garden 2019

I have trouble nailing down my true earliest memory. I know there are people who can easily recite them, but I’m not sure I know exactly which memories came first.

I remember standing on my tip toes next to a table that was moved out onto Mamaw and Papaw’s driveway with my mouth open wide so my “Uncle Bear” could drop a steamed oyster on my tongue – my first taste of a lifelong love of oyster roasts.

I remember when I realized I’d learned to read well enough to finish an entire book and how proud my parents made me feel. I wasn’t in school yet, but I was word-obsessed and I was very aware, probably because of the way my parents encouraged me, that books could open new worlds for me.

I don’t know which of those things came first and I don’t know if those moments are older than my first memories of helping my mom in her garden.

We had a backyard that was notorious for flooding. It rose to street level on one side of the house and dropped several feet as you crossed the grass. When it rained really hard, it’d fill up like a pool.

The first garden I remember was tucked in a corner formed by the beams that held the deck and the staircase that led to it. I can’t remember now if it was a raised bed, but I know it had some sort of fence boundary, probably to keep Molly, our bouncy sheepdog-springer spaniel mix out.

My mom would let me help before I had any idea what helping looked like. She’d let me follow her around the garden pointing at plants and asking what they were.

I was, unsurprising to anyone who knows me now, a curious kid.

She’d teach me about why we planted tomatoes when we did and when to know that something was ready to pick.

She introduced me to my longtime favorite flower – the snapdragon – it’s not particularly beautiful in shape or even color, but I was drawn to the name.

Snapdragons are a cool season plant. Each long stalk has several buds that open creating a kind of bouquet on a single stalk. They come in a variety of colors, but I’ve always been partial to the pinks.

I carried snapdragons in my wedding bouquet, because I love them, but more-so as a nod to my mom and our moments in her garden – the garden I consider my first.

I don’t say these things aloud to her as much as I should, but so much of what I do is a nod to who she is and our relationship.

My love of gardening wasn’t my own at first, it was a love of spending time learning from her.

Now it’s my own and one of my favorite passions.

This year will be my second year planting a garden in my own yard. We bought a house in the late summer of 2017 and planted our first vegetable garden in early 2018. It went very well – we ate a lot of food grown in our own yard and it was incredibly refreshing. We also watched  roughly a dozen watermelons grow to a decent, but not-yet-pickable size and then rot before they crossed the goal line. It happens. Gardening isn’t perfect. Nature isn’t fully predictable, but every experience is a teacher, right?

This year, we tripled the size and I plan to add flowers to the mix.

I’ve decided to document the process this year and I’ll share what works and what doesn’t right here. So stick around if you love pretty decent photos of plants and helpful tips so you can avoid whatever mistakes I’ll inevitably make.

Happy 2018!

Happy 2018 y’all!

I’m thrilled to be starting a new year right here – I mean that in both my physical location and emotional state.

2017 was a wild ride. Around this time last year Russ and I were doubling down on our plan to buy our first home. (I shared details of what we were doing to save money here). I can’t say enough good things about that. Saving for a house further solidified our roles as teammates working toward a common goal and reminded me of the importance of recognizing want versus need – something on which we can probably all use a regular refresher.

Here we are starting 2018 and we’ve been in our house for a few months. We’ve made a few minor improvements. I painted the laundry room and guest room. We (with a lot of help from my parents and brother) put down new flooring in one guest room (okay… they mostly did it). And we added a fire pit and lights to the backyard. Unsurprisingly, the backyard is our favorite part of the house. And I swear it’s not just because we can let the dogs outside on their own and don’t have to endure any more late night walks in the cold while we wait forever for them to take care of their business.

So far the house has given us a collection of small projects, but in 2018 we’re going to do more. We’ll start out garden and compost area. It was too late to plant a garden when we moved in late last summer. We could’ve started composting, but I was distracted by other things. So all of that will come early next month.

Our master bedroom needs a reboot. It’ll be getting new floor that matches the floors in the main room and guest room. That part should be relatively easy because we’ve already somewhat learned how to install that flooring and will likely again have help from my family (yeah, we’re lucky).

The master bathroom will probably be our biggest project this year. Right now we have what feels to me like an old hotel style bathroom. The sinks are open to the bedroom, visible from the bed. On the right side of the sink area is a shower room. On the left is our closet.

The set-up a little strange, but we’re thinking a sliding door would make a world of difference. It’ll be nice to feel like our bedroom and bathroom are two separate areas.

We’re also planning to replace the flooring in the bathroom and closet area. We’re looking at tile for the sink and shower room and probably the same floor we’ll be putting in the bedroom for the closet.

We’ll take our time on improvements here, because there’s no sense in screwing up the financial situation we’ve carefully built. Eventually we’ll turn the standard tub/shower combo into a tiled shower-only. I love a flippin’ bubble bath, but not as much as I want my bathroom to feel like a sophisticated space.

All of these changes come at a cost. One we’ll have to balance with our 2018 financial goals. This year we’re putting a bigger focus on paying off Russ’s student loans. The nice thing is we are armed with the knowledge that we can handle budgeting and planning to accomplish big financial goals. We saved enough for a house in just about a year and we did it without sacrificing much. Those of you who think it’s not possible, take heart in knowing that neither of us makes an impressively large salary.

It’s totally possible.

That’s the attitude I’ve adopted for 2018. For all things I hope to accomplish — it’s totally possible. 



Pickens County

It’s hard when I’m on a trail not to look around and think of who’s been there before. I look up the hill beside me and imagine how the natives might’ve run criss-cross paths through the trees. This was their land long before anyone carved out trails and nailed markers to tree trunks.

I imagine how swiftly they’d move from one spot to another, occasionally someone might have turned an ankle on uneven ground. Or maybe that didn’t happen like it would today. Maybe their joints were stronger, more nimble because they weren’t used to the cushion and control of a pair of nikes.

I’m suddenly embarrassed by my reliance on and loyalty to the swoosh.

The Keowee-Toxaway State Park was not where we intended to end up on that Sunday afternoon. We were headed a little further northwest. Driving through Pickens County always feels like an exploration of home. Of course, I feel that way about basically everywhere in the Carolinas. I’m a sucker for the long leaf pine and palmetto trees.

I was 14 when we moved to Pickens County, and I only truly lived four years of my life there, but It’s as much my home on this particular Sunday as any part of North Carolina at this point. And it’s in my blood.

Devil’s Fork has been on our radar since the first time we took friends to see it. The easy trails give way to beautiful views of Lake Jocassee and a nice spot to swim and kayak. Devil’s Fork is where we thought we were going, but the sign for Keowee-Toxaway is visible from the intersection of 133 and Highway 11. Sometimes plans change.

The people who would’ve run through these trees are my actual ancestors.

With backpacks, water bottles, hats, and bagged lunches we make our way down the path. We’re not counting on catching our meals or going too long without a sip of fresh water. We’re prepared.

It’s several miles before we’ll come out on the other end. There are hills and dips, lake views and areas where you can’t even tell you’re near a water source – these are the spots that seem most authentic.

The lake we’ll pass wasn’t even there with the natives. Every lake in South Carolina is man made. Our northwestern corner of the state once had only dense forests and mazes of rivers, streams, and creeks.

Long before our family had the Sanders name, or owned a farm near town, my ancestors most likely ran through those trees, chasing down prey.

I had a hard time moving to Pickens County in 2002 because I was a teenager, and because it seemed like it had nothing to offer. There’s not even a mall where a girl can buy a new pair of nikes.

But the people who once ran through these trees are my people. Before the Sanders landed on top of a hill by Rice’s Creek, my family knew the animals, the red dirt, and the way the streams carved through the land like natural maps.

leaving home

I’ve never been able to grasp the concept of moving out of a home and just leaving it, permanently. The idea sits right outside the edge of basic rationale, despite the fact that it’s just a thing we all do. I’ve lived in four houses with my family (nine homes total, if you count dorms and apartments I’ve rented). Every one of the four houses was a home. Sure, it was just a physical space, but it was our physical space where we lived and breathed and fought and laughed and learned. They were spaces where we became people instead of just humans.

The first home I lived in was on Joel Court. We were the first owners, but it was only my first home. I was born there. If you want to get technical, I was born at a nearby hospital, but you know what I mean. I lived the first 8 years of my life there. It’s the home where I learned to walk and talk. Molly, my first dog, lived in the backyard. When I was still small enough Molly didn’t mind when I attempted to ride her. Joel Court is where I learned how to shoot a granny shot, then an actual layup. Joel Court is where my older brother used to run into my room and climb in my giant bed with me because he was scared of lightning and thunder and didn’t want to be alone. Joel Court is where the same brother later spent an afternoon playing every Beatles album he could find and teaching me everything he knew about the British invasion. Honestly, he probably didn’t know much, but I do remember being fascinated by ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’. Joel Court is where we’d put on socks and “skate” on the hardwood floors. It’s where I learned how to ride a bike. It’s where I got so frustrated trying to learn how to ride a bike that I shouted at my parents “IT’S FINE! I CAN JUST ROLLER SKATE EVERYWHERE… FOREVER.” I had my first sleepover in the playroom of that house. I remember when I became old enough that they replaced the teddy bear wallpaper in my room with something more suitable for a growing girl. We left there when I was 8, which at 26 seems so young, but I’d already begun becoming who I am at 8 and that home was a part of it.

(joel court. you can’t even see the house anymore. that giant green tree was much smaller when we left in 1996)

We lived on Stablegate Drive for an even shorter time, though this fact still blows my mind. This is the house that I will always consider my real childhood home… I think. We were the first owners here, also. It was ours. We watched the construction of it. I sat on the balcony outside my unfinished room and named all the reasons this house was going to be cooler than the last. We were there when Hurricane Fran made a surprise inland trip and battered Raleigh. Our home was new and our power lines were buried. We lost nothing… but many of our friends in Raleigh took straight shots. This home is where my parents taught me what it really means to get out and help people when they need it. Stablegate is where I lived my middle school years. I had friends in the neighborhood who were close to my age. The neighbor two doors over put in a pool during our last summer there. I remember listening to P!NK and Avril Lavigne on her outdoor speaker system while taking turns diving into that pool. That home is where I learned that pets don’t live forever. We said goodbye to Molly on the back porch. We were there when both of my older brothers grew up and left home. We stood in the front entry of that house and gave teary-eyed hugs to Scott before sending him off to the Marine Corps. Stablegate was our last home in Cary.

(stablegate drive, man.. those trees are bigger too)

I struggle with home. Not as much now as I used to, but I find it difficult to answer “where are you from?” I lived in Cary, NC until high school and I spent several years after that promising to return as soon as possible. Now I’m here in the place I never wanted to be… and I’m not sure I want to leave. But there’s always this nagging feeling that soon I’ll have lived here longer than I lived in Cary and it will somehow change my identity. So for now, I’m from whichever Carolina is most convenient to current conversation.

When we moved to Liberty, SC we took what seemed like roughly 473 steps down on the standards of living scale. Part of this due to the fact that moving meant facing the reality that I was still the only child left at home. The other was the green carpeted, very outdated parsonage home we rented while building our actual home on the farm. I’d like to not even count this home, except that things happened there. We ended up spending two years in that home. We lived there when my grandparents moved in. It’s where I learned to drive… where I drove right into the pole in the middle of the carport, scraping the back passenger side door all the way in. This is where I lived when I first became this tall. An awkward in-between house that mirrored my stage of life at the time. Apple Drive wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was then, but 16 year old girls can be a little dramatic.

There’s a big white house on top of a hill out in the middle of nowhere in Pickens County. It’s the house I go home to for holidays. It’s where my mom, dad, mamaw, papaw and I all moved together. It’s where I celebrated winning a student council election and homecoming queen. It’s where I was picked up for two proms. It’s where I got my college acceptance letters. It’s where all the adults in the house made me feel like every big thing in my life was the best big thing that had ever happened… and for whatever it’s worth, that’s the only highlight I found in living as the only child at home. We lost Papaw suddenly and unexpectedly here. We lost Mamaw seven months, to the day, after. I’d always been afraid of living in a home where someone died, but that’s different now. The farm is where I learned the real value of living off the land. I buried a dog there. I swam in the creek there. It’s where I moved when I was in between college and a job. It’s the home I hope we’ll be able to keep in the family for generations long past any I’ll get to meet.

(current home.. and the place where i feel the most at peace)

I’ve moved more times since then than during my entire childhood, which I guess is pretty normal. I spent four good years living with various close friends in Charleston. We had the years in “the penthouse” on Bull Street with the roof we weren’t supposed to climb on, but always did anyway. We had the year on Vanderhorst street in the house that was somehow built on a tilt. God forbid, you spill a drink on the right side of the room, it’d be on the left faster than you could grab a paper towel. None of those houses were really “home” for us, and dozens of college kids have probably lived there since, but if I had a chance to climb back on the roof of 11 Bull just one more time to sit and laugh with my favorite girls, I’d do it right now.

Houses are just the right combination of wood, nails, sheetrock, bricks, siding, etc. as required by law and contractor standards. I know that. Logically, I get that they’re not meant to be forever. Hell, people’s homes get ripped to pieces all the time by various disasters. I’ve just never been able to grasp the concept of voluntarily leaving your very own combination of  bricks and wood when it’s the place you became a person. I don’t understand it and I probably never will. But every time I go to Cary I cut down Stablegate Drive and see the god-awful giant Duke Blue Devils sticker stuck to my old bedroom window and I know, for certain, that some things change despite my inability to understand.