Friday, July 22, 2016

July, Then and Now


I've been blogging for over 10 years now. I rarely go back and read old posts, but lately I've had a desire to do so. Something about how my life seems to be subtly shifting, how those little children and those young parents we were seem so far away now.

I just read a post from 10 years ago when the kids, my brother, and my niece were visiting my parents in NY. Here's an excerpt:

But we enjoyed a relaxing day on the lake. The temperature has dropped a good 10 degrees or more. Sleeping is lovely, and we're all tremendously revived. This evening we resurrected an old Cummins family tradition: Literary Nights. We started this probably 20 years ago, when my brothers' girls were probably 4, 5, and 6. This is exclusively an extended-family event, held on special occasions when we were all together. For a successful Literary Night (and they always are), each person needs to bring a performance piece to share. This can be anything from a poem to a song to a joke to a story. The girls even used to put on skits in full costume. Although for the past 7 years, the whole extended family gets together on many occasions during the winter months, we haven't had a Literary Night in probably 10 years. Mom mentioned it yesterday, and we all thought it sounded like a great idea. (Well, Jesse didn't particularly think so, but he was a good sport about it.) Laurel was tremendously excited.

And so we gathered in the living room after supper. John started by playing his "Randy's Rainbow" song on his guitar. I read a couple of poems. Dad read a bunch of his stories and poems, and Esther told a ghost story. Laurel read a poem and Mom some scripture. Duncan attempted to sing "I am the Walrus." Dad told some more stories. Jesse listened. John wrapped it up with an hour's worth of singing old favorites. Daisy howled. I dragged a very reluctant Duncan and Laurel off to bed while Uncle John kept playing guitar. Laurel's prayer included a "Thank you that we got to do Literary Night!" It was a good day. [July 2006]

I'm so glad I blogged about that night. I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. (Duncan sang "I Am the Walrus"??) I remember the Literary Nights from when my nieces were little, but this sweet night? Not a glimmer.

That's what I love most about blogging: that I've captured moments in writing that I can't seem to store in my memory.

So much has changed since that post 10 years ago. My parents moved from New York to down the road here in Tennessee about 7 years ago. My niece Esther, who has her own 8-year-old daughter now, has long since removed herself from our family. My kids—then just 5, nearly 9, and 13— are young adults now, or practically, in Duncan's case. My brother John is close to retirement age but just finished his PhD.

It was a lifetime ago.


***



Here's a slice of life tonight.

It was a quiet day around here. Hot—near 100—but quiet in our well-air-conditioned home.

Randy, who for the first time ever is taking the summer mostly off, was supposed to take his mother to a doctor's appointment, but she wasn't feeling well enough to go. Instead, he took Duncan and Laurel to the bank: Duncan to open his own bank account (finally), Laurel to order a chip card for her upcoming semester in Vienna. Later, Randy did the grocery shopping for us and for his mom. He's a good man, that Randy. I am blessed.

I threw out my back a couple of days ago, so I've been fairly couch-ridden. It's registration time in our support group, and I'm the membership coordinator, so I typically spend a few hours a day doing registrations and answering questions. All of that I can do from the couch. I did a little Bible journaling. It's something I've started doing this past year. I love the combination of art and worship, the chance to do a little painting and drawing. Laundry, dishes, a little cleaning. The usual.

Laurel was off work today. She's been a nanny/driver this summer and usually has to get to her job by 7 a.m. This week she was also assisting with a psychology seminar for high schoolers— three evenings this week plus working plus having a friend in town: she was ready for a day off. It's been a rough summer for her emotionally. She and her boyfriend of two years broke up at the beginning of it, and she is finding her footing again. I remember those times of redefinition, of trying to remember who you were before and wondering who you will become. It's a hard time, but I'm proud of the way she's kept moving. I know with absolute certainty that, as hard as this summer has been for her, amazing things are to come. At nearly 19, the world is all right there, ready to open up to her, and the pain she's feeling now is nothing like the joy that is coming. I've been there—oh, how I've been there.

She left late this afternoon to meet up with friends, and this weekend she's driving to Nashville with college friends to go to another college friend's wedding. And in just a little over a month, she heads to Vienna for the semester.

We didn't hear from Jesse today. He works on Fridays. He's a supervisor for USAir, and we don't usually see him Friday-Monday. He'll pop in on Tuesday or Wednesday to catch up, do his laundry, eat. He lives across town but is trying to sublet his apartment so he can move up to downtown Knoxville. He's planning to take the GREs and apply to graduate school in the fall. I hope he does, I really do.

Duncan has enjoyed a relaxing day at home. He's been to three camps this summer and had algebra 2 tutoring on the weeks he's not at camp. This was his first Friday without anything to do, and I think he loved it. He watched some Netflix, filled the birdfeeders, read, rode his bike, took a nap. Lazy summer day.

I visited Mom and Dad after their late afternoon naps. Mom has been struggling lately. At 89, she's been diagnosed with the onset of dementia. She's still pretty sharp, but when she's in pain, she tends to repeat herself a dozen times in an hour. She's suffering from what she calls neuritis in her face this week— a pain that is so severe she can hardly function at times. But still, she's up for a game of dominoes. I win.



***


In the evening, Randy and I sit on the swing and eat orange creamsicles. Later he and Duncan go to see the new Star Wars movie at our city's amphitheater. I imagine most of the city will be there, spread out on blankets on a hot summer night. I'd love to have gone, but the thought of two hours in a camp chair sounded impossible.

I go back to see Mom and Dad again when the guys leave for the movies. Duncan and Randy made chocolate pudding for Mom, so I take that to her. She's resting when I get there at 7:45 p.m. She's just put drops in her eyes— she has macular degeneration. She's blind in one eye and has gotten to the point where she really can't read anymore. For a woman who has read a book every couple of days for the past 30 years, this is a big deal.

She eats the pudding enthusiastically, as does Dad. We play a few hands of rummy. I win. "That must be your middle name," says my mother. My father tells me a dream he had last night. "Your grandmother and her neighbor, Lottie, were eating eggs at the breakfast table. Your mother and I came in and sat at the dinner table. Your grandmother had set the table with her best china, and she split the remaining egg in half for your mother and me. She was expecting us."

***
My father laughs at the dream. My mother says, "We had eggs last night! That's why he dreamed that."

I look at my father. Surely he must see the meaning in this dream: my grandmother, dead now for 30 years, put her best china out for them in expectation.

I don't say this to him, of course. I come home, and as I drive, I think about how sometimes I am afraid my life will stop when their lives stop. I think about my little nephews, ages 1 and 4, and how my brother —their Dad—is even more a member of the sandwich generation than I am.



I come home to a quiet house, putter around a little, and read about my July ten years ago. So much has changed—our lives our quieter for the most part, less physically exhausting and more emotionally exhausting—and yet our core is intact. Randy says he loves to go back and look at pictures of the kids on Facebook; I've found it difficult to do in the past few years because I just miss the kids being little. But I'm finding it easier to move into the next season lately, easier to look back at their little faces without feeling like I've lost something. I'm even OK with those little faces growing up and going into the world. They've turned into such lovely human beings.

We are who we are, Randy and me and all these people we've attached ourselves to. We've built this life together, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

River Poetry

There's a certain poetry that happens by a river in a mountain on a hot Saturday in June.


There's something in the low murmur of voices, of conversations that leave you feeling contented, even though you aren't part of them and you can't really hear what's being said.




There's something in the stillness of the water, in how one tiny fish making one tiny jump can send ripples that radiate the width of the river. Practically.




There's something in the slow swing of a hammock, something in the way your man-child's bare feet stick out over the edge.



There's something in the glint of copper in your daughter's hair as the evening sun hits it in just the perfect spot, something about the way her smile makes your heart swell, and you know she's going to be OK.



There's something in the memory of how you've done this dozens of times in this life, how you've gone from bags of towels, swimsuits, sunscreen, goggles, floaties, Goldfish, velcroed sandals, juice boxes, buckets and diggers, extra clothes to just a bucket of fried chicken, a few chairs, a couple of hammocks, and the quiet poetry of voices, river, birds.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

June Happenings

Summer's in full swing, but we're not having many lazy days of summer. I've finally finished grading research papers and journals for my literature class students, but this is going to be one of those years that school goes on and on for Duncan. When he's not off on one of his camps, he and his friend will be doing algebra 2 with a tutor three times each week. They were both doing an online class that just didn't work out. They got through one semester of it, but we decided they just weren't really grasping math in this way and needed more real-person time. Their former math teacher (BLESS HER!) volunteered to tutor them, even agreeing to work around all of their camps and vacations. Phew.

Duncan's first camp wasn't really a camp: he spent a solid week, full days, at Drive 4 Life Academy, learning the ropes of driving. At the end of the week, he had 30 hours of classroom time and his permit!


He still has six months until he can get his license, so he'll get plenty of practice time in. I guess I won't be needing our minivan too much longer. It's hard to believe the days of driving around a vanload of kids are coming to an end.

Duncan's next adventure was a week at Summit Bechtel Scout Boy Scout Reserve in West Virginia with his Boy Scout troop. And as Scoutmaster, this was Randy's grand summer adventure, too. They had an adventure-packed week, including rock climbing, whitewater rafting, zip-lining, ropes course, shooting, archery, mountain biking, BMX biking, and skateboarding. The boys (and dads) all had an incredible time, although one boy did break his arm and another got a concussion,


Duncan now has the Triple Crown  (Philmont, Sea Base, and Summit) and Randy has the Grand Slam (those three plus Northern Tier) of Boy Scout National High Adventure. Boy Scouting really has been such an incredible opportunity in the lives of Randy and both of our boys. Experiences like this are truly life shaping!

Duncan's been home this past week, catching up on lawn mowing and algebra 2. He heads to church camp for a week on Monday and then almost immediately to Boy Scout camp when he returns.

Laurel's been working very full days so far this month. She's a nanny/driver for a family, taking the kids to various lessons and activities. Her days have been long (7 a.m.-6 p.m.) but she's making good money for her upcoming semester abroad. She's actually off for the next couple of weeks, so I look forward to spending some time with her. She only has 10 weeks left before she heads to Vienna for the fall, and I know the time will go fast. She's also preparing to help teach a psychology seminar in July for a group of high schoolers—something that will not only be fun but will look great on her resumĂ©.

And that's about all that's been going on around here. I'm enjoying the birds and the flowerbeds, doing some projects around the house, enjoying morning walks with friends and sometimes special evenings like swimming under a full moon.



Hope you're having a lovely summer too.



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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hiking Around: Andrews Bald

One of my hometown friends from upstate NY came to visit this past weekend, and I loved taking her around to see the Smokies. We took the required drive around Cades Cove one day—I mean, you pretty much have to take first-timers to drive the loop because, even if I've done it dozens of times, it's still breathtaking.

Cades Cove: it never gets old.

The next day of her visit, we all hiked Andrews Bald. It was an absolutely perfect day for it—hundreds of other people also thought it would be a great day to visit Clingman's Dome! Fortunately, 99% of them hiked up to the tower and not to Andrews Bald.


I added another 3.4 miles to my Hike100 list.

The flame azaleas were just starting to flower.
 
I was practicing my new photography skills on the kids: they weren't terribly appreciative.


There is nothing like catching up with an old friend while soaking in the wide expanse of mountains and blue sky.



The Catawba rhododendrons were absolutely stunning!

The mountain laurels were just about to flower.


My beautiful girl—she's a little more cooperative about photography than her brother!

I am looking forward to many more hikes this summer! I'd like to get the vast majority of the Smokies Centennial Challenge finished by October. I'm at 39.6 miles now!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Monthly Wrap-Up

The end of the school year is so close. We're antsy. We're tired of pretty much everything. We just want to hike and hang out with our friends and just relax.

The countdown is on. Just two weeks left of our co-op classes, and another 3 weeks beyond that for Duncan to wrap up a few other things. Unfortunately, he has a looooooooong way to go in algebra 2, so he'll probably be doing that all summer long. Or at least, he'll be doing math when he isn't away at one of his camps.

Just 10 more days until our girl comes home from her first year at college. Comes home for the whole entire summer. She's had such a great year, but I sure have missed her. I can't wait to hang out with her all summer. She says we are going to be vegan for a few weeks while the guys are at camps, so I guess we can't eat ice cream and stuff while we watch Netflix.

Since I last posted, we did a few more hikes. Laurel was home for Easter—her first time all semester!— and we hiked 5 miles to and from the Walkers Sisters' Cabin.





Randy and I went away for our anniversary and hiked the Porter's Creek Trail for another 3.8 miles.



The bear was actually in Cades Cove. We were in our van—not out taking pictures of her!

And most recently, Randy led a wildflower hike for our homeschooling group's hiking club on the Chestnut Top Trail.
Fire pinks and dwarf irises




The big event in our county was that the Blue Angels came for the first time in 16 years to do an airshow. We live a couple short blocks away from the airport, so we had front row free seats. Man, was it every loud around here last week!! Jesse, our oldest,  works at the airport and had to work insane hours during the air show—16 hours each day. I think he's recuperated by now.




Duncan's great accomplishment is that he finished the last three Eagle required badges, so he can begin working on his Eagle Scout project this summer!



And that's what's been happening in our own Small World!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hike 100: Cucumber Gap Trail

My guys are doing spring break with their Boy Scout troop in the Okefenokee Swamp, and my girl is on a mission trip in Mexico during her spring break, but I at least got to get a good hike in with friends.

I'm working on the Smokies Centennial Challenge, with a goal of hiking 100 miles in the Smokies in 2016. We needed a relatively easy trail, as we had a few younger kids and uncertain moms on the hike. The Cucumber Gap Trail at Elkmont was absolutely perfect. It's one of the few trails in the Smokies that is actually flat. I don't even know how that's possible, but it is—and it follows the river the entire time, which is always a bonus with kids.

The trail is an easy—and I do mean easy—2.4 miles. We turned around at the junction and headed back. I'd like to do this trail again in early June when the rhododendrons are flowering.








My total trial miles now are 9— I have a long way to go but still 9 months ahead, and the best hiking seasons yet to come!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Wrapping up February, Full Throttle into March



I turned 50!



Here's me. I'm 50.


Fancy birthday soufflé in Louisville

So bucket list.

Randy gave me a huge, amazing birthday surprise! He whisked me off to Louisville to see Bruce Springsteen—my last giant bucket list concert! It was a spectacular weekend with a fabulous dinner, the best breakfast I've ever had, and, well, Bruce.


Black and white dance

For many years, I had a bunch of teenage girls getting ready at my house before each dance. And then for a couple of years, I had Laurel getting ready and then picked up by her boyfriend. Now… I have a bunch of boisterous teenage boys with bow ties and suspenders. And they're really fun, too.



Admittedly, picking out a bow tie isn't nearly as much fun as picking out a dress, but they sure are hilarious.


Class field trip

I managed to pull off another major class field trip. I always feel such a sense of success when one of these comes together without any major glitches! This time I arranged for my literature classes to go to Nashville to see The Crucible at Lipscomb University. You know— where my daughter just happens to go! How awesome was it that Lipscomb was the only place within a several hour radius that was putting on The Crucible this year, when we read it in both my lit classes?

The play was fantastic. All the adults were stunned at the quality of the acting; in fact, we all agreed that it was the BEST stage acting we'd ever seen. And we've seen a lot of plays in a lot of places. Astonishing.

Best of all, I got to see my girl, if only for a few hours. I hadn't seen her in about 7 weeks! How did I survive??

About half of the students who went on the trip. The rest hadn't yet arrived or were wandering around campus.

Reunited!! Haley's a senior this year and got to see Laurel and Bess, who she was in my classes with forEVER.

The best part of the trip: seeing my girl and her boyfriend.



National History Day

And today was National History Day!

 Duncan and his partner did a website together. His partner wasn't able to come to the competition, so Duncan had to do the interview by himself. We had an early interview and then had to hang out for a few hours until the awards ceremony. We walked around downtown Knoxville and ate a lot. The boys didn't win, but we had a great day anyway and the experience was fantastic. I'm hoping Duncan will enter again next year.
The opening and closing ceremonies took place at the Tennessee Theatre.

Waiting on our first meal of the day at the Creperie.

Wandering around downtown.

Back to the Tennessee Theatre for the closing ceremony after a day of hanging out downtown.


And that's about it for this month. Just one more week until spring break, and I am ready!

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