The Cookbook’s Story

Working in the used book store one day I came across a tiny little cookbook with a tattered cover. This particular book caught my eye because it said “more than 5,000,000 copies in use”…and that was as of the 1941 printing.  I didn’t think 5,000,000 copies of anything had ever been printed as of 1941.

Vintage Cookbook - Rumford Cook Book 1941

The book store was slow this particular day and flipping through the small, fabric-covered book, a story began to appear.  Hand written with an ink pen in the next to last page was a recipe for Raise Doughnuts. I loved how old the handwriting looked and I especially loved that doughnuts were being enjoyed in 1941.  I. love. doughnuts.

 “Fry in deep fat 4 min” 

Vintage cookbook with old recipe written in the back - Rumford Cook Book 1941

 

I devoured this tiny recipe book not for the recipes, but for the little traces left behind.  The drips, spatters and pools of ingredients on the pages made it clear which recipes were referenced the most. I imagined the owner’s name was something like Mabel, or Hazel, or Pearl or maybe Anna. Yes, Anna.

Anna made the Shrimp Patties at least once, and only on a special occasion. She would have read “be sure to remove small black intestinal veins which run down center back of shrimps” and probably had a stronger stomach than me.

Anna made something from page 36 and 37 more than once which would have been a fancy chicken dish like Fricassee Chicken, Chicken a la Stanley, or Chicken a la Providence.  Sometime Anna cooked with her cookbook propped up because on the salad dressing pages a few of the drops went at least 3 inches directionally down the page. Pages 92 through 97 of the Pastry section were the most well loved in the book with endless remnants of cornstarch and flour. A ring of what looks like vanilla extract covered the Chocolate Chiffon Pie recipe:

If a cookbook could tell a story - Vintage Rumford Cookbook

 

There were various spills across the Nut Cake recipe and How to Prepare Cake Pans instructional page.  A spot of what looked to be frosting was dropped right onto the words “very little at a time” on the Butter Cream Frosting Recipe.  The Fudge Brownies and Brown Refrigerator Cookies page was the most used, barely hanging on with a rip through one side and into the center, and covered in sticky spills and powders:

Brown Sugar Refrigerator Cookies via Rumford

She made one of the following: Eggnog, Lemonade, Barley Water, Oatmeal Gruel, Clam Broth, Beef Juice, or Beef Tea. I hoped it was just plain lemonade.

Never be cross or cruel
Never give us castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter
And never smell of barley water
-from Mary Poppins

Looking through Anna’s book I could also tell you what she never made: Sandwiches. The Sandwich section was pristine and untouched.  The Canning, Preserving and Pickling section looked unused so she wouldn’t have made Cranberry Conserve or Pickled Peaches.  I love the sound of those names.

I don’t know how Anna’s cookbook ended up in the store. I wish “Anna” had written her name in the cover so I would know her real name. I think it’s funny that she never wrote a single thing in the book except for that doughnut recipe.  She never made any notes or folded down any pages. It could have been her only cookbook or one of many.

The original 1908 printing of the Rumford Complete Cookbook would have cost one dollar, about twenty five dollars today.   1908 would have been Anna’s mother’s version of a cookbook and it would have had things like Albumenized Milk, Potted Pigeon, and Invalid’s Tea.  I still have my mother’s old Joy of Cooking Cookbook and I prefer the worn look of it over a new one.

Every old book kind of reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit. Especially this one.

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby.

But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

 

A random interesting fact: Although the cookbook is no longer in print, you can still buy Rumford Baking Powder, it’s still made by the Clabber Girl Corporation. It is an all-phosphate baking powder (containing calcium acid phosphate – no aluminum). Aluminum-free. Non-GMO. Gluten-free. Certified Kosher.

Our Lives are in Chapters

Earlier this week we made a new friend.  One who is going to bulldoze a house to build a new one.  He let us spend some time in the house to see if anything was worth salvaging.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: the wide range of emotions I felt as we went through the house.

All of these:

Elation: I need shelves and this is the mother-load.

Anxiety: I know someone who could use all of this chicken wire. I know someone who could use this dishwasher. I don’t have a big enough truck. What will become of all of this!?

Embarrassment: Is this kind of like dumpster diving?

Greed: I want all of these old bricks. I don’t know what I’d make with them yet, but I want them. Just because I can. 

Awe: I haven’t seen one of these in 30 years. 

Humor: This IS kind of like dumpster diving. I am a dumpster diver.

Gratitude: So thankful for this opportunity.

Sadness: Look at these old papers and letters from the original owners. Receipts from her antique shop she ran, newspaper clippings saves, cards from loved ones.  These people are long gone now.  And from this pile of memories they were once very much alive.

Nostalgia: Walking through this old house is like deja vu: the blue carpet, the parquet flooring, the ceramic tile, the blue and white kitchen.

Nostalgia because 11 years ago we lived across the same golf course in a very similar home. We’d purchased it from a family friend. The house was deemed a tear down so basically we only purchased the land it was on. But a lot of hard work made it a home for us:

our Charlotte home back then 

ouroldhouse

I learned to reglaze windows, we renovated bathrooms, and every winter we had a huge oil tank refilled so we would have heat.  I loved the history. I loved finding old photos of the family who lived there before us. I loved finding traces of the old wallpaper and bits and pieces of past lives in the big scary basement. And while working in the yard we would get visitors from the golf course, people would stop by and say: you live here?  this is amazing. And it was a source of pride. And then one day we decided to walk away from it…we sold it to another family friend who we knew would tear it down and build something brand new:

the rubble of our home

bulldozedhouse

Brett: Would we have been happy in this life?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe. It’s all relative.

Brett: I guess we’ll never know.

Me: And that’s okay too.

Oh the questions: Would we have eventually torn down the house and built a larger one? Would we have been able to appreciate such a beautiful home with huge newer homes going up all around ours? Would we still be working at the banks we’d worked at?  Would we have enjoyed the country club life?

Does any of it really matter? It’s just one or two chapters.

The thing is, earlier this week, we ate at the country club with my family a few nights. I felt so much nostalgia for the place. My sister told the waitress how we’d grown up there and even our grandfather had been a member.  I remember the humble beginnings when the pool house was just a plain brick rectangle where we purchased frozen candy bars and greasy cheeseburgers.  I love the life my sister and her husband have created for themselves there. I love the life my brother and his wife have created there too. It’s for them. It wasn’t for us.  And that’s what makes life beautiful.

And the replay of questions:

Would I have had more kids if we’d stayed in our old life? Well yes probably.

Would I have been diagnosed with cancer and lost my ability to have more children? Maybe. Maybe not.

Would we have millions in the bank if we’d stayed at our investment banking jobs. Quite possibly.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

And I don’t have to know.

I can live in the questions.

I can find safety there too.

And sometimes I wish for a tablespoon of it all here and there.  Can this kind of life be a side dish?  No, not for me.  Because I know myself and I bend myself all out of shape because of what others are doing. And in that chapter I would have never seen my husband except for on the weekends. And in that chapter I would have had to hire a nanny to watch the kids so I could work 16 hours a day downtown. There was no way to balance it all. Sometimes there can’t be baby steps, there just has to be a huge leap.

And I think back to that house we were salvaging in pieces only a few days ago: The people who lived in that house probably had similar questions and dreams. Did they live their dreams? I hope so. But now they are gone. And it reminds me how short and fleeting life can be.  Their whole life in a blink of an eye. The passing of time marked by boxes of newspapers, antiquated postage and vintage greeting cards.

We’ve walked away from a few of those chapters already and might just walk away from a few more.  And those chapters pass in the blink of an eye too.  A blink of an eye. A millisecond in all of eternity. But here our lives are happy and full of joy, and it’s not that we didn’t have that before, but it’s much richer I feel. There are varying degrees of happiness and joy. I was re-reading parts of Under the Tuscan Sun this morning and these passages hit me like a ton of bricks:

Wonders. Miracles. In cities, we’re less and less capable of the imagination for the super real, ground down as we are by reality. In rural areas, close to the stars and groves, we’re still willing to give it a whirl.

Is it a whim? It feels very close to falling in love and that’s never really whimsical but it comes from some deep source. Or does it?

I think this rural-ness will be a long chapter, and the thing is….I’m always willing to quickly admit that I was wrong, and shift directions. It wasn’t always that way…. but now ….it is. Now I know that we lose a part of ourselves in the process and we leave things behind that other people would refer to as assets. We walk away from country club memberships. We walk away from sweat and hard work in a house only for it to be bulldozed, shoveled and dumped. And sometimes we grieve for what might have been and the idea of it all. And sometimes we fall in love and we quickly fall out of love. And then sometimes we stumble across opportunities to sift through what others have left behind, and someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure. And we are humbled, and we learn and we grow. And we end up gaining.

And yesterday when I heard the wheels of the tires hit the gravel at the inn I felt a sense of relief.  The crunch is oddly soothing and the way the truck rocks back and forth on a country road is something I’ll never grow tired of. Choose your rut carefully is that old saying.  Right now I want my rut to be gravel and rocking back and forth.

And I just write it all down so that I can live it all twice.

Writing about this place, our discoveries, wanderings, and daily life, also has been a pleasure. A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice. -Under the Tuscan Sun

Leafers

The leaves have changed in just few short days. One week ago the leaves were just starting to change at the Hemlock Inn.  I picked up some leaves off the gravel drive and brought them in to paint.  I haven’t used my watercolors since early spring:

Painting Leaves - Watercolors

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway home today from Asheville. Up at the higher elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet the leaves have made more progress. It started out a little dark at the French Broad River:

Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville - The French Broad River

But then the leaves just became richer and brighter as we drove:

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors

Gorgeous color that only nature could produce:

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors Asheville to Cherokee

And now back at our cozy little cottage at the Hemlock Inn. We had so much fun in Charlotte with my sister’s family but it’s always nice to come home.  Not much traveling planned between now and Thanksgiving.  There’s a lot going on in Bryson City and the surrounding area over the next few months.  It’s Boo’s first real FALL and we are going to soak up every bit of it.

You can read more about the area and all the events on the calendar here. 

Official Used Book Store Business

Last week it was my first morning opening up the used book store in downtown Bryson City:

Wake up lovely books….

Friends of the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City #brysoncity
The large room was silent. I hit the light switches and the lights blinked and flickered a few times before turning on.  Fluorescent lights always remind me of the book Langoliers by Stephen King, when the world is catching up to time and waking up. The buzz is the first thing that’s noticed.

I rolled out the book cart, which used to be the most dangerous job at the bookstore because it is extremely heavy and the grade at the front door is not very forgiving.  But this was a new book cart, the old one (with the wheel that like to fall off and dump the books alongside Everett Street) has been demoted to the back of the store.

And then I turned the “Closed” signs to “Open” at 10am.  Open for business.

I sat there most of the day wondering what it used to be like. The bookstore used to be part of the old Bennett drugstore, one half of it to be exact. The hallway in the center has been walled off making it now two spaces.

Bennett’s Drug Store dates back all the way to 1905 and operated up until 1990 in the same family.  A big red Coca-Cola drink cooler used to block the door of the soda fountain so that you had to enter through the drug store entrance. Early marketing genius.

drug store

 

You can see the arch of the soda fountain in the back right of this old photo, tucked behind the first four sets of shelving: (click on the photo to enlarge)

Bennettdrugstore

(I cannot find a source for this old photo…anyone know?)

“The antique marble soda fountain remains from an earlier time when the store was part of the old Bennett’s Drug Store. The fountain has a marble topped counter from Italy with six stools; the lighted back bar with stained glass murals and marble columns is also from Italy.” -Postcards from the Smokies

I would just love to know how a soda fountain from Italy ended up in a Bryson City drugstore.

Donna, my friend and a cook at the inn, used to flip burgers at the soda shop years ago. More than one person has told me about the peanut butter milk shakes.  I drool. Teresa, the manager of the book store, has told me what history she knows of every building surrounding the place.

Last Thursday was a typical day.  It was cool so I left the front door open and customers drifted in and out. I ate a Krispy Kreme donut and drank a fountain diet coke from the Hot Spot. When the book store was quiet I read through a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and a book of letters from the Carpathia regarding the Titanic.  I ended up buying the Titanic book for $4.00. I thought my mom would like it too. Throughout the morning  I met customers from Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Charleston, SC. I had a long conversation about midwives and Amish communities with a woman I’d met at the Hemlock Inn a few days prior. Three people dropped off book donations. One had two boxes of encyclopedias which the bookstore doesn’t take in anymore because there just isn’t room. And I guess no one wants encyclopedias these days.  I took the encyclopedia donations.  I’ll figure out what to do with them at some point. I just didn’t want them to end up in a dump somewhere. I love encyclopedias.  There must be a huge encyclopedia retirement home somewhere right?  At one point during the morning I could hear Ivan, the owner of the Calby’s Antiques (the other half of the original drug store), playing the pipe organ next door.  A customer and I both had our ears to the wall listening.

I probably shouldn’t tell you about the scary trap door in the floor that supposedly leads to the basement of the bookstore.  I bet there’s some really old stuff down there. Or maybe just a secret racket ball court? (you have no idea what I’m talking about unless you’ve seen the movie Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges). The trap door used to have a lock on it at some point, which makes it even more mysterious.

I probably shouldn’t tell you this either, but the first day I worked the bookstore by myself and closed it…I accidentally took the cash register key home with me.  I’m going to get fired from my first retail job, I thought, even though I work for free. I went really early the next morning to drop the key back off so it would be like nothing happened, and thought for sure I wouldn’t see anyone. As I got to the back door, and started to unlock it…I heard someone yell “Hey there Ashley!” It turns out the old mayor (not old like old, but old like ex) likes to wash his deck at 7:45am. For 5 seconds I pretended to be invisible. Then I turned and waved like a boss:  “Hey, yeah, um, just doing some super-important-official-8am-used-book-store-business!”   

And a few weeks ago, to shake things up a bit I took my 1954 Hermes Rocket typewriter (the one featured in my Dear Friend letters) and set it on the counter.  I put a piece of paper in it and typed:

leave me (the typewriter) a message….

Then I even typed a fake message to get things started:

hey typewriter. 

And no one would type on it.

So I left another fake message:

is typing writing?

Granted it was a slow day, but I couldn’t convince one single person to leave a message. It’s like they were scared of a typewriter. Or me. But they did buy books, so maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was the typewriter. I’ll try again sometime soon.  Hopefully I get a few brave customers.  And my first fake message will be:

BE BRAVE AND TYPE.

 

P.S. I was invited to the volunteer appreciation dinner next week….so I’m still employed at my free job.

 

 

More info:

Friends of the Marianna Black Library Used Book Store
32 Everett St, Bryson City, NC 28713
Raises money to help with the rising costs of Free Library Services in Bryson City, North Carolina.
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Sunday
More things to do in Bryson City, NC. 

 

Life Is Not Rocket Science

I spent the morning in the Hemlock Inn kitchen with George, one of the cooks, and helped make peanut butter pies. I combed through an old box of handwritten recipes collected over the years from guests that have come and go. Coated in years of cooking:

Old Hemlock Inn Recipes - Inn located in Bryson City

I washed the dishes and George dried.  We concluded that I am not the greatest dishwasher because I like to “quietly” wash dishes. I don’t like to clang them around.

Washing Dishes at the inn

I spent the afternoon working on some writing projects. When school was out, as a family, we visited our friends Wally and Donna (who I always call Wonna and Dolly on accident). Boo wanted to meet their chickens:

Raising Chickens

And as I looked back on my day I thought about how George had broken almost every bone in his body after falling off the side of a mountain when he was a younger guy.  He has all the visible scars to show he’s been through more than I could ever live through. Add in a brain aneurysm and a stroke and he’s pretty much a walking miracle.  And Donna is a cancer survivor and a survivor of a lot more than that too. And Wally had a stroke a while back and can’t do everything he used to.  But Wally started painting gourds…and here’s one he made for me, a buff orpington. She’s the most beautiful gourd chicken I’ve ever seen:

And she will be named: Hatsy

Chicken Gourd - Buff Orpington

And these are just a few of the people who are so generous with their lives.  They invite us into their homes. They make pancakes so we can freeze them for later. They fix nail guns. They smile when the door swings open.

“Turn left at the EGGS sign” I told Brett earlier today and “make sure you gun it up the gravel driveway!”  Feeding a stale biscuit to a group of chickens is delightful and humorous and basically-the-best-thing-I’ve-done-all-week. I cock-a-doodled so maybe Rufus the Rooster would grace us with his presence and he did.

Me: You know those teeny tiny gourds called Tennessee Spinners?

Wally: Yep.

Me: How can I grow those myself?

Wally: Just plant a seed…

Just plant a seed?  This is not rocket science!  A year ago I would have just ordered them off Etsy!  Even talk of gourds stretches me to places I never even knew existed. The thought of growing gourds myself! Tennessee spinners can be used as toy tops, and I know this because I learned how to spin them at a farm festival a few weeks ago.

Did you know: a gourd takes 90 to 100 days to grow to maturity.  Good grief.  That’s like 400 years. 

Last night at dinner a woman said: if you lie flat in the middle of a cornfield, you can hear the corn growing. It crackles as it stretches upward.  What?!  How am I 37 years old and just now learning this information. Sometimes I watch the kudzu here carefully because it grows a foot a day but I’ve never seen it actually grow.  This is all scary but incredible news.

Sometimes, when people ask me if I’m local I want to tell them I’m related to Wonna and Dally.  And it wouldn’t really be a lie because we are all connected in a way I think.  Maybe I can just be related to everybody.  But I’m not great at remembering names, and birthdays, and I don’t cook Thanksgiving dinner…just putting that out there ahead of time.

 

 And all the colors I am inside have not been invented yet.

-Shel Silverstein, from Colors

 

P.S. Life is a verb.  One of my favorite books.  I would eat it if I could.  I’m going to Life is a Verb camp in November.  An early Christmas present. Because it’s right near here…and I can’t stop thinking about all the seeds that will be planted from it.  Time to explore, out of context. And I signed up to room with a stranger. To feel a little fearful and do it anyway. 

 

God is Kneading Me Like Clay

It’s been five days since the accident and I only feel a little bit of whiplash in the right side of my neck.  Thinking back it was like I was in zero gravity and the car was spinning around me.  I keep having flashbacks to that moment. But it feels like it didn’t even happen.  I mean, did it even happen?  Last night as I tried to watch a movie from my laptop, I found a piece of the rental car’s airbag stuck in the DVD drive.  So I guess it did happen.

Four days ago, as I took a taxi back to the airport (a $192 taxi ride) the young female driver never stopped talking. I wrote down every word as she spoke because I hung onto every one:

See that pier over there? Those are my customers. I drive their Escalade when they need me to. They pay me to drive them around town. They invite me over to drink on the dock. I love what I do.  And my husband, well, he sells timeshares just to people who already own timeshares.  Basically my husband tells you that you bought shit and then sells you more shit. And what the hell is a timeshare? Just a hotel room that you share with other people. It’s not even really yours.  There is this one lady who bought a time share from him years ago and now guess what?  Her house got foreclosed on.  She can’t even afford her own house. And now she’s living with her daughter. My husband just shrugs and says that he helped bring the family closer together.  He’s just an actor! They are all just actors! Selling a scam! Hey, take a 4 hour tour of the property with me. Oh and I just got you the best deal. You have to jump on it now. I called the president of the time share company for you. They say the exact same thing to the next person! They didn’t talk to no president! I tell him: how can you live with yourself. And he hates that I drive a cab. Look babe, I’m hustling just like you! I go to work in sweats and a t-shirt and he goes to fancy-brunch-mimosa-shit. And I so don’t fit in with the people he works with.  I can go to work whenever I want to! I can make money TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY!

I got out of the taxi reeling.  And walked into the concrete jungle of the Houston airport, thinking: if we all descended from Adam and Eve, wouldn’t there be inbreeding?

Three days ago I had been getting into hot bath to soak my jolted body and as my head went below the water and all sound was drowned out except for my breathing I began crying and thanking God.  For keeping me in that place of zero gravity in that rental car. And at the same time jolting me back to life again, because maybe I’d been asleep the past few days.

Two days ago I had been on the plane with two crying little boys behind me, whose mother did not speak english. And I made little paper airplanes to swoooosh along the opening between the two seats and they giggles and pointed and laughed when I made dive-bombing crashing sounds. And I briefly made eye contact over the seat and the mother smiled with the kind of gratitude I understand.

plane

Four days ago, it was Saturday night, and it was late as we drove up to the Hemlock Inn. All the lights were already off because 10pm is mountain midnight.   Three days ago, we woke up early for Sunday breakfast and as I walked onto the back porch a group of guests were there.  The Millers who I had met earlier in the summer and Ron and Eugene from  Washington, DC.  After asking how I was doing from the car crash, Eugene jokingly asked if I’d mentioned them in my presentation at the conference and I told him that I had.  He beamed.  And I really had….it’s not every day that you meet someone that worked at the Watergate Hotel for 28 years.

One day ago, we went to the local library for the first time as a family.  Brett and I sat and flipped through magazines. As I flipped through a random WNC magazine I fell upon an article about a project called Funk and Wag by artist Mel Chin.  I had just randomly met Mel in the Atlanta airport, where we were strangers but had a very awesome conversation about roadkill.

One day ago, after dinner, Brett had gone to hang out with some friends to watch football. And I watched 12 Years a Slave, and the scene where Salomon was almost hung from a tree was too much and I had to get up and walk around.  Falling asleep I was woken up by the sound of a large animal on the roof.  I listened carefully and determined it was probably a raccoon or a possum.  And I wanted to be brave enough to go outside and figure out which one it was but I don’t like confronting things when it’s cold.

And today, the air is getting crisp and the leaves are just starting to exhibit some colors.  It’s starting to get pretty cold at night and I’m learning to use our baseboard heaters.  We got out the down comforters yesterday.  My wardrobe has picked up a few flannel button downs that remind me of my love for Pearl Jam back in the day. This morning I was so happy to crank up Ruby this morning for the first time.  I love the gasoline smell and her rumble. I can keep her from stalling on a cold morning because I know how much time she needs to warm up. And I drove along the river and listened to her engine rumble against the mountain.

Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. 

It all sounds so mundane but I can feel something bigger in it all.

There are little reminders everywhere.

This is not all there is.

I can be really stubborn sometimes. And I can then turn around and not care at all.

And I’m really good at forgiving and forgetting which some people view as being delusional.

And sometimes my insides feel like they are on a roller coaster.

And there are so many big life decisions always presenting themselves.

And Boo says: I want to be 11 years old.

And I tell her: Grow up as slow as you can.

I wanted to buy a box of Krispy Kremes today but I didn’t trust myself not to eat all 4.

Tomorrow I’m going to buy a box of 4 Krispy Kremes, and I’ll eat all 4, just spaced out throughout the day.

God is kneading you like clay
molding your stubborn will to be supple in his spirit
let him shape you

there is coming to you
the grace of a new self understanding

perhaps even the peace of a new self-acceptance

you will be learning who you are
all by yourself

-Robert A. Raines, Living the Questions

A Wedding in the North Carolina Mountains

NC Mountain Wedding at Hemlock Inn in Bryson City #wedding #rusticwedding

The innkeeper’s son was married a few weeks ago.  It was a beautiful wedding with a theme of gray and yellow:

mason jar wedding invitations and programs

 

JT and Alli:

DIY wedding decor ideas

 

I took some photos behind the scenes:

setting up wedding

 

Behind the scenes of the florist, Tony Whitlock of Acorn Home and Garden (Marietta, GA):

yellow flower theme for wedding

yellow and sherbet color flowers for wedding

Behind the scenes of the photographer: Love the yellow shoes. Ancelet Photography at work in the photo.

weddingedits22web copy
Behind the scenes of the decor:

Rustic wedding decor ideas DIY painted
The ceremony was beautiful:

mountain wedding bryson city Hemlock Inn

September mountain wedding bryson city Hemlock Inn

 

After the ceremony, the Hemlock lawn needed to be switched out for dinner.  A popcorn bar kept the guests busy: [Read more...]

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.

 

 

Disclaimer: Sometimes I use affiliate links. All products were picked by me, purchased by me, used by me and loved by me. They help to cover the server expenses of my website.  I am grateful for each and every click. Thank you!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...