Another successful dreamer….

I was dragging.  The clean laundry laid on my unmade bed.  The red suitcase on the floor  waited for me to unpack it.  I had Pandora playing on my computer and was trudging through organizing Christmas bags, boxes, and bows when my phone rang.  I was delighted to see it was my friend Carolyn, with whom I’d been playing phone tag for weeks.

Carolyn left her job in NYC in October to follow her dream of becoming a comedy screen writer in LA.  But following your dream can be hard.  Carolyn’s moved from friend’s house to friend’s house.  Last we talked, we laughed over our shared experiences of living out of our cars, spending too much time trying to figure out where the supermarket was in the town we were in, and where we’d stay when we moved on from this friend’s house.

But in between all that, Carolyn’s performed in a couple Mortified shows and made connections.  It’s amazing who knows someone who can help you once you put a dream out there.  Like the lawyer at the cubicle job you hated in NYC who has a friend who’s in the business out in LA.  It seems every time I talk to Carolyn, she’s made three more connections.

Today, though, she wondered about her writing.  All this “free time” wasn’t really that free when you, in essence, have no place to call home nor any consistency in your life. We brainstormed ideas for alternative living arrangements so that the worry of where to live could be taken off her plate and therefore give her some writing time.   “I e-mailed the director of a writing residency program I did ten years ago to see if they have a spot,” she told me, but she wasn’t too optimistic.

I gave her as much encouragement as I could, having been in her shoes many times before.  She generously thanked me, as she always does.  I told her that the words I’m often speaking to her are the ones I need to be reminded of myself, so it goes both ways.

A short while later, my phone rang.  It was Carolyn again.  “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.  That writing residency program in New Mexico?  They just had a cancellation.  The director had been thinking about her – they’d found a picture from the last time she was there and had it up on their table for the last few months.  The open spot would give her a cottage in which to live for twelve weeks, and they would welcome her to come take it.  Coincidence?  Nope.  That’s just Carolyn – putting a dream out there.  Instead of waiting for life to fall into her lap, she chases all her leads.  And then something works.

Congratulations, Carolyn.  Happy writing:)

10,000 Steps

“You’re doing the Camino?” he asked.  “Did you start practicing yet?”

“No,” I replied sheepishly.  “But it’s not until May, so I’ve got time.”

He looked at me with wide eyes.  “You should be out there – at least an hour every day.”

It was August, 2011.  I was not planning on starting my preparations until January, 2012, but this guy scared me a little.  Gerald Murphy had hiked most of the Appalachian trail.  He’d biked coast to coast. He was here at the Folk School leading paying students on ten mile hikes every day that week.  He knew what he was talking about.  But I knew that people can only do so much at one time, and my focus for the next four months was on two things: my job at the Folk School and my classes at the Folk School.

I listened to his advice, thanked him, and stuck to my plan.

On January 10th, it was time to take action.  I finally bought a new battery for my pedometer.  I put it in only to discover that my pedometer didn’t need a new battery – it just didn’t work at all.  I lamented to Glenda, my hostess, and she said, “Oh – I have one that you could use.”  It will never cease to amaze me how things turn up when I need them to.

Since that day, I’ve had my Step Into Health pedometer on my hip every waking moment.

The first week I just wanted to get a baseline reading.  I was disappointed to learn that my morning walk around Chatuge Lane only garnered me 2100 steps, so I started exploring new roads to increase my numbers.  Out onto Highway 64, left onto Ledford Chapel Road, right onto…is this a road?  Hmm…I don’t think so.  Turn around.

My inability to sit still for too long (thanks, Dad) earned me about 4000 steps each day just “puttering” around the house, cooking, and running errands.  I jotted down each days count: 6471, 8972,8935, 13172.  That last one is what happens when you spend two and a half hours at a Saturday night Contra Dance at the Folk School🙂

So what does any of this mean?  How many steps in a mile?  My pedometer only records steps, so I had no idea how far I was really walking.  A Google search tells me 2000 steps is about one mile.  Some time ago the popular view was that 10,000 steps per day was ideal.  Most people can’t get to 10,000 steps without adding in a half-hour walk, so it makes sense that this recommendation might get people out exercising.

Ten thousand steps is about five miles.  I must admit, I was pretty proud of myself.  I wasn’t too far from that number.  And if I could do five miles per day, it wouldn’t be long before I could feel confident that I could do twelve miles per day for forty days on the Camino.

On Monday I decided to set my sights for 10,000 steps.  I realized this would require not just a morning walk, but an evening walk as well.  (Or a longer morning walk, but I get bored easily, so didn’t know if that would work.)  Thankfully, I was in Florida on Monday.  And it was 70 degrees.  I met my friend Sarah for a walk around Sawgrass Lake Park in the morning, had gelato at Mazarro’s Italian Market with Stephanie, sat out by the pool in the afternoon, and then called a friend as I started on my evening walk.  I like the quiet of my morning walks, but the evening one might require a phone call for distraction.  It worked: 10,928 steps.

Tuesday we left St. Petersburg.  Six trips between the condo and the car (with three flights of stairs in between) helped rack up some steps in the morning.  After lunch, I walked a few times around the restaurant before we got back on the road.   A couple rounds around Dairy Queen while eating a chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles helped, too.  That night, I headed to the treadmill at the hotel.  (Jessica, my marathon-runner sister would be proud, and stunned.)  But treadmills are boring.  And the TV in the gym wasn’t offering any good viewing options.  So I left with a couple thousand steps left to take, only to go back after dinner and have Jon Stewart on the TV to help me get through those last steps: 10,525 read my pedometer.

Today we drove back to North Carolina.  I walked a few laps around the Olive Garden in Canton, Georgia where we stopped for lunch.  The sign on the back door said they didn’t take deliveries between 11 and 2.  Their dumpsters are hidden behind some very nice looking gates.  After two laps, I joined my travel partners and we got back on the road.

We arrived home at 4:30.  As soon as I unpacked the car, I took off for a walk before the sun went down.  It was a balmy 60 degrees and I wanted to take advantage.  I opened my pedometer.  I was at 2400 steps.  Chatuge Lane, across Highway 64 to the lake shore, left on Ledford Chapel, up the hill, Willow Pond Lane – let’s see where that goes.  Some of these houses are obviously only used seasonally.  No one’s home – shades drawn, boats and jet skis covered.  There was no sign indicating this was a dead end, but it was.  I’m at 5000 steps when I turn around.  8700 by the time I get home.

“Were you walking all this time?” Glenda asks when I arrive home.  “Yup – three miles,” I say.  Only 1300 steps to go to reach 10,000 today.  I’m on my way.  A little later than Gerald would have recommended, but according to my timeline, I’m right on time:)

29 Gifts – Again

Some of you may recall that last year I read and then participated in the 29 Gifts project.  For those of you that don’t know what this is, here’s the story in a nut shell:

A woman named Cami Walker was diagnosed with MS shortly after her marriage.  She was feeling pretty miserable – physically and psychologically – when a neighbor, who was studying to be some sort of healer, told her that to feel better she should give a gift a day for 29 days.  Cami thought this idea was absurd at first.  She could hardly get out of bed – how could she go about giving gifts every day?  But one day she decided to try it.  And it was pretty amazing what happened.  So she gave a gift a day for 29 days, and then just kept doing it.  She wrote a book about it.  And started a web site where people, like me, can also give a gift a day and post about it. Because part of the process is to write down the gift you gave each day.  You can write it down in a note book, or on the site.  It doesn’t matter.  But you have to write it down.

A little note about the gifts: they don’t have to be monetary.  In fact, many aren’t.  A gift can be a complement given, a phone call to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, helping out when asked even though you really don’t want to, a thank you note written.

What I’ve found is that the opportunity to give presents itself every day.  Usually more than once.  So I no longer think, “What can I give today?” but instead start my day eager to see what opportunity will arise.

Note, too, that the one qualification is that the gifts must be consciously given.  None of this looking back on your day and trying to figure out what you gave.  If you didn’t do it consciously, it doesn’t count.

And you can’t skip a day.  If you do, you start over at Day One.  Note it took me three tries before I did it for 29 consecutive days.

Anyway, I feel like now it seems you may think there are too many rules.  But not at all.  The idea is pretty simple: consciously give one thing each day.  Write it down.  Watch how your life changes.

I did this early last year.  And I can’t quite put my finger on how to explain how wonderful it was.  Giving also makes you more open to receiving, which is such a blessing to me as I’m not so good at feeling good about receiving gifts from others.  Giving also opens you up to all that is good about your life – even when you think nothing is.  Eh – I’m not doing it justice.

All I can say is this: I’m doing it again.  You can read what I give each day by clicking here.  And you can read other people’s stories by clicking here.  And if you’d like to try it, I’d say order and read the book (it’s short, and a good, quick read) as it helps with some of the trouble you might have as you try to do it.

Today was my first day – again.  I’ve already tried to start three times, but keep forgetting to consciously give.  But there’s something so freeing about saying, “Eh – I failed.  So what.  I’ll just start over.”

Learning New Things

Is it just me, or is everyone as stimulated as I am by making things?  Whether it’s cooking or crafts, I’m just “in my element” when I’m making something.  And if it’s something I’ve never made before, well that’s a whole other level of fun, mystery, and sometimes frustration.

In the last three days I’ve made at least three new things.  I’m not telling you this to brag.  If anything, I hope it will inspire you to try something new yourself.  Maybe you’ll want to try one of the things I’ve done, or maybe you have something else you’ve always wanted to try – well, there’s no time like the present!

On Monday, I mastered the purl stitch in knitting.  This is the third time in twenty years I’ve tried to learn to knit.  This time it may have stuck, thanks to:

  • Eve Hildebrant – Master knitter and my co-host at the Folk School who has taught plenty of people to knit – even people like me who’ve tried twice before without success….
  • Sarah Bennett and Dorothy Wilkins:  Work study students at the Folk School who learned to knit while there and progressed quite rapidly in just six weeks!
  • A Knitting instructor from England who was at JCCFS while I was.  Her name escapes me at the moment, but she sat with me one evening and helped me perfect my technique.

All of those folks believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself (which, in my eyes, makes them all excellent teachers).  I saw Eve on Tuesday night and showed off my work.  She smiled a knowing grin – she’s believed in my knitting abilities since day one.  Maybe I’m pushing a little too much, but I found a sweater pattern yesterday that I want to work on for my next project….

Stockinette Stitch

On Tuesday, I made sugared pecans.  They’re one of those things that, when I first sampled them at my friend Tara’s house, I thought would be hard to make, but Tara assured me it was easy – and she was right.

Last night, I started work on making a new journal.  I took a miniature books class at the Folk School.  Then, my friend Sarah expanded my horizons and helped me make my first book with pockets.  After a couple of those, I now have the confidence to try a book I’ve never made before.

Making a mini-book at the John C. Campbell Folk School

A book with pockets on one side and....

a notebook on the other.

Picking the papers

Making the Covers

Ready for gluing and sewing

So if you’re feeling kind of “blah” lately, I recommend trying to make something new – it’s a high quite unlike any other:)


A Day in the Life – My Work Exchange

I used to be a morning person.  I’d wake up before my 7:30 alarm, open the small notebook next to my bed and jot down all that I needed/wanted to do today.  If the list was getting too long, I’d cross out things.  You can only do so much in one day.  I’d then hop out of bed, make my hard-boiled egg, and start to work on prepping that days lecture and lab.  I’d get plenty accomplished before 10AM, then jump in the shower and get to whatever work was ahead of me.

While at the Folk School I realized I’m only a morning person if I am getting up for me – not because I have to be somewhere at a certain hour of the morning.  I no longer woke up before my alarm.  I disliked having to be someplace most mornings by a certain time.  I missed having morning time to myself.  If I had something I wanted to get done, it took days, sometimes weeks, for me to find the time.  That change was one of the hardest for me to adjust to in my four months there.

Since arriving here in Hayesville, where I’ll be for the next six weeks (except next week when we head to St. Petersburg, FL), I have the ability to be a morning person again – to get up by my own choice for my own reasons.  I love having that freedom back.

But a couple things have changed: I don’t get up as early, I don’t list my goals for the day, nor do I have any prep work to do for teaching.

Since many of you are still unclear as to what it is I’m doing down here exactly, here’s a little taste:

I get my nine hours of sleep, but can’t seem to get to sleep before midnight, so I start my morning quite late. In an earlier life, I would have gotten mad at myself for this, and fought to get up earlier.  But I have the freedom to say, “Eh – let’s see what comes of this.”  Which is a much nicer way of treating myself.

I still write three pages every morning when I get up.  I then make a cup of chai and have some yogurt, then put on my new hiking shoes (thanks, Jeff) and head of for a walk around the block.  I return to dig into another goal-less day, and my what I’ve been able to accomplish!

Since I’m living without goals, I do whatever comes to mind.  My hostess doesn’t require my services until the early afternoon, so the morning is mine.

As you may recall, I receive room and board in exchange for helping my hostess with various tasks.  Around noon I head upstairs to check-in and see what we’ll be working on (together or separately) that day.  So far I’ve done both decluttering tasks and some personal assistance type jobs. I’ve enjoyed my hostess’ cooking, and have had the chance to do some cooking myself (tried my hand at sugared pecans yesterday, and made stuffed peppers for dinner).

Since we’re both single women, we eat when we feel like it.  Sometimes it’s at the same time, sometimes not.  It seems I’m getting ready for my days in Europe – I’m eating dinner around 8 or 9 and thoroughly enjoying it:)

My accommodations are something to be envious of.  I have the lower level of the house to myself.  This includes a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchenette with a fridge and microwave, and a living area with satellite TV (which I’ve watched for all of an hour since arriving on Sunday – just enough to remember why I got rid of mine).  The entire living room opens out onto a screened-in porch.  If you sit on one of the rocking chairs out there, you feel like you’re in a tree house – winter’s bare branches frame a view of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Off the porch is a door to the outside, so I can leave for my morning walk without disrupting my hostess.

It is now approaching noon, and I have some decluttering to do.  Those of you that know me can see my eyes light up when I say this.

Here I Am!

“Where are you right now?  Where are you going next?” I answer these questions a lot from friends and family.  I’ve had to answer them moreso lately because I haven’t written a lot of posts the last couple months so people are starting to wonder what it is I’m up to.

If you didn’t get answers to those questions from me personally, you’re in luck: I just updated My Sabbatical page with where I’ve been and where I’m going.  Check it out here, or anytime by clicking the link to it on the right side of my blog.  If you’re along my route anywhere and would like a visit, do let me know:)


“I’ll just go call Grandma,” I said to my instructor.  I was in my Genealogy class at the John C. Campbell Folk School where I had one major advantage over all my classmates: I was the only student who had a grandmother still living.  This is probably because I was the youngest student in the class by at least thirty years.  When my classmates had questions they needed answers to, they had to do a bit more searching.  I could just call Grandma.

I’d heard a lot of her stories before, but now I was going to get them straight and get them down.  Like the story of the great-grandmother who, ill after the death of her young child was told she was going to die and she should leave Brooklyn for the country (aka Poughkeepsie).  She lived to be 92.    Then there was the great-grandfather who died in an explosion leaving his wife with three children under four years old – the oldest of whom was my Grandpa Gallo.  I had another great-grandfather who took his family to one church in town until the day they walked in and were told all the Italians had to now go to a different church. And that’s just my father’s side of the family.

“I wish my grandchildren took an interest in the genealogy work I’m doing,” a classmate lamented.  “Me, too,” another agreed.  “I sometimes wonder what they’re going to do with my research after I’m gone – I hope they don’t just throw it all out.”  Our teacher, Ann Osisek, had answers to a lot of our questions – and had an answer for this dilemma as well.  She told us that libraries in the town in which our relatives lived will usually take our family history research, and have it available if anyone in the future wants to continue the search.  I, though, had something to add, which I gave in a little speech on our last day that went something like this:

“My grandmother is 87, and I just started doing our genealogy.  So don’t give up hope.  You’re all much younger than that – so wait at least til your 87 before you think your grandkids aren’t interested.”

They, in turn, told me to get my grandmother’s story down.  So that’s what I’ve started to do.  But I’ve also found I’m telling her parts of her story she didn’t know.  Just today, on my regular Sunday visit to Grandma’s for meatballs, I let her know I found the Ellis Island records of her father’s arrival in the US (see document below – line 13).  She knew he came over with his mother when he was seventeen.  But she didn’t know that they were initially detained because they had no money upon their arrival.  My great-great-grandmother (see document below – line 12) arrived in this country with two children, by two different husbands, neither of whom was still alive.  Another child – by yet another husband – was already in the US and paid for her passage.  Yes, this woman had lost three husbands by the time she arrived – and she was only 50.  I’d heard she was tough – no wonder!  Could you imagine that life?  All that for a woman whose name – Abbondanza –  means abundance, plenty, richness, and wealth.  Her abundance was not material the day she stepped foot on Ellis Island.  But she did have plenty – of hope, courage, and faith.

In March, I’m embarking on a journey, too.  I’m reversing Abbondanza’s trip – leaving from New York and heading to Avellino, Italy.  My trip will be a lot easier than hers in many ways.  But with me I’ll take a dose of her hope, courage, and faith as I try to find out more about her.

Cretic – Arrival of Gaetano Urciuoli – Line 13