A Scandinavian Christmas Tree

Today is the reveal day for this year’s Michaels’ Dream Trees.  And it’s snowing at my house…for real.

This year I went with a Scandinavian theme:



Dala horses, DIY ribbon ornaments, rustic Santa and reindeer ornaments and much more:



I love how it turned out.  The whole family helped with this year’s theme: cutting, staining, stamping, etc.


On November 14th I’ll have tutorials for each of the ornaments and the supplies I used to make them! But for now you can get a head start by following this tutorial below and using the free template download for the Dala horse image!

(click here to view the tutorial if image doesn’t work)



Click here to view the past two years of Christmas Trees!

[Read more…]

The World Is Run By People Who Show Up

It’s our first Halloween in Bryson City. I’m not really a Halloween person…I don’t think I’ve dressed up since like 8th grade?  I don’t care for Freddie Kruger, ever since he chased me home one night at dusk (I swear he was behind me, but I couldn’t confirm it because I was in crazy-panic-run). Growing up my mom would never let us wear scary costumes. My dad was always dressed up as Moses with the Ten Commandments to greet the neighborhood kids.  Our church banned witches, zombies and skeletons.

Since moving to Bryson City we’ve been going to the Grove Church. Our pastor, Jeff, asked if we’d help out with the Halloween event that they hold each year for the community.  My first thought was: ugh, Halloween, no way.  But instead my fingers texted back: Would love to help! That’s right up my alley.

I had no idea what I was in for.  I was thinking a few pumpkins, hotdogs, churchy people….instead I found myself in the middle of an event on the scale of Broadway. And this year’s theme? Wizard of Oz.



Nothing wrong with Wizard of Oz right?  Except that it’s on the bottom of my list of movies I would choose to watch. I had nightmares for years when I was little about the Wicked Witch. Once she stole my baby sister out of her crib as I watched…one night she stabbed my dad with a sword while he tried to fix the TV.  That Wicked Witch was sealed in my mind. I’m not exaggerating…here’s a page from my journal years ago. Obviously she still haunts me:

And then yesterday, when I asked what I could do to help, the first thing I was assigned:

Could you set up the melted witch with the caution tape?


Really? This event was planned to torture me right?

And as people started to show up I felt myself getting increasingly anxious:

Who would let their kid wear that scary costume? How is dressing up as Freddy Kruger fun? Wait, is it legal to carry a toy gun?

These were many of the reasons I’d been given growing up as to why I shouldn’t be a fan of Halloween. But as I looked around I realized that I should be a fan of Halloween. Why? Because Halloween is community.  It’s the one holiday where people actually come out of their homes. The one holiday where people open their doors to people they don’t know in large numbers and hand them gifts.  I saw my daughter and her new friends walking down the street thanking shop owners for candy. I saw business owners, politicians, and law enforcement mingling among the community and at one point Boo was yelling hello to a deputy she knew across the street. I told a man dressed up as a Cherokee Indian that he would win the costume contest and he told me he had just come from work: the Cherokee Indian Reservation. But he was really nice and thanked me for noticing how well dressed he was.

And Jeff posted this article this morning by one of my favorite authors Shauna Niequist and it summed up exactly how I was feeling after last night:

Sometimes love asks you to change.

It’s so easy to love people who like all the same things you do—who never listen to music that makes you cringe, or who believe all the same things you believe. But love sometimes asks you to lay down your preferences, and dive into someone else’s world for a little while.

Sometimes that world is full of fake spiders.

Sometimes it’s the ballet or country music or Russian novels. Sometimes it’s staying quiet when you want to talk, sometimes it’s giving space when you want to rush in. Love asks what’s best for the person you love, not what’s best or most convenient to you.

Yes, sometimes the world is full of fake spiders. And fake pooling witches.  And big green gates with green glitter as a welcome mat. Here was our church opening up (green) doors to anyone who wished to come in…no strings attached. No rules. No judgement. Just community:


We jumped right in wearing our LoveBryson shirts.  Boo even decided to dress up as a “church volunteer” instead of her butterfly costume. LoveBryson was started by The Grove Church as a way to give back to Bryson City and the surrounding community. It’s a community service-based group that works with established organizations in the area when specific needs come up.  LoveBryson also pioneers its own efforts to make a difference in the community, everything from supplying firewood in the winter, school backpack drives and even installing much needed wheelchair ramps.


And yesterday The Grove Church served close to 1,800 hotdogs to the community:


Sometimes all you have to do is show up.


And make room for others to show up too.  They threw us newbies right in:


I think more people showed up downtown than actually live in all of Bryson City:


Barry from The Filling Station handing out candy:


Debbie (green vest) from Fern Studios and Gallery handing out candy:


Donno from Higher Ground Tattoo:


A few kiddos from The Grove:


The real deal:


I was asked to be one of the judges in the costume contest and this little bag lady won in the 2-11 years old category. She was awesome:


And at Riverfront Park where “Oz” was located people had a chance to play games and recharge.


The director of Boo’s school sent out a newsletter today and it ended with: The world is run by people who SHOW UP! 

I’m not quite ready to show up as the Good Witch of the North yet, and I don’t have to…because there are people like Beth:


And Mary (as Dorothy):


And Rachel:


And Erin and Jeff (lion). Jeff drew and painted the huge “Oz” backdrop for the stage:


I love when leaders think big, like this guy, pastor, Jeff:

A sneak peak behind the scenes of all the prep work that went into the event:


And the result…community:










When I heard Brene Brown speak 2 years ago at The Summit I wrote this down word for word:

The #1 barrier to belonging? Fitting in. 

Make a space for people to show up and be seen, not for who they should be….but for who they are. 

We can’t set it up so that there are check boxes for showing up. 



Living has a Deadline

I took this photo exactly three years ago.  My husband brushing my hair.

Living has a Deadline

He was brushing my hair because I couldn’t brush my own hair. I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself.  But I think there was so much beauty in that moment because it was one of the first times that I was willing to admit I was weak.  And that was me at my best, at that moment, because the mornings were the worst, so as the day went along and I was able to slowly get out of bed, walk around the yard a little, maybe take a shower, I was ready to go to bed again and start the process over again. And at my best I still was unable to complete a simple task like brushing my own hair. But my husband brushing my hair was so raw and tender and loving and I couldn’t find an ounce of fear in myself at that moment.  We were both just fully there, grateful.

Anne Lamott says that “the search for meaning will fill you with a sense of meaning.”

I searched high and low, and I found meaning everywhere.

I still do.

And sometimes the meaning is probably all in my own head but does it really matter? Recently when I was in that car wreck, I told a woman how I’d seen feathers flying around in slow motion as the car spun around. Her response was: you didn’t see feathers. And I was like: yes I did. And she snapped back: no you didn’t. I can assure you that you did not see feathers. And for a short moment I thought to myself maybe she’s right, maybe I didn’t really see feathers. Maybe I’m delusional? Maybe I hit a chicken?  But then as they were towing the car away there were no feathers to be found. But I saw the freaking feathers people. A burst of feathers, at the moment the car was hit. And they were suspended in the air, frozen in a millisecond of time, catching my attention from the horror of what was happening. And I was able to find some meaning in that.

“When you learn that your life is threatened, you can turn toward this knowledge or away from it. I turned toward it. It was not a choice but an automatic shifting of gears, a tacit agreement between my body and my brain. I though that time had tapped me on the shoulder, that I had been given a real deadline at last. It wasn’t that I believed the cancer was going to kill me […] No. What struck me was the startled awareness that one day something, whatever it might be, was going to interrupt my leisurely progress. It sounds trite, yet I can only say that I realized for the first time that I don’t have forever.” -Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness

I think this post will end the series I labeled The Cancer Chronicles three years ago.  I don’t really want to write about cancer anymore.  There’s probably some meaning in that too.

Holiday Prep

This past week I’ve been working on the annual Christmas Tree I do for Michaels each year.  Most everything was handmade in some form.  I love how it turned out. Will share all the photos in just a few days. Here’s what I’ve been working on:


Rustic Scandinavian Christmas Decor - Dala Horse Print

Rustic Handmade Christmas Decor

It’s way too early to put up a Christmas tree though. I put the tree up last night, photographed it, and then took it back down.  It will be donated to a good cause.  We don’t really have room for a full sized tree anyways so we’ll have a miniature tree this year.  The Hemlock Inn puts up their own huge tree after Thanksgiving. Boo is so excited to help decorate that. She’s told every guest that asks about Christmas that “Mr. Mort (the innkeeper) has to take down the dining room’s ceiling fan for the big Christmas tree!”

Begin at the Beginning

Sometimes I have so much to tell you I don’t know where to start. I write things down in bits and pieces in word documents, journals, emails to my self and I even dictate while driving.  It all piles up for a few days and then it’s too much to pare down into one post. So I have to choose what to write, what to save for later, and what to set free into the black-hole-of-writing-that-no-one-will-ever-see-for-eternity.

Begin at the beginning and go on til you come to the end then stop. -Lewis Caroll

Starting at the beginning? That would take forever. I don’t have forever. I’ll just start at the part about exploring the lake bed this past week.  This is what the lake bed looks like right now:

Fontana Lake Bed in Bryson City, NC (at the 288 boat ramp)

In the winter the lake water is let out of the Fontana Dam to prepare for the spring rains.  I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world. I always want to know what is at the bottom of a lake or river. I always imagine it’s pretty dark and sinister.  In my mind I see old rotted out trucks, like in Fried Green Tomatoes, but it really isn’t like that.  I guess I expected to see a lot of trash and discarded stuff, but I wasn’t prepared for all the clothing we saw: jeans, khakis, a prom dress.  A lot of people lose their clothing in the lake apparently.  I wanted to stop and pick it all up because I thought it would make an interesting art project:

Clothing Found in Fontana.

If anyone would like to fund this “found clothing” project or collaborate let me know…because I need a partner willing to pick it up and wash it out. Or I need one of those long handled picker-uppers.

Among all the discarded clothing we found the old bridge from Highway 288.  It wasn’t really lost, but it’s usually underwater:

Fontana Lake Bed (and bridge) in Bryson City, NC (at the 288 boat ramp)

Speaking of writing that ends up in the black-hole-of-writing-that-no-one-will-ever-see-for-eternity:

Google God be one of us
Kubla gob blah on the bus
Boobs got blah I want no bus
Kubla got that one of us
Google got that one no bust
Good luck out that one of us
Could look up that one of us
Luck got that one of us
But the bus got that one that best
Go but I got the one that must
Got butt no one noticed us

I was trying to get my phone to transcribe “Gooba gobble one of us“, that scene from the 1932 movie Freaks. Instead I got 11 lines of gibberish. I saved it anyway. It’s good stuff.  Boobs got blah I want no bus.  I couldn’t have come up with that if I’d tried.

Last night we visited our friend George (who is a cook at the inn) and his wife Deborah at their house on one of the Fontana coves.  I love when directions around here are:

Drive down the highway
Pass the mulch piles
Turn right
Drive until the road ends. 

If we’d tried to use the GPS it would have said we needed a ferry. GPS doesn’t work here. It’s like the Bermuda Triangle. So we followed the written directions and drove until the road ended. And found George. He was on his tractor. And the craziest thing is that you can’t even really tell that the lake reaches this point except for the docks and boats sitting at odd angles on the ground in the little dish-like hollows:

lake fontana2


And now I’ve come to the end for now.

Full stop.

Darn…that’s not even a full story.

But sometimes I see a really beautiful story being written right before my eyes and it just hasn’t been lived out quite yet.

I wrote this in my journal this week, a note to myself:

Find things interesting.
It’s all interesting.
The blah days turn into “neato”…
…if you look hard enough.
It will keep you going.

It’s not poetry. But maybe this is: Boobs got blah I want no bus.



The Cookbook’s Story

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

Vintage Cookbook - Rumford Cook Book 1941

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

 “Fry in deep fat 4 min” 

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


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

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

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

If a cookbook could tell a story - Vintage Rumford Cookbook


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

Brown Sugar Refrigerator Cookies via Rumford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit


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

Dear Old World

October quotes and Anne of Green Gables #quote


And one more:

“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

-Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Our Lives are in Chapters

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

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

All of these:

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

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

Embarrassment: Is this kind of like dumpster diving?

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

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

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

Gratitude: So thankful for this opportunity.

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

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

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

our Charlotte home back then 


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

the rubble of our home


Brett: Would we have been happy in this life?

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

Brett: I guess we’ll never know.

Me: And that’s okay too.

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

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

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

And the replay of questions:

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

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

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

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

And I don’t have to know.

I can live in the questions.

I can find safety there too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Halloween Craft Project Ideas

A compilation of all the things I’ve made for Halloween…from printables to costumes to decor. Links are at the bottom of the image:

Halloween project and decor ideas DIY


1. Lego Sticker Stamps and Pieced Block Dress

2. Sharpie Owl Pumpkins

3. Glass Clings Made From Packing Tape

4. Distressed Halloween Sign

5. Printable Trick or Treat Labels and “Treat” Ideas

6. House Number Pumpkin

7. T-Shirt Butterfly Wings 

8. Glow Stick Lanterns

or click here to scroll through all at once!


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

Painting Leaves - Watercolors

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

Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville - The French Broad River

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

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors

Gorgeous color that only nature could produce:

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Colors Asheville to Cherokee

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

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

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