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.

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)…..

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Noticing

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.

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 couchsurfing.org 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:)