I don’t know how most people come across the best reading materials, but I rely on my trinity of book experts to help me choose the right reads. Aunt Jerry provides the wisdom of experience, Mom steers me towards good choices with detailed synopsis or even by reading the most compelling parts out loud, and Julie’s recommendations are always the most selective, taking into consideration what is worth my time.
One of Julie’s splendid rec’s was Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, a very somber, yet stoic memoir of an unconventional family and upbringing. If you’re worried that your kids will be scarred for life by your parenting blunders, go ahead and read it right now; you’ll save yourself future guilt and anguish. The story is not just about stoicism and surviving crazy parents, but its more about a child’s loyalty and love and how those two things, left untarnished by bitterness or regret, have built some memories that were happy, or at least, humorous.
I loved when Walls said, “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by…” because it was a reminder to me of what summer is for. It is hard to fathom how much that extra daylight meant to people who really needed it to survive; are we fortunate to lead lives unfettered from nature’s many beasts or unfortunate that our disconnect has lead us too far from living and being the way we were meant to?
I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to balance living in a modern world full of information, conveniences, and distraction and finding more time-worn ways of growing our hearts and minds. As we started the summer, leaving Orlando for Pensacola, I knew that my days on the road would soon be at an end and I would have to “make hay” with the time we had left.
Clif’s schedule was to be in Pensacola for 8 weeks but with a little luck, he was able to schedule another 4 weeks at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola so we could enjoy our summer near the gorgeous gulf coast. Our first few weeks:
Obviously, we spent tons of time at the beach! We parked our beloved “Salem” about 40 minutes northeast of Pensacola, but that drive didn’t stop us from having plenty of beach days. We especially loved Pensacola Beach and Johnson Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore just east of Perdido Key. We spent lots of time shelling and we added a myriad of new, beautiful shells to our collection. We saw baby sharks (swimming in knee-deep water!), sea turtles, dolphins, fish, and we even found a starfish one morning. The kids loved the waves and we all educated ourselves about the danger of rip currents! We shopped Craig’s List for a large kayak which we enjoyed in the gulf and in the bay. Another gulf luxury that we took advantage of was the fresh seafood! Within a couple of weeks we had discovered Joe Patti’s in Pensacola. We ate lots of rock and ruby red shrimp, we had tons of fresh snapper, gulf grouper, and red fish, and I even tried my hand at soft-shell crab!
The town we actually “parked” in for the summer is called Milton, FL, and it is a quiet, little town. By luck, and on our first weekend in town, we happened upon the Blackwater Trail, which became our daily biking and running trail. Nearby, on the Blackwater River, was a park with a beautiful little stream where the kids caught crawfish and tadpoles. In late May/Early June, the blueberries at the local farm, Beulah Berries, were amazing! We also spent an afternoon in Pensacola with Clif’s parents touring the Elcano, a 3-masted sailboat used by the Spanish navy to train sailors, and another afternoon at the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum.
Clif and I were so excited that Nora Ruth was old enough to take advantage of a local surf company’s summer surf camp. She spent two weeks “hanging ten” on some very docile waves, but she quickly learned to get up and the easy surf conditions were also perfect for her most beloved hobby, rubber-necking.
Alliene attended a Pensacola State University camp called Ocean Explorers Camp. She had a lot of fun learning about sea creatures and making new friends of her own.
Nora Ruth also spent two weeks at Camp Skyline in Mentone, AL, which was a week longer than last year. Both girls spent a week riding in a local Pony Camp in Pensacola and, to my dismay, their favorite part of the week was getting to “paint” the horses. My favorite part was always the riding!!
In late July, we drove a few hours East to a lovely little seaside town called Port St. Joe, where we spent several nights at my Uncle Reau and Aunt Kelli’s beautiful beach house. Sadly, we just missed Kelli as she headed back up to Columbus the day we arrived, but she was there in spirit; every inch of their gorgeous home echoes her warmth, beauty, and hospitality. My cousins, Russell and Meg, and my cousin Caitlyn were there with four more little Berry cousins.
The word “cousins”, to my children, is less of a noun and more of an action verb. For example, “Hey Mom, what are we going to do today?”; my reply: “Cousins.” The company-slash-activity known as “cousins” is not for the faint-hearted; it was a marathon of late nights, early mornings, swimming, ghost crab-hunting, tree/fence/house-climbing, body-surfing, hermit crab-cleaning, and of course, picture-taking. We love our Berry cousins and we all loved having this chance to be together.
A week later, the kids and I were on the road again, this time with my Mom, headed to South Arkansas to visit family and friends in her hometown of Eldorado. We stayed with our very good friends, Bill and Susan, and the menagerie of animals they house and feed is enough to make this mother of 3 feel like every day is Easy Street! Two precious Yorkies, a new Golden Doodle puppy, a new kitten, two parakeets, 2 milking goats, and a henhouse full of chickens meant that my kids woke up with the sun and in a frenzy every morning!
Besides helping Susan milk the goats, other mentionable highlights were visiting the Crater of the Diamonds to dig for our very own diamonds (none found this summer but we’ll be back again!), having lunch with Aunt Joyce, seeing cousin Lizzie and meeting her sweet family, picking fresh peaches at a nearby orchard, eating Spudnuts (twice!), and seeing The Wizard of Oz at Eldorado’s community theatre.
When we arrived back in Columbus, we were here for good. Clif still has several months of work left to complete but he will be nearby- in Pensacola, Tuscaloosa, and Atlanta. I immediately started cleaning the farm house and unpacking because we had one more big surprise for the kids…our friends from Cayman, the Danter’s, were coming for a visit. The kids spent most of the three days in the mud while the adults kept mum about the mess because time in the yard meant good grown-up conversation and plenty of opportunities to pick on the mammoth strawberry cake that haunted the fridge.
We’re in the midst of a slow start back into our school routine this weekend, but next week the rubber meets the road. The last two days have felt a lot like fall; we’ve left windows and doors open and savored crisp, clear mornings and warm, breezy afternoons. The last two nights the sunset even beat me to bedtime! I’m not fretting about the darker days to come; we put all of our extra sunlight to good use this summer.