Yes, the reports are true. It is snicing in Atlanta. That is snowing and icing because that is what is happening here today. It’s not like any hail or sleet I’ve ever seen. Anyone from a snowy state care to explain?

We were out of school yesterday when there was nothing but ordinary ole rain falling from the sky. The snice didn’t start falling until about midnight last night and now the roads are covered in the wintery mix. Not a snow plow or grit truck in sight. Obviously, school was canceled again today. Because I know many of you across the country will be stuck home today with weather of your own, here are two of my favorite reactions to Atlanta snow. The first from SNL, the second, a classic from the 2011 snow storm in Atlanta. Not much has changed. Enjoy.

It wasn’t long after we got back from our trip to England and Europe this summer that Luke turned to me and said something surprising. “I’d really like to go back for Christmas,” he said. “Would that be okay?”

I can assure you, he was not going to have to twist my arm. I love England and I love visiting his family, so of course I was game. Was I a little surprised that he wanted to spend money on a second set of plane tickets when we had just been there five months earlier? Definitely. Especially considering we were there for two months. But as he pointed out, it had been two years since we’d spent Christmas in England and, as I mentioned in my last post, Christmas is a special time for his clan. So, to England we went.

It turned out to be an extra special trip as my mom joined us for part of it. Here she is having just arrived after spending several hours delayed in both the Pittsburg airport and Euston station in London because of inclement weather on both ends of the Atlantic. Before this trip, she’d just found out she had a torn rotator cuff(!), but you would never have known any of that to look at her. What a trooper. Quite the contrast to Luke and me after a long journey that included our own 4 hour wait in Euston station. On that day, I took the first offer of a nap in someone else’s bed and peaced out. I really need to learn how to sleep on an airplane. 

It was very much a food and drink-centric holiday. Here we have exhibit 1.

Exhibit 2. Pepper the German spitz, ever hopeful. Also, fruit cake (or Stollen) and cheese may be the single greatest food combination ever.

Exhibit 3. Going out for coffee is not limited to the beverage in the Harwood house. Also, a walk has little appeal without the promise of coffee at the end.

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Exhibit 4. More trips out for “coffee.”

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Exhibit 5. In London, my sister-in-law and her friend prepared an absolutely delicious Togolese feast of fish poached in a chili and tomato broth and served alongside a dish that she compared to grits but made from cassava. So yummy!IMG_6689

Exhibit 6. Having tea with a veggie English breakfast on the way. Exhibit 7. So many sweet tooths in the bunch.

Exhibit 8. Nothing like warming up by the fire at an old pub after a cold day exploring castle ruins.

It wasn’t total gluttony, though. We did go on a fair few walks to temper the amount of food we consumed. Like this one to Attingham Park. Does anyone recognize the bridge? Here’s a clue (start watching from 11:16).

Did I mention my mom joined us for a week? It was so lovely having her there. Luke took us on a walking tour of Shrewsbury one day that was, erm, entertaining to say the least. It went a little like, “This building is old and important because… well, I’m not sure why, actually.”

Mom being there also gave us the excuse to be tourists, which we managed quite well in spite of the rain and cold.

Here’s another relic from the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol, which was filmed in Shrewsbury. Luke was good enough to include a visit to St. Chad’s graveyard on his walking history tour of Shrewsbury. Bless.

On the subject of being American tourists, my mom and I joined forces and persuaded the others to visit a nearby castle on one of the sunnier days of the trip. Stokesay Castle was suggested as neither of us had been there, even though it’s just right down the road from Luke’s hometown. It was such a quirky little place and really everything a medieval castle should be: moat, great hall with roasting spit (evidence of), archers’ alcoves, lush tapestried master bedrooms, and stunning views of the countryside.

As it is the English countryside that Luke and I miss the most (second to family, of course), we made sure to sneak a trip up the treacherous road that crests the Long Mynd in Church Stretton, a favorite spot of ours. Yes, that is a sheer drop to the valley below on my left. And yes, that road is one car’s width. Thankfully, we never had to find out what would happen if another car came up in the opposite direction. I hid behind my camera so I wouldn’t have to think about what I was seeing. 

It had been a gray rainy day, so we weren’t expecting much when we got to the top. However, we were rewarded for our efforts with a glimpse of the setting sun (at 4:00) over the clouds and hills. Stunning!

Take away point? Some trips are simply worth the journey.

I’ve heard friends explain their method for deciding where to spend the holidays as a weighing up of traditions. Whose family has the stronger tradition? Which holiday is more meaningful to which partner? If both traditions are equally strong then there’s nothing to do but travel between the two households on the day (Christmas lunch at one, Christmas dinner at the other), or, if the distance is too great, alternate years. If one family’s Christmas tradition is more quintessentially unique and precious than the other, inevitably, that’s where the couple will go two out of every three Christmases. It’s a sensible enough method, but just would not work for Luke and me. Not for Christmas, anyway. I’d lose every time.

For Luke’s family, Christmas is a precious reenactment of childhood traditions. Although marriages and moves have inevitably imposed changes even on the stoutest of these traditions, basically Christmas is bursting with nostalgia every year. My family’s Christmas traditions on the other hand have, in recent years, come to represent the inconstancy of a changed family. In the past six or seven years, we’ve spent Christmas in a different location every year, with a different set of people, observing other people’s traditions more often than not (with a few remnants of ours preserved for good measure). And that’s okay. We’re okay. We’ve adapted. We always have a good time wherever we are.

Thanksgiving, too, has in recently years become a holiday in flux. Shared with in-laws in new towns, with neighbors in new cities, or sometimes with only one person in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday.

It wasn’t always that way. Thanksgiving and Christmas used to follow a prescribed pattern. Thanksgiving when I was younger was always at my Dad’s parent’s house, where as many aunts, uncles and cousins who could attend did. When I was a little older, Thanksgiving moved to our family’s cabin in the mountain’s. It could hold more people, and so more relatives and practically-relatives showed up. Sometimes we’d have over twenty people crowded around two or three tables. We’d play Christmas music, eat turkey and make my grandma’s famous mac n’ cheese. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we’d have our family Christmas, since chances were we weren’t going to see all these relatives again one month later. So it was great really. Two of the eatingest holidays packed into one weekend.

Oh, how sweet it is when the stars align just so (and people’s schedules, too), that everyone can come back to a familiar spot and create a new tradition that reminds us all very much of a precious old one. Like Thanksgiving at the cabin, with over twenty people crowded around tables, and turkey, and snow, and a fire in the hearth. Even better when there are new faces mixed in with the old, and new traditions (like an oyster bar in the yard!) to remind us that our traditions are strongest when they are infused with the new.

I hope you had a happy one.

mommy&melibraryeslstudentlibraryI was six. I was in first grade, my sister was in third. We’d been tagging along with my Dad on some errands in Charlotte and, I guess, as a treat, were rewarded with a trip to the city’s glistening main public library. Here was the Emerald City of libraries. Outside was a fountain that stretched the length of the building, water toppling down the marble steps like a Slinky. Inside were four stories of open, light-flooded space, a cheerful children’s section complete with squishy bean bags and reading nooks. This was not our 1970s suburban library with the shag carpet and crumbling paint. I remember my trepidation penning my name on the back of my white and burgundy card, carving out the letters like initials in tree bark, afraid, perhaps, that someone would notice my first grader’s penmanship and bar me from this most adult of activities. No one ever did, thank God.

Do you know, though, I had to think for a minute before that story came back to me? I almost didn’t remember getting my first library card. I remember the ones that came later. In high school, feeling very unbalanced about the fact that I’d lost my card some years before and driving myself to the nearest library to renew it. In a new city, walking into town, filling out an application, getting a cup of coffee afterwards. There’re all really mundane memories. It’s actually a pretty mundane activity, when you think of it. At least for those of us who grew up with public libraries and parents who valued them.

mommy&melibrarianeslstudentslibraryrefugeestudentlibrarycardrefugeestudentslibrarycardsThese days I teach English to a group of refugee women at an intergenerational family literacy school. The women I teach live in a town where over 60 languages are spoken in the 1.2 mile radius that forms the city center. They live in crowded apartment complexes with neighbors from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They decorate their walls with posters of tropical paradises. This particular class — almost all of them Burmese from the Chin province, though there are others from South Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo — are all adventurous gardeners. They grow pumpkins, burmese eggplants, green beans, and chillies in the medians and along chain link fences in their apartment complexes. They eat chillies like potato chips and laugh at me when I explain that most Americans only cook with a few cloves of garlic at a time — they cook with them by the bulb. They walk to school two days a week, pushing their children in second-hand strollers or carrying them in slings on their backs. They sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes with their children at the end of the school day and mispronounce the words “kitchen” and “chicken” with regularity. They crack themselves up every time. They swirl thanaka on their children’s cheeks and smile mischievously when I ask them what it is, why they do it. When they are not at school, they spend their days perpetually in waiting rooms, at the doctor’s office, at the Georgia Department of Human Services, at the DMV, at the chicken plant. What are they waiting for? Interpreters, mostly. A lull. Someone with time. Back home they were weavers, teachers, and farmers. Many of them lived most of their lives in refugee camps in countries not their own. The ones who remember, talk about the forest, the river, the roses.
IMG_5651 IMG_5653 IMG_5652 mommy&mereadingThe other day we went to the library for the first time as a class. These are not provincials — they’ve been to a library before (we have a small one at our school that they use every week). And they’re not completely newly arrived to the United States, either — they’ve been here for fewer than five years. So they know about libraries. Do they use them? No, probably not. Possibly because, well, where do you begin? Having lived in the States we know librarians as a whole don’t bite, that they love to help you find things. Burmese refugees don’t know that.

I’m wondering: do librarians ever phase out of that stage where they seem to genuinely enjoy talking about awesome kid’s books? Does that excitement ever die? It’s actually adorable to watch.

I won’t say adorable, but do you know what else is spectacular to see? An adult getting her first library card. Also, seeing a group of ESL learners demolish an entire shelf of the coveted Picture Dictionaries. Picture Dictionaries that don’t cost $25 like teacher keeps telling them. This time they’re Free.

Mind. Blown.

We need a new way of storing our books. Luke is all for contributing them to these, but… eh… I dunno. Would they be loved?

In any case, they’re piling up.

If I’m completely honest, the fireplace method would suit my organization style best — just shove it in and go. But alas, I haven’t a fireplace.

(Found these on Pinterest, along with so many more good ideas.)

cumberlandislandWe’re officially into my favorite season now and, make no mistake, the pumpkin-scented blog posts will soon start inundating your inboxes. But before I get carried away with homemade chai recipes and cold weather book recommendations, I thought we could all enjoy the last rays of fading summer sunlight together. It was a good one, no?

st marys georgiaIMG_5395 IMG_5393cumberlandislandbeachIMG_5420 IMG_5446 IMG_5457 IMG_5504 IMG_5524We bid farewell to the season with a high humidity camping trip to Cumberland Island. Similar to Assateague Island, which we visited a couple summers ago, Cumberland boasts wild horses and a complex coastal ecosystem. Unlike Assateague, Cumberland is pedestrian only. During the day, the place looks like any other popular (if somewhat out of the way) southern natural attraction. It’s after 4:00 when the last ferry chugs away with the last group of day visitors, that you realize you’re the only one walking on the beach and have been for the last mile, and, why yes, those are wild scuppernongs hanging on that low hanging branch along the trail you’re hiking. No other hikers saw them, because no other hikers have been on the trail that day. IMG_5555 IMG_5479

Unlike books or food, I am less carefree about buying new clothes. There, I hesitate. In my book? They’re a luxury. I do try to shop at second hand stores most of the time and generally feel less bad about spending money on clothes then (though I still only do it rarely), but sometimes you just really want that pretty new thing. Of course, this time of year I find myself thinking like my school and college-aged self: a new outfit for a new school year — wouldn’t that look nice? Tax free weekend doesn’t help the situation. Neither do cute, Frenchy frocks. Add to the equation that this August I am starting a new job, and it would be so very nice to add some color to my wardrobe that is currently black and white attire as per the dress code of past jobs. You can hear the internal monologue I’ve been having here of late.

But a dress is not a book. Sure, it’s the cost of a few books and I’ll wear it for a few years. But I could also spend that money on other things. Books and breakfast, for example. And this time of year also has me thinking about new books, too. To put in my new backpack, naturally.

So it’s a conundrum, really. New books or a new frock? One is clearly a necessity and the other is, to me, a major luxury. Of course, every so often, if you’re frugal, I see no reason not to indulge. That’s what this series is all about, right?

Tell me. What is your feeling about splurging on a little luxury every so often? What are your splurges?

Speaking of books, would you like to win one? The giveaway for Gone Girl is going on until 5pm today. Make sure to enter and good luck!

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