Snow Scenes from Bryson City

…and it’s snowing again. I love the snow as long as I don’t have to be anywhere….and we have food and heat.

snow in the great smoky mountains


And I have snow boots! (I knew I held on to these all those years for a reason…I think I’ve had these since high school.)


A picture I took at Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Deep Creek Park Bryson City


The view of town from our hill:

Snow Dusting of Bryson City, NC


A wildflower:

Deep Creek Park Smokies


Toms Branch Falls in the national park:

Toms Branch Falls in Deep Creek Waterfall Smoky Mountains


The depot where it now sits:

Old Train Depot Moved - Bryson City
This could have been written right here:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Dust of Snow, Robert Frost 


A Single Drop of Rain

Sometimes I just stop by the river to hear the water, the white noise. Especially when it is raining.  Time stops and deepens. Good things are magnified. Disappointments disappear.  Everything just is.

Sometimes I pull out my phone to capture the place, just to remember: I met myself here today. I caught up. 

I didn’t realize until later that I’d caught a single raindrop right as it was hitting the water.

It takes a lot of slow to grow Eve Merriam said in her poem A Lazy Thought.


“When I am dying, reevaluating my life, I would like to remember only these moments, those in which no clocks are ticking, in which I am aware of my excruciating and increasing vulnerability, in which I am so grateful for my lot in life that I could fall prone to the ground, overwhelmed with gratitude, moment by moment by moment. My life has been saved in moments. In moments, my life has been made worthwhile.”
-Janisse Ray, Drifting into Darien

Wide Load: Moving the Train Depot

I took Boo to her basketball practice last night after a long day and a few familiar faces said “was that your building being towed through town this afternoon?”  

It was.  I had a building moved 50 miles.  A crazy hair brained idea…but one that I was dead set on. I wanted to save an old building and recycle it into something new.

When I pulled up to the building yesterday the mover that I’d found was already hard at work. The depot was jacked up and they had used hydraulics to pivot it 45 degrees toward the road. Their trucks and trailer made it so I had to stop right in the middle of the road and park. I could see the looks in their eyes as I parked: great, we have to move all these trucks so that vehicle can drive through. I waved to them signaling I was fine and got out of the truck. They had stopped working for a second, while looking at me.  A man walked up and said: I sure hope you are Ashley.  And I said: You must be Mickey.  As soon as we shook hands the hydraulics started up again.

how to move a house or building - house mover

Mickey Simmons is a salt of the earth kind of guy. You can tell he’s a hard worker, no b.s., and takes care of his workers. They work like a well-oiled machine with their signals, movements, etc.  I didn’t do a lot of research right at first to find a mover, I had a few referrals from locals and I called them all but got mostly answering machines. The few that answered the phone or actually returned my call said it was too big of a job and they couldn’t do it with the equipment they had.  So I searched on the Internet and found a few house moving companies. Brett asked how I picked Simmons House Moving and my answer was: well, he sounded just like my dad.  It was more than that though…I have a really good sense of people. I liked Mickey right off.  I knew I could trust him.

And yesterday, as we finally got to meet after days of talking on the phone about the job, I told him I was glad the day was finally here because I’d had anxiety about it, not about transport necessarily, but the owners of the property on the other side were worried about having trucks in the horse pasture and making it muddy, how fast we were going to get it moved, how we were going to get it moved, about heavy equipment tearing up the asphalt, and truck oil on the driveway etc. etc. etc.

Mickey: Anxiety? You didn’t need to worry about any of this.

Me: I know, but there were so many logistics and I was worried about putting these people out while we moved it.

And then he looked at me all serious and said:

Listen here, the sun is going to rise tomorrow. And then it’s going to set. And then the sun is going to rise again. Don’t worry about all that other stuff.

I nodded. He was right.

house moving in north carolina and southeast

And then as it started pouring rain in the freezing cold I stood there watching them work. I wasn’t cold because I was mesmerized with the process….and the scenery:

maggie valley

I noticed that they were spending a lot of time underneath the structure attaching metal straps everywhere.  Me: Is that going to keep it all together?  Mickey:  Yep, this is what is known as a balloon construction. The building is just resting on the floor. We have to secure the top and bottom together to keep it from falling apart. (I love knowing just a little bit about just about everything.)

moving an old train railroad depot - simmons house moving

I think it probably took longer than they expected because of the condition of the building. And with the rain everything was getting slick. And then just like that, the sun came out, and they were ready to transport: We’ll just follow you.

Me: Uh oh, I have to pick up my daughter from school. I’ll run go do that and then meet you back at the highway exit.

Nothing like packing in a full day right? I ran to get Boo from school thinking I’d have enough time but they arrived faster than I thought they would. When they called to say they were on the exit I had to answer: Um, I’m stuck in a carpool line. I can’t go forward or reverse.  I bet that’s never happened before.

So I called Brett who was working on a roof right at the corner of Main Street: Hey, they are headed your way, I’m going to tell them to look out for you and can you get in front of them and direct them up to our property and where to put the building?

Brett: I see them. They are at the stoplight.

Talk about good timing.  I had switched trucks with Brett in the morning, because Ruby was leaking transmission fluid, so I told Mickey to look for the “1982 red Chevy pickup” and to follow it.  But then talk about bad timing: at the same exact moment I said that ANOTHER red chevy pickup pulled in front of the convoy… and they followed the wrong pickup! It took them up to the hospital. What are the odds….  Brett eventually caught up to them and they were able to get back on track to drive around the hospital to our place.

But then there was the mud. It had been hailing in Bryson City earlier in the day and the ground had thawed from being frozen.  Also, the gas company had dug a trench up the yard earlier in the morning….a perfect storm of mushy red clay.  As soon as they got the trailer down to the edge of the yard, the truck began slipping.  Another truck was brought around to pull it through the mud:

simmons house moving

If they were nervous they didn’t show it.  I wasn’t nervous either…the sun is going to rise tomorrow right?

So then, they methodically inched the depot into place and began to lower it, positioning blocks and leveling it as they went. I could hear them talking: we need to dig this out or it will settle eventually. I thought for sure the building would just be dropped, but they made sure it had blocks to sit on for as long as I needed them. It will probably never move from that spot as long as we live here:

structure relocation - simmons house moving shelby

And then as fast as they came, they were gone, onto the next city for the next move.  Boo checking out the new addition to our property:

The Old Depot Project #theolddepotproject

There are some people that walk this earth that you are just glad you got a chance to meet, to cross paths with if even for a few moments.  I got to spend a day with Mickey, his son and their team and watch them work.  It was awesome.  I could just follow them around all the time and watch them move really big things.

But the best part is that I’ll always remember Mickey’s words, in the same southern accent my father would have had: the sun is going to rise again tomorrow.

That reminds me of something Kid President said recently:


If you ever need a house, or anything huge, awkward and heavy moved, I’ve got your contact: Simmons House Moving  I even love the story of how they got started:

“Every family has a dream to own their own home and in 1981 that dream became a reality for me and my family when someone offered to give me a home to be moved. Not only do I still live in this home today but also our business was born out of that move. “

Check out the structures they’ve moved on their Facebook page here.  Impressive.


An open aware heart is your camera. -Ansel Adams

My little girl watching the sun rise yesterday morning on her own:

watching the sun rise

That picture just makes my heart swell….that she even expressed interest in the sunrise.  I want her to be awake to the world. To be able to entertain herself.  To play, to explore, to read, to connect widely offline.  She can tinker and wander and wonder. She can invent her own life.


And at her own pace. Last weekend she wanted to build a house for the squirrels.  Brett let her make all the decisions.


It took all day…but the result was a house…with a swinging bridge. Practical? No…but very creative. I think I need to unlearn some things.

I want her to be full of experience.  And I want her heart to be moved. Over and over.


The sunrise is a good start.

Step 1. Wonder at something.

Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. If everybody’s wondering about apples, go wonder about oranges.

-Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist



Christmas Cheer

The last week has been a blur with lots of highlights sticking out.

Me: Where did all these gifts marked “to Boo, from Santa” come from?!
Boo: Oh, I made them.

Boo and I made a trip to the thrift store last week and she came upon the “FREE” bin.  All of my gifts from her suspiciously look like what she scavenged from that pile. I love that she’s resourceful at Christmas.

We made a quick trip to Mississippi to see Brett’s mother, sister and family:


We drove to Canton, MS one night to see the lights and parade:


Boo altered her Christmas list to include a puppy after spending a few days with 4 dogs…including this polar bear of a Pyrenees named Alex.


She didn’t get the memo that Santa is not bringing puppies this year

Me: We already have a dog.
Boo: I know, but I want a nice dog.

Diesel got a spiffy new haircut for his pre-Christmas gift:



And spending Christmas back in North Carolina with my family.  We haven’t had a Christmas with my brother and sister since moving to California in 2006.  My sister Perry is hosting this year:

It will be my niece Leighton’s first Christmas:


Creating new traditions for this family like making cookies: (do not touch the Gingerbread Man)


My mother has an elaborate Christmas nativity play planned with the grandkids.  She spent all last week planning out the costumes at the inn with us:



Have a very Merry Christmas!


The Christmas List

I always look forward to seeing what Boo puts on her Christmas list each year.

Four years ago she specifically asked for an office water cooler. It was so random we thought she’d forget about it. She didn’t.

Three years ago she wanted a bunk bed for her dolls. She got a handmade set from Brett.

Two years ago she asked for an American Girl doll, she was very specific: PF-1221 is the SKU number. She cried with joy when she found the box under the tree.  It made us cry too.


Last year she asked for Saige (an American Girl doll), and doll hair extensions. We tried to talk her out of it, gave her a dozen other ideas.  She nodded okay, but apparently only to appease us.  I miraculously intercepted a desperate-toned letter in the mailbox addressed for Santa a day later:


This year she’s asked for a doll typewriter, a doll wheelchair and a handful of books.

Her list is never very long, and she is always very aware that she might not get anything she asks for. But I hope she’ll ask for dolls and books forever. (Oh please ask for dolls and books forever.)

She loves her Keri Smith journal…so I ordered these for her…really wanting to order them for myself:

How to Be An Explorer of the World 


The Pocket Scavenger


We rode the Polar Express train last Friday and she had a blast but she still doesn’t really care for Santa. She got really nervous when he approached and she politely just said a “hi” and “thank you” as he handed her a bell.  She breathed a sigh of relief as he moved on to the next row.

polar express

She and I read all the notes that other children had left for Santa and we chuckled at this one (we do not know Abigail, but she loves cats):


We spent today picking out gifts for family and teachers. She was so thoughtful about each one, insisting on wrapping the gifts and writing the cards herself.  I spent part of the day making ugly Christmas sweaters for Brett and I and when I was done she exclaimed: Oh, they are beautiful! Not quite the reaction I was going for, but I love her enthusiasm.

And then there’s the tree she picked for our house:


It’s a twig.  Simple and perfect. She’s very proud of it.

Oh, and she’s been playing with her old Nativity set for a few weeks now. She calls it her “activity set” and spends hours telling us (and anyone who will listen) the story of Jesus’s birth.


She knows more details about Christmas than I could ever remember. And tonight she was asking Brett and I to “Google” what the chemical makeups of Frankincense and Myrrh are. Because those details might be important I suppose.

We are so blessed.


“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu

I had the chance to take a workshop by Ellen Bass recently.  I learned so much from her about process: writing things down, the act of writing engraves the idea on your mind. Be willing to disturb the story you know.  I write almost everything down…so much so that it borderlines on hoarding. Everything is interesting. Everything contains poetry. Like the fact that the sun came up today, for the 4 bazillionth time is amazing in itself.  A miracle in fact. How does it even know where to come up each day? Like, what if one day the sun decided to reverse course?



t-shirt by A Happy Girl

Today’s word of the day for an advent series I’m doing (The Grove Church) is ACCEPTANCE. I think Ellen’s words sum it up perfectly:

“to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again.”
Ellen Bass

My Own Shutter Opens

I used to take my camera everywhere. To capture everything.  But now I’m finding that the more I leave my camera behind, the more I see…and the more I remember. And like Annie Dillard puts it:

…my own shutter opens…

Remember when we were limited to 24 exposures on a roll?  This summer a man asked me to take a photo of his family in front of a waterfall and I started clicking away until I realized in horror that his camera was a film camera.  I probably used up half of the roll on that one shot.  I wasn’t really paying attention to the shot I was getting either.

The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


You missed that. Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.
 -Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking

I miss the excitement of getting the film developed, and I miss the feeling of only having to take a single photo. I want my photo albums to be smaller and thinner.  It doesn’t mean I did less, it means I felt more.


The spaces where it feels like God is exhaling, where the earth becomes gentle, sometimes just for a millisecond.

The river.


I Have Enough for This Life

Ask me not where I live
or what I like to eat…
Ask me what I am living for
and what I think is keeping me
from living fully for that.
-Thomas Merton

I’ve been working at the used book store on Mondays for the past few weeks, filling in for the couple who usually works there because the husband was running for office in the local election. Every Monday, after opening the store, I walk around to the regional book section to see if the book Cold Mountain is still there. I re-read a little each week, wondering if I’d have the chance to finish the following week before someone buys it.  The change in Ada throughout the book is what I love…because I see so much of myself in her journey.  Ruby teaches Ada how to survive in the mountains, and passes along her knowledge of how all things fall under the rule of the heavens. While Ada knows her father would have passed off many of nature’s signs as superstition and folklore, she soon begins to realize that the signs are a way of being alert.  And each little sign of nature was a gesture toward understanding.

I am living a life now where I keep account of the doings of particular birds. – Ada Monroe, Cold Mountain

I too watch the birds.  I feel the understanding that if I am looking, I find myself overflowing thankfulness, thankful for the little things set out in front of me each day that are waiting to be discovered.

Everything that arrests you, everything that delights you, has to be noted. – Maira Kalman


For me, gratitude is this practice of looking, being alert, becoming absorbed in the natural world around me, contemplating all of the miracles in the everyday:


For example, the miracle of these perfect little Hemlock pinecones. Boo and I collected a few mason jars full this week from a Hemlock tree on Hospital Hill. The cones we pulled off the tree still had the little winged seeds inside, which I discovered when I accidentally dropped an entire mason jar of them onto the floor board of my truck.  Each seed a possibility.

“A tree that reaches past your embrace grows from one small seed.” -Lao Tzu



“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
― Melody Beattie

In the book On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz says “our culture fosters inattention; we are all creatures of our culture. We don’t pay attention to the journey.”  How much have I missed?  How often have I neglected to take a few moments to stare at the sunrise each morning. A sunrise earlier this week looks like it was painted in flames:


This morning we woke up to a soft blanket of snow.  I knew before I even put on my glasses, because snow brings quiet. God has shushed the earth for a short time. Oh, to soak that up! What a miracle in itself:


Today is a day to be thankful, but I don’t need this one day to create this awareness of gratitude.  It is an every day practice. Choosing gratitude is choosing life.


Yes, I am thankful for my family, friends, health and home today. But my gratitude goes much deeper than that. I am thankful for all things. Thursdays. Mondays. The ups and the downs. The entire journey and where it has taken me, and the not-yet-knowing where I will go from here.  And that we are all connected. As Anatole France said: The truth is that life is delicious, horrible, charming, sweet, bitter, and that is everything. 

Happy Thanksgiving. 34 days left still to give thanks in 2014.

Giver of life, creator of all that is lovely.
Teach me to sing the words to your song;
I want to feel the music of living
And not fear the sad songs
But from them make new songs
Composed of both laughter and tears.

Teach me to dance to the sounds of your world and your people,
I want to move in rhythm with your plan,
Help me to try to follow your leading
To risk even falling
To rise and keep trying
Because you are leading the dance.

-Author Unknown

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