coffee_and_grapefruit_rob_richesThere are certain food and beverage pairings that make two delicious things even more delightful. Take Kenyan coffee and grapefruit, for example. Or sharp cheddar and red wine.

But there are other pairings that shouldn’t be attempted, one of which I’d forgotten about until this evening, when I happened upon it again.

I used to go to a Vespers service at my friends’ church and we’d often go out to eat afterward. The pub where we usually went had an excellent Buffalo Chicken Strip dinner that was my typical order. One night, I also ordered a glass of wine, White Zinfandel—a fruity, sweet wine.

I’d eaten a few bites of my chicken before I took a sip of wine. When I did, I made a face—slightly shocked, rather bemused.

“Well that was a strange combination,” I said.

My friends looked at my plate and my drink and put two and two together. “What did it taste like?” they asked.

I fumbled for a moment, trying to place my finger on the familiar, strange experience on my tongue. Finally, from the depths of my childhood it came to me.

“Pop Rocks,” I said.

Here Be Dragons

I was talking with a coworker today about the location of another area church. He explained to me that it was just up Park Road from the Quail Hollows Shopping Center, where Gleneagles Road intersects Park.

I knew the point of reference. Just last week I was over that way for lunch with a friend. My coworker’s directions to the church were to turn right on Park from Gleneagles. I’d turned left. I realized that I had no idea what was to the right.

I paused. “Does Fairview intersect Park?” I asked. I thought I remembered being on Park Road, and getting there from Fairview.
“Yep,” said my coworker.
“Farther up?” I asked.
“Yeah, if you turned right onto Park from Gleneagles, you’d eventually cross Fairview.”

The Lenox Globe, As illustrated in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2

The Lenox Globe, As illustrated in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2

I tried to picture it all in my mind. I had two anchor points, two places I knew, but the space between them was a blank.

I realized that most of my mental map of Charlotte is like that. I have intersections or roads I’m familiar with, but the space between is the “Here be dragons” areas of the ancient cartographers—utterly unknown.

I suppose my “Here be dragons” areas will diminish with time, but for now, I rather revel in the mystery. Who knows what thrill or terror might be around the next corner?

And Then There Was the Day…

And then there was the day that I didn’t want to write a blog post. I wondered when it would happen. I was feeling pretty impressed by myself for making it through nearly two-thirds of the month without running out of ideas or just simply not wanting to write.

But I’ve hit my wall. I don’t feel like it.

I’m desperately trying to come up with some memory of a time when I had hit a wall and I just didn’t feel like going any further.

I can’t.

So, instead I’ll tell you in broad sweeps with very little attention to detail and no revisions whatsoever (except for there when I just typed the word “whatsoever” as “whatsover” and hit the backspace button to fix it) about the weekend that my family went camping at Warren Dunes during Hurricane Hugo.

Warren Dunes

Warren Dunes

It was a great trip. We met up with my uncle and aunt and cousins and Seth and Shane and I spent hours in the vine-festooned woods where we would break off dried curly-cues of vine and use them as keys to get us through the doors we imagined in the vine-and-branch posts-and-lintels into Narnia. And there we met Caspian and Reepicheep and Peter and Edmund and we shouted, “Narnia and the North!” and traversed the land—except for when we were playing it on the dunes themselves as we hiked toward Lake Michigan and discovered we were headed west and therefore changed our phrasing to “Narnia and the West” so as to be geographically accurate.

I don’t actually remember the storm. I slept through the tent collapsing on top of us and Dad and Uncle Hal getting up to anchor the tents to the cars and the trees. I missed it entirely.

But Hurricane Hugo was the storm that blew a Yugo off of Mackinac Bridge up in Northern Michigan, so to say I was tent camping that weekend definitely lends me some cred.

Kamikaze Squirrels and Zinzi’s Cat

I drive through a quiet neighborhood on my way to work. This morning I was forced to drive it like a mad woman, dodging squirrels right and left that jumped out from the side of the road that ran across in front of me. They scooted by as my tires rolled through the leaves scudding across the road. One had dropped his nut right in the middle of the street. I did my best to avoid him, swerving to one side, and he worked hard to get his paws around the acorn and get it into his jaws. Just as I passed, he scampered off, his tail barely clearing my wheel.

The close encounters with furry woodland creatures put me in mind of one of my favorite memories: my introduction to Zinzi’s cat.

In May of 2001, I went on a Reformation Tour with my college. There were about twelve students, mostly girls, and the rest of our tour bus was filled with friends of the university—many of them senior citizens, quite a few retired naval officers. It was a quality combination that led to lots of entertaining encounters. But this story only includes the younger generation.

We spent our second night in Herrnhut, Germany, at a guesthouse run by the Moravians there. Technically, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf was not a part of reformation history, as he lived about a hundred years too late, but, since Herrnhut was a good stopping point between Prague (where we studied Jan Hus) and Luther’s territory, we paused there and learned a little bit of Moravian history.

The observation tower in the Herrnhut cemetery.
Aussichtsturm Hutbergaltan auf dem Hutberg, Herrnhut

We’d toured a large cemetery in the center of the village that afternoon and had seen the sarcophaguses of Zinzi (as we affectionately named the Count) and his family in the center of the main path. In addition, we’d seen a hill on the far side of the cemetery with a white observation tower above it. When it grew dark that night, we discovered that the stars were shining brilliantly—small towns like Herrnhut not having quite the light pollution of major cities—and someone got the bright idea to make our way to the hill and the observation tower to see what we could see.

Eight of the girls jumped on board with the idea, and Mike, as the conscientious brother that he was, decided that we could not go alone. So, the nine of us jauntily made our way from the guest house, along the path through the cemetery, and up the hill to the observatory. Upon arrival, we discovered the observatory tower itself was locked, so we were forced to stand about on the ground—still high above the town—and enjoy the sight of the night sky from there.

After half an hour or so of stargazing we turned back to the path down the hill on our way to return to the guesthouse, and all suddenly had a realization: it was pitch black, we had one flashlight, and we were about to walk through a cemetery.

Spooked, we each grabbed a buddy. I linked arms with Kate and we set ourselves second in line behind Emily and Crystal with the flashlight. Behind us Deanne and Claire paired up, and Mike, with Bekah on one arm and Jamie on the other, brought up the rear.

We navigated down the hill carefully. Emily and Crystal would spot a root across the path and whisper it back to the rest of us, “Root!” and the message would pass along. We’d hear “Turn!” at each bend and pass it on back, “Turn!” “Turn!”

All was well until we reached the sarcophagi in the middle of the main path. We’d skirted the path edge, giving them a wide birth as we went, and it was only when most of us were beyond them that Mike could hold it in no longer.

“Is it just me,” he asked, “or is that coffin opening?”

Simultaneously, in sepulchral whispers, eight girls said, “SHUT UP!” He was vigorously swatted by Jamie and Bekah as he laughed.

A few more minutes down the path, we could see the edge of the cemetery ahead and the comforting lights of our guesthouse across the road. The end was in sight, but something in the beam of the flashlight had caught Emily and Crystal’s attention. They slowed, peering ahead.

“What is it?” Kate and I asked.

“I think—” Emily moved the flashlight and dragged Crystal another step forward. “I think it’s a hedgehog!”

Delighted, we passed the word back, “Hedgehog!” “Hedgehog!” and we gathered closer to the tiny woodland creature. None of us had ever seen a hedgehog before, and they really are as adorable as they look in all the pictures. We’d formed a small clump around the edge of the path near him, traumatizing him and paralyzing him with fear as we trained our flashlight upon him and whispered our excitement.

“I’m going to take a picture of it!” said Kate. She reached for her camera, one arm still hooked in mine. She brought the camera to her eye, focused, and pressed the shutter.

As she did so, a white cat came flying out of the darkness, aiming for the small prey we’d so conveniently trained in a spotlight for him. Simultaneously, the flash of the camera went off, startling the humans, the cat, and the hedgehog equally and sending us all reeling away from the center point where the hedgehog had been. Terrified back to action, it went scurrying off in one direction. The cat, shocked by the sudden bright light, ran the opposite way. And all nine of us jumped back in alarum.

It became an emblem of our entire tour, that night did. We told and retold the tale. We dubbed Kate the “Savior of Furry Woodland Creatures” (though “furry” may not have been the best description for the hedgehog). We honored Mike for his bravery in bringing up the rear, and chastised him for his attempts to terrify us.

And in every city we entered for the next two weeks, we saw a white cat, Zinzi’s Cat, who followed us across Germany, haunting our steps until we would provide him with another snack.


I drove into the North Carolina mountains today and watched the beginning of autumn as I did so. Green maples tipped with red, birches shading to gold. The speckles of the light shining through the green canopy. Here and there and evergreen staying strong, Remaining what it was. Forever.


When I was in college, we took a trip to the Poconos to go camping. It was April and we left after watching the storm roll in across from the west it shined everything new and in the glowingly sunset, We took off glad the rain had it say.

As we drove up the highway I watched the greens in the woods. Penn’s woods. It was the bright green of spring, the pale color of green tea. In the spring, the tulip trees have leaves smaller than my palm, but I knew that in the summer those leaves would grow to be bigger than my hand. In the spring, you can pop a tulip tree leaf, capturing pocket of air smacking it through the membrane, crack. But tulip tree leaves in the summer are far too strong for such things. Far too green.

I think of the black spruce in Alaska, those “evergreens.” Except most of the year they don’t seem green at all. Against the contrast of the white snow they fully live up to their name and the monochromatic winter is halted only by the sky. But in the fall they are evergreen. Against the bright golden yellow of the aspen trees, all the highlights of the needles come forth and for a glorious two weeks—a season—you see the contrast of the green and the gold and the blue and the brown.

I’ll take the seasons. I’ll enjoy the speckles of gold in the green of the trees. The flash red here in there as autumn begins to take its hold. I’ll glory in the sight of the sky through the canopy of the woods in the deep of the winter when the branches are bare. I’ll revel in the pale green spring—the flowers, the brightness. And summer, even summer I’ll take. I hope it will be like Michigan in June. Though in North Carolina I’m more likely to get the heat of a southern August. Even so I’ll take summer because its presence reminds me of all the other seasons that I will get to see.

After all, I live in a place where there are seasons.



I went out with a friend today, ostensibly for coffee and gelato, but neither of us had had lunch so we both ended up with sandwiches. Upon completing our sandwiches, we moved on to cappuccinos, but decided to give the gelato a pass—this time.

However, our delightful waiter—who from time to time during the meal would seem to randomly stop next to our table looking up at the wall perpendicular to us (we realized after this happened the first time that there was a TV on the wall we hadn’t noticed)—decided that we could not leave without gelato, so he brought us a plate with samples. Two tiny spoons each of four different flavors, selected to pair with our cappuccinos. Good man. I’ll be going back to that restaurant.

The moment brought to memory another gelato experience, in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. I’d wandered the city all day with my parents and we were winding down our time when we got to Piazza San Marco. We took our photos of the basilica and campanile, and of the water taxis going past in the main thoroughfare.

And then we decided, since we were in Italy, and we were in Venice, and it was a nice day, we should get some gelato and cappuccinos at a café. We figured a café on Piazza San Marco could probably handle both.Venice

We found our way to a café with outdoor seating and settled in to watch the tourists and the pigeons for a few moments. If there are vortex points in major cities worldwide which draw in both Japanese tourists and pigeons (a running theory I have), piazza San Marco may be the strongest of them all.

When we turned our attention to the menu, we found out what tourists are willing to pay for gelato and cappuccinos in Venice, and decided that the better part of budgeting was to order a coffee-flavored gelato.

Between bites of velvety cream, hinted with sweetness and the sharp flavor of coffee, I glanced down at the napkin that had come with our gelato. “Quadri,” it read, “dal 1638.”

My Italian is less than impressive (though better than my French, but that’s not saying much) but I determined from my context clues what “dal” meant. And so, spoonful by spoonful, watching the couples kissing out among the pigeons and thinking, “Ahh, Venice,” I ate my coffee gelato at a 363-year-old café in the Old World.Quadri

On Dust and Bravery

“When I was young, I fell in love with story.”

It was the first line that caught my attention. I knew that feeling – that falling in love with story. I’ve done that.

But then the words went on, and struck even deeper chords than my love of story: the tension of roots and wings, of settling and adventuring. It put words to the ideas I’ve walked around recently in conversations with friends about listening to the small voice that tells us there’s something else out there, but not yet hearing the voice that says, “Here, here is the place you should be.”

Sleeping At Last so often takes my soul’s deep groanings and puts words to them.

“The Projectionist”
Sleeping At Last

When I was young I fell in love with story,
With the eleventh hour, with the blaze of glory.
The theater lights dim and all goes quiet.
In the darkest of rooms, light shines the brightest.
When hands are tied and clocks are ticking,
An audience convinced: we’re leaning in,
Holding our breath again.
Just when we thought the game was over
The music lifts and our dying solider lives!
And we breathe a sigh of relief.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving our shadows behind us now.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving it all behind for now.
But even dust was made to settle
And if we’re made of dust, then what makes us any different?
I guess we give what we’ve been given:
A family tree so very good at giving up
When we’ve had enough.
Though truth is heavier than fiction,
Gravity lifts as the projectionist rolls tape.
And it makes us brave again
And it makes us brave again
And it makes us brave.
So we’re leaving, we’re leaving our shadows behind us now.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving it all behind for now.
And it makes us brave again And it makes us brave.
We’re leaving, we’re leaving ‘em all behind for now.

When Your Tuque Falls in the Curry

The full title of this piece—which, sadly, wouldn’t fit very well—is:
When Your Tuque Falls in the Curry:
And Other Problems of Using Your Laundry as an Outdoor Fridge

-The Annals of a Philly Winter-

Our laundry facilities are in a lean-to by the side of the kitchen that doubles as an entryway to the apartment. It is completely un-insulated and it has two windows and a storm door. So, heat: no.

These facts are unhelpful in the deepest, coldest days of winter when the water line to the washer freezes and you’re stuck, unable to launder your clothing. There’s a space heater in there for just such moments. Sadly, I have a tendency to forget that until after I’ve discovered the frozen water line again.

However, the lack of heat is quite helpful on those late fall/early winter days around the Thanksgiving and Christmas when the temperature outdoors is cool and the kitchen is filled to brimming with good things to eat. Hello extra fridge space!

On Sunday, we were to have seven people for dinner. Due to a snowstorm and horrid road conditions (and, if you were to believe headlines at, all kinds of impending doom), we only had three of us. There’s lots of leftover curry. I just set the pot out on the dryer and voila, it’s chilled. Today for lunch I took a ladle to it, dipped, and poured over my bowl of rice, microwaved and had deliciousness.

But I dripped. And I didn’t clean it up immediately. Little did I know the impact that one small lapse in judgment would have….


On Sunday, we got more snow in four hours than we had all of last winter. The winter before, it had snowed on October 26. That’s it. I think. I vaguely recall another snowstorm that I missed ‘cause I was out in Lancaster, but suffice it to say we’ve been in a bit of a snow drought these past two winters.

This week has been working to make up for it. Philly/NJ had eight inches Sunday (to our 4” up here) and today we’re looking at 4”-6”.

Here’s the thing about Philly snow, though: it’s wet. There’s almost no getting around it. You know that lovely, dry, squeaky stuff from Michigan and Alaska? The kind you can just sweep away with a broom? A rarity here.

So this afternoon I went out to shovel. I swept the wet piles off the car and then took the shovel to the drive, lifting with my knees the whole(ish) way through. (We won’t talk about how my back hurts right now).


Snow BWI live on a tiny street. Most of the houses on it were built 50-300 years before the advent of cars. You can fit two cars side by side, but, well, y’know.

So it’s a one way street.

But here’s the other thing about those houses built 300 years before the advent of cars: nobody was thinking about parking lots and garages. I look at the houses on my street and wonder where on earth they put the horses. They must have had carriage houses somewhere else, ’cause I can’t find ’em.

One would think, with this tiny street and no real parking options, that shoveling would be easy, right? But here’s the thing: one small truck plows one single lane. That’s it. And it’s on the far side of the narrow little street from my driveway. So my drive, filled as it is with a vehicle, with only about four feet between my back bumper and the street, takes on another 8-12 feet of length in its shoveling needs. Lovely.


Then there’s the fact that there’s nowhere really to put the snow. Directly in front of my car is a wooden deck. Beside it, a 3-foot by 4-foot garden bed, and then of course, the 1-foot easement across the street—another 12 feet away. It’s always an adventure figuring the best ways to pile snow into our miniscule snow piling spaces. 4”-6” is nothing. I’ve cleared over a foot into those spots.

But all this is hard work. And with the temperature just barely hovering around freezing (that’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans, and zero Celsius for everybody else), you get hot pretty quickly—all that lifting with (sort of) the knees and pushing across the street and piling snow (and the leaves under it) in precarious mountains.

So even when you think ahead, and you only wear one layer under your coat, you still get hot pretty quickly.

I bundled myself up: Columbia jacket, water-resistant lined pants, ear bags (or “ears,” as I call them), gloves, and hat. And 20 minutes in, I was starting to overheat.

I know what to do first in that situation. It’s why I wear both the ears and the hat: remove the tuque.

I set down the shovel, go to the storm door, open it, pull off my hat, and toss it in, aiming for an empty spot on the dryer.


I now have a woolen tuque with curry on it, friends.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: Book Review

“Adventure ho!” reads the author’s inscription on the first page. Jonathan Auxier is a friend of a friend who lent me her signed copy of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes for a read. Auxier wasn’t wrong. From the first page, Peter Nimble rollicks forward through adventure with barely a missed beat along the way.

Peter Nimble is an orphan, blinded by a raven, found as a baby floating in the river by sailors, who turn him over to the town magistrates, who name him and leave him to fend for himself. He takes up with a family of cats under the porch of an alehouse until the whole lot are found by the tavern owner, scooped into a bag, and tossed in the river. There Peter’s innate skills as a thief show themselves when he looses the knots and swims to safety.
And that’s in the first two pages.
Even better, this line comes at the end of it: “Until this point, you have been witness to Peter’s rather typical infancy—probably not unlike your own.”
Peter’s career as a thief takes off, and by age ten he’s well-known enough to capture the attention of those who know that goodness is not the same thing as following the law, but something much deeper and much greater altogether. His encounter with them sets him on the journey of the story – with a cursed knight, Sir Tode, as a sidekick – to find the vanished kingdom and answer the plea for help they sent out.
A giant dogfish named Frederick, thieves and criminals in deserts, an unkindness of ravens, a king who keeps children for slave labor and makes their parents forget about them, an army of gorillas, sea serpents, and a ten-year-old princess with a temper fill in the rest of the pages of Peter’s adventure.
Auxier’s writing style is extremely clever, with comments throughout that parents will probably find as funny as their children. Comments like these and the fact that he does not shy away from portraying real violence and real evil probably skew the book slightly older than its ten-year-old protagonist, but smaller children could enjoy it being read to them. There are complicated relationships between children and adults, but in general, once all enchantments are broken, there is mutual respect and love on both sides. Peter is a delightful hero – one who does not think too highly of himself, except once, and then he finds that working without the aid of his friends is much more difficult than working with them.
The book itself is gorgeous, with cover illustrations that hint at the adventures within without giving away too much. Auxier himself drew the illustrations at the start of each chapter. The text is set in a font that’s easy to read and lovely to look at. The effort put into book design makes holding it in your hands an honor.
In the end, the reader is left with a sense that all is well and a hope that perhaps, if the fancy strikes him, Jonathan Auxier could tell us more about Peter’s adventures.
By Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0025-5