O! Solitude!

Solitude is for  me a gift of midlife. Growing up, I went from  busy house to  crowded dorm, to  apartments overflowing with visitors, to career, marriage and children. The only place I could go without someone else was to the inside of a book. I don’t think I knew what solitude was, but I got my first taste of it when I went to graduate school at age 36.

Early in graduate school, before having to complete internships, I would have one day a week when I had no classes. After the children went to school I would make my way to the medical school library we were allowed to use. Once inside I would take up residence in an isolated study carrel. Surreptitiously I would remove a forbidden thermos of coffee and a bagel from my school bag. For at least four hours I was in a place where no one knew me or expected anything from me. With books, pen and paper, coffee, bagel, and privacy I had everything I needed for productive reverie.

School did get busier, so the luxurious library days did not last. In time, however, my parenting duties became less hands on. I graduated from school and eventually was able to go into  private practice. It would probably be important to say here that for my work I am required to focus intently on encouraging my clients to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and to follow their dreams. To do my work I must be aware of myself, yet the work is not about me. My own self actualizing must take place outside of the office.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to limit my practice  to  three days a week. The purpose is of course  is to give me time to recharge myself – essentially, to take the advice I so often give to my own clients. Having two work days to myself ,though,  often seems  to exist only on paper. The time gets taken up. Obligations intervene. And sometimes I just don’t use the time well.

Nonetheless, having these two  work-free days has changed me. I know now that I must have time alone in order to feel connected to myself. I have “things to do” which take me deeply inside myself and lead to a sense of peace and well being. Without my solitude I am vulnerable to professional burnout, to becoming numb to the world around me, or to being just plain cranky.

I didn’t want to mention it but since the holidays I’ve noticed all three manifestations listed above. I was feeling  little enthusiasm for the activities I usually enjoyed. Wanting to want to do something but not having the energy to do so is very melancholy.  Since I now had this blog, my lack of magpie-ness was disconcerting. How long would this last?

Clearly I would have to take some action. I started by having a nice heart to heart with myself. I was feeling out of balance because, with all the festivities, I had gotten out of the habit of finding daily solitude. Then I got sick, but had to carry on anyway. Then my husband got sick and did not carry on anyway. He stayed home for several days. I was finding it hard, post holiday, to return to the routines which keep me in sync.

So on my  most recent  day off,  Friday, I made as few plans as possible. I closed the computer and the Ipad, reached for my trusty composition notebook, and wrote and wrote. What did I write? Nothing of significance to anyone but myself. I whined, I felt sorry for myself, I prattled, and vented my frustrations about feeling so stuck.

My angst began to clear. I found myself flipping back through my notebook to where I had left off in my most recent letter to my sister. I had abandoned it earlier in the week because it was so deadly boring. Upon rereading I decided it wasn’t so bad after all. So I added a few pages before turning to my knitting and adding to the poor pitiful sock I’ve been working on for some time. I stopped in time to whip up some chorizo and brussels sprouts for the book club. It was a new recipe, so I wasn’t too sure of it, but almost all of it was eaten.

A sock is born.

A sock is born.

Saturday dawned damp and chilly. I contemplated a photo shoot, but the weather was most unwelcoming. I still had my unfinished letter and sock to work on in the morning. But what would I  to do in the afternoon? Draw, I told myself. I got to work on a sketch of my niece Mary Hannah, who has waited patiently for me to paint her portrait. My fingers were delighted to once again feel the circular needles and the pencil.

The portrait begins.

The portrait begins.

As the sun went down my husband and I contemplated our plans for the evening. We opted to go to a local coffee shop and hear an acoustic music group The Stray Birds. As we settled in at the standing room only event, I marveled that only one week earlier I probably would have talked myself out of going. Knowing that just made the fiddles, banjoes, bass, guitars and elegant harmonies all the  more sweet.

The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds

Now it is Monday. Part of my day to myself has been taken up with two routine medical tests, but I’ve rallied. Except for this blog post, I’m not wasting time on the computer. In a few hours I  will have to leave for yoga. I am savoring the fact that after just a short time of solitude my creative energies  returned to the point that I could write, knit, draw, cook, and listen to live music. It’s a miracle!

My preference is long stretches of uninterrupted solitude. In my perfect world I would be free to stay in my pajamas for days, sipping coffee as I moved from one activity to the next. Read awhile. Write awhile. Check out the sewing machine. Document everything by taking a few photos. But if I can’t have my perfect world, I will take the world I have. I can still connect  with myself in a shorter length of time as long as I am consistent. I can add a few sock rows while watching The Battle Of Britain. The sock may not be finished today, but knowing I did one thing gives me the energy to go to the next.

Of course the real gifts of solitude are not any finished projects that may come from it. No, the important parts are the self knowledge, the being with self, and the life affirming energy,  all seemingly emerging at once. The time invested in solitude repays itself many times over. To quote May Sarton:

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

Here’s wishing you a week full of richness.

Thoughts On Martin Luther King Day

I’m writing today from Memphis Tennessee, a place where Martin Luther King  Day has special resonance. On this day, when the nation’s first African American President was sworn in for a second term, I marvel at what the civil rights movement has wrought in the United States. I am reminded that  though the accomplishments of the movement are profound,  the struggle for decent treatment  and equality among humans is never ending.

I was eleven years old when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. As the child of a white middle class family, I knew nothing of race relations and inequality. What I knew was that “colored” women were our maids, and “colored”men were the garbage men. As a third generation native Memphian, I was one generation away from having a maid actually living in the backyard. In the 1960s, however, the maids came in for the day.

This was Emma, my Great Aunts' and Uncles' housekeeper. She lived in a room off their garage.

This was Emma, my Great Aunts’ and Uncles’ housekeeper. She lived in a room off their garage.

Our mothers ran errands, if they had cars, while the maids cleaned and ironed for five dollars.  I remember loving a series of maids: Lucinda, Essie, Zenobia, Cleo. I never knew any of their last names. Zenobia and Cleo lived in sharecropper type cabins in areas which are now developed into suburbs. Lucinda and Essie lived in an area called Truse, where blacks actually owned their shotgun homes. As a child I was confused as to  why colored people wanted to live in such awful places, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to ask.

I remember different details about each maid.  Lucinda let me stand on a chair behind her while she ironed. I ran toy cars all over her starched uniform dress while  she bent over the ironing board and watched her soap opera. Essie must have had pica or some other vitamin deficiency because she  ate starch right out of the box. Zenobia’s complexion was blue-black. My brother and I were mortified when my four year old sister advised her not to touch anything. Cleo I particularly loved. She was young and pretty and seemed delighted to see me.  I don’t know what her own small children were doing in their sharecropper cabin while she worked for us. I asked what happened to her after she left us. My mother said she’d had to ‘let her go’ because she was stealing all my nice underwear. Later Cleo went to  jail for stabbing her  abusive husband.

On the night Martin Luther King was shot, I was with my parents and sister at Fred Montesi’s grocery store. DownloadedFileThe store was close to the previously mentioned  Truse neighborhood, so the store’s customers were both black and white. Somehow the news  of the shooting got out around the store. Groups of black customers were grouped in the aisles crying. Some teenaged girls spit on white customers. I don’t know if we bought our groceries or not. My parents rushed us out of the store, worried about my brother who was at a Boy Scout activity at the fairgrounds.

The site of the assassination.

The site of the assassination.

The air seemed electric that night. My parents didn’t know what would happen, and I don’t think they tried to hide their trepidation. My  grandmother, a widow, came  to spend the night with us. My father got a gun out of a closet. I didn’t even know we had a gun.  Soon after arrived home, a car pulled in our driveway, delivering my brother home. A strong wind blew in the door with my brother. My father closed the door firmly and locked it. We were prepared for a siege.

I knew my parents  were afraid, but they were afraid for themselves, for white  people. Though my mother at least believed segregation was wrong she didn’t see it as something that could change. My parents and the other adults on whom I eavesdropped seemed determined that the racial unrest in Memphis was due to outside agitators, particularly that  “Communist” Martin Luther King, Jr. They did not see themselves as having any responsibility for having helped perpetuate this racist system with the brutal toll it took on so many.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  was assassinated right before Easter. I recall our mother barely letting us leave the house during those Easter holidays. She was deaf to our complaints that there were no “coloreds” anywhere around us. On Good Friday however, she made an exception. We were all ordered  into her car and told to get down into the floorboards. From my spot on the floor I could see the determined set of my other’s face as she barreled down Mount Moriah Road at approximately 45 miles per hour. The emergency errand? We had to get  to Shainberg’s; my sister did not yet have an Easter hat!

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My niece Mary Hannah.

This summer I paid a visit to the Civil Rights Museum with my sister’s family.I revisited the familiar sights of the Lorraine Motel,DSC_0374 the diorama of the bus DSC_0386and garbage strikes,

At the time of the Memphis garbage strike, garbage collectors were paid less than a living wage.

At he time of the memphis garbage strike, garbage collectors were paid less than a living wage.

and the reproduction of the Birmingham Jail.  I again felt the drama and pathos of the sit ins.DSC_0387 I was glad to see it all still there. When people don’t live through events they may tend to minimize or disbelieve. And though we may have lived through events we need to be reminded, as memories may soften over time.

In 1968 no white Memphian  would have believed we would, in the early part of the next century, elect an African American as President of the United States, much less that we would erase many of the existing methods of institutional racism. But groups of Americans still want to designate certain  other groups to be inferior, and to use this false premise as a basis upon which to deny them rights we should all share.  When we treat others as less than human, we all suffer. It seems humans are destined to have the learn the same lessons over and over.

I was only a child in the 1960s, a confused bystander in the battle for civil rights. I didn’t go hungry, or live in a shack, or undergo daily humiliation in my workplace, nor did I cause anyone else to do so. But  I owe it to Lucinda. Essie, Zenobia and Cleo to make sure I do not even inadvertently undermine the dignity of any human being, especially those with whom I disagree.  In gratitude to the lessons learned from these long suffering women and countless other brave persons  whom I never got to meet, I must be sure that I am not simply “going along” with inequitable situations because I do not believe they can be changed. I was only a child back then, but I felt the force of many voices raised to protest injustice. I saw what could be changed: everything.

Calendars – Part 2

And without further ado, the conclusion of the two part series “Calendars”, brought to us by a very special guest author!

Having literally been at the mountaintop with my Montreat calendar, I wondered what I could attempt for an encore. I knew better than to just pick some more pictures from my BRP/Montreat trip, as going down that path with my second year of Keukenhof photos was less than satisfying. Plus, you only get one chance at making a first impression and any other Montreat calendar I did would just be compared to last year’s calendar. I needed a new idea but didn’t know where to turn. Interestingly, my inspiration came from my adult daughter who for better or worse shares many of my own qualities (or flaws as my wife would say).

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For over a year, I had been following my daughter’s photo blog on flickr, where she posted a daily capturing of a photo and a thought to go with it. I had thoroughly enjoyed this connection and insight into her daily life even though she was almost two thousand miles from her childhood home. I thought what a wonderful reminder she would have of each day when she looked back on these posts years from now. How could I make this idea work for a calendar?

Getting 30 pictures on a single calendar page would be next to impossible and would certainly lose impact due to their small size, but surely I could capture one or two photos from each month to feature. And 2011 had been quite an eventful year to boot as our oldest son and daughter each got married and our daughter and future son-in-law got their PhD degrees. But as anyone knows, coming up with an action plan after the year is over is doomed for failure. My belated plan was no exception to that rule. In looking back over my year of photos that December (which is easy since I create digital folders by calendar year for them on my computer), I realized some months I hadn’t even taken a photo.

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So my first retrospective calendar included many months with spectacular events featured but also a few months where a photo was “borrowed” from another month. Call it cheating or creative license.

Despite my poor planning in the previous year, every month of 2012, I enjoyed seeing that calendar hung on the side of the refrigerator. Some times I would go by just to glance at it, not even needing to check a date, just to relive the moment.

Now the 2012 calendar has just been taken down and replaced with my first real time engineered 2013 calendar. What joy it was upon its arrival to flip through each month and see what memories I would be reflecting on throughout 2013. As intended, each month of this latest calendar includes one or more significant event photos taken in that month in 2012. The spectrum ranges from something as exciting as a raging river through the mountains of Canada as seen from a scenic train ride to a peaceful foggy fall morning on the lake in our neighborhood captured as I glanced over on my way home from the gym.

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Part of the fun is picking the best or most significant shot at the end of the year for the cover. This year’s cover was an easy guess.

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The arrival of that latest calendar must have been swirling in my mind while I slept since I woke up one morning motivated to write all of this down. When I sat down to write, my first thought was “I love calendars” and I thought, “That sounds crazy: you’re a scientist; that doesn’t even make sense.” But after writing this I understand even as a fact-based scientist, that the idea makes perfect sense. It’s the emotional chemistry that can’t necessarily be analyzed in the laboratory. It’s always there, invisible but underpinning us and we just have to make sure we don’t ignore it, but live it because it adds such richness to our lives and experiences.

I also have started my 2014 calendar. Thanks to a year-end trip that spilled over to the New Year and family home for the holidays, I already have two pictures for January 2014. Maybe I will hit that 30 this year.

And one last crazy thought: I think I still have every one of these old calendars. A collection that started in my youth with a simple love for Montreat and the Smoky Mountains is now tucked away in boxes or drawers, hidden treasures waiting to be rediscovered.
DSC_0102 Having lived and enjoyed a year with a calendar, it just has never seemed right to throw it away. On more than one occasion, I even thought I would cut one of the photos from the calendar and frame it although I never have. I guess that’s the practical side of me, not wanting to try to figure out how to fix a photo with a hang hole at the top of it. Maybe a benefit of enduring the “you never throw anything away” comments all these years is that these calendars can be unearthed. Now where should I look first…

Calendars – Part 1

I am positive I have spent lots of time on this blog  thanking my husband for being so supportive of my creative pursuits. In his eyes, every sock I knit is a piece of perfection, each pencil drawing a masterpiece.  I know I can’t be as smart, talented, and just plain cute as he says I am ! When I decided to try a blog he was cheering me on all the way. I know  each blog post I publish will always have at least one kind  comment thanks to him, my most faithful reader.  He always says after reading a post, ” I could never have written something like this”‘ or “I never would have thought of that”. And I always reply, “Of course you could!” And now, guess what? He has!  And because he has, Mindfulmagpie has its  very first guest writer!  Enjoy!

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As far back as I can remember I have always loved calendars. To have such an affection for what many may view as just a utilitarian item may seem odd, but this love affair actually traces back to one of my favorite places on earth. Every year growing up, my family vacationed in Montreat, NC, a place well known to any Presbyterian and certainly even more so to someone who grew up as the son of a Presbyterian minister.

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Envision a place nestled among the mountains where the entire town is your backyard chock full of fun adventures like fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, rock hopping, mountain climbing, making arts and crafts, playing all sorts of sports or simply relaxing beside a waterfall, reading a good book. Many Presbyterians consider it heaven on earth. My three siblings and I have had a lifelong connection with this idyllic place. Every year during our stay, we would buy a “Montreat” calendar for the following year.  As I grew older and started my own family, my parents would bring me back a calendar on their trip there even when it was not possible for me to go.

So how could a calendar bring such joy from childhood all the way through to adulthood? What better reminder of your fun filled vacation than a calendar filled with pictures  of the place where you made  most cherished memories? While the pictures were not exclusively photos from the Montreat area, they were of western North Carolina and almost all from the Smoky Mountains, another regular destination for our vacation. Each year the calendar would bring another twelve months of remarkable photos taken by Andy Andrews and each month the photo would show a scene of how it might look in that month. With this gem on our wall at home all year, we would get a constant reminder of that special place every time we glanced at the calendar to check a date.

Sadly, this tradition came to an end when the photographer died sometime after the start of the new millennium. And even more sadly, no one picked up the torch of Andy’s enduring activity. I know I was devastated when this ended and I am sure my siblings were as well when 2002 became our last “Montreat” calendar. For a couple of years, I tried finding other calendars from the Smoky Mountains to extend the magic but they never lived up to the original calendars.

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After this failed attempt, I floundered for a few years trying calendars depicting other beautiful scenes but never found a worthy substitute. At some point, and now I don’t recall how, I came up with the idea of making my own calendar. This opened up a whole new palette for me but the challenge was deciding what photos to use. I knew I could never recreate the Montreat calendars since I didn’t live in the area and I certainly couldn’t take monthly trips to take photographs. But I knew I wanted to capture imagines of something else as close to my heart.

During my years of calendar floundering, my international travels led me to a new discovery. Having visited The Netherlands for many years for business reasons, I finally arrived in the perfect time of year to visit Keukenhof Gardens, an enormous park in Lisse, a short ride from Leiden. The gardens allow only a short two-month season to enjoy the splendor of seven million bulbs in bloom.

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Visiting Keukenhof surrounded by thousands of blooming, fragrant hyacinths awakened in me a previously hidden love for flowers. While none of my siblings had ever been there to see it and it certainly held no childhood memories, this was surely where my calendaring efforts should go.

My first attempt at making a calendar was pretty basic and very amateurish. But having a trove of photos from six separate visits to Keukenhof, I launched in undaunted. I purchased an inexpensive software package for my computer and hand picked each photo trying as much as possible to pick a theme or color scheme that tied in with an event occurring in that month (orange flowers in October, reds and greens in December). I printed each calendar page and each photo on an InkJet printer (boy did I go through the print cartridges) making sure the prior calendar month was oriented correctly on the back of the current month photo and  then hand assembled them for spiral binding at a local photocopy shop.  I even  punched the hang hole at the top of each page  when I found out it would be an extra $5 just to have the holes punched during the spiral binding process.

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I was so proud of my creation that I turned our playroom into a mini manufacturing shop floor and manually created three more to give one to each of my siblings for Christmas. While the location meant nothing to my siblings other than some pretty flowers, it was my best attempt to replace the Montreat calendar. Having gotten positive feedback from my first attempt, a second Keukenhof calendar came off my manual presses the next year as I had only scratched the surface of my vast supply of literally hundreds of Keukenhof photos.

Next year, I became aware of the magic of iPhoto and the built-in calendar creating function, having become a recent convert from PC to Apple. Wow, what I could do with this software and the professional looking calendars printed by Apple! With just the click of a single button, my calendar could be electronically transmitted, professionally printed by Apple and then sent by return mail in just a few short days. This certainly solved my technology problem, but what of my subject? Someone probably only wants so many pictures of flowers; I had to find a new subject.

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Returning to my roots in 2010, I fulfilled a long held dream of driving the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). In addition to being a lovely scenic drive, the BRP held fond memories from my childhood for the multiple side trips we had also taken every year on the short drive to Mt. Mitchell,  the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River and favorite cook out spot above the clouds. As a child, I always envisioned as my Dad drove us there what fun it would be to drive it in a little sports car and since the Parkway goes right through Asheville, NC, just 35 miles west of Montreat, I could combine a stop there for my picturing taking as well. Armed with a nice digital SLR and the knowledge of improved calendar technology at home, I set out to photograph “The Calendar of All Time.”

Since my wife had no desire to take a vacation to drive almost 500 miles just for the sake of driving on a road, I set off alone in my little red convertible for what ended up being a combined 2000 miles over five days including the round trip to and from Memphis just to get there. I combined the BRP with a drive on the 105 mile Skyline Drive which ends at mile marker 0 for the BRP. To say the trip was a success is an understatement. Being alone on such a long trip gives one a long time to reflect and reminisce.

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There were beautiful scenes to see and photograph, tears of happiness, but also tears of childhood loss and remembrances of times gone by. Some of these emotions came to me as I was driving or shooting a certain spot but many came to me at night when I was alone scrolling through the day’s photos. For someone who loves cars, loves to drive and loves that area of the country, it truly was the trip of a lifetime.

That December I carefully assembled the calendar with my new technology, taking care to ensure that each month’s theme was appropriately represented in the selected photo. How magical it was to include a rural mountaintop barn in front of a live Christmas tree farm for the month of December!

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Putting the calendars in the mail that cold December morning, I imagined my siblings feeling swept away with joy and memories as they opened their envelope realizing we would once again be joined together, though miles apart, gazing at a “Montreat” calendar daily throughout the coming year.

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Winter Holiday Club

Who wants to join the Winter Holiday Club? Requirements: Wish fervently for snow so that we can all stay home. Go nuts when it does snow. And most importantly, sing the Winter Holiday  Theme Song. I’ll teach it to you now. It is sung to the the tune of the song “Happy Holidays”. The lyrics are “Winter holiday.” Just those two words. As soon as the first flakes fall, or as soon as the forecast seems bound to actually come true, members are to serenade other humans and pets with the lovely song. If no one is around to serenade, then the telephone may be used to share your joy. Dancing while singing is optional. After numerous stanzas, or when you are are told to please stop, go find your snow clothes and get outside!

Since so many of you will  be joining, I’ll go ahead with my Club Report. I, as founding member of the Club,  have gotten a head start on the snow season by spending the new year in Banner Elk, North Carolina. That is not cheating. Many of us do not live in a place where we can count on snow every year. We have to go places where we can be surrounded in winter loveliness.

My destination at Banner Elk was Boulder Falls Retreat, owned by our dear friends Beth and Jim. Their mountain oasis, which they rent out through VRBO when they are not using it, has everything one could want in a mountain hideaway: mountain views, privacy, comfy furnishings, toasty fireplace, hot tub, and a waterfall on the property. Who wouldn’t dream of being snowed in there, sipping a warm drink by the fire, and listening to the rushing mountain stream outside?

Boulder Falls Retreat. It's only a few years old.

Boulder Falls Retreat. It’s only a few years old.

As we drove to the cabin a few days after Christmas, I thought I might get my wish of being snowed in. About an hour out of Banner Elk we ran into snow, sleet, and hail. Yippee! Would it stick? We didn’t know, but when we left the cabin to eat dinner, the roads had become more treacherous. We decided not to venture further that night, and pulled off the road to eat at a place I will not recommend.

Jim is not a member of the  clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car made it to the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Jim is not a member of the clergy, but it looks as though he is either praying that our car would make it home from the the restaurant or that we would be able to eat the sub par food.

Back at the cabin, snow continued to swirl around us. I wanted to take pictures, but night pictures of snow are way beyond my skill level. Sadly, lots of the snow had blown away in the morning. But I was not to be deterred. Right after a heavenly breakfast of sour dough bread French toast on a bed of melted butter and warm maple syrup, ( Good food is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY)  I donned my “I only wear this stuff once a year” snow togs, grabbed my camera and got outside for WINTER HOLIDAY!!!!!

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Rushing water outside the cabin.

Don't worry. I'm the only one out here.

Don’t worry. I’m the only one out here.

Since I was apparently the only one celebrating WINTER HOLIDAY, I was on my own to explore the environs, and try different settings on the camera.  Being alone in the snow is a delightful solitude. And it was magical! The world was white, crisp, and clean. I could hear only my crunching boots and the icy water tumbling over the boulders. Overnight, the world had decorated itself just for me.

The waterfall behind the house.

The waterfall behind the house.

DSC_0351I continued a ways down the road before making my way back to the cabin and sliding down some boulders on their property to climb some railing onto one of the porches. From there I could take pictures of the view beyond the cabin.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

There were no takers for the rocking chairs that day.

Later that day, my hostess and I drove into Boone to try to stimulate the economy while the men visited the local family billiard hall. No alcohol, no cola, good burgers.We celebrated the evening with a hearty winter dinner of kale, sausage and pasta.

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

Downtown Boone, North Carolina

DSC_0381The next morning the four of us debated whether to go snowshoeing or to hike the trail at Linville Gorge Sate Park. Because our hosts had more company coming that afternoon we opted for hiking at Linville Falls. But first we had to bulk up with this mountain breakfast of crispy hash browns, eggs, crumbled bacon with toasted sour dough bread. Disclaimer: If you rent the Boulder Falls Retreat, the owners will not be there to cook; you’re on your own.

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Was I in danger of becoming spoiled?

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet's coffee my husband made us each morning.

Without a doubt. Especially with the freshly ground Peet’s coffee my husband made us each morning.

Vigorous outdoor exercise is a vital part of WINTER HOLIDAY.  The idea is to challenge yourself physically and go inside and treat yourself to whatever goodies you want. Linville Gorge had just the kinds of hills and trails I needed to hike. And the views were spectacular.

The falls.

The falls.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

Here I am with our hostess. I was trying not to look as though I were afraid I would fall off into the chasm below.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

These beautiful vistas were worth the climb over a sometimes slippery trail.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of  hydrangea leaves.

This fungussy stuff reminds me of hydrangea leaves.

Shiny snow crystals.

Shiny snow crystals.

After many bracing ups and downs, and photo ops, the four of us were tired and chilled. And we ALL recalled an establishment we had passed on the road, advertising coffee and desserts. How convenient that we would be passing by there on our way back!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

Winter Holiday Club members are always on the lookout for a place like this!

After our exertions, did Linville Mercantile ever hit the spot! The proprietors don’t need publicity from the likes of me; they’ve been featured in Rolling Stone and other publications. Apparently the area has  “Merlefest”, and the Rolling Stone writers dropped in then, and kept coming. And if you had walked in that place with a freezing nose and freezing hands and smelled that sour dough bread fresh out of the oven, you’d keep coming back too. DSC_0477

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

It can be hard to remain civilized when someone sets down a loaf of steaming hot fresh bread in front of you.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

I think the owner said there were one dozen eggs in this cake.

Oh, the steaming hot bread and butter! Oh, the apple butter! Oh, the pineapple upside down cake! Have mercy!I f I hadn’t had the option of getting up to take pictures I don’t know if I could have maintained decorum; I may have reached right cross the table and crammed an entire loaf of bread into my mouth.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

Other customers also trying to act civilized.

More desserts for next time!

More desserts for next time!

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

I wish I could have lingered to shop.

Or set a spell on the porch.

Or set a spell on the porch.

We arrived back at the cabin in time to prepare for six New Year’s Eve  guests: two neighbors with their two houseguests for cocktails, plus two more houseguests for Beth and Jim, Allan and Janet. My husband and I didn’t know any of these people, but we joined right in, chatting about where to stay in Italy, weddings in Scotland, and life in the Czech Republic.  See what good fun the Winter Holiday Club members experience?

When the cocktail guests departed, we enjoyed a chicken and olive dish for dinner, with bourbon cake for dessert.DSC_0490DSC_0492 Grouped comfortably around the fireplace. the four of us welcomed the New Year with toasts of homemade limoncello. My only regret was that I was way too full to contemplate getting in the  hot tub. Maybe next year.

All too soon it was morning, and time for my husband and me to make the nine hour drive home, where no snow would await us. We had time for one more mountain breakfast at the Grandview. By the time we all ordered I could see we were going to have the whole works: corned beef hash, grits, biscuits, eggs, sausage – in short, everything people our age are not supposed to have.DSC_0493DSC_0494DSC_0495 But we did have good company while eating  it!

DSC_0497We took leave of friends old and new right there in the parking lot. I didn’t think to ask them if they want to join the Winter Holiday Club. But I think I will. How about you? I’d love to hear YOUR WINTER HOLIDAY reports! See you at the next meeting, but in the meantime, get started memorizing those theme song lyrics!