Monday, December 15, 2014

The Worst Journey in the World / drawing winner

I'm going to tell you what happened and I'm going to make it quick. I promise you, you won't want any more details.

Over the past week, I've enjoyed reading about why you love where you live. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to knit your words together with mine, and write a whole post about all of us, scattered across the map, going about our happy everyday business. I asked for you to send me a photo of the place you call home, and I was rewarded with beautiful shots of snow and sunsets, street corners and oceans and outhouses. (That last one was from a Vermonter.)

The timing was perfect. I was about to embark on my annual Christmas Expedition to the North: a 17 hour drive from Asheville to Vermont, just the dog and I, listening to audio books and eating a bag of snacks picked with careful deliberation from Whole Foods. The snack bag is a splurge, bought with cash from the AB Tech textbook exchange, a Christmas present to myself.

Because the journey is long and the days are short, I drive in darkness for the majority of the trip. Sometimes, sailing alone down interstate 95 in the blackness, a certain loneliness will seep through the car windows and fill the space around me. On either side of the highway, the land rushing by looks bleak and unfamiliar, occasionally illuminated by fast food restaurants. I begin to feel very far from home.
This year, things would be different. I heard from many of you who live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and all up and down the Northeast Corridor. Now as I drive I can picture your bustling town just over the hill, the woods laced with running trails, your five roommates all cooking dinner together, and you at the grocery store, or at the late night coffee shop with your head bent over your work, drinking an Americano. Your words made the long road between my home and my other home feel familiar, friendly.

This year I broke up the trip into three days. I injured my back while putting my mountain bike on top of my car ("a bike accident that involved a car", is how I like to put it), and I can't sit down for long periods of time without pain roaring down my spine. My first stop is Durham, to pick up David's Christmas present I'd commissioned from his best friend, Ann. I planned to spend the night with David's parents, then drive up to Ithica to see my sister. On the third day I'd make the final push to Vermont.
The last week was a rigorous one as I doggedly tried to keep up with final exams. I had a test every day and ended up with straight A's, even in Chemistry, which I thought would do me in. So it had been a few days since I'd last posted. As I flew around the house getting things ready for departure, I tried to write something about the upcoming trip, cheerful sentences like 'the dog and I are about to do what we do best- drive!' But I couldn't swing it. Too many other things to do.

Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and made our first stop at Whole Foods.

I would tell you about all the nice things I chose to sustain me over the next three days, but it would make me too sad now. Let me just say this: I am so skilled at selecting road snacks that when I drove across the country, from Seattle to Asheville, I was never even tempted to stop for food.

When I left the store, the bag was heavy and I was brimming with optimism and holiday cheer. I sang along to the radio as we pulled onto the interstate. The dog sat upright in the passenger seat, smiling.

Then, not two hours into the trip, it hit me: this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and the desperate urge to shut my eyes. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind whip me awake. At 5:30 in the evening after a good night of sleep, this was completely out of the blue. Maybe it was the stress of exams hitting me after the fact, or the accumulation of medicines I'd been taking for my back.

By the time I made it to the Greensboro countryside to pick up Dave's present, I knew things were about to get ugly. This was no post-finals fatigue. I walked into Ann's house, and there on the mantle was the gorgeous knit piece that she'd dreamed up, designed and been working tirelessly on. She had put the final touches on the frame just a few hours before I arrived. As I stumbled in the front door she was holding her breath with excitement, anticipating my reaction.

"I think I'm going to barf," I said, and ran into the bathroom.
I threw up like, right after this.
Half an hour later, I was driving the winding dark road back to the highway, David's present carefully wrapped in plastic in the back seat. Ann had given me pieces of crystallized ginger and offered me a barf bag for the road. But for some stupid, illogical reason, completely unfathomable to me now, I'd turned her down. 

Twice on that country road I pulled over and dry heaved into the ditch, but nothing came up. I felt dread as I merged onto the wide, busy interstate. "Eighteen miles," I chanted. "That's all I have to do. I can survive for eighteen miles."

I lasted four miles. And then it was all happening. I tried to get off. I safely merged three lanes over and reached the off ramp but it was too late. I grabbed the only bag in the front seat- the one from Whole Foods full of my snacks and coconut waters, and threw up with a terrific slosh. The bag sat warmly on my lap until I found a gas station.

Crying and wiping my nose, I got out of the car and threw the bag and all its contents into a trash can. I bought a blue flavored Gatorade. I managed the rest of the trip to Dave's parents house without further incident, and that's where I am today. Marooned in Durham, too sick to continue.

As it turns out, David also got sick that evening, as did a number of our friends who attended the same company Christmas party last Friday. One that was richly catered by a local restaurant. "We never get to eat this kind of food," I recall whispering to Dave. "Dig in!"

So we all ended up with food poisoning. But I am the only one who ended up with food poisoning at 70 miles per hour.
For more photos of this girl and this dog and all the fun they have, find me on Instagram @melinadream

This week we are taking a break from the giveaways, for reasons that should be apparent. Next Monday we'll be back with a Christmas Mystery Prize (or two).

Until then, I'll be inching my way up North, slowly and less exuberantly than I'd intended. I look forward to that moment when I can sit down at the Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont, watch the snow pile up and type out the post about Home with all your words and photos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. And thanks to Appalatch, a company of true integrity and talent. The winner of the Custom Fit Sweater is....

Congratulations Grace! I understand that love of change- Vermont has four distinct seasons and the years felt dull without them when I moved away. Minneapolis sounds lovely, and you seem to be in good company- there were a wealth of comments from some very content people in Minnesota. Please email and we will get you all sorted out.

Thank you everyone for reading and writing. The make more mail initiative has been a smash hit so far! I hope you're having a safe and warm Holiday, and I'll see you back here in a few days.

Monday, December 8, 2014

think of a place

Thank you this week to Steve and Paula. You make it possible. Keep an eye on your mail!
I love it here at night, when the whole neighborhood is asleep but I am awake. I can hear the strains of The Crane Wife coming from the living room where my books are laid out on the table, the pair of ugly terriers at the end of the street barking at the night, and every now and then a siren wailing from town a few blocks away. Other than that, it is remarkably quiet. 

When we first bought the house, we spent a week pulling up the heavy grey carpet, which was spongey with decay. Now I can glide from room to room in the lamplight, not making a sound on the polished wood. 

We wanted to live in a place where we could walk everywhere. This proximity usually translates into noise, the sounds of traffic and people shouting as they come home from the bars.  The quiet of our street is unexpected, a bonus. In Seattle I lived in eleven different houses and each one was on a roaring bus line; at least that's how I remember it. 

I do miss Seattle, but I don't talk about it, because who doesn't miss a place? It's surprising to me how I miss it- not in words but in vivid and specific images. I'll wake up in the morning and a picture will have emerged, floating belly up and glistening in my head: a ferryboat lit up at night. A charcoal sky with a torrent of water rushing down the street, swamping the gutters, the sound of a city swallowing itself. 

In some ways our neighborhood, West Asheville, is like Seattle shrunk down to the head of a pin. There is one of every thing I need, instead of hundreds.

Instead of water everywhere there are mountains that turn purple at sunset.

But it doesn't have the slickness of Seattle. It costs less to live here, and it lacks the brilliant shine of a city well nourished by Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. The houses I pass as I walk into town are small and, for the most part, falling apart, with leaning door frames and sunken roofs. Their inhabitants sit on the porches and smoke cigarettes. They'll nod as I pass by, but not always. 

The main street of West Asheville is a mix of new restaurants and empty brick storefronts. There is an organic food co-op, and a tiny shop called the Asheville Bee Charmer where you can sample honey from a row of tiny jars. There is Buffalo Nickel, a restaurant that glows invitingly each evening but always seems to be empty. The old barber shop with its striped pole rubs elbows with the West End Bakery, crowded and fragrant and loud with voices and the hiss of the espresso machine. The ceiling is covered in cotton spider webs from halloween, which was five weeks ago, and the glass cases are crammed with so many cakes and tarts and round loaves of bread you wonder why a small town bakery could ever need so much. 

Although, is Asheville a small town? It hasn't decided that yet. That's one thing I love about it; it can be a small town when you need it to be a small town, and a much bigger one when you need something new to look at. I shared this place with an ex boyfriend for a year and, conscious of one another's corners, we never had a run in.

At our favorite bar, Pour, an entire wall of different beers flow from silver taps when you wave a wristband in front of them. There are darts and shuffleboard and a giant, life-sized Jenga game that collapses loudly every ten minutes, sending a roar of screams and laughter throughout the place.  The cafe where I study is in the same building. When I am done for the day I can pack up my papers and step smartly into the next stage of the evening without even going outside. 

There is is a bookstore, a cider house, a pinball museum. There is Ingles and shabby Save-a-lot food stores and the sprawling new Whole Foods that glitters with salt out near the box stores. UNCA is tucked behind the botanical gardens, while just across the river and up a hill you'll find the squat, colorless buildings of the community college where I go to school. From its perch I can look out over the Biltmore Estate- America's biggest house, a castle, with its sprawling, 8,000 acre grounds. It is brilliantly lit up for Christmas, but I only know that because of a billboard on I-40. It costs seventy dollars just to visit.    

There is much more to this town and to our house, with all its cheerful oddities, but I have plenty of time to tell you about it later. Looking at the calendar I can see that it's Monday, and I have something up my sleeve for you.  

Photo Credit:
This week I am partnering with Appalatch, a local clothing company that makes exquisite wool shirts, sweaters, capes and scarves. We have a unique and lovely giveaway to brighten these dark days and keep you warm this winter.

Photo Credit:

First a word about AppalatchI am enamored with this company not only for their luxurious, handsomely made products, but also for their dedication to environmental responsibility. Every piece of their operation, from the farm where their wool is sourced to the textile mill, is certifiably sustainable. Their clothes are soft, long lasting and handcrafted in small batches.

This week we are giving away a gift card for a custom-knit sweater, valued at $189 dollars.

Appalatch will take your measurements, chat with you about your specific wants, and then custom knit a gorgeous sweater just for you. "Clothing companies tend to generalize our shapes, and tell us what is good and what is bad," the marketing director, Ella, told me over coffee. "This sweater is designed precisely to fit you." Literally, a perfect fit.

In addition to the giveaway, from now until December 17th, go to and enter coupon code WILDERCOAST for 15% off.

In keeping with the theme of 'A Perfect Fit,' this week's prompt was inspired by a photo, taken by Maggie Jones. Maggie loves where she lives, and does a terribly good job of making me homesick for Washington State. Follow her on Instagram- Theruralroost. She comes highly recommended. 

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment and tell me one reason why you love where you live. 

I know we can't all live in our ideal place, but it's good to recognize at least one thing that you makes you happy where you are.  I'm looking forward to reading them and taking a virtual trip around the country and beyond. I savor these comments. They're like jewels or chocolates to me. 

The winner will be chosen at random and announced in one week. Go to town and good luck!

Friday, December 5, 2014

the teeth

I am in the teeth of finals. During times like this, my body, feeling neglected, likes to throw punches. I'm not the type to snap or yell or slam doors when I feel overwhelmed with demands and responsibilities, instead I swallow the stress and watch as it emerges in mysterious side effects. I have an infected tooth, an infected outer ear, and a slipped disc in my lower back. I've taped all my papers to the wall so I can do my work standing up, the pencil in my hand cramped at an unusual angle. Sitting is excruciating. During class, I lean against the wall in the back, awkward, like someone loitering in a parking lot.

I've been given a body that never presents the same symptoms twice, because that would be too boring. Hypochondria has rattled me my entire life, but I do marvel at the innovation that comes from that deep part of my brain, the secret laboratory that I am unaware of and have no control over, for constantly thinking up new aches and pains, disruptive yet undiagnosable, all creatively worrisome.

If you were to come speak to me while I'm sitting (standing) at the cafe, or lying face down on the floor in a sea of papers, I would not raise my voice, or be short with you or say something to make you feel lousy. Some people go this route when there is too much to do and not enough time. Not me. Instead I will tirelessly try and convince you that my number is up, and this time I mean it. I'll pull my hair back to show you the infected red stripe on my ear that's no doubt marching towards my brain. I'll take your hand in mine and press it against that misplaced bone in my back.

To live with me requires some patience.

That said, there is a faint light at the end of this tunnel. In less than two weeks I should be home in New England, the ACS exam passed or failed but over either way. Same with all the others.

I have to return to the belly of the whale now. It's been nice coming here and having a gasp of fresh air.
Coming up on Monday, I'm excited to present the grandest, coziest, warmest giveaway yet. I can't wait! But I will. One question for you before I announce the winner of the In Blue bicycle journal: for Monday, would you like a prompt, or should I leave the comments open this time around? That way you could say anything you'd like and write as much or as little as you please. If you have an opinion, let me know.

Now for the winner. Thank you to everyone who nominated a hard working person in your life. Here is what I took away from your comments: people can take on a whole lot and make it work. It's difficult but it's possible. And maybe I shouldn't be so daunted by the idea of finishing school, starting a career, having kids and getting enough sleep all in the next few years, because people are doing exactly that, and far more, every day.

I have to use the computer instead of the drawing hat because everyone I know is either at work or at school right now. (The nerve!)
Congratulations Bekah, comment #18!

"I want to say my momma, because all of the stuff you just said about raising kids, she did it. I never (ever!) knew we were poor until kids in middle school told me we were...personally I think they got it wrong, but I guess by the numbers we were. I loved my childhood, and I try hard to raise my boys the same way. We have been up and down financially in the five years that I have been a momma, down as low as literally living in an unfinished basement with a five month old baby. And you know what - I wouldn't change a damn thing about when I had my babies. We done some pretty amazing things with the boys, and I will tell you right now that as much as they liked disneyworld (which was a gift - because holy shit tickets are absurd) they still mostly talk about our fun times hiking nearby or throwing rocks at the river. I don't know where my comment is going, and I'm not trying to preach, all I'm trying to say is you can do it. And it can be amazing."

I know where your comment is going, girl. It's going towards a home-made leather bound journal for your innovative and hard working mom. Please send her mailing address and yours to:
Keep up with Monday giveaways on Instagram: @melinadream

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Lean Years and an In Blue Giveaway

--Drawing Over--
Thanks this week to Michelle. You may know her as FacingWest. Thank you for making it possible, Michelle. 
One of the reasons that I'm scared to have children is because I can't give them everything my parents gave me. I was raised in the roaring 90s and things were different. I call this time now 'the lean years.' It has a Steinbeck-esque feel to it, which I like. It also carries with it a touch of nostalgia, which makes it feel as though these days won't last forever. Which they probably won't, but it's nice to be reminded of that.  

It's not that my kids won't eat or have a nice place to sleep. It's just that it feels irresponsible to even consider having another little person around to pay for when my finances are uncertain. There- that's a good word for it. Uncertain. The other day I got out a calculator and a piece of paper and I pushed a bunch of numbers, and I figured out that I will be perfectly 'financially ready' for my kids to arrive by the year of 2021.

I didn't like that number. So I flipped over the paper and I drew a line through the middle of it. On one side I wrote a list of things that I grew up with that my kid probably won't, like 'country house.' On the other I made a list of all the things my parents gave me that I could do right this very minute. For example, my mom read to us every single night. I could afford to do that. We played outside all the time. We saw our cousins constantly.

I was sincerely surprised to find that most of my memories from childhood, which are all good and I'd like to replicate them all for my kid, were not the product of money, but just the product of having really good parents.

Now, if you think that what I'm trying to get at is that kids are free, money is meaningless and life is easy, hush, because that's not what I mean and you know it.

Since coming to that somewhat startling realization, I have been paying attention to the good moments in my life that cost very little or nothing at all. Like playing card games with our friends, radio shows, taking the dog on long walks or spending all day on the river in a borrowed canoe. Like being all alone and getting naked and lying in bed with your favorite book. Or cooking a nice dinner that didn't cost much, but you've finally figured out how to use spices so it still tastes good.

I have a lot of those free moments, free days even, because when it comes to being thrifty and innovative, my boyfriend is Superior, capitol S intentional.

You could argue that everything has a cost, the gas in the car to get here or there, the cards on the table and the tea in the glass, but that's okay. A little money is okay. A little money doesn't scare me.

There are a lot of pleasant blogs, books and websites out there that have photos of very beautiful, soothing scenes of mountain cabins and great, white swathes of living room with big fire places and ocean views. And big wooden tables of sparkling glass wear and artesian salt and crushed velvet blankets and Kitchen-aid appliances and I could go on! Because I, like a lot of people, have spent time, and continue to spend time, just gazing at those pictures. They're really quite nice.

But what if I could find a way to document the things we do that don't cost as much, those things that we are guaranteed to be able to give to our kids? To recognize those moments, to seek them out more often then not, and present them so they look just as appealing as they truly are- I think I'm up for the task.

Alright, it's Monday. And it's the first of December, not technically but for all intents and purposes the beginning of winter, so we ought to start it out with a giveaway.
I'm thrilled to introduce to you one of my very favorite makers. In Blue Handmade is a small, local business from right here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The bags, wallets, leather bound journals and flasks are gorgeously soft and handmade. And to really bring it home, they can be custom printed just for you.

I love my In Blue sketch book. Here is where I record the random post ideas that walk through my head, keep track of the assorted blog mail that comes in and out, and straight up write letters of encouragement to myself. If I die tomorrow I'd like this to be firmly sealed shut, then bronzed.
I chose to wait until the holidays to introduce In Blue Handmade, because you'll find some unique and affordable gifts on this site. The pieces are pretty and functional and design-y and if you're like me, you'll fall head over heals for the flasks in particular.  
But this week's giveaway is not entirely for you- it's for you to give to someone else.
photo credit: in blue handmade
In the comment section, tell me about a friend who deserves some recognition. Someone who sets the clock an hour early, goes to bed after everyone is asleep, scribbles down ideas in the checkout line or waits tables to support their woodwork or their husband's paintings. Someone who works a twelve hour shift and then comes home and makes dinner, or has played every open mic in town even when there is nobody to hear it, or who opened their own business even with absolutely no guarantee of success, because there never is.

Tell me about someone who raises their kid and then stays awake at the kitchen table with coffee and a calculator, stretching every single cent that comes in. Tell me about that person especially, because that's going to be me one day.

It does not have to be a creative endeavor, although everything that's difficult is kind of a creative endeavor. It doesn't have to be anything in particular. Just tell me about a friend who works hard, who could use a little honor, and a beautiful leather-bound journal full of blank space that they don't have to share. (Who couldn't use a little space?)

As always, I will randomly select a winner from the comments. If you're chosen, your friend will receive this leather bicycle journal in the mail, from you and In Blue Handmade. I will inscribe the front page with the words you wrote about them in your comment.
photo credit: in blue handmade
I can't win the giveaway, but I still want to play. I would nominate my sister, Anna Coogan. Anna has given her entire life to music. She's hauntingly talented in a brutal industry, and I have never seen anyone work harder. Holy shit, I don't know how you do it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Have you ever?

If you like this post, share it. If you share it, tell me, I'll send you a thank you via snail mail. Let's make more mail, people!
Have you ever run 62 miles in one straight shot after giving birth to twins? Have you ever quit the job that was making you miserable, with no money in the bank, because you knew your happiness was more important than anything else? Have you ever defeated an injury and reached the top of the mountain- red faced and sweating but still, there you are, or signed up for a race while holding your breath because you're not sure you can do it but you know you have to start somewhere?

Have you ever set down your pen after finishing the 321st and final page of your novel, or accepted your PhD after years of budgeting and criticism and self doubt? Have you ever stopped to take a breath, to treat yourself kindly and deny the inner demon that always speaks up? Have you ever been completely honest with your child when they ask something hard? Have you ever given birth and then lay in bed with your infant, thanking your body and your mind for this impossible feat they just accomplished? 

Have you ever taught yourself to cook, one recipe after the next, and delighted in the disasters because of what a good story they will make? Have you ever refused to apologize, or rang that fucking bell after the chemo is over, and maybe one small cell of you started to believe that you actually are a warrior and a survivor and maybe that mess is all behind you? 

Have you ever caught a 4 am flight with three little kids? Or raised two babies in a city far away from your family with no car and endless errands? 

Have you ever held back a panic attack while 70 feet underwater? Or you couldn't hold it back but you got on the plane anyway?

Have you ever bought the house, read the book in French, word by word with the dictionary next to you in bed? Have you ever held onto the A in your class till the bitter end, or painted your nails just for fun for the first time and they actually looked okay? 

Have you ever had to say you're sorry and you said it, even though it's uncomfortable and squirmy and you'd rather be talking about anything else? Have you ever chosen exercise over anger, or put the bike away because you're pregnant and you have to take it down a few notches or so they tell you, or rid your life of the toxic people and the unnecessary things in one satisfying rip?  

Have you ever painted your way through the loss of a parent, or put yourself to bed before 2am even though you could stay out in the garden forever if people didn't need you so much, or fought the road rage or quit cigarettes or kept very calm when the spouse beside you is having a stroke in bed, and you saved his life by doing everything right? 

Have you ever entertained a ten year old with a broken femur, in a body cast, for weeks on end?

Have you ever kept yourself in check when you know your anger is misdirected? It's harder then it sounds. Have you ever sat with a client for months without her saying a word, and finally you figure her out and she starts talking and you can finally get to helping her, which is what you wanted to do the whole time? Or gone to the gym even though if sucks after so long, or been stripped down to the bones and found, at the last minute, the courage and resilience you never even knew where there? 

Have you ever killed it at a job interview while holding your two week old son? 

Have you ever let yourself be a normal, messy, flawed human in front of your partner, or celebrated 18 years without cancer with the three children who watched you fight it? Have you ever been pregnant? Have you ever packed your damn lunch to save your damn money even though packing lunches is the worst? Have you ever shown patience with an animal or done yoga every day even though you're new and the postures are terrifying? Have you ever joined a ballet class, as an adult, because damn it you want to do something for yourself alone?  

Have you ever stopped running and stayed put, and now you're in Colorado and it's going to work out, even if you don't know how? Have you ever helped out when you didn't have to, even though it's 20 degrees and you're freezing but you know you're capable? Have you ever picked up the luggage of a perfect stranger and walked them to their gate, because you see they're wrestling two little kids and they're alone? 

Have you ever stayed in school, even when you have a husband and pets and a house and a job that all need you at once? Have you ever changed the oil in your car, or survived four days alone with a crying newborn and no sleep? Have you ever been in your first bewildering and chaotic year of med school or done 80 push ups in one set? 

Have you ever taken an exam and got a 4.0, after a 12 hour shift? Have you ever delivered the speech without tears, or quit the xanax and faced the cross-country move with an optimism you've never felt before, or cut out the sugar because it's the first step? Have you ever said 'no' to a second date because you're done wasting your time? 

Have you ever finished school and got your degree, and thank god because the husband left, and there you are with your two year old son, not looking back, equipped to work and support and love and nourish all by yourself and damn it, you're doing it? 

You have. 

Just in the past few weeks. 

And I'm keeping those comments forever as a source of strength and inspiration and pure delight for when I need a reason to keep swimming, as they say. You can use them, too. You know where to find them.

I had no idea what sort of experience we were all in for when I wrote that prompt. I am so proud of you. Thank you for sharing that tiny, huge part of yourself. 

We'll be back this Monday with another giveaway, one I'm very very excited about. And until then, the winner of the 50 dollar Holdfast Giveaway:

"I'm proud of myself for taking the bus everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE, with two kids in tow. We go to the grocery store with one strapped to my front and one holding my hand and somehow I manage to carry groceries on my shoulders. We take an 85 minute ride to doctors appointments. It's hard not having a car but we're making it work. I'm a tough Mama and I'm proud of that."

Congrats Jessica! Email and we'll get you all set up. I hope you get your babies all suited up....but you also get something for yourself!