November 23 2015

Getting away from it all

I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on Earth.                                                                                                      Steve McQueen

I have always been an independent sort.  As I kid, I often ‘ran away from home’.  I never went  very far –usually exploring the outer reaches of our 25 acres.  Many times, I had my school backpack and stuffed it with a sleeping bag, snacks and a book and had a good day.  Summers were great as I often set up a tent somewhere on the property and was ‘away’ for a few days at a time.   A couple of times, I  built a little raft a floated it on the creek pretending to be Tom Sawyer.  As a child, my fondest wish to be a boy scout. Our town didn’t have a girl scouts, but that didn’t stop me from checking out books in the library on ‘wilderness survival’.  I  taught myself cool things like how to build a fire, how to set up a tent, and how not to get attacked by bears.

Up until my mid 20’s I considered myself to be pretty outdoorsy, enjoying to spend as much time outside and under the sun as possible, hiking, biking, communicating with nature and all that crap. But somewhere along the line, things changed. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when this happen, but I think it had something to do with getting my first big girl job. Working 6 days a week with minimal vacation time sucked the life out of my soul, and after about 2 years, I couldn’t do it anymore. It had been 2 years since I’d had a vacation so just after my two year work-anniversary, I took off to the North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks is awesome. The northern half where Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is by far the more popular part of the Outer Banks. Ocracoke Lighthouse is gleaming white. It was built in 1823, the second oldest still in use in the nation. It’s not a tall as Hatteras or as famous but nevertheless it is an awesome site!

Ocracoke Island sits 23 miles off the North Carolina coast and a quarter mile south of Hatteras Island. It usually measures 17 miles long and a mile wide. The deserted, windblown beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore make up the northern 90 percent of the island, and a small village of hotels, restaurants, shops, homes makes up the southern 10 percent. It’s a great place to get away from it all.

Going to the Outer Banks helped me re-assess my priorities in life. Did I want a life of relative security and stability? Did I want a life where taking a vacation was more of a headache than a means of relaxation? Hell no. I didn’t want that when I started, and after two years I didn’t like where that life was leading. Subconsciously I guess I realized how unhappy I was with my life, and deep down I was yearning to get back to my childhood roots, and to the last time I was really happy with life. I needed to get dirty, sleep under the stars again, and paddle about around on a body of water on a regular basis.

And where did I have this profound, existential realization? In a tent, under the stars off the coast of North Carolina in an area where the one of the most infamous pirates in history roamed.

I sure know how to pick my moments.

There is something incredibly cliche, but true about laying out under the stars, way out in the middle of nowhere, hearing waves crash on the shore that triggers some scary deep thoughts, right? Right? Please say this is not just me.

Seeing the sun rise over the ocean…

watching dolphins play in the ocean…

observing patterns in the sand…

These were the kinds of moments I had been missing over the past few years. Taking a step back away from all the craziness, all the rush, all of the stress that is involved with chasing the “American Dream” and realizing that simple, peaceful quiet moments abroad are often the most meaningful and profound. I exited the rat race at that moment [even thought it still took a while to start chasing MY American Dream].


It’s been 8 years since I’ve had that revelation. In that time I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries. I’ve had short adventures and long ones. I’ve become a registered nurse. I’m on my way to becoming a nurse practitioner. As I paddled around and explored the barrier islands off South Carolina’s coast, I felt the stress of the last few weeks melt away. I was light years removed from the stress of the last few weeks. With each stroke of my kayak, I felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle of life, I could feel a smile creep on my face for the first time in a while.

This was my kind of travel.

And I need to do it way more often.

November 1 2015

Off to see the wizard…

What I am about to say might be considered blasphemy to some…  I didn’t travel the yellow brick road to see the land of Oz and meet the Wizard until very recently… as in I read the books Wicked and Son of a Witch before I ever knew of Dorothy and crew.

the way to oz

I KNOW… what can I say?  I missed out on a lot as a child by not having a TV or living in a town without a movie theatre.

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So not being a huge fan and being an infant when it closed, I hope I can be forgiven for never having heard of Autumn at OZ. In its heyday the Land of Oz could attract 20,000 visitors a day, but now the neglected Yellow Brick Road is missing some bricks, the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle is empty and the Emerald City has all but disappeared.

yellow brick road


Truthfully, it’s a little bit creepy.

Local actors dress up as characters from the book/movie. Kids [and some very strange adults] dress up in costumes. Parents take pictures of kids with Dorothy and crew as if they were Santa Claus.

cast of oz

What it is:   From 1970-1980, there was a Wizard of Oz theme park not too far from where I live now. It’s located in Beech Mountain, NC and is open to the public for one weekend only… usually the first weekend in October, although that varies as they are having a few more events for the general public. [This year is was open on Oct 3 & 4].  I say open to the public because it’s current owner is Emerald Mountain Properties and they rent out the cabins, property, ect to people who want to have private parties at the land of OZ.

If you want to go: Ticket usually go on sale in the beginning of August, and sell out quickly. This year they sold out in just TWO short Weeks. I’m not saying go or not go, but if you do, be aware that this isn’t a theme park by 2015 standards, or even 1975 standards; it’s a quirky, weird little park best suited to real, devoted Wizard of Oz fans.

August 17 2014

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

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I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

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Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

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October 27 2013

Looking for bears

Let’s go looking for bears

It’s fall… and in my opinion one of the best things about fall is leaf color. We don’t always get a lot of color in these parts mostly because of our schizophrenic weather patterns [yesterday it was 80 and sunny… this weekend 50’s and cloudy] BUT the mountains of North Carolina aren’t too far away and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive away.

A couple of years ago,I heard about a natural phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear.  It’s in an area of NC more famous for its spectacular waterfalls and day hikes, but in the fall, it’s famous for the leaves.

Let’s go hunting for bears…

no, not those bears [all though those bears are very cute if you come in contact with them in a zoo, not so cute if you come across them while on your afternoon run]…

these bears…

One of the wonderful things about living in Arden, North Carolina is its relative proximity to both the southern Appalachian mountains, the South Carolina coast, and the major cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.

Less than an hour away, nestled in the southern corner of the Nantahala Forest, in southwestern North Carolina, is one of the coolest natural experiences around…the shadow of the bear.  It happens twice a year–once from late February to mid March and the other from mid-October to mid-November.  The fall event is by far the most popular since it combines fall color with the bear’s appearance.  I like to imagine that the bear is slowing making its way across the mountain on its way to its winter hibernation…or waking up

It’s starts off with just a small peak of the bear’s head.

The bear makes its appearance for about 30 minutes each day [when it’s sunny, of course] each day revealing a little bit more.

If you happen to be into hiking, exploring Whiteside Mountain can make this a worthwhile day trip.  The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. The rock is somewhere between 390 to 460 million years old [what’s 70 million years between friends]. The 2-mile ‘moderate’ trail starts as a old logging road and takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs [plenty of railings for safety].  Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the top. The trail continues about 1/2 long the ridge of the mountain, plenty of places to enjoy the views from the rock face. There are quite a few “educational” signs along the way to add interest. Toward to end of the walk along the mountaintop, look for the highest point with the rock carved “Alt. 4,930 ft.” The last 1/2 mile part of the trail is a steep downhill section that leads you back to the logging road near the parking area.

The best viewing spot for the shadow of the bear is right off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook.

Follow your travel dreams– even if only one weekend at a time.

March 28 2010

Dear Durham

2015 Michelle here:  I moved to Durham on Sunday, August 21, 2005 and started work the next day. While there were aspects of it I liked, living in Durham was hard.  I stayed for three years, but it never really had a chance.

Dear Durham,

It’s not working out between us. I think I may have known that from the beginning. It’s been three years, but I was never fully committed. You see, I never changed my residency. Or quit my PRN job. Or quit calling South Carolina ‘home’. I went into our relationship not really giving it a fair shot.

durham nc
a photo of a postcard

Part of it has to do with a boy. A boy I’ve known for a while but rather [in]conveniently didn’t start dating until nearly 9 months into our relationship. Boys complicate things because while I do want to be closer to him and  see where this thing goes, you are not without your charms either.

duke children's

  • 1. I absolutely love my job. I was a bit worried when I started if I’d be able to handle taking care of sick kids. I’ve never spent time with kids before, but it just seemed as if it was something I needed to do. And I loved it. And I learned so much from it. Children are not just tiny adults. They have their own needs…which adults sometimes seem to forget. Children need someone to look out for them…protect them sometimes…even from their own parents. Children believe in magic, the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. We help them not to forget that they are people too. Working at Duke is by far the hardest thing to leave behind.

durham Home-run-Bulls

  • 2. Baseball. The Durham Bulls are an awesome team. Their stadium is awesome, and the atmosphere is awesome. I love baseball and Durham has found a way to market it well. Oh, and the movie is one of my all time favorites too.

durham bulls baseball

  • 3. Duke Lemur Center. I mean, come on, LEMURS!!! Quite possibly the cutest animals around [other than cats].  The Duke Lemur Center has the largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar.  I confess to having gone on the tour more than once. The guides *may* even know me by name.

duke lemur 1

duke lemur 3
How could you not love the lemurs?

  • 4. Proximity. The City of Durham may suck the life out of my soul; it may not be the nicest city around, but it’s close to a lot of places that are a lot nicer. Country life in Pittsboro. Coastal life in Wilmington, Elizabeth City, and Outer Banks.  And not too far from the mountains either.

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Oreo cows from Pittsboro

 

elizabeth city harbor
The Elizabeth City harbor

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The Ocracoke Lighthouse

But all that is not enough to keep me around. I’ve been accepted to Clemson University as an in-state student and I’ll be studying Microbiology. Whether I finish or not, is not the issue. I want to apply to graduate school. I’m thinking Physician Assistant, but who knows. I’ve got to get through Physics and Organic Chemistry first. Then we’ll see.

So Durham, I’m sorry to go, but in all honesty, you really never had a chance.

Michelle

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March 14 2010

My favorite mistake*

*My favorite mistake, a song by Sheryl Crowe–one of my all-time favorite songs*

A few weeks ago, I drove down to Wilmington to check out the city to see if it is somewhere I might like to live one day, while trying to decide if I should visit my favorite mistake who was in Myrtle Beach for a work conference.  There is just something about the coast in late fall when the beaches are deserted. Restaurants are closed. Prices are much cheaper.  It’s still warm enough that a walk on the beach seems like a good idea.  Until that breeze blows in off the ocean.  Then you know that it is definitely NOT SUMMER any more.

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It’s *a little* less crowded in November than say July.

I didn’t go back to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. I don’t really regret that decision, but it certainly did not make me the popular kid. Being the new kid in town means I work all the holidays people really want off work for. Being an only child means having no siblings to celebrate or commensurate with… also no siblings means there’s no one to give me nieces or nephews to play with.  With my father having recently departed this world, it would not have been the most joyous occasion anyway.

Anyway… and perhaps against my better judgement, I decided to soldier on to Myrtle Beach, where I did in fact meet my favorite mistake.  It’s been a hell of a three months. Loneliness + being overwhelmed both on a personal level and tragedy level, sometimes my head hurts from all the knowledge and skills being crammed in it on a seemingly daily basis.  Sometimes it’s nice to be with people who really know you, people willing to hold you when you need to be held, and kiss you when you need to be kissed.  I miss my life in South Carolina; I miss the people in that life.  I needed to leave, no doubt. I needed to not be around my family. I needed to not be around those two lying bastards I dated this year (one dated back to 2003). I needed to not be working at Hillcrest or GMH or the Children’s hospital.  Too many recent bad memories. I needed a fresh start, but by God, it’s hard.  It’s so hard to move as  a 20-something year old introvert who would rather hibernate than go out and meet people. It’s so hard to meet people in a city when you are trying to avoid the bars.  It’s so hard to meet people when you work the night shift. I don’t want to date my favorite mistake again, especially since we now live in different states, but my God, it was so good to be with him again.

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The incredible blue-ness of the water that you just don’t see during the summer

We did beach-y things like walk hand in hand on the beach with me stopping every 5 minutes to snap artsy photos. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. While he was in conferences I managed to leave the hotel and visit the state park. It’s so much more peaceful here than in the busy season.

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And we had long meaningful talks where I implored the universe to ‘show me a sign’. Give me some sort of direction of what I should be doing. Should I forget South Carolina and all the people there and make a new start in Durham, or should I learn as much as possible in Durham, but still make my life in SC. In with the new, and out with the old, or keep the old and make new? Please universe, show me a sign.

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And then this happened…

Clearly it was the universe talking…

Now if I only knew what the hell it means…

March 7 2010

Reality

An older post, from my private journal about my very first day night on the job right before I moved to Durham, NC for my ‘first’ adult job.   5 year ago.  Also, it was the last time I did something ‘crazy, and unexpected’.  Somehow, that was considered ‘responsible’ while taking some time off to explore seems ‘careless’.  I’ve done a bit more research and decided that I am going to try to visit all 13 countries on the South American continent.  I’ve been in touch with some volunteer outfits that will allow me to stay for free if I agree to work a certain amount of time each day. Win-win.  My current plan–if you can call it that–is to arrive in Caracas, skedaddle on over to Colombia as quickly as possible, follow my way down the Pacific coast all the way down to the Beagle Channel, scoot back up the Atlantic coast, and hit the interior where it makes sense. I’ve currently got applications for a Bolivian and Brazilian visas in the works and for the rest of it, I’ll figure out things as I go along.  I leave in 2 months; let’s get packing.

 


Reality is the first night on the job, and you are the only RT in the building. This is better than reality TV

I have had a license to practice respiratory care in South Carolina for a whopping 8 days, and here I sit, at the hospital on a Saturday night, working.  I am the only respiratory therapist in the building.  God help us all if there in an EMERGENCY tonight. I am working with my favorite hospitalist, so that helps.

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one of the best thing about peds–getting to wear Oscar the Grouch to work

You know, I have never moved. I’ve done a lot of shuffling back and forth between here and there, but I have spent my entire life essentially within a 50 mile radius. (You know, other than when I lived in Mexico or spent the summer in UK) I am beyond nervous, somewhat excited, and generally hopeful that I haven’t committed a major fuck-up. My biggest fear is that I won’t be good enough or smart enough to handle taking care of actual sick people.

Here’s the thing… even though I worked at Hillcrest almost the entire time I was in school, spent time in ER and ICU, I can still count on my fingers the number of bona-fide emergencies I’ve been involved in because Hillcrest is a place for the not-well or those recovering from surgery.  It is not a place for the actually dying or people in actual emergencies.  There just not the equipment or sheer number of people needed to participated in a real life-or-death situation.

And I am going to work in a hospital with a Level 1 trauma center, a level 3 NICU, and very large PICU, and while I don’t know where I’ll eventually end up, I chose, I chose, PICU, NICU, and ER as my top 3 choices of where I’d like to work.

The reality of what I’ve done is starting to set in.  I’ve packed up a month’s worth of clothes, a few books, my laptop, a sleeping bag, my kick-ass stereo that goes with me everywhere, and a sense of adventure. In the morning, after working a 12-hour shift, I’m moving to Durham, North Carolina where for a least the next year, I’ll be participating in a pilot residency program for newly graduated respiratory therapists.  I’ve left Shadow, Spot, all my friends, and all the bad memories of the last few months behind.

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And later that day…after driving 272 miles, crashing for a few hours in my sleeping bag in a hammock on the screened-in porch, and unpacking my paltry amount of possessions…

I’m living in a roughly 8 x 15 cement cinder block room in the basement of a rather large house. It’s double the size of a jail cell, slightly smaller than a dorm room. I have a minuscule closet, a wall full of wooden built-ins, and an old parquet floor.  It looks like a hallway and furniture arrangement is going to take some, um, creativity.  Lighting is awful; I have those old, tube fluorescent lights, and the tiniest of windows which I can’t even open.  My guess is that it’s not a ‘legal’ bedroom, but whatevs, it’s cheap, and close to the hospital where I’ll be working.

The bathroom beside my room has clearly seen better days. It has a stand-up shower, a pedestal sink, and a toilet. The minimum. Rent is $282.50/month… which hopefully after a month or so of settling in, I can begin to save up money, pay off student loans, and finally take a vacation. I don’t even have a bed yet.  I report to work at promptly 8:30am.  It’s too late to turn back now. This is my new reality, and reality is highly overrated.