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Defining Moments

I'm Back!

Wonderful trip to El Salvador this year. We were in at the beginning of a project to build homes for 400 families who have been living in "temporary" shacks since an earthquake 12 years ago. That is not a typo -- 12 years of promises these people have endured. Their living conditions are unbelievably appalling, really, completely indescribable. So, it felt great to be a small part of something so incredibly useful and important.

I started calling our group a "cult" this trip -- many of us are repeat offenders, and we only see each other on this February work project in El Salvador. We are experienced at what we're about when we are there and we really get some serious building done. Many of us also use the time to "reconstitute" as I described in my recent post, and in this way it is really a kind of honor to all be together for these 10 days each year.

The people of El Salvador are really amazing. They are kind, happy, and hopeful -- and all of this in the face of some really crap circumstances. To say that they, and in particular the staff of Habitat El Salvador, are an inspiration is a pale description of the deep impression they make.

And, here's a small world story about this trip. Kathy is a dedicated Habitat El Salvador cult member who has been on this trip many times. She is also a fellow adventure traveler with Wilderness Travel, the company Henry and I went with snowshoeing in the Alps this past March. Kathy and her husband did the Tour de Mont Blanc this summer with Wilderness Travel. On that trip she met Gail and told her about the El Salvador Habitat cult. So, this trip Gail comes from San Francisco to join us, and brings her sister-in-law, Jane, from New York, too. They were a wonderful part of the crew.

Also on this trip was a woman who had been a nurse at the U.S. Embassy at the height of El Salvador's civil war (late 80s). Her husband was working on the new U.S. Embassy being built at the time; they lived in a hotel with two small children. Needless to say their stay was not long... but, how's that for karma?

We also had family members along this time, too. Mike brought his daughter Brittany this time around. Next year, I hope Henry will be with me, too.

Click on the photo essay tab above and check out some of the photos I took this year. And, if you're so inclined, drop me an email and I'll let you know how you can help -- or even come along on our trip next time.
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Reconstituted

It's that time again. For the last few days I have been laying out the small but mighty set of duds I'll need to fit in one carry-on bag for next week's trip to El Salvador. It's my 4th time traveling there with the good folks at Habitat Charlotte. We'll be in a new part of the country for me and it's supposed to be a LOT hotter than where I've been before. Last year we were up in the mountains and had to have a light sweater or jacket in the evenings. That ain't going to happen this time around. I have Usulutan on my weather.com app and the high today is 100 degrees. Yikes.

I'm pretty good at preparing for this trip. You could even say I'm an expert. I've been to the doctor, perused the sale stock on sierratradingpost.com, and put together my little magic travel moleskin notebook I use to keep things straight. I have my favorite washcloth, my sunscreen, my giant-sized-construction-worker-grade wipes, and I'll wear my oldest pair of hiking boots which will be recycled when I leave.

I am prepared to be hot, hungry, thirsty and just plain uncomfortable at times. At the end of each day I'll be tired, beat up (I generally fall down at least once...) and every day I will smell nasty on the bus on the way home. I will, once again, wonder about why the people there are so nice. I don't think I would be. I will laugh a lot. I will be in charge of NOTHING. I will also be "reconstituted."

I say that because this trip is always inspirational, affirming, and has a way of setting my head right for the coming year. It provides a context for thinking about life in general, and for formulating specific schemes for the coming months, too. It's more than just an attitude adjustment. The travel, the people, the work -- it just kind of makes the moving parts of my brain snap together in place.

Know what I mean? Read More 
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WORDKEEPERS 2013 Dates

We're on the books again for 2013 WORDKEEPERS at the Arts Center in West Jefferson, NC. The highly successful (we think!) writers and listeners salon, now into its third year, continues to bring new writers and readers together.

Coming off our wonderful success with the book, "Mountain Memoirs," Scot, Julie and I are back at it. Once again, we had more new readers and more new listeners in December, and I've already received emails from new folks wanting to join us and read their work.

Here are the dates for 2013: Feb 23, April 13, June 15, Aug 17, Oct 19, Dec 21.

Come on out. It's casual, fun, and we have refreshments to get your courage up if you need them. Email me via this website if you want to sign-up for your 5-minutes of Wordkeepers fame. Read More 
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Wordkeepers - December 15

It's Wordkeepers time again. Saturday, December 15. We start with music at 3:00 p.m.; at 4:00 p.m. we begin the 5-minute open mic readings.

This is the group that started it all here in Ashe County, although we welcome writers from all over the High Country. Many of the contributors to our recent book, Mountain Memoirs, started out sharing their work with the Wordkeepers salons.

We'll continue bi-monthly Wordkeepers salons on into 2013 at the Ashe County Arts Center, on School Street in West Jefferson, NC. It's a wonderful space for our casual and supportive gatherings. We always have new readers and welcome new listeners each go around. Refreshments are provided, too.

Come on out in December and enjoy some wonderful writing. Read More 
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Books are out there now!

Everyone out there who has ordered advance copies of Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology, check your mailboxes! The books have shipped from the publisher in Charlotte. Of course, you can go order one now, too, on our website (mountain-memoirs.com) or on Amazon, if you didn't order it early. And, they've got some at the Ashe Arts Council, or see Scot Pope or Ron Joyner at the Ashe County Farmers Market as well. In short -- they're out there  Read More 
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We are launched!

It was SO much fun. Introducing my wonderful fellow editors, Julie Townsend and Scot Pope, and then having many of the contributors read from their work. When I first stepped up to the microphone, I blanked out. Me. I thought I had gotten used to standing up in front of a bunch of peopleassembled to listen to writers and to read their work. Nope. It wasn't like a Wordkeepers salon at all -- there were so many people. More than a 100 by anyone's count. We had to get out more chairs and ended up with some standing in the back of the room at the Ashe County Public Library. All for Mountain Memoirs.  Read More 
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It's Here!

It's here! There are boxes stacked up in my laundry room. Each one has 44 copies of "Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology inside. Thank you, Henry, for carrying them in the house. I drove to Mint Hill to pick them up at the publisher this morning. So happy we have books in hand for the big launch next week at the On the Same Page Literary Festival (www.onthesamepagefestival.org).

Wow. It feels tremendous to hold this puppy in my hands. The cover, featuring fellow editor Scot Pope's photo, is really beautiful. And it's got my frickin' name on it and everything.

I am very proud of myself today.

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Small World

Here's a great picture I had a friend take at our Friends of the Library meeting here at the Ashe County Public Library this morning. The awesome lady in the photo with me is Iris Morphew. Iris is a volunteer extraordinaire here in Ashe County and we see each other a good bit a various library and arts events and meetings. Let me tell you the "it's a small world" story that goes along with this photo.

Back in high school I hung out with music kids. We were in all the bands and choirs and we played guitars and pianos in each others' basements and on stages around the area sometimes, too. One of these music buddies was Jim Morphew. Jim went to high school with some of my friends from a local church and played guitar and sang. He was also cute, cute, cute. If I can dig up a picture of him, I'll post it for you. Suffice it to say he was all long white blond hair, big blue eyes, and an incredible smile.

My sister, not being slow on the uptake or anything, was Jim's girlfriend in high school. I think he was her first big heartbreak. When he went off to college, he left my sister in the high school dust. Read More 
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ORDER IT NOW AND GET A DISCOUNT!!!

Mountain Memoirs is an Anthology that I edited with my Word Keepers colleagues Julie E. Townsend and Scot Pope. We're so excited -- it's turned out wonderfully. We've got 20 pieces related to Ashe County somehow, by people who have some kind of relationship with Ashe County. Here's the synopsis that will soon appear on the publisher's website:  Read More 
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It's All Perspective

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with an amazing young woman. Patty works for Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador. Back in 2007, on my first building trip there with Habitat Charlotte, Patty had just started working for the organization. She was our "minder" our "handler" for the week.

Even though she'd worked there a only handful of weeks, she did an incredible job with our group of gringos, taking perfect care of all the details, devoting reassuring attention to us, ensuring we had a productive and rewarding time in her country and that in addition to building, we got a chance to learn a little bit about the culture and the wonderful people. She briefed us on appropriate toilet etiquette, made sure we were safely ensconced in our hotel, and fed sufficiently each day. Everyone who has been to El Salvador for a work project, from all over the world, knows some of Patty's rules: 1. Walk around only in groups -- two is not a group! 2. Don't pet the dogs. 3. Don't eat food from street vendors. 4. Don't drink the water from the faucet, etc.

I also met Kendal Stewart that week, another new employee at Habitat El Salvador. Kendal is a North Carolina native and a Davidson College grad who stayed in the country after an internship there. Both Patty and Kendal are taking on ever more professional duties at Habitat El Salvador since back in 2007; it's no surprise. Habitat is lucky to have two such outstanding and inspiring people working with them.

This week, the dynamic duo are visiting North Carolina. It's Patty's first trip here. Having been in town a couple of whirlwind days, we had the chance to hang out, eat a long lunch, and do a little shopping. It was a small breather for Patty, just about the only one she's likely to get on this trip, which is jam-packed with meetings and tours all across the state.

Do you know what this incredible woman said to me? She said that after seeing how beautiful this place is she was more impressed than ever with us -- that we would come to El Salvador and give up all we have here for 10 days to work on houses there.

Whhaaat? I about drove off the road.

It made me think of what I told Henry when I got back from that first trip in 2007. I told him how incredibly nice the people were... how we here in the United States have everything, and we whine about it. Why are they so nice? -- I'm not sure I'd like me if I were them.

Right. And Patty lays on me how impressed she is with US. Makes you think, don't it?
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