Friday, April 30, 2010

Things that make me happy this morning.

  • My painting from Ubud, Bali. My lovely mother got this framed for me for Easter (since November it had been sadly rolled up in the corner of my room). And now every time I'm home I get to look at this.

This makes me smile every time I look at it. Because it takes me back to a little second floor art gallery in Ubud, a town of monkeys and rolling green rice paddies and streets filled with this crazy hybrid of deep, intense, incense soaked Balinese spirituality and art and Western, hippie, expat joy. It takes me back to a rooftop Italian restaurant in that same town, when the lights in the whole town cut off (these black-outs are common in Bali). In most restaurants in the United States a black-out would mean the restaurant was closed. But here in Ubud life continued, albeit with more candles. We sat for hours in the growing dark, munching on the best Italian food I've eaten outside of Italy, bruschetta with anchovies, crips, cold white wine, listening to music from our laptops as long as the battery remained, reassured by the staff that the food would keep coming, even without electricity, as the sounds of bugs and birds filled the warm air around us. When I saw this painting, I knew I would think of Bali every time I looked at it. And I was right. Because this painting is Bali to me, an explosion of blues and greens in every shade imaginable, fluid and strange and surrealy gorgeous, less an island than a dream of an island.

  • My baby niece, Lemma. She can be the biggest pill sometimes. She screams and spits up on me and takes (FOUR) massive poops in one day alone. And yet I miss her every weekend when I come back to Richmond. And if you want to see something so cute it mights just make your head explode, this is one of her adorably chubby thighs with a little Snoopy baby band-aid from where she had to get a shot at her last check-up (!).

  • Clay court tennis! I've said it before, and I'll say it again. While Wimbledon and the US Open are without question my favorite tournaments, there is something about clay court tennis that is so visually arresting. I can't get over the image of burnt red clay kicked up by crisp white shoes and bold yellow tennis balls. Plus nothing looks cooler than these big muscular players sliding around so gracefully on the clay, almost every point puncuated by an acrobatic glide across the dirt. And Rafa is once again kicking ass and taking names, so of course that makes me smile.

  • A dream, still in its very baby stages, of going to Africa to teach. Who knows if it will happen. All I know is that a year before I went to Thailand I had no idea that was going to happen. So who knows where I'll be in a year from now. I've spent so much time this year frustrated by what I can't do, the jobs I can't get. But lately I've been turning my attention to the flip side of that, the wide open expanse of maybes in my life right now. And that's pretty darn cool.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The fastest way to turn me into a blubbering mess.

This Dawn soap commercial.

First off, the song just kills me (and for all of you other geeks out there, it was also featured in a first season episode of Lost). And second, the image of any animal covered in oil gives me instant flashbacks to the Saved by the Bell where Zach and the gang take care of water animals for some class or other (in this episode their high school magically has a plentiful aquatic ecosystem behind it), and then there's an oil spill (because the high school also magically has a giant, untapped oil reserve on its grounds) and this evil oil company (okay seriously who came up with these plots?) wants to drill there, and Zach's duck gets covered in oil and dies, even though Zach tries to save her by washing her off, and see, I'm CRYING now. And every time this commercial comes on, it's instant Saved by the Bell flashback tears. And I mean, even if that Saved by the Bell never happened what is sadder than adorable animals covered in oil? And what is more inspirational than those same animals being cleaned off by SOAP? Dawn soap. And for every bottle you buy they give money to save these same poor animals, so that there can be more inspirational soap baths given to poor, oil covered otters and I'm just going to go buy 500 bottles of Dawn soap.

And that's why those advertising geniuses are so good at what they do. Outright emotional manipulation.

Update: Oh God, when I wrote this I didn't even think about the fact that there is an honest to God oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right now, and this is just so incredibly depressing, and lets all go to the grocery store and fill our carts up with only DAWN SOAP.

Reason #4,103 Why Dave Eggers is my Hero

"We're still about paper and cloth and glue and ink, and if you put care into that craft, it has the same appeal it always did," [Eggers]said. "We shouldn't assume, always, that we're hurtling inexorably toward some all-electronic world."

Suck it Kindle.

Just call her Eloise

Baby niece lounging in her robe at the Ritz Carlton.

That's how she rolls yo.

(And trust me, I realize that dressing her up like this puts me one step away from being that woman who takes pictures of babies dressed as plants)

I really am Liz Lemon

I've often thought Liz Lemon and I are the same person. We both love watching shows about midgets while eating giant blocks of cheese. As evidenced by the photo above we both love singing into our bottles of Pinot Grigio. But now I know we also want the same man. I'll let the other Liz's words speak for me.

"But I'll tell you what I do want. I want someone who will be monogamous and nice to his mother. And I want someone who likes musicals, but knows to just shut his mouth when I'm watching Lost. And I want someone who thinks being really into cars is lame and strip clubs are gross. I want someone who will actually empty the dishwasher instead of just taking out forks as needed, like I do. I want someone with clean hands and feet and beefy forearms like a damn Disney prince."

Sing it sister.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This does not bode well for the day when I'm a mother...

So hanging out with an (almost) four month old all day long, things get (shockingly) a wee bit boring. I mean we have fun. We go to the zoo and look at the pandas and gorillas, sometimes even the small mammals if I'm feeling really crazy. We go get fro-yo or lattes from Starbucks (and by we I mean Lemma too, I mean it's okay to put frozen yogurt and espresso directly into a baby bottle right?)

I kid. But really, I love my niece and I love being able to watch TV all day long and taking walks and all of that. But from time to time I'm a little bored. And what have I done to cure that boredom? Online shopping is what I've done. Lots of it. Currently there are four books from Amazon flying their way to my house along with four American Apparel T-Shirts. And tomorrow when the Ann Taylor Loft 30% off sale kicks in, I just know I'll end up ordering this gorgeous red scarf I've had my eye on for quite some time.

And well yeah, that's a lot of stuff. I realize this. But this is me as a temporary nanny. I get a break at night when my sister and brother-in-law get home. So just think what will happen when I'm a real mother and I can't just hand over the kid at the end of the day or on the weekends. I am going to be one of those hoarder people, surrounded by UPS boxes. My kids will get lost for days in enormous piles of packing peanuts.

This is not a good habit.

One of the most beautiful things I've ever read...

from the May issue of O Magazine

I strongly suggest taking a moment to read this article, "Finding Ashton" from the latest issue of O Magazine, about a woman soldier in Afghanistan. I just finished it and I cannot get over its beauty and power. This is what journalism is capable of, a transcendent moment as a reader where the words on a page become something tangible and vital and real. I know without a doubt that this will stay with me. It absolutely broke my heart.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Things I'm Really Liking about DC at the Moment:

So the Cherry Blossom trees apparently peaked a couple of weeks ago, but I like them best right now, when the blossoms have fallen and blanketed the sidewalks and it looks like it's been raining pink confetti for days.

    There's a Whole Foods on like every block.

    Walking around on an average day I hear about five different languages.

    Kibibi, the baby gorilla at the zoo. Whenever I take human baby to the zoo we go visit her (and if you need proof of evolution just compare a human baby and a gorilla baby, there is not much separating these two). Kibibi is almost always on the lap of one of the bigger gorillas. She is tiny and adorable and looks like this.

    On a related note I like the lady volunteer who works in the Ape House at the zoo. She's there every time I go. I'm assuming she doesn't get any sort of payment. But she'll talk for days about the gorillas and orangatangs with an enthusiasm and love that is both endearing and contagious.

    I giggle silently whenever I see a woman wearing business clothes with tennis shoes. I know this is the norm in big cities where people take public transportation. But it always make me think of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. And that makes me think of Harrison Ford in Working Girl. And that makes me very happy indeed.

    Whenever I go out in DC I feel like such a bumpkin. I've lived in Paris and the suburbs of Bangkok, but something about this city makes me feel like I'm wearing overalls and have a toothpick dangling out of my mouth at all times. And yeah, you'd think that would be a negative, but sometimes it's nice to feel completely out of place. Maybe it just reminds me of Thailand, where walking down a street was always a lesson in trying and failing to fit in. I think it's good for humility's sake to feel like a bumpkin from time to time.

    I like that every time I go running I go past the National Cathedral and right in the middle of this oh so American capital of ours, in a neighborhood brimming with the preppriest of prep schools, is a building that would exist comfortably in the middle of Paris.

    DC is a wonderfully weird city.

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    this makes me sad

    From a article I read this morning about the protests in Thailand:

    "Bangkok has canceled traditional festivities on Khaosan Road, a well-known backpacker haven that was the scene of bloody battles Saturday night."

    I cannot imagine blood or battles on Khaosan Road, a place I went to a couple of weekends during my time in Thailand. When I think of Khaosan Road I think of a crowded rooftop bar with a band playing heavily accented Western pop songs. I think of people clutching sweaty Chang and Singha beers, standing with my friends, sweaty and flushed from the hot air, while a heavy rain pours down on the awning above us. When I think of Khaosan Road I think of vendors selling bland versions of Thai food to all of the drunken backpackers on their way back to their hostels and guest-houses at three in the morning. I think of loud, booze soaked Australians and dirty, smelly backpackers freshly arrived wandering around with wide eyes in the place made famous by traveler's tales and movies like The Beach.

    I cannot picture blood there. I don't want to. Lord willing, this all ends soon, because it breaks my heart to picture violence erupting in a nation I associate with so much kindness, generosity and peace.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010


    I've been looking for a case/skin for my ipod touch since I got my ipod at Christmas. But frankly none of the ones I've found have been in the slighest bit perty. And if I'm going to be looking at the thing all the time I want it to perty darnit! And then I found this adorable Diane Von Furstenberg case and I just fell in love. It is currently on the way to my house from the DVF website. Plus it's cheaper than the ones at Target :)

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    observations from DC

    Driving in rush hour DC traffic gives me a severe case of split personality disorder. Case in point: while driving through the city on my way back to Richmond last Friday around 6pm, a car with a Quebec license place veered into my lane without signaling or waiting for me to let them over (one of my BIGGEST pet peeves). In this order I: beeped my horn, threw out the bird, and then shouted "F*** you CANADA!". I am not proud of this behavior.

    On a related note I've realized that DC rush hour traffic does not start or end during the weekday, it simply exists all the time except for one break in the morning maybe from 10-11am.

    My sister's neighborhood is filled with tourists right now because of the combo of the Cherry Blossom Festival, spring breaks for kiddies and the Zoo being one street over. These tourists are harmless except certain situations. One of these was last week when I attempted to take the baby in the stroller. Now a little background: baby HATES the stroller more than anything in the world. She will maybe last five minutes in the thing before she starts shrieking and begging for freedom. Yet I try to take her in walks in it so as to acclimate her to the stroller because when she gets too big for the sling she will no longer have a choice in her method of transportation. So, I did this the other day and of course by the time we went around the block she was screaming so loud I might as well have been water-boarding her. So I go to pick her up from the stroller and you know, stop the absolute and total torture it is to be carted around the neighborhood like a little princess, and when I turn my head there is a tourist family of six, complete with backpacks and hats, across the street all motionless and staring at me and the baby who was in the midst of her best Exorcist impression. I thought about smiling, waving, and saying "Oh don't mind us, she's just a little sore still from the beating." But I somehow refrained.

    Walking around with a baby in a sling garners a lot of comments from strangers. Particularly when the baby in said sling is the cutest baby on the planet (and no, I'm not biased). My favorite comment was a completely unintelligible string of words spoken by a man in heavily accented English of which I could only make out "the bay-bee".

    I used to think that I would never baby talk to my own child. But after being around my niece I realize this is foolish. Because when an adorable baby starts cooing at you and making little gurgly noises the ONLY appropriate response is to say goo goo ga ga. You don't even have a choice in the matter. Suddenly you realize that you are fluent in baby and that there is no more pefect or beautiful language in the world. There is simply no way you could respond to a baby with, "well baby, I hear you and value your opinions, now let me respond with my own thoughts, perhaps about the stock market or the latest episode of Lost." You have to speak their language.

    When a baby spits up in Starbucks in a crowd full of people on their Blackberries and I-phones, it is funny. If the baby had projectile spit-upped (which she is wont to due) it would have been comedy gold.

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    what it means to lose Ukrops

    Every time we went to Ukrops when I was little I was on a mission, to get one those rainbow cookies. I knew they handed them out for free in the bakery section. And I knew, practically from birth had known, how delicious they were, buttery and sweet and oh so crumbly. My mom would push me in the direction of the bakery counter while she shopped. "Just go ask them for one Elizabeth," she would say distractedly as she threw a jug of orange juice into the shopping cart and ran her eyes down her grocery list. I would inch my way over to the counter until I was a few feet away and then just stand, casting furtive glances in the direction of those red and green objects of my desire. I was painfully shy as a small child, and I could never bring myself to ask for one of these cookies, no matter how much I craved them. But I never had to. Every time I would find myself addressed by one of the kind men or women who worked there. They would ask me if I would like a cookie, and I would nod furiously. The plate of cookies was offered over the counter. I would reach up and grab one, maybe eke out a squeaky "thank you." And then my moment had arrived, that perfect bite of sugary goodness in the middle of the afternoon, usually on a school day when I was tired and cranky and where nothing in the world could be more right or good than that rainbow cookie.

    I've been thinking of these memories a lot lately, especially today, on the eve of the beginning of the end of Ukrops. Tomorrow four Ukrops will be closed. They will remove the Ukrops signs, re-organize the inside, stock shelves with beer and wine, and then they will re-open as Martin's, a chain of grocery stores I've never heard of or seen in my life. They will continue to do this, four stores at a time, until every last Ukrops is gone. The buildings will remain. They will still be grocery stores. They may still even sell some Ukrops prepared foods. But let's not kid ourselves. Ukrops will be gone.

    There's another thing I keep thinking about. When I first went to college in South Carolina, I often found myself trying to explain Ukrops to people not from Richmond. "So it's just a grocery store?" they would ask, as I went on and on about the wonders of White-House rolls or Duchess mashed potatoes.

    "Well yes," I would reply, frustrated by my inability to convey what it was that made Ukrops Ukrops, what it was that made it great. "But..."

    That but. I never could figure out what to say next to do any justice to the chain of local grocery stores I'd frequented my entire life. I'm still not sure I can. Because of course Ukrops was a grocery store, but what makes all the difference in the world is that it was never just a grocery store, not to those of us who shopped there and ate there, not to those of us who have always associated Ukrops with home. We loved Ukrops for the same reason we love Richmond. This was not a dazzled, wowed, love at first sight. This was not the astonished, first time you walk into Whole Foods and see 5,000 varities of vegetables kind of love. Our loves of Ukrops, like our love of Richmond, is not simply about what these places are, but about what they were and what they have been.

    Ukrops was the afternoon when I was five years old and my grandmother picked me up from school to spend the day and night at her house. I must have spent dozens of other afternoons or evenings with my grandmother when I was that age, but what remains clear and vivid in my memory is our trip to the Sycamore Square Ukrops to pick out something for lunch. After we went through the check-out, we sat in the sun filled gazebo outside and ate. I don't remember what we talked about or what we did later that night, but I do remember sitting outside of Ukrops with my grandma that afternoon. I remember the anxiety of spending a night away from home tempered by the most familiar food I could eat outside of my mother's kitchen.

    Ukrops was all of the times I went to the orthodontist and had to get some new, medieval torture procedure done on my teeth, the excruciating pain afterward, the complete and total inability to eat anything that required chewing. But I could always eat the Ukrops Duchess mashed potatoes. I would eat these things by the plate-full. Now that calorie and carb counts are never far away from my thoughts, I rarely let myself indulge in a food item that I'm pretty sure is 90% butter, but as a twelve or thirteen year old, I could happily shovel in mouth fulls of what I believe are the best mashed potatoes on the planet. It was the only bright spot in all of my brushes with orthodontia. Ukrops was the day before a snowstorm, the rush of people in heavy coats hurrying to buy bottled water and canned foods, as if the apocolapyse were forecast instead of six inches of powdery snow. Ukrops was being the age where pushing the grocery cart was an exciting novelty, something we begged our mom to let us do.

    Ukrops was the first, slightly terrifying time I went grocery shopping by myself right after I got my driver's license or off-campus lunch in high-school, rushing to the Carytown store to buy sandwiches or salads or sushi. Ukrops was the sight of a chocolate fudge mini-pie on the counter when I got home from school, the perfect, personal sized pie that pushed away all thoughts of homework or studying, if only for a few bites. Ukrops was the perfect yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting, square and simple and oh so right. Ukrops was the smell of fried chicken wafting all over the parking lot, the first thing you noticed when you get out of the car in the parking lot and the last thing you notice when you drive away. Ukrops was all of those short, small conversations with the kind older men who took your groceries to the car, meaningly words about the weather but tiny reminders of the decent, ordinary connection that can be made in any moment between total strangers. Ukrops was triangle boxes with pizza inside on nights where there were too many basketball practices or piano recitals to have dinner at home. Ukrops was a picnic of chicken salad and mac n' cheese and rolls and green beans, spread out onto blankets on a warm summer night at a swim meet, where almost every family there had an identical meal. Ukrops was where I first learned to drive, in the empty parking lot of the Stony Point location on Sunday afternoons, because my mom was too terrified to take me on any road where there might be even one other moving vehicle.

    Ukrops was the first time I came home from college, when I came home from studying abroad in Paris, when I came home from teaching English in Thailand. I remember each of these times, driving home and seeing the familiar world of Richmond around me but not really there yet. But the moment I walked into my kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and saw the box of Ukrops tuna salad sitting on one of the shelves(there was always a box of Ukrops tuna waiting for me whenever I got home from time spent away), I was home. It was that simple. In college I would sometimes use Ukrops bags to bring things back with me to Charleston. It was silly really, but I could never throw the bags away. I would tuck them in a closet or in a drawer, hold on to them, because I knew every time I caught sight of that familiar logo, the six hours and four hundred miles between me and home would for one moment cease to exist.

    Ukrops was all of these things, but the truth is that if you're not from Richmond or if you haven't lived there, then reading this could never really make you understand. To love Ukrops is to know it. To know Ukrops is to love it. It's the same for Richmond. Richmond isn't a city that a tourist is going to fall in love with on a day trip. It's not going to be a place that tops any destination lists. And it doesn't have to be. Because for those of us who know Richmond, it's never been about grand vistas or elegant boulevards (Monument Avenue notwithstanding). We love Richmond because of a collective memory, because of what Richmond was when we were children. It's the same for Ukrops. There are probably other, flashier grocery stores with a greater selection of food and lower prices. For God's sake Ukrops doesn't even sell booze. But it's irrelevant. It's place in our hearts is secure for no other reason that it is a part of who we always have been. In a typically Southern fashion, we define so much of who we are by who not only we were, but who our parents were, who our grandparents were, where they lived and loved and yes, where they shopped.

    So what does it mean to lose Ukrops then? What becomes of Richmond when this guide post of ours dissapears? I, for one, am afraid of the answer. Maybe it's because it's coming on the heels of losing the Braves. Maybe as I get older I'm just more and more nostalgic for the places and people of my childhood. But I think it's more than that. Ukrops is important to us. It always has been. Richmond needs Ukrops the same way we need the Byrd and Plan 9 and Narnia and the Landmark Theater and Joe's Inn and Bev's and Pleasant's Hardware and Westburry Pharmacy and Sally Bell Bakery, to name just a few. These places give Richmond meaning. They make us us. They've never been just a movie theater or a hardware store or a bookstore. They've been where we went on a first date or where we bought our first CD or where we went to hear Patricia Polacco read from one of her book's on a field trip in elementary school and afterwards let us make a wish by touching a piece of meteor. They've been the place our new neighbors bought cupcakes from to welcome us to the neighborhood. They've been where we went with friends at midnight to eat peanut butter pie or where went the Friday after September 11th, when a theater full of people stood up to sing patriotic songs with tears in their eyes. These memories could not have existed without these places. I cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like if the Byrd was a Regal Cinemas or Narnia was a Barnes and Noble of if Ukrops had never been Ukrops, if it was a Harris Teeter. Life would have gone on of course, and it would have looked very similar, but the meaning would have been changed irrevocably.

    It hurts to lose Ukrops. I can't imagine what it will be like when I drive past a Ukrops store and see a strange logo in the place where the familar one should be. And I know this is all horribly depressing, but I think there is something to take out of it. We may not be losing Ukrops because we forgot about it, but we can lose other pieces of Richmond if we continue to forget about them. We can become Anytown, USA if we neglect the things we used to love. We have to stop taking for granted the things that makes Richmond home. We have to start remembering to value what is good and local over what is fast and easy and trendy. Because if we don't, if we continue to lose these places, then Richmond will be just a city, one whose meaning has absolutely nothing to do with the people who live there.

    Losing Ukrops is hard, because it was never, not even for a moment, not since it opened in 1937, not for those of us who spent so many hours of our lives wandering the brightly lit aisles, just a grocery store. It has always been a benchmark in our collective history, an immovable piece of the definition of our city and its people. But from now on it will have to exist that way only in memory.

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