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UnknownNow that I’m a real, true empty nester, and have been for 12 months or so, I can no longer claim to be a “Nearly Empty-Nester,” as I was when I began writing this blog. It has been therapy for me to write about personal experiences having to do with my three daughters as they found their independence and flew away from home: one to graduate school(s), one to college on a mountain-top in Tennessee, one to the working world in Dallas. And to my delight, people actually seemed to enjoy reading about it! It amazes me that my writing resonated with others, even if most of you were friends and family. My blog posts have slowed down over the last twelve months, and I realize it’s because my kids are grown and gone and my role in their everyday lives isn’t as prominent as it once was. Therefore, there isn’t as much fodder for blogging. But, all is well, just maybe not as entertaining. So…I’m going to focus my writing in other directions. I’m looking back and writing a history of our family, beginning with Captain Henry Sheppard, who left his home before the age of 12, to sail between New York and Liverpool and, eventually, become an instrumental figure in the Gulf coast of Texas, sailing in the early days of the state’s formation for the Morgan Steamship Line. His home, Indianola, on Matagorda Bay, was obliterated by a hurricane in 1886, leaving his wife, daughter and two grandsons dead.  After the storm, many of my ancestors made their way inland to Cuero to make a new life for themselves. That storm has been in my psyche forever and I can’t wait to write all about it.

As I watch my three girls come into their own and become an ad executive, a child psychologist and a creative force in New York City, I find myself focused on other children of my city, state and world. Things are getting serious around here. Kids in the U.S. are getting shot at school. Too many kids in my community are entering foster care and having kids of their own. Other kids in my own neighborhood are feeling abandoned, neglected, and unsure of their place in this world. There’s lots to do and I’m not quite sure where to begin. So, I thank you for walking with me the last few years and I hope you’ll continue to watch as I figure out where to go from here. No doubt about one thing, I’ll be writing about it. So please stay tuned.

Bye-bye for now.


Restaurant Regrets

imagesPerhaps it’s a sign of aging, but I’ve grown impatient dining out these days. I’m reminded of a time, many years ago, when my parents came to visit us in San Antonio and we’d be excited to introduce them to our new favorite place. To our great disappointment, the dining establishment we’d delighted in was always too loud for them, and they’d simply settle back in their chairs and smile politely, having given up trying to make themselves heard, or, more truthfully, given up trying to turn up their hearing aids to hear our benign conversation. We hated their bewildered looks after they ordered a gin martini with olives, only to be informed their only options were beer and wine. I so get it now. All proof that we really do turn into our parents.  Seriously, though, is it too much to ask for a beautiful dining room with delicious food and perfect drinks served by people who care about your happiness where the noise level doesn’t cause one to cringe? A place where one can celebrate a special occasion with the secure knowledge that the day will be made better by capping it off with dinner at that particular venue? Yes, apparently it is. At least in San Antonio where we live. I dare you to name one such place. I could publish a collection of the many letters I’ve written expressing our disappointment to chefs and managers of some of the most highly acclaimed new restaurants in town. There was Luke on the Riverwalk (now closed.) And La Frite in Southtown. And Southerleigh at the Pearl. And now there’s another new place downtown with a certain good-looking Italian chef who participated for a while in a competition on the Food Network. That’s where I chose to celebrate my birthday last night and left feeling as if I’d have had more fun eating pizza on the couch, watching the festivities in Pyeongchang.

My husband and I entered the new restaurant full of hope and optimism. We were seated right inside the door, in full view of the busy kitchen. Menus were distributed, water poured and a lovely gal offered us a selection of fruit slices for our iced H2O, assuring us our server would be “right with us”. We debated whether to order cocktails or wine and then, important matters decided, we sat back and waited. And waited. For nearly half an hour. Servers, sommeliers and guests rushed back and forth past our table. We felt like we’d somehow become invisible. We saw them, but no one dared glance in our direction. We tried to make small talk, but it was difficult on an empty stomach and in such a loud space. It was deafening at times. Finally, a woman in a suit, the manager, perhaps, came over and asked if we needed help deciding on a bottle of wine. Poor thing. She was about to experience the Wrath of Con, as my family describes the phenomenon that rears its ugly head upon occasion, particularly when dining out. I explained we’d made our wine selection 20 minutes previous, but no one had bothered to stop by the table and inquire. Then, the make-up session began. Wine was whisked out and poured for us and a shaken server stepped up to take our order. “We don’t want to order right now. We’d like to enjoy our wine for just one minute. Please,” I added. As we sipped, she’d frequently look over at us with trepidation and, eventually, she approached, apologizing, “I don’t mean to bother you, but would you like to order?” My husband kindly explained that we’d like to begin with an appetizer, then follow that up with salads and an entree. Whoosh. The appetizer was placed before us in one minute’s time. Minus silverware. “Guess we’ll just eat it with our fingers”, hubby proclaimed. Halfway through, someone surrepticiously slipped some silverware onto the table and ran. The salads and entrees came way too fast as the manager poured tablespoons of wine into our glasses. Finally, she cheerfully asked, “Is it someone’s birthday?” I raised my hand, thoroughly deflated at this point and said, “That would be me. I’m the birthday girl!” Oh, happy birthdays were offered all around, by the manager, the sommelier, the server, the citrus-serving girl, all of whom had thoroughly ignored us just an hour ago. Then a plate, elaborately decorated with chocolate swirls and “Happy Birthday” in cursive, appeared, along with a serving of tiramisu with a lone candle in it. Our server leaned in and whispered, “Trust me. You don’t want me to sing.” To which I replied, “No, I really don’t,” but under my breath so she couldn’t hear me. All too soon the bill was placed before us and the manager stopped by to offer her thanks for our patience and pointed out that our nice bottle of wine had been comped. I felt like a dog. A female dog that rhymes with witch. My sweet husband smiled, cheerfully paid, and exclaimed, “This was so reasonable.” Then, walking out to the car he said, “That was fun,” and meant it. Thankfully, he didn’t realize that his wife had turned old and cranky on her birthday.

(You are welcome to file this under “First World Problems.” Or, “Reasons not to eat out in your hometown after a weekend of perfect service, food and beverage in New Orleans.” )



The Sky is Falling

Unknown I was just getting comfortable with the idea that my youngest daughter was living and working in New York City when I heard, on Halloween afternoon, that there’d been an attack on the city in the shadow of the Freedom Tower. It was, apparently, a senseless act of violence against absolutely innocent people, international tourists mostly, who were riding bikes in a designated bike lane along the Hudson River when they were mowed down by a rented Home Depot truck. I wasn’t scared for my daughter’s safety when I heard the news; I knew she was sitting at her computer in her office on 6th Avenue. But, I did pull up a map to see exactly where Chambers Street and the Westside Highway intersected. And I checked to see how near it was to her office at the corner of 6th and Spring Street in Soho. Pretty close. We exchanged information via text messages and she was fine; just concerned about the masses of people gathering outside on the street preparing for the largest Halloween parade in the world. I asked her to let me know when she was safely back at her apartment in Brooklyn. A few hours later she reported that she had to take a different route home due to the parade but was back safe and sound. Whew. I went to bed that night feeling a little unsettled to say the least. I spent time analyzing my discomfort. It wasn’t that I felt my daughter was in immediate danger. There’d been no evidence that this was a coordinated plan of multiple attacks on New York City. The violence seemed to be over. I suddenly realized that I was worried about all of us. It’s as if war has been declared against us, innocent people going about our business or our fun, anywhere in the world. The likelihood of a plane striking a skyscraper seems unlikely in this age of zealous TSA agents and multiple restrictions on our carry-on bags. But, perhaps more terrifying, is the thought that some horrible act of aggression can take place against us at anytime, no matter what we’re doing by people we don’t know. We can’t see the enemy, nor do we know who it is. But, we know the enemy is out there and he doesn’t seem to value his own life any more than he does the lives of innocent people. He’s prepared, and even willing, to die. We didn’t sign up for a battle. We’re unprepared and unarmed for it. It’s as if a bomb could drop at any moment without warning, a truck could run over a bunch of people strolling lively Las Ramblas in Barcelona, or lounging on a sunny beach in Nice, France. A gunman could open fire from a Las Vegas hotel window onto a crowd enjoying a concert down below or in a packed nightclub in Paris or Orlando. Or at an office party in San Bernardino or at a Christmas market in Berlin. Or in a crowded movie theater in Denver or at a mid-week prayer service in a Charleston church.  Or on a bike lane in New York City on Halloween afternoon. We can’t rely on any person or organization or military branch to protect us because our enemy is cowardly and doesn’t play by the usual rules of engagement. We can’t say nor can we predict where they’ll strike next. It could be Isis or a radicalized extremist raised in the U.S. and addicted to online propaganda. Or an Uzbekistan immigrant. Or a Tunisian, a Syrian, an Afghan. Al Qaeda. Or a white supremacist or a person suffering from mental illness. The labels don’t matter. There’s no planning for it, no explanation of it. There’s seemingly no protection against it. No wonder so many of us feel helpless and afraid. But, we cannot and should not feel hopeless. As FDR famously said during a time of great despair and uncertainty, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And the British poster on the eve of WWII, “Keep calm and carry on.” Following the attack, I took comfort from NY officials who encouraged everyone to continue about their business but also made some some valuable suggestions. He said we can pay attention, put away our phones, take off our headphones and be aware of our surroundings. See something, say something. Be alert, be vigilant. But, above all, be ourselves, live our lives and don’t be paralyzed by fear. Yes, let’s, no matter how difficult that may seem. As travel guru Rick Steves says, “Keep On Travelin’!” He believes that 24-hour news and social media has increased our awareness of these events and oftentimes magnifies them by the non-stop coverage. For each horror story, there must be many more untold stories of bravery and thwarted attempts at evil. One thing’s for sure: most of us care for our fellow men and would jump to their aid if need be, as evidenced after every attack. We would never think of causing an innocent person harm. I believe there are way more people like us than like those causing all this senseless harm. And we can win this war. Ok. I feel better now. Good night!

This was written four days before the massacre in the Baptist church at Sutherland Springs. Lord, help us.


Dearly Departed

UnknownOne of my daily rituals is reading the obituaries in our morning newspaper. Ok, I realize I just morphed into an obsolete dinosaur in your eyes. “Really? She reads an actual newspaper? And never misses the obituaries?!” But, I’m here to tell you that many of the day’s obits can be a bright spot in an otherwise horrid news landscape. Who wants to read more about Harvey – the hurricane or the sex offender? Who has time for more political shenanigans involving Russians, Republicans, North Koreans, Democrats or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? So, I just skip right past the front page and even the sports page and head straight to the business section. Isn’t that ironic? The obituaries, or “Life Tributes” as they’re called in our paper, are at the back of the business section. Makes perfect sense if you think about it. The business of life includes marching onward to the inevitable, death. I like to think that reading the obituaries makes me a better person. Every morning I’m reminded of the fact that our time here on this good earth is fleeting and we’d best make the most of it lest we have a really short two- or three-line obituary. Seriously, reading the obituaries makes me want to try harder to be a more loving wife, mother, aunt, sister, friend, to contribute more to my community and those around me in need. I love reading about the 90+-year olds who have died; some of them have been married to “the love of his/her life” for over 60 years! How hopeful! Some ladies, life-long homemakers, are described as “behind the scene chief of staff” or “entertainer-in-chief” and it’s often mentioned that her greatest accomplishment was raising her children. That makes me feel good, too, especially since my husband has taken to answering for me, on the countless times I’m asked – “And, what do you DO all day?” “She manages the household and is an essayist,” he says, albeit with a chuckle.

Obituary writers follow a common template. They begin with the obvious, “So-and-So died” or “passed away peacefully.” But some quite cleverly describe the manner of death: “She left with God as her travel agent.” “He entered the Kingdom of Heaven in the company of angels and reunited with the love of his life, Mary, who preceded him.” Ahhh. That’s a nice picture. Next, they list every degree obtained and each position held in business or philanthropy. Others paint a picture of a long life well-lived, full of hard work, followed by retirement and lots of travel to exotic places and the eternal love of family and friends. Something to aspire to, no doubt.  But my favorites are the ones that serve up unexpected gems about the deceased’s life. For instance, I read this in today’s paper: “He spent several years traveling across the U.S. with his wife in his frequently needy but ever-faithful Winnebago called Elsa.” I wonder if the same adjectives applied to his wife? And this, “Despite many health issues, she enjoyed life to its fullest, especially her frequent gambling jaunts to Las Vegas with her best friend Donette.” Oh, can’t you just picture it? I wish I could have gone with them! To Vegas – not Heaven (yet). Here’s another item from today’s Tributes – “She firmly convinced us that Irish cream and vanilla cakes are highly superior to chocolate, for which we stand eternally corrected.” I assume they are eternally grateful as well. Just one more: “He loved fishing, trail-riding, his horse John, and his mule Herbie.” These obits are so joyous you can’t help but smile while reading them. Despite the variations in the body of each obituary, the endings are always similar.  “He will live forever in the hearts of his family and friends.” or “She will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved her.” After reading all these life tributes, I can’t help but wonder… what will they say about me when my time comes? That I could be a mean old b+#** who, for the most part, loved her husband and kids?! I hope they at least mention my talent for making frozen margaritas and my eternal love for the Beatles. I’m reminded of an old saying, “Be nice to your kids. Someday they will choose your nursing home.” Not only that, they’ll probably write your obituary.

Back to … Life?

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IMG_2632It’s that time of year again, mid-August and time to go back to school. Time for parents to take their kids to Target or Wal-Mart loaded with the traditional list of school supplies: pencils, pens, spirals, highlighters. Time for new blue jeans, or school uniforms, and for sure a new backpack. But, I’m feeling a bit out of sorts as this is the first August in 23 years when I have no child going back to school. Our youngest daughter graduated from college in May and just moved to New York City for a job. That, in itself, is a major transition, which is evident from the reaction of everyone I know, and even strangers, who say “WOW! New York? HOW EXCITING!” No one says that when your child gets a job in your hometown. They say, reservedly, “Congratulations,” or “That’s great,” but not, in a high-pitched voice, “WOW! HOW EXCITING!” That is reserved for a job in New York. Others offer, “Well, she’ll either love it or hate it.” Which could be said for most jobs, but people don’t say that when your child gets a job in San Antonio or Dallas or Houston.

It happened very quickly, my daughter’s new position. She interviewed a couple of times then the offer seemingly came out of the blue. She had to make a quick decision as the job started in ten days. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m going.” And, my husband and I supported her decision. The pay was decent, the perks even better and she was fulfilling her dream. The next thing I knew, she’d found a place to sublet for the first month, which would give her time to look for a more permanent situation. She agreed to let me come help her get situated. We each lugged two over-stuffed bags through La Guardia to the taxi stand, and the agent whistled for a van to help us with our load. We eventually made it to the East Village and to her temporary home. As we lugged our bags down 9th Street from Second Avenue, we both smiled. It was the quintessential Carrie Bradshaw, Sex & the City New York neighborhood. In a few minutes the lessor arrived with the keys and we walked up the two flights to her apartment. “I’m sorry it’s such a mess,” she said, “But the girl who was leasing went home to India and I really don’t understand the situation. Oh, and she took the window unit with her.” The place was a hot mess, literally. Shoes were tossed in the common area, lots of shoes. A large box rested against the wall. A stained pillow and blanket had been tossed on the sofa. Trash was piled up in and around the trash can in the kitchen, under yellow sticky notes that read “Hard plastic,” “Paper & Cardboard,” “Landfill.” Opened boxes of cereal, Keurig pods, and shopping bags full of plastic bags were evident. There were dirty dishes in the sink and no paper towels on the paper towel holder over the sink. I heard a persistent drip, drip, drip coming from the bathroom. I peeked in to see a toilet full of pee and paper and a dirty bathtub with hair in the drain. The bathroom rug was wet and the shower curtain mildewed. My daughter proceeded to her bedroom. “Mom, look how pretty the trees are. And the courtyard down below.” It was pretty. Hot, but pretty. We opened the windows wide and realized how quiet it was despite the busy, bustling neighborhood streets below. We glanced into the bedroom next door and found clothes hanging on nails on the walls; there was no closet! But my daughter was lucky enough to have a closet and two big windows. Life was good. And she was happy.

We left the apartment and went to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond. For a minute, things seemed familiar. Then we saw the escalator just for shopping carts! We loaded our cart with a couple of fans, two pillows, a light blanket, and other necessities, paid for it all and exited the store. Then it was time to extract our bags from the cart and make our way down the street to a taxi. Amazingly, we did it, each carrying multiple shopping bags. A cab whipped over, picked us up and soon delivered us to the apartment. We felt like we had accomplished something major. We high-fived and we smiled.

A couple of days later it was time for me to go home. But first, I took my daughter and two of her friends from college out to dinner. The mood was light and gay and the girls promised to look out for each other. Too soon, we all said goodnight and I walked my young one home. We tried to keep things light as we watched the homeless curled up in doorways, young boys skateboarding down the street, the change of a neighborhood from bustling frenetic daytime to the quieter dark of night. Too soon we returned to her apartment. Standing on the sidewalk out front we turned toward each other with tears in our eyes. I hugged her and told her I knew she was where she belonged and wished her well. Suddenly, out of the blue a man appeared between us, begging, “Ma’am, please. Can you spare some change? Please?” I was so shocked, I jumped and yelped. “Anne, open the door to your apartment.” She did and we rushed inside. We giggled nervously and hugged goodbye once and for all. Then I walked down the street and looked for a cab.

Now I’m home. It’s mid-August and it’s time for school to start again. Time for me to figure out what’s next.


Waco’s Gain(es)

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images-1.jpegI presume you are all familiar with Chip and Joanna Gaines, the Waco power couple who have a hugely popular reality t.v. show, FixerUpper on HGTV? I was late to jump on the Gaines’ train, as I was generally late to cable and “smart” t.v. When I channel-surf, I’m a creature of habit and look at the Big 3, ABC, NBC, and CBS, which were the only channels on when I was a kid. It’s taken me awhile to realize the world is my oyster, as far as television shows are concerned. I forget that there are hundreds of channels available for my viewing pleasure. Our daughters are highly amused when they hear my husband or me announce, sadly, “There’s nothing on t.v. tonight.” Or, “The Spurs’ season is over; now what are we going to watch?” Technology is hard for us, but we’re getting there. I’m proud to say we’ve watched all of Friday Night Lights and Bloodline, and a couple of wonderful documentaries, such as Somme and Chef’s Table. But there are still times when we plop on the couch to watch t.v. and all we can remember are channels 4, 5, and 12. Cable shows are on such channels as 1226, 1450 and 1507. Who can remember that? Of course I’d heard of the Fixer Upper show, but it never popped up on my channel surf, limited as it was. How do people find these things, I wondered.

A few weeks ago I helped my daughter drive home from college in Tennessee. On Day 2, waking up in Little Rock, we looked at the map and realized that we’d be passing through Waco. “We should stop at the Silos,” my youngest said. I agreed, remembering that the Gaines had transformed an old granary in the heart of Waco into a shop and a bakery. (Trust me, I’ve seen your Instagram photos, people!) A few hours later we found ourselves near the silos and saw a line snaking around a cute white building with black awnings. It was a Tuesday at 11:30 in the morning. We couldn’t find a parking space, so we decided to have lunch elsewhere and try again later. We soon headed back and found it only slightly less crowded. We parked and walked toward the silos looming large in the landscape. Everything was so pretty! In the middle of Waco, on a railroad track on a hot summer afternoon, flowers bloomed in window boxes on every building, the grass was green and pristine, children frolicked with their parents, skipping and playing games. And the line still snaked from the bakery door around the building and down the block. We looked at the famous silos which were surrounded by cute food trucks, then entered the retail area unsure of what wonders awaited.  We found every variety of fake flowers and plants in galvanized buckets, multiple candles, and metal signs announcing “Demo Day” and “Adventure” and “Market”. There were lots of inspirational quotes painted on rustic signs. Apparently, signage on the walls of fixer-uppers is a big deal. We passed a table of bobble-headed figures with the names of the show’s regulars on them, like the cabinet guy.  My daughter chuckled. Then we went downstairs to see more of the same. Flowers, candles, galvanized stuff, t-shirts, gimme-caps. Cute, but not my style. My daughter wanted a “Magnolia Farms” t-shirt. (That’s where the Gaines actually live.) The young checker cheerfully asked where we were from. I felt I was letting him down by answering, “San Antonio.” He said that the person in front of me was from Canada and had flown down just to see this. I was perplexed.

Last week I helped another daughter move into an apartment far, far from Waco, in Madison, Wisconsin. Shortly after arriving, we went to a furniture store to look for a sofa and met a darling local girl. “You’re from Texas?” she asked, excitedly. “I went there last year with my mother for spring break.” When we asked what areas of Texas she’d visited, she answered, “WACO! It was amazing.” Oh, I said knowingly, “What’d you think?” “I loved it so much. We met neighbors of Chip and Joanna and stayed in a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of their’s. And I loved the Silos. The cupcakes were awesome!” What cupcakes? She explained they were in the small bakery building but you often had to wait in line for a long time for them. But we have perfectly good cupcakes in San Antonio, I thought, why would I stand in line? My daughter asked, “Did you make it to Austin? or San Antonio? They are really cool cities.” “No,” she answered. “We thought about traveling to Galveston, but it was too far from Waco.” Makes sense, I guess… Next stop, Pier One in Madison. Stepping into the store, we were greeted by none other than Joanna Gaines, the large life-sized cardboard one, hawking her own line of rugs. We couldn’t believe it. Way to capitalize on your fifteen minutes, girl! A few days later it was time to board a plane for home via the Milwaukee airport. I was in line behind a girl decked out in Baylor gear. I caught her eye and asked, “Do you go to school in Waco?” “Yes,” she beamed. “I’m from Wisconsin but I’m going back to Waco for summer school.” Soon, several people starting leaning in, asking her questions. “Have you ever seen Chip and Joanna? Have you been to the Silos?” She smiled, resolutely, as if used to this line of questioning. “No I’ve never met them but I’d sure like to.” Geez. What’s the big deal, I wondered.

One day not long ago, I punched what I thought I’d memorized as the Food Network channel into my remote. I’d made a mistake and hit one wrong number. Eureka! I’d stumbled upon HGTV and was smack in the middle of a Fixer Upper marathon. I began watching and BOOM! My world was twisted on its axis; I was charmed by Chip’s toothy smile and goofy manner, and by Joanna’s no-nonsense approach to “fixing up” and her wealth of patience with her silly husband. Plus, she was so pretty! At the end of the show they revealed the transformation of a house from a dump to a dream home to the startled homeowners and my tears began to flow. This process repeated itself over and over again through the six or eight episodes that I watched that day. When I finally pulled myself away I felt happy. And hopeful. And relaxed. I couldn’t explain it. There’s something special about how Chip looks at Joanna and says, “Sure, Jo. You want to press those salvaged tin pieces into something charming for the ceiling? No problem! You want a custom herringbone wood floor? I’ve got this!”  And while Chip is stuffing cupcakes in his mouth, juggling eggs for his children’s amusement, or trying to climb the silos, Jo doesn’t seem the least bit stressed or irritated with him. She just smiles slightly and indulges him. Then the house their clients bought for under $50,000 suddenly looks like a million bucks. Seriously. There are no pitfalls, no setbacks, nothing disappointing ever happens while they remodel a piece of property. No wonder people love them. This is everyone’s idea of heaven: an affordable property turned into your dream home by two adorable people in a matter of a few weeks. I’ve been through a couple of remodels and, trust me, this is reality t.v. at its finest. Sadly, this week the Gaines find themselves in some trouble. A drunk driver plowed into a fixer-upper home in Waco and caused a great deal of damage. The homeowners are mad. Not at the drunk driver, but at the Gaines and the City of Waco for not telling them the neighborhood was dangerous. Really? They purchased their house in a large metropolitan area for $35,000! Chip and Joanna can only work miracles with the houses they’re given; apparently, not with the whole neighborhood. Although that would make a good sequel. And I’d probably watch.






Goodbye to a Place

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IMG_0105Next weekend my youngest child, Anne, will receive a degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. This week I feel great joy mixed with supreme melancholy as I anticipate the momentous occasion. I’ve already celebrated my two older daughters’ graduations, but the last child’s college exit is truly a milestone. For the first time in ten years, we’ll have no tuition payments, no more spring breaks to plan around, no 4-5 week Christmas visits, no parents’ weekends to look forward to in the fall. The nest is feeling very empty. It’s time for me to get a life (past time), and time for my youngest daughter to get one, too. But first, indulge my melancholia about her departure from a place we knew virtually nothing about four short years ago.

Sewanee, a school of around 2,000, is truly “a special place” as all the college’s promotional material states. Where else can you attend a university that looks and feels like Oxford on the top of a mountain, surrounded by 12,000 acres of waterfalls, blooming trees, flora and fauna, caves, hiking trails, lakes and bluffs overlooking a green valley, all situated over 50 miles away from anything resembling a bustling city and lovingly referred to as “the Domain?” It’s where students thrive and are truly free to be whoever they want to be for four years…wait, that part is true for most colleges. But Sewanee seems different. It’s a place where tradition dictates that students lightly touch the tops of their cars when entering or exiting the gates to catch their Sewanee angel, and I’m always moved nearly to tears when I sneak a peak in the rearview mirror to see kids in cars behind me all reaching toward the rooftops. It’s a place where students dress up for class and, where every Gowning Day, there’s a ceremony awarding high-achieving students a black gown  to wear to class, which is then routinely passed down to future generations of students.  It’s a place where, freshman year, a friend of my daughter started a women’s rugby team because she asked permission to do so, where kids who’ve never danced before gleefully perform on stage for audiences at Perpetual Motion weekend, and where students grab their guitars and friends and sing together at various open mike nights across campus, where students line up each Advent to celebrate Lessons and Carols in the chapel, completely covered with cut evergreens, holly and berries from the Domain. It’s a place that celebrates the four seasons, and for our Texas girl that’s been a unique experience. It’s a vacation destination for those who appreciate its beautiful natural surroundings, and the cool mountain air. Our family will miss spending time there each fall with the many wonderful families of our daughter’s friends who have come to be our friends over these four years.

I’ll always remember our first weekend on campus. The Vice-Chancellor spoke to nervous freshmen and their anxious parents, just before we were told it was time for us to move on down the road. “Be Afraid to Try New Things,” was the topic. His message to the students was “Reinvent yourselves but be wary at the same time.” I chuckled, then drove away, teary, that Sunday in August of 2013. Now, as we approach the end of four years, I am afraid it will be even harder to drive away from campus than it was four years ago. Undoubtedly our daughter tried new things, some of which I’d rather not know about. But she was also given opportunities I could never have dreamed of on that August afternoon. She hosted her own radio show for three years as DJ AK, and handled the highest of high-tech equipment in a state of the art listening room on campus.  She traveled to France and studied for a summer, where she lived in a gorgeous apartment in Paris with a view of the Seine and a woman who cooked dinner with a small monkey on her shoulder named Lola. She presented a thesis on French separatism and several of her friends came to cheer her on. Her professors became friends and she attended dinners and parties in their homes. Her classmates and chums were from Austin, Nashville, Birmingham, Charleston, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York and everywhere betwixt and between. She loved and was loved. She got sick and got through it. She made some bad grades and some good ones. She danced on tables with her girlfriends. (I made that part up, but I bet it happened!) At Sewanee, she wrote and photographed and studied and played and grew and saw that the world is not as large as it once seemed. She learned compassion, empathy and tolerance. And she received continuous encouragement and affirmation for who she was, not who people thought she should be. But, now it’s time to leave.

I’ll let the commencement speakers deliver the words of wisdom, but I want my daughter and her friends to know that this may be the end of college, but it’s just the beginning of bigger and better things. It’s the start of lifelong friendships and gatherings across the miles.  Imagine the heights to which you will soar because of this special place and the lessons learned on its 12,000 acres. It may not be evident to you today or next Sunday at graduation, but eventually you’ll find your next place. You’ve been given a sturdy platform from which to jump onto the next one.

Last night my little girl took her final turn at the WUTS-91.3 FM microphone and hosted her last hour as DJ AK. The song she chose to end her session was “Thinking of a Place” by The War on Drugs. Apropos, as she’ll always think of Sewanee with the fondest of memories and a grateful heart, and the future, to her, seems a bit scary.

I’m moving through the dark
Of a long black night
And I’m looking at the moon
And the light it shines
But I’m thinking of a place
And it feels so very real
Oh, it was so full of love!

-Thinking of a Place, The War on Drugs

Oh, and then she snuck in “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, but that was probably for her dad and me, because she knew we must be listening and we’ll sing it loudly to the rooftops.

If I could
Baby I’d give you my world
Open up
Everything’s waiting for you
You can go your own way
Go your own way
You can call it another lonely day
You can go your own way
Go your own way

-Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac