A Place of Her Own

While unpacking, I came across a picture I’d drawn a few months ago. A small house.  A garden beside it. Two chairs facing each other, outside under a tree.

I stared at the picture. I’m in that house. 

Around the drawing I’d written phrases. As I read them, I couldn’t believe it.

 People will see my little house and say, ‘It’s so you!’ And it will be.

 There’s room for visitors inside.  They come. From near and far. Old friends and new. The old ones say, “I’ve never seen you this happy.” 

This is my attempt at a garden. It will truly be an “attempt.” 

 I’ll also have an outdoor seating area.  I’ll use it a lot, with my visitors especially, but it will also have a comfy cushioned chair where I write.  

 I had read many times about “visualizing” your future. I had never consciously tried it. The picture in front of me was something I did one day spur-of-the-moment, pulling out my markers and my poster-size post-its (since I can’t write on my walls). I was daydreaming about the tiny house I’d build one day.

As I pondered the images and words before me I noticed that nowhere had I written that I would build this place. And indeed I hadn’t. I had found it on craigslist just one week earlier.

I pulled up to it and tried to keep my feelings in check — I thought it was adorable but didn’t want to get my hopes up before I’d even walked in. But as I walked up to the door to meet the owners, I couldn’t help but hang my mouth open in amazement. I can see myself here. 

The owners took me through the front door and into the living room, and a great sense of calm came over me. This was it.

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But you can’t make decisions so quickly, my rational side said. So I told the landlady I’d need to sleep on it.

I called Mom. I told her about the screened in porch and the babbling brook.”You know,” she said, “I only had one dream of your grandmother after she died. In it, she was rushing me through a small house to show me she now had what she’d always wanted: a screened in porch. And I think there was a brook beside it.”

An evening view from the porch into the bedroom.

An evening view from the porch into the bedroom.

I hung up the phone and called the landlady. It was mine.

I sent pictures to friends. Just as my drawing predicted, many of them said, “This is so you!” In just three days, I’ve had the visitors from near and far that I wrote about. The landlady has a garden just across the brook and said she’d be happy to teach me her gardening secrets. And that comfy chair for writing? It’s on the screened-in porch.

Until the weather warms up, this is where I have my morning tea.

Until the weather warms up, this is where I have my morning tea.

The cabin has, in the past, been used as a vacation rental. The guestbook is filled with people professing their love for it, and for Asheville.

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“My mother says a guestbook goes with a house,” I told the landlady, recalling the guestbook my parents inherited with their lakehouse.

“Oh, yes, I agree,” she said, encouraging me to continue it’s use. And I surely will. (Consider this your invitation.)

The pie safe in the living room...

The pie safe in the living room…

The stained glass in the porch door.

The stained glass in the porch door.

Lift his beard to find a door lock.
Lift his beard to find a door lock.

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Life: A Labyrinth or a Maze?

I punched a zip code into the labyrinth locater. Jackpot! The search returned two labyrinths in Asheville, North Carolina. The first was at a Catholic church, but I wasn’t ready to step foot in one of those at this point in my life. The second was an outdoor labyrinth at theUniversity of North Carolina at Asheville. It was a mere one-and-a-half mile walk from my temporary home. The next morning, I headed out in search of this circle of stones, eager to walk the labyrinth and hear what it had to tell me.

Click here for more.

 

A Lesson in Moonshine

“This place has quite the decor,” my friend told me, as we walked into the restaurant.  “I thought you’d appreciate it.  It covers three things that are most important to the people here: NASCAR, Merlefest, and moonshine.”

My friend filled me in on what Merlefest was – a music festival whose greatness was up for debate since Lowes took it over.  Then he told me an interesting little tidbit about NASCAR: it started with moonshiners who tricked out their cars to get away from the feds.  Then they decided to start racing these cars, and thus the birth of NASCAR.  Wow.  I’m in the South.

My friend pointed to what looked like one of those outdoor chimeas  in the corner of the restaurant. “Know what that is?” he asked.

“That chimney thing? No idea.”

“That’s a still,” he told me.

Despite my  northern upbringing, I have learned what a still is – but had never seen one.  Considering this part of my southern education, I went over to check it out.  Well, I tried, but got distracted first by the pictures on the wall.  Prints of moonshiners packing up a car’s trunk.  Of moonshiners with their stills out in the woods.  Of moonshiners bringing boxes into the back door of a place marked, “Members only.”

But there weren’t just prints.  They actually had a couple old black and white photographs of moonshine operations. My friend joined me and explained a little of what I was seeing.

I made my way over to the still.  “Now the funny thing is,” my friend said to me, “that it’s illegal to have one of those.  But here it is.  In a restaurant.” The still had a sign on it with the NASCAR story and that it was a gift or on loan from some folks.  It was obviously not being used to make moonshine, and that, from what I am told, is the bigger crime.

“Boils down to money.  If you’re making it, they want to tax it.”

I’d had a few tastes of moonshine in my travels in this part of the country over the last year. Not my drink of choice, but I’ve learned to handle a few swigs when it’s offered to me – usually from a mason jar from which everyone sips.

Knowing all the secrecy around moonshine, I was pretty surprised to see it as part of a cocktails competition at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival a few months ago.  Turns out there are some ways now to make it legally – so local distillers Troy and Sons have done just that.  I might have to visit their distillery one day soon, in the name of furthering my moonshine education.

A Random Tuesday Night Conversation

We were the only two patrons.  “We don’t technically open until 9,” the bartender told us. It was 8:45.  We asked if we should come back.  She said she was ready, so we sat down and had a drink.  My friend knew the bartender, and she served our food and drinks in between prepping for the evening.

“I hear this place really picks up after 10,” my friend told me. “Come in here at 11 and you could meet your next boyfriend.”

I conferred with the bartender.  Indeed, the place saw many people my age later in the evening.  But I was usually in bed by the time life picked up here.

The karaoke  guys came in to set up.  Then a mustachio’d man slid up to the bar, casually placed a clear plastic bag down in front of him and sat down.  The bartender greeted him like an old friend and poured him a drink.  I glanced over.  He had a long twist of  a ponytail.  And were those condoms I saw in his bag?

My friend and I continued our conversation and I peeked over again. Now the pony-tailed guy had a second plastic bag in front of him, this one empty.  He pulled long lines of condoms out of his first bag, tore them apart, and placed the singles in the second bag. No way, I thought.  Then I remembered I was in Asheville.  So a man sitting at a bar with a bag full of condoms really shouldn’t be that surprising.

I am who I am, so of course I leaned over to him and said, “Is that a bag full of condoms?”

“Yes, it is,” he said matter-of-factly.  “This is your tax dollars at work.”

“Really?  Um,” I stumbled over what to say next. “So tell me what this is all about?”

He explained the flow of money  that allows the Western North Carolina AIDS project to purchase thousands of condoms to give out for free.  “I go around to the local bars and put them out in bowls,” he explained. “There’s a bowl back there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom. “And Rosetta’s has one.”  He then proceeded to tell me all the places he made his rounds, filling bowls with free condoms for people to take.

“Last year we gave out 185,000 condoms.  But that’s not enough.  Do you know there are 240,000 people in Buncombe County? That’s less than one condom a year per person. One condom for a whole year!”

“But are they all of age to be in need of condoms?” I asked.

“Well…” He concurred that the figure could be a little misleading.  “But that’s just in Buncombe County.  We’re serving all of Western North Carolina – which is another 18 counties.”

He passed a few condoms my way.  “We have them in all sorts of colors and sizes.”

“Colors?” I asked, picking one up.

“And flavors, too,” he said.  “Chocolate, banana, strawberry.”

I’d seen them in sizes and flavors before, but colors?  What on earth did that matter? Apparently it does to some people…

The conversation got a little more descriptive after this, and I’ll refrain from quoting it here. Mustachioed man told me how he does his weekly rounds, sitting at bars like this, striking up conversations just like this one.

I turned to my friend.  “Are you listening to this?” He wasn’t, so I filled him in. “They gave away 185,000 condoms last year.”

“They  make great stocking stuffers,” the mustachioed man told us as he continued to break apart the long strands.

“Need any?” I asked my friend.

“No – do you?”

“No – I have a friend who works at Planned Parenthood.  She gave me a bunch the other day.” This is Asheville after all. Free condoms are seemingly everywhere.

—-

(Apologies to my very-Catholic mother for this post.)

Rocky Road

I rushed through the front door with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream in my hand.  “I know you all don’t really like chocolate, but I wanted Rocky Road,” I told my hosts who were sitting in the living room.

They looked at me in dismay.  “Did we say we didn’t like chocolate? Are you telling us you got Rocky Road because you thought we wouldn’t eat any of it?”

“No – I’m saying my night was that good that I needed some Rocky Road ice cream.”

“Uh-oh,” they said.  “That bad, huh?”

“I’ll tell you about it over ice cream,” I said as I walked off to the kitchen.  I pulled three white bowls out of the cabinet, filled a cup with hot water and stuck the ice cream scoop in it.  I peeled open the carton and proceeded to drop not one but two successive scoops of ice cream on the floor.  Isn’t there some old wives tale that if you drop things you’re pregnant?  God help me.

I put the dishes on the dining room table and then returned to the kitchen to pull out the toppings: Heath Bar pieces, Grand Marnier, Kahlua.  Not until I moved in with my hosts had I ever seen anyone pull  out liquor as an ice cream topping. What can I say? It’s not something we offered our customers at my father’s Dairy Queen….

My hosts joined me at the dining room table.  If you peeked in the window that night, you would have seen a 35-year-old woman spilling the details of her latest adventure/drama to her 70-plus year old hosts.  You would have seen lots of laughing, perhaps a few tears, and a healthy dose of advice and wisdom being administered. You might have wondered: are those her grandparents?  Nope.  They’re not related.  In fact, I only met them seven months ago.  But that’s a whole other story.

After spilling the details of my evening, my hosts said – not for the first time – “You’re better than television.”

Every once in a while I talk about finding a place of my own. “You don’t have to leave yet,” they say.  “Besides, if you left, what we do for entertainment?”  And who would I eat Rocky Road ice cream with at 9:30 on a Tuesday night?

The First of the Month

The air was too cold. The pillows were too fluffy. Really Rebecca? I just spent forty days sleeping in a different bed each night – each with a different pillow. Some with no pillow. And now here I was in a huge house overlooking the Western North Carolina mountains, sleeping in the Master Bedroom which has a bathroom bigger than most apartments I’ve lived in – and I’m complaining? Did I mention that my room has views of the mountains? And that it has not one, but two doors out onto the deck (one from the bathroom, no less)? Oh – and what about the Jacuzzi tub?

Writing – with a view

I climbed out of the bed that seemed big enough for three people, and wandered out into the living room in search of a throw pillow that would suffice. As I settled back into bed, I realized it was September first. I reflected back on the different beds I’d been in on the first day of each of the past few months.

On May 1st I was at my parent’s house. Four days earlier, I had returned to New York from a three week trip to Italy. In eight more days I would leave for Spain. Why come home in between? Because one of my favorite cousins was getting married. And I had the honor of doing one of the readings during the ceremony. (Which I SO MUCH prefer to actually being in the wedding.)

On June 1 I went to sleep in Mansilla de las Mulas, Spain. It was my twenty-second day walking the Camino to Santiago. It had been nearly 100 degrees that day. I had walked 26.4 km (almost 16 miles). There were no beds left in the town when I arrived around 5 pm, so Vincent – who’d walked all morning with me and also had no place to rest his head – offered to join me on a walk to the next town – 5.7 km (3.5 miles) away. The short version of the story is this: a woman in charge of a hostel found us in the street and told us it was too hot to continue walking. We found ourselves the recipients of two spare mattresses she had, which she laid out in a hallway lined with windows overlooking a courtyard below. While all the others in the hostel (who had arrived in town hours before us) shared rooms with that housed a dozen people each, Vincent and I had a space to ourselves – quiet and with a great view. Having had long discussions with young Vincent all morning on fate and everything-happening-for-a-reason, the irony of our situation was not lost on us.

On July 1, I was in a hotel room – all to myself – in Southwestern Virginia. I had just spent the previous six hours driving five high school students from Staten Island toward our destination: A Habitat for Humanity trip in Eastern Tennessee. By the time we got in and had dinner, I had a mere hour to enjoy my room before I had to go to bed – I needed my sleep in order to be ready to get on the road the next morning by 7AM. This trip, I later learned, was to remind me why I’d never want to teach in a high school.

August first found me in Asheville, NC – my new home. Once again I found myself appreciating a room to myself. And a bathroom that was pretty much mine as well. Not to mention that all this was being offered to me rent-free by folks I had met five months earlier on couchsurfing.org. Whose life is this? Who tells people she just met a few hours earlier that her next mission is to move to Asheville and start an organizing business only to have them say, “We’d love to help you with that – you can live with us while you get yourself settled in here. Oh – and they’ll always be food on the table.” What? Really? Is this my life?

So here I was, on September first, up on a mountain in Franklin, NC with four fellow writers. We rent a home every year and come just to write. Well, it used to be every year. At our February gathering on Kiawah Island, Lois decreed we should do this twice a year. So here I am.

View from the deck

Normally, I’m low man on the totem pole when it comes to rooms. I’m the youngest. I can sleep anywhere – and have. But this time, the ladies thought we should pick rooms “out of a hat.” When I opened up my little paper and read the word “Master,” I thought, no way.  There was no way I was going to end up with the Master Bedroom. I was ready to trade it with someone who really needed it. But Pat (the oldest of our crew) declared that her room on the lower level would be good for her – she needed the exercise of walking up the stairs. Lynne took her pick of the lower level “toy room” in good stride. Stacey traded for the lower level room with the desk in it. The Master Bedroom was mine.

Lois also decreed that we should stay for two weeks if we could. I can’t, so my suite will be given to someone else on Saturday. That made me feel a little better about being the youngest and being in the best room.

As I settled back into my bed that night, I had to laugh at myself. If it’s true you get what you put out to the universe, I must be putting out some really good stuff. Hopefully, I can continue to pay it forward.

The next morning, as I tossed towels over each of the three A/C vents in my room (I’m spending the week with three post-menopausal women and wouldn’t dream of asking them to adjust the A/C), I thought “Would I rather be back on the Camino on a top bunk in a room with 11 other people?” Well, I’d give anything to be back on the Camino honestly. But am happy to not be sharing rooms anymore.  Been there, done that.

So the next day, I filled myJacuzzi tub and dropped in some bubble bath. I sank down into the warm water and turned on the jets, determined to enjoy every minute of this life I’ve been given.

The Community Cup

I wandered over to the demonstration area just in time to see a woman slicing up a chocolate tart.  This being a Wine and Food Festival, I figured she was giving out slices.  Before I could ask for one, however, another woman slid in beside me and reached for a plate.  She was immediately, but gently (this is the South), chastised.  “We’re only serving this to the people sitting at the tables,” said the server, indicating the tables and chairs set up to face the demonstration kitchen.

Think fast, Rebecca!  Off I went to find myself an empty seat.  I turned on my smile and my best southern charm and secured a seat next to a lovely woman visiting from Virginia. A man came down the aisle to dish out the goods, looking for someone over our heads.  “You can leave it here if you’d like,” I told him.

He smiled and said, “I was looking for the couple I promised this to.”

“Well, if you can’t find them, just know that those plates can have a home right here.”  He took one more look around.  “I guess they left.” And with that, he plopped the plates of chocolate perfection on our table.

“Aren’t you glad I sat with you?” I asked my new Virginian friend.  She heartily agreed, digging her fork into the chocolate decadence.

I lucked into the chocolate in more ways that one.  I had come to check out the mixology contest, but apparently things were running a little late thus making my timing quite perfect for a little snack before what I hoped would be some yummy mixed drinks.

I’d only lived in Asheville one month – long enough for this wine girl to realize I’d moved to the unofficial brewing capital of the US.  I tried to fit in, but if you know me you know how well that usually goes.  So lately I’ve started telling people that though the local brews here are plentiful, I will stick to my wine.  And, of course, creative concoctions of sweetness and liquor.  Which is where this mixology contest comes in.  Well, that and the fact the guy who gave me a free entry to the Festival introduced me to one of the competitors the night before, but that’s another story.

So the first spirit up is gin – locally made, of course.  My seat didn’t allow me to see the details of shaking and stirring and such, but I had a good line of sight toward the judges table.  Each bartender presented his drinks to the judges then stepped up to the mic to tell everyone about them.  A full one-fifth of their score came from the eco-friendliness of the drinks.  Local ingredients? Check.  Garnish picked right from the bartenders garden? Check. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used the phrase, “Well, we are in Asheville.”

By this time my tablemate from Virginia had headed back to her hotel.  I was now joined by another lovely couple.  The husband had managed to find one of the few places serving beer at this Wine festival, so he was happy.  The wife eyed a drink on the judges table with a few cucumbers floating in it.  “What are they going to do with those drinks?” she asked me.  “Do you think we’ll get any?”

As the judges table filled with drinks I, too, wondered where they would head after the judges got their tastes. If my calculations were correct (I’m a math tutor…so I’m thinking I’m right here) each judge would have to try five drinks with gin in them, then another five with – you guessed it – locally made moonshine, then another five with apple brandy, and another five with vodka.  Twenty drinks.  Per judge.  Obviously they’d be sipping.  But what to do with the rest?

One of the MC’s decided to bring the mic out to the crowd to ask their opinions on what they were seeing.  He approached my table and the wife right off addressed the issue of where the drinks were going next.  She said she’d love to try that cucumber drink.  “Where are you from?” he asked.  “Las Vegas,” she said.  The MC took a quick poll – no one in the audience could beat that distance.  So with that, she won herself her favorite drink.

At the judges table, drinks were piling up.  The coordinators looked around for places to put them all.  It was clear no one had really thought about what to do with all of them.

Then, in classic “only in Asheville” style, the drinks started making their way out to our tables.  Take a sip and pass it on of course – like communion, but so much more fun.  Take a sip and pass it on.  Seriously?  I loved the idea, but my first thought was, “This would never fly in New York – the Board of Health would be on this in no time.”  Thankfully, things are a little more lax here.

After a couple drinks made their way around my table, I turned around to pass them on to the next table.  The women behind me apparantly had not seen this coming.  “Here you go.” I said.

“Is this for us?” she asked.

“It’s for everyone – take a sip and pass it on.”

“Really?” She looked a little surprised, but in no time realized there was no reason to pass up drinks made by some of the best bartenders in town.  “It’s alcohol – it kills all the germs,” she said as she passed it on to the next table.

Over the course of the next two hours, sixty drinks made their way around our eight tables and out into the crowd gathered.    Some I sipped.  Some I held onto – like the one hand-delivered by the bartender I’d met the night before…and the warm apple brandy one.

Thankfully, I sipped slowly over the course of a few hours so had no ill effects that afternoon or the next day – neither from the volume of drinks that passed over my lips nor from the germs of the numerous people who sipped my drinks before me.