This new year has potential. At least, these are the words I verbalize over and over each morning.
I watched the inauguration yesterday, and I exhaled. As a believer in words, rhetoric and tone, I have watched the past four years with hope that it was merely a blip or an oversight of those who chose to tear down the integrity of what I have spent my life upholding.
I believe in words and their power. Positive and constructive words have lifted and propelled me higher than I ever thought possible , while I have been broken and defeated by those delivered with hateful tone and devastating intent.
Words usually win, at least that's what I think. Every day, I fight to overcome a history of words that had me convinced of my inadequacies. As these little words swarm like bees in my brain, they attach to the others and grow, explode. It's a constant battle to shove them away, replacing them with my truths and positivity.
Whether you have a big audience or a social media platform or a private audience of two, words stick.
No matter for whom you voted, the new leader's calming tone was refreshing. Hope is refreshing.
And then you hear twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman voicing "The Hill We Climb" and we're moved`
"... And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried...
...We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it."
As a lover of words, I'm overjoyed. As a human being, I'm empowered. As a woman, I'm proud. As a writer, I'm inspired.
Simple words and letters but when connected have the ability to uplift or tear down. No matter the platform, take a fresh look at the words you choose.
Our lives together started at this very spot, 10 years ago.
Well, technically, we became legal on this very spot, 10 years ago.
About a month ago, Len said, "Let's recreate our first photo."
Me, "Sure," thinking he would forget about it.
Sure enough, he came from work and yanked his suit (that was still in the dry cleaners bag from 2010) out of his closet and looked at me and said, "Get ready.'
"Oh, you're serious?" I responded. And with that, I reached inside my closet for my white flowing dress, still with its safety-pinned dry cleaning tag from 2010. It had been months since I had worn make-up, so the usual five-minute application was bumped to seven minutes, carefully covering those annoying sunspots and wrinkles that weren't there 10 years ago.. Len would pop his head into the bathroom every now and then, grinning from ear to ear, amazed that his suit still fit him like a glove. All I kept thinking was "Oh God, please let my dress fit."
It did. So the girl with the now white hair and the boy with the salt-n-pepper hair went to the exact spot on the porch where (now) Superior Court Judge Eric Norris hitched us to a star in front of a few family and friends.
And when the vows were said, everyone went inside our home, drank champagne, ate cake and celebrated the creation of a family. It was mostly unicorns and rainbows that day, and for the most part, the rainbows have still remained over our heads. Hailstorms crept in from time-to-time, but we figured that if we kept our focus on God and on each other. we'd be okay.
Dreams have changed. We're living through a pandemic. Parts have been tweaked and shifted. More geography separates us from those who joined us that morning, but the one constant - our front porch.
Still, there's white rockers for sitting and reflecting. And every morning and evening when I plop down in my rocker, I remember that moment on a June morning when the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife, that two very lost people found a reason to live.
And live we would for the next 50 years - IF we are very, very lucky.
2010 Photos: Bennett Brian
One thing I have discovered that aids me in writing, flowers of any kind. This week it was roses, two-for-one at Publix.
I have a dozen white roses to the left of me, just outside my vision yet close enough that I can see a few petals. They have been there a week, so wilting and leaning is more prominent. Their lives are almost complete. All they have done it sit and be. And they have done it marvelously.
Seems somewhat insignificant but their influence, massive.
My life could be these roses. I'm mostly insignificant to the masses. I haven't done anything truly extraordinary. I haven't changed the world. No discoveries that I can acclaim. I'm only here for a short time. At the end, I will wilt and fade and stoop and lean. And, I hope I will have done my job. If it's nothing more than to sit and be, I hope I have done it well.
A writer's life is solitary. The four walls actually do move in when you need them be balanced and calm. I keep relics of travel to inspire my words, family photos to remind me of faces I won't see again, tons of pens and pencils each with a power of its very own, post-its of reminders and stubs of what once was. I live for the future, and I memorize the past. Living in the present seems to be hardest part of all.
Only another writer understands the writer's enigma. The quiet and seclusion are not only our necessities but also our demons. A paradox of sorts.
Nevertheless, I will sit and be and let the words escape. And when those demons appear, I'll look to my left - to my roses - for inspiration and reassurance - that I'm right where I am supposed to be. 🌹
They do say, "when one door closes, another opens." AND they also say, "be careful what you wish for."
In this honest-to-God, not-as-easy-as-it-looks, NO-you-can't-make-millions-with--travel-writing, NO-you-can't-travel-the-world-for-free, travel writer's world, I'm giddy this morning. Although many out there tell you how easy it is, it's not. It's tough. It's competitive. It's ruthless.
With that said, I freakin' love it! ❤️
Len and I chose to give it our all about five years ago. We're a package deal! Team player and all. And just now, we're finding ourselves reaping the result of our hard work, proving that never giving up is always the best course of action. We closed a couple of doors in the past few months, and wildly enough, windows are flying open. This morning, in my INBOX, a long-sought-after contract! Delta Sky. Can this be real? On my face, a smile.
Don't give up folks. I say that loudly enough that it reverberates within my four writing walls. I'm so thankful. I'm so grateful, especially to those who have helped along the way and to those who believe in Seeing Southern.
Gotta go write! 😍
I've made it to 59.
Some days, I wasn't so sure I'd see this day come. Who knew aches and pains know exactly when to rear their ugly heads? Right on time. I feel you every single day. This old age stuff isn't for the weak!
What a year that was, and all I can say, is how thankful I am to be living and loving.
Nevertheless, I feel God's grace as I remember the year gone by.
* All the brides and grooms and love we got to capture. What joy!
* Ireland, oh my heart beats for you.
* Mari married Phelim, and I got to watch (and cry).
* The Carrick-a-Rede bridge tested me. I can do what I think I can't.
* There is such a thing as racing toilets.
* Assignments nabbed with the big boys!
* Marinating book . . .
* Achilles Heel or Hell, you are my weakness. Thank God for only two feet.
* Costa Rica restored life to me by way of my teeth, proving that when you do your homework and take a risk, chances are it will work out.
* Osa Peninsula - there's something there that I can't quite put my finger on. I'll see you again.
* Canada + Montreal + Quebec = thanks for the memories and the passport stamp!
* Ty's and Logan's lives are on track. And Billy, I'm so glad you're here.
* Sunday School with Jimmy Carter. Inspiring.
* I climbed the Acropolis!
There's so much more in this life I want to accomplish, so much more I want to see. And, I get to do it all with the man I love more than life itself. Of all my blessings, you, my dear, are the greatest. You lift me up, you accept my dreams, you question my emotions (as do I), you believe in me.
So as we begin this last year of this tough - but memorable - decade, let's walk it as triumphantly as the Beatles walked Abbey Road. That's right, I compared Two Coots to the Beatles!
Remember in TV ads long ago in the 70s when product-makers would tout their "unconditional money-back guarantee" for their product that might work three days after receiving it. As a kid, I remember hearing those jumbled words, not really understanding its significance. However, if old age has taught me one thing, it's the price of unconditional and how its longevity factor is much more valued than any monetary replacement.
Yesterday, our cat died. Bear. I've known Bear as long as I've known my husband. In fact, Bear met me at the door before Len could get there. So, I guess I've know Bear the longest. My heart is broken. Len's heart is broken. Here's the way I look at this. Last week my ex-husband died. I didn't cry. I didn't mourn. He was a horrible man who treated his children and family as if we were trash. Not an unconditional fiber in his being. It was a very sad ending to life.
Today, I can't stop crying. I can't stop mourning. Bear was a companion who never judged or belittled or wandered; he simply loved his family the best way he could. And, he did. Until yesterday at 4:00 p.m. when he just couldn't handle it anymore.
He's simply a cat.
I mean, really. What we had to put up with!
I can have a white bed comforter. Yes, a beautiful, hotel-like, cushy-cottony comforter that will make our bedroom a beautiful place to relax. No worries of black hair being left on the foot of the bed or paw prints messing with its whiteness.
And, I can put away the towels that I used to cover all upholstery where he stretched out every day. The pad at the bottom of our bed or the chair in my office where he spent most of his days don't have to be covered anymore. The upholstery can now breathe.
Real flowers. I can have vases upon vases of real flowers on every table in the house. I don't have to put them 7 feet high in hopes that Bear won't climb and eat every last bloom. What do I buy first?
I can open doors again! I don't have to race in from the car, quickly closing the outside door before I open the kitchen door just so Bear won't escape. He did that one time, and luckily I found him. If not, I would have been the one that was homeless. I can take my time, leaving a door open a millisecond longer than before.
And, I won't have to say goodbye each time I leave the house or tell him when I'll return or to take care of Ty or to take a nap; I'll be right back. I can just walk out the door and be on my way.
No more paw prints on my floors. Less mopping to erase his steps and the floors will thank me.
No more litter box to clean. Can I get an Amen?
During the night, no more cat chases to wake us. We never knew what he was chasing, but when he settled down, we figured he caught it. Oh, and no more sweeps of the house after Len and I laid down. He always laid down with us and then immediately got up to check the house. Again, crazy cat in that nothing was every there. He just made noise.
I don't have to share my sweet peas with Bear anymore. I can keep them all to myself.
And don't get me started about the water. Leaving the water running in Len's sink for him to drink - he was insistent that it be running so he could get water. Never mind that he had a water bowl in the kitchen. It was never good enough.
What a nosey ghost. I couldn't go anywhere in the house with him following me. Now, I can do anything, all by myself.
Life is strange in that we think we know what we want. And when we have it, we want the complete opposite.
I look over my left shoulder to the chair that Bear occupied for close to eight years. It's empty. I can't read my work to him. No more meows for approval or a head tuck for disapproval. And when its time for a break, I'll not have a partner to accompany me to the kitchen for a cup of coffee or a guy to help me harass the outside cats through the glass door. And no one who races me to the bathroom. And no one to tell "good morning" or "let's go to bed."
And this is where the unconditional comes in. He was that. Bear defined that. For no matter what we needed - a head kiss or a cold nose on my arm - he always showed us that he was there. Even when I told him how annoying he was, he didn't care; he simply remained Bear. He had the longevity factor. Until the very end.
Lessons from a cat, I suppose. Constant. Remaining. Loving. Caring. Unconditional.
He leaves all those lessons behind and a family that became whole because he was there.
Who needs a white comforter and flowers? Not me.
I think writing is a family thing. My mama was a reader for sure, but I never thought of her as a writer. However, I could spot her writing a mile away - arched characters, stiff, solemn. I never knew my grandmother and I never heard my mama talk about her mother very much, only in quick anecdotes regarding her upbringing.
Going through boxes of photos and chests of keepsakes, I unearth three treasures. One, a short story called "The Bridge," written in my mother's handwriting. The faded yellow paper held together by a rusted paper clip held the aroma of yesterday. Almost 8 pages of carefully crafted single spaced story line, complete with dialogue and a moral. I don't know if this is original or if she copied it from her memory or a newspaper or magazine she found. Scriptural in tone, I'm fairly certain it was her Southern Baptist mantra landing on paper. For the two boys that found themselves in a situation that was the result of driving too fast around mountain curves would be the exact type of story I can see my mother sharing. Mortal lives ending in death but saved by their Heavenly Father. That was mama.
Remember those Blue Horse writing pads, the one with the visage of a horse covering the front on top of just enough advertising to make a young one question its coolness? Evidently, my grandmother, Mattie, wrote her life story in these writing pads. Each pad held one month; each page, one day. I found two months worth of memories, one dated January 1, 1945.
It begins "Bad wind this morning with rain. All gone back to their work. Rather lonely. Opportunities for 1944 are gone. I start on the new yr."
The entries are always one page, never more. Most of the time, the second line reads "Done my work." And the last line, a Bible verse that sums up the day.
On January 1, 1945, she ends with this: "Phil.3:13-14 comes to my mind. 'Brethren, I count not my self to have comprehended but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' "
I would have like to have known my grandmother Mattie Logan. She is brief, to the point, not mincing words and never holding her heartache or joy back.
A lesson, I suppose, here. Begin the day by finishing your work first and end your day in leaning toward God"s grace. It'll make what follows much easier.
Thanks Mattie. I feel writing inspiration oozing from your words. There's work to be done. Time to get started. There are stories to be told.
Running late, my normal these days, I found myself in Robert's funeral procession traveling from the funeral home some 10 miles to Center Hill Baptist Church near Rosebud.
It was about 10:30 a.m. and blue lights blocked the intersection. Walton County Sheriff Deputies sat quietly, stopping traffic from all sides. I knew it had to be a funeral this time of day. People paused in respect, a Southern practice that always makes me proud to be a Southerner, and, a little teary-eyed no matter who it might be. I didn't expect it to be Robert's procession. I waited, looking at my watch realizing I was getting later by the second, but it didn't matter anymore. They surely wouldn't start without Robert.
I observed each car go by - the hearse, the family, the friends - and then finally, I was allowed to fall in behind. On this very road, about 40 years ago, I traveled to meet Robert, his wife Josephine, his family - Renee, Rodney, Lance and Kelly - for the very first time.
As a sophomore at Truettt-McConnell College, I was selected by the Southern Baptist Convention as a summer missionary to Massachusetts. My stranger-side-kick and myself infiltrated the Catholic world of New England, working during the summer in backyard Bible schools, leading church services, ministering to young people who were basically the same age we were. It was life-changing. Service and ministry seeped into my skin, and I decided to do it again - just not so far away. So during my second summer at the University of Georgia, I interviewed with Center Hill Baptist Church for a youth ministry position. They liked me. They invited me. They kept me. For two years.
The first year, I commuted from Athens with the occasional spend-the-night with a church member. The second year, I had to have a home. They made sure of it. So Robert and Josephine - with four children of their own - turned their living room into Judy's bedroom and that was that.
Today, as I sat in the packed sanctuary, I heard Rodney, his eldest son, speak of his father's character. I glanced at Josephine. She was nodding her head in agreement. So were Renee, Lance and Kelly. Unconsciously, I'm doing the same thing. A quiet man, his convictions - his love - his service to mankind was palpable.
I struggled to remember the small details of life with the McCarts, but I do remember how I didn't feel like a stranger. When the car pulled under the car port to unload groceries (and, man, were there a lot of groceries), we all helped. It was an event. Evenings around the dinner table included everyone with tales of the day and usually, lots of laughter. I hated squash, but Josephine cooked it just right - paper thin and fried, and I caved. The sweet tea was addictive, but not as addictive as that strawberry cake. I can still taste it.
Being a Ford man, I understood why Robert loved my little red and white Mustang so much, but not as much as he loved Renee's. Anything I asked him to do for the youth group, he did it with joy. Anything. He loved the outdoors, and he loved to laugh. I remembered that hearty laugh. His children had it, too. I suspect, they still do.
Even after they converted my bedroom back into a living room, it was still home. And when I would return to the church for visits over the years, Robert and Josephine were the first faces I searched for. They were the first people I grabbed.
It's incredible how, even though years have passed, the depth of love I have for this family has never wavered. Time has been the greatest divider but not the conqueror. Just like that, I'm back and it's summertime at Center Hill. The youth group is preparing for some big event, gathering in the parking lot underneath the big oak tree. I'm eating squash and strawberry cake. I'm sitting in the house on the hill where a family took me in and gave me exactly what I needed - love.
Part of that scenario goes home today, but the legacy of Robert remains. He leaves a very important lesson with me - when you think you are full, and there's just not room for anyone or anything else, there's always an opportunity to change a living room into a bedroom.
Having a place to lay your head is life-changing. Just ask me.
You leave your mark wherever you go. You wonder how many come behind you and really look at your offering (whether a dollar bill at No Name Pub or a promise on the porch) and consider your contribution to the daily grind. I hope that I have added a meager semblance of good to the flow, with very few ruffled feathers, and when the world sleeps at night, people and animals rest assured they have a friend and a caretaker.
As the sun rises along Ramrod Key this Friday morning, I see the universe's contribution and mark upon my day, a projection of hope and light. Hope is a dynamic proposition that much like that of Robert Frost, offers many roads that diverge and it's up to me to make a choice, a good choice. The language I choose. The platform I raise. The character I disclose. Where will I do the most good? What is right for me? Where will my hope lead me? Can I get out of the box that I've created - and my surroundings expect - and fly?
I choose to fly. At this point in my life, flying is the only mark that makes sense. But keep in mind, flying is mighty hard. Tough. Exhausting. Ruthless. Rewarding. I will definitely leave the adventure to those with younger joints and figure out how to contribute in a manner fitting a pub in the middle of nowhere with no name. A mark that fits me.
After all, this life - this choice - this direction - is the only one I have which will lead me home.
Leave the best mark you can.
I have loved you since the mid-1980s when I saw you drive across the big screen with Paul Reiser and some actress in some movie. He drove while "she" (whoever she was) rode in the passenger seat of that cobalt blue rag top, hair blowing wildly, and delight radiating from both faces. For the life of me, I can't remember the movie, but I remember that car.
"I want that car," I uttered.I promised myself that very second, that at some point in my life, I would own a convertible Saab and my hair would do that, too. And, I would be happy.
In December of 2007, my mama, Ty and I sat in the showroom at Loganville Ford, contemplating my financial suicide which included a used fire red convertible Saab 9/3 that by all accounts, I could not afford even on my best day. I had no home, no vehicle, no money, and I had only landed a job two weeks earlier; my divorce from crazy had been finalized two months before, and now, the crazy in me was asking my 95-year-old mama to co-sign with me on a car.
I had penned this very point on my six-month goal list back in October when Cheri and I sat outside a Lawrenceville Starbucks. Maybe not a Saab, but a vehicle of my very own. Then, I saw you.
"You just don't understand. I have to have this car." I finally convinced my mama, my son, and the salesman of this life-altering event. The salesman chuckled as he told me how absurd the situation was. "I don't care how good her credit is, she's 95." And then he laughed more. He disappeared, as all auto salesmen do, to the back and remained behind closed doors for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, he appeared and walked toward us, head bowed, papers in hand. "I can't explain it," he said, looking bewildered. "We'll put her name first. Give me a couple hundred down. We might just make it work." I'm not sure who was shocked the most, the salesman or me.
Since that evening when I drove you home from the dealership, I have loved you, cared for you, washed you and protected you. You were the first miracle that I needed to rebound from a long, dark past. Years later, I still tell the Miracle Saab story. 'If I could get that car, I could get anything.' My beautiful red turbo jet ushered me quickly into a future that I couldn't see coming. You squeezed the excitement out of me when I needed it the most, and when days were just drab, I'd push a button, and the sky would open up. Your canvas roof folded back, and the wind would sweep away all the negative thoughts. I felt fearless. You gave me that.
You warmed my buns on cold mornings. And that endless display of buttons - I could mute, change, fold, open, skip - the accessories alone freaked me out! Your cracked leather seats cradled and cushioned me on the long drives home from my Decatur job. You gave Silas shotgun seating as we'd swing through the drive-thru at Brewsters, begging for his ice cream topped with a doggy treat. You were always the topic of conversation with your Swedish backwards design. I convinced people that different is stylish. Not to say you were perfect, for you left me on the side of many roads; Wilson's Towing was on speed-dial. You cradled my sobs when I needed space to let the frustration escape. You raced down city streets, expressways and finally down a country road and landed me on Len's doorstep. What a life you lived. What a life you allowed me to live.
Today, you are leaving. You will be another's jet and hope. I would never leave you behind at a dealership, so I'm sending you off with love to the local Make a Wish foundation. Seems like the perfect landing strip for a jet with super powers who gave life to a lady who had crashed and needed refueling.
As I watched you go down the driveway for the last time, I crumbled to the gravel and cried. Then, the sunburst broke through the trees. You came into my life when I needed a jolt of "get going, life won't wait." You gave responsibility and purpose and happiness. Yes, you're just a car, but then, Jesus was just a man.
Hobo Kitty (lower left) had a litter of kittens almost two months ago. About three weeks later, this little one (right) showed up right along side of her. Since we're in the country and all kind of critters are around, we thought that maybe the others didn't make it. We named the little one Bo, and mama kitty's name, well, we shortened to Ho. Yes, we're bad.
A week later, a jet black one with white socks appeared.
And just yesterday, two more appeared. Both looked to have had bad hair days since birth.
This morning, little Bo's screams led us to the front porch where his hind leg had become tangled in the yarn which Ty left as a toy. Len scooped him up amidst the screams and tantrums (Bo, not Len), and brought him into the house for the first time to operate. Once free from string, Bo took to us nicely, even slept a little while I fretted that in a few moments, I would have to let go.
I let go and he's back with the three others that have long scampered back underneath the chest on the porch. Bo did look back. In my mind, he said, "Thanks. Let's do the holding part again. It really wasn't so bad." Then, he slipped quietly underneath the chest with the others.
Kind of like mama's do - they let you play at will. They pray that if you get in trouble, there will be someone to scoop you up, fix the boo-boo, and then let you be on your way once more. Soon, you'll begin to trust those who have been kind to you. You'll remember them fondly and understand where you can live without fear. Open your eyes to all the possibilities and the people in your world. But you'll never forget that mama that made you do and go and be what you never dreamed possible.
"Thanks, mama. Let's do the holding part again, soon."
There are people reflecting all over the place - on Facebook, even in my mailbox that sits at the edge of my driveway. We get letters from friends and family, exuberantly shouting their accomplishments which include obtaining their third doctor's degree, incredible jobs with six-figure salaries and announcing their ump-teenth grandchild. They are proud, and rightly, they should be. However, since none of those broadcasts make my list, nevertheless, I am still proud of where I find myself on the last day of 2015.
It's not "Look at me" but "Look at how far I've come." I am not where I once was nor will I ever be at this point again. I am moving forward, adding to my list of triumphs, which to others may seem insignificant, but to me, monumental. I am making myself accountable for four of my best efforts this year. These feats make me proud. 1. I wrote a book and a publisher wanted it. I dare say I might not get to say this again, so I'm putting it right out front. I did it. I'm not sure how, but the words came, and so did the people; 2. I learned to shoot in manual mode, thus taking control of my photography which led me to my kick-ass 5DMarkiii (a.k.a. Kimsey); 3. I broke into a new travel market (my editorial complemented by Len's photography) with my first major international publication and million+ audience; and 4. I am realizing (albeit a continuing struggle) my place in this world - partner, employee, entrepreneur.
What makes you proud today?
I must say, those eleven days on the road were some of the best days of my life. And all the planning before we left made most of it possible. But when diversions and options were presented, we took them. We learned to bend our schedule, even our expectations and be open to the unexpected.
As all of us plan our travel for the fall, winter and spring months in the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains, we have many destinations calling our names. We remember this, too: make the journey getting there and back as awe-inspiring as the destination itself. Take time to get to know the innkeepers at the out-of-the way B & B: you might just discover that this is where Cheryl Tiegs filmed one of her famous ads. Engage in conversation with someone sitting beside you at the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough; you might share a laugh (and a childhood memory) together. Find out where the locals eat and take a seat; you'll never go wrong experiencing homegrown; pull over at Perdeaux's Fruit Farm and ask about his unique invention for fruit; go see just what kind of people and places lay between Point A and Point B.
And if you happen to be in North Georgia in October, Dawsonville specifically, we'd love to meet you. We've got a booth at the Moonshine Festival promoting my new book North Georgia Moonshine (more about that later). Come by and say, "hello," and we'll talk moonshine and mountains!
Places (and People) to discover this fall
Georgia Mountain Fall Festival | Hiawassee | October 9-17
Sorghum Festival | Blairsville | October 10-11, 17-18
Apple Festival | Ellijay | October 10-11, 17-18
Japenese Arts & Cultural Festival | Ballground | October 17-18, 24-25
Gold Rush Days | Dahlonega October 16 - 18
Unicoi Wine Trail | White CountyMoonshine Festival | Dawsonville October 24-25
Santa Express Train Ride | Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad | November 17- December 24
EAT + STAY = Mountain Laurel Farm
Country Music Highway | US 23 | Ashland to Whitesburg
Wherever you chose to travel this fall, remember this: make getting there as exciting as arriving. There's much to do, much to explore in these Blue Ridge Mountains, so get away this weekend. We'd love to hear your tales from the road! Happy travels.
I'm sad when I buy something new to replace something old. I feel like I'm betraying the something old.
It was much like last weekend while on a press trip, Len and I visited a distillery in Sevierville. We met the distiller, and he just happened to be from North Georgia. We knew the same people, and we even shared a laugh. I felt like I was two-timing Carlos (North Georgia Moonshine).
On the same trip, we went to Knife Works in Sevierville. Knives, guns, cutlery, even a Katana. The respect I had for Michonne skyrocketed when I saw the size of that thing. But back to knives.
Len always carries a pocket knife. When we met, he carried the one his sons gave him as a constant physical reminder that they were with him. He lost it in the attic during a clean-out, but has never given up hope that it will find its way back home into his pocket one day when he least expects it. Then, he replaced that one with one of his father's blades, a reminder as well. Long ago, his father received it as a promotional piece for his hardware store; it read Carver's Auto Parts before time erased its engraving. Although the blade, even then, was a little rickety, the handle worn, it took its place inside Len's pocket. He decided last weekend, it was time for a knife to call his own.
The new Colt (on the left) is now at home in Len's pocket. His father's knife sits on his dresser, in a plate where all Len's valuables and trinkets sit each night. It won't be tucked away inside a drawer, but will remain in the light. Even though we take things out of commission, parting with them still seems unnatural, so we keep them if for no other reason than to remind ourselves of what once was.
I suppose we can say that about everything: a new pot versus mama's old iron skillet; my death-trap Saab versus the one I'm dreaming about in my mind; daddy's sturdy ratchet set versus Home Depot's newest do-everything singular sensation; the latest ergonomic office chair versus old faithful that was hard as a rock.
I'm not two-timing, I say with conviction. I'm making adjustments, fixing what hurts, retiring the worn. Who am I kidding? This emotional sentimental journey is a long one, and I will continue to replace, but never discard. And really, who am I hurting? I have drawers and acres and cabinets to store the entire lot. So if one day, you see me on Hoarders, just smile and know my heart (like my house) is full.
It was morning, and from my kitchen radio, the announcer stoically told the news of the deaths of two classmates from my high school. I was 16, and although I do not remember their names, I remember the jar to my heart. They lived on my end of the county and the night before, drove crazy along a mountain road, lost control and died. I didn't know teenagers could die. Old people, sure, but not someone my age. I didn't sleep for days, and when I did, I had nightmares; mama would shake to wake me from the movie in my mind. The next year, I would be in a wedding of a close friend, only to bury her groom three days later.
And my roller coaster called life began at that moment.
I cry for Allison Parker and Adam Ward, the two journalists killed on Wednesday. My heart feels the same jar. Maybe because I am a journalist; maybe because it's just senseless. I watched my morning news this morning as Jaye Watson reminded me that the killer was "not was one of us." On Wednesday, I watched the video of the shooting; once. Then, I watched the video made from the other perspective; once. I felt my body go numb and wondered how I would breathe; then, as any good journalist (for that matter, a human being) would do, I questioned. I saw how close he came to the two innocents and wondered why they didn't react. Then, I knew.
I remembered my moments being the extension of a recorder, a camera: interviewing Cleveland Indian Clint Frazier in his home, Bob Chandler along the road in Maine selling his maple syrup to strangers, the chamber of commerce president in a neighboring county, a woman who was going through endless chemo treatments for breast cancer, an old moonshiner who was slowly losing his reality.
First, you are a reporter, a journalist, a storyteller; secondly, a multi-tasker. In the same moment, you must think, think back and then, think ahead. To concentrate so intensely on what has been said, what is being said, and what might be said - all the while remembering those questions you jotted down on a McDonald's napkin at the very weird moment when inspiration hit. Your audience is depending on your focus. That's what professional journalists do. That's what Allison and Adam did. They kept their focus.
As the roller coaster continues, we must all keep our focus. There will always be those who attempt to distract, disengage, condemn, belittle, undermine, stifle, and sometimes, extinguish our focus. I still battle back tears for the unexplained as I keep moving in the direction of my passion. Even as I pause, and say, "Why bother at this point in my life," I slap my hand (or my knee as mama would do) and remember the smiles of those who are (were) in focus.
"There's no other option for my roller coaster life."
It's that time of year again. If you squeeze your brain hard enough, you'll be able to smell a wood fire, taste fresh apples, feel the steam of a mug of hot chocolate. Oh, but unfortunately, there's more living (and southern sweating) to be done before we get to indulge in these beauties that fall offers.
Len and I are gearing up for another season at Blue Ridge Country Magazine. You didn't know? Well, you should and you have to come along. Not only does Blue Ridge Country provide amazing photography and stories about this mountain stretch, but our bi-monthly column has become a travel go-to for many who are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway (hence our many trips north to, ourselves, discover gems in the woods). Just click this BUTTON and you'll see where we've been. More importantly, you'll know where we going and how to find us come September.
This photo was taken when an adventure took us to Gatlinburg - not for the snow, not for the mountains but for the history. Gatlinburg Inn is now in the hands of family, and they plan on keeping it that way. You'll hear all about the grandparents and their legacy within this mountain city. We'll also carry you to the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee; meet Nik Wallenda in Clayon, Georgia; and even uncover all that feuding of the Hatfields and McCoys in the Tug River Valley in West Virginia. Plus, we're planning a very personal love letter to Carlos Lovell as a "thank you" for allowing me to tell his story in North Georgia Moonshine.
So, needless to say, I'm a word factory, pumping out words and phrases of detail and description - working at full speed, brewing numerous daily pots of coffee, researching on travel sites, editing photographs and weaving stories. I'm exhausted! Exhausted, but so enriched and blessed to have met such wonderful people along the way and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.
We all need a storyteller. Someone who looks into our life with an unfiltered lens and shares authentically, the life we have lived. No judgement; just a clear picture (much like that of my camera) of who we are, where we came from and what we will leave behind.
Gotta go. . . .the factory (and another story) calls.
How do you fix a GRAY Japanese Kubota tractor that has been abused, destroyed, ignored, hammered, wrecked, knocked around, bruised, shattered to the point that IF the right parts were found, would it actually work? Would that key turn and that starter roll IF all the pieces were in place? Would papa's tractor - now a sad pile of metal - be reborn to dig and haul and move?
Would the memories of riding in the driver's seat, feet dangling, while papa made sure the brake was mashed and the gears were changed, do the trick? Sitting on the laps of Titans have been known to change lives before. Will those memories propel us to finish what we've started?
And even though this rescued tractor has sat on that trailer for the more than a year, three of its four tires are flat, and for the life of us, that key still won't turn and that motor won't sing, can we do it? Will we do it? It won't be for lack of trying.
So this tractor fixin' project has been in the works for well into two years now. As time allows, Len and Ty piddle and poke and search for the right parts, the right key, affordable replacement tires. I watch Ty and I know that bringing this tractor back to life is a way of keeping his papa close at hand. Len knows that getting this tractor in working order has nothing to do with it's ability to work, but everything to do with keeping his step-son's memory of his grandfather alive. That's enough reason for him.
I watch Ty wipe the years of time-stamped dirt from the tractor's once vibrant shell, knowing that it will never be as beautiful as it once was. For one reason, time has added layers that scrubbing just won't erase, and for the most important reason, his papa isn't around to make it shine.
So, if they get it running, great. If not, then great, too. It's home, and it's loved. Just like papa.
A ship is always safe at the shore - but that is NOT what it is built for. ~ Albert Einstein
Albert nailed it. So did Virge Lovell in my book North Georgia Moonshine. In the first chapter he says, "Little boats stay close to shore; big boats venture forth more." Staying close to the shore is a sure thing, but they weren't designed to stay tied to the dock. I can see the likes of pirate Jack Sparrow and Captain Ahab planning their next voyage, ordering a dinky ship because after all, it would simply be tied to the shore. What's the use?
Same with Jack (the horse with his neck stuck out). There's a treat in that hand, but to get it, you have to reach for it. You have to stick your neck out. You have to feel uncomfortable.
Someone recently said, "If you're not uncomfortable, you're not growing." I brushed it off first, but then last weekend, in a situation where I wore distress and agony as accessories, I realized (much later) what she meant. During the moment, all I felt was pain. Afterwards, I all I wanted was to reclaim the moment and offer a do-over to redeem myself. Being that uncomfortable made me realize I had a lot to learn, and I had better get to it.
Days later, I realized the situation wasn't as bad as my mind made it seem, but I had learned what subconsciously I hoped I would. I figured out my next steps, my strengths, my weaknesses, my goals and my where I want this adventure to head.
Staying tied to the shore just isn't an option; I'm a big boat with numerous unknown ports of call. I will stick my neck out (which comes with an colossal amount of angst) even to the point of feeling uncomfortable. There's a cookie waiting for me. I want it. I want it all. I was made for so much more.
I looked up and saw the grin. Immediately, I caught my breath and I remembered - picnics under the tree, Grandma Franklin, the Elvis moment - all surfaced. I gasped. She gasped. And the rest was a reunion of best friends.
My memory has never been too favorable; there are jabs at the past, flashes of light that will illuminate certain moments. At this age, flashes of light are favorable. I need jabs. I need reminders. The grin was my jab.
It had been at least 35 years since I had seen Sharon Franklin. She lived in Woodstock; I lived in Clarkesville. The summer brought us together as she would spend three months with her Grandma Franklin on the hill in the little brick house underneath the towering oak tree. I can't for the life of me tell you how we met. All I know is that we were inseparable. We were besties before besties were cool. We swooned over Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, vowing I would marry Bobby and she, David ( I think Peter Frampton was in the mix somehow?), and we'd be happy forever. Instead, she married Ricky, a pure stud in Habersham speak. I was jealous. I started college with no Bobby in my future and certainly no Ricky along the way. Sharon settled down with Ricky, made babies and well, our lives drifted apart. Until last Saturday . . .
You never forget those who make you feel good about yourself, those that just make you so stinking happy. Sharon make me stinking happy. Our hot summers spent in the shadows of Grandma Franklin and the old oak tree prepared us for life, although we had no clue that that was happening. Those summers taught us to delight in the simple things, the beauty of best friends, the wonder of really old people, that laughter cools just like lemonade, that going places is overrated, and jumping sky-high on beds won't bring down the house. True friendship requires bed jumping and lemonade sipping and secret sharing.
Last Saturday, Sharon smiled and I cried; I felt Grandma Franklin and mama doing their happy dances in heaven for the girls were back together. Time and geography may have separated us, but in a split second, we were back on the hill, underneath the oak tree, running silly. We exchanged numbers, and I promised I would not let time separate us again.
My book has given me earnings that weren't penciled in my contract. I got to return home, to hear heart-felt stories of how much the community loved my mama and daddy, to be part of a family again and visit with relatives that I miss so much my body aches, and this - for this reason - I am most thankful; I made a new best friend with my old friend Sharon.
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.