Firsts

Wyliekinder3Today my oldest daughter started kindergarten. She woke up at 6 a.m., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We made pancakes, packed her Wonder Woman lunchbox and got her school supplies gathered up, then walked to school as a family.

She was fine. More than fine, in fact–dropped her stuff in her cubby, ran straight up to new friends and started playing. I was fine until we were strolling down the sidewalk about two minutes away from the school. I feel that I admirably sucked back tears, thanks to some sweet-but-not-so-sweet-to-make-it-worse sympathy from my husband, who was walking beside me.

She doesn’t go back until Thursday–they’re staggering the start of the kindergarten classes, which I think is brilliant. So I still may lose it on Thursday. But I’m thrilled for her, because school is such an adventure! Learning is AWESOME!

Sniff.

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Literary Pilgrimage Day 3: Hiking Mt. Holyoke & on to Vermont

It’s taking me a while to get these posts about my Literary & History Pilgrimmage done, and for that I apologize. My newly-minted five year-old starts preschool next week, I start teaching my college students again this week, and my 15 month-old starts preschool the next week. I am the proverbial headless chicken.

Click here to access Day 1 and Day 2.

Onward!

Literary Pilgrimage Day 3 

On Day 3, I woke with the itch to see out and over everything. I get this way sometimes in a new place. In the past, I’ve weaseled my way into single-prop planes, onto the roofs of people’s houses, the normally inaccessible top floors of buildings, and generally climbed tall things in order to get an overview of the land around me. I just feel better–breathe easier–when I know the lay of the land.

The side of historic Summit House

The side of historic Summit House

In Hadley, Massachusetts, not too far from Mt. Holyoke College, is Skinner State Park and the “real” Mount Holyoke. There, it’s a short but steep hike up to the top, where sits historic Summit House. I wanted to see it for a few reasons: 1) It’s got gorgeous views of the Connecticut River Valley, 2) I am a hiking fanatic and like to do it whenever and wherever I can, especially in new places, and 3) my protagonist in the historical novel I’m working on now attended Mt. Holyoke College in 1860. During that time, Summit House was a hotel, and the hike up to the top of Mt. Holyoke was an annual rite-of-passage for the students (they called it Mountain Day).

Me, at the top of Mt. Holyoke

Me, at the top of Mt. Holyoke

Though the Summit House was undergoing some repairs, the workers didn’t say a thing when I smiled, said “hey,”

Summit House

Summit House

walked past them and climbed the stairs to the building. I was all alone, with a gorgeous New England landscape below me and blue skies above. Just what I needed. It was easy to imagine my protagonist and her friends enjoying the same view, or rocking in chairs on the long white porch.

viewI explored the building and rock outcroppings nearby as much as I could. I stood at the railing, breathed in and took in the view. A boat skimmed over the Connecticut River below, and I could see a small town north, in the distance.

Winding Connecticut River

Winding Connecticut River

Boat on the Connecticut River

Boat on the Connecticut River

Porch at Summit House

Porch at Summit House

After the hike, I took a quick shower at my hotel back in Hadley and then hot-footed it back to Vermont and to the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I’d be attended my graduating residency as a student in the MFA in Writing program. There, I made it just in time to check in at my dorm, dump my bags, and sprint across to Chapel Hall, where orientation was minutes from starting.

I plan to write a series of future posts about my time at VCFA in the MFA in Writing program. But for now, the literary pilgrimage takes an 11-day interlude, since I was in school. After graduation, I, my husband, and our young daughters made an epic road trip from Vermont back to Western North Carolina, stopping at all kinds of historic and literary sites along the way. Next week, I’ll post about that, and I’ll start with Day 4: MFA Graduation & Salem, Massachusetts. Witches and ghosts and long-dead writers, oh my!

 

 

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New column: “Put some of summer’s lazy pace into your Fall”

sunsetoceanToday’s new column at The Greenville News is all about how to hang on to summer just a little bit longer. Or, at least, my attempt.

Read it here.

I hope you enjoy!

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Some Things to Share: Rock climbing musings, Diana Gabaldon & the Outlander Series, Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall

Hello, all.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous mid-August day here in the mountains of Western North Carolina: humidity-free blue skies, green, green trees, and everyone out and about and soaking it up while it lasts. So I’m feeling happy, and just wanted to share a few things:

1.) My dear friend, the singer-songwriter Bradley Carter, is also an incredible rock-climber. Here’s the link to an essay he wrote that appeared in the online magazine Live Vertically: it’s called “The Day I Sent a Triple-Link Up in Red Rock,” but when he used to tell the story when we worked at camp together he called it, “that time I sold my body to science.”

Read it here. And if you want to be transported to Red Rock and get inside the life of a philosophical rock climber, you’ll love it.

outlander2.) Like so many, I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of books. My aunt gave them to me when I was just out of college and bemoaning the fact that I had nothing to read–that I was so bored with everything coming out at the time (this was the early 2000s and I was 22, so what did I know?). The next time she came to town, she plopped these four ginormous, ragged paperback books down on the table in front of me and said, “You will absolutely love this story.” They were the first four novels in the series, and though the covers with their romance-y script and painting of 18th century ships and goblets looked a little sketchy to me at first, I agreed to read them. Immediately, I was transported, entranced, awed. As a burgeoning writer, I was thrilled to see that there was someone doing what I essentially had dreamed of doing: writing novels that repeatedly crossed genres, that delved into history, magic, romance, and more.

All that being said, Gabaldon’s books–20 years after Outlander was published–have finally been made outlanderposterinto a mini-series on the Starz channel. I’ve seen the first episode, and liked it a whole lot. But this article about why men should also get into the series is the best I’ve read about the phenomenon. The author, Anne Helen Petersen, hits the nail on the head.

Read it here.

3.) Some thoughts on actors’ passings:

dailyherald.com

dailyherald.com

I was incredibly sad, like so many, to hear of Robin Williams’s passing this week. He was such a huge part of my childhood, playing a role in some of my favorite movies. He made me laugh, he made me think, he made me joy in his effervescent and delightful embodiement of human emotions across the gamut. I hate to learn how he was dealing with obviously crippling depression and addiction, and that it drove him to take his own life. Watching him, especially in interviews, I always wondered that being such a comic genuis–he fairly fizzed with energy–would be a blessing and a burden. My heart breaks for his family. But how lucky we are to have enjoyed his gifts for as long as we did.

One of my favorite Robin Williams quotes: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

Also, Lauren Bacall’s passing has marked another from the Golden Age of Hollywood moving on. She simply embodied cool on the stage and screen. Reading bacallicon-of-cool-dies-at-89-94579236487.html”>this article about her, I was interested to learn more about her background growing up, about her marriages and personal life. And this got me thinking.

It seems to me that these old-school Hollywood actors, like James Garner (who also recently died) and Bacall, came from very ordinary upbringings and worked incredibly hard to get to where they were. They had, by all accounts, fairly normal, complicated lives. Perhaps their work and the emotion they were able to convey onscreen was so authentic because they’d actually lived–unlike younger actors today, whose parents have moved them to Hollywood since they were toddlers, sent them all the same acting high schools, etc. America’s Golden Age actors also earned their stripes on the stage, much like British actors still do, and are able to reach an entire range those who haven’t can’t. They were more than pretty faces–they embodied the art.

To read the article, click here.

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Thursday Newspaper Column: “Secret way to get to the beach full of treasures”

oldcarToday’s column in The Greenville News is all about my love of back roads, paper maps, and simple pleasures. I do hope y’all enjoy.

Read it here. And if you like it, please share!

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New Column: “Find time for a family pilgrimage”

Forgot to post the link yesterday to my newest column in The Greenville News. This one’s about the idea of a family pilgrimage, summer road trips, literature and history. I hope you enjoy!

Read it here.

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New Column: “Put down your phone, for the love of Pete!”

smartphonesToday’s column in The Greenville News is all about how much I looovvvveee when people–in social situations, i.e. with others present–are completely glued to their smart phones. Yep.

Enjoy it (I hope!) here.

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Literary Pilgrimage, Day 2: Orchard House, Dickinson Museum, Mt. Holyoke

LittleWomen

Whew.

Let me say that again. Whew. I am home, finally, after an almost three-week trip up to New England and back again. In that time I took a two-day novel research trip to Massachusetts, attended my last residency as a graduate student in the MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, graduated (hallelujah!), and traveled back down the Eastern seaboard from Montpelier, Vermont to Brevard, North Carolina–a literary and history pilgrimage I’ll never forget.

In other news, we’re lucky we made it back alive. Five nights in the same B&B and hotel room as a 4 year-old and 14 month-old is enough to make even Super Girl say, “I give!”

As promised, I’m going to detail the trip here. Since I already talked about most of Day 1 of my Literary Pilgrimage, now it’s on to the the second half of Day 1 and Day 2. Buckle up: I ain’t scared to pack a lot in.

“Life is my college.  May I graduate well, and earn some honors!” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Orchard House

Orchard House

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, after arriving at Orchard House (home of the Alcotts, and where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women), I scooted inside just in time to join the last tour of the day. Our guide: a delightfully warm and interesting woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of Orchard House and its inhabitants–and also an obvious love of the Alcott family.

Speaking of love: One of the first things I noticed upon entering the kitchen of Orchard House, with its wide, wood-planked floors, original oven, and low-hanging ceilings, was an overwhelming sense that this was a house full of love. The feeling followed me throughout the tour, settled in around my shoulders like a well-worn quilt made by my grandmother.

Orchard House is a wonder. It dates, historians believe, to the late 1600s, and is full of the Alcott family’s personal possessions, including paintings, clothing, and furniture. (The Alcotts lived there from 1858-1877; Louisa wrote Little Women at a desk her father built just for her in the home in 1868.) The Alcotts, who were dear friends of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, were at the forefront of education. They fostered a love of learning, art and imagination in their daughters. Huzzah!

One of the neatest things about this house is May Alcott’s bedroom. The youngest Alcott girl, May was an side of Orchard Houseartist. Her parents encouraged her art, and let her draw over the doors, molding, and walls of her bedroom. Those drawings have been preserved and can still be seen today. On my tour, standing inches from them and smiling, I couldn’t help but think just how much and how little changes in this world. (I’d have taken pictures, but understandably, no photography is allowed inside.)

I left Orchard House and Concord and headed west, towards Hadley, where I checked into my hotel and literally flopped upon the king-sized bed that I had all to myself. I was supposed to write a newspaper column but had been having computer issues, and so I whipped out my map and planned my next day.

 

Day 2: A Visit to Emily’s House, a Reunion, and up Mount Holyoke

Dickinson House 2I had big things planned for Day 2. Mainly, I was there to research for my second novel, a work-in-progress set in the year before the Civil War in SC and Massachusetts. My goals for being in the towns of Hadley, Holyoke and Amherst were to research in the Archives at Mt. Holyoke College–my protagonist in Novel 2 is a student at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary in 1860–visit the Emily Dickinson Museum, and meet up with a dear-writer friend whom I hadn’t seen since 2007.

First, a bump in the road. My sporty little white rental car (which I’d taken to calling Kit; there are no good

Kit

Kit

reasons for this–I just like the name Kit) had low air pressure in the right rear tire. Long story short: No other rentals in the area, had to take it to the tire place, turned out two tires had nails, the only tires available the next town over. And scene.

No, really. That’s how it happened. I was stuck in my hotel room until 11 a.m., when I’d planned to be be-bopping about Amherst and Holyoke all morning. But, it was fixed, and I moved on. Had a lovely visit to the Dickinson Museum, which consists of the gardens/grounds of the Dickinson estate, two houses–including the one Emily lived in and the one built for her brother and his wife by their father. There’s a lot of renovation work being done there, which was interesting. The tour guide was another good one; my guess is the woman is literally a Dickinson scholar, she was that well-versed. (Get it? Well versed?)

Emily's footpathI didn’t spend as much time with the Dickinsons as I had with the Alcotts. Emily has always been a bit of a

Looking back at the Dickinson House from the gardens

Looking back at the Dickinson House from the gardens

mystery to me, and I like that about her. I did have a fabulous, nearly private tour. It was just the tour guide, me, and a couple and their daughter, from England. The daughter was lovely, the mother gorgeous, and the father looked like a slightly aging British rock star. They all sported Chuck Taylors, and they were warm and friendly. Which made them so very cool.

Italianate EvergreensAfter this, I grabbed a sandwich in Amherst at the Black Sheep Deli at the suggestion of my writer-friend, a local. The sandwich was delicious, but the guy behind the counter looked at me as if I’d grown a third eyeball when I ordered. No lie: I had to repeat myself three different times. I guess my Southern accent threw him for a Yankee loop.

 

The archivist at Mt. Holyoke with whom I’d been corresponding wasn’t there when I’d dropped by the College–and sugar maple 2really, it wasn’t her fault, since because of the car troubles I’d arrived much later than planned–so I wandered the campus. The Gothic architecture is really formal, a little dark and cool, but most of it was constructed after my protagonist would’ve been there. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get that writer’s jolt. My advisor at VCFA, Connie May Fowler, warned me things in my novel might take a little unexpected twist, and she was right. But more on that later.

I met up with a dear friend of mine in Holyoke, and we wandered a bit, considered hiking Mt. Holyoke but passed since New England was experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. My friend, Kate, and I had met back in 2007, when we were both writers-in-residence at the now defunct (sigh) Montana Artists Refuge. Basically, we were supposed to be writing but all we did was drive from wilderness area to wilderness area and hike snowy, dangerous trails. It was awesome.

Kate and I had a fabulous dinner in nearby Northampton, then busted out, despite a storm threatening, for a little 1600s town called Deerfield.

We arrived in Historic Deerfield right at dusk. Because of the

forttours.com

forttours.com

impending storm it felt more like night, and the street lamps were already on in the town. Deerfield was founded in the late 1600s, and walking through it is literally like walking through time–most of the houses are museums, and were built between 1730 – 1850. The place was attacked fairly frequently by local Indians, and played a bloody part in King Philip’s War. In 1704, an Indian raid took place in which 50 people were killed and over 100 marched off to captivity in Canada.

Suffice to say, when Kate and I walked those empty streets with our umbrellas, a gentle rain falling in the eerie quiet, it was palpably unsettling.

* * *

Coming soon, Day 3: On to Montpelier & the Vermont College of Fine Arts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New column: “Your memories might not be your own”

DNAHi, all! Today’s column is up at The Greenville News, and this one’s all about the theory of ancestral memory, or inherited memories.

Ever wondered if you’ve inherited more than eye color and height from your ancestors? Well, check it out here.

And Happy Almost-Weekend!

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New column: “Independence should be celebrated all year long”

Hi, all! Completely forgot to post the link last week to my newest column in The Greenville News. This one’s about independence, the Fourth of July, and Thomas Jefferson. I hope you enjoy!

Find it here.

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