Friday, November 18, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 4

A few last, random things:


Asheville is probably most famous for it's historic Biltmore House - - - the largest privately owned residence in the United States. And we spent a fair bit of time there...
Next to biking, the kids' favorite part was probably the petting farm... though one baby goat, Nibbles, was particularly fond of eating McKenzie's ponytails, or Miles's hat, or my camera bag, or Carson's shirt... (yeah, we were on a first-name basis with the animals...)

Miles felt right at home here - while I was busy snapping pictures, he helped himself to some of the goat feed... into his mouth and everything.

Bert, the horse was a favorite, too.

And, more live entertainment that, once again, captivated Miles.
I, personally don't understand why anyone would want to live in a house as big as the Biltmore - - - seems like an awful amount to keep track of, even if you did hire out the cleaning and landscaping. Plus, it would be quite easy to never actually see your family. No, I think I'm happy living in my little house...


When I first found the splash pad downtown, I thought for sure we would spend a healthy amount of time there... but we actually only went twice. I'm used to roasting during the summers, but Asheville wasn't all that hot - and even during the dead of summer, on most days it didn't sound refreshing at all to get soaking wet.

Though the kids sure enjoyed it on the days that we went.


Over and over and over, these kids made that long drive. And I rarely heard any complaints from those sweet little faces. They sat, quietly coloring and listening to Junie B. Jones, or the Magic Tree House CD's coming in through the radio speakers, hour after hour after hour. One time they even let me listen to NPR the whole way. We spent around 70 hours in the car just driving back and forth - and I'm sure an additional just-as-many driving around for our daily errands/activities in both cities. Miles slept like a pro during his nap times, and the kids were kind and respectful to each other for the most part.

We usually made two pit-stops on the way home and came to know those rest areas quite well. I tried to make them fun by having some fun snack to eat as we got on our pajamas. The power of Cheetos is scary.

It's funny, looking through all of these pictures. There's an almost dreamlike quality to some of them that leaves me thinking, 'did we really just do that?' Such a stark contrast to feeling like it might never end while I was in the middle of it. And, you know, it feels good to accomplish something hard. . . I didn't handle every day with poise and grace, and I didn't handle every tired emotion and frustrating comment from my kids with love and compassion. But, I can say that I did my best, and that's an unusual thing for me to say. Generally I have a hard time figuring out just what 'my best' is (there's always something more you could have done, right?), but for whatever reason, I feel like I handled our separation the best I could - - - and now I trust that the atoning sacrifice of my Savior will make up the difference.

Maybe that was one of the biggest lessons I learned... that I can be satisfied with something less than perfect in myself. And that I should rely on the Savior to make up the deficiencies. And now that the lesson has been learned, here comes the hard part - applying the lesson to the rest of my life. Now I start taking this experience and stringing it through all the other 'imperfect' moments in my life. This could be a long process, indeed.

But, I guess it feels good to have my feet pointed in the right direction...

Sayonara, Asheville!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 3

Let's talk for a minute about how ... strange ... weird ... unusual ... crazy ... fun ... awesome ... the downtown is in this mountain city. Where else can you go to find someone dressed entirely in grocery bags; a guy juggling machetes while balancing on a precarious slab of wood wearing nothing but blue paint, torn jeans and high heels; purple busses; a man dressed as a nun and riding a bike you wonder how he ever got onto; jugglers, painters and musicians on all the corners; old and young, businessman and hippie playing chess together; words from the Bible being shouted near the busiest corner; firetrucks screaming through the narrow streets at some point every hour (I had to wonder if there were really that many fires, or if the firefighters just got bored and wanted to make a loud lap around the city for entertainment...), and local, local, local posters in every window and on every bumper. (Can you match the descriptions with the pictures in the collage above?

One of our favorite things to do was to go downtown on Friday night and dance in/watch the drum circle.
Bring your own drum and play your heart out! Or dance to the beat - or just sit and enjoy watching others. Highly, highly entertaining.

As for the people there, the blonde lady in this next picture seemed to sum it all up nicely. Take a look... take a closer look...

Bare feet, homemade skirt, braless, armpit hair, and a smile on her face that gives the viewer the impression that she is free from all cares (and maybe a little stoned...).

After dancing till the kids were tired, we left the drum circle to stroll through downtown. The kids could not get enough of the musical street performers. They could have watched all night.

One night we even stumbled on some sort of Christian revival complete with colorful flags and some sort of long, wooden horn.

The audience was mostly captivated... many were raising their arms to the sky and swaying from side to side... some were singing along to the songs... one lady even ended up prostrate on the ground in front of the 'flag-man'. Each time one song would end, Miles would start panicking and saying, "Moe sahn? (more song?), Moe sahn?!" And, to everyone's pleasure, they sang more and more and more and more songs...

You know, I really, really love Christian music. There were some beautiful lyrics in some of the songs that they sang and I found myself touched a few times.

However, the 'showiness' of their flags and dancers, while interesting to watch, seemed to detract from the spirit that was trying to be felt there. It made me grateful that the church I belong to puts much more emphasis on 'teaching' rather than 'entertaining' - and I realized that the Spirit itself is much more powerful in motivating me to think of Christ than a whole flashy show meant to do that very thing...

Though the Christian show captivated Miles, Carson found his attention being sucked in another direction. I think he has found a new life goal...
This guy just rode around the city one night popping wheelies, standing on his seat, hopping down stairs, twisting his handlebars around in the air... don't try it, Carson. At least, not without a helmet...

Brian was mostly mesmerized by this lady:
I think he gave her close to $5 in coins over a 20 minute period. She posed as a statue, and quite remarkably stayed as still as one, until someone would drop a coin or two in a basket in front of her. At this point, she would play a little drum solo and turn to blink a 'thank you' to whomever dropped the coins. We happened to be resting on some benches when she came to set herself up, so we had front row seats of her performance for quite a while.

It was amusing to watch passers-by timidly approach her, telling themselves that she must be a real person, and jump in alarm as her drum beat loudly in their faces as their coins hit her bucket. She has Brian to thank for many of those coins and dollar bills, put into her bucket by our kids...

Downtown was certainly an odd mix: very clean and family friendly, but full of enough crazies that you grabbed those tiny hands of your babies and never let them out of your sight.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 2

In my last post I alluded to the fact that Brian's apartment in the mountains was a little ... dumpy. But, oh boy, you seriously would have been surprised. It looks pretty nice on the outside, doesn't it? I was sure encouraged as we drove by. But, allow me to take you on a little tour...

You first notice that there are several, seemingly abandoned, full-sized semitrailers gracing your view in every direction.

For the most part, their sides have been stripped and they are slowly and silently rusting away. Odd, you think. You drive up to the back of your building and are thrilled to see that there is one in the grass just to the side of your steps. It looks to have been there for a while, as the grass underneath it is completely dead and brown. Super fun, though, you find you have neighbors living underneath some of them.

Your youngest child actually finds that the word 'beaver' is one of the five words he knows how to say and asks for them by name each time you pass one of the trailers.

Holding your suitcases, you make your way up the cracked, concrete stairs (being careful to not step on the edge of the bottom stair for fear that it may crumble underneath you) and prop the unusually heavy door open with a heavy, 5 gallon bucket located conveniently inside.

The smell is the first thing you notice about the dark hallway in front of you... an unpleasant mixture of dog, cat and old, rotting wood. Tufts of animal hair swirl into the air as you roll past them to find your apartment door, and you suddenly feel a desire to step back outside into the fresh, April air. You glance at the unclaimed pile of old mail sitting on an abandoned computer desk across the small hallway as you unlock your door, and then realize that you're standing on an old, ratty doormat decorated with prancing reindeer surrounded by faded, checkered squares of red and green. You wonder why they chose to put a Christmas doormat at the foot of your door when, clearly, there was no intention of ever switching it out.

As you step across the threshold of your door, you peer questioningly at the poster of Audrey Hepburn staring back and you, and sadly discover that the cat smell that was wafting into the hallway is, indeed, originating from your own living space. Before unpacking your suitcases, you grab the broom and start in the second bedroom. Big enough to hold a set of bunkbeds, a small round table, and then leave just enough room for a sleeping bag on the floor, this room only takes a minute to sweep, but you realize that this must have been the cat's headquarters... you come away with a dustpan full of hair and kitty litter and wonder what, exactly, the cleaning crew that came in before you did during those hours they were supposed to be taking care of such things. You next travel the step-and-a-half across the hallway and enter into the master bedroom. This room has even less floor space - the queen bed in the middle of the room and the dresser at the foot of it leave enough space to run a sweep of the broom along three sides of the bed, but you diligently get down on all fours and make a couple of sweeps underneath the bed for good measure. Your dustpan is only half full this time. After another step-and-a-half, you begin to sweep the main living space. Most of it is covered by an area rug and you realize you'll have to pull the vacuum out as well. You sweep the little space underneath the bamboo dinner table with the glass top, knowing that your children are going to lodge food in all of those tiny cracks and wondering how many children (or adults) before you have done that same thing.

You open the door to the bathroom and slowly shut it again. You'll come back to the bathroom.

The kitchen is the size of a hallway. Long enough to hold a refrigerator (with a missing handle), a stove, and a few drawers on one side, and on the other side, a top-to-bottom washer and dryer (that smells of mold and didn't dry your clothes), a few cupboards, a dishwasher and a sink. You will soon find out that when you open the dishwasher, the door spans the entire width of the hallway and blocks your only path to the sink. And when you pull the bottom rack out, the dishwasher tips forward out of the counter - giving you somewhat of a scare before you realize that it catches itself at the back before crashing to the floor. At least it works, however... you will also learn that the residents in the apartment kiddie-corner to you can only use their dishwasher as a giant drying rack. As you sweep the kitchen, you notice that the window by the sink has a giant post-it note saying DO NOT OPEN, and you wonder what would happen if you ignored it.

You vacuum the rug, the couch cushions, the couch itself and then do it again to make sure... and then, just because, you vacuum the tufts of hair out of the main hallway as well. One of your neighbors comes in as you're doing so and doesn't know what to make of it. You hope the vacuum is working properly...

Eventually there's nothing left to do but the bathroom. You've put it off long enough. You try not to gag as you run your Clorox wipe along the toilet, picking up hair and sticky, yellow smears along the way. The floor underneath the toilet hasn't been cleaned in so long that the film looks a little hairy as you cut through it on your hands and knees. The tiny counter and sink are sprinkled with foreign hair and soap smears, the tub shower looks to be growing mold in all the right places, and you hold a nasty conversation in your head with the head of the cleaning department as you scrub. You eventually end the conversation by being glad it's not you signing their pay checks. Once all the 'disgusting' is gone you notice, how did you not notice before?, a giant, flaking hole in the wall next to the tub. A foot in diameter of flaking drywall and paint (that you will later learn is full of lead), dusting the ground underneath. Out of the bathroom you carry your final dustpan load, move your belongings into their places, and make peace with the situation. After all, home is where your heart is, right?

Besides, if you're feeling like you need to get out of your cramped/dumpy living circumstances, all you have to do is walk outside. Remember that huge grassy field in the first picture? Heavenly for having foot races, games of tag, and - of course - wheelbarrow races.

It's also alight with countless fireflies every summer night.

Or, you can just take a stroll down the blue ridge parkway and stop to wave to the cars passing underneath the tunnel.

It's true, your house might not be awesome, but... have an incredible backyard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 1

I'm pretty sure a psychiatrist would have diagnosed me with bipolar disorder had he gotten to know me during the time Brian was away. At times, he would have heard me saying that I felt like I was trudging along through cold, rocky, liquid cement that was slowly hardening... like I was expending the same amount of energy (or more) day after day, but making less and less progress... he would have even heard me entertaining the possibility of actually getting stuck and having to spend the rest of my life trapped in the middle of that sea of concrete. His notes might have said something like, withdrawn, overwhelmed, weepy, exhausted, unable to cope.

At other times, he would have heard me gushing about how free I felt. Imagine visiting a beautiful mountain city, weekend after weekend, that you were quickly falling in love with - and then moving there for 5 full weeks during the summer while your children were out of school. You don't own a home there - so there is no stress on you when the bathroom wall in your apartment sheds giant flakes onto the floor, or when the dishwasher falls out of the counter. You don't have to worry about why there is a large post-it note on the kitchen window warning you not to open it, and you don't have to think about how to replace the missing handle on the refrigerator. In fact, your dire living arrangements force you to spend most... almost all... of your time outside. Every morning after kissing your husband off to work and cleaning the apartment (which takes all of 15 minutes because it's only about 500 sq. feet), you pack a lunch, tie on three little pairs of hiking shoes along with your own, and are free to explore thousands of beautiful hiking trails... many of which are right in your own back yard. Or maybe you pump up the kids' bike tires and hitch up the bike trailer to yours. Or maybe you want to take your lunch to the Biltmore - the largest privately owned home in the United States - and ride along their trails, or go to their petting farm, or take the kids through their house to see the swimming pool, or the bowling alley again. Every Sunday you're free to soak up the ambiance of all three hours of church and then take family nature walks after, or read The Chronicles of Narnia to your kids, or put 5 puzzles together as a family, because you have no church related responsibilities. I think, during these sessions, my psychiatrist's notes would have said something more along the lines of happy, carefree, optimistic, friendly, energetic.

I suppose Charles Dickens said it best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

But, for better or worse, the times are past me now. And, thankfully, the little bit of time that has passed has already erased much of the worst from my memory, and I am left with all the pictures to remind me of the best.


Who knew little legs could walk so much? We covered miles (and miles and miles) of trails on foot and these three almost never tired out. Fueled by their intense desire to find the perfect rock, (McKenzie is quite sure she is going to find a diamond one of these days and is frequently running back to compare her newest find to the ring on my finger) they moved along pretty happily.

For the 5 weeks we lived there, my weekday schedule looked something like this...

7:30 Get Ready/Eat Breakfast/Tidy Apartment
12:00 Eat Lunch...somewhere fun
3:00 Be home to welcome Brian from work
5:30 Eat Dinner...a simple one because we have limited cooking ingredients
8-10ish Tuck exhausted, happy kids into bed/enjoy handsome hubby

... leaving gigantic blocks of time unstructured and open. And did you catch that Brian was home by 3:00 most afternoons? Heaven!

We typically had three big outings a day... the kids and I would take one big hike/bike in the morning that would take us all the way through lunch, then when Brian got home from work he would take the big kids out swimming or to the museum while Miles took a nap, and then after dinner we'd head out as a family for another fun hike or a stroll around downtown. The freedom was overwhelming (in a good way). Free to play, free from schedules, free to explore. I wore a ponytail, no makeup, my camera and a smile almost everywhere we went. Stumble across some rushing water? Sure! Stop and slide for a while!

See a rock you want to jump off 68 times? Do it! We have nowhere to be!

Getting hungry? Alright! Let's pull out a snack and start making our way back home... we'll do it again tomorrow.

Photo taken by Doug Larson

Those 5 weeks were a little slice of heaven. And those feelings of freedom and happiness came back each weekend the kids and I would return.

See, but then...

Then the time came, over and over and over again, for me to back out of our parking spot on Sunday afternoon with three crying children in the back - barely hanging onto my own emotions as well (sometimes not holding them at all) - and wave good bye to Daddy and the freedom for another week. Each drive, I would vow to bring a little of the freedom back with me... to not let stress get to me and to just carry that free heart right on into my normal life. But the closer and closer we got to home, the heavier and heavier my heart became.

I can't figure out how to do it... some people are really good about ignoring the stressors in their lives and keeping a carefree attitude. But I haven't been able to figure that one out yet. Is it possible to keep a 'vacation heart' while still taking care of regular life?

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent - back to the great stuff. :)


I think biking may have been my personal favorite. We were a little bit limited because I only own a road bike, and most of the trails were for mountain bikes (and I obviously didn't want to go down any real roads with these two crazies!).

But the Biltmore had a beautiful paved biking trail that ran right along the river. Easy, calm, lovely ride. At the end, the trail turned into dirt and rocks alongside a fun lake, and I would always park my bike here, divvy out the snacks and walk alongside my kids so they could get a little adventure biking in before turning around.

Those bike rides always felt serene. The drone of the wind rushing past my ears, the beautiful scenery, the faint tinkling of giggles I'd catch from the kids in front of me... And as long as we kept moving, the ease was delightful. But if ever we stopped - oh boy - like, say at the (almost) top of a hill... once it took me 4 (four!) tries to get moving again to cross the street that was intersecting our path. I'm pretty sure the people in the cars that stopped for us even applauded as I finally made it across the road hauling my heavy load up that hill.

That wasn't embarrassing...

Wordless Wednesday