Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book of the Week

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
 is a book on my creative non-fiction reading list for school.   Of course, there are many books I can choose from, but this title practically screamed out to me.  I've been in a funk this week.  I've been an emotional one-man, three-ring circus...giddy one minute, raging another.  Being a hormonal female is really getting old.  Anyone? Anyone?

The other night, I got out of the house for a few stolen hours (to be honest, I think Dave actually kicked me out...or at least strongly but sweetly encouraged that I back away slowly from my family and go be alone).  I grabbed this book off the shelf since the title pretty much defined my emotional state.

I'm half way in and am pretty hooked.  It took a minute to understand the writer's voice, what he was going for, but now I'm really enjoying it.  Nick Flynn writes about his absent father whom he finally meets in a homeless shelter that he (Nick) is working at.  It's a great memoir of a boy/man and his relationship with his father.  It's really his unique voice that makes this story a stand-out.  His choppy, sentence fragments keep the story moving. His writing pops the reality of the homeless shelter in such a way that I actually smell the Bowery Mission I was at fifteen years ago.

Nick Flynn's writing is completely without bitterness or cynicism. He just tells it like it is/was.    I feel a connection with him and want to know how his life turns out.  How does he stay open to his father without being sucked into fear or losing his self? He writes:
Sometimes I'd see my father, walking past my building on his way to another nowhere. I could have given him a key, offered a piece of my floor. A futon. A bed. But I never did.  If I let him inside I would become him, the line between us would blur, my own slow-motion car wreck would speed up. 
I'm enjoying this book. But, mostly, like you might have guessed, I really just related to the title 'cause it's another bullshit night in suck city when you are living in this body of depleted serotonin.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Best Fried Pickles in Town

Im on a hunt for the perfect fried pickles.  My husband actually makes a pretty tasty fried pickle.  I love dipping them in homemade crabby-ranch dressing (ranch dressing with Old Bay seasoning). My mouth is watering just thinking about them, and I even had some already today.  Don't judge me, though, 'cause I had them at this new burger joint in 12th South, Burger Up, and I am pretty sure they were organic, grass-fed pickles.

Burger Up, on the corner of 12th Ave. South and Paris, is amazing! The use only local, organic meats and produce.  The beef is from our very own Circle L Farm in Franklin (many of you know Bill Lee and his family).  The bacon on my burger was from Benton Farms.  This bacon is like world-renowned.  It's pretty much the best bacon you will ever eat. I'm fairly certain Marche's serves only Benton bacon (am I wrong?). I know some brunch place in East Nashville uses it.  The burger tasted amazing, what with the homemade ketchup and all.  The only negative was that our burgers, which we ordered medium, ended up just being cooked to the point that a vet might have still been able to save it. (Thanks to Allison Osenga for that fabulous imagery). Of course, since the beef is practically sushi-grade, there were no fears of e-coli! I'd suggest ordering it well. The fries, served in a metal cup, were salted with sea salt, could also, not have been better.  The only thing lacking was a 'special sauce', but I guess if you are making your own ketchup, what am I whining about?

But, this post isnt entitle Burger Up is it? No, its about finding the perfect fried pickles.  These were de-lish! The batter was a delicate, perfectly-seasoned coating. The pickles were thinly sliced chips. The portion size was not exactly ample, but I suppose they are trying to keep me from having an ample bottom. (Isn't that a song...ample-bottomed jeans?) But, keeping a fit rear is not really the goal when ordering fried pickles, is it? They could be my favorite all time fried pickles, if there were more than twelve pickle slices on the plate. But, alas, they can't win if I am picking up the crumbs of the batter off the plate from hunger.  Burger Up, I'd love to say yours are the best. So, would you consider adding more pickles? I mean, come on.  How much does a pickle chip cost you? 

Another place for good fried pickles is here in town on Main Street. The new restaurant, 55 South, serves southern cajun fare. The menu focuses on Louisiana inspired entrees like raw oysters, shrimp po-boys and red beans and rice.  Being married to a cajun has ruined me for cajun food at restaurants.  Unless we are eating at Cafe Benet in the French Quarter, nothing will live up to my mother-in-law's red beans and rice or Dave's dad's chicken gumbo.  However, I can recommend the fried pickles at 55 South, except- and only except- you must order them with flour batter. Warning! Do not order the ones with cornmeal batter!  They are like eating carpet covered pickles.  Blah. You must specify the flour.  The unique thing about 55's pickles is that they are served with fried jalepe nos, too. The dipping sauce is a nice tangy compliment, but nothing to write home about.  

I will continue the hunt for the perfect pickles and keep you posted once I find them.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Guilt Gallery

I feel guilty. About a bunch of things.  First off, I haven't blogged this week even though I told myself that, no matter what, I needed to be more consistent with my writing.  So, I decided I will chronicle my week of guilt, including the survivor's guilt I feel over not having any flood damage. Not only did I not get any flooding at our place, our plants are looking mighty hearty due to all the rain.  Also, I was supposed to read this week.  You'd think I'd be okay with the fact that I used my reading time helping my neighbors with flood clean-up, but, honestly, I did not do very much, at least not as much as my conscience seems to think.  I'm feeling kinda guilty about that.  I got a new vine for Mother's Day. I'm planting while others are still throwing out life-long treasures and memories from their garages, basements and first floors.

I took this picture on Monday, when the sun came out, the waters were already beginning to recede, and people began venturing out of their homes to assess the damage. The day of my last post (Saturday) the rain started and did not stop for two full days.  It was torrential the entire time, too.  The tornado sirens sounded throughout the night and it never occurred to me to worry about flooding. My neighbors, literally one block south of me, began evacuating their homes at two in the morning when they finally realized the waters weren't cresting anytime soon.  The creek turned into a rapid-moving lake so quickly they had to abandoned their cars when they wouldn't start. Who knew my house was on one of the highest points in the Franklin city limits? SURVIVOR'S GUILT.

My kids had an art show at school this week.  (Aren't they amazing artists?) Do I encourage them enough? Do I tell them how awesome they are? I doubt it. I nag them and tell them they whine too much. I also did not volunteer to help the other parents who put on the art show and ice cream social. Boo. PTA GUILT.

Look at these faces? How on earth can I rage against them ever? And yet I do. I have this week. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! This is how I know I haven't lost my religion. I have to cry out to Jesus to deliver me and my children from my rottenness. I know that some of you hate this kind of talk. You'll want to soothe me and tell me I do an awesome job parenting, that Ellie and Atticus are blessed to have me as their mom.  I do believe this...mostly because I believe it is God's plan for them and so who I am to dispute that...but that truth is not mutually exclusive from the truth that I am also a jerk to them. I accept both these truths fully. I just happen to be feeling the negative part more this week.  MOTHER GUILT (perhaps the worst kind of guilt!)

I woke up this morning, Mother's Day, to my children fighting. Atticus was knocking on the door as Ellie was screaming that he wasn't allowed to wake me up.  Atticus wanted to know if he could have a lollipop, at 8 am.  Ellie wanted him to obey the sign posted to my door.  It was a sweet gesture and valiant attempt at giving me extra sleep this morning.  At breakfast I told my family a story about my friend's child who, when I asked to fill out a Mother's Day card in their kindergarten class, said her mom's favorite thing to do was to lie down and she was really great at sleeping.  Thinking I would get a good laugh at my friends expense (oops, guilty), I was surprised when Atticus shouted after I finished the story, "Ahhh! I should have put that!" Double guilt.  I'm a lazing mother. My mother never slept past 7! WORK ETHIC GUILT.

Ellie's Mother's Day card included a poem. She announced to me that her goal was to make me laugh. Apparently, I laugh more at Atticus then her. Her attempt was as follows:
I love you so,
my heart is quow.*
You're like a song in my heart,
You're like a fart, 
ready to dart.

*quow is a made up word to force the rhyme. 

Yes, I laughed. Sadly,  I have encouraged my child to follow me in my path of potty-talk. She has stooped to using "fart" in a poem in order to please me.  Ugh. It worked. Guilty as charged. DIRTY-MOUTHED MOMMY GUILT.

And now, to continue in reasons to feel guilty, I'll recommend a book that I just started it yesterday.  I have only read one essay and I didn't really like it. It was about canoeing, the power of water and the force of current.  It was a little too poetic for my taste, though very timely thematically.  I am trying to slow my thoughts down to enjoy this type of literature, because I know it's supposed to be good.  I might be too used to eating at Burger King to enjoy French cuisine, if you get my metaphor.  I read just the other day on someone's facebook post that Natalie Merchant said a poet's job is to surround in silence that which needs to be paid attention to. (I just murdered that quote, and I kinda feel guilty about it, but I think you get the sentiment.) So, here you go: My guilty book of the week is Recollected Essays 1965-1980 by Wendell Berry.  I also have posted a link to Hannah Coulter by Wendall Berry, because (although I haven't read this either), I have heard this is a phenomenal book.  It's probably more of my speed, too.  IMPOSTER GUILT.
My neighbor across the street, Thomas "Brah" McLemore, died today.  He was an incredibly sweet man who never once neglected to greet me from his front porch, where he sat daily.  I wonder quietly if he wished I would have stopped to talk to him more.  I am sad that I may have missed out on knowing him better.  He was the great-grandson of the original land owner of our neighborhood. Mr. McLemore was a sharecropper who bought the land from his original slave master.  Thomas was so kind to me, even though I carry the guilt of my ancestors. WHITE GUILT.

This photo is of Thomas' great grandfather, Harvey McLemore. Ex-slave turned land-owner and namer of Hard Bargain. 

The biggest guilt-whammy I feel at the end of this week is from this picture that Dave took at 6 am, Monday morning, of the cemetery in downtown Franklin.  The photo is haunting and beautiful.  As I look at it, I feel ashamed of my guilt.  Why do I fret over these insignificant details? In light of the tragedy that my fellow Tennesseans have endured, in light of eternity.  Death is sad, but peaceful.  One day I will be without guilt. Worms maybe, but no guilt. NO GUILT.

You can click here to see the gallery of pictures from the Flood of 2010 (The photos look much clearer on his gallery).  "They" are calling this the 500 year flood, as the chances of this happening again are one in five hundred years.  Dave's photos will be available for purchase and proceeds will go to the Hard Bargain Flood Relief Fund. Email him  for more information.  

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Juniper Tree Book of the Week

Oh, I am so excited! I just got a package from Amazon with four books from my CNF (Creative Non-Fiction...learning the acronyms of my craft) reading list. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, Memoirs by Pablo Neruda, News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin. This is my homework! I'm sorry I can't do the dishes, I have homework to do.  How much do I love grad school??

Since I have yet to read these books, I won't recommend them, but look for those titles to show up in the near future.

However, I am in the middle of reading a great memoir that I can recommend:  All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. Just after reading the prologue alone, I realized just how far I need to go in my writing. Every sentence he writes is art.  Bragg's stories are his personal experiences, but the way he tells them is like an anthropological study on the poor in Alabama. I now know what it's like to be raised on a cotton farm in north Alabama by a momma who didn't buy herself a new dress for seventeen years because she used every dime she earned to help get her three boys through school.  

 "My grandmother, who fried me whole boneyards of chicken, who got midly drunk on her prescriptions, played "Boilin' Cabbage Down" on the banjo and stomped so hard on the planks so hard it sounded like Jehovah pounding at the door, was gone." 
This book reminds me of why I love (and am haunted by) my southern heritage. Bragg writes,
This is not an important book. It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons who lived hemmed in by thin cotton and ragged history in notheastern Alabama, in a time when blacks and whites found reason to hate each other and a whole lot of people who could not stand themselves.
 All Over but the Shoutin' is a beautifully written memoir about a tragic, but triumphant life lived out in the humid and dirty air of a small southern town.