Life Piled on Life

A bit of Tennyson, from Christy

There’s a conference all week here at the Hemlock Inn for the Francis Asbury Society and Boo has gotten to know some of the attendees…including the worship leaders April and Jason.   They asked her to sing a song for the group tonight. As she practiced, Donna one of the cooks came out of the kitchen screen door with tears streaming down her face (which then made the rest of us cry).

As Boo sang her song to the crowd a little later in the night, 10,000 reasons by Matt Redman, I noticed a small crowd inside the dining room window….where the staff had congregated to watch her sing.  Boo is getting over a cold, and was so nervous, but she still had us all in tears just the same.  It was her first time ever singing by herself in front of anyone, out of her comfort zone. Running into the kitchen afterwards she was greeted with hugs and her proud new inn family. She was beaming.

Meanwhile Brett was at Tsali, part of the Nantahala National Forest, helping to work on the bike trails. It’s a volunteer effort to keep it clear and safe.

Tomorrow Harper “the intern” and I are off to visit Carl Sandburg’s home….something we’ve talked about doing all summer.

I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way. -Carl Sandburg



Life piled on life.




Easy DIY Backpack Zipper Pulls

Easy DIY Backpack Zipper Pulls #diy #michaelsmakers #backtoschool

It was Boo’s first day of school in a brand new town. I can’t believe the summer is already over.

Boo: I will be happy if I make one friend.

And she did. First day was a big success.

We had a little bit of backpack drama before school started because there aren’t many options in Bryson City so we agreed that she would just use her backpack from last year.  It’s actually going on a few years because it was a backpack we had purchased from a yard sale 2 years ago. Because she didn’t get a new backpack for the start of school I made this little zipper pull out of a “found object” charm I picked up at Michaels to add something “shiny and new” to it. This is a very easy and inexpensive project you can whip together before your little one goes to school too…or make one for your own bag: [Read more...]

Why I Told My Husband He Could Walk Away

It is heartbreaking to see men waste their entire lives trying to convince other people that they are someone they are not. This is why men’s soul’s do not grow mighty in spirit and courage. They spend their existence covering up and living in fear they will one day be discovered as a fraud. There is a voice inside them that keeps telling them that in spite of all the ornaments they collect in life, they are still not OK. The results are a lifelong tension with guilt, shame and anxiety.  -Jerry Leachman in the foreward of The True Measure of a Man

I read that almost exactly a year ago today I was flying home from a trip to North Carolina in a book that I grabbed from the nightstand at my parent’s house.  As I read it I came to a note that my mother had written on one of the pages:

(I’ve written about this book before…)

My dad marked that page on May 15. He died unexpectedly a few days later. Because of that I ended up paying more attention to what I was reading:

“six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year”

“advertisers do not appeal simply to our practical, common sense but to our fears that we do not measure up”

“we give celebrities and media more and more power over our lives simply because of the images they project rather than the true values they represent”

On the plane ride home, I had an epiphany: We had set ourselves up for frustration, confusion and failure. We had a huge house and an even bigger mortgage.  We had 5 flat screen TVs in our house…for 3 people. We lived in an expensive city with expensive taxes.  We built a huge pantry so that we could stockpile items from Costco…just because we could.  We built a huge kitchen for entertaining because we thought we were supposed to entertain…and neither of us like to cook. We bought or leased a new car every three years. We sent our child to private school and bought her enough clothing that she’d rarely have to repeat an outfit. We ate at expensive restaurants because all of our friends did.  We weren’t necessarily living beyond our means….but we were working to support our means.  My epiphany was that I wanted to move the means.

Brett: You didn’t want to come back.
Me: I didn’t. This doesn’t feel like living. It’s all so draining. I want less to choose from. I want less to manage. I just want less.
Brett: I don’t know if we can afford to move to such a small town.
Me: We’ll make it work. We’ll sell everything, cut our expenses. We’ll find odd jobs. I would rather live out of our car, and have time for what we enjoy doing, than live like this.

Fast forward to one year later and here we are in the mountains of North Carolina.

It wasn’t easy, but it was freedom. We sold our house which, by the way, we lost money on.  We left California with everything we owned in a 16 foot box trailer. On the long, slow drive cross country we never once opened up the trailer….instead we wore the same clothes day after day and did laundry in hotel sinks. (Conclusion: we didn’t even really need what we’d brought in the trailer.) We took as many backroads as we could and we saw the true heart of America. The roads typically less traveled left us in awe.

It wasn’t an instant decision to uproot our lives….I planted the seed and then we talked about it for months.  But what really started the whole point of this post (long story long) is that once we started telling people about our big move we were surprised at how many people asked:

But what will Brett do?!
What will he do for work?!
How can he leave a company behind?!

I could feel the expectations radiating from the questions. And sometimes our answers of he isn’t sure yet or he’s going to be a dad and husband and help around the inn brought even more questions and lack of understanding.  This reassured us about our reason for doing what we were doing…especially for me. I wanted Brett to know that I just wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to know that I would live within whatever means we ended up with. I’m pretty good at doing laundry in small sinks.

I wanted him to know that he could walk away from his livelihood and I would never once make him regret it.

He was more than his work.

Brett is a pretty simple man but he’s a hard worker. He has been an investment banker and an owner of a construction company…but he also finds the most joy in the simple things.  He loves the outdoors, loves exercise and fitness, and loves to build things. He built me a bench the other day….and invited me to come and sit on it. Best gift ever.

I’ve seen a weight slowly lifted off of him the last few months that reassures me that he’s figuring it out. I have to admit I was worried about his feeling of identity if he walked away from what he’d built in the desert. But now I overhear him talking with other men at the inn and they are asking for his advice on how to get out of their own rat race and my heart swells.  Men asking how he got the courage to step away from it all.  He tells them how he reads with our daughter every night and helps with her homework.  He tells them how he’s fallen in love with hobbies that don’t cost a thing.  He tells them how spending time with his family gives him more joy than he ever felt in a high powered, high paying job. MY HEART SWELLS.  His step-mother Gale and his dad recently visited us at the inn for 3 days. When they left, Gale said she had never in her life seen him more content, more fulfilled.

With almost universal agreement, [cultural analysts] tell us that in the more traditional, family-based societies of the past, men derived their identity and meaning through family relationships. A man’s status came from fulfilling a defined social role (a son, a husband, a father). Work – a discipline that created tremendous value within any social order – was not nearly as important as the fabric of one’s relationships. In the traditional social order, work was seen as merely a functional means of providing for the family and improving the quality of life within the community. Work did not define a man’s life’s worth and value in an absolute sense as it so frequently appears to do in our modern society. – The True Measure of a Man

One of the most freeing quotes I have ever read…and I wrote it in the front of my journal in 2005….is:

…if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere.
– Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

I read it over and over again and a few months after reading that I quit my job at the bank. We walked away from a new country club membership we’d paid for.  We sold our house to someone that we knew was just going to tear it down and build a house five times its size.

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

And now years later I never would have pictured us in this place. We crave the inconvenience of things that really aren’t inconvenient at all if you think about it: running into town for mail, the nearest Starbucks is over an hour away, we have to take the trash to the dump. And there aren’t any shortcuts over the mountains or across the rivers….you have to just enjoy the long curvy drives around them and along them.

And we haven’t completely gone off the grid (yet). We do have a TV….it’s a whopping 22 inch screen.  I had to add the closed captioning because I can’t hear it.  Actually I eventually just stopped watching because when I take my contacts out I can’t see the screen.

Boo went back to a new school on Monday and she wore an outfit she’s had all summer. We didn’t purchase any new back to school clothes.  She took last year’s backpack, one that we bought at a yardsale. She made a friend. Her first day was perfect.

We live in less than 900 sq feet and we make it work. We talk to each other, see each other, and enjoy each other’s company. We are a team.

Our new 10′x 12′ living area. We don’t even own a coffee table!

Brett helps out around the inn sometimes with handy things he enjoys doing. Sometimes he’ll venture into town to hang out at Bryson City Bicycles and watches the owner Andy repair and build bikes to learn a new trade. We spend lots of time getting to know the people that own the local businesses and try to support them as much as we can.

I spend a lot of time getting to know the staff at the inn.  Brett drove three hours roundtrip today to pick up a new motor for a kitchen fan because while I sat with the cooks in the kitchen I noticed how overheated they were getting. Yesterday I overheard Donna tell her husband Wally “you over salted that….put a tater in it” and I loved that she said tater, and at the same time taught me how to “un-salt something.” And Wally said there are all sorts of medicinal plants in the woods that he picks and dries…including ginseng.  I helped Harper “the intern” and George one of the other cooks load food into the freezer today. I’ve never seen so many eggs up close in my life.

Most importantly: God is the center of our lives. We’ve found a small local church that we all love called The Grove. The church’s tag line is: we are an okay church for people that are not okay.  I love that.  Because I’ve never met anyone that is truly okay. We all have our issues. We pray about everything, especially the things that are out of our control.

Prayer is not flight, prayer is power. Prayer does not deliver a man from some terrible situation; prayer enables a man to face and to master the situation. –William Barclay

I think there is a reason that God led us to such a vast, beautiful place. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by so much beauty.

Many men meet God only through a wilderness experience. We find ourselves in the wilderness and we recognize that we are absolutely alone in a severely harsh environment. It is through this wilderness experience that we finally wake up to the fact that the thing we have always looked to as our ultimate hope, the thing that has driven and motivated us, that one thing that makes us feel like real men, has deserted us.  -The True Measure of a Man

Emerson said that in the woods we return to reason and faith. I feel like the more we are in nature, we live very much without a past and without a future. And around here…the nature is free.

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes people to be happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and certainly it always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. -Anne Frank

Six million men diagnosed with depression each year.

Six million men minus one.

[Read more...]

Dear Mr. Williams

Dear Mr. Williams,

Everyone says you made them laugh, but you always made me cry.

I filled my composition books with pieces of the movies you were in. I shared them when I was inspired to tears.

These I kept nearby:

You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to. (1)

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place. (2)

…the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things. (3)

You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome. (2)

You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out! (4)

To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?(4)

You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry , thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. (5)

I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine. To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity. (6)

Thank you for those roles because I listened, I broke out. Thank you.

You were a kind and humble man.

You were loved.

I hope you felt loved.

You will be missed Mr. Williams.




Robin Williams Movie Quotes





Quotes are from:

(1) Good Will Hunting
(2) Patch Adams
(3) Awakenings
(4) Dead Poets Society
(5) Jack
(6) Bicentennial Man

The Insane Amount of Toys My Child Collected Over 7 Years

An Experiment in Excess: The Insane Amount of Toys My Child Collected in 7 years

For the first seven years of Boo’s life I never threw away a single toy. Every plastic party favor, every lost game piece, every McDonald’s toy, every lost Barbie shoe…all went into a large plastic bin in a coat closet.  I first started doing this mostly because I couldn’t bear for it all to just end up in a landfill.  I remember a National Geographic article I read about 10 years ago that had a dead baby Albatross split open with all the plastic pieces it had accidentally been fed by its mother.  Eventually it was so full of junk from the landfill that it couldn’t eat actual food and died.  That picture is in my head every time I go to throw something away now: mommy bird feeding Barbie shoe or Polly Pocket purse to baby bird.

The crazy thing is I didn’t even buy 99.9% of these toys.  They were all free….party favors, Halloween prizes, homework rewards etc.  As it started to fill up a plastic bin over the years I became more and more aware of how much our children consume these days. Keep in mind that all of these toy pieces were collected by ONE seven-year-old whose mother does not buy much of anything….then multiply this amount of toys by the number of children in the U.S:



I was saving all of these toys in hopes of making something out of them….maybe a sculpture or a collage….anything so they wouldn’t end up in the trash.  When we had to sell everything for our move cross-country the toy bin did not make the cut and Boo ended up selling about half of them at a yard sale (and those are probably in the landfill about now). I was able to convince my earthy friend Megan to take the rest off my hand….she would make sure they aren’t thrown away.

A statistic:

The children of the United States are 3% of the world population and own 40% of the world’s toys.

That makes me want to throw up.

I rarely buy my kid anything and we still ended up with a gross amount of excess.

When we moved to the Hemlock Inn in June for a simpler life she was allowed to bring her Legos, her wagon and her dolls.  That’s it.

And she’s played with them maybe a total of 3 times all summer.  For the last 3 days she’s been playing with sticks.

She never missed a single of those toys I confiscated and hoarded away in the closet bin.

The less she has, the happier and more content she is.

The more her imagination runs wild.

The more she loves to read and write and make and build.

Me too.

Less is more.

I love this advice from The Minimalists…it’s not rocket science:

Spend half the money and twice the time with your family.
The return on your investment will be exponential.

If you’ve seen the movie Wall-E you know how this all ends otherwise:

When Toys Take Over Your Life


The Excess of Toys #yearatthehemlock


The Battle of the Toy Bulge #yearatthehemlock


Why I Took My Kid's Toys Away #yearatthehemlock


Kids Have Too Much These Days ...  Especially Toys #yearatthehemlock

[Read more...]

The Story of Ruby

I finally have Ruby:

Almost a month after I bought her she is finally running.  I went without a car for almost 2 months and I learned something about myself that I probably already knew:

I need my time as a lone wanderer.

I’d been looking for a truck since we moved from California. Over a month ago I found Ruby through Truck Trader Classics. I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her.

Looking into the engine and underneath Ruby we could see that she probably was going to need some work.  Both Brett and I drove her around and she sounded great.

I signed the papers stating I was buying her AS IS and that I assumed all responsibility.

I handed over my money.

And then:


She literally died in the parking lot….ten minutes after the money changed hands.

Me: I guess “as is” means “as is” right?

Guy: Yep.

It was so wrong it was almost funny.  Dark comedy. I didn’t even argue.  Yes I had signed the “as is” agreement. And I still wanted her.  I figured he probably needed the money more than I did if he was sticking ruthlessly to the paperwork. I could have grabbed the papers and quickly eaten the evidence but instead:

Me: Well, can we leave her here overnight?

Guy: I wouldn’t, the train tracks are right over there and we get a lot of vandalism at night here.

Here is Ruby being pushed back into the warehouse. It was an uphill ramp.

I called AAA and they came to pick her up….but apparently you have to have a tag on your vehicle to use your AAA benefits so we shelled out another $75. But where would we tow her? Having lived in Charlotte almost all my life I remembered a little place on South Blvd called Starmount Automotive.

About 15 years ago my dad had given me one of his old cars.  It had over 200,000 miles on it.  That car had seen better days: the gas gauge didn’t work and I ended up running out of gas no less than 14 times all over Charlotte (once on the way to my mom’s surprise 50th birthday party….luckily one of the guests passed my sister and I in the middle of the Rea/Providence intersection and gave us some gas!) Eventually the interior lights stopped working.  I couldn’t tell how fast I was going or what gear I was in.  I took it to the dealership and they wanted $3,000 to replace the electrical system.

Dad: Take it to Starmount and see what they say. The car is only worth $3,000.

I did take it to Starmount. The owners, Donnie and his brother Jimmy, said they would look into it and see if they could troubleshoot it.  A few days later Donnie called and said something like this:

Donnie: Well….I took out the electrical board and took it home. There were just a few wires loose. I was able to sodder all the pieces back on. Good as new.

My total bill for that plus all the other work they did was only a few hundred dollars.  I drove the car for another 2 years and finally sold it before we moved to California in 2006.  My sister and I had a “funeral” for it before the new owner picked it up….complete with flower petals (confused with wedding?)  As the new owner drove away he yelled out the window: Is this check engine light supposed to be one? Me: Oh yes, completely normal. Darn those working interior lights….

When we picked up Ruby a few days ago I told Donnie that story. He knew exactly what car it was, he even remembered the model.  I told him I remembered they had big white pet birds in the shop and that my dad said Donnie had been in racing. Anyone involved in NASCAR knows their stuff.  Funny what you remember.

At Starmount, Ruby got a new engine because her engine was so pieced together that she would have never been able to climb the mountain inclines. Donnie found out she used to be a diesel back in the day and her original color was green (a few traces of green paint behind the dashboard).

(Note: in case anyone’s interested Brett says it’s a Chevy 350 crate motor, 4 barrel holley carburetor, Edelbrock intake…. part…. name…. number…. breaker-one-nine…. part…. what-are-we-talking-about. He keeps reminding me of all of this so I won’t accidentally tell someone I have a Ford. )


I love the way her engine sounds:


I love that she actually has to be driven. There is no cruise control.

I love that she has exactly 12 buttons and dials on her dashboard (Brett’s truck has SIXTY SIX…more than the first space shuttle I think) and I love her old radio:


I love that I have to use a key to open the door and I have to reach over to unlock the passenger side.

I love that I have to buy one of those old school cup holders that hangs on my window.

I love her bench seat and rolling down the window by hand.

I love that she doesn’t like to start on the very first try.

I love how she bumbles along a gravel drive.

I love that if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse my truck will still be running because I have a DIY repair manual:

I love that I’m kind of afraid of her….because my friend Brandon and I watched the movie Christine WAY too many times growing up.


We took Ruby to town last night for ice cream.  Her windows fogged up from the rain – but she does have defrost and it worked great. Yeah, thats us – 3-wide in Ruby.

On our way back from town we got stopped at a checkpoint:

Me: Is this a checkpoint?
Police: Yes ma’am.
Me: This is my first checkpoint ever.
Police: It is?! Well pull up there to the side of the road and we can give you the full checkpoint treatment if you want.
Me: Oh that would be awesome.


He let us go on our way.

Me: You know….that was actually THE Sheriff of Bryson City.
Brett: How do you know?
Me: Because I met him at the revival I went to!
Boo: Let’s turn around and go through the Sheriff’s checkpoint again.
Me: That. would. be. so. awesome. It would be like we were on repeat.
Brett: No.

We stopped for gas and a man next to us asked what year Ruby was.

Brett: She’s an ’82.
Man: She’s nice.
Boo: Let’s go back through the checkpoint PLEASE.
Man: We just went through it too.
Me: There was once a time we probably wouldn’t have.
Man: Yep, I’ve been sober 8 months now.

We told him congratulations and went on our way again.  That’s huge.

I call Ruby an “icebreaker”….she gives me something in common with just about everyone around here. She’s also getting me over my fear of cars and trucks in general. (Remember when I wouldn’t even leave the house?!?!)

Two nights ago I drove an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stover, to the outdoor play Unto These Hills in Cherokee. They weren’t going to go because the husband didn’t think he’d be able to navigate the winding mountain roads at night.  It was their 60th anniversary and I told them I’d take them, and I’d just read a book in the car until it was over. They watched the play, I picked them up, and we drove home.

Mr. Stover: So how do you like my wife’s car?
Me: It’s nice! Drives really well.
Mr. Stover: She wants a new one….with one of those fancy GPS systems in the dash.
Me: Well, I just went the opposite way and bought myself an old truck.

Mr. Stover got such a kick out of the fact that I’d bought a 1982 Chevy….the opposite of fancy.  I told him I thought one day I’d probably be able to fix it myself too, since I have the repair manual.  He said:

And I reckon you will too.


I reckon I will too.


Anyone else love old trucks out there?

P.S. A big thanks to all the guys at Starmount (Donnie, Jordan, Chris and Jimmy)for making Ruby awesome (and Tammy at the front desk who forgave Diesel for almost biting her face off!) It was SO hot when we picked up Ruby and they were all really good sports for letting me get a photo.


P.P.S. I found this page in my journal from 2005.  Starmount used to have these amazing white birds and they’d entertain me while I waited for my car.  I used to carry a small polaroid camera with me around that time too:

[Read more...]

Kitchen Stories: How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits

One of my favorite things to do is to sneak into the kitchen at the Hemlock Inn and see what the cooks are up to. I love listening to their stories. Wally and Donna just happen to be married and if I’m lucky I’ll catch them singing old country songs while they cook.

Donna started working in spring of 1998 as a kitchen helper to cook Gladys Hensley.  Gladys died last year at the age of 86.  I was so moved when Donna and Wally told me that for the last few years before Gladys died they had picked up Gladys on Sunday mornings to take her to church with them. (Donna also invited me to my first revival if you remember). To make a long story short, when Gladys turned 71, she finally retired from cooking for the Hemlock. Donna liked it so much in the kitchen she stuck around. Yay for all of us.

Recently Donna told Harper (“the intern”) and I that she’d teach us to make biscuits one day. I took notes which you’ll see at the bottom of the post with the recipe.

More importantly though here’s what I learned from Donna this afternoon about how she learned to cook:

I grew up cooking for my family because my mom and dad worked in the cotton mill on the 3rd shift. I’d cook dinner and wake up my parents and they’d eat and then go off to work. We’d make meatloaf, pinto beans, stewed potatoes, and fried chicken. Typical southern cuisine. We were latch key kids but my daddy knew one of the local policeman and he’d stop by to check on us every so often.  You grow up pretty fast when you are cooking and doing laundry for the whole family. Both of my parents were gone by the time I was 18.

I also learned to cook by watching my grandmothers. I remember my country grandma, Minnie J, had country hams hanging in the smokehouse. She’d take the tops of onions and tie the tops with twine and hang them up in the smokehouse too. Those would last a year to 16 months. She’d can almost everything else. I remember my arms being red from skinning beets. Whatever produce we didn’t eat or can, Grandpa would take in the truck to sell. He’d take his wheat to Southern Biscuit Flour Company. It’s still in operation today!  My grandfather still plowed with a big work horse and a walk behind plow. He had a mule named Rosemary, but she wouldn’t plow unless my daddy led it. (Wally pipes in: That’s a Jenny.)

My city grandma was Lillian. She was single and worked in a cotton mill on 2nd shift (4 to midnight). I remember our meals with her were cans of Bunker Hill Stew, shotgun biscuits, and instant mashed potatoes. My city grandma smoked one cigarette a night and we’d fall asleep watching the Johnny Carson show. I learned from both worlds it was like I had two lives. Actually I think I’ve had nine.

My country grandma hated my city grandmother because she had running water and a bathroom. My city grandmother wore pants and bermuda shorts bought from the store and my country grandma had an outhouse, a well and made her own cotton print dresses.  She wear those dresses until they were worn out and then she’d cut them into pieces and make quilts from them. I still remember the pieces on the quilts and which dresses they came from.

(Note: I feel like I left out so many awesome details….I need to get a tape recorder!)

Here is the recipe for the biscuits we made (we didn’t include the butter though). Enjoy!

Recipes from our Front Porch: How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits - Hemlock Inn's Recipe plus Donna's stories!



And a photo step-by-step.  Donna doesn’t measure anything out:

“Gladys taught me that one big scoop of flour in the sifter makes one pan of biscuits.  That’s how I measure.”


How to Make Buttermilk Biscuits - Hemlock Inn's Recipe plus Donna's stories!


Love you Donna!



P.S. The Hemlock cookbook has all the recipes of the food served at the inn.  You can get it here. My favorites are the banana pudding, the carrot custard and the black eyed pea salad.  I’ll share some more recipes soon.

Recipes from our front porch by Hemlock Inn / Lainey Shell White

(Recipes from Our Front Porch on Amazon)





You and I Have a Date

At my sister’s house I found these sitting on a shelf: a large box of cards my parents used to set dates with each other when we were growing up.

My parents' old "you and I have a date" cards

The box only has a handful of the cards left…..they went on a lot of dates.  I remember seeing these on my parent’s bathroom vanities. I can still picture each of their handwriting.

Wherever You Go Becomes a Part of You Somehow

(Photos are from my Instagram feed @Lilblueboo)

The profile of Grandfather mountain yesterday morning from where my parent’s house is:


We’ve spent the last two days in Linville visiting my mom, my brother and his family at my parents’ house.  Two days ago, as we approached Grandfather Mountain, Boo began weeping in the back seat:

Boo: I wish I had died in the tornado.
Me: What?! Why would you say that?
Boo: Because then I would be in heaven…and I would see Grandpa.
Me: But we would miss you!
Boo: Oh, but you would have died too.

I guess at least she has the whole afterlife thing figured out, but we were pretty taken aback by her sudden response to a place. It reminded me of this:

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. -Anita Desai

Yes sometimes it is hard to believe that my dad is gone.  Everything in Linville reminds us of him. Like the Linn Cove Viaduct…every time he took us over it he’d say some thing like “here’s the Viaduct…the road is just suspended over the mountain.”

The Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville, NC


The first day we were in Linville it was pretty overcast. We drove up to the Mile High Bridge at Grandfather anyways.  A few years ago I took Boo by myself and I refused to walk across.  I look thrilled and enthusiastic this time too:


Ok I was pretty proud that all three of us went across. Fun fact: the highest temperature ever recorded on the top of Grandfather was 83 degrees.


Standing in the middle of the bridge:


As I walked back across the bridge I noticed a family huddled over the side like they were scoping out their surroundings.  Then I noticed a jar one of them was holding: ashes.  When they got back across I asked one of the men whose ashes they had released under the bridge.  He told me it was his brother who had died 3 weeks earlier.  We listened to their story for a while and then my mother walked up and she went right up to one of the women in the group and hugged her.

Me: Did you know them?
Mom: Oh yes, that was Glenda. She’s a hospice nurse where I volunteer.


After Grandfather we drove over to Julian Price Lake to rent a canoe.  It’s only $13 for an hour.  Brett and my brother Swen took turns rowing the kids around the lake. It’s a dreamy place:


My mom made us all dinner and afterwards we made a fire. Is there anything better than a crispy marshmallow?


While the kids burned sticks in the fire with the rest of the adults, Brett and I went on a walk at dusk. We noticed that it was so quiet we could hear our breathing. We are so used to the katydids in Bryson City that it seemed eerily quiet. No birds, no insects, nothing.  And the cloudy mist comes in. It always looks so perfect that it looks fake to me…like someone brought in a smoke machine:


Yesterday morning we hiked to Linville Falls:


We persuaded my brother and his wife to come along with us and bring their two kids, and we all pitched in carrying my nephew Carter who is still toddling. Brett carried him the most because he’s part llama:


I got a stamp in my journal: [Read more...]

Craving a World of Less Convenience

Before my grandfather died I had a chance to interview him here and there. I would go over to his house and ask him questions about his childhood and growing up….the kind of stuff that no one else would know. I would ask him to sketch little maps of house and land and as he did that the stories would begin spilling out:

That’s where the well was. We lowered our milk and cheese down into it using a bucket to keep it cool.

The barn had a pool table in it. This is the window I once sent a pool ball crashing through.

This is where the wood-fired stove was that your great-grandmother cooked our meals on.

When we drove cross country this summer to our new home we made a detour up to Kansas to where my grandfather’s grandparents had homesteaded in the 1800′s. I had an old map and he had pinpointed the location of the farmhouse he grew up in.

The old farm was right here. We didn’t have any electricity.

When we got to Lindsborgh in early June, we ate lunch and then I showed to my grandfather’s map to a few locals to see if they could decipher where the location of the farmhouse was. Two women stared and chatted and then you could see a lightbulb go off: they knew exactly where it was….and it was still there.

Excited, we jumped in the truck and we drove from the town into the rural country.  We drove down skinny paved roads with wheat fields for as far as the eye could see. Then we turned onto a gravel road.  And then a dirt road.  Then another dirt road.  And finally we found it. I recognized it from the photos I had.

When we arrived at the farmhouse I think what hit us most was the remoteness of it.

What on earth did they do out here?
Where did they buy things?
Who did they talk to?

And the answer was so simple:

They worked all day.
They rarely bought things.
They talked to each other.
They shared with neighbors.
They went to church.
They were pretty darn self sufficient.
This was the American Dream.
And they were happy.

I recently read The Last American Man and it’s was one of those books that I stayed up all night reading because it really hit me how profound it was:

Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in a box of their bedrooms because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into another box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken into little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to the house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box. Break out of the box! This not the way humanity lived for thousands of years.

Clever, ambitious, and always in search of greater efficiency, we Americans have, in two short centuries, created a world of push button, round the clock comfort for ourselves. The basic needs of humanity – food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, and even sexual pleasure – no longer need to be personally laboured for or ritualised or even understood. All these things are available to us now for mere cash. Or credit. Which means that nobody needs to know how to do anything any more, except the one narrow skill that will earn enough money to pay for the conveniences and services of modern living.

But in replacing every challenge with a short cut we seem to have lost something and Eustace isn’t the only person feeling that loss. We are an increasingly depressed and anxious people – and not for nothing. Arguably, all these modern conveniences have been adopted to save us time. But time for what? Having created a system that tends to our every need without causing us undue exertion or labour, we can now fill those hours with…?    -The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert


More and more I’m craving a world of less convenience. The closest Target is 67 miles away. The closest Walmart is 20 miles away. It’s kind of nice not having so many choices.

I used to dream about the perfect house and perfect clothes. Now I find myself dreaming about fresh air and blackberry bushes. Baby chickens and maple trees. Hanging laundry and a good pair of overalls. And maybe building a cabin one day:

(Foxfire Books, Volume 1) : Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living


I love the idea of plain living.

How did this happen?

And how do I show others…..


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