Where the Breadcrumbs Lead

I woke up early this morning and watched the sun come up. Brett has been out of town with his grandmother this week so I dropped Boo off at school and came home and took a cat nap. I watched Sense and Sensibility. And read a magazine. Then I watched a documentary about people that live in Siberia.*

Later I made some tea, sat on the step of the screen porch. The acorns were falling on the tin roof of the cottage. I watched Diesel walk around the stepping stones. So much to learn from a dog…he is so easily pleased. His short time outdoors is always unhurried and full of curiosity. I love how he sniffs the air and closes his eyes against the sun. I copied him.

It felt good, until there was that anxiousness and the voice in my head: you should be accomplishing something.  That voice that has been there all my life: you should be…. you should be…. This feeling still rears its ugly head on occasion and sometimes a brief panic sets in saying: Your husband left his job. You closed a successful business. Where will you go from here? By the world’s standards of success I should have stayed on the course I was on.  It’s hard to explain this new life to people without getting the third degree.

The highlights of my week last week were:

Sweeping the sidewalk at the used bookstore. Dusting and straightening the bookshelves.
Catching up with the cooks at the inn.
Learning the old man’s name that I pass in the park each week.
Buying a venus fly trap and fresh salsa from the farmer’s market.

Sitting by the river and writing it all down.

Such simple things. But yet…every once in a while I get sidetracked with new ideas, things that I think will impress the world. Business. Venture. Make the world happy. Those things are not really what I want to be doing. I know myself….and I would work myself into a shriveled shell of a me if I pursued those new ideas. And that’s when I pray really hard for God to thin my world out again, to take away what he doesn’t want for me…and to leave breadcrumbs going forward.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. -The Alchemist

The magazine I picked up today had an interview with Paulo Coehlo in it. Breadcrumb. 

I do believe that we know our reason to be here. We don’t know if we are taking the exact right steps toward it. But if you are honest enough, God will guide you. Even if you take some wrong steps along the way, God will recognize that you have a pure heart and put you back on track. -Paulo Coehlo, O Magazine, Oct 2014

I remember when I first picked up a copy of the Alchemist years ago…at a yard sale. I didn’t read it right away. Quick overview if you haven’t read it:  A boy sells his flock to pursue a dream.

A recent conversation:

Person: What do you do?

Me: Well….mostly….I write.

Person: My friend is a writer. She’s published like 10 books. Have you written anything I would know?

Me: Probably not. 

Person: And you are writing a book?

Me: I think so.

Person: How far along are you?

Me: Depends on the day.

Person: What is it about?

Me: It’s a memoir.

Person: You are too young to write a memoir.

Quick aside: My friend Donno is opening up a tattoo parlor in downtown Bryson City this month. It’s part art gallery…for outsider art. Outsider art: a label created by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outside of the established art scene, such as insane-asylum inmates and children. -wikipedia

Quick epiphany (and breadcrumb): I am an outsider writer!

 

Person: Too young…to write a memoir.

Me: Then I guess I’m writing an episode.

Person: How long have you been writing it?

Me: My whole life? 

Memoir. Non-fiction. Episode. True story. What does it matter?  The dream is: to write. But it’s more than just writing.  To write things down so I can make sense of it all. To be truly interested in the world around me. To tell a story. And maybe someday it will be meaningful to someone else. That’s what the breadcrumbs lead me to. And they guide me away from things I thought might be opportunities, allowing me to say no without fear or regret.

Sitting here today I looked out the window at the mountains.  They are like sleeping giants to me, some lying on the side and curled up. Others are laying on their backs so you can see their distinct profiles. Sleeping giants covered with a blanket of trees and brush, and I see elbows and knees and foreheads and noses. Nobby clavicles and shoulder blades poke through a thick blanket millions of years in the making. Growth, decay, and growth. The mountains are living and breathing but barely stirring, in a state of hibernation, and they laugh at us with our tiny concerns. They laugh at me when I think my 37 years of life has been hard or easy or nothing or something.

Mountain: An episode? Ha ha ha ha. That’s 100,000 years.

Me: Exactly.

Mountain: Listen.

Me: To what?

Mountain: Your heart. 

Me: You are a talking mountain. 

 

The Alchemist Quote #quote

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. -The Alchemist

I listen. I have to train myself to listen.  And tune everything else out.  Like the boy I sold my “flock” too. I know what my assignment is: To wander. And read. And write. And create. Lather, lather, rinse, repeat.  The more I do this, the less I think about what might have been or should have been.  I find my own voice. I let myself watch movies and read and just sit in solitude for a while.  I meet new people and actually hold conversations with them.  These things are not lucrative…they will not put me on the cover of Fast Company or get me promoted….but they are food for my soul.  I cannot have it all, but I don’t want it all. This is the ultimate promotion.

And not everyone will understand. The questions are endless. Health insurance? Life insurance? Insurance? How will you make a living? What is a living? These are all the rules. I’ve been reading Intimations of Mortality by Violet Weingarten….a journal she wrote during her battle with cancer. My copy is old and obviously from a library with the clear plastic cover and dewey decimal code: 616.994:

I live in a world, my world, with people who haven’t even glimpsed the door, however close they may be to me. Remember you have to see it with your own eyes. Borrowing someone else’s glasses won’t do it. So even if I wanted to change my life, the people I care about aren’t going to change theirs. If I want to toss it all away and scuba-dive off the Great Barrier Reef, I’d have to do it on my own, and that I don’t want to do. Because I know that the step from the iceberg leads back to an ice floe, and on that floe I’ll float, like everyone else, sometimes alone, sometimes along-side, sometimes making small talk, sometimes holding hands, sometimes sad, sometimes happy, always at the whim of the current. Human. Wherever I may be. 

Always at the whim of the current. An outsider.

For some reason that just made me think of the movie Rumble Fish.

I’m too tired to even read through this post again.

I just ate half a bag of Muddy Buddies.

Really all I wanted to say was: today was a good day.  

I wish good days for you too.

And don’t disturb the mountains.  They are all resting.

 

*Happy People, A Year in the Taiga (*  <—— virtual breadcrumb)

 

The Language of Frogs

Midday it started raining and I just sat in my truck on the bridge to kill time before I was supposed to show up at the used book store. I sat on the passenger side and people probably thought I was waiting on someone but really I was just letting 45 minutes pass. I pulled a book out from under the seat to read a while and thought it was a weird coincidence that the book was Extremely Loud and incredibly Close, a book about September 11. Downtown Bryson City I’ve read that book over and over again but from all different starting points.  Never in order. And parts like the elephant crying get to me because I see things like stonehenge in a plate of potato quarters and I like walking the cemetery at night but get sidetracked trying to piece together broken headstones: Bryson City Cemetery

I took the world into me, rearranged it, and sent it back out as a question: “Do you like me? -Jonathan Safran Foer

Recently I saw a ghost at the cemetery but that’s a story for another day, so back to sitting there reading in the truck: I saw at least four people I knew walk by.  Small town USA. Then I saw a man with a hunting rifle walk by but he’d just come out of the guns and ice cream shop. Totally normal. As I sat there I realized that I could tell when a truck was coming over the bridge, not by the sound it made but by how much the concrete would shake. A freight truck and a beer truck crossed simultaneously and the bridge pretty much went all earthquakey. The speed limit on the bridge is 20 mph but people are always going much faster.

When it’s not raining I like to walk along the shops and the river.  Here it seems like they used to build old buildings against old buildings so when a building comes down sometimes the inside of the building is left on the exterior of the one next door. In other words: if you build the first building you have to build 4 walls…but if you build the 2nd or 3rd etc you only have to build 3 walls.  The wall on the side of the building near the river says PRO with tan, orange and brown racing stripes all the way down the side…it reminds me of a bowling alley, but I don’t think it was. Buford’s Barbershop is on the corner of the bridge across from the “bowling alley”. Everyone swears it’s structurally sound but I’m worried Buford is going to fall in the river one day. Every few days I visually measure the crack between Buford’s place and the flower shop next door to make sure it’s not getting any wider. I’ve only seen Buford cutting hair once or twice. I think he’s only open when he feels like being open. He’s got a TV with rabbit ears and so I look forward to meeting Buford one day…but maybe outside of the barbershop.

At the bookstore I decided to sweep outside and get some of the cobwebs down. While sweeping I ran into a man I’d met at the coffee shop a few weeks ago. He’d been talking about Kerouac and I oddly enough had brought a book of Kerouac’s journals with me (Windblown World). I gave it to him and told him to just drop it back off at the coffee shop when he was done with it. I didn’t even know his name. But then running into him at the grocery store I recognized him and we said hey and he thanked me for the book. And after talking about Kerouac for a few minutes he told me this haiku he’d written. I can’t remember it word for word so I’m butchering it and it probably isn’t even a haiku anymore since I didn’t even think to count the syllables or phrases or whatever a haiku consists of:

Credit or Debit. The girl at the grocery store speaks to me in frog.

Flipping through the old books in the used book store I end up looking for handwriting. I found this little mouse drawn in a book dated 1898. I could tell it was written with a fountain pen: mouse On the next page was this handwritten poem:

Love is painful it is true, but not to love is painful too, But oh! it gives the greatest pain to love and not be loved again.

bookI sold a few books today and bought even more.  They were books I was looking for so I figure that I technically saved money. One of the new employees at the inn stopped by to say hi and I sold him a magazine. Tonight my friends gave me directions to their house and the directions consisted mostly of: turn left at the gas station and right at the huge rock and when you see the chickens you’ve found us.    Walking down to our cottage tonight I dodged a few frogs but spoke to them: credit or debit. credit or debit. Perhaps that’s what they’ve been saying all along.  Accounting 101.

We could imagine all sorts of universes unlike this one, but this is the one that happened. -Jonathan Safran Foer

Where the River Meets the Lake

I found where the river meets the lake yesterday. Well, actually a friend took Brett and I there. But still, where the river meets the lake. The mouth. The basin. The convergence. All of the roaring and tumbling ends almost instantly.  It’s like it just runs out of steam.

SUP Paddleboards Fontana Lake with Bryson City Outdoors

Our friend Ben from Bryson City Outdoors took us out, dropped off the boards, and gave us a quick paddle boarding lesson before we set out on the lake. I did not take my phone with me…this was taken with a Go Pro (a waterproof one):

SUP (paddle boarding) on Fontana Lake with Bryson City Outdoors

As we paddled we stumbled upon old Hwy 28.  The water is low enough right now that you can see the top of the bridge. Brett paddled through it….I stayed back. Reminds me of What lies Beneath…or the end of the world….what it would be like if we all just disappeared one day. These mountains do tend to emit the feeling of ancient-ness.  (You can read about what’s underneath the lake here).

Hwy 28 on Fontana under water

As we paddled back towards the boat ramp, from a distance, we saw another truck pull up.  Two men backed a truck and boat down the ramp.  They took off to the other side of the lake creating huge wake.  I waved to them and they hesitantly waved back.  And then we realized why:

Brett: They took my shoes.
Me: What? I’m paddling over to them to ask for them back.

He wouldn’t let me.

Me: He has a Jesus fish on the back of his truck. Maybe he actually has a conscience…

I decided to leave a note on the man’s truck instead.  I didn’t accuse him directly, just said if he found a pair of shoes could he please leave them at our church.  God Bless. Hubby is unemployed.  Hope you found some fish. Etc. I signed it something like: from someone who refuses to lose faith in the kindness of humanity.   It just didn’t seem worth more trouble than that.

Me: Desperate people do desperate things.
Brett: I’m over it….he probably needed the shoes more than I did.
Me: You are barefoot. 

And the truth is that we had just had such a wonderful time on the lake, not even stolen shoes could have put a damper on it.

I’m sorry fisher-man.  This is where the river meets the lake. And we came here on purpose.  It’s the lowest spot.  You can’t take us any lower. 

When I placed the note under his windshield wiper, I realized that I’d written the note on the back of one of Boo’s Sunday school drawings: a large heart with the words “God is Love” written in dainty little letters.  I chuckled at the not-so-subtle message I was leaving him. Who knows….maybe the shoes will turn up. Maybe not.  The most awesome thing in the world is that no one can steal my peace and joy from me. And I take all these little snapshots to remind me of that going forward because life has those peaks and valleys.

Late last night, after sending out my Dear Friend letter, I finished watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  I had watched it over a period of two consecutive nights.  A beautiful film and so well done I felt myself in Jean-Do’s claustrophobic diving bell throughout every scene.  My eye began to hurt as I watched him blink out the letters to his manuscript and I vowed I would never forget it for the rest of eternity (or at least for the next day).  A powerful film that I recommend highly. Subtitle alert.  But Jean-Dominique Bauby’s situation was an extreme one, but so many able-bodied people are caught under that Plath-like bell jar.  I know sometimes it may sound like I’m trying to sell life to you….because I am.  Buy into life. Life. Love. God is love. Love your life. Be kind. Do stuff. Let your soul breathe it all in…deeply. And it’s all your story. Her-story. His-story. History. And history:

 
It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view to overcoming death. That’s why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that’s why they write symphonies. Now, you can’t advance in this direction without a certain faith. You can’t make such discoveries without spiritual equipment. And the basic elements of this equipment are in the Gospels. What are they? To begin with, love of one’s neighbor, which is the supreme form of vital energy. Once it fills the heart of man it has to overflow and spend itself. And then the two basic ideals of modern man—without them he is unthinkable—the idea of free personality and the idea of life as sacrifice.
- Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

 

Oh, and I forgot to tell you: this summer I found the beginning of a river.  When we hiked Mt. LeConte: This is where the river begins. It’s being born. The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below. I imagine that all the veins eventually begin to find each other until they have enough water to form a creek, and the creeks eventually merge into rivers. The water always hurries along, finding it’s way to the lowest point. A very humble trait of water.

 

 

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Which Direction of the Sky Is This

Right down the road from the inn is Darnell Farms. You can’t miss the signs: Free Picnic Area…Bikers Welcome…Farm Tours…Hoop Cheese, Greasy Beans, Cold Drinks….  I have a picnic table by the river I like to sit and write at.  The river has a subtle roar to it, almost like a whisper. The river is always a murky olive right by the shoreline where it slows down and ripples and whirls. Elephant skin, that’s what it looks like. But it quickly erases itself to start again. And tiny leaves float like boats adrift and they are safe until they encounter the treacherous rocks. The trees grow out over the water at a 45 degree angle, defying gravity, and making themselves available for rope swings. And the bridge in the picture? I get to cross that at least twice a day….and I have to catch my breath each and every time…especially when the “smoky” mist is still there in the mornings:

The Tuckaseegee River in Bryson City, NC

It’s a working farm and I love seeing the big John Deer tractors emerge from the field. It doesn’t matter who is driving…they always wave. Right now they are growing tomatoes and peppers:

Fresh Produce from Darnell Farms in Bryson City

They are also growing flowers: mums and sunflowers. But the sunflowers hang their heads in kind of a sad way, at least they look sad to me.  Deflated.  And just a month ago they were harvesting squash. Before that strawberries.  And they are growing corn but that field makes me anxious and I don’t spend a lot of time looking at it. The stalks stand there so straight and narrow, high and mighty, the opposite of the sunflower. Their husky leaves grow straight up to the sky like taunting fingers.  Horror movie anyone?  But this wood shed reminds me of The Boxcar Children so it technically cancels out the Children of the Corn:

The Box Car Children

As I sat there today and wrote this sweat bee kept checking me out…hovering with his tiny beady eyes and invisible wings. He was only as big as a grain of rice. He landed on my arm a few times but I wasn’t sweating so he didn’t stay there long.  Then he landed on my computer and just sat there like he was posing for a picture. A few weeks ago a sweat bee stung me, her stinger getting stuck in my forearm, and the stinger was still attached to her backside. I knew she was a “she” because only the female sweat bees sting. I watched her struggle trying to break free from my forearm and imagined her saying “take that you big meanie.” And I literally felt like a big meanie. So I made friends with this one:

Darnell2

And sometimes I lay on that picnic bench by the river and stare into the blue sky….

Darnell5

….and just let my mind wander:

The sky goes on forever. And ever. And I live on a big, round ball right smack in the middle…because in forever: everything is in the middle. There is no end or edge of anything. And I don’t even know what direction of the sky this is. Is it forever forward or is it forever backward? Is it forever right or is it forever left? And the river reflects the sky, until the water hits the rocks and turns on itself, and breaks the picture into a billion pieces. Forever reflected into forever.  That must involve infinity and fractals and Pi.  And there are like a billion acres making up this ball I live on, and somehow I ended up on this particular one.  That must count for something…

And then I realize I’ve been daydreaming for hours and I’ve been gone all day. And I haven’t really gotten anything done.

But I wrote this.

 

 

The Soul Can Split the Sky In Two

I think the sky is bigger here. I took this tonight as we were driving to a friend’s house:

brysoncity

 

I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago as we drove the same road:

I’m looking through a wide angle lens.
The clouds billow and plume and stretch to an invisible dome.
Like a snow globe.
Or the Truman Show. 

 

I’m not a poet, so here is an excerpt from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem Renascence:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat–the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

No higher than the soul is high.

Me thinks….I will never leave this place.

I took this photo right after the one of the sky:

Boo: We get air conditioning when we go fast on the highway.

cheese

Three cheeseburgers wide.

I think that might have to be our Christmas Card photo.

Trainspotting

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:

flowers

 

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:

diesel2

 

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:

sleeping

 

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?

friends

 

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:

arch

 

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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