My most recent project for the depot, other than the picket fence and raised garden, has been to paint vintage railroad signs as “flare” for the outside:
I started with these stain grade edge glued round table tops from Lowe’s as the canvas:
The first thing I did was paint each table top with a coat of primer:
Because the table tops are round it’s hard to create a grid for measurements. I used a large piece of contractor’s paper to create a round template the size of each table top to make it easy to find the center and to mark quarter and half marks:
I enlarged text in Powerpoint and printed it off as a template. I used newspaper to transfer my design. If you trace and press hard enough the newspaper ink will transfer to the wood:
I used acrylic craft paint to carefully paint in my designs:
Here’s a Santa Fe sign:
On reason I chose that sign is that our house overlooks the Bryson City train depot and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has an old Santa Fe caboose….it was built in 1942 and rebuilt in 1970. It’s a class Ce-2 which you can read more about here.
For the large railroad crossing sign I marked the center of the wood using my paper template and then used a ruler to mark the outside border all the way around:
I printed off a large “R” to use as a letter template:
I painted the yellow background first:
And then the black parts:
I love the large scale of the RR sign:
The old depot was part of the railroad in Canton, NC so I wanted to use a sign from its roots. The Southern Railroad would have been the railroad whose locomotives used this building. I used a small paintbrush to carefully write each letter:
And the finished sign:
After all the signs were completely dry I put a few coats of polyurethane on them to protect them from the outdoor weather:
You can use this technique to make any sign that is circular:
You can follow along real time at @lilblueboo on Instagram.
All the projects are indexed here:
The Old Depot Project is sponsored by Lowe’s Home Improvement.
If you like using the round table tops for projects try this one out too!
I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, put each for down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
I love filling my pockets with things I find on a walk or while working around the yard. Little treasures. Looking closely at the little snail shells you can see the layers where each snail has added to his shell as he grew. And the cicada wing looks like it might have just fallen off of a garden fairy. A piece of pottery that with the letters RTH AM…North American?
And all of these teeny, tiny flat rocks were a reddish clay color until I soaked them in water and their varying colors were revealed:
I love the fall when things begin to fall from the trees. If I stay in the same place long enough I become a target. I can hear the squirrels scurrying above me and suddenly a nut will drop with a thud to the ground. And if I look closely I I can see the tiny gnaw marks used to detach it from the branch. They leave their littered shells all around:
Tiny pine cones, a dime, a petal from a silk flower and other odds and ends:
Learning to see becomes a meditation. There are endless treasures from the earth. Years ago I would have swept these things into oblivion with a broom or rake, dismissing their significance. Now I pick them up and I am giddy arranging them like someone might arrange a collection of figurines or precious coins. And it’s almost impossible to describe or understand the enjoyment that I get out of it.
I think Annie Dillard’s chapter “Seeing” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever read. I come back to it over and over:
There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.
If there are any ghosts in the Great Smoky Mountains they are definitely in Cataloochee:
Cataloochee was once a peaceful, prosperous community for the families that lived there, until the rumors of the formation of the national park started to filter in from the outside. By the late 1930’s most of the families would be forced to leave. Some of the structures were preserved like the Palmer House:
Layers of peeling wallpaper:
So many beautiful textures in this place, like this old floral linoleum:
This is the Caldwell House built in 1906:
I just loved the inside of the house and the remnants of paper on the walls:
Newspapers and Sears catalogs were used to cover the walls to keep out drafts:
The old Cataloochee Beech Grove schoolhouse, built in 1901, is the only school that remains now after the families moved out for the park in the 1940’s. As we approached it we could see an elk resting in the woods. I didn’t take a photo because it’s wise to give elk their space.
The desks and blackboards are still there as if the students just walked out one day, which they kind of did:
The community is now mostly grown back into forest…no more farmland or orchards. While Brett and I were clearing the area for our garden the last few weeks I remarked a few times: Could you imagine having to manually fell trees and clear land for farming like this?
Cataloochee is way up over a mountain, surrounded by 6,000 foot high ridges, so far up and down that as we were driving there Brett asked: Are you sure there’s something at the end of this road? It makes you wonder how the settlers even found the area in the first place. And then when they found it they had to clear it to create farm land. It’s a beautiful place but also eerily sad. Over ten million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year, making it the most visited park in the country. I often wonder how many of those visitors know the history of sacrifice that went into creating it. I’m so glad some of these buildings were preserved in the park so that visitors can imagine the community that was once there.
P.S. I think one thing that really shocked me was the amount of graffiti left in these old building. Sad that people can’t have enough self control to deface historic property.
I read the book Cataloochee a few months ago, a fictional account of the community. I loved being transported back to such a simpler time and being able to imagine what it was like living there:
“Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina sits Cataloochee. In a time when “where you was born was where God wanted you,” the Wrights and the Carters, both farming families, travel to the valley to escape the rapid growth of neighboring towns and to have a few hundred acres all to themselves. But progress eventually winds its way to Cataloochee, too, and year after year the population swells as more people come to the valley to stake their fortune.”
More of my favorite books on the area are listed here.
More on Cataloochee:
My favorite places in the Great Smoky Mountains and around Bryson City.
Once a week I volunteer in our local used book store. A few books that caught my eye today:
A first edition In Cold Blood that came through a few weeks ago:
Illustrations from a 1927 school reader:
And then there was this whole collection of The Little Colonel books a while back. 9 volumes from early 1900s. The Shirley Temple movie The Little Colonel was based on these. Many of the books were inscribed with a note, with the name Gladys and street address written in fountain pen.
I had lunch with my friend Ellen recently and she said she’d seen the above photo at some point…and that Gladys was her grandmother. Wow.
More tales from the used book store here.
I knew the day would come, but it came too fast. If only we had two weeks, two days, or even two hour notice on deaths, so we could begin a countdown. And yet really, the day came too slow. He was so old and fragile, and his health had been declining this last year. But then he would have extra pep in his step every once in a while, like the other day I was laying on the floor with him and he was attacking my hand playfully and wanting me to throw his beloved dodo toy. And he never really slept with us anymore but last Saturday he came to the edge of the bed and scratched at the side which meant he wanted to curl up with one of us for an hour or two. Those were always really special Saturday mornings when he chose us.
Our precious Diesel took his last breath on September 10. It was very unexpected. That evening Brett looked down at him and Diesel looked at him as if trying to tell him something. I tried to get Diesel’s attention and his head lolled over to my direction and he stared at me as if he was pleading, but something in his eyes was off. I panicked and rushed towards him to lift him out of his bed. Brett carefully took him out of my hands and took him over to the couch. Brett’s whole hand fits over Diesel’s body and when he holds him against his chest it has always soothed Diesel to sleep:
He hadn’t eaten anything so I pureed a tiny bit of chicken. Brett held the dish to Diesel’s mouth and he was able to take a few bites and then laid his head down. I thought it might just be one of his bad spells and he’d be okay once he ate. He’d had bad spells for years and they usually only lasted a few hours.
Brett held Diesel to his heart and whispered to him like he always does to calm him down. Then suddenly Diesel arched his neck unnaturally back along Brett’s chest to look up at him. Their noses touched. Brett kissed him. I will never forget that moment and the look in Diesel’s eyes: confusion yet total trust and love. At that moment we knew he was dying. A few seconds later, Brett said, “I think he’s gone.” Diesel had quietly slipped away, and Brett’s hands had felt the final beats.
Boo was in the shower when Diesel died. We could hear her singing and we both sat with Diesel crying over his tiny 2-pound body not wanting to tell her. Of course she was devastated when she finally found out. I told her I had been praying and praying over a few months for God to please let Diesel die at home with us, peacefully. And I had been praying. And every day I asked Diesel if he still wanted to be here with us and he always answered yes with his actions and sweet personality. He always wanted to be included in everything even though he couldn’t quite keep up. We included him any way that we could.
I guess you could say that September 10 was the day that Diesel finally said no. We had been dreading that day and it started out as any other day. Earlier that day Diesel had garnered up enough energy to venture outside when Brett came home for lunch to lay in the sun. We are so thankful for the last few minutes we had with him. I think he waited for us to come home, and when we did he waited for us to pay attention and notice his struggle. I hope he didn’t struggle long. I just couldn’t bear it.
That first night without Diesel was the roughest of sleeps. There was no pitter patter through the night like I was used to hearing.
Waking up the next morning reality set in. I went and looked in the round wooded box Diesel was resting in. As I was making coffee Boo walked in sleepily and looked into the box then turned and headed back to her room. I could hear her sobbing and when I went to check on her she said, “I prayed all night that God would bring Diesel back to life, but he didn’t.”
While Boo was at school Brett and I went to a nearby nursery to pick out a small Japanese Maple for Diesel’s grave. At home Brett dug the biggest hole I’d ever seen. We had all decided we didn’t want to bury Diesel out anywhere by himself. We wanted him close by. We chose the sunny spot right next to the back door, by the woodshed, where he used to often stand in the sun and sniff the air before heading back inside.
Finally at home as a family we said goodbye to Diesel for the last time. Boo gave him one of her old blankies and packed his toys in with him. We lowered him into his final resting place and it took us a very long time to have the courage to cover him up:
Our house seems half empty now. Because of Diesel’s arthritis we had a dog bed in every room for him. Max wouldn’t dare try to sleep in any of them, he still won’t. So I got rid of them. In the last few years Diesel had to go to the bathroom with increasing frequency, every 2 or 3 hours, so we had little mats everywhere for him. Those are all gone now. Because all of his teeth were gone a lot of preparation went into his food each morning and evening. Sometimes if my mind was elsewhere I would make his food and accidentally leave it on the counter and he would stand there patiently and prance a little as if to say, “I’m still here waiting patiently Mom!” He was so forgiving.
Last night Boo and I were cleaning out the dishes from the dishwasher. She was handing me the dishes for me to put away and then she paused for a second. When I looked down to see what she was looking at she was holding the small white soy sauce dishes we used for Diesel’s food. I started crying and just couldn’t stop.
Then I was cutting red peppers for dinner I started crying again. Diesel would always come running when I cut peppers, watermelon or cucumbers. He was so quirky and loved those three. He never begged for any food except for those and he knew the sound of knife slicing through.
I still look for him during the day when I walk by where his bed sat in the living room. He would lay there all day watching me go back and forth and I would have conversations with him each time I passed.
I still look for him at night after everyone is in bed, when I get back up to get water and say goodnight. I would lean over his little sheepskin bed and whisper goodnight to him. I would scratch his ear and he would lean into my hand to tell me how good it felt.
Today was our first day that felt like fall and all I could think all day was: Diesel would have loved this day outside. And there are reminders of him everywhere, like the little stairs and handicap ramps we had to aid him around the house. Even the front porch is a reminder, where he would hobble out to sit and bask in the sun. And each time we went back in he would pause and wait for Max to enter first because if he didn’t Max would dart in so fast that he would flip poor Diesel over. But Diesel was just happy to have sat in the sun just a few minutes warming those old cold bones, because dogs don’t think about death or sickness or that they feel bad…they just think about the small earthly moments of bliss…the ones that we humans don’t even recognize most of the time:
He never really asked for anything but a little sunshine.
Our house has these wonderful little square stone cutouts by Diesel’s resting place. Boo has used the cutouts to leave him little gifts (just like her namesake). At sunset the light shines through the stone windows highlighting and casting a glow around him. We didn’t plan that but I like it:
I think it is possible to die from a broken heart. I can’t believe how much we’ve all cried over Diesel’s absence. I can’t stop thinking about how small and fragile he was. Anyone who’d ever met him swore he must have been the smallest dog in the world. Once I gave him a piece of dry dog food and it literally got stuck in the roof of his mouth because his mouth was smaller than dog food. His little skull was the exact size of a golf ball. His heart, having seen it once on an x-ray, was the size of a grape. A grape. And it beat for almost 14 years. I slept next to him for a while the night he died because I couldn’t get his eyes to close. I thought maybe, just maybe, he would take another breath. Maybe his heart had just slowed and we couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to leave him alone. For a while my eyes keep playing tricks on me and it looked like maybe he’d taken a breath, maybe the blanket had moved a little. But then I’d stroke his fur and whisper to him and he grew colder and colder and I knew it was final. Final. I hate that word. And I hate that the dead grow cold, especially when you just want to grab them and hug them close but you can’t because they are frozen like statues. It’s a mean part of nature I tell you, but it’s also a compassionate part of nature because otherwise I’d still have Diesel’s body with me and, well, we all felt better once he was put to rest. But it still kills me that he’s under that dirt now. And then how Max reacted, he ran all over Diesel’s body like it wasn’t even there. It made me mad that he was acting like a sociopath and I was a little resentful at first but then decided that maybe Max is part of our learning to move forward. He moved on the moment Diesel’s spirit left, his attention moved to: hey! walk! bone! throw the duck! hey! walk! what’s up?! can I see? squirrel!
To heal we have to crawl towards a place where the grief can slowly settle into place like sand between the good stuff. Max moved on immediately because dogs only see the good stuff. Dogs don’t even know how to think about bad stuff. That’s why I saw a little dog running down the middle of the road the other day having the most epic day ever in his mind, with no regard for safety. His tongue was hanging out and his nose was in the air and he was like: best. day. ever. Because dogs just live for the moment and they love the air, and the grass, and worn out tennis balls, and sticks, and eye contact, and a quick pet of the ears. Humans should be more like dogs. Yesterday I was collecting teeny tiny rocks in the back yard and I found this every so tiny heart shaped rock. It was the size of my thumbnail and it was embedded in the dirt so tight it took me a minute to wedge it free:
And maybe it was a little sign from above and I hope it was because there is a big empty void right now…he’s been my little trusty sidekick for so long, spending most of the last 14 years in my lap through study, work and leisure. He was even my trusty little sidekick through cancer. This is Brett’s favorite photo of him, standing guard while I was trying to recuperate from the emergency hysterectomy / chemotherapy I had at Loma Linda a few years ago:
This is probably my favorite photo of him, as we were moving cross-country:
Because we had just recently almost lost him and I was so happy just to have him safe and secure with us. God gave us another year and a half with him. I should be thankful for all those answers to prayer and that huge big answer, but what I would give to be able to hold him one last time.
On Instagram a few of you had been asking where he was the past few months, because most of my dog photos were of Max, our newest addition to the family:
Max is a quirky one but I do think he extended Diesel’s life…putting a little pep back in his step. I think Max reminded Diesel that he was a dog again. Diesel chased Max around the house and tormented him to no end. Their antics made us laugh so much that we wondered if we should intervene. But I thought Diesel wouldn’t want to be remembered as so old and frail. He would want us to remember him like this:
Last weekend Boo had a bad dream and couldn’t get back to sleep. Brett ended up sleeping with her for the rest of the night. The next day she said she had a dream about death but she refused to share anything else. About an hour after Diesel had taken his last breath Boo said, “Remember that dream I had the other night? The one where I said someone died and I didn’t want to say who?” Then she added, “The who was Diesel. Diesel was the one who died in my dream.” Maybe this was our notice.
I desperately try to believe all the things that I am telling my daughter as we move forward. Like how awful it would have been for Diesel to die at the vet, in such a sterile environment with poking and prodding and scary, fearful noises. Like how grateful we should be that Diesel had such a loving family because some dogs never even get a chance to feel such a love. And how wonderful it was to die in his Daddy’s hands, against his Daddy’s heart, every heart beat accounted for by both Diesel and Brett (I will forever be grateful to my husband for his tender moments with our dog).
I tell her that Diesel is in heaven even though some people insist that animals don’t go to heaven. And sometimes I do wonder, because often I wonder just how so many humans spanning hundreds of thousands of years fit into my idea of heaven let alone the animals, but any doubt just leads to overwhelming despair. And my heart begins to crack in a way that cannot be repaired and I feel like I might actually die like they say you can but then I think: what kind of a God would banish such a sweet fragile soul to nothingness?! So yes, Diesel is in Heaven, riding around in a bicycle basket with my father like he used to years ago. And he has teeth. And his vision has been restored. And there’s no more scar tissue in his tiny little bowels. And his arthritis is gone. There is no pain anymore.
Our neighbor’s daughters came over yesterday and the first thing they asked was: where’s Diesel? Boo told them: he’s dead. Natalie, the 4 year old, had a wave of sadness come over her and she said quietly: ohhh, Diesel. Holding back tears I took her to his grave and I told her all these things that I have told Boo, and I told her with “know” in my heart. She nodded and knelt down to pat Diesel’s grave whispering: goodbye Diesel. And then I said: gosh, he could be kind of mean sometimes right? And we all laughed because he really did like to bite the ankles of any child that ventured into his path. (And he did like to attack the mail man and the UPS or Fedex drivers. Not that he could hurt anyone because he didn’t have any teeth and he was half blind, but maybe when you are that old and frail you just want to prove you still have the fire in you.) And then the girls made flowers for his grave:
I know it will get easier. But getting easier means we are leaving part of him behind. And there’s the guilt of moving on. He was so old and fragile for so long that our entire lives were patterned around his needs so I feel like we are embarking into unknown territory. It’s both freeing and sad. And maybe that’s the hardest part, to know that he will slowly fade.
And this is why I write: to remember.
Rest in peace sweet little itty bitty. In Heaven.
There are things I need to tell you, but would you listen if I told you how quickly time passes?
I know you are unable to imagine this.
Nevertheless, I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed at once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seem to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness, the bleak blackness of passions unrequited, or unexpressed, or unresolved.
-Meg Rosoff, What I Was
Thank you all for reading about Diesel over the years and sharing in his life. Give your pet an extra hug and kiss from our family today.
Working on a few projects this weekend. I love this photo taken last night:
Somehow Max manages to make it into almost every photo I take. He’s such a character. Our friends were staying here last week and every time I turned around he was sleeping in their suitcase. He looks a little guilty here:
While Brett worked on some rocking chairs I worked on a project I’m just starting with Lowe’s…transforming the old train depot over the next few weeks:
Funny, I went for a 2 mile run in Deep Creek. When I got back Brett had finished mowing the lawn and showed me his Suunto GPS watch:
He walked 4.16 miles pushing that mower. I didn’t check the elevation change…but I’m sure it was more than my workout all together. Maybe I should mow the lawn sometime!
Last night as we drove home the sun was this huge glowing orb as it set. I was trying to get a photo of it when Boo piped up and said:
I’m going to take a picture of this sunset in my mind.
Every day Max and Diesel hurry out into the sunshine. When I ask them to come back in they simply ignore me, pointing their faces up to the sunshine:
I love how content they look. It makes my heart swell up every time. Funny how much I learn from them.
“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”
-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I opened up a book at the used book store and found this plane ticket…from Cairo to Amsterdam. I love when that happens:
A few old books that have come into the Bryson City store recently:
I found a book by Henri Nouwen published in the 1970’s on prayer. It is just full of gems, like this one:
And then this…a 1953 copy of The Catcher in the Rye…with a depiction of Holden Caufield. I wonder who read this book 50 years ago and where it’s been since:
“This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart, but you will never forget it.”
If you haven’t seen the Salinger documentary I recommend it. While it’s a little dramatically-overblown-tabloidish it paints a good picture of why he probably became a recluse in his later years. He stopped publishing in 1965 and the most fascinating thing I think is how he very carefully set up the trust that his remaining works are in to control his copyright. Actually I think I’ve written about this before…or maybe I dreamt that. Either way my memory is bad.