgetown and McLean, and an Alabama football game with the D.C. alumni was wonderful fun.  But the star of the weekend was Vivi, the vivacious and very cute daughter of my dear high school friends Leanna and Kyle.  Seeing her smiles, giggles and bouncy curls in person for the first time in a year, she recaptured my she will capture the world one day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Circle of love

Photo courtesy Royce Kershaw

Always blessed with friends and family and laughter throughout the year, this circle begins on my birthday with an overflow of love - each call, card, email and hug a shining reminder of the loving friend who so dazzles my life.  As we pushed our chairs to one side of the table for a picture, leaving the other end empty, I realized it wasn't empty.  It was open.  And now in my mind's eye, each friend who wished me a happy birthday from afar - whether home in Alabama, along the east coast, across the country and around the world - was able to pull up a chair and continue filling the far-reaching circle around me with love.   

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lovely Smile

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile."~William Cullen Bryant

The bright blue sky and the bursting autumn colors dazzled my eyes and enchanted my thoughts. The thick piles of leaves covering the ground beckoned me off the pathways to a world of shuffling, crunching and gathering. I bent to pick up an unusually large leaf, half vibrant green and half drained to yellow. Instead of dropping it back to the pile, I kept it and began gathering others that caught my eye - a radiant red, an orange the color of the setting sun, a pure yellow, a brownish red with edges almost purple!

As the collection of leaves in my hand grew, so did the people by my side. A girl about my age joined me in selecting some leaves for herself; we smiled, and I continued back to the path, on to find the next glorious autumn tree. I stooped to pick another leaf, and a man asked if it was good luck to pick up leaves. "I don't know, but they sure are pretty." Walking on, leaves in hand, another guy fell in step beside me and asked what I planned to do with the leaves. "Oh, I don't know, I just like them." He agreed and said it had been years since he stopped to really look at the leaves, much less pick them up and enjoy them. Several more people struck up conversations as I meandered through the idyllic scenery...each person and chat as varied as the leaves around me.

As I turned to leave Central Park, a fellow leaf looker said, "You have a lovely smile." I thanked him and went on my way with the beautiful autumn day smiling on me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Red, White and Bl-ooth

The booth attendant’s mumbled instructions, the bright lights blinding my eyes, the knobs, the switches, and the big lever of final decision. With curtains tightly pulled, I flipped the knobs for my favorites, checked and double-checked my selections…then whipped out the camera to document my participation in this election!

An election referred to by most as historic, but especially memorable to me because it was my first time to vote as a citizen of New York…and my first time to vote in a booth!

Election night in Rockefeller Plaza.

The race to "270" up the side of the GE Building.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Faithful, Loyal, Firm and True

Alabama, listen, mother,
To our vows of love,
To thyself and to each other,
Faithful friends we’ll prove.

Faithful, loyal, firm and true
Heart bound to heart will beat
Year by year, the ages through,
Until in Heaven we meet.

College days are swiftly fleeting,
Soon we’ll leave their halls,
Ne’er to join another meeting
‘Neath their hallowed walls.

Faithful, loyal, firm and true
Heart bound to heart will beat
Year by year, the ages through,
Until in Heaven we meet.

So, farewell, dear Alma Mater.
May thy name, we pray,
Be rev’renced ever, pure and stainless
As it is today.

I learned the words to the University of Alabama’s Alma Mater during my Sophomore year of college. Our Crimsonette coach insisted on it; she didn’t want us to just stand smiling on the football field at Bryant Denny Stadium when the Million Dollar Band played it.

“As students of the University, and one day graduates, it’s your duty to know the alma mater, and you should sing it proudly,” she told us.

I already knew the words of the chorus, but I thought having to memorize the rest of the stanzas was beyond hokey and a waste of time. In fact, the whole idea of Homecoming really irked me: the spotlight shifted off the current Crimsonettes and us getting to twirl and put on a show, and instead was focused on the Alumni Band, who, in my opinion, could barely muster a crowd-rousing “Yea Alabama”, much less march in a straight line across the football field. The Alumni Band performance was a waste of a perfectly good pregame show that I could be front and center on the football field.

But on a late September afternoon during my second year at Alabama, the Crimsonettes sat around our tree at the band field, and we practiced the words of the Alma Mater. I not only heard the full song for the first time that day, but I fully understood the words for the first time, too.

It was the second stanza that really took hold of my chest and squeezed tightly: “College days are swiftly fleeting, soon we’ll leave their halls,” I sang, as I looked at the sweet and pretty faces of these girls who had fast become my best friends.

My voice trailed off as I realized the truth in the words; maybe the reason these days felt so magical to me was because they were fleeting, and swiftly. Walking across the Quad to class, studying in the library until I fell asleep slumped on the table, sweating and laughing and twirling at band practice every day for four months straight, eating and talking with my boyfriend and our friends at every lunch and dinner during the week at Burke dining hall, living down the hall from my sister and friends in Harris Hall…it had never occurred to me that all of this would come to an end one day.

Now, several years after graduating and leaving the college days behind, the memories of my Alma Mater are kept pure and stainless in my heart. And on this Homecoming, as I exuberantly march with the Alumni Band in a perfectly un-straight line to a wobbly but loving rendition of “Yea Alabama”, I just can’t keep the hot tears from brimming over and spilling shamelessly down my cheeks.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Freaky Friday

Q: What's an even freakier Halloween costume than one with blood and guts and a knife through the head?
A: Almost identical costumes that were not even planned!

Seeing double!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Squeals, Screams and New Kid Dreams

The concert we had waited months - if not 18 years - for was all we hoped it would be: the New Kids on the Block could still put on a show, our old heartthrobs singing all our favorites and dancing the same steps we remembered from years ago.   But somewhere during our shrill screaming, our singing and dancing, our jumping up and down, and our hugging and laughing, we got something we didn't even know we had hoped for: a very memorable evening together for two sisters who don't get to see each other enough. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Three worlds in one night

Only in New York City could I travel from Alabama to Italy to Amsterdam in one evening. From crimson shakers and "Roll Tide!" shouts while watching my Alabama Crimson Tide with a hundred other Bama fans, to double cheek kisses and "Ciao Bella!" greetings at an Italian-hosted party brimming with real Italians, to shake your body dancing and "what did you say?!" yells over thumping beats of the minimal house music in a European-esque dance club.

Be warned: You have to stay out until 5 AM to fit all three worlds in, but still, three worlds in one night!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pumpkin pumped

The cold wind and rain was no match for our pumpkin quest Saturday in Central Park. The event promised hundreds of pumpkins, a scarecrow contest, a wall of lit Jackolanters and a haunted house sure to make you squeal. Add in hot tea and warm pumpkin scones from Alice's Tea Cup, and yellow, orange and green leaves so bright and beautiful you forget about the dreary gray skies, and you've got yourself the perfect fall day!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Memo: Where's the heat?

I guess the memo about heat in the apartment is lost in the same file as the memo I never got this summer about the air conditioning in the apartment! Don't worry landlord - I'll take care of writing the memo to the building.

To: All New Tenants

From: The People You Send Half Your Paycheck To

Date: Two days after the first three consecutive days of freezing temps

Re: The frigid-ness inside the apartment building

Please be advised that although each apartment unit is equipped with an antiquated heating device that we are not exactly sure works, the said heating device will not be activated for the building until the first snow is on the ground, or the first tenant is rushed to the hospital for frost bite, whichever occurs first. During this "chill out" time, do not be alarmed if the following occurs:

1. You can "see" your roommate's breath when laughing about how cold it is in your apartment.

2. You hear rattling and hissing coming from the antiquated heating devices. Trust us, we have not turned on the heat yet.

3. You experience slowed movements and brain functions - don't worry! It's just a little cold in here!

We do care about your health and well-being, so we have compiled this handy list of tips for keeping warm:

Tip #1: Layer up! Long Johns, t-shirts, sweat pants, fleece pullovers, knee socks, ear muffs - you got 'em in your closet, so wear 'em!

Tip #2: Cocoon yourself! Put that puffy down "stovepipe" coat to use - wrap it around your body like a blanket...underneath all your other blankets...

Tip #3: Tent it! Got yourself layered and cocooned, but your nose is still cold? Create a "sheet tent" above your head. *Note: Make sure you leave enough circulation so as to not smother yourself while sleeping.

Tip #4: Steam it up! You don't pay for the water, so run it to your heart's content! Crank the tub faucet as hot as it will go, leave the bathroom door open, and wa-la! Your apartment is so small, you will easily feel the steam in the living room and bedrooms.

Tip #5: Learn from pros! Do those homeless people on the street look warmer than you are in your expensive apartment? Take some time to get to know your neighbors and learn their staying-warm secrets!

Enjoy the heatless cold weather, and please don't call us if you have any questions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mums for me Mum

Grand Army Plaza at Central Park

Seeing these breath-taking colors while marveling at the clear blue sky on this crisp October day, I was reminded that my mom is always with me, and me with her, no matter how many miles separate us.

Happy Birthday Mum-ma! I love you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blind faith

This morning on the subway, I sat on the bench directly across from the door on the train.  As the train pulled to a stop at 23rd Street, I noticed two men on the platform waiting to board.  Even before the doors opened and I could see them fully in front of me, I saw the older white-haired gentleman turn to the black man on his left and extend his arm.  The doors opened to reveal the black man carrying a long feeler cane, leading me to presume he was blind.  The white-haired man directed him to take a step over the gap between the platform and the train, and the black man took a wide, exaggerated step into the train.  "Poor thing," I thought, as his cane jabbed into the woman next to me, "I can't imagine the hard time he has getting around the city."  I gave the white-haired man an appreciative smile, and he nodded back.  But as soon as he dropped the blind man's arm, the blind man took a swift turn to his left, walked two brisk steps forward, opened the pass-through door, and stepped sure-footed across the wobbly connection into the next car, while the train was moving.  

The white-haired gentleman, the unluckily-poked woman, and me (the trusting southerner) looked at each other in open-mouthed silence.  The man shrugged his shoulders.  The woman shook her head.  I couldn't resist, "That is the blind fooling the blind."  We laughed, but I like to think it is better to be the white-haired gentleman and have a little blind faith than a lot of blind doubt. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

10 years later

Throughout the night, I heard several incredulous utterances, all asking the same question, "Are we really at our TEN-year reunion?"  The answer was always a disbelieving shake of the head.   As the lead singer of the band yelled, "Let's hear it for the Hoover High School class of 1998!  We're gonna play some music from your decade," there was no was 10 years later, 10 years since the last time we were all in a room together, 10 years since the popular kids crowded the middle of the dance floor, the nerdy kids huddled at a side table, the jocks acted like they owned the place, and I just tried to flutter from one group to the next, and keep my excited laughter from echoing too loudly.

While others tried to forget, I actually tried to keep reminding myself of the fact, hoping to feel the full gamut of emotions that should be associated with such a milestone.  I thought of all the significant things that have happened in my life over the last 10 years - the dear friends I have met, the excitement of twirling at Alabama, the two college degrees, the love and the heartache, the first job and the next, the marriage of my little sister, the loss of my grandmothers, the trips to new places in the world, the leap to New York City.  I smiled at the accomplishments and the downfalls, at the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, for the life that happened in 10 years.  

Just as I swelled with satisfaction of how much I had grown and changed over 10 years, I heard my name announced as the winner of the "Least Changed" award.  "What?!" I shrieked, "I've changed!  I'm different!"  As I inwardly sulked with outrage, friends pointed out the award was not least changed in life, but least changed in appearance.  "Rebecca, it's called the 'Marilyn Monroe Award'...this is a good thing, it means you still have the body of an 18 year old!"  Oh.  Well far be it from me to turn down an award then! 

I tried to think of the 18 year old me, what she would think seeing me now.  Not the outward appearance, but what she would think of who I am now - what did she think she'd be like at this 10 year mark.  I glanced down at my Senior picture printed on my name tag, and I swear she winked at me (or maybe it was just that fourth glass of wine).  But I knew what the wink meant:  "We're doing just matter where we go, or what we see or learn or do, we are the least changed, and that's a beautiful thing." 

Please tell me I don't still have the mushroom hair!

With Vashty, Jasmine and Jay...fellow HHS classmates now in NYC.

With Joshua, my very oldest friend at the reunion...we've been warring since the 5th grade over who is tallest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friends yet known

New friend : old friend.

A few weeks after I moved to New York, Katherine mentioned in an e-mail that she'd met the most fun, cute girl.  "If you were here, you and Allison would definitely be friends," she said.  I remember joking with mock indignation that Katherine had replaced me oh-so quickly.  Soon enough, I was hearing about and seeing pictures from their jaunts around town from Katherine, and Katherine told me Allison loves reading my blog and was keeping up with me in New York. After a few months, I felt as if Allison was just as much my friend as she was Katherine's...even though technically we'd never met.    

So when I hugged Allison hello for the first time in person tonight, I felt like I was greeting an old friend.  As we chatted, we realized we worked in the same building together for two and a half years.  We even knew all of the same cute guys in the office parking lot, for goodness sake!  How did I miss out on two and a half years of a friend to go to lunch with, to walk with after work, to chat with by the elevators?  

It made me ponder all the friends yet known.  The girls who live beside me - their front door less than a foot from mine - but I have no idea who they are.  The handful of people I've seen repeatedly on the subway or at the grocery store - we live within a few blocks of each other.  These people fill up the world around me, yet I don't consider them any more significant than filler.  But maybe there's a reason our paths are crossing.  Maybe a random person on my block becomes a noteworthy person in my life.  Maybe.  Maybe definitely starts with a smile.

Ready Set Go!

When the bride says, "Ready, Set, Go!", you better keep (your comments) to yourself.

(not) Ready...
Sleepless night, early morning, three-flight schedule, disrupted catnaps, cramped legs, raging headache, starving stomach.

...(but get) Set (anyway)...
Dad hug, southern sun, Chick-fil-A, lemonade, familiar sights, cookie snacks.

...(to) Go (dress shopping)!
An hour off the plane and already trying on bridesmaids dresses!

With a smile on my face!

Or am I just smiling because it's so funny to see Daddy read an In Touch?

Street views home

Rolling my suitcase along the still quiet New York City sidewalk, my thoughts of home multiplied with each step I took. As I crossed over Lexington Avenue, I looked up the street toward the Chrysler Building.  The streetlights glowed as the early morning sky lightened, making the closed buildings even darker and more desolate.  No people crowded the sidewalks; the only activity coming from the sound and lights of a few cabs slowly approaching.  The beautiful Chrysler Building shown like a beacon in the distance, and I stopped, mesmerized.  It was a beautiful scene, yes, but even more intriguing was the comparison I conjured of what my scenery would be in a few short hours: grassy lawns and bushy shrubs and thick trees framing the setting sun.  
Both views are beautiful, both views are comforting, both views are vastly different ways.