Over and Under – House Progress

This is my new little office space as we work on the new house: an abandoned lazy boy, a piano bench desk, a tiny space heater, and a large window to look out of.  It’s kind of nice not owning any furniture…clutter free…open and bright:

new office

Below my “office” there has been a lot of work to get the plumbing up to code. It took a few days for Brett and our friend Erik to cut that huge trench in the basement floor just to get to the existing plumbing. It looks like a huge mess but it will mean all the plumbing is fixed.  It’s nice having a basement where plumbing and wiring can be easily added and removed!


Then there are the efforts to stop the leaking roof. We knew it was leaking when we went into all of this. It just makes sense to replace it now rather than later. We decided to go with a charcoal gray metal roof, and they are installing it right over the existing shingles:


Brett’s spent a lot of time in the attic and basement. And he found this great old sign. Just Thru Town it says.  The old owners used to own a pharmacy in town so it probably had something to do with that:


There were three HVAC systems in the attic, left behind over the years. The current heat source is a boiler that runs off of oil and runs water through baseboard heaters. Very expensive to run so we are installing something more efficient and hoping to get natural gas eventually:


This is my subtle hint that I’d love to cut a hole in this wall so that I can see out the big living room window from the kitchen.  Back me up on this everyone.


Not much else to report today.  Just keeping ourselves really busy getting ready for the holidays and working on house projects. Boo and I helped Mort and Lainey decorate the Hemlock Inn’s Christmas tree yesterday so I’ll share that as soon as I get a good photo of it.


Simple Sharpie Journals and Matching Gift Wrap


Holiday gift idea: Sharpie Journals with matching gift wrap #gift #diy #michaelsmakers

Oh, this is one of my favorite little projects ever. I was trying to come up with something that would appeal to almost anyone for a holiday gift idea…and who can’t use a journal or notebook? These little journals are very inexpensive from Michaels…with a coupon I think I ended up paying under $3.00 each:

Blank Journals from Michaels Stores to customize

You can sketch a design or trace one using white chalk transfer paper (in the aisle at Michaels with all the other transfer papers):

Using Transfer paper to add a design to a journal

I used a metallic Sharpie marker to draw the sketch that I transferred:

Sharpie Project Idea: customized journal or sketchbook

Another transferred design:

Drawing Antlers on a Journal

I used the transfer paper to draw these lines to write my text upon:

Adding a quote to a journal

A damp paper towel will wipe the white transfer chalk right off once the design is finished:

DIY journals using sharpie markers

A few of the designs I created for holiday gifts:

Christmas Gift Idea DIY


How to make a customized journal gift


Written in the Stars DIY Journal - Sharpie project idea

A great quote:

Dead Poet's Society Quote on Journal

I used a roll of black kraft wrapping paper for the wrapping:

Using Black Wrapping Paper - Chalkboard Wrapping Paper

And the same Sharpie to create the designs:

Creating your own DIY Wrapping paper

Some natural colored twine is almost gold itself and matches very nicely:

DIY Sharpie Doodle Gift Wrap

[Read more…]

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

Putting Down the Foundations

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. -Henry David Thoreau

When we moved to the mountains I only expected it to be a year.  I can’t believe we’ve already been here for 6 months, although it doesn’t seem that long at all. I thought I would want to be a gypsy for a few years, but it turns out I’m just a gypsy in spirit. I don’t question. I just move.

Just curious I started to look around at housing in the area, thinking maybe, just maybe, we would stay longer than our year at the Hemlock Inn. It felt like home right off.  And then naturally I started dreaming.  Some days I dreamed about owning a farm, some days I dreamed about owning an inn, and other days I dreamed about maybe living downtown above a retail space. I dreamed all over the spectrum. And then one day when Brett was out of town with his grandmother I sent him a link to a house that was downtown with some acreage…maybe the perfect blend of what we were looking for.

When we walked onto the property I knew we were supposed to live there. I knew it.  No questions. Like every other house we’ve ever lived in, I knew right away. I could see what a little love would add to it. It was 2 bedrooms and an office, a full basement with art studio potential, and 2.5 acres. It had been on the market for a long, long time.  Probably because of the work that it needs, but I like to think that it was waiting for us.  We had a pretty strict budget, and thought deep down that they probably wouldn’t accept our offer. But they did. And a few weeks later it was ours.  It was waiting for us.

It has a wonderful story to go with it. It used to be owned by the pharmacist mentioned in Bryson City Tales. Three siblings were selling it after their parents had passed away.  We have since become close to one of them, Debbie.   When I told our realtor Marty that I would love some old stories of the property he passed along the message.  I never expected what Debbie delivered: the most thoughtful welcome package that included a slideshow of the house’s history through the years, the original 1952 platt map, flower bulbs that her mother used to plant and some arrowheads she found on the property when she was a young girl. Marty said it was the first closing he’d had where the buyers and seller were so keen on meeting each other.  We met in his office right afterwards and both Debbie and I cried when we finally met in person.  I told her:

We’ll take really good care of your family’s house, and its history. 

House c. 1965


 House c. 1970ish..love the station wagon!


We definitely have a few months of work ahead of us and we aren’t in a hurry because we are still enjoying our time here at the Hemlock Inn with Mort and Lainey and the guests. And like any old house there are drainage issues, plumbing issues, old house issues. Oh and it needs a new roof like asap. That’s just a start.  And we view all this stuff as our chance to add our own spin to it. The Hemlock Inn closes down for January, February and March so it will be a great opportunity for some winter projects.

And remember we sold all of our furniture before moving from CA? I’m going to try and furnish the entire house through bartering, picking and just making it ourselves.  We already found a free desk on Craig’s list that will be perfect for writing and I found the perfect dining table for $75 from Habitat ReStore. I see kitchen gardens, tire swings and lots of DIY.  I’m ready to roll up my sleeves again!

Here it is today…4 billion acorns came with it:

house on the hill

And this is why I fell in love with it…the view of the city.  I’ll sit at that table all year long and write. Best part: the concrete deer came with it too:


Brett started cutting and digging out a huge trench in the basement this week for new plumbing. And removing all the drop ceiling to expose the rafters. An awesome mess…just because we like projects I guess?!


Today I was asked what I was most looking forward to in our new place next year.  My answer?  A refrigerator with an ice maker. Instant ice! The best invention ever.  And the view.  I’ve never had a view of anything until this year.  I like being able to watch the hustle and bustle of the town below.  And the train whistle throughout the day!  It feels really magical actually. The previous owner was also a pilot and took this photo way back when…the house on the hill:

“…building castles in the air….”


And yes, I’m still kind of in shock myself that we own a house again. A 1950’s rambler at that with endless projects. But I’m ready to set down roots in this small quaint little town of Bryson City. I feel like I’m always building those castles in the sky….and sometimes they do get foundations. Simple, sustainable and within our means.

Any house gurus out there? I’m leaning towards a brown tin roof and painting the outside some shade of white (because you know the entire inside is going to be white and gray.)  Maybe white gutters when we have to replace those. I welcome any ideas or suggestions and anybody with Photoshop expertise that wants to mock up a ranch house for me!

Because here’s what my mockup looks like a….s’more:


Raw photos here and here. 

I’ll share here periodically as we finish projects but you can follow the progress mostly on Instagram under the hashtag #thehouseonhospitalhill.  (Instagram @lilblueboo)

P.S. Don’t you think those concrete deer would be great as part of a Griswold-style light show for the holidays next year?

Find Your Monastery

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” -Henry David Thoreau

I opened the used book store this morning. I work there once a week. I work for free.  I spend my time greeting a few customers each day. I browse the shelves. I sweep the floor. I huddle by the radiator when the heating gets temperamental.

emily dickinson

I drive to pick up Boo from school and I have no heat in the car, but the engine gives off plenty of warmth on its own.  I never turn the radio on…I like hearing the rumbling of the road and I notice more around me that way too.

It’s so cold here today that the iciness hangs in the air. It feels like it might snow. The bitter weather makes the indoors so cozy and nestlike:


I set my timer and write without stopping for 30 minutes, even if it makes no sense. And when the timer goes off I find my heart wanting to write more. And I sit here wondering how I ended up in such a place. How watching the clouds roll in and out can be enough to fill the soul. How living so close to nature took away my fear of the dark and things unknown.


In the book Dakota, Kathleen Norris describes how the Great Plains became her monastery:

“…my place set apart, where I thrive and grow. It surprises me also to find that I no longer need to visit the city – any city – to obtain what I am missing, because I don’t feel deprived. 


Both Plains and monastery are places where distractions are at a minimum and you must rely on your own resources, only to find yourself utterly dependent on forces beyond your control; where time seems to stand still, as it does in the liturgy; where your life is defined by waiting.”

Yes. These mountains have become my monastery. A place where I thrive and grow.

Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God. – St. Hilary

Find your monastery.

The Scandinavian Christmas Tree Ornaments

Today I’m revealing the behind-the-scenes of the Scandinavia Christmas Tree:

Scandinavian Christmas Ornaments DIY #tagatree

Here are all the ornaments we made:

Handmade Rustic Christmas Ornaments DIY Tutorial
Clothespin ornaments rustic DIY

This year I went with a Scandinavian theme based on a little dala horse block print carving I made:

Christmas Ornament Ideas Handmade



Ribbon ornaments were made using different sizes of embroidery hoops and ribbon. I stitched the ribbon together in rows, put it into an embroidery hoop, trimmed off the excess and used glue to keep the edges from fraying:

Handmade Ribbon Ornaments Christmas Tree - Embroidery Hoop

I took raw ornaments from Michaels and applied a light coat of wood stain. Using a plain wood heart as a stencil I spray a light coat of white spray paint overtop: [Read more…]

I said Yes and Every Single Person Said Yes Back to Me

The deep secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living rooms and porches, backyards and grocery stores? Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem. And let us always be kind in this world.

-Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

My friend Sarah lovingly nudged me to read something I’d written in front of the group at LIAV Camp last week. I didn’t plan on it.  I was actually originally adamantly against it. I was there to just absorb and observe and meet the world halfway.  But she picked up the post-it note that I needed to add my name to the list, and then she delivered it for me.  I decided to pick something from the Cancer Chronicles, to make it a tangible ending.  I’d never read any of it aloud before…it would be the first time I’d verbalized it.  And if it wasn’t for her encouragement I never would have gotten up there to read. I said yes. Thank you Sarah.

Ashley Hackshaw / The Cancer Chronicles / Lil Blue Boo / Life is a Verb

 photo by Lynn Walsh

Writing is not therapy, though it many have a therapeutic effect. You don’t discover that you write because of lack of love and then quit, as you might in therapy discover that you eat chocolate as a love substitute and, seeing the reason, stop (if you’re lucky) eating Hershey’s chocolate bars and hot fudge. Writing is deeper than therapy. You write through your pain, and even your suffering must be written out and let go of.

In writing class painful things come up – the death of a husband, throwing the ashes of a dead baby into a river, a woman going blind. The students read the pieces they just wrote and I tell them they can cry if they need to but to remember to continue to read. We pause when they are finished and then go on to the next person, not because we ignore their suffering – we acknowledge it – because writing is the aim. It is an opportunity to take the emotions we have felt many times and give them light, color, and a story. We can transform anger into steaming red tulips and sorrow into an old alley full of squirrels in the half light of November.

-Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

The first thing I was handed when I got to camp was a sticker that said “this is a safe place”…and it was.  I barely got through the first paragraph before being unable to talk. And the crowd was clapping and shouting encouragement. And I finished. And it gave my illness light, color and a story.  And then I tore up my paper and let the pieces float gently one by one into the trashcan.

Patti Digh opened camp by saying, “I realize what I do is to create open space for people to show up.” I love that.  I want to create spaces where people can show up too.

That will be my new and forever mission in life.

This is what I read:

[Read more…]

So Many You Can’t Name Them

I don’t know how to write about Life is a Verb camp last week except in pieces, so here’s a tiny piece:

One of the workshops I signed up for was Naomi Shihab Nye’s Wind in a Bucket/Words in a Brain.  In our workshop she read letters from children who had written to her and there were so many nuggets of wisdom. I was so inspired by her interactions with children and their poetry.   I can never go back to where I was before that workshop.

Two days ago I went out with Boo to walk in the fallen leaves…we each had 3×5 cards and wrote down what we were seeing, hearing, thinking.  Small index cards are much more manageable than a large piece of paper. We talked as we went and shared our ideas before writing:

This leaf is more lavender than brown.
These look like alligator backs and crocodile tails.
They pile up so quickly they remind me of dirty laundry.
They are perfect camouflage for the dog!


That night, when I read from an old book of poetry at bedtime, I hid her 3×5 cards behind the book and read her words back to her….only halfway through did she recognize the familiarity and with pure delight said:

Hey! That is MY poem!

Her words:

Can’t see the wind.
Red ones remind me of apples.
Thin like paper.
So many you can’t name them.
When they fall off it’s like leaving the family.
Sounds like cereal.
Go everywhere.
Near and far.
Yellow ones remind me of lemons.
Maples look like dinosaur footprints.
Calling for you to jump in them.
One person.
Piled on roofs.
Orange like an orange.
Dogwoods are the first to lose them.
Red oaks are the last.

And then I showed her this reading below…and she had tears in her eyes. I can see my child inspired…and that inspires me.

“Just think! No one has ever seen inside this peanut before!”

Naomi said: you don’t have to dream, just collect.

I love to collect, stretching myself to see things differently and not necessarily using it all up at once.

My words from the leaves:

Crumpily, lumpily, curly, twirly
In my hair, in my ears, everywhere, near and far
Chocolate shavings, orange peels, ashes from a fire
Lavender, ochre, burgundy wine
Elephant ears, spotted leopards, animal hides
Alligator backs, crocodile tails
Boats, hands, ear lobes, saw blades
Joan Miró
What does this look like? It looks like a leaf.


P.S. I purchased a book at camp (A Maze Me: Poems for Girls) and had Naomi Shihab Nye inscribe it for Boo.  I found it on Boo’s night table this morning after she’d left for school. With a flashlight nearby. Marked at page 106. Whenever I find her secretly reading at night, I quietly backpedal through the door so I won’t disturb her.


I Am My Own Mechanic

We’ve all driven places and then wondered how we even got there. Snapped back to the present frame.  How did I get here? What happened to the last 30 miles?  Was I even between the lines?  Did I pass anyone? Driving back from Hendersonville the other day I missed a crucial turn, but only realized it when:

uh oh, there isn’t a tunnel on the way home….


Things like this usually don’t phase me…a detour is good for the soul.  But Ruby (my truck) had been dead only hours earlier. No charge in the battery.   I should have known something was wrong 3 days ago when I was driving into camp.  It was dark, and I began thinking: my iPhone screen would be brighter than my pathetic headlights! And my blinkers had stopped working, and the seatbelt light would come on periodically. Ruby wasn’t quite herself. She was leaking energy everywhere.

And so, when I entered the tunnel, I realized that I was on my way to Tennessee, over the mountains.  There are no cities, no towns, no gas stations.  The road was already in that blue, dusky shade that signals the oncoming of dusk.  It just starts to look cold.  Very cold. And desolate.  My heart picked up its pace a little and I looked down at my gas gauge. Only 1/8th of a tank left.

About 7 miles after the 2nd tunnel I eventually found an exit to turn around.  There wasn’t a soul at the exit, except for a lone motorcycle rider who barreled past at twice my speed. I got back on the highway and drove south, knowing that every mile that passed meant that I was one mile closer to home. The fuel light came on, and I began to pray to just get close enough to a gas station that there wouldn’t be coyotes or wolves.

I coasted into a gas station on fumes.


I always feel like asking people if they have jumper cables is a reverse lottery.  No one wants to win. But, the first guy I asked said yes. He was with three other men and they’d just gotten off work from the quarry, tired and covered in dust. Opening the hood of their truck I was initially embarrassed at how clean Ruby’s engine was compared to the state of the other truck’s engine. But you could see their eyes light up when they opened Ruby up. Their eyes took in the Edelbrock carburetor and the 350 crate engine. The younger of the three lifted the hood into place and he looked into Ruby’s insides as if he’d known her forever. She was an old girlfriend. He tightened things here and there and touched the belts to test their tautness.  Places I’d never dared stick my hands before fearing I’d burn them or lose them.

“This is toast,” he said flicking the rubber length of one of the belts with his finger, “see how loose it is? It isn’t turning this other wheel.” 

“What does that mean?”

“The battery isn’t being charged.”

All of the sudden the whole world of gears and trucks and belts began to connect.  The painfully slow blinkers, the dim headlights, the flashing of the seatbelt sign while I was driving…they were all working off the battery.

He pointed and explained how I could tighten the belt myself. One of the parts was on a track that could be moved in either direction. Moving it to the left would pull the belt taut enough that it would turn the wheel. All I needed was a wrench.  It looked so easy. I could fix this.


Eventually they got Ruby restarted after sending invisible energy to her through a simple set of cables.  I teared up at her familiar initial deep growl and then idle puttering. And I knew I had enough gas to get her home now.  I threw my arms around all three of them and they each said with a slight grin: Your welcome ma’am.  


And yesterday morning….

I fixed Ruby. With a wrench, and a little elbow grease from hubby.

I am Rosie the Riveter.

I am my own mechanic.


Who Can See the Wind

On my way to Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp last week, outside of Hendersonville, I stopped by the Biltmore House to walk around. At 4pm it felt like I was the only one there, not a person in sight on the South Terrace:

Who can see the wind? Neither you nor I.  -Christina Rossetti


The wind was fierce and cleared the sky of everything below cloud level, making the landscape seem unreal:


Did I just step through the wardrobe? Or maybe into Wuthering Heights? Jane Eyre! That red maple looked to me like a cross between Medusa and Merida. While walking back to my truck I paused and then made my way back to find out its name:

 Red Cutleaf Japanese Maple (dissectum atropurpureum).  aka Medusam Meridaum.


I just got really tired. I think this will be the end of this post. Hopefully I spelled everything right.  If not just consider it a new word.

P.S. I think I need a Jane Eyre quote just to wrap this up…and this one stands out because someone recently asked me if I knew what an automaton was.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

P.P.S. automaton: a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being (i.e. C3PO I guess)

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