Tag Archives: currituck beach lighthouse

My North Carolinian Exchange Student

(I’m using capitals because I’m writing this for the students of Water’s Edge Village School – don’t be alarmed.)

I met Meghan when we were in Greece as AFS exchange students 25 (?!?) years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Meghan is the mother of two cool school-age boys and a big dog. She’s also lighthouse keeper in the Outer Banks village of Corolla, North Carolina. Recently she rallied her community to reopen Corolla’s elementary school so that Corolla’s kids could go to school in their own community instead of spending hours on a school bus to go to school in another town. When my Durham friend Jamie invited me to visit her in North Carolina, we planned a weekend in Corolla – I hadn’t seen Meghan since I was 17.

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse circa 2012

Which explains how I ended up being serenaded on my 39th birthday by Meghan’s two sons in their comfy home in Corolla, which I highly recommend.

A very Corolla birthday

A very Corolla birthday

Recently Meghan asked me if I would host an exchange student from WEVS. My response was almost, “Duh.” But I have better manners than that, so I said, “Absolutely!”

A few weeks later, an envelope from Meghan’s son Paolo arrived. Inside it was Stanley. Flat Stanley is the title of a great kids’ book about a boy who is flattened in the night by a bulletin board. WEVS students made Stanleys (Stanlies?) and mailed them off to folks around the country. Our job as hosts was to write back to Paolo’s class about our states and what Stanley did while he was with us. Here goes.

IMG_6551

When people think about Oregon, they usually think rain. But check out that blue sky – and in January!

I live in Corvallis, Oregon. Corvallis has a population of about 55,000 people when Oregon State University is in session. We’re about a 90 minute drive fron Portland, Oregon’s largest city, and about 45 minutes from Salem, Oregon’s capital. My apartment is in downtown Corvallis, so there are great restaurants and shops nearby. Farmers’ market, the library, and the bus station are a few blocks away.

Strolling along the Willamette River

Strolling along the Willamette River – this is less than a block from my apartment.

There is a great park along the Willamette River as it passes by Corvallis. The park has wide sidewalks for walking dogs, riding bikes, and strolling (my favorite). There’s a fountain that kids like to play in during the summer. Farmers’ market is there twice a week from April-October. There are benches and picnic tables and a skatepark.

The Willamette (wil-LAM-it) River runs from south to north, which is pretty rare for Pacific Northwest rivers. Its headwaters are south of Eugene, and it runs about 200 miles from Eugene, past Corvallis and Salem, to Portland, where it joins the Columbia River (which forms most of the border between Oregon and Washington) and flows out to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the river that Lewis and Clark followed to get to the Pacific, and along the Columbia there are a lot of historical sites from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail.

The part of Oregon along the Willamette River is called the Willamette Valley. The valley was was carved out by the Missoula Floods at the end of the most recent ice age. If you don’t know about the Missoula Floods, check them out. They’re pretty fascinating. Basically, an ice dam broke in Montana and the water behind it raced down along what’s now the Columbia Gorge and flooded down into the Willamette Valley. Our fertile soil is actually from Montana – it was deposited here during those floods. The valley is wide and flat and stretches between the Coast Range (pretty small mountains between the valley and the coast) and the Cascades (large volcanic mountains between the valley and Eastern Oregon, which is mostly high desert). Because of the fertile soil and our rain, agriculture is a big deal in the Willamette Valley. Farms grow blueberries, hazelnuts (also called filberts), grass seed, wine grapes, even Christmas trees.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about  how to field-dress a deer.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about how to field-dress a deer.

I used to be an elementary school teacher, and now I teach at the local community college. Stanley came along to work with me. He listened to speeches in my public speaking class, and watched digital stories created by my writing students. He liked that we could walk to LBCC’s campus in about 10 minutes, through a neighborhood of old houses and mature trees.

The digital stories were about where we're from - this is Cerrie's DS about being from the universe.

The digital stories were about where we’re from – this is Cerrie’s DS about being from the universe.

We're almost to OSU! That's it up ahead.

We’re almost to OSU! That’s it up ahead.

On another beautiful day, Stanley and I walked from my apartment to Oregon State University. In June I graduated from OSU with a master’s degree, so it’s a walk I’ve done many times. For my degree I studied the connections between writing and community and resilience (how people are able to recover from hard times in their lives), but most students at OSU are studying science and business and engineering.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn't see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn’t see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

This is the library - I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

This is the library – I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

I took Stanley on a walking tour of downtown Corvallis.

Central Park

Central Park

My P.O. Box

My P.O. Box

Benton County Courthouse

Benton County Courthouse

Here are a few facts about Oregon. Our state animal is the beaver. We do all of our voting by mail (this ballot drop box is where I return mine). There’s no sales tax in Oregon, so when you buy something that costs $4.99 it really costs $4.99. You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. Our state motto is, “She flies with her own wings.” Isn’t that lovely? I think so, which is why I have a tattoo of it.

Speaking of tattoos, Stanley came with me to talk to my tattoo artist, Denise, about another tattoo I want to get. Denise offered to give him a tattoo.

Checking out the equipment in Denise's studio

You sit in this chair and put your head in that ring if you’re getting a tattoo on your back – it’s pretty comfy.

This is Denise - she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

This is Denise – she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

I’m glad that Paolo sent Stanley to me – I had fun thinking of things to show him. I would have taken him out to the coast (about an hour drive west from Corvallis), but I couldn’t make that work. I wonder where the other Stanleys went – I’m sure that the WEVS students have been enjoying this project.

Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. He said that he recognized a lot of them.

The year that WEVS opened, Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. Stanley said that he recognized a lot of them.

in the very merry month of may

so here we are on the last day of may. looking back, i’ve had a pretty incredible month. some real sadness (i’m still really not over adam yauch’s death. several friends had bad health news. other friends had some difficult life events.), but all of that puts into perspective how truly fortunate i am.

the month of may began with me in durham, north carolina. i had never spent time in that part of the country before, and i hadn’t seen my hostess, jamie, since soon after we graduated from high school way back when. that added up to a fabulous time and many new experiences – my word for this year.

this was actually on april 30th. cut me some slack, truthniks. it was amazing.

on a sunny day early in may, i took myself out to the ballgame. the durham bulls’ (plural possessive, right?) stadium is a short walk from jamie’s apartment. it was day game on a weekday, which meant that the place was crawling with school groups. i enjoyed not having to supervise anybody – teachers don’t have a lot of fun on field trips.

a perfect day for a baseball game.

that weekend jamie and i went out to the coast to visit my friend meghan. meghan and i were exchange students together in high school. we’ve kept in touch since then, but hadn’t seen each other in person since our senior year.

that’s me in the pink shorts, meghan in the orange shirt.

jamie, kriste, meghan – about to successfully climb the currituck beach lighthouse.

while i was in corolla, i climbed the lighthouse, stood in the atlantic ocean, ate frickles (deep-fried pickle chips), hung out with the locals, bought a few books, watched a snapping turtle lay eggs in meghan’s yard, enjoyed two thunderstorms, and on the morning of my 39th birthday meghan’s sons helped me blow out the candles on my cake.

on my birthday, jamie and i drove back to durham, and she put me on the plane back to oregon the next day. i was sad to leave north carolina, and happy to be home. i like seeing different parts of the country, but i’m really content with where i choose to live.

this is about 40 yards out my back door. i didn’t do anything to the picture – it really is that beautiful.

the day after i got back, i decided to go caneless. i carried my cane all over north carolina, and only really needed it on the beach. for months i’ve only been using it as a way to warn people that they need to be careful around me. when i go caneless, i have to pay a lot more attention to my environment, because my environment is paying less attention to me. i feel like i’m undercover – i think that i look a little drunk the way i wobble around sometimes, but other than that you can’t really tell by looking at me that i’m disabled. i find that drivers don’t wave me through crosswalks as often, but pedestrians ask me for the time and directions more often. i haven’t picked up a cane since that day a few weeks ago. it feels like enormous progress.

going caneless means that today i could do this – walk from my apartment to the riverfront fountain and bring a cup of coffee with me.

i had my birthday dinner with my family when i got back. our tradition is that on your birthday, you chose the restaurant and we all go out to dinner. i chose my old neighbors, murphy’s. it was definitely strange not to have gflo there. but i reminded myself to be greatful for all of the meals at murphy’s that i shared with her.

blast from the past – gflo and my niece jessy at murphy’s

the day before mother’s day, my mom and i went on an outing to sisters – about a 2 hour drive east of corvallis. my mom’s buddy connie met us there. we had a mission, in addition to hanging out together in a great little town. sisters is known for its quilts, and my mom was looking for a cute bag to hold the box of gflo’s remains while she’s “in a better place” – the back of the guest bedroom closet in my parents’ house. when we picked up her remains from the fiendish-sounding neptune society, they were given to us in one of those reusable grocery totes. it didn’t seem right, so for mother’s day my mom wanted to shop with her daughter and her FOLD (friend of longest duration) and find a more suitable bag.

gflo was flashy sometimes, and we found a great bag that seemed like something she’d like and was the right size. we walked around town (all three of us were caneless – that was my outing away from my hometurf) and had lunch at a great cafe with tasty food and an outdoor patio.

a lovely bag for a lovely woman

the next weekend, my mom and i headed up the columbia gorge to visit gflo’s sister dorothy, who lives in walla walla, washington. on the way we happened upon the full sail brewery in hood river. lunch was delicious with a great view. we stopped there on our way back, too.

best quesadilla ever

it was whitman college’s graduation that weekend, so walla walla was jumpin’. after dinner my mom’s cousin bill took me out for a walk to see the campus.

see, i take pictures of things other than food.

the next day we went out to the town of dayton, where bill is a pastor. he and my mom golfed. i hung out with aunt dorothy for a while, then went on a stroll around downtown. i stopped for a latte, and the barista asked me if i wanted to drink it on the rooftop garden. my policy is to always answer in the affirmative when asked that question. and my new canefree existence means that i can walk up stairs (that have a railing) with a cup of coffee in my non-railing hand.

in addition to going caneless, may has brought other physical challenges. i’m taking 2 gentle yoga classes at the yoga center, a block away from my apartment. i had done some yoga before my medical drama, and for years i’ve wanted to take a class at this studio. my parents gave me a gift certificate for christmas, and i decided to hold onto it until i was feeling better (christmas was at the height of my shunt-malfunction/potential surgery uncertainty and discomfort). i still don’t think that i feel as well as i did before things went haywire, but i certainly have improved and felt ready to give the class a try. gentle yoga uses a lot of props – bolsters, blocks, straps – to help folks who might have frustration-level difficulty in a more traditional beginning yoga class. i’ve had class twice a week this spring, and i see so much improvement. it’s encouraging that i’m still recovering, but in more finely-tuned ways. i’m looking forward to the summer session.

the yoga center

this month i also had about 6 pilates sessions. it blew my mind what i could do. it also made me spend a lot of time thinking about my nursing home physical therapist, dennis, who started me on the path to being able to sit up on my own, and anne (my home health therapist when i got back to corvallis from phoenix), who taught me how to crawl and to walk with a walker. and my physical therapist brian, who really taught me how to walk. i remember holding onto the counter in my kitchen, doing the grapevine over and over while i worked on relearning how to transfer weight from one foot to the other. and i remember when i couldn’t be in a room with a ceiling fan, because it would send my vertigo out of control. my pilates teacher, lyssa, had me doing things that kriste2.0 would not believe. progress. even as i near the 3 year anniversary this summer.

about a week ago, i took the train to portland. emily picked me up and zari met us at potato champion for dinner. i’d been eating pb&j sandwiches for days as i waited to get my order of pb&j fries. they didn’t disappoint.

seriously. these are insanely good.

the three of us headed over to the mission theater for a back fence pdx storytelling event. one of the storytellers (cheryl strayed) that night is the author of the book my skype book group just read. i met one of the book clubbers, theresa, for the first time in person that night. after the show, i got to see the house that emily and her husband bought. in fact, i even got to spend the night there. the next morning, i met my friend bucko. he gave me a tour of his new apartment and his new neighborhood. he drove me back to corvallis, so we had lots of time to chat.

the view from bucko’s stoop

this weekend, zari took the bus down from portland. when she got here we immediately went to farmers’ market for zia burritos. we spent lots of time chatting, walking, drinking, cooking, watching queer eye – sometimes several of those things at once. i used to babysit for zari when she was a preschooler, and i’m grateful to have been a part of her life since she was a little kid. and it’s so much fun to get to be adults together.

my mom and i took zari for her first wine tasting experience. my friend marcia did the honors.

one evening i took zari to my current favorite downtown lounge, terminus. we enjoyed some drinks and the folks and the view and the food.

happy hour drinks at terminus

this month i’ve also started to really enjoy baking. i found a great book about cooking small pies in muffin tins. i’ve been making a lot of them – there’s dough in my fridge right now. i’m thinking about either salted caramel apple or lemon meringue this evening.

sweet potato pies – in honor of north carolina

i’ve also watched a lot of queer eye in may. my friend jessica mentioned that it’s on netflix instant, and it’s my current reality tv addiction. i spend a lot of time analyzing which of the fab 5 is my favorite, and what that might mean.

maybe i’ll get a doctorate in studying what is revealed by a person’s favorite queer eye guy, monkee, beatle, beastie boy, etc.

which reminds me. i forgot to mention my big may news – i’ll be starting a master’s degree at osu in the fall! more on that later.

and june isn’t looking too shabby either.