For whom the dinner bell tolls.

It was three-tiered, metal, and accompanied by a wooden-handled rubber mallet.

My grandmother kept a dinner bell while I was growing up.

And it was to be rung at precisely 6 p.m..

My brother and I used to squabble over who would ring the gong for our weekly Sunday suppers at her house, obviously the most desirable “chore” among the more ordinary table-setting duties we divided up.

 Me with another perpetually re-gifted and then hidden Easter goodie: the obnoxious chirping chick.

Me with another perpetually re-gifted and then hidden Easter goodie: the obnoxious chirping chick.

This ritual is inextricable from my childhood memories.

Like the scraggly teddy bear I never let go of or waking up on Easter morning to the Beatrix Potter books my parents re-wrapped every year.

In my memory? The three-tiered bell is a towering, magnificent symbol of stability.

The bell meant Sunday suppers -- salmon cakes, broccoli with cheese sauce, everyone together, cherry pie.

Recently, and with a funny pang of mourning, it occurred to me that along with the slew of inevitable changes in the past twenty-something years, that my grandmother has long since gotten rid of that bell.

But here's what I realized:

Once imbued with meaning, a symbol can be yours forever.

And despite the fact that our family moved across the country and back, that my grandfather passed away nearly two decades ago now, and that my parents eventually divorced -- despite the tremendous challenge of gathering even a sprinkling of us under one roof at the same time?

It strengthens me to know that despite this ever-shifting world and all its uncertainties, the sun always rises, yes, and my grandmother -- 100-years-old this year -- still puts dinner on her table at 6 p.m. every night.

Curious: What are the anchors that help you to find your ground when you need it?


misty water
misty beach.jpg

It was Dr. Meade who showed the world to me. With his suspenders and his Santa belly, he helped me onto a squeaky leather chair and projected letters on the wall: all I could see was the E.

Days later, five years old and euphoric, I pushed thick frames up over my nose with my index finger as I took my first corrected walk with my mother, down the oak-lined street of my childhood.

The skyward green blobs became leaves, individual and back-lit, beckoning to me. The bricks of the road separated into shades of rose and dust; there were some that jutted, some that sunk. I saw the coiling of Spanish moss; the oily sheen of blue jays in my grandmother's birdbath; I saw the trailing clouds.

fort fisher

I didn't have the vocabulary then to express what I felt, but I knew my world was unfolding.

As I gained awareness of the detail of my environment, I wanted to comprehend, to revel in it. My newly crisp vision would instil in me a lifelong desire to study the world around me for clues.

It was when I learned that observation leads me to joyand that not everyone noticed the way the dew clung to the petals of the Black-eyed Susans, that some people didn't notice the Black-eyed Susans at allthat I knew I needed art to help me communicate, and the seed of writing about this world was planted.

I've dedicated a good bit of time since then searching (haphazardly) for my next pair of metaphorical glasses, convinced that once found, they would illuminate my path again with perfect clarity.

But of course there's nothing so simple anymore as that childhood moment for understanding ourselves and our place in this world. And assuming that certainty will one day materialize for good is a story I've grown tired of telling myself.

Walking through the mist this morning, I thought of all the truths that hang in uncertainty, obscured. I thought of how enticing the unknown can be when reframed as mystery.

I thought of the grit required to sit with the slow reveal, and I wished that I could whisper to my five year old self this truth:

Yes. Yes, those gorgeously tangible moments, the ones where you can make out the shape of things to come, those glimpses are gifts. They are deeply rewarding. But they are few and far between, and that’s just the way the bricks are laid. For the rest of your journey, you’ll need to put one foot in front of the other and feel your way through the mist. And for that, my darling, the only antidote is faith. PS ~ You may as well enjoy the mist.


Coming from the chaos of my layover in Washington Dulles, the Burlington, Vermont airport is strikingly low-key. Not that it’s not bustling. But by some wizardry the droves of people interact with an efficiency so calm I almost want to stay there. Listening to the bluegrass music floating down from somewhere, idling in the wicker rocking chairs and watching the beautiful people walk by wearing so. much. flannel.

I’m delighted because all the stereotypes I’ve held about the place are playing out right in front of me, and at this point I haven’t even seen all the Suburus in the parking lot.

There’s even a lactation station for breastfeeding moms.

Actually, most of this feels familiar to me, kind of like home, having lived for most of my adult life in Asheville, NC, (the cesspool of sin).

So Vermont is a welcome break. Not just because my dearest friends are congregating here at one time, which, as I’m sure you know, is no small feat in grown-up land, but also because my new home, for its many varied virtues, feels overwhelmingly conservative, small, and at times unsettling to me.

(I’ve learned that in eastern North Carolina, my truth, Oh, I actually don’t go to church in the traditional sense, is absolutely not an acceptable answer to the often-posed question, Which church do you go to? Or anyway, I understand now that if I want to be honest I'd better be prepared, because apparently, them’s fightin’ words.)

But that's a tangent for another day. Vermont feels like a magical new land but also like home, which is really the best type of vacation.

And because I’m spending the week with the sister-friends who challenge and love me the most in this world, deep layers of life that are hard to talk about with strangers and acquaintances surface all week, one after another.

We have a conversation over pizza one day that really gets me thinking. It’s about the elusive balance of technology and, well, whatever you want to call the opposite of that. Or anyway, that’s how I interpret the discussion: New Ways versus Old Ways; “screen time” versus eye contact and intimate conversation.

Only of course it’s never that simple, and those “opposites” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

One friend says she’ll never get a smartphone because it would be in direct contradiction to the way she wants to live. This makes perfect sense to me, because she is a farmer. Her work is tied to the rhythms of the natural world. But I think it is hard for her to understand why other people seem to cling to their devices. She sees them staring blankly into their phones instead of having conversations or letting moments of stillness exist instead of filling them idle texting or email checking.

Fair enough. I've been guilty of that.

I concede her point, but I say that maybe being outside looking in doesn’t paint a full or fair picture. Maybe they’re reading the New York Times or coordinating their calendar. Or maybe they're Snapchatting.

Regardless, I say, what's it to anyone else, really? Who cares?

Still, she presses. What about silence and quiet contemplation? Do people always have to be scrolling? For the good of the future of the human race? And I can't help but agree that moments of solitude seem critical for mental health. Or at least for mine.

But I argue that the technology itself isn’t inherently bad: it's a temptation. It calls for personal awareness and knowing your own boundaries. You don’t have to demonize it or denounce it entirely to have a healthy life, I say.

Another friend, who is in grad school for art therapy, points out that actually, technology addiction is a very real, serious, and fast-growing sickness of sorts that people seem increasingly vulnerable to. Which makes me recall this infographic I recently read that says that the average Millennial Consumer checks her smartphone 43 times a day.

At the time, I think I am making a convincing and balancing counter-argument, and it's not until days later I become conscious of those truths I did not say or even realize then: that I "check" my phone many more times a day than necessary, that my flip-phone using fiance has, at times, gently requested that I take a break from Instagramming our meals, and that sometimes, the very first thing I do when I wake up is check my email. On my phone. In bed.

So when you're inside looking out, I think you can lose perspective, too.

I feel a mess of contradictions.

I pick and choose from past and present ways. I find so many paths worthy of incorporating, but I can't say I actually know how to balance them all. I have my paternal grandmother’s deep appreciation for antiques and my maternal grandfather’s Kennedy-Space-Center-working, progress driven mind. For me, they make sense together. I need Wendell Berry and Miranda July. I love my record collection. I love my podcasts, too.