May 12, 2007: CHARLOTTE, NC Spent a few days with dear friend Jen (on right) - a free spirited soul sister, budding actress, and AMAZING second grade teacher! Also got a chance to celebrate with grad school roommate Sarah (in middle) who's getting married in November (sorry guys, one less gorgeous fish in the sea)!

Both ladies (and Jen's sister Jaime) have been SO supportive of my music through the years. I promised them there'd be another album from me within the next year. Jen lives part-time on Lake Norman

just outside the city (where I lollied around for many years during my crazy grad school days). This was definitely a time of solace for Winni and I. The lake was calming and rejuvinating. We were both mezmorized by the little duck family that quacked and swam by us one morning.

Thanks, Jen, for the deep discussion on marriage and life - and for being such a unique and faithful friend! See you out West soon, Sarah!

May 11, 2007: GREENSBORO, NC Stopped to see the Farmers! A wonderful family I've known for many years - harkening back to my NC days.

David and Nancy own several Plato's Closet and Once Upon A Child stores in the area. Daughter Stephanie works with them, and sweet dog Sally even has a dog bed in the office! It's truly a family affair (aside from son, Grady, who's making it big in NYC...but visits often)! Many people ask them how they do it. Their answer? Their faith and love is strong. And it's a treat to see them work together. Nancy and David have also made several trips to help the Red Cross with Hurricane Katrina Disaster relief efforts in New Orleans, and have even been on mission trips to Belize (Steph, too!). Indeed a family that prays together...stays together. Thanks for the good talks and excellent meals!

May 10, 2007: STELLA, NC First of all, my LITTLE sister Shannon turned 30 today! Oh, my, my. For a split second that made me feel a little old. But then...I realized...Hey, she's got the same birthday as Bono from U2. He's 47 today! And, like my little sis, still rockin' and changing the world! You're never to old, darnit!!! Well, HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY SISTER. You are the best sis in all this sweet mother earth...and beyond! Can't wait to see you in Colorado in a few weeks! I LOVE YOU!!!

Secondly, I just spent a wonderful 4 days with one of my best friends from high school, Sue...

her husband, Jaime...

and their two dogs Sadie and Piper...

Jaime is an editor for a local military newspaper (and expert birder!) and Sue is a wildlife biologist for the North Carolina Resources Commission. In fact, not only was it Sue's 35th birthday on the 8th, but her and Jaimie's 6th wedding anniversary! A special week indeed. Any time I spend with Sue promises to be filled with natural delights - as she has such an eye for these things.

One day, Sue took me out for an afternoon of field work on a boat in Bogue Sound where we saw rare and/or endangered birds like the American Oyster Catcher. I got amazing up-close video footage of these fantastic birds who fiercely guard their little speckled eggs nesting cozily in shell scrapes (the sea bird version of straw or grass nests) and even two chicks who's chances of survivial due to strong winds and too much human activity are VERY slim.

Another morning Sue heard birds outside her front door yelling (in bird language, I guess that's chirping?) like crazy and took me out to investigate. Turns out there was a little screech owl sitting on a branch about 20 feet up. A few months earlier husband Jaime had shimmied two stories up a nearby tree to install an owl house, and when Sue heard those bird cries, she knew the owl was outta the house!

We even had a bit of a scary run-in with a poisonous copperhead snake while hiking with the dogs. Sue spotted it in our hiking trail from about 10 feet back as Winni lept over it. Sue yelled for Winni to STOP and ran forward to grab her and stop her from going back towards the snake and - I like to say - saved my pup's life!

And the saddest sight we saw was a mother bottlenose dolphin who's baby had obviously been hit and killed by a passing boat rutter.

The mother dolphin kept surfacing to rub up against her dead baby. We were all very teary. Sue called a local marine biologist she knew and asked if we should get the baby dolphin out of the water so the mom could move on. But the biologist said, no, this was part of the mom's mourning process and to let them be. See, Chris and Marin's rule even works in the world of marine mammals - "Mommy's always come back!" And when a mom looses her baby, she can mourn and stay with that baby as long as she needs to. I think we push people (and ourselves) to get through our mourning too quickly. I know I wanted to be done hurting when my mom passed away several years ago. But the hurt never goes away completely. And you know what? Leave it be. It's ok. That's the way it should be.

And an added bonus to this leg of the trip! My other best friend from high school, Deb, drove 8 hours up from Florida, just to see little ol' me! She joined Sue and I in North Carolina for a night of photo sharing and girl talk. Here's a shot of Deb and her oldest, Cole...and youngest, Kyle...

Thanks for making the trip Deb!