The Candy Man

Ethan is two weeks old today, and I’m remembering the day of his birth. I took care of his big sister Olivia (delightful experience) while we waited, waited, waited for news of his safe arrival. When her father called and told me that his 8 pound, 9  ounce son was here and that he wanted me to come to the hospital to meet the “little guy,” I gave Olivia some hugs and kisses and left her in the care of a neighbor and friend. Off I went to meet Ethan Paul. Above is one of the many pictures I took that night, a favorite because of the way Amanda is cradling her new love.

When I walked into the atrium of Northside Hospital to meet my new grandson that evening, I was immediately transported back to a day nearly two years ago. On that day, May 29th, 2010, several family members had gathered at the hospital to await the birth of Olivia Jayne, my son and daughter-in-law’s first child. I remembered the excitement, mine bordering on giddiness, as I climbed the stairs to the waiting area that morning.

That day we walked and talked and snacked and waited. And then we waited some more. We were allowed in and out of Amanda’s room for part of the day, and then the medical personnel shooed us out. As Teri, Amanda’s mother, and the rest of us waited and chatted, there was a feeling of expectant anticipation. We knew the moment was close, and yet there was nothing the four adults could do. It was in the hands of the doctor and Amanda. And God of course.

Chitchatting about various topics, none of them too serious, we hardly noticed the arrival of an older African American man who came to join our group. Truthfully, he didn’t so much join us as he just filled up an empty seat for several moments. There are lots of couches and chairs arranged in various combinations, and we had grown accustomed to sharing “our space” with an assorted crew of people as the day had progressed. He was just another seat filler…or so I thought.

The four of us continued to chat, and I tried to establish some eye contact with the newest member of our cluster. It was to no avail, and I could tell from my surreptitious glances that to him we might as well be pieces of furniture . He seemed blind to his surroundings and was dealing with some inner turmoil or heartache. For the entire ten minutes he sat amongst us, the man slowly and methodically ate M & M’s. He didn’t tilt his head back and jiggle several at a time out of the bag. No, he ate one by one. I wouldn’t say he was savoring them, but rather that it was something to do, something to assuage his pain.

That’s when I noticed a tear streaking down his cheek…and then another and another. I only saw his right side, but I’m certain the tears were coursing down both sides of his face. The juxtaposition between our emotions and his couldn’t have been more different or more obvious. Seeing his pain almost made me feel guilty for feeling so much hopeful happiness.

I’d like to say that someone offered him a tissue and that we became shoulders to cry on. But no, that didn’t happen. We continued on with our lighthearted banter and tried to ignore him, not because we didn’t care but rather because we respected him and his anguish. He’d built an invisible wall around himself and seemed to be saying, “I’ve got to get myself together before moving forward.” It was a private thing, and we all sensed and respected that.

I don’t know his story, but the cliché, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” always comes to mind when I think of that elderly gentleman eating M & M’s on a May afternoon in Atlanta. I know that even when life seems intolerable and full of stress and loss and heartache, there’s always something good going on too. The sweetness could be in the form of some chocolate, or it could be some birdsong (like I’m listening to right now), a beautiful sunset, the laughter of a child, or the budding of some pink azaleas.

Today on Ethan’s two-week birthday, I’m thinking and hoping that the candy man’s pain has eased and that he  has some joy in his life. I know I do. And I’m thankful to this man for the reminder that while there’s pain, there’s sweetness too.

Weekend Getaway to Atlanta

Before yesterday, I’d never tasted citrus rice before. Ummm. It was delicious, especially the small chunks of pineapple. On our way back from Atlanta, some friends and I stopped in Madison, GA for lunch and a bit of antique browsing. We ate at the Chop House, a wonderful diner with sage green walls and huge windows overlooking the tree-lined streets. We opted to sit outside on the Chop House Patio where the ambience was even better. Except for the occasional cigarette smoke wafting over from a nearby table, it was what Van Morrison would call fantabulous. The food, the conversation, the temperature, the gentle breeze, our fellow diners, our server, the white china rimmed in black, a small lizard, and the sight of the surrounding trees beginning to change colors all combined to make it memorable. To add the icing on the cake, Nancy regaled us with hilarious tales of her father during her dating years. It’s always good to laugh and talk with friends.

To backtrack a bit, the four of us went to New York together in May and seemed to get along well (except for that business about leaving me at the Brooklyn Bridge, that is). Just kidding, Lisa.  Anyway, with one trip behind us, we knew that we traveled well together and that we liked many of the same things. Hence, when I learned that Chicago was playing in Atlanta at the fabulous Fox Theatre, I asked it they’d be interested, and they said YES. We asked some other people if they’d like to accompany us, but they all declined. Maybe next time.

 We left Nancy’s around 10:00 a.m. Friday morning, and after a couple of stops along the way, we finally arrived in Atlanta six hours later. Our husbands and families probably won’t be too surprised to learn that we talked pretty much nonstop. As a consequence, we came up with solutions to the nation’s healthcare problems and education issues. We also discussed the economy, SC’s recent embarrassments, and the lack of civility that surrounds and astounds us.  We also talked about more down-to-earth and personal topics, but I’ll never tell. Suffice it to say that we all agree on the importance of family, past and present, and relationships.

Before the play on Friday night, we ate at an Italian restaurant near the theatre where the food was good, but the atmosphere was anything but. The acoustics were horrific, and finally the four of us gave up trying to have any semblance of a conversation. After dinner, we walked down the block to the fabulous Fox where we were greeted by a tall, courtly African American man whose hospitality and Southern charm were contagious. Once inside, we admired the atmosphere and décor, especially the star studded ceiling.

I think I speak for the four of us when I say that the production of Chicago was well worth the price of the ticket. The lead roles played by Velma and Roxie were especially riveting. These women are so talented! While we thought that Jerry Springer did an okay job of playing Billy Flynn, we were disappointed that he didn’t dance more. He just seemed to lack the razzle dazzle of Richard Gere who played that part in the movie version.  The only “fly in the ointment” that evening was the price of souvenirs. I really really really wanted a tee-shirt that said “Not guilty,” but $35 put it out of my price range.

After the musical, we went back to the Georgian Terrace where we had reservations. It’s a lovely hotel with lots of good feng shui, and I especially liked the marble floors and the sound of mellow, jazzy music in the background. Before retiring to our room, we sauntered through the restaurant that had both inside and outside seating. 

Saturday morning, Nancy visited with her son, and Paul and Amanda picked up Lisa, Martha, and me, and we breakfasted together at the Flying Biscuit.   Since I got to break bread with two of the people I love most in the world, this event was especially sweet for me. Our round table was beside an open window (literally no pane) and was painted with stars. Stars and flying biscuits adorned the walls of this unique eatery as well. As we dined, we were treated to close up views of walkers, joggers, and dozens of dogs. It was nice to be in midtown Atlanta with its teeming life and variety. If you ever make it to the Flying Biscuit, be sure to sample the cranberry apple butter. Amanda, Martha, and I highly recommend it. Breakfast complete, Paul drove us to see the Margaret Mitchell house. Since Martha teaches literature and Lisa teaches history, seeing it was a fitting way to end our short but exciting trip to the big City. 

On the road again, our conversation resumed. As mentioned above, we did a lot of talking about our families, especially those ancestors who have influenced us so much. At this stage of my life, I LOVE that stuff, the links from the past to the present and the consideration of  how those links will affect the future. I’d write more about it, but it’s time to do some serious D2L work and some preparation for tomorrow.

Sparrows and Jersey Boys

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It’s great to travel, to experience sights and sounds a bit different from the same-old, same-old. It’s a doubly delicious experience when it involves people you love.

Friday afternoon DH and I left town and headed west to Atlanta for a weekend visit with Amanda and Paul. After a couple of stops along the way (one in Madison, GA where I ate one of the best Chick Fila sandwiches ever), we arrived at their apartment around 10 p.m.  We chatted for a while and headed to Slumberland around 11:00 so that we’d be ready for the next day’s activities.

I set my clock for 6:30 and was out the door by 7:00 for an early morning walk up Roswell Drive. One of the things I enjoy so much about walking is that it allows you to see things in a different way than from a car or tour bus. When Pat and Charlie take you to the streets, you’ll see things you’d never notice otherwise. Case in point…the tiny little sparrows hopping around in an empty parking lot.

After the walk, we all piled in Paul’s car where he drove us to a breakfast diner with quite a reputation. I could see why. There was quite an array of choices, and the food was muy delicioso. Well, my vegetarian omelet was. So were my grits and wheat toast. Amanda’s cinnamon raisin pancakes, which she graciously let me sample, were pretty tasty too. Appetites satisfied, we went back to the apartment to hang out for a little while. I read on the back porch while enjoying the beautiful trees and gentle breeze.

 Soon thereafter, we again loaded up and headed out to do a little shopping and some sightseeing. The young Crolleys had not yet discovered a Marshall’s right up the road from their apartment, but now that they have, I think they’ll go back. All that shopping took a lot of energy so we had to visit the Yogurt Mogul for a little snack. Ummm. Good, especially after I added strawberries, bananas, raspberries, Butterfinger chips, and walnuts to the top. You only live once, right?

Energized, we headed for Roswell, a delightful community about 15 or 20 minutes from Sandy Springs. There we toured an old mill site that included a creek, two waterfalls, a bridge, and many splendors of nature. If you look closely in the top picture above, you might spot a little white dog in the right hand bottom corner. We watched him swim. Fun. We also hiked a little bit and read a lot of historical signs. After leaving the nature walk, we hung around Roswell a little longer before going to  (yes, you guessed it) eat dinner. The restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, had been recommended by one of Paul’s friends, and we weren’t disappointed. Paul had the most unusual fare, a bison burger.

After dinner, we rushed back to the apartment to get freshened up for the play we were going to see that night, Jersey Boys. Rather than drive downtown, we rode MARTA and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In fact, when I asked DH to tell me his top enjoyable activities, the MARTA ride made the list. Once downtown, we joined the other hundreds of people who seemed to be going in the same direction we were: the Fox Theatre.

What a treat it was to walk inside of that fabulous old theatre. It was beautiful, breathtakingly so. Of course, we had to hustle because of the crowd so I didn’t get to gawk too much, but from what I saw, I’m rating it as the most unique theatre I’ve seen. Once we got to our balcony seats, I wished I’d bought some pricier ones a little lower down. The stage was so far away that we could hardly distinguish one actor/singer from another. Still, the music was phenomenal, and we all enjoyed it. The only thing that was a “fly in the ointment” was the language, but then I guess it was how the Jersey boys talked in the 1960’s.

Play over, we walked out with the other 4,600 people and headed back to the MARTA station. On the way we saw too many interesting sights to mention. We heard some cool stuff too, like the lone trumpet player playing his heart out on a street corner. Beautiful.  I’ll always remember that sound and associate it with a warm summer night after an evening at the theatre with some of my favorite people.

The next morning we all four went to church, the perfect way to end our time together. Although the speakers were inspirational, what I got most from the meeting was the feeling of love. That’s right, the “feeling” of love all around me. Here’s one quick example. The Primary children sang a medley of Father’s Day songs since next week is Stake Conference, hence a different program than one honoring fathers.  DH and I both noticed this cute little boy on the front row who didn’t sing a note. He seemed cooperative, and once in a while, he’d move his lips, but he never really got into it like the other children. When he came back to join his family, he slid into the row behind us, and I heard his father say, “Awesome. Good job.”  Some parents would have said, “Why didn’t you at least try?”  or “What’s wrong with you?” but not this dad.

After Sacrament, Paul and Amanda walked us outside to tell us good-bye, and we chatted briefly about the next time we’ll get together. As I’ve always told my children, there’s the promise of another hello in every farewell. You don’t always know when or where that will take place, but you have to believe it will happen.

Weekend in Atlanta

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I’m switching gears to write a totally secular post, one about spending the weekend with Paul and Amanda, my son and daughter-in-law. They live in the bustling metropolis of Atlanta, and this time last week DH and I made the trip to see them.  Shortly after our arrival on Friday, we went to Philips Arena to see the Atlanta Thrashers play the New Jersey Devils.

 Although I’m not into sports as much as the three of them, I must admit that I enjoyed the experience, especially the high energy excitement of the crowd and the sight of the hockey p layers swirling around on the ice. Heck, I even enjoyed walking from the parking garage past the CNN building to the arena. With the crowd surging all around us, we couldn’t help but feel the upbeat anticipation of the competition ahead. Back to the event itself, DH enjoyed watching the scantily clad young women skate around as they swept up the ice shavings and shoveled them into buckets. Did I mention that up until game time a couple of eateries were selling hot dogs, drinks, and popcorn for $1? It’s true. That’s what I call dinner on a shoestring.  Although the arena wasn’t completely filled, the next day’s newspaper reported that there were 17, 067 (as well as I recall) people there.

The next morning, I got up early and went for a walk along Roswell Road. I try to walk every day, and I especially like doing it in different locales. I’m convinced that it’s the best way to become familiar with an area. Plus, it gives me the chance to see new things up close and personal…so much better than from a car window. I’m sitting here at the computer visualizing that busy intersection near Hardee’s and remembering how I had to hustle across the road.  

Later in the morning, Paul served as our tour guide as he drove DH and me around to see various sights. Right away, I again saw the so-called king and queen buildings that Amanda had pointed out the night before; they’re called that because the tops are like the king and queen chess pieces.  I managed to cajole Paul into taking me to Home Goods, my favorite store for all sorts of decorative items from pillows to furniture. I love the one in Myrtle Beach, but the one in Sandy Springs is newer and bigger. And yes, we found a few treasures…all on clearance of course.

Amanda had to work until a little after 1:00, and after she got home, we again jumped in the car and rode to Conyers where Paul had discovered a restaurant he’d been wanting to try, Folks. The food was good, Southern fare, but the service was lousy. Sorry I had to say that, but really….even patient, tolerant me got annoyed.

Appetites satisfied, we headed to Marietta. I was particularly excited about going there because not only Paul and Amanda, but also Carrie and Rich have fallen in love with this community, at least the downtown part of it. Sometimes there’s just something about a place that speaks to your soul, and I wanted to see what was so special about this area that spoke to my children. In October, they all spent an afternoon in the town square participating in a fall festival. Two of my grandchildren, Braden and Brooke, won a dance contest that day, and it was cool to see the stage on which they received their award a few months prior. On Saturday, we browsed several little shops with lots of atmosphere and then strolled through and around the square.

After a couple of hours, we left Marietta and headed back to Sandy Springs. Paul took the long way home so that we could see more of the area. We rode through Roswell itself, and they pointed out a restaurant where they’d recently dined, the Fickle Pickle. I plan to go back there at some point. Who can resist walking into a restaurant with such a catchy name?

After hanging out and chatting a bit at their apartment, we again went out to eat, this time at Mimi’s, a restaurant with a New Orleans atmosphere. I tasted strawberry lemonade for the first time. Ummm. Yes, you’re right. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. After dinner, Paul and Amanda demonstrated how to use the Wii, and we enjoyed watching them. DH and I are probably two of the few American citizens who’ve never played on or with (which preposition?), but we now understand why people are so wild about it.

Sunday dawned, and we all went to church together.  Their ward was having Ward Conference, and I enjoyed hearing what Paul and Amanda’s stake leaders had to say. The choir sang one of my favorite hymns, “Called to Serve.” Anyone who can hear that soul stirring song and be unmoved is…well, beyond reach.

The young couple walked us to the parking lot where we hugged farewell. I always hate parting with my children, but as I read many years ago, “In every good bye, there’s the promise of another hello. “ I’ll see them again soon.

Thank you for a lovely weekend, P and A. A special thanks to Paul for driving, driving, driving us all over creation.