Temporary Ticos

In about 8 weeks, Lee, Camille and I are going to pack up some clothes, two computers, one dog, one guitar and a viola, and we’re moving to Costa Rica for a year.
Wait. What!?
I know. I know. It’s crazy. Even typing it now, I vacillate between being excited and wanting to throw up.

Costa Rica 2013

Where does the story begin? Two years ago, when we went to Costa Rica for a month? Or maybe it began when we came back home, and immediately started plotting ways to get back there again.
You could also say the story began when we put our house on the market last year. Not that we had Costa Rica in mind at the time, but putting the “for sale” sign in our yard set certain things in motion we didn’t anticipate.

We had stumbled upon another house in the neighborhood we wanted to buy, so we put ours up for sale. But the process dragged and dragged, and we lost enthusiasm for it after 6 months of endless house showings but no offers. 

We were about to pull the house off the market 3 months ago, when I got this text message from my mother. 

“I just showed your house.”
She was visiting us, and at first I was annoyed about the intruding buyer. We didn’t have any showings scheduled for that day, so who had the nerve to just come knocking on the door?
Turns out, it was a priest. Specifically, the priest from the church across the street. The church is about to undergo a major construction project, and they need to relocate the parish offices for a year. He saw our for sale sign and wondered, were we interested in renting our property to the church? 
At first, we said thanks but no. Renting our house would only displace us.
Then one night a few weeks later, just as we were slipping under the covers, Lee had an idea. 
“You know,” he said, “we could rent our house to the church for a year and go to Costa Rica.”
Neither of us slept very well that night.
Or the next night. Or any night since. Because he was right – we could do that.
But should we? There were So. Many. Questions. rolling around in my head. Like: 
  • Where would Camille go to school?
  • Could we afford to do this? The cost of living in Nosara, our preferred area of Costa Rica, is high. 
  • Would we need a special visa? 
  • Would we have stable internet, and would our business suffer? 
  • What would we do about a car?
  • How would we get our medicines? 
  • How would we handle the separation from our family and friends? 
But there were so many possible advantages too. We loved the time we spent in Costa Rica. If we went for a year, Camille would have a chance to really absorb another culture. And Spanish! She would totally learn Spanish. Moving to Costa Rica could be a terrible idea. Or a fantastic adventure. 
I wrestled with all of this, and ultimately decided to leave it to God, leave it to fate, leave it in the hands of the universe. We would begin researching schooling, housing, internet, etc., and see if the doors opened to us or were shut tight.
I googled schools. Here in Savannah, Camille attends a wonderful public Montessori school. Turns out, Nosara has an international bilingual school – and not just that – it’s a Montessori school too. 
But maybe they would be full? So I called, and asked the receptionist if there were available spaces next year for 4th grade. 
“Ah, our current 4th grade is over capacity,” she said. So I prepared for this door to slam shut, but then she went on to explain. “So we’re adding another 4th grade class next year. We will have plenty of room.”
We submitted Camille’s application, did a Skype interview with the headmaster, and she was in. 
School = Check.
We looked at housing, and narrowed it down to three homes. One was really nice but too expensive, so we asked the homeowner if he’d negotiate on price. 
He cut his monthly rate in half. 
Housing = Check.
We asked him about internet, concerned for our business interests. Did he have phone or cable internet (cable being preferred)?
He has both, so if one goes down, the other is usually up.
Internet = Check.
We decided we’d sell Lee’s car and buy one in Costa Rica, which was giving me lots of heartburn. Buying a car there is a complicated process and involves hiring your own attorney. Did the homeowner happen to have any leads on a car we might buy? 
Turns out, he has a car just sitting at the house, and he’ll rent it to us at a fraction of what the rental agencies charge. 
Car = Check.
And so on. Even though the prospect of moving to Costa Rica for a year is daunting and overwhelming, the universe seems to be flashing a big neon sign that says, “GO!”
I cannot begin to tell you how much work and planning we’ve already done, and how much more work and planning there is to do before we leave. We like adventure, but we don’t like uncertainties. We dwell on the logistics, and there are still many unanswered questions and puzzles to solve.
A couple of months ago, as we were weighing all of this, I also happened to be filling out a questionnaire for University of Georgia alumni. One of the questions was about what advice we would give to UGA students today.
I wrote, “Always be a seeker and don’t lose your curiosity. When a new challenge, opportunity or adventure presents itself, don’t be afraid to try something new and bold. You may not always succeed, but sometimes you will, and no matter the outcome you’ll grow and learn if you keep seeking.”
And then I realized I needed to take my own advice. So we’re going. I’ll be updating the blog a lot as we prepare to go and once we get there, and Lee is creating a website for this trip too. Once it’s up, it’ll be at TemporaryTicos.com. Ticos are what the Costa Ricans call themselves, and we’re going to pretend to be like them, just for a little while. 
So send up a prayer for us, send us your good mojo, and for goodness sake please make plans to come visit!

Letter to Camille: 106 Months

Camille at 106 MonthsHappy 106 months, love (8 days behind, but who’s counting?)! Right now, we are mid-way through a week long beach vacation at Cape San Blas in Florida with Boo and your pal Ellanor. This is the first trip that we’ve let you bring a friend – I guessed that a whole week at the beach would be more fun with a beach buddy. I was right – you girls are getting along great!

Snuggles with EllanorWave JumpersSeaside WatermelonNook

You’ve spent hours and hours jumping waves, making sand figures, and collecting shells. We had a campfire on the beach last night, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. It may not have been the most balanced meal, but it sure was fun to cook and delicious to eat, even with a side of sand.

Roasting HotdogsMarshmallows at the BeachWith Daddy at the Beach

You’ve also enjoyed outings to the nearby bay, where you two like to wade through the waist-high water with buckets and nets, looking for creatures. Sea slugs are abundant, and you love to put them in your bucket and then scoop them into your hands. 
“They love me, mama!” you squeal, as they flutter against your palm.

Beloved Sea SlugsSea SlugsHunting in the Bay

We began this beach vacation the day after school got out. Your first official day as a fourth grader. 
A FOURTH GRADER.
Third grade was good to you. You have a nice group of friends, you did well in your school work, and you really seemed to enjoy going to school. I got to help out during Field Day, and it’s always a treat to see you with your school buddies and get a peek inside your school social life. From where I sit, it looks like a good one.

Field Day BuddiesField Day Friends

The end of the school year brought several other celebrations. You performed in the spring concert of the Armstrong Youth Orchestra, and then just a couple weeks later had your first solo viola recital, playing Bach’s Minuet III. 
I always want to remember how adorable you looked at the orchestra concert – so grown up with your instrument perched on your shoulder, but so young, with your feet swinging, not touching the floor.

My favorite viola playerSpring ConcertCamille's First RecitalCamille & Lola

Then it was time to wrap up your second and final year as a Girl Scout Brownie, and “bridge” over to being a Junior.
Girl Scout Bridging Ceremony
It was a month of wrapping things up, of closing chapters and opening the chapter of summer. I think we got things off to a good start, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I love you so much.

Letter to Camille: 105 Months

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.

Israel Part 2: The Race

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?

Israel Part 1: The Holy City

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 a
nd 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

Letter to Camille: 104 Months

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 frien
ds 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

Letter to Camille: 103 Months

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

Letter to Camille: 102 Months

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.

Letter to Camille: 101 Months

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

Letter to Camille: 100 Months

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.