I rode the train by myself yesterday. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Train Tracks in Bryson City

I was late (and almost missed it) because I chatted with the parking lot attendant too long about how locals with season passes should get free parking….my idea, not his.

I was assigned boarding section 5 and when I asked someone where that was they said:

Well it’s after 4….and if you get to 6 you’ve gone too far.

I never got as far as section 4 because I was forced to board at section 3.  I walked through all the train cars to get to section 5.  When I reached section 5, the woman I sat next to was worried because an older man had just suffered from a heart attack as he boarded.  I told her that luckily the hospital was on top of the hill next to us so he would probably be okay.  She seemed relieved.

At the start of the trip, I bought the $10 book because the man on the train said it was the best thing I would come across all day.  And it was. I sat and followed the map mile marker by mile marker. I slowly learned how to read a topographical map by matching up the scenery outside to what was in the book.  Like this adorable gingerbread farmhouse:

Old Farmhouse in Lower Alarka, Bryson City

I met a couple in their 70′s that were on their honeymoon.  We had a discussion about hickory nuts and pontoon boats. I listened to the train musicians sing an amazing rendition of Rock Me Momma…but then spent 20 minutes contemplating what “rock me momma like a wagon wheel” meant.  A lady with hot pink lipstick asked the musicians to play a song for the newlyweds.  Her mother had matching hot pink lipstick.

At the train’s “intermission” point I ate a huge BBQ sandwich by myself at a picnic table. I threw an animated fit when I brushed a red ant off my neck and the red ant WENT DOWN MY SHIRT.  A couple next to me stopped sipping their cold beers for a second to ask me if I was okay.

I watched a little boy pretend to talk on a police scanner in a foreign language. He had a toy gun in his holster and looked ready to use it.

I refilled my Diet Coke and asked a couple if they would watch it for me so I wouldn’t have to take it into the bathroom.  They looked like my grandparents….and the probability of being roofied at the Nantahala Outdoor Center is very, very low.

I asked three different people what time the train was going to leave. They each replied: when the horn blows.  Well thanks for nothin’….

I walked by the Nantahala River and collected driftwood. I spotted a shoe that had washed up at the bottom of the rapids. I thought about the fact that Deliverance was filmed on the Nantahala.

Nantahala River / Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Stop

I observed a man sitting on a rock in the middle of the river deep in thought.

I restyled my hair using the cool river water.

I walked along the edge of the train in awe of it’s underbelly. I wondered if anyone would survive laying on the track as the train rolled over (i.e. is there enough space for a human underneath). I was tempted to leave a few coins on the track to come back for later.

The train blew it’s 5 minute warning, and I definitely flinched.  I hopped back on, in the wrong car again.

On the way back I eavesdropped on a conversation concerning Ferragamo shoes. They sounded very expensive.

I talked with the man who had been sitting on a rock in the middle of the river and learned he was a landlord in NYC.  I also learned that he used to live in a bus year and years ago that he’d outfitted with a fireplace.  I asked if he still had the bus (because I might be interested in a bus).  He said he had just abandoned it and that someone else was probably enjoying a sweet bus right about now. (Hey Craig!)

The rocking of the train was so peaceful I thought about coming back one day for a nap.

As I got off the train, I saw a house for sale right in front of the depot and thought it would be a great place for a lemonade stand.

It took about 4.5 hours round trip. And that was that.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Departing from Bryson City Railroad

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. -Henry Miller

I do forget myself…but I remember everything else.



I Can’t Say No To Jesus or Mayonnaise

I love finding little places like this:

I think everything in here came from my childhood home.

Stuff n Such Thrift Store Shopt in Whittier

I tend to show a lot of restraint when it comes to buying things but sometimes I cave when it comes to artwork….like when I saw this embroidered Jesus portrait.  Really, it wasn’t my fault…the “lion mane” hair hypnotized me:

Jesus Art and Vienna Sausage by The Crafty Cowboy

The Vienna Sausage painting that hangs above Jesus was a piece I picked up a few weeks ago.  I was in Gainesville and came across a disabled vet selling his paintings.  At first I was drawn to the Duke’s Mayonnaise clock…and then I got to know the artist and listened to his story and, well, I just ended up buying half his tent:

Artwork by The Crafty Cowboy

 The Crafty Cowboy

The mayonnaise clock hangs above my desk.  (I just realized I haven’t shared photos of how we’ve decorated our cottage yet….I’ll try to get to that!)

Mayonnaise Clock by The Crafty Cowboy

I figure I’m just building an amazing art collection to donate to the Getty or the MoMA one day.  I don’t even like mayonnaise…or Vienna Sausage.  But I do like Jesus. And he has a-may-zing hair.  It all evens out in the name of great art.

Oh, I also picked up these tiny “caution” cones for 25 cents.  The squirrels above our house have been pelting me with acorns. I confiscated one….not that it will make any difference to them.

acorns and cones

I wanted to buy these from a box on the side of the road but luckily another lady beat me to them:

puppies for sale in Bryson City

Just kidding. Diesel is an only dog.  But…Donna says there are miniature pot bellied pigs for sale nearby.  I’m going to have to take a look. Just a look.




Things I Saw Today

Things I saw today while wandering around Bryson City.

A flowering vine left to grow wild behind a building downtown. I thought it looked like an elephant:

An Elephant Topiary in Bryson City



Giant sunflowers at Darnell Farms. Brett ventured out to show the scale. We bought bananas and one sunflower for innkeeper Lainey.

Farmer Chad: Well heeyyy there little lady! How’s the writin’ comin’ along?
Me: Slow. I need to come and hang out here for some inspiration.
Farmer Chad: Monkey pickles and a flow-urrr.  That’s an interesting mix.

I need to go and hang out with Farmer Chad more often.

Sunflowers at Darnell Farms in Bryson City, NC


A giant potato in the front of Gil’s bookstore.  The truck driver had to do a 74 point turn in order to park it.  I get anxiety thinking about it….this is the reason I am not a truck driver:

A Giant Potato on Everett Street in Bryson City, The Idaho Potato Tour

The Tiniest Dog in Our World

I have a great business opportunity for someone in our small town of Bryson City: Dog Groomer. After looking for a few weeks locally I finally found a place….but 25 miles away.  I’d found someone local but when I called them they weren’t taking any new “clients.”  Poor Diesel had become so shaggy he couldn’t really see anything…and he was up to about 2.5 lbs including all the fur.  When I got him back he weighed about 2 lbs…and resembled a tiny deer. And so ridiculously dainty. The groomer said he was the smallest dog they’d ever seen….so small they charged me an extra $10 for the trouble.  I took this photo when I got him home…doesn’t he look like a cardboard cutout?

Teacup Yorkie


I think Diesel is settling in well to our new life.  He loves the grass and flowers and all the new smells:



He’ll be 13 this year and we can tell he’s getting older. Our front steps are a little too big for him so I put a little brick to create a “mid-step” for him. You know you are getting old when you no longer have any teeth to hold your tongue in:



He has a little bed under my desk and he still sleeps on the 5-foot-long stuffed dog we hauled all the way from California for him.  He loves looking out the window from our bedroom and watching the birds.  And mostly he just loves to sleep:



Boo and Diesel have become better friends since we’ve moved…he’ll let her pet him now, which he never really let her do before. Desperate dogs do desperate things? Is that a saying?



Diesel was a trooper when we drove him cross country. I think he was just happy to be with us….all the time.  He sat in his little bed the entire trip and only popped his head up when we’d stop for gas:

Tiny Teacup Yorkshire Terrier


He stayed in his little bag when we visited sites….he’s been through 2 presidential museums and lots of historical sites.  Except for the Hoover Dam and the St. Louis Arch….because they have X-Ray machines.  I didn’t want to be on the front page of the paper for that one:

Crazy Woman Sends Dog Through X-Ray Machine At National Landmark

Diesel under the Arch….he looks so darn proud:



Funny how a little tiny 2 pound animal can give us so much joy.  He’s smaller than the squirrels I see around the house….and I’m sure the hawks and eagles would try to gobble him up in a second if we weren’t careful.  I hope he’ll be around for a long time.  I just hope he improves his attitude a little since he’s chased off the Hemlock Inn’s dog Scruffy a few times and tried to attack a very forgiving therapy dog yesterday.

P.S. I could feel the therapy dog’s silent amusement. He outweighed Diesel by 48 pounds,


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.

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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

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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:

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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)





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...]

The Letter We Got from Our House Buyer

The letter below has to be one of the most favorite letters I’ve ever received.

A little background: As many of you know we made some huge life changes recently….including selling our dream house. We sold the house furnished meaning we sold the furniture, plates, silverware, pots/pans, vacuum cleaner…everything. Even our pet fish were included in the sale (it was the first time our realtor had ever heard of fish being listed by name in a household inventory).

As soon as we moved we started receiving communication from the new owner…every message expressed appreciation at the condition we left the house for him:

I hope you’re all doing well.  House is great. Fish are fine.

Even though it was a nightmare closing, we tried to maintain a positive view of the situation. We left the house the way we would have wanted someone to leave a house for our family:  We fixed more than was requested in the list of repairs, anything that might be a safety issue. I ordered parts that needed to be replaced, even though they would arrive after the closing. I also left the new owner with the most detailed owners manual imaginable.  It included, among other things:

  • little quirks about the house that took me forever to figure out
  • a map of the surrounding neighbors and contact info
  • pre-paid pest control, landscaper and pool service in hopes that he would continue to use the wonderful people that had for so long taken care of our home (plus short stories/bios about each person to personalize them)
  • the mailman’s name, trash days, etc.
  • paint colors and swatches
  • directions and manuals for every appliance
  • how to take care of the pet fish

I guess I’m a tad OCD.

Anyway, as a family we look forward to the correspondence with the new owner of our old home.  It’s bittersweet (and funny):


P.S. I wrote him a letter back…to tell him how impressed I was that he had filled all 47 photo frames on the gallery wall with photos.  And to tell him that the black fish has a name: Smokey. ” and the fish with the mustache is Penelope.”

P.P.S. Everyone wanted to know about the earring.  It was a faux pearl earring of my mother’s.  It’s still in the envelope.  I noticed at my sister’s that my mother had two faux pearl earrings that didn’t quite match so I think I may have completed one of the set.  Now to find the other odd earring. Maybe that will be a follow up letter one day.


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