The Year in Review

I fully realize that this post is totally cliche, but I can’t resist looking back on this year, and of course I need to write about it.  I started 2009 in Huntsville, Alabama on a blind date at a fantastic NYE party.  (That date resulted in a 3-month relationship that I do not regret.)  Then the spring sprang, school ended, led into summer, and off I went to Europe.  Ah, Europe.  The most wonderful experience of my life.  (See earlier posts for more details!)  After the trip, my roommate and I moved into our Midtown condo where life is how I want it to be:  a pedestrian lifestyle.  Then in my total teacher mentality, a new year started…in August.  New kiddos–year seven for me–and back to Room E109 at Hopewell Middle School.  And here I am on December 31, spending the day with my roommate, Josh, and our best friend Taylor who is in town from Bolivia where he lives now.

I’m not exactly sure how I would categorize this year, but I do know that it was a good one for me.  New experiences, travel, new friends (who are girls!  Imagine!), and of course my favorite pastime–concerts.  Wow, have I seen some good ones this year! These are the ones I, my iCal, and my concert girls Amanda and Allison can remember, but I’m sure there are more:

Ray LaMontagne (twice)     Griffin House     U2     Kings of Leon     Elton John      Billy Joel      Zac Brown       Hightide Blues     Gareth Asher     Needtobreathe     Ben Deignan     Hall & Oates    John McLaughlin    the Fray     Dave Barnes    Matt Wertz        Amos Lee       Coldplay        Drew Holcomb      10 out of Tennessee    Will Hoge       Treva Blomquist       Jay Clifford      Langhorne Slim (twice)     Muse      Train (twice)       Tim Brantley     Michael Tolcher     Matthew Mayfield     Ellis Paul     Serena Ryder     Eric Hutchinson (twice)

Those shows hold some of my favorite memories.  So yes, I guess this has been a good year, maybe even great.  A friend and mentor of mine, Ann MacKinnon, and I had lunch just before Christmas, and as we got our table, she said, “Well, Dennis (her husband) and I have decided that you are doing very well.”  And yes, I guess she’s right.  I am doing very well.  And I am anticipating nothing less than greatness in 2010…

Bring it!

Feels Like Home

I spent the first seventeen years of my life in Dalton, Georgia, with all of my family:  parents, sister, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and many many cousins.  We went to church together every Sunday (twice) and every Wednesday night, taking up six or seven pews in the sanctuary.  We picnicked at Memaw’s house as often as we could, and I thrived in public schools, becoming a tennis player and excelling in high school.  But all that time, I knew I did not want to live in Dalton forever–there had to be more out there to see, do, play, explore.  So off I went to college, having the time of my life, but during that period, I developed a distaste for my hometown.  Snobbish, even.  In college, when I would go home to visit, my friends who were from metro Atlanta would tease me, saying I picked up Dalton’s thick Southern accent while I was there, and I became nicknamed JEEL, because evidently that is how I said my name after spending time immersed in NW Georgia accents.  Training myself out of that accent, I tried to distance myself from all things Dalton, even my family at times.  For money reasons, I briefly moved home after college to take my first job at Westside Middle School (Go Rockets!), but after that year, I hightailed it to the big city–ATL–and never looked back.  I belong in the city.  However, as I was driving home yesterday, up I75 through Acworth, Cartersville, Adairsville, and Calhoun, I started to feel a shift within myself.  There are some charming aspects of this Appalachian foothills town, and even if there are so many reasons that I will never live here again, I can’t deny that this is home.  This is where I am from, where my family lives, where I am the most loved.  In this town, traffic is considered more than five cars at the redlight on Cleveland Hwy.  In this town, you can get from the northern border of Whitfield County to the southern county line in 20 minutes.  Here there is a cultural blend of Hispanics with redneck Southerners that is sometimes volatile, but adds a flavor to the town it didn’t have 15 years ago.  In this town, the unemployment rate is twice the national average, but its people are honest, salt-of-the-earth citizens who don’t want to  live anywhere else.  My great-great-grandparents lived here, and few members of generations that followed have left.  My Memaw attended Westside, where I taught my first year, when it was a high school.  Here I can have lunch with Ann MacKinnon, one of the most influential people in my life, who happened to be my physics and chemistry teacher at Northwest Whitfield High School, where she still challenges kids to see beyond the obvious, dig deeper into the mysterious, and go further than you think you can go.  This is where I met my best and dearest lifelong friends, Elizabeth and Meredith.

Today, Christmas Eve, I will have two celebrations:  one with the Touchstones and one with the Harrises.  At each home, thirty or forty of us will pile in, sitting on the floor, eating off of paper plates, laughing, telling embarrassing stories, catching up, and exchanging sweet little gifts.  My cousins’ babies will be the center of attention, as they should be, and at the end of the evening we will read the Christmas story from the Bible, sing carols, and listen to Memaw tell stories.  It is my favorite time of the year.  And it feels like home.

Bon Appetit!

Last night I finally watched Julie and Julia.  When it was in theaters, I never got a chance to go see it, even though I kept hearing rave reviews and even comments like, “OMG, Jill, you would loooooooove that movie!” For my birthday in August, my best friend even gave me the book about which the movie was made and my very own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Well, I missed seeing the movie on the big screen, but as soon as it was released on DVD, it moved to the top of my Netflix queue and arrived yesterday, much to my delight, for my Atlantan Saturday night would be gladly spent inside my cozy Midtown condo with my mini Christmas tree glowing while the freezing rain fell outside.  Meryl Streep did not let me down; in fact, I heartily agree with Rolling Stone‘s review:  “Meryl Streep is at her brilliant, beguiling best.”  The charm of Julia Child was a quality I did not know she had, but the film illuminates her in such a lovely, enchanting way.  I was enraptured by her passion for and excitement about food.  One of my favorite things about the film was Julia’s (Meryl Streep’s) squealing when she tasted a delicious bite, or saw her sister, or got fantastic news, or was kissed by her sweet husband.  She wasn’t afraid to be a presence in the room–standing over 6 feet tall, with wild curly hair, and a warm, kind personality.  Oh, how I relate to her!

It’s difficult to explain the thrill I get when I’m cooking.  I haven’t had many strong talents in my life, but a few years ago, I realized that I actually am pretty good at making food that people enjoy.  It started in college when my three roommates and I would each take a night during the week, and we were in charge of making dinner for all of us.  My night was Thursday.  Each week there was a silent, unrecognized competition of who could make the best meal.  Our cooking assignments not only taught all four of us to push ourselves to cook better food, but it also brought four 19-year-old girls around a wobbly kitchen table four nights a week.  Those are some of my favorite college memories.

There is a tremendous sense of satisfaction in taking whole food in-season ingredients, preferably purchased at a farmers’ market, and chopping, slicing, simmering, sauteing, boiling, grilling, mixing, baking, tossing, and creating a delicious meal for myself.  But therein lies my barrier to cooking all the time–that last sentence ended with ‘myself.’  The truest joy of cooking lies in making tasty food for someone else, whether my med school student roommate, my coworkers, my friends, or someone special.  I rarely go all out with cooking if it’s just for myself.  I need an audience!  Lots of Yummmms, please! (smile)

Julia Child (in the form of Meryl Streep) has inspired me to take on the challenge of her book–an American woman cooking French food.  I am not sure which recipe will be my first attempt, and I am not going to try to be Julie Powell who cooked her way through the book in one year, but I am itching to get in the kitchen and for the first time make a French recipe by the woman who lived out her passion for memorable, stop-you-mid-sentence, close-your-eyes-to-savor-the-moment good food.

I can’t wait to squeal with delight in my kitchen, just like Julia.

hold fast to dreams

What is the difference between having goals and dreams and having expectations?  Do we not let our dreams become our expectations for our lives?  You often hear in one-on-one conversations over coffee or wine or miles and miles of wireless signal that someone’s life ended up going a different way than s/he expected.  Divorce, job losses, unplanned pregnancies, infertility, losing someone we love:  these are all smack-you-in-the-face interrupters from our glorious and perfect life plans that we envision from age 4 with Barbie and Ken and Skipper (remember her?!) and pillow cases and Batmobiles.  I think that I have (at times) turned my dreams and hopes into expectations, and therefore forced certain outcomes that perhaps were not ready to bloom yet.  My mother always told me that since I was a toddler, if I wanted to do something, I figured out how to make it happen.  (That is not to be interpreted as me being a spoiled child–far from it.)  I’m a doer.  At times, I grudgingly admit, I’m a manipulator.  If there is not an immediate solution to making it happen, I will find a way and I will not miss out on the experience that I want to have.  I have put pressure on myself to achieve my goals and make my dreams come true because I have expected that if they exist in my mind and in my heart, then they must come to fruition. Passivity is a state that I do not know very well.  I have always wanted to do more, see more, be more, act more, learn more, play more, drink more, eat more, hear more.

Why am I writing this?  (I don’t know.) Perhaps I’m writing this to figure out what it means that I don’t have a pressing goal right now, and it feels weird not to have something toward which I am working.  Is this what contentment feels like?  If so, I don’t like it.  Forward thinking, dreaming, playing, imagining, hoping is where I want to be.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow

–Langston Hughes