Grandaddy and Cat Skeletons

I first posted this story years ago. Today I feel like posting it again. Because it makes me happy, because I like this picture of my Grandaddy, and because there’s a lesson here that I need to be reminded of.  Things will only go one way: the way they’re meant to go.

photo taken on our wedding day by The (amazing) Schultzes

Folks, this is Grandaddy. He is a retired fireman, a Rock Hill native, and one of my very favorite men on God’s green earth. He was probably joking with my brother about making him pee blood when this picture was taken. That’s an actual running joke with him. “Boy, I’ll make you pee blood,” he says menacingly. It’s an old joke. Don’t judge.

See the watch on his wrist? As a little girl, I used to sit on his lap for hours fiddling with the links and the clasp, sliding the band off of his wrist and onto mine, running my fingers over the shiny glass face and the brushed metal back, trying to figure out what he learned from this little machine on his arm.

If you’ve met him, you know he’s a character. He has a story for everything, and I don’t think he’s ever met a stranger.

One of my favorite stories is from his fire-fighting days. You know, firemen used to actually get called to people’s houses to get cats down from trees. That didn’t only happen in the cartoons. It happened regularly in real life.

One day, a woman’s cat ran up a tree. Or telephone pole. I forget which. It was a tall, wooden thing. Distressed, she called the fire department. Mind you, my grandfather once had a rat terrier that he trained to chase and kill cats — but that was on his own time. On company time, he was a feline hero. So, being the good firemen that they were, they loaded up the truck and drove across town. When they got to the lady’s house, she was a mess. She was crying, wailing, lamenting her poor kitty — certain that he was on the brink of his ultimate demise. My Grandaddy tried the ladder and found that it wasn’t tall enough to reach the cat atop his perch in the tree/telephone pole.

“What do you MEAN you can’t get to him?!” she cried. “What are you going to DO?! What about poor FLUFFYYYYY?!” (Confession: I don’t know the cat’s name. I also don’t know that this is an exact quote. I like to picture this woman in hysterics, a hand thrown daintily across her forehead, seconds away from the smelling salts.)

“It’s not tall enough,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. Give him time, he’ll come down on his own. It’ll be ok.”

“He CAN’T come down on his own!” she wailed. “He’s TRAPPED, he’ll DIE!” Here, I like to picture her in full on panic mode, clinging to my stoic grandfather, hyperventilating, searching the pockets of her housecoat for a hard candy.

“Lady,” my Grandaddy said. “Look around. Just look.”

She looked.

“How many cat skeletons do you see hanging from trees on this street?” he asked. “He’ll come down when he’s ready, and you’ll just have to wait ’til then.”

The Hundred-Year House

Oak Tree in Park“But here at Laurelfield, there was something more in the mornings, a buzzing sensation about the whole house, as if it weren’t the servants keeping it running but some other energy. As if the house had roots and leaves and was busy photosynthesizing and sending sap up and down, and the people running through were as insignificant as burrowing beetles.”
— Rebecca Makkai, The Hundred-Year House

I finished The Hundred-Year House tonight. I really, really enjoyed it.

When I worked for Biltmore, my favorite perk was free admission to the estate. I loved visiting the house late in the afternoon, in time for the last (least crowded) tour of the day. I would drag my feet through each room, trying to drink in as many details as I could, imagining what life in the big house would have been like through the years. What was it like to sit in the library with the windows open during a rainstorm? How was it to eat breakfast on the patio? What was the house hide-and-seek record? And most of all, what were the people really like?

The Hundred-Year House is written in installments by generation. It starts in 1999 and ends in 1900, spanning four generations of life in the house (in reverse) at Laurelfield. With each new section, the reader gets some (but not all) of the answers to the questions asked by the people living in the house. You’re a fly on the wall, learning the secrets and the truth (but not quite the whole truth) behind the house’s ghost stories and bumps in the night. There are hate-able characters and love-able characters and (best of all) characters who you can’t quite pin into one corner or the other.

If you’re into historical fiction, ghost stories, or old houses, you’ll probably be into this book and its secrets. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year.

Next up, I’m due for a nonfiction book (which means I’m working hard to resist the draw of The Miniaturist). Any recommendations?

Zen and the art of Label-Peeling

Beer Labels
I peel the labels off of my beer bottles.

I started my habit in college. I usually carried a notebook and sometimes stuck the labels, still a little sticky with leftover glue, into the pages. When I got home from the bar, the labels would be dry and I could fill in the blank space with snarky observations and snippets of eavesdropped conversations. Later, when I started dating Josh, I would scribble goofy notes on the labels (the more beers I drank, the goofier the notes), passing them to him across the table. Now, I’ll fold a label over and over until it becomes a thick little square that I can flick down into the neck of the bottle. Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll try and remember how to make a paper crane.

I do it because it’s satisfying. There’s a certain release when I’m able to get a label off in one rip-free piece – like a long sigh after a deep breath or the end of a good stretch (the kind that takes over your body and contorts your shoulders and back and face and voice against your own will until the stretch is done).

I do it because it’s a distraction. If the table conversation doesn’t interest me or if I’m feeling like biting my nails down to painful little stubs or if I’m in the bathtub and my head is swimming with thoughts and worries and to-do lists, I can concentrate on peeling this one label from this one bottle until conditions clear.

I do it because it takes patience. With most bottles, you can’t just charge in and swiftly peel the label in one piece. You have to wait, let condensation soak in to the paper and loosen the glue. You have to start in one corner, getting a big enough piece that you can gently pull in the rest of the side. If you rip your first try, you’ve got to move to the other side, tugging a little more gently or maybe just waiting another five minutes for the glue to ease its grip a little.

I don’t meditate. But I have this thing, and this thing works for me.

Today was long, and I am so tired. Treating myself to Spinal Tap on Netflix and nice, cold Angry Orchard for a nightcap.

Something I reminded my grandma of today and I’ll remind you of tonight: the reason they always tell you on airplanes to secure your oxygen mask first before helping others is simple. You’re no good to anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Be kind to everyone. Be kindest to you. Even if that means old familiar movies and admittedly girly drinks.

She used to be mine

A little while ago, I read a webcomic about how every big decision we make splits our timeline into two branches – on one branch, you continue as you are with the decision you made. And on the other branch, an alternate version of you splits off and starts living with the effects of the other choice. Read the comic here if I’m not making any sense.

Anyway – I tell you that to tell you this. Somewhere out there in a parallel universe is a version of me who majored in Musical Theatre and is living in some metropolis, auditioning and doing odd jobs and waiting on the one role that she was born to play. And if, in that parallel universe, there is still a Sara Bareilles, and IF parallel Sara Bareilles (maybe her name is Paralleiles) is still writing the book for a new musical based on the movie Waitress, then parallel me is doing whatever she has to do to be in the original cast of that musical.

Mom and I heard her sing this song from the show at her concert in Charlotte earlier this summer – and I can’t stop thinking about it. Some version of me was born to sing this song. 

Skip to around 2:13 for the start.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and transcribe all the lyrics and chords so that I can bring to life my new dream of belting this out for the whole world to hear.

code like a girl

I had to get up in front of a bunch of middle schoolers and talk about our new website today. My five minutes included a live walkthrough of some of the new site’s features, and being the community-building-girl-power-tech-ambassador-nerd that I am, I decided to take the advice of one of my coworkers and do a little subliminal cheerleading via my desktop wallpaper (visible to the students at the beginning and end of my talk for about 10 seconds total).

So I made this:


You can click the image to download the full size 1440 x 900 version and do a little subliminal cheerleading of your own.

More information on (and FOR) girls who code (or WANT to code!):

Made With Code (their resources page is fantastic) | Girls Who Code

September Goals


A bunch of my favorite bloggers posted their September goals today [exhibits a, b and c], and I’m jumping on board, too. Autumn always feels more like a new year than January to me – probably because I work in education, where our years do start over in August. The reason doesn’t really matter – all I’m trying to say is that today feels like a good time for some New Year’s Resolutions.

So here’s what I’m going for this month:

Celebrate my 29th birthday on the 29th! Not sure what I want to do just yet, but ideally our plan will involve spending time outside with my two favorite boys.

Read one fiction and one non-fiction book. I had a super-stressful August at work, and I found that I was reading every night as a way to unwind and disconnect from my stress. Work has since settled back down to manageable stress levels, but I would like to keep up the habit. I just started The Hundred Year House (fiction) and I still need to pick my non-fiction book. I’m thinking All Marketers are Liars or Show Your Work.

Exercise regularly. Yoga via the Yoga Studio app daily and building back up to running with c25k three times a week.

Photograph more of my life. I recently changed over from my big Rebel t1i to the smaller, lighter Canon EOS M, and I want to start using more than my iPhone to take photos of more than Henry – although Henry photos are never anything short of delightful (exhibit a: pictured above, his reaction to Cheerios the other morning).

Build a simple web app with my newly acquired TTS coding skills (my last class is Wednesday). I’m not an expert yet by any means, but I think I have the skills to get started and figure things out as I go.

Improve my skin-hair-nailcare routine. I’ve gotten lazy about the basics like washing my face and using moisturizer, and I’m lucky that my skin hasn’t retaliated…yet. But I’d like to add some stability and better care to my current routine (which is, essentially, brush your teeth and go to bed with plans to deal with today’s mascara tomorrow morning). As a first step, I used Coconut Oil for my moisturizer tonight — and if things go badly, I’m blaming Joey.

There we are. I’m looking for a way to add accountability with a splashy goal-setting printable. Pinterest hasn’t come through for me just yet, but if you have any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments!