Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Dragon in the canal in the center of Oriental

Before your mind takes you someplace strange....
this is a post about a place, not an ethnicity.
A place that I never intended to go-
much less spend a week.

What place am I talking about?

Oriental, North Carolina

Population:  ~ 900
Location:  East down highway 55 until you see water and sails.
Where the Neuse River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Home of sea dragons, a gazillion sail boats, and very few cars.
Place where zinnias and dolphins may be found in equal measure.

A place I remember vaguely from 4th grade history 
but a place I have never been before or ever considered going.
Even my dad 
couldn't place it when I told him we were headed there...
until I told him it was 20 minutes from New Bern.

So how the heck did we end up in a place we never knew existed?

Well-it was an accident.
Not our accident so much as someone else's....
Someone accidentally severed the power line connecting
 Hatteras and Ocracoke Island and effectively shut down the southern Outer Banks.
The day before our two week vacation on Ocracoke was scheduled to start.
#OBXblackout2017 was trending for a while
and pissing off the northern OBX beaches who were fully open.
Watching this catastrophe unfold on social media was
harder than normal because we were all packed and ready
to relax for two weeks at our favorite place on earth.
Until that door was suddenly slammed shut.

 Ocracoke wasn't available....
so we had to make some choices.
Stay home
or try somewhere new
(that might also suck).
Bridges to cross that lead to places unknown are not my favorite.

We considered a stay-cation for the interim
but quickly realized that it would be impossible for us to truly disconnect at home.
Our beloved church family,
the community gardens we're involved in,
the mail, the laundry
and the home improvement projects...
all those voices were going to be too difficult to ignore.

Vacation for our family has always been about slowing down
disconnecting from the rat race and the agendas.
We focus on seeing each other-something that gets harder as our kids get older.
Our best vacations have always happened
when we were AWAY from our actual real lives.
So stay-cation was off the table.
Assuming we could find somewhere else to be.

Small BnB cures most everything.
After a day of grief in Pittsboro 
(Small BnB is a great place for a family war counsel)
 we started checking the web for weekend rentals.
We were of two minds about it....
scrap the coast altogether and go to the mountains
get close to the shore in some other location
hoping that Tideland Electric would work their magic quickly and
we would be staged for re-entry.
Hopefully re-entry would occur in days, not weeks so decided
we preferred the coast.

We had two dogs, two kids and not much money.
After a careful perusal of our online options...
we realized that we only had two options on the coast.
One of those was this little house in Oriental.....
where the heck is Oriental?
At this point, it was just a spot on the map.
We'd get there and figure it out.
It was only a weekend after all.

You can rent this adorable cottage by clicking on this link.

We accidentally ended up in Oriental NC 
and decided to stay for a while.
We initially booked for 3 nights.
Then we immediately extended for 5 nights.
Then finally a week.

Because Oriental is a balm for chaos and stress.
In the midst of all the not knowing-
 when (or if) the power would come back on
 if the insurance would cover the cost
what our vacation schedule would entail....
we were able to exhale.
Our family was wrapped in a cocoon of comfort.
Everything we need is right here....

The things is....we like water but we aren't 'beach' people.
We like to fish, crab, watch the sunset.
We want to bike, walk, fish, float, dig, cook, laugh....
we don't want to lay out, visit a boardwalk or putt-putt.
We love the ingenuity and creativity
that develops around water communities-
places where people are scrappy and connected with nature.
We want to meet those people and chat for a while
about what matters to them.

Oriental meets almost all our criteria
in a well-appointed wrapper-
it could not be cuter, safer, more peaceful 
if it were created on a movie set.

By day two in this little town
we had settled into a regular rhythm:
walk in the mornings, 
bike ride in the afternoon, 
fish off the public docks in the evening.
The 'serious' fishermen in our crew

In the middle, we played with our dogs in the back yard or took naps. 

took a fishing expedition with a local

The back yard from heaven

Had snacks at The Bean

The ice cream counter at The Bean

Looked for dragons at every single house

A dragon lurking behind the hedge...

Found each dragon egg nesting site

After a week....the ferries to Ocracoke opened back up.
We made it on island in record time
and were ready to jump into the second half of our vacation
because Oriental had let us rest up first.
I found myself thinking:  
Was this accidental?
Or were we supposed to find this little spot
in this little time out of life?

I don't really believe in coincidence but I know 
that next time won't be accidental.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Sweet Potatoes growing in a new community garden......
I've come to understand that therapists have 
a conglomeration of effective
and inherently annoying tools that they utilize
to get us to adjust our perspective.
I encountered a familiar one recently...
I call it the side-eye approach.

See....when faced with a situation that is ON FIRE,
shift the focus slightly sideways
towards something related but less inflammatory.
It's like looking at the shadow of the monster
instead of looking at the full frontal of the monster.
Use your peripheral perspective instead of charging in.

This strategy is especially useful (and difficult) for me to execute.
I am a person who feels a high degree of confidence
when attacking a problem.
It feels dishonest to be to give said problem 
what I consider a sideways view.
And yet....it's not lost on me that my bull-in-a-china-shop approach
often causes more pain or anguish than I intend.
It's also not lost on me that raging against something
is my strategy for simultaneously
pushing that hurt away
and making sure that it stays on the leash I'm holding in my hand.
Am I pushing or pulling?
I can't tell when I'm facing it head on sometimes.
Artwork by my firstborn.....

I was recently talking with my therapist about rage...and how I struggle with it.
Rather than poking and pointing at my tendencies to have rage 
or rehashing all the specific events that occurred
that I am rightfully angry towards,
she asked me to focus on Grace.

She asked me to consider all the things I've been forgiven.

I mean...all of them?
I sometimes think she sets me impossible tasks
so she doesn't have to talk to me for a while.

However....I have persevered.
I have spent some time focusing on
the times where I have failed
(and there are many)
and I have been forgiven.

It is certainly less easy to feel righteously indignant
when I'm remembering my foibles and transgressions.
This new strategy is actually a relief, a balm to my blistered heart.
She was right to assign me this focus and I'm glad I listened.

There was a weird side effect focus though.....
focusing on metaphorical Grace
 revealed a perspective that I have worked hard to ignore
related to physical Grace.

You see...
Grace is something that I was told from an early age that I lacked.
I have memories of being 4 or 5 and bumping into something as I walked by it
and my mother's voice loud and clear
Way to go Grace Grunt!
Who put that wall there?
Of course YOU dropped that cup.  

It is possible that she meant all of these in a humorous way.
I'm not bringing this up to rehash all my mother stuff.
I'm just trying to highlight how deeply rooted 
the name Grace Grunt was within me.
It became a conviction of my abilities
that I hadn't thought of in years.

I was encouraged to participate in dance and cheer-leading
in the hope that it would 'fix' my inherent clumsiness.
Long into adulthood, I believed that I was a clutz.
You become what you believe you are told you are.
In spite of evidence that I do not always trip over my own feet,
that I can in fact dance and run and do burpees successfully
MOST of them time....
I believed that I was incapable of doing physical things.
That I had good reflexes that saved me from catastrophe.
That my lack of Grace was balanced by my bright mind.
That I should avoid new experiences that might
involve jumping, balance, or coordination.

For most of my life to date, the story that I believed about myself

was that I was Grace-less instead of Grace-full.
One more place where truth needed to shine into my soul.

A gift from my friend Cairyll.  She makes beauty.

How do you take back something that you believed was never yours?
How do you claim a birth-right that was withheld from you?

Luckily....this is the story of my adulthood...
redemption is mine
and always was.
No one can take it from me.
No one ever could.
I didn't earn it
I don't deserve it
and I can't lose it.

That is GRACE.
And I am FULL of it.

Friday, July 07, 2017

CONTAINER GARDENING-2017 Project Follow-Up

Remember those pots we did together a few weeks ago? 
I focused for a few posts on container garden tips and tricks
and used a project from our church as the example..
Here are some quick links:

Container Garden tips and tricks-Part 1
Container Garden tips and tricks-Part 2
Container Garden tips and tricks-Part 3

It turned out pretty rad.
I don't think there's been a single project 
this rewarding for me personally.

If you doubt that plants can welcome people
then you should see the faces and hear the comments
of our congregation when they enter.
Our goal was to help our church family 
feel welcomed and lifted up as they 
gather together.
Mission accomplished!
Many people actually touch these 
plants as they walk into the church.
I take that to mean that 
they find the pull of the plant material
and the beauty of the colors irresistible.

As immediately satisfying as these beauties were,
gardening is not something that 
I do for immediate (and only immediate) gratification.
With good planning, gardening 
is the gift that keeps on giving
as the plants mature.

In this post, I want to share some photos that demonstrate
 how the planning we did in the beginning
has allowed for these living creatures
to grow, evolve and change
in beautiful ways.

Late May (2 weeks post plant):

You can see that the plants are bigger.  
They are settling in enough to show their colors but
are still quite small compared to their mature height.
There is a lot of visual interest (different shapes, textures) while they get going
so the viewer doesn't feel like there's a pause happening.

The Dahlia in the middle was showing off quite a bit this week.  
Also, the double impatiens were starting to kick it up. 
Having single doses of an individual plant
keeps the eye from trying to balance everything in symmetrical form.
Keeping the palette similar (lime and purple)
means that in spite of different form/texture, 
everything in the pots seem to 'go together'.

The lime green coleus and sweet potato vines really shine here 
and have started to quickly add on size.
We are seeing height begin to reach
but also seeing the drape over the sides 
begin to add dimension.
These planters are beginning to show us the 3-D design
we envisioned.

Mid-June (5 weeks Planted):

 If we had not planned for this....
we would be freaking out within a month of planting these beauties.
Look at how much size the plants have put on 
within 5 short weeks?

Can you believe these are even the same pots?
Look at that Lantana sending out fireworks!  
You can barely see it in the first picture.  
And the elephant ears have tripled in size.
The fountain grass is a great backdrop, 
 the Canna lily shot up and is blooming!  
I didn't get a good side view on this day
but the sweet potato vine and coleus on the sides
are starting to spill out.
We had to move the pots away from each other
to give them space and keep them
from crowding each other out.

Early July (6 weeks Post-Plant)

Approximately 6 weeks after planting, these pots have
lost their minds.
Can you see those petunias and sweet potato
spilling over the sides?  They reach almost to the ground.
The Canna lilies and elephant ears almost cover the brick.
And the color focus has shifted once again
as the Lantana takes a short pause
before it blooms like gangbusters again.
You can see more of the lime and purple contrast
happening in these photos.

One of the best parts so far is that we've only had to water 
these plants about twice a week.
I expect that to change as the summer heats up
and the plants become even more gigantic.
It's also likely that as the summer continues
and plant growth continues
that we'll have to do some strategic pruning.
The Lantana has already needed some trimming.

The pots on the right side get slightly more shade than the pots on the left.  
It's interesting to see how different plants have 
responded to the slightly different micro-climate.
Well...it's interesting to me the plant nerd.