Sunday, April 29, 2012

OMG! Anabel's a Teenager!

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" - Clarence Oddbody, AS2

Thirteen years ago, Greg and I were blessed with our miracle baby.  I know every baby is a miracle, but after ten years of marriage, five years of infertility, and two heartbreaking miscarriages OUR miracle baby finally arrived.  Anabel healed our pain and led the way for two more miracles: her little brother and sister.  Often, I think how different our lives would be without her… the empty hole her absence would leave.  Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Anabel would have left quite a hole, altering our entire lives, had she not been born.  Our guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody (Angel Second Class), would show us a life with no kids, no snuggles and giggles, no small hands slipping into ours, definitely no sabbatical, and possibly, no marriage because I would have turned squirrelly and driven Greg nuts.  We may have had more money, but no one to share it with.

Thankfully, Anabel was born, and we have three beautiful, healthy children.  Our pockets are empty of cash, but overflowing with love and Zuzu's petals.

To celebrate our good fortune and Anabel's life, we spent a family day in Beaufort.  

After opening seven of her thirteen presents (each item from Bath and Body Works counted as a separate gift...even the two lip glosses), we headed to the Beaufort Inn for their very Southern Sunday brunch.   The spread included a grits bar, andouille sausage balls, fresh berry parfaits, shrimp cocktails, artichoke dip casserole with homemade chips, lox and cream cheese pops, caesar salad and beef tenderloin.  Anabel splurged on the the cooked to order eggs benedict while Wyatt and Emma dug their way through a mountain of cinnamon and honey French toast.  Greg and I tried a little of everything, but could have contented ourselves with the basket of popovers and strawberry butter alone.

One Word: Popovers

Did I mention the dessert bar yet?  Holy smokes!  Everyone sampled dark chocolate creme brûlée, banana pudding mousse, angel cake, and chocolate ganache pops. (Part of my recovery program is admitting to all of this.)  We waddled out through the back garden enjoying the Confederate jasmine and admiring the gorgeous day.

Our next stop was a surprise...

 Keeping a secret from Anabel is difficult.  She begs and pleads for you to tell her something and if you don't she drives you crazy asking questions and trying to guess.  Somehow, we managed to keep quiet this time until we turned on the road to Camelot Farms and she immediately shouted, "We're going horseback riding!"  She was excited and nervous.  She hadn't been on a horse since a brief scare last year during a riding lesson.  While being our most cautious child, Anabel is also our most accident prone.  With one broken arm and leg and emergency surgery in her past, I can't blame her for being a little hesitant to jump into dangerous situations.   However, I think there's an old saying about getting back on the horse so we poured out of the family truckster ready to climb on.

Since we were the only ones on the farm, our guide, Ned, let us help prep the horses for our marsh trail ride.  As he brought each horse up, we brushed, sprayed and made new animal friends.  I was very happy with the "getting to know you" period before the ride because it was Wyatt and Emma's first ride and I hadn't been on a horse in twenty years.  By the time the horses were saddled and ready, our nerves had settled and we were ready, too.

While brushing and petting, Anabel became attached to a horse named Shoes, but when Ned started assigning mounts he gave her the friskiest horse.  I was so proud of her for speaking up and asking if she could ride the horse she liked.  Sometimes it's hard to admit your kids are growing up, but speaking up for yourself is a difficult lesson to learn so I was happy to see this evidence of our daughter's maturity.

The trail ride was fantastic.  We went all over their farm's acreage at the end of St. Helena Island riding under mossy live oaks, near farmland and through pinewood forests.  After an hour on the trail, we hated to say goodbye, but we had gained more to celebrate: Anabel overcame her yearlong fear of riding again, and Wyatt and Emma found a new love.

We ended her birthday celebration with Anabel's all time favorite meal (yes, we were hungry, again.)  Crab legs, baked potatoes and iceberg wedges followed by strawberry cake were the perfect grand finale to a grand day.

Happy 13th Birthday, Anabel!  We love you!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Big Chill

 "It's a cold world out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a little frosty myself." - Meg from The Big Chill.
Although filmed thirty years ago, The Big Chill's themes of friendship, change and the hyperborean sting of emotional isolation still ring true today.  I'm not a baby boomer reflecting on my transformation from hippie activist to yuppie capitalist (How did they go so far so fast?), but I can relate to changing as I age (physically, spiritually and emotionally) and the desperate need I have to confide in my friends.  Who wants to go through all this alone?  Not me.

Before this year, I struggled to stay connected with my friends.  Life was rush, rush, rush, but on reflection, the busyness made it imperative to stop and visit with my close friends.  We had to precisely schedule each gathering making the time spent together more precious so we didn't waste it.

With all the time in the world to plan a visit with a friend during this year, I didn't seem to make it happen.  Each day arrived with time slots wide open.  No rush.  No need to plan.  Then, poof!  Another day gone spent without the connectedness of friendship.  Stringing together months of too many days like this and I became lost in my mind and at the mercy of my fears.  I thought a year away would be the panacea to all my stressed out problems and relieve my fears of life passing me by.  While learning and growing in innumerable ways, I found my new biggest obstacle was loneliness.

A psychologist reading my blog would have diagnosed me by now with a classic case of manic/depressive disorder as I swing from high to low from blog post to blog post.  One minute, I'm high on life like a kid on a new bike.  Look, Ma!  No hands!  The next, I'm barely hanging on to the side of the cliff and can visualize what would happen if I just let go...

But no.  I am as stable as they come.  These feelings are all normal.  Haven't we all felt lonely one day and exhilarated the next?  Shouldn't a life well-lived show some scars? At the gates of heaven, when asked, "How was it?"  I don't want to answer, "Meh."

Prescribing myself a good dose of laughter, gossip and thoughtful chatter, I reached out to a few high school friends.  I found one I had not seen since graduation now living in California, following her passion and performing regularly in LA as a singer/songwriter.  How awesome!  I discovered another long lost friend is a professor of linguistics at Oregon State University and the author of several books.  Another wow!  If I hadn't taken the time to search I would never have stumbled onto their accomplishments nor felt the kindred connection of our mutual need to leave a mark on this world through writing.  Unfortunately, I unearthed their locations after our west coast trip.  Surely, I had old friends nearby...

Leigh Ann!  I hadn't seen her in seven years, but we had reconnected a few months ago in a superficial, one-liner way as people do on Facebook.  I knew she had two beautiful children, had recently remarried, and looked happy, but I knew no intimate details of her life.  Could we still talk like school girls exposing our deepest, darkest secrets and most longed for dreams? Or would we remain in the staid world of "I'm fine.  How are you?  Check out this link of a cat sleeping with a dog..."

She arrived late on a Friday night.  From the moment she entered the house to the moment she pulled out of the driveway, we did not stop talking.  We laughed; we cried.  We asked questions; we gave truthful answers.  We reflected on the past, we dreamed of the future and we enjoyed every second of the present.   For one weekend, we warded off the big chill of the world by confiding with a person that knew us before the frost.

I realized we have coats, mufflers, hats and gloves to protect our bodies from the cold and, if we are lucky, we have friends to protect our souls.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Feeling Froggy

The Hammerz
I write to keep busy, to stimulate my brain, to communicate with friends and to record our experiences for our children.  Greg plays music for all the same reasons.  He has played in a band for twenty-five years which is to say- longer than I've known him.  Music is who he is, what he does, and how he communicates with others.

My Musicians
As music teacher of our little home school academy, Greg's lessons include guitar tablature, voice harmonies, piano chording and drum beats and fills.  While the girls have shown growth in voice lessons, Wyatt has soared at guitar.  His latest assignment was to learn the opening guitar melody for Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here.  As his academic teacher, I wish he put as much effort in his writing as he has in learning that song.  All I'm saying is: he could be the next Shakespeare if he worked on writing like he works on guitar.  Greg definitely struck a chord with Wyatt.  They speak a foreign language that I will never understand and that's okay.  The father/son bond was always strong, but now they share a secret that makes both pairs of eyes light up when they're discussing it.  It is extremely awesome to watch.

New Faces, New Friends

Greg has done more than teach music to the kids this year.  He has used his musical talent to make new friends.  For a boy who grew up knowing everyone in town and playing and writing songs with guys he's known for over half his life, that's saying something.  Apparently, you can teach my old dog new tricks.  As a non-musician, I am in awe every time I watch Greg play or sing, but I am speechless witnessing him step out of his comfort zone to meet new people and play new songs.  I mean meeting new people is hard enough without the added element of performing, right?

Jamming at the Foolish Frog

Sometime in early December, I saw a sign that read, Jam Session Tonight, at a fabulous local restaurant, The Foolish Frog, in Frogmore, SC.  I knew Greg was missing playing with other musicians so I suggested we go check it out.  As we walked up under a tree tunnel of live oaks and spanish moss, we heard the sweet twang of a banjo blending with the strum of a guitar coming from the marsh deck.  We rounded the deck wall just as someone started singing, Friend of the Devil.  Pulling out his guitar, Greg jumped in and hung on.  Mr. Darling would have been proud.  From that night on, if you're looking for us on Tuesday nights, you'll find us at the Frog.

Frogmo' Fo at Nippy's

While continuing to record a new album with The Hammerz, Greg's new acquaintances at the Frog have led to gigs with new bands.  He is now a member of the Frogmo' Fo which was initially three members and has grown to six; I have no idea were the "Fo" came from... I'm thinking someone only counts beats.  With Greg on drums, Kirk Dempsey on guitar and vocals, Adam Granade on bass, Tom Davis on guitar, Tim Devine on guitar, and Steve Johnson on trumpet, the band's next show is May 11th at Nippy's in Downtown Beaufort.  Between practices at the Dempsey Farm's Juke Joint (Kirk and Elaine's garage) and the actual performance, there will be many nights of entertainment to be had by all!

What a Smile!

New Groupie Girls
I believe life is sweeter with a soundtrack (I even created a special playlist for this year) and I've been fortunate to have an in-house musician to play our background music for almost 23 years.  Who needs an iPod with Greg and the kids around?  The icing on the cake is the new friends we've made thanks to that music.  I have new groupie girls to hang with, new playmates for the kids and new shoulders to lean on in times of trouble.  No worries...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Island

Part of the draw of our sabbatical is the possibility of giving Anabel one more year of childhood, and consequently, slowing the speed of which her younger brother and sister's childhood passes, as well. Anyone with older brothers or sisters knows that when the oldest learned something about the adult world, they couldn't wait to spoil it for their beloved younger siblings.  Anabel has always been our imaginative child preferring to read, write or play pretend in her free time.  Unlike most of her friends at home, she still believes in fairies, Santa and even, the Easter bunny with all her heart.  I want to keep it that way.  No, I don't want her laughed at or ridiculed by her peers, but I don't want to see her innocent world of believing - of having faith in the unseen- to end.
Aren't we all asked to believe things we can't see?  I wasn't there when men walked on the moon, but I believe it happened.  I can't see the love my mother has for me when she berates me again for spending a year away from home, but I know it's there.  I didn't see Jesus heal the sick or turn water into wine, but I believe He did.  I can't see God while I'm praying, but I feel He's there.  How can we get through life without a little faith in the unseen? And oh, to have the faith of a child!  C. S. Lewis said, "Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods." Or your changing age, as the case may be.

Of course, it is easier to believe when you THINK you've seen.  Two years ago, Anabel caught the Easter Bunny in her room.  She woke to see a very tall shadow exiting her room and discovered a basket beside her bed.  She surmised that the shadow must have been the Easter Bunny, but instead of being thrilled by her discovery, she was terrified.  My goodness, he was big!  Now, I must sleep with her on the Saturday nights before Easter to guard against that massive bunny.

This year, Emma wasn't worried about Anabel's Harvey-sized rabbit; she fretted about having no Easter baskets as we had left our traditional baskets at home in Canton.  Unfazed, she immediately found a solution.  Laundry baskets.  They're bigger and hold more treats!  However, her fears were unwarranted as the Easter Bunny provided his own baskets this year.

As with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, we created new ways to celebrate Easter:

With a new friend from St. Helena Island, the kids hunted for eggs on appropriately named Hunting Island.

We shared our love of scavenger hunts with friends from Delaware.

The kids roamed the island in teams competing to find all items on the list to win a prize.  Some articles they took literally; some items they took figuratively.

For example, one item on the list was a photo of our neighbors, Steve and Mary.  Here's their beautiful portrait:

 Another item was a photo of a butterfly.  Now, I didn't think finding a live butterfly would be difficult thanks to our early spring, but here's what one team came up with:

I like kids that can see more than one solution to a problem!

Our Easter was unique this year in many ways, but the same in many others. While our children are not the little ones they used to be in their Easter dresses, suits and hats, we still celebrated our faith that the stone was rolled away and the Living Christ was not found with the dead, but among the believers.  While we shared the holiday with friends rather than family, we found communion just the same.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Stroll Down Church Street

An Abbey Road Moment

Love for a new place can be such a fun infatuation- full of new things to see, smell, taste.  One excites at the possibilities.  My pulse quickens as I turn each corner unsure of what I'll find, but the exquisite anticipation pushes me forward.

Happy Birthday, Shannon!

On my latest visit to see the grand southern lady of Charleston, South Carolina, I brought family.  Celebrating my brother-in-law, Shannon's, birthday, Greg and I planned a relaxing day in Charleston for my sister, Mandy, Shannon and my niece, Hannah.  Our itinerary:  Arrive and luncheon at Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street; Drinks and Dinner with Anne and Jackson at the Rooftop Bar and McCrady's.  With our meals taken care of, the rest of our time was spent on a stroll down Church Street...

Hyman's fried shrimp po'boy
Stomachs full to bursting with shrimp po'boys, fried pickles and okra and Bloody Marys or as Greg deemed them- salad in a glass, we start our stroll at Hyman's door; then wander through the Old City Market that begins on Meeting Street and continues to the Cooper River.  This has been a public market since 1807 and holds many delights, but we've seen this before so we quickly pass through it on this very crowded spring break day and duck out midway to enter Church Street.


St. Phillip's Episcopal Church
We must walk around St. Phillip's Episcopal Church with its Roman columns and signature steeple because the building actually extends into the center of Church Street as the parish churches of England commonly did in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I guess they didn't want people to miss the church. Originally built in 1681, it is the oldest congregation established south of Virginia and has a past that reflects the controversial actions of it parishioners.  In fact, its second building was partially funded by proceeds from trade of rum and slaves. When that building caught fire, a young male slave extinguished it and was awarded his freedom for his bravery to the church.  Today, its third incarnation built in 1835 stands as beautiful testimony to survival having lost many artifacts including its bells to build cannons during the Civil War.

French Huguenot Church
Continuing south, we meander pass the French Huguenot Church, the only remaining French Calvinist congregation in America. Also in its third building, the church has survived losing its congregation entirely two times.  Its gothic revival architecture screams French with visions of Notre Dame and Quasimodo ringing the church bells coming to mind.  My favorite tradition of this church's early congregation is the timing of services to match the tides so that members on the plantations could sail over in time for worship.

Broad Street and Church
We cross over Broad Street observing more steeples as we pass.  It doesn't take a lot of brain power to understand how Charleston became known as the Holy City.

Pausing for a photo outside the Heyward/Washington House, we discover that there are historic homes open for tours.  In my earlier trips, it seemed all were privately owned.  I make mental note to stop here on my next visit so I can claim another home where George and I have both been guests.

Speaking of private homes, none are more exclusively beautiful than those on Church Street.  We walk back and forth past wrought iron gates hoping for a glimpse of each flower or vine.  A friendly dog greets us with a wag at one home while the wistful sound of water flowing whispers the secret of a hidden fountain behind another.  My camera cannot capture the vivid colors of all the flowers springing out inside each walled garden nor can I hope to describe the scents that greet us as we get closer and closer to the famous Battery.

The floral scents fade as the salt air takes control.  Our leisurely stroll has paid off with the Battery (pronounced Bat-Ree).  Church Street dumps us out at the tired-est grand dame on the street.  With her flaking facade and wilting vines, I stare at her willing her to talk- to tell me some of the things she has seen: human beings bought and sold callously by one another; the first shots of a war that ripped our nation apart for four years killing young and old indiscriminately; carpetbaggers, starving children, gallant men and charming southern ladies.  A world not gone with the wind, but hidden just behind the veil.

Pardon my romantic musings.  This is what historic cities do to me... I'm no medium, but I can definitely feel the ghosts.

 And so our stroll down one of America's most beautiful streets ends.  It's time for drinks, food and good conversation.  I wonder if there will be any ghosts dining with us tonight?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trying New Things

"Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things.  The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have." - Louis E. Boone

Surprisingly, I just found this quote on a random Internet search.  I have never heard of Louis E. Boone, and yet, I have lived by his words for over a year.  Greg and I had talked for the past five years about taking a sabbatical to spend more time with the kids and try new things: personally and professionally.  Ironically, it was trying one new thing that started the ball rolling.

My book to be released June 2012
In a teacher's workshop less than two years ago, I presented technology-based curriculum that I had developed over six years teaching gifted children.  A few of my esteemed colleagues encouraged me to write my curriculum into a book and have it published.  Here's where trying something new came in... I actually did it.  For the first time in my professional career, I didn't just dream about it, talk about it, or think of all the reasons not to pursue it.  I wrote it up, sent it out to publisher land and didn't stop there.  After receiving a couple of rejection letters (which I proudly pinned to my bulletin board because receiving a rejection letter meant I had actually tried something, right?), I got a publishing offer from a small company in upstate New York.  But I didn't sign it.  I didn't want to sell myself out too soon.  When I hadn't heard anything from a couple of the more prominent publishers, I called them.  After a two hour conversation with the head of The Critical Thinking Company, he sent me a contract.  My passion for my topic convinced him that my curriculum worked.  Signing the contract, no one could have been more shocked.  I had tried a new thing and the world didn't open up and swallow me whole.  Instead of being eaten alive by the words: could have, might have, should have, I had accomplished something!

I'm a contributor!
Continuing my momentum, I have taken new writing classes and submitted articles to small magazines.  In the new April/May issue, I am a contributor to Beaufort's local publication, Fit and Family.  I have three short pieces or tidbits about family travel.  Small, but definitely a step in new direction.

What a thrill it is to see my name in print!  The question I keep asking myself is: Could I be a writer?  I'm having a book published.  Does that make me a writer?  I'm in a small magazine.  Does that make me a writer?  I have chronicled our year opening up about my thoughts, experiences and dreams. Does that make me a writer?

While I've been more tempted by professional pursuits, I have tried some new, personal things, too.  Remember my baking bread blog?  Baking bread is now my go-to, de-stress activity.  Nothing has made me feel more in touch with the spiritual than the simple act of producing this basic necessity of life.  I feel quite certain that I could live by bread alone... with butter and a nice Pinot... and share it with friends, of course.

Not all new things I've tried have been a success.  Some, I'm proud to say, failed miserably. Take pottery class, for example.  Since getting a plastic potter's wheel for Christmas when I was 10 years old, I have always wanted to take a real lesson.  With home school art in mind, I signed the whole family up at Coastal Art in Beaufort.  We met many interesting people who all helped our instructor, Pat, attempt to teach us the subtle art of clay pottery.

Here's what I fantasized I would create:

And here's what I actually made:

Yes, it is as uneven as it looks.  Feel free to laugh.

Stop staring at me, Pablo!  I'm trying!
Trying to keep my failure in perspective, I turned to words of advice from a great experimenter. Pablo Picasso said, "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."  Great words of advice, Pablo!  We're learning.  Unfortunately for me, I think his and my learning curves are a little out of sync.  Picasso's experiments created completely new art forms.  (Ever heard of Cubism?)  

Picasso's Cubist painting: Femme En Pleurs
My experiments created new... junk. So why am I proud?   It's my junk.

I'm also proud to say that the rest of the clan feels the same way about their junk, I mean art, and the other new things they've tried this year.  
Wyatt's candy/chip dish

Anabel's pencil cup and Emma's dog and Mickey Mouse

Wyatt's ?... we're not sure what it is...

We planned this family quest to discover new things and appreciate the joy in our lives.  Having planned our one year off the grid, we almost backed out at least twenty times due to fear.  Fear of going broke; fear of alienating the kids from their friends; fear of spending too much time together and thereby alienating our kids from us; fear of never getting a job again; fear of rejection; fear of judgment; FEAR OF FAILURE.  Ultimately, the fear that won out over every other was the fear of regret.  We knew we would regret not taking this sabbatical with our kids... the alternate fears were just conjecture.

Emma trying something new.
So trying new things proved to be a great success even when we failed.  With less than three months left of our big experiment, I have never felt less regretful or more excited about life.