16 and a quick trip to West Virginia

I seem to average one post a month these days, so that’s a good indication of how busy we’ve been and how poorly I’ve prioritized this blog.

Over Labor Day weekend, I tagged along with my parents on a 24-hour trip to West Virginia to attend a family reunion. Mamaw was the guest of honor, and it had been too long since I’d seen her. I don’t get enough time with Mamaw or my Aunt Gloria, so seeing them, no matter how briefly, was well worth the trip.

We also visited Papaw’s grave as a family, which is where I caught this sweet moment between my father and his mother. (You can also see Dallas and Gloria leaning in for a kiss in the background!)


With September brought Jeremy’s 16th birthday, and we celebrated with a low-key party at our house with his friends. (We even sent little brother away to Grandma’s house for the weekend!) We hung string lights in a tree, made a campfire, and provided them a ton of food. Then we kept our distance and checked in periodically to make sure there were no shenanigans going on under our noses. I didn’t even take pictures, which is so unlike me! But, Jeremy wanted to be with his friends, and I don’t blame him. I remember being 16 very well. My friends were everything too.

Since I was so good about not taking photos of his party, I demanded I take his photo on Sunday, his actual birthday. He obliged.

We even snatched a family photo:

I haven’t been sad about him turning 16, just as I wasn’t sad about turning 40 last year. I’ll admit, though, on the actual day I felt surprised, as if I didn’t know it was coming. I was taken aback, like no one told me we’d ever make it this far, that the days really are long but the years really are short. I can’t imagine him turning 18 or 21 or 40 – which is something my own mother says: “I can’t believe my youngest is 41!”

Well, I can’t either, but here we are.

August 2019

We’re only halfway through the month, but the momentum of the new school is already giving me whiplash. Is summer really over? For real?

At the tail end of July, we celebrated my Mom’s birthday with dinner on the river, then presents and homemade carrot cake back at our house.

The following week was MY birthday, and we were together again on the river since Chuck rented a boat for the day and the weather was completely perfect.

Corey came up to spend the weekend with me too, so we spent my actual birthday lounging with mimosas and doing a little shopping. We became best friends at 14, but I gotta say we look better now at 41.

But back to the river. We keep daydreaming about getting a boat, but honestly, we think renting a few times each summer is the way to go for now. We’re too busy and we want to keep traveling as much as possible. Perhaps owning a boat will be part of our retirement plan, or at least a “The boys moved out! Let’s celebrate!” plan.

We officially started our ninth year of homeschooling on Monday, August 12, and I swear I’m going to take professional photos of the boys. I used to be good about that, but if you know what it’s like to have teenagers, then you understand that taking pictures of them is a crapshoot. Sometimes they’re down for it, but most of the time they’re not.

Our first day of school at home was complete with Salem laying on top of their French work. It reminded me of Henri, le Chat Noir.

Jeremy is in 10th grade and taking the usual suspects: Chemistry, Geometry, English, and American History. He also has French, a Bible class, and chess. Jackson is in 8th grade, also taking French, English, and American History. He’s doing Algebra at home, and Life Science with Dissection at our co-op. We’re only a week in, so no casualties yet.

The weekend before we started school was a complete joy from beginning to end. It was our second Girls Weekend of the year, so hopefully, we’ll grab one more before the close of 2019.

The summer was lovely, a perfect mixture of busy and still. There were a few steaming, hot weeks, as well as that fall-like weather in July (wasn’t it divine?). I kept busy with freelance work, prepping for the school year (I teach four classes), and catching up on reading fiction.

I have to admit – I’m still thinking about our European vacation in May, and sometimes I catch myself wondering if it was real. We are dedicated low-fare hunters now, TRAVELERS ON THE CHEAP. We are looking and booking and daydreaming about what’s to come. And, since I never shared the video I made from our trip to England, Italy, France, and Monaco, here is it for you to enjoy:

Summer is in the rearview

We are fully immersed in the fall schedule – homeschool co-op classes, soccer for Jeremy, another round of equine therapy for Jack, and other extracurriculars that give us little breathing room. Jeremy worked about 20 to 25 hours a week during the summer months, but he’s back down to 10 or 12, a more manageable number. Now that he’s in high school and the demands on him are greater, time management will be the ultimate task this year. Fingers crossed. These are necessary growing pains.

Jeremy’s two greatest loves are soccer and LEGO, so he’s entirely consistent with the person he’s been from the start. He plays for a local private school along with a smattering of other homeschooled kids, including one of his best friends, which means Chuck and I are officially soccer parents. I still don’t recognize fouls, and I can’t tell you a lot about certain positions, but I’m paying attention and learning. 

Jackson will be back in the saddle this week for equine therapy, or Horse Hangout Hour, as he calls it, and we couldn’t be more pleased with our experience in the program. 

Before the summer wound down for good, we took the boys and their friends to Brickmania, a LEGO convention, in August. Jeremy and Foster melted into the crowd immediately, plenty old enough to explore and walk around on their own. Jackson and Libby stayed with Chuck and me, as they are not quite old enough to maneuver the convention center without help. (They are two peas in a pod though!) 

I love the LEGO convention, but this year’s exhibits weren’t nearly as impressive as last year’s. 

There were also fewer vendors, to Jeremy’s dismay, though that didn’t keep him from spending more than $100 on mini-figures and whatever else he bought. (This is where the part-time job comes in handy!)

I don’t have a single photo of Jeremy from the LEGO convention because, at almost 15, he’s over it. I could press him to stand and smile for me, but the sheer panic and embarrassment is ever-present on his face. I’m learning to leave him be and not succumb to the pressure to document everything.

This guy still poses with Mom though: 

I am busier than ever, and I’m trying to figure out whether I’m over-committed or still trying to hone my own time management skills. I wrote a ton over the summer – editing the novel and freelance writing, along with settling into a position I accepted in May as editorial coordinator of a new local magazine. Now I’m in the classroom teaching four English classes at our co-op – English for 9th and 10th grade, Composition for middle grades, Literature and Creative Writing for middle grades, and Grammar/Mechanics of Writing for upper elementary/lower middle grades. It is true when I say I love everything I’m doing, but it is also true that my brain has little down time. Gosh, has it ever? 

For the curious, the works I’m teaching this year are We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Divorce, The Giver, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Wonderstruck, Black Beauty, I am Malala, A Study in Scarlet, and a hefty collection of short stories from various eras, ethnicities, and genres. 

There is reprieve coming soon though. Chuck and I finally booked the trip we’ve been wanting to take for well more than a decade. No more waiting. Time, for all we know, is short. 

In the meantime, FOOTBALL SEASON IS BACK and the Packers play the Bears on Sunday. I am ready. 

Let’s hope this guy is ready too: 

Jackson turns 12

The first time Jackson asked to repaint his bedroom, which had been a shade of light blue since buying this house in 2012, I knew he wasn’t going to give up easily. It was a year ago and I kept putting him off.

Then, last month, I decided that this would make the perfect birthday gift and told him he could look forward to it. Since then he’s been counting the days! He found the perfect shade of yellow – “Jackfruit” by Behr – a bold yellow that matched most of his favorite sports teams (Green Bay Packers, South Dakota State Jackrabbits, Nashville Predators) and his Hufflepuff banner. The name of the paint was a bonus.

Chuck and I started the paint job Friday and he was sleeping in his new room by Saturday. Yellow suits him perfects. He is our Happy Jack through and through.

We celebrated Jackson’s 12th birthday as a family on Sunday since Monday was packed full of work obligations for Chuck and an all-day soccer camp for Jeremy. On request we had burgers for dinner and Paula Deen’s Gooey Butter Cake for dessert. He opened a few gifts from us and a couple from my parents, and then we went to the lake to fish for a while. It had been a busy weekend of busting our tails inside and outside the house – painting, pulling weeds, moving river rocks, and sweating bullets. To end the weekend on the water, even for an hour, was just the slow-paced family time we needed.

Yesterday was Jackson’s official birthday, which he spent with me in the morning and his sweet friend Libby in the afternoon.

I took the pair to a trampoline park in town, then out for lunch and ice cream.

They jumped for nearly an hour, then they retreated to a spot to talk and catch up, as they’d not seen each other in a couple of weeks.

By the evening more presents had come in the mail and Jackson enjoyed a couple of well-wishing phone calls from family members. The perks of spreading his birthday over a weekend meant there were several days of celebrating, not just the one.

Last night I showed Jackson all of the Facebook posts and comments directed his way, a gesture that brought literal tears to his eyes. He feels everything so deeply, so while some kids may not care one way or another if people wish them well online or in text, Jackson absorbs it. He said, “I feel so special,” to which I replied, “You are so special!” 

Thanks to all who took a moment to send him love. He feels it! 

Summer break so far

The moment we finished our last day at the homeschool co-op where the boys attend and I teach, my brain slipped into something more comfortable. It shrunk and turned on its back, like a cat stretched out on a warm patio. Done and done.

One might think this means I’ve spent the last two weeks with my feet up, but that’s not been the case. Freelance writing has kept me busy, along with a couple of photo sessions and deep cleaning parts of the house that have been neglected since the holidays.

It won’t be a slow summer, but it will be less busy to a degree. Jeremy is working more, plus he’ll have three soccer camps and a sleep-away church camp to enjoy in June. Jackson has a sports camp and, on account of Jeremy’s outside work, will pick up more chores at home. (We are currently on a waiting list for equine therapy for him. Fingers crossed they call soon!) My non-teaching workload has increased, and Chuck continues to knock it out of the park at work, too.

So that we aren’t all business and no play, we took the boys to the mountains over the weekend to play in the river and also enjoy the sweetest teacher gift I’ve received yet – four passes to ride The Wheel at the Island. I couldn’t believe such a generous gift came my way! (Thanks, girls!)

The view was beautiful from above!

We eventually made our way to the river, where the banks were lush green.

The water was mountain-level cold, which the boys were shocked to discover. They did more wading than swimming, but we still enjoyed the brief retreat anyway.

In other news, we went strawberry picking for the first time ever, and it was with a goal in mind: to recreate the homemade strawberry jelly Chuck’s parents used to make.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe to pull from, so I followed the directions on the back of the Sure-Jell box and crossed my fingers that it would resemble the homemade jelly we remember.

It tastes nearly the same, though it’s not quite as thick as I’d prefer. Still, it’s HANDS DOWN better than anything store-bought. I’d never eat a spoonful of store-bought jam or jelly, but that isn’t the case with this stuff. Come visit and I’ll hand you a spoon.

I’m darn proud.

Finally, here is Salem napping and setting a good example for all of us.

A Midday Escape

Yesterday was a bad day of school. Those days happen. Sometimes it’s on account of bad moods, other times it’s that the level of exhaustion is so high that we just can’t get it together. Yesterday was a perfect mixture of poor attitude, fatigue, and being so done with the school year that the finish line is close but not close enough.

So today, after math and French, we ran off to the mountains. Everything else could wait.

The mountains were particularly tempting to visit because it’s FINALLY warm. Maybe our month of cold snaps has passed.

Days like this are valuable to me. It’s partly why I love homeschooling — the freedom to GO and DO is too hard to resist.

After our hike we visited the Townsend Wye so the boys could skip rocks and I could sit still for a while and listen to the rushing water.

I love this place, particularly when it’s not swarming with tourists. Come late-May, this river will be full of swimmers, tubers, and kayakers and we’ll have to run off to a lesser-known spot.

But today? It was all ours.

We shared our space with the butterflies.

We lingered for a while longer, until hunger set in and everything had been explored.

We have about four more weeks of school and today seemed like exactly what we needed to re-energize our efforts. It’s the same story every April, and running off to the mountains seems to do the trick.

We also visited my father in law today, both on our way in and out of the national park since his house is on the way. If you are praying for him, please continue to do so. We are grateful for the time we have left to spend with him.

Anniversary week and fall break

Our anniversary fell on a Saturday this year, and while last year’s anniversary celebration was bigger and better, this year was just as sweet. There was no trip, no big event to signify No. 17, no big gifts or hurrahs. Just a lazy day at home and a lovely dinner in town, just the two of us. Contentment means life is good wherever you are.

Our anniversary kicked off fall break, so the week has been punctuated by long runs (me), hunting (Chuck and Jeremy), and lots of sleeping in and reading (Jackson).

Yesterday we went to Dollywood, the one thing we said we’d do over fall break. We had season passes in 2011, and I’m pretty sure we took the boys again in 2012 or 2013, but my memory fails me so I can’t be sure. Regardless, it’s been a minute since we’ve been to Dollywood.

Much like our experience last summer at Hershey Park, we rode a few coasters together, then the old people bowed out. Jeremy and Jackson love riding roller coasters together, which is a gift to these two parents. Have at it, boys. Have at it.

As the day wore down and the crowds increased, we ran into Jimmy and the kids (Lesli arrived later, but we missed her!). Since Jimmy was flying solo for a couple of hours, we stepped in as co-pilots for a few rides.

Be still my heart when Catherine, the sweet, shy introvert who takes her time with people, insisted I ride a kiddie coaster with her! Foolish to resist, I agreed enthusiastically and off we went to stand in line. She instructed me on how to hold her close on the ride – just like Mama does – and even held her arms in the air on the last go around. I’ve been around this little one since birth, since she eagle-eyed me in the hospital: 

Now she snaps pictures with me willingly, not shy, not reserved, and I couldn’t be happier:

The other thing I’ve done over fall break is clean out the boys’ closets and dressers. They are blessed with so many hand-me-downs that I haven’t bought clothes for them in years. After sorting through the many things I found underneath Jackson’s bed, I held my breath at this last little gem – a note from Jeremy to Jackson, many years old now:

It is a sweet reminder that while we may be in a rough season of picking and prodding, there is love there. Thank goodness, y’all, because 11 and 14 are tough ages. I’ll take every reminder I can get.

Jeremy turns 14

Welp, I have a 14-year-old. Not sure how that happened, yet here we are. For his birthday, Jeremy wanted to gather a few friends to go go-carting. His actual birthday was on Friday, but we celebrated on Saturday. The day started with a big breakfast followed by his first soccer game of the season.

First, a little pre-game practice with Foster:

Ethan spent the weekend with us, and since he was born five hours after Jeremy, it was a double-birthday celebration. He really wanted to play soccer too. That kid came out of the womb an athlete.

The game went on and they tied 3-3. This photo characterizes Jeremy so well. The tongue is his expression of concentration and effort:

Once we got Noah, the group was complete, so we headed to the Nascar Speedpark to drop some cash and let the boys wear themselves out. I was the payer, the driver, and the photographer.

They played mini-golf but kept no score and followed no rules.

The game resembled hockey more than golf.

My child was at his happiest – surrounded by friends and being silly.

Noah’s side-eye is my favorite.

We left the park for pizza but returned by sundown for more racing and taking a turn on the rickety fair rides in the back.

Contemplating the Starship 3000…

Yep, they all went in…

As the night wound down, their level of fatigue increased. The park closed at 10 p.m., and we had been there since 4 p.m. How much longer could they go?

By 9:55 we left, but I got them to take one last photo:

Yep, they still had energy. In fact, after I collected devices and went to bed at 1:30 a.m., they stayed up playing hide and seek in a dark house for another hour.

Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes to Jeremy for his birthday. So far, 14 has been great.

Sixth and Eighth Grade

Here we go – our seventh year of homeschooling, navigating this crazy path I never imagined. Again, I am shocked that this is what we do, and yet I cannot imagine doing it any other way. We are the luckiest ducks I know.

Lest you think we’re holding our children captive behind the bars of homeschooling, I assure you they love it.

Jeremy is a month away from turning 14 and told me multiple times that he has “a good feeling about this year.” Be it his co-op classes or his new job or feeling confident about his soccer skills, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Though much has changed with this boy in the last year in regards to maturity and responsibility, he is consistent in his love for Legos, Harry Potter, animals and sea life, soccer, and spending time with friends.

We are immensely proud of him. Jeremy consistently shows a desire to be challenged and trusted. Even when he fails, the turnaround time to correction is quick. Jeremy is intuitive and sharp, and his sense of humor gets better every day.

Jackson starts sixth grade today, which means we have two middle schoolers in the house at the same time!

Jackson continues to be our happy, spunky sports-loving kiddo who always brings light to a room. He is crazy smart in math, which is why he’s a grade ahead in that department. We continue to encourage his interest in becoming a statistician. He still reads a ton, sleeps a ton, and loves his stuffed animals as if they are real. (I was the same way.)

While he loves watching sports of all kinds, Jackson continues to struggle with balance and spatial awareness, so he recently started occupational therapy to help sort those things out. I’m excited to see his handwriting improve!

Seriously, his smile is the best.

We’re all excited for this school year. We’ve settled in nicely at our co-op and the boys are thrilled with the classes they’re taking. I’m teaching three courses, which I confess makes me a touch nervous. The workload feels heavy, but hopefully I’ve prepared well enough to manage accordingly.

Cheers to a good year. May we all make it out unscathed.

Friday in Nashville

Jeremy woke up with an unsettled stomach Friday morning, so despite the mound of food on his plate below, he didn’t eat much of it. Whatever stomach bug he had lasted throughout the day and into the weekend. Fortunately he kept his spirits up and we enjoyed Day Two in Nashville.

These boys love hotel breakfast!

First on the agenda was a quick stop at Vanderbilt to see the final stadium on Jackson’s list. He particularly loved the Barnes and Noble around the corner that had a large collection of Commodore goodies, where he bought himself a t-shirt.

Next was a quick look at the Parthenon:

Finally it was Jeremy’s turn to enjoy something specifically for him – The LEGO Store. It was the only time throughout the whole weekend when Jeremy wasn’t playful or talking. He got very quiet and serious while among the LEGO bricks. He had a strategy in mind and wanted to the make the most of his spending money. (Funny how that happens when it’s their own money!)

The last thing we had planned was a walk around The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s family home and resting place. Though Chuck had been to The Hermitage as a kid, the rest of us have never been.

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the house, which is a crying shame. I was so tempted to cheat, but I definitely would’ve been caught and the boys would’ve never let me forget it.

By far my favorite part was the garden:

Andrew and his wife, Rachel, are buried in the garden.

Directly next to theirs is the grave of Uncle Alfred, Jackson’s personal servant, who’d been enslaved by the Jackson family since birth. After Emancipation, Alfred returned to the family farm as a tenant farmer and even purchased some furniture from the Jackson home. He died at 99, and per his request, he was buried next to the Jacksons.

The final part of our Hermitage experience was to watch a reenactment of a duel and a retelling of the famous duel between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson. The host did a fabulous job of explaining the gentlemanly art of a duel – that it’s not a brawl or fight or spur-of-the-moment scuffle in the street. Rather, it’s an organized confrontation designed to preserve honor and dignity.

Unfortunately a thunderstorm hit before shots were fired, so the duel (and its audience) promptly moved into the education center.

The rain continued throughout the afternoon, which made the drive home less enjoyable, but for the most part we had a great two days in Nashville and feel well-prepared to start the school year. This is our last week of summer, and though we don’t have anything planned, we intend to make the most of it.

Thursday in Nashville

We decided to take the boys on one last hurrah before school starts, so we went to Nashville for two days after my birthday.  Jackson has been asking to see stadiums, and Jeremy has had a hole burning in his wallet for the LEGO store at Opry Mills, so Nashville made a lot of sense.

We left Thursday morning and drove straight to Tennessee Tech. None of us have an affiliation to Tennessee Tech, but they have a stadium and that’s all that mattered.

Then we swung down to my alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, where the gates to Floyd Stadium were wide open.

Jackson was so happy to touch the turf.

He used an old, unused iPhone to take his own pictures.

On we went to Nashville and checked into the hotel. Chuck secured a strange but spacious corner room that had one heck of a view.

After dropping off our bags we walked across the street to the Tennessee State Museum – a three-floor smattering of detailed exhibits completely free to the public.

18th Century medical advice:

Early journalism:

John Sevier:

William Blount:

Old Andrew Jackson:

Scary doll that comes alive at night and wanders the museum:

The only evidence that Chuck and I were on this trip:

The Battle of Chickamauga:

City money:

Stunning portrait of Ida B. Wells:

(More on Ida here.)

We stayed at the museum until it closed and then walked a few blocks to Puckett’s for dinner. If you’re ever in Nashville (or Franklin, or Chattanooga, or Murfreesboro, or Columbia), eat there. It’s delish!

From there, all we had to do was let the boys experience Broadway, which gave Jackson access to Bridgestone Arena and Nissan Stadium.

We capped off the night with swimming in the hotel pool, followed by checkers and chess on the patio.

After a few episodes of Shark Tank, we zonked out and went fast to sleep. I’d like to report that it was a perfect night’s sleep in comfortable hotel beds, but Jeremy got bit by a stomach bug and woke us up early with many trips to the restroom. While he was able to carry on with Friday activities, he didn’t feel 100% until sometime over the weekend.

Friday in Nashville.

Mid-Summer’s Hustle and a Podcast for Tudor fans

Long before the summer started, most of July was blissfully empty. June was packed, but July wasn’t. Neither was early August. Ahead of me I had weeks of open days. Nothing was on the calendar. Surely in that time I’d get a little personal writing done and cap it off with some solid napping.

Now we’re a month from the start of school and I’m hustling to finish a stack of freelance work, prepping for a wedding I’m photographing next weekend, and giving menial level of attention to the third novel. I’d really love some free time during the week to goof off.

Oh, and see my children during the day.

And run, and cook dinner sometimes.

Sigh… How is it that summer is almost over? Even my garden is transitioning – the cucumbers are nearly done and the tomatoes are reddening. How did that happen so quickly? From pickles to salsa in the blink of an eye.

While my To Do List is lengthy, the boys are enjoying a loose summer schedule. Video games, Legos, cereal for dinner. (In between those things are chores and getting together with friends.) Jeremy even took a nap yesterday, which happens about once every other year.

While homeschooling allows us to finagle a schedule that works best for us, I try to align our calendar around the co-op’s schedule so there’s some measurable rhythm to the school year. If I had no one to nail me down, there’s no telling when we’d get started. October to February sounds good to me!

Side note – If you’re into podcasts and have an obsessive fascination with the Tudor Dynasty as I do, subscribe to Tudor, I Hardly Know Her (also available on iTunes). It’s hosted by Emily, a fellow Tudor fanatic, her husband Jeff, and their friend Garrett. It is not a boring litany of history but rather a humorous stab at recounting the sordid tales of Henry VIII, his wives, children, and other related monarchs. IT IS NOT FOR KIDS, which should tell you that there’s language and jokes best suited for mature ears and people with a sense of humor.

This series has been a delightful break from my regular politically focused podcasts, because Washington and the Mainstream Media have lost their respective minds.

 

 

Last days with Jacob and Owen

Both Great Grandpa and my mother left on Friday, so it was just the six of us for two more days.

We had grand plans for Thursday and Friday, but rain showed up and didn’t leave. That meant no Splash Country and a shorter canoe trip down the Little River.

The canoe fits three comfortably, which is just as well since Jackson was at basketball camp and Owen had no interest.

When I asked Jacob what he wanted to do while in Tennessee, the one request he had, other than eating at the Asian Buffet, was to go canoeing.

While they floated down the river, Owen and I went home to eat lunch and play cards. This was the only one-on-one time I got with Owen, so I treasured it, however brief! Jeremy and Owen are “best cousins” and stick together as a pair almost 100 percent of the time.

I also took the opportunity to snap some headshots for Owen, who’s trying out for a play in his hometown.

He looks so much like his dad in this photo:

When they got home from canoeing, I grabbed Jacob and subjected him to photos too.

Owen loves his big brother 

I drove them to the airport on Sunday and cried as I said goodbye. Jacob teased me – “We’re not even your kids!” – but he doesn’t understand that they are the next best thing to being my kids. I endured his teasing because I know he loves me, that they both had a wonderful time in Tennessee and enjoyed being a part of the Miller Camp for Boys for a week. Their plane landed safely in Chicago and off they went into the care of their grandparents. My sister and brother-in-law flew home a few hours later, so by Sunday night everything was back to normal.

I feel like I’m still recovering from the week – is it an age thing or an introvert thing, or both? Utter exhaustion persisted for a solid three days. Today is the first day I’ve felt semi-normal.

Still, I’m thankful for the time we had and the memories we made, and I think Jacob and Owen feel the same.

 

Swimming at the Townsend Wye

Yesterday we took advantage of beautiful weather and went to the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming hole just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Jackson was at basketball camp, so Mom and I took Jeremy, Jacob, and Owen for a dip.

The mountain water was chilly, something locals understand but Chicagoans don’t.

There were serious reservations about swimming, particularly on Owen’s part. He spent much of the morning saying he wasn’t going to have fun at the river, that he didn’t want to go, but we reassured him that he WOULD have fun and that it would be worth it.

Once they got used to the temperature, they opened up to the possibility of cliff jumping. Jeremy went first.

Jacob watched others jump in – even dive in – so he stood on the edge until he was mentally ready.

Even Owen jumped! The kid who said he wasn’t going to have fun JUMPED OFF A BOULDER.

Then Jacob started diving.

They swam for an hour or so, until their bodies were sufficiently numb.

Here’s a side view of Jacob diving into the Little River.

Jeremy and Owen swam across the river to a little island to explore and skip rocks.

I am most proud of Owen! He was nervous and in a negative head space about swimming in a cold river, but I swear he had a good time once he went for it!

Despite the temperatures, the water was crystal clear and perfect for swimming.

On our way home we picked up Major from his boarding camp and brought home a very sleepy puppy.

The Nascar Speedpark

On Monday we drove to the Nascar Speedpark in Pigeon Forge and paid an obscene amount of money for the boys to drive race cars until dark. They loved it, and I was particularly glad that Jackson was able to drive a few tracks by himself.

Jackson rode alongside Chuck on a faster track…

…which meant going a lot faster than he would’ve on his own.

Midday we took a quick detour to Gatlinburg so Jacob could get a few donuts at the Donut Friar, his mother’s favorite sweet spot in town. She is in Real Germany this week, so we went to Faux Germany for about 20 minutes.

If you recall, Gatlinburg suffered a massive loss after forest fires spread through the area in November 2016. It looked like most of the surrounding ranges were touched by fire, but I was encouraged to see bright green spots of growth from this spring.

After a quick walk in Gatlinburg, we went back to the Nascar Speedpark for round two of racing and stayed until 11 p.m. Right away Chuck and Jacob drove on the one track that requires a driver’s license. So glad these two get to pal around together.

Mom and Chuck left about an hour before the boys and I did, so I made sure it was documented that Mom and I were there!

We had a great time, and every boy was exhausted the morning after. Today we’ll head to the river to play, and still on the list is canoeing and Splash Country. They keep me young!

Bouldering at the Miller Camp for Boys

My nephews are here for the week, and since they’re city folk we wanted to make sure they’re in nature as often as possible. On our second day together, we took them to a nearby section of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to go bouldering and get a 360-degree view of our town.

There was some trepidation, but each boy – mine included – dug deep to find the physical and mental fortitude to crawl in and out of the deepest crevasses.

Owen was particularly nervous about climbing because, as he puts it, “I’m not athletic.”

But he did it! We were all so excited for him!

Jackson went last, and he was as nervous as Owen was.

Great success for all of them!

After bouldering we climbed the path to a lookout tower for one of the most beautiful views of the area.

Not pictured are the two photographers – my mom and me – but that’s par for the course.

Miller Camp for Boys 2017

Last summer Jake came to stay with us, and this summer it only felt right to have him here again. Jake belongs to Matt and Amy, our besties from Chattanooga, whom we’ve parented alongside from the beginning. Jeremy and Grace were born two months apart,  then came Jake two years later and Jackson a year after that. These kiddos don’t see each other often, but you wouldn’t know it. As soon as we’re together, it’s like we never moved away.

We picked up Jake on a Tuesday night and returned him Friday, but in those four short days, they accomplished a lot. It all started Tuesday evening with Jake introducing us to the strangest movie I’ve seen in a long time: Trolls.

I don’t know what to say about Trolls other than it’s completely weird. The music was fun, and the cloud guy was funny, but otherwise, I’m at a loss. The kids enjoyed it, which is all that matters!

Wednesday brought a few hours of pool time with another favorite family of ours. The weather was perfect!

We brought home with us another of Jeremy’s friends, which meant I was outnumbered four to one. The boys exhausted themselves in the heat outside, cooled off inside with video games, and stayed up late that night with a board game marathon. The next morning, they made themselves breakfast and cleaned up afterward.

On Thursday Jake was a good sport and suffered alongside me at the boys’ orthodontic appointments. He and Jeremy worked on card tricks in the waiting room.

We wrapped up Jake’s visit with more board games. This time, I joined them in a two-hour Monopoly session.

We should’ve planned for a longer stay, and honestly, we should’ve had Grace with us. When I look at this photo, she is glaringly absent.

I continue to be thankful for the friendships we’ve maintained since our earliest days as a couple. It means our kids are growing up with friends who are more like family. It means our tribe of people is rooted in loyalty and love. I will never forget when Matt and Amy told us they were pregnant with Grace, and then came Jake, and soon we had this squad of four beautiful children who played together seamlessly.

These two were the sweet pair from birth to Kindergarten.

Excuse me while I go mourn the early years.

Oh, and the Miller Camp for Boys 2017 continues next week when my nephews arrive. Woohoo!

Parasailing and Fishing in the Gulf

After two full days on the beach we ventured into town so the boys could go parasailing. At first they acted nervous, like what they were about to do was dangerous, but then I reminded them that last summer they rode nearly every roller coaster at Hershey Park with no fear whatsoever.

In no time they were hooked up and taking off.

The boys felt much better about parasailing once Chuck got a last-minute invite to join them at no extra cost.

I’ve been parasailing before. Actually, Chuck and I went parasailing back when we were teenagers. Since I had my camera, I was happy to stay in the boat and document their experience.

And then, dolphins!

Wednesday was our last full day in the area and Chuck had yet to fish, which was the one thing he wanted to do. Originally the boys and I set up our spot on Navarre Beach, where I laid reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and the boys went off to swim, but the lure of pier activity was too great. Within a half hour both boys had joined Chuck on the pier and I laid in the sand finishing my book (which was fantastic).

It may look like the boys were bored, but they weren’t. They were busy counting sea turtles.

By the time we left Navarre Beach, they’d seen somewhere in the double digits.

Our vacation in Destin was exactly what we needed – lots of relaxation, a couple of fun activities, and, most importantly of all, time together. The Gulf was breathtaking, and it bolstered Jeremy’s continued interest in marine science. Honestly, when he wasn’t eating, sleeping, or parasailing, he was exploring.

Jeremy had a hard time saying goodbye to the water, especially since I don’t know if we’ll return this calendar year. On our way out of town we stopped at the last pier before turning northward. We got out of the car for one last look. This place is so easy on the eyes.

Luckily for me, there was one more thing to look forward to: The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery. More on that tomorrow.

 

First Romp in the Gulf at Miramar Beach, Destin

Our life feels crazy sometimes, but after nearly a decade into Chuck’s job, I’ve learned to go with the flow. Our original plans for family vacation didn’t involve Destin, and then the back-up plan to Destin didn’t include Chuck. All the whiplash in the planning phase came to a head two days before our planned departure.

Long story short, we spent four days at Miramar Beach in Destin and it was perfect.

The boys had never been to the Gulf of Mexico, but they knew the water would be bluer and clearer than the Atlantic.

Jeremy, our ocean-loving son, couldn’t believe it.

It was chilly on Sunday night, and the wind was steady, but that was no deterrent for two eager boys ready to swim and explore.

They were so happy. Instantly. All at once. They, too, have learned to live at the whim of our unpredictable schedule, not knowing how one thing or another may pan out. But at this moment, with feet in the sand and bodies in the water, they were happy.

We had an hour or so until sundown, but that was fine since we had days of bright sun ahead.

The next morning we reserved a set of chairs with plenty of shade and planned to spend the entire day on the beach. It was a Monday morning. We had nowhere to be and nothing to do. The water was calm and clear.

The perk of traveling before schools are out for the summer is having a lot of space to ourselves. Homeschooling for the win!

Jeremy brought a collection of jars and containers to gather specimens and whatever Gulf treasures he found.

This was our view at lunch… We suffered through it.

We spent a little bit of time in the touristy areas of Destin, but not a ton because the beach was so perfect. Whenever we were around water, this was Jeremy:

We were thankful for the weather, thankful for the thin crowd, and thankful we could all be together.

And we still had a few days to go. More pictures later!

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Three

It’s that time – that glorious not-too-hot, not-to-cold time of year when I am happy to sit on the front porch all day long with a beverage and a book. As soon as we got home this afternoon, we all went outside to take in the fresh air and sunshine.

Spring arrived early, and it’s probably a jinx to say it’s Spring at all. This is Tennessee, so we could still have a deep freeze in late March.

Today, though, it was all sunshine, and that means the front yard is back in business.

This is a Sign of Life for parents of active kids. They’re outside, they’re getting sweaty, they’re fighting over whether or not it was a touchdown. The dog is barking, the cat is napping, and I am playing referee from the front porch. We are like this for months, until it is too hot, too humid, and the mosquitos take over the land.

And we don’t come in until it’s dark. I love it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-One

I love the comfort and calm of our routine. It grounds me, rejuvenates me, and reminds me that the life we’ve chosen is right for us. What we do is not always what others would do, and yet, that’s the beauty of it. We’ve crafted a specific style of life that isn’t for everyone, but it’s for us.

It is a blessing to say, “This wasn’t what I’ve resorted to. This isn’t what I’ve been told to do. This isn’t what I was given. I choose it every day in its entirety.” 

And what is it, exactly? What’s this thing we’ve created?

It’s not just homeschooling, because that can look a thousand different ways depending on the household. It’s not just our family rules about electronics or the internet, or our standards about what food we eat and beverages we drink. It’s not that we put our marriage before the kids or that we put a high emphasis on balanced wellness. It’s not where we live or don’t live. It isn’t our involvement in church, or that we go to church at all. It isn’t about what we believe politically or socially, or what we’re involved in or not involved in.

It’s ALL OF IT. It’s every decision we make each day that pushes us towards the goal of making this the best life possible.

Sometimes it’s the tiniest decision – like separating the boys while the do school work. They have their individual spaces with little distraction. I can talk to them singly rather than making everything a group conversation. The house is quieter this way, so they can concentrate. Also, we all need some space from one another once in a while. This seemingly insignificant decision makes for a smoother morning, which helps create a more amiable afternoon, and if I’m lucky, it might even overflow into a peaceable evening. 

Sometimes the decision is big, like saying no to something one of the boys wants to be involved in because the time commitment is too much. Or the cost is too high, or the schedule is unreasonable, or one boy is already involved in something and we prefer they take turns so the family isn’t pulled in two directions. It’s hard saying no, but sometimes saying no to one child means saying yes to the entire family.

Several years ago Chuck and I agreed we wouldn’t run circles around the schedule, and we’ve done well to stick to it. After all, we can’t be together all the time, all four of us, so making the family a priority is, well, a priority.

Today we learned that a soccer opportunity won’t pan out for Jeremy this season, so it’s back to Parks and Rec for him. This isn’t bad news, but it’s disappointing, especially to him. It was enough of a disappointment for me to consider whether or not there is a reason to rearrange everything:

If he was in traditional public school, he could just join the soccer team there…

But if he was in traditional public school, our entire life would upend…

He could still try out for the local county team we’re zoned for as a homeschooler, but that’s a can of worms I’m not ready to open yet…  

So, it looks like we’ll just sit in this disappointment for a moment and then point to all the reasons why it’s okay. Other opportunities will come along, so let’s be optimistic. We can’t control everything, but for the things we can control, we do so diligently and with intention.

Because this is the only life we have, we can’t waste it on being too busy.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed.