Pat’s excellent adventure.

AshevilleDowntownDayIt is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.   ~ Andre Gide

A few weeks ago my daughter and I drove up to Asheville, NC, to a reading and book signing by Barbara Kingsolver, one of our favorite authors.

Even though Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina, I think Asheville may be the most recognized (by people outside the state) and beloved (by in-state residents) city in the state.  It’s my favorite.

We left Charlotte early enough to arrive in Asheville for lunch and a little shopping.  Asheville is a small city nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  According to the July, 2011, census report, the population was 84,458, just large enough to have many big-city amenities, yet small enough to maneuver by car without getting too lost.  (Giggle.)  Well, my travel companions might not agree with that last statement.  More on that in a moment.

One thing I enjoy when I’m in this diverse small-town city is the opportunity to eat at one of the many restaurants that specialize in vegan and/or vegetarian meals.  After meeting our friend C at the hotel, we all headed out for dinner at one such restaurant, Homegrown, near the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNC-A) so we could go from dinner to the auditorium on campus. As promised by DJ, our meals were delicious and prepared with the freshest, best-quality groceries available.  I will look forward to a return visit in the future.

So far so good.  We were fairly familiar with the route up to this point.  DJ had eaten at the restaurant earlier in the year while in town for a conference.  And I had entered the campus from this direction – quite a few years ago.  I probably don’t need to tell you that our first approach to campus was a bust.  We circled out (I was grateful that DJ was driving.) and took another approach.  Thanks to my daughter’s memory which is more efficient than mine, we were successful on our second approach.

Malaprop’s, the bookstore where we ordered our books and tickets, had sent us a very rudimentary map of the UNC-A campus.  My attitude was that it couldn’t be very difficult to find the auditorium at such a small school.  I’m not sure C and DJ agreed with me but they gave me free rein; they humored me.  I figured we could stop and ask a student, a nice young teacher at the gym door, or any breathing human.  One time years ago my daughter told me I would talk to a fence post.  She was right.  I don’t fear strangers.

After several stops and starts to ask if we were headed the right way, we arrived at Lipinsky Hall where Barbara K was speaking.  It was a bit of a trek but we’re all three hardy types and the walk in brisk late-fall mountain air was invigorating.  (That’s my opinion.)

If you’re a Kingsolver fan you know her for The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer or photo(30)any number of other books.  Her latest, and the one she read from, is Flight Behavior.  I don’t do book reviews but let me say this about Barbara Kingsolver’s work:  She doesn’t write just books; she writes literature.  Many high school English teachers agree with my assessment, as some of her work is required reading for high school students.

photo(31)In my version of Barbara’s words, Flight Behavior is a novel about a number of things: climate change, monarch butterflies, marriage, the Appalachian Mountains, family relationships.  I don’t remember whether she included politics but it’s a word I would add.  I found the book entertaining and thought-provoking.  Every paragraph, every sentence is its own little work of art.  She’s a remarkable author.

Hearing BK read her own work was a rare and special treat for all three of us.  She is a native of the Southern Appalachians as are C, DJ, and I.  Sometimes I’m tempted to think that’s why we like her work, but that fact can’t explain why her writing is wildly popular all over the world.  It does make me have a special warm spot in my heart for her, I think.  And it helps that she pronounces Appalachia correctly.  (Sharyn McCrumb, another of my favorite Southern Appalachian writers explains the pronunciation here.)

I would like to tell you that Pat the Navigator got us smoothly back to our hotel from the auditorium.  Alas, I would be lying if I told you such nonsense.  Suffice to say that the on-ramp we were looking for was cleverly hiding near an overpass and we kept missing it.  I stopped counting after three passes.  Does anyone know if Apple has corrected its latest map fiasco?

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Toffee’s swan song?

photo(31)As I stood stirring my bubbly caramel-colored mixture this afternoon, I think I had an epiphany.

I have made English toffee during the Christmas holidays for more years than I can remember.  Why?  That’s the question I asked as I did my mindless stirring.

Years ago I found a toffee recipe in a holiday magazine.  It looked good in the picture. The recipe was easy.  I decided to give it a go.  Delicious.  Yummy.  Much better than the packaged kind we’d had in the past.  The whole family begged for more.  The biggest fan of all was my then husband D.  Every year after that first one, he started asking around Thanksgiving when the toffee assembly line would start up again.

It dawned on me as I prepared the beloved sweet treat today that I was, on some level, still cooking it up for my ex.  That’s the thought that came to mind.  Could that possibly be the case?  I don’t like to admit it but I think it might be so.  Then I thought of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Stay with me now as I try to explain.

If you’ve been reading my blog since last Christmas or before, you are aware that the holiday season is particularly hard for me.  D always made a huge deal of Christmas.  (Too big I realize now.)  And suddenly he was gone.  So what did I do?  I went in the kitchen and I made that damn toffee as if he were still here.  Granted, I’m making it now for family and friends.  And it’s a nice thing to do for them.  I get lots of compliments from all who partake.  What I’m really doing, though, is trying to make Christmas like it used to be.  My version of insanity.

I have finished my confectionery habit for this year.  I have enough to give each daughter’s family a good supply for the holidays.  My quandary now is:  Do I give up making up toffee?  Or shall I continue to supply the family’s sweet tooth — with a new attitude?  Or shall I take a break for a year or so and see what happens?  I don’t know the answer but I’m glad I’ve recognized that I’ve been sabotaging my serenity during the holiday season.  Recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it.

Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton from “The Best Little Whore House in Texas”

What did I know and when did I know it?

photo(9)We had gone to Pennsylvania to a family wedding.  My husband was absent, remote, not present.  He was physically there, of course, but not emotionally.  This was years before he announced that he wanted a divorce.

We were strolling along the streets of the small town we were visiting.  I can’t remember exactly what had passed between us in the previous short span of time.  What I can remember is a brief dialogue we had as we walked.  Apparently I had not received the reply I expected to some comment or question.  I stopped, looked him in the eyes, with puzzlement in mine, and told him, “You act like someone who’s having an affair.”  In hindsight, I realize the look on his face said it all.  I continued with my accusation, “You are, aren’t you?”

At this point D did what he has always done best.  He put on his poor-pitiful-me look, donned his best salesman cloak and presented a spiel like I had never heard before, and hope I never hear again.  “No,” he insisted, “I’m not having an affair.”  I don’t remember the rest of what he said to convince me of his innocence, but I do remember my queen of denial kicking in to the extent that I felt the need to apologize to him for thinking and saying such vile things. And I did.  My jaw is gaping as I write and I have an enormous urge to kick my own ass.  What was I thinking?!

Here’s the thing, I had never accused him of infidelity.  I know I didn’t just blurt it out without some considerable forethought.  Why didn’t I trust my gut?  Why did I second guess my instincts?  Today, the answer is obvious: I didn’t want to know.  It didn’t seem so simple at the time, though.  Matters of the heart are complicated.

This story gets even better.  After we had established that D was not guilty, we shopped and window shopped at our leisure for quite some time.  I saw and admired a rather expensive watch.  He insisted on buying it for me.  I still wear it today.  A logical, thinking person would have recognized he was paying me for buying what he was selling that day–that he was a really good husband and he had done nothing wrong.  In retrospect, I think I did recognize his so-called generosity for what it was.

Today I’m neither sad nor happy.  I’m not angry.  I’m idling here in neutral, just remembering.

Here’s a delightful, laid-back Christmas song for you, if you’re so inclined.  I heard it at my granddaughter’s recital this afternoon.  Jingle Bell Jamboree by Keb’ Mo’.