The Quiet Pool


The Quiet Pool

I had come to the quiet pool, the adults-only pool between buildings two and three, that morning to give the husband a quiet room. It was Wednesday in Princeville and the husband was preparing for a meeting on Friday in Vancouver, and instead of interrupting his Slack conversations and fussing with newspapers collected at airport lounges, I thought it would be smart to leave him alone.

I can only offer so much coffee before politeness turns either edgy or desperate. Besides, I needed to catch up on my notes of the trip. So, I dropped the room key, sunscreen, Tylenol, water bottle, the book I was reading (The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor) and my notebook into a bag, took a dry beach towel, said I’d be in back in an hour and left.

Quiet pools are set aside, as I have learned, for people who seek minimal external disturbances: no Bluetooth speakers, no belly-flopping toddlers, nothing rowdy or unexpected to break the poolside equilibrium. You see middle-aged couples in black shorts and t-shirts with TOMS under their chairs, an angular twenty-something guy with earbuds, a trio of women who step down into the pool and kick up their feet to a ledge and float on their backs as bikini-covered crosses. The loungers are clicked to the most upright position and most books are hard-cover. The pool water appears heavy, as if it too is asking not to be disturbed. These are the pools where married adults go to simultaneously prevent an argument and get a tan.

Except for two women meditating ($17 for a one-hour guided meditation session with a choice of essential oils), I was the only one at the quiet pool that morning.

CN Tower


CN Tower, Toronto

I took this photograph two days before the shootings on the Danforth. When you exit our friend’s condo in Toronto, where we were visiting for the weekend, and look left, the CN Tower is there, tall and unmoving and slightly space-agey. We used the tower as a point of reference as we walked through the sidewalk patios of King Street and got turned around inside St. Lawrence Market with our St. Urbain bagel; for a few days in a big busy city, the CN Tower reassured me of a comfortable, barefoot dinner with my husband and our friend.

The shootings happened in the kind of Toronto neighborhood our friend made sure we saw, the kind of neighborhood we could have randomly chosen for its brunch spot or summer festival. But we didn’t, and fortunately for us, the shootings happened about thirty minutes after we landed in Vancouver, a distance of mountain ranges and time zones that is shorter this morning.

Somehow, I continue to believe that random shootings implies infrequency, implies another city or country, implies people I don’t know and places where I am not, when, in fact, as every shooting proves, randomness is today and at the store where we buy bananas and while I ask the husband if anything on the menu looks good. Randomness is close. Its odds are improving. At this moment, a tourist in town for a few days is standing at the corner of Yonge and Esplanade to take this picture of the CN Tower, and I wonder what they see.

QOTD 19.2.18

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.” 

-Jane Kenyon

Reading Note 13.2.18

This weekend, I started reading Feel Free, the new collection of essays by Zadie Smith (it’s great), and “Generation Why?,” a 2010 piece from the New York Review of Books, was the first one I read. Despite written eight years ago, the essay – and its two statements below – was useful for my current dilemma concerning Facebook: Should I stay or should I go?

“When a human becomes a set of data on Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.”

“It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook,…was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations.”




Notes from a Bus Ride to Birmingham


Gadsden, Alabama Greyhound Bus Station

Because I had time, but no personal car, during my trip home, I rode Greyhound to visit my cousin and his wife in Birmingham, Alabama one weekend. Below are notes and questions about this area of the South new to me, typed looking out a big bus window. These are drive-by notes, immediate and not reflective. 

On the Greyhound bus to Birmingham this Friday afternoon. We left Chattanooga around 4 p.m. and have since passed through Trenton, Georgia and Fort Payne, Alabama.

The bus is empty. Just me, a driver inside a plexiglass booth, a woman behind the door, and two other men, one in front of me leaning into the aisle and the other in the farthest seat in the back.

Because the promised WIFI does not exist, I am enjoying looking into cars and trucks as they drive beneath me. A large, round woman passenger holding a small blond dog. A passenger seat filled with rumpled towels. A man in a Bama-red convertible mustang. Lots of single, elderly drivers in shiny, clean American-made cars.

I guess 59 is a small highway through Alabama, just two lanes in each direction cutting between low hills, the tops of pines and maples like green cauliflower.

I just realized that this part of Alabama, and Birmingham, is one hour behind Chattanooga, so the three and a half hour drive is actually four and half hours.

Right now we are mid-way to Birmingham.

We are now driving through Gadsen Alabama, seeing lots of single-story houses, brick buildings, a low jail stretching wide behind a barb wire fence.

There is a Mi Pueblo supermarket, a huge Latino grocery store, now empty in a strip mall next to the also vacant Big Lots store.

The Gadsden Greyhound office is in a small brick building with its metal sign, above the door, turned upside down, as if a gust of wind had come down the highway and flipped the square sign around.  The Greyhound silver dog is on its back in rigor mortis.

We are crossing Coosa River, two men are standing in an unmoving motor boat flipping their fishing poles behind them and casting their lures.

Driving by Shoney’s Restaurant and the Coosa Town Center, this must be the new area of town. Yes, it is. There’s a Panera Bread next to a Dental Office.

Red Bank (Tennessee) use to have a Shoney’s with a huge salad buffet and a prize-like hot fudge sundae made of two dark brownies sandwiching a square of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry on top.  It eventually closed down.

If a city can support a Shoney’s for four decades, what does that mean?

We are driving past the Goodyear Plant that looks like a penitentiary.

Driving by the Center of Hope Thrift Store adjacent to Dollar General. Church-related resale shops are everywhere. Do churches open thrift stores instead of publishing cookbooks now?

Driving by a factory.

We entered Glencoe, and passing its elementary school, library, First Baptist Church, Senior Center, all in the span of a few blocks.

Now on the highway.

Passing estates with large fields, many fenced in, one named the South Wind Plantation, seems odd, out of place since they are the kind of houses you would expect more isolated, not with their driveways leading to a four-lane highway.

We apparently entered Alexandria by the signage on all of the buildings.

Buttermilk Pie: Desperate, and Delicious


Buttermilk Pie

During my stay in Chattanooga, my mother and I made a traditional Southern dessert, buttermilk pie. Though I could not remember ever tasting this pie, there was a plastic jug of buttermilk in the fridge and there was no dessert for dinner, so buttermilk pie sounded like a good idea.

Along with pecan pie, red velvet cake and banana pudding, buttermilk pie is one of the classic Southern desserts, yet does not receive enough attention.

Have you seen it in your local hipster bakery yet?

In a bon appétit 2015 article, Why Desperation Pies Are Making a Comeback, buttermilk pie, along with vinegar, green tomato and mock apple pies, is considered a desperation pie, a kind of dessert created by resourcefully combining whatever ingredients are available due to the season and/or economy. It’s thought, as described by The History Bandits in this terrific overview, Desperation Pies: A Slice of Seasonal History, that desperation pies first were made by German immigrants in the 1700s and more recently and more widely, by families during the Great Depression.

Since my mother also did not remember ever baking a buttermilk pie, the experience was new to both of us, and we were both curious about how sweet the fermented milk could turn out. I tried to keep up as my mom read and acted on the recipe’s instructions; see recipe below. Eventually, she told me to just measure and make sure the pie doesn’t burn.

Made only with buttermilk, eggs, sugar, butter, a little flour,  maybe a spoon full of lemon zest, the buttermilk pie satisfies with its simplicity and sweet taste. The pie needs a full hour to slowly change its white filling into a pale custard, browned on top, and is creamier one day after being made.

Buttermilk Pie

1/2 cup butter (melted)

2 eggs

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup of buttermilk

Break eggs in dish with melted butter (Butter needs to be cooled, otherwise the eggs could heat up. Melt on top of stove in stewer)

Sift flour and sugar together

Add to egg mixture

Beat well

Add vanilla and buttermilk, mix that up together good

Bake in a nine-inch pie crust (let it thaw or, for a frozen crust, punch holes in the bottom)

Set oven to 350 for 50 – 60 minutes

Be careful not burn but have a lovely brown

— Karen Clay, Neighborhood Services, A Taste of Traditions, Recipes from City of Chattanooga Employees, 2009