Author Archives: tamischwerin

About tamischwerin

I run a non-profit (Abundance NC) that builds community resilience including health of the earth, our bodies and our spirits. I also am active in creating an Eco-Industrial Park community in Pittsboro NC.

Milking the Goats

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Milking the Goats

I’m in awe watching Alisa milk the 2 community goats we have here at The Bend.  7 families “share” the goats although, Alisa and her family do most of the work.  I’ve been getting lessons on milking which I thought would be simple as pie.  Nope.  There is a lot to learn about bacteria, rhythm, getting to know the animal, the baby goats, feeding, muscle memory, etc.  I’ve found that mornings are hard waking up again and knowing that Zafer is not on this planet anymore.  It’s a reality that hits me hard as soon as I open my eyes.  I can cry and then go milk.  It’s hard to milk, so my tears usually dry as I get focused.  I thought I would never get the rhythm until yesterday.  I started the routine and with two hands, the milk started flowing.  Wow.  Something in my brain switched and it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I could get a handle on the grief.
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Losing Zafer is debilitating at times and I understand that it will be something that I (and this family) will carry until the day we die.  Then I hope to join him.  Can’t wait.  So, our job is to come back down to earth and manage the grief.  We are all desperately seeking ways to lessen the pain.  Everyone is dealing with this in their own unique way.

Jessalyn is taking the policy level.  She works with Blue State Digital, the agency that got Freedom to Marry passed.  A powerful group.  Her next project just so happens to be with Shatterproof (an organization dedicated to protecting our loved ones from addiction).

From Jess:

“Following my meeting with Shatterproof, Dan and I were invited to attend CARA family day on Capitol Hill. CARA (comprehensive addiction and recovery act) is the the first major federal law to address the opioid epidemic in this country, and congress is on the verge of enacting it.
Right now a conference committee from the Senate and House is about to convene to decide exactly what’s in the final CARA bill. Dan and I were invited to share Z’s story with legislators and their staffers to make sure CARA stays as strong as possible, and to get it to Obama’s desk quickly for signature.

And at Blue State Digital, we’re working to support the effort with a digital campaign calling on supporters to call or tweet their legislator – to tell them vote YES on CARA.”
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Arlo is taking the Zafer energy and putting it on the hemp t-shirt business that Zafer and friends started a few years.  Watching the excitement of Arlo and Greyson, Tot, Tucker, Tyler and Sean and others gives me a boost to get through my day.  Zafer had big ideas and vision for this company and Arlo is learning as fast as he can about fiber, business, salesmanship, money and how to keep shipping t-shirts.  He has the guidance of his parents, Eric Henry, Linda Booker and Melissa Best…all heavy hitters.  http://www.hempsmith.rocks/

We have a domino effect in our house….Arlo screams in excitement, I jump off the couch (finally) and run around vacuuming and doing yoga simultaneously and Lyle walks out and becomes elated to see the two of us moving and to see a brief moment of joy.  It can also go the other way if one is crumpled in a chair sobbing, we all go down.

Kaitlin’s response to losing her brother was to grab her best friend Zack, his dog, a car that needed to be moved cross country and the three of them went across the United States with their backpacks, their Mary Oliver poetry and their Zafer playlists.  Seeing the open skies of the west helped begin her healing.  There is a much larger story…but not for prime time.  Kaitlin was visited by Z, protected and also in her dreams.  She has returned with her road wisdom and we are taking it all in.  She discusses how our culture is just not cut out for handling death.  We need to borrow from all the other cultures that know that there is way more to this universe than what we can see.
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“The antidote to loss is an awakening consciousness.” John Breckenridge

Lyle and I are hanging on and taking advantage of all types of support.  We are lifted up by this strong family, our sweet sweet friends and community.  We are never in psync with each other so we can just try and understand where the other is and assure them that the wave will pass soon.  Seeing the grief of your loved ones is another horrible aspect of this situation.

After receiving Zafer’s autopsy report, I fell into hysterics.  Reading about your son arriving in a white body bag with a tag on his right big toe is horrific.  They described every part of his body from his chest scar from a skate boarding accident in which I was there getting him stitched up to his tattoo of the flatirons on his back to his recent nipple piercing.  Zafer had a perfect body, the cutest feet, six pack abs, a gorgeous smile.  The autopsy revealed that Zafer died from heroin.  There were no pharmaceuticals or alcohol or fentanyl involved.  Simply heroin and it killed him.

After reading this report, I drove straight to Barbara Lories and cried and cried with her.  She explained in her grief that she didn’t know what it was, but there was a plan, a bigger plan and I believe her.  I have to believe her with her wisdom and 90 years.

I find my days go by quickly and in a fog.  I was in the HABA department at Chatham Marketplace and Terry, the deli chef sought me out.  He told me that he had been to Z’s service and he was sorry.  Terry said I used to help Zafer tie his ties when he was on the way to a school function.  He said he had lost his 7 year old son who was hit by a car.  I asked Terry if he would see his son again and he said he certainly would.  It gave me strength.

When the grief is at it’s worst and I don’t think we can survive it, a text comes in, a phone call, a visitor with flowers and food, a song, a smiling face, a letter from a stranger with a Zafer story.  I have to trust that the Universe will send us what we need to heal and to get through this.  I’m grateful to the friends that I can cry in their arms, go for walks by the river, sit and talk endlessly about Zafer.  I want to talk about Zafer forever and we will.  I’m grateful for the calls and emails from other parents that have lost their children.  They know exactly how I feel and I don’t think my thoughts are so weird.  Wanting to dig up Zafer (don’t worry, I am not going to do that) is not the strangest thought.  Someone told me that other cultures do this on the anniversary of the death.  Being jealous of people dying.  Daring the lightening to strike me.  Seems to be the norm.

Grief is strange and uncontrollable and something we are learning on the fly. 

A team is forming to create something with the Zafer Julian Estill Memorial Fund.  A skate board park has been mentioned….it will take some thought.  It will be some positive energy for something that will help the community and that Z would be proud of.

This weekend the family is piling in to celebrate Memorial Day weekend.  We always do this and it’s swimming and badminton and this year there will be a huge hole in our hearts and 3 bullet holes in our aortas as Arlo says.
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I’ve asked Zafer to be present anyway.  We’ll be looking for the signs. 

Lyle heard the Whip-Poor-Will last night.   Wanting to improve his bird knowledge, he googles:

“Due to its haunting, ethereal song, the eastern Whip-Poor-Will is the subject of numerous legends.  One says the whip-poor-will can sense a soul departing and can capture it as it flees.”

Zafer, missing you and sending you peace and love.
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Four Weeks

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Four Weeks

Life as I’ve known it changed 4 weeks ago with a simple eerie knock at the door at midnight by the county sheriff.  Lyle and I went to the door that was lit up by his spotlights.  I immediately thought Arlo and Greyson had gotten into mischief and that because Arlo’s truck is registered in Zafer’s name, that is why the sheriff kept saying Zafer’s name.  I felt myself being Mama Bear and feeling protective of Arlo…as in “you are not waking up my child”.  My body was fanning out to make sure the sheriff didn’t try to wake up Arlo.

He kept saying Zafer’s name and something about bad news.  Again, I knew that he was mistaken and at the same time I could tell something was wrong because Lyle was crumpled over and screaming.  I turned lights on in the kitchen and the sheriff handed me his phone to talk to the Boulder police in Colorado.  Heroin was mentioned.  They asked me if Zafer drank alcohol.  I said not much.  I handed the phone back to the sheriff and he asked if he could leave.

I went into the NIGHT OF HELL.  I asked Lyle not to wake up Arlo.  We went from room to room and he went outside to wail and scream and I got into fetal position in my bed.  I couldn’t understand what was happening and I had no idea what to do.  At one point in the night I looked in the mirror to see if I could figure out what was going on.  My face looked like The Scream painting by Edvard Munch.  Frozen and a look of horror.  I knew that something was extremely wrong.  I knew that the most horrible news I could ever receive had just been delivered, but I couldn’t accept it (and still have not).  The minutes went by like hours, time seemed to stop on this dreadful night.  I just wanted the sun to come up.  Around 3am, Arlo woke up and came out and I sat him down and held him tight as I told him that his beloved brother had died from heroin.  All I wanted to do and all I could do was to protect Lyle and Arlo that night.  I could not cry and I could not say those words again.  I just needed the sun to come up.

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.   Edvard Munch

We all three got into bed and held hands and I think they drifted off to sleep around sunrise.  I called my brother in law, Jim to ask him what to do.  “You have to tell people now” he said.  I don’t want to tell anyone.  I don’t want to say those words because that might mean it was true.

As I sat on the porch steps not knowing what to do, a Subaru sped down the driveway like a bat out of hell and out popped Lexie and Gary Thompson…both crying and they encircled me.  Again, how did they know and they were crying.  It gave me a little strength and felt like the cavalry had come.  Friends to help figure out this and guide when my brain was completely gone.  Arlo got up and went to tell Zafer’s second Mom and best friend Greyson.  He got into bed with Kathie while he told her.  Broken hearted she called me and I asked her to get Zafer’s body back here.  “On it” she said.  And what a hard job for her to have to do.  I called my Dad and asked him to drive to Mom’s to tell her in person.  No Grandmother should have to get this news over the phone.  He went immediately.  I called two of my best friends, Melissa and Gary Phillips, and they both got in the car immediately.  Camille brought pharmaceuticals so that I could get through this day without collapse.  Very helpful, indeed.  I’m not a pharma person…but this was appropriate technology.

Alisa who is preparing for the death of her sweet husband, Chris, kept me on the phone as she raced from Pittsboro to our house.  There was some unknown woman walking around the yard in the chaos.  I immediately thought she was a death doula for some reason.  She was from the high school and they had gotten misinformation that Arlo had died and she came over to clarify the news.  Again, how did she get that information so fast?  What the hell was happening?  This is not real.

The news started spreading, the people started coming.  Jess and Kaitlin and Dan started driving south.  People started getting on planes.  Anabel from Paris, Phifer from California, family and roommates from Colorado, from New York, all the Canadians were en route, and high school friends from around the country.  When you get devastating news, you think you are all alone and you don’t understand how it effects your loved ones.  There was a ripple effect of grief that spread.

One of the first things we did was to go up to the trail and look for a place to bury Zafer.  The “Farewell Trail” that Bob named had not yet been started. (We had been talking about the trail for burying Chris just the night before)  A plan was made to get it finished and ready for Zafer’s homecoming.  A beautiful spot was picked out and it somehow felt comforting to know that he would be nearby and in a gorgeous setting that we could visit often.  A work plan was made and heavy equipment came out…Bob and Joe and Trip and Leavitt and others created the trail and burial site.  Lyle and Arlo wanted to dig the hole for Zafer’s coffin with the backhoe.  I can’t imagine the pain.  It needed more help.  My Dad and brother, Michael, finished and it broke the backhoe.  From there, hand digging was necessary to get it ready for the graveside service.  It was done with such care and respect and beauty.  Truly beautiful. I’m grateful

Gary went to get food.  Seems like the southern thing to do and he broke the news to Angelina and others in Pittsboro.  Angelina began cooking and crying into her beautiful, amazing, comforting food and put together huge boxes to be sent home.  People started contributing to the cost.  Most of my kids have worked for her and she did wonders with Zafer.  She is the best mother anyone could ask for.

The rest of the day was a flurry of figuring out what had happened, what was going to happen and The Committee was formed as Lyle and I could not really do much but mumble and I don’t think I even got myself a glass of water for many days…everyone did for us, thank goodness.   Decisions were made for us.  We did have moments of clarity…like how we wanted to honour Zafer and his service.

I could feel an intense energy and power growing in all of us.  Like never before.  Never.

Lyle and Arlo and I are so very lucky to be surrounded by this community and to also have an amazing and strong family.  Yes, I just take that for granted.  But not anymore.  Someone asked me if we really had this storybook family and adventures and I thought about it…yes…we do…I kind of thought everyone had that.  We certainly bicker, have stress and have major disagreements AND we have so much fun and laughter.  Zafer’s wit and sense of humor is something I hope to channel.  Something I will deeply deeply miss.  His siblings laugh so much together.  There is and always has been a deep love for each other.
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A 7 day wake happened at our house…20 + people living at our place…it was like a small village of eating, planning, crying, drinking, welcoming, music playing, story telling, massage, pedicures for men, singing and holding each other up.   Hundreds of people came through the week bringing gifts for the altar, food for the mourning, words of comfort and hugs and kisses.  The young and the old together and all chipping in to clean and live and celebrate.   The best gift was all the stories of how Zafer had impacted people’s lives.  How he had helped them out of depression, made them go the extra mile, his hilarious sense of humor and appreciation of “dress up”.  His opinions about life, his new revelations.  I got to know my son better that week in some ways than I ever could with him being physically present.
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The Committee was a force to be reckoned with.  “Did The Committee approve this?” Uh, oh….did The Committee see this?  We had the honour of about 20 women and men who formed spontaneously, had spreadsheets, conference calls and who got it done.  Many took time off from their day jobs to help the effort.  They put on a week long wake and a service for 500, they dealt with the death logistics of flying Zafer home, the legal issues, the minute details, a graveside service and then the aftermath of cleaning up.  We are in complete awe of the way they came together in crisis and the comradery that formed.  Hilarious stories came out of this event that will be with all of us forever.  We’ve been in community together for years and know how powerful that is, and Zafer’s death brought out the best in everyone.

That story is big and for another blog to be told by someone else. 

The family and friends left on Sunday.  And that is when, exhausted, we started having to face a new reality.  That Zafer is not here in physical form anymore.  And that is what I’m working on everyday.  Putting together a construct in my brain that makes sense of this, that includes his spirit and my spirit together.  I’m working on how to develop a new relationship with him even though I can’t see, hear, touch or smell him.  I’m working on developing my own belief system of where he is, what he is doing, why this happened, why it happened to me and my family, why he can’t smell honeysuckle anymore (or maybe he can), why I can’t see him grow and mature.  Why I have to feel the worst pain a parent can ever feel.  Why I feel like I’m drowning some days.
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I also can see the gifts and the beauty that is coming out of this.  Everything I look at now is different.  The trees are more beautiful, the flowers are brighter, the air is sweeter.  Zafer has connected hundreds of people.  Zafer has made people stop in their tracks and reconsider their life paths, and the meaning and importance in their life.  Zafer has made people think about love.  Possibly the most important and eternal thing there is.  Love.  We have love and that is a huge gift.

Thank you Zafer, my love.

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A Spontaneous Visit to Baha, Mexico

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Swimming with sea lions on a chilly rainy day in the sea of Cortez was not what I thought I’d be doing last week, but through a series of events, we were hanging out with hundreds of 1100 pound animals in the wild that were ADORABLE.

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Uncle Glen originally reserved a 45 foot single hull sailboat to celebrate the successful treatment of his cancer. In the meantime, my sweet, stoic father-in-law was given 3 months to live and went a year beyond that. Not knowing what was going to happen, no one thought the sailing trip was a go. Don passed away on January 18 and all the family started making arrangements to get to Canada. The family was tired and in grief and our Captain and Glen’s best friend, Lumpy thought sailing was exactly what was needed to lift spirits. As we were driving to the funeral, I was on the phone with Delta trying to get a flight to La Paz, Mexico.
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There were about a million reasons not to go.  I was throwing a climate adaptation conference the next week, Arlo is prone to throwing ragers, there was absolutely no cell or internet coverage where we were going…it was completely wild with not many humans.  Lyle had obligations, classes to teach etc.

With the help of Abundance staff, Bob and Camille, and encouraging words from family and friends, we drove from Canada, packed our bags and flew to Cabo where Captain Lumpy and his partner Terri picked us up with fresh salsa and Paloma drinks (tequila and fresca). We had a raucus drive to La Paz with a stop at the Hotel California (inspired the Eagle’s song) where we sold them a bottle of Fair Game Ferris and landed in La Paz ready to provision the boat. We met the other two sailors, Jill and Randy, bought enough water, beer, tequila, food and toilet paper for 7 days and 7 people and launched L’OISEAU AU DES ILES into the great beyond!

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And it was wild…no people, a few sailboats, mostly wind, waves, birds, shark, rays and porpoises. Every night we would anchor in a little harbor by a deserted island. We cooked in teams and ate 5-star every night after sunset cocktail hour and a little dance party, very quick yoga or cards.

We hiked what we thought was a 2 mile hike to the other side of an island one day…it was more like 4 miles there and we had little water, became covered with cactus spikes and had a few discussions between the 7 of us….once we got to the other side, Terri and I spotted two porpoises about 10 feet away and we chased them down the beach. A complaining Lyle went skinny dipping in the sea of cortez when he forgot his bathing suit. Good times by all.

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Getting ready for sail is such a thrill. Very dramatic, somewhat scary and everything has to hit the right timing. With Lumpy at the helm, we were in very good hands. This man has handled a lot of situations and some crazy sailing trips with horrible weather. He’s calm and gentle but firm about directions. His partner Terri and he communicate perfectly. She senses what he needs. I steered the boat one day in pretty rough waters and big winds. If I started going off course, he would just say “right” or “left” in the middle of his conversation. The feel of the boat is instinctive to him about keeping the sails tight and the boat on course.

We had no cell or internet for an entire 7 days. This caused me a lot of anxiety about going in the first place. Glen said “isn’t that the reason to go?” Others can handle things and what is the worse that can happen? Someone can die and I can’t really change that from the ocean. By day two, we had the sun on our faces, Lumpy had made 7 days of music to listen to, had pacificas by 8am and life really could not get any better. Being without technology was actually huge.  I highly recommend taking prolonged breaks from all this stimulation and communication.  Books, talking, thinking, silence and music are so much better for the soul.

Lyle took the dingy over to some structures that were old metal leaned against each other and met a couple of fishermen. They had just caught a small shark and were cutting it up to take back to a La Paz hotel. With a US 20.00 bill he bought a huge amount of shark that we cooked that night on the boat. It was divine. (they were using the whole animal)

Because we had limited water supply, showers were jumping into the ocean. It was chilly, so right back out. My hair looked like medusa and Glen was telling us about the millions of mites that live on our skin and in our hair. By day 5, I actually was going a little crazy thinking about a fresh water shower with soap and started obsessing a little about washing my hair.

One morning we were going to snorkel over to see the fish and live corral on the edge of our harbor. I jumped in with flippers and snorkel. The water was cold and current was swift. I realized after I was about halfway to shore that I really didn’t know how to snorkel or use the too-big flippers. I was basically about to drown with all this gear. Starting to panic, I made it to some rocks and Lyle gave me a quick lesson. I headed back to the boat, but started to panic again…I thought how embarrassing this would be to drown right by the boat. Lyle saw my struggle and started talking me through it, and he kind of helped me to the dingy…but I learned a lesson…sink or swim…damn…might need to think before jumping in all the way.
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Being on the boat and with these 7 folks was a joy and a trip that I will never forget. Great company, time for solitude and thought, cards, Terri’s readings, and good healing from the stress and grief that we had just come from. Lyle kept us entertained with a competitive bird count.  We spotted blue footed boobies and about 38 other distinct birds.  Terri had lists of questions for us to ponder, songs to sing, games to play, rituals to perform.  And stories of Don were told every day as they will be over the years.

Thanks to Glen, Lumpy, Terri, Jill, Randy and Lyle for a really wonderful week.

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Empty Nest Full Heart

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There is a mysterious heaviness. I think it is a simple case of empty nest. Except not so simple. My eldest is leaving in the best possible way. Zafer worked all summer as hard as he could raising money to go to his new school, University of Colorado @ Boulder. The boy did manual labor for Logan Parker, cabinetmaker, Angelina, local food diva and an archeological rock dusting project. He met his goal to subsidize the tuition bills. A fabulous lovely amazing school in the smartest and healthiest city in the nation (according to Boulder tourism). He is independent, smart, handsome and has a great attitude going off into the big wide world. Boulder is about the coolest town ever with my sweet cousins, Charlie and Aly, Julian and Hudson, who will be looking after Zafer.
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I feel so good about how prepared he is for the world. So how come I’m a bit crippled and break into tears spontaneously? It’s a transition that I didn’t expect would be so big. We have crazy schedules and not much spare time and seems like having one less kid to take care of and clean up after is a relief.

It’s about the biggest change we’ve had since Uncle Mark died and it is now seeming like a loss. No more family dinners of 4 or 6 (with Jess and Kaitlin). It will be 3 at dinner.

Good news is that Lyle and I can go sailing. We can take Baby Blue across the nation again. We can work on the house, we can read, we can visit with our sweet friends and family. We can treat Arlo like an only child. I can have private time, time with the girls, time for adventure. The future is so bright. And yet, it’s so sad and heavy.

The question is, did we do the best possible job we could have? God only knows…there were such highs and such lows. We quit our jobs to be able to stay home and raise the boy. I sold Lyle’s art that he made out of scrap metal from our woods. With baby on my hip, I sold a ton of art in retrospect. We put him into a playgroup at Blanche Morrison’s….maybe the best mother earth woman in the county to help raise our kids. I was so lucky to have her guide me through new motherhood. Blanche would say “either he is going through a developmental phase, or Lyle is, or you are” to almost every crisis. I love that woman.
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From there to Montessori. Another wonderful program with Claudia. When it came time to go to public school, Zafer evidently had the hardest time at adjusting. He would cling to me at drop off while the other kids were super happy to be there. He kind of hated school for 13 years. Didn’t like the system, didn’t like when the other kids made fun of him for not believing in their god. He had different parents than most of the public school kids, different political beliefs, different scientific beliefs, and he was embarrassed about our very long driveway. Our house was a broken down farmhouse and our cars were a bit beat up.

Zafer was parachuted into a family of chaos. His Mom, Dad and brother thrived on spontaneity and lack of routine. We are a bit messy and sometimes dramatic, and our clothes don’t always match. His Dad wore a top hat, his Mom constantly took him to parties that she thought were costume and they were not. There is some definite scar tissue that he will have to work out in a therapist’s office. Zafer adapted best he could by keeping his side of the room in order and by support from his big sister, Jess.
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While we thought Z may end up running for a GOP office or working for Monsanto, we started to see glimmers of light when he began running the farmers market for Angelina. He started eating her greens and telling me her secret health tips. He filled up his water bottle on the way to cut cords of wood for Logan and mentioned the BPA free plastic. He loved driving Baby Blue around town. (extreme hippie mobile). He bragged about Logan’s solar panels and I felt a huge wave of relief.

This is really about me. It’s an identity crisis. A Mom for 18 years and a big part of who I am. Friends are explaining it to me and assure me that everything will be ok. Arlo is here for another two years, but has one foot out the door.

Things will never be the same. That is devastating. And the world is Zafer’s oyster and we get to watch that unfold. And that is pure joy.
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Sabbatical: In Conclusion, The End and Universal Truth Learned

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I’m at the end of this great adventure and I want to thank all of you for listening, for reading, for feeding and housing me, for sending encouragement during a few dark moments, for poems, books, songs and texts, emails and good advice. Huge thanks to my family and colleagues for holding down the fort and for allowing me to go. This blog gave me focus and allowed me to take you all along for the ride…sometimes bumpy.

During my 42 days away and almost 8000 miles, I had a different set of responsibilities. They were about the basics, food, shelter, warmth, soul searching and auto-mechanics. It felt like I was 20 years old again, but with more knowledge and experience.
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I’m home and realized that I’ve changed at a profound level. I think it’s greater confidence, calm and grace. We put on a community event Saturday and typically I’m running around hyperventilating and worried about things going wrong. I knew (because of Jenny, Briar Chapel and the great community help) that this was going to be the best 5K race we’ve ever organized. I didn’t look for the problems, just trusted that everyone was having fun, and it was a fabulous day.

The next day was a ½ marathon that Jenny and I have been training for. I literally had no anxiety…it was my first one and worse case, I stop and walk. Not the end of the world.
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Training for a ½ marathon while on the trip really helped me metaphorically:

*Taking the first step is the hardest…once you start, you just put one foot in front of the other until you get to the finish line.

*Rest is just as important as work….I forget that often.

*Gave great focus

*Accountability…After a long run, I would reward myself by texting Lyle and Jenny…that motivated me to keep going. It helps to share the joys and concerns in one’s life.

*Taking things day by day, mile by mile and sometimes minute by minute.
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Some random universal wisdom:

  • Girls just want to have fun
  • Water is life…I take for granted in lush NC
  • There is a solution to everything, seriously…everything.
  • Your life reflects your beliefs
  • Impermanence is devastating and is also magical; crisis is opportunity
  • Being judgie is not good for anyone…more compassion, please
  • I think religion and spirituality are about clarity, intention and removal of doubt
  • We each create our own reality
  • There is ENOUGH
  • Miracles are just a change in perception
  • Gratitude keeps worry at bay
  • Alone time helps sort things out
  • Being in the moment provides great joy
  • Take a deep breath
  • It’s going to be OK, in fact, it’s going to be phenomenal!
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    I want:

    More quality, less quantity. Instead of a bunch of good experiences or projects, I want EPIC experiences, SWEET relationships, AMAZING projects that rock our world and make change.

    I want to go deep and know what’s going on in people’s hearts, not their heads.

    I want people to reach their full potential. I think many people have only scratched the surface of what they are capable of…think how great this community would be if people let go of their inhibitions and fear and just went for it!

    To help create more meaningful jobs. We have so many talented people doing such good work around here. I want them to be paid handsomely for creating our resilient community. I want Abundance, the Plant Eco-Industrial Park, the Distillery to enjoy resources and wealth along with this entire community of businesses, farms, organizations and for the small local folks to be rewarded for their courage and creativity.

    I hope I can inspire others to take that extra step to do what you want, to think about doing something that might seem scary…guess what, it won’t be after you get started.
    things just work out…magically in the best interest of you and at exactly the right time.

    It’s time to get back to work now and I can’t wait!

    Until the next adventure…

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Travelin’ with Two

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Santa Fe, Taos, Earthship Community, Ojo Caliente, NM and Amarillo, TX…wonderful and a blur of two exhausted happy people reunited. Ha!earthship riograndegorge taos2 taos

We drove the blue highways from Gore Oklahoma to Hot Springs Arkansas. I had heard from someone that it was a place of interest. And Bill Clinton grew up there. Must be cool? Leaving the bleak Texas and Oklahoma flatness and dustiness, we came into the lush terrain that seemed more like home. Mountains and trees and green. Over the Ouachita Mountains to the Zig Zag Mountain of Hot Springs was beautiful. Coming into town through the typical strip malls and Walmart and McDonalds I wasn’t sure this was a good decision…another tacky, depleted small town. We stopped at a little visitor center that pointed us to Gulpha Gorge first come, first serve camping ground (no showers….not that I care). Lyle and I set up camp by a running creek and cliff. The prettiest camp ground yet. The ranger showed us the trail to town. You could hike 2 miles over the mountain to the town. I heard there was a micro-brewery in an old bathhouse, so that was motivating.

Lyle’s email to family:

I don’t hike anymore.  I thought about this last night as I struck out on stepping-stones in Hot Springs Arkansas, heading over a mountain in my backless Birkenstocks.  Tami and I had our campsite set beside a wonderful brook, and decided to take Dead Chief Trail to town.

It was only two miles.  Tami’s been training for a half marathon and is in the best shape she’s been in for awhile.  I’ve been obsessed with “getting my steps” ever since Jim gave me a fitbit wristband that would count them for me—and let me compete with him—so I’m in decent shape these days too.

It took us an hour to get to town.  We arrived winded and stunned.  In Hot Springs there was a plaque at the trailhead that explained in the early 1900s people traveled from all over to indulge in the curative power of the volcanic water.  This was a medical town. 

Further, there was one doctor who prescribed aerobic activity to his Hot Springs patients.  He was so convinced of the power of fitness that he designed and built a series of trails, each one harder than the next.  As his patients’ health improved, he would ratchet up the hiking regimen.  The pinnacle of his trail achievements was Dead Chief Trail.

During our hike, in between gasps, I explained to Tami that Dad would frequently spy a short cut down the side of the mountain that would occasionally get us hopelessly lost.  At one point we encountered “Short Cut Trail” that was roped off by the park service, and appeared under construction.

We had a wonderful evening in Hot Springs, and hiked home in the dark—moving me into closer contention with Jim.  This morning, we are driving to town, for a soak in the curative springs…

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When we came over the mountain, we were on Central Avenue that had a gorgeous magnolia lined promenade with all the historical bathhouses built in the early 1900’s to take advantage of the hot springs. There were all sorts of contraptions used to heal everything from obesity to syphilis to just sore muscles and hysteria. (I think that is what women are said to get from time to time). This place was a stop for all the famous gangsters and also the baseball players to soak out their wild nights. The sadness is that only two bathhouses remain in use. In the 1950’s when western medicine said hydrotherapy doesn’t help, just take a pill, the Golden Age of Bathing began to decline. I personally think they should bring back Hot Springs as a healing center or maybe we should figure this out for Pittsboro. Hydrotherapy certainly helps most things and has no side effects.
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Regarding camping, let’s just say, it’s been very cold and I have to tell Lyle which way I’m sleeping. It’s a big decision and takes planning to turn over. I’m trying hard to “glamp”. I can do it, but it’s exhausting…. although…after cooking something in the van, the food tastes amazing. Starvation helps.

amarillo glamping

Onward to Dewitt Arkansas for an all day consulting gig for Lyle. (The rice and duck capital of the World) Her name is Tami and he sometimes gets her mixed up when texting which can be disasterous. Lyle explained we were coming through in Baby Blue and she said you can stay at our hunting lodge. The last time I had been in a hunting lodge was when we bought 450 acres next door to stop the constant gunshots and preserve some land in Chatham with a covenant protected development, Abeyance. There was an old homestead that was falling into the ground with broken windows, empty beanie-weanie cans and a stack of hunting magazines interspersed with Playboys. That is fine…I bet there is an old rusty shower and maybe indoor toilet? We can just park the van and sleep in it.

Nope, this was a drop dead gorgeous, high thread count lodge and eco-tourism place that had about 8 bedrooms, pool table, wrap around porch overlooking bald cypress swamp with ducks and alligators. The fridge was stocked, a beautiful bottle of red wine out and I couldn’t have been more in heaven washing laundry and sitting by the outdoor fire watching the birds and ducks. Didn’t mind all the stuffed ducks and deer and camo everywhere…

The interesting part about the rice capital of the world is the mono-cropping. There were constant crop dusters dropping various chemicals. Because of so much standing water, they also fly over with mosquito killer and they have no frogs or other eco-systems. The mosquito repellent doesn’t work, but just imagine all the different chemicals we are consuming in our rice…and we wonder about cancer. This part of Arkansas has no small farming. They ship all their food in from California or further. Lyle’s progressive clients are worried about the resiliency of their community if something happens to fossil fuels either in cost or supply. Their work is cut out for them.

I’m finding it fascinating looking at all the businesses that are wiped out by “progess” (maybe because my family hardware store was wiped out by big box), but the other Arkansas resource is mussels and they used to harvest the mussel shells for mother of pearl buttons and had big button factories. Until plastic came along. Now they are closed.

Onward to Tennessee. I will kiss the ground, when I see NC!

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Strangers and Just Strange

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Relying on the kindness of strangers this past week has been lovely. A drink in a ghost town with Emily’s uncle and aunt, Josie’s mother gave me a place to lay my head in Albuquerque and took me out for dinner! Such generosity. A team of mechanics in College Station that actually knew german engineering and fixed up Baby Blue for the 2000+ miles left. I’m usually the host, so it’s interesting being on the other side.
tomtamiterlingua mechanics

OK, can we just talk about Marfa for a minute….their website says “tough to get to, tougher to explain, but once you get here, you get it”. Well, I spent two days trying to get it and failed. It was like a pristine ghost town where there were few people, cars or life. As a tourist, finding a lunch spot or a coffee took major effort. See the sign for the coffee shop. Subtle…so subtle it took me over 24 hours to find it and I was desperate for a coffee! Buildings that looked like they were boarded up in fact had great lunches inside if you knew about them. The first night I was directed to go to the only light in town and then the third house on the left for dinner. Otherwise, I would not have known that it was a very high end eating establishment. At the bar, I sat next to a silicon valley ivy leaguer twenty something who had just gotten back from a small town in texas where they handed him an assault rifle and he literally blew up a wild boar. They evidently are overwhelmed with wild boar in texas and instead of eating them, they just blow them up. He was scarred by the experience as you might understand. In this small town, the dentist was also the barber…he would just run across the street and cut hair…go back and forth.
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I kept trying to figure out Marfa for two days…went to Prada Marfa, an art installation. So, Marfa is a combination of locals that still like to get in bar fights and very wealthy artists and writers in residence. It’s so hip that Ralph Lauren embedded someone into the town to try and figure it out. There are no chains except Exxon. The signage on the buildings might say “Future Shark” and you would know that was a café or Wrong is an expensive gift store…The words on the buildings all look very minimalist and similar fonts. I ran back into my ivy league friend in Fort Davis a couple of days later and we spent some time discussing the weirdness and gossip of Marfa. He was so excited to get on their list serve and he wants to become Mayor of Marfa. That night we picked up another traveler from London and headed to the McDonald Observatory. We drove up a mountain to what looks like a James Bond movie with huge telescopes and gather in an outdoor amphitheater and see one of the best constellation tours + Jupiter and 4 moons and because of the darkness of the area, there were a bazillion stars between all the stars we see at home…a great night that made us all feel very small on this earth after checking out the milky way and discussing galaxies. Great comic relief with Jeff & Duncan.
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Next came Big Bend. It’s one of the biggest national parks, darkest and least visited. As I drove in, I had to slam on brakes as a huge, fat, very speedy ram ran across the road. He was so fast I couldn’t capture his photo, but found a drawing. There were also roadrunners everywhere running across the roads. I hiked into the Santa Elena Canyon and that was the place that I felt like I had accomplished my sabbatical. It was spiritual and beautiful. I found myself there. Thank goodness.
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On to the Telingua Ghost town which is rumoured to host fugitives and other colorful folks. I spent some time in graveyards in the desert. They just pulled me in. The one in Telingua was very D.I.Y and beautiful. Back in Marfa, there were two parts to the graveyard…one was full of flowers, sparkles, flags and all the names were of Hispanic origin. I saw another fenced off section that had no color, no flowers, no nothing. It even had barbed wire around it. As I got closer, I noticed those names were different…Knight and Mitchells. Wow, segregation even in death. I loved the colorful side.
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I’ve really loved the long drives. Giles Blunden described driving and thinking to me recently. He said we only need a small percentage of our brain to drive and we have all that other percentage to really think things through. Plus I can sing loudly without freaking out my family! Ha! Driving across America you feel like you are really seeing how things work from the oil derricks to the windmills to all the trains carrying all the coal and containers. I’ve also seen so many towns that have been boarded up.   More than towns that are inhabited. Oddly, they all seem to have working post offices in them still.

They say it takes about 2 weeks to let things go from your day to day life and I didn’t believe it, but I’d say that is exactly right. Being alone allows you to find your own frequency, not constantly running at other frequencies. It’s been an amazing and epic journey.

Well, Lyle flies into Albuquerque in a couple of hours and we have some catching up to do….

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Texas Energy

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They were not kidding when they said Texas was big.  Whoa.  I’ve traveled about 1110 miles through Texas and I have about 1000 more to go.  The landscape has gone from bayou to prairie to canyon and I’m definitely in the desert now.  The appropriate music coming into Texas was Pink Martini!

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My first stop was College Station, home of Texas A&M (agriculture and mechanics).  The school IS the town and my niece who is very accomplished in her field (PhD in Shakespeare) chose what might seem an oxymoron.  After visiting the huge and abundant campus, I see why she and Dan moved to College Station.  The school is funded by oil money and the English department is in a brand new state of the art building.  Laura gets whatever she wants as do her students and the Aggies have some of the most prestigious Shakespeare collections in the world.  Laura is remarkable, abundant and one of the most optimistic and joyful human beings I’ve ever met.  Professor Estill hasn’t changed much since I met her 22 years ago except she’s gained more wisdom and experience.  Their house has become home base for me as I left Baby Blue with an import mechanic for an overhaul. laurashakespeare zaferlauradanmeat tamidanlaura

Zafer was having a bad case of senioritis and needed a few mental health days and I needed some homesick relief, so we brought him in for a few days.  We had a great time figuring out Texan culture, taking photos, and I realize my days are limited and empty nest is coming.  That will be a big transition for our family and I think harder than I’m allowing myself to think about.  Literally feels like he was just born.  Except he is his own unique being.  I’m in awe of the young man he has become and honoured that he joined me.
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A few things I learned in College Station:
Armadillo’s carry leprosy and can transmit to humans, so don’t cuddle the roadkill.

Texas A&M students (entire student body) stand to show their support during football games because they might be needed as the “12th man” if someone is injured on the team, to fill in.

Zafer and I also noticed the contrast between the oil rigs everywhere and the wind turbines.  Texas is in a boom period because of fracking and if you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) you can be paid $100,000 to drive away the waste water or deliver the fracking fluid.)  (never mind the health and environmental issues).  Texas is also the biggest producer of wind in the US.  (Uncle Glen knows all this).  So, wind is also booming thanks to a renewable portfolio standard expanded by the state legislature.
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Another detour and surprise for this trip was visiting Kurt.  Kurt was my sweet highschool boyfriend and hearing his familiar deep voice call and say “Tamela!” brought me back to carefree days when I was 16 and the big decision was location of party and who was driving. (we won’t talk about the Raleigh CAT bus that Kurt wrecked while he was not even in his car…)  Zafer and I took off to Padre Island, Corpus Christi the largest barrier island in the world and on the gulf.   Kurt settled down there and has the ‘brady bunch’ going on with his lovely wife, Lisa.  They’ve merged 6 children together and happily I might add.  She was spectacular, obviously an ambitious nurse that runs clinics and is working on weight loss for the community.  Which is great since Corpus Christi is the #1 heaviest city in the nation.  They also have the #1 worst hair (wind and humidity), but they are birthplace of Farrah Fawcett.  Kurt and Lisa were perfect hosts and took Zafer and me to see an Ansel Adams exhibit.  I loved seeing them and their kids.
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Dropped Zafer at the airport and took off for Marfa and Big Bend.  Marfa is an artist colony and Big Bend is one of the largest, most remote and least visited national parks in the US.  Big Bend was named as an “International Dark Sky Park” (one of 10 on earth) for stargazing.

It took all day to get from the gulf to Marfa.  I drove parallel to the Rio Grande and encountered Border Patrol for the first time.  I didn’t look like a human smuggler, so they were quick with me.  Thank you to the Crute Family for being my texas travel team.  Muzzy, Nancy, Phifer, and Johnny and also Chris Jude who came here on his honeymoon.
picosriverThe drive was more and more remote and SPECTACULAR. TAKE. YOUR. BREATH. AWAY.  It felt like another planet.  There was nothing but huge expansive sky, me, and beautiful prairie, desert, canyons with bright green rivers and an occasional train.  No gas stations, no nothing for hundreds of miles.   The American Hustle soundtrack had the perfect dramatic tone to go with the vistas.  It was so different to be alone and in the moment for that long.

Each part of the trip is different, has a different energy, different vibe and this part lends itself to spirit and art.

I’m at peace, confident and happy here, talking to strangers and “being”.

This is what I came for.

Tonight I’m under a full moon in the very dark sky of the desert.  Tomorrow night I go to a “Star Party” at the McDonald Observatory.

And I get to hold hands with Lyle in one week!

New Orleans and The Last Breakdown

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©2013 Breathless Boudoir | Jen & Max Trombly

I explored many subjects in this mysterious city; contrast (difference between light and dark), magic, definition of beauty, examination of sensuality, and loneliness.  My palm reader from the French Quarter said I had two lifelines, so I think I’m starting my second life now.
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I love contrast and New Orleans is a perfect example of this.  A place of culture, great food, music, tradition, celebration, color, and joy.  There is also amazing pain, pollution, poverty, addiction, sadness, inequality, and devastation.  I could stay here a month…it’s so fascinating.  I ran through the impoverished neighborhoods day one to see the other side and to escape the tourists.  It’s so evident that we are not right as a society just by seeing the two sides of rich and poor.  A problem since the beginning of time.  Let’s envision a smaller delta between the haves and the have nots.  I’m reading The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein and he is getting to this topic about changing our society and he’s coming to town!  Info here.
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Back up a minute!   I drove out of Lefleurs Bluff State Park in Jackson MS, hit a bump and Baby Blue didn’t like it. Another axle problem, damn.  Walked up to the gas station and asked if anyone knew a mechanic and three folks looked at each other and scratched their heads and said, “nope, everyone is at work”.  OK, so if everyone is at work then they are not a mechanic in their shop.  Hello?  I was so frustrated, I rolled my eyes and one guy started looking for a tow truck and got me a number to call.  Where am I?  I’m in the deep south and maybe folks are not critical thinkers.  A tow truck operator came.  I’m getting used to them by now and I went with him to his shop carrying Baby Blue.  They were super nice and I left the van with them.  I had to get to New Orleans, so I rented a cute tiny fiat.  Wow, how different it is to drive a little gas efficient tiny car that can go 80mph!  And I could take a phone call and actually hear what they were saying!
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I got to New Orleans and thankfully Jay Pierce is my secret agent on what to do and he sends me a list of places to go.  One is his old mentor that has a restaurant called Lucky Rooster.  I asked for the Chef and mentioned Jay.  I had the red carpet rolled out…very fun and great food and drink.
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I call the mechanics back the next day in Jackson Mississippi and the dude cannot find the part and it’s been two days.  What?  I googled with my phone and find the part in 1 minute.  He says, I don’t have an account with them, so can’t order it.  OMG.  Really?  I order it myself and dropship it to the ridiculous mechanic in Jackson.  I am beside myself with the incompetency.  Over dinner with Jen and Max (more on them later), they discuss a poverty economy with me.  In low-income communities, people trade services amongst themselves.  (of course!)  They would never pay money for something like auto repair or even health, the neighbors all take care of themselves.  The nurse will look after the sick in her off hours.  My question of ‘where is a mechanic’ does not work unless I live in the neighborhood.

My lessons are about homesickness and loneliness this week.   I’ve not been alone or lonely for as long as I can remember…constantly busy or surrounded by tons of people.  I have so many friends/family that are lonely and in need of connection.  I’ve never understood it and when they mention it, I just blaze past them saying, I’m busy….gotta go.  I have compassion for them today.  A revelation.  Some cute advice from folks is, go to the puppy shelter, volunteer at a homeless shelter, go to a diner and talk to the waiters.  Of course, I have lots of connection with friends and family, but this is really eye opening for me and I’m being a baby.

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Our society and the media has done a number on women and also men about beauty.   I had a photo shoot with Jen and Max of breathless boudoir.  I wanted to document this time in my life because it is pretty spectacular.  Their mission is to empower women through sensual portraiture.  We did shots in the French quarter and also at the hotel.  They are an amazing couple and I felt a kinship with them.  They are a liberal couple that feels a little trapped in the conservative politics of Louisiana and they want to expand their business and also land where they think they can raise kids in a good school system.  Big order!  We had an unbelievable day and ended up at dinner going deep.  A highlight for me!

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I’m stuck in New Orleans.  Not a bad thing.  Because the budget is a bit fragile, I leave my hotel and search for my first Air BNB experience.  I clicked on the cheapest room I could find ($40) and it is with a Mardi Gras mask maker.  How fun is that?  Well, I go to unload bags and I’m clearly out of my element and comfort zone.  His house is in the 7th Ward and I’m different from all the others in the neighborhood.  The older black men give me sweet smiles and waves and the younger folks glare at me like “why are you here?”.  I’m pretty open to new situations so I decide to just go with it, this is part of my adventure.  My host answers the door in his underwear and he is extremely hungover and on his way to the clothing optional bathhouse.  He invites me to come, which was nice, but I decline.  I enter a dark, dirty leather shop and my room is the hallway that connects the rest of the house to the bathroom and kitchen.  There are sheets hung rather than doors.  I leave my stuff and have a great day in New Orleans and have dinner with two women that were wonderful that I randomly met.  I go “home” and try to go to bed.  It’s really gross and no one is there.  There was fear of the unknown…I was in no real danger, but being in this area really freaked me out.  Every bump made me jump and every dog barking made me sit up.  Two people came in about 4.30am and they were women’s voices, so that gave me comfort, then my host came in around 5am and I settled into a few hours sleep.  I packed up and left the next day.  I’m sure if I had the courage to join the people that were sitting out on their doorsteps we would have some things in common, but that might have to happen next trip.

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Eyes wide open midway through this trip.  I’m grateful.

Backwards to Jackson and then over to College Station, TX to see Laura, our PhD in Shakespeare and her man, Dan.  Can’t wait!!  And Zafer is parachuting into Texas!  Beyond excited!

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I’m going to Jackson…

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Lyle hates when I say that because of the Johnny Cash song: “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout”.

Jacksonville, Alabama was an eye-opening visit with my high school friend Paul.  He was the ringleader in our circle of friends and went on to become a history professor at Jacksonville State University.  He’s incredibly brilliant and I sat in on his US Survey 202 class full of freshmen.  I have not been in a college lecture in 25 years.  He was fabulous, entertaining and I hung on his every word.  Mostly because I’ve lived some of the concepts he’s talking about.  Money follows power, the need for regulating the “captains of industry” and the iron triangle or circle in which the system for business, politicians and corrupt contracts were the norm in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.
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It strikes me as I drive through Alabama and Mississippi that we have not come that far.  The Walmarts have done such a good job of wiping out culture and small business and vibrancy in these poor towns.  The property taxes are almost nothing according to Paul and there is no funding to renovate the schools etc that are downtown.  They build cheaply out by Walmart and the strip malls taking more life and business with them.  As a traveler, all I want to do is go to a town without strip malls and Walmarts.  Hard to find in this area.  It makes me very nervous about the impending development in Chatham County and the threat of losing our eccentric personality of Pittsboro.

Paul has a 12 year old precocious daughter, Ginger.  I had never met her and I think she thought I was a little strange driving up to her house in a hippie van, reminiscing with her Dad about the time I took his teddy bear hostage and possibly tortured it, etc etc.  She took to her room, which most teens do about that age.  Ginger had a soccer game.  Paul and I watched for 2 hours in 34 degree weather…and after they lost, we took the very disillusioned Ginger to a brew-pub for dinner.  She was not happy.  But I heard a soft voice in the back seat say “I like your van”.  During dinner we tried to talk above the full on brass band, although a challenge.  Finally, Ginger, with big eyes said “I’m having an existential crisis”  I said happily “why do you think I’m driving across the country in a blue bus?!”  Finally, Ginger and I could relate to one another.
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Jackson, Mississippi was next…partly because they had a co-op grocery, yoga studio and Eudora Welty’s house was there.  I walked into the tour and they said “You are a Eudora Welty scholar?” I said no. They said “You are a big fan and have read lots of her writings?”  I said no.   It was a great tour.
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Never mind that it was rainy and 34 degrees and I’ve NEVER CAMPED in this situation.  In fact, this would be the 2nd night alone in Baby Blue and it was cold as hell.  I searched for a small space heater and all the big boxes were sold out.  Like a beacon, I drove to the co-op grocery and there was an old timey hardware store that had 3 heaters left.  I felt like the Universe was looking after.  I went to a drill sergeant yoga class….jeez, she was so bad, no spirit in that girl.  Then back to the dark campground to cook and stay warm for the night.  My spot, #11 had a broken electrical outlet, so no heat for me after all.  I heated soup which warmed the van about 2 degrees and got into Lyle’s mummy sleeping bag.  My girlfriend, Melissa was texting me photos of her 4 course dinner in San Francisco.  After about an hour of trying to keep my nose warm, I fell asleep and woke up to a cold sunshiny day.  Today I feel empowered that I survived a potential hypothermia or asphyxiation death.

New Orleans, here I come!

P.S. I’m still terribly homesick for Lyle, Zafer, Arlo and PBO.

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