A Unique Place

I was looking back through Instagram for photos of Boo and Brett and I had a lot to choose from. I can tell a difference in our photos over the last year compared to prior years: we have fewer in number, but there are more of us spending quality time together as a family, enjoying the outdoors,  making our little unique place in the world.


And I’ve found that there’s a direction correlation between photos and attention, at least for me. It’s a unique place to be in, almost like I’m pretending to carry around a Polaroid camera where I have to be really selective. Maybe your photos are fewer this year too. (I think Annie Dillard puts it a little more eloquently: My Own Shutter Opens)

We had a great Father’s day starting with waffles at church. Brett was all excited when he got a trophy from Boo reading #1 Dad. I guess it was like a 30-way tie because every trophy read #1 dad. I told Brett it might be better to get fifth place or below, not as much pressure because I can’t imagine the work it takes to get first place in the whole world. After church we took a trip to Waynesville for lunch and Mast General Store where we decided to invest in an Etch-a-sketch, a very wise purchase I think:


As we were driving home I got a text from a wrong number. It was some guy asking his boss if he could leave work early because it was Father’s Day. And if he couldn’t leave early could he at least go ahead and take his lunch break? I texted back and told him he had the wrong number…but that I hoped his boss would let him go. And I told him I hoped he had a great Father’s Day because it’s funny how we can instantly have a direct line to a complete stranger somewhere out there in another part of the United States. I don’t think it’s always a mistake. I didn’t want to waste it.

Anyway, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, and to anyone who might be filling the role of a father: single mothers, two mother families, family friends etc. And Happy Father’s Day to God, because he pretty much invented the whole father thing.

An Expert in the Small Things

When I grow up I want to be an expert in the small things.

A few little things I found the last two days while walking the dog:

Golden Raspberries. These were from a neighbor. I didn’t even know golden raspberries existed. I’m on a mission to  plant my own for next year. How amazing to even have the opportunity to plant something that grows into a fruit…think of everything that has to align for that to even happen.


Peeling paint on a mailbox. I love how some areas have faded from red to yellowish-orange. It’s perfectly aged. I should leave a note in the person’s mailbox letting them know how much I appreciate it, just so they won’t consider re-painting it one day.


A sunset on Hospital Hill. I thought it looked like the clouds were doing the backstroke.  Or maybe aliens trying to break through the atmosphere. Either way: awesome and worthy of a photo.

You can start today.  We can become experts together. The great part is that we don’t need money for classes or a degree. It’s free for all. A free-for-all.  And if you need a diploma on your wall I’m sure I can make something up for you.

Anne Shirley can be helpful too. She always nails it:

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

Summer Sunsets: Infinity of Earth and Sky

“…as if the day in leaving had gathered all of the golden sunshine into one last lingering flame to burn away the weariness of the day – for twilight is a time of peace and tranquility – and the dusk is filled with memories as night is filled with stars – and they burn even more brightly as the darkness deepens – and this we share and understand – because we have so much in common.” – Letters of Chickadee Hill by Winston O. Abbott

Tonight the town was glowing with this pinkish light:

Sunset View of Bryson City, NC

Another sunset at Naber’s Drive-in by the Tuckasegee River:

Sunset View of the Tuckasegee River near Nabers Drive In

And another sunset reflected in the rails of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad:

Sunset View - Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

From Schoolhouse Hill:


From the Tuckasegee River near Darnell Farms:

Tuckasegee River at dusk

From the Hemlock Inn’s porch:


Not a sunset, but it still looks like infinity from above the clouds:

Cloudy view in  the Smokies

If anything, this:

“…perhaps it would be an exaggeration to say that all aches and pains will vanish beneath the warmth of the summer sunshine – but I do know that there is a miraculous healing power available to all who will let the spirit become absorbed in the infinity of earth and sky – I have learned that the refreshing coolness of the rain can wash away the dusts of doubt that settle upon the spirit – and the summer breezes can dissipate the wisps of selfishness that often come between us and our better selves…” – Letters of Chickadee Hill by Winston O. Abbott


A good sunset can make me feel totally at home in this world. A gentle timekeeper. A dozen can go by sometimes without remembering to take notice.

This Guy

Happy birthday to this guy…


…my husband Brett who is always up for a little adventure…whether it’s a trek 3,000 miles or just a night of gold panning in the river nearby:


I get to watch him every day enjoy his work at Bryson City Outdoors, always giving back, and just being the sweet, loving guy he always is. Want to know what we got him for his birthday?  Sunflower seeds and chocolate peanuts. And he was so excited about them.

Be Aware of Wonder

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all:


-Robert Fulghum, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten 

A few days ago we were driving back from Asheville and I was reading Brett and Boo some pages from an old journal. After a few minutes of consistent laughter and a few “I can’t believe you wrote that down” comments, Boo said:

“Mommy, when you die I’m going to publish your diaries.”

For a brief moment a flash of horror went through my mind.

But then I thought: I’ll be dead.

And really so much of it will be out of context anyways. Maybe I should start going through journals and diaries and adding in footnotes and thought bubbles. Just for clarification purposes.

Like yesterday’s journal entry was just a random list of thoughts:

I’m 38 today. 
Can I buy sea glass online (since I don’t live near the sea)?
The succulents are growing babies. I haven’t killed them. 
Call the piano tuner asap before the broken key causes seizures.
Mr. Parton used dowsing rods today in the yard. Like real dowsing rods, well kind of, made from landscaping flags. But they still worked. I should make my own and see if there are any dead bodies or shallow graves nearby. No I shouldn’t. 
“Black gold, Texas tea”
“grist for the mill” origin

Yesterday was such a good day but you’d never really get it from what I wrote, even if I had added in more detail, you had to be there really. And some of it could really be taken the wrong way if you didn’t know me.

The one thing I hope my journals will show one day, way off in the future, is that I was aware of wonder. And that I was always looking, always seeing…as much as I could. I share a birthday with my friend Jodi’s young son and yesterday he told me: I can tell you how the world ends, the sun explodes. I forgot to write that down in my journal so I’m writing it down here. (I hope I get some advance notice on the sun explosion so I don’t workout, clean or go to the DMV on that day.) Really, if I just wrote down everything I overheard from kids each day I’d have the most interesting journals in the world.

I am 38 now. Boo wrote this little essay on life last year:


I only have 2 more years until my life gets a little less hard!

From one of my birthday cards:


P.S. In my letter last week I wrote about having to go in order to see.  That’s what the hashtag #ifyoudontgoyou dontsee refers to this month on Instagram, use it to share new places, new things. Alright….go!

P.P.S My succulent nursery…mother and babies doing just fine:




The Quilt from Gingercake

This was not just a coincidence. How could something like this be a coincidence? It definitely wasn’t coincidence.

A few months ago I was looking for a quilt for Boo’s room. I looked everywhere: thrift stores, eBay, Etsy.  Nothing caught my eye. Maybe I’m too picky. I don’t like solid patterns, or big patchwork pieces. I had a picture in my head of what I was looking for and the odds were that I would never find it. Then one day, browsing eBay, I found one:


Seriously it was the first one I’d found that I immediately said: Wow. I put it in my watch list but then forgot about it until the next day and missed the auction. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about. I usually don’t get worked up over things like missed auctions because I probably didn’t need whatever it was in the first place. But this quilt was different. I loved how intricate it was, and I loved the tiny details of all the feedsack and calicos, I loved that it was hand tied and I thought it would look fantastic in photo shoots. So I pursued it. I contacted the seller and asked if I could still buy it if it hadn’t sold. After a little bit of emailing back and forth we agreed on a price and a week later the quilt was mine:


To top off my excitement of getting such a wonderful quilt, in the box, accompanying it, was a nice handwritten note in the box listed a little bit of history:

“This is a truly unique quilt, handcrafted by the late Beth Schneider of Gingercake, NC. It’s just a small bit of this estate. Beth and her husband Claude collected antiques for 60 years. Claude and I are sorting, storing and selling a little at a time.”

I kept the note because I thought it was interesting to know a little of the history of the quilt. I would research more about it later. I could tell it was old, and that I’d probably stumbled upon something pretty valuable. I don’t know much about quilts in general, I didn’t even know what pattern it was, but I have a good eye for  handcrafted work. It was a conversation piece when friends stopped by. And it hung over the back of a chair in our living room for a few months so we could admire it. I’d never noticed the dark and light stripes until it was viewed from overhead:



Last month, for Mother’s Day, we decided at the last minute to drive up to Linville to visit my mother for the weekend. The next day we drove around and then went to the Hampton Grist Mill for BBQ. As we drove towards the old grist mill store it was still pretty early to eat lunch, and so my mother directed us around Linville proper for a little sightseeing. As we turned onto the first street we saw a sign for a yard sale…and I’m pretty sure the whole car rolled their eyes. I can never pass up a yard sale.

It was an old Linville house and we walked around a while looking over the items. There were a lot of neat little things to look at. I picked out a poetry book, an old drafting tool set and a few other things.  Boo picked out a few small items too. Brett talked to the woman whose sale it was and I could hear them talking about barn wood and places it could be found in western NC.

As we started to head back to the car the woman handed me her card. I looked at it and started to put it away but then I took a second look and something clicked in my head. I’d seen this card before.

Me: Wait a second…I know your name.
Woman: Oh?

And then instantly everything fit together.

Me: I think I bought a quilt from you a while back? Online? It was really old. And you wrote me a letter to accompany the quilt with the history of it.

She looked like she’d seen a ghost. And then suddenly she was in tears. I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened.  It took a few minutes before she could talk again. And then she explained:

“You have no idea the story behind that quilt. The man whose wife made it died just a month ago. And the quilt wasn’t supposed to be sold. It was a family heirloom, and the family has been frantically looking for it, and I wasn’t able to find your information.”

My heart sank a little at first because I knew that meant that they would want it back. And then I began to think about the odds of what had just transpired:

the odds of me keeping the handwritten note and business card that accompanied the quilt.
the odds of me purchasing something off of eBay and running into the seller at yard sale.
the odds of going to the yard sale.
the odds of ever meeting someone from a transaction on eBay!

the odds of the seller looking for me and me showing up at her front door by chance.
the odds of recognizing the business card and making the connection.
the odds of a family looking for a lost quilt and having it show back up again.

This was not just a coincidence. How could something like this be a coincidence? It definitely wasn’t coincidence.

I gave the woman my contact information and told her to just pass it along to the family and that I would work something out with them.

I didn’t hear from the family for a while, but last week I had a voicemail from the granddaughter. When I called her back she told me the story of how the quilt had gone missing and I think she was probably surprised at how quickly my answer was: well, if it’s your family’s quilt then you should have it back.

It was a quick answer because of course I’d had a few weeks to think about it, but really I had known  from the first moment I learned it was lost that I would have to return it. I’d prayed about it the same night and woke up knowing it wasn’t really my quilt anymore. As much as I loved that quilt, as much as I loved its detail, as much as I loved that it had come from a place called Gingercake, and as much as I thought it was the greatest treasure find I’d ever come across…I knew it wasn’t meant to stay with me.  It wasn’t meant to be my quilt.

At first Boo was a little upset about the idea of returning it. And really the same thoughts that went through her head had gone through mine too: I found it and bought it. I’ll never find another one like it. Finders keepers, right? But Boo and I talked about what it would be like for something we cared very much about to go missing. How it was just a thing to us. And how much the family would be comforted to get it back.

When we’d returned from Linville Boo was in the living room when I walked in to pick up the quilt. And when I was carefully folding it up, to set it aside in anticipation of the family eventually contacting us, she said:

I think the quilt should go back to its real family. 

And today it did.



Because of Your Short Hair

It’s always going to be there. I keep thinking I can leave it behind.

Last week I told Boo I was going to be at her end of the year party. And she asked me not to. But then she said, “but Daddy can go.” Insert knife to heart. When I asked her why she didn’t want me to go she said:

because of your short hair.

Me: Why does it matter that I have short hair?
Boo: Because the kids ask: why does your mom have short hair?
Me: And what do you tell them?
Boo: Because she had cancer.

She thought my hair was short because of cancer still. As if it didn’t grow anymore. I told her that my hair is short now because I just choose to keep it that way. And then we came up with a handful of answers she could use instead like:

Maybe the same reason you have short hair?

Because she’s lazy.

Oh her? No idea who she is.

But seriously when I thought about it, the truth is that I am lazy. Lazy about hair. I don’t want to spend time doing my hair. I can get ready in 5 minutes flat and no hair dryer needed, ever. But yes sometimes I do wish I had my long, flowing locks, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the freedom I have without them yet.

And I realized that there are things that my daughter will forever attach to cancer. Like the loss of my hair. She doesn’t remember about the hospitals, or the surgeries or anything else. But she remembers my hair. And so I’m torn just for that reason on keeping it short.


And then I realized along with the hair that I’d also never really fully recovered physically. So, last week, I took a big step and signed up for Crossfit.  And I signed Brett up too because we can go together first thing in the morning. And we already know 95% of the people there, because it’s a very small town. And yes it’s a little intimidating but I’ll make up my own rules like I always do. The sign that said “no water breaks” on the wall? I broke that rule 5 minutes in. I think it’s going to be really fun…except for snatches. I definitely won’t do a lot of snatches.  I’ll be taking water breaks during snatch time. Yeah, you can’t make me. I’ll throw a silent tantrum. Plus I can’t stop laughing at the word snatch…just like I can’t stop giggling when someone says the word beaver, or balls. I had to say the word penis the other day at the vet and I almost choked trying to hold the laughter in.

Maybe one day I’ll mature. A little. And maybe I’ll grow my hair back out. And maybe I’ll be able to climb up a flight of stairs without being winded.

Speaking of beavers, I tried repeatedly to save 2 baby beavers last week. They kept trying to cross the road. When someone asked me what I was doing on the side of the turn to Deep Creek I told them:

I’m saving baby beavers!

I was even going to make a sign that said: watch out for the baby beavers.

And then they turned out to be groundhogs.

Honest mistake because I swear this sign has a groundhog on it, not a beaver:



Dang. I have no idea how beavers hijacked what was supposed to be a slightly-serious post.

P.S. Let me know if you have any other answers Boo can use. My snark ran out.


The Poetry of Earth

This weekend we spent a lot of time outdoors. Brett teaching Boo about her paddle on Fontana Lake:


Bryson City Outdoors (BCO) has paddle boards you can rent right at the Finger Lake.  Brett, tiny Maximus, and one of Brett’s BCO partners Ben and his dog Lager:


When Brett was about 10 feet away from shore Max jumped in and swam for it with an audience watching from shore. I’d say he’s a brave little guy…but really I think he’s more crazy.

Yesterday we hiked to Andrews Bald. The drive up 441 to get there is pretty amazing in itself (it starts at Clingman’s Dome):

drive up

It’s about a 3.8 mile hike roundtrip. A little rocky in places but a great moderate hike for almost any level if you take your time. I love the balds because you can see for miles and miles, there are no trees obstructing the view. Sometimes I can’t believe places like this exist, pretty much untouched by humans except for the narrow trails we’ve left:


Logging the hike in our “nature” journal:


I keep a journal because I’ve found that if I have the intention of writing things down I see more. My mind looks for ways to describe a place to someone else. I love this line from  John Keats:


I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but my own takeaway is that the earth is itself poetry. This place has been pretty much the same for thousands if not millions of years. It will outlive us all a million times over (unless we get sucked into a black hole filled with asteroids.)

Sometimes I’ll pick up a rock or a flower or notice a new tree or animal and wonder: What if I’d never seen this? And it starts a continuous process of looking a second time, and then a third and soon I’m pulling apart a patch of clovers to see what world lives underneath that I may have been missing. And there’s a whole world underneath. 

When I was younger I wanted to be a forest ranger. At some point that dream was shifted and molded into a career path that wasn’t necessarily my own. Not that I want to be a forest ranger now, but isn’t it an odd thing how we shift our innocent, passionate young dreams into what we think will be more acceptable and secure?

All the big people are simple, as simple as the unexplored wilderness. They love the universal things that are free to everybody. Light and air and food and love and some work are enough. In the varying phases of these cheap and common things, the great lives have found their joy…so simple we are, so little we want, we are wise and will get what we want… -Carl Sandburg, in a letter to his wife 

And then today I’m sitting outside with my dogs because I can’t feel good about myself if they are locked inside staring out the window. And there’s the drone of a yellow jacket hovering nearby and I’ve decided to be a little more tolerant because there must be some use for the yellow jacket right?  I can’t think of one but surely there is some important task for the yellow jacket. I’ve slowed my pace of life and I wonder if it’s possible to gain momentum while simultaneously slowing down? I remember learning in school, maybe in physics, that it takes like 25 miles for an aircraft carrier to stop moving because of the force.

Anyway, onto some kind of point here. If you’ve never visited a bald…you need to. Because when you get there you’ll stand above the whole world and I think you’ll get it. And maybe you’ve felt that before. Up in those kinds of high mystical places, or maybe it was on a long stretch of white beach. My friend Jodi calls it a whoosh.  I think it’s where fear and hope and reverence and joy all collide at once.

And sometimes, like poetry, you can even find little galaxies of stars there:


The Raptor and the Mourning Dove

Today I heard a huge “boom” right outside my window. The dogs went wild and ran from door to window to door. As I peeked out our big living room window I could see a hawk upside down moving his wings a little. I locked up the dogs and went outside to see if he was okay. HIs little chest heaved just one or two more times and then he was completely still. I yelled at him trying to shock him back into this world, but he was gone.  Lifeless. Poor little guy. To the right of me was another bird, its neck broken, in a pool of blood. It pretty much died instantly when they both hit the side of the house going about 100 mph. Normally I wouldn’t share a photo of a dead animal but the hawk was so beautiful. Those yellow-rimmed eyes, still wide open:

At first I thought that it was a pigeon that had been killed but it turned out to be a mourning dove. I won’t share that photo, even though it’s also quite beautiful I think with the thick crimson blood and the closed periwinkle eyelid, some normal people might have an aversion to it. But I did draw it:


When I was reading about the mourning dove today I learned that it is the closest relative to the extinct passenger pigeon. Coincidentally I wrote about the extinct passenger pigeon on Instagram recently.  I’d found an origami version of the bird in the September 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine:


The last wild passenger pigeon died in March 1900, shot down from the sky by a boy in Ohio. The last one in captivity died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her name was Martha. She didn’t live the best life. (imagine being the last of your kind on earth, an elderly zoo attraction in a cage, with no friends, i.e. planet-of-the-pigeon) Her body was saved though and you can see her at the National Museum of Natural History through the end of this year. In 1860 there were estimated to be almost 3.7 billion Passenger pigeons. Then they were hunted to death. Not one left.

“MARTHA, last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden. EXTINCT”
(photo source)


(You can read more about Martha here.)

Speaking of taxidermy, because I know you are super interested, right? I’m reading a book right now called Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. It’s kind of a memoir about taxidermy. Randomly picked it up at the bookstore.  I’m all for taxidermy to preserve animals, I’m just not a fan of it for the sport of killing trophies.

Honestly, for a split second I thought about the idea of keeping the tiny hawk and having him stuffed. But…the House on Hospital Hill is not the Biltmore Estate.  We don’t really have a place for skinned and stuffed animals. Plus I’d have to go through crazy hoops probably to get salvage permits and who knows what else.  The vultures around here keep leaving me feathers and it’s illegal to even keep those according to the North American Migratory Bird Act. Even if it’s from a dead animal. I doubt there would be a federal raid if I kept just one, but I won’t take my chances.

Have you heard about the Rauschenberg’s assemblage art Canyon? (You can view it here I don’t want any part of Migratory copyright infringement of bald eagle art.)  I was following the story a few years ago. Basically Rauschenberg’s piece contained a stuffed bald eagle which meant it could never be sold. According to the heirs of an estate that owned the piece that one little fact, in theory, would give it a value of zero for estate taxes. But the IRS placed a value of $65 million on it, which carries a huge estate tax:

“The IRS is saying you have to pay the tax. If you sell the work to raise the money to pay the tax, it’s a criminal offense and you go to jail.” -Ralph Lerner, art dealer, as quoted in Art News. 

It was eventually donated to MOMA. No charitable deduction with a value of zero.

Sorry total tangent there. But I do think the use of discarded objects by Rauschenberg is very relatable to vultures in a way.

Anyway, it takes all my energy not to keep a feather…because I’m constantly picking up little things here and there for the shadow boxes we have.


Seven vultures were just staring at me yesterday morning from a tree in our yard. FYI: they don’t like to be talked to. One by one they picked themselves up and flew away:


The vultures use the thermal air currents to fly with very little effort. I watch them all the time and they are so peaceful and unassuming, rarely flapping their wings. Just gliding. I think they are a great symbol for floating through life and I think a vulture feather carries a message with it: use your energy wisely. One circled me the other day…literally just about 50 feet away, just hanging out. I could see her eyes and then she flew off. Just curious I guess. Or maybe the crows told her that I give away popcorn occasionally on the tree stump.

I know I’ve written about this before but it’s primarily why I left the two birds for the vultures today.  A sky burial:

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?

The circle of life.

Rest in peace little raptor.

Rest in peace little dove.

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.