Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Another Weekend in the Mountains

Exploring the river
It's been a tradition, ever since my first October in Raleigh three years ago, to go group camping in the mountains one weekend each fall. Of course, I was raised to believe that camping meant backpacking into the wilderness carrying the lightest bag possible, but since 2013, I have changed my tune. My first group camping trip at a campsite with a picnic table and grill taught me that you can have the joy of sleeping in a tent while still having access to warm water and toilets. Plus you can make biscuits and gravy in a Dutch oven over the fire and feel like a cowboy. Since cast iron would be pretty heavy to carry on the trail, the jury is still out as to whether I'd be up for "real" backpacking again any time soon.

These camping experiences have also proven to be life-changing for me. Kyle and I had met briefly at the Japanese Meet-Up during the summer of 2013, but it wasn't until our first camping trip that October that we were able to get to know each other better. Nothing brings two people together quicker than getting lost in the woods and fearing for their lives. (We made it out okay, though.)

This time, Kyle and I maintained the tradition (of camping, not getting lost) by going up to Black Mountain Campground near Burnsville for a weekend trip. We were joined by our friend Kelly and one of her friends, both of whom are much more adept at "real" camping than Kyle and me: they have actual camping supplies and go camping more than once a year! Kelly also brought her two adorable dogs, who seemed right in their element running around the campsite.

Our first day was spent getting settled in and exploring the area. We were able to snag a camping spot right beside the river, and after pitching our tents, we took a hike downstream. The river was singing, the sun was shining, the puppies were laughing, and all was well. Later we cooked a fancy meal of roasted beef, chicken fajitas, and baked potatoes over the fire, followed by enough s'mores to feed an army.

Day two, in retrospect, was really a lovely day, but in the moment, it was pretty brutal. Not knowing exactly what we were getting into, we decided to hike up Mt. Mitchell. Now I've hiked mountains before (almost got to the top of Mt. Fuji six years ago, if that means anything), so the 5.7-mile one-way hike didn't scare me. And I was thinking, sure, it'll be a nice, relaxing walk in the woods. 


Not the view from Mt. Mitchell,
but from the Blue Ridge Parkway
We failed to realize that those 5.7 miles were basically all uphill -- and that coming down was all downhill. It took about four hours to reach the top of the mountain -- the tallest this side of the Mississippi, in case you didn't know, reaching an impressive 6,684 feet high (yes, yes, yes, Mt. Fuji is over 12,000, but that's neither here nor there). Apparently, hiking this mountain is something you train for, not something you decide to do on a whim. But we made it (even the dogs!), and were greeted with an impressive view of the entire Blue Ridge Mountains at the top. (Pardon the lack of photos of the mountain: I thought it prudent to leave my phone at the campsite.) It was also really, really disheartening to see that after all of our struggles, the majority of the people up at the crowded top had just driven in by car. And after we had worked so hard for that view!

Coming down was actually more difficult than going up: about a quarter of a mile in, my left knee started swelling with all the jolts, and a little later on, my right joined the party (apparently I'm getting old). The rocky terrain, interlaced with roots, had been easy to use for traction going up, but it made for a hard descent. Most of us were feeling some aches and pains by the time we got back to the campground three hours later. But like I said, in retrospect, I'm really glad we did it!

The next day, Kyle and I left early to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock, NC. Even with our sore legs, we were happily nostalgic to be back at the place that held such good memories for us. We bought almost 40 pounds of apples! Now what we're going to do with all of those apples is still a mystery: so far I've made five jars of applesauce and an applesauce cake, but we still have another 20 pounds to eat!

I am a person who enjoys a good tradition, and this yearly mountain camping trip is one I want to hold on to for a long time yet. Just maybe a little lighter on my legs. 

Basket of Apples

Saturday, October 8, 2016

All My Friends

Well, would ya look at that. I saw five good friends in a week!

Kyle and I spent last Saturday afternoon in Greensboro with my friend E from UNCG. We helped her move some boxes, and in exchange, she fed us some delicious chicken and rice. Good times!

Wednesday and Thursday I found myself in Greensboro again, this time at a conference for work. And both days I was able to connect with old pals for lunch. 

Friend 1, the one who left me to take a job in the mountains, was on this side of the state for a few days for school, and Kyle, the kittens, and I were able to host her. 

And tonight, we're off to hockey with moved-to-Charlotte Friend, who is in town only to watch the Hurricanes play (you all know who I'm talking about). 

I guess things aren't quite so dire as they seemed. Friends may be far away, but can always come close again. 

Anne of Green Gables (well, Anne of Avonlea), said once, "Do you know, I'm so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much."

Well said, Anne. Well said. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where is Everybody?

Remember that Twilight Zone episode, Season I, Episode 1, “Where is Everybody”? I’ve been wondering that a lot myself recently.

Back in Raleigh, I lived within walking (or at least jogging) distance from the majority of my closest friends. It was nothing to text someone, “I’m coming over” and be there in just a minutes. Even when I moved out to the edges of the city in the no-man’s land that straddles Raleigh and Durham (AKA Brier Creek), I was still able to keep in touch with everyone. But then the mass exodus began!

Friend 1 moved to Boone, Friend 2 moved to Greensboro, Friends 3 and 4 to Germany! Friend 5 ended up in the Way Far Outskirts of Northern Raleigh/Almost Rolesville, creating a 45-minute commute every time we wanted to get together. Friend 6 and her boyfriend went to Florida, and then I moved to Durham, far from Friend 7, who used to be my upstairs neighbor. Friends 8 and 9 still live in Durham, but lead hectic lives that don’t allow us much time to hang out. Friend 10 got into a serious relationship and disappeared. And friend 11, my blessed roommate for over a year, took a job in Charlotte.

Durham is rife with awesome people, and Kyle and I are trying to connect with other folk in the area. We met one cool girl from Texas that we hang out with on occasion, and we’ve joined a dance class in the hopes that someone cool will come along (all very nice people, but so far, no one we’re hanging out with on a regular basis). We’ve been to two Meet-ups, and joined six more earlier this week in a determined act to be proactive. It’s not that there’s a lack of stuff to do. We go to music festivals, art festivals, First Fridays, and plenty of cool restaurants and bars. But we're suffering from a lack of people to go there with.

I know living far from loved ones is nothing new (my three BFFs from college have lived apart since 2001 but still text every day) but it is new to feel suddenly alone. Kyle and I love spending time just with each other, but we miss the group camaraderie we used to have, too. Is this what happens in your 30s? Everyone becomes busily entrenched in their own lives and no longer has time for cook-outs, weekend trips, or a 5:00 drink? I know Kyle and I are guilty of it, too, since most of the week we just work and come home. But I sure miss the connections we used to have.

I keep thinking about that Langston Hughes poem:

I loved my friend
He went away from me
There’s nothing more to say
The poems ends
Soft as it began --
I loved my friend.

So, friends, I just wanted to let you know that I miss you all dearly. And since you all recognize yourselves in the descriptions above, please know that you’re not in numerical order by affection, but by date of parting!

Maybe in another year I’ll be writing about my awesome new friend group and all the cool things we’re doing. Or maybe it’ll be another post about how it’s just me and Kyle and the cats. Either way, I don’t want out of sight to mean out of mind. Even if I don’t see you on a regular basis, let’s still stay in touch. I don’t want distance to mean goodbye forever.

Friday, July 22, 2016

One Year Anniversary

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kyle and I arbitrarily designated July 13, 2015 as our Official Going-Out As Boyfriend-Girlfriend Day, and I’m happy to announce we just passed the one-year mark. (I suppose we could technically count in all those other months since 2013, but we don’t worry about accuracy.) To celebrate, we decided to take a beach trip to the Outer Banks--the first time we’d been there together.

The weather forecast threatened rain both Saturday and Sunday, but we decided to try our luck anyway. We left Durham under cloudy skies, hoping they would go away, but by the time we stopped for lunch at Pizazz Pizza in Nags Head, it was raining steadily. I was vividly reminded of the All Girls Beach Trip my mom and sister and I had made to the Outer Banks in 2014, during which it rained without ceasing for five days straight. (That trip involved a lot of shopping trips to prevent cabin fever.) Kyle and I decided to do the same, and spent a good hour perusing the aisles at the local Wings waiting for the rain to let up.

Luckily for us, it stopped long enough to let us stroll up and down the gray and empty beach, but we were a long way from the car when the bottom dropped out again. This time, we ended up absolutely soaking wet. With dripping wet hair and clammy clothes, we decided to drive out to the guest house we would be staying in and take a hot shower. After a 30-minute drive to the northwest end of Roanoke Island, we found the sprawling, wood-frame house at the end of a long, narrow driveway, facing the sound.

Despite the fact that there was no hot water in our bathroom (apparently the other guests had used it all up before we arrived), we were able to warm up with hot tea, blankets, and interesting books in the sun room. And just when we thought our entire vacation was going to be spent on the couch learning about what to do in case of a hydrogen bomb explosion, the sun came out!

It was only about 4:00, so we decided to spend the couple of hours we had at the Elizabethan Gardens and Jockey’s Ridge. I’ve been visiting these gardens since I was a child (I’m pretty sure I have a picture of Jacquie W. and I there in 1996) and they haven’t changed at all since then, except that some of the statues have lost some of their luster. But hearing the sound lap against the sand and seeing the bright flowers with their background of green still fills me with peace and joy. (Happily for me, Kyle liked it, too.)

Every time I go to Jockey’s Ridge, the state park made up of enormous sand dunes (well, maybe not as enormous as they used to be), I feel like a child. This time was no exception: The two of us ran around like idiots, raced each other up and down the sand dunes (he won, obviously), and tried to see who could do the most cartwheels and headstands.

We left before the clouds that had started pouring in decided to do anything else, and that was our day!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The morning dawned beautifully: all traces of clouds and rain had left during the night. After easing into the day with bagels, coffee, and books, we went to explore Manteo’s waterfront. Manteo is a cute little town (the farthest east in North Carolina) right on the water. An old replica of the Elizabeth II ship sits in the harbor along with the dozens of yachts and boats, and restaurants and shops line the street.

We couldn’t find a restaurant open for lunch there, so we left the island for Nags Head. There was a cute cafĂ© called Waveriders right on the main road that served us delicious BLTs and cucumber salad. Then it was off to the beach for the next four hours.

If Saturday the beach was almost deserted, Sunday was packed ten times as much. Brightly colored umbrellas and tents lined the shore and the water was full of families playing. Even though the water was freezing (it took a while to get used to), it felt great in the 90 degree heat. We spent the day like everyone else at the beach: swimming, walking, reading, and getting sunburned.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, we made our way down the Outer Banks to Bodie Island Lighthouse for one last hoorah. Just our luck, though, the ticket booth was down to just one admission that hour. Tired as we were, we decided not to wait, and instead began the three-hour drive back to Durham, sunburned, sandy, and satisfied.

We’ll never have another July anniversary: if things go as planned, our wedding will be in April. This year sure was lovely, though. Next time, we’ll be celebrating in the spring, sitting under a cherry tree in Japan!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Turning into an official Durhamite

It's been three weeks since moving into our new house in Durham, and we sure are becoming real Durham folk. Take today, for instance. I feel like such a damn hippie.

First, we start off our hot Saturday morning at the Eno River hiking a trail with our Duke medical student friend and her dog. When it gets too hot, we take off our shoes and socks to wade in the water, which quickly turns into getting completely soaked. (We're 1/20th of the way through our Durham summer bucket list now that we've been there!)

Back at home, I wash out our clothes and hang them on the clothesline in our backyard to dry. Then we discover we're almost out of laundry detergent, so we bike the mile and a quarter to Kroger for baking soda and bar soap, which we then pare down and mix into a big tub that's already filled with Borax and washing soda, for our own homemade laundry detergent. (This isn't the recipe I used, but it's close enough. Also, I might have some issue with Borax and Fels-Naptha, but it'll do for now.)

I pick some squash and cucumbers from the garden for dinner (you know, the plants I bought at Barnes Supply Company on 9th Street), and give them a good 20-minute watering.

I mean, honestly.

Hiking, biking, being environmentally conscious...is this really what I'm turning into?! What am I going to do next, get some backyard chickens and a dog that likes to sit with me and Kyle at Fullsteam?

Yeah, probably.

Monday, May 16, 2016

My Life-Sized Laura House

When I was eight years old, my siblings and I received a wooden playhouse for Christmas. The 6-or-7 foot tall, one room building had a pointed roof with black shingles, a tiny porch, and two glass windows placed on either side of the Dutch door, whose halves could be opened fully or with only one part open. For the first year or two, the place was filled with beanbags, half-read books, snacks, and talk of magical lands. But as my brother and sister grew up, they gradually lost interest in playing outside in our house, and I found myself the only one interested in it.

Instead of being lonely, the sole child at play, I found that house a fantastic escape. I had just started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, and found our playhouse to be the perfect replica of all of Laura's houses, from her cabin in the Big Woods to her first house with Almanzo. My dog Scotch and I spent the majority of my childhood playing in and around that Laura House, as it quickly became known.

The house was situated at one end of a grassy pasture, near my dad's barn, and it made perfect sense for me to play Laura there. Wearing an old dress, apron, and a bonnet my dad got for me, I filled up old feed bags full of pine straw to make a mattress for the hard wooden bed made from discarded pallets. I put an old table made from an oak tree in one corner. On the mantle, a clock that didn't work, a few candles in metal candleholders, a tin plate, and a cup. (Somewhere, I don't know where, is a video of 11-year old me giving a tour of my fully-furnished Laura house to a lady from church. There's a video I would love to find!)

I can't count the happy times I had out there, dressed up like it was 1870 and running around with my dog. But eventually, I grew up too, and by the time I graduated from high school, my Laura house was a hold-all for curing hams, sweet feed, or hay for the farm.

So what does my playhouse have to do with my life as a 33-year old living in the city? Because for the first time since I was 13, I feel like I have found my real-life, life-sized Laura House. Not counting college dorm rooms, I've lived in nine different places since I was 18: houses, apartments, townhomes. In every one, I tried my hardest to make it feel like home, and I think, for the most part, I succeeded. But in every place, something was missing. It just didn't feel completely right to me. It was either too new, or too antiseptic, or too crowded, or just too wrong.

Until now!

My new house in Durham--the one whose keys we received on April 30 and the one we've been moving into piece by piece for the past two weeks--is exactly what I've been looking for. It's kind of old and uneven, it has electrical and plumbing problems, and the outbuildings are almost falling apart, but it has the warmth and the character I've been looking for since I started living on my own.

At this place, I've got a huge raised bed garden that Kyle worked tirelessly on (thank you!), filled with newly-planted seedlings; a back yard with a mulberry tree whose berries I've already made a cobbler from; a clothesline (a CLOTHESLINE!!!!); and a front porch for my wicker chairs. In this house, the windows are open, the pots and pans hang from the ceiling, and the china cabinet is full of stacked dishes. It's my Laura house, just bigger than one room.

And the best part? I won't have to sleep on a mattress made of pine straw!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New York 2016: the Japan Experience

January 14-17, 2016

I'd been to NYC twice before, visiting my wealthy lawyer friend and my super-cool business friend, both in 2010 and in 2014. Through them, I was able to get a good balanced tour of the real New York City lifestyle and the necessary tourist destinations that I needed to cross off my list. The years roll by, though, and one moved away to Denver and the other fell out of touch. So on this trip -- I was tagging along with my boyfriend while he attended a week-long conference -- I was a little worried I'd be left wandering around by myself for hours on end. (Despite the fact that I made it around Tokyo like a pro for two years, New York still scares me.) 

View from the hotel
But I had nothing to fear. My well-prepared bf, who foresaw my reluctance, made plans with his college friend Jana to come down from Syracuse and hang out with us for the weekend: a win-win for everyone involved. It was easy for the three of us to get along with each other with no trouble at all. And although it was a new adventure to actually look up places to go and find them with a map instead of following someone's footsteps, I liked exploring the unfamiliar with someone new. It's much less intimidating than trying to do it alone. Besides, Jana did most of the planning, so technically all I had to do was follow her!

Over the course of the weekend, we took in as much of Greenwich Village, Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, Hell's Kitchen, and Midtown as we could, leaving our ritzy hotel at the Hilton Times Square every morning in search of nothing in particular but something cool to see. Neither of us wanted to visit anything famous like the Statue of Liberty, we just wanted to go shopping! And shopping we did; both of us spent more than we needed to at some really fun boutiques and vintage clothing stores.

Happily for Kyle, he didn't have to tag along and be bored while we were shopping, but he was able to accompany us for breakfast (diner food! bagels!) and dinner most days. Plus he had nights free to spend with us. 

The biggest difference between this trip and my other two NY trips was the sheer amount of JAPAN we found. Jana and I accidentally stumbled on Sunrise Mart (a Japanese market), Panya (a bakery), various ramen shops, and even an izekaya (a type of casual restaurant/pub) during one of our walks. We also spent a lot of time at Muji (my favorite store from Japan), Uniqlo (like Gap, but better), and the Kinokuniya bookstore, a place so laden with cute things I thought I'd explode. (Later, Jana and I found a Korean bookstore, which definitely rivals Japan with its amazing stationery choices.)

Tonkatsu curry
And the food . . . oh! the food! Tonkatsu curry at Go-Go Curry our first night, ramen the second, and an izekaya feast my last night in town, complete with okonomiyaki, takoyaki, karage, nikujaga . . . all those things that taste so much better in a restaurant than when I try to make them at all. It was such a strange experience to sit in the restaurant surrounded by Japanese speakers, eating authentic Japanese food: it was just like being back in Gunma! I filled up on everything I'd been missing for the past three years, wishing I had a few more bellies to fit all that food into. Next time I will eat even more!

I don't really care for the craziness of Times Square or the claustrophobic feeling that comes over me every time I start down the stairs to get on the subway, but I really enjoy visiting New York City and soaking in its new experiences. I'm grateful that Kyle invited me along! And you know, sometimes he has business trips to Greece and Germany, too . . .