Friday, August 28, 2009


My daughter turns twelve tomorrow, and twelve seems to have been, for me, a year of awakening. Twelve was when I put away the Barbie dolls for good, after a few last half-hearted attempts to play that just weren't satisfying. Twelve was when I busied my doll-lonely hands with various craft kits, churning out latch hook rugs, cross-stitched samplers and dozens of shiny beaded dolls. Even tonight, on the eve of my daughter's birthday, she is packing away a tubful of American Girl clothes and accessories, who will join the box of Barbies already under her bed. As if something magical kicks in exactly at 12, some silent signal.

At twelve I was lamenting having moved from a neighborhood filled with childhood friends to a new house out in the country. My diary is filled with pages of memories of the old neighborhood and missing my friends. "It's really hard to control my feelings about moving," I wrote. "My heart is almost always heavy. If my parents knew how much I am suffering they would have never moved." Makes me wonder: does my daughter suffer so deeply? Is her heart ever so heavy?

The brother closest to me would have been 14, and we barely spoke to one another. Not uncommon in my diary are phrases like "Stephen opened up his big mouth" and "Stephen is such a jerk. He makes me want to barf." I see that in my daughter with her younger brother, that irritation and shortness with him. I want to knock their heads together and tell them that they are wasting time with their bickering, that it is better for them to cultivate closeness now than to wait 20 years. Or never.

At twelve I was awkward looking with braces and glasses—those really big ones that everyone wore in 1978—, and to add insult to that, I got all my hair cut off. I sketched my new hairdo in my diary, and, well, curly hair just didn't do Farrah Fawcett very well. My daughter is much prettier than I was then, although I imagine she feels just as awkward and self-conscious.

Twelve began the phase of boy-craziness, which lasted for a very long time. Boys from school or ones I'd meet briefly at church camp and daydream about for months. Watching the dating scene begin in earnest in seventh grade and wondering when someone was going to notice me. And terrified about what that might mean. My daughter at twelve seems completely uninterested in boys, but perhaps my mother thought the same thing. Likely, in fact, she did. We shy girls hide. Does my daughter imagine what it would be like to have a boy smile at her?

And twelve meant fights between girlfriends, another theme that was to become central in my diaries in years to come. "She's been talking about me all day, acting like a fool." The pain of losing friends, of negotiating the fragile and every-shifting territory of girl relationships: "I've never been without a best friend and it's weird. Sure, I got a lot of friends, but they all got their own best friends. I really wish I had one." At twelve my friends ranked differently according to, I suppose, the latest drama. Every few pages I'd rank them like this:
"My best friends are:
Lisa Calabrese
Karen Wilson
Lisa Mauro
Michelle Trickler
Ros Dickson
Debbie Patchett
Amy Dunathan
Anne Collins
Lisa Gage"
My daughter has been with a group of girls since kindergarten, with a few additions in the past few years. She is a lovely, happy girl who laughs easily and who adores her friends. I wonder how much different her life is because she doesn't have to navigate the complex and stressful paths of public school, especially in middle school. I am happy about that for her. And I wonder: will my daughter look back at 12 and wonder what ever happened to some of those people, remember slumber parties and hours of phone calls, puzzling over what could have happened to knock a person off the "best friends" list?

At twelve I alternated between being frustrated with my parents and enjoying them. I clearly remember my mother once sitting by my bed at nighttime, saying "We don't like each other very much right now, do we?" How I resented that, and yet I'm sure she was just exhausted from housing a bratty and ungrateful daughter. I admit I've had moments when my daughter's attitude makes me bristle. Still, I feel enormously grateful that she is my girl, even when she's stomping off to her room. I'm sure my mom felt the same way, deep down. I knew even then that she loved me, even if she didn't like me. I hope my daughter always knows that, too.

I don't think I was very nice when I was twelve. I was selfish and bristly and insecure. My daughter seems to me to be a much, much nicer person. If I were twelve, I would want to be her friend because she is the kind of girl who is always laughing and always encouraging others. She's a great listener and always tries to be tactful. I hope she stays that way.

I had to leave her room tonight as I watched her fold up Bitty Baby outfits and little shoes. I remember doing that at twelve, and it was like packing away childhood. And that I just couldn't finish watching. She's still just my little girl.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scouting Family Camp

We had a fantastic, restful weekend during our third annual Scouting Family Camp weekend at the Big South Fork, about an hour and a half north of Knoxville. Great friends, beautiful area, whippoorwills and owls, and no copperheads this year.

Camping is the ultimate soul-refresher for Dr. H. and me, and we sorely needed to be refreshed.

Wordless Wednesday: Only When Camping…

(Camping: the only time Spam is appropriate! For more Wordless Wednesdays or to post your own, check out 5 Minutes for Mom and Wordless Wednesday.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain --

that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

(Click on pics for larger views, especially of the collage. Should you visit Gettsyburg? Absolutely yes.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I like the feeling each August of returning to our regular life, just like I love the feeling in May of leaving our regular life behind for a few months. This year in particular, we are all happy to be resuming our studies.

It's been a weird summer. Dr. H. was gone for over 35 days this summer: five days botanizing in Florida and Georgia, 16 days at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico, 13 days traveling to and from Utah, with many side trips for botanizing, and then another few days apart from us whle we were in NY and he at home in Tennessee. I know that's no big deal for families who are used to a traveling Dad schedule, but it was a very disconcerting and lonely summer for us without Dr. H. We missed him a lot.

I'm glad all that traveling is behind us.

Today began our 10th year of homeschooling. Ten years since we said good-bye to public schools, pulling out Jesse after his 1st-grade year. We have never, ever looked back. And now that little sweet boy who was bored to tears in public school is a senior, having squeezed his sophomore and junior years into one last year. That doesn't astound me so much, somehow, as my little girl being a 7th grader. I have no idea how that happened. And I thought Duncan was in 3rd grade last year when he was actually in 2nd, so that's all good.

This is a blessed journey, and I'm thankful to be at home to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Back

* I was really, really looking forward to returning from vacation and relaxing for a few days before our regular school year activities started in.

* But before I even returned from vacation—halfway between New York and Tennessee, actually—a new drama began unfolding back on the homefront. Well, not exactly on the homefront, but in our life.

* I resent drama, especially when it's brought about by adults who should certainly know how to play nicely with others by now.

* So tonight, we are putting the drama totally aside and enjoying a quiet evening. We aren't answering the phone, and I'm going to try really hard not to check my email.

* And later, I'll give a full account of our travels.

* But not of the drama, so don't look forward to hearing that sordid tale.

* And so it goes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


It's an easy weekend to lose track of time. We drove the 13-hours from Tennessee to New York on Thursday, and driving days are always lost days. We don't remember what day it is, and the hours become "only 6 more" rather than o'clocks.

All day Friday was spent loading up the truck, or watching the truck being loaded mostly and wondering how to be helpful.

Last night was my 25-year high school class reunion. Again, timeless in so many ways. Many of the women looked exactly the same, some even more beautiful than in high school. The men who kept off the weight looked fantastic. But whatever the looks, the personalities came through ultimately in a timeless sort of way; but without the rough edges and clique borders, we are all much nicer people.

Today the house is practically empty. After lunch the dining room table and chairs will be loaded into the van, and we'll have to share the last 3 remaining chairs. Already I am yearning to head back home to Tennessee, where my days have structure and sense.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Everything in the past few months has been rolling toward this week. In a few days I'm leaving for upstate New York, to my hometown, to my parents, to my high school reunion, to my house.

It's just a house. A big white house with a dozen windows and two patio doors that look out on 26-mile-long, 2-mile-wide, 750-feet-deep Seneca Lake. A house my parents had built when I was 11 years old, when we moved from the comfort of a neighborhood filled with childhood friends and sidewalk games out to the boonies of the lake. I traded evening games of kickball and kick-the-can for the ceaseless sound of water and boats. Traded walks home from school for the late afternoon bus with its bouncing green seats and headaches.

I only lived there six or seven years, and I didn't want to live there in the first place. But I can't help but mourn, and I can't help but face that in just a little over a week, I'll be really saying goodbye.

Because it was in that house that I packed up my Barbies and baby dolls and stuck Shawn Cassidy, Scott Baio, and Andy Gibb on the wall.

It was in this house, in my bedroom with the blue-and-green shag carpet and the light green walls, that I began writing, recording hundreds of grievances, making lists of "friends" and "best friend" and "very best friends," copying quotes and poetry, dreaming, wishing, wondering. I have still a hefty stack of journals from those days, and I swear I remember writing each word. The indelible memory of ink.

It was in this house that cabinet doors slammed and tensions tightened as the teen years spread their typical toxic powder in every nook and cranny. And in those same years, this house held Norman Rockwell moments, board games in the basement and bowls of buttery popcorn. The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and M*A*S*H. Ping-pong tournaments and endless games of cards. Laughter and slamming doors.

In this house friendships were cemented and stretched, countless overnights and hours of laughing, those uncontrollable spasms of girl-laughing that we lose in adulthood. And slumber parties oozing with a curious and nearly lethal mix of teen-aged angst, jealousy, utter devotion, and a zest for life. Girlfriends in striped pajamas bearing sleeping bags, pillows, and tales.

It was in this house, in the living room with the burgundy carpet and views of the lake, that I sank into the gold-colored sofa every evening after swim practice, exhausted, craving just 20 minutes of oblivious sleep before dinner. And then sitting at our long table by the wall with the mirror etched with ducks, dinner of meat, potatoes, salad shining with oil and vinegar. My mother's fried chicken. A bowl of raspberries and vanilla ice cream. Dad, peeling apples.

In this house my heart fluttered to love and fell apart broken, over and over, by a skinny boy with crooked teeth and a cracking voice who begged for me to write him notes and then stomped on my fragile heart. Gone now, that one, these 20 years, and yet it is in this house that he used to come to me in dreams, floating outside my bedroom window, beckoning in penance.

And in this house I grew strong in body and mind and soul, and loved a sweet boy with blue eyes whose friendship far surpassed all those lists of "best friends" and "very best friends" from a few years before. And in our young, strong love we sailed on hot summer days in a green-and-white Sunfish and watched the moon rise over the velvet lake, and I listened for the sound of pebbles tossed gently against my window, beckoning me.

Inevitably the roll of the waves against the shore worked its magic, and moonlight sails and the cry of a loon sang me home. It was this house I left at 18 to return only on school holidays, sharing pots of tea with my mother as my father shuffled papers. And after college graduation I came back to that house as a stepping stone to my new life.

It was in that dining room that Randy proposed to me on a September evening, holding a ring and all the promises we could conceive of and all those we didn't know existed then. It was in my room with the blue-and-green shag carpet that I tried on my wedding dress and veil and ached to be far, far away and yet already missing the silhouette of trees against lake.

It's just a house, really. A house that I entered at eleven, pouting, with a box of Barbies and left years later, stretching toward today. It's a house soon to be swept clean of our family dust, walls painted over and cracks mended. Carpet will be pulled up and cabinets torn down, rickety beach steps replaced with something solid and nicely stained. I like to think my mother's roses will always spread their sweet fragrance all over the yard. What I do know, though, is that the morning sun will always turn the lake to diamonds, and the moonlight will always create the perfect path for a midnight sail. And memories—they stick around for a long, long time.