Tag Archives: coffee

Bitter

5 Jul

Awake at 6:20. WTF.
Ramble highlights of imaginary lives
via Facebook for an hour.
At least it lives up to its name.
Gratitude #1.

Write existential crisis poem.
Sigh.
Attempt to communicate via social media.
Realize dog must pee.
Realize no one wants to hear.
They just want to be seen.
Ditto.                                    Anyway.

Avoid stepping on the heel of guilt.
Think: Anything can happen today.
Gratitude #2?
Contemplate: Anything.

Breathe through the motion to cry.
Muster the energy of Gratitude #3:
I can flip back a comforter.

8:46. Exit bed.
Brew
coffee sweetened with cynicism.
Still bitter.

Message in a Bottle

6 Jun

A small blonde boy sits on the path in front of Ocracoke Coffee Company patting Clarence. Both are perfectly content just sitting on roughened planks covering pebbles and sand. The boy slowly strokes the dog’s back. Clarence then moves into his familiar spaniel position, the backward lean. It’s his comfort move.And whether my dog knows it or not it is the position which relays the most love to the person doing the patting.

It says, I trust you. You can bear a bit of my weight.

I don’t mind leaning on you for a bit.

As much comfort as my quiet presence gives to you, I am grateful for the affection and attention you are bestowing upon me.

Clarence is wise, for during this weekend back in my favorite place, I’m thinking about the delicate balance of friendship and connection. As I sit in familiar places here on the island again, people I have come to know recognize my face.

They ask,  “How’s the writing going?”

“Ok,” I say.  But at this point, two years into this blog, I’m not so sure.

Yesterday, standing in line at the coffee shop, an older gentleman and I struck up a conversation. As we slowly began to become acquainted, my travels, occupation, and story rolled out.  And of course the question always arrives,

“What do you write?”

But these days, I hesitate to answer.

Because looking back over this enormous amount of processed experience, I have no idea what to call this type of writing. It’s not a blog…each piece is too long. It’s not memoir, the experiences too new and my perspective too close. It’s not what I had originally intended to do, review the road. For the writing became personal, and intimate. Sometimes too personal. It made me uneasy this veiled honesty. My feelings on love and loss, forgiveness and connection eventually erupted into the process.

I’ve been told — Just tell a story. Narrative keeps distance between you and the reader and people come to their own conclusions.

I’ve been told — Keep it personal; that makes it more true and real, cathartic even.

I’ve been told — Shorten it up; no one wants to read 1500 word essays online.

I’ve been told — Don’t omit the details…tell the story as long as it takes.

I’ve been told — Love the rich description. My language, lyrical and poetic, is the hallmark of my style.

I’ve been told — Make it plainer for everyday folks. No one wants to think that deeply over a blog post.

All I know is this…somehow I just needed to tell my story. Somehow, making my journey visible to others whether happy or sad made it more bearable. And bit by bit, there was healing. Becuase in some strange sense the whole thing felt seen. . .witnessed. And isn’t that the only thing people can do in a recovery? What is this power of acquiring witness?

However…the doubts feel creeping shame; have I opened myself too much?

The Internet is a strange filter, through which nothing is entirely anonymous. I’m a real woman living in a real town, living a real life that has its happiness and it’s challenge, more challenge it seems than not. But still, it wouldn’t take much for anyone to find me and know quite clearly what’s happened both in my inner life and outer life in the last two years.

And now I wonder… Is it too much?

When a person asks me,  “So… What’s the name of your blog?”

And I cringe a bit and say, “Ummm… It’s not really a blog”  or ” it’s kind of a record of my journey or it’s sort of like a journal”… and then I change the subject. That’s when it occurs to me that maybe, just maybe I’ve opened up my life too much. Someone once told me revealing too much at the beginning of a relationship is like getting naked on the first date… you just don’t do that. And maybe. . .I have, a little.

And maybe for someone who meets me in person, or someone who already knows me, or more importantly someone who wants to get to know me, reading personal introspection about this journey of mine may elicit a bit of discomfort… a hesitation. Maybe it creates a sense of voyeurism that feels like walking in on someone while in the bathroom… That “Oops” feeling. That, “I’m not so sure I know you well enough to know you that well” evasiveness.

I’ll never forget sitting at one of my favorite restaurants at home last year. A young lady approached my table and asked,

“Are you the Wayfarinlass?”

“Yeeeaahhh?” I  hesitantly replied.

“I read your blog”, she said slowly. “I’m a biiigggg fan.”

Uh Oh

“Uhhh…ok?”  I started to get a little frightened. Thoughts of stalkers and just how public my small missive actually was suddenly became apparent as she plunked down at my table and ordered exactly what I had.

As the conversation ensued, the young woman revealed her purpose in approaching me. Was I dating her ex boyfriend who had referred her to the blog? Horrified, I didn’t even know whom she meant until well into our hour and half long discussion. During this confession of sorts, she revealed to me everything about her prior relationship, even details one might save for a long trusted friend. I struggled between trying to extract myself and counseling her.

Now that I look back on the event, I see it all too plainly. When you do not have a sufficient network of caring friendships and connections that provide mutual love and support, you grab on to the first compassionate ear and hang on for dear life. Because in a world which isolates us in its enormity, a world which cannot focus on anything immediate and real, being heard affirms and assures us that indeed everything will be alright. How sad, but how necessary, it is that sometimes a stranger is the only one who brings us the wisdom and comfort of the Universe. Or at least a mirror in which we see what is already there to heal us within ourselves.

We are social creatures. We need each other whether it is comfortable or not. Just looking at Clarence and the way strangers interact with him shows me that. But there is a difference in live presence and mental construct. In this digital space, I haven’t named names, for the most part, nor been explicit. But I have written about my own vulnerability, revealed details that take off the mask of a human woman struggling to navigate a single life. It strikes me that someone could meet me and know much more about me than I him or her and now and that gives me pause.

There’s a mystery to live connection, a slow revealing that builds trust as the foundation upon which the house of relationship stands. That foundation cannot be ignored, because without it, connection is nothing more than an illusion. A safe, but lonesome one at that.

In watching this little boy, I can see it. He and Clarence begin the slow creating of a moment. They get comfortable after the initial greeting. Commitment to stay for a while happens and then they settle into a quiet paring. Each tentative touch increases the trust; each stroke assures the next will be gentle and giving. Clarence gets affirming touch, the boy gets emotional comfort and peacefulness. But the key is this…

It’s present.

It’s real.

It’s not words on a page.

It’s not an illusion created by photos and status posts.

It’s not an Internet dating profile or Facebook space spread out for voyeuristic view.

It’s not a bevy of texts and emails.

It’s real.

I tire of digital connection. Like smoke signals in the distance it lets you know you aren’t alone, but it doesn’t feed the real needs of the human soul. And perhaps if we spent more time listening to each other’s stories in person, giving each other the benefit of the doubt enough to believe, trust, and walk in compassion rather than hiding behind a digital wall built of our p.e.d.’s, we might just find the beauty of our own human natures. We might ultimately find what we are looking for. For if we are at all honest, all anyone wants is love and understanding. A moment of “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

So perhaps this space has been my message in a bottle. My casting out a line into dark water, so that eventually I might find my way back to civilization, to my real home.

 

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In My Own Back Yard

17 Apr

A friend stops by my classroom.

“How was your weekend?” She asks.

While listening to my story, she smiles, shakes her head.

“How do you find these things? There’s nothing to do around here!”

I tell her about web sites and checking notice boards, but I’m reminded, most of the time my wayfaring is simple serendipity, finding something good when I’m not especially looking for it. Saturday was a prime example. After changing my mind about a local event, I needed to reshape the day with less than 24 hours to spare. Luckily though, I really didn’t need to leave my own backyard, so to speak, and finding happiness there is something I definitely want more of. How can I convey Saturday’s weather other than to say it was spring perfection? New green landscape, splotched with full flushes of cherry and plum blossoms, and lawns full of bright popcorn limbs of forsythia amid eruptions of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths stretching out for miles as I drove north on Rte. 29. Clar had his little head in the wind, soft black floppy ears trailing behind as his nose took in the warm morning air. Soon, he won’t be able to go with me on my rambles. I’m not at all happy about that, and he won’t be either. But Saturday’s plan was a picnic somewhere in Nelson or Albemarle County and then, a local band at Rapunzel’s in Lovingston in the evening. The time between was open to . . .serendipity.

On my way north, I stopped in Lovingston at Trager Brothers Coffee Roastery to test drive their cafe au lait. I have been wanting to go there for quite a while, but hadn’t been able to catch them open. The roastery is in the middle of a quaint town I have always loved. Lovingston’s Main Street reminds me of a tiny model village set under a Christmas tree, folk Victorian farm homes within a mix match of architectural era businesses. A grocery, a cafe, a bakery, a church, a bookstore/coffee shop, the town has a perpetual nostalgic feel. Upon reaching the middle of the thoroughfare, TBC’s sign swung out to the road. “Open”, finally. Up the gravel drive, behind an older two storied home, I curved and bumped. The front of the tiny cafe was completely open to the gravel lot and backyard, the side portico, shaded with chairs and tables.

A bright good morning smile greeted me from Katherine, a Randolph College grad who made me a frothy rich red eye cafe au lait and for a most reasonable price. She explained that they were undergoing renovations, but I fell in love with the tiny place. It’s like going over to the neighbor’s house for coffee on a Saturday morning and finding a personal barista in the kitchen. Trager Brothers Coffee is sold in several places in the local area as well as in regional markets. Their beans are organically grown and the roastery is committed to preparing coffee by hand in small batches, which improves the flavor and protects the environment. This attentiveness to quality over quantity reflects a trend among many places I have visited and loved in the last few months. The idea of buying local, of supporting the efforts of artists, both what I would call domestic artists and those of a more traditional variety has been a part of my social philosophy for many years. So I’ll drive, nearly 30 minutes on summer mornings now for a cafe au lait somewhere other than a cookie cutter coffee establishment that shall not be named (coughStarbuckscough) since the main locally owned coffee shop in Lynchburg has closed. Clar can come along, relaxing under my chair, while I have an amazing cup and sit with laptop to write.

Lovingston is peaceful. The people I have met there are so unlike typical ruralites. While they are definitely a people connected to the land and to the community, they are also quite interested in the arts, in music, in growing and creating. Organic farms, vineyards, cideries are sprouting rapidly across the landscape, especially down the Rte. 151 corridor. Locally sourced restaurants are following. Folk culture, supported by these businesses, reflects in their art, their music, their writing. It’s so hopeful to me, this commitment back to the community, back to the artisan, the farmer, the craftsman. Perhaps a folk Renaissance is coming, squired by the generation behind me, who has tired of the “yuppie” material world in which we reared them. I hear the change in the music, see it in the style of their living. . . and I’m coming along with them.

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Post picnic, I headed down to Nellysford. First stop, Bold Rock Cidery, where I tasted all four of their cider selections. Honestly, I’ve been a cider snob since it tends to the sweet side, thinking those without much of a palate go that direction in the adult beverage department. However, upon tasting I am starting now to appreciate it much more. The Vintage Apple was bright and quite crisp with a lemon edge back note. On a hot day, after that lawn mower winds down, an icy cold one would be an eye roller. The Virginia Draft came next. Mellow and smooth, it yields to the sweet too quickly for me, much like the traditional ciders I have had in the past. The premium ciders surprised me, though, resembling sparkling wines and champagnes. Dry enough to mirror respectable Prosecco, they impressed me. Crimson Ridge Vat #1 was near to a demi- sec champagne, with honey notes. It would pair exceptionally well with beef tenderloin and horseradish. My favorite, though, was the Vintage Dry. The driest of their ciders, the lemon pop was quite pronounced. I’ll serve it with grilled summer fare. And at only 10$ a 750 ml bottle, its something I can easily offer friends in my backyard as we dine al fresco.

After tasting, Clar and I traveled down to Devil’s Backbone Brewery, a familiar venue and restaurant for me from last summer. What a perfect site and stage for local outdoor theater and musical events! I sat in the sun cascading in stripes through the high arched windows and across the gleaming wooden floors, starting my evening with a Schwartz Bier Black Lager brewed on site. Pork Flat Iron, came next, a perfect paring of a grilled pork tenderloin glazed with sweet jalapeno mustard. Roasted red potatoes and baby carrots accompanied it. Devil’s Backbone and similar local restaurants are establishing a standard of fresh food and craft beverages in the area and the response is most encouraging.

As the sun began to set, I made my way to Rapunzel’s to end the day where it had begun, the tiny town of Lovingston. As I took my seat, I saw Katherine again from Trager Brothers.

“Cyndi!” She tucked into my front row table with a smile just as bright as the morning’s.”How was the day?”

We talked about Nelson and it’s slow change. Even though the IGA grocery has closed and the corridor’s growth hasn’t quite made it to the tiny hamlet, there’s hope. Hope for an organic grocery, or more cafes, a vineyard or a cidery…maybe even a traditional tavern. As the music began, it hit me…this community is so alive. Cody and Freeman Mowier, their parents sitting right next to me, opened the evening playing a few original tunes on acoustic guitars. The room slowly began to fill with greetings and hugs; neighbor after neighbor, friend after friend arrived. In this place there is connection at the heart, and as Chamomile and Whiskey, a local folk-rock fusion band with roots in blues, bluegrass and Irish traditional played, I thought about who this post grunge generation really is,these hipster mountain men and hippie vintage gals embracing Tweets and slow food, Foursquare and organic espresso.

The band’s set list, proudly scribbled on a PBR box flap, prompted song after song, including Long Day dedicated to guitarist Koda Kerl’s father, whose memorial service was held hours earlier at the Rockfish Valley Community Center. His mother sat in the audience, his friends and fellow musicians there as well . . .off stage, sometimes on stage, but always connected to the real life behind the song, behind the music. In their debut of A Thousand Sleepless Nights, a slight nod to the rhythms of U2 reminded me of other small communities I’ve known. C&W’s banjo player, Ryan Lavin’s Irish roots reflect in his vocals and picking, and Marie Borgman’s fiddle harmonizes right along.

This connection…

Is it the land…Is it the sky? Is it a place and people interlaced in creative movement through this green Virginia valley? There is a simple, but great beauty there among them and luckily I found it, right in my own backyard.

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Morning Cossee

31 Mar


I was awake all night. Thought and word, scene and image all ticking movements, swept my mind like second hands in a room of clocks. Not knowing which had the precise time, I slept little till dawn. On opening my eyes, though, there was a directive: I must go see my grandfather this Easter morning. I do not need a sanctuary other than this, a space where I can be within complete love. I have never visited his grave until today. To be truthful, before this morning I couldn’t actually find it, having attempted twice before with little luck. No one in my family could tell me where he lay exactly. They do not visit graves.

When he died, I had just turned eight years old and no one prepared me. Even though he was dying in the last stages from cancer, they didn’t feel the need to back then. I was too young to understand. He was just gone, no grieving from anyone. In the ensuing year, my mother married for the first time in my memory and I changed schools. But no one was looking out for me. I had no tools to cope with any of the massive change. All I knew was the high level of warmth and affection from a grandfather was now completely gone. Grandaddy had adored me. He was a reserved man, though, not especially verbal but physically affectionate and a constant companion. When he died that abruptly ended. And no one else attempted to fill the space.

So this morning in the cold spring rain, I decided to go have coffee with Grandaddy. He is the one who gave me my love for it, having introduced me. Granny tells the story that I would have to have my “cossee” with Grandaddy in the mornings, albeit little more than a spoonful of actual brew in hot milk. Café au lait is something for which I have had a love all my life. . .literally. So bundled in layers and cable knit cap, I made my way to Mountain View Cemetery in Vinton, VA with two Starbucks cups: one for me, one for Grandaddy. The conviction in finding him this morning was as palpable as the smoky steam from the waxed paper cups.

I would drive up.

Park.

Get out of the car with two hot cups and a yoga mat.

An umbrella would shield me from the rain to the graveside.

I’d sit.

And we’d have our morning coffee and love each other. . .

Like we used to.

And that is exactly what occurred. Upon driving in the front gate, I suddenly remembered. From decades ago the memory of exactly where he was unconsciously guided my steering. I stopped the car three feet from his grave…no searching required. I knew it as I opened the car door. . .how could I not know where he lay? Inconceivable.

I will always come for you…the words echoed in my ears.
Do you think a love like this happens every day?

And so we sat and had hot café au lait and I remembered why I love him so very much. He showed me that there is a worthiness in me that should be given only to those who are deserving. That my love and trust must be earned through authenticity, and genuine affection, for that is how he loved me. As I saw the Starbucks princess siren on the cup placed on his grave, the lesson came to me. To honor Grandaddy is to become the woman I would have been if he had loved me into my adulthood. Not that who I am is shabby, unaccomplished or would disappoint him, but Beloved is the one who needs to become. To be sure, I will need his guidance by reminding myself of the feeling I had sitting there in the rain, of sitting in his lap.

And I asked him,

Please stay near to me Grandaddy. I promise I will come back and we will have coffee again and I ‘ll tell you more of this journey of mine.

I heard his reply in the rain on the leaves, the bird song, the herald of tiny forsythia and the blush of the redbud.

As you wish . . . he said,

. . .beloved.

What Cannot End

5 Mar

Love is patient and kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. . .

— I Corinthians 4 -8

Nearly every weekend I go and allow. In learning to look for small things, the gift of a story comes to me. In return, I get an experience, an adventure.

Sometimes, small moments converge into a message, a lesson like a perfect tiny shell in plain view upon the sand as the moments on Ocracoke.

But this story isn’t just about a cafe au lait,
or a restaurant,
or a walk and a drive,
or a film.

It is about Love.

And how we may look into its face and know ourselves.

My never ending quest to find a café au lait as good as Ryan’s leads me to the Lamplighter Roasting Co., a small cafe tucked into a Carytown neighborhood in Richmond. This tiny place, reminds me of the boats on Silver Lake, flags flying from the mast on the roof. A heavy woody caramel smoke smell of ground espresso hits me like a door upon walking in and I order my usual…a red eye cafe au lait. The barista’s call rings out a few minutes later and I look down to see a perfectly formed heart in the froth of my coffee.

Sweetness in the Froth

Mornings on the road
spent  in burlap and sips of bitter black,
coffee air and steamer squeals,
poster windowed cafes,
I scribble notes in the spaces between the sips
from a paper cup.
I pause on a perfect heart.
Crowding in from the night into a worn book,
thoughts accumulate like stacked napkins

Post coffee, I walk to Selba, a lovely restaurant on Cary Street for brunch. The room opens into partitioned spaces of sleek modern blended into Edwardian conservatory, like a deck on a great ship liner. Soon, I am wonderfully tended by David, one of the bar men. He brings me a fresh hot plate of Crab Benedict, the sea scent of it drifting upward as I gaze down upon tiny micro greens adorning the tops of perfectly poached eggs, their leaflets bowed out in little green hearts.
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Perched atop my bar stool

like a spring jay among bare dogwood budded branches,

the piano player’s hands puts keys to motion

‘Sunday morning rain is falling. . .’

and I lay hand to lined paper, thoughts

on tiny heart sprouted eggs rich and hot…

I pause,

tilt my hand before

winging concrete streets,

past bright crayon colored doors. . .

A few more hours spent in Carytown yields doughnuts and cupcakes, and thoughts of those with whom to share them. Walking. I’m always walking; it strikes me that I have become the journey.

After an hour or two of shop wandering, the part I dislike the most arrives, the drive home. I’ll be back inside the concrete walls, locked doors and bells of my normal world of school and home, familiar all too soon. Leaving Richmond, I drive a different way, through Byrd Park toward a single bridge. Over the water and then down the street, winding to the left I see it, a sign in front of Westover Baptist.

Love Endures All

A third heart proclaims…love
bears, believes, hopes and endures all.
I stop the car . . .take the picture
like the random dreamsicle sunrise while
driving to school.
When I pause to see
the exact moment of dawn,
a small line moving me through the day
in quiet philosophy.

Bright sunshine made the air more crisp, more clear this Sunday on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I click along the brick and stone courtyard toward the Paramount Theater, the last sweet dregs of a velvety headed cafe con leche in a paper cup. And even though the air bites my cheeks and fingertips, I throw my heart to the sun and let my hair blow into tangles in the playful wind. Black letters on the marquee read…The Princess Bride. Inside, at the Paramount, I move along the plush carpet, past gold gilt walls, among the couples and small children giggling, holding hands festooned in wool mittens and clutching popcorn buckets. Seated in velvet, the crystal and gold chandeliers dim, brushing light from the walls like the closing of a child’s eyelashes.

Twu Wuv

For the thousandth time,
familiar lines piece together
the worn scraps of love in my crazy quilted heart.
‘I will always come for you.
This is true love…do you think this happens everyday?”
My eyes dwell on

their nodding heads in the sunset,
a perfect heart.

“As you wish…”
the grandfather’s eyes squeeze my throat.
This story is about a gift,
about felt kindness,
about what is mirrored in the heart.

You cannot lock in the heart.
It will grow like the dawn until
it no longer fits
inside your chest…
and then you must walk inside it,
an arc rung around the sun
reflecting life inside out
outside in.

In me see you
…beloved…

Love
that cannot
end.

Chicken Fried and Unsanctified

1 Feb

Sunday morning in Roanoke, I ventured downtown in search of a coffee shop. We have Starbucks in Lynchburg, but I somehow feel it doesn’t qualify. Not that I dislike my local Starbucks. I visit it daily. Coffee is sacred to me. I’m a night person who has risen pre-dawn against her will for the last quarter century, ten months out of the year. They know me well.

Venti Bold

Monday through Wednesday, red eye

For the rest of the blurred week, black eye.

At my mom’s house its raspberry decaf? Right.

Sigh.

That morning was also about trying to find a little peacefulness once again. My mom cannot connect with me without verbal communication. It’s impossible for her to just be in the same room with me in silence. It drives me insane. I can’t think. And as a non morning person for ALL of my life, I wonder what kind of “eye” four shots of espresso to a cup is.

So, I trekked down to Mill Mountain Coffee as early as I could manage. Once again, I couldn’t find a “Ryan cafe au lait”. He is the king of the baristas and no one can touch him. If I want a proper cafe au lait, I’ll have to drive nine hours to Ocraocoke to get it. Believe me, I’ve contemplated the drive.

Ending up at Mill Mountain with high expectations was a mistake; the morning went south from there. While I am able to excuse the poor cafe au lait making, I really can’t tolerate abrasively loud screeching laughter among late teen-aged baristas. It was early,on a Sunday, and they were waaaaay too happy and loud. She had one of those laughs that just crawls down into a person’s ear like those creatures from the Wrath of Khan, the ones that drove the crew of the Enterprise into automatonic murderous rages. I stayed for an hour and then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I even threw away the poor excuse for a red eye cafe au lait without finishing it. Mistake one. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, in the grand scheme of things.

So I searched for a new coffee place and drove around downtown Roanoke for literally 45 minutes. Nothing. Not any sort of a comfortable spot with wifi and a decent cuppa joe. On the fly then, I decided to just go eat breakfast. I had seen Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles the night before with my mom and had attempted to look up the brunch menu on the Internet. When I found an empty page, that should have been my first clue to turn back…but I didn’t.

Sigh.

What occurred at Thelma’s has to be the most hilariously pathetic excuse for a brunch I have ever encountered. I almost don’t want to write about it, but because I care about my possible readership’s palates, pocketbooks, and their health I will venture on into the abyss that is Thelma’s.

Let me preface this soapbox review by saying I know that what modern Americans regularly ingest as “food” is in direct opposition to my definition of edible substance. But I grew up with a granny that could cook and I know what home style food is. Freshly made southern home cooking and that is definitely NOT what Thelma’s serves.

I entered the bar area and ordered “the largest coffee you can muster”. I’m sorry.When a customer says that to you, you find the largest cup the kitchen has even if it’s a bowl. He brings me a diner mug, ignoring the twice as large Irish glass coffee mug hanging behind him and nothing else. I had asked for cream and artificial sweetener. He plunks down two plastic cuplets of creamer and a sugar shaker.

Okay… Strike one.

I ask him for a menu. This brilliant lad responds with, “You wanna eat here?” Even though he probably questioned whether I truly wanted to eat at the bar, I should have taken him seriously.

“Um…yeah”, I say. “That’s why I’m here at a bar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.”

So I gaze at the menu and everything includes waffles on the side. I just want waffles, maybe with some eggs but just waffles. What kind of a restaurant that has waffles in the name does not serve waffles unless it’s a side? They serve pancakes solo. Why not (eureka moment) waffles?

I had to order the country ham platter with waffle on the side. Apples, not hash browns came next and no toast nor a biscuit, just a waffle.

He says, “No substitutions …I’ll have to charge you extra for the waffle.”

“Okay”, I say. I start a slow boil as I think, just bring me a damn waffle.

After three cups of watery coffee, for which I had to ask for cream three times, I finally get a platter.

Eggs, check.

Why is there a biscuit? strike two.

Why are there hash browns instead of apples? ball one.

And what the heck is this, I think in horror as I spy something that looks like onion rings.

“Excuse me”, I ask. “What is this?”

“That’s ham”, he says like I’m an idiot. “That’s good ham.”

“What? “I say incredulously, “It’s breaded. Why is my country ham … breaded?”

From the look of irritation on his face, I could tell that my question was a completely foreign concept to his mind. Why wouldn’t country ham be chicken fried? Jeez, lady aren’t you from the south? That’s what his look said to me as he turned around and walked away.

Strike Three. I’m outta here.

I began to laugh because I wanted to cry. I have spent my entire life in Virginia. I know cuisine better than 95 % of most Americans and I can cook it as well and you are trying to tell me that Smithfield country ham is meant to be chicken fried like a Walmart tater?

Riiiiiiighhht…Okay mon garçon.

I sent the hash browns back for the apples I ordered.

“Here”, he says. “Just keep them; it was the kitchen’s mistake.”

“No, you don’t understand”, I say. “I’m not going to eat them. I didn’t order them so that means I don’t want to eat them.”

He glares at me. “Eh, suit yourself”, he says.

I left the pre-frozen Pillsbury/ Sam’s Club biscuit on my plate, too. The eggs were real, I think, and the waffle I did eat with the margarine on top. It was the same kind of waffle you’d make yourself at the Hampton Inn when the continental breakfast is included with the 60 dollar a night room. But then, I tried the chicken fried ham… shudder. I’ll not regale you with details.

I paid eleven dollars for a meal I didn’t eat and then asked to use the restroom. All that coffee. Another nightmare awaited me because someone had become sick the night before and it had not been dealt with. The other stall had no locking mechanism; it swung open freely. As I exited with full bladder, I greeted the girl coming in behind me.

“Good luck.”

The only thing that could save the day was walking, a lot of it. And trying not to lose my cool that I had spent money in a place that wasn’t worthy to call itself anything beyond a glorified Waffle House, which shockingly serves waffles as a main course. I mean, Cracker Barrel even does that though crackers aren’t on the menu. But, I walked downtown Roanoke and took plenty of pictures, and went into the newly renovated market building. Next time I will go to Firefly Fare. Locally sourced, freshly made, hot and real, it was where I ought to have gone all along.

So you may say, Well, home cooking is like that Cyndi. What did you expect?

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected something like my granny’s gently fried country ham with red eye gravy nestled beside two scrambled eggs cooked in the same pan as the ham. Then, a Belgian waffle (made with egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry and folded into the batter) lightly laced with syrup and cinnamon. It doesn’t have to be real maple but the kind that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. I even may have expected an angel biscuit like Granny’s with damson or cherry preserves, that little bit of summer in a jar. Alongside it should be a coffee; even the kind Granny used a percolator to make would have done fine. Strong, clear and brisk with cream. That is what I expected. And although the morning did not give me the gift of a great coffee and stunning brunch, it did give me a memory of my granny’s hands, her blue rose apron, her warm kitchen and comforting table, and a memory of what home cooking ought to be. Maybe next time, I’ll just go to Granny’s and make her coffee and breakfast instead.

Raising the Bar

7 Jan

Where do you write best?, Donna said. 

Up at the bar or in the coffee shop, I said.

She tilted her head to the side. What about at home?

No…not so much there, I sighed. Only when it’s warm, outside in the back room.

I need to be alone, in public.

Her eyes narrowed a bit above a slight smile, which meant I needed to explain. Only I couldn’t. The only thought that came to mind was that wherever I was writing, I needed to have someone take care of my needs while I dove into the images in my head surrounding an experience, either real or remembered. When I swim in words, like a channel glider, I need to be only a writer, only a writer and nothing else.

So reader, I have decided to invite you into my world of traveling for one. This blog, filled with my peculiar style of half review half non-fiction essay was born of two parents. One, a lengthy list of experiences I wanted to accomplish in my life, a “bucket list”. Living with intention, I call it. And second, the absence of anyone to really take with me.  As a single woman at my age, most of my friends are married with children and as much as I might like to find a companion for many of my experiences, there seems to be a singular lack of them.

Because I did not want to wait to live, I decided I should just do whatever I wanted now. My travel to Richmond in July 2012 was really the beginning of this mindset. But after December on the island, where I needed to retreat for healing and soul searching, I discovered I actually enjoy being with myself. Traveling alone or with Clarence in tow, it doesn’t much matter. I am able to see the world with greater clarity, fully immersing myself in whatever I am doing and learn how to balance savoring and saving, being present and yet keeping it for future contemplation.

I don’t prefer my own company to the company of like-minded people, but I do prefer it to settling for a companion whose presence seems needed solely to provide me social permission to be out of the house. I see so many women doing that. They feel they need the security of others to validate somehow pursuing their desires. They need not do that. Men don’t. When I go eat up at the bar, or attend an event alone, I am generally the only woman among a crowd of men who do not think twice about enjoying their own company in a fine place.

When one lives with intention, one adopts the mindset that the only person responsible for one’s own happiness is oneself. A marvelous time  or a miserable time, just as any companion might provide, can result. It’s one in the same. And for me this said, Why wait? Safety? There are ways to ensure that as much as possible. Comfort? Hopefully that’s where recommendations  come in. Some dining places and events seem to be more conducive to solo  enjoyment than others.

My hope is that in following my travels, you might either enjoy these same spots or find new ideas about ones to enjoy on your own, both my feminine readers and masculine alike. The focus of my writing is changing more toward  review now, but with a personal twist. It will take me a few posts to get the right balance, but I aim to share the experience first and then find the lesson in it if I can.

I don’t pretend to be the world’s best writer or photographer. So the writing is imperfect and I am okay with that. Its human. And my camera and eye has its limitations. If  you  comment please do so in kindness. I want to share all this with you, hoping that you will find something to carry along in your own journey.

That’s really what all this is about: a journey. Joe Campbell would say we all walk the same journey; we are just on different points of it at particular times. The joy is already knowing how it will turn out, because we all do. We return home, master of two worlds and then, we share our wisdom with those we love. That is my intention.

 

The Way Home

19 Dec

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This morning, my last morning here, the sun was shining through the windows and Clarence was snuggled into my side. I reflected on my discussion with Kenny last night. From my time here, not only have I come to understand my own story more but I have really come to love and be interested in hearing other people’s stories, their experiences in living. Coming to know others through connecting just as Mr. Rogers did, has me more a listener than a lecturer. I have wanted to relinquish leader role for a long while. Its time for someone else to direct. But I suppose I’ve always loved stories; after all that’s the primary addiction of a writer and lover of words. The way in which I have experienced connection this week through my own story and the story of others is somehow different though, more real, more intimate, more important than fiction. I’d like to be a collector of memories. Memories teach me.

On my way to the coffee shop, I stopped by M’Lady, the great live oak on Howard, to say goodbye. As I touched her side I wondered for probably the hundreth time, how many people has she seen and heard? How many stories of this place does she know? How many hellos and goodbyes?

So, I sit now in the coffee shop for the last time. Ryan isn’t working this morning, so I only have a red eye.  I’ll miss his country music jams and I don’t really know if I’ll ever be able to find a cafe au lait like his, but I am going to try. Last night I went to Zillie’s for the last time, too. That’s a place I need to love in small doses. I’d end up frequenting daily for the company and I’d never want it to grow old, besides I need to really start watching my wallet. I’m still trying to process all that I have come to know this week, with more experience to come in D.C. this weekend.

This time away has given me so much. I can’t really explain but I am different now, as if my eyes have been opened and cannot be shut. And for gifts, one needs a tremendous amount of thankfulness. It will be hard to leave today, to leave home. That’s what it feels like I am doing. Staying at my little cottage was almost like staying in the little house on Church Street again. Waking up this morning felt like it used to way back then; its smallness comforts me and sitting at the kitchen table writing is like being in Granny’s kitchen on Vermont Ave. Marcus told me that he grew up in that house with his “Granny Ma”, when I told him where I was staying. “Aw, that’s Granny Ma Thomas’ house. I grew up on that porch.” So it doesn’t surprise me that I feel so comforted there. After these days, it truly feels like “my home”.

Yesterday, I took my last really long walk around the island and wandered in the community graveyard. I had never been there before to visit these “younger” folk. I stood in the center for a moment, amid the cedars, oak, and moss in the drizzle and listened to the rain and quiet and as I turned, a message on the back of one of the gravestones brought me to tears:

Sometime when the rain keeps falling
And the road is mighty rough
And you just can’t help a thinking
That this life is mighty tough
Just you smile and keep a looking
And what I’m telling you is true
Somewhere peeping through the rain clouds
There’s a little patch of blue
Sure you’ve had a heap of trouble
And I’ve had some trouble too
But we’ll find if we keep smiling
That little patch of blue
–Mrs. F.D. Hendricks

Even in death, these simple folk teach me because they help me to live. Later as I walked more, I actually got lost. It was so funny. I was lost on an island that one can walk from side to side in a matter of minutes, but winding way lead to way and then I didn’t know where I was. When I finally emerged, I was near Eduardo’s Taco Stand and after having met Eduardo at Zillie’s Sunday night and hearing his story, I knew getting lost happened for a reason. I needed to go have lunch there.  Eduardo was a cook at a local place for many years, but he had a dream: to own his own Mexican restaurant here on the island. And so, he bought a food truck and created one. He made me his specialties because I just told him to pick for me. Those were the best tacos I have ever had, and even more special because they were made with care for me by a new friend whose story I now carry. And in the sharing whatever I thought I lost, I found a little of again.

Connection is the gift of the Universe. Principle Two.

Pausing for Puddles

10 Dec

 

A strange thing happened this morning…my place of muse was silent. I awoke with Clar curled into my side this morning with nothing in my head but the sound of rain. The roof of my little bedroom hangs low and the bed is only full sized. I have a king at home and to be truthful, it’s way too big, even with Clarence in attendance.

Nothing in my head but the sound of rain. The air hangs heavy with it and I am in short sleeves. Suddenly, the mass of sweaters I brought seems horribly inadequate, as I knew they would be. The streets are empty. My little cottage is nestled in the neighborhood I know so well. Ducks swim in the road puddles as I squelch along to my favorite coffee shop in my Wellingtons.

I suppose I’ll walk the rest of the day with Clar, exploring. Today will be about knowing this town again. I went past the little cabin we stayed the first time we were here. It doesn’t pinch. Should it? Back then, I had busied myself with distractions of dogs, lists and itineraries. The most truthful photos of me on that trip I took of myself. He watched TV. I pretended the dogs were children and we focused on them rather than the fact that we no longer really connected as friends. I remember being here at the coffee shop with the dogs and everyone coming to pet them. We were the smiling parents of such beautiful well behaved boys, an outward projection that ignored that fact that we probably didn’t love each other anymore. We became a social paradigm. A lot of it was my fault.

Inside the coffee house, country music wafts out over the quiet. A small group of locals are comfortable with laptops and knitting in the corner. On this first morning, I have a perfectly made café au lait and I am off to myself in a warm corner with my sesame bagel and walnut cream cheese. A bright spot is the coffee. . .this type of coffee is something I cannot make. After meeting Ryan this morning, I’m taking the big bowl café au lait experience off my bucket list because his is amazing. He takes a full ten minutes to make it and it’s incredible to watch. Everything is perfect and methodical, yielding a concoction that I have never before experienced. I have an extra shot of espresso added to mine, and he grinds and packs it perfectly. Then, he measures the temperature so that the milk is perfectly heated. The froth is held back from the steamed milk as he pours down the inside lip of the cup, and then he layers a tiny bit of froth on top in striped lusciousness. My favorite part is when he bounces the cup to get the bubbles to rise. It’s like a baker spanking a pan. Equally amazing to watch and to drink.

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away…..

This is what I love about being here, the feeling that at any moment, I might see a friend walk through the door. Someone who knows my name who stops to say hello and asks me how I am. Being at school is not like that. I live life by bells and within concrete walls that lock if I dare to venture out. Even though the students are loving and bright, I tire of never seeing the sunrise, of devoting the beginning of my day to others rather than to myself. I am bone tired of growing other people’s children up for them.

Customers come and go for coffee; the usuals are always acknowledged and the regular morning becomes ordered. The windows are lined with tiny twinkling lights, framing the misty gray of the morning. Light makes all the difference; I see it change by degree even in mist and the cloud. I cannot tell time by light in my room at school. There is only a clock.

Outside, the puddles are huge becuase it’s been raining and raining. The ducks waddle and mosey around in their element. I stopped to take pics of them this morning and watch them. For a moment, I paused mid puddle, muddy water surrounding my boots.This place, this road is so quiet. No plane, no car, no children in the distance, no bells. Just the tiny almost imperceptible splashes of ducks bathing disturb the silence.  I stood there listening for a full minute. There was a moment walking home where I thought, if I could spend my life walking to this coffee shop every morning for Ryan’s cafe au lait and a simple bagel, this would be what it means to be complete. I need to think on that and walk the town puddles and maybe let Clarence give the ducks something foreign to contemplate, just as this place has given me so far.

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