Eclectic, quirky, and sometimes edgy…this is how things look from my front porch.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mystic Pizza

I guess you’ve figured that I’m not at the house at 256 right now, but sharing my view from the road. I’m traveling with Farmer Boy, who works for Really Big Defense Contractor. I’m from Connecticut, so I come with him when he drives up to review work completed. I get to drive around, visit with my family, study and enjoy myself. Thanks, Farmer Boy, for inviting me to come.

Last night we went to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT for dinner. Contrary as always, I had a roast beef grinder. For those of you who are not informed about correct terminology, a grinder is incorrectly referred to as the following in other parts of the country: hero, submarine sandwich, po’ boy or a hoagie. But it’s a grinder.

Mystic Pizza is also a favorite movie of mine. Released in 1988, it was Julia Robert’s first big break and has become something of a cult classic. It runs on a continuous loop at the restaurant while people are dining. The director was spending the summer in the area in the late 1980’s and decided to set the screenplay about the lives of three waitresses right in Mystic Pizza.

Farmer Boy was just saying to me, “Did anyone else in this movie become famous?” In the midst of saying “no,” I realized that my favorite Vincent Donofrio from Law and Order: Criminal Intent was right on the screen. Detective Robert Goren himself, but I never saw him. I’ve seen that movie many, many times and never noticed that he was in it. Which goes to show you that we are frequently not fully present in our lives and miss a lot.

After dinner, we walked across the picturesque old draw bridge that runs through the center of Mystic. I have a bridge thing: they scare me. Really big, high bridges particularly scare me. I have nightmares about the George Washington Bride in New York and the Coronado Bridge in San Diego. This bridge is small and accessible, in addition to being not very far up off the water, so it didn’t bother me at all.

Just as we were crossing, a loud bell began to ring. A sailboat with a very tall mast was about to pass, so the bridge was opening. Danger, Will Robinson! I sprinted across; my nightmare horror of a bridge opening underneath me about to occur in real life.

Everyone had pretty much cleared the bridge when a couple, seemingly oblivious to the red lights, lowering bars as at a railroad crossing and the loud horn sounding, sauntered very slowly across the bridge, hand in hand, seconds before it opened.

What a metaphor for life! How many people are wandering into very dangerous territory, onto the shifting ground of sin, oblivious to the peril? How many warning bells and barricades are trying to alert us, but our focus is elsewhere? Get back to the solid ground on the other side as fast as you can!

On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Alexandra Stoddard and Noah's Restaurant

I have long read and admired author and lifestyle philosopher, Alexandra Stoddard. Twenty three years ago, my friend Deana lent me a book by Alexandra entitled, “Daring to be Yourself.” As someone who frequently pretended to be someone else, this was big stuff. Alexandra has written about her vacation home in Stonington Borough for many years. To learn more about Alexandra, read about her here:

Stonington Borough is absolutely charming, just as Alexandra has written. It was incorporated in the 1700’s, with the iconic New England village green. Water Street is the main thoroughfare, with eclectic shops, bistros, well-loved homes and exuberant geranium-filled white window boxes.

I walked to the old lighthouse by the sea and back up Water Street to find lunch. Alexandra Stoddard writes often about the importance of color in one’s life. As I passed by Noah’s Restaurant, I saw Alexandra and her husband, Peter Megargee Brown eating at one of the window tables. What I noticed was Mr. Brown’s very bright madras suit jacket. Talk about serendipity!

I sat at a table a short distance away and ordered a meal for myself, as well as a take-out meal for FB. He was busy with schematics and phone calls back at our hotel. I tucked into some really excellent bread and read, catching discrete peeps at the gracious Miss Stoddard and the dapper Mr. Brown.

Do you ever get that frisson of doubt in the pit of your stomach when you realize that you’ve made a mistake? I get that quite a bit because I make a lot of mistakes. One of my major malfunctions is misplacing my wallet, my cell phone, keys and/or my sun glasses.

Wouldn’t you know that the day that began with a flat tire would find me in the presence of Alexandra Stoddard, so at home in her own skin, cool and pretty in pink…totally flustered about my wallet? I left, telling my server, Judy, that my wallet was in the car parked two blocks away on Harmony Street. It wasn’t there. It was back at the hotel.

I decided that I’d maneuver my way out of the narrow streets which weren’t paved with cars in mind, head back to the hotel and call to advise I’d be longer than I thought. I was so rattled that I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant and my cell phone was chirping low battery anyway. Then I remembered that it is illegal to converse on a cell phone while driving in the state of Connecticut.

I returned an hour later to the very gracious Judy, who accepted my apologies with good humor and served us the delicious bratwurst lunch I’d embarked on an hour before. I brought FB with me because I was too embarrassed to go back by myself. Alexandra was still there sipping white wine, looking elegant.

May I tell you that Alexandra Stoddard does not leave home without her wallet? She wouldn’t be flustered about it if she had and she certainly would not have forgotten the name of the restaurant. Alexandra does not get hot and bothered. She resonates at a zen frequency.

But I’m me. Alexandra is a friend and follower of His Holiness, the Dali Lama. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. In my scattered and sometimes stupid ways, I fit right in with the apostles. This is not because of any great spiritual wisdom or holiness on my part, but because Jesus chose the foolish to spread his word. Not by might and not by power but by my spirit, says the Lord.

I am like Jesus’ follower Peter, impulsive and impetuous. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t deny Jesus three times, but sometimes I can deny him with my behavior without any threat of Roman power hanging over me at all. Do you sometimes feel like me? Flustered? Trivial? Silly? Out of control? Rejoice in knowing this truth: God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we are the weakest, God shows himself mighty.

I’d highly recommend a trip to Stonington Borough WITH your wallet. Noah’s is a wonderful restaurant. Reservations will be helpful for you. The staff is quite understanding, but they’d really appreciate your letting them know if you have to leave for an hour to go back to your hotel.

Noah’s Restaurant
113 Water Street
Stonington Borough, CT

The Old Shea House at 256

What can I say about my beloved Shea House at 256 on a street unnamed for blogging privacy? Think 256 Main Street, 256 Oak or Maple or 256 Independence Street and you will have the flavor of my street name.

The first time I saw Shea House was on line, six months prior to moving to Virginia. For years, I had driven with my dog from my apartment in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego to the Mission Hills neighborhood to take walks. As I passed each historic home, I would dream of the home I would own and restore someday.

As I contemplated the move, I started looking at homes on line. There was one particular home in Portsmouth that tugged at my heart. I looked at it many times. Described as a “Four-Square American Colonial Revival,” it was everything I wanted. My dream home had to built prior to 1945, with a fireplace, in an established neighborhood with hardwood floors and enough distinguishing features that my home was different from all the others.

I rid myself of two real-estate agents who steered me toward developments with silly names like the “The Windmills at Chesapeake Hills” and street names like Bellechase Court and Leatherstocking Lane. My brother refers to such places as, “Pretensions at Broken Wind.” No, no…no arched windows for me, no fakey gas fireplace, no homeowner’s association rules that I can’t hang clothes on a line.

Finally I found Susan, my very dear realtor who led me to…guess where? My dream home was still on the market six months later! I walked up to the porch which extended the length of the front of the house, saw my built in bookcase with the glass doorknobs and the pilaster around the dining room chandelier. I knew I was home.

The Shea family experienced Black Tuesday and the Great Depression at my house. Flappers danced the Charleston, the Hindenburg exploded into horror, Pearl Harbor was bombed, FDR died in office, men left for the Korean War and 256 witnessed it all.

The house was divided into two units to support the war effort at Portsmouth’s Naval Yard, which worked three shifts to defend our country from Hitler. Men needed housing and Portsmouth met that need. The Korean War ran its course, JFK was assisinated and we lost our innocence.

The house stood as the school across the street was desegregated over the objections of many. It stood as men and women left for Vietnam. During the eighties, it was converted back to a one family house. 256 stood through the energy crisis of the seventies and still stands during our current energy crisis.

As I study the Bible and drink Earl Gray at the table in the corner of that old porch, shaded by a trumpet vine with ancient, gnarled roots and look over to the school which now houses the elderly; I think of those families who sat on the steps drinking sweet tea, waited for the kids to come in from school, rocked on a porch swing and caught fireflies right here where I am now.

It is 9 years that we’ve lived in the old Shea House at 256. It is a new roof, central air-conditioning, 30 new windows, two hurricanes, a cottage garden, many prayers and lot of dirt and sweat later. After many meals, lots of paint, jumping kids collapsing the plaster in the dining room…here I am.

As Psalm 16, verse 6 says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” And 256 still stands and let’s me call her home.