Friday, October 16, 2020

A Moment In Song, Vol. 5: I Stay Away

It’s October of 2020, and I’m 43 years old. This year has been universally agreed upon as the worst in a century, everyone knows it, everyone has felt it. Millions of people are sick, hundreds of thousands dead, most of us have been essentially sequestered in our homes and communities for months. But tonight, a cloudy and muggy Sunday, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier.

I’ve got a pot of crab boil coming to a simmer on the stove, ready for three pounds of snow crab legs that we will steam, crack and disassemble like scavenging animals, and then roughly chop the sweet meat and fold it together with mayonnaise, minced dill, chives and lemon juice. We will toast buttered potato rolls and pile them high with crab salad and feast fearlessly. I already made a red cabbage slaw with cider vinaigrette and a slender orange slices; it’s chilling while the flavors meld and the crunchiness of the cabbage softens. It’s getting dark so early these days. I’m playing my Spotify time capsule, an algorithm-engineered playlist of mostly 90s tunes, and it’s pretty spot on. Candlebox, Bell Biv Devoe, Bangles, each new song brings a smile with the simple pleasure of recognition and nostalgia.

And then, out of nowhere, the opening guitar notes and shuffling drumbeat of I Stay Away by Alice In Chains seize me in a grip of breathtaking momentary clarity. How corny can I be? I am suddenly so clearly in my teenage angsty mind of the first days I would have heard that song, seventeen and such a fool. For just a moment, I am overtaken with the wish to be able to show that girl this moment, the unthinkable peace and gratitude of domestic middle-age. I want to hold that girl’s face to the glass of 26 years and gift her with the vision of the future and whisper reassurances that it will all turn out better than she could ever hope. 

A corny half-forgotten grunge song drops me in the brain of that girl and I know that she could never have imagined this life. My breath leaves me as I see, through overlapping lenses of naïveté and experience, how easy it would have been for me to never end up here. How close I came, over and over, to settling for something else, how effortless it would have been for me to have accepted a reality that would have led me down a path of discontent or misery or just otherness. How many men I almost attached myself to who would never (never, not for a minute) have brought me a moment of the joy and ease that I have with Austin. I may have been prettier back then, and definitely skinnier, but I wouldn’t trade an hour with seventeen-year-old me. Our house is never very clean, and our cats never let us sleep in, and I haven’t seen my coworkers in person in half a year. Even in the midst of pandemic, even trapped across the country from my family in a red state teeming with conflict and ignorance, even as winter looms with no end to the chaos of America and the planet earth at the dawn of a new decade, I am so grateful.

Dear Delaney of 1994: You won’t recognize a single thing about your future, especially yourself, but I promise, I promise, you’re gonna love it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One Year Later

One year ago today, an entire day completely saturated with love, support, family, community, laughter (no seriously, the laughter), the very best music, amazing food, no-holds-barred dancing frenzy and plenty of happy tears as well, I married the best man I know. I'd say the best man in the world, but people tend to want to debate this point, and that's not what I'm saying. I know what I know. I know he is the best, my best, and makes me better as well.

It's been a year of limited drama since the madness of May 2010. We went to Ireland, it was glorious. We spent Thanksgiving in Los Alamos with my family, it was an (exhausting) delight. We journeyed to a cabin in East TN for New Years Eve. I got a new position at Emma; Austin has won some impressive awards for his work. Our pets have kept us busy and laughing and occasionally baffled. We've discovered The Wire and powered through the first three seasons in the last month. Today, we're cozied up in a condo directly on the beach in Navarre, FL. It is perfect. Tonight we'll grill pizzas and drink Pimm's cups on our balcony.

Everyone keeps commenting, "I can't believe it's been a year! It doesn't seem like that long ago." I was sharing this discussion with a friend whose wedding was a few weeks before ours. He says, "I sure wasn't expecting this first year to be so hard." I nodded and didn't argue, but I couldn't feel less in agreement. For one thing, he's really referring to how hard the first year of cohabitation is, and we got that out of the way many moons ago. And I'm always glad that we did. In the weeks after the wedding, we were often asked, "Does it feel any different?," and I'm sure if we hadn't already lived together, no one would have asked that. But my answer was always, "Sure, it does, a bit. We just feel like more of a team now." When I think back to May 22, 2010, and all the beauty I described in the first paragraph here, the truest memory of that entire day for me is just the peace. The peace in my heart and in my mind and in my hands when he was holding them, saying "I do." This peace wrapped me up and has not departed. Every day, our marriage is my peace.

We were standing in the front entranceway of Houston Station, sometime late in the evening in a break between photos and dancing and catching up with wedding guests. Austin's cousin Jason had brought his whole family, and his little daughter Sophie grabbed my hand and wanted to talk to me. I knelt down and she asked, "When you were up there, why were you crying?" She was referring to when I nearly sobbed my way through my vows. I said, "I was crying because I love him so much." She considered this, head tilted, then put both her hands on either side of my face and said, "I know you do."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Moment in Song, v. 4

Sure, some songs are going to always take you back to the first time you heard them, or that summer they were ubiquitous (see previous Moment in Song posts...). But sometimes, if you're really lucky, a song you loved for old reasons gets repurposed into a song you love for all time.

Back on the Chain Gang, The Pretenders:

This song originally took me to a sad old place. I first learned The Pretenders with Brandes, we had the Best Of CD so he could learn "Brass in Pocket" as a cover song for his band. There are very few low points in the Pretenders best-of catalog, and certainly the highlight is "Back on the Chain Gang." On the Pretenders episode of Unplugged, she says she cribbed the song from "Working in a Coal Mine," and if you hear her tell it, it makes sense. I mean, is Chryssie Hynde the coolest woman on earth? She might be. Tracy and I saw them at the Ryman a few years back, and Chrissie was in white leather pants. She was like fifty-five. Truly a rock star.

After Brandes and I split, before things were easier between us, I saw Guilty Pleasures play "Back on the Chain Gang" (Kat sang it, of course). Suddenly that line came to life for me: "I found a picture of you, those were the happiest days of my life." At that time, it was a punch to my gut. I'd just packed up our formerly shared home and stored boxes of pictures, what do you do with all the pictures after it all goes to hell? I still come across them, and am shocked by how young we were. And maybe in the fall of 2002, I heard the song and the past would have seemed like the happiest days of my life. Certainly not the present, and the future was not just foggy but blank.

That was eight years ago. Longer than we were together. And as these years scroll onward, I'm glad he is my friend, and glad he is not my husband (he shares these sentiments). It certainly seemed like it at the time, but those weren't the happiest days of my life. The happiest days are everywhere, they aren't crammed into the good times of a seven-year relationship. We certainly were happy, sometimes, just as we were sometimes contentious, and sometimes deceitful, and sometimes selfish, and sometimes just fools.

Fast-forward to May 2010, the month I marry the man I didn't know existed way back then. It's Wedding Week, and it's a blur, although not so much a frantic one as a smiling one. The day before the wedding, we've got a crew of helpers coming to the venue to set up tables and chairs, put out the plates, hang decorations. I spend the morning running errands with my sisters: mani-pedis, a quick lunch and then we head to Sylvan Park to pick up the flowers for our bouquets. There are plenty of people I will be glad to see and spend time with over the weekend, but just for these few hours, I'm so, so happy that it's just me and my sisters, how it's always been. I'm driving us around, and the car is chock full of party paraphernalia. As we're riding down Murphy Road, "Back on the Chain Gang" comes on the radio, and we take a break from the constant flow of conversation that has always existed in our three-sided circle, and we sing along at the top of our lungs, "Those were the happiest days of my life..."

P.S. I've spent this week going back through the history of this blog adding tags. Now, if you want to browse through all the food-related posts (don't worry, there's a lot of them), you can do that here. Or if you're wanting to start at the beginning of the Wedding Story, now that's easy! Was that the best use of my spare time this week? Nope. Am I glad it's done? I am.

Monday, December 6, 2010

lost the plot

I feel like at least once a week, an apology blog comes up on my Reader. You know the drill: "Wow, I can't believe it's been xx days since I've posted last. I've been busy, the weather is cold, I have a social life, blah. I'm definitely going to start writing more." I think we all just have to put some kind of anonymous external pressure on ourselves to write, and then some of us (like me, the kind who did the same thing with schoolwork) use that as a reason NOT to write. I'm writing in my head, all the time. But since the wedding especially, I'm trying to apply a structure to the blog that doesn't exist, and, in the case of my cooking blog that I haven't even started yet, have all my ideas in place ahead of time. That isn't a blog, it's a novel. I'm not writing a novel; I'm never going to write a novel. I just need to keep coming back to this place.

So why haven't I been transcribing the wedding details, the honeymoon tales, the cooking triumphs? I am addicted to word puzzles. I've loved to do them since I was a kid, and it was always especially a treat for vacation travel. I'd pick out a fat paper book of Penny Press Word Games and work through it over the course of a trip, or during school breaks. Over the last few years, though, it's become my default before-bed activity, cutting heavily (okay, almost entirely) into my book reading. I occasionally justify the timewasting on these puzzles as a way to ward off early Alzheimer's. I've heard and read that keeping the brain nimble with word games can help prevent the disease from taking hold, but the truth is, it didn't help my Grandma, who worked crosswords religiously with her morning toast and coffee, and of course she is the reason I am morbidly obsessed with my own failing memory. I really just do these puzzles because I like them. It's quick, gratifying work, suits my diminishing attention span and somehow seems to actually take less brain energy than simply reading. I particularly love the puzzles like Places Please and Fill-Ins, the ones that are the written word equivalent of packing a suitcase (this fits here, this fits there, done!).

So there's my apology blog. I'm not writing on Sundays. I'm doing logic problems. And baking peanut butter cookies. And wrapping Mischa up in blankets with me on the couch. It's wintertime in the Gray household, complete with logs burning merrily in the fireplace, a new 12-quart stock pot purchased specifically for a big batch of chicken and dumplings, and plenty of quiet and peace in the company of my handsome and funny husband. Okay then, I'm not really apologizing. I'll just get there, and I'll keep trying.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

and now for the rest of the story...

As promised (long ago), I've got the photos of the invites sorted here. They aren't great photos but you get the idea (and you saw the copy in detail here).

Aaaaand so many more photos up as well. The best of them are here, and I'll share on the blog as I go along as well. Where shall I start?

Obviously, we'll start with the food! How did we choose our caterer? Well, that was easy. I've enjoyed B&C BBQ at the Nashville Farmers Market for a couple of years now, and was eating it (mmm, brisket) the day we had lunch in the Market House and decided that's where our wedding would be. Of course, we know now that wasn't meant to be. But after doing a bit of research I learned that B&C is short for Bacon & Caviar, and they do much, much more than BBQ catering. Luckily for us (and our budget), barbecue was right in line with our vision for our wedding dinner, so it all worked out awesomely, and I came out of it with a good buddy as well. Paul was a champion for us throughout the entire process. He answered the phone when I called, his demeanor was always warm and helpful and he totally "got" the atmosphere we were trying to cultivate without ever pushing back at our budgetary limitations.

What do I mean by that, the atmosphere we were trying to cultivate? Well, for the entire planning process, we really worked hard to eliminate every wedding "requirement" that had no meaning to us. This is pretty much explained in list format here. Instead of going through all the traditional paces, we were hoping to recreate the dinner parties that we love to host in our home. They start with visiting, usually over snacks while we finish cooking, then we have a big feast, then we end up dancing in the kitchen. That's a standard night in our home, for serious. Our friend Nick told Austin during the reception, "It's like you guys eschewed everything that sucks about weddings, and only kept the awesome parts!" Thanks, Nick! That pretty much sums it up. In reading back over that list from November, we pretty much got away with it! The only thing we didn't do is take a cab home. My car was at the venue, so we drove it home at the end of the night. Very romantic and very "us."

So, back to Paul. As I mentioned before, he was the one who finally made the call that Plan A was a no-go. His voice of sanity and reason was so appreciated and reassuring. He didn't blink an eye when we plowed through Plan B and right onto Plan C, and honestly I don't remember if I even went through the new venue with him before the wedding. I just knew he'd be fine. He handled the entire transaction with our rental company, Liberty Party Rentals; all I had to do was provide basic direction (white chairs, white linens, clear glass plates and glasses, simple silverware). I didn't go through a catalog, I didn't even have to think about it. It was handled, and beautifully.

Throughout the planning process, one of the ideas I was majorly hung-up on was of a seated, family style dinner. From a catering perspective, I know this is a nightmare. Buffets are the easiest thing for parties over 100, and we had 240 guests expected for our shindig. Early on in our discussions, Paul encouraged me to consider a buffet, and had wonderful suggestions on how to make it user-friendly for our guests (I was adamant that no one should have to wait in line for food). As soon as he could tell how important the family-style supper was to my vision of our party, he completely went along and, obviously, pulled it off incredibly well.

One of my ideas for how to ease the process of serving that many people at one time was to have a plated salad already laid out before folks sat down. 20100522-7300 We alternated at each seat, a spinach salad with a black-bean cake or a spring greens salad with a salmon cake. I love the idea of alternating plates, it sparks conversation and sharing (I hope). I'm allergic to raw spinach, but that's the salad I got, so Austin traded with me (our first act of shared property rights). He wanted the salmon cake, so we switched cakes and both LOVED our salads. Ali poured some of the white barbecue sauce on hers, thinking it was ranch dressing, and said it was awesome (ha!). There were already baskets of corn muffins and tubs of whipped honey butter on the tables as folks were sitting down, so it felt very much like family supper; just sit down and dig in!
I think this picture captures it best (and I love that I'm running my mouth right in the middle of it). The incredibly cheerful and warm staff of servers that Paul brought in kept the goodies coming all throughout supper. We passed big glass bowls of pulled pork, pulled chicken, cole slaw, baked beans, marinated cucumber salad, baked macaroni and cheese (easily the hit of the night) and chipotle corn salad. We brought home a big vat of the leftover corn salad and I swear Austin ate it every day for the next week. We had dozens of wedding guests tell us, that night and since then, that it was the best wedding food they'd ever had. Seriously, that's music to this foodie girl's ears!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

okay, for real

I know. It's been four long months since I've posted. And I left off right in the middle of the Big Wedding Dissection. I swear it, I swear, there is a good reason. And no, I'm not pregnant (knock on wood). I've just been waiting for this:

Today, we're the Featured Real Wedding on

If you've been following all along, you know that, for me, this is pretty much it. I've been (emotionally) planning my wedding day since I was six years old. I know it's not fair to call it "my" wedding day, it was OUR wedding, through and through. But the truth is, I've been fixating on this day, on the details, on the dream, way before this man turned up and turned out to be the answer, the very clear picture of a man to finally fit in that blurry spot where a groom would be.

And throughout the years, since high school, this wedding obsession has been fostered and furthered by my dear friend, Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. I've mentioned this before; I have every issue since the inception of this publication. It is the World Cup of weddings. It is, quite literally, my dream come true to have our celebration featured by this esteemed establishment. I didn't know how it would ever come about, but way back in January of this year, I clicked the link to "Submit Your Wedding" on the MSW site. The wording of the little form seemed to imply that you would submit after your wedding was over, but I figured, Why not just go ahead and try now? I filled it out, including all the DIY details and mentioning the role that Hatch Show Print played in both our courtship and our wedding planning, because I know those folks at MSW love that kind of stuff. To my great surprise, I almost immediately got a response from the Real Weddings editor, asking for more details. Thus began an eight-month process of continuing the conversation, exchanging emails, links and photos, all the while knowing that it meant our event could possibly be featured.

I admit this: once it was all said and done, I knew that the flood, the saga of how we triumphed over this giant roadblock, made for one heck of a story. When I was finished panicking and scrambling and shrugging and sighing, after the whole party came off more beautiful and fun and meaningful than we could have ever hoped, I sat back and thought, "Well, if THAT doesn't get us on MSW, nothing will..."

A few months later, I got an email saying that our wedding had been chosen to be a Featured Real Wedding Gallery on the MSW website. That was the night that I posted "...doing the happy dance on Sandy Drive" as my Facebook status, prompting many suppositions (still not pregnant). I've told so many people about this possibility, more than I should have, really, if I was going to be superstitious about it, and I always am. But I didn't want to WRITE about it until it was literally A GO. I also didn't want to scoop Martha's people. So I stopped with my wedding-rehash posts and dropped off the face of the (blogger) earth. In the downtime, I found out I have followers other than my immediate sphere of friends and family (HI! to Kathleen and Mike in MA!).

What else happened in the interim? We went to Ireland! Mischa's sweet face swelled up to twice its normal size and took a few days to recover (she go to go to work with Austin in the meantime, so she was pretty happy about that). My handsome husband (boy, is that word still new!) turned 30. I fell in love with Glee and Sookie Stackhouse, as well as with the majority of the New York Jets (we watched Hard Knocks). We said a temporary goodbye to Brandes, who moved up to Long Island for grad school, and will soon be saying farewell to Badness as well, as she is moving to Oregon this weekend. Not going to let myself think about that too hard. We welcomed the newest Book Club member on Sunday night when Kat (finally!) brought Molly Kathleen Wright into the world (yay!). And I cooked up a storm, all summer long (grilled whole bluefish!), and have lots more to report on the foodie side of things.

So that's all to say, so much more to come. One (surprising) bonus to being so sucked into the Sookie books is that I'm writing in my head now, all the time, which means I'm bound to start actually typing those words, sooner or later. I'll get back into the wedding details, now that our story is out there in the world. I've got photos from Ireland, really lovely ones, and summertime stories to unwind as the warm weather comes to an end for 2010. And in case you missed it, here's the full photo gallery that is linked in the MSW blog post.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Invites

As with most of our wedding plans, we knew we didn't want to do anything particularly traditional for our invitations. I've always been a fan of the long, thin business-sized #10 format, and Austin had a vision for a stacked tag-shaped invite that was held together at the top and fanned out. I knew the basic information that needed to be communicated, but was really struggling with the wording. I tried a thousand different versions of "Together with their families..." and it was never exactly what I wanted.

Then one night in February I woke straight up and had the entire copy for the invite written out in my brain. I got out of bed, wrote it all down, and went back to sleep.

It went like this:

Dearest Family and Friends
After six charmed years
pre-wedded bliss
Delaney Mae Gill
& William Austin Gray
have determined that
this has worked out.
We would be honored
if you would join us for our
wedding celebration
in downtown Nashville
on May 22, 2010
(page 2)
Here's the deal
at 6:30 pm
on the stage of the amphitheatre of the
Bicentennial Mall Capitol Hill State Park
We will be wed.
After the ceremony
we'll all gather on the adjacent lawn to visit
with lemonade and refreshments in hand.
Pace yourselves
because at 8 pm we'll all walk across the street together to
the Market House of the Nashville Farmers' Market
We'll feast on barbecue
a bounty of libations and homemade sweets
and then we'll dance
until we can dance no more.

On the RSVP (page three), we referenced our website for travel and event information, and then gave folks the option of telling us they "Wouldn't miss it for the wide, wide world" or "sending our sorrowful regrets." For the fourth page, Austin did a gorgeous map of the Bicentennial Mall, with helpful indications for where to park, where there is a giant map of Tennessee and where you might find some fountains.

Austin designed them (beautifully, of course), as well as a sticker label for the envelopes. We found the envelopes at Paper Presentation, which was both fast and reasonably priced (two thumbs up!). We had originally talked about getting envelopes with a string-and-button closure, but holy cow those are expensive! Totally ended up not mattering. We had the invites printed at Advocate Printing in Cummins Station, and they also get our enthusiastic positive review. Austin printed the labels on crack-and-peel paper.

I was hoping to mail them 10 weeks before the wedding, and we got pretty close. We picked the printed & trimmed invites up on Friday, March 12th, and Casey, Agnes, Ali, Anna & Brad came over that night to help us assemble everything. Austin and Brad set up shop cutting and trimming the labels in the living room. All the ladies gathered around the kitchen table to attach brass brads to each invite stack, fan the pages out so that the back of page 3 (the RSVP card) was exposed, rubber stamp our return address on the back of that page and apply a postage stamp to the corner. Then we hand-addressed every label, and then labeled, stuffed and applied postage to each envelope.

Monday morning, we were told by a very chipper fellow at our neighborhood post office that a single first-class stamp was not sufficient for our invites. Apparently a brad, a simple office supply, counts as an "object" to the USPS, so we were charged extra for that, as well as the whole thing being just slightly over one ounce in weight. So I doubled our postage investment and sat down on the floor of my office with some other girls (who will remain nameless because I'm sure they had other things they were supposed to be doing...) to get those suckers ready to MAIL.

I've got pics of the invite-stuffing party here, and am hoping, hoping, hoping that Jonathan took some shots of the finished invite when he was capturing the details of our wedding pre-ceremony. If not, we'll take some shots soon and share them, because they came out simply gorgeous!