Monday, December 27, 2010

The Gift

Christmas in my house was pretty normal this year. My sister making coffee, my dad watching the television, and my mother running around nervously. The cats were laying on the presents under a tree with only two out of the three strands of lights actually working. We all had breakfast and started opening presents.

I got some gift cards, wine, and some exotic tea - a pretty good stash all things considered. Just when I thought I had unwrapped all my presents my brother came out of his room with his gifts for everyone.  While some people might relish in giving perfectly wrapped gifts, my brother always wraps his in newspaper. He is too practical to waste money on wrapping paper or gift tags.

He proudly walked around the living room handing out his presents.

In years past I've gotten things from my brother like shampoo or body wash - "girly things" that seem like he picked them out because he had no idea what else to get. But this year he placed my gift in my hands and right away I could tell this was something different. No sure what to expect, I tore through the newspaper. 

I stood there completely surprised. He got me a book. It was called "The Secret Language of Birthdays".

My brother and I have struggled with our relationship most of our lives. As children we fought constantly, and although we rarely argue as adults, we have little in common. He is athletic and practical, I am artistic and intuitive.

Since I was a teenager I've been drawn to astrology and I enjoy doing it as a hobby. My brother, being the practical person that he is, has never fully bought into the idea. Usually when I bring it up he rolls his eyes or avoids the topic all together.  All those years I never thought he was listening.

I stood there with the book in my hands and started flipping through pages.

"You don't have that book already, do you?" he asked timidly
"No...I don't..."

Still stunned I climbed into a chair and began reading. I found the two pages about my birthday. "August Thirteenth: The Day of the Long Odds"

"Normally 13 is not an unlucky number, per se, but those born on August 13 at various times in their lives have to face seemingly insurmountable odds in their fight to come out on top and stay there. Securing a desired position, struggling to reach a personal goal, or searching for a fulfilling relationship are lifelong challenges for them, Whether born unusual or made unusual through circumstance, August 13 people have a highly unique personality and outlook on life."

Those two pages went on to describe my personality very accurately. What I found so striking was that most of the characteristics that were brought up were things that had come up for me personally in recent days. Suddenly, my personal struggles felt like a purpose, not a curse. I was given a great deal of willpower and drive along with the spirt to not only withstand, but to succeed. I think I needed to be reminded of that.

I sat there for several minutes with the book in my lap. My family was opening presents all around me, but I didn't notice. My eyes started to fill with tears. Not only did get a beautiful gift, it ended up being exactly what I needed without even realizing it. It was also made more meaningful by the fact that it was given to me by my brother. I never would have thought he would have gone so far outside of himself to get me something I would enjoy so much.

I finally looked up from the book. I watched my brother kicking a rubber ball around the living room floor littered with wrapping paper. I was so overwhelmed I wasn't sure what to say. I wiped some tears from my face.

"...Thank you. It's beautiful."

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Over the summer I was lucky enough to visit my best friend Laura in Virginia for her wedding.  Our parents were friends before we were even born and we were only born four months apart. I can literally say that I have known Laura for her entire life. The years have moved us to different states, but no matter how much time has pasted we seem to pick right back up where we left off.

She is as much a part of my life as anyone in my family. There are pictures of us in cribs together with nothing but diapers on. I had my first sleep over at her house. We watched our first R rated movie together. I never got in trouble much as a kid but for some reason I always got in trouble with her. We were usually laughing too hard to let it get us down for long. Fortunately, that trait has lasted us well into adulthood, and I am proud to say that after twenty seven years, their is no one I'd rather be in trouble with.

We hadn't seen each other in two years, but when I found out she was getting married I know exactly where I needed to be.  I was headed to Virginia.

Her fiancee's name was Cuth and I was a little bit nervous about meeting him. They both came to pick me up from the airport and buy the end of that 40 minute ride all three of us were laughing like crazy. I felt like I had made a new friend. I felt like I was eight years old all over again.

It was the week before their wedding and they had every right to be stressed over all the last minute details. I was fully prepared to help them organize and get whatever they needed done. To my pleasant surprise they had almost everything squared away and offered to give me a tour of Virginia. They made me feel like a queen for a week. Even going to Richmond to help Laura pick out her wedding shoes felt like we were skipping school.

Laura striking a pose on one of Richmond's historic buildings. 

Laura and Cuth sharing a moment in the morning sunlight at the Lincoln Memorial. 

A beautiful morning at the Vietnam Memorial. It was completely worth getting up early. 

I absolutely love this photograph and how the multiple reflections give it such a strong sense of dimension. 

I saw this funny little guy in the street on the way to the Natural History Museum. 

Laura and Cuth at his parent's house after their wedding. 

I took this photograph after they dropped me off at the Dulles Airport. My flight ended up getting delayed and I had some time to wander around. I found this enormous hallway with these giant windows facing the airfield. At that moment their were no planes in the sky and the hallway was deserted except for myself. The light from the setting sun was in just the right spot to bounce off the metal awning over the door. It made the airport feel ethereal. 

It ended up being a long flight and I was happy to get home, but Virginia gave me nothing but laughter and great memories.  I'm looking forward to my next adventure with Laura and Cuth. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I went home to visit my family. The past few days had been dizzying and I was still trying to center myself. I grabbed a cup of tea and I made my way out to the backyard.

It was a very overcast day. My feet were cold but I didn't feel like putting my shoes on.  I sat down on one of the patio chairs, had a sip of tea, and took a long look around.

A few years ago I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to fix up the backyard. I had planted some jasmine along the beams holding up the patio, I cleaned up  and mulched the area around the pool, and I removed what felt like a thousand weeds.

Today, I sit with my tea and glance at a yard cast grey from the clouds. The jasmine was mowed down within days of planting it. The area around the pool has become a field of weeds that have withered from the recent cold weather. They have still managed to choke out the other plants I put there years earlier.

The orange tree that I used to love to climb as a child is slowly dying off. The swing set that my grandfather had given us has long been scrapped. The bird feeder used to attract several birds and squirrels but today a stillness swallows the yard. If my dog was still alive she would be outside with me, but today it is just me and my notebook.

There are three specks of paint on the patio from an art project I had done a while ago. I spent so much time in this backyard, yet those three specks of paint remain the only tangible proof I was ever here.

Every time I come home one of the first things I always do is go to the backyard. I think part of me expects it to look like the way I left it years ago. I know part of me still expects to see my dog out here. It is so easy to picture her in the patch of grass between the pool and the tree.

I've done so many amazing things with my life, but sometimes this backyard is a caustic reminder that the accomplishments I've made at home don't seem to be lasting ones. Sometimes you have to take your roots and plant them somewhere else.

I take a sip of my tea, which has by now gone cold. The wind picks up and rustles the leaves of the trees.  I hold my notebook against my lap and feel the cold from the ground coming up through my feet. Sometimes you outgrow the original pot you are planted in.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Honey Bee

My mother always wanted a girl, and she has always made me feel proud to be her first born child. She loved the name Melissa - it means "Honey Bee".

In Greek mythology, Melissa was the nymph who discovered how to use honey and taught the skill to man. Although I have no Greek heritage, I have always taken great pride in my name and the culture that it originates from. For this piece I used the Greek alphabet and made the letters out of a honeycomb. 

I think it is a beautiful way for me to honor my name.