Welcome to Orange County. It’s hard to know where to start writing about a place where I was born, raised, educated and have lived most of my life.

It would be easy to wax nostalgic, going on about the good ol’ days, or pondering the influence of affluence, and how our evolution into a bedroom community has changed the feel of things around here over the last half-century. But pining for the past isn’t as important as appreciating the present.

From Schley to Oaks and all points in between, Orange County has established a national reputation for food, literature, sports and political activism. It’s tempting to paint us with one broad brush, but we’re really a county of contrasts. We like our towns and our rural spaces. We appreciate our arts and our athletics. We’re progressive and traditional. We’re born-heres and moved-heres. This diversity of our affinities makes us who we are and Orange County what it is, an ever-evolving crazy quilt that delights residents and visitors alike.

Much as I love telling stories and talking to anyone who’ll listen about all the reasons why I’m proud of where I’m from, I’ll trade in my traditional tour guide status and play curator of our local treasures this time around. I’ve collected reflections and observations on Orange County from the people who live, work and play here. Whether native or newcomer, I guarantee you’ll discover at least a few interesting things about our neck of the woods as you peruse these pages. And if you stick around as long as I have, I’m sure you’ll discover many more in the years to come.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance writer and editor living in Carrboro and the Orange County Finder editor.