A Bit of Wildness in Sophistication – The Art of Scott Avett

Motherhood

This past Friday night I was witness to something remarkable, something magical.  In fact, I was more than a witness to this event.  I was an active part of it, an integral piece in the puzzle of community.  So too were the other 200 people who were present.  No piece was more important than another.  Rather, all were necessary to make the evening as powerful and memorable as it was.

It was to be an evening centered around the art of famed musician Scott Avett, co-frontman of The Avett Brothers and a native to Concord, NC.  However, it became so much more.  The fundraising event entitled, The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality was the brainchild of local artist Tom Schultz and his wife Sheila Ennis of Empathinc..  It was organized and executed flawlessly by a passionate and dedicated team of individuals, all working towards a common goal–to support one of Charlotte’s most valuable resources, The Educational Center.

I approached the evening with eagerness, curiosity, and excitement.  As I ascended the stairs to the second floor gallery, a mist of celebrity blanketed my thoughts.  This was going to be a very unique opportunity to be in the presence of an artistic genius away from his usual musical arena.  While my endless appreciation for Scott Avett’s talents was the driving force of  my attendance, I was surprised to find an anticipation bubbling up inside of me for something more.  It wasn’t until I walked into the gallery that I began to understand what that “more” was.

The gallery, which was actually an empty second story condominium two days prior, had been transformed into a maze of rooms adorned with Scott’s masterful oil paintings, charcoal sketches, and linocut prints.  People filled each room–mingling, laughing, eating, drinking, visiting, and carrying on.  I was drawn to familiar faces, and with the first hug and smile the mist began to clear.  While I was certainly in the presence of greatness, it was not simply in the form of one man, but rather in the group as a whole.  On that night, in that second floor gallery, community trumped celebrity.

Midway through the night people gathered around the front foyer of the gallery, eagerly awaiting the centerpiece of the event–storytelling by Scott Avett.  First, Sheila took a moment to share her thoughts about the event with us.  She highlighted the history and mission of The Educational Center, as well as its accomplishments.

“[The Educational Center] has been nationally acclaimed [as] a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called maieutics, which is the Greek word for midwife, and it means as a teacher or facilitator, you are not the authority.  You simply help another person work what that person may already know,”  Sheila explained.

As an educator myself, this resonated with me.  So often in formal education we get bogged down by authority and power and lose sight of our mission to facilitate learning.

Tilly Tice (President of the Board of Directors of The Educational Center) followed Sheila and commented on the theme of synchronicity that led up to the evening–a theme that by that point was more than palpable.  She thanked Scott Avett for his support of The Educational Center through his participation in the event, and praised him for being “committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history, and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.”

As Tom stepped up to the microphone, the anticipation for Scott’s talk grew even louder.  Tom, like Scott, is also an artist and a storyteller.  Through a few brief stories he explained his connection to Scott and how he relates to Scott’s paintings.

“When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated.  When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated.  I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck…sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays.  There is a bit of wildness in sophistication.  I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication,”  Tom shared.

We hadn’t even gotten to the man of honor, yet I was already inspired by the passion and spark that came from Sheila, Tilly, and Tom.  I was not expecting this feeling, but welcomed it freely.  As Scott stepped out before us, his presence alone commanded respect and attention.  Perhaps it was the fact that the majority of those present are inspired daily by the lyrics of his songs, the earthiness and ease of his voice, his humbleness, or his homegrown charm.  The room was quiet, and we were all ready to listen.

Though he admittedly didn’t outline the conversation that followed (“for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy and not planning anything”), Scott seamlessly wove themes of family, discipline, work ethic, and self-awareness together as he danced from story to story.  He was funny, expressive, honest and revealing in front of his audience.  It was plain to see that he came by his storytelling talents honestly, as his dad Jim is the original Avett storyteller–although I suspect there was a long line before him as well.

Scott candidly discussed the push and pull struggle of balancing this learned discipline and work ethic with his innate artistic drive.  He felt best to explain this through the writings of John Ruskin, in particular an essay entitled The Seeing and Feeling Creature.  Scott explained:

“Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.  The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit…With the seeing and feeling and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order.  But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.”

Again, Tom’s theme of wildness in sophistication emerged in Scott’s words.  This theme has invaded much of what Scott Avett shows to the public, both in the recording and art studios.  There is a constant state of re-balancing taking place to keep the wildness at bay, but also to ensure that it isn’t smothered by the sophistication.

As the evening carried on, the energy continued to grow.  Scott had shared with us his stories and his outlook, and now it was our turn to share with others.  We made connections that will guide us along in our spiritual journeys.  Like-minded people from all walks of life created an experience that fostered community, and that was just the beginning.

The next day I returned to the gallery to pick-up the piece of Scott’s artwork that I purchased.  The rooms were quiet and the sun shone in through the windows, creating a new perspective on the space and his paintings.  However, the spark and the energy that permeated through the space the night before remained.  Could we go back and do it again?  I wish we could, but in all honesty it wouldn’t be the same.  The synchronicity of that evening was a once in a lifetime alignment of our lives that we will remember for years to come.

To see some of Scott’s art please click HERE

February 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Friends, Life. 1 comment.

Will you be…..my bridesmaid?

I am less than a month into my engagement and knee deep in planning a beach wedding that is over a year away.  Before setting a precise date and venue, I just couldn’t help but start to get my bridal party in order.  I had already known who I would ask to stand up for me at my wedding well before DH proposed, so that was the easy part.   The challenging part was coming up with a creative way to “pop the question” to my girls!

I didn’t want to call, text, or send an email.  That just seemed too impersonal and cold.  A handwritten note would be a nice gesture, but it still wasn’t quite enough.  So I came up with an idea that would incorporate my creative side with our seaside wedding.  I modified it from another idea, to fit our style and theme a little better.  When Hurricane Irene fell upon us and the power went out, I thought it was a perfect time to finish this project!

“Spe-Shell Delivery”

Cut out a strip of fabric and stamped my message on it.

Be creative with your message!

 Glue it face up into the opening of a seashell

Make sure you glue it in good!

 Roll the message up and tie it with a pretty fabric bow

Wrapped up and ready to go!

Put the “invite” in a cute little personalized box and they are ready to send!

Reuse and Redecorate Stella & Dot boxes!

I was so excited for  my best girlfriends to get these in the mail.  Their responses were emotional and perfect.  They felt super special and loved the thought behind the gesture.  It really doesn’t matter the occaission or your level of creativity.  Creating something from your heart and with your hands is always received gratefully.  Think of your own way to make a special event even more memorable!

September 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . DIY, Friends, Life, Wedding. Leave a comment.

Who’s afraid of a big bad hurricane?

Man down!

Well I can check “survive a hurricane” off of my bucket list.

This past weekend Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane.  According to the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale, a Category 1 can produce winds between 74-95 mph and a storm surge of 4-5 feet.  Our approximation to the Pamlico Sound was worrisome, but we decided to stick it out and stay through the storm.

We had plenty of time to get ready for Irene’s arrival.  So, prior to the storm I made all of the necessary preparations that were recommended:

– Get food, water, cash, gas, ice

– Fill bathtub up with water

– Secure all lawn furniture, garbage cans, windows, etc

– Have plenty of flashlights and candles on hand

– Locate your battery-powered AM/FM radio (or buy one in my case)

– Figure out your “safe spot” in the house, away from windows and preferably in a central room

– Park your cars away from potential falling trees

Despite being prepared, something happened BEFORE the storm that caught us off guard.  One of our pecan trees decided to shed a limb right on our power/cable lines.  Luckily the city responded quickly and got our power up and running before the storm got on top of us.  Only a few hours later the wind speed picked up and the light misty rain turned into a downpour.  Irene was on her way.

Sleep was minimal that night.  Just knowing that at any moment the howling wind could topple a giant pecan tree through our roof and into our bedroom was enough to keep my internal guard on high alert.  By 8am Saturday morning our power was off again.  I was actually surprised that it stayed on through the night.  With no end in sight, we hunkered down and took a front row seat to this massive display of Mother Nature outside our windows.  DH was supposed to go into work, and valiantly tried (crazy I know) but couldn’t make it due to fallen trees and flooding.  I was grateful to have him back home and not out in the storm delivering mail.  Who really expects to get mail during a hurricane?

The power outage gave me ample time to work on some projects I had put on the back burner.  I spent the majority of the day scrapbooking and making gifts, while DH played his guitar, kept a watchful eye on the yard and our cars outside, and even ventured out into the storm to unclog a sewer drain that was causing flooding on our street (how brave!).  We napped, played scrabble, drank, ate, took phone calls from worried family and friends, and listened to the weather updates on the radio.

All the while, the pounding of rain and tree branches on our house and screeching wind began to wear on my psyche.  By late afternoon I was done with the noise, the lack of power, and being cooped up in our home.  I felt guilty the whole time thinking that there were others who had suffered more, especially during Katrina.  I had to try to keep things in perspective, but in the moment it was challenging.

My whole mood shifted when we got our power back that night!  Power meant light and DVDs and recovery efforts!  To celebrate I made White Russians and we sat down to watch The Big Lebowski.  What a great way to say farewell to Irene.

The next morning I woke up and peeked out of our bedroom window.  The sun was out, the streets were  matted with leaves and branches, our yard was full of limbs and debris, and it was quiet.  Ahhhh…the silence was beautiful!  I snuck out of bed, threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and hit the streets to see the damage Irene left in her path.  Neighbors were out cleaning and checking in on each other.  The river was high but calm and serene,  resting easy after two nights of unrelenting turbulence.

Our clean-up started soon after I returned from my “reporting”.  It didn’t take us too long to drag all of the large limbs out to the street.  My pepper plants took a beating but I was able to get them back in order and secure them with some of the large, fallen branches I picked up in the yard.  After a while, our yard was looking like our yard again.  Throughout the day, as clean-up continued, the streets became lined with hills of debris.  Three days later the debris is still there, but the city will get to it eventually.  They still have their hands full with power outages and flooding, so they will get to it as they can.  Overall I think they have done a wonderful job getting power restored and keeping us safe.

To be completely honest, a Category 1 hurricane might sound wimpy but it is still very scary.  The fears that accompany events like this are real and drive our survival instincts through the roof.  Fears remind us that we are unbelievably fragile and at the complete mercy of Mother Nature.  Her forces will always be more powerful than the forces of man.  In situations like these, all we can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and help each other along the way.

August 30, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Environment, Life. 1 comment.

Fresh Summer Salsa

After receiving a fabulous gift of ripe tomatoes from my friend’s garden, I decided to make  fresh homemade salsa!  My recipe is simple, quick, and delicious…and a MUST for any get together this Summer.

Ingredients

-Three small ripe tomatoes

-1/4 large white onion

-One small jalapeño

-Two small banana peppers

-1/2 green pepper

-Three small cloves of garlic

-handful of cilantro

-Juice of 1/2 lime

-Salt, Pepper, Cumin to taste

Roughly chop up all vegetables and place in food processor.  Add salt, pepper, cumin, lime juice and cilantro and mix on low to get desired chunkiness.  If you like your salsa with a little kick, do not remove seeds from jalapeños, or use a spicier pepper like a habanero.  You can really just add in any fresh ingredient that you want to make it YOUR own recipe.  Serve chilled or at room temperature with tortilla chips.  Enjoy!

July 23, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Food, Life. 2 comments.

Lessons from Max

Max

A jar full of coins sat perched on the top shelf.  Shiny dimes and nickles, pennies and quarters danced in the afternoon California sun that peaked through the glass patio door.  My grandpa was so proud of his jar of coins, and I, his youngest grandchild, was always in awe of him and his collection placed far above my reach.  Over a lifetime, my grandpa Max experienced more than I can ever imagine…the Great Depression, World Wars, growth of labor unions and negotiations, lasting love, presidential elections and assassinations, birth of children and grandchildren, terrorist attacks, and all of the small, personal moments in between.  He was a man who valued hard work and honest ethics.  He possessed a stoic and strong determination to succeed for the betterment of those around him and his family.

A pioneer in the U.S. labor movement, Max became an integral part of our nation’s history during a time when protecting workers’ rights wasn’t popular.  His work wasn’t always met with the same level of enthusiasm and regard that he believed it deserved, but he understood his mission and he pushed through the barriers.  He was a laborer, supervisor, organizer, and elected official during his 66 years of service.  Even when his brain wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, or his body felt weak and fragile from rounds of chemotherapy, he still woke up everyday to walk his dog, put on his slacks, button down, and loafers, drive to the office, and sit proudly behind his desk, ready to work.

I always loved listening to his stories, even when I had heard them over and over again.  He never completely lost his Arkansas twang, despite spending the majority of his life in Arizona and California.  I loved his voice and missed it when he was gone.  So  much so, that after he passed I called his Arizona apartment from time to time just to get the answering machine and feel a tiny bit closer to him.  “You’ve reached ###-####, we’re not here to take your call right now but if you’d leave your name and number we’ll get back to you…Goodbye!”  Although I haven’t heard that in about 6 or 7 years, I can still hear his twang.  Thank God.

During the 27 years that I had with him, I carefully watched his routine and learned some important lessons that I carry very close to my heart today, and hopefully forever.  These lessons, timeless and true, thankfully sneak into my everyday routine like a dog sneaking up onto the couch or bed to be close to his owner.  The end result is comforting and calming, and I’d surely miss it if those lessons failed to appear.  Not all of Max’s lessons were learned from watching him do something, but rather what I didn’t see him do.  And these lessons were formed from a granddaughter’s perspective, young and naive at times, but boy did I love my grandpa.  I am sure my father, his son, may have seen his father in a different light, and if we sat down and compared “notes” they may reveal a few discrepancies.  But, that’s okay.  We learn from our own experience, and surely I have learned lessons from my dad that were passed down from Max as well.

Lesson #1: Work hard and take pride in what you do – Max grew up during a time when putting in long, hard days on the job was just what you did.  He arrived to work on time, prepared, and ready.  He took pride in how he presented himself, both in his dress and attitude.  He worked hard because he wanted to keep his job, show his loyalty, and take care of his family.  Back then, this level of respect for work was the norm.  Max valued his 66 years of service so much that he wrote a memoir of his life, most of which was his union work.

Lesson #2: Save your pennies for a rainy day – When Max would take his dog Puff on walks in the morning, he would drive down to the grocery store and walk through the parking lot looking for dropped coins.  The money he found on his walks, coupled with loose change in his pockets was placed in the jar on the top shelf.  However, Max’s jar of coins wasn’t for decoration.  Once it was full, he’d roll the coins (before there were automatic coin rollers..which took a WHILE!) and bring them to the bank to either cash them in or put the money in savings.  He was a master investor and saver, but still managed to live a very comfortable life full of nice amenities.  I think this is because while he worked hard to provide for his family, he also valued the smallest unit of currency, the penny, as a very important part of his saving strategy.  This is why to this day, if I see a penny on the ground, I think of him and pick it up for my “jar on the shelf.”

Lesson #3: Reward yourself – A long, hard day at work deserves a reward don’t you think?  Max surely did.  Each night at 5 pm, my grandma Sweetie would fix up two cocktails, a martini for Max and Jack Daniels and ginger ale for herself.  They would have their very own happy hour at home!  Even Puff the dog got a little treat during happy hour (or yappy hour for him!).  If you spend your life waiting for someone else to reward your hard work, you may be waiting for a while.  So take time out of your day to reward yourself and relax.  I love this lesson!

Lesson #4: Keep your mind and body moving – A rolling stone gathers no moss, correct?  Well this goes for people too.  Max stayed physically and mentally active up until the last few months of his life.  He went to work everyday until he was 82 years old.  And even in the later years of working, though he was given less and less responsibilities, every one of his employees and co-workers VALUED his presence in the office and recognized his role in the organization.  He served as a vast resource of information and experience, and was able to use that to stay involved in his work.  Physically, he took time out of his morning and evening to take Puff for walks or perhaps spend 15 minutes riding the stationary bicycle.  Whatever it was, Max made an effort each day to keep a sharp mind and an able body, and that is something admirable.

Lesson #5: Love your family and make sure they know it! – My grandparents raised my dad and aunt during a time when overt emotional expression wasn’t customary.  Family roles were well-defined and for the most part emotions were kept to a minimum.  To show love and respect for your family, you served your role and provided them with things like food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.  While there are surely exceptions to this rule, Max and Sweetie definitely did not show their love as openly and freely as many people do today.  However, as Max approached his last few years of life, I witnessed a change in him.  He began being more affectionate, saying “I love you” before hanging up the phone, and joking around more than he had in the past.  It made me think that he was trying to get caught up on all of those times he didn’t express himself, and I appreciated that about him.  In his golden years, he was able to make a change that made his family very happy.  It’s never too late to let your family know how much you love and appreciate them.  Never.

While the list could be much longer, I think these 5 are the most important lessons that I take away from my grandpa Max.  Even though cultures shift and family roles get redefined, I hope to always keep these simple lessons in the forefront of my thoughts and actions.  He deserves to have his legacy honored and passed on.

June 25, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Life. 1 comment.

Springtime Happy Hour – Mojitos!

There’s nothing better than coming home from work, picking fresh mint from your garden and mixing up a refreshing Mojito.  Try one out for yourself!

Ingredients:

10 mint leaves
freshly squeezed lime juice and lime slices
simple syrup
raw sugar
ice
club soda
2 oz. white rum

Pick some mint from your garden.  Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Combine raw sugar, mint leaves, and a splash of soda.  Muddle.

Add two table spoons of simple syrup and fresh lime juice


Add ice, 2 oz. white rum, and top off with soda. Garnish with a lime slice.

Mix and ENJOY!

May 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Food, Life. Leave a comment.

Take the road less traveled

Take a right at the corn field ahead...

When I was a kid, my family had a running joke that for every short-cut my dad took, our trip time doubled.  Looking back now as an adult, a part of me thinks that perhaps Dad had an ulterior motive when it came to those infamous short-cuts.  Was he really trying to save time, or did he simply enjoy meandering through windy, quiet back roads as opposed to taking a more direct, well-traveled route?  Perhaps being distantly related to one of the world’s most famous explorers, Merriwether Lewis,  played into his travel decisions.  We may never know the truth of the matter, but I choose to believe that my dad helped cultivate what is now my own love for new adventures along back roads (perhaps it’s in my genes too…I mean I am related to Merriwether Lewis, the “greatest pathfinder this country has ever known” :)).

Since moving to North Carolina and purchasing my first new car (fuel efficient Jetta TDI!), I have made several road trips across this beautiful state.  Before heading out, I often thumb through my road atlas to find alternate routes that will take me through the small towns of NC and allow me to appreciate the countryside.  I only rely on the GPS on my phone for emergencies, and firmly believe that GPS devices will ultimately kill our sense of direction (if we let them!).  While highways serve a definite purpose and their signage is often times superior, I just find  my trips to be so much more enjoyable when I get off of them!  I love the unpredictability of it all.  You never know what you will see or find along the way.  For example, the other day as I was driving through the rolling farmlands of southern VA, I looked out to my right and saw a very new foal trying to stand up after an afternoon nap in the field.  His mother patiently watched from a short distance as he got his long skinny legs beneath him and found his balance.  It’s not everyday you get to see that (unless you live on a farm I suppose), and it made me smile.  I would have never seen something so simple and beautiful along I-95.  On a recent trip to Asheville, DH and I stumbled upon a store called River Trail along the 2-lane portion of 64W.  We stopped to get gas and I left with a brand new pair of Lucchese boots, a handmade wooden fire truck for my nephew, and that exciting feeling you get when you’ve made a new discovery.

My most vivid memories from road trips are those that have happened while traveling on back roads.  For that reason alone, I will continue to take the road less traveled.  So for all of you who race to get to your final destination, take some extra time to appreciate the greatness that lies off of our interstate highway system.  I can promise that you will find some of the coolest stuff you never knew you were looking for, and gain a greater love for the simple things in life.

April 20, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Life, Travel. 2 comments.

Dogs and cows and chickens…oh my!

"What are you lookin' at?"

Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Charlotte, NC lies a small family farm that is cared for by my friend Jim and his wife Susie.  Their sons, both grown and with families of their own, swing by when time allows to help out Dad and get in some good ol’ fashioned manual labor.  Not sure they need to be reminded of their roots, but they say it helps them stay grounded.  Aside from the help of Susie and the boys,  the daily tasks of keeping the farm up and running fall on Jim’s shoulders.  Luckily, Jim is no stranger to work. He was raised to appreciate a hard day’s work, and spent most of his professional life working as a welder, in addition to taking care of the family farm.  These years of hard work are vividly apparent in the deep-creased lines of his hands, the dirt beneath his fingernails that never seems to wash away completely, and the experience in his eyes.  When you meet a person like this, you take every opportunity to listen and learn, not only from him, but from those who know him well.

I recently had the chance to visit with Jim and Susie on their farm and learn a little bit about how much time and effort goes in to keeping things in working order.  For over 30 years, Jim and his family have lived on this 60+ acre plot of land.  As the family grew and changed, so did the landscape of their home.  Whether it was the addition of a garage on the house or an apartment atop Jim’s work room, each of these projects were modest and carefully crafted to fit the family’s needs.  Although they had plenty of space for these additions to be over the top or ostentatious, they were designed with simplicity  and usefulness in mind.  These are themes that permeate their family’s past, present and undoubtedly future story.

Beside the house stands a weather-beaten but beautiful old barn that is used to store hay bales and tools.  We climbed up to the barn loft to find one of their five cats taking an afternoon snooze in the hay.  “If you don’t have cats on a farm, you’ll be in a world of trouble,” Jim told me.  No cats leads to many-a-mouse roaming freely, which can be a nightmare for any farmer.  From the second story Jim called out with his deep southern voice into the wooded area below, “Daaaaaaisy!  Daaaaaaaaisy!”.  Slowly but surely a group of cows, black, brown, large and small, trotted up through the mud for some dinner.  We threw two bales down to the mud and watched them happily graze in groups.  A few of the smaller cows waited on the outskirts for their turn to feed.  While it was easy to throw the dried hay bales down from the loft, Jim informed me that when wet, these bales can weigh up to 60 lbs.  Needless to say, I was happy for the dry conditions that evening.  As we climbed down to visit the munching bovine, they happily greeted Jim with their big, brown, gentle eyes and wet noses.  Like giving encouraging words to his own kids, he patted his cows and sweetly said, “Yes, you are a very handsome!”  Their love for Papa Jim was quite apparent.

Jim, Susie and I walked down the dirt path to just outside the chicken coup.  Jessie, their Doberman Pinscher, weaved in and out, running circles around us and happily enjoying the last minutes of sunlight.  Multicolored chickens roamed freely around, pecking and prodding the ground for morsels of goodness.  It was obvious to me that these animals are very well cared for, which was something Jim expressed during our visit.  “If you are going to have animals, you have to take very good care of them.  There is just no other way to do it,” he said to me.  We continued down the path to the raised garden that his eldest son built last year, and chatted about how I should plan out my first attempt at a vegetable garden.  I learned how easy it is to plant and grow potatoes, and took mental notes as he and Susie discussed the various crops they have planted over the years.  We approached Jim’s work room to find an old beat-up banjo I had agreed to take off his hands, and came upon bins full of tomato seedlings, each individually planted in dixie cups and eagerly awaiting the last frost of the season.  Jim’s work room not only housed some major machinery (table saws and such), but off to the side he had an entire room filled with old country records, all arranged by artist and in mint condition.  He was very proud of his music collection, as music is a major part of their daily lives.  Beside the stacks of records stood one of  their eldest son’s oil paintings, a beautiful depiction of the crucifixion.  Jim and Susie’s kids are not only gifted musicians, but also gifted artists, and their pride is lovingly displayed throughout their home.

We continued our tour back to their hay field that opened up behind the house.  Tractors and old cars sat under the carport on the field’s perimeter.  There was a collection of Ford Galaxies (’63, ’65) and a ’67 Chevy Impala carefully parked under the carport canopy, just waiting for that first ignition of the Spring.  As I asked about the old cars, Jim lit up with joy and was eager to show me his pride and joy, and old ’57 Plymouth Cranbrook, that was tucked off in its own carport.  He opened the door and I hopped in, clutching the giant steering wheel and getting comfortable.  I have always wanted an old car to drive around, ever since my high school days of driving my dad’s ’67 Camaro (I still can’t believe he trusted me with that beauty!).  There is just something so beautiful and sturdy about an old car that was built to last.  Jim opened the back door and said, “Listen to this.”  As he slammed the door shut, the sound of sturdiness echoed through our ears…a solid car, built to withstand the test of time.  My opinion is that Jim and his family relish in anything like that…reliable and timeless, much like the fabric of their family.

Off in the distance beyond the treeline stood their eldest son’s new home, which was built on land that Jim and Susie gifted to him.  Their youngest son lives just down the road in a sweet, white home with a gravel driveway and friendly front porch.  Simple and perfect.  While their daughter lives in the next state over, it’s immediately obvious to anyone just how important family is to Jim, Susie and their kids.  Their appreciation for family as the foundation to everything else is palpable when I am around them, and it makes me want to work for the same in my life.

My evening at the farm ended with a special tour of Jim’s music room, a small loft in their home where he goes to listen, play and write his own music.  While I could go on and on about music and their family, I will save that for another time.   We sat upstairs, surrounded by 60+ guitar and banjo cases, each with its own story of how it came to be in his collection.  Jim told me, “I never golfed or gambled, so I spent my money on collecting these guitars.  I don’t collect them to sell and make money.  When I am gone from this earth, whoever is in charge of taking care of my things can come up here and know their story.”  He took out one of his guitars and played me a few songs, including his own beautiful version of Jim Reeves’, “Welcome to my World”.   As our visit came to a close, I listened intently as he seamlessly weaved storytelling with his singing and picking.  I left the farm that night with a delicious gift of a dozen fresh eggs from their hens, and a greater appreciation and knowledge of life, music, and the importance of family.

March 16, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Friends, Life. 4 comments.

A Bucket List at 32…

Can I kick it? Yes you can...

Lately I have been making a list in my mind of all of the things I would like to do before I die.  While  a “bucket list” sounds morbid to some, I think it signifies just the opposite.  A bucket list can bring energy, spontaneity, exploration and learning into a life that may otherwise be viewed as sand slipping through the proverbial hourglass.  The wonderful thing about a bucket list is its fluidity.  It is never complete, and there is always room for additional adventures!  So, without further ado, here is my bucket list it its early and ever shifting form:

1.  Work on a farm for at least a week:  When I say work, I mean work.  I want to wake up with the roosters, smell things that evoke nausea as well as joy, labor so hard that my body aches, have dirt under  my fingernails for weeks after…you know, the good stuff we were made to do.  Bring on the crops, cow, chickens, and the cock-a-doodle-dos!  I want ’em all.

2. Harvest grapes for wine: This item not only stems from my love of drinking wine, but also my envy of the life my friend Pete began when he left his  “day job” and moved back home to learn the art of wine making.  I’ve done my fair share of wine tastings and tours, but I never really felt like I “understood” the process as a whole.  I have always learned by doing…hands-on learner…so being involved in the entire process from harvest to corking would be a dream come true!  Pete, if you are reading this…I will work for free 🙂

3. Plant and maintain a vegetable/herb garden: For those of you who know me, my thumb is nowhere near the color green.  I’ve even gone as far as neglecting and killing a cactus for goodness sake!  BUT, there is a silver lining here somewhere.  I think the issue here is that I have attempted to grow various plants without the proper tools and knowledge.  Now that the bitter cold of Winter has forced me indoors, I will use that time to read my “Gardening for Dummies” book (or equivalent), call on my “green” friends for advice, and finally learn how to becoming one with the earth.  That way I will be primed and ready once the ground thaws and warmer weather returns to eastern NC.  At that point, I WILL clean out a patch of our yard that I have been eyeing and begin to tackle this item on my list.  You never know, you may see me selling produce at the Lil’ Washington Farmer’s Market before too long!

4. Run a race in every state: This was an idea that I got from my friend Charlotte.  The original idea came over a carb-loading dinner the night before the Shamrock 1/2 marathon.  Since then, it has been adjusted for my list.  While Charlotte is much more of an overachiever when it comes to distance running, and wants to run either a 1/2 marathon or marathon in each state (God bless her), I have decided that realistically that is too  much for me.  SO…my goal is to do some type of race in each state (5k, 8k, 10k, 10 miler, 1/2 marathon).  So far I have checked off Maryland, Arizona, Virginia, Oregon, Connecticut and North Carolina.  Hmm…so, only 44 to go!  It’s doable, but means that I have to start looking for races every time I go on vacation (guess that means more reasons to go on vacation!).

5. Thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail: While I have technically hiked a small segment of the AT at the ripe young age of 14 while at Camp Jewel, this item is taking it to a higher peak.  This item may get checked off as early at May 2011 if the original plans to do a 70 mile thru-hike in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park over the course of 7 days pan out.  Ten mile days don’t sound too bad, but definitely require some preparation.  This item not only will be a physical challenge but also a challenge of planning and packing accordingly.  I can’t wait to tackle those mountains!

6. Find the perfect tamale: I suppose this is an open-ended item, because while there will always be a tamale at the top of the list, there may also be a better one out there just waiting to be devoured.  As of today, the best tamales I have ever eaten were the homemade tamales my grandmother used to get from her friend over the holidays.  They would literally become a “side dish” in every meal while we were visiting her over Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  I have ordered a la carte tamales at every Mexican restaurant I have visited and even tried to painstakingly make my own, but so far Grandma Sweetie’s tamales take the blue ribbon.

7. Help to build a house: This is something I think everyone should do.  Give me a hammer, some nails, and directions and I will go to town.  While some think that it is necessary to go to other countries to do this, I think there are plenty of opportunities to help those less fortunate right here on US soil.  Habitat for Humanity here I come!

8.  Re-learn how to read/play music: Somewhere between 5th grade and puberty I lost my desire to practice reading and playing music.   I still enjoyed singing, but the tedium of sitting down at the piano or with the violin to practice became overwhelming and was quickly replaced by soccer practice and boys.  While I can still play a pretty mean version of “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on the piano, I believe I have completely lost all of my violin skills that Mrs Delert so lovingly taught me back at Hebron Ave. Elementary.  So, while I don’t see myself running out to buy a piano, I may have to rummage through the attic and dust off my old fiddle…not sure it will be a perfect fit, but perhaps I can make it work.

9. Learn how to sail: While at Camp Jewel I had the opportunity to take “sailing” as an activity elective, but for some reason I never did.   Soccer, archery, dance, and leather shop all seemed to trump getting out on Triangle Lake in a little Sunfish sailboat.  The only real experience I have had on a sailboat was in Fiji when my best friend and I were invited to “go for a sail” around the islands on a 50 ft sailing yacht with a very friendly family from New Zealand.  Other than that, I have watched from afar and marveled at the dance that takes place between the wind and sails.  Now that I live down the street from a sailing school, I think it may be time to fulfill this item.

10. Write a good song (lyrics): I have always admired a well written song.  While I can’t always connect to the music and understand its intricacies, I can latch on and relate to the lyrics almost instantaneously.  Since high school I have written a number of poems/songs that are primarily centered on love or loss of love…typical teenage girl angst.  Growing up, I can honestly say that I wasn’t faced with major adversity that would allow me to write a poem/song about struggle…I guess one of the only downfalls of having a normal childhood.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of gut wrenching, painful, “my world is over” experiences, but they were so short-lived that I didn’t capitalize on my acute reaction fast enough to turn out a lyrical masterpiece.  While I would like to avoid any future heartache, perhaps I can take a different approach and write about something uplifting…love, perhaps?  My mission would then be to avoid being cheesy…this may be a challenge since I am always trying to rhyme everything.  Just like this list, the song is a work in progress!

So, I think starting with a list of 10 is a good place to start.  I will add more as they come to me.  If any of you reading this have means by which I can check these items off my list, feel free to contact me.  You never know, maybe I can help you with one of your bucket list items in return.

December 8, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Life. 2 comments.

Definition of Self

You won't find this one in the dictionary kid

How often do you ask yourself, “What defines me?”.  It’s probably not an everyday topic of conversation, but rather something you ask yourself after doing something regretful.  Honestly, how many times do we challenge ourselves when we are on our best behavior?  Not often.  Instead, experiences that bring out our not so pleasant traits can lead us down this road of self-definition.

Throughout our lives, we become defined by several things: nicknames we are given, activities we participate in, friends we associate with, talents we possess, our job titles, etc.  Sometimes what ends up defining us isn’t something that we decide on consciously.  Instead, we latch on to things that others find amusing or acceptable and present that self-image to the public eye.  This is often done haphazardly and without much thought, which is why the moments that “define” us or force us to redefine ourselves aren’t always the ones we care to remember.  We all have an idea of they type of person we would like to be, however we rarely check in with ourselves to see if that is really the person we are putting out into the world.

So, I am using this forum to not only encourage others to take an honest look at their past, current, and future self definitions, but also to do the same for myself.  Therefore, I will start by retrospectively defining “who” I was at certain times in my life.  Over the past three decades I would say there are a few traits that have consistently defined me.  Growing up I was a creative, smart, active, often silly , outgoing, and compassionate kid.  I like to think that most of those traits help to define me as a good person, and that they have stayed with me over the years.  However, other traits do get sprinkled in as years pass, often as a result of environment, age, and available resources.  Some of these traits we grow out of, after trial and error teaches us that they are better left alone.  For example, as a young girl my creativity was seasoned with a little tomboy.  If I wasn’t in my room drawing, painting, reading or practicing my music, I was outside playing cops and robbers, tramping through our wooded neighborhood and trying to keep up with my older brother and his friends.  The more dirt the better, and I rarely came home unscathed.  This tomboy attitude led me into my fair share of trouble, too.  In the 4th grade I repeatedly stole candy from my teacher’s desk because I thought it was “cool”.  I became so riddled with guilt that I confessed my crime and served my time.  That was an important event in my 9-year-old life, because it taught me about who I DID NOT want to be.  As the teenage years approached, I dropped the tomboy to start chasing boys, while immersing myself in pop culture/music.  I became a boy crazy hip-hop, 90210 loving fiend who tested my parents’ limits by gallivanting through the “bad” part of town and wanting to grow up too quickly.  Late-teen years revealed my party side, which followed me well into my late 20’s.  Partying and drinking to excess seemed like the cool thing to do, and I quickly defined myself as THAT girl, while somehow performing well in school and work.

In all of these “eras” of my life, I maintained fundamental traits that continue to define me in a positive light, while testing out others that I chose to add to or delete from my self-definition.  Experiences, both good and bad, taught me that my actions define me and that they can have either positive or negative effects on the people and the world around me.  While I have no regrets, I do believe it is important that we all check in on our self-definition from time to time.  Look back and see what worked, what didn’t, who we have been and who we would like to be in the future.  Sometimes it is uncomfortable to let go of what has defined us for so long, for fear that our friends and family will somehow love us less.  In actuality, dropping negative traits will bring more love from true family and friends into your life.

My self-definition goal is to maintain and cultivate the positive traits that have stayed with me over time.  By surrounding myself with people who care about me and motivate me to be the best I can be, I know I will continue to reach that goal each and every day.

August 17, 2010. Tags: , , . Life. Leave a comment.

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