Sunday, January 29, 2017

My mama loved to play cards. I grew up hearing about card games that stayed up as late as raccoons and rook strategies that won tournaments, but may or may not have been strictly legal. Her friends tell me I played cards from someone's lap as soon as I could sit--eventually suggesting cards, training--and listened to the game and the conversations long after I should have been in bed. 

At the beach or in Huntsville or on Joey Street we played Spades, surrounded by snacks, drinks, and score pads. Mama taught me how to play well: how to predict what your partner needs next, how to guess what your opponent is counting on. 

Spades is a quick game. You are required to moan about the deal while you bid: "Who dealt this?!" "I wish y'all could see this hand!" "I'll either go nil or 10." But once the cards start falling you move quickly, laughing and enjoying both the strategy and the surprise. You can tell big stories while playing Spades, replete with gestures and punchlines, but the cards keep falling around and around. When the hand is over, everyone recounts what they had and what they were worried about. The famous hands are remembered: "nil with 5 spades!" And you laugh as you deal another round. 

I don't remember Mama ever getting upset about a game. We had fun if we won or not. There were bragging rights--and on one church trip, winners' ribbons!--but those titles are easily lost again in pursuit of the next game, and the next story. When Mel made nil with the King of spades, Mama cheered her on whether they were partners or not. When I got set, she was disappointed, but never angry. There was always another round. Cards were serious, but never grave. 

At home, Mama taught me Mike & Spike. You usually play Mike & Spike with two decks of cards--though I played a three-deck version in the Zurich train station once with one friend and a random Swiss guy. 

You need at least one deck per person. You deal a pile--10, 20, 30 cards depending on how much time you have. This is the game deck; the goal is to make your way through that pile. 

If it was cold--or if Daddy was already in bed--we played on the living room floor in front of the fireplace. But just as often we played sitting on Mama and Daddy's tall, antique bed. We'd smooth out the the navy comforter with the tiny white flowers, stretch it taut between our crossed legs, and deal. Mama sat at the headboard, but never leaning back, always forward, engaged. I sat toward the food of the bed, stretching out one leg, then the other to keep from cramping. Most of the time a dog lay on Daddy's side of the bed. Occasionally a cat would step gingerly through the game. I'd start out close, but scoot back as we played and our discard piles got longer. 

Sometimes we'd have the TV on--Entertainment Tonight in the evening, or maybe a talk show on a Saturday morning--but we weren't watching. We talked and played our hands. 

Mike & Spike is a slow game. It's a long game, and while there is strategy, you can't know what your opponent has and you can't know what you'll draw next. Your turn is simply trying to best play the five cards in your hand. 

It's a good game for telling big stories with gestures and laughter, but it's a better game for quiet stories, sad and shy stories, hopeful and in-progress stories. It's a good game for talking out a situation until you arrive at your feelings. It's a good game for listening. 

In Mike & Spike you play on two rows of cards. The shared row has rules: you must play in order, counting up from aces to queens. The discard row has none: anything goes. It's easy to play the first row. You know what comes next, what you need, what your opponent needs. But the second row is different. You discard once each hand, trying to anticipate what you'll need later, how to best prepare. You are trying to look into the future of your 10, 20, 30-card game deck and predict how it'll play out. What should you save? What can you play now? What can you show? What should you hold? 

How should you order that row to prepare for the rest of the game? 

In 2004, Mama and I went to Italy. She had a horrible sinus infection and we booked charming but drafty old monasteries without ensuite bathrooms. She felt so bad that we eventually bought medicine from an Italian pharmacist, and I completely forgot to tell him she was allergic to penicillin. But we hiked through Cinque Terre, jumped on and off the train in Milan like lunatics, cleared our sinuses with grappa drunk right in the vineyard, extricated a Fiat from a walled city, got lost and carsick in Chianti, and bought a watercolor painting of Pinocchio at a street market in Florence.

On our flight home--at the airport where we'd separate--her flight was delayed. She was sick and ready to go home. So I walked up and down the terminal looking for two decks of cards. 

We sat in the floor of the airport shuffling those slick, red and blue Bicycle cards. Trading half decks to get the whole 104 cards well-mixed. And we played until she boarded. 

Mama never rushed me as long as I was contemplating the game, but she also gently reminded me that I had a finite set of data. You've got to make a decision, even if it's wrong, she'd say. Five cards in my hand. Two rows to play on. And every turn you must lay something down. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve sushi is one of our longest standing holiday traditions, and one that originated wholly with us. Neither of our families enjoys sushi on Christmas Eve (though Kyle's family does like holiday shrimp). This was our 8th year!

We were in Aiken for Christmas Eve, so we again joined friends at New Covenant for the Christmas Eve service. The kids enjoyed the songs and editorialized (without volume control) on everything else. I'm not sure if we'll be invited back. Yikes. One very kind man who had introduced himself when we first walked in did make a point to come over to us after the service and say how glad he was to have met the Manimal before the "show". He was very friendly, thankfully.

Then to Sakura for sushi. While both kids ate some good gyoza and yakitori, the Manimal also chowed down on maki. Yay.

We tried to break tradition and get a family shot (instead of just the across-the-table pictures). It didn't really work out. We also tried to have our usual conversations about the past year and our goals for the next year. That didn't really work out either. :) But we did enjoy the conversational stylings of our precious 2 year old and 4 year old.

2008 2009 | 2010 (No sushi in Laos) | 2011 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

Friday, December 16, 2016

It's been a big year for Nana. We had her 80th birthday celebration in February in the Bahamas. In May (for my birthday) she got a new hip. And earlier this month Hamish and I took her to New York.

Nana and I have been talking about going to New York since Mom and I went eight years ago. This was the year. Hamish, of course, is a New York pro now, so we knew she'd be up for it.

We just spent two nights, but we packed that time full. I got a great hotel on Priceline: the Hilton Garden Inn in Midtown Manhattan. Great location, nice rooms. We flew up on Saturday morning and went straight to our hotel to drop bags. Hamish was wearing her jammies (it was early!) so she changed clothes, got lunch at a diner on the corner, and then we walked up to Columbus Square and Central Park.

Nana had wanted to take a carriage ride through the park, but we were convinced to take a pedicab instead. Our tour guide--Madison--was friendly and entrepreneurial. He gave us a tour of the park and then took us all the way to Times Square. The ride was cozy and fun, but the best part might have been arriving in Times Square. The look on Nana's face! Especially when our apparently-fearless pedicab driver pulled into the middle of the street to do a quick 360. Priceless!

From there we hopped on the same City Bus Tour Mom and I took. It was a welcome rest (Hamish slept a bit) and a lovely overview of the city.

We did the entire loop and it was dark by the time we got back to Midtown. My always adventurous friend, Leah, (she came to Lisbon with me when I was pregnant with the Manimal) met us in Midtown to go see Rockefeller Center. She was a Godsend.

See, although Nana is the proud owner of one brand new hip. She also has one 80-year-old hip. And that one was not up for the absolute crush of people at Rockefeller Center.

With Leah on Nana's arm, and Hamish on my shoulders we saw the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue, saw my favorite light show to Carol of the Bells, and of course saw the Christmas Tree. Hamish gasped when we turned the corner. "It's so big!"

We talked about getting dinner with Leah that night, but we were all swamped. She suggested delivery instead, and we happily went home in a cab and ordered Steak and Shake for delivery. Milkshakes and french fries for dinner. Yum.

The next day we got up and had breakfast at Starbucks--coffee for us and hot chocolate for Hamish. Then we got back on our bus for another trip downtown. We got off at Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty.

It must have been snack time because as we passed a cart, two separate conversations were happening on either side of me. On the left I served as a stabilizing presence for someone who wanted "Nuts! Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!" On the right I was restraining someone who wanted "Hello Kitty! Mom! Hello Kitty Popsicles! Can I have a Hello Kitty Popsicle?"

Somehow everyone survived the walk to the Staten Island Ferry and we got our snack aboard the boat instead. We stayed inside out of the wind, but we got a great view of the Lady Liberty as we passed by. And I bought nuts and dried fruit at the snack bar.

We caught a cab uptown from the Ferry Terminal back to our hotel to change and take a mini-rest for the highlight of the trip: the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker at Lincoln Center.

Last year Nana got Hamish a book about the ballet and it aligned with Balanchine's ballet perfectly. She knew exactly what was going on, and couldn't contain her excitement. Every time we clapped--after every number--she looked at me and said, "It's not over is it?!" And the couple in front of us giggled.

Hamish knew her ballet: in the second act when a lone ballerina took the stage I said, "I think that's the Sugar Plum Fairy." "No, mom!" she said. "That's a snowflake!" She was right, of course.

After the ballet we went to the Plaza Hotel to see the tree in the lobby and the hotel bar. Then back to our room to crash.

Monday morning--our last day--we packed up before we left the hotel. At one point I had tickets in one hand and postcards in the other. I carefully put one in my suitcase and the other in my purse. A bit later, when it was our turn to hand in our tickets for the Empire State Building Observation Deck, I realized I'd made a mistake. Thankfully a WONDERFULLY kind guard let us in anyway. We looked just exhausted enough to take pity on.

Our time at the top of the Empire State Building was the worst weather of our trip. We had pretty weather for most of the weekend except--of course--when we were up there. Oh well.

Our last stop before heading home was the American Girl Cafe. Willa came with us and was thrilled (I'm sure?) to be back. And they do such an amazing job, it's a relaxing spot for lunch before we left.

After the requisite delay at LaGuardia we were on our way home. We made some very special memories, but it was a very full trip, and we were definitely worn out. We'll wait until Nana has two new hips before we go back.