Student Arrival

Yesterday, I moved in.  Today, the new students moved in.  They’ll be here until Friday taking classes in everything from soapmaking and weaving to blacksmithing and banjo playing.  They come from as far away as Maine and California, and as close as Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Actually,  it can take 8 hours to drive to the eastern coast of NC, so maybe some of the NC folks are not really that close!

This week I don’t take a class.  I have a full schedule of people to meet with to get to know the Folk School, the staff, and my duties.  But rest assured – once I start taking classes I’ll post plenty of photos:)  In the meantime, I’ll take some pics of the campus and post them for you all to see.


Arrival – A Wonderful Welcome

The only person in the building when I arrived was my Senior Host, Cory Marie Podielski and she did a wonderful job welcoming me to my home for the next four months.

A Colorful Welcome

I had happy flashbacks of my days as a Resident Assistant when I saw how she decorated my door.








Mug, Bag, and Nametag

In my adorable room I found a mug and bag both with the Folk School emblem.  And most importantly, my nametag.  Everyone at the JCCFS has one – students are one color, instructors another, and the staff has the ones you see here.  Here I am – on staff at this place I love so much in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.



A Brain of Soap

And then there was this – a gift from Cory that combines 1) my interest in handmade, all-natural products 2) my former life as anatomy instructor and 3) my new life as arts and crafts student. This, my dear friends, is a brain made of soap – which Cory made herself here at JCCFS:)

Beginning at the End

At the end of every week at the Folk School, everyone gathers in the Community Room of the Keith House to display their finished works and admire the works of others.   It’s quite impressive what people can accomplish in just one week of class.  Here are some pictures I took yesterday:

The ART Doll: From Concept to Completion

Doll making class with Lillian Alberti – a fellow New Yorker instructing here for the first time.  (As usual with most first-timers, she loves the place.)











"A Book Banquet"

Paper Arts class with Suzanne Hall and Barbara Bussolari – who told me everyone in the class were absolute beginners – which happens a lot here.








"Mountain Dulcimer Building"

Dulcimers with John Huron – this class made these beautiful instruments this week.  Rumor has it that half of them don’t know how to play them:)








"Realistic Animals - Carver's Choice"

Woodcarving with Leah Goddard – the gentleman who did this was from California and at the Folk School for the first time along with his wife and two grandchildren (ages 18 and 20).  The four of them do a trip together every year – Costa Rica, Ireland, and this year: JCCFS:)

Note the “Periodic Table of Contra” behind this little guy.  There’s contradancing in the Community Room once a week, so one day I may actually know what that table means…

Why Wait?

“Do you always come down here with someone else?” I asked Lois last night at dinner.

“Oh, no.  No need to wait that long,” she said.  My sentiments exactly.  If we wait for the ideal travel partner (or any travel partner, for that matter), we may never go.  So when people say, “You’re doing all this alone?”  I give a matter-of-face “Yes” with a look that says, “of course.”   Because life’s too short to wait:)

And here’s another thing about traveling alone: you meet a whole bunch more people that way.  Well, if you’re the type that strikes up conversations easily you sure do.  The other day, while trading stories with someone about the best places we’ve been, a gentleman said this to me about Montana: I didn’t believe in God til I went out there.  Only God could create something that beautiful.  Now doesn’t that make you want to drive out there and see what he’s talking about?  What’s stopping you?

Speaking of beautiful places, on Wednesday I drove what might be one of the most scenic roads in the country.  I haven’t driven every road in the country, so I can’t say for sure.  But the Blue Ridge Parkway ranks right up there with the drive through Glenwood Canyon on I-70 in Colorado. Yes, Italy holds a special place in my heart.  But the US of A has some absolutely stunning countryside.  Pictures won’t do it justice, but I’ll try.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Adelaide - my (usually) trusty travel companion - overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

Not to say I couldn’t have seen all this with a human travel companion.  But why wait?


According to the article I was reading, the first gay couple to marry in Manhattan on Sunday have been together for 23 years.  The women are 77 and 85 years old.  I did the math.  This means they met when they were 54 and 62.  So I figure, at 34, I’ve got plenty of time to meet the love of my life:)

(Note to God: if you want to send him before I hit 54, please do!)


Talking to Strangers: In Small Towns

“Meet my future wife,” he said as he introduced me.  This was the first I’d heard we were engaged.  I’d only met him two hours earlier, but apparently I’d made an impression.

I’d left Virginia Beach around eight that morning, plugged “Raleigh, NC” into my GPS, then hit the button to avoid highways.  Why?  Well, it’s one of many ways I know of to find great stories.  Just last week, driving a back road in New Jersey, I saw a billboard that said – in big huge letters – “YOUR WIFE IS HOT!”  In much smaller letters it continued, “Get your A/C fixed – Call us.”  You wouldn’t see that driving down I-95.

The other thing about avoiding highways is that you find a lot of towns that have not been infiltrated by Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.  I know some of you can’t imagine living more than a few miles from either of these, but work with me here – open your mind a little.  And step with me into Boykins Beans and Ice Cream.  It’s on a two lane road, just past the railroad tracks, in a town of 500 people.  There’s only one other car parked on the street outside, but there’s a guy sitting out front, and any place that advertises ice cream and “Fresh Baked Goods” can’t be that bad.

The guy sitting outside says hello.  I smile and return the greeting, remembering I’m in the South – where people actually say hello to strangers.  I know it’s a far stretch, but inside I ask if they have chai.  No luck.  So I get a cup of tea from the enthusiastic woman behind the counter.  Looking around I think that I could probably spend a couple hours in here.  They have plenty of books to peruse, comfy seating, and friendly staff.  But for some reason, I decide to take my tea and go.

On my way back out, the guy out front says something along the lines of, “It’s too bad you’re going.  We don’t see the likes of you around here too often.”  I laugh and say I’m on my way to North Carolina.

“What do they have there that we don’t here?” he asks.

“Mountains,” I said.

“Well, you’re right,” he says, sounded dejected.  “But this is Mayberry!” he retorts, referring to the idyllic fictional town portrayed in some TV show that came and went before my time.  I’ve heard of Mayberry, but can’t for the life of me remember the show.  (I just googled it – The Andy Griffith Show – which went off the air in 1968.)

He continued to try to entice me to live in this tiny town, so I asked, “What do people even DO around here?”

“Nothing,” he laughed.

“What would I do around here?”

“Nothing!” he says, smiling wide, arms opening as if he were Vanna White showing us the next puzzle to solve.  He wasn’t so convincing, but continued to question me about my trip, so I had a seat and told my tale.  His was even better.

There was the time after 9/11 when he heard some guy going to a mountaintop in Canada in case the US got hit again.  He thought that incredibly cowardly.  He told his friends he should just get on his white horse (he actually owned one) and ride to the White House to tell people not to back down.  The friends said he should.  So he did.  He lived in Wisconsin at the time.  He got a flag pole with the Wisconsin flag and the US flag, took his US Marines saber (he’s a former Marine), and in December, 2001, he rode his horse from Wisconsin to the White House.  You can see a video of some of the coverage here.  That song playing?  That’s him.  He wrote it.  He’s singing it.

Then there was a time a friend wanted to go elk hunting out west, but had to have two surgeries to fix a brain tumor first.  He didn’t make it.  When he died, this guy figures out where in the country he can go elk hunting and takes off, as a tribute to his friend.  He goes every year now.  And just by being his friendly self in a small Idaho town, he got some land practically given to him where one day he’ll build a little cabin out there.

Two hours later, I left that little coffee shop.  In that time, this guy had introduced me to all sorts of local folks, told me about life in Boykins, and apparently also decided I’d be the ideal wife.  I accepted his number.  Because elk hunting with a bow in Idaho sounds like a pretty cool prospect.

(To see my other posts about talking to strangers, click here and here.)

A Day of Freebies

“You don’t happen to have any more change, do you?” I asked the guy filling his parking meter behind mine.  I had decided to lighten my load of change into a tip jar at a local coffee shop earlier, which didn’t bode well for my current situation: parking at a meter in DC to meet a friend for lunch.

“Actually…I think I might,” he said.  He opened his passengers side door, dug around and said, “I’ve got a dollar fifty.”

“Great,” I said as I tried to hand him two dollars.

“No – don’t worry about it,” he said.

“At least take one dollar,” I persisted.

He laughed and explained, “I work around here all the time – and work pays for my parking.  Don’t worry about it.”

I thanked him and we went our separate ways – him to work, and me to feed my meter, thanking God for (sm)all favors.


While browsing in a consignment shop in Alexandria, a young man entered the store behind me and asked the owner if she’d like some free cases of Vitamin Water.  Seeing the puzzled look on her face, he went on to explain that the company sponsors a lot of fashion events in the city and they have neglected Virginia.  So they’re giving out free cases of Vitamin Water to the local businesses.  She asked what the catch was; he said none, so she accepted.  She then proceeded to offer me three bottles of it.  I graciously accepted one.


Later that same day, in a mission to escape the ninety-two degree heat, I slipped into a hotel lobby.  I sat on a comfy couch in a corner, plopped my bags down beside me, and basked in the coolness of the air conditioning washing over me.  My 6:30 waking time caught up with me, and I just wanted to curl up on the couch and fall asleep.

I noticed some people with wine glasses and figured out that I had come in for the daily happy hour the hotel offers its guests.  The doorman came over to me, said he wanted to cheer me up a little (apparently “tired” is not a good look for me), and so offered me a glass of sangria.  I explained that in my current state, a glass of sangria would put me to sleep.  “A glass of wine, then?” he offered.  I politely declined again, but said I’d love some water.  So he left and came back with an icy cold bottle:)

Some of you may recall the 29 Gifts adventure I did a few months back.  One of the lessons it professes is that by consciously giving we become more open to receiving.  It was a good lesson for me to learn – and I am thankful for all the gifts I was offered yesterday.


It was midnight and the band was still playing two blocks away.  In my tent, I longed for my college days when I could stay out til 3 and still make my 8 AM class.  But five years later, here I was thinking, “When are they going to stop?  Don’t they know we’re all getting up before sunrise to bike sixty miles?!”

As I laid there trying to think of something else to get my mind off the band, tears slipped from my eyes.  I’d have a hard time making it through tomorrow with a good night’s sleep – how on earth was I going to do it if I didn’t get any sleep at all?

I looked over at my boyfriend, soundly sleeping beside me, and my tears poured out.  How could he sleep through this?  I had to do something.  So I nudged him until he woke up. He turned over and as soon as he saw my tears asked what was wrong.  Like most men, his immediate reaction to a woman’s tears is, “I must make this stop.”

“I can hear the band,” I cried.  “When do you think they’ll stop?” I asked wondering if there was some schedule he had read that had the answer to my question.  He didn’t know, but wanted to help.  My mother had warned him, like all men I’ve brought home before and since, that his primary goals were to keep me fed and well rested.  Like a gremlin, she told him to fear what I was like if I was tired or hungry.

He looked at me and said, “Did you try the earplugs?”  Each member of our six person group was tasked with bringing different supplies for the rest of us: Tylenol, band-aids, earlplugs, etc.

“Yeah, but they didn’t work,” I said.

“Didn’t work?” he asked.

“They hardly did anything,” I said.

“Are you sure you put them in right?” he asked.

“You just stuff them in your ears, right?” I asked as I took the bright pink foam plug I had been given earlier and stuffed it in.  It stuck out of my ear like the bolt out of Frankenstein’s neck.

T. laughed gently.  “Here, let me show you,” he said.  As he rolled the foam between his fingers he warned me, “It’s gonna feel weird when I put it in, then you’ll hear a crackling sound, but it will go away.”  He pushed the narrow end into my ear canal and I felt like a bug had crawled in and made himself at home.

“Oh my God!  You stick them in that far?!”  I said.

“Yeah,” he laughed.  “Otherwise, they don’t work.”  His words started to fade as the crackling started.  Once the foam stopped expanding, the crackling ended and the band miraculously got quieter.

“Wow – it works!” I said.  I rolled the other one between my fingers, then quickly pushed it far into my left ear.  I couldn’t believe it.  The band stopped playing.  Or so I thought.  I pulled it out.  They were still playing – I just couldn’t hear them when I had both in.  Once again, T. came off as the best boyfriend a girl could ask for.

The relationship didn’t last, but his lesson about proper insertion of earplugs did.  To this day, they are a required item in my travel bag.  And, thanks to him, many people have been spared seeing the gremlin I become if sleep-deprived.

Tomorrow night I’m staying with a family friend I’ve known since childhood.  I met his girlfriend for the first time last year.  She was quiet at first, but came through for me when I realized I was out of earplugs.  She had a whole box.  I immediately liked her.  She was the first person I’d met in the six years since the aforementioned incident that carried earplugs.  My outpouring of thanks might have scared her at first, but eventually she warmed up.  And I’m looking forward to seeing both her and her boyfriend again tomorrow.

A Stop Along the Way

As we fiddled with the buckle across the toes on a pair of sandals, I said to the saleswoman “Well, once we get it right, I hope I never have to change them again.”

“If you do, you could just come back,” she responded.

“Well, I’m actually moving to North Carolina,” I said.

“Oh really?  Where?” she asked.

“Brasstown, to a place called the John Campbell Folk School,” I said.

Her eyes grew big.  “My daughter has dreamed about going there!  And she wants to take her grandfather, too.”

“Oh – she must get there.  She’ll love it, I’m sure.  And he will, too.”  I said this without knowing anything about her daughter…because anyone who has “dreamed” of going to JCCFS will surely love it.

The woman went on to explain that her daughter went to college in western North Carolina and wanted to get to JCCFS before she left, but for whatever reason was unable to get there.  The more we talked, the more I was convinced that it was destiny that I spotted this consignment shop in a small town in New Jersey on my drive from Galloway to Lancaster, PA.

In just a few minutes, we were agreeing that God (or the universe or whatever you want to call it) sends us what we need when we need it.  For her daughter, it was the perfect job – one that gives her two months off and an apartment.  This is a young woman who did mission work in Cambodia and went to DC to represent her local high school’s Save Darfur campaign.  So that two month break will be well-used I’m sure.

“Just a little – that’s all they need,” the woman said.  A little what?  A little belief that whatever they want to do can be done – even if they have no idea how.  Because once you put it out there, the universe has a habit of sending you what you need, we agreed.

I gave the woman my blog address to pass on to her daughter.  “I can’t wait to tell her!” she said as she rang up my purchases.  She gave me her card.  “Let me put my name on it,” she said as she crossed out the name of the current owner and wrote her own.  She explained that she was in the process of buying the store.  She had worked there for a year, and was given first offer when the owner decided to sell.  She talked it over with her husband, and in just a few days time they decided to do it.

“Have you ever been a business owner before?” I asked.

“Never!” she said.

“Oh, how exciting!” I responded.

And this is what I love about traveling.  I didn’t see any sites today.  Didn’t drive any multi-lane highways.  I stopped in a little town at a consignment shop and had a conversation.  That one conversation reassured me that I’m on the right path – and maybe I assured someone else that she, too, is on the right pathJ

And She’s Off!

“How long does it take to get down there?” he asked as I piled boxes and bags into my car.

“Well, I think it’s 12 hours or so, but I’m taking two and a half weeks,” I told him.

“Two and a half weeks?” he asked, his eyes wide with amazement.

“Yeah – I’m stopping to visit friends along the way,” I explained.

And so here it is that I write this post from my first stop: Galloway Township, New Jersey.  I’m at the home of a dear friend from college whom I haven’t seen in two years.  (For the full run-down of my year of living without a permanent home, click here.)  Everything I’ll need for the next four months is in my car (or so I hope).  But you wouldn’t know it by looking at it.  I don’t have an SUV stuffed to the ceiling.  I’ve got it all in a Beetle convertible – and most of it on the backseat and floor, under the windscreen.

It's all in here...

Though from this view you wouldn't know it....

Of course, I don’t need any furniture.  Or cooking supplies.  During my tenure at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I’m given a furnished room and full board as compensation for my work.  So my car is mostly filled with clothes, books, and crafting supplies (yarn and beads).

Figuring out what to take was one thing.  Figuring out what to do with everything else?  A little more daunting.  But that’s a story for another day.