It Will all End Well

I had a dream that I was in a crash 2 nights ago. I assumed it was a plane.  As I was hoping on a plane to Houston yesterday I literally even texted my friend Jay before traveling so that someone would know:

planecrash

I gave up my seat on the earlier flight thinking it was kind of like Russian Roulette.  And on the second flight, I think I realized early on that I probably gave up the safer seat. (I have a deeply warped imagination….) As we neared the approach to Houston I wrote in my journal to document the passing time, just in case….I guess assuming my journal would survive impact:

The plane always gets eerily quiet as it starts to descend. Like this dampened hush.
Ears pop. Hush gone.

I have to pee. It would be nice to die without having to pee. 
Ever notice how the clouds always move by quicker than the ground does?
Houston looks like little collages of circuit boards.
Except for the pretty aqua cesspools.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been cleared to land.”
[Insert long, boring spiel about tray tables.]
Good grief. That was a really steep turn.
Something just doesn’t sound right. No one else seems to care.
What if we just dropped out of the sky? I’d pee. That’s what would happen.
There goes the landing gear. I choose hope.
The cars look like little ant cars down there. Where are all those people headed?
Aww…little ant-sized school buses park all in a row in their little ant-sized parking lot.
Horse farm.
Runway.
Landed.
Awesome.
Not my time to go.
Thank you God.

 

So…the plane didn’t crash.

But my rental car did.

It’s totaled.

I snuck out right before lunch today to pick up a few gifts for the directors of the conference I am at, and to get some books to hand out for the breakout session I am speaking at tomorrow.

I’ve never been in a car wreck before, and it was exactly like it is in the movies. It took a few seconds to realize what was happening. All I saw was a white hood coming straight towards me. Time slowed down to a halt. And I vividly remember thinking: This is not going to end well.

And then: I don’t want to die in Galveston.

(no offense Galveston)

And: You are wearing your conference name tag for easy identification.

Then the car slammed into the right side passenger door. Then everything was in slow motion: airbags deploying, car spinning uncontrollably, diet coke moving in a slow wave across the floorboard…

Then silence. What seemed like a silent forever.  Zero sound.

And then suddenly I was being sucked in reverse back through the black hole.

And then there were people yelling. I looked up and my car was inching forward slowly, my foot wasn’t on the brake.  My eyes hurt from the powder of the airbags. And there were feathers flying around like I’d had a pillow case fight.

Did I hit a chicken?

People yelling through the window: Are you okay? Stay put. We called 911. No, leave the car. Leaking fluids everywhere.

I got out and made my way to the curb.

I don’t remember seeing any cars when I made the turn. It must have been a blind spot. The lights at eye level in the intersection were covered by trash bags. Tattered trash bags flapping in the breeze and enough to pull your attention away for a brief moment.

One of the officers said that he wasn’t surprised….that it was the most dangerous intersection in Galveston.  He said there used to be a “no left turn” sign but businesses complained and the sign eventually came down. The accidents still happen.  That kind of makes me a little mad.

One of the police officers offered to take me back to the hotel.  He had a ride along. Nothing like getting dropped off at a blogging conference from the back seat of a police car. Only a few hours earlier and woman who had a murder warrant out was sitting in my same seat. It will probably be in the local paper.  Thanks Officer McNeill. It’s awesome riding in the back of a police car when you aren’t in any kind of trouble.

Life can shift so quickly:

10:00 am

selfie

 

1:00 pm

police car

 

I can tell my right arm is jacked, maybe I tried to brace against the impact.

My ears are still ringing.

I can feel my whole body stiffening as the adrenaline leaves.

But I walked away.

I always have a deep gut instinct about things. My mom and grandmother too.

Like the premonition about trying to outrun a tornado. …and then that happened:

kansas4

Premonitions are supposed to be warnings.

Although I never really seem to heed them.

Because, if I DID heed them:

I’d never leave the house.

I am speaking tomorrow morning at the Blog Elevated Conference here in Galveston, TX about blogging with heart.

I might not be able to turn my head, but my heart still works.

It will all end well.

Praise God.

 

 

 

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.

What I Would Take to a Deserted Island

My family. My books and journals. Water?

We were going to go to church this morning but I have a horrendous cough.  We stayed home instead and made biscuits with apple butter.  Brett and Boo know me way too well because I got books from the two of them this morning:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
and
Love Wins by Rob Bell


The Best Mommy in the World. That’s what my card says.

 

We spent the rest of the day packing up boxes and sorting more things for our move.  I did manage to get a photo of Boo and I yesterday at the Mother’s Day Tea at school:

 

It’s been a process getting rid of 30+ years of belongings and collections as we gear up for a simpler life. Last night we went to our usual pizza place and Boo took all of her 10K+ loose crayons for their almost empty bins. She even refilled them herself:

This has been good for us.  The more we get rid of the more we want to get rid of. It’s a domino effect.  I’ve made at least 2 thrift store runs a week and we plan to have a big moving sale for the remaining items right before we leave.  And the house we’ll hopefully still sell furnished (furniture, plates and silverware, pots, artwork…even the fish in the fish tank!)

Boo doesn’t want to really keep much at all….just her books and her dolls.  (Goodbye Barbie Dream House!)  Brett and I have narrowed our closets down to the bare necessities.  I’ve kept some craft supplies and tools so I can keep doing DIY on the blog but really we are only taking what we can haul with us.  No movers, no storage.  I feel like I’ve been playing that “what would you take on a deserted island” game for the past few weeks!

Except I do have that one issue: books. I haven’t really been able to get rid of any.  Actually not true…I did remove 2 from the pile, but only because they were duplicates. And I sorted my piles by memoir, fiction, self help, etc.  OCD. And when I try to pack them I end up rearranging piles: might want to read before I leave. pack last. leave out of boxes. hide in suitcase. hide in camera bag.

I did hand pick some items for the blue label page to help fund our move and the next few months as we figure things out.  Thank you for all the support. What’s on the page is just about the last of everything.  I can’t wait to get through all of this craziness so I can focus full time on writing finally.  We are leaving June 1st regardless of whether the house sells. We’ll just leave it. And rely on faith that it will sell in its right time.

(Note: Need to figure out the best way to get Internet in the car on the way cross country: hot spot phone or just stand alone hot spot?)

Hope you had a wonderful day!

 

Days Go By

I flew in late last night from the SNAP, the conference that I was teaching at. Brett picked me up and Boo was already asleep in the back seat of the car. We woke up early this morning and went to church, then we decided to go on a road trip to Yucca Valley for lunch:

Yucca Valley and Pioneertown in California

 

Pioneertown was our destination.   It was built in the 1940′s and was a live-in movie set for films like The Cisco Kid. We ate lunch at Pappy & Harriet’s and then watched a re-enactment group called Gunfighter’s For Hire.  They deputized Boo.

Pioneertown and Pappy & Harriet's

 

Boo’s favorite part of Pioneertown were the baby Pygora goats. The couple that own the little sweeties raise Pygora goats and use their fleece and milk for all kinds of handcrafted items like soap. yarn and accessories.  This little goat is Dixie. Dixie loves to eat hair and thought Boo’s was extra tasty:

Pygora Goats at Pioneertown

 

On the way home we stopped on the highway to take a photo of a billboard that Boo is on for her school. (on a billboard…..cool) After snapping the photo I ran along the ditch beside the train tracks to get back to the car and just my luck….a train came:

The Train off i-10

 

And now I’m just plain worn out.

I have so much to tell you but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write for the past few days.  It was good for me to take a few days off and spend some time meeting, talking and wandering.  This will be the week of getting back on track I hope…..otherwise words will start leaking out my eyes and ears….also I wanted to share my road trip plans soon. Maybe you can help me with sights along the way when you can see where we are headed.

Easter

Today Boo is still on Spring Break. That means I’m going to have exactly one day to prepare for leaving for SNAP conference in Utah. I’m feeling a little pressure today.  I’ve been watching Boo prance around all morning in her new jean shorts that the Easter Bunny brought her.  She’d been asking for a pair.  She’d also been asking for Anne Frank’s diary.  The Easter Bunny brought her that too. I read her the first few entries last night and I started to get anxiety about the end….that the diary just ends one day and the next day the diaries are scattered through the Secret Annex, thrown aside as if they were trash.  Maybe I could just say “to be continued” when I get to the end.

 

 

I found this photo of me on Easter c. 1978ish. Remember the unwrapped chocolate bunnies?

 

My brother-in-law Jason was baptized yesterday so we went to church with him.  It was really special. Hope you and your family had a good Easter!

 

This Is a Great Truth: Life is Difficult

Reposted from Facebook:


I’ve never done a “throwback thursday” before because, well, it’s just strangely heavy to look at photos pre-cancer, photos before my dad died, photos before infertility. It’s like I’m looking at someone else’s life, not mine. But I was wiping clean a computer drive tonight and found this random photo c. 2010.

This is a Great Truth: Life is Difficult via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo


I swear for a second I didn’t know who it was. This happens a lot. I see a photo that looks familiar to me, but the familiarity is more like seeing a stock photo in a frame. My mind tries to track backwards and acknowledge who it is, but there are gaps in memory, almost like the recording has been altered, as if someone cut out sections of reel tape. Someone edited my life! But the pieces I start to remember over time begin to feel extraordinary, little events woven together in such a way that when I start to try and digest them I’m aware of this force, a force bigger and more powerful than anything I could ever imagine. Huge. Powerful.

When I look at the old me I realize how hard I was trying in life, doing everything I was told I was supposed to do, exhausting just to think about really, and I feel like I was uprooted and chewed up and hastily spit back out. Tornado-like. But that force (surely God and grace all wrapped up and swirly) makes me feel like I can just be now. Just BE. And I’m not scared anymore. That girl in the photo…SHE was scared of life. Phew, that girl was ticking off every box, as if missing a single one would be the end of the world. Ticking off every box so no one would be disappointed in her. Good education. Check. Good job. Check. Big house. Check. Nice car. Check. Gym membership. Check. New electronics. Check. Vacations. Check. And now I realize why it’s so heavy looking at those old photos, because that life was h-e-a-v-y. But I’m not her anymore. Now I feel like I can just be. Don’t hold it in. Stop trying to hold it all together. What’s the worst that can happen? I mean, I guess I could get cancer, lose a loved one, quit my job, and become infertile overnight, but I’m on the other side thinking that can end up being okay too.

Love,
Ash

From a favorite book, The Road Less Traveled:

 

This is a Great Truth: Life is Difficult via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo #quote M. Scott Peck Road Less Traveled

 

I can’t wait to hear Nick Vijucic speak this weekend. I’m taking Boo and the whole extended family. If you live in the Palm Desert Area: tickets are going fast but you might be able to snag one….all proceeds benefit the Salvation Army.  Maybe we’ll see you there.

Nick Vujicic Life without Limbs speaking in Palm Desert via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo #inspiration #nickvujicic #salvationarmy #lifewithoutlimbs

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Pewter and Potpourri: The Weight of Stuff

Boo and I spent Saturday going through all of my bins and bins of supplies.

Remember the before with 82 bins of supplies?

ideas for organizing craft supplies via Lil Blue Boo

Here’s the after:

On Saturday we took all the bins out to the studio and went through one at a time…..sorting into piles: keep, give away, donate, sell.   It took 8 hours….and we watched 6 episodes of The Waltons while we worked. I was able to get all the supplies I wanted to keep for ongoing projects to about 10 bins. Boo set up a little shop and tried to sell everything back to me.  I didn’t take the bait.

Lisa and Gicela cut all the remaining rolls of fabric last week and most of them are gone now.  The house looks a little emptier and I feel lighter every day.  I’ve still been listing my “yard sale” items day by day to raise funds for moving etc.  Thank you to everyone who’s made a purchase.  It will help us get through the next year as I begin to “write” for a living.  We’ve had a few showings of the house recently and I know it will sell when it’s the right time (maybe the de-cluttering will help!).

I’ve been thinking a lot about owning stuff lately. When each of my grandparents passed away it was easy to tell what they valued, because they had so little. I can’t imagine anyone being able to go through our house a month ago and single out what I valued. It’s getting a little easier each day I think as I go through the process of getting rid of things.

For the past two weeks I’ve parted with things I never thought I’d part with. Every day I do a pass of the house and pull things to sell, donate, and throw away. A new look at each area changes my perspective each day: do I want that? do I need that? And my ultimate test is: if I died tomorrow, would I care what happened to it? It really whittles things down to the barest of essentials. There are things I’ve saved for years thinking I would use items or supplies for a project…now I just realize I could find the supplies again if I needed to….and I realized that the weight lifted from parting with it is worth much more than the value of the item.  But as much as we’ve already gotten rid of so far, we will probably end up storing some items with my family in N.C., I don’t want Boo to look back in a few years and wonder where everything from her childhood went.

The prayer of confession two Sundays ago I wrote in my journal because I love the message:

We Cling to our possessions

You call us to be pilgrims, to follow you in a journey of faith.
We cling to our possessions, trusting in them for security.
You lead us into unfamiliar places, asking that we trust in your will.

 

A reader Abby passed this quote along:

Getting Rid of Stuff via lilblueboo.com

 

*****

 

My Aunt left me a message that she’d found something in her drawer that she thought was yet another sign that we were meant to move to the Hemlock.  When I opened up the small package she sent in the mail I found a small bag of potpourri that my grandmother had purchased 31 years ago at the Hemlock Inn gift shop:

The Hemlock Inn Potpourri from gift shop c. 1983

I asked her how she knew that it was from the Hemlock, I couldn’t understand how a bag of potpourri would still be around after so many years.  My aunt explained that my grandmother Marge owned very few things. In fact, Marge’s dresser drawers were empty except for just a few items because she was never able to go outside of the house without assistance, so she never had the chance to accumulate things. She was diagnosed with MS when when she was fairly young. She had many complications from it, including having a kidney removed in the 1960′s.  She stayed in the hospital for over a month and had to learn to walk again.  That’s when she got her first little motorized cart, like the one you see in the photo below:

 

Top Row: Mom, Perry, Dad, Uncle Steve, Aunt Sharon
Bottom Row: Me, Paw-Paw, Cousin David, Swen, Grandma Marge


The weekend in the photo was the last time that my Aunt Sharon saw Marge .  It was the last vacation we all took together as a family because Marge passed away soon after that.  But we have the photos, and there’s the potpourri, a small $1.75 bag of dried flowers.  Most people would have probably thrown the potpourri away by now. It’s long lost it’s fragrance. But according to my Aunt:

“The Hemlock Inn was the one place where your grandmother was able to shop on her own.  She could make it from the dining room to the office with her walker because they were connected.  Each time we visited she would pick out a few things, usually a jar of pumpkin chips, maybe a few piece of pewter dishware and of course the potpourri.  She kept that potpourri in her drawer. I knew exactly what it was when I found it. And for some reason I kept it all these years, and now I know it was so I could tell you that story.”

 

And now I know that it was so that I could tell you all that story too.

Back in January, Mort let me go through some of the file cabinets at the inn when we were visiting. I found a few of the original guest registrations in the Hemlock’s records that my grandparents and parents filled out:

On the back of the June 1979 registration are the hand written gift shop purchases my grandmother would have made: 4 pewter dinner plates and 4 pewter desert plates.

The pewter dishes have a whole new meaning for me because my grandmother picked them out and purchased herself.  I can imagine how extraordinary it would be to have that little bit of freedom, to feel that little bit of independence.  I think I take that for granted every single day.

Marge’s Pewter Pitcher:

As I simplify the things we own, the pewter pitcher and the potpourri are being kept.

*****

 

A few people have asked where I will be writing when we move.  Right here.  You’ll start to see some organizational changes though on the blog to keep things better categorized.

To read all the Hemlock Inn posts to date click here or the photo below:

A Year at the Hemlock Inn Bryson City, NC Ashley Hackshaw  / Lil Blue Boo

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Sinatra, Concrete and Pinyon Crest

We drove up the hill today to Pinyon Crest to visit our friends Ann and Jeff and their daughter.  They took us on an awesome tour….I felt like we got a full history of the area and all the homes. Here we are at the windsock point above Frank Sinatra’s old helipad:

Pinyon Crest Santa Rosa Mountains Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo

 

We visited a concrete house that has been a project of another friend’s dad for a number of years. I’d heard about it over and over but had never seen it in person.  It blew me away.  I felt like I’d stumbled upon the ark or even the set of Mosquito Coast:

Concrete House at Pinyon Crest

 

This might be one of my favorite houses ever.  16″ poured in place concrete walls.  The shape is conducive to being a wind harp but I need to talk to the owner to do a little more research on that. The huge pipe was salvaged from an old ship and will serve as the water heater.  The ceiling beams are set upon large industrial looking brackets.  The smaller ceiling areas were poured with palm fronds at the bottom leaving a cool effect. (More about the concrete house here)

Concrete House at Pinyon Crest

And there’s Sinatra’s getawat, in the middle of nowhere. It’s for sale if you have $4 million. It includes a heliport.

Frank Sinatra's house in the Santa Rosa's

 

Boo got to ride in the back of a pickup.  The highlight of her day.

 

We didn’t make it to Shumway Ranch. I’ll have to set aside a day for that soon. Nina and Steve Shumway were one of the last homesteaders in the area (maybe the last).  I did find a photo of the Shumways in the September 1939 issue of the Desert Magazine. It took them 5 years to meet the requirements of the government before they got the deed to the property, and first they had to build a three mile road. That sounds like a lot of work. The ranch was given to the Living Desert and now just sits there.

(download the full PDF of the 1939 magazine here)


Shumway Ranch Nina Shumway Santa Rosa Mountains

 

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An Invisible Ocean

….of to do lists. I don’t know where the day went. There’s so much to do.

All of your comments are so supportive about our move. Thank you so much for that. I feel like you are right there with me. I’m starting to look cross country and imagine our possible stops along the way once we embark on that journey. I definitely want to make it up to Lindsborgh, KS and see the old house my grandfather grew up in again. And then Graceland. And I love tourist traps. I’ll never forget when my family was visiting Scotland around 1997 and my dad drove right past the Loch Ness Monster Museum because he and my sister were late for a tee time.  Who doesn’t stop for the “Nessie” museum?  Now I have to go all the way back to Scotland one day.

Speaking of large creatures, I watched Water for Elephants the other night.  I cry through 2 scenes every time:  when Rosie moves the stake to get to the lemonade, and when they figure out that Rosie doesn’t speak English.  As big as Rosie is, she reminds me of Diesel. He’s always looking at me like something has been lost in translatino. <—-that was supposed to say “translation” but translatino is so much better so I’ll leave it. Poor Diesel is getting so old. He will be 13 this year. One day he’ll be acting like a puppy but then he’ll sleep the next few days away. I’ve been worrying about him. We baby him a lot these days:

 

And then he goes and attacks the poor mail lady.

I shared this on Facebook last week:

Today our mail lady came and as she was leaving I just had this feeling I needed to give her our last Random Acts of Kindness painting. She gave me a hug and had tears in her eyes.

“Thank you. My father-in-law just died. I’ve known him since I was 5. That’s why I haven’t been here for the last few days. It’s been really hard being back today.”

At work no one acknowledged her loss, even though they knew why she had been gone. They did manage to acknowledge that she would not be getting paid for the days she was gone because her paper work wasn’t filled out. Ugh. She’s the nicest woman. Sometimes when I’m not home the first time around, she’ll double check on her route back to see if I have a pickup. Today she asked if everything had been okay mail-wise while she was gone. She takes so much pride in her job. It’s really refreshing and I try to recognize it whenever I get the chance.

I guess I just needed to share that story, maybe just as a reminder that you never know what someone else is going through.

Trying to remember this every day as I run around like a chicken with its head cut off, to make sure I am attentive to others.

I’ve been trying to slowly pull out items to sell to go towards our move.  I never realized how much “stuff” we had with the business.  We are finishing up orders but then I need to get rid of all the equipment too. Each of the machines weighs between 200 and 250 pounds. And I have so many things I’ve collected over the years….because I just like strange and odd finds. Then I need to go through all of Boo’s dresses too.  I was thinking about just putting all the artwork on eBay one day.  I never thought I could part with something like the Mona Lisa but now I’m just ready to let it all go.  It gets a little easier. I find myself sorting piles and then suddenly I pause for a second and then just throw the whole pile out.  I told my friend Megan I should sell the big chicken feeder that sits in our living room “because I’d always be able to find another one, right?”  But she said “you never know, what if there’s a run on chicken feeders one day?” Omg. What if there is run on chicken feeders?

We had a realtor over this afternoon to talk about listing the house. Up until now it’s been for sale by owner. I guess Boo was bored because I saw this note that she had been passing to Brett.

I love the pick-how-many-minutes-until-she-leaves:

In April I’m heading to the SNAP Conference in Utah to teach a sewing class. So excited about that. I’m sharing a room with Dana, Delia and Katy. What if I snore or something?  I feel like I need some cute PJs for such a slumber party…instead of my yoga pants I sleep in every night.  Maybe I should sleep in my contacts so I don’t look so nerdy in my glasses?!  This will be good for me….I’m usually such a hermit at conferences after the sessions are over.  Dana is so outgoing and fun…I can ask her all about her new house. And excited to meet Delia and Katy for the first time. I’ll bring snacks. That’s always good.

The last time I went to SNAP was in 2012 when I was on a business panel.  This was right when I was finishing up chemo.

I’ll never forget when I gave my friend Shari a Choose Joy bracelet at the conference and instead of Choose Joy it read: Plead for the Widow.  Random.  Shari runs an amazing art gallery in Jackson Hole, WY….she gets to see Warhols, Picasso’s, etc….every day.  I sent her Sea Monkeys as a gift recently, because who wouldn’t want Sea Monkeys?  Turns out she’s scared of them. Sorry Shari.

My Sea Monkeys died:

Rest in peace little Sea Monkeys.
You were loyal, selfless, tiny, fearless somethings.
You rose from a packet. You fought hard against the tiny current.
You will not be forgotten.

 

Oh, I’m working on revamping the website and making it easier to navigate going forward!  That’s a little daunting and way over due. I’ve let my WordPress go stale and nothing is quite working right anymore.  I’ve been putting it off forever.  So you will probably start to see some changes soon. Hopefully for the better.  It will help me stay on top of my newsletter better ….have you seen my RSS feed email lately? Yes it’s pretty lame and all the photos are wonky. Sorry about that. Anything you find annoying about blogs that I need to stay away from?

So much needs to be done and yet I’m not anxious about it all.  Just a little impatient at times. And trying to keep lists of really important things like health insurance, mail forwarding etc. Even trying to figure out the best way to get high speed Internet at the Inn.

Thursday I’m taking a plein-air class.  An all-day workshop up the mountain.  Outside with an easel, painting the landscape.  Something I’ve always wanted to do but never got around to.  I’ll take a bunch of photos too.

 

Moving to the Hemlock Inn

I know you’ve been waiting for the rest of the story. I had to wait until I really felt like I knew how to tell it, to explain the enormity of it.

Our house is for sale. The clothing line will be closed at the end of the month and Brett* is walking away from his business in CA.  We are selling almost everything we own except for sentimental family items.

And at the beginning of the summer we will be moving from the California desert (with population 600,000+)…..2,159 miles to Bryson City, North Carolina (population 1,500)….to live at a small, country inn:

The Hemlock Inn

It’s a story that starts 35 years ago, when my grandfather first visited the Hemlock. As a family, we visited the Hemlock in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983.  We stopped going after my grandmother died, but I always thought about it.  Our stays at the Hemlock were the only vacations I really remembered as a young child.  We’d gone to Disneyworld, the beach….all the usual stops….but none of those created the vivid memories like the Hemlock did.

Fast forward 30 years, to last summer.  Boo and I were flying back to the east coast to visit my family in Charlotte, North Carolina. I really wanted to do something different with her and the first thought that came to my mind was the Hemlock, only I didn’t know if it was still there.

I looked up the Inn and was surprised to learn, not only was it still there, it was still owned by the same family.  I made reservations for Boo and I….my mom, sister and my brother’s family too.

In July, driving up the long winding driveway to the Inn I didn’t know what to expect, and it was like I was driving into my past. I had so many images in my head, but childhood memories can sometimes be like little warped vignettes.  As we pulled into the gravel parking space, right up front, it felt like I was coming home to a place that had been secretly pulling at me for years.

Moving to the Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, NC via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo

I felt a shift in me at the Hemlock last summer.  I asked (jokingly at the time) if Mort would rent me a cottage for a few months the following summer so that I could finish up a book I’ve been working on.   On the plane ride back to the desert I pulled out a book that turned out to be the last book my dad was reading before he died (another long story). As Boo slept next to me, I wrote in my journal:

Journal 8/21/13 – I’m dreading going back to the desert. My heart was left somewhere between the Hemlock Inn, Linville and Charlotte.  But what would we do?  Where would Sienna go to school? Where would we live? God, please give me some answers. Help me see the direction you want me to go.

It must have been obvious, because when Brett picked Boo and I up at the airport, the first thing he asked was “you didn’t want to come home did you?”

Back in the desert, life went back to normal but I kept thinking about the inn. I kept in touch with Lainey and Mort every so often. I found Boo playing Hemlock Inn with her Barbies, she had named Barbie and Ken, what else but: Lainey and Mr. Mort.

Around October, I got an email from Lainey:

Lainey: Dear Sweet Ashley, You have been on my mind lately. Have you sold your house yet? Ha. No pressure. There is a log cabin for sale on the property next to us (that we used to own). I may send you a picture of it. We also will likely have the little cottage in the woods available. It is a cute one with 2 bedrooms. I am still dreaming…and scheming! Ha.  Around October,

Me (literally a few minutes later): Crazy. I was JUST thinking about you!  That’s so weird….seriously…..we have been talking about moving back to NC one day. There is a property for sale next door to my mother. What are the schools like there? Sure send me some photos.

 

Lainey trekked out in the rainy, cold weather to snap a few photos.  I showed them to Brett and his reaction was: Is there an outhouse to go with it?!

Near the Hemlock, Not the Hemlock

 

I didn’t want to lead Mort and Lainey on so as exciting as it all sounded, I told them to not count on us staying for more than a few weeks during the summer.  It was fun to think about, “dreaming and scheming” as Lainey would say, but there were too many things holding us back.

*****

Then November rolled around, and all those things holding us back seemed to miraculously resolve themselves.  It felt like we were being shown over and over that the Hemlock wasn’t just a big dream, it was meant to be.  Then one day:

Brett: I am okay with moving.
Me: You ARE?!  Me too! Whoa. I’m think I might hyperventilate. I’m calling Lainey RIGHT NOW…..before you can change your mind.

It was in December that I called Lainey.  I told her that I wanted to explore options for living at the inn. Lainey said she couldn’t believe that I had called, because of the timing.  Mort was discouraged and wondering what the future was going to be.  We’d talked before about how much times had changed and small inns were struggling.  How does a small, rustic inn survive in a modern culture like ours?  How do you convince a world that craves new things, more things, accumulation to choose simplicity over technology and extravagance?  I didn’t have all the answers but I did know that I had this clear vision of a thriving Hemlock. I just had the gut feeling about it. I’ve stayed in lots of places over the years, inns, historic hotels, B&Bs all over Ireland and Scotland, but the Hemlock is different for some reason: it’s as if it has a pulse.

As we discussed options for living in one of the cottages I explained that we didn’t want to just live there, we wanted to help out. Maybe Mort and Lainey could let us have honorary “assistant innkeeper” titles when they needed us to. We didn’t want to be just guests, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the beating heart and inner workings of such a place…because when I’m there I feel like the Hemlock represents all that is right in this broken world we live in.

*****

There was just one small hitch in the whole plan….Brett hadn’t yet been to Hemlock Inn or Bryson City.  He was going off of photos, stories and Boo’s new memories. He said, “I trust you” but I wanted us to make the decision together and in order to make such a huge commitment, we needed to visit as soon as possible….so we flew mid-January to the Hemlock.

We knew that the inn would be closed the weekend we visited but Mort and Lainey welcomed us into their home (with fresh cookies out of the oven!)  We talked for hours and hours by the fire about dreams for the inn and what our life would be like living there. We visited the elementary school and were greeted by, “oh yes, Lainey stopped by yesterday to let us know you might want a tour.” We drove all over Bryson City, touring and talking to locals, looking for things like the post office and the hardware store, envisioning what our life might be like there:

Small Town Life: Moving to the Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, NC via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo

 

And of course we looked for the obscure backroads too:

Me: Stop!  Look at those old gravestones!
Brett: You know why I love exploring with you?
Me: Why?
Brett: Because you choose all the places….you can find stuff in the middle of nowhere. And I just get to experience it.

 

(the memory I have of taking the above photo is me lying down in a graveyard while a woman stared Brett down in our rental car)


Long story short: Brett was sold.  He loved the small town of Bryson City. He loved the Hemlock. And he loved Mort and Lainey.

*****

So now our house is for sale. I discovered flowers and a heart this morning left by the sign by a friend. I’ve been slowly selling almost everything in it….except for sentimental items I’m keeping for Boo, and of course my millions of books.

Brett: So I guess I need to hire movers just to move your books cross country?

 

A close friend recently said to me: I know you aren’t related to the innkeepers, but the way you talk about it, it’s as if the Hemlock’s DNA runs in your veins.  You need to go and tell the story.

I want to tell the story.

So we are moving to the Hemlock Inn for a year, maybe more. We have no plans for life beyond the Hemlock yet.  We will be living on the grounds of a small inn where guests come and go.  Mort says I will be the “writer in residence.”  I like that.  I am a story teller, so I’ll be telling the stories of our life at a 1950′s motor inn and small town life through writing, photography and film.

We’ll be living in a small cottage called the Woody cottage….that has a whole story too….but I’ll get there.  I’m excited to redecorate the cottage and make it our own.  Boo is more excited to renovate the treehouse that Mort and Lainey’s boys grew up with.

Boo, Brett and I will be eating most of our meals at the Hemlock and it will give us a chance to meet new people and hear their stories.  Mealtime is one of the highlights at the Hemlock: breakfast is at 8:30am and Dinner is at 6:30pm every night except Sunday, and you know it’s time because there’s a dinner bell, usually rung by a young guest.  All the guests eat together at large family style tables with lazy susans in the center, and only after a short blessing is said. I can’t wait to sneak into the kitchen to share some secrets and maybe learn to cook a dish or two myself….or even just how to cook in general.  Everything at the Hemlock is made from scratch. The inn even makes its own breadcrumbs….I thought breadcrumbs just came in a can. See how much I have to learn?

The Hemlock Inn - The Place with the Lazy Susans - Bryson City NC Smoky Mountains via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo

Because things move slowly at the inn, we’ll have plenty of time to explore the surrounding area and really immerse ourselves in the small town life.  The Cherokee Indian Reservation is only a few miles away.  Maybe I can finally meet Princess Patty again. Deep Creek will be visited often.  There’s hiking, fishing, tubing and kayaking.  The Tuckasegee river runs right through town and the Nantahala Outdoor Center is nearby. Fontana Lake and Dam are pretty close. Brett will be exploring the mountain biking scene (we made sure to meet the owner of Bryson City Bicycles when we visited in January).  I’ll have fun making detailed maps of my obscure, eclectic local road trips…looking for things to photograph and explore…because those are the best kind.  I want to plan on having workshops/retreats on writing, blogging, photography…..all things creative.  Boo wants me to recreate the treasure maps that Mr. Shell, Lainey’s father, used to make for me when he was the innkeeper years ago.

*****

It can be a little scary stepping out onto such a new path, but at the same time I think we are rewriting everything we’ve ever been taught about success and what’s important in life.  We are moving our daughter from a wonderful private school, from every opportunity in an affluent town, to a very small town with very little industry outside of tourism. But for so long I’ve felt caught in this conflicting world of messages, I’m breaking free for good.  Part of a prayer of confession in church one Sunday not long ago:

…we are bound to the regimens of calendars and limits of bank accounts…

The message was about being open and saying yes to where you are being led.  Making our own lives available to others.   Making our world a little smaller and become increasingly un-attached to things, all the while connecting ourselves to something larger. There’s that saying: truth which is told is quick to be forgotten, but truth discovered lasts a lifetime. I think that’s the best education we could ever give Boo. I want my child to become faithful in the little things, so that one day she will realize those little things are really the big things. I’m on a mission to engage myself deeply with the world, and to teach her (and Brett, a willing participant) along with me.  Boo asked me last night if she could have an iPad….I told her she could have snowshoes instead. She liked that idea. She’s never seen a leaf change color, witnessed a change in seasons, or even worn a winter coat. It will be a whole year of firsts. Boo said visiting the Hemlock was her favorite part of the whole summer.  Now she’ll be living there….and it will be part of her DNA too.

Moving to the Hemlock Inn - Leaving our current life for a new one at a small Motor Inn in Bryson City, NC  via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue Boo

I’ve always wanted to live in a small town with lots of places to explore nearby.  I’ve always wanted to have small, intimate workshops and retreats…and the Hemlock gives me an instant venue to work towards that.

The Hemlock isn’t for everyone.  The rooms are simple and rustic, no TV or phones.*  Guests might have to share a dinner table with a family they don’t know (yet).  There’s no spa or room service.  It’s a rustic, country inn.

*There’s WiFi in case of emergency.  How would I blog and share without Internet?

But the Hemlock, with 26 rooms nestled on a mountaintop, and 57 acres overlooking the often “smokey” valley, sets itself apart from the expensive vacation spots we are sold 24/7 on the TV.  The Hemlock is a special place, an unchanging retreat from a changing world. Time stands still. You forget to count the days.

 

You might be wondering what Boo thinks about all of this.  We were nervous to tell her because she loves her school and her friends. I finally found the perfect chance when we were watching an episode of the Waltons one night:

Me: That looks kind of like the mountains of N.C., like where the Hemlock Inn is.
Boo: It does.
Me: What would you think about moving to the Hemlock Inn?
Boo: Would it be like we are trading our life for the Waltons?
Me: In some ways.
Boo: Do I get to ride a schoolbus?
Me: If you want to.
Boo: Then…..yes!

 

I hope some of you will come and stay, visit for a while.  Enjoy the view and southern, home-style cooking.  Boo will be directing Hemlock “summer camp” I’m sure.  We are looking so forward to changing leaves and snow as well.  Brett will probably be building something, conquering the bike trails, or fishing:

 

“Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect”
―A River Runs Through It

 

And you’ll probably find me right on the front porch:

 

You can find more photos and stories I’ve written about the Hemlock at the following links:

The Hemlock Inn

Joyful Simplicities

Where We Forget to Count the Days

 

 

A few helpful links:

The Hemlock Inn

Bryson City & The Smoky Mountains

 

 

P.S. If you love books about small town life, read the Bryson City Tales.  It’s a true story written by a young doctor’s first year of medical practice in Bryson City.  The Hemlock Inn and the Shell family are part of the story.  A fun read.  There are 2 follow up books to it as well: Bryson City Seasons and Bryson City Secrets.

Moving to the Hemlock Inn - Leaving our current life for a new one at a small Motor Inn in Bryson City, NC  via Ashley Hackshaw / Lil Blue BooWhere We Forget to Count the Days Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, NC

 

*Note: Mr. LBB will now be Brett.  We felt it was better to make that change so you get to know him a little better over time.  Boo is still Boo.

 


 

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