Lifting the Anvil

When I woke up on January 1, 2021, I felt lighter, as if in the night I’d dropped 20 pounds of gloom off of my shoulders and onto the floor. The physical burden of 2020 was gone. I no longer had to live in that year, which was the worst year I’d ever experienced. Until 2020, my worst year was 2002, when we learned that we were infertile and wouldn’t be able to conceive a child. My headspace was murky and complicated that whole year. I shunned people, stored up anger, and said all sorts of awful things to God because I knew He could take it.

But 2020 rang a new bell in me and replaced 2002 as the new worst year. I was glad to see it leave.

In these last few weeks of 2021, I’ve done a lot of unloading. I’ve cleaned my closet, sorted through my books, deep-cleaned a few rooms in the house, reorganized my desktop browser (Ahh…), and recommitted to cooking the way I used to cook with some measure of purpose. With each task, I’m lifting more of that anvil off of my shoulders, shedding more skin, breathing new air. Clutter and mess weigh me down as much as emotions do, so when I can’t control what’s going on around me, I’ve focused on the things I can control. For example, I cannot control the spread of COVID/attacks on the US Capitol/rising gas prices/people being crazy/my dad being gone/closed borders/teen angst/other people’s struggles/etc, but I can control whether or not my closet is a mess.


Major turned eight in December. He now requires glasses.

Also, in lieu of resolutions, I’m focusing on a few words to keep my brain and body in check, words such as boundaries and balance. I’m protecting my time and energy as a limited resource because it is a limited resource. It means choosing not to respond to work emails on weekends. (That one decision created a lot of space for me.) It means shifting my focus intentionally from one task to another rather than always responding to what shows up each day. I’m an organized person to a fault, but 2020 left me so frazzled that being scatterbrained and forgetful became a new normal.

Originally I thought 2020 broke me, but I’m starting to consider that maybe it was a catalyst for a reset.

I would be foolish to claim how hopeful I am for this year because if 2020 taught me anything it is to expect the unexpected. Still, I feel a small spark of hope that this year will bring something lovely my way. I don’t know what it is, but it’s… something. It very well could be something as simple and beautiful as a greater peace of mind, but it could also be something else I’ve been needing and didn’t know it. It could be something to enjoy for my boys or my husband, or it can be something positive for another family member or close friend. Whatever the spark is, I don’t want to douse it with doom or fear. I am so good at catastrophizing! Instead, I’m going to let it sit there and sparkle and see what happens.


Salem turned either 13 or 14 in 2020 (we aren’t entirely sure), but he’s in exceptional health. He is perfect in every possible way.

The boys are moving along in their school year, no doubt counting the days until summer break. When I look at them, I see two young men who don’t have much longer under our wings. I am surprised to realize that I have only three and a half years of homeschooling left. That is some kind of math I do not understand.

This year will bring some milestones, such as Jeremy turning 18, which is more math I don’t understand, and the 10th anniversary of us moving back to Tennessee from Texas. I still love where we live and have no plans to move anytime soon.

As for what’s going on in our country politically, I’ll leave you with the wisdom of Don Draper, advertising pioneer:

Cheers to a better year, everyone. Fingers crossed.

A Goodbye Letter to 2020

Dearest 2020,

I knew you were trouble from the start.

While I am grateful for myriad things – extra one-on-one time with my father, a slower pace at home, my own health and the health of my husband and sons – I am mostly still very mad at you. I will work through it eventually, and you won’t be around to see it. Today is your last day.

Many people started the year with a hefty amount of optimism, but I didn’t. It was in the tank by December, so my biggest task, or so I thought, was to muscle through a deeply personal trauma and hopefully have my father around for another calendar year.

Not only did I lose Dad in September and Grandpa Thomas in November, but you made life even more problematic with a pandemic. Talk about curveballs! Every day brought another dose of uncertainty. You want to mess with a perfectionist with control issues? GIVE HER DAILY DOSES OF UNCERTAINTY.

I won’t deny the positives that were born out of that time. Chuck was home more often than not. (All those porch days were a gift, I admit.) We had a few good boat days and early morning fishing trips. We celebrated birthdays and saw our friends. The weather this year has been one of the highlights – we’ve had all four seasons! I’m grateful for that.

But I have to tell you, 2020 – I’d give it all back to you if it meant I could have Dad back. I’d make the trade. I know that’s not how it works, but that’s how I feel.

Two nights ago you gave us your last full moon. It was gorgeous. Big and bright, like a flood light in the sky.

Today, however, I woke up to a rainy drizzle, and I don’t think we’ll see the sun all day. It feels like one more stab. I don’t know if I can stay up late enough to see you go. You robbed me this year. You robbed a lot of people. The sooner I go to sleep, the sooner you’ll be gone.

I know 2021 won’t be everything I want it to be, at least not at first. We are still in the woods, still wandering around looking for the path to lead us out of this COVID mess. I hear you, though, telling me to learn the lessons from this year and let the hardships make me better, but I’m telling you NOT YET. I need a little more time. One day, when I’m not so bitter, I will likely view you as a transformative year, not a destructive one. I’ll declare that 2020 was the year I learned [insert lesson here] and it will fuel my personal and spiritual growth. I’ll be sure to report back and give you proper credit.

For now, I’m done with you. I’m worn out. You won. You broke something in me, and since I haven’t found the exact location of the crack, I can’t patch it yet. I’m the kind of tired a nap won’t fix.

Do me a favor and tell your successor to take it easy on my family and me. My friends, too, for good measure. Tell 2021 to come in slowly, tenderly, like a new mother checking on her sleeping baby. Take a peek, then close the door gently. LEAVE US BE.

And if 2021 is going to be worse, then forget everything I said. Those porch days with my husband were really wonderful. I’ll always cherish the long drives with Dad after radiation. I’m glad Mom finally got her hip replaced. I’m grateful my kids are healthy and happy. I still have my pets, my best friends, and a lovely home from which to view sunsets.

Interestingly, the last time I photographed the moon was December 12, 2019, the day I put Mom on a plane to California to be with Dad in the hospital. Little did we know then, and little may we know now.

Christmas 2020

Well before Thanksgiving was underway, I knew I didn’t want to stay home for Christmas. Obviously, a pandemic makes this wish problematic. Whatever we came up with, we were going to take Mom with us, because she too didn’t want to stay home and dwell on the toll this year has taken.

After a bit of research, we chose a lovely cottage on Sugar Mountain in North Carolina. Chuck wanted to take the boys skiing for the first time, and Mom and I wanted to hide from the world for a bit. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, just in time to go grocery shopping and get back to the house to make dinner. I poured Mom a glass of wine, and she was all set.

Christmas Eve was a rainy day, but a winter storm was coming. Underneath the snow that fell all evening was a solid sheet of ice by the following morning. It was beautiful, but we knew getting down the mountain was going to be a challenge.

The porch on Christmas Eve…
The porch on Christmas morning…
Still the best hair in the family…

We exchanged a few small gifts on Christmas morning and then occupied ourselves trying to figure out how to get Chuck, Jeremy, and Jackson down the mountain to the ski lodge. Fortunately, there was a taxi service (with four-wheel drive and all-weather tires) that picked them up and dropped them off. This meant Mom and I had the place to ourselves for an afternoon reading marathon.

The day after Christmas proved most beautiful because the sky was bright blue. With the winter storm out of the way, Mom wanted to take a quick trip outside on her new hip to get some photos. Of course I had to chaperone! The last thing we needed was for her to fall down.

This is the view directly across the street from the cottage. On the other side of those houses are the ski slopes. If you looked hard enough, you could see the ski lifts and folks skiing down the mountain. (We weren’t close enough to get a glimpse of Chuck and the boys.)

Jackson was brave to try skiing on Christmas Day, but he opted to join the reading club the day after Christmas while Chuck and Jeremy went a second time.

The homeowners were kind to set up a small Christmas tree for us to enjoy!

Of course, Dad wasn’t far from our minds. We knew the first Christmas without him was going to be difficult, but being in this cottage, away from all the reminders back home, helped us cope. He wouldn’t have wanted us to stay home and mope around, fighting tears and shaking a fist at the sky. Even when I was a little girl, he never liked us moping around. Get up and get on with it!

The cottage was perfect for our getaway. We all had a warm bed and space to schlep around in our pajamas. We watched movies, ate our weight in sugary treats, and only did the things we actually wanted to do. This was a huge bonus for me. I didn’t even bring my laptop! After staying home all year to take care of Dad (and follow pandemic guidelines), a quick trip to the snowy mountains was exactly what we needed.

The next big hurdle is New Year’s Eve, a holiday that’s always been marked by a big, boisterous phone call from my parents wishing us a Happy New Year. Dad would call us promptly at midnight, all giggly and loud, and I’d laugh and roll my eyes at how goofy they sounded.

Now I’d give anything to have that phone call at midnight. Instead, Mom will stay the night with us, but I’m not totally sure I’ll stay up to watch the ball drop. The quicker I fall asleep, the sooner I can leave this wretched year behind.

Christmas, though, was delightful. There were moments of sadness, obviously, but now I’m ready to start a new year without illness or fear or a heap of doctor’s appointments weighing us down. I’m ready for a slower pace, if you can believe that. I’m ready to walk into a calmer year.

Lord willing.

Spreading Dad’s Ashes

Before Dad passed away, we all talked about what he wanted to happen with his remains. No question, his heart belongs to West Virginia, but a good chunk of it also belongs to Tennessee. He decided, and we agreed, that part of his remains should be spread here and the rest should be spread and buried in the family cemetery back home in Meadow Bridge.

With a handful of negative COVID tests, the Przyluckis drove down from Chicago for Thanksgiving and to participate in a private, outdoor ceremony for Dad. We decided to spread his ashes in the place where we last went fishing together.

Though we wished for Mamaw, Aunt Gloria, and Dallas to join us, COVID concerns are pretty steep, and, Lord willing, we’ll be in West Virginia in the spring for the second part of Dad’s memorial anyway. It felt like the wiser decision for them to stay home and stay safe. Fortunately, our cousin Paul could join us.

Even though our West Virginia family couldn’t attend, Dad’s home state was well represented.


In addition to our family, we had a bagpiping friend join us (from afar) to play “Amazing Grace” at the beginning and “Scotland the Brave” at end of our short but sweet service. As soon as Andrew started playing, we all teared up. There is no other sound more fitting in the Great Smoky Mountains than the sound of bagpipes.

Becky read Ecclesiastes 5: 18-20 and John 14, and then I read a poem titled “He is Gone” by David Harkins. Jeff said a prayer, and then Chuck waded into the river to release Dad’s ashes.

It was all more emotional than I anticipated, but I think that’s exactly what I’ve been needing.



He is Gone

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

-David Hawkins


When Andrew had finished playing the bagpipes, it was Owen’s turn to play “Taps” on his trumpet.

Once we’d gotten our tears out, it was time to remember how grateful we were to have one another and that we spent so much quality time with Dad before he left. All the grandboys gave Grandma big bear hugs.

I think Dad would’ve been pleased that we didn’t make a big fuss. Instead, we honored him in an authentic, heartfelt way and then spent the rest of the day together.

When I think back to what we’ve been through this year, I can’t quite believe it. The anniversary of Dad’s big stroke is in seven days. Has it really been a year? It’s felt as if from that moment on – December 8, 2019 – it was one hurdle after another.

And yet, it was still year with plenty of good days and happy moments. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent so much one-on-one time with Dad, minus my tenth grade year when he drove me to and from school every day. I miss him terribly. We all miss him. But in that missing is the knowledge that he provided a good life for us, loved us deeply, and didn’t want to leave us so soon.

Grandpa

Here I go again asking that you keep my family in your thoughts: My grandpa died suddenly and swiftly on Sunday evening.

My first thought was this: In what cruel world does my mother’s husband and father die within three months of one another?

Grandpa Thomas, who would’ve turned 94 next week, moved to Knoxville from Bethesda, Maryland, in January of last year with a ton of energy and optimism. He thrived on his independence, and he took his time settling into the West Knoxville apartment I picked out for him. I helped him unpack his books, buy a new computer, and I changed his bedsheets every time I visited (because no one at his age should have to wrestle with a fitted sheet).

If you and I are friends on Instagram, then you might have seen my “Thursdays with Grandpa” Instastories I’d post from time to time. His apartment was minutes away from our co-op (an intentional move on my part), so I often went over there on Thursday afternoons to check on him, have lunch with him, listen to music with him, and so on.

He’d come over to Sunday dinner occasionally, particularly when other family members came in town. This is the last large-family photo we took together, when Bob and Carie came to visit last July:

All of this was pre-COVID, of course.

By the latter part of 2019, Grandpa was struggling to breathe comfortably, and by mid-November, he was put on oxygen full time. In fact, the last time he visited my house was for Thanksgiving when he wanted to do a trial run “traveling” with a portable oxygen tank. He stayed overnight in a hotel nearby, but all of it proved too difficult. Upon returning home the next day, he told me, “That’s the last time I’ll go to your house.”

The next few months were a blur. Dad had his stroke on Dec. 8, and then all the days ran together. Mom flew to California to be with him, and they didn’t return to Tennessee until January 31. We kept Grandpa in the loop with multiple phone calls and emails each week. He was desperate for new information he could pass along in mass emails to the Thomas side of the family. We were all confused about everything, not knowing what the future would hold.

Alas, what the future held was a pandemic.

By spring break, our remaining weeks in the academic year were moved online, and I became Grandpa’s personal grocery shopper and Dad’s driver post-radiation three days a week. March and April were some of the strangest months of my life. (I’m forever grateful Chuck was home to take care of things in my long, daily absences.)

At one point, perhaps in April, I’d finished putting away Grandpa’s groceries and sat down to talk to him while he ate lunch. He said something I’ll never forget: “This virus will be around for two years at least.”

“Surely not,” I said.

“Oh yes. It will be around at least two years or until there’s a vaccine.”

I didn’t believe him, which is foolish on my part because when you’ve lived on the earth 93 years, you know much more than someone who’s only been around for less than half that time.

Just as COVID made things more complicated for my Dad’s treatment, it made things more complicated for Grandpa. He had three trips to the ER in May and June, and it was quickly decided that he couldn’t live alone anymore. Any activity beyond sitting still in a chair left him breathless.

In July, Uncle Russ flew in from California to stay with Grandpa and assess what level of care he needed. I was grateful. I felt pulled between Grandpa’s apartment and my parents’ house, not to mention whatever was going on at my house. Knowing that Grandpa had one of his kids living with him full time meant we could funnel our focus to taking care of Dad.

After Dad died on Sept. 10, we all entered a fog. Time passed. School and work continued. So did the pandemic. We all functioned.

Being cautious about COVID, we stopped visiting Grandpa in person. We kept to emails and phone calls. There had been some discussion about what to do when his apartment lease ends in the spring, but now there are other matters to sort out.

Grandpa went into cardiac arrest Sunday evening, November 22, and passed quickly. I am deeply sad that he’s gone – that goes without saying. But I am also sad over missed opportunities and the fact that his entire last year of life was marred by a pandemic. He hadn’t left his apartment, save for a few doctors’ appointments, in months.

The heaviness of this year cannot be understated. We have been put through the wringer and WE ARE NOW WRUNG OUT. FULL STOP.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas in our midst, I struggle to find any sort of cheerful spirit. I’ve been here before though, so I know how to navigate the holiday blues. To wake up another morning means I am still alive and there is plenty to live for, but the pain of what we’ve walked through is fresh and raw.

Grandpa, you would’ve been the first one to read this blog post. You were a faithful subscriber! While your brief stay in Knoxville wasn’t what any of us anticipated it would be, I am extra grateful for all of those Thursdays with you. ❤️

The Holidays and Impending Doom

Last week I sat in the car with a dear friend as I finally said the words I’ve been holding in for a while: “I think I’m depressed.”

She replied appropriately: “You think??

Once I said the words, I started to cry and tell her how I wanted to quit everything, even the things I love. I love teaching English, but I want to quit. I love writing for a magazine, but I want to quit. I love being a mom, but please no one ask me what’s for dinner for the next three months.

I’m not a quitter, so I won’t quit, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to hit pause and run away for a while.

I unloaded all of these things on Chuck’s lap when I got home that same afternoon, things he understood perfectly after living through the deaths of both of his parents and his sister over the course of eight years. He knows the feeling of wanting to quit, but yeah – we don’t do that. We BUCK UP. So I am.



And yet, it’s a new month, which means I have a renewed sense of dread to accompany the ever-present weight of grief and sorrow I’ve been carrying since December 2019.

Despite Dad being gone nearly eight weeks now, I know my body has been storing up anxiety since his first stroke. When I think about the anniversary of that event getting closer, my chest tightens and my brain runs circles around the memory. I will never forget the moment Becky called me and said, breathlessly, “DID DAD HAVE A STROKE?”

I am sad to see October go, particularly since I want nothing to do with Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ve been in this headspace before with the holidays, so the feeling is familiar to me. We’ve managed grief through Thanksgiving and Christmas too many times – we’re nearly pros! – so I’m already unearthing some helpful coping mechanisms.

First and foremost, there will be no watching White Christmas since I can’t text Dad to tell him it’s on TV and that he needs to change the channel so we can watch it together in our separate houses.

Yeah, I can’t go there.

Thanksgiving will be the first hurdle. It was the last proper holiday we had with him before the stroke. Mom and Dad came to Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and when we said goodbye that evening, it was the last time I saw my father outside of a wheelchair or walker. It was the last time I had a conversation with him with clear speech.

We are planning a small, private service over Thanksgiving to carry out one of Dad’s memorial wishes, so I look forward to seeing Mamaw again and having the family come in town.

But, make no mistake – the whole week will feel like an anvil on my chest.

Likewise, I cannot conceive of setting up one single holiday decoration or hearing one single, solitary Christmas song. Respectfully, I am uninterested. God bless all of you swapping out your Halloween decor for Christmas trees, but I can’t join you this year. I haven’t yet sorted out how we’ll tackle Christmas, but sitting in a sad house is not a viable solution.

DAMN YOU, TRAVEL BAN. And damn you too, Covid. You’re the worst.



Okay. Shall we talk about more uplifting topics now?

OH WAIT —

Unfortunately, what kicks off the holiday season is a no-good, terrible, soul-sucking election week. Because I am politically homeless, I will be distressed either way. (I do vote though. I vote my conscience and am usually left disappointed. I’m not sure what that says about me.) Washington DC is full of bad actors, and I don’t buy anything they’re selling, particularly their deepest desire to scare the living hell out of us. NO THANK YOU.

What really grieves me is the level of distrust among fellow citizens. I have a wonderfully diverse set of friends and family members, so no matter which way this week shakes out, I’ll be worried about a chunk of them (some more than others).



Just remember this: Donald Trump did not attend your wedding. Joe Biden did not celebrate the birth of your child. Mike Pence did not congratulate you on your new job. Kamala Harris did not check on you during the lockdown to see if you were okay. Not a single politician will send you condolences when your parents pass away.

These people are not your saviors or our superheroes. They aren’t your ride-or-die friends, or your actual family members. Be careful you don’t sever the very relationships you will need as we head into the great unknown of our strange future.

Either I read too many dystopian novels, or I read all the right ones, but what worries me more than any presidency is the breakdown of our most important connections with one another. After the year we’ve had, we can’t afford it.

Godspeed, everyone. Hold on tight.

20 Years

Ten years ago this week, we took family photos in Amarillo. It was a weird time – Chuck was living back in Chattanooga to help care for his mother while the boys and I stayed in Texas waiting for our house to sell. He came back for our anniversary, and I scheduled these photos for us. It was the last time we dressed up in coordinating outfits and paid a photographer to take our picture. The boys were seven and four years old. We could very easily see over their tiny little heads.

Today, Chuck and I have been married for 20 years, and to celebrate, I decided it was time to retake this sweet photo (and one other), but also to capture some new ones. Hold on tight, y’all. Stephanie with Adara Photography knocked it out of the park.

We are still just barely able to see over their heads, though we know this won’t be a thing for much longer.

Our boys are now 17 and 14 years old. They are both in high school, braces-free, and embracing our love for traveling. Despite it being a tough year, we have laughed a lot together.

While family portraits were a priority, so were photos of Chuck and me as a couple. Twenty years of marriage is no small feat. We aren’t still here because it’s been easy or because we’ve been lucky. Seeing us like this reminds me that hard work and dedication is not overrated.

The other photo I wanted to recreate from 2010 was an image where we deliberately bookmarked ten years of marriage:

It felt silly then and a little silly now, but Chuck was a good sport. If we do this right, we could wind up with a sweet collection of memorable photos marking each decade as we cross its threshold.


One last thought: Many years ago we started talking about booking a big trip to the U.K. to celebrate our 20th anniversary. It was something we daydreamed about, something worth waiting for.

Then, after taking the boys to Iceland in 2017, we realized that international travel was far more accessible and affordable than we once thought. Shortly after Bill passed way in April 2018, we decided that waiting for that big trip didn’t make sense anymore. Life was short and unpredictable. Instead of waiting two more years, we took the big U.K. trip that October. It was perfect in every way possible, and while part of me – that annoying, meticulous, perfectionist part – wanted a big round anniversary number to commemorate with a trip like that, I know now it was absolutely the correct time to go.

After all, little did we know what 2020 had in store for us. Not only was Dad’s illness lurking, but so was a global pandemic. How even more heartbreaking would this year have been if we’d waited for 2020 and had a huge, incredible trip to cancel.

All that being said, when this pandemic is over and the borders open up, go where you’ve been wanting to go. Figure it out. Take the trip. Don’t waste time.

Above all, go with the person who makes you laugh like this:

Life in the After

I don’t know what to call this space – these days that unfolded “after Dad died”. I don’t want everything I do or think about to be marred by his death because the focus is misplaced. Plus, Dad wouldn’t like it. Shall we just call it After? First we had Before, now we have After. I don’t know how else to bookmark the days.

This Thursday makes three weeks since Dad passed away, and though I seem able to move through the day with ease a lot of the time, there have been moments when I felt nearly paralyzed with indecision or frozen with a blank mind. I have work to do, and yet, I could easily stare at a wall for an indefinite amount of time. I could sit on the porch and watch the birds, or I could start working on something at my computer only to give up in five minutes to gaze out the window. It still feels like my brain is floating in a jar on a shelf.

In this After, we followed through with a few pre-made plans, and those activities have helped to distract me, forcing me to think of other things instead of dwelling in this headspace.

Last Saturday, I joined Chuck on a quick trip to the hunting lease. He needed to check his game cameras, and I needed to leave my house to breathe different air. The hunting lease is a beautiful piece of property, despite what ultimately happens there, and riding around in the forest gave me the temporary peace of mind I was looking for.

As soon as I came home, the haze returned.

Similarly, we spent this last weekend in Chattanooga, as I already had plans to take senior photos of Grace and Ethan. I didn’t want to cancel on account of grief because I knew leaving the house would be good for me. Staying in a hotel and reading a book next to a swimming pool was the change of scenery – again – that I needed.

Seeing our friends though? Invaluable! We even saw Hayli, whom we haven’t seen in more than a year.

We laughed and enjoyed the heck out of each other, and I was grateful for every moment, but sure enough, as soon as we got home, I felt sad and irritated.

I realize now that working from home while also grieving is proving to be a challenge. If I worked in a traditional environment, I could take some bereavement days. I could cash in on vacation days. Or, I could go to a place and do the work there; then I could come home and crawl into bed. I could separate these two things, untangle work from home.

As a freelance writer and teacher, I don’t have that option. Sure, I built the life I wanted, but here in-lies the newly-discovered flaw: When you need your home to be a place of refuge, it can’t be a place of refuge when you’re behind on grading papers or on deadline for a magazine. Instead, home is a place of multiplying levels of anxiety, particularly when the boys need something basic, like dinner.

Currently, all I really have to look forward to right now are breaks from school (fall break, holidays, etc), but even then, I’m planning to work ahead for my classes and help Mom clean out Dad’s home office. Both tasks need to be done, so it is what it is.

I know grief is a weird animal that presents itself at different moments in different ways to different people. Right now, grief is most prominent on Thursdays. My body subconsciously counts the minutes and recalls the last day moment by moment leading up to 9:45 p.m. Leave it to my goofy brain to grieve on a schedule.

And yet, grief is lingering in the background every other day, too. It is the ghost behind me, the court jester in the corner of the room. Grief is both a memory and a nightmare – remembering our rides to and from school together in Chattanooga, then recalling how horrible his breathing sounded in his last few hours. My memories bring comfort, then pain. The cycle continues.

Anger is there too, cozied up alongside grief. They are quite a pair! I am furious that we’re entering the most beautiful season in Tennessee and Dad won’t be here to see it. I am angry that Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve are all on Thursdays. I am haunted by how horrible last New Year’s Eve was and preparing for this one to feel even worse.

People have told me, based on their own experiences, that grief unfolds at random times. It can be months and years before I truly process and understand my own feelings on Dad’s death. I believe this to be true, but what in the world will these months and years even look like? If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

We’re about to enter my favorite month, and wouldn’t you know – OCTOBER STARTS ON THURSDAY. As I raise my fist to the sky in protest, Dad’s voice booms in my ear: “Buck up, Kid!”

All I can say in response is, “I’m trying, Dad! I’m trying!”

Buck up, Kid

When I try to recount the last nine months, the one looming shadow over everything was Dad’s illness. Everything changed on December 8, 2019, when he had a stroke in California while on a business trip. He’d just been at my house for Thanksgiving, and everything felt normal. Christmas was on its way, the academic year was moving forward, and I had every hope that 2020 was going to be spectacular. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG.

As the month unfolded, I realized 2020 was actually going to be one of the hardest years of my life. A diagnosis of cardiac sarcoma – a rare, aggressive, largely unknown cancer – meant my father was likely going to die in 2020. On New Year’s Eve, as the clock ticked toward midnight, the fear in my gut grew and multiplied. The tears poured. I didn’t want 2020 to come. 

What we didn’t know, of course, was that a pandemic was looming, and it was going to change everything about this year – for the better. 

Dad making Mom laugh in March 2020

When the world stopped turning in mid-March and everyone was sent home, Dad was just starting chemotherapy and radiation. It meant we needed to wear masks at the UT Cancer Institute, but it also meant that Chuck was home full time and I could be away as much as I needed to be to help my parents. Since I didn’t have to worry about being home for my family, I could spend hours with my dad. For six weeks straight, while everyone else was glued to the news and managing their jobs (or losing their jobs!), I was with Dad. 

There were extended lunch breaks for Mom due to COVID-related precautions at the library and entire weeks she was able to be home and not lose that vacation time.

The pandemic meant all of our travel plans were put on hold, but that was just as well. When the pandemic halted the earth, we were gifted more time with Dad.

Even when summer hit and it felt like we were going to have a lot longer with him than I originally feared, I knew I couldn’t waste time. I burned a lot of miles driving between my house and theirs – an hour each way – but every second spent in the car and every tank of gas refilled was worth it. I spent afternoons with him one-on-one, went fishing with him and my family, and did whatever my parents needed me to do at any given time. 

Dad with his girls in 1979

As the summer came to a close and I was looking at a new academic year, both as a homeschooling mother and teacher at our co-op, I started to worry about what might happen if Dad declined. How would I manage to be there for my parents while also taking care of my personal and professional responsibilities? As it turned out, I’d have to answer that question much sooner than later. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dad was released from cancer treatment into hospice care on Friday, August 28. Not only that, but he was also transferred from that doctor’s appointment directly to the emergency room because it seemed clear he’d had another stroke (or two?) within the past 24-48 hours. The next 13 days were such a whirlwind that Mom, Becky, Mamaw, and I spent a good deal of time trying to sort out what happened on which day. 

Dad was admitted to the hospital that Friday night and not released until Monday late afternoon. Becky flew in Tuesday night, and Mamaw, Gloria, and Dallas showed up Thursday afternoon. Paul drove up on Saturday, and we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening being together. With each day that passed, it was clear that Dad was declining. His appetite waned, as did his speech. He was tired, less animated, and hard conversations were had.

By Monday, one week after coming home from the hospital, it seemed clear that we weren’t looking at a long road ahead. Instead, the road would be heartbreakingly short.

Father’s Day 2020

By Wednesday, instead of driving back and forth, I packed a bag and drove to my parents’ house to stay. The work of caring for someone in his last days requires supernatural strength in body and mind. I needed and wanted to be there. 

Now that I’ve slept and had some time to consider what actually happened, I realize now that the last 36 hours with Dad were sacred. His body slipped into a physical sleep, but he was awake in his mind and somewhat responsive to the things we said to him and to one another. Becky and I stayed up late Wednesday night recounting some of our favorite childhood memories, and when we asked him the next morning if he heard us, he responded in a way that told us he did. We kept him as comfortable as we could, holding his hand in shifts, telling him how much we loved him, that we would be fine, that he’d successfully raised two smart, strong, independent women. We did not tire of saying, “We love you, Dad.” 

Christmas in Hilton Head 2015

In turns, Mamaw, Gloria, and Mom spent time talking to him, holding his hand, wiping his forehead with a damp cloth, doing whatever his mind and body needed. The work is emotionally taxing because you are limited in your efforts. There is no saving, no fixing, no bringing back. Instead, you’re carrying and lifting and eventually letting go. Even as I type, I’m trying to recall each minute of Thursday. What time was it when I said, “I love you, Dad” for the last time? What time was it when his eyes opened for the last time? When was it that he squeezed my hand for the last time? 

Dad died at 9:45 p.m. on Thursday, September 10. Despite the last nine months being one big red flag waving in my face I couldn’t ignore, I still can’t believe I typed that sentence.

Logical thoughts cycle through my brain: He had an aggressive, rare cancer. He’d suffered multiple strokes. He was never going to beat this. It was always going to end this way. The spring and summer we had with him was a gift because it was always going to end this way.

And still. AND STILL. Is he really gone? 

Not entirely. Dad’s body might have called it quits, but he is ever-present in my inability to endure small talk. He is there when we go fishing and when we root for the Mountaineers and when we take a long drive through the Great Smoky Mountains. He’s there when Jeremy goes hunting and when Becky dives into another history book. He’s in the old classic country music we play. Dad is here and there and all around because that’s what happens when someone makes an impact on your life. He sticks around.

We aren’t having a commonplace funeral and burial because, like me, Dad wasn’t interested in any of that. We’ll spread his ashes in the few places he requested and bury what’s left of his remains in the family cemetery in West Virginia either this fall or next spring. No one wants to rush it because, frankly, we’re all tired and in need of rest. It’s been a long year. 

Boat Day in May 2020

I confessed to Chuck on the porch yesterday that I am feeling so many things at once. I’m sad, of course. SO sad. Gutted. Heartbroken. All of that goes without saying. I’m also tired and a little confused because time and space feel loose and undefined. I can’t keep track of time or what I’m supposed to do next.

But I also feel relief, and then I feel guilty for feeling relieved, to which Chuck replied, “I think people feel that more often than you realize.” Which must be true, right? Caring for a terminally ill person warrants relief when the task ends, doesn’t it? After suffering comes relief. This must be a normal feeling that exists alongside the sadness. 

My dad would be the first to say, “Don’t dwell on this. Life goes on! BUCK UP, KID.”

Buck up, indeed. I will eventually. I just need a few minutes. I need to reorganize my brain and heart and make sure I stay afloat. Despite knowing what 2020 would bring, I’m still a little surprised. 

Dad and me in 1979

Gosh, Dad. I miss you so much already. Thank you for everything. 

42

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.