Today marks one year since I signed the papers and moved into my new home in Asheville. Home, not house. From the moment I moved in, this felt like home, like where I was supposed to be. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent on the front porch swing, listening to rain storms, watching lightning, reading the mail, chatting with neighbors, or simply being. I’ve explored a few mountain trails and made a few acquaintances who are now friends. I’ve eaten more fried chicken than I probably should have, and enjoyed the vinegary tang of NC barbecue once again. I’ve listened to some great local musicians and marched in protests. I’ve explored farmer’s markets and discovered the store I visit most is the local Ace Hardware, where the woman working the register greets me with puns on my purchases. I’ve hosted friends from CA, from NY, from GA, from FL, from other parts of NC, and have visited the Biltmore House so often that I can almost recite the audio tour verbatim. And I wouldn’t have changed a moment.
We stepped out of the car and I was overwhelmed by how noisy the night was. Armies of crickets, millions of them, participated in a call and response across the mountains, resulting in a continuous cacophony of chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, deafening in the otherwise quiet night.
We set up chairs and looked upwards. The sky was relatively clear, save for the thousands (millions?) of stars, the Milky Way visible, a cloudy arc above us. We waited, and chatted, and watched, our necks craned backward. We saw an airplane, blinking lights traveling quickly across the sky, but not quick enough to be a shooting star.
I remembered the last time I saw a meteor shower. I was eight years old and it was summer. A hot, humid summer at the beach at Ocean Isle, NC. Our family was on vacation and the kids were laying on top of the wooden pergola over the walkway to the beach. We laid there, staring into the night sky, watching stars zip and zoom and sputter and fizzle and fall to the earth. I remember thinking there would be no more stars in the sky after the night was done. They would all burn out. I was excited and fearful that I was bearing witness to the last night of stars.
I wondered if tonight would be like that. After about a half an hour of staring at the majestic, beautiful sky, full of stars, but void of shooting stars, I was okay with the knowledge that it would not be like that. We saw the Big Dipper. And the North Star, twinkling brightly. And Mars. Which really did hint red. And then,
Across the sky, it burned a thick path, scorching the width of the sky. It was magical. We waited patiently and many minutes later another shooting star followed in its path. We waited patiently, hoping for a storm of shooting stars.
Our hopes were tempered by the fact that we were an hour drive from home, and had to wake up early for work the next day. After many minutes of not seeing any more shooting stars, but still dazed by the beauty of the night sky, we reluctantly packed up and drove the slow and winding road of the Parkway back towards Asheville.
A day later, I close my eyes and see the shooting stars across the sky, mesmerized by their light, their power, and their intensity. The same way that I’m mesmerized by fireflies, with their soft pulsing glow, never quite where you expect them to be. There’s something about seeing a surprising burst of light in the night that brings joy to my soul. And makes me believe that life, indeed, is magical.
The kids said, “Let’s go this way!” as we snuck around the end of the fence through the ground cover, down the hill, to the golf course. We positioned our blanket on the edge of the course so that we wouldn’t be in the path of the night sprinklers that tapped an arc of water this way, then that. We settled in, watching the fireflies light up the golf course. And then, the fireworks began.
It was spectacular to actually see the fireworks. For years, I’ve walked down to the Bay, or to a friend’s rooftop, or boarded a boat, to see the fireworks in San Francisco. Each year I had high hopes that *this* would be the year that it was clear. And each year the fog never failed to roll in, making the spectacular fireworks show more of a muted colored cloud cover. Still lovely. But not the display I was hoping for.
This year was different. We watched as fireworks shot into the air, whizzing then bursting, sparkles fluttering down to earth. The boom echoed against the mountains, a cacophony of timpani filling the valley. And it was hot. The humid hot of the south in the summer. The hot that makes you sweat just enough so that when a gentle breeze blows you think, “Ahhhh, that feels divine.”
We oohed and aahed and commented on the beautiful designs. We clapped and woo-hooed when they were done. We sat quietly, secretly hoping for one more round. The fireflies appeared again, twinkling in the night, offering their own encore.
Today I turn fifty. I’m not really sure what I expected fifty to feel like, but I don’t feel much different than before. In no way was I dreading this birthday; I’ve loved birthdays that end in “0”s in the same way that I’ve loved birthdays with the same double digits (11, 22, 33, 44, etc). They feel more special than the others. I love that my birthday is the same day as Loving Day (and off by just one year from the actual pronouncement). I like to think that I was born of a generation that recognized equality for all (I know that we haven’t, though). I’m saddened that two years ago my birthday was the day of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. For the past three years, it’s made me reflect on how much work we still have to do with regards to gun control, tolerance, and acceptance. These feelings mix with each other in a fabric that can only be described as human.
The overwhelming feeling that I’m feeling this year, however, is grateful. So incredibly grateful.
I moved back to North Carolina in September last year. I looked forward to moving to a smaller city after living in San Francisco for twenty-five years. I looked forward to quiet, to calm, to a slower pace of life, and to being closer to mountain trails. And I’ve found all of those. And more. I’ve found community, and kindness, and friendliness. As I planned to move, though, I did think to myself, “I’m kind of sad I won’t be in San Francisco to celebrate my 50th birthday.” San Francisco is where my friends are – the ones who I’ve known for twenty plus years. When I was moving, I envisioned having dinner at a nice restaurant in Asheville by myself on my birthday. A lovely birthday, but perhaps a lonely one.
Yet that’s not what happened.
Earlier in the year, a few friends said that they wanted to fly to Asheville to celebrate with me. I was taken aback. Flying to Asheville isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s a tiny, charming, regional airport with very few direct flights to anywhere. So I planned a few events – a lunch at a favorite local restaurant, Rhubarb, an evening at Biltmore to see Chihuly’s work, a bbq at my house. And the weekend so far exceeded any expectations I could have imagined.
Friends from college met friends from San Francisco met friends from Atlanta met friends from New York met friends from Asheville met friends from water aerobics class met family. Everyone loved getting to know each other. There was amazing food (hello, bbq!) and engaging conversation. There were bouquets among bouquets of flowers (my absolute favorite gift in the world). And there was love. So much love in the air.
A local friend told me, “Just enjoy the present moment. You never know what will come next. But you can love, and appreciate, what you have right now.” Great advice not just for birthdays, but for every day.
It has rained. And rained. And rained. And for the most part*, I love it.
- the humidity
- the plinking sounds of raindrops on my roof
- the boom of thunder
- the occasional bright flash of lightning
- the solid wind that warmly blows
- the impending darkness in the early afternoon
- the greenery, sprouting up everywhere
- the coziness of being inside, watching weather
- the brazenness of sitting outside, watching weather
Tonight, we were eating at Hemingway’s, on the roof, under a cover.
When we were seated, the skies were clear.
When we ordered a cocktail, dark clouds appeared on the horizon.
When we ordered ceviche as an appetizer, it began to sprinkle and the temperature dropped by a few degrees.
When our mains of crispy cerdo and arroz con pollo arrived, the skies darkened.
When we talked, the skies boomed.
When we sipped our wine, the heavens opened and massive torrents of rain fell all around us.
We sat and silently watched in reverence.
* I don’t love the flooding. Or the water in the basement. But that’s a small price to pay for the majesty of nature, no?
There’s a bookstore here in Asheville, Malaprops, that has a shelf of books wrapped in brown paper. It’s billed as a “Blind Date with a Bookseller.”
Each book sports a short list of adjectives on its cover. There’s something thrilling about just knowing enough. I chose these two:
And opened the one on the left to bring with me on my trip. Looking forward to digging in!
I didn’t know what to expect when I wandered downtown this morning. The website said the march started at 11 am. Did that really mean 11 am? Or did that mean 11:45 am? Or even noon? Is this an on-time town? The skies were a dismal grey, and though the rain had temporarily stopped, it was still very cold. Would people show up? Would people stay in their warm houses? Would I show up? For about half a minute I considered staying home, and then I realized that was ridiculous. I had to show up. I had to show that I’m horrified by the amount of gun violence in this country. That I’m horrified that it was even *suggested* that teachers carry loaded guns. That I’m horrified that the two NC Senators who supposedly represent me, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, have accepted among the greatest donations from the NRA. I put on as many layers as I could and headed downtown. I walked to the meeting point and was heartened when, from over a block away, I heard a marching band. Life’s always better with a band.
I rounded the corner and saw hundreds, if not thousands, of people already there. I wandered through the crowd, looking at signs, saying hello, and making small talk with folks. As the time grew closer to 11 am, more and more people filled the square. And then, at 11 am, a few people took to the bullhorns. I kind of couldn’t believe it. The march was starting on time. A couple of students gave inspirational messages in both English and Spanish, and an organizer shared the rules for the march: stay on the sidewalk and don’t engage with counter-protesters. Neither instruction was necessary because the streets had been blocked off and there weren’t any counter-protesters.
We walked four blocks to a park, and by noon the speakers were speaking. Again, I was in disbelief at how organized and well run the event was. We heard from a teacher, from a student from Stoneman Douglas High School, from local high school students. Signs reminded us:
- Guns DO kill people
- Am I next?
- Give Teachers Raises, Not Guns
- No Sign Big Enough to List All the Reasons I’m Here
- Harden Our Gun Laws, Not Our Schools
- How Dare You Value NRA Money Over the Lives of Our Children? We Will Vote You Out
- Your Right to Own an Assault Rifle Does Not Outweigh My Right to LIVE
- All It Takes to Stop a BAD Man with a Gun Is A GOOD Legislator with a Pen!
- If you support the NRA, you are not pro-life
I was so happy that I showed up (and on time!).
When I first stepped foot into my home, I fell in love. There was a porch. There was a porch swing. There were hardwood floors, recently refinished very tastefully. There were plaster walls, with all their imperfections. There were big, old windows, that let in lots of light. There was just the right number of rooms. The interior had recently been repainted a neutral grey, which looked beautiful with the white trim and the bare rooms. Everything was so stark and so clean. I loved it.
And then I moved my furniture and artwork in. I still loved my home, but I didn’t love the grey walls as much as when I first viewed them in an empty state. So started the “color my house” project, back in November. I went to the hardware store and collected dozens of paint chips. I taped them to walls, imagining each room a different jewel color. A neighbor, who is an architect, ordered larger paint chip samples for me so that I could get a better picture of what the walls would look like. Each day I walked from room to room, trying to imagine what the walls would look like, painted in a color.
And then one night I had the dream. My walls were still grey and Rainbow Brite rang my doorbell. She asked to come in, and then immediately threw up. And each room was a different jewel tone color.
I didn’t want my house to look like Rainbow Brite threw up in it!
In January, dear friends from San Francisco came to visit. I explained my plan: paint the walls, buy area rugs, and then install funky light fixtures. Holly, an interior designer, kindly told me I had the order wrong. Focus on lights, then carpets, then paint colors.
I tried. I really did. But I just couldn’t get excited about light fixtures. So I focused on area rugs. And searched the internet. And by February I had ordered a couple. Honestly, there are just too many choices out there. And as soon as you visit one site, ads for rugs start showing up on every website that you visit. Paradox of choice turns into paralysis. But I fought the paralysis and obtained rugs for my living room, my dining room, and my bedroom. It was time to focus on wall colors.
I decided to choose a color for my office first since that was the smallest room. I had taped about a dozen samples of brown to my wall. My office in San Francisco had been brown, and I loved it. I loved walking into the warmness of cocoa each morning and starting my day. As I stared at the samples, I realized I was trying to recreate my San Francisco home in Asheville. It was time to let go. Brown was great there, but brown wasn’t the color for my new office. Blue. Blue was the color for my new office.
I chose two paint samples and painted patches on my walls. I immediately hated both. I waited a few days. I still didn’t like them. I held the paint chip up to the painted sample on the wall. Yep. It matched. I realized then I have no ability to imagine what a room will look like based on a 2-inch chip of paper. I went back to the paint store and ordered two more samples of blue paint, what I thought was closer to what I wanted. I painted and wasn’t immediately repulsed. But didn’t like those samples as they dried. So once again, I went to the paint store. They’re mighty friendly there. I ordered another two paint samples and came home and painted. When I applied one of them, I thought, “This is it. This is the one.” And the next day, after it was dry, I didn’t love it.
But I wanted my office painted! I had been applying sample patches for two weeks and I was ready to have a painted office!
I awoke on Saturday morning and went to the paint store. As I was walking in, I realized, “You didn’t like any of the samples. What color are you going to choose?” I looked at the book of chips and selected a color I hadn’t tried before. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Do I order another sample, or do I just go for it? Clearly, I didn’t have the gene that allows you to imagine the outcome of a whole room painted simply by looking at a paint chip. But I wanted my office painted. I bought a gallon of paint.
I came home, washed the walls, lay the drop cloths, and taped the trim. I was able to tape the entire room with one roll of tape. Except for the last six inches. This really annoyed me.
I began rolling the paint. It was pretty. I had a good feeling. I hoped I would still love it once dried. I made a salad and read an Oprah magazine while I waited for the first coat to dry. I cam back in and still loved it. I applied the second coat of paint. I touched up trim. I pulled masking tape off and cleaned my brushes.
The next morning I entered the room. I still loved it. I started putting the furniture back in place.
The next morning, I entered it to work. I still loved it. The blue was so cheery and just made me happy. Three weeks in and I still love coming into my office every morning. I need to hang artwork, but for now, I’m enjoying four walls of Benjamin Moore Rendezvous Bay.
And I don’t feel like Rainbow Brite has come to visit.
When I moved, I created checklists that mirrored each other. The checklist for San Francisco looked like this:
- Disconnect internet service
- Disconnect electricity
- Cancel gym membership
And the list for Asheville looked like this:
- Connect internet service
- Connect electricity
- Find gym
One thing that I didn’t even consider was that services might not be equal.
I arrived home on Friday afternoon after being out of town for work all week. I collected my mail and noticed there was a bright blue hang tag on my door, saying my gas service had been cancelled because I hadn’t paid the bill. I was perplexed, because if there’s one thing I’m anal about, it’s paying bills on time. I entered the house and noticed that the gas furnace wasn’t working. I logged onto my computer and checked the most recent online payments for my electricity bill. They had cleared each month, and money had been withdrawn from my bank account. I called the number on the hangtag to understand what had happened. The customer service representative asked for my account number, and when I gave it to her, she told me that wasn’t the correct number, that it should be many more digits. I told her that I was looking at my Duke Energy Progress bill, and that was the number on the statement. She said that was the electricity company. I asked her, “Well, who are you?” She told me she was from the gas company. I continued to be perplexed. In California, we had PG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric. Wasn’t the electricity company the same one that oversaw gas, too? In Asheville, it is not. She asked me if I had a gas tank in my yard. I told her no, but that I did have a gas line that ran from the street to my basement, and asked if they would be the company that serviced that. She said yes. I told her that I’ve had gas since I moved in in September, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. Patiently, she tried to find my account by my name (no luck), my social security number (no luck), then my address. She said that the account was in a company’s name, but they had recently stopped service. Oh, my goodness. The former owners had never shut service, and I assumed that gas was included in the electric bill, and this was a perfect storm of assumptions. She said the first appointment for someone to come out and reconnect service would be Monday. I quickly looked at the weather forecast. Saturday, low of 37 and high of 50. Sunday, low of 46 and high of 60. I wouldn’t freeze and I didn’t think that was “temps low enough to be dangerous” territory. I thanked her and hung up.
As I sit in my parka and scarf, under a blanket and sipping a cup of hot tea, I wonder how many other things that I think are under control that I simply don’t know.
I had driven my parents home in their car from Asheville to Winston-Salem after my dad’s heart attack. I figured it would be easy to make the 2 hour journey return home somehow: rent a car, fly, take a bus… options were (almost) endless. I chose to purchase a bus ticket. I’m still not that fond of driving, and riding along, watching the scenery, appealed to me. Greyhound e-ticket on phone, I headed to the bus station at 1 pm on New Year’s Eve.
We got almost to our destination, basically 20 miles away from Asheville, when we saw blue lights flashing ahead of us. The State Troopers had closed the interstate. They said that a freak storm had hit and all the roads were covered in black ice. Multiple accidents had already happened, and they were closing the roads until they could be treated. The bus pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, where the driver announced we’d wait for an hour or so until the roads had been salted and brined. As the 20 or so of us that were on the bus started to disembark, I thought to myself, “What if this is the start of something wonderful? What if we hunker down in the McDonald’s and talk and discover each other’s stories and have a lovely afternoon?” That didn’t happen.
About two hours later, we were back on the road, heading east, back to Winston-Salem. The roads would be closed until later that night, not passable for buses. On the way back to Winston-Salem, the driver said that he was re-routing to Charlotte, where the folks who had tickets for Knoxville, TN, could catch a bus to Atlanta, then on to Knoxville, avoiding the icy mountainous roads we had just left. The folks heading to Asheville could spend the night at the bus station (it was open 24 hours) and catch the first bus to Asheville in the morning at 7 am. If everything went well, we’d be in Asheville by 10 am. I thought to myself, “Not ideal, but not the worse thing in the world either.”
At the Charlotte Greyhound bus station, we stood in line to get re-ticketed. As I approached the counter, the clerk said, “Sorry. We’re sold out.” I looked at him. “What did you say?” “We’re sold out, ma’am. First come, first serve. No more tickets to Asheville.” I looked at him. “What are my options, then?” He clicked onto his keyboard and said, “Well, you can catch the midnight bus to Raleigh (five hours east), then layover there for four hours, then take the Asheville bus from there, which would get you into Asheville at around 10 pm tomorrow night.” I looked at him. “That’s not really an option.” I continued to look at him. “I’m just going to go right over here and have myself a think. Thank you.”
I went and sat down. I had been on a bus or in a McDonald’s for almost nine hours, and I was still over two hours away from my home, the highways were closed, and it was nearing 10:00 pm. Exhaustion swept over me. I booked a hotel room in Charlotte and a Lyft to get me there, and decided that I would be a better decision maker after a good night’s sleep. The Lyft driver who picked me up at the Greyhound station asked me what I was doing there. I explained my predicament. He looked at me and very seriously asked, “Baby girl, why your family hate you?” I paused. “I don’t think my family hates me.” He shook his head slowly. “Soon as you said you was buying a Greyhound ticket, if they cared ‘bout you, they would’ve told you no. When you buy a Greyhound ticket, you never get to where you trying to go.” I told him I wished I had met him earlier in the day.
The hotel I chose was also the hotel that about 100 teenagers had chosen to ring in the new year. I put ear plugs in and wished myself a happy new year.
In the morning, I checked the Department of Transportation websites. The highways were open, and by all accounts, it seemed like they were clear. I thought about my options. I could rent a car, I could buy a one way airplane ticket, or I could book a Lyft. Booking a Lyft was the cheapest option, so I waited as the (what I hoped was AWD) car pulled up to the hotel. He opened the rear door for me to deposit my tote bag. “Before we get comfortable, I need to tell you where I’m going. I’m heading to Asheville. Are you okay with that?” He held up his hand for a high-five and yelled, “Sweet!” The roads were fine, the conversation was delightful, and I walked into my home 24 hours after my journey began, at 1 pm on Monday, New Year’s Day.
At the end of the month I traveled back to the west coast for a dear friend’s birthday and another dear friend’s wedding. The night before I was due to fly, a snowstorm hit Asheville, dumping four inches of snow on the city. For those who have not lived in the south, any amount of snow shuts everything down. As I prepared to go to the airport, I received message after message saying my flight to Atlanta had been delayed, my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco had been rebooked, my flight to Atlanta had been cancelled, I had been rebooked on another flight, etc. I slowly drove to the airport (thank you, AWD). I checked in and the gate agent cheerfully wished me a happy trip to Atlanta. “Thank you, but I’m going to San Francisco.” He looked at his screen worryingly. My flight to San Francisco had been cancelled when my flight to Atlanta got rebooked. He punched some keys and made some phone calls, as I waited and the line behind me grew deeper and deeper. He said that he thought he had booked me on a flight to San Francisco, but they couldn’t confirm it until I physically arrived in Atlanta. That didn’t sound like a great plan, but it was all I had.
In Atlanta, they confirmed my (delayed and delayed) flight to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted, but happy to be there.
We were driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. As we drove further and further up the mountain, the weather became more and more inclement. Emily turned on the windshield wipers, which just made a smeary mess of the spray from the road. She tried to spray windshield wiper fluid on the mess to clean it up, and we discovered we were out. I said, “Oh, I’ve got this!” I rolled down the window, uncapped my water bottle, and attempted to throw fresh water on the windshield. The water came flying back into the car, prompting a ten-minute hysterical laughing fit. Travels were going okay after all.