Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Wildacres Retreat Day by Day: Saturday, Sunday and Monday


Saturday, July 23

Couldn't fall asleep last night so I drank some Sleepytime Extra from the cupboard which a former resident had left behind. I re-read "Age of License" by Lucy Knisely last night and parts of Alison Bechdel's "Are you My Mother?"

I took some New Yorkers and Our State magazines from the office back to my cabin after breakfast (had to see my father off) and spent the day on the porch telling Mergatroyd to stay in her web and waiting for a bear to stroll by. None did.

At 5pm Yvonne came by. We are going into Spruce Pine for dinner. Dan was supposed to join us but neither of us have seen or heard from him all day. Just at 5 pm I hear "Oo oo oo oo, oo oo oo aurrrrh." BARD OWL! Very very close, somewhere behind my cabin. I record the sound with my phone. I saw Yvonne outside looking into the woods so I join her. It flew! Just from one tree to another. I found it with my binoculars and there it was, a very large brown and white no-eared owl with big brown eyes.

Yvonne and I drove into Spruce Pine. The town was empty. The coffee shop was closed. We found the Farm to Table restaurant, Knife and Fork, (and ran into Dan right outside it!) but we had no reservation. Even though the town was deserted this place was packed and booked. Luckily, they had a bar upstairs, Spoon. We found a table, ordered bar food (I had pickles and fried potatoes. An Appalachian Bluegrass band played which was a real treat.


We came back to Wildacres and visited Dan's cabin, The Owl's Nest, which was the original writers cabin at Wildacres. It was log exposed beam and stones, really amazing. No screened in porch though.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My week here is coming to a close. I wish I had applied for two weeks. I've written over 25,000 words on the memoir, plus essays, a short story and a poem. In the morning I put the memoir in order and realized I was missing sections which should be there; I hadn't written at all about Dave and my relationship.Writing more this morning and getting into Scrivener, in order, felt like I'd really finished the first draft. Now I'll have to print, reread, add more, etc. I have a lot still to do (and haven't looked at it in the 5 weeks I've been home.) This project definitely needed the space and time Wildacres afforded me.

At 12:30 Yvonne came by and we went to Penland, an arts and crafts colony nearby. We also went to Mica gallery. I bought gifts for Ella: a handmade mug, silver hair pin, and scarf. We spent the whole afternoon away. Yvonne has another week. I felt a little like I wanted to be back at the cabin but also I really was at a stopping point.

I decided I would spend the night at Wildacres rather than driving to my parents' for the evening. Even though I knew I wouldn't sleep great I wanted to squeeze every last second of being there. I didn't want this magical week to end.

I was making a video saying goodbye to the place, filming Murgatroyd and she aggressively charged at me! I will not miss her.

I wrote for like three pages in the Azalea cabin guest book.

Monday, July 25

I left super early, before the sun came up, because I was up and I figured I'd better get going. I left the opposite way I came, heading south to 40, east to Winston Salem, and north on 77. It seemed counter intuitive but Dave assured me it was the best way. I would still have preferred the taking the Blue Ridge Parkway north, but since it was dark I figured it would be stressful to be on that narrow winding road and I wouldn't see the views anyway. Listened to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and made it home by afternoon. I hope to be back to Wildacres someday. Someday soon.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Wildacres Retreat Day by Day: Thursday and Friday

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How can it be Thursday already? Today I wrote a complete short story, Ever Onward. It is a little dark. Once I revise it I think I'd like to send it to The Sun. I walked 30 minutes up the road and back. I've sworn off hiking in the woods due to the lack of anyone else around and the possibility of seeing bears. Susan from the office drove past. handed me a napkin for my sweat (it's hot up here in the mountains!) and offered to drive me back. I declined and found blackberries along the road which were delicious. I revised another story, Patient Zero, and and essay, Honeymoon. Dinner was Thanksgiving in July and they brought me black bean burgers. At the end of the meal I got three more to bring back to the cabin with me. The kitchen staff is great about wrapping food up to send back to the cabin. I like this because I can have breakfast or lunch the next day and don't have to worry about leaving the cabin for a meal.

After dinner Dan and I went to Yvonne's cabin for wine and a chat. I found out Dan has a PhD from Harvard in Medieval Literature and is also working on a memoir, and Yvonne has an MFA from Chicago Art Institute and is revising her novel, a horror story based on a Mexican folk tale. Yvonne saw a bear behind her cabin this morning, and has a picture to prove it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Ringling Arts class is ending today, tonight there is a show of all the work. In addition to the Plein Air class my father is taking there is a sketchbook class (which looks awesome!), Raku clay, cold wax,

I went to the reception (the tale end of it) and saw everyone's artwork: amazing. I was mistaken (twice! By two different people) for a college student, which never happens back home in Pittsburgh. In fact I have twice been mistaken for Ella's grandmother rather than her mother. One man told me I'd need to get a job soon and stop mooching off my parents (he was a friend of my dad's from the art class.) The women, probably in her fifties and bald - maybe cancer treatment? - asked what I was writing. I told her a memoir about my daughter who died.

She said, "You're not old enough to have kids!"

"I'm nearly 48," I answered.

"Congratulations....on your youthful appearance....I'm sorry about your daughter." It was awkward.

Here is my dad with his work from the week:


Apparently his teacher was hoping his work would be more realistic and less abstract, but my dad walks to the beat of his own drum and sold one of his paintings, so he was happy. Yvonne, Dan and I took as much food from the dining hall (taco salad, beans and rice) as we could because after breakfast tomorrow there would be no more meals until Sunday night.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Wildacres Retreat Day By Day: Tuesday and Wednesday

Tuesday, July 19

I woke at 4:30 and wrote about Molly. With the quiet and the space and all the time spread in front of me ideas are pouring out.

I walked to breakfast up the Azalea trail, collecting chanterelle mushrooms on my way up the hill. I made a wrong turn on top and ended up walking on the Crescendo Trail, which is Amy Blumenthal's personal house and gardens. It was very inspiring and beautiful.






 I had breakfast with my parents then walked back down to my cabin, gathering more chanterelles on my way down, which I later ate for lunch: I sauteed them with onions and ate them on toast with tofu salad which I had brought from home.



I stayed in the cabin and worked all day. I realize I'm not really sure how to craft a memoir. I'm hoping that writing all this down will be a good first step, but I know there's more to it than simply telling the story. Today I worked on Molly's lifeline. I wrote a poem called "What is Red in the Woods in July" and when I walked around I looked for and collected the color red: berries, mushrooms, flowers. I visited the library after dinner and found the books "From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences by Elie Wiesel" and "Memories of a Fortunate Jew, An Italian Story" by Dan Vittorio Segre.

Dinner was roast beef but the man who runs the dining hall (Steve?) brought me Portabello in gravy, which was delicious. There was also Brussel sprouts and twice baked potatoes, which I loved.
I sat with my dad but after a while I went to the staff table where I met and talked to the other writers in residence, Yvonne and Dan. 

I sketched the red things I found on my walk. I also found a blue mushroom: dark blue gills, the cap was a lighter blue with pocks. There are lots of mushrooms here, I should have brought my guide book. 

I have a new phrase I say to myself to expand my thinking and bring me hope: "What if the best is yet to come?" It seems so unlikely but yet, it is possible, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 20

Today I noticed the lack of birdsong. No waking to a symphony of birds, the sun just quietly slips up, unannounced. In fact though I have been wary of bears I haven't seen any mammals: no chipmunks, squirrels, groundhogs. No flocks of turkey, hawks, or eagles.

Today I sat in meditation asking what I may have forgotten and into my mind pops Karen, a wonderful woman from the East Suburban Unitarian Church who came weekly, with her daughter, to play with Molly when we first moved to Pittsburgh.


And then I saw the huge funnel spider, whose web I had noticed in the corner of the porch, but I didn't see in its full glory until today and OH MY GOD she was huge. I screamed and ran from the porch, the phrase, "Heavens to Mergatroyd!" popping into my head. So now I call her Mergatroyd. And I hope never to see her again. I can't believe I slept out her on the first night. I shudder to think.

I also drove 3 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Crabtree Falls, and hiked there in the afternoon. It was beautiful, but the hike took longer than I had hoped. I'm a slow hiker.




I edited an essay I had written earlier in the year, Appletinis and Sauerkraut, and wrote a new essay, Missing Holland. 

I sketched a picture of Molly tonight. It's nice to have the time to sketch as well as so much time to write.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Wildacres Writing Retreat Day By Day: Sunday and Monday



Sunday July 17, 2016 

Awful start at the Pittsburgh airport. Hertz has conned me into getting the insurance which costs an extra hundred dollars. Then I notice before I drive away (thank goodness) the car I was given has no CD player. I return and he tells me none of their cars have them, they are phasing them out in the new cars because people can just plug their iphone into the speakers. But I have a bag of CDs I have checked out of the library to listen to on the way down and back.

"Don't you have an older car that still has a CD player?" I ask. He finds what he says is the last car in Hertz's fleet with a CD player (a 2015 Toyota Yaris.). I did not have this problem in March when I rented from Avis/Budget, and they didn't pressure me into insurance either. Just saying.
My CDs are not thrilling me. I listened to NPR Laughs and the only thing I find funny is a clip of Drew Carey on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Furiously Happy doesn't translate well read aloud. The memoir writing book I got is ok, but doesn't hold my interest.

I pull into the Super 8 after midnight and have to walk past a guy sitting on a picnic table outside smoking. I walk in and the women says, "Melissa?" I guess they've been waiting for me. The room smells like urine but I am exhausted so I lay down and hope I will just fall quickly to sleep.


Monday, July 18, 2016



I am following my phone gps to get me to Wildacres but somewhere in North Carolina or Tennessee I miss a turn. I realize immediately and turn around, but the gps app is unable to recalculate and I am out of cellular range so I can't pull get a signal to get the directions again. I have printed directions but it's not the same route I am currently following. Luckily I find a McDonald's (which has free wifi.) I stop there and get the map back online, and head back out.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is stunningly beautiful. None of the adult books on tape I got hold my interest so I put in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With 18 CDs this is the only book on tape I will need the whole drive there and back (and I still don't finish it, but it's ok, I've read it and heard it before so I know how it ends.)

I don't stop at any overlooks are visitor centers because I am anxious to arrive. I arrive at noon but my cabin won't be ready until 3. The woman at the desk (Susan) walks me to the dining hall and introduces me to some millennial-aged staff members at the staff table. I would feel awkward sitting with them so I find my parents - my father is there for the Ringling Art Classes which he attends every year. He is taking Plein Air painting. My mother is there as well, but she doesn't like it in the mountains and her friend is picking her up to go home tomorrow. She has stayed long enough only to see me. After lunch my mother and I go into Little Switzerland where we buy fancy soap and jewelry for my daughter, and walk around some of the shops. I find wild wine raspberries and blackberries on the side of the road which thrills me (and has my mother rolling her eyes.)



We get back to Wildacres at three and I pick up my keys, meeting another resident, Yvonne, in the office. She will be my neighbor.


My father drives with me to the Azalea cabin and it is truly gorgeous. New, wooden, spacious. There is a loft with a second bed and writing table, a full kitchen, a double bed, a screened in porch. I have to drive my dad back to the main campus but then I return to unpack and settle in. I have brought food with which I stock the kitchen, I unpack the books I brought (some best of American short story and essay collections and graphic non-fiction) and feel grateful and blessed. I open all the windows and turn on the fans to air the place out. Even though it is in the eighties outside the cabin is in the woods and stays cool. I can't wait to begin.



I drag one of the mattresses from the loft (it's actually a trundle bed up there) out onto the porch where I decide to sleep. There is a full moon, fireflies, night sounds! I have the hiccups from the seltzer I drank. I'm thinking about what I will actually work on this week. I have a thick folder of stories and essays I have written since the beginning of the year printed out in case I want to edit and revise. But really I am here to do something else. I want to write a memoir about my life with my daughter Molly, my first born, who died in 2007 when she was eight years old.



I make a list of some of the things we did with Molly: The Institutes, Patterning, Moving to Pittsburgh, The songs I sang her both in the NICU and doing the therapy, etc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birthday Bike Trip In Frostburg


For my birthday D, E and I headed to Frostburg, MD, a town which Trish and I had whizzed right past last year on my Pittsburgh to DC bike trip.

We ate lunch at Shift, which had I eaten there on the trip would have definitely made my Top 5 list of places to eat along the trail! I tossed gluten-free caution to the wind and ordered the Mush-Reuben, because I absolutely love veggie reubens (tempeh or mushroom usually) and just find it too hard to pass it up. D had a veggie burger and E had the soup (veggie chowder) and salad, all of which were delicious. The name of the restaurant - Shift - is used here as in bicycle gears...we were at a bicycle cafe!! Originally I had thought as in work shift, like someone's shift is 9 to 3,then the next shift is 3 to 9, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by all the bicycle art and references in this farm to table cafe. (Modern Appalachian! Everything is about Appalachia lately!)


Then we headed to the GAP trail! I left the Trailbook in the car, which was a mistake, because this was a fairly steep uphill climb, and it would have been nice to know exactly how far we had to go!

 
Our first excitement was the Borden Tunnel, which is 957 feet long with no lights. But see how you can see the other end? How dark could it get? (Answer: VERY dark!) It is amazing how dark it is in the center of the tunnel - you can't see the ground or anything around you, just keep your eyes on the light ahead and hope for the best!!!


Next we reached the Mason-Dixon line, the line dividing the North (PA) from the South (MD). I thought there would be information about slavery, north and south, civil war, but there was not. Just today I learned in this article in the New Yorker that there is NO federal monument remembering our country's 250 years of slavery nor commemorating those slaves who lived their lives shackled. A runaway slave reaching the north DID NOT equal freedom. In fact there was a Constitutional law saying Northerners HAD TO return slaves to Southern slave owners: the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Freedom wasn't until they reached Canada, and many runaway slaves instead went south to Spanish Florida, Mexico or the Caribbean. Check the article out if you get a chance, "The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad; Hardly anyone used it, but it provides us with moral comfort—and white heroes," by Pulizer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz.

We were heading further uphill toward the Big Savage Tunnel (much longer but lit) and the Eastern Continental Divide, when the gray black clouds above began to rumble. We didn't realize how close we were to Big Savage Tunnel, and thought better of heading up to the top of a mountain during a thunder/lightening storm, so we turned around and headed back down: easy coasting all downhill. We waited out the rain in the Borden Tunnel, eating the two delicious gluten-free cookies we had brought from Shift, and then coasted back to Frostburg.

We ended the day browsing the mostly-closed town (it was around 7 pm). We did find an amazing bookstore open though, Main Street Books (no website, though they have a facebook page), definitely worth stopping in on a trip to Frostburg.

All in all a great day! I'm happy I got to see Frostburg, which was the one town I have regretted not stopping to see ever since the trip last October. Of course just being on the trail made me long for another trip!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wildacres: Meet Murgatroyd. I Wasn't The Only Cabin Dweller In My Cabin


"Almost Heaven, Carolina, Blue Ridge Mountains, Here at Wildacres...." Ok, those aren't quite the words, and those weren't the words that ran through my head all week, but being in the Blue Ridge Mountains meant the original John Denver version wasn't far from my mind at all times.


Above is the sign which greeting me, I knew I was in for a special week.

I arrived early, my cabin wouldn't be ready for a few hours, so my mother (who was there with my dad who was there for a Plein Air painting class with Ringling College Art and Design) and I went to Little Switzerland. There I found ripe blackberries and wineberries, yum!



 At 3:30 Monday July 18, I mad my way to my cabin:


My gorgeous, new, wooden, wide open, wonderful cabin which would be all mine for one week! I was here on a writing residency, and they called me a Cabin Dweller. There were three of us. Yvonne's cabin, Laurel, was similar to mine, but Dan stayed in the Owl's Nest, the original cabin, which I'll show you below. But first, some views of my amazing cabin:





Now here is the Owl's Nest, the original cabin for writers in residency. Stone walls, unfinished wood beams and railings.


 Now back to my cabin, Azalea. I had a screen porch and an upstairs loft, which contained an extra single (trundle) bed so I took one of the mattresses and slept out on the porch the first night.


Then I saw this HUGE spider, who although I named Murgatroyd I never did befriend. (At one point she charged me aggressively! I have it on film! I guess she didn't want to be filmed.) So I never slept out there again, but I did still enjoy the porch, though somewhat reservedly.


 If you look carefully, you can see Murgatroyd's web in the corner above the chair on the right. Of course I never sat in that chair.



I was there working on the first draft of a memoir about my daughter Molly, who died in 2007, when she was 8 years old. Here's a picture I sketched of Molly during the week.


 And here is a picture of the actual, beautiful Molly:


 More posts about my week to come! But for now, I'll leave you with the view off the porch of one of the main buildings on the main campus:








Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bicycling in Franklin PA: Allegheny River Trail and Justus Trail


Today we tried two new bike trails: Allegheny River Trail and Justus Trail, both in Franklin, PA. In fact, we parked where the trails met; first we biked south on the ART, then back to the start, and north for a while on JT toward Oil City. Together the system makes up what will hopefully someday be a completed Pittsburgh to Erie bike trail.




We arrived in Franklin, PA in a complete downpour/thunderstorm, so we waited it out in the lovely Bossa Nova coffee shop, where we talked to a couple from north of Pittsburgh who have retired to Franklin and love it, and an ultramarathoner woman. Both gave us great advice about biking, hiking, camping and recreation in the area. At the coffee shop, I tried the London Fog (Earl Grey tea, steamed almond milk and vanilla syrup) and Dave had a cappuccino. The owner is Brazilian and the place specializes in Brazilian coffee, and she raved about the decaf, so I'll have to try that when we go back.

The trails were gloriously paved and ran next to the Allegheny River. There was camping alongside the trail (both tent spaces and Adirondack shelters) and plenty of wildlife!

This gorgeous pre-historic (these turtles are 200 million years old - check out her dinosaur-like spiked tail!) snapping turtle looked to be laying eggs next to the trail.


This painted turtle (? I'm not positive of her identification) also seemed to be laying eggs:


We also saw zillions of chipmunks darting in front of our bikes across the trail, a couple woodchucks, indigo buntings, and gray catbirds.

The plant life was just as spectacular. These purple flowering raspberries (Rubus odoratus) were lining the trail in full bloom:

...as were other species of raspberry...some due to be ripe in just a couple weeks!

St. John's wort,(Hypericum perforatum) a lovely medicinal herb, was also blooming along the trail:



Just a gorgeous day and a gorgeous place, I can't wait to go back for more exploring! For sure we need to try Oil Creek State Park, which was highly recommended!