And one more:
“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
-Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Living a simple, creative life at a small 1950's motor inn in Bryson City. A Lifestyle Blog.
And one more:
“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
-Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Earlier this week we made a new friend. One who is going to bulldoze a house to build a new one. He let us spend some time in the house to see if anything was worth salvaging.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: the wide range of emotions I felt as we went through the house.
All of these:
Elation: I need shelves and this is the mother-load.
Anxiety: I know someone who could use all of this chicken wire. I know someone who could use this dishwasher. I don’t have a big enough truck. What will become of all of this!?
Embarrassment: Is this kind of like dumpster diving?
Greed: I want all of these old bricks. I don’t know what I’d make with them yet, but I want them. Just because I can.
Awe: I haven’t seen one of these in 30 years.
Humor: This IS kind of like dumpster diving. I am a dumpster diver.
Gratitude: So thankful for this opportunity.
Sadness: Look at these old papers and letters from the original owners. Receipts from her antique shop she ran, newspaper clippings saves, cards from loved ones. These people are long gone now. And from this pile of memories they were once very much alive.
Nostalgia: Walking through this old house is like deja vu: the blue carpet, the parquet flooring, the ceramic tile, the blue and white kitchen.
Nostalgia because 11 years ago we lived across the same golf course in a very similar home. We’d purchased it from a family friend. The house was deemed a tear down so basically we only purchased the land it was on. But a lot of hard work made it a home for us:
our Charlotte home back then
I learned to reglaze windows, we renovated bathrooms, and every winter we had a huge oil tank refilled so we would have heat. I loved the history. I loved finding old photos of the family who lived there before us. I loved finding traces of the old wallpaper and bits and pieces of past lives in the big scary basement. And while working in the yard we would get visitors from the golf course, people would stop by and say: you live here? this is amazing. And it was a source of pride. And then one day we decided to walk away from it…we sold it to another family friend who we knew would tear it down and build something brand new:
the rubble of our home
Brett: Would we have been happy in this life?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe. It’s all relative.
Brett: I guess we’ll never know.
Me: And that’s okay too.
Oh the questions: Would we have eventually torn down the house and built a larger one? Would we have been able to appreciate such a beautiful home with huge newer homes going up all around ours? Would we still be working at the banks we’d worked at? Would we have enjoyed the country club life?
Does any of it really matter? It’s just one or two chapters.
The thing is, earlier this week, we ate at the country club with my family a few nights. I felt so much nostalgia for the place. My sister told the waitress how we’d grown up there and even our grandfather had been a member. I remember the humble beginnings when the pool house was just a plain brick rectangle where we purchased frozen candy bars and greasy cheeseburgers. I love the life my sister and her husband have created for themselves there. I love the life my brother and his wife have created there too. It’s for them. It wasn’t for us. And that’s what makes life beautiful.
And the replay of questions:
Would I have had more kids if we’d stayed in our old life? Well yes probably.
Would I have been diagnosed with cancer and lost my ability to have more children? Maybe. Maybe not.
Would we have millions in the bank if we’d stayed at our investment banking jobs. Quite possibly.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
And I don’t have to know.
I can live in the questions.
I can find safety there too.
And sometimes I wish for a tablespoon of it all here and there. Can this kind of life be a side dish? No, not for me. Because I know myself and I bend myself all out of shape because of what others are doing. And in that chapter I would have never seen my husband except for on the weekends. And in that chapter I would have had to hire a nanny to watch the kids so I could work 16 hours a day downtown. There was no way to balance it all. Sometimes there can’t be baby steps, there just has to be a huge leap.
And I think back to that house we were salvaging in pieces only a few days ago: The people who lived in that house probably had similar questions and dreams. Did they live their dreams? I hope so. But now they are gone. And it reminds me how short and fleeting life can be. Their whole life in a blink of an eye. The passing of time marked by boxes of newspapers, antiquated postage and vintage greeting cards.
We’ve walked away from a few of those chapters already and might just walk away from a few more. And those chapters pass in the blink of an eye too. A blink of an eye. A millisecond in all of eternity. But here our lives are happy and full of joy, and it’s not that we didn’t have that before, but it’s much richer I feel. There are varying degrees of happiness and joy. I was re-reading parts of Under the Tuscan Sun this morning and these passages hit me like a ton of bricks:
Wonders. Miracles. In cities, we’re less and less capable of the imagination for the super real, ground down as we are by reality. In rural areas, close to the stars and groves, we’re still willing to give it a whirl.
Is it a whim? It feels very close to falling in love and that’s never really whimsical but it comes from some deep source. Or does it?
I think this rural-ness will be a long chapter, and the thing is….I’m always willing to quickly admit that I was wrong, and shift directions. It wasn’t always that way…. but now ….it is. Now I know that we lose a part of ourselves in the process and we leave things behind that other people would refer to as assets. We walk away from country club memberships. We walk away from sweat and hard work in a house only for it to be bulldozed, shoveled and dumped. And sometimes we grieve for what might have been and the idea of it all. And sometimes we fall in love and we quickly fall out of love. And then sometimes we stumble across opportunities to sift through what others have left behind, and someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure. And we are humbled, and we learn and we grow. And we end up gaining.
And yesterday when I heard the wheels of the tires hit the gravel at the inn I felt a sense of relief. The crunch is oddly soothing and the way the truck rocks back and forth on a country road is something I’ll never grow tired of. Choose your rut carefully is that old saying. Right now I want my rut to be gravel and rocking back and forth.
And I just write it all down so that I can live it all twice.
Writing about this place, our discoveries, wanderings, and daily life, also has been a pleasure. A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice. -Under the Tuscan Sun
A compilation of all the things I’ve made for Halloween…from printables to costumes to decor. Links are at the bottom of the image:
The leaves have changed in just few short days. One week ago the leaves were just starting to change at the Hemlock Inn. I picked up some leaves off the gravel drive and brought them in to paint. I haven’t used my watercolors since early spring:
We took the Blue Ridge Parkway home today from Asheville. Up at the higher elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet the leaves have made more progress. It started out a little dark at the French Broad River:
But then the leaves just became richer and brighter as we drove:
Gorgeous color that only nature could produce:
And now back at our cozy little cottage at the Hemlock Inn. We had so much fun in Charlotte with my sister’s family but it’s always nice to come home. Not much traveling planned between now and Thanksgiving. There’s a lot going on in Bryson City and the surrounding area over the next few months. It’s Boo’s first real FALL and we are going to soak up every bit of it.
You can read more about the area and all the events on the calendar here.
This month as a Michaels Maker I was challenged to come up with a DIY Halloween costume. I asked Boo what she wanted to be and she gave me an answer that we summed up to be something like a phantom butterfly:
I wanted to come up with something that was easy to recreate so I used 2 Gildan t-shirts from Michaels (size XXL):
We made the wings and the antennae and bought the masquerade mask from Michaels: move 2
Basically to make the wings I took 2 of the largest size adult t-shirts I could find at Michaels and cut each one as shown (basically using each sideways shirt as a wing):
The two shirts cut into two wings: (click continue reading) [Read more...]
Visiting my family in Charlotte, Brett and I went to the mall today. It was like being a fish out of water.
Me: Um, what is this?
Saleswoman: A shrug.
Me: Really? What are the holes for?
Saleswoman: Your arms.
Me: I don’t get it.
Saleswoman: Are you from another planet?
Ok just kidding she didn’t ask me that. She just walked away.
After escaping the mall, we spent the day salvaging a few usable items from a house that is being torn down. Everyone’s trash is another person’s treasure…especially if you like old stuff like I do. Brett found some old hardware and fixtures, and I found some old newspaper articles in the attic.
Tonight we went to a new friend’s house for dinner, and I warned Boo ahead of time: we are going to a fairytale house, with a garden just like the Secret Garden, gargoyles and passageways, and the library looks just like the Book Thief and it has a staircase just like the Biltmore house. And you should have seen her face when we walked into the library…it was just like when Liesel sees the library in the mayor’s house in The Book Thief.
Boo on the stairs being followed by a Bengal cat:
We ate dinner with our friends Nick and Suzie and Boo asked if she could be excused from the table early, so she could spend time in the library. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear that again. She found The Boxcar Children on the shelf and she was told she could borrow it. Suzie also had this old mail order catalog she’d found and it was in perfect condition. Circa 1915 this catalog would have been right around the time of the Titanic. The mail order form was still in the center of the catalog, making me want to fill it out and send it in with my 89 cents.
And yesterday we spent some time with my brother and his family. It was my nephew’s birthday. And I actually have a photo of me and my brother for once, although it does look like I’m trying to get away from him, but that was only because I was trying to take a photo with my nephew Carter:
And since we are staying with my sister we’ve spent a lot of quality time with my little niece Leighton. I get to bathe her each night and we all take turns feeding her and she’s just the sweetest baby. I might just steal her..because I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite person in the whole wide world:
Speaking of old stuff I picked up this really old metal globe last week while thrifting/antiquing. Even my thrifty hubby thought it was a find we couldn’t pass up. Not that we have the space for it right now.
And then there’s just this:
My friend Tahnie of A Happy Girl wrote this. I thought it was beautiful. I shared it on Instagram months ago but never shared it here:
From Tahnie’s blog:
I am amazed to be 1 of about 10 women with cystinosis who has survived pregnancy. Our odd defying daughter gives me crazy, potent hope for all aspects of life. I was blessed with a kidney transplant 19 1/2 years ago when my mother gave me life for a second time. I am a huge organ donation advocate. This blog is about life, overcoming challenges, motherhood, embracing the beauty of right now and celebrating conquering your own impossible. -A Happy Girl
I am a big fan of Mexican art…especially sugar skulls. I used black and silver Sharpie markers to turn these faux styrofoam pumpkins into owl sugar skulls for my Halloween decor this year. Michaels is challenging customers to “trick a pumpkin” this year and post the creations to Instagram. Make sure to read more at the bottom of this post on how to enter your own!
If you do a google search for “sugar skull” you will come across a variety of images you can pull ideas from. I make up the doodles as I go along, but starting with the round eyes first:
Tip: If you mess up, use a damp Magic Eraser to lightly wipe the area until the mistake lightens or disappears completely!
I used 4 different size pumpkins and made them all their own unique version:
The large pumpkin took around 30 minutes to complete: [Read more...]
Last week it was my first morning opening up the used book store in downtown Bryson City:
Wake up lovely books….
The large room was silent. I hit the light switches and the lights blinked and flickered a few times before turning on. Fluorescent lights always remind me of the book Langoliers by Stephen King, when the world is catching up to time and waking up. The buzz is the first thing that’s noticed.
I rolled out the book cart, which used to be the most dangerous job at the bookstore because it is extremely heavy and the grade at the front door is not very forgiving. But this was a new book cart, the old one (with the wheel that like to fall off and dump the books alongside Everett Street) has been demoted to the back of the store.
And then I turned the “Closed” signs to “Open” at 10am. Open for business.
I sat there most of the day wondering what it used to be like. The bookstore used to be part of the old Bennett drugstore, one half of it to be exact. The hallway in the center has been walled off making it now two spaces.
Bennett’s Drug Store dates back all the way to 1905 and operated up until 1990 in the same family. A big red Coca-Cola drink cooler used to block the door of the soda fountain so that you had to enter through the drug store entrance. Early marketing genius.
You can see the arch of the soda fountain in the back right of this old photo, tucked behind the first four sets of shelving: (click on the photo to enlarge)
(I cannot find a source for this old photo…anyone know?)
“The antique marble soda fountain remains from an earlier time when the store was part of the old Bennett’s Drug Store. The fountain has a marble topped counter from Italy with six stools; the lighted back bar with stained glass murals and marble columns is also from Italy.” -Postcards from the Smokies
I would just love to know how a soda fountain from Italy ended up in a Bryson City drugstore.
Donna, my friend and a cook at the inn, used to flip burgers at the soda shop years ago. More than one person has told me about the peanut butter milk shakes. I drool. Teresa, the manager of the book store, has told me what history she knows of every building surrounding the place.
Last Thursday was a typical day. It was cool so I left the front door open and customers drifted in and out. I ate a Krispy Kreme donut and drank a fountain diet coke from the Hot Spot. When the book store was quiet I read through a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and a book of letters from the Carpathia regarding the Titanic. I ended up buying the Titanic book for $4.00. I thought my mom would like it too. Throughout the morning I met customers from Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Charleston, SC. I had a long conversation about midwives and Amish communities with a woman I’d met at the Hemlock Inn a few days prior. Three people dropped off book donations. One had two boxes of encyclopedias which the bookstore doesn’t take in anymore because there just isn’t room. And I guess no one wants encyclopedias these days. I took the encyclopedia donations. I’ll figure out what to do with them at some point. I just didn’t want them to end up in a dump somewhere. I love encyclopedias. There must be a huge encyclopedia retirement home somewhere right? At one point during the morning I could hear Ivan, the owner of the Calby’s Antiques (the other half of the original drug store), playing the pipe organ next door. A customer and I both had our ears to the wall listening.
I probably shouldn’t tell you about the scary trap door in the floor that supposedly leads to the basement of the bookstore. I bet there’s some really old stuff down there. Or maybe just a secret racket ball court? (you have no idea what I’m talking about unless you’ve seen the movie Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges). The trap door used to have a lock on it at some point, which makes it even more mysterious.
I probably shouldn’t tell you this either, but the first day I worked the bookstore by myself and closed it…I accidentally took the cash register key home with me. I’m going to get fired from my first retail job, I thought, even though I work for free. I went really early the next morning to drop the key back off so it would be like nothing happened, and thought for sure I wouldn’t see anyone. As I got to the back door, and started to unlock it…I heard someone yell “Hey there Ashley!” It turns out the old mayor (not old like old, but old like ex) likes to wash his deck at 7:45am. For 5 seconds I pretended to be invisible. Then I turned and waved like a boss: “Hey, yeah, um, just doing some super-important-official-8am-used-book-store-business!”
And a few weeks ago, to shake things up a bit I took my 1954 Hermes Rocket typewriter (the one featured in my Dear Friend letters) and set it on the counter. I put a piece of paper in it and typed:
leave me (the typewriter) a message….
Then I even typed a fake message to get things started:
And no one would type on it.
So I left another fake message:
is typing writing?
Granted it was a slow day, but I couldn’t convince one single person to leave a message. It’s like they were scared of a typewriter. Or me. But they did buy books, so maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was the typewriter. I’ll try again sometime soon. Hopefully I get a few brave customers. And my first fake message will be:
BE BRAVE AND TYPE.
P.S. I was invited to the volunteer appreciation dinner next week….so I’m still employed at my free job.
Friends of the Marianna Black Library Used Book Store
32 Everett St, Bryson City, NC 28713
Raises money to help with the rising costs of Free Library Services in Bryson City, North Carolina.
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Sunday
More things to do in Bryson City, NC.
I spent the morning in the Hemlock Inn kitchen with George, one of the cooks, and helped make peanut butter pies. I combed through an old box of handwritten recipes collected over the years from guests that have come and go. Coated in years of cooking:
I washed the dishes and George dried. We concluded that I am not the greatest dishwasher because I like to “quietly” wash dishes. I don’t like to clang them around.
I spent the afternoon working on some writing projects. When school was out, as a family, we visited our friends Wally and Donna (who I always call Wonna and Dolly on accident). Boo wanted to meet their chickens:
And as I looked back on my day I thought about how George had broken almost every bone in his body after falling off the side of a mountain when he was a younger guy. He has all the visible scars to show he’s been through more than I could ever live through. Add in a brain aneurysm and a stroke and he’s pretty much a walking miracle. And Donna is a cancer survivor and a survivor of a lot more than that too. And Wally had a stroke a while back and can’t do everything he used to. But Wally started painting gourds…and here’s one he made for me, a buff orpington. She’s the most beautiful gourd chicken I’ve ever seen:
And she will be named: Hatsy
And these are just a few of the people who are so generous with their lives. They invite us into their homes. They make pancakes so we can freeze them for later. They fix nail guns. They smile when the door swings open.
“Turn left at the EGGS sign” I told Brett earlier today and “make sure you gun it up the gravel driveway!” Feeding a stale biscuit to a group of chickens is delightful and humorous and basically-the-best-thing-I’ve-done-all-week. I cock-a-doodled so maybe Rufus the Rooster would grace us with his presence and he did.
Me: You know those teeny tiny gourds called Tennessee Spinners?
Me: How can I grow those myself?
Wally: Just plant a seed…
Just plant a seed? This is not rocket science! A year ago I would have just ordered them off Etsy! Even talk of gourds stretches me to places I never even knew existed. The thought of growing gourds myself! Tennessee spinners can be used as toy tops, and I know this because I learned how to spin them at a farm festival a few weeks ago.
Did you know: a gourd takes 90 to 100 days to grow to maturity. Good grief. That’s like 400 years.
Last night at dinner a woman said: if you lie flat in the middle of a cornfield, you can hear the corn growing. It crackles as it stretches upward. What?! How am I 37 years old and just now learning this information. Sometimes I watch the kudzu here carefully because it grows a foot a day but I’ve never seen it actually grow. This is all scary but incredible news.
Sometimes, when people ask me if I’m local I want to tell them I’m related to Wonna and Dally. And it wouldn’t really be a lie because we are all connected in a way I think. Maybe I can just be related to everybody. But I’m not great at remembering names, and birthdays, and I don’t cook Thanksgiving dinner…just putting that out there ahead of time.
And all the colors I am inside have not been invented yet.
-Shel Silverstein, from Colors
P.S. Life is a verb. One of my favorite books. I would eat it if I could. I’m going to Life is a Verb camp in November. An early Christmas present. Because it’s right near here…and I can’t stop thinking about all the seeds that will be planted from it. Time to explore, out of context. And I signed up to room with a stranger. To feel a little fearful and do it anyway.