New York City

Our trip last week wasn’t just limited to Washington, D.C and the Holocaust Memorial. We headed up the coast a little farther to NYC. We stayed with our friends Maya and Amy and they gave us the grand tour:

new york

Boo has wanted to see the Statue of Liberty since she was about 3 years old (since seeing it on an episode of Wonder Pets):


So awesome:


Ellis Island:

ellis island

Boo wanted to visit the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.  Taking it all in:


Leaving a message:


It was definitely an emotional few hours, but the museum was awe inspiring.  So well done and I can’t imagine how much work went into it to keep it respectful and show the imprint of the 2 towers. We’ll never forget it.


We probably had more fun at Maya and Amy’s house than visiting the big city. They have so much cool stuff going on: poetry, artwork, classes. And lots of neat little collections of inspiration. Boo would wake up early, get dressed all by herself and head downstairs to play with all the neat things she’d find:


Out in front of their house they have a Little Free Library…..and a Wish Tree (with sharpies and tags ready to add wishes!). I’m totally going to start a wish tree somewhere in Bryson City:


A collection of awesomely colorful typewriters. The first time I met them I knew we were kindred spirits! (Maya and Amy…not the typewriters)


 (Photo courtesy of @foodforthesoultrain on instagram)

I’d never seen a Hebrew typewriter. This one types right to left!


And tiny people:


(photo courtesy of @mayastein on instagram)

Love these gals. They are so inspiring with all that they do: writing classes, camps, tandem poetry tours, and retreats. I look forward every Tuesday to Maya’s 10-line poem email.    


Boo’s wish on the wish tree? That she could come and stay with Maya and Amy again. Yeah me too.  Thanks gals!  You both rock.

P.S. Check out Amy and Maya’s upcoming creative retreat in Vermont!


Things I Found in the Old Depot

I found a lot of random things while cleaning out the old depot that we moved to our property:

(“Dee  POT” as Boo calls it)

how to move a house or building - house mover

Part of the deal with moving it was that I had to move all the contents as well. That has been my most favorite part. Sifting through old stuff and finding things like this one tiny bible page tucked away behind a dresser drawer:

I like to find old things and I like to keep lists of things.  So here is an extensive list of the 57 old things that I found in the old depot:

1 vintage can opener
2 metal serving spoons, 1 strainer, 2 spatulas, 2 carving forks
2 large kitchen spoons, 2 spatulas
1 ice pick
1 knife with the carved initials J.N.B.
1 1940’s coal stove with chimney
1 dresser, 1 vanity, 1 desk, 1 side table
1 metal hospital style bed
1 roll of wood/wire picket fencing
1 carved wood 4-post bed
2 metal mattress springs
1 clay bowl
1 burlap hardware store sack
1 pulley-screw-thingy
1 plastic flower pot
1 aluminum walking cane
1 wood slat chair
2 broken lamp shades
1 aluminum lawn chair bench, no cushions
2 lawn chairs, no cushions
14 bits of metal, springs, chain
2 sets of yard chains
1 instruction sheet for yard chains
1 magazine cut out of a bride with another cut out with the words: My Dear Old Home Farewell: Good-by each room, each sunny nook, Where I have live my days, Good by before I close the door, Upon my girlhood ways.
1 magazine cut out of a floral arrangement
1 father’s day card signed: With love, Charlene, Jay and Ronnie
1 plaque: Corbett Champers, Ph: 926-1133, Rt. 4 Waynesville, NC*
1 photo of a young boy outside a farmhouse in the snow
1 “The Workbasket” subscription card with an address hand-written on the back: Mrs. John Towe, Route 4, c/o Roundtree Dairy Farm, Sulfolk, VA**
1 photo negative of a man in front of a car
1 small bible page: Luke 12:1-33
1 baby hospital photo: Carol Lee Plott, St Joseph Hospital, October 4, 1965, Weight 6 lbs, 13 oz, The proud parents: Mr and Mrs Charles Plott (Back: Infant Photo Supply, Dayton Ohio)
2 birdnests
1 gigantic hornet nest

*I looked up Corbett Champers, he died in January 1978. He worked in the leather cutting department at Wellco, 1 of 28 employees according to an anniversary ad in the Waynesville Mountaineer September 3, 1951.

**I looked up Rountree Dairy Farm. It’s now a housing development.


In Pictures:

This magazine cut out looked like it was cut to fit in a frame. The frame is long gone. Maybe it had been pieced together for a wedding present?



The boy in the snow. This photo was half eaten by some little varmit:



A hospital birth photo:



The old negative of a man and his car. I reversed it to see the actual image:


A vintage can opener:


Odds and ends and cooking utensils:


A metal plaque, probably for a hunting dog collar:


This beautiful streamer filled bird’s nest:


A bunch of random furniture and other remnants:



The old 1940’s stove and the chimney:

foundolddepot5 foundolddepot7

If anyone happens to know any of the people in the “orphan” photos let me know. I would love to return them to their families.

We haven’t yet done anything to fix it up the depot yet. Hopefully this summer will be the start of that process.  The first step will be sealing it up and making windows for it.

You can read about thefinding and moving of the depot here.

Faith Hope Love and Luck

St. Patrick’s Day is my father’s birthday. He would have been 68 today.  I’ll always wonder what he would have looked like as an old man, at 80 years old like my grandfather was. They’d probably look very much the same. He’ll always be forever young now. But I know he sees what we are up to these days!

Did you know that each leaf on a 4-leaf clover stands for something? Faith, Hope, Love and the fourth for Luck.


(click here for the story of these 4 leaf clovers)


Boo is still on Spring break…and it is instantly spring here in the mountains. We left last week to the remnants of snow and today there are flowers blooming.  Boo returning from a walk today with Max:


I love this time of year.


They Were People

On our trip last week we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It was at the top of Boo’s list. Brett and I debated on whether or not she was too young for the main exhibit, but we felt it was something she needed to see. She’s always been very inquisitive about the Holocaust and Hitler, just like she is with Pompeii and September 11. She becomes fixated on events that are complex and tragic and hard to comprehend.  Last year we read Anne Frank together and after a few chapters she stopped me and asked: do they find her? When I told her yes, they find her, she didn’t want to read anymore. We haven’t finished the book yet.  Back then she asked me if I thought Hitler was in heaven or hell.  I asked her what she thought and she answered: he’s in hell.

The most powerful moment was when we walked into the permanent exhibit entrance and encountered a large picture of the Ohrdruf camp liberation:

Boo: What are they looking at? What is that on the train tracks?
Me: Those are human remains.
Boo: What do you mean?
Me: People. They were people.

She turned her back to the picture for a few moments, for the first time realizing the magnitude of the evil, for the first time realizing what humans are capable of.  I saw her lose her innocence right before my eyes. I knelt down and whispered to her: we are here to be witnesses.  She nodded…and then I saw her fill up with strength and walk to the next image in the exhibit.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum

She walked thoughtfully through the museum, reading every notation.  I was so proud of her.  Her interest, compassion and empathy floor me sometimes. She whispered and tiptoed and showed the exhibits more respect than some of the adults did. When we came to a pile of books representing the books burned by the Nazi’s she knew exactly what they were because we had watched The Book Thief this last summer. When I pointed out a book by Helen Keller in the pile she lit up with recognition because we had also just recently watch the Miracle Worker (1962). And she said: I’m glad Helen Keller made more copies of her books.

We left the Memorial to eat lunch and afterwards Boo wanted to go back, so we went through the children’s exhibit a second time. It follows a boy named Daniel. She wept in the room where she learned his sister and mother didn’t survive. So did I.  But she wept….standing in the center of the room with tears streaming down her face, captured by the story on the screen, as other visitors walked around her noticing her emotion. After a while she continued on to the next exhibit. She walked through the room that transforms Daniel’s old life into his life in the ghetto and exclaimed: hey, that’s my bed.  (it really was…she has a bed exactly like the one in the museum that we got from the old depot).  And then I think it really hit her: Daniel was a kid just like me.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum

A few questions from her perspective:

On the gas chambers: Why would they go into those showers at the camp?  Why would people think it was normal to shower with other people? That would have told me that something bad was going to happen.

On the murder of the disabled: Why would they kill people just because they were different? What if Hitler lost a leg? Would he have had to kill himself? Like when they tried to kill him at a meeting, he could have lost a leg. (she told me the story of the attempted assignation of Hitler at Wolf’s Lair, I don’t know where she learned this, maybe school?)

I asked her today what she remembers the most and this is what she said:

The gas chambers. That they locked people in rooms and pretended they were going to take a shower.

The shoes. So many of them. And some of the shoes were so nice, it was like the people didn’t even know where they were going! They were all dressed up. 

That they tried to burn the bodies, to hide what they had done. They knew they were wrong. 


They knew they were wrong. Yes. And still the Holocaust happened. That’s the hardest part to explain to her.  And persecution still happens all over the world today.

I wanted Boo to be a witness. That’s why we went. To know what our responsibility is when we see injustice and hatred. To know when to stand up and say:


This is why we have sought out a new path in life, this is why we continue to simplify and seek ways to be more generous and compassionate:

to create space for the things that matter. 

This is why our kitchen chalkboard always reads: let your faith be bigger than your fear.

Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand that’s where our redemption is.
-Estelle Laughlin, Holocaust Survivor

If you haven’t yet been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, please go. You can start here. 


Boo Goes to Washington

Boo is on Spring Break. We headed north and east.

On the way: The Natural Bridge

The Natural Bridge - National Park

Just the drive through the Shenandoah Valley was worth the trip:

Shenandoah Valley Drive

We stayed with our friends Matt and Sarah in DC.  Our first morning we took a walk to see the frozen Lake Barcroft where they live:

Lake Barcroft

Our friend Sarah set up a time for Boo to go and make her own custom ice cream flavor with Susan, the owner of Moorenko’s Ice Cream. Boo chose strawberry, vanilla, and marshmallow. I dubbed it Count Straw Van Mallow. It sounds very prestigious right?

Moorenko's Ice Cream

We learned a ton about ice cream from start to finish: prepping the machines, cleaning the machines, how the fat content of ice cream makes it taste better. (i.e. the 2 for $4 deals I’ve been purchasing explain why the ice cream tastes more like icy sugar).

Moorenko's Ice Cream

We visited the Smithsonian and saw Julia Child’s kitchen, the ruby slippers, and the Star Spangled Banner. And this art installation, My Mother’s Altar, by Sandra Cisneros:

My Mother's Altar, by Sandra Cisneros - Smithsonian

The National Monument:

The National Monument

The Lincoln Memorial. I could hear Brett pointing out how the entire memorial was marble and granite. No concrete.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Vietnam Memorial. I love this photo of the reflection of her bowing her head.

Vietnam Memorial

Walked just about everywhere we could:


Our second day in Washington we woke up early and Matt took us to the Metro before he went to work. This was also a highlight for Boo:

The Metro

Our first stop was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I think that needs its own post though. I’ll save that for tomorrow.  And I’ll tell you about another amazing place we went after that….it deserves it’s own post too.

The White House:

“Is anyone there?!”

The White House

Boo was pretty bummed our White House tour didn’t work out., but at least she got to see the outside of it. If I was President I’d take 15 minutes each week to sneak out of the bushes randomly and “BOO!” tourists. How awesome would that be? Anyway, after all of that we went to Arlington Cemetery to visit Brett’s Aunt Alma’s grave:

Arlington Cemetery


Arlington Cemetery

Later when we looked closely at the photos of Alma’s grave we saw these pink wispy lights over the cross. I’ve always wanted to capture an orb:

Orb Arlington Cemetery

We visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We arrived at around 4:45 (the cemetery closes at 5pm) and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see the change of the guard at 5pm, but they let us stay.

Changing of the Guard

Later that night we went on a night time tour of all the monuments again:

The Lincoln Memorial at Night

The MLK Monument was probably one of my favorites. Boo thought it was strange that they didn’t put “I have a dream” on the side instead of “Out of a mountain of despair, a beacon of hope.

Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. -Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King Memorial DC

The FDR Memorial:

FDR Memorial DC

The only memorial we didn’t actually go in was the Jefferson Memorial. They turned off the lights earlier than we thought and as we walked up to it Boo and I said at the exact same time: I’m not going in there. All I could see was this huge looming figure in the middle, and it didn’t look friendly at all. Actually his hair kind of made him look like a monster. Sorry President Jefferson.

Our last day in DC we visited the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Boo thought the Library needed more books. The detail was incredible…the mosaics just worth the visit:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it. -Shakespeare

Boo: Why are all the U’s written as V’s?

My brother: Make sure to find the President’s book of secrets.

Library of Congress DC

It rained for most of the day but that was okay too. Sarah had enough umbrellas for everyone:


Thanks to our friends Sarah and Matt for being incredible tour guides…and hosting us for the time we were there.  We’ll never forget it!

A Week of Paintings – Set 2

Another week of tiny paintings. Today is the start of Boo’s spring break so I’m taking a week off to enjoy that with her. I’m having fun each day trying to find things to paint:

Max’s chew toy:

Dog toy painting - tiny painting


A vintage paint by number Boo found at the thrift store:

Vintage Paint By Number Painting


Author of Jane Eyre:

Charlotte Bronte Painting Portrait


The handle of a pair of scissors:

Scissors Painting


A cutie:

Painting an Orange


A feather:

Painting of a Feather



Portrait Painting of Spock - Leonard Nemoy

The Vultures

Just like a dream experience, whatever things I enjoy will become a memory. Whatever is past will not be seen again. -the Dalai Lama in Kundun

A few days ago I was walking Max up the street and noticed eight large vultures above us in the trees.  Vultures don’t make any noise, they don’t have a voicebox, so you’d never notice them unless you looked up.  I snatched Max up into my arms, thinking they might be eagles or hawks at first.  Each must have been over 2.5 feet tall.  Huge.  But then I noticed the way that they were sitting, kind of hunched down, and that their heads were bare. Vultures. But these huge birds weren’t a threat, they were just probably hoping I’d keep walking and never look up.

One by one they slowly stood up and in their awkward, bumbling manner spread their large wings out and took off.  I was so taken by them that I ended up in someone’s side yard trying to get a closer look. Although at first glance they might seem menacing, they are actually very gentle creatures. I’d never seen them up close before and I loved their whole demeanor.


I kept walking and saw two more closer to our house, one right above me again, just staring down from a tree just off the side of the road. He kind of reminded me of the umbrella vulture in Alice in Wonderland only he wasn’t glaring.

I love animal symbolism, and studying the spirits of animals. Like when a vulture crosses my path…how could that be anything but good? They never kill or hurt their own kind, and they clean up death from the landscape, they do the job that no one else wants to do.  They are nature’s disease control. How great to know one’s purpose so clearly! And the Cherokees call them the Peace Eagles.

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
-The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?


How To Make Mini Locket Paintings


(Click here to see all the projects I’ve made for Michaels Craft Stores!)

This month’s Michaels Maker challenge was to make a Paris themed project.  Since I’ve been on a “small painting” kick I decided to use that as my theme using these great glass lockets available at Michaels:


First I printed off a Monet painting from Wikipedia. I used a cereal bowl to draw a circle around a portion of the painting:


I used the template inside my locket to draw a small circle onto watercolor paper:


If you’ve never painted, or think you struggle with perspective, try using a grid to recreate the image. Then use a pen to draw around blocks of color to focus on:


Use the same grid on your smaller circle and use a pencil to lightly transfer the same blocks of color:


For this Monet painting its easiest to focus on the water lily pads first. You’ll want to use the tiniest brush you can find for this!


You can also use color pencil or tiny detailed markers to get some of the other details in:


The large section of grasses in the center of the painting: [Read more…]

A Week of Paintings – Set 1

I’ve made it one week. I’ll see if I can make it another, but with spring break coming up I may have to skip a few days. Here are the past 7 days of 3-inch paintings. I never know what I’m going to paint until the moment I sit down at my desk. And sometimes it’s a book or a note or a journal entry that sets me on a certain path.  More fun that way.

Girl with a Pearl Earring.
(Based off of Vermeer’s same painting. Also a great book and movie)


In process: 

Painting 7a

A Dala Horse my grandfather gave me:

Painting 6

 Virginia Woolf:

Painting 5

The cover of a vintage Walter Foster book:

Painting 4

 My typewriter:

Painting 3

 John Steinbeck:

Painting 2

 Emily Dickinson:

Painting 1


A few of you have asked if I am going to sell them. I’m not sure yet.  It’s too soon. I’m going to hang onto them for right now until I can see where they head and the progression of my painting.  It’s been a long time since I actually sat down and spent time painting day after day. Definitely rusty.  If I do list any they’ll be on the Blue Label page where I list vintage finds.

Painting this week has reminded me of how my brain gets caught in a rut. I really have to forget everything I know about everything.  I can sum it up with what Annie Dillard said about painting in Tinker Creek:

 I once spent a full three minutes looking at a bullfrog that was so unexpectedly large I couldn’t see it even though a dozen enthusiastic campers were shouting directions. Finally I asked, “What color am I looking for?” and a fellow said, “Green.” When at last I picked out the frog, I saw what painters are up against: the thing wasn’t green at all, but the color of wet hickory bark.

True: frogs are not typically green.  But we are taught from a young age that “green” is associated with snakes and frogs, but many have grays, lavenders, yellows in their leathery skin. As I paint I remember that caucasian skin tone is not peach…there are shades of olive, yellow and lavender depending on the light.  And now I am retraining myself to see.  Like when I took that plein air class and finally realized that the mountains around me in the desert weren’t gray…they were peach and lavender and dusky blue:



Look closely at something today and see what new colors you see. Just staring at my hands while typing I notice that they are red, purple, green, and yellow.  So much for the “flesh tone” crayon.

We Toss Up Our Questions

This was the sunset over the Bryson City Cemetery last night.  I was the only one up there…snow still covering the entrance road:

Bryson City Cemetery

I love old cemeteries. The older the better. I have a built in compass for them. What does it mean if you grieve for strangers? A pitted tombstone having been worn away from years of rain, ice and lichen growth. Timecapsules that will never be opened.  This graveyard is high on a hill. But my home is on a higher hill and I can see the cemetery from my writing window. I wonder when we’ll run out of room for burying people.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. – Annie Dillard

Bryson City Cemetery - Great Smoky Mountains


A woman came into the book store the other day. It was slow and we got to talking. She asked: Have you read Annie Dillard?  I told her yes, that The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was in my top 10 list. She nodded and said well, I don’t know what Annie Dillard looks like, I’ve never seen a picture, but I imagine if I met her she might look like you. You have that vibe about you. When she said that…I couldn’t remember what Annie looked like either, except for the 1970’s picture on the front of my copy of Tinker Creek, and it looks more like a painting than a photo.

And then a few minutes later: She knows nothing about me except for the few words we’ve exchanged.  Right now I’d say I resemble Scooby’s Shaggy, not Annie Dillard. I know I’ve been compared to Hilary Swank before but that’s probably because we both have big teeth.  A friend of mine said I need to get better at accepting compliments, because I’m not very good at it. So it this was a compliment, which I think it is given I love Annie’s writing, then thank you lady in the bookstore.

When the woman left and I suddenly had the thought she might be Annie Dillard herself. She wore an outback style hat and a big warm coat.  Annie would wear something like that. I mean, if I were Annie, I’d wear something like that.   I’ve really never met anyone famous that I can quickly recall while writing this, except for Johnny Cash…but that was just in a dream. He grabbed my hand and said thanks for coming. He was old, older than anyone really remembers him. And he knew my name. Brett and Boo were walking to the park the other day and found a copy of The Life of Johnny Cash sitting right in the middle of the road.  Isn’t that so strange? They brought it back for me and it sits on my shelf. “Winners got scars too” the cover reads. Printed in 1974, same year as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

No one ever said to me: you must read Annie Dillard.  I’d pulled a random book off of a shelf , opened it up and was drawn deeply into its pages.  The book was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And I thought: I have discovered this amazing Annie Dillard. But apparently everyone else already knew about her.

You know I bought and moved the old depot.  Annie Dillard wrote An American Childhood in an old pine shed. In the back of my mind I think: My childhood will come back to me in an old pine shed. And I will write about it.  Yes, I know it doesn’t work this way.

I went to pick up Boo from school today, but showed up as the only person in the carpool line, not knowing they extended the day to make up for the last few snow days.  On the drive back I passed a woman standing alone in a parking lot….the lady from the book store.  I waved at her and she waved back. I thought about turning around because maybe, just maybe, Annie Dillard had dyed her hair black and was posing as a backpacker right here in my small town.  But I didn’t turn around.

At the end of An American Childhood, Annie asks:

What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off?  Quick: What would you read?

I’d probably read Annie Dillard. Or maybe Janisse Ray. Janisse reminds me of Dillard. I don’t remember how I found Janisse’s books. Or maybe they found me. Maybe everyone else already knows about Janisse too. Better late than never.

I read the other day that scientists discovered a giant black hole 12 billion times more massive than the sun.  But it’s not a new black hole…it’s been around since the dawn of time. Black holes eat matter.  Half of me wants to know this information and the other doesn’t. There. Documented. 900 million years old. Better late than never.

“As a life’s work, I would remember everything – everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net. […] Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows.” -An American Childhood

Urgent responsibility to the change in light over the cemetery two days ago:

schoolhouse hill in Bryson City, NC


annie dillard quote - an american childhood

Sometimes it’s a cemetery. Sometimes it’s SDSS J010013.02 (the black hole that eats matter ya’ll). And it’s all connected somehow…in a beautiful way:  Annie…lost and found Johnny Cash books…a lady in the outback hat.

P.S. Will try to get my “sometimes weekly letter” out tonight…but might be morning at the molasses rate I’m working today.


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