There is an incomparable quality to spending a spring day outdoors with my child. He is coming out of a rough patch of teething, and there were several days when I thought my happy, curious kid was gone for good. Lately, though, his bicuspid that was bothering him broke through, and he is excited again.

He and I like to sit in the grass together.

Toddler and mom on a sunny day

And climb the mommy mountain.

Scaling the mommy mountain

He tells me about what he sees.

Toddler on a sunny day

And I get to lay on my back in the warm grass and watch my boy discover how wonderful spring afternoons are.

Happy kiddo

New Home for an Old Window

A new post for the Pink Palace about our newest acquisition. Stained glass!

The Pink Palace Family of Museums

The Pink Palace’s newest acquisition is a stained glass window from T.H. Hayes & Sons Funeral Home, Memphis’s oldest continually operated African American business.  Thomas H. Hayes, Sr. began his career as a grocer before he founded the funeral parlor in 1902. It was originally located on Poplar Avenue, but it moved to 680 South Lauderdale in 1918. The family lived on the second floor of the building. The funeral parlor closed after the death of Frances Hayes, the daughter-in-law of Thomas, Sr., in 2010.

 The window1

The emergence of funeral homes in the early twentieth century was one of the most significant advancements in the modern funeral industry. This development made the business more efficient because it took the mostly decentralized and multistage funeral process and turned it into a uniform experience in one building. Funeral homes themselves also put “a positive face on funeral directing.” Funeral directing offered African…

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Making peanut butter

My boy is teething. Hard core, in pain, teeth pushing through his gums. He is in a terrible mood, and very few things soothe him. 

My normal rock star eater suddenly doesn’t want anything. I made him spaghetti–normally his favorite–only to have it thrown on the floor. 

The only thing he will reliably eat when he gets like this is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Well, that and fruit. But since babies cannot live on fiber and fructose alone, PB&J it is today. 

Every April we try to avoid grocery shopping and eat through our pantry. Needless to say, it leads to some interesting meals. I’m not too proud to break with the plan and buy my hurting toddler some peanut butter; however, I had a jar of peanuts in the stockpile and was inspired by my friend Angela to try making my own. With a little help from the kitchn, I gave it a whirl. 

You can literally do it with a food processor, peanuts and five minutes, but I felt bad for my kid and made it creamy with some canola oil and sweet with honey. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is store it in a half pint jar. 

Maybe he’ll eat this meal.  

Greetings from Memphis!

New post for the Pink Palace about postcards. Incidentally, I also have a postcard collection. Mine are not as cool.

The Pink Palace Family of Museums

When mail ruled the day, postcards were a popular way to communicate. Picture postcards first came on the American scene during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. They quickly grew in popularity, and the decade from 1905-1915 marked a golden age for postcards. People frequently mailed them to each other and then saved them in albums. By the end of 1913, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that over nine hundred million postcards had been mailed. This fervor died down with the start of World War I, but postcards did continue to be used. From 1930-1945, linen postcards, which were printed on paper containing higher cotton fiber content, were popular.  Today’s postcards are photocrom-style and feature colorful photographs. These postcards are frequently purchased as souvenirs and less often as a means to quickly communicate.

Overton Park playgroundMunicipal Swimming Pool at the Fairgrounds circa 1926

Postcards have historical value because they capture popular sites and attitudes of specific time periods. The messages that people…

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Four Years

My grandfather died four years ago today. I don’t like to talk about missing him because it still hurts, and I suppose it always will. For the longest time I was afraid that I would only remember him the way that he was at the end, when Parkinson’s had robbed him of his balance and it was obvious that he was in pain. Thankfully, C.S. Lewis told me, “Looking back, I see that only a very little time ago I was greatly concerned about my memory of H. [his wife] and how false it might become. For some reason – the merciful good sense of God is the only one I can think of – I have stopped bothering about that.” The thing is, I can choose not to remember my grandfather as a frail man but rather as the vibrant person I knew for most of my life.

My grandfather, the way I remember him.
My grandfather, the way I remember him.

I knew him as Mac, but most people called him Dan. Mac was one of my first friends. He let me run with my imagination, even if it meant using his three hole punch to make snow for the living room. He just used it as an opportunity to show me how his vacuum cleaner worked. Mac loved having my brothers and I spend the night at their house. He helped me paint a wooden motorcycle for my dad one Christmas, and he showed me how to turn scraps of telephone wire into bracelets. He played with me, built me a rope swing, let my dog lick his hands and loved me.

My Mac was a big man who gave great hugs. He had a booming laugh and was always ready to play a board game.

I miss him.

2015 in Books, April

The sun is out, my kid isn’t teething, and there is gardening to do, which is my way of saying that I didn’t read as much this past month. I’ve always approached spring as a time of doing. Soon enough it will be too hot to think about moving. Until then, I play in the dirt.

  • Dog Stars by Peter Heller
    • I have a soft spot for post-apocalyptic books. Weird? Yes. Satisfying? Also yes. One of the challenges inherent in this genre is how to get readers to care when there is obviously no overarching happy outcome. The satisfaction has to come from small payoffs like putting in a garden or meeting a new person. Heller does these incremental changes well, which makes the book work on a deeper level than I was anticipating.
  • Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia
    • My first city planning book, sort of. Lydon and Garcia run a firm call Street Plans Collaborative, and this book is a manifesto of their professional ideas. They advocate doing small things within and outside of the law to make neighborhoods better places. The key is to have a plan with definable long term outcomes. Temporary changes in streetscapes, parking lots, and sidewalks can be used to mobilize community members, municipal workers and elected officials to generate the conversations and money to fund more permanent improvements. One of their examples was the New Face for an Old Broad event in Memphis. Several years after the pop-up event reimagined the street as an arts district with a music venue, public art, full storefronts and bike lanes, the area boosts a higher occupancy rate and permanent protected bike lanes through the partially crowdfunded Hampline project. This book got me thinking, and frankly made me really proud to live in a city that has seen tactical urbanism work.
  • Magical Thinking: True Storties by Augusten Burroughs
    • This one is a collection of Burroughs’ essays. Like a lot of biographical essay collections, the selections were hit or miss for me.
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
    • My neighborhood Little Free Library lent me Beautiful Ruins. I have been wanted to read it since it came out, but I never quite got around to it. After the other books on my docket, it was nice to read one that was a well-rounded work of fiction with a happy ending. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need to read.

Some Short Lived Memphis Football Programs  

Memphis has had some horrible luck with professional football teams. You can read more about it on my latest post over at the Pink Palace blog:

The Pink Palace Family of Museums

Clarence Saunders’ Sole Owner Tigers  are not Memphis’s only defunct football program. In 1974, the Southmen came to town as part of the World Football League. The Southmen began as the Toronto Northmen; however, the Canadian Prime Minister was concerned about having American expansion teams compete with the Canadian Football League for viewers. He had a bill introduced which prohibited professional American football programs from playing in Canada. The team came to Memphis and changed their name to the Southmen, a name which most Memphians disliked. Fans called them the Grizzlies. The WFL collapsed in 1975 in the middle of the Grizzlies second season. The team owners pulled off a successful season ticket drive in an effort to convince the NFL to accept the Southmen as an expansion team. The NFL refused.

Showboats jacket

Memphis’s next professional football franchise was the Memphis Showboats, a team of the also short lived United States…

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S.Y. Wilson’s Coffin

My latest post on the Pink Palace blog about that time we drove to Arlington to get a coffin.

The Pink Palace Family of Museums

One of the Pink Palace’s newest acquisitions is a mid-twentieth century coffin that was donated by Susan Wilson Hoggard of S.Y. Wilson store in Arlington, Tennessee. S.Y. Wilson opened in 1893 as a general country store that sold provisions in eastern Shelby County. Samuel Young Wilson erected the store’s current building in 1912 in Arlington’s town square. Today, the family operates an antiques and artisan market in the three story building. When it was a country store, one of the more unusual offerings was coffins. State law allowed individual burials, and, especially in the country, family plots were not unusual. We can only assume that when these types of burials fell out of favor, Wilson’s store had a few coffins, in their original crates, remaining in the attic.

Susan Wilson Hoggard with the coffin crate

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, country stores sold clothing, farming equipment, food and other sundry items. Store owners or clerks…

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Why my kid isn’t in the cry room

We’re a Catholic family, and we go to mass on Sundays. I love our church. It’s a good size, focused on social justice, has friendly people and loving priests, and good music. It also doesn’t really have a cry room.

That’s right. I go to mass with a toddler in a church without a glass box for him to be a baby in. You know what that means? He acts like a baby in the church.

We go to an early mass, and my child has made friends with the kids, dads, mothers, grandmothers and grandpas who sit behind us. He smiles at them and distracts them and makes them happy. He also wiggles, fills in the silences with babbles and gets cranky towards the end. He is a reminder that our church is alive and growing.

Holy Spirit has cards in each pew for kids to draw on (as opposed to doodling on the offertory envelopes). On the back of these cards are messages of welcome to parents that encourage us to let our kids learn about the mass and our faith by participating with us. There are also some nicely worded messages to everyone else to remember that children are squirmy gifts who need to learn about our church and feel welcome here.

So when my kid decides to keep singing while everyone else is reflecting, he gets to stay in the church. On the occasions that he has fallen apart and started sobbing, one of us takes him out to the meeting room that has a comfortable couch and a TV to watch the mass. Although honestly I usually don’t make it that far. Often in that situation we’ll stand in the narthex and participate from behind the glass doors.

I am so used to feeling welcomed that it takes me aback the few times that I have been glared at when my little one makes a peep. We stay anyway. My kid isn’t in the cry room because he is a welcome member of our Church. It’s his home, and no one makes you leave your home for being yourself.

Spring in my Memphis gardens

Now that spring has finally decided to stick around, I am finding it hard to focus on much other than gardening. My new backyard garden is tilled, planted with sugar snap peas and hopefully poison ivy free.

My new backyard garden

The very flimsy garden fence seems to be all the deterrent Zeb (the dog) needs to steer clear. The seedlings I started over a month ago are leggy and almost dead. I need a grow light.

Incredibly leggy tomato starts

I decided to try square foot gardening in my raised bed. This bed is dedicated to salad greens, chard and kohlrabi so I’m succession sowing each row a week apart.

Square foot gardening in the raised bed

My asparagus survived the winter and are starting to send up new shoots. The swiss chard, which was the rock star of last summer’s garden, has started sprouting as well.

Swiss chard and asparagus shoots

I also get to garden at work, at least for the next few months. Our summer exhibit at the Pink Palace is Wicked Plants, which was put together by the North Carolina Arboretum and is based on Amy Stewart’s book of the same name. My boss decided that he wanted to add a live poison garden to the exhibit, and, since I’m the one who realized that we needed to start ordering plants a month ago, I’m in charge of plant procurement and propagation. (Incidentally, today’s post is brought to you by the letter p.)

Sweet peas for the Pink Palace’s poison garden in this summer’s Wicked Plants exhibit

I’m spending a lot of time with my hands in the dirt these days. I’m still making it up as I go, and I love it.