Friday, July 25, 2008

What I did for my summer vacation

Our vacation is coming up (I thought it would never get here). And that got me to thinking about the best vacation I’ve ever had. It was a couple of summers ago when I went to Greece for three weeks. So, check out my vacation memories, then tell me about your own. Let us see the world from the comfort of our computers through your eyes.

The trip to Greece wasn’t a typical see-75-cities-plus-50-islands-in-three-weeks tour. I spent two weeks in Thessaloniki in northern Greece (with a weekend side trip to Crete), then a week on the volcano island of Santorini.

My husband, Chris, (who’s practically perfect in every other way) won’t fly. So, I have to find travel companions elsewhere. Fortunately I have a family (parents, sister) that I like and that likes to travel. My sister, an anthropology professor, travels to Greece almost every summer. Two years ago she taught in a study-abroad program in Thessaloniki. My mom and a friend of hers signed up for the program. My dad and I, who never took school nearly as seriously as did the other family members, decided we just wanted the trip, not the study.

While Susan and Mom taught and studied (Mom was determined to make an A, despite our pointing out that her permanent record didn’t matter so much in retirement) Daddy and I spent two weeks walking the interesting streets of Thessaloniki, where on one block you find ancient Roman ruins dating from the 700s, right next to a church from the 1000s, with 1960’s era highrise apartments overlooking them.

Thessaloniki street


On Crete we ate lunch one day in Mochlos overlooking the Aegean, just down from the taverna in the photo below. I never wanted to leave. It was the most relaxing, tranquil, beautiful place.

Mochlos, Crete

Fortunately we did leave (though it was tough). But if we hadn’t, we never would have gotten to Santorini, which is the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen. You stand on the rim of the caldera (the bowl that was left when the volcano erupted about 3,600 years ago) looking at the houses and buildings that cling to the nearly vertical sides and wonder how they were built and how people manage to get all of their belongings into those little structures when donkeys are the only things that can carry any sort of load through the town.


Bells of Oia

This year we’re off to St. George Island, Florida. A quiet little island (Can you tell I have a thing for islands?) off Apalachicola on the Florida panhandle. Not nearly as exotic as Greece, but you don’t have to fly there from Atlanta, so Chris is going.

Let us know where you’ve been or where you’re going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It’s all Greek to me

My sister just got back from the Greek island of Crete, where she spent a month “working.” She’s a physical anthropologist and was cataloging human skeletons—not very old ones by Greek standards, only 600-700 years!

Anyway, she brought us back this little painting on wood.


It says “good morning” in Greek. Pronounced ka-lee-MEH-ra. The traditional place to hang these, according to Susan, is over the bathroom mirror, where you will see it every morning. If we’d done that, it would have been butt up against the ceiling and tall as I am (5’10”) I never would have seen it. So we hung it between our bathroom mirrors. It makes me smile every time I see it. (The bathroom walls are pink, not purple, which is the color they look on my computer. Chris calls it Barbie's dream bathroom.)

Now, I mention all this Greek goodness to explain the new screen doors. See, we got a cat. New cat, Dusty, scared old cat, Miss Kitty—whose name ought to be scaredy cat, since she’s afraid of everything—so that Miss Kitty started going into the guest room and yakking on the carpet. After six years of blocking off the rooms with baby gates, Miss Kitty suddenly realized she could jump the gates.

With a beach house theme, I thought screen doors on the guest rooms were a great idea. But Chris, hubby and the one who’d have to install said doors, remained unconvinced. “Screen doors inside is just weird.” Until Kitty yakked once too often on the guest bed.

After finally agreeing to install the doors, he expected I’d paint them white. Now, we have a lot of white in our house: all the trim work, some beaded board wainscoting, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, so I’m not opposed to white. But these are screen doors, inside the house. They begged for something interesting to be done to them.

Taking my inspiration from Greece—Santorini, specifically, where I went with my sister to a conference a couple of years ago—I painted them blue. This photo is of a door in Santorini.

Santorini door

I love the screen doors. They keep the cats out; they keep the a/c flowing (we’ve had mildew problems); and they look great. So great, in fact, that even Chris likes them.

These are our screen doors:

Screen doors

And, yes, that is an Elvis shower curtain visible in the background. More on the Elvis bathroom in a later post.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

She knows whereof she writes

This blog post, Writing a Novel, A Love Story, from Libba Bray is hilarious about the ups and downs of writing a novel:


Friday, July 18, 2008

Letting light into the tomb

The first time we walked into our house, my reaction was, “Ohmygod, it’s dark as a tomb!” My second reaction was, “We can fix that.”

Kitchen into dining room

The house had 2 acres, nearly unheard of in the northern suburbs of Atlanta even 14 years ago, and a pool. With a remodeling contractor husband, Chris, I knew we could redo the eyesore of a house that came with the great piece of land.

The biggest project we tackled, and we’ve redone the entire house inside and out, was the kitchen. It sat in the middle of the house, dark and uninviting, walled off from the tiny dining room, with almost no counter space. Shortly after we moved in, the oven and the dishwasher both died.

We replaced the dishwasher immediately. I could live without an oven, but not without a dishwasher. In fact, we lived for five years with only an oven from the 1940s that one of my mother’s friends gave us. About the size of a large microwave, the oven lived in a separate room from the kitchen because it tripped the breaker if any lights or other appliances were used while it was on. We’d have to take a flashlight with us to check to see if the food was done, because if we turned on an overhead light, the breaker blew.

When we finally dived into the kitchen remodel, we lived without any cabinets, except for the one that held the sink, for a couple of years. But the wait was worth it. Chris built the new cabinets for us. They are 3” taller than standard. Chris and I are both 5’10” tall. While Chris calls the cabinets “freakishly tall,” I think he’s glad he added the height. I know I am!

I love the black grout with the white subway tiles. It doesn’t show a bit of dirt. And I’m even happy with the Formica countertops. One day we’ll upgrade to something else, I like the look of concrete counters, but for now, these look great.

Front window

We removed the walls separating the kitchen from the living room and dining room and expanded the kitchen into the breakfast area. It’s not a formal house, so we decided we didn’t need a formal dining room. One larger eating area is better than two small ones. The expansion gave us lots more counter and cabinet space, plus allowed room for an island that I don’t know how we’d have lived without.

The hardwood flooring, which we put down in the kitchen, living room, dining room, hall and master bedroom (the house is all on one level) was the hardest job of all. In fact, it nearly killed my dad, who graciously helped us lay the unfinished, tongue and groove oak. I thought maybe he’d never walk upright again, but he recovered, and still speaks to us.

Though the plan had been to paint the floors red—I’d seen a house in Architectural Digest many years ago that had red-painted floors and loved them—Chris couldn’t bring himself to do it. Once the wood was down, he liked it too much to cover it up. So, we stained it very lightly and coated it with polyurethane.

When the floor color changed, that meant the wall color had to change. We opted for Julep Mint, a Sherwin Williams color that seems to morph from blue to green depending on the light. It’s a perfect choice for a beach house in the ’burbs.

The walls came down

This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blackberry pickin' time

Every summer our yard turns into a jungle. With nearly two acres of trees, little grass, several hundred daylillies and a willingness to let it all be natural, by this time of year, the yard begins to look like no one could possibly live amongst all that greenery. And while I gaze at photos of beautifully manicured and landscaped plots and suffer pangs of garden envy, I get over it by picking blackberries throughout the month of July.

For those of you who've never picked blackberries, let me tell you, it's a challenge. Blackberry bushes have big, sharp thorns that prick at your clothes or bare legs. And they grow in the shade. You can't just stand at the edge of a blackberry thicket and pluck berries without getting dirty. Nope, you have to get in amongst the thorns, where chiggers and snakes like to live.

The first time I remember picking blackberries I was a teenager. My uncle had told me that snakes like to live where blackberries grow. My job, I decided, rather than actually picking berries, was to beat two sticks together and holler, "go away snakes," on a regular basis. My strategy worked. We didn't see a single snake that day.

I'm not quite as vocal now in my snake-shooing. But I do wear shoes and socks and keep one eye on the ground at all times, looking for anything that slithers. A jungle like ours could comfortably harbor serpents the likes of which haven't been seen since the garden of Eden.

It's worth the scratches, the chigger bites and the fear every time I pop one of these homegrown berries into my mouth. I guess as long as blackberries are the payoff, I'll admire landcaped yards in photos and keep the jungle we call home.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oldest Living Blogger

Olive Riley, who has been called the oldest living blogger, died over the weekend at a nursing home in Australia. I confess I wasn't familiar with Ms. Riley or her blog  until I read about her death this morning. And I don't feel sad about her passing. I didn't know her. She was 108. It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. What I feel is uplifted by her life.

My 90-year-old grandmother (a spring chicken compared to Ms. Riley) is in a nursing home. She had a stroke several years ago. But even before that horrible event, it seemed that her willingness to expand herself and her world had faded. We tried to get her interested in email--she has children and grandchildren scattered around the country--or books on tape--she loved to read, but her eyes were failing her--but she couldn't summon any interest in new technologies that might have helped make her days better. Now, she's not in the physical condition to learn anything new. And it makes me wonder. Do people who remain connected to the world around, who continue to learn new things and stay interested in others, who maintain an open heart and upbeat attitude live longer, happier, healthier lives? 

Maybe Olive Riley wasn't happy. I don't know. But it appears she was. Her final blog post mentions singing a happy song with one of the nurses and other residents. I find that inspirational and not a bad way to go out. 

Friday, July 11, 2008

My day job

When people ask what I do, I have the hardest time answering. I've said, "depends on what day it is," and "if it's Tuesday, I must be a writer." But neither of those really say enough about the fun I have on a daily basis.

Take today, for example. Today I was doing manual labor in an un-air conditioned warehouse in Georgia in July, on the production end of my husband's large-format printing business. (I'd link to his web site, but it's under construction. When it's up, I'll post it.) Not only does he print really big stuff--signs, posters, museum exhibits, etc.--he also has an enormous CNC router--a computer-run router for cutting shapes out of wood, plastic, sign board, all kinds of materials. Today I was running the router, cutting life-size superhero shapes out of this lightweight plasticy/foam boardy stuff, that I'm sure has a name. I don't know what it is.

You more astute readers will be saying to yourselves, "She ain't doing that now. Now she's blogging." (Though maybe the more astute of you wouldn't use the word "ain't.") Yes, I'm blogging, something I've been meaning to do for days. And it's all because the coupling broke on the router. There I was, pushing the buttons, making the router bit go, when it stopped cutting all the way through the material.

So, now I'm waiting, on Friday afternoon, of course, because these things always happen on Friday--unless they happen on the weekend--for Chris (the husband, man of my dreams) to find a new coupling (coupler, one of those). You'd think if one could be found anywhere in the world, you could find it in the Atlanta area. But not so far. And of course the work must be finished and delivered to the customer by Monday. Which means we'll work all weekend, if Chris can find the part.

Which gets us back to what I do and how I answer that question. I work with Chris at 3-D Graphics & Printing probably 20 hours a week or so, including lots of weekends, because Chris is a workaholic. (Don't let him hear you say that, he'll just deny it as he speeds by on his way to the office.)

Other times I'm a freelance writer, mostly for Georgia Trend, a business/economic development magazine in Georgia. I spent one day this week in Hall County, Georgia, doing research for a magazine piece--but that's another blog post.

And in my spare time I write mysteries. I've just gotten a real live New York agent, who's trying her mightiest to sell Redneck Tarot. I just know she is. And when that happens, I'll have an easy answer when someone asks me what I do, because mystery writer will move to the tip of my tongue.