Ode to North Carolina (and the joy it brings me)

My love affair with North Carolina began like many love affairs – I was drawn in by looks.

I went to university in Louisiana, but my family lived in Canada, so four times a year, once in summer and once in winter, I got in my trusty Chevrolet Celebrity and drove the 1,300 miles between those two places.  A little over halfway through that journey – 12 of the 24 hours in, I’d hit North Carolina.  In those days (the late 80s/early 90s) North Carolina was the only state I drove through that had wildflowers planted in the highway median.  The program apparently started in 1985 – so by the time I was making my yearly treks in 1987 the flowers were pretty well established and were beautiful.


My journals from those days are packed away, so I can’t quote myself exactly, but sometime in 1989 during one of those drives when the flowers were particularly beautiful, I wrote in my journal that I had “a new favorite state: North Carolina.”  I’ll never know whether my pronouncement then influenced my choice of law school later, or whether it was predestined that I end up at UNC, but 20 years later – most of which were spent in that state – I still consider it my favorite.

The funny thing about moving in 2015 is that it is not terribly difficult to keep in touch with people. There are phones attached to our hips all day long – and we can not only use them to call the people we love and miss, but we can use them to text, email and facetime those same people.  But it is impossible to keep in touch with a place you love, other than through sporadic visits.  C and I made one such visit recently – spending 4 lovely amazing days in Charlotte, the place that will always be our “home” even when we are half a world away.

We were in Charlotte in March and it still felt like winter in D.C.  It was cold and damp and I spent a good part of every time I was outside reminding myself that I wouldn’t have to endure a full winter again for at least two years while we are in Africa.  To know me is to know that I am ALWAYS cold in the winter.  I feel like I spend months just trying desperately to warm up.  I can’t tell you how many times people say something to me like “but you’re from Canada, how can you be cold here?”  Seriously though – I’m cold EVERYWHERE that it isn’t over 75 degrees.  And besides, I’ve done winter, folks.  Nineteen years of living through Canadian winters was enough winter to last a lifetime.  I’m done with it – a yearly Christmas vacation of snow, skiing, skating and tobogganing is great – but a week of it is enough.

So we left D.C. where it was 36 degrees and we arrived in Charlotte, where, on our first day there the high was into the 70s.  And the trees were budding. And the daffodils were blooming.  I swear I almost dropped to my knees in joy when I saw those daffodils. We were outside without winter coats.  My hands did not feel like Snow Miser was clutching them all the time. It was heaven.

Am I wrong or does Snow Miser look a little like B's boss's, boss's, boss...

Am I wrong or does Snow Miser look a little like B’s boss’s, boss’s, boss…

Then we started visiting – places, people, friends, restaurants and my heart was both a little fuller – and a little emptier.  We stopped and looked lovingly at our house that B and I built – arduously picking fixtures, colors, layouts, making nooks and crannies where there were none, and C asked me if we could stay there.  Then I had to say “No, because someone else is living there now.”  It solidified my belief that we have done the right thing by keeping the house for now and renting it out, because I am not ready for it not to be ours – not ready to shut the door on the possibility that one day we can stay there again.

IMG0289Charlotte, because it is a “young” city – with lots of transplants who are also young – is an ideal city for a child.  I’m convinced that there is more to do with a 4 year old in Charlotte than in D.C., which, with its depth and breadth of history, is more suited to a 10 year old, or 15 year old.  Charlotte is full of museums and parks and places that are geared to small children and we tried mightily to visit as many of those places as we could.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, Charlotte is full of people who mean the world to us.  So, despite what I said above, and despite the fact that it really is SO much easier in this day and age to keep in touch with people, there is nothing quite like hugging the people you love. Sitting with them on a back porch, with the warm (WARM!) sun on you, drinking wine while your children, who were once the dreams you talked about, and then infants together, play in the yard and start the next generation of friendships which will endure through time and, now in our case, space.




I am going to miss our friends and family without a doubt, but I hope that I will also get many opportunities over the next couple of years to chat with them, talk to them and visit with them.  I know I won’t get that opportunity with Charlotte or North Carolina. The feeling of peace and belonging we feel there will have to travel with us, in our hearts, to deepest darkest Africa, and wherever else this adventure might take us.


January in Canada

In January 1970, my parents boarded a plane in London, England and flew 3,550 miles to Toronto. They then drove another 2 1/2 hours to a town of approximately 400 people (404 when we arrived) called Arkona, Ontario.  They brought with them a 26-month old (me), a six-month old (my sister) and, according to them, not much else.  They left behind their parents, their siblings, their homes and everything they had ever known.


Dad 70s

My mother had been born and raised just outside London.  She was 28 and had just finished medical school and her residency. She had never been to Canada, or anywhere in North America, before she carried her two girls onto that plane and set off for an unknown life.

It is cold in Canada in January. There is snow; lots of it.  When they arrived at their little (very little) house, which they had never seen before, and did not “chose,” there was probably not much to see in Arkona except snow.  By mid-January winter is also not that pretty in Ontario.  It has lost the sparkly newness of December.  Christmas is over and there is a long (long) time before the next holiday (Easter) and the next warmth (often long after Easter).  It is a difficult time.  Bitter cold and short days making everything feel lifeless and dark.

propsect winter

Our street in London, Ontario circa winter 1975 – a lot bigger than Arkona…

My Dad, who had graduated from medical school the year before my Mum, had a job at the local clinic.  When they arrived my mother did not have a job.  My parents had opted to put her brand new – and hard fought – career on pause and move to Canada for the opportunity afforded by my Dad’s new job, hoping that once they arrived she too would be able to find work.

If my Mum wanted to talk to her mother – or father, or brother, or best friend, or anyone from England – she had two options: an airmail letter carefully scripted on vellum-thin blue paper and trusted to the Canadian Postal Service, or a very expensive long distance call with awkward pauses and echoing words across the Atlantic.

air mailtelephone

As we embark on this life of perpetual relocation, I am fascinated thinking about my parents in those early days.  Particularly thinking about my mother.  Alone in a cold, unfamiliar place with very little to do and two small children.

I don’t remember a thing about our immigration to Canada, just like, I suspect, C will not remember living in Charlotte, moving to D.C. and, in a few months, moving to Kinshasa.  But, nevertheless, I feel for my mother when C breaks down in tears and asks about her friends, or her old house, or her old bed, because, whether she remembers it or not in 20 or 30 years, right now it is a trauma for her and is, no doubt, having an effect on her.  I suspect, likewise, I was not that easy to live with right after we came to Canada.

On the days when I’m feeling particularly weepy and missing our friends and Charlotte, I wonder “how did she do it?”

I have Facebook, and Skype, and text messaging, and basically free long distance.  When I get bored in our apartment, I leave. I get on the Metro and go into one of the most fascinating and amazing cities in this country (if not the planet), with amazing restaurants and museums and an endless list of things to do, not to mention many of my dearest friends.  My child is in a daycare she loves where she is, in turn, loved and taken care of so B and I can do the things we want and need to do each day.  I know moving to the DRC will be very different – I will not have the freedom to wander around the city and explore it, but, then again, I’m going to be stepping into a fully formed community of U.S. Embassy families who will help us navigate the streets, culture, stores and newness of Kinshasa.  They have a blog that I can read right now to find out what sorts of events are going on (Happy hours, a Burger Burn and the Marine Corps Ball…to name a few), for heaven’s sake.  My mother had none of that.

And, hand in hand with my mother, I also think about all the FS families who have gone before us.  Who have stepped into the unknown of a new post without the internet, Amazon Prime, Skype and mobile phones.  And it makes me realize that hardship is a wholly inaccurate and very relative term.   What B and C and I are facing will be different, definitely, but hardship? “Severe suffering and privation”? No. It will not be that.

And so, when I look out my window at the streets of Arlington, and I’m homesick for the streets of Charlotte, I try and picture the streets of Arkona, with grey skies and lots of snow, and I remember how lucky I am, and, as well, how thankful I am that my mother (and Dad) braved the view (or lack thereof), the snow, the homesickness and sadness they felt, in order to give our family the amazing life we’ve had.  I hope one day C feels the same way.

Rolling toward move day…

Who knew there were so many calories in joining the Foreign Service?

I certainly didn’t, but seriously, the number of dinners, lunches and drinks that I’m consuming as I make my way toward our move date is getting to be a little obscene. I really may be “rolling” out of Charlotte on August 22 in a very literal sense.

When we found out B had an offer to join the August 25 A-100 class, I started a “Charlotte Bucket List” thinking we’d list – and visit – all the places we loved in the city before we left.

Turns out all those places serve food.

So far we’ve managed to cross off Fig Tree (once for our anniversary, and once more for good measure for me with my amazing book club friends), Vivace, Soul, Bistro La Bon, Mert’s, Nikko…and the list goes on.  And that doesn’t count any of the lunches that I’ve been making my way through every day (B also admitted sheepishly that he has been doing a “farewell tour” of his lunch haunts).  Today I finally had to barricade myself in my office and eat a Lean Cuisine, lest I explode…

Beignets at Fig Tree...Yum...

Beignets at Fig Tree…Yum…


From the Vivace balcony looking at Charlotte

We have managed to also visit a couple of non-food related places, including the Lazy-5 Ranch where we got to feed giraffes (or “G-giraffes” as C calls them), Bank of America Stadium (though to see UK football not US football), and Discovery Place, but the primary focus has clearly been food.

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

The thing about all these visits is that the food, and the places, have been entirely secondary to the people we’ve been with.  The real “bucket list” it turns out, is about people.  The people we love and will miss in this lovely Southern city we have called home for so long.

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Only two more weekends remain in Charlotte – so we’ve got a bunch of places – and people – left to visit.  By the end of the next two weeks I may have to eat plain broth for a month to fit back into my clothes, but new wardrobe be damned, I’m going to keep eating…and visiting…and sharing a last few precious hours with the people and places we love.