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Harper Lee died the day before my birthday.  I’ve been fascinated with her for years, having always loved To Kill A Mockingbird. Having read Go Set A Watchman & The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee relatively recently, the news of her death struck me in an odd way.  Add to that, Feb. 19 was my Uncle Steve’s birthday.  I obviously did not know Harper Lee & frankly, I knew little about the man that was my uncle because we had very little common ground.  But, there felt like there was some weird connection there.  This is about sorting it out…

Ballad of Harper Lee

Harper, you left us the day before

I turned forty-two, when I was already feeling

uneasy about my life & where the world

was headed– the same day my uncle Steve

had come into this world

so long ago that the time becomes

a great ocean that we cannot paddle across.

I knew little of either of you

but I loved you both still.

Harper, you timed your exit well–

there is little room left in this world anymore

for dark-eyed chain-smoking women

with bad haircuts & sharp tongues

that delight in the quiet solitude

of non-descript red brick houses in Alabama.

Everyone wants to know the most tender

details of your heart & yours seemed

too delicate to endure our rough & calloused

hands wrenching out the blood

that you know we’re all longing for.

Harper, all we wanted was to love you

while you retreated into piles of dusty

old books, coffee at McDonald’s & Sunday

drives through the ugly back roads of a small

life that suited only you–the rest of our hearts

filled with dreams so big we’ll explode

if we don’t follow the single-lanes

to the interstates straight on into the cities.

Maybe we understood the way your heart ached

and that’s why we wanted more of you.

Harper, you understood that a heart needs

to be confined–maybe you both did–

and conspired to keep us all at bay,

dug moats that took lifetimes to fill

and sequestered yourself away from the indignity

of technology & open books that slight you.

Harper, I think I’m onto something–

maybe you had more in common with Steve

than one random day in one random year,

maybe you both began to feel life unwind,

felt the need to conceal your gashed-open hearts,

to armor yourselves with these simple lives

no one could break into, maybe you relished

the ruins of what could have otherwise been,

maybe I’m just another stranger searching

for explanations where there are none.

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It’s been almost a year since I last welcomed the world into my head.  I’m another year older, wiser & with better hair color now than before.  I’ve changed the way I think about SouthernDandy too.  When I started blogging, I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about, so I wrote about what was on my mind.  I’ll continue to write about what’s on my mind, but it will be truer to who I am.  I’m not a designer.  I’m not crafty.  I’m not a professional writer.  I have a closet full of fears about what people will say about my writing: that it won’t be good enough, that it’s not relevant, that I’m plain bad at it.  But at forty-two, I’m tired of thinking that way & I’m tired of letting the fear get the best of me.  So, here’s to new starts.  I hope you enjoy whatever I post; I’m ok either way.

Neighborhoods are funny things.  One minute you’re buying a home in the next up-and-coming Atlanta suburb (at least, that’s what your realtor tells you…), the next minute you’re the new kid on the block, literally.  When we bought our home in 2006, we were met with a mixture of intrigue (WHO are these guys?!  Where did they come from? How is the ginger’s hair & skin so perfect?) and hope (the good-old “Thank you Lord, the gays have finally arrived!  Our property values will be restored by flower-filled window boxes, updated color schemes & the promise of Farmers’ Markets.  Which one of them do you think feeds the backyard chickens?).

Here’s the real deal…change in our neck of the woods is coming, although not on the timetable we anticipated.  The upside of buying a home on a block with retirees is that it’s quiet and with nothing to do between The Price Is Right reruns and Fox News, they have had years to hone their skills as amateur Gladys Kravitzs.  Case in point, the first neighbor to introduce herself (read: work me for information while I’m just trying to retrieve my mail), Elizabeth Burton.  Our oldest resident, having bought her home new in 1950, she looks like Harper Lee with a blue-grey bob and glasses and could easily be spotted driving her old black truck at top speed of 15 MPH to Kroger & back several times a week.  Our Staffordshire knows no boundaries & jumped on her the first & only time she made her way across our lawn, almost knocking her over, which would have certainly broken at least one hip.

It’s no surprise that Mrs. Burton kept her distance after that.  Harper Lee types aren’t fond of sixty pounds dogs, no matter how well-intended they may be.  We stayed connected from afar–a friendly wave, a nod of the head.  Because of her age & tenure on the block, everyone deferred to her.  It wasn’t uncommon to her other residents bragging, “Well, we’ve been here since the early 80’s but Mrs. Burton, you know she’s seen it all.”.  She knew every other house and chatted up every single city worker that would stop to entertain her for a while.  With a gentleman caller almost as old as she, showing up weekly in a faded & battered Jeep to perform his handyman duties, before collecting his weekly home-made supper, she was assumed to be a feisty spirit. At least, that’s the narrative we wrote for her.

This went on for years.  We rescued more animals, had grandchildren, remodeled a bathroom, painted the house inside & out. We settled into our lives.  We got older.  All of us slowed down.  It wasn’t long after we noticed we hadn’t seen Mrs. Burton around for a while that we found out she had been placed in a home.  Even though this woman is still as much of a mystery to us as she was when we first moved in, we were sad.  Our lives overlapped for almost a decade just because of the proximity of our homes.  She’s played supporting character to the story of our lives and probably has a lot of really great stories that we will never hear.

So, with what is likely misplaced nostalgia, we say an official goodbye, hoping that she lives many more years in comfort, with folks taking care of her, the way she took care of her little part of the city for so many years.  Hopefully, the next generation is soon to follow. Lives will always intersect in subtle & surprising ways and, perhaps, the next generation of Elizabeth Burtons will continue to inspire shy Southern poets.

Neighbors

I was thinking about the straight-back

plastic chairs that line the porch next door,

of the blue plastic tarp stretched across their roof,

and of the way the chronic wafts across the yard

at night, smelling vaguely like cat piss

and my first apartment;

of how Miss Carolyn across the street lost her husband

late one night while I was up watching Mad Men

and fighting sleep on the couch,

of what it must feel like to make it through

a whole day and then lose everything

when the other houses on the street

are going dim and quiet,

of how she retreated into her house for weeks

and how a heart can ache with loss;

of Mrs. Burton with her blue-white hair

and gentleman caller in the old Jeep,

of how she ties kerchiefs around her head

like it’s still the 1950s and he’s still some shell

of a man that went to war and never came back;

of the morning that the cat got ran over in the driveway

and I stroked his back, sobbing  and praying he went quickly,

of how I woke the neighbor’s baby

and how they weren’t mad at all, of how they tried to help,

of Mrs. Burton’s gentleman-caller parking

his battered Jeep at the curb the next day,

leaving her sitting alone while it idled, shook my hand

and said how sorry he was that I’d lost a little blessing,

of how I should have done the same.

-MH 2012

A little over ten years ago, we were living different lives in different cities.  If you had told me that I would meet the man that would become my boyfriend, then my partner, and that we would begin creating our life & our family together, I’d have told you to take another hit off of whatever drug you were obviously doing.  But, ten years later, I have a very different perspective & can see that Life or God or The Universe, or whatever you choose to believe in, has a way of offering us opportunities when we least see them coming.  And, these opportunities combined with commitment, loyalty & a good dose of understanding, can lead you down some beautiful paths.

Young Martin & Randy

Young Martin & Randy

The beginning can be summarized as: we met,  we fell in love,  Randy relocated, we maintained separate households.  I began to learn what it is to become part of someone else’s family.  I’d never experienced something quite like this before.  Randy had been married and has a set of fraternal twins (a boy & a girl), now thirty years old.  So, this process, while a little scary, was something with which he was familiar.  However, for me, it was uncharted waters.  We had talked, very loosely, about what we both wanted for the future.  At the end of my bachelor days, I didn’t envision having babies or anything that would interrupt the me-time I loved so much (after all, it takes a lot of effort to look this fabulous).  Frankly, it was more fun to hang out with Randy’s kids, since they were technically adults.  It seemed like more fun to have a drink with them than to stay home & change diapers and deal with crying babies (although, some may say that they’ve seen their share of crying babies in the forms of drunk & obnoxious adults in bars).  So, for the first few years, it was relatively easy.  We began establishing what our life together would be: some of my friends became his friends too, made new friends together, attended events together, rented a new place together, bought a house that I could obsess over, all the while the kids were maneuvering through their twenties.  These kids became adults & my bond with them, my love for them, grew more than I could have realized.  I would swell with pride when they earned promotions at their jobs, bought homes, and especially, when they started having babies of their own.

One of my favorite pictures; such a sweet moment...

One of my favorite pictures; such a sweet moment…

Me & my step-son, attending his first Atlanta Pride with us c. 2005

Me & my step-son, attending his first Atlanta Pride with us c. 2005

Having babies around turned out to be fun.  We can have fun playing, showering them with candies & gifts, playing dress-up.  They’re cute & cuddly & can be so sweet.  They can also be little terrors that do things like scream in the car for a solid hour while you’re driving on vacation (and people used to say was difficult on vacations; they have NO idea).  Six years later, I am still learning how to say no & stick to it without inadvertently triggering a nuclear meltdown.

Hays perched on a rock in Cloudland Canyon in North Georgia

Hays perched on a rock in Cloudland Canyon in North Georgia

Hays, our granddaughter, can be credited with teaching me many, many lessons about the reality of dealing with babies.  She’s adorable, curious, funny & almost too smart for her own good.  In the beginning, people would stop & comment on her bright red, curly hair & ask how old she was.  I’d stumble over that question every time, stopping to count on my fingers or straining to do math in my head (which was never my strong suit) before realizing the intense glare of judgment that I was getting.  “Oh, no!  She’s not MY baby…she’s my…uh…my partner’s granddaughter.”  I never saw this dilemma coming: how to explain to complete strangers the complexity of the modern, gay, integrated family.  I had a lot of the same thoughts that many of us have: what if they’re ultra-conservative, what if they judge, what if they’re cruel, or even worse, what if say something that sets Randy off (he’s an impassioned-stream-of-consciousness arguer with confrontational bigots).  After much thought, I figured out the easiest way is the most direct, “oh, she’s my granddaughter.  My partner & I have a May-September thing going on…”.  Let them deal with it if they don’t like it.  This beautiful granddaughter & I will continue being just as fabulous as ever.

Being fabulous is exhausting.  Obviously.

Being fabulous is exhausting. Obviously.

After a too-long hiatus, your favorite Southern Dandy is back!  **Pause for applause from the crowd**.    Having been silent for over a month, I’m sure y’all are all wondering what I’ve been up to.  Decorating the Governor’s manse? Starting an online magazine that will catapult me into the stratosphere of fame with the likes of Martha?  Writing the next great Southern novel? Sadly, no.  I’ve been very busy being a bad blogger.  Pure & simple.  I’ve not been tending to my tasks lists & have been stressing about my lack of work.  It’s an ugly cycle.  I’ve come to accept this truth: that there will definitely be times that I’m highly productive, but there will also be times when I feel stalled or that the work is extremely slow-moving.  That’s what happens when you’re doing it all yourself.  Had I a team of minions (I call it Martha-style), the direction of this blog would be very, very different.

So, let’s get to what I really want to talk about today: your space.  More specifically, making that space work for you.  I know you’re thinking, “duh, it’s my space; of course I’m going to make it work for me.”  You couldn’t be more wrong.  Here’s why: we have been given a pre-conceived set of ideas about how the space in our homes should be used.  And, usually, we try very, very hard to stick to those ideas.  Living rooms always have sofas, bedrooms always have beds, Dandies always have cocktails in hand…ok, so that last one is not so much an absolute but a very, very good rule of thumb…and sometimes you have to break rules.

Case in point: the Romain Way Estate.  When we moved in, I was incredibly excited to have a cute little 1940’s cottage with three bedrooms—THREE BEDROOMS!   Moving from an open concept one bedroom loft into a house with three bedrooms was a huge change.  The house felt enormous (keep in mind, we’re talking about 1100 square feet, give or take).  We set up the living room, kitchen, guest & master bedrooms…all very easy, logical stuff…but, what to do with the third bedroom?  We didn’t necessarily need 2 guest bedrooms, so I set out to use it in the most logical ways.  In eight years, it has been:

  • A Media Lounge.  The concept sounded really cool.  I envisioned a cozy little den full of all of the technology that distracted us when people were over.  No more watching TV as we enjoyed cocktails…a home for the Mac…maybe a place to relax & read…you get the point.  The reality was that the living room ended up not being used.  At all.  People love TV.  And nothing is sadder than sitting around, drinking vodka, with your friends, not talking about how hot Dylan McDermott is (it’s insane, right?), laughing at Miss Coco Peru’s YouTube videos or how lucky & clueless Sooki Stackhouse is.   I had to stop fighting it.
  • A junk room.  A literal free-for-all with no concept or plan.  Every time I walked in, my OCD shot up about 20 degrees.  I couldn’t deal with it.  That didn’t last long at all.
  • A study.  My grandfather’s MCM desk would be the perfect place to write, the two leather club chairs & armoire converted into a bar would give it a Mad-Men-Meets-Midtown vibe, right? No ma’am.  I don’t write at the desk; I write on the couch watching True Blood or sitting in bed listening to iTunes.  And, as much as I love that armoire (and love having a bar), it is really a large piece of furniture for our little house.
  • A Litter Box room.  Let’s be real:  if y’all have cats that spend any time indoors, you need to have a litter box, just in case.  That’s the most use the third bedroom has gotten in the last year.  Does that drive me to the brink of insanity? Yes ma’am.

I’ve been racking my brain to figure out the best way to use this space…and, like a ray of light (but without Madonna & her creepy arms), it hit me…we need a dining room.  Who cares if it’s labeled a bedroom–I’ve already established that I don’t need more people trying to stay for longer than a weekend & right now our table is a folding game table that seats four at the absolute most.  As much as we like to entertain, even if the dining room was used once or twice a month, that’s WAY more than it’s being used now.  Problem solved? (!)

No ma’am.  That has simply led to the next quandary.  Now I have to figure out what to do with the furniture.  I really don’t like the idea of selling anything on Craigslist and hate the idea of parting with Mitchell Gold chairs, but they’re not in the best shape, so maybe I should just donate them.   Once the room is cleared, what type of dining room furniture?  I’ve landed on two different aesthetics:

Rustic/Modern mix:

Rustic

from Indulgy.com

or Polished Antique/Modern mix:

Duncan Phyfe

Duncan Phyfe style mixed with…

modern white chair #1

a modern White Chair like this…

Modern white chair #2

or this…yes ma’am, sometimes Ikea does it right…

You get it, I like to mix.  I also like mixers.  Alas, they do take their toll on your waistline. Wish your Dandy well dear readers.  Hopefully the next time I surface, it is with major accomplishments & pearls of wisdom to share.  Until then, I leave you with my other favorite redhead…

MissCocoPeru

MIss Coco Peru

Why such a small glass?  I have no idea.

20130704-212517.jpg

Two of my favorite things: Lynda Carter & Independence Day!

Thank you to everyone that has fought for our freedom, including my grandfather, uncles, cousins, nephews-in-law and friends! Happy Fourth!

Happy July 3rd Y’all! It’s a rainy Wednesday & I’m stuck inside…

So, first things first: if I don’t get better at keeping up this blog, y’all are never going to share it with your friends, it will never go viral, Martha Stewart will never ask me to contribute to her website & Oprah will never include it on her list of Favorite Things. Exaggerated Sigh.

But, y’all don’t despair. There has been plenty going on around the Romain Way Estate! Domestic bliss has returned & with it, projects have restarted. Before we got started on anything, I made a mental list that I was careful not to share with anyone, including Randy, my loyal laborer, for risk of frightening him off. Y’all know how I love a good list (otherwise I’d just move on to the next shiny thing…shiny things…that would be a good blog topic…hmmm….). Before I venture too far, here is the list of things to complete:

    1. Paint kitchen cabinets Sherwin Williams Pure White High Gloss & add hardware, preferably black
    2. Order & install super cool modern swag task lighting from IndLights on Etsy over the island in the kitchen.
      Image

      Option No. 1. I’d change the cord color to either black or red.

      Image

      Option No. 2. I think either will give the kitchen a cool, modern element to offset the more traditional raised panel cabinets. And, by using swag lighting (and meticulously cable-managed cords), I can save the expense of an electrician for another project).

    3. Add storage to the kitchen: We’ve considered a variety of options to fix this issue, but haven’t landed on one yet. The reality in many cottage-style homes from the 1940’s is that kitchens we’re fancy; they were utilitarian. All the way. Which I don’t mind. I love to cook & have found that, generally, the fancier & prettier the kitchen one has, the less likely they are to cook in it. It’s a very odd thing to me. Our kitchen is one that didn’t include a specific home for the fridge. When we moved in, we placed it on a wall with an adjacent plug, only to discover that it overloaded the circuit. So, it got moved. I kinda like this concept. To borrow from Thom Filicia, it makes the kitchen feel like a room that just happened to become a kitchen. We’ve considered installing cabinetry, shelving, etc. and have wavered back & forth on the benefits of both. I lean toward something like this (clever use of Cost-Co shelving. This guy’s aesthetic is brilliant. You can see Eric’s home tour at Eric’s Stylish, Sunshine-Filled House House Tour | Apartment Therapy):51bdb0e0d9127e2600002a2d._w.1000._h.1000._s.fit
    4. Repaint the guest room & study, currently dark green & brown, respectively. We’ve decided on something dark, warm & moody. After all, if the bedroom doesn’t feel like a cave, what’s the point? Maybe this…black of night – Sherwin-Williams (By the way, it would be super helpful if the website would cooperate by letting me download images instead of having to imbed links…I’m talking to you, SW Web Masters.).
    5. Finish painting the exterior. Thanks to the efforts of my loyal laborer, the majority of the painting has been completed. Stay tuned for a post later about the process. But, I will tempt you with this, our exterior color palette: Sherwin Williams Inkwell (body), Ethereal White (trim) and Chinese Red (door).
    6. Remove the railings from the deck & the front porch. Our deck isn’t that high off of the ground & eventually will probably be removed & replaced with a gravel-filled parking area (and a free-standing pergola built in the grassy & sunny area of the backyard). So, the carpenter bees that have decided to devour the railings can suck it. They’re getting evicted. For now, we’ll paint it with Deck Restore & pray that it lasts another a year or two. The front porch will be reworked without railings but with new steps (painted white) that wrap around all three sides to open it up & make it look larger. I’m channeling something like this, but on a different scale. (God love Houzz).
    7. Last, but not least, landscaping. I have research to do & some hard work ahead of me. I also know that this project will extend well into next year. Someone that lived here used to love this yard, evidenced by the border-grass wrapped flower beds, irises in the back yard & the heritage azalea. The reality is that the garden hasn’t been tended for years, one neighbor’s oaks are killing my lawn & overshadowing half of the front yard & the backyard is full of poison ivy that I am HIGHLY allergic to. Like, being near it makes me break out. But, I gives me an excuse to channel an urban farmer look with light-weight long-sleeve plaid shirts & J Crew Wellies.

This sounds like a lot to do. But, the reality is, that I’m enjoying updating & renovating this little house & am becoming more & more proud of the hard work we’re doing. It’s not easy but I love the idea that, thanks to the 1940s workmanship & our determination, we have the opportunity to both preserve a little piece of history & leave our modern mark on it. As corny as it sounds, one of the most gratifying things about all of this work is that we are part of the history of this home. And, y’all never know, someday maybe we’ll be remembered for that. Or for being neurotic list-makers. It’s a all a toss of the dice.