Category Archives: family

NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 19-21

No words! However, I woke this morning with a new certainty about my main character, a piece of her story. I haven’t dreamed about her and that world for a long time, though I used to all the time. I woke up this morning feeling like I had a key to wrapping up the first section of the book. So, that’s impossible to quantify for a project like NaNoWriMo, but it’s worth everything. And something about NaNoWriMo, the heady, reckless pace, lets me slip back into that frame of mind where anything is possible, once more, for this overwritten book. Anything, like maybe being finished.

I’m going out of town for a few days, to celebrate Thanksgiving early with my family and to dance with tangueros in Atlanta. I probably won’t update again until I’m back, but who knows what I’ll have to say then?

Good luck to all of you writing, whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or not.

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 9 and 10

Yesterday sucked – no words. Still sick, but today I was able to really baby my cold and try to get better. Watched movies and read, then went to see 12 Years a Slave. I’m incredibly proud to have worked on this project because I think it’s one of the most important movies that’s been made in a long, long time.

In the last hours of today, Sis and I had three back-to-back 30 minute word wars, which really helped. Today’s my best day so far, word-wise: 1,743, bringing my total to 7,017.

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All Things Brag

Forgive me, it has been two months since my last brag. More than two months. This post is long overdue. The good news when it takes me a while to post is that there’s more to talk about. But that’s also the challenge, too, keeping track of everything.

Shortly after my last bragging post, my interview with Ronlyn Domingue for 225 went live. Ronlyn and I talked for over an hour and pretty much every word out of her mouth was quotable. It was a great problem to have and a wonderful challenge to shape the interview.

Fellow tango dancer, also aerialist and circus performer, Elise Duran was featured in DIG, a Baton Rouge magazine. It’s a great piece and has phenomenal photos of Elise performing.

Brent Newsom has a poem up at PANK Magazine, “Smyrna.” He also tweets. Check him out.

Solimar Otero has a book out, Afro-Cuban Diasporas in the Atlantic World.

In the Mind of the Maker is a documentary by C.E. Richard, a fabulous filmmaker who I was lucky enough to study with at LSU. The film will debut internationally next year. Keep an eye on the website and check out the trailer.

Chicago tango dancer Katya Kulik has a short story called “Verify Your Humanity” on The Newer York’s Electric Encyclopedia of Experimental Fiction.

Karin C. Davidson’s two-part interview with Andrew Lam is up at Hothouse and it’s a must-read. Also, his Huffington Post essays.

One of my tango instructors, Ector Gutierrez appeared on Good Morning New Orleans with Katarina Boudreaux as his partner.

Joselyn Takacs is a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Winter 2013 contest for her story “The New River.”

Lindsay Rae Spurlock has a new single on iTunes called “You, Baby.”

Missy Wilkinson received an award from the Council of Drug and Alcohol Abuse for a Gambit article she wrote on addiction as a brain disease. She also has an essay about being a in a cult over at xojane.com.

Mary McMyne has three poems over at Painted Bride Quarterly, two poems at Waccamaw, and one poem in The Way North, an anthology from Wayne State University.

Montana Miller has become an accomplished skydiver over the last few years and recently participated in some big-way formations, including the 125-way Perris Flower formation. In her message, she said, “On our second jump, though, when I had almost given up hope that we would ever manage to get everyone to perform their best at the same time, we actually did it! And not only that, we held it for SEVEN SECONDS, which is amazing.” Because of her consistent and stellar performance in formations like these, she was invited to participate in the Arizona Challenge, which I’m told is the most elite and selective skydiving event.

Maureen Foley’s book Women Float is available now.

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Kelly Harris has this great “What Are You Reading” post on Bayou Magazine‘s blog. Ted O’Brien from Garden District Book Shop has a “What Are you Reading” the next month. I love this series.

Speaking of Bayou’s blog, they also have a great review of the Sunday Shorts series co-hosted by MelaNated Writers Collective and Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. Over at the Peauxdunque blog, Tad was, as he always is with Peauxdunque news, very good at covering this series, which matched a MelaNated writer with a Peauxdunque writer each week for a month.  I’ll include some of my pictures from the series here.

Now You See Me, a film that consumed a lot of my time in 2011 and 2012, is out in theaters now. I met so many awesome folks on that show and have lots of great memories. Among my takeaways: several decks of cards and the ability to do a one-handed cut, which the magic consultant, David Kwong, taught me. At a friend’s bridal shower, I won a joke deck of cards, so what did I do? I proceeded to teach everyone at the shower the one-handed cut (and they all learned more quickly than I did). The multiple trailers leading up to NYSM’s release drove me crazy till I could finally see it, with a co-worker from the movie, the bride from the aforementioned shower and her now-husband. We had a lot of fun watching it together. Check out one of the trailers:

My aunt, Ruth Staat, completed her first 5K run/walk (in 18 minutes)!

James Claffey‘s latest publications include: fled the tightening rope at the For Every Year Project, green their dead eyes at Blue Fifth Review.

Lee Ware has a story up at Connotation Press.

Quite a few folks graduated or started school recently, which is really exciting. At UNO’s awards banquet, both Che Yeun (Ernest and Shirley Svenson Fiction Award for her story “Yuna”) and Maurice Ruffin (Joanna Leake Prize for Fiction Thesis for his collection It’s Good to See You’re Awake) were honored. Che is also the Stanley Elkin Scholarship recipient for the 2013 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Maurice also has an essay about New Orleans East
over at New Orleans & Me.

The UNO MFA students and WWOZ have teamed up for UNO Storyville, recordings of the students’ true-life experiences in New Orleans. They ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, so check it out.

Speaking of successful Kickstarter campaigns, let me tell you about three more. Mark Landry, a cohort from the Cinema Club (waaay back in my LSU years) and friends launched a campaign to put out a graphic novel called Bloodthirsty: One Nation Under Water. This is a truly fascinating project and I love that Mark lays out how it came together on the Kickstarter campaign page.

Summer Literary Seminars, which brought me to St. Petersburg, Russia in 2007, launched a campaign to publish LitVak, a collection of writing and photography from SLS faculty and students. They made their goal, so look for the anthology.

And last, Helen Krieger’s Kickstarter campaign for the second season of Least Favorite Love Songs is wrapping up in 37 hours. They’ve already met their minimum goal and then some ($7,000+ at last check) and they’re aiming for $10,000 so they can pay their crew a nominal amount. They have major swag at low contributor levels, so it pays to back them. You can watch all of season one for free here.

Whew! That’ll teach me to wait so long between brags!

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My end of 2012 homework

In 2010, Jamey assigned me some homework, ordering me to reflect on everything that I accomplished that year. So, I did and I wrote a post about it. It was really helpful. So helpful that I did it again last year and I’ve been writing 2013’s homework in my head pretty much all year long.

The 12 Achievements of 2012:

1. I turned 30. I watched the Saints-Lions game at a neighborhood bar with a bunch of friends who decided the only way to make me feel 30 was to encourage me to drink like I was 21. The Saints won, I got to spend time with friends while celebrating the start of my thirties and everybody was happy. At least, we were all happy that night. Darker times were ahead for the Saints. But, thus far, my thirties are still going well.

2. I got my 5th tattoo and “finished” my birthday tattoo project, undertaken between the pivotal years of 25 and 30.

3. I attended a local premiere of 21 Jump Street with cast and crew, which was a really fun experience and the movie was hilarious. Then, I spent the first three-fourths of the year working on two more movies I’ve very proud to have been involved with (#1 and #2).

4. I went on a road trip with Mamma Mia!, after I evacuated for Hurricane Isaac and stayed with some friends. Since we visited both of my grandmothers in Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, I called it The Grandma Road Trip. Not only did we get to see a lot of family members we hadn’t seen in years since we’re all so spread out, but Mamma Mia! and I spent more time together than we had in probably a decade. And we both survived.

5. I wrote a skit for The NO Show, Helen Krieger‘s new-school old-fashioned radio show, then got to see it produced. Helen was looking for material, I said I might have have some and next thing I knew, we were writing a 5-minute version of my idea. Then, there was a table reading and a “punch-up” draft with the actors and other funny people. Then, one of our actors couldn’t make the re-scheduled recording and I had to step in and voice one of the characters! It was a rollercoaster ride, a fun one, and I hope it keeps going.

6. I freelanced for the last quarter of the year. It was really tough, but it was also one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I continued to write for 225 Magazine and also continued some editing work I’ve done for a while. I worked for a friend of my dad’s in the industry I grew up in (conventions and trade shows) and discovered I’d picked up a lot more as a kid than I’d realized. And I wrote. I freelanced on another movie and recently accepted some new work on a tv show, which I won’t be able to talk about for a long time.

My obsession with tango continued. There were a lot of firsts this year.

7. I bought my first pair of tango shoes. This coincided with me dancing as much as possible, at least once or twice a week, and sometimes more, so my dancing improved a lot.

8. I danced in new communities, in Atlanta (three times) and Chicago (once). I hope to go back and dance with them more in 2013, and also, I plan on checking out new places to dance as well.

9. I performed for the first time. I almost didn’t, then changed my mind at the last minute. It was a terrifying and utterly satisfying experience and I hope to do it more. I’m glad I made the decision to be bold and dance.

Photo by Shari Stauch

Photo by Shari Stauch.
Partner is Casey Mills.

10. I won NaNoWriMo. This year, it was easy. I was freelancing, so I had the time to commit. I had a great, fun story. I watched Saints games, tv shows, movies, went out with my friends. Even with voting, Thanksgiving, my shower exploding and getting sick, I still finished early.

11. I won my first major literary prize. My essay “Tango Face” won the essay category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Literary Competition. In my “end of 2011 homework” post, I said I was submitting my work diligently and promised I would brag on myself when the submitting paid off. So, as promised, when it paid off, I bragged on myself.

12. I achieved better balance. Literally, with my dancing, I achieved better balance, working on my core and maintaining my own axis. There’s still lots of room for improvement, but I’ve come a long way. Figuratively, I sought out and achieved better balance in my life, between work and play, between paying the bills and passion. I fought for and found better balance within myself. I talked about balance in both my 2010 and 2011 end-of-the-year homework assignments, each time with more clarity and cohesion. I mentioned balance by accident in 2010, unaware of it’s importance. I knew I needed balance in 2011 and I was looking for it. In 2012, I achieved it for glorious patches of time, which convinces me that it’s attainable. It’s still the goal.

2012 was a banner year, not only because of my 12 personal achievements, but also because the world didn’t end. And since it didn’t end, I’m looking forward to all the experiences and achievements 2013 has to offer.

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Dearest Friends, Family and Neighbors

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month in 2012, the hellish and inspiring, self-afflicted journey of 50,000 words. I have participated every year since 2007 and have won three out of my five previous attempts and I have every intention of winning again this year.

What does this mean for you? If you know and care about me in real life, you will likely notice some disturbing patterns. I might disappear from most or all social settings that you would expect to see me attending. My home and possibly my hygiene could suffer. I will be sleep-deprived, probably eating little or very badly and I will, in all honesty, ignore or forget promises that I foolishly made to you. Don’t be surprised if I am seen in public muttering to myself or making euphoric and/or angry faces that seem unconnected to my external environment. If you don’t know or care about me in real life, you may still suffer an electronic version of this, the main symptom of which is updating my blog/social media sites too frequently with ambiguous and frustrated, but annoyingly hopeful, posts.

I will, in short, become — very soon, but hopefully temporarily — a malnourished, stinky madwoman that you are embarrassed to be in any way associated with. But I give you this fair warning because I will spend the next month creating something both beautiful and impossible and, if you know me, care about me, or are just reading this, you are making a contract with me.

It is this: I will win, or try very hard to win, simply because you know what I’m attempting to do. You need do nothing further to uphold your end of our bargain. However, if you should care to speak kindly to me though I am clearly deranged, maybe even feed me healthy and warm meals on occasion, and above all, send me words of encouragement, here or privately, you would be going above and beyond the conditions of your contract, but I would appreciate it very, very much.

If you plan to participae in NaNoWriMo 2012, please let me know. It’ll be nice to have company in this craziness. I am thatagirldarling in NaNoLand.

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The Grandma Road Trip Conclusions

All in all, The Grandma Road Trip spanned 16 days, more than 2,709 miles (not counting detours), and 9 states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois). We visited 2 grandmothers, 4 aunts, 2 uncles, 3 cousins, 1 brother, 1 almost sister-in-law (and two of her relatives!), 1 best friend and her son, 1 sister, 1 nephew, 1 father, 3 dogs, dozens of tangueros and a handful of people who are as good as family. It wasn’t enough, it was too much and it was everything. Now, after it is all over, I am homesick for multiple cities and also convinced there is no place like where the heart is.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Six

Leg Six: Acworth to New Orleans, 498.3 miles

Tuesday, September 11th: I left after Atlanta’s rush hour, managing to get a little sleep and after a tough goodbye with Mums. We’d gotten so used to traveling together, to sharing a small space together, it felt strange to make this last leg alone. I stopped for an early lunch with Aimee and then again, later, to make some calls for the movie, wrapping up some loose ends. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful, except for the end.

As soon as I arrived in Nola, I went straight to rehearsals for the NO Show. It turned out our leading lady was out of town and I would have to voice one of the lead parts during the live recording the next day, with Helen voicing the other. After rehearsal, I met Jamey for dinner. Normally, I would’ve just collapsed after a trip home from GA, but I still wasn’t done. I changed clothes in the bathroom, then went to tango! I didn’t dance very much, mostly just caught up with everyone since I hadn’t seen them for about two weeks.

It was midnight before I got home, which I’d last seen about 15 days previously, before Hurricane Isaac and before this insane road trip with my mom. I was so glad to be home in Nola, but I found myself missing Mums and everybody I’d gotten so used to seeing while on The Grandma Road Trip.

More than anything, I was just glad we had done it, glad to have spent the time with family and made the memories, glad to be safely home and to find my home safely waiting for me.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Five

Leg Five: Chicago to Acworth, 685.8 miles

Monday, September 10th: We met Norm and Trouble for breakfast at Delia’s one more time and said our last round of goodbyes before heading out of Chicago. We passed striking teachers (and/or their supporters) on the overpasses as we exited the city and we honked our support as we went.

After passing through all the toll stations, we settled in to finish our second fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book, then started the looong audio book Mums had chosen, The Thirteenth Tale. It wasn’t long into the story before I realized we weren’t going to finish it together and regretted that we didn’t listen to it first.

I almost wished we were beginning the trip all over again. But, it was long enough as it was.

We tried to stop at a place called The Thirsty Turtle in Indiana for lunch, but it was closed and we ended up at a Steak N’ Shake instead. We fared better with dinner,  at The Oasis Southwest Grill in Kentucky.

And though the audio book was extremely engaging, it seemed like we were in the mountains of Tennesee, sharing the dark road with 18-wheelers, forever. It was pretty tense, probably most of all because we were exhausted.

We made it home pretty late, but I stayed up to do laundry and pack for the last leg of the Grandma Road Trip, then got a few hours of sleep.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Four

Leg Four: Columbus to Chicago, 355.8 miles

Thursday, September 6th: We made a pit stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and doughnuts, then another at my Aunt R.‘s work to say goodbye, then got on the road for Chicago. For some reason, we were a bit more distracted on this trip and stopped several times. First at the amazing Amish Cheese Shop, where we got gifts for folks, some goodies for the fridge in our Chicago hotel room and a sandwich for lunch.

I drove a lot of this leg of the trip, but we switched out shortly before Chicago, in the land of the wind turbines.  They’re beautiful, but they also kinda freak me out. There’s something about their enormous size and how slowly the blades turn, and that they turn at different speeds.

We got to Chicago just in time for rush hour and about the only smart thing we’d done was switch drivers. At least Mums was fresh for that hellish experience. Chicago rush hour is no joke – and we know Atlanta traffic. Between the multitude of tolls and the suddenly-upon-you barriers that you can easily t-bone yourself on, we were quite aggravated. Chicago has three or four different events most nights and I had been thinking about finding a milonga since we were getting in pretty early and didn’t have plans with family yet. But after the 6+ hour drive, traffic getting into the city, the less-than-fun experience of unloading the car and getting everything up into the room, then taking the car to the lot a few blocks away and walking back to the hotel, I was pretty tired. I let Mums talk me into a quiet dinner at the hotel restaurant and an early evening.

A word about our hotel. The hotel we’ve stayed at before was sold out one of the nights we planned on being there, so Mums scrambled to find another place while we were in Columbus. She found The Write Inn, in the “Frank Lloyd Wright historic district” of Oak Park, across the street from a Hemingway museum and full of “old world charm.” (Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway are the dueling scions of Oak Park). There were such mixed reviews online that we were a bit uncertain, but we decided to take a chance. We ended up being very glad we did. It was inconvenient in a few small ways which mostly related to getting our things in and out and the parking situation, but we really enjoyed it as a home base during our visit.

The Write Inn

And that first night, we had such an amazing meal at Hemingway’s Bistro, inside the hotel. It was a bit expensive, but the food was incredible and the atmosphere was really relaxed and elegant. Even when somebody put on a bunch of Bajofondo tango music, just to taunt me. If I’d had any energy left, I would’ve figured out where to tango and gone that night, after listening to that. As it was, we watched President Obama’s speech at the DNC from the comfort of our hotel room. I didn’t mention this in the Columbus post, but I noticed the big campaign push while we were in Ohio, which is always an early indicator of how the election’s going to go. And now, here we were in the President’s home state, just in time to watch his speech.

Friday, September 7th: As usual, Mums woke up early, which meant I woke up early. We walked around, discovering the area around the hotel, which is packed with great shops and restaurants, but we had some trouble finding a hot breakfast. We ended up having coffee and quiches at this awesome coffee shop called Red Hen Bread. We continued our walk, finding the post office to mail our postcards and a movie theater and an amazing book shop called The Book Table. That place is dangerous! We both ended up buying a few books. Me, Victor LaValle’s Big Machine and David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. Then, we had the best Indian buffet lunch I’ve ever tasted at Khyber Pass and saw The Words at the Lake Theater. We missed the first couple of minutes and both of us were a little stunned at the end. I could feel it coming, but I still felt surprised when the movie was over.

Me in love with the food at Khyber Pass

Then, we went to my aunt and uncle’s place to see everybody. My brother and his girlfriend had just gotten into town and my dad came up from the city, where he was working. Two of my cousins were off at college, so we didn’t get to catch up with them, but their younger twin brothers were home, and learning how to drive! I haven’t seen them for a few years, so it was hard to believe they were old enough. They are two of the most intelligent and conscientious kids you have ever met. They’ve had their own business for years, in fact. Whenever I worry about kids these days, my cousins reassure me that there are some good ones out there.

It was amazing to spend this time with our family, but my tentative plans to tango in the city flew out the window.

Saturday, September 8th: We met Norm and Trouble, my brother and his girlfriend, at Delia’s Kitchen, a great place we’d found on Lake Street the day before. There are so many great places in just a few blocks of Lake Street. Afterwards, we did a little shopping for Grammy‘s birthday dinner that evening. We dropped them off at the house, but ended up staying the rest of the day, ourselves. Except for practice driving sessions with both of the twins (funniest experience ever) and picking up my dad from the L station, I spent the day hanging out and helping prep for the Big Dinner. Grammy‘s 88th birthday was quite the event. She didn’t know that Norm, Trouble, Mums or I would be there and she seemed so completely thrilled to have almost the whole family together.

Between dinner, pictures and Norm (guitar) dueting with one of the twins (piano) on “Greensleeves,” we were all together till almost 1 a.m., so tango didn’t work out on Saturday, either. The twins were determined to help me get to tango, however, so earlier in the day, they’d helped me hatch a plan to finally, finally, tango.

Sunday, September 9th: On my last full day in Chicago, I met the twins and their dad at Red Hen Bread for breakfast. I did some work, finally catching up on a few things. Then, there was a flurry of plans and then a hectic pulling together of those plans as Norm, Trouble, the twins and our younger cousin and I all met at the L station and went into the city. My brother and I are different as night and day and I was a bit stressed wrangling the cousins while he was more laid back. It turns out there was construction on our line and we had to switch and then walk a few blocks, but one way or another, we made it to our destination. Which was the Art Institute of Chicago’s south garden where the Tango Guerillas have a free, public class every Sunday.  Chicago also had a summer dance series going on as well – they are absolutely spoiled for dance. This Sunday, they had a class featuring Enriqueta Kleinman, which was pretty amazing. Several members of the Tango Guerillas quickly took me and my posse under their wings, especially the cousins, which was really nice of them. After the class, Norm and Trouble took the kids out for dinner and I stayed for the milonga, having an absolute blast.

Later, I saw that I missed a flurry of phone calls from various family members. It turned out one of the cousins was late for a family obligation  and we all had to rush back to the suburbs. I ended up taking the L back on my own while the others caught the train from another station and my dad tried to meet up with all of us from a third station. It was really comical, but we all ended up getting back about the same time. Late, but happy after our day in the city.

That night, Mums and I packed and watched the news, waiting for word about whether or not the teachers would strike. We had to call it a night before we got our answer.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Three

Leg Three: Acworth to Columbus, 536.6 miles

Sunday, September 2nd: Mums and I set off reasonably early. She drove the entire way to Columbus while we listened to a fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book and I played with my new iPhone, which I’d gotten the day before. Considering I live in New Orleans, which is so flat it’s sunk in, I was pretty enamored with the mountains of Tennessee. Case in point (and I took about a hundred of these):

I was looking for postcards along our way to send back home. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a postcard in Tennessee, especially on the Sunday before Labor Day when all the welcome centers are closed. It turns out that very few gas stations actually carry them anymore, which is kinda sad. I did manage to find some.

We stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel, where I was amused by the “low carb” options on the menu. Maybe they are prepared pretty healthily, but none of these would occur to me as particularly low carb. Except maybe the trout.

As soon as we got to Columbus, we met my relatives at a Bob Evans. I was a bit exhausted (being out late finally caught up with me) and was feeling kinda cranky, but it was so nice to see them. It’s been a very long time since we’ve all been together. We laughed a lot, especially while my family tortured our extremely  good-natured waiter.

That evening, Grandma S. gave me a book called The Ringling Legacy and it occurred to me that she’s basically been doing research for The Winter Circus since before I was alive. A few years ago, she drove me to Bowling Green to interview Montana Miller, who I later became friends with, and Montana mentioned an old television special she’d been featured in and Grandma S. said, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” I thought she was just making it up, but she and Montana swapped details about the special. She has collected clowns my entire life, which is probably the reason they’re my least favorite part of the circus. But clearly, she has something to do with that seed of circus love that has always existed inside me.

Monday, Septempter 3rd – Wednesday, September 5th: Over the next few days, Mums and I did a lot of fun stuff with our Columbus relatives. We all got slaughtered in miniature golf by Grandma S. We cheered my aunt R.‘s over-40 soccer league game, where her team kicked ass and where, I have to admit, I snorted a bit rudely with a lady complained about the “humidity” on a cool, breezy evening. I *wanted* to say, “Really, lady, if you want to complain about humidity, go visit New Orleans where *any* day is going to be more humid than this pretty, breezy evening in September.” But, that would’ve been even ruder. We helped Grandma S. clean and organize her basement a little, though I wish we could’ve helped more. Three generations of book lovers visited a great, used bookstore in an old church, which was mighty dangerous. But probably my favorite moment is when we all watched So You Think You Can Dance together. Mums, my aunt R. and I are all huge fans and Grandma S. seemed to enjoy herself as well. We were loud and enthusiastic and it was so much fun.

Grandma S gloating over her putt putt victory (just a little).

And as for the home thing that Mums brought up before the second leg of the Grandma Road Trip – Mums grew up in Columbus and I was born there. While we moved to Georgia when I was very little, I do recognize a lot from other visits and there’s something a little primordial about being there. It’s the original home, maybe, even if I haven’t lived there in my own sentient memory. Each leg of this trip so far has been going backwards to an older version of home.

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