There are a few things that make a house feel like home. My mama’s quilts on the beds, and the back of the couch — some of them worn thin from more than a decade of decadent napping. My brother’s pottery on the bookshelves, wedged between stacks of great stories begging to be read. A few pots of tomatoes and herbs, stretching their green leaves toward the sun on the veranda. Knitting needles with new projects. Dirty casserole dishes soaking in the sink, with the smell of simmering garlic, onions still lingering — a scent that doesn’t fade until the morning coffee is brewing. Handwritten letters in the mailbox, flag up. Handwritten letters received, with postmarks from the last place we called home.
Nelson, is burrowed at the foot of the bed, yipping as he chases some woodland critter in his sleep. A happy man rests, snoring next to him. I crack open the morning newspaper, dewy after being retrieved from the front lawn, pour a cup of that coffee, and settle in to a new day.
A new home. A new life.
Nelson and I have been moping about for the last week, trying to find a rhythm to this new life. I’m fairly certain he misses his partner in crime, Chaco. I’m also fairly certain I’m reading too much into it. (Hey! I’m at home all day with him and until he starts speaking back, I get to make up both sides of the dialog.)
After several failed attempts at finding a good walking loop near our home — which is beautiful and wooded, and not pedestrian friendly — we adventured to a nearby state park. To my delight, we found a significant map of hiking trails, a lake, long stretches of woods where the cackle of birds overhead sounded like a soundtrack, and fresh air that left me delirious.
Hikers know what I mean. When you reach a point in the hike, breathing in air so clean it smells sweet. You swear you can almost taste it, and you get a little dizzy breathing hard. We found that state of euphoria this morning. After a sweaty hour of climbing trails, we emerged from the forest with renewed smiles.
I needed to explore, feel my heartbeat pound and know I’m with nature. You can take the girl out of Colorado, but you can’t take the pacifist, mountain-loving, Birkenstock-wearing, folk song-singing out of the girl.
Hot tamales, this Garden State is pretty:
Thirty minutes one way, I’m in midtown Manhattan. Thirty minutes the other: forest nirvana. I’m starting to think this part of New Jersey is a hidden gem where the residents appreciate shows like “Jersey Shore,” because it deters more folks from finding them, and the truth. The state seems to be known for orange tans and the violence of Newark. While I don’t doubt those things exist, there is a lot more to the story.
I’m looking forward to discovering the many nuances of my new community.
In the meantime, I’m off to pilates and Nelson is snoring under the dining room table. I should let Phil the groundhog know it is probably safe to cavort outside today.
“Ha ha ha! You will never be safe. Even in my sleep, I hunt you, you dirty rodent!”*
*I might be losing my mind.
We are living in a cottage house on a property with 10-plus acres of groomed grounds. There are giant trees hundreds of years old, sweet neighbors, and a winding drive that goes from one home to the other. So the story goes, there is a resident groundhog named Phil, who Nelson cannot wait to meet in person.
Slowly, our home is coming together. A few photos of the color found in our yard and villa:
I’ve planted a garden, found a church and library, and joined a gym. I’m swimming long solitary laps that bring clarity and peace of mind, looking for a job and passing the afternoons on this patio, with dogeared novels in my lap. Late afternoon, I throw on a dress, pick up D from work, and cook dinner. Nelson runs around like a mad man in the house and yard, while we catch up.
So far, New Jersey is far prettier and more peaceful than expected. It is overwhelming in every good way to be living here, with him.
The next stop on the drive across ‘Merica was the outskirts of Chicago, where I stayed with a childhood friend and her husband. Kacey and Mike were married three years ago; they are both teachers and have moved into a beautiful new home since I last visited. Another childhood friend, Jen, came for dinner with her husband and two children. I had not yet met her youngest — Sam, and immediately fell in love:
Yes, those are really his cheeks. No, he is not part-chipmunk.
His older sister isn’t too shabby either:
I’ve mentioned this roughly 100 times, but it is worth saying again: one of the best parts of this phase of life is watching my childhood girlfriends become mothers. They are just so, so good at it. And their little creatures are so fun to love!
The seven of us once talked about all building houses in a cul-de-sac so we could sit outside on our porches drinking wine together, while our kids played. While that adolescent fantasy is unlikely to come to pass, we do make an effort. Auntie Kacey and Uncle Mike love these two almost as much as their parents do.
Today, I dream of us together on vacation, where the kids swim in the ocean, adults bbq on the beach and our friendships continue on in the next generation. Sappy, but the truth. There is little that makes me happier than hearing from petites, and knowing they are doing well.
While planning the drive to New Jersey, some friends mentioned I could stay with their family in Kearney, Nebraska. It would be a six hour drive from Golden — far enough on the first day, with a heavy spring snow still falling. When I arrived at Nancy and Dan’s home, I was greeted with a warm hug, tails wagging on the porch and an adorable granddaughter running circles around Nelson.
She had just lost her very first tooth. Would I like to see it? And had I ever met the Tooth Fairy?
Nancy and Dan have a 100-plus-year-old white farmhouse — with horses in a nearby pasture and an odd collection of cactus planted between the dog houses and a trampoline for the many grandkids. Spring had been so wet, there was no corn yet planted. Otherwise, Kearney would have been a scene reminiscent of “Field of Dreams.” They were quick to welcome me to their kitchen table, where we sat for several hours, speaking of our families and interests in gardening. Nancy showed me one of her many scrapbooks, and talked about that cactus garden — one she’s created over the years as she can find the rare plants in middle America. Dan talked about his work around town, including at their church. As night fell, they served pot roast, roasted potatoes and carrots and homemade bread and that was as white and sweet as it was decadent. Their six-year-old granddaughter had her own song as she watched the bread come out of the oven to the table:
“Bread, bread, bread. More, more more!” She hummed this repeatedly through the meal, sneaking Nelson the dark tan crust as she could.
These were my kind of people.
Nancy laughed while showing me my room with vintage quilts at the foot of a comfy bed and shaggy green carpet underfoot.
“You know this house used to be one of disrepute,” she whispered. “Way before we bought it, of course.” She raised one eyebrow. We’d just spent two hours talking about families and our love of God. Now that she had me alone, I was delighted to discover this nuance in Nancy’s personality.
“Like a brothel?” I asked, scanning the walls, innocently decorated with family photos and aging school projects.
“Oh, wow.” I wondered where the conversation was going, when it took a very unexpected turn.
“And the rumor is, someone was killed in this room!” She said it with a big smile and genuine enthusiasm. I gulped.
I was thinking, “Uh, Nancy? You should probably tell visitors that after the leave. Not before they climb in.”
Instead I said, “Uh, well thanks for the hospitality!” Crickets chirped nearby.
She must have heard the unease in my voice.
“Oh, honey. You’ll be fine. We’ve never seen the ghost! Good night!”
And with that, she was out the door. Nelson, none the wiser, did his characteristic three turns at the foot of the bed before soon snoring like a lumberjack. I pulled back the quilts, settled in and listened as the house creaked. I heard the old wooden stairs leading up to that bedroom shift several times in the night.
Must have been the Tooth Fairy.
Before I left the next morning, Nancy had cut an ear off of her prized Galapagos cactus to take to New Jersey as a housewarming gift, and had filled a small bag with her handmade stamped cards, which I had admired after dinner. They even called to make sure we got in okay the next night in Chicago.
Families like these that fill me with hope. Their kindness for a stranger and her mutt was extraordinary.Thank you Nancy and Dan — you exceeded all stereotypical expectations for the caring and warmth of a Midwestern family!
Bread, bread, bread. More More More!
Oh, why hello there! It took a full week for the Interwebs to be connected at our new home, and as such — things are a bit backed up. Bills need to be paid, I’ve have 3 kajillion email to return, and there is that small task of finding a new job.
Two weeks ago I was in Texas, with my folks and my Aunt Karen. I didn’t just attend crazy awesome parades. We also did the river walk, the Alamo, and margaritas the size of my head. God bless TexMex.
The best part of the trip? Other than when my mom jumped into a photo with several local beauty queens:
Tough to beat, I know. But spending time with my Aunt Karen felt like a gift. We don’t get to see each other nearly enough, and it was a delight to see how she and my dad had an unspoken language. Their mannerisms and word choices were eerily similar; so much is written in DNA. I am thankful to call her family.
Can we interrupt the “Kelli has lost her marbles and is trying to distract us with adorable Texan parade photos” train for a moment?
I’ve read some great books lately. Books you really should consider reading. Let’s start with Shantaram. This is loosely based on the life of the author, who skips out on prison on Australia only to find himself living in the lowest slum in Bombay. (You get that on the back of the book. I’m not ruining anything.) This tome (1000 pages) is just so entertaining. It is a crazy story full of memorable characters, intrigue, and fun. It makes me want to see India even more. Four out of five bananas.
The Paris Wife was entertaining too. Not great, not horrible — but worth the read if you want to know more about Ernest Hemingway’s life, in theory. I liked the small peek into Hem’s life, even if it was fictionalized. And I loved reading the scenes about Paris. Two out of five bananas.
Peace Like a River, however, is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. A first novel, this story made me shake my head with the craft the author displays. How did he do this? The story is woven beautifully, with simple detail that gives the reader just enough to interest and let your imagination wander to fulfill the rest. I am buying this book for my dad and brother this week — I loved it so. Five of five bananas.
And now — I am reading NOTHING. Because all 600,000 pounds of my books are on a truck on their way to New Jersey. Oh, how I want an iPad. But I must read the books I own first. And within a few days, I’ll be setting up a new library. So, I will drive and listen to podcasts and look out the window, writing the next chapter of my next novel in my head.
Happy reading and adventuring to you, friends!
I wish I could quote more Willie Nelson songs, but this one is most appropriate. Nelson and I hit the road tomorrow for Nebraska, then Chicago, and finally on to the East Coast. I have cried buckets this week, (saying goodbye to my brother? You have to be kidding me.) but I am also so very excited to be moving on to the next part of life.
So, while we are out exploring the Midwest, a few more photos from crazy days in Texas last weekend:
Pristine gardens in the King William section of San Antonio
The dude abides. Even in street fair art.
Nacho Libre as a dog. BEEEEG KISS. (and cheeeeps for the orphans.)
Confetti dog. Adorbs.
This woman is a self described “hostess with the mostess.”
And these are her Twinkies.
How pretty is this little boy?
Almost as pretty as this horse.
And a random parade participant dressed as butter. Who did not explain, but kinda didn’t have to in San Antonio. Folks are big, and happy and love good food in this town.
More to come. Happy trails, friends!
I visited San Antonio this weekend to be with my folks and aunt. It was the typical family visit in that I slept, ate and argued a ton. There were board games, long walks with the family dog, long visits on the patio with cool drinks, a tour of the Alamo and river walk, etc.
This weekend was also Fiesta — an extensive city-wide party that includes a handful of themed parades. We caught the King William Parade Saturday afternoon.
ROY G. BIV was the guest of honor. It was a feast for the senses. A parade full of thousands of happy people, dressed in the wildest costumes. Streets lined with cheerful parade-goers — wearing wreaths of flowers in their hair, vests of medals, streamers, etc. And my very favorite thing: dogs in costumes.
Just a taste — many more to come over the next few days. Again, for the second time in a matter of a few weeks — I was delightfully surprised to find myself surrounded by a community celebrating with abandon simply because they could. Truly, wildly, fully loving life.
Thank you, San Antonio. For reminding me to get over myself, and be silly.
My mother could have been queen (a story for another day.) She was shaking her stuff with the best of them!