I Left My Heart in the Appalachians

As some of you know, my husband & I went to college in the mountains of southwest Virginia & lived there for another year after I graduated & while he finished up his master’s degree.  We then moved to Raleigh so that he could get a job in his field (genetics).  At first I felt a little overwhelmed living in such a “big” city, but I quickly adapted, & it didn’t take long for me to realize that moving here was definitely a great decision for us.

However, there are still times when I really miss the mountains.  Today is one of those times.  I’ve often said if I could just take everything about Raleigh & transplant it about two hours west (roughly where Winston-Salem is), it would truly be the ideal place to live.


Quite possibly my favorite place in the whole world: Grayson Highlands State Park in SW VA

To be clear, there are so many things I really love about Raleigh, especially as a place to raise our future children.  I love that this is such a multi-cultural area where both my husband & I work with people from literally all over the world.  I love that because of the multiculturalism around here we have so many different options for types of ethnic restaurants, everything from Mexican, Chinese, & Italian to more exotic choices like Indian, Lebanese, Caribbean, Thai, Vietnamese, & Ethiopian.  I love that despite being home to half a million people (plus another half million in the surrounding county, not to mention Durham & Chapel Hill), the traffic around here is really quite manageable, especially if your job, like mine, permits you to miss most of rush hour.  Though housing is certainly more expensive than where we grew up, I’ve been pleased to find that this is still a very reasonable place to live as far as cost of living goes.  It’s not like groceries & gas cost more here than they do in the rural areas of NC.  I also love that there are so many colleges around here, two of which have great associated hospitals & medical/nursing programs (Duke & UNC). raleigh skyline

Furthermore, I am grateful that there are so many different educational opportunities for children in this area.  There are over a dozen high schools in Wake County, & that doesn’t even include the private ones!  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many elementary schools there must be.  There are two on the main road off of which we live, & a third one is being built as I write this!  As someone who grew up in a county with one primary, one elementary, one middle, & one high school, at the risk of sounding like a country bumpkin, I have to admit this profusion of schools still blows my mind a bit!  But the point of all this is that if we have kids here they will have the opportunity to attend year-round schools (which I actually think is a terrific idea) & to participate in orchestra & all kinds of extracurricular activities that simply did not exist where my husband & I grew up.  Additionally, upon purchasing our house, I was thrilled to discover that lots of children in this area still play outside, even in the streetsThere are even kids & teens who walk to school here!  And it isn’t just because they’re poor & their families don’t own cars. Amazing!

diverse kids

It’s normal to see groups of kids of different races playing together here.  I love it.

I could go on & on, but for the sake of time I’ll wrap up my treatise on Raleigh by saying that another reason I love this city so much is the sense of anonymity it gives me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a solid introvert but I love being able to go the grocery store or Wal-Mart or the mall (actually there are half a dozen malls I can go to in this area so I really shouldn’t say THE mall) & almost never run into a soul I know.  Perhaps this sounds awful, but the idea of having to talk to half the people I run into in the store because I “know” them just sounds miserable, & I can tell you for a fact that would be the case if I lived in my hometown or a similar place.  (If you don’t believe that small towns can be suffocating, allow me to share a story one of my cousins told me about shopping in our hometown Kroger.  She was there purchasing a rather large quantity of potatoes & ran into a distant cousin.  Within an hour or two her mother was calling her to ask why she was buying so many potatoes!  Yes, word gets around that fast, even about something as mundane as potatoes!)  On the other hand, Raleigh is a small enough city that I can & do recognize many of the employees at my preferred grocery store & the handful of local restaurants that I frequent. But it’s not like these people actually know me & feel the need to inquire about the details of my life every time they see me; nor do I feel beholden to actually tell them anything significant about my life.

Sign reads: 'Small town ahead - don't believe a word you heard.'

Despite all of these benefits, there are days when I really do miss the mountains.  It’s the landscape itself that I miss more than anything. There is just something about the Appalachians that is unspeakably beautiful & that never grows old.  I miss living where I could go on a dozen beautiful hikes within an easy hour or less drive.  And I miss knowing that everywhere I go, even some place as mundane as the grocery store, would have a beautiful backdrop of mountains in the background.


Yes, it’s Grayson Highlands again.

I’m not saying I want to move; I definitely don’t.  I just wish the mountains were a wee bit closer.  I think what it comes down to is I’m just an odd person because I love the multiculturalism & the educational opportunities of more urban areas, yet to a certain extent I think I will always feel that “real life” is happening in the rural areas & those of us who “escaped” those areas are just enjoying some added benefits.  Maybe there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to admit that the way I grew up was actually NOT the norm.  Anyway, what it comes down to is I am a well-educated young woman with a bit of a Southern accent that I can’t totally kick on some words (& don’t really want to) who really enjoys music as diverse as Beethoven to Eric Church to Marilyn Manson & food as diverse as pinto beans with cornbread to chicken korma & other Indian delights & who will always think the most fetching thing a man can wear is jeans with a plain white T-shirt or a plaid flannel shirt.  I love trying all different kinds of restaurants, but I’ll always prefer anywhere I can go in jeans & a decent shirt & not be under-dressed.  If I have to truly dress up just to get in the door, forget about it.  Perhaps it’s because of all of these “contradictions” that there is a part of me that always feels a bit like an outsider, no matter where I am.  When I’m visiting my hometown, I know I don’t belong there anymore, but as much as I love living in Raleigh, there is a part of me that still feels like I’m a bit of an outsider here too . . .  The other possibility is of course that I just analyze things far too much.  That is always an option on the table with me, ha!

casual dress cartoon

Ok, this is just funny.

I suppose there isn’t much of a point to this post other than to say I do love Raleigh but there is a part of my heart that is still in the mountains, & I think it will always be there no matter how long I live here.

To the Appalachians, you are where I came into my own, so to speak.  You are where I truly grew up & took that final leap into that scary but wonderful place called adulthood.  You are where I fell in love with hiking & all the glories of exploring nature year round.  There is a possibility I may never live in you again, but you will always, always have a big piece of my heart.    


Sunrise off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC (taken on our vacation last year)

Finding Peace When Times are Hard

There was a shooting in my hometown today (about three hours away from where I now live).  Being a very small town in a very rural area, this isn’t exactly something you expect to read about when scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.  But sadly this isn’t the first time there’s been a shooting in this supposedly peaceful place.  It’s the second hometown shooting I’ve found out about via Facebook just in the past four or five years.  In any case it goes without saying that this is a horrific tragedy that has no doubt affected countless individuals.  It’s ironic to me how so many people have this idea that small towns are inherently safer, more peaceful, and generally more moral than the rest of the world.  I can tell you from personal experience that they are not & that small towns are exactly how Agatha Christie used to describe them in her books: they are a microcosm for the larger world.  All the evil that exists in the world as a whole exists just as strongly in a small town.  It just might not seem quite as apparent if given only a cursory glance.  This isn’t a rant against small towns (even though I’ve long since realized that small town life just isn’t right for me anymore, at least at this stage of my life).  I’m just trying to say that evil is everywhere.  There’s no running from it.  No hiding from it.  However, despite what I often hear, especially at times like this, I don’t believe the world is getting any more evil than it’s ever been.  First of all there is absolutely no scientific way to measure that.  And second of all, I truly believe it’s only due to technology such as TV & the internet that we are more aware of so much of the evil in the world, which of course makes is seem like the world is getting worse & worse.  Perhaps if good news received even half the attention that bad news receives, we wouldn’t be so convinced that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket,” as it were.  But sensationalism sells . . .

times are hard

Anyway, at times like these, I find myself slipping into the cynicism that inevitably rears its ugly head whenever such senseless tragedies occur.  I did not personally know the victim but I interacted with her a handful of times growing up, as she worked in the local school system, & her son was involved in a teen group at my church when we were growing up but I haven’t seen or heard from him in many years.  The alleged perpetrator as I understand it, who at this writing is still at large, was a barber in town for many years & as such was well known in the community (somebody correct me if I’m wrong here).  I believe my dad used to go to his barber shop.    Point being, I don’t have a strong personal connection to this tragedy, but even so it is a shocking event that sends the mind reeling with questions about the uncertainty & unfairness of life.  I like to think of myself as mostly a positive person but I think at heart I am actually a realist.  I cannot help but see reality for exactly what it is most of the time.  For example as a nurse, I cannot help but realize how completely futile the care I provide is at times.  Or when I think about becoming a mom, I cannot help but realize how difficult & tiring of an undertaking that will be.  I often hear women say “Babies are cute but I just had no idea how much work this would be.”  When I hear such things, part of me wants to slap them in the face.  How could you NOT realize how much work a baby will be?  To me it’s just so obvious.  Just as it’s obvious to me that a 90 year old who cannot speak, eat, or care for herself in any way & generally has no quality of life should be a DNR and should not receive a feeding tube to prolong her misery.  But I’ve strayed from the point . . .

What I’m saying is I’m struggling right now to fight my way out of the darkness.  I know there are plenty of wonderful people in the world & I truly believe that good is stronger than evil.  If I didn’t, I don’t think I could keep going.  But when you’re presented with tragedies like this that quite literally hit close to home (the shooting occurred maybe two miles from my parents’ house), it’s easy to lose sight of that.  Having no strong personal connection to this horrifying event, I feel actually quite selfish being so upset by it.  I know the victim’s family & friends are suffering so much right now.  Yet I also know there are others like me who have no real connection to this story & yet are horrified just the same.

Certainly this is a time of grieving for my hometown & there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking our time to grieve & process such a horrific event.  As I wrote around Christmas, grief is a ghost that will haunt us forever until we learn to work through it (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/12/18/processing-grief-during-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/).  We each must identify the coping mechanisms that help us to work through our grief and the cynicism that can naturally follow such a tragedy.  For me music is quite often the best healer.   Music along with writing is what helps me make sense of a senseless world.  Or perhaps I should say to come to terms with a senseless world.

As it turns out, earlier this week I was fooling around on YouTube, as I often do, & came across a new song by a band I discovered at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in September of 2012, shortly after we moved down here.  The song is called Times are Hard by Redlight King.  I have been listening to it almost non-stop for the past few days & I cannot help but feel like the timing of discovering this song was quite providential for lack of a better word.  The song talks about how when life is hard, when tragedies take us by surprise & there seems to be no balm for our wounds, we need to find someone to hold onto to keep us strong.  How appropriate at a time like this.  To me it’s an empowering song, yet it doesn’t gloss over how difficult life can be at times.  I don’t know if the song was necessarily written about this kind of horrific tragedy, but that’s the beauty of music: it can mean whatever you want it to mean.  It can speak to you wherever you are at this point in time.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics & a link to the song on YouTube.  Check it out.  It’s powerful stuff.

Sooner or later life will pull you in

Make you choose to either sink or swim

Somewhere down the line it’s gonna break your heart

Put you out & make you wear the scars

All these dreams, they come with all this doubt

When we can’t fit in we try to find a way out

Learn to fight so they don’t seal our fate

They say you never see it coming till it’s way too late

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

We build those bridges & we watch them burn

So quick to pull the trigger, so slow to take our turn

We’ve all been locked out & we’ve broken down the door

Some of us hit the dirt, some of us still come back for more

When the thirst gets so bad, you’re just dying to get a taste

When it don’t involve religion, when it don’t involve the race

And there’s everything to lose `cause we were never born to win

Willing to sacrifice everything we have just to roll the dice again

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard


Life isn’t perfect, so it’s just what you make it

And that’s what they tell you

But it’s hard when they’re holding you down

Somebody out there for you

They’re praying it all gets easy

Someone you hold onto

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard