My Own Shutter Opens

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

…my own shutter opens…

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

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


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

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


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

The river.



Just a thought for today:

A.W. Tozer Quote

Wall Gone

I woke up this morning, grabbed a hammer and headed out the door to the new house. First I went and grabbed coffee because I promised roofer Larry that I’d bring him a cup first thing. And then….

I took the wall down.

I took a little more work than I thought it would because one side was concrete plaster. Brett helped me pull down some of the heavier pieces. Now the house is brighter. I can see the mountain view from almost every room of the house.  As Steve Jobs would say: People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. True story.


I won’t bore you with daily progress here, just the occasional house update posts, but you can follow more often on Instagram if you are curious at #thehouseonhospitalhill

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. 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…]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...