A Landscape Plan

Since we moved in to our house in January we’ve been thinking about what we want to start working on as far as yard projects.  I used a combination of Google aerial maps and Zillow to create my own drawings of the property…and I have been sketching over transparencies with a china pen as I work through ideas. I like to think long term…like what would we have to start doing now that we can also keep adding to over the next few years:


We have a great blank slate to work with:


We took down a lot of trees to remove any that were in danger of falling on the house:


The power company took down a bunch too, and then kind of left a big ole mess:


Now we’ve got firewood for life, and our friends got a lot too:


The only gardening or landscaping I’ve done up until this point is digging up all the spring bulbs once their flowers fell off, dried them and stored them to replant at some point. I’ve still got a few more to save before the earth mover comes in:


Like these gorgeous Tiger Irises. I wrote this on Instagram about them: In floriography, the language of flowers, the purple iris symbolizes wisdom. The iris in general symbolizes faith and friendship. In Ancient Greece the purple variety was planted over the graves of deceased women to summon Iris, the messenger of the gods, to help guide the journey between heaven and earth. Also an iris: the Fleur-de-lis.

tiger iris

Oh and Boo planted a fairy garden:


We have a wood swing ready to go up:


And then there’s the depot. My plan is to make it a potting shed and have it be the backdrop for a garden.


Maybe I’ll actually get something to grow. My moss and succulents and potato plants are looking pretty good so far. I love this potting bench that Brett made me out of some reclaimed barn doors and 2 saw horses from Habitat. At the rate my moss is growing I’ll have about 4 feet of it in 4 years. It’s like watching water boil:

My theme is mountain-cottage-Japanese-ranch. Catchy, right? I like a little of everything. I like to dream big with a big plan and start small. So maybe one day we’ll have a curved gravel drive lined with trees, large boulders with plantings around them, pea gravel walkways, a garden kitchen and little niches here and there.  Oh and evergreens, hydrangeas, juniper and those pretty Japanese maples. And maybe some lavender. If anyone wants some poison ivy or poison oak we have a lot of that already, I’ll be working on replacing that little by little.

Here’s what I’ve been inspired by…I’m pretty sure if I throw all of this in a blender and I’ll get mountain-cottage-Japanese-ranch-Narnia:

       Follow Ashley’s board Mountain Landscape Inspiration on Pinterest.

And I’m always open to great ideas and suggestions. I know zero about landscaping. I just wing it and pick what I like and try to keep it as DIY as possible.

Read more about The House on Hospital Hill here.

Linville Landscape

We went to Linville last weekend for Mother’s Day. The mountain my mother lives on is right across from Grandfather. We always like to drive all the way up to the top to see the views. There used to be a house on this point, but just the foundation and a few pipes are there now.  I hope nothing ever is rebuilt there:


It’s always nice to visit Linville because the temperature is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than where we live because of the change in elevation. The trees haven’t even realized it’s spring yet! Boo playing on the porch with the dogs:


A gorgeous sunset at Wildcat Lake in Banner Elk:


My mother and Boo went exploring one day Brett and I went off by ourselves to explore a few yard sales. We love treasure hunting. A few finds:

Vintage Coffee Tins. The kind you used to have to open with a key!  We watched The Prize Winner from Defiance, Ohio two nights ago and I was able to point this out for Boo when Woody Harrelson was opening a tin of Spam with the same contraption.

coffee tins

I think this is an old military issue drafting set. Not entirely sure. It says property of the government on it, doesn’t even look like the tools have been used. Any ideas?

drafting set

An toy accordion. Still works! I haven’t been able to figure out the year yet because I can’t find another Emenee that’s aqua or turquoise. Maybe 1960’s?


A really old Bayer aspirin tin (fifteen cents!) and a book of poetry (1947) filled with pressed flowers:


I’ll enjoy them for a while and then it will be time to pass them on and look for new things.

Books on Writing

A few books on my shelf. I think of them as my writing support group:



Chapter after Chapter by Heather Sellers
“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees. ” 

Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg
“Let some of the good writing go. Don’t worry. There’ll be lots of it over time. You can’t use all of it. Be generous and allow some of it to lie fallow. What a relief! We can write well and let it go.”

Keeping a Journal You Love by Sheila Bender
“You might want to write Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” inside the front cover of your journal as a reminder of the value of solitude, both the solitude in which the world springs forward into your senses and the solitude in which you recollect the happening.”

Courage and Craft by Barbara Abercrombie
“You have a deep well inside you filled with memories, thoughts, feelings, fantasies, observations. You have everything necessary for your writing. Now you just need to get our of your own way and avoid curbs. 

Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger
“Write against patterns. Go against the devils. Write what you never write. Lie. Validate what you don’t validate. Indulge what you don’t like. Wallow in it. Write the opposite of what you always write, think, speak. Do everything against the grain!” 

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me… I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life… I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

Leaving a Trace by Alexandra Johnson
“It took years of keeping journals to trust a simple fact: like life in transit, the writing inside is often fragmented, messy.”

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
“Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.” 

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath
“I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…”

Page after Page by Heather Sellers
“Writing is a ton of work. It’s exhausting. You can hardly do it when you are tired – it’s that hard to do well. It’s a way of life, and you have to really hard inside yourself. It’s like cleaning house – fun to have finished, less fun to do. Writing is not always the answer. It’s not always right to say to people: “Yes, you have a great story. You should write it.” Maybe you should write. Maybe not. Are your friends telling you to write? Do they know what’s involved with that? Are you feeling you should write? Why? You don’t have to write.”



Step Into My Shoes

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was another child, so I picked an 8-year-old girl from Ethiopia. Same age as Boo. No, she’s not coming to live with us, we just now sponsor her through Compassion International, a child the same age and born in the same month as Boo so that she can relate a bit more.

If you have kids you should sign them up for the free magazine Compassion Explorer. I found out about it recently when I attended the Orange Conference. It’s opening Boo’s eyes (and ours) to the poverty of children across the world. It’s so easy to forget what’s outside your own neighborhood. Inside the magazine are country-specific recipes, biographies, devotionals and crafts. Reading it in the form of a children’s magazine has peaked her interest exponentially:

Boo: His father only earns $22 a month!

compassion explorer

There is a kit you can order with a family devotional journey that includes a map of Uganda, videos, Bible-based devotionals and family projects. That’s what we have. You can find it here as the family toolkit. There is also a kit for larger groups.  We are excited to start doing it as a family.

Please also consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. 

Subtle hint: It would be an awesome Mother’s Day gift (that’s what kind of meaningful gift I would like).



This Dog

Max just cracks us up…all the time. He’s definitely settled in just fine. He jumps in the shower with Boo. He darts around the house like a maniac. At night he charges like a bull to get under the covers and then throws tantrums in his sleep.



And Diesel is just as cantankerous as ever. He won’t let us take his photo because he thinks he’s getting too old. He is over 100 years now. Almost blind and missing all his teeth. He wants you to remember him in his youth (or until he gets a makeover).

What Hangs in the Balance

Last week I was invited to the Orange Conference by my church. I said yes, not quite knowing what I was even saying yes too.

As I rode in the bus with people to sessions that were off the main campus I constantly got the questions: Are you a youth pastor? What is your role in the church?  My answer was always: well…I’m not in leadership, but I do greet on Sundays!

And one man I sat with on the bus said to me: I’m going to take what you’ve said and turn it around for you. You are in leadership….because you are here.

We both shared the size of our churches…his was huge, thousands of people and mine was: well, I’m not sure but I think I hand out about 62 bulletins each Sunday. So maybe 100 people?

And then I shared with him what made me proud about my church:

The gossip around town is that our church loves people, but that it doesn’t teach the Bible. 

I think that’s the best compliment a church could ever receive…because one visit would show that our church does actually teach the Bible. And you’d know in the first 3 seconds that we love people.

This was one of the quotes that I shared recently on Instagram from the conference:


First of all way too much breaks my heart. But what breaks my heart about the church? When people feel unwelcome or lost. The unloved are the ones who hang in the balance.

And our church loves people.

I invited someone to church last year, mostly because he said that he didn’t agree with the theology of our church. Then he said that he hadn’t stepped foot inside the church since the “hymnals and pews were removed.” So basically he’d never been to our church. (The invitation always still stands.)

Jud Wilhite said this:

No one unchurched cares if your church is missional or attractional.
Just have a heart for those who aren’t there.
We were rescued to be rescuers.

Dang that’s good stuff. Is attractional actually a type of church?

When it comes to theology personally I don’t have to reconcile my religion with my conscience. Nothing is that black and white for me. I live in the questions and lead with love. My friend Debi said in a sermon recently: To get it right is to know that we probably have some of it wrong.  At the conference my pastor was wearing a t-shirt that read: Religion Kills. Yeah, it does…and sometimes just by turning someone away with our judgement and labels.

And I’m always asked: But don’t we need to confront people about their sin? Well, my answer would be no. I’m pretty sure they know their own sins. And no one should ever be singled out. And I have too many questions about sin to ever confront anyone else but myself. I always liken it to being asked to lunch and the conversation starting out with: Ashley, we need to talk about the way you dress.  I might smile and chit chat but I’d secretly be thinking: WHAT-THE-HAM-SANDWICH.

You know who hangs in the balance? Dynamic pastors and their churches who are bringing together the unchurched. With love and encouragement. And without judgement. Youth pastors who are creating environments where kids enjoy coming to church, and making it a safe place for them to be themselves. It breaks my heart when I see people trying to discourage them. Our church pastor recently wrote two articles on love and forgiveness in our local paper. Letters streamed in to “correct” him. Some Christians can be real a-holes when they put their minds to it.

Our church’s gutters are falling off, the thermostat inside has read “BROKEN” for as long as I’ve been there and we only were recently able to purchase new Orange curriculum because of a donation. But our church is known for loving people. Every person is welcomed in. Every kid is fed breakfast on Sunday mornings because they might not have it otherwise. The church has firewood cutting days in the winter to make sure people have heat (people still burn wood for heat here!) There are baby showers to make sure that expectant mothers have the supplies they need. Skateboarders aren’t chased off from the parking lot. People flow through our doors that have never been to church before…because they feel the authenticity and they leave with hope. And they aren’t invisible. Last October, at an event the church held downtown someone said “I don’t go to church, but if I did, I’d go to yours.”

My 90-year-old neighbor visited recently to invite me to her church. When I told her I had already found one she said: oh that’s so wonderful you’ve found a place. I’m so happy for you. She was just wondering if I needed a community. When I tell people I go to The Grove I love seeing what their reaction is.  I mean, there’s not always a reaction, but the most amusing responses have been:

The Grove doesn’t really count as church. It’s church-light. 
That’s the church they took all the pews out of right?

I hope if there’s gossip about me it’s that I love people. 

And I’d also be okay with:
She doesn’t really count as a Christian. 
That’s the girl that has all the gay friends.
She’s the one that hangs out with all the wrong people.
She has a past. 

She’s a little bit of a lost soul, all over the place.
She writes blog posts in incomplete thoughts. 




P.S. Sorry all the formatting on the blog is out of whack. Undergoing a little construction.




We didn’t get much done on the house over the winter with all the snow. So the warm weather has brought new excitement that we can get back to working on the House on Hospital Hill. Any warm day we had over the last few months was used to fix the rotted eaves and fascia board that had succumbed to years of leaking gutters. All of that work had to be done before we put new gutters on the house. Last week we finally got gutters put back on:


We went with 6″ seamless gutters in Terra Bronze, which is basically an earthy gray to match our metal roof.  It modernized the ranch instantly…and balanced out the colors in the Tennessee Fieldstone. I went back and forth between white and gray for a few months and finally decided that gray was different. And I like different. The install was done by Lowe’s Home Improvement in Sylva, NC. The custom black metal chimney cap was made by local Larry Hughes. The top swivels to the side to allow access to the chimney without having to remove it.


I have been working on the inside of the house slowly, but I’ve neglected the photography…I’ll start sharing those updates. I don’t think our new house could be any farther (physically and distantly!) from our old house.

Someone asked why it’s called the House on Hospital Hill….it’s just because it’s the hill in town that the hospital is located on:


All House on Hospital Hill posts can be found here.

Bake Me a Cake

At the risk of all of you mistaking me for a food blogger I’m going to show you this:

Using the Cake Boss Cakelette Pan - a miniature layer cake

I made that cake!  Seriously. And it was edible. It was really good actually!

I was asked by Michaels a few weeks ago if I would try out new Cake Boss products.  Baking is not my thing but I thought it would be fun to see if I could do it, and involve Boo since she loves to bake (mostly lick the bowl and eat the finished product).  The cakelette pans were what grabbed my interest…I love all things miniature and the little cakelettes look like miniature layer cakes: [Read more…]

I-Beam Benches

I love these so much I just had to share. Brett’s project today was making these benches for Bryson City Outdoors. Each one is made from pieces of a large steel I-beam and a large salvaged barn timber:

reclaimed barn timber and i-beam project

The I-beam was cut at a local scrapyard with the perfect dimensions. Holes were added on one side to attach to the wood. One is about 6 feet long and the other one is super long at 18 feet:



To read more about all the salvaging and upcycling that was done at Bryson City Outdoors click here. And if you are in Bryson City this summer (which you should be…it’s beautiful) make sure to stop in and say hello to my hubby Brett. Or Ben. Or Mel. One of those three is usually in the retail space.

P.S. If you ARE planning a trip make sure to check out their blog too….it’s constantly being updated with printable maps and other guides to the outdoors!

How to Make a Father Child Journal

Father's Day Father Child Journal DIY

My challenge this month as a Michaels Maker was to create a Father’s Day Gift. I decided to make a Father-Child journal that could be used to exchange messages  back and forth. The starting point was just a blank sketchbook like these:


I created a template (which you can download at the bottom of this page):


I used transfer paper to trace my image onto the blank book:


Here are the faint outlines of letters waiting to be filled in:


I used regular acrylic craft paint to fill in the letters:


Once the first letters were dry I printed out another template to add the “Dear Daughter” in a contrasting color. This template (as well as “Dear Son” are at the bottom of this post):


The finished journal:


I created this letter (template also down below) to make it clear what the journal was for…and to give Dad some ideas on things he can write or draw in the journal:


And of course the gift comes with supplies like stickers, stamps and crayons:


Package it all together and father and child will make a memorable book! [Read more…]