Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Don't Have Answers for Any of This

I'm having some angst over here this morning. I'd like to blog about pretty horses, but Baltimore is on fire. I don't know how to talk about that. Yep, rioting is stupid, helps nothing, distracts everyone from the issues at hand. Yep, the entrenched poverty of that community is hard to comprehend, harder still to fix. I wish I had answers. I don't.

Sometimes I get aggrieved and judgmental. I'm sorry about that. Yesterday someone posted a quip on Facebook that rubbed me the wrong way--it didn't help that we were having a difficult time at Faith in Action, so I was already feeling uptight--and I told them I thought they didn't understand the complexities of the situation, at least not as well as I did. They explained that they did, with details. I forget sometimes, even though I know it's important, even though I say it over and over myself, that we don't know people until we've listen to their stories. The person I was rude to on Facebook was gracious enough to tell me her story anyhow, and trust that I would listen. I did.

A man named Freddie Grey, who had a long history of drug convictions, died of a nearly-severed spinal cord. Spinal cords don't sever easily.

He was a drug dealer. A nobody.

Except that none of us are nobodies. Jesus seems to make this pretty clear.

I think of the son of the man who mows for me, the son whose death we're grieving. He never achieved much by the world's standards. He lived mostly off monthly disability checks. Had lots of tattoos. A failed marriage. Yet his boys loved him, his sister loved him, his parents loved him every day of their lives.

This man who died quite often came by my farm. Sometimes he did a little work for me. Sometimes he just stopped to speak to his father. Once he rang my doorbell. "Miss Kim," he said, with a sly smile, "is Sarah supposed to be loose in the barn aisle?" Sarah is my big mischievous mare. I sighed, and went to grab my shoes. "No worry," he said, "I put her back."

I listen now to his father, listen every day though it's hard to do so. "Such a good boy," he says. "He was always a good boy." And, once, "I don't have a boy anymore, Miss Kim. I don't know what to do without my boy."

None of this makes any sense. I'm hoping it will start to, if I shut up and listen.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bunnie Sexton Could Kick Your A--

Just in case any of you woke up this morning thinking, "Wow, Kim really has it all together," let me relate that after I spent about an hour yesterday looking for my Tennessee High Tennis sweatshirt, to wear to my daughter's match, my daughter came home from school, spent a few minutes looking for her tennis uniform, and said, "Mom, did we leave all our dirty laundry in the closet of the hotel?" That would be the hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, where we were last weekend, and, um--yeah.

I called the hotel. The chipper desk clerk said, "Ma'am, I'll check Lost and Found. What exactly did you leave?"

I said, "Two Tennessee High Tennis sweatshirts, one THS tennis dress, a pair of khaki pants--maybe two pairs--a white polo with "Lauren Kieffer Eventing" embroidered on the back, a pair of pink sweatpants, two white sportsbras, a black sportsbra, a purple sportsbra, a bunch of dirty socks and underwear and probably a whole lot of other stuff."

The chipper desk clerk said, "That's not going to fit in Lost and Found. I'll check with housekeeping."

Housekeeping had it--of course they did, who would steal somebody else's dirty underwear?--and it's being sent to us.

Meanwhile--well, never mind. We just don't quite have our schitz together this week. The thread is starting to unravel. We carry on.

Today I want to tell you about Bunnie Sexton. I don't know her personally. Before last weekend, I'd never even heard of her, and no, I can't explain why she is called Bunnie. One presumes that's not the name on her birth certificate, but it's really none of one's business, is it?

Bunnie Sexton is 53, 6 years older than me. She is shorter than me, thinner than me but not disgustingly so, and wears more makeup than me, which most women do. She lives in California and primarily competes there, which is probably why I'd never heard of her before last weekend--I really don't know the west coast eventers very well.

This year Bunnie Sexton rode at Rolex for the first time.

Eventing is not really a sport for the very young, the way gymnastics is. You can't even attempt the advanced level until you're 18, which means it would be very difficult to qualify for Rolex (uber-advanced) before you were 20. The Olympians in this sport tend to be in their 30s or 40s. But at the advanced level eventing requires tremendous fitness from both horse and rider, and also tremendous courage. This year only one amateur, veterinarian Kevin Keane, rode at Rolex. It's very rare for someone to come out for their first time in their 40s, let alone their 50s.

On Thursday, the first day of dressage, I was working on the ramp that lead from the final dressage warmup to the main arena. Most riders trot or canter down the ramp with their Game Faces firmly in place. They are concentrating with every fiber of their being, and it means that their faces look cast in cement. They could be death masks of themselves. If, say, a volunteer on the ramp says, "Good luck, Phillip," as the rider passes, Phillip might respond with a very small, short nod, and the volunteer wouldn't expect anything more. The riders are Concentrating, and no wonder. They're about to do something quite hard on a super-fit and sensitive horse in a large and intimidating arena in front of witnesses. And they're raging perfectionists, every one of them.

Bunnie Sexton stood out from her fellow competitors: she went down the ramp grinning from ear to ear. When a volunteer said, "Good luck, Bunnie!" she turned her head and said, "Thanks!" She went into the arena like a kid rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning, because at age 53 she finally had a horse that could do Rolex, or she herself was finally ready for Rolex, or because somehow the stars had all aligned and here was her chance. Her dressage test put her in 71st place out of 73 riders, but was, as we say in eventing, that's a number, not a letter (E for elimination or W for withdraw. One rider was eliminated in dressage, another, the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips, withdrew in warmup.). Bunnie got to keep going.

I saw her again on Saturday, riding cross country in the pouring rain, coming through a very technical part well, smiling before the jumps and laughing as she galloped away. She finished without jumping penalties, pretty damn remarkable given the circumstances, and good enough to vault her all the way to 31st place. On Sunday she took a single showjump rail down, so that she finished her first Rolex in 24th place out of 75 official starters. The crowd cheered wildly--eventers love persistence--and Bunnie grinned and grinned and patted her horse, galloping a small circle in the arena, and then she put her gloved hand to her eyes and bawled.

I wear shirts in support of my friends who ride. I've got "Lauren Kieffer Eventing," and "Go, Obie, Go!" (Ellen Doughty-Hume and her horse Sir Oberon) and "Proud Member of Amy's Tribe" (Amy Barrington) and some O'Connor Event Team polos from the 2012 Olympics. Next year I'm wearing a Bunnie Sexton shirt. With bells on. You bet.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Gathering of the Clans (Rolex!)

I haven't been blogging because I've been at Rolex.

I know that sounds weird to you muggles. What, I went to a watch store?

Nope. Rolex is The Thing for the North American devotees of my tiny beloved sport. It's officially the Kentucky Rolex Four-Star Three Day Event, but whereas all the other annual 4-star events are known by their locations, Badminton and Burghley in England, Luhmuhlen in Germany, and Pau in France, the one in the United States is not Lexington, nor Kentucky. It has held the same primary sponsor since 1981, and has been known, always, as Rolex.

The first time I went to Rolex was 1991. I was married, working as a chemist, had no vacation days and a husband in medical school. We drove to Cincinnati on Friday night and got a hotel room, which was a tremendous splurge, then drove the rest of the way very early Saturday morning. In an odd, uncharacteristic fit of optimistic underplanning I didn't look up how to get there, saying I was sure we'd know it when we saw it. Oddly enough, we did. We crested a hill on the freeway and spread before us was the loveliest horse farm I'd ever seen, acres and acres of green grass surrounded by perfect white fence. That was it: the Kentucky Horse Park. That was Rolex. Later in the day I watched Karen O'Connor (still Karen Lende back then) make a tremendous save to get back into the saddle after her horse Park Lane tripped on the Lexington Bank. The video of that became a commercial; it's been on television often. Later still I watched Karen ride her second horse, Mr. Maxwell, through the famous water jump, the Head of the Lake. Karen ended up winning with Mr. Maxwell. I didn't see it; we didn't stay for the final day that year.

International three day events take place over four days, because it takes two days to get all the competitors through the first phase, dressage. You either ride Thursday or Friday, for dressage, then everyone runs cross-country on Saturday; the survivors from that showjump on Sunday. For the past two years my daughter and I have been able to volunteer for the dressage phase. This year my daughter was an electronic scribe, a very cool, very coveted job. I manned a gate by the warm-up arena. That turned out to be pretty cool, too, because so many people went past me, and I knew so many of them.

We eventers stick together. I saw people I knew from my hometown and my pony club who'd moved away so I don't see them often. I saw people I knew from riding camp ten years ago, fellow DCs from different states, riders, competitors, old friends. I got hugged tightly by people who missed me, and hugged them tightly in return.

I remember loving eventing, when I first saw it live back in 1991. I remember thinking that I wanted to do it, not over the Rolex fences, not at all, but over smaller fences somewhere. It was a world I wanted to be part of. I didn't know then how eventing would pull me in.

It was cold on Thursday, with an icy wind blowing up the ramp from the warmup to the ring. I was grateful when a truck came by with ballcaps for the volunteers.

"Hey, Kim!" A friend yelled from the platform of the stands above the ramp. "How're you doing?"
I looked up, and grinned. "Freezing!" I said.
"Yeah, me too! I'm doing the broadcast, in the shade!" She pointed behind her, to the broadcast booth set up in open air.
"Want some coffee?" I gestured to the volunteer tent beside the ramp.
"You've got coffee? Yes, please! And where'd you get the hat?"
"That truck--I'll get you one."
"I've got to be back on the air in one minute."
"Take mine, then, I'll grab another." I handed up the coffee and the hat.
 "Thanks!" said Karen O'Connor, nee Lende, five-time Olympian and three-time Rolex winner, as she went back to the broadcast booth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Colleges, Round One

Last weekend my husband and I took our daughter on the first of what is probably several college exploration trips. It's a new thing for us, as our elder child, our son, was born knowing that he wanted to go to Notre Dame. This single-mindedness might have bothered me if his father hadn't been the exact same way. Both of them applied to Notre Dame early decision having never considered anywhere else. His father turned out okay, and I think my son will, too.

Anyway, my daughter didn't have any idea what she wanted in a college, and for awhile was overwhelmed by her options. At Christmas we got her to page through a book about colleges, and create a list of places that sounded interesting. The list ended up being 24 colleges long.

We're hoping for some natural attrition along the way. We're not letting her apply to 24 places.

Now I should say that we are amazingly blessed in our daughter (our son, too, but this isn't about him). Her grades and test scores give her a pretty wide-open field. She'd started out with some big parameters: avoid the west coast, avoid big cities, avoid big schools, and "get as far from east Tennessee as possible." (I might have found that insulting if one of my own goals at her age hadn't been "get as far from Indiana as possible.") So we had an open three-day weekend (in Bristol the schools close the Fridays before our two NASCAR races--NOT so that students can go to the races, but because there are schools near the track, and the traffic is unfathomable) and there was a little cluster of schools our daughter was curious about, in upstate New York, where neither me or my husband had ever been. So we went to have a look.

We went to Vassar, Colgate, Hamilton, and Cornell. They were beautiful, all of them, and I would be grateful to have my daughter study at any of them. And since the decision of where to apply is hers alone, I'm not going to say much about my opinions.  I'll offer these thoughts:

--My husband seemed really on edge at the start. We were driving through the hamlets outside NYC, posh places like Westchester and Rye, and I was thinking how glad I was to live in Bristol, and he kept fussing about the schedule. At one point I told him we'd plug something into the GPS after we got to Vassar's admissions office, and he said, "What are you talking about? We can't park near admissions." I looked at him dumbfounded, then realized he had exactly one point of reference. I said, "Honey, that's Notre Dame. Most places allow cars on campus, and you park by admissions, and start from there." He'd never done this before. It was cute. (He calmed down.)

--Colgate was gorgeous, one of the prettiest campuses I've ever seen. But half their non-freshmen live in Greek houses, and the Greek system is not something my husband or I understand. Both of our alma maters had students live on campus for all four years and didn't have sororities or fraternities, and so we are not sure what to make of this system. Are the Greeks only for the cool kids? Do you feel uncool if you're not in one? Would our daughter like to be in one? We have, honestly, no idea.

--None of us liked Cornell. We drove on campus via a back route so that the first thing we saw was the greenhouses and the veterinary school, and, I swear, it looked exactly the greenhouses and veterinary school at the University of Tennessee. Not what I'd anticipated. Nor my husband. I don't know what my daughter anticipated, but by the time we'd parked the car she said, "Nope. Not this one." It was something of a relief to her to find that there were places she could cross right off the list.

--I love college student activism. Our guide at Vassar, although someone inarticulate, prone to ending his sentences with, "like--yeah," and clearly trying to toe the Vassar Admissions Party Line, also let us know that he thought the college should not be paying any of its employees minimum wage (whether or not I agree with him would depend on what employees he meant--the students working 4-hour shifts in the coffee bar, or the janitorial staff working full time), and that while there had been problems on campus--he looked particularly pained here, and said, "There have been incidences of racial bias--like, yeah, and, you know, problems of sexual misconduct that the school authorities didn't handle as well as they should have,"--he felt that the students were banding together to create solutions. He said, "We're living four years of our lives here." At first I heard an unspoken "only" as in, it's a short time so we can put up with this stuff, and then I realized he meant the opposite, since we'll be here for four years we have plenty of time to make this a better place. Because, at his age, four years was still a long time.

Imagine that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Fred

I was in Wisconsin last weekend for baby Fred's baptism. He's nearly seven months old now, which seems improbable in the extreme. I spent several days with him not long after his birth, and I like to think, from the way he clutched my hair and grinned at me this time, that he remembered me, though I'm pretty sure he clutches and grins at everybody. He's a very sunny baby.

His older brother Louie (age 2 1/2) loves me, but didn't spend much time demonstrating it this go-round. That's because ALL THE COUSINS. Louie loves loves loves his cousins Huey and Dewey, and also loves his two cousins on his dad's side, and he got to see them all last weekend, which means that Louie spent the entire time shrieking either, "I missed you so much!" or "I'm NOT tired!"

I got to be Fred's godmother (I am also Dewey's.). He was baptised in the same gown his father once wore, in the church his father attended as a boy, by a wholly new young priest. As is the custom in my own church, the priest invited all the children at Mass to come right up by the font to see the baptism. The font at Holy Name is up to the right of the altar. Louie and Dewey came up to the altar steps with the other kids, and then Louie decided he wanted to be by his mom, so he climbed the steps, but then the big scary priest was in the way, and then Louie realized he was sort of onstage, up there, so he ran back and forth, giggling. I started for him but my dad was faster, leaping out of the pew and snagging him. The other cousins found this very amusing.

Sweet Fred slept through his entire baptism, three scoopfuls of water and an anointing with holy oil. He lay in my arms afterward, a heavy warm weight, smelling like cloves (I think that was the oil). My own children are half a generation ahead of my siblings' children, and were, last weekend, at a big high school tennis tournament and swotting for a college management exam. I still felt their presence in the church, surrounded by all the holy noise of our tribe. How lucky we are, my brother and sister and me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rest in Peace

I had a lovely weekend in Wisconsin celebrating the baptism of my youngest nephew, and godson, Fred. I got sick on the way home and it turned out to be strep throat, so that hasn't been fun, but, far worse than that, I came home to the news that someone I care about had just unexpectedly died.

It was the only son of the man who works for me, who has mowed my pastures and kept my farm in shape for always. I've thought of trying to write about him--the man who died, not his father--so you could understand what a good and genuine person he was, but somehow I can't. Not because I don't know how, but because it doesn't feel right. I suspect my children would say this is not my story; I suspect they would be right.

Anyway it's a sad day for us here. Tomorrow I'll tell you a better story. This is all I have for now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Driving While Black And White

By yesterday afternoon I knew what I wanted to blog about today, but I wasn't sure how to say it.

This morning it hit me, hard. While part of me is grateful for the sudden understanding, another part of me rather wishes it hadn't happened. It sucks to be knocked on the head with your own white privilege. It sucks to understand how far you still have to go.

I'll back up, for comprehension.

Everyone's heard by now about the murder of Walter Scott, a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, who was pulled over by a white policeman, Michael Slager, because his car had a broken tail light. According to Mr. Slager's initial report, Scott became confrontational, Slager attempted to use his Taser on him, Scott grabbed the Taser, and Slager, feeling his life was in danger, shot him.

It seems as though this account would have been accepted, despite the fact that Slager fired no less than eight bullets, at least five of which hit Scott, all of them entering his back from medium range. Let's repeat: none of the bullets hit him on the front of his body or at close range, which is what you'd reasonably expect from the sort of struggle Slager reported. But it seems Slager's account was accepted, at least for the first two days.

What no one realized is that another man, Feidin Santana, had videotaped the entire episode.  Reportedly Mr. Santana was so sickened by what he saw happen that he nearly erased the tape. When he realized that Slager was going to get away with his actions, he gave the video to Scott's family, who then turned it over to the police. The police chief says he watched it once and was horrified by what he saw.

Because what actually happened was, after being stopped for a broken tail light, Scott got out of the car. There's a brief episode that looks like Slager is attempting to Tase him. Scott began to run. He's fifteen feet away, his back turned, running away, when Slager opens fire. Eight bullets. Then while Scott lays dying, Slager, who had told the department he immediately performed first aid and CPR, cuffs him and does nothing else for several minutes. No first aid, no CPR.

Slager's in jail on murder charges. It's very clear that without the video he would not be.

OK, that's all the facts. Sickening, heartbreaking. Then yesterday, as all this was surfacing on the internet, my friend Kristi, whom I've known for over 20 years, posted on Facebook. She'd gone to get the oil on one of her family's cars changed, and the attendant said, "Hey, you've got a broken tail light--should I fix that for you?"

Kristi burst into tears. She stood sobbing at the oil change place, blubbering to the guy to please, please fix the tail light. Because while Kristi is white, and her daughter is white, and her husband is white, her son, nine years old, is black. It hit Kristi all at once that for one black man in America this week, a broken tail light was a death sentence.

My friend Sheri also posted something about Walter Scott on Facebook. I've known Sheri for several years too. She's black. I wrote to her about Kristi, how she was heartbroken. Sheri wrote back, "Unfortunately, unless this stops, as her son grows into a teenager, she will be heartbroken and terrified. The day a black boy gets his own driver's license is a day of fear for his parents."

Here's the part that I realized this morning: I empathized with Kristi. When Kristi's heart broke at the Jiffy Lube, I understood on a visceral level her fears for her beloved son. But all black women are fearing for their beloved sons. Until this morning, I wasn't feeling their fear. I understood it with my head, but not my heart.  

I've written before about white privilege. Here's the best definition I can find right now, by a white guy named Jeremy Dorsett. " It’s not saying, “You’re a bad person because you’re white.” It’s saying, “The system is skewed in ways that you maybe haven’t realized or had to think about precisely because it’s skewed in your favor.”"

If you, reading this, are white, when's the last time you were stopped by a police officer because you had a broken tail light? When is the last time you got stopped by a police officer and he tried to use his Taser on you? If you're not white, when has this happened to you? I really do want to know.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure how we stop this, but I know we have to. There are an awful lot of mother's sons out there in this world.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Importance of Not Being Good

I once had another mother say to me that she would only allow her children to participate in sports and activities that they were "good at."

I thought about that this weekend as I was playing tennis with my family. Tennis is not something I am "good at." It is, in fact, something I am "bad at." Maybe not as bad as I am at singing karoke, but close. One of my eyes is much more nearsighted than the other. I needed glasses at least by age 10, when I started having to sit in the front of the class to see the board, but didn't get them until age 17, which means I grew up without any depth perception. When a moving object came toward me I couldn't track it at all. I either threw up my hands in self-defense, or I ducked.

I still do that sometimes. However, sometimes I hit the ball. Sometimes I even hit it squarely and well--I won't go so far as to say I put spin on the ball, but sometimes I win points, and it feels like an absolute miracle. The fact that I can judge where that little yellow sucker is in space--amazing.

The fact that my daughter plays on her high school tennis team is more amazing still. My husband played recreationally in college and graduate school. My son only plays during family mixed doubles, but his years of baseball usually stand him in good stead. We play something that more or less looks like tennis, the four of us, and I'm really happy about it.

Lately I've had a lot of people ask if my daughter is going to play tennis in college, on a college team. When I say she's not nearly good enough for that, they look shocked, as though I've said something awful. I don't really understand why. She plays nearly every match for a pretty good high school team; she works hard and has fun, and it amazes me, really, how well she can hit the ball, and how tough-minded she is, how she never, ever gives up and how she's learned to stay calm under pressure. She likes her teammates. She's having fun. She won't compete at the college level, but she'll have had all these good experiences in high school.

Because I'm a writer, sometimes parents come up to me dragging their child who loves to write, who's always writing stories or poems or fan fiction or what have you, and the parent thinks their child has talent, which they probably do, and the parent wants to know what advice I can give or strings I can pull to get the child, you know, published. I've noticed two things about these encounters. One, it's never the child asking me how to get published. Two, the parents are always disappointed by my response.

Because I tell them that their child probably can't be published by a mainstream publisher. Sometimes it happens, sure--S.E. Hinton being the obvious one--but so rarely as to be almost never. When you submit to a mainstream publisher, you are competing for a finite number of slots in the publisher's list against every other writer out there. You are not competing against other students. You are, to be blunt, competing against me. And I have been working at the craft of writing for much longer than anyone's child, simply because I'm 47 instead of 17. The parents could invest a couple of thousand dollars in self-publishing their child's book, but I argue strongly against that, too, not because all self-published books are bad (though, truthfully, most are), and not because the book won't make a profit (it won't) but because the parents are taking something that right now is play for their child, and turning it into work. Parents are saying that their child's activity only has value if they get paid for it.

Middle school--high school--is too soon for that. It's time for play, for the intense enjoyment of doing something either well or badly, for experimenting, for taking baby steps toward mastery. Turning it into work takes the joy away.

So when I tell people my daughter isn't good enough to play tennis in college, they look shocked, but she looks grateful. She knows how good she is, and how good she isn't; she knows she's enough for her father and for me. She and her brother beat my husband and I, four straight sets last weekend, which was disgusting except that I had a couple of really good shots in there. And at the net at the end of the match my daughter and I shook hands with our pinky fingers extended, then air-kissed both each other's cheeks, in the European style, because it amuses us, and we are only playing, after all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Post-Easter Return to Snark....

...or not.

About six minutes before the start of Easter Mass, as we were settling into the church pews, I turned to my son and whispered, "Hey, Lent's over. I can be snarky again."

You will recall that I gave up snark, in general as much as I could and specifically on this blog, for Lent. I started it out almost as joke, and even when I decided to do it for real felt like it was sort of a wishy-washy resolution, not nearly as difficult as praying a rosary every single day, or giving up chocolate, or, heaven forbid, wine.

But I grew surprised at how difficult it was. Sometimes I'd start to write a post and think, wait, I've got to reframe this. I have to think of another way of making the point I actually care to make.

According to my son, I failed once, in the last line of one of my posts. I told him that 1) he didn't see all the stuff I deleted; and 2) you can't fail a resolution. It's an attempt, not a contest.

My 40 days of conscious No Snark seems to have softened me in ways I didn't expect, didn't even think I needed. When you quit focusing on the stuff that's irritating you, you start having to say what you do believe, instead of what you don't. When you quit yelling at other people, you can hear them better. And when you quit being a grouch, even a principled, convincing grouch, you're happier. At least I am. Which is pretty cool, when you think about it.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In Which I Eat Goat Food for Breakfast

This morning for breakfast I scrambled some farm-fresh organic fabulous eggs from the King Family Farm. I mixed in a little fresh pasteurized rosemary-garlic goat food from my friends at Paramis. The goat food is to die for. Most people would call it goat cheese, but Paramis is a small operation that doesn't currently have dairy licensing, so they sell it strictly as goat food. It's labeled "not safe for human consumption." Of course, once they've sold it to me they can't exactly force me not to eat it. Truth is, I dispersed my personal goat herd some years back (no, not making that up) and so it was just me and my daughter enjoying the eggs and chevre. (I would have made some for my husband, but he's a dedicated cereal fan.)

I've been becoming a locavore--a person who eats locally-produced food--by degrees, and at the same time getting a little lot more interested in some types of organic food. I think the evidence is pretty clear that organic dairy is worth it, that grass-fed beef is healthier than corn-fed, and that high-fructose corn syrup is pretty much the work of the devil.

That said, I was making sloppy joes for dinner the other night, and read the Manwich label. Eek. I'm a long way from all the way there.

But now we're participating in King Farm's CSA--community supported agriculture--which means that every month I get a box of 10 lbs. of frozen meat, their choice, but all raised on their farm, fed organic food and pasture grass. The yolks from the eggs are bright orange. The beef and pork are leaner; I've had to adjust my cooking methods. The chicken tastes different. My grandmother used to lament the chickens of yesteryear; I'm hoping to go back to eating them. So far I've noticed that thigh meat tastes a lot different when the chicken has been walking around on it for the 18 weeks it took to grow to maturity, versus being kept in a cage for 37 days.

I don't mean 37 days out of 18 weeks. I mean that the chickens I buy at Food City have grown from egg to fryer in 37 days. It boggles the mind, so it does. Not really in a good way.

Lately I've been trying to do just one new good thing. Eating local feels good to me. There's currently a wait list for King's CSA, but they'll be selling at the Bristol Farmer's Market when it opens in May, and Paramis makes homemade bread, cookies, and tortillas as well as their specialty goat food.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hometown Library Love

When my husband and I first came to Bristol, for his job interview, I asked about the local library, and my husband's future partner and his wife exchanged quick anxious looks. Uh-oh, I thought, and made it a priority to check out the library before we flew home.

I needn't have worried. The building at the time was awful, a chunk of 1960s concrete squat on top of a hill (the view out the main doors was wonderful), and the children's section was crammed into a tiny room and most of the rest of the books were crammed into old dark cavernous stacks, but the books themselves were quite good, a well-chosen selection for a small town.

When we moved to Bristol I came to appreciate the library even more. Once when I was researching my book on the first months of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, The President's Daughter, I got a message on my phone saying that I had a book on hold, which was odd, because I hadn't requested any books. Turns out a new Roosevelt biography had come in, and the reference librarian snagged it for me to read first.

Eventually our town realized we had to have a new library building. Debate went on for months about where to put it. We wanted it to be downtown, both so it could be easily accessible and because the homeless often spend time there. It had to be on the Virginia side because Virginia funds libraries better (half my town is in Tennessee). Eventually we just moved all the books into an empty storefront for a year, nuked the old library, and built the new one on the old site.

It's gorgeous. The first time I walked in I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Soft wood floors. A separate, inviting children's department. Meeting spaces, a row of community internet-access computers, and a big atrium with gas fireplaces that burn all winter, and comfy chairs nearby. I fell asleep in one of those chairs once, startling myself awake two hours later with drool all over my chin. The Young Adult section started out as a small space, but keeps expanding as more and more teenagers flock to the library, so that now they're on the point of moving Adult Literacy (testing, job applications, GEDs) into space upstairs and letting the YAs have half the downstairs.

I love the librarians, of course, and am on good personal terms with both the children's and YA librarians. Most of my books are shelved in the children's department, but For Freedom and Jefferson's Sons are in YA. The first week that The War That Saved My Life came out, it was displayed in a place of honor in the YA department, but the next time I was at the library I saw it in children's. After that, I saw it out in both departments, and while I thought it was flattering that they had two copies, I was a little disappointed. I mean, once I knew they'd bought my book, I didn't really want to see it again. I wanted it to be checked out. I wanted it to be read. But there it was, on display. Over and over again.

Yesterday I ran into the YA librarian. She's a fierce and fearless advocate for books, and she knows her stuff, and teenagers love her. She greeted me with great joy, introduced me to her new assistant, and proceeded to tell me that the YWCA Tech Grrls were reading my book now. The Tween Book Group had read it, and also her group from the Boys and Girls' Club, and she had it on schedule for another group. Meanwhile my book was right there, on the display shelf. I was looking at it, and the new assistant was talking about how all the kids love it, but none of them seemed to be reading it. Then a woman came into the library and hugged me--she's a volunteer at both the library and Faith in Action, I've known her for years. Her husband was there, too--they're in their 80s, this couple--and he told me he couldn't put the book down, and she said she felt so lucky to get to read a copy early. The YA librarian was beaming, and then a bunch of teenagers came trailing in, giving the YA librarian sideways looks because they wanted her attention, and I wasbasking in bucketloads of praise but still trying to figure out how all these people loved my book when it was still right there on the shelf.

Then the new assistant told me. My hometown library bought 50 copies.