105 MonthsHappy 105 months my sweet girl! My nature girl. My animal lover.

We took a trip north to Asheville this month for spring break and a reunion with the Hensley family. You'd been excited about this trip for ages, because you so wanted to see buddy Sam and boyfriend (ahem) Will. You and Will have called each other boyfriend/girlfriend for years. I keep wondering when one of you will outgrow this elementary school romance and want to pair off with someone local instead. But so far, the two of you seem satisfied with seeing each other once a year, and always pick up right where you left off.

Camille and Will
And you'd think Sam might feel left out in this trio, right? But it just seems to work - the three of you pal around perfectly. 

Pals
This year we rented a cottage on a real, working farm nestled into the Blue Ridge mountains. The pack of enormous, muddy, friendly farm dogs were constant sources of fun for you all. You named them and hugged them and fretted over them and even tried to ride them like horses. You loved swinging on the trapeze by the creek, or walking the hanging bridges to an amazing treehouse complex.

The TreehousesThe Trapeze Swing
The farm was a place of great freedom and liberation, as we felt free to let you all wander. Off you'd go up the gravel paths together, in search of the family of peacocks or to visit the horse. We wouldn't know exactly where you were or when you were coming back, but we knew you all were ok. Better than ok, we knew you were having a wonderful time.

The Gravel RoadOff to Find the Peacocks
Our trip encompassed the Easter holiday, and the location was idyllic for an Easter egg hunt. We hid more than 100 eggs in the tall grasses and shrubs, and enjoyed watching you three dash about for the prizes.

On the HuntFound one!
So, about Easter ... 

The night before Easter, we were all lounging in the living room of the cottage, talking about Easter traditions. When I was growing up, the Easter bunny would send me on a scavenger hunt for my basket. I'd wake to find a post-it note on my nightstand or headboard, and I'd follow the clues upstairs and downstairs until finally finding my basket of goodies in the dryer, the pantry, or some other covert place. 

Without thinking, I said aloud, "I wonder why I've never done that with you, Camille? Maybe I should."

To which your Daddy replied, "Don't you mean the EASTER BUNNY should do that?"

Whoops! We both looked at you for your reaction. I knew you were already suspicious about the whole Easter bunny thing, but you'd never asked us for the truth. Had I just outed myself as the Easter Bunny?

"Yeah mom," you said with a sly smile, "Don't kill the magic."

Ha! So it appears you do know who's behind your Easter morning basket, but you want to keep playing the game. Sure thing love - we'll keep playing!

It's always hard to say good-bye to these great friends, but at least our trip wasn't over when we left the Hensleys and the farm. Our next stop was Tennessee and Nana and Granddaddy, and a visit to the aquarium.

JellyfishWatching the FishSurrounded!
The animals were fascinating, and each time one swam in your direction, you were sure it was coming to visit you. You've always felt a connection with nearly every animal you see.

Dead or alive.

Last week, I was standing in our driveway before church when I saw a dead baby possum near the garage. I knew you'd want the chance to see him up close, and he didn't look grotesque yet, so I went back in the house and told you what I'd found. You quickly slipped on shoes and ran out to see for yourself. 

"Oh!" you squealed. "He is sooooooo cute!"

I told you repeatedly not to touch him, and you didn't. But you knelt down close, looked into his vacant eyes and said, "I feel so sorry for him! Mama, can we bury him in the backyard?"

Oh good grief. It was a Sunday morning and we were all in our church clothes. We were not about to go digging a hole in the backyard for a possum who was not a pet, and I told you as much. 

"So what are you going to do with him?" you asked. A pause. "You're not going to just put him in the trash, are you?!?"

Which of course, was the plan. Your Daddy and I tried to reason with you. We couldn't bury him in the backyard - what if the dog dug him up? Maybe we could just put him in the alley and let vultures eat him - circle of life and all?

But the more we tried to persuade you, the more heartbroken you were, until you finally collapsed in your Daddy's arms with uncontrollable sobs. 

Honey, you get it honestly. I remember as a child looking at a dead fly that had been killed in my house. The more I looked at it and contemplated its short life, the more upset I felt. So I had a funeral for it. I found a container, dug a hole with a spoon and buried it.

So I was secretly relieved when your Daddy sighed and said, "What if we bury it in the alley after church. Will that make you feel better?"

And so you did. After digging the hole and covering up the possum, your Daddy asked if you wanted to say some words over the animal's grave, but you didn't. So he summed it up with, "Hey possum. We didn't know you, but we hope you were nice."

My sweet girl with a tender heart - that sensitive side is going to cause you some pain throughout your life. But it's also going to allow you to experience great love and joy, so I'm glad it's part of you.

I love you so much.

I may not have the solution for peace in Israel, but going for a run may be - quite literally - a step in the right direction. 

After several days of touring (and eating and eating and eating), it was time for us to burn some calories and fulfill the original purpose of our trip - to experience the Jerusalem Marathon series.

The day before race day, our crew of writers joined many others on the roof of the Mamila hotel for a press conference with Mayor Nir Barkat and several other race and tourism officials. The race is a big deal for Jerusalem, and 25,000 runners were descending on the city at that very moment. Some of the elite runners were invited to the press conference too - these folks who could finish a full marathon before I could finish a half. Here they are, with Mayor Barkat (also a runner) in the middle.

Press Conference
In addition to filling us in on the race details, the officials commended us for our courage and our bravery in coming to their city for this event. 

Wait - my what

I'd mostly put safety concerns out of my mind up to that moment. But here they were, telling me I'd been brave to make the trip. Oh what had I gotten myself into?

All those runners and volunteers and spectators - what targets we could be. But I also knew the security would be robust, and truly I didn't feel brave or frightened. I just felt excited for the opportunity to run this race. 

The race series includes everything from an 800 meter charity race, to a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. Neither Lee nor I were adequately trained for one of the longer races, so Lee signed up for the 10K and I the 5K.

Race morning dawned sunny but chilly, and I was grateful for our press passes that gave us access to a tent at the finish line. We also happened to be next to the merchandise tent, where everything with a race logo was half-price. Lee and I snagged some matching race jackets and bundled up.

Race Swag
But by the time the 5K was ready to begin, the sun felt warm and the conditions were race-perfect. I lined up at the start, with live music to my right, costumed characters to my left, and surrounded by thousands of others runners. There were individuals and families and youth groups. There were people dressed like me, and there were others wearing long sleeves, long pants and head coverings according to their religious customs. I heard many different languages, but all spoken with the same excited energy that is always found at the start of a race.

Obligatory Selfie
There were runners from 60 countries present, and even racers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We crossed the start line and began climbing the hills of Jerusalem, and I thought how wonderful races are for bringing people together. Races are a celebration of human spirit. Running is not a Jewish thing or a Christian thing or a Muslim thing. It's not an Israeli thing or a Palestinian thing. It's a human thing, and there we were, being humans together. Sweating and laughing and breathing and running together.

Jerusalem Marathon Series - 5K
The police presence was obvious along the race route, but not in a threatening or unwelcome way. I love this pic by one of the other writers in our group, Dax of dirtyrunning.com. Their weapons were intimidating, but their grins told a different story.

Race Security
The race was hilly and challenging. With the 5K though, you don't really go far enough for an expansive vista, but oh how I wish I could've been in shape for the half marathon. I've seen the pictures from writers on our trip who ran longer races. Yes, the course was uphill and difficult, but when you run to the tops of those hills you get some magnificent views. The longer courses also take you through the Old City of Jerusalem. To run on those streets steeped with so much history must be a thrill.

I crossed the finish and was pleased to collect a finisher's medal - not too many 5Ks give out medals, and this is certainly one souvenir I will cherish always. Then I saw Lee off for his 10K, and even got a glimpse of him later on the course near the finish line - he was one happy runner.

BlingLee on the Race RouteFinishers
I totally understand why the Ministry of Tourism invited us on this trip. Jerusalem is in need of some good PR, of some displays of unity rather than the divisive images most of us see on the news. And if you've ever run a race, you know what happens when you're on the course - there's an instant camaraderie you feel with your fellow runners. Racing is an individual sport, but one that fosters a strong communal bond.

That's just the kind of thing Israel needs. The kind of thing we all need, don't you think?
Jerusalem at Night
About 5 weeks ago, Lee got an email. One of those too-good-to-be-true emails. So good it must be spam. 

The email was from Israel's Ministry of Tourism, inviting Lee on a press tour for the Jerusalem Marathon. All expenses would be paid for the 1-week trip - all they would ask is that he write about it on Brew Drink Run.

My first response when he told me was, "You MUST go!" And then my next question was, "Do they allow paid guests?"

The answer was yes.

I was still dubious that it could be true, and kept waiting for the catch. The email claiming, "we just need your credit card and social security number..." It didn't help that four days before our departure we still didn't have flight information. To pack, or not to pack? 

But then Lee's email box chimed with the message we'd been waiting for - flight confirmation from Savannah to Tel Aviv. It was real.

A couple of frenzied days of preparation, and three long flights later, we found ourselves in the passport control line at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv behind two other Americans. My ears perked up when I heard one say, "I didn't get my tickets until Thursday! I really didn't think this trip was happening - I was kind of shocked."

I figured these must be our people - and sure enough they were two other bloggers in our press group. There were about 18 of us in the English-speaking group (more about some of them here), along with Russian and French contingents.

Past the border control we met our wonderful guide, Ori, who directed us to our bus to begin the drive to Jerusalem. 

Our first stop was one of my favorites of the whole trip - the Mount of Olives.

I grew up in the church, and stories about Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives are more familiar to me than any other tales from my childhood. We stood on top of that famed mountain, next to a group of tourists and a man with a camel looking for riders, and Ori pointed out the sites.

Camel Ride, Anyone?Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
It went something like this: over there - that's where Jesus rode down on a donkey into Jerusalem before the Passover. That is the gate where he entered the city on a path lined with palm branches. See that church over there? That's where the Last Supper is believed to have been. Do you see that smaller dome over there? That's the church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on Golgotha and around Jesus' tomb.

I could see it all in my mind's eye - I could see Jesus and his disciples there. It was as close to a feeling of time travel as I've ever had.

The next day took us into the Old City of Jerusalem. To walk the winding streets of the Old City is to weave your way through a labyrinth of cultures and ages. All of the walls and paving stones are the singular tan color of Jerusalem stone, and it's not easy to tell one street vendor or falafel shop from another. But if you look at the people, the differences are striking. 

In the Old CityCat in the Old CityIn the Old City
On one street, you may jostle for space next to a woman wearing a burqa as you hear the Muslim call to prayer echo off those tan stones. Turn a corner and you may find yourself bumping into a Jewish man with long sidelocks spiraling down from under his broad-brimmed black hat.

Stations of the CrossVia Dolorosa
At any moment, you're likely to to see Christian pilgrims from all over the world walking the stations of the cross, following the last steps of Jesus before his crucifixion. Some carry crosses on their own backs, while others chant prayers in many languages.

Approach to the Western Wall
I stood at the Western Wall of the old Temple Mount and said a prayer next to a woman who was rocking back and forth, cradling a holy book and repeating prayers in Hebrew. I tried to imagine Jesus driving out the money changers before teaching there - right there where I was. It was somehow so real and surreal at the same time.

At the Western WallPrayers at the Western Wall
As a person of faith, but one who also values peace and tolerance among the faiths, it was a lovely sight to see - this mosaic of cultures and peoples and religions. I never felt unsafe. I never felt threatened. It seemed there was something special here for everyone, and everyone was welcome to experience it. 

But just read an article about Israeli politics - or better yet, ask an Israeli - and you find a real tension under the surface. Get outside the walls of the Old City, take a drive past the Palestinian neighborhood and see the imposing security fence erected around it. Take note of the black-charred sections of that wall, sites of some earlier violent display. See the traffic backed up on the interstate as people gather in central Tel Aviv for another political demonstration. Stroll a quiet marketplace, and notice the young police officers with automatic weapons, armed for a siege of a scale I can't fathom. 

Ben Yehuda Market
Here's what I understand. Israel is a special place. If you're Christian, Jewish or Muslim, the area is sacred to your faith. Even if you're not religious, but of Arab or Jewish descent, you claim an important history here. But it's been a tumultuous history for thousands of years - each group fighting for power and control, each sure this is THEIR chosen land. The pendulum swings first one way and then another, and it swings like a wrecking ball.

I have more I want to say about this trip - about the people and places and even the marathon. But it seems overwhelming to try to put it all down at once. So for now, here is what is on my heart.

Israel is a beautiful land and a holy land, filled with beautiful people. But it's so much more than that. I went into the trip with an open mind, hoping to understand more about the area's history and the politics, and hoping for a spiritual connection. I certainly got the latter, but as for an understanding ... I came home realizing that I don't know hardly anything. And certainly without a clear idea of how peace can be won.

Jerusalem
Camille at 104 Months
Happy 104 months to you, my best girl, and happy spring! I love the way each season carries with it milestones from year to year - benchmarks to measure growth. I often find myself saying things like, "Is it really time for THAT holiday again?!," as the special dates sneak up, and are suddenly and unexpectedly close.

One such milestone is the annual Daddy Daughter Dance at your school. You've been attending this dance since kindergarten in 2012. On the one hand, it doesn't seem like that long ago. But then I pulled up a photo from that night, and was struck by how much you've grown in three years. 

2012 | 2015
That first dance, I snagged several pictures of you twirling with your Daddy. 

Back in 2012
With each year though, you spend more of your time dancing with friends while all the Daddys look on. This is as it should be - just another sign of your growing independence. 

Gal Pals
The day of the dance you wanted to curl your hair, so we rolled your pretty blond locks on hot rollers and gave them a couple of hours to set. This was a good opportunity to practice viola, and I love this shot I snapped of you playing in curlers, looking enthused.

Concentration Face
We took the curlers out and I even let you wear some of my lipstick, which of course made you look way too old. And of course you loved it. You looked beautiful. 

A Lovely CorsageA Kiss for DaddyA Kiss from Daddy
You had another very grown up experience this past month - your first rock 'n' roll club show! Your Daddy and I are fans of The Gaslight Anthem, and you've been exposed to enough of their music that you're a fan now too. You love to pick Gaslight songs when we're in the car and belt out the choruses along with us.

So when they announced a tour stop in Charleston at an all-ages venue, we asked if you wanted to come along. I knew the biggest obstacle by far would be the late hour of the show - we've talked before about your inability to stay up late. We warned you that it would be well past your bedtime, but you said you were game, so we got three tickets.

When we arrived at the venue, our first stop was the ticket booth. The window was up high, and as your Daddy and I got wristbands to show we are over 21, you hopped and jumped and strained your neck higher, trying hard to see over the window ledge.

The women at the ticket desk said, "And you have someone in your party who is under 21, right?" And we laughed while your little head kept bouncing up, up, up. "How could you tell?" we asked. 

Once inside, you got lots of stares - some of surprise, many of respect. We found our way to the perfect viewing location for you, up on a small balcony to the side of the stage. From that perch, you could see the audience and the band without having to be down with the crowd surfers and the beer spillers. We snapped on your noise-canceling headphones to save your ears, and enjoyed the people-watching.

Gaslight Anthem ConcertChecking out the Stage with Dad
There were two opening acts, and you waited patiently through both until it was finally time for The Gaslight Anthem. As the band members walked on stage, the lead singer looked up and caught sight of you. He motioned to the others and pointed, and then they waved at you. You waved back.

A few songs in, you leaned over to me and said, "The singer is cute. I need to get his Animal Jam login name so we can be friends," referring to a computer game you like to play with buddies. It amused me to think of you and Brian Fallon playing Animal Jam together - you in Savannah and he on a tour bus.

Checking out the Band
You were a total trooper, but as the clock approached 11 p.m. you literally began to fade, sliding down until you were seated on the floor, propped against my leg. We decided you'd had enough, and left just a couple of songs before the end of the show. You were so tired as you stumbled to the car, and I wondered if you were regretting staying up so late. 

"So what did you think, Camille?" we asked. 

"That. Was. Awesome." you said, in a voice that was tired but sure. And I admit, your father and I felt quite proud.

Last month was also bittersweet, in that your Daddy and I got to take a trip to Jerusalem, but you stayed at home. You were none too happy about this, but on the plus side you got to enjoy some quality Boo time. You also got to see your cousins before school every day and on the weekend, and I know they helped pass the time. I am so thankful that you get to grow up with those two nearby, who are like brothers to you.

I was glad the trip timed out so that we arrived home just in time for St. Patrick's Day. The schools close because everyone will be at the parade, so it meant we had the whole day to spend together as a family. We biked downtown to join friends on the parade route, and soaked up the warm sunshine and the festive spirit.

St. Pat's 2015Parade Buddies
Thank you for another great month, sweet girl, full of familiar milestones and new experiences, too. I'm so glad I get to be along for the ride. I love you so much.

Sprinkler Time

Camille at 103 Months
Happy one-oh-three, my sweet girl, the super-fantastic new acolyte at First Baptist Church of Savannah!

This last month contained a nice first for you - the first time you were given the job of acolyte at church. For a dozen years I've watched other kids march down the center aisle and light the candelabra up front. I've watched those kids grow and grow until they were too old to acolyte, replaced by the next group of young recruits.

And now, somehow, it is your turn. 

The first Sunday in February, you donned a red robe and held your torch in the church foyer, enduring all the unsolicited advice about not tripping and not setting anything on fire that wasn't a candle. But you weren't too worried, because you weren't walking that aisle alone. 

Camille and John Foxx
John Foxx is in the 8th grade, and would be your mentor. He's one of the kids I've watched grow up with every trek down that aisle. Somehow that sweet, small child is now tall, with a longer stride and a confident gait. He's always been a friend to you, and not just at church. He goes to your school, and when you first transferred there in kindergarten and were all alone, John Foxx came to your class to have lunch with you. It's not cool to be an upperclassman hanging out with a little kid, but no one seems to have told John Foxx this. He's always ready with a smile and a hug for you, and on this Sunday morning, John Foxx promised that if your candles wouldn't light, he'd be there to help.

I proudly watched you make your way down the aisle, and then you two split at the front of the church to go to your separate candelabras. John Foxx lit his candles quickly, while you more slowly and deliberately moved through yours. 

AcolytesLighting the Candles
Then that tricky center candle just wouldn't light. After several attempts, you finally gave John Foxx "the look," and he walked over and lit that center candle for you. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a warm happiness, seeing again his kindness and friendship.

Assistance from John Foxx
Kindness and friendship are two gifts that are so important to me as your mother. Yes I want you to be smart, yes I want you to be successful, but more than these I want you to be a kind, loving person. This world needs kindness and love, and I want you to add to the balance of good.

And that's why it meant so much to me when I got your teacher's email this month. Oh we've had several parent-teacher conferences. We've reviewed test scores and talked about your academic strengths and weaknesses. But this email was about your heart, and it was so lovely it brought me to tears.

It was the week of Valentine's Day, and the class was given a writing assignment. The instructions read, "Someone who has a 'heart of gold' is a person who is very kind and caring. Describe someone you know who has a heart of gold."
 
The children could write about anyone - a family member, a classmate, a friend. In her email, your teacher said, "I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that 8 children wrote that Camille has a heart of gold. I'm sharing this with you because I feel like it is important that you know how much your child supports and cares for other students in our class."

My heart swelled. How affirming it was to know that you are a friend and a peacemaker in your world. When your classmates think of kindness they think of you, and that's a fulfillment of so many of my hopes and prayers for you.

You bring so much light and joy to my life, and I am proud of the way you share that light and joy with others too. I couldn't be more proud of you. I love you so much.

Friendship and Kindness

102 Months
Hello sweet girl and Happy New Year to you! 2015 will go down in your personal history as the first year you were awake as the clock struck midnight - though I can't say you were particularly happy about it. But hey! You did it!

First, let me back up a moment. Christmas was wonderful, and Santa granted your request for a new bike - a much bigger bike, ideal for keeping up with Mom and Dad as we wheel around the neighborhood. 

New Christmas BikeBiking in the Neighborhood
We biked to Boo's for lunch and gifts, biked to neighbors for an oyster roast, and had an all-around grand day.

Family Christmas Bike RideChristmas Day Oyster Roast
We spent the next few days happily hosting Nana and Granddaddy before loading up the car and heading south for a bit of January camping. Our destination was Fort Wilderness, the Disney campground in Orlando.

Orlando Bound!Campfire Chipmunk!
We didn't have plans to visit the Disney parks, but the resorts are so packed full of activities that we didn't feel like we were missing much. We were in the good company of friends, and pitched our tents in the middle of Disney's "wilderness," complete with very nice bathrooms and a heated pool and a beach and playgrounds and general Disney awesome-ness.

The only un-awesome part was the weather - chilly and rainy. But that didn't stop you and Lola and Fletcher from biking around the campground or even swimming in the pool.

Dominos by the Pool
New Year's Eve we took camping chairs to the beach where we'd have a clear view of the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom at midnight. Cool as that was, I knew this was going to be a tough sell for you - the girl who hates to stay up late.

Sometime around 10:30, you plopped down on my lap and cuddled in close for warmth. It was very chilly on that windswept beach, and I didn't mind a bit when you fell asleep on me. We hadn't packed any blankets, and all we had with us for warmth was a towel - a wet towel. I pulled it over us anyway because at least it cut the wind.

New Year's Eve Nap
A few minutes before midnight, I nudged you awake. The fireworks were simply spectacular, and even if you were too groggy to really enjoy it, I'm glad I got to see them with you.

Ah ... the subject of bedtime. We spent the first several years of your life strictly enforcing bedtime rules because we all benefitted from a solid evening routine. But now that you're older, the routine is so set that it's hard to get you to adapt to any changes. 

For the moment, sleepovers are more difficult because you just want your buddies to be quiet and go to bed. They'd rather stay up talking and playing. I imagine as you get older this will change, but it has led to a few foiled sleepover attempts of late. 

So when it was time to send you off to Girl Scout camp last weekend, I wondered how you'd fare in a cabin full of girls who might prefer pillow fights to sleeping.

Girl Scout Camping
But thankfully you rolled with it, and seemed to have a great time despite the fact that the temperatures were in the 30s and your cabin had only screens for windows and no heat. You're one tough cookie!

Scouting Fun
A couple of nights ago, it was my turn to read to you and tuck you in. As is our routine, we crawled into my bed for a couple of chapters of Little House on the Prairie, and then a cuddle or two after reading. You usually ask to sleep in my bed, knowing the answer will always be no. I wasn't kidding about our strict bedtime rules - from your toddler years on, we never let you sleep with us for fear of creating a bad habit. 

But this night, as I held you, I could feel your breathing get deeper and slower as you drifted to sleep. My first impulse was to usher you off to your own bed before you were too deeply asleep to make the trip on your own.

But why? You're no stubborn two-year-old, fighting for power in a bedtime struggle. You are my sweet 8-year-old girl, getting older by the moment, and moving toward a time when you'll be the one staying up late. So I settled in and listened to you breathe, and enjoyed the warm weight of your head on my arm.

Sweet Snuggler
Until I coughed. Your eyes flew open, and you slid out of bed. "Ok Mama," you said, "Time for bed." And then you walked to your own room like the big kid you are.

Parenting is full of such contradictions - of countless evenings spent persuading your child to sleep in her own bed, and then suddenly wishing she'd stay snuggled up next to you for just a bit longer.

You're all at once my baby and my young lady and I love both parts of you. Always and forever.
101 MonthsHappy 101 months sweet girl, and Happy Christmas Eve Eve! 

We're all a little travel-weary tonight, having just driven through hours of thick holiday traffic in a pouring rain to get back home from Tennessee. But the visit is always worth the trouble. You spent the last several days in the company of cousins Stella and Jane - the second time this month you've seen these girls! Considering that they live in Texas, this is no small feat. 

Camille, Stella and JaneSilly HatsCousin Fun
For Thanksgiving, we flew to Dallas to spend the holiday with them in their new home. We ate, we played, we had adventures (like a visit to a dinosaur trail!), but mostly you kids did what kids do best - you got up way too early each morning so that you'd have plenty of time to laugh and scream and jump and run and thoroughly enjoy each other's company. Go to sleep. Repeat.

On the Dinosaur TrailExplorers
When we got together with them again this weekend in Tennessee, it was happily more of the same. You love each other dearly, you drive each other nuts, and you can't wait to see each other again.

Cousins at Christmas
Our travels this month also included a couple of nights with Mr. Glen in Big Canoe, where you're free to explore the woods behind his mountain cabin. Your day was filled with activities like "birdhouse rehab," and lots of time spent clearing leaves from the creek with a stick. Was it necessary to clear those leaves? No. But it was satisfying work, and you were glad to do it.

Birdhouse RehabClearing the Creek
All this traveling has, obviously, meant lots of time in the car. We don't mind if you watch movies in the car, but lately you've resisted, saying, "I don't want my brain to turn to mush." 

Sigh.

One time, probably 2 years ago, you asked me why we limited your TV time at home. And I told you that watching too much TV makes your brain turn to mush. I didn't mean it literally, but you took it that way. No matter how many times I've tried to explain my hyperbole, you seem to be honestly a little afraid that if you watch too much TV at one time, your brain will liquefy and begin oozing out of your ears.

Car Traveler
But I'm not complaining. It's nice to see the things you'll come up with to do in the car. For example, on this Tennessee trip you borrowed my laptop so you could write a book. It was a chapter book in which a you and a group of classmates are studying worms and then you TURN INTO WORMS! Adventure ensues. Your story is really quite fun, and it was a proud mama moment when you piped up from the backseat to ask, "Mama, how do you spell 'treacherous?'" I love that brain of yours.

That brain has really been churning over the idea of Santa Claus this year. We've played the Santa game all your life and we've enjoyed it, but your Daddy and I have not taken it too seriously. We didn't want to build it up so much that when you learned the truth you'd be devastated. 

You will ask me sometimes if I believe in Santa. I usually dodge answering, offering something like, "Well, I do know there are presents under the tree on Christmas morning..." or turning the question back on you. 

This year, you seem on the verge of figuring out the game.

The other day we were coming home from school when you announced, "I can tell you one thing, I do NOT believe in the Easter Bunny. I mean, come on. A bunny? Hopping around and dropping off presents? That's crazy."

So your Dad asked about the tooth fairy. Is she real? "Oh yes!" you said, without hesitation. "Of course the tooth fairy is real!"

As for Santa, you have a buddy at school who claims it's really the work of parents, putting out gifts while you're asleep. "What do you think?" I asked you.

"I don't know!!" But at least you don't sound upset about the whole thing, just curious. And you've avoided asking us directly for the truth. If I had to guess, I'd say that deep down you probably realize it can't be real. But you want to play the game, so we'll keep playing.

As a child, I loved the excitement and anticipation of Christmas Eve almost as much as Christmas Day itself. As your mama, it's no different. I can't wait to wake up with you tomorrow to make cookies for Santa (or for your parents - who can be sure?), go to church, be with family, and then go to bed with those excited Christmas butterflies in our bellies. I couldn't think of a better gift than spending this season with you. I love you sweet girl!

Christmas Family 2014

100 Months!100 Months!! Welcome to the triple-digits, my love!

In the past 100 months, I've written letters to you in our dining room, in a car, and on an airplane. I've written them as near as 10 feet away, and as far as 2,000 miles. But I've never before written to you in a hospital waiting room.

I just gave your Nana a hug and a kiss before she headed in to surgery. She hurt her back last week, and we're hopeful the surgeon can help her feel good again. I've been staying with her in Tennessee this week to help out while she waited for surgery. It wasn't easy to leave you, and you weren't happy to be left. I slipped a note under your pillow before I left home, telling you how much I loved you and that we daughters must take care of our mamas when they need us. And I thought to the future for a moment, and to a time when you will be a grown up and I will need your help. And I feel certain you'll be there for me, sweet soul that you are.

This last month covered Halloween, typically one of your favorite holidays. You love playing dress up, and always relished in planning your costume and knowing that for at least one day, everyone else wanted to play dress up with you. And give you candy, too! 

But this year, we were both happy to bid goodbye to Halloween and have the calendar flip to November. You have never liked scary things, and this Halloween seemed to expose you to more of them than in the past. I suspect that's in large part because your friends are getting older, and some of them are beginning to like the scary side of Halloween. 

Gone are the days when all your playmates dressed as princesses, Star Wars heroes or cartoon characters. Now, sometimes they're dressed as blood-soaked villains wielding bloody butcher knives. I don't know how many nights, as we tucked you in, your voice took on a trembling tone as you confessed, "I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight. I can't stop thinking about..." and you'd describe whatever was the latest thing to frighten you.

We sympathized. We shared coping techniques. We never let you crawl in bed to sleep with us, though there were times I wanted to. But I also wanted you to know that you are strong, and you are safe in your own bed.

You stopped eating breakfast by yourself downstairs in the morning on school days, opting instead to bring your bowl of oatmeal upstairs. You'd sit on the floor of my bathroom as I dried my hair, explaining, "I don't like to be alone."

Your teacher turned story time into "Spooky Story Time" at school, and you'd tell us how you'd sit in the classroom with your fingers in your ears trying to block the words. I don't think the stories were truly scary, but by some point, even a hint of ghoulishness was enough to scare you.

The season wasn't a total loss though - not at all. You had your first orchestra concert - a Halloween-themed performance with no scary costumes allowed. You donned your beloved black cat outfit, and looked adorable warming up, your viola propped underneath your hood and cat ears. The concert was wonderful.

Orchestra Cat
Your Boo threw another great BooFest party, full of piƱata-busting, apple-bobbing fun. 

BooFest with the CousinsThe Infamous Boo of BooFestBobbing for ApplesTake a Swing!
A new game this year involved a relay race where to goal is to sit on balloons to pop them, and I do believe it was a favorite.

Balloon Relay Race
We visited the Valles family in Winder, explored a corn maze and picked out pumpkins. You weren't thrilled about the maze ("this is going to take forever!"), but delighted in choosing the perfect pumpkin for carving.

In the Corn MazePumpkin Patch Buddies
Halloween night, we joined up with some of your good buddies for trick-or-treating. While I think jellyfish are terrifying in real life, thankfully your best buddy Lola's adorable jellyfish outfit didn't frighten you. We made use of your Ahsoka Tano costume for one last hurrah, and had a great time tromping through the neighborhood collecting goodies. 

Halloween Crew 2014Trick or Treat!Trick or Treat!
Then November came, pushing away thoughts of Halloween, and turning our minds toward Thanksgiving. Next week we'll travel to Dallas to visit Jeff, Michelle and your cousins. After a week away from you, I'm very much looking forward to a week of togetherness.

We've just heard from the surgeon, and your Nana is out of surgery and everything went well. I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear it - I sure do love my mama an awful lot. It doesn't matter how big I get, I will always love my mama. I think you know a little something about that too.

I can't wait to see you tonight when I get home. You'll be in bed before I arrive, but I look forward to slipping into your room, smoothing back your hair, picking up your hand and kissing your fingers. I love you so much sweet girl. I'll see you soon.
Camille at 99 MonthsHello sweet girl, and happy 99 months - your last 2-digit month! I just gave you a big hug and sent you upstairs where your Daddy is waiting to tuck you in. We take turns each night, and while I enjoy my turn, I also love sitting downstairs, listening to your big belly laughs that you reserve just for your Daddy. Or listening to him serenade you with his guitar while you get ready for bed. We're pretty lucky girls to have him, aren't we?

It's a wonderfully chilly night and finally feeling like fall. We began the season by doing one of our favorite things - heading to Disney World. We just have such a great time when we're there, and you had a 4-day weekend in September that seemed like a perfect time to go. 

Classic Dumbo
We spent 2 days in Magic Kingdom, including a special Halloween-themed night when we all got to dress up. We were a mismatched crew but had lots of fun as Pocahontas, Wonder Woman and an X-Wing pilot on vacation. 

Disney Halloween PartyWith the Nightmare Before Christmas CharactersTesting Out the New Ear-Wing Fighter
Each Disney trip proves to be a bit different, with various markers to remind me that you're growing up. Our first visit when you were 4 was all about princesses and there were NO roller coasters involved. 

Tinkerbell
You still enjoyed seeing and meeting the characters this time, but your favorite memories from this trip are the two roller coasters we convinced you to ride.

Your Daddy was particularly thrilled that you finally agreed to ride the Haunted Mansion. Verdict = you loved it. 

Haunted Mansion!
On previous Disney trips, you've enjoyed the street dance parties and were very eager to dance with all the Disney characters. On this trip, when we found a dance party we thought for sure you'd have a blast. But instead you hung back, saying you felt shy and embarrassed. 

Monster Dance Party
"What if I dance with you?" I offered.

A look of horror crossed your face, and you said, "NO! That would be even more embarrassing!"

Sigh. So it begins. 

But thankfully you've not become too self conscious to dance as long as you're in the right company. Just a day after we returned from Disney, we were at a neighborhood concert and the musicians asked for dancers. You happily grabbed your buddy Lola, and the two of you danced away in front of the stage. Apparently, it's just uncool to dance with strangers or your parents. Got it. 

Dancing with Lola
Stage fright will only be a major liability in one of the career paths you've discussed of late. Your current career aspirations vacillate among these three: marine biologist, robotics engineer, or actress. 

The other day we were riding in the car and I had given you control of our music, letting you pic songs to play from my phone. You love songs from Broadway musicals, and this time chose "Little Fall of Rain," from Les Miserables, the terribly sad song in which one of the characters dies.

As the first notes played, you said with a conciliatory tone, "Mom, I know this song depresses you. But if I am going to be an actress I need to practice different emotions." 

And you sang your heart out in the backseat of the car. When the song ended, you announced, "Wow. I think I did that one really well."

Oh to have the confidence of an 8 year old!

You also had a boost of confidence a couple of weekends ago when we accompanied Nana and some friends to nearby Daufuskie Island. We'd never been before and I've been wanting to go, and our friends the Suttons proved to be great tour guides. We rented a golf cart and tooled around the lovely island, stopping all along the way to explore.

A New Horse FriendOver the DunesOn the beach with Nana
After one of these stops, you were the first back to the golf cart and slyly slid behind the steering wheel. You kept waiting for one of us to make you move, but Billy had been driving and he just hopped into the passenger seat next to you. 

"You're going to let me drive??" you asked, incredulously. And he did. 

Golf Cart Driving with BillyWarning: Student Driver
Oh boy, did you have fun driving the golf cart around the island. Thankfully, Billy could still reach the pedals and the steering wheel in case you needed assistance, which you did at one point. The cart began to veer off the road and I looked up in time to see both your hands fly off the wheel. "There's a bee!" you explained. Fortunately, Billy grabbed the wheel and the bug flew away. And honestly, I probably would've done the same thing. You get that from your mama.

Oh sweets, I love you so much, even if you'd be horrified to dance with me at Disney World. That's part of growing up, and I'm just happy that you are still willing scoot next to me on the couch at the end of the day and rest your head on my shoulder. I hope you'll never be too cool for that. I love you so much.

The Beach at Daufuskie

Pink HairHello sweet sleeping girl, and Happy 98 Months to you! Tonight, as you snooze away upstairs, I'm sitting at the table in the company of your family of ants. You decided to spend some of your birthday money on an ant farm, and just a couple of days ago the habitat was finally ready for your new ant friends. 

Ant Farm
Tonight, I had a meeting to attend, and was delighted when I flipped open my notebook to find your Ant Observation Journal: Day 1.

Ant Observation Journal
I do believe you made these observations on a Sunday, so naturally the ants were going to ant church. And digging tunnels. And apparently riding roller coasters. You observed that they: 
  • are from the same colony (important or they'd fight each other)
  • are not angry
  • are happy
  • love you
Tonight, I asked you about their ant church and what kind of church it might be. Muslim and Jewish you declared. Well there you go. Who knew? 

Heading Up River
You do love creatures big and small, that's for sure. One of your favorite activities of late has been to kayak out to the mud flats and look for creatures when we go up the river in the boat. Recently, you and buddy Maggie organized an entire "Snailville" for a group of periwinkle snails, making sure to include important civil engineering projects like roads and bridges for them. You were 100% positive that this delighted the snails. 

SnailvilleMore SnailvilleMud Warriors
It's been a hot and sweaty last bit of summer, but that obviously hasn't kept us indoors. Last weekend we went camping with a group of buddies on Hunting Island. It's a beautiful campground, situated on an undeveloped beach in a state park - perfect for exploring. 

Hunting Island, SCLighthouse at Hunting Island
But most of my pictures seem to be of us eating good campfire food and lazing around in the hammock - also important pursuits.

Camping Hammock
We have welcomed one new indoor activity in this past month - the Armstrong Youth Orchestra. 

You'd been practicing diligently for your audition, and when the day finally arrived you were filled with nervous butterflies. As was I. Not that I thought you wouldn't do well - I was optimistic about your chances of passing the audition - but I just hoped and hoped it would be a good experience for you overall. And it was. 

You came out of the audition area all smiles, with a slip of paper announcing that you'd be playing viola in the Debut Ensemble. 

Audition Day for the Youth Orchestra
The first day of rehearsal arrived, and I think you were just as nervous about this as you were the audition. As the members of the ensemble began to trickle in, the conductor encouraged you all to warm up. Here you are watching buddy Hart warming up with his violin.

First Orchestra Rehearsal
All around the room I could catch bits of Suzuki songs that you have been playing for months and that you know by heart, but your instrument stayed in your lap during the warm up. You didn't want to draw attention to yourself. Realizing that, I put away the camera as well. 

But once the rehearsal began, you played with a confidence that was fun to see. The music wasn't too challenging, the conductor was kind and welcoming, and your nerves quickly eased away (as did mine). 

Since that first rehearsal, you've been even more enthusiastic about practicing your instrument at home. I think you are proud to be part of this group, and want to feel confident each time you come into the rehearsal room to play. 

I'm very proud of you for taking on this new challenge, and I am looking forward to watching you grow with it.

Ok - I think the ants in your ant colony have gone to sleep (or died - who knows? This is our first ant rodeo). Now I will head to bed too. Sweet dreams to my very best girl. I love you so much.

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