My Year Away. And Back.

Four Years Later, My Sabbatical Continues to Teach Me Things.


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Change, Change, Change.

It’s Saturday morning. The sun peaks above the horizon. The egrets leave their nighttime perches and line up for a trip to who knows where. It’s dead calm outside. A perfect morning for a row on Battery Creek, near downtown Beaufort, SC. This is a course I have rowed for about a decade. Meandering and beautiful—especially during a calm morning at slack tide. Exactly like this morning. Most likely a couple of 8+s will launch with varying skill levels, but filled with a highly enthusiastic gaggle of rowers. These are my people.

Who wouldn’t want to row in these waters?

Except this morning, I’m not there. Looks like I won’t be there next weekend, either. It’s hard to type these words, let alone say them out loud, but here goes. I’m not rowing now. I have to add the word “now,” because I want to leave a crack in the rowing door open. You know, just in case something changes.

But I guess I have finally owned up to the reality. Life is going in a different direction for me now and it’s time I acknowledge that.

It was a slow realization. Multiple hurricanes and a horrendous flood disrupted my rowing opportunities for a while. Then came the fateful morning row when I felt something not-quite-right in my left hamstring, resulting in a ginormous hematoma around my sitz bones, which made sitting in a rowing shell beyond painful. (And, thus, contributed to my decision to sell my racing shell.)  The achalasia diagnosis upended all sorts of parts of my life as well, not the least of which, was rowing.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad things that pushed rowing toward the bottom of the priority pile. Discovering an obsession with travelling to Italy meant limited rowing time in the summer. Buying a Big Brick House in Paducah, KY, for the restoration project of a lifetime grabbed the rest of the summer (and, perhaps, all the summers to come!). Discovering other fun things to do during spring break, like traversing Caribbean islands on a cruise ship, took away another prime week. And, so it continued, until I realized I wasn’t rowing very much. And, turns out, I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would.

Even if I’m not rowing, I am drawn to water. The Tiber River in Rome is no exception.

So. I guess I’m a former rower now. After about 20 years, it’s hard to say good-bye. But it’s time. So, goodbye, and thanks to my four rowing clubs.

Beaufort Rowing Club. These rowers are the best. Some of their technique might drive me nuts, but I so appreciate how accepting this club has been to me—and to anyone who wants to row here. Other clubs should emulate BRC. Thanks for letting me be a part of this club for 10 years, Ken, Paul, Judy, Bill and the rest.

Columbia Rowing Club. The hubster and I wouldn’t have moved to SC for my job if there hadn’t been a rowing club in Columbia. I fondly remember the evening rows in my single with my rowing buddy, Laura. And, I loved rowing the quad with John, Marty and Brenda. We had some serious moments of run.

Nashville Rowing Club. Helping to start this club was hard work. But when you want to row and there is no one to row with, you do what you have to do. The club is now huge and doing incredibly well, but back in 2005, all there was, was me, and an old 4+ that I purchased sight unseen from Georgia Tech. How I found Erika, Joy, and Stephanie to row in that 4+ with me remains a mystery, but it was a time of magical rowing in a less-than-desirable situation. Erika was an emergency room orthopedic surgeon who would come to an early morning practice after operating all night. She was the most competitive rower I have ever had the privilege of knowing. As the stroke, Erika took us to places I didn’t even know were possible. Sitting at #3, Joy was a surgical resident at Vanderbilt and former varsity Virginia rower who was over 6 feet tall. Her schedule left no time for rowing, but somehow, she showed up enough times that we were able to practice for the Head of the Hooch head race. This is the only time I have rowed behind a woman taller than me. Rowing behind Joy was, well, a Joy. And then there was the bow, Stephanie, a recent Vandy grad, who barely pushed 5 feet. I still can’t figure out how she rowed like a tall person, but that girl rowed long. No question that at #2, I was the weak link in the boat, but these women didn’t complain. Maybe it was because I owned the boat. Or, maybe it was because, for whatever reason, when we rowed together, we flew.

Carolina Masters. And, this leads me to the Carolina Masters, my club in Chapel Hill, NC, where my rowing career began. I am thankful to a former student (and university rower) who encouraged me to go to a Learn-to-Row clinic because she thought I “looked like a rower.” I’m thankful to Julie, our volunteer coach, who was patient and encouraging, and helped me realize that I could be a decent rower. And, Ruth, who rowed in the pair with me in the dead of winter when no one was all that excited to row with me.  And the other Julie who also rowed in the pair with me when she didn’t have to. And all the rowers who were a part of those exciting years of racing—especially that second place nail-biter of a race at the Hooch.

You can see in our faces how seriously we took racing. In this boat, I had the privilege to row behind Julie, the best coach I ever had.
We were just a few seconds behind the #1 boat, but it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had racing. Standing on the podum for the medal ceremony was fun too!

And, then there’s Patti, my rowing soulmate. Patti and I were starting to become friends when I asked her if she might be interested in taking a road trip with me to Maine to pick up a single—an old restored wooden racing shell from the ‘70s. I didn’t even know how to row a single yet, but somehow, we both thought this was an excellent idea. We drove from Chapel Hill to Thomaston, Maine, and back again in four days with a stop in Philadelphia to pick up a former Olympian’s rowing shell that needed restoring. Having never transported a boat before, starting in Philly, and driving through cities like New York and Boston was challenging to say the least, but Patti never doubted for a minute that I could do it. We talked about everything over those four days (and, I mean EVERYTHING).  From that trip on, we drove together to racing venues, rowed side by side in our singles during our weekly “chat and rows,” talked about rowing until there was nothing left to say about rowing—and then talked about it some more. For me, rowing means Patti. And it always will.

Patti and I were frezzing in between our races, but that didn’t keep us from have a blast.

I guess you can tell that rowing has had an impact on my life. But, as I’ve been learning recently, just because you love something doesn’t mean that it must stay the same. Living at the beach part of each week, I see the ocean, the beach, and the tidal creeks. They are ever changing whether by erosion, storms, king tides, or anything else that nature throws. We have a lot of birds on Harbor Island, but they change, too.  Sometimes, it’s the ospreys who capture our attention. Sometimes it’s the pelicans perched at the Harbor Bridge. Now, it’s the migrating birds who join us for winter.

We change, too. I love rowing. But I guess I love other things more now. And, that’s okay. I used to think Aretha Franklin’s classic song was called “Change, Change, Change.” Okay, so I understand now that “Change of Fools” makes no sense whatsoever, but still, “change, change, change” could—and perhaps, should—be our anthem.  Bob Dylan once said that there is “nothing so stable as change.” And with that, I say The Beat Goes On.


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I Left My Heart (Not in San Francisco).

As many of you know, I am an academic. As a professor in a school of journalism and mass communications, one of the rights of passage at the end of the summer is to attend our annual conference, hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).  I started going to this conference in 1993. Over the decades, I have presented refereed papers, sat on panels, gone to untold business meetings, and served in just about every leadership role available, including president of the organization a decade ago. I never missed.  One year, I even requested my daughter move her wedding by a week so it wouldn’t conflict. Rumor has it I phrased the dilemma as “Oh, Grace, I’d hate to miss your wedding because I was at the conference!” One of the best parts of the week-long event is reconnecting with colleagues around the country.  This year, even my new book was on display! Exciting times.

Except, I wasn’t there. And I probably won’t be there next year. In fact, most likely I’ll never go to the AEJMC annual conference again. While this news won’t cause any seismic ripples around the world, it’s rather earth-shattering (or at least earth-quivering) to me. I think it means my heart is focused on other endeavors.

It’s just a few more days before the new semester begins. Um, sure, I’m looking forward to the new academic year. It’s just that I really, really, really liked my summer and I’m not quite ready to give it up. The (not so) lazy days of summer started off, of course, in Italy.  Then we came home for 10 days (split between the beach and the city), then one month in Paducah, KY, working on the Carriage House and Big Brick House. A week of visiting relatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin followed. Then the loooonng two-day drive back to South Carolina.

And, now, here I sit at the beach for my last week of summer vacation, thinking about, well, the things I’m thinking about.

My heart is back in Italy. How could it not be? Six weeks split between Rome and Meta di Sorrento. Eating pasta, drinking wine, walking everywhere, daily trips to the grocery, staring at the sea, toasting the sunset (with more wine of course!), and just general soaking up every little ounce of every little tidbit of belissima l’italia! (I’m already checking flight schedules for next year.)

I will never get tired of watching the sun set on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

My heart is also in Paducah. For the entire month of July, the hubster and I poured concrete, wielded jack hammers, pried nails out of lumber with crowbars (which I redubbed “cry bars” and with good reason), took down, put up, measured, sawed, and did just about everything else a person can do in the summer heat while working on renovations of a 100-year old house. By the end of the month, more than one waitperson recognized us at our favorite restaurants (amazingly, little Paducah has a bunch of great eateries!) and people around town knew about “that couple from South Carolina who bought the big brick house.” As we labored, we talked about the possibilities of using the Big Brick House as a seasonal small bed and breakfast establishment. Certainly, something to contemplate as we consider life beyond our current careers.

So this might not look scary, but I am up high, doing carpentry things
that are way out of my wheelhouse.

My heart is also in Minneapolis where our adult kids and happy grandchildren live. Seeing our daughter and son-in-law’s thriving pottery business, Studio2Ceramics (why, yes, they are on social media and they send pottery nation-wide), makes this entrepreneur-minded mom happy. And spending time with my son and daughter-in-law’s kids is always delightful (albeit, exhausting!).

Just helping to clean the bottom of one batch of pre-fired mugs was intense. The least you all could do is buy a mug from Studio2Ceramics!

But my heart is also at the beach.  And, given that we have our beloved beach house on the market, my heart feels particularly vulnerable right now. We need to sell this house so we can move forward with some of the big expenses of the Paducah house. But I also hate to think about not taking a walk on the beach whenever I want. Or even just sitting on the front porch drinking coffee while watching the egrets fly hither and yon. I love my beach, rowing, and church friends in Beaufort, I love singing in the choir, I love having Sunday lunch on the river front. I even love our Publix here.

This selfie of me with our former choir director and organ maestro captures what I think about singing in the choir.

And, now, I have to get up the gumption and search for a piece of my heart that can still find joy in university life.  I’m not going to lie. It may be an extra challenge this year. Our beloved university president has retired. The Board of Trustees then made some zany decisions over the summer while faculty and students were conveniently away that may make all our jobs a little less joyful. I hope I’m proved wrong. But, in the meantime, I muse about the summer as I contemplate the future. There’s a lot to think about. But, as that great philosopher Dr. Seuss said, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” Okay. I’ll try. Right after I grab my coffee and settle into the rocking chair, listening for the waves to tell me the tide is coming in.