Out Being Awesome

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A good friend has the following clever voice message, “I’m out being awesome, but I”ll call you when I return.” No matter how many times I hear it, her message leaves me smiling. I envision her our snowboarding, running, kayaking, climbing, or biking. . . and I know she is always being her awesome self.

When people ask if I’m okay because they haven’t seen a blog post in the past few months, my only reply is that I’ve been busy being awesome. For me, that means writing and plenty of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Blogging was a start. Then I started guest-blogging and sending proposals to magazines. As T. Roosevelt put it, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

My first article, “In the Footsteps of the Ancients,” was published in Blue Ridge Outdoors in their January issue. Since then, I’ve been off working on several other articles, including one about Lake Jocassee. National Geographic recently named the area in the 50 Must See Destinations. Since it’s only 1.5 hours away, I decided to write an article about it.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the photos:

Can you see why this is dubbed the “dog rock?”

And here’s a cool tree stump:

And from behind a waterfall:

I hope that you’re spending February out being awesome too!

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Gratitude and First Birthdays

If ever I felt called to do something without knowing exactly why, it was to go to Hot Springs, NC this past Saturday.  By mid-week I made a reservation for one of the hot tubs with the best view first thing when the resort opened at 10 a.m.  Early that morning, I packed towels and enough layers for Baby T that we were prepared for any adventure that came along.

The morning soak was an absolute divine way to start the weekend.  As I lugged our gear back to the car, my body felt relaxed.  My gait a little looser, I decided to take Baby T on a hike.  We walked from the town across the French Broad river to the Appalachian Trail.  This particular trail was familiar to me, as a family we’d walked there many times before.

View from hot springs:

It wasn’t until we had started to hike that I realized that this was the very first hike that Baby T went on with his dad and I last year, almost a year ago to this very day.  That day had been similar to this one – abnormally warm and sunny for late November.  We had stopped at a rapid along the French Broad to give Baby T his first glimpse of whitewater, promising him it wouldn’t be his last.  At first, I thought I’d be overcome with disappointment our hiking crew consisted of quite a different family than last year – it was Baby T, Moo Cow, and I.  It took me a good bit into the hike to realize that I actually felt quite happy.  Life hadn’t turned out how I wanted or expected, but it was good nonetheless.

Every mom I know admits to a certain relief of having made it through the first year of her baby’s life.  Sure, there’s also a certain sadness that our babies are becoming toddlers and time passes too quickly.  But that seems overshadowed for me by the fact that the risk of SIDs is in the past, I’ve  gained confidence in my parenting skills, and Baby T has developed some independence.

It was this relief I felt.  Even more, I felt a certain pride that I’m perfectly capable of taking Baby T hiking, just him and I (and Moo Cow, who seems to be accompanying us on more and more adventures these days).  Not only did I feel like I was finally getting the hang of the single mom thing, I was really enjoying it.  I realized how much I like being able to decide where to do, when to go, and how to introduce Baby T to the wold around him.  As I hiked, I held the now slack head of sleeping Baby T, absorbed in thoughts about how much my little guy has grown and the gorgeous scenery around us.

As I continued along the steep incline up to Lover’s Leap where a Cherokee girl was said to have leaped upon hearing of her lover’s death, my thoughts turned to all the things I’m grateful for this past year.  Here’s what I came up with:  for my little guy’s smile; that I got to breastfeed him for six months; for the sensation of  my milk letting down and that intimate connection and responsibility for the basic necessities of another person; each and every time he laughs; clothes for him that came from my family; holding him when he’s tired and having him wrap his little arms around my back; seeing how big he’s grown and knowing he’s healthy;  the very moment he falls asleep and his body becomes heavy in my arms; when he gets so excited that he flaps his arms and jumps up and down; those early days full of cuddling when we both slept 20 hours a day (and needed it) on the futon in the guest bedroom as the sun filtered through the sheer curtains; all the meals and stories and hugs friends brought those first few weeks; my doctor – for always asking how I’m doing and offering a smile of support; and support, from random unexpected places, and especially from my friends and family.  I’m also so grateful for all the birthday love he and I received and for feeling in such a good place for the year ahead!  Ahhh, we made it!

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Mama Love!

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Wild – A Mom-Sized Adventure

Paddling the Savage River.

Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, sucked me in for a full weekend. The book is about a twenty-something woman running away from her mom’s death and the corresponding unraveling of her family anyway she knows how – by sabotaging her once happy marriage with affair after affair and using heroin. Her heroin use scares even her. She feels compelled to hike the PCT (the Pacific Coast Trail).  Something deep inside of her urges her to take on the biggest physical and outdoor adventure of her life.  By pushing herself physically and absorbing herself in nature, she starts down the long and arduous path that is the PCT, a path toward healing. Even though Cherly isn’t a backpacker or even necessarily a hiker, she grew up poor having to exist in what amounted to an often outdoor existence in the northern Midwest.

She saves money from waitressing job, frequents REI, finalizes her divorce and sets out alone on the PTC.  She seesk refuge in her aloneness, but also finds good stuff in the company she meets along the way.   In her words: “It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again.  To be the woman my mother raised.  To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze.  I would suffer.  I would suffer.  I would want things to be different then they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it.  I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.  It was a place called the Bridge of the Gods.”

I can relate. There’s a certain peace in nature, a sense of infinity and my own smallness in the world, that helps me put my own problems into perspective. And despite my woes of the day, its hard not to marvel in the splendor of nature. Not once have I managed to look at the blue ridge mountains on the horizon and not immediately think of the ocean view on the horizon – one successful ridge after the other as far as the eye can see.  Other times, I imagine all the secrets the mountains hold.  Secrets of steep creeks and waterfalls, of the first autumn leave starting to turn or the first spring dogwood tree flowering.

Last weekend, I had my first full weekend away from Baby T.  I felt afraid.  Afraid of missing him, of him missing me, afraid of how I was going to occupy myself (kayaking, duh!), and then fearful of kayaking, having not been in my boat much over the last two years.  In the end, there was nothing to fear.  I had a blast sleeping for three blissful nights without being woken up, catching up with very dear friends, traveling north to get a sneak peak at autumn, and paddling a new river.

The leaves beginning to turn on the Savage River.

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed wrote something that resonates deep with me, and I hope too to keep fear at bay: “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

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Finding Nature in the Suburbs

Tobin in a wagon we used to lug our gear to a walk-in campsite during a recent camping trip in Tennessee.

As a kid, my two brothers and I spent all of our free time outside.  Even in my early memories, I remember feeling a heady sense of freedom from spending time exploring the outdoors.  It was the creek behind my house.  It was climbing the tallest tree in the neighborhood.  It was finding a fossil pit.  My parents had rules about bed time, chores, food choices and homework.  But outside, my brothers and I were free to roam.

Before we were of driving age, we had already spent a healthy portion of our lives discovering our little part of the world.   We noticed the changes in the seasons – from the sky getting darker earlier, to watching the leaves change from green to golden and orange hues to catching the first snowflake on our tongues to seeing the very first fire fly.  Time was marked not by a watch or calendar, but by our observations.

In some ways our world was small.  We didn’t have cable.  We didn’t have computers.  We didn’t travel out of the country.  We didn’t know about rain forests or the deep sea or the arctic tundra.  But we knew all about what berries and flowers you could eat.  We knew how to look at a cloudy sky and tell if it was going to thunderstorm.  We knew about tides and what time the lowest tide was that would expose certain tidal islands in our backyard creek.

If I could give only one gift to my baby, I would chose to pass along my relationship with the outdoors.  To me, nature is a place for comfort, for calming, and for adventure. Nature has always been the setting for my very best memories.  I never sleep better than I do nestled in my tent listening to the sound of a creek or river.  Nor do I feel more at peace or like myself more than when I’m paddling a river or running a trail.

Tobin already likes playing in and around kayaks.

Will I be able to pass along an appreciation for spending time outdoors?  I grew up in a rural area, with lots of space and few people or cars to worry my parents.  My baby boy and I live in town, where the houses are close together, the cars are many, and the green, open spaces are few.  And so I’ve had to accept that my boy’s experiences in nature will of course differ from my own.

Tobin helping Meghan pick a tomato.

Each generation’s connection to nature changes.  My grandparents tell stories of growing up on big farms, and being intimately connected to a hard day’s work beginning at the first sign of the sun.  And their grandparents tell stories of vast wilderness frontiers, having to carve an existence in harsh climates, frequently encountering wild animals.

I think about how I will make the outdoors accessible to my son.  Because the best I can give to him is a place that is always his for seeking it out, a place in nature to rejuvenate, to feel calm, and to feel challenged.  For now, it is enough for him to have a grassy area to play in, his for the exploring, and a garden to experience dirt between his toes or in his mouth.

These are experiences I can provide in our little bit of a backyard.  When we have more time, I like to take him to the outdoors.  Recently we went to pick a wild grape that grows near the river at the end of the summer.  We also go to petting farms so that he can see animals.  I wish I could let you hear that sound of his giggles as he pets the goats or listens to the rooster.  It is a sound of pure delight!  He claps his little hands in glee whenever he sees a dog, and I hope that soon I will be able to add a dog to our family.

Tobin reaching for a scuppernong:

Tobin and I at the petting farm at the Biltmore Estate.

How can we ensure our kids connect to the outdoors even if we don’t live in the type of environment that makes it second-nature?  What activities do you do on a daily or weekly basis to get our baby outside?

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Househunting: 5 Considerations for Finding the Family Home

With interest rates are at an all time low, it’s a house-hunting I go!  And from the real estate reports, it seems I’m in good company.  In many areas, the cost of a mortgage is considerably less than paying rent, even after factoring in home-owner related expenses.  Take the little bungalow I rented in West Asheville.  The monthly rent was $1200, not including utilities.  I’m now looking at comparable bungalows in the same neighborhood and expecting to pay less than $800 for monthly mortgage payments.

Buying a home is a long-term investment.  As a new mom, I’m thinking about what I need to think about when househunting this time around.  What I thought made the perfect house before as a single professional isn’t necessarily what’s best for my little guy.  I’ve tried to think about our needs now, as he enters his toddler years and later on when he gets ready to start kindergarten.  Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.

After conducting a very informal poll (read endless conversations with my mom and several close friends), here are the five considerations that top my list:

1.  Neighborhood – In an ideal world, we would move into a neighborhood with toddler swings in the trees, BOB’s on the front porch, and toys strewn about the yard.  The idea of being able to go on walks and having playdates with other moms and babes without getting in the car appeals to me.  I’ve been driving up and down streets, marking the ones that seem to have more kids living on them and families who spend time outdoors.  Moving onto a street where there is a lot of porch-sitting going on seems like it would make meeting the neighbors an easy task.

2.  Good Schools – Good schools top my list of househunting criteria, both for Baby T’s elementary school days and for the potential resale value.  When I was in elementary school, I envied the kids who walked or rode their bike.  As a parent, I would love to start the day walking with my little guy to school each morning.

3.  Commute – Burning up the limited awake time my little guy and I spend together commuting, really frustrates me.  And I’m not the only one frustrated – Baby T makes his discontent known, and so far no amount of car snacks, bottles or toys can make car time more enjoyable for him.  We currently spend 30 minutes commuting to work and daycare (conveniently they are located side-by-side).  This adds up to one hour each and every day that I’m not outside playing with Baby T.  Luckily, there are several neighborhoods within a few miles of work, so hopefully are next commute will be shorter.

4.  Things To Do -  Are there playgrounds, libraries, ice cream shops and parks within walking distance of the front yard?  Having fun things nearby will only become more important as Baby T starts toddling.  I also like the idea of being able to fit in an outing between his nap schedule.

5.  Yard – In the mountain town I live in, lots of houses are perched on top of steep hills.  When I think about my little guy learning how to walk, and later learning how to ride a bike, I imagine he’ll avoid some major scraps and bruises with a flatter learning terrain.  I also want at least enough yard that he has place to play, we can garden, and a patio to eat outside during the warmer months.

What considerations would be most important in a househunting for you and your family?

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Celebrating the Cherokee: Fall Festival Part II

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Cherokees demonstrate what their ancestors in the 1800s might have worn on a typical autumn day.  Photographer:  Meghan Rolfe A Cherokee women shows the technique she learned from her grandmother to make designs on pots. Tools used by Cherokee for … Continue reading

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Celebrating the Cherokee: Fall Festival Part I

Warriors of Anikutuhwa – designated official cultural ambassadors by the Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (Photographer:  Meghan Rolfe)

On a clear day, I can see the mountains on the horizon from my office.  Every time I look at them, I feel calm.  There is a certain sense of peace from seeing those rounded, mountain mamas, one after another, seemingly stretching out into infinity into the distance until I can’t discern mountain from cloud.  Staring out at the mountains, I wonder about the native people who occupied these very mountains centuries before I moved here – the Cherokee nation.  I wonder what their lives were like, so intimately connected with the land and the animals around them.

Jerry Wolfe, an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, story-teller and lecturer on Cherokee History, Culture, and Language (Photographer: Meghan Rolfe)

Who were the ancient Cherokee?  To find out, I headed to the Fall Festival held at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, the only historic site owned and operated by Cherokees in Tennessee.  The festival is held every year, the first weekend in September after Labor Day.  The festivities include Native American food, arts and crafts demonstrations, and native music and traditional dances.

Great Island Festival Sequoyah Birthplace Museum’s 21st Annual Fall Festival “Emissaries of Peace”  (Photographed by:  Meghan Rolfe)

It was there that I first learned about a Cherokee man named Sequoyah.  Sequoyah created an entirely new writing system for an illiterate people – a feet unmatched in all of recorded history.  This one man is responsible for the Cherokee adopting a writing system in 1825, which led to literacy being more common among the Cherokees than the European-American settlers in the area.

Sequoyah saw the white man communicate on what the Cherokees dubbed “talking leaves.”  While he was serving in the military, he saw firsthand the power of the written word to make people smile, cry, and accomplish brave acts.  Sequoyah set out to create symbols to represent each sound in the Cherokee language.

People thought he was crazy.  He left his fields go unplanted to work on his.  Rumors spread that Sequoyah was practicing witchcraft.  Really, he was creating a syllabary consisting of 86 symbols for each syllable in the Cherokee language.

Sequoyah tried to teach his syllabary to other Cherokee adults, but they were unwilling.  Instead, he taught his young daughter named Ayoka.  Sequoyah and Ayoka travelled to an Indian Reservation in the Arkansas Territory to show others this new writing system.  Sequoyah sent his daughter away and then went to the leaders.  He asked each to say a word, which he then wrote down.  He called his daughter to read back the words.  She did, and the Cherokee written language was born.  Within a few months thousands of Cherokees became literate.

Many Cherokee today are relearning to write in Cherokee.  We met one modern day Cherokee scholar, Bo Taylor.  Bo is a member of the Eastern Band Tribal Council, and also lectures on Cherokee music, dance, and spirituality.  He has taught the Cherokee language at the museum of the Cherokee Indian, in the Cherokee History and Culture Institute, and through the Cultural Resources Office of the Eastern Bank of Cherokee Indians.

Tobin and I getting his name written in Cherokee by Bo Taylor  (Photographed by:  Meghan Rolfe)

The museum is located at 576 Hwy 360, Vonore, TN.  For information visit www.sequoyahmuseum.org or call 423-884-6246.


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Birthday Bucket List Update

On my birthday, I wrote a list of goals and dreams for this year.   Sometimes in flashes, sometimes at a snail’s pace, I making progress.  This past month I:

#1 Paddling A New River –  And rediscovered my love for kayaking!  The Friday after work Upper Green runs just hit the spot.
#2 Explore the Balds - My friend, her dog, Tobin and I explored the balds along the Cherohala Skyway one weekend.  The mysterious mountain balds had us hypothesizing how they came to be.  See, these are mountain top areas that one would think would be covered with trees, but for some reason they are grassy meadows with a tundra-like appearance instead.  My favorite theory – the Cherokees cleared these spaces to create sacred areas where ancient ceremonies were performed.
#4 Hike the Highest Mountain- Another friend came to visit me from all the way from NZ and we went to camp at Mt. Mitchell during one of the biggest thunder storms I’ve ever seen.  The next morning it cleared up nicely for our hike.

Here’s my friend happy that we woke up to sunny skies:

Me on the hike:

#6 Check Out the Nature Center- The Nature Center is literally a few miles from my house, so I was glad when we finally had the chance to go.

Who doesn’t like donkeys?

Petting the goats:

There is a cool puppet show theater there:

#7 Guest Blog - Meghan and I finished our guest blog for Keen “Small Adventures in Keens.”  Click here to read it.
#8 Running Stroller Fan - Okay so maybe I’m not a full-fledged fan just yet, but I have been running, or, ahem, jogging with the BOB more often.  We’ve been going to Biltmore after work once a week for jogs together.
#9 Buy Pottery  - I bought two new pieces this month.  Plus, I found out that my mom went through her pottery collection and is going to pass along some of her favorites once I get a home of my own.  Thanks mom- you’re the best!

Here are the two new pieces of pottery I bought:

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A Tale of Two Grapes

Scuppernongs — just saying the word makes me smile.  So when I kept hearing that Scuppernogs were ripe for the picking, I couldn’t wait to go scuppernogging.  So excited was I to search for the ripest, juiciest grape that I spent the days before finding out what I could about these wild grapes.

Here’s the scoop:  Scuppernongs are a wild grape native to the southeastern U.S.   The namesake for these wild grapes comes from the Scuppernong River in North Carolina which runs from Washington County to the Albemarle Sound.  Scuppernongs were first discovered along this river.  The word Scuppernong is derived from the Algonquian Indian word ascopo which means “sweet bay tree.”  Scuppernongs are usually a greenish color and are rounder and larger than a white grape, and was first known as the “big white grape.”  North Carolina designated the scuppernong grape as the official state fruit in 2001.  Possibly the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400 year old scuppernog “Mother Vine” growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

Scuppernongging and without a ladder?  Go redneck style and back up your pick up right up in there like we did:

Turns out, when I finally got to pick scuppernogs, I  was actually picking muscadines.   What’s the difference?  Scuppernongs are one variety of Muscadines.  While scuppernongs are green when ripe, muscadines can also be bronze to dark purple to black in color when ripe.  What I was picking was definitely deep purple, so not Scuppernong variety after all.  I filled my cloth bag with very round, deep purple fruits that burst with a tart-sweet flavor.  The skin on these wild grapes is tougher than a table grape, protecting the soft, juicy flesh inside.

Even Baby T enjoyed picking ‘em”:

Muscadines are a wild variety of grape.  Since the 16th century, muscadines have been extensively cultivated.  Both muscadines and scuppernogs are native to the southeastern United States.  They’re not only eaten fresh, but they are also used in making wine, juice, and jelly. I’ve heard they also make good pie, cider and even wine.  Using muscadines in wine and food is a Southern tradition, and there is no better way to celebrate the muscadine grape heritage than by attending the 2012 Muscadine Festival, held in Kenansville, NC on September 29th.  The two-day festival features over 150 wines, cook-offs and even tailgating.

If you live around Asheville, you can also pick you’re on along the French Broad River or buy some at the farmer’s market.

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