About Place

When I was in high school one of our poetry writing exercises was to write a Where I’m From poem modeled, I believe, after George Ella Lyon’s poem of the same title. I loved this exercise at the time, probably because it gave my 16-year-old voice an edge of highly coveted authority, but over the years it has stuck with me as something of a daily mental status update. I’ll pass something in the car, and my brain will automatically say, I am from the land where chicory and discarded wrappers tell their own stories on the sides of the road. These little quips ground me and comfort me, and importantly, never seem to leave me.

We traveled to North Carolina this weekend for Easter, something of an annual pilgrimage, to two of the farms that I really am from, and all weekend the little I Am From lines were popping up left and right in my mind. We all know what Easter does or doesn’t mean to us, but for me, this time of year is really about returning to something. We get excited to be going back to the farm, to the places that I tromped around on in cowboy boots as a child, to the place that we said I Do, to a little nook in Western North Carolina that you can look at every day and still get caught off guard by its beauty. Although we go many times throughout the year back to these places that have been home for us, there’s something about this time of year that carries a compelling reverence for the world anxiously blooming forward and simultaneously calling us back. Although we don’t live in North Carolina anymore, it holds our hearts firmly and wholly, and getting into its mountains is a lot like secretly bumping knees under a table with your first true love.

In an explanation of her original poem, George Ella  Lyon says, “Where I’m From grew out of my response to a poem from ‘Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet’ (Orchard Books, 1989; Theater Communications Group, 1991) by my friend, Tennessee writer Jo Carson. All of the People Pieces, as Jo calls them, are based on things folks actually said, and number 22 begins, “I want to know when you get to be from a place. ”

I love this question. My rural heritage has taught me that I have no true rural heritage because I doubt we’ll ever be from somewhere until at least 4 generations of our people have entered and left the world there, but let’s remember that I’m nothing without my nostalgia, so I don’t think that I can bear to be metaphorically homeless simply because I have a measly first generation birthright to the part of the world that my family loves. Stubbornly then, this weekend I realized that I know that I am from something because I know where to go to find it, and I know what will be waiting for me when we get there. The land will change, and in one case may no longer be ours, the people will change, the parties will change, the relationships will change, but what will endure is knowing that I am who I am because of what I come from, and in that way, we will always be able to go back. That is, in my mind, when you get to be from a place.

I’m rattling on about all of this because I have chattered about Easter over the years and wanted to make sure that I’ve recorded that this tradition of our annual get-together is not about new dresses and dyed eggs, but it’s about my brave family opening up their home to all of us so that we can say, I Am From…

and so, so, so much more.

(those last 3 pictures were taken shamelessly from my Aunt Vicki, check her out!)

Hannah & Gray

I went to Vermont weekend before last for my friends Hannah and Gray’s wedding.  As it turned out it was considerably cheaper to fly into Boston (about 3.5 hours from VT) and then drive over the river and through the woods to the wedding.  As it further turned out, it was also going to be cheaper for one of my best friends and college roommates, Charlotte, to fly from her home in Milwaukee to Boston and as fate would have it, we arrived about the same time and kicked off a fantastic little road trip through the Northeastern countryside.

Driving out of Boston

We screamed out the windows and did some ugly enthusiastic strapped-in-a-seatbelt-car-dancing and we hunted down a diner for some roadside fare, took a lot of pictures of barns, and just couldn’t stop saying, “gaaaahhhhhhhh, it’s all so scenic!” about every 15 minutes.  Our 3.5 hour drive took almost 5 hours and my cheeks hurt from laughing and smiling so much when we finally made it.  It’s just all so scenic up there, you know?

There really are a lot of gorgeous barns and views in good ol Vermont

When we arrived we were greeted by these beauties:

And we hugged so hard and my cheeks started hurting some more.

The wedding was being held at Hannah’s lovely family farm near Middlebury and if you ever have ANY reason to visit that part of the world, please do it.  The farm house that Hannah grew up in was built in the 1850s and as I understand it, apart from the addition of a screened-in porch, it’s pretty much in its original form.  Although I would say that the countryside is quite similar to my southern Appalachian upbringing, the mountains up there are a bit newer (relatively speaking) and a little steeper, and the homes are mostly in considerably more livable condition than the ones of the same age that dot the backroads I grew up driving around on.  The quaint charm factor is off the charts.  Everything just seems to be well tended and cared for as if there was a statement sent out to the good people of Vermont to maintain and guard the collective aesthetic dearly, and they all seem to take that charge seriously.

Hannah's parent's house.

On Saturday we woke up to help arrange flowers for the wedding and lend a hand where we could and then we sought out the river for a quick dip.

That water was c-o-l-d and refreshing and really really cold.  It was very cold water.  The water was the kind of cold that gives you a short-lived but highly effective involuntary cussing reaction.  But let’s just say that you find yourself experiencing a little discomfort because the night before you had a cocktail or two and you think that the discomfort that you’re feeling is actually kind of awful.  All I can say is, get thee to a freezing cold river under a bright blue sky and just watch as all turns right in the world.  We were back in action seconds after that dip.

Winborne braved the swim hole first like a seasoned river champ

The wedding was in the back yard behind the house and between the beautiful Vermont mountains, the charming bagpipe player, the look of emotional gratitude on Hannah’s face as she rounded the corner to walk down the aisle, and the gigantic smiles of so many faces that I love,  it was one of the best ceremonies that I’ve ever been to.  Hannah’s sweet reaction to getting married had us all bawling in about 3 seconds, but then we were laughing just as quickly because she and Gray were just right there, sharing their commitment with us and it was comfortable and love-affirming.

Following the ceremony we…ate, danced, and were merry for about 12 hours.  I could elaborate, but that pretty well sums it up.  We beat the sun coming up, but only just, and our heads hit the pillow with the words, I don’t want it to end, lingering in the air above us.

I love my friends from Warren Wilson College.  I don’t think there’s another group of people that is any better at finding the real kind of fun that’s out there to be had in this life.  Whenever we go to a WWC wedding there’s no pressure, no fuss, no drama, and definitely no stuffiness.  We laugh hard and dance hard and find ourselves slipping into serious conversation only to be doubled over laughing a few minutes later.  We don’t get to see each other nearly enough, but when we do, it’s always as though no time has passed (though the wave of children that we’re all starting to pop up with begs to differ) and without fail, I always walk away feeling so thankful to have all of these wild and crazy and sincere souls in my life.

The whole Asheville Crew:

Annnnnnnd the ladies:

Thank you to Hannah and Gray, and to your families, for bringing us all together, and for having the kind of love that makes people want to get all excited and dance till dawn.  We love you guys so much.

Hippity Hoppity

I think that my feet are just touching down from our trip to NC.  It was soul food.  I’m not really sure what else to say beyond that…my brother Drew was there with my nephew Jack and as a big family we stayed up late and played hard and cooked (parts of) a pig, and smelled like wood smoke from lingering by the fire, and ate charred hot dogs and marshmallows, and watched Asher blindly follow his cousin Jack around with unabashed adulation, and we got to see my sister and step mother and father, and we saw early morning fog and old friends and got hugs and laughed hard and ate my aunt’s amazing cooking that was rounded out with homemade bread and freshly collected eggs and fresh (really, really fresh) milk, cheese and butter.  We rolled in the grass and returned to something essential.  We went home.

I hope that each of you has that place where you pull up or walk up or sit down and the deepest parts of yourself say, this is where I want to be.  This is where I am.  For me, that’s Madison County, NC, and specifically two plots of land that aren’t far from one another.  Seeing Asher walking around so confidently there is…it’s just soul food, there’s not another word for it.

I only did nominally better than last year with taking pictures, but I did remember to catch a few.

I wish that all of you could have one of these:

That is a Claui.  She is one of the better human beings on the planet, and certainly one of my favorites and, along with my cousin Justin, can do a lot of things, but one of them is milk the cow Marigold and then use Marigold’s goods to make these:

mmmm hmmm…homemade (in the absolute truest sense of the word) strawberry shortcake.  I know that I’m supposed to be talking about Asher’s 2nd Easter, but I just had to get that out of my system.  Whipped cream directly from the source on homemade biscuits?  I kind of flipped out.

Ok, so back to Asher’s 2nd Easter…

He didn’t really get it.

He picked up eggs and put them in his basket (not before declaring them balls and throwing the first one in the air and having it land on his head, which made him laugh) but as far as Asher knows, this is what Easter is all about:

His cousin Jack has a battery powered Gator that he cruised all over the farm on.  Asher wasn’t totally sure that he wanted to ride on it, but he was 100% sure that he didn’t NOT want to be on it, and so he climbed into the passenger seat, grabbed on to that OS bar with a death grip and rode around with the sweetest look on his little face.  A boy was born out of a baby this weekend.

Everything else about the weekend was sublime, so rather than going on and on and on, I’ll just share a couple of more shots and keep grinning ear to ear.  Soul. Food.

With my stepmom:

Asher gets to fuel up before the big hunt with his very first taste of fried chicken because, as Drew is always quick to remind me, that’s what Dad’s are for:

And here’s a glimpse of the party (those of you that were at our wedding might recognize this scene!):

So that’s it!

Happy Easter!

Sunrise

Sailor take warning!  I was looking through my pictures, and came across a picture of the sunrise that I took at my aunt and uncle’s farm over Easter.  Did I remember to take a picture of Asher on his first Easter?  Nope.  But I did get this one picture of the sun easing its way into a Sunday sky on Easter morning (the only picture I took all weekend, actually.  Mother of the year, I tell ya.) and I just came across it and thought that I would share.  Of late, the young sir is racing against the sun to be the first one up in the morning, and although we have an east facing window in our bedroom, we certainly don’t see a view like this at the start of the day.  Maybe if we did, I would be a little less anxious in the morning about Asher’s early rising time.  Maybe…

If this doesn’t make you laugh, I don’t know what will…

Last weekend, my sister-in-law, Meg and my awesome little nephew Jack came to visit so that Meg could run a marathon (!!) and get in a quick visit.  Meg did really well, finishing in under four hours after having to take a six week hiatus from running due to a shin injury.  That really blows my mind, as I can push myself and run about three miles.  For those that don’t know, a marathon is 26.2 miles.  Twenty six point two miles!!  Anyway, we are all very proud of her and this awesome accomplishment, and we had a great time hanging out with the two cousins after the race.  Jack is three and is probably the best big boy cousin around…he LOVES “baby Ahdoo” (Baby Asher) and did such a great job entertaining him all afternoon.   As a quick aside, Asher has so far been the baby that loves to make as much noise as possible when he can and <<gulp>> has repeatedly laughed in the face of other crying babies.  I will digress about my concerns/amusement about this particular of his in another post, but I bring this up because we already know that Asher likes playing loud, and Jack was the perfect match.  Asher thought Jack was just awesome.

Here are two videos of the boys playing the screaming game together:

I really love this one because Asher starts laughing his hard belly laugh:

Where does the time go?

There is so much that I have wanted to share over the last two weeks, and now that I finally have a few minutes to get down to it, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Of course the first thing that comes to mind is Asher…we had our two month appointment at about 10 weeks and he was 12lbs, 10 oz and 23.5 inches long (75th percentile in both weight and height).  Our doctor reported that he (well Asher that is, not Dr. Ogan) is developmentally ahead of schedule with his hand and head control and generally seemed very pleased with Asher’s growth and development.  We’ve been battling a pretty mean diaper rash since Asher was about 1 week old that was accompanied by painful gas and some prolonged baby acne, and after multiple other stabs at curing it, Dr. Ogan suggested that I remove dairy from my diet which appears to have done the trick.  This is, of course, a bittersweet revelation as I have something bordering on an obsession with cheese, but every happy smile during Asher’s diaper changes reminds me that no double gloucester is worth my son’s pain.  I have discovered that there is soy creamer for my morning cuppa which will be a fine substitute for the time being, and admit that this is a bit of extra help and incentive as I continue to work to shed those baby pounds.

We had a really wonderful trip to NC two weekends ago.  Everyone spoiled us terribly with their affection and enthusiasm and we drove home with the gooey glowey feeling of being loved, and a deep sense of gratitude towards the community that is still so much my home in many ways.  My friends Claui and Sue and my Aunt Vicki threw us a really lovely party with tons of amazing homemade food, and hanging on the wall as we walked in was Asher’s gorgeous alphabet quilt.  I am lucky to have been raised in a community of quilters, and so most births, weddings, and a few other major life events, are marked with the delicate stitching of friends.  I grew up falling asleep every night staring at the quilt that was made for my mom and me when I was born, and now Asher will do the same, seeing many of the same names that were on my baby quilt sewn into his.  I must say that having his baby quilt hanging on the wall in his nursery is making me feel rather bonafied as a mom. Here are some pictures of Asher meeting his cousin Jack at the party:

Jack couldn't wait to hold the baby, too cute!

It's hard to believe that some day soon they'll be running around together!

The quilt hanging up outside at John and Vicki's

For more pictures, check out Vicki’s web album from the weekend here!

While we were there, Asher also got to meet his Grandaddy Wayne, and I must say that the two got on exceptionally well.  One of the first things that we said about Asher when he was born was how much he looked like my father, and it did my heart good to see those two together.


Finally, we had a really fantastic Thanksgiving weekend…my stepmother Ruth and my little sister Julie Claire came to Virginia for a visit and we all ate at my Mom and Skip’s house.  The spread was excellent, we had turkey of course and then roasted butternut squash with a cider vinaigrette and parsley, lemony green beans with toasted walnuts, Ruth’s delicious corn pudding and homemade rolls, sour dough and chorizo stuffing, spinach salad, and carrot cake and Mom’s family famous pumpkin chiffon pie for dessert.   I dabbled in my first bit of vegan experimentation with a dairy free cream cheese frosting for the carrot cake which actually turned out pretty well.  I firmly believe that there is no true substitute for cheese, especially when it comes to cream cheese frosting, but for this one Thanksgiving, it worked out just fine.

Charlotte Marie Beck

Whew!  That’s the update.  Today is our niece Charlotte’s first birthday, and Drew’s Aunt Pat’s birthday as well, so happy birthday ladies, and many returns!  To see more pictures of beautiful little Charlotte and her awesome older sister Caroline, check out Ashley’s blog here.  In this season of gratitude, Drew and I can’t help but be a little overwhelmed at how blessed we feel, and how very much we have to be thankful for.  Of all of the things that we say thanks for, time and again the people in our lives top the list, so I thought I would leave you with this quote from Albert Schweitzer:

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

A little help?

Paul Bailey

Paul Bailey

We got some sober news last night that a friend of ours from Warren Wilson was in a climbing accident in Australia.  Paul played soccer with Drew and is just a great guy, very funny and adventurous all the way around.  Although we haven’t seen Paul in a couple of years, the friendships that we have from our years at Warren Wilson are such that the good times, joking and love always pick up where we left off, and finding out that a member of that community has been hurt instantly pulls the WWC troops together.  Paul was climbing with friends in Australia and had a very serious fall, fracturing his skull and a number of bones in his face and possibly sustaining a brain injury.  He is currently in a drug induced coma to give his brain a chance to heal.  Our friends have set up a website where people can make donations to a fund to help the family offset the cost of Paul’s recovery, and everyone is reaching out to our individual networks through the web to ask for support.  If you would like to learn more about Paul and/or possibly make a contribution through PayPal of even a couple of dollars to his fund, you can do so here.  Either way, please take a moment to send a prayer, thoughts of love and healing, or any other thoughts that you have to offer to Paul and his family as they embark on what is sure to be an intense recovery period.  Thanks!

From the Outer Banks…

beach1

As I mentioned the other day, I was fortunate enough to slip away for a quick vacation with my most wonderful friends from college for a couple of days of maxing and relaxing.  Winborne’s parents were kind enough to let us invade their beach cottage for the week, and it was wonderful to be around these ladies, catching up, singing a little bad karaoke, going on a vintage store extravaganza, and watching them surf while I held down the beach.  We try to get together as often as possible which is a little tricky with everyone being scattered all over the place, but we’ve managed to work in one beach trip a summer since college.  Claui had to head home before I remembered to bust out the camera, so she’s not in the pictures, but I loved seeing her before she had to hit the road.  Warren Wilson gave us a lot of great things, but my favorite by far are the people that we met there, it’s a pretty awesome group.

Winborne’s baby, Francesca:francesca

cabana

girlsFrom L-R: me, Alice, Mcghee, Winborne, Charlotte, and Francesca on Winborne’s lap

winborneTaking in the sunset…

m_c

mcghee

winborne_f

Asa and Erin’s Wedding

a_eWe traveled to NC this past weekend for our friends Erin and Asa’s wedding.  It was a really beautiful wedding out at Deerfields which is about 30 minutes outside of Asheville, and it was of course really great to connect with old friends and celebrate!  We drove down Thursday evening, and Drew dropped me off at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Madison County where I was treated to a delicious meal and good company, and Drew drove on to meet all of the guys for the bachelor party.  On Friday we headed over to Deerfields for the rehearsal luncheon and then some set up for the big day on Saturday.  I helped with decorations and the boys did some of the heavy lifting.

flowers

drew_ladder

The ceremony took place in a beautiful outdoor chapel on the mountain above Deerfields, and we had a good time adding to some of the natural beauty of the setting.  We had to get pretty creative draping the fabric on the structure, but after asking ourselves, what would MacGyver do? we located a tennis shoe, some fishing line and a staple gun (I kid you not) and the problem was solved.  After that we closed shop for the evening and got ready for the big event on Saturday!

chapelFollowing the ceremony on Saturday afternoon, we were treated to a delicious dinner, toasts, and a night of dancing with some of our favorite people.  When the ceremony was over, Drew and I both agreed that we love that our friends all have such beautiful weddings.  Each one is unique and every time we are struck by the couple’s creativity and the love of our college community.

e_a_arriveThe couple arriving at the reception to a wonderland of bubbles

e_a firstErin and Asa’s first dance

D_L_ATogether again!  Drew, and dear friends Adam and Lana catching up…

and dancing the night away
DLA_2

We were also happily able to squeeze in quick visits with my stepmother Ruth and a Father’s Day breakfast with my dad and sister before hitting the road and heading back to VA…it was a great wedding weekend indeed!