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The Bar -B Brand http://barbbrand.com A digital cowgirl's home on the electric range Fri, 30 Jan 2015 06:02:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 The Christmas gift that almost wasn’t http://barbbrand.com/2015/01/30/the-christmas-gift-that-almost-wasnt/ http://barbbrand.com/2015/01/30/the-christmas-gift-that-almost-wasnt/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 06:02:34 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=796 I’ve known since about last May that I wanted to get Drew a baritone guitar. He dropped it casually one weekend at his family’s farm. “One of these days, I’d really like to get a baritone.”

Not being a guitarist myself, I was a bit taken aback by his desire to purchase an opera singer.

No, he said, a baritone was a special kind of guitar, tuned lower than a regular one, with a longer neck and heavier strings.

Sexy, I said.

There’s a company, Washburn, that makes a solid wood one for a couple hundred bucks, he said. Someday.

I filed that away under, “When We Have Money.” He mentioned baritone guitars a handful of other times, always saying he wanted the solid wood Washburn. I nodded each time, acting like I didn’t remember the conversation from before.

As Christmas approached, it looked like I was going to have more than the money I’d need for a Washburn. I calculated shipping dates, looked at model numbers. Early November, he mentioned the baritone again.

“Right, what was that company that makes them? Washburn?”

“Actually, I discovered that Washburn’s marketing is misleading. Only the top is wood. The rest is laminate.”

Laminate, I have learned, is the kiss of death for an acoustic guitarist.

“But there’s another company, Goldtone, that makes one for just a little more.”

Okay. Goldtone. Goldtone Goldtone Goldtone.

Well, I don’t know where he saw a Goldtone for the price he mentioned, but I certainly couldn’t find it. And when I started thinking about shelling out that much cash for a brand he’d never played, a brand that might not “speak” to him the way his Taylors do, I couldn’t justify it. What a letdown!

His Taylors…out of curiousity, I looked up what a Taylor baritone cost. Hooooly crow. No way. But maybe I could find one used…

So began two days of frantically scouring the web for respectable used guitars. Most places were consignment and had a 24- to 72-hour return policy. I simply didn’t know enough about guitars to make a proper judgment.

Then, a week after Thanksgiving, I stumbled across a little shop in New York that hadn’t yet changed their Black Friday sale prices. They had one Taylor baritone guitar in stock: a spring 2014 special edition. Ecstatic, I emailed them. Five minutes later, too impatient to wait for a response, I called.

“It’s funny,” said the woman on the other end of the line, “I just talked to a guy in Canada who was asking about this guitar. He said he wasn’t sure. Sometimes, when you wait, you miss out!”
The box nearly came up to my shoulders.
I waited excitedly for the delivery, working from home without Drew’s knowledge the day it was to be delivered. I hauled the box as big as I was up the elevator and into the condo. And then the question was: Where does one hide a giant box in a thousand square-foot, open floor-plan condo? Somewhere he’d never find it: In the closet where the vacuum cleaner lives. Perfect.

I planned it all out: Sunday I would swap the guitar in the box with the one hanging on the living room wall while he was at church playing piano. Then I’d wait for him to just notice it. I was leaving for California the following week, to be joined by him seven days later. He’d have all that time to do nothing in his spare time but play music if he wanted to. (He’s still just a little shy and uncomfortable playing the guitar in front of me. It’s adorable.)

Sunday, one of his friends came over to hang out after church. I didn’t want the friend to notice the guitar first, so I thought I’d do it after he left. By that time, however, we were running late for dinner at Drew’s folks. As we walked out the door, I “realized” I forgot my ring.

“I’ll wait for you,” said Drew, clearly a little grumpy that I was insistent on getting it. I urged him to just get the car and wait for me outside, then tore into the apartment, ripped out the guitar, and threw it on the wall. I barely remembered to actually grab the ring. I tried not to look too smug.

A couple hours later, we flicked the lights back on. Drew walked into the kitchen and stopped in his tracks. I will never forget the look on his face.

“What is this?” Turning around to face me, he asked, “What did you do? What did you do?”

“Merry Christmas,” I whispered.

He picked it up with an awestruck look on his face. “I can’t believe you did this. It’s beautiful.”

I felt so proud of myself.

A few minutes later, he lifted his head. “Sweetheart? Are you sure this is a baritone guitar?”

WHAT. What?!

In the spring of 2014, Taylor made two guitars: the 320e and the 320e baritone. Same wood, same case, same model number. Different guitars. The company in New York had mislabeled their inventory.

I bought Drew a guitar inferior to the two he already had. I felt like I was going to throw up. Sweetheart that he is, he hugged me while I tried not to cry and thanked me for doing, in his words, “such a wonderful thing” for him. (The company was fortunately incredibly apologetic and the return was seamless, fortunately.)

Well, hell. Now it would be January before I even got to think about finding another one, and I probably wouldn’t be able to find another Taylor. I went from Christmas hero to Christmas bumpkin. Just to be thorough, I looked online again. Everything would need to be shipped. Nothing would get there in time.

Then I found a guitar shop in Highland Park, half an hour north of my job. They had one Taylor spring 2014 special edition 320e baritone. I called and told them I’d be in after work to pick it up.

It was raining by the time I got up there, making rush hour traffic even worse than usual. The shop was tiny, but packed wall-to-wall with spotless instruments. They brought out a guitar case with my name on it. They flipped it open. I plucked the bass string. It rumbled.

“I don’t know anything about guitars. It’s a present for my husband. It looks perfect.”

“You had the six-string and not the eight-string, right?” Yes, I said. Name for the warranty? Andrew Battaglia.

The sales rep paused. “He doesn’t go by ‘Drew,’ does he?”


“Would he have had a reason to buy a baritone and have it shipped to California?”

I’m pretty sure the look on my face at this point was somewhere between stepping in dog poo and discovering my hairdresser had given me a mohawk. In a weird turn of events, the shop had sold the only two baritone guitars — both Taylors — in the shop within a couple hours of each other after having them in inventory for the better part of a year. The other Drew was having his eight-string baritone shipped to Marina del Rey. I quite happily wedged my Drew’s guitar in the passenger seat of the Jeep.

IMG_1486My Drew was already home when I got there, quite late. Since our doorway is hidden from the rest of the apartment, he probably thought I had a load of groceries when I asked if he could give me a hand.

I got the awestruck reaction not once, but twice: wide eyes, the half smile/half gape, the unbelief. And again, he asked, “What did you do?”

I got it right this time, that’s what I did. And next time he wants a musical instrument, I’m going to let him pick out his own.

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Milwaukee is for lovers http://barbbrand.com/2014/05/17/milwaukee-is-for-lovers/ http://barbbrand.com/2014/05/17/milwaukee-is-for-lovers/#comments Sat, 17 May 2014 22:32:09 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=781
Too much fun at the Lakefront Brewery!

Too much fun at the Lakefront Brewery!

One of the things that made me realize Drew was something else was that it didn’t matter if we were doing “something” or absolutely nothing. Some of my fondest dating memories are of sitting on park benches and killing time in coffee shops. The only trip we took together before we were married was to visit my parents in California. We never drank together, went to museums, or took in shows. We still haven’t been to a movie together! And yet, we still had a fabulous time with each other.

Now that we’re married, we’re trying to venture out more. (Really, there’s only so much time one can burn in the same old coffee shops.) Both of us want to travel pretty badly. One day, we want to go to Italy, but for now, we’re settling for places like Milwaukee.

I’d been to Wisconsin once or twice before, to his family’s farm, but I’d never spent any time in any city in Wisconsin until last weekend. Drew told me he was going to snag a hotel and some tickets for a brewery tour. That is my kind of travel planning, right there.

Jackson's, the Pabst bar, actually has delicious PBR on tap.

Jackson’s, the Pabst bar, actually has delicious PBR on tap.

So Friday night, we dropped Sinbad the Humping Diabetic Cat off at his parents’ house and headed for the Land of Cheese and Beer, which is close enough to the Land of Milk and Honey for me. By the time we rolled into town and checked in, it was getting late, but we managed to stumble accidentally into the Pabst brewery bar. Drew had previously enlightened me to the deliciousness of New Glarus beer, so I had one of their Spotted Cow beverages.

He ordered a PBR. My jaw didn’t *quite* drop open.

“What? We’re at Pabst. It’s on tap. It seems like the thing to do.”

And I had previously respected his beerpinion so much.

He got his glass of PBR promptly (and extremely cheaply), and offered me a taste, claiming it was “pretty good.” Skeptically, I sipped it. I noticed that the signature taste of aluminum can was conspicuously missing from the flavor profile. In its place was a light, delicate floral taste. I took another sip. I decided it was probably witchcraft.

He ordered two more.

The next day, we went on a coffee hunt. Drew is a first-thing-in-the-morning sort of a dude, whereas I’m an anytime-it’s-available sort of a lady. We ended up in a coffee shop inside a mall. Once again, I was skeptical of the quality of drink, and once again, my skepticism was unfounded. It was actually more delicious coffee than we had later that afternoon at an independent coffee house.

We sipped, Drew wandered the mall, I called a friend I needed to catch up with and watched the rain start to pour down. Drew came back, I finished the call, we procured an umbrella from Walgreens. The rain stopped as soon as we stepped outside. It would continue later that evening after we had forgotten the umbrella in the hotel room.

Beer and popcorn at Wolski's. This is the part of the evening I remember.

Beer and popcorn at Wolski’s. This is the part of the evening I remember.

The walk to Lakefront Brewery, where our tour was, was rather long and very windy, but completely worth it. For $7 a piece, we each got the equivalent of about a beer and a half, a nice glass tumbler, a drink voucher for one of a number of local bars, and a very funny tour of the gorgeous former warehouse facility. If you find yourself in Milwaukee, I highly recommend it. However, I also recommend eating first if you are, as I have become, a bit of a lightweight. After the tour and the free beer, we moseyed to Wolski’s, which is apparently something of a local legend that a) my coworkers had recommended and b) was one of the participating bars that took the vouchers. A couple of beers later there, and all I remember is that we ended up having dinner somewhere the bartender recommended. I’m pretty sure we both had burgers…and more beer…

On the way back, the rain started coming down again. Drew spotted a cigar shop, and we ducked in. Now, I hate smoking. I hate the idea of it, the smell of it, the consequences of it. I’ve taken like three puffs of a cigar in my life. If Drew wants to smoke one occasionally, well, he’s an adult.

I insisted that he buy me a cigar too. Remember I recommended eating *before* the brewery tour? Yeah.

It was raining even harder now, so we ran across the street to the awning of a closed sporting-goods store, and stood there watching the downpour, smoking the cigars down to nubs.

I hate cigars. I smoked the whole thing. It was a perfect evening.

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Polar fleece and polar vortices http://barbbrand.com/2014/01/28/polar-fleece-and-polar-vortices/ http://barbbrand.com/2014/01/28/polar-fleece-and-polar-vortices/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 22:40:21 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=753
Hot buttered rum for two is my favorite way to ward off Arctic winds. 1 shot rum, sliver of butter, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, 1 tsp brown sugar, 2 shots hot water. Mix. Drink. Make another. Repeat.

Hot buttered rum for two is my favorite way to ward off Arctic winds. 1 shot rum, sliver of butter, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, 1 tsp brown sugar, 2 shots hot water. Mix. Drink. Make another. Repeat.

It’s incredible what you can get used to. After wind chills hit nearly -40 degrees (yes, negative forty) the second week in January, the 30-degree weather we’ve had in the past few days has felt like bikini weather. With Round 2 of Polar Vortex Fun heading for us sometime in the next two weeks, I’ve been desperately trying to figure out what to wear to a formal wedding in the DC area exactly during that time span. My California side suggests that an ankle-length down coat can be black-tie appropriate if need be.

As I look through my clothes, frantically trying to find *something* that can make a vintage pink satin sheath dress capable of handling below-freezing temperatures, It occurred to me that I’ve learned a lot in the two and a half years I’ve called Chicago home. For one, I’ve learned there are more kinds of pizza than any reasonable person needs. For two, I’ve learned how to cope with winter.

The idea of a winter with temperatures that dropped below freezing — like, WAY below freezing — terrified me when I moved here. A friend of mine in Phoenix (via New York, via Green Bay and a lot of places in between) had once told me that she missed wearing her winter coats.

Cats are definitely part of my keep-warm strategy. Add them to your fuzzy layer.

Cats are definitely part of my keep-warm strategy. Add them to your fuzzy layer.

“Coats, plural?” I asked.

It makes perfect sense now.

So, for those like me who may find themselves thrown from a place where winter means you wear a hoodie and Uggs with your shorts to a place where frostbite can happen in minutes, I present a guide to dressing oneself.

The single most confusing answer I got to, “How do I dress in the winter?” was, “Just layer!” In California, layering consists of wearing an open cardigan over a spaghetti strap tank.

You can perhaps see why I was skeptical of this warmth retention strategy.

There are several layers of clothing involved in the Midwestern version of layering:

Base layer

This caused me the most confusion. As an avid hiker and skier, “base layer” means “tactical long underwear,” usually made mostly of spandex, fleece and silk. That can be what it means in Chicago, but most often it is far more flexible and varies by season. In the spring and fall, this might mean a tank top or T-shirt under a sweater. In the winter, a long-sleeved t-shirt or button-down might be a better choice. In negative-degree windchill, a tank under a long-sleeved t-shirt (or that tactical skiing underwear) is the way to go.

And don’t forget your bottom half! Ladies, tights or leggings under your jeans are amazing. Kneesocks over your tights? Even better! In fact, you’re probably only warm enough if you can’t bend your knees.

This is how you keep your face warm.

I figured out that this is how you keep your face warm.

Middle layer

If you’re from a warm climate, this is probably what you’d wear alone. A sweater or fleece jacket and a pair of jeans? Done. Except you’re wearing a Catwoman suit under it (see, “Base layer”).

Exterior layer

Spring and fall let you wear leather jackets, trench coats, short wool jackets, “puffer” jackets (short jackets made of down, not made of the fish), even hoodies if it’s warm enough. But winter is where the double-breasted, ankle-length wool coat comes in. You know, the kind you’ve only seen on It’s a Wonderful Life. (You’ll survive if you have a jacket that at least covers your butt, but you’ll be somewhat comfortable if your coat goes all the way to the floor, a la a little kid trying on Mom’s clothes.)

See? Nothing to it. You can't see? Wait, neither can I...

See? Nothing to it. You can’t see? Wait, neither can I…

Fuzzy layer

YOU WILL NEED GLOVES. Thick, double-lined, fleece, wind-resistant gloves. And a scarf, a tightly-woven one that the wind can’t get through. And a hat. Not a cute one, a warm one. (Did you know they make lined fleece? Neither did I. It’s a necessity.) Get yourself a pair of snow boots.


This is what you wear when it’s snowing and the windchill is ridiculous. I do not care what anyone says about fashion — winter in Chicago is not about fashion. Get yourself one of those jackets that makes you look like you’re walking around in a sleeping bag with a zipper at the bottom. You’ll look a hundred pounds heavier. If you can see out of the hood when it’s cinched, it’s too big.

Now waddle yourself to the bus stop and try not to let your eyeballs freeze. I think I’ll be working from home for a while…

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In with the new year http://barbbrand.com/2014/01/06/in-with-the-new-year/ http://barbbrand.com/2014/01/06/in-with-the-new-year/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 03:59:44 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=749
The Boys on New Year's Eve

The Boys on New Year’s Eve

With new years come new resolutions (though mine is still 1024×768). The past year has been a whirlwind for me, and I’ve not been blogging or journaling or talking to friends and family as much as I’d like because there are things that Must Be Done. Or because I’m exhausted from doing the things that Must Be Done. As a result, there are a lot of small memories that slip through the cracks, because I haven’t written them down and I haven’t shared them with anyone else.

That experience of someone suddenly bringing up an old memory you haven’t thought of in years is a golden one. I want to plant more seeds for it.

I want to pour into my friends this year.

I want to share more with my family.

Excuses are easy, and time flies quickly. To help myself keep track of the passage of time as well as share more, my goal for this blog is to post a photo every week and write just a little bit about it.

This is the photo for the past week. It’s hard to believe NYE was just a week ago. With the weather at negative 13 (with a minus 35 windchill!) it’s also hard to believe that we celebrated it in California sitting outside around a fire! The guys sat around and smoked cigars, we made smores, and at midnight we lit fireworks and had champagne. If only every NYE could be that way…

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Down on the farm http://barbbrand.com/2013/09/26/down-on-the-farm/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/09/26/down-on-the-farm/#comments Thu, 26 Sep 2013 17:37:11 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=711 When Drew and I were on our honeymoon (of which I need to write and post pics), we agreed that every six weeks or so, we would take a weekend trip somewhere. Just to get away from everything, silly as it may seem for newlyweds to need to get away.

This past weekend marked six weeks since we returned from our glorious trip to St. Thomas. It’s incredibly hard to believe that the wedding everyone stressed and slaved over for months is already nearly two months behind me!

One of the things that first made me think Drew was a sympathetic soul was his love of the middle of nowhere. On our first date, he asked where I was from. I started describing my childhood home in the Central Valley, saying I missed the mountains desperately. He said he understood, that the mountains were what he missed most from his time in Arizona. I remember being a little surprised that this city boy from the prairie spoke so warmly of my beloved rugged wilderness.

The farmhouse at twilight.

The farmhouse at twilight.

A few weeks after we started dating, he started talking about how much he wanted to go visit his family’s farm in Wisconsin. It wasn’t appropriate, I thought, to go spend a weekend there alone. After we got engaged, he said more than once, “I can’t wait to take you up to the farm.”

So this weekend, finally, we went.

It was glorious.

Since we intended to leave mid-Friday afternoon, I arranged to work from home, planning to work via iPhone hotspot in the car for a few hours. Thursday evening, driving home from a church event, I said I was looking forward to getting away. “Let’s just go now,” I joked.

“You want to? I’m serious, do you want to?”

So at 10 p.m., we took off. That sort of impulsive move doesn’t come naturally to either of us, which may have been why it felt so very adventurous. We had a gourmet dinner at McDonald’s around midnight. Both of us felt just a little bit guilty for thinking it was so tasty (but in our defense, they fried fries just for us!).

The lights got thinner and thinner as we approached 2 a.m. Suddenly, Drew drove off the road into a lawn, and I saw the stone walls of a house ahead. He announced that we had arrived.

A light drizzle was falling as he got out to find the key. He came back without it.

Ten minutes later, after searching around in the dirt under the unit, the grass around the unit, the doormat, and a variety of other unrelated areas, Drew gave up and called his dad. “Sometimes he’s up at weird hours,” he said. “He doesn’t normally sleep near his phone.” I mentally prepared myself to sleep in the car. Not that it would have taken much to get me to fall asleep at that point; not being in the drizzle would have been good enough!

I was relieved to hear, “Hi, Dad!”

It was past 3 in the morning when we finally fell asleep on the squeaky queen-sized bed downstairs. (Have you ever shared a queen bed with a six-foot-six man?) It felt wonderful.

Working at a coffee shop never results in overcaffeination.

Working at a coffee shop never results in overcaffeination.

The next morning was almost a tragic one.

“We forgot to bring the coffee maker. And all that’s here is a percolator and a can of Folger’s.”

We were both pleasantly surprised by the lack of burntness in the finished product. (So tolerable was the product that we used the percolator for the rest of the weekend.) To sit and sip and hear nothing but birds and the occasional truck fly past on the two-lane road outside: that is the best part of waking up.

But it was Friday, and we both needed to work. However, we soon discovered that three bars of Edge created a hotspot that made dial-up speeds desirable. After the second phone call Drew go interrupted even this snail-like service, we headed into “town” to see if we could find a coffee shop.

Couldn't have been more than eight people there.

Couldn’t have been more than eight people there.

As luck would have it, the nearby town of Green Lake has precisely one coffee shop: Sugar Lips. Up the stairs, past the giant white concrete planters molded like the lower half of a woman’s face (sporting bright pink lips, of course), we found a spacious, comfortable shop devoid of any life. The shopkeeper didn’t even seem to be about. We set up shop anyway, just as the older lady who apparently owned the place came in with scones fresh from the oven. Small-town USA is sometimes a very tasty place.

Dinner, Wisconisn-style

Dinner, Wisconisn-style.

We stayed there for the next six hours or so, drinking the most delicious coffee and eating scones (and doing work), watching the town and its visitors come and go. Finally, when the shop closed at 5, we wandered, a little dazed and a little coffee-hungover, to a tiny local farmers’ market. Drew nearly couldn’t contain his excitement for Macintosh apples, and I bought peaches for cobbler while trying not to bounce to the accordion music coming from the lawn.
There were no stars that night: it was overcast and cloudy. But there was New Glarus beer and fresh cheese curds for dinner. The loudest noise was the crickets, chirping slowly due to the onset of chilly weather.

He actually shared the deep-fried curds with me. Now that's love.

He actually shared the deep-fried curds with me. Now that’s love.

The next morning, after percolator coffee and fresh apples, we drove into Princeton, a town of about 1300, for “the largest weekly flea market in Wisconsin.” Despite the brisk weather, the little town square was packed to the gills with bundled-up folks hawking everything from “stuff we found in our garage” to bison jerky. The scene-stealer, by far, was the deep-fried cheese curds. I do not know HOW I have lived this long without experiencing the wonder that is deep-fried cheese. I was expecting it to be battered and doughy, somewhat like a corndog, but the batter it had on it was so thin as to be indistinguishable from the cheese itself. Salty, stringy, chewy, and hot on a cold day, they are a treat from which I am glad I am several hundred miles removed.

We bummed around the flea market until early afternoon, picking up cheese less than a day old, jerky, fresh brussels sprouts and onions for that evening’s baked potatoes. For the remaining ingredients, we hit the only grocery store in town: Sherm’s Piggly Wiggly. Oh, the Midwest!

Upon depositing our piggly goods at home, Drew offered to give me a tour of the property. It was chilly still, so we took the Jeep off-roading. Tall, late-season grass whipped over the hood. Had it not been so cold, I would have been reminded very much of the place I grew up, with the rolling hills, the oak trees, and the sound of semi-trucks engine-braking in the distance. We stopped near the back of the property to explore a ravine that Drew said has always been his favorite part of the property. It was obvious why: the sunlight through the trees made the place feel like an enchanted forest, and the multitude of tall, thin trees dampened any sound. I found myself speaking barely above a whisper. Only when we started to get cold did we leave.

That evening I cooked bacon and brussels sprouts and potatoes, and peach cobbler. Drew played sous chef, and then played his guitar while I finished. There’s something so lovely about being disconnected, with nothing more pressing than arranging peaches just so in a pie pan.

Sunday, before we made our way back to civilization, Drew decided he wanted to attempt to find “the old farm.” His grandfather, who bought the farm we stayed on in the early ’90s, purchased another farm a few miles away decades earlier. The family was trying to sell it, now, and Drew’s dad was close to closing a deal. Drew’s best guess was that he hadn’t been back in ten years or more. His memory is just as photographic as mine, though, and got us there after only three or four wrong turns and a phone call to his dad.

A few small, dilapidated buildings were all that were left after the farmhouse burned down in years prior. The land was much different than the farm a few miles away: near a lake, this ground was much sandier and marshier. When we got tired of bushwhacking, we returned to the outbuildings. Drew showed me where the grapevines his grandfather planted behind the farmhouse still grew. We poked our heads into the remaining shed and found remnants of occupants long gone: a ’60s-era tube TV, an old boat, some mostly destroyed study paintings by Drew’s grandmother.

We left after that, and turned rather unwillingly back to Chicago.

“I wish we could spend summers here,” I said, in much the same tone I’d used Thursday night when I said I wished we were on our way to Wisconsin.

“Honey, I am so down with that.”

Maybe someday we’ll find a way to make it work.

Drew on the old farm

Drew on the old farm

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Love at second sight http://barbbrand.com/2013/06/03/love-at-second-sight/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/06/03/love-at-second-sight/#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 05:02:28 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=666 I ran across this post I wrote back in February that for some reason was never published. Here, for the record, is how I met Drew.

I first saw him early one Sunday morning as we both volunteered at church, though our roles could not have been more different. He was on stage, warming up his keys during sound check with his band; I was hovering quietly in the back of the auditorium, in the shadows, setting up my cameras for the five-hour stint to come.

Park Community is a large church with several rotating worship bands. This particular band wasn’t one I had seen perform in the 10 months I’d attended the church. I noticed that, unlike many of the people I’d seen perform here, he played his keyboard as if it were a real piano. No synth, no electronic noise. It was beautiful. And as I white-balanced the cameras, I noticed that he wasn’t bad, himself.

Stop that, scolded my brain.

But I literally couldn’t stop looking at him, since I was the one running the cameras. Maybe I could introduce myself between services, I thought.

Stop that, scolded my brain. You know you aren’t supposed to be thinking like that.

Between services, I ran for coffee. He was there, right there, just in front of me.

I said nothing. I got coffee, worked the second service, and left as quickly as I possibly could.

Seven or eight months before, I’d been struggling with the idea of being alone. I’d spent years focused, laser-like, on pursuing my education and my career. A relationship would only get in the way — and the very few (two, plus various one-off dates) relationships I’d had in those years proved it. I never let myself think for very long that I “needed a man.” But now that I was in a place where less sacrifice was required of me, I found myself getting more and more wistful twinges for “someone.” Someone with whom to go on adventures and go on grocery runs, someone to be silly with, someone to talk with. Sometimes, all I wanted was someone who would give me a hug. I was, frankly, tired of playing the tough woman who didn’t need anyone.

During one of the more forceful bouts of loneliness, I dropped to my knees and started asking God for this guy I didn’t even want to admit that I longed for. And clearly as if I heard the words aloud, I got a response.

You need to be okay with the idea of being single forever.

I cried. I cried the next day when I asked and the answer came back just as clearly. I called my best friend, who suggested that perhaps it was “an Abraham and Isaac” moment, where I was being asked to surrender something I had begun to put too much into.

“Don’t tell me that,” I told her. Don’t give me hope.

If I really were going to be single forever, I was sure as hell going to make the most of it. I got involved in volunteering at my church. I worked weekends, trying to get up to speed with some of the many skills I lacked. I took up drawing again. I prayed continually that God would use me where He needed me, however He needed me. Gradually, the idea of perpetual singledom lost its edge.

But every now and again, I’d catch myself looking at a guy, thinking, “I wonder what would happen…” I discovered the best course of action in those circumstances was to run. If I didn’t let myself daydream, if I continually gave that up to God as soon as it happened, I was mostly okay. Most days, it didn’t even cross my mind that I’d found it hard to give up the idea of a relationship.

Two weeks after I saw him the first time, his band played again. For the first time since I left Phoenix, I heard worship music that truly resonated with me.

I run camera twice a month. It “just so happened” that I was running camera this Sunday, also.

Between services, I ran for a cup of coffee from the cafe. I speed-walked past the band, standing in a corner talking. As I passed them, something hit me in the gut: You should tell them how much you enjoy their music.

Nope. I don’t talk to people I don’t know. I need coffee. I kept walking.

You should really turn around and tell them how much you appreciate their playing.

I’ve learned that such prompts are usually not from me and ignored at their own risk. So I turned around and walked up to them, and said I just wanted to tell them that of all the groups I’d heard play at this church, they were my favorite thus far, eliciting big grins from them. They introduced themselves: Gabby. Nate. Drew.

I excused myself and went to grab that coffee. At least I was encouraging. I worked through another sermon, and then, fighting my desire to hang around and see if I could run into Drew again, finally made myself go to the garage and unlock my bike.

Never before and never since have I encountered anyone at those bike racks. On this particular day, Gabby was wheeling her bike up as I was unlocking mine.

“Hey, we’re going out to brunch, and you should join us.”

That sounds fun! …but knowing me, it will probably just be awkward. I looked at the sky. It was going to start pouring any minute, and if I biked home, I was most likely going to get caught in the rain.

So I let Gabby take me back upstairs with her, where a short discussion about who would ride with whom followed. I rode with Drew and Anu, the band leader. (I may or may not have volunteered to go with them.) Drew, in what I learned was a rare move, made small talk.

“So what do you do?”

“I’m a web developer for the Tribune.”

“What language do you use most?”

Oh, that’s cute. He knows enough about programming to know there are different languages. “Python, mostly.”

“Python’s all right.”

Thinking I knew the joke he was about to make, I interrupted him. “I’m not talking about the snake.”

Without missing a beat, he continued, “The only thing I don’t like about Python is that it’s weakly typed.”

I believe my jaw actually hung open. I managed to ask, “You code?”

“I’m a programmer, yeah.”

We talked through brunch effortlessly. The silences were just as comfortable as the conversation. It was a strange, strange feeling.

I rode back to church with Nate, and would learn much later that Drew and Anu were conspiring about how to get my contact info, since I was Facebookless. Anu gave me his email address under the guise of wanting to invite me to the next group gathering. “I love connecting people,” he told me.

Drew asked me out for a cup of coffee (“You do like coffee, don’t you?”). I’ve never looked back.

But I’m certainly looking forward.

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Planning a wedding for all it’s worth http://barbbrand.com/2013/05/17/planning-a-wedding-for-all-its-worth/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/05/17/planning-a-wedding-for-all-its-worth/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 06:50:47 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=704 Sometimes the smallest things in life are the ones worth remembering. At your graduation, it’s not necessarily walking across the stage to get your diploma that you want to remember: it’s the jokes you told with your friends backstage moments before, as you all breathlessly tried to freeze in memory the last four…or five…or six…years. At work, it’s not the big project launch that means the most: it’s the coworkers who powered through it together.

I’m learning that planning a wedding is a lot like that. Everyone wants to know about The Dress and The Cake and The Flowers. But the moments that really mean the most to me are the least impressive ones to talk about.

It’s not being able to sleep the night he proposes; not being able to stop grinning stupidly at your hand.

It’s announcing your engagement to your coworkers in your morning meeting by keeping your hand in your pocket until it’s your turn to speak, then casually throwing out, “Oh, and this happened this weekend,” as you hold your hand up. And other coworkers’ reactions, including but not limited to speedwalking past your desk, grinding to a halt, and yelling, “Get the fuck out!” in disbelief. (Only in journalism would that be a congratulatory statement.)

It’s sitting down on your first Valentine’s together to try to figure out how to start planning your wedding (and then, when you decide to start with the guest list, drawing crazy doodles around the guest totals as you go out of sheer boredom with list-making).

It’s flying 2,000 miles to try on wedding dresses with your mom and your best friends, and having every store hand you dresses six sizes too big because that’s all they have. Your poor best friend takes this in stride, and helps you dive head-first into mound after mound of gathered, blinged-out satiny death traps. But she doesn’t care: in fact, she keeps whispering that you need to try more of them on, because you only get to do this once so you might as well.

It’s writing “Will you be my bridesmaid?” notes in the bathroom and stuffing them into lockets (trying desperately to remember which name you put in which locket), because you didn’t have time to do it before your friends came over and you won’t see them again for weeks. And your matron of honor not being able to get her locket open at all.

It’s your mom planting hundreds of flower seeds, fingers crossed they bloom in time for you to carry.

It’s your dad so determined to find a good place for the rehearsal dinner that he doesn’t care it’s not the bride’s parents’ responsibility. Maybe, you suspect, he just wants to go sample barbecue.

It’s the determination you and he have to pound out the registry. So you each grab a computer, and focus like hell until he starts playing old Joe Diffie songs and you can’t help singing to them, exclaiming at each one, “I didn’t realize this was Joe Diffie!” And at the end of the night, you have some bedding and some curtains and some kitchen utensils and John Deere Green stuck in your head.

It’s spending nearly two hours in DSW, trying on every pair of heels that *might* work with your dress (which you saw once, for fifteen minutes, a month ago). When you finally decide on the pair that is the comfiest, prettiest, and least expensive, you realize as you’re buying them that they are in fact Disney Princess “Glass Slipper Collection” heels. Your prince is coming whether you freaking like it or not.

It’s getting your invitations from the printer, opening them with him, and reading them together, sensing him smiling ear-to-ear behind you. “They look fantastic, Heather Jay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Keith,” he says, hand on your shoulder.

No, I don’t know who’s baking the cake or where the flowers are coming from, or even where I’m staying the night before. None of that *really* matters. What really matters is how much I make of each of these moments, because these are the moments that life itself is made of. The wedding? It will be a pretty awesome day. But it’s just a day; just a few hours. It changes everything and yet also very little. What is meaningful to me now will still be meaningful to me afterward, and if I let those small, lovely moments pass as insignificant, then I probably will continue to miss the little beautiful moments life holds for me in years to come.

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Sometimes I miss my car. http://barbbrand.com/2013/05/02/sometimes-i-miss-my-car/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/05/02/sometimes-i-miss-my-car/#comments Thu, 02 May 2013 05:42:46 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=701 There are two seasons in Chicago: Bike season and bus season. (Unless you are like my insane coworkers David and Chris, who bike throughout the year. They assure me it’s all about having the right winter gear.)

Bike season has been promising to come for several weeks, doing a titillating sort of dance where it almost appears, then hiding again behind thunderstorms and chilly fronts. In the last couple of days, it has finally shown itself. During the dance, however, I got impatient and threw on my down jacket, fleece gloves and windbreaker — you know, spring riding clothes — and biked to work. My determination and impatience got me my first flat tire since I bought my bike a year ago.

It was a slow leak, so I finished the commute to work. By the time I came out, however, the tire was totally flat. The next two weeks were cold and rainy, so I left the bike in the Trib’s cage, deflated (the tire physically and myself mentally). But then the weather started to turn. Getting on the bus on a beautiful 73-degree morning seemed almost sinful, and definitely germ-laden. David took pity on me and lent me a bike pump, patch kit and tire spoons so I could patch my sad tire. Victory was close at hand, I thought.

When I got the tire off, I couldn’t find the hole.

So I took the tire on the bus with me.

Upon ranting about this to Drew, he told me about the apparently common trick of submerging a partially inflated inner tube in water to find the leak. GENIUS, I thought. I will do this right away.

“Right away” meaning two days later. I filled my bathtub with water, wrestled the inner tube off, and carefully checked inch-by-inch, not realizing that when I hit the hole, a veritable geyser of bubbles would shoot forth. It was tiny, no larger than a pinprick. I already could feel the wind in my face and the bugs in my teeth as I popped open the patch kit, certain I would have a functional tire for the next morning.

No rubber cement. Lots of patches, and a bit of sandpaper, but no rubber cement with which to affix them.

I pulled the tire out, dried it, and looked at my bathtub, now covered in bike grime for nothing. I left the tire against my bathroom wall as a monument to bitter failure, and I determined to go on a hunt for rubber cement the next day.

I found the cement at the end of a long line at Johnny Sprockets, a local bike shop. I practically skipped home, clutching my purchase in my soon-to-be-bruised-and-grimy hand.

By now, the drill was familiar: Stem cap off. Tire spoons on, tire off. Mind the stem. Pull out the tube — gentle, now. Inflate a little, not too much. There are the bubbles. Get the kit! I dutifully slathered a layer of rubber cement on the tire after sanding it, waiting for the cement to dry before I applied the patch. It seemed incredibly secure, so I began the struggle of getting the ensemble back together.

And then I had a brilliant thought. I should fully inflate the tire tonight so I can tell tomorrow if the patch worked. So I did. I inflated it to rock hardness. I couldn’t help grinning at myself and my skinned knuckles. Tomorrow — or the next day, or whenever spring comes back for good — I’ll ride for sure.

I pulled the pump nozzle off of the stem.

With a loud whoosh, as the air found the new gaping hole, the stem came with it.

I’ll be taking the bus tomorrow.

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Finding “The Dress” http://barbbrand.com/2013/04/23/the-dress/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/04/23/the-dress/#comments Tue, 23 Apr 2013 20:15:18 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=685
What's that behind me?

What’s that behind me? It follows me wherever I go!

Friends will carry your train while you try on wedding dresses. Good friends will hum the wedding march. Best friends wil morph the wedding march into the Imperial March from Star Wars when they get bored.

Last Friday, I flew home to California to go wedding dress shopping, a concept that I was about as comfortable with as a cat is a bath. I know, logically, that I should enjoy the ride. I only get to do this once! But social events are inherently not a Heather kind of thing, especially where she is the center of attention. It feels inherently selfish to pester bridesmaids with dress ideas and blather endlessly about plans to my poor groom-to-be. (Drew is incredibly patient.)

However, I was very excited about one aspect of dress hunting. My aunt had shipped her mother’s wedding dress to us. She didn’t know if it were in wearable condition, if it were too small or too large for me, or if the veil were still with it, but said I could use it however I saw fit. When I arrived home, it was sitting in a corner of my room, still in the UPS box. I was a little slow and hesitant opening it, because I didn’t know what to expect. The only time I’d seen the dress was in an old black-and-white photo of my grandparents that used to sit on a table in our den. All I remembered was lace: lots of lace.

Unpacking the box was a bit like discovering hidden treasure. We (my bridesmaids, Sarah and Keri) opened the veil first. The tulle crumbled, but the lace was intact, as was the beaded tiara-like headpiece. The veil is probably cathedral-length. We pulled it around me, just like the picture of my grandparents. Dad snapped a picture on his cell phone and texted it to his sister. It’s incredible to think what my grandmother would have thought of technology.

The dress was still in its original box, from a “frock” shop in Cicero, IL. The address — on Cermak — was hand-scrawled on the front. “Bill enclosed,” it said. (Mom later looked up the shop. Their “better” dresses started at $10.95.) Though the bill was no longer present, what was there was unexpectedly great. One invitation, dated April 1940, for my grandmother’s wedding in Chicago. (I had no idea when I moved here that I had such family ties to Chicagoland.) One wedding certificate, elaborate and bigger than a legal-sized piece of paper, decorating with a scene of cherubs and Biblical characters. Confusingly, it was from the Roman Catholic church.

“Hey, Dad, your mom and dad weren’t Catholic, were they?” He came over to look at it. Then I noticed the names were wrong.

“Who is…someone Wallace?”

It turned out to be my great-grandparents’ wedding certificate. “‘Til death do us part,” read the banner across the bottom. It is sort of odd to think about how long they’ve both been gone; how fast life flies by in the grand scheme of things. Were they happy together? What did they learn about being married? What made them laugh? What made them angry? Did he leave his socks on the floor? Was she a good cook?

And then there was the dress itself. Heavy ivory satin, beaded at the top with a cathedral-length train. Sarah and Keri were all too happy to help me get it on. The sleeves were far too short and I couldn’t move my shoulders. The gown was hemmed for my five-foot-one grandmother, and my jeans (why I was still wearing jeans, I don’t know) peeked out the bottom. The bosom was three sizes too large.

Mom said I should see myself in her full-length mirror. I walked gingerly down the hallway, Sarah and Keri lifting my train “like Kate Middleton.” One of them started humming the wedding march; Mom asked if it were a funeral dirge. Somehow, suddenly the wedding march began to sound a great deal like a certain piece of Star Wars music…

I decided, after dress shopping the next day, not to wear my grandmother’s dress. Heavy satin and California’s Augusts don’t mesh, and the alterations that would be required would be substantial. But being able to touch it and try it on and see for myself what I had only seen in a hand-colored photo made me feel somehow close to the woman who wore it in 1940. I never knew her, but I know that she must have danced quite a lot in her gown, from where there were streaks on the train. I know that her cascade of flowers scratched the satin on her midriff. I know that she was ever-so-careful with the delicate lace on her veil. I know she was smaller, but built well (no doubt do to some of her mother’s good Czech cooking). And I know that though she has been gone since the 1960s, part of her will always live on through my dad’s stories, his fried cauliflower, and a lovely old dress from what surely must have been one of the happiest days of her life.

As for me? Instead of chopping up her dress, I found one that I would much rather alter. Maybe someday someone will try it on and think about who I might have been.

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On the move again http://barbbrand.com/2013/03/09/on-the-move-again/ http://barbbrand.com/2013/03/09/on-the-move-again/#comments Sat, 09 Mar 2013 07:22:40 +0000 Heather http://barbbrand.com/?p=677
The keys to the condo I thought I would never close on.

The keys to the condo I thought I would never close on.

I’m surrounded by way too much crap to fit in the few boxes I have. I thought I’d saved more of the many boxes my parents have sent over the past eighteen months. It certainly seemed at times like I couldn’t turn around without stepping on cardboard.

Yet here I am, packing once more, sticking all the little pieces of my life into oddly-shaped corners, hoping they’ll survive the trip to my new condo in Edgewater.

My condo. When did I become an adult?

There’s the little plastic Barbie tumbler Mom and I bought at Salvation Army years ago. She sent it to me as a joke, and a little piece of home. I use it pretty much exclusively to punch holes in pieces of bread for cowboy eggs, a breakfast Dad used to make for us.

Then there are the glasses made out of wine bottles that I bought with Mom and Sarah at my favorite farmers market in Arizona. The Snow White coffee cups that Keri bought me for Christmas. A Lego version of the Sears Tower Dad and I bought to assemble the first time he came to visit me in Chicago. The little bottle of mustard seeds (among other spices and sauces) Brian gave me when he moved to DC. The vase that came with the roses my brother sent me one Valentine’s Day. My grandmother’s tablecloth. The nightstand I brought home on the bus. The lamp I brought home on the bus. The trunk I brought home on the bus. (I told Mom delivery was free.) The end table Drew drove home for me so I wouldn’t have to ride the bus with another piece of furniture. Diplomas. A letter of recommendation from Len Downie. The dressy work clothes that Mom and I bought the summer I interned at the Washington Post. (I wear T-shirts and jeans to work now.) The Indiana Jones whip I kept above my desk at the Collegian. The guitar that survived Scout camp. Journals full of memories, journals full of tears, journals full of years.

I’ve been in Chicago almost two years now. This tiny little studio has never really felt like home, but in some strange way, I’m going to miss it. I think a lot of it has to do with the realization that this is my last bachelorette pad. Even though Drew won’t move into the new condo until after we’re married, knowing it will happen is such a strange thought. (Judging from what he’s said on the topic, he’s having a hard time wrapping his mind around it, too.) Part of me wonders how well I’ll be able to adjust to living with someone else, after being on my own for this long. Don’t get me wrong: I am absolutely thrilled about the idea of sharing life with him. (Not having to worry about how late it is when we say goodbye will be freaking wonderful.) But it’s a very new kind of chapter for me. I don’t know quite what to expect.

As I pack, I realize that I get to bring parts of all the old chapters with me. That’s an incredibly comforting thing.

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