Making Good Stories

“Is this crazy?” Stacey asked.

“Not at all,” I said.  “Besides, it’ll make a good story.”

“And you gotta live in order to have stories to write,” Stacey said.  So she called the number.  The woman on the other end – an actress in one of Stacey’s favorite childhood movies – said of course she would love a visitor.  Really?  Well, okay then.   So we got directions and took off for her nursing home.

We found the woman in the afternoon singing group.  She wasn’t about to leave that, so Stacey and I waited in the living room for 45 minutes while they sang songs they all knew – most of which I didn’t.  Lucky for me, there was a community puzzle out as well.  I pieced together a couple birds while Stacey sang along.  A lover of old movies, she knew most of them.

After the singing session was over, we followed as the woman’s personal aide wheeled her back to her room.  Stacey and I visited with her for a spell then Stacey got a picture with her.  With that, we got in the car and returned to Kiawah Island.

We hadn’t started the day with the intention of visiting the former actress.  We simply decided to take a day trip to Charleston – it’s a mere 45 minutes from Kiawah.  We parked at the visitor center and took off on our separate paths.  Stacey walked all over town – the art museum, a couple galleries, a recommended restaurant for lunch.   In the four hours we were apart, I only made it three blocks.  When’s the last time I took that long to get anywhere?  I’m not usually one to dawdle.  But have been enjoying slowing down a bit –  taking my time, seeing where the day takes me, spending hours playing with settings on my camera.

The ironwork under the front porch of a historic home caught my eye.  So I took the straight on shot first (blah)…..


Then, I got in there, played with some settings, and got something I liked much better:)


Then the fence across the street caught my eye.  After quite some time I figured out I liked the light better on the other side, so made my way over there to take these…




Turns out that fence was surrounding the Second Presbyterian Church.  I got down on my back to take a couple pictures of the door.  They didn’t turn out like I wanted, but I had a lot of fun trying.



Behind the church was a cemetery.  Before the battery got too low on my camera, I caught this on the side of an old tombstone.


And played with the “vintage” setting on my camera….


Camera battery low, I headed out to do some more exploring.  Spent a good bit of time checking out someone else’s photographs of Charleston in a shop along King Street.  Turns out the girl stretching a canvas behind the counter took half of them.  She and her father are in business together, so we talked a bit about her craft and her business.

Then I was off to meet Stacey.  At the time, I had no idea I’d spend my afternoon in the nicest nursing home I’d ever seen.  While I had been dawdling, Stacey had remembered a kind act this actress had done for her many years ago.  So she started to inquire about her, knowing she had at one time lived in the area. After enough asking around, someone knew someone…and off we went.  I’d love to share more details, but we were warned by another of her visitors not to let too much out “so people don’t come looking for her.”  Honestly, I’d never heard of her.  But apparently there are plenty of people out there who would come visit if they knew where to find her.


This morning, I looked at the map of the island trying to find a new route to take on my walk.  “I’ve covered quite a bit of this area already,” I said to Lois.

“Well, go around the opposite way,” she told me.  She explained that when she went to trade shows she would go around the convention center one direction, then turn around and go back the way she came.  “It’s a whole different place when you go the other direction.”

This reminded me of one of my fellow RA’s in college.  He would do rounds of his building to check for underage drinking and other mayhem.  “Then, I turn around and go back the way I came.”  He explained that once the students saw him the first time, they thought they were safe for at least an hour.  When he turned around?  That’s when he caught most of them.

So I took that advice and went the other direction. And “caught” some good stuff…

From a distance, I thought this was the best piece of driftwood I’d ever seen.  Upon closer inspection, I realized those spikes are not wood at all, but it was still a fun thing to find.


This looked like an odd sort of Christmas tree buried in the sand.  I was then struck by the orange color of its dried leaves.  Reminded me of Fall back home. Imagine that…the color of Fall leaves in New York right here on the beach of South Carolina in February!  (I’m still learning the intricacies of my camera – so the orange is not as dazzling here as it was in person.)


I looked at smaller things, too.  Like the grey stripes on this tiny shell.


Stacey found an intact horseshoe crab shell for her son the other day while on her run.  (Yes, it made for an awkward thing to carry on a run.)  So when I saw this one, I thought of my niece Ava.  Would she like a horseshoe crab shell?  Then I noticed it was kicked in, so I rejected it.


Sitting next to the dented one was this smaller guy.  I thought only a few seconds about it and laughed.  I could hear my sister (Ava’s mom) saying, “Umm…Becky….do you see the POINTS on this thing?”  Ava’s only three.  Probably not a good choice.


My eye caught lots of colors.  Even the sand – who knew it had so many shades?

Look at that purple!  Who knew it’s not just Crayola that makes that shade of purple?  The yellow and purple together remind me of art class in school – aren’t they complimentary on the color wheel?


Upon closer inspection of another yellow piece, I noticed that it wasn’t yellow all the way through – the yellow was a coating over a brown branch.  Hmph.  Who knew?

My meditation teacher told me this would happen eventually- that the practice of meditation causes you to start to notice things throughout your day.

I don’t intentionally head out to see what’s around.  It just naturally happens now.  A fly touched down on the pages of my journal yesterday as I was writing.  Instead of swatting him away, I studied his orange eyes – observed how big they were relative to the rest of his body.  Then, I noticed his wings – thinner than paper and nearly translucent.  Was he looking at me, too?  Noticing?  After he flew away, I realized that was the longest time I’d ever seen a fly sit still.

“We are blessed,” said Lynne yesterday as we sat around the table on the screened in porch.  From our seats, the ocean monopolized our senses: the sight and sound of the water rolling over the shore, the smell of the air, and that oh-so-good feeling you get when you’re within a stone’s throw of the sea.

Indeed, Lynne was correct.  I was reminded of that on my walk this morning.  I don’t have to be at the ocean with good friends to realize this.  But it sure is nice.  So nice, in fact, that we’ve decided to stay an extra three days:)

Asheville–> Kiawah Island

There is an advantage to leaving Asheville at 7:30AM:  Arrival at the gates to Kiawah Island at 12:30 pm.  Gates?  Yes, gates.  It’s not a gated community – it’s a gated island from what I can tell.  Not the kind of place I’d want to live (I’m not into planned communities), but a glorious place to spend a week writing, for sure.

My pictures won’t do the place justice, but you can click here for the property listing.


From our lovely two-level back deck, we can see and hear the ocean.  It takes all of thirty seconds to get from our deck to the water’s edge – which I did twice yesterday walking first with Lois and then with Lynne.   In this picture, you see my coat drying on a chair.  My morning walk was a bit soggy.  Which wasn’t bad.  The rumbles of thunder didn’t really bother me, either.  But when that thunder cracked, I decided it was time to turn around.

imageThere are lots of nice thing about trips with retired folks.  The big one: they have time.  Don’t get me wrong – these women do plenty in their retirement.  Writing classes, volunteer work, playing with grandchildren, time and trips with friends.  But they also have time to do things like search for the location for this years retreat.  And look what they found!  All I had to do was look at the listings they sent and say, “Yeah – that looks good.”  Within days, Lois had booked it.  I sent her my check and a few months later she mailed out directions and gate passes.  For a girl who’s been planning travels on her own for years, this is heaven.image

Another great thing about the time these retired folks have: they use it to plan for trips like these.  Lois and Lynne brought all sorts of food.  So far, I’ve had Lois’ chocolate cake, white chili, and cowboy caviar (all homemade!).  I’ve also shared some of Lynne’s pistachios and tea.  They also brought, between the two of them, a printer, games, and all sorts of writing magazines and journals.


Lynne said the other night that she never has a problem coming up with things to list in her gratitude journal.  I haven’t kept a gratitude journal lately, but I do find myself being thankful for so many things.  Many days I’ll stop and think, “Wow – is this my life?!”  The other night I had that song from the Sound of Music playing in my head, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” I have good friends, good food, time away, time to write, time to travel.  As Lois says, “Life is grand.”

Hayesville –> Asheville

Yesterday I moved out of my lovely home-away-from-home in Hayesville, NC and headed to Asheville.  On the way, I enjoyed lunch and browsing at the City Lights Cafe and Bookstore in Sylva, NC.

I’m in Asheville for two nights couchsurfing with David and Deanne.  I met them yesterday at 4pm and we’re already making plans to see each other again.  They’ve hosted over 100 couchsurfers!  As former teachers, they joined because they like interacting with “younger” folk.   I’ve enjoyed my time hiking, eating, drinking, and conversing with them.  I had never tried puttanesca, but David’s concoction has changed my theory that I can’t eat food tainted by hot pepper:)  Tonight, I cooked for them my signature quinoa dish.  By “signature” I mean that it’s my go-to dish when cooking for friends on-the-road.  I can get all the ingredients easily enough, and usually my hosts have the spices required.  Oh how I love to cook and eat with friends – old and new!

Tomorrow I’ll meet my friend Lois bright and early (7AM!) and we’ll take off for Kiawah Island for a week-long writing retreat.  Lois and I met in 2008 during my first class at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  This year, we’ve rented a place with Lynne (also from that first class) and Stacey (from our second writing class at JCCFS).  The plan is this: write, eat, drink, tell stories, laugh, write, critique, eat, drink, laugh over more stories, write, sleep.  We did this last year and it worked out splendidly.

As I continue on my journey, I thought I might try to update my blog each time I’m in the midst of a transition to my next step. I make no promises, but at least for the next week you now know where I am and what I’m up to:)

The Wonders of Technology

“Guess what?” my father said, sounding like a little kid with a secret he couldn’t wait to tell me.

“What?” I asked, still half-asleep even though it was nearly 9AM.

“Larry set it up so you can log in to my computer!  From anywhere!  Isn’t that great?”

This, indeed, was news worth waking up for.  I’m unofficially my father’s computer consultant.  Every year, before his store opens for the season, I go to Mom and Dad’s house and sit at the computer with my father looking over my shoulder as he dictates to me the changes he wants made on the price lists for each store. When I set up the initial documents years ago, it took hours and my patience was gone by the end of the process.  I left in a huff.

In subsequent years, another store owner gave him his take-out menu and Dad wanted me to create one just like it.  Easier said than done, but I did it, again leaving in a huff after hours spent learning the mysteries of combining text and images in a Microsoft Word document.  Why did the sundae flavors keep hiding behind the picture of the sundae?  Why were the columns of Blizzard flavors not lining up correctly?

The bigger mystery to me was why I was the only one that could help my father with these tasks.  I didn’t live at home.  In fact, he had two other children living in his house that knew just as much about this stuff as I did – if not more.  But they didn’t have the patience to sit with Dad. Dad doesn’t have that kind of patience himself.  More likely, my siblings were just smart enough to not get themselves involved.

So I made trips home from Boston each year – a week or two before the stores opened – to edit price lists and menus with Dad.  Five years ago, when I moved back to my hometown, the trip was only 15 minutes as opposed to three hours.  My skills and patience increased and I created Cake Order Forms, Phone Lists, and Ice Cream Count documents.  I rarely left upset with him.

But here I am in North Carolina.  I won’t be home before the stores open.  But have no fear!  No, the sister that lives in the apartment over their garage is not taking my place (you’re welcome, Meg!).  I’m coming to Dad – virtually.

Larry, Dad’s accountant, got the technology to log into my father’s computer to look at his Quickbooks.  Dad’s brain got to thinking and he asked Larry if there was a way I could do the same thing.

So this morning, I spent a record one hour on the phone with Dad, editing price lists and menus for the 2012 season.  My father told me the changes and watched on his computer as I opened the documents, did the changes, and even printed everything right to his computer.  He was impressed.  So was I.

Not 15 minutes after I hung up with Dad, my mother called.  “You did price lists with Dad this morning I heard.  How are you doing?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said.  “We finished in record time.  Did he tell you how well it went?”

“Yes, but I wanted to see how you were feeling,” said my mother, having witnessed my frustration of earlier years.

“I think it’s actually getting better each year,” I said.

“I still don’t understand why you have to do it,” she said.

“I don’t know either.  But I’m fine with it now.  And with this remote control thing, I don’t feel so bad that I’m thinking of moving to North Carolina after my travels.”

“You don’t have to feel bad,” she said.  I know.  But I’m the only one of the five of us kids that’s not living within two hours of Mom and Dad. I am blessed with a family that kind of likes being with each other.  Technology isn’t the same as being there.  But it sure helps.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep….

Planning one trip can be a little stressful.  Planning a year of trips might just drive me crazy.

In the first six months of this trip, I’ve slept on 23 different surfaces – air mattresses, couches, futons and beds of all sizes – in seven different states.  I’ve stayed in the homes of nine friends I knew before I left on my travels, five friends I met while at the Folk School, two family members, and three couchsurfing hosts.

But that’s nothing compared to what I’ll be doing starting on May 10th.  I’ll spend each night of the next forty in a different bed, in a country whose language I don’t (yet) know.  I’ll get up each morning, pull on my pack, and walk between 12 and 15 miles to the next bed, which I won’t crawl into until I’ve washed the clothes I’ve worn that day (because when you’re only carrying two outfits with you, this is what you need to do).

Sometimes I wonder, “Who does these things?!”  But, a quick Google search reminds me that millions have done this already, and millions more have done crazier things that walk to a new bed each night.

This post is just to say it’s official.  I booked my flight to Spain.  On May 10th, after flying to Biarritz, France I’ll take a bus to the Bayonne train station, then a train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.  From there, I’ll start my Camino.  And, if all goes well, I’ll walk into Santiago de Compostela on June 19 and arrive back in the States on June 20.  Then, I imagine I’ll sleep for a few days.  In a bed.  Any bed.  At that point, I won’t care where.


“I forgot a bag again,” I thought this morning as I set off on my morning walk.  The beer can glistening in the morning sun reminded me that I wanted to bring a bag on my walk to collect the cans I see along the way.  I counted twenty the other day.

By the time I got to the Ledford Chapel boat ramp (my halfway point), I decided I could at least pick up two cans and carry them back to the house.  So I grabbed the Bud Light Lime can (really?  Who drinks beer mixed with lime juice??), turned it over to dump the remaining beer out, then walked down to the lake to rinse it.  On my way, I picked up another can and rinsed that one out, too.

As I started my walk back, I noticed a woman come down her driveway with two dogs in tow.  She turned onto the road and headed the same direction I was going.  By the time I got to her driveway, a man was coming down with another dog.  We greeted each other and he said, “Thanks for picking up those cans.”  I explained that I keep intending to bring a bag but can’t seem to remember.  “We forget, too.  So we bring them to staging areas along the way and pick them up later in our walk.”  I told him I’d been thinking of doing the same thing.

I made friends with his dog, then we chatted as we continued walking together.

A scene from my morning walk

We caught up to his wife and she and I continued on while he stayed back with the slower dog.

“Do you live around here?” she asked.

“I’m living temporarily on Chatuge Lane,” I said. “But I walk this road every day since I’m getting ready to walk the Camino.”

“Oh!  I’ve heard about that!” she said.  We talked about my pedometer, my plans, where I’d be staying, what I’d bring.

“No more than twelve pounds,” I said.

“That can be a lot of weight after a while,” she said.

“Well, that’s my max.  The good news is I don’t have to bring a tent of anything like that because there are places to stay along the way.  But I might bring a sleeping mat in case I get to a hostel too late and have to sleep on the floor.”

“You know, I have a thin mat I was going to bring to the thrift store to donate today.  Would that be something you’d be interested in?”

“Oh, yes!” I said.  “That would be great!”

She offered to leave it on a mailbox along my route and I could pick it up tomorrow.  At the end of Ledford Chapel Road, we parted ways.  I thanked her again and commented on how I love the serendipity of life.  She agreed.

A View from the steps of Ledford Chapel

Learning New Things

They literally stopped me on my morning walk – the yellow daffodil blooms vibrant against a deep green hillside.  I pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket to take a picture.  I’ve wanted to take a photography class but haven’t made it a priority yet.  In the meantime, I’ve been playing with the settings on my phone.  Changing the “Exposure Level,” I’ve learned, changes the amount of light – though I don’t know what setting this would be on my actual camera.  Today, I learned I have both black-and-white and sepia options.  Playing around, I got some shots I’m actually quite proud of!

I came home and decided to tackle the leftover roasted chicken in the fridge.  The book I just finished (Kitchen Counter Cooking School) inspired me to make my own chicken stock for the first time in my life.  It’s very simple, and a whole lot cheaper than buying chicken broth (much less sodium, too!).  I yanked the leg to separate it from the rest of the chicken and stopped cold – look at that knee joint!  Glistening cartilage at the end of the femur, the ACL I just tore staring me right in the face.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being fascinated by anatomy.  Anyway, my stock now cools on the front porch and smells delicious.