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Suzanne Crow Haggerty
Hobo
Tubby (?)
dogs
Spring 1977

Growing up near my grandparents’ farm was simply magical. At times, the place was our own little back-country Camelot, with horses, cows, puppies, the tastiest tomatoes, the sweetest watermelons, a barn filled with hay bales perfect for climbing and a creek suitable for wading, splashing and floating.

Small wonder we never ran across a snake (literally) or broke an arm falling out of a tree, a fate that did befall a younger cousin when I was a teenager.

That small farmhouse was the steadiest structure in my life. While my parents tended to move every few years, my grandparents weren’t going anywhere. Even when I grew up and lived in the same spot for about 10 years, then another place for seven, those houses didn’t feel like home in the way that old brick house in South Mississippi did.

The smell of burning firewood will still transport me to the den, where my grandfather’s wood-burning stove steadily burned during the winter months. The taste of a simple yellow cake with chocolate icing puts me right back in the kitchen, licking the beaters as my grandmother put the finishing touch on a birthday cake.

That era has been over for a number of years – my grandfather died in 1999, and my grandmother in 2010. This fact didn’t really hit home for me until a few weeks ago, however, when my uncle and his wife finally sold the house and the rest of the land (my mom had sold her half, located across the highway, several years ago) to move closer to their daughter.

After completing a business trip in New Orleans earlier this month, I rented a car and met my mom to visit the homestead one last time before it was officially under new ownership.

I expected an emotional, memory-filled goodbye. What I faced, instead, was the realization that home wasn’t really home without the people. Without my grandfather sitting in his recliner, the den was just a room full of furniture. Without my grandmother mixing up family favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the tiny kitchen was just another place to store plates and glasses.

Without a pasture filled with cows, or a barn housing a couple of horses, the back pasture was just a hilltop.

It’s gone, but the memories are priceless. I could choose to be sad, or I can choose to remember rolling around in the back yard with a litter of puppies (with only one case of ringworm during my entire childhood, thank you very much). I can share bittersweet memories, or tell everybody about the time I smacked the Shetland pony while my brother was riding to make her go fast for him (YOU’RE WELCOME and I don’t know why you still hold a grudge about this, Rob).

My fondest hope is that my uncle and aunt can create these kinds of memories for their grandchildren on their new place, which features a slightly smaller piece of land, but has all the potential of my childhood stomping grounds. Go forth, and make those kids remember your house with utter delight.

Some 30 years after my introduction to the sultry musical magician known as Prince, I finally got to see him in concert.

It would turn out to be his second-to-last performance.

Prince

Prince hit the airwaves with Purple Rain when I was 12 years old and newly “into” music, and I saw the movie at a friend’s 13-year-old birthday party. Not to go all get-off-my-lawn on you, but 13-year-olds were less world-weary back in those days, so Prince’s overtly sexual performances and offstage antics in that movie were eye-opening for us, a group of relatively sheltered girls in South Mississippi.

Suddenly, guys who could dance were HOT (Dirty Dancing was still three years away). Guys who wore skintight jumpsuits, high-heeled boots and ruffled blouses were HOT.

I say guys here, but I really mean just the one guy. Sure, we had David Bowie on the charts already, but he was still two years away from his turn in Labyrinth, another movie that illustrated the utter hotness of guys who danced in skintight pants, high-heeled boots and ruffled blouses.

Prince sang about sex in ways that even 13-year-old girls sensed were more empowering than creepy, more poetic than dirty.

For example, this passage from When Doves Cry starts out as a well-crafted poem, then turns erotic:

Dream if you can a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses
They feel the heat
The heat between me and you

I could go on – the man had SO MANY songs.

I can only say that Prince’s April 14 concerts were pure magic – even though I was only able to go to the first, everything I’ve heard assures me that the second was just as good, if not better.

When I learned it was only going to be Prince and a piano on the stage, I briefly worried. It sounded very Las Vegas, very gimmicky.

I had faith that Prince wouldn’t do gimmicky, however, and I was right.

From the moment he stepped onto the stage, emerging from a cloud of fog, I went pure fangirl. Understand, I’ve seen A LOT of concerts, and never have I spontaneously high-fived strangers, screamed uncontrollably and danced with no thought of remaining inside of my own personal body space.

This is what it must have been like to see The Beatles in 1964.

He looked and sounded amazing. He didn’t have to adjust his songs down to meet any reduction in vocal capacity, a trick that I’ve seen other older singers use. His voice had lost absolutely no range over the years.

I came out of the Fox wanting an album filled with Prince singing his songs accompanied only by his own piano-playing. There was nothing Vegas about it – every song was pure feeling and talent. He could have sung it all without the piano and it would have suffered little.

I almost didn’t go. We missed the initial ticket sale and were already slated to be out of town on the original performance date. Had he not postponed his shows by a week, we wouldn’t have been able to go.

Thirty years. That’s a mighty long time.

And it was worth every minute.

I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

For the record, today is January 20, meaning I tried on a bikini in the dead of winter and didn’t hate myself. That’s next-level crazy.

pants

Clearly not a bikini shot, but I’m loving my strong legs these days. Also my lion’s head garbage can.

 

By no means was there an Instagram faux-perfect body staring back at me. First of all, I’m paler than any swimsuit model would dare to be. Six-pack abs still elude me, mostly because I’m not giving up ALL of the good things in life, like the occasional glass of wine and chocolate croissant. The thighs could be spindlier, but they just don’t seem to want to (even when I was seriously tracking meals and workouts and weight and body fat percentage, they didn’t want to be tiny).

What I saw in the mirror was … OK. My abs are in good shape (I have a little oblique action going on). I’m loving my arms and shoulders — although my lifting game is not impressive weight-wise, my tiny muscles are a joy.

Finally, my legs are STRONG. They have a few muscle cuts. They can climb and lift, which in the end is more important than being skinny.

At 43 years old, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and I feel fabulous.

Over the past few years, I started rethinking my nutrition and fitness goals. I stopped having a “goal weight” (I have no idea what I weigh right now, but my clothes fit the same week after week, so SCORE). I began to pursue weightlifting not as a weight-loss activity, but as a bone-building, let-see-what-these-muscles-can-do activity. I’m not lifting super heavy – my condo gym is small and frequently not populated with spotters, so I have to lift only what I can safely carry (a good travel rule for suitcases, too).

The husband helped me make a standing desk for work – it’s hard to get sleepy after lunch if you’re on your feet.

The biggest changes I’ve made have involved food. I cook. A LOT. We eat more whole foods than processed foods. Note I didn’t say NO processed foods – we still eat meatballs from the Trader Joe’s freezer. I still make a weekly trip to Moe’s Southwest Grill with the office crew (Moe’s Monday waits for no one). We eat the occasional frozen chicken burrito at home (a Trader Joe’s original, yet again).

But for breakfast? Oatmeal. Not instant. Sometimes steel-cut. Topped with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins.

Lunch? Leftover quinoa. Always a salad (sometimes only a salad) with good greens, grape tomatoes, feta and sometimes banana peppers. I like the Caesar dressing from Trader Joe’s, but after reading  about “natural flavors” in The Dorito Effect, I’m considering just topping my greens with a little vinegar.

Dinner? I have a great recipe for chicken tacos from The Complete Cooking For Two Cookbook by my favorite cookbook authors at America’s Test Kitchen. Also included in that book is a stuffed manicotti recipe – that one is a two-day affair, since it’s easier to make the sauce one day and complete the dish the second day.

We eat a lot (A LOT) of cheese and salad. I make a mean meatloaf. The aforementioned meatballs come into play at least once a week with my homemade marinara sauce – sometimes with stuffed ravioli (yo, Trader Joe’s again), sometimes on a bun from Publix for sandwiches (although I’m notorious for leaving at least half of the bun on my plate – simple carbs aren’t taboo, but they aren’t a requirement, either).

I drink a lot of water. And a bit of coffee. The occasional glass or three of wine.

Perfect dietary guidelines? No. Better than some, worse than others, but it’s working for me. My meal-planning is a combination of deciding what I would really enjoy and what’s good for my body. Not good as in, oh, this will keep/make me skinny, but good as in, oh, this will help with today’s deadlifts, or help me stay upright and focused while I finish making this presentation.

Good as in, I tried on a new bikini last night and didn’t hate myself.

reindeer

The filigreed reindeer built for themselves a primitive god, not recognizing the power they had unleashed until it was too late to dash away.

Because all Christmas decorations should come with a backstory.

A friend embellished the legend for me, complete with a short “Repo Man” reference:

And the caribou deity proclaimed, “For I am Reednier, and I have become Yuletide! Thou art my minions. Let us go forth and rejoice, defy gravity, eat apples, fine cheese and chocolate, and pause for decaf lattes! Yes, and not pay.”

Because everyone should have friends who add delightful details to your weird backstories.

 

So, in awkwardly timed news, the husband and I are heading to Paris this week to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Am I scared? No more scared than I’ve ever been traveling to a major city.

I came of age in the ’80s and early ’90s, and I paid attention to the news, meaning that I knew England was potentially still a hotspot for IRA bombings when I traveled there in 1993 to take a World War II history class for the better part of a month.

I paid attention, but I also roved the city like a … well, like a girl who was raised in rural South Mississippi her whole life only to discover at age 21 that she BELONGED in a big city like she had never belonged anywhere else. I endured a couple of subway station evacuations, kept an eye out for abandoned knapsacks, as instructed, and went about my day, like you do.

European countries have dealt with more terrorist bombings and shootings than Americans can even imagine (hit up Wikipedia’s page for terrorist incidents in France – this isn’t the first day at the rodeo for Paris).

I fell in love with New York City a few years after 9/11, traveling there repeatedly with the knowledge that Manhattan is the quintessential American city, meaning that it’s a juicy target for terrorists. Again, I watched for weirdness and went where I wanted to go.

I realize that “See something, say something” only goes so far, and watching for abandoned backpacks in the train station seems like a very 1980s model of protection. At the same time, however, I won’t live in fear of the unknown.

I live in Atlanta, another major American city, albeit without the cachet of New York City. We have a pro football team, a pro baseball team (for now), several concert arenas and TONS of people – in short, Atlanta could very well be a target, too. Any place on the planet could be a target, frankly, if we’re including incidents of mass shootings that have nothing to do with international politics.

Paris is a lovely city, a lively city, a city that feels REAL. Unlike New York and London (and Atlanta, as long as we’re naming names), it hasn’t succumbed to to the outbreak of EveryCityLookstheSame that is rapidly spreading all over the globe.

To paraphrase Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar, Paris is music, champagne, kisses, joy and life.

So, I’m heading to La Ville Lumière, a city that I love, with the man I love, to fearlessly, if cautiously, eat, drink, talk and perhaps weep with its citizens. More than hating the enemy, more than demanding violence in the name of peace, celebrating life, love and freedom is the ultimate revenge on those who would like the world to cower.

I recently took my final ride in an Atlanta taxi.

No, I’m not moving. Neither do I plan to drive, walk or bicycle everywhere in this only partially pedestrian-/bike-friendly city.

My latest experience with an Atlanta taxi was simply the last straw in a old, troubled relationship.

Since I moved to Atlanta nearly two years ago, Uber has been my go-to car service. The cars are cleaner. The drivers are nicer. The pick-up times are more reliable.

taxi

Writing that sentence, I just realized that Uber’s cheaper pricing really is at the bottom of my list for using them. How about that.

Anyway, returning from a business trip to San Diego last week, I found myself arriving at the Atlanta airport at around 8:30 p.m. Normally, I would take the MARTA train back to Midtown and either get my husband to pick me up at the station or take an embarrassingly short Uber ride back to the condo (if the sun hasn’t already gone down, I’ll happily hike the mile or so back).

For those familiar with MARTA, however, you know that trains get stupidly scarce at night, and I was facing a 20-minute wait for a train, plus a 20-minute ride to Midtown, plus another, say, 10 minutes to get back to the condo.

Just taking an Uber could get me there in less than half the time. Continue Reading »

True confession: I don’t miss being a homeowner at all.

Turns out I despise yardwork. It’s like laundry: It never ends. Except it’s worse than laundry, because it has to be completed outside in the 90-degree heat, and it never looks as good as it could unless you plow thousands of dollars into chemicals, machinery and just plain starting over with new landscaping. And I can at least wear my clothes, whereas I only entered the yard to maintain it. Futility at its finest.

I also don’t miss the feeling of having never done enough, knowing that you should find a stylish chair to go in the corner opposite the couch so you can have that conversational nook you always read about. Only whenever anybody comes over you end up chatting at the kitchen table over coffee or cocktails or wine, because everyone knows that’s where the best conversations happen.

The constant pressure to be refurbishing something, with an eye toward styling it to suit the tastes of some unknown future buyer, who prefers creme-colored walls and, uh-oh, your color selection was closer to a light beige? No thanks.

The awful realization that the one thing tying me to a city I need to leave is a house I don’t want anymore? Deliciously non-existent.

I suppose I’ll get back into the real estate business one day, but there are no guarantees. I’ve tasted freedom, and it is sweet.

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