Posted in life, nostalgia

Not Clemson

Life is hard. It’s hard to be responsible – both for myself and for others (I am responsible for students’ learning and that is simultaneously a great honor and so terrifying). It’s hard to be in a new place. It’s hard to grow up.

At first, moving away was exciting. There was an apartment and a classroom to set up. I was in a new place and it was fun to explore! And also, there are like three Targets in driving distance here. That’s pretty different.

But the excitement of a new place and new things slowly turned less exciting. And now, I’m still here, and this is not Clemson.

All of this has me missing home like I never have before. I miss the particulars and the Clemson-ness of it.

I miss tiger paws painted on the roads. I miss Spill the Beans on summer evenings. I miss passing cars I recognize. I miss running on the sidewalk past my dentist’s office after school. I miss being close to Camp and being able to visit whenever I want. I miss seeing my family all over town and I miss my house. I miss All In like nobody’s business.

I miss feeling like my town knows me just as much and well as I know it. I miss Clemson being my landing pad.

I knew it would be hard to be away. I lived in only one place for 22 years, and I loved it. And then I decided to leave it. So I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

However, it’s different to know that something hard is coming in the future than to be in the middle of a hard thing and realizing that oh, this is that.

But just because life is hard and I miss my mom’s cookies doesn’t mean I should go home. Just because I wave at every Clemson-stickered car doesn’t mean I need to be there.

Hard things are often also good things. I love Clemson, but that doesn’t mean the best thing for right now would be for me to live there (by that logic, I’d probably be living in Spain).

I know that I live here but right now, Clemson has more of my heart.

The sky can be pretty here too
But: I am growing here. Small, tiny roots are sticking into the ground. It doesn’t mean I’ll be here forever, but I’d like to know that I can make it somewhere other than the one place I already have.
I know I made this choice to leave. Nobody asked me to go away from the most blessed town in creation (aka God’s country). I knew the transition wouldn’t be seamless, and this is that. I really hope it doesn’t take another 22 years to feel at home here.

But here’s something: yesterday I was at the grocery store, and I saw a friend’s car in the parking lot. I was exuberant because that is progress. 



Posted in Camp, college, life, nostalgia

The Same Lake

Last summer, the July before we started our senior year at Clemson, one of my roommates and I got a Peppino’s margherita pizza and picnicked at the Botanical Gardens. We sat there and ate during dusk and we chased frogs (I held the pizza box while she chased frogs). Then we went to the rowing docks and sat and talked. The sun had set and we were sitting on the dock in the quiet, being occasionally rocked by waves from boats taking night rides. At one point she had to take a phone call, so I sat and thought, and in my thinking I realized that I have spent my whole life on Lake Hartwell.

No one admits to liking Hartwell. Keowee is preferred and Jocassee is ideal. Hartwell, in terms of Clemson area lakes, is like the Nickelback of lakes. But it’s the closest, and it’s the university’s lake, and it’s where the memories are.

All of my summers growing up were spent on Hartwell. I tagged along with friends whose parents owned lake houses and boats for afternoons and sleepovers and we had the most fun long, sunburn-y days. We had birthday parties jumping off of two-story docks. We sang Kelly Clarkson songs at the top of our lungs while holding on to tubes that my friends’ dads were trying to throw us off of. We made sand pies (like mud pies, but they don’t really stick together) and played pretend. We took evening boat rides and let the wind whip our hair dry. We took childhood and summer for granted, like kids are supposed to do.

Circa 2004-ish probably
When I wasn’t a kid anymore, I was a youth. I started youth group the summer before 7th grade. Everyone associated with the youth group gathered at the lake for a huge party: the Moving-Up Party. There was food; there were boats; there was that game where someone had to eat baby food. It was so youth group-y. It was new and exciting. It was pandemonium. It was grand.

All of my youth group years (especially summers) incorporated the lake. On Wednesday nights during the summers we met at people’s homes and everyone’s favorite were the homes that were on the lake. We swam, then got into small groups and prayed, then sat on the docks with our legs swinging in the water, in no rush to go home or get to the next thing. Those were peaceful evenings.

youth group at the Kriders’ lake house, 2009-ish

Starting my junior year of high school, I got to drive to school. It was liberating – and one of my favorite memories of independence from that time is spring of junior year, after AP exams, a bunch of us went to Y Beach and played volleyball and got our toes in the water. It was an ironic feeling: we felt like truants for being at the lake while our peers were at school, yet the reason we weren’t at school was because of advanced placement exams that those peers didn’t take. We felt like exceptions to the rules and it was exhilaratingly special.

Senior year none of us had full schedules and usually we used the spaces in our day to study or do homework together, but sometimes we would go to Supertaco (before it moved) and cross the highway to eat it on the boardwalk. These are grand memories.

post-AP exams celebration at Y Beach, junior year, May 2011

Camp is on Lake Hartwell, and I’ve spent now six summers swimming at lake play and riding the pontoon boat and fishing off the dock (never, in six years, have I caught one fish), tipping canoes, jumping on the water trampoline, etc. Once I had to swim a sailboat full of crying little Bowfins across the cove three times because I don’t actually know how to sail and the boat kept falling over.

(I still don’t know how to sail)
From my lofted bed in my dorm room freshman year at Clemson, I could see the whole stadium and beyond to the golf course and the lake. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to see it. On gamedays I slept in until as late as possible and then rolled over to see all of Clemson convening, cohesively dressed in orange, right below me. The people looked like orange ants, all moving toward the stadium. I felt such pride for my people and my town and my school – and they were all the same: Clemson. Home.
I felt like this view should be some kind of top secret. The view from the bed of my dorm was amazing and unfair – and in my favor.
College was full of spontaneity and adventure. We had picnics by the water, we had lake days, we took walks to the dikes, we ate milkshakes on the docks, we had talks in the sand, we went night-swimming, we got Atlas pizzas that we ate on the boardwalk, we studied at Y Beach, we ran to the lake and jumped in. It was a conduit of such adventure!
Dinner/Chick Fil A picnic with Freshman Five, fall 2012
(There really were five of us! The boys chose not to be documented)

And so this lake: this lead-filled, super green, oft-insulted/unappreciated lake ties together memories and activities from all of the twenty two years I’ve had on this earth. Each domain of my life has been impacted by Hartwell – silly Hartwell. And never, until I was so close to leaving, did I really even acknowledge and begin to appreciate it.

Moving Up Party at the Hubbards’ house, 2011

I’m a very sentimental person, and I know this about myself. So I know it’s trivial to be so attached to a lake – especially one that isn’t all that great. But Hartwell was never really attention-seeking. It just did its job, which was to sit there and hold water and let us take from it. It’s like the Giving Tree, but a lake. It’s a Giving Lake. Too far?

I’ve moved away, and coincidentally, I now work at Lake Carolina (I still have not located the actual lake, but I am assured that it is an actual lake somewhere), so Hartwell isn’t the only lake in my life anymore. But it was my first lake, and I’m thankful for it.

I unconditionally respect it and the times it has given me that have subsequently become a huge part of my Clemson memories.

I love this lake.
Posted in Camp, college, nostalgia

I Carry It In My Heart

On the first night of the second week of my third summer of Camp, I was a counselor in Bowfin, the littlest girls’ cabin. On Sunday night as we were tucking our girlies into their bunk beds, the tears came. Some of the girls had never spent the night away from home before. Some girls were just tired, which expressed itself through crying. And then when a thunderstorm started, so did the wailing.

It terrified all of the little girls and nobody could sleep. There were four counselors in Bowfin that week – three group counselors and one counselor-in-training, and we had eight campers, and each of us took care of calming down a bunk bed of girls.

That night was its own very specific kind of pandemonium: high school and college students rushing around a dark cabin in very hushed voices trying to get a bunch of little girls to peace and sleep. It was the kind of situation where I took a second and stopped and thought about what I was doing and smiled. I was surrounded by bawling baby girls, and I loved it. I was simply thrilled to be where I was in that one short moment.

One of our girls in Bowfin that week was a short, slightly chubby girl with blond hair. She was eight and a half, a little older than most of the other girls in our cabin. She was shy, but shy quickly dissipates at Camp when a group of eight girls and their four counselors do absolutely everything together and love each other so much. But it was only the first night, and her shyness was still there.

She was scared of the thunderstorm just like the other girls, but she wasn’t crying. I thought she was asleep because she wasn’t making any noise, but she asked me to come and just sit with her. She was scared and she was lonely.

And so once all of the other girls were settling down, when there were still sniffles but no more sobs, I went to sit with her. We whispered so quietly and she talked to me. She told me that her mom didn’t live with her family anymore, and she lived with her dad and her brother. She really loved them but she didn’t like being the only girl. Her brother was also at Camp that week and every time she saw him, she hugged him. He didn’t love it, but he let her do it, and I think he secretly did kind of love it. She asked me what my dad was like and I told her that he was goofy. She said her dad was too sometimes.

At the beginning of that week, we were very close. She called me Mama and I called her Baby. As the week went on, she needed me less – she bonded with the other girls and was silly and fun with them. Her shyness faded. But still sometimes, when we were walking somewhere, she would suddenly be next to me and holding my hand. It made me smile.

The week went by quickly – they all do. On Friday night, I was helping her pack up to go home. In one of her drawers I found a red plush velvet heart that said “Be mine.”

It wasn’t well-made, but it was soft and sweet. It was the kind of trinket that would have been just a trinket if she had not given it meaning.

She gave it to me. And I didn’t want to take it from her, but also I did. I tried to convince her to keep it, but she wanted me to have it. I kept it. Then the next day was Saturday and she went home. After she left that Saturday I worried about the heart – it was so small. I was afraid of losing it. At Camp, I live out of plastic purple trunks, and they’re filled with children’s books and socks and Reese’s wrappers and stationery and crafts that campers forgot and I wanted to keep to remember them by and pens and sunscreen and toenail polish bottles and beads. I knew my little heart would get mixed in with all of those things and I was afraid of it not appearing when I unpacked at the end of the summer.

But then it did appear! And once school started back that fall, I put the heart in my backpack, along with my jar of peanut butter, and carried those two things around with me everywhere I went.

Later that year I stumbled upon this e. e. cummings poem –

As I read it I thought of the heart that I physically carried around – the heart of that one little girl, and the other little girls that week, and the campers from that whole summer, and the campers from all of my years. I thought of how they each had my heart, like a horcrux, a soul split into a million pieces and spread all over the world in beautiful and sacred places. I thought about moments like the one from the first night of the second week of my third summer, where around me so many things were happening and there was really not time to pause and relish joy but I did because I was nothing but serenely delighted to be where I was, in happy-busy times, in times of running around but also times of singing and holding a hand or two.

The following fall semester, I had the opportunity to speak at a Sertoma Club meeting. I skipped a biology class to go with some other counselors to promote Camp to the Sertomans (Sertomen?). One of the questions I was asked was how Camp had impacted me long-term. I was nervous talking in front of all of those people, and even more so knowing that what I said could impact how they viewed Camp, but the thing that came out of my mouth was the little red plush heart given to me by a Bowfin who called me Mama. I told them that I kept the heart in my backpack with my peanut butter and that I thought of her and of all of my campers so many times every day, and that I felt that they were near when I carried her heart with me (in my heart).


Posted in college, life, nostalgia

A Happy Middle and a Very Happy Start

To be a senior, one must first be a freshman; a person can’t be experienced without experience. I knew that. I just didn’t know that I wouldn’t be a forever freshman, and that one day I would actually be at the point where I (ready or not!) became a senior and had some life experience. And now, here I am. When I talked to seniors before I was one of them, they said it felt different than it looked. They were right: I feel less noble and graceful than what being a senior looked like. And yet, here I still am.

I am only a two weeks into senior year, but it’s the beginning of the end. Endings are sad and hard. I’ve been in school for sixteen years, and if I teach after this, who knows how many more years of school I’ll have. But this sixteenth consecutive year of school is my last consecutive year as a student.

Being a student, I have learned – about school, life, friendships, people, cars, kitchens, money, communication, coffee, and more and more and more. And when I think about this allotted time of learning – “college” – ending, and going to a new, yet to be determined place and making new friends and having a new house and a new bookstore and a new coffee shop, the space in my chest where I normally breathe becomes smaller, and my thoughts ricochet off the walls of my head so much more quickly and disorientedly than usual.

My college apartment kitchen on a clean day. Much learning (usually the hard way) has happened here.
New things are scary, and it isn’t even time yet for me to embrace or go do my new things, but it’s time to know that they are in my foreseeable future, and that one year from now, I will be doing something different than the things I’ve done before. It makes me feel a little itchy. I like old things and familiar things, but sticking to old and familiar things and growing up are mutually exclusive, and I know which one I’m going to choose, and it’s not the easier one.
The hardest and most important part of learning new things is remembering them. The scariest part of doing new things is forgetting the old ones.
I want to remember college and I want to remember this. I want to remember being eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. I want to remember my dorm room and my apartment. I want to remember my people – my friends, my roommates, my classmates, my professors, those random people I was friends with for like two days freshman year and then not anymore at all, and the people I’ve been running into but never actually spoken to for the past three-ish/four-ish years.
I want to remember the places I went and the things I did and all the times I jumped into the lake. I want to remember learning to cook and re-learning to ride a bike in DC over spring break sophomore year and learning who to call when I ran out of gas for the second time in a month. I want to remember the night when life felt like an episode of Friends. I want to remember watching just the Jim and Pam episodes of The Office on girls’ nights. I want to remember how much cookie dough I ate late at night when I should have eaten nothing at all, and how much I don’t even regret it.
People say, “this, too, shall pass,” during hard times, and it makes said hard times seem less permanent. During grand times and during youth and during college, however, people don’t say that. I think they should, because hard times are not the only times that shall pass. All time passes, and the speed at which it does so can’t be controlled.
A great (and scary-looking) man once said –

There are no happy endings,
Endings are the saddest part.
So just give me a happy middle
and a very happy start.

– Shel Silverstein

a great (and scary-looking) man
Even if things end well, they end sadly, because endings are fundamentally “the saddest part.” The ending of things, although necessary and sometimes a little overdue, is sad. The Head and the Heart says, “all things must end, darling,” and they must. If you love something, you should let it go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt – maybe even a lot.
I had a “happy middle and a very happy start” to college. And (the beginning of) the end of college isn’t the end of life. It’s a necessary push, an “umph” to what’s next – new places, new roles, new patches of sky.


Posted in Camp, Jesus, nostalgia

Faith Not In Flowers

When I am sad, I need to see something beautiful. Need is a strong word, I know, but when my heart is hurting I have almost a compulsion to be near to beauty. I am willing to compromise productivity, food, socialization, and gas money to go wherever it is that can illustrate to me that it’s okay, and then I tell myself: It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. If it isn’t right now, it’s going to be. It’s okay. It has been before and it will be again. It’s okay.

Usually, I drive near Camp: the sky is big there, the fields are open, and the roads are long. There are no stop signs and my favorite tree lives there. I always feel better after driving around for a while. I go from not being able to breathe to believing that I might not actually suffocate today.


This summer before a session of Camp, I was on a Sunday morning drive and happened upon a sunflower field. The flowers in it were cheerful and smiling widely. I fell in love with it and told no one, because this was going to be my secret place. I decided that this would be where I came when I was having sad days, and I stored it away in my mind for the future, for the next time I needed it.

So then, a few weeks ago, it was time. I was needing it. I felt myself pulled to be in a place of realness and aesthetics. I drove back to my sunflower field, telling myself that all I had to do was get there and I would feel better. I did get there, only to find the flowers gone. And by gone, I mean that all that was left of them were their black, shriveled, dead bodies. The petals were gone, the bright colors were gone, the happy was gone. Now it was just a field of something that used to be beautiful.

I’d had my hopes set on those flowers fixing my sad mood. I guess flowers have to die sometime, and I guess sunflowers weren’t even in season anymore when I went to see them, and I know that I can’t put my faith in sunflowers to cheer me up, but I already had, and then was let down. I was disappointed. The sunflowers had failed me.

It was the reminder I needed that there is nothing on earth that I can completely rely on. It will all fail me: starting with the sunflower field, but not ending there, because nothing and no one is foolproof and pure, except for the One who is.

At first it seems discouraging to hear that nothing on the earth can be fully comforting. It sounds like something that would make me want to give up. But the more I realize that the earth can’t console my fears and deflate my distresses, the more precious and valuable Christ becomes, and the more awed I am at His actions in His choosing to save me from my fears and distresses. I am so comforted to know that I’m not alone in feeling unfulfilled by the world. It is a relief to know that this isn’t the best it gets – that the dreams I have of some perfect far-away place that I have never experienced are actually embodied in Heaven, and I’m not crazy for not being satisfied for what is given and available here.

Christ’s love is the definition of love, and it is the realest thing I have ever known. His love doesn’t disappoint ever, and it doesn’t fail. It cannot fail and it will not fail. Unlike a sunflower field, Christ is always ready to impart joy. He is never finicky or stingy. He is what my heart has been wanting for all this time.

How comforting it is to know that I am under the hand of someone who never fails! He doesn’t experiment or mess up; He carries out the one and only plan. He made the world, which defies all logic and contradicts the law of conservation of mass, because He is bigger than that. He takes my best interest into His heart. I know that life with Him is going to be hard, but more than worth it. And that’s why I don’t have to be disappointed by ex-sunflower fields: because I put my faith in He who creates all things.


Posted in nostalgia

The Significance of Handkerchiefs

Ten years ago, I turned ten. In celebration of this birthday, my grandmother, D’Mama, took me on a five-day cruise to the Bahamas. I had never been on a boat that wasn’t a rowboat or a boat on the lake pulling a tube or a kneeboard, so being on a huge ship with a lot of other people was a big change and an exciting adventure for me. D’Mama got seasick easily but I couldn’t tell the difference between having my feet on land and having them on our ship, the Jubilee. We had such a wonderful time together. She and I had always been special to each other, but having this time that was for the two of us and only the two of us was magnificent and a time of jubilee.

My favorite part of the cruise, however, was during the afternoons when D’Mama had to take a nap. She was very sick (although I didn’t really know it) and needed a lot of rest. She needed quiet while she slept and I could not be still, so I got to venture around the ship every afternoon. I ate so much soft-serve ice cream.

I had never seen Titanic, being a ten-year-old and all, but being on the deck of the Jubilee was very similar to the way being on the deck of the Titanic was portrayed. The wind whipped around everywhere so that there was not really a purpose to trying to hold down my hair. It was blown until it was unbrushable, and I loved that. I liked to stand on the side of the boat, just above the ocean, and I never tired of watching the ocean go by. It looked so peaceful and so consistent and I wanted to be floating in it with my face towards the sky.

My whole imagination was present and blooming all week. I pretended that I was the captain’s daughter and I was allowed anywhere I wanted. I felt so happy, just wandering around, being blown by the wind, running into people, going back to the main deck for more ice cream, taking the elevator down to places I was not supposed to be, watching the water move under the ship. I felt so happy and I just wanted to spin around with my arms spread out because I didn’t know how else to express the fullness of my heart.

After this cruise, D’Mama decided that it would be fun to establish a tradition of special trips for each grandchild when they turned ten. But then she died in October. As in, we got back from the cruise, the summer passed, then as I was settling into being a fifth grader, she died. She was much sicker on the cruise than I had noticed.

And so as the oldest, I was the only grandchild who got to embark on this ten-year birthday tradition with her. At her funeral, all of her friends told me how lucky I was that I got to spend that special time with her before she died. They told me how much she loved me, but I already knew, because I loved her just as much.

After she died, my parents and I went through her closet and I got to take home with me some of her jewelry and a lot of her scarves. I never wore them, but I liked knowing that I still had pieces of her with me because I was afraid of forgetting her. But slowly as I grew older and older, every time I cleaned out under my bed, I decided not to keep a few more of her things. I felt badly about it, but a person’s past possessions are not that person. I kept one beaded clutch that I still use, but that was the only thing of hers that I kept.

Then last week, I was cleaning out my room and found two flower-embroidered handkerchiefs that had belonged to her. I was very excited to find something else of hers that I would use and love.

I just turned twenty, which means that it was ten years ago when she and I went on the cruise and this fall will be ten years since she died. It was ten years ago that I ran around the Jubilee with no one but my imagination and found places where no one else was and felt like the only person in the world.

My grandmother was a real Southern lady. She had the Emily Post book of etiquette in her living room on the bookshelf and she had a fancy foyer that we had to walk carefully in on the occasions that we were allowed to go into it. She knew all of the rules of hospitality and social situations, and she taught me a lot of them, even though I don’t think I was listening.

A few weeks ago, I was at a bridal shower for a friend and some of the older ladies were telling those of us younger ladies about old Southern traditions for girls, particularly the passing down of handkerchiefs between grandmothers and granddaughters. They said that it was a great compliment to a girl to receive a handkerchief from a grandmother or older lady.

It may be pretty cheesy that I found these handkerchiefs so conveniently at the ten-year mark of our trip together, but I think it is such a sweet tradition and feel confident that she would have been someone to participate in such a tradition. Here’s to handkerchiefs and memories and imaginations!


Posted in college, nostalgia

One Day I’ll Have to be a Grown-Up (But Not Today)

Every Monday morning, I go to an elementary school in Seneca to observe a first grade class (and then a preschool special ed class!) and learn how to be a teacher. I love getting to actually be in a school for a little bit every week and I love getting to wear teacher clothes. I didn’t go last week because of spring break, so when I got back this week, the first grade teacher I help asked me what I did for break. I told her that I went to Pennsylvania to visit some people I love and then popped over to Washington, DC for a couple of hours on the way home. She got this kind of sad look on her face and told me to enjoy being young and free. She kept on repeating herself and telling me to take advantage of it and to make sure I love it. I could tell that she was majorly yearning for the things that I have now: my flexibility, my independence, my innocence. After this had gone on for a minute or so, I was a little annoyed.

I loved spring break. I loved getting to see my niece and I loved getting to spend time with friends without having the feeling of homework looming and dooming over my shoulder. I loved getting to be in Philly, because I’m definitely a small town mouse without much city experience. I was fascinated by all the goings-on of the city: playgrounds and fish stores, churches and compacting trash cans, train stations and big beautiful old majestic city halls, and so many people walking around. The city was exactly how my mind feels 88% of the time. It was engaging and busy and you had to know what you were doing in order to navigate at all.

Everything wasn’t completely cookies and sunshine the whole time though. I was tired a lot during the trip and I got grumpy at one point. We had to drive eleven hours to PA in a minivan with six people and I kept falling asleep with my mouth wide open and waking up a little embarrassed and with a really dry and funny-tasting mouth. And in the smack dab middle of our nation’s capital on the very first day of spring, I fell off of a bike (not because I’m hardcore but because I forgot how to ride it) twice, and that was significantly more embarrassing than sleeping with my mouth open. I also realized about five days in to the trip that I really missed fruit.

Overall, though, it was a great spring break. I loved most of the minutes of it. It was better than working (even if this teacher’s job is hanging out with first graders, which I think is awesome) and going home to a bunch of little people asking you to make them food every night.

I had initially wanted to (nicely) sass her after she kept telling me to enjoy being young. I wanted to say say, “Hey lady, you had your chance.” I wanted to remind her that she was young once and she should have enjoyed it because now she’s older and she gets to have nice things like a job and a disposable income and she is settled.

But it’s not nice to sass your elders, and she wasn’t trying to make me feel defensive when she told me to enjoy my youth. She was giving me some legitimately good advice for my future: to genuinely enjoy this time where I’m just floating around and riding trains like a Narnia character, because one day I’ll get to be a grown-up like her and I won’t get to go back.

I think that being a grown up is kind of like shaving your legs: once you start, you can’t stop. Or at least, you shouldn’t.