September 22, 2009 :: Mastery

Recently I'm taking stock of the things that own me and pass my time, and I'm wondering if I need to shorten my list. I'm what? A writer and an amateur photographer, a branding firm employee and a freelancer? A band manager and a website administrator, an eco-enthusiast, a gardener, a blogger and a cook and a decorator, a thrifter, a reader, a pet nut, a handyperson, a vintage car owner, a landscaper and the caretaker of an ancient house. (Also add to that wife, daughter, sister, friend and colleague, but those titles need to stick with me.) Where do my allegiances lie? Everywhere and nowhere, it seems. How many hats until my head tips just enough and they all cascade to the floor? Some of them are already slipping, and it makes me feel awful. No photographs this week. Or last week. No progress on the band website. No, I haven't finished the blinds in the house or the book I started reading.

But just now, I realize that I did do a bunch of things. I worked my butt off at the full-time job. I cooked three straight, giant, party-style meals and hosted all manner of folks at my house, then made lunch for 7 on another day. I cultivated a couple freelance gigs, saw four live bands, cleaned the house a bunch of times and budgeted my finances within a cent of its piddly existance.

But that's all. How come that's not good enough? And what do I do now to shuffle the deck back around to the things I miss?



September 5, 2009 :: patio music, 2 am

At 10, we grab the wine and head outside. Bats swarm the stacks, flitting, flickering UFOs swooping insectivous snacks. Cicadias razz the trees, the back-and-forth call of the end of summer. We set the iPod in place, run the cords, light the devotional candles and pray to the alter of Costello, Lovett, Cash, then Sia, MacLaughlin, Mitchell. We sing and harmonize, clap hands and vow drum-offs and new lyrics once the sun hits the sky. The neighborhood churns along--OTPers from the bars to their cars to their suburbs, taggers chased by bearded vigalantes, late-night dog walkers. It's midnight, one, nearly two, and I catch Blake in the dim light of the Powerbook, DJing Rhapsody, and I am suddenly so in love with this night and my life.


Henry Porter @ Kavarna

Perusing vinyl


September 4, 2009 :: Date Nite

Probably every married couple does this. And, to be honest, I resent being so typical, as well as having to set a night for Blake and I to ditch our pots, pans, dogs and couch time with Netflix and join the messy pot of regular society we used to jump directly into nearly every night. I mean holy majoley, we don't even have any kids. But, stuff changes, our finances don't allow such luxuries right now, and yadda yadda...we're an old boring married couple and apparently need a weekly "Date Night."

It's Wednesdays by the way, and there are rules (because if I don't make it some kind of challenge, I will die from the utter lameness.) You can't spend more than $20 a person, and some combination of food, drinks and entertainment must be involved. Two out of three being optimum, but three of three within the cash limit being sort of a date night grand slam.

So far, we're one and a half nights in. The one half being that this wednesday each of us had other comittments and put it off until tonight. The first one was a rip-roarer (Yacht Club to Star Bar to El Myr) and we should have quit while we were ahead, for sure. But tonight sounds even more exciting: Our friend Adam's band The Pinx at Criminal Records (free, with free food and beer), one of our other friend Goldman's many side-projects, Henry Porter at Kavarna later on (free), and very likely a stop at the Yacht Club (or the Porter, if I'm feelin' spendy) in between. (not free, but horribly necessary.)

Know this, as well: we aren't particular - please feel free to double-date-night it with us. We'll be the dude in 50's glasses and the tattooed chick with ponytails in Little 5.

Oh yeah. That's kind of half of everyone. So much for not wanting to be typical.

*Pictured: Stall #3, woman's (and I say this, tongue firmly in cheek) "rest" room at the Star Bar. Little is truly restful about a festering, damp pit with no hot water and one-hinged stall doors, but I do like the big poster and the graffiti. Happiness in small things, I guess.



August 31, 2009 :: Bye, bye summer spending

I've dubbed it the September of Nothing. Blake would rather I refer to it as the September of Very Little, (out of simple dread) but I think that's splitting hairs. After spending a small fortune in home upgrades and seeing a stagnation of freelance work that's simply apocalyptic, we're battening down the hatches - happily. Starting today (a day early! we're already ahead!) the Tennelle Street gang will be experimenting in the fine art of much-less-is-so-much-more for thirty austere days that will make my midwestern DNA humm in the gorgeous, thrifty harmony of it all.

We blew it out in August, and boy, was it a pockebook-busting party every day. Woo hoo new shoes! Woo hoo new paint for the house! Woo hoo organic produce from Kroger! Yeeaaah thermostat at 75 degrees! But, (as always) I am ready for a change. And a challenge. And a chance to do something even better for us and our little plot of Georgia and everyone around us. Something healthy and simple(r). We don't do badly already, to be honest, but we can do even better.

There's no rules to this game, we'll just make it up as we go along. But I have some goals:
  • Drive even less. Blake can't do much to help his commute (24 miles one-way to Roswell), but I can. I've followed my friend Sam (read his story here) to the nearly train-bound life, and also signed up for the Clean Air Campaign's Commuter Rewards Program. Now, the state of Georgia PAYS me to take public transporation. To little-old capitalistic me, there's nothing more motivating than that.
  • Eat more frugally. We grow bunches of stuff ourselves, take part in a CSA and shop the local farmers' markets as much as possible. But we're still not opportunistic enough eaters, or so says my Mint budget tracker. (a fantastic, free program you should try, by the way.) At 5 PM on a Thursday, we decide we want {insert complicated food we have zero of the ingredients for here}, and we go buy it. From Kroger. Which is expensive. We're giving a small fortune to that grocery store, and it's got to stop. For the next 30, we're planning better and eating what we've already got. Period.
  • Start several "funds" for big-ticket items. We need a new HVAC unit. (one that, preferably, produces heat and is not the size of a pickup truck.) We also need a new roof, a small garden shed, a visit from an electrician, and, seriously, a damn long vacation. Somewhere with water and silence would be nice. We have a terribly hard time saving for any and all of these things.
  • Eat away at the debt. I won't go into detail, but debt...we got it. And it needs to go away. Now. No time like the present to whittle away at it a little faster than we have been.
I feel like I rolled violently off of some plodding wagon a while back. For all my good planning and intent, things just keep getting more expensive, I keep taking in the same amount, and we keep falling further and further behind where we'd like to be. Oh this Nothing will be sweet if it works.

I will be posting often what we're doing and changing and altering in this pursuit, and hopefully some kind of great return at the end. Wish me luck.



August 25, 2009 :: The Walk

The route - from Cabbagetown through the tunnel, down Edgewood through Inman Park, onto the East-West line, to the North-South line, to the High Museum, down Peachtree to Ansley Park, around the circle and up the stairs in the modern-mission building, then reversed, eight-some hours later.

Done twice a day, four miles of walking, 20-some minutes of headphoned people-watching, one train change, one stop at the coffee shop, zero blisters in just the right shoes. This is the thing I love most about living in the city right now.

Today's walk photos span east to west on the last leg of the trip.

*House posting, some kind of update, and general motivation, hopefully, coming soon. I'm in a photographic, ideologic, and design rut. Things are brewing, however. I'll be back.



July 26, 2009 :: Urban Corn

I've apparently broken some cardinal law of nature that says that you cannot grow good-producing corn in a less than 10'x10' plot, and certainly not in an urban area where pigeons and squirrels and theiving neighbors will surely decimate your crop yield.

The stats: 5' or so by 6' or so of Silver Queen corn, planted in wonky rows, staggered in three plantings, has so far, yielded 5 huge ears of corn, and there's 20 more on the stalks ripening. Locality: Fulton County, City of Atlanta, the double-whammy of property tax brackets in Atlanta.




July 25, 2009 :: Ten 'til

Still figuring out this posting-via-iPhone thing. Bear with me.



July 13, 2009 :: All You Need*

I want flowing dresses and the easiest summer beauty, full of sunlight, with tousled hair and gossamer jewelry. I want good walking shoes, red with a buckle. I want smoky green tea kissed with honey. I want fiction to pour from my fingertips--just the right words, just the right story. I want cool sheets in raging air conditioning, a warm cat snuggling the small of my back. I want tomato-avocado sandwiches. I want a clean house, a bright house, an organized house. I want checkerboard rugs and claw foot tubs, back-deck awnings and grilled salmon on the Weber. I want more time in the middle of the day to sit and read. I want caramel ice cream and a Law & Order marathon. I want, sometimes, a new town and another house, somewhere breezy and northern or western, where artists have reclaimed a sad neighborhood; where Blake packs out clubs and I write for companies from our kitchen table and visit flea markets in the afternoons when my work is done.

That's what I want. But I have what I need and more. And for that, I'm feeling particularly lucky today.

*Phrase painted on the CSX railyard wall near our house, on my walk home from the train. Now painted OVER in putrid green, like every other inch of the wall, by overzealous neighbors who don't see any value in public art, even though they've all chosen to live in an historic, artistic, intentionally quirky neighborhood. There's something rotten about that, and it bothers me every day.



July 11, 2009 :: Knee-high by the Fourth of July (and then some)

Growth abounds at the little house this spring/summer. Wow. It is full-on summer now, isn't it? Boy. It's been a while since I've been here.

Things have been cruising along this year it seems, and I've been caught off-guard by the passage of time. I planted seeds some three months ago, and above you see a tiny bit of the fruits of this year's planting experiment--front-yard-of-food, Cabbagetown. This morning I checked the yard and found that the corn was somewhere near ready (I think...I'm going to have to google to find out for sure), that someone may have swiped our latest batch of ripe tomatoes, right off the vines (I hope it was a legitimately hungry person and not a neighbor), and that our herbs are out. of. control. Soon, we'll have squash and pumpkins, really late-season watermelon and eggplant, too. I couldn't be happier (exepct for the thievery). I'm already planning for next year.

We're also planning some other big changes around here. It's still the year of the house. It may be the two-years-of-the-house, actually, given the slow growth of our budget for such things and my inability to blog about them, but we'll get a good chunk done very soon. I feel productive (if not a little poorer) having planned out such serious sawing and hammering. We're all permitted and ready to go. I'm nervous, but excited.

I want to try and document the process, starting with our beginning-point, rotted soffits, mossy roof, tattered paint and all. I love my house. I can't wait to love it even more.

We'll replace most of the exterior trim (it's rotted through), add gutters (why were there none in such critical places? seriously problematic), trim trees, power-wash the house, and then, the most exciting part....paint the whole thing a gorgeous blue. With purple-black shutters and window trim, a red-red front door and humungous western house numbers.

Some inspiration. Color on top, stenciled flooring in the middle for the porch, and an attempt to channel a little Margaret Killgallen for the house numbers.

I can't wait to get started.



May 26, 2009 :: Scenes from the bedroom

Hats, Blake. Old stuff, me. Add "musical instruments," "books," and "vinyl" to that list, and you'd have a summation of most of the objects in our house.


May 26, 2009 :: Luxurious Weekend

Ollie is the queen of snoozing. See the above sprawl captured directly after Saturday's trip to the Reynoldstown coffeeshop/dogpark as evidence. I, however, did no such sprawly, snoozy thing this long weekend, and will still call it luxurious. Bathroom, painted (from aggravating 80s hunter green to a much more agreeable sagey grey). Rusting garden furniture, spray painted. Horrifically junked up back patio, cleaned and organized. Motorcycle, photographed and posted for sale. Dogs, exercised within an inch of their fuzzy little tolerances.

And...we're back. More pics to come.



May 8, 2009 :: Harmony

Blake doesn't read this blog. I've mentioned its existence a few times to him, offhandedly, mostly in the interest of letting him know that snippets of our personal lives are up here for the world to see (and potentially for my father-in-law to google. Hi Ricky!), but he doesn't seem particularly interested. I think he somehow considers it spying on me to read my personal-public thoughts, and prefers to just stay out of it. Which I kind of think is sweet. There's nothing here that would surprise him, anyway. I have a very hard time keeping my mouth shut about, well, anything, when it comes to sharing with him. Maybe that's why he doesn't read here: he'd like some mystery? Lord knows our real-life existence together couldn't be any more fully-disclosed. Who knows?

Anyway, I guess also don't do a huge amount of talking directly about him here. He's a bit player in every story, and just out of frame in 3/4 of the photographs he's not in, so his presence is implied. But today, I feel compelled to write specifically about him. Because I think he (and unassuming, non grandstanding, modest guys like him) are under appreciated.

Blake is a songwriter and a musician. Not a lawyer who plays music, not a guy who waits tables and plays music, not a breather of air who plays music--he's a musician. It's his profession and his passion, the thing that he gets up every day for, and he's been out there, on stages and in corners of bars behind a microphone every chance he gets, for more than a decade. When he moved in with me, he came with two milk crates of vinyl, three boxes of CDs, 100 books, four guitars (two electric, two acoustic), a banjo, a violin, and the clothes on his back plus an extra pair of pants. That's it.

Blake doesn't make a lot of money doing what he loves or get a lot of recognition. He's certainly not the only artist to go this road, but, as he gets older, I think it eats at him more and more. There have been close calls, brushes with fame and MTV and record contracts over the years. There's always compliments and amazed comments from random people in the audience who wonder why they'd never heard of the shy southern boy with the white-blond hair. But, so far anyway, that My Fair Lady moment hasn't happened--the suited promoter with the big plans and the eye for the next big thing just hasn't shown up to the show. And it's wrong of me to wish it would because I know he deserves it, right? Because I'm married to him and know he is more than good at what he does and I am biased in that knowledge.

I think I fell a little in love with Blake before I ever went on a date with him. It was his voice. I bought his albums on iTunes, feeling a little like I was spying on him then, and listened. I'm sure I've done it before, fallen in love with beautiful tones from a beautiful man behind a microphone, but this was the first time I got to listen, then go have dinner with that man and see his shy smile when I mentioned those songs. Had I had that opportunity after hearing "One" all those years ago, maybe I'd be Mrs. Bono now.

Not because you need to, but because I want you to hear what I hear; every night when the guitar comes out and he works on the next song, on the weekends our other gorgeously voiced friends come over to add harmony, every night I stand in the back of a dark, smoky club and give my attention to my husband on the stage, I present this--what my life sounds like.

He obviously didn't write this song, but I think he (and his best friend and bandmate Parris, as a backup singer) do it justice nicely.*

*Recorded on some moring show on Z93 here in Atlanta, some years ago. Found in a box of discarded stuff at our house. Uploaded because I appreciate how beautiful he sounds.



March 30, 2009 :: Ramona G. Quimby, age 8 months

I didn't intend to do this. Jane died. She deserves a full eulogy, but maybe we'll ring in the new first. This blue-eyed cutie is Miss Ramona. The next generation of puppy love in our house.

As I said, I didn't intend to do this. I wanted an Australian Shepherd. Knew I'd wanted one since I wasn't Mr. Arrow's owner anymore. Sweet, smart, velcro-y dogs they are. So, I filled out an application online to get on the rescue service's radar, imagining that there'd be a wait and then some matching, and sometime in the next few months, we'd find ourselves with a new pet.

It took all of 48 hours.

I met Ramona (former name "Kit".) on Friday. By Saturday, she and Ollie were roughhousing in our living room. By Sunday night, they were snuggling together on a dog bed. On Monday, she was fully ours. She's Ollie's best friend. My constant sidekick. She's sweet and bouncy and has this little nub of a tail swept with fluff that I can't get over when it wags 1000 miles an hour to greet me. She's perfect, and we're all totally in love.

Jane came to me randomly. Out of the blue one day. She stuck with me, moved three times with me. Welcomed Ollie with as much grace as she could. Taught her how to be a good dog. Now, I feel a bit like we've given Ollie and ourselves a little fluffy gift. And she showed up just as haphazardly. I love the way this stuff works out.



March 12, 2009 :: Less Taken

Amazing how a decent camera and a great (but stupid-cheap) plastic lens can make what is, in reality a festering cesspool of chickweed, thistle and some hellish variety of insidious, prickly bloodletting vine look like somewhat of a verdant wonderland. Regardless, I give you, the path through my front yard, as of March first, 2009.

It's not going to look like this long. I promise. But it's not going to be easy if history is any indication.

My yard has a checkered past. Check out the Fulton assessor's website (where the public record of ownership of property in my county is indexed), and you'll see a lovely picture of my little cabin at its most desperate. It's drab yellow (actually, still is), its trim is fading white and what looks like dusty lilac, but is likely just dusty. Its porch is covered in rotting screen, and what is visible of the yard is a tangle of weeds.

Fast-forward to 2007, when I bought the property, and you'd have borne witness to a perfectly manicured fake-out. The previous owner had someone dump a truckload of pine-bark briquettes into the yard overtop the weeds, plant ten or so sad hostas and liriope plants, and call it a day. It looked presentable enough that I hardly noticed. Until mid-fall, when weed seed sprouted everywhere, giving the whole landscape the appearance that it was growing wiry green hair. It just got worse. Morning glory vine trailed over the whole fence then up to obscure the Berean/Tennelle street sign, then got diseased, lacy, brown, crusty, and full of spiders.

By spring of 2008, I'd had it, and spent two weekends clearing 20+ yard waste bags of mulch bricks out of the yard...by hand. Just me and a shovel and a head full of four-letter words. My arms looked, by the end, like I'd been hitting the freeweights for months.

Unfortunately, with the exception of really good intentions and a few plantings that Ollie systematically dug up, ate, and then pooped back into the weeds (ah, the circle of life), we didn't do much else with the mess until last fall, when Blake and I undertook the great picket fence raising of 2008, sectioning off the yard so the dogs couldn't deface the better parts of it any longer.

Now, the path, un-dug and waiting, sits. Some of the bricks came from our neighbor's 120-year old chimney (toppled in the tornado last spring), the rest is cobbled out of the sad red pavers the previous left on the property, random bricks I've found laying around, and a couple hand-painted ones from someone's long-lost garden, including one that says "letuce". (I want to think that the previous owner did not create these charmingly mis-spelled markers. Because I saw her master's degree from UGA on the wall when I toured the house the first time. But, I have little hope, as her she and her new husband showed up to the closing in shorts and flip-flops and were about the most affected, trustafarian tools I've ever laid eyes on. Sorry. I'm also venting for all the other lazy, ass hatted things they did to the house during their tenure there. Another post, but think thermostats wired backwards, ill-fitting leaky plumbing and wallboard that isn't screwed to the studs. )

But I digress.

This weekend, I'll strip the yard bare for the third and final time, by weed-whacking down the taller detritus, then covering the entire 135 square foot triangle with newsprint, compost and mulch. Then, we'll wait for last frost for the mixture to marinate and one sunny day, plant a gorgeous edible landscape. I can't wait to get started.



March 11, 2009 :: Starting Over

Re: long, unintentional absence.

Dear interwebs,

Well, hello there! Good to see you. I'm glad to be here as well. A recap? Ok. Blake and I kind of became the X to the Nth power of Y victims of the sucky global economy in a number of ways recently, and as such, I've been busting my little writerly butt and not blogging or doing any discernible home improvements. But, hey. We're of hardy stock. And fortunately, though a layoff, an undervalued house, broken appliances (many, oh so many...why do my lovely mechanical friends always go south all at once? It was a coup, I suspect.), a fall that had the boy half of our dynamic duo in serious pain for weeks, dog sickness, and both $$$ and !!! level vehicle repairs, we are still afloat, with a roof over our heads, and now, doubly employed again. Whew.

February was a stressful, ridiculous wash. Dude, March is going to be so awesome by comparison.

And so far so good. I've gained a gardening partner (the amazing Lee), a new work schedule that gives me giant chunks of the weekend left to my own devices (I adore Mr. Rainey, but when he's around, I want to hang around him so much more than I want to paint trim, clean out closets, or dig up giant parts of the yard. I miss him while he's away working, but boy will this be productive I suspect.), and a renewed industrious streak. It's all go around here these days.

So, it really begins. The newly de-junked boxes up above are just about ready to take some of the seeds I bought last night, and my front yard will soon be freshly "lasagned" with a no-dig gardeny layer of newsprint, compost and mulch. There's raspberries to train along the fence, peas and tomatoes and other climbers to cover the chain link, pumpkins, okra, artichoke, onions, spinach, arugula, flowers and herbs and on and on.

Our own little Victory garden.

We so totally win.



February 9, 2009 :: This is not my house.

But it is, very close. So very, weirdly close - aesthetically. I found it at Apartment Therapy; a fantastic home tour that must belong to my San Franciscan doppleganger--a kindred home design spirit. Check it here. Then come back.

The oddities! The leggy foliage sprouting from pop bottles! The three-dimensional stuff stuck to walls! The depression-era-meets-industrial-Midwest aura! The camerasandsuitcasesandmedicalephemeraandohmy.

I think sometimes I need reminding that the schizophrenic way I shop and decorate and put together my home--this home that is cluttery and jam-packed and feels most like me--isn't a psychosis, but an actual aesthetic. It makes me want to go home and re-curate the collection of shoe-forms, taxidermy, candlesticks and ancient christmas-tree-toppers that sits atop the industrial card-file in the living room. It makes me want to troll ebay and etsy for giant gas-station numbers, antiquated hairstyling devices, chemistry-set glassware. It makes me want go trash-day trolling in Grant Park, the Highlands, OTP.

Mostly, it makes me suspect of many of the home-inspiration clippings I've been snipping digitally recently. The light-flooded rooms with perfectly dustbunny-less hallways. Their empty tabletops and room corners with nothing in them. I've never been able to pull that off, in any home, no matter how big. (And this one is so small, it's just impossible). I've been running headlong down the wrong path--one with beautifully re-upholstered furniture, with no stray nail holes and no cracks in the veneer. And I'm done, I think.

I made a loose list of New Years' resolutions earlier this year. My best one, and my favorite is that I'm going to take a hard look at my life and what I do, and eliminate the things that make up the palpable tide of sloshing, leaden smutz that I set my rudder against every day. I hate empty corners. I like half-obsolete things in my home--and a lot of them. I am not the best duster/vacuumer/cleaner of baseboards on the planet. I own 30-some pairs of shoes (and I love them all). Only a very few things make me happier than shopping at a thrift store, spending $20, and coming home with more half-obsolete things. I am done pushing.



January 13, 2009 :: The photobooth calls

I know, I'm supposed to be posting about my house. I'll get to that. Just wanted to mention in the meantime, two pieces of advice I have for anyone considering throwing a wedding or wedding-esque party:
  1. Freaking Out (about anything) is totally unnecessary. Why? Because things are going to happen the way they will happen. My best formula for curbing worries of any kind would be to do what I did. Ask your very talented friends to do simple tasks that are related to their very talentedness, and then trust them to do their jobs. That's it. Turned out perfectly for us, and we didn't raise our blood pressures a single point. Now, if you have crappy, flaky friends, that's another matter, I suppose. Maybe you should get a wedding planner...
  2. Get a photobooth. Posed shots are cool. Candids taken by a professional photographer are wonderful. Having someone rig up a snazzy backdrop (like the hand-painted one above, created by my riduculously talented friend Stephanie), a camera, and some lights, and letting your guests take pictures of themselves is more than a riot. It's epic. Again, especially if you have interesting friends. And goodness, who doesn't have those?



January 13, 2009 :: Wedding Accomplished

I'm pooped, people. And it's two days after the big event. But, that was that. With the kiss, the picture and the whole big night on Sunday, thus ends my holiday season. Blake and I are so, doubly, amazingly, completely married now--and a couple hundred people witnessed it.

Thanks to everyone who came and partied, wished well, played, spun records, manned sound booths, sang, quoted Rumi, ate, drank, danced and snapped 100s upon 100s of pictures. It was the most special night of our lives. We're floored.

More to come, of course. Now, back to work.


January 6, 2009 :: Starting Over

On January 1, 2008, Audrey and I started northern and southern constitutional as a walking/blogging/photography experiment. Boy, did we have grand ambitions, too. A post a day, a walk a day, a photo a day. I think it lasted about two months before Audrey irritated an old injury and stopped walking, and I started posting once every 20-some days (if I was lucky).

It's time for a change.

In August of 2007, I became a grown-up; specifically through the purchase of 675 square feet of Fulton County, Georgia. It seems strange, now that I think of it, that I could put down money for something that I love so much. Since then, Blake and I have made the little house a home, but haphazardly, mostly by the simple accumulation of musical equipment, random grime and the shimmery patina of Ollie's bulldog spit.

It's time for a change here too.

2009 is the year of the house, and SouthernConstitutional will be the place I document what we do here--how we live inside the plaster walls, what changes here and how it changes us, the thrilling rollercoaster of Benjamin Moore paint numbers and hammers and spackle, and probably a fair amount of calls for advice. I hope you stick with me here.

But First: I have to admit that the "new year" as it were really won't (and can't, there simply aren't enough hours in the day) start until after January 11, 2009. Because until then there's going to be a lot of distracting work and fun and oh yeah, I get to re-marry Mr. Rainey on stage at the EARL on January 11.

Don't worry, that'll make it here too.

Until then - Happy New year. It's going to be a great one.