Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The light was beautiful this afternoon -- golden, blinding in the rearview mirror as I headed east. I know this stretch of Interstate 40 so well. I know which gas station is the best on every exit. I know where to avoid the fast food fries. I've driven this stretch of highway a million times.

I had just got down the mountain, the one that forms this physical and mental barrier between western North Carolina and the rest of the state that stretches itself out like a cat purring to the sea. Down that mountain and I felt myself leaving.

Outside of Morganton, I followed the curve to the left. I was daydreaming, about what I don't remember. I was listening to the radio when I saw this flock of birds -- hundreds of the them, so many that the sky was darkened -- just as the announcer slid into a twang, a strum, a hum. Country, but not. Alternative, but not as flippant. The birds floated like a bubble over the fields next to the interstate. The dipped and swirled and veered. And I suddenly felt homesick for Kathryn. Kathryn, are you reading this? I wanted to call you so badly right then. I wanted to stop by your house in Greensboro and listen to records and pet Buddy and listen to your stories. Hey, friend! I miss you!

Friday, November 2, 2007


Maybe because it's Friday. Maybe because I'm overly tired. Maybe because it's really, really funny.

Friday, October 26, 2007

day 11

Day 1: See previous, oh-so-overly-dramatic post.
Day 2: Found another bottle of wine on our porch. Hello, neighbors! I love you!
Day 3: Try to jam lawn ornament into ground. It refuses and instead pops up and smacks me on the eye. Spend hours holding washcloth full of ice cubes to eye. Say things like, "Boy, this move is going GREAT!" and other such sarcastic witticisms. Get black eye.
Day 4: Time drive to downtown, which equals about eight minutes. Later, go for walk around neighborhood. Everyone says hey. Watch, miraculously, as feeling of joy spreads over body. I love moving! Everything is an adventure!
Day 5: Begin daily fights with cable and Internet provider who treat hooking up our service as if they are building the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Relearn that Everyone. In. Customer. Service. Lies. The first commandment of cable/Internet customer service handbook: Lie to get people off the phone.
Day 6: Unpack all day long. Dig hole in neighbor's yard to put up mailboxes. She wasn't happy. Give peace offering of bags of daffodil and crocus bulbs.
Day 7: Nearly have a coronary when I discover I STILL DO NOT HAVE MY E-MAIL ADDRESS. What does it take, BellSouth, now AT&T? A letter written in blood? A nuclear missile pointed at your headquarters? It may seem small, but this is my business, people! Six hours later, get e-mail address. Proceed to ignore e-mails.
Day 8: Instead of going to grocery store, eat at seriously nasty barbecue joint in neighborhood. Seriously. Ugh. Feel sick all night.
Day 9: Go to local Italian restaurant because I still haven't gone to the grocery store. Eat the most delicious butternut squash soup while talking with the waitress about the car that drove over the ledge next to the parking lot. Watch as the Hershey Kiss Mobile pulls into said parking lot. Listen in on conversations the two women driving the mobile have with other diners. One orders friend zucchini because she is "a zucchini freak." We and they ooh and aahh over food because it is so so so good. Leave after tow-truck comes and rescues the car that drove over the ledge. Everyone yells out "Have a nice night!" as we leave. A Hershey Kiss woman follows us out, opens up a compartment on the mobile, hands us handfuls of kisses. Pat and I high-five each other as we drive away. West Asheville rocks!
Day 10: Sit on porch in the sun updating address book. Feel all the love in the world with this light on me, warm and comforting. Neighbor walks buy, whistling the theme to Andy Griffith. Obsess that it was a slight directed at me. Our neighbors hate us. Love disappears.
Day 11: I don't know where our current post office is and I don't know what gas station to go to. It's like choosing a date for the prom, discovering the post office and local gas station. Drive to Swannanoa to meet friend at diner. Go to the post office and gas station in Swannanoa, my old prom dates.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Things that happened today:

Woke up way before dawn.
Somehow got to work, though I don't remember driving there.
Finished edits on multiple brochures.
Wrote things on flip chart paper.
Picked up check.
Got e-mail from new editor.
Went to fast food joint, waited in line to get a chicken sandwich.
Watched my entire life get carted into a strange house, miles away from our original house, where I stood in shock and just wanted to chuck everything out the window and run back to Potato Knob because why why why did I want to move? Why? I love it, so. When everything in my life has gone to hell, that was my refuge! Why am I leaving my refuge???
Cried some more.
Watched movers get stuck in the driveway at the new house. Really stuck. Like stuck in the middle of the road, blocking the entire road (Watch out neighborhood! Here we are!!).
Neighbors came over with warm pumpkin-shaped cookies, a jade plant and a bottle of wine. Kids go crazy on furniture, run up and down stairs. Went to neighbors' house for spaghetti.
Went back to original house.
Saw old neighbor while holding hands with Pat, walking down the road, looking at the moon and the stars.
Started crying again. Walked back home.
Changed light bulb on porch because the new people need to see where they're going even thought they can't possibly love the house as much as I love it.
Cried again.
Wrote this post.
Remembered: Change is good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Spotted on the morning commute

A small, Milk-of-Magnesia pink sedan driven by a large African-American man wearing a light pink button-up shirt. I can't exactly see who is in the passenger seat, but using my crack intelligence, I was able to figure it out from these astonishingly subtle clues.

Clue One: All the model and make decals have been replaced with gold block letters, reading PLAYBOY.

Clue Two: On the license plate: PLA BOY

Clue Three: The license plate "frame" (is that the right word?) reads, on top: PLAYBOY. On bottom: Miss January.

I passed them, trying to get a look, but then that sweet pink sedan got stuck behind a school bus as I zoomed off. That totally made my entire day.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hello, stranger

Despite all accounts, it's hard to live in Asheville. To me, anyway. Perhaps it's because of stories like the one that is in today's New York Times, 36 Hours in Asheville, N.C., that make me want to run for the hills. Resort town? Asheville's young professionals? Really, I had to laugh.

The irony of my frustration with stories like these is not lost on me, mainly because I'm more than guilty of writing such stories about things to do and see while visiting Asheville -- stories I won't bother to link here because they're superficiality is astounding. Sure, Asheville is beautiful. Sure, the town has managed to diversify by adding some, as the NYT calls it, urbane sensibility amid the crunchy vibe that made the whole town stink of patchouli in the early 1990s. And I surely can't deny that when the sky is so blue you want to scoop it in a bowl or when the crisp fall air sends goosebumps across your skin, thoughts of leaving this town disappear. Asheville easily seduces. But the reality is that finding an authentic life in this place is difficult for the not-so-rich or the not-so-hippy, so much so that trying to eek out a living here is gut wrenching, even though I'm fully aware that such pieces aren't meant to showcase the realness of a place, just what you can find in the trendy restaurants, galleries and expensive craft stores.

And, then, there's the fact that my friends Julie and Ed and their little girl, Samantha, are coming to town this week. (Hey, y'all!) And looking around at what we'll do over the six days they're here, I find myself abandoning my haughtiness (see above) for the sure-to-impress activities that make stories like this one easy for the writer and the most e-mailed story of today's travel section. Go to Early Girl. *check* Go to Mela and Old Europe. *check* Visit the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate. *check*

No one -- not even my very sensitive, justice-minded friends -- want the Tour of Manufacturing Plants That Have Closed in the Past Five Years Sending Everyone to the Unemployment Line And/Or Destined to Work in a Fast Food Restaurant Near a Tourist Destination. No one wants to reveal the "Made in China" tags on items found at the Farmer's Market or really question where, exactly, in western North Carolina are fields covered in the red and green bell peppers sold there, too? (That's because the answer is not here, but, most likely, in the Carolina found farther south. My dad, a man who grew up farming, was disillusioned to discover both when we visited I naively took him to the Farmer's Market on one of his rare visits here in the early 1990s.) This really epitomizes my frustration with this place -- that, when push comes to shove, most everyone who promotes or writes about tourism here is so satisfied by appearance and creating or believing this palatable version of Asheville's so-called Appalachian culture.

Lest I seem otherwise, I'm not opposed to people visiting Asheville and are likely to support the local arts scene. I remember the times when downtown was deserted, even a bit on the scary side. It's hard to find a scary part of town today.

In truth, my biggest frustration comes from the local people who are determined to tell Asheville's story -- the one easily swallowed and reproduced in nearly every major magazine and newspaper in the country -- as one of craft and quirkiness. But then, I wonder if maybe these folks are telling that story with a wink, much like the "quilts, crafts and antiques" gag old-time mountaineers used to pull on out-of-towners, the "come and see Real Mountain Crafts" tourist traps that would lure visitors in and charge $10 for a bar of Ivory soap wrapped in "mountain-made burlap." Maybe the thought is, if they want to buy it, so be it. Maybe the thought is, we're a culture of story tellers, and this is surely our best seller.

But then I know that while Asheville seduces, money is the greatest lover of all. And that's what's come with this wave of so-called revitalization. Is that bad, in the end? Is it bad that new people coming here promote "traditional crafts" with a fervor usually reserved for Sundays?

I guess we'll know only when we get to the end of the story. And as I'm planning on making reservations and checking on gallery hours and strategizing where the best hikes will be this time of year, I know I'm also pointing a finger at myself here. Be a show off, evangelistic promoter of My Mountain Town, in all it's story-telling. *check*

Monday, September 24, 2007

What are you waiting for?

I've been asking myself this question over the last week or so. I think of it during the most obvious of times: the grocery store, the traffic light, the restaurant. Then, there are other times, like when I'm barely asleep that it comes to me, that question, just like the dream you seem to fall back into, the one that waited for you to place your head back on the pillow. Hello, again. I missed you.

Still, I don't have an answer. Right now, right this very second, I'm waiting for the minutes to slip by so I can call and interview a woman for a story I'm writing. At first she wanted me to wait until her child was away for a visit. Then she wanted me to wait until he got to sleep. "Twenty, thirty more minutes?" More waiting. He answered the phone. "There's a lady who wants to talk to you," he told her. That made me smile.

Now, I don't mind it, the slippage of time. It's when I wake up, anxious, that I mind. What am I waiting for? I know I'm being obtuse here... trying to maintain some sort of public privacy. Ridiculous, I know. But I'm tired of waiting, is what I'm trying to say. I used to say, "I'm practicing patience." That was when I felt achy for something different, like if I just let go and just let things happen, it would. But it hasn't. And patience is over rated. And I do mind it. I do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

travel envy

The first time I realized what it is to be jealous, I was in sixth grade. Every day at break (every. single. day), my best friend at the time, Christie, would pull out a Tupperware container filled with salty popcorn. We would go outside and she would eat her popcorn and I would wander around, looking at it and her sideways, wishing I had some and wondering why my parents didn't pack me some popcorn for break. Sometimes she'd feel sorry for me and give me a handful. That was worse, because who wants pity popcorn? But I took it anyway. And I got over it. In, oh, my second year in college.

But today I'm not to proud to admit that I have again found myself sidled with some jaw-crunching jealousy. But, instead of popcorn, I have travel envy. Big time travel envy, like pack-a-bag-right-now travel envy. We have friends/colleagues now in Rome and Milan and Tuscany and South Korea and others just back from Prague. Dang. It didn't help that over Labor Day, we ended up talking about Rome over burgers and awesome bean salad at some friends' house. We sipped proscecco and discussed how to appropriately curse football referees in Italian and how not to fall and crack your head open on wet street pavers in Rome. It made me ACHE to be there, not that I want to particularly escape anything here. In fact, things are going really well. But I'm craving the trip planning, the looking forward to being tired and grumpy after flying someplace, the chance to take walks on new-to-us sidewalks, the belly filled with strange food, the people in a new place, the sound of a new language. I'd love to be in Rome right now. I love that city, with its graffiti and confusing intersections and crosswalks that challenge your inner dare devil. We have a couple of free tickets in our pockets, and it's killing me! I want to go everywhere, but where now? New York? Boston? Huntington Beach? The Great State of North Dakota followed by the Other Great State of South Dakota? Anybody? Anybody?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

speaking of high school

Maybe it's because I'm slightly nutty with all these boxes around, me forgetting what day it is and what I'm supposed to be doing that made me want to get in touch with people from high school. I must be losing it to even consider this because my No. 1 goal when finally walking across that stage, getting my diploma, surviving an ill-advised trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and packing up all my junk and moving to my college (crying as my folks pulled away in their blue station wagon) was to forget all about high school and that little shit who gave me a bloody nose in third grade. (Later, my mom ran over his dog by accident. Karma is a bitch.)

In my list of things to accomplish in life, "forget high school" is checked off, for better or worse. I haven't managed to check off "become fluent in another language" or "win a Pulitzer." But at least one thing is checked off! And I couldn't be prouder!

That said, I can admit that I do get a twinge of nostalgia when my current friends talk and/or do fun things with their high school friends like GO SEE THE POLICE IN CHICAGO FROM BOX SEATS AT WRIGLEY STADIUM. (Dammit, SG!)

So did you think this was going to be all about my high school? That I had some great realization that my past is worth dredging up, worth reconnecting to, worth reconciling with? Ah, you have such high hopes for me. Thanks! (Though I did, in all honesty, send an e-mail out to try to find Peter who used to direct the aforementioned Teens Camping Tour of the West. No luck yet. Will update if that changes...)

Nope, here's a little something from my road trip with The Only Boy Who Didn't Scare The Shit Out of Me To Whom I Am Now Married. AKA: Pat. This summer we visited his high school boarding school in Ohio, Olney Friends School in Barnesville, where he spent three semesters instead of going to military school. It is surrounded by rolling green fields and bucolic views of cows munching on grass and intense blue skies and super sweet afternoons where you just want to nap in the grass. It's that beautiful, people, and makes any story I have to tell about going to Davie County High School terribly sad. Here's photographic proof!

(NOTE: If this moves too quickly, hit pause and manually click forward using the arrows.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

packrat cadet kisser who sleeps through humanity

We are in full-throttle moving mode, with tons of boxes and piles of papers and bags of peanuts lying around like we just don't care. So in the last two days, I've been trying to come to terms with my pack-ratedness. I get it honestly. When my sister and I cleaned out my parents' house a few years ago, we filled a dumpster full of junk my parents had squirreled away -- jars and jars of canned tomatoes and peaches that had turned the color of dirt, napkins from parties they threw back in the 60s, clothes full of holes, but saved just in case every store on the face of the planet closed and we had to revert to our pioneer genes to make it through the long, cold winters in Davie County.

But, by the looks of our basement, I didn't get rid of enough. What I couldn't throw away, I inherited, including partial packages of tissue paper and random drapery hooks. But in this packing process, I'm bound and determined to make my "change is good" mantra mean something. I mean, how much are you really changing when you have a broken plate from your first apartment wrapped and stored like it was your first Oscar?

So far, Pat's found a folder of train stubs and receipts from his trip to Japan in 1994. Among other things, I've found my fourth grade yearbook, a 1968 Winston-Salem Journal clipping about Max Woosley, the wife of Oscar "Pop" Woosley who ran the Children's Home in Winston-Salem and was the only father my dad ever knew, and a box full of stuff from my camping trip across the country when I was 16/17.

In that box was a journal from my trip with Teens Camping Tour of the West, which pretty much killed my idea that I've changed much in the last 20 years. Then: shy, confused, excited, and scared shitless by boys. Today: shy, confused, excited, and scared shitless by boys.

July 6, 1989:

We got up today (actually yesterday) from sleeping underneath the stars and heading on out to Colorado and the great Rockies. Today was an awesome (there's that word again!) day! After we traveled for a while, we went into the van and there was a blanket across the front seat so that we couldn't see out the windows. Then we all had to put our pillows over the windows so we couldn't see out. We had to listen to a John Denver tape about "being human." (I fell asleep.) Then we finally got there and we had to close our eyes and get out of the van and stand in a semi-circle. Finally, after listening to another John Denver song about the Rocky Mountains (big hint, huh?) we opened our eyes. It was astoundingly beautiful, that's the only was to explain it. ... After that we practiced "kissing a cadet" for the Air Force Base. All the girls kissed Steve and Peter, and the guys kissed Beth and Nikki. How embarrassing! It was even worse at the Academy. Peter said we wouldn't be able to get back onto the van unless we kissed a cadet. So we did it. It wasn't that thrilling, but I guess it was OK. We had to chase them all down. I bet they went back to their dorms and said to each other, "Did you see those girls from North Carolina?" At least it would be a topic of conversation.

Because conversation is what every Air Force Academy cadet wants with a group of underage teenage girls.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


The day is sweltering hot, which is atypical despite the fact the town I'm in is called Hot Springs. It's 2 p.m., my car themometer reads 99 degrees and the street is empty except for a few motorcyclists chugging through town. Almost all of the stores are closed.

I have a little bit of time to kill before meeting a friend, so I drive down the main street, looking around. Ahead of me, I spot a lot of white hair and T-shirts. I keep driving, getting closer. What's going on? A parade? An accident? One by one, about six faces turn toward me, our eyes catching. I drive by, looking at the group of about six men sitting on a stone wall. They're in the shade of some large trees and overgrown hedges. What's going on? I'm what's going on. Me, in my car, driving down the street. They smile. I smile. We all wave.

Oh, to live in a town where the excitement at 2 p.m. is watching traffic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Picking apples

On Saturday, Pat and I stood under my grandmother's apple tree on the edge of the tobacco field. There used to be about six apple trees in her backyard. But wind and lightening and drought and age took most of them. There were pippins, horse apples and early girls. When I was a little girl, I remember running around the backyard as my grandfather grafted limbs onto the trees, trying to get other varieties to sprout and bloom and produce sweet fruit. But now this is the only apple tree left, and it lives nearly alone now. Only the deer visit regularly, and we stood where they congregate, too, adding our sneaker imprints to the hoof prints scattered like confetti on the clay. The bottom branches were empty. They'd gotten there first. So we reached up into the tree, pulling the apples off above our head, dropping them onto the grass and into the tobacco field for the deer to find later.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

It's a funny kind of irony when traveling keeps you from writing about said travels on your blog, which is supposed to be about traveling. I now, right? Hysterical!

So since the end of summer is here (I don't care what the calendar says. School starting equals end of summer. Even though I haven't been to school in years, it's hard to miss the packs of kids buying busloads of folders, pencils and cigs at your local superstore.) Pat and I decided to take a quasi-spur-of-the-moment trip back to Oak Island last week. Our last hurrah! for summer. Or some such thing.

We took off late last Wednesday, pulling onto the island with our stinky-breathed dog who, no matter how cold we made the car, insisted on shooting gut-rotting air out of his constant panting mouth. Plus, it was about 115 degrees on the drive down. And we got stopped at a road block heading to the island, only prolonging our 8-hour drive to 8.25 hours and I was about to lose it! When we got there, it was about 2 a.m. and it was about 130 degrees in the house where we begged/bullied/cajoled our way into borrowing from my sister-in-laws parents, who were so accommodating (Thanks, y'all!!!) and we didn't care anyway because we were At The Beach! Again! And their house rocks, so there's that.

Anyway, reverse the sequence of events and there you have us driving back home on Sunday. It was awesome. It was the beach. There was sand and surf. And lots of fried shrimp. What more can I say? And though he nearly found himself running alongside the car on the way to the beach, Sammy redeemed his household standing by training himself to conveniently poop while he was there. As soon as we crossed the dunes via the boardwalk, his paws would hit the sand and he'd walk to the trashcan perched next to the dunes and take a poop. Right there. So close! Blessed be! I meant to take a picture and post it here, but that's pushing the bounds of even this drivel.

All this is a very long intro into introducing you (again, if you're paying attention) to Lindsay and Whit's blog, which is chronicling their trip to Korea via Thailand. I'm not too proud to say I'm jealous. I mean, I got the Lonely Planet guide to Thailand months and months ago, even before they were thinking of going, all in preparation for our three months of travel this summer! That. Didn't. Happen. No Japan. No Thailand. No confusing airports. No backpacks. No nothin'. (Except, see above.) I'm not complaining, really. What can we do? The housing market in Asheville has grown oh-so-slow, and though we've sold our house, we don't close until the end of September if all goes as planned. And there's the other one still sitting there, all stainless-steel appliances and solid-surface countertops and immaculate wood floors and thoughtful layout and awesome backyard all for under market value that makes me want to yell, "WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT, PEOPLE?" And, well, school's back in session and you know that means.

So I'm very much enjoying their blog, even their pictures of themselves brushing their teeth while sitting on the toilet in a Bangkok bathroom. That looks so great! Have fun, y'all!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Where medicine and blogging meet

You know when you have those moments/weeks/months where a sudden sneeze wakes you out of a daze and you realize you're still in your pajamas at 5 p.m. or that you left a pot boiling on the stove two hours ago or that, magically, it's a whole different month and you haven't updated your blog?

That's what it's been like for me lately. A whirlwind. That New Start thing wasn't kidding (though lots of things are still around that I wish would just disappear or fix themselves or find some peace, but, still...). There have been a ton of new things going on: job interviews, road trips spanning seven states, selling of the house, planning move to new house, story assignments, shopping for a new suit. These things on top of regularly scheduled activities -- fun things like brushing my teeth and nearly passing out at the gym because I forgot to eat lunch.

But one particularly interesting development is the fact that my lovely acupuncturist has me taking this god-awful Chinese herb formula that's supposed to boost my "open, free spirit" (do I have one of those? Did I leave it at the dentist's office?). It's called -- if I'm remembering this correctly -- Roaming Powder. Get it? Huh? Get it? It's also been called Free and Easy Wanderer's Powder. And I'm so in love with the name, that I don't even mind that people who need it are like this:

"The mind that has not learned how to face problems effectively, that struggles, strives, and competes, will cause the body's qi to stagnate, which, over time, yields various symptoms and diseases."

I love that my prescription from her is to take this powder and lots of bubble baths and, essentially, to roam and rove.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new start

This morning I got up early, jumped in the shower, threw on some clothes and drove to prison.

For the last year and a half, I've been following two women at Black Mountain Correctional Center for Women. I sat with them through a re-entry program and their subsequent class graduation, interviewed them in the cafeteria and library for hours upon hours, talked with them about everything from how they got in prison to their work-release jobs to what they'll do when they walk out of the administration building for the last time. Notebooks are piled in my office, filled with my scribbling about our conversations, their stories, thoughts, feelings.

And today! Debbie! Was! Released! After five years of living in a N.C. Department of Corrections facility, a sargeant's voice rumbled over the PA system, calling out her name, telling her to go to the administration building. It was for the last time. Cheers and clapping erupted in the yard, where women in green-blue shirts and shirt dresses sat smoking or listening to music at concrete picnic tables. She went inside and 20 minutes later, she came out arms filled with white plastic bags holding all her stuff. She and her probation officer loaded them in the trunk of the officer's car, and she climbed in the backseat. I stood in the parking lot, watching. As she rode away, her face was turned to the red brick dormatory where she'd lived the last two years. The sun shone on her face. And suddenly this feeling hopefulness flooded over me.

If you know me or my writing very well, you'll know that I don't believe in the "objective journalist." Do I believe in being fair? Oh, absolutely. For the last 1.5 years I've been practicing fairness. But today I felt so proud of her, so hopeful for her future, so happy that she won't have to ask anyone whether she can go to the bathroom or sit on a bench ever again. (She is the first to tell you that she needed to be in prison, that there wasn't a choice almost. But that was five years ago, and a lot has changed, I'm hoping. Now, I'm so happy that she's back!)

And it must be catching, these New Starts, because a woman I worked with at the newspaper is leaving the paper today to go teach English in South Korea with her husband. Wow.

I'm ready for a change, too. And, really, there was nothing left to do except jump up and down outside my house, happy that I feel one coming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Uh-oh. Another slideshow

Things creating this slideshow of our recent trip to Oak Island with my niece, Acy, showed me:
1: Sit up straight, dammit. (The plague of being the tallest girl as a kid is growing into a slump-backed adult. Jeez.)
2: That kid is cute.
3: Seagulls are awesome.
4: We like to eat. A lot. (Both in quantity and in sheer desire to intake more food.)


(TIP: If the slideshow is going too fast, hit the pause button then manually scroll forward using the arrow button. E-mail me if you have a problem viewing.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Remember when I wrote about my summer read-a-thon? I'm well underway, and all I have to say is read this book: Eat, Pray, Love.

I'm in love with Elizabeth Gilbert. If she was here, I would hug her and make her a mug of tea or a shot of bourbon and we would sit on the porch and talk about Italy. I know that this book is also about Indonesia and India, but I'm only in the Italy part and already I'm wondering how many times I can reread this book without it getting creepy. And I'm only on page, like, 120.

I am in awe, too, because I think travel writing is insanely hard. To me. You have all these competing tasks: Tell the reader about the place you are -- what you're seeing, doing, etc. that others might like to see, do, etc. -- while also delving into the inner workings of that place. What's going on there? What are people doing, saying, feeling? What is that place about? Then, you have to show some inner awareness, some vulnerability, some tension, something that makes me want to keep reading your story, otherwise you just seem like a privileged wiseass who gets to go to all the most beautiful places in the world and rub it in the faces of people who are stuck at desks, behind brooms or some such drudgery in comparison to gazing at the Taj Mahal at sunset.

And, really, isn't that most of us?

What I'm definitely not interested in is this stop-by-stop listmaking diary entries. *Went to X. Ate Y. It was good. Next time, try ABC.* Not to point fingers here (because here I am having written close to nothing about my traveling), but I picked up Frances Mayes' book, "A Year In The World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler," because I'm a sucker for an interesting title. But, boy oh boy, did I have to skip about half that book. If you asked me where she went, I couldn't really tell you. (Though I could say that not having good places to stay is a Big Deal--better have some quiet and a garden to wander around.) The food discussions were the most interesting, if that tells you anything. (And I haven't read anything else by her, so this is no reflection on her entire body of work. And, to be fair, I haven't read anything else by Elizabeth Gilbert, either.)

Anyway, back to EPL. Literally. I must get off here and go read. Have you read it? And what other books about traveling do you recommend?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hello, again. Did you miss me?

Sorry for the disappearance. I meant to tell you, but things caught up with me and there I was, Friday morning, rushing out of the house on my very, very long road trip* to the North Carolina coast, to my most beloved Oak Island.

Judging by the long lines of traffic snaking around Wilmington and the truly stunning amount of people at the local Food Lion the night we arrived, I'm not the only one who believes summer isn't summer without enough sand in your bathing suit to build your own Leonardo da Vinci. Why bother with sitting out in the sun and sculpting piles of sand when you can do it in the very own comfort of your very own bathtub? I love the beach. Love it. Really. Love. It.

I took a lot of photos, mostly of my little niece, Acy, so there will be some photos to come. But here's the short story: sand, perfect waves, perfect temperatures, running on flat land (Easy! Watch me go far and fast!), eating so many oysters, clams and crabs that I began to smell like the sea, too many episodes of Drake and Josh and The Dog Whisperer (Which, strangely, always put me to sleep. Even though I really like Cesar Millan! Really! *Snap, sshhhttt!!!*), and gulping down Water for Elephants between never-ending pretend matches with Acy that we were, in turns, mermaids and fairies.

The long story will come, slowly, but not too slowly as we're about to leave again, this time heading north to Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania for a few days. Just wanted to say Hey! I'm home! Want to go to the beach with me?

*OK. So not so long, just about 8.5 hours. On the road tripping scale, I'm sure this really equals a trip to the local grocery store, but still...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Ten things a five-year-old girl will teach you

1: That I was never the kind of kid who, like her, sang myself to sleep with tender, sweet songs I made up while playing in my room with tiny dolls and a pet wind-up rat.

2: That that surfing Chicken Joe is hilarious! What did he say, again? What's up with the boom-chicka-boom?

3: That attention spans are over rated -- as are pizza and french fries, but definitely not Oreos or potty breaks which are just excuses to pump soap out of the soap dispenser and play in the sink.

4: That you get to Albuquerque by train or by a space ship that collects stars.

5: That most kids on the playgrounds have absolutely no manners and don't care if they push others kids to the ground and make them cry. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad! But some kids really want to share and play and all it takes is one five-year-old to say, "Want to be friends?" for life-long friendships to form in the line for the slide.

6: That the mind starts out so curious about everything. Does the Earth spin? How fast? What happens when it stops? Does it ever stop? How long is 15 minutes? How long is 10 minutes? Is that a long time or a short time? Is today the same day or is it tomorrow?

7: That turtles are first really frightening at first but then become something to be taken care of. So throw some leaves and sawdust on their shells that they can take home to their turtle families because they are hungry and/or cold and could use some blackberries because it looks like it likes them. Dogs are friends immediately and must be petted and stroked and kissed even if they are nasty and covered in foul decaying matter. If you have a dog, you are immediately a friend of a five-year-old. Cats are so-so. If they do cool tricks, then maybe.

8: That girls like the color purple and pink and boys like brown and gray and that black is ugly. Get it straight. But then, don't forget that colors can change every day. Yesterday, I liked green. Today, I like orange.

9: That being at home is awesome, that we don't have to go anywhere but in the woods and pick tulip poplar leaves that become mermaid tails and gravel becomes golden rocks that allow you super powers like jumping really far and running really fast.

10: That people were nice when I had a little kid (with me). So instead of ignoring me and/or scowling, they talk, smile, ask questions about things and generally want to be friends. Who knew?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Guest post: a story for you from Acy

Once upon a time, there was a dog who pooped in the house and the mother got him a new litterbox. And it was purple. And it was a girl named Sammy. And he started pooping a lot. The end.

(That's Sammy pooping in the house.)

-by Sammy Martin

(illustration by Angie)

Friday, June 22, 2007

First Official Acts of Summer 2007. Take note.

I know I've been talking about summer non-stop for days. This summer I'll do this and this summer I'll do that.

And NOW it's here! Finally. Geez, I'm so impatient.

Karen wrote about a gallery of photos of the first sunrise of the summer shot by John Fletcher here in Asheville, a photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times. It is awesome, truly, and I say that admitting that it's hard to impress me with sunrise/sunset photos because I generally hate how sentimental they are. This from me, the Most Sentimental Person In The World. That's why the basement of our house is filled with broken down doll parts and rotting blankets because that ratty T-shirt stuffed in a ball in a disintegrating cardboard box? I wore it the summer I went to Indiana and watched my first R-rated movie. Don't ask me to throw it out because I'll cry.

But looking at these photos made me feel so excited about the changing season. I must have felt it coming yesterday when I went to the Turbokick class at the gym, the class where the instructor slowly more and more kickboxing moves to a routine that gets faster and faster until at the end of the session (which lasts over 30 classes, or so?) you're jumping around and punching at nothing like crazy. Well, I went to the last session of this class yesterday and the instructor told me that I'd probably be tripping around and not able to follow the choreography because these people have been doing this routine for a while. And it's advanced. Well, I nailed it! And she gave me a "shout out" in the middle of class for keeping up. And honestly, I could have gone for another 30 minutes, I was so pumped. Until she made us do squats and crunches that made me want to vomit. Fleeting, those feelings of victory.

I'm also excited by the fact that in my first Official Act of Summer of 2007, I will be driving my squeaking car to lovely Greensboro to see my awesomist of most awesome friends Kathryn and J.B., where there promises to be Mexican food, birthday celebrations and maybe some video game playing. (I'll be posting slideshows and other things here, so keep up!) And then to pick up my niece Acy for some awesome of most awesomist vacation summer fun here on Potato Knob. (Can guest posts by Acy be coming? Most likely!) Woop!

Monday, June 18, 2007

summer music

Do you have a soundtrack for your summers? The first one I ever had was in junior high when I stretched out on the carpet in Shannon's living room after we got back from the pool and listened to Top 40 hits of the 1980s. (Which are flooding the commercial radio airwaves up here. What gives?) Then there was that summer in the middle of undergrad where I lived on the edge of Biltmore Forrest and house sat for my Bulgarian friend who was married (and maybe he still is) to a now-famous author while I worked a shitty job at the college and divided my time among breaking into a neighborhood pool in the middle of the night (sorry neighborhood pool!), going to baseball games, making tempura and generally going a little batty. That summer I listened to Poi Dog Pondering and Sonic Youth and Tom Waits like crazy. When I hear them I feel nervously excited.

And now these songs, holy mother do I love them! They are my Summer of 2007 anthems. They have this free feeling that I love, this want to dance feeling that I crave. (And this all started because Frances sent me the link! Thanks, Frances! My music-loving friend! She knows I love anything with a dance routine!)

Here's a 2005 interview with Feist. And another one by NPR that aired over the weekend.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My dad, the roamer

My dad used to like to tell this story about going to my grandparents' house in Mitchell County one time when he was younger and newly in love with my mother.

He was the original roamer in our family. He loved to be outside, working in the garden, running for miles and miles, riding the tractor on the farm. And when he visited my mom's house, he went for a walk in the mountains. There weren't a lot of people living around Tipton Hill then. There aren't many now. But people know when there was a new person around. And at 6-feet, 9-inches tall, my dad was hard to miss. So a few days later -- after my dad and mom left -- rumors started circulating around about this man people saw walking up and down the hills. "There's a hippy out there," people said. My grandparents eventually heard about this and, of course, said "Oh, that's just Eddie."

This is funny to me because I know hippies. I live in Asheville, after all, and my father -- who went through confused periods where he made us all watch Jimmy Swaggart crusades on TV and wouldn't let us listen to anything but gospel music -- was NOT a hippy. He was progressive in his own ways: he wore his hair a bit longer; he was remarkably anti-racist; and he was certainly an environmentalist.

Who would think that this man holding my sister is a hippy? And to the right, that's my rumor-squashing grandfather eating jelly beans with me on my grandparents' couch.

These are two of the last pictures I have of Dad, taken the day I graduated from grad school. He couldn't make it because he wasn't feeling well, but he had my sister take these Polaroids of him holding a "Good job, I (heart) U" postcard. That answers the age-old question of where I get my goofy sense of humor.

Happy father's day, Dad! I miss you!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

the vacation slideshow

My dad loved cameras. He had buckets of lights and bulbs and camera parts. He had tiny point-and-shoots. He had Polaroids. He loved his Kodak Disc Camera SO MUCH that when we left it on the Blue Ridge Parkway by accident during an ill-contrived picnic, he drove two-and-a-half hours back to the picnic site to find it.

But none of this camera love compared to when he got his first video camera in the mid-90s. He carted that huge thing (which looked, in comparison to today's models, like a camera a TV crew would use) to the beach on one of our last trips there together. He set up his tripod, and stood there (was he in his red Speedo? I can't remember) and filmed HOURS UPON HOURS of the waves coming in and out and the birds flying overhead. He told me once, If I could have been anything, I would have been a photographer for National Geographic. In a Speedo, probably.

So when I present to you this little slideshow of my recent trip to Savannah, know that I come upon this honestly, this urge to record every little thing. And let me tell you how awesome it was to travel with someone who takes more pictures than me! And who laughs like crazy when I make her pose in front of fiberglass elephants in the parking lot of a fireworks store! (Which is not included in this little show because, really, nothing can compare to the alligator shot.) Ha ha!

I'm loving summer already! Thanks, Dad!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

There's thunder in the distance and I feel the wind moving in. The window next to my desk is open as it most always is. The paper flowers that swag in front of the window -- the green faded to almost gray, the reds and oranges still bright, the yellow turned now to white -- remind me of being in New York City several years ago, ducking into a gift shop and sifting.

Today I feel like being anywhere but here. Could I be where the storm is coming from? Could I be where these flowers are made? There's nothing particularly wrong with being here. It's beautiful, in fact. It's quiet and I love the sound of the storm coming. But, today, I miss the feeling of going, the anticipation of something unknown, possibly wonderful and soul-stirring, before you. I'm aching to leave.

For me, that's the best and worst thing about traveling: the ideas and realities of leaving and arriving. Whenever I leave some place, all of the sudden that place is the most beautiful, most beloved place in the world. But so is the place I'm going to. It's the in between, maybe that I love the most. A sentimental anticipation. Yes, maybe it's the unknown that I miss. The surprise. The suspense.

This morning I was perched cross legged on my blue yoga mat. I go there on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I can swing an hour away. Allison instructed us. Be content, she said. Be content where you are, in the moment, in your breath, in the space you reside. Let go of expectations. That's funny, I thought. So I sat there, breathing, moving through the asanas. But, somehow, instead of showing me how content I am, it showed me my malcontent, pointed to the places inside where contentment hasn't shown its face in years.

The thunder is closer. The sky is getting darker and I hear rain on the leaves.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Question: Are we as old as your mom or do we need to get as drunk as your mom?

Us, in Savannah, at Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons restaurant, over plates of delicious fried crabness: "Where is there a good bar around here?"

James, the bartender: "Um. Try The Warehouse or Bernie's. If you go to (XXXX), say hey to my friend (Something) Martinez. He's the second best bartender in Savannah." (Ba-da-dunk)

Us: "OK. Ha ha."

Chris, the bartender-in-training who looked to be all of 15 years old: "Don't listen to him. Go to Wet Willie's. It's so good I got my mom drunk in there once."

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My goal this summer (like it isn't most summers) is FUN.

As in picking strawberries alone in a field. As in taking helicopter rides. As in packing my bags for a quick trip to Savannah (riverboat ride? maybe. Tybee Island? definitely).

Monday, June 4, 2007

A Monday story

We ran underneath the helicopter blades like squirrels running for a tree trunk, dogs nipping at our furry heels. We scampered. We ducked and dodged. Flinging ourselves up the little step welded on the side of the helicopter, we tumbled into the back seats. They were small. We had to fold our long legs in as we fumbled with the seat belts. 'How the hell do you buckle this thing?' I thought. OK. Got it. I'm an idiot. I see Pat making sure the door is closed. I look at my door. It is plastic. I pull the handle to make sure it's closed because what if?

The roaring was deafening and we lift up. Straight into the air. We shimmy this way and that way then head out over the green grass. Where do I look? Up? Down? At the buzz cut on the back of the pilot's head? I look out the door window as the grass disappears and turns to trees. Tiny, tiny kids run around the ballfield as tiny parents sit in lawn chairs along the side. Poor kids. A blue trampoline is alone in a back -- or is it front? -- yard. I love trampolines!

There's Hendersonville! From this vantage point, it looks impressive! But I know better! Cars poke along as we soar above them, banking hard to the left. If my seat belt broke, I'd fall on that white car. Will my seat belt break? What happens if my seat belt breaks? I look at the pilot's head. He's not worried. There's no sweat. No shaking. OK.

Time to go back. It's been all of 4.5 minutes, but I'm ready. I see the green field approaching. Sure, I love taking off. Then, I love feeling suspended above everyone, like I have a secret to tell but even if I wanted to tell them, I couldn't. They couldn't hear me, so I keep it to myself, a smile on my lips, like Mona Lisa but with bangs. But, I admit that I have a surge of relief to see only the grass bending in a manic dance in the helicopter's wind and not a burning careening crash awaiting me. I love flying.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

asking for directions

Have you been following this story, the one about the humpbacks that went up the Sacramento River now swimming for the San Francisco Bay? Here's a video from the U.S. Coast Guard:

I wish that when I head the wrong way -- either on purpose or by accident -- that a troupe of people would stand on shore or follow me in boats and try to point me in the right direction. 'You! This is a bad idea! Go the OTHER way!' Thankfully, these whales aren't as stubborn as I would be. I would be a very stubborn whale. I would refuse to go past the bridges. I would keep going the way I wanted to go, no matter what.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

decision smackdown

For all the talk of traveling places, there's no doubt that one of my favorite places to be is at home. I love the quiet and the peace and the peace and quiet. And I like having my stuff around, my books and pens and coffee cups and sneakers.

But when do you decide to move?

Sure, there's the job change and the landlord kicked you out scenarios. But when those aren't considerations, when?

If it were up to me, I'd probably still be living here on Rowland Road. This is our teeny tiny first apartment together, the one where I moved with ALL MY STUFF (aka: two boxes of books, a futon and a carton of clothes) into Pat's monastic space, only later to be scolded for dropping cookie crumbs on the floor.

Luckily, it worked out. But that was a long time ago. I'll not say how long for fear of appearing like an 80-year-old lady -- which I do all to often, anyway.

Now, we're living on Potato Knob, about two miles or so from this apartment and we love it here. We built it, molding it, smoothing out the creases. But we feel like it's time for a change. And since we can't move out of the area or about another year, we're thinking of high-tailing it to the city and plopping down into one of the houses Pat's just about to finish.

We can't decide. No, I can't decide. And like any good list maker, I've made a list, a pros and cons smackdown for the title of Home.

The pros (or Reasons to Get the Hell off this Mountain): walking places vs. having to drive EVERYWHERE; some semblance of a yard vs. mountain-side cliffs; a garden! with tomatoes! vs. good luck raising anything but earthworms; neighbors that come close to our age vs. all neighbors old enough to be our parents (nice when you need parental-ish assistance, but not so nice when you don't get their jokes about Benny Goodman); and Pat's personal favorite -- delivery! vs. driving to find quick meals (see above).

The cons (or What the Hell Are You Thinking?): moving all our crap vs. lazy days sitting on my ass reading a book; lots of light and windows vs. some OK light and OK windows; space to spread out vs. a slight downsizing (which is OK, really, because I just need the aforementioned books and pens and coffee cups and sneakers); the mountain view vs. the view of the neighbors' houses and streetlights and such; Pat's studio space here vs. no shop space there; Swannanoa vs. West Asheville.

OK. I had to stop with the list. Enough already. You get the picture. And so do I, but it still doesn't help. Any suggestions?

Friday, May 25, 2007

beautiful and gentle

The first time I had hot tea was at my Aunt Bambi's house. She and my Uncle Dean, my mom's brother, lived in Winston-Salem in a split-level brick house. Their basement was filled with James Bond movies. I hated James Bond then, so I read their National Geographic magazines as my parents and my aunt and uncle sat at the kitchen table and talked. Every once in a while I'd stay over for the weekend and they'd take me to places and to see things I'd never get to see otherwise. One time, they took me to see a production of Peter Pan at The Little Theatre. All I remember was that all the Lost Boys wore skates. I had skate envy. I couldn't skate (and still can't). My aunt and uncle also had one of those perpetual motion birds that would drink out of a water glass. (Go here and see it in action.) They had it in the bathroom and I was fascinated by it. So you can see my penchant for the finer things in life started early.

Aunt Bambi taught me that tea didn't only come iced with sugar (and in gallons with sugar and in to-go cups with sugar and in quart jars with sugar), but also in dainty cups, hot, with room enough for milk. I liked it, all warm and comforting. I've loved hot tea ever since.

But that doesn't make up for my lack of coffee love.


The point of this post.

This is a photograph from Cha-an, a tea house on 230 East 9th Street in New York. Pat and I went with Teru in February for lunch when it was freezing and we were about to head off to Rome. We climbed the dark stairs to the restaurant, which sat above a store front and less than a block from a Japanese grocery. We climbed up and sat/stood/hovered in this itty-bitty entrance way, taking turns going to the bathrooms, which were amazing. Heated seats that weren't crazy and other mechanizations of the toilet that I can't even describe because I had no idea what all the buttons on the wall even did. I was a bit afraid. When we finally caught a table, this beautiful Japanese woman (Even sitting down, I was taller than her) came and we ordered.

The food rocked. But the tea! The tea made what comes out of a stale teabag really shameful. It made me want to invest in the ancient tea trade, the noblest of leaves that have caused havoc the world over. And in my body, where, though diligent, it is not doing it's job of making me write somewhat lucidly instead of like I just fell off the turnip truck. (Reference: comments on previous post.)

Here's what I wrote in my journal later that night. Try not to fall asleep reading it, even though I edited out the (more) ridiculous parts. IT'S THAT GOOD.

We ordered set meals -- Teru and I had eel on 15 grain rice with pickles and eggplant and peppers. Pat had pork and egg with six little dishes of food -- a pickled plum and a shrimp and some kind of bean curd and seaweed and butter and mushrooms and leek and cream. For dessert -- a brownie and then a black sesame creme brulee. Awesome. But the tea! Teru and I had a green tea with popped brown rice (similar to Genmaicha). And then we had Twelve Trees Tea, an oolong from Taiwan that tasted like honeysuckle. The waitress brought it on a wooden box with slats cut in the top. The tea, we smelled it like it was a cork off a wine bottle. Then she put it in a small (tiny, really. It could sit in your palm easily.) red clay teapot that made just two sips of tea. First, she put hot water in, swished it around and poured it out. Then she put in the tea and water, then tipped it immediately into a larger cup, where a silver strainer sat. She divided the yellow tea into two smaller cups and passed it to us to smell. She took it back and poured all the tea in the little cups over the teapot, the water dripping into the wooden box, then did the whole process again. This time we drank what was in the cups and she left us to figure it out for ourselves. We took turns doing the process for each other, handing cups to one another and sipping the tea, which got stronger and a little more bitter each time. It was so beautiful and gentle.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

caffeine-free roaming and roving


For reasons too numerous and personal to disclose via The Internet (even though there's, like, maybe 1.6 people who read this regularly. And why would you when I could be crowned the Most Sporadic Blog Poster Ever?) I have made a list of give-ups. Among the items on this list is caffeine.

Did you hear me? CAF. FEINE.

Oh, poor triple espresso shot latte! Oh, poor gas station coffee! Oh, poor chai tea! Or, poor mornings when Pat cranks up the espresso machine! Argh!!

But, I don't drink that much coffee. Really. I think I love the idea of drinking it more than actually guzzling it down, though it helped me pull through many cranky, crazy hours in the newsroom. It's not uncommon to find my cup sitting somewhere (bathroom sink, bookshelf, for example) half-full of coffee. But, I still need a little something. So, instead, I've been drinking cups of green tea, which has, according to Wikipedia, has about half the caffeine of a chocolate bar. And I'd have to drink about nine cups of green tea to equal the amount of caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee, it says (Note to Wikipedia: I luv u). So I'm not cold turkey. Just lukewarm leftovers.

But, I ask, what will I do when I travel? One of my all-time favorite things to do is visit coffee shops. In Portland, they saved us during the intermittent/constant rain showers. In Rome, we said goodbye to the city at the airport with our last cappuccinos. And what about my jet lag cure?

I guess I could start visiting all the bars, but, well, if caffeine is on the give-up list, where do you think glasses of red wine and shots of tequila fall? Uh, yeah. Them too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Alice Cooper. I mean ALICE COOPER!

Why did I wait nearly four days to share this with you, this awesome, most awesome, awesomist awesome interview Terry Gross did with Alice Cooper? Did you listen to it? Did you? Wasn't it freakin' awesome?

I totally wanted him to be my uncle, that one in (almost) every family who, when you're a child, you can't decide is the coolest or scariest person you've ever met, the one that holds your head under water too long when he dunks you in the ocean and tells you dirty jokes and slips you sips of his Budweiser but talks to you like you're his friend, not some dumb kid with scabby knees.

I really love the part when he talks about Groucho Marx, Marilyn Manson, Kiss and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I mean, really. What else is there to talk about?

Monday, May 14, 2007

radio killed the video star

So, radio isn't dead. Not to me. I spend A LOT of time listening to it, even more than the hundreds of CDs sitting in our house under layers of neglected dust. And more than my fair share of listening time goes to the few public stations around here, even if most of them are all busting with classical music and hip-smackin' bluegrass. Ugh.

But I digress.

This is what I wanted to point your attention to: Mr. Farmer's entry into the Public Radio Talent Quest. Go here to check out his radio show, "Let Loose the Kraken," and to vote (note: registration required). Very cool!

The Public Radio Talent Quest

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Going for the most stars! Ever!

OK. This is where I admit that I fudged the elementary school reading contest. Was it second grade? Third? I know it was a grade where you cared about these things, so, for me, it could have been when I was a freshman in college. You know what I'm talking about, right? All the kids would come in with a list of books they read during summer break. The teachers would tally them up and stick a shiny golden sticker next to your block print name. The stars would shine at you from the cinder block walls, all boastful in their shimmery shimmeryness.

One year I won. Here's how: by taking the easy way out. I went to the library that summer and picked out the easiest, shortest books I could find. Nevermind that I probably could have, if I wanted, plowed through all of Mark Twain's stories. Or maybe even Tolstoy's (Ambitious? Yes. Would I have understood anything I read? No, but why would that have stopped me?). Instead, I came home with all the Dr. Seuss' you could carry. And therein came the strung-out golden stars.

Not an out-and-out lie. But, OK. I cheated.

So, in an effort to right this karmic wrong, I'm holding a one-person read-a-thon for the summer. Want to join? I just finished Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital (Interesting, though it seemed like a 600+ page short story.) and Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons (for all the hype, not that gripping).

Now what? There's the summer where I read all of Steinbeck. And this summer I may do something similar. Any suggestions? I'll put a list here, later, when I get my stock of golden stars replenished. And I'll send you some, too, if you want...

Monday, April 30, 2007

As boring as SNL's Weekend Update, but all about me.

Wow. You know how I wanted to write here all the time? Wanted to have a place to plop my writing and have a place where I wouldn't have to argue over the choice of verbs?

Well, let's just say my days have been more than hectic. The last 14 days, in fact. Only before that, there was a funeral. And before that, 14 days of the same.

So Sunday, Pat and I finally crawled out of bed at 9:30 a.m., which NEVER happens around here. I'm lucky if I make it to 7 a.m. (and stop laughing, all you 5 a.m. risers). I hope you'll take it more as a sign of just how tired I was than just how lazy I was. Really. I spent most of the day Saturday sanding and painting sheet after sheet of bead board that will be the ceilings of the covered porches on the new houses. Then Sunday we went to the (take-your-pick) big box home improvement store which was hell (this cannot be understated) because we didn't get there until noon and then had to pick through all the crap (what's with all the dinged, items with missing parts, broken, crooked, dented or a combination of all of the above things out there for sale? for hundreds of dollars? it. drives. me. crazy.) to find two OK doors to put in the houses and to rent a chipper for all the brush piling up in the back yards.

Then back to the houses! To clean up! Except the chipper DIDN'T work! Vigorous cussing ensued! As did multiple calls to big box store! More cussing! Wow, what a weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I heard of what happened at Virginia Tech Monday as I drove up the entrance ramp to Interstate 40 in East Asheville. An announcer on the classic rock station alluded to about 20 people dead. That's what they knew then. I had no idea what had happened, and now I can't remember where I was even going, to be honest.

It was one of those moments, one of those events that shape the timeline of your life. Pre-Columbia, post-Columbia. Pre-Sept. 11. Post-Sept. 11. One of those moments seared in your mind, one you'll talk about later, remembering with friends or family where you were when you heard. And the number? It kept going up, even though I wished, wished the news announcers would say it was over.

I'm far away and far removed from the actual experience and the aftermath. But as soon as I got home, I searched for information. I read the Web, watched the evening news and listened to part of the memorial service yesterday. It was overwhelming, wasn't it? Tragedy, the word, seems overused. But what other word describes it? What other words could describe it? It is that word in every way, every letter sounded out slowly, settling on your tongue, rolling before you, the air filled with it -- the looks of anguish and confusion and tragedy. Tragedy. Tragedy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spring Break at Daytona? Bring it!

I remember when Spring Break meant driving from Florida to Michigan to sit in my friend Julie's parents' house watching TV and eating baklava. I remember when Spring Break meant going to New York City for the first time, living off popovers from a coffee shop, sleeping on the floor of a friend of friend's dorm room at Juilliard, seeing Gregory Hines in Jelly's Last Jam from the top row of Broadway's Virginia Theatre.

Wow. Those were the days.

This break -- which I'd like to say was intentional but was really more akin to sloth and sickness taking hold like a snapping turtle whose head you have to pop to release, but hey, isn't that cute? A snapping turtle attached to my hand? And why not just lie here on the coach in a fever-induced delirium and watch that turtle eat away at my fingers? Sounds great! -- was not that fun. It was more like having all four of your wisdom teeth cracked out by your dentist and suffering from mind-numbing pain. Oh, yeah, I remember a spring/summer break taken up by that, too.

So, I'm back. Here, at least, with nothing much exciting to report except these paltry discoveries:
1: Acupuncture? It freaking hurts. And the (my special formulas) herbs taste like ass. And make my house smell like ass.
2: Martha? The TV show? Just an excuse in cross-platform advertising akin to those techniques Carter Duryea thought up when high on Starbucks and desperate to pretend that he knew what the hell he was doing. So THAT's where Carter was jogging to! Not down a lovely beach! But the pathway to Martha Stewart World!
3: The only people at Charter Communications to answer your technical questions who are actually friendly are A) incompetent and B) really, friendly enough to make me want to invite them over for tea and not the stinky ass-smelling Chinese herb kind either.
4: HBO needs some new freaking movies to show because though I love The 40-Year-Old Virgin almost pathologically ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!!
5: No amount of lotion smeared on the tips of your nose will prevent horrible nostril chapping fallout from multiple sneezing attacks and endless hours of nose wiping. I'm sure the moms and daycare providers and dads (OK) and others in the company of small children for multiple sicknesses probably have a solution tucked away, but they weren't at my house even though I yelled for them to come over. Didn't you hear me?
6: This Spring Break? About as fun as a snapping turtle clamped on your hand (see above).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wonders of America

In further proof of just how much geekdom reigns in my little house, I offer you the "Wonders of America."

The Deepest Lake? Crater Lake

The Largest Rodent? The American Beaver

The Windiest Place? Mount Washington

The Largest Flower? The American Lotus

Go to your local post office and grab these stamps destined to be seen only by bill openers because who writes letters these days, anyway? All that excellent illustrations and illustrative information for the electric company? *sigh*

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Computer-based exploration

For many reasons, I'm stuck here at the computer today. (Namely, I'm trying to turn in a story. And Of Course The Email Server Is Down.) What I need to be doing is driving to Rutherfordton, N.C., where the the first gold coin in U.S. history was minted. (So they say...)

So here are some of my favorite things these days, things that I'm spending way to much time enjoying, reading, doing, daydreaming about instead of being a Productive Member of Society:

  • 'Roid Week Spring 2007: I'm in so much love with this.
  • Around the world: ditto. (Here's a list: Washington D.C. - Tokyo - Bangkok - Sydney - Bangkok - Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) - Vientiane - Bangkok - Calcutta / Kolkata - Kathmandu - Delhi - Bombay / Mumbai - Nairobi - Paris - Overland to - Madrid - New York - Washington D.C. All for only $5,000!)
  • I were in a shopping mood, I'd start here, by the woman behind this.
  • If I were in a crafty/pink mood, I'd start here.
  • And here's where I go to find out what's going on around here (If you do nothing from this list, check out "Mississippi Idiots, indeed" from that last link.).
  • And when I'm feeling Lost.
  • And when I want to blow something up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Prayers for Davie County

Like every morning, I woke up this morning and switched on NPR. Normally, it's not a jaw-dropping experience. This morning was different.

In what seemed like a 15-second spot, the news was that there was an explosion at a Davie County nursing home. One person was killed. Fifteen others sent to the hospital. In Mocksville.

My brother-in-law, Chris, has his mother in a Mocksville adult care home. I called home in panic. Got the answering machine. An hour later, I learned that it was the same home where Janice lived. She is physically OK, but really upset, understandably. The man who died was one of her closest friends and had eaten dinner at my sister's house. Another of her friends is one of the group in the hospital and, Janice told Maria, will likely not survive her injuries. Janice is without clothing and medication, which she needs desperately. And my sister, Maria, had been on the phone for hours trying to locate her medication prescriptions, her records and, most importantly, find her a new permanent place to stay.

Go here, here and here for reporting on this story.

But here, here is what makes my blood boil: It's been over 12 hours since the explosion/fire (it's not clear what exactly happened), but still NO ONE from the home has called Chris, who is Janice's emergency contact. Chris was on the road, in Eden, when a security guard -- who heard it on the news -- told him about it.

WHAT??? From news reports, the SBI is investigating. But, please, keep these folks in my home county in your prayers, thoughts, etc.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Boring has six letters, not four

There are a few people I know, people who trip my mind and make me look at things differently (whether they know it or not), who are never bored, who never sigh and wonder where to go to find something to do.

I love these people, especially this one. I wish I was like them.

When I was a kid, living in (what felt like at the time) the Middle Of Nowhere, North Carolina, with only the pastures and a cemetery and a couple of rundown stores nearby, I'd wander around, walking nowhere in particular. I'd jump the barbed wire fence down at the cemetery, walk by the pond and the cows and into the woods where the stream flowed. Other times, I'd walk down to the farm, scuffing my heels, kicking rocks down the road. While it sounds like I'm making this up, but I'm not. Kicking rocks, those are good times!

Inevitably, and I don't know exactly why (maybe it's because that as a kid, I was a bit obsessed with the scary and unpredictable -- things like nuclear war -- but that's another story), my mind would imagine all the horrible things that can happen to a young girl walking around by herself. Is someone watching me behind that barn? Is someone in the woods planning my murder? And, you know, it could also have come from one too many after school specials warning of this or that childhood danger to watch out for. I don't know when they stopped airing those, but I speaking as a girl with an overactive imagination, I'm really glad they're not standard post-class activities anymore.

All this is to say, shockingly: I think I was bored.

I thought about this the other day as we were spending the weekend with Acy, who, my sister tells me, gets a little jumpy in her pre-K class. Her last teacher said it was because Acy couldn't pay attention in the Age of ADHD. Her new teacher says she thinks Acy gets her work done and then wants something more to do. She gets bored. And speaking as someone who listened to hours of Acy stories about cat language and who put on a play in our living room (complete with masks and a paper wand) directed by Acy about a princess trapped in the ocean who was also a mermaid and who needed to find stars to become a Real Girl and who was friends with a Queen (me) and King (Pat) who were going to get married (if only she could have been there), that girl has got a sweet imagination. (Sweet as in Sweet, dude, not cloying, because she has got a little Newsome Streak.)

So now I guess it isn't surprising that my mind is wandering again, what will all this Free Mind Time and all. I've been righteously busy, but it's the kind of busy that allows the mind to explore something other than Latest Ways to Sleep Through The Night (Tylenol PM, oh, how you were my friend).

New activities? Reading! Listening to music (John Michael Stipe, how I love thee)! Walks! In the not-so-scary woods! Cooking! Talking to my friends! Writing!

Twenty years ago, this would be boring. Maybe it still is (just a little). But this boring is really delicious, at it's best. And at it's worst, it's just helping me to plan what's next.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A letter to the Vatican Museums:

Dearest Vatican Museums:

When Pat and I turned the corner from Bernini's amazing Piazza San Pietro, the line started forming. An hour later, we finally made it to your door, a unassuming/disappointing entrance tucked into a wall so thick that not even a million Capital One marauders could crack it to check what's in your wallet. We were funnelled, searched, 13 Euros plucked out of each pair of hands, pushed, prodded, jostled as we and thousands (millions?) of others hoofed it to the Sistine Chapel as if our salvation depended on it.

Who knows? It may have/had/does/did.

When we finally made it through the door as big as a bathroom door, I was in awe. Really. You hear about how masterful Michelangelo was, how stirring his work is. Amazing. But that word is overused. Ever the cynic, I didn't believe it. Public Enemy may not be the Holy Sacrament or anything, but there's some life lessons there I listened to. It didn't hurt that Chuck D is really cute.

So you may not believe me when I say I could have spent hours sitting on that creaking wooden bench at the chapel, my neck tilted back like I was catching raindrops from the sky. Hours could have turned into days that would turn into a neck brace and self-induced whiplash. I loved the Italian guards shushing everyone, forcefully telling picture takers to not shoot their measly flashes at the chapel's walls and ceiling. People, this is where the Pope is chosen, for God's sake. No pictures for your silly slide shows.

But the ceiling! God stretching, stretching his forefinger to touch Adam who looks like a lazy frat boy, his finger just listing upward to touch God's fingertip. Genius. It says so much, doesn't it, about this world we have? What we are offered, yet are too blind/lazy/sad/distracted to take? It filled me with great sadness in a way, the urgency not met. I wanted my finger to grow like Pinocchio's nose, grow to the ceiling, grasp God's hand where we could skip away together. I wouldn't eat the forbidden fruit, I vowed.

So it is with great love/sincerity/respect I ask you one question: Does anyone ever dust that place?

When we left, we walked through anticlimactic hallways filled with wooden cases stuffed with vases and urns. And not to be snide or disrespectful, but, really, you house one of the most famous artworks of the world's entire civilization, so I was a bit shocked to see more than one case with mile-high layers of dirt. And I know U.S. dioceses aren't pumping all their cash to you anymore with all the child abuse scandals and bankruptcies. But, really? Can't you spring for a Merry Maid? Even if human cloning becomes successful and makes Vatican dust the prime DNA mining spot, this? You deserve so much more!

I would be more than happy to help out. I can dust and clean with the best of them. I'm a little fanatical about it.

I'm sure that God doesn't care (or does he?). But I couldn't help but think -- as we turned, turned, turned down the floors and floors and floors of spiraling stairs to walk outside into the gray early afternoon to search for pizza, the most pedestrian of items but what else would seem right? -- that maybe stripping away the grimy reminder that the world is, well, grimy, from at least this one place would make it seem possible, at least, that that outstretched hand could touch us for real.

With love,


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Eau de credit cards and missed opportunities

Every day, when Pat comes to find me here in the office, typing (*ahem*) away at some story assignment, he plops down a pile of mail on the desk: postcards for cooking classes, magazines (Our State, The New Yorker, Traveler), another plea for money from Doctors Without Borders. Mixed in, for the last week or so, we've found nearly every other day (it seems), a credit card bill slid in there, hoping to go unnoticed so that the shocking 18 percent (or more) interest rate can begin immediately and send you to the poor house for that $2 can of soup you bought at the grocery store (on credit, no cash that day!) that suddenly turned into a $20 can of Solid Gold Tomato. Much more fitting for eBay than for a desperation lunch.

Not surprisingly, the bills, they're high. Two nearly $750 plane tickets and hotel rooms that went more than $500 each (damn that exchange rate with is TERRIBLE right now. Michael, a native Italian who lives now in New Jersey told us, as we all waited to get on the Rome-bound flight at the Newark Airport, how he thought the exchange rate signals the Downfall Of America. "It is TERRIBLE," he said. I quote him with abandon.) equals a nightly rooftop money dance. While we got a card before we left that didn't charge the ridiculous "foreign transaction fee," which nickel and dimes you into oblivion, and while we paid cash for most things (As with laptopitis, Italians also seem immune from the scourge of credit. Though, really, a credit card is much more convenient than carrying around armfuls of Euros, even if they offer nice insulation during the Never-ending Roman Rains.), the card bills? Not so much fun.

[While in the US, you can buy a pair of $2.14 shoelaces on credit -- which we did, when Pat suddenly realized that we were leaving in a matter of hours and he didn't have shoelaces for the only pair of shoes he wanted to bring -- you better be forking over Large Ones for that bottle of wine and pastries, my friends. When in Rome...]

This brings me to the Post Travel/Delayed Pain Blues, or what some could call the Oh For The Love Of God, Just Rip The Band Aid Off Blues.

Here they are:
  1. Why didn't we go to that jazz club? Why was I such a tired wimp?

  2. That museum, the one that's supposed to be better than the Vatican, why didn't we go there again?

  3. Why didn't I learn the right settings for my camera thus avoiding all those washed out, overexposed/underexposed, blurry pictures that are now cluttering my computer? And why didn't I take more (good) pictures? (Associated blue: Why didn't I get an MFA in photography before leaving?)

  4. And Pompeii? Why didn't we go there again? Why did we just stay in Rome for seven days? Were we crazy?

  5. Why didn't I pitch some travel story ideas before leaving? (Associated blue: When am I going to get started, for real?)

  6. And that day where I just read for hours while it poured outside, why didn't we do something except give each other the Cold Shoulder and I'll Never Speak To You Agains? Why didn't we buy another umbrella and leave the hotel room?

  7. Why?
In the days following our return, I wasn't haunted so much by what we did but by The Missed Opportunities, the times where I just didn't want to walk anymore, by the times the sunlight disappeared before we were through, the times I couldn't take another blank-eyed marble bust of this or that. It's the traveler's version of buyer's remorse, these "coulda, shoulda, wouldas."

Monday, February 26, 2007

"That was how it started."

If you haven't read this story, do. I find it completely fascinating.

From the story:

That was how it started. That was the first flicker of what would become the—What? Phenomenon? Moment? Cautionary tale? Success story? Footnote?—of Cory Kennedy.

If it's hard to characterize, it may be because hers is a dispatch from uncharted cultural waters. Never before have media, technology and celebrity collided with adolescence at such warp speed. Never before has it been so easy for, say, a middle-class kid with a curfew and no driver's license to rise to international fame almost without her parents' knowledge.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Crowd pleaser

Have some free time in Black Mountain on Saturday? My vote is on the dreadlocked hermit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A moment on the lips...

I need to go to the gym. Allow me to offer pictorial evidence of the reasons why:

The artichokes: drenched in butter. The pasta: drenched in cream. The cappuccino: don't make me laugh, it's whole milk of course.

And, damn, was it good!

But here I am, stunned by the amount of Roman pizza I had already eaten, but in love with the waitress in blue who could have stepped out of an Alabama diner, but was in Rome, just blocks from the Spanish Steps (one of the most-visited Roman squares, where the spiderweb of roads lead to Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana). She thought we were French and shook her delicious blonde curls and fluttered her blue-lidded eyes with a laugh and a "No!" when I asked if she spoke English. Finally!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The ghost of authenticity

We woke up early the second day we were in Rome because we spent the first day in a post-jet haze, sleeping, eating late, taking showers and trying to shrug off airplane staleness and lethargy. We slid out of our hotel room and headed north toward the Tiber River. Still rush hour, laughably small cars crowded the streets, honking and pushing each other out of the way. At nearly 6-feet-tall, I don't think my knee would fit in one of those common-as-pigeons Smart cars that flaunting their smallness and fuel efficiency (if not tendency to get into accidents at every intersection).

The streets were wet from a midnight rain, but the sun came and went and the light was amazing and I felt so thankful to not be in survival mode. Below-zero windchills caused us to hide like mice in Teru's Brooklyn apartment for part of our New York trip. So I thawed in the Wednesday morning sun in Rome. Filled with cups of coffee (American, churned at our hotel from a machine stamped with Nestle) and slices of bread and cheese, we walked.

If you read anything about traveling, you'll quickly hear this snobby notion of "authenticity" bandied about like a sack of airplane peanuts. It hovers like a judgmental ghost. And surely you'll understand that I'm not the type of person who goes to Paris and eats at Hard Rock. (I'm barely the type of person who wants to go to Paris at all -- a great sacrilege reinforced last night when I said as much to an Asheville artist during her art opening. She gasped, grabbed my right shoulder and looked to the sky as if to dodge inevitable lightning.)

But as we walked, it was as if a tourist tractor beam caught us and here we were, looking to the blue sky filled with the remains of the Coliseum. Before spending a week there, Rome was the Coliseum, La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday. But it became, that morning, pieces of marble where Caesar stood, the spot where clouds of virgin girls help keep a sacred flame going, columns standing in the sky, held together by who knows what. And here, at what is left of the Coliseum, Rome became the flocks of pecking pigeons and the hordes of map-wielding tourists and the shaky stands of souvenirs and pairs of Italians dressed like extras from a HBO set who will charge you 10 Euros for a snapshot with them.

That ghost sat on my shoulder, click-clacking its tongue. No, no. This is not Rome, is it?

In a city where it's really hard to find a restaurant with a menu not translated into English, finding an "authentic" Roman experience is as hard as finding a street without graffiti. It makes the question moot. If you don't live there and speak the language, how "authentic" can your traveling be? I rationalized: to go to a city and not honor its monuments in some way is to ignore its skeleton, the story it tells the world about itself, the things it honors and supports regardless of its motivation to do so. Here, in Buncombe County, people who have lived here for 40, 50 years are still considered "outsiders," people who don't know anything about the community.

So I sat on the wall outside the Coliseum, listening to the English, the French, the German, the Japanese languages swirling around us in the clear (it was winter) Roman air. We wandered the towers and levels of it, gazing down at the maze of a labyrinth revealed below. We hightailed it to the exits when a loud bell announced it would close and darken.

But I still had to shake my head at the Americans who, when we boarded the plane to leave a week later, asked the flight attendant what grazie and prego meant. To come to Italy and not know how to say "please" and "thank you"? That's not just unauthentic. It's just rude.