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!