A Happy Choice


My stress-filled life had been burgeoning into a borderline melancholy when I agreed to attend the documentary “Happy”at the Imperial Theater with my friend Bethlehem. I was unsure of the details of the story but knew that the film was centered around the artist known for his smiling paintings, Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman.



Like most Augustans, I had seen the Happy Robot signs plastered all around town, and had worn the stickers myself when they were thrust upon me by the ever-delightful and enthusiastic Tricia Hughes. Also like most Augustans, I was fuzzy about the motivation behind Zimmerman’s colorful and upbeat imagery, but curious to hear more about it, and possibly pick up some pointers.


As I am fascinated by stories of personal journeys, I was immediately drawn to the film, which recounts the life of the artist from childhood, through losing his great love, to finding redemption through his craft. I enjoyed watching him at work, fixated on painting while wearing headphones, head bouncing to the music. He would zone in close to the canvas, carefully outlining an image of a smiling bear, then suddenly burst into laughter. I wondered how his mind moved from the music to the paint to the thought which entertained him so much, a little envious of someone so completely in the moment and filled with the capacity for pure joy.

The documentary, created by Michael Patrick McKinley, shows the joyful painter’s lifelong passion for his art, which seems simple in content but is actual replete with symbolism and precise technical skill. As Metro Spirit contributor Molly Swift explains, McKinley has been able to convey that “in the midst of all the noise, the HAPPY campaign stands out both due to its origin and its simplicity. The point is to help people choose happiness. That is all.”

Which brings me back to me, and my current obsession with joy in the midst of stress, simplicity in the midst of chaos. Life has become so complex and overwhelming, that I find myself turning to stories like Zimmerman’s, which demonstrate that elation is a flower on the side of the road, obscured by the weeds and concrete artifacts, waiting for us to just notice it and pluck it for our own. At some point in his arduous journey of loss, Zimmerman realizes that he can either dwell on his pain or discover an outlet for expressing his emotions in a constructive way.

I realize that is naive to think that happiness is as easy as picking the flower out of the weeds; it’s one thing to choose happiness and another altogether to feel true joy in the face of life’s pressures. Viscerally, though, I believe we all make it harder than it has to be. Seeing how other people have overcome these pressures to discover their bliss brings us one step closer. McKinley’s movie inspired me to contemplate the healing powers of the creative process and the helpful power of a bright, simple smile.

Diet Coke Divorce

As Kevin was transitioning out of the hospital after his hip surgery, the doctor and nurses were adamant in their advice about his medicines. “Don’t be a hero,” they warned. “Trust me, you want to stay ahead of the pain. Keep taking your pills.” Apparently, it is easy to keep misery at bay, but very difficult to reign the big raging bull of suffering back into the pen if it gets out of control. Sure enough, Kev stayed on the pills until he was out of the danger zone, and was able to stop the meds without consequence.

I suspect that I may have to do something similar as I enter into my 11th attempt to terminate my 34-year relationship with Diet Coke. For those never hooked on this drug, you need to know that calling it a beverage is truly inappropriate. When I am on good terms with the substance, I call it the “Nectar of the gods”. When we are struggling, it is the “Devil’s nectar”. Either way, I’ve known for years that it is beyond bad for me, and that one day my addiction would have to be faced. Researching this struggle on the internet only makes my impending journey that much more daunting.

Dr. Edward Group explains in his 2015 article Why is Diet Soda Addictive , he labels my nectar a “toxic cocktail of chemicals” that  tricks the reward centers of the brain into thinking it is going to get something awesome, then denies it that pleasure, which compounds the cravings. As if that weren’t cruel enough, diet sodas have been associated with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and brain lesions. It makes you gain weight, causes emotional disorders and puts you at risk for more than 92 side effects that the FDA knows about.

All of these negative consequences are spit in the wind, though, for those of us who ache for the carbonated poison. I read a blog about a woman who carried cans of it in her purse, in the event that it was not available where ever she may be going. I could easily relate to this and can admit to doing the same. As I caved into my yearning during the other times I attempted to quit, I rationalized my actions with thoughts like, “well, it may hurt my health but it makes life so much better!” or “Diet Coke= Happiness” or “I work hard, I deserve this boost to my day.” Really any thought just this side of “life just isn’t worth living without it” has likely contributed to my process of justification.
For those not addicted to it, or who have never been addicted to anything, cannot understand that it is more difficult than just setting down the bottle. Besides the stimulation to the reward center of the brain, there are the crippling side effects of detoxifying the body, including migraines that hurt so much you will want to strap on some lead weights and go out for a swim. I read one blogger’s experience, Elisa Zied, who said she even misses “the companionship with Diet Coke,” admitting that it “sounds silly”, but it became that much a part of her life. She associated the soda with the joy she experienced while drinking it with certain favorite foods or how it helped during stressful moments in her workday.

I guess that about brings us up to speed with my personal plight, one that I calculate has cost me $37, 230 as a conservative estimate over the past few decades. The last significant amount of product I consumed was 24 hours ago. I’ve been nursing this 12-ounce bottle today like it contains arsenic (which it might as well). I feel like someone who has been told they are about to be hit by a bus, but who does not know when it will strike. I am waiting for the pain to creep up on me, stealthy and powerful, conjuring up memories of past arduous attempts to forego the juice. I’d like to tell you that I will report to you what it feels like, as that is my intention. But either I will be able to follow the advice of Kevin’s doctors and “stay ahead of the pain”, or I will be in too much agony to articulate the experience.


I will circle back in another post to explain why I am doing this, why I am so certain of my victory, and the carrot I receive at the end of the race. In the meantime, please pray for me. I announced my intentions on Facebook and it looks like I have some supporters and encouragers out there. I have a co-worker who is going to quit with me, and she has agreed to be my “battle buddy”. Success for this divorce will take a village, and I fear that Kevin and my co-workers may suffer the most. I forgot to mention that other withdrawal symptoms include “raging temper, anxiety and extreme fatigue.” Let the games begin.




I tried to do a selfie to let you see what 50 years old looks like, but… never having mastered the art of the selfie, I am afraid that all attempts turned out horribly, frightening me with some hard truths that I would rather not think about. I hope that in reality I look better than what my iPhone shares with me.

At least I can take some consolation that my coworkers were kind in their assessment of how I look for my age. The comments I heard today include: “You look 30!” “I swear I thought you were in your 20s!” and “There is no way you are 50!” Some conversation seemed slightly less complimentary, such as the look of surprise from my boss Bill, with: “I thought you were 30 when we hired you. Have you worked here that long?” Mr. Hudson’s comment also came across as less than favorable, but I am telling myself he had good intentions behind it:”Sorry this place has put so many miles on you!”

Although I am not sharing here what 50 years old looks like, I can share what it feels like. It feels like a bounty of happiness, surrounded by amazing people who fill my days with humor and kindness. I appreciate all of the riches in my life, including my incredible family, husband, job, coworkers, home, friends, community, cats and car. I still chase after all of the grand goals of life at full speed, while enjoying incredible good health (knock on wood), every day. In short, 50 feels amazing.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am compelled to tell you that 50 also feels…well, a little sleepy. I am tired more than I want to admit, and I crash pretty hard when I get home each night. In truth, I constantly pine after my next nap in the same way my cat Roland constantly pines after his next can of Fancy Feast. It’s always there, in the back of my mind, calling out to me: “Sleep! You know you want me!”

Despite my fatigue and frightening selfies, I was ok about facing the milestone birthday today. I was hopeful for the normally subdued day, as I prefer as little attention as possible. I turned off the birthday feature on Facebook, and tried to sneak under the radar without a lot of fanfare. Birthdays just are not a big deal to me, and I approached today thinking that this would be another quiet one. Not so much.

What 50 looked like today was a barrage of attention. This morning, I arrived at work at 6am to find a bouquet of balloons tied to my chair, and a collage of paper balloons taped to my window. I nearly teared up reading many of them.

I knew that my sweet assistant Rosanne was behind the festivities; she is truly as thoughtful and creative as they come. In addition to the balloons, cards and messages she corralled from the various 70+ coworkers at the dealership, she also created a special presentation just from her and her daughter Mercedes. The card was a singing one, a purple purse which encourages you to extract pink sunglasses, and when you do, lights flash on the purse and the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” bursts forth loudly. Very loudly, at 6am. Rosanne also made a basket filled with my nectars of life, namely diet coke and wine. It sat near my desk all day, tempting me with its cruel blend of caffeine and intoxication.

It seemed that every co-worker paused to personally wish me well today. All throughout the chaos of work, a steady stream of pleasantries, hugs, songs and compliments were bestowed upon me. Customers noticed the attention and joined in with their wishes, especially when the arrangements began to arrive.

The first to arrive was a fruit bouquet, a gesture from my Guest Services team. Next was a lovely arrangement from a customer, and then beautiful blossoms from my sweet Kevin and finally a creative collection of unique flowers from my sister, brother-in-law and niece.  Suffice it to say, I was touched beyond measure, and filled with the gratitude of one who knows that her blessings exceed her worthiness.

Sometime this year I’ll try to take another selfie to show you what 50 looks like. For now, you will have to take my word for it. I could look better, I could look worse. But I could not possibly be richer in the things that matter most. #Thisis50.


Final Moments of Grace

Michelle wasn’t quite a co-worker to me, nor was she really a friend, but maybe she was something in between. She did seem more significant than just someone who did my job at another dealership. After Mr. Hudson hired her for his new Toyota store, he asked me to drive to Columbia to serve as her mentor, since a Customer Service Manager was still an unusual position in the car business. Michelle and I hit it off during training, which wasn’t surprising, since everyone got along well with Michelle. She had the kind of sweet disposition that was both endearing and sincere. I knew immediately that she would do a remarkable job, one that she re-titled Client Relations, and she did. It wasn’t long before Mr. Hudson and the Toyota team leaned on her for almost everything.

Michelle was very young, very pretty and recently married. One could easily get the sense that her life was just beginning, and that it would be amazing. You could easily picture her staying at her job for years, even as she had children and continued life as a wife and mother. Her potential was limitless, both personally and professionally.She was a devout Christian, but she was inspiring to others as much for her unwavering niceness as for her unwavering faith.

Since I am telling you so much about her potential, you’ve probably already guessed that this is a tragic story and not an uplifting one. At about the same time that we all decided that we loved this girl, she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. Since I was in a different city and not as close to her as the many Jim Hudson employees who surrounded her, I was not in the loop on her medical journey, but received random updates. I do know that it didn’t take long before I was hearing that she was too sick from the chemo and radiation to work full days. Her sporadic, part-time schedule soon was too much for her, and the dealership figured out a way to keep her job and her office waiting for her, despite reports of her continuously failing strength.

I would continue to hear bits and pieces of her battle, which always sounded to me like a medical nightmare. The strategy of her doctors was one of extreme, aggressive therapies, and in vain attempts to kill cancer in one part of her body, the medical team soon faced collateral damage in other parts, including a compromised immune system and a spiral of devastating side effects. I heard so many reports of her declining health that it was not a shock when the corporate HR Manager called to tell me that Michelle had passed away. Young, vibrant, sweet Michelle, newly married and blossoming in her new career, had died.

I’m not sure why I felt so sure in that moment that the treatments did more to kill her than the cancer itself. I am not a health care professional, I don’t have an interest in science and I have an aversion to doctors and hospitals. I just had a hunch that somewhere along the line, the medical practitioners created more suffering than they ameliorated. Perhaps she was always going to die, but I couldn’t help but think that they deprived her of some significant quality of life, especially at the end, when reports from her visitors detailed how brave she was despite the appalling physical decline.

I’m sure the seeds of these thoughts where germinating when I discovered a book called The Emperor of All Maladies, touted as a definitive biography of cancer. Despite the lengthy, science and history-filled 608 pages, I read it as voraciously as if it were a suspense novel. Each chapter confirmed my suspicions regarding the dangers of traditional cancer therapies, and the arrogance which caused the industry to hold on to treatments long after the research indicated that they were counter-intuitive and counter-productive. I was already distrusting of Western medicine prior to reading the book; afterwards, I was convinced that I would rather perish quickly than to suffer in the hands of doctors who obstinately adhered to these frightening and dubious paths.


Knowing these experiences, you might now understand my fascination with the latest book to admit some flaws in our current healthcare protocol, entitled Being Mortal. In this shorter work (282 pages), Dr. Atul Gawande admits that there is a need for a perspective shift in the industry. I like how this reviewer articulates the book:

“We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed…but life – a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.” – Oliver Sacks

I was so impressed with Gawande’s work, that I did something I’ve only done a few times in my life: complete the book, close it shut, consider it, and then re-open it to begin reading it again at page one. There is so much in the book which is significant and thoughtful, that I daresay it occured to me that everyone should be required to read it.


The timing of stumbling upon this masterpiece is intriguing. I was helping my husband through his recovery from hip surgery, while managing the house and my job. This 6-week ordeal was not that difficult, but it was all-consuming, and it caused me some trepidation for the future. If I was this exhausted during a short-term, minor surgery recuperation, how I would fare as a caretaker for him if the issue was more serious? I developed new respect for family members who are caring for individuals with more oppressive health needs, especially when there might be financial struggles, as well. I doubted my own character in such circumstances.

This was my state as I stood in the Target book department, slightly tired and depressed and fully prepared to salve my melancholy with personal purchases. Suffice it to say, I was tossing stuff in the red cart with little regard for my long-lost budget. I went to the non-fiction section and started grabbing any hardback book that wasn’t focused on diet or cooking. I would read the first page, and if it grabbed me, I added it to the cart. My selection of Being Mortal stunned me even as I dropped it in. Surely, this depressing-looking book was ill-advised in my current state? It sat on my nightstand for 2 weeks before I opened it. Once I did, though, I was hooked. It is a testament to Gawande’s writing style and personal approach to an otherwise icky subject that I kept reading it, daily, until I finished, and began again.

The other item of note in the timing of this book discovery is my approaching 50th birthday next month. At this time in my life, it is inevitable that I will be soon facing these very real issues, either again with my sweet Kevin or with myself, or my aging parents. I feel grateful to have stumbled upon this masterpiece, as I now feel so much better, armed with some knowledge and perspective which will surely inform decisions affecting the quality of life for those I love.

Although the book speaks much of mortality as it pertains to the aging process, it also touches on decisions for those suffering from difficult ailments such as cancer.There is too much pressure on the healthcare consumer and their loved ones to make overwhelming decisions while mired in the emotions stirred up by the potential outcomes. Having a few helpful “focus questions” and some insight into the experiences of others can surely offer comfort in those stressful times.

I cannot say that either of these books would have helped or changed Michelle’s path, or that of her family. I attended her funeral in Columbia, where Mr. Hudson spoke of her heartwarming, gentle ways and steadfast faith. As recently as last year, one of her co-workers took me to her former office in the Toyota store and encouraged me to have a moment of silent remembrance of her there. We hugged, and cried, still painfully and acutely aware of the lost potential of her life.  In that moment I knew that I must aspire to her brand of kindness, her character in adversity, and finally, no matter what challenges may be in the future for me or my loved ones, that I am able to maintain what she had all along:grace.

Be a Blessing


I had never cared much for the expression, “be a blessing” to someone, but now it is all I think about. It pops into my head at random daily moments, such as when the kid who bags my groceries tells me to have a nice day. At first, I am tempted to give a quick closed-mouth smile or a cursory, “you too.” Something clicks, and it occurs to me that I need make an effort to be earnest in that moment. So I work up my most genuine smile, make eye contact, and tell him that I hope he has a super day, as well. My previous automatic response and my new heart-felt one seem the same on the surface, but I feel strangely better knowing that I’ve tried to jam all of the sincerity I can corral and place it on a platter in front of a stranger I may never see again. In doing so, the “be a blessing” phrase pops in my head, and a new habit slowly forms.

Now that this habit is taking root, it is shocking to see how many similar opportunities bubble to the surface, and how pleased I am to try to rise to the challenge. It forces me to “be in the moment”- another phrase I am reconsidering- because in order to be a blessing to someone, you have to be conscious and focus. You cannot be a bright spot in a fellow human being’s day if you are distracted. Grumpy moods also fall away with a genuine desire to be kind.

Kindness is at the heart of being a blessing, and it really is easier than I thought to simply make an effort. We all could surely use more niceness in our lives, with so much stress tossed at us from all angles. Holding doors open, tipping a little more generously, offering compliments, remembering to ask about a co-worker’s sick mom, buying someone a biscuit in the morning: all of these gestures only require me to briefly stop thinking about myself and let the other person’s happiness take priority.  The more I serve others, the more I acquiesce to the tenet that it is an honor to do so. I’m thinking of tweaking my personal mission statement.

This new mindset came about in a strange way: at the end of an employee interview. I was screening someone for a position in our sales department, a tall female in a tight black skirt and a silky, tan, low-cut, sleeveless blouse. From the moment I saw her, I did not want to like her. I knew that my boss would be displeased at her presentation style, with her painted talon-length fingernails, artificial hair color and distracting false eyelashes. I was immediately exhausted at the prospect of having to coach another female on how to dress in a more “Lexus-like, conservative business attire”, only to find that they never truly convert to our culture’s severely subdued fashion requirements.

My superficial judgments waned as the conversation with the talon-fingered candidate progressed, because I couldn’t help but admire her devotion to a point of view based on integrity. She simply wanted to work at a place where she would be encouraged to offer remarkable customer service. She was striving to succeed in a professional environment where everyone subscribes to the ethics of honest selling. She looked me in the eyes and she listened to everything I said. I was beginning to overlook the fashion blunders.

I was also slightly endeared to her because she was nervous. If she seemed slightly fidgety during the interview, she was downright rattled by the end. It was as if she fell in love with the job after hearing details about the dealership, and the significance of our dialogue increased exponentially with each passing minute. As I left her in the care of another manager, she effused gratitude at what she called my “great kindness”. She made it seem that I had done something beyond just ask some questions about her skills, that I had perhaps given her some life-changing gift.

The only gift I had given her was complete honesty in the interview, sharing everything that mattered in that moment. I told her what is impressive about our dealership, and what is challenging. I gave her a glimpse of what she could expect from me if things proceeded to the next level; I told her my strengths and weaknesses. I let her know that the talons would likely need trimming, and conveyed the pressures that come with working in a luxury environment. I said that I expected her to take ownership of mistakes, and promised that I would do likewise. Her gratitude for this honesty took me my surprise. I have been this frank with candidates in the past, and they always received the information as commonplace. At the end of this conversation, though, I walked away feeling that I had been a blessing to her. She nervously expected a difficult interview, and instead experienced a straightforward dialogue.

The thing about being a blessing to someone, however, is that both parties receive happiness. I walked away from that interview with a new inspiration that has stayed with me ever since. Others smile more brightly at me when I give them my sincere cheerfulness, and I become increasingly addicted to the high of being a blessing to…well, anyone. Friends, family, coworkers, customers, store clerks and servers  are all candidates for my new-found mission. Mind you, I am not taking on a new personality, and realize the limits that my serious disposition pose in the face of this new approach. The outgoing perky gene is just not in my DNA. But if small tokens of goodwill are all that is required to being a blessing to others, and it feels this good to do it, that is a habit worth embracing.

New Year poem, written 20 years ago

How full a life!

How many adventures-

Yet when it’s all said and done

The full living means nothing

Only the ability to be a good person.

Try not to make decisions based on fear

And especially not based on ego

Take a day to be quiet and think

Take a day to organize and regroup

Come back refreshed

And ready to give back to others.

Smile at the puppy, the child, the flower

Notice the bird, the lizard, the wind

Take all kinds of art into your consideration

And memorize at least one great poem.

Groom well, much as a cat would

Play hard, much as a puppy might

Be grateful when you are fortunate

And courageous when you’re not

Self-pity will take you nowhere

Bravery will lead you everywhere

As you set out on your next adventure.


A photo blog of home decor

A old friend of mine used to chastise himself each time he made a comment that was so obvious, he might as well have not said it at all. He would call himself the “Master of the Obvious”. At risk of being called that myself, I’m going to make a statement that is so well-accepted, it doesn’t need to be stated. A home purchase may be the best thing ever for the economy.

Everyone knows this, of course, but I don’t think I fully realized it until our recent home purchase. I am magnetically drawn to Target, Home Depot, Consignment stores and decor shops in a way that causes me to feel powerless. I have acquired more home objects in the last 2 months than I have purchased in my entire 49 years. It is frightening.

I hesitate to admit all this, and I’m sure Kevin is beginning to fear the number of unidentified objects which keep surfacing in his home. The only rationale is that there is some kind of gene in our DNA that makes us feel compelled to buy and arrange objects in a new space. You see a little of this in the car business, certainly. People who want the Lexus key-chain or hat or car care kit or window tinting after a vehicle purchase. But most of that is functional, less of it is personalization. With a home, though, it is a economic whirlwind, a vortex of cash output.

I will not embarrass myself or bore you with a list of the pillows, sheets, towels, and standard home fare in which I have indulged, but I will remind our gentle readers that my new home has 3 bedrooms and 3 baths, so whatever most people purchase with a new house, I’ve done it times 3. Nor will I regale you with tales of new granite counters or house re-painting. My focus today is on decorative (ie: non-essential) items only. So here is a short tour. Enjoy. And to all the local businesses who were the beneficiaries of my spending-you are welcome.


Purchased at Art on Broad, Downtown Augusta


The kitty clock and kitty sculptures I already had. The platform has a cool weathered look. Found it at Clementine Gifts on Baston Road


Pretty sure the ‘vase’ is actually part of a kitchen canister set I found at HomeGoods and bought when I was madly acquiring anything I saw in that color blue. Flowers from Pier One. Arranging I did myself.


I liked this unique picture frame. Photo only stays up thanks to that small round magnet. Purchased from Clementine Gifts on Baston Road


Silver dish from HomeGoods. They hit the big time with their large assortment of blue and beach-y looking decor.


Another dish from HomeGoods


Small dish from Art on Broad, downtown


Blue glass orb from Art on Broad downtown. One of my favorite acquisitions. Hoping the cat doesn’t knock it off the dresser.


Kitchen needed a little decorative work. Visitors who know me will realize that it is for display and not for cooking. Williams Sonoma.


Artwork at a consignment store. Dropped it after I got it home and had to take it to Frame Shop for repairs. LOVE looking at it, especially against the Salty Dog Blue wall.


Another piece from Art on Broad. I’ve moved it 10 times but it currently resides on one of my mantles. It looks good anywhere I put it, but I like it to be where it can shine on it’s own simplicity.


My facebook friends will recognize this composition, but it is the 4th version of the bookshelf by the fireplace. The “Happy Place” sign was a gift from my brother-in-law. The wine was, sadly, purchased for decorative reasons only.

Homeowner with a capital “H”

I have never been what you would call a very domestic person. I earnestly expressed disdain for anything that could be construed as “bric-a-brac” and could not feign interest in drapery or nice furniture. Words like etagere, sconce and valance were not a part of my vocabulary. (I’m not entirely sure I know what they mean now.) If friends or family talked about matters of the home, my eyes would glaze over or I would excuse myself from the room to play with the pet cat.  All of my spending impulses revolved around shoes, music, books and travel. I never had the need for landscaping skills, and my cooking skills have trended on the rudimentary side. An independent girl who married late in life, I never imagined I would live in any abode much more significant than the quaint and simple townhouse I purchased with Kevin when we were still dating.

Kevin, however, always had a different plan, and as a result, everything has now been completely flipped upside down. Kevin aspired to purchase a larger, newer house with a yard, one that we could own forever. He started saving for this goal almost as soon as the boxes were unpacked in our little townhouse six years ago. Carefree and oblivious, I lived my life as I always had, spent money as I always had, and grew comfortable in the small space we shared with the cats and the Sprout. This past Christmas, one of my family members asked Kevin how he planned to spend all of the Lowe’s and Home Depot gift cards he had received, and he casually mentioned that we would be buying a new house in 2015. While I had been focused on staying blonde and fashionable, Kevin had paid off our debt and collected a sizable nest egg for our transition to a house with a capital H.

A short six months after Kevin’s holiday announcement, my life morphed into one I had never before imagined. All of my excess income is now devoted to bric-a-brac. I walk around our new house, and walk around again, rearranging items, enjoying the wide terrain of open space, admiring the accoutrements I have rabidly accumulated in a frenzy of spending since our offer was accepted. It’s a shock to the system to never need or care about interior design, and then suddenly become obsessed with it. My google searches have gone from “Jimmy Choo spring line-up” to “upscale modern design”. My phone is filled with images of decorating ideas, many of which I have implemented with moderate success in the new House. I haven’t yet spent time on Pinterest, but I see it as an inevitable result of wanting to make the new space one we will be proud to show off.


I insisted on “Salty Dog” blue in the foyer and Master Bedroom. Kevin was a trooper and agreed.

Other Homeowners tell me that my quest for the perfect home “will never be done.” That depresses me slightly, as I want it done yesterday. When we moved in, I instructed the movers to put all furniture in designated rooms, and all other items, including boxes, in the garage. The entire double garage (my first) was filled to capacity, shoulder-high, with only narrow walkways in which to navigate. It looked like an episode of “Hoarders”. I wanted everything that went into the house to be placed thoughtfully and neatly, and the house to always be immaculately organized. The garage-to-house unpacking was the only way I knew to do this, and I would come home from work each day and arrange items, one at a time, until I was so exhausted that I couldn’t move. It took me exactly one month to complete, 2 weeks ahead of my self-imposed schedule. At that point, I could park my dream car in my dream garage. Life was becoming surreal.


“Before” picture in the garage.


LIG B gets parked snugly against the garage wall every night.

Since unpacking, I have worked room to room, tweaking and re-arranging and cleaning and planning. I love this Home in a way I never thought possible. I love caring for it, sitting in it, adorning it, and talking about it. In the same way I did when I first started driving my dream car, I almost have to pinch myself to believe that it’s real, to grasp that it is ours. (See blog When You Finally Own Your Dream Car ). I think back to the sometimes-selfish, superficial girl I once was, and wonder how this quick evolution occured in such a short span of time. Suddenly, I can never find time or money to update my blonde highlights, and my shoe collection sits neglected on the organized shelves. I don’t talk about grand trips in our future or drop triple-digits in the bookstore. And while the cooking and landscaping skills have not yet been developed, it seems reasonable to expect that these activities will be a part of my new future.


My aversion to bric-a-brac has dwindled, now that I actually have places to put decorative items. Glass jars filled with sand, shells and twigs was an idea stolen from the internet.

Kevin says there are no more surprise major purchases in our future, no more shocking Christmas announcements, and I’m thankful. This one is as satisfying and transformative as I can handle. Now, would someone please explain to me the difference between a valance and a sconce?

The Dinner Guest


“If you could have dinner with anyone at all, who would it be?” Penny asked Sheldon this question on a recent Big Bang Theory episode. After the show, I pressed Kevin for his answer and he didn’t even blink. “My lovely wife, of course!” Pause. There was a moment of silence. He realized that my brain was racing with options of exciting potential dinner guests spanning all ages, races, and personalities. “I’m guessing that your answer is not dinner with me?”

It’s not that my husband isn’t my most important dining companion, it’s just that I was intrigued by how problematic it would be to glean one person out of countless options. The question was not about how I would spend my last meal, or who is my all-time favorite person. The way I interpreted it, we were summoned to select one individual in order to share some meaningful facetime. At worst, it would make for a cool story, which is something I constantly seek. At best, the experience could be life-changing. Should I dine with someone important or famous or engaging or entertaining? The Dalai Lama, perhaps? The President? Elizabeth Gilbert? David Sedaris? Morgan Freeman? Kathy Griffin? Jim Carrey? Once the query had been posed, I couldn’t get it out of my head, because I couldn’t figure out who my person would be.

A few names bubbled to the surface that I immediately discarded because I could probably make those occasions happen on my own. The fiercely intelligent Nadia Butler, an inspiring local success story, would likely accept my invitation if I had the nerve to call and request some of her time. I would also love to see Ben Holstein, my dear friend from college, but again, I know I could swing it myself if I would just schedule some time to fly to Kansas City. Other names include people with whom I’ve lost touch: my best friend from high school, Donna Lewis, as well as my mentor and former boss during the Clinique years, Katherine Cripps. It was just too difficult to choose.

Waiting to board a plane in the O’Hare airport, I had plenty of time to ponder this conundrum. One thing I did decide is that I disliked the airport, which is much older and less organized than my “home” airport in Atlanta. In Chicago, the ceilings are much lower, making an already claustrophobic environment even more oppressive. I moved from gate to gate, trying to find a less conjested space. I distracted myself with a Chicago hotdog, then a slice of pizza, and finally some local flavored popcorn called “Chicago mix”. Schlepping down the corridor, burdened with my luggage and food, I stopped frozen in my tracks when I saw the title of a book for sale in the sundries store: “The Opposite of Loneliness”. I immediatly thought it was the best book title ever; I purchased it on the spot.

Back at my dingy blue gate, I started reading what I learned was a collection of essays and short stories by Marina Keegan, a writer of astonishing talent. The introduction, written by her former writing professor Anne Fadiman, brought me to tears. Apparently Ms. Keegan had penned the “Opposite of Loneliness” essay shortly before she perished in a violent car crash. She died just five days after she graduated from Yale. The piece went viral, as people everywhere related to her poignant plea to live fully and embrace the beautiful uncertainty of youth. The essay was lyrically engaging, and was ultimately combined with other pieces she wrote, including short stories, and published into a book. Had I not traveled to Chicago, I may not have discovered it.

Delta agents called for pre-boarding, and because I had splurged on an upgraded ticket, I was soon settled into my comfy seat in the first row and began to watch the flight attendants bustle about. I would watch a bit, munch a bit, read a bit. The two-hour flight zipped by as if it were no more significant than preview time at the movies. The attendants visited our section often to offer amenities. While my fellow passengers were liberally partaking of the free flow of alcohol, I sat there engrossed in my own world.

It occurred to me, in that moment, that Ms. Keegan would have made an excellent choice for a dinner companion. Her voice was in my head now, and to be able to hear that voice in person would have been, I have no doubt, a transformative experience. The authenticity of her writing and the immensity of her thinking was exactly the kind of inspiration I was pining for. The point of hypothetical conversations, in the end, is to force us to consider what are the most true aspects of our lives. I was essentially having dinner with my person of choice. I was contemplating her extraordinary vision and felt inspired to live more fully in a way a writer hasn’t challenged me to do since I studied Rilke in college:

Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Like Ms. Keegan, Rilke challenged us that life is more than the mundane details which consume us; it is something more lovely and engimatic. As Ms. Keegan’s friend Luke Vargas explains in this tribute video: “She led with what what was most personal and I think the places she went in her writing will give other people hope that they can find something at the end of their journey also.” The life we live every day is not life. We must strive to have an impact on the world, and we do that by pursuing what is honest and essential. This eloquent message was presented most poetically from a once-in-a-lifetime dinner companion, and I’m grateful for it.


Holden Street


I once lived in this small gray duplex on Holden Street, tucked in near Richmond Academy off of Walton Way. You can see my former unit, “B”, on the right, with the “Beware of Dog” sign. It wouldn’t suprise me if there really wasn’t a dog, and that the sign was just a desperate attempt to thwart potential theives, since the neighborhood has had some crime issues. But I get ahead of myself. It wasn’t always that way.

When I lived there, in the early 2000’s, I wasn’t afraid of the neighborhood. It was nothing compared to the dive I inhabited near Piedmont Park in Atlanta in the 90’s. That midtown apartment was at the back of a house, bordering a dangerous part of town, and there were few street lights. At the end of the late shift, I would make a mad dash from my car, crawl over the porch banister, scurry to unlock the door and get safely inside. I even had a hidden place to sleep inside a walk-in closet. Holden Street wasn’t like that. I parked right in the front yard, walked to the door without fear, and gave little thought to break-ins.

I did give thought to climate control, however. The apartment had two window AC units that only partially abated the stifling air in summer, and a small floor heating system that spewed out so little warmth in the winter, that I never turned it on. In the coldest months, I crawled into a little cave made with blankets surrounding the bottom of my bunkbed, shivering in my pajamas covered with a heavy coat, my cats nestled about me. Taking a shower was torture. I had the maximum number of space heaters I could use without throwing the breaker, and was completely inactive from the moment I arrived home until it was time to talk myself into the dreaded shower each morning.

We all get used to the conditions we live in, and I learned to adjust and adapt on Holder Street. It was not a particularly happy time in my life, which I don’t blame on the home (unless there is something to be said for Feng Shui). When I think back on my time there, I recall sad times, money problems, boyfriend drama and cat health issues. I ended up there because of my credit status; no respectable apartment complex would welcome me. I visited the Circle K daily to buy ramen noodles, diet coke, cheese danish and cat food. Rare treats included canned ravioli or a trip to the nearby KFC.


Although I kept my normal relationship with the neighbors (I’m known to be the girl who will only give a slight wave or a head nod), I somehow learned one day that the houses on both sides of me had been broken into. I looked over to where a plastic bucket sat propped upside-down beneath the window of the home to the right (seen here-the window on the side of the house next to the bush). That was the window they used to access the place. That was the window which was spitting distance from my living room window. Someone stood on that bucket to get into the house, and it still sat there in all of it’s guilty green glory. I was horrified.


I immediately called my landlord and told him I had to move-right away. Not tomorrow, not next week. NOW. I made it quite clear that my cats and I would not be spending another night in that place, thinking about that green bucket, which could be so easily moved. He showed me a couple other options in his portfolio, but they were equally scary-looking. It was time to see if a traditional apartment complex would accept me back into their world.

I reached out to the people at Forest Hills further up Walton Way, close to campus. By then, in 2004, I was poised in a slightly sturdier position. I had just started working at the Lexus dealership and earned a bit more money. Mr. Hudson had personally assured Lexus Financial that they could lease me a car with no concerns, which helped me re-build my credit. Forest Hills accepted me into their only open unit, and I moved in with the help of my dad and a strong co-worker. My cats and I were safe, and a new era was in front of me.

I’ve come a long way from Holden Street in the 12 years I’ve worked at Jim Hudson Lexus. The dealership has been good to me, and I’ve clearly made better relationship and life choices since then. The journey from coldness and fear to warmth and security is one that formed the person I have become. I pass Holden Street often, and the neighbors have all surely changed. The guys hanging out on the porch of the house next door didn’t pay much attention to me when I pulled up to take these photos. They just saw some strange lady in a Lexus, not realizing that I was re-visiting my old home. Although it is not far from where I live now, it is truly a world away, but I will carry the memory of those struggles with me always.