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August signifies two things: The impending return of school and my birthday. In fact, I don’t want to even think about the school year until I’ve enjoyed as much of my birthday as possible.

In keeping with our Safer-at-Home Summer, we rented the boat one last time and invited two young ladies to join us. As the day drew closer, I wondered how the day would unfold only because the forecast was grim. The threat of rain toggled between 50 and 80 percent all week, finally settling on a 100 percent chance of rain by Friday morning. I settled my mind by telling Chuck, “Even if we only get a few hours on the boat in the morning, it will have been worth it.”

Mercifully, it never rained a drop until that evening after we’d already gotten home.

We drove around a bit before dropping anchor at a sandbar. The kids floated around and enjoyed the shallow water while Chuck and I lounged on the boat. Going on a Friday meant the lake wasn’t overrun with people, thank goodness.

We hit up a second sandbar after lunch, where we all laid like slugs on floats.

It felt like we had the entire lake to ourselves, which wouldn’t have been the case had we rented on a Saturday. Thanks to the gorgeous weather and lovely company, I couldn’t have planned a better boat day. Before going back to the first sandbar, I gathered my people for a photo.

This photo shows you how shallow the sandbars are.

This guy right here:

He ended up being out of town on my actual birthday, but he never misses an opportunity to make me feel special. The boat was one thing, and then we went to dinner with Lesli and Jimmy the following night:

But he really knocked it out of the park with his actual gift:

MY HUSBAND bought me ACTUAL PROPS from my favorite television show of all time. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I don’t know in what season or episode Elizabeth Moss wore those earrings, but I’m going to spend the next few months rewatching Mad Men (for the umpteenth time) looking for them in every scene with Peggy.

I’ve been spoiled by friends and family with gifts and treats in the mail, and then I was so delighted to receive these English Garden flowers from Karin. Truly, I felt so loved all day and all week.

Even the sunset on my birthday was beautiful.

Mom’s birthday is a week before mine, so I must share the Treadway family photo we took with Becky over FaceTime:

School starts in less than two weeks, and I’m doing my best to manage my expectations. I so badly want everything to be normal, but I know that’s an impossibility right now. We’ll wear masks at our co-op and move as many assignments online as possible.

I hope we can meet in person all year long, but the reality is that we could very well move online entirely as the fall and winter months creep closer. No longer can we get away with a sniffly nose or occasional cough. Every symptom of potential illness, whether COVID-19, strep, or allergy, will be an anxiety ignitor. We may not be together in a classroom all semester, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

Despite the lovely birthday, this Dorothy meme accurately represents my feelings on just about everything else. Hang on tight, everyone!

A Check-In at the Midpoint

The Great Pause is long gone, that beautiful, restorative, slower pace my family enjoyed throughout April and May. I can’t even count the number of hours Chuck and I spent on the front porch together. Those afternoons and evenings are my absolute favorite memories so far from the upside-down year we’ve had.

June brought a return to semi-normal, though we barely participated. We enjoyed another boat day and had a steady stream of houseguests, whom I was happy to host. We are still wearing masks to the grocery store, still opting out of restaurant dining, and doing just fine with that six-foot distance. I don’t know what to make of COVID-19 anymore, but the very low death rate in Tennessee does encourage me, albeit slightly.

We are halfway through the calendar year, which is something I feel both grateful for and in denial about. How are we only in July? My mental exhaustion level is at least in October or November. I could’ve sworn we were nearly to Christmas.

Our upcoming academic year, so far, is still on its original path. We will meet in person (our once-a-week co-op) until the state says we should close. Area COVID-19 numbers are rising steadily, so I will hold my breath on this plan until the moment we walk in the classroom. My hope is that we can meet the entire year, but I’m mentally prepared to be sent home at any point to teach/learn online. I am preparing for all of my English classes to go online at any point, but as I said, I hope we never have to. 

There are still good things happening here. After four long-suffering years, Jackson finally got his braces off. He would literally shed a tear at the thought of getting his braces off, and now he is free. He enjoyed an entire pack of gummy bears on the way home from the orthodontist. Look at that smile! He is still our Happy Jack.

Jeremy is on track to get his driver’s license in a few weeks, which I can hardly wrap my mind around. He’ll be 17 in September (WHAT?) and is about to embark on his hardest academic year. Soccer conditioning has already resumed, and we are all hoping another season won’t be canceled. 

The remainder of my 10K medals came in the mail, so now I have a sweet reminder of all that running I did in March, April, and May. If I run another virtual race, I’ll run a half marathon this fall. I’m totally sold on the virtual race process – no travel and my own timeline. Can’t beat it. 

In addition to porch sitting, Chuck and I have been quite the fishing pair. I am happy to report that I have officially caught TWO whole fish in my adult life. (I have a memory of catching ONE fish when I was a little girl.) I am not so sophisticated as to remove the fish from their hooks, so I need Chuck for that. I have a bit of a panic if it takes too long. I want them back in the water and breathing normally as quickly as possible.

But, I am learning how to work the fishing line, how to navigate pesky underwater logs, and how to be patient. Whether I catch anything or not, I’ve loved those slow, quiet mornings accompanied by vibrant sunrises. I absolutely, utterly, no question love where we live.

Father’s Day 2020

The Przyluckis came in town to celebrate Becky’s birthday and Father’s Day, so we soaked in more family time over the weekend. As an extra special treat, Mamaw arrived on Saturday and will stay with Mom and Dad for a little while. No doubt Dad will enjoy having his mom around the house.

We hoped to get in some fishing time, but the weather was spotty. Instead, we ended up sitting on Mom and Dad’s back porch for hours, and then we had everyone over here for dinner on Father’s Day.

Again, we avoided public places, especially in Sevierville.

Jacob and Owen stayed with us, so we took the opportunity to take them hiking Saturday morning.

Chuck and I love hosting people at our house, and we didn’t miss an opportunity to take photos together to commemorate the day.

Treadway Party of Four
Jeremy, 16, Jackson, 14, Jacob, 19, and Owen, 16

The best photo is this singular image I captured with my DSLR. The timer was being goofy, but all we needed was one good shot:

Dad’s health has been extra challenging lately with the addition of daily chemotherapy pills. He had tons of strength and stamina during six weeks of treatment at UT Cancer Institute, but these pills are throwing him off balance in more ways that one. We hope he’ll be able to endure the medication so tumor regrowth can be delayed.

None of us knows what the rest of this year holds, and that’s across the board! What a year 2020 has been so far, and we’re not even halfway done. Thanks to everyone who’s remembered my father in prayer. We are grateful.

Of course, I can’t leave this post without mentioning how wonderful my husband is. I wish I could’ve taken him to Antibes for Father’s Day or surprised him with a brand new Ferrari. Those are the gifts I dream of giving him. Until life presents those opportunities to us, I’ll continue to love him the best I can and praise him for the wonderful father and husband he is. I wouldn’t want to walk this road with anyone else.

Miller Quarantine Vacation House and Jackson Turns 14

We’ve had back-to-back weekends of house guests, first with Karin and the kids, then Corey and Alex, and finally, my side of the family for Father’s Day weekend. People have been anxious to get out of their houses but not eager enough to attempt beach trips or other overly-crowded spaces. We are happy to host people in our home and spend time outdoors together.

We are still avoiding public spaces outside of the grocery store, where I (happily) wear a mask. It’s not hard for us to keep our distance from the crowd because we live our life like that anyway!

We took Karin and the kids to the Wye for a couple of hours, which was less crowded than we anticipated. We hung around the house the rest of the weekend.

In between our house guests, Jackson turned 14! I know it’s time for him to have a deeper voice, to grow taller than me, and so on, but it’s throwing me for a loop.

We crafted a scavenger hunt (per his request) to find his presents, and then two of his friends came over to make tie-dyed t-shirts and hang out for a while.

One of the things Jackson wanted to do for his birthday was rent a pontoon boat, so Corey and Alex got to enjoy the lake with us.

Time with my girlfriends has been the ONLY thing I’ve missed during the pandemic. Sure, it would be nice to go to the movies, but I’ve had everything I needed right here at home. My girls were the only missing pieces.

Summer is here and hell is empty

Becky, Jeff, and Owen came to town last week to be with us as we heard the results of Dad’s PET scan. We’ve been waiting for this news for more than a month, and I’m happy to report that the cardiac sarcoma hasn’t grown nor spread to other parts of the body. There is still something there in the center of Dad’s heart, but that’s along the lines of what we expected. Dad will start taking a daily chemo pill to delay its regrowth. There are many options when it comes to chemo pills, so he may have to try several to find the one with the fewest side effects.

To say Dad is cancer-free would be untrue, but we’ve bought time, and that is a huge blessing and relief compared to the fear we carried in December, January, and February.

Dad’s daily struggle remains to be the side effects of the stroke (caused by the heart tumor). As much as we know about the human body and the resilience of a determined man, it is a mystery as to why he isn’t walking independently. But, that’s what a brain injury does: it messes with your whole system. Dad manages on his own during the day to a degree, and there is a steady rotation of OT and PT therapists coming to the house. He isn’t a quitter. He won’t give up.

His spirits are steady, too. My cousin Paul and his family joined us on Saturday for dinner on the deck, and he and Dad raised a glass to the positive test results. It was a good time being together.

We’ve taken Dad fishing a second time since our boat day in early May. I remembered there was a handicap-accessible fishing spot on the Little River, so last week we threw a few lines in, even though the water level was low and the chances of catching anything were slim. Any opportunity to get Dad in nature is worthwhile. You just have to STEER CLEAR when he’s casting because those unruly stroke hands are all over the place.

Chuck and I slipped out to fish early Sunday morning and stumbled upon a dock near us that is perfect for Dad. It’s secluded with plenty of room to spread out. Plus, it has little dips in the railing that should work well for him in the wheelchair.

So yes, it’s finally summer, and we’re enjoying every bit of good weather we can. Our magnolia tree has bloomed, and Chuck and I (with Salem) are relishing our low-humidity evenings on the front porch.

Finally, a few words about this week on the national front. If you know me in real life, then you know already know I feel. If we are close, then we likely share similar feelings of despair. George Floyd was murdered, and a longsuffering pot of boiling anger bubbled over (again). Unfortunately, I think the anxiety and the steady undercurrent of stress from months of isolation during COVID have only made us even less capable of managing ourselves in this chaos. As an ally, I am a patient listener and a deep thinker, but I’ve got to stop watching videos of cities, businesses, and people on fire. From now on, I’m censoring the articles I read and focusing on the positive things I can do to promote change. I’m not silent, but I’m not running my mouth either.

I’ll leave you with my favorite line from The Tempest:

I’m wrestling with a lot of conflicting thoughts right now, but, like Shakespeare’s Ferdinand, we have to call out evil when we see it, whether it be a devil’s knee on the neck of a dying man or the convenient delivery of bricks to an angry crowd.

Lord, your mercy.

First Boat Day of the Season

Despite all of the temptation to buy a boat, we’ve decided to spend another summer season renting one. (It is significantly less expensive to rent a boat every few weekends throughout the summer than it is to own a boat year-round.) We live in a spectacular place – where lakes and rivers weave around mountains. The first boat day of 2020 was glorious, and we had the added bonus of having my parents join us during the last couple of hours.

Weather-wise, it was perfectly comfortable. We got on the water by 10 a.m., a smart move considering how busy it was by the end of the day. We fished a little, put our feet up, and enjoyed the breeze.

Jackson is not a fisherman, but he loves a good nap. The rocking of a boat and the sound of water lapping on the shore is the perfect white noise for our boat lounger.

Jackson attempted to swim, and it didn’t matter that we warned him the water would be cold. He jumped in to see for himself and promptly climbed right back out. Jeremy remembered how cold it was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea last May, so he didn’t even risk it.

We picked up my parents a little before 4 p.m., which gave us a couple of hours to ride them around and find a cove where Dad could fish. He’s been itching to fish, and frankly, we weren’t sure how he’d manage to cast a line and reel it in post-stroke. While there is still a cardiac sarcoma to tend to, the stroke is proving to be the daily struggle for him.

With a little help, he managed better than we expected. The secret was to help him keep the lines untangled and then stay out of his way!

The first boat day of the season was successful, and it was a welcome break from the monotony of staying home during our “Safer At Home” orders. Even though restrictions are lifting and the temptation to travel domestically is strong (Destin, we miss you), we’re staying home this summer and renting boats. Our plans to travel internationally were thwarted by COVID-19, so we’re staying home and seeing what transpires next year.

Also, this is our last week of school, praise God. As a rule, I aim to finish the school year by Mother’s Day as a gift to myself. The boys have tests to take, I have dozens of papers and tests to grade, and then I have to turn everything into the co-op and our umbrella school.

But then, as God as my witness, it’s going to be summer, and I’m going to take a long, hard break.

Which means by June I’ll be planning next year’s syllabus because I can’t help myself.

Garden Serenity and a Family Update

Right now, in between our sluggish attempt to finish the school year and staying up-to-date on COVID-19 news, I’m sourcing most of my inner peace through gardening. I have a few experiments underway regarding placement and planters, but most of what I’m doing I’ve done before. It’s immensely gratifying to raise edible plants, even if I’m the only one doing most of the eating. (I live with a bunch of carnivores.)

Hanging strawberries
Japanese eggplant
Spinach
Oregano and Boxwood Basil
English Thyme
Basil

Not pictured is the zucchini, yellow squash, two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, and rosemary. There’ve been a couple of frosty nights when I’ve had to cover the baby plants, but we should be past those days now.

I’m also enjoying the flowering plants and trees around our house.

The magnolia won’t bloom until late May and early June, but I can see she’s getting ready!

So far, I’m successfully keeping the birds away with shiny pinwheels around the garden and luring them elsewhere with strategically-placed bird feeders.

I’ve been watching more videos from Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden), who I’ve followed for years and recently grew his garden into a full-on homestead. He gives more information than my brain can retain, but I love seeing what he comes up with.

I’m also watching current and old episodes of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don through my BritBox subscription. English gardens are truly divine!

I’m spending the rest of my time working on the magazine and teaching online classes, running, reading, and staying in touch with my parents and Grandpa Thomas (whom I delivered groceries to yesterday). I miss my girlfriends terribly, but I am grateful for the technology that keeps us connected.

As for the rest of my family, Chuck is loving his new schedule of traveling some but being mostly at home. He hasn’t spent this much time at home in years, so he’s balancing relaxation with home projects. The yard has never looked better! He’s also gone turkey hunting and fishing, and we’re sharing the responsibility of cooking dinner more often (which I personally love). Sitting on the porch with him in the evenings is one of my favorite hobbies.

Jackson keeps in touch with his friends via text and FaceTime, and he’s taking “social distancing” walks with our neighbor, each keeping to opposite sides of the road. He leans toward introversion, so while he’s bored at times, he’s not suffering a slow death like Jeremy is.

Jeremy is marathon texting and gaming with friends and cousins like a champ. He is wholly uninterested in school, but that’s not new considering none of us is interested in school by late-April. We are all unmotivated. He misses soccer and seeing friends the most, but he’s gaining more driving time and getting plenty of rest.

We also celebrated Dad’s 68th birthday with a Zoom party! Sometimes technology is nice.

It looks like several southern states, including Tennessee, will begin reopening this week. I continue to be skeptical of this decision while also feeling badly for small businesses that are suffering. I guess we won’t know what happens until we try, but with Florida beaches reopening, along with salons, bowling alleys, and other places where people gather and touch the same things, I think the experiment will tell us how serious COVID-19 is this month or if we’ve truly flattened the curve enough to start reopening the world in phases.

We’ve been watching BBC News in the evening, and I recommend you all do the same. It’s easy to view the coronavirus through our American lens, but it’s affecting other parts of the world more drastically. It’s important that we all see the big picture.

My Safer-At-Home Begins and Thoughts on The Great Pause

First of all, Happy Birthday, Dad! It’s a milestone, and I’m so grateful for it 🙂

While most of the country started social distancing in March, I was still spending afternoons with Dad at the cancer institute. We had hours together each day amid other patients and their caregivers. By the end of his treatment, a nurse was assigned to the front door to take temperatures and hand out masks to everyone who came inside.

But now he’s finished! Mom and Dad rang the bell on April 7, and Dad went home from the rehab center that afternoon. We’ve entered another new normal, and when I think about the place from where we’ve come, I nearly get whiplash. First, they were stuck in California, then the rehab center, then the lockdown… It’s a testimony to how capable we really are when we put our heads down and keep moving forward, even when it feels impossible.

Now, he’s home! Medical equipment is set up in the house and my parents are adjusting as best they can. We’re in a holding pattern until the end of April and beginning of May when Dad will undergo scans and tests to determine if the treatment even worked. We have no idea what to expect, so we’re all just trying not to think about it.

Since the number of doctors’ appointments have dropped dramatically, that means I’m just now starting to stay home. I’ve gone to the grocery store, and I went for a run once at the Greenway (there were fewer people there than I expected), but for the most part, we’re staying home. I’m immensely grateful.

We finally got the garden started, so yes – I guess we had to go out and buy plants for it since I didn’t make the time or have the thought to start with seedlings. However, I was happy to see that the local co-op was limiting the number of people entering the store and corralling shoppers through specific doors.

Every time we’ve gone out in public, we’ve taken precautions. And every time we’ve interacted with others in the community, people were respectful and careful. Maybe these are the perks of small-town life. I know COVID-19 is here (to date, we’ve had three recorded deaths in our county), but I don’t think many people are being overtly careless. There will always be outliers, but I think most of us are doing our best.

Fortunately, we live out in the county where I can run on backroads and never interact with other people. With our gym temporarily closed, I’m back to running four and five days a week. I even signed up for a virtual race because – well, why not?

Just as I’m settling into my Safer-At-Home orders from the governor, Jeremy is struggling to manage the loss of a promising soccer season and the necessary friend time he craves as an extrovert. I’m not even poking fun! I know he’s miserable, and I wish I could fix it. The only high point of the last five weeks is the driving time we’ve afforded him.

Here he is driving me to pick up Mexican for dinner one night (to-go):

Chuck, Jackson, and I are homebodies and tend to prefer a quieter life, but Jeremy is dying a slow death from boredom and disconnection. We’ve involved the kids in all sorts of household projects and chores, but that doesn’t feed Jeremy’s need to be social, nor does it even remotely fix the problem of no soccer. Productivity funnels his energy, but it doesn’t fix the psychological need to feel connected to the world. I hate to think what the summer will be like for him if things don’t change for a while.


I don’t know who to credit for calling this time The Great Pause, but I think it’s spot-on. I know not everyone’s COVID crisis is the same. Mercifully, Chuck’s job is secure even though my freelance work will likely shift or potentially dry up. We are already homeschoolers, so our education plan for the boys is not hugely impacted. (It’s impacted, but not in a way that’s life-altering. Read more about that here.) I’m a decent cook and gardener, and Chuck is a hunter, so even food-wise, we have the means to figure out meals without a ton of outside help. In a nutshell, our COVID experience looks quite different from someone who lives in Midtown Manhattan or even downtown Knoxville. It looks different from households with two parents who work outside the home, or a single parent who works full time, or any other possible scenario in any American home. If boredom is our greatest pain, then we have nothing to complain about.

But I’m still using this time to think carefully about our lives, about how we spend our time, about what we spend our money on. I’ve even walked through each room in the house and considered the things we have – do we need this stuff? Could we downsize our belongings a little more? When this is all over, how do we want our lives to look? Crisis tends to make life come into focus for me, so I’m spending The Great Pause in deep thought.

We have four weeks of school left, but my ambition is thin. I’m already preparing final tests and getting my thoughts together on next year. However, whenever I see articles on the coronavirus, I keep reading words like “if we go back in August” and I cannot wrap my brain around The Great Pause going beyond the summer.

Truly, 2020, you’ve outdone yourself. You can stop now.

A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

On the Eve of Chemotherapy and Super Tuesday

Those two things, in theory, should be unrelated, but sometimes things fall together on a calendar for a reason.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea why or how my father’s first chemotherapy appointment and the primary election in Tennessee have aligned this way, but here we are.

It’s been a little more than a month since my parents returned to Tennessee from their two-month stint in California. Dad has made tremendous progress in these last few weeks. His goal is to walk independently (with a walker), and he’s as stubborn as ever, God love him. I spent Sunday afternoon with Mom and Dad at the rehab center, and his resolve is solid. Up and down, left and right, he was practicing. He wants so badly to go home. We all want that.

For now, though, he needs to stay put since he’s in the best possible place. We have no idea what chemotherapy and radiation will do to the tumor or his body. We don’t know what side effects he’ll have, how tired he’ll feel, or whether or not this treatment will have any impact at all. We don’t even have statistics to rely on. That’s how rare this cancer is.

But I digress. We will do what we’ve always done as a family – keep moving forward and laugh as much as possible.

As far as Super Tuesday is concerned, I’ll slip in to vote tomorrow on my way back from the hospital, and then I’ll stay up tomorrow night to watch the returns. It’s been a wild election year already, but I’m feeling the way I always feel – the people I vote for don’t get elected. That’s what it means to be politically homeless.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings for us as a family or us as a country, but faith is good for times like these. I may not know what’s going to happen, but I’m not worried in a philosophical or theological way. Life goes on. The sun sets, and then it comes up again the next morning. God is faithful. He’s near. And, we have each other. These are the things that truly matter.

The rest, I guess, is left to the wind.

Christmas 2019

By now most of you know my parents are in California on account of a medical emergency with my dad. They’ve been there for nearly a month, but we’re hopeful they’ll come home soon. In their absence, we did our best with Christmas. My sister and her family still came down, and we used technology to stay connected to Mom and Dad. It was a weird holiday, but we embraced the time we had together.

As the boys have gotten older, we’ve shifted the way we do Christmas. Across the board, everyone remembers our Christmas in Hilton Head to be the best ever. No big gifts, no big dinner. Just time together and the ocean.

Long gone are the days of mounds of gifts. We were never really those people anyway, but they definitely receive fewer gifts as they get older. Instead, we buy with intention. I did the Four Gift Rule for years, and now I focus on the one or two things they really want.

For Jeremy, that meant getting an AI chessboard. He was totally shocked.

For Jackson, he received his first digital filming camera. Again, totally shocked.

He also got a Rose Bowl t-shirt since two of his teams were playing each other.

Both boys received enough pairs of socks to last a full year.

More than the gifts, we were all so grateful to be together. We watched movies and went hiking. We slept in and stayed in our pajamas when we could. Becky and I drove up to Mom and Dad’s house one afternoon so I could check on their cats and grab the mail, but that afternoon had us looking at old photos and reminiscing about our childhood. It was a precious time.

Jeremy stayed home from hiking.

We adults took the opportunity to grab dinner one night at a local place I’d been wanting to try. It’s expensive, but it’s also an experience. With kids old enough to stay home (or in our case, run around town together without us), we gussied up and enjoyed the kind of food you only eat once or twice a year.

I also took some quick photos… because time flies.

I mean… Look at my boys!

Jeremy, 16, and Jackson, 13

Christmas would’ve been perfect if my parents were home, but that’s just how life is sometimes. We can’t map out every day the way we want it to be. We can only do our best with what we have and look forward to what we hope for.

This post would be insufficient if I didn’t mention my gratitude for the hubs, who in fact just celebrated a birthday. He’s been a place of comfort and sanity for me. We’re lucky to have him.

Thanksgiving 2019

We were happy to host family for Thanksgiving dinner, and it ended up being the first year we mixed both sides of the family. Unfortunately, Hayli couldn’t make it, but we had Tom Jr. here alongside my parents, Grandpa Thomas, and Mamaw. I was happy to cook, happy to serve, and happy to have people in our home. Of course, I was wiped out after the fact, but that’s what comes with the territory.

Mamaw was a surprise late addition to our Thanksgiving dinner, but I’ll always take what I can get when it comes to spending time with her! This photo was the only group photo I took.

The only other photo I captured from Thanksgiving was this one of my and Mamaw’s wedding rings. I never realized how similar our rings are, and in truth, this isn’t Mamaw’s original wedding band. She said they traded in her original bands for this one years ago.

My ring is on the left, hers is on the right.

We had two extra visitors for the holiday, though they didn’t join us for dinner. We were pleased to open the Hamster Hotel for our sweet friends who were traveling for a week. Thankfully, Major and Salem are uninterested in the hamsters!

Bruno is on the left and Starr is on the right.

Being nocturnal, they’d sleep all day in their cozy houses and roll around in their balls at night.

Starr is on the run!

They left this morning, and I honestly miss them.

As you can see from the photo, we’ve decorated for Christmas. This is the earliest we’ve ever put up a tree, that I can recall. Again, we’ll host family for Christmas and I couldn’t be more pleased about it. I can’t wait to have my nephews here.

We have a few more weeks of school and then we’re tapping out. We’re all exhausted and ready for a slow-down. I, especially, need to pull back and realign. I did a poor job in 2019 limiting the things I said “yes” to. I broke my own inner vows about being less busy. I got tired of hearing myself tell other people that I was too busy. It’s all so counter-productive. As I plan for the spring semester and map out story ideas for the magazine, I need to work smarter and not harder. I’m pretty sure that will be my New Year’s resolution.

Autumn 2019

More has gone on here than our trip to England and Wales, so it would be a shame to make it seem like that’s been the entirety of our October and November. It would be terrible if you missed Jackson’s Halloween costume when he dressed up at a retired clown.

He and his friend, Libby, trick-or-treated together again this year, and Jackson received many compliments on his costume!

Jeremy competed in another chess tournament and brought home two more trophies. Between soccer and chess, the shelves in his bedroom are filling up quickly!

In early November, we went to see Ryan Bingham at the Tennessee Theatre, which was a fancy venue for his style of music, I have to say. But that meant Corey came to visit and that’s always worthwhile!

The following weekend we took a quick trip to Chattanooga to celebrate Matt’s 41st birthday, which meant I got some time with Amy!

We became instant friends after Matt started dating her in 2000. So much of my early years of motherhood unfolded alongside Amy’s. Now, whenever we squeeze in a visit, we unload all the toils and joys of raising teenagers, which is a far cry from naptimes, midnight feedings, and what happened on the latest episode of The Backyardigans.

These three have been friends since middle and high school.

In other news, Jackson wrapped his fall session of equine therapy, and Jeremy finally got a proper haircut. I decided it was time he started seeing my stylist. His hair deserves it, after all.

Peak colors didn’t show up in East Tennessee until early November, but when they finally popped, they were bright and vibrant. I snapped this photo while on a run one foggy morning.

Lastly, we had a brief and glorious snowfall that dropped the same day as Disney+. It was a Tuesday, but it felt just like Christmas morning. Somehow we managed to do some school work.

However, I did notice that this was the first year that the boys didn’t race to play in the snow upon waking up. The last time we had a decent snowfall was January of this year. It was gorgeous, and the boys couldn’t wait to play in it. This time, however, they didn’t mention sledding or a snowball fight. They didn’t even have the curiosity to go outside and touch the flakes. It felt significant, like a piece of their childhood was over.

Maybe that won’t be the case if we get another big snowfall, something grander and long-lasting. Or maybe it means I need to suit up and go out with them.


Thanksgiving is this week, and we’re going to have a full house of family members on Thursday. For the first time in 20 years, we’re mixing sides. We’ve always taken turns – Thanksgiving with one side, Christmas with the other. We’re on the same rotation as my sister and her family, and doing it this way kept holidays fair and uncomplicated.

But as family members have passed away, and others have moved closer to us, it seems silly to keep things separated. We can all be together. We can all share the table. On Thursday, we’ll have ten people here, and I’m happy to cook for all of them.

The UK with Karin: Day 8

It was our final full day in the UK, and we wanted to make the most of it. Instead of heading straight back to London, we took a long way and swung south to Bath in Somerset. The architecture in this city is unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in England.

River Avon
Pulteney Bridge

The Roman Baths date back to 60 AD (the Romans hung around for a few hundred years), and the Bath Abbey was built in the 7th Century.

I was instantly smitten with Bath. Every corner turned onto another charming, narrow street.

Bath Abbey

At first, it looked like our stroll around the Roman Baths was going to take hours. Without a doubt, it’s the most touristy attraction in town. Fortunately, they have the process down to some sort of algorithm that keeps the bodies moving forward.

Jane Austen on the ten-pound note: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey are right next to each other – convenient!

Normally, I’m not into guided tours and listening to recordings. I *never* pick up a headset in museums. However, at the Roman Baths, they just hand you one and tell you how to work it. Turns out, it was hugely interesting to walk up to a part of the exhibit and be told why it’s important!

I’m so glad Chuck this photo! We aren’t big selfie-takers, but I’m thankful he took this one 🙂

After touring the Baths, we went back into the city to explore a little longer and grab a quick bite to eat.

It’s a big deal for Chuck to give money to a street performer, so you know this guy was good at his craft!

We ended up circling back to where we began, with a beautiful view of Pulteney Bridge and the River Avon.

We’d booked a hotel room at Heathrow that night so we could get to the airport easily Sunday mid-morning, but we still had plenty of time to spare before it got dark. A quick Google search showed us that we could stop in Lacock in Wiltshire, one of England’s oldest villages. This meant more driving through the countryside!

Lacock Abbey dates back to 900 AD and served as a filming spot for several scenes in the Harry Potter film franchise. Also, more recently, Lacock was a filming spot for Downton Abbey. It was a charming village, only a few streets wide and long. I didn’t take my camera around town since it was a little misty, but we enjoyed the stroll and treated ourselves to coffee, tea, and cake afterward.

This street was a main filming location for Downton Abbey.

I’ll live here, please.

It was finally time to admit the trip was over, so we checked into our hotel, Chuck returned the rental car, and we finished the night with dinner at the Hilton and two bottles of wine. Before the night was over, I made a list on my phone of everything we did over the last eight days – I didn’t want to forget anything!

In the last year, I’ve visited England three times. I never thought that’s something I’d ever be able to say. Believe it or not, I’d go back again tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. It is strange to feel at home in a foreign country, but that’s exactly how I feel.

What a gift.

If you want to watch the slideshow video I made of our trip, click here.

The UK with Karin: Day 7

Like I said in the previous post, our AirBNB in Nant-y-Derry was a DELIGHT, even though it didn’t have WiFi. Instead of scrolling on our phones in the evening, we watched whatever British game show was on the TV. It was perfect.

How adorable is the house key?

This is the view from the living room.
And this is the view from the front patio.

Like so many AirBNBs in the countryside, this building is a converted barn, and it’s updated and stunning inside.

Our original plan was to drive to Pembrokeshire (along the western coastline), but the weather was so wet and dreary that we didn’t want to trek too far. Instead, we drove south and stopped in Caerphilly, which was halfway between our place on the southern Brecon Beacons National Park and Cardiff, the largest city in Wales.

Still can’t read a thing in Welsh!

Caerphilly Castle was originally constructed in the 13th Century as part of the Anglo-Norman movement into Wales. It’s the second-largest castle after Windsor, but no one has lived here for many centuries. In its greatest time, Caerphilly Castle was a magnificent fortress with an impressive moat.

Taking pictures was tricky on account of the rain, but I muscled through.

We got back on the road and headed for the coast, this time landing on Dunraven Bay. It would’ve been lovely to see the coast during better weather, but nothing was going to keep us from the seaside. A beach is restorative no matter the climate.

Karin took some time alone – just her and the water.

It’s on this coastline in Southern Wales where we took my favorite photo of us of all time. We are the cutest.

For the second time, Chuck gave Karin a quick UK-driving lesson on the backroads. She did a stellar job!

Before heading back to our AirBNB, we made a quick stop in Cardiff just to poke around. We visited a few tourist shops and got a good view of Cardiff Castle before it closed. We were losing steam, and we were soaking wet, so going back home to our cozy converted barn sounded like a good idea.

We had one day left, so in the morning, we headed to Bath.

The UK with Karin: Day 6

I was still high as a kite the morning after meeting Philippa Gregory at Sudeley Castle, deliriously happy as we walked around Stratford-Upon-Avon the morning of Day 6. I was also happy to have Chuck with us, my favorite traveling buddy of all time.

Stratford-Upon-Avon is William Shakespeare’s hometown, so it’s a literary mecca for millions of people.

I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare’s work as a rule, but I respect it. It’s important to know what his contribution has been to language and literature.

The Tudor-style architecture is one of my favorites, so walking around Stratford on such a beautiful morning was a feast for the eyes.

We walked along the River Avon for a bit and enjoyed feeding the swans. We couldn’t believe how many of them there were!

I’ll never pass up an opportunity to feed waterfowl. I’m a sucker!

Ducks are my fave!

We packed up our things and hit the road for Hay-on-Wye, England’s “book town” and gateway to Wales. How absolutely perfect for Karin and me to visit Hay-on-Wye together!

Hay-on-Wye is a charmer! Every time we turned a corner there was something adorable to see.

Bookshops EVERYWHERE.

MURDER AND MAYHEM – I should’ve picked up a few books for my English classes. 🙂

We ate a delicious warm lunch at The Granary, which was probably one of my favorite meals from the whole trip.

Then we went to Richard Booth’s Bookshop – three floors of new and secondhand books.

Before we left the bookshop, Karin and I gave it a go with Welsh. Oh well! It’s too hard! Even the kids’ books were intimidating. We had a good laugh trying to sound out the words.

Our AirBNB in Nant-y-Derry (Wales) was utterly delightful. We didn’t get there until dark, but I was sure to get photos the next morning.

Before settling in for the night, we grabbed dinner at The Foxhunter Inn, the local pub. We raised a glass to our wonderful trip thus far.

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:

My Week Alone

Earlier in the spring, my sister asked me if Jeremy wanted to join Owen on his summer youth trip, and I immediately said yes. I asked no questions, so the camp could’ve been in another country for all I knew. Alas, it was only at Wheaton College, which is less than an hour from where they live.

One thing led to another and suddenly the boys were going to Chicago for a week in July, and then I learned that Chuck had a work trip that same week, and that’s when the most delightful realization washed over me: I would have a full five days entirely to myself.

For this introverted homeschooling mom, I hit the jackpot.

To sweeten the deal, Chuck and I would have a couple of days together on either end of that week. It was perfect.

Unlike last year when the boys flew alone for the first time, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. Off they went, and less than two hours later, Jeremy and Jackson were safely with my sister.

My week consisted of speaking only when I wanted to, working on freelance assignments, and catching up on podcasts. I ended up doing a lot of work from bed, which is something I haven’t stopped doing because I’m desperately trying to hang onto that slow summer feeling.

I ended up finishing a year’s worth of quizzes and assignments for my middle school English class at our co-op, and I’m well on my way to finishing the high school class. I’m “helping my future self,” as Chuck likes to say.

I did see a couple of friends, but I also kept my schedule as light as possible. I wanted to retreat, to lay low, to keep quiet. Those were restorative days for me, and had I been too busy, it would’ve had the opposite effect.

The one activity I planned for myself was a Sip & Stitch at an event center owned by another Knoxville Moms Blog writer. I’ve been teaching myself how to cross-stitch, but you can only learn so much from videos. So, exactly one time, I did my hair and makeup and went out in the world during my week alone. I’m so happy with my creation.

Meanwhile, Jackson enjoyed a week of being spoiled with bookstores and Starbucks.

It doesn’t take much to make this boy happy. I know Jackson enjoyed an alternative “big brother” experience with Jacob, one in which there’s no fighting or silly competition.

Jeremy and Owen had a great time at camp. These two have been “best cousins” from birth since they are only six months apart. They’ve grown into two very different personalities, as you can see from this photo, but they always love being together.

When it was time to get our boys back, we all met in Mason, Ohio, at the Great Wolf Lodge, which we had not been to in ages. The first time we went to a Great Wolf Lodge was in 2009 when we lived in Amarillo and drove to meet my sister and her family at the GWL in Kansas City. Here’s a photo from that weekend:

And here we are from two weeks ago:

The water slides are just as fun at 15 as they are at 5. Jackson doesn’t remember going to the GWL in Kansas City, so it was like the first time for him. He LOVED it.

In fact, he missed out on this photo because he didn’t want to leave the wave pool:

We had 24 hours of swimming, laying by the pool, and enjoying each other’s company. Since we won’t see them again until Christmas, it was important to have a little bit of time together instead of just flying the boys home (which would’ve been quicker and cheaper).

Love them so much!

Family, the 4th, and Starcourt Mall

My Uncle Bob and his wife, Carie, came to visit the week of July 4th, and I was more than happy to host them, Grandpa, and my parents for a feast. We made a low country boil and enjoyed homemade ice cream. Chuck did a ton of the work, bless him, so he deserves a lot of credit. Now that I think of it, I’m open to low country boils instead of turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We took a family photo after dinner, per usual.

Jeremy and Uncle Bob went a few rounds on the chessboard. In the first game, Jeremy beat Uncle Bob in three moves. Not sure he was expecting that! I think a stalemate was the second result.

When our guests had gone and it was finally dark, we lit up a few low-key fireworks and sparklers, which pale in comparison to the week-long firework displays that went on all around us. Our equine and canine neighbors were not pleased!

The next morning, we took Bob and Carie on a short hike so they could get a good view of the Foothills from above. If I’ve not mentioned it before, I absolutely love where we live.

I think Major had the most fun.

When our guests were gone and the holiday weekend was free from responsibility, Chuck, Jackson, and I took to Netflix to binge the third season of Stranger Things.

MAN OH MAN did the nostalgia get me. When I say they nailed the 80s, they really did. The main new set of the third season is a MALL, and the set design was on point at every turn. Starcourt Mall was all 80s all the time. I won’t give any spoilers other than I liked this season more than the last (though not as much as the first, which was near-perfect). I was in tears when it ended.

If you’re a Stranger Things fan, you may enjoy these two articles (here and here) about the theory that Hawkins is actually based on East Tennessee. Fair warning – they include spoilers.

Carillon Beach with Karin

I know, I know – we just went on vacation. BUT, Karin and I like to skip out of town on occasion (like, every couple of years) since we don’t live in the same city, and visiting each other’s houses means we can’t take a break from motherhood. Obviously going to the beach is our only option. I’m sure you understand.

We took a chance on Hotwire and fully prepared to stay at a local dump somewhere on the Emerald Coast. As long as the doors locked and there were no obvious bug infestations, we were going to be fine.

We were PLEASANTLY surprised to discover the Carillon Beach Resort Inn. Good job, Hotwire!

Tucked away in a gated community, the resort is a slew of condos in a desirable neighborhood of million-dollar homes. There are seven private beach access points, four swimming pools, and a lake in the middle of it all. This was the view from our patio:

On site is a little breakfast/lunch cafe and a separate restaurant for dinner, along with a spa, general store, and a couple of other businesses. We could not figure out why the place wasn’t swarming with tourists. The beaches weren’t even close to being crowded.

We finally asked around and discovered that people simply don’t know the place exists. Perhaps people think the gate means it’s private and inaccessible.

There were plenty of covered beach chairs for rent and wide open spaces for a clear view of the gulf. We took a walk towards the neighboring public beach and noticed a significant difference between how populated it was versus our area. I definitely preferred Carillon Beach!

The houses were outstanding. This one is a dream:

Swimming at night is my favorite.

We bought groceries for snacking and eating at the condo, but we did manage one meal out of our swimsuits. We enjoyed a delicious guilt-free, indulgent dinner at Amici 30a Italian.

Two and a half days is not nearly long enough, but I’ll take what I can get.

2019 European Vacation: Day Eight in London

As promised, we made sure the boys set their feet in London before flying back to the States. A quick Easy Jet flight from Milan made that happen.

Honestly, I got teary seeing the land from overhead. I love England. I love it. I love being there, I hate leaving it. I’ve had a crush on Britain for decades and now I’ve been twice within a year. I’m already planning a third trip.

For our final day of sight-seeing, we grabbed dinner at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush (where I had the most amazing BBQ Jackfruit quesadillas!) and then hopped on the tube for Piccadilly Circus so the boys could have that “Times Square” London experience (i.e., all tourists, no locals). That’s where the LEGO store was, after all.

It was there that I saw the most exciting LEGO set ever: Stranger Things!

I didn’t take a lot of photos during our afternoon and evening in London because I’d already taken 700 throughout the trip, and frankly, I just wanted to walk the streets and enjoy myself. We got out of Piccadilly Circus as quickly as we could (because people!) and strolled through St. James Park and Westminster. Both boys wanted to see Buckingham Palace.

Union Jack Heaven!

The Royal Standard was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was home! (When Chuck and I visited in October, the Union Jack was flying above the palace, which meant the Queen was not in residence.)

When our evening in London ended, I started pouting almost immediately. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep going – head to Wales or Cornwall, maybe drive to Yorkshire and the Lake District. There’s so much more I want to see.

For now, this trip will have to tide me over, and it definitely will. We all agree that Monaco was our favorite day on the trip, and the day after in Antibes and Cannes is a close second. Italy wasn’t what we expected, and I can’t say that I’m in a hurry to go back.

France, on the other hand, has me more curious than ever. I’ve been to Paris and now Côte d’Azur, but there’s a whole lot of countryside in between. ??