Scenes from the weekend: Coffee — November 13, 2014

Vintage Roaster at Small Town Coffee Roasters, Rutherfordton, NC


When I make it back to my old stomping grounds, I like to stop in and frequent local businesses, giving them the love they deserve in a county with severe economic woes. Yesterday, I stopped in at Small Town Coffee Roasters located in the hamlet of Rutherfordton, NC, in order to pick up a cup of their magical elixir. This was much needed little liquid refreshment for my two hour drive home.

I had heard great things about this shop from raconteur and attorney, Chris Callahan, and knew that if he said it was good, it was a place to add to my list. Small Town Coffee Roasters was definitely worth my stop. I’ll be heading back soon to learn more about this little shop, sample more of their caffeinated wares, and, hopefully, hang out with Monte as he roasts green coffee beans to glistening perfection in a vintage Royal #1.

If you stop in, ask for an El Tim. Drink two. Leave with a delicate caffeine buzz you’ll wish never ends.

wears.Vintage Roaster at Small Town Coffee Roasters, Rutherfordton, NC

Coffee waiting while the barista works his magic at Small Town Coffee Roasters in Rutherfordton, NC Beans waiting for their turn to be turned into aromatic roasted coffee beans at Small Town Coffee Roasters in Rutehrfordton, NCPastries and gratuities at Small Town Coffee Roasters in Rutherfordton, NC Coffee. Small Town Coffee Roasters, Rutherfordton, NC

Facing my fears at 5,230 feet on Grandfather Mountain

2015 Toyota Camry, Grandfather Mtn, NC

Have you ever done something completely out of character? Pushed yourself to the limits and faced your fears head on, or at 5,230 feet from sea level? I crossed the mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain. Even now, weeks later, I can’t believe I did it. It all seems like a blur. A very, very cold blur. Have I mentioned I’m deathly afraid of heights and swinging bridges. It was energizing, empowering, and probably a hundred more “e” words I can’t seem to pull from the recesses of my noodle.

And I did it. Even now, I still don’t believe I crossed that bridge. But I did. I was terrified, afraid to cry because my eyes would have frozen shut. It was my moment to “Go Bold.” This is about how I was bold.

Not too many weeks before I crossed the bridge, Southeast Toyota reached out to ask me to check something off my bucket list. In return, they’d loan me a new Camry and cover my expenses to take a weekend and do something bold. Working within a five state region, I brainstormed a list of things I’d love to do and when the time came, they helped me pick something on my list — as a great deal of it was pretty lame. (I’ve done most of what I’ve wanted to do in the other four states, except cook with Alton Brown. If you can arrange that, I’ll swear fealty to you.)

On my list was “crossing the mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain.” As a native North Carolinian, I’m pretty sure it’s written somewhere in our DNA that we must cross this bridge, or any bridge that bounces to and fro across a gorge. Same goes with train trestles (which is illegal, by the way). Mary Katherine, who I was vetting my list with, said “that’s it!” And by royal decree only certain public relations officials are granted, she declared I would cross this bridge.

I knew my husband and son would not make me cross the bridge. I’d get to the top of the road, park the car, get out of it and get right back in, crying. So I called out the big guns — my best friend, Dee. I knew that no matter what, Dee wouldn’t let me turn around. We’re best friends and she’s one of my biggest cheerleaders, so she was the right choice.

We set out on Friday morning and made our way across the state to my old stomping grounds and finally arrived at the winding curves of Highway 221 and I felt my anxiety climb higher with each turn in the road. I talked until my throat was dry and I was coughing, trying to ignore the rising bile.

We stopped a few miles short of Grandfather Mountain to take a photo. It was a marker of what I had to do. And I HAD to do it. There was no choice. For me, this was a personal challenge. One that not only terrified me, but annihilated all of my preconceived notions of what I would and wouldn’t do during this lifetime.

Dee at Grandfather Mountain

You see, when I was a little girl, I remember clinging to a swinging bridge, in the middle of it, while it bounced up and down in the wind. I can still see me, paralyzed, not able to move. That’s why I had to do this. I had to cross this bridge and face one of my biggest fears.

When we got to the base of Grandfather, the young lady working the front gates granted me a reprieve. The bridge was closed due to ice, and she informed us it was 7 degrees and the wind was gusting at 26mph on top of the mountain, but we could pay half price to go halfway up to the visitor center to see where Mildred the Bear used to live and enjoys the views from there. Her words were, as far as I was concerned, the angels singing and I swear, for a moment, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir broke into the Hallelujah Chorus, just for me.

Dee and I had filled up on coffee, so we decided to go to the center, take a potty break and we’d come back early Saturday morning before taking a Top Gear-esque drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville. I was glowing, because my death sentence had been commuted and for my fear, this was a sentence unlike any other I’d ever been given.

While we were in the center, one of the staff came out to let us know the bridge was now passable and we could go to the top. That sound you hear? My stomach dropping. I remember my throat closing up and my breathing suddenly labored. I’m pretty sure the sound I made was the one Ralphie makes in a Christmas story. Like Ralphie, I didn’t say “fudge.” “It was all over. I was dead.”

Dee, of course, looked like a kid at Christmas who’s wearing their new cheerleading costume, except this one consisted of a North Face jacket and multiple layers. She prodded me out to the car and I drove my way to the top. Now, we’d made a few stops along the way to the top to take photos, and this is what it looked like that day.

Ice covered trees at Grandfather Mountain. November 2014

That’s not snow, it’s ICE. The trees aren’t blowing, they’re frozen in that direction due to the wind. Did I mention that was ice?

Once we were at the top, I got out of the car and just stood there. In awe of this great bridge, knowing it was 5,280 feet above sea level and soon I’d be crossing it’s massive length. I also knew that once I got up there, it was me, looking down on the tops of the trees, on a bridge moving back and forth, up and down, and I was the only person I could depend on to get across.

2015 Toyota Camry, Grandfather Mtn, NC

We made our way inside to check the winds and temps and climbed on the elevator to go upstairs where the entrance to the bridge was. There are steps you can climb, but they were partially iced over and I needed that reprieve in the building.

Once we stepped out again, the wind hit like a knife. It cut through every layer I had on and I stood there, staring at the marker of what was the milestone of this moment. The Bridge. Dee grabbed my arm and let me know it was time — it felt like it was my wedding day and my coordinator had touched my arm to let me know it was time to make my walk down the aisle to meet my husband. Except this was a cruel, unbending mistress I had been running from since I was 10 years old.

As we made our way to the bridge, I was numb. I don’t know if it was from the cold, or from my body shutting down my feelings in a form of emotional compartmentalization, something I had been working on with my shrink in preparation for this crossing.

Mile High Swinging Bridge, Grandfather Mtn,, NC

I remember getting to the bridge and taking the first tentative step, Dee having already taken two steps backwards across this bridge, ready to cheer me on. She would walk backwards across the entire length of the bridge, holding my hand, looking me in the eyes, cheering me on. It was like being in labor, except the miracle being born this time was courage I didn’t know I had in me.

Cheering me along, walking backwards, Dee started moving, and I followed. At about one-quarter of the way out, at most, the wind gusted heavily and the bridge, which is a suspension bridge that moves with the wind, started moving more than I had expected and I looked at her, and said “I can’t do this” and turned around to go back.

Now, that could be the end of this story, but it’s just the beginning. You see, behind me was a couple who had heard Dee cheering me on, encouraging me, rooting for me. They knew I was terrified and when I turned around I saw them. They stood side by side, locked arms, and said “Well, we’re crossing the bridge and in order to get back, you have to cross this bridge, because we can’t let you around us.”

Let that sink in. I was on a bridge I wasn’t going to cross and I couldn’t get off of it. But they then said “we’re going to help you get across this bridge.” And so, that’s where I met Paul and Susanne. Who walked behind me, reassuring hands on my shoulders, talking me across, helping me face my fears, while Dee continued holding my hands, walking backwards, and cheering me on with them. They always say you meet your angels when you least expect it, and that day, I met two of mine. Even now, a month later, I’m weeping as I write this, knowing these angels were there looking over my shoulder, coaxing and prodding me to achieve something I never thought possible.

Before I knew it, I was across the bridge. Paul was shaking my hand, when in reality, I just wanted to hug all of them. People who’d left before us knew what it was taking to get me across the bridge and were cheering for me, for my success. They knew I had faced this formidable task.
Paul and Susanne on Grandfather Mountain
On the other side, I just stood there — on this mountainous rock — looking across what I had just conquered. I’d made it. There wasn’t tears. There wasn’t a feeling of victory. There was just peace. Even walking back across, with Dee walking in front of me, facing forward, Paul and Susanne behind me, gingerly stepping from board to board, catching my breath with each little shift, I was in awe, for the first time in my life, of me.

Even now, when I think I can’t do something, I think of that moment on the bridge when I turned to go back. While there are no celebratory photos of me in the middle of the bridge, I learned something. I just have to keep going, step by step, no stopping, facing my fears. Once we stop, we get stuck and I’m not going to be stuck in the middle of a bridge ever again.

Many thanks to Southeast Toyota, Toyota of Gastonia, Mary Katherine Roardam, Dee Lease, Paul and Susanne. Without you, I’d never know what I’m truly capable of.

Conquering the Unconquerable

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain. November 2014


You see that? That bridge? That’s the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain, NC. My wife took that shot of the bridge.  A remarkable, yet towering and imposing feat of engineering. It’s the essence of the struggle between man vs. his environment, a mile above sea level. You probably look at it and see a pretty black and white photo. A placid photograph of winter’s splendor.

What you can’t gather through the photo is the fact it was 7 degrees above 0 and there was a 25+ mph wind blowing on the mountain. No matter how I might edit and Photoshop it, you won’t have that perspective unless you were there or you talked to my wife or her friend Dee. This is not a kind photo.

I had heard about the bridge at Grandfather Mountain through the years. It was always talked about with a sense of awe, along with a healthy dollop of both fear and dread. She was on it once before, when she was a little girl. It scared the crap out of her. Wind blowing, bridge swaying, and there she was in the middle. All she wanted to do was get across the damn thing.

And so that’s what she did. It may have been 30 years later, but she did it. She conquered something that was, until that moment she crossed it, unconquerable. I’ve been married to her for 15 years, known her for more than that. This is, technically speaking, a pretty big deal.

Personally, I find this whole story inspiring. Oh yeah, she could’ve waited for better weather. She could’ve decided at the last minute not to do it. She could’ve turned around after she started crossing the bridge. But she did none of those things. She crossed to the other side, in 7 degree weather with a 25+ mph wind.

So forgive me if I get a little wound up over this little feat. Because given the conditions she did it under and the emotional stranglehold this feat has had her in, it’s something worth celebrating. And it means a lot more once you know the back story. If she did this on a 60 degree day with no wind, the crossing wouldn’t have meant much. You – and I – probably would’ve let out a gigantic “meh.” Ok, I wouldn’t have, because she’s my wife and I know it still would have been a huge deal.

But this; this, is not just huge. It’s bold.

Sounds and thoughts on writing

I started this blog post Sunday and then promptly fell asleep soon after. You’ll understand as you read :) 

My house is quiet. There is nothing but the sound of the dryer running and my fingers tapping away on the keyboard. It’s pretty blissful. I think that’s what writers want. To hear the sounds of the keys on the keyboard, or the scratching sound their pencils make on paper that rustles as you turn from page to page.

I’ll be quite honest, I’ve sat here and wondered if I should keep writing. That’s a tough thing for a writer to say. I blame being sick for multiple weeks and not writing — and frankly, not having anything to say — for this thought process. This life of writing is a very solitary one and for an introvert like me, it’s how I get things out. It’s how I get things out into the world and share them.

But it’s hard when you’re a writer and feel like there is no one reading.

Maybe it’s because I write what I want to write about. If it’s an essay on life, like this, I share it. If it’s things I’m passionate about, or a product I love, I write about it. I take the odd sponsored post from time to time, because that pays the bills for my server and domain renewal.

My friend Carissa recently wrote about going through her blog to see how much was sponsored content and how much was real writing. As I write this, I know my friend is probably taking her ritual Sunday afternoon nap. I know that because I’m friends with her, but she may have also written about it as well. What stuck with me was “Write more often for you and less –yet BETTER sponsored content.”

She was spot on. When I write sponsored content, I weave it into a story that relates to my life. Something that has truly happened, but that doesn’t sound like an advertisement. If it’s a product, it’s something I truly do enjoy and love. Shilling things for the sake for frees stuff has no appeal for me. Although, if Williams Sonoma were to offer to redo my entire kitchen, or Canon was offering me new lenses, I’d be writing about it for years to come. You’d all hate me.

I think it’s about letting my muse out. I let her out when I’m working on my book, or writing in my journal, but it’s been a long time since I’ve let her out here like I should. Why is that? Fear, mainly. You know, that whole Fear of Failure thing I write about over at Medium on occasion. Even though I’ve broken it down into very simple terms, I still struggle.

In layman’s terms, I’m still finding my voice. I have it and I use it. And when I channel it, it’s beautiful. A friend once gave me the highest compliment you could a writer like me and told me I was her “Judy Blume.” Yet, I let my writing lay fallow out of fear. I’m guessing this is what this whole long drawn out thing is about. Not only am I still finding my voice, I’m afraid to use it.

That’s it in a nutshell. Maybe all of this is because I’ve been sick for three weeks and had too much time to think. Or maybe I’ve not done enough thinking. *shrugs shoulders* This is life. As Doris Day once sang “que sera sera.” What will be, will be.

Thoughts from the sofa.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m sitting here and hanging out on my sofa, which is where I’ve been for the last 15 days or so. However, I’ve not felt like picking up my laptop to write, nor have I scribbled in my journal. There’s been nothing and for that I apologize. We’ll call this piece thoughts from the sofa.

I do have a good excuse as I’ve had what is now known as the upper respiratory virus from hell. What I thought was a cold culminated in me living on “Helen” (you don’t name your sofa?). I mean, I didn’t drink coffee — I had my first cup yesterday. You know things are bad when the coffee is gone from my life and I don’t miss it.

Yet, today I am feeling better and taking some time to sit here and reflect. Something I don’t do often enough. I didn’t reflect much during my illness as my head was to stuffed up to do anything but consider which size drill bit I would need to drain the stuffiness.  I believe we call that “desperation.”

So much has went on in the world in the last two weeks. Things I’ve watched and read about. Life changing events. Not that I’m personally involved, but they have an affect on my personally. The Bill Cosby accusations, the Ferguson announcement, the Syrian Crisis, ISIS. So much that I don’t write about on my blog, because, let’s face it, I know I’m not qualified to have that type of discussion here and, more importantly, I don’t want to.

But, it’s made me think. Mainly about childhood heroes, disappointment in people, the day formerly known as Black Friday, and critical thinking skills. I know that’s a messed up little list there, but critical thinking skills are what’s really been at the root of all I’ve thought about. There are days when I wonder if crazy pills are being put in the water.

Now, this isn’t to criticize anyone, nor is it point fingers. What I’m doing is genuinely questioning things for myself out loud in this here forum folks call a blog. Do we think critically any more? The reason I ask is it seems to me like so many in the general population don’t discuss issues these days. They just say “this is this” and refuse to talk or hear another persons thoughts and opinions. It’s very cut and dry and no consideration is taken for what other sides are saying. Admittedly, some sides should be put on the top of my cuckoo clock and left there, but what about when it’s about making decisions that are life changing?

Maybe this is because I’m an over thinker and I have to hear all sides of everything. I’m that person who sat in a large electronics retailer one  year ago for six hours researching all of the TV’s they had in stock, talking to multiple sales clerks AND had already spent a good 10+ hours online reading about televisions. While I realize that’s a tangible good, it gives you an idea into how I think about everything.

When President Obama ran against Senator John McCain during the 2008 Presidential elections, I remember sitting in my friends shop and discussing the debates. Him — a gay, small business owner. Me — well, I’m just me. But he told me the story of how he waited to watch the debates and was sitting at work with his ear buds in watching them and a customer asked what he was watching and when he said “the Republican debates,” the ones held before McCain received the nomination, it became a hell-fire brimstone moment in his shop. He was lambasted for listening to them debate, for wanting to hear what they had to say, all prefaced with “I can’t believe someone like you…” meaning “gay.” His response has been my self-check any time I’m faced with something like this “How am I supposed to make a decision if I don’t hear what both sides have to say?”

I guess, in this long, drawn-out mess is that I’m going to be doing even more critical thinking offline, and more importantly, using better listening skills. With everything I read. Everything I hear. Everything. If I discuss things on this blog — like the Calvin Klein Plus-Sized Model Debate – believe me, I’ll make sure, just as I did in that piece, that I’m using my critical thinking skills to the best of my ability. Otherwise, I won’t touch it.

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