Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sheep

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It's been beautiful these last days of winter, sunny and expansive. Daffodils, little yawning purple crocuses, trees filled with chattering birds. At the grocery store as I stand in line with two grapefruits and a bag of coffee- Mountain Air Roaster's Daymaker Blend- I exchange those spring-time pleasantries with strangers- looks like it's here to stay, sure hope so. On my daily commute to school I ride with the windows open, warm air roaring in. It's a nice time, filled with biking and science classes and writing assignments, long hours alone to get my work done and the occasional flurry of wedding planning.
But there's this little problem of not having enough long hours, of being a chronically slow writer with an enormous fear of failure and confidence that drains instead of grows with each article, and it's making me throw up. It's not that I have more to do or less time than anyone else, far from it, it's just that I have a severe and very physical case of anxiety that arrives glittering at the doorstep just as life starts to get really interesting.
I have perhaps gotten myself a bit overexcited in the last few weeks. School is time consuming and sometimes feels poignantly pointless since I've decided not to pursuit nursing for now. Work is getting suddenly and awesomely demanding, just like I wanted it to be.  Then I had a birthday party and my friend Nell brought over an enormous coconut cake that she had baked. It looked just like a sheep, and when I saw it I felt so happy I nearly passed out. I really got wound up over that cake.

Well it wasn't the cake (yes it was it was four layers and filled with pastry cream so it was, it was the cake) so much as having friends like Nell who are willing to bake you a sheep and then balance it in their lap as they drive it across town to your house. If you take into account how busy we all are, all the deadlines and demands and how intentional we must be with our spare time, things like that just seem extraordinarily and almost confoundingly nice.
For the party, Nell also made five pizzas and her husband Josh brought over their entire fancy bar, complete with liquor and bitters and silver tools and a table to set it out on. He stationed himself on the screened-in porch and fixed cocktails all night, shaken and violet-hued and served over cracked ice.

And Kelli did it again, came over and whipped up a party at my house after 3 straight nights working on the pulmonary floor. She brought ice cream and cheesecake, we made lasagna and started talking a mile a minute and drinking New Belgium Fat Tires that go down awfully easy, it turns out.

That's when things started to speed up a bit on my birthday, a big rush of spring air flooding through the door, Pauline and Lee arriving with a baby dressed in a tiny tuxedo, carrying strawberry pie and something called a chocolate infinity pie, and all of a sudden there were just pies everywhere and also flowers- people kept bringing flowers through the front doors and Dave would take them and stick them in mason jars until we ran out and had to double them up.

Then my cousin came with a bottle of white champagne and my future in-laws with red wine and French chocolate, and then I was in my bedroom wearing my wedding dress as some of my girlfriends and my friend Daniel, who I'd inexplicably dragged into the room with them, were telling me how beautiful it was and wasn't that sash the perfect shade of blue and shouldn't I set that purple drink down?

That was the night I stopped sleeping. And I'm telling you all about my friends who show up with food and cake and wonderful things and all the lovely exuberance of my life lately not to brag, not to seem over the top, but because my delicate little constitution cannot decipher between good stress and terrible stress. So I lay awake that night, the first night of my third decade, with a gnawing stomach ache, and finally drifted into a restless sleep around 3am. "I'm like a little kid who gets too excited about their birthday party and goes nuts," I whispered to David the next morning.

Obviously, it's not just having a birthday and a lot of nice friends. My job offered me 15 extra articles for this month at the last possible moment. They are all destination articles about Boone, the little Appalachian mountain town nearly two hours away, so I have to skip some classes and drive up there for a few days. I'm so grateful to get new assignments and so scared of falling behind in school. I stayed behind in my microbiology lab last week to work on a gram stain, so simple but I'm useless with my hands, and the morose professor exclaimed, "How is it possible that you can't do this yet?" Kind of a jackass move but the thing is, I agree with him.
Some writers stay up all night, scribbling away like madmen- lamplight, pots of coffee, sheets of paper piling up like snow around them. It's all very romantic sounding and I think it's a big lie. At least, it's not the way I work. Coffee after 1pm makes my stomach pull terrible tricks on me. Around 10pm my brain shuts down its capacity to do anything productive and dives right on into panic mode. So I put on my pajamas and try to mollify it by swallowing a powerful and prescribed hypnotic. This will knock me out until 2am or so, at which point my eyes spring open and I'm wide awake, my stomach a hard knot.

I've learned that the best thing to do at this point is to crawl out of bed into the living room and try to read a book on the couch. Other times I watch old episodes of Friends. I've come to associate Jennifer Anniston with a dark, quiet house and mild nausea. Some nights I'm able to will myself back to sleep and other nights I can't.
One day this past week, David came home from work and suggested we go down to the Ledges on the French Broad to do a paddling workout. I had that stupid stomach ache, the one that does not go away, but I figured some exercise and time on the river would be good for me. And it was, paddling with just a PFD and no dry top, skin to wind, sun beating down. But then after two attainments a wave of clenching pain hit with such force that I had to run into the woods and throw up as a group of kayakers enjoyed a BBQ picnic to my left.

I'm such a treat these days.

It will subside though, it will get better soon. The insomnia eventually breaks like a fever and the stomach ache retreats. After thirty lucky, light-shattering and anxiety-riddled spins around the sun I've come to learn the patterns. I hope it will get better before we go to Seattle in a week but I'm not counting on it. Although that's not the worst thing. If I showed up back in that city without a touch of neurosis, without talking too much and too fast and losing my keys and curling up on friends couches with a headache, I don't think anyone would recognize me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

photo book: Dupont

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I began the last week of my 20's with a puncture wound- a dog bite to the middle finger of my right hand. It was not the dog's fault. I was being absentminded and I put my hand in its mouth as it was chewing on a stick. I was absorbed in editing fake sunlight into a picture I'd just taken of myself and I wasn't looking. So there you go. I'm not proud.

The next day I sprained my left wrist in a mountain biking accident. Now I walk around with both hands bandaged and hovering in space ahead of me so I don't knock them against anything. I like to think I look as pathetically endearing as those koala bears with the burned paws, the ones that the people of Australia knit mittens for. I'm typing with my nose.
I'm supposed to spend this week reflecting on the last ten years of my life- my youth, my young adulthood. I know it's a been a big decade for me and for the whole world, but for some reason the only things that come to mind is this: Lance Armstrong was lying- lying!- and Kentucky Fried Chicken made that sandwich with fried chicken breasts in place of bread.

What a world.

But anyway.

It's raining now, and the air has that soft, buoyant quality of spring. The dog is on the back porch getting the whole neighborhood riled up. There's a yapper in the yard of every house on this dead end street, sulking behind chicken wire fences, lolling in the dead, straw-colored grass. When one gets going they all start going.

It may be safe to say that winter has drained away from here. We're spending more and more time outside in the sunlight- the real sunlight, not the fake kind that leads to dog bites. There has been a lot of the everyday type of things, dishes and chiral carbons, turbo tax and struggling to get to sleep, virulence factors and lectures and laundry, and all the while the days are get warmer and lighter and longer. 

We spent the weekend biking out at Dupont, exploring waterfalls and finding the most enormous brewery on the planet. We spent the weekend the way I spent the last ten years: outside and energetic, falling down hard on rock, walking the steep sections, crossing cold rivers, getting worn out on the climbs, falling asleep in the car on the way home. Just me and the person I spent ten years looking for.

Forgive me for being so sentimental, but it's the truth. Cut me some slack, I'm turning thirty. And I'm wounded. Dog bite. Wrist. 
This week, I wrote my favorite article yet- What Your Post Adventure Beer Says About You. For the record, I'm a Twin Leaf Juicy Fruit with a penchant for following Wicked Weed Oblivion Sour Reds into terribly dangerous situations, and I've frequently and against my better judgement fallen in love with PBRs.

Speaking of PBRs, I also wrote this Quick and Dirty Guide to Whitewater Paddling in Asheville.

Also, a little number on How to Spend a Snow Day in Asheville, which was poorly timed, since we're not going to have one of those for another year.

By the way- if you read everything I've ever written on the internet, you win your own jet.

And now for the winner of last week's mystery prize. Thank you for sharing your beautiful things. Those comments read like a big bright bouquet in the center of the kitchen table. 
Blogger Stephanie Abdon said...
I celebrated a special occasion with someone I love dearly who loves me back. It's not a romance...but a very nice relationship that sustains me and brings me joy. And I am absolutely amazed and happy to have it (and him) in my life.

Congratulations Stephanie! I have a friend like that. I had to leave him in Seattle and it breaks my heart. I'm so glad you got to celebrate with yours. A donation will be made in your name to help Maggie over at The Rural Roost get one step closer to bringing home a diabetes alert dog for her little boy. Also, something sweet will be dropped in the mail for you as well. Email and we'll get you all sorted. 

I'll see you back here soon, everyone. I hope you have a wonderful week. I hope your snow melts.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cake and Sledding at David's!

My fiance, David, is impossible to buy for. His favorite things in the world are unusual and indefinable items of clothing that his best friend, Charles, buys for him in India. So for his 29th birthday, which was last Wednesday, I bought him an experience: a sixty minute soak in a Sensory Deprivation Tank. He also got a big snowstorm. I'd call the whole evening a win, although it almost wasn't.

The previous day, I'd battered away at the keyboard and got all three of my articles finished so that I could spend Dave's birthday reading a chapter of chemistry and making a big pot of chili. I'd invited a few friends to come over around seven and bought one sheet of wrapping paper with cars on it to wrap a book his brother had sent. When it comes to cooking and cleaning and decorating I'm useless, hopeless, just horribly untalented, and David knows that and loves me anyway, although he did gingerly suggest that we all go out to a restaurant. But we have a House now and I'm going to be a Wife so I insisted on hosting. I was going to make cornbread. To go with the chili. And assemble a makeshift chip n' dip with a collection of small bowls and a cutting board.
I went to the grocery store first, which was a mad house because a snowstorm was coming and people were wrenching bread out of each other's hands and clambering down the dairy aisle balancing milk on their heads because their hands were full of other milk. After that I went to the dollar store to buy one of those foil Happy Birthday banners, and yes I know David is not seven, but it still felt necessary. I ran a few more errands and bought daisies and inched through the West Asheville traffic which, before a 'snow event', can rival Seattle's.

When I got home, I spread everything out on the kitchen table, checked the clock, and congratulated myself for timing everything so perfectly. Then my editor called and asked where the rest of the twelve articles were that I'd promised to write. Suddenly my blood went cold and my face got hot and I realized I'd confused two different assignments and was about 12,000 words short of finishing my work that had been due six hours ago.

When it comes to estimating the amount of things that one can accomplish in a given amount of time, I can be straight up delusional. But even I understood that I wasn't going to write my articles and make dinner happen and straighten up the house and hang the little banner I'd bought in four hours.

Now, I don't think I would get fired if I didn't do the work but I also wouldn't get paid, and that would present its own set of problems.
So I pushed aside the daisies and the little cans of poblano peppers, opened up the computer and started typing. A little stream of tears splashed down onto the keyboard as I imagined our guests arriving and finding me melted into a pool of incompetence on the floor surrounded by onions.

A few minutes of this nonsense went by and there was a knock and the dog bolted from her bed and went careening toward the door. There stood my friend Kelli, holding a sled that she had borrowed and was there to return. She took a look at me all slouched and pathetic, then looked passed me at the house torn apart and the table cluttered with a deconstructed birthday meal still in a cans and boxes, and she said, "I'll do it."

I didn't even ask.
And she did everything, she cooked the double recipe of chili and made two batches of cornbread, she set out the cakes and put the daisies into a jar and cleaned the kitchen. Then she left. She had plans to see a movie. She didn't even eat anything, just said, "Oh, it's no problem," and breezed out the door as I stood there with my jaw hanging open like an idiot.

I finished the writing, and by the time Dave's friends arrived at seven everything looked all polished and effortless. Charles came down all the way from Boone to surprise him, even though he was sick and feverish and sat on the couch with glassy eyes not saying a word. His girlfriend Sarah and their little girl Charli dragged me to the bathroom and made me put on my wedding dress and they fawned over me and Sarah cried and Charli begged me to let her braid my hair all evening long.

Meanwhile, everybody was eating the chili and telling me how delicious it was, and what was the secret ingredient? Poblano Peppers, I lied. Outside the snow was falling thick and heavy, and we bundled up and went sledding with the neighbors on our steep, curving dead end road. By then I was happy I'd hung up that little-kid birthday banner because the whole night started to feel like those fabulous little kid birthday parties, you know, "Cake and Sledding at David's!" or whatever, except that when we found out that school had been cancelled for the next day we all took a shot of Vermont gin.
The snow fell all night long, and when we woke up the next morning, the town was muffled and empty and soft. Everybody scrambled to go skiing except me, because I needed to crack open the chemistry text book which I had yet to do this semester, and I still haven't, because I spent the day just walking around the streets looking at the snow and thinking about all the the nice things that have been happening lately. Then I got the flu.

And here is where we transition into Mystery Prize Monday! This week, tell me (tell all of us) something beautiful that has happened to you lately. You may interpret beautiful in any way you'd like. Please, remember my flu status, propped up in bed with a headache, watching the sunlight creep across the wall during the infinitely long and aching day. Tell me something really lovely, so I can pretend for a moment that your life is my life.

This is a very important Mystery Prize. My friend Maggie from Washington state is raising money to buy her little boy a diabetes alert dog. The fact that a dog can be smart enough to detect fluctuating blood sugar levels is astounding. You can find out more about Maggie, Angus and their efforts to bring home Bruce here.

This week, the winner of the mystery prize, chosen randomly from amongst the comments, will receive a letter, a little something sweet in the mail, and a donation in their name to Angus and Bruce. As always, thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for everything.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Thanks this week to Margo!! 
And as for me.

This morning we woke to a few inches of snow that fell stealth and silent in the middle of the night. School was cancelled again but the bakery was open, so we took the dog into town to get a cup of coffee. She loves running circles through the snow and collecting a little beard of it under her chin.

Up the road we passed three girls in their early twenties building a snowman on the front lawn of a little rundown house. They had dressed him in denim and eye glasses and were currently engaged in a debate over what medium to use for his facial hair. They'd been at it for a while and seemed to be having such a good time.

The four of them, the three girls and their snow friend, they reminded me of something. That sweet time after college, before you've been peeled off and sealed in with your partner and your family. That time in life where your friends are your family. You brighten up your shabby house with collages and flower pots and hanging sarongs, work in bookstores and coffee houses and take care of rich people's children, you complain and commiserate, your hangovers aren't so entirely ferocious, and you can do things that seem unfathomable now, like sit with your friend while she's getting her hair cut and flip through a magazine, totally unconcerned about all the other things you should be doing.

Lately, even when I'm working hard at one thing, all the other things I have to do hang over my head like a cartoon storm cloud. It's a terrible trick of the imagination to be haunted by this cloud, to feel lazy even when you're working all the time.
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School is feeling a bit fractured from all the ice and cancellations, but as far as I can tell I'm doing just fine. Good enough, anyways. I'd say a little bit of my motivation dissolved on the day the nursing school application was due and I didn't apply. My mom tells me that's okay, because I was becoming obsessive over test scores and that's not the best side of me.

The morose professor continues to show up twice a week in a complete whirlwind, throwing his head on his desk and muttering, "Victim of circumstance! Victim of circumstance!" He said that the first day that he was late, when his dog got loose and had to be chased down, and apparently he liked the sound of it because now he says it all the time.

My organic chemistry professor is the sweetest woman I've ever met. She looks like she just stepped off the front of a box of pancake mix. She's always calling our class "a group of lovely, beautiful people," and she goes on sublime tangents to help us remember our functional groups. "COOH means carboxylic acid," she'll say in a deep Mississippi drawl. "I can just picture that rascal cat Sylvester dippin little Tweety Bird's feet into a bucket of acid and what does that little bird say? COOH!" And she'll pause, her eyes moist, and say, "I just love Looney Tunes."

My wedding dress arrived at the shop and I got to try it on, which was exciting. Except It didn't fit anything like the original one did. I had to hold it up, gathering big handfuls of satin as I looked at myself in the mirror, confused. "Oh honey, it's just cause you're so tiny!" Squealed the seamstress. She yanked back a few inches from waistline. "We'll just pin it here and here. And honey? Have you given a thought to some extra hi-yah in the bosom? A little push-up?"
To be honest, not since I was fourteen have I been worried about needing an extra hi-yah in the bosom. But I spun around and sang out, "I'll take it!" without a second's hesitation. After all, everyone keeps telling me it's My Big Day.

So things are going well. I bought a pink Calla Lilly and it lives on the kitchen table, growing a withering brown around the leaves. Dave acquired a mountain bike and on the random warm days that stitch together this frenetic Southern winter, we'll go out riding. "You go faster than I thought!" He said once as we caught our breath the end of a winding downhill at Bent Creek. I glowed for the rest of the week.
I came home late the other night, and David was lying on the couch, watching animals on TV and holding the sleeping dog on one arm. "What are you watching?" I asked.

"Otters," he said, and I felt something like a tidal wave of affection hit me. For him, for the napping dog. For our little house with the blue and gray kitchen that looks like an Airstream trailer and the banner of cards and letters that we use as decoration. For the dying pink Lilly and the foil corpse of the the Valentines Day Balloon he bought me, now hovering over the living room floor with its last gasp of helium.

So as for me, it's a nice time. There's plenty of anxiety; I worry about the writing fizzling out, about my shoulders not being sculpted by my wedding day. I worry about my children, who are not here yet, but who are already starving because their mom didn't go to nursing school like she should have.

All of that is to be expected.  When it comes down to the day by day, minute by minute side of life, this is a nice time. This is a good winter.
If you're local, or have lots of time on your hands, check out my recent article on Rootsrated:

Race to the Taps in Asheville
Active Valentines Activities
An interview with the man who wrote the book on Hickory Nut Gorge State Park
Six reasons to attend Bike Love
How real is reality TV? An interview with Scott McCleskey from Ultimate Survival Alaska

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Your childhood fantasy, out of control (Response Letter 2)

When I asked you how you were doing, you really told me. And I had to respond. 

Dear us,

So you lost $450 in the parking lot the other day. The same $450 dollars that you'd dutifully tried to deposit, but the bank teller informed you that they don't take cash. (We all wonder which bank you go to, and why, and what?) That surely is a misfortune but here's what I'm thinking: maybe the person who found your money, who tripped over the envelope on the blacktop as she ran back into work, was the woman from the bridal shop. The woman who sprinted after me with the paper heart in her hand. And I don't know what her story is, but it's possible that she really needed that money, I mean really needed it. More than any of us, which is certainly hard to fathom.

That wasn't supposed to make you feel better- that's a whole lot of money to lose- but I'm just thinking that's probably what happened.

But anyway, a lot of us are feeling it lately. The snow is piling up over the doorway, not the doorstep the doorway, and we're stuck in the house with the kids and the legos, and the boss is either disorganized as hell or a sociopath, we're not sure which, but it's starting to get to us. And the other night at work everybody tried to die all at once. And if they weren't dying they were escaping from their beds and you had to either pull them back or push them down, depending.

Now, for you who recently moved into a tiny village in the interior of Alaska, let me tell you something. When my family moved up to North Pomfret Vermont, a place that won't consider you a local unless six generations of family preceded you, everybody was so mean to my mother. My kind, sweet, funny mom- they never did warm up. I can't explain it and just thinking about it makes me want to kick. Tiny villages are not always friendly, so try not to take it personally. Although I did.

But of all that, the daily suffers, just remember this: Plot Twist! The greatest advice that one of us came up with, and it wasn't me. You're not stuck, you're not disappointed, you didn't fail- there's just been a change of action that nobody quite saw coming. A real cliffhanger, and if only we were still kids reading under the quilt with a flashlight, because back then we loved a good plot twist, savored it in fact. It kept us up all night, but not in the way that it does now.

Of course, there are those things of a considerably greater magnitude. You don't always like your husband. You're contemplating divorce. The cancer has returned. Run of the mill gates of hell kind of stuff. How was it that you described how you're feeling? Frighten and frozen. An alliteration. Maybe standing in the shower screaming plot twist into a bar of soap isn't something you can really see yourself doing right now. We'll whisper it for you instead. Fix yourself a martini and we will too.

But it's not all ice and steel. Somewhere in coastal Carolina, a daughter is leaning her head on your shoulder. It doesn't matter if she's not your daughter; she's somebody's daughter and for this moment you are the haven she has chosen. You got engaged. You booked your trip to the Arctic circle to see the Northern lights. And up in Alaska, insulated under one reasonable foot of fluffy snow, you're in your new house with a baby's foot lodged in between your ribs from the inside and you've never been happier.

And speaking of- you with your second child on the way? You're going to have a lovely new baby soon, even if for now it feels like a strictly head in the toilet sort of affair. Hyperemesis gravidarum, a mouthful, but look at it this way: you'll have something to discuss with the Princess of England, should you one day run into her over a plate of cold cuts and small sandwiches.

Finally, for the people of Boston, Massachusetts, my home town. You've been hurled into some futuristic snowscape, something that feels like your greatest childhood fantasy overblown and out of control. Something Russian. Just remember, you won't always be a mouse tunneling through the streets. I know it feels impossible, but in a few short months that whole place will explode into nice green grass. Until then, maybe a book and a bath.

Melina, and everybody else

PS. I'm sorry your plane didn't take off and you couldn't go back home. They told you the plane had 'weight and balance issues'?

Don't we all?
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